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What is the better answer to fuel a vehicle?

 
pollinator
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We all remember the crap Paul took over the incandescent lightbulb.  Those of us who actually want to be better stewards of the earth are rarely on the same page as those in the "greening" industry.   I was reading an article today... would like to source it, but I lost the link and can't seem to find it again. So, caveat up front: if my facts are wrong, please correct me!

Apparently GM has admitted that the electricity used to charge electric vehicles come from coal burning plants, by about 95%, and most of the rest from nuclear. And, the resources that go into building one battery for those vehicles equal the pollution from running a gas powered engine for 8 years!

So, I am not quite ready to drive around with a wood gasifier in my truck bed!  The cheap bio-diesel from McDonald's mostly isn't available anymore.  

What can we do, practically on the not upsetting the neighbors or setting something on fire in a catastrophic mistake, or needing really expensive stuff level?  
 
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I think this is why we have relied on what we have for so long. the efficiency to benefits ratio hasn't been exceeded.
It's not only the production of the electric vehicles. The batteries are some of the worst pollutants with no good way of disposal when they die. Same for solar panels and windmill blades! I know there are ways to recycle and things will improve, but right now the cost of the recycling these things is so high that there is no payoff and they end up in special landfills.

I think you really have to break it down by what you're using the vehicle for. What is the job and what is it going to take to get the job done efficiently?
 
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With the option today out there, it is choosing between all bad choices. keeping us for over 100 years enslaved to the oil is clearly an agenda. I remember a newspaperclip I saw somewhere, were the director of shell was saying in 1928 that the current mobile was running 25km on 1 liter of gasoline and that in 1930 they would reach 1:30 and by 1940 it would be 1:100 (1 liter gets 100km...). normal today is 1:10, 1:15 for gasoline cars...

Now to some solutions. use bicycle if you can. Also an electric car which can be charged at home with solar or wind gives some relief... I use a motorcycle (which runs 1:30) for shopping if it is not raining. Better that the 1:10 of my car.


 
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Those who can work from home might choose to do that as it certainly doesn't contribute to vehicle emissions.  Those who cannot work from home might try to live closer to where they make a living.  When I think of how much gasoline is consumed by people commuting for one, two, three hours every day.....  I find that disturbingly unproductive and wasteful.    I live eight miles from my place of employment.  I drive fewer than 10,000 miles a year.  Like it or not, liquid fossil fuels are a bargain when it comes to energy density vs cost.  The trick is in being frugal with it.
 
J Youngman
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Which comedian was it who said something like:
half the people in California drive south to work, the other half go north, then they all drive back home. They're all so angry about the traffic every day. They should all just trade jobs.
Bill Burr maybe?
 
pollinator
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Some diesel engines can run on vegetable oil.
I keep hearing more about hydrogen use in a diesel engine.
They are generally more efficient than gas engines.
Must agree that reducing consumption is the big plan.
But if you have to use fuel a diesel engine is the place to start.

I just built a '91 Golf with a TDI engine.
From a '2002 Jetta.
Got rid of the electrical computer controls.
It has a mechanical pump from a M1163 Growler "jeep".

It gets around 44mpg unless I'm going 80 down the interstate, when it gets 40mpg.
And it has enough power to destroy the 020 '91 Golf transmission.
 
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I'm going to vote in on the side of, "we need to reimagine our world and our economic system". I can remember reading about a city in South America which was designed to have housing and shops and businesses all intermingled with an awesome bus system supporting it, so people didn't need to travel 20 km to do what they needed to do, let alone a 3 hour commute. Telling people, or expecting people to live close to their job when there isn't housing near their job isn't going to help - but just building more houses doesn't help either unless it's done with intelligent design.

Having safe bike paths definitely helps, but not as much as changing attitudes. I helped my son's elementary school with a "walk/bike to school" program, and the Principal insisted it wouldn't work. I appealed to the kids themselves, making funny book-marks advertising "walk to school day", invitations as if it was a party etc. The parents complained they were getting pressure from their kids to participate. Over a 4 year period, the school went from having an average of 4 bikes parked, to a hundred.  

At the very least, I would love to see an attitude shift away from honking big pick-up trucks, to small, efficient, easy to park small cars, and an attitude that the embodied energy in a vehicle is a valuable resource so a car should be designed to last 20 years or more. You see, fuel is only a small part of the problem. Fossil fuels make the plastics, foams, paints, tires etc.

I have a friend that does the biodiesel from used veggie oil. It's better than some options, but as mentioned above, used oil is now considered a valuable resource (which is at least better than it going into the landfill like it used to). There isn't enough of it to replace a substantial part of vehicle fuel, and producing that oil, is very oil intensive.

When all is said and done, using less seems like the only responsible thing to do and how  easy it is to do that depends on many factors.
 
pollinator
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LOL, Jay was posting while I was typing.

Judson Carroll wrote:What can we do, practically on the not upsetting the neighbors or setting something on fire in a catastrophic mistake, or needing really expensive stuff level?  



To my mind, the only clean energy is energy that is neither produced nor consumed.

That means: stay home. Make every effort to make home the best place to be, with many ways to re-experience it in a refreshing way. Make your home the centre of a village, walkable and bikeable, with neighbours and community, resources and recreation, human engagement and mutual problem solving. This is how humans have been hard-wired to live, and some have figured out that it it beats Amazon Prime by a good length and a half.

Some might consider this hippy-dippy bullshit. Kumbayah thinking, now ridiculed as doe-eyed ignorance rather than its original roots of persistent and subtle protest. But there is growing pushback against the con of consumerism on a lot of fronts. The Mustachian and F.I.R.E. movements may seem focused on wealth; but if you drill deeper, in a lot of key ways they parallel the approach to permaculture promoted on this site. I always enjoyed Pete Adeney's talk at the World Domination Summit:  

 
pioneer
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In the short term, like others have said, live where you work. Commuting is stupid. I really like MMM (MrMoneyMoustache) and Ross Raven's Dark Green Mountain Survival Research Centre. Both these guys speak their mind and are authentic in living it out.  

"Apparently GM has admitted that the electricity used to charge electric vehicles come from coal burning plants, by about 95%, and most of the rest from nuclear. And, the resources that go into building one battery for those vehicles equal the pollution from running a gas powered engine for 8 years! "

Two points.
Power generation doesn't have to come from coal, lot's of other countries use other methods.

How fast do you want to go? Milk floats and golf buggies have used lead acid batteries for years and those have excellent recycling rates.

Not Just Bikes is a great channel on youtube that looks at transport infrastructure and city planning and how to change the way we fuel transportation.

Longer, less immediate answer in this thread.
 
pollinator
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I think diesel is the way to go.  Living in a mountainous area it is obvious the diesel engine works less than a gasoline engine and for the 50 mile round trip to town from home on a 2 lane highway with several hills and long grades my Dodge Ram 2500 Megacab 4x4 actually gets better mileage than the kids Toyota Tacoma by about 4 mpg because the 4 liter V6 doesn't have the guts to maintain highway speeds on large hills or long grades, unless you mash the peddle and kill the mileage.  For those that live in flat areas or areas with smaller hills you probably wont have such a large difference in mpg.

That being said, I know the manufacturers like making big horsepower with the gas engines but that is coming at very high RPM's.  For years it has been my opinion that they could focus on more torque at lower RPMs and change the gearing in the transmissions and axles to keep the RPMs lower, similar to diesels that rarely exceed 3000rpm+/-.  My experience with this is my 64 Chevelle, it had a 230cid straight 6 and got about 13mpg on the flat highway to and from work where I used to live, but it had no guts when I ventured to areas with hills and long grades.  I rebuilt a 292 straight 6 engine with a very torquey camshaft and a 4 barrel carburetor and connected it to a built Powerglide 2 speed automatic and a highway gear in the rear axle.  With the new engine I averaged 18 MPG around town and 26mpg on the highway and it would pull out and pass on hills without a problem.  Despite the small engine in the heavy old car it was even fairly quick off the line.  My future plans for the car involves a very torquey big block engine in front of built 4 speed overdrive transmission and the same highway gear in the axle.  If I keep the RPM's below 3000 it would probably be very economical to drive around town and especially on the highway.

I don't think oil/gasoline will go anywhere but the engineers need to rethink the build process of the powertrain to reduce the RPM's and increase the torque.  
EDIT: to replace the word "should".
 
pollinator
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Judson Carroll wrote:
Apparently GM has admitted that the electricity used to charge electric vehicles come from coal burning plants, by about 95%, and most of the rest from nuclear. And, the resources that go into building one battery for those vehicles equal the pollution from running a gas powered engine for 8 years!
 



Those figures stated seem way off to me. Just this week I listened to a podcast episode of “How To Save A Planet” that specifically looked at the detail of this question, from the point of view of the US market in particular, but then also at the global picture. Their conclusion was overwhelmingly that electric vehicles produce less CO2 over their life time than conventional fossil fuel powered cars.

It is not just that the power grid producing the electricity is partially powered by renewables, but that the electric motors are far far more efficient at converting electrical power to motion. A petrol engine wastes a huge amount of energy as heat.

You didn’t say where this quoted figure came from, but that it was attributed to GM. My suspicion is that it is a made up quote by someone with an axe to grind against electric vehicles. I’ve seen many similar fake statistics circulated on social media, which don’t hold up when you look for the original source.

Edit: see my comment below re source data and fact checking
 
Michael Cox
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I did some digging and found what appears to be an original interview. The “95%” figure is stated, but the essential context is missing.



Paraphrasing:
They were asked “what is the mix of power being supplied to this car right now?”

And responded “It’s coming from the local grid. I don’t know what that mix is.”

It then cuts to a different speaker who says that the town (Lansing) is on 95% coal, 5% nuclear.
———-
So the 95% figure is about electricity production in one particular town, and not a general statement.

On top of that, the person quoted seems to be wrong about the balance between coal and nuclear:

https://compareelectricity.com/energy-sources/MI/Lansing



And the power companies in the area have pledged to replace the coal power stations with renewables in the next few years.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.desmoinesregister.com/amp/6055387002


69FE4672-4AB6-4AC7-9FAF-A5ED6E5ACDF6.jpeg
Percentage of power generation in Lansing by source
Percentage of power generation in Lansing by source
 
Michael Cox
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And here is the link to the excellent podcast episode that I mentioned above:

https://open.spotify.com/episode/4ookxQhPBB9hS6CNSXkx0f?si=Jf53PQNDSqeC04zpTqzXfg&dl_branch=1
 
Michael Cox
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J Youngman wrote:
It's not only the production of the electric vehicles. The batteries are some of the worst pollutants with no good way of disposal when they die… …. I know there are ways to recycle and things will improve, but right now the cost of the recycling these things is so high that there is no payoff and they end up in special landfills.



The lithium metal in car batteries - and most of the other components - is indefinitely recyclable. We don’t currently have the industrial capacity to recycle large quantities, but that reflects the relatively young EV market, and the smaller number of EV battery packs reaching end of life and needing recycling.

I would expect this capacity to grow to keep pace with the expansion of battery technology, because the materials themselves are so valuable. There may be some lag time, but it will happen.

And the growth in the EV industry is driving research into alternative lithium sources, such as extraction from sea water. The tech will get there.

 
pollinator
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Probably the best answer would be to reduce how much we use transportation services per year/month/etc. Instead of making 2 trips one to buy milk and another to buy bread, combine trips, and in that same vein, we can carpool, or have a delivery truck make 4 stops along a shared route vs going ourself. Imagine if everyone individually had to drive to California to get our chinese made electronics, clothes, etc. vs having just a few trucks bulk delivery it to our local big box stores/distribution center/post office. All that to say that we can improve the efficiency of our driving time.

In the past our electric grid was probably 95% powered by fossil fuel but now it is only at 60% according to this US government website. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/electricity/electricity-in-the-us-generation-capacity-and-sales.php In addition in alot of states someone can pay a little extra (or even a little less) to make sure that their electricity comes from renewable, and not from fossil fuel.

Adaptability
We also have to take a holistic approach. And like a nut tree that will take many year to give a "harvest" we also have to think long term. By encouraging a transition away from direct fossil fuel to electricity it allows us in the future to quickly switch between renewables/fossil fuel/nuclear/etc energy sources.

On Site Energy Production
For me this is a big one, its relatively easy for us to install enough solar panels to power our vehicles 80% of the time. A lucky few could also set up hydro/wind

Stacking function
In the future we might be able to use the battery pack in a electric car to power home, etc
Someone could get a home-site gasifier that can make electricity, +heat(to power an AC, plus create hotwater for a shower, plus warn the house in the winter), plus maybe even biochar to increase soil fertility.

We also have to think about the fact that mining fossil fuel also requires equipment and energy/pollution to bring it out of the earth just like electric batteries. On top of the pollution that transforming that chemical energy into electrical/mechanical energy.
 
Michael Cox
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Unfortunately biodiesel, ethanol etc… are not viable as a wide scale solution for fuel. Growing the crops puts immense pressure on agricultural land, causes food prices to rise, and drives deforestation. It is a net loss for humanity, the environment, climate etc… and still requires large inputs of fossil fuels in the agricultural processes.

When I studied my chemical engineering degree biodiesel was going to be the next big thing. The labs I was based in were developing improved processes for reacting the vegetable oil, and then separating the products. Even then - 2004 - it was clear that it was never going to be more than a marginal process. The early adopters quickly used the available waste oil streams making a reasonable profit, but then the competition grew and there were more companies wanting the waste oil than there was supply.

At that point people were hitting the supermarket shelves and buying shopping trollies worth of oil to take home and process. A litre of vegetable oil cost less than a litre of diesel. Demand for biofuel was directly competing with food use, at the retail level.
 
