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ACT Expo Highlights the Future of Fuels

by Conrad Mascarenhas


Enthusiasm for natural gas, biodiesel, and electric vehicles resonated throughout the Alternative Clean Transportation Expo, which concluded last week in Washington, D.C.


Fuel substitution technologies like those developed by Ecodual will encourage more diesel trucks to accommodate natural gas.  Their Max/SR fuel conversion system for heavy-duty trucks allows normal diesel trucks to run on 50-60% natural gas.  Fitted trucks always need to have diesel to ignite the natural gas, but when the natural gas runs out, the truck can then operate purely on diesel before refueling.  The greatest advantage for fleet owners is a lower cost.  Ecodual boasts a 25% lower operational cost.  Because burning natural gas emits less carbon than does diesel, fuel conversion is also better for the environment.


At the same time, diesel itself is becoming more environmentally friendly. By processing feedstock, such as raw vegetable oil or animal fats, refineries can make pure biodiesel that is then blended with petroleum.  Usually, American manufacturers take soybean oil and run it through a chemical process called transesterification.  An alternative process called hydrotreating replaces petroleum’s sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen and "converts the oil’s triglyceride molecules into paraffinic hydrocarbons," according to the pamphlet "Diesel Technology."   The advantages of this process include “reduced waste and by-products, higher energy density and improved cold flow properties”.   Unfortunately, the growth of biodiesel is not only hampered by a limited quantity of feedstocks, but also by restrictions on high concentrations of biodiesel blends.   “Your warranty is voided if you drive anything higher than a B5 vehicle,” a representative said.   


The expo showcased a couple of electric vehicles.  Greentech Automotives’s first purely electric Sedan uses an imported Chinese chasse currently used in Brazil for gasoline-based cars.  Inside the car, Greentech has added a power meter, which indicates how far the accelerator is pressed, and taken out parking from the shift selector.  Drivers simply shift into neutral and put the parking brake on.  Honda’s Fit EV, another pure electric, offers three modes—economy, normal, and sporty—which provide different balances of fuel economy and acceleration.  


High prices often dissuade consumers from buying electric vehicles.  Honda’s website lists the base price of a Honda Fit as $15,425 while a Fit EV is $36,625.  No matter the price, consumers must wait to own a Fit EV.  Currently, Honda only allows leasing of the vehicle, at $259 a month for 36 months.


Fortunately, electric vehicle technology continues to improve.  Clipper Creek now sells a 3.3kW charger that will fully charge a Chevy Volt “three hours from empty.”   And charging stations are becoming less pricey -   the LCS-25, according to representative, was priced last year at $1000, and now it's $595.  While decreasing charger prices may not predict similar changes in vehicle prices, better technology will surely bring down costs in the future.


Conrad Mascarenhas is a Volunteer Writer for GoodSpeaks.  He has spent two years as a volunteer English teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes Church.  He lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where he attends Walt Whitman High School as a rising senior.