For 21 years Britain's Harold Bate has been running his Hillman sedan (above) on a heady mixture of pig and chicken manure. Heated in a patented airtight digester, the noxious mess simmers for two weeks, all the while producing methane gas, which Bate bottles and uses to propel his specially equipped car. "You can start faster than with gasoline," he says, "and there's no exhaust, no odor and no pollution."
Bate, 69, a retired engineer, lives with his wife of 47 years in a tumbledown stone cottage in Devon. His workshop is a converted pigsty, and a neighbor's hogs lend their waste to the cause. "Human waste would work too," says Bate, "but pig manure is more potent. The greater the stink, the higher the octane." Bate says universities the world over have inquired about his designs, and even the U.S. Air Force has shown interest in the future of methane. "There is such a lot of manure in the world," he observes happily, "and it will go on forever."
A penny a mile
"That peanut picker in Washington did the entire electric vehicle industry a wonderful favor," says William L. Bales about the President's energy program. And Bales himself will be making the most of it. Once a producer of golf carts and snowmobiles, the 56-year-old entrepreneur is founder and president of Jet Industries of Austin, Texas, manufacturers of the battery-powered Electra Van. "I invested $7 million in this and went seven years without a salary," he declares, "but I like to create new ideas, and when I want to do something I do it!" Bales's $7,000 brainchild, which seats two and reaches speeds up to 55 mph, is capable of running 100 miles—at a cost of merely a penny a mile—before its lead acid batteries need recharging. Bales hopes to begin turning out 1,200 of the vans by July, and postal officials will be testing them for possible use on urban mail runs.
As a boy James L. Amick of Ann Arbor, Mich. spent his odd moments designing Buck Rogers spaceships. Now, it turns out, the boy was father to the man. A 51-year-old aerodynamics consultant with a background that includes five years with NASA, Amick is the creator of the most curious craft of the '70s (right)—a sort of futuristic sailboat on the highways.
Amick's three-wheel, 750-pound windmobile features a fiberglass body and airfoil. It can accelerate up to 62 mph in a breeze and run on batteries when the zephyrs subside. Though not yet on the market, a build-it-yourself windmobile kit will cost about $3,300, a fully assembled vehicle $6,000.
"I guess most people would be kind of hesitant to jump into something as different as this," concedes Amick, "but if gas gets much higher, or is not available, well..."
"For years I felt like John the Baptist," says Robert G. Beaumont, 45, of Columbia, Md. "I was a lone voice crying in the wilderness. I figured someone had to bring electric vehicles to the public, and it might as well be me." A used car salesman and college dropout, Beaumont helped develop what he hoped would be the forerunner of the car of the future in 1970. "But it was only a souped-up golf cart," he concedes. "A real dog." In 1973 he brought out CitiCar, the only licensable and insurable electric car then being produced in quantity in the U.S. Though production was halted last August after the 1,300-pound runabout was criticized as unsafe, Beaumont says he has made 29 major improvements and hopes to be turning out some 5,000 CitiCars a month within five years. The two-passenger CitiCar sells for $3,188, hits a top speed of 38 miles per hour and can be driven up to 50 miles before its eight six-volt batteries need recharging.