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July 2010

July 30, 2010

Nissan Begins Taking LEAF Orders Now in Portugal and Ireland, UK on 1 Sep

Nissan International SA will begin taking orders today for the Nissan LEAF EV in Portugal and the Republic of Ireland. Pre-orders in the UK, Nissan’s additional lead market in Europe, will begin 1 September.

Nissan LEAF deliveries begin in Portugal in January, Ireland in February and the UK in March.

Since March, nearly 12,000 customers in Europe have signed up for regular updates on Nissan LEAF’s introduction, and in the US and Japan pre-orders have exceeded 23,000 units since online reservations began in April.

Such high demand has meant the Nissan LEAF will launch slightly later than planned in the Netherlands. Sales are now expected to start in June 2011, with pre-orders opening to customers in October this year. All other market launch dates remain unchanged.

To make a reservation, customers in the initial launch markets need to go to their local Nissan consumer website and place their order. The process requires a fully-refundable deposit of €300 (US$391). These early adopters will also be given an opportunity to test-drive Nissan LEAF thoroughly by December, at which point they will need to formally confirm their order. A dedicated call center for each country has been created to assist customers with questions. Call center details are available on each website.

The price of Nissan LEAF after government incentives is €30,250 (US$39,470) in Portugal, €29,995 (US$39,147) in Ireland and £23,990 (US$37,445) in the UK (UK price inclusive of new 20% rate of VAT coming into effect from January 1 2011).

July 30, 2010 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

QinetiQ Zephyr Used Sion Li-S Batteries in Record Unmanned Flight

Sion Power’s proprietary lithium sulfur (Li-S) batteries (earlier post) played a critical role in the QinetiQ Zephyr smashing the world record for the longest duration unmanned flight.

A result of an intensive joint development effort between Sion Power and QinetiQ, the Zephyr flight exceeded 336 hours (14 days) of continuous flight, significantly surpassing the previous official record of 30 hours 24 minutes set by Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4A Global Hawk in March 2001. The Zephyr’s world record flight was completed on 23 July 2010 at the US Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds in Yuma, Arizona.

The Zephyr, a solar/battery powered all electric UAV with a wing span of 70 feet (22.5 m) and a weight of just over 110 lbs. (50 kg), achieved this record using a combination of solar power during the day and Sion Power’s Li-S batteries at night. After a ground launch, the Zephyr flew to altitudes of up to 70,000 feet, where the UAV encountered external temperatures as low as minus 75ºC.

The custom built Li-S battery pack was designed and assembled by Sion Power in Tucson, Arizona. The battery utilized Sion’s unique, high specific energy Li-S cells which provide 350 Wh/kg, the highest available for a rechargeable battery. The Li-S battery pack was carefully engineered to minimize total pack weight. Advanced electronic controls maintained the battery condition throughout the flight.

An official from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), the world air sports federation, monitored the flight and is in the process of confirming a number of new world records. This includes quadrupling the Zephyr’s previous unofficial world record for longest duration unmanned flight, 82 hours, 37 minutes set in 2008. Zephyr will also have flown longer, non-stop and without refueling, than any other airplane—having significantly passed the Rutan Voyager milestone of 9 days (216 hours) 3 minutes and 44 seconds airborne, set in December 1986.

July 30, 2010 in Brief, Li-Sulfur | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

GE to Demonstrate First Silicon-Carbide Solid-State Primary Power Distribution Technology Use under USAF Contract

GE Aviation announced an R&D contract worth more than $7 million for the first solid-state primary power distribution technology using Silicon Carbide (SiC) power switches applicable to the latest and future United States Air Force platforms. The contracting office is Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Air Force Research Laboratories in Ohio.

Solid-state switching is critical to the Smart-Grid concept of intelligent power management, control and protection. This is a critical win and proves that the technologies and products that we are investing in are at the cutting edge of the industry. Aircraft electrical power system designs and architectures are rapidly evolving toward higher degrees of both intelligence and fast control, and the SSEDU is a critical technology step in that evolutionary path.

—Austin Schaffter, vice president, Electrical Power Systems for GE Aviation

An electrical distribution unit, or EDU, is the first or primary power distribution point on an aircraft after the generators create the electrical power, and historically that initial power distribution has been accomplished by relatively slow electro-mechanical contactors.

