Energy

Escape From Berkeley…By Any Non-Petroleum Means Necessary

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The alt-energy experimenters who I wrote about in this May reason feature are sponsoring a unique road race this weekend, which launched from Berkeley yesterday and is expected to end in Vegas on Monday. The idea is, from the event's own site:

the rally challenges contestants to start their "engines" on something other than petroleum based fuel, and by any means necessary, cause their "vehicles" show up in Las Vegas three days later- using only fuels/power/motive force scavenged "for free" along the route.

All types of vehicles are welcome. All schemes for non-petroleum based transport are encouraged. In short, everything is permitted– just as long as your "fuel" is from a non-petroleum based source, your acquisition of "it" does not require money, and you start the race with no more than 10kwh of "it" on board.

The full field of power generation and conversion is open for your pleasurable scavenging and creative hacking– biomass gasifiers, WVO, steam, on board fermentation stills, fast starch anaerobic digesters, solar, pneumatic, creek side hydro and lots of batteries, tesla free energy vortexes, cold fusion, humans, hamsters, etc etc etc.

Want to test out your 40% efficiency triple junction PV cell covered Prius? Or maybe see if your steam cracking anaerobic digester hydrogen producer can keep up with the intake of your fuel cell Honda Civic prototype? We welcome you to join us- and risk getting beat by a young punk on a rat bike, running on granulated McDonald's napkins and hair spray.

DARPA had a Grand Challenge. . . the rednecks a Cannonball Run. . . and the hippies a bunch of WVO buses broken down on the side of the road. Now, NASA scientists and junkyard fabricators go head-to-head in a no holds barred battle of engineering prowess and creative excess. Hanging somewhat in the balance, are bragging rights for saving the world. That, and a grand prize of $5,000.

At least one of the cars had not quite moved a block in the first hour–they were still chopping wood for their gasifier engine.

This long East Bay Express feature profiles some of the racers and their scheme. Wired.com does the same in this story.

I have the good fortune to be one of the event's official judges (important in a race where actually reaching the finish line could be unlikely for many entrants) and expect to be reporting on some of what I learned here in the future.

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  1. Miniature arc reactor technology is the future.

    cue the monster Iommi riff now

  2. I don’t get it. Why aren’t they allowed to pay for their fuel?

    They say that human powered vehicles are OK. Are those guys not allowed to buy food or water on the way?

    What about barter?

    What the hell is it about Berkley? Why do they have a problem with people improving their lives by engaging in mutually beneficial exchanges of goods and services? Is it like some religious thing? You know, like the Taliban and music, and Calvinism and relaxing?

  3. If you’re using a chainsaw to get the wood for a vehicle, doesn’t that effectively eliminate the whole “no petroleum products” aspect to it? If nothing else, running a chainsaw is definitely not a carbon neutral activity.

    That rates up there, in terms of ignorance, with the people that call electric cars “zero emissions vehicles”, despite the fact that the vast majority of our power comes from coal. Even more ironic is that the people pushing hardest for electric cars are the same ones that work to kill nearly every zero-emission source of electricity.

  4. They are using a generator powered by gasification to power the wood chopping device.

  5. Tarran—Yup, you don’t get it. It’s a rule of the game. Makes things harder. In game terms, hard rules are thought, by the people who like the game, to make them more challenging, and thus more fun. Not everything is politics and ideology. Some things are games and fun.

  6. Can we expect any spectacular explosions?

  7. I see the potential for an environmentally-friendly road movie: Smokey and the Green Bandit (and dare I expect a sequel?).

  8. Even more ironic is that the people pushing hardest for electric cars are the same ones that work to kill nearly every zero-emission source of electricity.

    Brian,

    Name one zero emission source of energy. Nukes don’t count because you have to mine the uranium.

  9. How can a turbo diesel Lotus 7 lose?
    If he has his “free” fuel supply logistics straight that will be like an ordinary trip in a sports car.

  10. This looks awesome.

    Was there some sort of requirement of minimum weight or # of people you needed to transport?

    Google maps gives a distance of 575 mi. (although mostly on interstates). I would think a sufficiently elite bicyclist would be able to pull off 200 mi a day.

  11. This looks very cool — reason foundation should sponsor it next year — they’re all about roads and transport and stuff…

  12. Helium balloons and a lawnchair?

    Big ass slingshot and Glider?

    kolohe, the bicycle idea is good for non elites with an electric bicycle that recharges with pedaling and coasting.

  13. Yes I know it’s a road race. But the roads are petroleum based asphalt. Me, I would rather fly. (i suppose it could get dicey over near Edwards AFB)

  14. It’ll never work.

  15. Yeah, that’s well within the reach of a top-end endurance cyclist; a rider good enough to finish RAAM could do it in two, though it would require careful logistical prep to compensate for not having a support vehicle.

  16. My money’s on Kip Keino with a “will run for food” sign.

  17. I can picture LoneWacko entering this contest on a bike with wings . . . to help lessen our dependence on “foreign” sources.

  18. Naga Sadow, I have heard rumors that LoneWacker’s entry has gained corporate sponsorships. Summer’s Eve, Kaopectate and Preparation H.

  19. a turbo diesel Lotus 7

    Oh, foul blasphemy!!!

  20. just wish the solitary wack job uses those OTC products properly this time.

    hell. remember the convincing it took to convince him how to use an analgesic properly?

  21. This is easy.
    All they need to do is build a Mr. Fusion

  22. Right, rein. Right.

    Step 1: warm up hot glue gun
    Step 2: ???
    Step 3: Mr. Fusion.

