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15 August 2013

Which is the most eco-friendly car?

Copyright: VCD

The most eco-friendly cars are natural gas cars and hybrids, according to a ranking of Germany’s association for sustainable mobility, Verkehrsclub Deutschland (VCD). The top ten models achieve average CO₂ emissions of 89 g/km, the best emit 79 g CO₂/km. This shows that the European Commission’s aim to cap emissions of new cars to 95 g/km by 2020 is achievable. Forty-five cars in the ranking already stay below this limit today.

Four natural gas cars, five hybrids and three small diesel cars have made it into the top ten demonstrating the increasingly important role of alternatives to conventional fuels when it comes to environmental performance. The winners are three CNG cars, which achieved equal scores:  VW eco up!, Seat Mii Ecofuel and Skoda Citigo CNG green tec.

The second and third place goes to the Lexus CT 200h and the Toyota Prius Hybrid. Overall, models of Toyota dominate the ranking. VCD criticises German manufacturers for largely lagging behind and only offering hybrids in their premium segment.

The annual ranking assesses 400 models on three criteria: fuel consumption and CO₂ emissions, noise and pollutant emissions. EVs are looked at separately.

For more information (in German), visit www.vcd.org

12 August 2013

First algae crops for biofuels produced

Copyright: Olfert, flickr.com

Spanish water company FCC Aqualia produced its first crop of algae biomass to generate transport fuel. As part of the EU-funded project “All-gas”, fast-growing micro-algae are being cultivated by using the nutrients in wastewater. They will then be processed to generate biomethane, which can fuel vehicles.

The biomass obtained from the algae crop showed high energy potential with a methane production capacity of 200-300 litres of gas per kilogramme of biomass processed, according to FCC Aqualia. The company is planning to complete constructions of a 10-hectare plant by 2016.

It is hoped that biofuels from algae will help ease the pressure that biofuel crops such as palm oil put on prices of food crops. However, development is at an early stage with no large-scale production in Europe to date. According to experts, costs must be cut dramatically to make production economically viable.

For more information, visit www.all-gas.eu.

7 August 2013

UK funds to reduce bus emissions

The UK government has set up a £5 million fund that provides local authorities in England with grants towards reducing oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions from local buses. Local authorities can bid for grants of up to £1 million from the Clean Bus Technology Fund to upgrade buses with pollution-reducing technology in areas where air quality does not meet European standards.

In addition to ‘off-the-shelf’ technologies such as cleaner engines, exhaust after-treatment equipment, conversion to hybrid or alternative fuels, local authorities are also invited to use the fund to develop new promising technologies.

The scheme is in addition to another funding programme for new buses. The Green Bus Fund aims to cut greenhouse gas emission levels and encourage bus operators and local councils to make the switch to more environmentally-friendly buses.

In its fourth round, the fund is currently making £12 million available for 213 low-carbon buses. Under the scheme, the government is covering up to half the cost difference between diesel-hybrid or biomethane gas buses compared to a standard diesel equivalent.

For more information, visit gov.uk.

7 August 2013

Low-carbon vehicles good for climate and economic growth

Innovative technology in the automotive sector has the potential to create jobs and boost the European economy, while reducing vehicle running costs, harmful emissions and dependency on oil. These are the conclusions of the report Fuelling Europe’s Future by Ricardo-AEA and Cambridge Econometric, which was commissioned by a consortium of transport stakeholders.

Depending on the technological scenario used, CO₂ emissions are predicted by researchers to decrease by between 64 and 97 percent by 2050 and air quality has the potential to improve significantly with particle emissions down by between 73 and 95 percent by 2050. It was found that fuel bills could be reduced by between €58 and €83 billion in 2030 and by between €115 and €180 billion in 2050.

In scenarios where the internal combustion engine is optimised or hybridised, EU-wide employment would increase by 500,000 to 660,000 in 2030. In scenarios where Europe rapidly moves to advanced hybrid, battery-electric and fuel-cell vehicles, the report predicts a higher figure of 850,000 to 1.1 million new jobs by the same year. By 2050, jobs increase by 1.9 million to 2.3 million in all of the low-carbon scenarios used. These estimates also take into account jobs that will be lost in the transition to new technologies, for instance in oil refining.

More detailed information is available in the full report.

5 August 2013

European Parliament backs cap on crop-based biofuels

Efforts to limit the use of crop-based biofuels in Europe won backing from the European Parliament in July. The vote in the Parliament’s environment committee will be followed by a plenary vote expected in September and will require endorsement by EU member states who are deeply divided on the issue.

In 2008, the EU introduced a target to source 10 percent of transport fuel from renewable sources by 2020. Most of these were intended to come from biofuels made from sugar, cereals and oilseeds. Since then, a series of studies has highlighted the environmental damage caused by some biofuels. Biodiesel, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the EU biofuel sector, has been particularly criticised. A study by the European Commission’s in-house research body, the Joint Research Centre, has recently confirmed that biodiesel from crops such as rapeseed is even more harmful to the climate than conventional diesel.

Some biofuels appear to be less problematic than others. Fuels from cereals and sugar crops for instance result in much lower carbon emissions than fuels made from vegetable oils. Many first-generation biofuels made from sugar, cereals and oilseeds are considered to lead to food price inflation, food insecurity, deforestation and displacement of land.

The environment committee now wants to make the inclusion of indirect land use changes binding when calculating emissions from biofuels. Committee members also favour incentives to promote so-called second-generation biofuels made from waste or agricultural residues, which are still at an early stage of commercialisation.

Environmental campaigners welcomed the vote as a step into the right direction, whereas biofuel producers and their suppliers criticised the policy U-turn.

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