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The Week in Sustainable Vehicles (06/19/05)
Mike Millikin, 19 Jun 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 week ended with oil hitting a record nominal price of $58.60 per barrel on Friday, before dropping down to close at $58.40. Although this is the highest price yet in nominal dollars, it is still below 1981's peak price of $85.03 and year average price of $71.09 (adjusted for inflation to 2005 dollars). The gap, however, is closing—the majority (51%) of oil traders in a Bloomberg survey think the price will go up again next week. (GCC)

At the beginning of the week, the US Senate took up action on its version of the Energy Bill. Sen. Cantwell’s proposed amendment to cut US oil consumption by 40% in 2025 from the projected levels was defeated 47–53 essentially on a party-line vote. One Democrat (Stabenow, MI) voted against the bill; three Republican senators (Chafee, RI; Snowe, ME; and Specter, PA) voted for it.

However, Senator Jeff Bingaman's (D-NM) amendment to establish a national Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) for electricity generation squeaked by 50-48. That amendement, which was opposed by the White House, mandates every electric utility to generate an increasing minimum percentage of its power from renewable resources, scaling up to a minimum of 10% by 2020. (GCC)

The Senate also voted 70-26 today to incorporate the 8-billion-gallon Renewable Fuel Standard into the energy bill. The proposal, offered by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chair Domenici, sets 2012 as the year in which the RFS must be met. (GCC) The House version of the energy bill specifies a 5-billion RFS.

On an international scale, the G8 nations invited oil producing and other states to contribute to a trust fund that will help nations survive shocks in oil prices and other commodities. (GCC)

Biofuels

MEMS USA announced a second joint venture--Can-Am Ethanol Two, Inc.--to build and operate a biomass-to-ethanol processing plant in Canada. The joint venture partner is Central Pacific Power. The preliminary budget for this plant is $150,000,000 with a projected production capacity of approximately 160,000 gallons of ethanol per day.

In November 2004, MEMS USA and Accelon Energy Systems created Can-Am Ethanol, a joint venture to build and run a first biomass-to-ethanol processing plant. This plant, estimated to cost approximately $140 million, is also intended to have an output of some 160,000 gallons of ethanol per day (approximately 606,000 liters per day). (GCC)

SunSource BioEnergy, a partnership between a group of ethanol producers and a technology firm, announced the development of a technology to extract corn oil for use in biodiesel production from a process used to prepare corn for ethanol production. The technology enables ethanol producers to extract corn oil from the dry mill process. By extracting the oil, producers have the opportunity to produce biodiesel in addition to ethanol, thereby increasing plant income. It also apparently improves the handling characteristics of distillers dry grains (one of the standard byproducts of the dry mill process). (GCC)

The government of Ontario, Canada, announced that it is establishing a Can. $520 million (US$421 million), 12-year fund to support ethanol production and retailing. (GCC)

And a coalition of UK companies and advocacy groups, including Saab, Ford, British Sugar and Friends of the Earth, backed by the Transport and General Workers Union, launched the Bioethanol Declaration. The campaign calls for the UK government to implement a Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), requiring the blending of biofuels (ethanol or biodiesel) with petroleum fuels and to support the UK biofuels industry. The RTFO currently under evaluation by the Department for Transport specifies a 5.75% renewable fuels component by 2010. (GCC)

On the vehicle side, Toyota is now developing flex-fuel cars targeted at the Latin American market, especially Brazil. All foreign carmakers operating in Brazil, except for Toyota and Honda, are already marketing flex-fuel cars. Toyota now sees promise in this car category, as increased numbers of the vehicles are also selling in China and India.

Toyota hopes to market new flex fuel vehicles in the second half of next year at the earliest. Toyota sold 260,000 new cars in Latin America last year, 50,000 of those in Brazil. (GCC)

Hybrids

Ford announced that it would begin taking pre-orders for the Mariner Hybrid starting 11 July. The company has yet to announce a sales target for the Mariner hybrid, which will begin volume production in October. Ford will use the pre-orders to calibrate the production level. Ford, which had targeted selling some 20,000 Escape hybrids during its first 12 months on the market, has sold some 9,500 units after 8 months. (GCC)

Earlier in the month, a Mariner hybrid raised $47,500 at a charity auction in California.

Nissan announced that it will build its first hybrid model, a version of the Altima, at its assembly plant in Smyrna, Tennessee. The company is targeting annual sales of 50,000 units for the new hybrid. Hitting that number would likely put it into second place behind Toyota, displacing Honda. (GCC)

Toyota executives remarked that there currently is no financial justification for the purchase of hybrids in the US, due to the still relatively low price of gasoline. In other words, if a buyer's only motive is to reduce the total cost of ownership and operation of a vehicle through gas savings, a hybrid currently won't achieve that goal, due to the higher cost of the vehicle.

Toyota still plans to be selling 1 million hybrids a year by 2010, however, and is focused on figuring out how to reduce the basic cost of the platform. (It is also working to produce a $50,000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicle by 2015.) (GCC)

Hydrogen

On the hydrogen front, both Toyota and Honda cleared a bureaucratic milestone in Japan: fuel cell vehicles from both automakers received Japan’s first "motor vehicle type certification". Up to now, certification went to individual fuel cell vehicles for the purpose of testing on public roads. With new "type" certification, however, fuel cell vehicles no longer need to be cleared individually. This thus is one step on the way to broader production and sales. (GCC)

A team from the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) beat the competition from 16 US universities to take top place overall at the Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility engineering competition with their fuel-cell-powered vehicle design.

Challenge X is a three-year competition sponsored by General Motors and the US Department of Energy. The Waterloo team, sponsored by Natural Resources Canada and Hydrogenics Corporation, was the only one to use fuel cells in their design. (GCC)

Synthetics

In an indication of the increasing significance that synthetic fuels will play in coming years, Engelhard Corporation has acquired the syngas catalyst business of Nanjing Chemical Industry Corporation (NCIC). Englehard is a Fortune 500 surface and materials science company; NCIC was a wholly-owned subsidiary of SINOPEC, one of China's largest integrated energy and chemical companies.

Syngas, or synthesis gas, produced from fossil fuels or biomass, is shaping up to become a crucial intermediate in emerging energy and fuel solutions. Syngas can be combined with emerging downstream technologies for gas-to-liquids (GTL) processes, methanol-to-olefins (MTO) conversion, coal-to-liquids (CTL) conversion and fuel cells. It also is used as a feedstock for high-value, chemical processes such as ammonia, hydrogen and methanol.

Catalysts are essential for the transformation of the syngas to the end product. NCIC is China's leading syngas catalyst producer. (GCC)

Researchers at Chevron and the University of Kentucky have developed a new process for converting waste plastic into lubricating oil for engines.

This is potentially environmentally important from two perspectives. First, a more stable, low-viscosity synthetic oil can extend the interval between oil drains, reducing, in turn, the amount of used oil requiring disposal. According to the EPA, some 200 million gallons each year are dumped into the environment. The other benefit of a low-viscosity oil is reduced engine friction and thereby improved fuel economy.

Second is the obvious benefit in being able to recycle a portion of the ever increasing stream of waste plastics. Plastics represent 11 wt% of municipal solid waste today, up from less than 5 wt% in 2001. (GCC)

Natural Gas

Peru's Ferrocarril Central Andino (FCCA) officially unveiled what it calls the world's first CNG-powered train on Thursday. The cargo and passenger train, which runs along the world's highest railway at 16,076 feet (4,900 meters) above sea level in Peru's central Andes, will switch from diesel to run on two CNG engines designed by General Electric. Natural gas production in Peru is increasing due to the opening of the Camisea gasfield. (GCC)

Sweden, not to be outdone, is inaugurating the world's first train to run on biogas. The train was developed by Svensk Biogas, which converted an old Fiat locomotive by replacing the diesel engines with two Volvo gas engines. The train is equipped with eleven canisters containing enough gas to run for 600 kilometers (375 miles) before needing a refill, and can reach a maximum speed of 130 kilometers (80 miles) per hour.

Biogas refers to methane produced by the anaerobic digestion of biomass waste. (Aerobic decomposition, or composting, requires large amounts of oxygen and produces heat.) (GCC)

Hybrid Fuel Systems, a provider of CNG and LPG conversion system for heavy- and medium-duty diesel engines, intends to acquire DRV Energy, a small-volume manufacturer of bi-fuel and dedicated natural gas and propane turnkey conversion systems for light-duty vehicles.

The result of the acquisition will be a larger company that can offer a full range of systems to convert light-, medium- and heavy-duty engines to compressed natural gas or propane. (GCC)

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Comments

Why is the Ford Escape undershooting sales estimates? Anyone know? I would think that a hybrid SUV would be the 'sweet spot' for the American consumer but perhaps the nominal gain in fuel efficiency is a deterrent.


Posted by: Erik Ehlert on 19 Jun 05

It could simply be that everyone who wanted an suv already got one and unlike other buyers suv buyers dont buy new cars all that often. It could also be interest rates too.

I know from my own experiences that everyone I personaly know who got an suv in the suv craze was replacing a truck that had run for at least 6-7 many times even 15 years. And they ALL had suvs recently purchased in the last few years. As in while interest rates were lowest. Only a few people left to be converting now.


Posted by: wintermane on 21 Jun 05



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