- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

Rising gasoline prices, tight energy supplies and global warming have no respect for boundaries. Automakers in Europe, Asia, South America and now North America all are looking for alternative sources of energy and ways to use that energy wisely.
For Western Europe, one solution is modern diesel engines. Close to 40 percent of passenger cars there now use diesels. Not the belching, smoky, smelly diesels we're accustomed to in the United States, but a cleaner, reduced-emission, quiet and less-offensive-smelling diesel engine.
In Asia, a race to hybrid vehicles is key cars, trucks and buses that run on liquid natural gas or electric batteries and fuel cells.
In Brazil, many cars run on alcohol made from refined sugar cane.
General Motors Corp., the world's largest automaker, has all of these irons in the fire, including an alliance to gain more expertise in hydrogen fuel. GM hopes to develop a fuel tank that can hold enough compressed hydrogen for a fuel-cell vehicle to travel 300 to 500 miles, much farther than the 100-to 150-mile range offered by existing compressed hydrogen gas tanks.
But there's more to the equation than efficient engines. There's efficient manufacturing. GM has reduced energy consumption at its North American facilities by 18 percent since 1995, and is increasing to 20 percent next year.
Using a somewhat unorthodox solution, the automaker has saved $15 million annually through energy reduction and recycling efforts at its assembly plant in Orion Township, Mich. GM Chief Environmental Officer Denny Minano says the plant is located between two landfills, making it possible to draw off the methane gas to run the factory's boilers.
But efficiency doesn't stop there.
In 1995, facility energy use totaled about 110 trillion British thermal units. GM is aiming for about 90 trillion Btu in 2002.
Mr. Minano says the company scrutinizes any process that uses energy. "You look at fuel switching if you can," he said. "A lot of times, our boilers have the capacity to use oil and natural gas."
At GM's Fort Wayne, Ind., pickup assembly plant, natural-gas usage was reduced when the catalyst beds in the paint oven incinerators were replaced and the operating temperature of the incinerator was lowered from 800 degrees Fahrenheit to 700 degrees, while maintaining volatile organic compound destruction efficiency.
In Linden, N.J., a new energy-efficient lighting system is cutting annual electric use at the light-truck assembly plant by 15 million kilowatt-hours per year of particular importance, since about 70 percent of GM's energy bill is for electricity.
To further its conservation efforts, GM invites engineers from utility firms to work on site at its facilities to find areas to reduce energy use.
From 1999 to 2000, the automaker lowered facility energy use per vehicle produced by 8 percent, Mr. Minano says. With the installation of strategic energy management systems in 17 facilities completed, GM to date has realized $4.7 million in savings annually.

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