Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The oil alternatives

Popular Mechanics has done what it often does best: break down an issue into the basic facts. In this case, they tackle alternative fuels.

It's long, and the good information is in the downloadable pdfs. But the executive summary is that, in the short term, "alternative fuels" will mean mixing other things with gasoline in some fashion. And most alternatives are more expensive per mile than gasoline. The exceptions are biodiesel (running cars on used vegetable oil) and electricity (which uses plentiful domestic coal instead of oil).

The alternatives have their problems. In cold temperatures biodiesel turns to a waxy solid (though fuel additives could fix that). Electrical cars take a long time to recharge and have limited range, rendering them unsuitable for distance driving. And the coal we'd burn to produce the electricity is both a fossil fuel and has pollution issues of its own. Still, when couched in terms of energy independence, it starts to look very good.

The holy grail, hydrogen, is some ways off technologically, and will initially be four times as expensive as gasoline. But the DOE projects that hydrogen will fall to the equivalent of $2/gallon by 2012. After that the major obstacle is infrastructure: having hydrogen-capable filling stations, as well as developing safe ways to transport and store the highly-pressurized explosive gas.

Anyway, check it out.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out MPRs piece on the "methanol" economy, and how energy transport mediums could tie various alternative fuel choices together.

5/01/2006 9:08 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Thanks for the pointer!

For those of you listening at home, here's the link.

5/02/2006 11:21 AM  

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