What’s Beyond Zero Emissions Vehicles?

by Paul Hirsch

The automotive industry has invested billions in alternative fuel technology since that first Prius rolled off its assembly line. And these days a growing portion of that investment has been focused on zero emission technologies, such as battery electric vehicles (EVs) and hydrogen fuel cells.

Yet as a professional tasked with commercializing the next generation of alternative fuel vehicles, I can’t help but feel like zero just isn’t good enough. Pushing emissions off board and upstream to a dirty power plant may solve the automaker’s problems, but it doesn’t solve the Earth’s.

Which is why I was truly excited when, last week at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Honda introduced their “total energy management system.” The system consists of an EV, like the electric Fit they debuted at the show, as well as a Honda-developed solar charging station. An experimental solar hydrogen station is already being used to power the company’s FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle. Honda is not only thinking about how many EVs they can put on the streets, but how to guarantee their customers a clean energy commute day after day.

This is not the first attempt by an automaker to offer its customers a clean energy solution. Tesla Motors has promoted a Solar City charging station for its electric Roadster, demonstrating Elon Musk’s strategic interest in providing the clean electrons to power his clean car (Musk is CEO of Tesla and led the initial funding of Solar City). The Tesla-Solar City project and Honda’s recent announcement highlight a new opportunity for the auto industry – end-to-end sustainable personal mobility.

Where the industry goes from here is anyone’s guess, but the possibilities are promising. Toyota already operates a housing development subsidiary in Japan that offers homes equipped with solar panels and rainwater recycling systems. Imagine the experience if this business were integrated with Toyota’s automotive operations: when you buy into an “ecommunity” of carbon-neutral dwellings, selecting the battery range of your plug-in vehicle could become as routine as picking out your home’s paint color or bathroom tile. Or better yet, you could select to participate in a community car share program to accommodate a less frequent need for your own car.

This vertical integration of energy generation stations with the vehicles that demand their energy would go a long way toward aligning auto industry objectives with the needs of the planet. If automakers were also fueling their vehicles, they would have a strong incentive to make cars as efficient as possible. And that vertical integration would bring us much closer to a future of sustainable personal mobility.

Paul Hirsch is a Senior Product Planner at Toyota.


by Richard T. Stuebi

as published to Huffington Post

Lately, I’ve been listening a lot on my iPod to a number of pop songs from the late 1960’s: “Wichita Lineman”, “Love Is Blue”, “Everybody’s Talkin’”, “To Sir With Love”, “Classical Gas” and so on. These are some of the AM radio songs of my youth, sitting in the back seat of the car while watching the scenery go by.

My parents’ cars were always big and always American – Detroit steel. Although we did own a few Ford cars, my dad generally favored General Motors products: typically Chevy Impalas in my earliest memories, escalating to Cadillacs by the end of his too-short life.

In addition to the music from forty years ago, I remember most of those long-ago cars very well. For some reason, circa 1968, I vividly recall the first time I saw a seat belt, whose buckle was ornamented with the blue rectagonal GM logo, and its motto “Mark of Excellence”.

At the time, partly because of my dad’s loyalty to their cars (how could he be wrong?), I assumed that GM indeed did make superior automobiles. But as the 1960’s gave way to the 1970’s, as I grew from child to adolescence, it became clear to me that Detroit autos – and GM cars in particular – were generally of very poor quality and design.

During that lamentable decade (remember leisure suits, everyone?), between the cars my family owned and the cars we rented on trips, we experienced innumerable lemons during the 1970’s. These cars sometimes didn’t start, they would often sputter and stall, their bodies would rust through, trim pieces would be mismatched or fall off, and electronics wouldn’t work. My brother’s 1971 Chevy Vega was particularly laughable: it died an early death after but a couple of years and maybe 30,000 miles – the cylinder head blowing up one morning when he tried to start the engine.

As a senior in high school in 1979, my parents gifted me with a rust-colored 1975 Toyota Corolla with 75,000 miles on it (a lot of miles for a car in those days). It was butt ugly, and had no carpeting. It couldn’t outrun a tortoise off the line, nor outcorner a garbage truck. It was by no means a chick-magnet (or perhaps that was my problem?).

