Alternative-fuels like bio-diesel (from algae) and ethanol/methanol (cellulosic ethanol) would allow us to quickly displace a great quantity of petroleum while continuing to utilize our existing distribution infrastructure.
Ethanol-fuel vehicles have existed for decades, and have been used with great success in sugar-cane ethanol rich Brazil since the 1980’s. Known as “Flex-Fuel” this technology allows a greater combination of ethanol mixed with gasoline (up to 85% ethanol) to be used safely in a standard internal combustion engine, while adding as little as $100 to the cost per vehicle in upgraded fuel system parts. (The current estimate is that there are approx. 7.5 million Flex-Fuel vehicles on American roads today… you may be driving a Flex-Fuel vehicle and not know it.)
One of the biggest problems with Flex-Fuel and ethanol in general is the “decrease in MPG” blamed on ethanol “containing less energy” than an equal quantity of gasoline. You’ll suffer a loss in MPG (but a substantial gain in MPGG) by using ethanol-blends in Flex-Fuel engines because gasoline engines are not designed to take advantage of one of the particular strengths of alcohol-blended fuels – tolerance for higher compression ratio.
Engines designed to be fueled with higher-octane alcohol blends are designed with higher compression ratios, able to squeeze more energy out of the fuel, improving efficiency and producing a greater amount of power. Ricardo recently announced they have developed an engine that takes advantage of the physics, and have developed an ethanol-fueled engine with superior efficiencies…
Ricardo says this engine, which it dubbed the Ethanol Boost Direct Injection engine, or EBDI, is tuned to make the most out of ethanol’s properties where it has an edge on other fuels. Ethanol has a higher octane rating than diesel or gas, so it’s more likely to ignite at just the right point in the engine’s combustion cycle. Diesel and gasoline can sometimes ignite earlier or later than intended, causing knocking noises in the engine. Automakers compensate with knock detection systems, but those can cut an engine’s efficiency.
Ricardo will be testing this new engine in a heavy-duty GMC truck, expecting an 18% improvement in efficiency with the new ethanol-powered engine over the stock gasoline engine.
The engine runs best on a blend with gasoline that is 30% to 50% ethanol, but, Ricardo says, can run on anything from all gas to all ethanol. Ricardo is bringing a GMC Sierra 3500HD pickup to the Washington, D.C., auto show this week that will be outfitted with its V-6 ethanol engine. On gas, it says, the GMC truck gets about 12.7 miles per gallon. On all ethanol, it would get about 12.1 mpg, the company says. But with an optimum blend, it says the engine could get 15 mpg.
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Take a look at this graph of average gas prices courtesy of GasBuddy.com and you’ll see that prices continue to rebound from the “crash” of 2008… which shouldn’t be a shock to anyone.
Not much has changed as far as our “oil addiction” since the “crash”. Looking back, it seems that Cash for Clunkers was the only national attempt at dealing with oil’s monopoly since the collapse, and the merits of that program as an energy policy are laughable.
It took a global economic collapse to undercut the oil gouging, something we can not afford to repeat. (I continue to assert that the uncertainty of affordable fuels contributed to the economic tsunami that brought world markets to their knees that summer.)
What are we going to do to shift oil from a strategic political and economic weapon to just “another” commodity that must compete with alternative sources?
1. I’ve long been a proponent of Flex-Fuel vehicles, since they offer the simple option to use purely petroleum based gasoline or alternative alcohol-blended (up to 85%) gasoline replacement fuels. Manufacturers “promised” to add Flex-Fuel capabilities into much of their fleets by 2010, yet most only add the systems to the most inefficient models, taking “credit” for making their fleet more efficient instead. Having Flex-Fuel vehicles on the road in great numbers will be an incentive for stations to carry more alcohol-blends, and at the same time allow motorists to travel far and wide without worry that they won’t find a filling station specific to their vehicle while the network of supply is created by the opportunity to serve this demand.
