Last month, I ranted on about so-called "green" solutions to counter global warming and declining supplies of petro-leum. This month I'll talk about ideas that will probably actually work. Some of them will require governmental intervention and a change to our individualistic, self-centered, freedom-loving culture but these ideas will work-they work in other countries. With gas prices at press reaching the mid $4 a gallon range, the economics of these ideas start to make sense.
1. Telecommute. As communication technology continues to improve, there's no reason why employees doing information-type jobs should have to commute to work except for select important meetings where teleconferencing won't cut it. Corporate America needs to wake up to this fact.
2. Move closer to work. A lot of people often don't consider this.
3. Walk or ride a bike. I'd ride a bike nearly everywhere if I didn't have to worry about cell phone-talking idiots taking me out. I envision bike-only roads or wider bike lanes. American culture needs to change to accommodate cyclists. Offices need to relax dress codes so you could come to work in comfortable clothes. Also, walking and riding a bike is good for your fat ass and you'll waste less time going to the gym.
4. Take public transportation. If you've spent time in Japan, Europe, or Canada, you know you can get nearly anywhere quickly, safely, cheaply, and efficiently by walking or taking a bus, subway, or commuter train. Our country needs to invest in a better public transportation infrastructure for the long term.
5. Ride a small motorcycle or super efficient scooter. Nowadays, these can get upwards of 80 mpg. I envision two-wheel-only commuting roads, which requires government intervention. In the Netherlands, nearly 70 percent of the population gets around on scooters, despite their harsh winters. I'll write on how to have fun with these sorts of things in the near future.
6. Hybrids. Internal combustion engines cannot recover energy used when braking; electric motors can. Internal combustion engines are most efficient under steady conditions. A hybrid takes the best properties of both. GM is working on light hybrids that are mostly IC powered but can make use of some electrical power recovered from waste operations like braking. Honda, Nissan, and Toyota are working on hybrid solutions using more adiabatic-efficient small diesels.
7. Diesel power. With improved low-sulfur fuel, the low-emission diesel is a reality. Diesels are much more efficient due to its super-high compression ratios, lower pumping losses, direct injection, and use of turbochargers. This gets you 20 to 25 percent better economy. Diesels also can rip with the right mods; look at how the Audi diesel racers are tearing up American Le Mans Series. More diesel fuel can be produced from each barrel of crude oil than gasoline. In Europe, diesels are more popular than gasoline engines for cars. In North America, our refining infrastructures are tweaked to produce more gasoline than diesel, hence diesel's current high price. If the refinery is setup to do so, diesel fuel can be produced more cheaply with a higher yield per barrel of crude oil than gas.
8. SVO. With a conversion kit, any diesel engine can be converted to run on straight vegetable oil. While this isn't for everyone, if you wanted to do this you could beg for free fuel from restaurants that normally have to pay to dispose fryer oil.
9. Cellulosic ethanol. Making ethanol from paper byproducts and food scraps in trash is a good idea. The processes now being tested don't use as much energy as making ethanol from corn and produce more energy than it consumes. The trouble is tweaking the right kind of bacteria to do the job due to the somewhat inconsistent composition of trash. It's getting close to becoming workable on a large scale. At 140 octane, I like ethanol. This idea would solve a waste disposal issue and crate fuel.
If the government, the American people, and the industry buy into these things, I think we can start making an impact now and still have motorized fun.
See you in the Matrix.-Mike