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Metal Casting Technologies : March 2006
avid Lamb at CSIRO Australia has provided the following discussion on solar power and the future of fuel. This will impact on vehicle manufacturing and is worthwhile knowing and preparing for the constant change the global car markets will have to address. Added to this scenario is an overcapacity in the global car industry and many car makers are predicting that they will need their componentry suppliers to cut their margins. After the biannual Solar Challenge race from Darwin to Adelaide we are often asked whether solar power will ever drive our cars. This year, higher oil prices have added urgency to the question, but the answer is still "No". Solar power will probably be part of the total energy equation, providing input to the national grid and our cars will be more and more electrified, so solar power may power the car of the future, but only indirectly. Having used oil to fuel our ride to prosperity, we are starting to ask questions about the wisdom of our reliance on oil. There are concerns about the security of oil supplies and more immediate worries about the price of oil. It's as though we suddenly have come to realise that our reliance on oil could threaten our entire way of life. Is this an overstatement? To a developing country totally reliant on imported oil, the effect of the price rises we have seen this year will be very severe or even catastrophic. Even in a rich country like Australia it will impact our way of life. Our cities developed around low-cost personal transport, so petrol is not a discretionary purchase for most people. Extra money spent on fuel means less consumer spending in other areas. Increased transport costs mean that the price of most consumables will rise. The $20 billion Australia will spend this year on importing oil is a burden on our balance of payments. Any forecasting of the future for oil and opportunities for alternatives requires that we examine the factors that will drive us away from oil. The most important factor is the price of oil. 2005 highlighted the dangers of oil-dependency in two ways. Firstly, the rapid price rises, even though no worse in real terms than 25 years ago caused a debate about security of future oil supplies. The Iraq war has probably made us feel less secure about oil and there have been disclosures that oil reserves have been overestimated. China's and India growing appetites for oil have exposed the risk of relying of ever-increased output. The second factor is the wake up call about global climate change following Hurricane Katrina. In 2003, when thirty thousand people in Europe died because of the heatwave, many thought it was just a very unusual event, but in 2005 Katrina had so much publicity and such an enormous cost effect that it has made many more people realise that extreme events are happening more frequently and with more severe effects. Exposure of climate change issues is now so great that any government will have to include this factor in future transport policy. Insurance companies are factoring into their future plans the fact that the cost of climate events is rising very rapidly. The third factor is technology. Aside from the technologies available for extracting, processing and distributing fuel, the technologies employed in the cars and trucks that use the fuel will have a big impact on the extent to which we can reduce our reliance on oil. Australia uses about one percent of the world oil consumption of 77 million barrels per day. 75% of oil is consumed in transport; and of that roughly half by cars and a quarter by commercial vehicles. On a per capita basis, Australians use 6.3 litres per person per day. The U.S.A. is by far the most oil-dependent country, where consumption is 11.3 litres per person per day. The world average is 1.8 litres per day. It's easy to see why environmentalists say that if everyone on earth lived the What's the Future for Motor Car Engines? TECHNICAL FEATURE D By David Lamb, CSIRO Australia 22 www.metals.rala.com.au