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June 2009

June 30, 2009

DOE to Provide Up To $32M to Increase Generation from Existing Hydropower Facilities

The US Department of Energy will award up to $32 million in Recovery Act funding to modernize the existing hydropower infrastructure in the US, increase efficiency and reduce environmental impact. The funding is designed to support the deployment of turbines and control technologies to increase power generation and environmental stewardship at existing non-Federal hydroelectric facilities.

At the announcement of the funding, Energy Secretary Steven Chu noted that another key benefit of hydropower is that potential hydro energy can be stored behind dams and released when it is most needed. Improving the hydro infrastructure can help to increase the utilization and economic viability of intermittent renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.

The funding will be competitively awarded to a variety of non-Federal hydropower projects that can be developed without significant modifications to dams and with a minimum of regulatory delay. Projects will be selected in two areas: one from projects greater than 50 MW, the other for projects smaller than 50 MW.

The complete Funding Opportunity Announcement number, DE-FOA-0000120, can be viewed at FedConnect.net. Projects are expected to begin in Fiscal Year 2010.

June 30, 2009 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Solix Biofuels Completes $16.8M Series A Funding

Algal fuels company Solix Biofuels, Inc. completed its $16.8 million Series A funding with the addition of the international investment group, Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd. (SAIL). Solix will use the additional funding to complete construction and begin operations at its Coyote Gulch Demonstration Facility, which is expected to be in full-scale commercial operation by late summer 2009.

SAIL’s contribution to the Series A Funding will increase development opportunities for Solix in Asia. Other investors in Solix’s Series A Funding include: I2BF Venture Capital, Bohemian Investments, Southern Ute Alternative Energy LLC, Valero Energy Corp., and Infield Capital.

Solix’ AGS Technology is a photobioreactor that houses closed-growth chambers that support the monoculture growth of microalgae in commercial application. It is designed to be species agnostic, enabling producers to optimize yields regardless of the algal strains used and climatic conditions encountered.

Made of material specifically designed to facilitate optimum illumination levels, the chamber design of the AGS Technology allows for five-times the surface level exposure to sunlight compared with open-pond systems, according to Solix. Controlled turbulence within the chamber circulates the algae to maximize time within the relevant field of photosynthetic activity, leading to higher yields of algae growth.

Solix projects that it will be producing at a rate of 3,000 gallons of oil per acre, per year during the summer of 2009 at the Coyote Gulch facility. This anticipated production rate is based on current production results at its Fort Collins Pilot Facility and includes consideration for increased PAR (photosynthetically active radiation) values, species optimization and operational efficiencies.

Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd. is international investment firm based in Shanghai, China that is heavily invested in numerous technology, bioscience and renewable energy companies including international investments that are focused on entities with potential to be deployed within China.

June 30, 2009 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Opel Introducing Sports Tourer Version of Insignia ecoFLEX

Opel will offer a Sports Tourer version of its Insignia ecoFLEX starting this fall. The station wagon version offers combined cycle fuel consumption of 5.3 liters of diesel per 100 km (44 mpg US) and emits 139 g CO2/km. (The ecoFLEX sedan has fuel consumption of 5.2 L/100 km and 136 g CO2/km).

The 2.0 CDTI diesel engine with the Clean Tech System delivers 118 kW (160 hp) and has maximum torque of 380 N·m (280 lb-ft). The Insignia ecoFLEX Sports Tourer accelerates to a top speed of 215 km/h (134 mph) and accelerates from zero to 100 km/h in 9.9 seconds.

The Opel Insignia ecoFLEX comes with a six-speed manual transmission, a longer final drive ratio, a range of aerodynamic optimizations and specially developed, 225/55 R 17” low-resistance Michelin tires.

June 30, 2009 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

EPA Grants California Vehicle GHG Regulations Waiver

The US Environmental Agency (EPA) has granted California’s waiver request enabling the state to enforce its greenhouse gas emissions standards (Pavley I) for new motor vehicles, beginning with the current model year. According to evidence submitted by California during the waiver process, an EPA official said, automakers are currently already in compliance with the MY2009 Pavley requirement, and are tracking to compliance for 2010.