Evidence is growing rapidly, however, that more electric aircraft need fast, intelligent switching at the primary distribution point in order to manage both peak power and regenerative energy absorption, and to perform system protections within as little as one milli-second. Accomplishing high-power switching this fast is possible with newly emerging SiC devices such as those being designed and developed at GE’s Global Research Center (GRC) in Niskayuna, NY.

The project includes the design, development, fabrication, test and shipment of a prototype solid state electrical distribution unit, and will be executed within GE’s advanced engineering group at the Vandalia, Ohio and Cheltenham, UK facilities.

July 30, 2010 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

LS9 Researchers Discover Microbial Biosynthesis Pathway for Hydrocarbon Fuel Components; Direct Sugar-to-Renewable Hydrocarbon Fuels

Researchers at LS9 have discovered an alkane biosynthesis pathway in cyanobacteria; i.e., a metabolic pathway that produces alkanes—the major hydrocarbon constituents of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel—in a direct, simple conversion from sugar.

When the newly identified alkane operon is expressed in E.coli, the bacteria produce and secrete C13 to C17 mixtures of alkanes and alkenes. This discovery is the first description of the genes responsible for alkane biosynthesis and the first example of a single step conversion of sugar to fuel-grade alkanes by an engineered microorganism. A paper on the work was published in the 30 July issue of the journal Science.

Alkanes are naturally produced by diverse species, but the genetics and biochemistry behind this biology have not been well generally well understood. The LS9 team looked into the genomes of cyanobacteria that produce alkanes in nature, evaluating many and identifying one that was not capable of producing alkanes, said Andreas Schirmer, Associate Director of Metabolic Engineering at LS9, and lead author on the paper. By comparing the genome sequences of the alkane producing and non-producing organisms, LS9 was able to identify the responsible genes.

The pathway consists of an acyl–acyl carrier protein reductase and an aldehyde decarbonylase, which together convert intermediates of fatty acid metabolism to alkanes and alkenes. The aldehyde decarbonylase is related to the broadly functional nonheme diiron enzymes.

...The genes and enzymes described here provide a foundation for the deeper understanding and further development of this pathway. The ability to biologically convert renewable carbohydrate selectively to fuel-grade alkanes without hydrogenation is an important step toward the goal of low-cost renewable transportation fuels.

—Schirmer et al.

LS9 says that the discovery is consistent with its focus on developing renewable petroleum products using a proprietary one-step fermentation process that significantly reduces the costs and energy inputs. While other biological routes to the production of renewable hydrocarbons are emerging, these other routes require costly and energy intense chemical conversion technologies such as distillation or hydrogenation, LS9 notes.

This is a one step sugar-to-diesel process that does not require elevated temperatures, high pressures, toxic inorganic catalysts, hydrogen or complex unit operations. We believe in simple processes at LS9, and the simplicity of this process has allowed us to successfully accelerate its scale-up and development.

—Steve del Cardayre, Vice President of Research and Development

In addition to alkanes, LS9 is scaling-up its production of a biodiesel product and a portfolio of chemicals used in making industrial and consumer products.

In January, a collaboration led by researchers with the US Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) and including LS9 announced the engineering of a strain of Escherichia coli bacteria to produce biodiesel fuel and other important chemicals derived from fatty acids. (Earlier post.)


  • Andreas Schirmer, Mathew A. Rude, Xuezhi Li, Emanuela Popova, Stephen B. del Cardayre (2010) Microbial Biosynthesis of Alkanes. Science Vol. 329. no. 5991, pp. 559 - 562 doi: 10.1126/science.1187936

July 30, 2010 in Bio-hydrocarbons, Biotech | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

EPA Denies 10 Petitions Challenging Its GHG Endangerment Finding

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied 10 petitions challenging its 2009 determination that climate change is real, is occurring due to emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities, and threatens human health and the environment.

The petitions to reconsider EPA’s Endangerment Finding claim that climate science cannot be trusted, and assert a conspiracy that invalidates the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the US National Academy of Sciences, and the US Global Change Research Program. After months of serious consideration of the petitions and of the state of climate change science, EPA finds no evidence to support these claims. In contrast, EPA’s review shows that climate science is credible, compelling, and growing stronger.

