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Why Do We Still Use Gasoline? 940

Fed-Up-With-Fuel-Price-Whining asks: "Why are people still looking toward the gasoline companies for fuel? Is it because gasoline in a combustion engine is the most efficient, or is it because oil companies buy off the efforts of other possiable fuels? Fuel cells are a much better and cleaner way to use the fuel and there are other fuels out there with MUCH better potential than gasoline. Why don't people stop their crying and answer the oil companies jacking up of prices by converting their cars to other fuels?" Good question. The problem for most of us, I think, is availability. You mention Arizona, USA but what about the other American states? If something like this could be done here in good ole Virginia, I'd happily switch, assuming there existed a decent number of places to refuel. Honestly, if this were to be a reality for the states, alternate fuel sources and the infrastructure to support them would have to evolve pretty much simultaneosly. What do you think?

"Here in Arizona it costs around $6000 to convert your car to natural gas. If you do it Arizona will PAY the $6000 to convert the car. If you buy more than $280.00 a year in gas you will not have to pay for taxes or registration of your car.

I don't know, it just seems like a MAJOR buy off by the oil companies, the gas stations, and politicians. I know for FACT in Brazil you are able to buy a car which burns gasoline or methonol. And the Gas Stations have BOTH gasoline and methanol pumps. The methanol cars are still combustion engines.

There is one problem I know of methanol based cars. They are more like diesel engines. They are hard to start in COLD weather. But if they were converted from combustion to fuel cell based they would be even more efficient and much cleaner burning."

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Why Do We Still Use Gasoline?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Brazil tried to use ethanol as a replacement for gas, but it didn't work because of several reasons: -Compared to current oil prices, ethanol is much more expensive. -The government had to subsidize ethanol prices in order to make it compete with gas. -Ethanol cars were difficult to start in cold mornings. The cars should have a small tank with gas, which was used to start the engine when it was below a determined temperature. -Sugar cane farmers had a monopoly over the production, just like OPEC, and when the government refused to raise the subsidies, they simply stopped providing alcohol to pumps, causing a major distress (this was in 1990's). After that, Brazilians lost confidence on the alcohol producers and slowly stopped buying ethanol-fueled cars, going back to gas-fueled ones. -The worst part is that planting sugar cane spoils the land, making it difficult to reuse it. It also uses land that could be used to plant food, not fuel, which is much more important for a 3rd world country. Conclusion: before we jump to the first apparently viable alternative, we must carefully study all its consequences, not only environmental but social, political and economical.
  • Regardless of the source of energy, electricity or cumbustion, one of the major causes of inefficiency is the fact that cars can hold 4-5 people, but typically only carry one person. Since the car itself weighs something on the order of a ton, adding a few passengers (even overweight ones) doesn't increase the weight by a large percentage. As long as public transport continues to suck, transit will continue to be inefficient in this way. People tend to drive one-to-a-car because its so much faster than public transport, to just go right where you want to. As long as the public transport system is inconvienient, this will continue to be the case.

    People don't like public transit because:

    1. It's often slower than the freeway speed limit. (At least in the US.)
    2. It doesn't run 24 hours a day, so you have the fear of being stranded if you miss the last route (bus or train).
    3. You have to slave your schedule to the sparse transit schedule. Let's say you want to see a movie that starts at 9:55, and the busses arive there on the hour - you have two choices, get there 55 minutes early, or 5 minutes late.

    So long as combined transit is a PITA, people will want their own personal car. But since they know that they will *sometimes* want to carry more people in their car, they don't want to buy a tiny car that only holds one person. So they get a big car, and use it inefficiently most of the time (I'm guilty of this).

    I think one thing that would greatly improve efficiency would be a tiny car that is designed to only hold one person, without much cargo, BUT can still go at freeway speeds, and be street-legal. If such an animal existed, and (this is the important point) was cheap enough, then people could easily get such a car *and* a second car for trips with more people. Then for trips where they know they are going alone, they can take the efficient one-seater vehicle.

  • didn't need to have a gas station w/ diesel on every block. All I needed was one place that I'd go to across town once a week.

    Thats fine until you go on a vacation of more then 500 miles. With diesel that isn't a big deal since it is a popular fuel. Propane has some infrastructure, you have to refuel when you can find a station, but if you plan for it you can make trips on propane.

    Most fuels are not that popular. Your car might have a 500 range on methanol, but I challange you to drive your car across several states running only methanol. You have to have someone ship your fuel to drops along the way.

  • This is what I heard too. Actually when I read it they said something to the effect of "If the government would put more money into research, fuel cell engines for cars could be produced within 3-5 years."

    I just had to give a short speech for a speech class last week. I did it on fuel cells. There are a lot of interesting developments going on with that technology. Apparently the only commercially ready fuel cells are phosphoric acid fuel cells (originally developed by NASA about 30 years ago I believe). There are several other types that should be ready within the next 5 years though.

    They're also coming up with some interesting ideas for fuel sources. Powerball Technologies [powerball.net] had one of the more interesting ideas.

    Here's a few more links to check out:

    Fuel Cells 2000 [fuelcells.org]

    Commercializing Fuel Cells [oge.com]

    Fuel Cells - Green Power. [lanl.gov] This is a 36 page PDF file from Los Alamos National Lab

    Here's a bunch more. [ca.gov]

  • Electricity. It's basically an electric car. The only advantage I see from this one is that instead of using an electric motor to compress the air (as you would do when it's parked at home), you can go to a fueling station and have it filled with compressed air directly, cutting down on refueling time.

  • Canada already has busses running on fuel cells. Made by Ballard, they're also running in Chicago. They say they'll have a car engine ready in the next few years.

  • True. Several companies are working on fuel reformers to allow fuel cells to run on gasoline. Of course there are many other companies working on alternatives. Since pure hydrogen is much too expensive, some sort of less pure fuel will have to suffice. It's just a matter of finding the fuel that is cheap, easy to store, safe, and yields the most hydrogen. In the end, the fuel used will probably depend a lot on what the fuel cell will be used for and where it will be located. Some fuel cells are already running on gasses produced by landfills and wastewater treatment plants. There will probably be a lot of different fuels and a lot of different fuel reformers to allow these various fuels to be used.

  • Seriously, where do you get all the hydrogen for the fuel cells? To create that much H (because it sure as hell isn't available in nature) would require tremendous amounts of energy. Given our current power infrastructure, producing large amounts of hydrogen would have quite an effect on the environment. Doesn't buy you much over gasoline.

    Of course, if we'd come to our senses and explore nuclear energy properly and scientifically instead of telling horror stories about Chernobyl we'd be moving in the right direction.

    Author James P Hogan maintains an excellent website, of special interest to folks in this discussion are his thoughts on energy [jamesphogan.com].

    From one of his articles:

    A single 1,000 Megawatt coal plant releases something like 600lb carbon dioxide and 30lb sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere per second, and as much nitrogen oxides as 200,000 automobiles, all of which is estimated to cause 25 premature fatalities and 60,000 cases of respiratory complaints per year, per plant. In addition, it has to get rid of 30,000 truck-loads of ash annually--enough to cover a square mile sixty feet deep--full of carcinogens, highly acidic or highly alkaline depending on the kind of coal, and, ironically, emitting more radiation from trace uranium than a nuke is permitted to. That's a real waste-disposal nightmare for you.

    Nuclear's not looking so bad, eh? ;)

  • Gasohol damages the internals of older cars. Just ask my family who had to replace a good number of hoses in our old station wagon after the energy crisis.

    Gasohol is just ethanol (the stuff many of us drink) and gasoline (which few of us drink). It is not harmful to rubber. The hoses might well have needed to be replaced, but it was probably not due to ethanol in the gas. Besides, there are VERY FEW cars that old still running at all. That was 25 years ago!

    Since gasohol is just gasoline and ethanol mixed there is no need to do either 1, 2, or 3. (3 is by definition!).

    High grade ethanol will run an unmodified gasoline engine with no problem at all. (It will actually clean the carb). It can go in the same storage tanks (at the gas station) and pumped by the same pumps.

    A number of companies sell gasohol now, they just don't call it that because people are afraid of anything invented after they were born. Read the fine print at a Stopn'Go for example. 10% ethanol for the mid and regular grade.

    The logical step is to increase production of Ethanol and up the percentage of ethanol in gasoline.

  • Yea Aircraft seem to be starting to move forward with new tech. I am training in a Rotax powered Dimond Katana, 81hp (Takeoff) 5.1 gph, cruse at 120 kts. Its a composite aircraft and very nice.

    I still want a cirrus SR20. I also hear that they are working on a 82octane unleaded avgas, no idea when if ever it will show up.

    The Cure of the ills of Democracy is more Democracy.

  • You Americans! Honestly! OAP = Old Age Pensioner, and it's a standard acronym in England.

    As for the efficiency, that is the correct figure. Shell Oils runs a fuel efficiency race at Silverstone Grand Prix circuit, each year. The ground is essentially flat, which helps. And remember, you only use fuel when accelerating or decelerating. Newton's First Law makes that clear.

  • That's true, but friction is a very controllable force. Decent aerodynamics, as opposed to fake spoilers and sides that keep that good ole house brick look, can improve efficiency no end.

    One thing I've not (yet) seen in cars, which would also help is doing something about the brakes. At the moment, conventional brakes are simply friction devices, blasting all that energy you've paid for into the surroundings in the form of IR radiation.

    Trains in the UK have experimented with turning the wheels into dynamos, storing the power then re-using it later to accelerate. Even if each stage was only 50% efficient, you'd be able to get back up to 25% of your original speed, after stopping, without using any external energy.

    A variant of this is used in very old steam-powered heavy machinary, where energy could be put into and taken out of a giant fly-wheel, as needed.

    Getting back to friction-reduction, there's always the friction caused by the tires. Actually, you don't really need -that- much traction when you're travelling in a straight line. Only when you go round the bend. :) By reversing Colin Chapman's 'suction car' idea, and using the car's fan to reduce ground-effect to only necessary levels, you may be able to eke out a bit more life into the tires and a bit more efficiency into the car.

  • > Internal combustion is not the most efficient way of powering transport

    Actually it is. That's why we use it. Of course this has no relevance to the discussion as to why we use gasoline. You said it yourself, steamers can be designed to burn almost anything, including gasoline.

    As far as efficiency goes, we are actually talking about the cost of moving your ass to where ever it wants to sit. Much more has to be entered into the equation than just the cost of the fuel per unit of volume:
    1) Energy density: gasoline+air beats almost everything.
    2) Power per weight and volume(at small scales): This is a huge factor in efficiency and again gasoline+air in internal combustion, reciprocating engines beats almost everything. Can you guess why power plants, ships, factories and so on use steam based power plants at large scales? Why are most lawnmowers, motorcycles, model aircraft, etc. powered by gasoline+air+IC engines?
    3) Cost of power plant: one more time.
    4) Complexity of power plant AKA cost of maintenance: are we getting bored yet?
    5) Safety AKA insurance costs: yes, gasoline+air can explode, but so can just about any system devised for storing energy. Afterall, that's what it's all about. Batteries can explode, overheat, leak and be *extremely* toxic when they do so. High pressure gas or liquid under pressure storage tanks can also leak or explode. Flyweels bearings can disintegrate, etc.
    5)Useful life expectancy: how long does a battery last? How many pressurisation/depressurisation cycles can a high pressure tank take before it begins to fatigue? How much polluted air can a fuel cell breathe before it becomes corroded or clogged? How much does a new one cost?
    6)Research & Development: how much will you have to invest, and then recoup in order to compete with gasoline+air+IC? So far it's obvious that not enough work has been done. Gasoline+air+IC has 90+ year head start in development and refinement over almost everything else.

    Add to all of this the true cost of the fuel. That includes the obvious component cost of the fuel per unit. It also includes the cost of the time spent in actually getting it. It also includes the inconvenience or devaluation of the vehicle in operation, ie: "We can't take this car because it runs on XYZ and I don't know where we can get XYZ on that trip".

    >The oil companies encouraged the car companies to use it because it locked people into using asoline

    Hahaha, gasoline was a waste product that was regularly burned off at the refineries that were making fuel oil(for steam engines and heaters of all types) until the early car engine designers discovered that it had all of the properties (energy density, heat of evaporation, fluidity, liquid over desired temperature range, easily controlled ignition, etc.) that they needed. Only then did it become a "product". The fuel delivery systems became "monopolized" to use your word when the gasoline powered cars beat out everything else except for a few niche markets.
  • Last time I did it cost me $58 USD for a small car.

    NOoooooooo!!! I like paying the inflated $1.50 per gallon of gasoline. It gives me great satisfaction watching the people next to me fill up thier SUV's and extended cab long wheelbase trucks with dual 20 gallon fuel tanks spending $70 to fill up. Its so they can make the daily commute to work 40 miles away each day for eight hours then come home again. Its the American Dream.

    To ease my pain, I bought a motorcycle with a 4 gallon tank that gets 50 miles per gallon [attaway.org]. Its funny though. Even though I only live one mile from work, I started riding more and spending more on fuel. It must be the American Way.
  • We're already experiencing rolling blackouts [cnn.com] due to summer time demands(air conditioning). If we cannot support peak demand, how can we expect it to support cars that must be plugged in? I suspect many of the electric cars would even have to be plugged in during the day as they have such a limited range before needing a recharge.

    Sure, it's easy to say "build more power plants", but the NIMBY factor makes it very difficult. No matter how safe they can be made, nobody wants a power plant near them.

    NIMBY = Not In My BackYard

  • I read an article in a local newspaper this week, saying that price of natural gaz has doubled here in Québec/Canada... so i don't know if it's less expensive to use gaz instead of gasoline... I don't know Canadian gas company selling "GPL" (Gaz de Pétrole Liquéfié=Liquified Petrol Gas?) like in France, where there's bi-mode car that can run on GPL and normal gas.
    BeDevId 15453 - Download BeOS R5 Lite [be.com] free!
  • And who better than ford to take an inefficient and expensive product and figure out a way to mass produce it for cheap? For has a car [fordenvirodrive.com] that exists that runs on a fuel cell. It seats a family of five and will be released in a few years.

  • Hydrogen+oxygen is the 16th most energy dense compound (source: guinness book of records), so why don't we use that? It's cheap and easy to obtain, as it comes from water. Contrary to popular belief, creating the hydrogen+oxygen mix can be done in the car with electricity. Burning the hydrogen+oxygen produces water again so it's not like we're polluting at all. Just a little more heat and rain, but that's not much to pay for clean air, and both of those are trivial. Lastly, the standard engine blocks gasoline cars use can be used for hydrogen+oxygen (though most everything else would have to be changed). So, why don't we, the hacker community, be engineers by nature, come up with a decently easy way of converting cars to run on hydrogen+oxygen ,hydrolysized as needed with the water possibly coming from the air (maybe a second generation thing)? Oh, yah, that's right, we forget we could. GET OFF YOUR DUMB ASSES AND HELP US MAKE THE WORLD BETTER INSTEAD OF RELYING ON CAPITALISM TO DO IT FOR US!!! YOU KNOW DAMN WELL THEY WON'T!!!
  • The battery in today's electric cars isn't a little D-cell. It generally weighs many hundreds of pounds, and often is part of the car's chassis.
  • Because OPEC and the proprietors of the fuel-grid demand it.

    There is no other explanation for 80+ MPG cars existing but not being marketed or alternative fuel vehicals existing but not being properly marketed, if at all.

    Alternate fuels will be popular and readily available when the fuel and power grid holders say so. And they won't say so until fossil-fuels have been dried up.

  • "When public transit becomes as convenient as private transit more people will use it.
    If I actually lived and worked IN the city I'd use it. But some people don't live in the middle of the city and there is no
    need for those people to pay more for the privelage of being able to travel. "

    I've heard the argument that people who live in one city and work in another, or live outside the city they work in, should pay a huge tax for the privelige. Most urban centers have traffic problems that would vanish if people worked in the areas where they lived. Most suburbs do not have jobs available because we take for granted that the jobs are in the city, miles away. There could be incentives for people to work, or create jobs, in the communities where they live, instead of crossing distances and zigzagging around.

  • Sure, they are first generation vechicles, but if they aren't shown as profitable then they will probably be deep sixed.

    The Toyota Prius, at least, is a loss-making proposition. Toyota freely admits to losing money on every Prius they sell. They're using them to validate the technology in the real world (and figure out mundane things such servicing, reliability, and the like), get in some brownie points with environmentalists, while they work on the next version of the car, which is reputedly a huge improvement.

    Toyota, Honda etc. don't throw this kind of money around if they don't think these cars have a real future.

    Of course, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the US and Australia by a similar amount to these hybrids, you could just put a punitive tax on SUV's . . .

  • The development of engines and methanol processing plant in Brazil started back in the late 70's, after the second oil crisis.

    After a couple of years of producing unreliable engines, the auto-makers got their act right, and a methanol engine would be almost as good as a standard one.

    But there were problems. The methanol engine would burn as much as 30/50% more methanol per kilometer than its gasoline counterpart. So the government had to offer high incentives to the consumer, even garanteing that the methanol price would never ne higher than 70% of the gasoline price. In the middle 90's this promisse was forgotten. ALso, methanol cars had fewer and lower taxes in the beggining.

    The second problem was fuel availability. In Brazil, methanol is produced from sugar cane. During the late 70's/early 80's large sugar cane farms, generally backed by one or more processing plants, were developed throughout the country. But the oil price crisis went away, the state-owned oil prospecting company started to find large oil reserves under Brazil's continental platform and people started using gasoline cars again.

    A more or less final strike in the methanol experiment came when methanol production felt, and some big cities started to have methanol supply problems. That scared consumers more than anything else.

    Nowadays most people will not buy a methanol car, no matter how cheaper thay are, for fear of a fuel shortage.

    Al in all, it was a large and successfull experience for some years. More than government or business cluelessness, the changes in the international markets were the real cause for its eventual failure.
  • Actually, the day of widespread use of diesel engines in the USA is not as far away as you think it is.

    Because of new EPA requirements for diesel fuel to have sulfur content under 80 parts per billion (most diesel fuel in the US usually has around 1200 parts per billion), this makes it very viable for the Europeans to bring over their diesel-powered cars in a few years.

    Once the new low-sulfur diesel fuel is widely available, Volkswagen/Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz plan to offer a large number of diesel-powered vehicles for US sale with advanced technologies such as common-rail high-pressure direct fuel injection and other new diesel engine technologies (they've also managed to lick the problem of particulate emissions and close-coupled catalytic converters dramatically reduce NOx emissions).

    And don't think they slow, either. I suggest people drive the European-market BMW 330d; people were amazed by its very fast performance and also gas mileage approaching 40 mpg!

    I also do agree that dieself fuel is more easily refined than gasoline; in fact, you can make diesel fuel equivalents from biomass, coal, oil tar, etc. very easily also. In fact, there are a number of oil companies now working on a motor fuel called SynFuel that has the combustion characteristics of diesel fuel, but burns extremely cleanly. Unlike regular diesel fuel, SynFuel can be made easily from biomass sources easily.
  • One reason why we don't see more diesel-powered cars for sale in the USA is the fact that US-market diesel fuel has a high level of sulfur compounds in the fuel (usually 1200 to 1500 parts per billion), which can damage the advanced diesel fuel systems in and fuel injectors we are starting to see in Europe.

    But with the EPA mandating strict limits on sulfur compounds in diesel fuel (e.g. under 100 parts per billion), then we can see things like common-rail injection systems and direct-injection systems more often. Curing the other big bugaboos of diesel fuel (e.g., NOx emissions and particulate emissions) is already easily done nowadays.

    I've read articles on the amazing BMW 330d, a 3.0-liter L-6 turbodiesel with great performance and nearly 40 mpg fuel mileage in daily driving. I won't be surprised once the new EPA limits are in place that we see this model in the US market.

    By the way, you might want to hear some great news: Alfa Romeo is returning to the US market! They are planning to import the current GTV/Spider model in about a years' time, and they also plan to import the replacement for the 156 model (that should be called the 157). And it's likely one of the "157" models will have a 2.7-liter V-6 turbodiesel belting out around 205 bhp and getting 35 mpg!
  • Speaking of alternate energy sources, back in the 1980's there was a homeowner in Cameron Park, CA (this is 22 miles east of Sacramento, CA) who had a house with solar-powered EVERYTHING (water heater, electric generation, and so on) and saw his Pacific Gas & Electric bill go from US$12.80 to US$28.00! He was definitely -not- a happy camper considering he was just about completely off the electric grid! It's situations like this that give the utility company a big black eye.

    In my opinion, 25 years from now the average automobile may be fuelled either by something called Synfuel (it burns like diesel fuel but has vastly cleaner burning characteristics) or by fuel cells that use hydrogen.
  • There is an extremely simple and effective way to ensure there will always be gasoline available when it's needed: prices.

    If you are right that we have a decade of gasoline left, then gas prices will rise steadily throughout the next decade. By the end of the decade (when gas is almost gone) prices will be so high that no one will be able to afford it, and so alternative fuel sources will be adopted out of necessity.

    In practice, there isn't a single reservoir of oil, so there's never a point at which we "run out." It will simply get more and more expensive to extract, and as prices rise people will switch to other fuels.

    It's worth pointing out that prior to the current spike, gas was at the lowest price in history. That's evidence that if anything oil supplies are more plentiful than at any other time in history. People have been predicting the imminent end of oil supplies since the 30's. But to raise the price now on the (likely false) assumption that it's going to run out quickly is as wrong-headed as lowering the price on the assumption that supplies will last forever.

    Let the market work. As supplies get tight, prices will go up, and people will use alternative fuels. People in the future will have better alternatives than we do today, anyway, so it would be foolish for us to spend a lot of money rationing oil now when there might be a breakthrough in 10 years that makes oil obsolete.
  • I'd like to see the 280HP "Lycombing" - are you sure it's not a 180HP Lycoming?

    Yeah, my spelling sucks (I ignore /. flames about it all the time).

    I've got an Archer with a 180HP Lycoming, wanna race? :-)

    Nah, you'd win. :-)

    (I trained in Pipers and Cessna 172s)

    Sundowners are wonderful aircraft to fly and very comfortable for long trips, but fast they aint. Mine is fairly clean, but it still trues out at around 110 kts, a far cry from the 120 kts the Piper's I used to rent would do (and they were fixed gear).
  • Small aircraft engines still use leaded gasoline because it is VERY expensive to certify a new engine, and the market has not yet been able to justify it.

    This was made worse by the litigation of the seventies and eighties, which nearly killed the General Aviation industry (production of nearly all small aircraft ground to a halt for over 10 years). The industry only came back after congress passed a law limiting aircraft manufacturer's liability to nineteen years. Almost immediately, the small aircraft industry turned around.

    In addition, a number of patents have expired, freeing up previously locked down technologies.

    Composites are helping to bring down fuselage weight (and thereby improve performance), so some additional weight in a liquid cooling system is more viable with modern materials than it was even ten years ago.

    All of these are factors -- the final hurdle being, as noted in the previous post, an expensive and arduous certification process.

    Not only must the engine be certified, but to retrofit into existing aircraft, it must be certified with that aircraft.

    I doubt I'll be swapping out the 280 hp 100 LL burning lycombing engine in my Beech Sundowner anytime soon ...
  • I don't understand all the fuss about gas prices in the US. It's so much cheaper here than almost anywhere else in the world. Go to the UK and fill 'er up and you'll see what I mean. Last time I did it cost me $58 USD for a small car.
  • At some point in the early 80s something like 80% of all cars manufactured in Brazil used pure Ethanol, but since then government subsisidies having been cut down and oil prices decreasing the use of ethanol is down to less than 10% of personal vehicles. Even so, the gasoline used in all other cars is actually a mixture of gasoline and ethanol, which, of course, forces importers to adapt the carburators accordingly.

    I've read once (don't ask me for references) that officials in California and Canada are looking into the Brazilian experience so as to implement a similar program at home.

  • Nuclear fission power plant == > 20 billion dollars (American)

    COal power plant == > 20 million dollars (American)

    You go ahead and do the math.
  • You seem to be highly misinformed about the state of things. For starters, 50% of electricity in the US is produced by the burning of coal. Burning coal is very polluting so for every kilowatt you use to make hydrogen or power an electric car you're pumping a shitload of sulfur dioxide and carbon particulates into the air. Hydrogen fuel cells are fairly clean as they produce pure water but they are very expensive and drive under powered electric motors. Miles per gallon means shit if you can't drive on the freeway. You seem to have read one or two articles on hydrogen fuel and think its the raddest idea ever. Methanol is NOT a fossil fuel you dipshit. It's made by cutting up plant matter and fermenting it. Plants grow readily in Earth's biosphere. Methanol for a fuel is pretty efficient (about as efficient as natural gas) and produces water and carbon dioxide when burned (no harmful chemicals).
  • What I think makes this even worse in the US is that we talk about making public transportation (in the few places its usable) pay for itself. Personally I think if we make mass transport pay for itself than we should make the road systems pay for themselves too.
  • Give them a little time. This is still very hard technology to make cost effective for "small" applications, and there's a lot of active research going on. This has nothing to do with people "buying off" researchers or whatever. It just takes time to get new technology adequately designed, and we still have to figure out distribution networks for hydrogen.

