If you can’t afford (or aren’t in the market for) a hybrid, flex-fuel, or diesel vehicle, there are still practical steps which you can take to reduce your fuel consumption. That doesn’t mean to go as far as some people (hypermilers) who always keep their windows closed, don’t use the A/C, and perform dangerous driving maneuvers in order to maximize fuel economy.
One of the most preventable fuel wasting activities is that of idling the engine. Idling is sometimes an act of choice, e.g., “warming up” your car during the winter for a few minutes or waiting to pick up someone while leaving the engine running. More often than not, idling is forced upon us by traffic jams and lengthy red lights.
Idling is detrimental in a number of respects:
- It is a waste of fuel.
- It contributes to engine wear and corrosion.
- It harms the environment.
A Canadian government study has offered a simple solution: if you know that you will be idling your engine for 10 seconds or longer, simply turn off the engine and restart when you are ready to go. As stated in the study, “Idling your vehicle for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel than it would take to restart your engine.” Apparently, the prevailing school of thought which supports idling over restarting is based on (like too many others things) an anachronism: the assumption is that modern, electronically supported combustion engines are to be run as their “dumb” predecessors. It is acknowledged that restarting your engine instead of idling may contribute to quicker wear of the engine starter. The cost of repairing/replacing the starter, though, is insignificant compared to the savings in gas. Anecdotal evidence shows a 10% savings in fuel per-tank.
The 10 second rule is apparently the law in Basel, Switzerland, and they have seen a tremendous reduction in pollution as a result.
The new Israeli gas prices, which are calculated in the final days of a given month and updated on the 1st of the month, as of April 1, 2007:
$5.20 per-gallon of 95 Octane (which in Israel is considered “regular unleaded”).
This is calculated at 5.73 NIS per-liter, with the shekel closing at 4.17 NIS to the US Dollar.
Seaweed combines two of my favorite things: sea, and, um… biofuel.
A fledgling Israeli biotech company which goes by the name Seambiotic Ltd. (so fledgling that they have only two Google hits) has found–and is attempting to patent–an ingenious process which would harness the CO2 emissions from power plants and use them for cultivating seaweed, which can then be used as biofuel.
As stated in this study, “Increased CO2 concentration should lead to greater biological productivity with an expected increase in the photosynthetic storage of carbon and also stronger growth in many plants.” Using the scrubbed CO2 from the power plants is thus the equivalent of a free superfood for plants, which drastically reduces the cost of production, creates an attractive biofuel alternative, and ensures that power plant emissions stay out of the air we breathe. Apparently, one liter of fuel can be produced from every five kilograms of seaweed. (And I’ve just learned that algae is also a viable biofuel!)
And yet Israel is still hopelessly addicted to oil.
“In an interview with Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport, DaimlerChrysler Chairman Dieter Zetsche indicated the company’s current philosophy of favoring the diesel engine over hybrid-drive technology has been overturned, citing pressure from customers.
‘We won’t develop any future models without a hybrid option,’ Zetsche said…” (Source)
It seems that before emulating the Toyota model of hybrid-synergy, in which the electric motor can run on its own for a short while, Mercedes will initially use the “mild hybrid” model currently favored by luxury car makers in which the electric motor is used to give an added, clean boost to the gasoline engine. Expected market date: 2009.
I think it would be interesting to see a BlueTec clean diesel Mercedes paired with an electric motor. Coming to a taxi near you?
UPDATE: Then I wondered: If taxis in Israel are bought tax-free, and Israel offers a tremendous tax incentive for purchasing the Prius, is it possible that a hybrid taxi would qualify for a tax credit, much like the incentives prevalent in the States?
A hypermiler is one who modifies his/her driving habits in such a way to maximize the gas consumption of the vehicle well in excess of the vehicle’s EPA rating.
Hypermiling tactics include:
- Keeping windows closed and A/C off… always. This supposedly minimizes drag and air resistance. And also fogs up the windows and makes you sweat like a pig.
- Finding the sweet spot in the engine’s torque curve, and staying there, even if it means upsetting other drivers. In many new cars, this sweet spot can be found by paying attention to the FCD (=fuel consumption display) which changes dynamically based on driving habits.
- D-FAS (Draft Assisted Forced Auto Stop): This means drafting behind a large vehicle in order to reduce wind resistance. It also means that you’ve put the car in neutral and turned off the engine as well. No wonder this is illegal in some states!
I read this fascinating article about a record setting hypermiler last night, and while some of his tactics do appear to endanger other drivers (e.g., taking turns at 50 MPH; tailgating with the engine off, so there are no power brakes…), I find his pursuit, and ideology, quite noble.
I enjoy sharing with folks some of the more creative ways various legislative bodies have cultivated in order to take our money. The illegal drug tax was probably the most creative/ironic/offensive one. That petrol in Israel is charged a 100% excise tax also gets points for creativity.
Here is the story of a 79 year old fellow, David Wetzel, who is a biodiesel pioneer and activist. His converted 1985 Volkswagen Golf has consumed, according to Wetzel’s records, 1134 gallons of waste vegetable oil. A short while ago, Wetzel was visited by two agents from the Illinois Department of Revenue, who demanded that Wetzel pay retroactive “gas” taxes (about 20 cents per-gallon) on his bio-diesel, and file for “special fuel supplier” and “receiver” status from the state.
While the sum of the taxes is somewhat negligible, and Wetzel complied with that request, the principle behind Illinois’ harassment of Wetzel is downright offensive. Never mind that restaurant owners paid tax on the vegetable oil when they bought it for its intended use. (Can taxes even be levied on used goods?) Wetzel’s car was able to achieve 45 MPG utilizing a domestically produced fuel which is estimated to produce 60% less emissions than regular petrol.
Could it be that the US government fears fuel efficient vehicles because it means less revenue from gas sales? If so, then Wetzel wants equal treatment for hybrid cars: the miles traveled on the electric part of the motor should be assessed and taxed as well!
In honor Al Gore’s Oscar-winning film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” I decided to dedicate a post to some recent news in environmental consciousness, specifically in the automotive sphere:
Israel has officially approved a set of standards for vehicles powered with natural gas. There are currently 6000 cars in Israel which run on natural gas; the necessary modifications cost 8000 NIS; estimated fuel savings of 50%.
Whereas celebrities once (and too many still) traveled in monstrous blacked out SUVs and limos, many have now turned to more green options. A growing number of A-listers now travel around in eco-friendly vehicles, even if it meant arriving at the red carpet in less ostentatious fashion thanks to the efforts of Global Green USA.
The above story led me to the Tesla Roadster, probably the most impressive eco-car ever built, both in terms of fuel consumption and performance. The Tesla is a plug-in fully electric car; it takes no fuel, has no gears, and has no tailpipe because it is zero-emission. It gets the equivalent of 125 MPG, and does 0-60 in 4 seconds! Is this the future of automotive technology? I hope.
Israel’s Channel 2 has an excellent expose`/TV news-magazine program called ‘Fact‘ (עובדה/Uvda). This week featured a particularly unsettling segment on the frivolous use of Israeli Air Force helicopters by IDF generals and senior government officials for personal trips (including spouses) and distances easily traversed by car. IDF rules allow for the use of helicopters for officers from the rank of (Major) General (swords and one falafel for those keeping track) and above for flights which would take longer than 20 minutes. But the coordinators who receive the orders for these flights and the pilots who carry them out felt that they needed to expose to the public the fact that their services are continuously exploited at the expense of Israel’s taxpayers and national security.
The video is in Hebrew only (some portions have Hebrew subtitles) and as with (too) many Israeli websites, can be viewed only in Internet Explorer.
I put “Major” in parentheses because this specific rank in Hebrew is called Aluf (אלוף = General), whereas one rank higher, the rank possessed only by the Chief of Staff is called Rav Aluf (רב אלוף = Major General). I’m not sure why the IDF’s English translation of these ranks is not faithful to the Hebrew.