2. Small efficient diesel engines are hot sellers in Europe – 50% of all new car sales across the pond are diesels. Why? Because they are clean, quiet, powerful, last a long time, and get upwards of 65 to 80 MPG every day of the week. Plus you can fuel them with bio-diesel, and reduce the amount of petroleum based diesel fuel. Again, you can travel far and wide, taking advantage of bio-diesel when available – an incentive for stations to carry the product. Since bio-diesel is made closer to home, distribution is cheaper, jobs are created locally, and competition controls costs.
3. Hybrids are great technology for getting slightly better mileage from a gallon of gas – but they are all still 100% petroleum-dependent. Flex-Fuel Electric or Diesel Electric hybrids would allow motorists to offset even more of their oil addiction to alternatives, not just kick the can down the road a little further.
4. 100% electric vehicles are still not a replacement for the family car in most cases. High costs, limited range, and long recharging times limit options and create a situation where drivers must change habits (and hardware) to participate. Plus there is the battery problem, making exotic metal ore addiction the replacement for oil addiction.
5. Conservation (aka: eco-driving) is first-aid remedy immediately available for free (better than free when you consider the money savings) available to everyone right now. With modest changes to your driving habits, you can increase your fuel mileage 5% to over 25% no matter what you prefer to drive (including Hummers and Hybrids). And while “ecodriving” sounds like “hypermiling” to some people, in fact eco-driving is easy, courteous, and safer driving. It does require you to pay attention to operating your car (shouldn’t you be?), but relieves you from the urge to compete against those other drivers around you, and instead compete against the gas pump.
In the end, as we approach the future still addicted to oil we limit our geopolitical power and remain at the mercy of markets we do not have much control over politically. We have been at war for years thanks to oil, with no end in sight. While our planets poorest nations are prime real-estate for several bio-fuel industries that could lead them from poverty to prosperity, the “powers that be” lobby and maneuver to protect their monopoly on your mobility.
What are you doing to make progress? What do you see as our future?
Source: CNET Green Tech
Last year, Lotus announced the development of its Omnivore engine, the name denoting flex fuel capability. Today Lotus released test results for the engine, along with the kind of detail on how it operates only an engineer could love. These test results cover the first phase of testing the Omnivore engine with gasoline. Presumably, testing with fuels derived from alcohol and other sources are in the next phases.
In Lotus’ lab, the Omnivore engine brought in 10 percent better fuel economy than current direct injection engines, which are the most efficient on the market.
Two-stroke engines have twice as many “power strokes” at any given RPM when compared to the common four-stroke engines, making them more powerful and naturally efficient. (The engine is not “wasting” as much energy moving the piston up and down in power-robbing intake and scavenging strokes.) Two-strokes are smaller and lighter when compared to four-stroke engine of similar horsepower, and have fewer moving parts that simplifies the inner workings, making them cheaper to build and maintain.
In the past, the problem has always been pollution – it was considered near-impossible to build a two-stroke engine that could meet modern emission standards. Apparently Lotus is solving this problem:
Omnivore also uses a two-stroke, rather than a four stroke cycle, but still manages to turn in emission levels equivalent to modern production engines.
This Lotus prototype engine uses an ignition system called “homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI), meaning that instead of igniting its fuel charge with a spark plug, the compression of the cylinder causes the charge to ignite, similar to a diesel engine.”
More good news – the prototype is a flex-fuel engine, which would allow the owner/operator to choose what kind of fuel preferred to power it with – fossil-fuel gasoline (and diesel?) or bio-mass alcohol (ethanol/methanol) or a combination of the two.
Flex-fuel engines already exist, the problem with the current crop is that they are engineered as gasoline engines, and re-programmed to also run on alcohol blends – meaning that mechanically they are still designed for the lower compression ratios required to run on modern gasoline blends. Alcohol fuels have “less energy” per gallon than gasoline, but can run at a much higher compression ratios, allowing a properly-built alcohol engine to “gain” additional efficiency and reduce the “MPG” gap with gasoline.
The Lotus engine can apparently modify it’s compression ratio thanks to what they call the “puck” – or the “variable compression mechanism…at the top of the cylinder which dynamically changes the displacement depending on running conditions.”
Once again innovative engineering is proving that there still are many ways to improve fuel efficiency with the internal combustion engines, and there are no technical reasons we can’t be driving cars that get 60+ MPG regularly. The “fuel efficiency flat-line” from the mid-1980’s until just recently was due to something else – not because it was “technically impossible” to build more efficient engines.
