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Living Car Free Do you live car free or car light? Do you prefer to use alternative transportation (bicycles, walking, other human-powered or public transportation) for everyday activities whenever possible? Discuss your lifestyle here.

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Old 11-06-07, 06:16 PM   #1
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Does the “car of the future” have a future?

I think this is a very interesting question.

Just read an article by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker. It's a book review -- actually a couple of books.

Auto Mania by Tom McCarthy http://www.amazon.com/Auto-Mania-Car...4394129&sr=8-1
“Zoom: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future” by Iain Carson and Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran http://www.amazon.com/ZOOM-Global-Ra...4394277&sr=1-1

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It now seems clear—and both “Zoom” and “Auto Mania” present a compelling case on this point—that car design could be radically improved. Already the technology exists to more or less double fuel efficiency. (A great deal could be accomplished simply by trimming the weight of the average vehicle, which has increased by almost thirty per cent in the last two decades.) The failure of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles notwithstanding, tripling fuel efficiency also seems feasible. Such gains would have a huge impact in terms of oil consumption—passenger vehicles in the U.S. now account for forty per cent of the country’s oil use, and ten per cent of the world’s—and greenhouse-gas production.

"But improving gas mileage will take us only so far. Once the Chinese and the Indians really start driving, doubled or even tripled fuel efficiency won’t suffice. This is why Carson and Vaitheeswaran regard the Prius merely as a stopgap: the true car of the future has to accommodate everyone, which is to say six and a half billion, soon to be nine billion, people.

"Ultimately, designing the car of the future is such a daunting challenge because it’s bigger even than cars. As anyone who owns a BlackBerry or a cell phone or a flat-screen TV knows, technological change, when it comes, can come fantastically rapidly. But when we charge our video iPod nanos we are drawing power that, for the most part, is still generated as it was in Thomas Edison’s day. It’s true that hydrogen cars, which the Bush Administration and the Big Three claim to be working on, don’t need gasoline—the “freedom” in FreedomCAR is supposed to represent “freedom from dependence on imported oil”—but they do need hydrogen, which has to be produced using energy from somewhere. If that energy comes from, say, burning coal, as nearly half the electricity generated in the U.S. does, then the puzzle hasn’t been solved; it’s just been rearranged. The same catch applies to plug-in cars and cars that run on ethanol. (Ethanol made from corn takes almost as much energy to produce as it yields.) If someone, somewhere, comes up with a source of power that is safe, inexpensive, and for all intents and purposes inexhaustible, then we, the Chinese, the Indians, and everyone else on the planet can keep on truckin’. Barring that, the car of the future may turn out to be no car at all."


http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critic..._books_kolbert
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Old 11-06-07, 08:24 PM   #2
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"...the car of the future may turn out to be no car at all."
I think what that means is that non oil powered cars will have enough limitations that it won't be possible to design our whole infrastructure for living around them. For example, if the only kind of car you can afford has a range limit of 120 miles or can't run an air conditioner, you start running into a class of problems modern motorists haven't been prepared to deal with.
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Old 11-06-07, 08:26 PM   #3
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A great question, gerv!

Once fossil fuels run out, there's no more magic juice. All the other fuels being talked about for cars are carriers of energy, or energy delivery systems. They don't "give" us free energy the way oil does. In my opinion, increasing car efficiency to 60 mpg or more would be a good stop gap measure for both peak oil and global warming. Cutting total miles driven would add some bang to that buck. (That's where carfree efforts come in, IMO.)

At the same time, we do need to come up with vehicles that run on something other than petroleum. That will require making more electricity. All the other ideas for "green" cars--plug-ins, fuel cells, hydrogen, biofuels--require increased electricity generation. And that presents a real big challenge!

BTW, the book called Zoom looks real good. I asked my library to purchase a copy and I have dibs on it when it comes in.
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Old 11-06-07, 08:26 PM   #4
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Tough question. Big Corporations (profits) are ruling the world right now. There is still a vast amount of money to be made off of fossil fuels. I don't think the 'powers that be' will just relinquish the option, to milk this market for what its worth, no matter what the costs or consequences.

And whether or not industry will voluntarily move to a market/commodity base, that might return less of a profit, is yet to be seen. I think it's possible, but not until there is a monumental shift in priorities and paradigms.

