Thursday, December 22, 2005

Dealing with oil scarcity

Some people worry about the slow turnover of the car fleet should oil availability to the US consumer decline rapidly over the next 15 years. They argue that even a crash programme to change over to hybrids wouldn't be able to save us, because even in 15 years half the fleet would still be non-hybrids.

My argument here is really a follow up on the CAFE post. While I think that CAFE is a poor measure to lower gasoline consumption in a low price gasoline environment, high gasoline prices without CAFE can work miracles.

They encourage driving fewer miles in smaller cars. For older fuel inefficient cars they impact the point where repairs are no longer justified, and so will lead to them being driven less and/or scrapped earlier. And they encourage a redistribution of the car fleet, with the most efficient cars getting used most, and the least efficient least. Suddenly the small third car (kept for occasional use by visiting relatives - my parents fall in this category, they've got three cars, and most of the time only 2 drivers, but just in case, they've got a third car) gets used for most journeys, rather than the posh, fuel inefficient SUV.

$10 per gallon will halve gasoline demand pretty quickly, 20% fewer miles, 5% of the fleet replaced by small high efficiency diesels that get 40-50 mpg, sell for $10,000 and would get preferentially used by those having to do a lot of miles, and the rest of the fleet redistributed a bit, and there we'd be in a year or two.

There's a point where gasoline demand does become very elastic. $6000 for 12000 miles at 20 mpg is a pretty good incentive to cut down on gasoline consumption. $20000 for 20000 miles at 10 mpg even more so, even for someone willing to plunk down $50000 for an SUV.


WattHead said...

Heiko, I was wondering if you have taken a look at BRI's synthesis gas fermentation process for cellulosic ethanol production? [the Energy Blog's write up is here]

They claim an impressive yeild of 140 gallons/ton (not including co-products) which, as Engineer Poet points out in the comments is much higher than Iogen's claims (87 gal/ton) and the USDA's claims for corn ethanol (95 gal/ton). Is this perhaps too good to be true? Do you have any insights, as if I'm not mistaken, you work in a related area (fast pyrolisis)?

Take a look and let me know what you think...

Heiko said...

I've heard of bacteria capable of using carbon monoxide, however, their website seems long on marketing and short on facts, plus I haven't heard about this particular company in the biomass community. So I'd also be sceptical at this stage. I'll let you know when I find out more (maybe some of my colleagues at work have more information).

Engineer-Poet said...

I am informed that the 140 gallon/ton figure is for energy-rich feedstocks such as plastics; biomass yields something in the 70-80 gallon/ton range, a much more believable claim.

Unfortunately, BRI has not seen fit to put any clarifying info on their website.  They would do well to take a page from Changing World Tech.

Engineer-Poet said...

BTW, if you don't make an effort to delete spam, you're likely to get flooded.