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Weaning America Off of Oil: The 'Motorhead Messiah' Has Arrived

Tuesday, February 19, 2008 by: Carol L. Ohnesorge
Tags: oil economy, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Since 1977 when OPEC carried out an oil embargo that left many Americans sitting in long lines to fuel their vehicles, energy conservation and fuel efficiency have been stressed by many politicians and federal agencies. Hybrid vehicles combining gasoline and electric power have emerged as the motor-vehicle industry's contribution to the Green movement. Hybrids offer an increase in fuel-efficiency at 25 - 35 miles per gallon, and they support our country's efforts to become less dependent on oil. They even reduce the amount of greenhouse emissions added to the environment.

Yet, while the hybrid vehicles offer consumers an option for a greener means of transportation, their price tags averaging $25,000 - $30,000 for basic models are more than some environmentally aware citizens can afford. This leaves some consumers feeling that the amount of cash saved at the pump through higher miles per gallon is lost in the vehicle's high prices. And, while these vehicles are a step in the right direction, many people wonder why real progress hasn't been made to create and promote affordable modifications for large numbers of vehicles already being driven when the need to conserve our fossil fuels is so important.

Thankfully, word is spreading about a man, Johnathan Goodwin, whose seemingly contradictory passions for large vehicles and environmental protection have led him to conjure up vehicle modifications that "can get 100 mpg out of a Lincoln Continental, cut emissions by 80%, and double the horsepower." Goodwin is a self-educated mechanic-virtuoso nicknamed the 'Motorhead Messiah' by his admirers. He grew up in Kansas with his mother and six siblings, taking on freelance commissions from auto-shops at the age of thirteen to help the family survive financially. He liked fitting oversized engines into ultra-small vehicles and then gazing in awe at his new creations' power and speed. He "put a methanol-fueled turbo charger on a tiny Yamaha Banshee four-wheeler." It's horsepower rose from 35 to 208, and despite the addition of several fins in the back it refused to stay on the ground.

Goodwin dropped out of school to make his living buying totaled vehicles and then fixing them up to resell. This practical education and his experimentation has led him to come up with progressive modifications for even the older, larger vehicles driven twenty years ago which more than double a car's fuel efficiency, doubles its power and cuts most of the emission pollution. What's even more amazing is that he co-created a $5000 kit that "can immediately transform any diesel vehicle to burn 50% less fuel and produce 80% fewer emissions." On large gas guzzling vehicles, Goodwin estimates the kit earns its money back in about a year, and on a regular car in about two years, all while "hitting an emissions target from the outset that's more stringent than any regulation we're likely to see in our lifetime."

Johnathan Goodwin's work proves that affordable modifications are possible for many vehicles already on the roads today. "His conversions consist almost entirely of taking stock Genral Motor (GM) parts and snapping them together in clever new ways." This means that fuel-efficient vehicles don't have to be wimpy in power or small and cramped in size. And while the large American automakers are resistant to change and skeptical that the domestic industry can survive Congress' target for fuel-economy standards to be raised to 35 mpg along with sharp increases in the reduction of emissions, Goodwin has a three-step plan for weaning Americans off of gasoline. The focus of his plan is adaptability. "The point," he says, "is to design cars that are flexible."

The first step in Goodwin's plan requires automakers to aggressively produce diesel-fueled vehicles. This step by itself would "improve the nation's mileage by as much as 40%." Diesel fuel is commonly available across the states, so American drivers could adjust easily to this step. Another positive aspect regarding diesel engines is that they can often burn biodiesel made from renewable domestic resources. Large-scale production of diesel vehicles "would both support the domestic biodiesel market and reduce our nation's oil consumption by up to 1.4 million barrels of oil per day - precisely the amount we import from Saudi Arabia."

Step two of Goodwin's plan calls for widely producing diesel-electric hybrid cars "which would double mileage on even the largest diesel automobiles." His final phase involves producing "electric hybrids that run in 'dual fuel' mode, burning biodiesel along with hydrogen, ethanol, natural gas, or propane." The dual-fuel mode allows a vehicle's mileage to be very high and emissions pollution to be very low. Because these vehicles can burn both regular diesel and biodiesel as well as go without any alternative fuels if needed, no one would find themselves stranded without a fuel source. Over time there would be a gradual increase of dual-fuel cars on the road which would push the demand for national grids to include alternative fuels such as ethanol, hydrogen and biodiesel.

Goodwin is currently working on a 2005 H3 Hummer that will prove his final-phase concept. He plans to turn it into a "turbine-enhanced H3 Hummer" by having both an electric motor and a turbine. When the truck runs low on power, the turbine engages to recharge a set of "supercapacitor" batteries. The turbine will run on biodiesel fuel and there will be a "hydrogen-injection system" to cut emissions in half. The fuel tank will be filled with french-fry grease from diners, and with Goodwin's end design the Hummer's horsepower will be doubled from 300 to 600.

Goodwin believes that for America to realistically move away from its dependence on oil, there will have to be fuel-flexibility for the vehicles of tomorrow. Auto-industry insiders agree with Goodwin's flexible fuel concept as well as the need to get alternative fuels into the market. GM's director of environmental, energy and safety policy, Mary Beth Stanek concurs that multiple fuels need to be available. She notes that Brazil weaned itself from gasoline in this way. "They pull up to the pump, and they've got a whole bunch of different choices." She also indicates diesel fuel will become a focus fuel "because of its inherent fuel efficiency."

Unfortunately, despite this concurrence of Goodwin's concepts for efficiently reducing our nation's dependence on oil and the need to focus on diesel engines to support our conversion to alternative fuels, reality demonstrates that American car makers are not "seriously thinking of abandoning the gasoline engine anytime soon. The 300-million-gallon U.S. biodiesel business is a fraction of the 12-billion-gallon ethanol one." And consumers won't purchase alternative-fuel vehicles until it is easy to get the fuel. However, with increasing political and environmental pressures to get away from our reliance on oil, improve fuel-efficiency and decrease emissions pollution, automakers have more reasons to promote and produce diesel-fueled vehicles.

It would be a welcomed relief if our leaders could back Goodwin's simple plan and give us tangible projects as an alternative to their otherwise fret-filled warnings that fossil fuels are running out and the polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate. As for the "Motorhead Messiah", he spends his time experimenting and problem-solving in his shop and is "slightly unsure of how his ideas could be brought to the masses." Clearly, Goodwin's ideas are worth sharing. His concepts offer optimism and workable solutions for lessening our reliance on oil, opening up new domestic markets in biodiesel from renewable resources, and reducing the greenhouse emissions that threaten our planet. He "believes global warming is a serious problem, that reliance on foreign oil is a mistake, and that butt-kicking fuel economy is just good for business."

Endnote: The information for this article was taken from Clive Thompson's article entitled "Motorhead Messiah," published in issue 120, November 2007 of Fast Company magazine. The original article can be found at (www.fastcompany.com) , and offers a more comprehensive discussion of Johnathan Goodwin's ideas and work.

About the author

Carol L. Ohnesorge holds a Masters Degree in Counseling and Psychology with an emphasis in Holism. She has spent much of her career working in mental health. Carol is dedicated to increasing public awareness and understanding of holistic therapies.

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