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May 2008

May 31, 2008

Study: Even Low Levels of Air Pollution May Pose Stroke Risk, Current Standards May Be Insufficient

Short-term exposure to low levels of particulate air pollution may increase the risk of stroke or mini-stroke, according to findings by a University of Michigan team that suggest current exposure standards could be insufficient to protect the public. The study suggests future research on ambient air pollution and stroke is warranted.

The study examined particulate air pollution in a southeast Texas community where there is a large petroleum and petrochemical industry presence. In the study, researchers identified ischemic strokes and transient ischemic attacks (TIA)—sometimes called mini-strokes—but that often lead to a stroke later. Ischemic attacks are caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain by a blood clot.

Researchers looked at data from the Brain Attack Surveillance in Corpus Christi Project, a population-based stroke surveillance project designed to capture all strokes in Nueces County, Texas. Ischemic stroke and TIA cases between 2001 and 2005 were identified using trained staff and later verified by neurologists. Daily historical air pollutant and meteorological data were obtained for the same time period from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Monitoring Operations database. Data on fine particulate matter and ozone were available from a centrally located monitor in Corpus Christi, Tex., located upwind of the local industrial facilities. The majority of stroke/TIA cases were also located upwind of local chemical plants and refineries.

The results showed borderline significant associations between same day and previous day fine particulate matter exposures and ischemic stroke/TIA risk. Similar associations were also seen with ozone, another type of pollution.

Specifically, median PM2.5 was 7.0 µg/m3 (interquartile range, 4.8-10.0 µg/m3). There were borderline significant associations between same-day (relative risk [RR], 1.03; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.99-1.07 for an interquartile range increase in PM2.5) and previous-day (RR, 1.03; 95% CI, 1.00-1.07) PM2.5 and stroke/TIA risk. These associations were independent of O3 (ozone), which demonstrated similar associations with stroke/TIA risk (same-day RR, 1.02; 95% CI, 0.97-1.08; previous-day RR, 1.04; 95% CI, 0.99-1.09).

Despite the fossil fuel industry in the area, fine particulate matter exposures were low relative to other regions of the country, probably because of the proximity to the coast and prevailing wind patterns.

Findings suggest that recent exposure to fine particulate matter may increase the risk of ischemic cerebrovascular events specifically. Some research has shown that particulate air pollution is associated with acute artery vasoconstriction and with increased thickening of the blood, which may enhance the potential for blood clots. However, this requires further study.

The vast majority of the public is exposed to ambient air pollution at the levels observed in this community or greater every day, suggesting a potentially large public health impact.

—Lynda Lisabeth, lead author and assistant professor in the University of Michigan School of Public Health

However, Lisabeth stressed that the association requires further study in other areas with varying climates and alternative study designs. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States.

The study, “Ambient Air Pollution and Risk of Ischemic Stroke and TIA,” will be published in the July 2008 issue of Annals of Neurology, the official journal of the American Neurological Association. Co-authors are James Escobar, Joseph Dvonch, Brisa Sanchez, Jennifer Majersik, Devin Brown, Melinda Smith, and Lewis Morgenstern.

Earlier this month, the California Air Resources Board was presented with research showing long-term exposures to fine particle pollution pose a greater health threat than previously estimated.

At the request of the board in 2006, ARB researchers carefully reviewed all scientific studies on the subject and consulted with health scientists. While exposures to particulate matter have long been known as a serious health threat, new information suggests that the pollutant is even more toxic than previously thought.

Hospitalizations, emergency room visits and doctor visits for respiratory illnesses or heart disease have been associated with PM2.5 exposure. Other studies suggest that PM2.5 exposure may influence asthma symptoms and acute and chronic bronchitis. Children, the elderly and people with pre-existing chronic disease are most at risk of experiencing adverse health effects from PM2.5 exposure. Even small increases in PM2.5 exposures may increase health risks.


  • Lynda D. Lisabeth, et. al. Ambient air pollution and risk for ischemic stroke and transient ischemic attack. Annals of Neurology Published Online: 28 May DOI: 10.1002/ana.21403

May 31, 2008 in Emissions | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

South Africa to Introduce Electric Vehicles

People’s Daily. South African-designed battery-electric passenger vehicles will be unveiled by early next year. The development of the prototype involves a range of stakeholders, including South African universities and industry.

Boni Mehlomakulu, group executive of the department’s [Department of Science & Technology] research, development and innovation program, told SAPA that both a passenger and a utility vehicle were currently being developed.

