Archive for the Alt-Fuel Category

Alt-fuel dot pt

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Green Tech with tags , , , on 11/06/2016 by Alexander

If you haven’t sussed it before, I live in the westernmost country of Continental Europe, Portugal. You’ve probably heard of us through the doings of Cristiano Ronaldo, and not much else. Perhaps the odd international bailout?

Thing is, I was born in England, and for all the flaws the English might have, I have a sensation that things back in old Blighty were a bit more civilised. I could rant for paragraphs to follow on all sorts of corrupt sectors of Portuguese society and our backward mentality, but this is a car blog after all, so I’ll stick to criticising in the context of automobiles.

The Portuguese are a paradoxical bunch of misers who are at the same time squanderers. They will spend €50,000 or more on a brand new Merc, even though they’re not sure they can afford it, but buy the cheapest, crappiest diesel with the smallest, most under-powered engine ‘to save money’ on fuel. They won’t take their cars to the dealership after buying it because it’s slightly more costly, and are willing to let their cars be subject to hack-jobs undertaken by shifty, lazy mechanics to save the odd euro. They drive like maniacs, with the throttle glued to the floor, and then go on national television to complain how fuel is expensive and how close to bankruptcy they come to after filling their tank. LPG sells quite well here, only due to the inherent savings on fuel. The plus-side of it being more ecological is, to most, a minor advantage. To be perfectly honest, I can count myself to be one of these cheapskates, and I must be fair to LPG-users, they are somewhat smarter than the average motorist. The general picture to be had of car-owning Portuguese are people who want the nicest, most expensive, status-enhancing car while wishing to pay next to nothing for running costs.

With this sort of mindset, I would’ve thought there would be the odd entrepreneur or two who’d be interested in the whole alt-fuel market. Let’s face it, in a country where people are so conscientious regarding the money they need to fork out to keep their cars moving, it’d be natural to assume there would be those willing to invest in offering alternatives, since there’s a big market to tap into. So does anyone do this? No. Google something like “biofuel in Portugal” and you get back paltry, outdated results. And this is what annoys me so much about living in this country. Any clever new niche always takes far too much time to be developed, and when it is there are all sorts of hindrances.

I’m one of those people who still believe biofuels may still play a significant role in keeping vehicles in motion in years to come, and I wish I lived in a country with more than shadowy prospects that this will happen. But alas, this rectangle of Iberian Peninsula has many hurdles to overcome, such as:

  • A previous government passed legislation years ago stating that by 2010 a certain percentage of fuel sold in the country has to come from alternative, non-fossil fuel sources. 2010 came and went and it proves that the said laws were no more than lip-service, since nothing has changed.
  • Said government did nothing to remove all the red tape anyone who wants to pursue alt-fuel develop has to wade through to do so, nor has any government since.
  • Galp, the largest national petroleum-derivative retailer, has its nasty tentacles everywhere, and try to stamp out alt-fuels whenever possible. I have little doubt they’re the lobbyists behind all the previously mentioned bureaucratic demands.
  • People in general are too stupid to see how much money they can save. If they did, there would be demand for change. Nothing gets the mob grumbling more than trying to put your fingers in their pockets.

So, in summary, I’m screwed. I’ll have to wait for electric cars.


The Tesla Model 3

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception, Desirable machines, General opinions, Green Tech, News, Upcoming cars on 03/04/2016 by Alexander

Tesla Model 3I’m very surprised by the reactions to the launch of the Tesla Model 3. The BBC were balanced as usual, but I believe failed to underline how significant 115,000 pre-orders in 24 hours actually is. Then there are articles like the Daily Beast, that prophesizes Teslocalypse, where the brand will be irrevocably DESTROYED by the Model 3. A lot of criticism is being heaped at Tesla and the Model 3, and although much of what being said is factually correct, I definitely feel as if behind these nay-saying opinions are the voices of motoring journalists who either feel that their time of being lent petrol-swilling supercars is being threatened, or who think Tesla’s aren’t so much cars as they are gadgets, so as experts on grease-and-oil-driven machines they’ll be made obsolete. Maybe it’s just me being unnecessarily bitter. Here are some facts:

Tesla is hemorraging money
Yes, and so are Uber, Shazam and Spotify, and even YouTube only managed to break even as recently as 2014. Airbnb loses $150-million a year and may not make a profit until 2020. Funnily enough, I don’t see this referred to in related articles concerning all these aforementioned companies, but Tesla gets a special financial-loss mention.
Unlike all these other companies above that are pissing money away, Tesla has invested very heavily indeed on R&D, as recently proved by the Autopilot function (however, Tesla also wasted money on stuff like those pitiful “falcon” doors which add nothing but complexity to the Model X, a car that should have been postponed until after the Model 3). It’s a perfect criticism to try to frighten potential punters away, implying that Tesla won’t be around long enough to honour warranties and such.

Tesla won’t be able to meet demand
This will probably happen. Overwhelming demand is a double-edged sword, and cuts very sharply both ways. The positive view is that, in theory, lots of demand means whatever leaves Tesla’s production line for the next few years is guaranteed to be sold. The negative view is that in reality, not being able to meet demand means overdue delivery times, customer frustration and consequently, damage to the brand image.
However, there’s alway’s the Gigafactory, which will definitely boost Tesla’s fortune’s once it’s up and running, even if it only reaches full capacity in 2020.

No-one’s mentioning how good (or bad) it looks
The Model S is bite-the-back-your-hand beautiful. The Model X isn’t. The Model 3 is sort of halfway between them. Am I the only one who thinks the glass area above the body looks bulbous, and badly-proportioned to the rest of the car? I hope I’m wrong, because I’m one of those people who were eagerly antecipating the Model 3’s unveiling, in the hope of it ticking all the right boxes to being my first electric car. Nothing puts me off quite like an ugly ride.

Hardly anyone mentioned the terrible interior
I couldn’t believe it: no f**king instrument cluster. A screen that protrudes from the centre as if it were an aftermarket item nailed into place minutes before the cars unveiling. I hate this design with a passion. Recently, I read how this might indicate a really autonomous car, which is just as bad. I like driving. Unless the Model 3 has something like a HUD replacing a conventional instrument cluster, or an ACTUAL binnacle included in the production version, this is a deal breaker.

No-one’s talking about the brilliant glass roof

On the other hand, the interior might be saved by the wrap-around glass roof. If I understood what Elon Musk said, and if the pictures and videos are correct, the roof will be entirely in glass, save for above the driver and front passenger (for sun-visors, lights and such), and the boot lid will basically hinge in the middle of the car. This is brilliant. I love glass roofs and I think sunroofs and such should be mandatory on cars. This Model 3 has hit this particular nail right on the head.

No-one’s talking how disruptive and revolutionary this is
The number of pre-orders has hit over a quarter of a million. Pre-orders. In just over 48 hours. Established car-brands with highly-awaited models don’t get that many orders, and they must see by now that if they don’t get into the electrification game soon, they may be very well left behind with their dinosaur-juice-burning contraptions. And the more car-brands go electric, the more the market will follow. The more the market follows, the more things will change to enable/cash in on this. Infra-structure will have to be updated, car and road tax will have to change to pay-as-you-go. Even mundane habits will be altered, as there won’t be such a need for 24/7 fuelling stations, because you can plug in at home, but then there’ll be nowhere to buy fags at 3am.

Like it or not, the Model 3 is a big deal.

Save these other cars

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Desirable machines, Green Tech with tags , , , , , , , on 26/05/2015 by Alexander

Yesterday I linked a beautifully-written article on what cars are worth saving from their ICE. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth having a look because the fundamental premise is saving cars that had crap engines but were otherwise lovely.

And because I’m a bit of an unoriginal simpleton, here are some of my own picks:

Citroen DS

Credit: Boldride

Credit: Boldride

No-one in the automotive world can deny the Citroen DS was revolutionary. Materials, aerodynamics, technology, safety and comfort were all redefined by the iconic French car, but it’s Achilles heel was the engine. There was nothing revolutionary about it, in fact, it was quite the contrary. On release, it had a 1.9l petrol unit, derived from the old Traction Avant, a car from the 1930’s. Subsequent engines introduced electronic injection, but you probably won’t see it written down as part of the huge range of the DS’s groundbreaking innovations.

Such a legend deserves to live on, and a technological advance like electrification would suit it like a glove. How you’d get the complicated hydraulics to work is for boffins, but it can’t be beyond the ken of man.

DeLorean DMC-12

Credit: DeLorean

Credit: DeLorean

A no-brainer. The DeLorean had a 2.8-litre Peugeot V6, which was underpowered for such a heavy car. Solution: a torquey electric motor, that suits its subsequent sci-fi credentials perfectly. Back to the Future, indeed.

And the best thing is, someone’s done it!

