Our Inefficient Cars & The Poulsen Hybrid Solution
I think a lot about cars and urban transport. I honestly believe that cars are unsustainable for a large number of reasons and that we must give them up in favor of walking, using the bicycle, two wheelers and public transport. In my personal life, I've taken the first step towards that by placing a moratorium on single and dual passenger car travel - will only take out the car when there are three or more people traveling (more on that later).
One of the reasons cars are unsustainable is their horrible inefficiency. I've mentioned this before but here's what Amory Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute has to say:
I've been thinking in background for 20 years about the physics of cars and why are they so inefficient that you know, your car's using a 100 times its weight in ancient plants everyday and yet only 0.3% of that energy ends up moving the driver. This didn't seem very good.Not everyone is as inspired to give up their cars -- most people actually love theirs -- so we must live with them for some time. The only alternative then is to produce more efficient cars. But the auto industry has refused to budge so far, you say. Soooo... you get the independent auto makers to produce efficient cars. But how do you do that? It's not as simple as producing water bottles, you know. Well, give them an incentive. Announce a $10 million prize for a car that is over 3 times as efficient and sells in large numbers.
Of all the fuel energy you put into the car, 87% (seven eighths of it) never gets to the wheel. It's lost first in the engine, driveline, idling and accessories.
Of the 1/8th of fuel energy that does reach the wheels, half of that either heats the air that the car pushes aside or heats the tires and roads. Only the last 6% of the fuel energy actually accelerates the car and then heats the brakes when you stop.
- Amory Lovins in Car of the Future
This is precisely what Auto X-Prize is all about.
I've been following Auto X-Prize development for almost two years. I think it's a great initiative though I feel they should have aimed higher -- 300 MPG instead of 100 (today's cars average about 29 MPG in US). We need to make a big leap to make up for the inefficiencies of the past century. Nevertheless, it's an exciting venture and I can't wait to find out who among the 64 contenders wins the X-Prize and what it does to the industry.
Popular Mechanics magazine just announced a list of the top 10 contenders according to them. They're all good but the one that has the greatest likelihood, in my opinion, isn't on anyone's radar. It doesn't feature in the list and it's never been mentioned on AutoBlogGreen or TreeHugger, two popular blogs covering green cars and low-impact living. Both of them have dozens of posts on other X-prize contenders.
I'm talking about Poulsen Hybrid. A product of a
(* Founder, Ulrik Poulsen has an unmistakable Scandinavian accent so I assumed it's a European firm but Alpha-Core website says they're based in Connecticut, US.)
I think it's an absolutely brilliant concept. Totally inexpensive, efficient, simple and it doesn't even mean getting a new car. If it works as promised, it should sell in huge numbers - many times more than any of the fancy cars in Popular Mechanics list. Converting an existing internal combustion engine car into a plug-in electric to get mileage in the range of 100 MPG without any substantial mechanical changes to the car and at such low cost is an unbeatable proposition.
More reasons why I like the Alpha-Core/ Poulsen Hybrid solution:
Go Poulsen Hybrid!
UPDATE 7-May-08: AutoblogGreen makes amend, writes about Poulsen Hybrid. Links to this post. Most people commenting are overwhelmingly positive about this.