Mass Transit

One of the "solutions" that I have heard thrown around to combat the high cost of transportation is either building or improving an existing mass transit system.  This all sounds well and good, but there are a few caveats.

From the technological standpoint, there are several mass transit systems already in existence that prove that this is technically feasible.  I have ridden on trains in Japan, New York, and currently in Germany.  One thing they all share is a huge infrastructure.  Let’s take Germany since my memories of the other two are somewhat dated.

The mass transit system in Germany consists of buses and trains.  Buses are local, usually traveling through various neighborhoods along main streets, and will deliver passengers to the local train station.  The local train is the U-Bahn, similar to the subway or El systems in New York and Chicago.  Longer range trains are the S-Bahn, and are usually in the larger cities like Stuttgart, Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, and so on.  The next step up are the Regional Bahn & Intercity trains, which travel between towns and cities with the Intercity trains usually traveling only between major cities.  The fastest of these are the Intercity Express (ICE) trains which can reach speeds of up to 300 kph (186 mph).

Traveling from my hotel to work usually takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on when I can catch the connecting trains.  My journey begins by walking to and taking a bus from my hotel in Stuttgart to the train station.  From the train station, I take a train to the main station, and there catch a connecting train to Ludwigsburg.  There is a 10 minute walk from the station to the plant.  The trains and buses are not always on time – they can be late or early.  But if I were to drive, the times would be slightly shorter – the traffic here is pretty bad.

So in this case, mass transit works, providing you are willing to walk and give up the flexibility of a personal vehicle.  So this is the first caveat.

How many of the readers out there use public transportation on a regular basis?  How about once in your life?  I’m willing to bet (and I’m not a gambler) that most of you have not.  And one of the reasons that you don’t is convenience.

I will admit that it is extremely convenient of having a vehicle to run those little errands and trips to the store.  Driving to the supermarket and loading up the trunk with bags of groceries is extremely appealing and time efficient.  And many of us just cannot bear the thought of being inconvenienced.

The second caveat is cost.  Quite frankly, it is a real steal for me to use the system.  For the average citizen, it is personally expensive.  Why?  Because this system is subsidized through the government.  Yes, in addition to the costs of the tickets one must purchase, the German citizen pays their taxes to subsidize the mass transit system whether they use it or not.  [And by the way, they pay around 50% of their gross income through sales taxes (19%), income taxes, tariffs, and so on to support transportation, health care, and so on.]

And so would be the case for any large-scale system in the United States.  If I remember correctly, to drive a car across the bridges in Manhattan, there is a fee which goes to help fund the mass transit system (and also used to encourage the use of the system).  There will be subsidies to support the system.  Why?  Refer to the first caveat listed above – there must be participation to offset the cost, and the preference is to use individual methods of transportation (cars).  The less participation, the greater the subsidy.

Which brings us to the third caveat – Government.  I’ve stated this before in posts and comments – when has government done anything on time and on budget.  Answer – never!

I know for a fact that Detroit was offered $100 Million by the Federal Government to help implement a mass transit system – specifically, light rail.  The Detroit government officials stalled, bickered, and tried to get their buddies in on this apparent windfall for so long the Federal Government withdrew the funds.  I also look at other large scale projects such as the disastrous Big Dig in Boston, and I know that government is not equipped in any way, shape, or form to handle a project like this.  Perhaps in the past this was not the case, but present day?  Pfffft!!

The last would be our attitudes.  We are too wedded to our cars – this is a characteristic of our culture.  The car represents freedom in our psyche – what teenager doesn’t lust for his driver’s license (and what parent doesn’t dread it)?  There would need to be a massive shift in attitudes before the majority of the population would switch from the liberty that a personal vehicle represents to the restrictive schedule that would be a transit system.

And attitudes are probably the most difficult things to change.

Where’s the Energy?

