Thursday, July 21, 2011

Alternative Fuel

The cost of gasoline is a hot topic and it seems to persist whether it is rising or falling. It is always griped about as too high. Growing up in Chicago gasoline cost about two-bits a gallon. (For those maturity impaired who don't remember the term, that's twenty-five cents.) Occasionally the gas stations would break out into a price war and the price would dip to eighteen or seventeen or sixteen cents a gallon.

Despite that seeming low cost, when we gathered in the hot summer evenings and sought to hop in a car and go cruising we would pool the change in our jeans pockets and after separating the pocket lint, empty matchbooks and occasional tiny pieces of gravel, we'd come up with enough for a gallon or two. If it was late at night and the station wasn't busy we would move the car from pump to pump and drain the excess in the hoses. Hey, a bucks a buck!

If we adjust for inflation over the decades, we can usually demonstrate that there really isn't much creep in gasoline prices today. The long-term, however, usually masks pain that the short cycle exacerbates. We don't care what portion of our income we spent on gas in 1970 or 1985. We care about how much we see at the end of a fill-up today compared to last month or last year. At about $2.75 a gallon, gas is as cheap as it was in my childhood. At $4.00 it is a factor worthy of discussion.

We should be aware that gasoline comes from oil and oil is a global commodity not a national one. We compete and supply/demand rules. Factors like political stability in oil producing regions play on the price. Growth and industrialization of huge population centers like China and India raise demand exponentially. Restrictions on exploitation of domestic resources reduce supply at home and increase dependence. Regulation of additives, refinery construction, transportation and a complex multi-governmental tax structure all add up.

So, it occurred to me that we might want to consider cost per gallon of other products. I wondered, for example if maybe we could run a vehicle on milk if it were cheaper. It is a totally domestic product and only minimally regulated. Other than baby farts and cow methane it doesn't seem to contribute much to environmental hazards or global climate seasonal variations. I'm not sure if a swap to nourish the kids on gasoline could succumb to an engineering blitz for new technology though.

Here are some comparative prices per gallon to consider other candidates:

Cost per gallon:

  1. Gasoline $3.55
  2. Milk $3.79
  3. Bleach $2.20
  4. Auto coolant/anti-freeze $4.19
  5. Blush wine (box) $5.65
  6. Hershey's Chocolate Syrup $13.23
  7. Soy Sauce $15.23
  8. Red Bull Energy Drink $30.69
  9. Absolut Vodka $58.69
  10. Tabasco Sauce $94.46
Well, I guess it wasn't such a good idea. Other than the public service of taking all that blush wine out of circulation, it seems that we are stuck with gasoline and its annual price cycles and market volatility. 

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