And speaking of that, I honestly believe that this a fantastic time to be living. Over the next few decades, there will be a huge shift (on a global scale). People will come to realize that for all the advancements and breakthroughs that we've made over the years, it really doesn't mean all that much. Humanity will redeem itself. It won't be easy. And this may prove to be harder than all our other achievements to date.
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Old 11-07-07, 12:45 PM   #5
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At the same time, we do need to come up with vehicles that run on something other than petroleum. That will require making more electricity. All the other ideas for "green" cars--plug-ins, fuel cells, hydrogen, biofuels--require increased electricity generation. And that presents a real big challenge!
We might need to keep on trucking using electricity, but that is itself a very finite source. Currently in Iowa we are generating 87% of our electricity from coal... nonsequestered, dirty coal. There are plans to add more coal-based generators. In other states, the coal solutions is enjoying a more mixed consideration, but in the long run, if you want to base your transportation on the electricity grid, you will have to add capacity.

What really scares me is that the general population might be lulled into thinking that the solution is just around the corner... we'll all be drive gas/battery hydrids or electric cars. While everyone is lulled to sleep, there is little or nothing in the way of a Plan B. By that I mean, countries like the US can believe that it will be "business as usual", ie, we always be able to drive 15 miles to pick up a loaf of bread... The real truth is that things may soon change drastically and we have no plan to deal with it.
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Old 11-07-07, 03:27 PM   #6
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I don't think it will be as bad people think. All that will happen is that the (fully) electric car will come back, and that the electricity will be produced by nuclear/hydroelectric power plants and wind/solar. Look at France; 80% of their power comes from non-fossil fuel sources. Many car manufacturers already have viable electric car designs, with some even producing at high volumes as recently as a few years back. There's nothing really stopping them except lack of public demand (which won't be a problem when oil runs out of course).
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Old 11-07-07, 05:46 PM   #7
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There's really quite a bit of solar energy waiting to be harvested; what's lacking is largely the will, as solar is cost-competitive with dirty power over a 5-10 year amortization period at present. Add hypercapacitors and build the cars the way non-crack-smoking engineers have always wanted to build them, and you have your answer.
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Old 11-07-07, 08:01 PM   #8
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Humanity will redeem itself.
This may be the nicest thing I have ever read. I can only hope it is true.
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Old 11-07-07, 08:39 PM   #9
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There's really quite a bit of solar energy waiting to be harvested; what's lacking is largely the will, as solar is cost-competitive with dirty power over a 5-10 year amortization period at present. Add hypercapacitors and build the cars the way non-crack-smoking engineers have always wanted to build them, and you have your answer.
Even solar power is based on oil. As oil is depleted, the cost of solar panels will go up. There also aren't any good solutions to energy storage so far (the sun only shines at night) - batteries (and solar panels) use a lot of different metals that need to be mined and might become scarce if the entire world tried to go solar.

Nuclear is a non-renewable energy source that will also run out eventually. It also requires lots of water for cooling, which creates other problems. Not to mention the radioactive waste and strip mines.

Nobody wants to face the truth - things are going to have to change radically. Trying to hang on to cars and all the other gadgets and "conveniences" of modern life is a fool's game. We're in serious danger of global famine and a world war based on fights over resources, and yet nothing is being done. Everyone thinks we can keep on destroying our home planet and somehow the scientists and engineers will save the day. I'm an engineer and I can tell you, we're smart, but we're not smart enough to be able to violate the laws of physics, thermodynamics, and biology.
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Old 11-07-07, 10:31 PM   #10
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Well, I don't know about all that. Photovoltaic manufacture is energy intensive, certainly, but silicon and electricity are the major ingredients, with significant use of copper and other metals also. If I were building a photovoltaic plant, I would do it near a large source of hydropower and lock in electricity futures; I imagine anyone investing in solar would be impressed by such foresight.

Running out of metal is a much bigger 'if' than running out of oil. Ores for the common metals originate as underwater thermal vents, the same ones that drive an interesting biology in the ocean trenches. The ocean floor is literally covered in extinct thermal vents, which do not support life, and are shockingly rich in copper, gold and iron, far more than has ever been mined from the land surface or could be. Although the usual, tiresome robber-baron tactics could turn extracting this resource into an environmental disaster, it could also be done with care and foresight, resulting in minimal to no degradation of the environment. It's a few robots and a scoop; nothing particularly hard to engineer, given the rewards of an ore with a raw weight of 20% copper and 2% gold.

Everything is changing radically, every year, at a dizzying pace. This game is nowhere near played out and the doom scenario is by no means my favorite, nor do i consider it the most probable.
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Old 11-07-07, 10:58 PM   #11
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Don't worry about metal (well, steel anyway). Cars of the future will all be made of carbon fiber, aluminum and those space-age polymers we hear so much about, all of which we have plenty. And solar cells are primarily silicon, which if you ever go to the beach, you'll realize we won't run out of anytime soon. Yes, they do use metal interconnects, but there are innovations in the works right now that will soon reduce the amount of copper needed significantly.

