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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Jan/Feb 2000 : Automotive Odyssey

Special Section
Automotive Odyssey
The Wheels of Change Propel Autos Down Greener Path


Accelerating Fuel Cell Car Introductions

U.S. Senator John D. Rockefeller, along with original co-sponsors Senators Orrin G. Hatch, Michael Crapo, and Richard Bryan, have introduced the “Alternative Fuels Promotion Act,” which will provide incentives to spur the commercialization of methanol-powered fuel cell cars and other alternative fuel vehicles. The Alternative Fuels Promotion Act includes the following provisions:

• Extends the sunset date for the existing federal tax credit of 10 percent of the purchase price of an electric or fuel cell vehicle—up to $4,000—from 2004 to 2010. In addition, for vehicles capable of a driving range of at least 100 miles—a viable target for methanol fuel cell vehicles—the tax credit would increase to $5,000.

• Gives a tax deduction for the cost of installing an alternative fueling station of up to $30,000. Currently, there is a $100,000 tax deduction for the cost of capital equipment associated with alternative fueling stations.

• Provides a 50-cent gasoline-equivalent gallon tax credit (based on energy content) to sellers of methanol and other alternative fuels, which would expire on December 31, 2007. Offering the tax credit to the retail fuel seller will allow the savings to be easily passed along to the consumer at the pump.

• Gives states the authority to allow access to High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes to alternative fuel vehicles with a single occupant.

The world’s largest auto manufacturing companies have announced plans to commercialize fuel cell vehicles by 2004. Methanol, a liquid fuel made from natural gas or renewable resources, is likely to be the hydrogen carrier providing the energy needed to run fuel cell cars. The prototype fuel cell cars being built today cost more than vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. Ultimately, the auto industry believes it can offer fuel cell vehicles with no incremental cost. The Alternative Fuels Promotion Act would provide tax credits for the purchase of fuel cell cars that will be needed during the initial years of production.

This bill also provides incentives for infrastructure support. EA Engineering, Inc. recently completed a study for American Methanol Institute finding that the costs to adapt existing gasoline stations to methanol operation range from less than $20,000 using existing underground storage tanks to just over $62,000 to install a new tank. The capital costs for the new tank, piping and dispenser is $35,000, while the labor costs to install the equipment are $27,000. Providing an additional tax deduction of up to $30,000 for this installation work will greatly assist efforts to add methanol pumps to the existing retail service station network.

In California, the pump price for methanol at 38 retail stations ranges from 87.9 cents to $1.10 per gallon. According to the California Energy Commission, the average price for regular gasoline for the first week of May 1999 was $1.54. However, methanol has about half the energy content of gasoline, so when it’s used as an alternative fuel in an internal combustion engine you need almost twice the volume of fuel to go the same distance. Since fuel cell vehicles may be twice as efficient as cars using internal combustion engines, methanol can eventually compete with gasoline on a gallon-for-gallon basis. The fuel tax credit in the bill—about 25 cents per gallon for methanol on a volume basis—would offer significant savings for the consumer, and an attractive margin for the retail seller to encourage the investment needed to install methanol fueling capacity.

The bill also would provide a popular incentive for urban commuters by allowing drivers of fuel cell vehicles to use HOV lanes without having additional passengers. Since one of the purposes of HOV lanes is to reduce air pollution, encouraging the use of zero or near-zero emission fuel cell vehicles meets this objective.

New E-Wheel System

A high-performance electric drive system that can be housed in vehicle wheel assemblies is the result of an agreement between the Michelin Group and Technologies M4 Inc. (TM4) of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The E-Wheel control system offers electric and hybrid vehicle developers a variety of advantages, including greater vehicle design flexibility, improved handling, increased load-bearing capacity and run-flat tire capability, according to TM4 President David Johnston.

The E-Wheel control system integrates features of Michelin’s PAX system with direct drive-and-control system technology developed by TM4 for electric, fuel-cell and other hybrid vehicles. It locates high-efficiency motors inside a car or light truck wheels’ assemblies to power the vehicle and electronically manage handling and control features. With its wider footprint, Michelin’s revolutionary new PAX-system wheels are ideally suited to house the TM4’s electric drive motors. The E-Wheel control system design includes an advanced in-vehicle electronic controller that communicates with the smart wheels through a proprietary system that optimizes vehicle control.

Powering an EV Curriculum

Building an electric vehicle infrastructure, complete with vehicles and charging stations, is only part of an equation for establishing a viable electric vehicle industry. Just as important is a workforce of trained technicians who understand the technology and can service electric vehicles.

Georgia Power is helping meet this challenge by assisting the Georgia Department of Education as it establishes an electric vehicle education curriculum. The curriculum will target high school students throughout Georgia and will broaden their knowledge in related disciplines such as principles of technology, physics and auto technology through hands-on experiences. In addition, the curriculum will increase awareness by students and their teachers of technology and local transportation issues.

An electric vehicle curriculum should be available statewide by the fall 2000. Schools opting to participate will be eligible for an innovative program grant from the Georgia Department of Education to purchase the necessary EV-related equipment, teaching materials and training needed to implement the curriculum. Local automotive dealers and battery manufacturers also will be encouraged to donate supplies and service.

Chevy’s Triax Concept

General Motors, Detroit, MI, has unveiled a new concept in advanced technology vehicles: The Chevrolet Triax shows how to create a vehicle that reduces energy consumption and emissions with unprecedented flexibility both for the manufacturer in choosing a body style to offer and for the customer in choosing the type of power plant desired.

Multiple propulsion options have been designed into the basic vehicle, providing the customer freedom of choice. The focus on vehicle efficiency begins with low-mass technologies, lowered aerodynamic drag and reduced tire and chassis energy losses. This provides the foundation for the innovative Triax propulsion systems that are mounted to the common frame and chassis system unit. The propulsion system options include: a hybrid-electric, a battery-electric, a conventional engine and the potential for a fuel cell-electric.

The electric propulsion system has two electric motors, one that drives the front wheels and the other the rear wheels. The hybrid-electric also uses an electric motor to drive the front wheels and has a small motor in the rear, between the engine and the transaxle. The center portion of the frame provides space for the energy storage systems: a battery for the EV, a battery and fuel tank for the hybrid-electric and a fuel tank for the conventional engine.

v The air-spring suspension system maintains a constant ride height for optimal aerodynamic pose regardless of vehicle loading. The ride quality will be more uniform as the mass distribution varies less with vehicle loading with this architecture. In addition to the multiple propulsion system technologies presented with Triax, a selection of different body styles and configurations can be produced.

Nissan Looks to Alternative Energy

Nissan North America, Gardena, CA, has introduced the Altra EV—a clean, quiet and comfortable electric vehicle for the United States market. The lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery based Altra EV is just one of many global alternative transportation solutions Nissan is developing. Other clean air technologies available today and/or in development include:

• The Sentra CA (SULEV with Zero Evaporative Emissions) certified by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) as the only gasoline-fueled vehicle in the world to attain the agency’s most stringent tailpipe emission levels (SULEV-Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) and zero evaporative emissions, while fulfilling all On-Board Diagnostic II (OBD II) requirements.

• The Hypermini, an ultra-small electric vehicle designed especially for short trips by one or two people. Its “hyperbody” construction is based on a lightweight aluminum space frame with high rigidity. The Hypermini provides a driving range of 115 kilometers (about 70 miles) on a single battery charge, thanks in part to its lightweight, highly rigid body, and achieves a top speed of 100 kph (62 mph).

• The Tino hybrid vehicle uses an electric motor and a gasoline-fueled engine to dramatically cut emissions, and double the fuel efficiency of a vehicle powered solely with a gasoline-fueled engine.

• Last spring Nissan launched a demonstration of a methanol-fueled fuel cell vehicle in Japan which uses an on-board methanol reformer to extract hydrogen from methanol. The hydrogen is combined with ambient air and put through a fuel cell, which creates electricity to power a neodimium permanent magnet synchronous motor. Nissan plans to make a fuel-cell vehicle available commercially in Japan between 2003 and 2005.

U.S. Electricar and Hyundai Partner on Hybrid Vehicle

U.S. Electricar, Inc., Torrance, CA, under contract with Hyundai Motor Co. of Korea, has developed a parallel Hybrid system for its vehicle applications. The system was created in partnership with Hyundai for its Concept Car displayed at the Seoul Auto Show. The system has been successfully integrated and has demonstrated all performance requirements.

