Energy-efficient urban commuting options
October 11, 2005 12:31 PM   Subscribe

With gas prices rising, SUV sales (16-20 mpg city) have been declining. What are some alternatives for urban commuters? Prius (56 mpg) and other hybrid vehicles. SmartCar (50 mpg city; available in Canada, but not the US) and other microcars. Electric motor scooters and bicycles. Electric cars like the General Motors EV1 seem to be stalled, although people are working on a battery-powered SmartCar. What about hydrogen vehicles? In the medium term, MIT's Laboratory for Energy and the Environment doesn't think they'll outperform hybrids (full report). A comparison of fuel-cell and battery electric vehicles gets into some of the details of how they work.
posted by russilwvong (83 comments total)

 
What's the equivilent of "raise bevets" for an SUV thread?
posted by wheat at 12:42 PM on October 11, 2005


just read an article talking about "hacking" the Prius and turning it into a plug-in hybrid. the thing got literally 300 mpg at 55mph. the downside? The batteries for such a vehicle cost about $12K
posted by edgeways at 12:42 PM on October 11, 2005


If you're an "urban commuter" can't you just walk, ride a bike, or take the subway?

I am assuming most urban centers worth a damn would have subways anyway.
posted by wakko at 12:48 PM on October 11, 2005


i dunno, maybe raise bevets works in suv threads as well. i have not tried it.

$12k? what in the hell kind of battery is it?
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 12:49 PM on October 11, 2005


Hybrid cars don't kill fetuses though.
posted by wakko at 12:50 PM on October 11, 2005


Is the Smart Car crazy expensive in Canada too?
posted by smackfu at 12:51 PM on October 11, 2005


they can if you see a pregnant woman in the street.
posted by weretable and the undead chairs at 12:51 PM on October 11, 2005


Other considerably more fun alternatives for urban commuters are wee daft 2-seaters like the MR2. Not as good as a Prius or Smart, but still ~30mpg in town --AND-- it can get out of its own way and not tip over while cornering.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:51 PM on October 11, 2005


If gas comsumption goes down will the prices? ...ask the oil companies. If everyone bought 50mpg cars today, would we sub $2.00 gas prices?
posted by tomplus2 at 12:57 PM on October 11, 2005


edgeways: just read an article talking about 'hacking' the Prius and turning it into a plug-in hybrid.

Thanks for the tip. Plug-in hybrids. A hybrid gets about twice the fuel economy of a conventional car. A plug-in hybrid will get about twice the fuel economy of a hybrid.

Not yet commercially available, though.

wakko, I agree that public transit would be even more energy-efficient (it's what I use), but giving up private transportation entirely is a pretty big step for most people.
posted by russilwvong at 1:01 PM on October 11, 2005


see also: EDrive.
posted by 40 Watt at 1:04 PM on October 11, 2005


Is the Smart Car crazy expensive in Canada

Between 16~22k CDN
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:05 PM on October 11, 2005


I agree that public transit would be even more energy-efficient (it's what I use), but giving up private transportation entirely is a pretty big step for most people.

The solution then would be to purchase whatever car you desire, for longer commutes, and garage it. Use public transportation to get around town. Save money in the long run. The car you purchase and only use on weekends will last nearly forever.
posted by wakko at 1:08 PM on October 11, 2005


Bikes get 100 miles per gallon beer! What more efficiency could you ask for?
posted by chibikeandy at 1:12 PM on October 11, 2005


but giving up private transportation entirely is a pretty big step for most people

It makes dating absolute hell, if you can get a date in the first place... =(
posted by PurplePorpoise at 1:13 PM on October 11, 2005


I don't know, I think the combination of superb gas mileage (45+ mpg and I usually run between 75-80 mph), wicked speed and the ability to slice and dice most sports cars up like the four wheel sleds they are make my motorcycle an excellent alternative to those listed above.
posted by fenriq at 1:17 PM on October 11, 2005


It makes dating absolute hell, if you can get a date in the first place... =(

In my country, there are men and women who will drive you from place to place in their cars for a nominal fee. These cabriolets ("Cabs" for short) are often the transportation method of choice for the intoxicated. They also serve well on a date.
posted by mullingitover at 1:20 PM on October 11, 2005


There are a bunch of new small Japanese cars coming out -- the Toyota Yaris and the Honda Fit/Jazz among others. Not hybrids, but they get between 30-50 mpg.

Meanwhile GM, Ford, and Chrysler still seem to be fixated on gas guzzlers and swoopy non-existent hydrogen cars.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 1:22 PM on October 11, 2005




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Bicycle races are coming your way
So forget all your duties oh yeah!
Fat bottomed girls they'll be riding today
So look out for those beauties oh yeah
On your marks get set go
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posted by fet at 1:24 PM on October 11, 2005


Fet is right. Buy a bike!

I got my Haro V2 in March and have ridden almost a thousand miles since then; and that's just commuting to work and around town.