During this past week, President Bush lifted the Executive ban on offshore drilling.  The response of the market was to start easing back the price of a barrel of oil.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it will be some time before that oil hits the market.  Once the speculators figure this out and the Middle East has its next crisis, the price will go back up.

So what is the answer?  Well, according to our favorite Global Warming cheerleader, we would all start driving electric cars powered by renewable, non-carbon emitting power generators.  That’s right, Algore wants us to change everything in ten years from the current carbon power generation (coal, natural gas) to depend exclusively on green energy sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal.  To quote the article:

His path to a decarbonized electrical supply doesn’t surprise: more investment in solar and wind, keeping nuclear in the mix, maximizing energy efficiency and implanting carbon capture and storage for existing fossil fuel plants, plus a shift to electric cars. But Gore’s message was subtly different this time. The man who has in the past called climate change a “moral and spiritual challenge” sounded more pragmatic notes. While sounding the alarm on melting Arctic ice and strange weather, Gore also emphasized the financial toll that high gasoline prices were taking on average Americans, and the security threat posed by our increased dependence on foreign oil.

So Al want us to go green at what cost?  While I admire the thought of getting away from foreign energy supplies, the economics of this is tremendous.  Let’s just think of this for a few minutes…

One of the reasons that we use the energy supplies that we have is that they are economical.  Yes, $4.25 is a lot to pay for a gallon of gasoline, but what is the alternative? 

  • Riding a bike may not be possible for many people because they live too far from their employment, and PETA will object to riding a horse (not to mention the streetsweepers union). 
  • Electric cars are not economical nor environmentally friendly at this point in time, and there would need to be a severe upgrading of the power generation and distribution needed to support millions of electric cars plugging in for a recharge.  Can you say brownout?
  • Wind turbines have their own problems besides not turning all the time.  There are reports of noise being generated by the turbines that will annoy nearby residents (and might just induce low frequency stress in structures).
  • Solar only works during the day, so what’s going to power and charge the cars during the night?
  • At one time, steam cars were driven, but they used various sources of fuel (coal, wood, alcohol) which may not be environmentally friendly in either carbon emissions or from their source.
  • Alcohol is not economically feasible at this time without massive subsidies.  This means that your tax dollars are used to produce this fuel.  The same can be said of other bio-fuels at this time.
  • There hasn’t been a new nuclear plant (or refinery) built in the past 20-30 years due to massive costs and mind-boggling environmental regulations.
  • Mass transit public transportation in this country is a joke.  Plans to implement light rail systems died on the vine as political wrangling and mismanagement ate up the funds (at least here in Detroit).

Many pundits and detractors flame the energy companies for not developing new sources of non-carbon energy.  There is a very simple reason for that – there isn’t a profit to be made from those sources (yet) unless they charge tremendous amounts for it, and the majority of consumers will not pay extra for it.  Until there is a substantial business case for developing and using an alternative to carbon-based fuels besides the controversial Global Warming argument, it’s not going to happen. 

That is, unless Maxine Waters convinces the government to nationalize the energy industry

Frankly, I’m not counting government to do anything for us.  Just look at the political idiocy going on over what to do about the price of gas, and you’ll understand how moronic & how out of touch with their constituents our elected Congresscritters really are.  For instance:

President Bush dropped the executive ban on offshore oil and natural gas exploration last week, and House GOP leader John Boehner plans to lead a congressional delegation to Colorado and Alaska to highlight America’s abundant energy resources this week. Polls show more than two-thirds of the public support increased domestic energy exploration and production. Guess who stands in the way.

Congress has its own ban on offshore energy exploration, and the Democrats who run Congress have shown no sign that they are willing to follow Bush’s example. They have preferred to make excuses–about why the price of oil is rising, who is to blame for its rise, and why increasing domestic supply won’t do anything to ameliorate the problem.

The rest of the article is damning for the Democrats.

I’m traveling back to Germany for another three-week stint on Monday.  I wonder if I’ll see Obama’s plane flying back as I’m flying over…

Energy, Global Warming, & The Economy

With crude oil prices edging toward $100 a barrel, and gasoline prices past a national average of $3.15 a gallon, I thought it would be interesting to explore the relationships of energy, Global Warming, and the economy.

Energy:

Energy, specifically petroleum related, is mostly purchased by the United States from Middle Eastern countries. As everyone knows (or should), this region is becoming increasingly unstable. Additional pressures to the supply of Middle Eastern petroleum supplies come from India and China as they rapidly develop their economies. The markets react by speculating that oil futures will increase in price. This translates to higher prices at the pump.

The reaction of Congress is to raise CAFE standards, mandating higher miles per gallon for all vehicles. In many respects, this is unnecessary. Higher gasoline prices will eventually dictate a shift in consumer preferences toward higher mileage vehicles. Should the automotive companies not react, then they will lose market share, and eventually close their doors.

One of the alternatives that has been proposed is alternative energy sources such as ethanol and biodiesel production. While this route appears to be feasible, a widespread production and distribution network is years in the future. Short-term relief is not in the immediate future.

Other transportation energy alternatives include hybrid, fuel-cell, and pure electric vehicles. While these alternatives are possible, and in some respects are already in production, there are drawbacks to some of these technologies from an environmental respect. For instance, components of the batteries used in electric vehicles are not environmentally friendly in either the mining or in the processing/manufacture of these batteries (post here).

Regardless of what energy that is used for powering our vehicles, what about the generation of electricity that allows our society to function? Without electricity, computers, lights, elevators, and many other essential appliances would cease to function. In other words, our country (and most of the world) would stop dead in its tracks.

Nuclear energy is not dead, but a new plant has not been built for 20+ years. Coal & gas fired generation introduces CO2 into the atmosphere. Wind power and solar power isn’t as reliable as demand requires. And there are only so many dams with hydro-electric facilities that can be built.

So here is the problem – there is no easy solution, nor would the solution be as inexpensive in the short run as everyone would like. We are far short of the energy independence that was outlined in a previous post.

Global Warming:

Global Warming is becoming a huge political topic, and the data is being spun in so many different directions that confusion on this issue reigns supreme. For instance:

In 2004, history professor Naomi Oreskes performed a survey of research papers on climate change. Examining peer-reviewed papers published on the ISI Web of Science database from 1993 to 2003, she found a majority supported the “consensus view,” defined as humans were having at least some effect on global climate change. Oreskes’ work has been repeatedly cited, but as some of its data is now nearly 15 years old, its conclusions are becoming somewhat dated.

Medical researcher Dr. Klaus-Martin Schulte recently updated this research. Using the same database and search terms as Oreskes, he examined all papers published from 2004 to February 2007. The results have been submitted to the journal Energy and Environment, of which DailyTech has obtained a pre-publication copy. The figures are surprising.

Of 528 total papers on climate change, only 38 (7%) gave an explicit endorsement of the consensus. If one considers “implicit” endorsement (accepting the consensus without explicit statement), the figure rises to 45%. However, while only 32 papers (6%) reject the consensus outright, the largest category (48%) are neutral papers, refusing to either accept or reject the hypothesis. This is no “consensus.”

The figures are even more shocking when one remembers the watered-down definition of consensus here. Not only does it not require supporting that man is the “primary” cause of warming, but it doesn’t require any belief or support for “catastrophic” global warming. In fact of all papers published in this period (2004 to February 2007), only a single one makes any reference to climate change leading to catastrophic results.

How can this be? I’ve addressed this topic in a previous post titles Politics and (Junk) Science. Politics, funding, and power all contribute to the spinning and misinformation that is published.

Of a larger concern is the recent announcement that China will soon be a bigger contributor of CO2 than the United States. China is not the only producer of CO2, but India is progressing toward the status of a high producer. Part of this is due to their “developing economies,” but coal mine fires also are a huge contributor.

