abelard's home latest changes & additions at abelard.org link to document abstracts link to short briefings documents quotations at abelard.org, with source document where relevant click for abelard's child education zone economics and money zone at abelard.org - government swindles and how to transfer money on the net latest news headlines at abelard's news and comment zone
socialism, sociology, supporting documents described Loud music and hearing damage Architectural wonders and joys at abelard.org about abelard and abelard.org visit abelard's gallery Energy - beyond fossil fuels France zone at abelard.org - another France

transportable fuels

a briefing document

New translation, the Magna Carta

site map

This page helpful?
Like it ! Share it !
Transportable fuels is the seventh of a series of briefing documents on the problems of power consumption, posed by the steady depletion of fossil fuels and most particularly of pumpable oil.
One of a grouping of documents on global concerns at abelard.org.
on energy on global warming
sustainable futures briefing documents

On housing and making living systems ecological

Tectonics: tectonic plates - floating on the surface of a cauldron

Transportable fuels
Energy density (content) of common fuels

Fuel consumption comparison table – US-oriented
Fuel consumption comparison table – UK-oriented
Top-rated road vehicle fuel consumptions in the USA, 2003
Conversion tables for imperial gallons, US gallons and litres
Dodge city – is the USA quite mad?
making gas guzzlers fuel-efficient, starting in the USA Three and a half GoldenYak (tm) award.


I am no vehicle mechanic, car buff or physicist. My interest is confined to the fossil fuel problems.

This briefing document is only intended to orient you, the reader, and give some idea where to look for further exploration of these topics if you so wish.

Transportable fuels

A useful, if sketchy, introduction to the replacement of present transportable fuels as the pumpable oil supply shrinks. The article concentrates mainly on the advantages of ethanol over hydrogen in the near term, with references to various hybrid vehicles. Two GoldenYak (tm) award

“The hydrogen-fueled transit vision being peddled in Washington and Sacramento obscures a more achievable alternative.”

The point is to substitute for petrol and other transportable fossil-derived fuels.

‘Petrol’ or ‘gasoline’ is a complex mixture of hundreds of different hydrocarbons.

“The energy locked into one barrel of oil is equivalent to that expended by five labourers working 12-hour days non-stop for a year.”

Ethanol is what is more widely know as alcohol (booze!) or as grain alcohol. Methanol is known widely as wood alcohol or methylated spirits.

Alcohols are among the more abundantly produced organic chemicals in industry. Some, such as ethanol and methanol, are manufactured and used in great quantities.

Methanol and ethanol are good fuels for automobile engines because they have high octane ratings and low pollution emission. Gasohol, a solution of 10 percent ethanol in gasoline, is an alternative fuel that can be used in most automobiles.click to return to the index on Transportable fuels

For formation of methanol from electricity, air and water (pdf file).

Howstuffworks.com is a useful site providing information and diagrams, such as the next two links.
Here is a nice moving illustration of a diesel engine.
This is a good place to start exploring if you are interested in the chemical stuff about transportable fuels.

Gasoline, or petrol, is an aliphatic hydrocarbon. That is, it is made up of molecules composed of only hydrogen and carbon, which are arranged in chains. Gasoline/petrol molecules have from seven to 11 carbons in each chain.

Note that with less carbon (and hydrogen) in the chain, the molecule is lighter. With from one to four carbon atoms, the aliphatic hydrocarbon is a gas – methane (CH4), ethane (C2H6), propane (C3H8) and butane (C4H10). With from five to 18 carbon atoms, the molecule is a liquid; while with 19 or over carbon atoms, the molecules are all solids at room temperature.

    H H  H H H H H
     |   |    |   |   |   |   |
H-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-H Heptane [7]
     |   |    |   |   |   |   |
    H H  H H H H H
    H H  H H H H H  H H
     |   |    |   |   |   |   |    |   | 
H-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-H Nonane [9]
     |   |    |   |   |   |   |    |   | 
    H H  H H H H H  H H

advertising disclaimer

    H H  H H H H H  H
     |   |    |   |   |   |   |    |
H-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-H Octane [8]
     |   |    |   |   |   |   |    |
    H H  H H H H H  H

    H H  H H H H H  H H H

     |   |    |   |   |   |   |    |   |   |
H-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-H Decane [10]
     |   |    |   |   |   |   |    |   |   |
click to return to the index on Transportable fuels     H H  H H H H H  H H H

energy density (content) of common fuels

fuel type kWh/litre kWh/US gallon kWh/imperial gallon %age
gasoline/gas/petrol 10.1 37.9 45.9 1
diesel 8.9 33.7 40.5 88%
ethanol 5.9 22.2 26.8 58%
methanol 4.9 18.8 22.3 48%
butanol 8.1 30.7 36.8 80%
Liquid hydrogen approx. 2.22 approx. 8.4 approx.10.1 22%

The energy content of carbon-based fuels per unit mass is fairly constant, but their density differs significantly. Thus, the energy content of a litre, or a gallon, varies between the various types of these fuels.

abelard.org has standardised the table above using kWatt-hours, rather than MJ - megajoules, in order to enable easier understanding of other energy discussion at abelard.org, for instance at ‘a big power station’, or electricity usage and derivation.


