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Low oil prices hurting some US shale operations; slumping oil prices putting pressure on drillers

23 October 2014

by Nick Cunningham of

The number of active rigs drilling for oil and gas fell by their most in two months, according to the latest data from oil services firm Baker Hughes. There were 19 oil rigs that were removed from operation as of Oct. 17, compared to the prior week. There are now 1,590 active oil rigs, the lowest level in six weeks.

“Unless there’s a significant reversal in oil prices, we’re going to see continued declines in the rig count, especially those drilling for oil,” James Williams, president of WTRG Economics, told Fuel Fix in an interview. “We could easily see the oil rig count down 100 by the end of the year, or more.” Baker Hughes CEO Martin Craighead predicted that US drilling companies could begin to seriously start removing rigs from operation if prices drop to around $75 per barrel. Some of the more expensive shale regions will not be profitable at current prices. For example, the pricey Tuscaloosa shale in Louisiana breaks even at about $92 per barrel. But that also reflects the high costs of starting up a nascent shale region.

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UT Austin to lead $58M study of methane hydrate in Gulf of Mexico; $41M from DOE

22 October 2014

A research team led by The University of Texas at Austin has been awarded approximately $58 million to analyze methane hydrate deposits under the Gulf of Mexico. The grant, one of the largest ever awarded to the university, will allow researchers to advance the scientific understanding of naturally occurring methane hydrate so that its resource potential and environmental implications can be fully understood.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) is providing $41,270,609, with the remainder funded by industry and the research partners. Methane hydrate—natural gas trapped in an ice-like cage of water molecules—occurs in both terrestrial and marine environments. Prior programs in Alaska have explored gas hydrate reservoir potential and alternative production strategies, and additional testing programs are in development. While not part of this new program, the DOE further intends to evaluate production methods on terrestrial methane hydrate deposits in Alaska.

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Swedish Energy Agency awards PowerCell $960K toward developing modular fuel cell range extender system for EVs

22 October 2014

The Swedish Energy Agency has awarded Volvo Group spinout PowerCell SEK7 million (US$965,000) for the MoRE Zero project to develop a fuel cell system for use in a modular range extender system for electric vehicles in the European ERA-NET project. The kick-off meeting of the MoRE Zero project took place on June 2014.

PowerCell will develop a modular and scalable fuel cell system in the order of 20-25 kW. The fuel cell systems will be integrated and demonstrated in three different types of electric vehicles: a small 3.5-tonne truck provided by IDIADA; a 5-tonne minibus or 10-tonne small bus provided By Hexagon Studio; and an 18-tonne heavy truck provided by E-Trucks Europe. The modular range-extender system will comprise:

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CMU/MIT study finds large-scale battery manufacturing will do little to reduce unit costs past a 200-300 MWh annual production level

22 October 2014

A new techno-economic analysis by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and MIT has found that economies of scale for manufacturing current Li-ion batteries for light-duty EV applications (in this case, prismatic pouch NMC333-G batteries and packs) are reached quickly at around 200-300 MWh annual production. Increased volume beyond that does little to reduce unit costs, except potentially indirectly through factors such as experience, learning, and innovation, they determined.

That’s comparable to the amount of batteries produced for the Nissan Leaf or the Chevy Volt last year,” said CMU’s Dr. Jeremy Michalek, the corresponding author of a paper on the research published in the Journal of Power Sources. “Past this point, higher volume alone won’t do much to cut cost. Battery cost is the single largest economic barrier for mainstream adoption of electric vehicles, and large factories alone aren’t likely to solve the battery cost problem.

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Cooper Tire begins testing tires made with guayule component; consortium progress on genomics, agronomics

22 October 2014

Cooper Tire & Rubber Company has completed tire builds using rubber derived from guayule plants and new guayule related materials. The tires are being evaluated by Cooper’s technical team using wheel, road and track tests, which are ongoing, but to date suggest tire performance that is at least equal to tires made of components derived from the Hevea rubber plant.

This development was reported by Cooper to its consortium partners—PanAridus, Arizona State University, Cornell University, and the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-ARS)—as the group met recently in Maricopa, Arizona for its third annual meeting and progress report on their $6.9-million Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) grant, “Securing the Future of Natural Rubber—An American Tire and Bioenergy Platform from Guayule.” (Earlier post.)

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Daimler restructures cooperation with Tesla; termination of share-price hedging and sale of 4% stake

21 October 2014

Daimler AG has restructured its cooperation with Tesla Motors. Daimler has terminated the share-price hedge it initiated in 2013 and has sold its stake in Tesla of approximately 4%. The cooperation between the partners on the automotive projects is unaffected. Development work for the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive ( is completed, and the partnership with Tesla remains in place, Daimler said.

Daimler initially acquired a 9.1% interest in Tesla in May 2009. 40% of that investment was transferred to Aabar Investments PJSC in the context of a joint strategic project in July 2009. Tesla has been listed on the stock exchange since the end of June 2010. As a result of capital increases at Tesla, Daimler’s stake in the company decreased to around 4%, without affecting the two companies’ strategic cooperation or joint development projects.

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ORNL team finds cubic garnet material a promising solid electrolyte for high-energy aqueous lithium batteries

21 October 2014

Batteries with an aqueous catholyte and a Li-metal anode (e.g. aqueous Li-air or Li-redox-flow) are of great interest due to their exceptional energy density and high charge/discharge rate. However, long-term operation of such batteries requires that the solid electrolyte separator between the anode and aqueous solutions must be compatible with Li and stable over a wide pH range. No such compound has yet been reported.

Now, in a paper published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, researchers from the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory report that a cubic garnet material (Li7La3Zr2O12, or LLZO) is highly stable as a Li-stable solid electrolyte in neutral and strongly basic solutions, and is “a promising candidate for the separator in aqueous lithium batteries.

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More on the Mercedes-Benz 2014 B-Class alternative drive systems: electric and natural gas

21 October 2014

B-Class Electric Drive (right) and B-Class Natural Gas Drive (left). Click to enlarge.

Mercedes-Benz earlier gave the already successful B-Class a thorough facelift, giving particular attention to an upgrade of the interior. (Earlier post.) The revamped B-Class offers a choice of five diesel models with fuel ranging from 3.6 to 5.0 l/100 km (65.3 to 47 mpg US) and four gasoline engines at between 5.4 and 6.6 l/100 km (43.6 and 35.6 mpg US) as well as the B-Class Electric Drive (earlier post) and the B 200 Natural Gas Drive.

Both alternative drive models feature the modular “ENERGY SPACE” bodyshell concept: the underbody houses either the lithium-ion battery (B-Class Electric Drive) or one large and two smaller natural gas tanks and a 14‑liter gasoline tank (B 200 Natural Gas Drive). The B-Class Electric Drive and the B-Class Natural Gas Drive also differ in design from the gasoline and diesel models—particularly in the shaping of the front and rear aprons and the side skirts.

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GMZ Energy develops new thermoelectric material with lower raw material costs, higher power output; Hafnium-free p-type half-Heusler

21 October 2014

Researchers at GMZ Energy, a provider of nano-structured thermoelectric generation (TEG) power solutions for mobile and stationary waste-heat recovery (earlier post), with their colleagues at the University of Houston and Bosch, have developed a new Hafnium-free p-type half-Heusler material which offers substantially lower raw material cost than conventional half-Heusler materials. The material also features enhanced performance and mechanical strength due to GMZ’s patented nanostructuring process.

As presented in a paper published in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science, the new material improves thermoelectric power output compared to a conventional Hafnium-based product. Further, by replacing the costly Hafnium element with GMZ’s proprietary formulation, the overall cost-per-watt of the TEG is lowered. Cost reduction is beneficial for vehicle and industrial waste heat recovery applications, the developers noted in their paper.

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EPA researchers find widespread use of nano cerium diesel fuel additives could have measurable impact on air quality

21 October 2014

Predicted surface-level concentrations of cerium due to use of nCe diesel fuel additives. Credit: ACS, Erdakos et al. Click to enlarge.

Results of a modeling study by researchers from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggest that widespread use of nanoparticulate cerium (nCe) diesel fuel additives across the US would have a measurable effect on regional air quality.

The model calculations suggest modest decreases of average PM2.5 concentrations and relatively larger decreases in particulate elemental carbon (EC). On average, across the 14-day winter and summer periods modeled, the percent change in EC exceeds that of PM2.5 by a factor of 5 in urban areas. As EC is a short-lived climate forcer, the reduction in EC concentrations has potential policy implications.

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Visio.M partners present new lightweight EV; 13.5 kWh pack delivers ~100 mile range

20 October 2014

Visio.M EV. Click to enlarge.

The academic and industry partners in the Visio.M consortium (earlier post) are showcasing their new lightweight urban electric vehicle at eCarTec in Munich. The 2.5-year project was funded under the priority program “Key Technologies for Electric Mobility - STROM” of the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) with a total budget of €10.8 million (US$13.7 million).

The Visio.M has a range of around 160 kilometers (99 miles) and can accommodate two people with luggage. With only a 15 kW motor, the vehicle reaches a maximum speed of 120 km/h (75 mph). The electric motor in Visio.M draws its power from a lithium-ion battery pack behind the seats, which consists of consumer cells and provides a capacity of 13.5 kWh.

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NIMS team develops new magnetic compound with lower neodymium content

20 October 2014

A research group led by Dr. Kazuhiro Hono at Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) has synthesized a new magnetic compound which requires a lower amount of rare earth element than the currently used neodymium iron boron compound.

The ratio of neodymium, iron and nitrogen in the new compound (NdFe12N is 1:12:1). Its neodymium concentration is 17% of the entire mass compared to 27% for the neodymium iron boron compound known as Nd2Fe14B, the main component used in the strongest permanent magnets. Furthermore, the intrinsic hard magnetic properties of the new material were found to be superior to those of Nd2Fe14B.

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