Sign up for my free biweekly newsletter and receive a report on the status of global electric vehicles. Download Now

The Top 5 Issues in LCFVs This Week: Nissan’s Ethanol & Hydrogen Fuel Cell

06.17.16 | Blog | By:

This week in the “Top 5 in Fuels This Week” I take a look at the following issues in fuels, vehicles and transport:

  1. Nissan’s solid-oxide fuel cell catalyst: Game changer for hydrogen fuel cells and ethanol, with some caveats.
  2. The vision for renewable energy as viewed by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Exxon and EIA and what it could mean for transport.
  3. New PM2.5 research from MIT: More cuts in NOx and SO2 does not mean less PM2.5.
  4. The convergence of electric cars, autonomous driving and fleets: Is everyone really on board?
  5. Debunking the public perception of “food v. fuel”: Sustainability guidelines for bioenergy and food can help.

1.  Nissan: Solid Oxide Fuel-Cell (SOFC)-Powered System that Runs on Bio-Ethanol Electric Power

Aiming to bring this technology to market by 2020, this could be a game-changer for hydrogen vehicles and biofuels because, according to Nissan, it:

  • could use the existing fueling infrastructure which has been such a drawback for hydrogen vehicles.
  • would be less costly because they don’t need the expensive carbon-fiber storage tanks for pressurized hydrogen or costly precious metals as catalysts for electricity generation.
  • reduces or even eliminates safety concerns with hydrogen as the fuel source in the vehicle.
  • doesn’t need 100% ethanol (45% is fine, which may be less costly).
  • would be on par from a cost perspective with EVs.
  • have little to no wait time for refueling (unlike EVs today).
  • is expected to have longer range than an EV.
  • could be carbon-neutral. I suspect this is where the difficulty will lie with this technology – especially with some environmental advocates who do not see biofuels as a true or at least long-term carbon-mitigation strategy. Nissan says the system is carbon-neutral because the carbon released is eventually sequestered in the crops that are harvested to make the ethanol. So carbon is contained in a closed loop. It will ultimately depend on the feedstock and production process, but what if the vehicle were fueled with sustainable, low CI, advanced ethanol? Or even first generation ethanol with lower CI (and they’re getting lower all the time)? And by 2020?

2.  Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF): New Energy Outlook 2016

Anyone following the renewable energy and/or electric vehicle (EV) space has seen, heard and read about BNEF’s annual energy outlook released early this week. Read more about the study here.

3.  MIT Energy Institute (MITEI): Understanding PM2.5 Formation Could Lead to Better Policies

MIT found that though nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions in the U.S. are lower due to stringent mobile and stationary source regulations, additional policies to restrict these emissions could be even more effective now than in the past at reducing these emissions and PM2.5 (emissions of which have also been reduced over time).

As noted last week, PM2.5 is a huge global challenge with emissions projected to substantially increase (despite the many stationary and mobile source measures put into place around the world to reduce emissions).

Over the past three years, MIT used complex models of chemical reactions in the atmosphere to examine PM2.5 chemistry and how it responds to changes in emissions levels and found that while NOx and SO2 levels in the U.S. are lower, more PM2.5 is formed for every unit of these pollutants emitted. Thus, MIT found, the potential benefit of policies restricting NOx and SO2 are much greater (and not less which experts have assumed in the past).

MIT noted the results demonstrate the importance of tailoring air pollution policies to specific situations and of addressing a variety of emissions in a coordinated way. And indeed, I suspect this work will be used or cited in the future in development of new regulations for mobile and stationary sources.

4.  Slate: Get Ready for the World of Driverless, Electric, Shared Cars

In the version of the future presented in this article, the expected proliferation of EVs, autonomous driving and emergence of car services such as Uber and Lyft will converge, fundamentally altering transportation as we know it (and not just in the U.S., but globally). The authors say that: “autonomous vehicles fleets are going to dominate the roads of the not-too-distant future; those vehicles are going to be electric; and each autonomous vehicle will probably be utilized 5 to 20 times as much as a standard automobile today. So even if only a small portion of total cars sold were electric, car-bot fleets would have a dramatically disproportionate effect on the percentage of transportation served by electric vehicles.”

What caught my attention was this: “These economic forces, powerful as they are, will also be reinforced by government policy. Electrification, automation, and fleet services will likely have dramatic, positive consequences for greenhouse gas emissions, traffic safety, and the productivity of commuters. While there will be (serious) challenges related to job losses, cybersecurity and privacy, the net social-benefit logic will strongly encourage policymakers to help speed this transition along.”

Countries such as Norway are already moving in this direction, but what kind of policies it would take in the U.S. to make the scenario presented in this article happen? It would clearly have to be beyond incentives and mandates similar to what some countries in Europe are considering are going to be a hard sell here.

Many people may want a self-driving electric vehicle, but many others will not. Many people quite simply like to drive (and alone, too, despite all the attendant hassles in commuting) and they like to own their cars. How are these consumers going to be brought into the future as presented here?

5.  Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), et al.: Reconciling Food Security and Bioenergy: Priorities for Action

Experts working together from ORNL, the World Bank, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and others in this report have countered the common perception of “food v. fuel” or growing bioenergy crops at the expense of needed food crops that they say has then been parroted incorrectly by the media and consequently mislead the public and policymakers.

The authors note that applying sustainability guidelines to bioenergy will help achieve near- and long-term goals to eradicate hunger and recommend the following priorities for achieving successful synergies between bioenergy and food:

  1. Clarifying communications with clear and consistent terms,
  2. Recognizing that food and bioenergy need not compete for land and, instead, should be integrated to improve resource management,
  3. Investing in technology, rural extension, and innovations to build capacity and infrastructure,
  4. Promoting stable prices that incentivize local production,
  5. Adopting flex crops that can provide food along with other products and services to society, and
  6. Engaging stakeholders to identify and assess specific opportunities for biofuels to improve food security.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email