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April 2004

April 30, 2004

Air-Powered Car from Oz

From a friend in Australia comes a report of a new type of engine powered by pressurized air.

Angelo di Pietro’s engine, which has been patented, uses compressed air that expands in a chamber, pushes a rotor in a circular motion and turns a wheel through a chain and sprocket.

The pulling power of the engine can be varied using a pressure valve, which means it uses less air to carry a light load. Enviro 1 uses three 18-litre diving tanks to give a range of around 10km before it needs to return to the filling station – and it takes just two minutes to refill.

This range would be more than enough for use in a factory or warehouse but di Pietro is working on ways to improve it – including a much larger and lighter carbon-fibre tank – and is considering using liquid oxygen, which is denser than regular compressed air.

Figures provided by di Pietro suggest the prototype vehicle costs about $4.50 to run for 10km. [Note: Angelo di Pietro corrects this citation in the comment below. The cost is $0.45. --Mike] His is not the only engine to run on pressurised air – at least two other types exist. But di Pietro claims his is 100 per cent more efficient than piston or vane-equipped air engines, which he says are much heavier and need more air.

April 30, 2004 in Other Powertrains | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

April 29, 2004

An Aside for the IT-Inclined: Some Datapoints on HW and SW


In rummaging through information on diesels, I found some datapoints on hardware and software that helped me “size” the problem a bit better in my mind.

First, from Magneti Marelli, a global designer and producerof high-tech components and systems for the automotive industry, serving Renault, Citroën, Peugeot, Fiat Group, Ford, Volkswagen, Audi, Seat, BMW-Rover, DaimlerChrysler, GM-Opel, Volvo, Saab, Nissan, Toyota and Daewoo.

The total size of their System R&D group is 550 (at least as of a year or so ago). That’s a big development organization.

For the engine control systems on the diesel side, they currently are doing most of their work for GDI and Common Rail Diesels on embedded processors that range up to 35 MIPS (million instructions per second) and use between 110K to 160Kloc (Thousand (K) lines of code -- the size of the program controlling the activity). For the upcoming diesel platforms, they expect to be using processors up to 75 MIPS with 150-220Kloc.

As a comparison, the Intel 80486 processor (the predecessor to the Pentium) would have had approximately a 35 MIPS version around 1990. 75 MIPS is comparable to the first generation family of Pentium processors circa 1994.

BMW provides a supporting view. For its work on the 2nd generation diesel launched in 2002 for the 730d and 740d models, BMW used a 32-bit 40MIPS onboard processor at the core of its diesel electronic control unit. Since BMW has just released its 3rd generation diesel engine, I am assuming the processor power increased accordingly.

It’s probably possible to put together a complete atlas of code and processors for types of cars...perhaps that will begin to displace more mechanical metrics such as engine displacement as we go more electric.

April 29, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Structural Changes Fuel Cells Would Bring to the Auto Industry


I ran across a piece of analysis from Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation, a division of Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. Fraunhofer is one of the larger contract engineering and science research outfits, and has been active in the discussion around the transition to a hydrogen economy.

The work on Fuel Cell Innovation in Germany by Jürgen Wengel and Elna Schirrmeister included two interesting tables that I am reproducing here. (Click on images to enlarge.)

The first extrapolates the relative change in costs of major propulsion system components when moving from gasoline combustion engines to fuel cells, both methanol and hydrogen.

On the hydrogen side, note that the relative costs of the tank and the electronics increase dramatically. For the methanol fuel cell, the tank cost is not as high. Why? One of the critical problems to be solved for a hydrogen vehicle is exactly that storage problem. While hydrogen has high energy content per unit mass, it has a very low energy content per unit volume. H2 is very light and diffuse. It needs to be compressed or liquified and then stored. Hence, the tank.


It also should not be a surprise that electronics play a larger role in these vehicles. They are, after all, electric cars. The amount of electronics and programming going into current generation autos is already increasing quite rapidly, especially with smart engine and transmission management to increase fuel efficiency and decrease pollution. It makes sense for this to continue, albeit in different areas of expertise.

That leads us to our second chart. Look at the massive transition from the sector Fraunhofer characterizes as the Automobile Industry to increases in all the other areas. The ripple effect will be enormous, even if the exact number is not correct. And what about the aftermarket? Will Radio Shack merge with Pep Boys?

