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Car of the Future Open Production

Your E-Mailed Questions & Ideas

Over the winter of 2006-2007, we received nearly 900 e-mails from our online audience for this "Open Production." Some people suggested ideas for the documentary; others posed questions for us to ask of the experts being interviewed. All the input was greatly appreciated, and it is informing how we produce not just the broadcast program but also the companion Web site, teacher's guides, and other materials.

Below is a sampling of the questions submitted, as well as excerpts from our expert interviews that address these questions.

—Susan K. Lewis, NOVA Web Editor

Q: How safe are "lightweight" cars? Are they capable of being both lightweight and safe at the same time?
Jenny T., Thomas Jefferson High School, Nebraska

A: David Greene, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The safety argument has been used very effectively over the past 20 years to prevent increases in fuel economy and prevent the Congress from raising fuel economy. ... The argument that increasing fuel economy will decrease highway safety is simply not true. It hasn't been true in the past, and there's no reason for it to be true in the future. What confuses people is that it's definitely true that if you run a huge vehicle into a small vehicle, the occupants of the smaller vehicle are at much greater risk than the occupants of the large vehicle. However, what I gain by buying a larger vehicle—heavier vehicle, not a larger vehicle actually—what I gain by buying a heavier vehicle, in terms of my car colliding with your car, you lose. So from a societal perspective, this is essentially a zero sum game. If I get a heavier car, I'm safer in a collision with you. You're less safe.

What we know from the history of traffic fatalities in the US is that the increase in fuel economy we saw on the road has no correlation with traffic fatalities whatsoever over the past 50 years. We have the data now. ... We can look back to 1960 and say, "Is there any correlation between fuel economy improvement and highway traffic fatalities?" Now we know there isn't any.

And in terms of the safety of individual vehicles and the role of mass (the weight of the vehicle) and the role of the size of the vehicle, the best evidence now shows that it would be good to maintain the size of the vehicles and take a little weight out. Because the consequences of a crash depend on the ability of the vehicle to slow down—the rate of deceleration of the vehicle—and to slow down especially the rate of deceleration that the bodies inside experience. ... Having a little space, having some size to the vehicle, is helpful in that. Having extra mass for a given size is actually bad, because it means there's more energy that has to be absorbed, so it's harder for the structure to absorb that energy in a crash. And so what we understand now is that we would like to keep the size of the vehicles, but take some mass out. And that's good for fuel economy, to take some mass out.


A: Joseph Romm, Center for Energy & Climate Solutions

Certainly there is some interest in ultra-lightweight cars using advanced carbon fiber composites that would be very strong and safe but much lighter. I expect that research is going to continue. I think that in the future, when we are desperate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, people will have a different set of values. And driving a smaller car that's also super-efficient, driving a car that has these carbon fiber composites that might be much lighter in weight but still very strong and resilient, this is going to become an attractive option. We're not desperate about global warming yet, so we haven't crossed this mental Rubicon of where and when we need to act. But over the next 5-10 years, I expect most people are going to come to realize just how dire the situation is, and that will drive behavior change.

Q: My teacher had me read a book called The Tipping Point. What is the tipping point when you think these new cars will be accepted and people will begin to buy more of these than the gas-powered cars?
Melanie P., Thomas Jefferson High School, Nebraska

A: Joseph Romm, Center for Energy & Climate Solutions

People buy cars to get themselves freedom and mobility. But they do see the weekly fuel bill, and I think that when the price of gasoline goes above a certain level— like $2.50 a gallon, $3 a gallon—fuel economy becomes a top priority for the car-buying public. So a year ago, after Hurricane Katrina, the price of gasoline went above $3 a gallon, there was a great deal of interest in hybrid cars and fuel-efficient cars. ... So I think that somewhere in this $2 to $3 a gallon range, fuel economy becomes a major factor in car buying.

I think a combination of the war in Iraq, the high price of gasoline, and growing concern of global warming is driving kind of the perfect storm towards interest in fuel economy. I think it's important to understand that you could have always bought a fuel-efficient vehicle in the past, but they tended to be small and underpowered. It's only been with the development of hybrid cars that you could get a fuel-efficient car that had high performance and long range and other features that people find attractive.

[Editor's note: We received many questions and comments concerning the practicality of using hydrogen-powered vehicles, such as the following:]

Q: When would making hydrogen for cars with renewable energy be feasible for the US ... and with what types of renewable energy would we produce it?
Kyle McConnaughay

A: David Greene, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Hydrogen, I think, is a very interesting long-term technology. And hydrogen vehicles are not anywhere near ready for the market yet. They're too expensive, the fuel cells are not durable enough, and of course we have problems of how do you store sufficient amount of hydrogen on board the vehicle. So I don't think, in the next 10 or 15 years, we're going to see any significant impact of hydrogen on the transportation system.

But there's been a lot of progress in the technology over the past decade or so. And it is one of the few options available (electricity is probably the other) where we could have clean energy for transportation and the quantities of energy we need for transportation, because hydrogen can be produced from many, many different sources. We can produce it by dissociating water by electrolysis, but right now that's quite expensive. We can produce it by gasifying coal and capturing the hydrogen. We can produce it from natural gas. We can produce it from biomass. You can even use nuclear energy and thermal processes to dissociate hydrogen and oxygen in water and produce hydrogen that way. So there're many, many ways to produce it, and there's no shortage of water from which to make this hydrogen or materials containing hydrogen.

So hydrogen has a lot of potential, but it also has very serious technological challenges on the one hand to overcome, and it also has this problem that it's a completely novel energy system. And we would have to replace all of the infrastructure on the fuel supply side, essentially.

Q: Are there technological challenges that still exist which prevent mass utilization of electric cars?
Tony, Texas

A: Joseph Romm, Center for Energy & Climate Solutions

Battery technology needs to get a little better in order for plug-ins to make widespread sense. The thing people have to realize about driving a car on electricity is that the cost per mile of driving on electricity is maybe one-third to one-quarter that of driving on gasoline. So there is a payback... I think everyone believes that the next generation of lithium-ion batteries are going to be usable in cars. And in fact, Toyota has publicly announced in the next generation Prius that they're going to run a lithium-ion battery onto the system. So I do think that we are now seeing, and will shortly see, the batteries of the future that are needed to make the plug-in hybrid work.

Q: Electric utilities will be one of the major benefactors of this [electric vehicle, or EV] technology, since their electric load could increase from a great response for mass marketing of these vehicles. How does this tie into our aging electric infrastructure?
M.A. Epps, Tennessee

A: David Greene, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Our existing electric utility system could handle tens of millions of plug-in hybrid vehicles if they would be recharged during off-peak times, such as at night. There's plenty of excess capacity in the electricity system to provide energy to those vehicles during the night or off peak. The problem would come if people wanted to recharge their vehicles during peak periods, because then we'd have to add new capacity, new generating capacity. And that would be expensive and also conceivably increase the difference between peak and off-peak. The great thing would be if people recharged their vehicles at night, and sort of flatten out the demand for electricity so that the electric utilities could operate at a more constant level all the time, instead of having to meet peak demands and then shut down capacity during low-demand periods.

Q: How much additional emissions would result from increased load on the electrical grid?
Robert Schmidt

A: Andrew Frank, U.C. Davis

The Department of Energy lab in the Pacific Northwest just finished a study in which they discovered that there is enough excess electric energy in the United States to power about 85 percent of the cars that we currently have in the fleet. In order to get to that level of penetration of plug-in hybrids, it'll be 50 or 60 years into the future. So, we've got plenty of time—in that period of time—we've got plenty of time to build alternative energy sources to power our cars and our homes. And most of that should be solar and wind.

