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Archive for the ‘Plug-in Hybrids’ Category

MIKE CHINO, Inhabitat, July 27, 2009

48_group-2-1Although electric vehicle use is on the rise, we’re certainly not out of the woods yet in terms of providing them with a steady supply of clean energy – that’s why designer Neville Mars has conceived of an incredible EV charging station that takes the form of an evergreen glade of solar trees. His photovoltaic grove serves a dual function, acting as a go-to source for clean renewable energy while providing a shady spot for cars to park as they charge.

Each of the trees in Neville Mars’s solar forest is composed of a set of photovoltaic leaves mounted on an elegantly branching poll. The base of each trunk features an power outlet that can be used to juice up your eco ride as you run errands.

Neville told Inhabitat that the tree and leaf design wasn’t a goal but came naturally as they tried to maximize the shaded surface that the structures provide. Although the efficiency of overlapping photovoltaic panels initially raised some concerns, Neville went on to explain that the leaves rotate with the sun to ensure maximum efficiency. The solar forest is certainly an aesthetic step up from your standard sun-baked concrete parking lot, and serves as great inspiration for integrating solar technology with natural forms.

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KARA GILMOUR, NewsOXY.com, July 26, 2009

honda-hybrid-carsHonda electric vehicles will expand further on the hybrid idea offering consumers more of a variety from popular post-conventional concept vehicles.

The new 2010 Honda Hybrid Cars will provide consumers with better options for electric and fuel cell technologies. What is more important is that these new automobiles will deliver better mileage than we see today. Some of the vehicles will be slated as 2011 models but will release in early and late 2010.

2010 Hybrid Cars

New fuel-efficient vehicles are continuing to grow in popular demand. Recent gas prices are steering more consumers towards automobiles that achieve a minimum of 35 miles per gallon. However, automakers are in a race to deliver 50+ miles per gallon vehicles for next year.

Honda has major plans to compete in the growing fuel-efficient market by taking some of its popular conventional vehicles and converting them into new fuel efficient alternatives. While the Honda Civic has already been on the market as an alternative fuel automobile, the automaker wants to use its current engineering built in the 2010 Insight. Some of the features include longer battery life and a leaner, but more powerful, gasoline engine.

Insight Interactive Dashboard Components

The dashboard in the Honda Insight has also been popular. Honda wants to migrate some of the dashboard components into the Honda Fit and the upcoming Civic. The interactive dashboard assists the driver to achieve better mileage by scoring driving habits that increase fuel economy. It is not known if the dash will be in the new FCX Clarity.

Honda FCX Clarity

Honda also wants to offer consumers a 75 mpg rating with its FCX Clarity. This is a car that runs on electric and hydrogen fuel. The automobile is 20% more fuel efficient and has a powertrain that is 45% more compact.

In addition, the car is about 10% energy efficiency. Skeptics believe the vehicle might be ahead of its time due to questions on how to refuel the vehicle. There are also safety concerns but Honda has already developed measures to deactivate the hydrogen tanks in the event of a collision.

Electric Alternative Vehicles

Even so, there are more consumers hoping for electric alternative transportation. Full hybrids already use a combination of gasoline and battery to power the electric motor. Consumers are hoping for a complete electric option that will allow drivers to recharge the battery using a standard home outlet.

These vehicles are built for short range driving because of the electric battery. The automobiles can be powered by a battery at slower speeds. These speeds are usually between 35 to 47 mph.

Unfortunately, the battery is limited on the amount of energy it can store, which is why most of these vehicles use a gas engine to help with the recharge. The auto industry right now isn’t quite ready for a total electric solution, but it is getting close. There are several advancements with batteries that could change the way we refuel our automobiles by 2012.

Auto Industry

You have to admit that while the auto industry has been kicked to the curb by the recession, they sure are coming out with new ideas. Perhaps it was the recession and the 2008 gas prices that got things moving again. There is a lot that will happen soon and those 2010 Honda hybrid cars are only the beginning.

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The Associated Press, May 25, 2009

zero-pollution-motors-carMost car companies are racing to bring electric vehicles to the market. But one startup is skipping the high-tech electronics, making cars whose energy source is pulled literally out of thin air.

Zero Pollution Motors is trying to bring a car to U.S. roads by early 2011 that’s powered by a combination of compressed air and a small conventional engine. ZPM Chief Executive Shiva Vencat said the ultimate goal is a price tag between $18,000 and $20,000, fuel economy equivalent to 100 miles per gallon and a tailpipe that emits nothing but air at low enough speeds.