But, that car didn’t pretend to be anything it wasn’t. It had no stupid gimmicks or features. It got pretty good gas mileage (~25 mpg), was cheap to keep running, and it was damned reliable – as hard as I tried to make it unreliable, with misguided attempts to do my own maintenance (why did I even think about rebuilding the carburetor?)

As utterly unexciting as even that old beater Toyota Corolla was, I much preferred driving it to my parents’ 1979 Cadillac Sedan DeVille, which had the most god-awful bordello velour bench seats and a hideous vinyl roof that started peeling off within months. That awful land yacht clinched it: I had come to intensely dislike GM products, and vowed never to own one. And, I never have, and probably never will. I even avoid renting cars from Avis and National, because their fleets are heavily populated by GM vehicles.

I speak of my personal experience, but I think it is the experience of a significant segment of my generation: we walked away — no, ran away — from Detroit, by our choice. And even though American cars have improved dramatically, imported cars seized the opportunity of the 1970’s and have consistently stolen market share for decades. The brands were broken; Detroit couldn’t win us back.

A radical rethink is happening now across the U.S. auto industry, pushed in large part by the Obama Administration’s policy proposals, but it seems to be all too late for GM. The day of reckoning is now at hand.

The talk today is of the imminent bankruptcy of GM, with outpourings of grief throughout the Midwest, as if the company were dying just now. But, in my view, the company became terminal long ago, when a whole chunk of the U.S. population turned away from American to imported cars. And, the autopsy offers interesting lessons for the future industrial economy of the U.S.

Management was at fault, for designing and offering lousy products in which style trumped substance, and for dragging their feet on advancements in safety and efficiency. Labor was at fault too, for setting unreasonable wage rates, benefits packages and work rules, and for being so inattentive to the quality of the product coming off the line.

It’s impossible to date exactly when both management and labor started travelling down the slippery slopes, and when the decline became irreversible. However, something tells me that the late 1960’s represents something of a turning point — when U.S. industrial hegemony was seemingly permanent, and big American beasts powered by thirsty V-8’s roamed the newly-opened highways across our seemingly endless landscapes.

And while it’s embarrassing to reflect on the outright arrogance of thinking and feeling as if we ruled the world, it’s nevertheless still seductive to remember those sepia-toned days. Today’s economic difficulties, and the possible death (and certain major restructuring) of GM, intensify the bittersweetness of those 1960’s tunes, as we look backward in the rearview mirror to naively happier – though patently unsustainable – days.

In life, I have learned to find more satisfaction when looking through the windshield, to the future. In moving forward – rebuilding the U.S. auto industry, and growing the cleantech and green energy industry at large – we need to bear in mind the sobering lessons of the demise of GM, so as not to plant the seeds of future collapse.

Management teams cannot consistently insult the intelligence of their customers by offering crappy products with poor value. Labor must also keep the customer in mind, by not demanding unreasonable agreements that inflate prices or by producing inferior products. Management and labor must work together in much better harmony – and the unifying theme must be technological leadership to produce customer satisfaction.

If we want to build a sustainable economy, it means we need both economic and environmental sustainability. We need sustainable businesses, producing environmentally sustainable products with an economically sustainable business model – and economic sustainability only comes when management and labor work together to serve the customer well by superior product innovation.

Interestingly, many of today’s behemoth energy corporations – electric utilities and oil companies – are in a situation similar to GM’s 40 years ago. With little competition from alternative supply sources, token efforts to portray their meager technological diversification as leadership, and sometimes haughty disdain for their customers, their brands are weak: customers can’t wait to leave once a compelling option is presented to them.

When that day comes, many of today’s gargantuan energy companies may follow the same fate as we’re seeing now with GM.

Will the U.S. public care then? Will Houston follow Detroit? Will today’s kids be yearning for the songs of “American Idol”?

Richard T. Stuebi is the Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Later in 2009, he will also become Managing Director of Early Stage Partners.

The Internal Combustion Engine: "I’m Not Dead Yet"

by Richard T. Stuebi

The August 16 edition of The Economist contains an interesting article summarizing many of the advancements being made by various companies to improve the good-old internal combustion engine.

