Friday, October 22, 2010

Design Challenge: 1000-pound car competition

Each year for the past seven years, the Los Angeles Auto Show has generated a design competition. This year, the design challenge is to build a 1000-pound, four-passenger vehicle:

This coincides with a recent report on the desired use of carbon fiber in the manufacture of automobiles in order to save weight and improve mileage. This report stated that if each new vehicle manufactured in the USA used just six pounds of carbon fiber, that volume would consume the entire volume of carbon fiber manufactured currently in the USA. And most of that goes to the military. And, it is still a costly material compared to steel.

Remember how the US DOT resisted the use of headlights other than round headlights, for about twenty years after many shapes were in use in Europe? The same problem is going on with the carrying capacity of automobiles. Unless a car can carry four people, it simply doesn't sell very well, and generally (Porsche excepted) never makes a profit. Since most (85%) of vehicle trips are solo, driver-is-the-only-passenger, why not recognize this fact? Why not make a "core vehicle unit", with a solo driver/passenger in front (and room for an unplanned second rider behind) and then sell "extra passengers" bolt-on units? Heck, even a bolt-on "boat trailer" unit, for those once-every-two-year excursions to the lake (instead, people buy four-door trucks weighing 5000 lbs., and drive it solo 240 days a year, pay a ton for insurance, pay a ton of $$ in gasoline, pay a ton of $$ in the initial cost).

I write about a modular vehicle because the "1000-lb concept car" was already done years ago by GM. Their car, the "Ultralite" was created in the early 1990s. It achieved 100mpg at 50 mph and had a top speed of 135 mph, and 0-60 in 7.8 seconds. However, the materials alone to build the car cost $13,000, the frame being 100% carbon fiber over a foam core. Astoundingly the frame still weighed 450 pounds. Why? Because the car had to safely resist forces with four people in the car, downhill, going 135 mph. Once again, the marketing requirement that cars perform safely at nearly double the top legal speed limit adds unnecessary expense to the objective of traveling from A to B in a motor vehicle.

I say mechanically limit speed!!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Diesel fueled car with small engine gets 119 mpg

Sometimes people don't believe me when I say that if vehicles on the US roadways could only travel at 34mph maximum speed, that it would be in a very short time that cars would be manufactured that got over 200 mpg, and I would guess, approaching 400 mpg. You see what the students get at the Shell and SAE Supermileage contests. The methodology is out there, if the top speed is reduced.

Recently it was reported that a car (shown above) built way back in 1984 achieved fuel mileage (diesel fuel) of 119.1 miles-per-gallon, while traveling North to South, border to border, Canada to Mexico. Here is the story link:
Besides the fact that this car was put together in the 1980s (the laws of Earth aerodynamics are the same now as then) notice in the article that very little horsepower is required to move this car at highway speeds. The reason we typically have 300 horsepower on tap in the typical American car, is a car without "passing power" or acceleration off the line, simply will not sell in this country.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ford Mustang Drives only 43.9 mph for 17 hours

Ford has recently touted the fuel efficiency of their new Mustang V6:

They achieved 48.5 miles per gallon. It reinforces my claim that slower speeds create better mileage, because energy is not needed to overcome aerodynamic drag. In addition, they only stopped to switch drivers very few times over seventeen hours. Acceleration of a heavy body uses up a considerable amount of energy. So, fewer changes in speed (that is, constant speed over a long period of time) will offset a heavier car, because constant speed means effect of the weight of the car is considerably reduced.

The energy efficiency of this particular v6 engine is particularly enhanced over typical engines in that the valve-timing is micro-adjusted many times per second. Instead of a V6 engine of several liters displacement, imagine that technology applied to the 125-cc engine that achieved this mileage:

...and this guy is not going around Bristol Motor Speedway. This is regular, real road mileage.

The weight of his vehicle is 231 pounds, 88 pounds heavier than the stock motorbike, so it again shows that weight is not as huge a factor as aerodynamics. And you cannot change the physics: as the Mustang test generously demonstrates, cutting your maximum speed increases any vehicle's efficiency. That is the "why" of 34 miles-per-hour. If the Mustang had traveled at a maximum of 34 miles per hour, I have no doubt that their mileage would have been in the 50-miles-per -gallon range (and the drivers bored tremendously going around an oval that slowly).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Transocean/BP Oil Blowout in the Gulf and Calls for Sacrifice

The British Petroleum (BP)/Transocean Macondo Project Gulf oil spill has revived talk about getting serious and concrete here in the USA about cutting our consumption of energy, especially petroleum. The images of the death of creatures and the fouled shorelines have placed the consumption of petroleum issue before the American citizenry in an ongoing, unavoidable way, day after day after day. President Obama addresses the nation about the spill, commentators weigh in.... the petroleum consumption issue is getting its deserved attention.

Surprising to me (because of the typical vitriol I have received because of my call to make the maximum attainable speed for all motor vehicles 34mph) is the awareness, voiced more and more, that it is us consumers that are really the source of this accident. Believe me, no one would be drilling an expensive, deepwater well if it were not economically viable. The increasing demand for oil by China and India, and our modest, longterm US increase in total gasoline consumption (already at 25% of world oil consumption) are the factors that create the business environment that spawn highly technical, highly complicated attempts to secure oil from extreme locations worldwide.

In his 1994 edition of his book "Alternative Cars in the 21st Century" (SAE) Robert Q Riley notes the following state of affairs regarding the use of the automobile as transportation:

(page 36)

"The fundamental mismatch between vehicle mass/size in relation to that of its payload is often unspoken; perhaps because it is so universally accepted and difficult to quantify. Much depends on the synergy of the system, and even more on the operating conditions at the time the energy trail is audited. On the most simple level, when a 1600kg (3500lb) machine transports an 80 kg (175lb) occupant on a local trip to the market, the available-energy pie is divided so that approximately 95 percent gets the car to the market and the remaining five percent gets the occupant there. More specifically, about 82 percent of the latent energy in gasoline is wasted when it is converted into mechanical power, which just pollutes the air and get no one to the market. Of the 18 percent left, about a third goes to overcoming air resistance and the other two-thirds is consumed by inertia and rolling resistance, of which the occupant accounts for a small portion. In this scenario the occupant gets 0.006 of the fuel's energy, the car gets 0.174, and 0.820 is wasted. Since the automobile is responsible for 99.4 percent of the total energy consumed, and it tenaciously resists improvements in energy efficiency, minimizing the car itself is the most straightfoward way to reduce its portion of the energy budget."

See anything in this analysis about "addiction to oil" or "love of consumption"?? No, in most circumstances, drivers of cars are oblivious to the fact that less than ONE PERCENT of the gasoline consumed by an automobile, actually moves their human body from point "A" to point "B".

Less than ONE PERCENT!!

We aren't going to minimize car weight or magically affect air resistance by going to electric cars. We can only minimize weight when (1) cars do not need to safely travel at high rates of speed (2) cars do not need to accelerate to sixty miles an hour, in less than ten seconds, because otherwise entering a freeway may be hazardous (3) engines and drivetrains are reduced in weight. We can only cut the fuel spent on overcoming air resistance losses, by traveling at a lower speed. No other way to do this, aerodynamically, unless you move to a different planet, with a different atmosphere.

There is not much that conversion to electric cars will do to cut energy consumption in the next twenty years. We have a fleet of 220 million vehicles here in the USA. No one is building even a million electric cars per year, and if they did, it would take forty years to turn over the current fleet to a majority of electrics. Expensive and heavy electrics, I might add. What do you read about the Tesla roadster? In most cases, the blinding acceleration is touted. The Tesla roadster is doing nothing to blunt our "addiction to speed".

If citizens of the world really wanted to "sacrifice" to drastically curtail our petroleum consumption, the answer is quite straightforward. We need to retrofit all existing vehicles, so that they could go no faster than 34 miles an hour, top speed. This can be done with a mechanical escapement, the same thing that regulates "tick tock" clocks. A new "escapement industry" would provide jobs in an endeavor that would have a much longer lasting benefit than simply "paving more highways" as the ARRA is currently doing. The ARRA paving work is actually increasing petroleum consumption, by allowing vehicles to comfortably, sustainably, drive 75mph where previously, rough surfaces kept speeds below 65 mph.

Once all vehicles are fitted with escapements nationwide, and "drop day" takes place (everyone goes slower at the same time, same day), then the real energy savings begin to kick in. Existing vehicles won't really increase mileage much (ten percent?) but what will happen is, a "further modification" industry will kick in. Why not replace your v8 engine with a small, 500cc engine and eight-speed transmission? With a subsidy similar to the "homebuyer subsidy" it would be foolish not to drop two hundred pounds off your vehicle's weight..... which a smaller 500cc displacement ICE powerplant would do!!

New cars would be lighter, and there is where the real fuel savings would take place. Without the added structure for safely running at 80mph, cars would be built with far less materials. Less tire weight, less rubber, less suspension, less frame, less glazing weight. In less than five years from the "drop date" event, new cars with good old, proven, (smaller) gasoline engines would be routinely achieving 100 mpg and better. And the cost of goes down, maintenance goes way down, tire replacement, etc.. Traffic enforcement becomes virtually nil. Highways last longer.

Is going 34 miles an hour top speed, doable? Is it worth it? Consider that during World War II, Americans built zero cars for the domestic market. ZERO!!

...and we can't slow our SUVs to save the planet??

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Making It a Law, or Making It Impossible???

I've gotten a few new readers to this blog, and that's encouraging. I want to briefly go over one aspect of my idea that is really central to my "real world" application of cutting our "addiction to speed".

My proposal is to retrofit every car on the road, with a mechanical escapement. That way, there's no cheating about the top speed your car can go. You physically cannot go faster. Downhill, clutch

Where do we use escapement mechanisms today? In watches and clocks. This YouTube video is a great way to be introduced to this 500-year old mechanism:

I think ya gotta copy & paste with this blog.

If an escapement mechanism was fitted to the back wheel(s) of every vehicle (incl motorcycles), it would have the following consequences:

Everyone could start driving more slowly, with a max speed of 34 mph, all at the same time. You get the mechanism installed, it stays un-deployed until a "National Drop Day". Then, on that date, you pull a chord from underneath your car, the device is irretrievably deployed, and you stick the little sticker ("oil drop", "American Flag", "dollar sign") on your bumper to show that it is functioning. Everyone complies at the same time. No cheating. You can see the device from behind the car.

A much-needed cottage industry of building these devices, and installing these devices, would suck up a lot of UAW workers, and other auto workers, currently unemployed. Because they are mechanical, and not electronic, it would be easy to design, test, and install mechanical devices.

We have a lot of UAW and parts-plants workers either unemployed or driving huge distances (1000 miles) to new jobs. Why not locate these "escapement manufacturers" at old auto plant locations?? We have to cover 220 MILLION vehicles! That's a lot of immediate work!

Ever heard of dashboard radar detectors? There is a whole cottage industry devoted to evading the law and driving beyond the speed limit. I don't want to start another "evasion industry" by using electronics to limit speed. When such a "box of wires" does the speed control, it is not apparent why it is failing when it does fail. You're just staring at it. Without proper devices, no one could tell why it isn't functioning. Second, a whole "evasion industry" could easily create "cheater circuits". Imagine, six months into everyone driving 34mph top speed. You're on I-5 at midnight. Very few CHP are even monitoring the roads. You simply "switch off " your speed limiter, and go seventy for a while. Then, you switch it back on! Who can tell??!! A little bragging, and pretty soon everyone "with a brain" is using such stuff. With a mechanical escapement, you could build an elaborate system of cheating, but it would be much much more difficult. And, instead of staring at a little black box, the Highway Patrol could tell right away if you were sporting an extra-legal design/build. You just look ten seconds under the car.

Simply posting a speed limit, and turning everyone into lawbreakers, more or less, would be nigh impossible. Really hard to enforce.

If the USA led the way, other countries would follow. And, in countries like India, where they already make a $2500 car unsuitable for extreme high speeds, the cars would get even cheaper.

Car manufacturing would be on a path similar to the shoe industry. It used to be, everyone had one pair of shoes. A shoe was built to be worn on either foot. Then design advanced to "left shoe, right shoe" then better treads etc. Specialization went up (flip flops for the beach, running shoes, dress shoes, ski boots, hiking boots) and every one wore a pair depending on conditions. Prices (in real terms) went down. I would predict, with slower speeds, cars would get cheaper, and we'd actually own MORE cars! Specialized cars.

Right now, you see a jacked-up pickup with $5000 in extra suspension and lights, etc., taking ONE GUY to work, you have to think, "Would I ever wear my ski boots to the beach??!!"

If it was your ONLY footwear, you would!! That's what our world of cars is like today.

Remember, in World War II, the United States really changed the personal vehicle landscape. They didn't produce any cars, for years!! That was a sacrifice. A real sacrifice! This is only a modest change, just to save the planet.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Where my data originated

I'm getting some feedback on some of my physics, and statements about energy used by vehicles to accelerate, etc.

My source for my data is a book by Robert Q Riley, "Alternative Cars in the 21st Century". It was first published in 1994, so some of the data cited is research done in the 1980s, or early 1990s. Riley has put out a second edition of his book, and he has a website as well. In his first edition, he writes (page 106) "Aerodynamic drag is a product of the vehicle's frontal area, its drag coefficient, and the cube of its speed. The cubic increase of drag in relation to speed makes aerodynamics a major consideration when designing high-speed highway vehicles."

In my windpower research, I have also come across the "Vee-cube-d" power of wind, regarding wind energy and wind speed.

My Answers to Recent Comments

Just a note to a reader who looked for my comment on Paul Kedrosky's blog. I made a "post" to his blog about some topic he wrote about, and put a link to my blog after the signature blog. You won't do a successful search on his blog and find something Paul Kedrosky wrote about me, or this blog. That didn't happen. So searching won't find it. It happened maybe seven months ago.

Another post mentions starting the idea of a maximum speed with simply posting a speed limit, to roll out the program with a "law" and taking it from there. The country is already in a big enough state of total acrimony, that we don't need a gigantic increase in collective anger created by ticket-writing.