Bhutan looks to Japan for help in introducing electric vehicles

July 3, 2014

The tiny Asian nation of Bhutan has a very big goal, to convert the country’s vehicles to electric power. The Bhutanese people’s culture has a deep respect for the environment, which is reflected in the Prime Minister’s decision in favour of zero emission vehicles.

Currently Bhutan’s main export is clean electricity from hydroelectric plants, which is sold to neighboring India. But most of the revenue from those sales at present goes to importing fossil fuels for transportation.

Following an economic crisis, the kingdom banned the import of new vehicles in March 2012, and subsequently imposed a “green tax” on all vehicles: 20 percent on those with engines of 1.8 liters or more, 5 percent on those below.

Prime Minister Tobgay announced his plan to reduce the country’s oil imports by 70 percent last December. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn followed this in February with an announcement of an agreement between the nation and the carmaker to provide electric vehicles for the country.

The opportunity to sell zero-emission electric cars was underscored by the Japanese carmaker Nissan’s simultaneous announcement that it had appointed a national sales company for the kingdom, named Thunder Motors. Nissan and Thunder will work together to develop localized versions of the company’s electric vehicles designed for conditions in the Himalayan nation, whose average elevation is 8,000 feet above sea level.

The first stage of the program is for Nissan Leaf electric cars to become both Bhutanese government vehicles and taxi cabs in the capital city of Thimphu.The Nissan Leaf is the most successful electric car in history, with over 100,000 sold.

Based on World Bank data for 2009, Bhutan has just 46 passenger vehicles per 1,000 people, meaning that its 742,000 citizens operate roughly 34,000 cars. Ghosn announced that Nissan hopes to sell “hundreds of cars” in the short term and “thousands” soon thereafter.

Though Nissan is be the world’s largest producer of battery-electric vehicles,  it will not have an exclusive on electric-car imports to Bhutan.

The Nissan CEO told Green Car Reports: “We welcome others, Nissan is most able to compete when buyers compare the performance, price, and customer satisfaction of the Leaf against any other electric vehicle.”

The big picture, Ghosn suggested, is that Bhutan can provide an inspiration, perhaps even a model, for emerging nations as they look toward expanding vehicle sales.

The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged this week that the “government and private sector of Japan will examine what we can do” to support Bhutan’s plan to introduce electric vehicles.

Tobgay is the first prime minister of Bhutan to make an official visit to Japan since the two nations established diplomatic relations in 1986. On his recent visit Tobgay said he told Abe that Bhutan wants to introduce the vehicles to help conserve the environment and to reduce spending on oil imports.

Tobgay also took the time to convey his country’s appreciation for a recently signed grants agreement with Japan for underprivileged farmers.

“This assistance has been instrumental in improving the livelihood of farmers through increased productivity, and contributing to the nation’s effort to achieve food self-sufficiency and security,” he said.

During the talks, Abe also briefed Tobgay on Japan’s intention to become a “proactive contributor to peace” through international cooperation, in the light of China’s apparent willingness to pursue claims for territory and other resources in the Asia-Pacific region.

“We reaffirmed our commitment to the U.N. Charter and its purposes, including the peaceful settlement of disputes based on the principle of international law,” Tobgay said.


Sources: Japan Times, Green Car Reports

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Japanese e-tricycles could help The Philippines cut carbon emissions by two thirds

October 14, 2013

Motorized tricycles are a popular form of passenger transport on the nation’s roads in the Phillipines, carrying between four to nine passengers, they are a common sight all over the country from the residential areas of the capital Manila, to the countryside’s highways. However, an Asian Development Bank study shows these gasoline-fueled tricycles are responsible for more than two-thirds of all air pollution generated by the country’s entire transport sector, and without intervention, the carbon emissions are set to almost quadruple in less than 25 years.

To stall carbon emissions and cut down on the noise pollution the tricycles cause the country will soon begin implementing a plan to replace 100,000 gasoline-burning, air-polluting tricycles by 2016. The Philippine government hopes the e-tricycle project will cut down on noise, save more than $100 million a year in fuel imports, create jobs through local production of e-tricycles and decrease annual carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 260,000 tons.

The  Japanese electric vehicles maker and distributor Uzushio Electric Co. is making a bid to distribute electric tricycles in the Philippines. Tokushi Nakashima, head of BEET Philippine Inc., a local subsidiary of Uzushio Electric Co., told a press conference on Monday that his company has submitted a bid to the Asian Development Bank, which is providing $300 million toward the e-tricycle project being carried out in cooperation with the Philippine government.

The company, which opened in March, also registered its e-trike model with the Philippines’ Land Transportation Office, affirming its roadworthiness and making it accessible for interested private consumers.

Nakashima said Uzushio Electric, having developed more than 50 models of electric vehicles in Japan, is ready to help the Philippines solve its environmental woes through participation in the project, while at the same time improve the lives of tricycle drivers who are expected to take home a bigger daily income because electricity costs less than gasoline.

BEET’s e-tricycle is made of five key components, which satisfy the requirements for the Philippines’ various road and weather conditions: a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, an AC motor, an inverter, a vehicle control unit, and a battery management system.

Weighing around 500 kg, it accommodates up to seven people including the driver, runs at speeds of up to 60 kph and can cover 50 km on a single charge.

BEET Philippine announced that it had also tied up with Softbank Mobile Corp. to develop a billing system for lease or loan payment, as well as the integration of an advanced telecommunication system to track the trikes. The company is now in talks with potential assemblers in the Philippines in preparation for mass production, though whether the bid is successful or not remains to be seen.

Source: The Japan Times

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Genetically modified Ecoli bacteria can produce bio fossil fuel

April 26, 2013

Biofuels are produced from living organisms or from organic or food waste products. In order to be considered a biofuel the fuel must contain over 80 percent renewable materials.

While petrol and diesel release carbon dioxide that has been stored deep within the Earth, biofuels are said to be carbon neutral because they release as much CO2 into the atmosphere as the plants they are made from absorbed.

Until now, biofuels have been made up of hydrocarbon chains of the wrong size and shape to be truly compatible with most modern engines – they’ll work, but only inefficiently, and over time they will corrode the engine.

However scientists from the University of Exeter have announced in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.that they have created a strain of bacteria that can produce fuel. Researchers genetically modified E. coli , the bacteria traditionally associated with food poisoning outbreaks,  to convert sugar into an oil that is almost identical to conventional diesel.

John Love from the University of Exeter in the UK and colleagues took genes from the camphor tree, soil bacteria and blue-green algae and spliced them into DNA from Escherichia coli bacteria. When the modified E. coli were fed glucose, the enzymes they produced converted the sugar into fatty acids and then turned these into hydrocarbons that were chemically and structurally identical to those found in commercial fuel.”We are biologically producing the fuel that the oil industry makes and sells,” says Love.The team now needs to work out how to scale-up the project to mass-produce hydrocarbons.

If the process can be scaled up, this synthetic fuel could be a viable alternative to fossil fuel. Professor John Love, a synthetic biologist from the University of Exeter, said: “Rather than making a replacement fuel like some biofuels, we have made a substitute fossil fuel.

“The idea is that car manufacturers, consumers and fuel retailers wouldn’t even notice the difference – it would just become another part of the fuel production chain.”

There is a push to increase the use of biofuels around the world. In the European Union, a 10% target for the use of these crop-based fuels in the transport sector has been set for 2020.

But most forms of biodiesel and bioethanol that are currently used are not fully compatible with modern engines. Fractions of the substances (between 5-10%) need to be blended with petroleum before they can be used in most engines.

However, the fuel produced by the modified E. coli bacteria is different.  Love explained: “What we’ve done is produced fuels that are exactly the chain length required for the modern engine and exactly the composition that is required.

“They are bio-fossil-fuels if you like.” To create the fuel, the researchers, who were funded by the oil company Shell and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, used a strain of E. coli that usually takes in sugar and then turns it into fat.