    Not that long ago, a fuel cell required several ounces of *PLATINUM*. This is not cheap stuff.
    They're getting more efficient, but it's still very hard to make it work. I think GM announced that they hoped to have a viable car in production by 2005 or so.
  • Yes, natural gas prices have doubled in the past year or so, but so have oil prices.

    The difference is that natural gas is produced in North America, and there is tons of excess reserves. So when prices shoot up due to increased demand, they drill more wells, and the prices drop back down.

    I don't know about the efficiency of natural gas for cars, but for home heating, nothing beats it. (Well, solar is better, but the installation cost is prohibitive.)
  • Uhm, you don't seem to understand the difference between fuel cells and batteries.

    With batteries, you use the electric grid to recharge. In that case, the pollution is based on whatever power plant is providing the electricity.

    With fuel cells, your car uses a chemical reaction to convert fuel (hydrogen, gasoline, or a number of other possibilites) into electricity. Hence, no recharging, just refuling. That means no impact on the power grid.
  • This question honestly seems a bit strange to me. The major reason that we haven't moved to something else is that there is no reasonable alternative yet out there.

    There are two kinds of problem, that of choosing what "new engine" to use and the costs of converting. Since someone else has already spoken very well about the latter problem I'll just say something about the former.

    What's needed to power cars is a fuel that is highly portable, (e.g. no solar panels or wind turbines) capable of producing not only large amounts of power but high impulses, (i.e. no burning pure ethanol) is reasonably safe, (no nuclear-powered rocket engines) and reasonably inexpensive. Unfortunately, that rules out virtually all of the proposals on the market.

    One of the things that has killed most of these (such as electric cars) is that they fail on one of the first two criteria. Insufficient power means that the car won't zoom fast enough, and yes, that is an issue; nobody is going to buy a car that tops out at 60mph. It's simply not a practical vehicle in a society built around major roads and highways. (Maybe in Europe or Japan one has a better chance) Insufficient portability means that there's not enough range, which requires any number of Rube Goldberg schemes to work around but always comes out to meaning that the car is good for commuting between a few nearby points with refueling docks already at them. This is why you only see electric vehicles driving around on large campuses or whatever.

    Fuel cells suffer from an even more serious problems: They really don't exist yet. Cells capable of powering a car, satisfying anything even remotely like the above requirements, are still a few years away at least. Fuel containment, ease of recharging, inhibition of flammability, recoverability of fuel, and high-drain performance are all still significant issues. Once those are fixed, we get to talk about conversion costs.

    The one thing that is making progress is hybrid systems, which use gasoline for the highest-drain parts of driving (acceleration) and switch to electric or other motors for low-drain parts. (highways, etc.) The technology isn't simple but it's advancing rapidly, and several such vehicles are already on the road. More are almost certain to come in the near future.
  • In most places electric power is just about as bad as gasoline. It's very likely that your local power company is burning fossil fuels to produce your power, mine certainly is, well we do have a nuclear plant, but it is never producing.

    What I find amusing is that somehow people think its better to be disconnected from the problem, it's not so much their fault anymore. "Electric is clean, I don't know where it comes from, but my car produces no emmisions."

    Personally I believe that the best long term solution is H2 as a fuel source. It's abudant (75% of the Universe's mass is hydrogen, and just about as clean as you can get, with the only byproduct of pure H2 burning being water. It can have the performance of gasoline, and I think that's key. People want a car that performs well. Most don't want the sluggish, egg shaped electric-hybird things I've seen.

    The big problem with hydrogen, is that it has a really nasty rap because people think of the Hindenberg when they think of H2. The idea of stepping into anything powered by H2 is scary.

    Hydrogen also has the potential to be distilled anywhere. I really wouldn't be terribly surprised if in a century, people produce their own.

    Man wouldn't the oil industry hate that?

    Check out The H2 information Network [doe.gov]

  • It is also the way now.

    You are probably aware of Home Power Magazine [homepower.com]. Take a look at the current issue that is on there. They have an entire office with all the doo-dads running on solar - and the office is in Wisconsin. They do have a gas generator for backup, but, as they say, the thing has spent an entire 50 hours online in the past year. That is not a whole heck of a lot of time.

    There are other reasons to do solar now - one solar panel can typically supply 100w to your home wiring system by means of something like the Trace Microsine Inverter [traceengineering.com]. For under $1000 you can hook one of these panels up to your house wiring and feed it back to the grid. They are UL listed devices. Hook 'em up, plug 'em into an unused outlet, and sell it back.

    Also, for every panel you have hooked up, you are effectively removing 1000 pounds of carbon from the air that would otherwise be generated by coal.

    This is really one of the only ways to go when you think about it. Currently there are warnings about the Northeast part of the US starting to feel the strain from there just not being enough electricity available. If everyone had just one panel hooked to their house, that would be an ungodly amount of power being generated for these high use areas.

  • As an SUV hater (and a vegetarian :) I don't mind people who get trucks and SUVs because they need them (and having a ranch, living outside an urban area, etc. qualifies).

    It is the yuppies and soccer moms, that get them because they want to drive a Sherman tank around on the freeways, that I hate. The "fuel crisis" of the 70's shifted emphasis on smaller more fuel efficient cars, with safety parameters designed for hitting other cars of roughly equal height. Now, the majority of new cars sold in the US are SUVs, which annihilate smaller fuel efficient cars in accidents, and have bumpers at about head level for my car. Most of these SUVs are for commuting in populated areas, by people who do not need them (IMO).

    The insurance industry needs to start charging an INSANE amount of money for covering urban commuters with SUVs (because there will be lawsuits at some point based on the ideas I've just presented that will force them to), since the probability of small cars hitting a big SUV (or getting hit by) is MUCH greater than it was 10 years ago.

    I'd also like to know exactly how much the current increase in (U.S.) gas prices can be directly attributed to the shift back to gas guzzling vehicles.

    (To original poster, nothing against you. You are welcome to your SUV. I don't need one daily, but I sometimes rent one if I go on a trip to the mountains)
  • Surely those that choose an SUV (and pay the price) are choosing it for what they think is in their best interest. And for quite a few it is justified. But is it really justified for over 50% of new car owners in the US? Surely SUV owners are safer in accidents with small cars (not necessarily with other SUVs), but their liability should be higher, since they may CAUSE far more injuries than a smaller car (and insurance must account for that, even in "no-fault" states). Your medical bill equation left out that term. So there certainly is no justification for charging the same for accident insurance. I personally think the minimum liability insurance requirements should be set higher for larger vehicles (and probably everyone in general) to account for this.

    Please remember my argument was centered on urban and commuter use of SUVs, in a discussion about fuel use. Driving an SUV may be safer (until everyone has an SUV) but their high popularity does put fuel efficient vehicles at risk, and is part of the equation I must consider when deciding whether I want to buy a new breed of fuel efficient car and drive it on the same highways as all the SUVs.

    As for vans and station wagons, well, you are right, they absolutley suck in terms of safety, fuel efficiency, and just about everything else but getting laid in (and they aren't exactly mate attractors anyway). But a minivan-type thing could be a safe acceptible alternative, if it were not for the high risk of getting hit by something bigger.

  • Of course, there are some other issues as well. For example, we may determine that Methanol is the most POLLUTION EFFICIENT vehicle-power method available, but realize that in order to generate enough Methanol, we'd have to turn the entire continent of North America into a gigantic corn farm. Obviously, this would negate the value of Methanol. Similarly, if we need to dam every river in the country to generate enough electricity to power our cars, causing a complete kill off of their entire ecosystems, we wouldn't do so.

    This is of course why we need to reduce our reliance on "private" transportation. If everyone didn't waste so much energy we wouldn't need to dam every river or an obscene raise corn. I put private into quotes because it's not private by any means I'm subsidizing even who chooses to drive with my tax money. Interstates and highways aren't built with fuel tax dollars. I'd be happy to see a $1 a gallon tax on gas that went to public transporation.

  • And America will spend the forseeable future bitching about how expensive electric cars are, bitching (and suing) when they want to build a nuclear power plant within 500 miles of our house, spend every other waking moment bitching about how high gas prices are, bitching about OPEC, and continue sending every drop of oil in Alaska straight to Japan.

    Dear fellow Americans,
    Gasoline and the US Mail are the best deals around. Shut your collective pie holes. Gas is pumped out of the ground, shipped across the planet, refined, and sold for about the same price as water, which last I checked, fell from the sky.

  • Has anybody mentioned CIDI yet?

    If you want something that's signifigantly more economical and environmentally friendly than gasser engines, and that's available now, and doesn't cost way too much, and that's even *fun to drive*, then Compression Ignition Direct-Injection (CIDI) engines are where it's at.

    Modern direct injection diesels are all over Europe, but thanks to poor market perception and yet poorer fuel quality, North America hasn't caught on yet. The best example that you can find in the U.S.A. is Volkswagen's wonderful TDI motors. More manufacturers will offer CIDI alternatives in the very near future.

    Performance is quite good. Even though a 1.9-liter TDI only produces 90HP, it produces as much torque as a larger-displacement gasser engine -- and torque is more important, IMHO. Also, the maximum torque is available at about 1750RPM. You get power where at the revs you visit most.

    There's a lot of scoot in there, if you tweak your driving habits just a bit. You won't win every drag race, but you can sure pass on the expressway with authority. Many TDI owners have modded their vehicles for performance, with surprising results (see Fred's TDI club below).

    Emissions are impressive. Save for NO2 and particulates, TDI motors have lower emissions than gassers in the other four categories. Even so, the particulate levels are very low compared to the sooty old passenger diesels that you're used to seeing -- they rarely "smoke".

    Puegot is developing a particulate trap that will further reduce this category of emissions. That can be retrofitted to existing CIDI cars, and will certainly come on newer models. There's a lot of research going on, but the phony enviro-types such as Gore in the U.S. certainly haven't been promoting it.

    Fuel economy is very good. Many TDI owners report 49-52 MPG regularly, even with some spirited driving. Did I mention that diesel fuel is often cheaper than petrol? That's exactly why so many Europeans drive CIDI cars... both fuels are hideously expensive there.

    Also, CIDI motors use very little fuel at idle, unlike gassers... so, they're good for the city, as well as the highway. It's very hard to stall a TDI. =-)

    Maintenance on CIDI engines is lower -- there's no ignition system, for instance. If you change your timing belt every 40-50K, a TDI motor should last 500,000km easily. Contrary to popular belief, modern diesels are easy to start, even in the extreme cold. They were designed to work in Northern Europe, so they would have to! =-)

    Everything else aside, alternative fuel availability is the real holy grail here. You can run on straight dino-diesel, or mix in some veggie-based biodiesel, or even work in some natural-gas based synthetic diesel. In a pinch, you could run several other substances. There's lots of room for future development here.

    As long as the cetane level is high enough, and the lubricity is sufficient to make it past the injector pumps, &c. then it'll probably run great. Modern gassers (the ones that I like, anyways) will never, ever run on anything but premium petrol, made from dinosaur oil. That's the biggest difference for me!

    Don't get me wrong, I like other automotive technologies, too... I just happen to like CIDI better. Especially since I can get a practical car with a TDI motor in the U.S. today for less than $20K.

    The internal combustion engine is far from dead. Don't let Al Gore kill it off... that would be a huge mistake. Like a previous poster said, diesel contains more energy than petrol. It's also easier to refine, so there's less pollution and energy needed to make it compared to petrol.

    For more than you ever wanted to know about CIDI (and VW TDI's in particular), check out Fred's. Be careful, it can be addictive. But so are french fries, for that matter. =-)

    Fred's TDI Club [abahn.bc.ca]

    hey CIDI enthusiasts, did I leave anything out?
    -cheers, fattyfox
  • Because the electricity for batteries is reasonably cheap, but the batteries themselves are very expensive. Who pays for them?

    OK, assume it's an investment on the part of the "electricity providers." They buy a couple tons of batteries, and you can go to any other station in their franchise, and swap out discharged battery for a charged one. They charge you for the service (forgive the pun), and put in some extra percentage to cover the price of the battery. Sounds great!

    Except, the problem is, powerful, rechargable batteries don't last very long. And how do they know that the box you're bringing back as one of their discharged batteries really is? Powerful batteries tend to be a big case filled with smaller cells, sometimes with "smart" controllers that switch around bad sub-cells. You could be yanking out the insides, and returning them a battery case filled with gravel or something.

    So the solution has to be some kind of internal security device. This drives the price up even higher.

    OK, and what happens if you're driving through rural no-where, and there's no franchises of CityVoltageBatteriesInc? If the battery stations have exchange agreements, you're fine. But what that really means is that the Mega Battery Conglomerates will survive, and there will be no Mom'n'Pop battry stations.

    And you know that they're gonna mess everything up in the name of competition. Bob's SuperCharge will tell you that Tina's ChargeYouUp doesn't fully charge the battery, and worse, smears some contact-cleaning paste on the terminals that'll shorten the life of your car. Tina, of course, will tell you that ChargeYouUp has a patented phased charge cycle that manages to put more high-energy electricity in your battery, yielding that extra few miles per charge.

    All these problems have solutions, of course, but currently lack the political will and/or the price point incentive for anyone to implement the solution.
    bukra fil mish mish
    Monitor the Web, or Track your site!
  • I'm not a creationist or a scientific ignoramus. I don't care about the oil companies.

    I know the Earth transfers heat and mass with the greater universe (especially through the sun, which shines on us and allows plants to grow and thereby life and evolution, even intellegent life and computers).

    But, the unavoidable conclusion of this intellegence is that it will use all available energy it can. And this use of energy will always create entropy somewhere.

    This is a philosophical point, not an indictment for love of petroleum products. Let's say you use solar power. As that technology currently stands, you have to replace the 10% effecient solar panels every couple years, causing about the same polution as the large, heavy batteries that also need replacement. Arguing that "innovation" will "solve" these problems is exactly why I proposed the philisophical point that no matter how the energy is harvested, somewhere entropy is created by its use. This entropy, in the end, will lead to heating the Earth, almost by definition. Waste heat, as discussed in many forums, is an inevitable consequence of any increase in energy use.

    So what WOULD I recomend? Greater efficiency of energy that's being used now is the only reasonable course of action we have. This requires our devices be more expensive to build, but will work out in the end. Like the Honda Insite, which costs $18,000 (about $5,000 more than a regular car), which is a dual gas/electric hybrid, and gets about double the normal gas efficiency due to lighter materials, brake energy capture, and electric motor efficiencies.

    Entropy is created SOMEWHERE when energy is harvested. Therefore we have to be careful and use our energy wisely and efficiently. Oh, and let the prices on gas rise. I bought the most fuel efficient car I could find (the ford escort) and will weather the rise better than most. (Too bad I don't have public transportation in this area :( )

  • Right. The best alternatives for gasoline are deisel, Natural gas, and arguably methenal. After that, the increasingly nutty ideas are Methane, Hydrogen and Electricity, or even solar.

    Unless you've got a moped weight-car with as much of a footprint as a truck, solar power doesn't generate enough electricity. Electricity simply redistributes where the carbon is burned, and Hydrogen is very unstable (and can't be found in a mine like Petroleum). The others all contribute greatly to global warming (especially methane) and are more expensive to get.

    Do you want to use Nuclear Power? That would quickly make a toxic, radioactive mess.

    So if you're looking to solve the global warming problem, the expense problem, or any problem, by eliminating the dominant energy source, remember the second law of thermodynamics: "Any change in a closed system will tend to make the system more entropic." (more random) Basically any method of generating energy will negatively affect the world in some way (except solar, which negatively affects the sun, slowly).

  • There's not really a good fuel source to switch to yet. Electric cars are fine, until you realize that you pollute more generating the electricity. Ethanol's great, but even if all the corn in the U.S. was put towards ethanol, it would only satisfy 4% of the demand for gas. Yeah, that's right. 4%. Hydrogen fuel cells-I love them , but they're not viable yet. The acid in them is extremely corrosive-I'd hate to see an accident where the acid spills. You can't turn them off either-kind of pointless to have a fuel cell running 24 hours a day. Also , hydrogen can't exactly be found on the ground in the pure form. You can have electrolysis of water, but then you're back to the power plants. Only the algae that produces hydrogen is really viable, but that's quite a ways down the road where everyone has an algae pond on top of their house. I think we need to get over electric cars, and focus on hydrogen fuel cells-it's our only shot.

    Colin Winters
  • "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." -- Max Planck

    I know for a fact that many many times in the twentieth century, there have been inventors who came up with carburetor designs that enabled ANY vehicle to get 300 miles to the gallon or even more. My dad knew one such person personally. He invented a 300MPG carb, tried to market it, and instantly got bought out by Ford, I think it was. They bought his design for $50,000 (this was in the 50's, when 50 grand was actually worth something :) and then smothered it. Nobody heard of it again.

    And if you really want to get into conspiracy theories, I suggest you just do a web search for "zero point energy". There are so many ways to use ZPE it's sickening, considering the fact that NONE of them have been even mentioned in mainstream media (owned by big business). It is possible to take damn near any existing electrical motor, add a few parts, and turn it into a generator that runs itself without any fuel. You just give it a spin and it runs forever. But guess what happens when someone tries to patent such a device? The patent office replies, "Oh. That, by definition, is a perpetual motion machine. We can't give patents on those. Sorry." They don't even bother testing the patent's claims, or try building one themselves, or even let the guy demonstrate it... they just refuse to patent it and move on. In New Zealand, a man who tried to patent a perpetual motion machine in 1970 suddenly found himself dead, and all his research materials and lab supplies and equipment just mysteriously vanished. History is replete with examples of this tyranny, and just about all of it is the big business collusion that keeps the oil producers making their trillions. What would happen if everyone alive knew they could get a generator the size of a small desk, put it in their garage, and cut the power lines to their house, and never have to buy fuel or pay for electricity ever again? Why, it would destroy Exxon, Texaco, Shell, and all of OPEC just about overnight. Can't have that. It's financial evolution: "Survival of the richest."

    So, again, this is something you'll have to go do research on. Explaining how to convert a motor into a perpetual-motion generator is well beyond the scope of a slashdot post. Again, do "zero point energy" and "ZPE" searches on Metacrawler [metacrawler.com] and prepare yourself for enlightenment.

    Do not simply see the phrase "perpetual motion machine" in this post and scoff immediately. Science and physics doesn't even know what magnetism or gravity is, yet it claims to be able to state with absolute certainty that perpetual motions machines are impossible?? The sheer arrogance is staggering. "Yes, well, we realize we only understand about 0.01% of how the universe works, but we know you can't have perpetual motion. It's just preposterous." Give me a break.

    • "The world is round," Columbus said. "Preposterous," the "scientists" of the 15th century said. "You'll fall off the edge."
    • "Diseases are caused by microscopic creatures that I call 'germs' which get inside us and do harm to our cells," said Louis Pasteur. "Preposterous," the "scientists" said.
    • "The earth actually revolves around the sun, and not the other way around," said Galileo. "Preposterous," the Catholic Church's "scientists" said. "Shut up or we'll torture and kill you."
    • "Travelling faster than 60 MPH would be fatal."
    • "Travelling faster than the speed of sound is impossible."
    • "Travelling faster than light is impossible."
    • "Perpetual motion machines simply cannot exist."

    Does anyone see a pattern here? Humans are so stupid that they believe things just because they come out of an authority figure's mouth. Think for yourselves! Do your own research! It sickens and saddens me to know that the salvation of humanity is so close, yet people refuse to reach out and grab it just because they've been brainwashed all through school and childhood to not believe in it. I mean, please... How far would we have gotten if Columbus had just believed what the scientists told him without question instead of being brave and intelligent enough to go find out on his own? What would the world be like today if Pasteur hadn't thought "Hmm; I know people are going to laugh at me and perhaps worse for publishing the results of my research, but I have to do it because it'll save lives"? What if Orville & Wilbur Wright had just given up because everyone kept telling them that only birds could fly because God gave them wings and not us? Who knows how many times in history some brilliant bit of new thought has been squelched just because the person who thought it up believed the rhetoric against it? Say people had listened to Nicola Tesla instead of destroying him. How much further along would science be today if he'd been allowed to produce his electromagnetic shield, or his car that ran on nothing more than the electricity in the air? He had a car with a black box in it that had a lot of antennae sticking out of it; no engine, no fuel tank, no nothing, and all of this verified. He drove it around for many many years. But how many people have heard of it? It's just one of the truly innovative inventions of history that's been crushed out of existence by Those In Power who'd rather keep making money than let us have something that will bring pollution to a COMPLETE END. There never should have BEEN any pollution; Tesla and Marconi had perpetual motion generators 100 years ago but they went nowhere with them. Westinghouse destroyed Tesla. Even the Smithsonian (run by You Know Who Inc., of course) is trying to bury Tesla in obscurity in favor of Edison's crappy stab at electrical production.

    So. Does anyone believe me? How many of you can break through your years of schooling and conditioning and brainwashing to see the real truth? How many of you will go further, and see for yourselves what is possible in the field of fuelless power generation? 'Cause I can't take much more of this. If you people allow yourselves to be ruled and crushed by big business and politicians, there's no hope for humanity. We'll just keep falling farther and farther into slavery until there's no more clean water, no more clean air, and no more fossil fuels left... but you can bet that as soon as the earth runs out of resources, big business will suddenly go "Oh, looky here! We've just discovered perpetual motion machines ARE possible! Now bow down and thank us for saving you!" and you fucking sheep will do it.


    "The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy, but the best weapon of a democracy should be the weapon of openness."
  • Heh. Exactly what I was talking about. "That stupid Einstein guy says you can split atoms and release lots of energy. What a quack."

    <insert your own examples here>

    "The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy, but the best weapon of a democracy should be the weapon of openness."
  • That's most likely a factor, but the MAIN reason is that it's cheeper than a gallon of watter or milk. Go to the store and look at the price of just about any fluid in the place - Gasoline is cheeper. And it will remain that way until we run out of it.

    Fawking Trolls! [slashdot.org]
  • Because OPEC and the proprietors of the fuel-grid demand it.

    There is no other explanation for 80+ MPG cars existing but not being marketed or alternative fuel vehicals existing but not being properly marketed, if at all.

    Of course there's another explanation:

    Fuel economy is not an important factor for many people buying cars. They like their 12 mpg SUV's (and even 20-30 mpg sedans) for a myriad of other reasons: style, comfort, performance, reliability, etc.

    The people who do care a lot about fuel economy (i.e. the ones springing for the 80 mpg Geo Metros) do so most likely because they can't afford a gas guzzler. And these aren't the people who are going to pay for expensive alternate-fuel conversions, just like they aren't the ones buying the expensive EV1's.

    Until alternative-fuel cars are as cheap, reliable, and powerful as gasoline cars -- and until there are enough filling/recharging stations to take a cross-country trip without thinking twice about it -- then alternative-fuel cars will be no more than novelty items for the wealthy and the environmentally concerned.

    Either that, or it's a conspiracy. ;-)

  • Ironically, I had a lot of discussions about alternative fuels when I was out in the midwest last week. Why not ethanol? It can be made from just about anything organic (it seems..I heard mention of garbage, paper, corn, wheat, etc). It burns cleaner. They have 85% ethanol cars now (a few from ford and chrysler) that appear to run jsut as well, good speed, good efficiency. E85 (as they call 85% ethanol) had a 106 octane at the pump when I looked. What's the catch? We have the most farm land of anywhere I can think of in the world. We have a grain surplus. Most importantly, it's renewable. What's the problem here???

  • There's are a couple of good reasons Middle Eastern crude is so much cheaper than ours, and they have nothing to do with labor cost:

    1. They have really, really good oil. This means that there are a lot of light fractions suitable for things like gasoline, with very little of the tar and other goop that reduces output and creates environmental concerns. This directly translates to ME oil producing more product per barrel of crude, and at a much lower price. Some Mubaraq *crude* is light enough to be lit with a match! This difference in quality is one reason why even having to drag it halfway around the world doesn't kill the economic advantage.

    2. It's really, really easy to get to. There's an old joke in the oil business that says "Sure their oil is cheap - all they have to do is poke a stick in the ground to get it." This is not much of an exaggeration. Complex (and consequently expensive) drilling methods are almost never needed there - a big contrast to the directional drilling, complex fracturing techniques, and secondary/tertiary recovery techniques that have sidelined so many US oilfields, especially here in Texas.
  • Pat:

    I'm interested in your electric car - that's a pretty good hack in its own right. Do you have a page up for it?

    BTW: Thanks for both Pilot DOC and the NetWinder work - netwinder.org taught me a lot about Linux on other platforms. Maybe Red Hat will buy Corel after all - someone should, you're a pretty good deal right now... Best wishes.)
  • Car & Driver had a side-splitting story [caranddriver.com] about an attempt to travel coast-to-coast in a natural gas-powered car a few months back.

    It was no picnic, and the guy's lucky he didn't blow himself up, but real drivers would do the same. It points out the importance of infrastructure, even for something so universally available as NG, and the pain that goes with being an early adopter.
  • Although there are many people out there spinning comely stories about the wonderfulness of hydrogen and fuel cells, the harsh reality is that hydrogen makes economic sense now or in the foreseeable future.

    Car and Driver had an excellent set of articles exposing these realities a few months ago, and talking about what's possible in the lab vs. the real world.

    Check out:

    Hydrogen, cleanest of all no-pollution myths. [caranddriver.com]
    By PATRICK BEDARD (August 1999)


    Fuel-cell miracles and urban sprawl. [caranddriver.com]
    By BROCK YATES (August 1999)

    and this article, which points out the extraordinary staying power of a continually improving internal combustion engine:

    The Survivor [caranddriver.com]
    News of the demise of the internal-combustion engine is greatly exaggerated. Again.
    By PATRICK BEDARD (December 1998)

    Add to this that one big 3 automaker has pointed out how electrics are both hideously expensive and subsidized by thier makers by remarking that, " the absolute cheapest way for us to get batteries for an electric car is to go buy one from Toyota and throw away the car." Somehow I don't think Toyota would let them do that for very long...

    Bottom line: We still use gasoline engines because they are teh best technological solution to the problem. They may not always be, but they are likely to remain so for the next several decades, anyway.
  • The biggest reason aircraft still use leaded fuel is that it prevents knocking at altitude - tetraethyl lead was invented in WWII for this purpose and our ability to produce it in quantity was a key to Allied air superiority.

    I has huge benefits down here, too: it allows much higher compression ratios, resuling in higher efficiency, and it naturally lubricates and protects exhaust valve seats. (This latter is the reason it's so bad to run any old gasoline engine on unleaded gas - the older seats are *designed* to have lead protecting them. Running for a while with unleaded fuel will produce expensive engine damage if you don't replace the seats with hardened ones.)
  • There's a LOT of innovation in Diesels that we don't see here in the US. (The VW TDIs being about all that's for sale here.)

    Not only is range stupendous (the TDI wagon can go 800 miles before refueling!), but some manufacturers are even managing to deal with the problems of sluggish Diesel performance.

    Look folks, when Alfa Romeo starts building Diesel cars, you know there's something afoot! (Italian cars are a sickness from which I've never recovered - I sure wish I could buy a new Spider or GTV here.)
  • This is conspiracy theorist bunk! If you've got a clean, effiecient, cost effective alternative, then by all means go sell it and make billions.

    But you don't do you? Niether does anyone else.

    I suppose you think we'd all have flying saucers if the auto/oil/govt conspiracy hadn't suppressed the Dean drive, right? Time for a reality check, dude - those "much cleaner and more powerful energy sources" don't exist, or someone would be making money off of them.
  • OK, I stand corrected. As a tourist, I buy my rides one at a time, which could get to be quite expensive.

    Two of my three cars are paid for, and my total operating costs are quite reasonable. For that, I gat the ability to go anywhere, anytime, direct to my destination. I agree that mass transit makes some sense in high-density urban areas (which many of us despise and avoid), but it will not and cannot work in other contexts. I wouldn't use it here even if it were available and cheaper - it's worth the incremental cost to have the flexiblity of a car. I know people live with only mass transit, but I can't imagine living such a narrow and confined life.

    There is a real differnce in culture and attitudes at work here, which is why mass transit generally fails in the South and West, where freedom and elbow room are more highly valued.

    As for ozone depletion, first, there's room for reasonable scientific disagreement on the issue, and some reputable and serious atmospheric scientists insist it's a myth. Second, cars *produce* ozone, and that's one of the things the EPA is trying to prevent. It causes trouble down here, but eventually rises to the ozone layer. Cars do not hurt the ozone layer, alhtough jet airplanes may.
  • I agree they're not required for hackermobiles like yours or one that I might build (and I've thouht about it), but the mass market is another thing.

    AC motors are in the EV-1 becaue they're more efficient, primarily because AC power control circuitry can be made more efficient than DC.

    The cooling system is required because of the high loads on the electric motor. It's highly loaded in an effort to keep the weight down, so power/weight ratios don't suffer.

    As for the paddle charger, I read some papers by GM on that - It was the best way that they could safely provide a high-power interconnect. (As you certainly know, the EV-1 uses a special 220V charger that can deliver a lot of charge in a short period of time, something they considered a market requirement. Plugging into a regular outlet works, but you're not going to get the quick recharges the EV-1 offers.

    That said, it's true the EV-1 is a technological tour-de-force using all the cool tehnology GM could bring to bear - but not even remotely economically feasible. In that regard, it's much like the Chrysler Turbine cars of the 1960s - it just showcased a concept as possible, not practical.

    What I'm wondering is why they didn't take the lessons learned from the ultralight ultrarigid structure of the EV-1 and use it to build a super-efficient gasoline-powered car (possibly powered by a 2-cycle orbital, since they have to remain small in displacement to work well.)

    The fact is that the automakers realize that he average buyer is not going to be satisfied with the tradeoffs you've made in your electric. So, for now, they're still niche vehicles.

    (I'll admit I'm surprised at how much trouble we've had getting good battery technology. I really figured we'd be doing better on that front by now, but it's a hard problem.)
  • by Danse ( 1026 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @10:22AM (#933424)

    From what I've read lately, today's IC engines generally top out at around 30% efficiency. So far, fuel cells range from around 40 - 60% efficiency. The problem is still heat. When a fuel cell is large and stationary, it can get up to 90% efficiency through cogeneration, which is using the heat that is produced to turn turbines to create more electricity.

    Now, if they can just get them small and cheap enough to work well in a car, we'll be getting somewhere.

  • If you built a car that ran on say Compressed Natural gas you need to have places to fill the tank. And not just one or two, you need it everywhere. And you need a method of distrbuting that fuel etc.

    Plus the modern gas engine is very efficient, it produces a good amount of power for the fuel that you feed it. Ok some people buy SUV's that have much more engine than they need, but thats another point.

    What I want to know is why do small aircraft still use leaded gas.

    The Cure of the ills of Democracy is more Democracy.

  • by RayChuang ( 10181 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @10:41AM (#933426)
    I have to say this to all you folks out there.

    The gasoline-powered automobile is still a viable means of transportation, because thanks to massive improvements in engine and emission-control technology since the 1970's, today's average automobile emit under 5% of the pollutants of a car circa 1970.

    The development of catalytic converters, fuel injection systems, electronic engine controls and improved combustion chamber design has allowed automobiles to have excellent performance yet have extremely low emissions.

    Remember, the entire world is going towards this end, too. The California Super Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV), Japan's upcoming Stage III standard for 2004, and the European "Euro 2005" standards are almost identical in regards to emissions, and already companies like Honda, Toyota and Nissan have already manufactured cars that can meet these tough restrictions, with companies like Volkswagen/Audi, BMW and DaimlerChrysler closely following behind. These standards are so strict that it is more than likely the air going INTO the engine will be dirtier than the air coming OUT of the engine!

    By drastically reducing the amount of sulphur compounds per billion in both gasoline and diesel fuel (something already required in California), it now makes it possible to introduce direct-injection systems that has the fuel injector directly injecting the fuel into the combustion chamber. This allows extremely precise metering of fuel necessary to do proper combustion, and that in turn increases fuel economy and reduces exhaust emissions at the same time.

    In short, the gasoline engine is still a long way from dead. The technology is now in place to reduce pollutants to almost one percent (!!) of what a 1970 model year car emits and still get 15 to 20 percent better fuel mileage.
  • by Sangui5 ( 12317 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @08:33AM (#933427)
    especially with gas being as high as it is right now

    The reason gas prices are so high is because people are buying gas-guzzling SUV's and driving up the demand for gasoline to insane levels, while OPEC has not increased production to match. If any chunk of the population switched to alternative fuels, the price of gas would drop through the floor. The lower demand would also severly hinder OPEC, and possible break the cartel, allowing the price of gas to fall further. But with gas at ultra-low prices, nobody in their right mind would want to pay for the (comparitivly) expensive alternatives.

    Car companies will start making high-efficiency cars, since a fringe of the population (myself included) has grown large enough to make it profitable to satisfy the demand. Honda has that new car (the Prius?) that gets ~60-70 MPG, and Toyota is going to start shipping a similar car. The vast bulk of people (at least in the US), however, will still want their huge inefficient SUV's.

    I belive a Ford exec said that the company would be overjoyed to stop manufacturing SUV's, but that as long as people demanded them, Ford had to supply them to stay afloat. The solution is in convincing John Q. Public that running an efficient, clean car (gasoline or otherwise), rather than his big, overpowered SUV, is what he wants to do.

    Good luck.
  • by Medievalist ( 16032 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @09:29AM (#933428)
    You wrote: "We need a way to show the oil companies that we're fed up of lining their pockets with cash" which is kind of funny since there are so many ways, and so many organisations doing so.
    Rule #1: Buy NO unneccessary plastic items. I make an exception, personally, for my kids' legos. But I don't buy a new case for my computer just because the ATX form came out, I hacksaw the old one. Plastics are essentially a waste product of the petroleum industry.
    Rule #2: Buy NOTHING from Exxon. Because we need to convince the Oil Barons that there are some things that don't blow over - and Exxon's had the most egregious crimes as well as being the last vestigal trace of the original Petroleum Trust (Standard Oil = S.O. = Esso = Exxon, you can confirm this easily).
    Rule #3: Stop whining and do something. I am converting my truck to gas/electric hybrid ASAP. My bud Pete runs used fryer oil in his (unmodified) Mercedes diesel.

    Alternative Energy Engineering [alt-energy.com]
    Ballard Fuel Cells [ballard.com]
    Electro Automotive [electroauto.com]
    Energy Conversion Devices, Inc. [ovonics.com]
    Greenpeace International Homepage [greenpeace.org]
    Home Power Magazine [homepower.com]
    Hydrogen Web (English/German) [hydrogen.org]
    innEVations [innevations.com]
    Jerry Halstead's Car [sover.net]
    Low Rolling Resistance Tires [sirius.com]
    Phoenix EAA [primenet.com]
    Roofing Systems [ovonic.com]
    Unique Mobility [uqm.com]
    Veggie Van (BioDiesel) [veggievan.org]
    Wilde EVolutions catalog [wilde-evolutions.com]
    United Solar Systems Home Page [ovonics.com]

  • by PsychoKiller ( 20824 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @08:24AM (#933429) Homepage
    and I'm not joking... the person who invented the diesel engine originally planned for it to run on Hemp oil and other vegetable based oils.

    Plus it cleans the environment as the plants are growing. I can't see any drawbacks.
  • by vanyel ( 28049 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @08:42AM (#933430) Journal
    People really love to bash whatever's popular don't they? Usually without stopping to think about *why* they're popular. SUV's are popular because of the U - Utility. They haul people and things very well. Sure, people use them to commute with, but most people don't have the luxury of buying application specific vehicles for all the applications they have. I'm trying though --- I have a Corbin Sparrow [ev-sparrow.com] for commuting with, and I've been monitoring the EV discussion list for a couple of years now. The reason we haven't gotten away from gas is simply that there isn't anything better. LNG is bulkier, but is much cleaner, and so is probably the closest alternative. Battery technology just isn't even close. Fuel Cells are coming and hold the most promise, but are still several years away from practicality. Hybrids are good, but the technology to do those right is non-trivial also... Nevertheless, Ford is coming out with a small hybrid SUV in a couple of years, and Toyota says this fall they're coming out with a full-size (Expedition sized) SUV ("Sequoia") that meets Ultra Low Emission standards (with a 4.7L V8 I have to wonder "ultra low compared to *what*?", but that's the claim).

    Even so, there's something that doesn't smell right. I read that EV's are a failure because GM and Honda have backed out of their public EV programs, never mind that they were only available in *very* limited areas and never really marketed. They were pretty expensive though. That hasn't hurt the Corbin though --- at $15,000 ea for a single seater, they've got orders into next year. And these things are really beta vehicles --- I've gone through 2 controllers already and they have a number of glitches. Nevertheless, it's very fun to drive, and I love it when it runs. If a large manufacturer started cranking them out for under $10K, I'll bet you'd start seeing them everywhere.

    The upshot is that while the technology isn't here yet for a complete conversion, and most people can't afford to have a vehicle for every use, a large number can afford an inexpensive commuter car if the advantages are sufficient. A Geo Metro that makes a number of sacrifices for a small decrease in gasoline consumption isn't enough for most people, but some of us are breaking ground for a more promising future.

