01 February 2009

Electrify My Transport

What happens when the concept of "peak oil" comes into reality? As most people realise, petrol and other types of fossil fuels, are a finite resource. It is accepted that one day, we may run out of petrol. To this end, efforts to encourage the use of hybrid vehicles have not met with much success in Malaysia. Hybrid vehicles use partly fossil fuels (petrol, diesel) and partly other sources of energy, e.g. electricity, ethanol, hydrogen, solar, etc.

An article in The Australian, Shock Therapy For Petrol Addicts, hypothesizes that electric cars are the wave of the future. (Ref: The Australiam Shock Therapy For Petrol Addicts. 31st January 2009. URL: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24984579-13232,00.html) Among other matters, the writer states:

  • Lithium Ion batteries are now adapted for use in electric vehicles;
  • Electric cars will appeal to the next generation of tech-savvy buyers;
  • The "digital generation" is not interested in the car in the same way as the older generation is;
  • Electric car makers are striving to create electric vehicles that have the same appeal as the ordinary car;
  • Retro fitting of existing vehicles (converting vehicles to electric base) is getting popular;
  • Many car manufacturers opt to create "hybrid" cars which use a petrol engine to allow the battery to recharge while the secondary power source is being used;

However, there is a contrary view. An article from Canadian news agency Globe And Mail, Pumped Up: Why Gasoline Engines Are Here To Stay, argues that plans to develop "exotic technologies" fail to take into consideration the progress being made in the automotive industry to "improve fuel economy and reduce emissions". (Ref: Globe and Mail, Pumped Up: Why Gasoline Engines Are Here To Stay. 29th January 2009. URL : http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090129.whGreenAutoMain0129/BNStory/specialGlobeAuto)

I recently took a holiday to China and was impressed by the degree of pedal power there. I refer to electric bicycles, tricycles, and other such vehicles. These are basically known as 电动车 or e-bikes, and there are many brands of electric powered bicycles in China. Such e-bikes are not readily available in Malaysia. Yet many people are impressed by the popularity of such e-bikes in China. In China, the bicyclist can be assured that he rides in his own lane, separate from the ordinary lane reserved for big vehicles. (Source: The Star, E-bikes and Green Homes the Way Forward. 16th June 2008. URL: http://biz.thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/6/16/business/21523258&sec=business)

While aboard the plane (AirAsia) I wondered how much petrol the plane consumes while flying, and whether aircraft transportation by electric powered vehicles is possible. The answer is that about 1 gallon of fuel is consumed every second. (Source: HowStuffWorks, How Much Fuel Does An International Plane Use For A Trip?" Accessed 9th January 2009.) Another estimate is also that a plane like the Boeing 747 burns about 5 gallons of fuel per mile.