The Hyundai parallel hybrid drive system consists of both an electric motor and internal combustion engine. The electric motor, battery and controller are utilized during acceleration, deceleration and high torque demands with an internal combustion engine operating during highway and cruise driving when the engine is most efficient.

Ford Showcases Think

The Th!nk City two-seat electric car is a battery-powered vehicle that has been specially created for urban transportation. With its purchase of a majority interest in Oslo, Norway-based Th!nk Nordic AS, manufacturer of the Th!nk City, Ford Motor Co. believes that the Th!nk will provide quick access to the personal city commuter vehicle market, according to John Wallace, Ford’s director of environmental vehicle programs.

The compact Th!nk car features a corrosion-proof, matte-finish thermoplastic body that is integrated with a steel frame that provides overall strength for the car and enables it to meet European safety standards. It has a top speed of 90 kilometers per hour and a real-world range of about 85 kilometers between charges. Th!nk is already on the roads in Norway—more than 50 prototype vehicles are in the process of being tested.

Hypercar Center’s Worldwide Efforts

A division of Rocky Mountain Institute, The Hypercar CenterSM is at the forefront of a worldwide effort by automotive, materials and electronics firms to reinvent the automobile as an ultralight, hybrid-electric “Hypercar” capable of radically improved efficiency with equivalent or better performance and features. The Hypercar Center assists corporations and organizations seeking to develop Hypercars or Hypercar components. It currently provides a variety of proprietary written products, software and consulting services to more than 20 major firms worldwide.

The four basic ingredients of the Hypercar vehicle concept—ultralight construction, low-drag design, hybrid electric drive and efficient accessories—are combined in a whole-system approach. The result, according to the Hypercar Center, are vehicles that are three to four (or more) times more fuel-efficient than comparable current models, yet are as good or better in every other respect.

The most obvious difference in the way a Hypercar would work is in its hybrid-electric drive system, which combines aspects of both conventional and electric cars. Like a conventional car, a hybrid-electric car has a power plant (engine); like an electric car, its wheels are driven by electric motors. It’s a hybrid of the two because its engine generates electricity to drive the wheels. Energy from the power plant is sent to the wheels electrically, via wires, instead of mechanically, via a driveshaft and other moving parts. (Some hybrids incorporate both types of drive systems, using them separately or together at different times.) That overcomes many of the inefficiencies inherent in conventional cars, and it eliminates the heavy batteries and limited range of battery-electric cars. In addition, the electric motors can also act as brakes, recovering much of the energy that’s otherwise lost in braking.

Hypercar proponents say its lightweight body need not look much different from that of a conventional model, but its aerodynamic design would help it to slip through the air much more easily. Likewise, special tires would minimize friction. All of this, plus a more efficient heating and cooling system and other accessories, would reduce the amount of power needed to make the car go, making it possible to get 90 (and, in time, perhaps as much as 200) miles per gallon.

GM Ovonic’s HEV Battery

GM Ovonic (GMO), manufacturer of nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries, introduces a battery designed specifically for the needs of the hybrid electric vehicle (HEV). The new product uses plastic, monoblock construction and liquid cooling. Its small size, lightweight and very high-energy density makes it the perfect product for power assist, hybrid electric vehicles.

The EV NiMH battery is offered in General Motors’ current model EV1 and Chevrolet S10 Electric Pickup truck. By modifying the basic design, GMO has achieved the high power-to-energy ratio required for HEVs.

An added benefit of the NiMH technology is its capability to be 100 percent recycled. Programs are in place that permit GMO to recycle the entire battery and receive certificates verifying the batteries have been environmentally recycled. These batteries contain a variety of metals of which nickel accounts for over 20 percent of the total.

Advancing Equalizer Technology Further


PowerDesigners, Middleton, WI, has introduced a new form charge equalizers called PowerCheq. Unlike conventional techniques, where a centralized equalizer is connected to every battery module within a stack, a PowerCheq is connected to each pair of battery modules in a staggered fashion to provide equalization for the whole stack. Energy is diverted, in a lossless fashion, from overcharged batteries to the weakest link.

