Friday, June 27, 2008

Bio-vehicle, the easiest solution when facing the soaring fuel price


I have just read in Euronews TV that the price of crude oil has reached 140 USD/ barrel. The recent hike is caused by the decision from Libyan government to reduce production. Whatever the reason for the price hikes, it clearly shows how vulnerable the fossil fuel is. Any disturbance in the Middle-East, say - a refinery is attacked by a small granade, will bring the fuel price getting closer to 200 USD/ barrel.

The soaring price will create more burden to customers around the world. When oil producers enjoy this prosperous moment, oil importer countries must face street protests from their own people. Fishermen cannot catch fish, truck drivers blockade main streets, university students in Indonesia are involved in violent clashes with the police while protesting the government policy in front of the parliament house. More and more office workers commute by public transportation instead of driving their own cars.

Actually when fewer cars are seen on the streets, the environmental condition will be better. But such condition is not what city dwellers want. People still have to go to work, school, hospital, and anywhere they need. That's why experts are doing more efforts in inventing energy efficient cars running on bio-fuel and solar energy. The European Union, The United States, Japan, Korea, and Brazil have developed flexible fuel vehicles that run on gasoline and bio-ethanol. There are also hybrid cars that use fuel-cells, gasoline and even solar energy. Solar panel or solar module is installed on top of a car to provide additional electrical energy for the car.

In the field of bio-fuel, tropical countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, African and South American countries open massive plantation to produce palm oil for bio-diesel production. The United States and Brazil are leaders in bio-ethanol production using sugarcane. It is hoped that all these efforts will improve the environmental condition and at the same time reduce the dependency on fossil fuel which is harmful to the environment.

When people in industrialised countries are focusing their attentions and efforts on the development of energy efficient cars, people in third world countries have to make adjustments too. They have been much effected by the already soaring price of staple food and cooking oil due to the conversion of these agricultural commodities into bio-fuel. Unfortunately, they cannot afford to buy cutting-edge cars running on bio-fuel. They do not have sophisticated renewable energy laboratory and the know-how to produce solar panel or flex-engine either. Solar panel production needs special technology that is very difficult for the villagers to achieve. The easiest solution for them is going back to organic farming, and riding or driving bio-vehicles. Here, the term bio-vehicle is not meant to be a car that consumes bio-ethanol nor a kind of car or truck or tractor that runs on solar energy. It is simply a carriage that is drawn by animal.

So, bio-vehicle is horse or cow or donkey-drawn carriage used to transport people and goods. While I was in Sonder Minahasa, North Sulawesi, I happened to take pictures of these bio-vehicles. Some are pulled by horses while others by cows. Whether a cart is pulled by a particular animal depends on the purpose of the vehicle. For transporting people to school or work, the cart is drawn by horse. The first picture shown in this article depicts how Minahasan people use Bendi (a horse-driven cart) as taxi. In the second picture, a cow-driven cart called Roda Sapi is used to transport agricultural produce from a farmland to the market. Both bio-vehicles do not emit CO2.gas. There are thousands of Roda Sapi and Bendi in Minahasa. They contribute significant income to their owners. The money paid by a customer will not fly out to oil exporter countries in the Middle-East. It will go to cart owners who spend it in the local market. Such bio-vehicles were abandoned by town dwellers in the past due to lower fare public buses which consumed fossil fuel.

Today, when the fuel price is expensive, the number of bio-vehicles is expected to rise again. Bendi owners have been asked by their customers to keep their carriages clean and comfortable in order to attract more commuters. Bendi also attracts tourists who want to travel around the towns of Minahasa. One only pays less than a dollars to go around Sonder town, a beautiful town in Minahasa regency which has beautiful scenery.

We hope that in the future, we can see more flexible engine vehicles and bio-vehicles running side by side on the streets.

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