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The Week in Sustainable Vehicles (11/06/05)
Mike Millikin, 6 Nov 05

obvio.jpgMIke Millikin writes about the ongoing evolution of personal transportation at Green Car Congress.

The US Senate on Thursday voted 52-47 to approve a budget reconciliation package which includes a provision allowing oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Correspondingly, it defeated by a 51-48 vote an amendment offered by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to strike the ANWR title from the act. (GCC)

Recent modelling and simulation performed by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory determined that business-as-usual consumption of fossil fuels for the next few centuries would result in the depletion of the polar ice caps, a rise in ocean sea levels by seven meters, and an increase in the median air temperature of 8° C (14.5° F).

In the polar regions alone, the temperature would spike more than 20° Celsius (36° F), forcing the land in the region to change from ice and tundra to boreal forests. (GCC)

Vermont on Wednesday joined California in regulating greenhouse gas (notably CO2) emissions from vehicles, becoming the first of six Northeastern states working on the same rules to do so.

Under the rule, one set of GHG standards is to be established for passenger cars, small light-duty trucks, and small SUVs, and another set for large light-duty trucks (up to 8,500 lbs. GVWR) and large SUVS (less than 10,000 lbs. GVWR). Both sets of GHG standards would be gradually phased in between model-years 2009 and 2016. When fully implemented during model-year 2016, new motor vehicles subject to the regulation would be required to emit approximately 30% fewer GHGs than without the regulation. (GCC)


Sales of light-duty vehicles in the US in October dropped 14% from the prior year. Of the Big Six, GM and Ford suffered the most, with year-on-year decreases of more than 25% each. Combined sales of full-size SUVs from all automakers tumbled some 50% year-on-year, from a total of 160,552 in October 2004 to 79,746 in October 2005. (GCC.)

Moodys cut GM's debt deeper into junk territory by lowering the long-term rating B1 from Ba2 based on its uncertainty about the company’s ability to restructure and recover. "The outlook is negative."

Sales of hybrids also dropped, although only by 12%, giving hybrids a very slightly larger share of the total market—1.48%—than the month before. The Prius, however, countered the trend, by pushing its sales up to 9,939 units—an increase of 21% from September. (GCC.)


General Motors has expanded the availability of its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size start-stop microhybrid pickup trucks nationwide beginning with the 2006 model year. The trucks had been available only to retail customers in Alaska, California, Florida, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

The pickups replace the conventional starter motor and alternator with a compact 14-kW electric starter generator integrated between the engine and transmission. GM estimates that the start-stop system, which offers regenerative braking, will provide fuel savings of up to 10%—i.e., around a 1-mpg increase in fuel economy in one of the trucks. (GCC)

GM also formally agreed with SAIC in Shanghai to accelerate the local development of passenger car hybrids as other clean-energy vehicle applications including hydrogen fuel cell technologies for China's relevant vehicle platforms. The introduction of locally manufactured vehicles is targeted to be available beginning in 2008. (GCC)

Honda has been offering a $1,200 incentive to its dealers on each sale of an Accord Hybrid -- the first hybrid car to receive such financial support from the manufacturer. (GCC)

Based on a presentation at the Tokyo Motor Show, an industry newsletter reports that Toyota may be reconsidering its "no plug-in" mantra and be developing plug-in hybrids for the US, although the company still remains concerned about battery limitations. (GCC)

Toyota Motor Sales is also temporarily suspending model year 2006 Prius sales to government and rental fleets and cancelling existing order agreements due low inventories and an anticipated surge in retail demand. (GCC)


A123Systems, a startup working with technology licensed from MIT, unveiled its lithium-ion battery systems that deliver up to 10x longer life, 5x power gains and dramatically faster charge time (more than 90% capacity in five minutes) over conventional high-power battery technology. These characteristics make the battery highly suited for hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicle applications, and A123 Systems is working with the DOE to develop next-generation materials for hybrid vehicles. (GCC)

A research group including Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. and Hitachi Maxell Ltd. is developing a storage cell for hybrid automobiles capable of recharging and discharging electricity at 100 times the current speeds. The partners, which include Nagasaki University and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, aim to commercialize the cell in three years. (GCC)

Hybrid Technologies, the maker of custom electric versions of the PT Cruiser, Crossfire, smart car and Mini Cooper (earlier post), will begin working with Volkswagen on an electric concept vehicle for the automaker. Under the terms of a recent agreement, Volkswagen and Hybrid Technologies will jointly produce a lithium-ion powered concept vehicle to be utilized by Volkswagen. (GCC)


Hydrogenics Corporation announced the successful completion of trials of its fuel cell forklift at GM of Canada's car assembly plant in Oshawa and FedEx Canada's logistics hub at Toronto International Airport. Hydrogenics designed, built and integrated 10-kW fuel cell power packs to replace the lead-acid batteries in two Hyster Class 1, 5,500-lb sit-rider forklifts provided by NACCO Materials Handling Group. (GCC)

Also pursuing the materials-handling market, General Hydrogen announced that Bridgestone/Firestone Tire has ordered hydrogen-powered Hydricity Packs as replacements for conventional lead-acid batteries in materials-handling vehicles in its Warren County, Tennessee plant. (GCC)

The use of fuel-cell based power packs in fork lifts and other materials-handling equipment reduces recharge/refueling time and maintains consistent levels of power output compared to the conventional lead-acid batteries in use.

A research consortium led by the University of Nevada Las Vegas Research Foundation (UNLVRF) and including Altair Nanotechnologies and Hydrogen Solar has received an additional $2.5 million Phase III grant award from the US Department of Energy (DOE) to further the development of solar hydrogen generation cells and a fueling station based on that technology. (GCC)


Ford Motor has announced a new partnership with VeraSun Energy, the second-largest ethanol producer in the US, to expand the refueling infrastructure for E85, the 85%-ethanol blend used in flex-fuel vehicles (FFV). Flex-fuel vehicles can run either on gasoline or E85.

In Europe, Ford announced that it is preparing to launch the new Focus Flexi-Fuel vehicle (FFV) and Focus C-MAX FFV in France. (GCC)

ZAP has broadened its future minicar offerings by becoming the exclusive North American distribution for a pair of new flex-fuel minicars to be produced by Obvio! in Brazil. The two companies expect to unveil prototypes of the two in the US by the end of 2005. Initial plans are to roll out the vehicles in 2007. (GCC)

According to fuel reports from the Kansas Department of Revenue, Kansans consumed more than 4.3 million gallons of ethanol (in E10 and E85 blends) in July and August compared to the same two-month period in 2004—more than seven times the 2004 number. Those 4.3 million gallons represent some 2% of the combined total of 230 million gallons of gasoline and ethanol consumed by Kansan drivers in July and August 2005. (Drivers consumed 230 million gallons of both in July and August; an increase of 1% from the same period in 2004.) (GCC)

Abengoa Bioenergy R&D (ABRD), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Abengoa Bioenergy, one of the world's largest producers of biofuels, is acquiring 10% of O2Diesel in an investment worth €3 million (US$3,588,000). The two companies are also entering a five-year agreement for the joint development of O2Diesel's ethanol-diesel blend for the European market. (GCC)

E3 Biofuels is building a 20-mgpy (million gallons per year) ethanol plant at a cattle feedlot in Mead, Nebraska, that will be powered by methane from the cattle manure. The use of manure as a source for methane is similar in approach to that taken by Panda Energy with its three 100-million gallon ethanol plants in Kansas, Colorado and Texas. But E3 Biofuels is promoting its smaller system as "closed-loop."

Methane from the manure will power the ethanol plant, which will make fuel ethanol from corn with distillers grain for cattle feed as a byproduct. The 30,000 cattle at the Mead feedlot will eat the distillers grain right at the site, eliminating the need to dry and ship the product thereby saving more energy and expense. (GCC)

Two ethanol plants under construction in the Midwest (Heron Lake Bioenergy and Red Trail Energy) are apparently vying (indirectly) to become the first coal-fueled ethanol plants in the country. Each plant has a 50-million gallon per year production capacity, uses corn as the feedstock and will use coal combustion as the direct energy source for steam and drying. The decision to go with coal was based strictly on economics; the groups calculate they will thereby reduce their production energy costs up to 70% compared to using natural gas. (GCC)

The Canadian province of Manitoba has released an action plan to promote the development of biodiesel as a new opportunity for Manitoba producers and rural communities and a clean-energy alternative to fossil fuels. The plan has two primary components: the cancellation of a C$0.115 per liter (US$0.37 per gallon) fuel tax on B100 and a C$1.5-million (US$1.3-million) support package for Manitoba biodiesel producers. (GCC).

The Eastman Chemical Co. plant near Batesville, Arkansas has begun producing biodiesel from soybean oil, the first facility in Arkansas to do so. By the end of this year, the company plans to also use recycled vegetable-based cooking oil as a feedstock. (GCC)

PNM, a New Mexico utility, has begun using B20 biodiesel in its diesel fleets in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Those 240 vehicles in those fleets represent about 57% of the total PNM diesel fleet. Other diesel equipment is located in more remote areas of the state that do not yet have access to the biodiesel fuel. (GCC)


International oil major Total is launching a new R&D program on converting natural gas to liquids (GTL processes). The company has recently signed a cooperation agreement with a number of partners in science and industry in this area, including Battelle subsidiary Velocys, a specialist in microchannel reactors. The use of microchannel technology in the process could lead to much smaller systems capable of processing stranded gas resources into liquid product. (GCC)

Peabody Energy has entered into a memorandum of understanding with ArcLight Capital Partners to advance project development of a commercial-scale coal gasification project in Illinois that would transform coal into pipeline-quality synthetic “natural gas.” The plant would be one of the largest coal-to-natural-gas plants in the United States and would be sited in Illinois. (GCC)


The Texas Low Emission Diesel (TxLED) rule, after being postponed due Hurricane Katrina, came into effect. The goal of TxLED, an enforceable rule under Texas' State Implementation Plan (SIP), is to lower emissions of NOx and other pollutants from diesel-powered motor vehicles and non-road equipment. The rule covers 110 counties in the eastern half of Texas, and applies to diesel fuel producers, importers, common carriers, distributors, transporters, bulk terminal operators, and retailers. (GCC)

In a demonstration of the effectiveness of its retrofit technology, Caterpillar is equipping all land-based equipment at the Port of Cleveland with emission-reducing catalyzed converter/mufflers (CCM). Port operator Federal Marine Terminals owns the 26 lift trucks and other machines being retrofitted under this effort. (GCC)

An executive delegation from the Port of Los Angeles is visiting China and Taiwan this week as part of a mutual pact between the United States and China to manage air pollution derived from marine vessels and ports. Discussions at the ports of Shanghai and Taipei will focus on reducing diesel emissions and managing urban air pollution resulting from port-related operations. (GCC)


BorgWarner expects to net $1.6 billion in new powertrain business for 2006 through 2008, propelled by its engine and drivetrain components and systems that improve fuel economy and reduce emissions. (GCC)

The California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) voted unanimously to approve their environmental impact report (EIR) on one of the nation's largest proposed transportation projects, thereby moving one step closer toward actually building the 700-mile system that has been under discussion since 1996. (GCC)

Hydro, the Norwegian energy and aluminum company, is developing floating windmills for offshore power generation. Using the same type of floating concrete structure technology applied in the North Sea oil industry for offshore rigs as a base, the Hywind systems are designed to work in sea depths of 200-700 meters (656-2,297 feet). (GCC)

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Excellent summary of all the weeks events. Thanks.

Posted by: Jesse Jenkins on 6 Nov 05

Interesting article, but whatever happened to the good old tradition of captioning illustrations? I want to know what that cute little green "green" vehicle is and where/when I can order one... : )

Posted by: Don Stephens on 7 Nov 05

That would be the Brazilian Obvio! 828, available from Zap reportedly sometime in 2007.

Posted by: Mike on 7 Nov 05



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