Friday, April 29, 2011

Save $$$ at the Pump

As gas approaches $4 per gallon, we are all looking for ways to save. Lots of advice is circulating around, but which tips will actually save fuel? Let’s separate fact from fiction:

Fact: Slow down.

Why? There’s this little problem of air and drag. As you zoom down the road at high speeds, your car pushes lots of air ahead of it and leaves a “hole” in the air behind it. The difference in air pressure creates suction that tries to pull your car backwards. At highway speeds, your car uses about 40% of its energy to push the air around, so try to leave your lead foot at home.

Fiction: Pump your gas in the morning.

Why not? The theory behind this myth: cooler temperatures make the fuel denser so you pump more gas molecules in every gallon. However, gas is stored in an underground tank whose temperature varies very little throughout the day, so the temperature of the air really has little effect on the temperature and density of the fuel.

Fact: Keep your tires inflated.

Why? Underinflated tires mean more tire surface on the road, thus more friction. Keeping your tires inflated will not make a huge difference in your fuel costs, but every little bit helps, right?

Fiction: Change your air filter.

Why not? You should replace your air filter regularly, but not because it will save money at the pump. The computer sensors in modern cars adjust the fuel-air mixture continually. A dirty air filter will not cause your car to burn more gas, but it will decrease your engine power. In other words, your car will be somewhat sluggish, sort of like you might feel on Monday morning.

Fact: Jack rabbit starts waste gas.

Why? Think about it; your car probably weighs about 2 tons. The amount of energy to accelerate 2 tons from a stop is considerable, so city traffic will cost you a lot of fuel. Take it easy on starts and stops; in other words, don’t drive like a maniac. Your savings could be as much as 30%!

Fiction: Use premium fuel.

Why not? Let’s say you recently bought the sports car you always wanted, and the owner’s manual says “premium fuel recommended.” Uh-oh, premium fuel is expensive! Will you get better gas mileage with premium? Will you harm your engine with regular? The answer is probably “no” to both. Your gas mileage probably will not be affected, and your engine sensors should detect the lower octane and adjust the timing. However, if your new car says “premium fuel required”, you had better fork over the extra for premium gas.

Fact/Fiction: Turn off your air conditioner.

OK, I am being wishy-washy. The answer here depends on your speed. In the city, running the A/C will cost you more, but on the highway, running the A/C will actually save fuel. There is no question that the A/C uses a lot of your engine’s power, so turning it off whenever you can is a good idea. However, open windows create drag which increases the faster you go. So opening the windows at highway speeds will create enough drag to cancel out the savings. Generally, at speeds over 45 mph, you can justify using the A/C. As you might imagine, windows closed with the A/C off is the best option, but that would be a mite unpleasant on a hot August afternoon.

Happy driving!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Celebrate Earth Day

This Earth Day, I could pass along “green” tips on how to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint, but I will save that for another time. Instead, let me make a suggestion: go OUTSIDE this weekend! Take your dog for a walk, plant a vegetable garden, play outdoor games with your children, visit a local park, take a hike and look for wildlife, or just sit in the sun and appreciate its warmth (with appropriate sunscreen, of course).

If you are a bit more ambitious, visit an Earth Day Festival near you – the Richmond Earth Day Festival will be held Saturday, April 23 in the New Manchester District on the south end of the 14th Street Bridge. Streets will be blocked off and filled with artists, vendors, farmers and fun activities for all ages.

You could also visit the Science Museum of Virginia and explore the energy exhibits, such as New Energy Virginia, Watt Wall, Virginia Tech Solar House and others. When you are ready to get off your feet, enjoy a breathtaking film in the IMAX Dome. And don’t forget the popcorn!

Happy Earth Day, y’all!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Aluminaut & a 1960s View of the Future

In the collection of the Science Museum of Virginia is the world's first all aluminum submarine: the Aluminaut. The Aluminaut was built by Reynolds Metals Co. in 1964 and donated to the Science Museum of Virginia in 1995.

The above drawing is a futuristic view of the world as envisioned by Reynolds Metals Co. in the mid-1960s for what the future would hold for the Aluminaut (shown as the dark vessel at top left). Here are some projects it was believed the Aluminaut would initiate:

  • Producing electricity through subsurface dams set up over strong ocean currents

  • The ability to move large amounts of people safely underwater as opposed to dangerous travel above the surface during hostile weather or attacks

  • Vacationing in the ocean in underwater cities

  • Modifying the weather and stopping hurricanes by constructing underwater baffles to deflect cooler water upward

  • Constructing oil refineries where workers could live and work underwater (as depicted in the above drawing)

Come visit and see the submarine for yourself- the Aluminaut is currently on display at the Science Museum of Virginia.

Friday, April 15, 2011

What one degree will do...

If you lowered the thermostat on your water heater by one degree this year, you could save enough energy to microwave 207 bags of popcorn or power a fish tank for 19 days.

If 1000 people joined you, we could power 10 homes for 30 days or power a hospital for 4 days.

More energy facts at the Energy Generator:

Friday, April 8, 2011

What one light bulb can do...

If you replaced one incandescent light bulb with a CFL, you would save enough energy to watch TV for 429 hours, watch 215 DVDs or play a video game for 201 hours.

If 1000 people joined you, you could power a roller coaster for 34 days, power a shopping mall for 31 days or power Alaska for 8 hours.

More energy facts at the Energy Generator: