The world isn’t about to run out of oil, hydrogen is useless as an energy source and biofuels are wrecking the environment.
These are just three of the claims made by the car buyer’s Dog & Lemon Guide in an article called ‘Five myths about energy’, released to the media today. The article’s claims are backed by extensive references from sources such as the American National Academy of Sciences
Editor Clive Matthew-Wilson described the article as “a reality check on the emperor’s new clothes”.
“The energy shortage & global warming are real problems, but the hype surrounding these problems is not real. Many people have the impression that the world is going to run out of oil in 2015, but hydrogen, biofuels and hybrid cars are going to save us. Most of those assumptions are pure rubbish, but few people seem to have actually checked their facts.”
“It disturbs me to see politicians and business leaders on television promoting fantasy technology using fantasy economics.”
“Most of the world’s alternative energy industry is based on quick fixes to the current system. In reality, most of this technology either isn’t economic, doesn’t work, or simply doesn’t exist and isn’t going to exist anytime soon.”
“There’s no quick fix to either the energy shortage or global warming. In the longer term, we’re all going to have to use less energy, and that means smaller houses, less plastic junk that we don’t really need and less wasted trips in our cars.”
“If we make decisions based on the wrong assumptions, we’re just going to make things worse.”
Five Myths About Energy
Myth #1: The world is running out of oil
The world isn’t running out of oil; it’s running out of cheap oil. Proven oil reserves globally are around 1300 billion barrels of recoverable oil, enough to meet global demand for the next 40 years at current rates of consumption.
While oil use is tipped to increase, so are unconventional oil supplies. In addition to proven oil reserves, there are vast undeveloped fields, including massive formations of shale oil.
One site alone, the Green River formation in Utah, is estimated by the Congressional Research Service of the US government to contain 1500 billion barrels of recoverable shale oil, or as much as all the world’s current proven oil reserves combined.
The problem is, you can’t run your car off oil in the ground. The global oil shortage is a refining problem, not a lack of resources. As oil becomes harder to extract, it becomes more expensive. Strong demand from China, high costs of extraction and the threat of terrorism are the main factors driving up oil prices.
Most of the predictions that the world will run out of useable oil in the next decade were based on the dubious assumption that both America’s and China’s economies would keep growing at unsustainable rates. In reality, America’s economy is already in decline. China relies on America for much of its economic growth and few economists believe it is possible for China to continue endlessly growing at present rates.
Moreover, any future shortage of oil will probably be self-regulating: the less oil, the higher the price; the higher the price, the less will be used, leading inevitably to slower economic growth and therefore a lessening in the demand for oil.
Myth #2: Hydrogen will take over from oil as the world’s leading source of energy
Wrong. Firstly, hydrogen is not a form of energy; it’s a means of storing energy and a very inefficient one. The problem is simple: making hydrogen takes more energy than you get back, it’s difficult to store and highly dangerous
When Bill Reinert, the manager of American Toyota's Advanced Technologies Group, was asked how long it would take for hydrogen-powered cars to replace petrol-powered cars, he replied, "If I told you 'never,' would you be upset?"
Many scientists are now equally sceptical that hydrogen can ever be a feasible alternative to petrol. In 2005, Ralph J. Cicerone, president of prestigious American National Academy of Sciences, told the U.S. Senate that there were: “substantial technological and economic barriers in all phases of the hydrogen fuel cycle.”
A 2007 panel of scientists, engineers and industry experts assembled by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the hydrogen economy remains little more than a dream.
Joseph Romm, a physicist who led a study into alternative fuels for former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, was even more blunt:
"A hydrogen car is one of the least efficient, most expensive ways to reduce greenhouse gases. If you want to slow down global warming, you're not going to do it with a hydrogen car…not in our lifetime, and very possibly never."
Myth #3: Biofuels will save the planet
Wrong. Many current biofuels use more energy to create than they give out; that is, the amount of energy used in growing, fertilising, harvesting and processing most crops generally exceeds the energy produced from the biofuel. And much of the energy used in this process comes from oil.
Ethanol doesn’t necessarily save the environment. Critics of Brazil’s cane-based ethanol programme claim that: “tropical forests cleared for sugar cane ethanol emit 50% more greenhouse gases than the production and use of the same amount of gasoline.”
A New Zealand company – Fonterra – is making ethanol from whey – a waste product from the dairy industry. However, Fonterra refuses to say whether the process is economically viable, quoting commercial sensitivity. Also, while the use of this ethanol will slightly reduce New Zealand’s emissions of greenhouse gases from cars, this reduction is small compared to greenhouse gas pollution produced by the New Zealand dairy industry. Greenhouse gases from dairy cows have increased 70% since 1990 while emissions from nitrogen fertiliser – largely due to dairy farm expansion – has increased 500%.
Growing crops like sunflowers and soya beans to create biodiesel uses more energy than the beans give out.
Moreover, much of the fuel being touted as biodiesel is not actually biodiesel; it’s ordinary diesel fuel blended with a percentage (5–20%) of straight vegetable oil.
The idea of running the world’s cars on waste cooking oil is also mainly fantasy. There’s very little used cooking oil to spare, because globally it’s already being recycled into things like soap and animal feeds.
Rather more important, used cooking oil is a drop in the ocean when it comes to supplying the West’s transport needs. According to a report from New York’s Cornell University:
“[Used cooking oil] has an available potential to produce almost 1.7 billion gallons of [biodiesel] [which is] 1.1% of [America’s] petroleum imports today.”
(A litre of cooking oil does not give out a litre of biodiesel. Much of the cooking oil used to cook french fries is eaten as part of the fries and much of the waste cooking oil left over is unusable solids.)
Because of the shortage of used cooking oils for conversion to biodiesel, there is a global race to produce vegetable oils to meet the demand. This demand has driven up food prices, making it much harder for poor people to feed their families. Also, forests are being cleared to grow crops like palm oil for biodiesel, meaning that some biofuels are actually contributing to global warming by removing forests that would have absorbed C02.
Biodiesel critics estimate that: “every ton of palm oil generates 33 tons of carbon dioxide emissions - 10 times more than petroleum.”
The international biofuels industry is being sustained mainly by government subsidies. In other words, the taxpayers in those countries are paying to produce ‘green’ fuels that often result in severe environmental damage, aren’t cost effective, drive up the price of food and contribute to political instability in the Third World.
Myth #4: Hybrids will quickly replace ordinary cars.
Despite the ‘green’ image that hybrid (petrol and electric) cars have, they simply don’t make economic or environmental sense. The additional weight of a hybrid means that – at best –they get around the same fuel economy as cars half their price. Further, many of the claims of lower emissions from hybrids seem to be highly dubious.
On June 6, Britain’s Auto Express magazine reported that the Toyota Prius – the world’s biggest-selling hybrid – gives 37 per cent worse fuel economy than official figures suggest. Actual road tests showed that the Prius used an average of 6.8 litres per 100 kilometres (41.5mpg) This is 37 per cent less than the official EU figure for this car, which is 4.3 litres per 100 kilometres, or 65.7mpg.
This meant that the Prius, far from being the most economical car to drive, barely made it onto the top ten list of economical vehicles. By comparison, the Citroën C4 Coupé 1.6 HDi, used 5.6 litres per 100 kilometres (49.6mpg).
Several years ago the New Zealand Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint against Toyota after Toyota repeatedly failed to come up with credible data to back its claims that the Prius produced ‘Up to 89% fewer smog-forming emissions than the average new car’.
Similarly, Toyota in England recently claimed that independently audited figures proved that the Prius puts out far less pollution over its lifetime than other cars. However, once again, Toyota was unable to produce these figures, despite repeated requests.
Myth #5: There’s a conspiracy against electric cars.
Electric cars simply don’t make economic or environmental sense. Electric cars are plagued by the same problems that have dogged them since the early days of motoring: limited range and the constant need for recharging.
Although electric vehicle technology gets better all the time, so does conventional car technology. Toyota’s Prius is the world’s leading petrol-electric vehicle, yet Toyota reputedly loses money on every single one and still can’t make the Prius as fuel-economic or as affordable as a conventional car.
However, the most damning thing about electric cars is that much of the electricity to power them comes from burning fossil fuels in power stations.
Claims that electric cars are ‘zero emission’ are nonsense. If all of California’s freeways were full of electric cars, there’d still be gridlock and California’s overall air quality wouldn't be much better. The air pollution would simply have migrated from the roadside to the coal or oil-powered electricity plant that powered the electric cars. While it would be nice to have unpolluted roads, electric cars do little to solve global warming; they merely transfer the pollution somewhere else.