Low temperature combustion could double diesel efficiencies, but manufacturing problems remain

February 09 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Transportation   Year: Beyond   Rating: 7 Hot

ORNLCombustionI see efforts to improve combustion engines as trying to 'build a better buggy whip' in an era of 'diminishing returns' on mechanical heat engine innovations.

The problem is not their efficiencies, rather it is the manufacturing costs and complexities of building mechanical engine vehicles.

The world economy would be better off to move beyond combustion conversion towards more efficient, non-mechanical, and modular electrochemical conversion devices like fuel cells. (This doesn't require pure hydrogen, since you can still use hydrocarbon fuels.)

But I admit that diesel engines are not going away anytime soon, so efforts to improve efficiency for industrial applications could move us further down the road.  

Now scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have created the first three-dimensional simulation that fully resolves flame features, such as chemical composition, temperature profile and flow characteristics in diesel engines.  Their efforts could lead to new lower temperature engine designs that are more efficent.

3D Models / 120 Terabytes of Data Reveals Combustion Process Unfolding

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Stop worrying about ‘peak oil’ production, focus on ‘peak demand’!

August 01 2008 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Environment   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

By Garry Golden

Most of us have read about peak oil production in which the ability to extract oil reaches a growth plateau and fails to keep pace with accelerating demand. The result could be managing a ‘peak and plateau’ scenario as we gradually shift away from oil, or a ‘peak and collapse’ scenario as the world economy stumbles and cannot adjust to a more rapid decline in production.

But what about the implications of ‘peak oil demand’ from energy consumers? And how might it change the future of the transportation industry?

This notion of ‘peak demand’ is supported by a new report from leading energy-sector forecast firm CERA titled ‘Dawn of a New Age: Global Energy Scenarios for Strategic Decision Making- The Energy Future to 2030’.

CERA suggests that because of high energy costs the US could reach ‘peak gasoline demand’ in the next ten to fifteen years, and possibly plateau as early as 2010. As our vehicles become more efficient and we change behavior, our demand for gasoline will plateau.

CERA’s forecast of ‘peak demand’ is a game changing concept because it shows the transportation industry the ceiling of its growth opportunities in the world’s largest economy. It also forces drastic changes to enable more growth around a new platform as we electrify the world’s transportation sector.

If peak production is our biggest challenge, ‘peak demand’ might be our best incentive for innovation! (Continued)

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India's Tata Motors will produce electric vehicle in 2009 (for Europeans!)

October 15 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Environment   Year: 2009   Rating: 6 Hot

Imagine standing in front of global auto executives in 1999 and presenting a forecast that within ten years an Indian Automaker would be planning to build and sell electric vehicles in Europe. You might have walked away with that negative ‘futurist’ stereotype of a fringe corporate strategic thinker thinking way too far ahead!

Now India’s Tata Motors has announced plans to build an electric vehicle for European markets in 2009.

The company’s UK subsidiary has acquired a 50.3% holding in Miljø Grenland/Innovasjon of Norway to advance solutions for electric vehicles. The move brings Tata closer to realizing its vision of building affordable, clean electric motor vehicles powered by a combination of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.

The first generation of Miljø produced electric vehicles will use Electrovaya Lithium Ion SuperPolymer® batteries. Tata plans to launch Indica EV in Europe during 2009 as a 4 person vehicle with a predicted battery charge range of up to 200 km (125 miles) with an acceleration of 0-60 kmph (40 mph) in under 10 seconds.

Recent stories on electric vehicles:
- Could China help the world move beyond the combustion engine?
- Start up Better Place planning to build out Hawaii’s electric vehicle infrastructure
- Warren Buffet invests in Chinese battery & electric car maker
- Detroit to World: Nobody has Killed the Electric Car
- GM plans to kill Combustion Engine

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MIT’s solar hydrogen storage ‘breakthrough’ – What’s all the fuss about?

August 05 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Transportation   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

By Garry Golden

Last week bloggers across the web from sites dealing with energy, the environment, tech gadgets, mainstream business and policy pushed up MIT’s press release of a major breakthrough in ‘solar-hydrogen energy storage.’

Engadget asked is the energy crisis solved?, Treehugger mirrored MIT’s spin of this Giant Leap and blog Comment sections were flooded with posts ranging from curiosity and praise to flames from skeptics.

The announcement came from the lab of MIT’s Daniel Nocera with work from Post-doc Matthew Kanan. The breakthrough was a low-cost catalyst able to use sunlight to split water into oxygen and hydrogen.

The twist? The catalyst is made of cheap, earth-abundant materials (cobalt-phosphates), works at room temperature and is designed for a low scale production ‘energy appliance’ units (not major centralized power plants).

Why the excitement?

