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Politics of Clean Fuel

While travelling on the crowded Powai belt of the JVLR [map], a colleague exclaimed that it is surprising that rising fuel costs and pollution have not yet created enough concern for serious research and product development in the area of Alternative Fuels.

This lead me to wonder as to why, just like an increase in fuel production in the mid 1900's cause an increase in automobile traffic worldwide, is an increase in fuel prices not causing a wave of alternative technologies? The reason, I think is - what it has always been - political will!

Oil was discovered way back in the 9th century, however it did not find much use till the industrial age began. But even after the onset of the industrial age in the 17th century, coal remained the primary source of energy till the 1950s. And then suddenly, the consumption of oil started rising thereafter - why?

Coal was a viable source of energy till it was used as a fuel for factories and other static energy consuming centers. However, early 20th century saw the rise of a completely different kind of energy consuming industry - the military! World War I and II were different than the previous wars in one major way - they were the first full scale mechanized wars in human history.

In order to run this huge (war) industry, governments on both sides needed a source of fuel which could be easily transported along with their troops, was clean to use and efficient enough to run their tanks and fighter planes - oil was the simple answer. So as the war progressed, oil became more and more useful.

Thence as the WWII came to an end, the consumption of oil dropped - but the oil producing companies which had by now increased their capacities and set up shops in far off middle east could not have taken a hit. So, in order to accommodate for the high production of oil, the western governments encouraged an increase in the personal transportation.

This encouragement was not direct in form of subsidies or finance; it was indirect - most governments started major highway projects, traffic management was improved, towns were encouraged to be set up far and wide ... and so on. It was overall a wise economic decision which did lead to substantial economic growth. However, it also meant that daily life had become costlier to the environment.

More in Part II ...

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