SAE Powertrain Panel: Higher-octane gas could improve fuel economy

▪ SAE Powertrain Panel: Higher-octane gas could improve fuel economy

Vehicle fuel efficiency could be improved significantly if the U.S. would shift to higher-octane gasoline, Detroit Three powertrain chiefs told participants at the SAE World Congress recently.

Higher-octane fuels burn more predictably and allow automakers to design engines with higher compression ratios. Higher compression ratios yield more power per combustion event and more power-dense and efficient engines.

Conversely, low-octane gasoline can detonate unpredictably in the combustion chamber and create knock that can damage an engine. Programming spark timing to avoid knock and keeping compression ratios lower robs horsepower and efficiency.

U.S. fuel has a research octane number (RON) of about 91, while Europe has a standard of 95 RON or higher. That’s a huge difference to engine experts. If automakers could stop designing engines to avoid low-octane engine knock, engine efficiency could be improved by as much as 5%, Bob Fascetti, vice president-Powertrain Engineering at Ford said.

“We have to design for regular fuel (91 RON in the U.S.). If we could get 95 RON fuel at the pump like Europe, if we could get higher compression ratios, we could get big benefits,” Fascetti says.

“Our (octane number) is too low,” Bob Lee, , tells reporters on the sidelines after his presentation. Lee’s estimate for fuel-economy gains is slightly lower, but he says, “I’m giving up 2% or 3% (in fuel efficiency) just to go from 95 octane to 91.”

Higher compression ratios are beneficial in many ways, such as improving the efficiency of Atkinson-cycle combustion strategies, according to Bob Lee, vice president and head of Engine and Electrified Propulsion Engineering at Chrysler.

Steve Kiefer, vice president-Global Powertrain for General Motors, also says he supports the move to higher-octane gasoline.

“If we had a single-octane fuel that was higher, then we can take advantage of that for the customer, we can implement higher compression ratios and we won’t be knock-limited on the fuel,” Fascetti says.

“It’s win-win for the innovators as well as for the customers,” he says.

(April 9, 2014)

▪ IPCC calls for major shift to renewables to cut emissions

Emissions of greenhouse gases grew at a faster rate over the decade from 2000 to 2010 than they did over the previous three decades, reaching the highest levels in human history, despite efforts to limit them, according to the last installment of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

This final installment, focused on mitigating climate change, says that in order to keep warming under the 2°C (3.6°F) threshold agreed upon by the world’s governments at a 2009 meeting in Copenhagen, greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 will have to be 40% to 70% lower than what they were in 2010.

By the end of the century, they will need to be at zero, or could possibly even require taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, which is a controversial proposition.

The scientists who wrote the report examined about 1,000 scenarios for limiting greenhouse gas emissions through combinations of renewable energy development, increased energy efficiency, technologies that would capture and store carbon underground and reforestation efforts.

How to do this while limiting the impact to economic growth and poverty reduction is a key question, and the efforts necessary would likely differ from region to region, country to country, and state to state, the report said.

“The longer we wait, the costlier it will be,” said Charles Kolstad, an environmental economist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and one of the lead authors of the report.

Half of all the greenhouse gas emissions from humans were emitted within the past 40 years, growing 2.2% per year over the past decade, compared to 0.4% per year over the previous three decades.

This boost has come from two primary sources. “Emissions are increasing along with economic growth and population,” said another lead author, Robert Stavins, a Harvard economics and policy expert.

Climate change has already caused the planet’s average temperature to rise by 1.6°F since the beginning of the 20th century. That temperature rise could reach 2.7°F above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century (and possibly as high as 8.64°F above 1986-2005 levels) if nothing is done to curb emissions, according to the first part of the IPCC’s fifth assessment on climate change, as the entire report is called.

“Things are going to have to change if we do want to control climate change,” said Leon Clarke, an IPCC author and research economist with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “If we do nothing, temperatures will continue to rise.”

Doing something means “de-carbonizing” the global economy, both by reducing the demand for so much energy and by supplying energy that generates far fewer, or no greenhouse gases, the report says. In particular, the use of coal, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels, was a major contributor to the rise in emissions over the past decade with the huge growth of economies like China’s and India’s. Trends like this must be reversed, and if steps aren’t taken to remove carbon from the energy equation, greenhouse gas emissions could double or even triple by the middle of the century, the report says.

