Archive for Transportation

Will oil companies get the hell out of oil?

Virent Energy Systems said that it secured $46.4 million from Royal Dutch Shell and more than a dozen other investors to scale up production of transportation fuels from plant sugars. This is among several investments major oil companies have been making beyond oil — hydrogen, biofuels, and natural gas are on the list.

During last month’s Alternative Fuel Vehicle Institute conference, I was able to ask oil and natural gas icon T. Boone Pickens why oil companies are investing in alternative energy such as natural gas and biofuel. He said Exxon Mobil acquired a natural gas company to power energy plants, not vehicles. As for biofuels, he said OPEC completely controls oil companies, and they’re making these investments just to look good. He also downplayed the Gulf oil spill as if it were no big deal, and we’ve only basically had three – this one, Exxon Valdez, and Santa Barbara. I would beg to differ – a lot more than that.

Someone asked me later what I thought about what Pickens said about oil companies investing in something besides oil. I didn’t know what to say – I could see where he’s coming from, but I still think oil companies are also investing because drilling for oil will soon get very expensive (what’s referred to as peak oil) as will the prices at the pumps. That along with government regulations in the industrial world means this industry needs to expand its investment portfolio.


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Understanding the Big Three Electric Car Acronyms

When you read a newspaper or website, you’re finding a lot of coverage of battery-powered cars, which for now are the heart and soul of the green car movement. Sometimes it gets a bit confusing for readers to sift through the acronyms. Here’s a simple guide to breaking electrics into three categories: There’s gas-electric hybrids, plug-ins, and electric vehicles.

Most of the battery-powered cars on the road today are gas-electric hybrids, usually just called hybrids (think Prius). These are officially called HEVs – hybrid electric vehicles. Toyota has sold more than a million of them in the U.S. so far, and is now competing with Honda to dominate the global hybrid market.

The electrics getting the most attention this year are plug-ins. The up and coming plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are being pushed forward by the Obama administration, by General Motors through the upcoming Chevy Volt, and are the focus of at least two industry conferences this year (one of them, Plug-in 2009, is coming up in August at the Long Beach Convention Center).

Plug-ins, like HEVs, have onboard internal combustion engines that charge batteries or otherwise provide electricity to electric motors. What makes a PHEV different from an HEV is its ability to charge the batteries by plugging the vehicle into grid-provided electricity. This can mean plugging into electricity outlets at your house, work, parking lot, fuel station, etc. PHEVs have the capacity to be even more fuel efficient than an HEV.

And finally there’s the EV, electric vehicle, sometimes called a BEV, or battery electric vehicle. An EV must be plugged in to obtain energy to drive the vehicle and has a range limited by the battery pack. The historic reference point always goes back to GM’s EV1, which started and failed in the late 1990s. Today, there are several specialty OEMs making electrics (think Tesla, Miles Electric Vehicles, and ZAP Electric Cars).

So that’s it. It’s good to have these categories simplified. There’s a lot of content focused these days on electric cars, and it appears to becoming the foundation of green cars in the world. There are others to keep your eyes on – vehicles powered by biofuels/flex fuels, compressed natural gas, propane, and hydrogen fuel cells, in particular. But hybrids, plug-ins, and pure electrics are the focal point right now.

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Exclusive Sedan Service Joins LEAP

LOS ANGELES – Exclusive Sedan Service has joined the Limousine Environmental Action Partnership, (LEAP) in an effort to reduce its carbon footprint.

LEAP, a Newton, Conn.-based company that promotes energy efficient strategies and environmental solutions for the executive/chauffeured ground transportation and limousine industry, has partnered with award-winning Exclusive Sedan Service to implement an ambitious multi-pronged emission reduction program designed to significantly reduce CO2 emissions by 2012.

“Exclusive’s long-standing commitment to the environment is second to none in the chauffeured ground transportation industry and today we have extended our dedication with the addition of LEAP’s Sustainability Framework,” said Ron Stein, president of the 30-year-old company.

The Exclusive Sedan Service/LEAP program will integrate an aggressive sustainability initiative, apply innovations in technology and more efficient processes, and help formalize the company’s dedication to implementing sustainable principles at every opportunity.

“We are supporting the commitment to sustainable practices that our clients are adopting and implementing,” Stein said. “Brandan and I have always wanted to do the right thing for our environment, always recycling, having flex-fuel SUVs, hybrids, and integrating emission reduction and fuel efficiency improvements throughout every level of the company.”

Exclusive Sedan, which won a 2007 LCT Operator of the Year Award, is rolling out environmentally focused initiatives within several core areas, including acting to reduce carbon emissions through new technologies, more efficient processes, and educating both their staff and customers.

