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The Week in Sustainable Mobility: Earth Day Edition (4/22/07)
Mike Millikin, 22 Apr 07

About 35,000 automotive engineers from around the globe attended the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) World Congress in Detroit this past week. This year’s theme for this technical conference was “Engineering for Global Sustainable Mobility—It’s Up To Us”.

To say that the industry is aware of the need to address the two issues of greenhouse gas emissions and energy availability is an understatement. Presentation after presentation (and there were 1,500 technical papers presented) defined the framework for the research and development projects underway in terms of those two overriding factors. In a series of higher-level symposia hosted by powertrain engineering companies AVL and FEV, top engineering executives began their discussions of trends and possible outcomes practically with the same set of slides: climate change and energy availability.

Margo Oge, Director of EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality (OTAC), reminded the assembled engineers that this was not the first time the auto industry had faced an environmental challenge.

In the early 70's, the industry faced significant stringent regulations for air pollution and emissions from automobiles. For many, the first reaction was, “The sky is falling; we cannot do it.” Well, the sky did not fall, and not only were you able to do it, you were able to meet emissions standards put forward for the last 30 years—and do it better than what regulations require you to do, and do it earlier than the requirements ask.

The inevitability of some form of carbon regulation is also clear.

[Carbon regulation] is no longer a question of whether, only a question of when, and what it looks like.

—Cristopher Grundler, Deputy Director, Office of Transportation and Air Quality, US EPA

Indeed, there is emerging a very large body of research—very quickly—on a wide range of technologies targeted at making gasoline, diesel, hybrid, alternative fuel, hydrogen and electric vehicles more efficient. By one presenter’s count, there are now more than 200 discrete hybrid projects in production, in development, or described as research projects in the literature.

Different presentations highlighted the potential for significant improvements in gasoline, diesel and hybrid platforms. “There is no silver bullet” to enable the level of reduction of consumption and emissions required one speaker noted, although “maybe there is silver buckshot.”

Hybrids and plug-in hybrids are here to stay. They will permeate the [global] fleet. They are enablers for fuel economy.

—Jeremy Holt, President, Ricardo, Inc.

Fuel economy will become more important than emissions.

—Nigel Gale, VP, Engine, Emissions & Vehicle Research Division, SwRI

This is all about reducing CO2 and displacing petroleum. This is not about wants, this is about needs. This has to happen.

—J. Gary Smyth, Director Powertrain Systems Research, GM

One research paper assessed the historical trend in efficiency improvement in the light duty vehicle fleet over the past 30 years. (More...) Using an index of technical efficiency—Power-Size-Fuel economy Index (PSFI)—the researchers found that efficiency has increased steadily over the past two decades: about 50% total for cars and 30% for trucks. The gains were almost completely due to increases in performance.

The implication is that either an accelerated rate of technological progress, or a turning back of the clock on performance and size levels, might be needed to improve fuel economy at rates comparable to what was achieved in earlier years.

—Feng An, Energy and Transportation Technologies; and John DeCicco, Environmental Defense

Another paper, this one from Emmanuel Kasseris and John Heywood at MIT’s Sloan Automotive Lab, calculated potential reductions in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions for a variety of powertrain technologies by 2030. They found that, depending upon the technology and the drive cycle, fuel consumption could be reduced from a 2005 baseline by around 35% to more than 50% by 2030. One of the key assumptions was that size and performance were held flat with the 2005 baseline models.

These papers highlight both the potential for efficiency improvements and one of the main barriers to manifesting such improvements in gains in fuel economy: consumer choices.

The auto industry is now awash in marketing studies that show that consumers want it all: better fuel economy AND power, size and performance. Here's a quick example of the type of engineering response that ensues: a multi-company team of engineers applied some of the emerging gasoline engine technologies (advanced turbocharging, advanced direct injection, and a new catalyst for aftertreatment) to produce a V-6 engine with the power and performance of a V-8, that is SULEV capable, and that reduces fuel consumption by about 10% compared to the V-8.

The technologies could be applied to make an even smaller engine, with lower fuel consumption—albeit with lower power and not as “fun to drive.” Yet, not unreasonably from their business point of view, they chose their target because of the popularity of V-8s in the US market.

Related to consumer behavior is cost. More fuel efficient vehicles that meet emissions and safety standards, and deliver what consumers deem to be acceptable performance could cause sticker shock. While some consumers clearly are willing to pay a premium for fuel efficiency—certainly the early buyers of hybrids—it's safe to say that not all are yet so inclined.

Another factor complicating this situation is the global growth of the transportation industry. Transportation is likely to prove the toughest sector in which to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, partly because it continues to grow worldwide as well as in the US. The basic growth in transportation usage could zero out the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions delivered by efficiency gains designed by enthusiastic engineers in the short term (measured in the next ten years).

Larry Burns, GM’s Vice President of Research and Development and Strategic Planning, has put it very clearly:

The global economy is going to grow 3% or 4% per year, and there’s a correlation with that economic growth to the demand for energy growing at about 2% per year.

