First look at latest JRC report on future fuels/powertrains

March 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

Pic: Ecotricity

Pic: Ecotricity

The European Joint Research Centre and JEC Consortium have updated the authoritative Well-to-Wheels Analysis of Future Automotive Fuels and Powertrains in the European Context report; it has been extended to cover 2020 and beyond from a base year of 2010, with an update on analysis of natural gas impacts in particular (given the recent push towards fracking for shale gas in Europe), a reassessment of biofuel pathways, and updates on plug-in and fuel cell vehicles including analysis of the EU electricity mix for charging vehicles. Some take-outs:

  • Shifting to renewable or lower-carbon solutions may offer GHG reductions, but total energy use may rise, depending on the specific pathway. Large-scale production of synfuels or hydrogen from coal or gas is only beneficial if CO2 can be captured and stored.
  • Ongoing improvements to petrol/diesel fuels and technologies, including hybridisation, continue to be important.
  • Methane (natural gas) currently has well-to-wheel GHG emissions between those of petrol and diesel, but beyond 2020, will near those of diesel; however, energy use remains more than that of petrol. However, it’s down to supply pathway – biogas, from waste, has lower impact; synthetic gases or e-gases are low-emissions but energy-intensive.
  • For conventionally-produced biofuels (biodiesel, bioethanol), GHG and fossil energy savings depend on the manufacturing processes and fate of co-products; the report considers the variable impacts of nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture and land use changes, and points out that  “the fossil energy savings discussed above should not lead to the conclusion that these pathways are energy-efficient. Taking into account the energy contained in the biomass resource, the total energy involved is two to three times higher than the energy involved in making conventional fuels. These pathways are therefore fundamentally inefficient in the way they use biomass, a limited resource.”
  • However, there is potential for cellulose-based fuels from straw or ‘woody biomass’, which “have an attractive fossil energy and GHG footprint”.
  • GHG emissions from GTL (natural gas-liquid biodiesel) and CTL (coal-to-liquid) are higher than from conventional diesel, especially for CTL. Synthetic diesel from biomass has lower GHG – much lower than current biofuel options – but energy use is still high.
  • DME (dimethyl ether) can be produced from biomass or natural gas with lower energy use and GHG emissions than other GTL or BTL fuels, but would demand diesel engine and infrastructure modifications.
  • Overall energy use and GHG from electric/plug-in hybrid/range-extended vehicles depends on the source of the electricity, but if this is low-GHG, electrified vehicles beat ICE. If higher-GHG, plug-in hybrids are best option.
  • Fuel cell vehicles will become more efficient from 2020-onwards. But – and this is a big but – although hydrogen produced from natural gas and used in a fuel cell vehicle from 2020 gives half the GHG of a petrol vehicle, and “hydrogen from non-fossil sources (biomass, wind, nuclear) offers low overall GHG emissions”, at the moment, “electrolysis using EU-mix electricity or electricity from NG results in GHG emissions two times higher than producing hydrogen directly from NG and gives no benefit compared with a gasoline vehicle”.

And from the 2020+ horizon:

  •  “CNG as transportation fuel only provides small savings because its global GHG balance is close to that of the gasoline and diesel fuels it would replace” – implying that CNG has only short-to-medium term advantages.
  • “With the improvements expected in fuel cell vehicle efficiency, production of hydrogen from NG by reforming and use in a FC vehicle has the potential to save as much GHG emission as substituting coal by NG in power generation” – no advantage for fuel cell/hydrogen cars over EVs using gas-derived electricity, though both bring benefits.
  • “Using farmed wood to produce hydrogen by reforming saves as much GHG emission per hectare of land as using the wood to produce electricity in place of coal and saves more GHG emissions per hectare than producing conventional or advanced biofuels” – wood biomass good for both hydrogen and electricity production, lower-emissions than producing feedstock for biofuels.
  • “When sourcing wind electricity for transport fuels, hydrogen production and use in FCEV is more efficient than the application of synthetic diesel or methane in ICE-based vehicles” – making hydrogen using wind energy is more efficient than making syn-diesel or e-gas.
  • “Using wind electricity to produce hydrogen and using it in FCEV saves slightly less GHG emissions than substituting NG CCGT electricity” – CCGT (combined cycle gas turbine) electricity using natural gas is slightly lower-emissions than wind-electricity for making hydrogen.
  • “Using wind electricity as a substitute for coal electricity is the most efficient option for GHG savings”  – indeed.

