Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hot Air: The price of Gas

Its on everyone's minds. The price of gasoline. It wasn't that it dipped under $1.00 a gallon for a few days. I remember it going over $2.00 after Katrina. That was an interesting time since here in Mississippi there was a state of emergency which among other things meant that prices could not be inflated due to the nature of the emergency. So while our prices went up, we were the cheapest in the country, because it was at the time a crime to make too much money ripping off the consumer!

Now, as gasoline is supposed to top $4.00 a gallon, we once again have our heads in a tither as we try to figure out how to save a buck or stop the price gouging.

I was listening to my favorite radio show the other day, Dave Ramsey. ( He got on the band wagon. He pointed out that people are sitting in the drive through lane at Starbucks, idling their engines, complaining about the cost of gas, while waiting for their fancy coffee drink which they pay nearly 5x as much for as gas (gallon for gallon). The most interesting part of the show came when a trucker called in. The question was whether truckers are able to pass along fuel price increases to the consumer so they don't go broke. This guy pointed out that he had been having a record year in profits. His fuel bill doubled, his reimbursement for fuel doubled and he slowed his driving speed to 55, which decreased his fuel consumption by 33% (went from 6mpg to over 8mpg). The fuel problem turned into a fuel boon for this guy as he learned that a bit of conservation is a whole lot more profitable.

Then there is the rice shortage. I am not overly familiar with what is going on with this rice problem. It seems we are running out of food in some places in the world (which it seems we are always doing anyhow.)

So anyhow the next big thing in fuel is supposed to be ethanol, and supposedly if we convert to ethanol, we starve. Which is not necessarily a good thing.

Now of course there is Brazil, who converted to ethanol, and in fact make enough of a surplus that they could supply us with 50% of our energy needs (supposedly), but we have blocked their ethanol from coming into our country since it would compete unfairly with domestic ethanol..... Seems like we don't need to be competing, we supply them with food, they supply us with ethanol.... seems fair to me.

But then there is this whole, "it takes too much" business. It takes too much ethanol to completely replace our dependency on oil. The world cannot supply it. Or so says a bunch of scientists.

Then there was that trucker's idea....

I have this problem from the start. Here I am driving a 2000 Ford F150 pickup with standard transmission and 6 cylinder, getting the same gas mileage I got with my 1973 Dodge power wagon with full time four wheel drive and V8 engine. I am also getting 25% WORSE gas mileage then my 1961 Chevy pickup with its 6 cylinder engine and standard transmission.

So in the last 40 years, our vehicles have gotten WORSE at energy conservation.... not better. What happened to technology? There were breakthroughs of course. The emissions of my new truck are infantile compared to the 40 year old truck. But tell me.... where did they go? If I am burning 25% more fuel, and there are is even 1% less emissions, where did the rest of it go? There is that law of matter again, you can change its state, but you can't make it dissappear. When you send X number of hydrocarbons into the engine, X number HAVE to come out. They don't disappear, they may come out as water, oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and any combination of the above, but they have to come out. So in actuality, my 40 year old truck has 25% less emissions than my new truck.... more of them have been deemed harmful to the environment, but none the less overall there were less.

Now the old truck had a real tough time going 60mpg. It would not make it on today's highways going 75, I think that was probably a bit over its capacity. The new truck also has more power, its quieter, more comfortable, and you don't have to double shift to get it into first gear. There is where our technology has taken us.

Einstein a few years back came up with this formula, Energy equals Mass times the square of a constant. It basically says that all mass contains energy. And not only that but it contains a lot more energy then mass.

The trick it would seem would be to squeeze more energy from our gasoline molecule then we are getting now. Now gasoline actually is made up from a bunch of different molecules but they average about 18 hydrogen atoms and 8 carbon atoms.

So how much energy is there in that? Well as mass goes up, so does energy in an equal fashion. So Carbon is roughly 6 times heavier then hydrogen and therefore the average molecule in a gallon of gas has the energy potential of 76 hydrogen bombs (or whatever the power of 1.5 trillion pounds of TNT is) Just guessing here, but it would seem that if someone unlocked the true potential of a gallon of gas they would have enough energy to power the world's energy supply well past the end of the universe.... which some scientist believe will happen in the next 100 million years.

Now technology has indeed been helping us gain energy from the gallons of gas we use.

In 1961, there was no such thing as a car that had an engine that got 1 horsepower from 1 cubic inch of engine size in a gasoline engine. That happened a few years later and within 10, you could buy custom cars that had such high energy efficiency. Now days, many cars on the road have engines that attain 1 horse power per cubic inch and higher. However in all cases, they are for BIG engines so the car can go faster.

So back to our trucker.

Conservation was the key for our trucker.... He no longer whines about the price of gas. The higher the price, the more he is reimbursed, the more money he makes over last year because his key is conservation.

It takes about 30 horse power to keep a vehicle at a constant 60 mph on flat terrain. Using 1 hp per cubic inch, we end up with a vehicle needing to have an engine roughly the size of a small motorcycle to maintain speed. Combine this with an electric motor to help propel the vehicle up to speed, and we end up with a car that is getting 100mpg off the shelf. It would be a dog. Probably 0-60 in ten minutes (just guessing) but then depending on the size of electric motor, and battery tech, it could be pretty hot off the line.

Now back in my high school days, a friend of mine had an old Datsun Pickup truck. It had a 37 horsepower engine. It also got good gas mileage. It could go the posted speed limit which was 55 at the time while carrying 3 or 4 of us teens in the back.
My mother drove an old Opel Kadette at one time over the mountains of Montana. It would slow down going over the mountains, and in our speed driven minds, that was bad. But even back then, it got good fuel economy, with its 60 horsepower engine.... and it did do much better then 0-60 in ten minutes.

So maybe the trick is conservation. Not trying to substitute (yet). If the United States used 1/4 of the current gasoline use, it would become an oil producing and EXPORTING country. (a part of OPEC)

IF the United states used 1/4 of its current gasoline use, Brazil would be able to export to us more ethanol then we would need.

The technology exists.... off the shelf.

It requires a change of mindset.

It means that we don't need a TAX HOLIDAY on gasoline. It means we need to tax the bejeebies out of over indulgence.

For instance. If starting next year, all vehicles over 100 horse power were taxed at a rate that would gradually go up over the next 10 years. It would start at 1 dollar a hp, and work its way up to 10 dollars an HP. This "overindulgence" fee would be applies every time the vehicle is sold (or the title is transfered) So my Pickup in 10 years would have 2600 fee applied to it, if I decided to sell it. It would make the pickup pretty much worthless. (Which is what overindulgence is anyhow)
Add to that, 55 mph speed limits. (to help keep the 100hp vehicles being run over by those who can afford the faster vehicles) Tax incentives for taking mass transit (paid for of course by over indulgence fees), and last but certainly not least, tax incentives for businesses who have at least 50% of their employees living within 1 mile....

Would it be illegal to own a 2006 800 horsepower quad turbo Viper? No, just real expensive to buy it.

Finally there is this thing called "The Law of supply and Demand" The day that such a drastic measure is put in place will cause panic in the oil markets. Prices will most likely drop...alot. I am thinking (hoping) that it would cause the average price of a gallon of gas to drop in half. So once again we are paying $2 a gallon for gas. The oil companies would then be in competition with somebody. They would be in competition with the U.S. govt. As the tax of overindulgence goes up, the price of overindulgence goes down. In 10 years my truck would be worthless. However I baby it, and it will still be running, and getting 15mpg, and gas will be 99cents a gallon and my other (future) car will be able to drive back to Montana for 10 dollars worth of fuel, albeit.... a lot slower.