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The Week in Sustainable Transportation (02/05/06)
Mike Millikin, 5 Feb 06

altica1.jpgMike Millikin covers the evolution of personal transportation at Green Car Congress.

Declaring that America “is addicted to oil” in his State of the Union address, President Bush outlined the Advanced Energy Initiative—a 22% increase in research funding focused on power generation and transportation. In the transportation sector, hydrogen, cellulosic ethanol and battery research for hybrid and electric cars received specific mention in the address. Funding for the initiative will appear in the President’s 2007 budget. (GCC.)

Members of both the House and Senate have proposed bills that would create an Advanced Research Projects Energy (ARPA-E) program modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA), the source for much of the work that led to the Internet. The ARPA-E program office, with an authorized funding level of $9 billion for fiscal years 2007 to 2011, would take on high-risk, high pay-off research to move advanced energy technologies into the marketplace. (GCC.)

Sales of full-size SUVs in the US continued their decline, although not as precipitously as in some months prior. Total sales dropped 8.6% from 96,107 in January 2005 to 87,864 in January 2006. The major exception to this was GM, which saw sales of its full-size SUVs climb 5.5% to 51,758 from 49,048 the year before. The GM swing was based primarily upon strong sales of the new Tahoe, which jumped 53% from 8,558 to 13,093 units year-to-year. (GCC.)

A European Commission survey of 24,930 consumers in the 25 Member States as well as the acceding and candidate countries determined that 77% of citizens pay attention to the energy consumed by cars (59% paying "a lot of attention"). However, faced with a hypothetical price increase of fuel to €2/liter—that's $9.18/gallon for those of us in the US—only 53% said they would use their cars less. Of that 53%, only 22% said they would use their cars "a lot less often." (GCC.)

Diesels accounted for 49% (7,415,198 units) of the total European car market at the end of 2005. That represents a 7% increase in annual sales volume over the prior period. Diesel is now set to overtake gasoline as the primary fuel for new passenger vehicles in Europe during 2006 as buyers look for more fuel-efficient options. (GCC.)

Robert Bosch Corporation predicted that the US market for light diesel vehicles will reach 15% over the next 10 years. (GCC.)

The British government has published the official report from an international conference on climate change held in February 2005—Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change. Consisting of 41 peer-reviewed papers, the book supports the conclusion that the speed and impact of climate change may be greater than already anticipated. It also touches on technology avenues for addressing the problem. (GCC.)

HYBRIDS AND PLUG-IN HYBRIDS

Honda is debuting the 2006 Honda Accord Hybrid with a better emissions rating (now AT-PZEV/Tier-2 bin2, previously ULEV-2/Tier-2 bin5), and slightly reduced estimated fuel economy. (GCC.)

General Motors announced that it will produce the new light-duty two-mode hybrid transmission at its Baltimore Transmission plant. Production of the transmissions begins next year and will initially be used in GM's new full-size SUVs, the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon (earlier post), which GM will assemble at its Arlington, Texas plant. (GCC.)

The US Army has awarded SatCon Technology, a developer and manufacturer of power electronics and motors for alternative energy markets, a contract to develop an Integrated Starter/Generator (ISG) for hybrid powertrain military vehicles. SatCon currently sells a line of subsystems to hybrid vehicle integrators such as Azure Dynamics, among others. (GCC.)

Honda launched consumer sales of its Civic Hybrid in the Mexican market; Mexico is the first Latin American country in which hybrids are offered to consumers. Last week the company entered into an agreement with the Mexican government for the testing of 500 Civic hybrids. (GCC.)

The DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is wrapping up a 12-month performance and evaluation test of the GM/Allison diesel hybrid buses in service in the King County (Seattle) Metro (KCM) Fleet. Preliminary findings, based on laboratory dynamometer and on-road operational data, indicate that the hybrids deliver decreased fuel consumption of 20%-43% depending upon duty cycle, a 10%-39% reduction in NOx emissions; and a 51%-97% reduction in PM emissions. (GCC.)

IC Corporation, North America's largest school bus manufacturer and a subsidiary of International Truck and Engine, is working with Enova Systems to introduce the nation's first hybrid school bus. The two companies have developed a prototype school bus with a hybrid diesel-electric drivetrain that is currently undergoing testing. (GCC.)

PSA Peugeot Citroen unveiled two prototypes featuring diesel-electric parallel hybrid powertrains, the Peugeot 307 and the Citroen C4 Hybride HDi. The hybrids deliver average combined city and highway fuel consumption of 3.4 liters per 100 kilometers (69 mpg US), with 90 grams of CO2 emitted per kilometer -- a tank-to-wheel record for compact cars, the most popular segment in Europe. (GCC.)

EPRI and DaimlerChrysler are about to enter the fleet feasibility testing phase of their investigation into plug-in hybrids with the pending deployment of six Sprinter vans of different configurations in different locations: Los Angeles (2 vans), New York, Kansas City, Hannover and Schweinfurt. (GCC.)

BIOFUELS

Petrobras, the Brazilian state-run oil giant, is considering the construction of a US$226 million (Ä186 million) ethanol pipeline capable of transporting 4 billion liters of ethanol per year. (GCC.)

