Imagine a world where you never stray more than a few kilometres from home. Your diet might consist entirely of potatoes and sugar beets. You’d never hear Cockney on the streets of London. And you’d never see the Panama Canal, Great Wall of China or even the world’s largest pysanka in Vegreville, Alberta.
Thankfully, leaving home for work and pleasure is something people who live in the developed world can do regularly and likely take for granted. This mobility is at the core of our culture and economy. It allows us to work and live where we want, access goods from around the world and go just about anywhere we please. And it’s all possible because of hydrocarbon-based fuels, including those such as gasoline derived from Canada’s oil sands.
Over the years, gasoline and diesel have proven their ability to get us around in comfort, powering our cars, planes and trains. What makes crude oil-based fuels well suited for transportation?
Energy density, the amount of energy stored in a region of space per unit volume, as well as cost, weight and size of onboard energy storage (associated with a vehicle’s range) required are important characteristics of transportation fuels. Gasoline and diesel perform exceptionally well on these measures, better than emerging alternative fuels, such as batteries for electric cars and compressed natural gas.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has published an article that illustrates how transportation fuels stack up, comparing relative storage, weight and energy density. It shows the limitations of current alternatives and challenges that must be conquered before these sources can displace gasoline and diesel, which currently account for 99 per cent of light-duty consumption. While oil-based fuels are currently the standout choice for our mobility, their relative fuel economy and emissions make them far from perfect.
Innovation and government policy are the keys to reducing the environmental impacts of oil-based fuels. That’s why companies like Suncor support approaches aimed at improving the efficiency of transportation fuels.
Innovation and policy should also help make alternative fuels more viable when it comes to powering our mobility.
One day, your journey from home to the world’s largest pysanka may not involve fossil fuels at all. Until then, oil-based fuels are still likely to be part of making that egg-hunting trip possible.
The Walrus Talks Energy
Tune in to the OSQAR blog on Thursday, April 4 at 4 p.m. MT / 6 p.m. ET to watch our online broadcast of the Walrus Talks Energy speaker series.