Automakers say meeting the government’s new fuel efficiency standards for light trucks will be a challenge. The final standards were issued last week (Wednesday, March 29th). For the first time, the largest SUVs will have to meet the standards. The GLRC’s Tracy Samilton reports:
Automakers say meeting the government’s new fuel efficiency standards
for light trucks will be a challenge. The final standards were issued
last week (Wednesday, March 29th). For the first time, the largest SUVs
will have to meet the standards. The GLRC’s Tracy Samilton reports:
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers calls the new standards the
most sweeping change to fuel economy rules in 30 years. Light trucks
include SUVS, minivans, and pickups, and account for more than half of
all new vehicles sold in the U.S.
Alliance spokesman Charles Territo says the set of rules will take weeks
for automakers to digest.
“Which happens to be about the size of a major city phone book. It’s
about 550 pages.”
Territo says one change is big SUVs like GM’s Hummer and Chevy
Suburban will no longer be excluded from fleet wide averages. And that
will probably mean more alternative technologies on the big trucks, like
hybrid and diesel engines and fuel cells. That isn’t enough for many
environmental groups, who say the changes won’t do much to reduce the
nation’s dependence on foreign oil.
Hydrogen fuel cells may be the energy of the future, but so far the hydrogen to power them has only been made from fossil fuels. Now, researchers at the University of Minnesota have come up with a way to make hydrogen from a renewable fuel – ethanol, made from corn. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Hydrogen fuel cells may be the energy of the future, but so far the hydrogen to power them has
only been made from fossil fuels. Now, researchers at the University of Minnesota have come up
with a way to make hydrogen from a renewable fuel – ethanol, made from corn. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Researchers published their findings in a recent issue of Science magazine.
Lanny Schmidt is a chemical engineer at the University of Minnesota. He says his team has
created a simple system. A fuel injector forces ethanol through a catalyst. The catalyst then
converts the ethanol into hydrogen and carbon dioxide.
Schmidt says because ethanol is made from corn, it doesn’t contribute to the greenhouse effect.
“We’re now just using that ethanol as a gasoline additive. What we’re proposing here is to use
this ethanol as a transportable liquid fuel to use in fuel cells, which have two or three times the
efficiency of simple combustion.”
Schmidt says early applications could include producing electricity at remote locations like
He’s applied for a patent, and hopes a private company will commercialize the technology.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.
Later this year, UPS will begin making some of its deliveries with a hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle. The road test is a partnership between the federal government and private industry. It’s expected to help make fuel cells widely available in passenger cars one day. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Michael Leland has more:
Later this year, UPS will begin making some of its deliveries with a hydrogen fuel cell-powered
vehicle. The road test is a partnership between the federal government and private industry. It’s
expected to help make fuel cells widely available in passenger cars one day. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Michael Leland has more:
To hear fuel-cell backers talk, this is what the future of the automotive industry sounds like:
(sound of engine)
It’s a fuel-cell powered engine, in this case, a Mercedes A-Class. UPS will use the station
wagon-sized vehicle to deliver express letters and small packages in southeast Michigan.
Outgoing EPA Administrator Christie Whitman calls this a big step for fuel cell technology.
“Those vehicles are going to be carrying more than just a package for an individual. They are
going to be carrying the future. The future of a new technology that holds enormous promise for
cleaner, healthier air for this nation.”
UPS hopes to expand the test next year, when it puts fuel cell-powered Dodge vans on the road.
Tom Weidemeyer is the Chief Operating Officer of UPS. He says the vehicles will be rolling
laboratories as the company looks for ways to be both competitive and environmentally-friendly.
“In our viewpoint, this is not a test. This is just part of our ongoing commitment to working with our
communities and improving the environment in which we operate.”
Hydrogen fuel cells use hydrogen gas and oxygen to create electricity to power a vehicle. The
only emission from these engines is water vapor. But, right now, a fuel-cell engine costs about
ten times more to build than a conventional engine. Daimler-Chrysler head Dieter Zetsche says
this and other tests of fuel-cell vehicles will help researchers find cheaper ways to make the
“And you can only solve those by starting to do it, by really putting the technology in the field and by
starting to get some manufacturing experience and driving the cost out of the system. You can’t do that in the lab or at a desk.”
