Electric cars = questionable, alcohol cars = a safe bet – E/The Environmental Magazine | CarTailz

Credit: Jeffrey Beall, FlickrCC

Electric cars for our entire light truck fleet, as Governor Newsom and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) want, are dubious.

The key word to not putting us in the same predicament we are in now with finite energy resources is RENEWABLE! Electric cars are powered by batteries made of cobalt and lithium. The motors use rare earth elements. All of these are finite and none are renewable. These elements come from the earth, just like oil. In addition, most of them come from third world countries.

Then there’s the power to charge those batteries. Next time you’re stuck in traffic in a big city, picture all those cars plugged into the grid and charging for the next day’s commute. With our current energy consumption and grid, we are already experiencing nationwide power outages! To power 280,000,000 light trucks, we would need 1.5 trillion KWh of electricity, or nearly double the generation capacity in the US.

If you’re thinking, “Oh, my solar panels will fix that.” you’re wrong. Unless you have expensive batteries at home that can store all the solar power, you will inevitably charge your car from the grid. A Tesla Powerwall will set you back $14,485 for 13.3 kWh, which will get you about 30 miles. According to the US Energy Information Administration, most of US electricity in 2020 was generated by oil, natural gas, nuclear power and coal. 72% of China’s electricity comes from coal. 84% of Europe’s electricity comes from oil, gas, nuclear power and coal. This is how you charge your electric car!

Finally, there is the question of what we do with all the dead batteries. Going back to that traffic jam, now think of all those cars that at the end of their lives need to replace batteries or the whole car. A Tesla car has between 2976 and 7920 battery cells that weigh between 1000 and 1200 pounds depending on the model. They say they can be recycled. But can they? There are many issues that need to be addressed when recycling lithium-ion batteries. I really think it’s a mistake to rely on this ever happening on a large and cheap scale.

Now EVs will certainly have a place to power local delivery vehicles, returning to a central depot at night for charging, stopping and starting all the time so they retain the efficiency of regenerative braking. Garbage trucks and buses should switch to hydrogen fuel cells because the batteries that power them would weigh more than the garbage or the passengers. But if we try to replace the majority of our light commercial vehicles with electric vehicles, we will be at the mercy of third world countries to provide us with the materials needed to run our cars. Does that sound familiar to you?

Alcohol-powered cars are a safe bet. You better believe

Alcohol is RENEWABLE. To clarify: when I speak of alcohol, I mean bioethanol from biomass. In the US, the highest percentage of ethanol in fuel is 85%, with the other 15% being gasoline. It’s called the E-85.

Here’s the awesome, renewable part: Alcohol can be made from any biomass. In many cases, it’s a by-product of another valuable resource. Let’s take corn as an example. Over 80% of all corn in the US is grown for animal feed, and nearly all corn for cattle. Have you been to the market and seen grass-fed beef? That’s because grass is what a cow is supposed to eat. But as you can see from the price on the pack of beef, it’s more expensive. Therefore, most cattle are fed corn.

Corn makes them sick, so the cow needs to be stuffed with antibodies and other drugs to keep them healthy until they hit the market. The element in corn that makes them sick is starch. Well, here’s the kicker, when you make alcohol from corn, only the starch is used. What remains is what is called distilled grain. Distiller grain turns out to be a great cattle feed! So when people say, “You shouldn’t use food for fuel,” I say, “We make fuel and make better food.” Another great natural alcohol producer is cattail, one of nature’s finest water purifiers. They can be grown in Graywater Ponds to purify the water and can be harvested to make Alcohol. Another natural win-win situation.

Here’s one of the best things about alcohol: no one can control it, and anyone can make it. Moonshiners have proven that throughout history. I think the fact that anyone can do it is why governments and big corporations are so afraid of it. You will have no control. It would be a true free market.

So what should we do? Just ban the sale of all new gasoline-burning light trucks and let consumers, not CARB or Gov. Newsom, decide what they want to buy — EVs, H2V, or bio-ethanol vehicles.

Now let’s look at some of the long-standing misconceptions about alcohol-powered vehicles. One of the big ones is that alcohol damages your car. Makes it? NO! I’ve had it in my 1987 Toyota pickup for 15 years. Aside from adjusting the carburetor to give the correct fuel/air mixture, I haven’t done anything else to the truck. I didn’t change the hoses; I haven’t changed any of the metal parts that come into contact with the alcohol and everything is fine. I’ve also put at least 1/4 of a tank of alcohol in almost every vehicle I’ve owned; They all loved it. They’ve been driving alcohol in race cars since the 1930s.

