Trade Two Wheels for Four and Save on Gas

A motorcycle gets much better gas mileage than a car. This is fundamentally possible because a motorcycle is so much lighter. Less weight to haul around means less kinetic energy needed means less gasoline burned. A typical motorcycle will use between 1.25 and 2.00 gallons per hundred miles. The buying price of a motorcycle is generally much lower too. So the total cost of ownership is considerably lower than for a car. Excepting trips aimed at moving cargo, hauling the kids or in bad weather, a motorcycle can be a perfect substitute for a car. For many people, maintaining a cheap motorcycle for commuting to work and a car for other trips can be a gas and money saver. The video below is a piece on the gas saving benefits of motorcycle ownership.


Does Saving on Gas Save Money?

Does saving on gas always save you money too? Well, at current gas prices, the answer is no. Consumer Reports did a study on the total cost of ownership comparing hybrid electric vehicles to standard gasoline burners. They found that the higher initial purchase price of the hybrids coupled with a faster depreciation lead to an overall bigger money cost, even though the amount spent on gasoline was lower. The study did find that over five years the Prius and the Civic Hybrid with government tax incentives figured in did better than pure gas burners. Without the tax subsidy, they came out worse money wise.

However, the results of the study depend critically on how much driving you do and the price of gas. The big disadvantages of the hybrids are depreciation and initial cost. Those don't get worse if you drive more miles or if the price of gas goes up. But their advantage, namely lower gasoline expenditures, goes up as you drive more or the pump price rises. So although the hybrids do not save money as well as gas for a typical driver at today's prices, they very well might at tomorrow's higher gasoline prices.

The lesson we can learn from this study is that saving on gas does not automatically mean saving on total cost of ownership; instead you have to figure in your miles driven and the price of gas.


Oil Getting Harder To Get

All of the easy to drill oil fields on the planet are either in production or used up and dying. So in the endless search more oil to slake the growing thirst for it, oil companies have been turning to harder and harder to produce oil fields. This difficulty and cost of production means the oil companies must have a high oil price to make a profit. So as we are forced into oil patches that would have been considered worthless decades ago, we will have to pay more and more at the pump. The video below is an excerpt from a National Geographic special detailing the problem.

To get some perspective on the difficulty getting this marginal oil, consider this from the video. Chevron is producing the Kern River oil field by using a technique requiring the injection of steam to liquefy the thick petroleum enough to extract it. The amount of energy they use in the hot steam is enough to power all the air conditioners of the world. That is some tough oil to get!


Don't Charge Up Hills

Hills are very bad for fuel economy. But even worse than the cost of fighting gravity on the way up is to accelerate going uphill. If you try to speed up while climbing a hill, your fuel economy will really plummet. You might consume up to 10 times as many gallons per hundred miles while doing it. Anybody who has an instrument showing instantaneous gas mileage quickly learns not to accelerate uphill. You might be getting say 25 miles per gallon on the flat, and then when you try to accelerate up a slope, the gauge will drop to 5 miles per gallon!

The sight of that number shocks most people enough that they stop trying it. But if you do not have a gauge showing instantaneous fuel consumption, the enormous loss of efficiency is invisible. So keep the consequences in mind: do not accelerate uphill if you want to save on gas!


See 10 Seconds Ahead

Watching the road 10 seconds ahead of you gives you time to react to developing situations. This will improve your road safety as well as save on gas. Being able to avoid complete stops or having the chance to switch lanes to dodge a slowdown lets you maintain your kinetic energy. Keeping your kinetic energy means you don't have to replace it with some more gas from your tank.

This video gives a professional driver's advice as regards looking ahead. He is talking only about the safety aspect. Remember, aggressive driving is also gas guzzling driving. Generally safer driving habits are also more economical on gas.


Look Ahead

The two primary rules of the Gas Saver's Creed are "Drive Less" and "Maintain Momentum". Every time you speed up just to slow down again you are turning gasoline into kinetic energy and then into waste heat in the brakes. Maintain momentum refers to avoiding this constant creation and subsequent dissipation (into waste heat) of kinetic energy. It is all well and good as a goal, but what about some tips on how to do it?

