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Oil Dependence and Alternatives

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There’s growing concern that the United States is addicted to oil but let’s face it, we love our independent lifestyle and our cars.  The thought of giving that up is unimaginable. 

Here in Austin, a group of folks are working on ways to lessen our dependence on foreign oil by promoting plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles, and bio-fuels.



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Roger Duncan, Austin Energy

There’s growing awareness of green house global concerns as well as the supply of oil around the world and the dependency on oil. 

Russel E. Smith, Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association

Are we addicted to oil?  We use a lot of it. Do we need it?  Apparently.  Do we want it? Absolutely.  Can we find some way to replace a significant portion of it?  I think we can.  I think it’s readily available and coming online fairly quickly.  The future of transportation is a gradual transition to more efficient, more effective, more environmentally benign fuels and vehicles.

Two readily available forms of alternative fuels are ethanol and bio-diesel.  Jim Holland, owner of Eco-wise,sells American made bio-diesel from his South Austin store. 

Jim Holland, owner Eco-Wise

Bio-diesel is a vegetable based fuel for diesel cars and trucks.  It’s made from things like cottonseed oil, soybean oil, or any other vegetable oils.  It can be blends of all those or 100 percent of any of them.

What if the car you drive is not a diesel.  Well, there is another bio-fuel known as E85 that can be used to power what are called flex fuel vehicles.

Russel Smith

For many years now manufacturers of vehicles have been producing flex fuel vehicles.  What it means is they are flexible in the fuel they use and they use a fuel that is onboard in the tank.  This means that they can either use straight gasoline as we now know it or another fuel.  More prominently the flex fuel vehicle is an ethanol flex fuel vehicle that can run on either a hundred percent gasoline or eighty five percent ethanol, fifteen percent gasoline known as E85. 

Texas has the largest number of flex fuel vehicles of any state, estimated to be somewhere in the range of 450,000 of these vehicles.  The complete vast majority of them are running on gasoline. And many of the people who own these vehicles don’t know that they are flex fuel vehicles.

Bio-fuels are a net winner from an energy standpoint and an environmental standpoint. Well what negative is there?  Ethanol for instance gets lower mileage.  E85 will reduce the mileage of a vehicle by an estimated 20 to 30 percent.  On the other hand, it gives vehicles more power.

I think we are more rapidly than more people think headed towards what may be an ideal at least for the foreseeable future solution to reducing our dependence, and that is the plug-in hybrid.

Everyone has become familiar with hybrid vehicles, and we’ve seen then all over town.  But what is a plug-in hybrid?

Roger Duncan

A plug-in hybrid is just like a hybrid except that you have added a lot more batteries to the motor and so you’ve arranged it so you can plug it in to an ordinary wall socket.  Between that larger battery pack and plugging it in and still being able to run on a gasoline engine, or an engine fueled by ethanol, you’ll get a much larger gas mileage, over 100 miles per gallon. 
This is a vehicle that allows you to get away from the dependency of oil, reduce both the cost to the consumer and the environmental costs at the same time.  It is very rare to find the technology that wins on as many fronts as this technology does.

While the city pushes for plug-in hybrid vehicles, one Austin group that has been promoting electric vehicles is the Austin Area Electric Auto Association.  

Aaron Choate, owner of 1961 Henney Kilowatt Electric car

A lot of people think that the electric car is been something that has been worked on recently and something that would require expensive materials to build and produce, but the fact of the matter is that electric cars were something that were vying for the public’s interest even back when Ford was producing the model A Fords.   At the same time there were things like the Detroit Electric.

Aaron has done some research to find out more about his 1961 electric vehicle.

The Henney Coach Company decided they were going to import vehicles from Renault.  This is a Renault Dauphine body from 1959, and they imported it as a glider and they produced an electric car from that and sold it as a Henney Kilowatt. 

Electric cars are possible, electric cars are here and for a lot of people electric cars may actually be a solution for your transportation needs.

Unlike hybrid vehicles, electric cars run solely on batteries that can be charged overnight.

Aaron  Choate

This car plugs in to a 110 outlet.  Just like any outlet in your house.  If you wanted to charge faster, there are chargers that will work on dryer outlets that will charge much faster than this one will.

This is an example of an older car, but a lot of members in our group have worked on cars that are more recent. For example Mark Farver, our chapter president, has converted a Toyota MR2 to an electric car.  We have a member, Christopher Robison, who is working on an Isuzu Hombre.  He’s calling it the OHMbre.

We’re excited by the fact that any charging infrastructure that is put into place to support the plug-in hybrids could also be if it’s designed to support us, be made so that we can plug into it as well as battery electric vehicles.

Roger Duncan, Austin Energy

There are two reasons why people should want plug-in hybrids as an option.  They’re cheaper and they’re cleaner.  If you were to plug in your vehicle and drive it the next day on electricity, you would be running on the equivalent of 75 cents a gallon gasoline.  So there’s a tremendous difference between the price of electricity and the price of gasoline at this point.

Secondly while you’re running on that electricity, there are no emissions coming out of the car.  It is a cleaner vehicle particularly if your utility is offering wind power or other green power or natural gas as a utility fuel.

Aaron  Choate, AustinEV.org

It feels great to be able to see the gas prices and know that I’m not having to pay that price.  It feels good to drive an electric.

Whether it’s hybrid, electric, plug-in, or cars running on bio-fuels, the future of transportation looks promising.  Austin is embracing both the old and new technology that will help wean our addiction to foreign oil.

Aaron Choate, AustinEV.org

I’m hoping that we will have more electric cars on the road.  I expect that there will be a good number of people that have chosen to use plug in hybrids when they become available.

Roger Duncan, Austin Energy

We think that the economics of the plug-in hybrid will drive this market because we don’t think that gasoline is going to stay as cheap as it is today.

Russel  Smith

What if it was a flex fuel hybrid plug in vehicle?   You’ve got clean renewable fuel, you’ve got electricity which can be generated from a renewable source and you got a super capacitor capability that increases your electric distance that you can run on electricity alone, you put those things together and I think you have a great platform. 

Produced by Elena Ramirez

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