Five years ago I visited family in Estonia, a country still digging out from decades of Soviet domination after World War Two. Estonia is an amazingly beautiful country full of “old world” charm and wonderful people. My cousin, who built heavy robotic equipment for the lumber industry , drove a SEAT hatchback with a small, quiet, and clean diesel engine that had tons of torque, ran on bio-diesel (available in most towns), and got better than 65 miles per gallon regularly. I was astonished.
We drove that spunky car all over the country, into Latvia, with the whole family, sometimes towing his little Russian-era boat. It was a joy to drive, and when we passed a field of soybean my cousin would smile at me and point, saying we were driving on sunshine – converted to oil in those plants. He said proudly “We are all green in Estonia. I am a green man.”
I wondered why I couldn’t buy a car like that back home in America.
Consider the new Ford Focus (available in Europe) with a little diesel engine, and upgraded starter, alternator, battery package that support their improved ECOnic start/stop technology – similar to a golf cart, the engine stops when the car is idle for a few seconds, and springs back to life when you press the accelerator to move ahead.
As with any Focus it is delightfully balanced and comfortable and the stop/start process in traffic is by no means intrusive or unduly noisy. In fact it is one of the better versions of the current crop of on/off engines.
The starter motor has been beefed up to cope with the additional use while developments have been made to the alternator to reduce friction and lessen the workload on the engine.
To improve fuel consumption further, kinetic energy built up as the car goes along is captured and used to recharge one of the two batteries which power the likes of the air conditioning or entertainment systems when the engine is off.
NOTE: While it’s generally a good idea to turn off your engine and reduce idling when not in traffic, we do NOT recommend turning your car off while in traffic – hybrids and stop/start equipped cars are designed to do this safely and automatically. Turning your car off (turning off the “ignition”) while in traffic is illegal in most places and puts you at risk if you need to move quickly to avoid a hazard.
The Focus also takes “driver feedback” to another level, with an on-board “eco driving coach” that will analyze driving habits and help encourage the driver to be more efficient.
On the road, the car monitors the driver’s technique examining gear changes, the smoothness of steering and use of speed.
The results are displayed on the instrument panel and highlight areas were improvements can be made. It also praises good eco-driving.
Eco-driver feedback systems are becoming more and more popular. FuelClinic is a type of feedback system, but isn’t real-time and doesn’t travel along with you in the car. Our new CarChip Pro does travel with you, providing real-time feedback when you accelerate too quickly, brake too aggressively, or exceed a pre-set speed limit. Other devices like the Rover from Cartasite provide similar feedback, and communicate wirelessly.
These uber-efficient diesels are not easily available in the US (you’ll need to look to Volkswagen if you want a diesel car here), nor is a ready supply of bio-diesel at pumps in many places – a classic chicken-and-egg dilemma.
Would you buy a small diesel-powered vehicle like the Focus mentioned? What if you could have your favorite make, manufacturer, and body style – but with a little-diesel option?
Last year I had a quick conversation with Bob Casper, President of POET Ethanol Products, after a conference where he had said that the ethanol industry in America was about to meet the current 10% blend-wall mandate, providing all the fuel the market could use, while continuing to improve efficiencies and producing more fuel with fewer resources.
I asked him what his single greatest challenge is, and he told me that the industry was about to have excess capacity, without any real FFV progress, the blend-wall for non-FFV vehicle fuel needed to be raised to 12% or 15% in order to create room for the industry to continue to grow, to encourage continued innovation and investment.
One of the challenges of increasing the blend-wall is certifying that the existing equipment like pumps, tanks, and dispensing machines can operate without problems due to the higher alcohol content. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) creates standards for this kind of equipment, and recently announced it will support the sale of E15 in existing approved 87-regular gasoline systems.
Underwriters Laboratories (UL) says it will support the sale of 15% ethanol blends through “legacy” dispensers, as long as those pumps meet current UL standards for the sale of 87-regular gasoline. The decision by the Chicago-based standards-setting group is a major coup for marketers and ethanol suppliers, who have pushed for UL approval of higher blend sales. UL has tested pumps up to a 15% blend but until now has said it will only give its stamp of approval to dispensers cleared for 10% ethanol fuel, the current limit for non-flex fuel vehicles under the Clean Air Act.
