Saturday, December 15, 2007

Chrysler/Purdue University program uses poplars for cleanup and fuel feedstock

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In another of Chrysler's experiments with new ways of producing biofuel feedstocks (see also here), they have teamed up with Purdue University to make use of an environmentally contaminated site. Instead of the typical agricultural crops, they have planted poplar trees at a site called Peter's Pond in central Indiana. Chrysler worked with Purdue Associate Professor Rick Meilan develop a new hybrid variety of poplar that can absorb more contaminants from the soil. A second goal of the new hybrid was to make it easier to process the tree into ethanol after harvesting. The trees developed by Prof. Meilan are able to absorb up to ninety percent of contaminants like trichloroethelyne from the soil. The lignin that binds the cellulose together has been modified to allow the cellulose to be more easily broken down.

[Source: Chrysler]

Chrysler Partnership with Purdue University Taps Environmental Powers of Poplars

# Hybrid Poplars Tested at Rural Indiana Site
# Faster Phytoremediation - Using Plants to Clean Up Pollution
# Purdue Researchers Also Developing Poplars for Better Biofuels

Auburn Hills, Mich., Dec 12, 2007 - Chrysler LLC is partnering with Purdue University to test the powers of poplar trees to clean up environmental spills and, in separate work, develop poplars that can serve as feedstock for improved renewable biofuels.

In the first stage of the project, plots of hybrid poplars have been planted at Peter's Pond, the site of an environmental cleanup being conducted by Chrysler in rural central Indiana.

Chrysler's collaborator on the project is Purdue Associate Professor Rick Meilan, who is looking for ways to greatly improve hybrid poplars' ability to clean up contaminants in the environment. Meilan is also part of a team researching altered varieties of poplars that would improve the process of turning harvested plants into bio-ethanol for use in Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs).

"This project supports our most important environmental principles at Chrysler: respect for the environment, returning our former sites to productive use, and promoting the use of clean, renewable, American-made biofuels such as ethanol, in our vehicles," said Deborah Morrissett, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs at Chrysler.

Chrysler has invested more than $10 billion over the past two decades to either refurbish existing sites or to prepare vacant sites for productive use.

Chrysler has also produced nearly two million Flexible Fuel Vehicles capable of running on E85 (85 percent ethanol), gasoline or a mixture of the two fuels. The company will produce an additional 500,000 FFVs in 2008.

Meilan is part of a research team that is developing altered poplars with much greater ability to take up contaminants. In their research, Meilan and colleagues found that engineered poplars removed more than 90 percent of pollutants such as trichloroethylene (TCE) from a test solution in one week, compared with just 3 percent of pollutants removed by unaltered poplars. TCE, a commonly used solvent, was found in the soil and groundwater at Peter's Pond.

In addition, the specially-engineered poplars were able to break down the pollutants 100 times faster than the unaltered poplar.

Meilan will plant the specially-engineered poplars at the Peter's Pond site next spring. Their ability to remove TCE from the soil will be compared with the hybrid poplars already planted at the site.

The process of using plants to absorb pollutants from the soil, known as phytoremediation, should work well at Peter's Pond since the remaining pollutants are within 10 feet of the surface and readily accessible to poplars' roots.

"Peter's Pond is the perfect place to take this process out of the lab and test it on a field-sized scale," said Meilan.

Meilan and colleagues are also developing hybrid poplars that can be refined into ethanol more easily. One of the barriers to producing ethanol is lignin, a compound that helps give the plant its strength. However, lignin impedes access to cellulose, the primary source of sugar in the plant to be converted into ethanol. By developing poplars with modified lignin, Meilan hopes to make renewable ethanol faster and cheaper to produce.

If the process works out, it can be readily adapted to many other parts of the world, Meilan noted.

"Poplars grow across a wide geographic range and in many different climates," Meilan said.

"People have had their eye on the poplar for a long time."

Chrysler's FFV Lineup

For the 2008 model year, Chrysler offers 11 products with the E85 Flexible Fuel option:

* Dodge: Dakota, Ram, Durango, Avenger, Grand Caravan
* Chrysler: Aspen, Town & Country, Sebring sedan and convertible
* Jeep: Grand Cherokee, Commander

Chrysler also promotes the use of biodiesel, another clean, renewable, American-made alternative fuel. Jeep(R) Grand Cherokee and the Dodge Ram and Sprinter diesel vehicles are all approved for use with B5 (5 percent biodiesel) fuel and are delivered to customers running on B5.

History of Peter's Pond

The property known as Peter's Pond was once used for gravel mining operations.

In the mid-1960s, oils from the Chrysler Transmission Plant in Kokomo were disposed of in three abandoned gravel pits. Cleanup of the site was begun in the mid-1980s, and Chrysler continues to monitor the groundwater and soil today.

Two small areas on the site still have small amounts of pollutants. Chrysler proposed the phytoremediation system using poplars to polish the remaining pollutants from the soil and groundwater.

Ultimately, the plan is to return the Peter's Pond site to farming, a major economic activity in central Indiana.


