Auto Manifesto

May 7, 2008

The Shift: Energy Limitations

In the past automobiles were performance limited. Components and systems such as engines, brakes, suspension and tires were the items that dictated the boundaries of their performance envelopes. Not so much the fuel. Gasoline, while more sophisticated today, has not been the limiting factor in performance for a long, long time.

Today, the vehicles we have are not really limited by much at all in terms of both performance and their energy sources, predominantly gasoline. If you want a car that can accelerate like it was shot out of a cannon, cruise all day at 100 mph, and stop on a dime, there are many alternatives to choose from.

As we move forward and develop alternatives to oil-based energy sources, we’re finding that we’re now on the other side of the coin. Chassis capable of handling the aforementioned performance criteria are plentiful. But alternative energy sources of propelling a vehicle to those lofty levels are not measuring up to the performance of good old-fashioned petroleum.

Now it is about energy density because the energy issue is upstream of the performance issue. Solving that will affect performance – at least in the near term. We’ll have to take what seems like a step backward in order to go forward.

While oil has such high energy density that nearly everything from marine engines to lawn mowers can be powered by internal combustion engines scaled for each application, tomorrow it will be a case of different horses for different courses. What might work for locomotives won’t work for automobiles, which will again be different from trucks and planes.

Right now it looks like electric cars are the next step. But that might not work for many other applications such as long haul trucks. Or rail. Or construction equipment.

In the foreseeable future, I just don’t see oil getting completely displaced by alternatives until big breakthroughs are made. Not only do we need to concentrate on making those breakthroughs, we need to be mindful of using less of everything. It’s a two pronged approach to accelerating the end of oil: Developing viable alternatives AND reducing our overall energy needs.



  • I've been saying this for quite a while. Everybody is running around acting like it has to be a binary situation, ALL cars have to be electric or ALL cars have to run on petroleum. Just as no one car design will fit everybody's needs no one power source will either. There is room on the road for all drive types gas, diesel, electric, hydrogen, ethanol, etc. Electric cars just wont cut it in rural South Dakota where the distance to the nearest town is considerable. One the other hand having 500,000 gas powered cars on the road in downtown LA creates a large pollution problem.

    There are compromises that will please everybody. You can keep your 6000 pound SUV, dress it up and drive it as much as you want, providing you can afford the fuel. I just want the option to go electric and solve 2 major problems at once, oil dependence and global warming. But the old cronies in power are resisting the change and in the pursuit of profit would rather live on a scorched planet than provide viable solutions.

    By Blogger Randy C., At May 8, 2008 at 12:49 AM  

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