Clear The Air Energy Blog Rotating Header Image

May, 2009:

Clear the Air Says – Go Hydrogen


Hydrogen Powered Street Cleaner

We are hearing about many inventions and discoveries in the alternative energy sector. But we don’t get to read about many ‘actual’ finished products doing their work in real world. What we know is many models being tested in laboratories. But here we are seeing Bucher CityCat H2, the world’s first municipal utility vehicle powered by fuel cells, made its debut last week in Basel, Switzerland. This street-cleaning CityCat will be doing her work on an eighteen months trial basis. It will be a matter of study that how this vehicle nicknamed as Bucher CityCat H2 be helpful in reducing air pollution than traditional diesel engines. Empa and the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) have, in collaboration with Bucher Schoerling, Proton Motor, BRUSA Elektronik AG und Messer Schweiz, developed a hydrogen powered municipal street cleaning vehicle that was unveiled to the public on 14th May 2009 in Basel.

CityCat is powered by fuel cells. Fuel cells convert hydrogen into electrical current that drives the vehicle’s electric motor. So we can see that no pollutants come out from its exhaust pipe. Only water vapor is being emitted that is a result of the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. This vehicle not only reduces pollution, but CityCat’s energy consumption is half compared to diesel engines and it reduces CO2 emissions by 40%. Such vehicles are especially useful in sensitive areas for example pedestrian precincts, railway station halls or even in enclosed structures such as exhibition halls.

Project Leader Christian Bach, Head of Empa’s Internal Combustion Engines Laboratory says, “Our aim is to take fuel cell technology from the laboratory onto the street.” The project — also named as ‘hy.muve’ i.e. (hydrogen-driven municipal vehicle) – is also used as a research platform for socio-economic studies. It can throw light on acceptance of hydrogen technology, its market introduction and its cost effectiveness.

But the big question is still unanswered; it’s about the possibility of hydrogen power. Because most of the hydrogen power is generated from non-renewable natural gas. CityCat presents a great opportunity to test whether hydrogen power is actually cost-effective for municipal use. Even if it is found to be cost-effective, hydrogen technology has a long way to go before it is accepted in mainstream vehicles.

BMW Hydrogen 7 Production

BMW has announced the start of production of the new BMW Hydrogen 7, the world’s first hydrogen-powered luxury saloon car. Destined to make its first public appearance on 28 November at the Los Angeles Motor Show, the Hydrogen 7 will be built in limited numbers and offered to selected users in 2007. The BMW Hydrogen 7 is based on the existing 7 Series and comes equipped with an internal combustion engine capable of running on liquid hydrogen or petrol. In hydrogen mode the car emits nothing more than water vapor. Powered by a 260hp 12-cylinder engine, the Hydrogen 7 accelerates from zero to 62mph in 9.5 seconds before going on to an electronically limited 143mph top speed.

YouTube: BMW Hydrogen 7

With its unique dual power engine, the driver of a Hydrogen 7 can switch quickly and conveniently from hydrogen to conventional petrol power at the press of a steering wheel-mounted button. The dual power technology means the car has a cruising range in excess of 125 miles in the hydrogen mode with a further 300 miles under petrol power. To make this possible the BMW Hydrogen 7 comes with a conventional 74-litre petrol tank and an additional hydrogen fuel tank holding up to 8kgs of liquid hydrogen. Such flexibility means the driver of a BMW Hydrogen 7 is able to use the vehicle at all times, even when the nearest hydrogen filling station is out of range.

The driver can switch between the two without any effect on driving behavior or performance. The car always gives priority to the use of hydrogen but, should this run out; it automatically switches to petrol power.

For undiluted driver enjoyment, engine power and torque in the Hydrogen 7 Unlike many previous hydrogen concept cars showcased by rival manufacturers the BMW Hydrogen 7 heralds a milestone in the history of the car. It is a full production ready vehicle, which has met all the stringent processes and final sign-off criteria that every current BMW model undergoes. A total of 100 BMW Hydrogen 7s will be built in 2007. Details on pricing and the destinations of the 100 cars will be announced at a later date.

Why hydrogen?
The BMW Group has been committed to hydrogen technology as a means of reducing car emissions, in particular CO2 emissions, for over 20 years. When running in the hydrogen mode, the BMW Hydrogen 7 essentially emits nothing but water vapor. And, unlike fossil fuels and traditional petrol, hydrogen is available in virtually infinite supply when renewable energies such as solar, wind and wave power are used to produce the liquid hydrogen. Stored in a hi-tech tank which keeps the fuel at a pressure of 3-5 bar and a consistent temperature of -250C, liquid hydrogen offers significant advantages in energy density compared to other possible alternative fuel sources to enhance the cruising range of the car.

