February 28, 2008
I’ve never really thought about it, but apparently cars are the most recycled consumer item in the US. This must be by size, not number as they beat newspapers and cans with 15m vehicles recycled every year. On average 84% of a vehicle can be recycled, and whilst re-use is the first option, the amount a vehicle can be recycled is impressive.
The Vehicle Recycling Partnership is a program of the United States Council for Automotive Research – a consortium of Chrysler, Ford and GM. Founded in 1992, it is “dedicated to finding vehicle recycling solutions that are sustainable, are environmentally friendly and fit within the current recycling infrastructure”.
The remaining 16% that cannot be recycled is mainly foam, rubber, fabric and certain plastics. Some of this is reused, but most of it is waste. They also look at the lifecycle of components, such as the waste created producing parts and assembling them. New car technologies, such as lithium-ion batteries present new problems for the team to address, not only in manufacture, but at end-of-life disposal. Currently 95% of all car batteries on the market are recycled from old batteries.
I was also impressed that they look at the energy use during the recycling process. As one GM Technical Fellow from GM’s Chemical and Environmental Sciences Research and Development department put it to me “There’s no point spending 10 minutes washing a glass jar in hot water just in order to recycle it – let’s minimise the energy cost and maximise the benefit”.
February 26, 2008
The University of Michigan Solar Car Team is a non-profit, entirely student run organisation whose purpose is to design, finance, build, and race a solar-powered vehicle. They displayed two of their vehicles, the Momentum 2005 (1st place North American Solar Challenge, and 3rd place World Solar Challenge), and the Continuum 2007 (7th place World Solar Challenge – partly due to a crash).
The North American Solar Challenge was founded in 1989 and is now a 2,400 mile race between Dallas, Texas and Calgary, Alberta. The World Solar Challenge is the premiere solar car race in the world and takes place in Australia for 1,800 miles. Changes in the rules, such as the number of solar cells allowed and the driver having to sit upright necessitated changes in design from the 2005 Momentum to the 2007 Continuum. You can see the new solar cells that use parabolic mirrors in the 2007 design below.
Traveling on public highways, the vehicles can reach up to 87mph, converting solar energy to electricity through triple-junction cells, structured in three layers to maximise sunlight. The power captured is stored in high capacity lithium-ion or lithium-polymer battery packs.
For more informations, check out the University of Michigan Solar team website.
January 29, 2008
As previously mentioned, as a guest of GM we had excellent access to top level GM executives – and you don’t get any more top level than GM Chairman Rick Wagoner.
A group of online journalists had nearly an hour where we asked questions on several topics from the such as the Coskata announcement, Hummer’s future, gas prices and Tata Motors’ Nano. If you just want to watch the video (courtesy of Matt Kelly’s excellent Next Gear Show Green), then it’s embedded below and is nearly an hour long. I’ve paraphrased and grouped some of the discussion below.
Photo via OhGizmo
Q: Why get into the fuel business with the Coskata ethanol announcement?
A: We’re big believers in ethanol. It’s a broad based partnership that is not about profit making, it’s about bringing forward a fundamental change in refueling infrastructure which GM believes is necessary. Demand for oil is growing by 2.5m barrels a year. Low fuel prices and increased miles driven has massively increased oil use despite cars being 2 times more efficient than 40 years ago. The government pass legislation to reduce oil use but give massive subsidies to the oil industry. Need to get subsidies and incentives to the ethanol industry so consumers can use it more. China has less polluting vehicles, not because of better technology but of stronger vehicle emissions regulations.
Q: With current car payments at the limit of people’s affordability, what is the impact of the new environmental measures?
A: The two-mode hybrid is currently very expensive, but not sure how low we can get the “cost penalty” compared to the combustion engine. Fuel cells have the long-term potential to be low cost. GM are working hard on keeping resale value of vehicles high (less fleet sales) and not over-financing customers.
Q: The Chevy Volt is not even being produced but is being advertised. Toyota want to release a competitor – so what are your thoughts on that?
A: Chevy Volt is on the fastest pace possible. It will be a public risk, but it’s the right risk for this time, and the Toyota announcement makes me think GM are on the right track. All battery power is not the primary focus as our experience with the EV-1 showed that range was very important.
Alternative fuel options are an “inevitable and critical opportunity for the auto industry”. GM want to have the global standard of most sophisticated hybrid which they think they have with the two-mode, although it is expensive at the moment. Watch the full interview below.
January 25, 2008
Chrysler had a nice big sign up for their Aspen two mode hybrid but very little information on it. Their Global Electric Motorcars company had several vehicles on display, including the e2 pictured here. It’s under $7,000 and while a rear window and right side mirror are optional extras it does have a smog rating of 0.00.
BMW presented the BMW Hydrogen 7, the world’s first hydrogen-powered luxury saloon virtually free of emissions in everyday use. Currently 100 vehicles are on test drive, where the engine can be switched between hydrogen mode (200km/125miles range) or gasoline (another 500km/310 miles) to increase range. The advantage of hydrogen engines of course are they emit only water vapour. however, how green they are depends on how the hydrogen is manufactured.
Mini focused on lower fuel consumption as a unique selling point. With Brake Energy Regeneration they convert engine power into drive power for the wheels and electric power being generated only when moving or braking. With the Auto Start Stop function means that for all manual gearbox versions the engine no longer idles when stopped. When the gearshift is in neutral and the clutch isn’t pressed the engine switches off. Once the clutch pedal is pressed again the engine restarts. Finally they have a simple device called “the gearshift point indicator” that literally points to which gear you should be in for maximum engine (and therefore fuel) efficiency. Interesting!
Fisker launched their $80,000 “eco-chic” car, which looks pretty nice as you can see from the photo below (or after the ‘Read more’ link if you’re reading this on our homepage). And yes, they are solar panels on the roof. Clearly aimed at the eco-conscious rich and celebrities, the vehicle is a plug-in hybrid that gets 50 miles from an overnight charge, and then a combustion engine takes over. 0-60 in 5.8 seconds is not bad at all, so if you can afford it (though you could get two Chevy Volts for the price) you can pre-order one for $5,000 now… The company was one of the few who printed their press kit on recycled paper with soy-based vegetable inks so get the thumbs up there.
January 23, 2008
Toyota is well known for their Prius, but this is a purpose built hybrid, not an exisiting model with a hybrid option. They hope to have all models with a hybrid option by 2020, however seem to be falling behind the competition in this respect, perhaps as a result of resting on the success of the Prius. They will have 400 demonstration plug-in hybrids by 2010 but not models for sale. It plans to offer diesel engines on the Tundra and Sequioa, though these are still pretty inefficient vehicles.
Their stand was made of eco-friendly materials and incorporated energy efficient elements such as using LEDs. They also unveiled the Toyota A-BAT concept runs on the same hybrid powertrain as the Prius (below left), and had an excellent cutaway of a fuel cell hybrid, demonstrating how it worked (below right).
Lexus didn’t have much of a green angle (like most of the luxury manufacturers) with only their RX 400 SUV on show, to my eye at least.
Yes, even the great gas guzzler Ferrari had a F430 Spider bio fuel vehicle on display, even though it’s just a concept. It runs on E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline for those who don’t know), and has actually slightly more horsepower than the current version.
Honda have the Accord ES is a “near zero” emission vehicle yet I don’t know whether it was because I was tired or they hadn’t yet put all the vehicles out for the public show, but I couldn’t find one on display.
January 21, 2008
This is part one of a three-part series. Follow this link for all Detroit Auto Show 2008 articles.
At the Detroit Auto Show I’ve seen many claims and examples of cleaner vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles. As a guest of GM I had the closest look at their vehicles, but there were plenty of unveilings and new technologies from most auto manufacturers. In this three-part series I’ll take a look at some of the major green announcements and vehicles from the show.
Most of GM’s brands had a green announcement in one sort or another, even Hummer. Under their banner of “gas friendly to gas free”, GM unveiled five different programs to reduce gasoline usage. These were:
- Fuel efficiency
- Ethanol E85 (see my Coskata announcement)
- Electric (such as the Chevy Volt)
- Fuel cell (hydrogen)
In fact, most of the talk with any GM employee turned to green issues whether in press conferences, group interviews or one-on-one talks. The wind seems to have truly shifted firmly in the belief that in order to sell more cars in the future, the reliance on (mainly) foreign oil needs to be broken – see my interview with Bob Lutz, GM’s Vice Chairman.
Saturn extended their commitment to the Green Line of the Vue and Aura, positioning Saturn as the green brand for GM. The 2009 Vue Two mode hybrid uses a system that has been used in buses since 2003 in over 1,000 vehicles in 70 cities. Apparently it is 50% more fuel efficient than it’s non-hybrid version, and can get 500 miles on one tank. The engine turns off when idling, it uses electric only at low speed, and has seamless regenerative braking. They also showed their Flextreme concept vehicle that can drive for 30 miles on electric power only.
January 18, 2008
As a guest of GM at the Detroit Auto Show, I was fortunate enough to sit down with a small group of people (that gradually got larger the more we talked…) and speak with Bob Lutz, GM’s Vice Chairman.
Loved by some, criticised by others, Bob is quoted as saying a few years ago that hybrid cars were just a “marketing tool”. Having publicly admitted that was wrong a while ago, it was very interesting to hear his thoughts on the future of alternative fuel and alternative fuel vehicles.
Our video below is a short (~4 minutes) excerpt of the interview, where Bob talked about the reasons behind the Coskata announcement and the progress on the Chevy Volt.
In addition Bob talked about being involved in the Chevy Volt and hybrid programs at GM more than any others, the need for government intervention in the distribution infrastructure of ethanol and whilst the cost to produce ethanol could be ~$1 per gallon, once profit margins and taxes have been added it was more likely to be $2 per gallon. For more of the interview there are a few other links.
Firstly Clayton over at Gas 2.0 has a great transcript of part of our conversation, specifically around the ethanol and Coskata announcement.
You can find the full video here (over 20 minutes), from Matt Kelly’s excellent Next Gear Show Green. It’s honestly a fascinating watch and if you’re even only slightly interested in the auto industry, hearing the thoughts on the future of fuel directly from a high level executive is well worth your time.
For more info on the Chevy Volt, take a look at GM-Volt.
Keep tuned this week and next for more details on the Chevy Volt, green claims from the Auto Show and an interview with GM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner.