Summary: Given that oil production will start to decline in our lifetimes — and that climate change means we shouldn’t even burn the oil we do have in the first place — we’ve got to start weaning off oil. Fast. Can we do it?
- Fast track trains and New Urbanism
- Energy supply: the two halves of oil: light vehicles, then heavy vehicles and airlines
- Energy supply: Today’s electricity grid could already charge 75% of our light vehicles!
- Energy supply: heavy vehicles and airlines on e-diesel
- Energy supply: heavy vehicles could also run burning recyclable metal boron powder. Even Dr James Hansen thinks this might be an option.
- Vehicles: today’s electric cars can do 95% of our car trips!
- Vehicles: today’s light electric garbage trucks and buses save local governments money
- What about hydrogen?
- How to pay for it all? Wean off oil and save on imports!
- Robot-taxis could cut the cars on the road by 90%!
- 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
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. Energy supply: the two halves of oil: light vehicles, then heavy vehicles and airlines
- Very roughly speaking about half our oil transport use is ‘gasoline’ (petrol in English countries) that fills light cars and trucks.
- The other half are long distance heavy freight trucks, mining vehicles, harvesters, and jet fuel. As the EIA shows:-
- Today’s batteries do not appear to have the energy density to run enormous interstate trucks, agricultural harvesters, and mining vehicles — but we will see what kind of market share Tesla’s electric trucks will get and how they perform in 2020.
3. Energy supply: Today’s electricity grid could already charge 75% of our light vehicles!
Unlike hydrogen cars or other fuels, electric cars use an energy supply system that already exists! But how many cars could today’s grid charge? The answer varies between the studies, but the surprising good news can be summed up in one word: most!
And researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have calculated that the grid has enough excess capacity to support over 150 million battery-powered cars, or about 75 percent of the cars, pickups, and SUVs on the road in the United States.
Technology Review August 2013
But as the article goes on to show, this will have to be staggered overnight. (That of course assumes reliable baseload nuclear power, not intermittent unreliable renewables). Or, as an older study reports: “For the United States as a whole, 84% of US cars, pickup trucks and SUVs could be supported by the existing infrastructure” because 43% of them are charged at night! Ironically, this is from NREL, the National Renewable Energy Laboratories basically shooting themselves in the foot by demonstrating the need to have reliable baseload power (see Page 10 of the NREL PHEV_Feasibility_Analysis_Part1).
4. Energy supply: heavy vehicles and airlines on e-diesel
Synthetic diesel can be made from seawater, and can run in existing diesel trucks and infrastructure. Nuclear powered factories could extract CO2 and hydrogen from seawater and smash them together to make e-diesel. It’s carbon neutral and infinitely recyclable and the nuclear power plants are already costed in the end price of the diesel. As the e-diesel industry scales up, so do the nukes that run it. Click here for the synthetic diesel page
5. Energy supply: heavy vehicles could also run burning recyclable metal 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.
6. Vehicles: today’s electric cars can do 95% of our car 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.
7 .Vehicles: today’s light electric garbage trucks and buses save local governments money
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.
8. What about hydrogen?
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-taxis could cut the cars on the road by 90%!
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. If 1 robot-taxi displaces ten cars, the world only needs to build and run around 200 million cars, not 2 billion! More stats and links here
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!