For instance, Daimler (NYSE: DAI) is working on an engine design called the DiesOtto, which attempts to forge a cross between a diesel and a gasoline engine, with the aim of providing the torque and economy of the former along with the flexibility and horsepower of the latter.

Meanwhile, Fiat (BIT: F) is experimenting with a sophisticated valve-control approach called Multiair that they believe will reduce fuel consumption by 20%.

And, it’s not just the big automakers at work. The article profiles Antonov Automotive Technologies (AIM: ATV) in their efforts to develop a new-fangled supercharger, and Ricardo (LSE: RCDO) in their pursuit of an engine that can switch between 2-stroke and 4-stroke operation.

It’s worth noting that none of the companies mentioned in the article are based in the U.S. Will the American automakers be left behind in the innovation race again? Is General Motors (NYSE: GM) putting all of its eggs in the basket of the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt? And where are Ford (NYSE: F) and Chrysler in this game?

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Progressive Thinking

by Richard T. Stuebi

Last week, Cleveland-based Progressive Insurance (NYSE: PGR) announced that it was sponsoring the Progressive Automotive X Prize: $10 million to develop a market-ready automobile that would achieve 100 miles per gallon fuel efficiency.

The Associated Press reports that 60 teams from nine countries have already signed up for the competition, which will occur in 2009 and 2010, involving cross-country and urban driving tests. It will be interesting to see the technologies, designs, and approaches employed by the teams to produce such the required breakthroughs.

What would cause an insurance company to offer so much money to improve auto fuel efficiency? Clearly, Progressive has concluded that increasing gasoline prices, and perhaps increasing scarcity of oil products generally, are a major threat to their auto insurance business. Unless auto efficiency improves significantly, auto ownership and mileage-driven will decline — thus leading to lower insurance premiums paid to companies such as Progressive. Evidently, Progressive estimates the net present value of this threat to their company at many millions of dollars.

It’s also quite telling that a major corporation in a highly competitive industry isn’t putting much faith in the auto/energy markets to drive auto manufacturers to achieve the desired auto energy efficiency improvements on their own. Perhaps Progressive sees what many free-market advocates haven’t: that the auto/energy markets are encumbered by so many barriers to competitive activity that the beneficial forces of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” can’t and don’t operate effectively.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Transonic: The Best of Both Diesel and Gasoline?

by Richard T. Stuebi

Whereas diesel engines have made great strides in the European auto markets, here in the U.S., gasoline still dominates. Apparently, the prospect of much higher fuel mileage and lower CO2 emissions from diesels doesn’t overcome the objections of U.S. environmental regulatory authorities concerned mainly about local air quality issues. I suspect that, even if (when?) these objections are overcome by continued refinement, diesels will still find it difficult to win market share in the U.S., largely because of the wider availability of gasoline.

A possible win-win solution may be forthcoming. A California firm named Transonic Combustion is working on technology that would allow gasoline engines to work at high compression ratios, thus enabling much better energy conversion ratios comparable to what is achieved in the typical diesel engine. Sounds like a great idea to me; hope it works. I wonder, though, if it will provide the throaty sound of those big-block V-8’s that Americans seem to love so much…

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Smart Grids and Electric Vehicles

By John Addison (1/28/08). In the future, utilities will pay you to plug-in your vehicle. Millions will plug-in their electric vehicles (EV), plug-in hybrids (PHEV) and fuel cell vehicles (FCV) at night when electricity is cheap, then plug-in during the day when energy is expensive and sell those extra electrons at a profit. Vehicle to Grid (V2G) technology is a bi-directional electric grid interface that allows a plug-in to take energy from the grid or put it back on the grid. V2G helps solve the major problem that demand for electricity is high during the day when everything from industrial plants to air conditioning is running full blast and then excess electricity is wasted at night.

Several early models of passenger vehicles have enough energy stored in advanced batteries to power several homes for hours. Hybrid electric buses and heavy trucks could power many homes or a school or a hospital in an emergency. Recent announcements demonstrate that electric utilities and some auto makers want to make V2G a reality.

The Smart Grid Consortium, established in December 2007 by Xcel Energy, will select a community of approximately 100,000 residents to become a Smart Grid City using V2G. Potential benefits include lower utility bills for residents, smarter energy management, better grid reliability, improved energy efficiency, and support for EVs and PHEVs.

Current consortium members include Accenture, Current Group, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Ventyx. Smart Grid City will use a realtime high-speed two-way communication throughout the distribution grid. Smart meters and substations will be integral. Installation will be made of thousands of in-home control devices and the necessary systems to fully automate home energy use.

The current electrical grid is poorly designed for distributed generation of power. Individuals and businesses lose months and connect fees when they add solar and other forms of renewable energy to the grid. Smart Grid City will easily support up to 1,000 easily dispatched distributed generation technologies including PHEVs, distributed batteries, solar and wind.

In addition to Smart Grid City, another major EV/V2G initiative is unfolding.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance and Project Better Place have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create a mass-market for electric vehicles in Israel which is an excellent target market: it has a sales tax exceeding 60% for gasoline vehicles, gasoline costs over $6 per gallon, most driving fits the range of electric vehicles, and the government strongly supports energy independence.

Project Better Place plans to deploy a massive network of battery charging spots. Driving range will no longer be an obstacle, because customers will be able to plug their cars into charging units in any of the 500,000 charging spots in Israel. An on-board computer system will indicate to the driver the remaining power supply and the nearest charging spot. Nissan, through its joint venture with NEC, has created a battery pack that meets the requirements of the electric vehicle and will produce it in mass volume. The entire framework will go through a series of tests starting this year.

The Israeli model is different than the rapid battery swap model that Better Place has promoted as better than “dangerous” fast charging. For the future, Renault is working on development of exchangeable batteries for continuous mobility.

As part of the solution framework, the Israeli government will provide tax incentives to customers, Renault will supply the electric vehicles, and Project Better Place will construct and operate an Electric Recharge Grid across the entire country. Electric vehicles will be available for customers in 2011.

Just as wireless service providers offer smartphones at discounted prices, Project Better Place will offer discounted electric vehicles with usage pricing plans. Pre-paid 600 kilometer cards are one approach that is suggested. A free car on a four-year plan in France is another idea mentioned by Shai Agassi, CEO of Project Better Place. Annual use of an EV should be less than the average cost of $8,000 per year for using a gasoline in many countries including the USA.

Shai Agassi predicts that Israel will have over 100,000 electric vehicles in use by 2010. This will be five percent of the nation’s vehicle population. The number represents a significant step towards energy independence.

Project Better Place has already received over $200 million of venture capital investment. Shai Agassi presented their new business model at Davos. Mr. Agassi was an executive at SAP that lead the software company to being the enterprise software leader ahead of Oracle, IBM, and all others. Agassi’s Davos Insights

Success with V2G would be a double win for electric utilities. Millions of EVs and PHEVs would expand the sale of electricity as an alternative to oil. Utilities could avoid building more dirty peaking power plants. Instead they could buy back electricity at peak hours from vehicle drivers. Clean Fleet Article It would be a financial win-win for all.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report with archives of over 60 articles and reports about electric vehicles, V2G, biofuels, fleet success and more.

Super Mileage with New Four-Door Sedans

By John Addison (1/17/08). Fuel economy was on display at the Detroit Auto Show. Starting Saturday, even more exciting vehicles will be unveiled at the North American International Auto Show, also in Detroit. $100 per barrel oil and new CAFÉ standards have made improved fuel economy mandatory for auto makers.

Most popular with individuals and fleets is the four-door sedan. Over the next three years, there will be a number of affordable offerings with fuel economy from 40 miles per gallon, to infinite miles per gallon.

General Motors continues to draw considerable attention with its Chevy Volt, which will offer 40 mile range in electric mode before its small 1L engine is engaged. 40 miles accommodates the daily range requirements of 78% of all U.S. drivers. The Volt uses an electric drive system with a small ICE in series that is only used to generate added electricity, not give power to the wheels. GM hopes to take orders for the Volt at the end of 2010.

