Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Sacred Cow: Hydrogen fuel cells, Part III

Now that I've shown you why hydrogen cars won't work, I'm going to tell you what will. I'm not going to tell you to drive less, for two reasons: one, I'm sure it's not something you have much say over, and two, I enjoy driving even in my crappy Honda, and I can't really fault others for it. I'm also not going to tell you to use public transportation, because if you're an American, you won't understand what I'm talking about, and if you're European, it's probably more expensive than driving - and over long distances, not very environmentally friendly: you'd do better to drive across Europe in a Ferrari than to fly EasyJet. Plus, public transportation sucks.

So, here is some rational, reasonable advice on what you can do to make baby pandas feel better:

1. Don't buy an SUV. (If you've bought one, don't drive it.) This really ought to be obvious. SUVs are heavy, and not very aerodynamic, which means that they need a big engine making big power and burning a lot of fuel to get you and your frappucino to work no better than a Citroen C1 can, running on pure enthusiasm. This isn't just a dig at Americans. SUV sales are booming in Europe, and while I can appreciate the desirability of a supercharged Range Rover Sport - God knows I want one - it's really quite silly. If you absolutely must, buy a Volvo XC90. It still uses a lot of petrol, but at least it's safe for you and the person you're going to crash into.

2. Don't buy a hybrid. They're not actually that fuel-efficient, but they cost insane money. In Small Country, a Prius will set you back double what a Corolla would, and you're only perpetuating the myth. Because a hybrid's electricity still comes from the petrol engine, your improvement is a result of it working slightly more efficiently - it charges up the battery while idle, which normally would be wasted power. It would be a lot more energy-efficient to just kill the engine when you're not moving. There are engines out there designed to do this well. Let's hope the technology improves.
A lot of Americans are apparently buying a hybrid SUV. It gets the same MPG as the European sedan counterpart with the same engine minus electric motor, but is a worse car by all accounts - a lot more expensive, too. Silly people.

3. Buy a diesel car. If you're American, your current choice is outdated Volkswagen tech, but I keep hearing that they're going to start selling low-sulphur diesel fuel over there Any Day Now. Mercedes is bringing over its diesel range next year, and theirs are some of the best. If you're European, stop being a snob and go some magazine reviews of the Skoda Fabia vRS and BMW 535d (though the latter is still ugly as sin).

4. Think about how much car you really need. If you're usually the only person in the car, with an occasional passenger, buy something small. If you can afford a Focus, buy a Citroen C1 and upgrade your home theater. If you can afford a base 3-series, buy a Mini Cooper S for the same money. If you can afford a Mercedes S600, buy an Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Then, with the money you save, buy a Mini Cooper S and keep the Aston for the weekend.

5. If they sell biofuel in your country - use it. Biodiesel is getting more and more popular in Europe, and so is E85 (85% ethanol, 15% petrol, useable in most petrol engines). Biofuel is the closest thing we have to a perfect solution: you can always get more of it, you don't need to change very much in a car to run on it, and the external energy source that makes up the difference in getting the power out is the Sun. You can grow biofuel crops just about anywhere, and since they're not for people to eat, you can genetically modify them, fertilize them to hell and use any pesticide you want. Plus all the EU farmers will have something to do.

6. At the end of the day, you could always try to drive less and use public transportation more. Sorry.


Pierce said...

The "SUVs are safer" argument has always bugged me. It's obviously true for collisions with other cars (not sure how they compare in other circumstances), but it's kind of a safety cold war. As more people get SUVs, the less of an advantage you get from having one yourself; you're no longer as likely to "win" the crash.

Worse yet, widespread SUV adoption makes the safety concern a self-fulfilling prophecy... it's much better to be one car among many than to be the only Focus on a road filled with Hummers. Except due to my previous point, the self-fulfilled prophecy isn't as fulfilled as people think it is.

<--- was in two major accidents in an SUV, only one tiny scratch on the elbow in total human damage.

Flasher T said...

Quite true, hence my praise of the XC90 which is at least designed to not flatten a Civic on impact.

Fortunately in Europe the absolute numbers of SUVs are still fairly low, and a major chunk of the market is taken up by the likes of the Honda CR-V, which is really not all that offensive.

Anonymous said...

Who are the silly people. It takes more energy to produce one liter of biofuel than the energy the liter biofuel produces. I live in the energy capital of North America - Houston and am invested in conventional and non-conventional energy solutions. You will see truely revolutionary energy technologies coming out of the States soon.

Flasher T said...

It also takes more energy to produce a liter of oil than a liter of oil produces. There are always method losses, it's unavoidable, high school physics. The difference is, with fossil fuels, the difference was made up by the Sun millions of years ago (when dinosaurs ate plants which used photosynthesis), whereas with biofuel we skip the whole dino juice phase.


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