Sunday, April 14, 2024

YOU, ME & CSME – Of gas and petrol

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With the BP oil spill much too close for comfort, many people in this region have the consumption, exploration utility of gas and oil not too far from the front of their minds. And until we can get our hands on solar powered vehicles, oil, gas and their products will have to fuel us. With this in the background over the past few months, I began some investigations of how this gauge of gas that we are slave to really works, and sent some friends out through the region on a mini survey to actually find out.So how much is a litre of gas here? This was extremely difficult to find. It was not posted at gas stations, like everywhere else in the world. But a hunt to most energy divisions would find that the price of gasoline revolves around US$2.41 per litre, diesel: $1.98 per litre and kerosene: $1.17 per litre. And just so we have an idea of some average prices in the rest of the world. These prices are reflected in gallons. There are approximately four litres in a gallon: $3.50 a gallon in southern California; Britain $5.64; Hong Kong $5.62; Germany $5.29; Denmark $5.08; Norway $5.07; Italy $4.86; Turkey $4.85; Portugal $4.80; Korea $4.71; Switzerland $4.56; Korea $4.53; Austria $4.50; Croatia $4.32; Japan $3.84; Australia $2.63; Cambodia $2.57; Taiwan $2.47; Georgia $2.31; Laos $1.66; Thailand $1.60; China $1.54; Russia $1.45; Kazakhstan $1.36; Tajikistan $1.32; Azerbaijan $1.15 and Venezuela $0.14.  And who fixes the prices?Most cabinets in the region do.And why are they not posted at each gas station for consumers to choose where they want to buy gas? Though I searched far and wide, I could not find an appropriate answer to this question. The most frequent answers were variations of: “Why would you want to know”, or “What business is it of the consumers, they have to buy it anyway.”And what is actually in the gas we put into our cars?The gas attendants when asked what grade gasoline was being bought looked as though the question was coming from outer space. High octane, unleaded ultra high octane . . . who knew? This question led to some intriguing conversations. The upshot being a hodge podge of refined products that actually are the real costs in gas, as their importation and the amounts added to gasoline are quite hefty.What if any is the etiquette in gas/petrol stations in the region?In most countries, when you pull into a petrol station, an attendant will wave you towards a particular pump. You will wind down your window and tell him or her what value of fuel you want. She/he will then refuel the car for you and usually someone else will clean the windscreen for you. When it’s finished and you give the attendant the money in cash, some people offer a tip of a few dollars. You don’t normally get out of the car at all unless you need to visit the increasingly in-house shop.And is there any hope for more economical, environmental products we can use to fuel our vehicles . . . in the near future?Apparently there is quite a voracious appetite globally for alternatives to petroleum that will use naturally occurring bacteria to produce hydrocarbons, pretty much mimicking the natural production of petroleum. One such is a company founded by geneticist George Church http://www.hms.harvard.edu/dms/bbs/fac/church.html, of Harvard Medical School, and plant biologist Chris Somerville http://www-ciwdpb.stanford.edu/research/research_csomerville.php, of Stanford University.They are working on a product called “renewable petroleum – a genetically engineered bacteria, which custom produces hydrocarbon chains”.This synthetic biology is modifying the genetic pathways that bacteria, plants, and animals use to make fatty acids.This is how organisms store energy. Fatty acids are chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms strung together in a particular arrangement, with a carboxylic acid group made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen attached at one end. Take away the acid, and what you’re left with is a hydrocarbon that can be made into fuel, says Church, noting that any country can use synthetic biology and systems biology to engineer hydrocarbon-producing bacteria. It is an innovation that will work if countries are interested in working together for the consumers benefit. It is at the economical and ecological “cutting edge”.• Michelle Cave has done her thesis on the regional integration movement.

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