Winning the Oil Endgame then showed how eliminating 53% of that car's weight would be essentially free: the 3.6×-more-efficient SUV would be priced just $2,511 higher (2000 $) - a two-year U.S. payback - and would cost more because it's hybrid-electric, not because it's ultralight.
"Feebates" will further speed and reward the transition - a private Feebate Forum RMI led in June 2007 is stimulating strong industry interest.
In January 2008, RMI joined with powerful industry partners to spin off our third venture, Bright AutomotiveTM, focused on PHEV technology development. To push this further, we're developing the "Smart Garage"-an intelligent interface between electric traction vehicles, buildings, and electric grid. Plug-in hybrids' distributed battery storage, or fuel-cell cars' distributed fuel-cell generators, could become important, even dominant, elements of electrical supply, initially for peak loads and later for wider needs-realizing the "vehicle-to-grid" concept I invented in 1991.
Now let's connect the automotive dots. Drive your Prius-class car properly (not the way Consumer Reports says to) and you double a typical non-hybrid sedan's miles per gallon. Make it ultralight and slippery and you can redouble its efficiency. Now fuel it with cellulosic E85 fuel (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) and cut its oil use per mile by another fourfold, to ~1/16th of the current level. Make it a plug-in hybrid and cut oil use by at least half again, to ~3% of the original. Optionally, a hydrogen fuel cell - competitive in such an efficient vehicle - could replace both the engine and its E85 fuel.
This menu doesn't yet count diesel engines, which are more efficient than normal Otto engines and have half the European market today. In 2004, we weren't sure diesels could meet future fine-particulate air standards, so we didn't include them. But in 2007, a small Colorado firm demonstrated a radically new digitally controlled engine that promises above-diesel efficiency, cleanly burning any fuel on the fly, yet with lower cost, size, and weight.
Successful development of this concept could quickly bring internal combustion engines to and beyond fuel cells' efficiency range-itself a moving target-revolutionizing both vehicular propulsion and stationary micro-power systems.
Alternatively, MIT researchers have shown how a tiny, timely squirt of ethanol into the engine can suppress knock even at tripled compression ratio, permitting half-size, same-torque engines about about one-fourth higher efficiency. That could stretch today's modest ethanol supplies to cover the whole fleet.
Aviation, Trucking & the Military
Meanwhile, the first three sectors to have reached the tipping point are continuing to accelerate their transformations. Let's start with aviation, the fastest-growing oil user. In 2004, Boeing got outsold by Airbus, but launched a bold riposte: the 20% more- efficient, same-price, greatly simplified, easier-to-build-and-run, 50%-carbon-composite-by-mass airplane called the 7E7, later renamed the 787 Dreamliner.
As we expected, it proved wildly successful. By late February 2008, Boeing had sold 885 of these airplanes and 430 options, the fastest order takeoff of any jetliner in history. Production is sold out well into 2017. Boeing now plans to add similar innovations to every airplane it makes before Airbus can catch up. Boeing will also presumably apply its momentum and cashflow to aggressively develop even more efficient designs to consolidate its competitive advantage.
So far, Boeing's strategy looks like one of the great turnaround stories in business history: it took only two years to move Boeing from trouble to triumph. RMI is discussing with airframe makers some ways to accelerate such progress within a profitable competitive and climate strategy. And in February, Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic Airways successfully tested a novel non-food-crop-based A380.
Winning the Oil Endgame showed how to triple the efficiency of heavy (Class 8, 18-wheel) trucks through an integrated suite of improvements, mainly in aerodynamics and tires, with a juicy internal rate of return around 60%. On discovering that major truck buyers didn't know this was possible, we began facilitating conversations between one such firm and its suppliers. They soon discovered that the first 25% fuel saving was free.