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Solar and Hydrogen Energy – where vehicle fuel efficiency is headed

October 17th, 2007 · No Comments

Despite efforts that have enabled the U.S. to limit its demand for oil, world oil demand is up significantly. Advances in technology such as solar energy and vehicle fuel cell could help the world reduce its dependence on oil.

Figure 1 Oil and Gold Prices
Oil Prices

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released the Fuel Economy Guide for 2008 model year vehicles Fuel Economy Leaders: 2008 Model Year Coming in first place is the Toyota Prius (hybrid-electric) with city/highway miles per gallon (MPG) of 48/45. With higher fuel costs more people are factoring in fuel efficiency into their purchase decision. However, it is the purchase of pickup trucks and SUV that account for most of the vehicle purchases in the U.S. and these vehicles are dramatically less fuel-efficient than hybrids and small four-cylinder automobiles.

Despite the trend towards larger vehicles, the U.S is not experiencing a rapid rise in oil demand. Yet oil prices continue to climb. While geopolitical risk may account for the bulk of the recent price increase, latest information from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) Total Petroleum Consumption shows increasing oil demand from China.

Figure 2 Oil Demand: U.S. and China
Oil Demand

Figure 2 illustrates that while oil demand in the U.S. has grown only modestly since 2000, the growth in China’s oil demand is rising rapidly. The recent data from the EIA shows oil demand through Q2/07. The demand for oil in the U.S. is up 5% from 2000 while in China oil demand is up 59% over the same period.

Improving vehicle fuel efficiency may abate rapidly rising oil demand in the U.S., but more emphasis on diesel and hybrids could take us a lot further. For example, Toyota has been slow to introduce its diesel line of pickup trucks in the U.S. while it offers a broad line of more fuel-efficient vehicle outside the U.S. Toyota offers several cars and trucks in Europe with impressively high fuel efficiencies that are not available in the U.S. Infact, the Toyota Hilux two-wheel drive pickup truck offers a four-cylinder diesel engine with an MPG of 44.8 on the highway and 29.1 in the city.

We are also seeing progress on fuel cell vehicles that could ultimately ameliorate are demand for oil, if not eliminate it entirely, all with no carbon dioxide or other emissions. We see most major automakers developing hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicles. Honda for one has the right concept in employing solar energy to make hydrogen.

Honda’s experimental hydrogen refueling station in Torrance, CA increases the solar incre3ases the efficiency of hydrogen fuel by using solar energy to produce hydrogen. The hydrogen is then used to power Honda’s Honda’s FCX concept hydrogen fuel cell vehicle with the only emission being pure water vapor. These fuel cell vehicles may not be ready for prime time, they provide a clear reality to what is achievable.

The bottom line is that supply and demand dictate price and the availability of cheap oil is on the decline. Further research into solar and hydrogen fuel cells could significantly change our dependence on oil.

Tags: Alternative Energy · Automobile Fuel Efficiency · Biodiesel Energy · Carbon Emissions · Carbon Footprint · CO2 Emissions · Energy Costs · Energy Economics · Energy Independence · Energy Security · Fuel Cells · Fuel Costs · Fuel Efficiency · Historic Energy · Hydrocarbon Fuels · Hydrogen Economics · Hydrogen Energy · Oil Energy · Solar Energy · Transportation Energy Economics