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November 2004

November 30, 2004

8-Wheeling with the Eliica


WorldChanging points to a review of the Eliica, an 8-wheel, all-electric concept car that punches it from 0-60 mph in four seconds.

The Eliica—short for Electric Lithium-Ion battery Car— was created by Hiroshi Shimizu and the Keio University Electric Vehicle Laboratory in Tokyo. The fifth electric concept vehicle coming from Keio, the Eliica is the immediate successor to the 8-wheel Kaz (Keio Advanced Zero-emission vehicle) limousine, also a product of the Keio laboratory, and the foundation platform for future 8-wheel work.


The Eliica uses 8 60kW in-wheel drive motors to provide the equivalent of 800 hp. The photo to the right shows the exposed platform and wheel units.

The Keio in-wheel drive units eliminate the need for the power-transmission devices connecting the engine and the wheels that are necessary in conventional cars. The  motor, reduction gear, wheel bearing, and braking system are integrated in a single unit, and the suspension arm adapter is attached to the outer motor casing. Because all the wheels are driven, spin is minimized and the vehicle can be easily controlled, even under difficult road conditions.

One of the two models of the car hits 0.8G in acceleration. The car has recorded a top speed of 370 km/h (230 mph), although Shimizu says it could hit 400 km/h (250mph) in the correct conditions.

At this point, the Eliica requires 10 hours to charge fully and carries a hefty pricetag: some $320,000. But current hydrogen fuel cell cars aren’t all that cheap, either.

“When you’re dealing with technology thought by most to be slow, heavy and lacking range, you must do better than any supercar,” [Shimizu] said.

The use of the in-wheel drive originated at the turn of the last century with Porsche (earlier post). That approach is resurfacing in a number of other electric concepts, including the Peugeot Quark.


November 30, 2004 in Electric (Battery) | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Google Shuttles with Biodiesel

Martin Tobias at Deep Green Crystals points to a post on the Google blog about Google’s use of biodiesel in its Bay Area shuttle bus.

Here’s some of the Google math:

It does cost more than regular diesel, but consider this: The Google shuttle carries an average of 155 employees a day. Each run totals about 75 miles - that’s 11,625 miles a day we’re not driving. If the average car gets 25 mpg, then we’re saving some 465 gallons of gas a day, or 2,325 gallons a week—weekly savings of $4,998.75 (figuring $2.15/gallon).

Let’s look at those numbers another way. Earlier in November, the IRS bumped up the 2005 standard mileage rate for computing the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business by three cents from this year’s rate—the largest single-year jump ever. The primary reasons: higher fuel and vehicle prices.

Some businesses use that IRS figure in reimbursing employees for business travel. Using that rate, and assuming a company with comparable usage figures as Google (and a company that would allow employees to expense those trips), that works out to a potential daily savings of $4,708.13. Yes, some people would probably drive together,  but the point is that shuttles can work from a cost point of view—and more than offset the short-term cost delta between biofuels, alternative fuels and petroleum fuels. Good for the bottom line, good for the environment.

November 30, 2004 in Biodiesel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bucky Balls for H2 Storage?


GEMZ Corp., a nanotech startup, is set to acquire an exclusive license to a new thermal acoustic process for the production of bucky balls—C60—to be used for the storage of hydrogen.

While the technology is still conceptual, and its development is “uncertain and fraught with risk,” according to GEMZ, it could open the way for hydrogen storage in C60 at a cost two orders of magnitude lower than current technology permits. GEMZ estimates that the thermal acoustic technique is potentially more efficient than the four methods currently used for producing C60, all of which consume too much energy in the manufacturing process for them to be cost effective.

Bucky balls, also known as Buckminster Fullerenes, after the architect Buckminster Fuller, are the roundest and most symmetrical large molecule known. Discovered in 1985 by Professors Smalley, Curl and Kroto (for which they won the Nobel Prize in 1996), bucky balls are hollow clusters of 60 carbon atoms, shaped like soccer balls.

The C60 molecule has the special property of being able to absorb large numbers of hydrogen atoms without disrupting the bucky ball structure. This property suggests that C60 may be a better storage medium for hydrogen than metal hydrides, the best current material, and hence possibly a key factor in the development of hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

In 2003, Japanese researchers using a bucky ball derivative successfully inserted a hydrogen molecule into the molecular cage at the lowest energy cost then to date. The image above is from the paper describing their work: the H2 molecule is shown as the space-filling model in the center, and the host C60 molecule is shown as a stick model.

GEMZ is clearly taking a gamble—and will be using the fact of the licensing to raise the funds necessary to develop a practical proof of concept of the new technology. But these are the types of developments and breakthroughs—and gambles—necessary for widespread hydrogen usage to be viable. 


November 30, 2004 in Hydrogen, Nanotech | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 29, 2004

Milestone for H2 Production by High-Temperature Electrolysis

Researchers at the DOE’s Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) and Ceramatec, Inc have successfully shown that they can produce hydrogen at temperatures and pressures suitable for a future Generation IV nuclear reactor via High-Temperature Electrolysis (HTE). This marks a milestone along the research path laid out some three years ago on exploring different mechanisms for hydrogen production via nuclear energy.

The simple and modular approach we’ve taken with our research partners produces either hydrogen or electricity, and most notable of all—achieves the highest-known production rate of hydrogen by high-temperature electrolysis.

—Steve Herring, lead INEEL researcher

Instead of conventional electrolysis, which uses only electric current to separate hydrogen from water, high-temperature electrolysis enhances the efficiency of the process by adding substantial external heat—such as high-temperature steam from an advanced nuclear reactor system. Such a high-temperature system has the potential to achieve overall conversion efficiencies in the 45–50%  range, compared to approximately 30%  for conventional electrolysis. Added benefits include the avoidance of both greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption.

The experimental system (not nuclear-based) produced hydrogen at a rate of 50 normal liters (standard temperature and pressure) per hour.


The technology of hydrogen production through conventional water electrolysis is well-established. Conventional electrolysis splits water into its components—hydrogen and oxygen—by charging water with an electrical current. The charge breaks the chemical bond between the hydrogen and oxygen and splits apart the atomic components. The resulting ions form at two poles: the anode, which is positively charged, and the cathode, which is negatively charged. Hydrogen ions gather at the cathode and react with it to form hydrogen gas, which is then collected. Oxygen goes through a similar process at the anode.

The main drawbacks of conventional electrolysis for large-scale hydrogen production are the amount of electricity required for the process and the high cost of membrane production.


High-temperature electrolysis (HTE) adds in some of the energy needed to split the water as heat instead of electricity, thus reducing the overall energy required. HTE uses a device very similar to an Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) (Cermatec’s expertise).

Essentially, the electrolytic cell consists of a solid oxide electrolyte with conducting electrodes deposited on either side of the electrolyte. A mixture of steam and hydrogen at 750-950ºC is supplied to the anode side of the electrolyte. Oxygen ions are drawn through the electrolyte by the electrical potential and combine to O2 on the cathode side. The steam-hydrogen mixture exits and the water and hydrogen gas mixture is passed through a separator to separate hydrogen.

Because using heat directly is more much efficient that first converting heat to electricity, the overall efficiency of the high-temperature system is much higher. That assumes, of course, that you have a readily-available, non fossil-fuel-based source of high heat available—i.e., that you have an advanced high-temperature nuclear reactor or an adapted solar energy system at hand.

Current nuclear thinking on HTE presumes a helium-cooled, high-temperature Next Generation Nuclear Plant as an element of the entire system. The helium, heated by the nuclear reaction to a temperature of approximately 1,000ºC, spins a turbine to generate electricity and also heats water to superheated steam for the HTE process. (Diagram of the concept below.)


From a planner’s point of view, the ability of the nuclear plant to generate electricity and hydrogen makes the solution an attractive one. There are other high-temperature reactors under consideration as part of the Generation IV nuclear research plan, as there are other research paths (thermochemical production) for hydrogen generation under the Nuclear Hydrogen Initiative.

According to INEEL, a single next-generation nuclear plant will be able to produce in hydrogen the equivalent of 200,000 gallons of gasoline each day.

There are numerous issues specific to HTE to work through, including reducing the cost of manufacturing electrolytic cells and components and increasing the lifetime of units. This would be a fairly hostile environment to many materials.

If you take the nuclear-specific element out of it for a moment, however, what the INEEL-led team is discovering and developing is not inextricably bound to nuclear energy; all HTE requires is a high heat energy source.

Accordingly, another DOE initiative is exploring the solar-hydrogen potential, and is coordinating with the experimental work at INEEL. INEEL has, I think, a bigger budget.


November 29, 2004 in Hydrogen, Nuclear | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

$5,000 Bounty for Buying Fuel-Efficient Cars

San Jose Business Journal. Business software maker Hyperion Solutions (Sunnyvale, CA) will give $5,000 to employees who buy a car that gets at least 45 miles per gallon.

“Companies and individuals have extraordinary power to make a difference,” said Godfrey Sullivan, president and chief executive officer of Hyperion in announcing the initiative in a written statement. “One of the most important steps an individual can take to improve the quality of our air is to drive a vehicle that goes further on a gallon or liter of gas. One of the most important steps a company can take is to help them.”

Employees who have been with Hyperion one year or longer can seek reimbursement for one vehicle every four years. Hyperion is aiming to reimburse up to 200 employees each year; reimbursements are available to employees on a first come, first served basis.

Bravo! Great example!

November 29, 2004 in Hybrids, Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Fresno Piloting Neighborhood Electric Vehicles


Fresno Bee. Fresno, CA, is establishing a pilot program to promote neighborhood electric vehicles.

Neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs)—also called low-speed vehicles (LSVs)— are compact, one- to four-passenger vehicles powered by rechargeable batteries and electric motors. Models cover a range from bulked-up golf carts to small versions of sedans and pickups. (Sample picture to the right is from Dynasty Motorcar.)

In 1998, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) officially recognized NEVs/LSVs as a form of transportation. Since then, 37 states have passed legislation allowing these vehicles to be driven on roads with posted speed limits of 35 miles per hour or lower.

NEVs are designed for short distances at slow speeds where traffic, parking, and air pollution may be concerns. With their compact size and zero emissions operationally, NEVs are a cost-effective solution to those concerns.

NEVs typically have an upper speed of 25 mph and a range of some 30 miles. At least one NEV company—Feel Good Cars—is exploring augmenting its line with hydrogen-fueled hybrids. (Earlier post.)

The idea for promoting neighborhood electric vehicles came out of a City Council meeting a little more than a year ago when Lew Solomon, who owns Central Valley Golf & Utility Vehicles, suggested that people could use the vehicles for short neighborhood trips to cut down on air pollution. “I told the city, ‘I’m not trying to sell vehicles, but the situation is the housewives of America could use these things to go to the grocery store,’” Solomon said.

The biggest hurdle Rudd and his staff found is that the vehicles cannot be used on most major streets because of speed limits. That means people can drive them around their neighborhood but can't drive them to the nearest grocery store.

Police Lt. Andy Hall, in charge of the Fresno Police Department's traffic enforcement bureau, said his only concern about the pilot program is the safety of allowing electric vehicles to share the road with gas-powered cars and trucks.

November 29, 2004 in Electric (Battery), Personal Transit, Policy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 27, 2004

Sidenote on Appropriations Bill: Federal Control of LNG Terminal Sites

Congress embedded a provision in the omnibus spending bill that gives support to the federal government over the states when it comes to siting Liquefied Natural Gas terminals.

On March 24, 2004, FERC issued a declaratory order asserting exclusive jurisdiction over the approval and siting of liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. FERC concluded that LNG terminals are engaged in foreign commerce and, as such, fall clearly within the authority granted to the FERC under Section 3 of the Natural Gas Act of 1938.

The conferees agree on this point and disagree with the position of at least one State government agency that it should be the authority responsible for LNG terminal siting within its boundaries, rather than the FERC.

The Natural Gas Act clearly preempts States on matters of approving and siting natural gas infrastructure associated with interstate and foreign commerce. These facilities need one clear process for review, approval, and siting decisions. Because LNG terminals affect both interstate and foreign commerce, LNG facility development requires a process that also looks at the national public interest, and not just the interests of one State.

The conferees recognize that, as a matter of energy supply, the nation will need to expand its LNG infrastructure over the decades to come to satisfy natural gas demand. Any dispute of LNG siting jurisdictional authority now will be counterproductive to meeting our natural gas needs in the future.

That one State referred to is California, and the issue in question is the construction of an LNG terminal off of Long Beach.

LNG terminals are becoming the NIMBY issue—at least for select coastal communities—of the coming years. With the state of natural gas—i.e., domestic production peaking in 1973, the import gap increasing, prices finding a new floor and looking to continue their steady increases, and steadily increasing demand, LNG terminals will become critical to the short- to medium-term energy supply mix in the US. Congress recognizes this, and the federal government is setting it up to brook no interference. The language in this provision is about as blunt as it gets.

The chart to the left plots natural gas production and consumption in the US with data from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. The chart to the right plots the wellhead price, using data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Prices further down the distribution chain increase. For example, in the latest data from the Energy Information Administration, the wellhead price for August 2004 was $5.36/thousand cubic feet, the industrial price was $6.19 and the residential price $13.78.

Natgasprodconsump Natgasprices

November 27, 2004 in LNG | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 26, 2004

CNG to Account for 10% of Thai Vehicle Fuel in 5 Years

Thailand’s state-owned oil and gas conglomerate (PTT) expects CNG will account for up to 10% of all fuel used in the country’s transportation sector within five years, according to a report in the Bangkok Post picked up by Dowjones. Currently, natural gas for vehicles accounts for less than 0.5% of all fuel used for transportation.

PTT plans to invest THB10 billion (approximately $254 million) to develop facilities and infrastructure to accommodate the anticipated rise in consumption of natural gas for vehicles.

The investments include a new gas pipeline, expansion of service stations to fuel gas-powered vehicles to 120 sites from the current 27 sites and subsidies to keep the retail price of natural gas for vehicles around 60% of the cost of gasoline.

Natural Gas Vehicles (NGV) made their debut in Thailand in 1984 in a experimental program that converted a number of Bangkok buses and tuk-tuk taxis. Technically, the experiment was a success. Practically, the lower cost of motor fuels and the high costs of modifying engines to NGV fuelling at that time made the program not economical.

Increasing concern about air pollution and rising oil costs have now made NGV more of a policy priority.

November 26, 2004 in Natural Gas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Ethanol Credit Trading in the New Ontario RFS

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that gasoline sold in Ontario will contain an average of 5% ethanol by 2007. (Earlier post.)

Under the new Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS), effective January 1, 2007, a wholesaler’s annual gasoline sales must achieve an average of at least 5% ethanol content. This may be accomplished by the actual blending of ethanol or through the trading of renewable fuel credits.

A wholesaler with a blend greater than 5% will acquire credits—via a mechanism as yet undefined—to sell to companies that choose to blend less than 5%.

“Forcing all gas companies to use ethanol was simply too costly and too difficult, the premier said following an announcement staged in front of the plant amidst bales of hay and employees in hard hats.

“It’s a real challenge to mandate a five per cent blend for folks in northern Ontario,” McGuinty said.

“That could be a heck of a challenge. It could be a heck of a cost connected with that. The purpose here is to reduce emissions by having an average five per cent component rather than across the province.”   (Cnews)

The ethanol level in Ontario gasoline is currently at an average of approximately 1%.

November 26, 2004 in Ethanol, Policy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

India Backs Away from Ethanol Blend Mandate

The Indian government has rescinded the mandatory blending of ethanol in gasoline based, it says, on poor ethanol supply. The new ruling of the Petroleum Ministry makes “sale of ethanol-blended petrol mandatory only when the price of sourcing indigenous ethanol for supply of ethanol-blended petrol is comparable to the price of indigenous ethanol for alternative uses, the delivery price is comparable to the import parity price of petrol at that location and if the indigenous ethanol industry is able to maintain uninterrupted supply.”

The earlier policy mandated  a 5% ethanol blend in nine sugarcane-producing states to reduce India’s dependence on imported oil. The blending rule was then to be rolled out in the rest of the country. Subsequently, the percentage was to increase to 10% ethanol, accompanied by an extension of ethanol blending to diesel. The nation-wide roll-out never happened.

November 26, 2004 in Ethanol, Policy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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