It is a cost breakthrough for distributed hydrogen production and an advance from basic science to engineering for oxygen. The MIT approach also hints at how small energy appliances could become someday. And the media is reporting on the importance of energy ‘storage’.

MIT’s ‘giant leap’ was the most hyped story of the week and also likely the least understood.

So why is energy storage potentially disruptive for the future of the energy sector? (Continued)

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Better Place planning to build out Hawaii's electric vehicle infrastructure

October 05 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Environment   Year: 2011   Rating: 5 Hot

Hawaii might be the perfect market environment for transforming its vehicle fleet from liquid fueled combustion engine vehicles to electric cars powered by batteries and fuels cells. There is strong support for ‘green’ policies, most vehicles trips are over short distances, and the islands’ fixed boundaries make it easy to plan out the cost of infrastructure. There are a number of strong cleantech startups and state has aggressive plans to expand its own local renewable energy production from solar, wind, geothermal and bio energy so it could tap this locally produced energy into electricity or hydrogen to fuel electric vehicles. Now it appears to be planning new fueling infrastructure for the coming wave of electric vehicles.

Today, the Honolulu Advertiser is reporting that electric vehicle infrastructure builder Better Place (Palo Alto, CA) has plans to build a network of electric recharge units and battery ‘swap out’ stations to service Hawaii’s first wave of battery powered electric vehicles.

Is this good news? Yes.

Will it be easy? No.

The Good News
We appear to have taken the first step – getting the auto industry on board. Every major automobile company has announced plans to release its first generation electric vehicles between 2010-12 around lithium ion batteries. Automobile companies appear ready to leverage the manufacturing cost benefits of killing of the combustion engine and adopting more modular electric motors powered by lithium ion batteries, capacitors and hydrogen fuel cells. Auto engineers are now taking the next step towards integrating all systems- to make a viable electric propulsion platform for the 21st century. With this commitment we can expect other companies to start developing infrastructure. The problem? Overcoming the politics of utility power generation.

Forcing Change on Big Utilities
While this news might feel good, the saying “It’s not a revolution if nobody loses” is certainly relevant. Transforming how we fuel our vehicle fleets is not going to be easy or conflict free. But where might we anticipate pushback?

Common sense says ‘Big Oil’, but the real challenge in accelerating this shift towards electric vehicle infrastructure might be ‘Big Utilities’ who are now struggling to imagine their place in a world of fueling homes and vehicles.

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BMW releasing electric Mini Cooper in US market; Another effort to abandon combustion engine?

October 18 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: 2009   Rating: 5 Hot

BMW will unveil its electric version of the Mini Cooper at the Los Angeles Auto Show on November 19 and 20, 2008. The company is claiming to be the world’s first manufacturer of premium automobiles to deploy a fleet of some 500 all-electric vehicles for private use in daily traffic. The MINI E will be powered by a 150 kW (204 hp) electric motor fed by a high-performance rechargeable lithium-ion battery, transferring its power to the front wheels without a sound. The MINI E is expected to accelerate to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 8.5 seconds. With its top speed electronically limited to 152 km/h (95 mph).

The battery technology will have a range of more than 240 kilometers, or 150 miles. Sales are expected to focus on private and corporate customers in pilot projects in California, New York and New Jersey.

Electric Motors vs Combustion Engine
BMW’s announcement follows along with recent industry plans to electrify the world’s auto fleet. We might interpret these announcements as a response to the ‘oil problem’ or ‘climate change’ regulations. But what if the real reason is based on a desire to abandon the design and manufacturing complexities of the combustion engine? Forward looking industry insiders hope that a new low cost manufacturing platform could emerge around the combination of wheel based electric motors, drive by wire systems, and the tight integration of batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and capacitors.

We have highlighted recent electric vehicle commitments of production vehicles (2009-2011) from automakers GM, Nissan, Tata Motors-, BYD, and Chevrolet.

We believe there is something happening in the auto industry that goes beyond oil and climate change The end game might be to change how we build and sell cars, not how we fuel them. If the real problem really is the combustion engine, and not oil, BMW’s plans might really be an effort to accelerate its shift to a new vehicle platform.

Press Release

The Good news? China is investing in electric cars, The Bad news? China is investing in electric cars

November 10 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Transportation   Year: 2016   Rating: 5 Hot

Need more evidence that the electric vehicle industry is going global, quickly?!

Bloomberg is reporting on plans that General Motors is expanding its investment and partnership with China’s SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co. It is unclear whether this investment is simply to secure GM’s position in China’s growing market, or if GM might tap China as the manufacturing hub for electric vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.

Big bets are being made by automakers and many of them tap Asia as a manufacturing hub for energy storage. Last month GM selected a Korean maker for its Chevy Volt, and VW is now openly seeking Chinese partnerships to produce batteries. Meanwhile Korea and China are looking to build their own homegrown electric vehicle brands.

