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Study casting doubt on GHG benefits of corn stover ethanol draws sharp criticism by other researchers; Liska responds

30 October 2014

A study published earlier this year in the journal Nature Climate Change that cast doubt on whether biofuels produced from corn residue could meet federal mandates for cellulosic biofuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% compared to gasoline (earlier post) has drawn critical response published as correspondence in the same journal.

The study led by University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant professor Adam Liska, funded through a three-year, $500,000-grant from the US Department of Energy, used carbon dioxide measurements taken from 2001 to 2010 to validate a soil carbon model that was built using data from 36 field studies across North America. Among their findings were that using corn crop residue to make ethanol and other biofuels reduces soil carbon and under some conditions can generate more greenhouse gases than gasoline.

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BASF and Toda Kogyo forming a joint venture for Li-ion cathode active materials in Japan

30 October 2014

BASF and Toda Kogyo have agreed to form a joint venture for Li-ion cathode active materials (CAM) in Japan. Under the terms of the agreement, BASF will acquire a 66% ownership stake in the new venture, with Toda Kogyo Corp. holding a 34% ownership stake. BASF and Toda Kogyo Corp. will combine their respective CAM businesses, intellectual property and production assets in Japan in the joint venture, which will operate under the trade name BASF TODA Battery Materials, LLC. (Earlier post.)

BASF Toda Battery Materials will focus on R&D, production, marketing and sales of a broad range of cathode materials including Nickel Cobalt Aluminum Oxide (NCA), Lithium Manganese Oxide (LMO) and Nickel Cobalt Manganese (NCM) in Japan. These materials are used in lithium-ion batteries for the automotive, consumer electronics and stationary storage markets.

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Mercedes-AMG HPP awarded Dewar Trophy for PU106A Hybrid F1 Power Unit

30 October 2014

The Dewar Trophy was presented to Andy Cowell, Managing Director of HPP, along with members of his project team from Brixworth. Click to enlarge.

The UK’s Royal Automobile Club (RAC) has awarded the prestigious Dewar Trophy, presented for outstanding technical achievement in the automotive industry, to Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains (HPP) for the design of the PU106A Hybrid Formula One Power Unit. (Earlier post.)

The team at HPP was recognized for its development of the most advantageous powertrain within the new Formula One regulations. The aim for 2014 was to raise the engine efficiency from around 29% for the previous normally aspirated 2.4-liter V8 to better than 40% with the new 1.6-liter V6 Hybrid turbo. The successful design, research and teamwork resulted in the Mercedes-Benz PU106A Hybrid Power Unit, which has not only been the dominant powertrain in this first season under the new Formula One rules, but is also arguably among the most thermally efficient gasoline powertrains ever produced, with a claimed thermal efficiency of greater than 40%.

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Ford projects utility vehicles to account for 29% of its global sales by end of decade

30 October 2014

Ford projects utility vehicles will account for 29% of its global sales by the end of the decade. Ford utility vehicles—ranging from the compact EcoSport to the eight-seat Expedition—accounted for 23% of brand sales globally in 2013, up from 17% a year earlier.

Utility vehicle sales are expanding rapidly in many of the world’s fastest-growing markets according to a Ford analysis of data from IHS Automotive, which forecasts market information and competitive data on the automotive industry. Worldwide demand for utility vehicles is up 88% since 2008, making SUVs the fastest-growing segment. Utilities now account for 19% of the global automotive market, with the segment expanding at more than three times the rate of the vehicle industry overall.

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DOE seeking feedback on findings of hydrogen production and delivery workshops

29 October 2014

The US Department of Energy's Fuel Cell Technologies Office has issued two requests for information (RFIs) seeking feedback from the research community and relevant stakeholders about electrolytic hydrogen production (DE-FOA-0001188) and hydrogen delivery research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) activities (DE-FOA-0001187) aimed at developing technologies that can ultimately produce and deliver low-cost hydrogen.

The purpose of these RFIs is to solicit feedback from industry, academia, research laboratories, government agencies, and other stakeholders on issues related to electrolytic hydrogen production pathways and hydrogen transmission and distribution, specifically with respect to reports developed at workshops on the topics convened by the DOE in February.

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DOE launches $1M H2 Refuel H-Prize for small-scale hydrogen refueling

29 October 2014

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Fuel Cell Technologies Office (FCTO) and the Hydrogen Education Foundation (HEF) launched the $1-million H2 Refuel H-Prize. The two-year competition challenges America’s engineers and entrepreneurs to develop affordable systems for small-scale hydrogen fueling. This H-Prize competition is intended to assist in expanding the hydrogen infrastructure across the country to support more transportation energy options for US consumers, including fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

The H2 Refuel H-Prize will award a $1-million prize to the top refueler system entry that can produce hydrogen using electricity and/or natural gas (energy sources commonly available to residential locations) and dispense the hydrogen to a vehicle. Systems considered would be at the home-scale and able to generate and dispense 1-5 kg H2/day for use at residences, or the medium-scale, generating and dispensing 5-50 kg H2/day. Medium-scale systems would serve a larger community with multiple users daily, such as a large apartment complex or retail centers to fuel small fleets of vehicles (e.g., light duty automobiles, forklifts or tractors).

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Study shows biodiesel blends in buses reduce PM, other harmful exhaust elements, EC and CO

29 October 2014

A new study on the combustion properties of biodiesel for use in urban transit buses found that using biodiesel can effectively reduce the mass of particulate matter released in both hot and cold idle modes. The study, published by the Mineta National Transit Research Consortium (MNTRC), observed a reduction in amount of particulate matter, number of elements, and elemental carbon; the reduction is considered beneficial to promoting the clean air and human health.

The researchers found that biodiesel has many advantages over regular diesel even in a very low blend percentage, including low emissions of particulate matter, combustion elements (mainly sulfur), elemental carbon, and carbon monoxide. In sum, they recommended that governments consider using blends of biodiesel in urban and commercial vehicles to enhance air quality.

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First look at all-new Voltec propulsion system for 2G Volt; “the only thing in common is a shipping cap”

29 October 2014

Cutaway of the new power electronics unit, which is much smaller than in gen 1, and which is now integrated into the drive unit housing. The power electronics and the motors use separate cooling: water for the PE and ol for the motor unit. Click to enlarge.

The second-generation Volt, which makes its world debut in about 10 weeks at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, features a clean-sheet, all-new Voltec propulsion system—new battery, new electric drive unit, new power electronics and new range-extending engine. At an introductory media briefing on the new powertrain held at the Warren Transmission Plant in Michigan, where the new drive unit will be built, Larry Nitz, GM Executive Director, Transmission and Electrification, noted that the only common part between the gen 1 and gen 2 drive units was a little yellow plastic intra-plant shipping cap for the manual selector.

The battery cells, with a tweaked NMC/LMO chemistry from LG, increase storage capacity by 20% volumetrically when compared to the original cell. The drive unit features a large number of changes: new roles for the two motors, two clutches instead of three, and a smaller power electronics unit integrated into the housing among them. (No more big orange high-voltage cables underneath the hood.) The new direct-injected 1.5 liter engine with cooled EGR features a high compression ratio and is optimized to function in its range extender role.

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GM Warren Transmission Plant to build electric drive unit for second-gen Volt; part of $300M investment in Michigan through end of year

28 October 2014

Later today at the Detroit Economic Club, General Motors CEO Mary Barra will confirm that its Warren Transmission Plant will build the new electric drive unit—the GM Voltec 4ET50 Multi-Mode EDU—for the upcoming second-generation Chevrolet Volt. As a result, most major Volt powertrain components—from the battery cells to the new 1.5-liter range-extending engine—will be made in Michigan, establishing the state as the company’s global engineering center of excellence for vehicle electrification. The new Volt will debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2015.

The drive unit for the first-generation Volt consists of two motors—a 111 kW main traction and 63 kW (at 4800 rpm) generator motor (55 kW generator output)—as well as three clutches and a planetary gear set tucked in the end of the traction motor that improve overall efficiency by reducing the combined rotational speed of the electric motors as needed. (Earlier post.) GM will subsequently be providing details of the second-generation drive unit.

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California Energy Commission to award up to $3M for advanced biofuel projects

28 October 2014

The California Energy Commission’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program (ARFVTP) announced (PON-14-602) the availability of up to $3 million in grant funds for biofuels projects that are in the early/pre-commercial technology development stage. This solicitation is emphasizing transformative technology solutions to significant biofuels industry problems that increase yields, productivity, or cost effectiveness of biofuel production; and/or that target a significant unmet need in California’s biofuels industry.

The ARFVTP has an annual budget of approximately $100 million and provides financial support for projects that increase the use of alternative and renewable fuels and advanced vehicle technologies.

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JBEI researchers boost isopentenol output from E. coli; potential benefit for bio-gasoline

27 October 2014

Researchers at the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have identified microbial genes that can improve both the tolerance and the production of isopentanol in engineered strains of Escherichia coli. Isopentenol is a five-carbon (C5) alcohol that is a highly promising candidate for biogasoline, but, like other short-chained alcohols, is toxic to E.coli at commercial levels of fuel production.

Aindrila Mukhopadhyay, a chemist who directs the host engineering program for JBEI’s Fuels Synthesis Division, led a study in which transcriptomic data and a synthetic metabolic pathway were used to identify several genes that not only improve tolerance but also production of isopentenol in E.coli. MetR, the methionine biosynthesis regulator, improved the titer for isopentenol production by 55%, while MdlB, the ABC transporter, facilitated a 12% improvement in isopentenol production.

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Graphene 3D Lab showing prototype 3D printed battery; potential for structural batteries

27 October 2014

Graphene 3D Lab Inc., which develops, manufactures, and markets proprietary graphene-based nanocomposite materials for various types of 3D printing, including fused filament fabrication, has developed a 3D printable graphene battery. CEO Daniel Stolyarov, presented the prototype 3D printable graphene battery at the Inside 3D Printing Conference in Santa Clara, CA last week.

Graphene 3D Labs combines graphene nanoplatelets with thermoplastics used in FFF (fused filament fabrication) 3D printing, ultimately resulting in a functionalized 3D printing filament offering electrical conductivity. Currently, the process requires the separate printing of individual components—i.e., cathode, anode, electrolyte. However, a true multi-material 3D printer would enable the printing of the entire battery in one single print, the company notes.

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