Anyway, read the whole thing here, and consider all the well-to-wheel, full-lifecycle and production pathway implications. Just shows that there’s no simple solution to finding the ‘fuel of the future’.

And in other news this week…

  • On the subject of energy, a report by the UN’s Intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) mentioning BECCS (bio-energy with carbon capture and storage) is about to come out, reports Reuters, with high hopes for the process.
  • Honda’s Smart Home US showcase, on the campus at UC Davis, opened this week; this is claimed to “enable zero net energy living and transportation… producing more energy on-site from renewable sources than it consumes annually, including enough energy to power a Honda Fit EV for daily commuting”. It’s all about smart home energy management (the HEMS system), renewable energy generation (solar), energy-efficient design and materials plus home-to-grid connectivity, energy storage and grid-buffering potential. Full low-down here.
  • Volvo is testing the Torotrak-developed Flybrid KERS tech in Sweden and the UK. This is said to cut fuel consumption by up to 25%, whilst adding an 80hp performance boost; a kinetic energy recovery system, it’s mounted on the rear axle in the test S60 T5s, spinning a carbonfibre flywheel to drive the rear wheels. The front-driven engine turns off under braking – and potentially up to 50% of the driving time – with the biggest potential fuel savings in stop-start traffic and ‘during active driving’ (repeated accelerator-brake action, presumably). The system’s said to be very close to market. More details here
  • Volkswagen “expects new digitalisation era in automobile industry” – details from a recent speech by chairman Dr Martin Winterkorn are here. “The two ground-breaking inventions, the automobile and the computer, are moving closer together. We need to shape the mobility of the future in an even more intelligent, more networked way,” he said, talking about a new initiative called Future Tracks and making good points about Big Data and privacy.
  • And on that note… PSA Peugeot-Citroen is working with IBM “to integrate the massive amounts of data from cars, phones, traffic signals, lights and other sources and analyze it in real-time for delivery”. with a view to offering a range of connected services, reports Green Car Congress.

Design Concept of the Day: FOMM Concept One

March 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

fomm concept oneThough it’s not a fully amphibious vehicle as such, it floats and can be propelled via a water-jet generator – so perhaps this is the EV for a climate ravaged by global warming, rising sea levels and soforth. It’s been designed with the monsoons of South East Asia in mind but perhaps an importer should set up on the Somerset Levels. Anyway, Japanese start-up FOMM (First One Mile Mobility) describes it as an “electric vehicle with flood and water damage resistance capability”, as well as claiming it to be the world’s smallest four-seat EV; it’s a 460kg, 2495mm-long tiddler with a pair of 5kW/280Nm in-wheel motors, sliding doors and a “cassette type” removable lithium-ion battery which can be taken out for charging or used as an emergency power source in the home. Not much more info than that at the moment, but it does look rather kawaii, and I do like a concept designed with some thought to broader contexts, applications and situations.

  • Four hydrogen-fuelled Van Hool buses have been delivered to Aberdeen, Scotland: this is part of a wider project involving the set-up of fuelling infrastructure and a hydrolysis plant for generating hydrogen, and a fleet of 10 fuel cell buses will be operated by Stagecoach and First Group. More at Green Car Congress.
  • Bioenergy from forestry residues may have to be used for 60-80 years before CO2 emissions savings in line with EU threshold targets are seen, according to a paper from the Finnish Environment Institute; implications for biofuels, then.
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transport in Spain is a job for non-technological measures, namely restricting driving, but cutting down on particulates and nitrous oxides calls for advanced emissions reduction technologies, says a team from Universidad Politechnica Madrid, which has developed a modelling system to explore the impacts of policy decisions.
  • Magnets: a simpler and more reliable way than electronic transmission to guide autonomous vehicles, thinks Volvo. Nice story plus images at Wired Autopia.