April 29, 2004 in Fuel Cells | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Diesels and Hybrids: MPG and HP


Working from the chart in the previous post, I added some data representative of the new generation of diesels. It is much easier to find more data about diesels, as there are numerous models from which to pick -- as long as you are not looking in the US.

The diesel plot here includes the few already sold in the US (Volkswagens), the few we know are coming to the US (Mercedes, Jeep), and a few from the many popular models overseas. These range from small econo-cars to SUVs.

Representing many of the latest enhancements in diesel tech, these vehicles come awfully close to the hybrids in terms of mileage and horsepower, and some exceed. Have a look. (Click on image to enlarge.)

I haven’t added torque to this chart, but later I will do a 3D plot incorporating that. Torque is what gives your car its “zip”. Diesels tend to do very well with torque, so that chart should be interesting.

The downside of the diesel, as discussed earlier here, is the emissions, especially PM. Given the regulatory focus here and in Europe, including the ultra low sulfur diesel fuel, things should be looking brighter for diesel, and the people who have to live with the emissions.

The penetration of diesels into the European market (where the cars are the most succesful) is interesting to examine -- it might hold some parallels to hybrid penetration here. One problem with that as a model, however, is that it has taken some 30 years. I don’t think we have that leisurely an option...

Perhaps, since neither diesels nor hybrids have any significant penetration here in the US, we can halve the time by ramping up with both at the same time. (Just kidding.)

April 29, 2004 in Diesel, Hybrids | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 28, 2004

Hybrid MPG and Horsepower

I’ve been curious to see what the next crop of hybrids -- the bigger ones, the versions of existing popular models -- might mean from a fuel efficiency point of view. There aren’t a large variety of hybrid models in the market for comparison (understatement), but enough information about some upcoming versions has come out to give me a little something to work with.


I took the data I could find about the combined mileage and horsepower of these different promised and delivered models, plotted it and came up with this chart on the right. Horsepower is the Y axis, combined MPG the X axis. (Click to enlarge.)

Running a linear regression on the plot produced a R2 value of 0.9092 -- in other words -- there is a pretty strong correlation between horsepower and mileage, even with a hybrid. (An R2 value of 1 represents perfect correlation.) As horsepower increases, the combined mileage decreases. (Certainly there are other factors to consider: vehicle weight, shape, transmissions, etc.)

Well, duh, you might say. So?

So. For all the undeniable good of hybrids (fuel efficiency increases of 30-50% are nothing to scorn), given the American tendency to want big and powerful vehicles, the net effect of hybrids from a gasoline consumption point of view is going to be reduced.

For example, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV is projected to deliver 32 mpg -- much better than a gasoline SUV, but much less than the Prius’ 55 mpg.

Hybrids are a terrific tactical solution. They reduce gasoline consumption and they reduce emissions. They mitigate the strategic problem of fossil fuel dependence, but they don’t solve it. The more current buying and driving patterns stay the same (bigger and more powerful vehicles, more miles each year) the less mitigation hybrids can produce.

The danger we face -- especially in a presidential election year -- is a gross oversimplification and polarization of the debate around solutions for sustainable mobility.

April 28, 2004 in Hybrids | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More H2 Seeds

In addition to the Ford/BP partnership (below), Toyota, Honda and Nissan are planning to put 65 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the California test fleet in the next 5 years, working with Air Products & Chemicals, which will build 24 H2 refueling stations. BMW is also working as part of this group, although it will be delivering its hydrogen ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) vehicles instead (similar to the 745h, below).

Hyundai will place 32 FCVs into California and Chevron-Texaco will build up to 6 fueling stations. DCX has committed to up to 30 vehicles between California and Michigan.

GM, long an advocate for hydrogen development, had no me-too announcement.

The background for all this: a $350 million ante by the Federal government plus an addition $225 million in private funding to back H2 research projects.

April 28, 2004 in Hydrogen | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 27, 2004

Ford and BP Seeding the H2 Economy

Ford will place up to 30 hydrogen-powered vehicles and BP will build a network of fueling stations to support them in metropolitan Sacramento, Orlando and Detroit.

The Ford and BP joint proposal calls for Ford to provide up to 30 hydrogen-powered Ford Focus Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCV). Assembly of the vehicles will begin in the fourth quarter of 2004, depending on the timing of successful contract negotiations with the U.S. DOE and various state and local entities.

