Eco-modding: the car of tomorrow tomorrow (literally)

I remember when I first heard about car modification.  I was watching the movie Clerks, and heard the customer ask about Mini Trucker Magazine.  I was boggled, what was a mini-truck anyway?  It turns out, there is a wide world of people who love their cars, and people who can improve their cars one piece at a time.

Today, a group of men and women have updated the whole concept with a sustainability twist in Ecomodding.  Ecomodders tinker with and change their cars with an eye for fuel economy instead of speed.

Ecomodders are known for starting with small cars – think Toyota Camry or Geo Metro. The process normally starts with some improvements to aerodynamics, then perhaps a conversion to run on plug-in electricity along with gas.  From there, the sky is the limit.  Perhaps a home ethanol still.

The best thing about it is that anyone with a little bit of either experience or brains can start this hobby with a handful of tools, so owning a sustainable car is not limited to those who can afford the price tag on a new Prius.

I’ve got a 10 year old Ford Escort.  It does well on gas, but I’m certain I could do better.   And I don’t mind (at all) it looking like an art-car.  I wonder where is a good place to start?

1975 Honda Civic met the 1975 U.S. Clean Air Act standards without a catalytic converter and it got 40 mpg.


Weekly heroes: Find it, re imagine it, and sell it edition

This week’s thanks goes out to all the crafters who find someone’s trash (old license plates, cards, t-shirts, etc.) and are able to look at it with insight and imagination, turn it around in their brain and hands, and make something else out of it.  Ultra-small business hold great hope for an economy on a humane scale.

My favorite item made by one of these creators is pictured below, a headband made by L.M. Lowell from 2bLovedAgain.  It’s two t-shirt sleeves sewn together and decorated and I use it at least once a week – for over two years now.  Pretty good for some old junk.

Another favorite set of heroes are Sally and Laurie Pillman at Garden Glitz.  They find old plates, cups, saucers, etc. and re-purpose them into flowers, birds, insects, and toadstools.  These beauties are now all over town – my neighbor’s flower stares across the driveway at my husband’s bird-feeding cup.

These creators have learned to use their imaginations to have fun – and in the process help recreate a society with a smaller waste stream that consequently uses less energy.  They also take a hobby and expand it into an ultra-small business, which may one day grow larger and do some good for the economy.

Me?  My calling is to make art from old bottle caps.  I’ll keep you updated as this gets going.

A tip of the had also goes farmer’s markets, craft shows, Etsy, and all those who create markets for these ultra-small business people.

Efficiency: The #2 Goal

We need to make an energy transition.  We are locked into using growing amounts of dirty fossil fuels in increasingly growing quantities.  The top solution for this is conservation (using less): unplug your electronic photo frame which costs $9/year to operate, don’t fly,turn down your thermostat.  That, however, is a hard sell – and most people don’t want to change their lifestyles.  So that leads us to #2 – efficient energy use.

An efficient system is one that gets more work out of the same (or lesser) amount of energy.  The perfect example of this is the compact fluorescent lightbulb.  Less electricity is used by the bulb, but more light comes out – because less is lost as heat.  (If you want to see energy lost as heat, just try to change an incandescent bulb with your bear hands – or play with an Easy Bake Oven, where the lightbulb makes the heat.)

Our world has been very inefficient about energy.  Oil and coal have been cheap, so no one has had any reason to spend a lot of money engineering new products.


We have a lot of room to gain efficiency with our cars.  The internal combustion is only about 10-25% efficient.  That means that out of every dollar you put into you are in gas, you only get out 25 cents worth of movement.  The rest is degraded into unusable forms of energy like heat, friction, and engine inefficiencies.

Image from Green Car Congress

Some of these problems are inexpensive to change – better tire design, lighter cars (of that 25%, most moves the car and less moves you). and aerodynamic designs.  American car and heavy equipment makers are working on advanced combustion and exhaust energy recovery.


Your home is an energy machine that is certainly running very inefficiently.  After you go through the house and figure out what you can unplug – the next step is to make it a more efficient machine.  (Best unplug – sorry – the beer fridge.)  Over half energy is used by heating and cooling (see below) and that is were most of the easiest fixes are.  You can do your own home energy audit, or pay someone else to do it.  Here are instructions.

Image from the US Dept. of Energy

Only after that should you look at the more expensive changes such as buying new equipment.  It’s not perfect, but the Energy Star labeling program is a good guide here.

The important thing to hold in mind here is that you are trying to get more work out of your existing systems for less money (or, if the system is really losing money, to replace it).  Often, people think that energy efficiency improvement always means buying expensive new items.  It doesn’t.  For the most part it means tinkering with what you already have.

An additional benefit of efficiency, is that since you use less energy for what you are already doing, you can continue existing energy use for high-value activities.  This lessens drastic changes that many foresee as part of our energy transition.  But only if we, as a society, create and enable these sustainability changes as soon as possible.

But remember: efficiency has to be #2.  Conservation – or reduction of use – has much better potential for all of us.

Image from Motifake