Alternative Fuels Australia

Short hiatus

Posted by Car Geek on February 3, 2008

The site won’t be receiving many updates for a little while due to personal reasons. Hopefully we should be back to regular updates soon. All the existing entries will remain available and I can still be contacted at the e-mail address on the right and through the comments. See you all soon!

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Solar racers on display at this year’s Melbourne International Motor Show

Posted by Car Geek on January 25, 2008

Two of Australia’s most successful solar-powered vehicles will be on display at this year’s Melbourne International Motor Show. The Aurora Vehicle Association will be displaying its original solar vehicle, “Christine”, as well as the latest model, Aurora 101, which came in third at the 2007 World Solar Challenge.

Aurora 101, image courtesy Aurora Vehicle Association.

The Aurora 101 has a drag coefficient of less than 0.1 and last month covered a distance of 1590 km on just 5.8 kWh of electricity from its solar panels, worth only 85 cents if taken from the grid. Its older sibling, Christine, set a world distance record for an electric vehicle on a single battery charge on the same day, covering 811.6 km in less than 16 hours.

Both vehicles will be on display for the duration of the Motor Show, from the 29th of February to the 10th of March, and will be in the Motor Show Cavalcade on the 27th of February if you want to see them in action.

(Source: Melbourne International Motor Show [pdf])

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Posted in Electric vehicles, Solar | 2 Comments »

UniSA develops Trev, a renewable energy vehicle

Posted by Car Geek on January 24, 2008

Stories like this are what this site is really all about. If you were paying close attention to last year’s World Solar Challenge, you might have seen this vehicle competing in the Greenfleet Technology class; if not, take this opportunity to familiarise yourself with “Trev”.

Image from the University of South Australia.

The two-seater renewable energy vehicle, developed by the University of South Australia, was designed with efficiency in mind, using just one fifth of the energy of a standard vehicle. The three-wheeled electric car is powered by 45kg of lithium ion batteries, giving it a 150 km range and a top speed of 120 km/h. Most of the vehicle’s efficiency comes from its light weight, sitting at just 300 kg on the scales thanks to its aluminium honeycomb and fibreglass body. Future models are expected to include a solar panel on the roof, much like the conceptually similar Aptera Typ-1.

One point that is important to note is that, being a three-wheeler, Trev does not fall under the category of standard cars, but rather motorcycles. That, of course, makes it one of the safest, most efficient and most comfortable motorcycles on the road, but you’ll still need a motorbike licence to drive it. The prototype is expected to be registered and on the road in 2008, according to UniSA, but you’re not likely to be able to buy one just yet – at least, not until someone picks up the idea to develop commercially.

(Source: UniSA)

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When will the "Air Car" be available?

Posted by Car Geek on January 20, 2008

The news at the end of last year about IT MDI-Energy’s decision to build in Melbourne has been probably the most popular news item here since the site began, especially so since The Oil Drum picked up the story and wrote a feature article on the technology. Big Gav has followed it up with an interview with Louis Arnoux, Managing Director of the IndraNet Group (who own IT Mondial, who are in a joint venture with MDI to create IT MDI-Energy; that might seem a bit far removed, but he’s also responsible for bringing the MDI technology to Australia, along with its inventor Guy Negre) and managed to coax a few answers out of him regarding the CAT engine, production timeframe and a few other things. The interview reveals a bevy of new information and I encourage you to read the full transcript, but here’s some of the more interesting parts of the interview:

  • Compressed air refilling points at places like petrol stations are not going to be a major part of the Australian business model
  • Expected running costs are about A$1.70 per 100 km (to put that in perspective, your petrol car would need a consumption rating of 1.13 L / 100 km to have the same running costs)
  • Production will begin in Australia in 2009, not 2008 as was previously thought
  • The OneCAT will have a 150 km range from a full tank of compressed air, but “an autonomy similar to that of a contemporary small car when run in multi-fuel mode”
  • Noise concerns about the prototypes are expected to be resolved with production models, with noise levels expected to be “similar to current passenger cars or less noisy”

The more technically inclined readers might also be interested in Arnoux’s explanation of his “advanced magnetocaloric quantum mechanic effect”. Spoiler: it’s not quite as interesting as it sounds, but on the other hand, at least it’s a bit less crackpot.