You know you compound 2% over 10 years, that’s 25%. That puts you right in the range of the efficiency gains that you get from a hybrid, right in the range of what it would be energy efficient-wise versus a gas engine, and right in the range of what most people think can be teased out of the internal combustion engine going forward. So we really need to look at alternatives in addition to just efficiency improvements to solve this problem.


Another factor is time. The US—and the world—has an increasingly large vehicle fleet which continues to emit a growing mass of greenhouse gases with every mile travelled while the clock ticks. Even assuming that in 10 years half of all new cars sold in the US were basic hybrids or diesels (roughly comparable in their improvement in fuel economy over port injected gasoline engines, which are by far dominant in the US), the needle registering the total growth of petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions would barely budge. As Burns points out, we’d slow our rate of growth, but not by much.

How much time do we have? Not that much, at least according to NASA’s James Hansen, who last year said that the world has a 10-year window to take decisive action on global warming to avert a catastrophe.

Thirty-seven years ago this Sunday, about 20 million Americans turned out to participate in thousands of local environmental events. This success brought environmentalism into the mainstream, and contributed to the subsequent passage of the Clean Air Act and numerous other significant pieces of environmental legislation to address the gross and growing environmental degradation so manifest at the time.

This year’s Earth Day has momentum around its own set of issues—specifically, demanding “a drastic cut in greenhouse gas emissions—80% below 1990 levels by 2050.”

But more so than on the first Earth Day in 1970, we must demand as much, if not far more, action from ourselves and our communities than from the usual targets. Like the first Earth Day, success on Earth Day 2007 and beyond will have to be a grassroots phenomenon. Not only do we need the automakers to produce more fuel-efficient, lower-emitting cars, but we need to drastically change the way we use them.

Communities have to tackle the hard issues of changing basic modes and patterns of behavior. How do we discourage petroleum usage and encourage mass transit, rail, walking, cycling...all the potential modes of personal and group movement that will contribute to changing the basic dynamics of our deteriorating situation? How do we each drive less?

As with the future technology of transportation, there is no silver bullet. But we do have numerous examples of communities, companies, cities and even states taking responsibility for planning and policy action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum consumption by changing the way they use transportation.

While governments and automakers must make significant changes to address the climate and energy crisis, it is we who must demand it. A carbon tax shouldn’t have to be considered political suicide, and fuel economy must be valued more highly than vehicle power and size. Each and every one of us needs to make significant changes in a number of areas of our lives. The Sierra Club’s “2% Solution” campaign is a start along these lines, albeit not as detailed and measured as it could be.

Our first Earth Day made a real difference, and catalyzed real change. Let’s give our 38th Earth Day—and ourselves—the same power.

Happy Earth Day.

The Past Week in Sustainable Mobility

Robust global growth in transportation will increase energy use and carbon emissions in the sector by about 80% over 2002 levels by 2030, according to the technical summary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group III report to be issued 4 May, as described by Reuters. More...

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released the current national greenhouse gas inventory, which finds that net overall emissions—factoring in sources and sinks—rose 0.83% in 2005 from 2004 to 6,431.9 Tg CO2e. Emissions from transportation rose 1.6% during the same period to 1,897.9 Tg. Transportation continues to be the largest contributor of the four end-use sectors. More...

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, joined by US Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA), announced a set of initiatives designed to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on petroleum. More...

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg presented three goals and commitments for a new climate policy in his speech to The Norwegian Labour Party’s national congress with the ultimate goal of making Norway a carbon-neutral country by 2050. More...

US Senator Barack Obama is proposing a National Low Carbon Fuel Standard (NLCFS) based on the California LCFS established by California Governor Schwarzenegger in January 2007. More...

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will sponsor a demonstration project for R-152a, a refrigerant for mobile air conditioners with lower global warming potential (GWP) than R-134a.

More...

US Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Pete Domenici (R-NM) introduced legislation to reduce the use of fossil fuels by improving efficiency in vehicles, buildings, home appliances and industrial equipment. Bingaman and Domenici are chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The bill—the Energy Efficiency Promotion Act (S.1115)—sets the goal of reducing gasoline usage by 20% by 2017; by 35% by 2025; and by 45% by 2030. It also requires federal and state fleets of civilian vehicles to reduce petroleum consumption by 30% by 2016. More...

The world is currently producing more oil annually than it is replacing with new reserves, according to a new survey of global liquids reserves published by Energy Intelligence, a data and information provider for the global energy industry. More...

The team from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo today won the first Shell Eco-marathon Americas with a gasoline-fueled combustion engine vehicle that delivered 1,902.7 mpg. More...

HYBRIDS and PLUG-IN HYBRIDS

At the Shanghai Auto Show, GM unveiled a second propulsion system for its plug-in hybrid Volt concept: a hydrogen fuel cell variant that uses GM’s new fifth-generation fuel cell system as its primary power source. This second variant of the E-Flex system combines the new 80 kW fuel cell stack with an 8 kWh (50 kW peak power) lithium-ion battery to provide up to 300 miles (483 km) of petroleum- and emissions-free electric driving. More...

