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August 2006

August 31, 2006

UTC Power to Lead $2.9M Fuel-Cell Bus Project for Hartford

AC Transit / UTC Power / ISE / Van Hool hybrid fuel cell bus.

The Greater Hartford (Connecticut) Transit District has contracted with UTC Power of South Windsor, Conn., for the company and its partners to provide a 40-foot hybrid-electric fuel-cell-powered transit bus that will be used in revenue service.

As part of the agreement, UTC Power also will provide two years of program support, including the use of a hydrogen refueling station. UTC Power is a United Technologies Corp.

A $2.9 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to the Greater Hartford Transit District will pay for the bus and infrastructure to support future fuel cell transportation projects in Greater Hartford. CTTRANSIT will operate the bus once it arrives in Hartford.

The bus refueling facility will be located at UTC Power’s headquarters in South Windsor, about 10 miles from Hartford.

UTC Power’s industry partners in producing the bus include AC Transit of Oakland, Calif., which now has three UTC Power fuel cell-powered buses in operation; Van Hool of Belgium, one of the world’s largest bus and coach manufacturers; and ISE Corporation, a leading integrator of hybrid-electric and integrated fuel-cell drive systems for buses.

The AC Transit design fuel cell bus was three years in the making, and features a UTC Power 120-kW fuel cell power system . (Earlier post.) The 120-kW UTC Power system combines oxygen from the air with hydrogen gas stored on-board the bus, at low, near-ambient pressure, removing the need for a compressor and increasing the fuel efficiency and reliability of the whole system.

Sodium Nickel Chloride high-temperature (Zebra) batteries can store as much as 53 kWh of electrical energy and release up to 95 kW of power, enabling efficiency improvements through regenerative braking, while augmenting the 120 kW of power available from the fuel cell. The bus uses dual Siemens traction motors.

UTC Power has provided fuel-cell power plants for fleet transportation since 1998, and its fuel cells have powered buses in the United States, Spain and Italy.

August 31, 2006 in Fleets, Fuel Cells, Hydrogen | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

On-Board Distillation System for Reduced HC Emissions and Improved Fuel Economy

Layout of the On Board Distillation System. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at the University of Texas have developed an on-board device that dramatically reduces start-up emissions of unburned hydrocarbons.

The on-board distillation system (OBDS) extracts high-volatility components from gasoline and stores them for exclusive during start-up and warming. New tests show that OBDS reduced cranking fuel requirements by 70%, enabled a 57% decrease in catalyst light-off time, cut the emissions of regulated hydrocarbons (NMOG) by 81%, and delivered an apparent 1% increase in fuel economy. The team reports on its work in a paper in Environmental Science & Technology.

In modern vehicles, 60-95% of all HC emissions occur during the first 90 seconds after a cold start.

The primary reasons for this are twofold: low/unknown fuel volatility and poor catalytic converter efficiency. The relatively low volatility of gasoline (10-30% vaporizes upon injection at 20° C) requires the injection of considerably more fuel (typically 8-15 times) than the stoichiometric amount in order to generate a reliably ignitable fuel/air mixture.

Furthermore, the volatility of the fuel is not known a priori by the engine controller (the powertrain control module, PCM), so the PCM is often calibrated to command fueling rates based upon the expectation of the worst-case volatility fuel. This results in an air/fuel mixture that is overly fuel-rich for most starting conditions and a large amount of liquid fuel that will enter the combustion chamber during the first several cycles. Much of the excess fuel exits the engine unburned or only partially combusted.

A conventional three-way catalytic converter will not reach “light-off” temperature (corresponding to 50% HC conversion efficiency) for 30-40 s or more during the FTP drive cycle. Ironically, the period of highest engine-out HC emissions coincides with the period of lowest catalyst efficiency, making the combination of low fuel volatility with poor catalysis the primary cause of high HC emissions during the cold-start and warm-up period.

(This is also a design consideration for plug-in hybrids, as the longer periods of all-electric drive could be accompanied by more engine cold-start events during the day.)

The OBDS originally was designed to address the cold-start problems inherent in E85-fueled vehicles. The OBDS separated the most volatile fractions of gasoline from E85 for use as a starting fuel. The Texas team of Marcus Ashford and Ronald Matthews then developed a version of the OBDS specifically for gasoline vehicles.

