What is the deal with motor vehicles? Why are we so dependent upon them?

According to military theory, one of, if not the oldest art of man, we have a basic need for movement in the 2-dimensional space that is the Earth's surface. Motor vehicles are simply the most convenient way of doing it right now. Yet gas prices keep spiraling up and no one knows where it will end. Some say we are over peak oil. Government enforced attempts to increase usage of biofuels have met with criticism, which says these have led to the current food crisis, where prices on basic foodstuffs has increased some 70%, with riots in places like Mexico and elsewhere. I suspect this is somewhat true, but the high prices are mostly due to speculation. Having seen higher prices after Katrina, they got addicted to them and started pushing the price up, trying to see how far it will go. Lets not forget this market is controled by cartels.

Some simple math shows that use of biofuels using current crops, yes, even palm oil, is untenable if replacing fossil fuels for transportation is the goal. Some mention fuel cells and hydrogen. While concept cars like the Honda FCX Clarity have gone a long way forward, there are fundamental scientific and engineering reasons why hydrogen vehicles are a bust. Fuel cells, as used in the FCX, currently use expensive platinum, hydrogen is too expensive and low density. Hydrogen is expensive due to the conditions of the terrain and physics. Most hydrogen on Earth is locked in plain old H2O and a lot of energy must be used to split it. Hydrogen is a light gas at normal temperatures and pressures hence is low density. Liquid hydrocarbon fuels are higher density in a safer and more convenient package for several reasons.

I suspect the alternative will be electric cars powered by batteries of some sort. By plugging into the grid, the energy source (coal, gas, hydropower, nuclear, wind, solar) is divorced from a car's hardware. This enables a quantum leap forward in our resource usage, similar to the second industrial revolution after the electric grid was developed. Electric cars are also more energy efficient while driving, easy to add regenerative breaking, and have less expensive "fuel" costs even today. The problem is battery technology: its either too expensive or has bad density, or both. This is being progressively solved. We keep seeing more hybrids which incorporate electric engines and batteries or capacitors. I expect this trend to progressively lead to full electrics in the space of a generation (i.e. 20 years). The poster child for the electrics is of course the Tesla Roadster.

The question is if this will be enough to prevent major strife in the meantime.

In the meantime what to do if you want your set of wheels? Guess what, I finally decided to buy a car recently. I bought a VW Golf TDI which does 52.2 mpg or 4.5 litres diesel per 100km. Compare that to a supposedly fuel efficient hybrid like the Toyota Prius which does 48 mpg. I marvel at the wonders of diesel engines and fuel.

Any other low consumption car should have been ok. Even if conventional oil prices go off the wazoo, there are still coal-to-liquids, tar sands and biofuels to replace both gasoline (including bioethanol from sugar cane) and diesel (including biodiesel from palm oil) so your vehicle will still work, albeith using more expensive fuels. Should tide me over nicely until electric cars are in general use at reasonable prices. Or so I hope.

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