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The Return of the Fin and Other Harley Early Fantasies

By Chris Ellis

Only this time they serve a practical purpose in the conclusion of the Cars of 2015, part 3

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Purely decorative fins on 1959 Cadillac Eldorado
PHOTO CAPTION: The purely decorative fins on 1959 Cadillac Eldorado served no useful purpose, but in the future their descendants might be used to help increase the surface area for cooling the hot water exhaust of fuel cell engines.
Open Access Article Originally Published: October 15, 2005

Part One | Part Two

But What About My Trusty VW TDI?
If you're happy with it, stay happy. But when you want to move on, check out 'cellulosic (flexible-fuel) hybrids'. If there's nothing yet that you fancy, or they're still too expensive, take a look at the rapidly expanding (by late 2006) array of E85-compatible conventional machines. You won't save much money, but that flag in the yard will look cleaner, and seem to stiffen in the breeze.

Start saving for something really tasty, because you will not be disappointed. All over the planet, engineers are saying to marketeers - "Oh, you want our new hybrids to be able to run on E85? Why didn't you say so earlier? Don't worry, it won't take much extra effort. I assume you want us to stop playing around with small diesels?"

If, post Katrina, you now appreciate that we must be doing something wrong, consider this:- Yes, of course it's in Swedish, but all you need to read is the table in 'Engineering' at the bottom! Most European governments are now even more interested in CO2 output from vehicle engines than in simple mpg figures, and that applies to all the car manufacturers as well, with a voluntary target of 140 grams per kilometre to meet, and the threat of sterner measures if they don't. What we see in the Ford Sweden table is that a diesel Focus is better (in this respect) than a gasoline Focus, a gasoline hybrid is better than an ordinary diesel, and a non-hybrid E85 Focus (at only 32 g/km) is way better than a Prius gasoline/bensin hybrid (104 g/km)! Imagine how low the Prius number would be if Toyota made the 2007 Prius E85-compatible. 20 g/km? Now please explain to the Chief Engineer of Toyota why you need a diesel Prius, costing $1,000 more, rather than an E85 Prius at $200 more. And be prepared to duck! So the real contest is now not between gasoline hybrids and diesels, it's between E85 (preferably cellulosic) hybrids and diesels. That's rather like putting up a 1940 Spitfire against a 1918 Fokker Triplane.

I keep reading road tests of various hybrids in which the journalist claims driving such a 'virtuous' vehicle makes them feel good about Global Warming, Peak Oil and helping to eke out the country's dwindling supply of 'native' gasoline, and why not? However, this is often followed by some scornful comment about the Ford Explorer or Chevy Tahoe that just went by, with an 'Old Glory' decal on the side. But hold on; 4.0 liter 2005 model year and earlier Ford Explorers and some Chevy Tahoes can use E85 already. If you drive one and you live not too far from from an E85 pump, you'd be stupid now not to go (partially) out of your way to use it. On the other hand, if you live in a city where Big Oil has decided E85 wouldn't be good for its bottom line, are you stupid if you decided last year to buy an E85-enabled SUV and put gasoline in it until Washington woke up and smelt the ethanol? Guess what? Washington just woke up! Who are the real eco-patriots now? An E85-enabled SUV which runs on gasoline for the first three years of its life will still be very expensive to run in five years time, but it may not be much of a problem environmentally – or strategically. On the other hand, try trading in a gasoline hybrid with a five year old battery in 2010!

As a colleague observed - "So that's why those big guys in even bigger SUVs looked down their noses at me when I refueled my Prius loaner in Detroit last month! They were spending a few dollars more than me, to help keep the 'three horsemen' at bay - and American farm and factory workers in jobs - by filling with E85 rather than gasoline." Now all we have to do is deliver some really efficient, durable and affordable hybrid drive systems and, as far as I'm concerned, if those guys want to keep driving tall cellulosic hybrid SUVs, that's a freedom they're entitled to. But it'll cost them, even with our glorious kit installed.

Ironically, Ford FFV vehicles won't be available next year in some of the states where they would be most popular, because apparently you really can smell the ethanol! See

It'll be the Whiskey they'll be banning next! But, however amusing it may seem from here, I sincerely hope the legislatures in those states take the nonsense of it seriously enough to fix the problem, fast. Just needs a temporary exemption. It might well be the biggest contribution to Energy Security any of them can make during the coming year.

This would then knock out the principal excuse for there being almost no commercial E85 pumps in California, the state that one would expect to have more fans of biofuels than any other. Cellulosic E85 would immediately make a hybrid SULEV more environmentally friendly and more efficient than an electric car charged off the grid or a fuel cell vehicle running on hydrogen produced either from natural gas or 'grid electrolysis'. That is, until carbon sequestration is proved commercially viable and is installed at most electricity generators and natural gas-to-hydrogen plants. When might that be, do you think? Rather later than adding solar panels to the roof of your house and a plug-in battery to your hybrid PZEV begins to look suspiciously like an end game. Remember the mantra – 'Plug-in Biofuel Hybrid'. You heard it here first. PBH. California might want some of those....


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Reader Comments

14 comments so far...

  Late breaking news: Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Volkswagen Cars, quoted in the Oct 11 edition of Autocar:- "I don't think we've seen the end of diesel's rise yet, but our new Twincharger petrol engine may prove me wrong." I wonder if his engineers have shown him an E85 version yet?
Posted by: Chris Ellis:

  Again Chris, You are sprouting the wonderful attributes of E85. I have said and will repeat, it cannot be a long term solution to driving needs. There is simply not enough feedstock to power the fleet now or in the future while still providing us with our required food. It is a good mediation strategy just as biodiesel from particularly tropical oil plants, pond algae and F-T diesel from biomass cellulose, coal and natural gas will also be good. Long term, we will either shrink the amount of total fuel consumed via efficiency/conservation or find a non carbon alternative fuel (electricy??? , hydrogen???, ammonia???? I don't know)
Posted by: Sheldon Harrison:

  Sheldon, The US Departments of Agriculture and Energy don't agree with you. Check out for more info.
Posted by: Chris Ellis:

  The best current estimate is that we can replace about 1/3 of our current gasoline consumption with bioethanol derived from cellulose waste without impacting our current food production. That means that we're going to have to (1) drive fewer vehicles, (2)drive more efficient vehicles -- i.e. plug-in hybrids, NEVs and scooters, (3) power more of your vehicles with electricity, preferrably from clean energy sources and not fossil fuels like coal, (4) drive much less through smarter community planning that includes walking and biking, as well as telecommuting. (5) rely more on efficient mass transit. All of these are doable because the technology is siting on the shelf. The challenge isn't technical but cultural.

And despite Chris' issues with diesel, research done in New Hampshire suggests that it would be possible to replace all America's petroleum with synthetic diesel produced by algae in a system of ponds totally 15,129 square miles of desert (123 miles on a side).

Posted by: Bill Moore:

  Bill, One of my aims is to help prevent the US from making Europe's mistake of polluting itself with millions of petro-diesel cars. However, as I have made clear, compression ignition is fine if the fuel is clean. If there's a breakthrough which results in a feed stock which can only result in a 'carbon-heavy' biofuel feedstock, then I'll consider it on it's merits. But I'm with VW, Daimler-Chrysler (and the European Commission?) that we should be aiming at a World Fuel, with multiple regional feedstocks, which is not a million miles from E85 in its characteristics. The US has E85 now. It can easily migrate to World Fuel after 2020, with onboard reformers for fuel cells. I have yet to see properly peer-reviewed evidence for the algae solution. Could we have some meaningful links, please? If it really works, I'm all in favor of any solar-powered liquid-fuel feedstock solution.
Posted by: Chris Ellis:

  The best bio-fuel option is likely one we western societies seldom discuss or consider. More deliberation & studies on giant kelp bed farming in the ocean should offer a lot of hope. Giant kelp beds grow faster than any land based vegetation, require no fertilizer, require no irrigation, never result in water-usage suits between states, counties or communities, never suffer from droughts, do not result in phosphate or fertilizer-pollution of rivers, lakes or even the ocean. A side-benefit of kelp farming is that it improves fish breeding and fish yields & world oxygenation. Most of the surface of our earth is well established farmland (the oceans) already sitting & ready for instant use. This would allow us to grow food crops instead of energy crops on our farmlands also. Just for fun, I ran the nutritional numbers for calories available in kelp and 100 lbs of kelp can provide 77,382 BTU of energy; just about the same amount as one gallon of ethanol. A high-end number that lingers in my head from a study done many years ago puts a price tag of about $5.00 per 1,000,000 BTU captured from kelp energy conversion. If we change that into $ per gallon equivalent to gasoline, we see that energy from kelp is about 57 cents for the same amount of BTU energy contained in today's average gallon/US (114,500). Now bear in mind that is the cost of production, no distribution, taxation & etc. in that $.57 cents. Another plus for kelp farming, is that Canadian & even Alaskan waters have no problem supporting it whatsoever, when storms come along, the very inexpensive kelp frames used in kelp farming can be automatically submerged to avoid water-surface havoc and then easily resurfaced when the storm is past. Long story short -- don't short-sight the resources available for ethanol, energy, food or our future. Nature is angry with us right now and we are likely on the edge of a lot of hurt but, if we unite our resources and care for nature & each other a little better than we have been, there is actually a lot of hope out there for us still.
Posted by: Wayne Brown:

  Bill, thank you. That is what I have been trying to relay to Chris. We don't have enough biomass to go on as is. Additionally, why does Chris insist on specifying the polluting nature of diesel. Chris, that is why we are going low sulphur. The most difficult outstanding problem for diesels are the NOX's. With zero or ULS fuels and particulate filters, the particulate problem has already been proven to be effectively addressed. In every other category, the emissions are superior. Lower CO, lower VOC's, lower CO2 than even nat. gas when using fossil based fuels etc. etc. and of course diesels, like ethanol can also use CO2 nuetral non-fossil sources.
Posted by: Sheldon Harrison:

  Fantastically imaginative article. By 2015 we may likely have a good mix of vehicles of different propulsion methods vying for public acceptance. However, the future of cellulosic ethanol is far from certain, see "" for details, and I quote "...but substantial reductions in the cost of producing cellulase enzymes and improvements in the fermentation of nonglucose sugars to ethanol still are needed..." And another quote from same article: " ...Significant barriers to the success of cellulose-derived ethanol remain. For example, it may be difficult to create strains of genetically engineered yeast that are hardy enough to be used for ethanol production on a commercial scale. In addition, genetically modified organisms may have to be strictly contained. Other issues include the cost and mechanical difficulties associated with processing large amounts of wet solids...." In contrast, hydrogen fuel is far simpler to produce in one step from water using far less solar energy than biofuel, and can flow anywhere in pipelines. Plugged-in electric/fuel cell hybrid is the most energy efficient and utilizes the simplest fuels available and, with higher energy cost projected in the future, will be the most likely option.
Posted by: Roger Pham:

  All of you have very good and valid points. The key points are we need a lot of energy and the best way to get it is to use many sources which may not be perfect but a step in a cleaner direction. Efficiency and conserving energy needs to be the base of all of these solutiions. Even an all renewable pure electric answer could not meet our fast growing demand , we need as many choices as we can get. Together we can improve and refine each one to meet the demands for any area in the word. It's not all one choice, it working together with many steps to climb above our problems. Jim
Posted by: Jim Stack:

  I'd like to have some of what you're smoking, Chris. Seems the future so bright, I'll have to wear shades.
Posted by: dursun sakarya:

  Old report, Roger. You quote from which appears to be at least five years old. Many of the cost reduction and processing targets identified have already been met, or exceeded. For an up-to-date summary, try an April 2005 report - Here's a quote {In October of 2004, Genencor announced a 30-fold reduction in the cost of enzymes to a range of $.10-$.20 per gallon of ethanol. To achieve the savings, Genencor developed a mixture of genetically modified enzymes that act synergistically to convert cellulose into glucose. Novozymes Biotech has also progressed in reducing enzyme costs from $5.00 to $.30 per gallon of ethanol. In April of 2004, Novozymes was granted a one year extension and awarded an additional $2.3 million to further reduce the cost of enzymes to $.10 per gallon.} Sounds like significant progress to me. And the emissions argument has moved on in Europe, focusing on CO2, which will throttle back diesel fuel, quickly. Just look at the new tax incentives to buy low-CO2 vehicles. And watch the promotional effect of low fuel tax on E85, relative to diesel and gasoline.
Posted by: Chris Ellis:

  Thanks, Chris, for the new info. Our future energy portfolio now appears to be even better. But, make no mistake about it, the future can be only bright IF we work hard toward it and take actions for it NOW. You don't need to smoke anything, Dursun, one just need to use one's imagination together with knowledge gathering. Hoping that Sen. Lieberman will energize Congress to move our country toward our future direction, leaving deadbeat Bush in the past.
Posted by: Roger Pham:

  Chris you seem to inundate these pages with your ideas and fiction,why don't you consider running for president when Bush is finished especially since you are so concerned with America and its bad habits. Lets have a little less of I know it all and want to force it on everyone attitude,you are not going to change mr and mrs America for they don't know you exist.
Posted by: D Gate:

  Well I for one have enjoyed chris's comments on ethanol. I am a newbie to this area but understand basic manners. Its wrong to flame someone just because you dont agree with their point of view. All points are valid and there is rarely one definitive correct answer. Dan
Posted by: dan mortimer:

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