It’s a well-known fact that the world’s oil supply is diminishing, forcing automakers to develop engines that can use alternative fuels. While electric cars are the media darlings of the moment, companies are continuing to develop engines that can use biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel. To increase awareness of these efforts, internal and external teams have used these fuels to reach major technical achievements. From crossing frozen wastelands to breaking speed records, these vehicles show that alternative energy can reduce the use of petroleum in transportation and its associated carbon emissions without compromises in the usability we’ve grown to expect from our vehicles. Three recent achievements exemplify this spirit of innovation:
At the end of 2010, the Bio-Inspired Ice Vehicle (BIV) became the first vehicle to complete a trans-Antarctic expedition entirely on biofuels. Funded by Winston Wong, the E-85 powered BIV both showcased biofuel technology by proving it could survive in one of the harshest climates on earth while also serving a practical purpose by transporting scientists across the continent to areas where they needed to conduct research.
Land Speed Records
Unlike the BIV, John Petsche’s motorcycle is much more approachable. His idea was simple: Modify his Kawasaki so that it could burn an alternative fuel and get good gas mileage while keeping its construction simple enough that he could put it together in his garage. The result is a bike with a 350cc engine modified with off-the-shelf parts to run on straight vegetable oil, something that could easily be replicated by both home builders and manufacturers alike. The concept was proven when the bike set the land speed record for the 350cc alt-fuel motorcycle class at Maine’s Loring Timing Association.
Airborne Distance Records
Biofuel use extends well beyond land vehicles: Airlines are also looking toward this option to power their jets. Finnair recently set a record for the longest commercial airplane trip powered by biofuels. Covering a little over 900 miles, this trip used fuel formed from recycled biomass. Currently, Finnair is using the fuel in an experimental fashion: It isn’t financially practical to convert to biofuels yet, but with some work they believe they can get the price low enough to satisfy their fueling needs while reducing their impact on the environment.
When answering why the BIV would cross Antarctica, Winston Wong said that it was necessary to “do something that people can take notice [of] and say this is the future, the future of human endeavor” in an effort to reduce harm to the planet. Although these three projects were performed around the world in very different conditions, they all embodied that message and helped serve the same purpose: By pushing biofuel technology to the limits, they’re proving its viability. The creative solutions brought forth by these efforts will be the ones that will shift biofuels from niche products to a major part of our nation’s power.
Written by Alan Parker, an active blogger out of New York City whose writing covers green technology, the environment, and the great outdoors. You can follow him on Twitter @AGreenParker.