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High oil prices clip travellers’ wings

John Garnaut, Sydney Morning Herald
HIGH oil prices have forced Australians to change their transport plans in the air as well as on the ground. They are taking fewer plane trips because of fuel surcharges imposed by airlines.

Analysis by CommSec shows the cost of air travel rose 3.9 per cent last financial year despite price discounting led by the Qantas offshoot, Jetstar. Consumers responded by making 1.5 per cent fewer plane trips.
(10 Oct 2006)

Military wants a more fuel-efficient Humvee

John Donnelly, Boston Globe
WASHINGTON — The Defense Department wants a new Humvee. One of its complaints: The Humvee eats too much fuel.

The vehicle, an icon of the military for about two decades since it replaced the World War II-era Jeep, gets as few as 4 miles per gallon in city driving and 8 miles per gallon on the highway.

The Pentagon wants a Humvee replacement that weighs 30 to 40 percent less and uses proportionately less fuel. Some armored Humvees weigh 5 tons.

“It’s what we must do,” John Young, director of the department’s defense research and engineering, said last week outside a congressional hearing.

“We’re looking at a design with lighter materials — titanium and carbon deposits — while still having armor protection,” he said.

A retooled Humvee — the early design gives it a more aerodynamic look — is part of the Defense Department’s push to save energy costs through alternative fuels, conservation, and more efficient vehicles, aircraft, ships, and submarines.

The Defense Department is the world’s largest energy consumer.

The department spends $10.6 billion annually on fuel, or 97 percent of the federal government’s use, and almost 2 percent of the entire country’s use.

Some in Congress say the department’s reliance on foreign oil poses a major security risk.

Representative Steve Israel, a New York Democrat and a member of the Armed Services Committee, said he had asked the department recently to document its strategy for using less oil. He received a flow chart that showed $500 million in annual expenditures overseen by more than a dozen agencies.

“If we tried to do that to land a man on the moon, we’d be lucky to get a bus to Des Moines,” Israel said of the Defense Department’s lack of a concentrated effort to reduce fuel use.

But Representative Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Maryland Republican, said that while the military could be more aggressive, “they are doing more than anyone else — in the government or around the country. . . . I don’t think the country as a whole has any perception of the danger” of US reliance on foreign oil.
(2 Oct 2006)

Behold, the bus of the future

Transport: Maglev trains are expensive; buses are cheap. The Superbus, a high-tech road vehicle, is a compromise between the two
IT LOOKS rather like a futuristic stretch limousine, but its actual function is rather more populist: the Superbus is a novel public-transport system being developed in the Netherlands by the Delft University of Technology. It is an electric bus designed to be able to switch seamlessly between ordinary roads and dedicated “supertracks”, on which it can reach speeds of 250kph (155mph). It could thus present an alternative to much more expensive magnetic-levitation trains. The Superbus would be driven in the usual way on roads and an autopilot would be engaged when it reached a supertrack.
(21 Sept 2006)

Assessing GM’s Fuel Cell Strategy

Kevin Bullis, Technology Review (MIT)
Last month, GM announced plans to distribute 100 fuel-cell-powered vehicles to customers next fall, along with plans to develop home-based hydrogen refueling stations. It’s the automaker’s latest move in its stated goal to build the world’s largest fuel-cell vehicle fleet. The first 100 vehicles will be available for evaluation in California, New York, and Washington, DC.

But, from an environmental and technical standpoint, does it make sense?

Fuel-cell vehicles, which are being developed by other automakers as well, are powered by electricity generated from hydrogen. They emit only water vapor from their tailpipes, and the fuel cells are significantly more efficient than an internal-combustion engine in extracting energy from the fuel.

But GM’s focus on creating a fleet of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles could be a costly mistake as a strategy for combating global climate change and for decreasing U.S. dependence on oil, many energy experts say. The problem, these critics argue, is that powering electric vehicles with hydrogen fuel cells is both inefficient and expensive.
(6 Oct 2006)

For the Biggest Yachts, More Than a Dock

Anne Kalosh, NY Times
…The business for large yachts is booming worldwide. According to The Yacht Report, contracts for vessels longer than 30 meters, or 98 feet, ballooned 21 percent this year, to 422, up from 348 last year and 81 in 1998. More than 240 of those yachts will hit the water in 2006.

And boats are getting bigger. A few months ago, an Italian builder of cruise ships won a contract for a seven-deck, 130-meter motor vessel, or 427 feet, for an undisclosed owner, which it says will be the second-largest privately owned modern yacht in the world, just behind Larry Ellison’s ’ “Rising Sun.” It will be just four meters, or 13 feet, short of the Seabourn Cruise Line’s ships, which each carry 208 passengers and 160 crew.”
(4 Oct 2006)

As forest roads crumble, access to woods slips away

Warren Cornwall, Seattle Times
…And there are plenty of other forest roads needing work. The Forest Service simply has too many roads and not enough money.

In national forests all over Washington, roads are crumbling, washing away or clogging with underbrush. In the Cascade Mountains alone, hundreds of miles of roads have essentially been abandoned. Routes that Honda Civics could cruise a few years ago will soon be passable only by pickups and SUVs.

In some cases, the Forest Service is intentionally neglecting roads or tearing them out. In others, it’s fighting a losing battle as it tries to keep up with too many roads. On top of it all, residential subdivisions are being built along some of the same roads, straining them even further.

For hikers, campers and other users who have come to expect nearly unbridled access to the mountains of Washington, the situation means countless acres of backcountry could soon be much harder to reach. Forest managers are forced to think less ambitiously about the role of roads in the woods. Even for environmentalists, who usually have little love for roads cut through the wilderness, the neglect spells trouble for fragile streams and fish runs.

…The Forest Service’s Erkert said forest officials often fear public backlash if they try to let some roads decay.

He wonders whether the agency will come to grips with what it needs to do: travel back to before the heyday of logging, when most of the national forests weren’t reachable by car.

“To me, it’s almost like we have to go back to post-World War II era, in terms of what the transportation system looked like,” he said.
(8 Oct 2006)
An example of “powerdown” through declining public expenditure. -BA