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August 2004

August 31, 2004

El Paso Swaps Diesel for Natural Gas

El Paso Times. El Paso, NM is bringing in natural gas buses to replace its 159-bus diesel metro fleet. In October, the first of 25 new compressed natural gas-powered buses will begin arriving at a rate of three to five a week, joining another 25 diesel buses being converted to natural gas through a state grant. Another 25 new natural gas buses are expected to be added to the Sun Metro fleet next year.

Maintenance is a major issue for Sun Metro.

On an average summer weekday, [Sun Metro Director Terry] Scott said, six to eight of the about 100 buses on the road will need service. On days when the temperature reaches 100 degrees, as many as 15 buses can break down.

Sun Metro expects buses to make 3,000 miles between service calls, but that has dropped to 2,200 miles this summer. Scott hopes the new buses will extend the time between service calls to 4,500 miles.

The new buses will not expand the fleet, Scott said. Federal and state funding provide only for environmental replacement: trading diesel for natural gas. “The bottom line is the fleet is old. It’s time to change.”

So the replacement is not based on which technology is cleaner, or offers more trouble free operation; it is based on availability of funding. The difference a policy can make.

August 31, 2004 in Fleets, Natural Gas, Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hybrid and Diesel Marketshare Projections

Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in conjunction with Energy & Environmental Analysis and J. D. Power and Associates has projected possible hybrid and diesel marketshare in the US through 2012. Unfortunately, it did not incude diesel hybrids in its work.

Based on an assessment of the status and outlook for the two technologies, market shares were predicted for 2008, 2012 and beyond, assuming no additional increase in fuel economy standards or other new policy initiatives. Current tax incentives for hybrids are assumed to be phased out by 2008.

Given announced and likely introductions by 2008, hybrids could capture 4–7% and diesels 2–4% of the light-duty market. Based on our best guesses for further introductions, these shares could increase to 10–15% for hybrids and 4–7% for diesels by 2012.

The resulting impacts on fleet average fuel economy would be about +2% in 2008 and +4% in 2012. If diesels and hybrids were widely available across vehicle classes, makes, and models, they could capture 40% or more of the light-duty vehicle market.

The projected impact on fuel economy is lower than you might think because of the different types of hybrids included in the mix. In the assumptions, full hybrids such as the Prius represent approximately half of the hybrid mix. The other types of hybrids, while they help fuel economy, do not contribute the same level of improvement.

The report can be downloaded from here.

August 31, 2004 in Diesel, Hybrids, Market Background | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

New Nissan/Renault Fuel-Efficient Gasoline Engines and CVT

Nissan, working with Renault, has developed two new fuel-efficient in-line 4-cylinder gasoline engines and a new continuously variable transmission (CVT). The automakers will implement the new hardware on various small passenger cars beginning this autumn.

The new 1.5-liter and the 2.0-liter units both incorporate new shared technologies designed to provide improved fuel economy combined with improved acceleration under the most common daily driving conditions.

  • Strengthening the gas flow in the combustion chamber shortens the combustion period and improves thermal efficiency.

  • New manufacturing technologies reduce friction, including the use of a new machining method for the cylinder bores and the application of a mirror-like finish to the crankshaft and cam bearing surfaces.

  • The load imposed on the engine to drive the air conditioner and other auxiliary units has been reduced by enhancing their efficiency and improving the control program.

The new Nissan CVT enhances the characteristic benefits of this type of transmission, including improved fuel economy, smooth power delivery without any shift shock and acceleration performance. In particular, Nissan improved shift response by tuning the hydraulic and electronic controls. This improved shift response, combined with a wider gear ratio range, contributes significantly to fuel economy under ordinary driving conditions.

No hard numbers on the actual improvement in fuel economy when the engines and the CVT are combined in a vehicle.

August 31, 2004 in Fuel Efficiency | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 29, 2004

Saab Flex Fuel Vehicle for ’05

Saab is developing a flex-fuel 2.0-liter turbo engine for its 9-5 model range slated to go on sale in 2005. The FFV Saab will burn either E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) or gasoline in any mixture.

In addition to the emissions benefits expected from burning E85, Saab indicates that the new turbo flex-fuel engine will improve fuel consumption under mid- to high-load driving.

Whilst fuel economy over the official EU city and mixed cycles is unlikely to show an improvement, testing indicates that a useful 15 per cent gain can be expected at higher speeds because fuel enrichment for engine cooling is no longer necessary.

In [the] Saab turbo, the high 104 RON octane rating of E85 fuel...also produces a significant 20 per cent increase in maximum engine power, up from 150 to 180 bhp.