Toyota starts i-Road trials

March 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

toyota i-road 2Public trials of the Toyota i-Road have started this week in Tokyo: 10 of these electric three-wheelers are now on the road, shared between 20 people, and Toyota will be collecting feedback from these real-life consumers/commuters “on what i-Road is like to drive, how easy it is to use around town, how it affects people’s decisions about what journeys to make and driver satisfaction”. A sort of scooter-microcar crossover with gyroscopic ‘leaning’, the i-Road is also in action in Toyota’s Ha:mo pilot car-share/multimodal project, and it’s to be used in an EV-share programme in Grenoble, France, from later this year.

And a general news catch-up:

  • An interesting engine concept: a ‘self-supercharging’ single-cylinder 400cc unit from Oaktec, developed with use as an EV range-extender in mind. Based on a Yamaha diesel but said to potentially be 30% more powerful and economical, it mimics forced induction thanks to modified ‘breathing’ through its architecture, and can run on propane, petrol, diesel, bioethanol and biomethane. It’s simple, cheap, and could also be used as a generator for domestic electricity in developing regions, as well as to power light aircraft, tuk-tuks or other vehicles, reports Autocar. And its tech can also be scaled up for multi-cylinder applications.
  • Toyota and BMW are pooling resources – and Toyota’s Le Mans-developed hybrid-drive tech – for the ‘new Supra’ and new Z4, reports Autocar. The two cars (plug-in hybrids) will be co-developed, sharing their supercapacitor-powered KERS, BMW 2.0-litre engine and electric motors, plus four-wheel drive, a steel/aluminium platform, CFRP bodyshell and Toyota’s control electronics. This’ll be the first full-production application of supercapacitors, said to offer quicker charge/discharge than lithium-ion batteries and to be smaller and lighter.
  • Solid-state lithium-ion batteries – ‘printed’ onto a thin film, rather than containing electrolyte – could be in production within two years, claims Ann Arbor-based Sakti3, making examples said to be half the cost and half the weight of standard Li-ion batteries but with double the energy density. Interview, more details here.
  • Volvo Cars, the Swedish Transport Administration and the Norwegian Public Roads Administration are teaming up on a cloud-based system sharing real-time data on road conditions. Vehicles and roads administrators will be warned of slippery or icy patches nearby; a test fleet of 50 cars is hitting the road, with more to join the trial next winter and a view to commercial availability of the system within a few years.
  • Recent report from the EC Joint Research Centre: CO2 emissions from urban transport could be reduced by 8.8% in 2030 through the introduction of (more) congestion charging, more tele-working/conference-calling, and the allocation of road lanes to public transport – the top 3 recommended measures out of 21. (Am I being hopelessly naive in suggesting that surely we can do better than 8.8%)? Report here, anyway.
  • George Monbiot’s sounding a warning about growing crops (maize) for biogas – let’s add that to the concerns over fracking for natural gas. There’s some good reasons to get enthusiastic about biogas and indeed, natural gas itself (more to follow on this at some point) but as GM points out, incentives to make it from biowastes (ie via anerobic digestion) are going to have to be offered to lessen the environmental  (and social) side-effects and move the industry away from growing crops for fuel.

Geneva Motor Show: picture gallery

March 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

rinspeed xchangEmagna milaakka mbtechakka mbtech2biofore2bioforerinspeed micromaxrenault twingoHere’s a gallery of some of the cars I found interesting in Geneva this week; apologies for poor photos, but this is about as good as you get on the hoof with a three-year-old Blackberry held together with electrical tape. So – the autonomously-driven, fully-connected Rinspeed eXchangE; the superlightweight, CNG-fuelled Magna MILA Blue; the shared/auto AKKA Technologies Link & Go (now with 2.0 tech platform updated from last year); the biofuelled, biocomposite-structured Metropolia University/UPM Biofore; the shared/auto Rinspeed microMAX; and, because it’s very cute and a good city car solution for the here-and-now, the now rear-engined Renault Twingo.

EVs, upgrades – and charging in both senses of the word

March 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

Akustische Innovation: Der e-Sound von Audi“The electric car is the future”: thus says Dr Ulrich Hackenburg, Audi’s board member for technical development. His definition includes plug-in hybrids – such as the A3 E-tron and R8 E-tron (pictured) – and, in this interview with Automotive News Europe, he notes that Audi is planning to offer “a completely new world of services to the customer – all the way to green energy supplies and the installation of fast-chargers in garages”.

