The United States is not the only country with a petroleum consumption habit that needs to be kicked. Australia is pretty ravenous, as well, and only its relatively sparse population keeps it out of the headlines as a sustainability nightmare. Nonetheless, the students at the University of Western Australia's Engineering, Computing, and Mathematics department have decided to take an important step, and build Australia's first native-born renewable energy vehicle, one intended to take into account Australia's unique conditions, particularly the long distances between cities.
We have decided to do something about this dilemma by creating The University of Western Australia Renewable Energy Vehicle Project (UWA REV Project). The project aims to demonstrate the use of renewable energy for personal transport by researching, designing and constructing a lightweight vehicle from the ground up. It will be powered principally by hydrogen fuel cells, with additional energy to power electrical systems provided by solar cells mounted on the body of the vehicle. The vehicle will be a single or possibly 2-seater with some luggage space, and as a result of its renewable energy drivetrain, will produce nothing but harmless water vapour from its exhaust.
Solar panels have also been included in the design as this first vehicle will be a long-distance tourer which will cover vast distances in full sunlight, providing a useful additional supply of electricity to be stored in batteries to power electrical systems. Many other technologies, such as memory motors, regenerative braking, lightweight composite materials and LED lighting will be used to maximize energy efficiency. Such vehicles have sometimes been referred to as a tribrid (as opposed to a hybrid) in that it has three sources of power; hydrogen, electricity (collected by regenerative braking) and solar.
The energy/efficiency website Talk Energy has a feature article covering the key elements of the story. The UWA-REV team plans on taking its prototype vehicle on a 14,500 km test run around the circumference of Australia in February of 2006; this distance is roughly equivalent to a year's travel for the average Australian. While they intend to begin work next month, UWA-REV is looking for additional sponsors.
The eventual shift from petroleum/hydrocarbon to a direct hydrogen economy is almost pre-ordained; the big question is when. But just who will be positioned to take that leap first is another important question that isn't asked as often. There is something of an assumption that one of the big three US automakers, Honda or Toyota, or possibly Audi/VW, will be the first to come up with a commercially-attractive H2 vehicle. But that's not necessarily so; the big companies may be too tied into their existing markets, too attached to current designs, and too comfortable in the petro-world to take that big jump. A nation like Australia, conversely, with a small enough population that a hydrogen transition could be done relatively cheaply & quickly, may well be ideal early adopters, giving the local hydrogen vehicle manufacturers a leg up. I'd like to see that.
"The eventual shift from petroleum/hydrocarbon to a direct hydrogen economy is almost pre-ordained"
What!? No! it's not pre-ordained. Hydrogen does not add up. It takes very close to the amount of energy to crack hydrogen out of water as hydrogen ends up giving back as energy (even through efficient fuel cells).
From the math I've seen (on plastic.com, etc.) biodeisel is well in front of hydrogen on many levels:
a. biodeisel is more efficient to produce than hydrogen
b. biodeisel requires very little infrastructure change on the delivery side (i.e. it transports and pumps just like deisel)
c. biodeisel requires very little design change to current internal combustion engines.
d. it can be mixed with current deisel fuels and used in current vehicles.
So, we could be using a substantial amount of biodeisel relatively easily and soon. Scientists have found an alge that'll grow in salt water that produces more kj/acre than corn - and have even scouted out vast tracts of the Sonora Desert that'd be suitable for farming. But they propose one of the biggest advantages of growing fuel over cracking it is that you can have a distributed farming/production system instead of a few large factories. (how nice would it be to see a democratized fuel industry - alge co-ops that work much the same as what's left of the farming co-operatives post-AMD-assimilation).
Of course biodeisel has many of the same drawbacks as regular petroleum products (environmental pollution, soot, etc.), but it is carbon neutral (or offset anyway) and as demand requires, the automotive industry is making progress on cleaner more efficient deisel engines.
but then, how long do you want to live anyway?
we only need to last long enough for the grey goo to get us.
I posted about diesel/biodiesel a few weeks ago; in the near-term, diesel (especially diesel-hybrid-electrics) are likely to be the most efficient vehicle systems around. Down the road -- in the ten-twenty-thirty year time frame (how soon really depends on who you ask; I got into a, um, discussion about this with Alex earlier today, he thinks it will come sooner than I do) -- the inherent environmental efficiencies of hydrogen really do become hard to beat. If you look in my diesel-hybrid-electric post, there's a link to a recent MIT energy group study on vehicle systems; they estimate H2-fuel cell-systems will become dominant by 2025, and they show the math behind their reasoning.
And as for the grey goo... um, right.
The entire point is Bush pushes for hydrogen because its for the long term future and needs the most work to get into production. In short it needs gov support.
As for bio diesel the entire point there is Bush didnt need to do a thing the oil companies already are poised to mass produce it as soon as its cost effective and that will only be a matter of waiting for oil supplies to tighten and costs to rise.
The oil companies much to the yes I know shock of environmentalists happen to look into EVERY source of fuel they can get thier hands on and make for a profit. Bio diesel is childs play all they need is a profit to run it and then you will see algal ponds all over the place.
Hell if they found a way to make fuel from the sweat of couch potatoes and make a profit all of us techies would likely be sprouting shell brand sweat collectors in no time;/
The most likely first start will be major fuel makers and oil companies making test plants and putting out partial bio diesel fuel made mostly with reg diesel then made with more and more bio till its 100% as profit/ production allows.