by William L. Seavey
As Americans get used to nearly $3 gallon gasoline, there has been precious little mainstream discussion of the alternatives.
WHAT alternatives, you say?
Exactly my point.
While no polls have been taken, I think I would be correct in stating that a great majority of the motoring public assumes there are only two fuels currently widely available to power our vehicles--gasoline and diesel. The prices for each have been going through the roof lately, and both are petroleum derivatives, and compliments of foreign (and some domestic) oil companies that are showing no real indications that they have any sympathy for the plight of us captive consumers.
And don't expect much anytime soon, or ever. These companies don't want us to know that cars can be propelled in a variety of ways. I have identified at least SEVEN approaches besides straight gasoline/diesel, and yet the oil companies, along with the major automakers, are making virtually no effort to restructure what is currently available.
Why? In a survey of consumer preferences by a research company, fuel economy ranks just 23rd out of 53 perceived "attributes" of a fine car, behind CUP HOLDERS. Of course, this is changing rapidly as I write. A CNN/USA Today poll says at least half of motorists are now considering buying a car with better gas mileage.
But why stay stuck with gasoline at all? When the Iraq War began I instinctively started investigating the existence of an oil connection there, which has since been verified by several authoritative sources.
Of course, the current adminsitration is loathe to even bring the subject up. Yet someone as venerable as Lee Iacocca posits that "we are probably in Iraq for oil,"
as quoted in Green Car Journal. That sweet crude you could get out of the Iraqi soil for the world's best price, $1 barrel back in 2000, was much too great a temptation, bunky. Expect more wars for oilfield acquisitions.
After having read what I have to say above and below, I will probably be visited in the middle of the night by murderous goons determined to shut me up, and do damage control. On the other hand, Americans are so brainwashed about how serious our oil dependencies are that it might not matter WHAT I have to say. And anyway, I've had a good life...
Few know that there is a 1000 pound canary in the room, the impending oil exploration bust, aka Peak Oil. In 1971 U.S. oil production peaked according to oil geologists reading the statistics some years after. Oil extraction has been falling ever since in this country. Now there is very good evidence the same thing is occuring globally, either now or within a 5-10 year window. Being unable to ramp up oil production just about the time China and India are becoming industrial giants does not bode well for civilized society, or for the whole developed world which relies on over 3000 products made from crude, including fertilizers and plastics. Worried about global warming? That's relatively far off, THIS is right around the corner.
So it's time to seriously think about the obvious (at least to me) solution to our gasoline woes. It will cause some pain, but is technologically feasible within a half dozen years, and its benefits could incorporate perhaps a quarter or a third of our passenger vehicle supply by 2012. A hydrogen economy? That's many more years away, if ever.
Just as we now know that we can install solar panels on the roofs of our homes and generate a large portion (or all) of our domestic electricity, we can also install the equipment to allow us to fuel our cars right in our own garages, or designated locations nearby.
Imagine a world where the gasoline pump doesn't dictate prices, or where, when and how we can travel. It's a world closer than you think. I know of three garageable systems that can fuel passenger vehicles--and there is an additional one on the horizon.
The Garage Filling Station (GFS) is far from fantasy. For the millions who already own diesel vehicles, you can order the equipment to manufacture your own "biodiesel" on site, in amounts up to 40 gallons in as little as 24 hours, and for as little as 70 cents a gallon TODAY.
Biodiesel production is quietly going on all over the U.S. as I write and it's nothing like the manufacture of petroleum diesel. Rudolf Diesel invented his engine to RUN on peanut oil. Biodiesel can be made from almost any vegetable oil, including discarded fryer oils, along with a little methanol and lye. It burns efficiently, with very few pollutants. It even smells good (like french fries). There are no safety issues in storing it, and it has a very long shelf life, unlike gasoline. It is a perfect do-it-yourself project for anyone who likes to tinker.
People have nearly forgotten, if they ever knew, that until recently three major manufacturers produced all electric passenger vehicles, the EV1 (GM), Ranger (Ford), and Rav 4 (Toyota). All could negotiate highway speeds, and ranged up to 125 miles on a charge. Yet there has been a concerted effort in recent years to REMOVE all these cars from the marketplace, despite the fact that they were very popular among those who leased them. As I write they are being withdrawn, and destroyed. Conspiracy, anyone? They could all plug in to standard 110 or 220 outlets in your garage, and charge overnight on off-peak grid power (or, better, solar panels). Some small maufacturers I know about are making all electric cars, or converting gasoline to electric, but the big boys dropped the ball, big time. Why?
Still, some of the new hybrids, though not gasoline free, can tool around town partly on electric power. All that is needed to extend their range is plug in capability, and bigger battery packs. Plug-in capability almost sounds like a slam dunk, and I don't know how the majors are going to sidestep the consensus that is growing that this is the next step for hybrids.
Natural gas propelled vehicles can be seen running around our major highways as buses and taxis. But did you know that Honda makes a Civic that you can fuel in your garage with a $2000 conversion kit? (It's called the Phill station). And while natural gas is a petroleum product, supplies are stable, and prices somewhat less volatile than gasoline at present. Much of our gas comes from Canada, a partner much more docile than Saudi Arabia. Plus, I will always trust the utility company more than I do the oil company.
Not only can you fuel your vehicle at home, the range of this vehicle is 200 miles, at a cost of HALF of what you would pay for gasoline at the present time. You will be the envy of your neighbors with such a car, and a garageable system that pumps gas right where you live.
If all this doesn't make you wonder why we aren't running around in cars fueled at home (the automakers say we don't want to do this--poppycock), there is yet another possibility. Flex fuel vehicles are cars and trucks that can run on both gasoline or ethanol (a derivative of alcohol). A blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline (E85) is standard, and could possibly be made at home. (It's the GASOLINE component that worries me). I know someone who swears that most cars could run on 100% alcohol fuel with a few modifications. Do you have such a fuel in your home?
Think your medicine cabinet.
It could be a brave new world for motorists, if they get smart soon.
William L. Seavey is author of Power Your Car WITHOUT Gasoline! and the People's Guide to Basic Solar Power. See at PowerFromSun.com. He has homes in three countries, and is hard to find.