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User Input: Thirsty Planet

I’ve heard countless conspiracy theories about amazing energy-related inventions snatched up by big corporations and buried. Rumor has it that someone right here in my home town of Buttcrack Nowhere invented some sort of fuel injector that would give the 1972 Chevy Land Yacht a fuel economy of around 150MPG. (There is a 79% chance that every number you’ve read so far is estimated and/or made up.)

The fact remains, conspiracy or not, advances in energy efficiency and production hasn’t progressed as quickly as most of the rest of the science and tech world. Is it really a conspiracy or has sci-fi artificially raised my expectations?

  • Alff

    I know the answer to your question but am being paid handsomely to keep it to myself.

  • acarr260

    I recreated the mythical water carburetor yesterday afternoon. I'm sure it's just a big coincidence, but my workshop mysteriously burned to the ground last night and there has been a nondescript white can parked outside of my office all day. On the positive side, some guy was messing with my car at lunch and when I confronted him, he explained that he was working on my brakes as he had noticed them squeaking earlier. Seemed like a nice enough guy…

  • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

    Science has progressed, I averaged 19.2 mpg in my '67 1.8L 4 cylinder ~100hp Volvo for the last tankful. My theory is that as cars get quieter they get more fuel efficient. Just think how silent a Leaf must be! I must be wasting fuel for the noises I say I like.

  • skitter

    Kelvin-Planck >> Moore's Law

    We can learn the laws of thermodynamics once, and spend the rest of our lives and every advance in computing power to steal a few more fractions of a percent from every drop of fuel (or sunlight), or we can spend our days learning about the fascinating intrigues of some silly famous people.

  • Feds_II

    Damnit. Skitter beat me to it.

    As I always say: Thermodynamics is not just a good idea, it's the law.

    Practically, energy efficiency hasn't rocketed upwards because oil is too cheap too energy dense, and nobody ever put a cost on polluting the air. In the automotive, refrigerator, and lighting arenas "Shiny and powerful" has always beaten "Energy Efficient" because the penalty for choosing the former is too low.

  • OA5599

    Researchers have been doing it wrong. They've long theorized that reducing weight is the key to good gas mileage.

    Instead, they need to focus on adding weight.

    <img src="http://images.yourdictionary.com/images/definitions/lg/cinder-block.jpg"&gt;

    Put a couple of these babies under each corner of your car, and your fuel consumption will drop to zero.

  • Jim-Bob

    It’s probably a little of both. I think that major energy companies may have tried to stop new technologies that threatened their existence at some time in the past but I also think there are other factors at play as well. Car makers do not make big profits off of small, cheap cars. If they did then the Geo Metro would still be around (well… technically it still is made in Pakistan but I am referring to the US market.). Instead, auto makers push bigger, gimmick filled vehicles that have high margins and most Americans eat them up. Hybrids sell very well while they cost about 3x as much as a Metro-like car, say a 3 cylinder Toyota Aygo, and get no better fuel economy. Green is, after all, a gimmick just like real wood trim, leather seats or in dash sat/nav units. People want gimmicks though because it is a way of flashing your income to the world. Gimmicks also add weight and reduce fuel economy but the vast majority of people don’t seem to care that they are needlessly spending an extra $100 or so a month in fuel to have them.

    Size is also a gimmick. People think they are safer in a heavier vehicle. While this may be true in a head on collision, a smaller vehicle may well have better dynamics and allow the driver to avoid a collision that the driver of a Hummer H2 could not. Plus we have all be told that no one should ever suffer the least bit of discomfort when they are a passenger in a car. Thus people buy vehicles with huge expanses of interior space that is rarely ever utilized. Most SUV style vehicles after all are not designed with spatial efficiency in mind. However good small cars (Issigonis’ Mini or the Honda Jazz/Fit for example) are designed to use the available space very well. Both of those cars could easily accommodate 4 adults without being too cramped.

    While I am on a rant, it is IMPOSSIBLE for one part to make a engine significantly more efficient unless the part it replaces was that inefficient. In the case of a fuel distribution device there is very little that can be done to make it much more efficient without also doing complimentary internal engine changes to make the engine more thermally efficient. A fuel mixer cannot change the amount of combustion heat an engine wastes. Since wasted energy is usually measured in terms of thermodynamics equations (in the form of heat) no significant change can be made without balancing those equations. No matter what carb/injector style you have it will not alter the heat lost through the head, exhaust and water jackets enough to make a 10 mpg car get 100 mpg. Remember too that the leaner you run an engine, the hotter it runs and the more likely it is to melt parts. You would need to deal with thermal stresses in order to run a much leaner mixture. Now you could do that with a thermal barrier coating and better materials that resist heat better ( stainless steel, inconel, ceramics, etc.) but then you run up against cost and diminishing returns.

    There are greater efficiencies to be had though. Mazda is introducing a new pump gas engine (Skyactiv-G) that has 14:1 compression. They are managing combustion heat via chamber and piston design, exhaust manifold design, and a very carefully managed set of fuel and spark maps with multiple injections per cycle via direct injection. It’s important to note though that the application of these technologies has had to wait until other technologies could catch up to the theory to make it cost effective to implement.

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