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April 2007

April 30, 2007

ZENN Motor Company Makes Equity Investment in EEStor

Feel Good Cars Corporation, operating as ZENN Motor Company, has made a US$2.5 million equity investment in Austin-based energy storage developer, EEStor. The negotiated investment terms also grant ZENN an additional investment option of up to US $5 million on the same terms, following EEStor’s successful completion of its next major milestone: permittivity testing.

EEStor is developing a new high-power-density ceramic ultracapacitor (the Energy Storage Unit—EESU). EEstor has publicly claimed a permittivity figure—a measurement of the ability of a material to store an electric charge—of 18,500 or more.  The required permittivity levels are specified in detail in the existing Technology Agreement between ZENN Motor Company and EEStor.

We are very pleased to strengthen and deepen our strategic relationship with EEStor through this investment. Becoming a shareholder in EEStor at this pivotal point in their development represents an exciting opportunity for ZENN shareholders to benefit from participation in the broader market applications that EEStor will potentially develop for its technology, in addition to our exclusive automotive applications.

—Ian Clifford, CEO of ZENN Motor Company

Following this initial investment of US$2.5 million, ZENN Motor Company will own approximately 3.8% of the equity of EEStor.

Under its Technology Agreement with EEStor, ZENN holds certain worldwide exclusive licenses for EEStor’s storage units for new small and medium-sized low-speed and highway-capable vehicles (up to 1,400 kg curb weight). ZENN also holds worldwide exclusive rights for EEStor units for the conversion of any used internal combustion passenger vehicle to electric drive.

ZENN Motor Company currently produces and sells the ZENN, a fully-electric low speed vehicle (LSV). The potential commercialization of EEStor’s EESU in future ZENN vehicles will allow them to go as far and as fast as a traditional car at a fraction of the cost, according to the company.

April 30, 2007 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

British Columbia Providing C$45M More for Hydrogen Fuel Cell Buses; Contributing to the BC Hydrogen Highway

The BC Hydrogen Highway.

British Columbia is providing C$45 million (US$40.6 million) more toward the production of 20 hydrogen fuel cell buses and accompanying fueling stations in Whistler and Victoria. Premier Gordon Campbell made the announcement at the Hydrogen and Fuel Cells 2007 international conference and trade show in Vancouver.

The Premier had earlier called for a federal-provincial partnership to invest C$89 million (US$80 million) for the hydrogen buses and fueling infrastructure as part of a larger strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Other elements of the strategy include greenhouse gas emission standards for all new vehicles sold in BC and a low-carbon fuel standard. (Earlier post.)

In November 2006, the Province dedicated an initial C$10 million of the hydrogen project funding to the first phase of the project with a Request for Proposals that called for the development of a pre-production hydrogen fuel cell bus.

BC Transit is now in contract negotiations with the top proponent for this initial bus and the subsequent production phase. This second C$45-million allocation, which comes from the federal Public Transit Capital Trust, will go toward production of the 20 hydrogen buses and to develop hydrogen fuelling stations in Whistler and Victoria.

BC Transit issued a Request for Proposal last week calling for the development of the fuelling stations. The remaining $34 million of the overall funding will be used by BC Transit to operate the fleet for up to five years, bringing the total commitment to the fleet to C$89 million.

Our goal is to see the world’s first fleet of fuel cell buses on BC roads by the end of 2009 to showcase BC’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the potential of hydrogen technology as an energy solution. This funding will ensure that the hydrogen highway that will run from Whistler to Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria will become a reality. We will continue our work with our partners in the US to extend the Hydrogen Highway from Whistler to San Diego by 2010.

—Premier Campbell

The ultimate goal of the hydrogen bus project is to demonstrate for the first time the integration of hydrogen fuel cell buses into the regular operational service of an urban transit system, allowing monitoring of operations, maintenance and fuelling over a sustained period.

British Columbia joined with five western US states to partner in the new Western Regional Climate Action Initiative (WRCAI) earlier this month. The purpose of the WRCAI is to identify, evaluate and implement ways to collectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region and to achieve related co-benefits.