Hybrid-engined vehicles are starting to flow onto the market. These vehicles are up to a couple of thousand dollars more expensive than petrol-engined vehicles. Diesel vehicles are, similarly, more expensive than hybrids.

Diesels are well established in Europe and, currently, give similar consumption performance, but they are rare in the USA.

The situation becomes confused because there are all sorts of subsidies and goverment interference in the market of the vehicle, fuel and road-building sectors. For example, the USA is currently giving vast subsidies to heavy SUVs (sports utility vehicles). Smaller subsidies are available in California for hybrids. (This item on fuel consumptions includes links to tax breaks for SUVs and hybrids.)

In the UK, approximately three-quarters of the fuel price is government tax, and diesel prices are maintained at the same level as petrol prices. On the European continent, diesel fuel prices are 20 + % lower than petrol ones, but any fuel saving is heavily offset by considerable tolls on motorways.

It is probable that a diesel or hybrid vehicle will not do more than recover, in fuel savings, the excess expenditure over the vehicle's lifetime.[1] Government priorities tend to be to maximise tax revenue and appeasing their corporate clients, with no great concern for environment and efficiency.

It is necessary to keep in mind that hybrid cars are more complicated and require heavy battery packs. Part of any assessment of a vehicle’s ecology credentials would have to include the energy and materials involved in its production. It is important to realise that lowering the weight of a vehicle also lowers the required size of the engine. This lowers the car’s weight still further—a virtuous feedback. Because hybrids can use their electric motors to assist immediate acceleration, the main drive unit may be smaller.

Hybrids have the potential to generate less pollution; as also do diesels just by virtue of their lower fuel consumption. While there are particulate concerns with diesel, modern diesel engines and fuels are reducing these problems considerably.click to return to the index on Transportable fuels

Comparison of miles per US gallon, miles per imp. gallon, litres per 100km
  mpg [UK]      (km/g) mpg [US]      (km/g) litres/100km
Dodge Ram SRT-10 > 10 (16) 8.3 (13.1) 30.1
  20 (32) 16.7 (26.7) 14.2
  30 (48) 25.0 (40.0)


  40 (64) 33.3 (53.3) 7.1
Toyota Echo (petrol) > 50 (80) 41.4 (66.7) 5.7
Toyota P || Honda C || VW (diesel) > 60 (96) 50.0 (80.0) 4.7
  70 (112) 58.3 ( 93.3) 4.1
Honda Insight (hybrid)> 80 (128) 66.7 (106.7) 3.6
Comparison of miles per imp. gallon, miles per US gallon, litres per 100km
  mpg [US]      (km/g) mpg [UK]      (km/g) litres/100km
Dodge Ram SRT-10 > 10 (16) 12.0 (19.3) 23.6
  20 (32) 24.1 (38.6) 11.7
  30 (48) 36.1 (57.8) 7.9
Toyota Echo (petrol) > 40 (64) 48.2 (77.1) 5.9
Toyota P || Honda C || VW(diesel) > 50 (80) 60.2 (96.4)


Honda Insight (hybrid) > 60 (96) 72.3 (115.7) 3.9
  70 (112) 84.3 (134.9) 3.4

Top-rated road vehicle fuel consumptions in the USA, 2003
Honda Insight (hybrid - gasoline-electric engine) 64 miles per US gallon
Toyota Prius (hybrid - gasoline-electric engine) 48 mpg (US)
Honda Civic Hybrid (hybrid - gasoline-electric engine) 48 mpg (US)
Volkswagen TDI (diesel engine) 45 mpg (US)
Toyota Echo (petrol engine) 38 mpg (US)
US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rating,
combined highway and city figures

Conversion table imperial [UK] gallon US gallon litre click to return to the index on Transportable fuels

imperial (UK) gallon

1 1.2 4.546
US gallon 0.83 1 3.785
litre 0.22 0.26 1
DaimlerChrysler Dodge Ram SRT-10 pickup SUV                         

dodge city – is the USA quite mad?

the public relations message from DaimlerChrysler

“ [...] our vehicles today, for example, have innovative technologies for reduced fuel consumption and emission levels and they do distinctly reduce pollutant exhaust caused by road traffic.”

