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Fuel for thought

Wed 06 Jan 2021, 04:37

A fiend who I played 1st edition with has finally made it back to Australia from Europe. He is a chemical engineer and a great fan of Twilight (I ordered a box set for him).

We were talking about the new rules and the issue of fuel came up.

Firstly it is nearly impossible to run a diesel engine on alcohol: it has poor self-ignition qualities and would dramatically limit the power output. The only way around this issue is to use multiple fuel injectors which is a change you can't retrofit onto existing engines.

Petrol engines also struggle to run on 100% alcohol.

But all isn't lost.

Europe has a long history with coal hydration - making an oil substitute from coal. Such plants would be primary targets during WW3 but you could set up limited production in underground locations. Oil produced from coal hydration is low octane and no suitable to high-performance tasks like aero engines.

Diesels will run on a surprisingly wide range of oils - I have put old cooking oil into my Landcruiser and it runs fine - and is the best engine for WW3. A range of plants can be used for oil, although this has the issue of taking possible food sources and using it for energy production.

Another interesting fuel source is old plastic. Plastic can be broken down into a form of hydrocarbon that can be used to produce fuel.

You then have gas - Liquid Petroleum Gas and methane. Methane can be generated from waste and can be used to run stationary generators (think Barter Town in Mad Max 3).

There is also wood gas which was used to power vehicles in WW2 and is still used by survivalists today, but it is bulky and vulnerable (plus you have a fire attached to your vehicle) and low powered, but you could see civilian vehicles running on wood gas.

What all this means however is that military vehicles are likely to be running on a blend of fuels gathered from whatever is available. So a jerry can may have a mixture of actual petrol or diesel along with ethanol, plant oils, old plastic and anything else that will burn in an engine. You would have different blends for petrol or diesel, but for game purposes could have a blend that works for both.

In fact older engines are better in such circumstances with a higher tolerance to bad fuel, which would advantage military vehicles over civilian and older vehicles over newer. Gas turbine vehicles will be really tricky to run with ersatz fuels.

Settlements may be generating methane to run generators or boilers. Areas still under government control may be collecting gas from coal fields, hydrating for oil on a small scale, as well as burning the coal itself. Civilian vehicles may be running on wood gas.

None of this is necessary in game terms but it is interesting to see just how things could work after a nuclear war.
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Re: Fuel for thought

Wed 06 Jan 2021, 16:36

The whole alcohol fuel thing in T:2k has always bugged me a bit... the idea that you just stop for a week or so and brew up some methanol always seemed a bit too much like a game mechanism for playability.

The idea of Bio-diesel (basically slightly modified vegetable oil - modified using methanol in fact) has always lurked in my mind as an option. I believe unmodified vegetable oils work in diesel engines, but progressively gunk them up. Bio-diesel ('neat' or better yet blended with real diesel) avoids that and requires little (if neat' and only some engines) or no adjustments to the engine.
(I had some Bio-diesel production rules for 1st ed that I should dig out and update to 4th ed).

Agree also with the coal hydration and wood gas (and coal gas) options - these were significant sources of oil / vehicle fuel during WW2.
I think oil from coal is quite tricky and expensive, but once the nukes have stopped flying (along with most aeroplanes), it would seem reasonable that anyone with access to decent quantities of coal would be looking at using it in whatever way possible (whether as solid fuel, or an oil source, depending on their needs and capabilities). I believe the bulk of Germany's oil in WW2 was actually derived from coal (certainly, it was a significant source of supply).
Gas from coal was the main form of domestic cooking /heating gas in the UK (and I assume elsewhere) through the late 19th and early 20th century (until replaced with natural gas, initially from the North Sea) - I think a by-product of producing coking coal (used for steel making), and I believe was used as (civilian) vehicle fuel in the UK during WW2

The December 2019 issue (223) of 'Classic Military Vehicle' magazine had an article about wood-powered trucks and tracked tractors developed and used in the Soviet Union during WW2, which were evidently used in reasonably large numbers.

One other point is the availability of small scale oil production. There are quite a lot of small scale oil fields throughout Europe (and I suspect in many parts of the globe) exploited by one or two or half a dozen 'nodding donkey' extraction wells or small derricks. Too small and insignificant to be particularly targeted during the main phase of the war, these would likely be jealously guarded / hidden. The resulting crude being roughly refined in small scale refineries developed by the well, or possibly, remotely, to keep the wells themselves hidden. A single oil well may not mobilise an army, but could keep a local defence force fully mobile.
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Re: Fuel for thought

Wed 06 Jan 2021, 19:20

Alcohol fuel is obviously a game mechanism: a way of keeping the cool vehicles running so your characters don't have to walk everywhere. It's basically central to the game so I just go with it ... but the rarely mentioned problem that I do like to implement is that nothing can move in the winter because alcohol-fuelled engines don't want to start when the temperature is below freezing.

Also, I feel the game has always just handwaved away the difficulty of converting to alcohol fuel after supply chains have been shattered. For this reason, I think all of 1999 and the early part of 2000 is a massive operational pause for both sides, during which they would withdraw out of direct contact with the enemy and rework their entire supply systems.

A major peripheral point to be made here though is that Poland runs on coal. Today, 80% of Polish electrical generation is by coal-fired plants. In 1995, that proportion was even higher. The biggest generating plant -- Belchatow Power Station -- and its adjacent open pit lignite mines are the dominant feature of no less than three travel hexes! (That plant is bigger today than it was in 1995, but it was still there in 1995....) Every Polish town of any size is likely to have a coal-fired generating station, even if that power plant only exists to provide power to a local factory. Although the war would have shattered the power distribution grid, electrical generation in Poland is highly decentralized and this would be a huge factor in Polish recovery. Repaired plants could provide power to local industry without having to repair the entire grid.

It is likely IMO that most such generating stations would have been spared deliberate strikes, and the chief obstacles to getting them running would be damage caused during fighting in the area and the loss of their coal supply.

Most of the coal mining is in Silesia & if the nukes hit the same targets as v1, then many of the mine heads would have been destroyed or heavily damaged. But coal mining has been going on for centuries and it's not a high-tech business, so these mines could be restored. A more immediate source of fuel would be brown coal (lignite) in surface mines such as the huge pits south of Belchatow or the deposits around Kolo. These could be worked by forced labour such as ... the PCs, if they get captured. :)

The key problem would be transporting the coal from the mines to the power plants, and this is why even undamaged plants would be sitting idle in 2000. But over short distances ... Poland in 1995 still has operating coal-fired steam locomotives, if you can repair the tracks.

The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades....
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Re: Fuel for thought

Fri 08 Jan 2021, 04:16

I always found it weird that we questioned the use of alcohol as a fuel source in the game. This has been happening since the first days of the game in 1984. There are plenty of "reasons" why this could work. Sure we can argue that there is no way alcohol can produce that much energy but I believe people argued that the sun revolved around the earth for centuries until it was proven wrong and even then it was argued against it.

We make scientific advances every day. Who remembers a time with out microwaves?(yea i am old) Who knows what changed, maybe science found a way to boast the energy output on common alcohol while lower the combustion/compression needs in the common engine. Maybe we discovered a new previously unknown technic the refined the alcohol into proofs way past 200. But as long as there is plenty of oil and plenty of money to make off it nothing will change....but say things go to shit and oil starts to dry up then things will change. Like long extended war over seas while we have turmoil at home? I bet the government quickly invested in ways that allow us to kill other people more effectively. But the catalyst for real change is always things going down the crapper. This year has show us that in spades

So while realism is great it seems to me the "fantasy" in a game gives us the ability change one or two things without destroying the emersion :)
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Re: Fuel for thought

Fri 08 Jan 2021, 06:03

Immersion is a local phenomenon.

By which I mean it very much depends on what you and your group of players consider immersive. If you have real military training, you'll find blatant disregard for tactics to be immersion breaking. If you have engineers in your group, they'd probably find something like the energy density of various fuels interesting/wrong/troubling. So it is what it is. I like that roleplaying games always teach me something I didn't know. But this particular issue is not likely to ever come up at my table in particular so I'll probably just leave it alone.

(the coal plant at Belchatow, though -- my characters are currently there, looking at its smokestacks, wondering why it's intact and not producing power. So I've already had to learn about that. And maybe they will learn about persistent chemical/biological agents...)
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Re: Fuel for thought

Mon 11 Jan 2021, 13:37

I always found it weird that we questioned the use of alcohol as a fuel source in the game. This has been happening since the first days of the game in 1984. There are plenty of "reasons" why this could work. Sure we can argue that there is no way alcohol can produce that much energy but I believe people argued that the sun revolved around the earth for centuries until it was proven wrong and even then it was argued against it.
According to USAF records that I saw in the 1990s, you can, indeed, get a C-130 off the ground on alcohol. It's not optimal, but just about anything that burns and expands at least 10:1 in so doing can get the bird in the air. You can also convert a gasoline engine to run on Methanol. (example and conversion notes: ... -methanol/ )
Note that Methanol is a natural biproduct of fermentation of lignins, which means that most grain mashes/worts will generate some methanol along with the ethanol. Working the still with leaves and twigs can up the methanol.

(I googled methanol conversion for engine and got plenty of hits.)
Smith & Wesson: the original point and click interface...
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Re: Fuel for thought

Mon 11 Jan 2021, 14:04

Obviously you can run engines on methanol/ethanol and even nitromethane, but the issue is converting existing engines without requiring high-performance parts.

The main issue is power: can you burn enough fuel to generate the horsepower required. This is what makes running aircraft on alcohol so marginal: you don't have the power to carry loads or even get out of tricky situations that require pushing forward the throttles.

So you may get airborne but be unable to carry cargo, ordinance or passengers.

The other thing to remember is that petroleum distillate fuels decay over time, so 3 year old petrol or avgas is likely to be worse than alcohol.
Nicolas Michon
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Re: Fuel for thought

Mon 11 Jan 2021, 18:03

Hello, funny since I posted very similar thoughts on the TW2000 FB page a while back! Woodgas conversions wouldd be very common for civilian vehicles, and coal hydration and similar Ersatz fuels would be quite common as well....
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Re: Fuel for thought

Mon 11 Jan 2021, 20:30

Ah, now we're into a topic I can speak to!

First of all, for most quality fuel (such as 100LL avgas), the loss in octane with time is minimal. They are rated to hold their octane for a year. In reality, they will do so satisfactorily for much longer. At least 5 years, most probably. The lead component of the fuel may settle but this does not inherently mean the fuel is unsatisfactory. The lead is however there primarily as an engine protectant, and any combination of less lead and lowered octane will result in a shorter time to engine failure. Depending on your perspective on the world or where you are in it: (a) this doesn't matter because the survival time of most aircraft is not rated in thousands of hours anymore anyway, it's more like a good flight or two before something bad happens, or (b) it matters quite a bit because you need that engine to last for another century.

All of that assumes that the fuel is stored secure and found in good condition. If water gets into it (if it's whatever fuel you find in an airplane left sitting for a year outside, for instance), then you have big problems. This is as true for ethanol as it is for any other fuel. Probably moreso, actually.

It's fairly trivial for many aircraft to switch from 100LL to commercial gasoline. In many cases no mechanical change is required whatsoever, just paperwork that certifies it is so (and compliance with the FAA/EAA is hardly a thing anymore). I can't say I know what the implications of switching further down the chain to ethanol or methanol would be, exactly.

Yes, you'd face a loss in performance. How much? I don't know. I imagine most people doing it would know, however, and it could easily be accounted for. So it's not that "you may get airborne but be unable to carry cargo, ordinance, or passengers" -- it's another mathematical factor that anyone who knows how to fly could manage. You might be able to carry LESS cargo or passengers, but you'd know pretty accurately how much, which simply correlates to what temperatures you can take off on for a given runway length/altitude and how much fuel you need to leave behind to do so. Now, if you're not a trained pilot and just trying to wing it (heeee), then yeah. Problems will arise. Go figure. It's not hard at all to fly a plane in most circumstances. It's the takeoffs and landings that get you.

Anyway. The lack of aircraft in T2K has never made much practical sense. If tanks can still drive, however far, then planes can fly. Fewer of them and fewer places they can fly from or to (and fewer pilots), but they'd be out there in substantial numbers. So this limitation is a restriction for game purposes primarily. Flying across the Atlantic, after all, is not actually very difficult in most aircraft.

So there you go. That's my aviation contribution. I'll now trade someone for a beginner's class in T2K-relevant coal extraction knowledge! :)
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Re: Fuel for thought

Tue 12 Jan 2021, 00:30

I'm a skeptic of aircraft in the game, other than ultralight or light aircraft, because,
(a) high performance aircraft have a lot of systems to go wrong, and they break often, even in peacetime.
(b) high performance aircraft and their spares are manufactured slowly,
(c) production isn't going to ramp up suddenly when war is declared because there's a skilled workforce problem,
(d) the pace of operations is going to be brutal and aircraft losses will be high, and,
(e) airfields themselves will be priority targets, especially when the nukes fly.

The photos we see of A-10s that were hit over Iraq and made it back to base are, in the Twilight War, photos of planes that will be cannibalized for parts and never fly again. I can't see there being many operable aircraft following the nuclear exchange.

(Re pace of operations and rate of equipment loss: in the 11 months between D Day and VE Day, my regiment lost every single tank of its original complement, save the CO's. And the only thing that made this unusual was that one tank survived. Most regiments lost them all. Now consider that rate of losses in an environment in which equipment can't be replaced....)

But you know what the game does need? UAVs. UAVs were a thing in the 1990s and both the Soviets and NATO used them. I am certain you could get those things flying on alternative fuels, and they're a lot less thirsty. So I can see UAVs, ultralights, and civilian light aircraft in use as reconnaissance machines.

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