Key to the engine’s capabilities is the Trionic engine management system that recalibrates and programs to accommodate the different timing characteristics and the fuel/air mixture requirements of ethanol.

“The engine management system automatically adjusts for the type of fuel so, if there is no ethanol available, the customer can simply run on gasoline at any time,” says Kjell ac Bergström, President and CEO of Saab Automobile Powertrain AB. “Turbocharged engines are particularly well-suited to exploiting the benefits of ethanol and our work with this engine indicates there is a great deal of development potential for this fuel.”

GM, the owner of Saab, is the largest producer of FFVs, but up to now all the FFV models (at least in the US) have been in pickup and SUV models. The Saab FFV is the first sedan—and a sporty one at that—in the GM family to offer the E85 FFV option. Bravo!

Now, the big question: how aggressively will they promote this in the US? My guess is that the Saab demographic would be very open to opting for an FFV model: especially in areas where they could actually fill it up with E85.

For earlier thoughts on missed opportunities, see this earlier post on Saab.

August 29, 2004 in Ethanol | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Hyundai’s Own Electric Motor for its Hybrids

Hyundai Motors is pushing hard on many fronts to catapult itself to the top ranks of global automakers. (Business Week runs a good overview of the company’s quest in the 6 Sep 04 issue, focusing on the rollout of the Camry-competitor NF Sonata sedan.) An important element of its strategy is its work on green cars. (Earlier post.)

Hyundai has been partnering with US-based Enova Systems (formerly US Electricar) for years on the research and development of all electric, hybrid electric, and fuel cell drive systems. Hyundai Motors and Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) took equity stakes in Enova, and in 2003 the companies opened the joint Hyundai Enova Innovative Technology Center.

The research center’s mission is to focus on the development of alternative energy products, including applications for electric, hybrid, fuel cell and solar power systems for vehicles, turbines and generators. Hyundai expects to benefit from Enova’s capabilities in power management and software controls.

It appears to be paying off. HHI has announced the development of its own electric motors for hybrid electric vehicles. (Joongang Ilbo.)

HHI has completed a 10-month performance test on the electric motor installed in a Tucson SUV. The Tucson is also the test platform for Hyundai’s hydrogen fuel cell work.

“With the development of the electric motors, substantially Korean hybrid electric vehicles can be produced,” said a Hyundai official.

Hyundai has already committed to production of its sub-compact Getz/Click hybrid for next year (earlier post) and is developing a hybrid version of its Verna sub-compact car. The new Verna model, tentatively called the MC, is expected to be out late next year as well. With the latest announcement from HHI, perhaps we will be seeing a hybrid version of the Tucson shortly thereafter.

August 29, 2004 in Hybrids, Vehicle Manufacturers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

H2 Buses for Perth

News Interacative. Perth is putting the first three hydrogen fuel cell buses in the sourthern hemisphere into operation next month.

The DaimlerChrysler Citaro buses are like those being tested in other cities including Amsterdam, Beijing, London, Luxembourg and Madrid. (Earlier post.)

The State Government is contributing $8 million to the $10.25 million trial, with the rest coming from the Commonwealth.

Perth project director Simon Whitehouse said that although the trial was expensive it was chickenfeed compared with the potential cost of oil in the future.

“Not only is the price of petrol going to go up, it’s getting harder to get. It’s a case of when, not if, things have to change,” he said.

BP will provide the hydrogen from its Kwinana refinery.

August 29, 2004 in Fleets, Hydrogen | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Portland Opting for Natural Gas Buses

Press Herald. Portland, Maine public schools are replacing three buses in their 32-bus fleet with new compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, beginning in the fall of 2005. These will be the first CNG school buses in the state.

This timing coincides with Portland Metro’s initiative to bring 21 CNG buses into its fleet over the next three to five years. The transit authority will fuel and service both its own vehicles and the school buses at a $1 million natural gas facility—funded mostly by the Federal Transit Administration—to be completed by May 2005.

A $100,000 federal grant through Maine Clean Communities will help purchase the $100,000 school buses, and the Maine Department of Education will cover 70 percent of the remaining $200,000 cost. The Federal Transit Administration is providing 80% of the funding for 10 of the Metro CNG buses, which cost some $345,000 each. The remainder of the funds will come from state and local budgets.

Orion Bus Industries, a division of DaimlerChrysler Commercial Buses, is to manufacture the CNG school buses. Orion also manufactures a diesel-hybrid transit bus, using a low-emissions Cummins diesel engine and hybrid drive from BAE Systems North America.

BAE Systems is a $4 billion defense supplier that—among many other things—provides a range of intelligent electronic systems for government and commercial markets. The Hybri-Drive comes from the Power Systems division of BAE, and is in use in both commercial and military applications.

