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October 2004

October 31, 2004

Clean Bus Leaders

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) has recognized six state and local initiatives for leading the nation in deploying cleaner bus fleets.

  • Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (Oakland, CA) is recognized for its leadership in investing in and developing advanced technologies. AC Transit’s $20 million hydrogen fuel cell demonstration program puts into full-time service three 40-foot hydrogen fuel cell transit buses from ISE Research (Thundervolt) and UTC Fuel Cells. The program includes a new refueling station with component learning center.

  • Durham Public Schools (Durham, NC) is recognized for its leadership in establishing fleet-wide usage of biodiesel. During the 2003-2004 school year, Durham used more than 600,000 gallons of B20 (a 20% biodiesel, 80% diesel blend) in its fleet of 325 buses. Durham received initial funding through the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) and has also received significant support from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

  • Jordan School District and Salt Lake Clean Cities Coalition (Salt Lake City, UT) are recognized for their leadership in promoting a cultural awareness of alternative fuels and technologies. Working in partnership, Jordan School District and Salt Lake Clean Cities Coalition are striving to clean up Jordan’s bus fleet and integrate an innovative alternative fuels curriculum into the district’s drivers education programs. For the 2004-2005 school year, Jordan’s compressed natural gas (CNG) buses (using John Deere CNG engines) are expected to displace approximately 33,000 gallons of petroleum and prevent nearly 250 tons of emissions.

  • King County Metro Transit (Seattle, WA) is recognized for its leadership in investing in advanced technologies and emissions reduction strategies. By year’s end, King County expects to fully integrate 213 hybrid-electric buses (New Flyer buses using GM-Allison hybrid drive and Caterpillar diesel engines) into full-time service. King County’s use of ultra low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) continues to significantly reduce particulate matter and other emissions, while spurring the development of this important market.

  • Knoxville Area Transit (Knoxville, TN) is recognized for its leadership in exploring innovative emissions reduction strategies. In 19 months KAT went from using no alternative fuels to using alternative fuels in 80% of its fleet—a number KAT hopes to increase to 95 or 100 percent. KAT’s strategies include the use of propane, biodiesel (mixed on site with additives to decrease NOx emissions), and hybrid-electric (hybrid trolleys from eBus, and several Priuses in the staff fleet) technology. KAT’s onsite emissions testing facility allows the agency to continually alter its use of fuels to enable lower emissions.

  • The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is recognized for its leadership in developing a statewide clean school bus campaign. The campaign has coordinated efforts with student transportation providers to establish commitments and guidelines from school superintendents for better driving practices with a particular focus on reducing idling. In the first year of the program, schools implementing idle reduction policies reduced idling of over ten minutes by more than 50%—reducing emissions and providing a healthier environment for students.

EESI initiated the National Clean Bus Leadership Recognition Program in 2003 to highlight the leadership of local initiatives to bring cleaner buses to America’s communities and to remove the dirtiest diesel buses from roadways. This program is part of EESI’s Clean Bus Project, initiated with the goal of encouraging the deployment of cleaner fuels and advanced vehicle technologies by strengthening support for local, regional, state, and national “clean bus” initiatives that have recognized the environmental and health impacts of conventional diesel buses, and are working towards cleaner transportation practices.

Federal legislation passed in 1998 established the Clean Fuels Formula “Clean Bus” Grant program, but this program was never funded. The program expired in 2003 and requires reauthorization. Budget constraints at the state and local level make federal support for the deployment of cleaner buses especially important.

October 31, 2004 in Biodiesel, Fleets, Fuel Cells, Natural Gas | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Ford’s Evolving Green Strategy Needs More Action

Detroit News columnist Daniel Howes outlines Ford’s coalescing strategy “to become a legitimate contender in the race with Toyota and Honda for global leadership in alternative technology.”

Ford is pushing to boost the production of its escape Hybrid SUV. This year’s current production of 4,000 vehicles is already sold out, and the 20,000 promised for next year look like they will go very quickly.

Armed with such evident customer demand, engineers want to triple annual production to as much as 60,000—something Ford would like to announce at January’s Detroit auto show but won’t if it isn’t sure it can deliver. Ford would push production higher if it could, but it is constrained mostly by the inability of key suppliers to fulfill growing demand for specialized components.

Sanyo—with the constrained supplies of its batteries for the Escape hybrid—is a prime example of that last item. The inclination to produce 60,000 is, of course, very good. One of the Ford’s problems is its lagging perception of the market. The Escape Hybrid has been in the works for years, and its launch delayed multiple times. At the same time, Toyota and Honda had not only identified the market need, but had build a network of internal capabilities and suppliers to allow them to scale more gracefully as demand increased. The point about constrained supplies is a valid one—it’s just not the position a visionary industry leader takes.

There are a couple of basic approaches a major company can take to fundamental market and technology shifts. One is to hang back a bit, see what wins in the market, and then buy the leaders. (Call that the ExxonMobil strategy. That company can buy its way into whatever it needs to.) Another is to invest heavily in R, but also in real D—i.e., build new products with your new technology, and build the supply chain and other supporting infrastructure elements to make sure they can succeed in the market.

Ford identified the abstract need, but didn’t aggressively and thoroughly carry through on the vision.

Second, Ford’s hybrid strategy isn’t limited to the Escape, its Mercury-brand cousin and the coming Ford Fusion midsize car. With Toyota poised to launch a hybrid-powered Lexus RX 400h and Toyota Highlander and with Honda offering a hybrid Accord, Ford is seriously examining the possibility of responding with hybrid versions of its new Five Hundred sedan and Freestyle wagon.

Seriously considering”? With cars yielding an ever decreasing percentage of its business, Ford should have the pedal mashed to the floor trying to substantively differentiate its lines—accelerating the implementation of hybrid technologies seems like one very good way to do so.

That means Ford, widely denounced for fielding a fleet of vehicles with what some environmental activists call “the worst” fuel economy in the U.S. market, could potentially be building as many as 200,000 hybrids vehicle [sic] within four years or so.

Hmm, let’s see. If Ford builds 200,000 hybrids in 2009, and Toyota builds 300,000 in 2005 (earlier post)...

Third, Ford is developing a long-term strategy to dramatically cut emissions from its cars and trucks, a move designed to craft a competitive advantage from a regulatory burden. Whatever those targets end up being, for now it’s unlikely Ford would publicly announce them until it’s at least halfway there.

That would indeed be a competitive advantage—and a leadership stance. It also is doable—as the CARB technical analysis surrounding the climate change bill in California has outlined. What it requires is an automaker to step up to it. To set an aggressive goal, announce it publicly, and stop the rearguard legal and lobbying battles that have characterized many of the interactions between environmental regulators and the auto companies. If Ford is truly signing up to a worthwhile goal, it should leverage the work now, and be a leader.

Fourth, Ford is using its hybrid vehicle programs as a technological bridge to hydrogen vehicles. The first step is hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines, such as the shuttle buses Ford will operate at airports. The second step would be hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, generally considered to be at least 15 years away.

Underpinning Ford’s unfolding strategy are several assumptions: that gasoline prices are likely to remain comparatively high for some time to come; that more consumers accordingly will seek alternative-technology vehicles; that the companies who offer them will have a competitive and public perception advantage over those who don't; that the process of developing such vehicles will build a cadre of institutional expertise which Ford can use to mold its future.

Reading this, particularly that last paragraph, reminds me of the beginning of the end for the major minicomputer vendors in the 1980s. As a quick tech history refresh: PCs came roaring onto the market as a major phenomenon in the early-mid 1980s. At that time, there was an established group of mainframe and minicomputer vendors dominating the computer market—and almost uniformly (IBM being the notable exception, because it took the leadership position in PCs) they missed the importance of the market shift. Too late, they embraced the PC market philosophy, tried to get into the business, and failed. Most are now gone...and it happened very quickly.

