Let It Salt, Let It Salt, Let It Salt

Yes, winter is upon us.  The white stuff is falling, and the coarser white stuff is too.  I’ve laid up the Zero for the season.  No special accommodations are necessary; the EV battery will sit there just like a regular bike’s battery.  If the winter turns out to be long, then it would be good to top up the battery sometime mid-season, just like a conventional, lead-acid car/moto battery.  The one caveat here is that we’re told not to charge a freezing battery.  The manual says freezing, which one would assume to be 32 F.  I’ve also heard 20 F; I don’t intend to push it either way.  There’ll be at least one day, even in midwinter, where the air temperature is obviously and consistently above freezing.  If I really want to be sure, I can bring it inside, or at least roll the bike up to the dryer vent.  (This freezing thing wasn’t a problem, even pre-salt.  The pack retains heat from riding, then warms slightly in charging.  So I would plug in when I got home even at 31 F or 19 F or whatever.)

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Not snow… not salt grains…

Growing up in the Midwest, some people had “salt cars.”  Old but functional cars for use in winter, while their nice one stayed salt- and slushball-free.  You don’t see that as much, with modern materials.  The thought crossed my mind again, though.  Right now I’m split between public transportation, and biking/hoofing it.  But my bicycles are due for a good amount of annoying work, and flu season is supposed to be brutal.  So…?

For winter-only purposes, an electric car doesn’t really make sense.  Having a battery pack sit unused (Summer or Winter, or whatever) is throwing money away.  If you’ve spent the extra money upfront, that pack needs to be rolling, to earn its keep via fuel savings.  Not using it enough means not saving.  What about… ethanol, propane, or natural gas?

Salt clumps.  Like gravel.

Salt clumps. Like gravel.

The next alternative might be ethanol, in its retail E85 blend (15% conventional gasoline).  There’s an E85 station two towns over, and another one or two somewhere around.  I can then fill a jerrycan or three for convenience.  Just to get me out of the house, I don’t mind the debatable issues of E85… except for one.  Undebateable is that alcohols warm up more slowly, and thus start less reliably in winter, than with gasoline.  (That’s what the 15% is there for.)  This has been demonstrated in decades of Brazilian experience.  Brazil, for X’s X, a tropical country.  I suppose since I already have plug access, I might be able to use a block heater or “carb” heater or something.  But I don’t have to.

Another option I had looked at years ago was propane.  Propane is still a fossil fuel, but it burns very cleanly, to the point that engines last longer without the carbon deposits.  As a gas- a literal gaseous state of matter- propane starts easily.  Easier than gasoline, clearly.  I suppose, with caution, one might even burn a little in a cabin heater while the engine’s still warming up; it burns that cleanly.  And on top, propane production is overwhelmingly domestic.  Push comes to shove, I won’t get stranded due to lack of infrastructure, since vehicle owners can still use the canisters for barbecues or RVs- the propane equivalent of the jerrycan.

The issue here is that propane conversions are more involved than ethanol.  Existing cars already have most of what’s necessary for ethanol use (certainly E10 blends already); the added cost of E85 capability is estimated by multiple automakers to be about a hundred dollars or more.  Propane, though, is a job.

Don’t get me started right now on natural gas.  That’s the worst of both worlds in my situation: there are few public CNG stations, here or anywhere in the US, and car conversion is not cheap at all.  On top of the car side, I’d have to add the cost of a home compressor unit.  Again, the extra costs would have to be earned back by mileage.  Miles I won’t put on once riding season starts again.  To add insult to injury, refilling at the high pressures needed for long range takes about as long as electric recharging- hours, not minutes.  Nor is there a CNG “jerrycan,” at least, not one worth buying and carrying.

Oh, by the way, biodiesel in salt cars is a terrible idea.  Diesel engines start hard already, due to their high compression ratios.  Those pumping losses make it hard just to turn over the engine that few times before it lights.  Fossil diesel is hard to start in winter, since it’s so thick (winter diesel is diluted with a little gasoline, to help starts).  Biodiesel is even thicker.

I get the feeling I’ll just tough it out, with a better coat and hat.

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2 thoughts on “Let It Salt, Let It Salt, Let It Salt

  1. Pingback: March On | cableflux

  2. Pingback: Long-Term Mission? | cableflux

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