Greater savings through smaller engines
[..] the new 4-cylinder engine saves up to one-fifth on fuel [..] especially when the cubic capacity of the engine is reduced. ”

“ [..] DaimlerChrysler will ensure mobility in the future, too, with its conservational approach towards resources. The corporation will continue to play a leading role in this process both with the development of engines consuming less fuel and generating fewer emissions [..] ”

the reality

“Going on sale this fall the trucks include a four-door version of the Dodge Ram SRT-10 pickup, complete with a 500-horsepower [8.3-liter] V-10 engine.

“The regular cab version of the SRT-10 has already given Chrysler bragging rights for brute force. In February it earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest production pickup truck ever, with a measured top speed of nearly 155 miles per hour.”

The letters SRT stand for Street and Racing Technology.

DaimlerChrysler Dodge Ram SRT-10 pickup SUV


This is how DiamlerChrysler introduces their new model:

“No one else sports a class-obliterating 500 horsepower and 525 lb.-ft. of torque. And none of those "toy" trucks can even think about topping 150 mph or reaching 60 mph in just over 5 seconds.”

Fuel consumption test results for the Ram SRT-10 are
“Highway”:   15.76 litres per 100 km 15 miles per US gallon 12.5 miles per imperial gallon
“City”:   26.25 litres per 100 km    9 miles per US gallon   7.5 miles per imperial gallon
Combined highway/city:   21.5   litres per 100 km 11 miles per US gallon   9 miles per imperial gallon

Fuel consumption tests are performed in the USA by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [2]. Typically, such tests are negociated between government and major interests like the oil and vehicle lobbies.You will notice that these fuel consumption tests are deliberately designed to minimise and underplay fuel consumption in normal driving. The official line is that the tests are meant only to be used for comparing different vehicle consumptions. There is no mention of 70 mph highway/motorway driving or any other high fuel consumption activity, let alone going at 155 mph in a truck. For this last, the observer would wonder how many gallons to the mile was being burnt up.
[There is a US government information gold-mine, a FAQ page on understanding fuel ratings and giving good advice concerning fuel consumption.]

“ [...] a long-time customer come in with her new car, complaining about her gas mileage. It was a 2000 model year car with about 9000 miles on it. She said that the window sticker said the gas mileage was 27 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on the highway. She said that the best she ever got with it was 19 mpg.”

As you will see, here is an ordinary driver ending up with two-thirds, going on a half, the number of miles per gallon that the EPA figures would have led them to believe. Put this ludicrous Dodge truck into the hands of the sort of boy racer who would crave such a vehicle and you might wonder what chance of driving five miles to a US gallon. So much for DaimlerChrysler’s “conservational approach towards resources”.

related material
Henry Ford, Ignorant Genius - Introduction | Henry Ford 1

end notes

  1. 27.12.2006: “The federal Environmental Protection Agency announced a new system Monday for evaluating fuel economy [...].

    “With the new testing requirements, the EPA is attempting to come up with estimates that more closely reflect the real-world mileage motorists can expect when they purchase a vehicle.

    “Under the current system, which has been in effect since 1975 and was last changed in 1984, actual mileage is often far lower than the posted EPA ratings.”
    [Quoted from commondreams.org]

    Chart showing US vehicle fuel efficiencies:
    Fuel efficiency.
    click to return to the index on Transportable fuels image source:Energy Information Administration, Environmental Protection Agency

making gas guzzlers fuel-efficient, starting in the usa Three and a half GoldenYak (tm) award.

“Goodwin leads me over to a red 2005 H3 Hummer that's up on jacks, its mechanicals removed. He aims to use the turbine to turn the Hummer into a tricked-out electric hybrid. Like most hybrids, it'll have two engines, including an electric motor. But in this case, the second will be the turbine, Goodwin's secret ingredient. Whenever the truck's juice runs low, the turbine will roar into action for a few seconds, powering a generator with such gusto that it'll recharge a set of "supercapacitor" batteries in seconds. This means the H3's electric motor will be able to perform awesome feats of acceleration and power over and over again, like a Prius on steroids. What's more, the turbine will burn biodiesel, a renewable fuel with much lower emissions than normal diesel; a hydrogen-injection system will then cut those low emissions in half. And when it's time to fill the tank, he'll be able to just pull up to the back of a diner and dump in its excess french-fry grease--as he does with his many other Hummers. Oh, yeah, he adds, the horsepower will double--from 300 to 600.”

“GM's commitment is a start, however halting. Overall, though, Detroit still seems to be all but paralyzed by the challenges of fuel economy, emissions, and alternative fuels. And it's not just about greed or laziness: Talk to car-industry experts, and they'll point out a number of serious barriers to introducing radically new alternative-fuel vehicles on a scale that will make a difference. One of the highest is that low-emission fuels--biodiesel, ethanol, electricity, hydrogen, all of which account for less than 3% of the nation's fuel supply--just aren't widely available on American highways. This creates a chicken-and-egg problem. People won't buy alternative-fuel cars until it's easy to fill them up, but alternative fuel makers won't ramp up production until there's a viable market.

