Thursday, November 08, 2007

Science (Sepcifically Engine) Questions: Anyone?

I heard a great story on our local public radio station tonight about Maine car dealer Adam Lee. I've had a soft spot for Lee ever since he pulled his ads off the Sinclair Broadcasting stations who ran that spurious John Kerry "documentary" in 2004 and now admire him even more for standing up to his own industry. On his website 35mpg by 2020 Lee challenges everyone involved in the US auto industry to rise to the challenge and make fuel efficient, attractive cars.

Its a good case he makes but Detroit and their pals in DC rail against it as bad science. The industry lobbyist rolled out to pooh pooh Lee came across like Scotty from Star Trek: "they cannae run any leaner, capn: its impossible, beyond the laws o' physics!". Which leads me to my first question:

I may be thinking like a complete dunce but don't many European cars already exceed the 35mpg standard: cars manufactured not just by the Japanese or Euro-marques but by subsidiaries of GM and Ford? I know some of the engines are turbo-diesels but why is that technology in particular considered a no-no over here? Am I missing a large, obvious point?

And second more locally based question: can trains run on biodiesel?

OK, I await answers from technical types...


Mike said...

Are you in line?

Is this where we start the 'Who killed the electric car' discussion?

It's all energy, however, and if your electricity still comes from a coal burning plant (Wiscasset coal gasification?)...

What was the percentage of Americans that didn't realize plastic bags come from petroleum?

Like standing behind the person at Hannaford who requested their 24-pack of bottles water (which they carried to the register without incident, given the plastic bottles on cardboard super-industrial plastic wrapped together) get TRIPLE BAGGED so they could carry it to their SUV (probably left running - ok, this part I'm making up) in the parking lot?

OK, so that was somewhat tangential. And I am interested in the train question.

Wait - what? Exxon made $9.92 billion in one quarter? Good, all is well. PetroChina is valued at over $1 trillion?
Good, now we're getting somewhere.

Mike said...

OK - a follow up. Notice all the ads on TV/radio that are heating/oil/gas is expensive so you should get efficient?

I'll take it. If it takes it being about finances (rather than environmental) to get stuff smarted up (filled up at $3.39 today - but at least I get 34 mpg) I'll take it.

Filling up a gas tank isn't fun in Europe or Canada. And how many SUVs do you see driving around up there? Very few compared to the whole, although it's easy to say both those arenas of thought are more environmentally conscious as a whole.

Weren't Prius cars selling at $10k over list at some point?

Wait - sorry, my fault.
It's about Freedom.
Although I think those dozen or so ribbon magnets on the back of your SUV take off about 0.5 mpg.

Vocal Cynical Friday FTW!

weasel said...

Screw the smart car, I'll take my brother's car. It performs really well, fits two kids no bother, and gets insane mileage.

True enough about plastic bags and all the other lovely petrol byproducts. The answer has to be efficiency not energy source replacement.

Mondale said...

Permission to be a smug born again European?
I survived the almost flood of 07 by getting into my small but nicely formed Peugeot Diesel and driving 30 (count'em), yes 30 miles to work. Sure, the cost is over $2 a litre and it's getting more expensive but it feels good to be able to drive almost 600 miles on one tank. And then fill it up for about $80.

There's some maths in there somewhere.

SkookumJoe said...

power to weight

you can muck around with efficiency but gasoline (or hydrogen or coal or uranium) only contains so much energy. Internal combustion engines are about as efficient as they can get, most new advances involve making them of lighter parts (aluminium heads etc).

I drive a turbo diesel but I get crap mileage because it’s a dual cab 4x4 and weighs a lot.

I had a small cardiac incident yesterday when I went to buy fuel and found diesel was $1.46/litre that’s $5.52/gallon.

I very much like your following band idea.

weasel said...

So we are looking at smaller cars or composite materials? Like the Boeing 787?

And the PWR in Europe- is it all down to engine size and thirst or does the entire powertrain come into this?

Anonymous said...

I also have a soft spot for Adam Lee since I saw him speak on tv in 2005 about how Lee Auto Mall has the greatest percentage of hybrid cars by inventory in Maine. What about ethanol as well? I see these college physics/engineering teams building vehicles that run on ethanol on tv. Don't tell me that these auto-giants can't! On the same topic, I got my energy report from CMP and noted that 0.00% of the power they sell to Mainers comes from solar or tidal power, both of which we have in abundance in Maine! I'll have to start saving up for my solar panels and hybrid car.

weasel said...

The trouble with ethanol (as I understand it) is that in its most common form in the US- corn- it takes more energy to produce than it generates.

I read that the breakthrough will come with cellulostic (sp?) ethanol. Maybe then Aroostook can get rich turning potato stalks into black gold...

Margaret Evans Porter said...

And perhaps they can do something with the kudzu vines overtaking most of the Southern US states.