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June 2005

June 30, 2005

Fuji Heavy Acquires UltraCap Business from its Partner

Fuji Heavy Industries (makers of Subaru) has purchased the Electric Double Layer Capacitor (ultracapacitor) business from Kanebo Ltd for an estimated ¥100 million (approximately US$900,000), according to reports in the Japanese business press.

Fuji and Kanebo jointly began developing the capacitor technology in 2002 and Kanebo has decided to sell its stake in the project in an effort to turn around its mainline business.

The purchase allows Fuji Heavy to reduce some of the gap with its competitors in the development and production of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles. Honda, for example, uses an EDLC for energy storage in its FCX fuel cell car. (Earlier post.)

According to Nikkei Business, Fuji Heavy Industries plans to start commercial production of the ultracapacitor device before the end of 2010, and to sell the product to other companies, in addition to using it for its own vehicles.

In May, Fuji Heavy decided to postpone the planned 2006 release of a hybrid to 2008, due to cost issues in its current design. The company produces only some 590,000 vehicles per year—too low a volume to support developing hybrid technology on its own. (Earlier post.)

Fuji Heavy Industries apparently is hopeful that its battery business will become a new source of revenue.

Although other automakers are working hard to improve their hybrid electric vehicles and fuel-battery-powered vehicles, they are not so enthusiastic about research and development of the battery itself. As our company is not so large, we plan to make the battery business the main source of revenue. We aim to begin commercial production of the new battery before the end of 2010.

Under the reported terms of a partnership with Toyota, Toyota would supply its hybrid drive system to Fuji Heavy in return for Fuji Heavy supplying Toyota with advanced lithium-ion batteries for use in hybrids.

June 30, 2005 in Batteries, Japan | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Toyota to Increase Exports to the US by 40% to Meet Demand

Nikkei.  Faced with demand it can’t meet from its US plants,  Toyota plans to increase the number of cars it exports from Japan to the US to about 1.1 million vehicles in 2007, up 40% from 2004.

According to plans submitted to shippers, Toyota will export 850,000 vehicles to the U.S. in 2005 and 1.1 million in 2007. Shipments to the overall North American market are expected to top 1 million in 2006 and 1.2 million in 2007.

The bulk of the shipment hike will consist of Camry and Corolla sedans, Scion models targeted at young drivers, the Prius and other hybrid cars, and the Lexus LS luxury vehicle.

Toyota’s North American production came to 1.44 million units last year, representing 62% of the Toyota vehicles sold in that market. The firm plans to lift its capacity there to 2 million-plus in 2008, when its seventh North American plant—in Canada—is due to come online, raising its local production ratio to 75%.

But Toyota’s existing North American factories are already operating at full capacity, andthe company expects to remain unable to fully meet the growing demand until the completion of its eighth plant in the region around 2010.

June 30, 2005 in Japan, Market Background | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Beijing Auto Population Soars

Xinhuanet. Beijing added 147,000 new cars in the first five months of 2005, increasing the total car population in the city  to 2.41 million.

While it took 48 years for the number of vehicles in Beijing to reach one million, it only took six years for it to add another million.

Earlier this month, the Beijing municipal government issued a transportation development plan, saying that the city would have 5 million automobiles by 2020, which means nearly every family would have a car.

In order to deal with the coming intense traffic, the plan vows to build more highways and roads, encourages citizens to take buses and subways and recommends constructing more parking lots.

June 30, 2005 in China | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

New Enzyme for More Efficient Corn Ethanol Production

Amylase1b0i

Diversa Corporation and Valley Research, Inc. have launched a new alpha-amylase enzyme designed to improve the efficiency and economics of corn ethanol production.

Developed by Diversa and marketed by Valley Research, the new enzyme operates at high temperature and at a lower pH than other commercially available enzymes—a combination grain ethanol producers have been seeking for years.

Amylase is a digestive enzyme (present in saliva, for example) that breaks down long-chain carbohydrates (such as starch) as an initial step in the production of ethanol from grain starch.

Very broadly, in this type of production, corn or starchy grain is ground into flour (“meal”), which is then slurried with water to form a mash. Enzymes are added for the conversion of starch to sugar, the whole mash is processed in a high-temperature cooker and then transferred to fermenters where yeast is added and the conversion of sugar to ethanol and CO2 begins.

The starch is usually heated at around 105°C or higher in the presence of thermostable alpha amylase, and then liquefied further at a lower temperature (around 90ºC). The high temperatures help reduce bacteria levels in the mash (high bacteria levels reduce yield).

Another key factor in the outcome of the process besides temperature is pH.

The pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution expressed on a scale of 1-14. Neutral is pH 7, pH 1-7 is acid, and pH 7-14 is alkaline. Yeast will grow only in a slightly acid solution (and the growth of harmful bacteria is further retarded by the slight acidity).

Conventional alpha-amylase enzymes, however, function best in a slightly alkaline environment.

As a result, ethanol producers spend time and material managing the pH of the mash to optimize the different stages of the process. And as a further result, producers have been seeking an enzyme that works well in a lower pH environment for years. As late as 2000, low pH-high temperature amylases were one of the top research requests from the industry to DOE and NREL.

The new Diversa/Valley research “Ultra-Thin” enzyme appears to meet that need. Capable of operating robustly at pH 4.5—the same pH of the production process—it reduces the cost associated with managing the mash pH.

To develop the enzyme, Innovase, a 50–50 venture between Diversa and Dow Chemical, used the process of directed evolution to screen DNA from a variety of unusual natural environments, including those with extremes of pH, temperature, and other physical parameters, for alpha-amylases with the desired characteristics. The DNA that Innovase screened was either obtained from available cultures of microorganisms (including some proprietary strains) that had been isolated from such environments, or obtained by screening the environments without an intervening step of actually isolating or cultivating the microorganisms.

From this DNA screening, Innovase selected three enzymes and then used a gene reassembly process to isolate a series of fragments from each of these three enzymes and then combine fragments to obtain the hybrid enzyme.

Resources:

  • FDA GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) Response Letter, with description of the enzyme and process

June 30, 2005 in Biotech, Ethanol | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

June 29, 2005

Honda Leases FCX to First Individual Customers

Spallino

American Honda Motor today announced the lease of its FCX fuel cell car (earlier post) to the world’s first individual customers, the Spallino family of Redondo Beach, California.

The Spallinos, who signed a two-year lease, will drive the FCX in everyday normal use, including the work commute from Redondo Beach to Irvine (approximately 41 miles each way over the 405). Honda chose the Spallinos for the test in part because they already own a CNG-fueled Honda Civic GX and are more accustomed to dealing with a limited number of fueling stations.

Hondafcx_02schematic

The Spallinos will have access to several hydrogen fueling stations (via the California Hydrogen Highway refueling initiative), including one at Honda’s headquarters in Torrance. An additional fueling station is available at LAX, to the north of Redondo Beach.

The family will pay $500 a month to lease the FCX—considerably cheaper than the $7,300+ per month charged to its Japanese customers (earlier post). The fee includes maintenance and insurance on a car costing more than $1 million.

Honda intends to lease several more FCXs to individual customers over the next year. Currently, the automaker has a fleet of 13 FCX fuel cell vehicles in regular daily use with six public municipal customers in California, New York and Nevada.

The FCX is the only hydrogen vehicle to date to be certified by both the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California’s Air Resources Board (CARB). The EPA certified the 2005 FCX as a Tier-2 Bin 1, and CARB certified the FCX as a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV).

The 2005 FCX model uses Honda own fuel cell stack (Honda FC Stack). The 2005 FCX carries an EPA city/highway rating of 62/51 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent and a range of 190 miles. (More specs here.)

Honda’s announcement came on the same day that GM released a survey on American’s Views of Emerging Automotive Technologies from which the company concluded, among other things, that:

...while the survey shows that Americans support the same goals that are at the heart of GM’s overall advanced technology strategy for improving efficiency [i.e., hydrogen], it’s troubling what little credit we’re getting. Clearly we’ve got our work cut out for us in communicating GM’s accomplishments and our commitment to developing advanced technologies.

Honda just widened that gap. While the leasing of the car to a private family will likely provide useful engineering and design feedback, the publicity attendant to it will further strengthen the popular perception of Honda as one of the leaders of emerging technology.

June 29, 2005 in Fuel Cells, Hydrogen | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Nanomaterials for Solar Hydrogen Production and Storage

Nanostructured materials are the basis for two research projects investigating the solar production of hydrogen and hydrogen storage.

Researchers from UC Santa Cruz, the University of Georgia and Nomadics are developing a device that integrates two kinds of solar cells—a photovoltaic cell to produce electricity and a photoelectrochemical cell to produce hydrogen from the electrolysis of water.

Both will use specially designed materials based on arrays of nanowires with uniform orientation. The main focus of the project will be on developing these nanostructured materials to optimize the efficiency of both the photovoltaic cell and the photoelectrochemical cell.

The researchers will use a technique called glancing angle deposition (GLAD) to fabricate the nanowire arrays.