The passenger vehicle, “designed by a former Jaguar designer,” was a six-seater. It had a range of between 100 km and 400 km, depending on the speed at which it was driven, and the roof incorporated solar panels to help charge the battery when it was parked in the sun. The utility vehicle, which Mehlomakulu described as “like a panel van,” was a three-seater.

The vehicles will use batteries imported from China.

Initial production in 2010 is planned to be about 4,000 vehicles per year. Initially, the vehicles are intended for use in the government fleet.

May 31, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Seattle Mayor Introduces City’s First PHEV

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels unveiled the first of four converted plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) the city of Seattle will test over the next year. (Earlier post.)

The first Seattle PHEV.

Last October, the city of Seattle joined with the Port of Seattle, King County and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to test the performance of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) in an urban area. With funding from the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) matched by the participants, 13 Priuses are being converted to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The total cost is $156,000.

The city of Seattle will operate four of the converted Priuses, King County will operate four, the Port of Seattle will have two and Puget Sound Clean Air Agency will have three. The plug-in conversion kits are provided by Hymotion packs from A123Systems.

Three of the four city of Seattle Priuses are used by City Light and the other is in the city’s general-use motor pool. With 330 Priuses in its fleet, Seattle has the largest fleet of Priuses in the state. In addition, the city fleet includes 47 smaller electric vehicles, including 22 scooters, two electric bikes, one neighborhood electric cart and 22 Segways.

The plug-in Prius conversions cost $12,000 per vehicle. The conversion includes the installation of equipment by Seattle company V2Green that will automatically collect on-road data from each vehicle. (Earlier post.) The data gathered will add to the INL’s growing database on PHEVs and support the federal government’s vehicle development projects. V2Green’s equipment will also allow Seattle City Light to remotely control vehicle charging.

May 31, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Mercedes-Benz Actros Takes Guinness Record For Most-Efficient Series-Production Truck

The Mercedes-Benz Actros trailer/tractor combination has entered the Guinness World Records as the most fuel-efficient 40-tonne truck, with fuel consumption of 19.44 liters of diesel per 100 km— the equivalent less than 0.8 liters per hundred tonne-kilometers (tkm)—during a test drive of more than 12,728 kilometers.

The consumption was determined during a seven-day round-the-clock test drive, with a standard-specification Actros hauling more than 25 tonnes of payload at an average speed of 80 kph around a test course in Nardo, Italy.

The Actros also reduces CO2 emissions to 20.5 grams per tonne of payload and kilometer (g/tkm). By comparison, a theoretical "one-liter car" would produce 53 g/tkm. Today’s hybrid passenger cars produce 297 g/tkm of CO2. Even in normal traffic, the 40-tonne trailer/tractor combination performs significantly better, boasting fuel consumption figures between 30 and 35 liters, and 30 to 37 g/tkm of CO2.

The fuel consumption test for the new Mercedes-Benz Actros was monitored by DEKRA (the German automotive inspection agency) under ideal conditions at the test site in Nardo.

The fuel consumption test in Nardo also illustrates what factors increase fuel consumption on the road: inadequate traffic infrastructure and a lack of traffic management, incorrect vehicle configuration, inadequate vehicle maintenance and actual driving style. The measurements in Nardo confirmed the figures from the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), according to which the instantaneous fuel consumption of a 40-tonne trailer/tractor combination can triple if the vehicle is forced to stop twice every kilometer, instead of travelling unimpeded at 50 kph.

Correct vehicle configuration can also influence fuel consumption. Failure to order additional aerodynamic equipment when purchasing the vehicle can see fuel consumption increase by 10%, according to Daimler. Correctly adjusting the wind deflectors on the cab can on its own improve fuel consumption by up to 4%.

Even apparently minor details such as incorrectly tightened or flapping tarpaulins will inexorably push up diesel consumption. By contrast, the aerodynamic A-pillar panelling available ex-factory for the new Mercedes-Benz Actros at no extra cost can reduce fuel consumption by one percent.

The same applies to tires. Mercedes-Benz offers Super-wide tires for its trucks instead of the twin tires on the rear axle. Potential fuel savings of up to 2% have been measured in tests. Insufficient tire pressure can increase fuel consumption by up to 8%. Around 30% of all trucks on the road have insufficient tire pressure.

