Dennis Weaver's Drive for Life
By Bill Moore
Many an aging "Baby Boomer" will remember Dennis Weaver as "Chester" the original faithful sidekick to "Gunsmoke's" Marshall Matt Dillon. He later went on to star in his own hit television series, "McCloud," where he played a town marshal from Taos, New Mexico. Weaver, who now lives in western Colorado, finds expression for his talents in the cause of America's energy independence, cleaner environment and a prosperous future.
Through his Institute of Ecolonomics he is actively promoting the shift from hydrocarbon fuels to hydrogen. As part of that effort, Weaver organized an alternative fuel motorcade to highlight the need for alternative energy. The project was named "Drive for Life" and traveled from Los Angeles to Denver, Colorado last fall. EV World asked the respected actor to share with us his thoughts along the way. We divided our questions into the stages of the trip.
Los Angeles To Las Vegas
The first part of the "Drive For Life" motorcade coincided with the 2001 Michelin Challenge Bibendum, which took place in Southern California. Weaver told to EV World that when he learned of the Challenge he offered to join his public relations efforts with Michelin's, which was also seeking to promote cleaner advanced vehicle technologies.
He explained that he settled on the idea of a motorcade to promote alternative energy because, "we thought the automobile would be the best way to do that simply because it's the sexiest subject as far as American's are concerned. We're always interested in our cars, so we thought we'd get different fueled automobiles on the drive."
The partnership with the Challenge enabled Drive for Life to get exposure to far more alternative fuel vehicles than it could have done on its own, Weaver pointed out. He said that he was able to drive everything from a small, battery electric commuter car to a state-of-the-art, 70 passenger fuel cell bus that is in operation in the Palm Springs, California area.
Perhaps even more significant for Weaver was the fact that he was able to meet and talk with the people who are developing hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. "Everybody from Toyota to Ford to BMW," he stated.
Four vehicles in particular impressed him.
"I must tell you that there were a couple of pure hydrogen automobiles that made it all the way from the Fontana race track to Las Vegas without refueling, can go." He couldn't recall which two vehicles out of the 50-plus participants accomplished this remarkable feat, but he did state that he believes this is a record for a hydrogen-fueled automobile. He estimated the distance between Fontana, California and Las Vegas, Nevada at about 240 miles. The actual distance according to MapQuest is 223 miles, still an impressive performance.
He speculated they might have been using some sort of metal hydride to help store a sufficient quantity of hydrogen on board the vehicle, noting this material acts like a "sponge" to hydrogen atoms. We couldn't find anything on the Challenge Bibendum web site to verify this, however.
"You know to get the same amount of energy that you get from a gallon of gasoline, you've got to have about eight times the volume of hydrogen." He acknowledged that getting a sufficient volume of hydrogen onboard the vehicle to give the vehicle sufficient usable range is a big problem still.
The other two vehicles that impressed him the most were Ford's Th!nk Focus fuel cell sedan and the fuel cell bus.
Speaking of the Focus, Weaver said, "that impressed me because it had all of the pickup [acceleration] that you wanted. It was very quiet. It was a great drive." He also remarked that driving the fuel cell bus "was pretty awesome."
"The fact that it was driven with fuel cell hydrogen technology was very impressive to me and very hopeful."
Las Vegas to Flagstaff
The next leg of the Drive for Life was from Las Vegas to Flagstaff, Arizona a distance of 250 miles. It was on this part of the trip that Weaver drove a specially modified 2001 Ford Explorer developed by Lee Environment. According to the actor, the system extracts something like 60% hydrogen and 40% ether from ethanol to fuel its conventional V-6 internal combustion engine. This results in virtually no pollution, Weaver stated. The inventor, Tom Lee is from Bloomington, Illinois
An article in the Boulder Weekly talked about the Lee Environment Explorer, explaining that "a suitcase-sized tank in the back of the SUV extracts from the petrol 55 percent hydrogen and 45 percent ether." Ironically, the vehicle had to withdraw from the motorcade after its support vehicle that carried the ethanol broke
"From Flagstaff on, I drove the [Toyota] Prius," Weaver said. It is now his personal vehicle.
Flagstaff to Gallup, New Mexico
This portion of the trip, some 185 miles distance, winds through some of the Southwest's most beautiful scenery including the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. We asked Weaver what his thoughts were about America's dependence on fossil fuels. His answer was perceptive.
"The fact that we discovered oil in Pennsylvania and we had this wonderful source of energy that we could extract from the ground, really made the industrial revolution possible. It served a purpose. There's no question about it.
"But my feeling was, as we drove across Arizona, Œthe Age of Oil has really exhausted its usefulness, and it has actually become a danger to our lives and our ability to survive on the planet.'"
He sees that nearly all of the environment problems confronting mankind can be traced to our use of fossil fuels, and primarily oil. "It's a problem with global warming. It's a problem with ozone depletion, with acid rain. . . with all kinds of things; with the air we breath and the water we drink. It's a polluter. It's a danger to our well-being."
He adds that the use of petroleum is also costing billions of dollars in environmental clean-up efforts from oil spills to leaking underground gasoline tanks.
"That's why we've got to move to something else," he stated emphatically. "The whole thrust of the Institute of Ecolonomics is to create a sustainable source of energy that is clean and inexhaustible and economically feasible."
Weaver explained that "ecolonomics" is a term he coined by combining ecology and economics.
"It represents a truth that our ecology and our economy are two halves of the same whole, two sides of the same coin. They are absolutely interdependent. And if we are to create a sustainable future, if we are to leave the kids a planet where they can live healthy, safe, productive, creative and prosperous lives, then we've got to have energy that is sustainable.
"We've got to have two things: a sustainable environment and a sustainable economy. Those two are essential if we are to leave a sustainable future to the kids. We know that we cannot have a sustainable economy if the energy that supports it is not sustainable, and oil is simply not sustainable."
He added with a sense of urgency that experts tell us that there could be just another thirty to fifty years of oil left to exploit before we have to use something else.
"Whatever it is that we will be forced to do at that time, it seems to me only proper that we should be doing that with great vigor and commitment right now."
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK.
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