Compare that to my old car which gets 20 mpg in the city, and you come up with right around 50 gallons of gasoline that I didn't use; 50 gallons less pollution, 50 gallons less demand at the pump. You people should be thanking us bikers for keeping the prices of gasoline down...

Cheers
posted by Cycloptichorn at 1:31 PM on October 11, 2005


I'm sure it's a condition-by-condition thing, but here's an interesting take:

Do hybrids save money? (Autoblog)

" White first looked at trading in his Subaru for a Prius, and found that at roughly $3 per gallon for gas, he wouldn’t recover his financing costs. Joe figured that at his annual mileage, he’d save about $746 a year in fuel costs, but it would take too long to recover the premium he’d pay for the hybrid.

Next he looked at the hypothetical situation of someone without a car looking to buy either a Honda Civic or the Prius. In this case, the fuel savings were roughly $506 per year, versus a purchase price difference of about $8,000. Without even considering cost-of-money issues, it would take nearly 16 years just to break even."


Of course, as the author says, it's not entirely a monetary issue...
posted by tpl1212 at 1:32 PM on October 11, 2005


I'm wondering when there will be a larger social backlash against SUV owners...I know there's a little already, but I'm talking about people attacking random Durangos and Hummers, we-don't-serve-your-kind, PETA vs fur-wearing Hollywood stars type of vengeful behavior.
posted by First Post at 1:32 PM on October 11, 2005


QuestionableSwami writes "Meanwhile GM, Ford, and Chrysler still seem to be fixated on gas guzzlers and swoopy non-existent hydrogen cars."

For what it's worth, Ford is working hard on getting hybrid engines into its existing vehicle. The Escape Hybrid is the first result. 36 mpg city ain't bad for a SUV.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:35 PM on October 11, 2005


How come no one in the US buys diesels? The new generation of VW engines (and their ilk) aren't smelly and get 42 MPG on the highway (36 city). Plus you can run it on a biodiesel blend, which is probably about as environmentally friendly as you can get while still driving a car. Reliability is much higher, no end-of-life problems with disposing of hundreds of kilos of batteries, etc. I mean, up with hybrids and all, but the answer is already here.

Hard-core old-school residents of the southern US can get an old, non-computer-controlled diesel and just run it on peanut oil or whatever.
posted by GuyZero at 1:41 PM on October 11, 2005


I looked at the hybrids when I purchased a new vehicle about 3 months ago. I drive over 65 miles one way to the office every day. Its mostly highway.

Hybrid technology has a place, but its not in my driveway. I couldnt make the figures make sense even with 50+ mpg.

I ended up settling on a Volkswagen Jetta TDI. For those who don't know this is a diesel model and I AVERAGE 43.4 mpg. Even with the slight price increase in diesel vs unleaded, I'm making out much better.

I didn't see it mentioned and thought I would bring it up.
posted by Decypher at 1:44 PM on October 11, 2005


How about the compressed air car? The recharging of the car will be done at gas stations, once the market is developed. To fill the tanks it will take about to 2 to 3 minutes at a price of 1.5 euros. After refilling the car will be ready to drive 200 kilometers. The car also has a small compressor that can be connected to an electrical network (220V or 380V) and will recharge the tanks completely in 3 or 4 hours. Because the engine does not burn any fuel the car's oil (a liter of vegetable) only needs to be changed every 50,000Km.

What appeals to me about this alternative is that any energy source that is cheap and convenient can be used to compress the air. Hydro in the Northwest, solar or wind in the Southwest, ethanol in the Midwest, biodiesel, whatever. No huge new investments in infrastructure are required, all gas stations already have air compressors. Simple.
posted by bephillips at 1:45 PM on October 11, 2005


Meanwhile GM, Ford, and Chrysler still seem to be fixated on gas guzzlers and swoopy non-existent hydrogen cars

USA Today, September 21, 2005:
Ford Motor CEO Bill Ford pledged Wednesday to make fuel-saving gas-electric hybrid power available in half the automaker's Ford, Mercury and Lincoln models by 2010, a big jump from just two hybrids now.
Considering the several-year lag time for automotive product planning (model year 2009 vehicles are already being planned), that's quite a commitment.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:45 PM on October 11, 2005


A second vote for Diesels. 2003 Jetta TDI gets 48mpg+ for this lead-footed driver. (Note also that the energy cost of manufacturing diesel fuel is lower than that for gasoline, an issue many people fail to consider.) Diesels are not quite as clean as some other technologies, but the question seemed to be more about energy efficiency than anything else.
posted by buxtonbluecat at 2:08 PM on October 11, 2005


Big rigs use a heluva lot of fuel. Time for a train comeback. ..but then what will all the truck drivers do?
posted by tomplus2 at 2:08 PM on October 11, 2005


a larger social backlash against SUV owners

How many miles did you drive last year, what kind of car?
posted by stbalbach at 2:09 PM on October 11, 2005


bephillips, the air car would have to have a fake exhaust sound to be sold to many people in my town. They seem to think the louder the car the better. Funny, I don't see the idiot driving his Hummer much lately though.
posted by fenriq at 2:22 PM on October 11, 2005


my 2003 VW TDI

best mpg at 65mph = 54.8mpg
worst mpg(all city w/ air conditioning) = 41.2mpg
total new cost = $16,750.00
battery replacement costs = 0

Oh yes, I almost forgot...it doesn't necessarily require any petroleum at all to get those numbers.

The latest high tech turbo diesels are very cool and FEV's OPOC (opposed piston-opposed cylinder) 2 stroke turbo diesel is the coolest yet with thermal efficiency in excess of 41%. The OPOC design, says FEV, generates extraordinary power density. A turbocharged 2-cyl. prototype generates 325 hp and 590 lb.-ft. (800 Nm) of torque at 2,000 rpm, yet weighs just 270 lbs. (123 kg).
.wmv video of a golfball balanced on the running OPOC
.wmv video of the OPOC at 8000 rpm
even more neato info
posted by well_balanced at 2:27 PM on October 11, 2005


It's not hybrids versus diesel: it's hybrid fuel cell versus hybrid diesel. Hybrid is still always part of the equation. That's why Toyota sank so much money into hybrid research.
posted by eamondaly at 2:35 PM on October 11, 2005


Oops, I forgot compressed air. Again, not commercially available yet, right?

The reason I put together this post in the first place is that I've noticed quite a few SmartCars and Priuses on the road in Vancouver. (SmartCars were only introduced in Canada last September.) I thought I'd focus on options which are available now.

I should have mentioned conventional fuel-efficient cars, too, which are pretty good. Thanks for the comments from Decypher and tpl1212 comparing the cost of driving a fuel-efficient car to driving a hybrid.

Another option for people who can use public transport for commuting, but sometimes need a car: car sharing.

Bicycles are a good idea, if you're physically fit. (And you probably need shower facilities at work.) I understand that they're heavily used in Chinese cities.

Motorcycles are a good idea, too. I do think it'd be easier for someone to switch from a car to a more fuel-efficient car than to switch from a car to a motorcycle.
posted by russilwvong at 2:45 PM on October 11, 2005


Am I the only one who remembers cars sold in America in the early 80's, getting 35 mpg and better? What happened? (I drove an 82? chevy chevette with a diesel engine, and it got nearly 50 mpg)

Hybrid technology doesn't seem necessary to obtain high mpg. Why is it being pushed then?
posted by yesster at 2:50 PM on October 11, 2005


Also, I often see Priuses and TDIs compared in terms of MPG, but when it comes down to emissions, they're whole worlds apart. The 2005 VW Golf TDI is rated a 1 out 10 by the EPA for emissions. Not exactly something to brag about.

And for the record, I have a Prius, a motorcycle, and a CTA card.
posted by eamondaly at 2:50 PM on October 11, 2005


Hybrid technology doesn't seem necessary to obtain high mpg. Why is it being pushed then?

Well, for one thing, because it's cool. And the hybrid plugin thing is even cooler.

Bruce Sterling:

Civil society does not respond at all well to moralistic scolding. There are small minority groups here and there who are perfectly aware that it is immoral to harm the lives of coming generations by massive consumption now: deep Greens, Amish, people practicing voluntary simplicity, Gandhian ashrams and so forth. These public-spirited voluntarists are not the problem. But they're not the solution either, because most human beings won't volunteer to live like they do. Nor can people be forced to live that way through legal prescription, because those in command of society's energy resources will immediately game and neutralize any system of legal regulation.

However, contemporary civil society can be led anywhere that looks attractive, glamorous and seductive.

posted by russilwvong at 3:01 PM on October 11, 2005


That air car link is very interesting, but it is a little short on the science side. In the FAQ it says that the pressure vessel is at 300 BAR which is 4500psi. The site also makes mention of the engine being able to run off of both compressed air and fossil fuels, but they don't talk about that much.

The very high pressure had me asking questions, which lead me to this interesting explanation about gas storage: Liquid oxygen/nitrogen stored 120/40 psi, gaseous stored 3000 psi; why/how? Chemistry was too long ago...
posted by Chuckles at 3:05 PM on October 11, 2005


I'm actually considering getting a gas-powered scooter, something that would be freeway legal and transcontinental travel. 4 gallons of gas would get me 200 + miles
posted by mk1gti at 3:07 PM on October 11, 2005


wee daft 2-seaters like the MR2.
It makes dating absolute hell,

Long distance traveling is hell with its storage space.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:54 PM on October 11, 2005


I get this warm fuzzy feeling every time I hear about some family who can't make ends meet because they were dumb enough to buy an SUV. Here is to $200 per barrel!
posted by jeffburdges at 3:57 PM on October 11, 2005


People think the electric grid can't handle alternative power, so here's some calcs on the economics of power:

1. California burns 40.5M gallons of gas each day.
2. The energy content of gasoline is ~33kwhr/gal.
3. So that's 1.35GWhr of power needed every day to replace gasoline.

...BUT... the thermal efficiency of gas engines is only around 40%, so the actual power requirement is about 500MWhr/day.

Over 5 hrs overnight, that's 100MWs of recharging demand.
with its ~20GW of supply surplus during off-peak, can provide that, no prob.

A simpler way of looking at it is each household burns an average of 2 gallons of gas per day.

For a battery-powered car, that's roughly 2gal*40%*33kwhr = 26KWhr of daily recharging.
Over 5 hrs off-peak that's roughly 5KW of demand, or 5KW * 20M households = 100MW of demand.

California peaks at 30GW demand each day, so this recharging would consume 0.3% of California's present peak demand.

PG&E, for obvious reasons, is encouraging EDV (electric-drive vehicles) by offering E-9 rates @ 6c/kwhr overnight.

With gasoline @ $3/gallon, we're paying $6/day for gas while recharging with PG&E's overnight E-9 rates would cost about 1/4th that. With electric, you'd save $150/mo on running costs but the convenience of gasoline, and the lower capital cost and longer useful life does make the value proposition of pure electric somewhat dubious.

The real win for electric probably is hybrid, in that getting 50MPG out of gas would save more money and provide better daily performance than pure electric.

It'd be cool if retail gas stations started converting to localized
hydrogen production. They could produce the hydrogen overnight from either natural gas or water.

posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:58 PM on October 11, 2005


People think the electric grid can't handle alternative power, so here's some calcs on the economics of power:

1. California burns 40.5M gallons of gas each day.
2. The energy content of gasoline is ~33kwhr/gal.
3. So that's 1.35GWhr of power needed every day to replace gasoline.

...BUT... the thermal efficiency of gas engines is only around 40%, so the actual power requirement is about 500MWhr/day.

Over 5 hrs overnight, that's 100MWs of recharging demand.
Cal ISO, with its ~20GW of supply surplus during off-peak, can provide that, no prob.

A simpler way of looking at it is each household burns an average of 2 gallons of gas per day.

For a battery-powered car, that's roughly 2gal*40%*33kwhr = 26KWhr of daily recharging.
Over 5 hrs off-peak that's roughly 5KW of demand, or 5KW * 20M households = 100MW of demand.

California peaks at 30GW demand each day, so this recharging would consume 0.3% of California's present peak demand.

PG&E, for obvious reasons, is encouraging EDV (electric-drive vehicles) by offering E-9 rates @ 6c/kwhr overnight.

With gasoline @ $3/gallon, we're paying $6/day for gas while recharging with PG&E's overnight E-9 rates would cost about 1/4th that. With electric, you'd save $150/mo on running costs but the convenience of gasoline, and the lower capital cost and longer useful life does make the value proposition of pure electric somewhat dubious.

The real win for electric probably is hybrid, in that getting 50MPG out of gas would save more money and provide better daily performance than pure electric.

It'd be cool if retail gas stations started converting to localized
hydrogen production. They could produce the hydrogen overnight from either natural gas or water.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:59 PM on October 11, 2005


The 2005 VW Golf TDI is rated a 1 out 10 by the EPA for emissions. Not exactly something to brag about.

A substantial portion of the these low ratings are due to the fuel used, not the TDI engine itself. My understanding is that in the US both the oil and trucking industries have fiercely resisted voluntarily moving to low sulfur diesel for decades primarily because they didn't want to pay an extra few cents per gallon in increased refining costs and also because legacy diesel engines depend on sulfur for lubrication. I think you could make a good argument that this will prove to have been a very shortsighted, penny-wise and pound-foolish strategy. Low sulfur diesel will be mandated in 2006 but I still have this uneasy feeling that they will manage to wiggle out of the mandate. The situation is reasonably analogous to the past practice of adding lead to gasoline as a lubricant. The removal of lead additives permitted the introduction of catalytic convertors and lower emissions from gasoline engines.

The lack of widespread low sulfur diesel availability in the US has also been a stumbling block to fitting new diesel engines with the latest generation of particulate filters. Particulate emissions is one of the other major complaints the EPA has about diesel engines.

All else being equal, a gasoline engine can usually be made to burn cleaner(if you completely ignore CO2 emissions) than a diesel but the EPA rating by itself does not really paint a clear picture of modern diesel efficiency and emissions. A modern turbo diesel running biodiesel IS something to brag about at this point in time although turbo diesel hybrids would be great as well. All else being equal, a properly designed diesel hybrid would always be more efficient than a gasoline hybrid simply because there is more energy in a gallon of diesel than in a gallon of gasoline. The great bonus is that diesel engines don't necessarily require petroleum but can operate on a wide variety of biodiesels and synthetic fuels mixed with petroleum diesel in any ratio from 1% to 100%.
posted by well_balanced at 4:00 PM on October 11, 2005


eamondaly: Also, I often see Priuses and TDIs compared in terms of MPG, but when it comes down to emissions, they're whole worlds apart. The 2005 VW Golf TDI is rated a 1 out 10 by the EPA for emissions.

That's because VW (and the entire German car industry) missed the boat in respect of diesel emissions control. They spurned Peugeot's particle filters, which have been shown to deal with the main diesel emission problem (soot) quite efficiently. (Ironically, the European debate around particle filters mirrors the one in the '80s around catalytic converters, which were championed by the Germans, but long fought by the French...led by Peugeot).

But, as a rule, hybrids should be less environmentally damaging for city use, whereas diesels will be more appropriate for long distance driving.

Chuckles:That air car link is very interesting, but it is a little short on the science side.

The whole affair is rather fishy, IMHO. Their claims are ambitious, to say the least; they've been around for ages now, and still they can't show much in the way of solid results; and their business model is, well, interesting...

russilwvong: Plug-in hybrids. A hybrid gets about twice the fuel economy of a conventional car. A plug-in hybrid will get about twice the fuel economy of a hybrid.


Hmm...I dunno. The linked site dismisses the claim that actual energy efficiency of plug-in hybrids (or pure electric vehicles, for that matter) is low a bit too airily. Fact is, powerplants are not that much more efficient than car engines, especially the engine in an hybrid, which runs closer to its ideal point. And the losses in the electricity grid, even before reaching the battery (another source of inefficiency) are pretty huge. Just saying that the batteries would be recharged at night, or that not all electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels, doesn't quite cut it for me...

In my opinion, before the fuel cell (whose primary use will be in buildings rather than vehicles, I believe) the best solution should be the diesel-electric. However, diesels may be a more problematic match for the hybrid concept than petrol (US: gas) engines: in my experience, their efficiency when cold is not impressive, and they are not the most suitable engines for the kind of stop-start operation of hybrids.
posted by Skeptic at 4:01 PM on October 11, 2005


Bicycles are a good idea, if you're physically fit. (And you probably need shower facilities at work.

This isn't true. If you ride a bike with the right number of gears, anyone could commute 10-15 miles each way to work with ease. 10 miles or less would be easy.

I bike commute 95% of the time (10 miles each way, now down to 7) and have never had to shower at work. The trick is to change your clothes when you get to work.

If you check out the Bikeforum commuter threads, there are plenty of pro-commuting people who are overweight.

That said, it takes a certain attitude to bike commute, but hey it's fun, and it beats doing 30 minutes of cardio at the gym each day.
posted by drezdn at 4:06 PM on October 11, 2005


Here is an article that mentions Plug-in hybrids

Scroll down half way to the grey boxed section
posted by edgeways at 4:17 PM on October 11, 2005


Re: Plug-in hybrids. Measuring their economy in MPG is disingenuous, because they no longer use gasoline as their primary fuel source. You need to factor in all energy costs before you start doing any comparisons. At present, gasoline is still cheaper per unit energy than what comes out of my wall outlet.
posted by knave at 4:27 PM on October 11, 2005


What's with all the MR2-hating? :(
posted by knave at 4:29 PM on October 11, 2005


knave, it's not about "cheaper" it's about not using fossil fuels (many utilities now offer alternative energy sources, I signed up on the web and in 5 minutes my house is now %100 wind powered).
posted by stbalbach at 5:01 PM on October 11, 2005


but I'm talking about people attacking random Durangos and Hummers, we-don't-serve-your-kind, PETA vs fur-wearing Hollywood stars type of vengeful behavior.

Speaking of which ...
posted by mrgrimm at 5:03 PM on October 11, 2005


This entire bicycle commuting - fitness - shower thing bugs me. Part of the problem is that everybody rides differently...

I am borderline obese (250, 6'3") and I ride with a lot of aggression, this makes me sweaty as hell, and turns 10 miles of city riding into quite a little workout. eliminating the aggression would make it easier, but it would also slow me down - the degree of effect depends on the details, of course.

As for the shower... You don't smell for many hours after a good hard sweat (depending on the source of the sweat, because some kinds of sweat stink right away, but that isn't what we are talking about here). Again, it will depend on the individual, but I bet most people could make it through the work day without offending nearby noses in the slightest. People just don't like the idea of sitting in wetness for the half hour or so it takes to cool down and dry off.
posted by Chuckles at 5:04 PM on October 11, 2005


The funny thing is, hybrids (as it turns out) just aren't a worthwhile investment if you do most of your driving on the highway. You'll still get mileage comparable to that which can be reached by a vehicle with a comparably small engine, but at a huge price premium.

What gets my goat is that diesel cars are, by and large, unavailable in North America, certainly so when compared with Europe. Right now off the top of my head I only know of 4 -- and 3 of them are VWs (Beetle, Jetta, Golf), with the other being the Smart (Canada only). In Europe you can get a diesel version of the Jaguar X-type, and it's only one of many such vehicles available. The development work has been done and the cars could, in fact, be produced with existing technologies... but the willingness to even just offer the product to the consumer isn't there.
posted by clevershark at 5:22 PM on October 11, 2005


"The OPOC design, says FEV, generates extraordinary power density. A turbocharged 2-cyl. prototype generates 325 hp and 590 lb.-ft. (800 Nm) of torque at 2,000 rpm, yet weighs just 270 lbs. (123 kg)."

Holy CRAP! My 919cc motorcycle engine weighs a bit more than 190lbs, and generates 112 hp with 106 lb.-ft. torque. This OPOC thing has 3x the horses and SIX times the torque?

I want one!!

They're still working on it, apparently. It's an ingenious design, though, really interesting engine arrangement. Hope to see that soon, though. If they're developing it for the military, it will hopefully get fast-tracked.

"Fact is, powerplants are not that much more efficient than car engines, especially the engine in an hybrid, which runs closer to its ideal point."

Skeptic, if you're referring to Heywood Mogroot's post, I think the idea he's trying to get across is that overall, upping the nighttime power generation in CA by 100mw or 200mw (out of the 30Gw total capacity) overnight to charge every single car in CA (assuming they were all electric) would be more efficient than how it works now.

I.E., the powerplants would burn far less fuel to generate the 1.35GW/hr during the nighttime than the cars themselves do to create that 1.35GW/hr during the daytime. I think the transmission losses would be relatively small compared to the inefficiency of all those car engines, but I may be wrong, as I am not an electrical engineer.

Then again, powerplant generator systems run in a much more efficient energy-use pattern than cars, which are cycling up and down thru the RPMs constantly. Even big diesel generators pretty much run up to one speed and stay there - often for days on end.

It's a guess on my part, but I think going all-electric as Heywood describes would be more efficient and use less energy overall.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:31 PM on October 11, 2005


Long distance traveling is hell with its storage space.

Long distance traveling != commuting, which was the subject of the post.

I bike commute 95% of the time (10 miles each way, now down to 7) and have never had to shower at work.

...and you live in Milwaukee. Try it in D/FW or Houston or Raleigh.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:33 PM on October 11, 2005


ROU_Xenophobe, anybody riding hard produces gobs of sweat, it doesn't matter what the weather is like. I presume Texas heat is dry, which should actually make it very nice for riding. Even the very hottest days should be no problem because bicycles create their own wind chill - air conditioning at the end of the trip would be critical though.
posted by Chuckles at 6:03 PM on October 11, 2005


"That said, it takes a certain attitude to bike commute, but hey it's fun, and it beats doing 30 minutes of cardio at the gym each day."

It would be fun, if not for the assholes in cars that try to kill you.
I don't mind it that much when they reclessly endager my life, it's when people deliberately try to kill me I get upset.

Some people simply shouldn't be allowed to own cars.
posted by spazzm at 6:12 PM on October 11, 2005


Heh, crazily the energy prices (and the grid) in California are so fucked up that people were suggesting running hybrids overnight to help power homes and whatnot, rather then the other way around.
posted by delmoi at 6:16 PM on October 11, 2005


spazzm, it seems that if they had actualy tried to kill you, you would be dead.
posted by delmoi at 6:18 PM on October 11, 2005


delmoi, the bloodthirstiest ones are always the most incompetent drivers. I'm too fast for them :)
posted by spazzm at 6:20 PM on October 11, 2005


The funniest part is when you're riding between the lanes of cars stuck in gridlock or waiting for a red light - you always get one or two that try to manouvre their car so you can't pass.
What's up with that, what's the logic behind this behaviour?
"I'm stuck here, so no-one else should be able to get anywhere either. Since I'm miserable, everyone else should be too."

The problem, to paraphrase Adams, is people.
posted by spazzm at 6:26 PM on October 11, 2005


One of my personal favorite hopes for a future car to own is what's being made over at commutercars (which i originally saw here by the way). Seriously, 18 grand for a electric car that can do 120 mph and 0 to 60 in seven seconds (four if you add another few grand).

Being that i'm very cynical about the american public i'd say we'll never see hybrids or high efficiency diesels become the norm until they get sexy or gas costs $6 a gallon. of course the latter is going to cause some social issues no doubt.

Personally, i'd also like to see an electric big rig (i'm thinking gas electric with a turbine on the back...like a undersized train) because our economy is so based on semi's for it's existence.
posted by NGnerd at 6:26 PM on October 11, 2005


Then there's the fisticuffs category - rare, but freaky.
They bring their car to a screeching halt and jump out, fists clenched, to have a go at that puny bicycle that dares to obstruct their glorious passage. When he (they're invariably male) gets out of his car, he suddenly realises that he's on his own without fossil-fueled pseudo-muscles now, and that puny bicyclist suddenly look a lot less like something you want to take out your frustration on. There's a brief flicker of uncertainty, and he gets back in his car.

I'm mostly amused by this because I'm well over 187 cm and 90 kilos and can hold my own, but I can't even begin to imagine the sheer terror less physically imposing individuals (say, females) must feel when venturing into traffic on a bicycle.
posted by spazzm at 6:35 PM on October 11, 2005


There's been a couple of ultra-aggros who have definitely tried to kill me with their cars while I'm on my motorcycle. Fortunately I pretty much assume everyone in a car is going to do something potentially lethal to me - yeah, kinda paranoid, but notice I'm still alive - so I've been able to avoid being run down.

Acceleration and maneuverability beats armor, when in traffic - anyday.

One dude actually tried to follow me as I full-throttle shot through spaces between cars and put a semi in between us. I'm amazed he didn't actually hit anyone. Then he cut back to the shoulder and tried to run down it to catch up with me, but if you've ever seen the 10 freeway in mid-city LA during rush hour, you'll chuckle just like I did... after my heart slowed down.

I've done the numbers and as long as gasoline is available, I can go as high as $7 a gallon without feeling too much of a pinch, riding the motorcycle. That gives me some breathing room anyway...
posted by zoogleplex at 6:50 PM on October 11, 2005


My worry about hybrid cars are the toxic metals used in the batteries. I very much doubt that hybrid cars are of any benefit at all to the world when you take a cradle-to-grave view of them.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:58 PM on October 11, 2005


I'd like to order my Steak Bagel at McDonalds in the morning and pull over to their behind-the building-pump dispensing filtered french fry grease for my car.
That would be too easy...... the greedy Oil Lobbysists will think of some stupid reason to make this illegal. Screw 'em.!! Cut up your Mobil Cards! Write your Congresssman. Grease Wants to Be Free! When Grease Powered Cars are outlawed only Outlaws will have Grease-Cars!
posted by celerystick at 7:15 PM on October 11, 2005


celerystick writes "When Grease Powered Cars are outlawed only Outlaws will have Grease-Cars!"

They hear you... in the UK.
posted by clevershark at 7:28 PM on October 11, 2005


I ride the bus. The girls are hot. That's all.
posted by sdrawkcab at 9:04 PM on October 11, 2005


tomplus2: Time for a train comeback. ..but then what will all the truck drivers do?

Not going to happen. Now that the industrialized world has moved to Just in Time manufacturing, our highways are their warehouses.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:10 PM on October 11, 2005


A guy I know rides a "velomobile". It has three wheels, is fully enclosed like a car, and runs by pedal power assisted by electric motor/batteries. Science Daily and his local paper have had stories about the Velomobile. You can also visit his web site about the velomobile (warning: flash).

For what it's worth, he estimates the fuel (electricity) cost of a 50-mile commute at about a penny.
posted by flug at 9:36 PM on October 11, 2005


I'm with celerystick. With a simple modification diesel engines will run on vegetable oil - even used, burnt up, black vegetable oil. Why don't we all buy diesels and pay our farmers to grow corn from which we can make corn oil. We can power our cars with corn or soy or some kinda vegetable oil and blow off fossil fuels in cars. How much oil does McDonald's burn through every week? Recycle it.

Farmers are outta work. From Farm Aid's site:
In the 1930s, there were close to seven million farms in the United States. Today, just over two million farms remain. (i)
Of the remaining farms, roughly 565,000 are family operations (ii), farming just over 415 million acres or 44 percent of total farmland. (iii)
An astonishing 330 farm operators leave their land every week. (iv)

Can we grow enough corn to power our autos if we all drove diesels? Veg oil doesn't pollute and the exhaust smells like french fries. Is this naive?
posted by wsg at 10:21 PM on October 11, 2005


The OPOC design, says FEV, generates extraordinary power density. A turbocharged 2-cyl. prototype generates 325 hp and 590 lb.-ft. (800 Nm) of torque at 2,000 rpm

With normal engine longevity? I mean, hell, you can get about 1000hp/liter out of a V-8, if you don't mind having to rebuild it every 5 seconds or quarter-mile.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:17 AM on October 12, 2005


(quote)
The funny thing is, hybrids (as it turns out) just aren't a worthwhile investment if you do most of your driving on the highway. You'll still get mileage comparable to that which can be reached by a vehicle with a comparably small engine, but at a huge price premium.
(end quote)

Shortly after I got my Prius, I took a trip from Orlando, FL to Savannah, GA. The car was loaded with people and air conditioner was running the entire way. We were going 75-80mph for the vast majority of the trip and averaged just slightly over 40mpg. The manual transmission 2001 Ford Focus I owned before this car would have been at about 30mpg. I have learned to drive with more fuel economy in mind since that time, and would be able to average 45 on the same trip now.

Also, I'm tired of hearing from friends and acquaintances that it'll take too long to recoup my "investment" in the hybrid technology. For one thing, the projections I hear quoted usually assume that gas prices will stay stable over this period, and I believe they'll rise from there. Second, the environmental benefits are important to me as well. Lastly and most importantly, I didn't buy the car to break even.

I love the car and would have bought it even if it hadn't been a hybrid.
posted by tkolstee at 7:46 AM on October 12, 2005


five fresh fish: My worry about hybrid cars are the toxic metals used in the batteries. I very much doubt that hybrid cars are of any benefit at all to the world when you take a cradle-to-grave view of them.

The Nickel-Metal-Hydride batteries used in hybrid cars are (relative to other battery chemistries) non-toxic and are attractive candidates for recycling. If electric hybrids continue to grow in popularity, I'm sure the recycling of their batteries will also become widespread, as it is now for the lead-acid batteries used in conventional cars.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:42 AM on October 12, 2005


I presume Texas heat is dry, which should actually make it very nice for riding.

Chuckles has obviously never visited Houston in August.

And just because you don't think you smell, and those around you don't say anything, does not mean you don't stink. I have worked with bike commuters, and all of them that didn't shower when they reached work were ripe a couple of hours later. Do everyone a favor. Wash.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:25 AM on October 12, 2005


stop bumming the Prius - its just not that good.

On a mixed urban/motorway run its fuel efficiency is no where near that of a diesel engine.

In the UK there are tonnes of cars that get over 30 mpg and still over plenty of fun.

They just happen to be a lot smaller cars and smaller engines than american cars.

I have a mate with a chipped TDI Golf - it pushes 180bhp and tonnes of torque, and 66 mpg - and will batter a Subaru from 30 - 130 mph.
posted by 13twelve at 9:52 AM on October 12, 2005


As I said above, Bike Commuting is not for everyone, and no I don't smell bad. It depends on the person.

RE: The Weather in Milwaukee. It gets up to 100-110 in the summer here. But, since I'm going 15-20MPH, I'm never too hot. But, the snarky comment about the weather fails to take into account that in Milwaukee the weather can go (as it did last week) from 80 degrees one day to 40 degrees the next. It makes it harder to plan out what to wear for the ride, but hey, I rarely enjoy driving, but I always enjoy riding my bike.
posted by drezdn at 11:33 AM on October 12, 2005


RE: The Weather in Milwaukee. It gets up to 100-110 in the summer here

via weatherbase:

In Milwaukee, the average high in July is only 80F, and the number of days above 90 averages a whopping ten per year with 4 in July.

In Raleigh, the average high in July is 89 and the number of days above 90 averages 39, with 14 in July.

In Houston, the average high in July is 94 and the number of days above 90 average 97, with 27 in July.

In Dallas, the average high in July is 96 and the number of days above 90 averages 100 with 28 in July.

And none of these cities have a "dry heat." The dew points in Raleigh, Dallas, and Houston in summer are well in excess of that for Milwaukee.

So if you don't need to shower, fine. But you're riding in substantially milder weather than an awful lot of people would be.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:57 PM on October 12, 2005


I have the Civic Hybrid, and got it because the mileage figure well exceeded what I could get in a similar car capable of transporting my family, significant groceries, luggage, etc.

I'd like something like a SmartCar for my daily commute, but I'm paying this one down first (before I turn it over to the wife to use as the family car).

A VWGolf is cute, but I can't put two car seats, a teenager, a wife, me, and an annoying quantity of snacks in it for more than a few feet before I'd rather be riding on the roof.
posted by dwivian at 1:01 PM on October 12, 2005


I don't know about your source ROU_Xenophobe...
For Toronto:
Average Number of Days Above 90F/32C Years on Record: 21

4 per year, 1 in June, 2 in July, 1 in August.
Are they talking about 24hour periods where the temperature never drops below 90, because that isn't the Toronto I live in!
posted by Chuckles at 2:16 PM on October 12, 2005


They're talking about days where the high exceeds 90F.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:27 PM on October 12, 2005


I suppose I should have mentioned that I coat my entire bodyin deorderant before I leave house.

ROU_Xenophobe, it hits 100+ enough here, with the added bonus that we're never used to it because of wild temperature swings. When it was over 100 though, I biked to work and didn't sweat much because you generate your own wind.

One of my closet friends is from Houston, and from what she has told me/reading bike message boards, Houston is the worst for bike commuting not because of the weather but because of the drivers. Maybe oil tycoons take it personally if you don't drive a car.

According to this the average July temp in Houston is 82.6 which is great biking weather, and unlike Wisconsin, Houston's average temperature doesn't dip below 50, meaning if one wanted they could commute year round without investing in long underwear.

Still, bike commuting is not for anyone, but it's in everyone who wants too try's grasp.
posted by drezdn at 11:33 PM on October 12, 2005


From the available 2005 data for North York at the weather underground: 8 days at or above 90F from July 22-31 and 15 days in August. The top ten Canadian weather stories of 2002 had Toronto with 23 days above 32C.

Aha, finally the real weather data... No days above 90 in all of 2004, wow! In 2003 there were 4 in June, 3 in July, and 2 in August. On further review of 2005 data, the recorded temperatures at Pearson seem to be as much as 3 degrees below the temperatures reported for North York in the first link... Only 6 hot days at Pearson during the 2005 period which saw 23 hot days in North York. I would say urban heat island, but the airport isn't exactly in the middle of the countryside... I wonder what the 2002 hot days numbers would look like for North York if they had 23 at Pearson! Anyway, lets just say I do indeed know what heat is like, okay?

As I said before, the sweat is pretty independent of weather. When I took my ride today it was around 15C, but my shirt was still soaked - warmer clothes than the August variety though. What is not independent of weather is heat stroke when you stop, if it isn't cool when/where you take a rest the hot weather can really be a problem.
posted by Chuckles at 11:53 PM on October 12, 2005


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