By RailPAC President Noel T. Braymer — The key to major reductions in our Oil use is transportation, since 65% of our Oil consumption is used for transportation. New York City on a per capita basis uses about half as much gasoline as the national average; the reason is rather obvious, as New Yorkers drive less and use a great deal of public transportation. The same is true of most major European cities. Expanding transit and more importantly planning development around transit, commuter and intercity rail will greatly cut back on car use.
Let’s not forget freight. Many rail mainlines are already congested. They will need improving to carry more traffic. With track improvements we can carry more freight by rail on containers and trailers on flatcars (TOFC) that are now carried by truck while saving fuel and reducing pollution. To be competitive with trucks such service needs to be on par for speed and on time performance with good passenger service. Upgrading rail lines for better service will benefit both passenger and freight service.
Another factor in the future will be alternative fuels. There is energy in waste products from farms and the lumber industry that can be made into fuel. The United States also has a lot of coal, much more coal than oil. Does this mean going back to coal burning steam locomotives? How can you fill up on coal for your car? What you can do with coal is reprocess it to get methane gas while separating out the soot and other pollutants found in coal. Methane basically is the “Natural Gas” most people have in their homes. The technology for getting methane from coal is over 200 years old and is how the gas for 19th century gas lights was made. Gasoline, diesel and gas turbine engines run very cleanly and well on methane.
One problem with using methane is as a gas it requires heavy tanks and is difficult to transport. Liquid fuel is much easier to ship and use. Well methane can be turned into a liquid fuel. This was done in Germany during World War II . Coal was turned into methane and then into gasoline. Qatar is a small Persian Gulf country with a great deal of Natural Gas (methane) but has been unable to sell it because it is impractical to build a pipeline to customers. Starting next year Qatar will be selling liquid diesel fuel made from methane. The fuel is so clean it’s clear .
No doubt you are worried about global warning and pollution as well you should be. Massive coal mining creates problems and swapping equal oil use for methane from coal is hardly a solution. The future belongs to hybrid vehicles. A hybrid vehicle can be a car, bus, truck or locomotive that runs both on electricity from a battery and a fuel powered engine be it gasoline, diesel or gas turbine. No doubt you’ve heard a great deal of talk about in the future cars will run on hydrogen with fuel cells. What you may not have heard is the designs for fuel cell cars are also hybrids, requiring a battery with the fuel cell acting as a generator. Also the hydrogen is expected to come from coal.
We now have hybrid cars that get around 50 mile to the gallon. This is better than the 20-30 mpg of most cars, but the extra expense of a hybrid is rarely paid off from increased fuel savings. What would you think of a car that gets over 200 mpg? Impossible?, well it has been done. An off the shelf hybrid car was modified with extra batteries and the ability to have its batteries charged when parked. This turned a gasoline powered car with some battery assist into a mostly electric car with a gasoline engine for back up, giving the vehicle almost unlimited range. We don’t have to wait for fuel cells in the unknown future before saving a great deal of energy while still maintaining a high standard of living.
No doubt this won’t be popular with the oil or auto industry. Both make their profits from extravagance, not economy. There will be claims that charging batteries won’t save energy. But that isn’t true. There are electrical shortages during times like hot days. But at night demand is lower and electricity is available and the cost of charging batteries is far lower on a per mile basis than gasoline. The problems to saving energy are not technological, they are political. Many of the problems we have now could have been avoided with a little planning. Even if alternative fuels cost $10 dollars a gallon, if one gallon is a full tank that’s a lot less than what people pay today. Wouldn’t it be nice to be self-contained as far as energy? This means a much lower trade deficit, less pollution, less greenhouse effect gases, inflation would be under control and people would have more money to spend on other things beside oil.