Trending in Liquid Fuels
I've never had an automobile that ran on anything other than gasoline. Sure, sometimes I buy the high-octane stuff, and nowadays my go-to fuel has 10% ethanol in it. Someday soon it may have 15%. But I'm old school. If I were more cool, I'd be filling up on trendier stuff - perhaps some home-brewed diesel from vegetable oil, for example.
Actually, french fry grease drivers are also getting to be passe these days - its so hard to keep up! According to former Pennsylvania Governor (and our first Homeland Security head) Tom Ridge, methanol is the way cool fuel. Or so he contends in an OpEd in today's New York Times.
This idea is pretty timely for me, as I was thinking of trading in my Mazda for a sprint car. If Ridge's idea gets traction, I won't have to - I'll be able to fill up with the way high octane stuff without needing to upgrade my ride. He points out that just as a normal car can run on ethanol (or be cheaply converted to run on ethanol) the same is essentially true for any alcohol fuel. It takes way more methanol to go the same miles as on the same amount of gasoline, but worry not, it's cheap. The bottom line? Methanol can be made from (say it with me) clean-burning, domestic natural gas.
This thread continues neatly over at the Department of Energy, where $30 million in grants will go to projects to make it possible to fuel a car on compressed natural gas (those tanks are too big, bulky, and pricey to use now, but can be improved).
And in the same press release, DOE says it will make available $14 million to explore making transportation fuels from algae.
Meanwhile, on a recent drive through Eastern Pennsylvania I again pondered the meaning behind a billboard on Interstate 81. "Future Site of the Nation's First Waste Coal to Clean Transporation Fuels Plant." Questions that came to mind were "what is waste coal? how do you make transporation fuels from it? that sounds like it would be expensive? and are my tax dollars paying for this?"
Anyway, that pilot plant, which was originally slated for operation in 2006, was never built. Cost over-runs and difficulty arranging the neccesary financing (at last count the cost was around $1 billion) seem to have made that idea a trend of the past.
Sprint car drivers run on methanol. Maybe you will to. Credit: Ted Van Pelt (cc)