Friday, March 25, 2005

When in Rome..

An article discussing the need to start work on alternatives to oil, particularly for transportation.

This is my limited understanding:

1 - Hydrogen has gotten the most airplay, but the idea that we will use hydrogen as a transportation fuel is B.S. for at least 30 years. Hydrogen is not found naturally in nature as a stand alone molecule, it's something you have to produce by separating it from what it's attached to. Among other options, you can produce it from natural gas or from water with the use of electricity. The conversion process is not terrificly efficient (option 3 is a more efficient use of electricity). Then you have to store it and distribute it, which is going to be a huge challenge. The stuff does not like to stay in one place unless tightly contained; thus it can't just be poured in your gas tank.

2 - Obviously, the interest in hybrid cars will increase as gas prices go up. There is a tradeoff in making a hybrid vehicle though, and some people argue it doesn't make sense to build vehicles with essentially two powerplants.

3 - Full electric cars are a strong possibility. They would be plugged in at night and charged off the grid. The cost of this 'fuel' from coal, wind, and nuclear power plants is actually not too bad (relatively speaking..), and the distribution is already in place. Additionally, nighttime is low power demand time.

4 - Natural gas and coal can be liquefied and made into something similar to diesel fuel, which would also allow retaining the current distribution infrastructure.

5 - If any of you are familiar with the micro cars of Europe and Asia, they are tiny and fuel efficient, but also fairly space efficient. In terms of safety, even with all the latest equipment, micro cars are still frightening when parked next to a full size American SUV, but when faced with the idea of paying $5+ a gallon for gas, micro cars start looking very appealing. If anybody at the top of Ford and GM has a brain in their heads, they are developing contingency plans to set up a cloned factory from Europe here in record time, when we hit these kinds of prices. I'm not saying it's around the corner, but they'd better develop the plans now.

6 - Finally, you can always get yourself one of these. If you've ever driven one, you probably know what I mean when I say you gain a whole new appreciation for driving.