Tuesday, May 30, 2006

One small step

Some news from the other side of the Atlantic. New drivers in the UK will be forced to learn efficient driving - like accelerating and braking slowly - as a part of standard driving education (see this month-old article in The Observer).

It brings to mind the important point not stressed nearly enough by all the organizations promoting hybrid cars: it is not just what you drive, it is how you drive. Before you start laughing - where does some scientist who cycles to work tell me get off telling me how to drive or maintain my car? - here's an example.

Keeping your tires properly inflating, besides being safe and an all-around good idea, will save most folks about one mile per gallon (mpg). U.S. cars drove a total of 2.3 trillion miles in 2001 (latest year with data, from the Energy Information Administration). So if the average fuel efficiency increased from the current 25 mpg to 26 mpg, that would save 3.54 billion gallons of gas.

How much is that? The median estimate from the US Geological Survey of extractable oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is 7.7 billion barrels (a conservative estimate). It would take about 50 years to extract all that oil. Since there are about 19.6 gallons of gas in a barrel of oil, the ANWR oil equates to just under 3 billion gallons of gas a year.

In other words, Americans checking their cars' tire pressure every few weeks = all the oil in ANWR.

Is this comparison a cheap ploy? Of course. I wouldn't write a PhD dissertation on the subject. Nor would I claim checking your tires, cutting down on the a/c or not slamming on the gas could ensure there's no oil drilling in ANWR. I merely hope to remind everyone that the small actions do matter.


Jason West said...

Interesting discussion. I saw a presentation a few years ago from Europeans who ran a training program for truck drivers on driving effiently. If I remember right, drivers who took the course saved about 5% of their total gasoline consumption. I thought it was amazing they could save that much just by changing driving habits - apparently it was mainly driving less aggressively (accelerating and braking slower) and shifting gears. Part of the course also was about idling - knowing when keeping the engine hot improves efficiency and when idling is a waste. They presented it as a very popular course as truck drivers found they can save a lot of money.

Unknown said...

For average drivers: An engine shouldn't idle for more than 15 to 30 seconds in any season, especially if it's fuel-injected. Most people say if it's more than ten seconds, shut the engine.

The EPA has an entire program devoted to reducing idling of long-distance trucks and locomotives:


According to the EPA, idling of trucks and trains consumes over 1 billion gallons of diesel fuel and emits 11 million tons of carbon dioxide, 200,000 tons of oxides of nitrogen, and 5,000 tons of particulate matter annually

Anonymous said...

Very small step in did.

Here what is wrong with this discussion: we are talking of drastic changes to the driving habits of whole population. Net effect is less than 2% of all oil consumption. This will not register in the margin of error. If you would take a look at your electricity bill, it has 3% surcharge for transmission loss. It makes these things insignificant. I used to turn my cars engine off in traffic, do all to the book. It did not produce measurable improvement.

My observation that people who ride their bicycles to work tend to travel a lot flying long distances. This totally offsets any reductions in CO2 emissions.

The reason I originally supported Kyoto and now not: people do what Russian say – ochkovtiratel’svo. Above example is characteristic. On top of that enterprising cons in countries like Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Romania, and Bulgaria will take money from country like Canada and spend them on huge SUVs to drive around.

If people so concern about CO2 emissions they should demand new technologies applied. One such technology is using algae to clean smoke. This is amazing technology: consider reducing CO2 emissions by up to 40% and NOx by up to 86%. This news article you can find here. I know this technology is Made in USA, but it does not make it bad.

Taking care of the car, driving it nicely, is not global warming fighting it is a common sense.

Unknown said...

I appreciate the comments. In the end, Tim is right, advances in technology will be the key. Right now, we may as well take advantage of the easy options and technoilogy at our disposal. In addition to the direct impact of emissions, actions taken today provide incentive for governments and businesses to push new energy and automotive technologies.

As for flying, the majority of travel is for business. Academics and business-people alike could take advantage of the available technology - the internet, webcams, and the like - to reduce short cross-country trips for meetings.