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China's Changan Auto's first hybrid model: Jiexun-HEV

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In July, we told you Changan would have a hybrid on the market in 2008. Now, Changan Automobile, the fourth largest automaker in China, is showing off the hybrid Jiexun-HEV. The hybrid is expected on the market soon and some will be donated to the Beijing Olympics next year. Here is Xu Liuping, the president of Changan Automobile, at a celebration ceremony, speaking about Jiexun-HEV:

It took us 6 years to develop this hybrid and it marks the beginning of mass production of hybrid vehicles at our company today. ... We will donate 10 Jiexun hybrid vehicles to the Olympics Games next year. ... The volume production of Jiexun indicates that China has grasped core technologies of hybrid vehicles.

Jiexun-HEV is China's first local-brand hybrid vehicle, fuel economy is improved 20 percent (compared to the non-hybrid version) and it meets EU-IV emission standards. Hybrids have not been too popular in China because of the high price but Xu promises the price for the Jiexun-HEV will be sharply lower than the imports and the company will invest 300 million yuan ($40.7 million) into research and getting the car into production.

Changan has also said their hybrids would be available over seas. So, Jiexun-HEV could be on American streets soon. Are you ready for inexpensive, hybrid cars from China?

[Source: Gasgoo via AutoChannel]


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It's not your father's Oldsmobile diesel: checking out modern oil-burners

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2007 BMW 535d

In the U.S. market, drivers who were around in the early eighties might still have some bad memories of noisy, smoky, slow diesel engines. In more recent years - aside from heavy duty pickup trucks - relatively few diesels have been available to American buyers. With gas prices on the rise and new fuel economy regulations on the way, diesels look poised for a comeback. With diesel engines able to achieve twenty-five to thirty percent better efficiency than gas engines of similar output, they definitely have a certain appeal. Combined with levels of refinement unheard of two decades ago and low-end torque that American drivers will love, diesels have huge potential. Huge. A whole range of fifty-state legal diesels will be introduced over the next two years that could lead to significant sales increases. Do you have your eye on one already?

[Source: CNN Money]


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It's Friday: is a cat bus green?

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Recently, Korean scientists created glow in the dark cats and scientists have created glow in the dark rabbits and pigs in the past. Glowing animals are novelties but GMO or Genetically Modified Organisms are actually quite common in our food supply and you often see these foods bannned because of concerns over safety. While not technically possible currently, the creation of genetically engineered vehicles is imagined in science fiction and fantasy (like the cat bus in the anime My Neighbor Totoro, which you can seen in the videos above and below the fold).

A living car would mean efficient production, repair, energy collection and disposal because living systems are much more efficient than traditional technologies. However, the impact on the eco-system is unknown and possibly detrimental. For example, a cat bus might escape, grow wild, change the eco-system and endanger the survival of some species. So, while it would be really cute and furry to ride in a giant cat bus, it's probably not a good idea to create these things until we have a much better idea of their impact on the environment.

[Source: YouTube]


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Videos: Switchbike transforms into a recumbent, the Hour drives a Velomobile

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The video above is the Switchbike, which looks like a regular bike but can transform into a recumbent, lay-back seating type of bike. There is only one and creator Ron de Jong is still looking for someone to bring this concept to production. Below the fold is a video of the CBC show's look at the VeloMobile, a covered, three-wheeled, human-powered vehicle. Hilary Doyle is really funny in the segment with odd observations like "this is a sex toy." Velomobiles are not new vehicles but they are getting a lot press attention recently with our new focus on green forms of transport.

[Source: YouTube]


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A look at Kei cars, those tiny Japanese cars

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Kei cars are a class of small cars in Japan which have a length limit of 3.4 meters, a width limit of 1.48 meters and height limit of 2 meters. The Kei car class was created (and given tax breaks) as a way to beef up the domestic auto industry after the second world war. According to the FAQ, mileage of 40-60 MPG, which you would expect from such a tiny car, is common for these vehicles.

Kei cars are popular in Japan today and, as you can see in the video below the fold, the cars are even popular in Canada where Japanoid Imports are allowed to import them after 15 years. They look like toys and are right hand drive but no one seems to mind. The equivalent car to American or Europe would be the micro or city cars.

I though the cars might be powered by a large metal wind-up key or possibly rolling it backwards storing energy in a spring. Turns out they use 660 cc engine or 47 KW electric engines in a variety of drive trains including gas, full electrics and hybrids.

[Source: New York Times, YouTube]


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It's Friday: radioactive headlights, nuclear powered cars

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The company MPK has created Litrospheres, a new material that's inexpensive and stays lit, with the power equivalent to a 20 watt incandescent bulb, for 12 years without any energy input. As you can see in the above photo, this could be the perfect solution for lighting vehicles, maybe even car head lights. The only problem? It's radioactive. Still, it's just "soft" radiation and the radioactive gases are in tiny sphere so it won't kill you.

This is not the first time the power of the atom was considered for transport. The Ford Nucleon concept had a small nuclear reactor with a easily interchangeable nuclear core. The Nucleon could travel 5,000 miles, much further than any existing battery today.

I think it's time we take a second look at nuclear power.

[Source: Treehugger via Gizmodo]


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