Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Mitsubishi Introduces New Concept-EZ MIEV

As promised (see previous post), Mistubishi unveiled their Concept-EZ MIEV (Mistubishi In-wheel Electric Vehicle) at the 76th Geneva International Motor Show which started today. The new all-electric 4WD concept vehicle takes advantage of the compact nature of the MIEV architecture to deliver a compact mono-box design with a very roomy interior that comfortably seats five adults.

The Concept-EZ comes on the heels of the equally acronym-happy Concept-CT MIEV, a series-parallel hybrid introduced at the Detroit Auto Show in January. The Concept-EZ showcases an all-electric application of the company’s MIEV architecture for next-generation electric and hybrid vehicles using in-wheel motors and a high energy-density lithium-ion battery system as core technologies.

The EZ is driven by four 20 kW in-wheel motors delivering a combined maximum output of 107 hp (80 kW) and combined torque of 1,600 Nm. The use of the in-wheel motor also allows for a “wheel-at-a-corner” layout for high-stability road-hugging, accoring to Green Car Congress.

The lithium-ion battery system has an output of 24 kW and weighs 150 kg. The battery back is mounted under the floor and the lack of absence of a centerline powertrain due to the MIEV design allows the Concept-EZ to provide a roomy interior despite its compact exterior. According to GCC, the EZ also provides three seating arrangements:

  • Lounge mode: A conference room-like space with the seats arranged in a circle.

  • Transport mode: Luggage space with the rear seats stowed under the floor.

  • Driving mode: Appropriate for normal driving conditions, spacious and comfortable seating for five adults.

  • [Image: The MIEV EZ in 'lounge mode']

    The Concept-EZ accelerates from 0–100 km/h in 11 seconds, and has a cruising range of 120 km (75 miles) with a maximum speed of 150 km/h (93 mph).

    The Concept-EZ is the fourth MIEV vehicle Mitsubishi has developed, starting first with the Colt EV in the spring of 2005, followed by the Lancer Evolution and then the Concept-CT. See this previous post for more on Mitsu's MIEV architecture.

    [A hat tip to Green Car Congress]

    Read more!

    Monday, February 27, 2006

    Offshore Wind Power in the U.S. Threatened - Please Act Now

    As many of you may already know, the development of offshore wind power in the United States is in danger. Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) has started a 'backdoor' legislative effort to restrict the development of offshore wind in the U.S., including the proposed Cape Wind Project.

    According to Renewable Energy Access, Congressman Young is seeking to attach an amendment to the Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill scheduled to be discussed in Conference Committee as early as this week. As REA points out, the stated purpose of a Conference Committee is to "resolve differences" between House and Senate Bills, not to introduce entirely new provisions that were not reviewed by either chamber, as is happening in this case. Amendments attached in Conference Committee are difficult to remove as both chambers tend to give important spending bills clearing the Committee an "up or down" vote with no changes.

    The Young Ammendment would ban offshore wind farms within 1.5 nautical miles (1.15 statute miles = 1 nautical mile) of a shipping channel or ferry route. The required buffer zone between offshore oil and gas rigs and shipping lanes is only 500 feet, by comparison. According to REA, the entire justification offered for Young's 1.5-mile ban is a recent report in the United Kingdom that identifies an approach on how the possible marine navigation radar risks potentially posed by offshore wind farms should be reviewed. The current UK approach, however, calls for a buffer zone of only 500 meters, about one-third a nautical mile. Additionally, the UK approach smartly rejects a "one size fits all" solution and leaves siting permits for offshore wind farms up to the UK Coast Guard to evaluate each project beyond 500 meters on a case-by-case basis.

    An article today in the Cape Cod Times presents a pretty balanced look at the proposed ammendment. As the article points out:

    "Like most debate swirling around Cape Wind's 130-turbine proposal, the impact of the project on navigation depends mainly on whom you ask. With no precedent in the United States, even those who ply these waters for a living disagree."
    While the two largest ferry service providers on the Cape Cod islands support the Young's efforts, other veteran pilots in the area disagree, calling the predicted risks overstated, and the proposed restrictions unwarranted.

    ''The area they're proposing the turbines, the ships don't go in there anyway,'' said Larry Palmer, 59, a veteran captain and senior pilot with the Northeast Marine Pilot's Association. ''The only thing that the wind farm is going to do,'' he said, ''is provide a good aide from which to navigate.''

    With no precedent for offshore wind farms in the United States, it makes sense to look to Europe where they are now becoming common place and have years of real evidence to be examined. As mentioned above, Young claims that his ammendment is drawn directly from regulations in the UK, a claim that the Cape Cod Times reprinted. According to REA, this claim is misleading and innacurate as Young's proposal more than quadruples the size of the UK buffer zone. However, it appears that REA may be mistaken as the Times reports that a draft of new guidelines from the British Coast Guard has suggested that wind farms greater than 2 nautical miles from a shipping lane are ''tolerable.'' Inside 1½ miles, however, the agency reports that the projects may interfere with radar and require ''very close scrutiny.'' The British Chamber of Shipping has reportedly urged that future projects be delayed until guidelines are set.

    According to the Times, Cape Wind supporters insist the lesson from Great Britain is that each proposal should be considered on its own merits . ''They explicitly reject a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach,'' Rodgers said of British policy.

    On this point, the U.S. Coast Guard seems to be in complete agreement. 'We didn't comment on the distance, so much as the fact that we'd rather it be less prescriptive,'' said Mike Sollosi, chief of the Office of Navigational Systems with the Coast Guard. In other words, the Coast Guard is concerned about imposing a blanket provision that applies to all projects. ''I'm not saying that 1½ miles is wrong,'' Sollosi said. ''I'm just saying we don't know if it's right or wrong.'' Accoring to the Times, Sollosi also called the UK regulations a bit too specific.

    Leaving the authority to judge siting requests on a case by case basis with the experts at the Coast Guard, rather than in the hands of a congressman from Alaska seems to make perfect sense to me.

    Additionally, Young's proposed restrictions brush aside all evidence from Denmark who have been pioneers in offshore wind development. As REA points out, an offshore wind farm near Copenhagen sits only .25 nautical miles from an extremely busy shipping lane, and another offshore wind farm in the Baltic Sea is located one nautical mile from the main channel that connects the Baltic Sea with the North Sea. These and other Danish offshore wind farms have had no reports of any problems with sea navigation, according to REA.