What bothers me is that the Global Warming fanatics are screaming for the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but nary a word is stated about China & India. And both of those countries get a pass on the Kyoto Protocols while the United States is flamed for not signing that treaty.

The Economy:

Consider this excerpt from Business Week by Alan Zibel:

Making big cuts in emissions linked to global warming could come at considerable cost to the U.S. economy: between $400 billion and $1.8 trillion in reduced growth over the next four decades, a new study says.

The study published Monday by a nonprofit research group partially funded by the power industry concludes that reducing emissions of carbon dioxide — the main greenhouse gas linked to global warming — will require “fundamental” changes in energy production and consumption.

The Electric Power Research Institute said the most cost-effective way to reduce the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is to make many changes at once, including expanding nuclear power, developing renewable technologies and building systems to capture and store carbon dioxide emitted from coal plants. Reducing demand for fossil-fuel power is also key, the institute said.

The EPRI cost estimate is based on a 50 percent economy-wide cut in carbon emissions from 2010 levels by 2050. Without such a cut and the shifts in technology it would bring, the Energy Department projects that U.S. carbon emissions will rise from about 6 billion metric tons a year in 2005 to 8 billion metric tons by 2030.

The report calls for more modest cuts in emissions than some proposals currently being considered in Congress. Bigger cuts could well be more expensive.

What all of the above means is that we are going to be hit with higher energy costs no matter what. It doesn’t matter if the companies are going to buy carbon credits, develop alternative energy sources, or modify their equipment to emit less carbon dioxide, we are going to pay for it. And our elected officials, the politicians, aren’t going to help. In fact, I think they are part of the problem.

The politicians need to show that they are doing something worthwhile, and since Global Warming is the next biggest “crisis” that has been published, they will do what they can to show that they care. And in the process of “caring,” they will drive the economy of this country into the ground with unnecessary legislation and regulations. Lost in the process is the health of the United States and of its citizens.

Our civilization, as we know it, needs energy in different forms for it to prosper and survive. But there must be some “common sense” in developing new forms of energy as well as making compromises in weaning ourselves off of Middle Eastern oil and not sinking the economy of the country on futile efforts to combat a problem that scientists cannot agree upon. A delicate problem indeed, and one that I do not believe that our politicians can solve.

No, our politicians need to stay out of the Global Warming & Save the World business. Instead, they should focus on developing incentives to develop new energy technologies and industries (no, not carbon credit offsets…). They should also grow some backbones and intelligently allow development of resources within the boundaries of the United States Territories, and to take the high road of putting the country first and not their political careers.

In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up or else all go down as one people. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Transportation Energy Independence

We, as a country, need to get away from using Middle Eastern oil for our transportation needs. Why, you may ask? The short answer is that the Middle East is not the place we need to look for in guaranteeing the economic security of this country. And transportation is essential to economic growth and stability.

Part of the longer answer can be found in part of an earlier post, Energy Independence:

The oil producing region of the Middle East is under an uneasy peace at best. Suicide bombers and the conflict in Iraq are the most visible and most reported violent incidents from the area. The Palestinians have elected a known terrorist group, Hamas, as their leaders. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is among those listed in Parade Magazine as being some of the most ruthless dictatorships known with multitudes of human right violations. Of course, there is Iran making noises about wanting to join the nuclear club even though the president of Iran is clearly advocating using any and all means to wage war on Israel to wipe it off the map. Lastly, Islamic terrorists such as al–Qaeda are constantly stirring up trouble for everyone in the region.

Whether we like it or not, the United States has a vested interest in the Middle East for national security reasons. Again, according to the May 2001 Report of the National Energy Policy Development Group, the United States relies on foreign oil for 52% of its needs. Should the flow of oil be interrupted, then the United States would have a severe impact dealt to its economy as all sectors (transportation, manufacturing, & energy generation) would be affected. Those groups that have accused the United States government with trading blood for oil are partially right as the Government has the duty to protect the economic welfare of the country. However, these same groups do not take the time to understand the reasons for the foreign policy sometimes enacted in the Middle East. For example: The first Gulf War was waged for a singular purpose, and that was to secure valuable oil resources in both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from Saddam Hussein’s control. If those resources were under the control of Hussein, then he would have been able to economically cripple the United States and the rest of the world. Those groups decried the loss of life in this conflict. One wonders what they would do or say if Hussein had control of the oil fields and turned off the oil, thus depriving them of the ability to drive to the supermarket only to find empty shelves since the food couldn’t be delivered…

So what are some of the options for reducing or eliminating foreign oil for our personal transportation needs? Let’s explore a few:

Electric-Drive Technology

The battery-powered car has been around since the turn of the century. The latest commercial incarnation of this technology was GM’s EV1, which could only be leased. After only a few years, these vehicles were pulled from the market.

The main problem with pure electric-drive vehicles is their range. While the EV1 was advertised to have a range of between 60 to 80 miles on a single charge, those claims were tempered with a recommended upper limit speed to achieve that range. Often, the range was less because those speeds were not realistic when competing on a highway with other vehicles powered by an internal combustion engine.

The limitation of range and speed of these vehicles is due to the limitations of the battery technology. The batteries can only hold a limited charge, and the batteries take up space in the vehicle. Weight also becomes a consideration, so the practicality of the vehicle now becomes a compromise between range, weight, speed, and size of the vehicle. Battery technology is improving, and may one day store vast amounts of electricity in a small space, but that day is not here yet.

An alternate energy storage solution that has been proposed (and is currently be researched) is a super capacitor. A capacitor in its simplest form is a non-chemical means of storing an electrical charge (batteries use chemical reactions to generate electricity). This is a new technology, so developing a device that can be mass-produced in quantity and price is some time away.

What is not often expressed about using an electric-powered vehicle is how to charge it back up for the next use. The most often method is to plug it in to a power outlet in your garage. The problem is that the recharging of several thousand of these cars will put a burden on the power grid. Considering that during the summer in California, there are rolling blackouts due to increased usage of electricity does not bode well for charging a bunch of electric vehicles, even if it is at night. The answer to this problem is to build more power plants, but where and fueled with what? Coal pollutes worse than natural gas, and both emit the greenhouse gases that the environmentalist / Global Warming crowds oppose. Nuclear energy is a no-no with the anti-nuke crowd, and there are only so many rivers that can be dammed to furnish power (providing the site passes the environmental review and doesn’t endanger any fish).

Electric-drive vehicles have their use in limited quantities, but these vehicles will not be a wide-spread long-term solution.

Hybrid Technology

Hybrid technology has been touted as the next best step to an environmental friendly and foreign oil dependence solution. And in some respects, that is a correct assessment.

Hybrid vehicles combine an electric-drive vehicle and an internal combustion engine (gasoline or diesel) in an attempt to optimize performance while reducing fuel consumption. When the battery pack of the vehicle reaches a low charge level or the vehicle needs an added power boost (such as passing another vehicle), the engine starts up automatically, powering a generator, and thus supplying the additional power needed by the vehicle.

A variation of this technology is known as plug-in. Like the electric-drive technology that was examined above, the vehicle is plugged in a standard wall socket to initially charge the battery pack. The initial charge is only good for 20-30 miles of driving, after which the engine in the car would then generate the power needed to keep the battery charged. This method might help keep the power grid from overloading, but that remains to be seen.

As discussed in a previous post, there are some concerns that hybrids are not as environmentally friendly as they have been portrayed. The chemicals and minerals used in the current crop of batteries are obtained at a greater energy and environmental cost than what could be acceptable. Of course, this same problem affects the all-electric vehicle that was discussed above. However, advances in battery technology may help reduce these concerns and environmental impacts. But remember – the fuel to run the engine to power the vehicle on the road and charge the vehicle in the garage has to come from somewhere.

Bio-Fuels

Bio-fuels have been getting a lot of press recently as being the answer for the near and middle term solution for energy needs. Bio-fuels include ethanol (with gasoline blends and as a stand alone fuel) and bio-diesel.

Ethanol is derived from the fermentation of sugar. The source of the sugar in the United States is primarily from corn, although other sources are used in other countries. The most successful example that I can think of is Brazil, where their entire transportation energy needs are met by domestic ethanol production from sugarcane – no oil is imported to the country for energy consumption.

Bio-diesel can be derived from a number of sources. Soybeans (United States) and jatropha nuts (India) are just a couple of crops that can be raised for the purpose of manufacturing bio-diesel. Bio-mass (organic recycling) is being used in Europe. Additionally, canola oil and recycled cooking oil have also been used as fuels in diesel engines.

Bio-fuels are extremely attractive for several reasons. The first is that current internal combustion engines can use them with little or no modifications. The second is that the technology to use these fuels is known and relatively mature. The third is that this source of energy is renewable. Last, in some instances, bio-fuel can burn cleaner than petroleum-based fuel. But…

…there’s always a downside. Growing crops to turn into fuel takes land that could be used to grow food crops. In countries that must choose between growing food and growing energy, this would be a difficult position. Environmentally, this could also prove to be a disaster in the making as countries would clear land (such as rainforests) to grow these crops and thus potentially wipe out endangered species. Already there are reports from Mexico and Holland about the rising food prices or unavailability of crops for food (or beer – horrors!!).

Additional concerns would also be that there is a report that using ethanol could be bad for the environment, and could cause additional health problems (link here). Also, the miles per gallon from using ethanol is approximately 15% less than using gasoline, and 11% for biodiesel. And using these fuels will still generate certain levels of CO2 which may not be acceptable even though they are supposedly “carbon neutral.”

Compressed Natural Gas and Liquefied Petroleum Gas

From an internal company webpage that cannot be linked to the outside:

An alternative fuel is natural gas. This chiefly consists of methane (CH4), and of all the fossil fuels, it has the lowest percentages of carbon that turns into to CO2 on combustion. Emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), soot and reactive hydrocarbons are also lower compared with liquid fossil fuels. One kilogram of natural gas, which is stored in pressurized tanks and therefore also called compressed natural gas (CNG), corresponds to the energy content of around 1.5 liters of gasoline. However, the low energy density compared with liquid fuels and the higher tank volume also cause disadvantages in terms of range and load area.

CNG is very attractive as a fuel that can be used to fuel internal combustion engines. I know for a fact that current engine technology can use CNG with little or no modification just by using a conventional carburetor and not fuel injectors. The main concern is the size and the weight of the tanks that would need to store CNG, and the safety of the tanks should there be an accident. Puncturing a tank could 1) be a fire hazard, and 2) have the potential to cause additional injury should the escaping gas propel an object.

An alternative to CNG is liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Many of us use this gas to fire up our grills for that cookout, but it can be used as a fuel in the same way as CNG. But it also has the same concerns.

Hydrogen Technology

Hydrogen is the potential “king” of all fuels. It burns up completely in combination with oxygen, and pure water vapor is emitted as an “exhaust gas”. Some examples of regenerative production possibilities are electrolysis using regenerative electrical energy from the sun, wind, water or geothermal energy. Regenerative hydrogen can also be extracted from biomass. To provide reliable supplies for hydrogen-powered vehicles, a standalone filling station network is required.

The main problem with hydrogen is storage. Hydrogen is the smallest of all molecules, and containing the gas reliably is incredibly difficult as it tends to seep through tanks and other storage containers. This could lead to a dangerous buildup in an enclosed space. The image of the Hindenberg is always on person’s mind when someone mentions hydrogen.

And therein lies an inherent problem with hydrogen. It must be stored under high pressure to store enough gas for a vehicle burning hydrogen to get a decent range. But there is hope.

There is research that may lead to a reliable and stable method of storing hydrogen. The research centers on bonding hydrogen into a metal or nano-material matrix. This would stabilize the gas from leaking into the surrounding atmosphere. The gas could then be released in a controlled fashion as to be used in a power source for a vehicle.

Which leads us into the next topic…

Fuel-Cell Technology

One of the more intriguing power sources for vehicles are fuel cells. Essentially, fuel cells generate power through an electrochemical process, much like a battery. They convert chemical energy to electrical energy by combining hydrogen from fuel with oxygen from the air. Hydrogen fuel can be supplied in two ways – either directly as pure hydrogen gas or through a “fuel reformer” that converts hydrocarbon fuels such as methanol, natural gas, or gasoline into hydrogen-rich gas. The result of this combination is water vapor and electricity.

NASA has used fuel cells for years to power its spacecraft using compressed hydrogen and oxygen with great success. The main problem with this technology is that it is expensive, but cost should come down with time and development.

Tom’s Vision for Fuel Independence

From an engineering standpoint, the internal combustion engine is fairly inefficient (30 percent efficiency at best) in providing energy for our personal transportation needs. Stop to think about it – every time a cylinder fires in your engine, you get the bang to convert the energy into mechanical motion, but a great deal of heat is also generated and goes out the tailpipe.

A better way is to directly convert the fuel into energy as efficiently as possible. In my mind, the fuel cell is just about the best direct fuel to energy conversion device thus far – fuel cells can achieve 40 to 70 percent efficiency, which is greater than the 30 percent efficiency of the most efficient internal combustion engines. Technical challenges toward developing fuel cells are many – safety, fuel supply & distribution, and cost are just a few of the problems that would need to be overcome. But this will not happen overnight – it will need to occur in stages. Until those challenges have practical solutions, then here’s the direction I think we need to go:

When I was in Germany, I drove a Mercedes C230 with a diesel engine. Outside of the initial startup rattle that sounded like a truck engine turning over, the engine was quiet and powerful. Getting the car up to cruising speed (250 kph = 155mph) on the autobahn was no problem, and the response of the vehicle was excellent. Using diesel engines in passenger cars as well as trucks & SUV’s while supplementing the petroleum diesel fuel supply with bio-diesel would make an almost immediate impact on how much petroleum is imported to this country. This would be the first step, but would need time to implement as this industry would need to ramp up to meet the level of demand that is currently dominated by gasoline demands. Can it be done? Yes, but the stigma of diesel engine for passenger use in this country would need to be overcome.

The second step would be to pour the development money into the R&D for both battery and fuel cell technologies. The vehicle configuration that makes the most sense to me is a battery-powered vehicle that can be recharged by a plug in and by a fuel cell for those extended trips. Such vehicles are quiet, powerful, and as a side benefit, environmentally friendly. A hydrogen infrastructure would need to be developed as well as a beefing up of the electrical power grid for the extra demand, but this is all possible.

The third step? Mr. Fusion, but that’s way out in the future, but we will need to get back to that later…

Remember you read it here first!!

The Prius Polluter?

According to Central Connecticut State University’s The Recorder Online, the Toyota Prius causes more pollution than a Hummer.  Most of this is due to the materials used in its construction.  Also, it takes more energy to create and run one of these vehicles than a conventional car.

What is not addressed in the article is the question:  What do you do with the Prius batteries once they wear out?  Batteries can only be charged and recharged so many times, and the chemicals used in them will degrade over time.  And some of the chemicals used are pretty nasty.  And let’s not forget the amount of energy that will be required to recycle the batteries as well.

I have my own ideas on what an economically-friendly personal transportation system could be in the future, and the technologies are being developed or are already here.  But that’s a post for a later time.

In the meantime, remember that the hype on eco-friendly cars, global warming, and carbon-credits is not what it is cracked up to be.  More than ever, I believe that there are political agendas being addressed instead of real problems.