I just finished watching Nova: Cars of the Future. It was a great joy to watch as Tom and Ray of Car Talk explored potential future cars that are less dependent on gasoline. The show really drove home the point that our cars are becoming bigger and more powerful, so even though cars become more efficient we're still at a stand still in terms of fuel use. Tom heckles one automotive industry representative by asking "WHO THE HELL NEEDS 500 HORSEPOWER?" And though he was joking with the woman, it's the truth! There is really no need for power like that for a car. Another big picture I brought away from the show was a chicken and the egg question. The petroleum industry and car industry really evolved together, so any new technology will have a really hard time catching up to where we are today.
While Tom and Ray explore a variety of cars and technologies, a few were particularly fun. I liked the trip to Iceland that the guys took. They ride a hydrogen bus and even show the first hydrogen fueling station. The guys hide behind a wall when the bus starts fueling up, which illustrates safety as a legitimate fear facing hydrogen technology. The show was very straight forward in pointing out that a the same hydrogen transformation Iceland is trying for can't work in the states. One of the guests noted that we can learn from what Iceland is doing.
The other technology I enjoyed learning about was the new materials being explored for future cars. Carbon fibers were the exciting new prospect because they are lighter and stronger than conventional steel that is used. Questions that sill remain in my mind are the energy costs associated with producing the carbon fiber frames for the cars. The program also noted that economic costs for carbon fibers are also very high.
Other technologies explored in the show include cellulosic ethanol, plug in hybrids and lithium ion batteries.
The end of the program brought me back to the question Dr. Webber asked today about how we feel about the energy problem. I answered "cautiously optimistic" just like Wobblin' Goblin. Seeing people share their passion and devotion to solving problems is very inspiring, but its such a small part of whats happening in the world. Several of the panelists point out that "ultimately as consumers and citizens we're responsible for the world we create," "Individual choice matters." As I hear these comments I do feel optimistic about the future, because I think people are smart and we can figure things out. It won't be easy, but I see my peers and my teachers and the people I look up to in the world and I believe we can make things better. I don't see how you can solve a problem without being optimistic about it. The little engine that could would never have gotten up the hill if he wasn't optimistic, and we can get up our hill too! Life is full of choices, and ultimately the choices that make the most impact are the ones that we all make. Maybe this is too optimistic, but I think everything is just a whole lot more fun if you're optimistic!