From the earliest days of the automobile, fuelling has been a simple matter. The car was taken to a gasoline station and its fuel tank filled. It was neither complicated nor required any decision making initiative on the part of the driver. Fuel choice was between high or low octane gasoline, standard products that varied little from one producer to another.
Today's driver faces significant choice, depending on the car's age, power system, or the country it's in; leaded, unleaded, high octane, low octane, diesel, liquid propane, or gasohol. More recently, compressed natural gas, methanol, methanol gasoline blend, ethanol, ethanol gasoline blend, gasoline high in oxygenates, and low in oxygenates. If this is not bewildering enough, the next few years will provide even greater varieties; diesel methanol blend, hydrogen gas, hydrides, alcohols, electricity charging services, even iron filings.
One principle is clear however, now and for the next few years, transport fuels will be dominated by hydrocarbons, mainly gasoline, directly combusted or as a feed stock for generating other sources of energy.
Currently, the principle system of producing power for cars is combustion, in the internal combustion engine. Unfortunately, whenever combustion takes place, the chemical change produces pollutants that poison our air. Oxides of Nitrogen, Carbon Monoxide, Hydrocarbons, all are dangerous contributors to ground level ozone, or "Smog"
All combustion generates Carbon Dioxide, newly regarded as a greenhouse gas.
In recent years, fears of these gasses has spurred legislators to mandate car emission levels. Most people are now familiar with devices like catalytic converters and engine management systems.
Now legislators are turning to fuels to seek further reductions. Like the.introduction of catalytic converters, these new regulations have costs attached.
Catalytic converters for example, reduce NOX, CO, and HC emissions, but increase fuel consumption, reduce energy efficiency and increase C02.
Problems like this, make the fuels debate, and the decisions needed to improve them, complex and not without risk. For example, leaded gasolines are more efficient than unleaded, therefore more unleaded gasoline needs to be burned for the same performance. In turn requiring more combustion and greater emissions of C02.
This does not suggest that banning lead from gasoline is a mistake, but it demonstrates that mandating change in one pollutant, has effects on others.
It points to the basic fault of combustion technology, and why ultimately more radical approaches should be sought. The public has had little motivation to investigate the science, history, or derivation of automotive fuel, and less to examine the direction of research, or legislation.
But now, the importance of decisions to be made on the future of fuels, demands understanding. A clear perception of the oil and gasoline industry past and present, it's ability to cope with demands for cleaner fuels and the cost, along with an awareness of non-oil based fuels, their advantages and disadvantages, the technology and resources necessary to exploit them, will be required to arm the consumer with the fundamental knowledge needed to achieve responsible personal transport.
"PERFECT WHEELS" will examine the history evolution, and the impact it has had on personal transport, world economics and finally, the environment. It will produce a comprehensible, illustrative description of oil based products, how they developed, and the industrial processes needed to produce them. Familiar sights, such as oil wells, refineries, and laboratories, will be given a rational context to improve comprehension of how they work, their economics, and their development past, present and future.
New products and product philosophy will be examined, demonstrating the options open to the public, the industry and Legislators. Performance of products and the technologies they serve will be explored to ensure understanding of both the environmental and economic impact gasoline and other oil based products will have in the future.
Unlike gasoline, little is known, and less is understood of non-petroleum based hydrocarbon fuels. Gases, of various types are probably the best known and understood, but the level of public comprehension is low and generally restricted to their immediate uses in the home.
In some countries public awareness has been raised, but forgotten lessons from the past must be learned and understood. Like petroleum, gas must be seen through its history and potential future. If gas is to become an acceptable transport fuel, it must lose its war-time mystique, a poor substitute to gasoline. But has gas technology progressed enough since the days of gas bags on car roofs? Does it dramatically solve problems, or is it only an intermediate technology?
To accept gas as a significant fuel, it must be demonstrated how it's production, packaging, distribution, and use, contributes to the needs of the environment, and world economy.
Gas might be far from universal public knowledge, but fuels such as ethanol and methanol are even further from public comprehension. What are these fuels, how are they derived, and why does the EU and the U.S Government see them as viable alternatives to gasoline? Derivation is key, there is little history that can be relied on to indicate their source, industrial processes needed to produce them, or the effects they may have on the environment. Is there a convincing reason why governments should be considering them? The science, economics, and safety, along with their ability to meet market demands, will be examined along with, energy conversion, versatility, and potential for blended hybrid varieties.
In California, Methanol is marketed by law, alongside gasoline and other fuels, in France Ethanol will soon be required as an additive in gasoline. Subsidies and tax advantages are given to these products, but why on one fuel and not on others meeting common criteria?
The production, storage and distribution infrastructure of fuels is as complex as the choice of which fuel. Hydrogen, a front-runner in the alternative fuels race, provides a view of what is necessary to create, and market a new fuel from the ground up. Hydrogen can be burned or used to generate electricity by chemical means in hydrogen fuel-cells. For years it has been a Cinderella fuel used only in the space-industry. Only recently has it been regarded as a potential automotive energy source.
How does a fuel gather the momentum required to meet public demands? How does it grow from a potential fuel to an actual fuel, easily and safely available to the public? Can you really run a car on iron filings?
Finally, " PERFECT WHEELS " will examine electricity as a transport fuel. Consumption of electricity is clean and easily comprehensible. Electric cars have been around as long as the horseless carriage. in fact, as public transport the electric transport vehicle was a common sight until quite recently.
"Fuels" will trace the history and development of electric personal transport reminding viewers of its long history and merits. Why did this form of transport virtually disappear, and what has changed to make electricity a potential fuel source for the future.
"Fuels" will explore the current state of battery, fuel cell, and solar conversion technology, examining their feasibility, practical application, performance and effects on the environment. The programme will trace the change, and velocity of change in the technology, along with the implications of production and distribution, storage and transmission. Like other fuels in this programme, electricity must be viewed from its whole environmental, economic, and geopolitical perspective. Electricity is clean, but can it be produced in great enough quantity to supply personal transport, and what will be the cost of its production to the environment?
Electricity is the only fuel not dependent on combustion, the effects of its production and distribution, and its system of storage will be addressed. Availability of materials such as lead, sodium, hydrogen, lithium and the industrial processes to manufacture products using them, should be seen in context, along with the further implications of increased power generation on feed sources and energy conservation, Comprehension of the origins of the fuels shown, how they are produced, distributed, merchandised, and their future development is of key importance. The effects on the environment, of consumption of these fuels will not be confined to emissions from personal transport only, but will be an holistic accounting of sources of feed stock, transportation, production, storage, toxicity, sources and effects of materials used to produce and store these fuels.
The program will invite fuel industries to state their case for the future, giving the viewer an opportunity to freely examine and balance their ideas and comprehension. Public perception should be conditioned by rational discussion. How personal transport has in the first instance demanded specific fuels to meet its immediate needs, and how then, those needs have altered and demands changed.
One thing is certain, there are no panaceas, nor technological quick fixes that can satisfy public aspirations and fears. The future of fuels for personal transport is a question requiring thorough understanding and debate.
"Perfect Wheels" will provide concise, comprehensible facts to create the foundation required for intelligent public discussion and vision.
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