Clean Motion April 2008

clean motionheadlines

April 2008

Upcoming Events

  • Ecocity World Summit 2008, April 22-26, 2008, San Francisco, CA

  • Electric Drive Answer to Oil Dependence:
    Transportation Technologies & Policies to Displace Oil with Electricity
    April 22, 2008. 9:30-11:30am, Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562, Washington DC

  • Growing Cooler: Policies for Climate-Friendly Development
    April 25, 2008. 10:00 am -12:00 pm, Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253, Washington DC


Commission Releases Report on Future of U.S. Surface Transportation

The National Surface Policy and Revenue Study Commission, charged with examining the future of federal funding and policy for surface transportation in the United States has released its final report, Transportation for Tomorrow. The report addresses, in particular, impending shortfalls in the Federal Highway Trust fund, projected at $3.2 billion in fiscal year 2009 and rising in subsequent years. The report makes several key recommendations:

  • Increase transportation investments from all sources—federal, state, and local-- at least $225 billion per year for the next 50 years, up from a current figure of less than $100 billion.
  • Create a National Surface Transportation Commission to help develop a national transportation strategy and advise Congress on its implementation. The Commission would consist of ten presidential appointees, serving six year terms, and would oversee Department of Transportation policy decisions. The Commission would represent a strong federal role in national transportation planning, evidenced in part by consolidation of the 108 current transportation programs into ten federal programs. Though state and metropolitan transportation agencies would continue to play lead roles, the U.S. Department of Transportation would work with them to coordinate transportation plans to align with a national strategy.
  • Enact an incremental increase in the federal gas tax by five to eight cents per gallon per year for five years, indexed to inflation thereafter, in order to fund federal transportation investment for the first 20 years. The Commission recommends that other funding mechanisms be developed to diversify and enhance revenue sources beyond the initial 20-year period.
  • Adopt measures to increase the efficiency and accountability of transportation funding based on performance and transportation outcomes, as opposed to the current need-based approach. The report proposes a streamlined project review and delivery process including elimination of redundant project evaluations and reduction of administrative delays.

Three members of the commission, including Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, submitted a dissenting minority report, citing an increase in the gas tax and a stronger federal role in transportation, among other issues, as faulty policy. At a hearing before the House Appropriations Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Subcommittee, Secretary Peters noted the movement away from gasoline as a fuel, the political difficulty of raising taxes, and the need to diversify revenue sooner rather than later as reasons for the minority’s disagreement with the majority’s recommendations.



Study Predicts Impact of Climate Change on Transportation Infrastructure

A study recently released by the National Research Council found that transportation infrastructure in the United States will face a number of costly challenges in coming years as a result of global and regional changes in climate. Much of this would come as a result of potential increased flooding in coastal and low-lying areas due to increasingly intense storms and sea-level rise. The destruction of coastal wetlands that would normally reduce the impact of storm surges and rising population in coastal areas will exacerbate these effects, the report concluded.

The report also suggests that historical climate data generally used by planners may become outdated as weather patterns change and become less predicable. The report encourages transportation agencies to begin taking these changes into consideration in all aspects of their work, from design to maintenance.

In addition to flooding concerns, other climate changes may be detrimental to transportation infrastructure and the movement of passengers and freight. More frequent droughts could impact inland shipping routes within the United States, such as the Mississippi River system, and stronger storms could pose increased risks and costs to ocean-going freight traffic. More frequent and intense heat waves may create added stresses for materials used in transportation infrastructure. The report also describes potential impacts from wildfires and increased frequency and magnitude of earth slides.

The study recommends public and private actions to adapt to potential climate changes, including research into new design and planning techniques, identification and evaluation of new high-risk and high-impact areas, and increased coordination among local, state, and federal governments.

A related study by the U.S. Department of Transportation focused on the impacts to the Gulf Coast region, its vulnerability to climate impacts, and its importance as a transportation hub, has also been released recently.



U.S. Gasoline Consumption Slackens

Data compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy indicates that price increases, a slowing economy, and other factors are having an effect on gasoline consumption in the United States, consistent with other analysis the total number of miles that Americans drive each year leveling off, at least temporarily, after a long-term upward trend.

For a six-week period during January and February, the nation’s gasoline consumption dropped 1.1 percent compared to the same period in 2007. With the exception of the period following Hurricane Katrina which disrupted supplies, this one-year decline is the largest sustained drop in gasoline use in more than 16 years. Historically, gasoline consumption has trended upward despite spikes in gasoline prices. Factors such as the strength of the economy and expectations that prices would eventually fall again have made consumer behavior stubbornly insensitive to price fluctuations when it comes to gasoline.

Some sources have suggested, however, that substantial and prolonged price increases, together with other factors, could change this pattern. Studies by the Congressional Budget Office indicate that a 10 percent price increase alone would lead to less than a one percent reduction in consumption in the short-term. If the same price change were sustained over many years, however, that estimate rises to nearly four percent.

Meanwhile, the total number of miles driven by passenger vehicles and light trucks has climbed an average of one to two percent a year for more than two decades. Recent data, however, shows that trend has unexpectedly leveled off in the past few years. Minnesota, for example, reports that measures of total miles traveled by passenger automobiles have held constant for the past four years. This, the Minnesota Department of Transportation notes, is a significant factor to consider in state transportation planning, revenue projections for state and federal gasoline taxes, and transportation models being prepared for state climate action plans.

Record gas prices also seem to be triggering Americans to begin rethinking their major purchases. The past two years have seen sustained drops in sales of larger vehicles and increases in smaller, more fuel-efficient cars.



Developed Countries No Longer in the Driver Seat on Oil Prices

Analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests that oil consumption by major industrialized countries such as the United States, Europe, and Japan may no longer have a dominant influence on oil prices. Other factors, notably demand from developing countries and rising costs of oil extraction, now appear to be driving price trends in the global oil market.

IEA experts had predicted that slight declines in demand in industrialized countries would ease pressure on world oil prices. Cumulative demand for the 30 countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), of which the United States is a member, slipped by 0.2 percent in 2007, according to the Department of Energy. Instead, crude oil prices have risen dramatically, 19 percent in February of this year alone and exceeding the previous inflation-adjusted record of $102.81 per barrel set in April 1980 during the Iranian oil crisis.

Rapid growth in developing nations—coupled with a shift away from manufacturing and declining oil intensity in the economies of industrialized countries—suggests their influence on the market is likely to increase. The IEA predicts that 70 percent of the world’s oil will be consumed by developing countries by 2030.

Although some analysts are suggesting that current oil prices are partly due to investor speculation, rising demand in the developing world does not show any sign of abating, which could mean high oil prices for the foreseeable future regardless of demand by western countries.



Incentive to Buy Fuel-Efficient Vehicles to Resurface in California Legislature

Sponsors of proposed legislation that would provide an incentive for consumers to purchase more fuel-efficient cars and light trucks are planning to reintroduce an amended bill in the California State Assembly later in the legislative session. The bill was introduced in January, but was withdrawn without a vote. According to Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, the bill needed four more votes to pass.

The California Clean Car Discount Act would establish the nation’s first “feebate” law and require auto retailers to either offer a discount or charge a fee based on the fuel economy of purchased vehicles. Vehicles with low fuel economy ratings would be assessed a one-time fee, up to $2,500 for the worst offenders. The additional fee would be used to fund comparable rebates on cars and light trucks that achieve higher-than-average fuel efficiency.

The “feebate” concept was developed as a mechanism to capture the long-term fuel cost savings from higher efficiency vehicles at the point of purchase. The concept also is being touted as an important market-based tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, with one study showing the law would achieve reductions up to 25 percent. Several other states, including New Mexico, Arizona, and Montana, have recommended similar programs in their state plans to address climate change. None, however, have as yet adopted such a program. If passed in California, the state’s Air Resources Board would develop a rating scale for all car models.



Impact of Plug-In Vehicles on Electric Grid “Manageable”

Recent studies examining the potential of the U.S. electric grid to support expanded use of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) suggest that demand could be met by the grid’s existing capacity if managed properly. Stan Hadley of Oak Ridge National Laboratories studied 182 possible scenarios where PHEVs had expanded to penetrate 25 percent of the automotive market. His study determined that the number of additional power plants required to meet the added demand could range anywhere from zero to 160. The wide discrepancy hinges primarily on when consumers would choose to charge their vehicles.

The best case scenario relies on staggered charging of vehicles during night-time hours when demand for electricity is typically at lowest levels. This scenario potentially could require no additional generation capacity (i.e. no new electric power plants would need to be built). Hadley notes, however, “that assumption doesn’t necessarily take into account human nature. Consumers' inclination will be to plug in when convenient, rather than when utilities would prefer. Utilities will need to create incentives to encourage people to wait. There are also technologies such as 'smart' chargers that know the price of power, the demands on the system and the time when the car will be needed next to optimize charging for both the owner and the utility that can help too."

The worst-case scenario analyzed a situation where all PHEV owners would choose to begin charging their vehicles at five o’clock in the afternoon. Projections that assume less optimal use of the grid show an increase in capacity would be necessary to meet the additional demand.

A related study from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory estimated that converting 70 percent of cars, pickup trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles now on the road in the United States to plug-in vehicles could be accommodated with existing electric generation and distribution capacity, if charged “off-peak”, meaning actual charging would occur primarily at night.

The development and deployment of intelligent grid management systems or “smart grid” technology would likely be an important component in widespread use of plug-in vehicles. Such technologies would enhance power management and storage across the grid in order to supply and distribute electricity with optimum efficiency. A recent test performed by Duke Energy and GridPoint Inc. demonstrated that the smart grid technology could improve grid performance by dictating what time the vehicle would begin to charge regardless of what time it was plugged in.



Capturing Waste Heat May Help Raise Fuel Economy

The idea of thermoelectric generation is not a new one. Using temperature differences to generate electric current has been a feature of certain types of refrigerators, air-conditioners, and other products for years. There is, however, growing interest that this technology could be used to increase fuel economy in cars and trucks, particularly as hybrid vehicles that combine a gasoline engine and an electric drive motor become more common. Vehicles would be equipped to use heat energy from the exhaust system that is normally wasted and convert it into electricity.

According to Mike Rowe of the School of Engineering at Cardiff University in Wales, this technology could reduce fuel consumption initially by five percent. Research done at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado shows potential fuel savings as large as 12 percent in cars, perhaps even more in heavy-duty trucks.

A five to twelve percent gain in fuel economy would equate with a gain of approximately one to four miles per gallon. Combined with other advancements in vehicle and fuel technology as well as other strategies to increase the efficiency of the transportation system, such technology could make an important contribution toward reducing oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.



Eurostar Reports Increase in Rail Ridership, Greenhouse Gas Benefits

Select data suggest more travelers in Europe are opting for high-speed rail over air travel. Eurostar, a passenger train company serving the UK and Northern Europe, reported a 15 percent increase in ridership on its high-speed routes in 2007. The company cited several reasons for the upturn in rail ridership, touting efforts to increase comfort, shorten travel times, improve on-time performance, and generally ease passenger frustrations. Meanwhile, data for flights originating in Great Britain to other parts of Europe show passenger air travel falling by approximately 2 percent over the same time period.

In addition, Eurostar noted that train travel produces one-tenth of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per passenger-mile produced by air travel. Eurostar is working toward reducing its CO2 output by 25 percent by 2012 while it also purchases carbon “offsets” for the emissions it does create to make all of its trips nominally “carbon neutral.”

Another rail operator, SNCF in France, has begun using advanced “hybrid” trains, which they say will use 30 percent less energy than its previous trains. Similar to hybrid automobiles, these trains employ electric motors powered by lithium battery packs charged through regenerative braking to increase their energy efficiency. Eurostar also notes that it pursues other environmentally-friendly practices such as recycling waste, collecting and using rain water, using energy efficient lighting and heating, and purchasing locally grown and organic food.

While air carriers have sought to remove amenities to cut costs, rail companies such as Eurostar have added perks such as DVD rentals, free newspapers and magazines, and electric plugs. Trains also boast more leg room and fully-reclining seats. Customers are reporting greater convenience and less hassle as factors in choosing rail over air travel. Rail stations are often easier to access than many airports. Delays due to weather and connecting flights or trains are also generally less significant for rail travel.

The speed of rail travel has trended upward in Europe. Travel times have been reduced by as much as two hours in some cases due to new tunnels and routes. Intercity express trains reach speeds of almost 200 miles per hour. Europe is undergoing a proliferation of new rail lines, 2,600 miles of rail are currently under construction and 5,300 miles are being planned.



Daimler, General Motors to Introduce Lithium Ion Hybrid Models

Daimler has announced that it intends to roll out a hybrid Mercedes-Benz sedan in 2009 that utilizes lithium ion batteries. Meanwhile, General Motors is expected to soon announce revamped hybrid versions of the Saturn Aura and Chevy Malibu models which also will use lithium ion technology.

Lithium ion batteries, presently used to power many consumer electronic products such as laptop computers, are considered to be the next major step forward for hybrid vehicles, replacing the heavier and less powerful nickel-metal hydride batteries found in current hybrid vehicles. Their benefits, however, do not come without a price. Lithium ion batteries currently cost approximately 40 percent more to produce than comparable nickel-metal hydride batteries, while durability, charging limitations, and overheating issues are being addressed through continued research and development.

Automobile manufacturers are counting on these problems being resolved before the release of new hybrid models to be equipped with lithium ion technology—including the Chevrolet Volt, GM’s highly-anticipated plug-in hybrid vehicle, which is expected to be on the market in 2010. GM currently offers four hybrid models. GM also reports that moving to a lithium ion battery system will provide an opportunity for efficiency gains in the belt alternator starter system in current models.

