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The Week in Sustainable Transportation (3/12/06)
Mike Millikin, 12 Mar 06

a06_hydrogen_full.jpg Mike Millikin covers the ongoing evolution of personal transportation at Green Car Congress

The US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on US Energy Independence, with testimony from four witnesses: Amory Lovins, CEO of Rocky Mountain Institute; R. James Woolsey; Susan Cischke, Ford vice president of environmental and safety engineering; and Frank Verrastro, Director and Senior Fellow of the Energy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Lovins was the most direct calling for a policy focus that would accelerate the elimination of reliance on oil from any source, not just non-US sources. That theme surfaced throughout the day. (GCC.)

Echoing that distinction of independence from oil, rather than indepedence from imported oil, the Greens/European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament responded to the EC’s just-released Green Paper on European Energy Policy with its own Vienna Declaration calling on Europe to get “swiftly out of oil without delay.” (GCC.)

LIGHT-DUTY HYBRIDS

Hybrid sales in the US in February 2006 were up 43.8% from same period the year before. Overall, hybrids very slightly increased their percentage share of the total light-duty vehicle market in February 2006 to 1.26%, up from 1.19% in February 2005. (GCC.)

Due to ongoing strong demand, Toyota Auto Body—one of Toyota’s manufacturing subsidiaries in Japan— is doubling its assembly capacity for the Prius, beginning in May. The factory began manufacturing the Prius in October 2004 and currently exports around 70% of its output. (GCC.)

The funds for Pennsylvania’s rebate program to encourage the purchase of hybrid electric and alternative fuel will run dry sometime in April, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). More than 2,600 buyers have picked up the $500 rebates, which are offered on a first-come, first-served basis throughout the year as long as funds are available. Funds will be refreshed in July. (GCC.)

Greater London Hire (GLH)—London’s longest-established private hire and courier service—will increase to 32 the number of Prius hybrids in its fleet by this summer. That will make the Prius about 10% of the total fleet. (GCC.)

Toyota reportedly will co-develop hybrid systems jointly with Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI), the parent of Subaru, with the aim of using the technology in Subaru Legacy models in two to three years. Subaru has been taking a different approach in designing hybrid systems for its horizontally-opposed engine than Toyota uses in its Hybrid Synergy Drive System. Toyota purchased 8.7% of Subaru after GM sold off its holdings in 2005. (GCC.)

The Scuderi Group, a company that designed and is developing a new internal combustion engine based on dividing the conventional four-stroke engine cycle across two paired cylinders, is enhancing that basic design with the addition of an air-hybrid capability. The group, which just announced that it has raised more than $8 million in funding—including a $1.2 million award from the US government—will introduce the new air-hybrid split-cycle engine at the upcoming SAE World Congress exhibition in Detroit. (GCC.)

HEAVY-DUTY HYBRIDS

The Volvo Group has unveiled a prototype hybrid system for heavy-duty vehicles (buses and trucks) which promises fuel savings of up to 35%, depending upon usage. Designated I-SAM (Integrated Starter, Alternator, Motor), the parallel hybrid system comprises a combined starter motor, drive motor and alternator fit between the clutch and the I-Shift automatic transmission. Effpower bi-polar lead-acid batteries are recharged by the diesel engine and via regenerative braking. The company is targeting series production of the hybrid vehicles by 2009. (GCC.)

BIOFUELS

Markets for biofuels, photovoltaics, wind energy, and fuel cells will expand four-fold in the next decade, growing from $40 billion in global revenues in 2005 to $167 billion by 2015, according to a report released today by Clean Edge, a research and publishing firm. Clean Edge reports the biofuels market hit $15.7 billion globally in 2005 and projects it to grow to $52.5 billion by 2015. (GCC.)

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels announced that Louis Dreyfus Agriculture Industries plans to build one of the world’s largest biodiesel plants yet near Claypool, Indiana. With this facility—which will ultimately produce up to 250,000 gallons of biodiesel per day, or more than 80 million gallons per year—two other biodiesel and six ethanol plants currently under construction, Indiana will become a leading producer in the biofuels industry. (GCC.)

UK-based biodiesel producer D1 Oils plc (D1) and the Center for Energy and Environment Protection (CEEP) within the Ministry of Agriculture of the Government of the People’s Republic of China have signed a Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to promote the adoption and production of biodiesel produced from jatropha in southern China. (GCC.)

The United States slipped past Brazil to become the world’s largest producer of ethanol (of all grades: beverage, fuel and industrial) in 2005, according to figures from F.O. Licht as reported by the Renewable Fuels Association. US demand for fuel ethanol exceeded production in 2005, and the US imported about 133 million gallons—an average of 8,700 barrels per day. (GCC.)

Iowa State University researchers are working to create chemical catalysts that would increase the yield of fermentable sugars from corn, with the potential to boost the production of corn ethanol by 10% to 15%. (GCC.)

BATTERIES AND ELECTRIC VEHICLES

Altair Nanotechnologies and Electro Energy have entered into a four-year Joint Development Agreement for the design, manufacture and marketing of high-power lithium-ion batteries and battery systems. Initial target markets consist of a variety of portable devices, including hand-held power tool applications. (GCC.)

Altair Nanotechnologies also entered into an agreement with Boshart Engineering for the design and engineering of a prototype full-speed electric vehicle (EV) to be powered by an Altairnano rechargeable advanced lithium ion battery system. (GCC.)

