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A Taste of Colorado to Feature Hydrogen Vehicle and Alternative Energy Exhibit

September 3 – The A Taste of Colorado festival in Denver this weekend will have a special alternative fuel showcase sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fuel Cell Technologies Program.

The alternative fuel program will be featuring a hydrogen-powered internal combustion engine shuttle bus built by Ford. The hydrogen shuttle buses will hold 12 passengers and will be on display at the Department of Energy’s booth on Broadway across from the Denver Post Building.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory notes that the Department of Energy recently funded leases for a dozen of these hydrogen powered shuttle buses, which will be placed at facilities across the country.

The A Taste of Colorado festival is an end-of-the-summer celebration for the Denver region. Over half a million people are expected to attend the free four-day festival which features over 50 area food establishments, 270 marketplace artisans and vendors, six entertainment stages, and educational programs promoting the diverse cultural and western heritage of the region.

Posted in Alternative Transportation, Buses, Hydrogen0 Comments

Spring Snowstorm Hits Denver Area

DENVER, March 24 (UPI) — Denver commuters struggled with snow, slush and rain Wednesday morning as a spring snowstorm moved out of the area.

The storm, which hit Colorado Tuesday, stranded thousands of travelers, The Denver Post reported.

About 5,000 people spent the night at Denver International Airport because of canceled flights, many of them sleeping on cots provided by the airport. More delays and long lines were expected Wednesday afternoon.

Schools were closed Wednesday in Denver and many surrounding districts. Traffic on roads in the Denver area was light and light rail and buses uncrowded, said Scott Reed, a spokesman for the regional transportation agency.

The National Weather Service up to 16 inches of snow could fall. Late March is usually the time with heaviest snowfalls in Colorado.

Hundreds of miles to the east near Buffalo, N.Y., nearly invisible black ice on the roads was blamed for hundreds of crashes.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported, The Buffalo News said. But several area highways were closed either because of dangerous conditions or multi-vehicle pileups.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Air, Atmosphere, & Weather, Buses, Other, Transportation0 Comments

Mudslide Blocks Washington State Rail Line

SEATTLE, March 12 (UPI) — A mudslide halted rail passenger service Friday morning on the line between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada.

Officials said trains will be halted on the line until Sunday, the Seattle Times reported. Under federal regulations, freight can move but passenger service is banned for 48 hours after a slide as a precaution.

Both Sound Transit, which operates weekday commuter trains between Everett and Seattle, and Amtrak, which has trains connecting Seattle and Vancouver, planned to use buses to get riders from Everett to Seattle.

Gus Melonas, a spokesman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which owns the track, said the slide occurred in Richmond Beach, south of Edmonds, Wash., and about 20 miles north of Seattle. He said mud and rocks spilled down a hillside after heavy rain in an area where slides have occurred in the past.

The slide covered about 20 feet of track.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Buses, Soil Erosion0 Comments

Snow Continues to Vex Swedish Commuters

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Feb. 24 (UPI) — Police had to restore order at a Stockholm bus terminal Tuesday night after continuing bad weather resulted in long service delays, officials said.

Officials told the Swedish news agency Tidningarnas Telegrambyra that about tempers flared among approximately 1,000 commuters who were having little luck getting home as buses to the suburbs became fewer and farther between.

“There are no reports of actual fighting, but there was a lot of anger,” police spokesman Ulf Lindgren told the news agency.

The government recently deployed troops to assist with snow removal along the rail lines serving the capital.

The weather forecast called for more snowfall across Sweden during the weekend.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Air, Atmosphere, & Weather, Buses0 Comments

Winter Snowstorm Continues to Dump Snow on Denver

Winter Snowstorm Arrives in Denver

Denver buses and residents travel during the late evening as a winter snowstorm continues into the second day of snowfall on October 28, 2009 in Denver. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

Date Taken: October 29, 2009

Posted in Buses, Nature & Ecosystems0 Comments

Area Surrounding Stonehenge to be Cleaned and Freed from Traffic

AMESBURY, England, Oct. 4 (UPI) — The area around Stonehenge, a 5,000-year-old monument in England, will be given a facelift and freed from unsightly surrounding traffic, officials said.

A 1.3-mile length of highway A344 that currently comes to within a few hundred yards of the ancient wonder will be closed and grassed over, and a parking lot and visitors’ center will be built a mile and a half to the west, with shuttle buses taking tourists to the monument, the Sunday Times of London reported.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport wants the construction finished in time for the 2012 Olympics, the newspaper said.

The plans come simultaneously with archaeologists’ announcements that a smaller version of Stonehenge — Bluehenge — has been discovered a mile from Stonehenge.

Bluehenge was discovered during the summer by archaeologists at Sheffield University, and is thought by archeologists to have been constructed concurrently with Stonehenge. Its stones are missing and researchers say they may have been used to augment Stonehenge throughout a series of redevelopments, the newspaper reported.

“This adds to the richness of the story of Stonehenge. We thought we knew it all, but over the past few years we have discovered that something as familiar as Stonehenge is still a challenge to explore and understand. It wouldn’t surprise me if there weren’t more circles.” Professor Tim Darvill, a Stonehenge expert at Bournemouth University, said.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Buses, Nature & Ecosystems, Other0 Comments

Hypothetically Optimal Transportation

Are the Studies We Rely On Reliable?

We discovered “The Antiplanner,” Randall O’Toole, a few months ago, and ever since we have been publishing selected works by this prolific author and researcher. His findings, carefully documented, contradict important pillars of the conventional wisdom that informs modern urban planning – transportation options in particular. O’Toole’s work deserves as large an audience as possible because his conclusions, if correct, or even partially correct, have profound implications when determining how best to allocate taxpayer funds. If light rail, for example, is not nearly as cost-effective or even fuel efficient as cars and busses, for example, why are we building them?

In Sacramento, California, not only have hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars already been spent on light rail systems that have done virtually nothing to take traffic off our freeways, but city planners are proposing the downtown streets get ripped up to make room for streetcars. Why on earth would anyone lay tracks onto a street for a streetcar that, unlike a bus, cannot even pull over and get out of traffic during stops? Randall O’Toole has developed compelling data to support what many of us feel in our gut – light rail and streetcars are not solving our transportation challenges.

This feature length investigation by O’Toole compares the benefits of streetcars vs. trolleys, and his conclusion is diametrically opposed to findings in a recent and authoritative study on the topic. Trolleys, busses with wheels and tires that drive around among cars and can, for example, pull out of traffic to make frequent stops, are probably far cheaper than streetcars. Instead of having to rip up the roads and install miles of steel rail for streetcars, you string overhead power lines that provide electricity to the trolleys. One still must wonder why a simple bus – modern and clean and green of course – would not be a far more versatile and cost effective solution than streetcars or trolleys.

Is it nostalgia that makes urban planners so fixated on anything but cars, busses, and roads to meet urban transportation challenges? Is it the thoroughly debatable yet rarely debated notion that cars and busses consume more resources and can never be “clean?” Is the preference for transportation solutions that rely on rail pushed by powerful special interests who love the ongoing pork and patronage such solutions require? Is it motivated by a sincere but misplaced utopian desire to force everyone into communal transportation arrangements? Whatever it is, renewed and vigorous debate on the subject of the car and bus vs. rail options is long overdue. Sometimes rail solutions do make sense, but not nearly as often as we are led to believe.
- Ed Ring

Hypothetically Optimal Transportation – Are the Studies We Rely On Reliable?
by Randall O’Toole, October 22, 2008
Vancouver Trolley Bus
A trolley bus in Vancouver, more
cost-effective than streetcars.
(Photo: Flickr: Jeffrey Beall)

“What is the optimal relationship between land use and transit,” asks Patrick Condon, “and what transit mode would best support this optimum state?”

In his research paper “A Cost Comparison of Transportation Modes,” published in September 2008 by the Foundational Research Bulletin, Condon concludes that cities should invest more in “trams” (streetcars) rather than in long-distance, higher-speed rail systems. Condon is a professor of landscape architecture at the University of British Columbia, where he is also involved in Sustainability by Design, which is trying to create a sustainable “vision” for the Vancouver region.

Condon’s answers to the above questions differ greatly from from the Antiplanner’s. This is partly because Condon bases many of his calculations on hypothetical numbers rather than actual data, and partly because his definition of “optimal” seems to transmogrify from paragraph to paragraph so that, in the end, it means whatever he wants it to mean.

Condon’s previous research shows a regrettable tendency to rely on myth and hearsay rather than actual facts. For example, a 2004 paper on urban design says, “National City Lines, a ‘transit’ company owned outright by GM, Firestone, and Phillips Petroleum was formed to purchase urban streetcar lines, notably in Los Angeles, with the intention of dismantling them. In 1949 GM was convicted of anti trust violations for this practice.” There are so many errors in this statement it is hard to know where to begin.

Start with the incriminating quotation marks around “transit,” which imply that National City Lines was not really in the transit business but in the transit dismantling business. In fact, National City Lines operated more than 60 transit systems between 1920 and the 1960s. General Motors and the other so-called conspirators only owned the company between 1936 and 1949. During that time, only 23 of the transit lines owned by National City replaced their streetcars with buses (and many of them had started dismantling their streetcar lines long before National City bought them).

National City owned only one of the two major transit systems serving Los Angeles, and that system still operated streetcars when National sold it to Los Angeles County in 1958 — it was the county that finally dismantled the streetcars. General Motors was convicted (and fined $5,000) for trying to monopolize the market for buses, but none of the other conspirators were convicted of anything, especially not for trying to dismantle streetcar systems.

The General Motors streetcar conspiracy has been repeatedly debunked by academic researchers who are willing to look at the facts and not just the myth. Condon’s willingness to perpetuate myths and hearsay is further revealed in an 2008 paper called The Case for the Tram: Learning from Portland. The thing I learned from the paper is that Condon doesn’t know much about Portland. He claims that Portland decided to build a streetcar line “for compelling reasons: it was inexpensive and the areas to be served were not dense enough to justify the more expensive MAX light rail system.”

Forest Fire
A modern streetcar – part of the new urban,
politically correct and “sustainable” solution.
(Photo: Flickr: NeiTech)

In fact, Portland’s first streetcar line connected the densest census tracts in the Portland area — Northwest Portland — with downtown. And, at $15 million per track mile plus a close to $2 million per vehicle, the streetcar was far more expensive than buses, which could have traveled through the area far more nimbly than streetcars. It is also worth noting that the streetcar was planned by the city, while the region’s transit agency thought so little of the streetcar route that it had never run bus service in that corridor.

Condon goes on to say that the decision to build the streetcar “was provoked by the electoral defeat” of light rail, which “left the city with only two options: forget transit or build it with their own money.” In fact, Portland decided to build the streetcar line in July, 1997, while the light-rail line was defeated at the polls in November, 1998. (And the transit agency is building the light-rail line — which did not go anywhere near the route of the streetcar — anyway.) Note also that Condon commits the common strategic misrepresentation of conflating “transit” with “rail transit.”

The Antiplanner’s suspicion that Condon relies on Portland official propaganda rather than actual facts is confirmed by his later claim that streetcars promoted urban redevelopment. As the Antiplanner has previously noted, Portland gave developers $665 million in subsidies to build along the streetcar line — something Condon fails to mention. But it is also interesting that Condon’s definition of “optimal” slips from “cost efficiency” in the first part of the Portland paper to “promoting economic development” in the last part.

In contrast, Condon’s more recent paper starts by considering dollar costs in the first paragraph, then shifts in the same paragraph to “sustainability” (which, in context, must have something to do with energy), but then in the second paragraph shifts again to greenhouse gas emissions, and finally in the third paragraph goes back to “long term cost efficiency.”

Condon’s fundamental problem is that you cannot “optimize” multiple variables. To find an optimum, you need to put everything in the same terms. This is what dollars are for: a medium of exchange between different goods. But planners often resist measuring everything in dollars, perhaps because they fear that if they do their preconceived notions will lose out.

In any case, Condon then says he wants to rate transportation choices using “three key sustainability principles”: “shorter trips are better than longer trips,” “low carbon is better than high carbon,” and “choose what is most affordable.” (Although he cites Sustainability by Design for these principles, that site has six principles, not three, and none of them are the same as any of his three.)

Note that his first principle immediately biases the results in favor of trams, which carry people short distances, rather than other forms of transportation that tend to carry people longer distances. Just why is this principle so important, and how are people supposed to apply it? People travel longer distances because the benefits they gain are greater than the added costs of travel. Condon simply ignores these benefits, which are crucial to any attempt to find an optimum.

For example, a major long-term economic trend has been the increasing specialization of work. Many people today have such specialized expertise that the local demand for their products or services could not possibly support them. Should we dispense with such specialists and rely instead on people who can’t do the job as well? Or should we concede that longer distance travel is sometimes worth the cost? And, if the latter, who gets to decide when it is worth it: the traveler or some planner?

In any case, Condon’s analysis of this first principle is skewed by the fact that North American streetcar lines tend to be very short. Based on his assumption that shorter trips are better, he asks: what mode works best for shorter trips? But, really, he is asking: what is the average length trip by mode? Lo and behold, streetcars have the shortest average trip length. That’s because most streetcar lines are short, so you can’t take longer trips. That doesn’t mean that streetcars are better for those short trips.

The longest trip lengths, Condon’s figure shows, are for automobiles. An economist would say that this indicates that autos give people access to more opportunities. But Condon’s strange, shorter-is-better criteria makes autos appear to be the worst choice.

Condon then asks which modes are the most energy- and carbon-efficient per passenger mile. Here he commits a whopper of a strategic misrepresentation by assuming that transit vehicles are, on average, half full, while autos carry, on average, only one or slightly more than one percent.

Both assumptions are wrong. In the U.S., the average car has 1.6 people in it, while U.S. transit vehicles run only about one-sixth full on average. Canadian transit agencies do not publish as detailed statistics as we have in the U.S., so we don’t know what the numbers are for Vancouver, BC, Condon’s target area. However, I suspect they are not much different. Per-capita transit ridership is higher in Vancouver than in comparable American cities, but per-capita vehicle kilometres of transit service is also higher.

Low occupancy rates are inevitable given transit’s fundamental characteristics. First, transit serves many outlying areas, but the vehicles only get full when they approach urban centers. Second, most transit ridership takes place during four to six weekday rush hours, but transit agencies typically offer services for 18 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week.

This means that buses or trains that look full in urban centers at rush hour are relatively empty on other parts of their routes and at other times of the day. The only transit services that have higher occupancy rates are commuter buses and trains that only run during rush hours, and Condon did not include these in his analyses.

For basic energy data, Condon also relies on “Strickland (2008),” but his references do not detail the name of this book or article. Condon probably means this Strickland paper, which is also based on a variety of questionable assumptions and sources.

In contrast to these hypothetical numbers, the United States has fairly precise data on actual energy use per vehicle mile and passenger miles per vehicle mile by mode, all of which were used in the Antiplanner’s paper on this subject. These data show that energy consumption for most modes of transit is not significantly lower than for automobiles.

For example, U.S. data show that buses consume about the same energy, per passenger mile, as SUVs. Buses and SUVs use about a quarter more energy than cars, which are about the same as light rail. Subways and commuter trains are about a quarter more efficient than the average car but much less efficient than the Prius.

These results are a sharp contrast to Condon’s largely hypothetical numbers, which show buses to be much more efficient than a Prius, and all forms of transit to be many times more energy efficient than either cars or SUVs. Once again, Canadian data may vary from the U.S, but unless we see actual numbers (passenger miles and vehicle miles by mode) from Canadian transit agencies, it is foolish to simply assume that Vancouver transit occupancy rates are three times higher than U.S.

Finally, in answer to the affordability criterion, Condon compares the capital and operating costs of various modes including a Prius and an SUV. “For detailed methodology,” he says, see the appendices — but these appendices are not available on line. Because the numbers Condon reports differ so much from actual numbers, I suspect that, like the energy data, his costs rely on hypothetical numbers.

For example, only in the screwy world of urban planners, where light rail is the default solution to just about anything, would streetcars appear to be cost effective. Condon points out that streetcars can carry more people and have longer lifespans than buses, which, he says, balances out their high capital costs.

This is a stretch. Portland’s streetcars have more standing room but only one more seat (41 vs. 40) than the average Portland bus. If they last twice as long and carry twice as many passengers, they are worth four times as much as a bus. Yet Portland paid more than five times as much for each of its streetcars (about $1.9 million) as the cost of a basic, 40-passenger bus (about $354,000 for a 40-foot bus — which typically has 39 to 43 seats — in 2005, several years after Portland bought its streetcars).

Even if the cost of streetcars per seat-year was lower than buses, this ignores the cost of the rails themselves. On top of that, Condon uses the absurd argument that, because streetcars can carry more people, “one tram driver is more than twice as productive per hour than is a diesel bus driver.” But the driver is only a tiny part of the cost of operating rail transit, most of which has to do with maintaining the rails and electrical facilities.

Condon’s other costs are as ridiculous as his energy estimates. In 2006, U.S. drivers spent an average of about 24 cents per passenger mile, including both capital and operating costs. Condon reports capital costs of 45 to 60 cents per passenger mile and operating costs of 60 to 75 cents per passenger mile. Canadian auto and fuel taxes are higher than in the U.S., but not sufficiently high to more than quadruple total costs.

In 2006, U.S. transit agencies spent 56 cents per passenger mile operating light rail. Condon says the cost is about half that. That would be consistent with his hypothetical assumption that occupancy rates are much higher than they really are.

Finally, Condon notes that fuel costs are likely to rise in the next 50 years, which causes the difference in operating costs between streetcars and SUVs to “skyrocket.” However, he fails to consider that automobile fuel efficiencies are certain to increase in the next 50 years as well. Historically, they’ve increased at a steady rate of about 1 to 2 percent per year, while transit energy efficiencies have declined.

Under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the standard for autos (including SUVs) will increase to an average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. As new cars replace the existing vehicle fleet, the average auto on the road will be more energy efficient than any mode of rail transit by 2035.

Vancouver trolley bus: more cost-effective than streetcars at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Flickr photo by Jeffrey Beall.

Condon also fails to consider the high energy (and greenhouse gas) cost of constructing rail systems. If he were truly interested in reducing greenhouse gases, he would advocate the use of trolley buses, which have all the benefits of his trams without the high energy cost of construction.

Further, if Condon were truly interested in the long-run optimal solution, he would not be so quick to prescribe an inflexible technology that, once installed, is very hard to change. The great thing about autos is that the fleet turns over about every 18 years, so new technologies can quickly be implemented in response to changing needs such as higher energy costs. Rail systems last about 30 years, so if you build one that turns out to be less than optimal, you are pretty much stuck with it for a few decades.

In short, Condon’s analyses make three serious errors. First, his studies of streetcars rely on myth and rewrite history. Second, his comparison of transport modes relies on hypothetical data when real data are available (and very different). Finally, his definition of “optimum” changes so fluidly that he can come to any conclusion he likes (“shorter is better so therefore trams are best”) based on whatever definition he happens to choose.

About the author: Randal O’Toole is the author of Reforming the Forest Service, The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths, and The Best-Laid Plans, and edits the website The Antiplanner. This article originally was published on The Antiplanner on October 22, 2008, and is republished here with permission.

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Posted in Architecture, Buses, Cars, Causes, Consumption, Electricity, Energy, Other, Science, Space, & Technology, Services, Transportation8 Comments

Natural Gas Series Hybrids

If you look at the drive towards “LCFS” fuel (LCFS means “lower carbon fuel standards”), it appears that natural gas powered vehicles are the wave of the future. Can you say “natural gas powered series hybrid”?

The GM “Flextreme,” set for production in Europe, is the only
series hybrid employing an onboard diesel we’ve ever heard of.
As for a natural gas powered series hybrid, who knows…

Read this recent email from someone on the ground, responding to EcoWorld’s feature “The Case for the Series Hybrid,” published a few years ago:

After reading your article today (even though it’s two years old), I have some points to make. These points are for everyone else promoting electric/hybrid cars.

First, I don’t think the majority of CO2 are from cars. They represent only 40% of fossil fuel use.

Second point is the serial hybrid seems like a no brainer that took GM too many years to figure out (Chevy Volt). A diesel is the best choice for efficiency for obvious reasons but the car makers still haven’t figured that one out. [GM is launching the 'Flextreme' in Europe, which is a diesel series hybrid] Why bother with those big car makers when someone else can do it better? Why does the Navy use diesel-electric submarines?

Third, you, like so many others, never mention natural gas. It is the cleanest fuel yet. Fork lift trucks use them all the time with changeable fuel tanks.

My fourth point is commercial use. Being a commercial vehicle driver, I deal with diesel engines which the average driver doesn’t really think about, but what kind of hybrid can you make with one of those? They have payloads up to 100,000 pounds (garbage trucks). A typical class 7 or 8 truck uses about 50 to 100 gallons per week. Multiply that by 52 and you can get an idea of a year’s use for one truck. Then multiply that by 4 million trucks and buses on the road. 80-90% of everthing you see is brought by trucks. There is a saying in the trucking industry, without trucks, America stops. Somebody better call GE!

Number five is buildings. They also use fossil fuels. Why doesn’t anyone mention that? The more efficiently a building is insulated, the less it costs to maintain its temperature. Oil is used to make foam insulation, yet we still use fiberglass. Foam, mainly polyurathane as well as styrene, is more dense than fiberglass and can be sprayed in place. Polyurathane is a thermoset plastic, which means it is used once. Why not insulate our homes with this foam insulation and then use some of these other alternative technologies to heat and cool? Add PV and you have a much more efficient building.

I just want to expand someone’s view on this alternative fuel thing.

The engine in my brother’s ML450 siezed up because of having no oil. Perhaps I can use that vehicle as prototype if he still has it. The whole engine and transmission would have to be pulled out. The truck weighs about 4k lbs. Can this hybrid technology handle trucks in that weight range? Any tips?

Sir, you have great insights. Respect.

Posted in Buildings, Buses, Cars, Energy & Fuels, Natural Gas, Other, Science, Space, & Technology6 Comments

Cars Are Green

The primary environmentalist war of choice, today at least, is against the car. Environmentalists want to drive us out of our cars, in spite of the fact that cars are green and smart, and they are getting greener and smarter all the time.

The most liberating personal transportation innovation since the discovery of horseback riding must be systematically eliminated, or so one would think. What would the streets of our cities be like if bikes had to slow to pedestrian speed? Is this next? In the real world, goods and people have got to move fast and independently, and just like bikes, cars are the way to do it.

The GM “Flextreme” – a diesel series hybrid.

Green cars will proliferate. If every one of California’s 33 million registered vehicles used about 10kWh per day, it would only take about 50 gigawatts of output for eight hours to recharge them all each night. And that’s on the high side, overall electrical consumption if half the transportation miles in California were electric powered would probably only require a 15-20 gigawatt increase to off-peak output, since solo commuters drive lighter vehicles than average. So break out the solar thermal plants and store the steam, or build a few nuclear power stations – they are awesome generators. There are plenty of fuel options, and the superior energy density of gasoline and diesel will ensure heavy-lift and long haul transportation duty cycles remain mostly reliant on internal combustion – at least with today’s technology.

Cars are green. You can charge a car in the sun with today’s technology, a car with photovoltaic skin would store about 2.5 miles of range per hour in full sun – not bad supplemental fuel, and great in a pinch. The greatest breakthrough in automotive technology of the 21st century, the series hybrid, has now had its second iteration announced – General Motors announced last week the “Flextreme” concept car, another of what they term their “flexfuel” vehicles. The Flextreme runs on batteries only for up to 34 miles, using 16 kWh. But the Flextreme’s seven gallon diesel tank will propel it another 410 miles by turning an onboard generator to continue providing power to the all-electric drive train. The Flextreme’s diesel-only mileage is 59 miles per gallon!

Cars are green. You can charge a car using your roof with today’s technology, with 1,000 square feet of photovoltaics you’ll get about 25 miles of range per hour of full sun. You can recycle virtually every shred and scrap from a green car today, and build another car, or fire a furnace with the waste. Cars have zero emissions using today’s technology. Electric cars can run on abundant decentralized solar and wind generated energy and nothing more. Cars can use roadways with smart lanes. Smart green buses can extend transportation options to far more transit-dependent people. Cars are green.

The Series Hybrid:
Onboard diesel powers generator powers electric motor.

Thanks to green cars, sprawling suburbs with green homes, no sidewalks, and giant new trees, watered by new rains brought by tree canopy, will moisturize and cleanse California’s Central Valley. New towns will arise spontaneously, instead of as walled-off square mile blocks of ultra high-density eco-concentration infill compounds.

Thanks to green cars, across the foothills along new aquaducts and ponds, and pretty much everywhere a free landowner and a free developer (in this free country) want to build something, new roads, wide and sweeping, blasted through the hillsides, will traverse ranchettes and gentleman farms with trees of all types planted and thriving, trees of all the world. What blasphemy! But cars are green. Whatever else some environmentalists may say about why they want to cram us all into infill, instead of letting cities grow naturally, don’t say it’s because of the cars.

Cars are green.

Posted in Buses, Cars, Consumption, Energy, Nuclear, People, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Transportation, Wind5 Comments

Fuel Cell Development in China

Will Fuel Cells Ever Be Clean, Cheap, Efficient?
Shanghai Skyline
Shanghai’s Ultra-Modern Skyline
Rising to Meet the 21st Century

Editor’s Note: Public and private investment in fuel cell development in China over the next few years is projected to be over (US)$500 million. The initial priority is to develop fuel cells for transportation applications, beginning with busses and electric powered bicycles. Fuel cells convert hydrogen into electricity, creating almost no pollution in the process. The most advanced lithium ion batteries can only store about 300 watt hours per kilogram, meaning the range of battery-powered electric vehicles is fairly limited. A fuel cell and hydrogen tank, by contrast, can store about 900 watt hours per kilogram, creating a viable range for bicycles and busses that don’t pollute.