Alpine A108/Willys Interlagos
I love old Alpines, so much that I put the A110 in my Dream Garage. This particular Alpine was the type of old car powered by one those tiny engines that are bang-slap on the fine line of being suitable for cars or only good for lawn-mowers. The largest put into one I believe was for the Brazilian version (with the lovely name “Interlagos”, and manufactured by Willys, and pictured above) and had 945cc. And as anyone who has had this sort of car knows, the racket these cars make can be unbearable, making it perfect for EV treatment. You’d reach your destination without your ears bleeding and head pounding from a constant thrum of a noisy engine.

And because the A108 is so small, aerodynamic and light, I reckon it would be rather efficient in its energy consumption.

Volvo 200 series
Because classic cars can’t all be sports cars or legends, here’s an example of a humdrum everyday car made famous for its safety and practicality. According to some motoring journalists, the only reason some models had large six-cylinder engines was to be able to lug so much weight around. So hey presto, there you have the perfect excuse to electrify it.

And that’s just the excuse, there are other good reasons to bring one up more to date. There are its fabulous lines that have aged unbelievably well, its comfort or that wonderful interior. Plus, since it was rather reliable, and always a contender for the Volvo High-Mileage Club, it’s probable that 200 series engines have so many miles on them that the pistons have worn down to nubs and all the wiring is flaky and brittle. So you might as well prepare it for even more miles by transforming it into an EV.

Another of the best reasons I can think of is to stop them being slammed by tastless modders.

I loved doing this. I’ll think I’ll do some more later

Save these cars

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception with tags , , on 25/05/2015 by Alexander

One of my biggest worries as a conscious person who doesn’t want to see his planet bled dry of resources is what will happen to old cars if suddenly there’s a shift away from internal combustion engines?

There’s no good reason to throw away a car that’s in perfectly good condition apart from a broken engine, since the engine is where most malfunctions start. There’s the cooling system, with the radiator, the piping, the reservoir. The exhaust system, with manifold and mufflers and all sorts of bits that will wear out over time. The transmission, with gearbox, prop-shafts, clutch and linkages. And the engine itself, with oil, gaskets, valves, push-rods, pistons,  and so on.

Cars are usually thrown into a scrapyard once they’ve hit a certain mileage, because the engine is probably worn, but the rest of the car is probably alright. So why consign it to oblivion?

I’ve always been a fan of retrofits and turning an ICE car into an EV has undeniable benefits. For example, how about this BBC article that proposes modifying old classic cars that were lovely to look at but had poorly-engineered powerplants got them onto “Worst Car” lists since they arrived.

Undoubtedly that there are hurdles, caveats and other issues with this approach, but we’ll delve into that some other time. For now, just picture yourself driving your favourite car with the knowledge that it won’t overheat, vomit oil, seize up or spend a week in a sodding garage because its f**king head gasket decided not to do its job anymore (this last sentence is my personal rant because THAT’S WHAT’S BLOODY WELL HAPPENED TO ME).

EVs: I’ve changed my mind

Posted in Alt-Fuel with tags , , , , , , on 21/09/2014 by Alexander

If you’ve never read this blog and wonder if it’s a supercar-loving petrolhead writing this, I’ll boil down my view on cars: I love fuel-efficient, good-looking, comfortable cars. I’m especially fascinated by alternative fuels, as well as cheap and clean ways to make cars move.

In that vein, I’ve written on this very blog in bold letters that electric vehicles aren’t the future. I was eating my words a post or two on and it seems I’ll keep eating them. Electric cars are pretty cool and definitely will catch on. They’ll get cheaper and better and we’ll see more and more of them. I wrote a post call “The Evils of Electric“, and I stand by a lot of what I said, though since I’ve written it I’ve learnt a lot more about EVs and all the pros and cons surrounding them, especially concerning what it’s actually like to live with them every day.

This enlightenment can be attributed to Red Dwarf‘s Kryten, or Robert Llewellyn as I have no doubt he prefers to be RobertLlewellyncalled. His YouTube show Fully Charged is a very informative and balanced way of looking at electric vehicles, as well as some other alt-fuel technologies out there. What I like most is that he also loves cars, loves petrol engines and performance and respects everyone else who does, and just wants to say “getting around on petrol is fine, but it’s flawed and we should start looking at other solutions.”

For me, what really clinched Mr. Llewellyn’s status as an authority on these matters is how he doesn’t have his head up is arse or is out of touch with reality, and knows that someone like me who lives in a flat and doesn’t earn much money can’t really realistically run an EV in this day and age. But what he’s doing aims to make EVs widespread enough to become accessible, both in the price it costs to buy one, and the infrastructure necessary to keep them going. If you want to know more about Robert and his fantastic, entertaining and clever style of showing people how this EV malarkey simply makes so much sense, have a listen to a talk he gave in Liverpool last year called Electric Cars Are Rubbish. Aren’t They? I promise you’ll love it.

