We go into the crisis with the car fleet that we have

J mentioned in comments that he is in the process of changing cars, and moving back to older more efficient ones, rather than seeking an overly expensive hybrid.

In their view of the developing crisis the Hirsch Report notes that the average age of the 130 million strong US auto fleet is nine years, with about half of the 1990-model cars still expected to be on the road in 2007. To expect much more than normal rollover of this fleet seems overly unrealistic. After all, since each vehicle may go through several owners, the number of new cars currently entering the fleet is only about 8.5 million each year.

In the same way there are some 80 million light trucks with an median lifetime of some 16 years, and an annual replacement of about 8.5 million; and there are some 7 million heavy trucks, with a median lifetime of some 28 years and about half a million new trucks bought each year.

Within the context of those numbers, particularly the relatively small percentage of replacement vehicles to the overall fleet size, it is not easy to see how the transportation fuel demand can be expected to change significantly through the introduction of new options (diesel or hybrid) in the near term. Particularly as gas prices go up the money available to an individual to change vehicles will diminish. The only likely change will be in the purchase end where, as in the 1973 - 1983 there was a greater emphasis, and public sentiment, as Philip Brewer noted to using smaller, less obviously gas-guzzling vehicles.

It is therefore most likely that drivers will, where they can, drive somewhat less (the Hirsch Report notes that 67% of personal automobile travel, and 50% of airplane travel, is discretionary). This will likely have a significant impact on those who work in the sectors that service this discretionary activity.

To complete this series on the report, which holds a considerable volume of additional data, I'd like to quote some of their recommendations. They note that "given the experience of the 1970's many of the policies enacted in a crisis atmosphere will be, at best, sub-optimal." In terms of doing something positive they look to a combination of solutions that will, over a twenty-year period, provide an amelioration of the situation. These include:

More fuel efficient transportation
Deriving fuel from heavy oil and oil sand deposits
Coal Liquefaction
Enhanced oil recovery
and Gas to liquids conversion.

Note that all of these are relatively current technologies. As we have commented before, if the technology is not at some obvious stage of testing for commercial reality at this point, it will not have much impact in the next 20 years. The report further notes that the peaking of the oil supply is largely going to be a liquid fuels problem, not an energy crisis. Thus the development of alternate energy sources, wind, solar and the like, will not mitigate the problem in this time frame. Further they conclude "Intervention by governments will be required, because the economic and social implications of oil peaking would otherwise be chaotic."

The report would provide more comfort if more of the five suggestions were currently being aggressively pursued, and if we had the twenty years to wait.

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Indeed, we are looking at a transportation fuels problem. In a rational world, one not ruled by free market fundamentalism there would be some sort of allocation based on what we can find substitutes for not simply price. But that degree of rationality is closed off to us. However, when it comes to personal discretionary transportation there is an alternative that has been tried and prematurely rejected. That is the EV.

I remember a few years back when GM introduced the Impact. Poor marketing and disappointing sales caused them to pull it off the market but they brought a little pick-up by our lab as a demonstration. One cool little vehicle! The low end torque and silent operation was eerie. Very fun to drive. Yes range was an issue, but the fact is that most driving gets done in short hops. As a second car, it would be perfect. Back and forth to work and to the store and back you really couldn't beat it.

I predict that we will be taking a second look at the electric vehicle. Of course this will put more burdens on the grid causing something of a cascade effect. But we have a lot more alternatives when it comes to electricity generation than we do for liquid fuels.

Well, we're in a better shape than the 70's because we do have many older small and efficient cars. Back then, the big cars got sold down to poor folks while the middle clase bought newer and smaller cars.

While this isn't nirvana, there are at least small cars out there of various ages.

(and given the current median income, I'd say grabbing a new ECHO as a commuter car is within a great number of houseold budgets)

BTW, as I went for one of my bike rides last week .... I started seeing "for sale" signs on pickup trucks, enought to look like a trend.