Elsewhere in the world, the technology is already gaining speed. The French startup Motor Development International, which licensed the technology to ZPM, unveiled a new air-powered car at the Geneva Auto Show in March. Airlines KLM and Air France are starting to test the bubble-shaped AirPod this month for use as transportation around airports.

Engineering experts, however, are skeptical of the technology, saying it is clouded by the caveat that compressing air is notoriously energy intensive. ”Air compressors are one of the least efficient machines to convert electricity to work,” said Harold Kung, professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University. ”Why not use the electricity directly, as in electric cars? From an energy utilization point of view, the compressed (air) car does not make sense.”

As Vencat spells it out, the ”air cars” plug into a wall outlet, allowing an on-board compressor to pressurize the car’s air tank to 4,500 pounds per square inch. It takes about four hours to get the tank to full pressure, then the air is then released gradually to power the car’s pistons. At speeds less than 35 mph, the car relies entirely on the air tank and emits only cold air. At faster speeds, a small conventionally fueled engine kicks in to run a heater that warms the air and speeds its release. The engine also refills the air tank, extending the range and speed.

The technology behind the car was developed by the French race car engineer Guy Negre, head of Motor Development International. Besides ZPM, Negre has licensed the technology to Indian car giant Tata Motors and others. Many of the specifications of ZPM’s car are still speculative, but Vencat expects it to go about 20 miles on compressed air alone, and hundreds more after the engine kicks in, with a top speed of 96 mph.

The technology shouldn’t sound too outlandish, Vencat said. It’s similar to the internal-combustion engines in conventional cars — the main difference is the fuel. ”Every single car you see out there, except an electric car, is a compressed-air car,” he said. ”It takes air in the chamber and it pushes the piston, and the only way you push the piston is through pressure.”

James Van de Ven, a mechanical engineering assistant professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute who has studied compressed-air technology, said air compressors allow you to recover only 25-30% of the energy used to compress the air. The rest is lost through heat, air leakage and other forms of waste, he said. While that’s still slightly better a gasoline engine, it pales compared with the efficiencies of other alternative-fuel powertrains, like those in hybrid-electric cars, which have an efficiency closer to 80%, Van de Ven said.

A look at some of ZPM’s specifications illustrates the issue. With four hours of charging, the air car’s 5.5-kilowatt compressor would eat up 22 kilowatt-hours of electricity. That means the same energy used to turn on 10 100-watt light bulbs for 22 hours would allow the car to travel 20 miles. By comparison, General Motors Corp. has said its Chevrolet Volt will use about 8 kilowatt-hours of energy to fully charge, and it will be able to travel 40 miles on battery power alone.

George Haley, business professor at the University of New Haven, said U.S. safety regulations could be another obstacle given the air car’s tiny size and light weight. Vencat said he gets such criticism ”from the whole wide world” and pays it little mind. He counters that the car is cleaner than any internal combustion engine and remarkably simpler — and cheaper — than more advanced powertrains currently under development. ”The big difference is that the (Chevrolet) Volt needs the battery,” Vencat said. The Volt’s massive lithium-ion battery is a big part of the reason it is expected to cost about $40,000 when it goes on sale late next year. He acknowledges the difficulties with getting the car out quickly but said he is lining up investors. ”You know, we’ve got a lot of people who wanted the car yesterday,” he said.

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MendoCoastCurrent, January 29, 2009

images2At his first White House press conference, President Obama declared “the days of Washington dragging its heels are over” and ordered an immediate review of the Bush administration’s refusal to give California authority to enforce tougher emission and fuel efficiency standards on gas and diesel automobiles.

For more than two years California Governor Schwarzenegger has sought to impose stricter standards on automobile manufacturers in an effort to spur adoption of plug-in electric cars.

President Obama’s order may signal his interest in granting California’s request in a matter of weeks. Eighteen other States, representing nearly half the nation’s population, have indicated they wish to follow California’s lead, calling for the establishment of a national electric car-charging network.

President Obama’s push for electric cars is closely linked to his $11 billion high voltage “superhighway” that was passed last night by the House included in the $819 billion economic stimulus.

The newly-chosen, Acting Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Jon Wellinghoff, is calling for regulators and automobile manufacturers to plan integration in the car-charging networks for electric vehicles into the national power grid. “If you’re an automobile company, you’d better get on the bandwagon…because there is definitely going to be a move toward electrification,” said Wellinghoff.  Chip manufacturers and power companies may also wish to jump in.

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NEIL KING, The Wall Street Journal, January 9, 2009

pickens372Dallas billionaire T. Boone Pickens and FedEx Corp. chief executive Fred Smith are now duking it out—over, of all things, the virtues of natural gas as a transportation fuel.

