Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Many European diesels have high emissions under real driving conditions

It appears that Volkswagen is not the only one with high NOx emissions under real driving conditions. Tests performed by Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) show that Opel and Renault diesels also have increased NOx emissions under normal driving conditions. DUH claims that Renault Espace diesels have up to 25 times higher emissions than allowed in Europe. In a response Renault claims that their diesels pass the test. Of course Volkswagens also pass that test. It's the difference between between emissions under real driving conditions and the test that's disturbing. Volkswagen cheated by using a cheat device. It seems that officially Renault didn't cheat. Instead the cause seems to be that Renault tests with a cold engine. Lower temperatures lead to lower NOx emissions. In real life those engines heat up over time and then emit poisonous NOx emissions that kill people. In real life we need stricter regulations to ban such practices.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

VW scandal expands to gasoline cars

Only a few hours after I wrote my post yesterday, asking whether Volkswagen's dieselgate scandal would expand to gasoline cars, the news broke that it did. I noted yesterday, that a defeat device that affects engine operation may also be used in gasoline cars. As a consequence performance and fuel economy will be reduced.

In the latest scandal Volkswagen admits overstating fuel economy and as a result CO2 emissions for 800,0000 vehicles. The majority of these vehicles have diesel engines, which implies that at least some gasoline cars were also affected. Volkswagen stated that they don't know yet what caused the irregularities. So they don't know whether a defeat device was installed this time as well, but in light of earlier misdoing this seems to be the most logical explanation.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

New Volkswagen violation - will scandal expand to gas powerd cars?

Earlier I described the technical details of dieselgate with regard to the EPA's September 18 Notice of Violation (NOV). Sadly Volkswagen Group's (VW) ordeal is not over yet. The EPA released a new NOV which now affects VWs 3.0 liter diesel engines.

There is a serious threat that the scandal will expand to more and more engine types and vehicle models. "ARB and EPA will continue to conduct a rigorous investigation that includes testing more vehicles until all of the facts are out in the open." This time the violation also affects Porsche which was unaffected by the earlier NOV.

Although the number of vehicles is limited (10.000 in 2014, plus an unknown additional number in 2015), the technical details are at least as disturbing as the earlier violation.

Again VW used a cheat device. This time exactly one second after the vehicle completes the initial phase of the standard test procedure, the vehicle changes to normal mode, where NOx emissions increase up to nine times the EPA standard. This time the engine cheats by running in a low NOx "temperature conditioning" mode. Engine temperatures are kept down as high temperatures increase NOx emissions.

The consequences of removing the cheat device would be a broad range of reduced performance, including reduced torque and increased fuel consumption. What's even more worrisome is that this time VW didn't just play with the post-combution exhaust cleanup. They changed the operating parameters of the engine. That method can be applied to a broad range of vehicles including those with gasoline powered engines.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Dual fuel

A dual fuel system is a system that enables engines to run on two different fuels simultaneously. In most cases this involves a diesel engine that has a gaseous fuel added, such as CNG, LNG, LPG or DME. These fuels are generally cheaper than diesel resulting in a cost reduction. Additionally these fuels promote a higher flame speed enabling the combustion energy to be transferred to the engine pistons more effectively and improving combustion. This results in reduced fuel consumption and lower hydrocarbon, carbonmonoxide and soot emissions.

For optimal results it is crucial to use an advanced electronic dual fuel system, such as the one supplied by Lisa Fuel Systems.

Dieselgate: a technical analysis

I never bothered to write a post about Volkswagen's dieselgate. But I found some conflicting stories about what this meant for people driving a Volkswagen. Will Volkswagen's fix lead to reduced torque and fuel economy?

So far Volkswagen has released few details of what they did technically, but the EPA's Notification of Violation to Volkswagen gives us an insight into what Volkswagen did and from this we can deduct what the consequences will be of fixing it.

Many media have written already that Volkswagen used a 'cheat device'. According to the EPA Volkswagen "installed software in the electronics control module (ECM) that sensed when the vehicle was being tested for compliance with EPA emission standards." "During EPA emission testing, the vehicles' ECM ran software which produced compliant emission results". "At all other times during normal operation" ... "software" ... "reduced the effectiveness of the emission control system (specifically the selective catalytic reduction or the lean NOx trap). As a result, emissions of NOx increased by a factor of 10 to 40 times above the EPA compliant levels".

So what does this mean for your Volkswagen? Both in vehicles equipped with selective catalytic reduction (SCR) and a lean NOx trap (LNT), Volkswagen can fix the problem by updating the ECM software.
As a result if your car has SCR then your car will start to consume a lot more reducer (Adblue). There will be no noticeable consequences for performance. Increased Adblue consumption of course will mean that the Adblue reservoir will have to be refilled more frequently.
On a car with a lean NOx trap (LNT), the car will have to burn off the trapped NOx more frequently, which is done using diesel fuel. As a consequence diesel fuel consumption will increase significantly without other consequences for performance. Volkswagen had trouble meeting emission standards when using their LNT technology. Most likely increased fuel consumption led to Volkswagen's decision to cheat the test.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Solar challenge shows potential for solar cars

Yesterday the team of the Eindhoven University of Technology won the solar challenge for 'family cars'. Earlier Delft and Twente won first and second in the race category.
Photo:Bart van Overbeeke, TU Eindhoven

The good thing about Eindhoven's car is that it is a 'normal' car. It has a licence plate and seating for four. Thanks to its solar panels it can drive all day on a single charge, although at limited speed. The race consisted of two stages of 1.500 km each, which were driven on an average speed of 76 km/h. From sunrise to sunset without refilling its battery. For a more northern country like the Netherlands, the range would be about 1.000 km per day. As the car boasts an electric battery as well, it would be possible to extend that range, or drive at higher speeds (up to 130 km/h) if the battery was refilled en route.
Photo:Bart van Overbeeke, TU Eindhoven

All in all this car shows that solar extended electric vehicles are ready to hit the market.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Cost of hydrogen

ITM Power signed an agreement with Toyota to supply hydrogen. This is the first time I know of a contract has been signed for public sale of hydrogen where the price is mentioned. The price is GBP 10/kg (€ 13,63 or $ 15,46). The Mirai can drive ~480 km on 5 kg, so that's a cost of € 0,14/km. In comparison a vehicle driving 20 km/liter of gasoline costing € 1,60 (Dutch price including high taxes) has a cost of only € 0,08/km. Prices will need to come down for hydrogen to become competitive. A target price for hydrogen is € 5/kg, which would be competitive.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Evolution towards a hydrogen economy

The hydrogen economy, once a visionary idea is slowly becoming a reality. It may not be obvious, but our economy is slowly evolving. It's a slow evolution not a revolutionary change. One of the telltale signs in the Netherlands where I live are government plans to change our natural gas law. They are changing the specifications of natural gas.

Why is this so important for a hydrogen economy? Natural gas is the main source of hydrogen today. Since hydrogen storage and distribution is so inconvenient and therefore expensive, we make hydrogen on-site using natural gas. If you say hydrogen, then that's a gas made from natural gas by steam reforming.

The changes to our law include the possibility to add more hydrogen to the natural gas grid. That means that it is now also possible to transport hydrogen by mixing it in the grid. That makes our gas grid the easiest an cheapest way to transport and store hydrogen, irrespective of how the hydrogen is produced.
The government is already looking forward to raising the allowed hydrogen concentration even further in the future even though that will mean that all our gas equipment will need to be modified. In the Netherlands natural gas is our main source of energy. This change is a critical step towards a hydrogen economy.

Once you add hydrogen to the gas grid that you can take it out again, either by steam reforming, or by separating it from the natural gas using a membrane. That means we can now hookup smaller local hydrogen networks as well.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Lower Dutch greenhouse gas emissions in 2014

The Dutch statistics bureau, CBS, released a press statement today containing new figures for Dutch greenhouse gas emissions in 2014 (not yet available in Dutch).
Dutch emissions were lower across the board, except for energy companies, which used more coal. Traffic related emissions have dropped 7% in accordance with IPCC methods. The CBS mentions two causes:
1. cars are more efficient and more often use alternative fuels such as electricity and CNG
2. more drivers refuel across the border after fuel taxes were increased.
When cars are filled up across the border the emissions count abroad. Electric driving reduces carbon emissions because the emissions for electricity production are counted towards energy companies and not to traffic.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bosch's 48V mild hybrid system to debut this year

With so many innovative vehicle concepts testing the market we almost forget that most vehicles sold are still traditional gasoline vehicles. Such vehicles can be made more fuel-efficient by adding a mild hybrid system.