One of the best ways to keep your speed steady is to know what it coming up. Look ahead of you. Do not just focus on the car immediately in front of you. If you watch the road ahead, you may see a car slowing for a left turn early enough to change lanes. You will know about upcoming red traffic lights and be able to slow gradually, possibly avoiding stopping altogether. Watching ahead also improves safety as you will be able to detect dangerous situations as they develop.

When you are behind the wheel, try to consciously be aware of where your gaze is. If you are spending most of your time with your eyes fixed on your instrument panel, the steering wheel or the tail end of the vehicle in front then you have a bad habit that should be corrected. It can be tough to break this habit, especially if you picked it up when learning to drive. I have noticed that beginning drivers who concentrate too much on managing their speed tend to suffer from this. They spent their formative hours looking down at the speedometer needle and not up at the road.

If you do a self diagnostic and find yourself with this bad habit, it could be that you have bad eyesight. Get your eyes tested. People who have trouble seeing objects at a distance also often display this bad driving habit. Cases where a person's eyesight slowly gets worse unnoticed are especially pernicious. Failing eyesight can cause you to look at the instrument panel or the car in front gradually, because it is easier to look there.

Periodically scan the road out to as far as you can see it and then back. Your scan pattern has to include the instrument panel, the rear view mirror and the vehicle in front of you. But the main focus of your driving eye scan pattern should be the area of the road where you will be in 5 seconds.

So look ahead, be safe and save on gas!


Oil Depletion

Everybody knows gasoline comes from refining oil. So the amount and price of available gasoline will depend closely on the amount and price of oil. At the moment Russia is the world's largest producer of oil and Saudi Arabia is the world's largest exporter. Russia exports less although it produces more because it has a larger internal consumption than Saudi Arabia. Production trends in these two countries will drive global production trends.

The video below has a lecture explaining that it is quite likely these countries are going to be decreasing their production in the years ahead. As the video says, it is possible to look at the production history of these countries and come up with some "directional advice". It is not possible to say at what moment they might start dropping in production or at what rate of decline. But it looks very likely that the direction will switch to down somewhere near now.


Big Oil Cutting Back on Exploration

Before oil can be produced and refined into gasoline it has to be discovered. Without maintaining a pace of discoveries at least equal to the pace of production, obviously the total amount of oil available as reserves will decline. For anyone thinking about how much oil and gasoline might cost a decade from now, knowing how much effort is being put into discovery today is very important. Bad news I am afraid. Big Oil has recently begun investing their profits into mergers, stock buybacks and dividend payouts instead of exploration. Of course playing financial games will not discover even a single drop of oil.

The fact that Big Oil is cutting back exploration budgets means that we can expect fewer discoveries in the years ahead. The reasons for the exploration budget cutbacks are of course known only the the corporate bosses of Big Oil. But it seems increasingly obvious that one contributing factor is that all of the best oil has been found. What is left will be hard to discover and hard to produce. So instead of doing that honest hard work, Big Oil prefers to try for easy money in the world's financial casinos.

The US cannot count on big oil in the future. It is up to us to save on gas!


Fight at the Gas Pump

This video expresses the feeling we often have of being ripped off at the pump. The representation of OPEC accurately captures the dependence the US has on oil imports. But the villains are not really the members of OPEC or any other exporting nation. The villains are right here in the US. Detroit has given us gas guzzlers and we have been content to buy them .. even demanding them. Blaming the addiction on the provider is not going to solve anything. The addict has to come around and kick the habit. Time to start saving on gas America!


Trebuchet Commuting

How would you like to save on gas by being flung in to work every morning by a giant trebuchet? A trebuchet is a Medieval siege weapon rather like a catapult. The linked article is just a joke of course.


KIte Powered Boats

Boats are famous for their thirst for gasoline. Moving through the water requires overcoming much more resistance than through the air. As a result, watercraft operators are very interested in finding ways to save on gas. Here is a report showing how one enterprising fisherman is using kites to harness the wind and improve fuel use.