The fuel-cell vehicles will be limited to southeast Michigan because they will have to refuel at a
hydrogen station to be built at the EPA in Ann Arbor. The test will also help researchers find
ways to safely and efficiently run the network of refueling stations that will be needed before
hydrogen fuel cells are widely available.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Michael Leland.
With another Mideastern conflict looming, many Americans are worried about the possibility of rising gas prices. But as Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Tom Springer points out, using less gas may be difficult for a generation that grew up admiring gas-guzzlers:
With another Mideastern conflict looming, many Americans are worried about the
possibility of rising gas prices. But as Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Tom
Springer points out, using less gas may be difficult for a generation that grew up admiring
It’s been 20 years since I rumbled through town in a fast car with wide tires and a big
hood scoop. But there, parked in front of me, was the mag-wheeled embodiment of a
teenage fantasy. Its electric blue paint job was flashing in the sun. It was more temptation
then a recovering car freak could resist.
The object of my affection was a 1970 Plymouth GTX. For two years, my brother-in-law
had worked nights and weekends to restore the old muscle car. Under the hood was a
gleaming V-8 engine, with enough horsepower to pull out tree stumps. And now, on a flat stretch
of country road, he casually asked the question: “Do you want to see what it can do?”
Did I want to see what it could do? It was an act of hypocrisy that no self-respecting
environmentalist should ever commit. Since my drag racing days, I’ve learned the truth
about the evils of fossil fuel. I know that America’s car culture is the driving force behind
urban sprawl, acid rain and the ongoing rift with a certain mustachioed Mideastern
But after about three seconds behind the wheel, my environmentalist notions flew out the
window. I stomped the accelerator, and the tires squealed. The engine roared. The
carburetors gulped down an ocean of high-octane racing fuel. Then, for a glorious
moment, the long-forgotten thrill of intense acceleration. The hormone rush was almost
enough to bring my adolescent acne out of remission.
We later drove the GTX to a car show. The hot rods on display were mainly pre-1971
gas-guzzlers. They get about 12 miles per gallon in city driving. Oddly enough, that’s
about the same mileage as a monster sports utility vehicle. The difference is, most
collector cars are driven only on sunny weekends.
And 35 years from now, we may be doing the same thing with SUVs. I can picture the
scene on a fall day in 2037. I’m with my grandchildren at an SUV collectors meet. The
kids are staring in disbelief at these mammoth, 8-passenger vehicles, which rarely carried
more than two or three passengers. And the only thing they can think to say is… “Why?”
The world’s not making any more oil, so our day of reckoning is coming. Some
Americans may think that dollar-fifty per gallon gasoline is their birthright. Yet it won’t
last forever. Fuel cells, electric cars and hybrids are the future of human mobility.
Americans like me, who neither car pool nor take the train, will have to change.
But change may be difficult. Because for my generation, the rich exhaust of an untamed
V-8 will always be like a rare perfume. And our memories of cheap gasoline, and the
freedom of an open road, will only grow fonder with age.
Tom Springer is a freelance writer from Three Rivers, Michigan.
In the 1970’s, Cleveland was the poster child for industrial pollution. Today, this rust-belt city will soon become home to the nation’s first gas station that will sell clean-burning hydrogen fuel. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Schaefer reports:
In the 1970’s, Cleveland was the poster child for industrial pollution. Today, this
rust-belt city will soon become home to the nation’s first gas station that will sell
clean-burning hydrogen fuel. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Schaefer
The public hydrogen fueling station will open in two years off of the Ohio Turnpike. It
will cater to cars that are powered by fuels cells. These cars are still in development, and
have yet to make it to dealer showrooms. But Clean Cities Coordinator Stephanie Strong
says building the new station will demonstrate that a hydrogen infrastructure is possible.
“There’s been a problem up ’til now with alternative fuels, either the availability of the
fueling infrastructure or the availability of the vehicles. It’s been a chicken and egg
The project is being funded as part of Ohio Governor Bob Taft’s 100-million dollar
initiative to boost high-tech industry in the state. The new station won’t sell soda and
cigarettes, but it will have a learning center promoting new vehicle technologies. The
complex itself will be powered by a fuel cell, the kind that may eventually power people’s
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Schaefer.