One way to de-carbonize energy production is through what IPCC author Benoit Lefevre, of the World Resources Institute, describes as “a fundamental shift in global investment from fossil fuel to renewable energy.” The growth of renewables has been stronger than what was anticipated in the last IPCC report, though emissions increases negated any benefit there, said Bill Hare, a climate scientist who is CEO and managing director of Climate Analytics, a non-profit focused on climate research.

The IPCC doesn’t make specific recommendations on how the switch to renewables should be achieved, though it discusses the direct investment in such technologies, as well as systems like a carbon tax that could push people away from more conventional energy sources.

(April 13, 2014)

▪ WHO: air pollution linked to 7 million premature deaths

In new estimates, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2012 around 7 million people died -- one in eight of total global deaths – due to exposure from air pollution.

This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk.

In particular, new data reveal a stronger link between both indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes and ischemic heart disease, as well as between air pollution and cancer. This is in addition to air pollution’s role in the development of respiratory diseases, including acute respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

The new estimates are not only based on more knowledge about the diseases caused by air pollution, but also upon better assessment of human exposure to air pollutants through the use of improved measurements and technology. This has enabled scientists to make a more detailed analysis of health risks from a wider demographic spread that now includes rural as well as urban areas.

Regionally, low- and middle-income countries in Southeast Asia and Western Pacific Regions had the largest air pollution-related burden in 2012, with a total of 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution and 2.6 million deaths related to outdoor air pollution.

Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents non-communicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly,” says Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General Family, Women and Children’s Health. “Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves.”

Included in the assessment is a breakdown of deaths attributed to specific diseases, underlining that the vast majority of air pollution deaths are due to cardiovascular diseases.

The new estimates are based on the latest WHO mortality data from 2012 as well as evidence of health risks from air pollution exposures. Estimates of people’s exposure to outdoor air pollution in different parts of the world were formulated through a new global data mapping. This incorporated satellite data, ground-level monitoring measurements and data on pollution emissions from key sources, as well as modeling of how pollution drifts in the air.

“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” says Maria Neira, director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

“Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”

(March 25, 2014)

▪ Vietnam and Thailand governments start work to update emission standards for in-use diesel vehicles

The Ministry of Transport of Vietnam has initiated the process of tightening the emissions standards for in-use vehicles, according to Philippine-based non-governmental organization (NGO) Clean Air Asia.

Emission limits for in-use diesel vehicles, both light-duty and heavy-duty, in Vietnam was set at 72 HSU to suit the vehicle fleet in 2005 when the regulation was passed. Over the years, the structure of vehicle fleet in Vietnam has changed significantly with many vehicles imported and manufactured having advanced emissions control technologies. Data from the Vietnam Register have shown that almost all diesel vehicles undergoing the annual technical inspection pass the standards, which renders the inspection an ineffective tool for pollution control.

The government of Vietnam is addressing this by assigning the University of Transport Technology to carry out a study for proposing updated standards for in-use diesel vehicles. The study is expected to be completed by the end of 2014. The updated standards for in-use vehicles also correspond to the move to Euro 4 emissions standards for new vehicles starting 2017.

Clean Air Asia is supporting the Ministry of Transport – Vietnam in this process of developing emissions standards for in-use diesel vehicles, with assistance from the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) and United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

About 800,000 light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles were registered in Vietnam by the end of 2013. Studies indicate that Vietnam’s vehicle fleet has grown consistently at an average of 16% per annum from 2000-2012, and growth in cars is highest at 18% during the same period.

In the same vein, the Government of Thailand has also started consultations among different stakeholders in a bid to develop more stringent regulations on emissions standard for in-use diesel vehicles. Led by the Pollution Control Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Thailand has enforced Euro 4 emission standards for new vehicles since December 2012. The black smoke limit for in-use diesel vehicles in Thailand is currently pegged at 50% on filter method.

(April 15, 2014)

▪ BP to halt operations at Bulwer refinery by next year

BP said it would halt operations at its Bulwer Island oil refinery in Queensland, Australia by mid-2015. Andy Holmes, head of BP Australasia, said mega refineries in Asia were putting huge commercial pressure on smaller refineries such as BP’s Bulwer refinery, which was built in the 1960s.

“It’s against this backdrop that we have concluded that the best option for strengthening BP’s long-term supply position in the east coast retail and commercial fuels market is to purchase product from other refineries,” he said. BP said it was considering converting Bulwer, which has a capacity of about 102,000 barrels per day, to an import terminal.

The closure is expected to lead to the loss of 350 jobs.

Just over a month ago, Royal Dutch Shell sold its petrol station business in Australia and its Geelong refinery in Victoria to oil trader Vitol for AUD2.9 billion (USD2.6 billion). Vitol will continue to operate the refinery and use the Shell brand across its service station network. Vitol also will become the exclusive distributor for Shell lubricants. The deal does not include Shell’s aviation business or the company’s lube oil blending and grease plants in Brisbane that will be converted to bulk storage and distribution facilities.

(April 2, 2014)

▪ Toyota to launch hydrogen-powered car next year

Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. said it will launch a hydrogen-powered car in the United States, Japan and Europe next year. For now, people at Toyota are calling it the 2015 FC car and the sticker price remains undetermined.

The 2015 launch culminates 20 years of research at Toyota. Fuel-cell cars use a “stack” of cells that electro-chemically combine hydrogen with oxygen to generate electricity that helps propel the car. Their only emission, bar heat, is water vapor, they can run five times longer than battery electric cars, and it takes just minutes to fill the tank with hydrogen.

But lack of infrastructure (a single hydrogen fuel station in the United States could cost about USD2 million), safety (hydrogen is highly flammable) and costs (Toyota says a hydrogen car’s fuel-cell propulsion system alone costs close to USD50,000) are among the key challenges.

The Toyota launch pits fuel-cell technology against battery electric cars. Other global automakers in the fuel-cell camp include Daimler AG, Hyundai Motor Co. and Honda, which plans to introduce an upgraded FCX Clarity next year with seating for five, a smaller fuel-cell stack, greater power and a longer driving range.

Those betting on battery electric cars include Nissan Motor Co., Tesla Motors Inc., Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, GM, Ford Motor Co. and a slew of Chinese automakers.

Toyota thinks it has cracked the code with incremental design improvements, such as using wider, flatter “fettuccine-style” copper in coils that make the motor more powerful, and thus smaller and cheaper.

“With the 2015 FC car we think we’ve achieved a degree of dominance over our rivals,” Satoshi Ogiso, who was part of the team that came up with the Prius and now leads the development of hydrogen cars. “With the car, we make a first giant step” toward making fuel-cell vehicles practical for everyday use,” he said.

A sizeable chunk of the cost savings has come from using less platinum as a catalyst in the electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, resulting in fuel economies. Toyota says its 2015 hydrogen car should drive 700 km on a single tank, more than many conventional gasoline-engine cars, and a strong selling point to those worried about driving range.

Toyota has also borrowed spare parts from the Prius and other gasoline-electric hybrids it sells around the world. While the fuel-cell car uses hydrogen as fuel, it otherwise resembles the hybrid models as both use electricity to power their motors.

“Very roughly ... under the hood of the 2015 FC car lie more or less the exact same components used for the Prius and other hybrids,” said a Toyota fuel-cell engineer, referring to the electric motor, “transaxle” gear and hybrid battery pack, among the parts lifted from the hybrid spares bin.

(April 20, 2014)

▪ Reliance Industries, HPCL-Mittal Energy plan refinery expansions

Reliance Industries, owner of the world's biggest refining complex, and HPCL-Mittal Energy Ltd. (HMEL), which is partly owned by steel tycoon L. N. Mittal, have sought environment ministry approval for raising capacity of their plants.

Reliance, whose two plants at Jamnagar in western India has an installed capacity to process about 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil, has the capability to turn the heaviest crude into value added products.

Reliance wants to add a fifth crude train of 400,000 bpd, some polymer units and changing the fuel for 450 megawatt of an already approved 2100 MW power plant from gas to coal, a note on the ministry's website said.

The timings and the cost of expansion depend on getting the necessary government approvals, which may take months to years.

In a separate proposal, HMEL seeks to raise capacity of its existing 180,000 bpd Bathinda refinery in northern India to 225,000 bpd.

(April 19, 2014)

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