“Goodwin admits all these things are true but believes the country could be weaned off gasoline in a three-step process. The first would be for Detroit to aggressively roll out diesel engines, much as Europe has already begun to do (some 50% of all European cars run diesel). In a single stroke, that would improve the nation's mileage by as much as 40%, and, because diesel fuel is already widely available, drivers could take that step with a minimum of disruption. What's more, given that many diesel engines can also run homegrown biodiesel, a mass conversion to diesel would help kick-start that market. (This could have geopolitical implications as well as environmental and economic ones: The Department of Transportation estimated in 2004 that if we converted merely one-third of America's passenger cars and light trucks to diesel, we'd reduce our oil consumption by up to 1.4 million barrels of oil per day--precisely the amount we import from Saudi Arabia.)

The second step in Goodwin's scheme would be to produce diesel-electric hybrid cars. This would double the mileage on even the biggest diesel vehicles. The third phase would be to produce electric hybrids that run in "dual fuel" mode, burning biodiesel along with hydrogen, ethanol, natural gas, or propane. This is the concept Goodwin is proving out in his turbine-enhanced H3 Hummer and in Neil Young's Lincoln: "At that point, your mileage just goes really, really high, and your emissions are incredibly low," he says. Since those vehicles can run on regular diesel or biodiesel--and without any alternative fuel at all, if need be--drivers wouldn't have to worry about getting stranded on the interstate. At the same time, as more and more dual-fuel cars hit the road, they would goose demand for genuinely national ethanol, hydrogen, and biodiesel grids.”

Link from Limbic click to return to the index on Transportable fuels

Related further documents
On energy
1 Replacing fossil fuels—the scale of the problem
2 Nuclear power - is nuclear power really really dangerous?
3 Replacements for fossil fuels—what can be done about it?
3a Biofuels   3b Photovoltaics (solar cells)
3c Non-pv (photovoltaic) solar technology
3d Tar sands and shale oil    3e Wind power
5 Energy economics—how long do we have?
6 Ionising radiation and health—risk analysis
7 Transportable fuels    7a Fuel cells
8 Distributed energy systems and micro-generation
8a Geothermal systems and heat exchangers
8b Combined energy systems   
8c Energy storage
9 Fossil fuel disasters   
Fossil fuels are a dirty business
11Books on energy replacements with reviews

On global warming
4 Global warming
4a Anthropogenic global warming, and ocean acidity
4b Energy pricing and greenwash
4c How atmospheric chemistry and physics effects global warming
4d Antarctica melting ice, sea levels, water and weather implications
4e Gathering data to test global warming
4f Arctic melting ice, sea levels
4g Shifting global and local weather patterns
4h Dendroclimatology

On housing and making living systems ecological

Tectonics: tectonic plates - floating on the surface of a cauldron

sustainable futures briefing documents

latest | abstracts | briefings | information | headlines | resources | interesting | about abelard

end notes

  1. By discounted cashflow, recovering your money over the life of a vehicle is a very bad, economic deal compared with saving the money right now. Thus the hybrid cars are, as yet, at the stage of a rich man’s toy for early adopters but perhaps this will improve over time.

  2. Fuel economy estimates are generated from data taken during a laboratory test using pre-production prototype vehicles under extremely controlled conditions using a professional driver, with the vehicle operating on an instrument similar to a treadmill.”

    “The EPA Gas Mileage Guide also points out that the city fuel economy estimate simulates a 7.5 mile stop-and-go trip with an average speed of 20 mph. The trip takes 23 minutes and has 18 stops. About 18 percent of the time is spent idling, as in waiting at traffic lights or in rush hour traffic. Two kinds of engine starts are used: the cold start, which is similar to starting a car in the morning after it has been parked all night, and the hot start, similar to restarting a vehicle after it has been warmed up, driven and stopped for a short time.

    “The test to determine the highway fuel economy estimate represents a mixture of "non-city" driving. Segments corresponding to different kinds of rural roads and interstate highways are included. The test simulates a 10-mile trip and averages 48 mph. The test is run from a hot start and has little idling time and no stops.

    “The EPA Gas Mileage Guide explains that the actual test results are adjusted downward to arrive at the estimates used in the booklet and on the labels. City estimates are lowered by 10 percent and the highway estimate by 22 percent from the laboratory test results.”

  3. Liquid hydrogen has approximately one-third the energy of gasoline/gas/petrol.
You are here: 7 transportable fuels < Briefings documents < Home

email abelard email email_abelard [at] abelard.org

© abelard, 2004, 04 march

all rights reserved

the address for this document is https://www.abelard.org/briefings/transportable-fuel.php

2760 words
prints as 10 A4 pages (on my printer and set-up)