April 9, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Hummers and muscle cars go green

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Jonathan Goodwin has built a car that can run on ethanol, hydrogen, biodiesel or natural gas--all fairly clean fuels. It gets the equivalent of 40 miles a gallon. And it's a Hummer.

Goodwin, a biodiesel conversion specialist and founder of alternative energy start-up SAE Energy, is an emerging name in an unlikely niche in the clean tech market: making muscle cars green.

He's already converted about 60 H2 Hummers from gas to diesel and about 100 H1 hummers, including a Hummer that can burn the whole menu of clean fuels.

Photos: Muscle cars with a conscience

On Earth Day (April 22nd), MTV Networks' show Pimp My Ride will feature a 1965 Impala he converted from gas to biodiesel. And since nothing says Earth Day like a drag race, the converted Impala went up against a Lamborghini in a quarter-mile test. The Impala won.

"You don't have to sacrifice the fun aspects of a car. All you have to do is change your fuel," said Martin Tobias, CEO of Imperium Renewables, a biodiesel refiner that developed the Pimp My Ride biodiesel experiment with MTV. "It completely blew away the Lamborghini. It was only two-thirds down the track when the Impala crossed the finish line."

The same dynamics underpin the growth in the clean car market. Manufacturers are offering consumers clean cars--a big selling point--but not cutting back on performance.

"The first electric cars were like golf carts. You really had to be freakin' altruistic to drive one of those things," Tobias said. "Tesla changed that by telling customers 'You can have it all.'"

If anything, consumers and businesses are clearly interested in clean cars. With the rise of biodiesel, the market and price for used diesel cars has climbed, according to anecdotal reports from sellers, and Toyota has continued to experience dramatic shipment growth for its Prius hybrid.

Click here to Play

Video: Souped-up Impala outraces Lamborghini
The car community is seeing a new breed of modified cars.

Goodwin says a large delivery company is currently negotiating with him about converting fleets of their diesel delivery vehicles from diesel to natural gas.

Goodwin, who's based in Wichita, Kan., doesn't advertise or push the services through Web sites much because it generates too many inquiries.

"I really get pounded with a lot of requests when I do," he said. "But it doesn't look like I will be able to hide much longer."

Gas-to-diesel conversions are the automotive equivalent of a heart transplant. The gas-burning engine and original transmission are removed and replaced with a Duramax diesel engine, typically inserted in Chevy trucks, and an Allison transmission.

With a Hummer, little retrofitting is required. With the Impala, the center divider in the car had to be widened. In the end, though, the car still accommodated four or more passengers, unlike the two-seater Lamborghini.

A gas-to-diesel conversion boosts a Hummer's mileage from about 10 miles a gallon to between 22 and 24 miles a gallon. Additionally, the horsepower jumps from about 325 in the regular Hummer to 650, giving the car more power.

The performance increase comes in part from the inherent properties of diesel engines. Overall, a diesel can deliver more torque--the rotational force applied to an object, in this case the car's crankshaft--than a gas engine. A 500 horsepower gas engine might put out 600 foot-pounds of torque. A similar diesel might put out 800 to 900 foot-pounds of torque.

The engine inserted into the 1965 Impala cranks 850 horsepower and 1200 foot-pounds of torque. The Impala was chosen because it has a stronger frame than most other mid-1960s muscle cars.

"Torque is the key," Goodwin said.

The mileage increase alone makes the Hummer more green than it was originally. But drivers can cut down on emissions even more if they run their cars on biodiesel, made from vegetable oil, rather than diesel derived from hydrocarbons dug from the earth. The converted cars can run on either fuel, but biodiesel puts far less carbon dioxide into the air, along with other pollutants. (Diesel cars can also run on waste vegetable oil, but typically require additional modifications before it can just get filled up at the deep fat fryer.)

Some customers eye conversions in terms of dollars and cents. The delivery company wants to switch from diesel to natural gas because the fuel costs far less. "If I can reduce their fuel consumption by 5 percent, that's huge," Goodwin said.

For most customers, though, the status and novelty factor seem to be drivers. The conversion, which takes about seven days, costs roughly $24,000. If gas sells for $3 a gallon, you'd have to drive around 140,000 miles before breaking even.

