What will ‘The Walking Dead’ survivors do when the gas runs out?

At Fuel Freedom, we know ethanol is a versatile fuel that can be made from a wide variety of plants. We also know that the denizens of Alexandria in “The Walking Dead” need a stockpile of fuel for whatever jalopy serves their needs. Boy, do we have the solution for them.

(NOTE: The following contains major spoilers who have not yet seen Season 6, Episodes 1-8.)

When we last left the “TWD” survivors, led by lawman-turned-stone-killer Rick Grimes, in the Season 6 “midseason finale,” Alexandria had just been overrun by walkers. Rick remembered that smearing the innards of dead zombies on oneself acted as a camouflage, and his small group passed unnoticed through the herd outside his house, clad in an apron of guts.

But where are they going? According to stories published ahead of Sunday night’s midseason premiere (Season 6: Episode 9 on AMC), Rick and the gang don’t act on their impulses and bolt for the open road; they intend make a last stand within the walls of Alexandria. Expect some mayhem, and as usual, some creative walker-butchering.

But after that, assuming the village can be made safe again, the survivors are going to have to think about mobility. They need to get out and about, making runs to acquire food, medicine and ammo. And of course, to maybe lead the next wave of walkers down a road and away from civilization. To achieve these objectives, they need fuel, and a steady supply of it.

We’ve noticed that the show doesn’t dwell on how the survivors obtain their gasoline. We can assume that, after the electricity grid went down soon after the apocalypse, filling up with unleaded at the local QuikTrip with a debit card would be difficult.

TWD

Maggie, future ethanol-feedstock farmer, with Deanna.

Here’s an idea: They should make their own ethanol, right there inside the walls. Ethanol is sustainable and renewable, and could provide an endless supply of fuel for their vehicles. They have the space to rig up a distillery: Right before Deanna got bitten (and went out Butch-and-Sundance style), she drew up plans to expand the community and the elements that make it basically self-contained. In addition to the solar system that gives residents electricity and hot showers, they can grow their own crops; Maggie, who grew up on a farm, has the seeds and the know-how.

And what crop should they grow? As David Blume, an expert on DIY ethanol, explains in PUMP the Movie, ethanol can be made from whatever plant is at the ready:

In Virginia, one crop of choice for ethanol production is barley. According to the USDA, Virginia lies within one of the three U.S. barley“barley belts.” The grain is grown in winter, so it doesn’t compete with other crops grown for food.

Sure, flex-fuel vehicles can run on high ethanol blends, all the way up to E85. But how about the vehicles used by the “TWD” crew? As a post on WalkingDeadWikia.com shows, a motley fleet of cars and trucks, young and old, have been scavenged, run into the ground and abandoned during the series’ run. Many of those castaway vehicles likely were FFVs, especially the Dodges and Fords. Other vehicles in the Alexandria motor pool could take the fuel, with some hardware tweaks, including the beat-up 1994 Buick Roadmaster (above) that Sgt. Abraham and Sasha were using to lure the walkers away in S6:E8.

Glenn (with Dale as his RV tutor) and Daryl clearly know their way around engines, and so they’d be the likeliest candidates to do the tinkering, to tune the vehicles TWD-bike2to run brilliantly on high-octane ethanol. Daryl could even convert his built-from-spare-parts motorcycle (custom-designed by Classified Moto of Richmond, Virginia) to run on ethanol, thumbing his nose at the hand-wringing AMA.

Once all those machines are humming, Daryl, Aaron and the others who must venture outside the walls will be blown away by the octane boost they get from ethanol. Soon, they’ll be using the fuel for all their vehicles, even if they built vehicles these these battering rams dreamed up by Hyundai.

The idea of making their own fuel will occur to the hardy “TWD” bunch sooner or later. Sure, they could keep hunting around for cars that have some gasoline left, or siphoning some, never knowing when a walker will come ambling along. But let’s assume that, if the timeline summarized by MoviePilot’s Mark Newton posits is correct, only about 2 years of story time has elapsed since the mass infection was unleashed (“TWD” premiered on Halloween 2010).

Gasoline has a shelf life: By some estimates, it’s only good for about 3 months. Then it starts to break down. The gasoline is going to run out, people.

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Rick (with Coral) knows how to grow stuff, thanks to Hershel.

Of course, it’s possible to make compressed natural gas (CNG) out of leftover junk as well, including methane captured from landfills and farms. Maybe Eugene Porter, smarter than the average bear if not exactly a scientist, could concoct some kind of solar-powered EV and become the post-apocalyptic Elon Musk. But making ethanol is the quicker, easier path, in fiction as well as the real world.

But the Alexandrians should heed the words of Jenner, the doomsaying CDC scientist from S1:E6, who explained that the Atlanta headquarters was about to self-destruct, a fail-safe against releasing all manner of deadly diseases stored there in the event that the waning power eventually depletes.

He could just as easily have been said referring to oil when he said:

“The world runs on fossil fuel. I mean, how stupid is that?”

Innovate, or become lunch. That’s the lesson.

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(Photo credits: AMC … special thanks to Pam Gantt, Fuel Freedom social-media expert, for supplying detailed knowledge, bordering on the obsessive, about TWD.)

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