Most automakers have historically offered flex-fuel vehicles. Flex-fuel vehicles can run on E-85 or gasoline, or any mix of the two. There are no differences in the materials used in a flex fuel vehicle or a pure gasoline vehicle. The difference is in the computer that determines the air-fuel ratio. You can use up to 50% E-85 in most post-1985 gasoline cars. Remember that alcohol will not harm your car! Even if you put more than 50% E-85 in your gas car, the worst that could happen is your check engine light comes on and the engine gets a bit choppy at idle. But as soon as you add more gas, it’s all gone.

I encourage everyone to find a gas station near you that sells E-85 and put at least a few gallons in your car to support the cause. This is a good link to find gas stations near you… This link is from a company that sells flex fuel conversion kits. I’m buying one for my wife’s 2012 Honda Pilot so we can drink loads of alcohol.

One of the downsides of running your flex fuel vehicle on E-85 is that you get less MPG. The price of E-85 is typically between 20% and 30% cheaper than gasoline, so you end up getting about the same miles per dollar. The reason your mileage drops if you drive E-85 in a flex-fuel vehicle is because the car needs to be able to run on gas as well. This will prevent you from taking advantage of the alcohol’s unique benefits.

After running my Toyota pickup truck on E-85 for a few years, I decided to prove that you could get your MPG back if an engine was built just to run on E-85. I won’t go into the technical stuff I did to the engine but I will tell you it worked. I now get slightly better mileage on E-85 than on gas. I can’t run the truck on gas anymore, so about once a month I go to the nearest gas station that sells E-85 and fill up my tank and my five 5-gallon pitchers. I can usually include it in a trip to this area for something different. If we had stations selling ethanol everywhere, as is required by law in Brazil, we could just build ethanol cars and get the mileage back. Every gallon of E-85 you put in your car brings us closer to that goal.

A few years ago the E-100 group took a brand new Ford Focus and modified the engine to optimize it for ethanol. After they were done with the modifications, they took it to an EPA-certified testing lab in Fullerton, CA and had the results documented. The test again showed that an engine designed to run on ethanol could achieve as good mileage as on petrol.

In 2005 I spent two weeks in Brazil; it was very educational. I made friends with a guy I used to work with who was from Brazil named Joal. He was in the States while his wife went to school in San Francisco. When Joal went home he invited me to visit him and of course I accepted the offer. One day we took a drive into the Brazilian countryside where there was nothing. We came across a car with the hood open next to the road. We stopped and Joal asked what was going on. The guy said he was out of gas so he got in our car and we went to get some for him. Like I said, we were in the middle of nowhere. So finally we come to this small village without gas stations. We stop at a market and my friend goes in and comes out with two bottles of cheap whiskey. We go back to the guy’s car and throw the two bottles in the tank. He gets in, starts, says thank you and drives off. Try this now in a petrol or electric car!

In Brazil, they don’t play around with 85% ethanol like we do, but with 100%. Because of these policies, Brazil has become completely energy independent, a goal the US has been trying to achieve for decades.

Did you know that you won’t die of carbon monoxide poisoning in a locked garage with a car running on 100% alcohol? Alcohol burns clean. When I was a kid, my dad would heat our garage with a coffee pot full of alcohol that would burn on the floor. All doors were closed. Not too fireproof, but we were nice and warm.

One Last Story. 1972 at Newport Beach CA. I met my future wife. I was sitting on the beach and I saw this cute girl sitting alone. After mustering up the courage, I went over to talk to her. During our conversation I told her that I used to race cars. She said she doesn’t like racing. When I asked her why, she said it was because of pollution. I immediately told her that in such cars we drive alcohol and it does not pollute. She went to her first race the following weekend and has been there ever since. We have been married for 48 years. Another advantage of alcohol-powered cars!

Please take what you have learned here today and commit to finding a better way forward. Let’s not repeat the energy dependent, polluting, non-renewable cycle. Get on the road and embrace a brighter future by supporting all biofuels as much as possible, especially natural, renewable and eco-friendly bioethanol!

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