Kite Towed Shipping

The ocean going ships of the world feel the pain at the pump just like everybody else. As the price of oil has gone up, so has the price of bunker fuel risen. Shipping companies interested in reducing fuel costs have experimented with various ways of improving fuel economy on their vessels. One such method is to use a large kite or parachute to tow the ship. Something like a sail, except the parachute flies at an altitude high above sea level. At these heights the wind speed is usually noticeably greater than at the sea surface. So the parachute has access to more wind than sails would. The video shows such a ship towing parachute in action.


Electric Bike Conversion Kit

An electric bike is a great bridge between travel by car and going by bike. If you are not in shape, the electric motor will help out on the hills, or just when you need a rest.

An electric bike can keep you healthy while saving on gas!

Watch an electric bike conversion in action!


Electric Bikes Take China By Storm

Electric bicycles are a very energy efficient means of transportation. Unlike a car, in which the engine has to move thousands of pounds of metal to transport a single person a bicycle has very little extra mass. An electric motor on a bicycle needs to move the rider and not much more. Plus the rider can help out with a little pedal power.

Considering that China is now the leading manufacturing nation in the world, we will soon see store shelves filling up with what is popular there. The era in which US product choices shaped international markets is ending. That coupled with the coming era of oil scarcity means we will be seeing a lot of electric bikes soon. And that is great news for saving on gas.


Electric Bikes

We are in the age of electronic mail and electronic books, so it is no surprise to hear about an electric bicycle. Electric bicycles are normal bikes outfitted with a battery and an electric motor. This motor can propel the bicycle by itself or it can add an assist to pedal power. The extra weight of the batteries and electric motor does make it harder to pedal than a normal bike though. Such a bicycle can be completely recharged in two or three hours using a standard wall socket. If you are thinking of saving on gas by doing your commute on bicycle but have been turned off by hills in your area, an electric bicycle could be the solution. You can use the electric motor to give you an uphill assist.

If you do not want to buy an all new electric bicycle, there are kits which convert any ordinary bike to electric. They basically amount to the installation of an electric motor and battery. This video shows off the concept.


Road Map to Save on Gas

This University of Oxford study suggests that over the next ten to fifteen years the best way to achieve better fuel economy is to do it the old fashioned way: make vehicles smaller and lighter. High technology items such as hydrogen power or electric vehicles are not going to be commercially available at mass market levels before that says the study. Given that we cannot wait a couple of decades during which we continue to guzzle gas, another way must be found.

Fortunately the low technology techniques of size and weight reduction are simple to implement and very effective. In fact, the possible increases in fuel economy from downsizing are much greater than what advanced technology offers. Many times going back to the basics is the best solution and it works to save on gas as well.


Supercars Race for Fuel Economy

We have talked about the idea of replacing the traditional car race for the best time by races for the best fuel economy. Well, what would happen if you tanked up an Aston Martin DBS, an Audi R8, a Lamborghini Murcielago, a Ferrari 599GTB, and a Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR will a gallon of gas each and ran them until they used the last drop? Who would go the farthest?

This video shows exactly that match up. The winner was the Audi R8, but it used a horrible 20 gallons per hundred miles (GPHM)! These cars may be super cars from the point of view of performance, but they sure do not save on gas!


Gas Goes Up With Oil But Down Slower

Many people have observed that the pump price of gasoline rises quickly when the price of crude oil goes up, but drops more slowly when the oil price drops. This fast up slow down price behaviour is known as an asymmetric price relationship. Does it really happen this way? Or is it a mistaken impression, perhaps born out of bitterness at having to pay a lot at the pump? Several studies of the relationship between oil and gas prices have been done. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas has done a detailed and comprehensive study specifically to look for gasoline-crude price asymmetry.

