by Monique A. Hitchings, Editor-in-Chief

A Green Economy: How much is Possible?

May 10th, 2009 mhitchings
(left to right) Michael Kohlhaas, Nils Meyer-Ohlendorf and R. Andreas Kraemer (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)
(left to right) Michael Kohlhaas, Nils Meyer-Ohlendorf and R. Andreas Kraemer (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)

I recently took part in a “Riverside Chat” about global economic stimulus packages while sitting in a floating restaurant along the River Spree in Berlin with 12 other journalists from Chile, China, Estonia, Hong Kong, India, the Philippines, the United States and Vietnam.

We were there as part of a program sponsored by the Office of the Foreign Ministry to learn about the country’s perspective on climate change and protection, public policy, renewable energies and how Germany fits into the bigger picture with the European Union as a whole.

“When countries started introducing stimulus packages, in almost every country, I think, you have the criticism ‘it’s not green enough.’ And I was wondering what does that mean? Does it mean the greener the better? How would you say something is green or not green? And how green should it be?” asked Michael Kohlhaas, research associate for the Department of Energy, Transportation and Environment at the German Institute for Economic Research.

In this uncertain economic time, he pointed out, people don’t want to consume, they don’t want to invest, they just want to save because there is a lot of uncertainty. The stimulus packages, therefore, he pointed out, are there to help — they are supposed to make agencies in the economy spend money. But the agencies and consumers should spend the money now, not wait for the logistic measures to be taken and investing in and planning projects for 10 to 15 years and waiting for results before “real” investment opportunities can be seen: “that’s too late,” he said. “What the governments want, is that either consumers or firms start spending money soon, better this year than next year.”

Building more highways certainly is not green and friendly, he said, noting an article in The New York Times about what some state governments are doing with federal government funding.

“The U.S. government passed some money to the Texas government, and they pass it on to the cities,” Kohlhaas said. “And the city of Houston decided they’d rather build a nice highway through some ecologically valuable area with the effect that they will contribute to urban sprawl. So we have all these kinds of problems, so I think it’s worth looking into the details of what is being done, what have different countries done, and what is best practice to make sure that you get as green as possible and a sensible investment.”

However, what he failed to explain is that highways  — especially in sprawling areas where mass transit such as subways and trains is not an easy option — are necessary for transportation to help ease the burden of traffic and congestion of these multi-million inhabitant cities. There also is a potential for some environmentally friendliness.

“You build a highway in Houston and move traffic more efficiently and that helps the environment; it does not hurt the environment,” said Martin Rosenberg, editor-in-chief of energybiz out of Kansas. “Secondly, you build a highway and run electrical plug-in hybrids on it instead of gas-consuming vehicles, you also help the environment, you don’t hurt the environment.”

Dr. Nils Meyer-Ohlendorf, senior fellow and coordinator of international governance at Ecologic Institute in Berlin, was on the two-person panel with Kohlhaas and discussed the pros, cons and meanings of stimulus packages and what it means to be “green.”

“Part of the solution of building a low-carbon community is money,” he said. “The International Energy Agency has estimated that we need about US$45 trillion until 2050 to build a low-carbon economy. The World Economic Forum estimates investment needs will be $515 billion per year to build a low-carbon economy…HSBC has calculated that we have about $430 billion available now for green investments.”

However, how do you calculate how ‘green’ a project should be and what constitutes green, he asked? “What is the green investment? …that is very difficult to produce.”

HSBC considers a wrecking bonus for cars to be a green investment, he noted.

“Well, you should know that anyone who buys a new car now while wrecking the old car gets 2,500 Euros, regardless of the environmental performance of the new car. So it’s quite courageous to believe that this is a green investment,” he said.

The hunt is still on to define ‘green’ in some circles and to determine a way to measure its environmental friendliness, especially from the economic standpoint that governments provide benefits for producing greener investments.

The panel was moderated by R. Andreas Kraemer, director of Ecologic.

Doha and Houston–Sister Cities

March 31st, 2009 mhitchings

Qatar officials make their way through a crowd of Houston officials, media and VIPs after the inaugural flight from Doha to Houston on Qatar Airways. (Photos by Monique Hitchings)
Qatar officials make their way through a crowd of Houston officials, media and VIPs after the inaugural flight from Doha to Houston on Qatar Airways. (Photos by Monique Hitchings)
Congressional recognition, a proclamation and an inaugural non-stop flight from Doha, Qatar, to Houston, Texas – oh my.
After a year of planning and about 17 hours in the air, Qatari dignitaries and members of the media (and even a couple of people seeking medical attention at the world renowned medical facilities) landed in Houston about 5:18 p.m. yesterday to mark the first of daily Qatar Airways direct flights connecting the two energy cities.

