American Physical Society Report on Energy Efficiency

The American Physical Society has just released a report on improving energy efficiency in the transportation and buildings sector:

Energy = Future Think Efficiency

There are links from the above to an Executive Summary and the full report (100 page PDF). This is not just a "change your light bulbs" document, but rather a comprehensive, information-filled challenge to the status quo with regards to government inaction with regards to energy conservation. It is also not a document on energy production and future difficulties in being able to do enough of this to keep the lights on -- even with better efficiency. But it is well worth a read, with lots of data on energy use and great graphics.

This is a political document as well, with salvos aimed at both the Department of Energy and the outgoing administration.


To meet the out-year technology goals this report sets for energy efficiency, DOE must take steps to fold long-term applied research into its scientific programming in a more serious way than it currently does.

On the "Hydrogen Economy":

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) are not a short-term solution to our oil needs, but rather a long-term option requiring fundamental science and engineering breakthroughs in several areas. Without such breakthroughs, FCVs are unlikely to be more than a niche product. The main challenges are durability and costs of fuel cells, including their catalysts, cost-effective onboard storage of hydrogen, hydrogen production and deployment of a hydrogen-refueling infrastructure.

To Dick Cheney:

As this report shows, we are not remotely near any physical limitations on efficiency improvement. What we need are the innovations, policies and will to achieve the goal.

For Free Market advocates:

Transportation and buildings, which account for two thirds of American energy usage, consume far more than they need to, but even though there are many affordable energy efficient technologies that can save consumers money, market imperfections inhibit their adoption. To overcome the barriers, the federal government must adopt policies that will transform the investments into economic and societal benefit. And the federal government must invest in research and development programs that target energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is one of America’s great hidden energy reserves. We should begin tapping it now.

On complacency:

Yet only in times of extreme turbulence — the OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) oil embargo in 1973, the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and the Persian Gulf War in 1991 — when public frustration became politically intolerable did American officials devote serious attention to energy policy. Although some of the policy initiatives yielded significant benefits, others were left on the drafting board as the nation reverted to a business-as-usual energy routine once the turbulence passed and public dissatisfaction dissipated.

On US energy security:

In contrast to previous market instabilities, however, this one may be more enduring. Thirty-five years ago, when OPEC imposed its oil embargo, the United States was importing 6.3 million barrels a day; today it imports 13.5 million barrels a day, two-thirds of the nation’s consumption. Thirty-five years ago, the world’s two most populous countries, China and India, were poor agrarian societies that had minimal need for oil; today they are rapidly developing industrial economies with a greatly increasing demand for energy. Thirty-five years ago, unfriendly nation states posed the greatest risk to oil security; today terrorist groups have added substantially to potential interruptions of global supplies.

Here is their full list of recommendations:

Summary of Recommendations

  1. The federal government should establish policies to ensure that new light-duty vehicles average 50 miles per gallon or more by 2030.
  2. The federal government’s current transportation R&D program should have a broader focus. A more balanced portfolio is needed across the full range of potential medium- and long-range advances in automotive technologies. Increased research is needed in batteries for conventional hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles, and in various types of fuel cells. This more balanced portfolio is likely to bring significant benefits sooner than the current program through the development of a more diverse range of efficient modes of transportation, and will aid federal agencies in setting successive standards for reduced emissions per mile for vehicles.
  3. "Time of use" electric-power metering is needed to make nighttime charging of electric vehicle batteries or plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) batteries the preferred mode. Improvements in the electric grid must be made in order to handle charging of electric vehicles if daytime charging is to occur on a large scale or when the market penetration of electric vehicles becomes significant.
  4. Federally funded social science research is needed to determine how land-use and transportation infrastructure can reduce vehicle miles traveled. Studies of consumer behavior as it relates to transportation should be conducted, as should policy and market-force studies on how to reduce vehicle miles traveled. Estimation of the long-term effects of transportation infrastructure on transportation demand should become a required component of the transportation planning process.
  5. The federal government should set a goal for the U.S. building sector to use no more primary energy in 2030 than it did in 2008. The goal should be revisited at 5-year intervals in light of the available technology and revised to reflect even more aggressive goals if they are justified by technological improvements.
  6. To achieve the 2030 zero energy building (ZEB) goal for commercial buildings – replacing fossil fuels with renewables and reducing energy consumption by 70 percent relative to conventional building usage – the federal government should create a research, development and demonstration program that makes integrated design and operation of buildings standard practice. The federal government, state governments and electric utilities should carry out the program co-operatively, with funding coming from all three entities.
  7. Any green building rating system, such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, should give energy efficiency the highest priority and require reporting of energy consumption data.
  8. The federal government should sharply increase its R&D spending for next-generation building technologies, for training building scientists and for supporting the associated national laboratory, university, and private sector research programs. Specifically, funding for building R&D should be restored to its 1980 level — $250 million in 2008 dollars — during the next 3 to 5 years from the current level of $100 million. At the end of that period the buildings program should be reviewed carefully to determine (1) how much continued federal funding will be needed for the program to reach its goals; and (2) which parts of the program are ready to be shifted to the private sector.
  9. The existing demonstration program for construction of low-energy residential buildings, along with associated research, should be expanded.
  10. The Department of Energy should develop and promulgate appliance efficiency standards at levels that are cost-effective and technically achievable, as required by the federal legislation enabling the standards. The department should use a streamlined procedure to promulgate the standards for all products for which it has been granted authority to do so.
  11. The federal government should encourage states to initiate demand-side management (DSM) programs through utility companies, where such programs do not exist. Such programs, in which a central agency (often a utility company) assists customers in becoming more energy efficient, have proven cost-effective. The federal government could provide rewards to states that have significant and effective DSM programs and disincentives to those that don’t.
  12. Energy standards for buildings, such as the standards promulgated in California, should be implemented nationwide. States should be strongly encouraged to set standards for residential buildings and require localities to enforce them. The federal government should develop a computer software tool much like that used in California to enable states to adopt performance standards for commercial buildings. States should set standards tight enough to spur innovation in their building industries.
  13. Congress should appropriate and the White House should approve for the DOE Office of Science funds that are consistent with the spending profiles specified in the 2005 Energy Policy Act and the 2007 America COMPETES Act. Congress should exercise its oversight responsibility to ensure that basic research related to energy efficiency receives adequate attention in the selection of Energy Frontiers Research Centers.
  14. To meet the out-year technology goals this report sets for energy efficiency, DOE must take steps to fold long-term applied research into its scientific programming in a more serious way than it currently does. The department has several options. It can charge the Office of Science with the responsibility and provide the necessary budget, but if it does so, it must protect the culture and budgets of its current basic research programs. It can designate the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office (EERE) with the responsibility and augment its budget for that purpose, but in that case, DOE must be careful not to allow short-term activities to continue to diminish long-term opportunities. The department can also create a new structure to support long-term applied research or adapt Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), which was established by the America COMPETES Act.
  15. The Department of Energy should fully comply with the 2005 Energy Policy Act mandate to improve the coordination between its basic and applied research activities. Congressional oversight committees should ensure that DOE fulfills its obligation.
  16. ARPA-E, if funded, needs to have its purposes better defined. Its time horizon must be clarified, and the coupling to its ultimate customer, the private sector, needs better focus. This report takes no position on whether ARPA-E should be funded.
  17. Long-term basic and applied research in energy efficiency should be pursued aggressively. In the case of transportation, the opportunities often point up the close connections between basic and applied research and underscore the need for close coordination of the two activities. In the case of buildings, the fragmented nature of the industry and EERE’s focus on near-term research and demonstration programs have led to a serious lack of long-range applied R&D, a deficiency that needs to be rectified.

