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March 2005

March 30, 2005

New Site: The Cost of Energy

A new site, The Cost of Energy, is  taking on the ambitious project of helping non-experts learn about the issues and policies surrounding energy across a very broad array of applications.

From the overview:

We live in a time of unprecedented technological, environmental, and social change. From quickly rising fears of global warming to phenomenal advances in engineering and medicine, it’s getting harder by the day to keep up with the headlines.

But one of the biggest and potentially most terrifying changes has crept upon us with surprisingly few people noticing: The age of cheap oil is about to come to an end. Of the three fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas), oil is the hardest to replace, thanks largely to its use in transportation, and therefore the one that will impact industrialized countries the most when it becomes scarce.

The problem is that this is far more than a question of simply paying for at the gas pump; you can’t understand the ramifications of permanently high (and rising) oil prices without also looking at how all energy sources relate to one another, plus economics, politics, and even cultural issues.

That was the impetus behind this project.

Ambitious—and necessary. Read and contribute.

March 30, 2005 in Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Syntroleum Targets Small- to Mid-Sized Gas Fields for GTL

Syntroleum Corporation commemorated the successful production of more than 140,000 gallons of ultra-clean synthetic fuels at its gas-to-liquid (GTL) fuels plant at Port of Catoosa, Oklahoma. The plant also manufactured 60,000 gallons of additional products, such as syncrude.

The Catoosa plant, designed and constructed under DOE’s Ultra-Clean Fuels program, is a test plant that produces 70 barrels of synthetic product per day—a comparative drop in the bucket, compared to other GTL plants and technologies. But in some ways, that’s the point.


Unlike other GTL technologies, the Syntroleum process uses air, rather than pure oxygen. This eliminates the need for an oxygen plant attached to the GTL facility, enabling a more compact facility. Syntroleum has developed a GTL barge that can economically take the processing capability to stranded gas fields. (Schematic of the process at right. The shaded area marks where oxygen based equipment would be in other processes.)

Syntroleum’s air-blown process can economically scale down to 10,000 bpd of capacity vs. 35,000 to 50,000 bpd for more expensive oxygen-based processes. The capability cost-effectively to package GTL processing in smaller and even mobile platforms is important to the recovery of an enormous amount of stranded gas—much of which currently is flared off.


In 2004, more than 10 billion cubic feet per day of gas was flared and vented worldwide, representing 25% of daily European gas consumption or 17% of daily US gas consumption. That same 10 billion cubic feet of gas could be converted into 1 million barrels of clean-burning synthetic fuel.

Most world-class GTL technology is in large plants associated with gas fields of 5–500 Trillion cubic feet (Tcf). The Syntroleum technology can effectively address the larger number of fields with stranded gas between 0.5–5 Tcf.

Founded in 1984, Syntroleum has really just turned the corner from being an energy technology development company to a company that has commercial prospects. Accordingly, Syntroleum is looking to become the leading developer of small- to medium-sized GTL projects, and a leading independent clean fuels producer.


March 30, 2005 in Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

ArvinMeritor Developing New All-Electric Commercial Vehicle

ArvinMeritor, an $8B Tier One supplier to the auto industry, is developing an all-electric drivetrain for commercial vehicles with Unicell, a medium-duty body builder. The resulting new Class 4 medium-duty vehicle (GVWR of 16,000 lbs), which is being designed for a fleet customer, will use a fully-electric drivetrain and will be demonstrated to the public in 2006.

The initial vehicle application is for pickup and delivery vehicles. The particular fleet name is being withheld pending completion of the vehicle development.

This is an exciting new vehicle application for our expanding role as a true systems integrator. We are leveraging our experience in electric drive axles and are gaining the know-how to design similar systems for other applications, such as school bus and low-floor bus and coach vehicles.

—Garrick Hu, vice president of Advanced Engineering, ArvinMeritor’s Commercial Vehicle Systems business unit

Hu projected that this type of zero-emissions vehicle will become dominant in many commercial vocational applications over the next five to 15 years, primarily due to the need for reducing emissions in urban environments. The rate of adoption will depend largely on the cost of battery energy storage relative to the cost of fossil fuel.

ArvinMeritor has been designing and manufacturing electric drive axles for more than 15 years, specifically for low-floor buses in Europe. The new drivetrain system relies on onboard energy storage and delivers the torque to the wheel ends via dual motors integral to the vehicle’s rear axles.

March 30, 2005 in Electric (Battery), Fleets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Diesel Passenger Vehicles in US Grew 56% in Five Years


The number of light and medium-duty diesel passenger vehicles registered in the US grew 56% from 2000 through 2004, from 301,741 to 468,990. That represents an increase in marketshare of 1.14 percentage points, from 2.25% in 2000 to 3.37% in 2004, according to research done by Polk Automotive for the Diesel Technology Forum.

With 92.5% of the registrations in 2004, medium-duty trucks represent the largest component of the diesel passenger vehicle market in the US. This category includes vehicles such as the Silverado, Sierra, Ram and F-series. With a limited market selection, light-duty diesel vehicles (such as the Mercedes-Benz and VW)  represented only 7.2% (33,541).

By comparison, more than 84,100 hybrids sold in the US in 2004.

When given a choice between diesel and gasoline versions of the same model, 47% of medium-duty buyers opted for diesel. Only 12% of light-duty buyers made the same choice. 

Diesel is clearly gaining momentum, and with its inherent advantage in lower fuel consumption proving  increasingly attractive as buyers begin to factor in the price of fuel. But the light-duty, passenger car segment of the market still has a long way to go in terms of buyer education and demand.

March 30, 2005 in Diesel, Market Background | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

DaimlerChrysler Deal with DOE on Fuel Cells

DaimlerChrysler, like GM (earlier post), has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to further develop fuel cell vehicles in the United States. DaimlerChrysler will invest more than $70 million in this partnership.

The five-year agreement, part of the DOE Controlled Fleet and Hydrogen Infrastructure Demonstration and Validation Project, links DaimlerChrysler, BP and other companies as partners to help increase public awareness through outreach and demonstration programs. 

March 30, 2005 in Fuel Cells, Hydrogen | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Toyota to Introduce Highlander Hybrid in June


Following closely on its introduction of the Japanese version of a hybrid Highlander (earlier post), Toyota has announced that it will introduce the seven-passenger hybrid SUV to the US market in June.

The Highlander Hybrid uses a new version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain specifically developed for the mid-size SUV class. An all-new high-speed electric motor operates at twice the speed (up to 12,500 RPM) and delivers more than twice the power (123 kW) as the motor used in the Prius, producing 268 peak combined horsepower with a standard towing capacity of 3,500 pounds.

Toyota is offering two versions of the Highlander Hybrid: four-wheel drive (4WD-i) and two-wheel drive (4x2).

Toyota modified the 3.3-liter V6 engine in the conventional Highlander to integrate more smoothly with the hybrid system. Revisions include changes to calibrations of the Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) and Electronic Throttle Control (ETC) systems.


There are two electric motor-generators in the 4x2 models (as in the Prius) and three motor-generators in the 4WD-i models (as in the Lexus Rx 400h hybrid).

Internally referred to as MG1, MG2 and MGR for the rear electric motor in the 4WD-i, each has a specific function and each does double duty as both drive motor and generator (although MG1 is a starter and provides no motive force). The engine-driven generator (MG1) and rear electric motor (MGR) can charge the battery pack, which powers other electric motors as needed.

Power from the gas engine and front electric-drive motor (MG2) is distributed to the drive wheels via a planetary gear-type continuously variable transmission, which eliminates specific gear ratios. Two planetary gear units are used in the system. The Power-Split unit divides the engine’s drive force two ways: one to drive the wheels and the other to drive MG1 so it may function as a generator. The Motor Speed Reduction unit reduces the speed of MG2 and increases its drive torque, significantly boosting acceleration performance.


March 30, 2005 in Hybrids | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

GM to Build 40-Vehicle Fuel Cell Demonstration Fleet

GM and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have entered into a five-year, $88-million agreement to build a 40-vehicle hydrogen fuel cell demonstration and testing fleet.

Under the program, GM will spend $44-million to deploy fuel cell vehicle fleets in Washington D.C., New York , California and Michigan. The DOE will contribute the other $44 million under an agreement that expires in September 2009.

Through a separate, commercial agreement, Shell Hydrogen will set up five hydrogen refueling stations in Washington, DC., metropolitan New York City, between Washington D.C. and New York, and in California to support the demo fleet.

Other program partners include the U.S. Army at Ft. Belvoir, Va. and Quantum Technologies in Lake Forest, Calif. – providing facilities for GM to store and maintain fuel cell vehicles; NextEnergy in Detroit, Mich. for codes and standards development; and Viewpoint Systems in Rochester, New York for collecting and retrieving data remotely.

GM also will announced details of a collaboration with the  U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) later this week.

March 30, 2005 in Fuel Cells, Hydrogen | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 29, 2005

SeQuential to Open All-Biofuel Station in Oregon

AP. SeQuential Biofuels, a biofuels marketer and distributor in Eugene and Portland, Oregon, plans to open an all biofuel retail service station in September or October in Eugene.

The proposed SeQuential station is a pioneering effort because all the fuels it would offer would be earth-friendly to some degree, managing partner Ian Hill said.

The station will offer biodiesel and ethanol blends. Drivers will be able to choose among varying blends, on up to B100.

SeQuential’s project represents a three-way partnership with Lane County and the Oregon state Department of Environmental Quality.

March 29, 2005 in Biodiesel, Ethanol | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Commercial Automotive Fuel Cells by 2010 or Bust


Ballard Power Systems, a world leader in developing, manufacturing and marketing PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cells, released its “Technology Roadmap” leading to a commercially viable fuel cell by 2010.

The Road Map, announced to coincide with the start of the National Hydrogen Association’s Annual Hydrogen Conference in Washington, D.C., maps out trends and targets in four areas critical for commercial adoption of automotive fuel cell technology:

  • Durability of 5,000 hours of lifetime. According to Ballard, 2,200 hours of durability is equivalent to 100,000 kilometers (62,150 miles) under regular driving conditions.

  • Cost of US $30/kW net. The DOE’s target cost for commercial introduction of a fuel cell system in 2010 is $45 USD/kW of net system power, divided between the fuel cell stack ($30 USD/kW net) and the supporting balance of plant ($15 USD/kW net). Ballard’s target is for the stack, and maps to the DOE’s.

  • Freeze Start capability to -30 ºC, in 30 seconds, to 50% rated power.

  • Volumetric Power Density of 2,500 Watts net/liter. Reducing volumetric power density reflects the ability to package the fuel cell stack into increasingly smaller spaces within a vehicle. Ballard’s target of 2,500 Watts Net/Liter is more aggressive than the DOE’s target of 2,000 Watts net/liter.

In February, Ballard pulled off a “Technology Hat Trick” (earlier post) by demonstrating a fuel cell stack that can start repeatedly from -20° C (-4° F) and operate for more than 2,000 hours at a substantially reduced cost with no performance tradeoff.


March 29, 2005 in Fuel Cells, Hydrogen | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Danish Towns Fund Hydrogen Train


The Engineer reports that three Danish towns in Ringkøbing Amt (county) in Western Jutland—Vemb, Lemvig and Thyborøn—will put up funding for a hydrogen-fueled train running along the 59 km railway line connecting them.

The line is operated by the Vemb-Lemvig-Thyborøn Jernbane (VLTJ) railway (Lemvigbanen).

The county of Ringkøbing is home to a number of renewable energy projects. Ringkøbing Amt faces westward to the North Sea, and has some of the best wind resources in Denmark. Wind power provides approximately 35% of the electricity for the county. Currently, a fourth of the Danish production of biogas is from this region and plans are underway to build one of the biggest biogas plants in the world. A new test center for wave energy has been developed to the north.

The county is also the seat of Denmark’s Hydrogen Innovation and Research Center (HIRC).

HIRC has proposed a number of hydrogen projects in the area, the train being but one.

HIRC has proposed two phases to the project. The first phase would use a hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engine (natural gas engine). The second would be to move to a fuel-cell system.

The center estimates that a single 1 MW windmill could produce the hydrogen required for two train sets.

According to the CEO of HIRC, Jens-Chr. Møller: “Our goal is to get Europe’s first commercially viable hydrogen train in Europe. There are many international projects on using hydrogen in cars and buses, but plans on hydrogen trains are very few and mostly centred in the US and Japan.”

With money at hand, HIRC now hopes to attract the attention of train manufacturers interested in participating in the project.

March 29, 2005 in Hydrogen, Other Powertrains | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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