The Ford Focus FCV uses an 85kW fuel cell stack supplied by Ballard Power Systems, a world leader in proton exchange membrane (PEM) technology. The FCV is hybridized with the addition of a nickel metal-hydride battery pack and a brake-by-wire electro-hydraulic series regenerative braking system.

BP plans to install a network of stations demonstrating state-of-the art fueling technologies to support the hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Some BP hydrogen refueling stations will evaluate technologies that have near-term commercial feasibility, such as reformation of natural gas, while others will explore more long-term technology options and assess the potential to produce renewable-based hydrogen that achieve U.S. DOE hydrogen fuel cost targets.

Excellent. The market cannot become so infatuated with hybrids in the short term that we ease off the pressure for a long-term solution for sustainable mobility and energy.

Ford also seems to be getting more aggressive with pushing its alternative fuel work — perhaps a recognition of the gains Toyota has made in terms of market perception. Bill Ford has talked the alternative fuel talk for years, and walked it with the funding that Ford has put into the different research areas. But being aggressive with product in the market — that’s a significant step forward.

Separately, along that line, Ford is having a spat with Toyota over the spin of the licensing agreement for hybrid technology in the upcoming Ford Escape hybrid SUV.


April 27, 2004 in Hydrogen | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 26, 2004

Voice of the Gasoline Consumer

Interesting piece from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (registration required) on the reactions of buyers to the current state of gasoline prices.

About what you’d expect, but a revealing comment from one of the interviewees.

“I’d love to get one of those hybrid cars, but when you look at the math on those things, gas has to hit $10 a gallon before it’s economically feasible," he says. "I don’t think people’s driving habits are that elastic. Long term, when gas is still cheaper than water, I don’t think you’re going to see a change in behavior.”

And, maybe not so long term when gas isn’t cheaper than water, behavior will change, but it’s going to be a little late.

April 26, 2004 in Fuels, Market Background | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Seeing the Fuel Efficiency in the 2004 Fleet


Let’s take a quick look at the composition of the 2004 fleet -- all the 2004 light duty vehicles sold in the US that have an EPA mileage rating. “Heavy-duty” vehicles do not receive a mileage rating. This excludes certain passenger vehicles such as the Hummer, higher end pickups and so on.

Still, there are 1,964 model configurations of model year 2004 light-duty vehicles, import and domestic, offered in the US.

Each has an EPA mileage rating consisting of City and Highway. Plotting that data results in the cart on the right. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

The height represents the number of model types for a given combination of city and highway mileage. You’ll see that although there are a very few outliers on the ultra-high and ultra-low fuel efficiency ends, that the majority of model types cluster between approximately 20-35 mpg.


Here’s another way to look at this. The chart on the left plots the combined mileage rating for each of those 1,964 vehicles by putting them in different bins. (Click on the image to enlarge.) Again, you see that the bulk of models cluster in that middle sector.

This makes sense when you consider that the Federal government’s CAFE standards mandate an average for the fleet (by manufacturer).

What is also interesting is taking a look at how each manufacturer then compares to each other. I’ve done another plot, this one taking all the models offered by GM, Ford, DaimlerChrysler, Honda and Toyota. (The old Detroit Big 3 and the most fuel-efficient imports).


To try to keep the plot easier to interpret, I used columns to represent the Big3 and lines to represent Honda and Toyota. (Click on image to enlarge.)

One thing you see immediately is that the distribution patterns of the Honda and Toyota fleets shift to the right toward more fuel efficient vehicles. That does not mean that these two automakers don’t offer their own guzzlers. The chart also highlights that all the auto manufacturers have the majority of their offerings in the mid fuel-efficiency range. But the chart also highlights the emerging difference on the most fuel-efficient end of the scale -- which is partly due to the hybrid models offered by those two.

All that said -- these charts just represent what is available, NOT the ultimate fuel-efficiency of the 2004 fleet as represented by the numbers of vehicles people buy. I am going to try to come up with some more specific purchase data for 2003 or the first quarter of 2004 to put a visual image on the reality as well as the potential.

April 26, 2004 in Fuel Efficiency, Market Background | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 23, 2004

Denver Testing Biodiesel Blend

Denver is testing a 20% biodiesel blend (20% biodiesel, 80% petroleum diesel) -- B20 -- in 60 city vehicles.

April 23, 2004 in Diesel | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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