Summary: Given that oil production will start to decline in our lifetimes, and that climate change means we shouldn’t even burn the remaining oil in the first place, we’ve got to start weaning off oil. Fast. Can we do it? The great news is that electric batteries are now so good they can replace oil for cars and light trucks, including local government service vehicles like buses and garbage trucks. Today’s grid can already charge most of this fleet of cars and light trucks if the power plants are run at full capacity. Robot taxi-cabs may reduce individual car ownership with one robot cab displacing ten vehicles. We may not need to buy expensive electric cars, and so corporations can offer us the best, every time! A 1:10 displacement also means instead of building 2 billion new cars, the world ‘only’ has to build 200 million. It’s possible we might only have to build and recharge one tenth the cars. Diesel in heavy trucking can be replaced by a number of solutions including fast trains, synthetic diesel, and even boron powder. The future could be leaner, cleaner, and more convenient. There are even options for reducing oil dependence in a very sudden oil crisis!
- Fast track trains and New Urbanism while swapping our cars
- Cars: today’s electric cars can do 95% of our trips!
- Light trucks: introducing electric garbage trucks and buses that can save local governments money now!
- Powering it: today’s grids could already charge most of our cars and light trucks!
- Heavy trucks & airlines use about half all oil
- Heavy long-haul trucks on synthetic diesel
- Heavy long-haul trucks on boron powder? Even Dr James Hansen thinks this might be an option!
- What about hydrogen?
- How to pay for it all? Wean off oil and save on imports!
- Robot cars will reduce the size of the car fleet!
- Online shopping means delivery vehicles instead of car trips
- What about peak lithium?
- What about a really sudden oil crisis?
1. Fast track trains and New Urbanism while swapping our cars
It takes time to rebuild our suburbs and cities so they don’t require as many car trips per person, but the benefits are incremental and accumulative. They don’t have to be achieved all at once before oil savings start to kick in. “If you build it they will come.” Build a train line through some central suburbs, and developers will help pay for New Urbanism to be built above and around those core lines, giving the local suburbs something to plug into. They may even chip in with the cost of the train lines!
2. Cars: today’s electric cars can do 95% of our trips!
- 95% of car trips are easily within the 160km limit of many electric cars.
- The battery range is increasing with new technology.
- Super-charger stations are being built that can charge the car to 80% in just half an hour.
- Electricity is about half the price of oil for the same distance.
- Battery swaps could perform an instant ‘recharge’ on a busy highway.
- Tesla already has battery-swaps, and you can swap 2 electric cars in the time it takes to fill one gas-car! (See video). Or you could just have an EV for city driving, and join a car club for longer country driving trips on other fuels like synthetic diesel or boron.
3. Light trucks: introducing electric garbage trucks and buses that can save local governments money now!
The Proterra buses are, in many ways, the next Tesla. Except this is sort of a Model 3 for an entire city. The Proterra buses, over 95 of which are already in commercial operation, have been moving city dwellers for years now across the country. The made-in-America products can also now compete directly with diesel, natural gas or hybrid buses. The difference, as with aTesla, is that these are 100% emission-free and end up with much lower operations and maintenance overhead challenges.
The company is similar to Tesla in that both companies are about to be transformed by the proliferation of lithium ion batteries. These batteries are being driven down in costs and up in performance in a way similar to recent solar advancements. It also shares some DNA: a number of the executives and engineers have held key roles at Tesla, from manufacturing to battery engineering and beyond.
The costs and performance are finally hitting the key targets. With a daily range of over 300 miles, Proterra buses can serve nearly all of the U.S. market today.
Equally important, a movement is growing in cities away from car ownership, particularly with younger people. Finally, cities around the world are fighting the use of cars throughout the community. This has been a multi-decade push, but challenges with congestion pricing and in some cases outright bans, we see this as coming to a head. With demographic shifts leading to bigger and more cities, the need for clean, mass transport options will only increase.
An all electric bus that can do 300 miles, or 480km means they’ve now got the power density to run other diesel trucks, like council garbage trucks and courier delivery vehicles! Now the economics of all this get really interesting!
“For argument’s sake, the cost delta [between a diesel heavy duty truck and an electrified one] is about $150,000. However, you’re talking about a vehicle that burns 14,000 gallons a year. So you can save so vastly much more fuel and brake maintenance as well that you’re looking at a three-to-four year payback. The scaling properties work in your favor. It costs more to build [a heavy duty] powertrain, but you save so much more in fuel that the economics are compelling. Which is why [we should] do that and not cars; I think people just don’t bother to do that calculation.”
Wrightspeed recently won a contract to supply the New Zealand cities of Auckland and Wellington with electric buses, and Wright told us his company is also in talks with Mack Trucks to supply an electric powertrain for that company’s LR chassis. But Wrightspeed’s vehicles—like those from Proterra, BYD, and soon Mercedes-Benz—are optimized for the stop-start grind of urban life, not cruising along the highways at 70mph. And remember, the relationship between speed and drag is non-linear, so you need more energy to move an EV at highway speeds than the 25-35mph of city life.
4. Powering it: today’s grids could already charge most of our cars and light trucks!
One benefit is that EV’s largely avoid the ‘chicken and egg’ problem of a so-called hydrogen economy (fuel owners don’t want to build their hydrogen station until there are customers, and customers won’t buy a hydrogen car until there are hydrogen stations everywhere!) The electricity grid already exists, and already has enough spare capacity to charge 84% of America’s car fleet! No new power stations or grid upgrades would be required, although we would turn all the power stations up to full.