In September 2004 the California Air Resources Board (ARB) passed regulations to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) from new passenger vehicles starting in 2009. These regulations were authorized by the 2002 legislation Assembly Bill 1493 (Pavley). California requested from EPA the waiver required for implementation of the Pavley regulations in December 2005. The request was subsequently denied in December 2007.

This previous decision was based on an interpretation of the Clean Air Act finding that California did not have a need for its greenhouse gas emission standards to meet “compelling and extraordinary conditions.” (Earlier post.)

Shortly after taking office in January, President Barack Obama directed EPA to assess the appropriateness of denying the waiver. EPA received a letter from California on January 21, 2009, raising several issues for Administrator Jackson to review regarding the denial.

This decision puts the law and science first. After review of the scientific findings, and another comprehensive round of public engagement, I have decided this is the appropriate course under the law. This waiver is consistent with the Clean Air Act as it’s been used for the last 40 years and supports the prerogatives of the 13 states and the District of Columbia who have opted to follow California’s lead. More importantly, this decision reinforces the historic agreement on nationwide emissions standards developed by a broad coalition of industry, government and environmental stakeholders earlier this year.

—EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson

In granting the California waiver, EPA found that California continues to have a need for its motor vehicle emissions program, including the greenhouse gas standards. EPA also found that the California program meets legal requirements regarding the protectiveness of public health and welfare as well as technological feasibility.

Last month, President Obama announced a national policy of two harmonized standards, one for increasing fuel economy (to be issued by NHTSA) and the second for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (to be issued by EPA) for all new cars and trucks sold in the United States. The resulting new national standards will cover model years 2012-2016, and will require an average fuel economy standard of 35.5 mpg in 2016 (39 mpg for cars, 30 mpg for trucks), or approximately 250 grams CO2/mile. The CAFE program established by the EISA 2007 legislation specified a minimum 35 mpg in 2020. However, there will not be an exact one-to-one correspondence between the two standards—GHG and fuel economy—which will be the foundation of the national program.

When the national program for 2012-2106 takes effect, California has committed to allowing automakers who show compliance with the national program to also be deemed in compliance with state requirements. (Earlier post.) In other words, California is deeming meeting the upcoming Federal requirements for 2012-2016 as an alternate Pavley compliance path for automakers.

The 2016 endpoint of the two standards—Pavley I and the new national standard—are essentially the same, although the national standard is using an attribute-based approach (consistent with the new CAFE), while California’s standard used the older approach of two vehicle types (PC/LDT1 and LDT2) used in the LEV II regulations. The national program ramps up slightly more slowly than the California program envisioned, but does get to the same fleet average endpoint. Using the projected California fleet mix, ARB calculates the average emissions form the MY2016 new vehicle fleet will be approximately 243 g/mi (or about 36.6 mpg US).

On a conference call on Tuesday, EPA officials said they expected to release the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the vehicle greenhouse gas regulations later this year.

Thirteen other states have adopted California’s Clean Car standards: Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

California is preserving its right to establish more stringent standards in the future. The Pavley II regulations, which start with the 2017 model year, will come to the Air Resources Board for consideration in 2010. Adapting those would require the request and issuance of another EPA waiver.

June 30, 2009 in Climate Change, Emissions, Policy | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

BAF Technologies Begins Converting 600 AT&T Vehicles To CNG in 2009

Dallas-based BAF Technologies has begun converting 600 AT&T Ford E-Series vans to dedicated CNG technology in 2009. This is part of AT&T’s plan to invest up to $565 million to deploy more than 15,000 alternative-fuel vehicles over the next 10 years. AT&T expects to spend an estimated $350 million to purchase about 8,000 Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles and approximately $215 million to begin replacing its passenger cars with alternative-fuel models, beginning with hybrids. (Earlier post.)

The converted vehicles will utilize the BAF CalComp System, a proprietary CNG fuel system certified by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board (ARB). CNG vehicles are expected to emit approximately 25% less greenhouse gas emissions than those traditionally powered by gasoline.

BAF’s CalComp system is fully integrated into the OEM powertrain control system. No additional control module is required. The entire gasoline system is removed and replaced with CNG storage tank(s), HP plumbing, a CNG regulator, and new CNG injectors. Control of all CNG components, including the original dash-mounted fuel gauge, is done using the OEM vehicle computer which BAF reprograms to optimize CNG performance.

