7 Reasons Why Liquid & Gas Fuels are Here for the Long Haul

 

Taking a big picture view of the world and our future, the only realistic expectation is that liquid and gas fuels will be needed and used for a long time to come. In light of this we should embrace biofuels and compressed natural gas as much better alternatives to petroleum.

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Don’t get me wrong. As a daily commuter, I drool over the upcoming swath of electric cars and plug-in hybrids. I fantasize about the day when I can ditch my car entirely and ride a high-speed, internet-connected, ultra-quiet Maglev train to work. And, as an avid fan of sci-fi, I also imagine a time when we’ve tapped the power of fusion to run anti-gravity personal transporter devices that fit on our belts.

But I’m also a realist. And, as realist, it’s pretty obvious that any of these pie-in-the-sky fantasies in which we won’t be using liquid fuel at all within 10 years time are missing the bigger picture.

So, to bring us back to reality, for a while now I’ve been chewing on this list of reasons why we’ll still be using liquid fuels in 10, 20, and even 30 years’ time. Look it over and let me know what you think.





1. Jets can’t fly on electricity. Once somebody invents that teleportation unit, we’re good. Until then, jets need fuel and we need jets.

2. What are we going to do with the hundreds of millions of liquid fuel-powered cars already on the roads?

3. The world has plentiful and cheap natural gas resources. Compressed natural gas cars are, arguably, the most non-polluting vehicles on the planet.

4. It’s going to be a long, long time before electricity can haul 80,000 pounds 1000 miles at a go. Sure, trains can run on electricity if you build a massive new infrastructure to support it, but 80,000 pound trucks will always be needed to take that freight “the last mile,” so to speak. Trucks can deliver “right now” with less logistical maneuvering than trains. Also, trucks can be used to take freight into the “back country” where it just isn’t feasible or cost-effective to run track.

5. As long as America remains fundamentally American, there will always be the yodels who will drive fuel-sucking HUMMERS just because they can. Unless the US becomes a non-capitalist, fascist dictatorship, we won’t be forcefully changing these yodels’ lives to fit what the world actually needs any time soon.

6. For developing nations, it’s much less technology-intensive (read inexpensive) to develop an economy based on liquid fuels than on other types of energy. 35% of the world’s population does not have access to electricity. Moving liquid fuel around is much easier than building new infrastructure using high technology to move electricity around.

7. Biofuels have brought a much-needed high value back to agriculture — especially in developing countries. This will be clear in 50 years time when farming will once again be valued higher than the tourism industry. In the future, as long as money is the base of our economic system and fuel is a fundamental need, farmers will grow fuel.

You may disagree with my analysis on some of the above points, but I’m sure for every one of you reading this, there’s at least one of those reasons that makes sense.

My point is that we should stop complaining about how biofuels are “evil” and realize that, if liquid fuels are here for the long haul, biofuels represent a way to continue using liquid fuels that is much less polluting than burning fossil fuels.

Obviously there are many kinks that need to be worked out — chief among them crafting a system that still encourages the production of food while also allowing for the growth of fuel feedstocks. But I do believe these problems have workarounds and aren’t showstoppers, so to speak.

Additionally, I tend to agree with the Pickens plan in that we should be using compressed natural gas to run the next generation of long haul semi-trucks. I know Pickens stands to profit heftily off of any use of natural gas, but regardless, this doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

Lastly, I’m not saying we should ignore electric cars. Actually, quite the opposite, we should be encouraging people to use the hell out of electric cars where appropriate, but we should also realize that one size doesn’t fit all.

Image Credit: SolYoung‘s Flickr Photostream under a Creative Commons License






About the Author

Not your traditional car guy.

  • Doug

    Personally I plan to run my car off of dreams and pixie dust since that is all I will have left after the underwear gnomes clean me out.

    Seriously though, if anyone thinks we can skip over bio-fuels and move straight to EVs is very naive. Also I do not think it is a good idea to make any 1 system dominant because it leads to messes like we are in now. I wish our politicians would wake up realize this a multiple step process and start looking for solutions instead of propping up failed propositions.

  • Doug

    Personally I plan to run my car off of dreams and pixie dust since that is all I will have left after the underwear gnomes clean me out.

    Seriously though, if anyone thinks we can skip over bio-fuels and move straight to EVs is very naive. Also I do not think it is a good idea to make any 1 system dominant because it leads to messes like we are in now. I wish our politicians would wake up realize this a multiple step process and start looking for solutions instead of propping up failed propositions.

  • Doug

    Personally I plan to run my car off of dreams and pixie dust since that is all I will have left after the underwear gnomes clean me out.

    Seriously though, if anyone thinks we can skip over bio-fuels and move straight to EVs is very naive. Also I do not think it is a good idea to make any 1 system dominant because it leads to messes like we are in now. I wish our politicians would wake up realize this a multiple step process and start looking for solutions instead of propping up failed propositions.

  • I agree with your reasoning and would add ocean going ships to the list as well.

  • I agree with your reasoning and would add ocean going ships to the list as well.

  • I agree with your reasoning and would add ocean going ships to the list as well.

  • Nick Chambers

    mus302,

    Excellent point… and one I completely forgot about.

  • Steve-O

    ABSOLUTELY!!!!

    I am tired of the uninformed automatically dismissing biofuels. Biofuels are a huge part of our future, do not need to “compete” with human food at all when planned properly. Can be produced locally (I do not mean domestic, I mean LOCALLY.) almost anywhere on the globe. They are almost carbon neutral and always better than gasoling. Because we developed a corn ethanol industry the petro giants found an argument, aka “food vs. fuel”, that conned the american public into thinking their hugely inflated grocery bills were because of ethanol!!! It couldn’t be because the cost of TRANSPORTING the damn stuff we call food like TRIPLED!!!!

    Sorry, end of rant. All plants harness the sun’s energy and produce sugars through photosysthesis. Emerging technologies allow us to effectively convert them into a clean burning alcohol (or bio gasoline) that blows petroleum away. We can use many biosources that grow without fretilizers (switchgrass), fertilizers (hemp), and do not deplete the soil. Residuals from these process can go right back into enriching the soil, animal feed, and many other thiongs. Wake up anti-biofuel ditto heads and let’s get on this train.

    The point about how we need liquid fuels for many reasons is rarely made, but extremely important.

  • Steve-O

    ABSOLUTELY!!!!

    I am tired of the uninformed automatically dismissing biofuels. Biofuels are a huge part of our future, do not need to “compete” with human food at all when planned properly. Can be produced locally (I do not mean domestic, I mean LOCALLY.) almost anywhere on the globe. They are almost carbon neutral and always better than gasoling. Because we developed a corn ethanol industry the petro giants found an argument, aka “food vs. fuel”, that conned the american public into thinking their hugely inflated grocery bills were because of ethanol!!! It couldn’t be because the cost of TRANSPORTING the damn stuff we call food like TRIPLED!!!!

    Sorry, end of rant. All plants harness the sun’s energy and produce sugars through photosysthesis. Emerging technologies allow us to effectively convert them into a clean burning alcohol (or bio gasoline) that blows petroleum away. We can use many biosources that grow without fretilizers (switchgrass), fertilizers (hemp), and do not deplete the soil. Residuals from these process can go right back into enriching the soil, animal feed, and many other thiongs. Wake up anti-biofuel ditto heads and let’s get on this train.

    The point about how we need liquid fuels for many reasons is rarely made, but extremely important.

  • I agree with the 7 reasons. It’s kind of like how paper will never be phased out from the workplace in spite of increasing number and aptitude of electronic devices.

    Specific responses:

    2 + 5) Phase them out. We have put a variety of laws to require vehicles to meet newer standards in the past. We should keep increasing these standards till the gas-guzzling cars of today are gone.

    4) The US needs to make a large investment on upgrading infrastructure.

    a) Make a nationalized power grid (currently, all power grids are local) connected to massive wind, solar and tidal energy generators.

    b) Install a national high speed train system connecting major cities. This will reduce the distances trucks and tourists have to drive.

    Improved fuel cell technologies (http://optimism.thorscave.com/?p=63) will reduce gas consumption.

    The solution to the upcoming energy and environmental crisis won’t be black-an-white and the elimination of liquid and gas fuels isn’t a necessity. The solution will be a well rounded portfolio of technologies to maximize the energy/dollar for any given use.

    6) That 35% of the population CAN have electricity, but don’t b/c of political reasons. Between wind, solar, and tidal energies, that percentage can be reduced significantly.

    There was a push for a $100 laptop for populations in 3rd world countries. What we really need is a push for cheap and reliable energy sources for villages around the world.

  • I agree with the 7 reasons. It’s kind of like how paper will never be phased out from the workplace in spite of increasing number and aptitude of electronic devices.

    Specific responses:

    2 + 5) Phase them out. We have put a variety of laws to require vehicles to meet newer standards in the past. We should keep increasing these standards till the gas-guzzling cars of today are gone.

    4) The US needs to make a large investment on upgrading infrastructure.

    a) Make a nationalized power grid (currently, all power grids are local) connected to massive wind, solar and tidal energy generators.

    b) Install a national high speed train system connecting major cities. This will reduce the distances trucks and tourists have to drive.

    Improved fuel cell technologies (http://optimism.thorscave.com/?p=63) will reduce gas consumption.

    The solution to the upcoming energy and environmental crisis won’t be black-an-white and the elimination of liquid and gas fuels isn’t a necessity. The solution will be a well rounded portfolio of technologies to maximize the energy/dollar for any given use.

    6) That 35% of the population CAN have electricity, but don’t b/c of political reasons. Between wind, solar, and tidal energies, that percentage can be reduced significantly.

    There was a push for a $100 laptop for populations in 3rd world countries. What we really need is a push for cheap and reliable energy sources for villages around the world.

  • I agree with the 7 reasons. It’s kind of like how paper will never be phased out from the workplace in spite of increasing number and aptitude of electronic devices.

    Specific responses:

    2 + 5) Phase them out. We have put a variety of laws to require vehicles to meet newer standards in the past. We should keep increasing these standards till the gas-guzzling cars of today are gone.

    4) The US needs to make a large investment on upgrading infrastructure.

    a) Make a nationalized power grid (currently, all power grids are local) connected to massive wind, solar and tidal energy generators.

    b) Install a national high speed train system connecting major cities. This will reduce the distances trucks and tourists have to drive.

    Improved fuel cell technologies (http://optimism.thorscave.com/?p=63) will reduce gas consumption.

    The solution to the upcoming energy and environmental crisis won’t be black-an-white and the elimination of liquid and gas fuels isn’t a necessity. The solution will be a well rounded portfolio of technologies to maximize the energy/dollar for any given use.

    6) That 35% of the population CAN have electricity, but don’t b/c of political reasons. Between wind, solar, and tidal energies, that percentage can be reduced significantly.

    There was a push for a $100 laptop for populations in 3rd world countries. What we really need is a push for cheap and reliable energy sources for villages around the world.

  • Compressed gas vehicles make sense, diversifying our fuel resources makes sense. We should keep the gas powered vehicles on the road for now. Individuals may choose to run gas or CNG vehicles, gas hybrids or electric. The more choices the more stable our fuel infrastructure. “Gas Stations” should be able to refuel conventional or CNG vehicles, and plan to fuel Hydrogen powered vehicles as they become available. We need to move away from muscle cars and start buying smart cars.

  • Compressed gas vehicles make sense, diversifying our fuel resources makes sense. We should keep the gas powered vehicles on the road for now. Individuals may choose to run gas or CNG vehicles, gas hybrids or electric. The more choices the more stable our fuel infrastructure. “Gas Stations” should be able to refuel conventional or CNG vehicles, and plan to fuel Hydrogen powered vehicles as they become available. We need to move away from muscle cars and start buying smart cars.

  • Compressed gas vehicles make sense, diversifying our fuel resources makes sense. We should keep the gas powered vehicles on the road for now. Individuals may choose to run gas or CNG vehicles, gas hybrids or electric. The more choices the more stable our fuel infrastructure. “Gas Stations” should be able to refuel conventional or CNG vehicles, and plan to fuel Hydrogen powered vehicles as they become available. We need to move away from muscle cars and start buying smart cars.

  • Cameron

    Another aspect that probably deserves more attention is the development of share car services like zipcar (http://www.zipcar.com)

    These services are becoming popular in urban areas where everyone owning their vehicle is unnecessary. Technology like google maps has made this services logistics easier to manage.

    While on the surface it wouldn’t seem that these car share services necessarily reduce emissions, studies have found that drivers that ditch their cars for this service end up driving 80% less than when they owned their own vehicle.

  • Cameron

    Another aspect that probably deserves more attention is the development of share car services like zipcar (http://www.zipcar.com)

    These services are becoming popular in urban areas where everyone owning their vehicle is unnecessary. Technology like google maps has made this services logistics easier to manage.

    While on the surface it wouldn’t seem that these car share services necessarily reduce emissions, studies have found that drivers that ditch their cars for this service end up driving 80% less than when they owned their own vehicle.

  • Doug

    Cameron,

    From what I have been reading about these car share services is all bad. The reason most drivers drive less is because they can not get cars when they need them.

  • Doug

    Cameron,

    From what I have been reading about these car share services is all bad. The reason most drivers drive less is because they can not get cars when they need them.

  • Doug

    Cameron,

    From what I have been reading about these car share services is all bad. The reason most drivers drive less is because they can not get cars when they need them.

  • ChuckL

    1.Agreed.

    2.Liquefied Natural Gas, synthetic kerosene from coal, biogasoline, etc. The quantity of natural gas available is unknown. It has varied from over 100 years worth, to less than 20 years at future anticipated usage levels. However, since natural gas is primarily methane, and methane was collected by simply tenting the latrines in WW I, we can easily make more from farm animal waste. There are patents on “converters” to do this that were supposedly cost saving ten years ago.

    3.Amen. And this also applies to heavy duty pickup trucks and parcel vans that very many small business need to serve their customers, although UPS seems to have a solution in the works for the parcel vans.

    4.Some of these “yokels” need these Hummers during the week to do their jobs. They then play on the weekend.

    5.Amen, without comments this time.

    6.Amen. Again

    7.Only if this does not result in farmers choosing to stop growing food crops for humans and animal feed. It need not do so as there have recently been discovered multiple plants that can be used for biofuels and that are not suitable for foodstuffs.

  • ChuckL

    1.Agreed.

    2.Liquefied Natural Gas, synthetic kerosene from coal, biogasoline, etc. The quantity of natural gas available is unknown. It has varied from over 100 years worth, to less than 20 years at future anticipated usage levels. However, since natural gas is primarily methane, and methane was collected by simply tenting the latrines in WW I, we can easily make more from farm animal waste. There are patents on “converters” to do this that were supposedly cost saving ten years ago.

    3.Amen. And this also applies to heavy duty pickup trucks and parcel vans that very many small business need to serve their customers, although UPS seems to have a solution in the works for the parcel vans.

    4.Some of these “yokels” need these Hummers during the week to do their jobs. They then play on the weekend.

    5.Amen, without comments this time.

    6.Amen. Again

    7.Only if this does not result in farmers choosing to stop growing food crops for humans and animal feed. It need not do so as there have recently been discovered multiple plants that can be used for biofuels and that are not suitable for foodstuffs.

  • ChuckL

    1.Agreed.

    2.Liquefied Natural Gas, synthetic kerosene from coal, biogasoline, etc. The quantity of natural gas available is unknown. It has varied from over 100 years worth, to less than 20 years at future anticipated usage levels. However, since natural gas is primarily methane, and methane was collected by simply tenting the latrines in WW I, we can easily make more from farm animal waste. There are patents on “converters” to do this that were supposedly cost saving ten years ago.

    3.Amen. And this also applies to heavy duty pickup trucks and parcel vans that very many small business need to serve their customers, although UPS seems to have a solution in the works for the parcel vans.

    4.Some of these “yokels” need these Hummers during the week to do their jobs. They then play on the weekend.

    5.Amen, without comments this time.

    6.Amen. Again

    7.Only if this does not result in farmers choosing to stop growing food crops for humans and animal feed. It need not do so as there have recently been discovered multiple plants that can be used for biofuels and that are not suitable for foodstuffs.

  • I like your list – good points. It’s amazing that people tend to cut out or try to ignore options that do have potential. And yes, I agree – one size does not fit all.

    Another thing that can be done is to use effective fuel additives on existing gas and diesel vehicles.

  • I like your list – good points. It’s amazing that people tend to cut out or try to ignore options that do have potential. And yes, I agree – one size does not fit all.

    Another thing that can be done is to use effective fuel additives on existing gas and diesel vehicles.

  • I like your list – good points. It’s amazing that people tend to cut out or try to ignore options that do have potential. And yes, I agree – one size does not fit all.

    Another thing that can be done is to use effective fuel additives on existing gas and diesel vehicles.

  • Mark

    Boone Pickens opinions aside, I think fuels in gaseous form have the least potential of all. There’s just not enough energy per unit of fuel, plus the tremendous weight of the tanks. This includes natural gas/methane and H2.

    I think Pickens has changed his focus from natural gas cars to long-haul trucks. This is because the trucks at least have the capability of dragging around a huge tank. But the economics of trucking dictates using the carrying capacity for paid cargo, not just for the fuel.

  • Mark

    Boone Pickens opinions aside, I think fuels in gaseous form have the least potential of all. There’s just not enough energy per unit of fuel, plus the tremendous weight of the tanks. This includes natural gas/methane and H2.

    I think Pickens has changed his focus from natural gas cars to long-haul trucks. This is because the trucks at least have the capability of dragging around a huge tank. But the economics of trucking dictates using the carrying capacity for paid cargo, not just for the fuel.

  • Mark

    Boone Pickens opinions aside, I think fuels in gaseous form have the least potential of all. There’s just not enough energy per unit of fuel, plus the tremendous weight of the tanks. This includes natural gas/methane and H2.

    I think Pickens has changed his focus from natural gas cars to long-haul trucks. This is because the trucks at least have the capability of dragging around a huge tank. But the economics of trucking dictates using the carrying capacity for paid cargo, not just for the fuel.

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