The test drives with the Mercedes-Benz Actros showed that under optimum conditions the vehicle technology accounts for just about 60% of the fuel consumed by a 40-tonne trailer/trailer combination. Traffic conditions, topography, vehicle configuration and maintenance make up the various factors in the remaining 40% or so, i.e. between 10 and 15 liters per 100 kilometers. Traffic planners, dispatchers, fleet decision-makers and drivers can influence many of these parameters.

May 31, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Poll: 64% of UK Motorists Put Fuel Economy as Top Consideration For New Car

Almost two-thirds of UK motorists say fuel economy is the number one priority when buying a new car, according to a new survey by Motorpoint, the UK’s leading car supermarket group. The poll found that 64% of people regarded fuel economy as the key consideration when changing their vehicle—a clear indication, according to Motorpoint, that the escalating cost of fuel is having a direct effect of people’s buying behavior.

In the past month, diesel prices in the UK have risen by their highest margin this century and are now almost 12 pence per liter more expensive than gasoline, according to the UK’s Automobile Association (AA). The current average price per liter of diesel across the UK is £1.293 (US$9.70). High petroleum prices have also fueled a near-record rise in gasoline prices; the average price of unleaded gasoline across the country is currently £1.158/liter (US$8.69/gallon).

Motorpoint’s sales figures show a sharp rise in sales of small cars such as Ford Fiesta, Fiat Grande Punto, Renault Clio and Vauxhall Corsa for the first quarter of 2008 as drivers look for ways of offsetting these recent price hikes at the pumps.

May 31, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

May 30, 2008

Michigan Research Alliance Funds Thermoelectric Power Generation and Cellulosic Ethanol Projects

The University Research Corridor (URC), an alliance of Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University—Michigan’s three research universities—has awarded its first seed fund grants to provide startup support for two “revolutionary but feasible” energy projects: thermoelectric power generation and nano-biocarriers for the production of low-cost cellulosic ethanol. The URC provosts selected the two projects from 13 proposals.

A three-year $523,282 award went to a collaboration of all three universities for the development of bulk thermoelectric materials containing nanostructure with enhanced thermoelectric properties. Improved thermoelectric materials are of interest in vehicle waste heat recovery applications, among others.

The collaborators—Donald Morelli, MSU professor of chemical engineering and materials science; Jeffrey Sakamoto, MSU assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials; Ctirad Uher, U-M physics professor; and Stephanie Brock, Wayne State associate professor of chemistry—say that their proposed approach is revolutionary in concept, but that its successful implementation would provide a direct route to a feasible methodology.

The second award went to an MSU/U-M project with Lansing-based Technova Corp. to develop nano-biocarriers to rapidly and efficiently produce low-cost ethanol from switchgrass or corn stover.

The team was awarded $283,231 over a two year period. Collaborators include Ilsoon Lee, MSU assistant professor of chemical engineering; Jinsang Kim, U-M assistant professor of materials science and engineering and chemical engineering; Wei Liao, MSU assistant professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering; and Lawrence Drzal, director of MSU’s Composite Materials and Structures Center. The team is working with Lansing-based Technova Corp.

Concurrent with announcing the awards, the URC released a preliminary report by the Anderson Economic Group LLC (AEG) suggesting that Michigan is ready to “become a leader in alternative energy.”

AEG found the URC received more than $79.5 million in alternative energy research grants in 2007, with 77 percent coming from federal grants and 11 percent from business, which currently invests $16.7 billion in Michigan R&D each year, more than any state except California. The preliminary report was made public to advance ongoing conversations at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference.

The study also cited the importance of the existing relationships between the automotive industry and the URC for making Michigan a leader in alternative energy. Michigan’s URC universities regularly work with the auto industry, which carries out more R&D in Michigan than in the nation’s other 49 states combined.

The URC is conducting 27% of its energy-related research on fuels, 25% on propulsion and power, 8.9% on nuclear energy, 8.5% on sustainability, 8.2% on solar and thermoelectric research and the rest divided between a host of areas including enabling technologies, efficiency, energy storage, fuel cells, energy policy, wind and hydro energy, hydrogen and transportation, according to AEG.

A more complete report is expected in September.


May 30, 2008 in Cellulosic ethanol, Thermoelectrics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

PTT, Toyota To Study Use Of Bio-Hydrogenated Renewable Diesel

Nikkei. Thai oil and gas company PTT PCL is partnering with the Thai unit of Toyota Motor Corp. to study the development of bio-hydrogenated renewable diesel. The study is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

Bio-hydrogenated diesel is a renewable diesel produced by hydrogenating crude palm oil or vegetable oil feedstock. It can be used to mix with diesel in a proportion of up to 50%, which is much higher than for other types of biodiesel, said Songkiert Tansamrit, PTT’s executive vice president.

