We know it causes emissions, and emissions are bad, we know a lot of the money paid for oil goes to fund Middle Eastern terrorism, and that is bad - those things should cause both the left and the right in America to want gasoline gone. And yet it is not gone. The reason is simple: gasoline is a lot more efficient than alternative energy proponents want to believe.
Take solar power as a comparison. If you use solar power to charge your iPod, it requires an array of panels, it takes a long time, and you will need to do it again in a day. That's not a knock on solar energy, the efficiency of solar power panels are pretty good, about 8 percent; by comparison even plants using photosynthesis are only 5 percent efficient and it's hard to argue with plants and photosynthesis. But efficiency alone is not painting an accurate picture. The energy density of gasoline is much, much greater. For perspective, Ken Cohen of ExxonMobil (I kid you not, they have a blog - it's pretty interesting too) notes that a gallon of gas has enough energy to charge an iPhone every day for almost 20 years.
Is that right? How did he come up with that number? Let's do some arithmetic.
Energy density is the amount of stored energy in something; in the case of gasoline we talk in America about a 1 gallon volume but I will use both metric and standard for the values. Gasoline has an energy density of about 44 megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg), converted to American values that is 1.3 × 108 J/gallon. 3.61 × 106 joules is 1 Kwh and 1 Kwh can run a TV for about 24 hours. That means a gallon of gas contains the energy density to power your television for 36 straight days - in a comparatively tiny package. How large a battery would you need to run a TV for 36 days? Gigantic.
Link: ExxonMobil Perspectives
Cohen likens it to backpacking - anyone who has hiked or been in the military knows you want as much energy as possible in as small a space and weight as possible. MREs may not taste good but there is no question they pack a lot of calories in a tiny form factor. So it goes with gasoline. If 13 gallons of gasoline keep an entire car going for 400 miles at a high rate of speed, that is darn efficient energy density. It is also not easy to replace, not because we are 'addicted' to oil or because oil companies are buying up alternative fuel ideas and mothballing them.
It's plain hard to beat and progress is about making our lives better, not living in the dark and being happy about windmills. Hydrogen would be great but unless you have a fuel tank the size of a double-decker bus, it is not taking you 400 miles. And electric cars are risky unless the government spends trillions putting in electric stations every 10 miles. Ethanol was the last craze of the Anything-But-Oil contingent yet even they had to succumb to reality and recognize that the lower energy density meant 25% worse gas mileage - worse for people, worse for food prices and worse for the environment.
The same naturalists who think ancient Egyptians had better technology than the modern kind and want America to be like it was a hundred years ago don't accept that gasoline has lasted for 150 years because it packs a lot of energy density punch.
It doesn't mean electric cars are out of the picture, they are the wave of the future, as is solar power - but that's a basic research problem before it can become a technology one. Rushing to replace what we have because activists hate successful companies isn't good for anyone.