Design Concept of the Day: MILA Blue

February 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

mila blueNatural gas: simply a substitution of one fossil fuel for another, or a practical use of an existing energy source/technology? Magna International is showing a hybrid-drive gas-powered city car concept called MILA Blue at the Geneva Motor Show next week, said to emit less than 49g/km of carbon dioxide – or less than 36g/km if running on biogas. It features an automated-manual transmission with stop-start and can cruise short distances in all-electric mode, at up to 30kph.

Li’l MILA is said to be 300kg-odd lighter than current A-sector tiddlers, thanks to the construction and architecture technologies it also showcases; downsized components, aluminium, magnesium and composite materials; and suitably-decorated structural parts in place of extra interior trim. More from Magna here.

More on this at Geneva next week, and I’m currently working on a project which involves looking into the eco-claims for natural gas, so will report back on this at a later point.

  • Speaking of biofuels… 16% of fuel used on European roads could come from waste material, claims a new report (outlined here at Guardian Sustainable Business). That’s waste from forestry, industry, agriculture and households, so no competition with food crops (as with, for example, corn-derived ethanol), and life-cycle carbon emissions are thought to be 60-85% lower than for comparative fossil fuels.
  • Detroit News is looking at ‘peak car’ this week (aren’t we all?); some figures from forecasters IHS Automotive, suggesting that global sales will top out at 100 million in the next decade, plus some good quotes, i.e.: “The key question is: Do you sell cars or do you sell mobility?” says Tim Ryan, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. “If you ignore these megatrends, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant.”
  • Tesla. Gigafactory. News well-covered elsewhere, but basic details are a $4-5billion investment by 2020, when it’ll be making enough batteries for 500,000 Tesla vehicles a year, reports Forbes. Note that this is for half a million Tesla vehicles, not just batteries to supply to other manufacturers; to include the upcoming Model X and ‘entry-level’ Model E, due 2015. The factory’s to cover every stage of production, including reassembly using cells from recycled battery packs, more from Tesla here.
  • Torotrak and Lotus Cars are getting £4.3million from the Technology Strategy Board to develop the FLYBRID KERS tech (flywheel kinetic energy recovery) for a manual gearbox. The 24-month programme will see it fitted into a Lotus road car. More here.
  • Report by Susan Shaheen and Matthew Christensen (UC Berkeley) for the New Cities Foundation (@newcitiesfound) asks “Is the future of urban mobility multi-modal and digitized transport access?” (answer = yes). Apps “are on the forefront of digitized transportation access and will play a growing role in urban mobility in the future”, along with RFID tech; but creation of a single platform covering multi-mode transport “would exponentially increase the value of sustainable transportation modes through ease of use, accountability, and by creating virtual and physical connection points”.
  • London: £300million to transform the city’s most dangerous junctions and make ’em more cycle-friendly. More here. (And some feedback on the benefits of separating cyclists – and pedestrians – from cars here). Debate open on the segregation thing…
  • And Obama’s proposing a four-year transport plan to modernise the USA’s infrastructure: $600million up for grabs for innovative projects.