BMW continues to develop ultra efficient, yet very dynamic petrol engines that significantly reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Together with clean performance diesel cars and the technologically advanced hybrid systems currently under development, the BMW Group has a clear strategy for sustainable mobility with hydrogen as the ultimate goal.

Future Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars

September 30th, 2006

Forget ethanol or biodiesel. The next big thing in automotive fuel may very well be hydrogen. Automakers rapidly are closing in on making hydrogen fuel cell vehicles an everyday fact of life, with several test models set to debut over the next few years. Hydrogen fuel cells to power vehicles is desirable, experts say, because hydrogen is a renewable fuel that can be used to create electricity to run cars. A chemical reaction between oxygen and hydrogen produces the electric power, and when pure hydrogen is used, the only emission from the tailpipe is harmless water vapor.

Mitsubishi Heavy to Test CO2 Recovery from Coal-fired Flue Gas

Atsushi Takano, Nikkei Monozukuri, – 25 May 2009

Absorbing solution “KS-1.” It is an amine-based material having an absorbing performance higher than that of monoethanolamine (MEA), which has been used thus far. The KS-1 helps reduce the amount of absorbing solution used in the entire plant.

A conceptual image of the demonstration plant with a recovery capacity of 3,000t per day

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd (MHI) and Southern Company, a major US power company, will jointly launch a field test in 2011 to recover high-purity carbon dioxide (CO2) from coal-fired flue gas.

The two companies will set up a CO2 recovery demonstration plant, which is designed to be built at a medium-scale thermal power station in Alabama, the US. Based on the results of this demonstration plant, they will aim to commercialize the recovery plant in the future.

The field test will be subsidized by the US government. The demonstration plant will be constructed in Plant Barry, a coal-fired power station owned by Southern’s subsidiary Alabama Power. Recovered CO2 will be compressed and stored in an aquifer deep underground.

The demonstration plant is composed of various facilities such as those for pre-processing, CO2 absorption/reclamation (absorption and reclamation towers) and CO2 injection. The plant will recover 500t of CO2 per day (equivalent to that produced when 25,000kW electricity is generated). The recovery rate is 90% or higher. The purity of recovered CO2 is expected to be 99.9%.

The recovery process is as follows. Coal-fired flue gas contains not only CO2 but also ‘impurities’ such as SOx, NOx, heavy metals and halogen compounds. These impurities are removed as much as possible in the pre-processing facilities, and the flue gas is cooled to near room temperature.

Flue gas with most impurities removed is taken into the absorption tower. Inside the tower, the gas is brought into contact with an absorbing solution so that only CO2 is absorbed into the solution. The solvent, “KS-1,” is an amine-based material co-developed by MHI and Kansai Electric Power Co Inc.

Next, the solution containing CO2 is sent to the reclamation tower, where CO2 and the solution are separated from each other by heating. Then, CO2 is recovered, and the solution is recycled.

MHI has already commercialized a system to recover CO2 from natural gas-fired flue gas. But, in order to apply this system to coal-fired flue gas, an additional process is required to remove heavy metals and halogen compounds because the impurities contained in natural gas-fired flue gas are only SOx and NOx.

Electric Power Development Co Ltd is also testing a CO2 recovery plant for coal-fired flue gas at its Matsushima Thermal Power Plant. However, the amount of CO2 recovered at the plant is only 10t per day. Therefore, a field test needs to be carried out using a larger scale plant for commercialization.

In addition to the field test announced this time, MHI is planning to construct a demonstration plant with a recovery capacity of 3,000t per day in the UK and intends to start trial operations in 2015.

Air-powered Battery

A normal fossil fuel car (using an internal combustion engine) only needs the battery to start the engine as well as run the air conditioning system and the car stereo. But the scene is quite different with electric cars. Batteries run everything. So when one tries to buy an electric car his/her prime concern is battery. Electric car owners are still grappling with the quality and reliability of the electric car battery. The main concern is how long the battery will last before it needs recharging. Researchers are continuously trying to devise new ways for the battery to last longer and recharge easily. Imagine your phones, mp3 players, computers and laptops running for days without recharging, or for that matter your car running far longer on one charge than it presently can with a tank or two of gas. Using air power, it might be possible in as early as 5 years.

Researchers at the Scotland’s University of St. Andrews are working on a project on the air-powered battery. If successful they will replace the lithium cobalt oxide electrode in the fuel cell. The “STAIR” (St. Andres Air) battery will be compatible on all renewable energy resources such as solar, wind, and oxygen. Professor Peter Bruce who is leading his team for this project, is of the opinion, “Our target is to get a five to ten fold increase in storage capacity, which is beyond the horizon of current lithium batteries. The key is to use oxygen in the air as a re-agent, rather than carry the necessary chemicals around inside the battery.”

The major advantages will be the battery will be cheaper and lighter in weight too. Because they are not using expensive material but lightweight porous carbon. This carbon inhales oxygen from the atmosphere while the battery is discharging. We can see that there will be a regular round of charge and discharge. The oxygen will be sucked in through an exterior of the battery that is exposed to air. This oxygen will react within the pores of the carbon to discharge the battery. “Not only is this part of the process free, the carbon component is much cheaper than current technology,” Bruce says.

This research project was assigned on a four year basis. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council of Great Britain (EPSRC) is sponsoring this project. The project has just completed two years but it has already achieved a battery lasting 8 times longer than a lithium cobalt oxide battery. The original aim was to achieve a battery with a 5 to 10 times more life than contemporary batteries. EPSRC explains, “By discharging batteries to provide electricity and recharging them when the wind blows or sun shines, renewables become a much more viable option.”

The air powered batteries might take five more years to be commercially produced. But they will be available for your cell phones, laptops and mp3 players first.

Tokyo Gas Halves CO2 Emissions in Hydrogen Production

Chiho Matsuda, Nikkei Monozukuri, – Mar 16, 2009

Tokyo Gas Co announced March 12, 2009, that it succeeded in halving CO2 emissions in a verification test of CO2 separation/collection in a hydrogen production process while maintaining its production efficiency.

Tokyo Gas has been developing and verifying hydrogen production equipment intended for fuel cell vehicles at its JHFC Senju Hydrogen Station (in Arakawa Ward, Tokyo). In November 2008, the company attached a CO2 separation/collection device to the equipment and started the test.

  • JHFC Senju Hydrogen Station, where the verification tests were conducted. The reformer testing equipment on the left is 3.6 (W) x 2.6 (D) x 2.3m (H), and the CO2 separation/collection testing equipment is 2.1 (W) x 1.5 (D) x 2.3m (H).The structure of the hydrogen separation type reformer
  • Analysis of the obtained data showed that the energy loss due to CO2 separation/collection was about 3%.

    At the station, hydrogen is produced from city gas by using a hydrogen separation type reformer that produces hydrogen and CO2 by the steam-reforming reaction between city gas (methane) and steam. The generated hydrogen is extracted during the production process by installing a film that transmits only hydrogen in the reformer where the reaction occurs.

    The hydrogen production efficiency is 81.4%, which is “the world’s highest” for a process of producing hydrogen from fossil fuel, according to Tokyo Gas.

    The reformer carries out the reforming reaction and hydrogen separation in one process, contributing to downsizing of equipment. In addition, CO2 concentration in the reforming offgas (the gas left behind after extraction of hydrogen), which is generated during the hydrogen production process, is 70 to 90%; therefore, it is easy to separate and collect CO2.

    The hydrogen separation/collection device compresses the reforming offgas exhausted from the reformer to 7MPa and cools it down to -20°C so as to liquidize CO2 in the reforming offgas for separation and collection. Combined gases containing methane and hydrogen are used as a fuel for heating the reformer.

    Tokyo Gas is planning to form the “Local Hydrogen Network,” which evolves around hydrogen stations equipped with a distributed CCTS (carbon dioxide capture, transportation and storage) function for CO2 separation, transportation and processing.

    With the network, hydrogen will be supplied to fuel cell vehicles, as well as to houses, offices and plants near the station through pipelines. The company intends to further reduce CO2 by using fuel cells with higher efficiency. Also, it plans to utilize the results of the verification tests for creating this network.

    The reformer used for the experiment was developed jointly by Tokyo Gas and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd as part of the “Basic Technology Development Program for Safe Use of Hydrogen,” a program for the period from fiscal 2005 to 2007, implemented by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO).

    Hybrid Cars Pros and Cons

    Generally, and for the purposes of this guide, we will refer to hybrid cars in their most common form – HEVs.

    How do hybrid cars work?

