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October 2008

October 31, 2008

Federal Court Blocks Implementation of NYC Fuel-Efficient Taxi Program

Reuters. US District Judge Paul Crotty has granted a preliminary injunction against the implementation of New York City’s rules for more fuel efficient taxis. Approved in December 2007, the regulation required all taxicabs coming into service (with the exception of accessible taxicabs) after 1 October 2008 be capable of achieving a city mileage rating of 25 miles per gallon (mpg). As of October 2009, all new taxicabs vehicles were to have a 30 mpg city rating.

Judge Crotty ruled that regulation of fuel emissions standards falls under federal, not city, authority, and that implementation of the regulations now would be costly to the taxi industry. The original lawsuit, filed in September in Manhattan federal court, also argued that the rules had been rushed out without adequate concern for safety and cost.

Mayor Bloomberg responded to the ruling:

We are very disappointed in the decision and we are exploring our appellate options. The decision is not a ruling against hybrids cabs, rather a ruling that archaic Washington regulations are applicable and therefore New York City, and all other cities, are prevented from choosing to create cleaner air and a healthier place to live. The sad irony here is the laws being relied on by the plaintiff, the Clean Air Act and the Energy Policy and Conservation Act were designed to reduce air pollution and reduce our dependence on foreign oil—which is exactly what moving to fuel efficient cabs will do.

The courts are not the only way we can reach our goal of a cleaner fleet of taxi cabs. I've instructed the TLC to develop a program with strong incentives for the use of fuel efficient vehicles and heavy disincentives for use of the inefficient vehicles of a past generation. Additionally, we will be working with our Congressional delegation to produce legislation to update the outdated laws, originally written in the 1970s, to reflect the current realities of environmental stewardship. Greening the taxi fleet is a major priority and we are going to use every mechanism at our disposal to make New York a cleaner, healthier city. Taxis are a part of our public transportation system. They must be part of the solution to air pollution, not a contributing cause of the problem.

New York has also adopted similar fuel efficiency requirements for the black car limousine fleet. Beginning 1 January 2009, all black car vehicles coming into service must be capable of achieving a city mileage rating of 25 mpg, and 20 mpg as of 1 January 2010. The city’s approximately 10,000 black cars service corporate clientele. (Earlier post.)

October 31, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Ricardo Wins Contract to Optimize Fuel Economy and Performance for Military Ground Vehicles

Ricardo has won a multi-million dollar contract to identify the best combinations of technologies for achieving the highest possible fuel efficiency for US military ground vehicles.

The project is part of the Fuel Efficient Ground Vehicle Demonstrator (FED) program launched by TARDEC, the US Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center in Warren, Mich. The goal of the FED program is to develop and define military vehicle technologies that will reduce fuel consumption on the battlefield and reduce the military’s dependence on oil. The program ultimately will result in a Humvee-size demonstration vehicle that achieves significantly greater fuel economy while maintaining tactical capability and performance.

Ricardo will apply its TVFE (Total Vehicle Fuel Economy) system to evaluate combinations of current and emerging technologies to define vehicle configurations that will reduce fuel consumption while maintaining vehicle performance.

For the first phase of the project, Ricardo will apply its TVFE modeling and simulation capabilities to predict the performance of various combinations of current and emerging technologies for the entire vehicle, including conventional and hybrid drive systems, transmissions, suspension systems, body configurations and other vehicle systems. TVFE focuses on integrating all vehicle systems to optimize fuel economy and performance. Ricardo expects to deliver the first set of proposed vehicle configurations within nine months.

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

Terrabon to Open New Demonstration Facility Next Week for Biomass to Renewable Gasoline Technology

Terrabon’s pathway to renewable hydrocarbon fuel produces ketones, which are then processed using conventional refinery technology. Click to enlarge.

Terrabon LLC, the developer of a carboxylic acid fermentation platform licensed from Texas A&M University for the conversion of biomass to fuel intermediates that can then be upgraded into industrial chemicals and renewable gasoline, will open its new Advanced Biofuels Research Facility in Bryan, Texas next week.

The facility, which will test the scaled-up commercial feasibility of the Texas A&M MixAlco technology (earlier post), will have a loading capacity of 400 dry tons of biomass, equal to a loading rate of five dry tons per day. The Company will use sorghum as the primary feedstock with the objective of producing organic salts and converting them to ketones, which can be converted to renewable gasoline.

The technology can be used with a range of feedstock, including municipal solid waste (MSW), sewage sludge, forest product residues and non-edible energy crops. A MSW-based facility for a city of 100,000, using 200 tons per day of MSW as feedstock, could generate 4.5 million gallons per year of renewable gasoline at a capital cost of $22.5 million and an operating cost of less than $1.50 per gallon, according to Terrabon CEO Gary W. Luce.