  • A good idea: Renault is thinking about offering retro-fit battery upgrades and software updates to its EV customers. More at What Car?.
  • And ‘chip’ tech which could increase range by 15%: Dukosoi of Edinburgh has just received funding to develop its Electric Vehicle Optimisation Integrated Circuit (EVoiC), which monitors energy levels and the flow of power to and from individual cells in a battery, reports Business Green.
  • The end of ‘free’ EV charging in the UK is nigh: Chargemaster (including the Polar network) has just announced its new tariffs and pay-as-you-go option. Transport Evolved has done the maths; looks as if it’s going to hit EV drivers who regularly charge away from home at the network’s points rather hard. Other operators and networks are expected to follow suit in due course. Could tip the balance in the lower running costs vs. higher purchase price EV equation for some.
  • A team from the Fraunhofer Institute Center Stuttgart is developing a micro smart-grid system for EV-charging; it has installed kit in its car park to support up to 30 EVs in a ‘living lab’, and is now adding photovoltaic panels and a small wind turbine to increase the proportion of renewable energy used. The charge@work project is looking at coping with peak load, grid-balancing and smart management. More here.
  • BMW’s planning to expand its DriveNow short-term rentals/carshare to up to 25 more cities – 10 in the US and 10-15 in Europe, reports Automotive News.
  • Detroit engine-maker EcoMotors, creator of an OPOC (opposed-piston) unit, has signed a second deal with a Chinese company; First Auto Works (FAW) is to invest over $200million, reports Automotive News.
  • Detailed piece about the Project 100 car/ride/bike-sharing scheme proposed for Las Vegas at Atlantic Cities. An interesting story involving a well-funded entrepreneur, attempts to entice people to live downtown again, a potentially fraught relationship with public transit providers, and state legislation.
  • I’m liking the WAVE – Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience, a heavy-duty truck concept developed for the retailer by Peterbilt, Great Dane Trailers and Capstone Turbine. Besides extreme aerodynamics for fuel-saving, it’s got a lightweight carbonfibre trailer and a turbine-driven biodiesel-compatible hybrid powertrain. Video, more details at Wired.
  • There are plenty of experiments going on to synthesize biodiesel from algae – now there’s the possibility of algae-derived hydrogen.
  • The BMW i3 has met with a lukewarm response from participants in the BMW’s Electronaut programme who won’t be trading up, reports Transport Evolved – many simply preferred their 1-Series ActiveEs and Mini Es, and see the i3 as too expensive and too MPV-like.

Design Concept of the Day: Giugiaro Clipper

March 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

clipper smallNo, I’m not at Geneva yet – this is remote reporting. But the Italdesign-Giugiaro design house (now absorbed into the Volkswagen Group) has just unveiled a low-slung six-seater MPV concept called Clipper; it’s based on Volkswagen’s MQB platform (Golf, A3, Octavia, Leon etc.), and is good for 335 miles and 127mph from its twin-motored all-electric powertrain (a 148bhp motor at each axle, hence four-wheel drive). It’s got the obligatory showy concept car doors – front ones swinging up butterfly-style, the rear rear-hinged gull-wings. Seats are two x three rows; the batteries are housed under-floor giving a flat floor, there’s a ‘floating’ instrument panel with information projected into a perspex screen, and a rear-view camera to replace the interior mirror. The space between the seats accommodates a movable,  ‘mobile tunnel’ with 11-inch touchscreen for the control system, there’s a total loadspace of 900 litres, plus four iPads for passengers with a comms app/private network called Carlink. Oh, and there’s a second ‘vanette’ Ducati-branded version, with different doors.

  • “Elec­tric cars simply per­petuate cur­rent (unsus­tain­able) prac­tices and rep­resent a failure of ambition”, say Nicola Spurling and Dan Welch of the Sustainable Practices Research Group, berating a “techno-fix solution”. Yes indeed, more cycling is a Good Idea for short journeys and is certainly achievable/desirable to some extent, and the wider ‘need’ for driving caused by car-centric planning, out-of-town shopping centres etc does need to be addressed – but they write off the possibility of cleaning up the e-grid in parallel (citing a rather old paper in support), seem to think that the EVs of the future will still have “shorter ranges, long char­ging times” and “only ful­fill some of the func­tions of the con­ven­tional car”, and – in the blog post, at least – don’t look beyond like-for-like vehicle substitution (no mention of EV-shares, car clubs, multi-modal link-ups, etc.) nor at EVs’ role for businesses, fleets, or industrial applications (arguably where they can make more difference than in the private/consumer sector). Report summary, and useful primer on practice perspective for sustainability policy interventions here; full report (in which the driving/cycling substitution is an example of problem framing/targets for intervention) here.
  • And the view from industry… Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, confident on grid decarbonisation (amongst other issues): “In partnership with other automakers, industries and governments, we have the capability to reinvent the car for a new era, to provide sustainable mobility for all”.

(Natural) gas in Geneva

March 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

skoda visioncSkoda’s going gas-tastic at the Geneva Motor Show this coming week: its VisionC concept (a large five-door liftback on the next-gen Octavia platform) has a ‘bivalent’ 1.4 TSI engine (turbocharged, direct-injection) which can run on either petrol or CNG, and meets EU2020 emissions legislation. This powertrain – similar to that in the just-announced Octavia/Octavia Combi G-Tec, and indeed, the Audi A3 G-Tron and Volkswagen Golf TGI – is said to return 72mpg and emit just 91g/km in gas mode. “Natural gas drive is an important pillar of ŠKODA’s sustainability strategy”, says the company.

Good gas or a load of hot air? Can’t help but think it doesn’t do anything for fossil fuel-dependency, even if it is cleaner-burning than liquid petroleum, though CNG is thought of in some circles as a “bridge fuel” to a lower-carbon system (a bit like replacing heroin with methadone?). Some more discussion (gassing?) and useful references here, including the issue of methane leakage in the production process (cancelling out any life-cycle GHG benefits). “Fueling trucks and buses with natural gas may help local air quality and reduce oil imports, but it is not likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even running passenger cars on natural gas instead of gasoline is probably on the borderline in terms of climate,” says Prof Adam Brandt, assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University and lead author of “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems” (Science, 14th February 2014).

  • Porsche is to unveil its 919 Hybrid LMP1 Le Mans racer in Geneva this week; says it “can therefore be regarded as a research laboratory for the technology of future Porsche production vehicles”. Lexus is to bring the RC 300h hybrid coupe (as seen in Detroit), and has confirmed its launch in Europe for 2015.
  • Dutch drivers: more likely to opt for an EV or fuel cell car if they do a low annual mileage, don’t tow a caravan; range and refuelling times key factors in decision-making. Study by Hoen and Koetse in the latest issue of this journal. And some facts ‘n’ figures on Californian plug-in drivers from the Center for Sustainable Energy/CARB here (high-income, middle-aged, motivated by use of car-pool lanes…).
  • Have seen news that China’s Geely Group has bought out the UK’s Emerald Automotive, developer of a range-extended delivery van and associated ER-EV tech.
  • Over half of 8000 people questioned in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Austria reckoned that in the future, they’ll buy a “mobility solution” rather than a car – rundown here. Nearly 64% reckoned they’d use multi-modal transport apps as well, though 63% still said that they wanted to own a car (24% of whom thought they’d also use hired/shared cars where appropriate).
  • Corporate car-sharing to grow, says Frost & Sullivan; figures, projections and opinion here. And here’s a date for the diary (not that I can afford to go) – the F&S Urban Mobility 3.0 conference/workshop in London, June 26th.
  • The Kandi EV-sharing service, which started out in Hangzhou with its distinctive ‘tower’ of microcars, is expanding across China; more at Green Car Reports.
  • And here’s a biofuel that could smell interesting as it burns… Extreme Biodiesel Inc is aiming to buy some land in California to cultivate hemp for fuel. Release posted here.
  • But I predict a riot – warning on the growth of biofuels at the expense of fuel crops, as well as the prospect of global riots if we fail to solve our chronic addition to fossil fuels and transition to a “post-carbon” economy, at the Guardian… Plus, at the Observer, a report on environmentally-destructive underwater mining, including the trawl for rare-earth metals and ores for batteries (for gadgets and vehicles). Scary stuff. (Lunar land-grab, anyone?).
  • Not the answer to everyone’s motoring needs, but I do love an old Love Bug… Zelectric Motors of San Diego is now up and running with its ‘upcycled’ classic Beetle conversions, and is also selling DIY powertrain kits. Rather nice for local trundling-around in SoCal, I would imagine.


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