[Editor's note: Many questions touched on the potential problems and benefits of ethanol use, such as:]

Q: Will the addition of cellulose ethanol help make it a nationwide solution to the renewable fuels push, because it will not use corn but the waste products of corn like stalks and other grasses?
Jamison V., Thomas Jefferson High School, Nebraska

A: Lee Rybeck Lynd, Dartmouth College

So why cellulose instead of corn? ... The existing fuel industry is entirely corn, and people who've invested in that industry (which is not only Archer Daniels Midland but a lot of farmer-owned coops, for example, and many other folks along the line), they're interested in the future; they're intrigued by the possibility of cellulosic biomass and fuels made there-from. ...

Corn has brought us a long way. ... That said, the most optimistic estimates I've heard for how much corn ethanol could be produced are somewhere in the 10 to 20 billion gallons of ethanol range, which you'd multiply by about two-thirds to get gasoline equivalent. So in round numbers, it's less than 10 percent of current gasoline production.

There's a lot of reasons that there's only so much corn we can produce. One of them is that the economics of corn ethanol production depend upon getting revenue for co-products, and the markets for those co-products are limited. Another one is that corn becomes somewhat ... more difficult to grow when it's out of balance with other crops that are advantageous to rotate them with. ... It's also true that the environmental advocacy community has significant concerns about both soil fertility aspects as well as fertilizer loss and pesticides and things of that kind. So the environmental community would not be excited, from a land use point of view and an environmental impact point of view, in seeing corn production triple.

Corn prices are up substantially. And there is real concern about the draw on corn supply of ethanol plants that are already under construction. For example, my friends in Iowa tell me that if all the plants that have been proposed were built in Iowa (Iowa, the largest corn-producing state in the US, which is the largest corn-producing area in the world), the state of Iowa would be a net importer of corn in order to feed its ethanol plants. People who are looking at the prices of hog feed get concerned. ...

So for some pretty simple supply-and-demand reasons, you can put limits on the contribution that corn ethanol is going to make, and those ceilings are much, much higher for cellulosic ethanol. And that's pretty well a consensus view at this point.


A: David Greene, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

We now consume ... I think it's about 6 billion gallons of ethanol every year, which is of course biofuel. And there's much talk about increasing the amount of biofuel dramatically. But in my own view, there's no sense in doing that unless we get away from corn-based ethanol and we produce our ethanol from forest residues and crop residues and other cellulosic material that should be cheaper and should be more efficient and produce much less greenhouse gases than corn-based ethanol. So if we can do that, we have already the technology for using ethanol in vehicles.

We may decide that ethanol is not the best fuel to make out of biomass. There're other options. And some of these options have better properties, better energy density, but the process for producing them is not yet commercial. So I think we'll need to find better ways of making fuel out of biomass than we have now. And then biomass can become a more significant source of energy. But it's impossible essentially to fuel the transportation system entirely with biomass. There's simply not enough of it, and we need a lot of it for food. So that's not going to be the solution, but it's going to be part of the solution, I think.

Q: If no alternative technology is the magic bullet, then what made gasoline the magic bullet up until this point? Was it ever? Perhaps it should be explained why gasoline was used and was more efficient in the first place.
Winwit L., Malden High School, Massachusetts

A: David Greene, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

There are a lot of challenges in trying to change the energy system for transportation. First of all, because it is a mobile energy-consuming unit, you have to have a high energy density form for storing the energy on board the vehicle. And petroleum is the best at that—best that we know of—far better, 100 times better than batteries, for example, and far better than hydrogen or even alcohol fuels or natural gas. Petroleum is the highest form of energy storage we have available to us. And so it works very well for carrying your energy around with you. That's a hard thing, for alternative energy sources to compete with petroleum.

Q: Where is the economic incentive that will carry automotive technology into its next phase? How will the industry take the next step-function up, without a profit-based reason to do so?
Jim McLean

[Editor's note: The following excerpts address why there is currently not a great economic incentive for consumers and auto manufacturers to make more fuel-efficient choices, and how this behavior might be changed with so-called "feebates."]

