Poll: Next big "green" powertrain
What will be the next big "green" powertrain in the U.S.?
A Green Biodiesel Hummer
Jonathan Goodwin, a biodiesel conversion specialist and founder of alternative energy start-up SAE Energy, has built a car that can run on ethanol, hydrogen, biodiesel or natural gas--all fairly clean fuels. It gets the equivalent of 40 miles a gallon. And it's a Hummer.
He's already converted about 60 H2 Hummers from gas to diesel and about 100 H1 hummers, including a Hummer that can burn the whole menu of clean fuels.
On Earth Day (April 22nd), MTV Networks' show Pimp My Ride will feature a 1965 Impala he converted from gas to biodiesel. And since nothing says Earth Day like a drag race, the converted Impala went up against a Lamborghini in a quarter-mile test. The Impala won.
If anything, consumers and businesses are clearly interested in clean cars. With the rise of biodiesel, the market and price for used diesel cars has climbed, according to anecdotal reports from sellers, and Toyota has continued to experience dramatic shipment growth for its Prius hybrid.
Goodwin says a large delivery company is currently negotiating with him about converting fleets of their diesel delivery vehicles from diesel to natural gas.
Gas-to-diesel conversions are the automotive equivalent of a heart transplant. The gas-burning engine and original transmission are removed and replaced with a Duramax diesel engine, typically inserted in Chevy trucks, and an Allison transmission.
A gas-to-diesel conversion boosts a Hummer's mileage from about 10 miles a gallon to between 22 and 24 miles a gallon. Additionally, the horsepower jumps from about 325 in the regular Hummer to 650, giving the car more power.
The performance increase comes in part from the inherent properties of diesel engines. Overall, a diesel can deliver more torque--the rotational force applied to an object, in this case the car's crankshaft--than a gas engine. A 500 horsepower gas engine might put out 600 foot-pounds of torque. A similar diesel might put out 800 to 900 foot-pounds of torque.
"Torque is the key," Goodwin said.
The mileage increase alone makes the Hummer more green than it was originally. But drivers can cut down on emissions even more if they run their cars on biodiesel, made from vegetable oil, rather than diesel derived from hydrocarbons dug from the earth. The converted cars can run on either fuel, but biodiesel puts far less carbon dioxide into the air, along with other pollutants. (Diesel cars can also run on waste vegetable oil, but typically require additional modifications before it can just get filled up at the deep fat fryer.)
For most customers, though, the status and novelty factor seem to be drivers. The conversion, which takes about seven days, costs roughly $24,000. If gas sells for $3 a gallon, you'd have to drive around 140,000 miles before breaking even.
Still, the idea of a green Hummer does take getting used to. Another TV network wants to do a story on biodiesel conversion, but balked at the idea of centering the show around a Hummer. To avoid potential complaints, they will convert a Cadillac Escalade.
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