Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

AB8 – It began with an Idea

Monday, October 7th, 2013

As advocates for clean transportation, we float ideas constantly.  Some don’t go very far; some result in approximately $2 billion of funding for alternative fuels and vehicles and air quality improvement programs. To be fair, only one idea of ours has resulted in the latter.

On September 28, 2013, Governor Brown signed AB 8 (Perea), which extends critical alternative fuel and vehicle investments and diesel emission reduction programs through 2024. This tremendous victory for the State’s long-term environmental and economic health would not have happened without the planting and execution of one key idea: using the Clean Fuels Outlet (CFO) regulation to mandate the installation of hydrogen fueling stations.

Why was the CFO so important?

The CFO, originally created by the Air Resources Board in 1990 to provide methanol, ethanol, and CNG fueling outlets, was adapted and adopted in 2012 to ensure hydrogen station development kept pace with hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) sales projections. The concept of the regulation was simple; if you sell gasoline or diesel in California, you need to provide a proportionally fair amount of clean fuels to meet projected demand. Adapting the CFO for hydrogen was an idea pitched and championed through the process by EIN.

For obvious reasons, oil companies were not fans of the CFO regulation and its 2012 changes. However, rather than pursuing a protracted legal battle likely damaging (or at least resource intensive) to both sides, the ARB and Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA is the trade association that represents the bulk of companies involved in petroleum business) struck a grand bargain: the ARB would put the CFO on the shelf if WSPA and its members could help pass legislation to fund hydrogen fueling stations.

AB8 was crafted in this vein; it effectively eliminates the CFO and supports public investment in hydrogen. However, hydrogen is only part of the story. The bill authorizes substantial investments in all alternative fuels and vehicles (hydrogen, electricity, biofuels, CNG, propane, etc.) and also extends the Carl Moyer Diesel Emissions Reduction and Air Quality Improvement Programs.

WSPA support was critical to the effort.  In California, any bill that raises fees or taxes must achieve a 2/3-majority vote in both the Assembly and Senate to make it to the Governor’s desk. AB8 would not have passed without WSPA’s political clout. In short, the CFO turned WSPA into powerful alternative fuel and vehicle advocates.

As with any action of this magnitude, it takes a village to bring a long-term vision to fruition. A tremendous amount of credit rests on the shoulders of the ARB and legislative leaders, as well as the broad coalition of organizations that worked to generate support for AB 8.  AB 8 would not have happened without them.  But it also would not have happened without the CFO Regulation, which turned out to be a good idea made even better.

Promising Technology: Creating Renewable Hydrogen

Monday, July 8th, 2013

As alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) continue to become more economically viable, fuel source and renewability remains a key point of discussion. Although AFVs like fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) can eliminate fossil fuel dependence while reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, many interested parties take a life-cycle approach by questioning the source of the energy used. If the energy carried in a fuel cell doesn’t come from a clean or renewable source, then the vehicle powered by that fuel cell isn’t exactly clean or renewable.

For FCEVs, cost remains the primary challenge to produce 100 percent renewable hydrogen.

The commercial hydrogen market is currently around $100 billion. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, 9 million tons of hydrogen is produced annually in the United States, 95% of which is produced through natural gas reformation. Natural gas reforming is currently the cheapest, most common and efficient method for producing hydrogen. When used in a FCEV, natural gas derived hydrogen reduces greenhouse gas emissions approximately 50%, when compared to conventional gasoline. However, to reach long-term climate goals, we need close to 100% reduction.

A potential solution to the challenges of production costs and environmental impact lies in the research conducted by Y.H. Percival Zhang at Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.  Zhang and his team successfully developed a process to produce large quantities of hydrogen from the simple plant sugar xylose, an abundant renewable resource. The innovative technology avoids using expensive metals and releases close to zero greenhouse gases. This could shorten the timeline for making renewable hydrogen commercially available, which would have huge environmental and economic impacts.

When applied at commercial scale, Zhang’s research has the potential to deliver affordable, renewable, emissions-free hydrogen., It does so simply and efficiently, eliminating costs at each step of the process.  Researchers isolate the necessary enzymes and catalytic reactions required to produce the highest yields of hydrogen from sugar and water. This specific enzyme cocktail works in toxic environments, which removes an expensive detoxification step, and can be produced by one bacterium. By using recyclable enzyme-based solvents, Zhang found lower cost replacements for the traditional high-heat, high-pressure process. Using biomass to generate hydrogen drastically reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the process allow for energy efficiency above 100% – meaning that the energy of hydrogen produced is greater than the combined input energies of xylose and polyphosphate.

This efficient, environmentally friendly method of hydrogen production is just one example of many potential pathways for creating renewable hydrogen. With the science in place, the right economics can lead this, and other, renewable hydrogen production methods to commercial viability and success. Such as outcome would be a victory for everyone: a clean, domestic, renewable, and affordable fuel to power our mobility.

The Call for Infrastructure

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

“The challenges for fuel cell vehicles in the long run appear to be entirely on the infrastructure side… we have to begin to invest in that infrastructure now, as the advance placement of infrastructure is critical to the market acceptance of fuel cell vehicles.”

-John German, ICCT Sr. Fellow
Transitioning the U.S. light-duty vehicle fleet

A recent U.S. National Research Council report on light-duty (cars and small trucks) vehicle technologies discussed the feasibility of reaching two goals:

  • 50% petroleum reduction in 2030
  • 80% petroleum and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions in 2050

This reduction goal is measured against a 2005 baseline, and researchers concluded that with the right policy incentives, combination of vehicle technologies, and added infrastructure for those technologies, it is possible to achieve these targets.

The study considered multiple policy options in modeling the outcomes of potential technology mixes, and considered purchasing prices and energy efficiencies – two major factors that affect market acceptance. Newer technologies like compressed natural gas and battery (BEV), plug-in (PHEV), or fuel cell (FCEV) electric have higher initial costs. However, long-term assessments show that BEVs and FCEVs become less expensive than both internal combustion vehicles and other alternative fuel vehicles.

High-volume retail price equivalents

Reducing vehicle weight, aerodynamic drag, and tire rolling resistance, has a greater effect on lowering costs for BEVs and FCEVs than for conventional vehicles. In the long run, FCEVs are shown to be significantly better than conventional vehicles, with cheaper purchase prices, comparable range and refill times, higher efficiency, better drivability, and better space utilization of drive train components.

The major challenge to high-volume FCEV production, which is the assumption made in the above predictions, is infrastructure. John German, the ICCT Senior Fellow who headed the subcommittee that analyzed alternative vehicle technologies, explained that while predicting technology development may be highly uncertain, the investment into infrastructure must begin NOW.

Addressing this challenge, EIN currently leads a multi-stakeholder effort to develop a network-level plan for hydrogen infrastructure deployment in California. If successfully implemented, it will serve as a blueprint for market introduction at national and international levels. This plan will establish a clear pathway to market success for the infrastructure needed to support commercial levels of hydrogen FCEVs.

According to the NRC study only three potential scenarios could meet or exceed the goals of 50% petroleum reduction in 2030 and 80% GHG reduction in 2050; all three of those scenarios require significant market penetration of FCEVs. The first is based on optimistic assumptions for FCEV technology, and the other two both require PHEV and FCEV market success.

By modeling a policy-induced transition to hydrogen FCEVs by 2050, the study estimated a net present value of around $1 trillion. This scenario assumes both $6 billion annual subsidies through the mid-2020s and 500 geographically clustered hydrogen-refueling stations (subsidized or mandated) by 2016. In other words, the long-term benefits far outweigh the nearer-term costs associated with a transition to FCEVs.

FCEV adoption has both private and social benefits.  Private benefits include consumer fuel savings, satisfaction with vehicle purchases, and satisfaction with fuel purchases. Social benefits include reductions in GHG emissions and petroleum use – in this scenario, petroleum consumption could be reduced by about 90-96% and GHG emissions by 59-80%.

Vehicle sales by vehicle technology for midrange technologies and policies promoting the adoption and use of PHEVs, FCEVs, and biofuels.

The study goes on to state that for hydrogen FCEVs, advance placement of fueling infrastructure is critical to market acceptance, as the availability of refueling stations directly affects consumer demand.  It is clear that a coordinated effort is essential to achieving petroleum and GHG reductions goals – and it is even more clear that investments in and development of such infrastructure must occur early on in the transition.

Find out more about EIN’s work with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and infrastructure here.

The Vast Majority of Voters Support Increased Fuel Economy Standards

Friday, January 6th, 2012

As gas price increases continue to creep up on us in the wake of the New Year, the majority of affiliates across the main political parties surprisingly find themselves in support of a common ideal. In a statewide survey conducted in July of 2011 by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) on opinions regarding the environment, it was found that an astonishing 84% of state residents favored the requirement of automakers to significantly improve the fuel efficiencies of their vehicles. More specifically, 90% of Democrats, 81% of Independents and 76% of Republicans shared this particular view. Californians also demonstrated strong support (80%) for an increase in federal funding of the development of renewable energy sources such as solar, hydrogen and wind technologies. In light of the formal address made by President Obama on July 29th announcing the newly agreed upon plans proposing more stringent fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards, this collective and majority opinion could not have come at a better time. According to the latest Kelly Blue Book consumer survey taken in May 2011, “the vast majority of car shoppers (84%) said that gas prices have influenced [their] vehicle considerations… [and] indicated that better fuel economy was their main reason for planning to purchase their next vehicle.” Automotive companies manufacturing such fuel efficient vehicles have the numbers to prove it too. As of May 2011, GM, Honda and Nissan all show increasing trends in market sales of their hybrids as well as their other fuel efficient vehicle models. Taking all of these factors into account, the transition to better transportation energy practices is very promising and becoming more feasible.

By Christine Jaramillo