Houston city officials, media and invited guests formed two lines, creating a pathway down which the delegates were expected to walk on their way to the press conference table and podium, but the “tunnel” actually collapsed into a horseshoe once they came through the airport doors to the awaiting audience.
Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al-Baker; Ali Al Rais, executive vice president, commercial, Qatar Airways; and Ali Bin Fahad Al-Hajri, ambassador to the Embassy of the State of Qatar, based in Washington, D.C., were on-hand to address those in attendance with a formal press conference, while many other delegates provided support.

Steve Smith, former news anchor for KHOU-TV, Channel 11, and City Controller Annise Parker welcomed the delegates to the city on behalf of Mayor Bill White and other city officials.

“Let’s begin by extending a giant Texas-size welcome to Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Mr. Akbar Al-Baker as well as the VIP delegation — Qatar Airways executives and media members who were this that flight,” Smith said.

Qatari and Houston delegates kick off the Houston press conference with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
Qatari and Houston delegates kick off the Houston press conference with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony consisted of several pairs of what Smith described as “Texas-sized scissors” and delegates from both cities easily snipped through the fabric, officially kicking off the event.

It just makes sense

“Before this decision to come to Houston, Doha was one of the top unserved markets that we had identified for Houston,” said Rob Wiggington, Houston Airport System deputy director of marketing, communications and community affairs. “We have some natural synergies, natural reasons to fly closer together, to do business, and of course much of that has to do with the two cities and the two regions being major energy capitals of the world.”

Quoting some statistics to back up the affirmation of the business decision to become partners with Qatar Airways, Wiggington noted that Qatar is Houston’s sixth major trading partner in the Middle East. He also said that during the past six years, passenger traffic between the two cities has increased by 62%.

Parker, on behalf of the city, noted March 31 as Qatar Airways Day, presenting an official proclamation to the Qatari delegates.

“We now proudly add Qatar Airways to the list of outstanding international airlines contributing to Houston’s growth and economic strength,” Parker said, reading from the proclamation. “Qatar Airways will provide the quality air service that is now part of Houston’s greatness…This addition furthers Houston growth as the international gateway and gives Houston another opportunity to expand cultural and business ties.”

After delegates exchanged gifts, Al-Baker addressed the audience.

(Left to Right) Ali Al Rais, Executive Vice President, Commercial, Qatar Airways; Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al-Baker; Ali Bin Fahad Al Hajri, Ambassador, Embassy of the State of Qatar.
(Left to Right) Ali Al Rais, Executive Vice President, Commercial, Qatar Airways; Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al-Baker; Ali Bin Fahad Al Hajri, Ambassador, Embassy of the State of Qatar.
“We are here at last. Qatar Airways maiden flight from Doha to Houston has finally touched down in the city,” Al Baker said. “There is synergy between my country and Houston. My country is the home to the world’s third-largest natural gas reserves. It is also the world’s largest exporter of LNG [liquefied natural gas]. It’s one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with growth earmarked to be 9% in 2009 while most of the economies in the world are shrinking … in 2007, U.S. companies invested over US$7 billion in Qatar,” just to mention a few of the statistics that show Qatar as a growing world energy leader. While the population is only about 1.56 million, the local to expat residents ratio percentage is 20:80 with a large American-based community, he noted.

Al-Baker estimated the company’s growth to be 35% in 2008 and 2009, carrying more than 12 million passengers, “keeping in mind that in the whole of 1996, we only carried 400,000 passengers,” he said.

The new Boeing 777-200 Long Range aircraft, which was delivered to Qatar Airways last month, is reserved exclusively for the Houston-to-Doha trip. It has a 180-degree, 6-ft 4-in. flat bed for business class traveler, “keeping in mind the very tall Americans who travel with us,” Al-Baker said. “It is a greener and leaner aircraft, very fuel efficient, more environmentally friendly, and of course with lower carbon emissions of any airliner per seat kilometer.”

He also noted the airline will be launching a new product within the next year that will be “unimaginable in the luxury of air travel.”

Al-Hajri noted his pleasure with having the airlines flying to Houston, saying part of his job is to help bring  the United States and Qatar closer and improve relations. “I’m very happy today to see this flight come in here,” he said. “As Winston Churchill said, there are two kinds of speeches: one short and one long. The short is thank you, and the long is thank you very much.”

Environmental commitment

While noting the airplanes in Qatar Airways fleet are “greener and leaner,” Al-Baker outlined plans to move to a biofuel blend fuel as well as an effort to reduce its carbon impact.