Terrabon has been testing the process for three years at a pilot plant in College Station and has shown that the MixAlco technology can commercially make cellulosic ethanol and renewable gasoline. The pilot plant can process up to 200 dry pounds per day of biomass using feedstock such as paper wastes and chicken manure.

MixAlco Chemical flowchart. Click to enlarge.

The MixAlco technology has been developed over the last 15 years by Dr. Mark T. Holtzapple, professor of Chemical Engineering, and Dr. Cesar B. Granda, Research Engineer, at Texas A&M University. Dr. Granda is now the CTO of Terrabon; Dr. Holtzapple is the chairman of the advisory committee.

The MixAlco process converts biomass into organic chemicals and alcohols with a multi-stage anaerobic process that includes lime pretreatment, non-sterile acidogenic digestion, product concentration, thermal conversion to ketones and their subsequent hydrogenation to create mixed alcohol end products. Two different versions of the MixAlco process are available. Version one is the original process which produces mixed alcohol fuels. Version two produces carboxylate acids and primary alcohols (ethanol).

Terrabon’s projected energetics and mass balance for renewable gasoline. Click to enlarge.

Terrabon’s pathway to renewable gasoline is via the hydrogenation of a ketone (acetone) to isopropanol, and then the subsequent hydrogenation of isopropanol to gasoline, Luce told the Platts Cellulosic Ethanol and Biofuels conference earlier in October.

Terrabon, LLC was organized in 1995 to commercialize via licensing three technologies that share the same suite of patented intellectual property developed at Texas A&M University. In addition to the MixAlco process, Terrabon offers SoluPro, a bioproducts process that converts inexpensive protein-bearing waste material into animal feed and “green” commercial adhesives; and AdVE, a water desalination process that utilizes advanced vapor-compression evaporation to substantially reduce the capital and operating costs of water purification.


October 31, 2008 in Bio-hydrocarbons, Biogasoline, Biomass | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Enhanced Thermoelectric Capability in Silicon Germanium Bulk Alloys

Researchers at Boston College and MIT report achieving a dimensionless thermoelectric figure-of-merit (ZT) of 0.95 in p-type nanostructured bulk silicon germanium (SiGe) alloys—about 90% higher than what is currently used in space flight missions, and 50% higher than the reported record in p-type SiGe alloys.

These nanostructured bulk materials were made by using a direct current-induced hot press of mechanically alloyed nanopowders that were initially synthesized by ball milling of commercial grade Si and Ge chunks with boron powder.

They attribute the enhancement of ZT to a large reduction of thermal conductivity caused by the increased phonon scattering at the grain boundaries of the nanostructures combined with an increased power factor at high temperatures.


  • Giri Joshi, Hohyun Lee, Yucheng Lan, Xiaowei Wang, Gaohua Zhu, Dezhi Wang, Ryan W. Gould, Diana C. Cuff, Ming Y. Tang, Mildred S. Dresselhaus, Gang Chen, and Zhifeng Ren (2008) Enhanced Thermoelectric Capability in Bulk Silicon Germanium (SiGe) Alloys. ASAP Nano Lett., doi: 10.1021/nl8026795

October 31, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

GM Holden Boosts Fuel Efficiency on Gasoline, LPG Commodores

GM Holden has upgraded its Alloytec V6 engine on Omega and Berlina models within the VE Commodore range. The improvement offers fuel savings of up to 0.4 liters per 100 kilometers for gasoline models and 1.3 liters per 100 kilometers for LPG variants. The upgraded all-alloy V6 engine also reduces emissions of criteria pollutants to Euro 6 levels (due in 2014).

Fuel consumption of the gasoline Commodore sedan is reduced by 0.2 liters per 100 kilometers to 10.6 L/100km (22 mpg US) and the Ute and Sportwagon by 0.4 liters per 100 kilometers to 10.7 L/100km.

The engine upgrade will provide the most benefits to drivers looking for an alternative fuel option, with dramatic improvements on LPG converted vehicles. Fuel efficiency of the LPG Commodore sedan improves from 15.5 L/100km to 14.2 L/100km.

GM Holden recently reduced the cost of its dual fuel LPG system by A$1,500 on Commodore Omega, Berlina, and Omega Ute. This means for private buyers eligible for the $2,000 government rebate, the net cost of an LPG Ute would be A$1,400 more than its gasoline equivalent and only $400 more for the LPG sedan.

GM Holden says the monthly LPG conversion rate will increase in November to meet growing demand.

The gasoline engine in the Omega and Berlina models delivers peak power of 175 kW (235 hp) at 6,500 rpm and peak torque of 325 Nm (240 lb-ft) at 2,400 rpm and is matched with a four-speed automatic transmission.

October 31, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Toyota to Export US-made SUVs and Pickups

Toyota Motor (TMC) will export the Sequoia SUV made in its Indiana plant to the Middle East and South America, and the Tundra pickup truck made in its Texas plant to South America.

The planned exports, scheduled to start in December 2008 and to be conducted through Toyota Motor Sales, USA Inc., are part of an ongoing TMC effort to optimize global production and supply structures to allow TMC to better respond to changes in market demand; they also reflect increasing demand for full-size SUVs in the Middle East and South America and for full-size pickup trucks in South America.

Annually, TMC will export to the Middle East approximately 15,000 units of the Sequoia, and to South America, approximately 150 units of the Sequoia and approximately 1,000 units of the Tundra.

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

Ethanol Organizations Pushing for Mid-Range Blends; Splash-Blending Pumps for Retailers

A splash-blending pump. Click to enlarge. Source: EPIC/ACE

The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) and The Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC) are pushing for wider deployment of mid-range ethanol blends via the use of splash-blending pumps at retail sites. Mid-range ethanol blends (e.g., E15, E20, E30, etc.) can legally be used in flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) in the US. Use in non-FFVs is not currently legal, although it is under focused study. (Earlier post.)

In a webinar primarily targeted to petroleum marketers (e.g., fuel station owners) Ron Lamberty from ACE outlined the organization’s immediate rationale for opposing universal E10 blends, which is derived from the current structure of financial incentives around ethanol provision and use in the US, and its focus on preserving splash blending.

Under the current policy, the volumetric ethanol excise tax credit (VEETC) of $0.51 per gallon of ethanol goes to the blender of record. In creating a gallon of E85, for example, a blender can theoretically receive a tax credit of about $0.43 (85% of $0.51) per gallon, depending upon the actual ethanol content of the gallon.

ACE’s opposition to a universal E10 delivery is based on the assumption that the benefit of VEETC at that blend level would not be passed on to consumers, or to the retailer—i.e., the oil companies would incorporate the ethanol, take the VEETC credit (about $0.051 per gallon), and sell the product to the retailers without passing on the VEETC credit in the form of a price break. A number of oil companies, Lamberty charged, have gone to mandate an E10-only product slate, and are pushing terminals to allow only E10.

Two states (North Carolina and South Carolina) have passed laws requiring terminals to offer an un-blended petroleum product that is suitable for later blending with ethanol—i.e., by the retailer. Sixteen other states are considering similar legislation, Lamberty said.

Stations currently equipped with blender pumps and offering mid-range blends, as of 24 October 2008. Click to enlarge. Source: American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE)

The ability to deliver a range of splash-blended ethanol mixtures would provide the retailer with some flexibility in being able to recoup their costs of expanding their offerings. In the splash-blending pump scenario, two tanks—one with ethanol or E85, the other with straight unleaded gasoline) are connected to the pump, which in turn, given appropriate consumer labelling, creates the blend on-the-fly for the consumer.

If the retailer opts for straight ethanol in the tank, then he or she will end up taking the tax credit directly. If the retailer uses E85 as the blending agent, the original E85 blender will have benefitted from the credit—but presumably the price break (or a portion thereof) would still be passed to the retailer in the cost of the E85. Ethanol plants, Lamberty said, will sell E85 direct, bypassing the “big oil markup”. Lamberty recommends the E85 route for those retailers that don’t have the experience of the desire to go through the requisite tracking and paperwork to file for the blend credit.

In assessing the market opportunity for mid-range ethanol blends above 10%, Lamberty noted that without some sort of accommodation for mid-range ethanol blends, the E10 blend wall, even with aggressive adoption of full E85 flex-fuel vehicles, will result in a “blend gap”—a gulf between the amount of ethanol produced to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard, and the amount that can actually be used in the fleet.

All cars in the US can legally run on blends of up to E10—a nationwide E10 policy would create a “blend wall”—i.e., maximum legal utilization—of about 14 billion gallons per year for non-flex-fuel vehicles. Even with a new fleet that is 50% flex-fuel capable, and assuming that the E85 infrastructure was present to provide the fuel, the combination of E85 and E10 vehicles is still insufficient to use the ethanol that will be produced to meet the RFS, Lamberty said. That’s the blend gap. Shifting to a universal E15, for example, would close the gap.

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The E10 blend wall and blend gap. Click to enlarge. The E15 blend wall and blend gap. Click to enlarge.

There are some cost challenges for the blender pumps, and there are some potential liability issues with offering mid-range blends. While it is legal for a station to offer a mid-range blend, station owners may be liable for misfueling—i.e., fueling a conventional car with a mid-range blend—just as they may be liable for misfueling with diesel.

However, Lamberty noted, the stations that are currently selling mid-range blends (ACE has a list of 84 so far) have yet to receive a complaint or damage claim. Lamberty was optimistic about the studies underway evaluating the affect of mid-range blends in conventional vehicles, and described anecdotal evidence about cars running on E30 with no problem.

In that view, the ethanol supporters may be more sanguine that the automakers (and the EPA), who look at the same data but see potential issues such as higher exhaust temperatures affecting catalyst lifetime and performance. The study series on mid-range blends is due to go through 2010.

October 31, 2008 in Ethanol, Infrastructure | Permalink | Comments (38) | TrackBack

Argonne and Three Area Universities Form Illinois Center for Advanced Tribology

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory has teamed with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and Northwestern University to form the Illinois Center for Advanced Tribology (ICAT), which will develop solutions to technical issues related to transportation, health and systems that operate in extreme environments.

Tribology is the science and technology of friction, lubrication and interactive surfaces in relative motion that are evident in virtually everything that moves, including human beings.

ICAT members bring together complementary, and in some cases unique capabilities to resolve critical wear and lubrication issues in the development of advanced alternative energy technologies and biomedical implants and improve functionality and longevity of systems that operate in extreme environments. Through the center, we plan to develop new materials, coatings, surface texturing and lubricants that, when integrated together, make robust tribological systems that provide reliable and durable performance under extreme conditions.

—George Fenske, manager of Argonne’s tribology section

The push for alternative transportation fuels like ethanol, biofuels and hydrogen, for example, come with very different sets of friction, wear and lubrication challenges that you don’t encounter with conventional vehicles and fuels, said Jane Wang, a professor of mechanical engineering at Northwestern.

Biofuels, even E-85, can cause corrosion and wear to surfaces they come into contact with. In the case of hydrogen-powered vehicles, new lubricant formulas are needed for the smooth operation of moving parts since hydrogen fuel cells, which require a pure environment, prohibit the use of oil-based lubricants.

—Jane Wang

ICAT also plans to play a significant role in improving the durability and long-term health risks of replacement joints, because more active older people require them and an increasing number of younger people get them.

Mechanical systems that operate under extreme loads, temperatures and speeds, like those found in military field operations in the Middle East, face premature failure as a result of poor lubricity.

Thermal degradation of base fluids and additives are accelerated at high temperatures, and oil viscosity is poor at high temperatures and further aggravated by the presence of sand. So one of the many innovations we plan to make is the development of self-healing surfaces; such technology would be highly desirable for extreme-condition applications.

—Andreas Polycarpou, a professor in UIUC’s Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering

ICAT will enable its partner organizations to respond more quickly to requests for research proposals, Fenske explained, because they will not have to develop a work agreement for each request they want to respond to. The center will also solicit research funds from their parent organizations and private and industrial sources, as well as respond to proposals from the State of Illinois and federal agencies such as DOE, the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Agriculture.

October 31, 2008 in Engines, Fuels, Lubricating Oils, Materials | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Shell Delays Oil Sands Expansion

Financial Times. Royal Dutch Shell has delayed a decision on the second phase of the expansion in its Athabasca oil sands project.

...Jeroen van der Veer, the chief executive, said the company would “wait for costs to cool down...before any new investment decision is made&rduqo;.

Projects in the oil sands of Alberta, which are fiercely criticised by environmentalists, are among the world’s highest-cost oil developments. In recent weeks, several companies operating there, including Suncor, PetroCanada, Nexen and Opti Canada, have delayed investment plans.

Shell’s oil and gas production fell by 6.6% in the third quarter, mostly caused by hurricanes in the US and planned maintenance in the North Sea.

October 31, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

October 30, 2008

On-Road Fuel Consumption In California Continued Decline in July

Gasoline consumption in California declined 5.6% in July 2008 from July 2007, according to figures released by the State Board of Equalization (BOE). Californians consumed 1.26 billion gallons of gasoline in July—74.2 million gallons below that of July 2007.

July 2008 diesel fuel sold for use on California roads totaled 243 million gallons, a decline of 7.9%, or 20.8 million gallons below that of July 2007. The decreased consumption reflects both the impacts of higher diesel prices of $4.97 in July 2008 and the slowing economy that is associated with less freight movement on California roads and highways.

The average California gas price at the pump in July 2008 was $4.51 per gallon, a 42.3 percent increase from the average price of July last year when it was $3.17. The BOE estimates that nearly twice as much sales tax is generated annually by higher gasoline prices than five years ago. Those higher prices generated approximately $3.6 billion in sales tax during 2007 when the average price was $3.12. In contrast, 2003’s gasoline sales generated $2.1 billion when the average pump price was $1.88.

California diesel prices were up 59.3% in July 2008 compared to July of 2007 when the average diesel price was $3.12.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average price of gasoline in California (all blends) in October has dropped to $3.38. The price of diesel is down to an average $3.568 for the month.

October 30, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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