    Finally, as Greenpeace points out, the Young Ammendment conflicts with the congressional intent of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The Energy Policy Act directs the Secretary of Interior to develop, in consultation with the Coast Guard and other agencies, “any necessary regulations.” The ammendment undermines that process, which has only just begun.

    The Young Ammendment seems to specifically target the proposed Cape Wind project. According to the Cape Cod Times, Young's amendment would doom the Cape project. ''It would remove a substantial area of Horseshoe Shoal from being able to have wind turbines,'' said Mark Rodgers, a Cape Wind spokesman. ''It would no longer be economically viable to build.'' Cape Wind officials insist Young's navigation restriction is unnecessary, according to the Times. Ninety percent of the project would be built in waters shallower than 30 feet, they say.

    ''I could not be more convinced that this amendment is clearly excessive,'' said Richard Elrick (as quoted in the Times), a 20-year maritime veteran on the sound and former Hy-Line captain. ''You are much more likely to run aground than hit a turbine.''

    It's also interesting to note that the Young Amendment was first reported in an article in the Congressional Quarterly on December 5, at which point Young's office denied its existence and called Cape Wind "paranoid," according to REA. In subsequent media reports, Young's office mostly refused public comment or said little about what he was trying to do. It thus appears that Young is not only attempting to go through backdoor legislative methods, he and his office also actively attempted to conceal their efforts, even going to far, it appears, as to lie about their plans.

    I would strongly urge you to take action to oppose Young's ammendment and show your support for offshore wind development in the United States. We are already lagging far behind much of the rest of the world in this department and Young's ammendments would only provide further setbacks. Take action now with True Majory and/or Greenpeace or call or write the following senators and representatives who sit on the Conference Committee:

    Senators: Daniel Inouye (if you live in HI); Frank Lautenberg (NJ); Gordon Smith (OR); Maria Cantwell (WA); Olympia Snowe (ME); Ted Stevens (AK); Trent Lott (MS).

    Representatives: Young (AK), LoBiondo, Coble, Hoekstra, Simmons, Diaz-Balart, M., Boustany, Oberstar, Filner, Taylor (MS), Higgins, Schwartz (PA); Barton (TX), Gillmor, Dingell, Lungren, Daniel E., Reichert, Thompson (MS), Pombo, Jones (NC), and Pallone.

    Read more!

    Wednesday, February 22, 2006

    News From My Backyard: OSU Researchers Develop Chemical Biodiesel Microreactor

    Researchers at my sister university up north are at it again: Chemical engineering researchers at Oregon State University have developed a tiny new microreactor for biodiesel production that promises to be efficient, fast and portable, according to articles at Green Car Congress (GCC) and the Salem StatesmanJournal. The OSU researchers are now looking for partners to commercialize the microreactor.

    The microreactor, developed in association with the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI), consists of a series of parallel channels, each smaller than a human hair, through which vegetable oil and alcohol are pumped simultaneously, according to GCC. At that tiny scale, the chemical reaction that converts the oil into biodiesel is extremely rapid, almost instantaneous, according to the StatesmanJournal.

    According to Goran Jovanovic, the OSU Chemical Engineering professor who developed the microreactor:

    "This could be as important an invention as the mouse for your PC. If we’re successful with this, nobody will ever make biodiesel any other way.

    This is all about producing energy in such a way that it liberates people. Most people think large-scale, central production of energy is cheaper, because we’ve been raised with that paradigm. But distributed energy production means you can use local resources—farmers can produce all the energy they need from what they grow on their own farms.

    The challenge is that we’re trying to change a paradigm, moving from centrally-produced energy to distributed energy production, and that’s not easy. But wind and solar energy technologies faced difficulties in their early days. And we’re coming to a place in history where we cannot tolerate the growing uncertainty of petroleum-based energy supplies."

    According to GCC, conventional biodiesel production methods involve dissolving a catalyst, such as sodium hydroxide, in alcohol, then agitating the alcohol mixture with vegetable oil in large vats for two hours. The liquid then sits while a slow chemical reaction occurs, creating biodiesel and glycerin. The glycerin is then seperated and can be used to make soaps, but first the catalyst in it must be neutralized and removed using hydrochloric acid.

    The new microreactors developed at OSU can produce biodiesel between 10 and 100 times faster than traditional methods, according to Prof. Jovanovic. Jovanovic is also reportedly developing a method for coating the microchannels with a non-toxic metallic catalyst, making the process even more environmentally friendly. This would also eliminate the need for the dissolved chemical catalyst, making the production process even simpler.

    Although the amount of biodiesel produced from a single microreactor is a trickle, the reactors can be connected and stacked in banks to increase production. According to Jovanovic, an array of microreactors the size of a small suitcase could produce hundreds of thousands of gallons per year.

    Jovanovic is looking to partner with a new or existing company in order to commercialize the technology through the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute at ONAMI. ONAMI is a collaboration involving Oregon’s three public research universities - OSU, Portland State University and the University of Oregon [which I attend] - as well as the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., the state of Oregon and the regional business community.

    There seems to be quite a lot of exciting research going on up at OSU on biodiesel and biohydrogen production. I reported last month on a new "microbial fuel cell" also being developed at OSU that uses organic material in wastewater to generate electricity or hydrogen while also cleaning the wastewater. OSU is also at work exploring the use of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, in biohydrogen production. This project was funded by a $900,000 DOE grant awarded to OSU's Department of Bioengineering last October. What other goodies will come out of OSU's research programs I wonder?

    If this new microcreactor array can be succesfully commercialized at a competitive price, it could enable dozens of small-scale on-site biorefineries to pop up at farms, restaurants and other small businesses that produce waste oil, enabling these businesses to supplement their income by producing and marketing biodiesel from what was previously considered a waste poduct. The total amount of biodiesel that could be produced from such waste oils would still only offset a very small percentage of our total petroleum use, but as much of this wase oil that can be utilized, the better.

    This method of biodiesel production is clearly simpler than the traditional process, but I wonder how its efficiency compares to other methods. I would hope that it is also more efficient at converting vegetable oils into biodiesel, but I am not sure at this point.

    Finally, Green Car Congress also reported this week about a Utah-based start-up company called Domestic Energy Partners that claims to have developed another simplified process for the production of biodiesel from virgin or waste oil. Their process will reportedly support systems that produce as much as 2.25 million gallons per year or as little as needed for a single home. DEP offers very little information about their process so it is unclear if they are using a similar method as the OSU microreactors (or if a patent conflict may come up). Regardless, it seems that we will be seeing simplified biodiesel production methods reaching market soon which could further accelerate the use of biodiesel, which is already growing at a rapid rate, having tripled during 2005.

    Read more!

    Tuesday, February 21, 2006

    Suggested Reading: Driving the Solution - the Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle (EPRI)

    I would highly recommend that anyone interested in an excellent introduction to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles read the article, "Driving the Solution: the Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle," published in the Fall 2005 edition of the Electric Power Research Institute's journal.

    EPRI is working with DaimlerChrysler AG on the what will likely be the first commercially available plug-in hybrid, a PHEV version of their popular Dodge Sprinter van (see previous post). As you probably know, I am a strong proponent of of plug-in hybrids as be a near-term solution to dramatically decrease our petroleum addiction and shift much of our transportation energy demand to electricity which in turn opens the possibilty of fueling our transport fleet with a variety of domestical energy sources including renewables (wind, solar, biomass, geothermal).

    Plug-ins hydrids combine the best of electric vehicles and ICEs - i.e. an efficient zero-emission electric only mode with the extended driving range of an ICE - and I highly suggest reading the EPRI article if you are interested in learning more about this exciting technology. (I've also discussed the incredible potential of plug-ins (and full electric vehicles) before here).

    [Graphics from "Driving the Solution: the Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle", EPRI Journal, Fall 2005]

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    Bush Discusses Energy Plans - Outlines Proposals to Help Wean U.S. Off Oil Addiction

    Yahoo News reports that President Bush delivered another address on Monday discussing his energy plans. Saying the nation is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that would "startle" most Americans, President Bush used a two-day trip to energy-related locations to outline his energy proposals to help wean the country off foreign oil.

    On Monday, the President paid a visit to a solar manufacturer, United Solar Ovonic (see picture), in Auburn Hills Michigan and the battery center of Milwaukee-based auto-parts supplier Johnson Controls Inc. Bush plans to round out his trip by visiting the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado on Tuesday.

    Echoing his remarks on energy during the State of the Union address (see previous post), the President pointed out that less than half the crude oil used by U.S. refineries is produced in the United States, while 60 percent comes from foreign nations. Some of these foreign suppliers have "unstable" governments that have fundamental differences with America, he said.

    The article continues:

    Bush is focusing on energy at a time when Americans are paying high power bills to heat their homes this winter and have only recently seen a decrease in gasoline prices.

    One of Bush's proposals would expand research into smaller, longer-lasting batteries for electric-gas hybrid cars, including plug-ins. He highlighted that initiative with a visit Monday to the battery center at Milwaukee-based auto-parts supplier Johnson Controls Inc.

    During his trip, Bush is also focusing on a proposal to increase investment in development of clean electric power sources, and proposals to speed the development of biofuels such as "cellulosic" ethanol made from wood chips or sawgrass.

    Energy conservation groups and environmentalists say they're pleased that the president, a former oil man in Texas, is stressing alternative sources of energy, but they contend his proposals don't go far enough. They say the administration must consider greater fuel-efficiency standards for cars, and some economists believe it's best to increase the gas tax to force consumers to change their driving habits.

    During his visit to Johnson Controls' new hybrid battery laboratory, Bush checked out two Ford Escapes — one with a nickel-metal-hybrid battery, the kind that powers most hybrid-electric vehicles, and one with a lithium-ion battery, which Johnson Controls believes are the wave of the future. The lithium-ion battery was about half the size of the older-model battery. In 2004, Johnson Controls received a government contract to develop the lithium-ion batteries.

    On Tuesday, Bush plans to visit the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., to talk about speeding the development of biofuels.

    The lab, with a looming $28 million budget shortfall, had announced it was cutting its staff by 32 people, including eight researchers. But in advance of Bush's visit, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman over the weekend directed the transfer of $5 million to the private contractor that runs the lab, so the jobs can be saved.

    The department "has been informed that the NREL lab director will use these funds to immediately restore all of the jobs that were cut earlier this month due to budget shortfalls," the department said in a statement Monday.

    "Our nation is on the threshold of new energy technology that I think will startle the American people," Bush said. "We're on the edge of some amazing breakthroughs — breakthroughs all aimed at enhancing our national security and our economic security and the quality of life of the folks who live here in the United States."

    Later Monday, Bush visited the United Solar Ovonic plant, which makes solar panels, in Auburn Hills, Mich., outside Detroit. "This technology right here is going to help us change the way we live in our homes," Bush told reporters.

    Bush said he was impressed with the growing commercial uses of solar energy.

    "Roof makers will one day be able to make a solar roof that protects you from the elements and at the same time, powers your house," Bush said. "The vision is this — that technology will become so efficient that you'll become a little power generator in your home, and if you don't use the energy you generate you'll be able to feed it back into the electricity grid."

    Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., questioned Bush's energy policies Monday, saying the administration also supports subsidies for luxury SUVs.

    "This single tax subsidy dwarfs anything being done for hybrid batteries," Markey said in a news release.

    As a complement to Bush's travels, six Cabinet officials are crisscrossing the nation this week, appearing at more than two dozen energy events in more than a dozen states.

    This article presents a pretty balanced review of the President's new energy proposals. As I pointed out in my analysis of Bush's State of the Union remarks on energy, while these new energy initiatives are certainly a step in the right direction, they are hardly bold, nor do they completely forgive lack of leadership on this issue in the past or the administration's continued hypocracies - as Rep Markley points out, how can we take the President seriously when he says he wants to lead the country away from our oil addiction while he continues to subsidies the purchase of SUVs or while he says nothing about raising fuel efficiency standards or implementing a gas tax, probably the two most effective measures that could be taken to promote conservation and efficiency and wheen our nation off of oil?

    I'm glad the article focuses on the funding issues for the National Renewable Energy Lab as well. It's great to see NREL get its funding back, but it is also important to remember that $28 million of Bush's Advanced Energy Initiative (AEI) budget requests go to simply reinstating the previous budget cuts to the NREL. Incidentally, that $28 million is almost as much as the total budget devoted to advanced battery research ($30 million), and dwarfs the increase in funds to that research due to the AEI ($5 million).

