We had a long conversation on Friday about running cars off different fuel sources including used grease. Meg found an article on the subject in the NYT today.
I know it's early, but Melville's last paragraph is the dumbest thing I've read this week, and maybe this month; and I read a lot of dumb things.
I can agree that American automakers should have a greater sense of urgency with regard to developing more efficient products. Just as a general rule I think it's good policy to be conservative with our limited resources. That's why I've never understood why "conservatives," like El Rushbo [10:02 min audio clip], are proud of their ostentatious gas consumption.
Melville really loses me with "shoudln't...the government be able to find inexpensive and ingenious ways to improve fuel efficiency in all vehicles?" Please move to Venezuela.
Personally, I think the incumbent US automakers should just get out of the industry altogether. We're not very good at manufacturing them anymore (if ever). Let Germany and Japan make the next generation of high-quality cars. We'll focus on what will power them.
Eat more fries.
Now that I think of it, this may be a great arbitrage opportunity.
Someone (me, maybe) can offer to take the grease from all local area restaurants for free (as they apparently have to pay to have it carted off). Then I can filter it and sell it back to drivers at $2/gallon.
Of course, the strategy will need at least one other prong. That prong will have to include a method to create a large fleet of veggie-oil burning cars.
First of all, the author of this article only hints at the effort necessary to turn the waste vegetable oil into usable fuel. There are multiple steps that include washing, heating, cleansing, and drying. A co-worker does this and estimates that he has about $1.00/gal invested in his fuel, not counting his time or startup cost. Not bad, but not free.
Secondly, they also fail to mention that this current method only works on older vehicles. Newer, more sophisticated vehicles (read the ones you actually want to drive with A/C, power steering, and CD player) have computers and other electronics that would need to be tweaked and or modified to make them work, if that is even possible. Most veggie cars are older Mercedes, Rabbits, or pickups, not exactly as comfortable, reliable as a new Jetta.
As far as new fuel options being presented, the largest deficit to overcome is a distribution network. That will be what holds hydrogen back. Solar power might work, but the square footage necessary is far greater than current vehicle footprint. Electric? No one mentions the carbon footprint associated with creating the batteries, creating the electricity to charge the batteries, nor the environmental hazards associated with disposing of batteries.
Prepare yourselves. The government actions already in place (CAFE, mandatory 35mpg fleet averages, etc) WILL drive up the price of your next vehicle. Regardless of manufacturer, the technology is not in place to make the entire fleet of a manufacturer (trucks, vans, suvs, cars, etc.) average 35mpg. This will be a large investment that you can be sure will be passed onto the consumer. This will affect those that don't buy new as well. People unable to afford new cars will hold onto their used cars longer, driving the prices up in that arena as well. Building more efficient cars will take time. The fastest new cars go from concept level to showroom in 3 years, some take 5. A running change, such as a powertrain change can be done in 1-2 years, provided that the powertrain has been validated for durability.
But the biggest reason that the automakers haven't been researching alternative fuel sources or more fuel efficient vehicles has been that the public has not wanted them. Until this month, the F150 has been the best selling VEHICLE in the US for the last 10 years. Americans have been directing vehicle research, design, and tendencies with their pocketbooks. Why should the automakers invest millions on alternative energy supplies, when no one will buy them.
Everyone raves about hybrids, but look at what actually sells. The Prius. That's it. Why? It's an image thing, pure and simple. Ther are plenty of capable hybrids out there. Chevy Malibu, Toyota Camry, Ford Escape, Saturn Vue, Honda Civic, etc. They all get better gas mileage than thier non-hybrid counterparts, but these vehicles have been low volume sellers for the automakers. Their development has been financed by the Tahoes, Tundras, and F150s flying off the dealer lots. Honda stopped selling the Accord Hybrid, but redesigned the Pilot. Until there was a reason to do so, the automakers didn't need to research fuel efficent vehicles. Now the consumers are clamoring, and the govt is pushing, so the automakers are reacting.
Steps off his soapbox
Sorry for the long post reply, I get heated up about this stuff...
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