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Uncle Mark's Alternative Fueling Station

What is Allinol?

Allinol is a fictional alternative fuel from the Disney/Pixar movie "Cars 2". Its concept and name (pronounced "all in all") appear to have been inspired by ethanol, a biofuel (in the real world) that is produced from recently-harvested plants rather than a fossil fuel that originates from long-dead ones. Actually, a better real-world analog for allinol might be butanol, another biofuel that is more of a direct replacement for gasoline (i.e., with fewer engine modifications needed than for ethanol) but which hasn't had as much commercial development.

In the movie, the inventor of the fuel, an ex-oilman named Sir Miles Axelrod, sponsors the World Grand Prix in order to promote his new renewable fuel. Without giving away any "spoilers," let's just say that there are dark forces trying to sabotage the WGP and make allinol and alternative fuels in general look bad.

So is there a similar conspiracy to undermine alternative fuels in the real world?

Well, anybody raising the cry of "conspiracy!" has to explain away the problem embodied in the saying that "three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead." In the real world, it would be awfully hard to keep such a thing quiet, and the potential backlash from being caught would make it unattractive to an oil company or car company without compelling need; and I don't think they have needed to resort to anything like that in order to maintain the status quo. "Astroturf," yes; cloak and dagger, no. I've seen plenty of evidence that inertia, complacency, and a lack of vision on the part of commercial interests, politicians, and consumers are enough to keep change in the slow lane without anybody sneaking about behind the scenes.

For example, in 2006 a documentary called "Who Killed the Electric Car?" examined the reasons for the end of the brief experiment by major automakers with battery-electric vehicles (EVs), which began in the late 1990s; it focused on the General Motors EV1, but found plenty of blame to go around(*). My own take on the question, rebutting GM's response to the embarrassing publicity from the film, was that there was plenty of spin from the automakers, but I saw no need to invoke a behind-the-scenes conspiracy. A sequel to this documentary, "Revenge of the Electric Car", came out a few months after "Cars 2"; it examined the recent revival of plug-in vehicles (Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, ...), for which I at least think the original film deserves some credit. Bob Lutz of General Motors is one of the "stars" of the movie; he was part of the spin machine responding to the 2006 film (for example, falsely claiming in a 2007 NPR interview that GM had been unable to persuade people to buy the EV1, and so had been forced to offer it for lease only, whereas in fact GM refused from the start to actually sell the car), but though he was the driving force behind the creation of the Volt a few years later, he offered no apologies for or retraction of the previous anti-EV spin.

And who the heck are you?

I'm Mark Looper, a long-time user of and advocate for alternative fuels, though not a pro in the field (nor do I have any connection to Disney/Pixar, by the way). I drove Clean Across America and Back in a natural-gas vehicle in 1998, and started a website on alternative-fueled vehicles at the time; the website went on hiatus for several years (two small kids and an interstate move will do that to ya), so I have a lot of updating to do even though I "relaunched" it with some new content on 31 May 2015. I just thought it was a shame that and pointed to "parked domain" placeholder webpages, so that anybody whose curiosity on the subject of alternative fuels was piqued by allinol in "Cars 2" might find little linkage to the "real world" if he or she started to research the topic online. My website's page of links to more information is as out-of-date as much of the rest of the site, but it has some starting points for you, and I'll try to update it next. Good hunting, and sorry for the primitive web design! (Hand-coded HTML 3.2 was cutting-edge in, oh, about 1997.)

Addendum: Alternative Fuels in Disney's "Planes"

Note added 10 August 2013: last night my family and I watched Disney's "Planes", the new spinoff movie "From Above the World of 'Cars'." The beginning of the film takes place in a farming community where the main character is a cropduster who works fertilizing cornfields. Viewers might be puzzled as to why cars or planes would need to grow corn (since they wouldn't eat it), so at one point the tanker truck, Chug, talks to another character about how they make fuel from it: that would be ethanol. Indeed, this is mixed with most gasoline at about the 10% level in the (real world) U.S., and many cars and trucks can run on up to an 85% mixture, called E85; this has also been tested in airplanes.

Chug also mentions fuel made from switchgrass, soybeans, and algae. He prefers fuel made from corn, and makes up the slogan "Corn: It Gives Ya Gas" (he's not the sharpest blade in the prop); in the real world, corn-derived ethanol is in fact the most widespread biofuel, but ethanol can also be made from switchgrass, though the process is still being refined to make it economically competitive. Switchgrass is a non-food plant, which can help us to avoid competition for crops between people and vehicles; it even got a shout-out in the 2006 State of the Union address by President Bush. Biodiesel fuels are plant-derived replacements for petroleum diesel fuel, as ethanol is a plant-derived replacement for gasoline; biodiesel variants have also been tested as jet fuel. It can be made from soybeans, which are a food crop, or jatropha, which is not. Certain kinds of algae also produce oil that can be converted to biodiesel, and since algae is grown in tanks rather than in fields, it can be grown in deserts or other places where the land is not suitable for any kind of agriculture, further reducing competition with food crops. Again, though, soybeans are the most common source of biodiesel today. (Chug also jokes "what's next, pistachio propane?" However, because the pressurized tanks for gaseous fuels like that and natural gas are heavy, I'm not aware that they've been tested for aviation use.) (Note added 3 July 2015: A couple of plug-in electric airplanes are being developed, and today I witnessed the landing in Hawaii of Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered plane attempting to fly around the world without using any fuel at all! A lot more slowly than the competitors in the "Wings Around the Globe" rally, to be sure.)

So, despite the, er, difficulties with allinol in "Cars 2" (not to give away any spoilers, in case you still haven't seen the movie!), it looks like biofuels are alive and well in the World of Cars.

* Footnote

The cover of the "Who Killed the Electric Car?" DVD case blares "The Auto Industry's Biggest Conspiracy ... Revealed", but that was an unfortunate marketing decision by the distributor, Sony Pictures Classics, who were vying for buyers' attention on the shelf next to "Vampire Sorority Vixens XIII." The two times the word "conspiracy" was mentioned in the film itself, the tone was dismissive or ironic.

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new 26 June 2011, modified 3 July 2015