I wonder if craigslist or someplace allows historical search to see the effort to sell gas hogs over time. That might be interesting, as would increasing prices for old Hondas.

Some tech in the coal liquefication area was pilot-planted in the 80's, and maybe somebody kept the data if we're lucky. Also the gas to liquids tech is fairly well-developed even if the area is stagnant now. A demo plant for either could be started quickly if someone actually wanted to invest in it.

I'm surprised that more work isn't being done on EOR. I know that reservoir modelling software exists and it seems that a lot of work should be being done.

"Intervention by governments will be required"

Ohh crap . . . you don't think they'll seize my hybrid and use it in a national carpool fleet?

I may be identifying myself as one of the sceptics, but I figure the first thing they'll do is end social security, abolish capital gains taxes, and rule that interest is not income. Or maybe President Frist will lead a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in expectation of the rapture.

I saw on another blog that Exxon is planning to build a gas to diesel plant in Qatar.


Odograph: I have made exactly the same observation over the past couple of weeks, not just with SUVs, but with all kinds of vehicles. I'm not sure if it's just a spring thing, but I remember also noticing in 2001 how many cars were sitting around with "FOR SALE" signs on them. Could it be a harbinger of the economy or just people getting rid of surplus vehicles they realized they don't want to fuel? Stay tuned.

I think everybody should be saving money and fuel where they can. One of the reasons new cars cost so friggin much is the giant laundry list of federal regulations one has to meet to sell a car commercially.

If we could all drive golf carts for local errands, it would make things much simpler. As for the grid being overloaded - just charge them with a set of rooftop PV cells during the day. But the government will not allow these vehicles on the road - your local cops will write you up for driving a golf cart on a municipal road.

I think once you really look into a lot of the issues around transportation, you will see that the feds have written us into a very tiny regulatory box so that only the major automakers can get us out of this pickle. Which is exactly what they (automakers) always wanted - limited new competition.

Figure this - you can use a horse and buggy by placing a "slow moving vehicle" sign on the back and registering it. But you cannot use a golf cart, because you cannot register it for highway use. But I can register my buggy and ride a horse (unregistered too!) on any municipal or county road...

We have too many regulations on automobiles that eliminate any new entries into the field. We have too many stupid regulatory conundrums like the one above. When creativity and innovation are required to solve a problem, you cannot do it outside of a major corporation. There are just too many regulatory hurdles and government specified standards for everything.

That means when it finally comes to market, it will cost as much as your house and make you indebted for decades. You know, like a hybrid car does.

There is one way around this - motorcycle restrictions are much more open. If you make it with 3 wheels, it's not a car...

Damn. Mostly this post actually just makes me wonder what the hell we do with all of those 8.5 million cars that we junk every year. (Landfills, I assume, but my God, putting a number on it really makes it seem like outrageous wastefulness.)

I remember back in the early 90's Ballard Power introducing a fuel cell for cars. R & D lead to some great strides in advancing it. Though still more to come here is the newest latest advancement they have. But there is still two questions to deal with. creating hydrogen and storing hydrogen. Even though we sell and ship hydrogen today, I have not heard anyone crash testing a fuel cell car yet.

Then we now have a third question- Do ya think they know we are running out of oil? Interesting newsrelease from Ballard Power.

- In February, Ballard announced significant progress in three elements
critical to the commercialization of automotive fuel cell technology -
freeze start capability, increased durability and cost reduction - a
first-ever announcement of improvements in each area, in a single stack
design, without any compromise in performance.

- Earlier this month, U.S. Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Lindsay
Graham (R-SC) introduced the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Act of 2005, a
comprehensive 10-year initiative aimed at accelerating programs that
will trigger widespread commercialization and adoption of hydrogen and
fuel cell technology.

- Also this month, Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT) introduced a second piece
of legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that calls for a
five-year investment tax credit to lower the procurement cost of
non-vehicular fuel cells.

