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The future of gas stations

I am working on an student industrial design project (Product Design). The background of my senior thesis is directed at the future of energy distribution based around automobiles.

How will alternative energy sources be used and distributed such as wind, solar, H20, and others?

More specifically what will the gas/energy station of the future be?

How will this energy be distributed?

What are some present and past designs of products that distribute energy?

Do some searching on hydrogen cell technology as this is probably the best bet for the mid-to-long term future of motor fuels. Hydrogen cell cars will still need to be refueled, which will presumably happen at something resembling, if not identical to, a gas station. One interesting twist is that since the fuel cells are basically made from water and electricity, high-volume stations will possibly make their own hydrogen on site.

I am curious as to how many words your thesis will contain. This subject deserves a book.

Interesting project.

Clearly we don’t know yet what will happen as the technology is still developing and there are many different threads out there.

If it goes electric, I wonder what will happen. Most people will prefer to charge up at home, but how will that fit into the question of collecting taxes based on road use as we now do with the tax on gasoline and diesel. Also what about long trips? Where will they recharge if they are pure electric and most people are charging at home?

Hydrogen would likely be handled by existing stations by just adding hydrogen equipment, but how about the chicken and the egg?  How do you get enough cars on the road to make it profitable to buy the equipment to sell hydrogen if there are few cars and if there are few stations how do you sell more cars?  

I suspect that the distribution of electricity from wind solar and water power will not be much different than electrical distribution today.  Most of it will not be going to cars unless we have a big switch to electric cars.  In reality I suspect that electric cars may become a reality in large cities, but not elsewhere.  Time will tell.  See above for the chicken and the egg. 

Electrical energy distribution has not changed since the introduction of A/C current. You find a source and use wires to distribute it.

The future of the gas station will be decided by the consumer preferences and by government regulation more than by available technology.

All of the above is just my current opinion and is subject to serious change when (not if) technology changes.

Thank you for responding to my questions. Hydrogen seems to be the leader for a true alternative. Is there anything about the process of refueling your car that you would change? Thanks Again!

Thank You for your question. You are right getting a handle on how big this issue is and where to focus has been tough, but a lot of fun. I only have about 8 months total from research to development to prototype. What are some things that you would like to see in the gas station of the future? Thank You!

You need to separate energy sources (wind, solar) from energy transmission. Wind and solar generate electricity, we already have a grid for that, it’ll need improvement for PHEVs and EVs. Natural gas vehicles will also use the (somewhat improved) existing grid. The only distribution problem is hydrogen, which would need a new network of pipes, etc. I’m of the opinion that EVs are much more practical cost effective, and equally environmentally sound, compared to hydrogen-fuelled vehicles.

Thank you for all of the great information. I think you really nailed it…this is the future and nothing has been done yet. Your questions are some of my questions that I am asking others as well. What would you like to see happen? What have been some of your gas station experiences that you saw an opportunity for change? Thank You!

Thanks for your feedback! Is there an opportunity to have a faster, easier way to supply energy from the grid? Is there an opportunity with batteries, should they be changed out…or always recharged? Will we need more wind and solar to provide more energy to the grid to handle the demand? Thanks again for answering my questions!

What would you like to see happen?

Well I would like to see an abundant very cheap zero pollution universally available energy source, but I don’t expect that.

I only hope that the best fuel choice will be made without influence from existing energy industries or concern for those who may profit from any change and that the full real cost of pollution is fully factored in to the decision.   

Right now about the only thing that shows promise is solar energy.

Imagine…EV’s with a quick charge 10 minute feature on 220 or 110 volt outlet and every other house could be a “fuel” station for a nominal fee that any house owner could set up. A national grid could put a charging station on every corner on any intersection a power line was nearby. It’s a no brainer. Just a matter of doing it…ev’s not resticted to cities.

Exxon; stick it up your gas pumps !
Exxon would love to hook us up to hydrogen…another commodity they could price gouge. Don’t support it !

Thanks for your feedback! What is the best system for each of the different consumers…ie: Commuters, Delivery trucks, Taxis, etc…?

Thanks again!

There are a number of battery-swapping ideas out there. Google “ev battery exchange israel” for one example. Hurdles to this will be significant, it will require cross-company agreement on a number of technologies and specifications. Current vehicles have the batteries ‘hard wired’, not set up for quick removal. Also, different size vehicles will require different size batteries, and the condition of the very expensive battery will need to be verified before exchange.

“Build it and they will come” is the only way any of it will become the norm. I’m not sure how the gasoline station infrastructure AND the gasoline vehicles grew to be the soul of our transportaion, but a similar pre-investment is a must regardless of price to bring it all into being. PLUS the cansumer’s cost must be LESS or there’s no incentive to re-invest in the product.

Solar electricity should be so simple as to be a kit at Home Depot with transformers, wiring diagrams and the choice of wind mill or panels. Even making home shingles in solar cells that would retro-fit the cuurent asphalt shingled house.
Same with vehicle power / fuel supply. Somebody somewhere must make the first move to get it into an infrastructure AND consumer desireability.

I personally don’t see an alternative energy distribution system for cars in the foreseeable future. Hybrid technology using hyper-efficient (still needs a technology breakthrough) gas engines in combination with high density electric cells is more likely. In truth, with the exception of the Prius it’s still in its infancy, but with more players entering the market, the vehicles approaching affordability, and Tesla having done a lot of groundwork on high density electric cell arrays, I think the Tesla-type technology and the current hybrid technologies will soon marry-up to produce something extremely efficient, affordable, reliable, and readily refuelable…with gas.

My ultra-efficient gas engine is not as wild an idea as it seems. Much of the HC energy in gas engines is currently lost through the tailpipe, radiation, and dissipation via the cooling system. It’s a necessary cost of having to generate sufficient power to power a car. I suspect that some breakthrough will happen that will enable through hybrid systems the use of smaller engines that use significantly more of the energy available in the HC, expending far less as unused heat energy.

I have cause for this theory. I last summer replaced my home furnace with a new ultra high efficiency natural-gas furnace that uses the fuel so efficiently it is exhausted through a 3" PVC pipe exiting through the sill. The exhaust temperature is so cool you can hold you hand over it. It accomplishes this in two ways; first, the heat exchange system is advanced (I’m unsure of the details) using virtually all of the energy in the natural gas combustion to heat the home and leaving very little to be expended. Second, it burns a lower temperature for longer intervals, and uses a microprocessor to determine the most efficient burn times and flame levels. It’s a truely optimized system.

With more development ongoing I’m guessing that sutomotive industry will progress with these same concepts. Greater density power packs, more efficient generation systems, and advanced onboard computers could, I suspect, optimize the gas engine hybrid platforms much more than they currently are. I don’t think we’ve evn begun to realize the potential.

That’s my guess.

Longer term future I’d guess we’ll probably all be electric, with recharging station plugs at the gas stations, perhaps even at malls and restaurants. The Tesla will go 220 miles between charges and recharges from a total drain in 3-1/2 hours, so if you could “top off” the batteries while stopping for lunch or shopping it’d be perfect. Lithium ion cells don’t need to be drained before recharging. Perhaps there’ll be recharging plugs at the downtown parking spots even.