Although the study document linked to above is quite technical, it is easy to read the conclusion. And what is the result? No surprise for most of us: the study clearly finds that there is an asymmetrical relationship. It is true that when the oil price goes up gasoline goes up quickly but when the oil price drops, gasoline drops more slowly. The mentioned study does not attempt to determine why this happens. It only confirms statistically that it does happen. Of course, most people can quickly think of a reasonable explanation. The gasoline merchants want to make a few extra bucks, so they hold the consumer price of their product up while enjoying cheaper wholesale prices. The study provides no statistical backing for this explanation, but one quick look at the greedy behavior of a typical mega corporation shows that this particular shoe sure does fit.


GM 2010 Flagship Vehicles

General Motors is going to base their year 2010 sales plans on larger vehicles, such as the Equinox, which is a small SUV. Although these vehicles have relatively good fuel consumption for their type, they guzzle much more gas than smaller cars designed for fuel economy. So after being hammered for building gas guzzlers in a world of rising pump prices, GM is setting itself right back up for the same punishment. Will Detroit ever learn?


Sustainable Aviation

This is an interesting talk covering the ways in which aircraft design and operation could be changed so as to reduce the impact of aviation on global climate change. Turns out that it would most likely save gas as well. One interesting highlight is the fact that the average amount of gasoline used per passenger on a flight across the country from Seattle to Washington, DC is only 29 gallons. And that is taking into account the fact that on average an aircraft flies with empty seats!


Terrafugia Transition

The Terrafugia Transition is an airplane which can drive on the road like a car. They call this a roadable aircraft. On the road at highway speeds it only uses 3.33 GPHM, which is pretty good. That good fuel economy is due to the aerodynamic streamlining required to fly coupled with the low weight also necessary for an airplane. In flight it burns 5 gallons per hour (airplane fuel usage is given in terms of volume per time, not volume per distance because the ground track speed depends on wind) at a cruise speed of 115 miles per hour. Flying in still air, it thus uses 5 gallons per 115 miles, or about 4.35 GPHM. Even flying, the fuel usage is better than for a typical SUV! Considering that flight allows for some impressive distance saving (straight line shortcuts) via route selection, the Transition could represent more than the futuristic flying car made real. It could actually save on gas!


Aptera : How About 0.3 GPHM

The Aptera is a futuristic hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) which looks like an airplane without wings. It can achieve an incredible fuel economy, using only one third of a gallon of gas to travel 100 miles. It has a top speed of 90 miles per hour and can accelerate 0 to 60 miles per hour in under 10 seconds. What is the secret? Mainly aerodynamics and weight reduction. The body is made of strong yet light carbon fiber composites. At highway speeds the greatest contribution to resistance is air drag. Plane-like streamlining on the Aptera allows it to avoid most of this drag. Unlike many futuristic gas sippers with stratospheric price tags, the Aptera will sell in the US for about $30,000.

Ladies and gentlemen: the Aptera!


Checking In On the Strategic Petroleum Reserve

Most US citizens have heard of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. It is an emergency stockpile of crude oil maintained by the Department of Energy. It was initiated in 1975 as a response to the oil embargo earlier imposed on the United States in response to US involvement in the Yom Kippur war. Other countries also maintain petroleum reserves, for example China and Japan. The idea is that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve could keep the Pentagon war machine running temporarily even during a war in which all imports to the country were cut off. It is not meant to act as an economic buffer, helping to stabilize oil prices (by releasing oil at price highs and buying at price lows). The US Energy Information Administration maintains charts showing how much crude oil is in the reserve. A current chart is shown above. As you can see, there is currently somewhere about 700 million barrels of oil in the reserve.


Get to Know Your Valve Train

In operation, an internal combustion engine, such as the one you likely have in your car, needs to take in fuel and air. After burning them, it has to eject waste gases. It must do this while maintaining a sealed cylinder which can take advantage of the high pressure generated by the combustion. The solution is provided by the valves, which open and close as needed. The valves are the gatekeepers to the kingdom of the engine, controlling what goes in and out when. The valve train is the entire apparatus of rods, cams and springs dedicated to the operation of the valves. Understanding the valve train is absolutely fundamental to knowing how an engine works. This handy video gives a great introduction to the valve train, with nice animated cutaway views.