The basic assertions by the petitioners and EPA responses follow.

Claim: Petitioners say that emails disclosed from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit provide evidence of a conspiracy to manipulate global temperature data.

Response: EPA reviewed every e-mail and found this was simply a candid discussion of scientists working through issues that arise in compiling and presenting large complex data sets. Four other independent reviews came to similar conclusions.

Claim: Petitioners say that errors in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report call the entire body of work into question.

Response: Of the alleged errors, EPA confirmed only two in a 3,000 page report. The first pertains to the rate of Himalayan glacier melt and second to the percentage of the Netherlands below sea level. IPCC issued correction statements for both of these errors. The errors have no bearing on Administrator Jackson’s decision. None of the errors undermines the basic facts that the climate is changing in ways that threaten our health and welfare.

Claim: Petitioners say that because certain studies were not included in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, the IPCC itself is biased and cannot be trusted as a source of reliable information.

Response: These claims are incorrect. In fact, the studies in question were included in the IPCC report, which provided a comprehensive and balanced discussion of climate science.

Claim: Petitioners say that new scientific studies refute evidence supporting the Endangerment Finding.

Response: Petitioners misinterpreted the results of these studies. Contrary to their claims, many of the papers they submit as evidence are consistent with EPA’s Finding. Other studies submitted by the petitioners were based on unsound methodologies. Detailed discussion of these issues may be found in volume one of the response to petition documents, on EPA’s website.

Climate change is already happening, and human activity is a contributor, the EPA said. The global warming trend over the past 100 years is confirmed by three separate records of surface temperature, all of which are confirmed by satellite data. Beyond this, evidence of climate change is seen in melting ice in the Arctic, melting glaciers around the world, increasing ocean temperatures, rising sea levels, shifting precipitation patterns, and changing ecosystems and wildlife habitats.

“America’s Climate Choices,” a report from the National Academy of Sciences and the most recent assessment of the full body of scientific literature on climate change, along with the recently released “State of the Climate” report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration both fully support the conclusion that climate change is real and poses significant risk to human and natural systems. The consistency among these and previously issued assessments only serves to strengthen EPA’s conclusion.


July 30, 2010 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Porsche Board OKs Development of 918 Spyder Plug-in

The Supervisory Board of Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG, Stuttgart, has approved the development of a production model based on the Porsche 918 Spyder plug-in concept, introduced at the Geneva Auto Show and at Auto China in Beijing earlier this year. (Earlier post.)

The mid-engined two-seater is powered by a high-speed V8 developing more than 500 bhp (373 kW) and running at maximum speed engine of 9,200 rpm as well as electric motors on the front and rear axle with overall mechanical output of 218 bhp (160 kW). Porsche says that concept combines the performance of a super-sports car with the CO2 emissions of a small compact, with fuel consumption of 3.0 L/100 kilometers (78.4 mpg US) and 70 grams CO2 per kilometer in its most economical operating mode.

Production of the 918 Spyder in a limited series proves that we are taking the right approach with Porsche Intelligent Performance featuring the combination of supreme performance and efficient drivetrain concepts. We will develop the 918 Spyder in Weissach and assemble it in Zuffenhausen. This is also a very important commitment to Germany as a manufacturing base.

—Michael Macht, President and Chairman of the Board of Management of Porsche AG

July 30, 2010 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

X PRIZE Foundation Announces Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE

The X PRIZE Foundation launched its sixth major incentive competition, the $1.4 Million Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE.

The new prize was announced in Washington, DC by X PRIZE Chairman Peter H. Diamandis together with Wendy Schmidt, who personally funded the $1.4 million prize purse. Wendy Schmidt is president of The Schmidt Family Foundation, Founder of the Foundation’s 11th Hour Project and Climate Central, as well as Co-founder, with her husband Eric (CEO of Google), of the Schmidt Marine Science Research Institute.

Other speakers included Philippe Cousteau, son of Jan and Philippe Cousteau Sr., and grandson of Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau and co-founder and CEO of EarthEcho International; and Dr. Dave Gallo, Ph.D., Director of Special Projects at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

The goal of the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE is to inspire entrepreneurs, engineers, and scientists worldwide to develop innovative, rapidly deployable, and highly efficient methods of capturing crude oil from the ocean surface. In making the announcement, the X PRIZE Foundation hopes to attract philanthropic and venture capital to support development of this capability and provide a global platform where new technologies can be competed head-to-head, and the best approaches demonstrated, to prepare for future catastrophes.

The Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE has two phases:

Phase I. From August 2010 – April 2011, teams from around the world are invited to register for this competition, and to submit their approach to clean up oil slicks created by spills or leaks from ships or tankers (e.g. Exxon Valdez), land drainage, waste disposal, or oil platform spill (e.g. Deepwater Horizon). An expert panel of judges from industry and academia will evaluate all of the proposals along the following criteria:

  • Technical approach and commercialization plan
  • No negative environmental impact
  • Scalability of and ability to deploy technology; cost and human labor of implementation
  • Improvement of technology over today’s baseline booms and skimmers

Phase II. The judges will select up to 10 of the top teams to demonstrate their ability to efficiently and rapidly clean up oil on the ocean surface in a head-to-head competition. These proofs of capability, which will determine the winner, will take place at the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility (OHSMETT) in New Jersey. The top team that demonstrates the ability to recover oil on the sea-water surface at the highest oil recovery rate (ORR) and recovery efficiency (RE) will win the $1 million Grand Purse. Second place will win $300,000 and third place will win $100,000 in purses.

July 30, 2010 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 29, 2010

California PUC Will Not Regulate EV Charging Services Providers As Public Utilities

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) today concluded that companies that sell electric vehicle charging services to the public will not be regulated as public utilities pursuant to the Public Utilities Code.

The CPUC is evaluating alternative-fueled vehicle policies to ensure California’s investor-owned electric utilities are prepared for the projected statewide growth of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles throughout California, per Senate Bill 626 (Kehoe, Chapter 355, Statutes of 2009).

The CPUC’s actions today provide clarity regarding the CPUC’s regulatory role in the market for electric vehicle charging services. The CPUC’s decision finds that the sale of electric vehicle charging services to the public does not make a corporation or person a public utility solely because of that sale, ownership, or operation. The decision also identifies ways in which the CPUC can exercise its regulatory authority to ensure that electric vehicle charging occurs in manner that is consistent with the capabilities of the electric grid.

Since providing electric vehicle charging services does not make an entity a public utility, an electric vehicle charging service provider will generally be an end-use customer of a CPUC-jurisdictional (i.e., regulated) load-serving entity. A charging service provider that is connecting to the transmission or distribution system of an investor-owned utility will, at the very least, be a retail transmission and distribution customer of the utility, the CPUC noted. The charging service provider’s load-serving entity could be the investor-owned utility, and electricity service provider, or a community choice aggregator.

One aspect of the current decision is that if a provider of electric vehicles charging services attempts to procure electricity on the wholesale market, rather than purchasing electricity from a load-serving entity (e.g., a regulated public utility), the charging provider’s purchase of electricity will constitute a “direct transaction” and will be subject to all the obligations and limitations that apply to direct transactions.

In other words, it is illegal for an electric vehicle charging services provider to procure electricity on the wholesale market if the entity selling the power has not complied with the procurement requirements that apply to the utilities. The Commission will exercise its authority in the area of electric vehicle charging to ensure the law is complied with.

July 29, 2010 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Gevo Produces Isobutanol, Hydrocarbons and Renewable Jet Fuel from Cellulosic Biomass

Gevo’s production process. Click to enlarge.

Gevo, a privately held renewable chemicals and advanced biofuels company (earlier post), has successfully produced isobutanol from fermentable sugars derived from cellulosic biomass. The company also successfully converted the cellulosic isobutanol into isobutylene and paraffinic kerosene (jet fuel).

The production of isobutanol from cellulosic biomass is the subject of a previously announced $1.8 million award from the US Department of Energy and Agriculture’s Biomass R&D Program. The grant supports the ongoing development of a cellulosic biocatalyst that Gevo exclusively licensed from Cargill.

