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When I was a freshman in college, I took a chemistry class with Dr. Majestic (awesome name, I know).  He was shy, soft-spoken, but definitely knew what he was talking about.  One of the things he taught us was information about the energy that fuels cars: hydrocarbons, ethanol, biofuels, and so forth.  In that class, I first learned that ethanol may not be the cure-all for our oil dependency.  I also learned that Dr. Majestic tended to piss off other drivers with his fuel-efficient driving techniques.  He might have taken it to the extreme (as in hardly ever braking), but his driving tips have stuck with me through the years.

  1. Brake as little as possible. When you brake, you’re taking away forward energy that you’ve already made (ie. gas you’ve already burned).  So don’t be a nervous soccer mom; try to avoid that lurchy, stop-start method of driving and make sure you’re not following so close that you’ll need to stand on the brake to avoid an accident.
  2. Accelerate smoothly with low RPMs.  Generally, the lower the RPMs, the better the mileage.  So try to avoid the street racer mindset. Yes, other cars will “beat” you.  But guess what?  You’ll catch up to that hotshot at the next red light, and you’ll have more money left in your pocket because you didn’t waste a bunch of gas getting there.
  3. Lighten up.  One reason microcars are so efficient is because they’re light, often weighing under a thousand pounds.  The more extra weight you haul around, the more fuel your car will guzzle.  So don’t be a pack rat; if you don’t need those power tools, leave ’em in the garage.  It’s just you driving around this week?  Ditch the extra seats.
  4. Plan ahead.  It sounds a little Type A, but it’s a simple idea: if you drive fewer miles, you will use less gas.  So don’t run around like a chicken with your head cut off driving all over town.  Besides, you’ll get everything done more quickly if you choose the shortest route!
  5. Take care of your car.  Like Andy told us, ensuring your tires are properly inflated can increase fuel efficiency up to three percent.  So don’t be a slacker mom/dad to your car.  Changing spark plugs, replacing gunky air filters, and changing your oil can help your car run its best, which will help out your mileage.

I don’t know for certain, but I’m pretty sure Dr. Majestic is cruising around in some SMV prototype or a car that runs off switchgrass.  While we aren’t all as ultra-attentive to our gas mileage, following a few simple guidelines can help us be a little better.

Want more advice?  Here, here, and here are some more thorough gas-saving tips.

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I’m not going to lie, this week has been a little crazy for me.  But I’ve got some pretty cool stuff coming up, so let’s take a look ahead.

The MSOE SMV team is moving right along.   They’re on spring break now, but for the most dedicated team members, that only means more time to work on the car!  Right now, they’re working on completing the plugs for the molds for the carbon fiber body, which is a much more complicated process than I would have guessed.  Making a plug involves some super-nice wood, paint, and fiberglass, and that’s all before they have anything to do with the carbon fiber.  I’m going to be getting more info on all this soon, so bear with me.  Just trust that the end results will be pretty sweet.  They plan to lay out the fiberglass to finish the molds next week, coincidentally on the team president’s birthday (what better way to celebrate, right?).  For now, here’s a pic of the bottom plug.

Bottom mold

There's part of the mold!

Yesterday, I went to visit the University of Wisconsin Hybrid Vehicle team, thanks to Andrea Parins.  It was really great to learn about another alternative energy project, and the team was very helpful.  You can look forward to more information about them in the near future.

Today, resident mechanic Andy (yeah, the one with the cute wave) is coming over to work on some cars, so I might get to chat with him.  Also, soon I’ll be posting a video of the microcars that helped inspire the SMV project, hopefully with some commentary from their owner, Carlo (you might remember him from the other SMV pics).

Lastly, soon I’ll be meeting with Brian Morstad, a teacher at Middleton High School who launched that school’s Highmileage Vehicle (HMV) project a few years ago, which ultimately led to MSOE’s project.  He can give us lots of insight into what goes into this project and what makes it so great for college kids, the environment, and the world at large.

So stay tuned!  Or as Andy once said, “Keep your left foot out of it and keep it under 65.”  Well, unless you have a stick shift, and then please do clutch with your left!

Sooo I guess I’m still on this biofuels kick.  Here’s something pretty neat going on in my hometown – Madison, Wisconsin.  Basically, they’re making jet fuel (and regular fuel, too) out of biomass, or leftover biological stuff like waste and plant materials.

Dinosaur

Personally, I think my bones make a great 93-octane gasoline.

But I’ll take it easy on the new biofuels now.  I want to ask a question: why the heck haven’t we adopted an entirely new fuel model?

Well, in America, we’re stubborn, individualistic, and set in our ways, for starters.  But there’s something bigger going on here.

Let’s think about it.  For the past 150 years or so, we’ve stuck a pipe in the ground and gotten in return an energy-rich mixture of ancient fossils (thank you, dinos).  It makes our cars go, it powers our tractors, it even starts our rickety old lawnmowers.  Basically, we’ve had it easy, and we coasted along intent on getting the most out of oil as we possibly could.

And now here we are.  Oil is running out, the planet is heating up, and things are generally just going to pot.  We want an answer!  Yet here we sit, most of us still driving fuel-dependent vehicles that get marginally better miles per gallon than cars ten or twenty years ago.  Are we just that resistant to change?  Maybe.

But here’s the thing: right now, there’s not an easy way out of our oil dependency, or even our “dirty energy” dependency.  There is no single front-runner in the biofuel or alternative fuel industry.  Instead, there are all kinds of small, somewhat helpful projects going on, and at this point, we don’t know if we will have one dominant solution or many.  Maybe there is no one solution, or maybe we just haven’t found it yet.  We have no choice but to keep looking, and I give a lot of credit to those who are.  There’s just not an easy fix – hard to admit in a society thrilled with one-click buying and fast ways to lose weight.  We didn’t get here overnight, and we can’t go back overnight.

So the next time you’re wondering why the heck we aren’t all just driving electric cars, think about just how easy we’ve had it.

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