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The Week in Sustainable Transportation
Mike Millikin, 11 Dec 05

solatec_panels.jpgMike Millikin writes about the ongoing evolution of personal transportation at Green Car Congress

The UN Climate Change Conference in Montreal wrapped up, adopting more than forty decisions designed to further global efforts to combat climate change. Among them are a road map to extend the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 and the launching of new, open-ended global talks on ways to fight climate change that will include Kyoto outsiders such as the United States and developing nations.

The US agreed to the dialogue only after the agreement specified it would not lead to formal negotiations or commitments or the type of emissions caps codified in Kyoto. On the technology front, discussions focused on Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) approaches, with delegates committing to move forward with more analysis. (GCC.)

The US Department of Energy has signed an agreement with the FutureGen Industrial Alliance to build FutureGen, a prototype coal-based plant intended to establish the technical feasibility, economic viability and broad acceptance of co-producing electricity and hydrogen from coal with essentially zero emissions, including carbon dioxide (sequestration).

The FutureGen plant will be sized to generate approximately 275 megawatts of electricity, which is roughly equivalent to a medium-size coal-fired power plant and sufficient to supply electricity to approximately 275,000 average U.S. households. Carbon dioxide sequestration will be in the range of 1 to 2 million metric tons annually. (GCC.)

EU Environment ministers meeting on 2 December endorsed a suggestion to include the aviation sector in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) as "the best way forward" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aviation and urged the Commission to bring forward a legislative proposal by the end of 2006. (GCC.)

The California Climate Action Team, a high-profile advisory panel appointed by California Governor Schwarzenegger, issued a comprehensive draft report urging a number of actions to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions. Of these, the Climate Action Team considered five essential and overarching: mandatory reporting of emissions; a "public goods" levy on petroleum-based products including gasoline and diesel; an investment strategy for state funding programs; training for technicians of the future; and early action credits for California businesses. (GCC.)

In a settlement agreement filed in the Federal District Court in San Francisco, the US Departments of Commerce, Labor, Transportation, and the Veterans Administration admitted to violating the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) in their continued failure to make required purchases of Alternative Fuel Vehicles (AFVs) and agreed to bring themselves into compliance with the law. (GCC.)


Sales of hybrids in the US declined in November to 15,942 units -- the third lowest monthly results of the year -- but were up 85% from the year before, reflecting the availability of more models and increased demand. Total light-duty vehicle sales in November dropped 6.7% from the year before, from 1,198,673 units to 1,164,975. Hybrids thus represented 1.4% of the total light-duty vehicle market in November.(GCC.)

Hyundai Motor (HMC) unveiled a mild-hybrid version of the Accent sedan, due to go on sale next year in Korea as a 2007 model. Hyundai said earlier this year that it would advance sales of hybrids in the US to late in 2006, starting with hybrid versions of its Accent and the Kia Rio. The Accent hybrid combines an Alpha II 90 hp (67 kW) 1.4-liter CVVT (Continuous Variable Valve Timing) gasoline engine with a 12 kW permanent magnet synchronous motor integrated between the engine and the transmission to deliver fuel consumption of 5.29 liters/100 km (44.5 mpg US). (GCC.)

Toyota announced that it will stage the world premier of the much-anticipated Camry Hybrid and the all-new 2007 Camry on 9 January 2006 at a press conference at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. (GCC.)

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation and Mitsubishi Motors North America Inc. (MMNA) will introduce a new series-hybrid 4WD sport compact concept car -- the Concept-CT MIEV -- at the 2006 North American International Auto Show (the Detroit Motor Show) in January. The CT concept uses the Mitsubishi In-wheel motor Electric Vehicle (MIEV) technology (earlier post) shown earlier this year in a prototype Lancer MIEV. A gasoline engine will work as the genset with the lithium-ion battery pack to provide power for the in-wheel electric motors. (GCC.)

Honda is considering plans to assemble its hybrid cars in Thailand if the government provides sufficient tax incentives. This would mark Honda's first hybrid assembly outside of Japan. (GCC.)

Solatec LLC introduced flexible, rooftop-mounted solar panels for hybrid vehicles, starting with a kit for the 2004-2006 Toyota Prius. Panels for other hybrid models will follow. The solar panels augment the charge of the battery system. (GCC.)

In remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations on 1 December, Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) called for the US and China to cooperate on energy policies and technologies to help avoid potential conflict in the future. The senator urged the expansion of the U.S.-China Energy Policy Dialogue established in 2004 to encourage the development of alternative fuels and vehicles that are powered by energy sources other than gasoline, with particular emphasis on plug-in hybrids. (GCC.)

The Ottawa, Canada, City Council has put a planned C$536-million (US$462-million) purchase of new hybrid buses on hold to allow for further study of natural gas buses as an alternative from both a financial and an emissions frame of reference. (GCC.)


European Union energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs has introduced a wide-ranging biomass fuel action plan that outlines the approaches the Commission will take to speed up the use of biomass energy (wood, wastes and agricultural crops) in transport, electricity production and heating and cooling sectors. (GCC.)

A key area of focus in the plan is "second-generation biofuels"—biofuels created by thermochemical conversion such as gasification and Fischer-Tropsch processing, for example. Although a variety of bio-based fuels are possible products of this route (hydrogen, methanol, ethanol, dimethyl ether (DME) and Fischer-Tropsch fuels (Biomass-to-Liquids, or BTL)), it is likely BTL diesel (which is chemically different than the methyl-ester biodiesel produced, for example, from rapeseed or soybeans) that will see the most attention over the next years, especially in Europe. (GCC.)

A new joint venture between Bunge, a global agribusiness company and, and Diester Industrie, a subsidiary of Sofiproteol, a French oilseed and protein crop firm, has decided to build a new biodiesel plant in Mannheim, Germany. Annual capacity will be 120,000 metric tons (36.2 million gallons US), with a plan to expand it up to 250,000 metric tons. (GCC.)

D1 Oils plc, the UK-based global producer of biodiesel, will sponsor a biodiesel-powered car in the Le Mans global series of sports car races. The objective of the D1 Lola B2K car is to test the performance, fuel efficiency and emissions produced by different biodiesel blends. (GCC.)

The New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR) has awarded a Cornell University professor a $750,000 grant to explore the use of plant and microbial resources to produce biofuels, industrial chemicals, natural products and other consumer goods. (GCC.)


Frito-Lay has approved a preliminary joint marketing venture and acquisition of lithium-ion powered electric vehicles from Hybrid Technologies. The multinational will purchase and take delivery of models of the Lithium Mini Cooper model as well as the Daimler Chrysler Smart Car Lithium version. The first Frito Lay vehicles are scheduled for delivery by Q1 2006. (GCC.)

Saft has developed an integrated NiMH battery system to support a different twist on hybrid trams: trams that can switch the source of traction power between overhead catenaries and on-board batteries. (GCC.)


Solar Hydrogen Energy Corporation (SHEC) and its partners will deploy the world's first solar hydrogen production station using landfill gas (LFG) (methane) as a feedstock. The plant (SHEC Station #1), based on SHEC's Dry Fuel Reformation process -- will use an array of 30 modules each of which comprises a solar mirror array and advanced solar concentrator and shutter system, and two thermocatalytic reactors to convert methane, carbon dioxide, and water into hydrogen. (GCC.)

The BOC Foundation has awarded OSCar Automotive, a UK company, a grant to develop a powertrain for a two-seat hydrogen fuel-cell urban vehicle. The grant will help fund the two-year "Hyrban" project which aims to prove that practical hydrogen fuel-cell urban vehicles can be engineered using existing fuel-cell technology. The Hyrban concept car will use in-wheel electric motors powered primarily by a fuel cell. Regenerative braking will charge ultracapacitors which will provide most of the power for acceleration. (GCC.)

The 3rd International Fuel-Cell Bus Workshop brought together 65 industry leaders, government officials, and fuel-cell engineers to review the state of the fuel cell bus today, and to work on three core issues: data sharing, commercial feasibility, and hydrogen infrastructure. (GCC.)

Toyota Motor affirmed that it is continuing to develop fuel-cell units for home heating and power based on its automotive fuel-cell work. The automaker will work with Aisin Seiki Co. to launch home fuel-cell energy systems in the Japanese market around 2008. (GCC.)

Scientists have manipulated hydrogen atoms into stable sites beneath the surface of a palladium crystal, creating a structure predicted to be important in metal catalysts, in hydrogen storage and in fuel cells. Understanding the effects could advance efforts to improve chemical reactions involving metal catalysts. In addition, the subsurface hydride may provide a model material for application in hydrogen storage and fuel cells. (GCC.)


Quelling some speculation about the future of the model, Honda brought a compressed natural-gas GX version of its redesigned 2006 Civic to the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA) Conference and Exposition. The 2006 Civic GX is powered by a 1.8-liter, 115 hp (86 kW) engine fueled by a 8-gallon-gasoline-equivalent, 3,600 psi tank mounted in the trunk. The new engine is larger and slightly more powerful than its 1.7-liter predecessor, which delivered 100 hp (75 kW). (GCC.)

The Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority (TransLink) has selected Cummins Westport (CWI) C Gas Plus natural gas engines to power up to 95 new 40-foot, compressed natural gas (CNG) heavy-duty buses for the Greater Vancouver area. (GCC.)


Rentech is tracking to startup its Coal-to-Liquids pilot plant in 2006. The company has ordered the gasifier and product upgrading units needed for the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) Coal-to-Liquids (CTL) Product Development Unit (PDU) it will be building at the Sand Creek facility in Commerce City, Colorado near Denver. The PDU will produce 10-15 barrels per day of FT diesel, naphtha and jet fuel. (GCC.)


Volvo introduced new versions of its S40 and V50 models using the new 2.4-liter D5 diesel engine at the Bologna Motor Show. The compact D5 engine will also be fitted to the new Volvo C70 during 2006. (GCC.)

As promised earlier this year, Mercedes-Benz is offering a retrofit system for C-Class and E-Class diesel models which significantly reduces particulate emissions for these older vehicles to better than Euro-4 standards. The system is maintenance-free and is suitable for installation in vehicles with four-cylinder diesel engines produced since June 2003. (GCC.)

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) has approved the $52.8-million purchase of 155 clean diesel buses from New Flyer. (GCC.)

General Motors India (GMI) is planning to make 30% of its Optra sedans diesel-based by 2007. Currently, the only engine option is gasoline. GMI will source the diesel engines from GM Daewoo. Subsequent to their application in the Optra, GMI will adapt the diesels for other models. (GCC.)

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) adopted two measures designed to curb emissions from port-based cargo-handling equipment and diesel engines used to produce electric power on ocean-going vessels. The new regulations -- the first of their kind in the country -- are components of a larger, developing program intended to reduce the emissions attendant to international goods movement into and out of California ports. (GCC.)


Sales of full-sized sports utility vehicles should continue to drop significantly as consumers shift to smaller, car-based crossover SUVs, according to Ford. (GCC.)

Japanese domestic new-car sales fell for a fifth consecutive month to hit a 30-year low in November of 305,569 units, excluding minicars (which are treated separately)—an 8.2% drop year on year. Cumulative minicar sales from January to November came to 1.79 million units, up 2.6%. The proportion of minicars to overall automobile sales has risen to 33% from 23% in 1990. (GCC.)

PSA Peugeot Citro"n has selected its Trnava, Slovakia, plant as the site for a future manufacturing unit with a potential production capacity of 150,000 vehicles per year, dedicated to an "entirely new vehicle" to be marketed alongside existing models. The new car, despite its completely different design concept, will be built on the same small car platform as the plant's other vehicles, and will be added to the PSA Peugeot Citro"n product line-up in 2010. (GCC.)

A study scheduled for publication in the 15 Dec issue of the American Chemical Society's journal, Environmental Science and Technology, shows that for the first time, toxic metals emitted from automotive catalytic converters have been detected in urban air in the United States. Catalytic converters are used to reduce emissions of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and other pollutants. (GCC.)

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