To increase its simplicity, PowerCheq operates without additional sensing or an external power source. To enhance its efficiency, the modules are disabled during idle intervals, reducing power consumption and battery loading. Additionally, the equalizers also can be used for balancing in applications where loading among modules is unequal. PowerDesigners customizes PowerCheq to meet the specific needs of each customer, making the PowerCheq an efficient solution to battery-charged power.

Low-cost Charging

AC Propulsion, Inc., San Dimas, CA, has developed a new conductive charging system that will make life easier for electric vehicle (EV) drivers. The system uses high-power AC charging to speed up the charging process and reduce the cost of charging equipment. AC Propulsion, automakers, and infrastructure suppliers will support standardization of high-power AC charging by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

AC Propulsion conceived the new system because its Reductive electric vehicle chargers can use more power than standard Level 2 charging equipment can supply. Working with infrastructure suppliers EVI, Inc. and Avcon Corp., AC Propulsion has developed, tested and demonstrated a working prototype.

“We call high-power AC charging ‘Level 2+’ because it provides the power of Level 3 charging with the simplicity of Level 2”, said Tom Gage, AC Propulsion business manager. “We build high-power chargers into our cars because we’ve found that faster charging really improves EV convenience. With Level 2+, EV drivers can fully utilize our charger. A 30-minute charge can provide 50 miles of range, so EV drivers can charge quickly and go on about their business. Since Level 2+ equipment will not be expensive, there should be plenty of places to find it. Extensive daily driving, 200 miles or more, even with low-cost lead-acid batteries, will be possible. This is a real cost and convenience breakthrough for EVs.”


GM: Targeting Long-term Sustainability

General Motors Corp.recognizes that industrial ecology is important to long-term sustainability. Translated into terms relative to its targeted reductions of non-product output (NPO), this means reusing its own waste products to decrease the use of virgin raw materials. It also means evolving internal business practices from waste disposal and recycling to pollution prevention or source reduction. The reductions of risks to both human and environmental health are important factors to GM. The zinc-reduction team from the Defiance Foundry in Ohio, pictured here, have made significant strides in reducing zinc output by eliminating the use of certain raw materials in their processes.

Solid waste information is collected through an internal survey in which facilities report their waste volumes, waste management methods, and completed waste reduction projects for the previous year. Air, water and land releases are tracked through federal reporting initiatives that collect data on the release, transfer, and recycling of certain pollutants that are manufactured, processed or otherwise used by facilities.

North American assembly plants reduced the volume of packaging wastes sent to landfill from an average of 28 kilograms per vehicle in 1993 to an average of five kilograms per vehicle in 1997.

In 1998, GM’s North American facilities recycled or reused 34 percent of all hazardous wastes. Of this percentage, 1,400 metric tons were recycled or reused on-site and 20,300 tons off-site. Seventy-two percent of all non-hazardous solid wastes were recycled or reused in 1998: 158,900 metric tons on-site and 2,368,700 tons off-site.

Conservation and preservation is one area where GM is leading the way. GM manufacturing leadership has endorsed the global implementation of the GM Environmental Management System (EMS), based on the internationally recognized EMS standard, ISO 14001, by the end of 2001. Additionally, they recently announced plans to require suppliers to certify the implementation of environmental management systems in their operations, in conformance with ISO 14001, by the end of 2002.


Ford: A Recycling Leader

Ford Motor Co. began intensive recycling efforts in 1991 with the formation of the Recycling Action Team (RAT) patrols in both the U.S. and Europe.

The company was the first to issue worldwide recycling guidelines to its suppliers and engineers. In 1996, it instituted widespread use of cast-off carpeting to make fan shrouds for the Windstar and now diverts 27 million square feet of carpet a year from landfills.

“We make the Excursion 85 percent recyclable, but 20 percent of the Excursion is also made from recycled content,” said Andy Acho, director of Environmental Outreach and Strategy. “There
is more than 1,000 pounds of recycled metals in the Excursion. We use more than one million recycled soda pop bottles to make car parts for the Excursion alone.”

Helen Petrauskas, vice president of Environmental and Safety Engineering, said that recycling touches on three key areas that are strategically important to the company: consumer focus, shareholder value and corporate citizenship.

