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Sustainability/Green

Home-Grown Zero-Carbon Hydrogen Technology

CSIRO’s Toyota Mirai HFC vehicle (image from CSIRO)

There are three possibilities when it comes to finding an alternative to the standard fossil fuels used in the majority of vehicles on the road.  The first is a switch to biofuels (biodiesel, ethanol, etc.), the second is to go electric (the sexy new technology that’s mushrooming) and the third is hydrogen fuel cells or HFCs.

I discussed the basics of HFCs in my previous post.  If you can’t remember or if you can’t be bothered hopping over to have a look, one of the points I raised was that most of the hydrogen gas used to power HFCs comes from natural gas, with methane (from sewage and effluent) coming in as the more sustainable second possibility.  However, there’s another possible source of the hydrogen fuel that’s being worked on by our very own CSIRO researchers right here in Australia: ammonia.

Most of us are familiar with ammonia as the thing that makes floor cleaners (a) really cut through grease and (b) smell horrible.  However, ammonia is also produced as a waste product by living cells and in humans, it quickly turns into urea and is excreted as urine.  In fact, some of the pong associated with old-school long-drop dunnies comes from the urea in urine breaking back down into ammonia again (the rest of the smell comes from methane and some sulphur-based compounds, depending on what you’ve been eating).

Ammonia is chemically rendered as NH3, which should tell you straight away that there are three nice little hydrogen atoms just waiting to be turned into hydrogen gas; the leftover nitrogen is also a gas –and that’s one of the most common elements in the atmosphere (it makes up three-quarters of the earth’s atmosphere, in fact).  Yes, ammonia in its pure form is a gas (the liquid stuff in household products is in the form of ammonium hydroxide or ammonia mixed with water).  The fun here from the perspective of HFC technology consists of splitting the ammonia gas up into nitrogen gas and hydrogen gas, and then separating the two.

And this is precisely what the ammonia-to-hydrogen team at CSIRO have been working on.  In August year, they made the big breakthrough by developing a membrane-based technology that will convert ammonia into hydrogen gas.  The hydrogen gas can then be used by vehicles powered by HFC technology.  The bit they’re all rubbing their hands with glee about is because up until now, one of the obstacles with getting HFC-powered motoring off the ground is that it’s hard to transport hydrogen gas from wherever it’s produced to the hydrogen equivalent of a bowser.  However, ammonia is a lot easier to get from A to B.  This means that with this home-grown technology, Australia will be able to export hydrogen (in the form of ammonia during transport) to the markets that want it.

Asia seems to be the hot spot for vehicles using HFC technology, with Toyota and Hyundai really getting behind the tech; European marques, on the other hand, seem to be concentrating on electric vehicles.  In fact, Japan is eyeing up hydrogen as a source of energy for generating power for homes as well.

The question has to be asked where they’re going to get all this ammonia from.  However, it’s possible to take nitrogen gas and water, then zap it with electrical current and turn it into ammonia – and it was an Australian researcher who came up with the tech to do this. It’s kind of like a fuel cell – which breaks down gas to produce electricity – but in reverse: using electricity to produce ammonia.  The new Australian technology is considered to be an improvement over the traditional method of producing ammonia (which is needed for making the fertilizer that grows the food you eat), which takes hydrogen gas from fossil fuels and reacts it, spitting out a good deal of CO2 in the process.  The new Aussie tech skips the bits involving carbon in any form, as it takes nitrogen from the atmosphere (N2) and water (H2O) and puts out NH3 and O2.  O2 is oxygen – what we breathe.

The idea is that in the future, they’ll set up a plant or two in the middle of the outback where there’s lots of solar and wind energy available for generating electricity, pump in some H2O and get ammonia for export AND use in hydrogen cars thanks to the new membrane tech out the other end with zero carbon emissions.  It could be asked where they’re going to get the water from in the middle of the Outback but I suppose that it’s not essential to use clean, fresh drinking water for the process, as it’s pretty easy to distil pure water out of wastewater.  In fact, one has the very happy vision of a process that takes sewage from cities, whips out the ammonia, urea and methane already in there (bonus!), distils out the water for making more ammonia and exporting the lot; any solids can probably also be used for fertilizer.

It’s going to take a little while for all the systems to get into place.  It’s still very early days for HFC vehicles but a start has been made and some of the hurdles have been overcome.  A few HFC vehicles have made it onto these shores.  The analysts say that it will probably take another decade or so until HFC cars become common on our roads but it’s likely to happen.  Look what happened with electric vehicles, after all.  Once they were really rare but now there’s charging points just about everywhere you look.

You can find more information here , here  and here .

 

Hydrogen Fuel Cells – The Basic Facts

One of the more exciting vehicles that’s scheduled to come to Australia at some unspecified date in 2019 is the Hyundai Nexo – one of the vehicles recently awarded the Best in Class for all-round safety by Euro NCAP.  This vehicle combines regular batteries with hydrogen fuel cell technology. Three vehicles made by major marques have been designed to run on HFCs: the aforementioned Hyundai Nexo, the Toyota  Mirai and the Honda  Clarity.

Toyota Mirai concept car

Hydrogen fuel cell technology is another option for overcoming our addiction to fossil fuels (the other two are biofuels and electricity).  But what is hydrogen fuel cell technology and how does it work?  Is it really that sustainable and/or environmentally friendly?  Isn’t hydrogen explosive, so will a car running on hydrogen fuel cell technology really be safe?

