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WI Needs a Tiger in its Tank

May 7, 2010

MADISON, Wisc. - The huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico raises questions about how we fuel Wisconsin's energy needs, but it appears the answers can be difficult to find, according to one Wisconsin professor. The spill has already caused some to say the environmental cost of drilling offshore isn't worth the risk.

But, David Foster, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin Engine Research Center, says there is a basic reason burning petroleum is the preferred energy source for transportation.

"Oil, or petroleum, as an energy carrier is an incredibly convenient energy carrier for mobility systems where you need to carry the energy on board."

One way to reduce dependence on oil would be for a major shift in living habits in Wisconsin and elsewhere, Foster says. If people lived closer to work, shopping, and recreation, the need to carry that energy on board vehicles would become less critical because fewer miles would be traveled, he adds.

Foster says the sheer numbers tell a very interesting tale when it comes to the amount of power generated via the gas dispensed at stations across the state.

"If you have 35 people filling up their cars at the same time, that's the equivalent of a 500-megawatt power plant operating flat-out."

Oil continues to be popular because it packs the biggest punch when compared to other mobile energy sources, says Foster. With developing nations hungering for more personal transportation, he expects oil demand will continue to be high even if newer energy sources come online here, or efficiency is improved.

"There's going to be increased demand that's growing; that will continue to grow for individual mobility systems like what we have in the United States. Just take a look at China, for example."

The spill is spewing oil into the gulf at a rate estimated at more than 200,000 gallons a day, but until habits change, Foster says the thirst for oil will continue to drive more demand, and more drilling.



Glen Gardner, Public News Service - WI