Tuesday, December 26, 2006

80 MPG Diesel Engine

One fascinating branch of cleantech innovation is the drive to create substantially more efficient personal transportation. Of course, the Prius, with its branded Hybrid Synergy Drive, is a marketing breakthrough. But there are a number of other exciting approaches out there as well, from cleaner diesel engines which by their nature are more energy efficient, to plug-in hybrids (one of my personal favorites), to all-electric vehicles which claim the equivalent of 135 or even 169 mpg, to very cost-effective advances in the traditional internal combustion engine. At Bessemer, we are keenly interested in all these approaches, since nearly one-third of all U.S. CO2 emissions come from the transportation sector. We are confident that by the end of the decade, the nation will have taken steps toward addressing transportation's impact on climate change, whether it be in the form of states winning the "controversial" right to regulate in their own jurisdictions, the long-shot suit against the EPA currently before the Supreme Court, the new Democratic Congress, or just the inevitable collapse of recalcitrant opposition in the face of the facts.

But amidst all this important work, I wanted to take a moment this holiday week to offer a humorous distraction on this topic. Apparently, there is an innovative entrepreneur in Arkansas I need to go track down. Now I wasn't there, and I didn't see, but I'm telling you as it was told to me.

A man and a contractor are making the trek to an isolated cabin in the woods outside Hardy, Arkansas. The contractor is to install a pre-fabbed shed on the largely undeveloped property, and he is towing it behind his truck on a long trailer. At the last intersection of their journey -- a turnoff from the paved highway onto a narrow gravel road -- the two decide it is best to leave the shed and venture ahead to make sure the whole rig can navigate the arduous path. Are the trees hanging too low? Can the rig turn around at the end of the road?

So the contractor jumps out of his truck, engine still running, to ride along with the man. The conversation goes like this:

Man: "You left your truck running."

Contractor: "Yeah, it's an old diesel and it has a hard time starting up. So it's best not to turn it off."

Man: "Well, it's going to take us 30 minutes or more to make the roundtrip. You're going to burn a lot of fuel."

Contractor: "Oh, it's okay. I get 70 or 80 miles to the gallon when I'm idling."

Now that's a creative inventor! Let's hope the next decade brings more compelling innovations in efficient engines than that!

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