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The Revolutionary World of Efficiency

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author photo by Autotrader August 2007

It is hard to say where the next great idea will come from, but there are several individuals and groups out there trying to come up with lightning in a jar (or prove that they already found it). Innovators range from individuals and college students using duct tape all the way to multi-billion dollar organizations building million-dollar prototypes. All have a wide array of motivations and ideologies ranging from social responsibility to profit to meeting government mandates.

Some of the leading institutions / organizations driving innovation, or at least the most vocal, are

  • Government Agencies
  • Advocate Groups
  • Colleges / Academia 
  • Auto Makers
  • Fuel Companies

Government Agencies
Organizations such as the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the massive Department of Energy lead the U.S. government efforts in researching, testing, promoting, and even enforcing environmental and efficiency measures. While many see these agencies as watchdogs or policing agencies, they are actually responsible for much of the research and testing that national and international industries rely upon when looking into potential new processes and solutions.

One initiative being research currently by the EPA is know as Hydrolytic Energy Recapture. Think of how you are moved forward when you brake hard and then you are thrown back. The principle is that the forward energy is gathered by pressurizing fluids into a storage tank. The pressure is released to create momentum during acceleration.

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (under the DOE) has been working a method for cleaning diesel emissions. The process uses a ceramic filter to collect pollutants from the exhaust. Then, to keep the filter clean, they used a microwave system to remove the soot from the filter.

Advocate Groups
With the advent of the Internet, smaller causes can more easily reach out to those with similar views no matter how far away. This helps to organize and increase the size of the groups giving them the power to assist in areas of awareness, watch-dogging and lobbying for change.

Three parties that focus on some of the leading efficiency arenas are the National Biodiesel Board, the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition and HybridCars.com. All three operate independent of government or industry but work with them, as well as the media and education resources. Their focus is to provide the public and organizations with facts, relative news and advice.

Some sites are able to provide assistance in ways like maps of E85 and biodiesel gas stations across the U.S., buying guides and incentives that are available (nationally and locally).

Colleges / Academia
Competition can be one of the best driving forces of innovation. Whether it is for pride, scholarship money or the possibility of the best jobs once they graduate, science-based contests are a mainstay in U.S. research-focused colleges.

A people's favorite that has generated a movie, television specials and countless documentaries are the solar-power car contests. The teams not only find how to steal every ounce of energy from the sun, they master aerodynamics, application of light-weight materials and every other detail of the vehicle to optimize their efficiency.

There are also a variety of lesser-known competitions that are often sponsored by organizations and corporations to help spawn creativity (sometimes even used by companies to get fresh input with little investment). Schools in the Detroit area are regularly challenged by events such as the economy race car challenge conducted by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the Michelin Challenge Design that promotes innovation in design.

Auto Makers
With consumer demands, high competition and government regulations, it only makes sense the manufacturers take fuel economy to heart. There are several platforms and technologies for efficiency that are utilized, or in the works, for many name brands — hybrids, diesels, flex-fuel, and sub-compacts.

But sometimes the manufacturers research less-traditional ideas. BMW is testing a steam engine that runs off the heat from the tailpipe. Mercedes made a test car (F-300 Life-Jet) that has three wheels, an aluminum body, and a sporty suspension that leans the car into turns.  Ford is developing a hybrid that also uses ethanol, and General Motors, active in most areas of research and development, has an interface on their website where they invite ideas from consumers.

Fuel Companies
Many people may think that the companies who produce the fuel products (that many say are the problem) would be against efficiency research, but not so. They realize that change must happen. And if they can produce cleaner products, new derivatives and alternative processes that still rely on their products, they may not only remain stable, but could also increase profits.

No matter the reason, concerns over our dependency on oil and the environment have grown into commonplace concerns and driving forces behind big business and government. An ultimate solution may exist, but the likelihood of creating a complementary system of improvements from multiple sources is the probability. With the increased cooperation and interest in these technologies, dramatic improvements in most areas are being introduced in new models every year.

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The Revolutionary World of Efficiency - Autotrader