The Right Ideas

As a native of Oklahoma, this story was bound to catch my attention:

Oklahoma’s painful car culture

I know well how dependent Oklahoma is on the car. The reason?

NEW YORK ( — For many people in Oklahoma, life is built around the car. With several refineries in the region, years of cheap fuel have made it possible for many people to live far from their jobs.

So, I was preparing myself for another Big Oil scapegoating, when to my pleasant surprise the story took an unexpected turn:

Cindy LaBeff, 46, drives 70 miles a day from the small town of McLoud to her job at a data processing center in Oklahoma City. Until a few months ago, she spent $40 on gas for her work week. These days it’s $60 a work week – and $80 if she wants to go to church on the weekend.

She decided she can’t afford the higher prices. With no public transportation in her area, she went online to form a carpool. LaBeff has been ridesharing for a week now, and she hopes to add two new members to her car. “That way, it’s just a dollar a gallon,” she said.

If our governor or mayor would help set up carpooling, if they would push it better, then people would think about it,” she said. “But there has been nothing.”

Of course up until recently, the demand for public transportation or carpooling hasn’t been there. And Oklahoma is in a difficult spot:

Due to its sheer size, public transportation is a tough prospect in Oklahoma City. City Manager Jim Couch says that at 627 square miles, Oklahoma City has the third greatest land mass of all U.S. cities. It also ranked last among 50 U.S. cities in a recent study on areas best able to cope with high oil prices.

Tulsa is in the same boat:

High gas prices are also causing an increase in demand for public transport in neighboring Tulsa, Okla. Tulsa ranked second to last in the Common Cause study. Tulsa transit manager Bill Cartwright said urban professionals, who rarely rode the bus before, are now among his customers. “You’ve got people coming out of the woodwork, screaming for more bus service. We get calls and emails daily,” said Cartwright.

Note that those are the densely populated areas of Oklahoma. Most of the rest of the state has a very low population density. That’s why I have been preaching to family and friends back home for years: “Get yourself fuel efficient. Imagine that you have to pay $10/gal for gasoline.”

But it was nice to see a story on high prices were people are taking some initiative instead of demanding the government punish oil companies because prices have gotten high.

A reader also sent me an interesting story about Toyota. They are looking into cellulosic ethanol and green diesel:

Automakers going greener

Earlier this week, Toyota said it had developed a new fuel cell hybrid electric vehicle that can travel more than twice the distance of its previous model without filling up (see Toyota boosts range of fuel cell hybrid). Toyota said the improved FCHV-adv model has a maximum cruising range of 516 miles, up from 205 miles.

The car company also said its conducting research on a cellulosic ethanol, focusing on using technologies that involve yeast.

Toyota said it’s also working with Nippon Oil on high-concentration bio hydrofined diesel, also known as BHD, as a biofuel alternative.

Biomass to liquids are also on the table at the automaker, which said it’s conducting research on the technology. BTLs are derived from synthesizing gas made from all types of biomass, including cellulose.

BHD would appear to me to be green diesel, much like what is made by Neste, Petrobras, and the COP/Tyson venture. (See a bit on the projects from these companies here; explore the green diesel stories I have written here). Note that green diesel, produced either from hydrotreating/hydrocracking (Neste, Petrobras, COP) or via the BTL reaction (Choren) is chemically different from biodiesel. Green diesel has chemical properties identical to petroleum diesel.

2 thoughts on “The Right Ideas”

  1. Very interesting.

    If the economics don’t work, sustainable efforts won’t either.
    Check, a blog about innovative entrepreneurs that make money selling recycled items, provide green services or help us reduce our dependency on non renewable resources. These include some very cool Green online ventures, great new technologies, startups and investments opportunities.

  2. Hello Robert,

    I know you get inundated with requests to comment on various companies/technologies, but here’s yet another…

    In the “green diesel” vein, have you heard of a company called Swift Fuels that’s claiming to be close to commercial viability with a replacement fuel for leaded avgas? PBS commentator (and pilot) Robert Cringely wrote about them last week:

    Swift’s website appears to be overwhelmed with traffic today, but it’s at

    When I read Cringely’s column, I had another “maybe we’re not doomed after all” moment – I’d be curious to hear your take (or some other chemist/engineer who knows the fuel biz – King? greenengineer?)

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