System features include:

  • Closed-loop fuel control
  • Sequential fuel injection (SFI)
  • Optimized ignition timing
  • Maintains original fault codes (DTCs)
  • Diagnostics accessed through DLC using original scan tool or any generic OBD-II scanner

In an E-350 van, the CalComp system is integrated with the 5.4L V8 Triton engine. The van, which is certified to the ARB SULEV standard, has a standard fuel capacity of 20.0 GGE and has a limited warranty of 3 years/50,000 miles.

The Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor, Mich. estimates that for the years AT&T’s fleet purchase program is operating, more than 1,000 jobs in the United States will be created or saved. In addition to the economic benefits, CAR estimates the new vehicles will save 49 million gallons of gasoline and reduce carbon emissions by 211,000 metric tons over the 10-year deployment period.

The new CNG/passenger vehicle commitment follows AT&T’s deployment of 105 alternative-fuel vehicles in more than 30 US cities beginning in June 2008. In addition, AT&T piloted four Ford Escape hybrids, which were deployed in late 2007 in California. Through these pilot programs, AT&T determined that a mix of solutions is right for its fleet and that multiple technologies can help reduce its operating costs over time, while effectively reducing its fuel consumption and impact on the environment.

June 30, 2009 in Conversions, Fleets, Natural Gas | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

BNSF Railway and Vehicle Projects Demonstrate Experimental Hydrogen Fuelcell Hybrid Switch Locomotive

Rear view of the fuelcell hybrid switch locomotive. The dual Ballard fuel cell stacks are to the left (i.e., rear) of the switcher. Source: Vehicle Projects. Click to enlarge.

BNSF Railway and Vehicle Projects Inc. of Denver/Golden, Colo., a developer of large fuelcell vehicles such as mine loaders and mine locomotives, unveiled an operational hydrogen fuelcell hybrid switch locomotive at BNSF’s Topeka System Maintenance Terminal. (Earlier post.)

Following its introduction, the locomotive is heading to the Transportation Test Center in Pueblo, Colo., for additional testing. Late this summer or early fall, depending on the outcome of the testing, the locomotive will go into service in the Los Angeles Basin, where it will face the test of actual service in the railroad environment.

BNSF operates through several locations that are in non-attainment areas for air quality as designated by the Environmental Protection Agency. We are investigating and experimenting with this hydrogen fuelcell technology for its potential niche application in areas with air quality concerns.

—Mark Stehly, assistant vice president, Technical Research, Development and Environmental

Arnold Miller, president, Vehicle Projects, suggests that the fuelcell locomotive is the least-cost solution for such areas when the social costs of diesel-electrics and the infrastructure costs of catenary-electrics are considered.

The fuelcell powertrain was developed by Vehicle Projects with the support of BNSF, the US Department of Defense and a collaboration of industrial partners. The switcher is being also designed to be able to serve as a mobile backup power source (i.e., “locomotive-to-grid”) for military bases and civilian disaster relief efforts.

Expanded view of fuelcell hybrid switcher. Source: Vehicle Projects. Click to enlarge.

The locomotive features a 240 kW (320 hp) fuelcell prime mover (based on the stacks used in Daimler Citaro hydrogen fuel cell buses. It stores 70 kg hydrogen at 350 bar (5,100 psi) at roofline. A lead-acid traction battery allows transients above 1 MW. The locomotive has 9,000 kg of extra ballast to bring it to 127 tonnes.

The vehicle platform was based on the Green Goat diesel-battery hybrid switcher.


June 30, 2009 in Fuel Cells, Hydrogen, Rail | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

“Sulfate Lens” Enhances Climate Warming Properties of Atmospheric Soot

Particulate pollution thought to be holding climate change in check by reflecting sunlight instead enhances warming when combined with airborne soot, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego. They report on their work in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online the week of June 29.

Soot, also called black carbon, absorbs solar energy. Recent atmospheric models have ranked soot second only to carbon dioxide in potential for atmospheric warming. But particles, or aerosols, such as soot mix with other chemicals in the atmosphere, complicating estimates of their role in changing climate.

