As fuel becomes more expensive we start to think about making the big switch.
If you watch the news you will be guaranteed a mention of the phrase ‘the rising cost of fuel’ at some point during the bulletin. The price of refilling your car's fuel tank is not cheap. You could walk to work or use cycles, but what if it is a long commute? Pedal power isn't always feasible. We are already well aware of the environmental problems caused by fuel combustion but now that the increasing cost of fuel is affecting our pockets it might force us to think about alternatives.
Recently, the British International Motor Show (http://www.britishmotorshow.co.uk) showcased a large number of environmentally friendly vehicles. So what was on show? Obviously there were a many electric and hydrogen-powered cars, all of which have great potential.
Electric cars are already on the market, but there still aren't enough battery recharging points if you need to make a long journey. In the UK, Westminster is currently leading the way forward by introducing a number of recharging points in car parks and at roadsides throughout the city that can be used for a nominal annual fee.
Hydrogen-powered cars have been around for some time now, but the technology is still relatively expensive. A study commissioned by the US Department of Energy predicts that it will be at least 2050 before we are likely to see 200 million hydrogen-powered cars on US roads (http://national-academies.org.).
There are, of course, other options that can help reduce fuel consumption and many of them are materials-related. One of the highlights of the Motor Show was a sportscar that is lighter and more fuel efficient than the standard model because it uses hemp in the bodywork and seats. Not bad for a brand widely associated with speed and style. And then there were the 4×4s. Yes, they have brought out a diesel-electric hybrid that uses polycarbonate for its windows, making them 40% lighter. In both these examples the designers used materials that have been around for many years to create solutions to our fuel problem.
Of course, we cannot forget airplanes. There is already a lot of interest in one particular plane that will be taking its maiden voyage later this summer. What is so special? Well, unlike conventional planes its wings are partially composed of carbon fiber. The material is light and should help reduce fuel consumption by 20%, while retaining the strength of traditional wings. Several airplane engine manufacturers are also trying to achieve the ‘magic’ 20% reduction through various improvements. One example that is currently being tested on planes is a gear system which allows the engine's fan to work at slower speeds than the compressor and turbine, increasing the engine efficiency and reducing fuel consumption.
So where does this leave us? Hopefully off to a flying start.