21 July 2019
Total SA, one of the world's major energy players, has invested heavily in renewables like solar. Photo: Total
Total SA, one of the world's major energy players, has invested heavily in renewables like solar. Photo: Total

US$100 per barrel oil will kill the internal combustion engine

If oil reaches US$100 per barrel, that will kill the internal combustion engine and it will truly end OPECs delusion that it still controls the future. Not simply for the obvious reason of petrol being more expensive at the pump and costing more to operate your vehicle. But also for the fact that many fence-sitting automakers who have been dubious or hesitant about electrics (or hydrogen or even interim stage hybrids) will now decide to go full blast on their e-vehicle development and not look back. There will be the usual firesale on big V6 vehicles and these will no longer make a comeback.

The renewable energy (RE) industry, already operating despite some hiccups on a much larger scale than the first OPEC oil crisis of the 70s, will no longer be weakened by a repeat of what happened during the Reagan years, when the first generation solar panels were taken off the White House roof. This is now a powerful industry, starting to wean itself off from subsidies. The combination of better and more efficient technologies, cheaper manufacturing and better materials, and US$100 oil simply makes its rise more inevitable.

RE-powered charging stations, coupled with improved batteries for electric vehicles, will ensure that the electric vehicle (EV) revolution does not sputter. Already many petrol stations around the world now realize that adding an electric vehicle charging pump is good for business. Some fuel companies like Total SA have now embraced renewables. Total now owns SunPower, one of the leading solar panel companies globally.

There is also the matter of emissions. Beyond Euro IV and up, there is no more optimal sweet spot to optimize power, fuel efficiency and NOx emissions. Which is one reason why the big automakers like Volkswagen resorted to all sorts of cheating to meet stricter fuel economy and NOx emission standards without losing power.

Plus new generation battery chemistries like Lithium Titanate from companies like Toshiba (who now have money to invest in battery factories from their memory business sale) can now ramp up production. Unlike their older Li-ion cousins, these new batteries chemistries charge fast (0-80 percent in a few minutes), can be totally charged and discharged, and are thermal and short circuit protected.

There is often a misconception that electric vehicles suffer from low torque and are not able to drive up mountains. The previous problem has always been the battery, as lead acids are not really optimal energy storage devices. Going up a mountain requires high torque, which is not a problem for electric motors used to hauling people up and down tall buildings. But it requires a battery capable of enhanced energy storage and sudden energy requirement. The new battery chemistries take off where the older, unsafe lead acid batteries could not hack it.

Also, the recent news about how a Tesla Model X towed a 287,000 pound Boeing 787 should disprove all that. Plus, we often forget that electric motors have been used forever in elevators and escalators, and to carry heavy loads in mines and construction sites.

US$100 OPEC oil also makes US fracking economical again, which can supply the remaining legacy ICE engines in the US, and if blended with ethanol, can further seal the fate of OPEC. Eventually in a few years, when EVs with more efficient motors, batteries, and the required fast DC charging infrastructure running off solar, wind, or other RE sources become ubiquitous, then all this talk about oil cartels and emission standards will become a thing of the past.

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Philippines based author, columnist and playwright

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