Archive for alternative fuels

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 No. Google something like “biofuel in Portugal” and you get back paltry, outdated results.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

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.

Is going electric as green as we think?

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Green Tech with tags , , , , , , , on 08/02/2010 by Alexander

The march toward all-electric vehicles continues with some good ideas, like Volvo’s power-storing bodywork, and less good ideas, like the stupid-looking and stupidly-named Protoscar Lampo2. I’ve mentioned the pros and cons of EV’s before, and the bottom line is that unless recharging a car is as fast as filling it up with fuel, and that it’ll go a long way before having to stop again, the future of motor transport lies with another fuel or mode of propulsion. I suspect car manufacturers insist on EV’s because they’re easier to build and something more easily understood by the public, because even a corporate accountant can see the inevitable downsides of betting on electricity as the petrol of the future. Apart from its practicality issues, there’s an even bigger issue that EV’s have to deal with, one that attacks the very cornerstone of their existence: their carbon footprint.

An interesting article in the Portuguese website AutoPortal speaks of how a Dutch company, CE Delft, has uncovered an aspect of European law that, while an incentive for making EV’s, is at the same time an excuse for less environmentally-friendly behaviour. Loosely translated:

The study indicates that the European legislation that regulates car emissions presents “serious loopholes”, by allowing car manufacturers to ‘compensate’ the sale of electric vehicles with the sale of more polluting vehicles, which go beyond the emission limits set by legislation.

It’s an interesting point and one which isn’t easily visible, unlike the other disadvantages which are the realm of common sense and simple inferences. An overtaxed power grid, consuming lots of fossil fuel to produce the juice needed to recharge EV’s, and the junking of old cars are the main contentious and valid points, and they’re simply not being addressed.

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