Monthly Archives: May 2008

The 100 mpg Gas Guzzler

The 100 mpg Gas Guzzler

Jonathan Goodwin dropped out of seventh grade to help pay the bills and follow his passion for cars and engines. Today the automotive world bows to his genius and wonders if this car nut might actually win the 10 million dollar X PRIZE for producing a low emission, competitively priced, 100 mile per gallon car.

His partner in this venture is Neil Young, rock legend, who contributed his 1960, Lincoln Continental “boat” as Goodwin’s test car.

Goodwin works out of a garage where he specializes in converting Hummers into fuel sipping diesels while boosting their power. He also likes to run his thug cars on fried chicken grease contributed by the local KFC outlet.

The fact that the prestigious X PRIZE contest committee has allowed Goodwin and Young to apply to join the elite, well financed, automotive companies from around the world gives him credibility.

Goodwin is negotiating with DHL to convert 800 vehicles to super efficient systems which cut fuel costs by 50 percent.

It appears that his approach is unique because he does not want to build a new vehicle and engine. His devious plan is to make inexpensive conversion packages for existing vehicles turning them into biodiesel burning plug-in hybrids.

Proving his point on Neil Young’s 40 foot “boat” may not win the X PRIZE, but that’s what they said about the crazy bike mechanics Wilbur and Orville Wright in 1903.

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Business in Vienna

Noah and I visited Vienna, Austria, recently on a business trip to central Europe. Our first order of business was to find the original Julius Meinl coffee shop, which is my favorite in Chicago.

After several missteps, we found Meinl at about 6:00 in the evening on Sunday. The only part of the store which was serving customers was the outdoor seating area. The blond fraulein who came to take our order spoke no English. She was quite pretty but she carried a near scowl on her face. I tried to order a latte, but she only understood cappuccino, so that’s what we ordered.

The coffee came promptly and it was beautifully presented with a heart artfully drawn in the foam.To the best of my tasting ability, the Viennese and American coffees tasted the same – excellent, but the attitude and the price were decidedly better at Julius Meinl in Chicago. The size of the cup was about one third smaller than the comparable American one and the price was double in American dollars. I felt like a poor American in continental Europe. Yet on the other hand it reminded me how cheap America is now, and that I need to use that to my advantage in business.

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Garbage Fuel: Just like in the Movies

Remember the last scene of Back to the Future when Doc Brown returns in his flying DeLorian to take Marty to the year 2015? As a 5 year old kid in 1985 I still remember being fascinated, not only because the car was flying, but because the new DeLorian was powered by garbage instead of plutonium. At the time I didn’t even know what plutonium was. But garbage fuel – now that was a cool concept.

In 2008, people are finally starting to work on garbage-powered aviation. The Solena Group, a Washington DC company that builds and operates renewable energy power plants in North America, Asia and Europe, has started work on a facility that will produce jet fuel from trash, tree bark and manure using a process called plasma gasification. It uses 5000-degree plasma arcs to break trash into gas fuel, which is then converted into liquid suitable for powering an airplane.

The plasma gasification and the gas-to-liquid conversion processes will release significant amounts of CO2 into the environment, but the company claims that the CO2 does much less harm to the environment than emissions created by decomposing landfill waste and reliance on petroleum based aviation fuel. (According to the Department of Transportation, aviation accounts for 2.7 percent of U.S. annual greenhouse gas output.) Also, energy generated from the plasma arcs is used to power the system, which makes it self-sustaining.

Solena plans to build its plant in Gilroy, California, (home of the famous Gilroy Garlic Festival) where it will have access to a steady stream of household trash from Norcal Waste Systems, a big California garbage collection company.

The Company won’t begin production until 2011, despite some U.S. biofuel tax credits being scheduled to expire in 2008. Also, no commercial airlines have expressed interest in the project. But if prices of fuel keep going up there could be some significant interest by 2015, and maybe Back to the Future director/writer Robert Zemeckis will turn out to be a true science visionary, not just a great Sci-Fi creator.


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