Category Archives: Methane

How do we show the effects of engine idling?

George Pakenham, Professor Karl Storchmann, and I continue to ratchet down on idling from our different vantage points.    In my work I have often explored the question of how to render that which is invisible to the unassisted human vision system visible.

Would people shut their engines if they could see the by-products from their gasoline engines?  What if they could see the heat they were generating?

NYC has about 5,100 legally operating food trucks which generate $15 million dollars in taxes.  That’s about 5,000 fossil fuel fired, air-polluting, climate warmers running 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year in New York City alone.


In the United States there are approximately 3 million food trucks burning kerosene, natural gas (hello, it’s methane which comes from decomposing plant matter), propane, and/or gasoline.     That’s a fair number of street level emitters of particulate matter, unburned hydrocarbons, and a whole batch of complex compounds in aerosol, vapor, or otherwise respirable form and heating up the place at the same time.    Plus there is an entire supply chain of high-carbon footprint activities necessary to get that fossil fuel into the tank.

Then there are small engines of many types, buses, and trucks.    Same set of parameters but they burn even more fossil fuel. Instead of 3 million units, there are approximately 253,000,000 cars alone in the United States and around 1,200,000,000 (billion) cars in the world.

That’s a lot of engines, venting approximately 19 pounds of heat trapping carbon products per gallon at the tailpipe.   Somehow we refine a million additional barrels of oil each year  to fuel our lives.  We currently consume 95 million barrels of oil a day (42 gallons per barrel of oil).

In addition to thinking about the complex chemicals generated as a product of the internal combustion process (idling and otherwise) which we are all breathing, this new InfraRed imaging camera has started me to think about more than a billion automobiles helping to heat up the planet as they drive about – or idle.

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Until we come up with a way to change human behavior we are going to have even more people operating their vehicles longer than necessary.   Given the statistics released by the World Health Organization, our love affair with the things we need/want (cars, energy, money, and shiny new things) is literally killing us all.

Kind of a whacky  predicament  for a bunch of otherwise smart people to be in, isn’t it?