It’s a bit of a shame that we won’t be seeing compressed-air vehicles roaming the streets quite as quickly as we’d originally hoped, but with this joint venture, they at least seem to be on their way. IT MDI-Energy is likely to focus on its power generators first, focusing on what is essentially the OneCAT’s engine operating as a generator, before it moves into the transport market. With expectations continuing to rise as more and more claims are made about the CAT system, we can only hope they live up to it. Keep an eye out around the country for demonstrator models, though, as they’re expected to be touring this year.


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Palm oil crisis hits thanks to…ethanol?

Posted by Car Geek on January 11, 2008

Maybe I’m off base with this one, but if any article were to highlight the need for understanding the subject matter, it’s this one: The Australian’s Leo Lewis attributes a crisis in Malaysian palm oil supplies to ethanol production in his headline. It’s a perfectly valid point, except for the small fact that palm oil is used to produce much of the world’s biodiesel, not ethanol.

It might be nitpicking, but if the people who report the news don’t understand the difference, then what chance do the people who read it have?

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CSIRO to report on alternative fuels mid-2008

Posted by Car Geek on January 10, 2008

Australia’s leading scientific body, the CSIRO, is set to report on creating guidelines for sustainable alternative fuels in June. The Future Fuels Forum will consider not just alternatives to petrol, but also oil supplies and carbon emissions trading.

The forum will include key stakeholders including motorist groups, renewable fuel advocates and government officials and is expected to guide public policy for alternative fuel use well into the twenty-first century.

“We expect some healthy debate that will result in the development of a diverse set of scenarios for Australia’s fuel and transport future,” said John Wright, head of the Energy Transformed National Research Flagship.

“I believe the Future Fuels Forum will result in similar success [to the Energy Future Forum] and make a significant contribution towards planning a secure and sustainable transport fuel mix.”

(Source: The Age)

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Could petrol rationing save our economy if peak oil arrives?

Posted by Car Geek on January 10, 2008

When it comes to conservation, we could probably do to learn from the generations that grew up in wartime. The concept of basic supplies like food and fuel being limited just doesn’t register for a lot of us, especially if we’ve had cheap access to both for most of our lives. So would taking a leaf out of the greatest generation’s book and rationing fuel help save us from possible economic disaster?

That’s what the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) says. The ASPO’s Australian chapter is calling on the government to consider a return to the practice of petrol allocation, which hasn’t been seen since the Second World War. The rationale for rationing is fairly simple: placing a cap on supply ensures that those with the greatest need for it have it available. The cap also encourages the uptake of alternatives for which no caps exist, such as biofuels or electricity (or perhaps even compressed air). The ASPO likens it to the water restrictions in place in many parts of the nation, borrowing from concepts like carbon trading to allow consumers to buy and sell their petrol allocations.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone has warmed to the idea. Economists such as AMP’s Shane Oliver call the idea “ridiculous”, saying that the market will self-regulate as oil prices rise and artificial measures to regulate supply and demand are unnecessary. Waiting for price hikes to bring the supply and demand curves closer together seems to be the economic status quo currently. Again, allowing the price of oil to rise due to market forces is likely to convince more people to consider petrol alternatives in an attempt to save money.

Petrol rationing certainly has a case for itself. After all, we’re preparing a carbon trading system to alleviate global warming, so why not a petrol trading system to alleviated peak oil? It’s proven effective in wartime situations in generations past. On the other hand, ASPO has (quite unsurprisingly) the threat of an imminent and severe peak oil event in mind, but in the present, petrol allocation may well seem to be an overreaction to a problem that could resolve itself as prices rise, provided there are alternatives for consumers to move to. For my money, petrol prices will need to rise much higher and supplies drop much lower before it becomes a good idea.

(Source: The Age)

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Fuel prices prompt call for increased ethanol use

Posted by Car Geek on January 9, 2008

Shell petrol pump. Image from, licenced under CC 2.0. With oil prices breaking the $100 per barrel barrier recently, fuel costs are increasing accordingly and consumers are becoming more worried about the impact that additional cost will have on their household and business budgets.

The answer? Increased ethanol use could hold the key to cheaper petrol prices, according to Renewable Fuels Australia, a major biofuels lobby group. The organisation’s executive director, Bob Gordon, believes that 10 per cent ethanol blends should be 3-4 cents cheaper per litre than standard unleaded fuel.

“There’s a warning bell going off saying we need to be alert to a potential severe fuel price crisis around the corner and we’re not in a very good state for handling that in Australia at the moment,” Gordon says.

E10 is available in most states around the country for a slight discount compared to unleaded fuel, however its availability varies depending on location, with more pumps available to customers in ethanol-producing regions such as Queensland.

Even the most ardent ethanol supporters are likely to see that increasing its use is a short-term solution to what is very likely a long-term problem. Still, there’s no harm in increasing the availability of ethanol blends as a substitute for petrol in the short term; people will go for a cheaper, cleaner fuel as prices increase and farmers will benefit from the increase in demand.

(Source: North Queensland Register)

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Alternative fuel vehicle sales for December 2007 (and end-of-year sales)

Posted by Car Geek on January 8, 2008

Image by Nathan Cahill, free for use in the public domain with no restrictions.

I will settle on a design for these graphs, I promise. This is looking like the most concise way to display the data right now, so I’ll probably stick with this – full credit to Google Docs for providing me with a place to store, analyse and display this information.

On with the actual data. The graph above shows the pertinent statistics for alternative fuel vehicle sales for the last six months.  Some points of note:

  • Total alternative fuel vehicle sales reached a six-month high in December, driven largely by private passenger diesel sales, which were up 19% over November and a massive 133% higher than December 2006.
  • The holiday period showed a slight drop of 7.5% in hybrid sales, but this was largely due to a reduction in the number of fleet sales. Private hybrid purchases increased 33% in December, up 82% from the same time last year.
  • 4WDs/SUVs showed a slight drop across all alternative fuel categories in December, reaching a plateau after a strong increase through 2007.
  • LPG model sales continue to drop across all categories, particularly in private vehicles.

This also marks the end of a year in which over one million vehicles were sold for the first time ever in Australia. How did alt-fuel vehicles fare in a year of rising fuel prices and increasing concerns about climate change?

Image by Nathan Cahill, free for use in the public domain with no restrictions.

Total alternatively fuelled vehicles (comprising diesels, hybrids and LPG) made up 10.4% of total passenger and SUV sales for 2007, increasing from 8.25% in 2006. Diesels spearheaded the charge this year, jumping 44% in year-total sales, mostly from private buyers. Fleet sales also noticed a considerable jump in both the diesel and hybrid categories as organisations moved to reduce their carbon footprint and fuel costs. LPG vehicles were, predictably, the only market to drop – the initial effect of the Federal government’s rebate wore off over the last twelve months. Hybrids recorded the greatest percentage increase in 2007, increasing 56% over 2006 sales figures.

Time will tell what’s in store for 2008. With any luck we may even see a new fuel category show up on these graphs, but if fuel prices continue to rise we’re only likely to see these numbers continue to increase.

(Source: FCAI)

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Melbourne to have a car-free day…sort of

Posted by Car Geek on January 5, 2008

“Car free days” are gaining a lot of momentum worldwide, having been attempted in hundreds of cities with varying degrees of success. Melbourne looked to join them next year, with a group of environmentalists from the Centre for Sustainability Leadership convincing the Melbourne City Council to close many of the major roads in the CBD to traffic on February 15.

Melbourne at sunset. Image from, licenced under CC 2.0. A lot can change in a few months, though. Premier John Brumby took considerable offence to the idea, labelling it a short-term populist stunt, and the idea has finally been reborn in a much more muted form. The day has been moved from the 15th (a weekday) to the 17th (a Sunday, when traffic is already at a minimum) and the number of streets being closed has been reduced from eight to three.

The compromise doesn’t seem to have left anyone particularly happy. Members from the Melbourne and Moreland Councils, who have joined forces to combine the car-free day with Moreland’s Cyclovia festival, support a “full-strength” car-free day like those held in Vancouver and London, while the State Government and the RACV maintain opposition to even this modest proposal, calling it a “one day stunt” and insisting that it will cause “traffic chaos”.

It would not be a great leap in logic to say that the Victorian Government doesn’t appear to be taking the triple threat of congestion, climate change and petrol prices seriously. It continues to attack each problem piecemeal, exacerbating the others with each “solution” – building freeways and tollways that might ease congestion but increase pollution, for example – rather than confront a major contributor to all three: cars. Providing commuters with alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles (such as public transport or cycling) reduces congestion, reduces emissions and is cheaper than petrol. Let’s see the government step up and support these sorts of endeavours. One day without cars, with enough publicity, could show people that they can get around the city without their vehicles and emulate the successes they’ve had in other, even more congested cities around the world.

(Source: Drive)

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Posted in Public transport, Transport alternatives | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »