Alternative Fuels Australia

Natural gas home refuelling soon to be available in Australia

Posted by Car Geek on January 1, 2008

Luke at Envirofuel made the discovery that FuelMaker Corporation is planning to soon release their Phill natural gas home refilling unit in a much larger number of countries, including our own. The unit is currently being sold in the US and various parts of Europe, and in some cases is being offered with compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles to help promote sales. CNG-powered vehicles burn cleaner than petrol or diesel and are available in a variety of models overseas, including the Honda Civic and the Ford Focus.

It’s good to see someone trying to break the chicken-and-egg dilemma that faces many alternative fuels, but the question is, will we see cars to support it? The last manufacturer to seriously consider CNG was Ford, who has since chosen LPG as its alternative fuel of choice after producing a limited run of CNG Falcons a decade ago. CNG makes good sense as a short-term solution for increasing fuel prices, in the same league as LPG and ethanol, but despite Australia’s abundant natural supplies we have not taken advantage of it the same way other regions without our resources have. Perhaps this will help change things?

(On a side note, it’s interesting to see that the article about the CNG Falcon’s emissions focused mainly on ozone-forming pollutants, with not a mention of greenhouse gases. It’s interesting to see how far we’ve come in terms of fixing one environmental problem to facing another.)


Posted in Natural gas | 28 Comments »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in alternative fuels | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Adelaide home to the Tindo solar-powered bus

Posted by Car Geek on December 15, 2007

The Tindo solar electric bus. Image from Adelaide City Council.

Public transport doesn’t get much greener than this. New Zealand company Designline International have developed an electric bus, which is currently being operated in Adelaide and is recharged using a BP Solar recharging station.

The bus, known as “Tindo” (the local Aboriginal word for sun), has zero emissions (as you’d expect from an electric vehicle), a range of 200 km and seats up to 42 passengers in air-conditioned comfort. Even better, the bus is entirely free to ride, as it is part of the Adelaide Connector Bus service. Power is provided from the largest solar power system in the state, pumping 70,000 kWh of electricity back into the grid annually, which will be installed at Adelaide Central bus station.

If anyone in Adelaide gets a chance to take a ride on the Tindo, drop us a line via e-mail or in the comments – we’d love to hear about your experiences!

(Source: Adelaide City Council via ABG)

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Posted in Buses, Electric vehicles, Solar | 14 Comments »

BMW Hydrogen 7 to premiere in Australia in January

Posted by Car Geek on December 13, 2007

Hydrogen isn’t something we get to speak a lot about here, so naturally we’re interested when a hydrogen-capable production vehicle makes it way to our shores. In this case, the BMW Hydrogen 7 will be showcased at Federation Square in Melbourne from January 21-28. The display will be part of a BMW exhibition outlining their “EfficientDynamics” technology, including hydrogen, hybrid and diesel vehicles, reflecting their long, medium and short term approaches to reducing emissions.

BMW Hydrogen 7, image courtesy of AutoWeb.

BMW’s Hydrogen 7 vehicle shares many uses a V12 combustion engine, rather than a fuel cell like many other hydrogen vehicles, to produce 191kW of power and a 0-100 km/h time of 9.5 seconds. A full tank of 8 kg of hydrogen allows it to travel up to 200 km, or up to 500 km when using petrol. The car has been seen frequently in the hands of environmentally conscious celebrities, but don’t expect to be able to pick one up from your local dealer any time soon.

If you’re interested in what the automotive industry sees as the future of transportation (or at least one small part of it) and you’re in Melbourne, it’s worth a look – the car isn’t likely to come back to the country for public viewing for a while after this. We’ll be there to get some pictures and information to share with you all.

(Source: BMW)

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Posted in BMW, Hydrogen | 1 Comment »

Report shows Australians overestimating car pollution

Posted by Car Geek on December 7, 2007

Concerns about greenhouse gases and pollution are registering with Australian motorists, but many are unsure about the effect vehicles are having on the environment, according to a recent survey.

The survey, conducted by the Australian Automobile Association, shows that while 79 per cent of drivers are concerned about the effects of their cars on the environment, they believe that their vehicles contribute, on average, 36 per cent of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The National Greenhouse Gas Inventory lists the total contribution of road transport at 12.6 per cent of national emissions, and passenger vehicles contributing approximately 7.8 per cent.

Stationary energy production remains the largest contributor of greenhouse gases at approximately 51 per cent, with agriculture coming in second at 17 per cent.

46 per cent of the 1500 drivers surveyed believed they had a “rough idea” of the contribution of vehicles to greenhouse gas emissions, but many overestimated the contribution. Younger drivers in particular were more likely to overestimate the contribution of passenger vehicles, with their average estimate just over 35 per cent.

Despite the relatively smaller contribution of transport, the sector is the fastest growing contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, having increased 30 per cent between 1990 and 2005. Passenger vehicle emissions have increased 25 per cent in the same period.

(Source: Courier-Mail)

Posted in Global warming, Greenhouse gases | 25 Comments »

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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Posted in alternative fuels, New technology | Tagged: , , , , , , | 99 Comments »

NSW government allows hybrids to be used as taxis

Posted by Car Geek on November 28, 2007

Soon to be a common sight on Sydney's roads? Image from, licenced under CC 2.0. Sydneysiders could soon be hitching a ride in a much cleaner, quieter vehicle in the future, after today’s announcement from New South Wales transport minister John Watkins that taxi regulations are being changed to allow operators to use the Toyota Prius.

