The photo of Mike Racke’s twin-turbo bio-diesel ’70 Chevelle is a glimpse of things to come. It runs on old French fry oil, and makes about 1,000 horsepower on discarded waste. It’s not the kind of car the greenies really like to hear us talk about, because deep down inside, they just don’t like loud, obnoxious, road-hogging cars like this. They much prefer small, quiet, slow, imported cars like the Toyota Prius, but hey, tough cookies for them. They made the rules, and we’re now playin’ by ‘em.
On a scale of 1 to 5, here’s how I rate the following cutting-edge technologies for true environmental impact, and “hot rod-ability”:
Mike Racke’s twin-turbo ’70 Chevelle says it all. It runs 100 percent on post-consumer content, and makes mad ponies. Run it on regular diesel when McDonalds is low on waste oil. Because it relies on a home-based cottage industry of refining, the upside potential will always be weak. I like it 'cause the tree-huggers can't stop it.
Gas/Electric hybrid: 4.5
Gasoline is still the densest, most compact way to store energy. When used to power an electric motor, and in conjunction with regenerative braking, aerodynamics, and lightweight components, it packs a lot of bang for the buck. Count us in for hot rodding a Chevy Volt when it comes out. We’ll be kicking some Prius ass.
Direct Injection/stratified charge compression ignition: 4
This new technology takes gasoline engines to a whole new level, with super high compression ratios and super lean mixtures. Mad power is possible. It basically tricks gasoline into thinking it’s diesel. Greenies don’t like it because it doesn’t transform the world with mindless commuter trains.
This only gets a lower rating than gas/electric hybrid because it’s so damn hard to find. And when you do (like your home’s stove or dryer hookup), the state and Fed want to tax it extra as a motor fuel. Weenies. Really high octane numbers mean more compression and more power, plus we get to use existing hot rod hardware.
I’m still not completely sold on the actual energy value of a fuel that requires almost as much energy to create and transport it. You also need nearly twice as much of the stuff as gasoline to go the same miles. Still way better than hydrogen, and good for farmers in Iowa. The guys at Car Craft like it because it's better than eating Sterno.
Hydrogen: big fat “0”
Hydrogen as an energy “source” is a flat-out eco-marketing scam. Hydrogen is nothing more than electricity by proxy, only it's way less efficient, because it requires an extra energy-sucking conversion process. Hydrogen is liberated by electricity which can come from really dubious sources, such as coal-powered electric plants. Make hydrogen from solar or wind, and I might change my mind. Factoid: Most electricity on the west coast is generated by imported natural gas, which as a motor fuel is way more efficient than "converting" it to hydrogen.