I am BARRY HESS > Blog

Suv

Fareed Zakaria joins the outcry. Andrew Sullivan has been all over it, too.

The SUV phenomenon is pretty interesting. I don’t really begrudge those with three kids and an SUV. There is a practical purpose and the vehicle basically replaces a mini-van. I suspect the van is more fuel efficient, and convenient, but neither are great.

Yet there are tens of thousands of families out there with one or fewer kids that truck around the countryside in their “utility vehicle.” My family, which includes me, a 15-month-old and a woman, was able to go on a 5-day vacation to Duluth in a Jetta with a car seat and portable crib as part of the luggage. Comfortably. We’re not talking a new, spacious Jetta, either. If I had another kid, well maybe a Passat (whose gas economy is the same as a Jetta) or a Passat wagon. Three kids? Not quite sure what I’d do.

The most disgusting part of the rising SUV, and ginormous quad cab pickup, tide was easily the government tax breaks for small business. This allowed a stay-at-home mom to start a scrapbooking business and incented her to purchase the largest, most gas-guzzling SUV she could find. The only requirement? Slap a logo on the vehicle. Now here’s your $17,000.

My Jetta is a diesel car. It gets around 40 miles to the gallon. Very excellent considering diesel is at times being sold for less than gasoline these days. Economically speaking it is outstanding.

Yet I wonder; is diesel the most efficient use of a barrel of crude? I had trouble finding the answer. Well, I didn’t find the answer. Web searches resulted in composition percentages, with a barrel netting a larger amount of gas than diesel. However I got the feeling that these were estimates of what a barrel can provide. For instance, I don’t think a barrel of crude can be wholly converted into gasoline or diesel. It nets multiple fuels based on contents. I did not find the answer to whether or not a nation dependent on diesel rather than gasoline would be less dependent on crude.

Interesting developments are on the horizon for biodiesel. Economies of scale along with inevitable agricultural advancements could allow us to become drastically less dependent on foreign oil - indeed any traditional oil.

Wikipedia:

Additional factors must be taken into account, such as: the fuel equivalent of the energy required for processing, the yield of fuel from raw oil, the return on cultivating food, and the relative cost of biodiesel versus petrodiesel. A 1998 joint study by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture traced many of the various costs involved in the production of biodiesel and found that overall, it yields 3.2 units of fuel product energy for every unit of fossil fuel energy consumed.

It appears that this study expected that the production of biodiesel depends on fossil fuels. As efficiency grows could it not be expected that the fossil fuel portion of this equation will drop significantly? Could bio-fuel replace most, if not all, of the fossil fuel used in the process? Those farmers and distributors producing and delivering the product by-in-large already have a policy of using their own fuels for all of their work and transportation.

More Wiki:

More recent studies using a species of algae that has oil contents of as high as 50% have concluded that as little as 28,000 km² or 0.3% of the land area of the US could be utilized to produce enough biodiesel to replace all transportation fuel the country currently utilizes. Further encouragement comes from the fact that the land that could be most effective in growing the algae is desert land with high solar irradiation, but lower economic value for other uses and that the algae could utilize farm waste and excess CO2 from factories to help speed the growth of the algae.

Basically, bio-diesel is a solar energy, making use of the energy provided by plants’ photosynthesis.

I did not read up on ethanol. I’ve heard a lot of inefficiency complaints toward that product. It wouldn’t surprise me if they are true, either, as ethanol is kind of a limited application of alternative fuel. Using a single crop with picky gas engines must be a more difficult process.

And of course, we probably have no chance of getting this ball rolling until at least 2009. It depends on who presides over our government.

(Please let me know if I have any of my facts wrong. Were the tax breaks really that easy to get? Is diesel known to be a waster of crude?)

Update:

Some more interesting info on ethanol and biodiesel.

Fuel Energy Yield Net Energy (loss) or gain
Gasoline 0.805 (19.5 percent)
Diesel 0.843 (15.7 percent)
Ethanol 1.34 34 percent
Biodiesel 3.20 220 percent
The positive energy ratio displayed by ethanol and biodiesel is accounted for by the contribution of solar energy collected by the crop from which the fuel is made. This energy is considered "renewable" because a new crop is raised each year. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, originate from fossilized plants and animals stored beneath the earth's surface in a process that took millions of years.