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August 2005

August 31, 2005

DOE Funds SRI International to Develop Steam Electrolysis System

SRI’s Experimental Steam Electrolysis System

The DOE has awarded SRI International, an independent nonprofit research and development organization, a four-year, $2.2 million contract to develop a prototype of a low-cost steam-electrolysis system for the generation of hydrogen.

The project goal is to generate ultra-pure hydrogen at a cost of $2 to $3 per gallon gasoline equivalent (gge) delivered. The current cost of hydrogen by electrolysis is some $4.75 to $5.15 per gge (delivered) on average, according to the DOE.

Conventional electrolysis uses electrical current to split water into hydrogen at the cathode (+) and oxygen at the anode (-). Steam electrolysis uses heat to provide some of the energy needed to split water.

The basic approach of the proposed system is as follows:

  • Decompose water electrochemically into H2 and O2 on the cathode side of a high-temperature electrolyzer.

  • Oxygen ions will migrate through an oxygen-ion-conductive solid oxide electrolyte.

  • Gas mixtures on the cathode side (H2+ H2O) and on the anode side (CO + CO2) will be reliably separated by the solid electrolyte.

  • Depolarization of the anodic process will decrease the electrolysis voltage 5-10 times, and thus the electricity required for H2 generation and the cost of produced H2.

The SRI team expects energy efficiencies of 60%–70% with respect to primary energy consumption and 75%–90% with respect to total energy into the electrolyzer. Total expected energy consumption for the high-temperature steam electrolyzer is around 6–8 kWh/kg H2.

SRI’s modular system design will allow scaling up and customization to meet a variety of site-specific needs. Deploying the system at locations where waste heat is available would reduce the electricity required for heating the system, and thus make it even more attractive.

The SRI project was one of eight Electrolysis posters delivered at the DOE 2005 Annual Merit Review held in May.


August 31, 2005 in Hydrogen, Research | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Indian Oil and Auto Companies Working On Hydrogen-CNG Vehicles

IANS. State-owned Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) is working with Indian automobile companies Tata, Mahindra and Mahindra and Eicher to lay the foundation for a more widespread commercialization of vehicles using a blend of hydrogen and compressed natural gas (HCNG).

Indian Oil is primarily studying blends of 10%–30% hydrogen in CNG. Indian Oil has had a HCNG project for transit buses under development for more than a year, with the first trial buses due out soon.

On 10 September, Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar will inaugurate the first HCNG dispenser at Indian Oil’s research and development center.

Over the next year, IndianOil and the automobile companies will conduct trials of various HCNG vehicles prior to a commercial launch of more such.

Indian Oil is also planning to work with Reva Electric Car Co and Mahindra and Mahindra on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

August 31, 2005 in Hydrogen, India, Natural Gas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

20+ Oil Rigs and Platforms Missing in GOM

Shell’s damaged MARS platform

AFP. At least 20 oil rigs and platforms are missing in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) and a ruptured gas pipeline is on fire after Hurricane Katrina tore through the region, according to the US Coast Guard.

Among the firms reporting missing rigs was Newfield Exploration Company, which said an aerial survey of its operations in the eastern Gulf showed that one of its platforms at Main Pass 138 “appears to have been lost in the storm.” Lost, as in, sunk.

Noble Corp. said its semi-submersible rig Noble Jim Thompson, which was contracted to a unit of Anglo-Dutch giant Shell, had broken loose and was 17 miles (27 kilometers) adrift of its normal Gulf location. The company noted that “the unit does not appear to have sustained damage of a material nature.”

A Coast Guard press release issued earlier stated that Shell’s massive MARS Platform is ”severely damaged.”

This hurricane caused catastrophic devastation, and the Coast Guard anticipates that there will be prolonged waterways management and environmental cleanup operations.


The Oil Drum has a posting from an industry insider on the situation:

There are MANY production platforms missing (as in not visible from the air). This means they have been totally lost. I am talking about 10s of platforms, not single digit numbers. Each platform can have from 4 to 100+ wells on it. Most larger ones have 20-30 wells in this area, with numerous caisson wells. They are on their sides, on the bottom of the gulf—they will likely be left as reef material, provided we can get permission.

[...] We utilize platforms as gathering hubs. We pipe the raw oil/water to them and then send it on for separation, or separate it there and send finished oil on. Damage to a hub means everything going to the hub is offline indefinitely. There are +/- 15 HUBS missing. MISSING!! As in we cannot find them from the air.

[...] In short, the Gulf area hit by the storm is basically in about the same shape as Biloxi. The damage numbers you have gotten from the government and analysts are, in my opinion, much too low. We are looking at YEARS to return to the production levels we had prior to the storm...

Still no word on Thunderhorse.

The next named tropical storm—Lee—is already forming and is being tracked by the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Fortunately for the Gulf, Lee is tracking east and north. Unfortunately, there are more where that one is coming from.

According to the NHC reforecast issued at the beginning of August, the bulk of the storms are still to come.

August 31, 2005 in Oil | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Westport Innovations Forms LNG Tank JV with Beijing Tianhai

Cross-section through a double-walled LNG tank with integrated pump.

Westport Innovations has signed a Letter of Intent to form a 50:50 joint venture company with Beijing Tianhai Industry Co. Ltd. (BTIC) of China to market and sell liquefied natural gas (LNG) fuel tanks for the transportation market.

The fuel storage tanks will be produced in BTIC’s new Beijing cryogenic facility, currently under construction. The joint venture will leverage both parent companies resources for sales, engineering, and operational personnel.

The companies anticipate that the availability of joint venture LNG tanks in 2006 will help grow the natural gas vehicle market both in the US and China, with improved performance, reliability, and cost increasing the competitiveness of natural gas vehicles.

Products from the JV will support all LNG vehicles, regardless of engine manufacturer.

LNG is a purified natural gas that has been condensed into a liquid at atmospheric pressure by cooling it to approximately -160º C (-256º F). It provides two-and-a-half times the energy storage as the same volume of compressed natural gas (CNG), which allows for a longer driving range.

On-board a vehicle, the liquefied gas must be stored at that low temperature in a low heat-leak tank with an integrated LNG pump. Westport has been developing on-board LNG storage systems for a number of years, and recently deployed its tank technology on a HPDI-LNG test in Canada. (Earlier post).

August 31, 2005 in China, LNG | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Purdue Researchers Find New Technique for Producing Hydrogen from Water and Organic Material

Researchers at Purdue University have discovered a novel technique for producing hydrogen from water and organic material.

Although not yet evaluated for economic or operational feasibility on a large scale, the technique requires only water, a catalyst based on the metal rhenium and an organic liquid called an organosilane, which can be stored and transported easily.

We have discovered a catalyst that can produce ready quantities of hydrogen without the need for extreme cold temperatures or high pressures, which are often required in other production and storage methods. It is possible that this technique could lead to fuel cells that are safe, efficient and not dependent on fossil fuels as their energy source.

—Mahdi Abu-Omar, associate professor of chemistry

Abu-Omar’s research team published their findings today (Wednesday, Aug. 31) in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The main highlights of the reaction are quantitative hydrogen yields, low catalyst loading, ambient conditions, high selectivity for silanols, water as the only co-reagent, and no solvent requirement. The amount of hydrogen produced is proportional to the water stoichiometry. Thus, reaction mixtures of polysilyl organics such as HC(SiH3)3 and water contain potentially > 6% by weight hydrogen.

The discovery was accidental. The research team was working on a different problem, trying to find useful catalysts to convert silicon-based fluids (organosilanes) into silanols, another substance of value in the chemical industry.

Abu-Omar’s team took a compound based on rhenium, a comparatively rare metal often obtained while mining copper, and added it to the organosilane in the presence of water. Over the course of an hour, the organosilane changed completely into silanol, leaving the water and rhenium catalyst unchanged. But the team also noticed there was a gas bubbling from the mixture.

It turned out to be pure hydrogen. The reaction is not only efficient at creating silanol, but it also generates hydrogen at a high rate in proportion to the amount of water.


The team estimates that about 7 gallons each of water and organosilane could combine to produce 6.5 pounds (2.9 kilograms) of hydrogen. With current fuel cell technology, that would work out roughly to a 150- to 170-mile range.

The big question is, of course, whether it would be economically viable to create organosilane fuels in the quantities necessary to power a world full of cars. As of right now, there simply isn’t enough demand to make more than small volumes of this liquid, and while it’s a relatively easy process, it’s not dirt cheap either.

