Alternative Fuels Australia

Archive for the ‘alternative fuels’ Category

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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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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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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Alternative fuel vehicle sales for November 2007

Posted by Car Geek on December 20, 2007

Wow, this one is a bit late, isn’t it? Well, to make up for it, I’ve added a new feature to this regular section – now each month’s update will include a graph showing the past six months of sales in each category, giving an easy-to-read overview of how alternatively fuelled vehicles are faring in Australia.

Image by Nathan Cahill, free for use in the public domain.

Some statistics and trends:

  • Diesels continue a strong upwards trend in passenger vehicles and 4WDs/SUVs, particularly in fleet sales. Overall diesel sales were up 3.4% on last month and 48% on this time last year, and they continue to make up the bulk of Australia’s alternative fuel sales. Passenger fleet/non-private diesels are the strongest force behind the increase in sales, jumping almost 120% on last year thanks to more “clean diesels” hitting the market with impressive fuel economy.
  • Hybrid sales dipped last month, but remain up about 7% on this time last year. Once again, non-private purchases were responsible for the majority of the hybrid sales, showing growth against a decrease in sales by private buyers, compared to both last month and last year. The lack of consumer confidence may be due to the few hybrid options available and the appearance of more efficient diesels on the market.
  • New LPG vehicles maintain a steady decline, with the Liberals’ rebate now old news and many customers still preferring to simply convert their existing vehicle. Given that many fleet vehicles such as taxis are factory-fitted with LPG tanks, however, the market is likely to be there for a while.

A more detailed graph is available after the jump.

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MDI’s Air Car to be built in Melbourne

Posted by Car Geek on December 3, 2007

The MDI OneCAT. Image from MDI.

If you’re a fan of alternative fuel technologies, then chances are you’ve heard of the Air Car. Originally conceived by former Formula 1 engineer Guy Negre back in 1991, the MDI “Air Cars” (officially termed the OneCAT, CityCAT and MiniCAT) can run purely on a tank of compressed air, or combined with combustible fuels such as ethanol or LPG for extended range. MDI recently signed a deal with one of India’s largest auto companies, Tata Motors, to build the air-powered vehicles in India.

Now, with business partner Louis Arnoux, Negre is bringing the OneCAT to Australia. The two have been in the country recently demonstrating their technology to potential investors and the state and federal governments, and are planning a $1.5 billion roll-out across Australia, starting in Melbourne. The new company that will be responsible for bringing the compressed air vehicles to the country, IT-MDI Energy Pty Ltd, is a merger betweeen MDI and IT Mondial, Arnoux’s IT business.

The OneCAT can run purely on compressed air, filled up from home or petrol stations, or on a combination of compressed air and fuel. The car can travel at speeds of up to 110 km/h and ranges of up to 150 km on compressed air, or 2000 km when combined with fuel. The OneCAT uses a unique external combustion engine to give claimed efficiencies of up to 70% (current internal combustion engines generally have an efficiency of about 25%), using 2 L per 100 km. The vehicle is expected to sit three or five people and will be available in multiple configurations starting at less than $8000, with the MiniCAT and CityCAT models expected to follow.

The IT MDI-Energy venture has greater ambitions than just transport, with its website detailing its plans to provide home power generation and even broadband internet services in a “green” manner, using a combination of solar power and the external combustion technology. The company wants to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 20% and from power generation by 80% in ten years.

(Source: The Age)

My thoughts: the CAT engine has been the object of great interest and scrutiny for almost as long as it has existed, with proponents extolling the virtues of zero-emissions exhaust and critics pointing out that using compressed air simply shifts the burden of energy production further up the chain. In this respect, compressed air appears to be much like hydrogen – it’s an energy storage medium, rather than a source. The requirement of finding energy to compress the air in the first place still exists. IT MDI-Energy hope to offset that using their power generation systems, which can be run on fossil fuels or biofuels. To its credit, compressed air is a safe, well-known working fluid and using it to power vehicles would certainly assist in reducing the hazards associated with driving. Time will tell if the Air Car will really reduce emissions, but regardless, it’s a positive step to have such companies investing in Australia.

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Analysis: which party has the policies to make a difference?

Posted by Car Geek on November 21, 2007

//, licenced under CC 2.0.

With the federal election less than a week away, the contending parties have made most of their election promises (and with any luck, they might even keep a few of them), so what better time is there to compare and contrast to find out which party will have the biggest effect on alternative fuels in Australia? This is a bit of a long one, so read on after the jump.