The Evils of Electric

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception, General opinions with tags , , , , , on 30/05/2013 by Alexander

Last post, I delved into how the Tesla Model S might be too good for its own good, if that makes any sense at all. Electric cars have gained a lot of traction since I started writing this blog and offering up other possible modes of making cars go that might become dominant. But I’d like to focus once again on just electric cars, in particular non-hybrid, 100% battery-driven vehicles, and possible consequences of their adoption. I’ve no doubt their market share will grow, and at this point in time all we think about is how wonderful it will be with silent, no-emission environmentally-friendly vehicles that’ll cost peanuts to run, and not about downsides this might bring. Let me insert a small caveat here: that I’m in no way against electric cars, in fact it’s quite the opposite, I think they’ll probably be fantastic when they overcome current problems.

With the possible advent of a slew of super-batteries, such as the University of Illinois micro-battery or graphene batteries, it’s no longer solidly arguable that charge times and range will be a hindering issue in adopting EVs as a normal everyday transport. But at what cost?

– Electricity will become more expensive
If everyone starts plugging in every night to recharge their cars, the electric grid will have to be upgraded to cope with the extra juice being extracted. That’ll cost money, and I don’t see governments picking up the bill in this economic climate. Also, markets function on the principle of supply and demand. A lot of demand will mean the suppliers will raise prices and increase their profit margin, and blame the aforementioned upgrades for the price hikes. Don’t believe me? That’s exactly what happened when oil prices spiked and the price of fuel went up, and oil companies registered record profits.

Might be avoided if…
… the march for the adoption of renewable energy sources continues. Solar and eolic (wind) generated electricity are the most obvious, but perhaps other solutions originally thought up as alternatives to petrol and diesel like algal-based fuels and second-generation biofuels can be put to good use if the internal combustion engine goes the way of the dodo.

– Gigantic changes in infrastructures
If I were to go out tomorrow and buy a Nissan Leaf, I’d be buggered to able to recharge it. Having an electric car today, in 2013 implies you’re fortunate enough to have a garage with your own mains. Most people have to park 3 streets away from where they live, or, like me, in a common garage beneath the block of flats where they live with no socket to plug their car into. Charging stations are a joke in this day and age. I only know of one at a petrol station near my house, and to my knowledge it’s probably the only one in a 10-mile radius. Most of the time some ignorant plonker in a BMW has parked it front of it, so it’s non-usable, or another EV has parked there and won’t be finished with the station for another four hours. Infrastructural support for EVs will need big investments, and in the case EVs replace ICE cars, there’ll be a lot of abandoned petrol stations. “Oh, just convert them into charging stations” you might say. Well, I can tell you from my own experience in real estate-related matters, that is scrotum-squashingly difficult. You need a bunch of legal mechanisms that don’t even exist at the moment to make it possible in the first place, and that’s just to make it possible. To make it easy will be herculean (if it’s even achievable) since every law-making entity always makes a hash of streamlining any sort of legal process. Top all this off with the prospect that charging points will be non-standardised at first as each brand will battle for its own proprietary solution, and the fact that the user-friendliness, quality and adaptability of charging stations will suck terribly before years of R&D, consumer consulting and simple trial and error will fix all the original mistakes.

Might be avoided if…
… there’s a lot of planning and understanding in advance. Governments and the big players in pushing EV recharging stations would have to come together and choose the best stuff on offer and come up with a harmonious solution. Doesn’t seem likely for a number of reasons, most of which have been stated above.

– It will ruin other forms of transport
This one’s close to my heart, since I’ve recently restarted using a bike as a mode of transport. In many cities, especially in uncivilised backwaters like the one I live in, bicycles are seen purely as an object of leisure, and only paupers use bikes to go to work. As a consequence, bike lanes are only practically found along the coastline and near universities, because local authority members only use cars and wouldn’t be seen dead on a bicycle, and think that if they build bike lanes no-one will use them (which shows up their stupidity, the only reason people don’t use bike lanes is because there aren’t any, but I digress). However, recently bike sales have climbed, and people cycling about is an increasingly visible sight. The rise in their use is mirrored by a current awareness campaign on TV aimed at making motorists and cyclists behave better around each other, and some councils converting disused railway lines into bike tracks (which is very stupid, but maybe one day I’ll get to that). Bikes are brilliant: they’re cheap, quick, healthy, easy to park, non-taxed and have practically little to no running costs. The problem here is that human beings are inherently lazy, and will only start riding bikes for financial reasons. That’s why bike use is rising, because we’re in the midst of a humungous economic depression. If people get access to electric vehicles that are cheap to run (if the price of electricity doesn’t go through the roof), that’s it for bicycles. And buses and trains, since it will probably be cheaper to run a near-maintenance-free EV than it will to buy a fricking bus-pass every month. We’ll be back to pre-recession levels of car use, if not higher.

