Over the Labor Day weekend, the TDI Club had it's annual get-together called "TDI Fest." The club is made up of car efficiency enthusiasts that have chosen diesel technology instead of hybrids. TDI (short for "Turbocharged Direct Injection" is Volkswagen's label for it's highly-efficient automobile diesel engines. 150 people showed up for the three-day affair near Madison, Wisconsin. They were a small segment of the approximately 35,000 club members that have registered at www.tdiclub.com. The meeting was about efficiency and also about high performance. With a TDI-powered car, you can definitely have both.

Attendees drove to the meeting from all over the U.S. and Canada to show off their beloved fuel-sipping cars. Cars were entered in a variety of competitions from road rallying to extreme fuel economy.

The fuel economy prize was won by Ernie Rogers from Pleasant Grove, Utah. He drove 1375 miles to get to the meeting, using just 18 gallons of B5 biodiesel blend fuel for the trip. Most of the trip, 1200 miles, was accomplished on just one tank of fuel (15.5 gallons). His trip fuel economy was 76 miles per gallon. The average TDI car owner gets about 50 miles per gallon. (The EPA highway rating is currently 43 mpg for the 2006 Jetta TDI, but almost all TDI owners do better than that.)

The hottest topic of conversation at the meeting, and the subject of a popular technical session, was on the benefits from using biodiesel or biodiesel-blend fuels. Most of the attendees were either already using biodiesel or had decided to start. It was noted that research in Canada had shown that a fuel blend with only 1% biodiesel can increase a car's fuel economy by as much as 14% while substantially lowering emissions.

Biodiesel is one of many new sulfur-free diesel engine fuels now entering the market in small quantities. Most of the new fuels (including biodiesel) are not made from petroleum, but from a number of renewable sources. Biodiesel can be made from soybean oil, canola oil, or other seed oils, and from many oily wastes such as animal fats. Low-grade oils and fats that are not fit for use in foods have now found a new usefulness. In the future, we will be able to make renewable diesel fuels from other wastes such as garbage and leftovers from harvesting of many crops including wood.

Diesel engines are renowned for providing exceptionally high torque at low rpm, as well as higher efficiency than any other type of engine: (43% peak efficiency for a TDI versus 25% for newer gasoline engines) No wonder that all working machines such as farm tractors, commercial ships, and heavy-duty trucks rely on diesel engines. While diesel engines gained a bad reputation in the past for emitting smelly air pollutants, newly developed engines have overcome this problem and are expected to meet future environmental restrictions by running on fuels with very low sulfur content.

One area where diesel engines naturally emit less pollution is exhaust carbon dioxide because of the engines' higher efficiency. When diesel engines are run exclusively on the new renewable diesel fuels, they emit almost no net carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and can become a sustainable and clean form of transportation power equally suitable for both cars and trucks of all sizes.

And, what lies in the not-too-far future? The best of both worlds: a super-efficient hybrid diesel automobile that runs entirely on renewable fuel supplemented by electricity from renewable sources.

For more in-depth information on TDI cars and TDI Fest, go to www.tdiclub.com Warning: If you were thinking of buying a TDI car, expect disappointment. These cars have become very scarce because of high fuel prices.

Ernie Rogers