    Hybrids have existed in various forms for years – the moped is one of the most common examples as it combines a petroleum engine with pedal power. Many locomotives also utilise both diesel and electric power, so the examples of hybrid vehicles are far and wide.

    However, hybrid cars have been developed with the purpose of reducing carbon dioxide emissions in cars. Here, three types have emerged – series hybrids, parallel hybrids and plug-in hybrids:

    • Series hybrids – Utilise a combustion engine which generates electricity and powers an electric motor.
    • Parallel hybrids – Where the wheels are powered by the engine or by the battery-powered electric drivetrain.
    • Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) – A petrol-electric hybrid with a battery pack that can be recharged.

    In series and parallel hybrids, when the engine loading is low, energy is stored for later use – and when more energy is required, such as during acceleration, the storage device and main engine combine to provide the power that’s needed. By using energy in this way, hybrids are more economical and better for the environment.

    Generally, hybrid cars are assisted by regenerative braking. This captures the kinetic energy and prolongs the charge of batteries. This effective top-up system for the batteries can reduce overall fuel consumption by 20 per cent. Read on for more about regenerative braking.

    Plug-in hybrids run on battery power for the first 10-60 miles (16-100km) with the petrol engine used when faster acceleration is required. They are considered a good alternative to electric cars which have a limited range because plug-in hybrids revert to the petrol engine when the battery is nearly discharged – or you can go to a charging station.

    Most hybrid cars are able to operate in electric mode – with zero emissions – when travelling at low speeds (for example, below 15mph). This means that they are considered ideal for urban driving.

    What are the advantages of hybrid cars?

    There are two primary reasons why hybrid cars have been introduced to the market – to assist the environment by reducing emissions and to cut motoring costs by reducing the reliance on oil. With more than 700million vehicles worldwide it is believed that if more consumers buy hybrid vehicles it will force car manufacturers to take a greener approach to manufacturing.

    As they combine electric power with conventional burning of petroleum, harmful emissions are reduced and so is global warming. On European roads it has been estimated that petrol-hybrids can cut greenhouse gas emissions by around 25 per cent per mile. In the case of a vehicle such as the Honda Insight, which has CO2 emissions below 80g/km, lifecycle carbon emissions are actually slashed to half those of a traditional conventional car.

    Indeed hybrid cars are advantageous in their reduction of all harmful emissions. Hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides can be reduced by as much as 90 per cent.

    Whether you have an environmental conscious or not, hybrid cars appeal to anyone who wants to save money – with statistics in the USA showing that the Toyota Prius can achieve approximately 60 miles to the gallon, doubling what is achievable in a conventional vehicle. With fuel prices reaching 120p/litre in the UK and $4/gallon in the USA, there are huge savings to be made over the lifetime of the vehicle.

    Another advantage hybrid cars have is that they are ahead of other green car alternatives. Though electric cars, cars using biofuels, and vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells are emerging and may even be ‘greener’ than hybrids in the long term, they are all flawed in some way. Electric cars currently have limited range, biofuels are controversial because of the way they are produced and hydrogen fuel cells are a currently limited technology yet to be mass-produced. By comparison, hybrid cars are ‘ready to go’ in that they meet the demand of today’s society without compromise. They will also always be ahead of conventional cars in that no matter how low future emission standards may be a hybridised engine will always out-perform a conventional engine.

    What are the disadvantages of hybrid cars?

    There are a handful of disadvantages to hybrid cars. Though hybrids clearly reduce emissions greatly, they are less useful over continuous high speed driving, such as on a motorway where emission levels will increase. Indeed though electrics and hydrogen fuel cells are yet to be mass produced and break out into the mainstream in the manner that hybrid cars have achieved, it’s clear that they offer a stronger environmental solution should their issues be resolved.

    There are also concerns over the environmental impact of the hybrid car battery which is usually made from either nickel metal hydride or lithium ion. Both are considered more environmentally friendly than lead batteries, but nickel-based batteries are known as carcinogens and there are concerns about the health problems they can cause though this is still the subject of much research.

    Furthermore, there are concerns about a raw material shortage of dysprosium which is required to fabricate many of the advanced electric motors and battery systems. Some analysts predict a shortage by 2012 although a few new sources are being developed.

    Plug-in hybrids also face issues of their own in that a good, cheap battery pack is required. If everyone plugged into the utility grid at the same time the combustion problems caused by petrol and diesel cars would simply be displaced by the surge in use of generally coal-powered electric generating plants. Therefore it is hoped that cars can be charged late at night to create more efficiency and that initial generation can be made from renewable sources such as wind, hydro and tide power.

    However, perhaps the biggest issue with hybrid cars is that they are generally more expensive than conventional cars and the initial retail price can be off-putting. Though money can be saved over the lifetime of the vehicle, a large initial outlay is still required and this puts hybrids out of reach for many drivers.

    Why have hybrid cars earned celebrity status?

    Hybrid cars are sometimes referred to as the ‘car of the stars’ thanks to their incredible popularity in Hollywood. Cameron Diaz was the first to publicly announce her support of the vehicles and regularly drives a Toyota Prius. Indeed many A-list celebrities have followed her lead including Tom Hanks, Jack Black, Larry David, Harrison Ford, Woody Harrelson and Kurt Russell. Leonardo Di Caprio was also famously quoted as saying that his hybrid car is just like any other vehicle except that he only has to fill it up once every three weeks.

    What is it like to own a hybrid car? How much do hybrid cars cost?

    As mentioned in the ‘disadvantages of hybrid cars’, they are typically more expensive than conventional vehicles – you can expect to add around £1,000-£2,000 on to the typical retail price of a £14,000 model depending on its hybrid design.

    However, once over that initial hump in buying a hybrid car, ownership becomes easy – and much more cost-effective.

    Hybrid cars are refuelled in exactly the same way as conventional cars and therefore you can use any normal petrol station in the UK. This lack of a technical barrier means that hybrid cars could soon emerge as the ‘norm’ across the UK and replace standard petrol and diesel vehicles.

    Aside from the huge reduction in fuel costs, typically 15-30 per cent less fuel per mile, there are other savings to enjoy. For example, if you live in the London area, most hybrid cars are exempt from the London Congestion charge though you must register with the Transport of London and pay an annual £10 fee. Nevertheless with so much to be saved on a daily basis, this exemption alone could save you around £2,000 a year if you regularly travel into London. To see if your car qualifies check out the cars that are exempt.

    You will also save money by being placed in a lower tax band – typically hybrid cars fit into the tax bands A-C. If your car emits less than 100g/km of CO2 it will be exempt from taxation altogether. By contrast, a car in the highest tax band could be charged more than £400 a year.

    The cost of repairs is still a question with hybrid cars. It may be necessary to go to a specialist centre, although as hybrid cars become more common this should be less of an issue.

    What hybrid cars are available?

    The number of hybrid cars available in the UK is on the increase although they are still not as readily available as it is hoped they will be in the long term. Here is a list of some of the hybrid cars currently available in the UK – click on the links to find out more:

    Honda Civic IMA
    Honda Insight
    Lexus-GS 450h
    Lexus-LS 600h
    Lexus-RX 400h
    Lexus-RX 450h
    Toyota Prius
    Volkswagen Touraeg

    There are also several hybrid cars available in other markets:

    Ford Escape Hybrid
    Nissan Altima Hybrid

    Here is a list of some of the hybrid cars that are coming soon:

    Audi A1 Quattro Hybrid
    Audi Q7 Hybrid
    BMW X5 Hybrid
    BMW X6 ActiveHybrid
    Connaught Type D
    Honda CR-Z Hybrid
    Kia Rio Hybrid
    Mercedes-Benz S400 Blue Hybrid
    Peugeot 307 Hybrid
    Peugeot 308 Hybrid
    Porsche Cayenne
    Porsche Panamera
    Vauxhall Corsa Hybrid
    Volkswagen Golf TDI Hybrid

    A Comprehensive Guide to Plug-in Hybrids

    What Is A Plug-in Hybrid Car?

    A plug-in hybrid car is similar to a conventional hybrid vehicle—both use a gasoline engine as well as an electric motor. However, a plug-in hybrid uses larger battery packs that can be recharged by connecting to common household electricity. Plug-in hybrids can be driven for long distances—from a few miles to as much as 40 miles—without using any gasoline. has demonstrated a plug-in concept version of the Prius, but has not committed to a production date.

    Plug-in hybrids provide the benefits of an electric car, while maintaining the same driving range as conventional vehicles. Plug-in hybrid drivers travel in an all-electric mode for the vast majority of common local driving. When the battery’s electric charge is depleted, a downsized gas engine is used to either recharge the batteries (as the car moves), or as the primary source of propulsion until recharging the batteries via a plug.