Monday musings: car-shares, EVs and autonomous

February 24, 2014 § 1 Comment

ecar clubThe E-Car Club is to set up 20 new pay-per-use EV-sharing hubs in London/SE England this year, having received £500,000 of funding from Ignite Social Enterprise. These add to its community car-share schemes in Milton Keynes, Luton, Tower Hamlets, Oxford, at the University of Hertfordshire and Maylands Business Park in Hemel Hempstead. It has a focus on mobility for households in ‘transport poverty’ and access to low-cost (clean) transport, through partnerships with local authorities and communities; full release here.
Have to say I’m feeling rather ambivalent at the mo about the benefits of car clubs, which, it’s worth noting, are actually quite diverse beyond the one-way/fixed location divisions. While I can see the value in car-shares operating in specific settings such as the above, serving community groups to get/keep people mobile (good for individuals, good for the wider economy), or based around occupational/organisational contexts (replacing company fleets, etc), as well as in getting people into EVs or smaller/newer/cleaner cars than the old bangers they may previously have been driving, I’m concerned that in some other environments, such as general commuting/leisure/tourism – and especially in urban areas – they could actually be sustaining and encouraging car use where other (available) transport modes or solutions may be more appropriate.
I understand there’s anecdotal evidence from the Paris Autolib’ that the short-term one-way rental Bollore Bluecars may be displacing some public transport use by commuters, for example. And purely on a personal level (not suggesting for a moment that this is on a par with peer-reviewed journal articles, etc) I’ve been coming across a growing number of people who did not previously own or use a car but who joined a car club – and some of whom have since found driving so convenient/life-enhancing that they have gone on to buy their own car. Could this counter-balance the people who are selling a private car and cutting down their mileage by joining a car club? Anyone know of any research on this? There’s also a recurrent theme I’ve heard which is that, somehow, using a car club car doesn’t count as ‘driving’, as in “I don’t need a car… but I do belong to a car club”. Thoughts, debate, etc…
It’s also worth revisiting that recent quote from Fiat-Chrysler’s European chief Alfredo Altavilla on car shares – “the quickest way to get customers into our cars”. The manufacturers aren’t just investing in their own networks – DriveNow, Car2Go and soforth – so they can put a few cars on fleets; they’re seeing it as a valuable marketing and outreach tool.
Anyway, will look out for reports from the Carplus Annual Conference – 3rd April, London N1. They’re going to look into three themes: evidence-based success so far, “the potential growth of car clubs, particularly in London to meet Transport for London’s Car Lite policy and future trends in low carbon transport and whether shared mobility could be the answer to popularising electric vehicles”. Recent news from Carplus includes the addition of two EVs, with the intention of charging from nearby wind turbines, to the Moray car club; and a Nissan Leaf for Dunbar. Both funded by Transport Scotland.
  • Further into the future: simply adding autonomous tech to a private-car system doesn’t solve problems of congestion, energy use, etc, argues Ryan C Chin of MIT at Guardian Sustainable Business. But there’s an opportunity when integrating this with on-demand car-sharing… and further debate on whether this will encourage greater car use/travel (amongst other ‘nextcar’ issues) from David Levinson (U of Minnesota; walks to work) at The Transportationist (well worth a read).

  • No, mainstream EV use need not ‘crash’ the grid: research from the University of Vermont outlines a ‘packetized demand’ system, linked to smart-metering, to smooth out and distribute demand. A patent is pending. More here (thanks, @talitrigg).
  • Wow: a £4bn transport network including trains, buses, trams and tram-trains has been backed by city councillors for the Cardiff metro area and could be built by 2030, reports the BBC. The aim is to improve access into the city from the valleys, support a rise in commuters, and to reduce car-commuting. A big project with potential to really improve infrastructure and the local economy. The BBC’s citing evidence from Nottingham and Manchester which correlates investment in public transport with reduced traffic levels (sounds like stating the bleedin’ obvious, but this stuff does need to be researched/backed up with proper data).
  • Honda: discontinuing the CR-Z and Insight hybrids in Europe to prioritise “low-carbon” diesels (my inverted commas) and locally-made models. It’s been hit by the cost of importing from Japan as well as poor demand (only 318 CRZs sold last year, 462 hybrids). Are the old-school non-plug-in hybrids no longer in demand? Hardly, Toyota’s hybrid sales are booming… The Jazz Hybrid will continue for the moment.
  • Research from TU Chemnitz, using Mini E trial data: 20-25% of EV range is ‘lost’ as a psychological safety buffer, reports Thomas Franke. Rundown plus references at Green Car Congress.
  • Local Motors is to show its first digitally-printed, open-source EV in Chicago in September; more here.
  • I keep coming back to this interview with French Green MP Denis Baupin at Sustainable Mobility, talking about his new report (co-written with Senator Fabienne Keller, who also needs credit). “The mobility needs of our citizens can never be completely met by public transport or cycling, even though I’m a keen supporter of them”, he says, acknowledging that there is no one solution that will suit everyone, everywhere. Nice contrast to the many lobbyists shouting for their chosen mode who seem to fail to realise that, dammit, we’re all working on different pieces of the same jigsaw. Factionalism. Not constructive. (Rant of the day. Sorry).

Volkswagen Golf GTE, Friday news round-up

February 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

golf_gteVolkswagen’s launching the Golf GTE plug-in hybrid in Geneva: this gets the 1.4 TSI (150hp) with DSG transmission plus a 102hp electric motor to give a total 204hp/258lb ft output and a range of up to 580 miles (31 miles all-electric range). It’ll do 81mph in all-e mode, though; 135mph with the engine and 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds. Combined figures (provisional) are 188mpg and 35g/km. Charging takes 3.5 hours from a domestic plug, 2.5 hours from a wallbox. Volkswagen’s developed a smartphone app called Car-Net which allows remote operation of functions including presets for cooling/heating and charging (three years subscription will be offered). UK pricing will be announced late August with deliveries by the end of the year.

  • Some more lowdown on the Yamaha MOTIV.e city car, designed by Gordon Murray; it’s fitted with a Zytek-supplied electric powertrain with a single-speed reduction gearbox from Vocis and all power electronics by Continental. Its 25kW motor revs to a super-high 15,000rpm which allows it “to be smaller, lighter and more cost-effective than previous-generation units”; the motor’s 13kg, the gearbox 11kg and inverter only 7.5kg. The Zytek electronic vehicle control module includes thermal management with the algorithms (thought to be a unique feature) and integrates torque arbitration and voltage management with temperature control within a range of parameters including battery charge, temperature and grip at the tyres. Though still described as a “concept”, the MOTIV.e has been developed by GMD to sell “at an affordable price” (an aim of the iStream manufacturing process) and I think it’s fair to suggest we’ll hear confirmation of its production fairly shortly.
  • How do you get past the problem of missing the postman/parcel delivery/your online shopping order? Easy: get it delivered into the boot of your (connected) car. Volvo and Ericsson are to debut a system called Roam Delivery which relies on a one-time use digital key to access a car boot; more at Engadget and Green Car Congress.
  • Bhutan is aiming to become a zero-emissions, clean-energy nation, and to that end, has signed a deal with Nissan to develop infrastructure and supply cars to its government fleet. The tiny Himalayan nation produces far more hydropower than it can use, selling most of it to India, but has to import fuel for vehicles, apparently, so there’s an obvious solution there… In case you’re wondering, the capital of Bhutan is called Thimphu, and its EV-enthusiastic prime minister (since last summer) is Tshering Tobgay. More here.
  • Poo-power stories turn with some regularity (sorry) but this is a good one: the Orange County Sanitation District’s sewage treatment works at Fountain Valley (now there’s an unpleasant image), California is testing a prototype system to turn waste to hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles. This involves separating the water from the ‘biosolids’; the latter are piped to airless tanks and broken down by microbes, which releases a gas 60% methane, 40% CO2; the methane can then be used to power the works or broken down into electricity, heat and hydrogen. (Korean Herald via Autoblog Green).
  • Some more detail on the Hyundai Intrado (fuel cell concept) at Autocar.

Shifts in automobility: today’s news

February 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

peugeot vlvFrench MP Denis Baupin (Green Party, VP of the French National Assembly), reckons that “the automotive model is now experiencing a shift that can be likened to the era of changing from typewriters to computers”. He’s co-written a big report, ‘New quiet and sustainable mobility: Designing ecological vehicles’, and says in an interview with Sustainable Mobility  “the mobility needs of our citizens can never be completely met by public transport or cycling, even though I’m a keen supporter of them”. Three main limits to the current automobility system are ecological, economic (incl. the rising age of new vehicle buyers, now 54 in France) and vehicle design itself – cars are too big, consume too much energy, are too expensive to buy and maintain, and sit parked 95% of the time. He’s therefore for car-sharing, car-pooling, multi-modal mobility hubs, innovations in small vehicles/microcars –  and the mobilisation of public and private partners to make it all happen. (The pic’s of a Peugeot VLV electric microcar, 1942, btw. More on that here).

  • EV charging infrastructure – relative to population – is the most significant predictor of EV/PHEV take-up, along with financial incentives, reports a 30-country study from Delft University of Technology; the presence of a local manufacturing facility was also positive and significant. Country-specific factors such as government procurement plans, and subsidies, also had an effect, but there was no single cause found. Summary and quotes at Green Car Congress plus academic citations (full study – Sierzchula et al in Energy Policy).
  • Germany’s the world’s biggest user of one-way car-shares, according to this blog at the HuffPo; average age of German car buyers is now over 52, and a 20-year decline in sales continues. Some interesting quotes, including one from a user who’s a member of several different schemes (to cover all options?).
  • BMW’s been giving out drives in the X5 eDrive plug-in hybrid – 74.4mpg, 90g/km of CO2, an 18-mile all-electric range, probably on sale 2015. Good lowdown at Car, more detail at Autocar.
  • In the UK, a tie-up between Alphabet and Chargemaster gives drivers (mostly fleet) access to 85% of the UK’s public charging points with one RFID card. It’s PAYG with monthly invoicing; private memberships also available. Marks the move to paid-for charging. More at Fleet World.
  • British firm Drive System Design has announced a three-speed all-in-one powertrain for EVs which can give 10-15% improvements in range; the MSYS transmission integrates a 55kW YASA axial-flux motor with the transmission, simplifying architecture, control systems and weight-saving. Science bit lowdown at Green Car Congress. DSD plans to offer a range of different power outputs for supply to OEMs from 2016.
  • OK, it’s not car-related, but in terms of methodology and fieldwork, this study of long-distance bus travel is interesting – an ethnography of transport users. Insights from the research – the social profile of long-haul bus travellers, the on-bus community, the driver/passenger relationship and more – informed a programme of improvements at SNCF’s iDBUS operations.