“For the United States as a whole, 84% of US cars, pickup trucks and SUVs could be supported by the existing infrastructure, ”
How? Because about 43% of them are charged at night!
(Page 10 of the NREL PHEV_Feasibility_Analysis_Part1).
5. Heavy trucks & airlines use about half all oil
- We’re now looking at really big trucks, not little garbage trucks and buses that can be made electric (point 3 above).
- Today’s batteries just do not have the energy density to run enormous interstate trucks, harvesters, and mining vehicles.
- So we’re talking about replacing diesel AND airline fuel, both of which cannot yet be replaced by batteries. The synthetic diesel routine described below can be ramped up to produce jet fuel as well.
- Please keep in mind that if an interstate route is busy enough, there may be an economic case for building all electric fast-rail instead. This is my preference as steel on rail runs more efficiently, safer, and uses the electricity directly instead of wasting so much generating carrier fuels (aka ‘liquid batteries’) like below.
- There appear to be 2 options, synthetic diesel and boron powder.
- May the best fuel win!
6. Heavy long-haul trucks on synthetic diesel
Synthetic diesel can be made from seawater, and can run in existing diesel trucks and infrastructure. Nuclear powered factories can extract CO2 and hydrogen from seawater. It’s carbon neutral and infinitely recyclable and the nuclear power plants are already costed in the end price of the diesel. We don’t need to ask how many nukes we would be building and how much that would cost, as it’s already in the budget and the world is *already* spending that much. Click here for the synthetic diesel page
7. Heavy long-haul trucks on boron powder? Even Dr James Hansen thinks this might be an option!
Powdered boron metal may be another economic contender. It’s a safe, inert metal when stored, and it can be stored for years. It only burns in a high oxygen environment, and so boron vehicles will need oxygen concentrators or may even carry oxygen tanks. However with oxygen, boron is 4 times as energy dense as gasoline and so is an excellent replacement for diesel. Boron can be recycled by melting it down and stripping the rust off. Dr James Hansen explains boron on this page.
Fuel cells are too expensive, hydrogen too hard to store, and the hydrogen ‘economy’ costs too much energy to bother with when there are better alternatives. It might fill some gaps in an emergency, but synthetic diesel and boron will probably work out cheaper in the long run. Click here for the hydrogen page
9. How to pay for it all? Wean off oil and save on imports!
Save on importing: America spent $453 billion importing oil in 2011 (according to Pickens). That’s two thirds of the way towards America’s entire military budget! Imagine America having that much cash injected back into their local economy, employing local people to make local EV’s and build all the infrastructure required. That is real money currently going overseas and – in some cases – funding people who don’t like America very much! Imagine what nearly half a trillion dollars a year could accomplish! It would soon install power adaptor boxes in every home, build super-charger stations and quick-battery-swaps down every highway, and maybe even go some way towards building fast rail to replace interstate trucking! (But boron could be another option, see below)
The Australian situation is even more serious. According to The Conversation,
“In 2011, Australia’s oil production stood at 484,000 barrels per day (bpd). This is the lowest level since 1983. It is worth noting that Australia’s oil production dropped by 41% from the peak of 819,000 bpd in 2000…. As a consequence, Australia has only 3.9 billion barrels of proved oil reserves, or 0.2 percent of world total. According to the Australian Mines and Metals Association, Australia has only one decade of known oil resources at current production rates.”
We’ll end up sending more and more of our own money overseas until Australia gets smart and gets off the oil.
10. Robot cars will reduce the size of the car fleet!
Robot cars may prevent us needing to buy a car in the first place, save us from building 90% of the cars on the roads today, and may even improve the design of our cities. Click here for the robot cars page
11. Online shopping means delivery vehicles instead of car trips
The peak-car article also points out that:-
We’re also living in a digital age. Online retailers like Amazon have eliminated many trips to malls and outlet stores. Online transactions nearly tripled in the last decade as a share of US retail – they are now at 6.6% and growing – and are growing at double digits in many European countries (20% last year in Germany). Broadband internet at home also means more telecommuting: the share of people working from home in the US has increased from 3.3% to 4.4% since 2000, and in the UK by 13% between 2007 and 2012.
As this trend continues, will we see less car trips to the store and more delivery vehicles coming out to the customers? Will one delivery vehicle displace 10 car trips in your suburb per day? More?
12. What about peak lithium?
As I said above, robot cars will reduce world car numbers from about a billion today to only 100 million cars. Remember that number! This illustrates how many industry pundits are not really consulting each other. Greentech media estimates that car companies will eventually have to produce “100 million EVs per year” which, in their estimate, cuts world lithium supplies down to only 17 years of lithium supply. But 100 million robot-EV’s would replace today’s cars in one year! There simply won’t be the Tesla giga-factories to build that many cars, because once the robot-car revolution begins and the car companies watch the collapse of the traditional ‘car-as-product’ market, the car industry will automatically adjust. The customers just will not be there to buy them! In the meantime, battery researchers are working on new materials and new chemistries and new ways to recycle old materials and chemistries. Will the battery be a super-micro-capacitor, sodium ion, foam, nano-yolk triple capacity, aluminium air or something else? Who can predict where battery tech will go? If lithium really becomes a supply issue, we’ll see future cars moving to other battery technologies or even moving to hydrogen fuel cells. We won’t even care, because we won’t be buying them!