Since announcing the Pickens Plan in July, the oilman-cum-wind power booster has spent over $60 million, along with countless hours zig-zagging the country in his corporate jet, to promote his plan for using wind power and natural-gas vehicles to break the country’s foreign-oil habit. The Oklahoma-born oil magnate insists the U.S. could cut its oil imports by one-third in 10 years by mandating that all new long-haul trucks dump diesel in favor of liquefied natural gas.

He just unveiled yet another TV ad and is building up his Pickens Army online—now 1.35 million strong and counting—in order to pressure the new Congress to translate his plan into law.

But Mr. Pickens has his opponents, including FedEx CEO Fred Smith, who favors electrification of the transporation fleet. Mr. Smith argues that hybrids are the way to go, and is putting his money where his mouth is. With 80,000 motorized vehicles, FedEx now boasts the largest fleet of commercial hybrid trucks in North America.

Without naming Mr. Pickens, the company’s director of sustainability, Mitch Jackson, upped the ante on Sunday with a blog item blasting natural gas as transport fuel of the future.  After citing a list of reasons against using natural gas instead of diesel, Mr. Jackson concludes that “substituting one fossil fuel for another may mean we’re shifting our energy supply, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going anywhere.”

Mr. Pickens then let it rip with a rebuttal that accuses Mr. Jackson of making a “flawed argument” by misunderstanding the country’s natural-gas reserves and overstating the value of diesel hybrids.

“Not only does Jackson need to do more homework on the domestic availability and clean air benefits of natural gas,” Mr. Pickens writes in his Daily Pickens blog, “he needs to realize that deploying vehicles that use slightly less foreign oil – vehicles that have little testing or are not available in the marketplace – will not solve America’s energy crisis.”

Mr. Pickens has won allies in his natural-gas fight, including an array of lawmakers in Washington and army of online supporters. Fedex rival UPS is turning some of its fleet over to natural gas, and WalMart is eyeing a similar plan.

But along with FedEx, the American Trucking Association is not keen on the idea. And ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson took his own swipe at it in a speech on Thursday, saying the plan “has a number of flaws in its assumptions” and could end up increasing U.S. reliance on foreign oil.

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MARTIN LAMONICA, CNET, November 5, 2008

Energy and environmental policy is poised for dramatic change under an Obama administration even with a slumping economy.

With the incoming administration and Congress, renewable energy advocates and environmentalists said they anticipate a comprehensive national energy plan focused on fostering clean-energy technologies.

“The election is over. Now the hard work begins,” wrote Dan Farber, a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley and a member of the lobbying group Cleantech & Green Business for Obama. “Change is on the way.”

Obama’s energy plan, detailed fully earlier this year, is ambitious. It calls for a $150 billion investment in clean technologies over 10 years, aggressive targets for greenhouse emission reductions, and programs to promote energy efficiency, low-carbon biofuels, and renewable energies.

But a troubled economy–among other barriers–means that bold, new energy legislation, notably caps on greenhouse gas emissions, is unlikely to pass in the first years of an Obama administration, according to experts.

Instead, the Obama presidency is expected to first push for smaller yet significant measures, such as efficiency and renewable energy mandates, and then lay the groundwork for far-reaching climate initiatives, they said.

“One of the biggest setbacks is trying to find the money to pay for all of this. This isn’t free,” said David Kurzman, managing director of Kurzman CleanTech Research. “Reality will set in and trying to find money…is really going to temper the possibilities over the next 12 months.”

Winners and losers
Cleantech company executives note that during the campaign, Obama articulated his belief that environmental protection and economic development can be closely related. During Obama’s acceptance speech Tuesday night, his reference to “new energy to harness and new jobs to be created” could be read in two ways–a call for political involvement or for alternative-energy sources.

In an interview with Time magazine in October 2008, he said, “From a purely economic perspective, finding the new driver of our economy is going to be critical. There is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy.”

Cleantech professionals expect that energy and the environment, which were hot-button issues during the campaign, to continue to command the attention of politicians and the electorate. And the combination of a Democratic-controlled Congress and Obama administration means that government stimulus spending targeted at the energy business is a strong possibility.

“There’s a growing sense that investing in infrastructure, even if it means more deficit spending, is a good thing because it will help economic growth in the short and long term,” said Ethan Zindler of research firm New Energy Finance. “And green energy has come to be regarded as a 21st-century infrastructure play.”

Some technologies stand to benefit more than others if Obama’s administration is successful in implementing its proposals.

Renewable energies. Obama has called for a national renewable portfolio standard to mandate that utilities get 10% of electricity from renewable sources–wind, solar, and geothermal–by 2012, and 25% by 2025. “That’s the backbone the country needs to invest in,” said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industry Association.

