Ingenious and Industrious
In our last article we began to break down the narratives surrounding the modern electric vehicle (c. 1990), revealing that the premises which were to bolster consumer demand (e.g. “environmentally friendly”, less pollution etc.) are simply not supported by the facts. The supply chain for electric vehicles does indeed contribute to greater pollution, fewer options, limited range and expensive out of pocket costs. In addition, examples were provided of older electric vehicles which, if we believe what we are told about that era (c. 1850s) may conflict with our previous understanding of technological “advancement”. Next we are going to look at the man who is credited for building the infrastructure which would underpin the modern electric vehicle, the ingenious Stanford Ovshinsky.
Who in the world is Ovshinsky? That is is exactly what many the world over were asking in 1969 when the following was published:
If you’ve got it, flaunt it. So say the ads. Stanford R. Ovshinsky isn’t the most humble person around in the scientific community today, but why should he be? He may have one of the best things going in semiconductor electronics. Then again, he may not. Even the professionals are undecided at this moment.
Mr. Ovshinsky is the author of several papers on glassy semiconductors — also called Ovonic devices — that exhibit what he has termed the Ovshinsky Effect. The big guns in the semiconductor industry (Bell Labs, RCA, Texas Instruments, etc.) have been working on glass devices off and on since the early sixties but Ovshinsky seems to be the first to have made a full-time thing of it. Now that he has announced the Ovshinsky Effect and its future applications, many people in the scientific and technical-press communities are mad at him for not telling it like they think it really is.
Much later, in the early 1990s, the nickel metal hydride battery would be lauded as the backbone of a revolution in technology. The invention changed the world from nickel-cadmium to Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) source of battery power.
In the Spring of 1992 the US Department of Energy directed Ford, Chrysler and G.M. to begin the “Advanced Battery Consortium” with approximately $260 million.
Tests carried out by the US government’s Argonne National Laboratory
in Illinois, showed that Ovonic’s battery delivered 250 watts per kilogram
of battery weight when fully charged — more power than any other type of
battery now available, and twice that generated by a conventional lead-acid
battery of equal size.
In September of 1993 at the University of Chicago, Brian Niece would write “Nickel-Metal Hydride Batteries: A New Generation of Secondary Storage” detailing Ovshinsky’s findings in a brief 10 paragraph article which preceded General Motors inking a multi-Millon dollar venture with Ovonic Battery Coporation.
Recently, two groups have reported development of batteries with sufficient energy density, cycle life time, and self discharge characteristics for electric vehicle use. Ovshinsky, Fetcenko, and Ross at Ovonic Battery Corp. have developed a battery using disordered materials to provide the necessary features for electric vehicle use. (https://chemistry.illinois.edu/system/files/inline-files/Niece_0.pdf)
By 1994 the article was published in The New York Times, “COMPANY NEWS; G.M. Signs Electric Car Battery Deal”
Wow! Can you imagine a simple invention with plenty of competition being selected to “revolutionize” the automobile industry? Three competing corporations joined hands at the instruction of The US Department of Energy to make the world better and Stanford Ovshinsky’s company ECD Ovonics was the company that made it happen! It almost sounds like the script of a Hollywood movie.
What does make this very interesting is that, as we discovered in our previous article, despite the fantastic NiMH battery technology, vehicle range continues to be an issue. So was Stanford Ovshinsky’s contribution meaningful to the modern electric vehicle, unquestioningly yes and his invention was sponsored by the US Department of Energy (a.k.a. The US Government).
On the brighter side, you have a launching point for additional research. If you are a young person and want to help the world, energy and material science, as Ovshinsky found out is a way forward. If you are older and have children of your own, introduce them to the creative world of material science and applied physics.
In Pursuit of Range
So what in the world are Joe and Jane making $80K a year going to do to increase vehicle mileage and range? Shall they purchase a $16k used electric vehicle, only to be stuck with the battery replacement costs of $20k in 5–8 years or some alternative? There are simple practical things you can do, off the shelf alternatives, hardware replacements and the more exotic alterations for the experienced modern motorhead. In this article we will cover all four approaches. At an individual level we can each move from being a “consumer” to an adaptive and innovative individual.
If you search the internet you will find incredibly useful and practical advice about regular maintenance and keeping your tire pressure regular, but very little on how to drastically (20–40%) increase vehicle miles per gallon or “MPG” (kilometers per liter KPL).
Why is this so important? For most workers, mileage is not paid and is a cost. Most workers do not receive the 2022 $0.585 per mile reimbursement and the daily commute impinges on expendable income. Interestingly, government workers and some specialized trades do receive this reimbursement. Nevertheless, our focus is on the average worker a.k.a. “Joe and Jane”. So what can we do for ourselves to improve fuel economy on the automobile we already own?
First and foremost, do the practical things. The infographic above may be dated (2014), but the principles have been the same for over 100 years. Discipline regarding vehicle maintenance can save a great deal of money. If you are performing regular maintenance and you want to go to the “next level” there are many options, but very few that will give you new skills and independence. First lets take a look at the “off the shelf” options to “rev up” the old clunker. Note that you must consult your vehicle warranty (if you actually value that document) as to whether these modifications shall void that warranty and make the choice that you determine is best.
If you have a spare $80 to $400, performance chips are the most popular choice for many consumers. These are “off the shelf” solutions which can improve mileage, this can be especially useful for a paid off vehicle, one that is “free and clear” where the savings really add up, mile after mile. The following is a brief paraphrase from a popular commercial site:
Performance Chips are best in class horsepower, torque and fuel economy gains. A 60 second plug-n-play install is all it takes to increase the performance and mileage of your vehicle. Performance is improved by dyno tuning your vehicle, creating a more efficient fuel map changing air/fuel mixtures. The tuning improves the timing and boost pressure (if your engine applies), all while maintaining the vehicle warranty. The performance chip easily unplugs for emission testing and diagnostic work. Each performance grade chip works with all fuel grades.
No modifications are required for your performance chip to work on your vehicle. If you modify your vehicle in the future, the performance chip will recognize the modifications, adapt and correct the air/fuel mixtures. If you ever wish to return to your vehicle to stock form, simply unplug the performance chip from the OBD2 port, and the factory ECU will resume with the original fuel map.
The great thing about performance chips is that they work with most modern gas and diesel vehicles and many do have options to improve fuel economy (mileage). The dangerous or potential down side is that if one does not do the research and lay the foundation to properly use this technology, you may damage your vehicle short term (critical failure) or long term (slowly damaging) and create financial burden. In the realm of “performance chips” caveat emptor is not just a pretentious way to “blame the buyer”, it does in fact have real world consequences.
Now the US Government has made note that many consumers were opting to “hack” their cars and with help from the Clean Air Act, the EPA has won 31 cases in 2020 against manufacturers who make and install emissions defeating devices according to their website.
Specifically, Title II of the act, allows the EPA to set the environmental standards of all automotive engines.
Sounds reasonable right? Well, not exactly. Unfortunately, this legislation will apply to the restriction of many aftermarket parts like superchargers, turners, and exhausts, which are set to be banned.
Add to the above, by 2026 many vehicles will be able to be “hacked” and shut down by your local authorities as the so-called “Infrastructure Bill” has authorized “kill switches”. Yes citizen, you government will be able to turn your vehicle off remotely if you do not take precautions.
Moving forward, this section is for the person with some spare time and a little more expendable income, maybe some additional mechanical knowledge. What we are going to look at are OEM parts for the paid off vehicle that you want to gain greater performance. Note that you must consult your vehicle warranty (if you actually value that document) as to whether these modifications shall void that warranty and make the choice that you determine is best.
This is old tech. The engine’s intake manifold is under negative pressure almost all the time when the engine is turning. The vacuum is higher (lower absolute pressure) at high engine revs and part-throttle, like when you’re cruising along in gear. It’s lower when the engine is ticking over at idle, even though the throttle is almost completely closed and is admitting hardly any air to the intake. There’s virtually no vacuum at wide-open throttle, when the engine is consuming the largest volume of air — and consequently the most fuel.