Premier Campbell also announced $155,000 in government funding to support the development of a new undergraduate fuel cell systems design laboratory at the Institute for Integrated Energy Systems at the University of Victoria. The new facility, a first-of-its kind lab in the province, will help prepare future graduate engineers for employment with BC hydrogen and fuel cell companies. In addition, British Columbia’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Strategy will receive $50,000 for continued outreach and communications about hydrogen and fuel cell technology in action in BC.


April 30, 2007 in Canada, Fuel Cells, Heavy-duty, Hydrogen, Infrastructure | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Arctic Sea Ice Melting at Faster Rate Than Projected

The dotted line represents the average rate of melting indicated by computer models. The blue area indicates the spread among the different models (+/-  one standard deviation). The red line shows the observed rate of Arctic ice loss. Click to enlarge. (Illustration by Steve Deyo, ©UCAR)

Arctic sea ice is melting at a significantly faster rate than projected by any of the 18 computer models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in preparing its 2007 assessments, according to a new study by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

The study, “Arctic Sea Ice Decline: Faster Than Forecast?” will appear Tuesday in the online edition of Geophysical Research Letters. It was led by Julienne Stroeve of the NSIDC and funded by the National Science Foundation, which is NCAR’s principal sponsor, and by NASA.

While the ice is disappearing faster than the computer models indicate, both observations and the models point in the same direction: the Arctic is losing ice at an increasingly rapid pace and the impact of greenhouse gases is growing.

—Marika Holland, NCAR

The authors compared model simulations of past climate with observations by satellites and other instruments. They found that, on average, the models simulated a loss in September ice cover of 2.5% per decade from 1953 to 2006. The fastest rate of September retreat in any individual model was 5.4% per decade. (September marks the yearly minimum of sea ice in the Arctic.)

However, newly available data sets, blending early aircraft and ship reports with more recent satellite measurements that are considered more reliable than the earlier records, show that the September ice actually declined at a rate of about 7.8% per decade during the 1953-2006 period.

This suggests that current model projections may in fact provide a conservative estimate of future Arctic change, and that the summer Arctic sea ice may disappear considerably earlier than IPCC projections," says Stroeve.

—Julienne Stroeve

The study indicates that, because of the disparity between the computer models and actual observations, the shrinking of summertime ice is about 30 years ahead of the climate model projections. As a result, the Arctic could be seasonally free of sea ice earlier than the IPCC-projected timeframe of any time from 2050 to well beyond 2100.

The authors speculate that the computer models may fail to capture the full impact of increased carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Whereas the models indicate that about half of the ice loss from 1979 to 2006 was due to increased greenhouse gases, and the other half due to natural variations in the climate system, the new study indicates that greenhouse gases may be playing a significantly greater role.

There are a number of factors that may lead to the low rates of simulated sea ice loss. Several models overestimate the thickness of the present-day sea ice and the models may also fail to fully capture changes in atmospheric and oceanic circulation that transport heat to polar regions.

Although the loss of ice for March is far less dramatic than the September loss, the models underestimate it by a wide margin as well. The study concludes that the actual rate of sea ice loss in March, which averaged about 1.8% per decade in the 1953-2006 period, was three times larger than the mean from the computer models. March is typically the month when Arctic sea ice is at its most extensive.

The Arctic is especially sensitive to climate change partly because regions of sea ice, which reflect sunlight back into space and provide a cooling impact, are disappearing. In contrast, darker areas of open water, which are expanding, absorb sunlight and increase temperatures. This feedback loop has played a role in the increasingly rapid loss of ice in recent years, which accelerated to 9.1% per decade from 1979 to 2006 according to satellite observations.

Walt Meier, Ted Scambos, and Mark Serreze, all at NSIDC, also co-authored the study.

April 30, 2007 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (55) | TrackBack

Congressman Introduces $300M Plug-In Hybrid Bill

US Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX-21) introduced legislation to provide $250 million in annual funding from 2008-2012 for the research and development of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, as well as $50 million in annual funding for pilot deployment programs.

The proposed legislation offers grants to state and local authorities to carry out demonstrations and commercial applications of plug-in vehicles.

Texas’ 21st district contains Austin, and Smith is working with Austin Mayor Will Wynn and Austin Energy on the promotion of plug-in hybrids. The Austin City Council and Austin Energy are leading a national campaign called “Plug-In Partners” to demonstrate to automakers that a market exists today for plug-in hybrids, and are enlisting other cities. More than 500 entities representing 41 states have joined the Plug-In Partners campaign so far.

