Back in the day when Larry Burns was the General Motors corporate vice president of Research & Development and Strategic Planning, back when Burns was spearheading efforts to develop hydrogen-powered vehicles, he used to talk about the “fragility” of the fueling infrastructure. This was before the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, an event that had the world watching the Gulf of Mexico become covered with a seemingly endlessly grown sheen of goo, an event that seemed to indicate that there was a whole lot of technical inability to deal with capping the well.
It almost seemed as if Burns was talking about the unthinkable. We all go to gas stations and rarely do we find that there are pumps that are without gasoline. If there are plastic bags over the nozzles, then it is usually a matter of driving across the street to another station.
Fragile? Naw. Robust is more like it.
Or so one might think.
For the past few weeks Detroit has been hammered by exceedingly high gas prices.
During the first week of June, according to GasBuddy, the national average for a gallon of gas was $3.64. Meanwhile in the D the price was $4.17 a gallon.
Describing the situation, Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com
, said, “In areas that have featured skyrocketing gasoline prices amidst stable oil prices, refineries continue to be best with shutdowns, maintenance, and other problems that have hampered production of gasoline and other products, leading to much higher prices.”
Here is a situation where it isn’t a matter of the rising world demand for oil jacking up the prices (although that is playing in the background), but one wherein there are certain fundamentals of gasoline production—things like valves—that are causing the prices to rise with vigor. According to GasBuddy, while the national average for a gallon of gas in early June was up 7.8 cents compared to the same period a year earlier, the price was up 43.2 cents in the Detroit metro area.
Essentially, this is an example of fragility in the petroleum infrastructure, pure and simple.
What things like this ought to make people—people not only in Detroit, but people throughout the country—understand is the fact that there needs to be a greater spreading of the types of fuels that we use to power our automobiles.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that there are a whole lot of developments that can be made to conventional internal combustion engines to make them far more fuel efficient than they are now. But there must be more done.
There needs to be more hybrids, which, yes, use gasoline, but far less of it than non-hybridized vehicles.
There needs to be more pure electric vehicles, which run off the power of the grid.
There needs to be—yes—vehicles that use alternative fuels like hydrogen, too.
Naysayers immediately come up with a variety of criticisms of cars and trucks that aren’t powered by gasoline. There is the whole “It takes too long to payback the price of a hybrid.” Not when gas is >$4.00 a gallon, and realize that throughout the country we’ll soon start hearing about the “Summer driving season,” so while your local station may not be charging a whole lot right now, just wait.
There is the whole issue of electric vehicles having limited range. Yes, that’s true, they do. And it is also true that this will probably be the case for some time to come. But isn’t it also the case that when you’re putting in excess of $50 to fill your tank on a regular basis, you might start considering limiting the number and duration of your trips?
And while hydrogen may be the “fuel of the future,” it is worth noting that on June 3, Hyundai Motor Europe delivered 15 assembly-line built ix35 fuel-cell powered crossovers (the ix35 is the Tucson in the U.S.) to the city of Copenhagen, at which time Byung Kwon Rhim, president of Hyundai Motor Europe, said, “Hyundai Motor is committed to hydrogen as the fuel of the future for Europe. Delivering assembly-line produced ix35 Fuel Cell is evidence that we have a realistic solution to the region’s sustainable mobility needs.”
While it is a matter of the “future,” the company also announced that it would build 1,000 fuel cell-powered vehicles on a line in Korea, admittedly a small number, but one that could undoubtedly scale rather rapidly.
Here’s hoping that the top executives at the car companies in Detroit have to pump their own gas at local stations. That way they can experience what their neighbors are as those digits on the readout blink higher and higher. That way they can support the efforts of their engineers who are developing better and alternative powertrains.