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Viking32 biomethane car
Western Washington University's Viking32 has a long pedigree. The University's Hybrid Club entry runs on biomethane captured from landfills. Methane is many times more damaging a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, so this vehicle lowers greenhouse pollution as it drives. Photo courtesy of John Helwig (Copyright 2006, John Helwig)

If It's Spring, It's Tour de Sol

Interview with Nancy Hazard, Tour de Sol organizer and head of Northeast Solar Energy Alliance

By Michael H. Bianchi

"The return of the eVermont people is tremendously exciting to me, for a lot of reasons. Not only are their continuing the research they have been doing for years and years, but now they have some new vehicles. And the kinds of vehicles they are working on are spectacular. The fact that they brought the Evergreen, battery-electric vehicle with a much better battery than in previous station cars, to the Tour is great. It brings us full circle from where we started. They are taking delivery soon on a Prius running on hydrogen. And they have ordered a plugin-hybrid Prius. I find the plugin-hybrids thrilling.

"We can increase fuel economy, shrinking the energy pie, by getting a high percentage of the vehicles traveling in electric mode, at least in part." Nancy also sees shrinking the energy pie as helping the biofuels, because they can then be a more significant percentage of the whole, even with limited production. And of course biofuels are recycling recent carbon-dioxide, because the CO2 in exhaust can be taken up by growing plants to become the biofuel on the next cycle.

"The Viking32 from Western Washington University is using biomethane. This is the first year they have brought their own biomethane, created from landfills and farm manure. Methane (CH4), molecule-for-molecule is 20 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide (CO2). So by capturing methane, using it to power a car and releasing carbon dioxide, you've greatly improved the atmosphere over the case if the methane had been released.

"The vehicle from India is also exciting, for a number of reasons. They have looked at the transportation needs in India and are trying to meet them. I like that thinking, creating a vehicle that uses the least amount of energy possible to fulfill that mission. Their one person gasoline / plugin electric hybrid tries to address those needs.

"We have a number of one-person vehicles entered, including the around-town vehicles. Optibike from Colorado and RunAbout Cycles from Massachusetts are both emerging and getting into production. Optibike is going to attempt to demonstrate the ability to go 100 miles in three hours. Now they have been training in the Rocky Mountains, so they may see this area as flat, and our lower elevation as oxygen rich, but averaging 33 miles per hour on regular roads with stop lights and signs and traffic is amazing!

"The National Technical School for the Deaf is one of the eight colleges of the Rochester Institute of Technology. Their 12 member team is bringing two E-Bikes that they have designed themselves.

"Paul O'Brien, who was active with the Tour for many years is coming back. Their team was the first to bring a fuel-cell powered vehicle (actually a human-hybrid tricycle) to the Tour in 1998. They a bringing a GEM neighborhood electric vehicle that the students are using for experimentation. And they have partnered with the Vreeland Institute of Arts and Sciences to create an educational trailer with every renewable technology on it you could imagine.

"We also have a GEM from a company called Solaqua which will be providing a solar-powered public address system for our press event. The vehicle _is_ the PA system.

"And, as an example of meeting the goal of less energy intensive transportation by lowering vehicle weight, we have an exhibitor, Starfire, at the press event that has a light-weight ceramic disc brake rotor that also claims superior braking ability." They have a product for motorcycles, and are working on ones for vans and trucks.

"The scoring of the Tour de Sol Competition has changed this year. In the past the 'green' parts of the scoring, for example fuel economy and climate change emissions, were about 40% of the grade. Acceleration, hill climb, range, handling, etc. were the rest. Now the divide 50-50. That makes the competitions in the alternative fuel categories much more competitive."

Since it began, the Tour de Sol has sent the message that how we create and use transportation has effect on our economy, our climate, and our quality of life. Recent increases in gas prices and weather events have reinforced the message. How has that affected the Tour?

"I feel we are at a point where we can talk about climate change emissions from transportation. It has been on the front cover of Time magazine, the National Geographic and Forbes and written and talked about extensively in the business and general news communities. The question used to be was there a problem. Now it is, 'What do we do about it?' The Tour de Sol has always been solution oriented. Transportation contributes one-third of the climate change emissions; that's a fact." The things you see at the Tour can help change that.

Click here for complete coverage of the 2006 Tour de Sol

Times Article Viewed: 4932
Published: 12-May-2006

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