Whether you want the United States to achieve greater energy security by weaning itself off foreign oil, to sustain strong economic growth in the face of worldwide competition or to reduce global warming by decreasing carbon emissions, energy efficiency is where you need to start. Thirty-five years ago the United States adopted national strategies, implemented policies and developed technologies that significantly improved energy efficiency. Science and technology have progressed considerably since then, but U.S. energy policy has not. It is time to revisit the issue.


We conclude by emphasizing, as we did earlier, that technology alone will not lead to the potential gains in energy efficiency we identify in this report. Crafting and implementing wise policies are key to any success.

It is true that making all those gains in energy efficiency won't get us there either (wherever "there" is), but it is a start.

I somehow don't get those two curves in the graph. Could someone explain the difference between fuel economy and Efficiency?

It looks like the darker one is the average consumption and the upper one is the "could be". Is that so? Thanks.

As I read it "fuel economy" is the volume of fuel to move the entire vehicle 1 mile, whereas "Efficiency" is the volume of fuel to move a ton of vehicle 1 mile, so for example if the vehicles became heavier over time without requiring more fuel to move them a given distance "Efficiency" could increase while "fuel economy" would remain unchanged.

This could have been achieved by offsetting factors such as improved aerodynamics, reduction of frictional losses in the power train (engine, transmission, differential, tires, etc), engine designs that extract more of the potential energy from the fuel, etc.

Surely a 2 tonne vehicle which uses 1 gallon of fuel to move 50 miles is no more efficient than a 1 tonne vehicle which uses 1 gallon of fuel to move 50 miles. Both are using the same amount of fuel to do the same job.

Certainly the 2 tonne vehicle is moving twice the mass, but that just means there is 1 tonne of parasitic weight to be moved.

Yes, fuel efficiency means how much work is done (e.g., a 20 mpg 2 ton vehicle is twice a fuel efficient as a 20 mpg 1 ton vehicle); fuel economy means how far does a vehicle go on a volume of fuel. The similarity between the two is often used by propagandists to confuse people. The EPA City/Hwy fuel economy ratings (and others in different countries) should be one's yardstick.

(Corrected: I wondered why I received negative scores)

The distinction between "economy" and "efficiency" is astute and relevant.

A Ford Model-T got 20 mpg. Economically, it does about as well as modern pickup truck. However, a modern pickup will haul much more (including its own weight) than a Model-T could ever hope to carry for the same fuel. Thus a modern truck is more efficient. The increases in efficiency mean that more of the fuel is converted to power and less to waste heat.

Had the increases in efficiency over the last decade been reinvested into cars weighing a ton or less, people would easily be averaging 40 mpg or more. For example, in college I had a 1983 Subaru Wagon -- it got 30 mpg (less in 4wd). It wasn't a race car by any means, but it did the job. As engines became more efficient however, car manufacturers used that efficiency to make cars larger, or increase horsepower because consumers like the feeling of acceleration when they stomp on the gas, or the smooth ride of a 4000 pound beast.

Manufacturers could have used that efficiency to make smaller motors, keep the power around 80 horses, and in so doing, create cars that directed the efficiency gains toward gas savings, i.e., "economized" on fuel usage. Indeed, in many parts of the world, regular ICE powered cars get 60 or 70 mpg right now in a perfect example of how efficiency can be translated into more horses OR less fuel usage.

Anyway, I've suspected that cars have become more efficient because really big vehicles do a whole lot better than the really big '76 Impala I had in HS (10 mpg), and it has frustrated me that it's virtually impossible to find anything better than 35 mpg when even in the 80s, such cars were all around.

Certainly the 2 tonne vehicle is moving twice the mass, but that just means there is 1 tonne of parasitic weight to be moved.

Who you calling a parasitic mass. Anyway can't you figure - one case of beer in back, one ton, - two cases of beer you need twice the vehicle, like uh, two tons.

However, a modern pickup will haul much more (including its own weight) than a Model-T could ever hope to carry for the same fuel. Thus a modern truck is more efficient. The increases in efficiency mean that more of the fuel is converted to power and less to waste heat.

If you are talking about carrying sash weights about you may be right but what good is that if you are carrying something like hay, eh? Moved my house in a old small Toyota truck and moved it faster than I could have with one of the monster short box beasts I see. Anyway like I implied above, most carrying done by them is the mandatory box of beer .

Surely a 2 tonne vehicle which uses 1 gallon of fuel to move 50 miles is no more efficient than a 1 tonne vehicle which uses 1 gallon of fuel to move 50 miles. Both are using the same amount of fuel to do the same job.

A perfectly valid question, yet currently rated -1, and nobody answered his question. Get a life people.

Your reasoning is correct IF THE VEHICLE IS TRAVELING AT CONSTANT SPEED. (Sorry for the caps, but that point needs emphasizing.) The problem comes in when you have to accelerate. Since F=ma, it takes twice the force (and therefore twice the work since W=Fd) to bring the 2 tonne car up to your desired speed as compared to the 1 tonne car. Every time you accelerate you're using at least twice as much fuel, all other things being equal (e.g., engine, aerodynamics etc...) That is one reason why SUV's are less fuel efficient than passenger cars.

However, if you're smart, you probably realize this is not the whole story because if it was, SUV's should get the same highway mileage as a toyota corolla. However, they don't...because a) people don't travel at a constant speed on the highway and I believe the new rules on quoting mileage require the companies to quote mileage under "real life" driving conditions. b) SUV's have absolutely useless aerodynamics and aerodynamics is the major factor contributing to fuel consumption on the highway.

I hope you're not a troll, but even if you are, there is my honest answer to your question.

It is "ton-miles/gallon". In other words, MPG multiplied by the vehicle weight. Thus to me what the report shows is that efficiency has been increasing, but the increases have been squandered by making the vehicles heavier.

But the implication is that if they scale things down to reduce the vehicle weight, that they can easily achieve nearly 40mpg with no new technology being developed..

It is "ton-miles/gallon".

