Monday, 12 October 2015 00:00

Fact 1: Public transportation is one of the greenest, cleanest, environmentally friendliest ways to get to work.

Fact 2: It can be better.

Better not just by improving routes, efficiency and overcrowding, but by ditching fuel altogether.

Fact 3: Those black plumes of smoke that buses spew could be a thing of the past.

If a company called Proterra has its way, we could be well on our way to making that third fact a lung-friendly reality.

The company, run by early Tesla employee Ryan Popple, has just revealed a new electric bus that drove 258 miles on a single charge. Granted, it was empty. But the average route of a city bus is only 130 miles, so even with a full load, during a snowstorm and on rough roads, this groundbreaking bus would fare well enough to relieve the “range anxiety” that usually accompanies the words “electric car” (or, in this case, bus).

Fact 4: A diesel bus gets approximately five miles to the gallon.

Fact 5: This bus charges in as few as five minutes.

Those last two facts aren’t just neat and symmetrical; they illustrate just how much better public transportation can be if transit agencies could figure out a way to stop buying diesel buses and invest in clean tech.

And some have. Right now, you can find Proterra’s buses across America—in California, Washington, Texas, Florida and more. But the company has its sights set on, well, everywhere. While Popple understands that there are financial barriers, he also believes “there's no physical reason why you couldn't deploy zero-emission, quiet, high-tech buses."

Yes, it’s a big investment. Yes, it’s a big change. But so is pretty much anything worthwhile that could potentially help us stave off the effects of global warming. Popple and his people had the guts to not just imagine, but to start creating a future where clean tech is for everyone. Now we just need the gumption (and the funding) to hop on their bandwagon … ehrm … bus.

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Source: Fast.Co Exist, Proterra

Photo credit: Fasto.Co Exist: http://www.fastcoexist.com/3051475/meet-the-electric-bus-that-could-push-every-other-polluting-bus-off-the-road

Thursday, 11 June 2015 00:00

Biodiesels, at least to me, have been shadowy concepts that I am aware of but don’t understand, shrouded in mystery and the smell of French fries. I started looking into them to figure out what biodiesels are, what the environmental benefits are in favor of their use, what controversies are kicking around, and how much of a hassle it is to actually own a car modified to run on biodiesel.
One of the first things I discovered is that asking people who own biodiesel cars how much of a hassle it is to own one will not elicit a response that’s immediately relatable to non-biodiesel types. I headed over to Berkeley, where Biofuel Oasis serves the community with both biodiesel and urban farming goods (in lieu of selling candies and soda, as conventional gas stations tend to do, but then most conventional gas stations aren’t worker-owned co-ops in Berkeley.) I spoke with some of the customers there as they fueled up, and heard a few things many times:
“Oh, it’s just as easy as owning any other car – hey, could you pop the trunk for me so I can fill up the extra tanks?”
“After the conversion, it’s no big deal, as long as you’re comfortable with your rubber hoses and seals.”
“You can absolutely take long trips, just mix your own 20/80 mixture at your diesel pump, obviously.”
Being a person who’s generally open-minded about adopting new technology but nevertheless not comfortable with my rubber hoses and seals, I was intimidated by the mechanical know-how and insider language of the biodiesel-ed.
I think this is an experience that a lot of people share when it comes to modifying cars. Cars are big, expensive, dangerous, and intimidating, not to mention full of rubber hoses and seals. So let’s de-mystify!

What is diesel?

Diesel engines are the most efficient combustion engines, and a small diesel car generally gets 45 miles to the gallon. Diesel cars are quite common in Western Europe, due to their gas efficiency. Why haven’t American drivers embraced diesel? Some have, but others are put off by the problems that owning a diesel car can bring. The engines are louder, it’s really important not to miss those oil changes, many mechanics don’t have experience working on diesels, and you can only buy gas at gas stations that sell diesel fuel.
Diesel fuel was invented by Rudolf Diesel, who wanted to build something more efficient than the steam engine – and it worked. Diesels require far less fuel than conventional gas engines.
If you can tolerate a little more road noise and planning ahead to keep the tank full for 40-50 mpg, it’s definitely worth considering.

What’s biodiesel?

Biodiesel is oil with the glycerine removed through a chemical process, then put into your diesel engine to power your car. It’s nifty because it can be mixed with petroleum diesel (a.k.a the stuff that’s usually coming out of the diesel pumps at the gas station,) meaning that you aren’t limited by your access to biodiesel in case of a long trip or moving to a new area.

How is using a combustion engine helping the environment?

With fossil fuel, the material being burned and sent into the atmosphere is hundreds of millions of years old and from a time in evolutionary history where there were much lower levels of oxygen in the air than there are now, because there weren’t so many respiring plants sending oxygen into the air. Not only does fossil fuel need a three hundred million year time scale to make the fuel, but it’s far more prone to releasing greenhouse gases out into the atmosphere due to the high levels of carbon for the formation of CO2.
People drive, and when they do, the toll wrought by biofuels is far less than that of fossil fuel combustion.