Engineering Concept of the Day: EDAG Genesis

February 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

edag genesisIt’s based on “the bionic patterns of a turtle”, says German engineering consultancy EDAG, and demonstrates additive manufacturing and its potential for components, modules and even complete vehicle bodies. This production technique could produce a bodyshell in one single process, a lightweight and organic-looking form, from the build-up (‘fused deposition modelling’, or FDM) of thermoplastics with carbonfibre. That means a lightweight but strong structure, with no tools needed to build it, and fewer constraints on shape or design. More here. On display at the Geneva Motor Show next month, more of a sculpture than a car as it is, but could be a foretaste of something.

  • The Czechs are doing multi-modal mobility: rather than build in more parking space at the Technology Park in Brno, they’re promoting e-bike rental and car-pooling. The commuter project is supported by the EC’s Do The Right Mix campaign and was developed by the Czech Environmental Partnership; more here at Eltis.
  • Magna International has signed an agreement with Italian firm bio-on to co-develop bioplastics for the auto industry. bio-on has developed a process by which bacteria feed off sugar beet by-products, creating a plastic material (yum!) called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). This is fully biodegradable in water (hmm) but could prove to be an naturally-synthesised material for automotive application. More here.
  • Pariss Electrique is exhibiting its Roadster again at this year’s Geneva Auto Salon; this French bespoke-build lightweight is said to be “currently undergoing validation and industrialisation”, with sales to start shortly (from around € 60,000). It’s the creation of Damien Biro, descendant of another clever product-developer…
  • And a drop-top sportster that’s not (yet) a production prospect: the Roding Roadster Electric (its BMW-engined counterpart, which is on sale, will be on show in Geneva). The plug-in version’s a testbed featuring a Siemens-developed motor-braking system with brake blending  – torque transferred from the electrically-powered brake to a friction brake at the front axle, instead of a mechanical brake at the rear, enabling a 70% energy recuperation.
  • Also at Geneva: Akka Technologies, an engineering consultancy, is bringing its Link & Go autonomous EV concept again;  v 2.0, if the Geneva blurb hasn’t been lost in translation.
  • Sadly, a demise: Mia Electric, maker of cute-looking little micro-vans, has gone into receivership, reports Transport Evolved. Well, those vans were cute, but they were slow, and absurdly expensive for their level of quality, so it’s no big surprise.

Induction charging and more

February 17, 2014 § 2 Comments

toyota induction chargingToyota’s testing a wireless induction charging system for its EVs and plug-in hybrids with a view to production. It’s cable-free, coil-to-coil and will need only a coil set into a surface (i.e. a garage floor); Toyota is adding a function to its parking sensor system to help the driver align the car correctly. It’s under trial with three plug-in hybrids used by households in Aichi prefecture.

