Electric Vehicles, The Gasoline Problem, And Synthetic Fuels

When you’re standing at the gas station filling up your car, watching those digits on the pump flip by can be a sobering experience. Fuel prices, especially the price of gasoline, have always been keenly watched, so it’s hard to imagine a time when gasoline was a low-value waste product. But kerosene, sold mainly for lighting, was once king of the petroleum industry, at least before the automobile came along, to the extent that the gasoline produced while refining kerosene was simply dumped into streams to get rid of it.

The modern mind perhaps shudders at the thought of an environmental crime of that magnitude, and we can’t imagine how anyone would think that was a good solution to the problem. And yet we now face much the same problem, as the increasing electrification of the world’s fleet of motor vehicles pushes down gasoline demand. To understand why this is a problem, we’ll start off by taking a look at how crude oil is formed, and how decreasing demand for gasoline may actually cause problems that we should think about before we get too far down the road.

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Tech Hidden In Plain Sight: Gas Pumps

Ask someone who isn’t technically inclined how a TV signal works or how a cell phone works, or even how a two-way switch in a hall light works and you are likely to get either a blank stare or a wildly improbable explanation. But there are some things so commonplace that even the most tech-savvy of us don’t bother thinking about. One of these things is the lowly gas pump.

Gas pumps are everywhere and it’s a safe bet to assume everyone reading this has used one at some point, most of use on a regular basis. But what’s really going on there?

Most of it is pretty easy to figure out. As the name implies, there must be a pump. There’s some way to tell how much is pumping and how much it costs and, today, some way to take the payment. But what about the automatic shut off? It isn’t done with some fancy electronics, that mechanism dates back decades. Plus, we’re talking about highly combustible materials, there has to be more to it then just a big tank of gas and a pump. Safety is paramount and, experientially, we don’t hear about gas stations blowing up two or three times a day, so there must be some pretty stout safety features. Let’s pay homage to those silent safety features and explore the tricks of the gasoline trade.

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Fail Of The Week: How Not To Watercool A PC

To those who choose to overclock their PCs, it’s often a “no expense spared” deal. Fancy heat sinks, complicated liquid cooling setups, and cool clear cases to show off all the expensive guts are all part of the charm. But not everyone’s pockets are deep enough for off-the-shelf parts, so experimentation with cheaper, alternatives, like using an automotive fuel pump to move the cooling liquid, seems like a good idea. In practice — not so much.

The first thing we thought of when we saw the title of [BoltzBrain]’s video was a long-ago warning from a mechanic to never run out of gas in a fuel-injected car. It turns out that the gasoline acts as a coolant and lubricant for the electric pump, and running the tank dry with the power still applied to the pump quickly burns it out. So while [BoltzBrain] expected to see corrosion on the brushes from his use of water as a working fluid, we expected to see seized bearings as the root cause failure. Looks like we were wrong: at about the 6:30 mark, you can see clear signs of corrosion on the copper wires connecting to the brushes. It almost looks like the Dremel tool cut the wire, but that green copper oxide is the giveaway. We suspect the bearings aren’t in great shape, either, but that’s probably secondary to the wires corroding.

Whatever the root cause, it’s an interesting tour inside a common part, and the level of engineering needed to build a brushed motor that runs bathed in a highly flammable fluid is pretty impressive. We liked the axial arrangement of the brushes and commutator especially. We wonder if fuel pumps could still serve as a PC cooler — perhaps changing to a dielectric fluid would do the trick.

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Old Chainsaw Repurposed For Kitchen Use

There are many ways to keep critical appliances running during a power outage. Maybe a UPS for a computer, a set of solar panels to charge your phone, or even a generator to keep your refrigerator or air conditioning working. This modification to a standard blender will also let you ride through a power outage while still being able to make delicious beverages. It runs on gasoline.

The build uses an old chainsaw to power the blades of the blender. [Bob] was able to design and build an entirely new drivetrain to get this device to work, starting by removing the chainsaw chain and bar and attaching a sprocket to the main shaft of the motor. A chain connects it to a custom-made bracket holding part of an angle grinder, which supports the blender jar. Add in a chain guard for safety and you’ll have a blender with slightly more power than the average kitchen appliance.

The video of the build is worth watching, even if your boring, electric-powered blender suits your needs already. The shop that [Bob] works in has about every tool we could dream of, including welders, 3D printers, band saws, and even a CNC plasma cutter. It reminds us of [This Old Tony]’s shop.

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Designing Compact Gasoline Generator Prototype For Drone Use

Lithium batteries and brushless motors helped make multirotor drones possible, but batteries only last so long. Liquid fuels have far greater energy densities, but have not  been widely applied in these roles. [Tech Ingredients] has been experimenting with a compact gasoline-fueled generator, with the aim to extend drone flight times well beyond what is currently possible with batteries (Youtube link, embedded below).

The build began with a single-cylinder, four stroke engine. However, torque spikes and vibration made things difficult. After some iteration, the design settled on employing two single-cylinder two stroke engines, fitted with a timing belt to keep them 180 degrees out of phase. In combination with a pair of balanced flywheels, this keeps vibration to a minimum. Brushless motors are used as generators, combined with rectifier diodes and capacitors to smooth the voltage output. The generator is intended to be used in parallel with a lithium battery pack in order to ensure the drone always has power available, even in the event of a temporary malfunction.

This is a build with plenty of promise, and we can’t wait to see what kind of flight time can be achieved once the system is finished and flight ready. We’ve seen others experimenting with hybrid drones, too.

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Hybrid Drones Could Have Massively Extended Flight Times

Multirotor drones truly took off with the availability of lithium polymer batteries, brushless motors, and cheap IMUs. Their performance continues to improve, but their flight time remains relatively short due to the limits of battery technology. [Nicolai Valenti] aims to solve the problem by developing a hybrid generator for drones.

The basic concept consists of a small gasoline engine, connected to a brushless motor employed as a generator. The electricity generated is used to run the main flight motors of the multirotor drone. The high energy density of gasoline helps to offset the added weight of the generator set, and [Nicolai] is aiming to reach a goal of two hours of flight time.

There are many engineering problems to overcome. Engine starting, vibration and rectification are all significant challenges, but [Nicolai] is tackling them and has already commenced flight testing. Experiments are ongoing with 500 W, 1,000 W, and 2,000 W designs, and work is ongoing to optimise the engine and electronics package.

It’s a project that holds the potential to massively expand the range of operation for medium to large multirotors, and should unlock certain capabilities that have thus far been limited by short battery runtimes. Gasoline powered drones aren’t a new idea, but we’ve seen precious little in the hybrid space. We look forward to seeiing how this technology develops. Video after the break.

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Russian Drone Can Lift 142 Phantom 3 Drones

Russia has long been known for making large machines. They hold the current record for the largest helicopter ever made – the MiL V12. Same goes for the world’s largest airplane, the Antonov An-225. Largest submarine? Yep, they made that too – the Typhoon class. It would appear they’ve thrown their hat in the drone business as well.

While the SKYF drone is made by a private Russian company, it is one of the largest drones we’ve ever seen. Able to lift 400 pounds (a Phantom 3 weighs 2.8 pounds) and can fly for eight hours, the SKYF drone is a nice piece of aeronautical engineering. Quad-copter style drones provide lift by brute force, and are typically plagued with low lift capacities and short flight times. The SKYF triumphs over these limitations by using gasoline powered engines for lift and electric motors for navigation.

It’s still in the prototype stage and being advertised for use in natural disasters and the agriculture industry. Check out the video in the link above to see the SKYF in action.

What’s the largest drone you’ve seen?

Thanks to [Itay] for the tip!