Judson Carroll
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Wow, this generated a lot of discussion!  Thanks everyone for your input.  I think it will take someone with a whole lot more engineering know-how than I have to solve this one!  I live in a mountainous area with steep roads and lots of ice and snow for much of the year, so a bicycle isn't a viable option as the closest town with grocery stores and such is 10 miles away.  There is no public transportation... and I wouldn't trust a bus driver on icy roads anyway!  I live on the north side of a mountain, in a "holler", where the sun comes up late and goes down behind the ridge early - makes it hard to garden.... not good for solar.  Fortunately, we get most of our power from the TVA, through a co-op, so it is very cheap.  My electric bill is never over $50 a month.  I burn about a tank of gas in my 1989 Chevy pickup truck per month just doing basic errands around the county and I try to consolidate trips.   I do work from home, so I guess I'm doing about all I can right now.  Who knows, if/when I can buy some acreage, maybe a horse would be an option.  That is one big up-side to living in an extremely rural area, where even the county seat, 12 miles away,  has only 400 people.  A lot of folks ride horses to the post office and such around here, and basically stock up and stay home much of the winter.  There used to be an old man who had a goat pulled cart, but I think there is too much traffic for that now!  He was one of those old Appalachian characters that disappeared when the developers started putting in golf courses and gated communities everywhere.  
 
James Alun
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It sounds like you've got your setup pretty good.

I'm currently cycling back to Mum and Dad's every weekend and that's 13 miles. I'd be tempted by an e-cargo trike in your position. Given your horse traffic, motor traffic shouldn't be too bad.

This is well worth a watch for wintery conditions.

 
Jay Angler
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Michael Cox wrote:

It is not just that the power grid producing the electricity is partially powered by renewables, but that the electric motors are far far more efficient at converting electrical power to motion. A petrol engine wastes a huge amount of energy as heat.

Also, a single large power plant is more efficient and less polluting than a bunch of isolated combustion engines in cars. Yes, there is waste in electricity when it travels a long way in wires to the recharging center, but things I've read suggest that in many/most situations, electric cars will be the better option.

There will *always* be exceptions - Judson Carroll mentions hilly, icy terrain, although he also mentions the old-fashioned solution - horses! There are people who regularly expected to walk 10 miles a day if you look not too far back in history. Most of what people really needed for survival was produced within that same 10 mile circle. That changed because factories could make 100 widgets in the time it took the local blacksmith to make one, hence my earlier comment that we need to reimagine what a "healthy" economy is.
 
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at one time in my life, I would have told you that you should just ride a bike. if you can do that and it enriches your life, I still think that's reasonable advice. the number of options for hauling cargo on a bicycle are increasing all the time, including a number of open source designs that somebody who is a little bit handy could rig up themselves.

but... I think in the transportation realm, the real low-hanging fruit is in population centers. ideally, even people living in isolated rural areas wouldn't need petroleum or complicated electric contraptions to get where they're going with what they're carrying, and that's a laudable goal to work toward. more immediately, cars and trucks are already essentially unnecessary for the majority of people who live in cities. further, there are a lot more people in cities than outside of them. to me, it makes sense to focus efforts at reducing automobile dependence where the infrastructure/geometry/built environment are already most conducive to getting around without private automobiles. if, in some great future, we extirpate the private automobile from cities, maybe it will then make sense to turn our focus to more rural areas. there are great examples around the world of ways to do that.

so my current advice really depends on where a person lives. in a city? walk/bike/transit instead of driving and lend whatever political power you've got to encouraging alternatives to private automobiles. rural area? bike and walk if you can, minimize trips if you can't, get a small vehicle and a trailer instead of a bigger rig, keep it tuned up and fix any leaks, support rural transit and bike/walk projects, don't fight regional or state initiatives for public transit or bike/walk infrastructure, do fight state/regional/local projects that expand infrastructure for private automobiles.

in the US, we're currently in a bit of a pickle. we've built our communities and transportation system in such a way that it's often really difficult to get away from driving. that arrangement is also self-reinforcing: cars take up a lot of space, so things are built further apart. because things are further apart, getting around without a car is more difficult so there are more cars and things get still further apart and travelling without a car becomes less convenient and more dangerous. maintaining all this is also very expensive and at the same time the tax base to pay for that maintenance is spread really thin. this is simple geometry: if you've got a mile of 50-ft-wide road, ten properties along it will generate a lot less tax revenue than 200 will. so we've got a huge maintenance backlog, too. all the while, we're building more roads every year instead of using what we've already got more efficiently.

it's also good to remember that fuel consumption and tailpipe pollution are far from the only problems caused by widespread automobile use. eliminating those by switching to electric power really isn't the solution that electric vehicle boosters would have us believe it is.

but I do prattle on. more concisely, my advice might be this: do what you reasonably can to reduce the need for private automobiles in your own life and don't focus on what's fueling them so much. support efforts at every level of government to reduce the need for automobiles everywhere (or at least don't fight those efforts--who has time to get involved in every good cause?). and finally, be nice to yourself and other people about this stuff. recognize that in many places the government and private industry have been doing their level best to get us all into cars for a long time now and those are some very powerful adversaries.
 