Still, the idea of a green Hummer does take getting used to. Another TV network wants to do a story on biodiesel conversion, but balked at the idea of centering the show around a Hummer. To avoid potential complaints, they will convert a Cadillac Escalade.

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biodiesel, Hummer, Lamborghini, horsepower, car


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It makes no economic sense.
So you'd have to drive 140,000 miles before you break even. That's a dream for a liberal. It doesn't matter if it makes any sense. What matters is if it makes you feel good. You can always brag that you "saved the planet".
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Look at the whole picture, not just ROI
You are thinking about it from a ROI point of view. If you are going to get a "new" car and spend $24,000 on it, and need 22mpg anyway.. why not convert your SUV that's getting horrid mileage with a new engine?

Hopefully consumer demand is going to increase for these alternative fuels, and some of the car manufacturers are going to listen. If more "consumer" cars start having these alternatives, and you can stop by your local "BioDiesel" station to get fuel, things will change.
Posted by blsith (48 comments )
Link Flag
It may not make economic sense...
But neither does driving a Hummer as a freeway daily driver. Factor in the performance improvements and you'll find that any lover of high performance vehicles would love the idea of converting a gasoline engine to diesel.
Posted by seeville (1 comment )
Link Flag
doesn't have to
Almost all improvements happen because the rich drive the way. It costs money to change things up front. These are people who for a multitude of reasons other than economic want to do this. These are one-off conversions. But it leads the way. As more do this, there will finally be bio fuels at the gas stations. And when there are bio fuels at the gas stations, demand will increase and regular manufacturing lines will do this at normal cost. After all GM does it in Brazil now.

You get better performance, cheaper fuel, green & replenshable fuel, and no longer have to deal with the middle east.

Rich people doing it for what ever reason is the only way things will change unless congress forces the change, which they could do but won't. After all they forced the change to lead-free gas a few decades ago.
Posted by kxmmxk (320 comments )
Link Flag
The Environment IS the economy (stupid).
Economics and ecology are built from the same greek word for
"home", reflecting their interconnectedness.

You can have ecology without economy, but you can't have
economy without ecology. One is built atop the other. Simply
put, you can't breathe cash. All of our economic activity takes
place within the biosphere, and so every action can be measured
as either moving towards preserving the biosphere (sustaining
or expanding economic potential), or towards degrading it
(reducing economic potential). Every CF light bulb, every diesel
conversion, every minute efficiency gain makes economic sense.

On the other hand, what you're suggesting -- sacrificing
economic potential for short term cashflow makes no 'economic
Posted by Steve Tsuida (9 comments )
Link Flag
Toyota Prius is in the same situation
You need to own a Prius ten years before you even break even in gas savings compared to an equivalent gas model Toyota of similar capacity.

Since most car owners sell their cars every 3-5 years, then the profits are all on the OEM's side. Will the Prius even survive that long? They are getting older now and the battery replacement cost is $2500-$3000, which is a bit high, but they are very limited production so I can understand that. That's another big hit on the pocketbook for an older car down the road.

I'm hoping the GM Volt gets produced. A car that can run purely on electric and then go to gas only as needed with a range of 640 miles would go a long ways towards helping out our ecology.

Plus it looks cool. :)
Posted by Vegaman_Dan (6683 comments )
Link Flag
Dream for a liberal???
Oy!! Is good gas mileage a liberal commie plot???

Did you get your Christmas card from Dick Cheney and the ultra-conservative right-wing Nazi oil companies yet?

LOL.. Too much...
Posted by xcopy (452 comments )
Link Flag
The idea here is not an immediate economic payback. Reducing the environmental impact of the vehicles we drive is equally if not more important. As well as reducing our dependancy on oil. There is no one magic technology that will save the planet and/or your pocketbook. Adopting and combining multiple technologies is a good step towards securing a future that will be both economically and environmentally sound.
Posted by KSC519 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Something seems off
First of all, the H1 is only available with a diesel stock. Secondly, the numbers seem to be rather exaggerated. Diesels typically get about 25% better gas mileage, not 120-340% better as stated for the H2 conversion. And by doubling the horsepower on top of that, I'm sure the gas mileage would take a hit (especially if you actually use that 650 HP.)
Posted by skrubol (181 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Something seems off
I agree. It don't add up.
Posted by HyVoltage (13 comments )
Link Flag
Yeah, I agree. This has been seriously exaggerated
I would like to see some independent testing to confirm HP, torque, and fuel economy. And I'd like to know how he calculated the "equivalent" fuel economy.

Either way, it's really a joke to call this a "green" car. None of these technologies are really "green" unless we significantly improve energy efficiency.
Posted by fcekuahd (244 comments )
Link Flag
Not so good
At all natural resources aren't eternal. So mankind have to discover new engines and fuel. But biodiesel not such a good alternative. It has some asvantages but it is still a internal-combustion engine and can cause damage to environment. Maybe it's just intermediate step to new engine for all vehicles.
Posted by Hi)a(k (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So What
What does having an Impala beat a Lamborghini have to do with anything? I could fuel an Impala with alcohol made from my leftover cereal milk, and it would go even faster. I'm still polluting the environment when I make the stuff, because I'm using energy derived from coal/oil/whatever to make the alcohol, and then I'm releasing massive amounts of carbon as I burn it.

By the way, fulfilling the world's oil needs through biofuels as they are **today** would require more agricultural landmass than three entire Earth's. Doesn't work.
Posted by p40tomahawk (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
HP jumps from 325 to 650
That must be a typo. How do you double MPG with twice the HP ? It takes more fuel to make more HP not less. I could see getting 30% better mpg with a diesel conversion but to take out a V8 gas engine and install a V8 diesel for $24,000 to save money does not make sense.
Posted by jogiba (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
HP jumps from 325 to 650
I agree. Somethin' doesn't add up.
Posted by HyVoltage (13 comments )
Link Flag
HP jumps from 325 to 650
I agree. Somethin' doesn't add up.
Posted by HyVoltage (13 comments )
Link Flag
It's possible
High compression engines with diesel can do this quite easily and have been doing it for nearly a century. Trucks use diesel for a reason over unleaded fuels as their choice of petrol.

So far it hasn't been economical in passenger cars, but times are changing.
Posted by Vegaman_Dan (6683 comments )
Link Flag
It's possible
High compression engines with diesel can do this quite easily and have been doing it for nearly a century. Trucks use diesel for a reason over unleaded fuels as their choice of petrol.

So far it hasn't been economical in passenger cars, but times are changing.
Posted by Vegaman_Dan (6683 comments )
Link Flag
Another carsalesman
I don't trust carsalesman. They only tell you the good and hide the
bad. It is just a marketing ploy. The word for autos these days is
"Green". Mine is more "Greener" than yours. When they develope a
vehicle that doesn't emit any type of pollution and doesn't require
plugging it into a home outlet, then it will truly be "Green". Until
then, stop using the word "Green".
Posted by twotall610 (53 comments )
Reply Link Flag
was around for quite a while. Purely an electrical car, it gets a range of 200 miles on a single charge, and it goes 0-60 in 4 seconds. www.teslamotors.com
Posted by dondarko (261 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Water is better and I can do it
You support me(aka pay for my house, food, dog, etc) and i'll GIVE everyone a technology that can run on today's cars and be 100% renewable with better power then bio-diesel(which is only torque anyways). The largest reason nobody has done it(to the general pulics knowledge) is because a car running on water doesnt benifit the rich, it benefits the world, and we all know the rich don't look out for anybody but themselves. Im not asking for much. Just the time and expensive of living, then i'll give it the technology away for free and help people. Its not as hard as everyone thinks, people just keep making reasons why it shouldnt work, but it would work if someone was willing to do it.

FYI someone created a gas that converts water to hydrogen extremely easily (its a welding gas) and he car was running off of water (video should be on youtube.com). BUT the government bought the guy and his technology and he is installing it in hummers FOR THE ARMY. Its possible, the government just doesnt want it to happen.
Posted by Zupek (85 comments )
Reply Link Flag
re: Water is better and I can do it
In his 2nd paragraph Zupek is probably referring to this
company, altho some of what Zupek says is incorrect. The gov't
did not 'buy' the guy, it's electricity that converts water to a gas
for fuel, and a car can run on water!

the site has lots of videos. i recommend viewing the long one
on the home page under 'Grab the Popcorn'.

Hydrogen Technology Applications, Inc.
"Makers of Aquygen?, a combustible gas made from water that
is a safe, cost-effective, environmentally-friendly alternative to
and enhancer of fossil fuels."
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://hytechapps.com/" target="_newWindow">http://hytechapps.com/</a> .
Posted by WINDnotOILdotCOM (1 comment )
Link Flag
...At the Expense of Food and Increasing Food Prices
Going biodiesel and other alternate fuel sources are great ideas, but they should not be used at the expense of food production. Water is a scarce commodity, and there are a lot of people in world in poverty and starvation. It is absolutely stupid to use these resources as alternate fuels just so that you can maintain your "fun" factor in the Hummers and muscle cars.

Haven't you noticed that once the President of the USA promotes alternate fuels, the food prices went up because the corn used to feed the livestock for food is being diverted for fuel? Once demand increases for these alternate fuels, you think the food prices won't continue to increase?
Posted by treet007 (123 comments )
Reply Link Flag
over hear down under
we have lots of prime farm land that just runs stock
becase the low price of grain
and the yanks that undercut us
some of our farmers just wont grow it
i have frends who have 1000 plus acrs who just run stock becase thay cant aford the price of fule
to put a crop in
when the price comes up and fule down
just whach us feed the world
thats if we ever get rain
tell me what do us farmers pay per gal for desiel
we pay $6.30 per gal
hell we got farmers who just grow canola for thair fule for the year and whats over gets sold to pay the rates etc
live stock on thease farms is spending mony
Posted by dean265 (2 comments )
Link Flag
It seems to me that anyone buying a "Hummer" has a lot more money than intelligence. The "Hummer" is just a ripoff on the HumVee, without the capabilities of the real thing. I'd buy a HumVee, I *laugh* at "Hummers". Luckily, I do not *need* either one, so I won't be buying one. My Suburban burns enough fuel to satisfy my testosterone levels.
Posted by timinraymond (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
not apples to apples
By saying a jump in HP like that they are not compairing apples to apples. they are talking about the baseline 325HP Gasoline hummer motor being swapped out for a turbo charged diesel duramax motor. The horsepower gains are not related to the fact that its running green. These motors would make 650HP all day with convential diesel as well. In fact a gasoline engine with a similar displacement to the duramax they are using, would probably have even more horsepower than the diesel if turbocharged as aggressively, though its not as easy to turbocharge gasoline engines with as much boost as diesels. Also the diesel would still be the winner in torque likely, and as corky bell says "Rule : Torque makes fun"
Posted by wp enterprises (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
blah blah blah
blah blah blah, government conspiracy this and that

The real problem is there is no mainstream efficent way to seperate hydrogen that easily. Yes welding gas can run a car, but its $60 to fill a bottle, and it wouldn't get you as far as $30 in gasoline even at the prices of today. Plus where did that bottle of hydrogen come from? It takes a lot of heat energy to seperate hydrogen. If we all ran cars on hydrogen we would require many many many new nuclear plants to provide us with the power to make all the hydrogen that would be required, and does that really help anything at all? Maybe one day someone will come up with a breakthrough easy way to seperate hydrogen, until then, it just doesn't make sense.
Posted by wp enterprises (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
water i can do it better contact me
iam from the central west australia
in the drout i have lost my job
thair are a lot of people hearting now
in my spair time i have been working with hydroger
i want to give it to the people free
iam looking for idears or hiden secrets
if you have any thing to add or want info
my info plans and or the stuff i receve are for sail at any price i want to help mother eath and the little man
please email me
Posted by dean265 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I would appreciate it if you would send me information as to how to actually contact John. Thank you, Jamie.
Posted by grandma2b (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
How about this; maybe we can choose to use our own resources however we wish, unencumbered by Green bigotry. What difference does economic sense make if that is what some body want to spend their money on, we do not live in a Marxist State?.well, not yet.
Posted by MarkinDurango (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag

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