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I hear the arguments pro and con, but still we are missing the point, which is that the anti-car sentiment must be separated from the anti-CO2 emissions argument.

  • Cars need not carry their fuel with them, as already discussed. Even if they do, battery technology improves constantly. According to this article batteries on the brink of commercial availability are five times better than the best ones available right now. That translates into about a 500 mile range for a GM EV-1 car.
  • "Think about the way you drive" doesn't prove anything, because we shouldn't be talking about future perfect trains compared to today's cars. If slow acceleration is important--and as a hybrid driver I assure you that it is, because of hysterisis loss in the rubber of the tires--then change the way cars accelerate. That's why the 2CV can pass me in the morning.
  • No particularly good statistic about long distance car travel leaps immediately to mind, but the seven lane Tappan Zee bridge in New York, on a route perhaps comparable to the sort that a high speed interstate railroad might take, carries 135,000 cars per day. If there are perhaps 1.2 people per car average, that's about 60 million passengers per year--a favorable comparison to a train running in Japan's heaviest traffic corridor.
  • Also, I don't see what's wrong with waving a technological wand around. Is there some problem with thinking that technology--of both cars and trains--will change in years to come?

Jerome is correct in saying that one of the big problems is the subsidy of oil. One might work on that problem and then find out whether cars are still undesireable. In the meantime, nobody can prove which will be better in the long run, so making a political pro-train decision based on rough comparisons of today's technology is not going to give the best answer.

Incidently, here is a pretty long list of American cities where the use of mass transit has increased recently: http://www.apta.com/media/releases/050926gas_prices.cfm

by asdf on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 09:59:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cars need not carry their fuel with them, as already discussed. Even if they do, battery technology improves constantly.

Great. And they're still more wasteful than a train. Which means more load on the grid, something that can't be tolerated on a green grid. And carrying a battery means that it still has to carry its fuel with it - batteries aren't weightless, you know. I'm willing to bet they still can't even come close to oil in terms of energy density. And then there's all the problems with disposing of batteries that've exceeded their lifespan...

And you still haven't dealt with the congestion and safety issues.

"Think about the way you drive" doesn't prove anything, because we shouldn't be talking about future perfect trains compared to today's cars.

Actually, we're talking about modern trains compared to near-future cars. And the way one drives is very relevant - cars are inherently human-controlled free-route vehicles. This introduces certain inherent inefficiencies that trains don't share because they travel a closed, fixed route.

Also, I don't see what's wrong with waving a technological wand around. Is there some problem with thinking that technology--of both cars and trains--will change in years to come?

Yes, there is. We're running out of oil. We need to develop replacements for oil-dependent methods. In most cases, this means drastic changes to the way we do things, because our current oil-centric methods are inherently wasteful in many ways. All of the alternatives have a significantly lower energy density. One can't just wave the magic technology wand and say "cars will continue to be viable". There's only so much technological developments can do before you start running into limits caused by the basic characteristics of the mode of transport.

This is not a political statement, nor is it a decision. The purpose of this diary series is not to "decide" anything, but to examine the options available to a post-oil society (which ours will be in about fifty years) based on current technology. Any subsequent technological developments, except possibly the development of economically viable fusion power, will only shift things further in favour of the alternatives presented here.

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 11:10:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No particularly good statistic about long distance car travel leaps immediately to mind, but the seven lane Tappan Zee bridge in New York, on a route perhaps comparable to the sort that a high speed interstate railroad might take, carries 135,000 cars per day. If there are perhaps 1.2 people per car average, that's about 60 million passengers per year--a favorable comparison to a train running in Japan's heaviest traffic corridor.

The Shinkansen Tokyo-Osaka line has carried an average of 104 million people per year, is much safer, is more environmentally friendly, and is more sustainable. That's over the Tokyo-Osaka line's entire lifespan - when one considers that passengers/year will only have increased since the line opened, the figure becomes even more favourible. I'm willing to bet that your 1.2 people per car average is a little on the high side - that means one in five cars has two passengers, on average.

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 11:22:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Having done some Googling on A123Systems, I'm suspicious. Most of the stuff I've found is carbon copies of press releases, and their site is woefully short on method details. They make a lot of claims, but back none of them up. And I feel compelled to note that if their batteries use copper or palladium, there are serious and unresolvable sustainability and volume problems.

by Egarwaen on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 11:27:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Doing some more reading, those batteries you list still have a significantly lower energy density than petrolium. For starters, I think that measuring energy density in W/kg is misleading - the standard measure for that appears to be joules/kg. Even leaving that aside, they're still significantly inferior to gasoline. They provide 3000 joules/kilogram. Gasoline provides over 40 megajoules/kilogram.

So unless I'm missing some implication of their chosen metric, there's still a big gap here.

by Egarwaen on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 04:41:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In that particular context they are talking about power density, which is W/kg. Energy density is another issue, and I probably confused them above.

With gasoline in a modern car getting 50 MPG you can go over 500 miles without stopping. But so what? You still have to stop to relieve yourself once in a while--in my case about once an hour, say 100 miles. Increasing the range beyond 100 miles is decreasingly important. The EV-1 had a practical range in bad conditions of about 100 miles, and batteries continue to improve...

by asdf on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 08:23:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Increasing the range beyond 100 miles is decreasingly important.

Actually, it is pretty important. It directly affects the necessary frequency of charging stations.

by Egarwaen on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 10:20:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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