Nuclear energy will always be a polarizing issue for many. But even hardcore environmentalists are starting to come around to it, in the face of the alternatives which are actually much much worse for the environment. Coal burning for example spews tons of radioactive contamination (not to mention other toxins like mercury, etc.) into the atmosphere every day. And with new types of efficient reactors, nuclear waste is drastically reduced compared to those of previous generations. Lastly, there's not much to worry about running out of nuclear fuel. We're talking orders of magnitude greater energy density than anything offered by chemical reactions, ie a little of it goes a long long way.

Personally though, I prefer a mix of solar, wind, geothermal, and wave energy production. There's so many possibilities we haven't tapped into fully yet, but I do see signs of it happening in places like Europe, and that's always encouraging.
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Old 11-07-07, 11:53 PM   #12
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I know that when oil gets REALLY expensive the United States has a plentiful energy source stored in the asses of women that should last us all for years.

I saw a woman today who obviously believes in peak oil and is storing a few 100,000 miles of biking fuel in her ass for the day the pipes run dry.
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Old 11-08-07, 01:18 AM   #13
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Out here, much of our electricity is hydroelectric power, probably the cleanest established technology available. It also is a source that won't disappear as long as we continue to have flowing rivers. However, the demand for electricity is steadily increasing and this will take a toll on all forms of electrical power generation. Providing enough power for our needs 20 or 25 years into the future will not be as simple as providing enough power for our needs today.
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Old 11-08-07, 03:33 AM   #14
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Out here, much of our electricity is hydroelectric power, probably the cleanest established technology available. It also is a source that won't disappear as long as we continue to have flowing rivers. However, the demand for electricity is steadily increasing and this will take a toll on all forms of electrical power generation. Providing enough power for our needs 20 or 25 years into the future will not be as simple as providing enough power for our needs today.
This is the other part of the equation that people are missing out on, as well as the fact that much of the distribution system is antiquated and overloaded in some areas. The area I am working in at the moment is having a fight over the building of another coal fired power plant (and I don't blame them) the main issue is the amount of mercury that is in the rivers and soil in the area. However if a plant of some sort does not get built soon, the ones they have will be unable to provide power to the industry and the homes in the area. Once the price of power gets to a certain point the industry WILL shut down and go somewhere else. I have seen it happen in more than one location.

There was also an earlier comment about hydro, it is a viable source, but cannot provide the total amount needed. Back during the industrial revolution most of your plants were built on or near a water source to provide power (among other things) for the plants. Unfortunately one of the side affects of that was the amount of pollution that got dumped into the various water ways, so now people are strongly against industry locating along rivers and other water ways.

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Old 11-08-07, 06:57 AM   #15
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I don't think it will be as bad people think. All that will happen is that the (fully) electric car will come back, and that the electricity will be produced by nuclear/hydroelectric power plants and wind/solar. Look at France; 80% of their power comes from non-fossil fuel sources. Many car manufacturers already have viable electric car designs, with some even producing at high volumes as recently as a few years back. There's nothing really stopping them except lack of public demand (which won't be a problem when oil runs out of course).
We're going to need a nuclear power plant in every city. Wonderful.

How much uranium do we have on this world?

How long will it last until it's depleted?

How many years until a major break through nuclear power frees us from uranium?

Who on this forum wants to live next to a nuclear bomb, I mean power plant?

How much explosive will it take to blow one up? Don't answer that one!

I don’t know if you realize this but we are not like the French. There are tens of thousands in the middle east who hate us and would love to see a nuclear power plant in every city.
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Old 11-08-07, 11:51 AM   #16
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We're going to need a nuclear power plant in every city. Wonderful.

How much uranium do we have on this world?

How long will it last until it's depleted?

How many years until a major break through nuclear power frees us from uranium?

Who on this forum wants to live next to a nuclear bomb, I mean power plant?

How much explosive will it take to blow one up? Don't answer that one!

I don’t know if you realize this but we are not like the French. There are tens of thousands in the middle east who hate us and would love to see a nuclear power plant in every city.
Experts have estimated there's enough uranium to last a few billion years of energy production (at current efficiencies, which should only improve with time), thus should be considered an infinite or renewable resource.

And when oil runs out, I don't think we'll have problems with Middle Eastern terrorists anymore. Think about it.
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Old 11-08-07, 12:20 PM   #17
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the car of the future may turn out to be no car at all.
We can only hope.
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Old 11-09-07, 01:15 PM   #18
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Even solar power is based on oil. As oil is depleted, the cost of solar panels will go up. There also aren't any good solutions to energy storage so far (the sun only shines at night) - batteries (and solar panels) use a lot of different metals that need to be mined and might become scarce if the entire world tried to go solar.
If you use the solar power to generate hydrogen, you can store it and burn it at your leasure.

