California Electricity Usage

Being aware of the gas usage of your car awakes a wider interest in energy among most people. If you feel curious to know how much electric energy gets used by California, this page will show you. It plots the electrical energy used by the state of California and the available capacity, updating about every 15 minutes.

If you want to compare this to the power generated by the combustion of gasoline in California, we can look here to see that California uses somewhat more than a billion gallons of gasoline per month. That works out to about 30 million gallons per day. From Wikipedia, we see that the energy content of gasoline works out to about 132 million Joules per gallon. That means that the combustion of gasoline in California generates an average power of 50 billion Watts or 50,000 megaWatts. Looking at the green available resources forecast line on the chart, we see California can supply up to 32,000 Megawatts of electricity.

The electricity infrastructure of California would have to be almost tripled if it were ever to provide for all of the current energy needs as well as replacing the use of gasoline. That is assuming the gasoline combustion is evenly spread out over the 24 hours of the day. Any bunching of this in time would elevate the peak demand, in turn requiring that the electric system increase possibly considerably beyond three times current capacity.

It is not an easy thing to replace gasoline gallons with electric volts!


Next Generation Learning to Save on Gas

This piece tells the story of a high school shop teacher who has his students working on constructing a vehicle that uses only 1.1 GPHM. The pupils will help design the gas saving cars of the future rather than learn how to tune up the old gas guzzlers of yesteryear. I think this sort of education is exactly what our children will benefit from. Youngsters of today will spend almost all their lives in an environment quite unlike the one their parents knew. The children will know a world where gasoline is expensive and therefore you always think twice about using it. Better they start learning how that world works than invest hours studying dinosaur fuel wasting cars of the obsolete happy motoring epoch.


Ford Fusion

The Fusion is a hybrid electric vehicle by Ford. It runs on a gasoline engine but has a battery and can run an electric motor off of it. It has regenerative braking to avoid the total loss of fuel when slowing down and stopping. I think one of its most interesting features is the advanced control panel, which shows you the exact state of the engine at all times. You can clearly see the mileage you are getting along with the contribution of the electric engine. This kind of situational fuel efficiency awareness is critically important to providing the feedback which allows people to improve their driving habits. And the driver is the most important factor of all for saving on gas.


Trip Gas Price

The Fuel Cost Calculator is a website which will calculate the amount of gas needed to travel between any two cities in the US based on the year, make and model of the vehicle you choose. The cost of the gas is also calculated based on current prices. You can see the effect of vehicle choice here quite clearly.

Let us consider a there and back road trip from Miami to Seattle. The route trip distance is 6658 miles. Doing it in a 2007 Ford F150 pickup will use 370 gallons of gas and set you back $1,007. On the other hand, taking a 2007 Toyota Prius will go through 130.5 gallons and cost you $356. This website could be a handy tool to see how much you will have to budget for when planning your road trips.


Synthetic Oil Could Help Your Truck Use Less Gallons Per Hundred Miles

If you have a big, gas hungry truck what can you do to save on gas? Well, one option could be the use of low friction synthetic oils. This video shows a dyno test run with a synthetic oil called Royal Purple. The dyno showed that immediately after replacing the oil with the Royal Purple synthetic the drive train friction was reduced. You might want to try it out too. One thing to keep in mind is that if you are replacing old oil, you could see an improvement without a synthetic. Oil oil is probably going to result in more friction than new oil. So on the dyno, you would really want to empty the old oil, replace it with new oil and then run the numbers. Then replace the oil with the synthetic and see what numbers the dyno posts up. Then you can compare fresh oil to fresh synthetic. The use of a dyno makes this result valuable. Only a dyno can give you a clear number.


Hypermiling Tips

Here is a video made by the Auto Channel which goes over a couple of the ways you can adjust your driving habits to save on gas. The video points out that you don't have to buy a hybrid or other very fuel efficient model vehicle. All you have to do is keep in mind these simple ideas. The two fundamental principles of reducing fuel consumption are simple: you don't burn gas if you don't drive and maintain momentum.


Plug In Vehicle Tracker

If you want to know what types of electric cars are available and how many are out there, there is a website that can help. The plug in vehicle tracker has a list of the highway-capable electric vehicles under development or production broken down by manufacturer. The table has a column showing the "Target Intro" and "Progress" of each make. Most have a label saying they are only a prototype or that there is no planned mass production. However, one thing of note is that those that do have years of planned introduction almost always are being introduced into China and then Europe and then the United States. One more sign that in matters of energy and transport the United States is a backwards player.


China Developing Advanced Rail

China has just put into service the world's fastest train. It is designed to travel at 350 km/h and covers a route of approximately 1000 kilometers in 3 hours or so between the cities of Wuhan and Guangzhou. This is good news for China. Development of alternative means of transport, including rail, will be necessary to keep people on the move in the coming years of high and rising real oil prices.


Don't Drive With Snow Load

If your car has a blanket of snow or a layer of ice covering it, make sure you clean it all off before beginning to drive. The snow or ice will increase the air resistance of your car and force the engine to burn more gas fighting it. This is especially true if you quickly take your car up to highway speeds while it still bears a lot of snow. At high speeds the air resistance is much greater. On top of that, in the winter the cold air is denser, which also increases air resistance. If you can, park your vehicle inside or under some shelter so it does not accumulate snow or ice. Another advantage to parking inside is that the vehicle will probably be a little warmer and so will run a little bit more efficiently. There is the safety factor too ... driving along the highway with your personal snow cloud blowing off the roof of your vehicle can blind drivers behind you, thus precipitating an accident.


Oilwatch Monthly

The Oil Watch Monthly is a publication chock full of data about the state of the world's oil supply and demand. Included above is one of many charts and graphs. This one shows the recent slump in global crude oil production. Anyone who has any interest in the future gas situation would be very interested in reading over the Oil Watch Monthly!


CNN Shows It's Picks for the Cars of the Future

The Big Three US automakers are struggling today. Their structure, philosophy and product lines date from the era when crude oil was plentiful and cheap. Now, facing a future of stagnant or shrinking crude oil production rates and rapidly growing consumption, they are in danger of disappearing. They might be able to adapt, but often what happens in industry is that the old giants cannot change their ways in time to adapt to new circumstances and a new generation takes over. CNN Money reviews six small car producers that they think might form the seeds of this new generation. Amongst them we find:

  • A company converting the Prius to run on only electricity; that is convert it from a hybrid (HEV) to a fully electric vehicle (EV).
  • A company making electric delivery vans. Delivery vans are a perfect concept for being replaced with electric vehicles because they can be plugged in overnight in their depots which removes charging time concerns. Also their predetermined routes mitigate against range problems.
  • A boat company which converts motorcycles into small open three wheel neighborhood carts.
  • A company that is planning to make a lightweight plastic and aluminum police cruiser.

Whether any of these small companies will have success in the years to come is impossible to say. Their products may well be crowded out by the Aptera or even the Tata Nano. But it is becoming more and more obvious that leadership in the automotive world is passing out of the Detroit camp and into new territory.


Road Mileage versus GDP

Maintaining roads is a costly affair. Without a road network in good shape, the value of owning a car is considerably less. Paved roads give the best driving experience, allowing for smooth travel at high speeds. Paved roads also give better fuel economy, as traveling over rough dirt or gravel increases the friction and makes the engine work harder. Recall that asphalt paved roads get more expensive to maintain as the price of crude oil rises, because crude oil is the main raw material from which asphalt is made.

We can estimate how well a country is positioned to maintain its road network by comparing the size of the network to the country's GDP. The CIA World Factbook has quite a few statistics measured per country. Amongst them are the total length of the road network, paved and unpaved, in kilometers per country and the country's GDP. The table below shows kilometers of road per million dollars of GDP based on this data. Countries with more road kilometers per million dollars of GDP will be harder pressed to keep their roads in good shape.

The United States weighs in with about half a kilometer of road per million dollars of GDP. France and Russia have about the same values. Germany, China and Japan have less roads relative to their economies, with only about a quarter of a kilometer to maintain per million dollars. India and Brazil are on the other end, with more roads relative to their economies; they have to support closer to a kilometer of road per million dollars of GDP.

Relatively speaking, it would seem that the US has about an average investment in road networks relative to the economy. Not bad, but in a future world where road maintenance gets more and more expensive following the lead of Germany, China and Japan could be smarter. The US could find that it has put too many GDP eggs into the transport basket.

CountryRoad KM/Million $ GDP
Hong Kong0.00663846
United Arab Emirates0.019777
Korea South0.0770022
Equatorial Guinea0.125217
San Marino0.175692
United Kingdom0.17816
Isle of Man0.183891
British Virgin Islands0.234357
El Salvador0.248937
Dominican Republic0.252014
Trinidad and Tobago0.286009
Bahamas The0.290526
Puerto Rico0.372861
Saudi Arabia0.383063
American Samoa0.384147
Cayman Islands0.404848
West Bank0.430711
United States0.44777
Faroe Islands0.463
Czech Republic0.485317
Saint Kitts and Nevis0.504279
French Polynesia0.548961
Turks and Caicos Islands0.560185
Northern Mariana Islands0.595556
Korea North0.63885
Saint Lucia0.682074
Antigua and Barbuda0.710799
Costa Rica0.723382
Bosnia and Herzegovina0.733826
South Africa0.735675
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines0.773321
Virgin Islands0.797083
New Zealand0.802539
Cape Verde0.828221
Solomon Islands0.87969
Micronesia Federated States of1.00798
Sri Lanka1.05642
Congo Republic of the1.12339
Sao Tome and Principe1.15482
Papua New Guinea1.48823
Gambia The1.64339
Cook Islands1.74672
New Caledonia1.78024
Cote d'Ivoire2.34467
Saint Pierre and Miquelon2.42236
Sierra Leone2.57521
Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)4.18649
Burkina Faso5.15006
Congo Democratic Republic of the7.39388
Central African Republic7.63411
Saint Helena11
Marshall Islands15.191


Roads in Poor Condition

Looking over the transportation data at statemaster.com, we can find a list of the number of roads in poor condition per state. Across the country there are 65,874 roads rated in "Poor" condition. These ratings are based on data that the various states are required to report to the Federal Highway Administration. The state with the most poor condition roads is California with 10,091 and the state with the fewest is Georgia with only 15. Looks like we might be seeing a lot more gravel roads in California in the future. With the price of crude oil now seemingly permanently above $70 it will be costly to resurface roads with asphalt. Asphalt is made from crude oil, thus rising in price in tandem with crude.


Roads Need Oil Too

Without well maintained roads to drive them on, cars would not be nearly as useful as they are. We are all very aware of the fact that our cars need a constant supply of gasoline, and thus oil, to keep going. Not as commonly known is the fact that our roads need oil too.

Almost all of the paved roads in the nation are paved with asphalt. However, asphalt is made from oil! It is the lowest grade part of crude oil. After removing all of the fuel components, the remainder becomes asphalt.

The increase of the price of crude oil has brought along with it an increase in asphalt price. That coupled with the current economic crisis means that the states and counties charged with overseeing and maintaining the bulk of the nations' roads are not able to keep them paved. For example, in Michigan, 20 of the 83 counties in that state have converted paved roads in bad shape to gravel. Northern states will generally have the most trouble because the freeze-thaw cycles are hard on pavement.

Another feedback on all this is that gravel roads induce worse fuel economy. Vehicles will use the fewest gallons per hundred miles when driving on the smoothest, most level roads. Gravel roads have more friction that smooth paved ones. Thus as high oil prices lead to high asphalt prices, more and more roads will convert to gravel. That will cause the vehicles that use those roads to burn more gasoline, which will in turn lead to yet more upwards pressure on the price of crude.

The half century of happy motoring the the US is drawing to a close. The signs are all around; from the historically high and persistent price of crude oil, to the reversion of paved roads to gravel to the introduction of the Tata Nano in India. It is difficult to see how over the next decade or so we can possibly avoid a world where driving is expensive and more difficult.


Fuel Consumption Ratings

The Canadian government has a website concerned with vehicle fuel economy. The page presents you with a series of filters, such as year, vehicle manufacturer, transmission and type of fuel. You are given a list of all vehicles that match the filter. Each vehicle has its highway and city fuel economy rating according to the Canadian government, along with the amount of liters used in a year by average driving and an estimate of dollars per year in gasoline costs. One more tool you can use if you are looking around to buy the least gas guzzling option available.


Pew Campaign for Fuel Economy

The Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency is a website put together by the Pew Charitable Trusts Foundation that urges us to save on gas. They have a pdf with the history of CAFE standards in the US. The six reasons they give to encourage saving on gas are:

  • Reduce dependence on foreign oil
  • Save money at the pump
  • It is possible to gain fuel efficiency without sacrificing horsepower
  • Domestic automakers will benefit
  • Fuel efficiency does not have to reduce safety
  • Lower production of carbon dioxide

Speaking of US fuel efficiency, this link shows that China has published fuel economy standards that put it in third place globally, behind Japan and Europe. The US is falling further and further behind in this area. There can be *no* benefit in being one of the most gas guzzling among the developed nations.


Airlines Get Better Fuel Economy Full

Airlines use a lot of fuel. But they also carry plenty of people over large distances. To discover how these factors interact we need to decide on a way to combine them. One way to do it is to look at how much fuel is used per mile per person. That is the same as the GPHM (Gallons Per Hundred Miles) rating for a car, but then we break that down by the number of passengers. As a large passenger carrying vehicle, be it airplane, bus or train fills up with passengers its fuel economy per passenger gets better. That is because with few passengers the engines still have to move the weight of the vehicle, which is almost all of it. Then as you add more passengers, the total weight to move goes up, but the portion of it represented by passengers also climbs. The overall result is less fuel spent per person.

For example, this chart on the Tupolev 154 shows the effect. As the load factor climbs to 100% the fuel used per passenger drops.

This is a basic and fundamental way to save on gas. We must look to modify the way we get around such as to keep vehicles running at close to full capacity. Do that and we will all save on gas.
Load Factor (%)PassengersFuel Burned per Passenger-km (kg)


Global Oil Consumption

This video represents the oil consumption of each country with a three dimensional stack or pile above its land surface. This does not show oil consumption per area or per capita, just overall oil consumption. The height is the only thing that has meaning ... do not look at the volume of the colored areas. The thing that immediately stands out is just how high the red tower is over the US territory. A good sign we should be thinking of how to save on gas.


Special Tank to Ease Measurement

To know whether you are saving on gas and how your different driving techniques and vehicle mods are working out, you have to accurately measure how much gas you are using. To detect small changes at the percent or so level you have to put in quite a bit of effort to be able to clearly measure it. This video shows an extreme: the installation of a new gas tank that makes measuring more accurate.


Shell Eco Marathon

The Shell Eco Marathon is race where the goal is to use the least fuel while completing seven laps of a racetrack. Normal racing goes for the least time and who cares how much fuel you spent.


Carpool and Save Some Gas (and maybe the world)

It is pretty easy to notice how many cars are traveling with a single occupant. There are a lot of empty seat miles going to waste every day. If four people ride in one car as opposed to four cars, the gasoline used will be almost one quarter. Especially for fixed routes that you take all the time and know ahead of time (like commuting to and from work) there are almost no negatives. It is great to have a car for unplanned trips and to give you the freedom to go where and when you want. But for the commute to work, most of us have no freedom anyway. You have to leave at a certain time to arrive at a fixed place on their clock, not yours. So carpooling to and from work leaves you with pretty much the same degree of freedom but costs only a fraction of the gas!


Introduction of the Tata Nano

The Nano is a small, very cheap car manufactured in India by the Tata corporation. The Nano sells for a price equivalent to about $2,500. That is correct ... a car for under three thousand US dollars. The Nano has good fuel economy. Supposedly it uses 2.00 GPHM (Gallons Per Hundred Miles). It is a small car, only 10 feet long. But it is going to have a big impact on the future of gasoline prices.

The important thing about the Nano is that it represents a new era of cheap cars. Hundreds of millions or even billions more people in the developing world will in the near future be able to afford cars. That means they will need to start buying gasoline and the oil to make it from. Now the oil producers of the world are in fact entering into a stage where they cannot increase production and the world's total oil production per year may even soon start to decline. Combine a constant or declining oil production rate with a billion more car owners and you can see that only one thing can possibly happen - the price of oil must go up.

The video below shows the official introduction announcement of the Tata Nano. I believe it is also the farewell speech to an era of cheap gasoline. The last century or so in the United States has been one of low gasoline prices. Because it has lasted a handful of generations, most people think gasoline will always be cheap. However, that is not so ... eras do come to an end. Introduction of the Tata signals the beginning of the end of the era of "happy motoring" and the beginning of the beginning of a new era that will belong to the hypermilers.