World hybrid leader, Toyota, is likely to beat GM to market with a new plug-in hybrid also using lithium batteries. Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe discussed Toyota’s vision, “Sustainable Mobility addresses four key priorities. First, we must address the vehicles themselves and the advanced technologies. Highly advanced conventional engines, plug-in hybrids, fuel cells and clean diesels, as well as many other innovative new technologies, will all play a part. Second, we must address the urban environment, where these new technologies will live. In the future, we foresee ‘mixed mobility,’ combining intelligent highways and mass-transit, bike paths and short-cut walking routes, recharging kiosks and hydrogen fuel stations…. By 2010, we will accelerate our global plug-in hybrid R&D program. As part of this plan, we will deliver a significant fleet of PHEVs powered by lithium-ion batteries to a wide variety of global commercial customers, with many coming to the U.S.” President Watanabe’s Remarks

A new offering from China’s leading battery manufacturer, BYD, will bring a plug-in hybrid to market sooner than Toyota and GM and at a lower price. BYD executive Mr. Lin said BYD Auto plans to launch the plug-in hybrid during the Beijing Olympics at a price of less than $30,000 (200,000 Yuan). The company sold about 100,000 cars in China in 2007, he said. The F6DM (Dual Mode, for EV and HEV), is a variant of the front-wheel drive F6 sedan that BYD introduced into the China market earlier this year, actually offers three modes of operation: full battery-powered EV mode driving its 75 kW, 400 Nm motor; series-hybrid mode, in which a 50 kW, 1.0-liter engine drives a generator as a range-extender; and parallel hybrid mode, in which the engine and motor both provide propulsive power. Expect the BYD F6DM to be selling in the U.S. by early 2010. Green Car Congress

Ford announced EcoBoost – this new 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder engine family features turbocharging and gasoline direct injection technology. The EcoBoost technology will deliver approximately 20% better fuel economy and 15% fewer CO2 emissions. The company will introduce EcoBoost on the new Lincoln MKS in 2009. Eventually the technology will be integrated into a range of flex fuel vehicles, which currently suffer from poor gasoline mileage, and 27% worse mileage with E85 ethanol.

Europeans are already enjoying 25% mileage improvements with new turbo diesels with direct injection. Exciting models will be available in the U.S. this year. Daimler, Audi and Volkswagen, all partners in the BLUETEC clean diesel marketing initiative showed a new Tier 2 Bin 5 compliant (i.e., able to be sold in all 50 states) BLUETEC model at the North American International Autoshow in Detroit

VW is the diesel passenger car sales leader. The Tier 2 Bin 5-compliant 2009 model year Jetta TDI, equipped with the clean diesel engine option, will be on sale later this year. Some drivers may experience over 40 miles per gallon with the Jetta’s efficient 2L four-cylinder engine.

Will we see the combined efficiency of diesel and hybrids? Yes. The Mercedes S 300 BLUETEC HYBRID is a 4-cylinder diesel a with hybrid module that gives it the performance of a V-8. The luxury saloon delivers 44 miles per gallon (5.4L/100km).

The Detroit shows unveiled a dazzling array of muscle trucks, loaded SUVs, hot sport cars, concept electric vehicles, and many model improvements.

Over the next three years, the biggest impact on reduced fuel use and lowered emissions will be in the every popular four-door sedan. Toyota has a commanding lead with over one million four-door Priuses on the road. Soon, Toyota will be selling one million hybrids per year.

Fuel economy improvements in the new vehicles are the result of using lighter materials, better aerodynamic design, lighter and more efficient engines, replacement of more mechanical components with electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid designs.

While some auto executives still think that the key to financial success is yesterday’s big heavy and low-mileage cash cow, others recognize the path to sustained profitability is to deliver great fuel economy in popular full-featured cars. The global race is on. The sure winner is the customer.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.

2007 Roundup

by Richard T. Stuebi

As has become my custom, with the year drawing to a close, I now look in the rear-view mirror and try to distill what I see. In no particular order, here are my top ten reflections on 2007:

1. Popping of the ethanol bubble. Not long ago, it seemed like anyone could get an ethanol plant financed. Now, no-one will touch them. Why? Corn prices have roughly doubled, and producers can’t make money selling ethanol into the fuel markets when having to pay so much for feedstock. Along with the increasing realization that public policies so far to build ethanol markets has largely been for the financial benefit of big agri-businesses such as Arthur Daniels Midland (NYSE: ADM), ethanol has now become a dirty word to many. Progress on cellulosic ethanol technologies may not happen fast enough to redeem seriously diminished public perceptions about ethanol generally.

