The Power We Need for Transportation When There Is No Fuel at the Pumps and No Power in the Grid

| 9/24/2010 4:13:05 PM

Tags: Fuel economy, motorcycle, streamlining, Vetter Fuel Economy Contests, living better on less energy, Craig Vetter,

3 vetter title
Lets take a look at the winner of the last Vetter Fuel Economy Contest:

Matsu Matsuzawa… what an inspiration he was!  After six years of contests, we learned that it takes about 3.3 (round up to 3.5) horsepower to push a person down the road in real highway conditions at posted speeds.   Remember, the national speed limit was 55 mph. In the contests, I allotted 3 hours to go the 136 miles route.

No other machine has gone so far so fast while consuming so little fuel.

Matsu Matsuzawa used about 1/3rd of a gallon of gas.  Please take a moment to read about the winners:

Nobody in their right mind would actually drive something like this as real transportation because you have to make yourself real tiny.   It is just too uncomfortable.   But we did learn the essentials of fuel economy:  At a minimum, it takes streamlining and 3½ horsepower.  This is real world truth… not theory. Now we have some idea of the minimum we need.  

Twenty-five years later, we imagine a time when there is no gas at the pumps and no power in the grid.  Could we harvest this amount of energy from our homestead collectors?  
In an hour, these panels will collect one horsepower of energy.

One horsepower is not enough.  At the very minimum we need 3-½ hp to go 55 mph if we want to drive for three hours, like Matsu did in the Vetter contests.  To collect the power equivalent to the gasoline used by Matsu (probably the world’s most fuel efficient vehicle) these panels would need to gather energy for 3 times 3 ½ hp.  Therefore, these 4 panels would have to collect the power from the sun for 10 ½ hours.

Note: A solar day is considered to be 6 hours.  It would take almost two days to collect this amount of energy from the sun.  Hmmmm…  The Bible says the truth will set us free.  The truth can also make us mad.

Or, we could install more panels and collect the energy quicker
(13) panels @ about $600 each.  Looks like a major investment, doesn’t it?   Sure takes up a lot of room.   Collecting the energy from the sun for 3 hours will give us the same amount of energy in the gasoline Matsu used:  
20 ounces of gasoline produced 3 ½ hp for 3 hours and took streamlined Matsu 136 miles. Gasoline packs a lot of energy, doesn’t it?  No wonder it has been our energy of choice for vehicles.

(13) 200 watt solar panels, on the homestead roof to the right, gathering energy from the sun for 3 hours would harvest the same amount of energy.  This is good basic stuff to know.

Can we generate 3 ½ horsepower on our vehicle while it is traveling?

Matsu’s streamliner would have to drag this many panels around.

You would have to tow a trailer bigger than a semi truck, filled with tracking solar panels.  And, they would somehow have to track the sun as you turned corners.   I have no idea how much power it would take to pull this mess down the road at 55mph.  But, this vehicle is no longer streamlined.   And, it would take a lot more than 3 ½ hp to travel at 55 mph.  Some people think this can work.   I don’t think so.   

What does this mean, Craig?

It means that technology in 2010 does not allow enough energy to be harvested from solar panels on the vehicle to collect the energy we need to drive sustainably.

Yep… the truth can make you mad.

The good news is: Our homestead-mounted solar panels will continue to generate power for the next 20 years.  After 3 hours of driving, the gasoline will be gone forever.

Let this sink in.  Tell me what you make of this.

We seek the truth.

There is hope.


Please correct me if you find errors.

frank lee
5/21/2011 1:33:22 AM

When I think of ground effect air scooters, I think of cruising along, minding my own business, then suddenly being blown into an oncoming semi/blown over the ditch into a power pole by a strong gust, of which there are many here. And I'm not even a safety ninny.

Sean Wenger
4/1/2011 11:08:41 PM

Japan Tsunami footage found to be inspiring. Why? and How? Seeing all those cars being pushed around like little corkes among the debris of peoples homes, well.. I could not help to think, what if the air scooter contest happened and the designs were used by mainstream Japan? It would have been inspiring to see even a few people able to rise above those waves or even the entire culture rise to higher ground. I suppose that it was not the Tsunami, but the idea that we need to do better. There are few (if any) vehicles in the world that can hop from land to air to water and then keep on jumping the successive waves as they rolled in. Knowing that a contest like that could perhaps push the human capability into a range that can deal with a tsunami, now that's inspiring. CM

Sean Wenger
1/8/2011 10:18:20 PM

Hello Craig, Yes, I have been familiar with the Air Scooter Contest rules for quite some time now. Excellent idea BTW. I also like how they acknowledge the cost (resources) of Road Maintenance and propose a way around that. Those Air Scooter Contest rules are the source of many a design on paper by myself. They caused me to develop a capacity to think about the variables as a "thought experiment" because I could not afford to build and test my designs. Many designs were eliminated because I could see in my mind how it would fail and why. Thus, I would make a re-design or come at the problem with a new approach. What I liked about the Air Scooter Contest is that it got me to think about vehicle design that would do on and off road efficiently, should the infrastructure degrade. What I wish is that the vehicles were allowed to stay in ground effect where there is the greatest efficiency for lift. Once they start turning into an Airplane (out of ground effect) you might as well drive to the airport and get a plane. IMHO.. The other thought I had is that if the weather turns, the vehicle will need to crawl out of whatever terrain it flew into. It would need to be like a Flying Ant. But would there be such a vehicle? It would need a very dense fuel source to keep size and weight constraints to a minimum. But these are just how I interpreted them.. CM

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: April 28-29, 2018
Asheville, NC

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!