Until now, scientists have had to assume how soot is mixed with other chemical species in individual particles and estimate how that ultimately impacts their warming potential. Our measurements show that soot is most commonly mixed with other chemicals such as sulfate and this mixing happens very quickly in the atmosphere. These are the first direct measurements of the optical properties of atmospheric soot and allow us to better understand the role of soot in climate change.

— Kimberly Prather, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego

Prather and Ryan Moffet, a former graduate student at UC San Diego who is now at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, measured atmospheric aerosols over Riverside, California and Mexico City. Using an instrument that measures the size, chemical composition and optical properties of aerosols in real time, they showed that jagged bits of fresh soot quickly become coated with a spherical shell of other chemicals, particularly sulfate, nitrate, and organic carbon, through light-driven chemical reactions.

Within several hours of sunrise, most of the atmospheric carbon they measured had been altered in this way. Particles of sulfate or nitrate alone reflect light, and some have proposed pumping sulfate aerosols into the atmosphere to slow climate change. But these chemicals play a different role when they mix with soot.

The coating acts like a lens and focuses the light into the center of the particle, enhancing warming. Many people think sulfate aerosols are a good thing because they are highly reflective and cool our planet. However we are seeing that sulfate is commonly mixed with soot in the same particles, which means in some regions sulfate could lead to more warming as opposed to more cooling as one would expect for a pure sulfate aerosol.

—Kimberly Prather

Their measurements showed that in the atmosphere the lens-like shell of sulfate and nitrate enhances absorption of light by coated soot particles 1.6 times over pure soot particles.

Efforts to reduce soot would pay off soon. Unlike carbon dioxide, which lingers in the atmosphere for centuries, soot falls from the sky in a matter of days to weeks, making the reduction of soot a quicker option for slowing down climate change.

June 30, 2009 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

China Moving Ahead with Shenhua CTL Project; NuCoal in Canada Focusing on CTL Gasoline Project

Project developers in both China and Canada are moving forward with new coal-to-liquid (CTL) fuel facilities, according to the Coal-to-Liquids Coalition (CTLC).

China’s Shenhua Energy Co Ltd recently announced that will begin construction on a CTL plant in October 2010. (Earlier post.) The plant will be jointly developed with South Africa-based Sasol, the world’s largest CTL company.

The plant will be located in the northern area of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, with an expected price tag of $7 billion. The project is ultimately expected to convert approximately 3 million tons of coal annually to produce an output of 80,000 barrels of oil products daily.

The plant is part of Shenhua’s reported plans to spend $58 billion over the next 10 years developing coal liquefaction facilities. Recently Shenhua announced that it plans to conduct a second test production run at its already completed Erdos project in Inner Mongolia. This 1,000 hour test follows a successful trial run held earlier this year.

Canadian developer NuCoal recently announced that it expects a CTL plant to be operating in southern Saskatchewan within the next few years. In a presentation at its annual general meeting, NuCoal President Alan Cruickshank said that coal-to-liquids with a gasoline product via the ExxonMobil process (earlier post) was one of the three monetization strategies for the company. NuCoal is also exploring in situ (underground) gasification.

NuCoal’s CTL operations model mimics a Shenhua trial plant, and is targeting a modular plant design. Each module is to produce 50,000 barrels per day. One tonne of coal will produce approximately two barrels (84 gallons US) of gasoline.

NuCoal is targeting a phase 1 production rate of 150,000 bpd, with CO2 managed as one of the byproducts of production, with likely application in enhanced oil recovery (EOR). Cruickshank said one of the most important business opportunities for such a CTL plant lies in shipping it via pipeline to the United States.

The company is currently engaged in establishing its agreements with large stakeholders, technology providers and partners, and proceeding with a variety of scoping studies.

June 30, 2009 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

GM Exits NUMMI JV with Toyota

General Motors will not retain its ownership stake in its New United Motor Manufacturing Incorporated (NUMMI) joint venture with Toyota.

After extensive analysis, according to a statement issued by GM, the two companies could not reach an agreement on a future product plan that made sense for all parties. Accordingly, NUMMI will end production of vehicles for GM in August, and there are no future GM vehicles planned for the joint venture at this time.