The strategic tenets of that final paragraph are obvious—understated, even. It’s not a question of who recognizes this, but a question of who leads the market through execution. Toyota and Honda are doing it. DaimlerChrylser has potential with its diesel/biofuels emphasis. GM is tuning up a more aggressive approach to hybrids (heaviest vehicles first). Where does that leave Ford? With sound thinking, but insufficient delivery?

I would like to see Ford succeed. Aggressive green competition between automakers will advance the state of the market faster than anything. (You’s starting to see that in the responses to Toyota.) But doing so will require more than great engineering...which I believe Ford has. It requires strategic leadership. Toyota is a clear example. GM’s new relationship with SAIC on developing hybrids and fuel cell vehicles in China is also a good example. It embraces all the necessary elements: developing the technology, developing the infrastructure, developing the market (earlier post).

Ford needs leadership action as well as leadership thoughts.

October 31, 2004 in Market Background, Vehicle Manufacturers | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 30, 2004

GM, Shanghai Automotive Partner on Hybrids and Fuel Cells

GM and Shanghai Automotive are jointly to develop and to commercialize hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles—and the infrastructure required to support them—in China. The broad-based agreement, presaged by the announcement two weeks ago of joint development of diesel hybrid buses (earlier post), is the first of its kind between a global and Chinese automaker.

In addition to co-developing a demonstration vehicle building on GM’s HydroGen3 fuel-cell vehicle, the partners intend to:

  • Develop local engineering capability for clean-energy vehicles

  • Promote the development of a Chinese hydrogen infrastructure

  • Contribute to the formulation of relevant regulations and policies by the Chinese government

  • Promote general awareness of the future of advanced vehicle technology in China

The realization of a cleaner future will not be accomplished in a single step. That is why GM is adopting a three-pronged approach to our overall advanced propulsion strategy, which we believe offers the greatest overall benefits to society. Hybrids will play an important role, but over the long term, we believe fuel cells powered by hydrogen offer the ultimate environmental answer. Because it has a developing automotive industry without a massive gasoline infrastructure, China is in a unique position to take the lead in moving toward a hydrogen-based economy.

—Rick Wagoner, GM CEO

GM’s Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center will be responsible for maintaining the daily operation of the demonstration fuel-cell vehicle. This will enable PATAC to become familiar with the latest alternative propulsion technology in order to enhance its own product development capability. It will further serve as an important point of reference for government decision-makers in creating regulations and standards and developing infrastructure required for the next generation of vehicles.

In addition, GM will leverage its industry-leading fuel-cell technology to fully support SAIC’s bid in the fourth quarter of 2005 to take part in the Global Environment Facility/United Nations Development Program Demonstration for Fuel Cell Bus Commercialization program in China.

GM and SAIC have worked together on fuel cells before, unveiling a fuel-cell Buick GL8 minivan, called the Phoenix, in November 2001. The Phoenix was powered by a 35-kilowatt, first-generation, fuel cell stack from GM. The newer HydroGen3 is about twice as powerful.

October 30, 2004 in China, Fuel Cells, Hybrids, Hydrogen | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 29, 2004

China Forges Major Energy Ties with Iran

AFP. China is making many large-scale investments with energy producers around the world. One of the most recent is a $70 Billion oilfield and LNG (liquefied natural gas) agreement with Iran.

Under a memorandum of understanding signed Thursday, China’s second-largest oil firm, Sinopec Group, will buy 250 million tons of LNG over 30 years from Iran and develop the giant Yadavaran field, said Seyed Mehdi Hosseini, deputy general manager of the National Iranian Oil Company.

“We’ve committed to sell Sinopec—after commissioning of the field—150,000 barrels per day of crude for 25 years at market prices,” Hosseini said.

LNG deliveries will not begin for at least five years as Iran struggles to catch up with industry frontrunners such as Qatar and Algeria, while the estimated 3-billion barrel Yadavaran field in the southwest will take at least four years to develop. Iranian oil officials estimate Yadavaran will ultimately produce around 300,000 bpd.