OK, let’s start with the basics: how does it work?

Diagram of a hydrogen fuel cell

A hydrogen fuel cell (let’s call it an HFC for short) is designed to generate electricity, so a vehicle that’s powered by HFC technology is technically an EV.  A chemical reaction takes place in the cell and this gets a current going, thanks to the delicate balance between positive and negative ions (all chemistry is, ultimately, to do with electricity). How is this different from a battery?  Well, a battery uses what’s stored inside it but an HFC needs a continual supply of fuel.  Think of a battery as being like a lake, whereas the HFC is a stream or a river.  The other thing that an HFC needs is something for the hydrogen fuel to react with as it passes through the cell itself, which consists of an anode, cathode and an electrolyte solution – and I don’t mean a fancy sports drink.  One of the things that hydrogen reacts best with and is readily found in the atmosphere is good old oxygen.

Naturally, there’s always a waste product produced from the reaction that generates the charge. This waste product is dihydrogen monoxide.  For those of you who haven’t heard of this, dihydrogen monoxide is a colourless, odourless compound that’s liquid at room temperature.  In gas form, dihydrogen monoxide is a well-known and very common greenhouse gas, and it’s quite corrosive to a number of metals (it’s a major component of acid rain).  It’s vital to the operation of nuclear-powered submarines and is widely used in industry as a solvent and coolant.  Although it has been used as a form of torture, it’s highly addictive to humans and is responsible for hundreds of human deaths globally every year.  Prolonged contact with dihydrogen monoxide in solid form causes severe tissue damage.  You can find more information about this potentially dangerous substance here*: http://www.dhmo.org/facts.html

For the less alarmist of us, dihydrogen monoxide is, of course, H2O or good old water, like the stuff I’m sipping on right now on a hot summer day.  Yes – that’s the main waste product produced by HFCs, which is why these are a bit of a hot topic in the world of environmental motoring.

OK, so air goes in one bit of the HFC, hydrogen gas goes in the other, and water and electrical power come out of it.  The next question that one has to ask is where the hydrogen fuel comes from (this question always needs to be asked: what’s the source of the fossil fuel substitute?).  The cheapest source of hydrogen gas as used on HFCs is natural gas, which is, unfortunately, a fossil fuel.  So are some of the other sources of hydrogen gas.  However, you can get it out of methane, which is the simplest type of hydrocarbon.  Methane can be produced naturally by bacteria that live in the guts of certain animals, especially cows.  Not sure how you can catch the methane from burping and farting cows for use in making hydrogen gas for HFCs.  And, just in case you’re wondering, some humans (not all!) do produce methane when they fart.  It’s down to the particular breed of bacteria in the gut (archaea if you want to be picky – they’re known as methanogens).  They’re as common as muck – literally.  So yes, there’s potential for hydrogen gas to be produced from natural sources – including from sewage.  The other thing is that producing hydrogen gas from methane leaves carbon dioxide behind.  But this has way less effect as a greenhouse gas than methane, so that’s a plus.

If you’re currently feeling that HFCs might not be quite as environmentally friendly after all and we all ought to drive straight EVs, then I encourage you to do a thorough investigation of how the electricity used to charge EVs comes from. It’s not always that carbon-neutral either.  Heck, even a bicycle isn’t carbon-neutral because when you puff and pant more to push those pedals, you are breathing out more carbon dioxide than normal.  All in all, HFCs are pretty darn good.  The worst thing they chuck out as exhaust is water, and the hydrogen gas needed to power them can come from sustainable sources – very sustainable if you get it from animal manure and/or sewage, which also means that poop becomes a resource instead of a problem to get rid of.  They’re doing this in Japan – and they’ve also managed to get the carbon bits of the methane to become calcium carbonate, which sequesters carbon and has all sorts of fun uses from a dietary supplement through to agricultural lime.

Another plus about HFCs is that they are a lot more efficient than combustion engines.  A large chunk of the potential energy going in turns into the electrical energy that you want, which is then turned into kinetic (motion) energy by the motor so your car gets moving (or it turns into some other form, such as light energy for the headlights or sound energy for the stereo system).  Some comes out in the form of heat.  Combustion engines waste a lot of the potential energy in the form of heat (lots of it!) and noise (ditto).

The amount of electrical energy produced by a single HFC isn’t going to be very large, so inside any vehicle powered by hydrogen technology, there will be a stack of HFCs, which work together to produce the full amount of oomph you need. The fun part in designing a vehicle that runs on HFC technology involves ensuring that the stack has the oomph needed without being too heavy and working out where to put the tanks of hydrogen gas.  However, this isn’t too hard.

The other problem with manufacturing HFC vehicles is that the catalyst inside the cells is expensive – platinum is common.  This is probably one of the biggest barriers to the spread of the technology, along with the usual issue of nobody buying HFC vehicles because nobody’s got an easy place to get the gas from and nobody’s selling the gas because nobody’s buying HFC cars.  They had the same issue with plug-in EVs too, remember, and we all know how that’s changed.  However, last year, our very own CSIRO came up with some technology to get hydrogen fuel for HFC vehicles out of ammonia and they want to go crazy with this and use it all over the show.  This is exciting stuff and probably deserves a post of its very own, so I’ll tell you more about that another day.

I feel in the need for some 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine theine combined with dihydrogen monoxide in solution with β-D-galactopyranosyl-(1→4)-D-glucose and calcium phosphate, also known as a cup of coffee, so it’s time for me to stop and to wish you safe and happy driving – hopefully without too much methane inside the cabin of your car on long journeys!