For universities across the Midwest energy costs are becoming a huge expense. Schools are increasingly reliant on technology and many are adding new research facilities. With that growth has come an increased demand for electricity, and at a number of schools around the region, aging power plants can’t keep up with that demand. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports on this growing problem:
For universities across the Midwest, energy costs are becoming a huge expense. Schools are increasingly reliant on technology and many are adding new research facilities. With that growth, has come an increased demand for electricity. And at a number of schools around the region, aging power plants can’t keep up with that demand. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports on this growing problem:
Jeff Bazzi is a freshman at Michigan State University. He shares a dorm room on campus with three other students. They use a lot of electricity.
In this one dorm room, there are four computers, two stereos, two televisions, three refrigerators, three fans, one microwave and four alarm clocks. Jeff Bazzi says even though he doesn’t get an electricity bill from the university every month, he’s aware of the amount of energy he uses.
“I know if I was at home my mom would yell at me for wasting electricity, running her bill up. So I still try to conserve. I don’t leave lights on around me and leave the TV on and all that, I try to conserve.”
that’s exactly what the university wants Bazzi and other students, faculty and staff to do…conserve. Last year, Michigan State launched an energy conservation campaign to promote ways to reduce electricity consumption. University officials say small changes on everyone’s part, such as turning off lights and computers, can collectively result in lower energy costs. Terry Link is the director of MSU’s Office of Campus Sustainability. He says just a five-percent reduction in electricity demand could save the university one million dollars a year.
“What we need to do is create that environment so that people become more aware that what they’re doing has an effect, it has a cost. It’s not immediate to their wallet, but it has other kinds of costs. And then to give them tools, examples, of how, if they feel they should do something to reduce that, what they can do.”
University officials say energy conservation is especially important now, as MSU struggles with a much tighter budget this year. Also, saving energy could delay a much larger problem. In the not-too-distant future, Michigan State’s power will no longer be able to provide enough electricity for campus. Bob Ellerhorst is the power plant director.
“Our universities are really becoming research-oriented, supported by a lot of high technology stuff. All of it takes electricity, a lot of it requires supplemental air conditioning.”
(Power plant sound up/under)
Michigan State’s power plant can make 55 megawatts of electricity, and during the hottest days of the summer, the campus uses all 55 megawatts. Over the next 15 years, MSU officials project the school will need at least 20 more megawatts of power. Schools throughout the Midwest are facing similar situations, as the demand for power on campus becomes too great for their aging power plants. Many are expanding their plants to meet demand. The University of Illinois is spending 60-million dollars on two new gas-fired turbines, Minnesota’s expansion will cost a-hundred-million dollars and the University of Wisconsin is building a brand-new power plant at a cost of 200-million dollars. Some schools, including Michigan State, are also considering buying more power from their local utility companies. But MSU power plant director Bob Ellerhorst says that electricity is almost twice as expensive as power produced on campus and isn’t nearly as reliable.
“Campus didn’t have a single outage, we had a lot of equipment failures in the plant that we just deal with. The campus has not had an interruption to service in over 36 months. I think that’s a lot longer than you’ve had to reset your clock at home.”
Michigan State is also looking into whether alternative sources of energy, such as wind and fuel cells, could play a part in a long-term solution. But in the meantime, they’re hoping students and faculty will begin conserving energy to help reduce demand and cost.
(Sounds of dorm up/under)
But that could be a challenge, from the looks of things at dorms and buildings on college campuses throughout the Midwest…where more electricity is being used than ever before.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.
Despite the recent defeat in Congress of a measure that would have raised fuel efficiency standards, carmakers are still feeling pressure to design and produce less polluting vehicles. Some companies are betting on new technologies to make those dramatic pollution reductions, and a debate’s emerging over how best to get there. Some observers say what’s at stake is nothing less than the future of the automobile. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Halpert filed this report:
Despite the recent defeat in Congress of a measure that would have raised fuel efficiency standards, carmakers are still feeling pressure to design and produce less polluting vehicles. Some companies are betting on new technologies to make those dramatic pollution reductions. And a debate’s emerging over how best to get there. Some observers say what’s at stake is nothing less than the future of the automobile. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Halpert filed this report:
It’s a clear battle between emerging technologies: what’s available now: hybrid engines, versus fuel cells, which aren’t due for at least ten years. Hybrids use current technology, a gasoline engine, and add an electric engine for additional boost. A hybrid car typically gets double the mileage of a non-hybrid.
Toyota and Honda have both opted for the quicker path. They’ve been offering hybrid cars now for the past few years. Toyota’s Prius is a sedan. Honda opted for a sporty, two-seater, the Insight. But whether sporty or practical, Honda’s Andy Boyd says consumers embraced the new engine.