Iran has the world’s second-largest supply of natural gas (behind Russia), and is the second-largest OPEC producer (behind Saudi Arabia).

This may be an energy agreement, but it is a political one as well. China could provide an important block to any UN action on Iran’s nuclear program. And how eager would China be to see US intervention in one of its key energy allies?

October 29, 2004 in China, LNG, Oil | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Audi Picks up 10 Awards at Challenge Bibendum

Audi brought three models to the Challenge Bibendum and won 10 awards for driving dynamics, driving safety, emission behaviour and fuel consumption. The winning models were:

  • An A2 1.2 TDI, the only five-door car that delivers 100 kilometers (combined drive cycle) on less than three litres of fuel—that’s 78 mpg.

  • A hydrogen fuel cell A2H2, shown for the first time earlier this year at the Hannover Fair.

  • An A8 3.0 TDI, which also has an aluminium space frame body and is driven by the world’s first diesel engine with piezo injectors.

The 5-year-old A2 1.2 TDI uses a 3-cylinder in-line engine that produces 45 kW (60 hp) and 140 Nm (103 lb-ft) of torque. An oxidizing catalytic converter and exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) help it meet Euro4 emissions standards. Its all-aluminium body with Audi Space Frame (ASF) is 43 percent lighter than an otherwise identical structure made from steel. Audi pushed down the cars drag coefficient to a sensationally low cD = 0.25. All of which goes to prove the obvious—that small, light cars reduce fuel consumption.

A2h2

Its fuel cell sibling, the A2H2, actually delivers better performance in certain situations. The A2H2 combines a 66 kW Ballard PEM fuel cell with a 38 kW NiMH battery, producing a combined short term output of nearly 100 kW (134 hp). A three-section tank located beneath the trunk stores the gaseous hydrogen at 350 bar (5,000 psi), holding 1.8 kilograms of hydrogen.

The electric motor delivers up to 425 Nm (313 lb-ft) of torque, providing better acceleration than the A2 1.2 TDI. The battery provides the energy to start up the fuel cell. During normal operation, the fuel cell supplies the electric motor with power and recharges the battery based on available capacity. During acceleration, the battery provides a boost to the motor. The A2H2 uses regenerative braking to further recharge the battery.

Audi A2 Vehicles
 A2 1.2 TDI A2H2
Engine/Motor1.2-L in-line 3-cylinder dieselPEM fuel cell with electric motor
Power output45 kW
60 hp
Fuel cell: 66 kW
Battery: 38 kW
Motor: 40 kW (54 hp)
Torque140 Nm
103 lb-ft
425 Nm
313 lb-ft
0-100 km14.8 sec10 sec
Top speed168 km/h
104 mph
175 km/h
109 mph
Range669 km
416 miles
220 km
137 miles

October 29, 2004 in Conferences and other events, Diesel, Emissions, Fuel Cells, Hydrogen | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Delphi Scales for Diesel Growth in Asia

As another indication of the global growth of the diesel market, Delphi, the world’s second largest supplier of diesel injection systems and common rail technology, is expanding its Asian presence to better serve the growing demands of its engine customers.

Delphi recently has won repeat or new diesel common rail contracts with Hyundai-Kia, SsangYong (just purchased by Shanghai Automotive), Tata and four other customers to be named in the coming months, including three Chinese engine manufacturers.

Delphi plans to develop common rail manufacturing in the Asia Pacific region, using manufacturing systems proven at its plants in the United Kingdom, France and Spain. The company will use its existing footprint in India and Korea as well as develop capabilities to manufacture in China.

The plan is to implement a capacity of one million common rail systems annually in Asia to supply a growing local market and to release capacity at its European plants to support planned growth in that market.

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

Ethanol→Hydrogen

Gas Technology Institute (GTI) has developed a two-step steam reforming-shift fuel processor that can efficiently convert ethanol into hydrogen. For the past six months, GTI engineers have been performing internal research to demonstrate the potential of its fuel processor technology to generate hydrogen from a variety of renewable fuels.