*Some people in the world have far, far too much time on their hands.

Isn’t It Ioniq, Asks Hyundai?

Korea‘s Hyundai has released details of their new-to-market hybrid Ioniq. A three drive mode choice of purely electric, battery and petrol engine, and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) offer versatility in a shapely four door coupe’ style.

In the technology stakes, the car’s lithium-ion polymer bettery will charge from zero to eighty percent in around 25 minutes, with the drive range of up to 230 kilometres being available. The Ioniq Hybrid offers up to 63 kilometres on battery with the 1.6L Atkinson cycle petrol engine and six speed dual clutch auto extending that range. With the petrol engine there is peak power of 77kW, peak torque of 147Nm, and combines with the electric engine’s 32 kW / 170 Nm in the hybrid and 44.5 kW / 170Nm for the PHEV. The purely electric Ioniq develops 88kW and is rated at 295Nm.

Expected fuel economy is quoted as 3.4L to 3.9L per 100km for the hybrid and 1.1L/100km for the PHEV. The Ioniq Electric receives a charging system capable of 100kW via DC or direct current. Inside the Ioniq hybrid is a 8.9kWh battery for the expected 60 kilometres or so range, which of course depends on driving attitude and conditions. Hyundai has joined forces with JET Charge for installations of charging portals and can be sourced though the dealership network.

The Ioniqs have the proven McPherson strut front, with the Electric on a torsion beam rear suspension. The hybrid and PHEV will be on the multi-link rear. IONIQ Hybrid Elite features aerodynamic wheel covers on 15-inch alloy wheels and other variants feature a range of distinctive aerodynamic alloy wheel designs in 16- and 17-inch.Each of the three engine options can be specified in either the Elite or Premium trim levels. Any version asked for will have Hyundai’s SmartSense safety package on board as standard. The Elite Hybrid version has the IONIQ occupants protected by Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with pedestrian detection, Blind-Spot Collision Warning and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Warning systems. Rear view camera and park assist is also standard.

There will be Driver Attention Warning, and Lane Keeping Assist systems fitted also. A Smart Cruise Control system completes the Hyundai SmartSense suite in every version and in IONIQ Electric this is complemented by a Stop & Go function. For the occupants enjoyment there is an eight inch touchscreen, eight speaker sound system from Infinity, SUNA satnav with ten year update allowance, Apple CarPlay and Siri voice control. Android Auto and DAB is also fitted.The Ioniq Electric has a single gear reduction driveline and, as a result, a flat floor for extra space. Regenerative braking energy recovery is standard, and can be regulated via steering column paddles. Hyundai’s standard three drive mode choices, Normal, Eco, and Sport, are standard.

Charging wise, the Ioniq Electric comes standard with a ICCB, In-Cable Control Box, and for fast charging a commercially available charging 100kW box has eighty percent in 23 minutes or the 50kW box in 30 minutes. A 6.6kW on-board AC charger can charge the high-voltage battery in around four and a half hours when connected to a charging station of equal or higher capacity. With the installation of a personal charging station, this will allow a full overnight charge at home.

Helping with the economy figures are the lightweight body construction and adhesives. The Advanced High-Strength Steel (AHSS) is 53.5 percent of the body. Aluminuim components such as the bonnet and tailgate save 12 kilograms with the front cross-beam, front lower arms, front knuckles, rear hub carriers, and front brake calipers also in aluminuim. Exterior dimensions are 4470 mm, 1820mm, and 1450mm (L, W, H) with a wheelbase of 2700mm. Ground clearance is 150mm. Head room is good with the Elite having front room of 994mm and the Premium with 970mm. Rear headroom is 950mm. Leg room is also decent with 1073mm for the front, 906mm at the rear. There is plenty of shoulder room with a handy 1425mm and 1396mm front and rear. Hip room is a crucial factor, and there is 1366mm & 1344 mm front and rear.

Cargo area is rated as Hybrid: 456 L, Plug-in: 341 L, Electric: 350 L to the top of the rear seats, and to the roof,
Hybrid: 563 L, Plug-in: 446 L, Electric: 455 L.Five paint colours are available across the IONIQ range – Polar White, Platinum Silver and Intense Blue Metallic, and Iron Grey and Fiery Red Mica, at a $495 cost.
The Hybrid and six speed DCT is $33,990 and $38,990, with the PHEV at $40,990 and $45,490. The Electric is $44,990 and $48,990. Prices are exclusive of dealer and government charges.

Contact your local Hyundai dealer and Private Fleet for availability on the 2019 Hyundai Ioniq.

Household Appliances And Cars From The Same Maker?

Don’t worry – Dyson’s proposed EV probably won’t look like this.

I heard the other day that a household appliance manufacturer is going to have a go at the electric car game.  Although my first reaction (and possibly yours) was to snigger, I then realised that it’s possibly not all that loopy after all.  For one thing, it’s not the first time that a company has had a go at making household gadgets and motor cars:  Toyota  makes sewing machines as well as their very popular cars and they’re not bad (the cars or the sewing machines – and I can vouch for the sewing machines, as I’ve got one).  Peugeot also started out making coffee grinders, umbrellas and crinolines.