    I’m sure in 1985 you can get all of those things at your local hardware store.

  23. “Even more ironic is that the people pushing hardest for electric cars are the same ones that work to kill nearly every zero-emission source of electricity.

    Brian,

    Name one zero emission source of energy. Nukes don’t count because you have to mine the uranium.”

    Actually, if mining uranium is anything like mining coal, the equipment all runs on electricity.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that hippies trot around feeling smug about their “zero-emissions” cars, while they pollute the air in some other state, and then protest the construction of any type of power generation that is better for the air quality than coal plants.

  24. Can we expect any spectacular explosions?

    Seeing as an “explosion” generally involves the rapid discharge of large amounts of stored energy, I can’t see it happening.
    🙂

  25. Big ass slingshot and Glider?

    Any rubber band that can store 10kWh of energy would probably need to be registered as a destructive device.

  26. Just for comparison, using a standard heating value of gasoline of 125,000 Btu/gal,

    10 kWh of chemical potential energy is contained in about 0.273 gal of gasoline.

    It takes about 0.284 gal of “standard” biodiesel from vegetable oil to get the same.

  27. As a home brewer of BioDiesel, and a lover of small, lightweight sports cars, I’m pulling for the Kubota-engine Lotus 7.

    I would love to have the option of buying a Diesel-powered 2-seater sports car in this country. Unfortunately the California Air Resources Board has just about succeeded in its Fatwa/Death penalty of Rudolph Diesel’s wonderful engine for passenger cars. It is a real shame because they have removed the option of self-reliance for passenger car drivers. Talk about unintended consequences!

    Over in Europe they have things like Audi TT TDIs, Alfa Romeo JTDM’s and Smart Roadsters, all of which can run on vegetable-based fuels and see better than 40 MPG. Here we have one, and only one choice, the VW Jetta TDI. So much for a “Free Market” eh?

    –chuck

  28. Actually, if mining uranium is anything like mining coal, the equipment all runs on electricity.

    Which is powered by the exact same thing as electric cars.

  29. Mo,

    What if the electricity used to power the U mining equipment comes from a nuke plant? Isn’t that zero-emissions?

  30. at some point, the uranium needed to power the uranium-mining equipment had to be mined by standard electricity or petroleum.

  31. Waste fry oil diesel

  32. If you had a steam-powered lawnmower which burned grass clippings, you could mow your way to Vegas.

  33. P Brooks | October 12, 2008, 9:35pm | #

    If you had a steam-powered lawnmower which burned grass clippings, you could mow your way to Vegas.

    Isn’t a lot of that last stretch across desert? Good luck finding grass to mow (or wood to cut).

  34. a zero emission source of energy would probably violate the second law of thermodynamics, no?

  35. 575 miles / 3 days = a little under 8 mph.

    A horse could do easily do it, assuming you carry all your fuel, even accounting for rest times.

  36. I do wonder how the “no purchasing fuel” rule applies to the human-powered vehicles.

    Someone on a bike moving 190 miles/day will burn around 10,000 extra calories/day doing so. And you can’t get it all from body fat, either – you’ll need to be taking in a lot of easily digestible carbohydrates to sustain that pace. That’s a lot of food to beg for.

  37. That’s a lot of food to beg for.

    Freegans. They just dumpster dive the whole way.

    But zero-emission means no peeing, pooping, farting or burping. That’s going to be the tricky part.

  38. “the rally challenges contestants to start their “engines” on something other than petroleum based fuel,”

    Uh Huh.

    And while they’re at it, they should disqualify any vehicle that contained any component part that was created by any use of fossil fuel generated energy or was derived from any fossil fuel feedstock (plastics).

    And then they could pretty much cancel the whole event since that would disqualify ever single “vehicle”

  39. Last time I went from cali to vegas for free, I hitched w/ a weird bald doctor + his lawyer in a big red convertible. I didnt have to pay for gas, but you should have seen the freakin’ bats!

  40. the rally challenges contestants to start their “engines” on something other than petroleum based fuel, and by any means necessary, cause their “vehicles” show up in Las Vegas three days later- using only fuels/power/motive force scavenged “for free” along the route.

    We had to cut down, like, a whole friggin’ forest to get there, but man what a blast! Some dude was after us for cutting down “his” trees, but screw that, man! Nature belongs to the people!

  41. Hogan – not necessarily. A zero energy input power source would violate the 2LoT, but it’s possible to produce energy without emitting CO2 (such as the energy stored in uranium when the element was formed in some long-dead star).

  42. JW, it is laughable how much environmental damage is being done in the service of emissions-free transportation. And the earlier point about not being able to use materials produced by emissions-full (?) processes is right on target as well.

    Needless to say, the world will not be saved by any of the ideas I read about.

  43. cunnivore–What I wrote was parody, more a poke in the eye of the “commons” problem, but, looking further at the site, I’m not sure this is your typical Berkley event:

    The year is 2020 A.D. . .

    The City Berkeley is now a maximum security statist dystopia . . .
    Cars are illegal . . .
    Petroleum is a controlled substance . . .
    Now, geeks and gearheads unite to . . .

    Escape from Berkeley (by any non-petroleum means necessary)

    Seems to me the inmates are just planning ahead.

  44. I was working on a car that is powered by good intentions, but had to drop out due to a lack of fuel.

    Isn’t it wrong to pick winners and losers in this race?

  45. I think they are just planning for the Mad Max like future that will happen after Peak Oil and/or the coming Market Collapse.

  46. Hm…so, technically, the rules permit enslaving people you meet along the way and forcing them to pull your chariot. Or you could even just throw them directly into a hellish furnace.

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