While some of us have repeatedly pointed out, here and Al Fin Energy as the short list of examples, efficiency can have a huge payoff.  One professor, Dan Sperling has a book out titled “Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability” that might tweak one’s thoughts.  It has in fact tweaked Geoffrey Styles who writes the oft-quoted Energy Outlook blog page.

As a UC Davis alumni Mr. Styles was triggered to write his own post on the topic called “Going Farther on Oil” by a short article in his UC Davis alumni magazine (on pages 8 and 9) about Sperling’s book.  The article about the book examines the impact and implications of the rapidly growing global vehicle population in a vastly different perspective than the popular doomsday press reports.  Much to the uninformed’s surprise; it is possible for many more people to have personal powered transportation.  That should be a huge relief as personal transport and the mobility it allows, stimulates and motivates a huge amount of human effort and productivity.  That means customers for you and mor, better and cheaper things you’d like to buy.

Media types tend to overlook the immeasurable benefits to everyone when the world economic pie gets bigger.  In the adaptable economies, it means bigger slices.  The richer world means a richer you.

The article’s points stimulated Mr. Styles to wonder just how far we might be able to stretch the transportation fuels we get from oil, and just how far short they would fall as the global car fleet expands. To Mr. Styles’ surprise, it doesn’t require very aggressive assumptions concerning improvements in fuel economy, reductions in vehicle miles traveled, and additional oil supplies to cover the needs of a significantly larger number of cars in the world.

Quoting Mr. Styles,

“The starting point for such an analysis is current oil supplies and the way we process them. Global oil output in 2008 reached 86.5 million barrels per day (MBD), including crude oil, natural gas liquids, and the volumetric gain that occurs when you run them through a modern refinery. Roughly 60% of that input is currently turned into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Improvements in refining technology should make it possible to push that fraction to perhaps 70%, at the expense of heavy fuel oil displaced from power generation and shipping. So even if global oil output plateaued at only 90 MBD, a scenario that would probably seem optimistic to the adherents of Peak Oil and pessimistic to some industry experts, it could still yield 63 MBD of liquid transportation fuels. Set aside 7 MBD of that for jet fuel and kerosene and another 26 MBD for trucking and home heating oil, and we’re left with 30 MBD of gasoline and diesel for passenger cars. That’s roughly 25% more than current global consumption, in light-duty vehicles, including the couple of MBD of diesel fuel that power Europe’s popular diesel cars.”

That 10% shift in refinery output will certainly be an issue for many, but Styles is right, there is more variability than the outside “experts” will consider.  A little more technology, which is sure to come in any case and the 70% number might be low in a few years.  Yet there is a cap, not yet found, so Mr. Styles looks at the other side, one of my favorites, efficiency.  Go Geoff!

“That doesn’t seem to get us nearly far enough, until we consider that in the near future, cars will become much more efficient than they have been, particularly in the US, where an improvement from the current national average of 25 mpg to the required 35.5 should eventually reduce average fuel consumption per mile by 30%. If the recent reversal in annual vehicle miles traveled persists after the recession ends that would compound future fuel savings. When we consider that new cars in Europe currently average about 35 mpg and are required to reach approximately 43 mpg by 2015, based on a standard of 130 grams of CO2 emitted per kilometer, and that China has also introduced stricter fuel economy standards, it’s not hard to imagine the average world car getting 40 mpg by 2020. That doesn’t even require the majority of cars to be hybrids, let alone plug-in hybrids. If that average car drove 9,000 miles per year, it would consume 225 gallons of fuel annually. Following this back-of-the-envelope calculation to its conclusion, our 30 MBD of petroleum-based fuel for light-duty vehicles would be sufficient to cover Dr. Sperling’s 2 billion cars with a little bit left over.”

Most of us are, with a level or disgust or dread, not looking forward to the inevitable smaller cars.  But the rest of everyone’s standard of living depends in part on Americans ditching the gas hogs in a major way, thus preserving and improving our own standard of living.  That’s a long chain for many people to grasp, yet the reality is that when you have more and wealthier customers you’re going to be better off, too.

Mr. Styles’ exercise points out a useful reality.  Fuel products are either in balance or short of supply or demand.  We know, having been retrained again over the past two years, that the moments of balance are fleeting and that short supply leads to economic trouble.  The risk in the matter is the continued supply of the raw crude.

That’s why alternatives are so important, every barrel per day that can come to market under the balanced price will make more of the world’s people wealthier.  For adequate food, jobs, education, good housing and safe retirement and pensions, getting more low cost alternatives is just crucial.  Humanity isn’t going to turn back the clock no matter what dreams may foment in the minds of the social engineers.  More fuel, used more efficiently is the only plan that can work.

Thanks for the post Geoff.


2 Comments so far

  1. Matt on July 21, 2009 8:50 AM

    According to thenextbigfuture China has 100 million electric bikes. Once the eestore powered version hits – these personal vehicles will have highway speed and 100 mile range. And, they will be sustainable.

  2. David on November 12, 2009 8:04 AM

    The electric bicycle comment brings up a couple interesting points – energy for transportation can be sourced from various fuels, with the right hardware (electricity from coal now and renewables in the future, and both cheaper than oil at present prices and efficiency). See “winning the Oil Endgame” by Amory Lovins, who also makes the point that vehicles need to be lighter, but that size can be related to safety, so cars should be big enough to be safe. I do not want to see 10 times as many bicycles on the highway at speed. Taking the bus is much safer with comparable efficiency (use a bicycle to get to and from the bus, maybe).

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