I would hope it would be something a bit more complicated. Many loses do not scale with vehicle size, for instance aerodynamic drag scales as frontal cross section (basically length squared), whereas volume and mass scale as length to the third power. The bigger vehicle -all other things being equal, will be more efficient using a simple ton-miles/gallon metric. Other measures, such as power delivered to the wheels, versus fuel consumption make more physical sense.

And of course a lot of efficiency is lost by using a vehicle that is oversized for its usual task. Efficiency is also lost by sizing the engine large enough to provide bursts of very high acceleration, versus having just enough power to maintain cruising speed.

It is true that this may be simplistic, but scaling down vehicles doesn't only mean scaling down weight. Some of the big SUVs are just way too large no matter how you look at it. If you scale down vehicle dimensions, then cross sectional area is also reduced and thus aerodynamic drag is reduced. And if you are designing new vehicles, you might as well try and eliminate the sawed-off back that is common in minivans and SUVs, which should also help reduce the drag.

Not while it is true that a trivial scaling of vehicles doesn't make sense, I find it interesting that such a trivial metric actually does show continuing gains..

Isn't efficiency the amount of work extracted from a gallon of fuel. This can lead to greater power or more economy or a mixture of both. It seems car makers have given the engines greater performance while maintaining the same levels of fuel economy. They can do it the other way around.

In aircraft efficiency is a measure of specific fuel consumption that is, pounds of fuel divided by horsepower hour. The resultant figure is usually a fraction somewhere between 0.50 and 0.30. The lower the better. These calculations must be done on a dynamometer and leave out aerodynamics and rolling resistance. Ton miles per gallon can include such things as the greater distortion of tires that comes with more weight as well as the higher amount of fuel needed to reach a given speed or for hill climbing.

I'm saddened to see The Oil Drum abuse the term "efficiency." They should really know better.

For clarification: efficiency is a percentage, between 0 and 100%. That is, it's unitless. Energy efficiency is always joules/joules (or equivalently watts/watts). Anything else, including short ton*miles/gallon, is not a measure of efficiency. Energy efficiency is useful for measuring power supplies and electrical transmission lines and heat pumps. It's not useful for measuring cars.

Here's a secret: all horizontal transportation has the same efficiency. It's all zero percent efficient. Why? Simple – because you're not doing any work! *All energy* expended moving something across the Earth's surface goes into losses. It ends up as heat in the engine, or the exhaust, or the tires, or the air swirled around, or the surrounding objects that absorb the engine noise. It all goes to heat.

If you doubt that, here's a thought experiment. Imagine the lowest energy transportation system possible. Suspend a pod via magnetic levitation in an evacuated tunnel. Everything uses high-temperature superconductors. The pod is accelerated with linear induction motors up to speed, and then the energy is recaptured at the end point. So, after your trip has completed, the end result is (theoretically) zero net energy expenditure. Any energy used would be purely thermodynamic losses, not because there's an inherent energy requirement to move stuff around.

What they're trying to measure is properly called "linear mass efficacy." Though I admit, it's not as catchy as "efficiency." In the automotive world we actually have a unit that measures efficiency – the horsepower*hour/gallon gasoline. Now, efficiency is always unitless, so that unit is simply a dimensionless constant equal to 0.020378593 (for regular gas). That is, 100% efficiency = 49.07 hp*hour/gallon gas. You usually see tractors measured in hp*hour/gallon.

Simply put cars get the same miles per gallon while moving more weight.
Another example- Semi trucks get @6 miles per gallon while moving 80,000 lbs. A 2,000 lb car then should get 240 miles per gallon. Find a consumer who wants to shift through 20 gears to get up to 55 MPH and wants to slowly grind up hills. Consider what it would be like to drive a car that accelerates like a fully loaded semi- 2-3 gear changes to move through an intersection- you get the picture.
There is a 200 MPG experimental car made by VW. Looks like a fighter jet NOT a hummer.

I'm glad to see TOD print this article. This hits at the core.

One meme over the years is that the auto companies could radically improve miles per gallon if they wanted to. Well, they have already improved efficiency radically. For whatever reason, consumers have demanded bigger and bigger cars with more and more horsepower. This is also driven by more and more features, treating our cars as if they are our living rooms. The good news is at least some will be able to live in their SUVs when they can no longer afford their mortgages.

Yesterday, I was looking at an early 60s era VW yesterday in the local garage. How incredibly sparse it was!! The truth is, however, that the VWs were not very efficient as a much heavier Prius would blow them away in terms of size, convenience, luxury, speed, and gas mileage. But still. Just think if you put a modern, efficient engine in one of those old VWs.

Are we too damn safe and we are we too damn comfortable? Personally, I would trade some safety and comfort for a more secure country and a better chance to save the planet. It may be too late, anyway, so I hope everyone enjoyed the ride getting to where we are. Meanwhile, we are having spring like weather in the mountains of Colorado.

I think it was driven by consumerism. People wanted stuff, and they wanted to impress. As long as they had the money and fuel was cheap, it was hard to talk people out of these things.

Some complexity was good, of course. A carburetor for example was a mechanical kludge that they used because it was good enough for the time. Improved fuel economy and reduced emissions essentially mandated that fuel injection be used instead.

There is tons of stuff in there to maintain the engine and all that. Computers, sensors, various systems of one sort or another. That in a sense is what drives the dream of all-electric cars. You can really strip an incredible amount of stuff out from under the hood and be left with a much simpler vehicle. In theory, of course.

I remember when I was a kid - cars with AC were a rarity (well we lived in Minnesota, but the summers still could get warm on some days)..

"For whatever reason, consumers have demanded bigger and bigger cars with more and more horsepower."

"for whatever reason"?? Could it have anything to do with advertising?

If you make a huge car you can sell it for more than you can a small car. The atuo industry had huge economic incentives to to make and sell bigger and bigger cars.

The report has many good, common sense ideas, but they miss certain factors about why we ended up with such a bizarre mismatch between efficiency and fuel economy. One is commonly known as Jevons Paradox--that increases in efficiency always (or at least have a strong tendency to) result in higher rates of consumption.

The other is the basic function of private, gasoline-powered automobiles. The main oil-based fuel needed to run industry and industrial ag is diesel. But once you've produced diesel from oil, you have a whole lot of leftover stuff. What do you do with it? Early on they hit on the solution of refining it into gasoline. But now you need a market for this lower-grade fuel. This is where the auto came in.

The central function of the private, gasoline-powered fleet of cars was to solve the economic problem of what to do with all that gasoline left over from the production of diesel. Bigger cars and gas-using trucks fulfill that function very well.

I would add a recommendation to create a new "Civilian Conservation Corps". Employ out-of-work autoworkers, etc., and retrain them to do energy audits, install insulation, caulk & weatherstrip, etc. Put them to work improving the energy efficiency of the houses lived in by those with the least money (these are the houses that probably need it the most, yet the owners are least able to afford it.)

Have the gov't do bulk buys of materials and charge them to the property owners at cost.

They could also be put to work converting compact and subcompact cars into EVs. There's also work to do putting in streetcar and light rail transit lines, installing electric lines overhead for EOT projects, etc.

I suppose that in theory the "free market" could eventually gear up and hire people to do these projects, but we are talking 5-10 years away, and we don't have that sort of time left.

It is true that making all those gains in energy efficiency won't get us there either (wherever "there" is), but it is a start.

I'm not so sure about that. The drive toward efficiency could push off the day of reckoning leading to a steeper crash. As has been said here many times, efficiency without an overall reduction in the use of resources just fools us into thinking we can grow our population more.

I reviewed the FAQ and the executive summary and in neither place do the report authors mention an overall reduction of consumption is required.

Peak Consumption

Its certainly true that gains in automotive efficiency were put to naught. That occurred when gasoline was rather cheap. If a strategy includes both efficiency mandates and price penalties for energy use, then more progress could be made. A more draconian approach would be to choose a level of energy use which is sustainable, mandate its adoption through rationing, and then improve efficiency. This wouldn't go over well as such.

The APS report is basically a to-do list from a scientific organization to government. What would you want government to do instead? Several of the recommendations have "behavior modification" as a central theme. Isn't that what is needed?

Well, the conversation to shrink (energy use, population, resource use, etc) has to start somewhere. I think a good start would be if two ideas were joined together at every opportunity. Every mention of efficiency could be accompanied by "but efficiency will actually make things worse if that just frees up energy for other purposes and the overall energy use goes up. Thus every proposal here must be accompanied by policies that result in absolute reductions in energy usage."

There is nothing inherently wrong with efficiency. But we've avoided the conversation to lower our footprint for too long, in my view. Just talking about efficiency won't get the job done. It hasn't for decades, as we've increased our numbers to 6.7 billion. Why would it start now?

I want to clarify which have the priority.
Federal government should invest research and development programs that target energy efficiency alternative energy car such as Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles or Vattery car.

I think they are absolutely different technology because of the difference of drive principle.
Concerning the technical disadvantage compared to TOYOTA, my opinion is that federal goverment should invest much on alternative energy (infrastructure and so on).
What do you think?


Great Find! Thanks. I'm going to read this very carefully. EE is THE low hanging fruit. The panel looks balanced, institution-wise. Anyone stand out?

This APS document is worthless.

Total consumption is a function of price. Period.

The scientists understand technology, but they do not understand simple high school economics. We all learned in high school that demand is a function of price. Nobody learned that demand was a function of 'efficiency', because it isn't true.

Don't believe me? We all know that the efficiency of electrical appliances has improved greatly over that past 30 years...and yet total electricity usage has increased every single one of those years. That is a fact! Completely predictable from basic economics.

The correct thought train is:

higher prices --> less demand --> higher efficiency


higher efficiency --> less demand

Why do they make such a simple logical mistake? Because they don't know economics that well and proposing that energy prices need to be higher is political suicide. It simply does not compute.

It is my sentiment that high mileage vehicles will be the bane of the earth. Imagine the global number of vehicles going from 800 million to 6 billion! Think of all the roads, highways, parking lots and exurban expansion that would result. I don't think Nature would stand a chance.

It could be said more tactfully, but I agree with this comment.

A week ago I was filling up my car and a guy at the next pump said to me, "You know what they need to invent? A car that runs on water!. Not steam, WATER. You know what we'd have then?" I'm usually not quick on my feet, but this time I had an answer. "There'd be cars everywhere." The guy looked at me like I had 2 heads.

The story is the opposite end of Umass' comment. Free fuel means over consumption.

I also really like recommendation #4 as it would lead to the obvious conclusion that denser development leads to more walking and biking - which use less energy than a car. It also leads to shorter car trips. But there doesn't need to be a lot of research. As long as the fringe land in suburbia is cheap and gas is cheap and the city builds free roads, people will move out. Make all those things costly, and people will choose infill development.

I was told by a transportation planner in Boulder,Colorado that their policy was that no more new roads or expansions of existing roads would take place. People will be given alternatives like bicycles, more bicycle lanes/paths and better mass transit. If people choose to stew in traffic given the existing network, that's their problem. Amazingly, of course, most people will choose gridlock over getting out of their cars.

Anyway, higher efficiency thus far has been of little use.

Will they provide decent mass transit for the yardmen. retail employees, and construction workers who cannot possibly afford to live in Boulder?

umass1993 said,
" Imagine the global number of vehicles going from 800 million to 6 billion! Think of all the roads, highways, parking lots and exurban expansion that would result. I don't think Nature would stand a chance."

I think that is somewhat true, but the gridlock may kill the expansion of the automobile in many areas long before a fuel crisis does. I have several friends who have moved closer to where they work and to shopping, entertainment and other services not to save fuel but simply to avoid the gridlock of traffic jams everyday. But guess what, the outcome was that these people reduced their oil consumption as a side benefit!

In highly congested markets, a private automobile is becoming essentially useless.

The automobile runs the risk of strangling on its own success.


Perhaps the problem is we are not poor enough. The solution, according to UMASS, is to make energy unaffordable. Consumption of electricity has actually declined in the past year as more and more people lose their jobs. Fewer electric motors in factories are spinning and fewer computers running in offices. Consumption of gasoline is down also as fewer people drive to their former jobs. These unemployed are not flying thousands of miles on vacations or driving hundreds of miles over holiday weekends.

Consider the opposite proposition to APS. Consider mandating that the MAXIMUM fuel economy is enforced at 10 miles per gallon. As a result, a relatively small portion of the population would have cars. In essence, a car would be much like a jet plane today. It would be reserved for the elite. The rest of us would have to live in more compact geographic locations, with mass transit providing transport beween population nodes, because only by traveling by mass could the average person compete with the rich people in cars for the cost of energy. The damage to the environment would be greatly diminished. Of course, all of the oil would be consumed, but with fewer cars and less ancillary damage.

The oil is going to be used. It is too good. The question is how much damage are we going to do in the process of using it. The automobile is the single greatest threat to the environment, through fragmentation and habitat loss and pollution. Minimizing the number of cars will minimize the amount of damage done as we plow through the earth's remaining petroleum reserves.

I have yet to see one person come up with one reason why the above is incorrect. The only 'argument' I get is that 'people won't like it.' I don't disagree. I am merely informing the decision. When we decide one way or another, we should be informed of the most likely outcome of that decision.

The only outcome of such a proposition would be to limit the number of car on the road but not the amount of resources consumed. You may have safer roads but neither less pollution nor less resource depletion. Because as you rightly mentioned in your previous post it's the price the drive the consumption, so if the price of gas won't change than it won't change its use.

One thing I would suggest is that, at least for the majority of US drivers, even the gasoline price last summer was not that much of a hardship. So having to pay 1.5-2 times as much (by cutting mileage in half) might not change things as much as you suggest. I know what you are saying, though, as a friend with a Prius was remarking that he liked his so much that he already had 50k miles on it.

Its true that most physicists did not spend much time taking economics courses, and so they never learned the greatest falsehood of all -- the fundamental axiom of classical economics -- that everyone acting in the own selfish interest will collectively drive society towards nirvana.

Since all scientific research has the potential for contributing to the problem, should we eliminate this from the budget?

A better solution is to impose taxes on gasoline to make it $10/gallon and use the tax money to build mass transit, wind turbines, concentrated solar power plants, etc.

suyog, I have to heartily agree with you in spirit! We must raise the fuel taxes for personal transportion (not fuel used for mass transit), relatively rapidly over the next 5 years. My suggestion a quarter per quarter. In other words, every 3 months raise the tax by $0.25. After 5 years it would be $5 per gallon. Reduce the income tax accordingly. The net result, most people pay about the same amount they do now. However, they now have the economic choice to pay higher taxes or find ways to save on taxes.

I suspect those efficiency charts would spike upward and the total weight of vehicles would drop.

As for myself, the Volkswagen 1L seems like a commuter car I can live with. A similarly designed lightweight aerodynamic electric vehicle would be a winner in my book also.

As far as homes are concerned, we've known how to build highly energy efficient homes for several decades. My current home has R40 walls, R60 attic and R10 windows. A major portion of the unwanted heat loss (winter) and gain (summer) for homes is through the windows. In most places in the country the building code requires R1 or R2(simple double pane) windows. Commercial manufacturers like Great Lakes Windows and Hurd have been making high efficiency windows for over a decade. The Great Lakes Uniframe Maxuus 10 window features an energy efficient window frame (very important) and a very efficient glass pack. The glass pack consists of a three pane system combining two panes of multilayered vacuum-deposition Low-E insulating glass with an interior glass substrate and two insulating chambers of krypton gas. The results is an insulated glass unit that is 10 times more energy efficient than single pane glass. My house uses less than half the energy of typical construction with only a relatively modest increase in the cost of the structure.

The number of places and ways that we could conserve energy at home, on the road or in our businesses and factories is significant. So significant it would be like doubling our current oil reserves. Still we must shift transportion from fossil fuels to wind, solar and nuclear sometime over the next 30 years. Plug hybrid and electric cars have to happen sometime.

Public transit systems do not pay fuel taxes but they are not the only ones doing mass transit. A Boeing 747 does mass transit also using a fuel that runs about a dollar more per gallon than gasoline.

I would call a 747 'mass transportation', not 'mass transit'. 'Transit', for me, means short, local, trips, not continent-wide journeys.

Joules - thanks for posting this. Its good to see that the guys (and gals) from the American Physical Society have been both reading and understanding TOD.

Also good to see that they get through expressing an energy policy without mentioning climate although they do unfortunately mention green energy and as I point out in this comment some forms of "green energy" are very bad whilst other forms of "non-green" energy may be considered to be good. So it would be better had they managed to stick with "energy efficient forms of energy use and production".

One glaring omission is mention of energy efficient energy production - ERoEI.

In recent TOD email correspondence one of our Italian associates said "Energy efficiency is a short cut to Hell" or words to that effect. Whilst I understand where he is coming from, we will need to have a comprehensive debate as to how the human race can use energy efficiency to rescue themselves from the abyss that we have started to descend into whilst ensuring that this is not Hell postponed.

It really depends on how you view it. If you see efficiency as a means to buy us time to come up with and implement proper solutions, then it makes more sense. For example, if you reduce electricity consumption by 50%, then the challenge of supplying all of the electricity from renewables just got easier.

But if you see efficiency as just a nebulous goal of some sort with no long-term strategic vision, then it is a dead end.

Unfortunately I think the public probably sees efficiency as more along the lines of the latter.

I don't think anybody has mentioned Jevons Paradox whereby people use the energy they save on something else. I think people need both a tough incentive to save overall energy and the technology to do it. The APU report has focussed on the technology side. I think the incentive could come from energy use targetting, perhaps in the form of soft rationing.

Suppose every adult were limited to 8 kwh a day of home energy use. Bingo suddenly microwave cooking and short showers become popular; they just needed the incentive. If liquid fuel has to be purchased with a swipe card limited to say 30 litres a week suddenly public transport looks more palatable to SUV commuters. Purchases above the soft ration would be allowed but at a premium. APU's ideas need to be backed up with tough love.

I did mention JP, but it looks as though we were posting at the same time.

I like your "soft rationing" idea. We accept limits in areas like hunting and fishing. It is time we have limits on purchases and energy use.

These will not be popular, but in the face of resource constraints, GW and the myriad other problems hyper-consumerism has spawned, perhaps more folks are ready to hear such a message.

That's APS not APU.

Ugo has posted that in Italy the maximum draw at any one time is limited - I believe he said to 3kw theoretically, more like 2kw in practise.
So don't try to boil a kettle whilst you are doing the washing!

Sounds like a good way to ensure that EV's are charged off-peak too.

microwave cooking

Oxymoron. I don't care if the world explodes because of my personal choice with respect to microwaves, but I won't own one of those infernal machines ... perhaps with one exception: to take out the magnetron and build a HERF gun.

Let's comment on these recommendations in individual threads:
1. 50+mpg by 2030: This is much too timid and slow to have any real effect vis-a-vis PO. It needs to be 50+mpg by 2020, and there are plenty of ways to do this easily from a vehicle and technology perspective. Of course, Big 3 management needs to justify their $8-$12 million salaries, so they want to continue big vehicles as long as possible.

Seeing as many of these recommendations concern the increase of R&D, and in particular governmental support of energy research, I thought that this might not be OT [h/t: Zoon Politikon]

The Bush administration will leave us with another legacy: unqualified Republican ideologues receiving appointments in various institutions, including scientific organizations, as their ship of state sinks.
And in mid-July, Jeffrey T. Salmon, who has a doctorate in world politics and was a speechwriter for Vice President Cheney when he served as defense secretary, had been selected as deputy director for resource management in the Energy Department's Office of Science. In that position, he oversees decisions on its grants and budget.

Bush isn't happy enough with burying the American people during his tenure, he wants to continue the torture long after he's gone...

There is a good opertunity for this at the moment - various automotive manufacturers aroudn the world are looking for a goverment based handout - the goverment could say "we will ony support/bail out/subserdise/... companies who have an average fuel efficency across all stock of X" -- jobs get saved, the industry gets a kick in the right direction, fuel effiency goes up, and the goverment looks green - the only people who lose are car manufacturers who don't try to compete and stay with low effiency vehicles.

ps. Oil at 50?! this cant last

"Too timid and slow" is a vast understatement. These people really need to be dragged to the curb, beaten about the head, and left there. Why can't they just drive a car from the competition to see how far from reality they are at GM, Ford and Chrysler.

I own a 2008 Honda FIT. Seats 4 plus cargo and just commuting to work each day (11 miles each way)I get an AVERAGE of 38 MPG. I'm 6'2" and no problem stretching out. A great car with A/C and for only $13K delivered.

Way too many people in positions of power need to go Bye Bye.

I was really interested in the Honda Fit, so I test drove one. I just missed out on the 2008s, so it was a 2009.

Compared to the previous year, it was downrated by 1 mpg and jacked up in price at least $2k. It would have been closer to $20 with tax. I didn't like the way it jumped back and forth between gears while going up a slight incline. Maybe it was having a bad day, but I think Honda has its head somewhere that the sun doesn't shine. I owned an Accord many years ago.

A bit later, I rented a Toyota Prius. Immediate infatuation, like nothing I had ever driven. I haven't bought the ring yet, though.


Recommendation 2 - current transportation R&D program should have a broader focus: While the car recommendations are fine, this only talked about cars, not rail, rapid bus transit, integration of higher percentages of bicyclists, etc.

Recommendation #4 has the goal of reducing total miles traveled and rethinking transportation. Bikes and trains could be a big part of this.

Physicists can't think of everything.

3. "Time of use" electric-power metering to charge at night: With a real-time pricing system, price according to the availability of power (e.g. wind blowing hard, sun shining, etc). Night time will still likely be less expensive, but price according to supply to provide demand side management.

Yes, but this has to go both ways. Net metering must be time sensitive so that during hot summer days when everyone turns their air conditioning on, the higher price of electricity during these usually sunny hours will increase the return for grid-tied PV. This alone would allow most PV systems in most parts of the country to pay for themselves in a few years, even without further improvements in efficiency.

4. research is needed to determine how land-use and transportation infrastructure can reduce vehicle miles traveled: There is quite a bit of research out there already[Victoria Transportation Institute], [Texas Transportation Institute], [National Center for Smart Growth Research], etc, though these decisions are normally at State and Local levels, so Federal involvement would be difficult.

5. Building sector to use no more primary energy in 2030 than it did in 2008: If AIA 2030 is pursued, then the turnover of building stock with better building stock should reduce energy use, especially if Smarth Growth principles are realized. There should be a goal of at least a 15% reduction.

6. 2030 zero energy building (ZEB) goal for commercial buildings: Why just commercial building? Residential should also be part of the picture. BedZed and Passivhaus, for example, has been successful in reducing residential energy consumption by ~75%

7. green building rating system should give energy efficiency the highest priority: Agree, I've made the same recommendations to our County to require LEED and have a minimum number of credits on energy categories. Of course, if AIA 2030 is followed, then this will be the case.

All new public schools in New Orleans must be LEED Silver.


I read about a hotel that was built to LEED specs at a site. I then offered my opinion that the Union Pacific Center in Omaha with a 2007 Energy Star Award was a more worthwhile investment omitting the differing building specs from consideration.

My clarification of WHAT was built instead of HOW it was built - or even where - was met with a steadfast parochial response that the hotel was more worthy.

I terminated my participation in discussion. Oh well.

8. increase its R&D spending for next-generation building technologies: Agree, this is needed to realize the previous recommendations.

9. expand existing demonstration program for construction of low-energy residential buildings: Agree, see above.

10. develop and promulgate appliance efficiency standards: Agree, part of the above.

11. encourage states to initiate demand-side management (DSM) programs through utility companies: I'm more in favor of a national smart grid, which means leadership at the federal level. DSM is a fundamental approach key to the national smart grid, and helps to levelize local load demand.

12. Energy standards for buildings, such as the standards promulgated in California, should be implemented nationwide: This is a repeat of other recommendations; easy to do in a committee.

13. basic research related to energy efficiency to receive adequate attention: Agreed, though another rehash recommendation.

14. fold long-term applied research into its scientific programming: Agreed, energy efficiency research funding has been raided far too much in the last 8 years.

15. fully comply with the 2005 Energy Policy Act mandate to improve the coordination between its basic and applied research activities: Agree, promising research that does not transition to the real world is a waste of R&D dollars and the rapidly narrowing window of time to make significant changes.

16. ARPA-E, if funded, needs to have its purposes better defined: Agree, ARPA projects struggle to identify appropriate research direction. Partial overlap with earlier recommendations, though specificity is helpful.

17. Long-term basic and applied research in energy efficiency should be pursued aggressively: Isn't this what they've been saying all along above?

There could have been 10 cleancut recommendations. Overlap and redundancy often creates conflict when these recommendations are parsed and assigned to different persons/organizations.

High prices result in a capitalistic form of rationing.
Making road fuel and energy in general more expensive will reduce energy use. There will be major incentives to smaller & more efficient housing. Video conferences will supplant travel to a meetings & seminars. Subsidized public transportation will be used by more persons and will need substantial improvement and expansion -- it doesn't take a great amount of thought to imagine the changes and the economy that is readily available. During the recent fuel price peaks many of these steps began to be applied.

The social problem is that it exaggerates the difference between the have nots and the haves. The "haves" will be required by mandate and tax policy to modify their behavior/consumption as well.

In fact, the Europeans are far ahead of the North American Continent in adopting these steps. They have an advantage in that the population density of Europe is far greater than the North American Continent. There are certainly various US urban areas that are equivalent in density -- but lots of area that lack convenient public transportation.

The move to public transportation will be a step back in quality of life - but an energy shortage happens to have that effect.

We have a new administration coming into power here in the USA. These thoughts are likely to begin to be implemented.

Many are going to view this as the end of the USA as we have known it. They will probably be right. A shortage of energy will be -- as the old saw goes - the inverse of "a rising tide lifts all boats".

hello one and all at TOD.
Long time reader , rare poster.
I asked all our techs and mechanics in our shop, (over 60 people)
Would you buy a new 1 liter turbo diesel car from Europe, if the Uncle Sam let you?
Most agreed. 56mpg ! too.

What stops this from happening?
Uncle SAM is #1 !
The dang, $4,000,000 per EPA 50k test track run. (gee , 10 laps and lets get ON WITH IT, )
Repeat again if fail.
Stocking all the parts here. (MFG. has a huge capital out lay and huge RISK)
Training all the mech's to repair the cars.

EPA and NHTSA have rules , Thousands of them. (100k probably)

Most of the rules can be waved.
The gov. could allow self Cert. (It passes European rules but EPA can't allow that, and we all know way , huh?)
The gov. could drop warehousing inventory taxation.
The gov. could give away free warehousing for any over 50-MPG car. Surely not $25B!
The gov. could get the heck out of the way, of importation of the vast sea of High MPG cars world wide.
You do know, those cars, just aren't in USA , right?

Tax credits for buying a High MPG (low carbon) car.

Many countries , regulate displacement, by banning them or taxing them ,at port of entry.

I have a Tico car in SA , 1200cc , over 1600cc, has a higher tax and the huge V8's are not allowed at all.
All trucks (weight determined) are commercial and are taxed and regulated as such. (SUV death )
All cars or engine blocks (hello Tundra) will be taxed , I propose a $1 per CC tax. over 1001cc exactly.
So, a 5 liter will be $4000 extra.
Then, when license time comes up, you pay again. Decreasing 10% per year.
Any new buyer ,resets the count, to $4k, Try to sell that car, or truck?

Those are my ideas, and I suppose, most are against the law.
But that is the rub.

The gov can be the problem or they can get out of the way ,or wow, even help.


This is not apropos of anything but I bought a Taiwanese titanium road bike and mountain bike from and they ship it directly from some warehouse partially built with good quality components. A few extra assembly steps and ready to go, no taxes and no shipping charges. Screw the local bike shop (LBS) or car dealership, this is the way to do it. The shippers place big warnings on the bike to check the bolts, disclaiming any trouble you may get into. Maybe we could do the same some day for cars.

FWIW, I've read bad stuff about those particular bikes (Taiwanese from bikesdirect), such as the frame ripping open like an aluminum can during normal road riding. Ride safe.

Low hanging fruit.
Comparisons US with EU / UK.

A close friend in UK has learned to drive carefully and gets 75 - 80 mpg UK in his Citroen C3 diesel on his daily commute. (OK, diesel so not fair comparison with gasoline).
US gallons are smaller than UK gallons but US miles are the same as
UK ones.
For EU comparisons (Km/L), 50 mpg US gallon is 21.26 km per litre (mpg x 0.4252)
My friend's 80 mpg Citroen very careful drive on a UK gallon of diesel is 28km/L (mpg x 0.3540).
50 mpg US gallon is 21.26 km per litre, which if it happened, would be respectable improvement on 27mpg US, or 11.48km/L, and most, but by no means all of the existing available 'L-H fruit'.

Second only to Peak Oil itself, the topic of motor vehicle fuel consumption is, in my opinion, THE most import subject we discuss here. After all, that's where two thirds of the oil is going... and that is largely how we manage to maintain what we generously refer to as our civilization.

I would very much like to see the subject become a staple of the regular fare on TOD. Who knows, instead of just discussing the problem we might actually solve it.

Now, having said that, I'll get down to business:

The two AMS graphs included above are a bit tricky to interpret because each of them tracks TWO categories of data on a single graph (fuel efficiency AND fuel economy), with the values for 'economy' in mpg on the left hand scale, and the values for 'efficiency' expressed as ton-miles per gallon on the right hand scale. That's fine, in fact it is a clever way of illuminating a very important point, but you do have to be a little careful in reading them... especially since the numbers on the two scales appear to be so similar at first glance.

Once you are past that small obstacle, however, you run into another obstacle, and that one is NOT small. It is in fact a serious omission that significantly diminishes the usefulness of the entire report except as a reminder that yes, folks, we do have a problem.

Namely it is this: There is no benchmark against which the efficiency and economy figures can be evaluated as good, bad or so-so.

Let me elaborate on why the lack of such a reference point is such a big deal:

1. Clearly it is good that passenger car fuel efficiency has risen from 16% in 1975 to 43% in 2004, but how good is 43%? Is that 43% close to theoretical maximum or is it a poor show and a lackadaisical job of engineering? Can we do a lot better or have we nearly hit a ceiling? Without a comparison figure we simply can't tell.

2. 43% efficiency sounds fair to middlin', but is that 43% conversion of fuel into foot-pounds actually propelling the vehicle? Just because an engine running at peak efficiency on the test-bench is capable of turning 43% of the fuel into work does not necessarily mean that it spends most of its time doing so when pushing a car. In point of fact, most of the time that the engine is pushing the car down the road it is operating at about HALF that efficiency, so what good is that? Without a datum of comparison we can't tell whether that 43% efficiency is being fully utilized or being wasted because the car rarely taps the engines most efficient operating level.

3. It is implied that vehicle size and weight accounts for the stagnant fuel economy figures (stuck at around 28 MPG since 1985) but the report stops short (as well it should!) of categorically stating that weight is the culprit. I say "as well it should" because vehicle weight, although a problem worth addressing, is not the primary culprit. The engine itself is the primary culprit by a factor of 2, with the transmission showing in close second place.

Here is the benchmark that should be part of any serious discussion of motor vehicle fuel effectiveness:

"Given that gasoline when burned releases 130,000 BTU's of energy, which is convertible to 101,000,000 foot-pounds of work, what is the theoretical maximum number of miles that it could push an average passenger car down the road?"

The answer, by the way, might shock you. Given average wind and rolling resistance for the average car it should go about 275 miles.

Obviously, today's cars don't do that.

The question to ask ourselves is, "Why not?" If the average car can only go 28 miles per gallon, then where, EXACTLY, is all the rest of that energy going?

Solve that and save the world.

Brian_h talked about this upstring yesterday, in a very good post. The potential best possible efficiency is 100% in a perfectly designed transportation device, since much of the energy is lost in heat to slow the car coming down hill, keep the engine from melting down due to overheating, etc.

Think of it yet another way than Brian_h discussed...if I can recapture all the energy that I use slowing a car going down hills and stopping, would it pretty much match out to the energy used in getting the car moving and up to speed in the first place? The equation would pretty much be defy X gravity to get vehicle moving, defy X momentum to get it stop, X/X=0.


It is called regenerative braking in electrified railroads. About high 70% in cycle efficiency (grid electricity out/grid electricity in). Overall reduction in energy used in mountains (and urban areas) of about 20% (rule of thumb).


1. Clearly it is good that passenger car fuel efficiency has risen from 16% in 1975 to 43% in 2004, but how good is 43%? Is that 43% close to theoretical maximum or is it a poor show and a lackadaisical job of engineering? Can we do a lot better or have we nearly hit a ceiling? Without a comparison figure we simply can't tell.

A 43% Peak I'm not impressed by.

1. Clearly it is good that passenger car fuel efficiency has risen from 16% in 1975 to 43% in 2004, but how good is 43%? Is that 43% close to theoretical maximum or is it a poor show and a lackadaisical job of engineering? Can we do a lot better or have we nearly hit a ceiling? Without a comparison figure we simply can't tell.

A 43% Peak I'm not impressed by.

I'm not sure if it has been noticed by any previous discusser, but the definition of energy efficiency as applied here is quite misleading. You see two diagrams where for some magical reason the mpg average has remained constant over many years, but 'vehicle efficiency' has increased dramatically. And whats more intersting, it doesn't show any sign of saturation.
Seeing that, it occurred to me immediately, OK so we just have to use lighter cars and we will profit from this fabulous efficiency increase.
The problem is that fuel consumption is not proportional to weight, thus the definition of 'efficiency' does not make sense at all. There is a strong influence of aerodynamic resistance on fuel consumption which basically goes with the vehicle cross section and with the square of speed.
In other word, if you make a similar vehicle with less weight, your 'efficiency' will just simply return to the low values on the left hand side of the diagrams.
The definition of efficiency therfore is the same kind of obfuscation as the use of 'energy intensity' for energy divided by GDP.


Hello Peter,

Good observation. Yes, there is a certain amount of obfuscation in the way the graphed values are presented. I doubt that it is deliberate. I think it is because physicists, like all the rest of us, tend to go on thinking in the same direction until acted upon by an external force. Show one of them an internal combustion engine and tell 'em to improve on it and all they will do is tinker with incremental refinements. Very very few will question the existing concepts and assumptions.

For example, even these physicists are not challenging the basic assumption of CONTINUING to refine the conventional internal combustion engine itself! That's a pity, because the conventional ICE has some insurmountable problems with thermodynamics. To exceed "40-ish percentile" fuel conversion efficiency and still meet air pollution standards the ICE must be radically redesigned.

You are absolutely right that fuel consumption is not proportional to vehicle weight, but once the idea that it IS has been generally accepted then people stop poking sticks at the idea to see what makes it a problem.

Vehicle weight does INDIRECTLY increase fuel consumption, but principally because of the unchallenged assumption that acceleration must stay the same or get even snappier (without changing the car's power train design, of course!) To maintain 'instant whiplash on demand' for heavier vehicles they simply made engines more powerful. The result, as we all know, is that these brutishly powerful engines consume more fuel all of the time they are running, not just when accelerating. No one (except the Toyota Prius designers, in a half-assed half-hearted sort of way)even considered solving the acceleration problem in some other way.

So what do our physicists suggest? Bigger batteries at $20 grand a pop... just for the friggin' battery! Brilliant. I will bet (at dollars to doughnuts odds) that every one of those guys gets an obscenely high salary. The more money at one's disposal the less one has to think in order to survive. The more money the less thought, until those with the most money don't think at all.

I reckon the only way to get folks interested in real solutions, and angry enough about the idiocy in Detroit to actually demand REAL change, is to nuke their pocket books.

Then show them how a normally sized car can get 150 miles per gallon, with decent performance ... for less than the cost of a $20K battery swap.

D.Benton_Smith brings up some very important points, those being cost and performance. There is one more, comfort, that will also be of extreme importance in deciding what is acceptable to the buyers of vehicles.

There have been any number of prototypes built that have demonstrated by fantastic efficiency AND fuel mileage, but they (a)were not cheap and (b)did not perform like high performance sportscars on acceleration. Weight can be brought down by use of expensive materials and construction techniques. Aerodynamics can be increased greatly. The last of the Ford Probe series of test prototypes had an aerodynamic coefficient of .19, and the Mercedes Benz C111 speed record setting Diesel prototype was barely over .20, which is at least one third better than their road cars. The latter car indicates that the loss in performance comes in acceleration, by the way, as good aerodynamics and low weight give a higher possible top speed.

There is another issue: Ease of entry and egress and comfort. It is possible to put a car very close to the road and reduce aerodynamic drag and reduce frontal area, but at a penelty in comfort and ease of getting in and out of the car. This is a very big psychological factor. I know people who have found it very difficult to come "back down to Earth" from what they consider the "road command" driving height of SUV's when they had to come back to a small sedan.

So gaining extreme high fuel mileage strikes at the heart of what the carmakers sell: Comfort, performance, and price. Unless fuel gets greatly more expensive, most people won't make the sacrifice. This is why Toyota went with the hybrid drive train. Advances in drivetrain and fuel source (electricity as well as gasoline) is about the only way to increase fuel mileage without changing the driving experience to a degree that will not be accepted by the customer. This is also why many see the PHEV (Plug Hybrid Electric Vehicle) as the viable path forward at this time, and why the physicists stated SPECIFICALLY the need for advanced batteries that will also be more cost competitive.


Here's a cheap solution to fuel economy (only partially in jest) and it's guaranteed to work. Just build the following device into new cars and retrofit all old ones:

A modified speedometer that prominently displays the other crucial data drivers need to know... with accompanying sound effects played through a speaker system that can't be turned off.

The data display would include:

1. The miles of travel per hour that you paid for, minus the miles you actually went (sound effect: an apathetically sighing voice repeating the phrase, "Oh, well")

1. Dollar's per hour thus wasted (sound effect: the 'ka-ching! of a cash register)

2. Tax costs per hour, displayed in the local currency, incurred by environmental damage mitigation expenses attributable to driving gas hogs(sound effect: agonized groan)

3. A 'deadometer' tallying up the persons killed on the highway so far today (sound effect: funeral bell, rings once for each fatal accident)

4. All meters are paired with ones showing the cumulative totals (sound effect: no specific sound, just ratchets up the volume of the speaker system incrementally as the numbers get bigger)

5. A similar pair of 'deadometers' for the resource-war casualties in oil regions throughout the world. (sound effect: a gunshot for each death, and explosion of a car bomb for each thousand.)

6. A count-down meter displaying number of years, days, hours, minutes and seconds remaining until Die Off (sound effect: a simple ticktock is appropriate.)

I suppose it would be polite and politic of me to apologize for such bitter humor, and so I shall... but my apology is extended only to the editors of TOD (JoulesBurn in particular) and the seventy or so persons who have commented on his posting of the American Physical Society Report on Energy Efficiency.

The causes of, effects from and solutions to Peak Oil are ultimately linked to the conflagration of profligate waste of motor vehicle fuel. So why have only 70 or so readers commented? Compare that to the number who are all over the economic stuff like ants in a flood.

I could understand if it were simply a matter of caring more about investments than motor fuel... but isn't it fairly obvious by now that the former is dependent upon the latter?

The smoke is pouring from the upper stories of the Oil Trade Towers, and we are staring up at it from Ground Zero. If we don't double or triple fuel effectiveness before it all starts pancaking down then many of us are doomed in a very real, personal and physical sense... and even the survivors will have no money.

Apology accepted.

I think that, as is the case for every other reality meter, that we would become deadened to that "wellness" indicator as well -- sort of like tuning out the mayhem on the evening news.

There is a faction of economists (and economists wanna-bees) who insist that it is better to just "invest" into growing the economy more, as that will result in more energy produced (to meet demand). After all, it's only a matter of money. Gas is cheap again, so why bother?

Gas is cheap again, so why bother?

Regular unleaded is back under $1 here in Brisbane (Queensland). Apparently, this is good news...
Not that it's helping car sales however. Down 11%, YOY, in October. ;)

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) are not a short-term solution to our oil needs, but rather a long-term option requiring fundamental science and engineering breakthroughs in several areas. Without such breakthroughs, FCVs are unlikely to be more than a niche product. The main challenges are durability and costs of fuel cells, including their catalysts, cost-effective onboard storage of hydrogen, hydrogen production and deployment of a hydrogen-refueling infrastructure.

Hydrogen requires a fundamental science breakthrough alright: breaking the second law of thermodynamics.

Good luck with that.