Thursday, September 14, 2006

Amory Lovins on Winning the Oil Endgame

Amory Lovins lays out a plant for "Winning the Oil Endgame" in this very informative video (also check out his book). Here are the key points I took away.

He believes we can get off oil in 40 years with business for profit, accelerated by the Department of Defense. His plan is based on using ultralight materials, like carbon fibres, to make cars, long haul trucks and planes.

Ultralight car materials would double efficiency of vehicles (twice the mpg) by making them half as heavy. Other techniques like reducing idling, lowering drag and increasing aerodynamic efficiencies would improve it even more. He estimates a cost of $2,500 extra for a carbon body SUV, but this would pay for itself in lower lifetime fuel costs.

He is starting with long haul trucks. I think this is smart as businesses don't care what trucks look like and they are focused on the bottom line. They are willing to make long term investments if the rate of return justifies it. Wal-Mart has bought on and is attempting to double their entire fleet mileage from 6.5 mpg to 13. Every increase in 1 mpg adds $52 million a year to their bottom line.

The Department of Defense (DoD) spends 33% of its money and 50% of people on logistics. Fuel was 70% of the Army's tonnage deployed in Desert Storm. Efficiency therefore is a tactical advantage. They could save $2-3 billions in fuel, and cut logistic costs by 5-10x the cost of the saved fuel with ultralight materials. DoD and DARPA funding helped to create the Internet, GPS, computer chips, and the jet engine industry. They could do the same for the advance materials industry.

I think this all makes sense from an engineering side, but I wonder if this is really an economic issue. With low gasoline prices in the 90s, Americans chose to buy larger cars rather than reduce their gasoline usage. If we have these ultralight cars and fuel is cheap, why won't we get back to having larger and more powerful cars? I think a gasoline tax is also necessary to make this work.

Overall, he has a visionary plan and one worth checking out.

via TreeHugger

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