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The Week in Sustainable Vehicles (05/08/05)
Mike Millikin, 8 May 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:

S&P downgraded the credit ratings of Ford and GM to junk bond status this week, spurred by concerns that the financial over-reliance of the two automakers on SUVs will make it difficult for them to overcome their financial woes and shrinking market share. (GCC.)

April sales figures for the automakers show that year-to-year sales of all full-size SUVs dropped 19% during the first four months of 2005, although overall sales of light-duty vehicles rose 1.2%. GM's full-size SUV sales dropped by 24% (79,790 vehicles), and Ford's by 21.5% (40,016). (GCC)


Combined sales of hybrids in the US reached 20,974 in April, more than triple the number sold in April 2004 (6,832). The Prius continues to dominate the market, leading April results with 11,345 units. Every hybrid model on the market had strong results. (GCC)

EDrive Systems, a joint venture between EnergyCS and Clean-Tech, has introduced a commercial retrofit system that converts a Prius into a plug-in hybrid -- "Gas-Optional" hybrid (GO-HEV) using the new term of favor.

This is a commercial outgrowth of the pioneering work done (and still being done) by CalCars. (GCC)

Nikkei News reported that Toyota has decided to start building the long-expected hybrid Camry in the US sometime in the second half of 2006. Toyota made no official response. (GCC)

Hyundai and Kia accelerated their timing for introducing hybrids to the US to late 2006 from a prior target of after 2007. (GCC)

In Japan, Isuzu introduced a new diesel parallel hybrid model to its lineup of Elf low-pollution light-duty trucks. The new model will appear in the general market in mid-June 2005, although Isuzu has already begun sales to select fleets. The company has a sales goal of 600 diesel hybrids per year. (GCC)


Genetically engineered E. coli bacteria that produce fuel ethanol from biomass waste such as corn stover is being used as the basis for a commercial ethanol plant currently under development.

Lonnie Ingram, a professor of microbiology at the University of Florida and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, genetically engineered the E. coli organisms by cloning the unique genes needed to direct the digestion of sugars into ethanol, the same pathway found in yeast and higher plants. He inserted these genes into a variety of bacteria that have the ability to use all sugars found in plant material, but normally produce a worthless mixture of acetic and lactic acids as fermentation products. With the ethanol genes, the engineered bacteria produce ethanol from biomass sugars with 90%-95% efficiency. (GCC)

The Panda Group is building a $120-million, 100-million-gallon per year fuel ethanol plant in Hereford, Texas. It joins the White Energy group, which also just announced plans for a 100-million-gallon per year ethanol plant in Hereford, and a smaller 30-million-gallon per year competitor to the north in Dumas.

The Panda plant will use corn and grain sorghum (milo) as its feedstock. Rather than use natural gas to power the plant, Panda will convert cattle manure and cotton gin waste to bio-gas. The company claims a net energy savings of 1,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day by taking this approach. (GCC)

Brazil has opened another biodiesel plant, and its president wants the country to become the largest supplier of renewable fuels in the world market. His administration is working to make biodiesel the second largest energy source in Brazil, following hydroelectric power. (GCC)

Peugeot introduced its first flex-fuel cars in Brazil: versions of its popular 206 sedan and hatchback. The cars run on either gasoline (already with 22% ethanol) or ethanol or any mixture of the two. (GCC)

D1 Oils, the UK-based global biodiesel producer, is collaborating with Atlas Consolidated Mining and Development Corporation in the Philippines to rehabilitate land previously degraded by mining through the cultivation of jatropha, D1 Oils' feedstock of choice in the production of biodiesel (GCC).


Cummins, working with the US Department of Energy (DOE) as part of the 21st Century Truck Partnership, has demonstrated its most efficient heavy-duty diesel yet—an ISX truck engine with an increased Brake Thermal Efficiency (BTE) of 45% with concomitant emissions reductions to levels associated with the future 2007 EPA requirements.

Brake Thermal Efficiency represents in percentage terms the amount of energy converted from fuel into useful mechanical work by the engine. A engine with a higher BTE level is more efficient, offering the potential for increased fuel efficiency and associated reductions in CO2 emissions.(GCC)

Japanese materials manufacturer Ibiden is quadrupling the production capacity of its silicon carbide (SiC) diesel particulate filters globally to 3 million units per year to meet growing demand for diesels. (GCC)

A public-private partnership is testing a Urea-SCR-based NOx reduction system on six waste collection vehicles trucks in Brooklyn and the Bronx.

In such an approach, the system injects small amounts of urea as a reagent into the exhaust. The reagent decomposes to form ammonia and carbon dioxide. Ammonia mixes with the NOx and passes over an SCR gas catalyst to turn ozone-forming NOx into water and nitrogen.

The group hopes to see a reduction in NOx emissions by some 20%. (GCC)

Policy and legislation

A number of states enacted emissions or biofuels legislation this week:

  • Washington signed into law a bill adopting California's emissions requirements in the state, brining the total number of states that have done so (including California) to nine. Washington's implementation is dependent upon Oregon's (which seems on track), so that will bring the total number to 10. (GCC)
  • Illinois enacted a bill reducing the biodiesel blend threshold eligible for state EPA rebates from 80% (B80) to 20% (B20).
  • Montana enacted a law requiring 10% ethanol in gasoline sold in the state, as soon as Montana producers pass a production threshold of 40 million gallons per year.

The government of New Zealand provided further detail on its planned carbon tax, first announced in 2002.

The carbon tax will be set at NZ$15 (US$11) per tonne and introduced in April 2007. As outlined in 2002, this will add around NZ$0.01 (US$0.007) to the cost of a unit of electricity, about NZ$0.04 (US$0.03) to a liter of gasoline, NZ$0.46 (US$0.34) to a 9kg bottle of LPG and NZ$0.68 (US$0.50) to a 20kg bag of coal.

The government estimates a weekly financial impact on the typical New Zealand household of about NZ$4 (US$2.90) per week for electricity, gasoline, and other fuels. (GCC)


Ford is working with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and the Clean Cities Coachella Valley Region (C3VR) Coalition to place at least five hydrogen-fueled E-450 shuttles in operation next year in California's Coachella Valley.

Coachella Valley is also home to SunLine Transit Agency. In 1994, SunLine became the first public transit fleet in the nation to switch entirely from diesel to CNG. Since then, the agency has been aggressively exploring other alternative fuel options -- especially hydrogen. (GCC)

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are predicting that carbon nanotubes "decorated" with titanium or other transition metals can latch on to hydrogen molecules in numbers sufficient for efficient hydrogen storage -- a key enabler for long-term efforts to develop affordable hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

They found that hydrogen could amass in amounts equivalent to 8% percent of the weight of "titanium-decorated" single-walled carbon nanotubes. That's one-third better than the 6 wt.% minimum storage-capacity requirement set by DOE for 2010. (The target is 9 wt.% for 2015.) (GCC)

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Hi James,
Thanks for this interesting read. Re. the NZ Carbon Tax, a 'smiley' side note is that the carbon tax excludes the methane and nitrous oxide gases from the agriculture sector, when livestock flatulence is supposedly responsible for around half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions :)

Posted by: Cheryl Paten on 8 May 05

I am enjoying watching the US car manufacturers get their asses handed to them by the Japanese. Again. The 70's oil crisis gave them a toe-hold. The 10's will give them a stranglehold.

Posted by: Erik Ehlert on 9 May 05

The dysfunctionality of GM aside, it's sad to see Ford and the former Chrysler throw away the opportunity given to them by the Clinton administration (PNGV) to leapfrog the Japanese and go with the dead-end policies of Bush.

I guess that management and labor will pay for their infighting; unfortunately, so will millions of others.

Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 10 May 05



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