I think the big point here is that hydrogen can be produced from water and a form of organic matter. If this rhenium-based catalyst can do the trick on organosilanes, perhaps we can find other catalysts that can generate hydrogen from garbage, or from biomass left over from the harvest.


August 31, 2005 in Hydrogen | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Mazda to Introduce Sub-Compact Concept Car with Idle-Stop

Mazda’s Sassou

Mazda will introduce a new sub-compact concept car featuring an idle-stop system at the upcoming Frankfurt motor show. The idle-stop system cuts off the engine when the vehicle is stopped, resulting in fuel savings and emissions reductions.

Created at Mazda’s design center in Germany, the three-door hatchback Sassou is powered by a turbocharged, three-cylinder, 1.0-liter MZR DISI (Direct Injection Spark Ignition) gasoline engine.

Mazda has worked with idle-stop capabilities across a range of its vehicles, from commercial delivery vans to the Mazda RX-8 hydrogen prototype, both in standalone systems as well as in the Mazda Mild Hybrid System (earlier post).

Sassou is a Japanese term that means having a positive state of mind, of looking ahead with optimism to the future. Mazda designed the lightweight urban vehicle for young, first time car buyers who are looking for fun, practicality, economy and low emissions in their vehicle.

More details to come.

August 31, 2005 in City car, Emissions, Engines, Europe | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Inside VW’s New “Twincharger” TSI Engine

The TSI Twincharging systems

VW’s goal for its new dual-charged (“Twincharger” in VW marketing-parlance) engine (earlier post) was to combine the low-end power boost provided by a mechanically-driven compressor (supercharging) with the higher-end increase provided by an exhaust turbocharger (turbocharging) to enable the downsizing of the engine for a given application while maintaining the driving experience for consumers.

Put another way, downsizing delivers comparable (or better) performance with lowered fuel consumption and emissions.

The first instance of this new Twincharged TSI engine family is a 90-kW (121-hp) 1.4-liter model that delivers a torque corresponding to a 2.3-liter engine, but with 20% less fuel consumption. Compared to the 2.0-liter FSI engine in the Golf, the power and torque gains are clear, although the decrease in fuel consumption is more modest. (See chart below.)

Golf GT 2.0 FSIGolf GT 1.4 TSITSI %
Displacement 1,984 cc 1,390 cc -30%
Cylinders 4 4
Compression 11.5:1 10:1
Boost Pressure 2.5 bar
Power 110 kW (148 hp) 125 kW (168 hp) +14%
Torque 200 Nm 240 Nm +20%
0–100 km/h 8.8 s 7.9 s -10%
Maximum speed 209 km/h (130 mph) 220 km/h (136 mph) +5%
Fuel consumption 7.6 l/100km 7.2 l/100km -5%
Fuel economy 31 mpg US 32.7 mpg US +5%
CO2 182 g/km 173 g/km -5%

Super-and turbo-charging systems are designed to force more air into the cylinder, thereby enabling more combustion and delivering more power—but also consuming more fuel than a comparable naturally-aspirated engine. However, the increase in fuel consumption of a charged engine is more than offset by the overall decrease in fuel consumption resulting from using a smaller engine.

For example, the 1.4-liter TSI is 39% smaller than the 2.3-liter FSI, but consumes 20% less fuel. As long as a downsized TSI is used to replace a larger FSI, there is a net gain in efficiency.

As a starting point for developing the Twincharged family, VW selected the direct-injection FSI from its EA 111 engine series as used in the Golf.

The basic FSI 1.4-liter engine (1,390 cc) is a 66-kW (88-hp), four-valve, four-cylinder engine. Note that the Twincharger 1.4-liter TSI offers 36% more power than its FSI cousin of the same displacement: 90 kW vs 66 kW.

To support the twincharging concept, VW engineers had to deliver a new, highly-resilient gray cast-iron cylinder crankcase to withstand the higher pressures, a coolant pump with an integrated magnetic clutch and supercharging technology.

VW also modified the injection system, introducing its first multiple-hole, high-pressure injection valve with six fuel outlet elements.

The injector, like that in the naturally-aspirated (non-charged) FSI engines, is arranged on the intake side between the intake port and cylinder head seal level.