“We had a great reaction to Insight – people really excited by the technology, very accepting of it. It’s very transparent technology, easy to use and we think it’s ready for prime time.”
Prime time for Honda means putting the hybrid engine on a more practical vehicle, which they’re doing. The Honda Civic is a company best seller. The hybrid Civic goes on sale in April. Priced around $20,000 the Civic will get 50 miles per gallon. And Boyd thinks it will result in even broader acceptance of hybrid technology.
A domestic automaker is also jumping on the hybrid bandwagon, hoping to broaden the hybrid’s appeal. Ford Motor Company will launch the hybrid Escape sport utility vehicle later next year. Ford’s Jon Harmon says that’s an even better vehicle choice than the Japanese offerings.
“Most of those vehicles have limitations because they’re such small vehicles and we think that by giving a vehicle with more functionality that customers are looking for, like the Escape HEV, that we’re really going to open up that market.”
The hybrid Escape will get 40 miles to the gallon in the city, twice the mileage of its gasoline engine counterpart.
But while hybrids make big dents in reducing pollution, they’re not considered the final answer to the environmental problem. The more promising contender is fuel cells.
“In a minute we’ll introduce a revolutionary concept, so revolutionary that we believe it’s no stretch to say it could literally reinvent the automobile.”
General Motors President and CEO Rick Wagoner unveiled his company’s first fuel cell car prototype, the Autonomy, at the North American International Auto Show earlier this year. Fuel cells run on a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen. They emit only water vapor and heat, so they’re essentially pollution free. They’re also extremely fuel-efficient. But even the GM fuel cell car won’t be available for at least ten years. That’s because the technology still faces many financial and engineering hurdles.
Even so, GM spokesman Bill Nowak says that investing in fuel cell technology is smarter than putting money in less effective, near-term hybrids.
“It has a fair amount of potential to improve your efficiency but you’re adding another power plant. A hybrid combines an internal combustion engine with an electric motor so there’s some cost factors involved in that. That’s why we think the best technology by far is the pure fuel cell.”
Still, many experts and other automakers don’t expect to see fuel cells on the road very soon. David Hermantz is with Toyota’s Technical Center. He says it could take 20 or 30 years. And he’s concerned that by pushing for fuel cells; GM’s trying to postpone any near-term actions to reduce auto pollution.
“GM’s interim image appears to be that ‘leave us alone for now and we’ll get to fuel cells in the future’ and we think we need some kind of progressive path to get to the future.”
That path for Toyota is a commitment to offer 300,000 hybrid vehicles a year worldwide beginning 2005. Honda also will continue promoting hybrids. Again, Honda’s Andy Boyd.
“In the long-term, fuel cells are probably going to be the answer, but again, if we’re looking out about 30 to 40 years, do we want to wait that long to try and do something about fuel efficiency and reducing emissions? Reducing fuel consumption is the greatest thing we can do to cut emissions, so we’re trying to do that.”
Still, the federal government currently prefers the long-term option. The Energy Department recently scrapped an existing hybrid research program and instead decided to fund an effort to develop a fuel cell powered vehicle.
That concerns Mike Flynn. Flynn runs the University of Michigan’s office for the study of automotive transportation in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He says the government’s decision, which comes amidst a slump in the auto industry, will take pressure off automakers to pursue hybrids.
“They have tremendous demand on their resources right now, so why would I do other than what the government is telling me I should be doing, which is this longer term bet on fuel cells which I may be able to defer a little bit in the first few years and use my resources elsewhere.”
Flynn’s also worried about focusing only on fuel cells. He says that if another technology wins out, the domestic auto industry could be left behind.
But GM’s Bill Nowak says that’s unlikely. And he’s convinced that ultimately, the company’s bet on fuel cells will pay off.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Halpert.
Small-scale on-site power generation technologies help protect the environment. Will they also help to protect us against terrorism? Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Byron Kennard argues that they can:
Small-scale on-site power generation technologies help protect the environment. Will they also help to protect us against terrorism? Our commentator Byron Kennard argues that they do.
