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The Week in Sustainable Vehicles
Mike Millikin, 26 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:

With the price of oil still bumping up against $60/barrel this week, the Senate voted to close debate on amendments to its energy bill, with a vote likely this coming week. Perhaps marking the beginning of a change in perception, if not stance, the Senate managed to include an amendment on climate change and an amendment to increase fuel efficiency requirements (CAFE).

In each of those instances, the Senate had the choice between two types of approach to addressing the problems. The first approach acknowledges the problem (climate change, overdependence on oil), and proposes something be done, without quantifying what that something is. The second type acknowledges the problem, and specifies measurable goals.

In the case of climate change, that second type was represented by the McCain-Lieberman amendment, which specified a rollback of greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2012. In the case of fuel efficiency, it was the Durbin amendment which laid out a plan for a 40 mpg standard by 2016, and put most passenger vehicles (cars, SUVs, light trucks) in the same category.

In both cases, those amendments proposing quantified measures were defeated in favor of the squishier language of their counterparts.

In any event, the Senate bill, once passed, must be reconciled with the House version—and neither climate change nor CAFE may survive that process. That the proposals even passed at all, however, is a change from years past. (GCC, GCC)


Azure Dynamics delivered a prototype series-hybrid electric CRV (Carrier Route Vehicle) to the United States Postal Service (USPS) for in-service evaluation of fuel economy and emissions. Azure will follow on this delivery with a prototype diesel parallel hybrid drive two-ton step van in October that will also similarly be evaluated by USPS.

The scope of the USPS program, started with Azure in 2003, is to determine the relative economics of both the series and parallel hybrid powertrains compared to current fleet vehicles. USPS plans to purchase 160,000 new vehicles over an 8-year period beginning in 2006. (GCC)

In Denver, the Regional Transportation District is replacing the lead-acid-battery storage system in ten of its CNG series-hybrid buses with a Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) battery system from Cobasys.

The buses are part of a fleet of 36 mall shuttle buses built by TransTeq (a Denver company), that use a Ford 2.5-liter, 70-hp, 4-cylinder CNG engine as the genset for the electric motor and batteries. (GCC)

The City Council of Hamilton, Ontario, approved the first steps in implementing its Green Fleet plan which will transition the fleet of 1,436 light trucks and cars to hybrids (gasoline and diesel) and diesels burning a B10 blend of biodiesel.

As part of the plan, the City will halt its natural gas vehicle activity, and put the money currently allocated for bi-fuel CNG conversions back into the budget for hybrids and biodiesel. (GCC)

A poll released by the New York-based Coalition Advocating for Smart Transportation (CAST), indicates that 70% of New Yorkers think it is important (34% of that very important) for hybrids to become the majority of the New York City taxi fleet over the next five years.

That same 70% (43% strongly) supports a City Council bill (Introduction) 642 that would permit hybrid vehicles to meet specifications for license by the Taxi and Limo Commission. Intro 642 apparently is stalled in the Transportation Committee, and no action has yet been taken. (GCC)

In China, the Beijing municipal Industrial and Commercial Bureau (ICB) announced that Euro 3 emission standards will go into effect for the city starting 1 July. To meet the stricter emission standards, environmental protection authorities in Beijing are planning to introduce measures to carry out checks on private cars in the Chinese capital.

In April, the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) set the timetable for national implementation of Euro 3 standards (1 July 2007) and Euro 4 standards (1 July 2010), noting that the standards would be carried out in Beijing first. (GCC)


Morgan Motor Company, the UK maker of the classic Morgan car, is building a hydrogen fuel-cell car based on its Aero 8. Partly supported by a £1.9 million (US$3.47 million; €2.84 million) grant from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Morgan LIFEcar will use a fuel cell developed by Qinetiq, while BOC produces the hydrogen refuelling plant.

Morgan also reportedly plans to use ultracapacitors in its energy storage solution. The project is currently targeting a prototype in two to three years. (GCC)

Honda indicated that it is targeting a price for its fuel-cell-operated vehicles similar to that of its regular gasoline-engine-powered cars by 2020.

Honda is looking to price between ¥3 million (US$27,500) and ¥4 million (US$36,600) -- a similar price as that of its Accord sedan. Honda won't put an exact price on the current FCX fuel-cell car, nor disclose its exact costs.

According to Honda, fuel-cell technology may never be used if production costs can’t be cut sufficiently by 2020. The company said it may take another ten years to reduce the cost just to ¥ 10 million (US$92,000) (GCC).