    Plug-in hybrid cars are also known as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles or PHEVs. Plug-in hybrid cars that use a gas engine exclusively for recharging batteries—rather than directly powering the wheels—are also called Extended-Range Electric Vehicles or E-REVs.


    Please visit for more information

    Electric Cars Not the Only Option for Cleaner Air

    SCMP – May 15, 2009

    I applaud the government’s leading role in introducing electric vehicles (EVs) as a solution to the problem of air pollution. We finally have an alternative to driving polluting vehicles. However, I am sceptical whether they will be an immediate, widespread success.

    When it comes to cars, people are brand-conscious. They care more about how the vehicles look and what they cost than they do about the environmental impact. People also tend to switch cars every few years – an issue with EVs, which offer a limited choice of models, and are apparently more expensive than many standard cars. EVs are also a new technology. I imagine many people have worries about the maintenance of the cars, and anticipate a frustrating wait for spare parts.

    Our government says it has fought hard to ensure it receives at least a small quota of EVs from the manufacturer every year. This suggests the success of the scheme may be limited. For this reason, the government should consider more viable alternatives, such as allowing drivers to use ethanol-blended fuels.

    High ethanol blends achieve much the same mileage as petrol, but are almost pollution-free. No modifications to vehicles are required to use an E50 blend. For higher blends, car owners only need to make a slight adjustment to pistons.

    People will not have to make a sacrifice on the look or cost of their vehicles.

    David K. H. Lee, Kowloon

    Triple Hybrid Fuel Cell Bus Unveiled – 14 May 09

    A presentation near Munich marked the debut of the first passenger bus to use a triple hybrid fuel cell system developed by Fuel Cell GmbH, a subsidiary of Proton Power Systems.

    The vehicle has been born from co-operation between Skoda Electric, UJV Nuclear Research Institute and Proton Motor. Skoda Electric was responsible for the vehicle including its electric drive system and system integration. The project was then co-ordinated by UJV with Proton Motor supplying the propulsion system.

    So how does the triple hybrid system work?

    Well it combines a 50kW PM Basic A 50 fuel cell system with a battery pack and ultra-capacitors. With regenerative braking taken into account the system enables energy savings in excess of 50 per cent compared to a conventional diesel bus and is emission free in operation.

    The vehicle itself is a basic 12 metre bus with a weight of 18tonnes. Its nominal output is 120kW and it has a maximum speed of 40mph. It carries around 20kg of compressed gaseous hydrogen at 350 bar and the filling process takes less than 10 minutes.

    The vehicle is now scheduled to go into operation from mid-2009 onwards in Prague.

    Can China Clean Up Its Act?

    BusinessWeek by Adam Aston – May 14, 2009


    Beijing has big plans to curb pollution and start a cleantech industry. But the global recession and looming trade frictions will test its resolve

    China’s unprecedented growth in recent years has come at a terrible price. Two-thirds of its rivers and lakes are too polluted for industrial use, let alone agriculture or drinking. Just 1 in 100 of China’s nearly 600 million city dwellers breathes air that would be considered safe in Europe. At a time when arable land is in short supply, poisoned floodwaters have ruined many productive fields. And last year, ahead of most forecasts, China passed the U.S. to become the world’s largest source of greenhouse gases.

    The immensity of these troubles has produced a result that may surprise many outside China: The nation has emerged as an incubator for clean technology, vaulting to the forefront in several categories. Among all countries, China is now the largest producer of photovoltaic solar panels, thanks to such homegrown manufacturers as Suntech Power (STP). The country is the world’s second-largest market for wind turbines, gaining rapidly on the U.S. In carmaking, China’s BYD Auto has leapfrogged global giants, launching the first mass-produced hybrid that plugs into an electrical outlet. “China is a very fast follower,” said Alex Westlake, a director of investment group ClearWorld Now, at a recent conference in Beijing.


    Understanding they are in a global race, China’s leaders are supporting green businesses with policies and incentives. Beijing recently hiked China’s auto mileage standards to a level the U.S. is not expected to reach until 2020. Beijing also says it will boost the country’s share of electricity created from renewable sources to 23% by 2020, from 16% today, on par with similar targets in Europe. The U.S. has no such national goal.

    While most environmentalists applaud these developments, China watchers are voicing two very different sets of concerns. Some question whether China will really stand by its ambitious targets and are worried by signs of backsliding as the recession in China’s key export markets drags down economic growth. Another group, interested mainly in America’s own industrial future, fears that China’s growing dominance in certain green technologies will harm budding cleantech industries in the U.S. After all, China’s emergence comes just as the Obama Administration is trying to nurture these same types of ventures, hoping to generate millions of green jobs. Many of these U.S. businesses will have trouble holding their own against low-price competitors from China.

