Energy Future Remains Positive, Experts at Houston Conference Say
By Zain Shauk
The need for more energy – from freeways to battlefields – could be slashed by making fossil-fuel burners more efficient and making renewables more dependable, speakers at a Houston conference said.
A prime example cited is the automobile engine. Lawrence Burns, a former General Motors executive who is now director of the program on sustainable mobility at Columbia University, said 75 percent of the energy generated by cars is lost as heat and friction, and much of the remainder is used to move heavy components, leaving enormous potential to boost fuel efficiency.
Only 1 percent of the energy generated by vehicles is used to move drivers, he said.
“I’ve concluded that we have a system design opportunity, not an energy problem,” Burns said. “When we’re wasting 99 percent of the energy we’re using to move a person in a car, we’re seeing a huge opportunity before us.”
As with other energy uses, a key to major change will involve harnessing emerging technologies, such as self-driving cars like those being developed by Google and other companies, he said.
A system of cars that can drive themselves would be more efficient and, with fewer accidents, reduce the need for much of a car’s weight, Burns said. He played a GM video of an imagined system in Shanghai involving small vehicles that move smoothly through roadways, without needing to stop at intersections because they are communicating with each other and moving in concert.
The far-lighter vehicles also make electric-car technology more compelling, he said.
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