  • by dublin ( 31215 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @10:31AM (#933431) Homepage
    Actually, like most so-called "zero-emisions" vehicles, this one is in reality just a remote emissions vehicle.

    Something has to compress the air, and compressed air is not a particulary high-density energy storage medium. That something may be electricity, which more than likely came from an oil or gas-fired power plant and further absorbed the non-trivial power losses incurred in transmission lines, transformers, etc. (Granted, nuclear is the cleanest overall, but effectively impossible because of environmental zealots - nuke plants are already a dying breed - and ther is that pesky waste problem.)

    Further, it requires expensive, filament-wound composite tanks, which are themselves a serious non-trivial safety hazard in the event of an accident. (For all gasoline's faults, it is much safer in a crash than many alternative fuels such as ethanol, hydrogen, L[NP]G, etc., and it does not require complex, expensive, or heavy containment and fueling sytems.)

    Further, a cursory look at the zero emissions engine (listed on another page at the site) raises the snake oil alert flags: Although a spherical combustion chamber has some benefits (hence the famous Chrysler "hemi" (hemispherical) head, common in many modern motors), it requires small, inefficient valves, and will have to deal with the friction of two cylinders rather than one. As an experienced motorhead myself, I fail to see how this concept could even theoretically approach, much less exceed, the efficiency of a conventional IC engine.

    Keep in mind that some ideas that look great on paper have problems in the real world. Mazda's incredible rotary being a prime example: The motor is small, light, has low friction, only a handful of parts, and you can literally rebuild it on your kitchen table. Unfortunately, although its power-to-weight ratio is quite impressive, its fuel economy is not, so it has been relegated to use in high-performance sports car duty where efficiency is less of a concern. (That said, I'm a huge rotor-motor fan - the things are awesome marvels of engineering. With reasonable care (mostly making *very* sure it *never* runs low on oil), the things are darn near bulletproof, too.)

    It's easy to put together a web page making incredible claims (like the split-cycle folks did in Australia a year or two ago) - it's another thing to deliver on them. The reality is that cars are as good as we can economically make them today. They will continue to get better, but painting the automobile as the enemy of the environment is simply not realistic - modern cars emit virtually no pollutants once the catalyst is warm, and there is much promising research on how to avoid those initial few seconds. (Many new cars emit more in the first few seconds after a cold startup than they do for the next several dozen miles of driving. That's impressive!)
  • by brandond ( 33418 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @09:09AM (#933432)
    Have you ever heard of "farmers"?

    Who needs farmers? Don't you know? Food comes from the grocery store, not from farms. :)


  • by Hnice ( 60994 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @08:27AM (#933433) Homepage
    I live in NYC, i ride the train to and from work every day, it's fast, cheap, and efficient, a marvel of engineering.

    When i visit my parents in CT, however, you can't do a thing without a car. Now, of course, people outside of cities *could* constrcut decent mass transit, but they don't, and that's fine -- it's a lifestyle choice based on perceived convenience and, to some degree, an archaic sense that one's car contributes to one's identity.

    But it's a lifestyle *choice*, and when the price of gas goes up and this causes what were, essentially, forseeable economic impacts, what am i supposed to do, cry?

    Stop whining. Take the bus. In addition to saving a couple of bucks, it'll help prevent your kids from getting skin cancer.

    [This is without even addressing the point that cars contribute to the breakdown of neighborhoods, and that a quarter of a million americans are killed in car accidents a year. F cars. They suck. No sympathy from me. Gas should cost 6 bucks a gallon, given the harm it does.]
  • by barleyguy ( 64202 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @10:13AM (#933434)
    YOU CANNOT GROW CANNABIS IN HEMP FIELDS - The reason why is easily explained when you understand how marijuana is produced. To make "pot" you grow only female plants. Depriving them of male pollen is what creates the "bud" that people smoke. If you planted your marijuana plants in a hemp field you would end up with pollenized plants and have wasted your time.

    Actually, you're way off on your reasoning here. All female plants produce buds, assuming they get the right light cycle. The fertilization of the male pollen causes the buds to form seeds, which lowers the THC content, because the plants are depleting energy creating seed they would otherwise use to create THC. So without males, you get sensimilla, or seedless females. With males, you get just as many buds, but they are considerably less potent. Most commercial bud ("schwag") is grown in fields with a combination of female and male plants. Kind bud ("dank") is normally grown indoors, by seperating the males and females into separate rooms, and pollenating only enough buds to maintain a seed crop.

    Also hemp IS cannabis. It is just a different breed of cannabis. Much like the difference between a cocker spaniel and a doberman - both dogs, but different breeds. This brings up the point of why no self respecting pot smoker would grow marajuana in a hemp field - cross breeding. Your pot plants would become very weak (for smoking) and very stalky. It's like letting your purebred dobermans breed with cockerspaniels. They would no longer be worth the trouble.

    Cannabis hemp that is grown for the purpose of fuel or clothing is typically stocky, strong, and very low THC. Cannabis sativa / cannabis indica, which are typically grown for recreational or medicinal uses, are typically chosen for the sweetest, juiciest, most potent buds, and the least stalk strength. You would never want to grow them anywhere near each other.
  • by AugstWest ( 79042 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @09:00AM (#933435)
    Here's a site [insightman.com] that I check out pretty regularly on the Honda Insight hybrid. It's a "personal log" kind of thing, with loads of honest personal experiences from a bunch of people who've been living with the car for a while now.

    I'd love one for commuting, but I probably couldn't even bring my briefcase with me for fear of carrying too much weight.

  • by deefer ( 82630 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @08:49AM (#933436) Homepage
    And with all those fumes around, there will be an instant reduction in road rage!!!
    I can see it now - "oh, man, I'm _really_ sorry about cutting you off like that..."
    "Hey - s'okay!"

    Strong data typing is for those with weak minds.

  • by chainsaw1 ( 89967 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @01:26PM (#933437)
    There are two central reasons why it is preferrable to have a plant making the pollution than a car.

    a) A plant can be located away from residential areas. You probably notice there are no power stations anywhere near the cities they power (except maybe some of the older cities that grew towards plants). We can selectively place plants away from population centers and in places where the typical winds do not blow emission over cities. With cars the pollution is wherever the person is driving, and that is typically in population centers (since most people drive cars).

    b) A plant can have better emissions control. Plants (can) have higher yet reasonable pollution control requirements than cars. In chemical engineering when you try to separate out two chemicals, to decrease the impurities in your product by half you must use x^2 more energy, equipment, etc. (i.e. money) in order to acheive this. At some point it becomes economically unjustifiable to continue purifying the product because the cost of the product production becomes higher than the average selling price of the product.

    Cars have a minimum impurity amount that they have to achieve (where the impurity is the pollutants). However, we must multiply that by the number of cars.

    If we have plants instead of cars producing pollution, we can reduce the impurities further. The plants are emitting more impurities so they can cut down on them further while still remaining profitable because each plant is producing the impurity amount equivelant to large amount of cars.

    (Note that this is not valid if the plant is also producing the same amount of total waste gas (exhaust) as the number of large cars it represents, because the impuriy level is a ratio of impurity to everything rather than an amount. Under this circumstance that ratio is the same--I am assuming that it should be easy to cut back on the total waste gas when you are producing much more waste gas, thus giving a higher concentration of pollutants, which in turn makes it easier to separate them out).
  • by Mark F. Komarinski ( 97174 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @08:21AM (#933438) Homepage
    I don't think fuel cells are efficient or cost-effective enough yet. It'll be nice to see more electric-gas hybrid cars out there, but with the 3-gallons-per-mile SUV craze going on, I don't think it'll happen all that soon.
  • by aradiaseven ( 167118 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @08:34AM (#933439) Homepage
    Even better, ride a bike.

    A car is a very inefficient way to transport one person and a box of kleenex.

  • by John Jorsett ( 171560 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @09:13AM (#933440)
    There's another problem with methanol: it's hydrophylic, so it will absorb moisture from the air, contaminating it. I'd be interested in hearing how Brazilians address this problem. Another thing about alternative fuels is that I don't know of any that have the energy density of gasoline, so you have these big, unwieldy containers to deal with if you want the same range. Not to mention, where am I going to get my liquid oxygen to refill my fuel-cell equipped car? By the way, the FBI is very interested in buyers of LOX and liquid hydrogen. It seems that they're quite useful to terrorist bombers (uh oh, Carnivore is gonna log that one!). Gasoline is a great example of what being 'first-mover' can get you: dominance due to the sheer magnitude of the investment in infrastructure that grows up.
  • Hey, where'd you get that statistic? I learned in my Thermodynamics class that new turbine/steam power plants can get only about 70% efficiency. If I'm not mistaken, the efficiency of the piddling powerplant in your car is nearer 20%.

    Well, turbines are great for bulk power, but not for efficient power. A jet engine, which is a kind of turbine (admittedly being used in reverse to the application in a power plant) would need to put out about 100lb of thrust to maintain freeway cruising speeds in the average car. The jet fuel (kerosene) required to do that would be in the range of 4 MPG. Compare that to the freeway cruising efficiency of a modern car.

    As for where my statistics come from, the statistic about the hydro grid comes from the book, "An Engineer's Guide to Hydro-Electric Distribution Systems". The figure about the efficiency of the average car is taken from an article that I recently read on SAE's website at www.sae.org .

    Friction in the engine, nonrecoverable heat from the combustion (biggie), friction in the transmission and tires, etc.

    Not to mention energy wasted as noise, energy wasted pushing the car through the air, energy wasted as the car idles.

    Many new car brochures have the engine's power rated in kW now. If you stop and think about how much heat the car throws off for the fact that it's converting x kW of chemical energy into mechanical energy, I still think that's pretty impressive. By comparison, consider how much heat your computer's power supply throws off when you've got it running at its full 200W load (lots of disk drives and cards)....

    You're also completely ignoring the benefits of regenerative braking in electric vehicles/hybrids.

    Nah. They're there, but I'm sure it's negligible. Consider the energy used to make the vehicle maintain a given speed. When you apply the brakes, if the traction motor is 90% efficient both driving and braking the car, 10% of your kinetic energy will be wasted as heat. The other 90% will go to recharge the batteries. Recharging batteries is an inefficient proposition - on the order of 50% maximum. I'm sure that regenerative braking improves cruising range by a few miles, but not much overall.

    The more important benefit of an electric or fuel-cell powered car is that when you're stopped, the electric drive motor is off. The batteries or fuel cells are not running an idling engine, the way a gas tank has to keep an internal combustion engine running at stoplights. For city drivers, I'm sure that's a far more important benefit.

    The other great benefit is that a gasoline engine achieves peak efficiency only at the top of its torque curve. In other words, only at a rotational speed determined by many factors, including the shape of the combustion chamber, the ratio of bore versus stroke, the design of the runners and plenum in the induction system, the back pressure and scavenging properties of the exhaust system, etc... It's pretty hard to maintain this peak efficiency as you're tooling around town. The transmissions in most cars are geared so that at legal highway speeds, the engine will be spinning at about the torque peak.

    I will give you this: as you'd use it in a car, an electric motor's energy useage increases linearly with speed, making an electric car absolutely ideal for the slow puttering around a city that most people end up doing. But for the reasons outlined in my orginial posting, I greatly protest to running them off batteries, for the chemical dangers and charging issues I outlined originally.

    Very good point. If i remember correctly, Ford engineers toyed with using Sodium batteries for their EV-1. Those babies have to be hot enough for the sodium to melt.

    I know. That's terrifying, isn't it? Most accidents happen on rainy/snowy days. Now, what happens when molten sodium from a broken battery hits the big puddle on the wet pavement beside the remains of the car...?

    Geez, that takes me back to high school chemistry classes...

    The "Oh no, more electrical bills!" argument is crap. New power plants would get built, and while they would probably burn fuel, they would incorporate more effective smokestack scrubbers than your catalytic converter on your car does.

    Oh, no question. A gasoline fired power plant could produce a lot less emissions that the same amount of gasoline being burned in even the best of cars. (I'm using gasoline as an example because it's a simple comparison, not because it would be a likely candidate for a power plant fuel.)

    But now that you've got the energy out of the gasoline, you still have to get the energy into the car, and the transmission and storage of energy is the problem.

    If a gasoline-fired plant products 1kW of energy from every liter of fuel (abysmal example, but easy for clarity), and a car produces 500W of energy from a liter, this looks good.

    Then, subtract 50% of that 1kW of energy to get the power to the consumer. That leaves you with 500W of enery remaining. On par with the car, but a much cleaner exhaust, it's still probably worthwhile.

    Now, as you charge the electric car's batteries, you lose another 50% or so to the charger and the chemical processes within the batteries. That leaves you with 250W of useable energy from that liter. Which means that for a given distance travelled in an electric car, you could easily end up using 4 times the fuel as you would have if you'd just burned the gasoline in the car to begin with. Then, if the scrubbers leave the exhaust from the plant twice as clean, per liter consumed, as the exhaust from a car, you're still producing twice as much pollutant as the car would.

    A better option is a fuel cell, as soon as they're ready for mass production. A fuel cell will burn gasoline with stellar efficiency, and coupled to the operating efficiency and lack of idling of an electric motor, a fuel-cell powered electric vehicle would be the best option.

    And it means no new nuclear power plants, no new hydroelectric dams, no new coal-fired plants: it can be run off ordinary gasoline or methanol/ethanol processed from agricultural crops.

    And, it's clean. Running on hydrogen, the only emissions would be water vapor. Off gasoline, there'd be a little more. Even if it's not perfect, running on gasoline, it would still be an order of magnitude better than today's cars.

  • There is a limit to how efficient you can make a reciprocating engine. An electric power plant is probably about 90% efficient, but it does not have to go anywhere. The engine in your car has to work across a wide range of conditions, reliably, be started up and shut down repeatedly, and by small and light enough to fit in your car.

    Jet Turbine engines tend to me more effient than piston engines, but tend to be rather large.

    The Cure of the ills of Democracy is more Democracy.

  • When you get right down to it, this is not as tennable argument as it first appears. Shell Oils runs a yearly fuel efficiency race. The only power supply the cars can have is standard petrolium. The cars manage over 10,000 miles to the gallon.

    Sure, the acceleration isn't great, and these are not going to win any Formula 1 races in the near future, but think of it this way. The people who buy the cheapest, dirtiest, least-efficient, oil burning cars are your OAPs and students. OAPs are not the sort of crowd who go out-dragging the local chapter of Hell's Angels - they're more likely to be stuck in heavy traffic, crawling to and from the stores, hoping that their morning trip won't take until nightfall.

    Students, likewise, are more likely to be driving to and from lectures. Cross-country trips are less than likely, and hauling ultra-heavy loads are unlikely to be regular events.

    If someone were to build disposable cars, designed to last 3-4 years, using this ultra-efficient technology, you could throw away a good percentage of the gas-guzzlers. Less gasoline requied = more gasoline to go round.

    As trends tend to catch on, especially really weird ones, something like this could utterly crush the SUV market (another horrible bleeder of the world's resources), and lead to people wanting to buy efficient for a change.

    I can't blame the markets for pandering to demand. They're there to make money, not save the world. If most people want to turn precious reserves into pollutants, for no good reason, then the markets will respond and provide the means to do so.

    Changing the fuel won't change the result. Only changing the attitudes can do that.

  • The EPA has a great site here [fueleconomy.gov] that covers all aspects of fuel economy and includes some really handy CGI's to let you compare different 1985-2000 cars for fuel economy.

    On this site, you can also find this handy chart [fueleconomy.gov] which shows visually exactly why ICE's are so inefficient.

  • by getafix ( 2806 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @08:33AM (#933445)
    Check out Zero pollution [zeropollution.com]
    Apparently the Mexican govt has ordered 1000's of these to replace taxis.
  • by Sangui5 ( 12317 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @09:01AM (#933446)
    There's an old adage that in order to convince people to switch from an entrenched standard, you have to be 10x better. The infrastructure behind gasoline is extensive, and despite the technological deficiencies of gas, economically it is the cheapest way to get around.

    The only way to make the alternatives that much better is to make gas worse.

    Tax gas. Tax inefficient cars. Raise the pollution controlls on _gas_ powered vehicles through the roof.

    You may think that this will hurt people and drive up prices. It may drive up the price of gasoline, and the price of driving around, but if you do it right, you can keep the cost of living about the same. Remember, the more expensive it is to drive around burning gasoline, the less gasoline will be burnt. The gas we burn, the less crude oil goes into its production. And the more crude we have, the cheaper we can make diesel, kerosene, plastics, etc. Artificially expensive gas means cheaper frieght charges (cheap diesel), cheap power (cheap crude/kerosene), and cheap consumer goods (plastics and other petrochemicals).

    Of course, this would still look bad politically, but you can balance that out by putting all those tax revenues towards gas price relief for poor people, tax credits for efficient cars, etc. It would also (possibly) have the effect of breaking up OPEC. If demand falls, the marginal OPEC members (Veneualia (sp?) et. al.) will almost be forced to cheat on their quotas to make ends meet. And once enough of the small ones start cheating, the rest will follow suit, cutting the price of diesel/electicity/plastics/whatever even further.

    If you are careful to balance the effects against each other, you can have your alternative fuels/low pollution without fscking everybody over.
  • by Parity ( 12797 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @09:12AM (#933447)
    They could construct it--but why? People "outside of cities" by definition have low population densities. "Mass" transit requires high populations.

    This is simple overgeneralization; there are -many- places with the population density to support mass transit that don't have it - namely, just about every suburb. Presumably you'd run the busses infrequently and down only the major roads, but it'd be -something-.

    Before you say it can't be done, consider the Sili Valley - despite the complaints about the efficiency or lack thereof and whether light rail is a waste of time, etc, there -is- a mass transit that runs all up and down and through the suburbs and shows no sign of vanishing. You can take the bus, the light rail, or the cal-train to various destinations, and at the other end take something else.

    By contrast, in the Boston area, and most cities east of the rockies, -only- the metro region has mass transit, and the suburbs are left to hang. Or, (using the Boston area as an example) you have transit into the city with peripheral parking lots but no transit -out- of the city. In case nobody noticed, the high tech industry (and others that can manage it) are slipping out of the cities and building up along the highways that run out of them. I live -in- the city and work -outside- it, and the reverse commute is really only doable by car... it doesn't do me any good to be left in a 'commuter parking lot' with a residents-only sticker-required no-overnight-parking lot. I could, conceivably, even leave my car in the parking lot overnight and do -most- of my commute by transit and the transit-less leg by car, but the policies are set up to discourage it.

    Anyway, the real reason there's no mass transit in the suburbs is because people in the suburbs don't want those icky 'city people' (read, minorities) coming out to shop in their nice isolated suburban shopping districts. Which, admittedly, they would probably do, but so what? Seeing a black face or hearing a conversation in portuguese isn't going to kill even the most whitebread of the suburb dwellers. (If you think I'm just trolling/flamebaiting, check out the zoning laws & transit-related votes in a suburb near you...)

    Parity None

  • by paul7e ( 17646 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @10:10AM (#933448)
    >> when one can have a spacious house on several >> acres of peaceful, clean air, life-producing >> fields where nobody gets in your face?

    So let me review: you boast about enjoy the "clean air" while you pump 30 miles a day worth of crap into the atmosphere from your car?

    Do you see a possible logical disconnect here?

    If you're driving towards a major city on your commute, you're making the air worse for the city folk, who are perhaps NOT using their cars. Urban sprawl is a problem, and the attitide that "the city's problems aren't my problems" ain't gonna make things better.


  • by FascDot Killed My Pr ( 24021 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @08:22AM (#933449)
    You can already buy half-electric cars from major manufacturers. Honda and Toyota both came out with hybrid cars this year. Check out the "Insight" and the "Prius".
  • by Izaak ( 31329 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @08:50AM (#933450) Homepage Journal
    Find a solution that will not result in hundreds of thousands of people being laid off. Find a way that will not result in the economies of several countries being tossed down the toilet which will further result in war, unrest and more people suffering not to mention economic problems for the rest of the world.

    But of course any alternative would take time to phase in. Loss of profits and job cutbacks in the oil industry would be gradual. The people leaving the oil industry could find jobs in the new markets created by the oil alternatives. The oil companies would have plenty of time to diversify into new markets. 'Protecting Jobs' is never a good argument for holding back a better technology.


  • by FreakBoy ( 70961 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @09:41AM (#933451) Homepage
    I bought one back in April. I can get over 80mpg on the highway (at about 60-65mph).
    City driving is another story. I don't drive to much in the city, but here in Chicago I "only" get 50mpg, not the 61 they claim. I'm certainly not complaining, but I wouldn't mind getting 60+ mpg in the city.

    Since I drive over 500 miles a week, I thought this would be the best choice for a new vehicle. :)
  • by Life Blood ( 100124 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @09:00AM (#933452) Homepage

    Why do we still use gasoline instead of another power source? There are many reasons but here are a few:

    The chemical energy stored in gasoline is very high for its weight while still being easily accessible. Methane and ethanol all have less energy stored per unit weight. This means that cars powered by gasoline can out accelerate these alternative fuel cars because they can release the chemical energy faster and turn it into kinetic energy. They also have better range because they have smaller lighter fuel tanks which weigh less. In many alternative fuel cars you loose a lot of trunk space to the fuel tank.

    More energy per weight is diesel fuel. The problem here is that the energy is harder to release easily since diesel doesn't burn at room temperature at one atmosphere. This means the energy is harder to release and performance drops. Fuel efficiency is slightly better however.

    As for fuel cells, I think the big problem is that you lose performance again. They don't combust gasoline they release the energy using a different chemical reaction. It works more slowly but more uses all the energy more completely and produces less harmful by products. This is nice, but makes for lower performance.

    Electric cars are nice, but all the batteries are heavy and they take hours to recharge. You lose range and convenience. Hybrid cars are nicer because you power a set of batteries with a small gas engine. The batteries then power the wheels. Honda makes one of these I believe. The problem is that after two to three years you need a new set of batteries because current battery technology wears out too easily. And that many batteries are expensive.

    I've also heard of all kinds of wacky fuels like vegetable oil. The guy did this to his volkswagen and got the oil from local fast food places that usually have to pay to get rid of it. His car exhaust smelled like french fries. No sure why this caught on, probably because it was an obscure idea that isn't practical on the large scale.

    Basically what is preventing the widespread adoption of an alternative fuel is that nobody wants to loose anything. Nobody wants a slower car with shorter range. Nobody wants to pay more for such a car either. People also don't like to buy unproven technology. If you want an accepted alternative fuel car which is more efficient, buy a diesel.

    BTW has anyone done studies to see if, after the power loss in transmission of the electricity to the house and the loss in the car itself, electrically powered cars actually pollute less than gas. The engine is less efficient, the transmission of the power to the house loses efficiency, and the power plant creates pollution just like the car would. By advocating electric cars are we simply changing the location of the pollution instead of reducing they levels of it?

  • by dazedNconfuzed ( 154242 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @08:56AM (#933453)
    Gee, nice that you have convenient public transportation.

    Some of us can't stand the sardine-can environment of the cities. Why rent an overpriced tiny box to live in, with the only view being of someone else's window? Why put up with noise, crime, expenses, dependency, panhandlers, wall-to-wall people, and government meddling...when one can have a spacious house on several acres of peaceful, clean air, life-producing fields where nobody gets in your face? Why live in total dependence when one can live in near-independence? That's just the rhetorical question to set up the response:

    I live in the country, about 30 miles from work. I need a car to get anywhere, and there's NO WAY that public transport would work: the density of people is just way too low to support it...and you'd need a car just to get to the bus stop. I pay less for the freedom to travel anywhere, anytime, without traffic jams, fast, in comfort and convenience, than you do to ride your when-and-where-it's-scheduled dirty sardine-can-on-wheels bus or subway.

    The better solution is: telecommuting. That way the pollution goes to almost zero.

  • by asfasmcdas ( 179700 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @12:52PM (#933454)
    One thing that seems to be forgotten in all these debates is how dependent we are for oil for other purposes. What is going to happen to the chemical and plastics industries - and indeed all the subsidiary industries that rely on their products once we run out of oil? We may well discover other sources of energy for transportation and heating - but there is no obvious substitute for the oil we require to manufacture the plastics we use. Just think of how prevalent plastics are today - just look at the big lump of plastic in front of you right now - and all the components under the hood that are keeping everything ticking over! If we waste all our oil resources on transportation and our technological civilization depends on oil derived plastics then how long can we survive with this level of technology? If we were a more responsible and mature society we would restrict our consumption so that future generations (and we should really be thinking way beyond our grandchildren) will enjoy some of the same resources we have today.
  • by Hasdi Hashim ( 17383 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @10:16AM (#933455) Homepage
    I work at Ford's Enviromental Vehicle project and i can't legally speak for them. Without trying to give out anything proprietary, in general, energy density is the real killer. 1 kg of gasoline efficiently tapped can give you 42-44 Megajoules. NiCad, Lead-Acid and Sodium-Sulfur of the same weight barely have a fraction of this energy. To replace 16 gallon (approx 42.39kg) of gasoline you need 14838.768 kg of lead acid battery. This is ten times the average weight of a car (around 1500kg). Since the car is 11 times heavier it should require 11 times more fuel. You do the math. It may more costly to your pocket and the enviroment (more energy use and heat dissipation).

    Ultracaps? That's great. I know one company that sells ultracaps with 10,850.69 Joules/kg. Packs a punch for your house intruder but can't you anywhere (literally).

    Ah.... somebody mentioned fuel cells. You can check out one of the suppliers ballard [ballard.com] This is promising but the energy conversion unit is still heavy. Hydrogen actually packs more energy than gasoline: 38khw/kg (that's about 136.8 mejajoules/kg). Unfortunately, it hoards a lot of space. We could use methanol and carry methanol->hydrogen reformer that would take up more weight. After reliasing that the conversion unit takes more weight you begin to wonder, why don't you burn the hydrogen in the first place, instead of investing in the fuel cell stack, electric drivetrain and stuff? We are bothering with eletric motor? Why can't we just improve the efficiency of the internal combustion engine?

    Relative to electric motor, internal combustion engine (ICE) is highly inefficient. While good motor with a good controller can give you close to 95% efficiency, an ICE is at 17% in a good day. Worse it's peak efficiency is at certain torque and at certain speed. That is why we have gearbox system and clutch. When the car stops, you have supply it with some fuel to keep spinning (idling) which is 100% loss (0% efficient). With electric motor you can adjust your torque and speed electrically and reclaim energy in braking.

    I think I better stop here. in the meantime you are welcome to buy Ford electric bicycles and other stuff http://www.thinkmobility.com [thinkmobility.com]

    Not speaking for Ford
  • I think the real problem is that Gas has been so cheap in the US for so long. We have had it WAY too good.

    Plentiful supply, no shortages, cheap prices. Hell yes I enjoy it too. Even today with higher prices, gas is still fairly cheap.

    Its cheap, its what we know. Whn the masses are confortable, there is no push to invest and research alternative fuels. Face it...any new system will need to be able to compete with the existing fuel infrastructure.

    As for alcohol based cars....you can make your own ethanol and use it to power your car...many engines will run without modification (tho not well...much better to use a gas/alcohol mix). You can even get a licence to distil your own ethanol for fuel really cheap from the BATF. (in the US obviously).

    Linday's Publications (http://www.lindsaybks.com) has a book on building a fuel alcohol still that talks about all this stuff. Really good book. Of course the MPG is less than Gas, but it burns ALOT cleaner....and thus keeps the engine cleaner.

    I am personally of the belief that there is alot of potential in these feilds. I would like to get a Gas/electric hybrid (the honda insight beats the pants off even my motorcycle for MPG) and see it modified to run off Ethanol or methanol....now that would truely be a great car.

  • by Dungeon Dweller ( 134014 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @08:22AM (#933457)
    It will happen sooner or later with enough incetive, but right now, there is a strong infastructure built up in the support of gasoline automobiles, and not one in support of alternative fuels. There are also a wide variety of fuels, and people want cars that run THE NEXT FUEL, not just a cleaner fuel. Also, cost is a big factor, most states won't pay to have your car converted. Most people know how to work on/supe up gasoline powered cars. They don't want to take them in to a mechanic to work on them when they are used to working on them themselves. Mechanics are trained to work on gas powered cars. Companies manufacture mainly parts for gas powered cars. The infastructure to purchase fuel, inexpensively, for alternative fuel vehicles isn't everywhere.

    I mean, I would love to have an electric powered car, right? Where would I charge it? Just about only at my house! What would I charge it in? I plug that I have to get specially installed that is more powerful than the ones on my dryer, possibly requiring that I have lines run to my house for the power requirements.

    It's not like, "Why would anyone run open source software." When the infastructure is there, and in fact better than that of closed source software. This is something where you really have to use the options given to you.

  • by gwernol ( 167574 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @08:25AM (#933458)

    If our province had that kind of incentive. Natural gas is much cleaner (and more efficient) than gasoline. The oil companies are a much greater monopoly than what Microsoft is, and everyone does complain.

    The parallel to Microsoft is interesting because, of course, the first major anti-trust breakup of a company was of Standard Oil in (I think) 1911. The government ruled them a monopoly and split them into a number of smaller companies, which were the forebears of the major oil companies we have today.

    The argument against the present oil companies is that they operate an informal cartel to keep prices up. This is one disadvantage of splitting a monopoly - it is much harder to show that a number of companies are colluding to act monopolisticaly, whereas its relatively easy to show that a single company is a monopoly. A two Microsoft cartel may be even worse than one Microsoft monopoly.

  • by thesparkle ( 174382 ) on Friday July 14, 2000 @08:28AM (#933459) Homepage
    "We need a way to show the oil companies that we're fed up of lining their pockets with cash."

    And we are fed up with them paying their employees and paying those taxes. Pesky jerks.

    Find a solution that will not result in hundreds of thousands of people being laid off. Find a way that will not result in the economies of several countries being tossed down the toilet which will further result in war, unrest and more people suffering not to mention economic problems for the rest of the world.

    Find a solution that when implemented, will be as cost affective as what it replaced. For instance, don't force everyone to buy a new car which costs two and a half times more than a gasoline powered device and then force them to use a fuel that costs several dollars a gallon and have that same device and fuel get the same mileage as their previous gasoline-powered device.

    These are just a few of the problems that enviromentalists and politicians usually don't address: What affect will this have on the working person in this country? Using the excuse "Well, it may cost you more, but we know what is best for you", will result in insurrection when deployed in this scale.

  • Gasoline is here for a while. There's just no good substitute for most people yet.

    Natural gas/Propane are both great, but the infrastructure to support them just isn't there. Gas stations would have to make a huge investment to be able to support them at all stations. It's great for fleet vehicles like taxis, since the cab seldom leaves its home city, and the driver can get to be very familiar with which gas stations have already added propane/NG fueling services.

    While gasoline is very nasty stuff, it's a little safer than carrying around a large tank of compressed and invisible fuel. A car accident that ruptures a full automotive propane/NG tank would be far more likely to be deadly than a car accident that ruptures a gasoline tank and causes a spill. Let alone the dangers of hydrogen as a fuel, which, like acetylene, sweats its way out of cast iron tanks.

    You'll note that most parking garages won't allow propane/NG vehicles. If, over the years, one of the fuel lines corrodes or develops metal fatigue cracks, a slow fuel leak could cause a parking garage explosion. Since parking garages tend to be under buildings, conceivably, the building could come down. Dire consequences? Yup. One in a million chance? Yup. But if there are millions of propane/NG vehicles out there, it's a bigger worry than gasoline.

    Gasoline tends to drip, and you can usually see a leak. You can always see a puddle. With invisible gases, that's not possible: you have to rely on the odor, which you might not catch if it's windy.

    Admittedly, conditions have to be just right for a propane/NG explosion, but it's unquestionably somewhat more dangerous than gasoline. Much like a Ford Pinto's gasoline tank is more dangerous than the average.

    Fuel cells are a great idea, and I'm sure they'll be with us in a few years. I've had the opportunity to drive a Ballard-powered golf cart, and it was a lot of fun. Silent, fast, much more efficient than an internal combustion engine. It was nice. But the problem is that fuel cells still require membranes that are as difficult and unreliable to mass produce as color LCD displays were a few years ago. In time, that will change.

    Fuel for fuel cells will still have to be something combustible. A fuel cell simply burns fuel through what is essentially a catalytic reaction, as opposed to a combustion reaction. So we're back at the same choices: drag around a tank of liquid gasoline/methanol/ethanol, or drag around a tank full of compressed hyrdrogen/propane/NG.

    Since the infrastructure already exists for the distribution of liquid fuels, you're probably still going to be pouring some sort of liquid fuel into your tank.

    Fuel cells, by virtue of their basic operation, will be very sensitive to impurities in the fuel. Deposits formed inside the fuel cell will require the replacement of the expensive membrane. A conventional paper fuel filter, like your car currently has, will not suffice. That's going to mean very expensive processes of lining tanks in every refinery, truck, gas station... which will be carried on to you, fair consumer.

    Electric cars are a great idea, but they're not practical for two big reasons.

    First things first, all batteries use a chemical reaction to convert chemical energy into electrical energy. The more efficient the battery, the more efficient (and therefore nasty) the chemicals must be. In order to achieve range in an electric car, every bit of free space is going to have to have batteries crammed into it.

    Now, what happens when you're involved in a fender-bender? A battery will probably rupture somewhere, spraying out strong acids or alkalines. Accident victims will often have chemical burns. And every last fender-bender on the Santa Monica Freeway would result in a Haz-Mat team cleaning up the road. As if gasoline wasn't hazardous enough.

    Electric cars also need fuel. The fuel, of course, will be electricity to recharge the batteries. If you're plugging your car in at night, your electric bill will go up. No big deal, it will probably be cheaper than gasoline. But what happens when the majority of the 6 million or so cars in LA are plugged in every night? The power from your wall outlets comes from somewhere... how many nuclear power plants will have to go up to deal with the increased electrical needs? How many more Hoover Dams will have to be built? Remember, tidal and solar power just aren't capable of serving any sort of electrical need yet. Building coal or other fossil-fuel powered plants just defeats the purpose of electric cars.

    What will your electric bill look like as the demand for electricity outstrips supply? It already does that every year just with air conditioners. Look at the situation in Montana at the moment.

    Add to that the fact that a modern gasoline car is about 70% efficient. Not good, right?

    Most electric distribution systems are only about 40-50% efficient. So, on a per car basis, you're already using more energy by running an electric car. Then consider that batteries are at best 70% efficient. While the car's electric motor itself may be upwards of 90% efficient, your efficiencies have already added up and negated any benefit.

    Gasoline is evil. Electricity is evil. Cars are evil. But they're here to stay; better just to continue to refine what we have. And when the fuel cell is ready for mass production, I'll happily fill my efficient fuel-cell powered vehicle up with renewable and clean methanol/ethanol.

    I know for FACT in Brazil you are able to buy a car which burns gasoline or methonol.

    Most American cars now will run very happily on either gasoline or methanol.

    Methanol is, of course, a form of alcohol, and has properties somewhat different from gasoline. For one thing, it's significantly more corrosive to some of the rubber and plastic parts in a car's fuel system. That has been addressed; for example, all new Chryslers since 1991 (correct me if I'm wrong) include fuel system components that are meant to handle it.

    Chrysler had a wonderful test car at about that time. It was a 1990 or 1991 Dodge Spirit R/T with a 2.2L or 2.5L engine - the same motor as most K-Cars, Dodge Shadows, etc. With very little work, they'd adapted the fuel system to happily take methanol/ethanol. And the fuel injection system (discussed below) was fitted with a fuel type sensor that would allow the car to run happily on any ratio of gasoline/ethanol/methanol.

    Combustion properties are quite different. Since methanol burns differently, if you were to just dump it into your gas tank, your engine would run.... sorta. But since your carburetor and ignition timing are calibrated for gasoline, it wouldn't run very well. Knocking, poor performance, poor gas mileage, and stinky tailpipe.

    Over the years, as the car makers have adopted electronic fuel injection systems, this has become less of a problem. EFI systems are meant to enhance driveability, gas mileage, performance and emissions by monitoring how the engine is behaving, and then adjusting fuel/air ratios and ignition timing accordingly. It's entirely a closed-loop, feedback oriented system.

    As a result, if the engine is knocking, for example, a sensor on the engine will detect it and the computer will retard the ignition timing until the knock is gone. If the oxygen sensor on your tailpipe is reading too much oxygen (ie. mixture too lean), it will add more fuel. If the O2 sensor reads no oxygen, it will assume the mixture is too rich and lean it out a little bit. This happens hundreds of times a second as you drive. In this way, the engine can adapt a great deal to the kind and quality of fuel being used, with the benefits of better performance and lower fuel consumption.

    And, if your oxygen sensor's (or any other sensor's) readings are way out of whack, the computer will realize it, and light up the "Check Engine" or "Service Engine Soon" light. At that point, the computer is making a best guess for how to run the engine, and while the car will still run, performance will not be optimal. If the car's engine can't cope with alternate fuels (ie. the computer isn't allowed enough range in its adjustments to timing and mixture) then this is probably what you'll see. And, likely, when you next fill it up with real gasoline, the little light will go out.

    Of course, if your Check Engine light doesn't go out, take the car to the dealer as soon as possible.

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly