Reader Question: Real – or Vaporware?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Drew asks: Would be interested to hear your take on the aluminum air fuel cell described in this Daily Mail article. Real or vapor Ware?

My reply: I take all such stories with a bucket of salt, having been at this going on 30 years and having lost track of all the “breakthroughs” promised which never materialized. Keep in mind that even what works in a lab may not work – or rather, be economically or functionally viable – in the real world. A good example of this being . . . fuel cells. These absolutely do work. But they are finicky and expensive and – to date, so far as I am aware – no one has figured out how to make them suitable for use in mass-produced cars that average people can afford that will last the 15-20 years almost any IC car will reliably last assuming it’s not horribly abused.

The deeper issue here – as I see it – is simply: What accounts for the literally frantic pushing of “alternatives” to something that works better than all of them? IC engines have been honed to the point that they are essentially emissions-free (I refuse to consider carbon dioxide an “emission”) in terms of harmful things (i.e., not carbon dioxide) and they are incredibly reliable and affordable. If you were to take away the totally unjustifiable government edicts pertaining to sssssssssaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety, it would be possible, easily possible, to build and sell a basic IC-powered commuter car that averaged 60 MPG, with AC and power windows, locks, etc. – for less than $10,000.

No EeeeeeVeeee can compete with that, of course – because no EeeeeeeeVeeeee can compete with the available $20k IC cars we’re still allowed to buy.

The whole thing is an epic fatuity. It makes my teeth ache.

. . .

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  1. I read an article on Autoblog that talked about the same thing. The big problem with this is that this “battery” cannot be recharged; the chemical reaction eats the aluminum. It also needs to be replenished with distilled water every 200 miles. Though it can be swapped out, the fuel cell, such as it is, costs $77 per kilowatt hour; when you calculate a 100 kwh that some Tesla Model S vehicles have, that comes $7,700 replacement. My Ford Focus won’t need $7,700 to go either 1,500 miles or 2,700 miles, another figure quoted in Autoblog. Anyway, nothing is supplanting LiIon for the foreseeable future…

    • Hi Mark,

      Yup. More economic and functional absurdity touted as the Next Big Thing. But it will take a really Big Thing to improve upon the versatility, ease of use and low cost of a gallon of gas and internal combustion. Keep in mind what VW was working on – a small, diesel-powered commuter car capable of averaging 80-100 MPG that would have sold for less than $15,000. Keep in mind that this car would have had a range of 500-700 miles and refueled in five minutes or less without any new/expensive/limiting infrastructure.

      It is very telling that this car – and company – got curb stomped.

      • Porsche is supposed to be working on an EV with 620 mile range, but I don’t know much more than that.

        I wish the VW diesel you spoke of were available; it would be PERFECT for me! I dare say it would be prefect for many people. I’m single and travel alone 99.9% of the time. When needed, I take my cat to the vet. But yeah, the VW would’ve been perfect for me; unfortunately, it was never available here.

        • 620 miles? They never tell you the speed at which that range can be achieved. I’m sure that if you operate an electric at 20 mph, you can go 500 miles, but at 85 mph, your range is cut back to less than 100. At least I think. No one has tested this. Until I can get a car that will take me 500 miles at 85 mph, I don’t want any part of the whole thing.

          • Hi Swamp,

            And don’t forget: Even if an EV manages to deliver range comparable to that of an IC equivalent, unless it can be recharged in the same amount of time as it takes an IC car to refuel and costs about the same to own, it is still a net loser. You’d be getting less practicality for your money. And more hassle.

            Who wants that?

            • Not me. That’s for sure.

              If a so called advancement doesn’t make my travel faster, more economical and convenient, I don’t want it. Period.

              So, yes, a 500 mile range would be a minimum. I am capable of driving 700 miles in a day. (70 mph average x 10 hours). Even that might be too short of a range.

              Overall the technology in cars since the advent of ABS has been utterly useless to me. It doesn’t make the driving faster, doesn’t add to the convenience, and doesn’t burn any less gas than the cars before.

      • VW was the largest maker at the time, something that’s never set right with the US. The fact that an 80 mpg car burning diesel would have the other makers grabbing for straws was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Funny how their cars that were deemed dirty could pass the EPA cycle even without being in that “mode”. Plus, for other makes, there’s a lot of cheating going on with the EPA’s blessings.

  2. I installed a 3″ inlet on an old propane tank, filled it with crushed beer cans. Several hours later when I began to run low I started throwing my empties down that pipe. All of a sudden she tore off like a banshee and it was all I could do to drink enough beer to maintain that speed. An old rancher found me a couple days later. After I told him about it he began to check if I had more fuel. We knocked back what was left and then he drug me back to his house where we both worked on making enough “fuel” to get me home. I was young then and can no longer duplicate it but it’s true, I swear, to the best of my memory, that’s exactly what happened.


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