Using synthetic biology, the team altered the bacteria’s cell mechanisms so that the sugar was converted to synthetic fuel molecules instead. By altering the bacteria’s genes, they were able to transform the bugs into fuel-producing factories. However, the E. coli did not make much of the fuel.

Professor Love said currently it would take about 100 litres of bacteria to produce a single teaspoon of the fuel. “Our challenge is to increase the yield before we can go into any form of industrial production,” he said.

“We’ve got a time frame of about three to five years to do that and see if it is worth going ahead with it. “Paul Freemont of Imperial College London describes the work as a “beautiful study”. He says it illustrates the potential of using a similar approach for bio-manufacturing not only biofuels but other chemicals we currently source from petroleum, such as those used to make plastics, solvents or detergents

Sources include: Alternative Energy News, The New Scientist, BBC News


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Methane – Fuel of the future?

March 10, 2013

In the search for alternative hydro carbon energy sources attention is turning to one of the most abundant organic compounds on earth Methane.  Compared to other hydrocarbon fuels, burning methane produces less carbon dioxide for each unit of heat released therefore making it a relatively clean energy in comparison to petrol or gasoline.

Emissions from engines fuelled by compressed natural gas are 10 per cent lower than those from a petrol engine. (Methane is the major component of natural gas, about 87% by volume.) However, about 30 per cent more fuel is needed to maintain a vehicle’s range. That requires fatter, heavier, high-pressure fuel tanks, which eat up space, dent fuel efficiency and increase the price of the car.

However a possible solution has recently been unveiled, a new kind of fuel tank inspired by the human intestine which could make cars running on methane much more attractive to motorists.

The space-saving notion, developed by technology firm Otherlab of San Francisco, with funding from the US government’s energy research arm, ARPA-E, copies the way the human body maximises storage capacity by folding the intestines back and forth. Instead of one large, high-pressure tank there are multiple banks of thin, pressurised metal tubes that can be bent and distributed all through the car, from the inside of the wheel arches to the roof supports and front wings.

A possible source of the methane needed to power future vehicles like this has also recently been located just off Japan‘s south-west coast, 1300 metres below the surface, a huge cache of slushy, combustible ice lies buried in the ocean floor. This month, Japan is carrying out the first offshore attempt to produce methane gas from these frozen methane hydrates. If successful, this could be the next great energy source.

Methane hydrates consist of methane molecules trapped in a cage-like structure of water, they are abundant in ocean floors around the world and under Arctic permafrost. It is estimated that the total energy of the planet’s hydrates is greater than all other energy sources combined. The US, India, South Korea and Russia all have programmes to explore the potential of hydrates, but the on-going natural gas boom makes it a low priority for now.

Japan is the exception, as the world’s largest importer of natural gas and with concerns about continued use of nuclear energy. It has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in hydrate research, especially in the Nankai trough off its Pacific coast. The area may hold enough gas to meet the country’s energy needs for a century.

This month, a team led by the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation will drill 300 metres below the seabed, and place a pipe to carry methane to the surface. The goal is to produce tens of thousands of cubic metres of gas over about two weeks. Commercial production could start in 2018.

The Japanese team will monitor sea floor movement during their test, particularly watching for landslides. They hope this will help them calculate how much gas can safely be extracted over a larger area, and how fast.

Richard Charter, who sits on the DoE’s hydrate advisory committee, worries that large-scale mining could cause greater unforeseen impacts, like small earthquakes or an uncontrollable gas release that would escape into the atmosphere or acidify the waters around the borehole. “You’re basically punching a hole into a zone we don’t know about,” he says.

Tetsuya Fujii of the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation says deep-sea hydrates have a built-in fail-safe: if the pipeline breaks, the water pressure would make the hydrates recrystallise, helping to stem the leak. Any gas that did escape would dissolve in the water column or be eaten by bacteria.

Sources include New Scientist and Wikipedia


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