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

craig vetter
1/8/2011 4:05:39 PM

Crimson: The roads are made for heavy vehicles like trucks semis and busses to haul freight. You and I don’t need heavy vehicles. Say goodby to the great sound of big V-8s, too. 15-17 hp is all we need. Separating water into oxygen and hydrogen may be economical only if you harvest it from your rooftop collectors. Unfortunately, you would find that it would take so many collectors, you would not be able to afford them all. Would light vehicles even need a road? I have ridden thousands of miles off road. 15-20 hp machines are the easiest to ride without roads. Flying would be more desirable. It takes about 100 hp to take us straight up, out of ground effect. See:

sean wenger
1/1/2011 6:43:06 AM

Infrastructure and the internal combustion engine go hand in hand. Look at how our world is created with roads designed to support heavy vehicles. What makes vehicles heavy? Internal combustion engines in their current configuration and the frame required to support it. These engines have huge power losses due to heat. The cooling systems also add weight. Hybrid is like having one engine haul the other, and the batteries required take up a huge amount of size and weight due to the lack of energy density. This is a strange transition, and to do what? Perhaps sway the mind of people that have grown up with the deep throaty sound of a V8? Maybe to ease the transition from a technology that has ruled the roads for the last 100 years? Imagine a place without cars in the traditional sense. Light personal vehicles that use electric motors built into wheels to quietly coast around. Now imagine the same vehicle lights up its rear end and go streaking down the highway. Using the air it's cutting through to help stay its course, banking into turns like a motorcycle. That is possible with liquid Oxygen and Hydrogen. High energy density that creates electricity (and water), or rocket thrust; depending on how they are combined. Would such light maneuverable vehicles even need roads?

sean wenger
11/13/2010 10:42:19 PM

I'm just wondering what powers the machine that can harvest all these wood chips or bio-mass? I saw an interesting comment about people who live in the city. These are brave souls that choose to live with nature’s deadliest creature, other people. We all came together for survival, but things have changed. Now we suffer from economic novelty: People being persuaded to spend money they don't have on things they don't need to create impressions that won't last on people they don't care about. While this does not include everyone in the city it does (unfortunately) describe the majority. I'm sure this does not describe anyone here. I fully acknowledge that converting energy from kind to another will have loss and lower the efficiency of the system. What I ask is that we look at the effectiveness of the system. If a passive (not requiring outside work) solar array or wind turbine is doing the heavy lifting for me (power generation). Then I am free to decide how best to apply that generated power. There are many interesting ways to store energy. The best way (generation and storage) may be dictated by the environment your in. I could use a Stirling engine (as a heat pump) to make Ice and then use the Ice to power the Stirling (as an engine). As long as I have a warm home and a cold room this would be a viable option. It could also make a good fridge that does no require electricity.

keith karolyi
11/12/2010 12:00:12 PM

We have technology right now that will allow us to grow all the transportation fuel we need from algae. I've been playing with the technology for about a year now and I can see for myself that it can be done rather easily. The major hurdles to cross are investing in sufficiently scaled production and preventing the Big Oil people from keeping it out of the marketplace. Converting algal oil into diesel fuel is now a quick one-step process using heat, pressure, alcohol and a mix of metal oxide catalysts that don't get used up in the process. The alcohol is recovered and reused. KLM is researching how to turn this into aviation fuel. I've been working with fresh water algae but I've read a few papers that tell me that some salt water algae species are even more productive in terms of oil production. One nice extra kicker we get from using sea water: Excess CO2 is removed from the medium and recycled into the fuel stream. No more acidification of the oceans due to elevated atmospheric CO2 being absorbed. One of the cruise ship companies is experimenting with placing algae growing tanks aboard one of their ships to produce fuel as they cruise through the tropics. Other benefits: Carbon neutral fuel, can be produced from small,widely distributed producers and used locally, makes us energy independent, does not need to use good farmland (you could put an algae farm anywhere in the world if you can provide it with sea/fresh/waste water and sunlight.

abbey bend
10/29/2010 5:27:50 PM

What I see in too many post of this nature is the always the same thing, next week we are all going to be living in the dark ages again. That is just not true and if one looks at mankind, even a little bit you can see just how untrue it is! When we did not have horses to ride, we walked around the planet; it took thousands of years to get around the planet. When we had horses we rode around the planet, it took hundreds of years for horses to make it around the planet. When we developed trains, and steam power, we took weeks to get around the planet. When we first developed cars, planes, and other fossil engines it took days to get around the planet. See anything here, people like to get around the planet, and getting around it in less and less, time has been an important part of our growth as a species. Without some means of quickly moving food around, people starve! Starving people do not have time to create, they mostly fight or die. We have tremendous energy resources on our planet. These resources are very far from tapped out, they may not be what certain people think we should use, but luckily, for most of us, they are not the only ones making the decisions. There is some marvelous research being done by real scientists, they have a number of answers, some very good and some not as good. Instead of fixating on the concept of “car culture,” think about transportation culture, because this is what all mankind is about! We are a world of progress, the doom and gloomers all end up dead, only the ones looking forward instead of backwards have survived or will survive in the future before us!

10/18/2010 12:14:43 PM

check this article out. Oh and actually isn't a woodgas car (gasifier produces syngas) just a mobile charcoal generation plant???? So really it all boils down to willingness, effort and, cost. The basic technologies for producing energy are generations old, but now we have better understanding how to extract them more efficiently. Imagine this....grow your crops for food, harvest the stalks etc for gasification to drive your vehicle, and use the biochar to heat your home. Oh and if you water clean the gassifier you may even have bio tar that can then be used as a waterproofer or further processed to make fuel from it. Sounds like pretty efficient use of our biomass you can eat, heat, travel, and waterproof all from what was once considered waste after we ate.

10/18/2010 9:58:35 AM

Waste biomass (waste being the opperative word) on the homestead is a viable option for several energy needs. With the waste biomass (eg: crop byproducts, kitchen scraps like peelings, and those fallen fruit that are partily rotted)all can be turned into a "mash" then fermented and distilled to yeld an alcohol or more specifically ethanol. The then waste mash can be turned into pellets for either direct heating or as heating for your still. The ashes from those pellets can then be used in the making of biodeisel as the ashes are potassium carbonate K2 CO3 which can be used to remove water from the ethanol prior to distillation. Craig have you ever looked into lister engines or thier knock off listeriods? They have been used the world over for power on farms and homesteads for well over a half century. They sip fuel and are built to last but by no means portable. Also yes with each conversion of energy there will be loss but it really depends on the effort/cost (time and money) that you justify recovering the lost energy.

frank john
10/6/2010 10:58:25 AM

Hi Craig, A couple of comments if you don't mind. First of all, please take care with units... horsepower is power i.e. rate of doing work. Energy is related to total amount of work performed, nothing to do with rate. I know you understand the difference but it's best to be as clear as possible. Second: ANY internal combustion engine is limited by the Carnot cycle. A typical gas engine achieves perhaps 15-20% efficiency. A small diesel (turbo?) might do 25-30% but the rest is lost as heat. An electric drive system is typically 80-85% efficient. The most "local" transportation system you can have (IMHO, lol) is PV panels on the roof charging batteries (lithium iron phosphate is state-of-the-art now) in some sort of EV. Grid-tied PV systems use the grid as a giant battery and the stored energy can be accessed any time the grid is functioning. (Nothing against waste biomass, and it might be a solution for someone in a homesteading situation, but before coal became popular large parts of Europe, Britain and New England were almost deforested. We have to be very careful about using biomass for transportation.) We recently added to our PV array and the 3.68kW nominal panels will generate enough electricity to propel my converted Toyota pickup almost 15K miles/year or my converted Suzuki GT550 40K miles/year. This one-time investment in renewable energy will last 40-50 years.

craig vetter
9/27/2010 10:51:14 AM

Chris Beaver's web page for wood-gas powered cars is:

craig vetter
9/26/2010 9:34:37 PM

Right after posting this, I checked out the current Mother Earth News Fair in PA: Scroll down to a wood-fired car by Chip Beaver. Beaver’s Mercury just set a record at Bonneville, going thru the traps at 47 mph. On regular gasoline, it probably would have gone closer to 100 mph, giving some indication about the energy from gasifying wood. Chip’s car uses "manufactured" wood pellets... hardly something we can harvest around our homestead... However… Chip has a head start here. This could represent the beginning of a new era for turning wood into gas to power internal combustion engines. Maybe Chip can offer some comments.

craig vetter
9/26/2010 7:58:05 PM

Lets cut to the quick, Glenn: Considering the fact that each time we convert energy (from wood to heat to steam... from solar radiation to electricity to batteries to driving motors... from solar to electricity to hydrogen to internal combustion engines... etc) we loose something. The more conversions, the more loss. What do you think is the most direct way to harness the energy from biomass? It goes without saying that we are discussing "homestead scale" harnessing. By the way, do you have experience in harnessing energy in the way you suggest? Many, I suspect, are interested in this. Craig

sean wenger
9/26/2010 7:51:19 PM

Electric is 72V x 25amp = 1800Watts / 746 = 2.4 to 2.5 HP Human output (pedaling) is .25 to .5 HP So currently, I am on an electrically assisted mountain bike (with out streamlining) kicking out about 3 HP and moving at around 55kph with (2) 36v 8.2 amp/hour lithium batteries. I can't go for 3 hours with this setup, more like 30 minutes. Just inserting this information as a data point and watching these blogs with anticipation. Can a human (pedaling) maintain speed at 100kph with their output if streamlined? Is there a hydrogen system that can replace the batteries I'm using, thus increasing the range?

9/26/2010 10:50:42 AM

Thanks Craig for the kudos, I appologize if I have forced your blog. Biomass is the only way to go forsure but we are now at the cusp of realizing that we need to use it responsibly. I know biomass is a very generalized term as anything living is potential biomass. Researchers in Canada have been expierementing using grain stalks to make ethanol and I think that even grass clippings are a potential source of fuel. Craig into your reponse regarding cities I personally think that they have been built completely wrong,(eg should have built down rather than up). Imagine if NYC was mostly underground, Central Park would cover much of the city and it would be a wonderous sight to see given the park was used properly. At this stage our best option is to move to a more rural setting and proceed from there with the proper goals in mind. I am by no means an expert but I can see the sign posts and know that the solutions are actually in our past rather than our future. Yes technology will have an important role to develop our future, and the past will give us the direction to apply it. I am worried that too many have lost the common knowledge that existed as little as 100 years ago. I know that is the answer. I have been learning and trying to put this old knowledge to practicle use. Sorry if I rambled on but it is a subject that I can go on about to fill many talks with. Glen

craig vetter
9/26/2010 9:25:52 AM

Conversations like this seem to come down to: "What are the people in cities going to do?" The only answer I have is: "Living cities is their choice." Is there another answer? Craig

rick pierce
9/26/2010 1:47:41 AM

Taking the idea of biomass use to some future date could be an interesting excersize. First consider if there is no gas at the pumps, what will the infrastructure for biomass fuel be like? ...Or do we produce our own? Considering the latter, then we must have the resources (fields of grain, ponds with algae, or what have you) and equipment to produce enough for our own needs. Theoretically, everyone will be in the same situation. People without the resources will need to limit their travel to human-powered vehicles. I could follow this further, but I will let somebody else try their hand at it.

craig vetter
9/25/2010 8:06:25 PM

Kudos to you, glen-1: You have leapfrogged to the same conclusion I have. I thought would take 3-4 blogs to get to. You are right. If there is no power in the grid and no fuel at the pumps, we probably will not care too much about 55 mph transportation. My next blog was to show the folly of batteries and nukes. I too think biomass is our future. Are other MEN readers with us? While I have you, what do you see as viable future? Craig

9/25/2010 11:53:35 AM

This is just my oppinion Craig but, this article really is flawed in your thinking. A world without electricity or fossil fuels was around for millenia. That being said, the flaws I see are your wish to hold onto the "car culture". 55 m.p.h. is a relic of that culture that literally is driving itself to it's own funeral. Power from photovoltaic panels is just frankly the wrong course to use. If you really wish to power an internal combustion vehicle, then I would suggest looking into waste biomass as a fuel source. Really the true focus should be on working to localize our lifestyles so long range transportation is needed only at a minimum.

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