We were able to produce a high-quality hydrogen gas from ethanol—similar to results using natural gas—and demonstrated our process to representatives of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).

—Gerry Runte, Executive Director of GTI’s Hydrogen Systems Center

One GTI goal is to utilize ethanol as the primary fuel to produce hydrogen in a hydrogen fueling station platform similar to the natural gas-to-hydrogen station being developed by GTI under a United States Department of Energy sponsored program.

Probably too soon for anyone to have done an energy and emissions Lifecycle Analysis on this approach...

October 29, 2004 in Ethanol, Hydrogen | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 28, 2004

Flex Fuel Zooms in Brazil

Reuters. Brazil has seen a stunning ramp up in the sales of flex-fuel cars—vehicles that burn either ethanol, gasoline or a combination of the two.

Although Brazil is the world’s top ethanol producer, sales of mono-fuel ethanol had cars plummeted from 94% of total sales in 1984 to less than 1 percent of total sales in 2000. The reason? An ethanol shortage in 1989 left drivers high and dry.

The arrival of flex-fuel vehicles, along with rising oil prices, has changed the situation dramatically.

But gasoline price hikes caused by rocketing oil prices and the arrival of flex-fuel cars, which owners say perform better than their older cousins, have now lured Brazilian drivers back to ethanol—some 40 percent cheaper than gasoline.

Launched in Brazil in March 2003, flex-fuel cars had grabbed 30 percent of new car sales by this September and are expected to take half the market next year, the National Association of Vehicle Manufacturers estimates.

Most major car manufacturers in Brazil already produce, or are planning to introduce, flex-fuel cars of various designs, with at least one analyst predicting that in three years flex-fuel cars would make up 100 percent of new car sales.

And, with gasoline prices soaring and air pollution from fossil fuels a growing concern, sales of those vehicles could spread to many parts of the world, especially in countries where sugar cane is grown.

That’s fast, even allowing for some fuzziness in marketing numbers. A piece by the Associated Press in August pegged flex fuel sales from January through July at 18% of total sales. Analysts are predicting a 2.1 million unit (total) year for the Brazilian auto industry this year.

October 28, 2004 in Ethanol | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Update: Westport/Isuzu CNG-DI Cleaner than Diesel, More Efficient than CNG

Just last month, Isuzu and Westport entered into a new joint venture agreement through which Isuzu will provide to Westport approximately CDN$1.5 million for the design and construction of two next-generation CNG-DI ELF trucks to be delivered in 2005 (earlier post).

A technical analysis presented by Isuzu this week at the 9th International Association for Natural Gas Vehicles (IANGV) Conference shows that the mono-fuel CNG-DI engines can be 75% cleaner than today’s diesel engines and 25%–30% more energy-efficient than today’s natural gas engines.

The conventional use of CNG as fuel makes it possible to achieve virtually zero PM emissions, with a significant reduction in NOx emissions as well. When it comes to the thermal efficiency, however, conventional CNG-powered engines are on par with gasoline-powered engines and slightly less efficient than conventional diesels.

Isuzu and Westport wanted to improve thermal efficiency by 25% or more over the conventional approach and to achieve at least 75% lower emissions than the current ultra-low-emission vehicles. It sounds like they achieved their emissions goal and slightly exceeded the goal on efficiency.

The CNG-DI system promises to be simple, lightweight, low-cost, reliable and durable. It also has lower noise and less vibration. Isuzu has concluded that there is good potential for commercial application of this technology.

—Masaki Okada, Senior Specialist, Engine Design and Development for Isuzu

Isuzu and Westport first showed the CNG-DI technology in a 2-ton ELF prototype truck brought to last year’s Challenge Bibendum. The truck won 2 Gold and 1 Silver awards there.

The CNG-DI engine in the ELF prototype used a 4.5-liter, in-line four-cylinder engine as the base. Isuzu developed the turbocharger, EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation), oxidizing catalytic converter and urea SCR catalyst for NOx reduction. Westport and Isuzu jointly developed the electronically controlled common rail injection system and hot-surface ignition system.

Isuzu/Westport CNG-DI ELF
Displacement4.5 liter
Engine configurationIn-line, 4-cylinder
Power100 kW (134 hp)
Torque500 Nm (369 lb-ft)
Fuel storage2-bottle CNG cylinders (Dynetek)
Storage pressure250 bar (3,675 psi)
Maximum speed130 km/h (81 mph)
Operational range300 km (186 miles)

Funding from the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO of Japan) and the Japan Gas Association supported the Isuzu/Westport research.

October 28, 2004 in Natural Gas | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 27, 2004

Biodiesel Tax Credit Opens the Door for Mainstream Adoption

There’s been a great deal of interest and more than a few questions on the green tax breaks embedded within the massive “JOBS” tax breaks bill (earlier post), so I’ll provide more specifics by sector as I get them.

Dave wrote in first with a pointer to the website of the National Biodiesel Board and its summary and analysis of the biodiesel section of the bill—we’ll start with that first.

An excise tax is a tax on the sale or use of specific products or transactions. A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the tax.

Biodiesel Credit Highlights of HR 4520

  • Creates a new excise tax credit for biodiesel: $1.00 per gallon for biodiesel made from virgin oils derived from agricultural products and animal fats, and $.50 per gallon for biodiesel made from recycled oils. The credit applies to pure B100 and pro-rated to blends based on percentage. The blend credit thus works out to one penny per percent of biodiesel from virgin oils in a fuel blend, and one-half penny per percent for recycled oils.

  • Allows the credit to be claimed for both taxed and tax-exempt fuels.

  • Streamlines the tax structure and refund system to encourage blenders to blend biodiesel as far upstream as possible, allowing more biodiesel to be used in the marketplace. Tax refunds are to be paid within 20 days of blending.

  • Any taxpayer eligible for the biodiesel tax credit will be able to file for a refund for every gallon of biodiesel used in the marketplace without regard to the income of the taxpayer or whether the fuel is used in a taxed fuel or tax exempt fuel.

  • The credit is taken by the blenders/distributors. It is then up to them to decide how to use the extra money. The industry in general hopes than competition will drive the blenders to pass the credit along to the consumer, resulting in lower biodiesel fuel prices.

The timing of the credit is excellent. If diesel prices were stable at the level of a few months ago, then applying the credit would make biodiesel and biodiesel blends cost-competitive with petroleum diesel.

Weeklydiesel

What makes this very interesting at this particular point in time, however, is the trajectory that petroleum diesel prices are taking.

The chart to the right (Click to enlarge) plots the average weekly US retail sales price of No. 2 diesel for the last 10+ years. As you can see, and as commercial drivers especially are feeling, the price is higher than it has ever been.

There are multiple reasons for the strong rise in diesel but some of them are structural. Outside of the US, diesel demand is growing very strongly, and there just isn’t that much left for the US to import from foreign refineries. Internally in the US—we’re not really geared up for diesel production, and the winter heating season (which consumes a fuel oil similar to diesel) is upon us. It is a classic supply/demand crunch.

What this means for biodiesel is that not only could it meet the price of diesel with the tax credit, but it could beat it. This is a terrific time for the producers and the distributors to establish a strong position in the market, and then build from that.

According to the National Biodiesel Board, the domestic industry will produce some 30 million gallons of biodiesel this year, although it has a capacity of 150 million. The USDA thinks demand will grow to 124 million—but with the soaring costs of crude and diesel, demand could be higher, and more quickly.

One of the things we’ve seen is that building a biodiesel facility is much less involved and costly than building, say, a petroleum refinery or a gas-to-liquids plant. If demand surges, the industry should be able to keep up with that demand.

There is no better time than right now. Increased production will help lower costs. Combining that prospect with the tax credit, biodiesel could rapidly become not only the immediately useable renewable supplement or alternative to diesel, but a bargain on top of it.

Resources

October 27, 2004 in Biodiesel, Policy | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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