“First, it’s evidence of good corporate citizenship to keep not only waste that we generate out of landfills, but keeping other material out of landfills too. When we do use recycled materials, we try to find a way to do it at no additional cost or if possible, at a cost savings,” Petrauskas said. “And finally, when we make a product with recycled materials that is functionally as good if not better than one without recycled material, we’re being responsive to what our customers want.”Worldwide, Ford vehicles use more than four billion pounds of recycled metal annually.

On December 16, 1999, Ford received a prestigious award for its recycling efforts. Ford is the first corporation to receive the “Recycling Leadership” award from the National Recycling Coalition— a 5,000 member not-for-profit group.


Green Initiatives for GM Trucks

The GM Truck Group has initiated a project called Green Initiatives, which was piloted on the 1999 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. The process encourages design engineers to factor environmental considerations into parts design. The Silverado/Sierra truck team (pictured here) pioneered new processes that will be used as a benchmark for future product development.

GM continues to pursue the development and implementation of technologies to increase the fuel efficiency of its vehicles. In the U.S., the average fuel economy of GM’s new cars and light trucks have increased 130 percent and 75 percent, respectively, since 1974. Since 1990, new vehicle fuel economy has been relatively constant as consumers chose larger vehicles with more features and more powerful engines.

Greenhouse gas emissions from GM’s vehicles are closely related to the fuel efficiency of those vehicles. CO2, a greenhouse gas, is emitted by the clean combustion of gasoline or diesel fuel in an engine. Each gallon of gasoline results in about nine kilograms of CO2 when burned. The emissions of CO2 from GM cars and light trucks have decreased significantly since the mid-1970s as fuel efficiency has increased. CO2 per mile for new U.S. vehicles has been reduced approximately 56 percent for cars and 44 percent for light trucks.

Improvement in air quality in the U.S. since the 1970s continues despite the continued increases in population and vehicle mile traveled. In helping to accelerate this improvement, GM has led the auto industry in proposing the National Low Emissions Vehicle program which was subsequently adopted by the EPA as regulation. This voluntary program results in tailpipe emissions standards which are up to 99 percent cleaner than the 1960s vehicles, and up to 70 percent more stringent than the government mandated Tier 1 standards.

By taking steps toward sustainability, General Motors is moving into the future. The impact of GM products, plants and partnerships define the future course for the corporation. It is the balance of environmental, social and economic actions of GM that will help shape the world around us and provide a foundation for today and the next generation. The General Motors motto on the environment: “By our deeds, we intend to lead.”


Phillips' Initiatives Speak for Themselves

More than 70 years ago Frank Phillips, the founder of Phillips Petroleum Co., established a private ranch and wildlife preserve in the rugged hills just west of the company’s headquarters in Bartlesville, in northeastern Ohio. Today, his model in conservation is open to everyone and thousands of visitors come every year to enjoy and learn.

Huge changes have occurred in the industry, and in Phillips’ understanding of the environment, since Frank Phillips created his personal retreat with nature. But the respect for the environment the company’s founder exemplified continues to inspire individuals as a company and as individual employees.

As a natural resource company, Phillips’ employees feel that the public has entrusted them with a special responsibility to protect the integrity of natural resources which is the basis of its business. It works to affirm the public trust every day. First and foremost, in the ways it conducts its operations. But also in the way employees engage in partnerships with organizations and communities to help achieve their conservation goals. Phillips is known by many people as the “Performance Company,” a company focused not on making promises, but providing results. And it thinks the outcome of its conservation initiatives in the past year speak for themselves.

• Centennial Award for Conservation: In 1999, Phillips was the only corporation to receive a Centennial Award for Conservation given by the Texas Audubon Society for the “depth and breadth” of Phillips’ environmental initiatives.

• Corporate Conservation Leadership Award: In 1999 Phillips was the recipient of the Corporate Conservation Leadership Award from the Oklahoma Nature Conservancy. In 1998, Phillips received the equivalent award from the Texas Nature Conservancy.

Phillips was commended for building environment partnerships, like the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory and the Playa Lakes Joint Venture, and for its commitment to preserving the Tallgrass Prairie in Oklahoma.


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