A: David Greene, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

First of all, the cost of fuel compared to the total cost of owning and operating a car is relatively small. It varies depending on the price of gasoline, between, say, 10 and 20 percent. The cost of buying the car, the cost of insuring the car, and so on, maintenance, repairs. These are much larger than the cost of the fuel. ...The second thing is ... as we become richer over time, we care more about our time and our convenience than about the money cost. So for all of those reasons, as we go forward in time, as we get wealthier, we care less and less about the energy cost of owning and operating a car.

When people go to buy cars ... they'll sort of say, "Well, is the fuel economy okay? Yeah, it's okay." So they're not going to worry about, is it 17 mpg instead of 16, or 33 mpg instead of 30? If it's in the right ballpark, it's fine with them. So what signal does that send to manufacturers? It says consumers aren't that interested in fuel economy.

Any technology you add to a vehicle to improve fuel economy is likely to cost more than the technology that's already there. Otherwise, if it was cheaper, the manufacturer probably would have put it in already. ...

Now look at it from the manufacturer's viewpoint: I've got to change the engine, I've got to change the transmission, I've got to redesign the body to be more aerodynamic. I have to redesign the whole car—and not just one car, but every car I make—if I want to get a 10-, 12-mpg improvement in my fleet of cars. That's going to take 8 or 10 years, it's going to take the attention of all my engineers and designers, it's going to cost me billions and billions of dollars in retooling, and for what? The consumer doesn't even care that much about it. So what am I going to do? I'm going to sell the consumer what he wants, what I can gain his interest in, what excites him. What excites him? Well, bigger, more powerful, sexier image, and so that's what I do.

The problem with that is, it doesn't solve our societal problems. It doesn't solve oil dependence, it doesn't solve climate change, and it doesn't get us to a sustainable transportation system. So we have to have some policy. We have to have some societal intervention that says: all that's well and good, but we're going to reduce our oil consumption, we're going to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. But we want to do it in a sensible way, in a way that doesn't wreck our economy or make people change lifestyles in the ways that aren't acceptable to them.

Feebates are an alternative to fuel economy standards that have some very positive attributes. Feebates get around this problem of the consumer not fully considering the value of fuel savings, because the feebate comes at the time of purchase. So it's essentially like the price of the car. And we know that people focus on the price of cars. And we know that manufacturers will focus on keeping those prices down. So that if a manufacturer can add fuel economy technology, increase the fuel economy, and avoid a fee or gain a rebate, it's very likely that they will do that. So even though we have not tried feebates, there's every reason to think they would work well as a substitute for fuel economy policy.

An advantage of feebates over fuel economy is that when you set out a fuel economy standard (as we set 27 mpg in 1985), once the manufacturers meet that standard, they're done. There's no reason to keep going. And if new fuel economy technology comes along, they can use it to increase horsepower. They don't need to use it to improve fuel economy. On the other hand, with a feebate system, there's always a dollar to be gained, or a dollar of cost to be avoided, if a new fuel economy technology comes along that can either get you a rebate or avoid a fee. So there's a continuous incentive for the manufacturers to adopt fuel economy technology. I think that's the chief advantage of feebates.

The chief disadvantage of feebates, from a real sense, is that they don't guarantee any level of fuel economy and therefore they don't guarantee any reduction in fuel consumption or greenhouse gas emissions. We have to see what the market does with them. I think they would work. But there's still that element of doubt that maybe they won't work as you might expect.

[Editor's note: We received several e-mails from advocates of diesel fuel, as well as questions such as:]

Q: Why is it that Europeans have embraced the new clean, efficient, dependable, diesel-powered cars but North Americans seem reluctant to buy them? Or have we been given a fair chance to buy them? Not many are offered for sale here.
Glenn Rueger

A: David Greene, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

We have diesel engines coming to the United States soon, and they're inherently about a third more efficient than gasoline engines. And especially diesel engines may be most useful in the large trucks that we seem to like. For towing purposes and those kinds of things, a diesel engine is ideal.