Although more than half the states already have renewable portfolio standards, many southern states have balked at national standards because they say they do not have sufficient renewable energy resources.

In this case, having an activist federal government, as Obama’s proposals suggest, may meet resistance from the states because electric utilities are regulated by a mix state and federal agencies. “It’s not just a question of money. It’s also a question of governance and public policy,” said Jim Owen, a representative for the Edison Electrical Institute.

In the recently passed financial bailout package, solar energy received an eight-year extension of federal tax credits, while wind received only a one-year extension. The election increases the chances that wind energy will be extended further.

Efficiency and smart grid technology. Obama’s plan calls for a power grid modernization program and stricter building efficiency codes in federal buildings. That means efficiency products such as demand response, advanced metering and sensors to monitor usage should further benefit from government incentives, said Kurzman.

A federal initiative to establish interconnection standards and bulk up interstate transmission lines would make power generation of all kinds more efficient and allow utilities to use more renewable sources. “A 50-state role to transmission just doesn’t get the job done. You need a federal planning and facilitation,” said Rob Church, vice president of research and industry analysis at the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE).

Biofuels. Hailing from the corn-producing state of Illinois, Obama is expected to continue supporting ethanol. However, Brooke Coleman, executive director of the New Fuels Alliance, noted that Obama appears to understand that the biofuels industry needs to transition to nonfood feedstocks, such as wood chips or algae, in order to be sustainable.

Coleman said that strong federal policies are required for biofuels to crack into the fossil fuel industry.

“There is not a free market in the fuel sector. There’s no real competition in the wholesale supply chain–it’s completely owned by oil,” Coleman said. “You have to be pretty heavy-handed to fundamentally correct this market.”

Auto. Obama has called for increasing fuel efficiency, tax credits for plug-in hybrid cars, and loan guarantees so that automakers can “retool.”

But struggling auto makers–said to be running dangerously low on cash–will need government aid in the coming months to prevent larger harm to the economy, argued David Cole, the chairman for the Center for Automotive Research. For that reason, he expects government leaders of all kinds to be supportive.

“Politically, the issue here is pretty stark and cost of keeping the auto industry in game is whole lot less than of a major failure,” Cole said.

Fossil fuels and nuclear. During the campaign, Obama said he would allow increased domestic oil and gas drilling as well as investments in so-called clean coal technology where carbon emissions are stored underground. Companies that have coal gasification technologies stand to benefit because they are cleaner source of electricity, said Kurzman.

In the campaign, Obama voiced caution on storing nuclear waste. But during the second presidential debate, Obama said he backs nuclear power “as one component of our overall energy mix.”

Skip Bowman, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said Tuesday he expects the new Congress and administration to continue its support of nuclear because it addresses energy and climate change.

Counting carbon
Longer term, the broadest policy change on energy and environment will be climate-change regulations. Obama has called for an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 through a federal cap and trade system. Pollution rights would be auctioned, at least partially, which would create a fund for clean technology programs.

Large polluters, like chemical companies and utilities that rely heavily on coal, are the ones that will be most affected. But given that there is stronger political will to tackle energy security than climate change, policies to promote domestic energy production and efficiency are likely to take precedence over cap and trade, said New Energy Finance’s Zindler.

Still, the new administration can accomplish a great deal on renewable energy without having to pass multibillion-dollar legislation, said Scott Sklar, a renewable energy lobbyist and president of the Stella Group. Using only the federal government’s purchasing power to integrate green building technologies and addressing grid interconnection issues, for example, can be done without passing laws.

“Existing programs can be tweaked to accommodate the new vision,” Sklar said. “Depending on how you structure things, you could have a quick and profound impact on new technologies.”

New Fuel Alliance’s Coleman said that the biggest danger to the Obama administration and new Congress is not “overplaying their hand” and pushing more extreme environmental policies.

“I firmly believe that the linchpin to this entire game is allowing agriculture to play a role in diversifying our energy, whether it be wind, solar, using rural areas for geothermal or wind corridors,” he said. “More extreme positions like trying to end coal result in failure and missed opportunities.”

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LARRY ROHTER, The New York Times, August 5, 2008

Senator Barack Obama altered his position on Monday to call for tapping the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower gasoline prices as he outlined an energy plan that contrasts with Senator John McCain’s greater emphasis on expanded offshore drilling and coal and nuclear technology.

In a speech here and in a new advertisement, Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, also sought to portray his Republican rival, Mr. McCain, as “in the pocket” of oil giants that are profiting from gasoline priced at more than $4 a gallon. And in his speech, Mr. Obama called for a windfall profits tax on oil companies to finance rebates for Americans.

