We need to make a change and fast.
With over 1 billion cars on the road today, fossil fuels are being eaten up at a truly alarming rate. Despite experiments on a small scale with alternative fuels, a near-complete reliance on oil has waylaid the environment and set the stage for disaster if we as a society continue to overuse it.
It’s an addiction on a global scale, and, as with other addictions, the best way to beat it is to find a way to replace it. Fortunately, other fuel options have started to gain prominence as ways to keep cars on the streets and pollution out of the environment.
If we’re continuing the addiction metaphor, it won’t be enough for our society to quit cold turkey. We need an equivalent of methadone, something less harmful to replace oil that paves the way for a more permanent solution. The ideal solution is to promote all of the different electric cars, but before we all end up driving Teslas or something similar, we need to invest in biofuel.
Given the diversity of oil-based fuels currently on the market, it’s not hard to imagine gas stations offering another, safer option. In fact, many already do, particularly in Brazil, where biofuels and hybrid mixes have eradicated the country’s dependence on foreign oil.
Ethanol has been one popular option, but its inherent competition for the resources needed for feed and food makes it a significantly weaker option. Algae, of all things, has the potential to power your car. It sounds like a longshot, and perhaps so, but it does grow quickly and cleanly. From pond scum to fuel drum, the cyanobacteria found in algae is being researched as another biofuel option. Cyanobacteria cultivation is appealing for other reasons, namely their ability to clean the air by consuming carbon dioxide when they feed. It’s bizarre, but the more ways we can displace fossil fuel dependence, the better.
Of course, the “clean and sober” stage of our addiction metaphor is electric cars, an idea that has been in development for a long time. Engineering concerns about electric cars and the ever-present issue of infrastructure have hampered their progress, but these problems are swiftly being addressed.
Carbon fiber car frames have become more popular in the electric vehicle (EV) business for their lightweight, a necessity when existing batteries are unable to generate as much power as combustion engines. With improvements in manufacturing techniques, we can make the switch to electric cars without sacrificing performance along the way.
In fact, Elon Musk’s Tesla has already made an impact on the automobile market. Unfortunately, due to manufacturing costs, the cars are currently something of a niche luxury item, but are still notable for bringing EVs into public consciousness and with huge potential to move into the affordable market.
Electric cars have a solid future, especially as battery tech improves and renewable energy becomes cheaper and increasingly widespread. The hope for the future is a more accessible standard for EVs. Improved performance, weight, and cost-per-unit are all expected within the next decade or so, but it will require a push from governments to ensure a mass adoption of the electric car.
This is a tricky proposition, especially considering the aforementioned influence of the oil industry. However, several governments have passed laws requiring the necessary infrastructure to charge electric cars. This along with projected improvements in battery efficiency may be enough to push EVs to the mainstream.
The brilliant thing about adopting alternate fuel sources is that it saves money in the long term after the initial hurdle of adoption. We as a society simply need to realize that the lasting benefits far outweigh the costs. For that matter, it needs to happen soon—environmentally and economically, we cannot survive on petroleum, and must effect a change on a global scale.
Ambitious? Yes. Doable? Absolutely. It’s perhaps the biggest story of overcoming addiction, of embracing our future instead of clinging to an untenable past.