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Three in Four Motorists Ready to “Consider” Alt-Fuel Vehicles

New study confirms fuel economy now the most important factor for U.S. car buyers.

by on May.22, 2012

Motorists say they're very open to alternative powertrain technology. Will that bode well for the new Toyota RAV4-EV?

This year’s near-record run-up in fuel prices has clearly had an impact on the choices American motorists are making when it’s time to buy a new vehicle – in fact, three in four U.S. drivers now say they’re ready to consider an alternative-fuel vehicle, according to a new study.

While many motorists still aren’t ready to trade in their roomy SUVs for high-mileage subcompacts — at least if recent sales are considered — there’s little doubt that there are significant changes underway in the American car market, with fuel economy now a much more important factor than vehicle quality or safety, according to research by the non-profit Consumer Reports.

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“These results make it clear that high fuel prices are continuing to impact driver behavior and influencing future purchase considerations,” said Jeff Bartlett, Consumer Reports deputy auto editor. “While quality, safety and value are still important, this may be foreshadowing a market shift by folks seeking relief at the pump.”


E15 Fuel Could Wreck Engines, Study Warns

New study shows “adverse results” from increasing ethanol use.

by on May.17, 2012

Pumps serving up the new E15 blend must display this warning label to motorists.

A new study suggests the federal government’s decision to increase the amount of ethanol in gasoline could have “adverse results,” which several industry trade groups say translates into the likelihood it could wreck some engines.

Federal regulators last year upped the percentage of ethanol it wants used in gas from 10% to 15% — what’s known in the trade as E15.  While many of today’s vehicles can handle that and even go up to an 85% blend of the alcohol-based additive many trade groups, as well as classic car owners, howled in protest, warning that the increase might cause damage to older vehicles.

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They also cautioned that other gas-powered machines, such as marine engines, lawn mowers, generators and chainsaws could be damaged.

A new study by the Coordinating Research Council, or CRC – a trade group supported by eight major global automakers – warns that the critics are right.  While the make-up of the CRC might lead some to question its motives, and thus its findings, the study was actually conducted by FEV, a company that has long served as a consultant to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


Will E85 Vanish from the Market?

End of subsidy likely to further weaken demand.

by on Jun.17, 2011

If the House approves a measure already passed by the Senate, U.S. taxpayers will no longer subsidize ethanol fuels.

Members of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will now get their chance to prove how serious they are about cutting the budget deficit – even at the expense of political sacred cows – when they consider a proposed measure eliminating nearly $6 billion a year in subsidies for ethanol  production.

The Senate has already approved its version of the bill, by a lopsided 73 – 27 vote that found even some farm state lawmakers agreeing to end the giveaway.  That measure would also lift a 54-cent a gallon tariff on biofuel from Brazil that had helped hold prices on ethanol and E85 fuels above what the market might have otherwise allowed.

Unless the measure falls flat in the House or receives an unlikely White House veto, ethanol-based fuels, such as E85, will likely become significantly more expensive. In turn, that could effectively kill its use as an automotive alternative fuel. But the cost to the nation’s farmers could be significant.

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While both of Michigan’s senators voted to maintain the subsidy for U.S.-made ethanol — reflecting the state’s large corn farm lobby — the mood has been clearly shifting in recent times.  Only a few years ago, General Motors had funded an elaborate “Go Yellow” marketing campaign designed to build support for E85, a fuel made up of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.  But industry insiders say GM and other makers had supported the use of the biofuel primarily because it let them slip through loopholes in federal fuel economy standards.


Americans Curbing Thirst For Gasoline

Start of a long decline, experts predict.

by on Dec.22, 2010

Americans are pumping less gasoline every year.

There was a time when there seemed to be a gas station on every corner in America, and lines waiting to fill up.  But after hitting its peak in 2006, the U.S. thirst for gasoline may have finally hit its peak and is showing signs of what could be a long decline.

As 2010 draws to a close, U.S. gasoline consumption is expected to average out to about 8.2 million barrels a day, a full 8% less than the peak, four years earlier, government data shows.  And the actual figure is slightly less, since that number isn’t adjusted to reflect the ethanol that’s now blended into much of the gasoline pumped at the steadily dwindling number of service stations dotting American roads.

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By 2030, projects a study by Deutsche Bank, demand could dip as low as 5.4 million barrels a day – barely what the U.S. consumed in 1969.  Other research suggests that figure is too low, but most forecast a dip below 7 million barrels.

