New Ways to Fuel Choice

Discussion
Jul 09, 2007

By Bernice Hurst, Managing Director, Fine Food Network

Let’s hear it for choice, that thing we’re constantly told we want. Sometimes, though, there is such a thing as too much choice. How many people really want, or need, to choose between more than three types of fuel for their car? In Europe we can buy our gas with or without lead. If we make such a decision before buying a car, we can also use diesel fuel. But all this may soon be changing.

Going against the tide of harmonization (trying to unify the countries in the European Union with shared laws, parliament and bureaucracy), member states are apparently now opting for different types of fuel. According to the Guardian, Sweden has made a big investment in ethanol while other countries are choosing compressed natural gas (CNG), mainly methane, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), as well as blends. Meanwhile, some carmakers are considering hydrogen. Then there’s electricity on its own or in hybrids.

For retailers, confusion is expected to ensue since not everyone can possibly provide the array of pumps, with appropriate storage tanks, to satisfy every shape and size of fuel demand. Consumers searching for a non-petrol car will also hesitate to buy one if they’re unsure about fuel accessibility. Yet without an effective distribution network and adequate availability, no new fuel will catch on, however green its credentials.

Meanwhile, a separate search is on to find ways to provide more time to come up with alternative fuels.

Noting that slower cars running on gas are more fuel-efficient, Chris Davies, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), has proposed that no new vehicles should be approved if they can exceed a 130kph (80mph) speed limit by more than 25 percent – i.e., if they can break 100 mph. Part of his reasoning is that it would “give the industry more time to produce feasible technology,” according to the Guardian report.

Using a similar argument, Tiffany Groode, co-author of MIT’s recent report on ethanol, says that using corn-based ethanol could “provide time for the development of better alternatives.” Supply Chain Digest reports on Ms. Groode’s general reservations about corn-based ethanol but says that she sees it as “a stepping-stone to other forms of ethanol currently being researched.”

As debates go, however, this could be academic. Car manufacturers, after all, decide what kind of engines to build, possibly even coming up with some that will operate on more than one type of fuel. Whatever they do, the rest of us will have to fall into step.

Discussion Questions: Do you see similar confusion over alternative fuel products on the horizon in the States? Will manufacturers decide the future or should consumers be given more choice of cars so that we can decide for ourselves what kind of fuel to endorse? What’s a sound strategy to roll out alternative fuels in the marketplace?

[Author’s comment] There are a couple of other issues involved here. One is the amount of land that would be necessary to grow sufficient corn to replace foreign oil, leaving a correspondingly smaller amount to feed animals and people. The other is one of cost; if less corn is grown for food, prices will go up. Presumably, at some stage, ethanol will no longer cost less than gas. Or, if it does, it would have to make up for considerably higher food costs. Which means the equation is still one of cheap food versus cheap fuel. Not much change there then.

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6 Comments on "New Ways to Fuel Choice"

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Ben Ball
Guest
10 years 5 months ago
Congress’ rush to be seen as “proactive” on energy dependency and carbon emissions will be our major hurdle as we go forward. Left to its own devices, the market will do just fine. Retailers will sort this out in short order as consumers and manufacturers jointly determine what the U.S. preferred fuel(s) will be. One big surprise will be that we are writing off oil derivatives far too quickly from both an economic and an environmental standpoint. Combine U.S. shale oil deposits and natural gas supplies with some version of the “clean diesel” technology and the CNG’s Europe is pursuing and you have up to another 100 years of relatively cheap fuel. (At least, that’s what I’ve read. No geology degrees on my wall though!) As for ethanol, it is the darling of Midwest farmers and Midwest politicians–but it will have legs because it is the most “close-in” fuel conversion. And anyone who has ever driven from Chicago to Omaha can tell you that U.S. farmers have plenty of tillable land currently sitting idle that… Read more »
Kai Clarke
Guest
10 years 5 months ago

Much of this is purely academic, since most of the alternatives are not feasible in an automotive environment. CNG, LPG or hydrogen based vehicles aren’t even possible in a laboratory environment, let alone in a manufacturing environment in the real world. On top of this we need to address the re-fueling infrastructure and safety and security. This leaves some type of internal combustion engine, or one coupled with an electric motor, since pure electric motors do not have the distance capability. Consumer choice is limited already, and the car manufacturers will decide the remaining choices based upon which alternatives make the best economical sense at that time.

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
10 years 5 months ago

Alternative fuels will come to market and be successful, but the question now is which ones? In the beginning the medium and higher grades of gasoline will be merged into one to make room for an ethanol product. We can expect regional rollout of alternatives based on product sourcing. The problem will be when State and/or Federal governments dictate not the market what products will be offered.

Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
10 years 5 months ago

We are in the early stages of this issue. The choices consumers actually have today are more limited. The view of the future may seem confusing because we are not there yet. At the early stages of fundamental technology shift (away from gasoline), there appear to be many choices, but these narrow as feasibility and marketplace factors come into play. Let’s not jump the gun on this.

Mark Lilien
Guest
10 years 5 months ago

Most gas stations would be happy to provide a greater fuel variety if they knew it would be profitable. Alternative fuels have no market share right now, so why should any gas stations bother? It’s good that there are so many competing approaches to alternative fuels, since more competition is likely to lead to better solutions. And each nation has to consider its resources. Brazil has used sugar cane based ethanol for at least 25 years, since they had no domestic oil until recently. South Africa is the world leader in coal-based fuel because it is the sixth largest coal producer in the world, and has no oil.

When an alternative fuel is revealed to be economically superior to gasoline, widespread adoption will be quick.

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
10 years 5 months ago

Henry Ford obviously had it right, One Model (Model T), One Color (Black), and One Fuel (Gasoline). The Model T was produced for 19 yeas, no annual new models. Before the model T, automobiles were a luxury item. By 1927 there were 15,000,000 Ts. No need to make any decisions there….

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