April 30, 2007 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Firefly Energy Selects First Contract Manufacturer for Carbon-Graphite Foam Batteries

Firefly Energy Inc., developer of a carbon-graphite foam lead acid battery for commercial and military uses, has formed a battery manufacturing partnership with NorthStar Battery Company to enable prototype and production support of Firefly’s “3D” battery technology to serve the US Army. (Earlier post.)

Under a product design provided by Firefly Energy, NorthStar will manufacture a “6T – 3D” carbon-graphite foam lead acid battery. The carbon-graphite foam-based battery technology deliver a combination of high performance, extremely low weight and low cost, all in a battery which utilizes the best aspects of lead acid chemistry while overcoming the corrosive drawbacks of this same chemistry.

The Firefly battery offers performance associated with more advanced battery chemistries but for one-fifth the cost, and can be both manufactured as well as recycled within the existing lead acid battery industry’s vast infrastructure.

April 30, 2007 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Ceres and Rohm and Haas Collaborate to Develop Methacrylate Monomers from Cellulosic Ethanol Crops

Energy crop company Ceres, Inc. and Rohm and Haas Company are collaborating on a three-year project to determine if energy crops planted for cellulosic ethanol could simultaneously produce methacrylate monomers, a key raw material used in the manufacture of many products including paint and coatings, building materials, and acrylic sheet and resins.

More than 1.5 billion pounds of methacrylate monomers are produced annually in the United States, a market worth $780 million. Successful development of a bio-based process could one day displace as many as 280 million gallons of oil annually with a renewable source.

Molecular biologists and biochemistry experts at Ceres say that some plants naturally produce compounds similar to methacrylate monomers, but do not necessarily accumulate them in extractable forms or quantities. They believe it may be feasible to alter the way plants produce these compounds so that they can be extracted from the dried stalks, stems and leaves before these are fed into biorefineries producing ethanol from cellulose.

Ceres President and CEO Richard Hamilton says the potential production of co-products may encourage greater investments in biorefineries capable of producing ethanol from cellulose.

Getting the cellulosic ethanol industry up and running will take significant investments and the bigger the prize at the end, the better. Methacrylate monomers are a compelling co-product due to the significant market size, feasibility of plant-based production and the fact that it is currently derived from oil and natural gas.

—Richard Hamilton

Steve Bobzin, Ph.D., Ceres’ principal investigator on the grant, says that the research will focus first on producing methacrylate monomers and similar compounds in a model plant with well-understood metabolic pathways. Successful traits would then be applied to energy crops. Funding for this project was provided by USDA and DOE’s 2006 Biomass R&D Initiative grant program, which has targeted $17.5 million for 17 biomass projects. (Earlier post.)

Separately, Ceres received a second $1.5 million grant under the program to double switchgrass yields by 2020. Switchgrass is one of the top feedstocks being considered for cellulosic ethanol production.

Ceres is a developer of high-yielding energy crops that can be planted as feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol production. Its development efforts cover switchgrass, miscanthus, poplar and others. Founded in 1997 as a plant genomics company, Ceres holds the largest proprietary collection of fully sequenced plant genes, including more than 75,000 genes and 10,000 gene promoters.

Also separately, Segetis, a privately held green chemistry company, last week secured $15 million in Series A funding from Khosla Ventures. Segetis is developing a new versatile functional monomer platform from low-cost renewable sources.

April 30, 2007 in Bio-polymers, Biotech | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Beijing Temporary Traffic Restrictions Cut NOx By 40%

The Chinese government’s restrictions on Beijing motorists during a three-day conference last November succeeded in cutting the city’s NOx emissions by 40%.

Harvard University researchers Michael B. McElroy, Yuxuan Wang, and K. Folkert Boersma used data from the Dutch-Finnish Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) to assess the drop in emissions. The scientists detail their work this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

China’s restrictions on Beijing drivers coincided with the Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation from 4-6 November 2006, during which an estimated 800,000 of Beijing’s 2.82 million vehicles—about 28%—were taken off the road. The OMI—aboard NASA’s Aura satellite, launched in 2004—documented a 40% reduction in NOx while the restrictions were in place.

