Heavy Lifting - thoughts and web finds by an economist
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Wednesday, May 19, 2004


What's good for the goose...


Our military is attempting to standardize its fuel requirements so that tanks, trucks, motorcylces, and other vehicles will run on a single type of fuel. This is expected to reduce redundancy on the battelfield and simplify logistics. Here is a picture of the joint U.S./U.K. project to build a diesel motorcycle (More). It gets a cool 120 miles per gallon. Evidently the firm that has figured out how to modify the Kawasaki engine (F1 Engineering is ready to provide the bike to the general population, expected in 2005.

So, what's the hangup?

It seems that the EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation are not satisfied that the bike is environmentally friendly or that the bike is safe to ride, drive, or run into. Hopefully the bureaucrats do not stifle this technology just when it might prove useful.

Economists (and doomsdayers) have long predicted that a back-stop technology would come about when the price of gasoline/crude oil increased sufficiently. I don't think anyone predicted that $2.00 a gallon is the target price that would make alternative technologies practical - my recollection is that the estimates required $80-$90 per barrel (twice as expensive as today).

However, there are other exciting advancements being made:

  1. Car manufacturers have decided that hybrid (electric-gas) cars don't have to be ugly. Ford is introducing the hybrid Escape, GM has a hybird Sierra. Hybrid technology is probably the future use of the internal-combustion engine. However it is not immediately clear that hybrids would reduce the overall demand for gasoline, although it seems likely that it would.
  2. This bus places an engine in each of the rear wheels. The bus is quieter and more efficient as the engine drives the wheels alone.
  3. This "atomic" plane flies on hot-air after using a regular jet engine to take off and reach cruising altitude.

Who knows where we end up? Those without faith in markets will seek help from the government either through regulation of price or quantity. Those with faith in markets will sit back and enjoy the show of human ingenuity.

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