Fuel cell pioneer Ballard Power Systems signed the agreement for the previously announced sale of its German subsidiary to DaimlerChrysler and Ford.

The sale provides four benefits to Ballard, which has been struggling financially.

Most immediately, the deal provides a cash benefit through recovering US$20 million in expenses and cutting the company’s cash outlay by approximately US$25 million. It also initiates the next generation alliance and development agreements with Ford and DaimlerChrysler, in which the partners will fund up to US$59 million for the development of the next generation vehicular fuel cell and electric drive system. (GCC)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) announced a $4.8 million interdisciplinary program to train doctoral students in fuel cell science and engineering. The program is supported by a $3.2 million, first-of-its-kind fuel cell research education grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) combined with a $1.6 million investment by Rensselaer. (GCC)


Beginning 1 July, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will switch the 870 vehicles in its fleet -- including tractors, mowers and off-road equipment in addition to passenger vehicles -- to biofuel blends.

The University will use E-10 (10% ethanol) blends in all its gasoline-powered vehicles, with the exception of 26 flex-fuel vehicles that will burn E85. Diesels will use a B2 soy biodiesel blend. (GCC)

The government of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan and industry representatives have launched a new task force to lead the development of the province's biodiesel industry. (GCC)

Codexis and Cargill announced a major breakthrough in developing a novel microbial process to convert corn sugar to a specific chemical intermediate. Although not resulting in a fuel, the process is an important milestone in developing a new renewable chemical platform that uses crops and biomass as a feedstock to eventually replace some petroleum-based products. (GCC)


FirmGreen Energy is planning to build a landfill gas (LFG) project at the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio's (SWACO) landfill in Grove City, near Columbus.

The US$18 million project -- called a Green Energy Center by FGE -- has three primary phases: the first, to produce power and heat with a microturbine burning LFG methane; second to convert LFG to CNG for vehicles; third to produce methanol for sale and in the production of biodiesel and hydrogen.

The core of the process is Acrion Technologies' CO2 Wash -- also being used in a prototype LFG project with Mack Trucks. (GCC)

Natural Gas

East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, is adding its first five CNG vehicles to its fleet: four Honda Civic GXs and one three-quarter-ton Chevy truck. Based on its experience with the new vehicles over the past several weeks, the Department of Public Works is planning to replace all of its sedans with CNG vehicles over the next several years as the cars currently in use wear out. (GCC)


In remarks to the National Petroleum Council, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman noted the standard points about increasing global demand for oil contributing to the price situation, but also touched on the difficulties faced on the supply side.

We believe that the days of easily accessible oil are coming to a close. That is already the case for the lower 48 in the United States. Increasingly, the global oil demand will have to be met by developing petroleum resources that involve serious technical, and often political, challenges.

That is, in essence, an acknowledgement of the imminence of the conditions of global peak oil production. (GCC)

China, the world's second-biggest oil consumer, plans to spend $3 billion on refinery units capable of processing lower-quality, high-sulfur ("sour") crude oil from the Middle East. In return, the country hopes to be able to cut its current annual oil import bill by as much as 20% (reflecting the lower cost of lower-quality crude). (GCC)


CO2 emissions from new passenger cars sold in the EU-15 countries decreased by 11.8% between 1995 and 2003, and 1.2% compared to 2002, according to a new report released by the European Commission. Autos from European and Japanese manufacturers posted better results than their Korean counterparts. Ford, GM and, of course, DaimlerChrysler, are included in the numbers from the European manufacturers. (GCC)

Honda Automobile China (CHAC), a partnership of Honda Motor (China), Guangzhou Auto Group and Dongfeng Motor Group, today began exports to Europe of the compact passenger car Jazz. CHAC is the first passenger car maker in China to begin full-scale exports to European markets.

By leveraging the economies of manufacturing in China, Honda -- and other automakers who are looking at China as a source for exports -- will be able to derive a better margin on the lower-cost vehicles. This is precisely the fear of some of the larger automakers for the US market -- that higher-margin Chinese-made cars will begin to eat more profitably into the US market for compacts, while the market for the larger, high-margin (and more fuel-consuming) SUVs continues to erode. Assuming the price of oil and fuel continues to rise, this could prove challenging for the US automakers in their home market -- just as in the late 1970s and early 1980s with the entry of Japanese compacts. (GCC)

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