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Posts Tagged ‘DOE’

Truckin’

March 8th, 2010 admin Comments off

There’s a big push to increase the fuel efficiency of our country’s – our WORLD’S - passenger cars.  All of the major automakers are working on more fuel-efficient engines, hybridization, electrification, lightweighting, idle-reduction, and other technology pathways in an effort to meet more stringent CAFE standards in America and compete in the new, greener automotive landscape.

But what about trucks? No, I don’t mean the pickup in your neighbor’s driveway.  I mean the big, 18-wheeled, freight-haulin’, diesel-drinkin’, noise-makin’ semis that move approximately two-thirds of our nation’s freight around, accounting for around 7 TRILLION dollars annually – a substantial portion of our economy.  These trucks get, on average, around 6 miles per gallon.  Horrible, right?  (Well, consider that these trucks, when fully loaded, weigh up to around 80,000 pounds – about the same as 20 passenger cars.  If you assume the cars get 25 mpg each, then the group as a whole gets the equivalent of 1.25 mpg.  In that respect, the semi ain’t so bad…)

…Which brings me to my point.  When talking about fuel efficiency in the trucking industry, FREIGHT efficiency is the proper metric.  (Units of freight-ton-miles-per-gallon are most often talked about.)  And despite the fact that not much effort has been put forth historically into improving the freight efficiency of long-haul trucks, that trend is certainly changing.  The US Department of Energy recently announced awardees under the SuperTruck program – funded in part by the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 (i.e., the Stimulus Bill) – to improve the freight-fuel-efficiency of Class 8 trucks by 50%.

And how is this being accomplished?  Although the impacts of hybridization in long-haul trucks may be modest, electrification can have a LARGE impact in idle-reduction at truck-stops.  (Today, when truck drivers take their mandatory rests at truck-stops, they must let their engines idle to maintain the heating, cooling, and other ancillary functions within their cab.  Having an auxiliary power unit – whether battery or fuel cell – could eliminate this need.)  Aerodynamics plays a HUGE role as well.  Think about it – semi-trucks today are a bit like a brick – an extremely large brick – blasting down the freeway at 70 mph.  Aerodynamic improvements are the low-hanging fruit.  Even simple add-ons that address the gap between the cab and the trailer, the space between the trailer and the road, and the flow-field immediately behind the trailer can have significant impacts.

Beyond this, truck OEMs are working on improvements with more efficient engines through downsizing and downspeeding combined with improvements in the transmission and controls.  The use of waste heat recovery systems is being investigated to capture some of the heat energy that is released through the exhaust system, converting it to electricity to power accessories.  Even driver aids, such as eco-feedback to provide information about the fuel-economy impacts of driving habits, and intelligent route mapping that considers traffic and topography in plotting the most optimum course for shipment, are being considered.  Super-insulated cabs to reduce the heating/cooling load, and super-wide low-rolling-resistance tires are also being developed.  The list goes on and on!

Why is this important? By some estimations, the emissions (of pollutants AND greenhouse gases) from passenger vehicles in the U.S. could flatten out as our vehicles become more efficient, combined with the (slight) potential for mass-transit as our population increases.  (In developing countries however, that might not be the case, unless you’re an eternal optimist and believe that China/India/Brazil will seize the opportunity and grow more smartly than we did.)  Freight, on the other hand, will continue to grow with our population, magnified by the globalization of trade. Basically, if we don’t do something now, the problem could be huge.

Plus, freight companies are businesses.  Businesses make money (or fail).  Rising and uncertain fuel costs wreak havoc with their operating expenses.  More freight-efficient transport translates into more stable profits for freight companies, and more stable prices for the consumer.

Of course, we haven’t even begun to discuss rail-freight yet.  But that’s a topic for another day…

You Lie!

October 6th, 2009 admin Comments off

This is not a political blog.

24

TWENTY-FOUR.  That’s the number of misleading statements (most of which are outright lies) that I just counted in this 9-and-a-half-minute video showing two Fox News segments about the DOE loans given to Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive through the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan program, authorized by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.  The myth perpetuated by the Fox folks (and a WSJ columnist) is that these loans are going to European companies, creating jobs overseas, to build ultra-expensive cars that nobody can afford, all because of Al Gore’s influence over the DOE.

As pointed out in this Autobloggreen post, Fisker is not a Finnish company – they’re based in Irvine, California.  The Karma’s body construction is contracted out to Valmet, a Finnish company that also builds Boxsters for Porsche.  As Fisker points out, 65% of the Karma (by cost) is built in the United States.  Similarly, Tesla Motors is not a British company, but is based in San Carlos, California.  Lotus builds the bodies for their Tesla Roadster in the UK, but again the majority of the car (not to mention the R&D efforts) come from the U.S.  And while the Fisker Karma and Tesla Roadster are indeed more expensive than the Camry in your garage, they are first-generation high-performance electric vehicles.  (The first computers were also outrageously expensive.  So were CD players.  And video cameras.  And DVD players.  And any other new technology that makes its way downmarket.)

The DOE loans are intended to increase the pace of technological development and volume manufacturing at these companies, and help bring the technology into the mainstream more quickly. Tesla’s Model S and Fisker’s NINA will arrive sooner than they otherwise would have, and they will be built here in the U.S. because of these loans.  And what role did Al Gore play in all of this?  None.  He (along with about 43 other individuals) is a partner at Kleiner Perkins, one of the financial backers behind Fisker, and a host of other companies.

Describing Fisker as “an Al Gore-backed company from Finland” isn’t only a stretch – it’s a blatant lie.

The Public Option, Good Karma, and the Mainstream

September 23rd, 2009 admin Comments off

If you’re keeping up with the goings-on in the alternative vehicle world these days, you might be as optimistic as I am.  As the economy starts to emerge from the sewer of the past year, indications are that momentum behind electrified vehicles is starting to increase – especially that of the financial variety.

a123-logoThe Public Option OK, so healthcare has taken center-stage for a number of weeks now, but that’s not what this is about.  I’m talking about the Initial Public Offering of shares of Li-ion battery maker A123 System’s common stock.  Without doing any rigorous financial analysis, I’m excited about the IPO.  A123 is a good company with an appropriate battery chemistry and some degree of demonstrating that it can mass produce battery cells at high volume.  Their acquisition of Hymotion gives them a test-bed and demonstration platform for using their battery technology in automotive applications.  They’ve received grants from both the federal and Michigan state governments.  Plus, they have a nice website.  The fact that the IPO was estimated to be priced at $8.75/share just a couple of weeks ago, and is now likely to be more in the $10 – $11.50 range, illustrates the excitement behind this IPO.  (This, in a time when folks are still reluctant to let go of their cash.)  We’ll know today or tomorrow what the price is, and it’ll be fun to watch what happens going forward.

fisker logoGood Karma It was announced this week that Fisker Automotive, maker of the Karma high-end PHEV, has joined the ranks of Ford, Nissan, and Tesla Motors and received federal loans from the DOE’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program, to the tune of $528-million (slightly more than the amount awarded to Tesla).  These funds will be used to complete the development of the Karma, as well as a second previously unknown model codenamed Project NINA, targeting the more mainstream lower-cost market.  Hopefully, private money will follow public, for Fisker and for the other companies receiving DOE grants and loans.

The Mainstream I hereby declare that electric vehicles have become mainstream!  The proof is that Stephen Colbert’s guest on the Colbert Report last night was Shai Agassi, the technologically brilliant and business savvy founder and CEO of Better Place, the company planning to deploy massive electric vehicle charging and battery-swap infrastructure.  Some might say Better Place’s task is more daunting than that of the automakers.  They have certainly received, and will continue to receive, a lot of attention from the industry.  But now Shai is visiting Stephen Colbert?!  What next – will Elon Musk appear on Letterman?!…

VVC (Very, Very Coy)

July 17th, 2009 admin Comments off

About a month ago, the V-Vehicle Company (VVC) burst onto the auto scene, announcing plans to set up shop in an abandoned Guide headlight plant in Monroe, Louisiana.  Their stated intention is to be “a new American car company that will produce a high-quality and fuel-efficient car for the U.S. market.”  They raised some eyebrows, probably because of their high-profile investors Kleiner Perkins and T. Boone Pickens (hey, what about his wind project?), and also because of their director of design, Tom Matano, who was the stylistic mind that created the iconic Mazda Miata.  Bringing jobs to a depressed region in America, building a new efficient American car, having all the right people in place – all sounds great, right?

It’s been a month since VVC came out from under the radar, and it seems like they’ve now faded back into secrecy.  Other than a fancy video from Louisiana Economic Development with some teaser images (and a rumor that the vehicle’s price-tag will be about $10k), there’s not much info to be had about the car that VVC plans to begin producing in about a year and a half.  I’m very curious as to why they chose last month to say, “HI, LOOK AT US!” without continuing to stoke the excitement.  (I wonder, might they be requesting DOE loans under the ATVMP?)  And what about this rumored $10k price tag, if it is true?  At that price, it certainly won’t be an electrified vehicle, like so many others that are currently under development.  (I wonder, could it have a natural gas-fueled powertrain, given that T. Boone is on board?)

I wish them luck, and they’ve definitely got my interested piqued.  But 18 17 months isn’t that far away, and Bobby Jindal‘s inspiring words at the end of the video won’t sustain me that long!

VVC teaser