The network of alternative fueling stations for new breeds of non-fossil-fuel vehicles is percolating into existence, one tiny pocket of the world at a time. It’s not happening with much grace or speed, but, indeed, electric cars and their biofueled brethren are clearly appearing on our roadways. And that naturally leads drivers to push their vehicles just a little bit beyond what they know they can reach.

That was the case for Steve Bernheim, who routinely carries a 50-foot extension cord and is always prepared to sweet-talk an amenable business owner into helping him charge his electric vehicle, as he recounts in an AP story. The premise of EVs is that their owners would use them for relatively short commutes to work or the grocery store and then plug them in at the end of the day at home for a full night’s charging. But no driver wants a tether that tight, and with EV charging stations few and far between in Bernheim’s Seattle suburb, he’s found himself calling ahead to restaurants on longer-haul drives to request outlet access in exchange for his business; and he once coaxed a fruit-stand owner to let him charge his EV and showed his gratitude by buying $50 of fruit. Friendly one-off charging stations help Berheim take his car beyond the 25 miles per charge he usually gets – though some of today’s EV batteries can get up to 300 miles per charge.

But intrepid EV owners are not the only ones improvising their way through their energy budgets – a landscaper in Florida began growing jatropha on a 22-acre plot behind his company’s nursery. Brian Shank, the landscaper, intends to fuel his company’s 25-vehicle fleet off of the crop. He estimates that growing jatropha and turning it into oil could cut his company’s monthly diesel bill of $24,000 in half. (One acre of jatropha equates to about 1000 gallons of biofuel a year.) Jatropha, which has commanded attention in recent years as a potential biofuel crop, doesn’t directly compete with food because it’s toxic, and it requires very little water to grow, which together mean it can perhaps be grown on land that isn’t suitable for most agriculture.

Shank isn’t alone in his pursuit of biofuels in his region, which raises the prospect of a biofuel corridor arising in their region, with multiple biofuel enthusiasts contributing to a literally home-grown fuel supply. This would put this Florida county ahead of the curve – the United States’ first biofuel corridor was declared earlier this month, with ethanol fueling stations lining Interstate 65 through Indiana, Kentucky, and Alabama. The corridor is a Department of Energy project. With all the doubts about the net effects of ethanol fuel production and use, perhaps this is a sign that the tides are turning in favor of less-established sources of energy, such as jatropha and electricity for cars.

Story by Sandra Upson. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Charging electric cars, guerrilla style
Charging stations may be few and far between, but EV owners are pushing the limits by bartering with businesses to let them plug in on longer drives.