Electric Performance

Electric cars use no gasoline and can still burn up the track on performance. This video shows a Tesla Roadster beating a Porsche 911 in a drag race. The Roadster wins twice: once because it gets higher acceleration; twice because it uses fewer gallons per hundred miles!


Fuel Efficiency and the Economy

The possible effects of increased fuel efficiency on the economy are wide ranging and complex. Fuel Efficiency and the Economy is a well written and understandable overview. It contains an input-output analysis showing how proposed changes to automotive fuel-efficiency standards would propagate through the national economy. Of particular interest is Figure 3, which shows a range of current and near future technologies giving for each one a band of estimated fuel economy improvements and possible increases in retail cost. Also of interest is Figure 2, which demonstrates how since the 80's Detroit has been putting increases in engine efficiency into achieving shorter and shorter 0 to 60 times for heavier and heavier vehicles instead of using fewer gallons per hundred miles.


Comparison of Fuel Economy Standards

All of the developed industrial nations of the world have government mandated fuel economy standards. These standards force automakers to produce vehicles with a certain minimum efficiency. In the United States, the relevant legislation is called CAFE or Corporate Average Fuel Economy. Detroit has long grumbled about CAFE and there is a body lobbyists who have tried (and are trying) to weaken the required efficiency. Looking around at the other nations, it is quickly seen that the US has very weak fuel economy standards. The report Comparison of Passenger Vehicle Fuel Economy and GHG Emission Standards Around the World in fact shows that the US has the weakest requirements of all. The chart above, taken from the report, shows that European, Japanese and Chinese vehicles are required to be considerably more fuel efficient than US cars.

This has permitted Detroit to fill the garages of the nation with gas guzzlers. This was not a large problem in the past era of cheap gasoline. But it has not prepared us at all for the dawning future of permanently high gasoline prices.


OneCAT Compressed Air Vehicle

Tata Motors is an India car manufacturer. They are the makers of the Tata Nano, one of the world's cheapest cars. They are also vigorously investigating fuel economy and alternative energy technologies that Detroit slumbered on until it is too late. It looks as though Tata Motors will be among the automakers of the future. It is doubtful that the US, once the undisputed leader of the automotive world, will have a place in that future unless Detroit proves capable of turning on a dime.

The OneCAT is a compressed air powered vehicle. It is small and light, thus automatically gaining a great deal of fuel efficiency. It runs on 200 liter tanks of compressed air. The vehicle has an onboard compressor. Plugged into a normal electrical outlet, the compressor can recharge the tanks with high pressure air in 4 hours. Future plans include a system of high pressure compressors deployed in filling stations which can recharge the tanks in a couple of minutes.

The OneCAT could be a perfect solution for local urban travel. Since it is not electric, it avoids the need for big heavy batteries. The savings on weight will give it yet more fuel economy.

The near future of consistently high gasoline prices will mean that populations enjoying widespread usage of gas sippers like the OneCAT will escape the nightmare of the gas pump.


2010 Oil Price Prediction

Do you have a prediction for what the price of oil will be throughout 2010? In case you would like to shop around and see what others are saying, the Financial Forecast Center has one. According to them, the price will cross above $100 sometime March and stay there until at least July, which is the last month for which they publish their public forecasts.


Aircraft Fuel Efficiency

Many fuel saving technologies have been deployed in the aviation world. In fact, aircraft have done a better job historically in seeking out ways to save on gas.


Paying for Piracy

One of the last things people expect to have an effect on their lives today is piracy. Although once stamped out, it looks like piracy is now on the rise. In fact, oil tankers are now being targeted by pirates! As piracy increases the costs of seaborne transport will rise. Even unsuccessful piracy will make shipping more costly due to elevated insurance rates. No shipping company will be able to avoid paying piracy insurance. Given that oil tankers are among the victims, crude oil delivered by sea will carry a piracy surcharge. And that will ultimately mean paying a little more at the gas pump. Who would ever have guessed that high seas pirates would be yet another reason to learn to save on gas!