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Meet the High School Student Making Algae Biofuel Better

July 29, 2013

Sara Volz, a 17-year-old high school student from Colorado Springs, Colo., was the $100,000 winner of the 2013 Intel Science Talent Search for her work developing algae biofuels, and she was honored by President Obama in a ceremony at the White House. Volz tells PopMech why she’s spent the last four years on making fuel from these organisms, tinkering with their nitrogen supply and genetics to try to make them produce more oil.

Q

How do you describe your work?

A

Biofuels are alternative energy made from the conversion of natural oils into fuel. The biggest problem with biofuels, however, is where we are getting them. Waste vegetable oil is used, but it’s not a sustainable source. Soybeans aren’t a very efficient fuel because using them that way takes away food and land resources.
Q

Why algae?

A

[Using] Algae doesn’t require arable land, and they can be grown in a variety of environments. But it’s not economically viable yet. So I’ve been trying to increase the oil content of algae.
Q

How did you develop an interest in biofuels?

A

I always loved chemistry, and I learned about some neighbors who were making biofuels in their garage.
Q

What are the most important components of your work?

A

I’m trying to use artificial selection to develop these algae cells with high oil content. [Artificial selection is selective breeding to cause major changes in the features of plants and animals over the course of decades.]
Q

Why do you think your work has gotten so much attention?

A

Algae produce great biofuel. It’s a good option because it’s a drop-in replacement for diesel fuels. You don’t have to change engines to use it.
Q

How does your work compare with or complement that of others working with algae? Have you had any contact with biofuel companies?

A

There is a lot of work going on in a wide variety of areas to improve the feasibility of algae biofuel production, with many projects focused on the critical issue of improving oil yields. But according to my knowledge and my reviews of the literature, this work represents a new method for increasing algae oil yields. For several years, I’ve had contact with a small Colorado company working with algae, and more recently, I’ve been contacted by some larger corporations and algae professional organizations, but I have not worked with any of them so far.
Q

The Intel Foundation praised you for your ability to connect the dots across multiple fields. How did you accomplish that?

A

I wanted to do some molecular biology work—genetic manipulation. I couldn’t do all of that sophisticated stuff, so I thought of alternative ways to conduct my research. I think of science as a process of questioning and wanting to discover more about the world.
Q

Have you ever felt defeated in your research?

A

In every single project I’ve done, there’s always been a period of time that I thought I was going to fail. For a while, I had algae dying all the time, but I figured it out, and when I’m successful, it makes up for the frustration.
Q

What are your plans for the next decade?

A

I’m going to MIT in the fall, and in 10 years, I’ll probably be pursuing a post-doctorate or Ph.D. and looking for a teaching position. I want to be a professor and work on my research.
Q

Can you see more work on algae in your future?

A

I’m pretty proud of my artificial-selection idea to increase algae oil yields. It seems to be working, and I think it’s something new.

Read more: Meet the High School Student Making Algae Biofuel Better – Popular Mechanics

California Rules That Chevy Volt Pollutes More Than VW Diesels

July 17, 2013

This story is brought to you by Gas 2.0

According to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), Chevrolet’s upcoming Volt is an ultra-low emissions vehicle, or ULEV–which is great, until you realize that tailpipe emissions from Volkswagen’s line of TDI diesels, Toyota’s Prius and Honda’s full line of Hybrids are (per CARB) significantly cleaner.

Chevy’s Volt performed well in most categories, but not concerning carbon monoxide. CO limits for SULEV status is 1.0 grams per mile (below) while ULEV is 2.1 g/mi. Volt produces 1.3 g/mi.

To be fair, CARB requires that these tests must be completed with the car’s ICE (internal combustion engine) running, and since the Volt theoretically doesn’t need to burn any gasoline on short drives it doesn’t benefit from its electric-only abilities in this test … although the same could be said of Toyota’s Prius which performed significantly better than the Volt in the same test, earning the Prius a better CARB rating.

There are, I am sure, dozens of ways to interpret this data, but (to me) this news–along with the Cruze’s “reduced” mpg numbers and the Volt’s “outing” as a much more conventional hybrid–seems like another chink in the armor for the new GM.

For those of you who’d like to deep-dive into the mathematics involved, you can CLICK HERE to check out the full CARB report (in PDF format).

SOURCE: California Air Resource Board, via

Read more: California Rules That Chevy Volt Pollutes More Than VW Diesels – Chevy Volt vs. Diesels – Popular Mechanics

10 Hybrids That Teach Their Drivers to Save Fuel

July 10, 2013

Infiniti M35h Hybrid

This car takes driver coaching to the extreme, with an Eco mode that varies the resistance on the gas pedal to encourage you to accelerate slowly. The M35h will also count and display all the miles that the car has driven on electricity alone. In our test car’s case, it was more than 2000 miles for the life of the car at a time when the Infiniti had been driven 16,000 total miles. That certainly makes you feel good as a driver: It means 1 out of every 8 miles we drove in the Infiniti burned no gasoline. The dash has a graph that displays six 2-minute intervals of fuel-economy performance, showing the driver how he’s driven in the past 12 minutes and how much electricity he’s regenerated, in watt-hours. We averaged around 30.

 

Honda Will Recycle Rare Earths in New Hybrid Car Motors

July 3, 2013

In just a few months, Honda’s rare earth metal recycling program rapidly morphed from a lab curiosity to a corporate banality (in a good way—when experimental technologies become run-of-the-mill.). Now the Japanese automaker is taking the next step. Today, a little more than three months since Honda announced a plan to salvage those pricey materials from used nickel-metal-hydride batteries, the company says it will repurpose those rare earths in future hybrid vehicle motors.

Announced back in March, Honda’s recovery process—developed in tandem with Japan Minerals & Chemicals Co., Ltd. (JMC)—is reportedly capable of extracting as much as 80 precent of the rare earth metals found within a nickel-metal-hydride battery, resulting in a metal that’s 99 percent pure. Before it developed this extraction prodecure, Honda had been melting down the batteries and using the scrap in stainless steel. Shortly thereafter, the automaker began extracting metals on a commercial scale, reusing the newly-extracted metals in new batteries and “a wide range of Honda products.”

Now, with the help of JMC and TDK Corporation, Honda plans to reuse those same rare-earths in magnetic motors powering future hybrid vehicles. The manufacturing process is already in place—the three companies are just waiting for a larger, more stable supply of used batteries. Honda’s only source of these batteries currently is a voluntary battery donation program, and is actively looking to secure a more robust supply—assumedly through an increase of donations or some sort of arrangement with salvage yards. With a healthy volume of used cells, JMC estimates that at maximum capacity, their plant could produce as much as 400 tons of rare earths per year. By comparison, U.S. rare-earth miner Molycorp produced more than 19,000 metric tons of rare earths by the end of 2012.

Honda is far from the only car manufacturer that’s increasingly conscious of its rare earth use. Last fall, Nissan began implementing new magnets that shaved the use of heat-resistant rare earth dysprosium by 40 percent, while GM demonstrated that Chevy Volt batteries could be reused to provide homes with off-grid back-up power. Given that demand for the rare elements could jump as much as 2600 percent over the next 25 years according to one MIT study—and China now controls 97 percent of the market for these critical elements—companies will need even more innovative ways to keep costs down to keep EVs economical. Otherwise consumers might as well opt for a diesel.

Read more: Honda Will Recycle Rare Earths in New Hybrid Car Motors – Popular Mechanics

Auto Industry Comes to Aid of Oklahoma Storm Victims as Relief Efforts Continue

June 24, 2013
By Auto Remarketing Staff

Hyundai Motor American revealed it is committing $200,000 to Oklahoma tornado relief efforts through a donation to the American Red Cross.

“The massive devastation caused by last week’s tornado in Oklahoma calls for wide-scale recovery efforts and Hyundai pledges to do its part,” said John Krafcik, president and chief executive officer of Hyundai Motor America.

“Our thoughts are with the entire state of Oklahoma and especially those who lost loved ones. We commend everyone on the ground providing tireless efforts to help affected families and we hope this donation will aid in supporting their ongoing work,” he continued.

And VW Credit Inc., the captive finance partner of Volkswagen and Audi in the U.S., and the Volkswagen Credit South Central Region have donated $10,000 to the Automobile Dealers’ Association Car Dealers Care Foundation.

Officials explained this donation will provide direct financial assistance to multiple Volkswagen Group dealer employees impacted by the Oklahoma storm.

“The Car Dealers Care Foundation will provide immediate and tangible benefit to our employees,” said Andrew Stuart, president and CEO, VCI Credit  Inc. “Therefore, we are pleased to be able to donate $10,000 to the foundation to aid in the recovery from these devastating storms.”

On top of the allotment for dealership employees, The Volkswagen of America Foundation made a donation of $250,000 to the American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity to assist with the disaster relief efforts in Oklahoma.

This donation will help cover costs of shelter, food, recovery and other assistance to families affected by the tornadoes.

VW of America is also matching funds  to any employee donations made to the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity or the organization of their choosing.

Lastly, dealer solution company HookLogic is offering discounts and help for dealers in affected areas whose businesses were damaged by the tornadoes.

The company explained they will offset the monthly fees and incentives for the next three months for these parties.

“If your Oklahoma-based dealership isn’t directly affected, you can pass these savings along to the most appropriate local charity that needs it the most,” officials added.

“We know how greatly this tragedy is impacting our customers and industry friends. We commend those that have stepped up to help those impacted by the tornadoes, and hope that this support effort proves helpful to those of you that may have been affected,” they continued.

Read more: Autoremarketing | Auto Industry Comes to Aid of Oklahoma Storm Victims as Relief Efforts Continue

Used Wholesale Prices Drop to 3-Year Low

June 17, 2013
By Staff Writer Sarah Rubenoff
 

Kelley Blue Book has reported that used-car auction values have reached a three-year low. After the 2008 recession and the consequential drop in off-lease supply, news like this has been a long time coming for dealers.

In fact, KBB senior market analyst for automotive insights Alec Gutierrez said, “This year started at a three-year high, but with no strong appreciation in Q1, auction values began an early decline in April and since have declined below levels seen in 2012 and 2011.”

But since there have been lulls in the strength of auction prices before during the past few years only to rise again, Gutierrez offered some good news for dealers regarding the rest of 2013.

“We expect this depreciation to continue through the remainder of the year, with year-end values no more than 3 to 5 percent below where they ended in 2012,” he said.

And as we approach June, only a few segments “are maintaining a positive value for the year,” KBB shared.

First, since the housing market is improving and construction is on the rise, midsize pickup trucks are a bit pricier in the lanes, Gutierrez reported. This segment saw a 2.2-percent increase in auction prices this month.

Also, as a seasonal trend and summer approaches, the sports car segment “remains ahead of the curve” for auction prices, rising by 2.9 percent in May.

The warmer weather is “making coupes and convertibles more attractive to summer buyers,” Gutierrez said.

As 2013 got underway, gas prices were high, and consumers were bracing themselves for rates of $4 per gallon and higher.

But now, the tides have turned.

“Hybrid vehicles have fallen the most year-to-date, with a nearly 9 percent decline from where the segment started in January,” Gutierrez said. “This drop can be attributed to the fairly stable fuel prices seen in the first quarter.”

Hybrid prices have dropped 8.9 percent this month as gas prices stabilize.

Editor’s Note: For more analysis on May auction price trends, see Monday’s Auto Remarketing Today e-newsletter.

Read more: Autoremarketing | Used Wholesale Prices Drop to 3-Year Low

Saab Automobile Parts North America Added to eBay Motors Seller Program

June 10, 2013

Although new models no longer are being manufactured, eBay Motors recently added Saab Automobile Parts North America to its seller program so genuine parts, accessories, technical support and repair service will be available “for years to come,” according to site officials.

The site highlighted that the addition of SPNA continues to bolster eBay Motors’ continually growing parts and accessories business.

Through the SPNA eBay store, Saab owners have an option for genuine accessories, hard to find, and limited availability parts.

“Whether you’re searching for interior parts to a classic 1986 900 convertible, 1995 9000 suspension components, or side moldings for a newer 2011 9-5, the store will provide everything Saab owners need to keep their cars running and looking as the factory intended,” eBay Motors officials said.

And as SPNA chief executive officer Tim Colbeck told the eBay Motors Blog, “Our eBay partnership provides a great parts resource for those who own, repair and restore Saab vehicles.”

Read more: Autoremarketing | Saab Automobile Parts North America Added to eBay Motors Seller Program