POSTSCRIPT / October 5, 2000 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Where’s our Dingel? BMW has hydrocars!

DEFENSE Secretary Orly Mercado scored high with us last Tuesday during the presentation in Malacañang of preacher Wilde Almeda and his flock fresh from their rescue from Abu Sayyaf kidnappers fleeing from military pursuers.

An earnest Mercado delivered these major points during the few times that he spoke in that unusual presscon-cum-prayer rally marked by Almeda followers’ waving their hands and ejaculating hallelujahs:

  • We’re not comfortable counting the pesos and centavos spent in the campaign to recover the hostages. We will sit down to count the financial cost after we have attended to our primary concern, the hostages’ safety.
  • Prayer once again proved its power and efficacy. Let’s continue praying. And please also pray for our soldiers fighting for all of us under harsh conditions in the jungles of Sulu.
  • Let’s not get bogged down in recrimination and raking up our blunders. We all make mistakes. Let’s just wipe the slate clean, look forward, make a firm resolve, and move on to solve the problem.

* * *

NICHOLAS C. Florio, country chairman of Caltex Philippines, talked to us yesterday about their business in general and the proposed National Oil Exchange in particular.

Don’t let the name fool you. He is not a Filipino executive hired by Texaco-Chevron in a public relations gesture towards the natives. He is an American of Italian descent, moved here from New Zealand two months ago into the eye of the OilEx storm.

The conversation naturally kept coming back to the OilEx bill being pushed in the House by Bataan Rep. Enrique T. Garcia.

* * *

GOOD we got to talking, because we were beginning to think that Caltex, the smallest (21 percent of total market) among the Big 3, had left the fight against the OilEx to its elders Petron (37 percent) and Shell (32 percent).

Or worse, we thought aloud for Florio to hear it, we were beginning to suspect that Caltex was resigned to a possible capitulation in the face of a mounting public protest against continually rising fuel prices.

Caltex may not be as visible and audible, he said, but they have been quietly at work — like they have delivered their position paper to all lawmakers and have, in fact, entertained some congressmen who had expressed a desire for some kind of meeting where Caltex could give its, huh, side.

* * *

TO intrigue him, we said there was no need for them to talk to congressmen. We volunteered our rash judgment that they could kill the OilEx bill not in the House of Representatives but in the Senate.

Why in the Senate, he asked, trying to catch my eyes.

It’s simpler, and much cheaper, to work things out in the Senate, we explained. Imagine lobbying in a House with some 220 members, 190 of whom have signed the OilEx bill as co-sponsors! In contrast, the Senate has only 22 members… (Sen. Marcelino Fernan has passed away, and Sen. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has moved on to become Vice President.)

The OilEx bill, or any measure for that matter, could be ambushed anywhere along the long, tortuous legislative trail. The Senate is the best spot for it.

But we’re not out to “kill” the bill, Florio protested. Since he was still smiling when he said that, we didn’t find it necessary to comment.

* * *

BUT lawmakers, especially those facing a reelection next year, may be hesitant to court public displeasure by voting against the OilEx whose avowed purpose is to force down fuel prices by submitting the total national requirement to international bidding.

If a No vote against the OilEx would be a political liability, obviously the remedy is to prevent a vote. Some congressmen, or even the House leadership, could just freeze the ball so no voting ever happens until bell time. They don’t even have to explain the demise of the measure.

Same thing in the Senate. The bill can – and we predict it will – freeze to death in the cold storage committee where it has been tossed for, huh, study.

Since there would be no vote taken on a dead or dying bill, nobody could pin any lawmaker to any unpopular anti-OilEx vote. Neat!

* * *

BUT some senators are reportedly worried that if the House passes the OilEx bill, especially if with an overwhelming majority, the small chamber could be under intense public pressure to act swiftly on it and maybe also pass it.

Now if congressmen care for the Big Boys in the Senate, they should just continue dribbling till adjournment so the ball does not reach the Senate side of the court.

This will also save President Estrada — whose heart displayed on his wristband keeps bleeding for the poor — who has quietly assured congressman Garcia, his partymate, and other lawmakers that if the OilEx bill were passed he would sign it into law.

Estrada can keep whispering this to all pro-OilEx congressmen and senators who look gullible enough, because Erap knows something they do not know – that the OilEx bill will never pass because he won’t allow it.

* * *

ANYWAY, back to Florio. Caltex’s objections to the OilEx entails a longish presentation that could spoil lunch, so he summarized the objections thus:

  • The OilEx will not lower prices as the industry already purchases crude and oil products in the open market at prevailing prices. The OilEx can do no better. In fact, it might just end up with prices that are at least 65 centavos higher per liter due to its inefficiencies.
  • The OilEx is a reversal of present economic policy, because it creates a government monopoly rather than support free market competition.
  • Importation of refined oil products versus crude oil drains foreign exchange and adds pressure to the devalued peso. The OilEx will make the economy dependent on oil imports leading to fuel security risks.
  • There have been similar centralized procurement agencies put up by other countries, such as Zimbabwe and Zambia, but they have failed.

Of course congressman Garcia by his lonesome has answered or belied all these objections, but we’re repeating them for the record.

* * *

COMES now reader Sergio M. Paco asking what ever happened to the hydrocar of our engineer Daniel D. Dingel who claims to have developed a car engine running on water – or, to be accurate, on hydrogen extracted from water on board.

“Mercedez Benz and BMW have already manufactured hydrogen-powered cars similar to engineer Dingel’s invention,” Paco told us. “Did Dingel sell his patent to the foreign car manufacturers?” (We doubt it. We think he had nothing to sell. – fdp)

He forwarded news that BMW had launched the world’s first production-based hydrogen car in Berlin, the BMW 750hL. The luxurious sedans are built on the same production line in Dingolfing.

* * *

ONE may have such a hydrocar, but where does he get the fuel? Dr. Burkhard Göschel, BMW development director, was quoted as saying: “Our vision is to have a hydrogen fuel station available in the vicinity of the branches of the BMW Group in Germany by May 2005.”

BMW offers to work with international energy companies for the development of a hydrogen fuel station network. The aim is to have a sufficient network of hydrogen fuel stations all over Europe by 2010. By then, BMW has projected to sell several thousand hydrogen cars. The prices for the cars and for the fuel are to be similar to those of conventional cars and fuels.

The hydrogen technology used in the 12-cylinder sedans has so advanced that it permits realistic planning for large-scale production, according to the news from BMW.

* * *

RUNNING on hydrogen, the engine delivers 204-horsepower and accelerates from standstill to 100 km/hour in 9.6 seconds, while achieving a top speed of 226 km/hour. Fitted with the 140-liter Cryo fuel tank, the fully equipped 7 Series has an additional range of 350 kilometers.

The car is also fitted for conventional fuel supply, since the availability of hydrogen fuel is limited at the moment. When hydrogen fuel runs out, the driver can shift to conventional fuel.

The engine itself differs mainly only with regard to the intake duct with additional injection valves for the hydrogen. The engines were integrated into production in Dingolfing and assembled together with the conventional spark-ignition and diesel engines.

* * *

THE hydrogen is stored cryogenically — in super-chilled and liquid form — at around minus 250 degrees Celsius in a double-walled steel tank behind the rear seats. Safety valves ensure controlled ventilation in case of excess pressure.

Another prerequisite for the introduction of hydrogen as fuel is a filling system that must be no more complicated than filling a car today. The low temperature of minus 250 degrees Celsius requires special refueling technology.

In cooperation with its project partners, BMW has developed a fueling system that can fill vehicles with hydrogen as quickly, loss-free and safely as with conventional fuels.

This technology is now being used by the world’s first public robotic fuel station for liquid hydrogen at the Munich airport. The fully automatic hydrogen fueling operation takes less than three minutes and is a simple process for the layman, according to BMW.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 5, 2000)

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