The Prius was trialled by the NSW government previously to determine its suitability as a taxi vehicle, with the results proving successful and commercially viable enough to allow permanent operation of the vehicles.

“I expect to see more and more Prius on the road as taxi operators strive to deliver greener options,” Mr Watkins said.

“Based on the popularity of the green taxi, I imagine we will also see a significant take-up of compliant hybrid vehicles in hire car fleets.”

The vehicles are especially well-suited to urban taxis, which start and stop frequently, and allows the vehicle to operate accessories such as air conditioning and the radio without idling, making it ideal for the long periods of time some taxis spend in queues.


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Posted in Hybrid, Taxis | Tagged: , , , , | 11 Comments »

Economist issues warning on using food for fuel

Posted by Car Geek on November 28, 2007

An economist from ABN Amro has warned that the world risks running out of basic foodstock, which will further increase prices.

Michael Knox, ABN Amro’s chief economist, says that supplies such as wheat and corn are becoming more limited, in part due to the increase in production of crop-based biofuels such as ethanol. The limitation in supply can effect not only the price of basic staples such as bread, but also meat and poultry, which rely on them as a feedstock.

Grain in particular is under threat, with prices tripling over the past three years and stocks dwindling. Australia markets much of its grain overseas, but has in recent times also began using it for ethanol production at the Manildra plant near Nowra, NSW. Corn is in a similar situation, with the US rapidly increasing its ethanol production to offset the increasing price of oil. Corn ethanol has relatively fewer environmental benefits when compared to other feedstocks, however, with Mr Knox calling it “the dumbest idea that politicians have produced this century”.

Upcoming technology such as cellulosic ethanol is designed to produce environmentally friendly fuel from non-edible sources, such as switchgrass, but it may be some time before the technology is economically competitive with the established first-generation ethanol market.

(Source: Courier-Mail)

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Posted in Ethanol | Leave a Comment »

CSIRO releases report into biodiesel GHG emissions

Posted by Car Geek on November 28, 2007

The CSIRO yesterday released a report which investigates the impact of biodiesel use on greenhouse gas emissions, when compared to standard diesel fuel. At 126 pages, the report is slightly too large to have a quick read through during a break, so here’s the executive summary of the executive summary:

  • Canola-based biodiesel emits 3.5 times more GHG emissions (measured in grams of CO2-equivalent) during its production than diesel fuel, known as the “upstream” section of the life cycle. However, total life cycle emissions are reduced by 49% when using canola-based B100, as the crops absorb carbon dioxide.
  • Tallow, or animal fat, has upstream emissions 50% higher than those of diesel, but life cycle emissions 76% lower than diesel.
  • The emissions from plantation-based palm oil depend on the age of the plantations being used. If the plantation is established before 1990, the emissions “associated with land clearing are not counted…under present methods of carbon accounting”, so upstream emissions are only 25% higher than those from diesel and life cycle emissions are 80% lower. Newer palm oil plantations, however, have upstream emissions 50 to 136 times higher than diesel, and life cycle emissions 8 to 21 times higher.
  • Used cooking oil, being a waste product, has almost no upstream emissions, resulting in a life cycle emissions saving of 87% when compared to diesel.
  • 2 per cent blends (B2) lower emissions by 1.7% at most, with standard Australian B2 fuels reducing emissions by 0.92% to 1.47%, depending on the source of biodiesel.

Also of note is that the extra-low-sulfur diesel (XLSD) used as the baseline in these calculations actually produces slightly more carbon dioxide than standard low-sulfur diesel (ULSD), due to the additional processing required. The lower sulfur content generates fewer smog-forming and hazardous pollutants; it is worth noting that the use of biodiesel also significantly reduces sulfur-based pollutants, though.

Luke at Envirofuel makes the point that the report is commissioned by Caltex, who supply biodiesel in 2, 5 and 20 per cent blends. According to Caltex CEO Des King, the company does not use palm oil “unless it can be shown to be sustainable to the satisfaction of key stakeholders in the countries it is produced”.

The full report can be viewed at the CSIRO website.

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Posted in Biodiesel | 2 Comments »

Joint venture for coal-sequestering algae announced

Posted by Car Geek on November 27, 2007

Algae being grown from CO2. Image from, licenced under CC 2.0. Two Australian firms, Linc Energy and BioCleanCoal, have partnered together in a joint venture to sequester carbon dioxide emissions from Australian coal-fired power stations to use as fuel or fertiliser, even re-burning it to produce additional energy.

The companies will spend $1 million to build a prototype reactor in Chinchilla, which will use the carbon dioxide emissions from the power plant to grow algae, which can then be dried and turned into biodiesel at low energy costs.

Hamish Macdonald, a company director of BioCleanCoal, says that the process can easily remove 90 per cent of carbon dioxide from the plant’s emissions, with 100 per cent removal possible but unlikely due to the increased costs.

“We’re very confident we’re going to be able to make a significant impact on emissions,” added Malcolm Lamont, a chief scientist at BioCleanCoal.

If the trial is successful, the joint venture will consider building a full-scale bioreactor, at an estimated cost of $30 million to $40 million.

In a similar project, a Laverton-based company is also working to refine a local species of algae to convert into biodiesel. BioMax plans to produce 100 million litres of biodiesel annually, using carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions from the La Trobe coal-fired power station.

Mile Soda, managing director for BioMax, says that the process could produce 50 to 100 times as much biodiesel per hectare as crop-based biodiesel, such as canola. The first batches of algae-derived biodiesel could be produced within two years.

(Sources: Greentech Media, Star News Group)

Posted in Biodiesel, Carbon sequestration | 3 Comments »