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THE WEEK IN SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORTATION (02/12/06)
Mike Millikin, 12 Feb 06

fuelcell-4_000.jpgMike Millikin covers the evolution of personal transportation at Green Car Congress.

The US trade deficit rose 17.5% in 2005 to a record $725.8 billion. In 2005, the US posted exports of $1,271.1 billion and imports of $1,996.9 billion. The largest single contributing component was the increased cost of petroleum, related goods and natural gas. The trade deficit in those combined goods increased by $73 billion (40%) to $258 billion—35.5% of the total trade deficit. (GCC.)

The DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts an increase in petroleum demand in the US averaging 2% per year for the next two years. The agency forecasts that demand for gasoline—which accounts for about half of total petroleum consumption—will increase an average 1.7% per year. This follows on a 0.3% decline in total oil consumption in 2005 (with the exception of gasoline, demand for which still increased during the year). (GCC.)

Two US Senators leading the Senate’s Committee on Energy and Natural Resources—Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), Chairman; and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Ranking Member—released a bipartisan White Paper on Climate Change. The white paper outlines key questions and design elements for a national greenhouse gas program in order to facilitate discussion and the development of consensus around the creation of a bill to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in the US. (GCC.)

The Pew Center on Global Climate Change has released a comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The Agenda for Climate Action identifies both broad and specific policies, combining recommendations on economy-wide mandatory emissions cuts, technology development, scientific research, energy supply, and adaptation with critical steps that can be taken in key sectors. One of the key suggestions for the transportation sector is replacing CAFE fuel economy requirements with a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade scheme. (GCC.)

The European Commission today adopted an ambitious EU Strategy for Biofuels, with a range of potential market-based, legislative and research measures to boost production of fuels from agricultural raw materials. The strategy, which builds on the biomass action plan adopted in December 2005 (earlier post), sets out three main aims: to promote biofuels in both the EU and developing countries; to prepare for large-scale use of biofuels by improving their cost-competitiveness and increasing research into “second generation” fuels; and to support developing countries where biofuel production could stimulate sustainable economic growth. (GCC.)

Renault President and Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn outlined a three-year strategic plan for the company that focuses heavily on lowering emissions of carbon dioxide and biofuels. The EU has set an ultimate goal of 120 g CO2/km by 2010 at the latest for new cars. Average CO2 emissions for European cars in 2003 was 163 g/km. Ghosn stated that by 2008, Renault will sell one million cars emitting less than 140 grams of CO2 per kilometer, of which one-third will emit less than 120 grams. In addition, 50% of gasoline-powered engines for sale in Europe in 2009 will have the ability to operate with a mixture of gasoline and ethanol. By the same date, all diesel engines will be able to operate with a B30 biodiesel blend (30% biodiesel, 70% petroleum diesel). (GCC.)

HYBRIDS

Ford is working with the city of Chicago to put hybrid vehicles into service as taxi cabs beginning in 2007, as part of a plan by the Chicago City Council. Ford is loaning the city an Escape Hybrid to serve as a training and education tool with taxi fleets and the public. (GCC.)

London put its first six diesel hybrid buses into service. The Wrightbus hybrids use a series-hybrid drive from Enova Systems. A 336V gel lead acid battery pack, charged by a 1.9-liter Euro-4 compliant diesel genset, powers the 120kW drive system. This deployment represents the first of a number of hybrid systems that London Buses will evaluate. (GCC.)

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) unveiled the prototype Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) vehicle powered by GM’s diesel-electric hybrid system that will be used as one component of the city’s Euclid Corridor Transportation Project. (GCC.)

TRW Automotive Holdings, through its subsidiaries, is developing advanced regenerative braking technologies that integrate the enhanced safety of electronic stability control systems for hybrid vehicle and similar architectures. (GCC.)

Québec-based Desjardins General Insurance, the property and casualty insurance arm of Desjardins Group, Canada’s largest cooperative financial group, is introducing an additional 10% discount on the automobile insurance premium for hybrid vehicles. (GCC.)

Based on a complaint filed by Solomon Technologies, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) has voted to institute an investigation into whether or not Toyota’s hybrid drivetrain infringes on a patent awarded to Solomon 15 years ago. If Solomon is successful in its ITC action, Toyota could be prohibited from importing into the United States infringing combination motor and transmission systems and those products containing such systems—i.e., Toyota’s hybrids. (GCC.)

BIOFUELS

Ford Motor Company said that it will launch the beginnings of a “Midwest Ethanol Corridor” by expanding E85 ethanol fuel availability in Illinois and Missouri this year by about one-third via its ongoing partnership with VeraSun Energy. The company is planning actions to increase the availability of ethanol in neighboring states as well. (GCC.)

GM also announced a partnership with VeraSun and Shell that will bring 26 E85 pumps to the greater Chicago area. (GCC.)

Ford is joining two European alternative fuel projects, PROCURA and BEST. PROCURA (derived from “procurement”) is a three-year project that began last week in Utrecht (Netherlands). It follows the January 25 launch of the BEST (BioEthanol for Sustainable Transport) initiative in Stockholm (Sweden). (GCC.)

The EPA has named the Biodiesel Production Facility in Denton, Texas, as its Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP) Project of the Year (Alternative Fuel). The 3-million gallon/year plant represents a partnership between Biodiesel Industries, Inc., DTE Energy and the City of Denton. This is the first facility of its kind in the world where landfill gas (LFG) is used to produce biodiesel, according to the EPA. (GCC.)

D1 Oils plc, the UK-based global producer of biodiesel, has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Williamson Magor & Co. to form a joint venture company to develop jatropha plantations with farmers in North East India. The joint venture will aim to plant approximately 25,000 hectares (about 97 square miles) during the 2006 planting season. (GCC.)

Sasol, the South African energy company and world’s largest Coal-to-Liquids (CTL) producer, and the Central Energy Fund (CEF) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to conduct a feasibility study for a 100,000-tonne/year soy biodiesel plant in South Africa. (GCC.)

UBS AG and Diapason Commodities Management S.A will soon launch the UBS Diapason Global Biofuel Index (UBS-D GBFI)——he first commodity-based index for biofuels. This global index will cover a range of commodities used in the production of ethanol and biodiesel. The index will be published in US dollars, Euros, Swiss Franks and Yen. (GCC.)

Automakers presenting at the National Biodiesel Conference and Expo were generally bullish on the prospects for diesel and biodiesel in the US, with some important caveats about fuel quality and standards. (GCC.)

BATTERIES and ELECTRIC CARS

China BAK Battery, one of the largest manufacturers of Lithium Ion (Li-ion) battery cells, announced that it has formed a contract manufacturing partnership with A123Systems, a developer of high-power Nano-Phosphate Li-Ion battery technology based on patented nanotechnology licensed from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). (GCC.)

Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI), the manufacturer of Subaru vehicles, announced that it has signed a five-year agreement to license its lithium-ion capacitor technology to Nihon Micro Coating. Under the license agreement, Nihon Micro Coating will non-exclusively be able to develop, prototype, manufacture, use, and market lithium-ion capacitors based on FHI’s technology. The company had been producing the electrodes for the capacitors. (GCC.)

Researchers at MIT’s Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems (LEES) are investigating the use of nanotube structures to improve the energy storage density of ultracapacitors to a level comparable with that of NiMH batteries, while maintaining or even improving the ultracapacitors’ high performance.(GCC.)

Mitsubishi will introduce its fourth prototype car based on its in-wheel electric motor technology, the all electric Concept-EZ MIEV compact mono-box vehicle at the upcoming 76th Geneva International Motor Show. (GCC.)

HYDROGEN

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) plans to enroll the public in a five-year test program for driving hydrogen fuel-cell powered cars and testing fuel-cell powered wheelchairs. (GCC.)

DaimlerChrysler delivered five F-Cell hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) for use in its fleet. The vehicles will be fueled at BP/Praxair’s retail-designed hydrogen fueling station at LAX. (GCC.)

Hy-Drive Technologies, the maker of a compact, on-board, on-demand electrolyzer that produces hydrogen for mixture with gasoline, diesel or propane, announced the commercial availability of its new G2 hydrogen generating system (HGS) and has begun shipping and installing its first G2 units to selected trucking customers in North America. (GCC.)

NATURAL GAS

Cummins Westport will receive US$350,000 in funding from Utilization Technology Development (UTD) to support the customer demonstration of the next-generation ISL G 8.9-liter natural gas engine. The ISL G will meet the coming EPA and CARB 2010 emissions standards of 0.2 g/bhp-hr oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and 0.01 g/bhp-hr particulate matter (PM) at its launch in 2007, using cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and a passive three-way catalyst that simultaneously converts NOx, carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrocarbons (HC). (GCC.)

OTHER

Cree, Inc. and Kansai Electric Power Company(KEPCO) of Osaka, Japan, have successfully demonstrated a 110 kVA silicon carbide (SiC) three-phase inverter. This represents the highest power SiC inverter reported to date and represents an increase in output power of 9x the previous high of 12 kVA demonstrated by KEPCO and Cree in 2004. Silicon-carbide power electronics can operate at higher temperatures, power densities and frequencies than conventional silicon semiconductors, resulting in smaller, lighter, and simpler electrical systems—especially of benefit for hybrid and electric vehicles. (GCC.)

Nissan plans to develop a global strategic vehicle with an engine displacement of about 1 liter targeted at China, India and other emerging markets. The company reportedly will spend more than ¥100 billion (US$843 million) to produce about 600,000 units a year—nearly 20% of Nissan’s global sales—in these markets by 2009. (GCC.)

Petrobras, the Brazilian state-owned oil company, is paying US$370 million for a 50% stake in a Texas refinery. This marks Petrobras’ first joint venture with a US refiner and will provide more access to the North American market. With the entry of Petrobras, the refinery will be further upgraded to process heavy, high-sulfur oil such as that from Petrobras’ Marlim field in the Basin de Campos. (GCC.)

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