Gevo uses synthetic biology and metabolic engineering to develop biocatalysts (fermentation organisms) to make only isobutanol via fermentation at high concentrations—i.e., without the typical expression co-products. The initial generation biocatalyst operates on fermentable sugars from grain crops, sugar cane and sugar beets. Gevo has already produced renewable gasoline and jet fuel that meet or exceed all ASTM specifications.

The company is now developing a new generation of biocatalysts that can use the mixed sugars from biomass to produce cellulosic isobutanol.

To operate its fermentation at optimum conditions for the organism, and within the process conditions found in ethanol plants, Gevo developed a novel separation technology. The solution uses a process innovation for continuous separation of the isobutanol—which in high concentrations inhibits the growth of microorganisms—as it is produced.

Today’s announcement demonstrates Gevo’s progress in making its biocatalyst viable for use in cellulosic biorefineries. As the cellulosic ethanol industry becomes operational, companies could have the option to produce isobutanol instead of ethanol.

—Dr. Patrick Gruber, CEO of Gevo

Isobutanol is a four-carbon alcohol that can function as a “drop-in” platform chemical with broad applications in the product of approximately 40% of petrochemicals and 100% of hydrocarbon fuels. It can be used directly for a solvent and can be dehydrated with known processes into isobutylene, a raw material for plastics and fiber. Gevo believes its isobutanol will provide a route to the renewable production of rubber, polypropylene, polystyrene, and PET.

High-level process schematic for hydrocarbons from isobutanol. Source: Gevo. Click to enlarge.

Hydrocarbon fuels from biomass via isobutanol. The chemistry to convert isobutanol to a variety of hydrocarbon fuels molecules is simple and well known—the dehydration of isobutanol to isobutylene and the subsequent oligomerization of isobutylene to hydrocarbon fuels. Isobutylene oligomerization is practiced in refineries today on a mixed olefin stream. The process technology for converting isobutanol to hydrocarbons is low-energy input and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 85.%

Fuels from isobutanol. Source: Gevo. Click to enlarge.

What’s new is the cost-effective production and purification of isobutanol from biomass. Gevo projects that the cash operating cost for its hydrocarbon fuel is competitive with $65 per barrel crude oil (without incentives).

Isobutanol can also be used directly as a gasoline blendstock and as a building block in the production of hydrocarbons found in petroleum-derived gasoline, jet and diesel fuels.

Gevo was founded in 2005 by Drs. Frances Arnold, Matthew Peters and Peter Meinhold of the California Institute of Technology. The company is focused on the development of advanced biofuels and renewable chemicals based on isobutanol and its derivatives using engineered microbes.

In 2009, oil and gas major Total has invested an undisclosed amount in Gevo’s series D financing round. (Earlier post.)


July 29, 2010 in Aviation, Bio-hydrocarbons, Biobutanol, Biomass, Fuels | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack

Clean Cities Autogas Vehicle Conversion Program Rolls Out First of 1,189 LPG Cars in Virginia

The first vehicle converted to propane Autogas under the Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program is on the road, with thirty more program vehicles slated to be running on Autogas by the end of August.

Administered by Virginia Clean Cities at James Madison University, the program will deploy nearly 1,200 propane Autogas vehicles, reducing air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, soot and smog-causing emissions when compared to traditional gasoline vehicles.

Arlington, Va.-based Red Top Cab provided the first vehicle for conversion under the program.

The founding partners of Alliance AutoGas—a national propane Autogas vehicle conversion and fueling network—are closely involved with the program. Blossman Gas (the nation’s largest independent propane Autogas company) will install and service the fueling stations, and American Alternative Fuel (alternative fuel systems specialists) will provide the conversion equipment and work with participating fleets to train and certify their technicians. The program’s first conversion was performed by American Alternative Fuel at Baker Equipment in Richmond, Va.

The Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program is supported by funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the US Department of Energy’s Clean Cities Program. The program is managed and administered by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and Virginia Clean Cities at James Madison University. The project includes partnerships throughout the Southeast—from Maryland to Florida to Louisiana—including public and private fleet organizations, non-profits, government stakeholders, and several major alternative energy and manufacturing companies in the alternative fuel market.

July 29, 2010 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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