J Youngman
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Electric vehicles may be efficient as long as they run, the problem I still see is when they break down.
I would rather have something I can repair and continue to use, and to me that is more efficient. And again, electric cars may be great for some, but it isn't going to work for people who need a truck.
I drive a 20 year old truck (which I have owned for 10 of those years) I know people who have been through 3 or 4 vehicles in the time I have owned my truck. If less people bought new cars all the time it would solve a lot of problems, but everyone is in a different situation and many people don't have the ability to repair their vehicles.
My point is, efficient means different things in different context. Diversity of options is probably more efficient overall, rather than trying to make a single type of vehicle work for everything.

I have always wondered why we don't go back to turbine technology, like the Chrysler turbine cars... They were VERY fuel efficient, capable of running on many different fuels, and had few moving parts.
 
Judson Carroll
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J Youngman wrote:Electric vehicles may be efficient as long as they run, the problem I still see is when they break down.
I would rather have something I can repair and continue to use, and to me that is more efficient. And again, electric cars may be great for some, but it isn't going to work for people who need a truck.
I drive a 20 year old truck (which I have owned for 10 of those years) I know people who have been through 3 or 4 vehicles in the time I have owned my truck. If less people bought new cars all the time it would solve a lot of problems, but everyone is in a different situation and many people don't have the ability to repair their vehicles.
My point is, efficient means different things in different context. Diversity of options is probably more efficient overall, rather than trying to make a single type of vehicle work for everything.

I have always wondered why we don't go back to turbine technology, like the Chrysler turbine cars... They were VERY fuel efficient, capable of running on many different fuels, and had few moving parts.



Holy cow, I'd love to have one of those old Chrysler Turbine cars!!!  Cars were once pure art that was also functional.  My '89 Chevy sure looks bad compared to that!
 
tel jetson
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J Youngman wrote:I have always wondered why we don't go back to turbine technology, like the Chrysler turbine cars... They were VERY fuel efficient, capable of running on many different fuels, and had few moving parts.



my guess is that it's because they're much more expensive to produce. modern consumer culture does not often reward high up-front costs even if ongoing costs are dramatically reduced. I've also read that they had only middling fuel-efficiency despite their other virtues.
 
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I see electric vehicles as a stepping stone.  Like how natural gas and hydro are better than coal, or how recycling is better than not - but none of those options are awesome for the planet.  I could see a lifestyle with reduced travel and commuting would make a bigger difference than fuel source.   A lot like people had in 2020 - there are some great studies to show how much less pollution was made The Year Everyone Stayed Home compared to even the best case scenarios of switching to a "better" fuel.  

What confuses me the most about electric vehicles is why they don't go so far?  In the 1940s and 1950s, the electric delivery vans used to drive for 16+ hours a day and not run out of power.  In the country where my family was from, they didn't have power every day, so the van might have to go three days between charges
 
James Alun
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r ranson wrote:I see electric vehicles as a stepping stone.  Like how natural gas and hydro are better than coal, or how recycling is better than not - but none of those options are awesome for the planet.  I could see a lifestyle with reduced travel and commuting would make a bigger difference than fuel source.   A lot like people had in 2020 - there are some great studies to show how much less pollution was made The Year Everyone Stayed Home compared to even the best case scenarios of switching to a "better" fuel.  



Absolutely

r ranson wrote:What confuses me the most about electric vehicles is why they don't go so far?  In the 1940s and 1950s, the electric delivery vans used to drive for 16+ hours a day and not run out of power.  In the country where my family was from, they didn't have power every day, so the van might have to go three days between charges



Because back then it didn't matter if it could only do 20-30mph.  Nowadays people want the same run time at much higher speeds and the physics simply won't allow it. If you want to go twice as fast is takes four times as much energy and wind resistance is even worse, it has a cube component so twice as fast requires eight times as much power.


 
Jay Angler
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Several problems with biofuels have been mentioned, but scale is part of the problem. I've read of two types of biofuel which if developed appropriately, could have potential.

