Gasoline Car Highs: Refine, Pump & Go
Gasoline has its advantages, chief among them that it works. In fact, the gasoline engine does a good job of offering power for the dollar, which is why Americans settled on gasoline as their fuel of choice a century ago. For all the knocks on it, gasoline has a variety of advantages: it packs a lot of energy for its volume and weight, it's transportable, and it is available at a price that makes it accessible to the masses. In addition, the entire gasoline-based infrastructure works, from getting oil out of the ground to making gasoline available at a convenient pump very near when you are right now. There currently is no better alternative.
We don't like the current price of gasoline, but let's be fair. Gasoline has had a very long run as an inexpensive source of transportation energy, and the current increase in gasoline prices can be traced to several sources. Worldwide demand, particularly in developing nations, is up drastically and predicted to rise still further. On the flip side, production capacity is strained and continued unrest in the Middle East threatens future access to oil. The inevitable law of reduced supply and increased demand has driven up the price, supplemented substantially by the fact the dollar has fallen against other major currencies. Still, since tax on gasoline in the United States is fairly low compared to other countries, its current price of around four dollars a gallon, while seeming unconscionably high, is a relative bargain. Currently, in Europe it's more than twice as expensive, due to much higher taxes.
During the last 100 years there have been numerous efforts to dig a grave for the internal-combustion gasoline-fueled piston engine. Electrics, steam and gas turbines have all received serious thought and considerable funding -- and didn't work. Compressed natural gas, propane, hydrogen, methanol, ethanol and a host of others have been just a few of the alternative fuel choices; all have their drawbacks. There have been external-combustion heat engines, fuel cells and all kinds of contrivances short of rotating squirrel cages. Through it all, pistons, spark plugs and gasoline remain the method of choice. The gasoline-fueled piston engine has received the benefit of over 100 years of persistent and concentrated technological development on every aspect of its mechanism and operation, and there is no sign of that development coming to a screeching halt. Instead, engineers tell us there is a great deal of life left in increasingly efficient gasoline-fueled engines.
Look at the advantages of a gasoline engine. It is economically viable to manufacture, it's dead-solid reliable, it fits into the framework of the car, truck, motorcycle or lawnmower; it starts up and is ready to go on cold mornings; it's powerful and smooth; and it gets a family home safe at night.
It gets blamed for all sorts of ills, but there are people alive today who remember what it was like when horses were still a primary propulsion system and people who know what it was like to walk behind a team of mules to plow a field. From the turn of the previous century into the 1920s every city and town in the country had a serious problem in dealing with the previous primary mode of transportation power -- horses. Streets were literally a stinking mess, insect-borne disease was a real health issue, and there was a reason people wore high-top shoes. The gasoline-fueled piston engine changed all that; it was the answer to the environmental concerns of the horse.
That doesn't mean it didn't bring problems of its own, of course. But there's a lot to be said for it. And it will be running our cars, trucks and even lawnmowers for quite some time to come. Though many throw brickbats at it and blame for all manner of ills, the plain fact is today's automotive gasoline engines are efficient, clean and cost-effective. Those who look at hybrids as the answer should remember that hybrids are primarily gasoline-powered vehicles, too. Gas works.
That's half the story. Here's the other:
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