American Automobile Fuel Consumption Debate


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Nice review Anup.
One comment is that Tar sand oil production has been happeneing since the 70s with Exxon being the big producer. Its very expensive, but there's also huge proven and assumed reserves of the stuff.

from EIA report

"Exxon Mobil has been extracting oil from Canadian tar sands since the 1970's. The company reports a year-end 2001 total of 821 million barrels of Canadian tar sand reserves, compared to its 11,491 million barrels of worldwide (non-tar sand) crude oil and natural gas liquids reserves.[90]

The 2001 Canadian tar sands reserve level represents a 35-percent increase over the 610 million barrels of those reserves in 2000. Gross synthetic crude oil produced from those tar sands was 80 million barrels in 2001, up from 73 million barrels in 2000, though the bottom-line impact of this production increase was more than offset by the 19-percent decrease in crude oil prices from 2000 to 2001.[91]"


Following up on those tar sands. If you look at EIA's World Crude Oil and Natural Gas Reserves, Most Recent Estimates you can see a huge jump in crude oil reserves in North American from Year-End 2001 to January 1, 2003 based on the Oil&Gas Journal's inclusion of Alberta's oil sands. The inclusion makes Canada number 2 in proven crude reserves (behind Saudi Arabia).

If you look at the BP Statistical Summary they haven't started counting the tar sands.

Incidentally, if you enjoy looking at fuel trends, the BP energy charting tool is pretty rad.


As I'm sure everyone knows, Jeremy Rifkin is not the first guy to put forth the idea of a hydrogen economy. I recommend also reading Natural Capitalism for posterity. As Anup mentions, Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, etc, promote hydrogen from renewables, but also suggests a set of sweeping changes in industrial manufacturing, energy use, agriculture and use of water he tabs the "Next Industrial Revolution" that I'm sure he would argue will prevent the collapse of our complex society.

I would be interested to hear Anup's opinion on the "Hypercar" that is central the Lovins thesis in N.C. The Hypercar is a super-light, fuel-cell, hybrid that makes going to hydrogen as a fuel economic compared to gas.


Amory Lovins introduced the idea of a "Supercar" way back in 1993. The name was later changed to "Hypercar" so as to avoid any confusion with the Partnership for the New Generation of Vehicles' (PNGV) attempt to create a market ready 80 mpg mid sized sedan by 2004. The original idea of a supercar is ultralight car body with the best aerodynamics and electronic controls to achieve up to 150 m.p.g. Trouble is that not many people want to buy a car half the size of their current vehicle for twice the price. PNGV was an interesting effort until they realised that you can not achieve all three of its objectives simulteneously: 80 m.p.g car with the same price and conveniences of a 1994 Mid sized sedan (e.g. Ford Tauras). Of course, they produced prototype vehicles by 2000 to get the 80 mpg and the convenience, but they were nowhere near the cost. Bush and Abraham (DOE Secretary) decided to abandon PNGV in favor of the FreedomCar which is making similar (not exactly) promises about hydrogen fuel-cell powered cars. PNGV has continued in the background with no government funding and a broader focus.

All that being said, the answer to Mike's question is following:
Supercars is the NOT the way to go forward. Not because we don't have the technology, but because we don't have a market for Supercars. The original supercar designed by RMI was a gasoline hybrid. PNGV toyed with Diesel hybrids (not the best, but they somehow needed to get to 80 mpg). Fuel cells are something like 10-15 years away from where they could compete with the IC engines on a performance basis, I doubt that they will be cost competitive by then. I may be wrong. Finally, there is no evidence that hydrogen fuel cell cars offer any advantage over gasoline hybrid cars on a life cycle energy (well-to-wheels) basis, unless the hydrogen comes from renewable sources, Nuclear power or from fossile fuels WITH carbon sequestration.


An interesting book about the realisation of a hydrogen economy is J.J. Romm's 'The hype about hydrogen: fact and fiction in the race to save the climate' (2004). So far it is the most realistic book I could find on the topic.

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