Like every American, I am mourning the tragic losses that terrorists have inflicted on our nation. But I mourn too because I fear that in the aftermath of these attacks, environmental protection efforts will be sacrificed to the awful necessities of war. I am reminded of a remark Tolstoy once made to a young friend, “You may not be interested in war,” Tolstoy warned,” but war is interested in you.” War’s interest in the young is fully matched by its interest in the environment.
Apart from what the US does to go after bin Laden, we must also pursue peaceful solutions to this challenge. The best of these options is to vastly increase economic opportunity for the world’s poor. After all, it’s their desperation that provides the breeding grounds for fanaticism. As Jessica Stern, author of The Ultimate Terrorists, observes: “Force is not nearly enough. We need to drain the swamps where these young men thrive. We need to devote a much higher priority to health, education, and economic development or new Osamas will continue to arise.”
Economic development will be hard to achieve and will take much time. But in it environmentalists can find some solace. There are environmental ways to develop economies and often these make the most sense for the world’s poor. For example, two billion people in the world have no access to electricity. Providing them electricity for lighting, clean water, refrigeration and health care, and radio and television is perhaps the best single way “to drain the swamps.” The best way to make electricity available to the world’s poor is through on-site generating technologies that are the environment friendly.
These “micro power” devices generate electric power on a small scale close to where it is actually used. They include fuel cells, photovoltaics, micro generators, small wind turbines, and modular biomass systems. For instance, a micro generator the size of a refrigerator can generate 25 kilowatts of electricity, enough to power a village in the developing world.
The environmental approach toward energy sufficiency in developing nations has been to utilize micro credit. That means providing poor people with affordable mini-loans to purchase on-site energy generators, or micro generation. Currently the US leads the world in exporting solar electric, small wind, fuel cells, and modular biomass systems to the developing world. Such exports of energy generation have become a $5 billion per year market, so this environmentally benign strategy is also economically productive. In short, electrifying the poor regions of the world will benefit our people, our planet and the cause of peace.
In the next few years, homeowners across the Great Lakes region could get a new, environmentally friendly way to power their homes – thanks to an automaker. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Poorman reports:
In the next few years, homeowners across the Great Lakes region could get a new, environmentally friendly way to power their homes – thanks to an automaker. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, Bill Poorman reports.
General Motors has announced that it’s going to begin selling fuel cell power plants for use in homes or in offices in the next two or three years. Daniel O’ Connel is a staff engineer with GM’s fuel cell program. He unveiled the new system at a recent automotive conference.
“The unit we demonstrated this morning is a 5 kilowatts. That would be about enough to provide for an average home. The unit we showed this morning was about the size of a conventional refrigerator.”
All of Detroit’s automakers are working on fuel cell systems for their vehicles, not for homes. They are considered something like a Holy Grail that will let car companies escape environmental criticism. When they’re perfected, fuel cells will take in hydrogen from some source – perhaps methane, natural gas, or even everyday gasoline. Through a chemical process, they will produce electricity, and the main waste product is water.
But fuel cells have been a long time coming. Automakers are working to reduce the weight, size, and cost of the systems so that they can be put into cars. Auto analyst Paul Eisenstein of the car web site thecarconnection.com says that car companies moving into the home seems unusual at first. But it has some basic business reasons behind it.
“The automakers are hoping that they can use the home fuel cell technology to learn a lot about it, and to get it into mass production, and lower the costs of on-the-road or mobile fuel cells, as well.”
Plus, Eisenstein says, the move could help speed up research into fuel cells for all applications.
“This way they might be able to go to market much sooner and develop a revenue source that could fund further fuel cell development efforts.”
But GM still has to put a lot of pieces into place before it starts selling home fuel cell units. GM’s Daniel O’Connel says the company is still looking for the best way to jump into an unfamiliar business.
“Currently GM does not have the distribution network to set up a non-automotive applications, so we’re looking for partners to help us out in that arena.”
Of course, the ultimate goal for GM is to be the first company to mass produce affordable fuel cell powered cars and trucks. But the timeline for that is a bit longer. Most automakers believe it could be up to a decade before the cars are ready. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Bill Poorman.
Two Japanese auto manufacturers soon will unveil a new,
cleaner type of car for the U-S market. It’s called a hybrid. Hybrids
on gasoline, but use an electric engine to double the fuel efficiency
emit fewer pollutants. So far, no domestic automaker has come forward
with a hybrid car. And that’s troubling environmentalists. They’re
that the U-S could fall behind its foreign competitors. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Julie Edelson Halpert has the story: