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November 2005

November 30, 2005

Researchers Measure 30% Weakening in Atlantic Circulation

The Atlantic Ocean circulation system. Click to enlarge.

Researchers in the UK have measured an apparent 30% weakening in the warm Atlantic Ocean currents that carry heat from the tropics to the high latitudes of Western Europe.

The team behind the new study are the first to spot these signs of decline in Atlantic currents. Harry Bryden of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK, and his team report their results in this week’s Nature.

Should this prove to be a sustained decline (there is a degree of uncertainty estimated in the paper), the findings would be extremely significant, and could mark an intensification of European winters in a relatively short period of time.

The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation—the current system that includes the warm Gulf Stream current—is a major contributor to the relatively mild weather experienced by Northern and Western Europe, even at its comparatively high northerly latitude. Both salinity and water density are key to the functioning of the transport.

The weakening of the system is likely caused by the additional fresh water flowing into the northern ocean from rivers, rain and melting ice, and this is thought to be linked to global warming. Despite no indication of climate cooling—on the contrary, average temperatures in Western Europe have increased—climate modellers are worried that the resulting weakening of ocean currents could ultimately lead to substantial cooling of the North Atlantic. Cooling resulting from warming, in other words.

A direct impact of the weakening circulation on air temperatures in western Europe has so far not been observed. Average temperatures have increased by around . Whether or not the true warming is partly eclipsed by an opposite oceanic cooling trend is not clear.

—Detlef Quadfasel, University of Hamburg

During a cruise in spring 2004 from the Bahamas to the Canary Islands, on board the British research vessel RRS Discovery, the research team measured water temperature and salinity along a latitude of 25º North, taking samples roughly every 50 kilometers.

Station positions for transatlantic hydrographic sections taken in 1957, 1981, 1992, 1998 and 2004. Note Cuba and Florida to the left, Africa to the right. The 1957 and 1992 sections each went zonally along 24.5° N from the African coast to the Bahama Islands. Because of diplomatic clearance issues, the 1981, 1998 and 2004 sections angled southwestward from the African coast at about 28° N to join the 24.5° N section at about 23° W. The 1998 and 2004 sections angled northwestward at about 73° W to finish the section along 26.5° N.

They then calculated from the density and pressure differences between each sample, the volume and velocity of the circulation at various depths, assuming that from coast to coast the balance of water flowing north and south must be zero.

Similar measurements along the same latitude were previously made in 1957, 1981, 1992 and 1998. Until now, the data never showed any significant decline in circulation.

Now, however, although the near-surface, and mostly wind-driven, Gulf Stream has remained almost constant since 1957, the deep-ocean return flow of cooler water has decreased dramatically. This cycle usually returns water to more southerly latitudes from as far north as Greenland and Scandinavia.

The warmer water now seems to be trapped in a loop in the subtropical Atlantic, instead of cycling all the way to the ocean's northern extremity.

Whereas the northward transport in the Gulf Stream across 25° N has remained nearly constant, the slowing is evident both in a 50 per cent larger southward-moving mid-ocean recirculation of thermocline waters, and also in a 50 per cent decrease in the southward transport of lower North Atlantic Deep Water between 3,000 and 5,000 m in depth. In 2004, more of the northward Gulf Stream flow was recirculating back southward in the thermocline within the subtropical gyre, and less was returning southward at depth.

—Bryden et. al.

This is quite sensational information in itself. But it is also an important message to politicians who negotiate the future of the Kyoto agreements: we do change our climate.

—Detlef Quadfasel


  • Slowing of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation at 25° N”; Harry L. Bryden, Hannah R. Longworth and Stuart A. Cunningham; Nature 438, 655-657 (1 December 2005) | doi:10.1038/nature04385

  • Ocean circulation and climate during the past 120,000 years

  • Discussion of the Nature article at Real Climate

  • Discussion of the Nature article at The Oil Drum

  • November 30, 2005 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

    Fiat Introduces Two Diesel 4x4s

    4x4 = Sedici

    Fiat is introducing two new diesel four wheel-drive vehicles at the Bologna Motor Show: a new compact SUV and new Panda CROSS supermini.

    The new compact SUV Sedici’s (Sedici means “16” in Italian. 4x4 (four-wheel drive)= 16) design was developed in conjunction with Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Italdesign company as part of the Fiat-Suzuki manufacturing project.

    The Sedici offers a 1.6-liter gasoline engine as well as the 1.9-liter Multijet diesel, both combined with five- or six-speed manual gearboxes. The Panda Cross offers only a 1.3-liter Multijet diesel.

    The inline, four-cylinder, eight-valve Multijet delivers power of 120 hp (88 kW) at 4,000 rpm and a torque of 280 Nm at 2,000 rpm. The power unit has undergone several engineering changes to increase performance and engine torque at low speeds and to reduce noise and vibration levels.

    Fiat Sedici
      1.6 1.9
    Displacement 1,586 cc 1,910 cc
    Fuel Gasoline Diesel
    Power 79 kW (107 hp) 88 kW (120 hp)
    Torque 145 Nm 280 Nm
    Fuel cons. comb. 7.1 l/100km n/a
    Fuel econ. comb. 33 mpg US n/a
    Emission level Euro 4 Euro 4 (w DPF)
    CO2 173 g/km n/a

    An electronically-controlled turbocharger with variable geometry turbine helps improve power delivery while also allowing very high torque delivery even at low rpms—90% of maximum torque is available between 1,750 and 3,250 rpm.

    The 1.9 Multijet engine also meets Euro 4 standards due to its EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) emission control system that includes an electrically-operated valve managed directly by the engine control system, a heat exchanger for cooling recirculated exhaust gases and a close-coupled catalytic converter.

    A self-regenerating DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter) is standard equipment. The engine control unit manages the regeneration process automatically according to the amount of carbon that has accumulated in the filter and vehicle service conditions without the need for additives and without requiring any particular maintenance operations.

    Panda CROSS

    The 1.6-liter gasoline engine develops power of 79 kW (107 hp) at 5,600 rpm and torque of 145 Nm at 4,000 rpm. The new engine is fitted with a VVT (Variable Valve Timing) system that allows the intake and exhaust valve timing to be varied. This system optimizes cylinder filling and also allows internal EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) to be implemented by making intake and exhaust valve opening overlap for a considerable improvement in emission and performance.

    This ensures combustion is more complete and improves performance. A Fiat Sedici with this engine can achieve a top speed of 170 km/h (106 mph) with European combined-cycle fuel consumption of 7.1 l/100 km over mixed routes (33 mpg US).

    Panda CROSS
    Displacement 1,248 cc
    Fuel Diesel
    Power 51 kW (70 hp)
    Torque 145 Nm
    Fuel cons. comb. 5.3 l/100km
    Fuel econ. comb. 44.4 mpg US
    Emission level Euro 4
    CO2 141 g/km

    The Panda CROSS is the latest in the line of Panda 4x4s. The 1.3-liter Multijet develops 51 kW (70 hp) at 4,000 rpm and 145 Nm of torque at 1,500 rpm, and is mated with a five-speed manual gearbox. Thus equipped, the Panda CROSS with this unit can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 18 seconds and reach a top speed of 150 km/h (93 mph).

    The CROSS offers combined cycle fuel consumption of 5.3 l/100km (44.4 mpg US), and CO2 emissions of 141 g/km.

    November 30, 2005 in Diesel, Europe | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

    Volvo Begins Producing Flex Fuel Cars

    An S40 FlexiFuel car.

    Volvo has begun the production of flexible fuel cars capable of running on gasoline or any blend of ethanol of up to 85% (E85). The FlexiFuel engine—the 125 hp (92 kW) 1.8F—is available on the S40 and V50 models.

    FlexiFuel cars will initially only be offered on the Swedish market where the infrastructure for E85 is good (there are more than 280 fuel stations for E85 from Skåne in the south to Övertorneå in the north) and there is considerable customer interest.

    Volvo FlexiFuel Cars
      S40 V50
    * Using gasoline. Fuel consumption when driving on E85 is about 40% higher.
    Engine 1.8 liter
    Power 92 kW (125 hp)
    Max. Torque 165 Nm
    0–100 km/h 10.9 sec 11.0 sec
    Top speed 200 km/h (124 mph)
    Fuel cons.* 7.4 l/100km 7.5 l/100km
    Fuel economy* 31.8 mpg US 31.3 mpg US
    CO2 (gasoline) 177 g/km 179 g/km

    The Volvo S40 and V50 FlexiFuel are based on a four-cylinder, normally aspirated 1.8-liter engine. The fuel hoses, valves, seals and bushings have all been strengthened to withstand ethanol’s greater corrosiveness.

    Am enhanced engine management system calculates the fuel blend currently in the tank and automatically adjusts the new injection system and timing to suit.

    In order to optimize the cold-starting properties, an integrated engine heater is fitted as standard.

    Volvo has set a flex fuel sales goal of 6,000 units for 2006.

    November 30, 2005 in Ethanol, Europe | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    Modified Rand Cam Rotary Engine Entering Series Hybrid Testing

    The Rand Cam diesel. Click to enlarge.

    Reg Technologies announced that modifications on a 42hp (31kW) diesel version of the Rand Cam sliding-vane rotary engine have been completed and that testing is beginning on a genset application for a series hybrid vehicle as well as for an unmanned aerial application.

    The modifications, completed by Ebco Industries, include six additional cam designs with a special coating to ensure durability.

    Other tested uses of the engine will include gasoline, hydrogen, pump and compressor applications.

    Invented by James McCann in 1983, the Rand Cam uses a disk-shaped rotor with two or more axial vanes mounted perpendicular to the direction of rotation. The vanes slide back and forth against cam surfaces to alternatively expand and contract the chamber volume.

    Through the process of these sliding vanes, combustion chambers form between the rotor, stator walls and vanes where the fuel/air mixture is injected, compressed, combusted and exhausted.

    Increasing the number of vanes increases the number of combustion events throughout a revolution. The original Rand Cam had two; the current version has 12.

    The engine operates at lower speeds than a typical Wankel engine (less than 2,000 rpm) and at higher compression ratios— 15 and 20 to 1.

    The 6"x6" 42hp prototype.

    The engine is compact (the 42hp diesel is 6" in diameter and 6" long), and offers 30% volume efficiency, according to the company, compared to the Wankel engine’s 10% volume efficiency.

    The company has been working on a unique vane design that does not require vane tip seals. (Sealing remains an issue, as with the Wankel.) Eliminating the need for vane tip seals will reduce the manufacturing and maintenance costs significantly.

    The company is also working on a 125 hp (93 kW) prototype Rand Cam engine.

    REGI U.S. owns the U.S. rights and the parent company Reg Technologies Inc. owns the worldwide rights to the Rand Cam technology.


    November 30, 2005 in Diesel, Engines, Hybrids | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

    Lurgi Racks Up $200M in New Biofuel Contacts; Global Leader in Biodiesel Plant Production

    Lurgi AG, a subsidiary of the GEA Group, has won five new contracts worth approximately €70 million (US$82 million) to build biodiesel plants in Germany.

    In addition, the plant engineering contractor has signed a contract worth €100 million (US$118 million) to build the Panda Energy ethanol plant in Hereford, TX. (Earlier post.)

    Since July of this year, Lurgi has won eight new contracts to build biodiesel plants worth a total of roughly €140 million (US$165 million) and with an annual output of just under a million tons of biodiesel.

    As one of the world’s market and technology leaders, Lurgi is benefiting particularly strongly from the booming demand for biofuels.

    Once these new plants have been completed, between 60 and 70 percent of global output of biodiesel will be produced using Lurgi technology. In Germany this proportion will be between 70 and 80 percent.

    Our focus on profitable proprietary technologies in fast-growing markets is being reflected in the increasingly impressive performance of our business

    —Klaus Moll, CEO of Lurgi AG

    The third quarter of 2005 saw Lurgi report a profit for the first time since the strategic reorganization that was completed earlier this year. The company is concentrating on building plants used to produce biofuels from renewable resources and on plants used in the manufacture of petrochemical products such as methanol, plastics and synthetic fuels based on natural gas.

    To meet EU targets of 5.75% biofuels by 2010, EU-wide demand for fuels made from renewable resources will almost treble from less than five million tons at present to just under 14 million tons per year.

    Approximately 40 new biodiesel plants producing an average of 100,000 tons per year each and 60 new bioethanol plants with an average annual output of roughly 100,000 tons each will have to be built in Europe alone by 2010. This would equate to an investment of around €3 billion (US$3.5 billion).

    November 30, 2005 in Biodiesel, Ethanol, Europe | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    Ener1 Subsidiary Receives Funding for Lithium-Ion Production R&D

    Enerstruct, a subsidiary of Ener1 jointly held with ITOCHU Corporation, has received funding from SBIC (Tokyo Small and Medium Business Investment & Consultation Co.), Japan’s oldest venture capital firm, to further the ongoing research and development of lithium battery production and battery production processes.

    EnerDel, Ener1’s lithium battery subsidiary in which Delphi owns 19.5%, is working closely with Enerstruct to develop a new type of high-rate lithium battery for hybrid electric vehicles.

    EnerDel’s proprietary technologies include high-rate battery electrodes and an automated mass production process developed with the help of Enerstruct.

    EnerDel plans to manufacture these batteries in the U.S. using an automated production process, and expects to supply these batteries to automotive companies that will produce HEVs (Hybrid Electric Vehicles) in North America.

    Ener1’s subsidiaries operate in three main sectors: Lithium Batteries, Fuel Cells and Nanotechnology Materials. Ener1’s interests include 80.5% of EnerDel, 100% of EnerFuel, a fuel cell testing and component company, 100% of NanoEner, which develops nanotechnology-based materials and manufacturing processes for batteries and other applications, and 49% of Enerstruct (ITOCHU holds 51%).

    November 30, 2005 in Batteries, Hybrids, Japan | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    Proton Energy Receives Follow-On $1.9M Award for Hydrogen Station Development

    Proton Energy Systems, Inc., a subsidiary of Distributed Energy Systems Corp. has received its third consecutive award from the University of Nevada Las Vegas Research Foundation (UNLVRF) to continue its development of hydrogen fueling stations for automobiles and other motor vehicles.

    The $1.9 million award, funded by the US Department of Energy, allows Proton and UNLVRF to continue their collaboration that began in 2003 to develop advanced hydrogen fueling technologies.

    The fueling station’s design is expected to incorporate a high-capacity electrolyzer, capable of generating up to 12 kilograms per day of hydrogen—enough to fuel at least two fuel-cell light duty vehicles.

    This electrolyzer will also incorporate higher-pressure capability, enabling the reduction of the downstream compression required to store high-pressure hydrogen onboard a vehicle.

    The high-pressure unit enables safe, fast and efficient hydrogen fueling that is more competitive, from a procedural and timing point of view, with the way vehicles are filled using more traditional fuels.

    The R&D project will also seek to add natural gas blending capability for compressed natural gas vehicles, which already exist in Las Vegas.

    UNLVRF is also leading a research consortium including Altair Nanotechnologies and Hydrogen Solar to further the development of solar hydrogen generation cells. (Earlier post.)

    November 30, 2005 in Hydrogen | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    November 29, 2005

    Financial Strategist Says Oil Sands to Bring New Global Importance to Canada


    Alberta’s oil sands are going to be the focal point of the largest-scale competition for energy resources ever seen, according to Donald Coxe, Global Portfolio Strategist, BMO Financial Group and Chairman, Harris Investment Management Inc.

    Speaking beside a DaimlerChrysler smart car (right), Coxe said, “Even if the Chinese all have cars like this, we’re still going to need massive new oil production.”

    Coxe made the comment during a lunchtime speech to the Economic Club of Toronto today.

    Coxe noted that recent Saudi and Kuwaiti increases in oil production generated generated heavy oil instead of easy-to-refine light oil. “We’ve used up the cheap light oil in the world.”

    The twelve biggest oil companies, all with Reserve Life Indexes that have fallen for seven straight years, have only one quick fix, according to Coxe: to be permitted to book oil sands as part of their reserves. Current Securities and Exchange Commission rules do not allow oil companies to book oil sands. Coxe believes those rules will be changed next year.

    Such a rule change would make Alberta’s oil sands very attractive for investment by major oil companies, who currently have massive amounts of capital to spend but nowhere to invest it. As a result, “Canada’s going to face a new kind of importance in the world.”

    The Pembina Institute, an environmental group based in Alberta, Canada, recently issued a cautionary environmental report on the effects of the boom in Canadian oil sands production.

    The report, Oil Sands Fever: The Environmental Implications of Canada’s Oil Sands Rush, warns of escalating water usage, rising greenhouse gas emissions and the disruption of Alberta’s boreal forest. (Earlier post.)

    The production of Oil Sands-Derived Fuels (OSDF) carries its own set of challenges. The refinery feedstock, whether shipped as unprocessed bitumen or in upgraded form as synthetic crude, has different characteristics from conventional light and heavy crudes.

    Most conventional refineries are limited to using about 10-15% of synthetic oil sands crude in their diets before fuels quality limitations begin to appear, according to a workshop earlier this year that began to identify the gaps in knowledge related to the use of fuels derived from synthetic crude produced from oil sands (OSDF—Oil-Sands-Derived Fuels) in advanced combustion engines. (Earlier post.)