Daimler does not yet have a hybrid vehicle on the market, having invested first in high-performing diesel engines, including its “BlueTec” system which achieves dramatic reductions in air pollutant emissions over earlier diesel models.



Carbon Footprint of Outlying Development Projects Sparks Controversy

Numerous states and municipalities are being challenged by environmental and other public interest groups to consider the carbon “footprint” of potential land development projects in their permit review processes. Planners and regulators from California to Maine are being asked to take a comprehensive look at the total greenhouse gas impacts of projects under consideration—from the results of tree-clearing to construction waste to transportation-related emissions.

The latest case is a battle over a proposed development in Maine’s Moosehead Lake region that would clear 14,000 acres and emit an estimated 500,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in its first 50 years of existence, according to Environment Northeast, a non-profit organization based in New England. This estimate includes carbon emissions from automobile travel induced by attracting new residents to the remote area, which lies about 90 miles northwest of Bangor.

Plum Creek Timber Company, the potential developer of the site, counters that their proposal would place over 400,000 acres of forest under a conservation easement. The case raises new questions about what variables to consider when evaluating cumulative environmental impacts of development.

In the Seattle area, several high-end homes were set ablaze by arsonists, apparently to protest the excessive energy use and climate change impacts of the project , despite the fact that these particular buildings had received certification as “Built Green.” The certification was based on their use of recycled and sustainable materials, organic landscaping, and natural lighting, among other attributes. However, they were also almost two and a half times larger than the average area house and were located well to the northeast of Seattle, calling into question their “green” credentials.

Most of the debate, however, about the impact of large development projects in outlying areas is happening in hearings and other public forums. Few states currently have laws on the books to curb development based on greenhouse gas emissions, though a majority of states have initiated or adopted state climate change action plans with goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to Dr. Reid Ewing of the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education, “Climate change will be the defining issue for urban planning and land development in the years ahead. It will trump everything.”



Green Is the Theme at the Geneva International Motor Show

“Drive green!” Thus began the opening ceremony speech of the 78th Geneva International Motor Show President, Luc Argand, on March 6. President Argand expressed great optimism regarding the future possibilities in reducing CO2 emissions in the automotive world.

“Today this green wave has become a tidal wave. Ecology is no longer perceived as being marginal, like a fleeting fashion; it is associated with the real economy, the production of daily consumer goods, with the quality of life and our future,” he noted. The show featured a number of alternatively fueled cars by manufacturers such as Toyota, Volvo, and Cadillac. The event also featured the International Advanced Mobility Forum, a seminar where experts from across Europe and the world exchanged ideas and discussed new technologies.

General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz and Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe also spoke at the Geneva show. They both promoted the viability and technological promise of electric drive vehicles, citing steady progress in lithium ion battery technology, while casting doubts on the feasibility of vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Both Toyota and GM have invested considerable research and development capacity as well as marketing resources into hybrid electric vehicles, while GM has also been engaged in development and field testing of hydrogen vehicles (see February 2008 edition of Clean Motion).




Eco-City World Summit

April 22-26, 2008, San Francisco, CA

7th Ecocity World Summit bringing together sustainability experts, leading innovators, decisionmakers, technologists, businesses, organizations and individual participants offer long-range solutions to global ecological issues. Convened during Earth Day Week, April 22-26, 2008, creative change-makers will address problems of the world's environment and frame long-term economic, environmental, and socially equitable solutions.


Electric Drive Answer to Oil Dependence:

Transportation Technologies & Policies to Displace Oil with Electricity

April 22, 2008. 9:30-11:30am
Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 562

A Congressional briefing and panel discussion of how federal policies can accelerate the mainstreaming of efficient, clean electric drive technology, reduce U.S. dependence on oil and cut emissions of greenhouse gases.


Growing Cooler :

Policies for Climate-Friendly Development

April 25, 2008. 10:00-12:00 pm
Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253

A Congressional briefing and panel discussion on the link between urban development, transportation, and greenhouse gas emissions and federal policies to help cities, towns, and urbanized regions reduce their carbon footprint.

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Clean Motion is a free monthly periodical providing an overview of issues and activities related to the deployment of sustainable transportation systems in the United States. Topics include technology and industry developments, environmental and market trends, and government policy related to vehicles, fuels, and transportation system planning and design--including issues related to land use, transit, transit-oriented development, walking, cycling, and other non-motorized modes of travel. If there are topics and issues you would like to see covered, please feel free to contact us.

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