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Invest in new technology to get past gas

BY DANIEL TAIBLESON | MARCH 01, 2012 6:30 AM

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It has become increasingly clear that controlling the price of gasoline is beyond the reach of any one country's energy policy. Luckily, with a small investment in new, more efficient technologies now, we might be able to protect ourselves from the worst consequences of high gas prices in the future.

The average gas price continues to creep toward its all-time high of $4.11, and Americans have grown increasingly nervous and willing to support almost any policy that promises some degree of relief. Sadly, most of these purported solutions promise more than they could ever hope to deliver.

For example, many have claimed that controlling gas prices comes down to expanding offshore drilling, opening restricted regions such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and green-lighting such projects as the Keystone XL Pipeline. In fact, GOPpresidential hopeful Newt Gingrich (who has at one time or another supported all the aforementioned things) has gone so far as to claim that his domestic energy-policy plan could bring gas prices down to $2.50 per gallon.

To be sure, such claims are enticing. However, their validity is undercut by a singularly important fact — oil is a global commodity. This is important, as the cost of oil (dictated by global supply and demand) represents 70 percent of gasoline prices. This in turn means that there is little any one government can do to influence the raw price of gasoline.

The price of gas in today's global market is so beyond the scope of any one country's domestic energy policy that the pre-tax cost of gas in the U.S. and many Western European nations have tracked near perfectly, and with little variation, since 1996.

However, if the above does not dissuade you from believing that some incremental change in drilling policy might alleviate rising gas-prices, let me introduce one more fact that puts the scale of this issue in proper perspective. If all the oil in the Arctic Refuge were to flood the world market in a single torrent, the per-barrel-cost of oil, and the per-gallon cost of gas, would drop by less than 1 percent and 0.42 percent respectively — closer to rounding errors than measurable changes.

Yes, it is true that the above seems like much doom and gloom. But, if we as a country hope to inoculate ourselves from the worst consequences of volatile gas prices, we must acknowledge that we cannot simply wave our magic drilling wand and wish it all away. Luckily, there is a sure-fire way to minimize harm — increasing mechanical efficiency.

We might not be able to make filling a car with gas go from $50 to $30, but we can make it so that you only need fill your car half as often by increasing its efficiency. Researchers hope we can make the shift by 2050. Why not start making this shift tomorrow?

By the end of the 1980s, planes required 48 gallons of fuel to transport a passenger 1,000 miles. That number is projected to be 18 gallons for plans built by the end of the decade. Why not require airlines to replace old fleets with fuel-efficient planes?

In Germany, farmers were using an average of 2.6 million gallons to work the land. However, 50 percent of that energy was lost to friction. Alarmed, German physicist Martin Hoerner invented a new type of plowshare that cut friction in half and reduced tractor fuel use by 30 percent. Why are we not employing this paradigm on a grand scale?

The core price of gasoline is beyond the control of any national level government. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying, and it is about time we come to grips with that. The fruit of mechanical efficiency hangs so low that it is practically hitting us in the face. The only thing preventing us from seeing it and grabbing it right now, is our own unwillingness to quite clinging to false promises in defiant ignorance.


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