Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Quiet Anti-Oil Revolution - Part 1

This is a 2-part post. The first part outlines the essential oil problem with some numbers. The second part is an opinion on what happens in a world without an oil addiction.

The auto industry in the US is the reason we have an oil problem today. Consider the following data: US oil consumption now exceeds 20mm barrels a day. China and Japan come in next at approx. 6.6mm and 4.5mm barrels a day. (India currently consumes approx 3mm barrels a day) Further, 2/3 of oil consumed in the US is used for transportation. Which makes the US auto industry the biggest oil consumer in the world. Consider that US has the worst fuel economy by a long margin. Japan and Europe average over 40 mpg. The US languishes at approx. 27 mpg (no thanks to those trucks masquerading as "SUVs"). It's clear that if the US transportation breaks its oil addiction, the world will effectively break it's oil dependence.

Now for the good news. A combination of oil at $3 per gallon (Rs35 per liter), cratering SUV sales, zooming hybrid car sales, and some serious attention in the US Congress have the makings of a perfect anti-oil storm. Following is a brief overview of two of the most promising near-term auto technologies that could be used to get us to effective energy indepedence.

Hybrid Vehicles: Run like normal gas cars, but have an electrical battery that "assists" the gas engine and charges through regenerative braking. The success of the Prius (with its cool real-time fuel economy indicator) has every US auto-maker now touting mpg figures, rather than rough terrain handling and other testosterone hits. This is the first generation of hybrids - small electrical battery assisting an essentially gas-driven car. This concept has already been extended by a few intrepid folks to yield 80-100mpg (34-42.4 km/liter)! The future could be one with ever-larger, pluggable batteries with a gas assist. Or the whole concept could be turned upside-down, where the gas (or any liquid fuel really) engine is just a generator, disconnected from the drive-train, that charges a battery when it's charge falls below a certain level. Considering battery costs and cost of electricity today, a pluggable hybrid just about breaks even with a non-hybrid doing about 30 mpg with gas at $3 a gallon (Rs 35 per liter). That is likely to change with better battery technology (next 3-5 years) and expected economies of scale in battery manufacturing. Remember, that the distribution infrastructure needs no upgrade with the hybrid option.

Flex-fuel Vehicles: Virtually all vehicles can handle a gas-ethanol mix with ethanol less than 10%. However, there are 4 million vehicles on US roads roday that can handle (without modification) upto E85 i.e. upto 85% ethanol. This ethanol can be produced from corn in US, sugarcane in Brazil or India, or anywhere using cellulosic ethanol. At $3 a gallon (and with US subsidies on corn), ethanol is about 10% better than gas on a mpg basis. Widespread distribution can be addressed by subsidies and grants from the US government.

The current oil consumption by the US auto industry is about 13.7 mm barrels per day. If the average mpg is increased from 27 mpg to 45 mpg, that number becomes 8.2 mm barrels per day - a saving of 5.5 mm barrels a day! With oil prices where they are, and unlikely to fall much, this is all but inevitable. Just imagine what happens when the oil shackles have been broken ...


Anonymous said...


We have corresponded before on this blog. The gas post is a very good one.

I have not read both your posts. Let me post this anyway. Instead of focusing on cars and fuel efficiency, why not focus on
alternative means of reducing gas consumption. Most of the cars are used for commuting to work. The advent of the Internet and broadband, however, has allowed workers to work from home. Home offices are now becoming a norm rather than an exception. A fast connection allows people to work from home, and go into the office perhaps only once a week. For
example, if the average daily drive is 50 miles in a car that gives 25 mpg, weekly gas consumption is 10 gallons. By driving to work, once a week and using the telephone and the internet only 2 gallons a day are
used, a drop in gas consumption of 80%. Commentators like you just focus on cars and fuel efficiency. There is another side to the equation also. Please recognize it. I wonder how many million barrels of gas will be saved using my approach.

Anonymous said...

Injustice of every form is to be opposed.

We as Indians need to fight against the situation we are in. Your post on the situation in our country left me with very mixed feelings. Some shock, some sorrow and some thoughts

Reading your post, and contemplating on the many issues there, I feel your readers should know the dark side of Indian Marriages, especially the misuse of laws by Indian wives these days. The resultant injustice to Indian men and families is enormous

Do you know that 1000s of innocent Indian men are being victimized by the misuse of anti dowry law - a particular Section 498A of Indian Penal code ?.

Newly wed wives unable to adjust with their husbands, some who are unable to live in a new environment, some others caught in adulterous conduct and even greedy Indian wives are known to file FALSE dowry cases against their husbands and In - Laws. They falsely accuse their husbands' of treating them with cruelty AND demanding dowry during marriage.

Since dowry is legally prohibited and severely punishable in India, many of these newly married men stand the gruesome prospect of being arrested and thrown into and Indian prison ... for years !!

The intention of these Indian wives of course is to settle scores or extract money from their in laws.

Once a dowry case is filed the Indian police are forced to arrest the husband and in some cases, even their un suspecting parents & sisters are arrested and jailed. Unable to bear the insult some have committed suicide.

As most of the male victims would be innocent and would not have EVEN stepped into a police station, let alone be arrested, they are forced to NEGOTIATE AND PAY these women

Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code is badly lacking the "..due process of law .." i.e. Under any normal legal process, an accused is considered innocent unless proven guilty. However under Sec. 498A - I.P.C., the accused is immediately assumed to be guilty and has to loose liberty immediately....

There are 1000s of victims all over India

It is reported that ".......In Andhra Pradesh (one of the Indian States), for example, a third of all the pending cases related to “atrocities on women” as on June 30 2005 are those under sections 498 and 498(A). In the first six months this year, 3801 new cases under just these two sections were instituted..........."

This is a smear on the image of India

Some of the courts are aware of this. Recently the Chennai High Court has stopped police from arresting people on dowry cases

See for e.g.

2.4. As per the above judgment, the POLICE HAVE to refer Dowry complaints to Dowry Prohibition officers AND NOT ACT ON DOWRY COMPLAINTS i.e POLICE *CANNOT ARREST YOU*

If any reader here is about to get married or if you are facing a difficult relationship with your wife, please be aware. Take necessary precautions !!

Best regards



Jaffna said...


I enjoyed this post and anonymous' thoughtful comments. May I suggest a third option as well i.e. public transport, such as commuter rail, to supplement the sole reliance on private automobiles. The automobile industry in the United States prevented the investment in rail which might be more fuel efficient. I think a combination of the three approaches suggested might be a way to cut down on fuel consumption which is not sustainable either on economic or environmental grounds.

libertarian said...

anonymous, the majority of US employees are in businesses that require a physical presence. Most of those jobs are not e-enabled. Think construction workers, restaurant employees and Walmart folks. Telecommuting is not an option for most. The general point you make is one of conservation. I agree - we must conserve. However, you cannot legislate or enforce conservation in free societies (as the US and India are) - apart from slapping debilitating taxes. It's better to seek permananent technological solutions. The stars seem aligned for exactly this.

jaffna, thanks. Unfortunately, public transport is sometimes the victim of giant corporate interests. California is a prime example: more cars are sold in CA alone every year, than are in India! The oil, auto and tyre folks conspired to kill public transport well over 50 years ago. So while it does exist, it's used by a tiny fraction, is inconvenient and slow.

India and China stand to benefit very directly from the technological leaps being pioneered right now in the US.

The Greatest Hokie Ever !! said...

[Jaffna] Interesting thought on use of public transporation. There is a whole science called "System Dynamics" (the study of inter-causal inter-relationships in a dynamic environment) which explains how it needs a combined push in all directions to solve urban congestion. It would take years for public transporation to get to the point where it can effectively serve the population. I am not advocating complete stop of all future transporation projects, just that it needs considerable investment to build a supporting structure around say Metro Rail. Classic example is the Northern Virginia area. Every year, scores of people flock to the outlying suburbs. There is no MetroBus connection to get the people to the metro stations. So frustrated people take to the road more and more.

Pavan said...

I remember reading Ila Patnaik's column in the Indian Express about commuter rail vs road-based public transport.

She says that rail transport uses only 25% of the energy (on an average) required for road-based transportation.

Pavan said...

Jaffna and others,
Here's the link:

Here's the relevant piece:

"For example, the energy consumption for freight movement on railroads is 440 joules/kgkm, while that required for trucks is 1,836 joules/kgkm: a difference of four times. In addition, the Railways generate less pollution."

libertarian said...

greatest hokie, I suspect it's not just an "urban congestion" problem. It's increasingly a problem of "sprawl" that you allude to. US cities seem to be going down the LA megapolis path rather than the NY metropolis one. Effective public transport becomes increasingly hard with unplanned urban sprawl.
(ps. too bad thw Hokies will not make it to the Rose Bowl to get clobbered by the Trojans :-))

pavan, interesting link. It's quite possible that rail is even more efficient than a factor of 4. High-speed diesel (used in trains) is about 25-30% more efficient than gas/petrol.

But folks, the basic argument remains. A sound economic reason - like gas at $4.00 per gallon - is the only thing that will convince famously profligate US consumers to change their mode of transport or their transport habits. All the logic of better modes of transport will falter in the face of "freedom", convenience, and gas at $2.00 per gallon.


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