According to oil production analyst and commentator Matthew Simmons, world oil production may have well passed its peak, and supplies will be getting less with every passing year from now on. This assumes that only conventional oil sources are economically and technologically feasible (non-conventional sources like shale and tar sands are estimated to contain at least trillions of barrels of oil). This situation of diminishing energy will trigger severe changes in the way we work, get our food, and travel, and the volatility of petroleum prices will be reflected in the social unrest that follows.
The dwindling supply of oil means that alternatives to cars running on oil must be found soon and implemented widely. Electricity is one good option, and electric cars were actually the predecessors of today's petrol and diesel vehicles. However, economics played a key role in their demise early last century, as oil from the Middle East was more plentiful.
Battery technology for electric vehicles is being spearheaded by Japanese car manufacturers, with some models set for release in 2009.
In Australia, talks are underway for a manufacturing plant in South Australia to start making biofuel engines next year, with electric hybrid motors coming in the future. Toyota will be making its Camry Hybrids here as well. Honda is developing its niche in liquid hydrogen-based fuel cells, which can be expected to hit the luxury car market in eight to ten years. In the meantime, Honda focuses on refurbishing existing models like the Civic, Fit and Acura. Nissan and Mitsubishi will release vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries very soon. When hooked up to renewable energy sources like hydroelectric dams and solar power, these vehicles will truly become emissions-free.
Lessons from the past – biofuel and catalytic converters
Before the current passion for lessening total carbon emission and oil independence, the biggest issue with automobiles were their noxious gas byproducts, like nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. This led car makers to install catalytic converters into the exhaust system of their vehicles, starting in the US in 1975. This way the above-mentioned noxious gases were reduced into water, nitrogen and carbon dioxide.
Still, catalytic converters lose their effect over time, especially if their insides becomes coated with soot, lead or other ingredients in the engine fuel. This is a point to consider carefully when adding biodiesel to old car models, many of which still running in Australia. Replacement parts for catalytic converters can run into the thousands. Consult with your car maker before adding newer fuel mixes to your early-model car. Obviously, this won't be an issue with vehicles that are specifically designed for biodiesel.