The Road to Commercialization

Over the next five years, Ballard plans to demonstrate its technology
leadership in fuel cell stack demonstration units of between three and
five kWs that embody technology advancements such as reduced active
area, improved catalyst, increased membrane conductivity and high volume
manufacturing processes that are required to meet a cost target of $30
USD/kWnet in 2010. Most importantly, Ballard also plans to concurrently
demonstrate advances in durability, volumetric power density and
operational characteristics, such as freeze start, necessary to meet
customer requirements for internal combustion engine performance

Ballard's Technology "Road Map" builds on the advancements achieved with
its Technology Hat Trick. In 2004, Ballard demonstrated, in a single
stack design, significant progress in three areas most critical to
advancing fuel cells along the path to commercialization:

- freeze start: 50 consecutive starts from -20 degrees C (-4 degrees F)

- durability: more than 2,200 hours of operation, employing a drive
cycle testing protocol that simulated real world driving; and

- cost: the stack design incorporated a 30% reduction - from 1 mg/cm2 to
0.7 mg/cm2 - in platinum catalyst loading with no reduction in

Ballard's Technology "Road Map" Targets


For tomorrow's consumer of fuel cell powered vehicles, durability means
delivering the same level of performance and reliability they expect
from today's internal combustion technology. Ballard has already
demonstrated, using real drive cycle testing, more than 2,200 hours of
durability in technology demonstration, equivalent to 100,000 kilometers
under regular driving conditions. Ballard's target for 2010 is 5,000

To view a chart of the Fuel Cell Stack Durability, please click on the
link below:


Freeze Start

Managing the water produced by fuel cells presents a challenge in
freezing temperatures and, as such, to the commercialization of fuel
cell technology. Ballard has already achieved fuel cell stack start-up
at -20 degrees C, within 100 seconds, to 50% of the rated power for the
stack. Ballard's 2010 target for stack freeze start is -30 degrees C, in
30 seconds, to 50% rated power.

To view a chart of the Fuel Cell Stack Freeze Start Capability, please
click on the link below:


Volumetric Power Density

Reduction in volumetric power density is the ability to package the fuel
cell stack into increasingly smaller spaces within a vehicle. Ballard's
target of 2,500 Watts net/Liter is more aggressive than the DOE's target
of 2,000 Watts net/Liter, and will go a long way towards liberating the
true design potential of fuel cells in future automotive designs.

To view a chart of the Fuel Cell Stack Power Density, please click on
the link below:



The cost of automotive fuel cells will need to be competitive with
today's internal combustion engines for the technology to be adopted
widely. The DOE's target cost for commercial introduction of a fuel cell
system in 2010 is $45 USD/kW of net system power at a volume of 500,000
units. This target is divided between the fuel cell stack ($30
USD/kWnet) and the supporting balance of plant ($15 USD/kWnet).
Ballard's target cost for the fuel cell stack is $30 USD/kWnet by 2010.
Stack technology innovation, new materials development and system
optimization are the drivers for achieving this cost target.

To view a chart of the Fuel Cell Stack Cost, please click on the link


Mallard, do you work for Ballard? The only low-cost way to make hydrogen is using solar power to split water. Otherwise, it is a net energy loss using oil either to generate electricity to split water or to split hydrogen from oil.

Again, we are waiting 5 years for prototyping, even with the 15 years Ballard has already spent. Another 10 for them to get something working just right (Canadians always want things perfect), and then we might get a few buses? I would guess that the net operating cost per mile is not very good against $40/bbl oil? How much will these new cars cost? Is there enough platinum on the planet for everybody to have one, or will we generate a run on platinum, depleting another resource?

No matter which way we turn, somehow we have got to STOP CONSUMING EVERY RESOURCE on our planet. This is the long term issue - oil is just the tip of the iceberg.

Ianqui asked what we did with our junked cars? A huge chunk of their parts are recycled in Mexico and other places for parts to sell at O'reilly and Autozone. The steel and aluminum is recycled as well. We are not doing as much as we should, but the trash mafia is making money by recycling very effectively.

Tim wondered about more EOR. Sorry Tim - the price of oil isn't quite high enough to justify the grandiose expenditures a lot of these "enhanced" projects require. And there are other things to consider. Some of these ideas are all or nothing, damaging the reservoir totally. If it's that huge risk or continue pumping a lot of stripper wells, most opt for the stripper wells, which is the best way to get the most over time.

Hate me, twist my head off or call me fatso, but the world as a whole needs to adopt the KISS rule in a very big, very fast way.

There are a number of items to respond to.

1. As a former Ballard shareholder, it became clear after BLDP went from the mid 30s to the low teens (where I finally sold) that the whole fuel cell idea for transport was a big pipedream.

2. Hybrid cars do not cost as much as a house. The Prius we bought could have cost under 20K, but since I wanted all the bells, whistles and safety devices, it cost just under 28K, far less than the passive solar house we just finished building on the Oregon coast.

3. From 1992-2004, I owned NO car, used public transport and my feet, and reaped huge benefits: Saved lots of money, got lots of exercise and greatly improved my selfefficacy.

4. The effects of demand destruction as mentioned are already being seen. These will increase as the timelag associated with increasing costs are finally integrated into the economy. The big losers will be those who recently purchased large SUVs by using home-equity based mortgage financing as their value plumments and operating costs soar.

5. As for inflation, the FED will be helpless to contain rising energy costs because they are caused by geology, not some economic "law." Yet, they will still raise interest rates, even as the economy tanks because of the primary interest the FED serves feels itself to be insulated from the demand destruction such policies will have.

6. The tipping point for the onset of a true crisis is likely to be 2007-08, which will hopefully be addressed during that election cycle.

7. The electric car is likely to become the future reality--100 years future. But this will only happen if we use our remaining fossil fuel assets to construct the necessary machines to harness our planetary perpetual motion machine--by which I mean the power of the oceans.

8. A new socio-economic paradigm must be fostered that denies consummerism while extoling sustainability. And it must be taught now. This is troubling because of how educational indoctrination has been abused, and also because such a change goes completely against the powers-that-be.

"7. The electric car is likely to become the future reality--100 years future. But this will only happen if we use our remaining fossil fuel assets to construct the necessary machines to harness our planetary perpetual motion machine--by which I mean the power of the oceans."

Yes you are right on the target, hopefully the politicians can act fast enough to use what is left of our resources to make Windmills, solar pV cells, hot water panels and unique roof systems.

As far as Ballard goes, they can reform the hydrocarbon based fuel for now however the cost is a 4 to 1 ratio. 4 units in and you get 1 unit of energy out to power the PEM, Same goes for the SOFC high temp cell.

There is great strides made in the EOR side of the oil production, however new technology will increase the rate of descent, bringing us closer to that now famous word- demand destruction.

I could technically live with an electric car now. There are enough jobs within GEM radius to make it work.

It would take a major economic or environmental event to make me jump, and I think the "100 year future" thing is more likely, given an extended status quo.

Sorry I am so late getting to this ianqui, but to answer what happens to old cars, they get crushed and the steel is recovered and reused. With steel prices (and other metals) reaching ever higher it may not be long before we start mining some of these old waste dumps.

Oh, and you should know that we have an EV. We have already had to buy one set of new batteries. and I may post on the overall experience at more length in some future date.

HO: can you also post about the battery disposal/hazmat part of the EV stuff too? I think that's an important part of the story.

Nothing is panacea, unfortunately.

I will have to find out what happened to them first, though I think I know. There are places that now recycle the lead and other bits of the batteries for re-use and I suspect that is where they went, but I'll check.

Now this is a VERY interesting site!! Not only recycle old vehicles, but convert them to electric with the same general range as the new generation. I imagine if you squeeze a few more batteries in and lighten the vehicle, you could do even better...

Take a look!