Given that, GM said, it believes it is in the best interest of the ‘New GM’ and its stakeholders to place the ownership interest in NUMMI in ’Old GM’.

NUMMI, when it opened in 1984, was the first automotive joint venture plant in the United States. NUMMI had produced the Toyota Corolla, Toyota Tacoma, and the Pontiac Vibe. As part of its long-term viability plan and recent decision to phase out the Pontiac brand, General Motors has decided to discontinue production of the Pontiac Vibe by the end of August 2009.

June 30, 2009 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 29, 2009

EPA Proposes Stronger Air Quality Standards for Nitrogen Dioxide

EPA has proposed revisions to the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) air quality standard, the first adjustment since 1971. The proposed changes reflect the latest science on the health effects of exposure to NO2, which is formed by emissions from cars, trucks, buses, power plants, and industrial facilities and can lead to respiratory disease.

These proposed standards—which add a one-hour NO2 standard—and additional monitoring requirements will better protect public health by reducing people’s exposure to high, short-term concentrations of NO2, which generally occur near roadways, according to EPA. The proposal would also ensure that area-wide NO2 concentrations remain below levels that can cause public health problems.

Current scientific evidence links short-term NO2 exposures, ranging from 30 minutes to 24 hours, with increased respiratory effects, especially in people with asthma. These effects can lead to increased visits to emergency departments and hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses, particularly in at-risk populations such as children, the elderly, and asthmatics.

NO2 concentrations in vehicles and near major roads are appreciably higher than those measured at monitors in the current network. In-vehicle concentrations can be 2-3 times higher than those measured at nearby community-wide monitors. Near-road (within about 50 meters) concentrations of NO2 have been measured to be approximately 30 to 100% higher than concentrations away from major roads.

Individuals who spend time on or near major roads can experience short-term NO2 exposures considerably higher than measured by the current network, which are of particular concern for at-risk populations, including people with asthma, children, and the elderly.

EPA’s proposed revisions apply to the primary NO2 standard and would:

  • Establish, for the first time, a one-hour NO2 standard at a level between 80 - 100 parts per billion (ppb). The Agency is taking comment on alternative levels for the 1-hour standard down to 65 ppb and up to 150 ppb.
  • Retain the current annual average NO2 standard of 53 ppb.
  • Add NO2 monitoring within 50 meters of major roads in cities with at least 350,000 residents; and
  • Continue monitoring area-wide NO2 concentrations in cities with at least 1 million residents.

In addition to proposing an averaging time and a range of levels for the standard, EPA is also proposing a “form” for the new standard. The form is the air quality statistic that is compared to the level of the standard to determine if an area meets the standard.

For the new 1-hour NO2 standard, EPA is proposing that the form be a 3-year average of the 4th highest daily maximum 1-hour average concentration in a year, or a 3-year average of the 99th percentile of the annual distribution of daily maximum 1-hour average concentrations. (The 99th percentile for a year corresponds approximately to the 4th highest daily maximum.)

As an alternative to the proposed approach, EPA is requesting comment on supplementing the current annual standard with a community-wide 1-hour NO2 standard in the range of 50 – 75 ppb. Monitoring near major roads would not be required under this alternative.

The proposed changes would not affect the secondary NO2 standard; EPA is considering the need for changes to the secondary standard under a separate review.

EPA first set standards for NO2 in 1971, establishing both a primary standard to protect health and a secondary standard to protect the public welfare at 53 ppb, averaged annually. EPA has reviewed the standards twice since that time, but has chosen not to revise the standards at the conclusion of each review.

Under a judicial consent decree, EPA must complete this review of the primary NO2 standard by 22 January 2010. The current review focuses only on the primary NO2 standard. EPA will address the secondary standard for NO2 as part of a separate proposal in 2010.

EPA will accept public comments for 60 days after the proposal is published in the Federal Register. The agency will hold two public hearings in August 2009: one in Los Angeles and one in the Washington, D.C. area. EPA will provide details on the public hearings in a separate notice issued later this summer.

Annual average NO2 concentrations have decreased by more than 40% since 1980. All areas in the United States are well below the current (1971) NO2 standards with annual averages ranging from approximately 10 - 20 ppb.

June 29, 2009 in Emissions | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

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