Might be avoided if…
… people get used to bikes and start loving the freedom and the practicality and health they give. That and the subsequent total gridlock that will become rampant if everyone starts using a car.

– It will radically transform the economic dynamics of the materials necessary
Rare earth materials have been quite controversial in recent years. There’s China’s attempted market manipulation and terrible mining practices in the Congo surrounding these materials, and these are absolutely crucial for the electronics that our lives can’t function without today. Smartphones can’t be made without rare earth minerals, as well as a whole host of other consumer electronics. So imagine: in a few years, we’re going to need a whole lot of rare earth if we want to make battery-powered cars that are governed by complex techno-wizardy to make them work properly. As the name implies rare earth materials are, well… rare, and if today there are enough problems as it is for supply to meet demand, imagine what will happen if demand keeps rising!

Might be avoided if…
… scientists or manufacturers manage to get round the need for rare earth minerals by making complex electronics work with more abundant elements. For example, a Chicago-based company has come up with an electric motor that doesn’t need rare earth materials.

– It will create perverse new ways for governments to put their hands in our pockets and monitor our habits
Yes, this one is the biggie. Governments should be like those money kitties at work, where everyone chips in and it’s all eventually and evenly used for a common benefit. But unfortunately, most of them work more like Mafia bosses, demanding a cut on every single piece of income you could possibly have, then squandering most of it on expensive habits, but leaving a few crumbs for the less fortunate to give the impression they care. A huge slice of government money comes from taxing fossil fuels (where I live, it represents 20% of indirect tax, second only to VAT, which is a whopping 50%). So if fuel consumption goes down, it only stands to reason that the government will implement something like a perverse “pay-by-mile” scheme, which will in turn imply monitoring where you go so they can collect their precious lolly. I can only guess they’ll make it mandatory to have some sort of GPS-tracking system you can’t switch off, which will then be hacked by criminal syndicates who will use it to see when you’re away from home and sell the info to burglars, so when you get home you’ll have four walls and nothing inside them. The Dark side of electric power comes hither.

Might be avoided if…
… governments had wise people within them. Which they don’t.

The Electric Vehicle Revolution

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception, General opinions on 07/05/2013 by Alexander

800px-Elon_MuskThis man here is Elon Musk. You may have seen him in Iron Man 2 hobnobbing with Tony Stark, but for most he’s what’s behind the Tesla Model S, indisputably the currently most advanced electric car available on the market. Now hold that thought, after all, this is a car blog, but I’d like to ramble on about a non-car matters for a moment.

Having mentioned Tesla’s founder, I’d just like to say how Mr. Musk is the sort of rich person I want to be some day. Most wealthy people are self-centred weasels, and simply set about indulging themselves as soon as they’ve got money. Some will donate to charity to appease their conscience, but wouldn’t dream of actually dedicating their life to bettering someone else. Elon Musk has done just that, with his Space X project, which is an attempt in rekindling some interest and momentum in space exploration (after all, if humanity’s going to survive, we need to disperse into the cosmos), and with the Tesla motor company, that proves electric cars are not only possible, but a serious candidate for the main mode of propulsion for passenger cars in the future.

Now, I’ve said before how electric cars weren’t the future, and at the time I said that I was right. The Model S was a game-changer, but it comes at a cost. The thing is, the Tesla makes all current EVs look like complete s**t. All of a sudden, their range is seems even more pathetic than it was, so is their performance, so are the charging times, so are the looks (trying to make it look all snazzy, outlandish and sci-fi instead of looking conventionally cool makes it look very out of place in the real world), and so is the conceptual design (batteries occupying the boot and reducing cargo space instead of the Tesla’s better battery that actually frees up the interior).

So to continue a theme that crops up every now and then (which is what will be the main mode of propulsion for cars in the future), will the Model S be the undoing of the electric car? This may seem a bit paradoxical, but if you think about it, it has some substance. People who want electric cars won’t be too attracted to ugly, under-performing turds, but might no be able to afford the better yet much pricier option, so they might settle for an ICE-driven car. Food for thought.