I don’t think a proper analysis has ever been made before of such a remarkable shift of environmental policy in such a short period of time.

—Michael McElroy

The measured reduction may also imply a more effective regulatory strategy than has been presented by the Chinese media. Recent estimates say that during non-heating seasons, nearly 70% of all NOx emissions in the Beijing area are from vehicular emissions. Using this as a standard, McElroy, Wang, and Boersma calculated that there would need to be a 50% reduction in vehicular use in Beijing to account for the observed 40% reduction in NOx. This stands in contrast to the 30% reduction reported by China.

We’re not sure what this means, and there will definitely need to be more detailed data on vehicle energy usage, like gasoline sales data, to develop a more precise value.

—Yuxuan Wang

Last November’s driving restrictions ranged from regulating access to specific roads to restricting use of both private and government vehicles. China, the world’s second largest producer of greenhouse gases behind the United States and a major source of atmospheric NOx, is expected to duplicate these traffic restrictions during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

I think the real value here is that these kinds of restrictions can really bring about significant change.

—Michael McElroy

McElroy, Wang, and Boersma worked in collaboration with NASA and Henk J. Estes and J. Pepijn Veefkind of the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute. Boersma worked on the OMI satellite instrument in the Netherlands before joining Professor Daniel Jacob’s atmospheric research group at Harvard. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation.

April 30, 2007 in China, Emissions, Policy | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Chrysler Announces Hybrid Version of New Aspen Full-Size SUV

MY 2007 Aspen.

The new Aspen full-size SUV will join the Dodge Durango as Chrysler’s first volume production hybrids next year. Both vehicles will use a 5.7-liter HEMI engine coupled with the advanced two-mode hybrid technology being co-developed by GM, DaimlerChrysler and BMW (earlier post).

The HEMI engine will continue to feature Chrysler Group’s Multi-displacement System (MDS), which allows the engine to alternate between four-cylinder mode when less power is needed and V-8 mode when more power is in demand.

The new 5.7-liter HEMI Hybrid is expected to deliver an overall fuel economy improvement of more than 25%, including an improvement of nearly 40% in the city. The current 2007 Aspen (2WD) carries an EPA rating of 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway, 17 mpg combined.

The advanced two-mode hybrid system is optimized for use in a large SUV or pickup, with a particular focus on being able to support towing applications.

The two-mode system is an electrically variable transmission which uses two electric motors to operate at any nearly any speed ratio through the transmission. The electric motors support hybrid functions: electric vehicle operation, electric boost and regenerative braking, as well as engine starting.

The two-mode system also is an automatic transmission, without the torque converter but with conventional hydraulically-applied wet plate clutches to allow automatic shifting among two continuously variable modes and four fixed gears for a total of six mechanical configurations.

Towing puts an especially heavy load in two main areas: increased steady state cruising and increased grade loads. The fixed gears in the two-mode increase the ability of the system to support towing without excessive electrical path losses or motor heating.

Typically, the increased road load would force a conventional transmission top operate near a 1:1 ratio condition for highway cruise...The fixed gear 3 [in the two-mode] with a ratio of 1.0 provides optimum fuel economy for trailer cruise by reducing the need to process power electrically. Fixed gear 2, with a ratio of 1.7, is useful for trailering on a grade at highway speeds, and fixed gear 1, with a ratio of 3.69, provide high torque to accelerate the vehicle at low speeds.

—“Defining the General Motors 2-Mode Hybrid Transmission”

With all the complexity and possible choices, the key to the success, including the driver experience, of the two-mode is the control system, according to Tim Grewe, GM’s chief engineer for the two-mode hybrid system. Full rule-based on-line optimizers are constantly (100 times per second) searching for the best efficiency.

GM is rolling out its own full-size SUV hybrids late this year.


  • Defining the General Motors 2-Mode Hybrid Transmission (SAE 2007-01-0273)

April 30, 2007 in Hybrids | Permalink | Comments (58) | TrackBack

Question to the Readership

Brookline, Massachusetts is in the early stages of considering a raise in the automobile excise tax (car property tax) on all vehicles under 8,500 pounds which do not exceed a specific fuel economy (mpg) standard. The details are not finalized.

The question to the readership is: what other municipalities in the US (or elsewhere) charge a higher property/excise tax or other surcharge for vehicles that are nott considered fuel efficient? Please respond in the Comments section.

In the UK, for example, London boroughs and other municipalities are proposing charging more for residents’ parking permits for cars that produce higher CO2 emissions and less for the least polluting cars. (Earlier post.)

US Gas Guzzler Tax
Unadjusted MPG (combined)Tax
at least 22.5 none
at least 21.5, but less than 22.5 $1,000
at least 20.5, but less than 21.5 $1,300
at least 19.5, but less than 20.5 $1,700
at least 18.5, but less than 19.5 $2,100
at least 17.5, but less than 18.5 $2,600
at least 16.5, but less than 17.5 $3,000
at least 15.5, but less than 16.5 $3,700
at least 14.5, but less than 15.5 $4,500
at least 13.5, but less than 14.5 $5,400
at least 12.5, but less than 13.5 $6,400
less than 12.5 $7,700

At a federal level in the US, the Energy Tax Act of 1978 established a graduated Gas Guzzler Tax on the sale of new model year vehicles whose fuel economy fails to meet certain statutory levels. The gas guzzler tax applies only to cars (not trucks) and is collected by the IRS.

The tax is calculated on the basis of the unadjusted combined fuel economy—i.e., the CAFE fuel economy rating, not the adjusted estimated fuel economy for consumers the EPA publishes in its Fuel Economy Guide and on the window stickers in new cars. (Hence, the adjustment in the methodology for the user estimates starting in MY 2008 does not affect the CAFE calculations—or the calculations for the gas guzzler tax.)

Currently, lawmakers in Vermont are considering imposing a further surcharge on gas guzzlers as a way to boost funding for public transportation, but the measure is opposed by the governor.

The Vermont bill would impose a $150 surcharge on the purchase of new cars that get less than 20 miles per gallon and trucks that get less than 17, except those used for work.

California lawmakers are considering a similar measure, after one died last year.

The state of Maryland enacted a gas guzzler/sipper tax in 1992. Shortly thereafter, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that the 1975 Federal Energy and Conservation Act preempted Maryland’s law. The findings were that states cannot enact laws that conflict with federal regulations on fuel economy disclosures, and Maryland could not tax vehicles based on fuel efficiency or require vehicles for sale to display a sticker stating the vehicle’s fuel efficiency and the resulting surcharge/credit imposed. Accordingly, the sipper/guzzler tax was never implemented.

A 1992 Maryland Attorney General Opinion (92-020) stated that the Act only partially conflicted with the federal act. The opinion stated that: (1) the section requiring each vehicle to display a sticker stating the vehicle’s fuel efficiency and the resulting surcharge/credit did violate the federal statute; but (2) Maryland could impose a tax based on fuel efficiency. The opinion stated that federal law does not preempt Maryland from using the federal fuel mileage ratings to compute taxes owed in Maryland.


April 30, 2007 in Fuel Efficiency, Policy | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Eni Buys Dominion GOM Assets for $4.8B

Italian energy group Eni is acquiring the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) production, development and exploration activities of Dominion in a US$4.757 billion cash transaction.

The transaction, with an effective date of 1 July 2007, includes assets located in deepwater Gulf of Mexico, in the continental shelf and in Texas and Louisiana state waters as well as the staff based in New Orleans.  Around 60% of the overall leases are operated.

The acquisition will increase Eni’s equity production in the Gulf of Mexico from the current 36,000 boepd (barrels of oil equivalent per day) to more than 110,000 boepd in the second half of 2007 and the 2P (proven plus probable) equity reserves by 222 million boe, at an implied cost per barrel of US $18.4.  In 2007/2010, production from the acquired assets will average more than 75,000 boepd.

Main fields are Devils Tower, Triton and Goldfinger (75% operated) and Front Runner (37.5%) producing fields as well as San Jacinto (53.3% operated), Q (50%), Spiderman (36.7%) and Thunderhawk (25%) developing fields. These fields account for around 70% of total 2P reserves acquired from Dominion.

In addition, Eni will further enhance its portfolio in the Gulf of Mexico thanks to new leases with significant exploration potential.

Eni has been operating in the United States since 1966 with exploration and development activities and currently holds interests in 242 leases in the Gulf of Mexico and 151 leases in Alaska.

April 30, 2007 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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