Monday, April 17, 2006

Alt Fuels Reach Tipping Point

Rising oil prices are making Californians think more and more about alternative fuels. Some expers now think we may be at a tipping point.

Cars, trucks, trains, planes and other vehicles account for 7 of every 10 barrels of oil consumed in the U.S.

With such a deep reliance on oil, the transportation world has been nearly impervious to change. Electric-hybrid vehicles are barely a blip, alternative fuels have made only tiny inroads, and a push for more fuel-efficient cars has stalled under the Bush administration.

"In the transportation sector, we've essentially made no progress in the last 25 years," said Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis.

Bush's Advanced Energy Initiative, which he promoted in a February tour of research sites, would inject badly needed money into alternative-fuel programs.

Critics say the commitment is paltry. Bush's fiscal 2007 budget seeks about $150 million for biofuels and $290 million for hydrogen-related research. By comparison, the government spends an estimated $150 million a day in Iraq.

But proponents believe the decades of inertia could be broken by a rare convergence of technology, money, political will and motivated motorists.