    This also points out how little Bush's initiative is really doing to promote plug-in hybrids, despite all the talk - the talk certainly doesn't hurt, but in the end, a $5 million increase to advanced battery research is chump change compared to other budget items including research spent on the still-far-off hydrogen economy - Bush called for a $53 million increase in funding for hydrogen research, ten times what he has devoted to batteries. Let's not even start comparing AEI spending to the cost of the Iraq War...

    Finally, Bush used his latest national radio address last friday to discuss the nuclear component of his energy proposals. Heiko has coverage of the address here

    [Another hat tip to Jenny]

    Read more!

    Sunday, February 12, 2006

    News From My Backyard: Renewable Fuel Standard Passes Washington State House

    Green Car Congress reports today that the Washington State House of Representatives has just passed a new renewable fuel standard (HB 2738) that mandates a 2% minimum annual sales of biodiesel within that state, and a minimum 2% ethanol content for all gasoline sold in the state.

    According to GCC, the legislature opted for the 2% sales standard for biodiesel rather than mandating 2% content in all diesel sold (as they did with ethanol) out of concerns for possible fuel quality issues such as those that occurred in Minnesota following that state’s enactment of a 2% biodiesel content requirement for all diesel.

    The article continues:

    The bill is designed to boost in-state production of renewable fuels, and the bill ratchets up the minimums once the state has the proven ability to meet lower tier biodiesel and ethanol requirements. For biodiesel, the sales requirement climbs to 5%; for ethanol, the minimum content climbs to 10%.

    The bill also calls for the adoption of ASTM, NIST and federal biodiesel fuel quality standards. If a conflict exists between federal environmental protection agency standards, ASTM 14 standards, or NIST standards, the federal environmental protection agency standards take precedence.

    The bill provides for the establishment of a fuel testing laboratory (or a contract with a third-party lab) as well as an advisory committee to advise on implementing or suspending the minimum renewable 32 fuel content requirements.

    If passed by the Senate, the requirements would take effect 1 December 2008.

    I suppose this is good news - a step in the right direction at least. I would have hoped that the bill included some focus on research to develop cellulosic ethanol or Fischer-Tropsch biofuels though. Ethanol from corn and biodiesel from soy have relatively poor energy return on investments compared to cellulosic ethanol and FT-biofuels and I would hope that in the longterm, the use of biofuels in the United States is dominated by fuels from these more efficient processes.

    Washington (and Oregon for that matter) should be paying attention to this report released recently from a Maine non-profit that found that half of Maine's energy needs could be met by forest waste biomass alone.

    And speaking of states whose major city is Portland, an initiative similar to Washington's biofuels bill is moving through the initiative process here in Oregon as well, heading for the November, 2006 ballot. The new initiative, dubbed the "New Energy for Oregon" campaign, calls for an 8% renewable fuels standard by 2010 (rising over time) and tax breaks for Oregon farmers growing biofuel feedstocks as well as the establishment of seven research centers for alternative fuels and renewable energy across the state. More on the Oregon initiative coming soon...

    Read more!

    Saturday, February 11, 2006

    God Is On Our Side ...

    ... or at least 86 evangelical Christian leaders are.

    The New York Times reports that 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, saying "millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors."

    Among signers of the statement, which was released in Washington on Wednesday, are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, like the Salvation Army, and pastors of megachurches, including Rick Warren (pictured above), author of the best seller "The Purpose-Driven Life," according to the Times.

    The article continues:

    "For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority," the statement said. "Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough."

    The statement calls for federal legislation that would require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through "cost-effective, market-based mechanisms" — a phrase lifted from a Senate resolution last year and one that could appeal to evangelicals, who tend to be pro-business. The statement, to be announced in Washington, is only the first stage of an "Evangelical Climate Initiative" including television and radio spots in states with influential legislators, informational campaigns in churches, and educational events at Christian colleges.

    "We have not paid as much attention to climate change as we should, and that's why I'm willing to step up," said Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton College, an influential evangelical institution in Illinois. "The evangelical community is quite capable of having some blind spots, and my take is this has fallen into that category."

    According to the Times, several influential evangelical leader's opposed the statement and tried to derail any action on the Climate Initiative. Twenty-two of them apparently signed a letter in January declaring, "Global warming is not a consensus issue." The letter was sent to the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group of churches and ministries, which last year had started to move in the direction of taking a stand on global warming, and asked the the association not to issue any statement on global warming or to allow its officers or staff members to take a position.

    Still, the list of those who did support the initiative includes many influential and centrist Evangelical leaders. As the Rev. Jim Ball, executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network said:
    "It's a very centrist evangelical list, and that was intentional. When people look at the names, they're going to say, this is a real solid group here. These leaders are not flighty, going after the latest cause. And they know they're probably going to take a little flak."

    The list of intiative supporters also includes several prominent black leaders including Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr. of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles, the Rev. Floyd Flake of the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral in New York City, and Bishop Wellington Boone of the Father's House and Wellington Boone Ministries in Norcross, Ga.; as well as Hispanic leaders like the Rev. Jesse Miranda, president of AMEN in Costa Mesa, Calif, according to the Times.

    The article continues:
    The evangelical leaders are meeting Wednesday with senators or their staff members concerned with legislation on energy and the environment. Their letter commends senators who last year passed a resolution by Senators Pete V. Domenici, a Republican, and Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat, both of New Mexico, which called for regulatory measures like a cap and trade program, a system in which industries would buy or trade permits to emit greenhouse gases.

    In their statement, the evangelicals praised companies like BP, Shell, General Electric, Cinergy, Duke Energy and DuPont that it said "have moved ahead of the pace of government action through innovative measures" to reduce emissions.

    The television spot links images of drought, starvation and Hurricane Katrina to global warming. In it, the Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of a megachurch in Longwood, Fla., says: "As Christians, our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to love our neighbors and to be stewards of God's creation. The good news is that with God's help, we can stop global warming, for our kids, our world and for the Lord."

    The advertisements are to be shown in Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Virginia.

    The Evangelical Climate Initiative, at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars, is being supported by individuals and foundations, including the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Hewlett Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation.

    The initiative is one indication of a growing urgency about climate change among religious groups, said Paul Gorman, executive director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, a clearinghouse in Amherst, Mass., for environmental initiatives by religious groups.

    Interfaith climate campaigns in 15 states are pressing for regional standards to reduce greenhouse gases, Mr. Gorman said. Jewish, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox leaders also have campaigns under way.

    These are very influential people whose opinions sway those of thousands of normal Americans. To have them throw their support behind climate change mitigation may go along way towards shifting the mindset of Joe and Jane Average towards believing that climate change is a real issue that deserves attention from thair political leaders. After all, it's getting attention from their spiritual leaders.

    Read more!

    Wednesday, February 08, 2006

    Buy a Hybrid, Save a Hummer - Hybrid Vehicles and CAFE

    A New York Times article today brought up a very interesting subtlety to growing hybrid car sales that perfectly highlights the need for tighter fuel economy standards in the U.S.: given the structure of current federal CAFE fuel economy standards, each hybrid vehicle sale means a free pass to sell one more gas guzzler.

    Congress set the first minimum corporate average fuel economy, known as CAFE, for all carmakers back in 1978. This new requirement meant that the total average fuel economy for all vehicles sold by that automaker had to exceed the minimum standard set by the law. Different standards were developed for cars and light trucks (paving the way for the existence of the SUV!). Today, the minimum average for cars is 27.5 miles a gallon and for S.U.V.'s and other light trucks, it's 21.6.

    Because there is no minimum fuel economy standard for individual vehicles and CAFE works instead by setting standards for the average of all cars (and light trucks) sold by the automaker, the sales of gas guzzlers have to be offset by sales of efficient vehicles. Here's where the hybrids come in:

    "YOU can guess what this means for hybrids. Each one becomes a free pass for its manufacturer to sell a few extra gas guzzlers. For now, this is less true for Toyota's cars, because they're above the mileage requirement. But Toyota's trucks and the American automakers are right near the limits. So every Toyota Highlander hybrid S.U.V. begets a hulking Lexus S.U.V., and every Ford Escape — the hybrid S.U.V. that Kermit the Frog hawked during the Super Bowl — makes room for a Lincoln Navigator, which gets all of 12 miles a gallon. Instead of simply saving gas when you buy a hybrid, you're giving somebody else the right to use it."

    This situation perfectly highlights the need for serious policy measures to encourage fuel efficiency. Even with hybrid sales booming, given our current policy set-up to encourage fuel efficiency - i.e. CAFE - it will do little to decrease national fuel consumption assuming automakers take advantage of CAFE's set-up to simply sell more Hummers and Escalades (BTW, it now makes a lot more sense to me why GM and Ford have been focusing on hybrid SUVs and have been slow to release a hybrid sedan or compact).

    What we clearly need is to seriously revamp CAFE or eliminate it altogether in favor of other policies.

    A start would be to suplement the CAFE requirement with a true minimum standard for fuel economy for various weight classes or vehicle types. In fact, this is exactly what China has been doing (excerpt previous post here):
    The new Five Year Plan involves the adoption of stricter vehicle fuel-efficiency standards. The standards are not as strict as the semi-voluntary standards that the auto industry has adopted in Europe but are higher than those in the United States (much to our embarrasment). According to an analysis by the US PIRG, "China’s new fuel economy standards require 32 different car and truck weight-based classes to achieve between 19 and 38 mpg by 2005, and between 21 and 43 mpg by 2008." Unlike the US standards which mandate that an average of automobiles produced in a particular weight class meet the targets, China's standards present a minimum fuel economy that all cars produced in that class must meet. According to the US PIRG, "In China, if the automobiles do not meet the prescribed standards, they simply cannot be sold."

    Now doesn't a standard that sets a reasonable minimum fuel economy for each weight class make much more sense than CAFE which allows progress on the leading end of each weight class implicitly condones regression on the tail end of the weight class. I would of course favor a strict minimum as well that became progressively higher as time goes on to encourage continued innovation and improvements in fuel economy.

    An alternative to reworking CAFE and mileage standards would simply be to levy a tax that discourages the use of gas-guzzlers. A hefty gas tax comes immediately to mind but again, we can look to China for other alternatives (again, this is an excerpt from my previous post):
    In addition to the efficiency standards, China has impemented a new Vehicle Tax Policy which imposes a levee of 1 percent on smaller-engine vehicles, but up to 20 percent on larger-engine vehicles, to discourage their use.
    (Contrast China's policy with the US which offers tax incentives to encourage business owners to buy the largest SUVs). The idea with either of these is to 'allow' people to buy whatever car they want but to make it financially worth their while to purchase more efficient vehicles. (And just to hedge off some typical 'gas tax is evil' arguments: the tax would be a significant source of revenue that could be used to lower other taxes like payroll and income taxes so as to mitigate the regressive nature of gas taxes; also, to avoid the disasterous increase in price for transporting goods, an exemption to the gas tax could be made for truckers, etc.)

    I would personally suggest a combination of the two. If we are truly serious about reducing our oil consumption, targeting transportation with an aggressive combination of gradually increasing CAFE standards with a minimum mileage standard and a hefty gas tax to encourage conservation and efficiency would truly make a sizable dent in our oil consumption.

    Ultimately, as the example of hybrids and their affect on CAFE regulations illustrates, we clearly need to do something new - the status quo just isn't cutting it.

    [A hat tip to Jenny]

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    Monday, February 06, 2006

    Bringing Home the Effects of Global Warming - New Study Finds that Kentucky Bourbon May Be Global Warming's Latest Victim

    That's right, you'd better drink up your Kentucky bourbon, 'cause it might not last. The National Resource Defense Council's OnEarth Magazine reports that if a recent study conducted for the Commonwealth of Kentucky is correct, global warming may soon make it impossible to produce good Kentucky bourbon - at least in Kentucky.

    NRDC reports that according to the study's author, Mike Jones, a researcher at American University, a bourbon's distinctive Kentucky flavor comes from the seasonal warming and cooling of the whiskey during its aging. This is done in white oak barrels that have been "toasted" in order to caramelize the sugars in the wood and then charred on the inside to impart flavor to the whiskey during storage. "When the temperature rises in the summer, the bourbon expands," Jones says, "and with lower temperatures in the winter, it contracts. This movement gives the bourbon its amber color and oak flavor."

    Producers consider these temperature variations so critical that during the course of their storage, barrels are shifted from the lower racks in the warehouse to the upper racks. The temperature sensitivity is also part of the reason that federal law states that unless your whiskey is made from a mash containing 51 percent to 79 percent corn and produced and stored for at least one of its two years of aging in Kentucky, you can't call it Kentucky bourbon (the other part being intense lobbying from Kentuckians who have a long history of fighting for their bourbon).

    However, according to the study, the 3-degree Fahrenheit average temperature increase predicted for Kentucky over the next 100 years will mean less variation between winter and summer temperatures. The study's sorry conclusion: "In the future, global warming may affect the weather patterns which are essential in Kentucky for the aging process."

    If that doesn't bring home global warming to the masses, I'm not sure what will! You'd better start cutting back your carbon emissions folks - your driving's starting to affect your drinking.

    If we Pacific Northwesterners heard similar news about global warming threatening our local Cascade hops - the critical ingredient in many of our treasured local micro-brews - I can guarantee that we'd be up in arms in no time and mobalizing to fight global warming ... maybe this news will kick Kentuckians into gear too

    [A hat tip to Treehugger]

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    Sunday, February 05, 2006

    Mitsubishi to Unveil Another MIEV Concept at Geneva Auto Show

    Mitsubishi Motors will use the 76th annual Geneva International Motor Show later this month to unveil another new concept vehicle showcasing their innovative Mitsubishi In-wheel motor Electric Vehicle (MIEV) technology designed for the next generation of hybrid and electric vehicles, according to a Mitsu press release.

    The new concept, dubbed the Concept-EZ MIEV, is a full electric vehicle, unlike it's equally acronym-happy cousin, the Concept-CT MIEV which debuted at the Detroit Auto Show last month and features a series-parallel hybrid drivetrain.

    Mitsu's MIEV technology places ultra-compact electric motors inside the wheel-hub itself to provide traction for the vehicle (more on the MIEV design and development history in this previous post).

    Graphic: Exploded view of Mitsubishi's in-wheel electric motor

    Freed from the constraints of an internal combustion engine and drivetrain, the designers of the Concept-EZ took full advantage of the space saving aspect of the MIEV architecture to deliver a radical new design. The result is a compact mono-box vehicle with a low flat floor layout resulting in a roomy interior space and an interior height that matches that of a large mono-box model despite its relatively low overall height of 1.75 meters.

    According to IGN.com, the Concept-EZ's usable internal space has also been enhanced by the use of a retractable steering wheel, drive-by-wire technology and intelligent folding seats to create a space that's as equally adept at transporting passengers as it is providing them with an innovative and secure lounge area when they arrive.

    The Concept-EZ delivers four-wheel drive performance by placing a 20 kW (26.82 hp) in-wheel electric motor in each wheel for a combined power of 80 kW (107.28 hp). The electric motors are powered by a bank of next-generation lithium-ion batteries sandwitched under the flat floor of the vehicle.

    The Concept-EZ and Concept-CT illustrate the diverse applications of Mitsubishi's MIEV technology. The electric motors are suitable for use in any vehicle with an electric drivetrain including electric-dominant hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles, as well as fuel cell vehicles.

    Mitsubishi has now deployed its MIEV technology in a number of different concept vehicles and testbeds including the Concept EZ and CT as well as 2WD electric Colt hatchback and an all-electric Lancer Evolution 4WD MIEV that raced in the Shikoku EV Rally 2005 in Japan last year.

    Mitsubishi has said that it plans to bring an electric vehicle utilizing its MIEV technology to market in Japan by 2010.

    Read more!

    Saturday, February 04, 2006

    Bush Highlights Energy in State of the Union Address - Admits "America is addicted to oil"

    President Bush delivered his annual State of the Union Address this week [full text here]. A full four paragraphs and a whole 2 minutes and 15 seconds were devoted to discussing his energy policy proposals during which he openly recognized that "America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world."

    To address this issue, Bush proposed that the United States cut its oil imports from the Middle East by 75% by the year 2025. Announcing that "the best way to break this addiction is through technology," Bush used the speech to announce a new Advanced Energy Initiative - a 22 percent increase in clean-energy research.

    President Bush called for innovation in two key areas: energy generation and transporation. To address the former, Bush proposed increased investment "in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy." To address transporation, the President called for increased "research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen" as well as cellulosic ethanol. Bush called for "additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switch grass" and announced that it was his goal "to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years."

    Here are energy focused paragraphs of the speech:

    Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable alternative energy sources -- and we are on the threshold of incredible advances.

    So tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative -- a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research -- at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy. (Applause.)

    We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen. We'll also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years. (Applause.)

    Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. (Applause.) By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past. (Applause.)

    At first glance, this almost looks like leadership on energy policy finally coming from the federal government ... almost. Upon closer examination, however, Bush's new 'ambitious' Advanced Energy Initaitive isn't quite as exciting as you might have hoped.

    The 75% Solution

    First off, is a 75% reduction in imported oil from the Middle East really that bold a goal? In actuality, only 2 million barrels per day (bbl/d) or about 16% of the aproximately 12 million bbl/d of oil imported to the United States comes from the Middle East (the bulk actually comes from Canada, Mexico and Venezuela). So a 75% reduction in Middle Eastern oil only amounts to a 12% reduction in oil imports or about 1.5 million bbl/d. It amounts to an even smaller chunk of our total oil consumption, currently at just over 20 million bbl/d. At that level of oil thirst, Bush's '75%' figure amounts to just 7.5% of total oil consumption. That's hardly a bold "move beyond a petroleum-based economy."

    Now, don't get me wrong, 7.5% isn't nothing. It's at least moving in the right direction - our current course of (in)action has us heading towards an increase in oil consumption by 2025, not a decrease.

    Of course, 7.5% doesn't really compare to the full potential of some of the technologies Bush mentioned in his address, including cellulosic ethanol and biofuels, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles (and simple fuel efficiency which was conspicuously absent from Bush's speech).

    Additionally, specifying a 75% reduction in imports of Middle Eastern oil leaves the door open to simply shifting the imports to other countries so there's no guarantee we'll even see that 7.5% reduction in oil use.

    Of course, considering Peak Oil, we may not even be able to buy those 1.5 million bbl/d from the Middle East by 2025 anyway. As Byron King wrote for the Energy Bulletin, that 75% 'goal' may actually be more of a prophecy. Referencing Peak Oil concerns, King writes, "There is no way that the US will be importing as much oil from the Mideast in 2025 as it imports today. And there is no way that the nations of the Mideast will be exporting as much oil in 2025 as they are exporting today."

    Considering recent news about half of Kuwait's oil reserves 'vanishing' overnight and the prize oil fields of Middle Eastern nations reaching peak production, King may not be too far off. Interestingly enough, there was no mention of Peak Oil in Bush's address.

    Also, if reducing oil imports is our goal, then where was the mention of a gas tax - probably the most effective way to encourage conservation and efficiency. Of course conservation and efficiency - almost always the most cost effective and easy to implement solutions to reducing consumption - weren't mentioned either.

    And on a side note, what the heck does generating more power from clean coal, nuclear, wind and solar have to do with oil imports? This isn't the 1970s, Mr. Bush, when we used to burn plenty of oil for electricity generation. Now days, only 3% of our oil use goes to electricity generation while transportation accounts for over 2/3rds of total oil use. Unless you are proposing a complete transition to an electric vehicle fleet powered by clean domestic energy sources - now that would be real energy leadership - what do nukes have to do with oil? I think you meant to say that these technologies are crucial to mitigating the effects of global climate change ... oh wait, you didn't mention global climate change either ... my bad ...

    The Advanced Energy Initiative

    So what policy action is Mr. Bush proposing to achieve his 'bold' vision to "move [us] beyond a petroleum-based economy"? The short answer is, the Advanced Energy Initiative (AEI), a 22% increase in Deparment of Energy funding for a variety of clean energy generation and alternative transport fuel research programs.

    Green Car Congress breaks down the funding proposal nicely:

    Funding proposals to support the Advanced Energy Initiative in the President’s 2007 Budget will include:

  • $150 million—a $59-million increase (65%) over FY06—for the Biorefinery Initiative, the purpose of which is to help develop bio-based transportation fuels from agricultural waste products, such as wood chips, stalks, or switch grass.

  • $30 million—an increase of $6.7 million (29%) over FY06—to speed up battery development for hybrids and plug-in hybrids.

  • $289 million—an increase of $53 million (22%) over FY06—to accelerate the development of hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen-powered cars.

  • $281 million for the development of clean coal technologies. The President had committed $2 billion over 10 years to speed up research in the use of clean coal for power generation. The 2007 Budget request will nearly complete that $2-billion promise 4 years ahead of schedule, according to the White House.

  • $54 million for the FutureGen initiative—a public-private partnership to develop an emissions-free coal plant. (Earlier post.)

  • $148 million for a new Solar America Initiative—an increase of $65 million (78%) over FY06—to accelerate the development of solar photovoltaic cells.

  • $44 million for wind energy research—a $5-million increase (13%) over FY06 levels.

  • Here's how it breaks down graphically:

    So what do we have here? First, I'd like to point out that this is one of the first mentions in a major policy address by the president or anyone amongst the Republican leadership that I am aware of that highlights cellulosic ethanol and plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, perhaps the most promising short to midterm solutions to our oil addiction.

    However, let's look how the funding breaks down to see where the priorities of this initiative lie: on the alternative fuels end of things, hydrogen gets twice as much dough as biofuels and ten times as much funding as advanced battery research despite the fact that a commercializable hydrogen vehicle, much less the infrastructure to fuel it is still decades away. And on the electricity generation end of things, clean coal (including the FutureGen project) gets twice as much funding as solar research and nearly seven times more funding than wind.

    Now one might argue that because wind, solar, biofuels and batteries are such viable near term alternatives, they deserve less funding. We ought to put our research dollars to work on those technologies, like hydrogen, that still need a lot of work.

    This is a valid argument for hydrogen, I suppose, if you ultimately think that a hydrogen economy is our long-term goal (a view that is certainly open for debate at this point). However, if you believe that plug-in hybrids with their liquid fuel from cellulosic biofuels and their electricity from clean domestic power sources could do the same job as hydrogen in much less time using existing distribution infrastructures, you might counter that we ought to put our money in our best options and that the hydrogen funding is a waste of money ...

    Furthermore, unlike hydrogen, clean coal is not some far off technology. In fact, if you glance over at the Energy Blog's coal archives, you'll quickly recognize that clean coal - or Intergrated Gasification Combined Cycle - is already undergoing commercialization, despite the fact that the DOE's FutureGen 'demonstration' project is still years away from completion. Coal gasification and carbon sequestration are both relatively mature technologies - the former being invented by Germany to fuel the war effort during WWII and the later being used by the oil industry to increase output from declining oil fields (they call it enhanced oil recover or EOR).

    Compare this to the solar industry which is currently working hard on a number of potentially revolutionary solar technologies including silicon-free thin-film PVs, solar concentrators, organic PVs and nano-scale engineering like quantum-dots. Each of these technologies offers to bring to price of solar power down into a competitive range and could further the dream of ubiquitous distributed solar power. Shouldn't we be focusing our attention on these technologies then? Let's pump funding into the most promising new solar technologies and help bring them to market faster.

    The same goes for advanced battery technology as compared to hydrogen. Battery tech is right on the cusp of developing to the point where full electric vehicles and certainly plug-in hybrids are viable. Shouldn't we focus our attention on brining these technologies, which only recieved an additional $6.7 million as part of the AEI to market quickly, rather then funneling almost ten times that much money into hydrogen research.

    Finally, much like the slightly misleading '75% oil reduction' figure discussed above, the AEI's '22% increase' in research funding is also misleading becuase it comes shortly after Congress passed budget cuts to renewable energy and alternative fuels research that were approved by President Bush. The New York Times reports:
    The Energy Department will begin laying off researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the next week or two because of cuts to its budget.

    A veteran researcher said the staff had been told that the cuts would be concentrated among researchers in wind and biomass, which includes ethanol. Those are two of the technologies that Mr. Bush cited on Tuesday night as holding the promise to replace part of the nation's oil imports.

    The budget for the laboratory, which is just west of Denver, was cut by nearly 15 percent, to $174 million from $202 million, requiring the layoff of about 40 staff members out of a total of 930, said a spokesman, George Douglas. The cut is for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1.
    The budget cuts came as part of the 'defecit reduction' budget cut measures passed by Congress at President Bush's urging (meanwhile, Bush continues to call for increased tax cuts and lobby against letting his existing tax cuts expire ... gosh, it certainly makes sense to me to lower taxes while trying to cut the deficit and while waging a war in the Middle East costing hundreds of billion of dollars, not to mention the unending 'War on Terror').

    So, Mr. Bush, how much of this new bold Advanced Energy Initiative is simply restoring things to the way things were before you axed the budgets of our nation's best alernative energy research centers?


    While I have to be happy that President Bush is at least undoing some of the budget cuts he has already made to alternative energy research and perhaps even added some dough to the pot, there's no reason why anyone truly interesting in seeing a sustainable energy future should be satisfied by the president's speech.

    His goals - what a mounts to a 7.5% reduction in total oil consumption - and his methods - a 22% increased in alternative energy spending, part of which merely undoes previous DOE budget cuts - are hardly 'ambituous' or 'bold' as Mr. Bush's political strategists might want us to think.

    The president's speech is notable more for what it doesn't say than what it does:
  • where is the mention of Global Climate Change or Peak Oil, the two most pressing driving factors encouraging - no, demanding - a transition to a sustainable energy future?;
  • where is the mention of a gasoline tax to actually encourage conservation and efficiency?;
  • where is the announcement of a new nation-wide renewable porfolio standard to encourage the actually construction of new renewable electricity generation?;
  • where is the announcement of a bold target to have 30% of all cars on the road by 2030 powered by a mix of domestically produced electricity and cellulosic biofuels?;
  • where is the truly bold call for a 50% reduction in foreign oil by 2025, rather than a 12% reduction (i.e. 75% of Middle Eastern oil) that could simply be shifted to imports from other non-Middle Eastern nations?

  • In short, where is your bold energy plan for the future, President Bush? This certainly isn't it!


  • Full text of the 2006 State of the Union Address

  • [I realize that this is hardly a timely post on the State of the Union address and that the speech's energy portion has been well covered by now. I apologize. I began this post on Wednesday morning but real life reared its ugly head and prevented me from completing it until Saturday. However, I couldn't let such an important public address on energy issues slide by without interjecting my two cents, however tardy they are... I hope this was still worthwhile reading. Of course, if you are down here reading this, you probably weren't too bored by the post so I guess it wasn't that redundant after all... Cheers!]

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    Friday, February 03, 2006

    DiamlerChrysler Moves Forward on Plug-In Hybrid Development - Six PHEV Sprinter Vans Enter Fleet Feasability Testing

    Green Car Congress reports today that the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and DaimlerChrysler moving forward on the development of what would likely be the first commercial avialable plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV).

    According to GCC, EPRI and DiamlerChrysler are about to enter the fleet feasibility testing phase of their investigation into plug-in hybrids with the pending deployment of six Sprinter vans of different configurations in different locations.

    Dr. Mark Duvall of EPRI provided GCC with a brief update on the project at the recent SAE Hybrid Vehicle Technologies Symposium.

    The article continues:

    The Sprinter program has a number of objectives:

  • To design and test a PHEV commercial van with up to 20 miles of electric range (PHEV20);

  • To collect performance and field test data;

  • To verify the performance and durability of different types of advanced batteries in a PHEV application;

  • To use the results to improve design for a Phase 2 production prototype program.

  • The project is using six vans with different combinations of engine (either 2.7-liter gasoline or a 2.3-liter diesel) and battery (NiMH or Li-Ion). All use the same 90 kW motor.

    The battery packs in these vehicles are large: 14 kWh. By comparison, the Prius has a 1.5 kWh pack. Preliminary estimates give the Sprinter electric performance of 2 miles/kWh.

    The motor, at 91 kW peak power (72 kW continuous) and 275 Nm peak torque (130–180 Nm continuous) was selected to support the program’s focus on urban driving—i.e., little if any higher speed driving that would require a motor of > 125 kW.

    Optimizing the operating strategies for the vehicles will be a major component of the testing, the goal being to maximize stored battery energy, while balancing operation with low operating costs.

    There are a number of possible triggers for mode changes, including vehicle speed, the state of charge (SOC) of the battery, acceleration, location and system temperature.

    For this project, the team decided to limit electric operation to speeds below 50 km/h (31 mph) and with a battery SOC from 20%—100%. Although the system could support higher speeds, the battery would deplete more quickly.

    On the question of CO2 emissions per electric mile travelled, EPRI estimates that in 2010, the national average CO2 emissions from power plants will be slightly more than 500 grams/kWh.

    With the current Sprinter PHEV design, that would work out to about 250 grams per electric mile, or 157.5 g/km of CO2.

    According to EPRI, in a base case for future power generation, with no additional nuclear, no carbon capture, and no new renewables, the 500 g/kWh will decline to about 350 g/kWh by 2050.

    Depending upon technology and regulatory drivers, that could drop (as a national average) to as low as about 150 g/kWh—clearly offering great potential for simultaneous reductions in both utility and transportation sector CO2.

    Clearly, though, the gating factor is the battery.

    If you've been to Watthead before, you're probably aware that I have high hopes for plug-in hybrids which I consider to be an excellent near-term solution to drastically cut our oil use, replacing it with domestically produced electricity and opening the way for our transport fleet to be powered by clean renewable electricity like wind and solar.

    I'm thus quite excited to see DiamlerChrysler moving forward towards commercialization of their Sprinter PHEV. As I am unaware of any other major auto makers working seriously towards a commercially avaiable plug-in, it's likely that the Sprinter will be the first PHEV to hit the market and when it does, it will go a long way towards proving that plug-ins are a viable and effective technology (Mitsubishi's MIEV architecture could be used in a PHEV or full EV but probably won't come to market until at least 2010) .

    The Sprinter is a very popular model, in Europe and North America and the plug-in option is well suited to fleet applications and urban delivery driving cycles. I hope that the Sprinter PHEV not only encourages additional deployment of plug-in technology in delivery vehicles (UPS and Fed Ex should be paying attention to this!) but since its also only a step larger than a personal vehicle, I would hope to see the Sprinter serve as a catalyst for a plug-in personal vehicle as well.

    Props to DiamlerChrysler for moving forward on plug-ins. My only question is, what are Toyota and Honda waiting for? They seem to be focusing on straight hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell technologies respectively. Perhaps then, plug-ins represent a chance for other car manufacturers who are lagging behind Toyota and Honda in their 'green' offerings to leap frog the two by bringing a PHEV to market and perhaps turn around flagging sales in other market segments - I'm looking at you GM and Ford. Mitsubishi seems to have gotten the picture...


  • EPRI: Driving the Solution: the Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle - from EPRI Journal Fall 2005 [Discusses PHEVs and EPRI's work on the Sprinter]

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