The same with wind and tides.

Nobody talks much about geothermal, but I understand that Iceland is doing quite a bit with it.

(Between tides, geothermal, wind, and solar, Hawai'i could be come energy-independent fairly quickly.)
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Old 11-11-07, 02:02 PM   #19
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If you use the solar power to generate hydrogen, you can store it and burn it at your leasure.

The same with wind and tides.

Nobody talks much about geothermal, but I understand that Iceland is doing quite a bit with it.

(Between tides, geothermal, wind, and solar, Hawai'i could be come energy-independent fairly quickly.)
Another possiblility for energy storage is to use solar electricity to pump water into an upper reservoir during the day. Then release the water into a lower reservoir at night, using the flowing water to turn hydropower turbines. Repeat the process every 24 hours.

The only currently known methods for producing energy are solar, nuclear, wind, hydro and geothermal. Technically, fossil fuels are stored energy, not new energy, but for all practical purposes, it's free energy since we don't have to produce it.
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Old 11-11-07, 09:15 PM   #20
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Nuclear energy will always be a polarizing issue for many. But even hardcore environmentalists are starting to come around to it, in the face of the alternatives which are actually much much worse for the environment.
Nuclear?

One word: Chernyoble.

Three more words: Three Mile Island.

Every nuclear plant is one of the above just waiting to happen. That Three Mile Island wasn't worse than it was probably was at the result of several engineers' guardian angels severely spraining their wings.

Not to mention what is to be done with the nuclear waste. We need to find a way to store it that will be safe for tens of thousands of years. If any of it gets out it will mean massive envorinmental devastation from radiation poisoning.
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Old 11-11-07, 09:35 PM   #21
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The only currently known methods for producing energy are solar, nuclear, wind, hydro and geothermal. Technically, fossil fuels are stored energy, not new energy, but for all practical purposes, it's free energy since we don't have to produce it.
We don't produce energy at all. It ain't created or destroyed. We just take advantage of current conditions in order to use whatever energy sources we can for our own purposes.

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Nuclear?

One word: Chernyoble.
Exactly! We would need a Chernobyl with the high end death estimate (~150,000 killed) here in the US every half decade, just to keep up with how many are killed by coal power. In the past the mortality rates due to coal combustion were much higher. And, every nuclear plant is an accident waiting to happen. Of course, so is anything, and given how dangerous other activities are, we're more likely to die from something else than an accident related to fission. For instance, regarding GE's ESBWR.

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... It is 11 times more likely for the largest asteroid near the earth to impact the earth over the next 100 years than for an ESBWR operational event to result in the release of fission products to the environment

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Old 11-11-07, 09:46 PM   #22
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Out here, much of our electricity is hydroelectric power, probably the cleanest established technology available. It also is a source that won't disappear as long as we continue to have flowing rivers.
You forget that the water wars are coming too. If the Columbia Ice Fields and other glaciers melt a lot less water is going to be found in western Canada.
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Old 11-11-07, 09:48 PM   #23
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There also aren't any good solutions to energy storage so far (the sun only shines at night) - batteries (and solar panels) use a lot of different metals that need to be mined and might become scarce if the entire world tried to go solar
Not true at all - you are thinking of solar as PV, but there is another type of solar that is out there - concentrating solar power (CSP). Essentially this is something that works best at large scale - you have a central tower surrounded by mirrors on the ground. The mirrors move, and direct sunlight onto a collector at the top of the tower - that is used to heat a working fluid, which is then used to spin a turbine in the usual way.

The thing that makes this even more interesting is that you can store the heated working fluid during the day, and then use it at night to generate electricity. The storage part is optional of course.

This isn't an academic exercise. Pilot plants have been built, and there is renewed interest in the things.

There is a good website with links and resources here:

http://www.trec-uk.org.uk/csp.htm

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Old 11-11-07, 09:54 PM   #24
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No only is it flexible, but w/ no interest loans and very cheap land leases from the gubberment, it may be cheaper economically than fossil fuels are, w/o even including externalities. That being said, I pitty da fool who thinks getting a bill like that for a clean, economic, competitor to fossil fuels through the house/senate/prez would even be possible. Even w/o those incentives, as production increases, it's supposed to get down to ~4-5cents/kWh.
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Old 11-11-07, 10:34 PM   #25
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Of course the "car of the future" has a future.

People will continue to spend money on fast, effective transportation that don't involve physical input. Aka personal vehicles aka cars.

The difference is that now that we are facing the looming oil crisis (prices, availability, environmental concerns), car buyers (and makers, for that matter) are looking to cars that will use energy from other sources.

I see companies making oil-company-sized profits on hydrogen and other alternative fuels a good hundred years in the future.
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