If the project is viable, both sides may invest in the development of a production plant, said Songkiert.

In November 2007, Neste Oil announced plans to invest approximately €550 million (US$812 million) to build a plant in Singapore to produce NExBTL Renewable Diesel. The plant will have a design capacity of 800,000 t/a—about 245 million gallons US annually—making it the world’s largest facility producing diesel fuel from renewable feedstocks to date.

The plant will be based on Neste Oil’s proprietary NExBTL technology for the high-pressure hydrotreatment of fatty acids. (Earlier post.)

May 30, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Renault Unveils New Fuel Cell Concept

Renault has introduced a new prototype fuel cell vehicle: the Scenic ZEV H2. The Scenic ZEV H2 is a joint Nissan-Renault Alliance project.

Based on a Renault Grand Scenic, the Scenic ZEV H2 features Nissan’s in-house developed fuel cell stack, high-pressure hydrogen storage tank and compact lithium-ion batteries. Renault engineers and technicians prepared the Grand Scenic architecture to accept the different FCV elements under the floor, thus managing to keep ample cabin space for five adults, and to integrate Renault and Nissan electric and electronic systems.

Nissan’s X-Trail fuel cell vehicle has been undergoing real-world testing for more than two years, with examples leased to government authorities in Japan and testing also underway in the US and Canada. (Earlier post.)

Renault Scenic ZEV H2 and Nissan X-Trail FCV will betaking part in environmental road shows across Europe this summer. From June to September, Nissan will demonstrate the X-Trail FCV in six European countries while Renault will showcase the Scenic ZEV H2 at its Environmental Workshop in Barcelona during the second half of June.

May 30, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Report: Oil Sands Certified Reclamation at 0.2%, Toxic Tailings Production of 1.8 Billion Liters a Day

After 41 years of oil sands mining operations in northern Alberta, only 0.2%—one square kilometer—of disturbed land is certified as reclaimed, according to a new report by environmental group the Pembina Institute.

Oil sands mining is transforming northeastern Alberta. By the end of 2007, oil sands companies had cleared or mined more than 470 square kilometers of boreal forest. More than 3,000 square kilometers of boreal forest is already leased for mine development. Toxic tailings lakes, currently an aggregate 50 square kilometers in size, are projected to grow to 220 square kilometers.

When hundreds of waterfowl died in a toxic oil sands tailings lake a few weeks ago, government and industry ignored the real issue: the daily production of 1.8 billion litres of toxic tailings waste. Industry has never demonstrated it is able to clean up tailings lakes.

—Simon Dyer, Oil Sands Program Director at the Pembina Institute

The authors of the report—Fact or Fiction: Oil Sands Reclamation— authors found that the security deposits made by companies to guarantee reclamation may be inadequate, forcing Canadians eventually to foot the bill for reclaiming vast areas of mined and disturbed boreal forest.

The report makes a set of seven recommendation to the Government of Alberta to improve oil sands reclamation:

  • Require restoration of oil sands mines to self-sustaining boreal forest.

  • Establish a set of transparent reclamation standards.

  • Prohibit the creation of liquid tailings.

  • Reform the reclamation security policy to protect Canadians.

  • Institute a total disturbance area cap for each project to ensure reclamation occurs at the same time as development.

  • Increase public transparency of corporate reclamation performance.

  • Require environmental compensation to offset mining impacts.


May 30, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

TMO Renewables and Integrated Genomics Extend Cellulosic Ethanol Research Collaboration

Integrated Genomics, Inc. (IG), a US microbial genomics company, and TMO Renewables Limited, a UK developer of a cellulosic ethanol production process, are extending their research collaboration on organisms for TMO’s system.

Scientists at IG will work with TMO to identify pathways that can be exploited in future upgrades to TMO’s proprietary cellulosic ethanol process. The initial targets of the collaboration are two of IG’s proprietary membrane transport proteins that will be evaluated in TMO’s strains of thermophilic bacteria.

TMO’s fermentation process is capable of utilizing all of the hexose and pentose sugars, including complex longer chain forms, derived from biomass. The high temperature process is capable of producing fuel ethanol at high efficiency and high conversion rates.

TMO has built the UK’s first cellulosic ethanol demonstration facility which integrates all the necessary steps in a continuous ethanol production process.

May 30, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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