Thursday, June 23, 2005

My Prediction for the Fuel of the Future: Ethanol

Yes some commentators predicted I would pick ethanol, no doubt helped by my hint dropping. Ethanol is wildly inferior to gasoline, I will admit that. However, many may not realize that we are already using. Fuel blends with ethanol are available at gas stations everywhere. In California, you HAVE to have ethanol mixed fuel. Society has already started to change over whether you like it or not.

In fact the majority of Ford Explorers made today can run on Ethanol according to this article. Right now the automakers see it as a way to cheat and raise their fleet mileage. But they are indirectly helping society. If fuel prices rise considerably, and a mostly ethanol blend becomes the standard fuel, consumers won't have a problem. Let me try to address the problems ethanol faces, and dispell some of the myths of ethanol.

Ethanol requires more to make it, then it produces: As of now this is true. It takes trucks running on gasoline to move fuel, run the tractors, etc. That amount of fuel could be reduced considerably if every vehicle that is used in the process to make ethanol runs on ethanol. When that becomes the case, expect the amount of energy put in to decrease noticeably.

Making engines run on ethanol is a complex process: No. Small changes to standard ICU engines will enable them to run on ethanol. Many can run on both right now. The changeover is already much less expensive than hybridizing everyone's vehicles.

Ethanol is dangerous: As is gasoline. Hybrids are no safer than ethanol, and are an electrocution danger.

Ethanol is less efficient than gasoline, producing less power per amount burned. However, the amount of R and D put into making a regular gasoline ICU engine more fuel efficient is much greater than the amount put into ethanol research. I know I've criticized people for stating that technology will eventually make hybrids work even better, but the fact remains that the amount of money companies have put into engine development is in the tens of billions at least. The science behind ethanol is much simpler, and not so much different from gasoline.

Won't crude oil in the form of fertilizer be needed to grow ethanol? Initially yes. But GM grown ethanol might not need fertilizer. This is probably the biggest deficiency for ethanol usage. To bet on technology solving this issue is dangerous, however, if the only petroleum usage in growing crops to be turned into ethanol is in the fertilizer and pesticides, rather than in the harvesting and transport, then this issue is greatly minimized.

The government can mandate that cars use ethanol, and the engineering costs to auto companies are minimal. A gradual transfer from an oil economy to an ethanol economy is probably the likeliest route for humanity. Fuel blends of ever greater percentages of ethanol versus gasoline will buy society the time it needs to make greater, more efficient output from crops through experimentation. Engines will gradually become more efficient burners as well, just as they did with gasoline engines through the decades. Any great economic change in society is funded by the government, and the government will clearly fund the cheaper way to do things, especially since the automakers will lobby them to do so, rather than mandating hybrid usage. Since ethanol is less polluting than hybrid usage, from an environmental standpoint it's a no brainer.

I look at Brazil as a sort of model. There cars regularly run on ethanol/gasoline blends, as well as natural gas, and even kerosene. The future of fuel usage in society will be complex and diverse. One fuel will not cover all the bases, as it has for the past several decades. The successful automaker will recognize this, and plan accordingly.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Quick Comment on Comments

I've been getting a lot of great comments lately. Keep it up. I looked at one of my responses down below and felt my tone was a little too negative. The argument for hybrids is a good one. I am certainly in a small minority of people who believe in increasing fuel prices and against the applicability of hybrids. When I have time I will spell out my theory on what will be the fuel of the future for consumer vehicles. Here's a hint, you can grow it.

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Monday, June 20, 2005

Jaguar's Realignment

I've neglected to add my two cents to the Premiere Automotive Group's decision to realign Jaguar as a niche player. (subscription) I think it's a great move. If they can parlay that status into making competitors for Porsche, or just making sedans that are really daring and don't try to clone BMWs, they'll do fine. At the end of the day it really is more about profit than production. With Aston Martin taking over the top, Jaguar will have a small line up that cannot encroach on either Volvo or Aston. Jaguar has to offer the "other side" when competing in this new price bracket, which I would imagine is upwards of 40 thousand dollars to a little below 90 thousand. Volvo is the brand to take on BMW. This new strategy should offer more gentlemanly versions of cars. There shouldn't be a small roadster that is basically an English version of a Boxster, but rather a boulevardier XK type of vehicle. Aston has done much the same thing against Ferrari. It's a smaller market in this area, but there is room for differences. Ford is moving these companies in the right direction.

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