Fuel Efficiency in Transportation

  • Bicycle – 0.4L/100 km
  • Freight Train – 0.588 L/100 km per ton
  • Honda Insight (original model) – 3.4 L/100 km
  • Toyota Prius – 5.1 L/100 km
  • Passenger Airline – 4.8 L/100 km per passenger
  • RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 – 16.9 L/100 km per passenger

These numbers can be picked apart, disputed, and spun in different ways, but it’s a fun comparison nonetheless. They were pulled from the Wikipedia entry titled Fuel Efficiency in Transportation.

Fuel Efficiency in Transportation

19 Responses to “Fuel Efficiency in Transportation”

  • brad says:

    Just to clarify, the Wikepedia article says that cycling “requires about 120 kJ per km, which equates to approximately 0.4 L/100 km.” They’re obviously not saying that cycling requires gasoline, but that it requires the same amount of energy as burning 0.4 liters of gas to go 100 kilometers.

    I guess depending on your food sources and how much fossil-fuel-generated energy was used to get them to your plate and into your body, bicycling could have a carbon footprint but it’s pretty miniscule compared with that of the other examples. Plus the embodied energy in a bicycle, even one manufactured in Taiwan and shipped to the United States, is tiny compared with that in a car….even a car manufactured and sold within the US.

  • Alan says:

    “They’re obviously not saying that cycling requires gasoline, but that it requires the same amount of energy as burning 0.4 liters of gas to go 100 kilometers.”

    Exactly. It could have been kJ per km or any other method of measurement for comparison. I like the gasoline analogy because most people can easily relate to it, though donuts per kilometer would be interesting. ;-)

  • jdmitch says:

    mmm… donuts… It would be interesting to know how many donuts per 100 km my old chevy blazer requires…

  • Alan says:

    I ran across this on another blog:

    “A Big Mac contains 540 calories, which translates to about 57 Big Macs of energy in a gallon of gas”

  • Duncan Watson says:

    I guess depending on your food sources and how much fossil-fuel-generated energy was used to get them to your plate and into your body, bicycling could have a carbon footprint but it’s pretty miniscule compared with that of the other examples. Plus the embodied energy in a bicycle, even one manufactured in Taiwan and shipped to the United States, is tiny compared with that in a car….even a car manufactured and sold within the US.

    Don’t forget that the infrastructure to process, transport and store gasoline requires a lot of fossil fuel as well. Comparing straight up directly used energy sources at time of movement is a fair comparison for cycling vs automobiles. If we added in infrastructure costs then it would only be worse for the car, not better.

  • ksteinhoff says:

    After watching the Space Shuttle take off from the vantage spot of our front lawn, I did a comparison of how travel speed changes our perceptions.

    It was a take-off on a premise in Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker: “The less there is between you and the environment, the more you appreciate the environment.”

  • Greg Straight Edge says:

    What about biodiesel? Biodiesel is re-using, recycling, cheaper, and cleaner than all other fuels. If it is vegetable based it is even cleaner than the food some cyclist eat!

  • Ian Camera says:

    @ Greg — I resemble that remark!

  • Androo says:

    You do have to be careful where that food fuel comes from, though. Meat-intensive diets are pretty horrible for the environment. According to the FAO, livestock production generates more greenhouse gases than the _entire_ transportation sector.

    Giving up meat is better for the environment than giving up your car. Food for thought, eh?

  • No says:

    “Biodiesel is re-using, recycling, cheaper” – I think you are thinking of the second-hand-chip-fat type of biodiesel. Unfortunately a lot of purpose grown bio fuels are just as bad on current CO2 calcs as using Petrol.

  • Scott Wayland says:

    I’ve read the same as what No points out regarding biofuels. By the time one plants, fertilizes, harvests, transports, and processes the veggie matter, the biofuels turn out to USE more petrochemicals than what they are supposed to replace. I love the idea, and in some limited situations they can be wonderful, but they are in no way a significant solution to our transportation needs. Bicycles, however, are the most efficient transportation devices ever built! Hooray for us! Today I will ride to the store for supplies. No cars today.

    Scott

  • Greg Straight Edge says:

    I am speaking of recycled vegetable oil. I have been using recycled waste vegetable oil with great success. Miles per gallon are better than regular diesel. I am not in complete agreement with purpose grown fuels. The only drawback with waste oil recycling is I have to depend on people with a diet of oily foods to create the oil I use.
    Even with 66 miles per gallon I only drive once or twice a month.

  • Adrienne says:

    I am interested to know how vegans deal with the calorie need issue of daily utility cycling. With the amount and type of cycling I do, I find it hard to keep up with my caloric needs on an unrestricted diet.

  • brad says:

    Unless you’re doing serious long-distance or race training, it’s unlikely that you’ll have trouble getting all the calories you need from a vegan diet. Some vegan foods are quite calorie-dense (e.g., tofu, seitan) and you can easily get complete proteins with a vegan diet.

    I’m not a vegan or even a vegetarian, but eat meat at most three or four times a month (mostly fish and chicken, occasional pork and beef). I don’t use a lot of other animal products such as butter, although I do have cheese occasionally. I ride my bike daily for both exercise and transportation and definitely have no problem taking in enough calories; in fact despite my cycling I need to cut back on my food intake to avoid gaining weight. But it sounds like you’re doing more intensive cycling which may increase your calorie requirements. I typically expend 550-700 calories per day on cycling, which is probably nowhere near what you might be using.

  • andy parmentier says:

    let’s say that earth had an original atmospheric pressure of 2.4 G’s and that this atmosphere is no longer with us. that would go a long way in explaining the existence of automobiles (they create an artificial boost in internal atmospheric combustion pressure, which would offset the huge collateral losses this planet would have incurred in said atmospheric pressure drop. now we’re closer theoretically to what it would be like living
    on the..moon) i’d like to see a nasa cycle. i’d like to see “wright stuff” orville and wilbur wrenched the odd bike. i’d like to see more power assist cargo haulers for all this moon dust in my eyes.

  • Greg Straight Edge says:

    I’m vegan, I ride 50 miles a day, 80+ on Saturdays and Sundays, I work 16 hour days 5 days a week. I’m also a raw vegan, my calories are doing fine! It’s too bad I have to accept others fried food habits as a means to fuel my car.

  • evan says:

    @adrienne:
    This is a tricky question, and something I’ve struggled with for a long time. Unfortunately (for an avid cyclist), tofu is not actually very calorie dense: a 4 oz. serving only has like 80 calories. I personally have a very fast metabolism and need to eat a lot anyways, but all-day rides, especially in bad weather, need a lot of fuel. One Boston winter, working as a messenger, wondering why I was so tired all the time, I did the calculations and found I was burning 4500-5000 calories a day, and it’s damn hard to eat that much if you’re eating healthy. My fallback was lots of burgers, sausage, pop-tarts, and those terrible little debbie things you get at 7-11s. Oh, and a pint of ice cream every night for dessert. Fat is more than twice as calorie-dense as carbs or protein. But gorging on fatty foods all the time makes you feel gross, so I would try to eat healthy for a while but you can only choke down so much pasta and I would find myself not getting enough calories again. I realize that’s an extreme case but I still find my calorie needs are very high just commuting and getting around.

    Inspired by an Appalachian Trail hiker I once met who would drink straight vegetable oil (kind of like Greg Straight Edge’s car), these days I try to eat healthy things and add way more fat than a non-cyclist might.
    For example, hummus with bread is healthy and delicious, and very conducive to consuming a bunch of olive oil, just pour it on in to the hummus container and scoop it on up with the bread. Or drench your salad in dressing. Nuts are another delicious & healthy source of fats.
    Bulk carbohydrates are also important, whether pasta, rice, or bread. Fruits and fruit juice have lots of sugars and are delicious.
    Last thing: eat more frequently. I have the tendency, if I’m not thinking about it, to skip breakfast, have a light lunch, and gorge at dinner, and that’s just a recipe for feeling miserable all the time and getting hypoglycemic.

    Greg Straight Edge, care to share some recipes?

    It’s funny, we’re so overfed as a culture that this problem seems totally bizarre to most people.

  • jdmitch says:

    @evan,

    Yup, ask any “lightweight” backpacker and you get into the same issues. Fat is by far one of the most calorie dense food, that and sugar (and, if naturally occurring in minimally processed foods these not nearly so bad for us a food science USED to try to get people to believe), so finding ways to up your fat intake on the trail is key. However, shelf stable fats are not that easy… mostly because shelf stable fats are normally found in plants, and plants carry so much volume of other healthy things than just calories (yes, I laughed when I wrote that, I couldn’t figure out any other phrasing). Basically, fat and sugar come from nuts and fruits, respectively. The first holds up well on the trail, the second not so much. Often this isn’t enough, so many hikers “supplement” with oils (olive oil being by far the preferred).

    Also, you’re very right that Americans, in general, are vastly overfed.

    The older I get and the more I read / contemplate on the issue the more I find myself leaning towards flexatarian ways. I’d love to say I could conceive of one day making the leap to raw-veganism. I just don’t see it happening 100%… then again, I’m one of those guys that focuses on getting the most bang for my buck, so if I can get 90% of the way there, I figure I can make more impact by focusing that extra 10% in other areas of my life and eventually circling back around.

  • Alan says:

    “I am interested to know how vegans deal with the calorie need issue of daily utility cycling. With the amount and type of cycling I do, I find it hard to keep up with my caloric needs on an unrestricted diet.”

    For anything other than a serious competitive athlete, this is probably a non-issue. If one really needs to up their caloric intake, commercial blenders like the Vita-Mix are good for making nutrient-dense smoothies which, depending upon what you put in them, can be high calorie.

    Here’s a list of successful vegan athletes:

    Vegan Athletes

    Here are some interesting comments from Carl Lewis:

    Carl Lewis on Being Vegan

 
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