The Bolloré Group, through its battery-making subsidiary BatScap, brought a road-ready prototype of its BlueCar lithium-ion electric city car to this year’s Geneva Motor Show. The BlueCar made its debut as a concept car at the Geneva show last year. The Group says it will build six more BlueCar prototypes this year, and is expanding battery production to handle 10,000 systems per year. (GCC.)

HYDROGEN

Chemists at UCLA and the University of Michigan have achieved hydrogen storage concentrations of up to 7.5 wt% in Metal Organic Framework (MOF) material—exceeding the the DOE target of 6.5% by 2010 for application in hydrogen fuel-cell cars. (GCC.)

Researchers at DOE’s Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) ran a high-temperature electrolysis stack to produce hydrogen for 1,000 hours in the longest and largest experiment to date on processes that could lead to the production of hydrogen using nuclear or solar energy as a source for high heat. High-temperature electrolysis (HTE) adds in some of the energy needed to split the water as heat—from a source such as high-temperature steam from an advanced nuclear reactor system or an adapted solar energy system—instead of electricity. Because the conversion efficiency of heat to electricity is low compared to using the heat directly, HTE reduces the overall energy required. (GCC.)

Umicore, a leader in precious metals catalyst, and Solvay, a leader in polymer membrane technology, have agreed to form a joint venture in the research, development, production and sales of Membrane Electrode Assemblies (MEA) and related compounds to be used in fuel cell applications. (GCC.)

GreenShift Corporation is investing in General Hydrogen Corporation, a provider of fuel-cell packs to replace batteries in electric forklifts, industrial vehicles and other off-road equipment. (GCC.)

DIESEL

Renault has applied its 1.5-liter dCi diesel engine in the Dacia Logan, resulting in a 50mpg (4.7 l/100km), Euro-4 compliant vehicle that it will sell starting at €9,840 (US$11,800). Renault also uses the 1.5 dCi in its own Clio range. (GCC.)

At the Geneva auto show Renault also unveiled a new diesel particulate filter with exhaust post-injection. The filter, which will be available during the first half of 2006 on the 85hp and 105hp versions of the 1.5 dCi diesel engine that powers Clio and Modus, allows active regeneration of the particulate filter in all traffic situations, even when the car is at a standstill with the engine idling. (GCC.)

Cummins and China’s Beiqi Foton Motor Company have signed a feasibility study plan for the formation of a 50/50 joint venture company to produce two types of light-duty diesel engines for use primarily in the commercial market in China. (GCC.)

NATURAL GAS

Bosch has launched its NG Motronic flexible engine management system—a tri-fuel injection system that supports the transparent switching between gasoline, ethanol or compressed natural gas. Bosch announced the core NG Motronic gasoline-CNG system last fall. (GCC.)

India's Tata Motors is working with Canadian firm Advanced Technologies & Fuels Canada Inc. (ATFCAN) in lean-burn compressed natural gas (CNG) bus demonstration project in New Delhi, India. The project will involve six buses designed for transit and intercity applications that feature new CNG engine and fuel storage systems. Cummins Westport will provide the engines and Dynetek Industries will provide the lightweight compressed natural gas storage systems. (GCC.)

SYNTHETICS

DaimlerChrysler, Renault, Royal Dutch Shell, Sasol Chevron and the Volkswagen group are launching an association—The Alliance for Synthetic Fuels in Europe (ASFE)—to promote synthetic fuels in Europe and to support research, demonstration projects, and public-private cooperation in the area. ASFE is focusing on synthetic fuels made with the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process from natural gas (Gas-to-Liquids, GTL), coal (Coal-to-Liquids, CTL) or biomass (Biomass-to-Liquids, BTL). (GCC.)

A prototype dimethyl-ether (DME) fueled truck developed by Nissan Diesel Motor and the National Traffic Safety and Environment Laboratory has exceeded the upcoming 2010 US heavy-duty emissions regulations in testing. DME is a synthetic fuel that is to diesel what LPG is to gasoline: while gaseous at ambient conditions it can be liquefied at moderate pressure. With a high cetane number, DME is clean-burning, sulfur-free, and with extremely low particulates. These are attractive characteristics for a worldwide heavy-duty vehicle industry being faced with increasingly stringent emissions requirements. (GCC.)

Syntroleum Corporation has signed a letter of intent to form a joint venture with Bluewater Energy Services B.V., intended to develop and finance the building of the world’s first air-based gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant on an offshore floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel that could also produce oil and offer storage capabilities. (GCC.)

Cash Minerals, an emerging energy company with a base of coal and uranium assets in the Yukon, is evaluating different coal sites in the Yukon and China for their suitability to support Coal-to-Liquids (CTL) projects using the Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) process. (GCC.)

CBC news reports that the Fort McMurray, Alberta, Medical Examiner is worried by a high number of illnesses, including leukemia, lymphomas, lupus, and autoimmune diseases, afflicting residents of Fort Chipewyan, a community of about 1,200 people living 300 kilometers north of Fort McMurray and down-river from the oil sands developments. The ME is negotiating with Health Canada for an epidemiological study. (GCC.)

OTHER

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), working as part of a consortium with Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler, are working to develop high-volume renewable sources of carbon fiber feedstocks in an attempt to lower the cost of carbon fiber composites. (GCC.)

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