Formula One Aerodynamics

At high speeds air resistance becomes the dominant force your car's engine must provide force against. Better vehicle aerodynamics can reducd this resistance and allow higher top speeds or more fuel efficiency. The higher the top speed and the greater the time a vehicle spends at highway speeds (or more, in the case of race cars) the more important good aerodynamics is. The video gives an introduction to Formula One race car aerodynamics.

As the video says, you can't see, smell taste air, but you sure can feel it. And through aerodynamics and fuel efficiency, so can your wallet!


Shell Eco Marathon

The Shell Eco Marathon is an automobile race, but instead of covering a given distance in the least time, the winner goes the farthest on a fixed amount of fuel. The idea is to build a vehicle that is as fuel efficient as possible. Most efficient vehicle wins. Included in the rules is a minimum speed: contestants have to average at least 15 km/h. The event serves as a testbed for trying out and displaying the fuel saving technologies and strategies of the future. I think we will be seeing more and more of this type of competition as gasoline gets more and more expensive.


Public Transport Subsidy

If you are looking to save on gas you might try to make your daily commute in to work and back by public transit. Depending on where you are that might mean by bus, subway or light urban rail. You might also be able to save a little extra money by taking advantage of employer or government subsidy programs. For example, the Department of Agriculture has a program where they will pay transit costs up to $110 a month for their employees who use mass transit. Many corporations have similar programs. If you are going to take mass transit anyway to save on gas, you might as well look into whether your employer will pick up some of the tab!


Gas Mileage At Altitude

Fuel injected vehicles have a computer that adjusts the amount of gas to match the oxygen in the air. That means even if the vehicle is operating at high altitudes where the air is less dense and thus has less oxygen per volume the computer will compensate with less fuel. So operating a fuel injected engine at altitude should not lead to a decrease in fuel economy through over rich mixtures. However, the reduced air density will decrease air resistance, especially at highway speeds. So if you are operating a fuel injected car at city speeds at altitude, you will probably experience little change in the gas mileage. If you are doing long highway speed cruises, you quite probably will see an improvement in your fuel economy.


Best Mileage Per Dollar

When you are shopping for a car, you might look for the cheapest one and other people might think about getting the one that has the best fuel economy. But what if you are looking for a cheap car that also gets good gas mileage? You can measure the cheapness of a car pretty easily ... just look at the price in dollars. You can measure the fuel economy easily too ... just look to see how many gallons it uses up to go a hundred miles (GPHM). But is there a way to combine these two statistics to get one that includes both?

Here is one measure you can use. The product of price and GPHM gives you dollar gallons per hundred miles. The higher the price or the more gallons per hundred miles the larger this number will be. Larger numbers are worse. So to get a measure where bigger is better, we can take the reciprocal. For example, a Toyota Prius sells for about $24,000 in its basic no-frills version. Overall (combining highway and city) it uses about 2.27 gallons per hundred miles. So we rate its price-mileage performance by dividing 1 by the product of these two to get 0.0000184 in units of 100 miles per gallon per dollar. For another example, a Honda Fit costs about $15000 and uses about 3.13 gallons per hundred miles. It comes out with a rating of 0.0000213 in the same units of 100 miles per gallon per dollar. The Honda Fit costs less but has worse fuel economy, but if you are interested in fuel economy per price, the Honda Fit comes out ahead.

This measurement gives numbers that are hard to understand. Instead of giving the raw number, we could compare each vehicle to a standard vehicle. Taking the Prius as the standard, we would calculate each car's rating and divide by the 0.0000184 value of the Prius. Then results larger than 1 are that many times better than the Prius and vice versa if it is less than 1. So for example in comparison to the Prius, the Honda Fit comes in at 1.16 or 16% better than the Prius at delivering fuel economy per dollar of price.

Here is another way of comparing the fuel economy you are getting relative to the price. Say a typical car will have an operating life of 8 years and it will get driven 15000 miles each year. That car will thus cover 120,000 miles over its service life. Then using its fuel economy we can see how many gallons of gas it will use. Multiply that by your estimate for the average price of gas over the next 8 years to get the total lifetime fuel cost. Now compare that to the price. For example, for the Prius at 2.27 gallons per hundred miles, we see it will use up 2724 gallons over the 8 years. Let us assume the average price of gasoline over the next 8 years will be $4.00. I actually think it will be a lot more than that but let's go with $4.00. That means a cost of $10,896 in gasoline over the service life. Dividing that by the price gives about 0.45 or 45%. So in this operating scenario the Prius has gas costs at about 45% of the sticker price. Repeating for the Honda Fit, we come up with a fuel cost ratio of 1.00 or 100% of the sticker price.

With this second method, we can generate an overall rating for a vehicle by adding the sticker price to the scenario total gas price. The lowest overall price is then the best deal. Here we find that the total price for the Prius comes out to $34,800 and for the Fit to $30,000. So again we see that according to our rating score, the Fit gives the best gas mileage for your money, although it has poorer absolute mileage. However, the price is sufficiently lower to compensate for that and give it the win.


Big Tires and Fuel Economy

This interview explains that bigger tires will not generally save on gas. You might get better fuel economy with bigger tires at constant highway speeds of 60 or 70 miles per hour, but that will be more than eaten away by worse gas mileage at lower speeds. Typical driving patterns will see the vehicle starting, stopping and operating too much at these lower speeds. So most probably, unless you do long highway hauls for a living, bigger tires will cost you extra gas.


National Fuel Economy Chart Vs Time

Ever wondered how the nation as a whole is doing with respect to fuel economy? The chart above shows the average fuel economy of the national passenger car fleet as a function of time. It is plotted in Gallons Per Hundred Miles (GPHM) versus the year. The raw data is available at the Bureau of Transporatation Statistics.

Remember that GPHM is the amount of gasoline the car uses for every 100 miles it travels. So to estimate the total gasoline used in the nation for a given year by passenger cars, you would have to multiply the number in the chart above by the total passenger car vehicle-miles for that year. The good news is that the chart shows a steady decrease. This is good because it means that each year the typical car uses fewer gallons to go a hundred miles. The bad news is that the curve seems to be flattening out. There was a big improvement in the 80's, dropping from more than six gallons per hundred miles to only five in 1990. But during the 90's up until the present day, it only dropped about another half gallon, to 4.5 gallons per hundred miles. Good that it is dropping, bad that the rate of dropping is getting smaller.


Jatropha Biodiesel

If you are lucky enough to own a diesel, you can make your own biodiesel at home and fill up really cheaply. This video shows the use of Jatropha plant biodiesel. According to the video, you can make the stuff for 35¢ per gallon.


Keep Your Convertible Top Up

One of the thrills of owning a convertible is to take it up to speed with the top down. You can enjoy the air in your hair, but there is a big cost in fuel economy. The air resistance will rise sharply with the top down, and you will use quite a few more gallons per hundred miles. Especially at highway speeds, since the importance of air resistance increases with speed. So think twice about putting the top down. If you decide to do it, remember that it is a luxury you are paying for with gas.


Gas Price Still Doing Okay

So far so good ... national average gasoline prices are still under $3.00. Let's hope that horizontal trend we have been seeing lately in the price stays nice and flat and doesn't start going up with the idea of crossing three dollars per gallon.


What We Measure Is Important

What we measure is important. It shows the things we are preoccupied with as a society and it enables individual action. We don't measure that which we consider unimportant. It is impossible to act consistently if you have no feedback on what you are doing. The fact that our cars all have odometers for measuring distance traveled and speedometers for showing how fast we are going but no instrument to show the instantaneous gas mileage (ie gallons per hundred miles or GPHM) shows how little Americans think about fuel. Gasoline is considered to be something which will always be so cheap and available that it is not worth measuring. The lack of such an instrument makes it hard to adjust your driving habits to improve fuel economy. However, throughout the world attitudes are starting to change. For example, in Britain all homes are going to be fitted with new electricity meters that show the instantaneous consumption, so that homeowners can see the energy cost of turning on an appliance or activating the air conditioning. You can upgrade the instrument panel of your car to show you instant fuel usage by installing something like the scangauge. I believe that all cars should be required to include in their instrumentation a meter showing instantaneous fuel economy. That would both make us think about saving on gas and make it a lot easier to learn how to do it.


Food Miles

In the modern world, some things can be done by communication without ever leaving your house. For example, to read a book you can download it without the need to go to a bookstore and pick it up. Family members can communicate over the telephone without having to travel to physically meet up in the same location. However other things still require and always will require physical transport. A perfect example of this is food. To eat something, it has to be on your plate in front of you. The distance that a piece of food travels from farm to kitchen plate is known as its "food miles". The typical food has gone between 1,500 to 2,500 miles before you get to eat it.


High Oil Prices and Airlines

Here is a guy who says that even oil prices up to $200 per barrel are not a problem for the survival of the airline industry. What do you think?


Convert Your Pickup to Diesel - With a Tractor Engine

Here is a fellow who replaced the engine of his pickup with the diesel engine from his tractor. One way to get a more efficient diesel in your vehicle!


Jake Brake

Ever wondered why it is that big rigs sometimes make a lawnmower like sound as they slow down? That is the Jacobs Brake, named after its inventor, often called a Jake Brake. It is a system that uses the engine to brake the vehicle instead of using friction at the wheels. This reverses the usual role of the engine, which is to accelerate or maintain constant speed. The Jake Brake works by using the cylinders in the engine to compress air. This compressed air is then vented to the atmosphere. There is no power stroke, and since it takes energy to compress air, this energy is bled out of the kinetic energy of the vehicle. The rotating drive train and wheels are the source of the energy which is used to compress that air. The distinctive sound is the result of venting that compressed air to the outside atmosphere.


World Map of Peak Oil Production

Many of the oil producing regions of the world are in decline. The moment at which their oil production was greatest was in the past. The video shows a presentation which includes a time sequence showing oil production versus time for the major oil zones of the world. The hollow part of the bar at the top is the amount of production less than the peak production. Looking at the video you can see a lot of bars with hollow space at the top. Not a good sign for the future. Better that we learn to save on gas now before too many more of those bars go hollow.


Tactical Parking

When you are picking out a place to park, don't try to find the one closest to the door of your destination. Instead of thinking to reduce how far you have to walk, think of reducing how much gas you are going to spend. There are two basic tactics to use. One is to park such that you drive the least distance. Generally this means choose a spot on the outer edge of the parking lot, one you can drive directly to from the entrance and exit. Another important point is not to orbit the lot looking for a close spot. Quite often the outer fringes will have plenty of spots just waiting to be taken.

The second thing to think about is choosing a spot you can easily drive out of. Try to pick a spot you can drive into and out of with no reverse necessary. Jockeying around in reverse will use extra fuel. A go above and beyond hypermiler tip is to look for a spot that is up a little hill, so that you can coast away in neutral when you are leaving. When you are leaving your engine will be cool, and warmed up engines are a little more efficient. So if you can coast away, you are giving your cooler engine a little break and saving some gas.


It's Tough to Get Oil

It is pretty easy to fuel up your car. You just pull into a gas station, grab the pump handle and that is about it. Makes it look easy. But it is not at all easy to get the oil that the gasoline is made of. Oil production involves working in some extreme conditions. And the conditions are getting worse and worse every year as the easy oil is just about all used up. The video below shows an oil rig in a storm in the North Sea. The idea is to try to portray the immense challenges facing us as we extract oil. Hard and getting harder challenges mean one thing is for sure: oil is going to get more and more expensive.



In days gone by, cars had simpler transmissions with fewer gears, sometimes only three. It was possible to add a separate overdrive which connected between the transmission and the driveshaft. This overdrive could operate in two modes: one in which the output rotational speed was the same as the input speed, and an overdrive mode where the output speed was greater than the input speed, with corresponding decrease in output torque.

All modern transmissions have the equivalent of overdrive built into them. Whenever you are running at highway speed, you should always go into overdrive. Put your car into the highest gear. At highway speed, you don't need a lot of torque and a high gear ratio lets the engine turn over at the slowest possible speed for your traveling speed. That allows the engine to operate in a regime where it is more fuel efficient. So in highway cruise, go into overdrive to use the least gasoline for each mile!


Super Lightweight Car

The more weight that a vehicle has, the more kinetic energy it needs to reach a given speed. Kinetic energy that is all lost again when the vehicle brakes to a stop. Weight reduction is one of the most important and effective ways to make a car more fuel efficient. The University of South Australia developed an ultralight car that has space for two people. The car has a mass of only 64kg, which corresponds to a weight of only about 140 pounds! Imagine that. In a normal car, almost all of the weight is just the car. In this case, the majority of the kinetic energy is going to move the passengers and not the car. And after all the point of a car is to move people, not metal.

This low weight was achieved by building the car using panels made of layered fiberglass and aluminum. These panels were used to build a basic box like shape. Then an aerodynamic form was constructed by layering styrofoam cut to an aerodynamic shape on top. A layer of fiberglass was then placed over the styrofoam to secure and protect it.

This is another example of a vehicle that would be perfect for neighbourhood driving or one person commutes. The heavy steel cars we drive are overkill for a lot of uses to which they are put. This overkill has a cost that shows up at the gas pump. Choosing the smallest, lightest vehicle that can serve a given function is one of the best ways to save on gas.


Wind Powered Car in Action

We talked before about wind powered cars. Although there is no question that wind cannot be used to power the cars of today on the roadways we now have, there could be a place for land sailing vehicles in specific roles in the future. This video is just to show off the fact that it is possible to get around on land using nothing but the wind for power.


Fight For Your Right to Hang Laundry

What could be better than taking advantage of the energy the Sun freely provides to dry your clothes? But it seems that in today's wasteful world there are people that don't want to see clotheslines. To them clotheslines with hanging laundry symbolize a backwards, poverty stricken way of life. This is another perfect example of the lack of hypermiling culture in the US. The American population treats energy as though it is guaranteed to be cheap forever. But that is not true. We will be facing permanently higher energy prices in the near future and to deal with it we need to kick this "wasting energy is cool" mindset. Clothes drying in the wind under cost free sunlight are a great demonstration of self sufficiency and wise energy use.


Careful With "Aerodynamic" Body Kits

Body kits are often described in their marketing literature as being "aerodynamic". And indeed, the variety of spoilers, dams and sideskirts often do look very sleek and aerodynamic. But aerodynamics is a complex subject. It is very difficult to know what the actual air resistance of a car shape versus speed will be without doing actual road measurements or wind tunnel tests. It is also possible to calculate using supercomputers and office buildings full of PhDs.

Very few body kit manufacturers actually have the resources for testing or calculations. The result is that the supposedly aerodynamic kits might not actually lower your car's drag. They do add weight to your car and they do lighten your wallet. So if the goal is to spruce up your car's appearance, go ahead. But if you are making the purchase to save on gas via better aerodynamics you owe it to yourself to double check. Specifically ask the body kit manufacturer about measured drag coefficients. If they can't tell you, then the kit is probably just eye candy like most of the ones on the market.


Oil Producers Consume Too

Most countries of the world depend on oil imports to meet their needs. For imports to be available, there must of course be a few exporting countries to supply that demand. And of course those exporting countries have populations that want to use oil in their own cars as well. There is the rub. The handful of oil exporters are experiencing increasing internal consumption as well as stagnant or declining oil production. That means the amount they can export must drop.

Consider for example the case of Saudi Arabia, the world's foremost oil exporter. The following statistics from 2005 show their growth:

Growth in GDP
Growth in Oil Consumption
Growth in Population
Median Population Age
Growth in Auto Sales
Trade Surplus
$120 Billion

Clearly Saudi Arabia is a young country and they are flush with cash from selling all their oil. And they want to buy cars and use some of that oil for themselves. As would anybody. The result is clear. A rich country that is increasing auto sales by 10% and internal oil consumption by 11% a year as its young kids seek the modern lifestyle will not be able to keep up its exports. Examples like this make it clear that we can expect permanently higher oil and gasoline prices in the near future. So let's start learning how to save on gas now while the pain level is low!


Dutch Big Brother Saving on Gas

The Dutch government is planning on installing GPS devices on all cars in their country. The idea is to measure exactly how far each car drives and charge a distance based tax. The idea is that you pay as you go instead of paying a car sales tax or ownership tax. That would have the effect of directly rewarding people for driving fewer miles thus helping to save on gas. The motivation given is environmental. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the goal. It is also expected to help out with congestion.

The tax will go into effect in 2012 if the Dutch legislature passes the bill, which has already been written and tabled by the government. The tax will be 7 cents per mile in US terms to start and will increase over time reaching 16 cents per mile in 2018. Certain vehicles, such as taxis and buses will not have to pay.

While the motive is good (reducing emissions can only be good for the climate) and the idea of a tax that you pay as you go is fair, I hope we never see something like this in the US. Giving the government power to monitor exactly where every car is at all times is just too much into the world of Big Brother. It always starts out benign. "We will only use this data to calculate the mileage tax." But then after a decade or so it will be routinely used by law enforcement agencies "in the public good." And a decade after that, when the government has decided that the public good includes (for example) suppressing certain social movements the data will be used to track down, break up and arrest the people in them. Never forget that the US government is the very same government that invented the term "extraordinary rendition". Do you want a government that arranges for the kidnapping and torture of its own citizens to know exactly where every car is at all times? I know I don't.