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Alternative fuel vehicle sales for October 2007

Posted by Car Geek on November 18, 2007

Alternatively fuelled vehicles showed a general improvement last month over September’s figures, with diesels showing particular improvement compared to last month and October 2006. Some of the highlights:

  • Non-petrol vehicle sales were growing faster than petrol vehicle sales compared to 2006, with combined alternative fuel passenger and 4WD vehicle sales representing 13% of the total sales in October 2007, compared with 10% in October 2006.
  • Diesel vehicles recorded the strongest growth, with diesel passenger vehicle sales growing by 14% over the previous month and 60% over October 06. Diesel 4WD sales were also higher, with October recording 21% higher sales over September.
  • Hybrid vehicles also recorded growth, particularly in the hybrid 4WD market, which grew 128% compared to September. Hybrid sales are now split roughly equally between private and fleet operators, showing an increase in the uptake of hybrids among private owners.
  • LPG was the only fuel to record a decrease in sales, likely due to a trailing off of initial interest after the federal government’s LPG incentives were introduced. Non-private or fleet operators are still overwhelmingly the major buyers of LPG passenger vehicles, buying some 50 times as many of the vehicles as private operators.
  • No data on ethanol-capable vehicles was available, though Saab is the only company to sell such production cars in Australia.

(Source: FCAI)

Posted in alternative fuels, Diesel, Ethanol, Hybrid, LPG | 1 Comment »

This year’s Solar Challenge isn’t just about solar power

Posted by Car Geek on October 21, 2007

Waikato University's UltraCommuter experimental vehicle. Image courtesy WSC.

For the past twenty years, the World Solar Challenge has demonstrated the ability to run a car purely from the power of the sun. With climate change and resource scarcity registering as a significant public issue, however, the organisers last year added a new class to the competition that promotes environmentally friendly vehicles that don’t necessarily need to run on solar power. Here’s some of the entrants for this year:

  • Team Ethanol, from Queensland, is using a production Saab BioPower vehicle to aim for its second consecutive Greenfleet Technology Class title. The team will be running on E85 fuel produced in Sarina, in Queensland’s north.
  • The University of Adelaide has entered using its BioBike, a modified motorcycle that runs on pure biodiesel.
  • Bios Fuel Corp will be running a diesel-powered vehicle on a controversial 60/40 combination of waste oil and water. The New Zealand-based team says that their H2W+ fuel is more advanced than ethanol or biodiesel.
  • The Japanese H2Solar vehicle won’t be competing for a title, but the JonaSun team is using the race to demonstrate their technology. The experimental vehicle runs on both solar power and a hydrogen fuel cell.

The race is currently underway, with the first teams expected to make it to Adelaide by the weekend.

Posted in alternative fuels, Biodiesel, Ethanol, Hydrogen, Solar | Leave a Comment »

Greens to major parties: let’s oil-proof Australia

Posted by Car Geek on October 16, 2007

Senator Milne, from the Australian Greens. Image from the Australian Greens. The Greens have announced today a comprehensive alternative fuels policy as part of their election campaign push. The Greens Climate and Energy spokesperson, Senator Christine Milne, called on Prime Minister John Howard and Opposition leader Kevin Rudd to develop a comprehensive strategy for “oil-proofing” Australia.

The central tenet of the policy is a significant shift over the next four decades to replacing 90% of Australia’s petrol use with electrified vehicles (with the power generated from renewable sources) and second-generation biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol, with an interim target of 10% biofuels use by 2020.

“The Australian Greens have been warning for years that the twin challenges of oil depletion and climate change mean we must wean ourselves off oil by moving to less polluting alternatives,” Senator Milne said today in a press release. “Through the campaign we will release more policies including: boosting public transport funding; increasing investment in clean, alternative fuels; helping shift freight from road to rail and sea; and replacing tax incentives to private car use with carbon-based taxes.”

“The Government and Opposition are promoting policies that will make the problem worse by locking us in to more roads, artificially cheaper fuel and even more polluting alternatives like coal-to-liquids.”

We’ll be covering every party’s alternative fuel policies as they’re announced in the lead-up to the November 24 federal election, so keep an eye out for more news on this front. With climate change headlining the election issues and the price of oil putting more pressure on the economy, alternative fuels may yet form a major part of any party’s election promises.

(Source: Australian Greens)

Posted in alternative fuels, Legislation | 1 Comment »

September alternative fuel vehicle sales

Posted by Car Geek on October 3, 2007

Hybrid vehicle sales dipped slightly this month but remain considerably higher than last year, according to the latest figures from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries. The figures show an improvement in overall vehicle sales in September compared with August of this year, however alternative fuel vehicle sales dropped by 4.6% in a month-to-month comparison. Hybrid sales recorded the sharpest drop of 6.9%, with LPG sales lowered by 6.5% and diesel passenger vehicle sales reduced by 4.3%.

The news is not all bad for alternative fuel vehicles, with sales continuing to rise strongly on average compared to the year to date sales for 2006. Hybrids lead the way with an impressive 80.8% rise on YTD 2006, thanks to the introduction of the Lexus SUV hybrid range into Australia. Diesel passenger vehicles also contributed to a strong improvement in private diesel vehicle sales, rising 76.6% on previous year to date sales thanks to a wider range of diesel vehicles available on the market. LPG vehicles dropped slightly by 2.9% for the same period, likely due to a waning in the interest shown in the federal government’s LPG incentive program.

Posted in alternative fuels | 1 Comment »