1. We've got streams and lakes in North America being polluted by outflow from sewage plants because the outflow can be high in nitrogen and phosphorus among other chemicals. With more development (enzymes were mentioned as being needed), cattails can be grown in settling ponds and harvested for biofuel production. "The problem is the solution"!

2. In ocean areas, growing kelp on frames is being researched. Same idea - growing the kelp actually helps ocean diversity and water quality. Harvesting the kelp for biofuels, fertilizer, etc could actually help our oceans recover.

I suspect that neither of the above options will replace all other contenders, but if small to medium scale production will actually improve water quality and natural ecosystems down-stream, it seems worth investing in.
 
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I do think that alternative fuels offer a different angle besides the simple electric vs fossil question.
Here in the global south, as John C Daley mentions, we're using ethanol and it's kicking butt. We have cars, trucks, buses, boats, and now even planes (in testing) using biofuels. Most of it is from cane, but it's coming from various sources. Industrial farming, sure, but I personally would take that before fracking or oil drilling offshore and all the associated environmental disaster.
Someone above mentioned it's impossible for the northern hemisphere-- fair enough, we have a bit more sun. But there are places using biogas: I have a friend who is an engineer in Lille, France, where the town buses run on biogas from the town's trash. Multiple birds killed with that stone. There have to be other crops and other sources for fuel, it's just a question of figuring out what works. Right now we keep finding more fossil sources ("may as well use em while we have them!") so there's less pressure, but I think sooner or later we're going to be finding more and more options due to scarcity.
(I'm also a big proponent of the best fuel is the kind you don't burn: I go out once a week, combine all my trips, and give people rides if I can. I'm lucky I can walk to the store if I have to-- we saw fuel shortages a few years ago and everyone took a hard look. I wish I had a horse, but I would happily do my grocery shopping on foot or bicycle if I had to).
 
tel jetson
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Jay Angler wrote:1. We've got streams and lakes in North America being polluted by outflow from sewage plants because the outflow can be high in nitrogen and phosphorus among other chemicals. With more development (enzymes were mentioned as being needed), cattails can be grown in settling ponds and harvested for biofuel production. "The problem is the solution"!

2. In ocean areas, growing kelp on frames is being researched. Same idea - growing the kelp actually helps ocean diversity and water quality. Harvesting the kelp for biofuels, fertilizer, etc could actually help our oceans recover.

I suspect that neither of the above options will replace all other contenders, but if small to medium scale production will actually improve water quality and natural ecosystems down-stream, it seems worth investing in.



1. constructed wetlands are great, but generally consume a whole lot of land. unfortunately, the places that could benefit the most often have the least land available. a municipality I worked for has a problem with nutrients building up in their green stormwater facilities. regularly harvesting the vegetation growing in them seems like a good way to remedy this, but would be very labor intensive because of the great number of facilities and large geographic area they're spread over. they need more maintenance than they're getting to function properly anyway, though, so I wish harvesting biomass was more seriously considered.

converting cattails to liquid fuel is also, sadly, not a straightforward process. I believe they can be dried and pelletized into solid fuel more readily, though, and there may be a good market for that in some places.

2. seems like fuel from seaweed or kelp is perpetually only a few months or years away. it would be great if that pans out, though I worry other problems with it will crop up. growing new kelp forests seems like a great idea quite apart from any fuel production, though. kelp forests are in serious decline for a number of reasons. I'm not sure if the issues that are harming existing kelp forests would also prevent establishing new forests, but I hope not. a sea otter population explosion would be pretty great.
 
Jay Angler
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tel jetson wrote:

constructed wetlands are great, but generally consume a whole lot of land. unfortunately, the places that could benefit the most often have the least land available

Hmmm... what if all new housing construction was built to have cattail tanks on the roof to pre-treat all the water from the building? An impeller of some sort to turn the poop into mush? Or instead of our current typical "water treatment" system, make methane directly from the septic flow? (they'll probably say the water to poop ratio is too great - urine makes lousy methane as it's got too much nitrogen and not enough carbon - which takes us back to the need to grow some sort of carbon-rich biomass out of the liquid waste)

regularly harvesting the vegetation growing in them seems like a good way to remedy this, but would be very labor intensive because of the great number of facilities and large geographic area they're spread over

It often comes down to money. Often if you suggest they get volunteers to do a job of harvesting and composting the biomass, you get told you'd be taking someone's job away from them. And yet I'd imagine that compost would help the parks much more than it helps the river it's released into which then is damaged and can't produce fish, so someone else looses their job as a fisherman.

Tel, you're right that both systems require new technology +/- science breakthroughs to be realistic alternatives, but oil is so cheap there's little motivation to do any of the work if it won't make some big company a lot of money. I've read places that if Gov't money hadn't gone into research for either solar panels or wind turbines, they wouldn't be where they are today. So as someone suggested up-thread, individuals need to vocally support projects that will help the planet, to get these sort of alternatives to be considered "essential" and "mainstream" rather than "weird" or "marginal".
 
tel jetson
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Jay Angler wrote:It often comes down to money. Often if you suggest they get volunteers to do a job of harvesting and composting the biomass, you get told you'd be taking someone's job away from them.



there's already a "stormwater stewards" program. folks can "adopt" a stormwater facility and do regular maintenance on it. I don't think anybody at the city would notice/mind if folks composted this stuff. because the runoff that goes into them contains high levels of nastiness, though, I don't think the city could encourage that without potential legal ramifications. tire dust, brake dust, oil, fuel, crushed up electronic bits from crashes, etc. these are the things the stormwater system is designed to keep out of the waterways, but capturing them means there's also a disposal problem to solve. most of the real nasty stuff stays in the dirt (bioretention media), but risk aversion is pretty endemic these days.

as far as new construction/development goes: yeah, that's more low-hanging fruit (at least lower). but again, the places that stand to benefit the most are already built up. I think the tech exists to solve these problems, but getting it adopted is not easy! there are a few marquee projects with really neat biological systems for wastewater at the city block scale, but retrofitting that stuff is tricky where space is limited. rooftops seem like an obvious choice, but water is heavy and building roofs to support it is expensive. it can certainly be done, but it's a tough sell to all but a very few developers.

a lot of wastewater treatment plants in cities do harvest methane from anaerobic digestors (they're designed to reduce the amount of sewage sludge that needs to be disposed of). some of it is used to heat the digestors. some is flared. a little bit gets sold for fuel.

getting pretty far afield from fuel choices, but this is all real interesting stuff.
 
Thomas Tipton
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As someone who lives on the Western Basin of Lake Erie, on the mouth of the Maumee River, I can tell you better than most how important it is to control agricultural runoff. More than once we've had the local municipal water supplies interrupted (not me as I'm on a well), and our access to the lake and beaches restricted.  I've given some thought to this and I do believe it would require a large effort by the Army Corp of Engineers and a necessary and almost certainly unpopular use of Eminent Domain to appropriate the necessary, strategic acreage to create the floodplains whereby nature can do her work of cleaning the water before it makes its way to the ditches, creeks, and river tributaries.  While it may seem impossible, my best guess is that only two to three percent of the arable land in affected areas would need to be converted for this use.  Admittedly, such a plan would increase food costs marginally and hit most of us in the pocketbook to some extent, but on the flip side, the newly created habitat for flora and fauna would be priceless.
 
Michael Cox
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There was a question above about why electric cars appear to have reduced range from the early days.

It comes down to battery technology and what the market will pay. It would be “easy” to make an electric car with double the range. But you would have to have more than double the battery which adds a lot of expense and decrease fuel efficiency.

So for 99% of journeys (typically less than 50 miles) the extra battery capacity would just be extra deadweight adding cost to your driving. And here in the UK the fast charging network is available on all long distance routes, so you can charge while stopping for a coffee.

The current vehicles are getting 200+ miles on a charge.
 
tel jetson
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I sometimes think about the cost of owning/operating a car compared to the cost of public transit. in 2020, AAA calculated that the average automobile in the US cost $9,561 for depreciation, loan interest, fuel, insurance, maintenance, and fees. there are about 6000 people in my town. if I conservatively guess that only half of those people own a car (many here own several, but I'll assume drivers only own one and that children and elders who shouldn't be driving don't own any), that's $28,683,000 being spent on automobiles in my small town every year. and that doesn't include the taxes that go toward building and maintaining roads and addressing public health impacts. $28 million/year. in a small-ish town.

it's harder to find numbers for what various forms of public transit cost, but in my imagination we could have a pretty luxurious train and bus network for far less than that annual expenditure assuming other local jurisdictions kicked in, too. make it free for everybody in a jurisdiction that pays for it. charge a modest fare for everyone else. save a whole heck of a lot of everybody's money and time.
 
J Youngman
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Hmmm... what if all new housing construction was built to have cattail tanks on the roof to pre-treat all the water from the building? An impeller of some sort to turn the poop into mush? Or instead of our current typical "water treatment" system, make methane directly from the septic flow? (they'll probably say the water to poop ratio is too great - urine makes lousy methane as it's got too much nitrogen and not enough carbon - which takes us back to the need to grow some sort of carbon-rich biomass out of the liquid waste)



I definitely would not want that above my head. One leak in the system and you have a very bad day. Also in a hot climate it's probably going to get pretty nasty.  
 
