~e; fwd: Kicking the Petroleum Habit

From bc <human@electronetwork.org>
Date Sat, 15 Dec 2001 10:37:38 -0600

Kicking the Petroleum Habit
By John Gartner

 From Wired News, available online at:

2:00 a.m. Dec. 14, 2001 PST
SACRAMENTO, California -- Alternative fuels are not only good for the
environment, but they also protect our national security.

The message that Americans need to wean themselves from foreign oil
echoed continually through the halls of this week's Electric 
Transportation Industry Conference.

"Being timid will not reduce the oil gap by 2020," said Thomas Gross,
deputy assistant secretary for transportation technologies at the 
Department of Energy, during the conference's opening keynote speech.

The conference features the latest innovations in electric vehicles
powered by batteries, hydrogen fuel cells and hybrid cars from auto 
makers including Ford, Toyota, Honda and Daimler-Chrysler.

Electric vehicle makers and energy providers, who have an obvious
self-interest, agreed that diversifying our energy supply in an era 
of uncertainty has become crucial.

"World events have changed our view of energy and independence," said
Firoz Rasul, CEO of Ballard Power Systems, which develops fuel cell 
technology. "Oil dependency has become a national security risk," 
Rasul said. He admitted that creating the infrastructure to deliver 
hydrogen to fuel cell vehicles across the country will be a 
challenge, but one that can be overcome.

Rasul said the gas station revolution of the 1920s was a comparable
precedent. He said the number of pumping stations rose from 12,000 to 
143,000 in just eight years. Fuel cell makers, he added, must also 
allay public fear that hydrogen is a dangerous chemical -- known in 
the industry as "Hindenburg syndrome."

According to a 2000 Oak Ridge National Laboratory study, the
dependency on foreign petroleum has cost the United States between 
$3.8 trillion and $13.7 trillion in lost potential gross domestic 

The study also said that shortly after each of the significant oil
price spikes (1973-74, 1979-80 and 1990-91), the United States 
entered a recession. This year's gas price run-up and subsequent 
recession makes it a perfect four for four.

But will American consumers feel patriotic enough to plunk down more
cash for electric cars?

John Wallace, executive director of Ford's Think division, said it
will be difficult as long as gasoline stays cheap. "We need a 
sustained gas price of $2.50 per gallon for people to feel it's 
expensive." Wallace said he would support a tax to raise the price to 

Politically Incorrect host Bill Maher has bluntly characterized
America's addiction to cheap gasoline, saying: "We need to stop 
buying the dope they are selling." He argues that U.S. consumers are 
providing much of the income to countries where terrorism is rooted.

Wallace and many industry executives concur that government
intervention is needed to jump-start the electric vehicle industry. 
Wallace cites government programs such as the $239 million that the 
Department of Energy has spent on fuel cell research as "the only way 
to get at our petroleum dependency."

Gregory Dolan, vice president of communications and policy for the
Methanol Institute, a consortium of methanol companies, says natural 
gas can be used in fuel cell cars to replace Middle Eastern oil.

Dolan said it is available from a wider variety of locations,
including Latin America and Trinidad, and "the last time I was in the 
port of Spain, there wasn't the need for a U.S. battleship to be 
there to protect me."

Roland J. Hwang of the Natural Resources Defense Council said during a
presentation titled Reducing Petroleum Dependence that two-thirds of 
the world's oil reserves are in the Middle East, with 40 percent of 
that from Saudi Arabia.

Nicole Hubiak of the California Fuel Partnership said the public is
starting to realize the need to reduce oil dependency. Although fuel 
cell vehicles won't likely be on the market until 2003, "People who 
come by the office and learn about fuel cells say they want them -- 
and they want to buy them now."

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