The OBDS intercepts fuel from the main tank. Startup-fuel is extracted by distillation and stored in a separate “light ends” tank for subsequent use; the heaver gasoline fraction is routed back to the main fuel tank. Engine coolant provides the heat source for the distillation process; thus, the start-up distillate is best made when the engine is hot.

Comparing Emissions Indices. The OBDS Navigator has a lower EI (NMOG) than the two ULEV vehicles and is only slightly higher than that of the PZEV Sentra. Click to enlarge.

The researchers installed this OBDS on a 2001 Lincoln Navigator equipped with a 5.4-liter 32-valve V-8 engine originally calibrated to meet federal Tier I emissions standards.

With the use of the OBDS, the emissions index for the Navigator was lower than a MY 2000 ULEV Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, and only slightly higher than that of a MY2003 PZEV Nissan Sentra. The emissions index (EI) is a measure of the emissions produced with respect to the fuel consumed in the process. The emissions index effectively normalizes mass emissions by engine displacement and vehicle mass, two factors that tend to negatively impact traditional mass/distance emissions measurements.

The research suggests that a smaller vehicle equipped with OBDS may be able to meet SULEV/PZEV tailpipe hydrocarbon requirements “without having to resort to semi-exotic catalyst and engine control strategies.

The researchers estimate that the system would add about five pounds to a car’s weight and less than $100 to its cost when in full production. The research was funded by Ford Motor Company, the US Department of Energy, and the Texas Advanced Technology Program.

(A hat-tip to Martin!)


August 31, 2006 in Emissions, Engines, Fuels | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

DaimlerChrysler Marks the Phase-Out of smart fortwo With Special Edition

smart fortwo edition red.

DaimlerChrysler is offering a final special model—the smart fortwo edition red—to mark the phase-out of the current model before the fortwo successor model becomes available in the spring of 2007.

The two-seater will be exhibited at the Paris Motor Show (28 September – 08 October 2006). DaimlerChrysler says that the model is “already as good as sold out.”

Due to the high demand for the fortwo, DaimlerChrysler had increased production in Hambach, France, at the beginning of this year. The company has delivered more than 750,000 vehicles to customers since the market launch in October 1998.

The sporty smart fortwo edition red features a BRABUS engine with a power output of 55 kW (74 hp), and features 16-inch alloy wheels, a front spoiler and sports rear muffler. Special contrast components in “intensive red” and aluminium pedals add to the exclusive look. Air conditioning and an audio system with an MP3 interface are also part of the package. The smart fortwo edition red is available as a coupé or a cabrio and costs €20,995 (US$26,852) and €23,695 (US$30,304) respectively.

August 31, 2006 in City car | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Ford Explores Sale of Aston-Martin

Ford Motor Company announced that it has begun the process of “exploring strategic options” for its Aston Martin brand, with particular emphasis on a potential sale of all or a portion of the unit.

Aston Martin is one of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group (PAG) brands. Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo are the others. Given Ford’s financial situation, there has been much speculation over the possible sell-off of some or all of the PAG brands.

As part of our ongoing strategic review, we have determined that Aston Martin may be an attractive opportunity to raise capital and generate value. Since Aston Martin’s dealer network, product architecture and size are distinctly different from other Ford brands, it is the most logical and capital-smart divestiture choice. The objective of any sale would be to position Aston Martin within a structure and resource base sufficient to allow it to reach its full potential, while enabling Ford to efficiently raise capital for its other brands.

—Bill Ford, Chairman and CEO

Ford said that the company had as yet made no decisions as to the fate of the other PAG brands. He did note, though that the company is “encouraged by Jaguar’s progress and by the strength and consumer appeal of the Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo product lineups.”

In July, Ford UK announced that it will spend at least £1 billion (US$1.8 billion) to develop a range of global environmental technologies in the UK for its Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo brands. (Earlier post.)

That project is designed to deliver more than 100 models and derivatives that reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions, including for example, a regular Ford Focus capable of more than 58 miles per gallon US and CO2 emissions of less than 100 g/km.

In June, Ford announced that it will establish a development center for hybrid systems in Gothenburg, Sweden, to serve Ford’s Premier Automotive Group and Ford of Europe business units. Further, Volvo said that it will invest SEK 10 billion (US$1.4 billion) in environmental R&D to improve fuel economy and tailpipe emissions of its global fleet. (Earlier post.)

August 31, 2006 in Market Background, Vehicle Manufacturers | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

California to Cap Greenhouse Gas Emissions

California legislative leaders and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger reached agreement on a compromise version of an assembly bill (AB 32—the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006) that is intended to bring statewide emissions of greenhouse gases back down to 1990 levels by 2020—an estimated cut of 25%.