Why this is important to the future of energy?
The fastest way to move beyond the combustion engine is to tap the power of global markets. But it requires us to rethink our assumptions about the future. Namely, if Asia does leap ahead, the US and Europe will have to rethink their aspirations of being ‘energy independent’. Instead they will trade ‘foreign’ oil, for ‘foreign’ batteries!

The Good news
Electric cars can help to clean up air pollution around the world, expand opportunities for renewables to compete in transportation fuels, and could help us better manage the flow and storage of electrons currently limited to a one-way electrical grid.

Electric vehicles can change the world, but they are likely to do so in ways that we cannot currently imagine by mere extrapolation.

The Bad news?

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Fiat-Chrysler deal confirms problem is not carbon footprint, but manufacturing footprint

January 22 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Transportation   Year: 2016   Rating: 5 Hot

Hyundai vehicle assemblyWe might be closer to reframing the public conversation about the future of the auto industry. 

The real problem for the auto industry is its manufacturing footprint, not its carbon footprint.

Of course we must build more efficient vehicles. 

But the industry's problems have nothing to with small cars vs big cars, or fuel efficiency.

The real problem is the manufacturing intensity of building mechanical engines, and their inability to produce multiple chassis on one factory floor. The other problem is that they build new cars then have them sit on dealership lots until someone buys it. 

Yes, we must reduce the eco-impact of vehicles, but to get there we must recognize that the real revolution is changing how we build cars, not how we fuel them.  Need more evidence?

Fiat exchanges Access for Equity
Fiat is negotiating a 35% stake in Chrysler in exchange for access to its small vehicle manufacturing capacity and revival of its European brands in the US.

But we should not be confused.  The future is not 'small cars', but leaner manufacturing.

Does Chrysler need small vehicles to meet current market demand?  Probably.

But the real takeaway is Chrysler's inabilty to build different types of vehicles (small or large) without major retooling investments.

So the company exchanges access to manufacturing for equity.

The future is modular manufacturing

The future is a factory floor that can build multiple chassis using modular electric motors and energy storage devices (batteries, fuel cells and capacitors).

What does the auto industry need to do?

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Warren Buffet invests in Chinese battery & electric car maker

September 30 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Environment   Year: General   Rating: 4

Add Warren Buffet’s latest investment to the list of major news indicators that fuel forecasts saying that the dominant days of the combustion engine are coming to an end. (Read GM to Combustion Engine-R.I.P.)

Through his Berkshire controlled MidAmerican Energy, The Oracle of Omaha has invested $230 million for a 10% stake in China’s car and battery maker BYD. BYD could soon become a global leader in electric propulsion auto systems and a mainstream vehicle brand.



Following the growth in electric propulsion systems
While there are reports that BYD plans to ‘roll out fully electric cars before the end of next year’ and sell within the US, BYD does not have to displace GM or Toyota to return on Buffet’s investment.

Think of Shenzhen-based BYD as an advanced electric propulsion and electron storage device maker for Li-ion, Nickel batteries, capacitors and fuel cells. Rather than fight for market share against Toyota and GM in vehicle sales, BYD’s growth could be as an energy systems manufacturer.

Why MidAmerican might love BYD’s batteries more than its cars
Buffet’s other (or main) intention could be to expand the role of the electrical grid in fueling automobiles. He might also see promise in BYD’s battery systems for utility scale storage to improve the electrical grid.

Electric cars are coming in 2010-12 but we need to innovate energy storage solutions.

Recharging electric vehicles is not as simple as ‘plugging in at night.’ Our aging electrical grid and home wall sockets are not a suitable foundation for mainstream growth in battery vehicles- and automakers understand this.

Watch in the weeks and months ahead as electrical grid startups and electron storage companies like Shai Agassi’s Better Place gain more media attention and venture backing.

But what other innovative business models might emerge around electron-based transportation fleets? How about ‘swapping’ boxes?

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10 Future-focused Ideas for Obama's 'Car Czar', Imagining Life After the Combustion Engine

February 13 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Transportation   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

The FuturePresident Obama is close to naming the ‘Car Czar’ who will oversee a large portion of the federal auto loans and consult on the looming transformation of the US auto industry. Let's hope this person doesn't try to build a better buggy whip.

Most ideas out on the table are incremental (e.g. ‘better mileage’), or short-sighted (e.g. plug in batteries?) and fail to inspire disruptive changes that reflect a 21st century version of the transportation sector. 

