Fuel Efficiency & Electric Cars Get the Green Light

Fuel Efficiency & Electric Cars Get the Green Light

New Scientist summed up 2009 as a good year for the electric car, with some researchers looking at ways to convert gas guzzlers to electricity. The Australian says manufacturers are certainly heading in the right direction in terms of making our cars more efficient, but there’s still a huge distance to go on CO2.

By Colin Barras in New Scientist (26 December 2009):

Although the world’s governments meeting in Copenhagen struggled to agree on a plan of action to curtail carbon dioxide emissions, the green technology innovations reported by New Scientist during 2009 suggest reasons for optimism.

Transport continued to be a big target for green ideas despite tough economic times. In the US the sector is the second largest contributor to emissions, responsible for 28 per cent of the country’s total.

Of those, 60 per cent are from road vehicles – indeed, a study this year concluded that the average fuel efficiency of the US vehicle fleet has risen by just 1.3 kilometres per litre (3 miles per gallon) since the days of the Ford Model T.

That looks set to change soon though. A wide range of possible solutions were on show in Las Vegas, Nevada, as the teams competing in this year’s Automotive X Prize were announced. The prize challenges teams to make a production-ready vehicle able to travel 100 miles on the equivalent energy of a gallon of petrol. See a gallery of teams taking part,

It’s been a good year for the electric car. Governments bailed out the largest auto companies with the proviso that they pump resources into battery-operated vehicles, and as a result 2009 was the year that battery chemistry became cool. Such is the buzz around electric cars that some researchers are even developing ways to convert gas guzzlers to electricity.

Hydrogen or methanol?

Elsewhere, the quest to power transport using hydrogen continued. One team showed that existing gas power stations could be easily modified to pump out hydrogen, but transporting and storing hydrogen still pose major technological hurdles.

Perhaps the methanol economy is more achievable – the alcohol is a liquid at room temperature, like petrol, so the existing infrastructure could be easily adapted, according to some.

Ways to make the aviation industry leaner and greener were also on show in 2009. They included the suggestion that aircraft wing tips could morph mid-flight to give extra lift and cut fuel consumption.

But greening air travel is also about land operations. Plane manufacturer Airbus started to investigate if robotic trucks to tow aircraft could reduce the $7 billion and 18 million tonnes of CO2 that result from using jet engines designed for flight to trundle from runway to terminal and back.

Of course, finding ways to avoid travel – videoconferencing, for example – will also cut transport emissions. A system to project your animated features onto a blank-faced dummy was one method suggested to make virtual travel closer to the real thing.

Internet footprint

But sending data through the internet has a carbon footprint of its own. Spam is not only an inconvenience to the individual, but globally produces emissions equivalent to burning 9 billion litres of petrol annually. Yahoo’s proposed email postage stamp system could take a chunk out of the net’s carbon footprint – if users can be persuaded to start giving money for charity for every email they send.

IBM and Google also unveiled plans to cut the environmental damage done by internet infrastructure, but individual web users could have their own part to play in creating a green internet. One of the world’s biggest manufacturers of routers is trialling a system to store some web data in the homes of broadband subscribers to cut the power use of the huge data centres on which the internet currently relies.

Source: www.newscientist.com

Andrew Main in The Australian (4 January 2010):

AS the developed world winces over the woolly and inconclusive outcome of the Copenhagen climate summit, there’s some modest consolation to be had in looking at the opposite end of the resource use spectrum: hugely improved technical efficiency, with more certainly to come.

Take the pace of development of low-consumption automobiles. This isn’t the motoring column but such an issue is an economic one and as of early December, Ford announced in Australia a new diesel-powered, four-cylinder Fiesta. Its officially tested fuel consumption is 3.7 litres per 100km. As the television adverts enjoy pointing out, that pips the Toyota Prius hybrid’s 3.9.

Independent of whatever emissions trading scheme we may end up with, our cars are gradually consuming less, and emitting less, because of technical advances.

Just by way of comparison, the original Leyland/BMC Mini’s consumption figure, back in 1959 admittedly, was 6.49 litres, or almost twice as much.

There were many endearing features about the original Mini, not least its small size, but what is quite startling is that the older car had less than half the engine power output (25 kilowatts against 66) of the new EcoNetic Fiesta, which is a much bigger and heavier car all round. The Fiesta’s had a number of technological tweaks, such as low-resistance tyres, but in design terms it’s still fairly conventional.

I’ve been looking in vain for a CO2 emission number for the older car, probably because they hadn’t thought of such things back in those days, but one clue is that the car had to cease production (after about five million Minis) mainly because of tightening emission control rules. For the uninitiated, there’s a direct correlation between fuel economy and CO2 output. According to Australia’s National Transport Commission, one litre of petrol will produce 2289 grams of CO2 and a litre of diesel will produce 17 per cent more CO2, about 2695g.

On those numbers, the old Mini had a CO2 output of about 148g per kilometre.

The new Ford is one of the first cars available in Australia to produce less than 100g of CO2 per kilometre. Its 98g output isn’t as low as the Toyota Prius hybrid’s 89g, but they’re both measurably lower than the cars of just 10 years ago. They knock everything else in Australia into a cocked hat since the Smart C451, the boxy two-seater, was by a narrow margin the best performer in Australia in 2008 with 103g/km.

Which means the new Ford, with its common-rail diesel engine and tall gearbox ratios, is particularly frugal.

By comparison, the current-day six-cylinder Falcon produces 256g, an improvement of about 9 per cent over its 2005 equivalent, while the Holden Commodore produces about 272g.

Toyota’s new hybrid Camry, which will hit showrooms in March and will be locally made thanks to a $35 million grant from the federal government’s $1.3 billion Green Car Innovation Fund, is a product that doesn’t get close to the Fiesta or Prius’s low emissions, but in the words of the old saying, it’s a major improvement. Both fuel consumption and CO2 output from the hybrid will be “35 per cent lower” than the all-petrol Camry, according to the manufacturer.

We’ve found an official CO2 number of 229g for a conventional Camry and the manufacturer says CO2 output will be “less than 150g” per kilometre.

There are all sorts of macro arguments against building cars in Australia that make up a separate debate all of their own, but it’s common knowledge that every major manufacturer in Australia (now only Toyota, GMH and Ford) has had hefty subsidies from the government at different times.

A scary conclusion that emerges from a recent study by the NTC is that the average car in Australia may have reduced its consumption (and CO2 output) significantly in recent years but it still uses significantly more fuel than the average car in Europe.

For instance, Australia’s average CO2 output per car in 2008, the latest date when full figures were available, was 215g per kilometre, which is 55 per cent higher than Portugal’s average (138g) and 23 per cent higher than the highest European average, Sweden’s, which is 174g.

That is quite startling because although Australian motoring conditions are different, the long distances and straight roads that we have should if anything lower our average consumption, not raise it. All those jokes about Swedes wasting fuel as they drive around in big solid Volvos are looking very sick: they’re simply not true.

The killer applications, according to the NTC, are that the high fuel prices in Europe, caused by higher fuel taxes, encourage consumers to buy fuel-efficient cars and the fact that diesel fuel is cheaper in Europe than petrol (unlike in Australia) is a further inducement to European car buyers, who proportionately buy many more diesel vehicles than we do.

Conclusion?  Australian manufacturers are certainly heading in the right direction in terms of making our cars more efficient, but there’s still a huge distance to go on CO2.

Source: www.theaustralian.com.au

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