“Not forgetting all this growth, we also have corporate social responsibilities in mind. We want to fly Oryx green. We want to pioneer the next-generation fuel research, which we will be announcing in the not-too-distant future, but with all this, we would also be the first airliner in the world to be powered by GTL [gas-to-liquids], which will be a very fuel-efficient, very low-carbon emissions from our engines, and our real desire is to have a carbon neutral growth.”

Future destinations

During last night’s event, Al-Baker announced plans to expand to three new U.S. destinations — the airlines already flies direct to Doha from New York’s JFK International Airport, Washington state’s Dulles International Airport and Houston’s George W. Bush Intercontinental Airport — as well as three international locations (South Africa as well as expansions in China and Japan).

Previous coverage

Fuel for Thought covered the Qatar-based press conference in February about plans to connect the two energy cities.

The March issue of FUEL magazine also mentions the Doha trip in the editor in chief’s letter.

Related events

Cathay Pacific in the middle of March added Houston to its cargo service flight route.

High GTL-Kerosene Jet Fuel Mix on Horizon

February 4th, 2009 mhitchings

Qatar Airways officials (left to right) Ali Al Rais, Executive Vice President, Commercial; Akbar Al Baker, Chief Executive Officer; and Fathi Al Shehab, Senior Vice President Commercial Operations, Qatar announce the Houston to Qatar non-stop route. (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)
Qatar Airways officials (left to right) Ali Al Rais, Executive Vice President, Commercial; Akbar Al Baker, Chief Executive Officer; and Fathi Al Shehab, Senior Vice President Commercial Operations, Qatar announce the Houston to Qatar non-stop route. (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)
With a quickly growing number of commercial airlines watching the economy, the environment and research and development of cleaner, more efficient jet fuel, Qatar Airways aims to be the first to use a high mixture of gas-based synthetic fuel by the end of 2009.

The Middle Eastern airline recently hosted a press conference in Qatar, during which time, airline officials presented plans to add Houston as a non-stop route to the already-established U.S. flight paths from New York and Washington, D.C., into Doha. In addition, Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker discussed gas-to-liquids (GTL) fuel usage with a high ratio to kerosene and no engine modification requirements to help increase fuel efficiency, reduce emissions and increase environmental stewardship.

Why Houston?

“Qatar Airways looks forward to welcoming you onboard our flight, which will be the longest nonstop flight [17 hours] linking the energy capitals of the Middle East and the USA — Doha and Houston — connecting these two worlds’ energy capitals and which will, of course, feed into the important cities within the Middle East and the United States,” Al Baker said.

Why Qatar Airways and GTL-kerosene 50-50 blend?

“We are pioneers with the research of GTL-kerosene [the jet fuel will be 50/50] mix, which gives the airline an advantage over others others in the sense that we will emit less carbon dioxide, and at the same time, as GTL has higher volume, we will be able to fly [further], because GTL has a higher density as a fuel than the normal kerosene. With the same amount of GTL-kerosene mix, we will be able to fly 15% longer distance with the same amount of fuel,” Al Baker said.

In addition, Qatar is home to the third-largest global gas reserves with 400 Tcf, behind Russia and Iran with 1,695 Tcf and 929 Tcf, respectively. Qatar also is working its way up the ladder to become a significant player in gas exportation. In late December 2008, The Gas Exporting Countries Forum — a group of the world’s largest natural gas suppliers — established a charter and picked Doha (over Russia, Iran and Algeria) as the home for its permanent secretariat, signaling Qatar’s growing importance in the natural gas market.

The future?

All that’s left to do before the synthetic jet fuel can officially be used, Al Baker said, are further tests and certifications. “As soon as all this is achieved, we hope that by the end of this year, we will be able to fuel our airplanes with a GTL-kerosene mix,” he noted. He sees Qatar Airways as the “bright spot in the gloom of the aviation industry.” As cutbacks, plane groundings and reductions are occurring seemingly left and right, Qatar Airways is keeping its figurative head down and moving forward, appearing unscathed, making it unique in the industry.

“We will have more destinations, more frequencies, expansion of fleet, more capacity, larger airplanes …” Al Baker said. “To say simply, we will be receiving just over one airplane every month this year. We have a solid, locked down growth strategy. We are committed to expansion; we are first-class on our geographical location being in the heart of the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council in the Middle East].”

Why the extended outlook?

The answer to the burning question of why Qatar Airways is on the forefront of its industry with high-tech in-flight entertainment systems that go as far as to have live TV broadcasts, coming soon; the extensive research into GTL use for jet fuel; the expansions; a new Doha international airport scheduled to open in the middle of 2011; the luxuries and more is “very simple,” Al Baker said.

