Friday, July 8, 2011

Future of transportation

Peak Oil
Some may argue that we have already pass this point. What is obvious is that when it does happen the implications will be catastrophic. The US ( pop 450 million) uses about 20 billion barrels of which 14 billion is imported. China on the other hand imports about 4.5 billion and India 1.5 billion. China has a policy of voluntary power cuts in industry because of a shortfall in generative capacity. Russia exports about 6 billion barrels. These fast developing countries will be catching up with the US in per capita usage and as it happens the price of oil will head towards the stratosphere.

It is obvious that the gasoline fuel vehicles cannot continue into the future. Global warming and the cost of oil will see to that. As we come out of this recession and the price of oil peak towards US$70 a barrel the emphasis will be back on hybrids and electric vehicles.
(July 2011 Price of 91 octane is $2.08 a litre and a barrel of Brent crude is US$116 )
(June 2009 Price of 91 octane petrol is $1.62 a litre and a barrel of oil is US$41 )

At the battery clinic we recondition the Nimh battery pack used in the Prius hybrid and Honda hybrid vehicles. We are always asked as to whether the hybrid vehicle is the future of private transportation.

Hybrid vehicles are expensive not only because it is a new technology but more so because there are 2 engines in this vehicle. The petrol engine and the electric engine. I would hazard a guess that even at the high price charged these vehicles are sold at a loss.

Electric vehicles such as the BYD from China and the Volt from GM have an electric motor and a petrol generator to charge the batteries. The battery itself can power the vehicle 60 kilometers. This is more than enough for most trips. The generator can extend the range of this vehicle to 360 kilometers.

Better Place is a company set up to pioneer the development of a smart grid for electric vehicles. It is setting up the system in Isreal. Better Place retains ownership of the batteries used in the electric vehicle and owners can exchange the batteries at charge stations set up around the country. This avoids the down time required to charge the batteries.

Still to come are vehicles that use hydrogen fuel cells as their fuel source.

In my view Hybrid vehicles are only an interim solution with electric vehicles such as the BYD and the Volt taking over in the future. I base this prediction on more than cost alone. The BYD electric vehicle sells for US$22,000 and the Volt should also be thereabouts, while the hybrids are twice that. Fuel economy in the electric vehicles are also much better. The batteries can be charged from the house plug which means home homeowners can also install solar and wind generation to charge their cars.

How hydrogen fuel cells picture in the future is still in question again from the cost angle.

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