The good thing about fossil fuel-burning energies is that they can always be made more efficient with a bit of inspired thinking. That said, it seems a group of students from the Illinois Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois at Chicago is the latest troupe of tinkerers to engineer a more efficient engine.
With backing from the Illinois Corn Growers Association, the U.S. Department of Energy, General Motors and Natural Resources Canada, the students have created a flexible fuel ethanol engine that uses an 85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline mix called E85. The new technology will roll off the production line for Chevy S-10 and GMC Sonoma pickup trucks as soon as the year 2000 and will offer lower emissions as well as higher miles-to-the-gallon efficiency.
Even more encouraging is the fact that the Illinois students are not alone. Indeed, a new technology emerging from the research labs of such major car companies as Honda, Toyota, Ford and DaimlerChrysler is promising to do away with the dirty old gas engine altogether. The breakthrough “hybrid” engine utilizes a technology based on fuel cells that combines gasoline or natural gas with electricity and has been billed “an automotive revolution” by Nancy Hazard, organizer of the annual electric car race, Tour de Sol.
But critics of the dual-fuel engines maintain that performance is compromised and that the need for frequent refuelings is an inconvenience—if you can even find an alternative fuel station.
Companies like Toyota are, however, out to prove these naysayers wrong. It has a four-seat hybrid vehicle for sale in Japan that can travel 800 miles between fill-ups, gets 70 miles to the gallon and costs a very reasonable $16,000.
Moreover, a company called Epyx Corporation has introduced a multifuel processor that can burn all kinds aof gasses—including liquid hydrogen, ethanol, propane and gasoline—thereby giving consumers a wide range of fuels to choose from, while posting an emission standard well below the Ultra Low Emission Vehicle limit set by the U.S. Department of Energy.
If you’re looking for the environmental sensibility of an electric car with the range and convenience of traditional gas engines, these vehicles could very well transport you where you want to go.