For another thing, the makers of household appliances are already used to working with electric motors for – well, just about anything.  Household appliances just about all run on electricity and a lot of them use electrical motors – so why not scale up from teeny electric motors in electric shavers to motorcars? We’re used to other things that can run on either electricity or internal combustion engines, such as lawnmowers, so it might be just a matter of scale.

The household appliance manufacturer in question is Dyson, who also makes vacuum cleaners.  Cue jokes about “My car sucks.”  At the moment, they’ve managed to get a nice big factory space and the plan is to put a car out by 2020.  Or 2021, depending on which press release you get your hands on.  Details are still being kept secret but here’s what we know so far:

  • They’re going to convert a bunch of old World War 2 era aircraft hangars in the UK to use as factories.
  • They’re doing the research and development in Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia as well as the UK.
  • One of the former hangars has at least 15 km of vehicle testing tracks. Presumably they don’t test the vacuum cleaners on these.

OK, the idea of producing vacuum cleaners and EVs seems ludicrous.  However, I’ve often noticed that advertising for vacuum cleaners has a lot in common with quite a few car ads, ranting and raving about the power of the motor and how many kilowatts it can do.  In fact, I think that cars (OK, boats and motorbikes as well if you’re picky) and vacuum cleaners are the only things that use engine power as a selling point.  Dyson’s experience with filters and air flow will probably also come in handy for designing a car.  Maybe we’ll also see some interesting styling, given the way that Dyson produced a completely new style of vacuum cleaner when they put out their Dual Cyclone.

However, we need to hope that the Dyson EVs have better handling ability than the typical vacuum cleaner.  I don’t know about you, but I always have much more trouble getting a vacuum cleaner to go where I want it to, and they’re probably worse than supermarket shopping trolleys for bad handling.  Work to be done here, Dyson!

We also need to hope that Dyson learns a thing or three about pricing if they want to be really competitive.  Dyson may be the luxury marque for vacuums (and hair dryers, fans and hand dryers) but is there really room in the luxury EV market for somebody other than Tesla?  Especially now that more widely known makers, especially the European ones, are turning more and more to EVs and hybrids.  Your typical Dyson vacuum costs about 10 times as much as the bog-standard vacuum, after all.

My one humble suggestion to Dyson would also be to change the name for the vehicle line.  Toyota may be able to get away with producing sewing machines but they’re better known for their cars.  Not everybody does home sewing but most people except total slobs use vacuum cleaners.  Dyson, however, is a big name in the household appliance world, so that is going to be what people think of first when somebody announces that they’ve just bought a new Dyson with a powerful motor.  It doesn’t quite have the same kudos or cachet as, say, Lexus or Mercedes.  Perhaps Cyclone, in honour of the Dual Cyclone, or JD Motors for James Dyson would do the job.

It will be interesting to see if this venture comes off.  If it does, would you drive a Dyson car?  Would you prefer them to use a different brand name?  Does the idea suck or does it clean up?  Tell us what you think!

Oh yes – if Dyson could add in an in-car vacuum cleaner so we can clean up mess straight away, that would be grand!

Kia Really Goes To Rio and Hyundai Nexo Goes Five Star.

Turbo or not turbo, that is the question. Kia seems to think the answer is yes, with the petite little Rio getting a rejig both in the mechanical and model sense. Finally the four speed auto has been given the flick and will be replaced by a six speed. The Si and SLi have also been discontinued and replaced by a model called Sport which will take the new six speed. The GT has a revvy 1.0L three cylinder and Kia’s own seven speed dual clutch auto.It’ll still be a three model range. The S kicks everything off with the unchanged 74kW four with six pseed manual or, sadly, the four speed auto. There’s a pretty good list of standard equipment including the expected stability and safety programs, reverse camera, reverse sensors, six airbags, and the smart apps of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Sport goes up a notch with a leather trimmed tiller, the aforementioned transmission choices, leather trimmed gear selector, and electric folding mirrors. It’ll also roll on stylish 17 inch alloys.

The top of the range GT-Line features a three cylinder turbo engine. It pack a fair bit of a punch for the size, with 88kW and 172Nm of torque on tap. The new seven speed dual clutch auto should take advantage of that and make the GT-Line the car it’s deserved to be. Autonomous Emergency Braking, Idle Stop and Go, and Lane Keep Assist enhance the appeal. The funky GT-Line body kit, LED driving lights and position lamps, LED rears and LED fog lamps add to the visuals of the pert Rio GT-Line.Along with Kia’s standard seven year warranty comes some sharp pricing. The S manual is a steal at $16,990 driveaway, and just $500 more for the S auto. The new Sport will start at $17,990 for the manual and $18,990 for the auto, with both also a driveaway price. The GT-Line remains super competitive at $21,990 and with the new seven speed DCT promises fire cracker performance in its price and class. Contact Kia for more details.A car due to land in Australia in the first half of 2019 is the hydrogen fed Hyundai Nexo. With the known volatility of the fuel, safety is paramount and the Nexo has achieved a Euro NCAP five star rating. This makes it the world’s first fuel cell vehicle to receive this rating. To back up the claim is a full suite of safety equipment under the Hyundai SmartSense banner. Forward Collision Avoidance Assist with pedestrian assist utilises radar and camera technology. In a three stage process the FCA will alert the driver by sound and by a visual alarm. Assessing the situation the onboard system may apply the brakes depending on the danger level. Maximum emergency braking is applied if the system feels it’s warranted.The onboard Lane Keeping Assist is part of the package that helped gain the EuroNCAP five star rating. That’s backed up by the Lane Following Assist system that’s also standard equipment. The pair keep the Nexo on the straight and narrow at speeds up to 150 kilometres per hour. Contact Hyundai for more details.

Robots And Skeletons From Kia And Hyundai

As often as science fiction leads to real life science fact, the reverse applies more than expected. Robotic assistance in various forms have been a part of sci-fi lore for decades and in films such as Aliens we’ve seen what are called exoskeletons. Hyundai and Kia, with the latter a major and wholly owned sub-section of Hyundai, are working together to develop the Hyundai Vest Exoskeleton (H-VEX). AI, or Artificial Intelligence, is also recognised as a major area of growth in technology, and established a specific robotics team to work on developing the technology and where applications can be utilised. Along with the Hyundai Chairless Exoskeleton or H-CEX, which adds extra support to a user’s knee joints, the units are lightweight but offer plenty of extra assistance.

The H-CEX itself weighs just 1.6 kilos yet provides up to 150 kilograms of extra lift. It’s fitted with waist, thigh, and knee belts to provide a range of adjustment for the user. The H-VEX is an upper body oriented device, and is said to be rated to an extra 60kg of mass when arms are raised above the head. the support design here focuses on the neck and upper back.
The robotics division is also investigating other forms of wearables, along with service robots and what is called micro wearability. Last years Hyundai’s robotics team showcased the Hyundai Medical exoskeleton or H-MEX. This provided a higher level of mobility for paraplegics and the infirm, with the end result being the device should be properly registered for legal use in the medical field. An extension of this is the HUMA, or Hyundai Universal Medical Assist program. This device can assist in having a human run at up to 12 km/h when needed.

AI is being developed for service and sales robots. Areas such as a natural conversation level and a natural mobility look & feel to assist in engaging with clients in environments such as car dealerships. By being able to provide specifications, price options, and more, it will help customers gain vital information before a need to have a salesperson become involved.

Hyundai exoskeleton

Dr. Youngcho Chi, Executive Vice President of Strategy & Technology Division and Chief Innovation Officer of Hyundai Motor Group said, “The field of robotics has the potential to usher in a new era in our industry. The possibilities for the technology are endless – from future mobility solutions and industrial productivity aids to vital military applications, we think the future is better with robots. The huge collective experience within the Hyundai Motor Group will facilitate rapid progress in the coming years. We are excited about current developments, and very optimistic for the use of this technology to improve lives around the globe.”

Fossil Fuel, EVs or Bio Fuels?

Fossil Fuels

Is petroleum diesel still a fuel that is going to be around to power our cars in the future?  On the surface, it might look like the era of the diesel engine might be drawing to a close, especially when we hear that some manufacturers are pulling the pin on building new diesel engines.  The truth is that non-renewable resources, which include fossil fuels such as oil, coal, petroleum and natural gas, are all finite in their quantity available in nature for the future.  Diesel fuel is a petroleum product, and so is considered to be a finite non-renewable resource.  Certainly it would seem that petroleum-based diesel has a limited window of opportunity for powering motor vehicles around the globe.  But is this actually the case?

Added to the seemingly limited supply of our fossil fuels, we also hear that some car manufacturers are deciding to avoid building new diesel engines all together.  Volvo was one of the first to announce boldly that by 2019 there would be no more diesel powered Volvo cars and SUVs in their line-up.  Volkswagen Group’s diesel emissions cheating scandal has meant that they have decided to stop selling diesel models, as well.  Volkswagen Group is pretty big when you consider that VW, Audi and Porsche are all under the same banner.

Because our global economy relies on so many diesel engines for performing many mechanical tasks we can’t drive the world’s diesel fleet over the cliff and forget about them just yet.  The reality is that even America’s economy would grind to a halt immediately if they decided to go without diesel power overnight.  Diesel engines are used in so many commercial applications – trucking, construction, shipping, farming, buses and much, much more.  Diesel motors are still far more energy frugal (assuming proper and legal emissions treatment is followed) compared with gasoline equivalents.  For any sort of heavy-duty transportation work or for towing purposes, the low-end torque of a diesel engine simply cannot be matched by gasoline motors which have to be worked much harder for the same amount of work – and therefore pump out more emissions.

EVs

EVs are getting plenty of press at the moment, but in reality they have a very long way to go before they can truly be considered as a true logistical alternative to the diesel motor.  There just simply isn’t the network in place to produce so many EVs nor power so many EVs for our global economy to continue growing at the pace it is.

Biofuels

What I haven’t heard so much of lately is the advancements made in biofuels.  Biofuels seem to me to be the much more sensible replacement option for petroleum diesel, as biodiesel fuels are a renewable resource.  Biofuels are derived from biological materials such as food crops, crop residues, forest residues, animal wastes, and landfills.  Major biofuels are biodiesel, ethanol, and methane; and biofuels, by their very nature, are renewable over a period of less than one year for those based on crop rotation, crop residues, and animal wastes or about 35 years for those based on forest residues.

Emissions from burning biodiesel in a conventional diesel engine have significantly lower levels of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, particulate matter, sulphur oxides, odour, and noxious “smoke” compared to emissions from the conventional petroleum diesel motor that we are more familiar with.  Also, carbon dioxide emissions from combustion of biodiesel are reduced by about 10% when compared to petroleum diesel, but there is a more significant carbon dioxide benefit with biodiesel made from plant oils.  During the photosynthesis process, as the plants are growing and developing, carbon dioxide is drawn from the environment into the plant, while the plants release beneficial oxygen into the environment.

How are EV batteries made?  Are they as clean as renewable biofuels?  If EVs are running on electricity produced by burning dirty fossil fuels, the climate benefits are limited.  Because of the complex batteries that EVs use, it currently takes more energy to produce an electric car than a conventional one.  While fewer emissions are produced by the cars themselves while driving on the streets, CO2 is still being emitted by power plants needed to charge the EVs.  And, disposing of those complex EV batteries creates an environmental hazard in itself.  EV batteries also need to be made from non-renewable minerals such as copper and cobalt, and rare earths like neodymium.

Some other negatives for EVs are that the mining activities for the minerals in countries like China or the Democratic Republic of Congo often cause human rights violations and vast ecological devastation which include: deforestation, polluted rivers and contaminated soil.  Not so great!  And, in addition, many automakers use aluminium to build the bodies of EVs, and a tremendous amount of energy is required to process bauxite ore into the lightweight metal.

Trucks, ships and tractors still think diesel power rules!  Even though some car manufacturers have abandoned petroleum diesel fuelled cars, there are other automotive manufacturers that have actually ramped up their diesel vehicle production.  General Motors, Jaguar, Land Rover, BMW, Mazda, Kia, Jeep, Ford, Nissan and Chevrolet are all manufacturing plenty of new diesel motors.

Hmmm?!  Biofuels then?

Private Fleet Car Review: 2019 Lexus RX-450h

Take a mid to large sized SUV, add a smattering of real leather, toss in a pinch of hybrid technology attached to a 3.5L V6, and pin on a badge that says L. Voila, it’s the 2019 Lexus RX-450h. It comes with a choice of non-hybrid or hybrid V6, a turbo 2.0L, and either five or seven seats. Private Fleet has the hybrid and showcased it at a superb location, Dryridge Estate, in the Megalong Valley, on the western fringes of the Blue Mountains.The RX 450h mates a pair of electric motors to the petrol engine. That’s good for 230 kW to power all four wheels on demand with a torque split system. Peak torque for the 2270 kilogram (dry) machine is a somewhat surprising 335Nm at a high 4600 rpm. It feels as if there should should be more though. Transmission is a CVT and for the most part it’s hard to pick it as being one. A dial in the centre console allows the driver to choose different drive modes, and picking Sports/Sports+ changes the left hand LCD dial in the driver’s binnacle from a hybrid information screen to a tachometer. And although it’s a heavy machine with a load on, at just under three tonnes, economy is very good. Lexus quotes a better than impressive 6.0L/100 kilometres on the combined cycle, a figure that we didn’t finish all that far away from in a real world, lifestyle, testing drive.The Lexus RX-450h, for the most part, was driven in the environment it’s most likely to be seen: around town. Here it copes admirably, with the comfortable interior featuring rear seat climate control, superbly padded real leather pews front and rear, powered rear seats, and a power tail gate. There’s a full length glass roof which was at odds with the junior members of the review team preferring the Toyota Kluger Grande’s sunroof and blu-ray player. The actual dash design is the somewhat heavy horizontal layer look that Lexus favours, with most switch-gear easily seen from the driver’s seat. The trip/odometer are hidden behind the right hand tiller spoke, and the Start/Stop button behind the left hand side. The trim in the RX-450h supplied was black and chocolate plastic, counterbalanced by cream leather with a distinctively different feel to machine made leather.There’s the traditional Lexus multi-function controller in the centre console that allows the front seat passengers to access an array of information such as the audio, climate control, and Lexus information, which requires a smartphone to be paired in order to deliver the info. This pops up on a 12.3 inch widescreen display high on the dash, ensuring it’s at eye level and provides a better measure of safety, rather than looking downwards. There is also a relatively bland looking HUD or Head Up Display. A Mark Levinson audio system with DVD-Audio capability and DAB tuner is installed, and it’s worth the time to set it up for your preferred style of audio. Unusually, a Time-Shift function is added, where a user can rewind live audio thanks to a small hard drive running streaming storage. All windows are one touch up/down, and a soft touch at that. There’s a better quality material for the windows themselves to run on, with an almost silent mechanism as a result. Wireless smartphone charging is gradually making its way into more cars and it’s here too, albeit hidden in an awkward forward position ahead of the cup holders.Ride and drive is a mixed bag. The steering can feel heavy when it’s just the front wheels being driven, but lightens in proportion as drive gets shunted rearward. Lateral stability is high with only the occasional rear end hop/skip over unsettled surfaces in corners. It’s the suspension that raises and eyebrow sometimes, with a feeling that the tune, although compliant, has the body feeling as if its moving around more than anticipated and this happens at the top of the suspension, almost like a mattress with a pole and springs supporting it at each corner.. There’s more pogoing than expected but does damp itself quickly enough.

Turn-in is easily controlled via throttle application. There’s little predisposition to a nose heavy attitude in corners but on the rare occasion there was a tendency to run wide, a gentle lift of the go-pedal would tuck the front back in before a judicious squeeze would have the car settle into the desired arc. The excellent brakes also help, with a brush of the pedal enough to feel the mass of the RX-450h respond in kind, and certainly assisted in the run out to the spectacular views from Dryridge Estate. Naturally they feed kinetic energy back into the hybrid system and it can be a little mesmerising watching the dash display with arrows feeding in and out of the various car driveline components..This small vineyard, Dryridge Estate, is at the southern end of the road leading from Blackheath, a small village on the way out to Lithgow and Bathurst as one drives from Sydney. Located on the escarpment of the massive Megalong Valley, a former sea canyon, the drive starts with a series of tight and downhill oriented turns through a fern lined and barely sunshine lit set turns that will test and delight the enthusiastic driver. That’s presuming one isn’t caught behind another driver that brakes every couple of seconds. They specialise in small and intimate gatherings, provide a wonderful variety of cheeses to sample, and of course their own produce. The fact that the background should entice car companies to host launches there is a bonus.Once at valley level the forest and ferns disappear, with a broad valley floor offering uninterrupted views of the canyon walls. It’s about a twenty minute drive from the highway to Dryridge, with a couple of kilometres worth of unsealed road taking you to the estate. Facing eastwards the estate then allows driver and passenger a chance to stop and drink in the stunning view. The RX-450h was neutral and easily controlled on the downhill run, with the brakes recharging the hybrid’s battery along the way. On the flat the V6 opens up and emits a throaty roar under acceleration, and the steering seems to loosen up, almost as if it realises that it’s time to relax and back off on assisting, yet keeps in touch with the driver.On the gravel that softer upper end travel comes into its own, with that absorption level flattening out the corrugations found on the way in and back out. Heading back to the highway brings with it a similar yet different feeling. Being front wheel drive oriented there’s a subtle shift in chassis feel thanks to the now uphill run. The nose is a little harder, tighter, as each flex of the right foot has the front tyres biting into the tarmac. The torque split feels more noticeable as it pushes the rear along into the turns uphill and makes for a more nimble and exhilarating package. The multi-purpose Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rubber provide a decent enough grip across both types of surfaces and at 235/55/20 provide a huge footprint too.

If there’s a signature for the Lexus range it’s the exterior design. It’s better than fair to say that Lexus has a unique styling ethic and it’s unlike any other luxury oriented maker. There’s a plethora of lines and angles and very few true curves outside of the wheel arch and behind the passenger doors. The sedan range, all of the SUVs, and even the Land Cruiser based big beastie have a strong family design ethic, particularly at the front end. There’s the distinctive hour glass grille, slimline tapered headlights, and in the RX there are a pair of triangular clusters holding the halogen driving lights. The overall presence is one of a standout on the roads.

At The End Of The Drive.
The Lexus range showcases and highlights a strong desire to take on and beat the Europeans and with possibly a better hybrid range, currently, does so. There’s little to dislike about the RX-450h on the inside as it’s a beautifully comfortable place to be in. Perhaps the only “downside” would be the full size glass roof rather than offering the blu-ray set up as found in the Kluger Grande. But there is that Mark Levinson DVD-audio system to compensate. Outside the exterior is a matter of choice. The drive itself is mostly one of beckoning towards those that enjoy the balance between sheer grunt and technology. The fuel economy is certainly a winner however AWT’s preference for how a fuel engine/battery system works is at odds with Toyota and Lexus’ way of doing it. The fuel engine cuts in far too early for AWT’s liking and the apparent lack of torque is a Mr Spock eyebrow raiser.

It’s a very good highway and freeway cruiser but also distinguished itself on the type of unsealed roads found in the lower mountains and elsewhere. This dual capability adds to the allure of the RX-450h, and with the hybrid economy pairing with the luxury interior, the combination add up to be a worthwhile consideration. Here is where you can find out more.

Cloth Versus Leather

There are two main choices these days when it comes to what the interior designers of new cars put on the seats: cloth and leather. Leather is definitely the material of choice for luxury cars, but if you ever find yourself in a situation where one of the key differences between two variants is what’s on the seats, is it really worth it going for the leather just because it’s posher?  If you’re into keeping up with the Joneses, then this one’s a no-brainer – you go for the more expensive one with the leather – but what if you’re a bit cannier with your cash?

Thankfully, the days of vinyl have gone, so that’s not an option. Those of us who are old enough to remember vinyl seats or who have ridden in classics with this type of upholstery know perfectly well why vinyl seats aren’t found in modern vehicles.  About the only good thing you could say about vinyl was that it was easy to clean. It was slippery when cold or if you had long trousers on. In hot weather and for those wearing shorts, vinyl became sticky but not like spilt jam – more like clingfilm on steroids grabbing bare skin.  It also got really hot on a summer day – add in the hot seat belt buckle on old-style seatbelts and you got your very own personal torture chamber.  I’m shuddering with the memory.

However, back to today.  There you are evaluating two models that are more or less the same apart from the upholstery.  What do you need to say before you say “I’ll go for the one with the leather seats”?

Leather is, of course, a natural material.  It’s the skin of some animal, probably a cow, sheep or possibly a goat.  Given the popularity of beefsteaks around the world and the size of a cattlebeast, what you see on the seats of a luxury car probably came from a cow.  If you’re a vegan or a PETA supporter, then this fact might be the deciding factor for you and you’ll go for the cloth.  However, if you’re omnivorous, then you may see the use of leather as car upholstery as a wise way of using meat byproducts and a sustainable choice (yes, cloth seats are usually acrylic or nylon sourced from plastics).

Here, you might have questions about the difference between Nappa leather and ordinary leather.  Nappa leather is a natural animal skin leather that has been tanned and dyed in a particular way to make it smooth and even.  Nappa leather tends to have a more durable finish and is softer and more pliable.  It’s the softness that adds the extra level of luxury and why the really top-end models are trimmed in Nappa leather rather than common or garden leather.  It also tends to come from something more delicate than cowhide, such as goat or sheep.

Alcantara, however, is an artificial leather – OK, it’s cloth!  It’s stain-resistant and flame-retardant, and it has a scrummy finish that feels like suede.  The flame-retardant properties of Alcantara mean that it’s widely used in racing cars, and this is why it’s popular in sports and supercar models, similar to other racing-inspired accessories and styling.  Alcantara is a brand-name, unlike Nappa leather and all the other seat materials, and it’s produced by one single factory in Italy, which means that it’s a bit more exclusive and more expensive than other cloth.

There are other synthetic leathers around the place.  They’re called things like “PU leather”, “pleather”, “leatherette”, “vegan leather” and “faux leather”.  One company produces a leather substitute made from pineapple fibres but this isn’t used for car seat upholstery – or at least not yet.

The sort of cloth used for upholstering vehicle seats is usually some sort of synthetic material because this tends to be more durable than natural fibres such as wool, linen, tencel or cotton.  Car manufacturers haven’t tried upholstering seats with natural plant-sourced fibres in an attempt to be more sustainable… at least not yet.  Cloth is cheaper than leather because it doesn’t need quite as much cutting, stitching and shaping as leather.  Synthetic cloth comes out of the factory in nice regular shapes of an even and predictable width.  Cows and goats aren’t quite such a nice, regular shape, so leather seats require more work; hence the extra cost.

So what are the pros and cons of each upholstery material type?

Leather:

Pros: Natural material from a renewable source, soft (especially in the case of Nappa), durable, looks amazing, smells nice, doesn’t give off nasty chemical gases

Cons: Stains easily, gets scuffed and scratched by doggy paws and small children’s shoes, absorbs bad smells, comes from a dead animal that may have been killed for the skin, doesn’t like getting wet and especially hates salty seawater

Cloth:

Pros: Cheap, comes in a range of colours and patterns, more forgiving of children, dogs and seawater

Cons: Synthetic material from a non-renewable source, can give off weird gases when new, doesn’t look quite as upmarket as leather.

Alcantara:

Pros: Flame-resistant, stain-resistant, comes in a range of colours, racing heritage, nice suede-like feel, exclusive and upmarket

Cons: A beast to clean, synthetic material from non-renewable sources

To sum up the bottom line about what sort of fabric you want under your bottom, it really depends on your lifestyle and your values.  If you’ve got messy small children or dogs that jump on the seat, then leather isn’t for you.  If you love to spend heaps of time at the beach and you are likely to get salt water on your clothes and other bits that you are likely to chuck onto the back seat, leather probably isn’t for you either.  Cloth is also going to appeal to those who want to save a few bucks, as it’s cheaper.  Leather looks gorgeous and is a natural material from a renewable resource, but if you’re more of a vegan-and-PETA type, then you’ll steer clear of it.

And if you have a classic car with a vinyl seat, do yourself a favour and buy a set of seat covers if you haven’t already!

Audi Unveils The e-Tron

Audi has unveiled the e-Tron in a webcast from California. Focusing on the design element, price, and the extensive charging network that Audi and its business partners have and will invest in, the e-Tron, Audi’s Tesla challenger, is available now to order online in the US. Audi have also partnered with global retail giant Amazon in what is currently a unique move, allowing one stop at home charging via the Amazon Alexa smart-home device.An energy recuperation system is expected to harvest up to 90% of the battery’s usable capacity to power the vehicles twin electric engines. Quick charging for the 95 kW/h battery provides up to 150kW or 80% from empty in around thirty minutes. A zero to 60mph time of the 5.5 second mark has been quoted also. Driving range won’t be an issue although Audi didn’t confirm expected range. With a raft of charging stations available throughout the US on major roads, connecting and recharging from the west to east coast won’t be an issue. With the immediate competition offering figures between 240 to 295 miles of range, an extensive network will alleviate range anxiety.

The e-Tron is based on the Q series of AWD vehicles, features the signature Audi grille which will have a platinum hue to signify Audi’s electric intentions, and will start in the USD$74K range. It also means that visually they are immediately more relatable, in an electric car sense, to buyers familiar with the Audi styling. Interior styling should be “standard” Audi with the multi-media and virtual cockpit fitments. There will be a pair of large screens for the centre section of the dash, with a 10 inch and 8.6 inch screen for satnav/entertainment, and climate control usage. With the driver having the Virtual Cockpit it means most conventional tabs and buttons have been removed. Autonomous driving will be on board but to a level that still requires human input. A Comfort and Sport mode is programmed to have the semi-autonomous factor as well. A panoramic roof and four zone climate control are standard. The much talked about digital mirrors will come later.Audi have provided the e-Tron with a signature look up front. Alongside the stylish grille are new four bar LED driving lights that blend well into the overall Audi styling. And the rear is standard Audi as well, with a clean and uncluttered design.

The entry level e-Tron will have twenty inch diameter wheels, a 360 degree camera, and a pounding B&O sound system. Vented and heated seats will be standard. Spend a little more and the Prestige at USD$81K offers a HUD or Head Up Display, massaging front seats, and dual pane acoustic (noise reduction) windows. Then there is the First Edition, a limited run numbers version. USD$86,700 has Daytona Grey paint, 21 inch wheels, and just 999 will be available in the US.
The car is due for deliveries in the US in the first quarter of 2019.