Yesterday, I was listening to a talk-radio show where people were whining about gas prices. The blame was variously laid at the feet of: Big oil; speculators; Mideast dictators; perfidious car companies; China; nefarious plots; government malfeasance, and; we the profligate consumers.
It’s going to be one or the other, or maybe all of them combined. Perhaps we could select one and drag its Big Kahuna to a football stadium and shoot him or her through the back of the head like China does with its white-collarcriminals. It would certainly focus the minds of the rest and, perhaps, serve as a deterrent. But that would miss the point, which is: How to do away with oil?
Oil has served us well. Here, in the 21st-Century of the Common Era, there isn’t a machine that moves upon the earth, on the seas or through the air, that isn’t powered by one petroleum product or another. But petroleum smells bad, fouls the air, poisons the land and the seas, and costs like sin as supplies of it get lower and lower. Moreover, to get our hands on the stuff, we must rub elbows with some of Earth’s most unsavory people, and prop up their awful governments. I say it’s time to have petroleum go the way of the dodo.
But what will replace it?
The obvious answer is the electric car. Just think, no gas, no changing oil, no engine tune-ups and repairs and instant heat in the winter . . . Ah, but the bugaboo is the range and the battery’s charging time. So far, the answers are not very satisfying. While the range can be arbitrarily large, depending only on the battery’s size, the charging time is truly horrid. Imagine, twelve hours to “refill the tank.” That’s what a modern lithium-ion battery takes. That’s simply unacceptable and it’s why the electric car has been a non-starter.
But what if that problem were solved? A couple of weeks ago, The Economist, that estimable magazine, carried an article in which it was reported that an American company has developed a technology for lithium-ion batteries that lets one be fully charged inside of five minutes. The owner of the company said the alpha model works swell and the beta model is almost ready to go. What’s more, this technology, while costly in small and one-on quantities, lends itself to mass production where economies of scale will make electric cars affordable for all. (I wish I could cite the issue in which the article appeared, but Jo decided to clear out all the mess beside my chair and the magazine went a-glimmering; you’ll either have to take my word on it, or look up the article yourself.)
Assuming this little industrialist wasn’t pumping sunshine up our collective pant leg, why haven’t we heard more about this salutary development? Jo thinks it’s because Big Oil’s minions have paid Congress to sit on the idea, and threatened to cut off advertising revenue if it’s reported in the press. I, on the other hand, believe it’s because we — and the American press — are preoccupied with, and focused like a laser on, the truly Big Issues of the day: Obama’s birth certificate and the prince’s wedding. Mainstream reporters, and their editors, give an issue like this battery technology a pass because technical matters and probing analysis makes their heads hurt. (When was the last time a member of the fourth estate majored in small particle physics or advanced mathematics?)
So a dramatic demonstration is in order. POTUS could call a press conference. On the dais would sit one of these new batteries, one that could power, say, a Ford Focus for 400 miles. Now a Focus gets about 30 mpg, for a total of thirteen-plus gallons, which at today’s gas prices, would run in excess of $53.00 . A flunky would pass out electric meters to the reporters and invite them to come up and test the battery to make sure it’s at zero charge. With that, an executive from the local electric company would appear, carrying the business end of an electric cable and a standard electric meter. This would be hooked to the battery and the switch thrown. At the same time, a stop watch would be started and when the meter dinged, indicating a full charge, the elapsed time would be read. POTUS would then turn to the power company executive and ask: “At your standard rates, how much did charging that battery cost?” The executive would read the meter, whip out his calculator and say something like, “eighty-one cents.”
Even after slapping on taxes to pay for roads and bridges, a “full tank” that goes four-hundred miles might cost around fifteen bucks. With that kind of economy, America could switch to electric cars wholesale and have decent roads for a change. In the process, we’d stop sending money to the world’s assholes, money which supports their ghastly regimes. We would also have the satisfaction of watching as these nasty places collapse back into the stone age from which our need for their oil raised them less than a century ago.
Now, to make this scheme work . . .
But wait a minute. What am I talking about? No one gives a hoot in hell anyway.