    Beijing’s green intentions will soon be put to the test. China is in the midst of the biggest building boom in history. A McKinsey & Co. study estimates that over 350 million people—more than the U.S. population—will migrate from the countryside into cities by 2025. Five million buildings will be added, including 50,000 skyscrapers—equal to 10 New York Cities. And as quickly as new offices and houses multiply, they are filled with energy-hungry computers, TVs, air conditioners, and the like, sharply increasing demand for electricity, which comes mainly from coal-powered plants.

    Environmental groups say it is therefore critical that Beijing promote rigorous, greener standards. And to some degree, that’s happening. A government mandate states that by the end of next year, each unit of economic output should use 20% less energy and 30% less water than in 2005. Portions of Beijing’s $587 billion economic stimulus package are earmarked for cleantech. On top of that, in March the Finance Ministry unveiled specific incentives to spark solar demand among China’s builders. Included was a subsidy of $3 per watt of solar capacity installed in 2009—enough to cover as much as 60% of estimated costs to install a rooftop solar array.

    Steps like these will help Himin Solar Energy Group in Dezhou, Shandong Province. Founded in 1995 by Huang Ming, an oil equipment engineer turned crusader against the use of fossil fuels, the company is the world’s largest producer of rooftop piping systems that use the sun’s rays to heat water. Its eye-catching headquarters, the Sun-Moon Mansion, showcases these heaters, which Himin cranks out in immense volumes—about 2 million square meters’ worth each year, equal to twice the annual sales of all such systems in the U.S. Because its water heaters sell for as little as $220, they are becoming standard in new housing complexes and many commercial buildings across the country.

    Broad Air Conditioning, based in Changsha, Hunan Province, is also set to profit as Beijing pushes toward its green targets. By using natural gas and so-called waste heat from other machines and appliances instead of electricity, Broad’s big chillers can deliver two to three times more cooling per unit of energy than a conventional unit. In a similar fashion, Haier, headquartered in Qingdao, Shandong Province, combines low-cost manufacturing and a variety of advanced technologies to create affordable, energy-sipping refrigerators and other appliances. During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Haier supplied more than 60,000 such devices for visiting athletes and tourists to use.

    As these and other domestic players bump up against technological obstacles, they can draw on the expertise of many of the world’s top multinationals. In return for access to its domestic market, Beijing asks such companies as General Electric (GE), DuPont (DD), 3M (MMM), and Siemens (SI) to share their technology, help upgrade their China-based supply chains, and spread industrial processes to make manufacturing more efficient. These aren’t simply green practices, says Changhua Wu, Greater China director of the Climate Group, a consultancy in London that partners with companies to combat climate change. “They’re best practices.”

    GE, for example, has transferred expertise to Chinese partners in everything from wind turbine construction to the building of low-pollution factories. At the Beijing Taiyanggong power plant, waste heat from the combustion process is recycled, resulting in around 80% efficiency, more than double the rate of most conventional power plants in the U.S. The bulk of GE’s sales of turbines for power plants in China are the ultra-efficient models. David G. Victor, a Stanford University professor who has studied China’s electric grid, says some of the coal plants being built there are “much more advanced than those we see in the U.S.”

    Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), which buys some $9 billion worth of goods in China each year from some 20,000 vendors, infuses its supply chain with the latest ideas about energy efficiency. For example, Chinese factories that work with Wal-Mart are obliged to track vast quantities of data on energy use and make the information available for audits. “Many Western companies can’t track their own energy consumption,” says Andrew Winston, consultant and co-author of the book Green to Gold.

    China’s early achievements in cleantech owe a lot to collaborations such as these. The benefits: China cleans up its own pollution, and the government-backed initiatives in solar and wind help drive down the cost of renewable energy systems in countries around the world.

    But there is a downside. The rock-bottom prices for made-in-China green technology could make it impossible for cleantech ventures in the U.S., Europe, or Japan to compete. How, for example, will they go up against Suntech Power, based in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, the world’s lowest-cost manufacturer of standard solar panels? The U.S. boasts plenty of advanced technology. But any efforts by Washington to nurture this sector could be quickly undercut by a flood of Chinese-made solar panels. Such a deluge is likely if there is a big increase in public subsidies for rooftop solar systems. “What [that would] do is create 10,000 Chinese jobs,” says Roger G. Little, chief executive of Spire Corp. (SPIR), a leading U.S. maker of manufacturing equipment for photovoltaics. “If we import all the [solar] modules, it will obliterate U.S. manufacturing” in this area.

    A similar scenario exists in the much heralded area of electric vehicles. BYD, headquartered in Shenzhen, started selling its first plug-in hybrid, the F3DM, last year. It beat Toyota (TM) and General Motors (GM), both of which are developing such “plug-ins,” and hit the market with a price tag they probably can’t match: just $22,000. Henry Li, a BYD general manager, says the company will roll out a version of the car in the U.S. in 2011. Chevy’s answer to this car, called the Volt, is expected to cost about twice as much and won’t be out until next year.

    How did BYD pull off this coup? Part of it is just being the new kid on the block. Today’s automobiles, with their advanced combustion engines, are the most complex mass-produced goods ever made, assembled from thousands of highly engineered parts provided by a web of suppliers. It’s difficult for a Chinese startup to compete on such a sophisticated playing field. But the emergence of a new, green-vehicle category clears the way. BYD was able to break in by leveraging its background as a battery maker. When it ran into technical hurdles, the company could draw on a deep pool of inexpensive, well-trained talent at China’s top engineering schools. BYD is also a leader in pure electric vehicles, the logical next step. The government is now putting some muscle behind BYD’s push. It is heavily subsidizing electric-car sales in about a dozen cities—in a stroke, making China the world’s biggest market for such advanced vehicles. Its goal is to boost domestic output of battery-powered vehicles to a half million per year in 2011.

    How Washington and the beleaguered U.S. auto sector might respond to a wave of inexpensive electric vehicles from China is difficult to predict. And it is also unclear how China’s cleantech efforts in cars, energy, and other areas will be affected if key markets such as the U.S. and Europe don’t recover quickly from the recession. Chinese makers of solar photovoltaics, including Suntech, export about 98% of their production. They have been battered this year by a collapse in demand in Germany, Spain, and Japan, China’s top markets for solar gear. Suntech’s factories are currently running at half of last year’s capacity.

    Even inside China, academics and business executives say Beijing needs to do more to bolster cleantech initiatives and make them recession-proof. For example, without better information on how such policies as the current Renewable Energy Law are to be enforced, “many of the terms are meaningless,” complains Himin’s Huang. And even when the terms are clear, companies don’t always adhere, says Zhou Weidong, the Guangzhou-based China director at the Business for Social Responsibility, a global consultancy promoting sustainable business practices: “Paying penalties is cheaper than complying with the law in many areas.”

    At times, it seems as though Beijing is pedaling in the wrong direction. Late last year, China’s Environmental Protection Ministry loosened review standards on potentially polluting industrial projects. In an economic crunch, “environmental protection is downplayed to second, or third, or even fourth priority,” observes Guo Peiyuan of SynTao, a corporate social responsibility advisory firm in Beijing.

    While acknowledging there has been some backsliding, most China watchers say the government is unlikely to stage a full-throttle retreat. Too much of its export growth is contingent on meeting strict environmental regulations. And Beijing recognizes that Chinese society can’t tolerate much more environmental degradation. The World Bank estimates damage from pollution—everything from decimated fisheries to premature human death—saps nearly 6% of China’s gross domestic product each year as well. For economic reasons alone, it will be difficult for China to turn back the clock.

    with Charlotte Li and Pete Engardio

    Aston is Energy & Environment editor for BusinessWeek in New York.

    Zero Emissions Motorcycle – 13 May 09

    When we think about green energy vehicles we often think about modest designs and low speeds. But 6 final-year engineering students of Kingston University have designed a bike that dispels all myths about green vehicles. This bike has the ability to reach speeds of 102mph, race around a 38 mile mountainous course and is powered by batteries that can be charged from a standard household socket! They will take this bike to the world’s first zero-emissions Grand Prix this summer. The Kingston team will be competing with 24 eco-bikes from America, India, Italy, Germany and Austria at the 2009 Isle of Man TTXGP. Mr. Paul Brandon who is the Course Director for motorsport and motorcycle engineering shared his views, “Being green doesn’t have to mean slow. There are too many skeptics when it comes to electric vehicles but we all need to reduce our CO2 output and this initiative is taking a huge leap in that direction. The ideas we and others put to the test on the racing circuit are the ones most likely to become commonplace on the road