The BEST (BioEthanol for Sustainable Transport) project officially launched in Stockholm last week at a three-day conference for all participants. BEST is a four-year project, partly funded by the European Union (EU), in which three vehicle manufacturers, ten locations, five ethanol producers and four universities will cooperate cross-functionally to accelerate the introduction of bioethanol as alternative automotive fuel in Europe. (GCC.)

BP will fund a $9.4 million project by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh to demonstrate the feasibility of producing biodiesel from Jatropha Curcas, a non-edible oil bearing crop. The project, which is expected to take 10 years, will cultivate around 8,000 hectares of land currently designated as wasteland with Jatropha and install all the equipment necessary -- seed crushing, oil extraction and processing -- to produce 9 million liters (2.4 million gallons) of biodiesel per year. (GCC.)

BATTERIES

Sanyo Electric and Volkswagen will jointly develop next-generation Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries for hybrid electric vehicles (HEV). Sanyo has already provided HEV batteries for Ford's Escape Hybrid and Honda's Accord Hybrid on the North American market. The agreement with Volkswagen is the company's first HEV partnership with a European automaker. (GCC.)

HYDROGEN

The European HYCHAIN-MINITRANS project for the test deployment of a fleet of about 150 hydrogen fuel-cell-based, low-powered public transport vehicles, such as wheelchairs, scooters, tricycles, small utility vehicles and minibuses, kicked off yesterday. The initial priority will be fleets belonging to municipal departments in the partner cities (maintenance workers, gardeners, etc.) as well as wheelchairs in use in partnership with some hospitals. (GCC.)

Westport Innovations and Ford Motor will collaborate on developing and demonstrating an advanced hydrogen direct-injection fuel system for vehicles based on Westport's hydrogen direct-injection (H2DI) technology. (GCC.)

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are working to understand water management and performance degradation in hydrogen-fueled PEM (proton exchange membrane) fuel cells -- two key areas that need to be addressed before PEM fuel cells can be used more routinely in transportation and/or for home power. (GCC.)

A team of researchers from the University of Texas and the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) have developed a "reverse-selective" rubbery plastic film that can purify hydrogen efficiently and that could contribute to lowering the cost of purifying hydrogen for use in fuel cells. (GCC.)

SYNTHETICS

Syntroleum Corporation and Sustec AG, a private company based in Basel, Switzerland, have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding that provides for exclusive joint business development of projects that will integrate Sustec's gasification technology (from its Future Energy GmbH portfolio company) with Syntroleum's Fischer-Tropsch (FT) technology. The joint venture is aimed at converting coal and other carbonaceous materials such as petroleum-coke, residual fuel oil and biomass into synthetic fuels and chemicals. (GCC.)

India plans to invest US$1-billion in Canadian oil sands assets over the next 12 months, according to M.S. Srinivasan, secretary of India's Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. (GCC.)

Energy & Environmental Partners, a privately held technology company led by the former President and COO of Clean Diesel Technologies, has launched a new commercial licensing program for US and Canadian patents covering the use of microorganisms for the desulfurization of high-sulfur crude and bitumen petroleum products (biocatalytic desulfurization). The EMULSOx patent family offers a way to upgrade the high-sulfur crudes in the western hemisphere (Orinoco bitumen, oil shale, tar sands) with lower energy and environmental impact. (GCC.)

DIESEL

Renault has unveiled its Altica diesel concept car, a sporty sedan with an interesting subsystem that dynamically manages the airflow over the vehicle to maximize efficiency. The Altica uses a new 2.0-liter dCi diesel that generates 130 kW (177 hp) of power and 380 Nm of torque with fuel consumption of 5.3 l/100km (44 mpg US) and CO2 emissions of 140 g/km. One of the more unique features of the car is the "Synthetic Jet" subsystem designed to optimize the vehicle's aerodynamic performance -- which, in turn assists in lowering fuel consumption. (GCC.)

Volvo Trucks has introduced the most powerful on-road truck yet, based on a new version of its D16E 16-liter heavy-duty diesel that generates 660 hp (492 kW) and 3,100 Nm of torque. Volvo invested SEK 300 million (US$39 million) in the development of the engine, which meets Euro-4 specifications and is prepared for the upcoming Euro-5 norm. The introduction comes as more European countries are considering following Sweden and Finland in allowing longer and heavier rigs on the road -- ideally to reduce the total number of trucks, thereby reducing traffic volume and aggregate emissions. Two 60-tonne rigs perform the same transport work as three 40-tonne units. (GCC.)

Hybrid Fuel Systems has received a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Conversion System Certificate of Conformity for the company's dual-fuel diesel to natural gas conversion system. (GCC.)

OTHER

Researchers at the University of Missouri-Rolla are developing a neural-network-based engine controller in an attempt to increase engine efficiency while reducing NOx emissions. Artificial neural networks are adaptive software systems which learn based on the successful connections they make between nodes. The goal of the work is to create a controller that essentially learns on-the-fly how to operate an engine more cleanly and efficiently. (GCC.)

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