There’s a great article in the November issue of Fast Company about Johnathan Goodwin, the “Motorhead Messiah,” who has been doing some pretty interesting things with diesel engines, turbines, and alternative fuels. Goodwin is doing things to cars that the big auto manufacturers have been saying again and again are “impossible.”
An excerpt from the article reads:
Goodwin leads me over to a red 2005 H3 Hummer that’s up on jacks, its mechanicals removed. Like most hybrids, it’ll have two engines, including an electric motor. …[It] will burn biodiesel, a renewable fuel with much lower emissions than normal diesel; a hydrogen-injection system will then cut those low emissions in half.
Oh, yeah, he adds, the horsepower will double–from 300 to 600.
“Conservatively,” Goodwin muses, scratching his chin, “it’ll get 60 miles to the gallon. With 2,000 foot-pounds of torque. You’ll be able to smoke the tires. And it’s going to be superefficient.”
He laughs. “Think about it: a 5,000-pound vehicle that gets 60 miles to the gallon and does zero to 60 in five seconds!”
I wonder what he could do for my 2003 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, which, as a fuel efficient diesel, already gets 49/42 MPG. If I could double my horsepower, from 90 to 180, I’d be thrilled! Of course, the conversion would probably cost me more than the value of the car!
There’s an ongoing debate about which “green” technology will become the “standard” for transportation. Hydrogen fuel cells, electric, biodiesel, etc. Eventually, one of these types of engines will prove itself to be a cut above the rest. I might be a little biased, but I’m putting my money on a biodiesel hybrid.
Of course, none of these technologies is perfect. Hydrogen and biodiesel require processing plants and refineries, (plug-in) electric cars get their power off the grid. Biodiesel, and plant based hydrogen, requires huge amounts of land to crow crops, plus all of the equipment to farm the land. Hydrogen from non-plant sources will most likely come from oil, which helps reduce emissions, but does nothing to lower our dependency on foreign oil. At this point, nothing is perfect.
So, why is my money on biodiesel? Mainly, simplicity. The diesel engine is one of amazingly simple design. Diesel engines are well known for their longevity, ease of maintenance, low mechanical cost, high torque ratios, and ease of modifications. Diesel engines can run on filtered used cooking oil with little or no engine alterations (although I wouldn’t recommend trying it). Diesel engines will be easier to produce, easier to care for, and will be able to provide the power that American drivers crave, with a good amount of efficiency.
But, that’s just my opinion.