Transportation News

Multistate Action Plan to Bring 3.3 Million Zero-Emission Vehicles on the Road by 2025

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – An agreement between eight states, dubbed the Multistate ZEV Action Plan, aims to cut down greenhouse gas emissions by mainstream autos over the next decade. The agreement will also seek to unify state policies on zero-emission vehicles across all eight states, which include the two most populous states in the country, California and New York.

Death of EVs Greatly Exaggerated

(3Bl Media/Justmeans) - Mark Twain once quipped, “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

The same might be said of the pronouncement of Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jones, who said “EV’s are dead, long live TESLA.”

Stock analysts are not particularly well-known for their patience, and if Google went back far enough, you could probably find a similar sentiment being expressed by great-granddaddy Jones back in 1908 about the first Fords rolling off the assembly line. The impetus for the comment was an announcement that Toyota was ending its parts contract with Tesla.

Okay, admittedly, EV’s have not become highly profitable overnight, the way that Wall Street likes them. Yes, market penetration is still tiny, and some companies like Fiat, are losing money on every 500e they sell. But think of the size of the battleship that is turning around. In the US alone there are more than 120,000 gas stations. How many EV chargers are out there? Roughly 8,000. How long does the average American hold onto his car? Almost six years. How long has there been a viable, affordable EV on the market? Nissan LEAF sales began in December 2010.

EVs are superior to internal combustion vehicles in almost every way except that:

  1. They are more expensive
  2. Charging infrastructure is still being built
  3. Range is still an issue for many people
  4. They are not yet considered mainstream

All of this is changing rapidly. As Tesla has already demonstrated, and Jones himself acknowledges, they are being enthusiastically grabbed up by those that can afford them. Jones just happens to call them “compelling performance vehicles that just happen to be EVs.”

The fact that they just happen to be EVs, is not just a coincidence, but rather an outcome of something called low-end torque that electric motors can smoothly deliver in a way that even the best engines can only dream about. In a nutshell, it’s the power available before a vehicle has come up to speed.

All-Electric Flight Heralds Future of Sustainable Aviation

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Airbus has taken an important step forward in the field of green aviation. Last week, it successfully launched a test flight of its carbon-fiber electric-powered plane called E-Fan. The plane flew over the vineyards of Bordeaux, France, cruising at 185 kilometers per hour. It was powered by two 65-kg lithium battery packs hidden in its wings, each driving a 30 KW electric motor.

Tomorrow's Engineers Push Fuel Economy Limits in Shell Eco-marathon

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Last week I wrote a guest post on GM's Fast Lane blog on the future of transportation. The post examined some concept vehicles that GM has been testing that can communicate with each other enabling them to move down the road in synchrony, like a flock of birds or a school of fish might. This would not only improve safety but could also speed things up quite a bit while saving energy at the same time.

Over the weekend, I took another peek into the future as a visitor to Shell's Eco-marathon in Houston. Even if the slick little cars I saw quietly parting the sultry Houston air do not represent the shape of vehicles to come (though I suspect some will), I'm pretty sure I saw some of tomorrow's engineers and innovators in action in the paddock area, working feverishly to get their cars ready to compete. The students designed and built the cars entirely themselves, though they were allowed to work with mentors. The contest goal was to achieve the highest fuel economy.

There are two vehicle categories: prototype and urban concept and six eligible fuels: gasoline, diesel, ethanol, gas-to-liquid, battery electric, and hydrogen fuel cell.

The event goes back to 1939, when two shell engineers wagered over who could build the most fuel efficient car. The winner managed a respectable 49 mpg. This year's winners did quite a bit better.

Montreal's Université Laval’s Alérion Supermileage team took the top spot in a gasoline-powered car that achieved a fuel economy of 2,824 miles per gallon with their prototype vehicle. That would allow you to circle the globe at the equator on a little under 9 gallons, though I can't say it would be a particularly comfortable ride. As impressive as that sounds, it did not top the record set by the same team last year which was 3,587 mpg.

The urban concept category also saw a repeat by last year's champs, Mater Dei High School of Evansville, Indiana, who did manage to set a record in that category of 901 mpg.

All together some 126 teams participated from 5 countries. This was the Americas version of the event which also has counterparts in Europe and Asia. The 94 prototype vehicles consisted of 63 combustion type (including ethanol, diesel and GTL), and 31 electric (including fuel cell). There were also 32 urban concept vehicles.

Commercial Scale Cellulosic Ethanol Arrives—Finally

The question of biofuels as an energy source has probably generated more heat than light. It has also powered a great many vehicle miles that otherwise would have been powered by gasoline. Whether you consider that a good thing or a bad thing will likely determine your position on the issue.

Conservatives dislike biofuels because they represent a large government program and because they pose a genuine threat to one of their biggest supporters, the oil industry. Liberals dislike them because they are the legacy of George W. Bush and because of their inherent distrust of industrial agriculture which benefits greatly from the commitments that have been made.

While these facts are all true, they are more distractions than anything to do with the crux of the matter. Clearly, the issue is complex enough to merit an entire book, but let me just focus your attention on what is happening right now.

The oil industry lobby works tirelessly to protect the hundreds of billions of dollars of profits that their sponsors receive every year. Sensing an opportunity in the public’s combination of confusion over and dislike of ethanol, they have gone on the offensive, asking the EPA to back off on the amount of ethanol mandated under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The EPA has listened and as of December, they have reduced the amount of ethanol that must be produced by 1.34 billion gallons, a reduction of roughly 8%. Further greater reductions of as much as 40% are on the table and will be decided in June.