A vacuum gauge is a simple mechanical gauge, hooked into the manifold with some tubing. Some BMW cars have a vacuum gauge already built into the instrument panel — but it’s cleverly calibrated not in inches of vacuum, but in miles per gallon. A lot of heavy equipment, trucks and most piston-engined aircraft have a vacuum gauge on the dash. Sorry, it won’t work on diesels, which have no throttle blades and consequently have no manifold vacuum.
A quick trip to the auto-parts store can score you a vacuum gauge to park on your dashboard for under $50, which isn’t much when a fill-up can easily shred a $100 bill. The hardest part of the installation will be finding a hole through the firewall to route the hose. You can usually just sneak the hose through the grommet that the wiring harness already uses. I’d also wire the gauge’s internal lighting into the same circuit as the panel lights, so it dims along with the dash. You might need a small adapter or tee to splice into an existing vacuum line under the hood. All thumbs? Any decent mechanic should be able to install one in an hour.
Again, driving for the best mileage will come intuitively. Just maintain a high manifold vacuum as you drive.
High-Flow Cold Air Intake System
One of the first aftermarket parts you should consider when you’re aiming for better gas mileage is an air intake system. The quality of air that enters your engine will directly affect its performance and mileage. Manufacturer-designed air intake systems are crafted solely with noise reduction in mind, but this compromises performance.
By replacing your filter, or going all the way and swapping out your OEM system for a high-flow cold air intake system, you’re sending colder, denser air to your engine. This air has more oxygen. Oxygen creates more engine power, better overall function and accomplishes your main goal: saving miles per gallon.
Cat-Back Exhaust System
Improving engine efficiency begins with an improved air flow, but the circle isn’t complete unless you effectively remove as much of the exhaust gas as possible.
A cat-back exhaust system replaces your OEM system from the catalytic converters and back. The pipes are larger. The mufflers are also designed to facilitate a more efficient draining of the exhaust. Cat-back exhaust systems improve gas mileage and enhance engine sound as well.
The Domain of the Motorhead
Finally lets take a look at some serious conversions. These might be something to set your eyes on, or just mental floss.
If you were a real MPG nut, you may have heard of HHO kits. The results were storied to be too good for the automotive industry and they are VERY hard to find in 2022. A video from 2019 describes the basics in a very DIY way, but in this short video, the basics are covered and I have provided the link here.
Water Powered Car
Are you serious? What kind of bull are you trying to sell mister? I hear you, but once you start going down this rabbit hole you’ll be surprised at what you find. Whether you are willing to take the time and energy in that discovery, I leave to the reader. This is a modern DIY “white paper” and you are free dig into the numerous patents, facts and figures. Are you surprised?
At the beginning of this article you will find a photo of what appears to be a prank photoshopped image of a “wind mobile”. This “pie-in-the-sky” mode of transportation is actually real. Some additional information is in the photo below, but I want to ask some real questions here, at the end of this article.
- Why was the US Department of Energy so interested in Stanford Ovshinsky’s Nickel-metal Hydride battery and how in the world did they get three competing corporations to agree to forming an R&D group on battery technology? What was that all about anyway?
- If in the year 1982, a VW diesel was getting 42–50 MPG, why can’t my commuter car get better mileage in 2022? Does that make sense?
- If in 1909 electric cars were getting 100 mile range, why did it take 100 years to get to a Nissan Leaf with the exact same range? How in the world was this called progress?
- If HHO works, why aren’t they mandatory in all vehicles if we are concerned about “the environment”, the air and all the poor people suffering the direct results of pollution?
- If indeed vehicles can run on water or wind, questions one through four are moot . . . excuse me but what is going on here? Is someone interested in restricting mobility, making it difficult or for that matter more expensive? What is the nature of mobility and why does it seem to matter so much to those in power?
In the next article I’d like to walk you through why mobility may matter much more than one may have previously understood. These conclusions will be drawn from the points in our previous articles as we begin to put these pieces together. “Where is this series going next?”, you may ask. Stay with us a little while and we’ll learn more together.