Take this as a warning. If we the people can't control our own gas use and we start seeing extremely high gas prices and resulting social unrest, the government could use that to impose a copy of the Dutch GPS monitoring system "to encourage lower fuel consumption". One more reason to save on gas.


Electric Car Logistics

Switching a significant portion of the national car fleet over to electric power will not be as easy as making the cars. Just manufacturing those millions of electric vehicles is a job in itself. The infrastructure needed to support them is also huge.

If everyone wanted to charge their vehicles at the same time no city's power grid could handle it. On trickle charge where everybody draws a little power at different times it could be possible. Arranging systems to support burst charges by everybody when they come home after the commute is another story. Also lacking is a national infrastructure of rapid recharge stations or battery swapping programs.

There are also political and economical issues. For example, if everybody wants to plug in at their employer's parking lot, who pays and how do you know how much? The infrastructure we have now, gas stations, makes it clear who pays and when. But if people can start plugging in anywhere there is an outlet that will change.

These are questions that we are going to be confronted with soon, judging by the steady increase in assembly lines turning out plug in hybrid vehicles and pure electric vehicles. The sooner we start to think about them and resolve them as a nation the easier the adoption of electric vehicles will be.


Solar Powered Cars

Although solar powered cars have been built, they are clearly not common. Why is this? Given that sunlight is a free source of power, why have solar powered cars not taken over the garages and highways of the world? The answer lies principally with power.

The rate at which an engine can provide energy is the power output of that engine. Usually automotive engine powers are measured in horsepower. A bog standard car engine will generally be able to generate 200 to 300 horsepower. The power output is a function of engine RPM for internal combustion engines and thus is not a constant specification of the engine. Now let us compare the power output available from solar. The Sun is of course putting out effectively infinite power, but we can only use the power that comes from light we can catch. Solar panels thus give a power output per area. Sunlight hitting a surface straight on delivers about 1000 Watts of power per square meter. Typical solar panels are about 20% efficient. So a solar panel of one square meter in area directly facing the Sun will generate about 200 Watts of power.

One horsepower is a little less than 750 Watts. Thus a typical one square meter solar panel in the optimum orientation relative to the Sun will generate about one quarter of a horsepower. A typical car will expose the most surface area to the Sun when the Sun is directly overhead, shining straight down on the roof of the car. Seen from above, a big car might be 18 feet long and 8 or so feet wide. That gives a surface of only about 13 or 14 square meters. Covering the entire surface of the car with solar panels would then generate about 3 horsepower.

Those 3 horsepower are when there are no clouds, the car is not in shadow and it is noon with the Sun directly overhead. You can see that there is no way solar power can deliver anywhere near the two or three hundred horsepower a gasoline powered internal combustion engine can. Solar power has a place in the future arsenal of silver BB energy solutions. But we are not going to see the cars of today run straight off of solar power!


Build a Bicycle Trailer

The best way to save on gas is not to use your car. Alternative means of transport are walking, taking the bus or riding a bicycle. However, one big advantage of a car is all the cargo capacity it gives you. This can be replaced when bicycling with the use of a bicycle trailer. For short trips to pick up a bag of groceries say a bicycle trailer is all you need. Moreover, it is pretty easy to make your own trailer if you don't want to buy a new one. The video below gives a little tour of a homemade bicycle trailer.


Compression Ratio

The compression ratio of an internal combustion engine is an important operating characteristic. It is the ratio of the volume inside a cylinder when the piston is at the very bottom (opening the most space) and the volume in the head when the piston is at the top of its range of motion. For typical automotive engines the higher the compression the more efficient the engine can be. This is fundamentally because a high compression ratio gives the hot combustion gases more opportunity to expand and do work. Imagine a compression ratio only a little above one. That would mean the energy filled gases, flush with heat from the combustion of the fuel would have barely any space to expand. They would thus do very little work. Then on the exhaust stroke they would be expelled to the air taking most of the energy with them. On the other hand, a very high compression ratio means that the hot expanding gas can do work over a much greater distance. That allows to extract more of the energy and waste less trapped in the exhaust gases. Miller cycle engines take advantage of this extra expansion without requiring a high compression ratio.

Secondarily to this is the fact that under compression, the fuel and air is tightly packed into a small space. This can help ensure complete combustion. It also helps control the combustion timing so that it is optimally phased relative to the piston position.

The limiting factor preventing high compression ratios is pre-ignition. This is commonly called knocking or pinging. The high temperatures generated during a high compression can cause the fuel to self ignite too early in the cycle. Such early ignition or detonation ruins the careful timing and reduces engine efficiency and power. Fuels that are more resistant to pre ignition are able to be run at higher compression ratios. This is the reason for the higher efficiency of Diesel engines. Typical automotive Otto cycle engines run at compression ratios of about 12 to 1 while Diesel engines with their different fuel run at around 25 to 1. Thus Diesel engines get more work out of their hot gases as they expand 25 times instead of just 12 times.


Types of Electric Vehicles

Electric cars are becoming more and more common. Indeed in a world of persistently high oil and gas prices people are looking for alternatives. With a new drivetrain and energy source comes a new lingo. The motoring public over the decades has adopted a vocabulary suited for internal combustion engines. A new vocabulary is starting to shape up to describe the electric world.

We can see three basic electric drivetrain configurations emerging. They lie along a continuum going from a pure electric vehicle to a normal gasoline powered vehicle. Going from the most similar to conventional cars to pure electric, we find these common configurations.

Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV)
Hybrid is the word used to describe a vehicle with both an electric and an internal combustion engine. The electricity is generated by the gasoline engine and there is no provision for plugging in the vehicle or otherwise charging it. The electric engine is used to capture energy generated by the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) that would otherwise go to waste. One example is regenerative braking, in which the electric engine captures kinetic energy to slow the car down. In other designs the ICE is run at its most efficient speed and used to generate electricity which keeps the battery charged. Then an electric engine feeds off the battery to provide motive power for the vehicle. This works because the efficiency difference between running an ICE at its peak efficiency and average efficiency is greater than the losses involved in transferring the energy to electricity. Another technique is to switch the ICE off when idling. An electric engine feeding off of a battery does not have to turn over and waste fuel to idle. From the point of view of the driver, a hybrid is like a gasoline powered vehicle. The only way to fill it up is at the gas pump. All of the efficiency gains are internal and invisible.

Plug In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)
Plug in hybrids are like hybrid vehicles in that they have a dual power train with both electric and internal combustion engines. However, the electric engine is designed to directly provide motive power instead of just help out the ICE. The gasoline powered ICE is present to extend range. It is possible to externally charge plug in hybrids. They have a capability to be plugged into an electricity socket. By charging the battery in this way and not exceeding the battery range, it is possible to avoid filling them with gasoline. This makes their electric nature obvious to the driver, who can tailor his driving and refueling habits to drastically cut back on the amount of gasoline pumped. Unlike hybrids, which take only gasoline as fuel, plug in hybrids give the owner the power to trade off the type of fuel to be used between electricity and gasoline.

Electric Vehicles (EV)
True electric vehicles do not have an internal combustion engine. They have a single power train based on one or more electric motors. Some designs have a single motor and others have individual motors for each wheel. The only way to refuel these is by plugging them in and charging them up. The design space for electric drive trains is quite large and still being explored. On the scale from ICE to electric EVs are the most advanced step furthest from our automotive engineering experience. Expect to see lots of progress here.

This seems to be the current vocabulary relating to the different electric configurations available and in development. Just so you can keep your EVs and PHEVs straight!


Snazzy Motorcycle Sidecar

A motorcycle can save a lot of gas relative to a car. This is fundamentally because it is much lighter. Choosing the right vehicle for the job can be a great strategy to up your fuel economy. A lot of people hold back on a motorcycle due to two big issues: safety and space.

As far as safety goes, if you use your motorcycle for local trips and avoid heavy traffic situations it will not be as risky. For passenger and cargo space, a sidecar could be just the thing. Now a lot of people say they do not like sidecars, that they look bad. Well, just to dispel this excuse, I have posted here a picture and a video of a motorcycle with a tricked out sidecar. This sidecar looks like a car!

Here you go: proof that a motorcycle can carry passengers or light cargo and look snazzy doing it! So consider using one when appropriate to save on gas.


Regenerative Braking Video

In this video a Toyota representative explains how the regenerative braking system in a modern Camry sedan works. The brake system uses both electric and mechanical parts. They say that 80% of the braking is done by the recoverable electric system, with the last 20% provided by a standard mechanical pressure based system. Although when he says that the regenerative braking works by converting heat in the brakes to stored energy, I am almost certain he is oversimplifying. Normally regenerative braking systems work by using the rotational kinetic energy stored in the drivetrain to run a generator, which then charges the battery.


Regenerative Braking

Motion requires energy. To overcome inertia and add speed to a body, energy must be added. The energy a body has by virtue of its motion is called kinetic energy. The formula giving the amount of kinetic energy K that a body of mass m will have at a speed v is K = ½mv2. Note the occurrence of the square of the speed. That means doubling the speed does not double the energy needed but rather quadruples it. Now energy cannot be created or destroyed. So to get your car up to speed the required kinetic energy has to come from somewhere. In a standard internal combustion engine driven vehicle, this energy comes from the chemical energy that was stored in the fuel, in the gasoline or diesel.

When you want to slow down or stop the kinetic energy will be lower at the new lower speed. Since it cannot just be destroyed, this energy must go somewhere. In a normal vehicle it is converted to frictional heat in the brakes. This heat then escapes and the energy is lost forever. Every time you slow down, you are throwing away all of the chemical energy that came from the fuel. Your brakes slow you down and in the process turn gasoline into heat.

What if it were possible capture the kinetic energy that is lost as you slow down and store it for reuse later? Obviously it cannot be converted back into chemical energy in the fuel. Internal combustion engines and standard brakes have no way of capturing the kinetic energy and it must be lost as heat. This is the reason that the Golden Rule of Hypermiling is "Maintain Momentum". Every time you slow down and speed up again, you have turned some fuel into heat.

Electric engines, such as used in hybrid vehicles or NEVs can capture some energy while slowing down. This is because electric engines run off of batteries, which can both provide and store electric energy. Compare that to liquid fuel, which can put energy out but it is impossible to pump energy into. Also an electric engine run in reverse is in fact an electric generator. Depending on which direction you run it, an electric engine can draw stored energy out of a battery to provide work or it can accept outside work, generate electricity and store it in the battery. Regenerative braking basically switches the electric engine to run in reverse, in generator mode. It makes the spinning wheels and drivetrain do work on it. As the drivetrain torques against the electric engine, it slows down, thus slowing your vehicle down. The drivetrain torquing the engine allows it to generate electricity, which is then stored in the battery.

Although regenerative braking is not capable of capturing all of the kinetic energy due to inevitable losses, any percentage it does recover is available to accelerate you back up to speed without needing to put in fresh energy. Unlike normal internal combustion engines and standard braking systems, not all of your motion energy is lost when you slow. And that means you save on energy.