GM Shanghai, GM’s joint venture with SAIC, will begin the production of a hybrid system—a version of the Belt Alternator Starter system used in the Malibu, Aura, and VUE hybrids—in 2008. GM had indicated in 2006 that China would see a BAS implementation in 2008. More...

IAV Automotive Engineering has developed a rear-axle differential with integrated motors that can enable a parallel hybrid powertrain without affecting existing engine/transmission configurations. More...

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has launched a campaign to encourage Toyota to bring its Estima hybrid minivan to the US market. More...

Dongfeng Honda announced that it will begin the import and sales of the Civic Hybrid in China through dedicated Dongfeng Honda dealers. The company made the announcement at Auto Shanghai. More...

Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide has signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a cooperative joint venture with a major automaker in China for the development and commercialization of hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles, manufacture of gaseous fuel components, and integration of advanced propulsion systems. More...

Hamilton Street Railway in Hamilton, Ontario has received 12 diesel hybrid electric buses powered by the GM-Allison system. More...

ENERGY STORAGE AND ELECTRIC VEHICLES

To improve safety and durability, design changes were made during the building of the first validation prototypes of the Tesla Roadster. As a result, the company has downgraded the electric vehicle’s range by about 20% from 250 miles to “greater than 200.” More...

The French post office—La Poste—announced that it will order 10,000 electric delivery vehicles over the next five years. This week it will invite bids to supply the first 500, for delivery in 2008. More...

BIOFUELS

New fuel testing results on bio-derived 1-butanol presented by DuPont and BP at the SAE World Congress indicate that biobutanol has proven to perform similarly to unleaded gasoline on key parameters, based on ongoing laboratory-based engine testing and limited fleet testing. More...

VeraSun Energy Corporation, the nation’s second-largest ethanol producer, announced plans to build a 110 million gallon per year corn ethanol biorefinery in Reynolds, Indiana (BioTown USA), its sixth. More...

Fleet-wide use of E85 in the United States could increase the number of respiratory-related deaths and hospitalizations, according to a new study by Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson. More...

The Energy Center at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)—one of the two federal institutes of technology in Switzerland—announced the formation of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels to create draft global standards for sustainable biofuels production and processing. More...

ConocoPhillips and Tyson Foods Inc. have formed a strategic alliance to produce renewable diesel from the refinery-based processing of waste animal fat. More...

FEV Engine Technology is developing a flex-fuel E85 turbocharged direct injection (GTDI) engine that also features variable compression ratio (VCR). The variable compression ratio would allow the engine to maximize the benefit from higher octane E85 blends. More...


HYDROGEN


Imperial College London has launched a new £4.2 million (US$8.4 million) research program to develop both biological and chemical solar-driven processes to develop renewable and cost-effective methods of producing hydrogen which can be used to operate fuel cells. More...

The Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD), in partnership with the UNLV Research Foundation, dedicated a pilot hydrogen refueling station that operates on solar power.

More...

The Toyota FCHV, Toyota’s fuel cell hybrid vehicle, will begin operation on public roads in and around Central Japan International Airport (Centrair), south of Nagoya. More...

ECOtality, Inc. has engaged GreenMountain Engineering, LLC, to act as consulting engineers on the Hydratus hydrogen generation project. More...

DIESEL

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation will move up the introduction of a next-generation 2.0-liter class diesel engine to the European market. Currently under development, the new diesel engine is to go into production at the Kyoto Powertrain Plant in early 2009, one year early. More...

Nissan plans to introduce a 50-state, Tier 2 Bin 5 diesel engine in the United States for use in the Nissan Maxima in 2010. The passenger car will be powered by an all-new Alliance engine co-developed with its partner Renault. More...

Siemens VDO is applying its DEKA fuel injection technology in a diesel dosing system for optimal regeneration of particulate filters. More...

Nanostellar, Inc., a start-up developer of catalyst materials, has introduced a gold-containing oxidation catalyst that reduces emissions by as much as 40% more than existing pure-platinum catalysts at equal cost, according to independent testing cited by the company. More...

SYNTHETIC FUELS

China's coal-to-liquids (CTL) industry will produce 50 million tons of output by 2020, according to figures from the Coaltrans China conference—a strong increase from earlier projections.

More...

Sasol Technology and Avantium Technologies have formed a strategic research collaboration to develop new Fischer-Tropsch catalyst technologies to optimize Sasol’s production of liquid fuels from coal or natural gas. More...

OTHER

Zeroshift, Ltd. launched the second generation of its automated manual transmission. The Zeroshift transmission allows a manual transmission to change gear in zero time, thereby offering potential fuel economy improvements from driveline efficiency and the best possible vehicle acceleration. More...

Reaction Design announced that five more companies have joined its Model Fuels Consortium (MFC). The MFC, led by Reaction Design, works to develop, validate and apply simulation methods to improve engine and fuel design. More...

A new report from Frost & Sullivan forecasts that sales of Liquefied Petroleum Gas/Compressed Natural Gas vehicles and conversion kits will increase 175% from 2.9 million units in 2006 to 8.0 million units by 2012. More...

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