Kicking The Gasoline & Petro-Diesel Habit

Five Myths About Alternative Transportation Fuels

August 13, 2008

By Charles Cresson Wood

Myths about the current world oil situation and rapid fuel price increases are causing confusion for consumers, businesses, and government policy makers. Unfortunately, many people don’t have ready access to alternative points of view. This author strongly recommends that the reader do some research on the Internet to verify the truth of the following claims.


The first myth asserts we have plenty of oil, and that discussion of depleting supplies is not a serious matter.


Oil production in the United States actually peaked in 1971, and ever since we have been making up for shortfalls in domestic production by importing oil from other countries. But when the world oil production peaks, if it hasn’t already, there is no other location from which we can import oil to make up the difference. This situation is so serious that the US Department of Defense has categorized “peak oil” as a serious threat to the nation. Competition for depleting supplies has already been a major factor in several military actions around the world.


The second myth states that nothing much is going to change for decades, that people will continue to consume petroleum-based motor fuels the way they have been for the foreseeable future.


Even the oil majors such as Exxon-Mobil are having trouble finding more oil, and they admit it. A new report published by Exxon-Mobil, entitled The Outlook For Energy: A 2030 View, predicts a plateau in non-OPEC oil production in the next five years. Because oil companies are now engaged in extraordinary efforts to bring more oil to market (such as drilling at depths of over 10,000 feet below the sea), the peaking of world production will be temporarily extended into the future. But world oil supplies will soon thereafter rapidly drop off because these extraordinary technical efforts have only postponed the inevitable realization that there is not enough oil to meet increasing world demand. Future supplies available to countries that import oil will be further squeezed because the oil producing nations like Saudi Arabia will use increasing percentages of their oil for domestic consumption.


The third myth is that oil companies are seriously working on the problem of peak oil, will soon produce viable and cost-competitive solutions, and that a technology fix will save the day.


Many of the most promising alternatives to petroleum do not come from the oil companies. For example, electric cars, which look like one of the long-term winners in the competing technology area, are not researched, developed, tested, or offered by oil companies. It is more logical to assume that oil companies want to continue to sell oil for as long as they can while discouraging alternative fuel technologies, because these technologies would lower the demand for oil. There will be no silver-bullet solution to the oil crisis; we will instead have silver-buckshot solutions tailored to specific situations. Beyond electric vehicles, these solutions include ethanol, methanol, butanol, di-methyl either (DME), bio-diesel, straight vegetable oil, bio-methane, hydrogen, natural gas, propane, and synthetic liquid fuel.


The fourth myth says we can convert to alternative fuels only after we make massive investments in infrastructure. This myth holds that only after our current transportation system is retooled can we benefit from alternative fuels.


While massive infrastructure changes may be needed to support certain types of hydrogen vehicles (those that burn hydrogen in internal combustion engines), these investments are unnecessary with many other technologies. Rather than creating a brand new infrastructure, the energy distribution infrastructure for electricity already exists, and only needs inexpensive metering facilities to sell electricity to consumers driving electric vehicles. Meanwhile, bio-methane, and other energy alternatives not based on fossil fuel, can now be manufactured on a relatively small-scale basis from trash, animal waste, agricultural waste, and other biomass sources. Several new technologies can be adopted on a household or organizational basis, and do not need to have additional supporting infrastructure.


The fifth myth insists alternative fuels are too costly, and more R&D is needed before they can be widely used.


The fact is that many alternative fuels are now ready for widespread use, and the pressing peak oil situation means that we will soon be forced to use them. All electric cars, available now, can be used for commutes and deliveries; ethanol and natural gas are already widely used for municipal transportation. Many of these vehicles are less expensive to operate than comparable petroleum-fueled vehicles. Supporting this, a three-year study conducted by the Energy Management Institute concluded that alternative fuels are now cost-competitive with hydrocarbon-based competitors.

It’s time for the nation and the world to evolve beyond petroleum, but not just for peak oil reasons. Such a shift is called for by recent climate change research, and it will also help us reduce our dependence on foreign countries that may be hostile to the US. With just a little effort, you can learn the facts that will help you convert to sustainable transportation technology.


Charles Cresson Wood is a green management consultant with Post-Petroleum Transportation, based in Sausalito, California. His latest book is entitled Kicking The Gasoline & Petro-Diesel Habit: A Business Manager’s Blueprint For Action. He can be reached via


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