There are other challenges, from auto manufacturer warranties, to congressional action still needed, to consumers potentially noticing reduced mileage from using a greater percentage of alcohol in their low-compression gasoline engines. (While “miles-per-gallon” may slip, the “miles-per-gallon-of-gasoline” will increase significantly.)
One of the common arguments against ethanol/methanol is that we “don’t have enough arable crop land to produce enough ethanol to replace our projected demand for oil without starving to death first”.
In a way this is true, but it misses the point. We don’t have to replace all oil with alcohol (or anything for that matter), we just have to displace enough of it to reduce the strategic value of oil, making oil a plentiful commodity instead of an economic weapon.
Here’s an interesting idea from FFV Club of America that illustrates how Flex Fuel technology can effectively increase your “miles per gallon of gasoline” to over 100 MPGG.
I get 100+ miles per gallon of gasoline (MPGG) using E85, so I use less gasoline and more domestically produced alternative fuels.
When using E85 in my FFV I can get 100+ MPGG (miles to the gallon of gasoline). After all, the challenge is about gallons per gasoline not only miles per gallon. For example. The 20 gallon fuel tank on my Dodge minivan takes 17 gallons of ethanol and 3 gallons of gasoline (E85). I normally average about 20 miles per gallon and go about 400 miles on that tank full. Even if I assume a 20% loss in mileage (truthfully I do not check or care, I just use E85 when I can) I go about 320 miles on those 3 gallons of gasoline or about 106 MPGG. Now that is progress and I have one of the highest miles per gallon of gasoline cars on the road!
In essence, you’re going much further on each gallon of petroleum-based gasoline but “cutting” it with biomass-based alcohol.
I like this so much I’m adding the capability to measure and track “MPGG” using FuelClinic in a future update.
Daydreaming: Imagine the kind of MPGG possible if the existing gasoline-hybrids like the Toyota Prius were also Flex Fuel capable (they are not). Taking the daydream one step further, how about a plug-in flex-fuel hybrid… (Need to stabilize E85 in storage, to prevent moisture from being absorbed, but otherwise – it’s possible today to build such a vehicle.)
Calculating MPGG also helps debunk another frequent argument against alcohol-blends that, gallon for gallon, drivers will actually see a decrease in mileage using ethanol/methanol vs. straight gasoline.
Note: It is true, generally speaking, that in existing gasoline powered automobiles you will get “fewer miles per gallon” using ethanol/methanol, but only because gasoline powered cars are engineered to efficiently use lower-octane gasoline as a fuel. If cars were engineered to take advantage of the higher octane/higher compression ratios possible with ethanol, the efficiency would rival that of gasoline. There’s nothing “wrong” with alcohol as a fuel, just ask IndyCar Racing, it’s just not apples-to-apples to compare fuel efficiency in engines that are not tailored to take advantage of the different properties of each fuel.
If the goal is to reduce oil consumption, control oil prices, cut carbon emissions, and help ourselves and our nation economically, then thinking about the ability of your Flex Fuel car to “off-set” oil by a substantial margin with each mile you drive makes each fill-up a little more satisfying.
What do you think about MPGG, ethanol/methanol, or Flex Fuel technologies?
Would measuring mileage by MPGG make refueling a little more satisfying to you, or am I just nuts?
As always, your comments are important and greatly encouraged. :)
If we had a reasonable demand for alcohol-blended fuel, investment for producing ethanol and methanol both here in the US and abroad would skyrocket – a significant and world-changing “boom”.
What’s needed is a marketable demand for the fuel. Unfortunately most cars on the road can not use alcohol-blends greater than 20% or so, some of the older cars and equipment like lawn mowers, construction equipment, and boats can’t even use that much of a blend.
There is a technology called “Flex Fuel” that has been around for over 10 years, and is already built-in to some cars sold in the US (about 3% on the road). “Flex Fuel” involves improvements to some of the fuel system components to resist alcohol-corrosion, adding a sensor that can determine how much alcohol is in the fuel going to the fuel injectors, and programming the computer that runs the engine in the car. It costs between $100 to $200 to add these components during production of a new car. All “Flex Fuel” cars can run on regular gas, or any combination of alcohol-and-gas.
So 3% of vehicles can run on alcohol-blends currently. It costs a gas station operator about $60,000 to install the “blending” pump required to distribute the fuel, and possibly much more if they need to upgrade their storage tanks.
Few gas station so far have thought this was a good investment for them to make. 3% of their customers can use it – if they even know their car is capable (not many people know for sure). Not a very impressive market to service.
American automakers have previously promised to build Flex-Fuel technologies into 80% of their new cars starting in the next few years. If they stick to their promises, then a viable alcohol-blended market will start to build. If we could convince foreign makers to build Flex-Fuel vehicles, then a world-market for alcohol-blended fuels will emerge, creating a robust world market for the fuel.
My favorite side-effect of a robust Ethanol and Methanol market is that it would turn places like Africa, Asia, and South America into competitive energy-producing power-houses; using crops like sweet sorghum, sugar cane, and jatropha. We could easily diversify our sources of energy (we don’t have to grow it all ourselves) and at the same time enable some of humanities most needy countries to build viable and renewable energy industries that would ultimately enable local economies to pull themselves out of poverty, build infrastructure, power their own future on alcohol-blends, etc…
Another benefit of a robust market is a huge drop in demand for oil, as alcohol is used to replace up to 85% of the oil currently consumed by transportation. We don’t decimate the oil industry – we will still require oil for some transportation as well as the other products oil is a fantastic raw material for – but we can stop wasting our limited oil supply, sending it out our tailpipes.
As alcohol-based fuels manufacturing matures, newer more efficient farming methods geared specifically toward renewable energy sources will increase the amount of fuel-per-acre produced.
One slide from a recent energy independance conference projected a 428%+ increase in corn crop yield per acre for corn-based ethanol per acre possible withinÂ the next 20Â years asÂ new seed types, farming methods, and distilling technology are developed.
â€œWe know yield is what matters,â€ said Tracy Mader, marketing manager for Agrisure Corn Traits. â€œWeâ€™ve taken great care in leveraging the science of trait integration technology with the art of plant breeding to produce hybrids built for yield. Knowing that Syngenta scientists have set rigorous standards and work with only elite genetics, growers can have complete confidence in their crop yields.â€
OPEC is to meet again onÂ December 17th to mandate their members turn back their productionÂ output valves, in an effort to bring the price of oil up from it’s current lows.
OPEC President Chakib Khelil, who is also Algeria’s minister for energy and mines, told the Associated Press that a consensus has emerged among OPEC producers that a “significant reduction” is warranted by the current price slide.
Khelil would not discuss specifically how deep the cut might be. But he used the word “severe,” and noted that some analysts have predicted cuts of as much as two million barrels a day.
OPEC previously announced a 1.5-million-barrel-a-day reduction in October, but the decision failed to halt the fall in prices and markets have been expecting another cut at the Dec. 17 summit.
Why not keep OPEC on the run – regardless the price of oil – conserve as much fuel as possible w/o degrading your standard of living. Use resources like FuelClinic.com ( http://www.fuelclinic.com ) to learn to conserve and track your progress.
Continue to demand alternative sources of energy for your personal transportation. Demand “future-proof” FLEX-FUEL capable cars to take advantage of ethanol and methanol mix fuels w/o expensive new equipment, demand plug-in hybrids that charge overnight using clean electricity, demand small clean diesel engines that can run on bio-diesel that can be produced from algae.
Consumers cut consumption as a result of summers painful fuel costs – and pulled the rug from under OPEC, causing oil to “crash” back down to market value. Keep it going even lower by continuing to curb consumption, and keep pressuring government and industry to bring to market ways we can _replace_ most of oil from our transportation requirements.
Congress will likely consider a “bailout” for the auto-industry today, Monday, Dec. 8, 2008.Â It is an opportunity for Flex-Fuel legislation (Open Fuel Standard Act) to pass as well.
