There’s a lot of talk right now about running cars on hydrogen fuel cells. Ain’t that great? After all, every school kid knows that hydrogen is almost everywhere – for example, water is just hydrogen and oxygen. And the “smog” that comes out of an internal combustion engine run on hydrogen is just water. So, what’s the hold up? Well, the hold up is, even though the car you’re probably driving right now will run on hydrogen just fine, fuel cells aren’t designed to produce hydrogen for your car, they’re designed to produce electricity for your electric car. We’ll leave the science of that behind for now, but suffice to say, it works, and works well enough that the space shuttle uses the technology (go here if you want to know more). And, although there are lots of easy ways to get hydrogen out of water, it’s really hard to get hydrogen out of gasoline, and the smog produced is worse than a conventional engine.
“What,” I hear you say, “are you doing trying to get hydrogen out of gasoline when you can get hydrogen out of water?” “Well, little missy,” the People In Power answer, “I don’t own the water…yet.” So all current research into hydrogen power cells is focused on getting hydrogen from gasoline.
I’m guessing that right about now you’re thinking: So much for getting away from gasoline in MY lifetime! But did you know that your diesel car will run just fine on vegetable oil? Yep, that’s right – the Mazola you’ve got sitting in your kitchen cabnit could be fueling your car right now if, and only if, it were available at a gas station. Of course there are some minor diferences in how the car would run – for example, there’d be a lot less smog, but for the most part, you wouldn’t notice. So why don’t you have a Wessonoil pump at your station? Because the Powers That Be are trying their best to figure out how to blend vegetable oil and regular diesel to make …. wait for it… Biodiesel. I’m sure they’ll get it figured out eventually. Maybe about the time we run out of fossil fuels?
What? You don’t have a diesel? Oh, then I guess there’s nothing you can do – no wait, did you know that your normal, everyday, internal combustion auto could be running on alcohol? Okay, you should re-tune the engine slightly to make it start better and there’d be NO smog, but that’s it. Brazil’s already made the switch. But then, they’ve got alcohol pumps at their gas stations.
Okay, there would be a few cultural side effects of switching over: alcohol and veggie oil come from renewable resources called “crops” that need people called “farmers” to grow, and we’ve managed to do away with most of our farmers, but you’d think Big Business would be ready to jump in and fill the gap. DuPont owns most of the agrabiz now. And tons of money could be made here, but only with a significant investment into planning and infrastructure. Brazil took ten years to change over their fossil-fuel-based system to alcohol.
What’s the hold up? Big Biz is throwing all their money behind mixing alcohol and gasoline. Unfortunately, those are two chemicals that just don’t mix easy. But they’re making strides: a few years ago, it was impossible to mix more than 5% alcohol with gasoline – now it’s up to 15%. Of course, the chemicals needed to make those items mix cause even worse smog, but hey – you gotta have your priorities, you know?
Why we are letting this be done to us? Studies have shown that most people will do anything they are told to do by an authority figure if convinced it is for the greater good. It has to do with the way we are wired as social animals. But, there are people who are born without that particular wiring. Technically they’re called sociopaths – I like to think of them as social bullies. They don’t care what’s best for anyone but themselves. And people like that tend to rise very high in any social, political, or business bureaucracy because they’re very willing to break the social rules that the rest of us follow.
So, short answer: we’re being bullied into this. Isn’t it time we took the playground back from the bullies before we don’t have one anymore? Working together, it is possible.
I know I’m only a little bear, but surely things can be better.