To support the wider variability in the quantity of fuel needed across the range of operation (from idling speed to the 90-kW peak power output) to optimize the twincharging, VW increased the maximum injection pressure to 150 bar.

For the compressor, Volkswagen engineers chose a Roots-type supercharger (also known as a “blower”). Unlike some other types of supercharger, a Roots supercharger doesn’t actually compress air within the device. With two counter-rotating lobes, it moves a fixed volume of air per rotation (“fixed displacement”). Compression occurs in the intake manifold.

Roots superchargers can deliver a large amount of boost even at low engine speed. The main disadvantage is that they create a lot of heat.

Air flow through the VW Twincharged TSI. Click to enlarge.

The compressor and the turbocharger are connected in series. A control valve ensures that the fresh air required for a given operating state can get through either to the exhaust turbocharger or the compressor.

The control valve is open when the exhaust turbocharger is operating alone. In this case, the air follows the normal path as in conventional turbo engines, via the front charge-air cooler and the throttle valve into the induction manifold.

The compressor is operated by a magnetic clutch integrated in a module inside the water pump. Under turbocharging conditions, the clutch disengages the compressor.

The maximum boost pressure of the Twincharger is approximately 2.5 bar at 1,500 rpm, with the exhaust turbocharger and the mechanical supercharger being operated with about the same pressure ratio (approx. 1.53). The compressor alone delivers a boost pressure of 1.8 bar even just above idling speed.

A conventional exhaust turbocharged engine without compressor assistance would achieve only a pressure ratio of about 1.3 bar.

The more rapid response of the turbocharger enables the compressor to be depressurized earlier by continuous opening of the bypass valve. Compressor operation is restricted to a narrow engine map area with predominantly low pressure ratios and, therefore, low power consumption.

In practice, this means the compressor is only required for generating the required boost pressure in the engine speed range up to 2,400 rpm. The exhaust turbocharger is designed for optimum efficiency in the upper power range and provides adequate boost pressure even in the medium speed range.

For acceleration, an automatic boost pressure control decides if the compressor needs to be switched on to deliver the tractive power required, or if the turbocharger alone can handle the situation.

The compressor is switched on again if the speed drops to the lower range and then power is demanded again. The turbocharger alone delivers adequate boost pressure above 3,500 rpm.

August 31, 2005 in Engines, Europe, Fuel Efficiency, Vehicle Systems | Permalink | Comments (34) | TrackBack

UQM Technologies to Expand All-Electric Pickup Truck Project

UQM Technologies has received an additional $120,000 in funding to expand its work on an all-electric pickup truck project for the US Air Force.

The incremental funding, which brings the total value of the contract to $750,000, is to purchase and to evaluate a high-voltage battery charging system and to engineer the truck for the future installation of a fuel cell APU (auxiliary power unit) that would supplement the amount of power available onboard the vehicle.

The overall objective of the project is to evaluate the performance of an optimized all-electric pickup truck versus similar electric vehicles operating with older technologies.

Delivery of the vehicle is expected to occur in January 2006. The vehicle is being developed in cooperation with Robins Air Force Base and the Advanced Power Technology Office of the 542nd Combat Sustainment Wing.

The all-electric pickup truck will incorporate an efficient, low-electromagnetic interference (EMI) UQM electric propulsion system consisting of a 100-kW permanent magnet electric motor and a power electronic controller featuring digital signal processing (DSP) and controller area network (CAN) technology. (Earlier post)

A lithium-ion battery pack provides energy storage.

While hybrid vehicles continue to be our primary focus, we are excited about this opportunity to build an all-electric pickup truck that combines our highly efficient propulsion system with advanced high energy density batteries and charging system, which should dramatically improve the range capability of the vehicle without diminishing any of its performance characteristics.

The ever increasing cost of fuel and ability of these advanced technologies to overcome some of the limitations of previously developed battery powered vehicles, could potentially lead to a resurgence of interest in all-electric vehicles, particularly within niche markets of interest to the Company.

—William Rankin, UQM Technologies President and CEO

August 31, 2005 in Electric (Battery) | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 30, 2005

EPA Grants Emergency Fuel Waiver for Katrina-Blasted States

The EPA is granting an emergency waiver of clean fuel standards in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi because the impact of Hurricane Katrina “will prevent the distribution of an adequate supply of fuel to consumers that is compliant with the Clean Air Act.”

The EPA is temporarily allowing refiners, importers, distributors, carriers and retail outlets (regulated parties) to supply gasoline meeting a Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) standard of 9.0 psi in areas of the affected states where a lower RVP is required.

Reid Vapor Pressure is one of the standards applied to gasoline quality, and is an indicator of the propensity of the fuel to evaporate, thereby emitting Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that contribute to ozone formation. RVP is measured in pounds per square inch (psi), and the lower the psi, the fewer evaporative emissions.

Federal regulations require use of lower RVP gasoline in hot summer months to reduce VOCs emissions. Delivering gasoline with the correct RVP is a task of the refinery.

Under normal circumstances at this time of year, the metropolitan and high-ozone areas of Louisiana and Florida are required to use gasoline with an RVP of 7.8. Alabama high-ozone areas (including Birmingham) are required to use gasoline with an RVP of 7.0. All other areas in those states—and the entire state of Mississippi—are to use gasoline with an RVP of 9.0.

Further, because of the expected shortage of motor vehicle diesel fuel meeting the 500 parts per million (ppm) sulfur standard, EPA will temporarily allow regulated parties to supply motor vehicle diesel fuel to affected states having a sulfur content greater than 500 ppm.

The waiver is effective immediately and will continue through the remainder of the high-ozone period, through Sept. 15, 2005. However, retail outlets or wholesale purchaser-consumers that receive motor vehicle diesel fuel having a sulfur content greater than 500 ppm, under the terms of this waiver may continue selling or dispensing this fuel after Sept. 15, 2005, until supplies are depleted.


August 30, 2005 in Emissions, Fuels | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

In Katrina’s Wake

New Orleans, 29 Sept. (USCG)

The destruction left by Hurricane Katrina’s rampage through the Gulf Coast is still being assessed—a process that is going to take time.

Early indications are, however, that this will be one of the worst storms in terms of loss of life and property. Insurers are already girding themselves for losses that could be as high as $26 billion.

The long-term affect on oil and gas production and refining still is not clear. Crews need to get back out to rigs to assess damages, refineries need to be inspected and brought carefully back online, pipelines need to be assessed. All of this takes time.

By the numbers, however, this is what we know as of 11:30 AM Central time on 30 August, from the US Minerals Management Service:

  • 645 manned platforms (78.75%) and 90 rigs (67.16%) remain evacuated.

  • Current total shut-in oil production in the Gulf is 1,427,969 barrels per day—equivalent to 95.2 % of daily oil production in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). Cumulative shut-in oil production for the storm period to date (26 Aug–30 Aug) is 4,635,751 barrels—equivalent to 0.847% of the yearly production of oil in GOM.

  • Total shut-in gas production is 8.798 billion cubic feet per day—equivalent to 87.99% of the daily GOM gas production. Cumulative shut-in gas production is 25.441 BCF—equivalent to 0.697% of annual production.

Other items:

  • Shell’s Mars plat from, which accounts for some 15% of GOM output at 220,000 barrels a day, sustained some damage, according to a brief aerial assessment by the company. (NYT) (No word yet about the giant Thunderhorse, which was damaged earlier this year in a lesser hurricane.)

  • Refineries that have completely shut down—which take some as yet undetermined time to restart—include (OGJ):

    • Chevron, Pascagoula, 325,000 bpd
    • Valero Energy, St. Charles, 260,000 bpd
    • Motiva Enterprises, Convent, 255,000 bpd
    • Motiva Enterprises, Norco, 242,000 bpd
    • ConocoPhillips, Alliance, 247,000 bpd
    • Marathon Oil, Garyville, 245,000 bpd
    • Chalmette Refining, 187,200 bpd
    • Murphy Oil, Meraux, 125,000 bpd

  • Some six drilling rigs appear to be adrift (including one that broke apart in drydock and smacked into one of Alabama’s largest bridges): two from Shell, and an unknown number from Ensco, Transocean and Noble. Drifting rigs can cause damage to the undersea infrastructure. (Reuters)

Last year’s Hurricane Ivan, a Category 3 storm with lower winds and waves, inflicted damage on oil production that took months to repair.

A sobering reminder: peak hurricane season has yet to start.

Ongoing tracking and insider views over at The Oil Drum.

August 30, 2005 in Oil | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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