Thursday, July 26, 2012

Gasoline Alternatives

If you've been following this blog for any amount of time, you've likely realized that I use several gasoline powered machines. This is something I consider a weakness in my plan to live more sustainably. Not only is our current gasoline use unsustainable, but we really are not doing anything to address it.

The first, and most obvious area, in which we use gasoline is in the car and truck. The car gets relatively good gas mileage, at around 35 mpg. The truck only gets around 20 mpg, but can use ethanol, although the closest place to get that is an hour away and its not really a great alternative anyway, so we don't use it very often. Since I work from home most days, though, and since Andrea doesn't work outside of the home, we don't have a lot of required driving. We tend to do quite a bit of extra driving, though, whether its trips to get parts for a project, a trip to Lexington to shop at the Good Foods Market, or just a trip to get out of town, such as when we took our nephews to the Gray Fossil Museum.

The obvious solution is to just drive less, which is clearly something we need to work on. The other solution is to exchange our vehicles for something that is either more fuel efficient or that uses alternative fuels. Even though the car is 8 years old, it is still a great car and has many more years of service left in it. I can't really justify getting rid of it at this point, especially since it does get good mileage. If we were to have to replace it, I suspect we'd end up going with a small hybrid, although a plug-in hybrid or all electric car might be a good option once we are able to generate our own electricity using a renewable energy system such as PV or wind. The truck, on the other hand, is older and may very well need to be replaced sooner than the car. The truck doesn't get driven a lot of miles normally, but is mostly used for hauling stuff, for driving in the winter, and occasionally for driving off-road. We drove it to the Field to Fork Festival, for example, because I knew I would need to haul the rain barrel I made. Because of the way we use the truck, I can't see being able to justify the purchase of a newer vehicle, which will likely rule out a hybrid or all electric, assuming those are even available by the time we replace the truck. My guess is that out best option is likely to be buying a used diesel powered truck that we can operate  using bio-diesel. I've love to be able to produce our own bio-diesel, which would make such a truck much more sustainable. The trucks that people converted to run from a wood gassifier are very interesting, but those may be a little more DIY than I'm capable of.

In addition to the car and truck, we also own several tools that use gasoline. These include the RTV, the 4-wheeler, the tow-behind mower, the push mower, the string trimmer, the tiller, the chainsaw, and the generator. Of course if I ever buy a tractor, it'll be included in that list as well. The obvious solution is to start using more hand tools, but I'm not sure how likely that is really going to be. I think that the more likely solution will be to eventually replace the RTV with a diesel model, and if we buy a tractor, make sure its diesel. I could then run those from bio-diesel, provided I am doing bio-diesel for the truck, as mentioned previously. I could replace the tow-behind mower with a PTO mower for the tractor. Hopefully by then we won't need a tiller very often, as we plan to transition to a no-till method of gardening. I'd like to consider converting the tiller over to an electric motor by that point, which would hopefully be powered by our renewable energy system. For the push mower and string trimmer, I'd either need to switch to electric, or possibly more likely, cordless, depending on how I was using them at the time. Based on my current usage of the string trimmer, though, I can't imagine being able to get by with either electric or cordless so I may have to research alternative fuel options. Last is the generator, which I can't imagine we'll ever completely get rid of. In fact, my goal is to replace our small generator with a whole house generator eventually, which is powered by propane, to use as a backup to our renewable energy system.

Of course most of what I'm discussing here are things that will not happen for several years. The only real short term solution that I have for our gas usage is conservation. By reducing the amount of extra driving that we do, we could certainly reduce our fuel usage. I'm also use that I could reduce usage by using the gas powered tools less, and using hand tools in their place where feasible. A few less trips to the mailbox in the RTV would help as well, and the exercise of walking the distance definitely won't hurt me.

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