Archive for June, 2010

The Greenest Oil Company

Long before the Gulf spill, BP had been trying to make amends and wanted to improve its image as an environmentally responsible company. There have been other costly oil spills in the U.S. for the oil company, such as those that occurred in 2006 and 2007 at is Prudhoe Bay facility in Alaska. The company may begin production of cellulosic ethanol starting this year. Other BP alternative and renewable energy projects include wind farms in America and a biobutanol facility to be built in England. The company has also has vested interest in algae and solar power. As the Deepwater Horizon disaster keeps getting worse, BP has repeatedly botched communications efforts around the environmental disaster that is the worst oil spill in U.S. history. While most competitors tend to remain silent, Shell seems to be going after a space once owned by BP by presenting itself as something more than an oil company. An aggressive new multimedia ad campaign kicked off May 28. The effort tells a story about the dawn of a future that will be powered by new and multiple energy sources and cleaner fossil fuels that Shell is “unlocking.”

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Race for X Prize Revving Up

Twenty one teams have been descending on Michigan International Speedway this week, and the stakes are high. The X Prize taps into the American spirit of competition, enterprise, and technology, and is a great place to try stuff out that might become prototypes for mass market cars. It’s in the spirit of President Kennedy pledging that a man would be on the moon by the end of the 1960s. Five years ago, the X Prize foundation added the automotive category to its annual awards lineup. Entrants design and create super-efficient vehicles that help break addiction to oil and stem the effects of climate change. For those entering and qualifying, which is quite a lengthy and rigorous process, three of them will end up splitting the $10 million prize – $5 million for the best four-door economy car; $2.5 million each will go to two winners in a two-seater category. As of now, there are 24 qualified entrants left, and they’ll be competing until the race ends this summer. For those remaining, Aptera, Tata Motors, and ZAP are still in the ranks, joined by teams from universities and various groups started up just to win the X Prize.

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Plug-in 2010 Coming Soon

I recommend that you go to Plug-in 2010, which is taking place July 26-29 in San Jose, which in the ’70s and ’80s used to be thought of as the capital city of Silicon Valley. It’s probably no accident that this show started in SJ two years ago and is sponsored by Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Electric Power Research Institute. It is a high tech game to play, and there’s more commitment to plug-in electric vehicles making it in the bay area than anywhere else so far. If you’ll be there, let me know and I’ll set up a video interview with you. What I liked about going last year in my hometown of Long Beach was that you got to meet people on both sides of the aisle – the electric utility companies and their network of providers, and automakers and their suppliers. Some parties were in both camps such as charging station providers. They’re actually serving as the bridge between them. Utilities don’t want to invest heavily in charging stations – they have a lot of money to invest in upgrading very old power station technology and other high priorities to deal with. And government agencies pushing plug-ins have their limits, too. So you need companies like Better Place, Coulomb Technologies, and AeroVironment to make it happen, or it might not happen at all. So let me know if you’ll be there – we have a lot to talk about.

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Hello Car Buffs and Sci-Fi Nerds!

I’ve been covering alt-fuel/green vehicles on and off since the early 1990s, but it’s gotten much more interesting in the past couple of years. To be in this world, you’ve got to wear a few hats for all this to sink in – engineer, scientist, policymaker, car buff, and sci-fi nerd. It can get tedious, long winded, and confusing.

Questions can arise such as: Why did this organization just release a report on the extraordinary benefits of (Fill in the Blank) alternative fuel? Why is this automaker focusing on hybrids but not on plug-ins or pure electrics? Corn ethanol has become controversial – so what will replace it and when? Is this company really committed to going green, or just wants to look good?

Much to chew over. It does make for a lively, fun, and fascinating topic to explore.

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Plugging in at Capital City of Silicon Valley

I recommend that you go to Plug-in 2010, which is taking place July 26-29 in San Jose, which in the ’70s and ’80s used to be thought of as the capital city of Silicon Valley. It’s probably no accident that this show started in SJ two years ago and is sponsored by Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Electric Power Research Institute. It is a high tech game to play, and there’s more commitment to plug-in electric vehicles making it in the bay area than anywhere else so far. If you’ll be there, let me know and I’ll set up a video interview with you. What I liked about going last year in my hometown of Long Beach was that you got to meet people on both sides of the aisle – the electric utility companies and their network of providers, and automakers and their suppliers. Some parties were in both camps such as charging station providers. They’re actually serving as the bridge between them. Utilities don’t want to invest heavily in charging stations – they have a lot of money to invest in upgrading very old power station technology and other high priorities to deal with. And government agencies pushing plug-ins have their limits, too. So you need companies like Better Place, Coulomb Technologies, and AeroVironment to make it happen, or it might not happen at all. So let me know if you’ll be there – we have a lot to talk about – jon@lesagecommunications.com.

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Watch for Autogas, AKA Propane

Propane has been powering much more than barbeques and home heating systems for a long time. In the 1970s and 1980s, aftermarket suppliers were converting vehicles over to propane power and fleets were trying them out with much satisfaction. That went by the wayside for many years, with much more interest in natural gas as an attractive alternative, non-petroleum option. In the past couple of years, propane (also known as Autogas around the world), has been growing by leaps and bounds especially in fleet applications, and automakers and technology suppliers are working together to expand product offerings especially in light trucks. A new trade organization has just been announced that could unite leaders in the field and take things to the next level. Autogas for America hopes to increase the number of U.S. Autogas vehicles from 200,000 to 500,000 by mid-2013. The core goals of Autogas for America center around a three-pronged strategy: build a network of stakeholders; educate the U.S. public, government and media about the fuel’s benefits; and encourage America’s fleets to adopt Autogas.

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Just Say No to Foreign Oil – Do We Believe It?

There are a lot of different agendas and politico-socio-economico viewpoints out there when you go to an alternative fuel/vehicle conference. Maybe your company is pushing biofuels, or maybe there are benefits to natural gas that don’t even have much to do with global warming and pollution. Or you’re a fleet manager dealing with tricky state regulations. Wherever you come from, you probably agree – Let’s get away from importing foreign oil. That is mentioned by government agencies, environmental groups, trade associations, fuel suppliers, etc. I see the point to it and agree with the benefits, but sometimes it raises questions in my mind. Such as: A lot of our oil is now imported from Canada and Mexico, our NAFTA partners. Is that foreign oil evil? What countries do we specifically want to include in our foreign oil embargo? What about offshore oil, whether drilled for by a foreign company (BP) or domestic? Is offshore better than importing foreign oil? We’ve had a ton of domestic offshore oil spills in the last 40 years – way more than Santa Barbara, Exxon Valdez, and Gulf of Mexico. Shouldn’t we get away from offshore oil? And a final question – What do people really want in place of foreign oil? Is there one alternative fuel or energy source that would win that race?

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