I was thinking about 1974 – when the retail price of gas climbed above 50 cents a gallon, and our old pumps became officially obsolete. Now, 48 years later, I expect to see gasoline at $5 per gallon. This site Average Gas Prices in the U.S. Through History shows the price trend, and has a chart that shows the prices by year in the 21st century. Click the link – it leads to a resource of data we can all use.
This chart (from Gasbuddy.com) shows that we made it to $5.02 last June. Still, with November and December yet to come, and the OPEC cuts coming next month, I’m betting we’ll go higher.
As I look at the cost of energy, and reflect that it’s the cost of travel, I look for an energy source that can replace gasoline in my neighborhood. The basic problems are storage and density. It’s fairly easy to use electricity to separate hydrogen from water – but the challenge is that hydrogen produces about a quarter of the energy that gasoline does – so if my pickup gets 12 miles per gallon on gasoline, it would drop to 3 mpg on hydrogen. Then we have to add in the fact that hydrogen is the smallest molecule that exists. In other words, no matter what we put it in, it leaks. So a trip to Kalispell and back would take something like a 40 gallon fuel tank. Gasoline has had some great advantages.
Most of our electrical production still comes from steam – usually steam turbines. Back in the old days – 75 years ago – the explanation was that it took a cup of water and 2 ounces of coal to move a ton for one mile along rails.
Here, wood is a naturally occurring product of solar energy. Burning wood heats my house. A century ago, there was a car called the Stanley Steamer. Steam tractors broke the sod on the Great Plains, getting the fields into something that horses could handle (I once broke unbroken prairie sod for a garden – the rototiller couldn’t handle it until I used a shovel first. I have a lot of respect for the old sod-busters.)
We could make carbon monoxide gas from wood – my father spoke of these units. Still, I have a hunch that the amount of pitch I encounter in our trees would gum up carburetors, fuel injectors and valves. We may be stuck returning to steam engines. The future doesn’t seem to hold all that I once expected.