A variety of factors appear to be leading to the decline: more fuel-efficient vehicles are a lead factor.  Today’s typical automobile gets well more than double the mileage of the vehicles that were on the road in the 1970s, during the days of the first oil shocks.  The Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard is set to jump from 27 miles per gallon to 35.5 mpg by 2016.  And, while federal regulators have delayed a decision on what follows, the Obama Administration is clearly in favor of bumping the CAFE figure to as much as 62 mpg by 2025.


Automakers Sue To Block Expanded Ethanol Usage

Makers claim renewable fuel could damage engines.

by on Dec.21, 2010

Automakers join a lawsuit aimed at blocking the expanded use of ethanol in gasoline.

While most automakers have been encouraging motorists to use ethanol-based E85 fuels in their latest “FlexFuel” models, the industry has joined a lawsuit aiming to block a government-mandated increase in the use of ethanol for older vehicles.

The controversy surrounds a mid-October decision by the Environmental Protection Agency which aimed to increase the amount of ethanol used in gasoline from the current 10% to 15%.  The EPA claims that this partial waiver – which only covers vehicles produced since the 2007 model-year is safe.  But the auto industry and others contend that ethanol could damage the engines of vehicles that haven’t been specifically designed to use it.

The lawsuit was originally filed by Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute.  Those groups are now joined by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents the Detroit Big Three, Toyota and eight other companies.

The EPA had actually hoped to head off a confrontations with its modified October ruling.  After an extensive delay, the agency approved use of so-called E15 fuel – made up of 85% gasoline and 15% ethanol – for relatively late-model cars and trucks, while further delaying a decision on still older products.  The move would require refiners and their service stations to operate two sets of pumps, one for E15 blends, the other for the current E10 blend, which uses just 10% ethanol.

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But opponents contend that even that slight increase in the amount of the alcohol fuel – typically produced from crops like corn – can be corrosive and that ethanol blends burn hotter, which can further damage engines.

“The safe and reliable use of those products is paramount to us and our customers, and the legal action we take today is to protect those customers,” said Kris Kiser, a spokesman for the Engine Products Group, an umbrella organization representing the various participants in the suit to block the EPA mandate.


U.S. DOE and GM to Test Grow Jatropha in India

Oily weed holds promise as a sustainable biodiesel feedstock.

by on Mar.30, 2010

The goal of the project is to demonstrate that jatropha can produce significant quantities of oil for conversion to biodiesel.

The goal of the project is to demonstrate that the weed can produce significant enough amounts of oil for conversion to biodiesel fuel.

General Motors Company announced today a five-year partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to help develop the jatropha plant for what could evolve into a sustainable biofuel energy crop.

Jatropha plants produce an oil that can be refined into biodiesel fuel.

The drought-resistant, non-edible plant can be grown commercially with modest care on marginal land.

To explore whether new varieties of the plant can produce high enough yields to make it viable while thriving in temperate climates in the U.S. is the point of the experiment.

“Discovering new sources for biodiesel production is an important part of DOE research and development efforts,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. “The expertise of this team can help speed the pace for the development of jatropha as a biofuel crop.”

Two jatropha farms will be established in India: a 16-hectare (39.5 acre) plot in Bhavnagar and a 38-hectare (93.9 acre) plot in Kalol, near GM’s India Car Manufacturing plant. An existing 30-hectare (74.1 acre) jatropha farm in Bhavnagar also will be managed under this project.

Lab-optimized strains of jatropha will be cultivated at these farms.

The joint DOE-GM funding, an unspecified amount, will also enable the Central Salt & Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI)—an Indian Government research facility, to  manage all of the 84 hectares (840,000 m2).   (more…)

Biomass Ethanol Moves a Semi-Step Forward

Coskata starts up a flexible ethanol plant in Pennsylvania.

by on Oct.15, 2009

It is thought that using biomass – inexpensive farm waste – could radically alter the economics of ethanol.

Using biomass – inexpensive farm waste – could radically alter the economics of ethanol.

Coskata Inc., a developer of biofuels, today announced the successful start-up of its semi-commercial flex-ethanol plant in Madison, Pennsylvania.

The operation potentially represents a successful scale-up of company’s experimental technology. It could evolve into the world’s first commercially-viable ethanol process that would use bio-mass rather than foodstocks, such as corn, which are currently used for the mass production of ethanol.

U.S. energy policy, which grants ethanol a 52-cent per gallon taxpayer subsidy to politically connected farmers, is controversial since production of the fuel over its life cycle consumes as much or more energy as it produces. Furthermore, numerous studies have shown that if ethanol were to replace oil, people would starve from the resulting lack of grain in the world’s markets. U.S. tariff policy also effectively blocks the importation of sugar-cane-derived ethanol from Brazil, currently a much more efficient process.

Feedstock for the Mind!

Feedstock for the Mind!

It is thought that using biomass – inexpensive farm waste – could radically alter the economics of ethanol. For example, making ethanol from the cellulose of plants is less costly than using corn grain. Switch grass, a crop that grows readily in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains, and corn leaves and stalks or other crop wastes are cheap to acquire and potentially solve the starvation issue. The lower cost could also end the huge taxpayer subsidies, although the farm lobby holds powerful sway in the pay to play Washington scene.


Interest in EVs Gaining Ground

by on Feb.10, 2009

Interest in electric vehicles, like Chevy's Volt, is charging up

Interest in electric vehicles, like Chevy's Volt, is charging up

A new study from Maritz Automotive Research Group suggests consumer interest in new automotive technology is continuing to grow, particularly when it comes to electric vehicles.

Maritz’s Automotive Research Group has been tracking awareness of alternative fuels in its annual New Vehicle Customer Study (NVCS) since 2005, and the data show electric power growing as a primary alternative fuel among the current choices. Approximately 9 percent of consumers, who bought or leased a new vehicle in 2008, judge the electric-powered vehicle as the alternative fuel that was most appealing. As measured by the Maritz survey, the appeal of the electric vehicles has grown from 3.4 percent in 2006, to 6.6 percent in 2007 to 9.4 percent.

Another finding of the survey, which has held up in each of the past three years, was that interest is higher among those who purchased or leased a car rather than a light truck, suggesting a natural market divide could develop as more electric vehicles come on the market.


Greener Ethanol a Step Closer to a Pump Near You

Nation's largest ethanol supplier has cellulosic pilot plant up and running in South Dakota

by on Feb.09, 2009

poets-projectThe holy grail of renewable fuels is a commercially viable process for converting cellulosic materials into convenient, combustible liquids that can power cars and trucks. The longstanding challenge is breaking down cellulose into smaller molecules that can be re-assembled into ethanol or other fuels.

Cellulose is the stuff of which plants are mostly made, and it’s comprised of a long, tough chains of sugar-like compounds that God created (or nature evolved, if you will) for the express purpose of resisting breakdown.

With their multiple stomachs, cows break down cellulose just fine. The problem is that they (more specifically, the enzymes in their guts) are rather slow about it compared to the rate at which it needs to be digested to supply any meaningful portion of the 160 billion gallons of gasoline we guzzle each year. Those enzymes and the biorefining processes that use them are still quite pricey compared to what it costs to refine petroleum, unless oil gets (and stays) much more expensive than it is today.

Nonetheless, progress is being made. A notable development was recently announced by POET Energy, the nation’s largest ethanol producer. POET has taken its cellulosic ethanol process out of the lab and into a pilot plant now up and running in Scotland, South Dakota, a small town about an hour and a half southwest of Sioux Falls.


Shift to Alternative Fuels Continuing

Recession, low gas prices can't halt switch.

by on Feb.06, 2009

Making a better case for alternative fuels

Making a better case for alternative fuels

Recession or not, the auto industry, or at least elements of it, are setting course for a greener future.

Ricardo Inc. of Van Buren, Mi., the American arm of the British engineering firm Ricardo plc, has announced it has developed technology that optimizes ethanol-fueled engines to a level of performance that exceeds gasoline engine efficiency and approaches levels previously reached only by diesel engines.

The technology, called Ethanol Boosted Direct Injection or EBDI, takes full advantage of ethanol’s best properties – higher octane and higher heat of vaporization – to create a truly renewable fuel scenario that is independent of the cost of oil.

“Developing renewable energy applications that can lead to energy independence is a top priority at Ricardo,” said Ricardo President Dean Harlow. “We’ve moved past theoretical discussion and are busy applying renewable energy technology to the real world. The EBDI engine project is a great example because it turns the gasoline-ethanol equation upside down. It has the performance of diesel, at the cost of ethanol, and runs on ethanol, gasoline, or a blend of both.”