“We want to be the airline that has the youngest team in the world so the aircraft work order will not exceed 5 years,” he said. “So the oldest airplane in our fleet in Qatar Airways will be 5 years old. We will replace those with modern, state-of-the-art, fuel efficient airplanes. Qatar Airways is a global network carrier and will continue to tap into opportunities in key business cities around the world. Therefore, Houston is the launch in March.”

The airline is preparing festivities around the launch date of March 30, but is keeping the specific events close to its chest. 

On a side note, according to an excerpt by Dan Reed today from Today in the Sky, an online component of USA Today:

The U.S. government, environmentalists and even the big oil companies are working together to develop alternative fuels from these and other sources. Their goal: to replace a significant portion of the 19 billion gal of kerosene that U.S. carriers burn in their planes each year and to do it by the end of the next decade. If they succeed, airlines will reduce their carbon footprint — and save big money that could possibly help hold down fares.

The U.S. Air Force also is pushing development. By next year, it wants all of its planes certified to operate on a 50/50 mix of conventional jet fuel, known as Jet A, and alternative fuel. Air Force generals don’t want their planes grounded by a geopolitical event that pushes oil prices through the stratosphere or stops the flow of foreign oil.

The alternative fuel industry only now is beginning to move beyond the research-and-development stage into commercialization. Yet, enough progress is being made that it’s safe to say it won’t be long before Air Force pilots and commercial travelers will be flying in planes powered, in part or entirely, by synthetic or biofuels.

“We’re looking at 5-year time horizons, not 20-year time horizons,” said Continental Airlines Chief Executive Officer Larry Kellner. “This isn’t going to happen in 2010, but it needs to happen before 2020.”

Sustainable Farming

January 23rd, 2009 mhitchings
Abon'go Malik Obama, U.S. President Barack Obama's half brother, gets comfortable on a Qatar Airways flight out of Washington, D.C. (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)
Abon'go Malik Obama, U.S. President Barack Obama's half brother, gets comfortable on a Qatar Airways flight out of Washington, D.C. (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)
Earlier this week, I was in Washington, D.C., and attended the Environmental and Clean Energy Inaugural Ball on Tuesday night. While there were no Daryl Hannah or Glenn Close sightings — two celebrities scheduled to attend –  there were a few folks who are “famous” in the energy advocacy circles and part of the administration, including General Wesley Clark; Director, Office of Transportation and Air Quality, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Margaret Oge; and EPA Director Lisa Jackson. However, on the second part of my two-city, two-continent, two-country business trip this week, I met U.S. President Barack Obama’s half brother Abon’go Malik Obama, owner of RockStone of Afrika Siaya Electricals, who was sitting at the end of my row on Qatar Airways to Doha.

Gracious, warm and confidently soft spoken, Obama shared his ideas for a sustainable irrigation system in Kenya, as part of The Barack H. Obama Foundation, which he founded in memory of his father, who passed away in 1982. With solar panels and battery packs, we should be able to do something, Obama told me, as flight attendants patiently waited for us to finish chatting before closing the plane doors and finalizing security checks.

‘A New Era of Responsibility’

January 21st, 2009 mhitchings

“The world has changed, and we must change with it,” said U.S. President Barack Obama after his swearing-in ceremony in Washington, D.C., yesterday.

The message was like the morning weather — crisp, clear and hopeful. While nearly 1.5 million people from all corners of the nation converged in the almost-freezing temperatures of the Mall, Obama delivered his 35-word oath almost flawlessly. The newly-elected president became as calm, cool, collected and confident as he did the day he accepted the presidential nomination and delivered his campaign speech.

Among the myriad of important topics Obama mentioned that the nation must address, plans for defense, security, climate change, energy and jobs were among the priorities. The emphasis was placed on “we” and universal team work, not only at home but globally. “Honesty, hard work, loyalty, patriotism …” Obama said. We have been a “quiet force of progress throughout history. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility.”

General Wesley Clark addresses Environmental & Clean Energy Inaugural Ball attendees. (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)
General Wesley Clark addresses Environmental & Clean Energy Inaugural Ball attendees. (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)

Many organizations during the past two days have held dozens of inaugural balls in honor of the administration changes and important issues Obama has pledged to address. Among the organizational events was the Environmental and Clean Energy Ball 2009 last night held at the Sequoia Restaurant in the Washington Harbor in Georgetown. Organizing committee members included representatives from Clean Fuels Foundation, Clinton Climate Initiative and Environmental and Energy Study Institute. Among the honored guests were General Wesley Clark; Administrator-Designate, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Lisa Jackson; and Director, Office of Transportation and Air Quality, EPA, Margaret Oge.

The message throughout the evening from the new administration, honored guests and special guests supported and echoed those Obama had passed along to the world just hours before hand — renewables, climate change, energy, jobs, security, reducing the environmental footprint — with the themed message “working together to build a better tomorrow.”

