Archive for Alt-Fuel

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 No. Google something like “biofuel in Portugal” and you get back paltry, outdated results.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.

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.

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.

Around the world on fuel-cells

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception with tags , , , , , on 03/06/2011 by Alexander

The Stuttgart car manufacturer started a round-the-world trip in January with a modest fleet of three B-Class, all of which were powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

The German automaker hopes that the drive will prove that fuel-cell vehicles are a viable alternative to traditional EVs and internal combustion vehicles and that lawmakers and businesses will respond by ramping up the infrastructure necessary to easily operate a fuel-cell auto.

The 70-day journey the trio undertook was, for obvious reasons, supported by a mobile filling station. However, the article states that it was possible to find alternative sources of hydrogen along the way, and that it was quick an easy to refill, just as people are used to doing today with our liquid-chemical-burning ICE’s. Personally, I think this is one of the most worthwhile future alternative fuel technologies out there and ripe for development. But to catch on, it has to look as appealing as electricity is made to unduly look now. Frankly, if I were the bloke at Mercedes in charge of this operation, I would’ve converted some E-Class coupés or CLS saloons or any other more attractive models. However, I admit that because of the general perception that alt-fuel vehicles have to look stupid (as exemplified by today’s production hybrids), Merc’s bosses perhaps weren’t thinking down the wrong lines. On the other hand, I reckon it’s important that car-makers battle the idea that today’s standards for good-looking vehicles are inapplicable to greener machines. But that’s my humble opinion.

Alt Fuel #8 Petrol/Diesel

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Green Tech with tags , , , on 05/08/2009 by Alexander

“Petrol and diesel aren’t alternative fuels, you stupid prat!” I might hear you say. Well, they’re not alt-fuels now, but they might very well be if the solutions I mentioned earlier take a hold of the market. Imagine in the future, one day you’re filling up your car with hemp-based bioethanol, and a bloke in an old banger pulls up between the wireless EV recharging spot and the pump dispensing urine-derived hydrogen. He asks the attendant if they sell something called “petrol”, because his car wasn’t retrofitted to run on biobutanol.

A future like this wouldn’t be that bad, but let’s face the honest truth: petrol and diesel won’t go away that easily. Big Oil and plain simple everyday habits will make the shift away hard. Asking the everyday man to trade in a habit he’s cultivated all his life simply might not work. People are scared of change, and they’re also very lazy going about it.

But the panorama isn’t completely gloomy. The way engines are evolving is favourable for a less fossil-fuel consuming future. We’ve already had good cars like the VW Lupo 3l, we have the good example of the Volvo DRIVe range, and even a performance brand like BMW is developing low-cc super-economical engines.

In conclusion, we’ve got a long transition away from petrol and diesel ahead of us, but habits will change as engines get smaller and less greedy. An then hopefully, when oil runs out no-one will notice, because the shift to alt-fuels has already happened.

Hybrids and Plug-In Hybrids
Plug-In Electric Vehicles
Biodiesel, bioethanol and such
Carbon-neutral Algae-based fuels
Hydrogen fuel cells
Hybrid Retrofitting