Happy Tuesday friends! This month’s Top 5 is a little early as I know many U.S. readers will be shutting down for the Thanksgiving day holiday, as will yours truly. I wish you all a wonderful holiday. Here’s my take on the five most interesting developments in future fuels and vehicles trends in November. Items I selected this month include electric vehicles and Tesla’s new heavy-duty electric truck, Mazda’s SkyActiv technoloy, Audi’s advanced alternative fuel and the promise of high-tech engine oils to improve fuel efficiency.
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1. The Financial Times: Electric Cars’ Green Image Blackens Beneath the Bonnet* ― “Policymakers are pushing the car industry toward a new era, but neither Europe, America nor China have actually set up the appropriate regulatory apparatus to differentiate among electric vehicles and judge their environmental merits.” The article cites data from the Trancik Laboratory at MIT but fails to accurately compare EV and ICEV models when making the statement that some ICEV models are more GHG friendly than EVs for which Professor Trancik and colleagues took the Financial Times to task. That’s only true in the case of one vehicle model, the Mitsubishi Mirage, according to the laboratory. Still, the article makes an important point: emissions regulations should differentiate vehicle models by their full lifecycle GHG emissions, and that includes alternative vehicles such as EVs. (Thanks to reader, friend and former colleague Jack Peckham for sending this one to me!)
2. ICE Breaker!: Society of Automotive Engineers ― This article details Mazda’s SkyActiv Controlled Compression Ignition (SpCCI) combustion system is slated for production in 2018. The article is from September, but what escaped my attention and was pointed out to me by reader Cecile Pera of Infineum (thanks!) is that micro-algae biofuels are going to be key to getting to zero tailpipe emissions. SpCCI is designed to embrace larger-displacement power units that eventually will run on micro-algae biofuels. The only issue is that there is, to my knowledge, no actual commercial scale volumes of such biofuels out there in the marketplace right now. It appears that SpCCI will not be zero emission for now. I am actively researching carbon-neutral or even negative ICEV fuel and engine applications. If you have any information, data or experience to share, I would welcome it!
3. CNBC: Audi Expanding Production of ‘Sustainable’ Diesel Made from Water and Carbon Dioxide ― In the same vein as the last item, Audi is building a 100,000+ gallon pilot facility in Switzerland to make synthetic e-diesel that is “nearly carbon neutral.” The production process uses electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen is released into the air, while the hydrogen is combined with CO2 that can be drawn from the atmosphere to make hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons are then separated to produce the synthetic diesel fuel, as well as waxes Audi says can be used by the food, cosmetics and chemical industries. The whole process runs on surplus hydroelectric power, and heat generated during manufacturing can be captured and routed to homes or businesses. Audi expects to begin building the factory in early 2018, and plans to begin delivering the e-diesel within the year.
4. The Wall Street Journal: Big Oil Big Oil and Auto Makers Throw a Lifeline to the Combustion Engine* ― The article reports that auto and oil are teaming up to develop high-tech engine oil that is thinner and will help meet stringent fuel economy and emission standards that are being set around the world. The new lubricants are meant to help automakers build smaller, turbocharged engines that are still powerful, resulting in efficiency gains close to 15% compared with older models, the article notes. Optimizing internal combustion engines could boost efficiency by an additional 25%.
5. The Verge: Does the World Need a Tesla Truck? ― It seems unclear from this article, which notes that while trucking leaders welcome Tesla’s entry into the market and acknowledge the trend toward electrification, truck manufacturers and operators have already been embracing other alternative fuel technologies such as CNG, propane, renewable diesel, biodiesel and even hydrogen. According to trucking experts cited in the article, interest in alternative fuel trucks has fallen after a brief spike from 2011 through 2013, when fuel prices approached $4 a gallon nationally.
Tammy Klein is a consultant and strategic advisor providing market and policy intelligence and analysis on transportation fuels to the auto and oil industries, governments, and NGOs. She writes and advises on petroleum fuels, biofuels, alternative fuels, automotive fuels, and fuels policy.