A new trend in the development of mild hybrid systems has been the use of 48 Volt lithium-ion batteries. These batteries replace lower voltage systems, often using 12V lead-acid batteries (or occasionally even nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries). This has been made possible by advances and cost savings in li-ion technology. According to Just-Auto a 48V architecture provides about four times the energy recuperation from regenerative braking than is available on the traditional 12V system. Full hybrids use much higher voltages, for instance the Toyota Prius hybrid synergy drive uses a 220V battery.

Many automotive suppliers have jumped on the band-wagon, including Continental, Johnson Controls and Bosch.

Automotive news Europe interviewed Bosch executives about this subject recently. In 2013, GS Yuasa, Bosch and trading house Mitsubishi Corp. formed a joint venture to develop low-cost, high energy-density lithium ion batteries by 2020. A Bosch executive told Automotive news that they are "on a good path" toward their goal of developing a lithium ion battery that costs half as much as today's batteries but has twice the energy density.
Such advances will greatly popularize the use of hybrid and electric-only drive trains. Bosch expects such drive trains to account for 15 percent of the global automotive market by 2020. Mild hybrids are expected to break through with the introduction of 48V technology and could account for most of those vehicles.

Bosch also is rolling out a new 48 V mild-hybrid system this year that it says will improve fuel efficiency at minimal extra cost. Bosch has named its system "Boost Recuperation System" (BRS) which features an electric motor, with a 48V 0.25kWh lithium-ion battery and DC/DC converter. The system potentially reduces fuel consumption by 5 to 18%.

BRS offers four functions:
- coasting
- start-stop
- recuperation
- torque boost
When coasting and during start-stop the 48V battery keeps the car's electronics and climate control running. Recuperation enables the car to recover braking energy. The battery can provide the vehicle a torque boost of up to 10 kW. 
Bosch's system debuts this year in a nameplate for Europe offered by a European automaker, executives said. They declined to name the customer. Bosch aims to sell the mild hybrid system in other markets, including North America.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Dutch clean vehicle stimulus plans enable strong growth for FEVs and FCVs

Recently the Dutch State Secretary for Finance wrote a letter to parliament containing plans on clean vehicle stimulation for the period 2017-2020. His letter offers great potential for FCV (fuel cell vehicle) sales in the Netherlands. The Netherlands have the lowest average emissions for new vehicles sold in all of Europe thanks to generous stimulation for clean vehicles. Specifically fiscal stimulation is high for lease cars, which has led to plug-in hybrid vehicles becoming the most popular lease cars. This stimulation will remain intact for fully electric vehicles (FEVs) and FCVs, but the stimulation for plug-in hybrid vehicles will be phased out between now and 2019. This will lead to increased demand for FEVs and FCVs.
Starting 2019 however the stimulation for FEVs will only be applied to a sales value upto € 50.000. That will likely lead to a shift from FEVs to FCVs. Luxury FEV manufacturers (current FEV market leader is Tesla) would be wise to offer their models with a FC range extender.
If most of the current luxury FEV sales shift to FCVs in 2019, FCV sales could grow exponentially. A rough estimate of FCV sales:
2013      0
2014      2
2015    10
2016    30
2017  100
2018  300
2019 1.000
2020 1.500

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Efficient technology for hydrogen refueling

Dutch company Teesing is developing a more efficient technology for hydrogen refueling. Teesing is my former employer, but I am still involved in this project. Teesing's patented technology is used to transfer hydrogen from one storage (e.g. a refueling station) to another (e.g. a vehicle fuel storage tank). Until now hydrogen has to be pre-cooled using liquid nitrogen for fast refueling before it can be transferred. Teesing's new technology is more efficient, which makes cooling unnecessary. This results in a cheaper solution for fast refueling at pressures up to 700 bar.

Teesing's solution works by initially filling the target fuel tank with demineralised water which later is exchanged for 700 bar hydrogen. Because the exchange is made at a low pressure differential, much less energy is lost.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Aluminum batteries might find application in hybrids and FCVs

New publications about battery breakthroughs appear regularly in the media. In practice however not much has changed in the field of battery technology in the last few years. Recently Stanford University came up with a new story.

This time the story is about the aluminum-ion battery. Stanford has developed such a battery that they present as very promising. Of course they are looking for investors to help further develop this technology into actual products.

The main difference with the commonly used lithium-ion battery is the use of aluminum instead of lithium.

Aluminum offers a number of advantages compared to lithium. Aluminum does not cause a fire hazard in case of incidents. Another important advantage is the shorter charge time: Stanford has succeeded in charging the battery in only a minute. Finally the battery has a much longer life time than lithium batteries. Standford's battery could withstand 7,500 cycles without capacity decay, where a typical lithium battery lasts about 1,000 cycles. Finally aluminum is also cheaper than lithium.

The major disadvantage of the aluminum is the lower voltage, about half the voltage of a lithium battery. That also leads to lower battery energy density. In other words: more batteries are needed to store the same amount of energy. That is a key disadvantage which disqualifies this battery for most of the popular applications of lithium batteries, such as mobile devices and electric vehicles.

Still there are applications where the advantages of this aluminum battery seem more important than the disadvantage. Stanford suggests using this battery for storage of excess electricity from sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar. In such a stationary application the size of the battery stack is much less relevant and life time is more crucial.

Hybrid vehicles
Although aluminum seems unsuitable for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, I do see opportunities for vehicle applications. Hybrid vehicles without a plug such as the Toyota Prius have a relatively small battery which can be charged and uncharged multiple times during a single trip. And it is crucial that the battery can be charged quickly as this is needed to store breaking energy. The life time of lithium batteries in hybrid vehicles is a major bottleneck. In Toyota's hybrid synergy drive system the potential capacity of the batteries is only used for a small amount in order to extend battery life. In Honda's IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) system it is even worse. Battery failure is one of the main reasons why the IMA system is unsuccessful on the market. Aluminum batteries might offer new opportunities for such hybrid systems.

Fuel Cell Vehicles 
Another type of vehicles that might see use of this type of batteries is the Fuel Cell Vehicle. FCVs are in fact hybrid vehicles which use a lithium-ion battery to store energy which can be used to improve response to the gas pedal. The battery is charged from breaking energy or when you let go of the gas pedal because the fuel cell doesn't stop producing power immediately. Just like ordinary hybrid vehicles, FCVs have relatively small capacity batteries that are typically charged and uncharged multiple times during a single trip.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Dutch die 1 year early due to air pollution

A recent study by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and Utrecht University shows the effect of air pollution on life expectancy in the Netherlands. Long-term (>5 years) exposure to particulate air pollution (PM10) and nitrogen dioxide was found to be associated with mortality. This was shown for total mortality as well as for mortality from respiratory diseases and lung cancer in the Netherlands. Furthermore, PM10 was associated with cardiovascular mortality.

In their studies the researchers used statistical data available from 7.2 million adults living in the Netherlands: all residents over 30 years who did not move for at least 5 years.

Until recently only levels of fine particulates have been used in calculations of premature deaths associated with air pollution in general. The study found that, in addition to the effect of fine particulates, nitrogen dioxide is also associated with premature deaths linked to air pollution.

The study also found an increased mortality risk for people under 65 while previously, it was thought that premature death due to the effects of air pollution occurred mainly in older people.

Using the numbers of this study Dutch environmental group Milieudefensie quantified the effects. PM10 pollution was shown to reduce life expectancy by 9 months while nitrogen dioxide exposure causes a 4 month reduction in life expectancy. One of the publishers of the RIVM article confirmed these findings in an interview. Milieudefensie calls for tougher regulations as they consider the effects of air pollution unacceptable.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hyundai releases new European Tucson/ix35 FCV price

Earlier this month Hyundai announced to slash the Korean price of their Tucson Fuel Cell by 43% to the equivalent of US$ 77,000. Yesterday Hyundai announced the new price in Europe: € 55,000 (US$ 62,700). In the Netherlands that results in a consumer price of € 66,550 incl. VAT. In Europe the Tucson is called ix35. In comparison the Hyundai Fuel Cell is available in the USA for lease only at a monthly price of $ 499.