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There are two different scenarios, as far as transportation options, based on location.

Urban/City: public transit should, ideally, be free; this would remove countless vehicles from the roads, lessening road maintenance and infrastructure costs. Could increased public transit usage actually pay for itself with this model of redistributing costs? I don't know. Would no or nominal public transit usage fees cause enough folks to abandon their vehicles?  I think YES.

A compromise would be free public transit for those under 18/attending school as they have done in Victoria, BC, Canada. At the very least, this would "raise" a generation riding transit, that may never even consider a personal auto as a requirement.

The concept of "bedroom communities" is inane; all new communities should ideally be designed to include work/shopping/schooling WITHIN a walk/cycle network, connected to transit

Rural/non urban: Here there is often no reasonable compromise, and a vehicle with four wheels is simply necessary (too far, hauling loads, terrain, weather) for a functional existence.  

Electric: the build of the cars/batteries sucks environmentally, but if your travel distance is low enough, and you have the ability to power it by home generation (hydro, wind, solar) or a non polluting power grid, this may make environmental and financial sense.

Alternative Fuel: there is the cost of the vehicle, the redesign of the fuel system, and the acquisition of said alternative fuel. All doable, depending on each ones circumstances.

Diesel/Gas: standard available option, the debate is out (in my opinion) on the environmental impact of diesel vs gas.  Diesel seems to run more dirty, but gas is more highly refined at the plant. I, personally, do not know which process is more harmful. That of course is before we address the drilling, collection and refining required to produce fossil fuels, which is also horrendous, BUT also quite economical, and easily accessible.

Propane/Natural Gas: the cost financially and environmentally, currently seems way too dicey to embark on these fuels as a widespread alternative to standard gas/diesel. Fracking is not the ONLY way to get Natural gas, but it DOES seem the most common, and likely way this will be obtained.

Ethanol: again, the cost financially/environmentally is something I am unable to calculate; but when millions are starving, it does concern me that conversion could take vast swathes out of food production into fuel production.

I think each one must assess their own needs (distance, terrain, climate, usage, power source/fuel source availability) to determine the BEST choice for their individual situation.  

Once the appropriate needs are assessed purchasing or overhauling a used vehicle is the next step - keep a perfectly good used vehicle from going to the scrap yard. By NOT purchasing new, you have already made a huge, healthy impact on the environment.

The final key is to use said vehicle as little as possible and to run/use the vehicle for at least 10 yrs/200-500 thousand kilometers until it really MUST be retired.  Combine trips, drive only when NEEDED and not, just because you WANT to. Make sure you make every mile/kilometer driven utilized to the best of your ability.
 
Jay Angler
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Thomas Tipton wrote:

Admittedly, such a plan would increase food costs marginally and hit most of us in the pocketbook to some extent, but on the flip side, the newly created habitat for flora and fauna would be priceless.

I believe there is a Canadian town on Lake Sinclair that did this and has had an increase in tourism for bird watching that more than covered any increase in costs. At the time it was built, land was cheaper.

If this was done consistently *all* around Lake Erie, food production might actually increase. If you look far enough back, there was a financially viable fishing industry on Lake Erie which was destroyed by pollution. Fish is a valuable protein source!

Tel Jetson wrote:

make it free for everybody in a jurisdiction that pays for it. charge a modest fare for everyone else. save a whole heck of a lot of everybody's money and time.

I've read of a town in Western Europe who did just that - and didn't even charge non-residents. This convinced many people to leave their cars at home, after all, Europeans have had much higher fuel costs for decades than North America has, so busing saved money. When people value their time, if bussing is expensive, and if they already own a car and pay insurance at a flat rate, the time savings is considered worth it. I have heard there are places in the US where insurance is charged based on the distance, location and time of driving. I would be happy if my province adopted such a practice!
 
Michael Fundaro
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James Alun wrote:

Because back then it didn't matter if it could only do 20-30mph.  Nowadays people want the same run time at much higher speeds and the physics simply won't allow it. If you want to go twice as fast is takes four times as much energy and wind resistance is even worse, it has a cube component so twice as fast requires eight times as much power.



If they cut out a bunch of the electronics in the cars they would extend the mileage.  But, far too many people think they need satellite radio, GPS mapping, a fancy LED display, and other items that are really not needed in a car, and if someone did want them odds are their phone will do all that for them at the cost of one USB port to keep the phone charged.
I know, it's a small amount of energy for the electronics, but you have to trade one for the other and it will definitely cut the cost for the car by not including $5000.00 worth of unnecessary gadgets.  
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