Archive for the Green Tech 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 No. Google something like “biofuel in Portugal” and you get back paltry, outdated results.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

The perfect car

Posted in Car conception, General opinions, Green Tech with tags , on 14/12/2012 by Alexander

Most drivers will say that their perfect car would have things like rear-wheel drive, 500bhp and push-rod suspension, or some load of bollocks like that (just look at this article and its comments). I beg to differ, since my main points of focus when driving are good looks, economy and comfort. Handling can go f**k itself, though I have to admit that I’ve found that having good performance on tap is quite useful, though I begin to digress.

What would be your perfect car? No budget restrictions, no design barriers, nothing but fertile imagination. I would however put a limit on feasibility (such as it having a warp drive or a porn star-cloning mechanism), though I’d personally include some upcoming technology I’ve seen on telly that may or may not make it into mainstream production. So here goes:

– A hybrid propulsion system, with electric motors providing drive, fed by ultra-small, light and efficient batteries, with a gas-turbine range-extender that could burn anything combustible. It’s main fuel would be a mixture of bio-fuel diesel and LPG, resulting in a huge range and a fuel consumption of something like 1.5 l/100km (188mpg). Or better.

– It would be a three-seater. Two main seats in the front with a third seat in the middle just behind with a built-in booster seat for my daughter to ride in and have a good view out the front.

– The driver (in this case, me) would sit in a cockpit-like setting, with a nice sloping centre console. The materials used would be non-standard, with hard, durable dent-resistant plastics, vinyl (soft-touch materials are easily scratched), and cloth trim and seats in dark colours (brighter colours get dirty very, very quickly).

– Weird interior and control design, like buttons instead of stalks, or levers instead of buttons. The steering wheel would still be circular and the pedals in the same conventional place and order, though.

– Super-comfortable seats, with suspension filled with non-newtonian fluids. Or Citroen’s Hydractive suspension, that’d do.

– A super-aerodynamic beautiful sports-car look, in a gorgeous berlinetta or coupé shape, with a full-length opening sunroof (a bit of a redundant phrase, since if it didn’t open it would be a moonroof), a glass tailgate with a generous boot.

Regenerative paint and bodywork. No more constant headaches every time some ignorant prick moron scratches my car when parking.

– Classic (or absence of) features that people today, used to luxury and labour-saving devices, would equate to Spartan, backward and primitive systems that belong in the 1950’s. Wind-up windows, non-electric seats, no automatic windscreen wipers, or superfluous stuff like that. I like a bit of rough un-sophistication every now and then.

– Though not all technology would be gone. No. Instead of a radio or sat-nav, my smartphone would fit perfectly into a dock. Then I could charge the phone if necessary, or use the phone’s Google Navigation. The car’s music would play from the phone, but with car would have its own physical buttons, because I f**king hate touchscreens in a car.

Phwoar, what a car that would be.

The hybrid retrofit kit

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception, Green Tech with tags , , on 27/11/2012 by Alexander

Years ago, a bit of news popped up on an idea that allowed any normal car to be fitted with electric motors and a battery, essentially turning it into a hybrid. More news surfaced recently, but it seems no one was paying attention. Now all all I want to know is how long until it’s available and will it come to where I live. Thanks.


Posted in Alt-Fuel, Green Tech with tags , , , , , , on 17/01/2012 by Alexander

I love alternative fuels. I’m on my third LPG car, which is the perhaps the most widespread and cheapest alternative fuel in Europe, and I thank my stars every day for having converted my Volvo to run on it. Currently, fuel prices are so staggeringly high that I’d have to consider staying at home a lot more than I do. When I first started driving my first LPG-burning Citroen, diesel was around €0,88, while LPG was around €0.5. Money-wise, it was cheaper to run a diesel, since it got mileage that was good enough to offset the price difference between the two types of fuel. However, the considerable difference in price when buying the cars to start with made LPG the far more sensible choice, since the cost of buying a petrol car and pay for the conversion was far, far less than buying an equivalent diesel. For example, my S60 (2.3-litre five cylinder turbo, with 130,000km/80,000 miles on the odometer) cost €11,000 plus nearly €2,000 to get it converted, while an equivalent D5 version (2.4-litre five cylinder turbo, same mileage), would set me back €15,500+. And I’d have to drive a lot to compensate for those extra €2,500 price difference. In fact, I’d have to have driven round the clock as soon as I got it because not long after, diesel prices rose so steeply that since then diesel is no longer the less expensive way to get around. Especially in 2012.

Let’s crunch some quick numbers to you can get the idea. Diesel now costs around €1.49 a litre. LPG costs €0.75 (I’m rounding the numbers in favour of diesel, to drive the point home). Now, I get around 8.8l/100km (32.1mpg) on an average journey with a car full of people, luggage and air-conditioning. An equivalent diesel will do around 5l/100km (56.5mpg). LPG saves €0.90 per 100km, and though that might not sound like much, over the lifetime of a car that’s a lot of lolly.

Anyway, this might not hold true tomorrow since LPG prices are set to go up in the near future, but either way, I stand by my logic. However, if you already own a diesel, you might be interested in something I found out yesterday (though it’s been around for yonks): dual-fuel LPG/diesel cars. In a nutshell, cars that inject 66% diesel and 34% LPG into the cylinder. From what I’ve read, the result is smoother running, more power and torque, and significant fuel economy (20-30%). The bottom line is a 5l/100km car now drinks some 2.5l of diesel plus a litre or so of LPG. That’s half the amount of normal fuel plus some half price fuel. Personally, I think it sounds great and I’d jump at the chance, if I had a diesel, except for one small snag. The cost of fitting an LPG kit to a diesel can be around €2000, and offsetting that value can take a jolly long time. Even if you save €1.50 per 100km, you’d have to do around 130,000km (80,000 mile)s to compensate the investment, and considering you’ll probably be converting a used car that’s clocked 150,000km (as most converted cars – no-one wants to tinker with a relatively new car), it might not even last that long. Compare that to LPG cars, where even an expensive conversion like mine paid off after 30,000km.

Either way, it’s an interesting alternative, and might be worth it given the right set of circumstances.

Cyclone engine

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception, Green Tech with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 16/01/2012 by Alexander

I’ve covered gas-turbine engines before, and they still live on in my mind as one of the best alternatives to ICE’s. Not as a direct substitute, mind you, but as a compliment to EVs as range extending technology. It’s a rather elegant solution, since it allows for regular, fossil-fuel consuming folk to adjust more easily due to the fact that they still have to pump in fuel, while at the same time it’s a cleaner, more eco-friendly electric vehicle. Everyone’s happy.

Perhaps their greatest advantage is that they can run on nearly anything that burns. Petrol, diesel, kerosene, whiskey, perfume, basically anything that’s liquid and combustible. And that includes all sorts of lovely biofuels that hopefully will be produced just as cleanly as they burn. However, this application of gas turbines to automotive propulsion is only being pursued by a consortium (that includes Jaguar), apparently.

It even crossed my mind to do something I’ve dreamt about for years: to get myself an old car, rip out the engine and turn it into an alternatively propelled vehicle (just as these guys turned a classic Toyota 2000GT into a solar-powered EV). In this case, a gas turbine electric hybrid. And I thought to myself, how hard can it be?! You just remove the ICE and strap in a gas turbine, batteries and some electric motors behind each wheel hub. But I’m absolutely certain that in reality things would be much more complicated than it sounds. The most elementary components that have a clear place in a conventionally-powered vehicle could become a nightmare. How many gears would it have, if it even had gears at all? What would power the brake servo, the air-con, or the rest of the HVAC system? Would it be the turbine or the batteries? How would someone who wasn’t a very clever engineer even begin to rig the readouts as to how much juice you have left on the batteries, what shuts down or comes to life when the turbine kicks in, etc., etc.? That’s complicated s**t.

I’m still curious as to how gas turbines compare with regular engines. I can’t seem to find any sort of specifications as to what mileage you could get from a gas turbine electric hybrid car or what’s their emission-per-km figure. After all, it’s a very nice technology in principle, but not really worth it if takes a gallon of fuel to keep the car fully operational for a mile. The Jaguar C-X75 concept has “an estimated fuel economy of 41.1 mpg, 778 horsepower, 0 to 62mph in 3.4 seconds, and a top speed of 205 mph”, which is very nice for a concept car, but that doesn’t mean it can to it in the real world. While trying to find some proper numbers, I stumbled across yet another type of engine I wasn’t aware of, called the Cyclone Engine. Its working principle is (if I’m not very much mistaken) a modern take on the steam engine, and has many real world applications, not just powering cars. And like the gas turbine idea (and unlike the split cycle engine and, from what I can tell, the shockwave motion generator), it can burn virtually anything in order to function. The website boasts a lot of advantages over conventional internal combustion engines, just like the split cycle and shockwave engines, from efficiency to number of components, which makes me wonder why these sorts of things aren’t being pursued more aggressively by more mainstream car manufacturers. If any one of these technologies (or hopefully, all of them) take hold, they’ll be tripping over themselves to play catch-up.