Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cars and the future

Yesterday we addressed the wasted energy tied up in the rail industry and the air pad strategy for hugely reducing the wastage. Its success would also shift most long haul trucking off the roads saving even more energy.

Economic pressure has wrought a revolution in energy wastage reduction for static energy use. Every factory today is built with an eye toward energy efficiency simply because it impacts directly on the bottom line. This has been underway for over thirty years and will naturally continue.

This leaves us with the real problem of wastage in personnel transport. That does not mean driving slower or the like. The fundamental difficulty is weight. The customer wants his ton of comfort and utility. I do not see any way that we are going to change that. We can only make it inconvenient for most to drive to work and we can make public transport super convenient.

Nothing we do is going to end the fact that the consumer wants this type of asset.

This means that the design parameters will continue to call for a ton of weight to transport 200 pounds of cargo. Our transportation is costing us ten times what is necessary in terms of energy.

Design and technology is whittling away at the weight problem.The only problem with that is that a lighter vehicle becomes cheaper sending the customer upmarket to larger vehicles. The point is that before the century is out, mankind is going to own several billion personal transportation devices. All the innovation in the world will only make them larger and lighter.

The only place in a car were we can lose weight is in the power train principally perhaps by converting to electric wheels and a minimized power source. The problem of course is the minimized power source. We are still nowhere near a successful design strategy to replace what is now on the road. At least the hybrid philosophy promises to give us a large leg up once it fully matures.

So we are at least going the right direction. Our vehicles will squeeze the maximal millage out.

The task of feeding these horses comes back on our shoulders. And so far we are really stuck with oil products. All other available quick fixes is a small percentage of our needs. We simply cannot grow enough ethanol, we will never convert cellulose, and we cannot store static power in an effective manner.

In fact the only light on the horizon is the use of algae to produce biodiesel. It has the theoretical capability to produce enough biodiesel to satisfy all our needs without disrupting the agricultural economy.

The first experiments are under way and we are hearing about projected yields that are ten times any oilseed crop.

We can draw one conclusion though. All the available transportation oil will be gone over the next one hundred years whatever we hope to do unless replaced very soon by algae sourced oil.


Will said...

Excellent post! One more point to consider is the ever increasing thirst for more power. Sure, cars have become heavier and now require more power, but the rate of power increase surpases the weight and size increases we have seen. It's even more disgusting when you consider that aerodynamics have played a key roll in increasing efficiency, thus negating the need to even increase power at the same rate as mass. So, why is it that cars have doubled in weight but power has tripled in many cases?

Here's an interesting case in point regarding Volkswagen/Audi and their next gen TDI diesel engine coming out next year (in the same body - same weight). It will be 40%+ more powerful than the previous gen, be 90% cleaner, quieter, and achieve the same fuel economy. Impressive, to say the least! There's only one problem! Why is the emphasis weighted towards power? Surely these technological advances could have been focused towards making the care 30-40% more efficient but produce the same power as the current generation. I happen to drive the current generation, and the power is quite adequate, with excellent fuel economy (46MPG (5.0L/100km)or better, with my best tank at 4.48L/100km - 52.5MPG).

Yes, we need alternatives, but we also desperately need to nudge the mindset of the population, and educate the population. We also need to rid the world or put massive taxes on unneccessarily powerful vehicles. A 300-600HP SUV or sports car serves little purpose, other than to thrill. We'll probably have to reverse engineer humans before this ever happens.

Biodiesel as a renewable and carbon neutral fuel source, and even fossil diesel in general are excellent alternatives. The diesel engine is inherently more efficient, and as of 2007, they're now as clean or cleaner than gasoline engines. Most consumers still have no idea. You will see that from 2008-2010 and beyond, we will see more vehicles powered by diesel engines, and then hybrid diesel-electric vehicles.

Oil companies will fight to the death to avoid alternatives and technological developments such as algae based biodiesel, fuel cells, efficient batteries, etc.

Society in general has completely lost sight of what's important. Sure, the car is a people move, but in its current form it's more of a luxury and status symbol. We wouldn't need powerful steel cages on wheels with properly designed cities and efficient public transportation systems. Consumption rules and most are caught in a viscious cycle of materialism. That's a whole other discussion. -sarcasm- Praise capitalism!

Will said...

Not only will the entire infrastructure have to be overhauled, but we'll need a much larger rail network to effectively compete with with the trucking industry.