Instead of requiring complex lithographic processing, GLAD uses computer-controlled substrate motion in conjunction with glancing incidence flux from physical vapour deposition to precisely tailor the structure of thin films. The geometry and porosity can be engineered to specific needs.

The goal is to produce clean energy. The idea of using solar energy and water as a source of hydrogen is very attractive, and we believe nanostructured materials can be used to do this efficiently.

We want to build a device that you can put in the sun, fill it with water, and get hydrogen without using any outside source of energy.

—Jin Zhang, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSC and project lead

The hydrogen storage project, also involving UCSC and U of Georgia, with the addition of the Washington State University,  will also use the GLAD technique. One solution for hydrogen storage is to store it in  a solid form as a metal hydride compound. The researchers plan to find the optimum conditions for fabricating metal hydride nanostructures to achieve highly efficient hydrogen storage.

Both projects have received funding from the DOE.

June 29, 2005 in Hydrogen, Nanotech, Research, Solar | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Ricardo Predicts Rapid Expansion in US Light-Duty Diesel Market

Rocardo_diesel_1

Automotive technology consultant, researcher and provider Ricardo has released its 2005 Ricardo Diesel Report.

This year’s edition predicts a significant rise in US light-duty diesel market penetration over the coming decade. Sales in the light-duty vehicle segment (up to 8,500 pounds gross vehicle weight) are projected to grow from a mere 43,000 units last year to more than 1 million units annually by 2012, rising to 1.5 million by 2015.

Those projections are approximately in agreement with the projections released by J.D. Power earlier in the week for a diesel sales share of 7.5% in 2012.

While diesel already enjoys a market penetration of over 56% in the US premium light truck sector (between 3/4 and 1 capacity) cost remains a major issue for passenger cars, light trucks and SUVs.

Ricardo, as a technology developer,  and others are working on cost-effective ways to reduce engine-out emissions as well as in the development of more effective aftertreatment devices. Ricardo predicts that a rapid increase in diesel sales will follow as such devices become both readily available and affordable to the consumer from 2009 onwards.

Ricardo_diesel_2

Elsewhere, the global growth of light-duty diesel sales continues, with 2004 posting the largest volume increase for a decade. The sales ratio of diesel to gasoline vehicles for the larger manufacturers continues to grow, led by Volkswagen which now reports more than 60% of its European car sales as diesels.

In Western Europe, diesel car sales in 2004 continued to flourish in all of the major national markets, with overall penetration reaching a record level of over 48% and with no immediate sign of a slow down. In the context of a marginally strengthening passenger car market in Western Europe compared with that of 2003, a 5.4% decrease in gasoline sales was more than offset by an 11.9% increase in diesel sales.

Among its many worldwide projects, Ricardo is working with Ford and Valeo on a hybrid diesel delivery van in the UK (earlier post); performed simulation and analysis on hydraulic hybrid systems (earlier post);, is working with Citroën on another diesel-hybrid (earlier post); and is developing a new, more fuel-efficient gasoline engine concept (earlier post).

June 29, 2005 in Diesel, Market Background | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

VW and Shell Win Porsche Award for Synthetic Fuel Work

The 2005 Professor Ferdinand Porsche Preis—awarded for work which will have a lasting influence of the development of the automobile—recently went to Dr Wolfgang Steiger (Volkswagen) and  Dr Wolfgang Warnecke (Shell) for their development of synthetic fuels from natural gas (GTL) and biomass (BTL).

The Fischer-Tropsch synthetic fuel now produced by Shell in Malaysia was tested, defined and optimized for the requirements of the automobile in cooperation with Volkswagen Group Research.

The clear synthetic diesel is already being used in a 5% blend in Shell "V-Power-Diesel" in Germany, Austria and The Netherlands and enables improved starting in cold weather conditions and also reduces emissions.

In the award speech, Dr Wendelin Wiedeking, the Chairman of the Board of Management at Porsche AG, noted that the two winners:

...have displayed a high level of innovation with their basic research into the use of synthetic fuels. Against the background of constantly decreasing levels of natural resources and the subsequent increase in price of oil, the results of their scientific work have enormous significance. In only a few years, the positive effects of their results for the automobile industry will be clear in their full scope.

VW has been a consistent advocate of the combination of diesel engines and synthetic fuel as a key bridge technology to future transportation energy systems.

It is a source of fuel which could bridge the gap until there is a sufficient availability of hydrogen and with it the series production of the fuel cell and which can also reduce the one-sided dependency on oil that we can see today.

