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55 Miles per Gallon by 2026

The EPA has spoken.  All non-electric cars made after 2026 have to average 55 miles per gallon.  I remember how I felt back in the Nixon days, when someone explained, “It’s no big deal.  I’ll just trade the V-8 in on a four cylinder.”  I was already driving a 4 cylinder, and it got over mpg.  It was a 1960 Borgward, with a tall fourth gear.  2,469 pounds, and the factory stock specs were 22.3 mpg.  The blued and balanced engine helped for fuel efficiency as well as speed.  I once made the Bozeman to Trego trip on exactly 10 gallons of gas. 

Still, the easiest way to improve gas mileage is to lighten the car and shrink the engine.  The garage project is a 1988 Yugo – the Borgward engine had 91 cubic inches.  The Yugo measures in at 55 cubes and 1643 pounds curb weight.  I usually drove it with my right foot pushed into the carb – but on one trip from Libby to Havre, I kept it below 50 all the way, and almost coaxed 50 mpg out of the little beast. 

It’s another unyielding equation – gas mileage relates directly to the size and speed of the vehicle, with comfort also reducing mileage (neither the Borgward nor the Yugo had air conditioning, power steering or automatic transmissions).  If I remember correctly, the General Motors EV1 battery weighed in at 1150 pounds and a Tesla is about 1200 pounds.  There’s a lot of energy involved just in pushing those vehicles down the road (the lightest Tesla weighs about 3,550 pounds).

I recollect an all-electric skid steer built by our ag engineering department.  It didn’t pan out as practical compared to diesel – but weight on a skid steer isn’t a bad thing, and speed isn’t necessary.  Mentally, I toy with the idea of a little electric pickup charging on a couple solar panels and working around the place.  We have the technology to build the unit I envision – it’s just that few potential buyers share what I want the rig to do, and it is built in China, not the US.

The thing is (without checking my memory and sources) somewhere between half and five eights of US electrical generation comes from fossil fuels.  It’s not enough to say gasoline is bad, electric is good in this situation – every time you convert the power, the conversion takes power. 

Treehugger provides a chart of gasoline gallon equivalents, calculated by the same EPA. 

Gasoline Equivalents
Fuel TypeUnit of MeasureBTUs/UnitGallon Equivalent
Gasoline (regular)gallon114,1001.00 gallon
Diesel #2gallon129,5000.88 gallons
Biodiesel (B100)gallon118,3000.96 gallons
Biodiesel (B20)gallon127,2500.90 gallons
Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)cubic foot900126.67 cu. ft.
Liquid Natural Gas (LNG)gallon75,0001.52 gallons
Propane (LPG)gallon84,3001.35 gallons
Ethanol (E100)gallon76,1001.50 gallons
Ethanol (E85)gallon81,8001.39 gallons
Methanol (M100)gallon56,8002.01 gallons
Methanol (M85)gallon65,4001.74 gallons
Electricitykilowatt hour (Kwh)3,40033.56 Kwhs

Using my own power bill, I come up with $0.314 per Kwh (the total bill, divided by kwh – the demand charges, etc make the 0.04957 charge shown on the bill unusable for comparison)

Basically, if I were charging my non-existent Tesla at the old gas station, the price of electric power would be roughly equivalent to $10.53/gallon regular.  Kicking out the demand charges and other additions, and just using Lincoln Electric’s .04957 it’s $1.66/gallon regular. 

It’s useful information – if my hypothetical solar cell (powering my equally hypothetical electric vehicle) produces 400 watts per hour, and does so for 12 hours a day, it’s pumping 4.8 Kwh into my battery – so every week it produces the equivalent of a gallon of gas – something on the close order of a trip to Eureka and back every 10 days – ignoring clouds.

I’ve been fortunate to live in the gasoline powered era.

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