By Bob Difley
I’m due for a new rig. A year ago that statement would have been, “I’m due for a new motorhome.” I admit I have never owned a towable, but have several friends that do and I have looked at the merits of both. Some of the reasons I like motorhomes are:
- Easier to maneuver into tight campsites (like forest service and BLM sites).
- Easier to get into boondocking spots once toad is detached.
- Frig., toilet, water, etc. accessible without having to stop and leave vehicle.
- Traffic ahead easier to see from higher vantage point of motorhome.
- Two drivables (with toad), if one fails.
- Touring and exploring in a small fuel-efficient toad is more economical than a truck (or motorhome without toad).
- I often dropped my wife off with toad to food shop and do errands while I went on to campsite and set up.
I’m now reconsidering the towable choice. My main considerations have evolved, and now efficient operation and reduction of natural resources have risen to the top of the pile. With the push to reduce the use of fossil fuels, I’m looking toward an electric or hybrid power plant, with renewable sources of energy for house power.
Trouble is, no super-efficient hybrid or electric motorhomes appear to be on the near horizon, though we will see a flood of plug-in electric and hybrid cars in the next year for toads. However, good, rugged pick-up trucks are readily available, and going to diesel can make the most economic sense. A diesel rig can be converted to CNG (natural gas) as many bus fleets have done, but finding CNG while on the road may be problematic. A diesel rig can run without alteration on any biodiesel, like veggie oil (see G Shea’s remarks on my recent blog, Rally Report: Vegetable Oil Powered Motorhome at http://blog.rv.net/2009/04/rally-report-vegetable-oil-fueled-motorhome/comment-page-1/.
Not that motorhomes couldn’t be converted for CNG or run on veggie oil, which they can. But neither the diesel motorhome or truck seems to be what I would call my Dream Machine. So what would that be?
The dream machine would be:
- A plug-in electric pick-up truck that could drive a hundred miles on a single charge.
- When the battery reaches the end of its charge, a diesel generator would kick-in to charge the battery.
- Recharging would be done overnight at campgrounds, which would charge lower rates overnight since the charge from the utility company would be lower as well.
- The newest battery technology (probably an improved lithium ion type) would charge to 80% in about half an hour, a quick charge on the road while enjoying a coffee break, enabling a lot more miles of driving before having to return to the campground to recharge.
- Solar panels on the trailer roof would not only charge the house batteries when boondocking, but could charge the driving battery as well.
- Driving battery could also be used to power the “house” when needed.
- Touring and exploring in the pick-up would be by electric power (a fuel-efficient toad would not be needed as the truck would be fuel-efficient).
- The Dream Vehicle battery currently would be a large part of the vehicle cost, but with government backing, venture capital, and big companies (like BP) putting up big bucks and great effort at improving current batteries, the soon-to-be-here high-tech batteries once mass-produced would bring the initial cost way down.
OK, that’s it. So the next question is, when will I see this dream vehicle under my Christmas tree?
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Dream RV Bob is it? your battery’s wont be ready for Mass-sale’s in 5year’s maybe more maybe 10 year/s if OBAMA has His way? You can Make your own solar palel’s now for about $200:00 apiece for running inside stough micfrwave a/c, flat-screen! But dont think you could put enough of them on a Pickup-Truck to run no 100 Mile’s a Day! Take a Big-Diesel Generator to put out the wattage you need to power a large electric motor capable of towing an R.V. from Camp-Ground to Camp-ground! I dont think out technologey has caught up with our demand’s yet? Even with a wind turbine running going down the road to help out I dont think it could be Done! You Need a Light Vechical a 1-Ton Frame Frame weigh’s in at what a honda prius do’s not counting the Body weight, of The Truck? Less Weight Better & Sooner you will be driveing you Dream R.V. Ever Think of a 3/4 Ton Chassis & A Home Made Fiber-glass Shell? you cound cover the side’s & Rear & Top with Home made Solar Panel’s & A Big Battery Bank with Deep-cycle Cell’s & Plug in at Night & Charge it up The KEY IS WEIGHT! VS ELECTRIC-Power! Rick Vogel U.S.Army Retired!
