Innovation & Environment News - Bulletin 112 (Apr 10)

European desire for small cars reduces emissions; self-healing starfish could prolong oil life; Indian collaboration on biofuels; 'lip gloss' for high speed trains; and Tedd Biddle gains Excellence honour.

The small car revolution in Europe appears to be having a positive effect on CO2 emissions, according to vehicle data specialist Jato.  Their latest research shows that more than 50% of the Euro new car market is now made up of vehicles giving out 140g/km or less.

The 2009 market was heavily influenced by government-backed vehicle scrappage schemes and a general move by consumers to downsize their cars.  The result was an overall reduction in volume-weighted average CO2 across all sectors of 7.9g/km in 2009 compared to a 5.4g/km drop in the previous year.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest statistical improvements have come from the low volume supercar producers, such as Ferrari and Porsche, with Fiat the lowest overall volume brand for CO2 amongst the volume producers.

starfish-polymer 'Starfish' self-healing polymers Image:RSC Publishing

In the biofuels sector, the UK's Warwick University has collaborated with oil giants Lubrizol to create self-healing polymers which could ultimately extend the lifetime of lubricants.  The polymers, shaped like starfish, can be used as a viscosity modifier. When the 'arms' of the starfish are sheared of through wear, they repair themselves using a Diels-Alder reaction.  The benefits are in overcoming the breakdown of oils through mechanical stress.

And in India, NTPC and the Indian Oil Corporation are considering a joint initiative for biodiesel production starting with an R&D initiative as well as looking at biomass power generation and biolubricants for the power plants themselves.   India is aiming to create 20m tonnes of oil equivalent annually as part of its Integrated Energy Policy.

A new player is tapping into the US' burgeoning re-refining industry, with the news that Heritage-Crystal Clean Inc., is set to invest $40m in a new refinery in Indiana.  The plant will take in as much as 50m gallons of feedstock per year for re-refining into around 30m gallons of as-new base oil  The plant is expected to begin production in 2012.

There is good news for high-speed rail passengers, and those living along the tracks, with the discovery of a new 'dry-stick' lubricating process that will eliminate the scourge of screeching wheels under cornering.  Described as "a kind of lip gloss for flanges", the Canadian invention applies the lubricant directly onto the wheel flanges which come into direct contact with the edges of the rails particularly when cornering.  The result is a noise-free, high-speed travel experience.

And there were celebrations in the aviation industry with the news that Pratt and Whitney's Tedd Biddle has been handed the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Award for Excellence.  The honour was made for Biddle's leadership of the working group which has developed new global standards in testing and approving gas turbine aviation engine lubricants.