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The Week in Green Vehicles (09/11/05)
Mike Millikin, 11 Sep 05

88 mpgEvery Sunday, Green Car Congress' Mike Millikin gives us an update on the ongoing evolution of sustainable transportation. Here's Mike:

The week after Hurricane Katrina saw three major automotive partnerships announced around hybrids (below). The spike in gasoline prices caused by the projected sidelining of 5+% of US refining capacity for months (GCC) wasn’t the cause—but it certainly served as to underscore the point.

The national average gasoline price of $3.069 reached by the end of the week (EIA) is only a few cents below the historic real (adjusted to Sep 2005 dollars) peak price of gasoline in 1981.

In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush is establishing a state-wide energy conservation policy with a goal of a 10% reduction in consumption, and is calling on Floridians to conserve as well. The governor also ditched his Ford Expedition in favor of a ford Escape Hybrid. (GCC)

Elsewhere, the concern has been on keeping fuel supplies available, and prices low—and one approach to that has been to waive clean fuel standards. Last week the IRS and the EPA waived standards for low-sulfur diesel and low Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) in gasoline in an effort to increase quantity. (RVP is one of the standards applied to gasoline quality, and is an indicator of the propensity of the fuel to evaporate, thereby emitting Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that contribute to ozone formation.)

This week, the California Air Resources Board also temporarily waived RVP standards, saying that if no action were taken California would experience about a 5%-10% reduction in production due to the inability to import finished gasoline and blendstocks. (GCC)

The Financial Times reported that the White House has told US refiners to postpone all scheduled maintenance in a drive to maximize gasoline and diesel production, and to “forget about” ultra low-sulfur diesel. (GCC)

An alternative immediate policy response, of course, could have been to mandate an lowering of national highway speed limits back to 55 mph.

The Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee (author of the Senate version of the energy bill) accelerated the timing of a hearing that had been scheduled earlier to explore rising gas prices in the wake of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

In a statement related to the hearing chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) summarized the range of options that are on the table: (GCC)

Political obstacles cannot stop us from addressing the hard issues that will secure our energy infrastructure... Some goals we should address in the immediate future are:

  • Encouraging citizens to conserve

  • Increasing CAFE standards

  • Developing more domestic supplies like the Outer Continental Shelf

  • Increasing Refinery Capacity

  • Eliminating the Proliferation of Boutique Fuels

Those goals, in essence, represent the two poles of response to the emerging energy crunch to which Katrina served as an extremely tragic—but not unforeseen—catalyst: focus on the supply side, or focus on the demand side.

The pole that provides the most leverage is that of the demand side: conservation and increased fuel efficiency.

HYBRIDS

It’s show time for the new Honda fourth-generation IMA (Intelligent Motor Assist) hybrid powertrain in the 2006 Civic Hybrid. Compared to the 2005 Civic Hybrid, the 2006 model with the new IMA is 18% more powerful than its predecessor while delivering a combined EPA estimated fuel economy of 50 mpg US compared to 47-48 mpg US of the 2005 hybrid. The new IMA also adds the ability to cruise only under the power of the electric motor. (GCC)

The BMW Group, DaimlerChrysler and General Motors today formed an alliance of equals for the joint development of hybrid drive systems. The three global automakers are developing a two-mode hybrid drive system the goal of which is to provide reduced fuel consumption not just in city driving, but also at highway speed.

While the base two-mode hybrid design will be common to the three, each company will individually integrate the hybrid system into the design and manufacturing of vehicles in accordance with their brand-specific requirements. GM plans to deploy the system first on some of its full-size SUVs; DaimlerChrysler in the Durango and rear-wheel drive sedans. (GCC)

Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp (SAIC) says that it will work with its joint venture partner Volkswagen to develop hybrid technology for the Chinese market by 2008. Volkswagen states that it will work alone to develop its own hybrid engine technology for the United States and Europe.

The partnership intends to make 500 hybrid Touran vans to be used as people carriers during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, according to SAIC. Large scale production of hybrids may start by 2010, prior to the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. (GCC)

ZF Friedrichshafen AG and the Automotive Systems Division of Continental AG are forming a consortium for the purpose of jointly developing and marketing hybrid vehicle technology for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles. The components will be engineered and produced in the individual units of the two companies.

Continental currently provides the Integrated Starter Alternator (ISA) hybrid systems for GM's mild hybrid pickup trucks—the Sierra and Silverado—that are in limited production. The ISA solutions deliver a 10%-13% improvement in fuel economy in these applications. (GCC)

RailPower Technologies, manufacturer of the Green Goat series hybrid switcher locomotives, is licensing its hybrid technologies to Ocean Tug & Barge Engineering for marine applications.

RailPower, through OTB, will distribute its hybrid power systems to tug and barge operating companies, tug and towboat builders and shipyards involved in the construction of a wide range of workboats. (GCC)

St. Louis Metro is putting an Orion VII diesel series hybrid bus through its paces. The transit agency may end up putting a hybrid fleet on the road by 2009. The Orion series hybrid has been gaining market momentum, with New York, Toronto and San Francisco buying signficant numbers. Orion is a subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler. (GCC)

ELECTRIC

Hybrid Technologies, makers of electric versions of the Crossfire and Mini Cooper, is set to begin production of its all-electric version of the DaimlerChrysler Smart ForTwo coupe.

Initial production models for the European market will focus on government and fleet retrofitting. The British government is already working with Hybrid Technologies to introduce Hybrid Technologies’ lithium Mini Cooper into diplomatic service. (GCC)

SEV is gearing up for production of the a new electric delivery van. Capable of a top speed of 50 mph, the van uses an Azure Dynamics all-electric powertrain that replaces SEV's earlier system. (GCC)

BIOFUELS

Cincinnati (OH) Metro has switched to a B30 biodiesel blend (30% biodiesel, 70% petroleum diesel) for its buses in response to the disruption in fuel deliveries caused by Hurricane Katrina. (GCC)

Sun Tran in Tucson, Arizona has received its first shipment of 38 new low-floor diesel buses, all of which will burn a B20 biodiesel blend. (GCC)

Johnson County Transit (JCT), the public transit operation serving Johnson County, Kansas, is switching the balance of its fleet to O2Diesel's ethanol-diesel fuel blend. O2Diesel uses 7.7% ethanol, with up to 1% proprietary additive and a cetane improver. (GCC)

Ford Thailand is introducing a new E20-capable Ford Focus. In July 2004, the Thai government announced a National E20 Ethanol Strategy; Ford is the first automaker to deliver an E20 product to that market.

The 1.8-litre Duratec HE gasoline in the Thai E20 Focus is designed to run on all gasohol fuel mixtures up to 20% ethanol (E20). (GCC)

The Thai Cabinet has approved a proposal by the Energy Ministry to allow state-owned oil and gas conglomerate PTT to import 17.82 million liters (4.7 million gallons US) of ethanol to counter an ethanol shortage in the country. (GCC)

The Alberta (Canada) Research Council (ARC) has teamed up with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) to create an on-line Biofuels Quality Registry in support of the government's Biodiesel Initiative.

Biodiesel producers and end-users can now register on the Biofuels Quality Registry Web site, an extranet site hosted by ARC, to have their products tested for quality. The site is to be the national database into which the results of the analysis of candidate biofuels are entered. (GCC)

HYDROGEN

Ballard Power Systems has closed a deal with General Hydrogen (Canada) for more than 100 Mark9 SSL fuel cell stacks, ranging in power output from 4.8 kW to 21.1 kW, for integration into General Hydrogen's forklift power units. This is Ballard's second contract recently for lift truck fuel cells. (GCC)

DaimlerChrysler is delivering two F-Cell fuel cell vehicles to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) in California. This brings the total of F-Cells deployed in California and Michigan to 17. (GCC)

NATURAL GAS AND LPG

Volvo Buses has received its first bus order for its new gas engine, the G9A. Bernmobil in Switzerland has placed an order for 32 Volvo 7700A articulated buses using the G9A, with an option for 39 more.

The G9A engine, announced in June 2005, is a 9.4-liter in-line 6-cylinder engine for CNG or biogas operation, and offers either 260 hp or 300 hp. It is Volvo's first Lambda 1 engine, meaning it delivers a constant stoichiometric mix of air and fuel (lambda=1), burning neither lean nor rich. The Volvo G9A uses a three-way catalyst, and emission levels are below the levels defined in both Euro 5 (beginning in 2009) and EEV, Enhanced Environmental Vehicle. (GCC)

The Thai Energy Ministry and Transport Ministry have agreed to convert 1,000 buses of the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) to CNG. (GCC)

Volkswagen is presenting natural gas-powered versions of its successful Touran minivan and Caddy light utility vehicle at the upcoming Frankfurt IAA. (GCC)

GM Holden (Australia) is launching new dual-fuel gasoline-LPG versions of its large sedan and wagon, the Commodore, featuring a newly-developed version of its 3.6-liter Alloytec V6 (one of GM's global engines). (GCC)

DIESELS

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) will propose requiring diesel trucks with a gross vehicle weight greater than 14,000 pounds be equipped with a non-programmable engine shutdown system that automatically shuts down the engine after five minutes of continuous idling with the goal of reducing emissions. (GCC)

Scania is introducing a new line of Euro-4 and Euro-5 compliant heavy-duty diesel engines (in addition to its Euro-3 range). Euro-4 emissions standards become mandatory in October 2006 and Euro-5 in October 2009.

Scania has opted for EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) as its long-term strategy for cleaner combustion to comply with Euro 4 and Euro 5, in combination with other developments such as its new extra high-pressure injection system (XPI) (earlier post). (GCC)

Volvo is also introducing a new line of heavy-duty trucksóthe FH and FMówith a completely new 13-liter engine, and an upgraded 9-liter engine. Both new engines offer improved fuel efficiency and increased power, as well as Euro-4 and Euro-5 compliance through SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction). (GCC)

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are working on two materials that offer the promise of improved diesel emissions control.

The first material, cryptomelane, is an excellent catalyst to trap and oxidize sulfur dioxide, thereby protecting nitrogen dioxide traps from the sulfur dioxide that can degrade them. The second material, silver hollandite, is proving to have catalytic properties that can completely oxidize NOx, CO and hydrocarbons. (GCC)

Delphi Corporation has developed a new 1,800-bar common rail injection system for the next generation of medium-duty diesel vehicles. Based on its Multec technology, the new medium duty common rail is designed for engines from four to nine liters in three primary applications: off-highway, commercial vehicles and large passenger vehicles such as North American SUVs. (GCC)

OTHER

Fiat and Ford will jointly develop future small cars for Europe. The two new vehicles that would be involved, with highly differentiated designs, would be a new Fiat 500 (Cinquecento) and a replacement for the current Ford Ka. (GCC)

The US Department of Energy has authorized Amerigon's BSST subsidiary to proceed with the second phase of a $6.3 million project (earlier post) to create an efficient and practical thermoelectric system that will improve fuel economy by converting waste heat in automobile engine exhaust into electrical power. (GCC)

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