Old is new again

The diesel engine created by Rudolf Diesel was designed to run on biodiesel. The prototype demonstrated at the World Fair in Paris in 1853 ran on peanut oil but the glut of cheap oil and the rabid expansion of the petroleum industry quickly co-opted Diesel’s engine.

This week’s alternative fuels column will discuss three fuels (methanol, p-series and hydrogen) that all have one thing in common — unavailability. Two of these fuels’ futures look bleak but that could, of course, change with a wave of the government’s magic “incentives and subsidies” wand.

Editor’s note: This is another in a series of columns by Don Hendershot about alternative energy


Ethanol is grain alcohol produced by fermenting biomass like corn. It was one of the first vehicle fuels produced in this country but like others fell by the wayside with the rise of cheap oil. Ethanol is primarily produced as blends with gasoline. Those blends containing a small about of ethanol like E10 — 10 percent ethanol, 90 percent gasoline — have been around for a number of years, known as gasohol. Any gasoline vehicle can run on E10 and E10 is not considered an alternative fuel under the Energy Policy Act.

Natural gas

Editor’s note: Naturalist Don Hendershot is writing a series of articles exploring alternative fuels.

Natural gas is the fossil alternative to fossil fuels. It is a fossil fuel composed of the remains of eons-old plants and animals. And like oil it is found in underground reservoirs. Natural gas proponents note that reserves of natural gas are greater than those of oil. But critics are quick to point out that those reserves are based on today’s usage and those reserves will begin to dwindle more quickly as natural gas becomes a bigger part of the energy picture. The scenario would likely be similar to the current oil situation with “cheap” natural gas being replaced by “expensive” natural gas as demand and usage increase.

Editor’s note: Naturalist Don Hendershot is writing a series of columns exploring the use of alternative energy and fuels.


Hybrids are supposed to offer the best of both worlds, quiet electrical propulsion for stop-and-go driving and the power of internal combustion for those interstate cruises. The electric motor uses no energy when idling and produces no tailpipe emissions. At higher speeds the internal combustion engine kicks in for power and the acceleration American drivers have grown accustomed to.

Electric vehicles

Most people tend to think of electric (EVs) and hybrid (HEVs) vehicles in the same sphere, but the two are quite different with their own sets of pros and cons. Electric cars are powered solely by batteries that must be charged from an outside power source whereas hybrids run on a combination of battery power and internal combustion.

Greenies, tree-huggers, granolas and old hippies are mothers, dads and grandmoms too. And there is a sincere desire to live and raise our children in a cleaner, safer, sustainable world. But until we greenies achieve the economical and political clout of Exxon-Mobile, Toyota and/or the governments of the G8 countries, face it, it will be utility, power and profit that will fuel the move to alternative energy.

Green energy

Over the next few weeks in The Naturalist’s Corner, I’m going to be exploring different aspects of the alternative and green energy movement.

Biofuels have been getting a lot of media and blogosphere attention lately, and with the price of gas at $3 per gallon and climbing that’s not likely to change. Whether you get your news from the Internet, the newspaper or television, it’s easy to see that we are at a critical juncture regarding the direction of fuel production and fuel consumption here and around the world. But what direction will we take and why?

Frost warnings and advisories across the Blue Ridge tonight (May 18) officially announce this year’s “blackberry winter.” It is coming about six weeks after “dogwood winter” and will be a much more gentle reminder of Ma Nature’s cold side. The reports I’ve seen are calling for the possibility of frost in the mountain valleys.

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