But hydrogen fuel cell power has daunting technological hurdles that must be overcome before they can help solve pollution or energy challenges. Fuel cells are still extremely expensive, over $4,000 per kilowatt, and in transportation applications fuel cells are still very fragile. Storing and distributing hydrogen is still very difficult, because hydrogen as a gas contains very little energy by volume, and therefore must be either liquified or stored under extreme pressure in order to deliver meaningful amounts of energy. Finally, hydrogen itself must be extracted from other fossil fuel, or manufactured using electricity and water. So even if hydrogen becomes the clean energy of choice, hydrogen will have to be manufactured using other fuels.

The Chinese, with their rapidly industrializing nation of over a billion people, certainly are aware of the technological and economic hurdles that stand between today’s nascent hydrogen economy and the potential of the hydrogen economy as envisioned by environmentalists. But their energy and pollution challenges are matched by equally impressive financial and technological resources. It may indeed be in China where hydrogen finds its first commercial niche.

The demand for alternative fuels in China

is driven by the Chinese government’s desire to reduce air pollution, particularly in urban centres, and reduce the country’s dependence on imported oil. Preparing to host the 2008 Olympics is also putting pressure on the Government of China to make the necessary investments. The annual alternative fuels market in China is projected to grow from $75 million in 2002 to $1.8 billion by 2008.

The main opportunities for fuel cell technologies are in the development of prototypes of fuel cell engines and for fuel cell fuelling stations. The main opportunities for compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquified petroleum gas (LPG) technologies are for retrofitting old diesel engines, building new engines, providing engine and related parts that improve the efficiency of CNG/LPG engines and building refuelling stations.

Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics Logo

The Chinese fuel cell market has strong local players including the Fuyuan Century Fuel Cell Power Co. Ltd., the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, and Shanghai Shen-Li High Tech Co Ltd. U.S. firms have been successful at penetrating the CNG/LPG bus market in China. Some examples firms include Cummins-Westport, Impco Technologies and Witco Systems.

Transport authorities are looking for well-designed buses that suit their individual local environments, maintenance staff training and a high level of service.

CNG engine testing must be done in China and there are adequate test facilities. Once a vehicle is on the road there is no formal testing nor any requirement for regular in-service emissions testing. However, strict maintenance and training is essential to maintain strong customer satisfaction.

Beijing 2008 Logo
China 2008 Olympics

The Chinese government’s goals to improve the quality of air in major Chinese cities and to reduce its dependence on imported oil are the main long-term drivers of market growth in the alternative fuel bus market in China. With the world’s eyes on China for the 2008 summer Olympics, the Chinese government is actively investing in alternative fuel buses to demonstrate the progressiveness of their country to the world.

China has six of the world’s 10 most-polluted cities. The Chinese government has set a time line to improve emission standards for vehicles in China. Vehicles were to meet Euro II standards by January 1, 2003 in Beijing and by January 1, 2005 in the rest of China. Chinese emission standards are to increase to meet Euro III by January 1, 2005 in Beijing and by January 1, 2010 in the rest of the country.

China CP Logo

China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has issued a new Automotive Industry Development Policy. The new policy, that became effective on June 1, 2004, stipulates that average fuel consumption of new cars should be reduced by 15% by the year 2010. Although the policy does not provide details as to how this objective will be met, it is expected that the development and application of new technologies to reduce reliance on fuel will be strongly encouraged by NDRC.

Approximately 1 million buses were produced in China in 2002. This was an increase of 25% over production in 2001.

The annual alternative fuels market in China is projected to grow from $75 million in 2002 to $1.8 billion by 2008.

Alternative fuel technologies that represent the greatest opportunities for Canadian firms in China are compressed natural gas, liquified petroleum gas and fuel cells. In terms of market development, CNG/LPG engines are fully commercialized and are in a growth market, while fuel cell engines are still in the pre-commercialization stage.

China represents one of the largest potential markets for fuel cells in the world. Transportation is considered to be the most important initial market for fuel cells in China. The market for replacing batteries in electric bicycles is expected to be the earliest market to be commercialized, followed by buses.

Seventy-four percent of the application of fuel cells in China focuses on transportation. Fifty-four percent of fuel cell technology in China is based on proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC), the most prominent fuel cell technology for transportation applications worldwide.

About 350 employees at more than 60 institutions and companies work on the development of fuel cell technology. Sixty percent of these organizations are located in the provinces of Beijing and Shanghai.

Chinese Fuel Cell Bus
China’s First Fuel Cell Bus (75KW)
Photo: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Under China’s fuel cell roadmap, more than 100 buses will have been tested under demonstration projects between 2005 and 2010. More than 1000 fuel cellpowered buses will be utilized in regular bus operations between 2008 and 2020.

The Chinese government began encouraging the use of alternative fuels in 1999 with a clean vehicle demonstration project in China’s 12 largest cities.

China is ranked seventh in the world in the number of vehicles using CNG/LPG fuel, behind major developing countries like Argentina, Brazil and India. In 2003, there were approximately 110,000 CNG/LPG vehicles on China’s roads, 19 000 of those vehicles being buses. That year, China had 368 refuelling stations, with over half located in Shanghai and Beijing.

The choice between LPG or CNG as alternative fuel mainly depends on the availability of that particular fuel in a city or province. The limited number of refuelling stations is one of the main inhibitors of changing from diesel to CNG or LPG.

The main opportunities for fuel cell technologies are in the development of prototypes of fuel cell engines and fuel cell fuelling stations. These research and development (R&D) opportunities require a partnership with relevant Chinese organizations.

In 2002, the Chinese government announced that it would invest approximately $18 million in a three-year PEMFC development program. Most of these funds will go toward the development of 75 kW and 150 kW PEMFC systems at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics.

China’s two main cities, Beijing and Shanghai, have been selected by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) of the World Bank for the Fuel Cell Bus Demonstration Project. Under this project, the GEF will sponsor the deployment of six fuel cell buses and one hydrogen filling station each to both Beijing and Shanghai. The three-year demonstration trials will see these buses log over 1.6 million kilometres. The project is funded with $18 million from the GEF, $15 million from Chinese government, $7.5 million each from the cities of Beijing and Shanghai and $6 million from private companies. Opportunities stemming from the project are to supply completed fuel cell buses, build hydrogen refuelling stations and provide consulting services to train Chinese bus operations personnel with the new technology.

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Ministry of Science & Technology

During China’s 10th five-year plan (2001-2005), the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) approved a $165-million R&D program to develop advanced hybrid-electric drive and fuel cell-vehicles. Private companies are likely to invest another $300-450 million over the same time period. One major aim of the project is to develop two prototypes for 150 kW fuel cell buses by 2005. Under the funding, Shen-Li High Tech and Dalian Sunrise will develop hydrogen-based engine prototypes for vehicles to be assembled by Tsinghua University and the Shanghai Fuel Cell Vehicle Powertrain Company.

Under the MOST’s 973 program, the Government is spending approximately $5.6 million on the research of hydrogen storage materials, fuel cell membranes and catalysts. One of the main grantees under this program is Hong Kong University (HKUST), which is working on carbon nano materials as a hydrogen storage solution.

In addition to the GEF hydrogen station, Shanghai is working on its own hydrogen infrastructure project. The city will host the World Expo in 2010 and is trying to deploy its own clean energy and fuel cell buses for the event. The supply of hydrogen as a fuel in Shanghai will not be as difficult as in many other cities, mainly due to the region’s vast and flexible fuel sources. In Shanghai alone, four chemical companies have been producing enough hydrogen as an industrial by-product to at least meet the short-term consumer needs of Shanghai.

The main opportunities for CNG/LPG technologies are for retrofitting old diesel engines, building new engines that meet current emission standards, providing engine and related parts that improve the efficiency of CNG/LPG engines and in building refuelling stations.the development of 75 kW and 150 kW PEMFC systems at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics.

The Beijing transport authority currently has 2000 buses that run on CNG engines. The authority plans to have its 118 000 bus fleet running on clean energy by the 2008 Olympics. Ninety percent of the fleet will be retrofitted to use CNG and the remaining buses will be replaced with new CNG new engine buses.

The Shanghai Government plans to purchase 3000 CNG buses in the next 2-3 years and put 20 hydrogen buses, 300 hydrogen taxi & 1,000 electric vehicles in operation by 2010.

Guangzhou Transportation Commission and its subordinated bus companies has a fleet of 6802 buses. It currently has 603 buses running on LPG engines. In the end of 2004, Guangzhou will complete switching old diesel engines to LPG engines in 2,390 buses. Guangzhou plans to make all the buses in the city into LPG buses by 2005. In the first half of 2004, Guangzhou had built 3 new LPG fueling stations. Guangzhou plans to set up 20 new LPG fuelling stations by the end of 2004.

The transport authorities of Tianjin (LPG), Xian (CNG), Chongqing (CNG), Guangzhou (LPG), Harbin (LPG), Shenzhen (LPG), Urumchi (CNG/LPG), Changchun (LPG/CNG), Hainan province (LPG) and the middle area of Sichuan (CNG) are following Beijing’s lead in moving to alternative fuel-powered buses.

The Hong Kong SAR government has initiated a scheme to replace 18,000 diesel taxis to LPG models by 2005. It is expected that the project will be extended to the 8,000 mini-buses and 6000 city buses for replacement to LPG/CNG or fuel cell models.
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The five largest bus manufacturers in China account for 58% of local bus production. They are (by percentage of local production) Changan Auto (15.7%), Harbin Harfei (14.4%), Chancghe Aircraft (11.9%), Shanghai-GM-Wuling (8.2%) and FAW (7.9%).

Fuyuan Century Fuel Cell Power Logo
Fuyuan Century Fuel Cell Power

The Fuyuan Century Fuel Cell Power company is developing PEMFC technology. It has developed stacks ranging in size from 3 kW to 30 kW. In 1998, the company developed the first fuel cell-powered passenger vehicle in China in conjunction with the Automotive Engineering Department of Tsinghua University, installing a 5 kW stack into a prototype golf cart. More recently, Fuyuan has built and tested 40 kW PEMFCs for buses, and commenced work on a 100 kW PEMFC program for electric buses. Its sister company, Fuyuan Pioneer New Energy Material, specializes in the R&D and production of PEMFC components, including carbon, composite and metal bipolar plates, and PEMFC membrane.

Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics (DICP) has been carrying out fuel cell R&D for more than 30 years. A dedicated fuel cell R&D centre was established in 1998. The centre employs more than 50 researchers and engineers. Most of these employees are working on PEMFC development. DICP has filed around 25 patents concerning PEMFC technology. Research areas have included the development of thin metal bipolar plates that are easy to manufacture, and the development of MEA manufacturing processes. In spring 2003, the DICP supplied its new 75 kW PEM stack to Tsinghua University, which integrated the unit in a bus.

Founded in 1998, Shanghai Shen-Li High Tech Co. Ltd. is developing PEM fuel cells for a whole array of applications, including mini-buses. Currently employing about 30 people in a 1500-square-metre facility, it has developed a series of prototypes, ranging in output from 10 kW to 50 kW.

Beijing Jinfeng Aerospace Development Company is the country’s largest producer of hydrogen storing metals. The company is working on possible uses of hydrogen for transport applications.

Smog in Beijing
Smog Hangs Over Beijing: China has six
of the world’s ten most polluted cities
Photo: United States EPA

The China Association for Hydrogen Energy (CAHE) aims to promote hydrogen as a clean fuel for fuel cells and various other applications. The association is organizing the HYFORUM event, one of the largest hydrogen- and fuel cellrelated conferences in China. A Mercedes-Benz Citaro bus powered by a hydrogen fuel cell built by Ballard was showcased at the HYForum conference in Beijing in May 2004.

Tsinghua University is in charge of two national key fundamental projects: Fundamental Research for Hydrogen Production, Storage and Transportation in Large Scale and Relative Fuel Cells, and Fuel Cell Engines Used for Buses. The university is working on developing PEM fuel cells, fuel cell engines and making hydrogen from ethanol. Together with Beijing LN Power Sources, Tsinghua University demonstrated various vehicles in 2001, one of which was a small, 12 seater bus (top speed 90 km/h, range 160 km). Tsinghua University is expected to use a 80 kW engine to develop another prototype bus.

Cummins Westport Inc. (CWI) and Dongfeng Cummins Engine Company Ltd. (DCEC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding for a comprehensive supply agreement enabling DCEC to manufacture CWI natural gas B-series engines in China. CWI will supply natural gas-specific components for the B Gas International (BGI) engine to be manufactured by DCEC at its manufacturing facilities located in Xiangfan. Manufacturing is expected to begin in early 2005. This agreement to manufacture in China will enable CWI to access a broader customer base and to continue lowering its product cost. To date CWI has sold more than 2,000 CNG engines in Beijing, 40 in Chongqing and 10 in Chengdu.

In 2004, Witco Systems Inc. (U.S.) and Pressed Steel Tank Co. formed a joint venture company, Jian Cui Vehicles Co. Ltd. The joint venture will install 60 fast-fill CNG stations in southwestern China’s Sichuan province and then begin converting more than 50,000 diesel-fueled buses to allow them to run on a combination of diesel fuel and compressed natural gas. Work on the CNG stations was finished in July 2004. Other suppliers to the joint venture include CleanFuel USA Inc. U.S.), an alternative fuel technology company; FuelMaker Corp. (Toronto, Ontario), a manufacturer of refuelling systems; Angi International (Milton, Ontario), a manufacturer of fast-fill stations for compressed natural gas; and Fueling Technologies Inc (Concord, Ontario), a manufacturer of large fast-fill stations and dispensers.

Canadian firms active in China’s CNG/LPG market include Kraus Global and IMW Industries who have sold and installed CNG dispensers/refueling stations in China.

In 2003, IMPCO Technologies (U.S.), a manufacturer of alternative fuel systems technology for internal combustion, formed a joint venture with China Natural Gas Corporation (CNGC), a subsidiary of the China National Petroleum Corporation, to market and sell their gaseous fuel products in Western China.

Guangzhou Denway Motors Ltd., the first LPG single-fuel bus maker in South China, has produced over 100 LPG single-fuel buses, which were launched in Guangzhou and Shenzhen.


Beijing’s transport authority has the largest, low-emissions CNG bus fleet in the world, with over 2,000 CNG engines. The Authority plans to have its entire 118,000 bus fleet operating on clean energy by the 2008 Olympics (90% retrofitted and 10% replaced with new engines). It has 400 trained service personnel for CNG-powered buses. Key contacts in Beijing include the Beijing Municipal Committee of Transportation which sets objectives/plans and implement them, and the Beijing Public Transportation Corporation and Beijing Bashi Corporation which operate the buses.

The following government bureaus in the province of Shanghai are involved in developing and implementing the plans for alternative fuel vehicles:

o Shanghai Environment Bureau is responsible for setting up the environment protection standards to the products

o Shanghai Development & Reform Commission (SDRC) is responsible for the detailed plan to reach the government’s goal of developing vehicles with alternative energy

o Shanghai Urban Transit Administration Bureau is responsible for implementing SDRC’s plan (including procurement) and provide feedback to SDRC

o Shanghai Science & Technology Commission is responsible for promoting the new technology

Transport authorities are looking for well-designed buses that are suited to their individual local environments, proper training of their maintenance staff and, when needed, a high-level of service from the original manufacturer.

About the Author:
Gordon Feller is the Director of
ReNewUSA and editor of
Urban Age Magazine.
In addition to extensive journalistic coverage of the worldwide energy sector and emerging environmental businesses, Feller has served as a senior-level advisor to companies investing in new technologies, processes and solutions. The list of clients ranges from small and little known firms to large well known firms: HP, Columbia Chemical, Phelps Dodge, Chevron, Apple, AT&T, IBM. Feller’s first work assessing environmentally sound economic policies was published during his freshman year at Columbia University. He continued there for four more years, finishing with a graduate degree in international affairs. He can be reached via

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