Infrastructure considerations for gasoline, ethanol, biodiesel, electricity, hydrogen, and other tra

The history of gasoline use has shown us something.  A fuel is more useful when there is an installed infrastructure allowing you to easily refuel your vehicle.  Easily refueling your vehicle lets you drive further simply by stopping to refuel.

The ubiquity of gasoline refueling infrastructure is so well installed that it gives one the illusion of infinite range.  In fact the range of a gasoline vehicle is the miles per gallon times the number of gallons in the tank minus a little so that you refuel before running out.  Gasoline vehicles have a limited range just as do ethanol or biodiesel or electric or hydrogen vehicles.  The difference is that gasoline and diesel refueling is available essentially everywhere.  The other transportation fuels have spotty refueling infrastructure.  It might be a conspiracy by the oil industry as some suggest, but the practical fact is that it is the refueling infrastructure which hinders the adoption of other fuels.

Let’s look at the issues around a few of the alternatives:

Natural Gas is widely available in almost every building but when used in a vehicle it must be compressed.  Getting the compressor installed is not straightforward, and there isn’t a network of natural gas refueling stations.  Natural gas used in homes is not compressed.

Ethanol is readily burnable in most gasoline engines, especially ones certified as “flex fuel”.  Ethanol is often blended with gasoline already.  However high concentration ethanol such as E85 is in limited supply at regular gasoline stations.  It seems most of them are in the midwest U.S.

Biodiesel is in a similar situation as Ethanol, however it can only be used in diesel vehicles which are themselves rather rare in the U.S.

Electricity is ubiquitously everywhere that our modern society goes.  It lights our homes, brushes our teeth, keeps our food from rotting, even lets us pretend to put candles into trees at Christmas.  But for some reason talk about charging an electric car and it seems to get confusing as to thinking there’s no place to charge an electric car.  Electricity is used to charge electric cars, electricity is everywhere, so what’s the big deal?  The deal is actually to do with the power level used in recharging a car in that the battery pack in a car is large enough that 10 kilowatts of power is a modest speed recharge.   Contrarily 10 kilowatts is enough to power 5 homes (or thereabouts).  The utility companies job is to provide enough electricity for each neighborhood and they’re concerned that a neighborhood with a lot of electric cars would stress the neighborhood transformer making it blow up.  The automotive industry has also insisted on designing a special purpose connector and charging station (electric vehicle service equipment) rather than allowing electric cars to plug into normal power sockets.  They state it has to do with safety, e.g. can it be made safe to plug in an EV charging cord while standing in the rain?  Or maybe Fred Astaire would sing and dance in the rain while charging his EV.   In other words what keeps electric vehicles from being able to charge everywhere isn’t that electricity is rare and hard to find, what’s rare and hard to find is permission from the power companies to do so, and places which have the special power cord allowing an electric car to plug in to recharge.

Hydrogen is one of the most common elements in the universe.  Our every day is lit by hydrogen fusion occuring 93 million miles away.  Pure hydrogen is pretty rare here on this planet and simply isn’t readily available.  Hydrogen vehicles store the hydrogen either compressed or liquified.  Either way requires a lot of energy to either compress or liquify the hydrogen.  The tanks are large but mercifully light.  The tanks are however difficult and time-consuming to build.  There are very very few places where hydrogen vehicles can be refueled.  Usually the hydrogen is produced by extracting it from natural gas.

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About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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  1. Pingback: Nissan announces first “commercial” lease of their X-Trail fuel cell vehicle | The Long Tail Pipe

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