Here are Ten Ideas for the US Car Czar: 

1) Lower the US Auto Industry I.C.E. 'Manufacturing Footprint'
The problem isn't oil, it's the cost complexities of building mechanical engines. Declare the Internal Combustion Engine ‘Dead’ by 2025 (When more than 50% of new vehicles will be powered by electric motors) Have automakers share combustion engine plants and suppliers during the transition.

2) Accelerate the Electricification of the World's Auto Fleet
At the same time expand the US manufacturing base around the 'next' generation platform for mobility: Electric Drive systems based on high performance motors, drive by wire systems, software and various energy storage devices.

3) Explain ‘Electrification’ clearly to the public
‘Electric’ refers to the motor, not just the battery.  Next generation 'electric' vehicles will integrate batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.  Fuel cells produce electricity.  A hydrogen powered car is an electric car. Let’s stop the confusion and battle between technologies.  Cars are not iPods, and will need various systems to function.  This is a multi-decade long transition.  Don't pick short-term winners.

4) Go Global - Expand our ties to Asian Manufacturers & Markets
Electric cars are not designed to be built as one unit, in one country. They are assembled systems of systems that can be constantly upgraded via a global value chain.  The line of 'new' car vs 'old' car blurs when we shift to modular electric platforms.  And all the real growth will happen outside of the US!   'Detroit' must participate in this global supply chain and be in a position to sell 21st century vehicle systems to Asian markets. (Hint: The high value auto industrial base will revolve around polymers, software and sensors, not metal frames.)

5) Software Side of Car Experience
The single greatest opportunity for the next century might be the ‘software’ side of the automobile experience.   Smarter vehicles embedded with sensors and ‘situation awareness’ systems, customized driving experiences based on ‘drive by wire’, and mobility services (e.g. OnStar).   The US can compete in this new growth market and benefit by getting 'more flow' out of our current roadway system as we make drivers and cars smarter.  (PS - Mass Transit could use some software to create service transparency)

Read on:
6) Build next generation energy systems; 7) Reinvent the Wheel; 8) Fleet only for Plug-ins; 9) Shift Revenue streams to After Market 10) New 'types' of vehicle & service

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Brown University Researchers Design Nanoparticle Palladium Catalysts For Fuel Cells

March 23 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

Palladium Brown UniversityMetals, like platinum, palladium and nickel, play a key role as catatysts that change the quality of reactions of gases like carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.

Designing catalysts at the nanoscale (billionth of a meter) will help to improve interactions within fuel cells that convert chemical energy into electricity.  But achieving precise control over nano-sized particles has been difficult.

Now Brown University researchers have designed fuel cell catalysts using palladium  nanoparticles that have about 40 percent greater active surface area, and ‘remain intact four times longer’.

The innovations? 
A New Binding Agent & Surface Area

The researchers have learned how to bind the 4.5 nanometer sized metal pieces to a carbon support platform using weak binding amino ligands that keep the nanoparticles separate.  After they are set, the ligand links are ‘washed away’ without negatively changing the catalysts.

“This approach is very novel. It works,” said Vismadeb Mazumder, a graduate researcher who joined chemistry professor Shouheng Sun “It’s two times as active, meaning you need half the energy to catalyze. And it’s four times as stable.  It just works better.”

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US Energy Secretary Steven Chu Announces $41 Million for Fuel Cells (Stationary, Micro-Power and Transportation)

April 16 2009 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

stationary fuel cell

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu has announced $41 million to support the 'immediate deployment of nearly 1,000 fuel cell systems for emergency backup power and material handling applications (e.g., forklifts) that have emerged as key early markets in which fuel cells can compete with conventional power technologies.  Additional systems will be used to accelerate the demonstration of stationary fuel cells for combined heat and power in the larger residential and commercial markets.'

The funds will also support micro-power applications being advanced by innovative startups like Jadoo, Plug Power, Nuvera, MTI, PolyFuel, and Delphi Automotive (auxillary power systems for trucks!).

Fuel Cells (Power Stations) vs Batteries (Storage)
Fuel cells convert chemical energy into electricity without having to be 'plugged into' the grid.  As 'refuelable' power generators, they offer some key advantages to a pure energy storage offering of batteries (e.g. Batteries depend on 'grid access', while fuel cells need fuel and serve as a portable/stationary power station.  You just need to add fuel!)

US Energy Visionaries Sense Global Opportunity
The key to advancing fuel cells is to lower the costs of nanostructured catalysts (that release electric charges) and membranes (allow positive ions to pass) used in all applications (e.g. stationary, portable).  It is a materials science strategy based on nanoscale science and engineering. 

While the battery supply chain has long been established, there is a unique opportunity for the US to leap frog into more commercially diverse applications based on fuel cell systems used in everything from distributed power, micro-power, transportation and utility scale power generation.

More posts on Fuel cells at The Energy Roadmap.com


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