In Fuel-Efficient Auto Contest – Gasoline trumps Electricity
The Edison2 Very Light Car won the prize for best “mainstream” car in the Progressive Automotive X Prize – while I would argue against its merits in the style department, the 100 mpg rating it boasts is pretty sweet.
The first Progressive Automotive X Prize was a one year race to design fuel-efficient cars that are “safe, affordable, and desirable” that ended last Friday. As reported in this NY Times piece , the competition produced a group of finalists with vehicles that could achieve 80, 100, or even 180 miles-per-gallon, while still looking stylish (at least to the designer) and being affordable.
The winner of this competition might surprise you because it wasn’t an all-electric car produced by one of big guys – that is Ford, Chevy, Toyota and their cousins – but instead was a gasoline-powered vehicle created by Virginia-based company Edison2, running on E85 (a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline). The “Very Light Car” gets about 100 mpg and had the lowest carbon footprint of the cars in the competition. While I am personally not a fan of the car’s style, 100 mpg does sound pretty great.
According to David Friedman, Director of the Clean Vehicle Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, it is energy density that led to the Very Light Car’s triumph. The high density of energy in gasoline (or in this case gasoline/ethanol blend) has made it the king among transportation fuels – because, what fun is driving if you have to fill up every 50 miles?
More to come on the concept of energy density in future posts…
So, why do we care about fuel-efficient cars?
Money… air…. water… money….
About 2/3 of the petroleum used in the United States is dedicated to the transportation sector – our cars, buses, planes, and trains – which currently runs almost exclusively on this fossil fuel. Today, we require that the gasoline used to power a large portion of this sector be blended with ethanol, a biofuel derived from corn (at least in this country). But, this has done little to curb our total petroleum consumption.
Interestingly, the same fraction (2/3) of the petroleum that we use is imported from other countries.
With concerns about the economics and environmental impacts of our transportation sector, the efficiency of the transportation has gained focus – resulting in hybrid electric vehicles like the Toyota Prius and electric-only vehicles like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf. The Progressive Automotive X Challenge was designed to bring the industry another leap forward. While I’m not sure it achieved that goal (i still can’t picture myself driving a Very Light Car down 6th street), the spirit behind the competition is still a great one… and maybe the $5 million prize will act as a good catalyst to push us into the future.
To read more about the competition and the reaction to the winner’s circle, check out the story here.