Top-scientists at General Motors Corp.'s research laboratory here have completed a major technical review of the prospects for non-gasoline fuel use in cars and trucks.
Their findings are surprisingly heavy with optimism about the technical solutions and laced with doubts about whether the social, political and environmental solutions are near reality.
The consensus of the researchers is this: the world is running out of petroleum fast, but potential alternatives are plentiful. According to William Agnew, technical director of the research laboratories, the problems and dangers lie in the transition period from today's petroleum-based economics to the alternatives after the petroleum is gone.
The GM studies evaluated vehicle power sources from powdered coal to hydrogen and alcohol made from farm wastes like corn stalks. For each alternate fuel the availibility worldwide was quantified, the energy conversion efficiency measured and the pragmatic potential evaluated.
The scientists decided the most attractive alternative liquid fuel could be made from oil shale and might sell for less than a dollar a gallon before taes. But, cautioned Agnew, the lead time for any volume availibility for that fuel is nearly a decade.
Liquid fuel could also be made from coal and sell for less than double the price of gasoline, they said. As an "ultimate energy source," U.S. coal, could meet the nation's total energy demand for over a thousand years with a zero growth economy, 245 years at a 1 percent annual growth rate, and about 120 years at a 3 per cent growth rate. There is nearly twice as much energy in U.S. oil shale reserves, they said.
Joseph Colucci, head of GM's fuels and lubricants research, said ethyl alcohol derived from crop waste or grains, "appears to be more suitable for use in today's automobile" than methyl alcohol, but would probably cost three and a half times what gasoline does.