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How To Be A Green Hot Rodder

Updated on January 19, 2013

Be Green Without Killing The Dream

How to what? That has to be a typo!

You can't be green and drag race. You can't be a tree hugger and drift. You can't care about the ozone layer and dirt track with a sprint car or even a lowly little Street Stock!

Okay, you may be right about some of those because the rules call for certain mods and certain fuels, BUT

You can be a green hot rodder!


This page is going to be completely geared for just nudging you in the right direction. Some of what we are going to cover here is technology from the 1800s. Cars from before petroleum refineries and oil wells became all the rage, ran on wood alcohol. And you can make it very easily from home (not in your home though).

Some cars were steam powered.

Of course most of us have heard the over-board hype on HHO and hydrogen fuel. I'm as tired of it as you are. But there are good points to it.

Then there are the monstrous leaps that solar and electric cars are making.

Then there is another angle I'd like to explore: The air powered vehicle. Yeah, a car run purely on compressed air.

Even still there is using simple Propane (CNG or LP fittings) systems to use methane gas prepared at home in a methane digester. It will sound gross, but trust me, if you want to quit filling the land fills you'll hear me out.

The reactor in the DeLorean from Back To The Future may be over kill and the garbage disposal version from Doc Brown taking them to the future, may be a long way from fruition, but we have technology from over 100 years ago that makes it possible to use trash for fuel our cars.

Before I Start...

One other thing...

Before I jump into the stuff I already mentioned, lets talk about recycling vehicles.

I have a severe problem with the auto recycling programs as they exist now. They are wasteful and inefficient and lazy. There are useful parts in those cars that took a lot of time and material (money and energy too) to make. When we crush a car for recycling all of the glass and plastics are sent to be melted out as impurities. Copper, brass, aluminum, and steel can be separated by the different melting points of the metals but think about how much spent energy goes into melting that car back down to it's original materials, plus you are destroying the plastics and glass, much of which is by-product of the oil industry.

So how is car crushing doing anything except stimulating new car sales?

Most of the engine and transmission cases these days are aluminum, as well as wheels. When you think about it, there are a lot of pop cans invested in your motor.

What would happen if us true hot rodders got off of our lazy credit card wielding butts and used a cuppola furnace to mold and cast our own parts? A cuppola furnace made from simple materials and fired by used motor oil!

Why can't you do it? Are you so technologically advanced that you can't bear to use technology that is hundreds of years old?

Sure, you may not be able to heat up Stainless Steel enough to pour a cast, but aluminum and brass melting and pouring points are easily reached.

Now, armed with that information... I am getting ready to work up a system that will use old tires to heat up the furnace even more.

"Tires! You can't burn tires! They are horrible for the environment," you say.

Well... Yes and no...

If kept at a super high temperature and recirculating the exhaust rather than venting it out into the open air one can actually burn out most of the toxic poisons that come from tire smoke. A circulation system like this can use as much convection current as it does actual electric blowers. Forced air also causes the heat coefficient to rise so not only could you power turbine generators with the rising heat, you could use a steam system to do the same.

A water scrubber system spraying across the exhaust would instantly be turned into steam. That steam would not only encapsulate the smoke toxins but use them for further turbine power. Then run the cooled down water through a simple filter to remove some of the smoke and use it again.

All of this is because the BTUs of shredded or chipped tires is much higher than even coal.

What can I use this for?

Super heating metals to get rid of impurities, plus I'm getting rid of one of the worst things you can put into a land fill. And on paper, I am going to be turning out way more than the temperatures needed to churn out some stainless work!

Making Wood Alcohol

Actually a very simple process and really should be considered more. Basically any renewable cellulose type product (corn, corn stalks, rise hulls, pine needles, bark, saw dust, leaves, limbs, grass clippings, manure, sea weed, even bamboo) can be used with varying success to generate the change to wood alcohol (or turpentine as it used to be called)

The process?

You cook it. You cook the product and collect the gas fumes into a hood. The cooled gas turns two directions. Some stays gas (CO, hydrogen, methane) and the rest is a liquid (alcohol, wood oils, etc)

To perfect this process and get purer product you would then cook it again and cool it. Thus removing the methane, hydrogen, and other by products that make it the turpentine. The more you distill it (remember the moonshine stills?) the purer it becomes. Not recommended that you drink this though...

Now some will say that these expensive electrolysis contraptions that the heros of HHO claim are superior, will be shocked to find just how little hydrogen their units actually produce. Compared to how much usable gas comes from simply cooking wood, it's almost useless in comparison.

Use the out gassing in a collection system and pressurize it to use in Propane systems (I don't claim expertise here, if you are scared of fire, don't try this at home! Things will burn!) You will probably have fittings and orifices to change out depending on your use.

Then use the alcohol as a fuel as well.

Now, don't throw out the ashes! If you didn't over cook the wood and turn it into ash already - you can mix the charred wood with a cereal flour to make your own charcoal. Mix and compact then dry and you can use the by product on your cooker. Or if you have burned large enough chunks they are ready for the grill! (And are easier to light than store bought lighter fluid stinky junk...)

And you aren't finished yet even! That ash left over in your cooker? Mix it in with your mulch pile for your garden for some much needed nutrients for your soil!

A Demonstration Video For A Gasifying Wood Stove

This is a simple way to make a campfire heater that uses 3 volts of electricity and a handful of sawdust to make lots of heat! Change up the design just slightly and use the fuel that this system is using to produce heat and produce your alcohol and gas for other purposes. DO NOT USE INDOORS or in enclosed spaces, it does produce CO.

"Produces CO! Isn't that greenhouse gas!?!" You say.

Yes, but you are producing CO in a lesser quantity than the fuel you are using. In other words, the plants and trees can reuse your CO faster than you can produce it based on the very small amount of plant life that you are using.


This will excite lots of us steampunks out there. There were lots of steam-powered vehicles. Not just trains, ships, and tractors. Cars and trucks, bicycles and even airplanes were crafted and proven to be reliable. Several Bugattis and Stanleys were capable of well over 60 MPH.

Many clubs are centered on rallying these cars together just to prove the old technology is still a viable means of transport.

I said that about the steampunks because a steam motor is the only motor that you are encouraged to build showing your pistons and rods and crank. Internal combustion motors are under too much stress to do so. In-so-doing, the ornate brass and fancy engines that were crafted, really get a true steampunk slash hot rodder to drooling.

I plan on revisiting some of these ideas very soon, to create a vehicle that can at least travel at highway speeds or slightly below, with the above styled furnace techniques to run on saw dust or leaves or other easily and cheaply obtained fuel.

The steam can even be recollected after it goes through the piston(s) for reuse.

And besides, everybody loves to see a boiler get blown down right (You have been on a steam train ride before where they open the steam valve to purge the scale from the tanks? If not, DO SO! It is almost like watching fireworks!). It would be a spectacle nearly every time you stopped the vehicle, though you wouldn't have to do it that often.

Then there is the British team that is putting a steam driven car back in the record books by beating a 100 year old land speed record.

Expect to see more on this topic soon!

Jensen Steam Engine Dry Fuel Heated 76
Jensen Steam Engine Dry Fuel Heated 76

Build a real head of live steam in the boiler, ease the throttle open and watch the engine take off. The stationary steam plants have nickel plated brass horizontal boiler, water gauge, whistle, safety valve, throttle, 3" dia flywheel and power takeoff pulley. Our dry pellet fuel model (includes 20 fuel pellets) has a single action horizontal piston engine and comes as a kit. It requires about 2 hours to assemble and mount on its roughly 7" sq base, using simple tools like pliers and screwdriver. Assembly adds to the fun and cuts the price! All parts of each are precision metal, plated or enameled as appropriate. Select a small DC motor that will operate as a generator from our catalogs and see if you can become a 19th century electric utility!! Requires light assembly. Ages 10 and up.


A Steam Powered Bicycle

I don't think it gets any better than this.

Building Simple Model Steam Engines
Building Simple Model Steam Engines

This book features detailed instructions on building four different, fully functional steam engine models. Designs and methods of construction are clearly detailed, with instructions that even a beginner will be able to follow.


Solar and Electric

There is enough on the internet right now for me to take time from building the rest of this page to tell you my thoughts on this fantastic technology.

I suggest looking into it heavily. There is so much more that can be done, and much of it is quite affordable when you compare building your own electric car to buying a new one.

Much more later! Stay tuned

Compressed Air Engines

How would it be possible to use compressed air to run a car?

It can and is being done.

I read a blog the other day about a boy who is using a piston (very similar to the steam technology when you think about it) and scuba tank to power his bicycle for several miles for his commute to school. When he gets to his destination he only need to plug in the small compressor for a few minutes to recharge the tank.

So even if you had to have a small combustion engine to compress the air for long trips, you are still looking at a serious reduction in your carbon footprint as well as getting between 100 and 200 mile per gallon.

Plus initial estimates of the first licensed cars to be manufactured should only run abut $17,000.

CMG From A Home Production Facility

I kinda played with the title of this section a bit. Because if you don't know already what I'm talking about, it could totally gross you completely out, (my best 80s Valley Girl Voice there folks) *shivers*

A methane digester at it's simplest take manure (any kind even human!) some shredded newpaper, and water. Make a slurry mixture and let ferment for about a week. A properly built canister will raise once and you should let that out. Methane in combination with the oxygen in the air can and will explode at the slightest whim. After raising once, let the air out. Then let it raise again. Now you will be ready to collect your fuel.

If the canister has heavy weights then it will be possible for you to put the contents under pressure. You might be able to make enough pressure to fill a tank system in a vehicle.

It can definitely be used for cooking fuel, but we are talking about cars here.

Got any thing to add? Drop me a line!

Reader Feedback

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    • PickupTrucksFan1 profile image


      5 years ago

      You have nspired me. Got to get to work.

    • A RovingReporter profile image

      A RovingReporter 

      9 years ago

      Great stuff.*****

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Being eco-responsible and practical is often a difficult balancing act. Thanks for sharing these tips that many folks (myself included) weren't aware of. Nice job!


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