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The Week in Sustainable Vehicles (05/22/2005)
Mike Millikin, 22 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:

The Senate Energy Committee, which is currently drafting the Senate's version of the national Energy bill, on Wednesday voted 7-15 to reject an amendment to increase fuel efficiency standards for light trucks and SUVs.

Under the failed proposal offered by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), SUVs and other light trucks would have to meet the same 27.5 mpg rule for passenger cars by 2011, up from a current 21 mpg for light trucks, an increase of 31%. (GCC)

As a counterpoint to that, New York's State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has proposed regulations that adopt California's aggressive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions regulations. New York is the first state to follow California's lead in this.

The California rules require cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases in cars and trucks by as much as 25 percent beginning with the 2009 model year, with cuts accelerating as high as 34 percent in 2016. (Earlier post.) Automakers have challenged the regulations, and the issue currently is in Federal court. Cuts in carbon dioxide emissions would largely be achieved with increases in fuel efficiency. (GCC)

Separately, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined the bipartisan US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement coalition. The coalition, organized by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, is working to achieve what would have been the Kyoto Protocol's US target for reductions in greenhouse gases (7%) in the member communities.

With New York City joining, the number of mayors supporting the agreement is up to 132, representing 28.8 million citizens in 35 states. (GCC)


Toyota ended all the speculation this week by making it official: the company will begin building a Camry hybrid in the US starting in the second half of 2006. This marks the first North American-based production of a Toyota hybrid vehicle.

Toyota will invest an additional $10 million in the Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. (TMMK) plant, which will produce the new hybrids. Toyota is setting an initial expected monthly production target of 4,000 Camry hybrids. (GCC)

Also on the Toyota hybrid front, Canadian telecommunications company TELUS is introducing 10 Prius hybrids to its fleet in a pilot project intended to determine the cost-effectiveness and environmental benefits of the vehicles. If the trial goes as expected, TELUS will start integrating hybrid vans and trucks into the fleet once they become available and can be modified to fit TELUS' applications.

TELUS has a fleet of more than 5,000 vehicles across Canada, 3,500 of them light duty cars, trucks, and vans while the remaining are heavy trucks and machinery.(GCC)

The state of Connecticut is adding 125 hybrids to its 4,000 vehicle fleet at a cost of some $2.5 million. The state will also add 450 alternative-fuel vehicles. (GCC)

Researchers in the UK are developing a plug-in hydrogen fuel-cell hybrid London taxi. The ZESTFUL prototype is powered by a large grid-charged high-energy Zebra battery pack and a small 6 kW hydrogen fuel cell stack that functions as a range extender. (GCC)


Electrovaya, a Canadian firm specializing in portable power systems and Tablet PCs, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Miljobil Grenland AS of Norway to market its Maya 100 electric vehicle and to promote the business of zero-emission electric vehicle technologies in Norway and neighboring countries.

The Maya 100 uses a 40 kWh, 144V Electrovaya lithium ion superpolymer battery system that delivers a driving range of up to 230 miles (360 km) with a top speed of 80 mph (140 km/h). The batteries in the Maya are 100 Amp-hour modules purpose-built for electric vehicles only, and are designed to offer a 7-year calendar life with a cycle-life equivalent to 150,000 kilometers (93,225 miles) of operation. (GCC)

Scotland's Intermediary Technology Institute for Energy is investing £5.2 million (US$9.5 million, €7.6 million) to develop a next generation of batteries that could be used to power electric or electric hybrid vehicles (EV/HEVs) as well as smaller, mobile applications such as phones and laptops.

£4 million (US$7.3 million, €5.8 million) is funding the development of a new low-cost, high-energy rechargeable battery, while the other £1.2 million (US$2.2 million, €1.7 million) goes toward developing an advanced battery management and power control system. Both projects are initially based on Lithium-ion (Li-ion) technologies. (GCC)


NREL research is indicating that there may not be the correlation between biodiesel use and increased emissions of oxides of nitrogen as most have thought. Tests in an ongoing research program indicate that NOx emissions from two 40-foot urban transit buses burning B20 were comparable to the buses' NOx emissions when burning conventional diesel.

A formal report on the findings should be out later this fall. (GCC)

The DOE has awarded Abengoa Bioenergy R&D $2,250,000 for the development of new catalysts for the conversion of biomass-derived synthesis gas to ethanol.

The production of ethanol via gasification and subsequent catalytic synthesis is an alternative to the conventional fermentive production of ethanol (including cellulosic fermentive ethanol) -- and may offer a lower-cost, more energy-efficient mechanism than some conventional approaches. (GCC)

Beginning in June, all buses running out of Gurgaon in the state of Haryana, India (next to New Delhi) will run on B5 biodiesel (5% biodiesel). The parties involved are considering a move to B20. (GCC)

Natural Gas

The state government of West Bengal in India is ordering all commercial vehicles manufactured before 1990 off the roads of the Calcutta (Kolkata) Metropolitan Area unless they convert to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or compressed natural gas (CNG) by the end of the year. (GCC)

As a counterpoint to that, the Ministry of Mines and Energy in Brazil is submitting a regulatory bill to Congress that will put a priority on the use of natural gas in industry and for thermoelectric power generation.

MME intends for the government to provide no incentives for the use of natural gas in vehicles (VNG), except for public transport in city centers to reduce pollution and CO2 emissions. For the majority of vehicles, the government will emphasize the use of ethanol and now biodiesel. (GCC)


Toyota has developed two new high-pressure hydrogen storage tanks featuring greater capacity and longer operational life for its fuel cell vehicles. The tanks offer 35 megapascal (350 bar or 5,000 psi) storage and 70 megapascal (700 bar or 10,000 psi) storage.

Toyota designed the new high-pressure tanks are with an all-composite structure wrapped by a carbon fiber exterior and with an anti-leak liner made of high-strength nylon resin with superior hydrogen permeation-prevention performance.

The use of a nylon resin tank liner allows the liner to be thinner, meaning that the new 350-bar tank can hold 10% more hydrogen than the same-exterior-size 350-bar tank Toyota used before. The extra capacity extends the cruising range of Toyota's hydrogen fuel cell hybrid passenger vehicle from 300 km (186 miles) to 330 km (205 miles) in the Japanese test cycle. (GCC)

Norway is allocating NOK 48.6 million (US$7.5 million, €6.0 million) for testing alternative fuels and environmentally friendly technology. Of that, 62% -- NOK 30.2 million (US$4.6 million, €3.7 million) -- will go to the HyNor project, which wants to build a 580-kilometer hydrogen highway between the cities of Oslo and Stavanger. (GCC)


In a long-distance drive test (Texas to Florida), three conventional diesel Mercedes E320 CDIs delivered almost 50 mpg in fuel efficiency. Without stopping to refuel, each of the unmodified CDI models covered a distance of 1,039 miles (1,672 km), which corresponded to a fuel consumption of 4.75 litres per 100 kilometers (49.52 mpg).

The tested cars used the new Mercedes 165 kW (224 hp) V6 CDI diesel engine, set to replace the existing five and six-cylinder in-line engines this summer. (GCC)

FEV Engine Technology is working on a new, two-stroke, light-weight, high-efficiency diesel concept engine that also promises to address the emissions issues associated with two-stroke designs. The approach could support a family of engines applied either as standalone engines in vehicles, as power sources for APUs, or as powerful and efficient engines in a hybrid configuration. (GCC)


The Volvo Group has unveiled its first truck equipped with a DME (dimethyl ether) engine. This represents Volvo's second-generation heavy-duty DME vehicle. Volvo Truck Corporation and Volvo Bus Corporation built an earlier (1996-1998) prototype DME bus for testing and demonstration of the low-emissions and high-efficiency capabilities of the fuel.

The new truck, introduced in conjunction with the Synbios conference on biofuels in Stockholm, is a Volvo FM model equipped with a conventional 9.4-liter, inline 6-cylinder diesel engine with a modified fuel system adapted for DME.

DME (dimethyl ether) is an LPG-like synthetic fuel that is produced through gasification of various renewable substances or fossil fuels. The synthetic gas is then catalyzed to produce DME. DME is particularly attractive for Sweden, as it is possible to use black liquor, a residual product from production of paper pulp, as the feedstock. The energy balance of DME -- and other synthetics derived from a gasification process -- depends on the process and feedstock choice. (GCC)

Honda will introduce fuel injection systems by the end of 2007 on all motorcycles it produces and sells in Japan to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. This advances by three years an earlier target the company had set for such implementation.

Of the 61 models Honda now makes for the Japanese market, 11 use fuel injection systems, primarily those with 400cc or larger engines. Models with fuel injection accounted for around 10% of the 390,000 motorcycles shipped domestically in 2004.

The company has targeted reductions of hydrocarbon emissions in motorcycle exhaust by an average of two-thirds from 1995 levels and to improve fuel efficiency by an average of around 40% by 2007. (GCC)

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Why the Alternatives to Oil are So Important

Most consumers view high gasoline prices as the problem, but, in reality, they are just a symptom of the problem.
The problem is that oil will soon become scarce – demand will outstrip supply. We have seen the mere threat of oil shortage drive up the price of oil. Oil production will peak worldwide sometime soon and begin to decline. Meanwhile, oil demand will continue to grow unless some very aggressive fuel conservation and implementation of alternatives to oil takes place.

What are the alternatives to oil, primarily for transportation? We don’t really know, and this is the real issue. We have procrastinated until the eleventh hour. Oil is the most important source of energy, providing 38.7% of the world’s needs. Over 97% of U.S. transportation fuel comes from oil; replacing this amount of energy is a gigantic task. Alarmingly, we have not even settled on the technologies for oil alternatives. These new alternatives–and surely there will be more than one–are far from obvious today. Huge technical and social implications are attached to all of the proposed options. They need accelerated research and development.

Aren’t we doing R&D on alternatives now? Yes, but we are not getting results fast enough. Hydrogen, for example, is often touted as our savior. However, hydrogen poses some huge hurdles. It can be made from natural gas, but this source is also a hydrocarbon that is in limited supply and produces carbon dioxide. It can be extracted from water by electrolysis, but this process is very energy intensive. Where would we get the energy for electrolysis? Let’s say we somehow do produce the hydrogen. Then it has to be compressed as a gas to very high pressures and carried in a strong tank or liquefied to below -423° F and carried in a well-insulated tank. Both processes are energy intensive and perhaps dangerous. Do we use fuel cells? If so, they need a lot of work to be competitive in price with engines. How long would it take and how much would it cost to build the automotive and refueling infrastructures if we were to decide that hydrogen is ready for the big time?

Ethanol production is subsidized. Some say that it takes more energy to produce it than it provides.

Solar and wind energy have promise, but they are in their infancy in the United States. They don’t seem to have potential for direct application in transportation, so if we are to use them to power cars, we will need batteries. Despite years of research, batteries still don’t provide the vehicle range people demand. If research could produce results, battery-powered vehicles would have the very big advantage of being recharged with electricity that could be made from any energy source, providing the portability now provided only by oil-based fuels. If we had the right battery, what source of energy would we use to provide the huge increase in electrical generation needed? Can we tame nuclear energy and its waste so we feel safe?

These examples show that our society does not know what alternative or alternatives to oil are ready for the truly massive investment and retooling that will be required for providing them to consumers in quantity. We need to galvanize research to answer these questions and then develop the chosen solutions for the marketplace. We should have a panel of scientists and engineers providing an evolving technical roadmap showing the risks and rewards of all energy alternatives so resources can be directed efficiently by policymakers. And, we should be promoting fuel conservation in order to extend the time we have to identify and implement oil’s replacement.

Technologies are more mature and useable for fuel conservation. For example, we could convert to hybrid automobiles that get almost double the fuel mileage of our current population of automobiles. Even better, plug-in hybrids are a logical extension of hybrid technology and are being developed. Plug-in hybrids have a battery that can be plugged in to an electrical outlet at home to provide sufficient charge to travel fifty or sixty miles. Since the average car is driven about half this distance daily, a large percentage of vehicle travel can be undertaken using no oil-based fuels. An on-board engine provides instant switching to fuel to make a trip longer than sixty miles. Again, the electrical energy can come from any source including the clean sources nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, and wind. Solar or wind energy generated at the home, in addition to being renewable, would avoid the distribution loses between power plants and homes.

Tom Mast is the author of Over a Barrel: A Simple Guide to the Oil Shortage (March 2005),

Posted by: Tom Mast on 23 May 05

It's time to start looking again at the Sterling Engines... There were autos made in the 70's that used this highly efficient engine. But then gas prices fell and the prototypes were scrapped. Time to get the plans out of mothballs and get them back into production. I'd encourage this site to start following news on the topic as well. A sterling engine coupled into such things as a solar furnace can produce significant levels of VERY green power.

Posted by: Jamie on 24 May 05

Washington State has adopted the California rule as well. Go here to read the bill:

Posted by: Ranger Bob on 24 May 05

Missing from this site's article is Personal Electric Vehicles, or PEV's for short, that only a few venture capital investors are aware of, unless you are already in vencap of e-transportation: Lead Acid batteries (gel, SLA) is making a strong comeback! Lead might be toxic, but there is a better-than-recycling invention that allows lead acid batteries to be revived, continually. For example, some users indicate that scooter batteries that usually have to be replaced in six months are still going strong after three years' use.

The second problem with electric vehicles, the long charge time, has recently been beaten, too: It is possible to get another 5 miles use from an electric bike/scooter/motorcycle/cart with just 15 minutes' charging. Look at eBay postings for this just-revealed method.

On the gasoline front, how many people have seen the Blogs showing that simply adding 3 ounces of acetone per 10 gallons of gasoline can extend mileage by up to 25 percent, although 11% is more typical.

Posted by: d. yee on 29 May 05



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