2. Continuing photovoltaics bubble. For illustration of this phenomenon, let’s take a look at First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR). Nothing whatsoever against the company; indeed, they make a very fine product. It’s just that their share price has increased by a factor of 10 — from $27 to nearly $280 — in one year. At current levels, the company’s market cap is $20 billion, at a P/E ratio of over 200. I know the solar market is hot, but geez, c’mon. A 10x return in one year on a publicly-traded stock is simply not supposed to happen.

3. Increasing costs for wind energy. For many years, wind energy has become more competitive, as the industry matured and production efficiencies were tained. However, with increasing prices for virtually all commodities (e.g., steel, copper, plastics) and a weakening dollar against the Euro (note that most turbines are made in Europe), the economics of wind are unfortunately moving in the wrong direction right now.

4. Gore as rock star. First, an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth. Then, the Nobel Peace Prize. To top it off, becoming a partner at top-notch venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. What next for the what-could-have-been 43rd President? Whatever it is, at least the cleantech sector now has its iconic poster-child.

5. Cheers to Google. Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) has gotten into the cleantech game in a big way by creating an initiative with the mission to develop and launch renewable energy technologies that produce electricity more cheaply than coal. Once that aim is achieved, renewable energy will rapidly become ubiquitous, and we really will start getting on a path of serious carbon emission reductions.

6. Death of the incandescent lightbulb. Early in 2007, Australia led the way to ban incandescents, to force a shift to more energy efficient lighting technologies (fluorescents for now, perhaps eventually LEDs). Amazingly quickly, the U.S. followed suit, passing an energy bill by year-end that effectively phases out incandescents by 2014. This should have a major energy efficiency impact, and yield a big cut in greenhouse gas emissions, in a relatively short amount of time.

7. Tightening CAFE — finally! After decades without change, the U.S. Congress finally acted to impose more stringent corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for auto/truck manufacturers. The main milestone is a 35 mpg combined car/light-truck standard by 2020. For the first time, trucks are now part of the CAFE equation, closing the loophole that helped propel SUVs to prominence. Strengthening CAFE is probably the most important thing that American politicians could do to actually make a meaningful dent in reducing dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

8. Uncertain future for coal. On the one hand, MIT released a major study entitled “The Future of Coal” that compels a radical R&D push to commercialize technologies for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), underscoring the reality that coal-fired electricity generation is going to be a major factor for a long time. On the other hand, I don’t see any such coal R&D push actually happening, nor even that much progress on CCS. A recent statement by the U.S. Department of Energy concerning its oft-touted FutureGen program for piloting CCS technology indicates a possible retrenchment. Meanwhile, Pacificorp — which is owned by Warren Buffett’s legendary holding company Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRKA and BRKB) — recently cancelled a coal CCS project in Wyoming, with a spokesman quoted as saying that “coal projects are no longer viable.” Ouch.

9. Oil at $100/barrel. Starting the year at about $60/barrel and then promptly falling to near $50, oil prices increased steadily from February to November, reaching the high-90’s. I suspect we’ll see $100/barrel sometime in 2008; I don’t suspect we’ll see oil below $40/barrel very much anymore. Even at prices not long ago considered absolutely stratospheric, it appears that there’s been very little customer/political backlash so far: the world doesn’t seem to be ending for most Americans.

10. Serious dollars betting on energy technology. There’s been a lot written about the big surge in venture capital invested in new energy deals. I find even more intriguing the increasing amount of corporate and public sector investment in new energy R&D. As perhaps the most prominent example, in the U.K., the government has pledged up to $1 billion over the next 10 years in matching support to private investments in the Energy Technologies Institute, which includes the participation of such leading corporate lights as BP (NYSE: BP), Shell (NYSE: RDS.A and RDS.B), Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT), Electricite de France (Euronext: EDF), E.ON (Frankfurt: E.ON), and Rolls-Royce (London: RR.L). That’s a lot of money and corporate weight in the mix. I can’t imagine that such an initiative will produce nothing of use.

Best wishes to you and yours for 2008. Let’s hope it’s a good year, even better than the one wrapping up.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

Fuel Cell 2007 Conference Highlights

By John Addison (6/19/07). Several hundred engineers, researchers, and managers shared fuel cell technology, trends, and market success at the Fuel Cell 2007 Conference. In some areas, fuel cells generate millions in revenues from commercial deployment; in other areas, fuel cells are early in research and development. A number of commercial products involve hydrogen PEM fuel cells. Business is steady for molten carbonate and phosphoric acid fuel cells. There was optimism about solid oxide fuel cells using a variety of fuels including landfill methane, natural gas, diesel, JP-8, and biomass.

In 2006, Ballard (BLDP) shipped 147 PEM fuel cells to replace lead-acid batteries in fork lifts. In large distribution and manufacturing environments, every minute counts. Fuel cells are cost justified in improving the productivity of moving goods. Fuel cells are more heat and cold tolerant, providing competitive advantage in many distribution centers.

Plug Power (PLUG) is aggressively pursuing the fork lift business. Plug recently acquired General Hydrogen, an early leader in Class 1 and 2 forklifts. Plug also acquired Celex, a leader in Class 3 forklifts. Contrary to concerns of some investors, it appears that Plug’s acquisitions may help Ballard who supplies fuel cell stacks to the acquired companies. Plug Power’s business model appears to be migrating towards integrated products and services for specific markets and applications. Ballard is a leader, in supplying fuel cell stacks; a field of growing and intensifying competition.

Toyota is also active in the hydrogen PEM forklift business since its acquisition of Raymond, a long-time provider of forklifts and material handling systems. Hydrogenics (HYGS) continues to see traction in fork lifts. Fuel cell forklift solutions are hybrid, also involving batteries for regenerative braking. Presentations forecasted 5,000 fuel cell sales in 2009 for forklifts and 20,000 in 2010.

Thanks to the sponsorship of Intelligent Energy, I was at the conference presenting One Million Hydrogen Riders in California by 2020 – An Optimistic Scenario. Free Report.

Hydrogen fuel cells are making progress in cars and heavy-vehicles. Several auto makers will be adding more vehicles in demonstration fleets this year. Several have ranges of 250-miles and more. General Motors recently demonstrated a 300-mile range with its Sequel. GM is rumored to also start demonstrating vehicles running hydrogen in internal combustion machines (HICE). GM was to speak at the conference, but cancelled at the last minute. The reason, perhaps, was a GM reorganization.

General Motors thinks its hydrogen fuel cell is ready to move out of the research lab. GM is shifting responsibility for the work from its research labs to engineering groups that develop engines and vehicles for commercial production. 500 people are being reassigned.

The shift is a sign of GM’s increasing determination to have a fuel cell vehicle on the market by around 2011. “We’re transitioning from science and research to developing real propulsion systems,” Larry Burns, GM vice president for research and strategic planning, said in an interview.

Another area of hydrogen fuel cell success is providing remote stand-by power for the telecommunications industry. Batteries in temperature-sensitive areas have failed to often. The financial stakes are too high in telecommunications to continue depending on unreliable batteries. Telecoms such as Verizon and Sprint are buying from PlugPower and ReliOn. The Western States Alliance is buying from Altergy and Hydrogenics for stand-by back-up.

Big and hot fuel cells have a growing pipeline in the 250kW to multi-MW space. FuelCell Energy (FCEL) and Fuji offer molten carbonate energy solutions with by-product heat. Projects are using natural gas, propane, biogas, and anaerobic digester (AD) gas. POSCO, a Korean steel manufacturer, ordered a 7.5MW from FCEL to reduce their heavy use of 28 cents/kWh grid electricity. Linde will distribute FuelCell Energy for water treatment.

Long-term, molten carbonate growth may be threatened by solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFC). Keenly aware of this, FuelCell Energy finalized terms with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for a $36.2 million Phase I award to develop a coal-based, multi-megawatt solid oxide fuel cell-based hybrid system.

Six industry teams have successfully completed tests of the first solid oxide fuel cell prototypes that can be manufactured at costs approaching those of conventional stationary power-generation technology. Part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) program, these results reflect progress towards commercially-viable solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) systems.