    The challenges to utilizing these crudes include the need for more “severe” processes to refine the heavy synthetic crude to duplicate fuel characteristics to which engines have become accustomed. The technology to overcome these differences is largely known, but requires significant lead-time to install.

    November 29, 2005 in Canada, Oil, Oil sands | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    USDA Researchers Modifying Yeast for Cellulosic Ethanol Production

    L. edodes, source of the gene for xylanase

    Researchers at the USDA Agricultural Research Service have cloned a gene from the Shiitake mushroom and are using that as the mechanism for yeast or other organisms to be able to process cellulosic biomass for ethanol production.

    The dominant technology for ethanol production is the fermentation of sugars from sugary plants or from plant starches converted to sugar. For cellulosic biomass to function as an ethanol feedstock, the cellulose must first be converted to fermentable sugars.

    (Gasification of cellulosic biomass and then the subsequent catalytic conversion to ethanol is also a possible production route, but not one under much current consideration.)

    Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) typically grow on downed wood in the forest, converting the cellulosic material into sugars they use for food.

    The Xyn11A gene carries the instructions that the mushroom uses to make the enzyme xylanase, which breaks down xylan, one of the main components of hemicellulose.

    The ARS researchers transferred the Xyn11A gene into yeast. Equipped with the gene, the yeast was able to produce xylanase. In nature, the yeast normally can’t do that.

    Next, the scientists will work on engineering the mushroom gene to optimize the volume and rate of production of xylanse to better determine its suitability for a commercial cellulosic ethanol process.


    November 29, 2005 in Biotech, Ethanol | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

    EU Struggling to Meet Kyoto Targets; Transportation a Leading Cause

    The EU-15 are not tracking to meet their Kyoto obligations. Click to enlarge.

    Absent additional measures, the EU 15—the 15 longest-standing members of the European Union—will fail to meet their target reduction in greenhouse gases of 8% from the 1990 level required under Kyoto, according to an official report released today by the European Environment Agency.

    According to the report, The European Environment: State and Outlooks 2005, given current trends and measures, the 15 will deliver a reduction in GHG emissions of 1.6% below the 1990 base year levels—a shortfall of 6.4%. The transportation sector, with an increase in greenhouse gas emissions of 24% from 1990 through 2003, is one of the leading impediments to achieving the target.

    Aggressive implementation of additional measures could push that down to a 6.8% reduction.

    The use of Kyoto mechanisms by various member states would reduce emissions by a further 2.5%, leading to total reductions of 9.3%, sufficient to reach the EU-15 target. This would, however, rely on over-delivery by some countries. All EU-10 member states (the new members) project that existing domestic measures will be sufficient to meet their Kyoto targets in 2010, in one by using carbon sinks.

    Total EU-15 GHG emissions in 2003 were 1.7% below base-year levels. Increases in carbon dioxide emissions were offset by reductions in nitrous oxide, methane and fluorinated gas emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions from road transport increased whereas emissions from manufacturing industry decreased.

    Total EU-15 GHG emissions (including Kyoto Protocol flexible mechanisms) in 2003 were 1.9 index points above the hypothetical linear EU target path. Many EU-15 Member States were not on track to meet their burden-sharing targets. Total GHG emissions in the EU 10 decreased considerably (by 32.2%) between the aggregate base year and 2003, due mainly to the economic restructuring transition process towards market economies.

    Regarding other EEA countries, Iceland and the EU candidate countries Bulgaria and Romania are on track to achieving their Kyoto targets while Norway and Liechtenstein will, with existing domestic policies and measures, fall short of theirs.

    Pngeea14476i Pngeea14001i
    Relative gaps between GHG projections and 2010 targets, based on existing and additional domestic policies and measures, and changes by the use of Kyoto mechanisms. Change in EU-15 emissions of greenhouse gases by sector and gas 1990-2003.

    Improvements in industrial efficiency and reductions in methane emissions from waste have provided the most substantive gains. But longer car journeys have more than offset gains in engine performance, and ship and airline journeys are also increasing fast.

    The EU-15 member states are: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

    The EU-10 member states are: Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

    The report provides an overview of Europe’s environment and points to challenges of which greenhouse gas emissions is just one. Other areas of concern include biodiversity, climate change, marine ecosystems, land and water resources, energy use, air pollution and health. For the first time, the report has a country by country analysis with performance indicators and comparisons for all of the participants: the EU-25 plus Bulgaria, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Romania, Turkey and including Switzerland.


    November 29, 2005 in Climate Change, Emissions, Europe | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

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