The California Senate approved the measure on Wednesday; it now is in the Assembly, where final approval is expected.

The bill, which would make California the first state in the country to legislate a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, requires the California Air Resources Board (ARB) to:

  • Adopt a statewide greenhouse gas emissions limit equivalent to the statewide greenhouse gas emissions levels in 1990 to be achieved by 2020.

  • Adopt regulations on or before 1 January 2008 to require the reporting and verification of statewide greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Adopt a schedule of fees to be paid by the sources of greenhouse gas emissions to cover the actual cost of the monitoring and reporting program regulations.

  • Adopt rules and regulations in an open public process to achieve the maximum technologically feasible and cost-effective greenhouse gas emission reductions.

  • Adopt market-based compliance mechanisms meeting specified requirements. The bill would require the state board to monitor compliance with and enforce any rule, regulation, order, emission limitation, emissions reduction measure, or market-based compliance mechanism adopted by the state board, pursuant to specified provisions of existing law.

  • Adopt a schedule of fees to be paid by regulated sources of greenhouse gas emissions, as specified. Because the bill would require the state board to establish emissions limits and other requirements, the violation of which would be a crime, this bill would create a state-mandated local program.

The greenhouse gases covered by AB 32 are: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexaflouride. The bill does not address vehicles as a source. California had already passed a bill limiting the emissions of greenhouse gases from new vehicles—a bill currently under challenge by the auto industry in Federal court.

The basic implementation timeline is as follows:

  • On or before 30 June 2007, ARB will publish a list of discrete early action greenhouse gas emission reduction measures that can be implemented prior to the measures of AB 32.

  • On or before 1 January 2008, ARB will require the reporting and verification of statewide greenhouse gas emissions.

  • On or before 1 January 2009, ARB shall prepare and approve a scoping plan for achieving the maximum technologically feasible and cost-effective reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

  • On or before 1 January 2010, ARB shall adopt the greenhouse gas regulations and measures.

  • On or before 1 January 2011, ARB shall adopt greenhouse gas emission limits and emission reduction measures by regulation to achieve the maximum technologically feasible and cost-effective reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

  • On 1 January 2012, the statewide greenhouse gas emissions limit goes into effect.

The state is the 12th largest carbon emitter in the world despite leading the nation in energy efficiency standards and its lead role in protecting its environment. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an issue we must show leadership on.

—Governor Schwarzenegger

Last month, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a climate change pact with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. (Earlier post.)


August 31, 2006 in Climate Change, Emissions, Policy | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack

China and Malaysia Partner on Biofuel R&D

The Star. China has joined Malaysia in a bilateral research and development partnership to further develop biofuel and biomass production technologies.

The Malaysia Palm Oil Board (MPOB) and the Department of High-Tech Development and Industrialization of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology have entered into a memorandum of understanding aimed at exploring new biomass technologies.

Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin said a study would be conducted to set out the scope of cooperation and the possible joint R&D projects relevant to biofuel and biomass technologies.

Chin said he was confident that the collaboration would augur well for the development of biomass as a new source of growth, especially for Malaysia as its vast oil palm plantations generated a high volume of biomass annually.

Chin said the collaboration was significant as Malaysia was now embarking on the commercialization of biofuel. “As you are aware, the development of biofuel is not necessarily confined to the production of biodiesel only. It also includes bioethanol, which could be potentially harnessed from palm-based biomass,” he added.

August 31, 2006 in Biodiesel, Cellulosic ethanol, China, Other Asia | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 30, 2006

Los Alamos Enters Development Agreement for Plasma-Assisted Combustion

The basic Plasma-Assisted Combustion process concept. Click to enlarge.

Los Alamos National Laboratory has entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with PerriQuest Defense Research Enterprises, LLC to advance Plasma-Assisted Combustion for commercial refinement and implementation.

PerriQuest, based in Meriden, CT, Los Alamos, and Idaho National Laboratory are collaborating on the research and development of Plasma-Assisted Combustion, under a licensing agreement with Los Alamos, for turbine and internal combustion engine applications. The technology enables the development of cleaner-burning or more fuel-efficient engines.

Under Plasma-Assisted Combustion, electrodes attached at the spray nozzle of a fuel injector apply enough electrical voltage to the atomized fuel stream prior to combustion, thereby generating a plasma in the fuel.