At the heart of Mr. Obama’s proposals is a focus on fostering alternative energy development by investing $150 billion in emerging technologies and renewable fuels. Seeking to put a million fuel-efficient hybrid plug-in automobiles on the road, he said that he would offer a $7,000 tax credit to buyers, the overall cost of which he did not specify. In addition, Mr. Obama said his goal was to have 10 percent of the country’s energy needs met by renewable resources by the end of his first term, more than double the current figure.

While focusing on alternative energy production, Mr. Obama has veered in recent days toward increasing access to fossil fuels, both in seeking to tap the strategic oil reserve and in softening his opposition to offshore oil drilling. He said he might be willing to accept some exploration of limited offshore drilling as part of a more comprehensive energy bill that would include things he favors, like renewable fuels and batteries for electric-powered cars.

The proposals Mr. Obama offered Monday represented an effort to return the campaign’s focus to bread-and-butter issues after he found himself repeatedly on the defensive last week against a newly aggressive McCain campaign.

“We should sell 70 million barrels of oil from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve for less expensive crude, which in the past has lowered gas prices within two weeks,” Mr. Obama said. “Over the next five years, we should also lease more of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska for oil and gas production, and we should also tap more of our substantial natural gas reserves and work with the Canadian government to finally build the Alaska natural gas pipeline, delivering clean natural gas.”

Mr. McCain and his campaign have been increasingly tweaking Mr. Obama and his energy policy. The McCain campaign distributed tire pressure gauges outside the event here in response to Mr. Obama’s statement last week that Americans could reduce gasoline use substantially if they kept car tires at optimum pressure. Mr. McCain has called Mr. Obama “Dr. No” and said that his energy policy could be reduced to the phrase “just say no” to proposals to increase energy production.

“We have to drill here and drill now,” Mr. McCain said Monday in Lafayette Hill, Pa. “Not wait and see if there’s areas to explore, not wait and see if there’s a package to put together. But drill here and drill now.”

Mr. McCain has focused much more on the supply side of the energy equation, supporting increased reliance on nuclear power, the use of so-called clean coal technology and expanded offshore drilling. But he has called for halting purchases to replenish the strategic oil reserve, rather than tapping into it.

Aides to Mr. Obama said that he now favored releasing light oil from that emergency stockpile, 707 million barrels stored in salt caverns, and replacing it with heavier oil, which they said would be more appropriate for the country’s long-term energy needs. They described that action — meant to help drive down oil prices, which have begun falling in the last month after a long, sharp increase — as a “limited swap” rather than a depletion of the reserve.

Mr. Obama said that through a mixture of investment, discipline and more restrained consumption it would be possible to completely eliminate oil imports from the Middle East and Venezuela within 10 years. Through a combination of similar measures, he said, Americans could at the same time reduce electricity consumption by 15% and create 5 million jobs.

“I will not pretend we can achieve them without cost, or without sacrifice, or without the contribution of almost every American citizen,” Mr. Obama said of his objectives. “But I will say that these goals are possible, and I will say that achieving them is absolutely necessary if we want to keep America safe and prosperous in the 21st century.”

Repeating his call for a windfall profits tax on companies like Exxon-Mobil, which he singled out in his speech on Monday, Mr. Obama said he would use part of the tax to provide consumers with an “emergency energy rebate” of $1,000 per family.

Mr. Obama and his campaign have criticized Mr. McCain for accepting what they call excessive campaign donations from energy interests. Campaign Money Watch, a watchdog organization, said the McCain campaign received a burst of donations in June from oil company employees after he came out in favor of offshore drilling. Together, Hess employees or their relatives contributed more than $300,000 in June to Mr. McCain’s joint fund-raising committee with the Republican National Committee, according to campaign finance records.

Brian Rogers, a spokesman for the McCain campaign, said officials had examined the donations and found nothing untoward.

Mr. Obama offered details of his energy plan as Democrats have been under continuing pressure to allow offshore drilling. Though Congress is in its August break, a band of Republicans occupied the darkened House floor Monday to criticize the Democratic leadership for refusing to allow a vote on lifting a ban on drilling off much of the nation’s coastline before heading out of town.

About 25 lawmakers, many from the most conservative wing of the Republican Party, railed throughout the day at Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, saying her “San Francisco mentality” was impeding domestic energy production.

Republicans circulated a petition to urge Ms. Pelosi to call the House back into session, and some called for President Bush, who was on his way to China for the Olympics, to demand that Congress return. The White House said Monday that such a step was unlikely.

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