The new price is close to being a competitive offer to traditional cars with combustion engines. If Hyundai doesn't lose too much on it, it would mark a significant step towards making fuel cell vehicles competitive, although there still is a long way to go. The ix35 with combustion engine is available in the Netherlands at prices starting at € 27,495 (incl. VAT).

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

2014 good year for CNG in the Netherlands

Figures published by Aumacon show that CNG / green gas vehicles were the most popular alternative fueled vehicles in the Netherlands in 2014.

The largest vehicle category in the Netherlands in terms of sales remains the traditional gasoline car. 248,796 of these were sold in 2014. This is a drop of 6% compared to 2013. Traditional gasoline cars are slowly losing ground.
Diesel cars sales were better. 105,102 were sold in 2014, a growth of 1,5%.

The third category in the Netherlands in terms of sales is the hybrid vehicle (including plug-in hybrids and range extended electric vehicles). Compared to the top year 2013 sales decreased by 38% as a result of reduced fiscal stimulation. Despite this (as I wrote yesterday) the number of these vehicles on the road is still increasing.

Number four in the Netherlands in terms of cars on the road is LPG. Sales of LPG however are declining because the Dutch government no longer stimulates LPG despite verbally advocating its use. Sales dropped by 53% to 988. As a result the number of LPG vehicles on Dutch roads is decreasing. This is in sharp contrast to worldwide developments.

2014 was a great year for CNG / green gas vehicles. 3,232 CNG vehicles were sold, an increase of over 500% compared to 2013. Despite these impressive numbers CNG still has a long way to go to overtake LPG as the most popular alternative fuel.

Next are the fully electric cars. 2,982 of these were sold which is a 14% increase compared to 2013. Electric cars are slowly gaining market share.

Other than these fuels not much is happening in the Netherlands. When the first public hydrogen station was opened it was already known that the Dutch government would leased two Hyundai ix35's. No other hydrogen vehicles were registered in 2014.

The sale of cars on ethanol has come to a near complete stop in 2014: only one was sold compared to 17 in 2013.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Dutch electric vehicle registrations in 2014

The Dutch government has revealed registration numbers for electric vehicles in the Netherlands in 2014. The number of electric vehicles is still rising rapidly.

The number of fully electric passenger cars went up by 64% from 4,161 to 6,825. Especially the months of October and December saw a lot of new registrations. The number of registrations is often high in autumn in anticipation of increasingly strict requirements for fiscal stimuli.

While the number of plug-in hybrids went up almost sixfold in 2013, last year saw more normal, but still impressive growth. The number of plug-ins grew from 24,512 to 36,937 - a 51% growth rate. In contrast to electric vehicles, the number of new registrations in autumn was lower than average.

The number of electric light duty vehicles grew by an impressive 88% from 669 to 1,258. This makes this vehicle category the fastest growing. Here also October and December were top months. Both months saw more registrations than in the entire year of 2013.

The number of electric heavy duty vehicles and electric buses grew by 18% and 10% respectively. Most growth took place in the first four months of 2014. Possibly growth halted as a result of lower oilprices later in the year.

In terms of models, the Mitsubishi Outlander is the most popular plug-in hybrid vehicle. 15,725 of thse are now registered in the Netherlands. The second place is for the Volvo V60 with 9,707 registrations. The Opel Ampera is in third place.
The Tesla Model S is the most popular fully electric vehicle with 2,645 registrations, followed by the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe.

A striking development is that the number of normal hybrids (such as the Toyota Auris and Prius) is no logner growing. The number of registered vehicles rose by only 0.3%: almost as many hybrids were unregistered as registered. The number of these vehicles is however still almost three times higher than the number of plug-ins and fully electric vehicles combined.