By on March 18, 2009

In his farewell speech (the one about the military-industrial complex), President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned Americans, “As we peer into society’s future, we—you and I, and our government—must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow.” As any oil company CEO (cough, Dick Cheney, cough) will tell you, Eisenhower’s words point to personal virtue, but shareholders want profits today not resources tomorrow. Thankfully, some take Eisenhower’s words to heart. One such person is Josh Tickell, the creator, director, and protagonist of the impressive documentary film Fuel.

Fuel chronicles Tickell’s personal journey through the dark side of America’s petroleum addiction, his efforts to promote alternatives, and his vision of a sustainable plentiful future.

Tickell grew up in the harsh reality of modern Louisiana, the land for which the term “environmental racism” was coined. The refineries and petrochemical plants along the Mississippi River have fouled much of the land, water and air in the area. All of this contamination has led to a “cancer alley” and reproductive problems for the people living there, including Tickell’s own mother who suffered nine miscarriages and numerous illnesses.

Angered by the personal and environmental damage cause by petroleum, Tickell began looking for alternatives. While studying on an organic farm in Germany, he had his first encounter with biodiesel fuel. To Tickell, this was the answer to his hopes: a safe sane sustainable fuel that didn’t require invading Middle Eastern countries or dumping toxic sludge in bayous.

Thus inspired, Tickell came back to the US in 1997, bought an old diesel-powered motorhome, christened it “VeggieVan,” and toured the country (entirely fueled by used fry oil) preaching the potential of biodiesel. That tour turned into an 11-year odyssey through the growing pains of the biofuels business. Along the way, Tickell experienced both exuberant highs, such as the Carl’s Corner truck stop in Texas converting to biodiesel, and soul-crushing lows, such as when the first “biofuels are bad” articles began appearing.

His deepest low came with Hurricane Katrina. Tickell saw the hurricane (possibly made worse by global warming), and the resulting damage, chaos, and mismanagement as a rejection of all he had been advocating.

However, after helping with the relief effort (in a biodiesel-fueled boat), and seeing the people of Louisiana pulling together to help each other, Tickell had a change of attitude. In his own words, “I stopped fighting from anger . . . and I started looking for partners.” Those partners have ideas that just might save industrialized society.

There are two main objections to biofuels: one economic and one physical. Critics note that biofuels are more expensive than conventional fuels. This criticism is largely specious, because petroleum is subsidized by transferring most of the social, political and environmental externalities away from the price at the pump. In Tickell’s words, “Make the oil companies pay for [his mother’s nine miscarriages]. How much would a gallon of gasoline cost then?”

The physical argument is more valid. Not all biofuels contain more energy than it takes to make them, and some biofuel practices (such as cutting down rain forest to grow palm oil trees) are more destructive than helpful. Tickell knows this and is explicitly against such techniques. The focus of Fuel, and the solution to our petroleum addition, is sustainable biofuels.

Two of the most promising technologies on this front are algae-based biodiesel and biomass-based alcohol. Algal biodiesel started with a Carter-era research effort called the Aquatic Species program. Thanks to 30 years of research and development, we can now feed algae CO2 from power plants, water from sewage treatment plants and ambient sunlight, and have them excrete ready-to-use biodiesel fuel.

Other companies are making similar progress in converting other waste products (e.g., municipal garbage, agricultural waste, wood chips, etc.) into alcohol. Still other companies are researching ways to grow biomass on marginal lands unsuitable for food crops.

The genius of these technologies, unlike fossil fuels, is that they are sustainable. So long as people breathe, throw away trash and go to the bathroom, we will have CO2, biomass and wastewater.

Biofuels alone will not solve the world’s petroleum addiction, and Fuel spends considerable time discussing how an array of technologies may do the trick.

Those technologies range from the mundane (energy efficiency, public transportation, etc.), to the emergent (solar and wind power, plug-in hybrid cars), to the exotic (30-story urban vertical farms), but they all have a part to play.