This effect essentially breaks down the long chains of hydrocarbons in the fuel into smaller parts, allowing the fuel to be burned more completely, resulting in more miles per gallon, or reducing emissions.

You put into an engine the equivalent of a process plant or fuel refinery. The plasma unit basically acts like a cracker in a refinery, cutting the long chains of hydrocarbons into bite-size parts—the smaller the parts the better the burn—taking cheap fuels and making them combust like expensive ones.

—Don Coates, Los Alamos

The research was really driven by market needs. In 2004, regulations were announced about air pollutants by all vehicles. In the future, air pollutants by vehicles, on- and off-road, are supposed to be more highly regulated. We knew that this was going to create a great opportunity to develop a technology that would supply the demand for cleaner burning vehicles. So, we decided to see if we could do something about it.

The technology does produce cleaner emissions, and can lead to better fuel efficiency, but probably not at the same time. Maybe if Mother Nature was super-kind you might get both.

—Louis Rosocha, Los Alamos, Applied Plasma Technologies team leader

PerriQuest founder and CEO Nicholas V. Perricone said that his company, which routinely works with the US Government on defense technologies, is dedicated to turning the plasma combustion technology into a commercial product that will improve turbine and internal combustion engines.


August 30, 2006 in Emissions, Engines, Fuel Efficiency | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Mascoma Announces SunOpta Exec Joins as CTO; Details on Cellulosic Ethanol Partnership with Dartmouth

Mascoma Corporation, a new cellulosic ethanol company (earlier post), has brought Dr. Andrew Richard on board as the company’s Chief Technology Officer.

Dr. Richard spent more than 10 years with the SunOpta BioProcess Group, driving the deployment of its cellulosic ethanol technology in North America, Europe and China. He also led development of the company’s biomass processing technologies for the preparation, pre-treatment, enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation of cellulosic biomass for conversion to ethanol.

Mascoma also announced details of the company’s partnership with Dartmouth to dramatically advance Mascoma’s efforts in the production of cellulosic ethanol. The partnership with Dartmouth includes:

  • An exclusive worldwide license agreement that allows Mascoma to research and produce ethanol from cellulosic biomass based on several patents from Dartmouth.

  • Mascoma’s sponsorship of research at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering to continue the development and use of organisms for cost-effective production of cellulosic ethanol. In turn, Dartmouth is supporting Mascoma’s commercialization of the cellulosic ethanol technology, and has taken an undisclosed equity position.

  • Establishment of Mascoma’s R&D lab in the Dartmouth Regional Technology Center in mid-September, headed by Vice President of R↦D Dr. David Hogsett. Dr. Hogsett is also Assistant Professor of Engineering at Dartmouth and was previously President of Advanced Bioconversion Technologies, Inc. and Executive Vice President of Bioenergy Inc.

The applicable cellulosic ethanol technology is based on work conducted and directed by Dartmouth Engineering Professor Lee Lynd, a co-founder of Mascoma. Dr. Lynd is the head of a large research group working on cellulosic ethanol at Dartmouth’s engineering school.

Mascoma and Dartmouth share a vision that bioengineering of advanced biocatalysts will significantly reduce the cost of ethanol and expand the use of ethanol production from a wide range of cellulosic material. Establishing Mascoma’s new labs near Dartmouth fosters significant collaboration, and strongly supports our joint efforts to develop and commercialize this very promising technology.

—Alla Kan, Director of the Technology Transfer Office at Dartmouth

Lynd’s applied biology research at Dartmouth focuses on two related themes: organism development for consolidated bioprocessing and the fundamentals of microbial cellulose utilization.

Consolidated bioprocessing (CBP) involves consolidating into a single process step four biologically-mediated events: cellulase production, cellulose hydrolysis, hexose fermentation, and pentose fermentation.

Implementing this strategy requires development of microorganisms that both utilize cellulose and other biomass components while also producing a product of interest at sufficiently high yield and concentrations. Development of such organisms is a potential breakthrough that would result in very large cost reductions as compared to the more conventional approach of producing saccharolytic enzymes in a dedicated process step.

Because the CBP approach relies on microbial cellulose hydrolysis rather than enzymatic processing, fully developing it requires a fundamental understanding of the microbes’ use of cellulose. At Dartmouth, Lynd and his researchers are studying Clostridium thermocellum, a thermophilic bacterium that has among the highest rates of cellulose utilization reported, as well as the xylose-utilizing thermophiles Thermoanaerobacterium saccharolyticum and Thermoanaerobacterium thermosaccharolyticum.


