The government wants you to drive a small car if you like it or not. With the ever tightening CAFE and safety standards, its looking like in the future we are going to be forced into compact cars even though a viable solution could be right under our feet.
Even though more and more hybrid vehicles are coming out like the Volt, I don’t think we will be seeing the majority of cars on the road using this technology. This is due to the availability of lithium and the higher cost to manufacture these vehicles. Instead, most people will be forced into small cars with tiny engines. Based off whats coming out in the near future, I foresee these engines are going to be smaller than 2000cc’s with a turbo charged version for cross-overs and larger cars. This is really going to hurt the high performance community since these engines will be in a very high state of tune from the factory and will simply not have a whole lot of performance left in them unless you spend big money.
This is all being done in the name of the environment and to reduce our energy dependence on foreign supply’s. But here’s the part that’s disappointing: I don’t think either of these things are true. I believe few of our politicians really give a hoot about the environment and that the real source of the pressure to have green cars is from special interest and believe it or not, oil and coal companies.
So now you are saying “Why would oil companies be on board with more efficient cars?”; well, they don’t truly want us to have oil-free cars, but I think that oil companies have identified that the paths we are currently pursuing into green cars are not viable long term solutions and therefor maintain our dependency on oil. Look at what we have so far:
E85 – You can find data either way saying that its a green fuel, or that its actually worse than petroleum due to the energy required to produce it. I believe the latter is true. This is why I think that oil companies are not exactly shaking in their boots because they also know its not a viable solution. But because E85 is used as a political tool (any politician pushing for it is obviously going to win the votes of farmers), we are going to be seeing it for awhile. Luckily, more and more negative press is coming out about it it and even Al Gore is saying its no good. I say, if you want to see how great alcohol and E85 really is, remove its subsidies and see how it stacks up.
Hybrid cars – The same could also be said for the hybrids: I think a lot less cars would be sold if they where not subsidized. Furthermore, the lithium used to make the batteries for these cars is a semi-rare element and is especially hard to find here in the USA. What would be the point of removing our energy dependence from one country and just giving it to another?
Plug in Electrics – Big oil hates this one, but probably not too much because they are expensive and have the same lithium problems described above. This pushes the energy production to the power grid and brings in another powerful lobby: Coal. Some argue that plug-ins are more eco-friendly since a coal power plant can be made more efficient than the engine in your car. In reality, its probably not much better than the gas we burn now, and lets face it; there’s really no such thing as ‘Clean Coal’.
Hydrogen fuel cells – I really think this is boarding on the lines of being a joke. I don’t see any practical use of these in cars in my life time. I attended an energy seminar about 6 or 7 years ago on this topic and they were saying that a breakthrough was expected in 20 years or so. Well, its some years later and they are still not any closer to a breakthrough.
So, you can see that the green technologies that we are heavily pursuing are either really not too green or that are just not practical for everyone to adopt. But I do think there is a greener solution out there which is starting to get some press, and that solution is natural gas.
You can bet that both the oil and coal lobbies really hate natural gas. Oil hates it because we have large reserves of it here in America; even larger than the equivalent amount of oil that’s in Saudi Arabia’s reserves. Oil also hates it because we already have the technology to convert cars, trucks and trains to use natural gas. Coal hates it because we can convert our power plants to use it as well. Natural gas is also much cleaner burning than both oil and coal.
So right out of the door, natural gas has very powerful enemies with strong political ties.
The problem with most of our natural gas is that its locked away in rock very deep in the earth; and the method used to release it, hydraulic fracturing (known as ‘fracking’), is currently undergoing a lot of criticism. There has been some very negative press coming out of Pennsylvania where fracking allegedly caused private wells used for drinking water to go bad. There is also a very unscientific documentary-esque movie called Gasland which uses Michael Moore tactics to demonize the fracking process.
Because fracking has already been studied by the EPA in the past and declared O.K. (now being re-studied, a political tactic?), and has been used for some time without major issues until now, and that the Pennsylvania issue was extremely isolated and was even concluded that the chemicals found in the water were not related to fracking; I believe that all of this negative press is from a targeted smear campaign against natural gas. Movies like Gasland don’t do anything other than plant the seed of fear into people in hopes of invoking a reactionary movement, and I believe this is working. There is already legislation in the works to ban fracking, and this is happening before the new EPA study is even concluded! This says to me that some of our politicians really don’t care about the situation and are being lobbied to go against natural gas.
Natural gas does have its limitations and may not be practical for every vehicle on the road, but I believe that it is the most attractive solution we have available right now. I don’t want to blindly support hydraulic fracturing, but there doesn’t seem to be enough real evidence to either fully support or oppose the process.