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The Week in Sustainable Vehicles (04/24/05)
Mike Millikin, 24 Apr 05

Every Sunday, Green Car Congress' Mike Millikin gives us an update on the week's sustainable mobility news, looking at the ongoing evolution of personal transportation. Take it away, Mike:

Policy and legislation were prominent this past week.

As expected, the House of Representatives passed its version of the Energy Bill, the focus of which is on creating more fuel and energy, with not much attention paid to using less.

The bill funnels some $12 billion in tax breaks and subsidies to energy companies, including a $2 billion subsidy for developing oil and gas in deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico; opens ANWR for drilling; and shields energy companies from lawsuits related to MTBE (the gasoline additive).

Amendments to increase the average fuel efficiency of vehicles and to specify a target for reduction in oil consumption were defeated in committee and on the floor. (GCC)

States and cities, however, are taking up the issue of increasing conservation on their own.

The New York City Council's (NYCC) Committee on Environmental Protection passed a wide-ranging set of five initiatives, that, if passed by the full Council and then signed into laws by the Mayor, would implement stricter emissions standards as well as mandating a 20% increase in fuel economy by 2015 for new vehicles the city purchases. (GCC)

Iowa’s Governor issued an executive order mandating the purchase of hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles for all light-duty, non-emergency vehicle procurements. The order also set targets for biodiesel use, and mandated an overall reduction in energy consumption in state buildings by 15%. (GCC)

The Washington state Senate passed the HB 1397 bill, thereby adopting a modified version of California’s stricter emissions standard for vehicles. The bill now goes to the Governor for signing. (GCC)


As Bob Lutz, Vice Chairman of GM did earlier, Chrysler Group chief Dieter Zetsche admits that the company blew the assessment of the potential for the hybrid market by focusing too much on the engineering side, not adequately calculating “the political and marketing side.”

FedEx will purchase up to 75 more parallel hybrid diesel-electric trucks for its service fleet in the next 12 months, contingent upon pricing and availability. The E700 hybrid trucks, which use a hybrid electric powertrain from Eaton, reduce PM emissions by 96% and NOx by 65% while improving fuel economy by 57% compared to a baseline 1999 conventional W700 vehicle. (GCC)

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has ordered 150 series hybrid diesel-electric buses from Orion Bus Industries, a division of DaimlerChrysler. The hybrids are part of a larger 330-bus order. To be delivered in 2006, these will be TTC's first hybrid models and will give Toronto the largest hybrid electric fleet in Canada. (GCC)

With this contract, and with the increased order from New York City, Orion is running some large, high-profile wins with its series hybrid approach.

On a smaller scale, Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, has added a new series hybrid eBus to its fleet. The 22-foot eBusís electric motor is powered by a NiCad battery back which is recharged by 30 kW Capstone MicroTurbine generator, fueled by diesel.

The eBus hybrid is projected to burn 26 gallons of fuel per day, compared to nearly 40 gallons by the other buses. Ball State switched its diesel fleet to a B20 biodiesel blend two years ago, and will be burning B20 in the microturbine generator as well. (GCC)

A new series hybrid electric shuttle bus powered by UQM Technologies is undergoing testing by a Tier One auto supplier. The StarTrans airport shuttle bus uses the UQM hybrid drivetrain in a Ford E450 chassis. Preliminary data indicates that the series hybrid electric shuttle bus, which has an all-electric operating range of 10 miles, improves city and highway fuel economy by 200% and by 145%. (GCC)

Plug-in Hybrids are getting more respect. CalCars founder Felix Kramer was on NPR’s Science Friday program this week, explaining the concepts and the details of his group’s work in converting a Prius to a Plug-in Prius+. Podcast available for download.

And finally, The University of Queensland's Sustainable Energy Research Lab (SERL) is displaying its two-seater solar electric hybrid prototype -- the UltraCommuter -- as part of the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland's centenary events.

Spawned by SERL's work on the SunShark solar vehicle in 2000, the UltraCommuter is an ultra-light weight, low drag, hybrid-electric commuter vehicle that combines photovoltaic recharging and grid recharging with a CNG-fueled range-extending generator.

Two-and-a-half square metres of solar panels provide 375 Watts of electric power, meeting 87% of the car's total power needs and cutting greenhouse emissions by 97 percent compared to a conventional sedan (Australiaís Holden Commodore).

In sunny weather the UltraCommuter can travel up to 60 km (37.3 miles) a day on solar power alone. Drawing on power stored in its 360V Li-Ion battery pack extends this to 200 km. For longer journeys compressed natural gas (CNG) powers a 10 kW generator to feed electricity to the motor. (GCC)


The 32-foot (10 meter) long, "e=motion" car, powered by ABB motors and drives, will try to beat the current official FIA (Federation Internationale d'Automobile) electric land speed record of 245 mph (394 kph) and become the first-ever electrically powered vehicle to break the 300 mph (483 kph) barrier in Nevada on 5 May. (GCC).


Researchers at North Dakota State University are beginning to test the properties of canola oil based-biodiesel.

Most commercial biodiesel in the US comes from soybeans. By contrast, most European biodiesel is produced from rapeseed (the parent plant of canola) -- some 40% of the European rapeseed crop went to biodiesel production in 2004.

Canola oilseeds are high in oil content (40%), while soybeans have an 18% oil content. From a processors's point of view, the higher oil content leads to higher yields.

The differences between the characteristics of rapeseed and canola biodiesel should be slight, if at all. But the studies should be useful. (GCC)

A new Japanese-Thai joint venture is developing a $25.4 million biodiesel refinery with a full capacity of 300,000 liters per day (approximately 79,250 gallons or 2,500 barrels) and will use used cooking oil as its feedstock. (GCC)

A Malaysian biotech firm, a subsidiary of Malaysian conglomerate Kumpulan Guthrie, has introduced its first commercial clonal oil palm, ABB1, which has the potential to enhance production yields by 30% compared with current seedling materials.

While the most successful commercial oil palm oil plantations yield some six metric tons of oil per hectare, the Guthrie palms promise up to nine metric tons.

Palm oil is increasingly being looked to as a feedstock for biodiesel production, and some analysts are bullish on the market prospects for Malaysia. (GCC)

Internal Combustion Engines

Honda began limited retail sales in California of its natural gas-powered Civic GX sedan paired with a new residential natural gas refueling appliance called Phill.

The Civic GX is the cleanest internal combustion vehicle ever certified by the EPA and, with the introduction of home refueling, has the lowest fuel cost per mile of any new vehicle.(GCC)

ZAP has received final approval from the US Department of Transportation for the sale of the ZAP Americanized version of the DaimlerChrysler smart car. Advance purchase orders for the ZAP Smart Car have climbed to more than $750 million. (GCC)

Changan Automotive Group, Ford Motor Company, and Mazda Motor are entering a joint venture for a new engine plant at Nanjing, in eastern China. The new engine plant, scheduled to be operational by early 2007, will supply two families of fuel-efficient engines to assembly facilities in China.

Both engines will implement state-of-the-art technologies and will, exceed all Chinese government fuel economy regulations, which are more stringent than current regulations in the US. (GCC)


The University of Minnesota launched the only public large-scale wind research instrument in the United States designed to conduct research on converting wind power into hydrogen.

The new wind turbine will provide 50% of the power for the University of Minnesota Morris campus, with excess electricity diverted to the electrolytic production of hydrogen.

This system will explore the use of renewable hydrogen in applications such as fuel cells. (GCC)

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I want an UltraCommuter!

Posted by: Daniel Johnston on 24 Apr 05

It is encouraging to see articles like this spreading the virtues of alternative fuels and drives for vehicles.

The world really must get over its love affair with mineral oil.

Posted by: James Marsden on 24 Apr 05

Morris is making me proud. :)

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 24 Apr 05



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