While it’s true that there is much to dislike in the corn ethanol program, including its energy intensity, competition with food, and relatively small net energy benefit, not to mention the fact that we are now producing far more gasoline domestically via fracking and other questionable means, there is a sustainable gem at the heart of the program. That gem, known as cellulosic ethanol, uses non-food sources, such as agricultural residue, trash, wood chips and forest trimmings to make fuel. These fuels represent a far better ecological bargain than corn or any other food crop. The reason we went with corn at first was because we know how to grow lots of corn really well, and we’ve known how to make alcohol out of corn since the days of the moonshiners. The reason we didn’t start out making fuel out of wheat straw, or corn stalks or other crop wastes was because we didn’t know how. Many years and millions of research dollars later, studying everything from enzymes to embryogenic cell cultures, cellulosic ethanol is on the verge of becoming prime time. This could turn out to be a really bad time for the government to withdraw its support. Doing so now could be like throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Abengoa Bioenergy, a Spanish company, is investing $500 million in a plant in Kansas that will produce 25 million gallons of ethanol per year from crop wastes. The plant, which will be operational next month, will be powered by a 21 MW electric generator that will also be powered from biomass. That plant will be followed later in the summer by a plant of similar size in Emmetsburg, Iowa by the South Dakota-based ethanol producer Poet, in partnership with the Dutch company Royal DSM. Those two plants will be followed by a 30 million gallon plant DuPont that is underway in Nevada, Iowa, that will also be using corn waste.

Honda Unveils Smart Home US for Zero Carbon Living and Mobility

Honda's ultra-efficient, carbon neutral smart home is capable of producing more energy on-site from renewable sources than it consumes annually—and it comes with a specially modified Honda Fit electric vehicle

Nissan’s Electric Vehicle Sales Are Really Taking Off

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Making sales projections for brand new technology can be difficult, to say the least. Sometimes products catch on quickly and never look back. Other times they take awhile before becoming viral. Think about the iPhone and the iPad, for example.

So it’s no big surprise that the Renault/Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn was a bit over optimistic when he first proclaimed in 2012 that sales of their all-electric Leaf would hit 1.5 million in four years. Sales started out slower than expected, so he pushed back the deadline to 2020, a full four years later. Range anxiety and recharging time have generally been considered the car’s biggest hurdles. Now, as sales of the car are heating up, it looks as if he was being far too conservative.

Leaf sales continue to grow. In fact, as of February, they have set new records each month for the past twelve months. That’s not an industry-wide move, either. Chevy Volt sales have actually been falling off. Leaf is outselling Volt in the US so far this year. In fact, Leaf holds the #1 spot this year, follwed by the Tesla. Granted, the numbers are still small: 1425 Leafs vs. 1210 Volts in a month, but the trend is worth noting. Over 100,000 Nissan units have now been sold worldwide. Still, we are well short of President Obama’s prediction of one million electric vehicles on US roads by 2015.

Increasing pressure on carmakers to reduce fleet fuel consumption averages, thanks to new Federal emission standards, is helping. The clean car trend is beginning to spread around the world, too. Emerging markets in Asia and South America could become hot spots for electric vehicle sales.

This paper by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, describes standards alsready in place in the US, Canada, the EU, Japan, Korea, and Australia, and argues for the need for a unified international standard, which would make life far easier for manfacturers. Mexico, India, Indonesia, and Thailand are said to be in the process of developing standards that should soon be ready.

Formula 1 Corporate Backers Push for Sustainability

Electric Cars Get A Jump Start in China

Anyone concerned about the planet's future and our ability to bring our climate-disrupting emissions under control, can't help but regularly steal nervous glances at China. What China, with its massive population and prodigious growth rate does or doesn't do, will have a significant impact on all of us. So when China said they wanted 500,000 "new energy vehicles” on the road by next year and five million by 2020, many of which would be driven by first time car buyers newly entering the middle class, that gave us reason to be hopeful. Many have been skeptical that such numbers could be achieved. Especially since last year, only 17,600 EVs were sold. Today, there are approximately 50,000 of them on the road.

But a number of recent developments could be turning up the heat.

First, Chinese EV-maker BYD, which is partially backed by Warren Buffett, has been selling most of their cars in their home city of Shenzhen. Earlier this week, they gained approval to begin selling in Beijing with its population of 11.5 million. Beijing officials will provide a subsidy for EVs and they also commit to installing 100 charging stations in the city by the end of the year with roughly ten charging units per station. This roughly coincides with Swiss electrical equipment-maker ABB's announcement that it would begin making and marketing wall-mounted home electric vehicle chargers in China. The chargers are being developed for Denza, a new joint venture between BYD and Daimler.

Says Chunyuan Gu, ABB's top man in China, "Either you believe or you don't believe. What's difficult to predict is how fast the volume will come."

BYD also received approval this week to sell its plug-in hybrid, the Qin, in Shanghai

China's fast growing car market is attracting the attention of automakers around the globe. Last year 22 million cars were sold there, compared with 15.6 million in the US. Major problems like air pollution and gridlock are leading local officials to tighten restrictions on new drivers' licenses, which will slow the pace of growth. Electric cars, which don't contribute to air pollution are getting a warmer reception.

Some people believe that were are approaching a point of “peak cars” altogether, but that is clearly still a ways off in China.

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