Congress should require that new cars run on any mix of gasoline and ethanol and methanol.Â As a reminder, in the war on oil-dependence, this would beÂ a game-changer.
1) Flex-fuel is an inexpensive, proven technology.
Â Â a.Â Cost is $100 per vehicle for new cars.
Â Â b.Â The original flex-fuel vehicle was the Model-T (for 17 years).
Â Â c. The US auto industry currently has over 4.4 million flex-fuel cars on US roads (but few would know it).
Â Â d.Â Brazil consumes ethanol (from sugar-cane) for over 50% of its fuel requirements.
2)Â The cost of oil will rise again
Â Â a.Â OPEC has already cut production by 1.5 million barrels per day.
Â Â b.Â And is considering an additional cut of more than 2.5 million additional barrels per day (later this week).
Â Â c.Â Demand for oil from China and India, with vastly growing middle-classes, inevitably will rise again.
Â Â d. The easiest to extract oil on earth has been tapped, and it gets more difficult as time goes on.
Â Â e.Â Oil is still $30/barrel higher than its 10 year historic low.
3)Â National-security demands that we reduce our dependence.
Â Â a.Â Russia, Venezuela, and OPEC are repressive, regressive, and often anti-American oil exporters.
Â Â b.Â We fund their misbehaviorsÂ and weÂ end up supporting terrorism.
Â Â c.Â We cannot hope to modify the goals of a nuclear-intentioned Iran when we are so dependent and while they control the waterway through which 20% of world’s oil passes daily.
4)Â Economic strength demands that we reduce our dependence.
Â Â a.Â We are exporting millions of jobs that could otherwise be producing our fuel domestically.
Â Â b.Â We could be “recycling” these domestically spend dollars-at a time in which we need it so badly.
Â Â c.Â We could be developing the technologies that will fuel the future of the energy marketplace globally.
5)Â Many solutions.
Â Â a.Â We also needÂ solar, nuclear, wind, and drilling.
Â Â b.Â But we need Flex-Fuel biofuels NOW as the surest short-term path to addressing our dependecies and to create security and economic strength.
Â Â c.Â The best time to get the auto-makers to cooperate is while they need a “bailout”.
6)Â Please, contact your Senator today–not tomorrow.
Â Â a.Â Call (202) 224-3121 and ask to be transferred to your Senator’s office.
Â Â b.Â You can make a difference with just a phone call.
Â Â c.Â Call both of yourÂ Senators.
Over the next few year you’ll see a change at your local gas stations as more alcohol-blended fuel pumps are installed across the nation. Alcohol-blended fuels like E85 are already available in some areas, and more are coming to market as more FFVs are sold in the United States.
US based manufacturers have committed to making 50% of their new autos FFVs by 2010 and and 85% by 2012. In addition, there is proposed legislation called the Open Fuel Standard Act which will mandate all cars sold in America meet the same goals, so this will mean that all imports sold in the US will meet the same FFV standard. (You can help support this legislation here.)
Since FFV is an widely available and mature technology (there are already millions of FFVs on the road in the US – you mayÂ be driving one), adding the capability to all new vehicles sold in the US doesn’t add notably to the cost of making new cars (usually about $100) – and provides a way for auto manufactures to “green-up” their product lines.
Drivers of FFVs will be able to choose what fuel to buy, based on price at the pump, performance needs, personal preference, etc. – just like shopping for any other commodity. You’ll be able to mix E85 with E10 (the current flavor of gasoline almost everywhere in the US) and newer alternative blends like E25 or M50. Using FFV technology, your car will automatically adjust your engines settings to run properly on any combination of gasoline and alcohol fuels.
Unlike more exotic alternative fuels like compressed hydrogen or natural gas, drivers of FFVs are not stuck on a virtual “energy island” of specialized refueling stations. You will be able to travel freely, just like today, as far and wide as you like – choosing your favorite blend of alcohol fuels as you go – or using straight gasoline where no other choice exists.
So if your next car has an engine that burns liquid fuel, makes sure it is “future proof” and check that it’s a Flex-Fuel Vehicle before you buy it, or else you’ll be left withoutÂ options at the pump when the alcohol-blended fuels hit the wider market.