August 30, 2006 in Biotech, Cellulosic ethanol | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

FuelCell Energy Boosts Output of Stacks by 20%

FuelCell Energy announced an advanced fuel-cell stack design that boosts the power output of its stationary Direct FuelCell (DFC) power plants by 20%. The company is incorporating the enhancement across its entire line of power plants.

By improving thermal management of electrochemical activity within the stack, the company has increased the power output from each cell and can produce more electricity from the same basic power plant components.

The 20% increase in electric power output, combined with the company’s progress in its value engineering and ongoing cost-reduction programs, are integral to achieving FuelCell Energy’s $3,200-3,500/kilowatt (kW) cost target at the end of this calendar year for its DFC3000 power plant.

The DFC3000 power plant output increases to 2.4 megawatts (MW) from 2 MW. Similarly, power output of the DFC1500MA rises to 1.2 MW and the DFC300MA to 300 kW.

Validation tests of the enhanced cell stack in a DFC power plant confirmed the increased output. The company has begun incorporating the enhanced design in its production line. DFC products operating at the increased power output will be available for shipping as early as the second calendar quarter of 2007, and the company is now accepting customer orders for these products.

Our talented and dedicated engineers, technologists and manufacturing employees are concentrating on capturing the power—up to a 50 percent increase—that is inherent in our technology. Now that we’ve successfully captured the first 20 percent, we’re focused on achieving the balance in our ongoing product development plans.

—R. Daniel Brdar, FuelCell Energy President and CEO

The DFC takes in a hydrocarbon fuel (pipeline natural gas, propane, methanol, ethanol, digester gas, coal-derived gases, diesel, and others) and reforms it internally to produce the hydrogen required for use in the fuel-cell reaction.

Fuel Cell Energy recently announced plans to advance the development of an Electrochemical Hydrogen Separator (EHS) that separates pure hydrogen from the internal DFC gas mixture. During normal operation, the fuel cell itself only consumes some 70%–80% of the hydrogen feed, leaving 20%–30% available for export. The hydrogen would first need to be separated, cooled, pressurized and purified prior to external use. (Earlier post.)

August 30, 2006 in Fuel Cells, Power Generation | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

New Synthesis Process for Li-Ion Electrode Promises Improved Power and Charge Retention

Researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland have devised a new approach to synthesize an electrode material for lithium-ion batteries that provides superior power and charge retention. They describe their results in the latest issue of Advanced Materials.

Lithium-ion battery electrodes use intercalation materials. These materials are composed of a solid network of lithium atoms together with other metals, such as cobalt, nickel, or manganese meshed together with oxygen atoms.

When you charge a lithium-ion battery, the charging current pulls the positive lithium ions out of this network. Then, when you use the battery, it discharges as these lithium ions migrate back into the electrode, pulling electrons as they go, and so generating a current.

The challenge is to make new electrode materials that deliver high power (fast discharge) and high energy storage. To address these issues, Kuthanapillil Shaju and Peter Bruce developed a new way of synthesizing a particular lithium intercalation compound (Li(Co1/3Ni1/3Mn1/3)O2). As a bonus, they hoped to be able to simplify the complicated manufacturing process.

The St Andrews team approach involves simply mixing the necessary precursor compounds—organic salts of the individual metals—with a solvent in a single step. This is in contrast to the conventional multi-step process used for making the compound. Using this technique, they were able to make highly uniform lithium oxide intercalation materials in which nickel, cobalt, and manganese ions are embedded at regular intervals in the solid, which also contains pores for the electrolyte.

The highly porous nature of the new material is crucial to its electrical properties. The pores allow the electrolyte to make intimate contact with the electrode surface resulting in high rates of discharge and high energy storage.

The St Andrews team has tested their new lithium electrode material by incorporating it into a prototype battery and found that it gives the battery far superior power and charge retention.

Increasing the rate by 1,000%, so that the battery can be discharged in just six minutes, reduces the discharge capacity by only 12%. The test results suggest that this approach to rechargeable batteries could be used to make even higher power batteries for vehicles and power tools.

There’s an added bonus in that replacing a proportion of the cobalt used in the traditional lithium-cobalt-oxide electrodes with manganese improves safety by reducing the risk of overheating.


August 30, 2006 in Batteries | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

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