The six industry teams, led by Acumentrics, Cummins Power Generation, Delphi Automotive Systems, FuelCell Energy, General Electric, and Siemens Power Generation, designed and manufactured SOFC electrical power generators in the 3-10 kilowatt range. The industry teams’ prototypes surpassed the Department of Energy (DOE) Phase I targets. The prototypes demonstrated:

  • Average efficiency of 38.5 percent and a high of 41 percent, exceeding the DOE target of 35 percent.
  • Average steady-stage power degradation of 2 percent per 1,000 hours, besting the DOE target of 4 percent per 1,000 hours.
  • System availabilities averaging 97 percent, topping the 90 percent DOE target across the board.
  • Projected system costs ranging from $724 to $775 per kilowatt, which eclipsed the DOE intermediate target for an annual production of 250 megawatts and positions the teams to meet the 2010 target of $400 per kilowatt target.

For home stationary power applications, it will require combined heat and power (CHP) to financially justify fuel cell installations. Adaptation is predicted in markets where utility-delivered costs are high for heat and electricity, such as in Japan and Korea. Ballard will be delivering a higher temperature PEM to address the CHP market.

In the long-run, conference attendees showed more enthusiasm for SOFCs which can use existing fuels, such as kerosene in Japan and natural gas in other markets. For example, Ceres Power (CWR.L) is developing low cost and robust fuel cells that will be combined into stacks capable of generating between 1kWe and 25kWe. EDF Energy Networks, the UK’s largest electricity distributor, will be offering Ceres for home CHP.

SOFC may be the fuel cell of choice for auxiliary power on trucks and military vehicles. Delphi Automotive Systems has SOFCs in development for on vehicle use of diesel and JP-8. Cost effective removal of sulfur is a major issue, especially for the DOD’s JP-8.

Surprisingly, there was little discussion of micro fuel cells. Major Japanese consumer electronic companies were at the conference, but no products were presented. Continued reduction in power demand plus advancements in batteries and ultracapacitors may obviate micro fuel cell adoption.

The Fuel Cell 2008 Conference is planned to be in Long Beach, California, in June 2008.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report which tracks clean transportation in California. His articles have appeared in print and electronic magazines with over one million readers: Yahoo Finance, The Auto Blog, The Auto Channel, EV World, Cleantech, Green Post, Seeking Alpha, Hydrogen Nation and others. Mr. Addison is a popular speaker, conducting over 1,000 workshops in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

What’s Up with ConocoPhillips?

by Richard T. Stuebi

On the clean-tech front, ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) seems to be striving to take the lead among U.S. oil companies. In just the last two few weeks, COP has made two announcements of significance.

ConocoPhillips is not yet in the league of Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) and General Electric (NYSE: GE) as major players that are driving environmental improvement on a mass-scale through the aggressive pursuit of capitalism across their core businesses.

But at least COP has gotten off the dime: they aren’t denying the existence of climate change as a real issue, and are recognizing that they need to start shifting their perspective if they want to continue to be a relevant energy company in the future.

Its peers among U.S. oil majors, ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) and Chevron (NYSE: CVX), have also begun making strides on the green-front.

The contrast between the three of them and the major U.S. automakers — General Motors (NYSE: GM) and Ford (NYSE: F) — is stark. The auto companies are stuck with tenuous competitive positions due in large part to their strategies for focusing on high profit gas guzzlers (e.g., SUVs and performance cars), and as a result they are fighting Federal pressures to tighten auto fuel efficiency standards. In general, they don’t want to hear about climate change.

The historical solidarity between the companies involved in oil supply and in oil demand seems to be breaking down.

Presumably, it’s at least partly because the oil companies are in better shape than the auto companies: with huge profits, the oil majors have more degrees of freedom to think more proactively. However, I think it’s also because the oil companies are increasingly coming to the view that reduced oil demand is unavoidable in the future — not just for environmental reasons, but simply because supplies will be challenging to obtain. COP, XOM and CVX are probably beginning to plan what they will look like as companies in a post-oil world, and that plan is consistent anyway with carbon limitations.

Interestingly, most of the independent U.S. oil producers and refiners — many of which are enormous companies in their own right — are laggards on the environmental front, alongside the U.S. automakers. What will it take for the U.S. oil independents to begin to see the light? Do they not see a future for them beyond oil?

Richard Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.