August 29, 2004 in Fleets, Natural Gas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 28, 2004

DME from Siberian Gas?

Russia holds the world’s largest natural gas reserves: 47 trillion cubic meters (Tcm)—more than twice the reserves in the next largest country, Iran. (EIA) Unlike Russia’s oil industry, the gas industry is not booming.

Growth of Russia’s natural gas sector has been stunted primarily due to ageing fields, state regulation, Gazprom’s monopolistic control over the industry, and insufficient export pipelines.


Unlike oil, natural gas is not easy to transport. Producers’ options basically fall into three categories: use a pipeline; liquefy it for bulk shipment (LNG); or convert it into an end product (such as DME fuel) at the gas field, and then transport that using the global transportation infrastructure inplace.

The map of Russia on the right details the largest central Siberian gas reserves (Chayanda (1.24 Tcm), Kovytka (2.0 Tcm) and Yurubcheno-Takhomskaya (1.2 Tcm) as well as the licensees for each. You can see right away that transportation is a problem. And you can also see that Chayanda, the second-largest of the central Siberian gas reserves but the most isolated from major markets, has no licensed producers. (Click to enlarge. Source: Russian Investors and Oxford Analytica)

Russia is now working on a unified gas production, transportation and supply system in Eastern Siberia and the Far East to solve this problem, taking possible gas exports to China and other Asia-Pacific countries into consideration, according to a report from Interfax.

Part of this work apparently has been the consideration of building a Dimethyl Ether (DME) plant in Chayanda to convert the gas to liquid fuel for export.

A technical-economic valuation has also been carried out for a project to build a plant to produce dimethyl ether from natural gas from the Chayanda field, to be subsequently exported by rail. The preliminary results of this study show that these supplies are economically viable.

Combine that with the Iranian work with DME (earlier post) and we have the two countries with the largest natural gas reserves either implementing or actively exploring the production of DME. That, in turn, is going to influence the composition of the vehicle market in Asia and the Middle East at a minimum.

Such a clean-burning synthetic fuel produced from an abundant supply of feedstock is going to be very attractive. Isuzu’s roadmap (earlier post) could prove pretty accurate, with a flourishing of a variety of fuels and powertrains augmenting and then supplanting the diesel/gasoline monopoly.

August 28, 2004 in DME, Natural Gas, Russia | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 27, 2004

Boone Pitches for NGV

In a letter to the Arizona Republic, T. Boone Pickens, legendary oilman, creator of Mesa, takeover artist/raider and a strong believer in alternative fuels and natural gas takes the paper to task for its assessment of natural gas vehicles following Ford’s announcement. (Earlier post.)

NGV technology continues to be developed and made available. General Motors’ natural-gas, full-size pickup will still be available for sale in 2005, Honda’s natural-gas Civic is still rated the “greenest vehicle on Earth,” and other vehicle and engine manufacturers remain committed to NGVs.

Also, despite Ford’s departure from the domestic NGV market, they are expanding in Europe with a natural-gas Focus and Volvo sedan. The marketplace has only evolved!

Phoenix has enjoyed success with natural-gas vehicles because its leaders have correctly focused their efforts on high fuel use, high-visibility fleets like Valley Metro.

Transitioning mass transit and waste collection fleets to natural gas is critical. These vehicles drive more miles, consume more fuel and have a greater impact in our neighborhoods than most other fleet vehicles.


August 27, 2004 in Fleets, Natural Gas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dry Hole (Region)

National Post (Canada). Nova Scotia’s struggling offshore energy sector suffered a potential death blow yesterday with the closure of the only remaining well slated to be drilled by a major oil company.

Marathon Canada Petroleum said its $80-million exploratory well will be “permanently plugged and abandoned” after it failed to find oil, and though the company holds other licences in the area, it has no plans for further drilling.

The Crimson well was the last of the exploration wells being drilled or planned for the province’s offshore after a major project from ExxonMobil came up empty two weeks ago. No other wells have been announced.

In the last four years, major oil companies, from Calgary-based EnCana Corp. to Texas-based ExxonMobil, have spent more than $1.2-billion pursuing costly drilling programs in the Atlantic Ocean off Nova Scotia.

Any optimistic talk about the major oil production potential of new regions has to be leavened with the reality of experiences like these. $1.2 billion literally down the hole. Now, what might that $1.2 billion have produced applied to another area? Say, research on renewables? Or funding hydrogen infrastructure for the downstream businesses (refining and marketing) of the oil companies. Of course, you can’t really look at it that way, from a business point of view. But still...

August 27, 2004 in Oil | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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