Brandan Stein, the company’s vice president of operations, said, “Promoting change is what Exclusive Sedan Service is all about. The other LEAP partners have already proven that greenhouse gas emission reductions and strong economic performance are not an either/or proposition. The bottom line is that environmental protection and sustainable business performance are inextricably linked. LEAP proves over and over that there is a very strong business case for sustainability today.”

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What’s Next for Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles?

Here’s coverage and perspective from Green Car Journal on the EPA’s decision to cut funding for hydrogen fuel cell vehicle development. It’s a bit of a shame; the Obama administration is focused on plug-ins and electrics. Hydrogen will probably become mass market transportation someday, but that’s going to take longer now. And manufacturers are still devoted to making it happen–

The 2010 budget submitted to Congress reduces the Department of Energy’s (DOE) hydrogen program by $100 million, representing an almost a 60 percent cut, essentially cutting all government support for developing fuel cell vehicles. Research will continue for stationary fuel cells where hydrogen storage is less of an issue.

While disappointing hydrogen advocates, considering the huge amount of deficit spending of the Obama administration some think it’s is a rational cut. However, the National Hydrogen Association believes it is too early to be picking winning and losing technologies.

According to DOE Secretary Steven Chu, it is unlikely that we will convert to a hydrogen car economy in the next 10 to 20 years, with the biggest challenge being the huge investment required for a nationwide fueling infrastructure. Thus, in this recession period the government perspective is that funds are better spent on more ‘shovel ready’ projects, such as President Obama’s goal of a million plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2015.

So what’s next? Even though fuel cell vehicle development will slow down in the U.S., it will still progress. Significant activity is already underway, including GM’s groundbreaking Project Driveway program that’s fielding 100 Equinox Fuel Cell vehicles in an ongoing demonstration program. Plus, hydrogen activities will continue worldwide. For example, Daimler AG will start small-series production of its B-Class sedan with a fuel cell drive system by the end of 2009. Based on the Mercedes-Benz BlueZERO F-CELL model shown at the 2009 North American International Auto Show, it will join the Honda Clarity as one of the first ‘production’ fuel cell vehicles (FCVs).

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Five Green Leaders to Gain As Clients

Five corporate green leaders have been identified as important decision makers who will impact sustainability practices in the years ahead. These would be great people to know,  and to provide green transportation alliances. Read on for Environmental Leader’s coverage:

Reuters News and Venture Capital Journal have selected five decision makers who will lead green business in technology, energy usage and climate change in the months and years ahead. The leaders are making waves in the political and public arenas, and behind the doors of their respective corporations. The five key decision makers selected are:

* Vinod Khosla, founder of Khosla Ventures;

* Dan Reicher, director of climate change and energy initiatives at;

* Jennifer Fonstad, managing director, Draper Fisher Jurvetson;

* Lyndon Rive, CEO, Solar City, and

* Matt Kistler, Wal-Mart senior vice president for sustainability.

Read all about it on Environmental Leader: click here.

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Watch What Happens in Colly-Fore-Nya

California is the leading state adopting new regulations governing alternative-fuel vehicles, emission standards, and fuel requirements. It’s interesting to follow what happens in California, as it influences decisions made in several other states and in Washington, D.C.

According to Sacramento Business Journal, this is how the California Energy Commission plans to use funds, to bolster renewable and alternative fuel production – and it’s interesting to see such diversity in program funding – for electrics, hydrogen fuel cells, ethanol, and natural gas and to a lesser extend biodiesel and propane:

  • Electric Drive; $46 million; to convert hybrid electric vehicles to plug-in hybrid vehicles, electrify operations at ports and truck stops, develop and demonstrate hybrid electric technologies for trucks, increase electric charging stations, provide incentives to locate manufacturing facilities for electric vehicle components in the state.
  • Hydrogen: $40 million to increase the number of hydrogen fueling stations
  • Ethanol: $12 million to increase production that use waste materials as feed stock and to increase the Ethanol-85 fueling stations.
  • Renewable Diesel/Biodiesel: $6 million
  • Natural Gas: $43 million to purchase natural gas vehicles for ports, school districts and public fleets, increase the number of fueling stations and develop biomethane production plants
  • Propane: $2 million, Purchase school buses and vehicles for public fleets
  • Other: $27 million to establish workforce training programs, continue research, launch public outreach programs, develop standards, and others

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Getting SmartWay About It

The EPA has a program you might want to check out, called SmartWay, which rates passenger vehicles by green standards. It’s getting attention, in fact US Bank offers a half percent rate reduction on auto loans for cars given a green seal of approval through SmartWay. Click here to find approved vehicles, and you can sort by model year, state, make, and model.

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