  • Bringing two future developments together: car-sharing + autonomous vehicles = shared autonomous vehicles (SAVs). Feature at Atlantic Cities cites research modelling demand in Austin, Texas: 20,000 people could share 1,700 SAVs, one SAV could replace 11 conventionally-owned private vehicles, even in a conservative estimate. Interesting discussion on the knock-on effects for public transport, too.
  • So, at the upcoming Geneva Auto Salon: new engines from Peugeot. There’s a three-cylinder 1.2-litre petrol turbo (110/130bhp), with fuel consumption and CO2 emissions reduced by 21% compared to their nearest equivalents; and BlueHDi diesels with selective catalytic reduction and particulate filter (NOx emissions down by up to 90%, 99.9% of particulates caught, Euro 6-standard). And the HybridAir system should reach production in three years’ time.
  • Vauxhall/Opel’s doing the triple, too; the Adam city car’s to feature a new direct-injection, all-aluminium 1.0-litre three-pot (90/115hp), emitting 99g/km. This comes with a new six-speed gearbox (weight reduction of 30%), and is the first in a new ‘family’ of small petrol engines from GM. NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) has been a priority.
  • Oh, and BMW: the 2-Series Active Tourer (high-roofed 5-door compact hatch) gets a turbocharged, direct injection ‘three’ too, 136hp and 115g/km, with auto start-stop. The 150hp diesel option does 109g/km.
  • Denza – a Daimler-BYD JV – is to show its first car, probably a Mercedes-Benz B-Class-based EV, at Auto China in Beijing next month. It’s done a deal with ABB to supply buyers with fast-chargers, too, reports The Green Car Website.
  • But the UK government’s not expecting to hand out all its plug-in car grant cash, due to lower-than-expected demand for EVs, reports The Telegraph.
  • Release the TIGERS: Controlled Power Technologies (CPT) is to outline its Turbine Integrated Gas Energy Recovery System (and its SpeedStart stop-start and torque assist/KERS systems) at the SAE World Congress, Detroit next month. Both are developed for next-generation 48-volt ‘mild’ hybrids and are nearly production-ready. Low-voltage, low-cost, high waste energy recuperation, CPT says, with Tigers particularly good for downsized turbo engines.


Newsbriefs: New hybrid systems and transmissions, V2G projections and battery-swapping

February 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

kia soul ev_2Alongside the Soul EV, Kia’s going to show off a new hybrid system in Geneva. This involves a 48V lead carbon battery, a small electric motor plus an electric supercharger which ups torque and power at low engine speeds. It gives a short electric-only range and all-electric cruising, features regenerative braking and a stop-start system, and enables the downsizing of the standard battery.

Kia has also been testing the Soul EV in northern Sweden (pictured; apologies for another Kia pic this week, but it is scenic) to check out its cold-climate behaviour and range. Its driver-only ventilation system helps reduce the power drawn from the batteries; its new heat pump uses waste heat from the air conditioning and electrical systems; its new air intake control system better-controls the air flow and humidity inside the vehicle; and owners can also schedule the pre-heating or pre-cooling of the cabin 30 minutes before set-off.

  • Vehicle-to-grid: more than 250,000 V2G-enabled plug-in vehicles will hit the road 2013-2022, according to a new report from Navigant Research. These will enable owners/operators to sell power back to the grid, as well as reducing peak loads and balancing demand, and “smoothing the integration of renewable energy resources and generation revenue from ancillary services markets”, says the release. Basically, you can think of it as all the cars acting as storage devices, emergency back-ups and general repositories for solar/wind/hydro power, which is generated unevenly according to time, climactic conditions etc. And there’s the opportunity to make money there, of course, which is what everyone’s trying to work out.
  • Honda’s showing the new Civic Type R in Geneva, but of more interest to me will be the Euro debut of the FCEV Concept, previewing a production car to be launched in 2015. There’s also, if not the whole car, the powertrain for the new NSX supercar: a twin-turbo, direct-injection V6 with Honda’s all-wheel-drive hybrid system adding electrical assistance.
  • British firm Magnomatics – a spin-off from Sheffield University – has announced a second-generation version of its Magsplit eCVT transmission system for hybrid vehicles. This could potentially replace mechanical planetary gears and motor/generators as in conventional hybrid power-split transmissions, and is said to offer 1-2% fuel consumption savings, though the larger gains are in downsizing, reduced system complexity, no need for lubrication, and low battery charge swing, allowing a downsizing of the battery or longer battery life. More of the science bit explained here.
  • Bosch, Mitsubishi and GS Yuasa have formed a JV to develop next-generation lithium-ion battery tech, with the aim of doubling energy capacity and achieving “a giant leap forward”. More here.
  • Is there still  a place for battery-swapping in the wake of the demise of Better Place? Transport Evolved has the low-down on a Slovakian fleet operator which is using a simple, low-tech manual stacking system – similar to that of loading pallets onto a forklift – to keep its clients’ vans in action. Swaps can take just seven minutes, apparently, and one of its clients has done 24,000 miles in six months due to elimination of the downtime needed for charging.

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