The most impressive aspect of this approach is the possibility to synthesize a fully-defined end-product from a large number of organic substances.

—Professor Dr Bernhard Geringer, Head of the Institute for Internal Combustion Engines at the Technical University in Vienna

June 29, 2005 in Biomass-to-Liquids (BTL), Coal-to-Liquids (CTL), Diesel, Europe | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Degussa and ENAX Set up JV for Lithium-Ion Batteries in China

Degussa AG, one of the world’s largest specialty chemical companies, and the Japanese Lithium-ion battery company ENAX are setting up a joint venture in China to develop and manufacture lithium-ion battery electrodes. Both partners will hold a 50% stake.

ENAX is both the technology provider and the future research partner for the joint venture. Through the joint venture Degussa acquires a worldwide exclusive license to manufacture the new electrodes for lithium-ion batteries.

The new company will begin operations as Degussa Enax (Anqiu) Power Lion Technologies Co., Ltd. The joint venture is headquartered in Anqiu, in the northern Chinese province of Shandong.

The electrodes are to be produced at the Anqiu plant and then used at ENAX sites at Tianjing near Beijing and at Yonezawa in Japan. The medium-term plans include supplying electrodes to other battery manufacturers in Asia.

With the JV’s electrodes, Degussa will to expand its portfolio to include another important component for manufacturing lithium-ion batteries. Degussa is targeting large format applications for its separator—i.e., full electric and hybrid electric vehicles, light electric vehicles such as bikes and scooters, APUs and specialty applications (aerospace, military).

Separion

Currently, Degussa offers a ceramic membrane separator (SEPARION, sketch at right), which consists of a flexible substrate, normally a non-woven polymer, coated with a porous ceramic layer. The pore size can be selectively set by an appropriate choice of ceramic coating material.

According to Degussa, the ceramic properties of the separator make it more temperature-stable than conventional polymer separators used in lithium-ion polymer batteries, and therefore contribute towards preventing short circuits in the battery.

Kazunori Ozawa, the project leader of Sony’s original Li-ion battery work at Sony, started ENAX in 1996 to develop his Laminated Sheet Battery (LSB).

The LSB batteries offer high power and energy densities. A large format LSB carries an energy density of 310 Wh/liter, according to ENAX. This exceeds the USABC (Advanced Battery Consortium) specification of 300 Wh/liter is far above the general range of Li-ion batteries.

ENAX is also keen on the future electric vehicle market—and especially in China.

Another example of market growth is the development in China. [We project] the increase in demand of Li-ion batteries for Electric Bikes (one application example of our Laminated Sheet Battery) between 2005 and 2010 to be more than 20%, and that of Hybrid Cars or Electric Cars to be 40% or even higher.

With these trends of increasing demand, we already have established a material procurement operation in Beijing, China. We have already expanded the production line at Yonezawa Laboratory and are establishing the electrode production factory in Anqiu.

—Kazunori Ozawa, ENAX CEO

ENAX has developed its own electric mini-car, the S3, and has also developed a larger prototype, the alpha ECV, using a Mitsubishi base.

June 29, 2005 in Batteries, China, Electric (Battery) | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 28, 2005

CalCars Plans Commercial Spin-off for Plug-In Hybrid Conversions

CalCars, the non-profit organization that dramatically increased awareness of the potential of plug-in hybrids (PHEV) simply by just doing it and converting a standard Prius to a plug-in Prius, is planning a commercial spin-off for plug-in conversions.

CalCars’ new company will partner with a major auto maker as a Qualified Vehicle Modifier (QVM) to define, to engineer and to produce PHEV versions of hybrid cars and SUVs.

CalCars anticipates a growing short-term market demand from public and private fleets and individuals for between 10,000-100,000 PHEVs.

CalCars earlier worked with EnergyCS, catalyzing the creation of E-Drive, which has developed and will soon market a plug-in conversion kit for the Prius. (Earlier post.)

As CalCars co-founder Felix Kramer notes in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News:

The problem is that E-Drive’s conversions will cost $10,000 and $15,000, which will leave most people out in the cold, Kramer said. “It’s for movie stars,” he said, predicting they’ll sell only 100 to 1,000 vehicles.

Kramer thinks he can sell 10,000 to 100,000 vehicles, and at $750 a car in possible carbon credits, he thinks there’s a promising market.

CalCars is not limiting itself to working with Toyota; the new venture may end up with an automaker such as Ford, for example—an outcome that would be a good move on Ford’s part.

Resources:

  • CalCars Recruitment Flyer

June 28, 2005 in Plug-ins | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

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