Houston: We Have a New Air Route; GTL as Possible Jet Fuel

January 9th, 2009 mhitchings
Representatives from Qatar Airways and Houston media discuss the airline's gas-to-liquids fuel study as well as the city's addition to the flight schedule. (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)
Representatives from Qatar Airways and Houston media discuss the airline's gas-to-liquids fuel study as well as the city's addition to the flight schedule. (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)
Qatar Airways, one of the premier airlines servicing global destinations (London, Moscow, Shanghai, Singapore and more) connecting through Doha, is adding Houston to its route starting in March. Passengers traveling from one energy hub to the other will be able to do so daily on a nonstop 17-hour flight, rather than plane hopping as is currently the norm.

“We can’t be more pleased that Qatar chose Houston as a destination … We’re dynamic, the very first international city, and we are going to make it incredibly successful. Qatar is committed to making Houston successful; we’re just pleased and delighted,” said Kristian Anderson, Houston-based country manager for the southern United States with Qatar Airways.

“The natural synergy, the big catylst for this service, is the oil and gas business, because Doha and Houston are the two capitals in their different parts of the world. There was a natural synergy,” said Tony Hughes, senior vice president, Americas, Qatar Airways.

Like many other airlines, Qatar Airways is looking toward alternative sources of fuel for efficiency and environmental stewardship. While airlines such as Air New Zealand, Japan Airlines, Continental Airlines and Virgin Atlantic are experimenting with various biofuels blends, Qatar Airways is dedicated to exploring gas-to-liquids as a viable alternative fuel to jet fuel, which would make it the first gas-based fuel airlines.

“Qatar is home to the third-largest gas reserves. It is working in conjunction with Qatar Airways, with Shell, on how to leverage that and turn that into a more green-friendly-for-the-environment kind of travel for us,” said Rebecca Jelfo, marketing manager for Qatar Airways during a press conference yesterday. 

In a news release in fourth quarter 2008, Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker expressed that the most sensitive issue facing the world is the need for increased environmental awareness and responsibility. That message has been carried into 2009.

“There is a huge movement lobbying for the reduction in carbon emissions to make for a cleaner and safer environment,” he said in the release. “Together with our partners, we will all work in close collaboration to study the use of synthetic jet fuels or GTL kerosene in our drive toward a cleaner and safer world. And we at Qatar Airways look onward to becoming the first airline in the world to power commercial aircraft with natural gas.”

Flight trials using GTL fuel will commence after the study’s completion with a consortium research group that will focus on the pros of the fuel’s use with emphasis on air quality improvement, reduced carbon emissions and fuel economy.

“Qatar Airways is already a major player in the International Air Transport Association’s ongoing fuel-saving campaign designed to reduce carbon emissions,” Al Baker said. 



It’s in the Air

January 8th, 2009 mhitchings
The Associated Press, courtesy of The New York Times
The Associated Press, courtesy of The New York Times
As the new year begins and crude prices continue on the low side but slowly on the rise, some are speculating once again the viability of biofuels. In 2008, alternative energies and fuels as well as environmentally friendly and efficient were the buzz words, but there are whispers of concern from some now that perhaps with the lower crude prices, alternative investment and usage may not be as big a priority as it once was.

The airline industry, however, is moving forward with its proposals to research alternative fuels and is putting biofuels to the test. Air New Zealand was the last in 2008 to make a flight with its successful late-December launch powered in part by vegetable oil. One engine was fueled with 50-50 blend of oil from jatropha plants and standard A1 jet fuel.

Continental kicks off 2009

Continental Airlines yesterday completed the first North American commercial carrier test flight using a biofuel blend that includes components deriving from algae and jatropha plants. These sustainable second-generation sources neither impact food crops, nor water resources nor contribute to deforestation, all of which have been points of contention with various organizations from farmers to environmentalists.

“This demonstration flight represents another step in Continental’s ongoing commitment to fuel efficiency and environmental responsibility,” said Continental Airlines Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Larry Kellner in a news release. “The technical knowledge we gain today will contribute to a wider understanding of the future for transportation fuels.”

Although the trip (the first of its kind to use a fuel partially derived from algae) was “experimental” and carried no passengers, it was a successful two-hour roundtrip flight from Houston’s George W. Bush Intercontinental Airport. The test was designed to emulate actual trip in-flight handling, such as power acceleration and deceleration, as well as rare maneuvers, including mid-flight shut engine shutdown and re-start.

“With our proven technology and the commitment of aviation leaders like Continental and Boeing, sustainable biofuels for aviation are a real near-term option. We believe that production levels could reach hundreds of million of gallons per year by 2012,” said Eric Bachelet, president and chief executive officer of CFM International in the same release.

One of the goals of increased biofuels use in the airline industry is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, a contributor of greenhouse gases.

Other airlines follow suit

Japan Airlines is planning a one-hour, passenger-less flight demonstration out of Haneda Airport, Tokyo, at the end of January using a sustainable biofuel component comprised of three second-generation biofuel feedstocks (camelina, 84%; jatropha, less than 16%; and algae, less than 1%).

Qatar Airways, based in Doha, is researching the benefits of using gas-to-liquids, which would make it the first airline to be powered by gas-based fuel. The airline has been joined by Qatar Petroleum, Shell, Airbus, Rolls Royce, Qatar Science and Technology Park and Woqod (Qatar Fuel Co.) to conduct a study during the next few years to analyze the pros of using synthetic jet fuels.

Virgin Atlantic in February 2008  tested a biofuels flight from London to Amsterdam by using a mix of coconut and babassu oil in one of its four main fuel tanks. Pilots and technicians were on that flight, but no passengers.

Cooperation + Innovation=Happy Marriage?

November 5th, 2008 mhitchings
Test track of an early Morgan Motor Co. vehicle (Photos by Monique A. Hitchings, courtesy of Morgan Motor Co.)
Test track of an early Morgan Motor Co. vehicle (Photos by Monique A. Hitchings, courtesy of Morgan Motor Co.)
The vehicle has continued to evolve to meet consumer, industry and world needs. Every 30 years, a change is inevitable, said Charles Morgan, director of design with Morgan Motor Co.

At Morgan, it’s about the vehicle and the consumer, pride in the creation and building of each vehicle, which, he noted, takes about 16 hours and is completely built by hand, no robots, no artificial means of compilation.

“I think it’s important to be open about what you do,” Morgan said. “I think it’s important for people to want to visit the factory and know that real people build the cars…new technology is great and we all need it, but there is an element of craftsmanship at Morgan that is important.” That being said, the company recognizes the need to keep up with energy efficiencies and listen to their customers. In an effort to reduce its environmental footprint, Morgan cars are about 30% lighter than those that are mass produced, he noted.

Evolution of Morgan Motor Co. vehicles (Photo courtesy of Morgan Motor Co.)
Evolution of Morgan Motor Co. vehicles (Photo courtesy of Morgan Motor Co.)
Morgan was one of three members of the production and supply chain innovation session starting this morning’s second day of the Altermobile Europe 2008 conference in Munich.

Phil Barker, chief engineer of hybrid and electric vehicle technologies with Lotus Engineering, discussed four key themes within the topic of production and supply chain innovation — developing new business models, innovation and design as a core business process, collaboration and cooperation, and internationalizing supply and production.

“The basic problem we are looking at is trying to run a country without oil,” said Amit Yudan, Europe Business Development with Better Place. One of the conference themes was to reduce, if not nullify, dependence on oil and conventional fuels and think more out of the box.

(left to right) Charles Morgan, Morgan Motor Co.; Amit Yudan, Europe Business Development, Better Place; Phil Barker, Chief Engineer, Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Technologies, Lotus Engineering; and Moderator Robert Evans, CEO, Cenex
(left to right) Charles Morgan, Morgan Motor Co.; Amit Yudan, Europe Business Development, Better Place; Phil Barker, Chief Engineer, Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Technologies, Lotus Engineering; and Moderator Robert Evans, CEO, Cenex
“The real market response is volatile,” said Andre Metzner with Roland Berger Strategy during his portion of the presentation, Cooperative Constellations in the New Auto Innovation Game. “No doubt there is a need to cooperate.”

Metzner discussed a variety of “cooperation,” noting most people are familiar with the “marriage” concept, which is planned for the longer time horizon, is formalized and usually has a low flexibility. He also noted a few other important types: club, syndicate, commune, party, forum and expedition.

“These types are not legal/business categories — they can serve more as conceptual reference points for designing or understanding cooperative constellations,” Metzner said in his presentation white paper. “From my experience, cooperative projects need both, a conceptual foundation and cooperative cultural embedding. The culture part should not be underestimated, especially in situations where fierce competitors cooperate or new ground needs to be (jointly) explored.”

‘It’s Like Pushing a Pea up a Hill’

November 4th, 2008 mhitchings
Altermobile Europe 2008 kicked off today with about 100 representatives from the transportation industry. (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)
Altermobile Europe 2008 kicked off today with about 100 representatives from the transportation industry. (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)
Can the oil and automotive industry continue to live quasi-harmoniously with the direction of the global economy, global warming and fuel costs?

The overall opinion is no, according to many of the speakers this morning during day one of the Altermobile Europe 2008 conference in Munich.

Iain Carson, business writer with The Economist and co-author of Zoom the Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future, set the scene with the oil and car industries — neither of which, he noted, would be able to exist without the other, but that neither can continue to operate at current levels.

“We are potentially heading for a divorce,” Carson noted of the marriage between the oil and car industries. “We can’t go on the way we have before. Why are we all here today? It’s the two words of the conference — we need to find alternatives for vehicles. We can’t do without cars, we desperately need them. The conclusion we came to is that cars aren’t the problem, it’s the oil,” he said, noting the thoughts of he and his co-author.

Global warming, energy security, safety and the debate of fuel and energy for automotive power were key topics among speakers. Nearly 100 representatives from car and design industries, financiers and investors as well as industry publications gathered to learn from each other how infrastructure and design will lead to automobile technology of the future.

Carson discussed peak oil and the thoughts of some pessimists that oil reserves in areas such as the North Slope are decreasing. On the flip side, he said, there are optimists who say we’re not really running out of oil, there’s plenty to go around. There are other sources to tap, such as tar sands, but Carson said these areas pose challenges because the oil is heavy, it’s tough to get out of the ground and its expensive.

“I think at the end of the day we will end up having more [oil] than we thought,” he said. “I think this concept of peak oil is like counting angels on a pinhead.”

Energy security, he said, is an obsession in America, because “not only is there a worry about scarcity of oil, it is concentrated in difficult and unstable parts of the world.” Carson noted that during the past 20 years, there have been two major wars in which the United States has been involved that revolve around oil.

Noting that about one-quarter of the man-made global emissions come from surface transportation, Carson said about 8% to 9% of that comes from private vehicles.

“We have this problem with global warming, and the only way industry can deal with it is with technology,” he said.

Christopher Borroni-Bird, director of advanced technology vehicle concepts for General Motors, noted that “vehicles of the future need to become a lot more intelligent and a lot more agile” — meaning they need to adapt to the way we live.

During his presentation, Borroni-Bird analyzed various regions and the way vehicle use impacts its residents. “In congested urban areas, 30% to 40% of total gasoline is used by cars looking for parking, and the average search time is about eight minutes,” he said. “Clearly there is much room for improvements to the customer’s parking…
“Cities are beginning to act like nation states driven by rapidly growing congestion, a broad resistance to urban highway construction and public financing of mass transport, and a desire to compete for business by marketing quality of life.”

Professor Julia King, Vice Chancellor, Aston University, Birmingham, U.K.
Professor Julia King, Vice Chancellor, Aston University, Birmingham, U.K.
Global transportation is the third-largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions and global warming, and the second largest annually is land use, said Professor Julia King, vice chancellor with Aston University in Birmingham, U.K.
“The climate change challenge is to have a reasonable chance of restricting average global increases to close to two degrees and to avoid a significant probability of as much as four degrees. The developed world will need to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050,” King said.

Although King said she doesn’t believe the world is on track to meet these reductions within the given timeframe, she does believe the technology is there and that governments and policy holders can help.

“In the next 10 years, increased vehicle efficiency offers the largest opportunity for reducing CO2 — both through us as consumers, choosing more efficient vehicles and through improved technology,” she wrote in her white paper presentation. “Within 10 years, we could be driving equivalent cars to those we choose today, but emitting 30% less CO2. The technology is available. Moreover, the cost of the technology, likely to be reflected in increased car prices, is offset several times over by the fuel cost.

Traffic congestion in some places is increasing, even though many cars are becoming cleaner, Carson said. “It’s like pushing a pea up a hill…,” he said.

Climate change is not an issue that will easily be solved; it will take some time to get all parties aligned and address the challenges in the most productive manner with the most information available.

“…Climate change is a global problem, and effective solutions and policies must also, ultimately, be global. But we all have an individual role to play, which makes a difference, as citizens in electing governments and supporting legislation, and as consumers in the cars we choose and when and how we use them,” King said. “With strong, early action by governments, industry and individuals, car ownership and use can continue to drive economic growth and enhance quality of life around the world without destroying the planet.”

The world as we know it today is not the world of tomorrow.

“The world is changing, and in response to this there is a clear shift to electric drive. Electric drive could take vehicles out of the energy and environmental debate, but to solve all the personal urban mobility issues it will be necessary to tackle the network of vehicles, and this can only be addressed through connectivity: the goal is zero emissions and zero accidents,” Borroni-Bird said.

Let’s Talk: Refineries Ramp Up Real-time Communication

October 8th, 2008 mhitchings

It’s a different world from the one most of our colleagues entered and in which some are looking to retire. Technology is playing an increasingly significant role in giving all industries the tools to do their jobs more efficiently, more effectively and with a smaller margin of error.

Communication is important in all industries, and in days past, refiners and their providers depended on spreadsheets and phones and person-to-person communication to review what all the paperwork meant and how it translated to plant operations. And what to do in a crisis — when hurricanes are barreling down, or floods are infringing on facilities or a hard freeze is under way? There’s no time to haul spreadsheets from office to office, and having a large meeting where everyone has them sprawled on the conference table just makes it messy and even more complicated. And, as we all know, time is money, so this kind of archaic methodology is particularly inefficient because it slows productivity and thus reduces potential revenue.

Plant Automation & Decision Support: Real-time Value Chain Management and Optimization is important, and thus was a topic discussed yesterday afternoon at the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association Q&A Technology Forum in Orlando, Florida. I must express my apologies and insert a disclaimer here that I tried several times to post this yesterday, but ironically, I was having technological challenges, which appear to have been amended this morning. Technology, like everything else isn’t perfect — it’s great when it works, but when it doesn’t, we often find ourselves scrambling to remember what it was like before such advancements and improvising on the fly.

(Left to right) Stan DeVries, Invensys Process Systems; Dean Trierwiler, Haverly Systems Inc.; Robert Hutchings, M3 Technology; and Pete Sharpe, Emerson Process Management discuss the importance of plant automation and real-time optimization. (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)
(Left to right) Stan DeVries, Invensys Process Systems; Dean Trierwiler, Haverly Systems Inc.; Robert Hutchings, M3 Technology; and Pete Sharpe, Emerson Process Management discuss the importance of plant automation and real-time optimization. (Photo by Monique A. Hitchings)
Speakers during yesterday’s session emphasized across the board the importance of planning and scheduling, which are operations basics. If you don’t know where a delivery is, when it’s supposed to come in, how you’re going to store it and what resources you need, what are you going to do when the material shows up on a dock or at a facility unexpected?

Robert Hutchings with M3 Technology laid out the challenges as he sees them — aging workforce, new processes and the inability for mistakes, among them. “We are faced with new challenges, and innovative systems are required,” he said. People who developed codes 10 to 15 years ago for state of the art technology, for instance, are retired or will be soon. “Consequently, refiners are searching for or developing new solutions,” Hutchings said.

Stan DeVries with Invensys Process Systems suggested ways to address the challenges. “Reflect the strategy in the models, expand business processes to exploit fact-based analysis and establish the right data structure (not more data). Use these three as enablers for culture change (remember the people challenge),” he said.

Pete Sharpe with Emerson Process Management discussed specific tools to help refiners, including those for terminal planning, order preparation, execution and product accounting. “We’re going to try to prevent, ‘oh-oh, I didn’t mean to do that,’” he said.

Dean Trierwiler with Haverly Systems Inc. discussed a project in which his company assisted Suncor Energy in developing a project program, named Cornerstone, to help increase communications and provide trusted information, which was another problem of previous interactions when verifying information from person to person, “no one trusted anyone,” the speakers said.

Cornerstone’s mission statement is: “We will build a strong foundation to achieve Suncor’s sustainable growth strategy by putting the right information in the hands of the right people at the right time to maxinize business performance. This will be accomplished through efficient, effective integrated processes and supporting technology.” The project is still ongoing between the two companies, but Trierwiler, with Suncor’s support, presented the information completely from his perspective.

Trierwiler noted improved operations after the project had been implemented (while emphasizing it is still a work in progress). “Since Cornerstone has been implemented at Suncor –- and this is an ongoing process — there has definitely been some improvement in their decision-making,” he said. “But with some of these goals, as people get used to new technologies and new way of doing things, much of these improvements will come about.”

Before the project’s implementation, Trierwiler noted, information was being “manhandled through many manual processes, time was spent trying to figure out how things worked, much double-checking was needed and decision-making was slow,” just to name a few. Afterward, “lower costs have led to increased profitability and productivity, asset utilization has improved, supply chains are reaching optimum conditions and projects are better managed, reducing overall costs,” again, just to name a few.

In summary, Sharpe noted in a presentation slide, “terminal operations can affect the entire hydrocarbon supply chain and disruptions are expensive; terminals are where products (and money) change hands; measurements, automation and control are important, but only part of the equation; terminal automation projects integrate business processes from sales orders to customer invoices; and automation has big benefits, particularly in over-stressed infrastructures.”

So let’s ‘talk’ to one another more, let’s communicate better, let’s share information and let’s collaborate — at the end of the day, having more efficient, effective and reduced error margins helps make our jobs, business and industry run more smoothly and cost-effectively. In addition, the time saved spinning wheels on cumbersome processes should allow us to enjoy a bit more free time; and who couldn’t use some of that?