Q: Why aren't we, as a nation or world, treating this looming crisis as a crisis? Where are the national promotional campaigns on energy conservation ideas?
Sue Kuhns, New York

A: Joseph Romm, Center for Energy & Climate Solutions

The problem in this country, I think, is we have been stuck in this notion that technology by itself can solve our problems, and we haven't had government regulations, which is the one thing we know is how you make cars more fuel-efficient. I mean, the thing to remember is, in the 1970s to early 1980s, we doubled the fuel economy of cars. And then, starting in the mid ‘80s, we stopped. Technology kept improving, but instead of going towards fuel economy, it went towards weight and acceleration. So we have been spinning our wheels, literally and figuratively. I think the opportunity is now, is to take strong action to reduce oil imports and greenhouse gas emissions, without sacrificing comfort or performance.

I think that people have not made the connection as much as they should between their own actions (in terms of the cars they purchase, the kind of house they buy) and the greenhouse gas emissions that [are] changing the Earth's climate. So that's one reason why you need action at the federal level, because individuals making their individual choices, they just don't see the direct impact of their choices on the environment. And they can rationalize that their individual choice by itself doesn't make much difference. So if you want to have collective action, you have to act collectively at a national level.

Q: What obstacles are preventing these technologies from advancing more rapidly?
Garet Wyatt

A: Joseph Romm, Center for Energy & Climate Solutions

There is a chicken-and-egg problem where, until the vehicle is attractive enough to be bought in large numbers, it's only made [through] kind of, special custom manufacturing, which is quite expensive. So early on, these alternative-fuel vehicles are very expensive, and that discourages people from buying them. So you have to figure out a way to increase sales incrementally, to increase technology improvements incrementally. That's why I tend to think we're going to see this two-phase transition: to hybrids, and then from hybrids to plug-in hybrids. I think that's what we're going to see in the future.

Q: A question for Tesla developer Martin Eberhard: Do you plan on scaling your approach to the EV [electric vehicle] to a more modest family vehicle?
John Aalto,

A: Martin Eberhard, Tesla Motors

The second car, which we could name "White Star," is a completely different car... that car is designed to be a sedan that seats five adults. The drive train on that car is a carryover technology from what we developed already, with some improvements along the way as we go obviously. But the car is not based on the chassis of some other cars at all. This is a car we're in the middle today of designing from the ground up. And that car will be assembled here in the United States in a Tesla-owned factory that we'll build throughout this year [2007] and next year. So it's a big step for us.

So Tesla motors will be a company that has many models of cars. Our first model, our prestige model, will always be something like the roadster. We will always have a high performance car and make it better than the previous year. And the best possible electric sports car we can [make], that will be attractive to a lot of people, that will also define the brand of Tesla motors. But the idea [is] to introduce additional models that meet needs of other kinds of drivers and different price points, and aggressively drive into lower price cars as quick as we possibly can.

[Editor's note: A number of e-mails targeted the issue of fuel efficiency—why it has seemed to stagnate over recent decades, and what can be done to improve it, such as:]

Q: I understand that today's cars only use, at best, 10 percent of the energy stored in gasoline. ... I would be happy if manufacturers were someday able to even squeeze 50 percent of the energy stored in today's gasoline.
Tim Laswell

A: John Heywood, MIT

People ask: Well, why hasn't fuel consumption (gallons per hundred miles, the upside-down version of miles per gallon), why hasn't that got better over the last 25 years? And that's a very important question. And we're starting to understand how challenging improving on-the-road, actual driving, fuel consumption is.

Engines and transmissions have got steadily more efficient, year by year by year by year by year. So it's better technology. Then the question is: What do we do with these more powerful and more efficient engines? And some careful studies have shown that the last 25 years, we've put these technology improvements in engines ... into increasing vehicle performance—so our vehicles accelerate faster, more aggressively—and we've put them into larger vehicles, heavier vehicles. We've got somewhat more accessories on board. We're using more power on board just to keep the vehicle warm, cool, other audio features, etc. ...

So performance has got steadily better—higher, faster—and vehicles have got bigger and heavier. Now, we're better off because these vehicles are more efficient. Had they not been more efficient, we'd be even worse off. But we haven't gained. We've sort of stood still.

Now, can we gain? Well, yes. But we've got to make some choices. If we keep investing the better technology in ever higher and higher performance, and larger and therefore heavier vehicles, we're not going to gain. We're only going to partially gain. So we've got to come to terms with our lust for higher performing vehicles.


A: David Greene, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

I think there's still an enormous potential for improving energy efficiency in transportation. Professor John Heywood at MIT points out that only about 16 percent of the energy in gasoline gets converted into useful work at the wheels of a vehicle. ... And we ought to be able to improve on that a lot. And we can.

Most likely, we would want to focus first ... on the fuel economy of the vehicle itself.... After the first oil crisis in 1973-74, we made enormous progress in improving the efficiency of vehicles, almost doubling the fuel economy in miles per gallon of passenger cars, and 60-70 percent improvement in light trucks. In the next 10 or 12 years, we can do another 50 percent increase without having to make smaller or lighter vehicles, just by more efficient engines, more efficient transmissions, slipperier shapes, reduced rolling resistance, and taking some weight out of cars with material substitution. We can, over that period, maybe by 2017-2018, increase new vehicle efficiency by 50 percent or so.

And then I think we have to keep going beyond that and shoot for a goal of perhaps 100 percent improvement in efficiency by 2025 or 2030. Because of the growth of transportation—continues to grow all the time—we can't just make a certain efficiency improvement and then rest on our laurels and say, "Okay, we're done. We don't have to do it anymore." We have to keep going. But there's a lot that can be done.

In the near term, what we can do about making cars more energy-efficient has to do with conventional gasoline engines. There are lots of things that can be done to reduce the internal friction of the engines, to improve their thermodynamic efficiency, if you will. There're many sources of energy losses in an engine. It takes energy to pump the air in and out of the engine. There are clever ways to reduce that with valve controls. There are more efficient transmissions available. It used to be that a 3-speed automatic was standard; now, more or less, a 5-speed automatic is standard, but 6-speed, 7-speed, and 8-speed transmissions are also available. There's such a thing as automated manual transmission that reduces many of the losses associated with a standard automatic transmission. All of these things, which are sort of a tweaking, if you want to think of it that way, of the existing gasoline internal combustion engine, could improve efficiency by 50 percent over the next 10 or 12 years.


A: Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute

I'm a recovering experimental physicist and have worked on advanced energy and resource efficiency for about forty years. ... In 1990 I was asked to think about cars, and I'd been thinking in the background for twenty years about the physics of cars and why are they so inefficient that, you know, your car's using a hundred times its weight in ancient plants everyday, and yet only 0.3 percent of that energy ends up moving the driver. This didn't seem very good.

And as I dug into some more, it seemed that the industry was concentrating on where the losses are ... I didn't think that was the right place to start. I thought if we started with the physics of the car, then it can get lighter and more slippery and moving through the air and along the road, we'd get an enormous leverage back to fuel saved because every unit of energy can save at the wheels, saves another seven units you don't need to waste getting it to the wheels.

So we started digging into how to make the car lighter, with better aerodynamics, with lower rolling resistance, and also things people don't normally pay much attention to, like more efficient accessories and auxiliary loads. And we ended up concluding it was quite straightforward to triple the efficiency of a car at roughly the same cost.

Q: Will the large American corporations ... automobile companies ... have a lead role in developing and mass producing new technologies?
Stephen Whitney

A: Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute

Many automakers, including all of the big three, have a well earned reputation for stomping on their own innovation. They have wonderful engineers to create miraculous new stuff, and meanwhile, the legal and lobbying arms of the same company are working hard to destroy the market for those products. This has happened repeatedly, and I don't know how they can expect to recruit the best young engineers once they have that reputation. So it's going to take awhile to overcome it, and it's really discomforting for people who put their hearts into developing, for example, the wonderful line of electric vehicles at GM only to have that effort squashed, to see the company now scrambling to recreate what they already did. But now they've all left. In fact, two of them are working for me now.

The auto industry is the most complex undertaking in the industrial history of the world. It's incredible complicated, and you would expect that changing its culture is like turning a super tanker; it just takes a long time. It takes a real grasp of the difference between leadership and management, and it takes a fundamental culture change for which they may or may not have time. I'm hoping the American automakers survive this gale of creative destruction, as the Austrian economics Sumter calls it, that is sweeping through their industry. It's the kind of gale that knocks down old industries, and new ones rise from the rubble. But this market is going to change the managers' minds or change the managers, whichever comes first. And I think they're starting to be much more open to new possibilities.

I was recently in Detroit and talked to heads of the advanced engineering for each of the big three. And I asked, I thought, the most conservative of them what he would do if he became convinced that there's a fundamentally new way to make cars which would be constringently advantageous but would require them to abandon their steel stamping capability. And to my delight, he said, "We would adopt it immediately and fearlessly." Which is the right answer. When you have such a disruptive technology, you have to do it first before your competitors figure it out, and you have to sell them your steel stamping equipment to slow them down. But I'm pretty sure he would not have given me that answer six or 12 months earlier. I think gazing into the abyss has concentrated the mind wonderfully.

Q: Being from India, I am continually amazed by the huge growth in the number and variety of cars on the streets of India whenever I go back home, as well as the horrendous pollution that results. The same goes from China, where they are shifting from predominantly using bicycles to cars.

So I would like to see on the program a perspective on this growth in demand and what it means for the current infrastructure, as well as the development and acceptance of the new technology you are talking about.
Roopesh Mathur, New Hampshire

A: David Greene, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

We're approaching a billion motor vehicles, worldwide. And, in this country, we have more light duty vehicles than we have drivers. So, it's an enormous transportation system. We produce about four trillion passenger miles of travel every year with our transportation system. It's enough to take each human being in the United States around the world once every 18 months. Just fantastic. And we consume more than 6,000 gallons of fuel every second. So, I think this gives you a sense of the scale. In terms of the scale relative to our resources, a quarter of all the petroleum ever consumed in the history of the world was consumed in the last 10 years. So, we are consuming at an accelerating rate.


A: Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute

Only an eighth of the world's people have cars, and most of the other seven-eighths would like a car. Places like China and Africa have the level of car ownership that Americans had around World War I. On the other hand, normal forecasts would tell you that, in 30 years, just the Chinese car fleet would need another one or two Saudi Arabias to run it. There aren't another one or two Saudi Arabias, and the Chinese leadership is deathly afraid of probably getting into the same oil trap we did, and that's why the top priority in international development strategy is energy efficiency through leap frog technology, while we are the intended leap frogees.

I asked a well-placed friend in Detroit recently how long it will be before you drive home from Wal-Mart in your new Wally made by, maybe, Shanghai Automotive and not using much oil. He said, "Oh, in about 10 years," which is tomorrow in the auto business. And after that, they'll sell you a car that doesn't use any oil because China intends to become the world leader in fuel sales just as it already is in lithium-lined batteries, and it takes the same smart electric chemist to do both.

I think it also is not very promising for a friendly, peaceful world when you recall that the forecast growth in US oil demand to 2025 roughly equals the annual oil use now of China and India. We are such a big and wasteful user of oil, and that with most of our growth and demand supposed to come from light trucks, things like SUVs, we are really the biggest driver in the world of the oil problem. We created this problem. The technologies that we create to get out of it can also solve the problem not just for us but for everybody else, and can help revitalize our auto industry.

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