Transport Fuels

Thanks to the snow we gotrecently, I found myself walking past my Leaf in the garage to the snow blower, which I had to refill with gasoline before clearing out my driveway.

While I was pouring about a quart of poisonous, smelly, highly processed, ancient algae into the snow blower’s tank, I wondered: Would it make sense to run cars on gasoline?

I know — that sounds absurd because electric cars work so well by refueling with electrons that no sane person would consider making the switch. But for sake of discussion, let’s play out the scenario, as I did, while walking up and down my driveway behind the blower.

Imagine you had a gasoline-fueled vehicle. You’d have to refill it with that same explosive, poisonous, and decidedly smelly fuel. I imagine there would be gasoline stations, like the one where I and others buy fuel for lawn and garden equipment, all over the place, many more than we have today. The less I think about the leaks from all those huge underground tanks, plus the fumes such places would give off, the better.

But let me focus on the vehicles.

I don’t want to get into the numbers, but a very crude back-of-the-envelope calculation says that the cost of fuel per mile driven for a gasoline car would be quite a bit more than the electricity cost for an electric car.

Your car would have to include a pretty hefty muffler. The five horsepower engine on my snow blower is plenty loud enough with a muffler, so a much larger engine would be unbearably loud without a pretty sophisticated exhaust system.

You’d also have to add a bunch of stuff, like a big liquid fuel tank that holds, what?, 10? 20? more? gallons of gasoline. The idea of driving around with that in or under my car is unsettling, to say the least, given that one gallon has the explosive force of several sticks of dynamite.

But wait — how the heck would you start it? My snow blower has a pull-starter and an electric starter. A pull starter for a car-size engine wouldn’t be usable, and you couldn’t guarantee that you’d have access to a plug every place you park, so the car, even though it runs on gasoline, would have to include a starter motor and a battery. To make sure the battery was always charged, you’d have to hook it up to the generator that you’d need anyway to run the lights, radio, and other electrical goodies. If your battery died or couldn’t start your car in the winter, that would be a huge inconvenience.

And the exhaust would be filthy. The muffler on my snow blower is black with soot. Put millions of cars on the road with much bigger engines and you’d have to add some sort of contraption or system to clean up some of that junk and other emissions spewing into the air. Perhaps some sort of catalytic process…? Even still, it would be very easy to run a car in an enclosed space and cause serious health issues for people, or even kill them.

Speaking of emissions, I can barely imagine what the CO2 output of many millions of gasoline cars would be like.

An engine that big would likely not be air cooled, so you’d need a radiator and coolant and a pump to move the coolant. And you couldn’t use water, at least in a location where the temp gets below freezing.

Think of the brakes — you’d throw away all that energy every time you stepped on the brake pedal, not like electric cars where regenerative braking captures that energy, feeds it into the battery, and extends the life of your brakes.

And here’s something I bet a lot of you didn’t think about: You’d need a multi-gear transmission, as gasoline engines only produce usable torque over a relatively short RPM range. (My Leaf is a 1-speed, obviously.) Even my snow blower has 6 forward and 2 reverse speeds. A car-size transmission, with who knows how many gears, would be absurdly complex, and it would have to handle an extreme amount of torque under all sorts of conditions. I bet there would be a whole sub-industry of shops that did nothing but repair busted transmissions.

OK, as I said above, this is just a silly mental exercise. But it does highlight the absurdity of cars that run on gasoline.

Excuse me, I have a sudden urge to go hug my Leaf.

Photo Credit: Snowblowers and Transport Fuels/shuttterstock