random thoughts regarding automobiles

I've read 3 items in the media in the past day regarding automobiles that piqued my interest. The first was in Newsweek and was a short interview with Chris Balish, author of "How to Live Well Without Owning a Car". The other two items were science articles regarding the feasibility of using corn stalks as fuel (as opposed to the ethanol processed from the corn kernals), and a new way to store hydrogen in a fuel tank to make it easier to use.

First of all, I've never liked cars. I was reluctant to learn to drive when a teen and I've never really become interested in them. To me they're just a tool that I need. According to Balish, almost anyone can use mass transit and end their dependance on cars and gasoline. He thinks that the money savings would allow for the purchase of a residence close-in to town where prices are higher.

Well, I agree that cars are expensive. I live 12 miles from town mostly due to the houses being less than half the price where I live as opposed to Chapel Hill. My house cost $144k but something similar in Chapel Hill would be around $300k, and the taxes would more than double as well. I can afford a lot of car on the $1,500 a month I'm saving by living where I do! LOL

Actually, of course, I couldn't afford a large house in CH at all. I'd have to buy a small condo, less than 900 Sq Ft, and it'd still cost around 20% more than my current house.

On the other hand, it's kinda weird where I live. Most of the houses have two people living in them and very few have just two cars. For example, the neighbor that lives behind me is an engineer. He and his wife both have their primary vehicles. Then they have this nice van-like thing they use for road trips and they have a giant truck for doing "manly" projects along with a big trailer for hauling stuff. There's a number of other houses in my small subdivision that are similar.

Now this engineer works a second job part-time 'cause he tells me that the two of them just can't afford to live on thier salaries. While I don't comment on that to him--I keep wondering if he realizes how much his extra vehicles are costing him every month? I wouldn't want to live where I do without a vehicle--but I just don't see the need to have 2 or 3. If you need a truck a few times a year--rent one! It's a lot cheaper to rent one occasionally than making payments on one you own. Anyway...

As I've commented before, I find the idea of ethanol in gas, subsidized heavily by the government, made from corn kernals, also subsisidized by the government, to be quite annoying, even ridiculous. And now the price of corn is rising quite a bit which means that in addition to the double government subsidy on this gasahol thing, we the consumers are now also subsidizing gasahol by paying higher prices for corn products. And so it goes...

Hydrogen as fuel. In a sense all our fuel is hydrogen already. We burn hydrocarbons like gasoline and diesal now. Due to impurities like sulphur and nitrogen we get pollutants like H2SO4, and NO. If we were to burn hydrogen (H2) then there'd be no pollutants due to H2 gas oxidixing into water. (2 H2 + O2 --> 2 H2O) The fly in the ointment here is that hydrogen is a gas and so you have to contain it under a lot of pressure to make it usable as a practical fuel source.

Admittedly it burns quite readily as a vapor--witness the Hindenburg explosion for evidence--but a tank of hydrogen vapor won't get you very far. And the problem of moving highly pressurized hydrogen gas around the country and into storage tanks at filling stations and then into high pressure tanks in individual cars...is considerable.

Cars are noisy and smelly but I guess we're going to have them in the current state for at least another decade or so.


Michael Manning said…
Utenzi: Very thought provoking! I've always loved the engineering of cars, body styles and so forth. But in this day and age, I try to follow what's new in the labs and battery-powered cars seem tobe one area of focus. Great post!
carli said…
Shouldn't we be focusing on biofuels that won't ultimately result in higher food costs? I hate that it all comes down to politics. Instead of planting more corn (which in itself has a negative environmental impact on the planet), shouldn't we be finding fuel from resources that already exist, like turkey carcasses and used French Fry oil?
You should buy a "veggie car" kit and convert your vehicle, Tenz.
As for me, I'd be a lot happier if idiot drivers would spend less time on their cell phones and more time turning their freaking turn signals on before they almost plow into me while I'm walking to work.
Bob-kat said…
Very interesting! I must say I agree with you about this apart from the liking car thing. I love my little car and I love driving it. However, I hate commuting.

Drivers in the Uk are taxed heavily and the price of fuel over here would make your toes curl!
Pearl said…
Organizing one's life to be less reliant on cars was an improvement for us. One's brain flips between sedentary slush and stress in a car and on foot or in bicycle one feels healthier. Cars have a long way to go in noise reduction and efficiency. It seems they need public and government pressure to do it.
chemgeek said…
quite right :)

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