Clean Energy Transportation

Posted: December 22, 2009 in Published Articles

Clean Energy Transportation

 (A round-up review of greening of automobile industry by introducing clean air fuel and reducing emissions… including the Obama plans for the future. I had covered a Panel discussion by leading innovative companies in the vicinity and their strategies for achieving these goals.)

 The need of the hour is a major overhauling of the automotive industry to be in tune with fuel efficiency and emission standards. This would mean a rapid emergence of technological research, development and production of transportation that will be in compliance with the current requirement to reduce greenhouse gases while consuming lesser fossil fuels helping the world to move towards clean, innovative resource efficient, low carbon technologies. Given the current levels of investment we would expect second generation biofuels to be available in the next 5-10 years and also expect investments in second generation biofuels to rise as further climate commitments begin to rise. Governments across Europe have committed themselves to emission reductions of 80% by 2050.

At the IndUS Entrepreneurs (TiE) meeting on ‘Clean Transportation: On the Green Highway’ event several local  companies came together for discussions in a panel meeting putting forth ideas, agreements and predictions of the clean transportation and how it might all pan out in future. Hybrid-electric drive systems are gaining favor throughout the automotive industry because they have been shown to improve fuel economy and reduce harmful emissions. This would also mean that it provides the opportunities for entrepreneurs and companies to participate in this movement.

 One of the most promising approaches for cars is plug-in-hybrids, a variant of the current hybrids that involves recharging batteries directly though the current electricity distribution system. Clean transportation would involve developing Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) and making them a viable option on the roads for consumers. They will have to be powered by batteries and fuel with the drive trains used successfully in heavy-duty trucks, buses and military vehicles. The fuel cell vehicles will likely be much like hybrid vehicles with fuel cells instead of gasoline or diesel engines. The pressure is on. In Norway under a new proposal, no automaker could sell a new vehicle from 2015 onward in Norway that has no provisions for the use of biofuels, electricity or hydrogen. Hybrid vehicles that share propulsion duties between an electric motor and a gasoline or diesel engine would be allowed, as would flex-fuel vehicles. Older cars and trucks that were sold prior to 2015 wouldn’t be affected by this legislation. The Obama administration is investing billions of dollars as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) which will speed the nation’s economic recovery, create jobs and provide services in all sectors affected by the recession. Here in California, a first in the world regulation to minimize the amount of carbon in the fuels will require the state’s mix of fuels to be 10% lower in green house gas emissions by 2010.

 ZapadZ is a new company committed to the preservation and restoration of the environment by recycling old and used items by using a strategy of connecting buyers and sellers though their portals. In addition to keeping items out of a landfill, a percentage of company profits will be donated each year to an organization we identify as contributing to our planet’s restoration. Their concept is simple to use by just taking a picture of the stuff the seller wants to get rid off by using his phone and send it to zapadz.com placing the advertisements in seconds. The cell phone and email address is kept confidential but communication is kept open. This can be embedded on any site. Those recyclable ‘free’ items are not charged with the standard transaction fees.

 The panel discussion was moderated by Jasandra Nyker, Senior Vice President of PCG Asset Management who leads the identification, analysis, due diligence and selection of venture capital at PCG for two years. Nyker had been providing clean technology and renewable energy investment strategy advice to leading banks and oil companies in the past. “Clean transportation can be classified into long term solution ones such as hybrid vehicles and the electric ones and those with the fuel injection systems that reduce emissions. Then there are also the kinds that offer partial solutions like fuels, bio-ethanol’s, diesel and algae that need to be dealt with,” she said.

 The Aptera is an electric vehicle that is being manufactured locally in San Diego. It is a cute futuristic looking car that runs on electricity. Just plug it in overnight and you are ready to go more than 100 miles once it is charges. This will be hitting markets soon.

 Dan Squiller the CEO of PowerGenix joined the company in 2003. “3-4 billion batteries enter waste stream. We have developed a high energy density, high cycle life and low-cost nickel-zinc battery ideal for applications that demand high discharge rate capabilities. The advantages are in its 30% weight and size reduction along with higher power and superior low temperature discharge attributes.  Space and cost savings are part of the performance gains,” he said.

 David Morash the CEO of ISE Corp a supplier of integrated hybrid-electric drives systems and control software for large buses and trucks. ISE specializes in production of “series” hybrid-electric drive systems, where the engine is completely decoupled from the driveline and is used only to generate electrical power. This kind of hybrid design is more useful for large vehicles that perform large amounts of stop-an-go driving, such as transit buses and delivery trucks.

 The main obstacle to the adoption of series hybrid drive systems has been the technological complexity of managing the interaction of the three separate power sources in such a system; the engine-generator, energy storage system and the electric drive motors. The problem is supposedly challenging in heavy duty buses and trucks where the power levels to be managed are significantly higher than in smaller vehicles such as passenger cars.

 As the discussion progressed the pros and cons were aired and David Morash opined that government stops interfering with the bankruptcy process and let it take its own course and rebuild from scratch. Hybrid car sales have dropped to the 2006 level, down by 30% in February, when only half as many models were on sale. The general consensus on the problems this particular segment of the industry face was that it is a difficult time to start research and development and an increase in gasoline prices will trigger the increase in sales again. The gestation period is quite long to take it to the production level from prototype to professional management of the whole process. Then there is the issues of transferring the research to academic institutions since time frame is so important and the endurance factor of these companies have to be considered. It was also opined that most existing automotive companies are legacy bound and find it harder for newer innovations at brisk pace. In addition, the infrastructure requirements and logistics regarding Hydrogen filling stations and their availability for such automobiles need to be worked out. The general consensus is that the investments and markets are headed towards low carbon energy.

 Obama in his energy conservation speech two days back unveiled plans for reducing emissions from vehicles for newly manufactured cars in addition to increasing the mileage of cars from 25 to 35 for newly manufactured cars. This policy might increase the price of cars to almost 600 $ more than their current price.

The strategies include:

•Each company would have to achieve the fleet wide Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. That’s 0.5 m.p.g. higher and four years faster than the federal emissions rules currently call for.

•In addition to cutting ground-level pollutants, the goal for the first time is an explicit reduction in the carbon emissions linked to the threat of global warming.

•The system would cover the whole nation, offering manufacturers the benefit of a single standard. The state of California, which has long set up alternative standards that other states can choose to follow, is agreeing to stick with this new federal rule at least through 2016. California would save money by avoiding the need for its own compliance program for the similar greenhouse-gas limits it has been seeking to impose.

•The changes would take effect through a federal rulemaking process, which could be made easier by the up-front support of key stakeholders such as major carmakers, environmental groups, and California. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, in an unusual move, collaborated to frame the plan.

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Edited Article in ASIA NEWS- West Coast Edition

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