Friday, November 11, 2011

Alternative Automobile Technologies.

Considering the energy resources available these days, particularly in the automobile industry, alternative fuel options such as biofuels and electric technologies are kind of gaining a fast forward momentum. Political guns guarding the monopoly of conventional oil corporate giants remain a barrier yet to be crossed. It’s not the lack of wisdom which prevents the free run of these advanced masterpieces, but some selfish yet reasonable combination of matters related with demand and supply policies.

Talking about the electric automotive technology, EV1 by GM stands out in history as the new age pure electric beast which could have definitely made a good difference, unless it was voluntarily destroyed by its own makers in 2002, almost a decade after its birth, by crushing every single car ignoring strong customer oppositions, owing to reasons still speculated within the conspiracy circles. It’s purely a result of the greedy brains of petro-politicians hypnotized by the oil corporate companies, who just wanted to deal business with the yet to be cleared oil reserves of our planet.

Considering the power of electric cars, Tesla Roadster is the one which undoubtedly grabs the limelight. With 250 hp electric engine powered by 450 kg lithium ion battery, matching with that of a Porsche Boxster, this all electric production sports car is one of a kind. If it’s the acceleration which catches your attention, then Tesla can do from 0 to 100 km/hr in 4 sec with ease. The concept of installing batteries to fuel engines instead of the usual petroleum or crude oil have been updated constantly ever since the inception of the electric car idea.

Pretty much in the same lane is the hydrogen fuelled ones such as the Honda FCX Clarity, which uses a fuel cell with hydrogen in combination with oxygen to produce electricity to power electric motors and emitting just water vapors. While the BMW Hydrogen Series 7 uses hydrogen to burn an internal combustion engine. Hydrogen is a potential energy fuel source but has the disadvantages such as the need to have considerable number of refueling stations and advanced storage facilities, as it requires cryogenic systems to compress or liquefy them which are laboursome. Unless there are measures from the government to take initiatives to invest a reasonable sum in setting up subsidies and infrastructures for the goodwill of our environment, hydrogen fuel engines won’t catch up fast.

Then comes the hybrid legends such as the Toyota Prius, which crossed 2 million unit sales in 2010. This one was considered as the cleanest vehicle on the planet during its launch and has pretty much met the expectations, making it the most desirable green car in almost 70 countries worldwide. The strategy adopted in the hybrid propulsion system of Prius, is the switching from an electric engine to an internal combustion engine for accelerations over 25 km/hr. The good news is a plug in hybrid version of Toyota Prius was unveiled on the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, scheduled to be released on the market by 2012.

Biofuels have safely secured a green card in the face of new age energy options with bioethanol and biodiesel having an exponential production statistics in the recent years. The factors associated with biofuels which could be considered worth worrying for include the food versus fuel needs, deforestation, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity etc. But they are just a speck of dust in comparison with the shocking green house gas emission rates, endangered fossil fuel reserves , energy security of the planet and of course the ever increasing oil prices.

The role of microbial bio engineering in the production of advanced new generation biofuels is of increasing interest opening a new window of unexplored natural scientific magic. Microbes did make some news with its potential in cleaning up nuclear waste recently, thanks to the researchers in Michigan State University. The timing, at which the efficiency of Geobacter species in clearing up radioactive debris grabbing the global attention, could not be more perfect, particularly being in the midst of continuing fears from the Fukushima reactor outbursts. The use of some fungal enzyme extracts to breakdown cellulose to produce cellulose ethanol, an advanced from of biofuel and the use of the fungus Gliocladium roseum in the production of a myco-diesel are major breakthroughs. Though biofuels have revolutionized a major sector of the road transport throughout the world, it was given a major facelift with its introduction in aviation sector by Virgin Atlantic in 2008. It was then followed by Air New Zealand, US Navy & Air force, Air China and the most recent one to join the league is the Air Alaska in November 2011.

However, the only part which could be a threat in this green revolution is the competency of fuel with the need for food. We have witnessed enough wars and destructions worldwide over oil to fuel our automobiles. Hope there won’t be any such cruelty for biofuels, as most forms of it needs land acquisitions to grow the crops, which might drive the corporate giants to claim farming lands ignoring people and our basic need, hunger posing a check on our food security.

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