The More Provided, The More Spent?: “Money and Energy!”

Did you know, every year, the total driving distance in America totals the same distance to the sun and back 16,000 times over, where 28% of total energy consumption goes to freight transportation through various by-land modes, e.g., personal vehicle, large trucks, public transportation, air cargo, locomotive, as well as by-water shipping vessels and pipelines. All combined, motorway vehicles and motorcycles takes up 58% of the total energy consumption, followed by large cargo trucks at 23%, cargo planes 8%, cargo ships 4% and trains at 3%, respectively. 

Fuel burning expeditions has been the normal American lifestyle in the last decade. The US’s population comprises less than 5% of the world’s population but owns more than one-fifth of all vehicles on the planet. In 2015, automobiles, motorcycles, trucks and buses combined over 3 trillion miles in a single year – that equals over 16,000 trips back and forth between the sun and earth. It is estimated that 25 years from now the distance will increase by 23%; and logically consequential, so should the increase in demand for fuel. Baffling to stick-in-the-mud pundits, though, to the contrary, such demand has only increased by 0.84% according to recent records. The nice surprise as a result of advanced developments in the auto industry, predominantly, changes in energy requirements. Initially, the development saw a reduction in fuel consumption. Then, as savings increased from less fuel needed for the same mile, it took another surprise turn and the number of vehicles on the road increased as well. Cleaner energy requirements actually increased the appetite to commute in motor vehicles.

Previously, around 92% of energy consumption in transportation has been on gasoline and diesel. As the ICE engines ignite, fuel burning expeditions release carbon dioxide, dust, nitrogen oxides (the component that causes smoke), carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbon (UHCs). All of which are classified as Greenhouse Gases (GHG) and spawn long-term heat trapping effects on the planet, preventing excessive heat from being vented. By “long term”, most gases stay up there for centuries, some even millenniums, and compound; thus, the compound heat trap effect.

Although being used increasingly, Tight Oil, also known as shale oil or light tight oil (LTO), is a petroleum that consists of light crude oil contained in petroleum-bearing formations of low permeability, often shale or tight sandstone; and thus, is treated with great care by the oil industry. Today, alternative sources of energy are constantly sought after and explored to keep up with expanding demand. With no viable solution to environmental problems caused by the burning of fossil fuels, Biofuels have emerged as a viable option amounting to 4.9% of transport fuel in the United States in 2015, mainly as a blend of ethanol and gasoline.

Along with fuel-efficiency ICEs, other by-land alternative powertrains have emerged, also, utilizing a variety of energy types such as Hybrids, Electric Vehicles (EVs) all the way to natural gas and hydrogen powered cars, all of which reduce the fossil fuel dependence. The latter, though, facing additional complications related to specifications in producing hydrogen power, e.g., hydrogen power stations that come with higher price tags.

In the short term, the best way to reduce demand for petroleum may require encouraging the advancement of fuel efficient vehicles instead of seeking alternative energy or powertrains that come at high costs. Most advancements have occurred as a result of the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards first introduced in 1975 and modified in 2007, with yearly enhancement of stringent stipulations and reinforcement covering the 2012 to 2025 period.

A CAFE study covering 2007 to 2015 found that medium size vehicles with advanced fuel efficiency systems have the potential to raise the bar for emission standards on a yearly basis, where quality is currently set according to 2014 standard for medium size vehicles. For medium and large trucks, the 2018 standard is already in place as the official guidance even before the year is reached.

So, looking back at Thailand, although the total driving distance on available roads don’t add up to a fraction of the US’s, nor is technological infrastructure in place to innovate our own solutions, yet; we must be aware of our fuel consumption. As Thailand does not produce gasoline or natural gas, drivers depend on imports from other nations. If we are not conservative on our consumption, even though oil prices are low; the chickens always come home to roost. The consequences of our own actions always finds the way back to haunt us later on, they be directly through air quality, over congested roads, particular in peak hours where big cars roam the streets with a single passenger, and stress as a result of more time spent on the road, or indirectly, through worsen pollution and a hotter planet to live in; thus, all the natural event that come as a result, e.g., increased temperature, floods, droughts, wildfire, and etc., all of which diminish our quality of life. Economically, increased dependency on foreign energy and import can also hinder overall growth, as well.

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