Design of 'supercar' hindered by stiff tailpipe regulations
Increasingly tougher environmental standards are jeopardizing research efforts to create a highly fuel-efficient, affordable car. So claims a committee of the National Research Council in its fifth report on the progress of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV). The Clinton Administration in 1994 created the PNGV coalition and charged it with the development by 2004 of a midsize vehicle with a fuel economy equivalent to 80 mpg--three times more efficient than today's vehicles. However, the report says, "continual changes in standards have placed immense burdens on PNGV's technical development process and its ability to stabilize productive research directions." Government officials, the committee complains, are pursuing specific objectives of their own agencies. They do not seem to realize that design tradeoffs among engine control, the exhaust-gas treatment technology, and fuel have important effects on cost, fuel economy, and emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency must start to consider automotive emissions and fuel economy as "a total systems problem," adds committee chairman Trevor O. Jones, chairman and CEO of Biomec Inc. (Cleveland). To buy a copy of "Review of the Research Program of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles: Fifth Report," phone (800) 624-6242.
Government forms partnership to advance use of fuel cells
A partnership formed by the Department of Energy (DOE) will evaluate the performance of a state-of-the-art, 7-kW fuel cell. The department will install the cell at Brookhaven National Laboratory this summer. Joining the alliance are the Long Island Power Authority, New York State's Energy Research and Development Agency, and Plug Power. The partnership is part of a larger DOE effort to make fuel cells a viable option for power generation in automobiles and buildings. Phone Dan W. Reicher at (202) 586-9220.
Clinton Administration proposes tougher emissions standards
President Clinton has unleashed plans for stiff new emissions regulations for all new cars, light trucks, and sport utility vehicles (SUVs). He also wants to mandate a reduction of sulfur levels in gasoline by 90% in five years. "For the first time, our plan addresses not only the cars we drive, but also the fuel they use," Clinton says. The Environmental Protection Agency is holding a period of public comment on the proposals, which are to become final at the end of this year. The standards will be phased in over five years, beginning in 2004. The level of sulfur in gasoline, which averages 330 ppm in the U.S. today, would shrink to 30 parts, which is the California standard. Automakers must chop tailpipe emissions by an average of 80%. Included is a slash of 95% in pickup trucks and SUVs, which, for the first time, would be subject to the same emission standards as passenger cars. Big SUVs have until 2009 to comply. Today, light trucks and SUVs can legally emit two and three times as much pollution as cars. You can read the full text of the proposed rule and get on index on related documents on the Internet at: www.epa.gov/oms/tr2home.asp.††
NASA undertakes 20-year project to support exotic rockets
NASA is planning a 20-year project to fund designs by the private sector of "next generation" launch vehicles for space missions. Called Spaceliner 100, the project will encourage design engineers to come up with new ideas using futuristic technologies, such as laser-beam propulsion and magnetic-lift rockets. "It is our goal to reduce the cost of a launch by a factor of 100," says NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin. "We are going to leave the design to industry." Goldin sees Spaceliner 100 benefiting both the military and business, including civil space ventures. A shorter-range goal of the project is to find a suitable boost system for whatever replaces the nation's aging space shuttles. Meanwhile, NASA is staging unpowered flight tests of its newly unveiled X-34 drone rocketplane. The 58-ft-long craft will make its first powered flight next year. Orbital Sciences Corp. (Dulles, VA) built the X-34 to carry probes, small satellites, and platforms in weather conditions that would ground most other space vehicles. Phone NASA's Dwayne Brown at (202) 358-1726.
Researchers find better way to make future composites
A major step has been taken toward the manufacture of strong and inexpensive composite materials for all types of molded parts. That is the gist of a progress report from government researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). A NIST team has capped a long-sought goal of materials scientists: fabrication of "molecular composites" that naturally contain built-in fibers. NIST scientists developed a process in which polyester is strengthened dramatically with a material known as a liquid crystalline polymer. Contact Emil Venere by phone at (301) 975-5745 or e-mail him at email@example.com.