Alternatives to the Tiger in Your Tank?

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Instead of putting a “tiger in your tank,” how about squeezing gas from a cow? Either can power your car; but one is homegrown  – and entirely renewable

Bio-gas is methane produced from slaughterhouse waste; what doesn’t become hamburger or beef jerky (or dog food) can be ground up into a soupy slurry, then cooked in a special “digester,” where it is acted upon by natural bacteria that produce methane. And methane, as all teenage boys know, is highly combustible. Viola – flame on! Once the methane is produced, it can be stored and shipped to filling stations wherever there’s a need – just like compressed natural gas (CNG) or propane. Vehicles are already in service with “flex fuel” capability  that allows them to burn one, both – or either – although not yet in large numbers (mainly due to the currently small methane/CNG distribution network). In addition to being renewable and domestically produced, methane, like CNG, also burns more cleanly than gasoline. It produces fewer harmful combustion byproducts that end up creating smog.

The Europeans are well ahead of us on this – but there’s no reason why America’s cows shouldn’t be helping to end our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. (See www.truehealth.org/volvomethanecars.html for more info.)

And biogas isn’t the only real-world alternative fuel source we might tap.

There’s also BioWillie – a type of diesel fuel made from vegetable oil that can be used in any diesel engine. Country singer Willie Nelson – longtime ally of American farmers – formed a company to market and distribute the fuel, which is made mostly from processed soybeans, to trucks stops all over the country. Most people don’t realize it, but the diesel engine was originally designed to run on some form of natural vegetable oil – such as peanut or rapseed oil – and not petroleum-based diesel.

Unlike a gas engine – which uses a spark to ignite a volatile mixture of fuel and air – diesels rely on extreme compression and heat to ignite the fuel. This is why vegetable oil – everything from soybeans to strained grease from a fast-food fry pit – can be used to power a diesel engine, often with very few (or even no) modification to the engine itself. Willie uses the fuel himself – for both his personal vehicles as well as his diesel-powered tour bus. Soon, you might be using it, too. It’s cheaper than regular diesel because homegrown soybeans are less expensive than Saudi Arabian crude. (See www.wnbiodiesel.com for more info.)

If you don’t mind getting your hands a little greasy, you can do Willie one better – and fill your tank for free. All you’ve got to do is scrounge up enough waste vegetable oil  from  your local fast food joint, strain it of loose fries and any remaining bits of General Tso’s Chicken – and motor on. Most any diesel engine can be run on waste vegetable oil with a few fairly simple modifications to the fuel lines/storage tank to prevent congealing in low temperatures. The only downside is the down and dirty nature of the fuel – and the fast food fry put smell that will blossom out of your vehicle’s tailpipe. (See http://www.goldenfuelsystems.com/
 for more info.)

Or, you could simply offer your car a stiff drink – of 100-plus octane alcohol. Like bio-diesel, alcohol has two appealing attributes – it is renewable and it can be used in existing engines without elaborate technology or conversion hassles. In fact, most late model cars and trucks are already set up to burn alcohol-laced fuels. Current “gas” is really only about 90 percent gas; the rest is ethanol – corn alcohol. There’s also E85 – which is only 15 percent gasoline. But your vehicle must be specially modified to handle this fuel.  

Straight (100 percent) alcohol has been powering race cars for decades, as any fan of motorsports already knows. As with E85, it is necessary to modify the engine’s fuel system to run 100 percent alcohol, but these modifications are not cost-prohibitive or ridiculously complicated. Mostly, it’s a matter of replacing fuel lines, pumps, etc. with alcohol-friendly replacement parts that resist the more corrosive nature of the fuel, as well as re-calibrating the air/fuel ratio of the fuel injection system. Once that’s done, you can run 180 proof -instead of $3.40 per gallon – with virtually no harmful pollution produced, as alcohol is an exceptionally clean-burning fuel. E85 is currently available at many fuel stations, but you can make straight alcohol for your favorite price — free. Or at least, make it for a whole lot less per gallon than gasoline. Just be sure to get your permit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) before erecting your backyard distillery. (See http://running_on_alcohol.tripod.com for more info.)

Another option to consider is turning your gas-electric hybrid into a plug-in hybrid.

A growing trend among owners of hybrid vehicles is to increase the ability of their vehicles to operate on their electric motors longer – and that way burn less gas – by modifying them so that the onboard battery pack can be plugged into standard 110 volt household outlets for recharging. Most production hybrids are a closed-loop system; they use the vehicle’s onboard gas engine to recharge the batteries that run the electric motor. This limits the amount of time the vehicle can be operated in pure electric mode, as well as the vehicle’s speed (higher speeds/loads drain the batteries faster). Hybrids modified in this way are reportedly getting 20-50 percent better overall economy than factory stock hybrids – as much as 60-80 MPGs, in some cases.  (See http://www.plugincars.com/ for more info.)

Throw it in the Woods?

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