Good luck BOB Building your dream-Truck I dont think you can get a diesel generator under the hood that would give you 80% charge in 30 mmin. all the electric car;s i have looked at have a range around 45 mile’s & plug-in & take 8 Hr’s to charge, & thry are not towing Nothing Wish you the best I Built Ford Truck’s on the Assembly Line at Claycomo Missouri The frame for a 3/4 Tom or 1-Ton is allot heavier than a 1/2 Ton! Plus pulling a trailer 100 Mile’s?Jess! I had not realised out technilogy had jumped up overnight if it could be done Ford & Chevy would be building them! for sure! Rick Vogel U.S.Army Retired
Pingback: RV Weekly Round-Up (May 2-8, 2009) : blog.rv.net
In my scenario, we were slowing down to 45MPH and would realize an average of 9MPG which is more than possible with today’s engines and a light foot 😉
True, you will not suddenly replace all the fuel vehicles with electric. But, you will have to build the plants to support the demand. According to the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration, 390 million gallons of gasoline are burned every day. To replace the gasoline consumption alone (assuming 30% efficiency for the vehicles burning the gasoline) would require 3.943TW of power production per day. Given the U.S. generated 4.157TW of power for all of 2007, it is unrealistic to expect power generation capacity to come anywhere near close meeting demand. We would need to build 350 times as many coal/oil/NG/nuclear/wind/etc… power plants as exist in the U.S. today to even come close to realizing the power needs of today’s vehicles.
Loosing weight and reducing drag will be the next major efficiency gains for RVs. Engine efficiency could be improved but, not using the technology on the market today.
Steam can achieve higher efficiencies. Unfortunately, it follows the laws of physics with the greater delta temperatures required also leading to more dangerous designs. Containing a small explosion in a cylinder is a great deal less dangerous for the general public than building up a massive head of steam in a boiler system necessary to propel a vehicle. Steam engines are large and heavy for safety reasons. Flash-boilers, while light in weight when compared to more conventional designs, are be even more dangerous when operated outside their design limits (anyone ever hear of a teenager pushing more HP from their engine? Or, an RV’er having the engine shop bump up their HP with a few bucks between friends or, a chip upgrade?). While an internal combustion engine can destroy itself, the end result typically does not blow up the entire vehicle. Steam technology has that potential.
Oh, and let’s just forget hydrogen. It has a wide stoichiometric mixture and will burn from a 5% to 95% ration in the air. The fire is “invisible” unless something is burning in the flame. it is a very dangerous chemical and will ignite in almost any circumstances. it is difficult to contain due to it’s simple molecular makeup. I.e., the containers “leak” the stuff into the air. Outside, it simply floats up and away. In a garage, the build-up could be deadly. No, hydrogen will not take off en-mass anytime soon, either.
As has been mentioned above, a new power technology will be required to supplant the existing oil economy. What that is, I have no idea.
Tom, as I am reading your figures here, it seems you are making the case for electric motor drive while arguing against it. I don’t dispute any of your statistics, but I disagree with what seems to be your conclusion from the statistics. If a 34,000 lb Motorhome (this is not a 14,500 or 16,000 lb mini) needs 64 KW for one hour to travel 60 miles (60 MPH) and its generator burns 5 gallons of fuel(worst case scenario by your numbers) , that is 12 MPG. Pretty cottonpickin’ good fuel mileage for a 34,000 lb “cracker box” pushing nearly 100 square feet of air, doncha think? Also don’t forget that you are replacing a 2500 to 3000 lb diesel engine and a several hundred lb transmission. (I forget the weight of an Allison MT650 transmission. Something like 650 to 800 lb?) When you subtract the weight removed and add the weight added, you are only adding perhaps 2000 lb to the diesel engined counterpart. This is using today’s technology. As the market matures, so will the products and this 12 MPG in the example here will increase by some number of percentage points.
As to the public power grid; many utility companies, right now, are installing “smart meters” with automatic rate reductions during off-peak hours because the utility has unused capacity during these off-peak hours. In addition to this, the world will not, overnight, replace every gasoline and diesel powered vehicle with a vehicle that requires recharging from the public power grid. As the demand increases, the supply also will increase.
My friend just added a water system of some sort to his diesel moterhome that converts the water to hydrogen. He almost doubled his mileage and that was towing a pick-up behind him. He had converted his pick-up first and had such good luck he thought he’d try the motorhome. He can shut it off as he feels. Someone in Apache Jct. AZ got him started.
the power required to move a motorhome down the highway would be comparable to a large 5er. At 55MPH, it is roughly 100-125HP or 75-93KW on level highway, no wind, tires inflated properly, etc… To drive one hour, your battery system will need to be capable of holding 150-185KW of power. If the current technology L16H Batteries are employed, you will need to have 143 batteries to drive for one hour and have 1/2 the battery capacity remaining. Obviously, that’s not going to fly (as you’d already surmised).
On top of that, there are grades in the road (both up & down) as well as wind to contend with. These parasites will require even more power to overcome or, we’ll need to slow down – WAY down – to continue traveling. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea?
Today’s RV’s will peak MPG efficiency around 35-45MPH. At these speeds, wind and rolling resistance are reduced to the point where there are “hybrid” possibilities.
A 34,000lb Motorhome will require roughly 85HP or 64KW of power. If we add a 50KWe diesel genset (Perkins 3-phase) in lieu of the motive engine that will assist with the electrical requirements as we drive leisurely along, we can reduce our battery requirements to 14 batteries (again, draw-down 50% at the end of the hour). If we bring that up to 16 batteries, we’re looking at a battery weight of 1 ton (not counting cables/trays/etc…) and a genset weight about the same. Fuel consumption for the genset will range from 1 (25%) to 5 (100%) gallons/hr – depending on load.
It would be possible to “build the beast” and see some efficiencies but, they would be small given the current state of diesel/battery technology. The trucking and rail industries have already driven diesel engine efficiency to what we see today. More may be possible but, not without great outlays of cash – which doesn’t seem reasonable with cheap fuel. Granted, prices are deflated but, so is demand.
Increases in battery efficiency will not help a great deal. The weight savings will be marginal in relation to the overall vehicle weight and aerodynamic resistance. Even if a 100lbs super-battery were possible, the wind and weight would still be major detractors from efficiency.
Another point to consider with regards to recharging is the electrical grid. The U.S. does not have the generating capacity to accommodate a nation of electric movers. We just do not have enough power stations. Even if we did, the power losses involved in moving the power from the station to the point of use defeat the purpose of “going electric”. It ends up being more efficient – even with today’s inefficient engines – to keep the power conversion (liquid to motive force) at the vehicle.
The only true way to gain efficiencies in large vehicles is via aerodynamics and weight reduction. Creative use of space (more-so than we’re seeing in today’s RVs) will be required to reduce wind resistance of a large vehicle. Elimination of wind resistors from the outside of the vehicle (antennas, mirrors, awnings, etc…) and streamlined front-ends ( in lieu of blunt “barn doors”) and back-ends (cutting it off creates a large vortex/drag generator) will go a VERY long way toward increasing efficiency. However, these take up living space and are not immediately desirable unless the price of fuel increases.
Light weight materials/composites (read – higher costs) will also help reduce the weight of the vehicle and lower the rolling HP requirements. But, only increased fuel prices will make these higher-priced features attractive to consumers.
Until we see much higher costs, new generations of power production and storage, and more efficient motors/engines, the current technology will remain the staple of the large vehicle industry.
“going down the road… one driving… one shoveling… ”
Nah!!! Lynn would just buy an old home coal furnace stoker and replace the 120VAC motor with a 12v model and sit back and enjoy the ride. Surely no one would would register any complaints about the various smoke stack emissions of the coal fired boiler.
Oh ya and just think of the great physical activity you would get…. going down the road… one driving… one shoveling… gives a whole new meaning to the word passenger… instead of the wife just whining about … are we their yet… you can hand her a shovel and let her stoke the fire to keep the steam pressure up…
Now what a great adventure.. you can title her as fireman… or fire person… being politically correct… and just think of the callories that will be burnt off moving all that coal from the bin in the lower compartment… to the firebox… wow… driving 8 hours a day will not only be a great move but she also can get arms that look like popeye… and be in great physical shape at the end of the day…
Now if you have the first gen motorhome that doesn’t recycle the steam… no biggie.. just pull in under the water tower and get her to jump up on top and load it into the tank… while doing that she can refresh herself by taking a shower… you know how that coal dust gets messy when you try to sleep in the bed… Then its stoke the fire while your resting after doing all that heavy driving… down the road for the last 4 hours… and what is this.. the horn on the RV has been replaced with a whistle… and bell… she can ring the bell and toot the whistel to wake you up from sleeping over their under the tree… Indeed a set of happy campers… and a ideal motorhome… now if they would just make it so you didn’t have to steer it and had street crossing guards so you didn’t have to stop .. what great time you will make heading across the country… LOLLLLLL
For sure… get some of that free power that flows in the wall pulg… No Co or your green house gases produces using electric … or is their… hmmmm….
Indeed if you keep track of the high power lines.. one should always find a port in the storm of power production.
Besides with all the new dams they will need to be building… think of the great fishing behind them… provided their is enough water to go around… Now how much can we store behind them before it doesn’t rain any more?
Ideal though as it would take water from the ocean and store it on land… thus getting rid of the issue of rising ocean water… actually the poor fish will need some bail out money in the form of training… so they can learn how to walk instead of swim as we will be hording all their wate for ’em.
I saw a ideal low emission high output engine.. where it used a pistion driven engine that did not run on gas or diesel… no instead it ran on steam.. was built sometime in the 30’s and could out pull the diesel truck and gas engines without breaking a sweat… I think they called it a sanley steamer… car/truck… Y ou have not expored those as yet… you should… now just think… y ou could use battery power to heat the water… or you could even go modular…
Indeed… no more oil… great hp throughout the speed range… and high torque at 0 rpm… ideal for the RV … plenty of hot water for the shower too…
Could run on CNG… hydrogen.. you name it if it flowed through a pipe or could be shoveled into the fire pit… wow… what effecency… and keeping warm all the time too… but the real fix would be to put that little basket ball size nucular power plant in it.. then you would not be producing any CO2 or green house gases… and just think.. 3-7 years before you have go go back to the bank and re-fuel…
If I were you I would hold my breath until congress gets this program going… should only take about 100 years…
but, just think about it… a power plant that not only could power your RV but your house when you get home.. sort of a package deal… accessory… No more nat gas bill… no more power bill…. no more need to clean the streets.. as the output of the steam would keep ’em sano as they get driven over… No more green house gasses… and the Co production would decline to where the O2 rating would increase giving you a whopping amount of increased activity and energy… Clear skys… Unlimited supply of hot water for showers… not to say you need one… and the break from off shore oil dependency… leaving those people to starve because we don’t need ’em any more… (return of the bagdad beggers) Say good bye to the oil company’s as they too will be phased out… ahhhh yes this will be the fix for the americans… the ulta dream… a vehicle that will go for the life of it without ever needing to stop and get gas ever again… then again… who is going to employ all of them oil gas and power industry people…?? oh not our problem… I am sure you can come up with something productive they can do… LOLL
Craig Benoit – Sounds right to me. The probability is that the money is flowing to make electric possible to the ownwers of giant fleets–like UPS–and not to RVs yet. Sooner or later you would expect it to filter down to the RV manufacturers, or to RVers who keep asking their dealers for that type of power plant. Thanks for the comments.
GMAs – Seems like plugging in should be just as simpleas finding a gas station. If you are the type that runs out of gas often, it probably wouldn’t work for you. Otherwise, plans are for plug-in spots in parking lots and of course, in campgrounds. Doesn’t seem like an impossible scenario. Bob
Bob…. first you will need a big extension cord… but you won’t need a GPS anymore because you can always find your way back along the cord.
Then again.. if the people on the other end unplug your extension cord.. your toast and have to walk home pulling the DREAM camper behind you.
Disneyland is just around the corner… you might want to check in…. LOLL
U know it…
Jim – I think your ideas are the way we’re going. The flywheel idea, along with generating power while coasting or going downhill, sounds promising. Although I like electric vehicles betterthan burning anykind of fuel, I agree that we need to use all possible sensible fuel sources. If the economy had not crashed, I think we would we well along for these fuel sourses to start coming more readily to market. I would still like to see vast solar arrays in the desert and wind farms on the plains feeding power plants which would in turn supply the power to recharge plug-in electrics vehicles. Thanks for your comments and ideas.
Ron Butler – As you and I have both lived on sailboats, we really cut our energy conservation eye teeth whenout of sight of land. We couldn’t just drive off to the water fill station, or pop in to the store for supplies. But it was good experience and training for the eco movement. I’m thinking that the battery thing is going to be big, and that other methods of charging batteries will start to come on the market also. Hope I live long enough.
The tecnoligy is currently in use to haul the heavest loads currently in transit.
Diesel Electric Think of the massive trains moving freight acrost country.
When coupled with an electric storage & drive system a diesel engine is designed to run at consistant lower RPMs that are ideal for diesel eficency. No rocket science required, just scale down the concept for Motorhomes or tow vehicles.
Look to UPS (United Parcel Service) for thier years of testing and experimintation with alternative power systems for thier delivery fleet.
A caution with all towables and piggyback rigs. Safety first, it requires a significantly large truck to be stable at highway speeds with a slide in place and bumper hitch trailers are very difficult to match to a tow vehicle. when matching a power source / tow vehicle to a towable or slide in WE have to become the design profeshional.
In recent years motorhome manufactures have been mutch better at using suspenshion systems that are matched to the charicteristics of the rigs they build.
I like your ideas. The choice between a motor home and a towable is very personal. As you say, there are advantages and disadvantages to both of the. Make a choice that you can live with.
For existing power-plants our country should be using all our resources to bring online alternatives like algae we could be producing by Americans in America.
All new vehicles and engines gas and diesel need to be hybrid so when breaking we are not making heat instead charging batteries, supper capacitors, flywheels.
this could also work when going down hill.
All new rigs should be equipped with a roof full of solar panels.
There could be battery packs that we would lease an be able to swap out easily an recycled/reconditioned.
We have the technology what is taking so long
O yeah greed $$$$$$$$$$$
As you know I had a sailboat for almost 25 years. I think that qualifies/qualified me for so many of those energy credit thingys that I will never use them all up with my 454 Class A motorhome!!
I would think that the battery and recharging challenges could/would be over-come very quickly if we really put our mind to it. But then, I’m not holding my breath on that happening soon!!
Interesting “dreams” however and it sure would be neat.
Bob if you haven’t found the perfect rig by next April come to the Mid Atlantic truck camper rally held on the Eastern Shore at Tallpines campground in Sanford.in April.You’ll get to see just about anykind of truck camper made. We had Spot there from RV.NET . Just ask him..Have a great one ..
Mark D – Yes, it would be efficient to continue using my current rig, which is what I am actually doing. The purchase of a new rig involves all the use of natural and unnatural resources, manufacturing pollution, shipping of parts and construction materials, etc. required to build a new unit, while keeping mine also keeps it out of the junk yard or as a squat house for migrant workers. Somewhere, there must be a “right” answer. However, the right answer may not be what I want. A perfect dilema.
Carvarant – I considered/am still considering a truck camper. My good friends, Mike and Terry Church, who write those great RV guide books, travel full time in their truck camper, and it serves them as their home and office where they do all their writing. Definitely a possibility. Then I could also tow a trailer will all my toys.
Gary – Sounds reasonable. But since this is a dream vehicle, why not instead of a garage, a locker for an inflatable raft and outboard motor and camp only by water?
Unfortunately, your dream RV will not be under your tree this christmas, nor any christmas soon. Given that your new rig will be much the same as your current rig in terms of overall energy efficiency (after you do all the mods over again), wouldn’t the greenest thing you could do be to keep and maintain your current rig?
Sid – You’re a regular party pooper. If any of this was efficient and possible, I would already be doing it. After, I said it was my dream vehicle. But it’s fun to think about “what if . . . ” Thanks for your comments. Bob
Bob, a custom designed “slide-in” box for a 1-ton truck can be built with a step down section in the center front, next to the truck cab, allowing a section of the back of the truck cab to be removed (cut away) and a relatively easy passageway between cab and camper would result. A sliding door or removable door would be fabricated to fill the cut out section when the camper body is removed. Get “in good” with these companies that are supplying the experimental Hybrid “service trucks” to various utility companies and use one of those rigs as a truck base.
Or, perhaps buy an auctioned total electric city bus to convert to a motorhome and go to Cummins/Onan and buy a diesel powered generator to keep the batteries charged while going down the road. Even with this latter setup, you only have to have a generator to replace the average power used and not the maximum used for a short duration. You can have 200 battery fueled horsepower for climbing hills while only needing a 100 horsepower (my layman’s estimate) charger to keep the batteries charged while going up AND downhill.
I have read of people proposing the use of (and using) filtered vegetable oil to power their highway diesel vehicles. This is not legal! Highway fuel must meet American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Spec D6751 to be used in ANY highway vehicle. “Raw” vegetable oil does NOT meet these specifications without being processed to remove the glycerin. There are significant fines and penalties being imposed for the use of un-processed vegetable oil. Simple filtering doesn’t work.
I am including a couple of links here where one can find additional information concerning the use of biofuels.
That’s my story, and I’m still stickin’ to it.
Well Bob..your dream camper is here now just not all electric etc that you want..A TRUCK camper is pretty close!!Lots of good ones out there some with 1,2,3 slides and if you buy a good Diesel like DODGE with the Cummins and use a synthetic oil you’ll get great milage..You can take it off truck quickly and then sight see to your hearts content. Might be a problem crawling through the truck back window if you need to use the “potty” while still moving , but if you get to where you can do that you will be a lot healthier.:-)..I’m 75 and I haven’t gotten there yet but I keep trying..Ours will be heading from Va to the West coast this summer God willing..Need to see those Grt Gran kids..
…How about a mid size diesel motorhome (Class C?) with a garage…similiar to a toy hauler with just enough room for a Smart Car, cabinet above for storage. No towing, no California speed restrictions, etc
I like were your going with this but at 61, I doubt if I will see much of it in my lifetime.
First, not all diesel’s can run on veg oil or bio diesel for that matter. As a fact, either one will void my warranty on our F250.
Second, charging to 80% in 30 minutes might work for camera and computer batteries but think about this: To have a battery large enough to push a large pick up and pull my 5th wheeler for 100 miles would draw down several thousand amps. For my example lets say 1000 amps at 80% you would need 800 amps in thirty minutes and I don’t think you will find a plug in that can handle that capacity soon.
Third, when charging cars and trucks becomes usual fare there will be no off hours discounted for electricity do to the increases demand.
And last, the energy density of CNG by weight is no were close to diesel. In order to give you any reasonable range pulling a 15,000 pound fiver and a 8000 pound pick up you would need very large and heavy pressure vessels to contain the gas. Added to that just think of the time it would take to fill all of that CHG by comparing how long it takes to fill your house tanks now.
To finish I would like to see most if not all of what you have laid out but again I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime.