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The Week in Sustainable Transportation (01/29/06)
Mike Millikin, 29 Jan 06

skysails.jpgMike Millikin covers the continuing evolution of personal transportation at Green Car Congress.

Writing in the journal Science, a group of scientists from the UK and the USA said that using biomass rather than oil or coal to produce fuels and chemicals could play an essential role in reducing the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, but that greater scientific focus needs to be placed on developing new techniques to transform plant material more efficiently and broadly.

In an editorial in the same issue, BP chief scientist Steven Koonin called for a major scientific focus on biofuels, with the coordination of government, university, and industrial R&D efforts, facilitated by responsible public policies. (GCC.)

A new analysis by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley concludes that the production of ethanol from corn uses less petroleum energy than the production of gasoline. However, they also conclude that the reduction in greenhouse gases derived by using corn ethanol as a fuel is smaller than some thought -- between 10% to 15%. (GCC.)

US Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate whether big oil corporations are knowingly restricting consumer access to alternative fuels like ethanol and biodiesel as a result of company policies. (GCC.)

General Motors reported a 2005 calendar-year loss, excluding special items, of $3.4 billion compared with net income of $3.6 billion in 2004. The size of the operational loss was bigger than analysts’ estimates. GM’s automotive operations reported an adjusted loss of $5.3 billion in 2005, compared to adjusted earnings of $1.2 billion in 2004. (GCC.)

Ford Motor released its financials for 2005 today, reporting company-wide full-year after-tax income from continuing operations of $2.5 billion, a drop of 42% from the $4.3 billion in 2004. Its North American auto operations was the most troubled unit, reporting a pre-tax loss of $1.6 billion for the year, a decline of $3 billion from 2004. (GCC.)

Ford announced a restructuring plan that will eliminate up to 30,000 manufacturing jobs. The company also announced today that hybrid versions of the Ford Five Hundred, Mercury Montego, Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX will debut in the 2008-2010 timeframe. (GCC.)

In an interview in the Wall Street Journal, President Bush said automakers should develop “a product that’s relevant” rather than look to Washington for help with their heavy pension obligations.

HYBRIDS AND PLUG-IN HYBRIDS

At the Washington Auto Show, Ford unveiled the Ford Escape Hybrid E85, a version of its Escape hybrid with a flexible-fuel engine capable of running either gasoline or ethanol blends of up to 85% (E85). The research vehicle is the first from a major car company to actually mate the two technologies (flexible-fuel engines and hybrid powertrains) together, although the potential of the combination is being increasingly mentioned by policymakers. (GCC.)

Mexico's National Institute of Ecology (INE) and Honda have signed an agreement for the joint environmental evaluation of 500 Civic Hybrid sedans in Mexico City, notable for its high altitude, heavy pollution and high fuel consumption. (GCC.)

Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide has delivered five hydrogen-fueled Toyota Prius vehicles to the City of Santa Ana, California. This is part of a larger South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) program to develop and demonstrate 30 hydrogen hybrid vehicles to fleets in Southern California. (GCC.)

Ricardo will join AFS Trinity to design, test and develop AFS Trinity’s Extreme Hybrid plug-in hybrid (PHEV) drivetrain and to build the initial systems for licensing by AFS Trinity to carmakers worldwide. (GCC.)

With a launch event in Washington DC, Plug-In Partners kicked off a national campaign to urge automakers to accelerate development of plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV). An initiative of the City of Austin, Texas, Plug-in Partners is a grassroots coalition of cities including Austin, Baltimore, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle as well as electric utilities and national policy organizations. (GCC.)

BIOFUELS

GM, continuing its new push on E85 and flexible-fuel vehicles (earlier post), today launched a national advertising and marketing campaign—"Live Green Go Yellow"—to build awareness and market acceptance for E85 vehicles. (GCC.)

American Biofuels (ABF) plans to quadruple its soy biodiesel production capacity to 40 million gallons per year (mgpy) in 2006, giving it one of the largest capacities of biodiesel producers in the US, and representing more than 10% of current total US capacity. (GCC.)

Veridium Corporation and Mean Green BioFuels are planning a joint venture on the conversion of fats from livestock and poultry facility wastes into biodiesel fuel. The proprietary sludge processing technology now owned by Veridium reduces the volume of Dissolved Air Flotation (DAF) sludge resulting from the wastewater processing from slaughterhouses by 80% while recovering the majority of the animal fats contained in the sludge&mash;fats that can be used as biodiesel feedstock. (GCC.)

A joint program between the Minnesota Corn Growers, AgStar Financial Services, and the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition is designed to promote leasing of flexible-fuel vehicles that can burn gasoline or ethanol blends of up to 85% (E85). (GCC.)

BATTERIES AND ELECTRIC VEHICLES

Valence Technology has announced eight new models of its large-format lithium-ion batteries based on its proprietary Saphion technology. (EDrive Systems uses Valence Saphion batteries in their plug-in Prius conversions. (GCC.)

Firefly Energy, the developer of a new graphite-foam lead-acid battery technology (earlier post), is slated to received a $2.5-million appropriation from the 2006 defense spending bill to further develop its battery technology for military applications. The new technology promises lead-acid battery performance approaching that of NiMH at about one-fifth the cost and with reduced weight. (GCC.)

General Hydrogen Corporation has placed a 200,000 unit, three-year, purchase order for Maxwell ultracapacitors to enhance performance and energy management in its Hydricity Pack fuel-cell technology for industrial vehicles, especially forklifts. (GCC.)

HYDROGEN

In a demonstration of the capability of its Aqueous Phase Reforming (APR) process, Virent Energy Systems announced the successful startup of a 10kW power generation system that converts sugars and glycerin directly into hydrogen and natural gas as fuel for a Ford 1.6-liter, four-cylinder combustion engine genset. This is the first production demonstration of a system of this type, and promises a more energy-efficient mechanism for the direct conversion of bio feedstocks into hydrogen and other fuel gases than current thermoconversion technologies. (GCC.)

Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman today kicked off the Washington Auto Show by announcing $119 million in funding and a research roadmap aimed at identifying and overcoming the technical and manufacturing challenges associated with the further development of commercially available hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. (GCC.)

HyRadix and France's IFP (Institut Français du Pétrole) announced a joint multi-year development program to extend the capability of HyRadix' autothermal reforming (ATR) technology to produce hydrogen from liquid hydrocarbon feed stocks, starting with ethanol. (GCC.)

PEM fuel-cell maker Anuvu, founded in 1994, has cut its staff to three, stopped product development and is negotiating for debt relief with its major creditor. (GCC.)

SYNTHETICS

Petrobank, a Calgary, Canada-based oil and natural gas exploration and production company, is commissioning its WHITESANDS oil-sands pilot project using the proprietary in-situ THAI combustion process. Pre-ignition warming is scheduled to begin in February, with combustion initiating by May 2006. THAI is designed to use less natural gas and water, and produce a lower amount of CO2 emissions than other in-situ oil sands production methods. (GCC.)

DIESEL

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the availability of $3 million in grants for projects aimed at reducing diesel emissions on the West Coast. (GCC.)

Cummins and India-based Tata Motors have signed an agreement that will allow their joint venture in India, Tata Cummins Ltd. (TCL), to begin manufacturing the ISB diesel engine in the near future. The engines produced by TCL will meet Euro-2, Euro-3 and Euro-4 standards for diesel emissions. (GCC.)

Cummins also signed a JV agreement with KAMAZ Inc., the largest vehicle manufacturer in Russia, to produce Cummins B Series engines (120-275 horsepower) in Russia under the name ZAO Cummins Kama. The engines will be produced in two stages to comply with Euro 2 and Euro 3 standards for diesel emissions. (GCC.)

The head of the Swiss Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy, and Communication (UVEK), Moritz Leuenberger, has proposed a nine-point action plan to reduce emissions of particulate matter (PM) that includes mandatory diesel particulate filters and new emissions standards. (GCC.)

OTHER

ENERPULSE, an ignition products company, announced that its prototype capacitor-enhanced pulse plug (Pulstar), has demonstrated a 2.7% improvement in spark-ignition engine vehicle fuel efficiency over spark plugs in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tests. The drop-in replacement for spark plugs uses the capacitor to store and then discharge the ignition's electrical power in a powerful pulse. (GCC.)

Suzuki Motor announced that it will export its new Swift subcompact to North America as early as 2007 to take advantage of a growing demand for fuel-efficient vehicles. (GCC.)

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation today launched its new i minicar at Mitsubishi dealerships throughout Japan. Using a newly developed platform with an original rear-midship layout that mounts the engine forward of the rear axle line, the new i series includes 2WD and 4WD models. The i platform is also the basis for Mitsubishi's just-introduced Concept-CT series/parallel hybrid. (GCC.)

Beluga Shipping GmbH, a Bremen, Germany-based shipping company, has purchased a new towing-kite propulsion assist system from SkySails, a start-up company in Hamburg, Germany. The SkySails towing-kite propulsion system uses offshore wind power (a kind of ìwind hybridî propulsion assistance) to cut a ship's fuel consumption by up to 50%, thereby also reducing emissions. (GCC.)

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