Thursday, June 17, 2010

Transocean/BP Oil Blowout in the Gulf and Calls for Sacrifice

The British Petroleum (BP)/Transocean Macondo Project Gulf oil spill has revived talk about getting serious and concrete here in the USA about cutting our consumption of energy, especially petroleum. The images of the death of creatures and the fouled shorelines have placed the consumption of petroleum issue before the American citizenry in an ongoing, unavoidable way, day after day after day. President Obama addresses the nation about the spill, commentators weigh in.... the petroleum consumption issue is getting its deserved attention.

Surprising to me (because of the typical vitriol I have received because of my call to make the maximum attainable speed for all motor vehicles 34mph) is the awareness, voiced more and more, that it is us consumers that are really the source of this accident. Believe me, no one would be drilling an expensive, deepwater well if it were not economically viable. The increasing demand for oil by China and India, and our modest, longterm US increase in total gasoline consumption (already at 25% of world oil consumption) are the factors that create the business environment that spawn highly technical, highly complicated attempts to secure oil from extreme locations worldwide.

In his 1994 edition of his book "Alternative Cars in the 21st Century" (SAE) Robert Q Riley notes the following state of affairs regarding the use of the automobile as transportation:

(page 36)

"The fundamental mismatch between vehicle mass/size in relation to that of its payload is often unspoken; perhaps because it is so universally accepted and difficult to quantify. Much depends on the synergy of the system, and even more on the operating conditions at the time the energy trail is audited. On the most simple level, when a 1600kg (3500lb) machine transports an 80 kg (175lb) occupant on a local trip to the market, the available-energy pie is divided so that approximately 95 percent gets the car to the market and the remaining five percent gets the occupant there. More specifically, about 82 percent of the latent energy in gasoline is wasted when it is converted into mechanical power, which just pollutes the air and get no one to the market. Of the 18 percent left, about a third goes to overcoming air resistance and the other two-thirds is consumed by inertia and rolling resistance, of which the occupant accounts for a small portion. In this scenario the occupant gets 0.006 of the fuel's energy, the car gets 0.174, and 0.820 is wasted. Since the automobile is responsible for 99.4 percent of the total energy consumed, and it tenaciously resists improvements in energy efficiency, minimizing the car itself is the most straightfoward way to reduce its portion of the energy budget."

See anything in this analysis about "addiction to oil" or "love of consumption"?? No, in most circumstances, drivers of cars are oblivious to the fact that less than ONE PERCENT of the gasoline consumed by an automobile, actually moves their human body from point "A" to point "B".

Less than ONE PERCENT!!

We aren't going to minimize car weight or magically affect air resistance by going to electric cars. We can only minimize weight when (1) cars do not need to safely travel at high rates of speed (2) cars do not need to accelerate to sixty miles an hour, in less than ten seconds, because otherwise entering a freeway may be hazardous (3) engines and drivetrains are reduced in weight. We can only cut the fuel spent on overcoming air resistance losses, by traveling at a lower speed. No other way to do this, aerodynamically, unless you move to a different planet, with a different atmosphere.

There is not much that conversion to electric cars will do to cut energy consumption in the next twenty years. We have a fleet of 220 million vehicles here in the USA. No one is building even a million electric cars per year, and if they did, it would take forty years to turn over the current fleet to a majority of electrics. Expensive and heavy electrics, I might add. What do you read about the Tesla roadster? In most cases, the blinding acceleration is touted. The Tesla roadster is doing nothing to blunt our "addiction to speed".

If citizens of the world really wanted to "sacrifice" to drastically curtail our petroleum consumption, the answer is quite straightforward. We need to retrofit all existing vehicles, so that they could go no faster than 34 miles an hour, top speed. This can be done with a mechanical escapement, the same thing that regulates "tick tock" clocks. A new "escapement industry" would provide jobs in an endeavor that would have a much longer lasting benefit than simply "paving more highways" as the ARRA is currently doing. The ARRA paving work is actually increasing petroleum consumption, by allowing vehicles to comfortably, sustainably, drive 75mph where previously, rough surfaces kept speeds below 65 mph.

Once all vehicles are fitted with escapements nationwide, and "drop day" takes place (everyone goes slower at the same time, same day), then the real energy savings begin to kick in. Existing vehicles won't really increase mileage much (ten percent?) but what will happen is, a "further modification" industry will kick in. Why not replace your v8 engine with a small, 500cc engine and eight-speed transmission? With a subsidy similar to the "homebuyer subsidy" it would be foolish not to drop two hundred pounds off your vehicle's weight..... which a smaller 500cc displacement ICE powerplant would do!!

New cars would be lighter, and there is where the real fuel savings would take place. Without the added structure for safely running at 80mph, cars would be built with far less materials. Less tire weight, less rubber, less suspension, less frame, less glazing weight. In less than five years from the "drop date" event, new cars with good old, proven, (smaller) gasoline engines would be routinely achieving 100 mpg and better. And the cost of goes down, maintenance goes way down, tire replacement, etc.. Traffic enforcement becomes virtually nil. Highways last longer.

Is going 34 miles an hour top speed, doable? Is it worth it? Consider that during World War II, Americans built zero cars for the domestic market. ZERO!!

...and we can't slow our SUVs to save the planet??