DoE Says Electric Cars Crucial To Cutting Dependence On Oil

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2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

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Electric-car advocates spend a lot of time touting the advantages of driving on plug-in power rather than burning gasoline.

Sometimes, it can be a lonely battle.

But now the U.S. Department of Energy has weighed in on the side of electric cars, with a conclusion that may startle some: It's more important to promote the adoption of cars that plug into the grid, and hence reduce dependence on oil for transport, than to clean up the electric grid by promoting renewable energy.

The report calls reliance on oil--much of it imported--"the greatest immediate threat to economic and national security," and concludes that the department is not investing enough of its resources into programs to reduce or eliminate oil use for transportation.

To replace oil, the report said, the department should place the highest priority on electric-vehicle research.

While the DoE also funds other sorts of alternate fuel research--including biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel--electric cars have the advantage that they can be recharged from electricity generated through any number of so-called pathways, including coal, natural gas, hydropower, wind, and solar.

Electric power plant outside Ithaca, New York

Electric power plant outside Ithaca, New York

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Virtually no electricity is generated using oil, which instead fuels far more than 90 percent of U.S. transportation. The report goes on to say that reducing or eliminating oil use in vehicular transport is consequently more important than efforts to clean up the electric grid.

The DoE analysis, which was released yesterday, is the first to assess the department's progress in meeting its statutory goals. Similar assessments are to be issued every four years.

The report's emphasis on national security--it also mentions climate change, but as an add-on to the security issues--may be a nod to political reality.

Surveys show that increasing numbers of U.S. citizens do not believe in climate change caused by human activities, so national security may prove a better justification for adjusting the DoE's focus.

If carbon emissions happen to decline over the long term as a result, well, that's nice too.

An article on the report in The New York Times highlights some of the challenges the DoE faces, noting that while the department makes judgments based on science and engineering that are sometimes then influenced or changed by politics.

A recent dispute over funding for research on hydrogen fuel cells is illustrative. Energy Secretary and Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu wanted to zero out funding for hydrogen fuel research, but Congress has pushed to keep that funding intact or moderate the cuts.


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Comments (7)
  1. So politics are more important than science. Very interesting. I think this means we will not see much reduction in coal usage because it is a source of domestic energy.
    I was in the DOE a couple of months ago looking into renewable energy and was told that the climate (inside DOE) has changed. They are really not doing much with renewable energy and what little they are doing must be competitive with combined cycle nat. gas power plants. In other words, no credit for CO2 or greenness.

  2. I recently saw an interesting article that pointed out how foreign oil for transportation could be replaced by methanol and ethanol produced from natural gas and coal. Presumably existing cars could be modified to use the new fuels. As for future energy sources, wind is kaput, and solar, who knows? The future of energy is Thorium. Period. A NJ company is right now developing a 500 pound Thorium reactor that can power a vehicle - a single gram of harmless Thorium can provide enough electricity for over 200,000 miles of driving. The implications are so profound that the EV subsidies should be invested in that technology instead.
    It will make current EV/battery powered technology completely obsolete.

  3. You could just use the natural gas directly. Natural gas conversions for cars have been around for decades, and it sounds like they might even be relatively popular in Australia.

  4. Not again with the same thorium hoax, exposed as such repeatedly elsewhere... Again, it's been talked about since the 1950s, so do your own research before you start laughing. Start with Scientific American, especially the comments by readers...
    But yes, thorium and unicorns and pixie dust will make all the technical struggles that have persisted since 60 years ago magically disappear. Have I missed all the interim Thorium-powered concept cars at the last 20 years of auto shows, too?

  5. It is wise to work on those issues for which there is broad support. National security, econimics and environmentalism are all at stake in our consumption of foreign oil. Wind and solar are doing fine, and as with cell phones, the longer you wait, the better the tech gets. As for fuel cells, any funding towards EV's and PHEV's is money towards FCV's - they have 95% overlap in technologies. Not to worry, Hyundai, Honda, Toyota, Daimler and GM are improving their FC's year after years, and we will see them by 2014 / 2015.

  6. owner Bruce Gast - Ok people, read this in the voice of Melissa Tomay playing her charactor in "My Cousin Vinny"....

    "Oh, those government people are... soooo smart !, it's frikkin 2011, the world is buried in dept and cash flow have killed the greatest economy in human history because of Reagan era gas thinking on the hill... Drill Drill Drill"..."

    "Oh, they are sooooo smart.... finally seeing that CLEAN electric powered cars will reduce emissions.... reduce cancers.... and are BETTER for us all..."

    "Oh, my god!" who says the US Government is run by a bunch of dolts backed by, elected because of and in the back pockets of the OIL COMPANIES???..."

  7. Anything that can turn a generator can be used to make electricity. Nuclear, Wind, Hydroelectric and lets not forget the ultimate hydrogen fusion powerplant the Sun. Since many who chose an electric car will put a solar panal array on their garage or carport and get quite a few miles each and every day from sunshine alone. What ticks me off most about conservatives is that they refuse to embrace technology they would rather live in the past. Lets be on the cutting edge of technology and get off our dependance on foreign oil. The alternative is being depandant and having to use our military to secure or so called right to oil. Too many wars have be fought over securing economic interests to natural resourses. Let the USA be a leader again.

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