The ultimate message of Fuel, unlike most environmental documentaries, is one of hope not doom. President Jimmy Carter made energy efficiency and alternative fuels sound like a trip to the principal’s office. Tickell, in contrast, sees a clean, sustainable, balanced energy future, and in such a future the truth is that there’s fuel enough for everyone.

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74 Comments on “Editorial: The Truth About Fuel, Part Three: Victory!...”


  • avatar
    Strippo

    That pic. Let me guess: post-apocalyptic Utah.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    ” … but shareholders want profits today not resources tomorrow … ”

    I realize almost everyone says this, but that doesn’t make it true. Wall Street’s Manic-Depressive analysts may emphasize short-term profits, but real investors do indeed look at the long term prospects of a company. That is why Toyota still has a market capitalization of $96 billion while GM is down at around $1 billion. Both are going to lose money this year, but shareholders believe Toyota has the internal resources to be in the game for a very long time and will make money again down the road.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I realize almost everyone says this, but that doesn’t make it true.

    It’s more true than it used to be, especially now that the window between the time a market condition comes to fruition and the time it’s exploited is so very short. There’s so much money to be made out of the speedy exploitation of market inefficiencies that you’d be a negligent investor not to do so, and an even more negligent executive if you didn’t provide a method for your investors to increase value. The “blue chip” fallbacks still exist, but they’re not where the money’s being made.

    Of course, it’s not sustainable. But that’s the author’s point, isn’t it?

  • avatar
    jhott997

    Eric wrote:
    “Not all biofuels contain more energy than it takes to make them”

    Ok, I’ll bite.
    What “biofuels” contain more energy than “it takes to make them?”
    Your list of alternative energy sources is quite an impressive lsit of alternatives to “fossil fuels”. But, “alternative” does not equal “more efficient”. Alternative only means different.
    This is a clear distinction that must be kept.

    Eric wrote:
    “Tickell saw the hurricane (possibly made worse by global warming)”

    Oh yeah?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Biofuels are just as much of a pipe dream as is the notion that we can drill out our way out of it.

    We don’t have enough oil to drill our way out of it, so that won’t work.

    We can’t produce enough biomass quickly enough to grow our way out of it, so that won’t work, either.

    If the occasional person wants to make biodiesel and feel good about himself, that’s great. But we can’t provide for the needs of 300 million or even a fraction of that number by running to the neighborhood Chinese restaurant for a fill-up. Do the math, folks – there just isn’t enough to go around.

    There are no magic bullets. We are going to have to use less, we have no alternative. Sucks to be us, but there are no easy answers to this one. Otherwise, we’re going to need real bullets that we use to conquer a country that has what we want but what we haven’t got.

  • avatar

    John Horder, you’re kind of right, but I think mostly wrong in your assessment of the “real investor” as a rational, long-term thinker. If that were really the case, shareholders would have demanded more accountability from companies and not allowed the subprime mortgage mess to get to the point it has; watchdoggery and intelligent investing fell to the wayside as people piled on to the Madoff moneybus or invested in companies that were leveraged in ways that nobody understood, not even the companies themselves.

    The market is terribly irrational, which is why it’s generally considered a big fat horrible disaster if your company pays out 56 cents per share instead of a predicted 67 cents per share. Everybody’s still making money, but idiot investors fill their pants and sell, sell, sell at the news that they’re making slightly less money than they expected to based on what are, at the end of the day, guesses at performance.

    Similarly, Eisenhower was right on. Plundering the future is the name of the game, whether it’s a matter of short-sighted businessmen squirming like stuck rats to meet quarterly expectations or tax-happy politicians selling our country to the Chinese to fund their porky projects and adventurist wars.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    The comment about Hurricane Katrina being caused by global warming should be dropped as it is not based on evidence beyond Al Gore. Same thing with the link of petroleum to his mother’s miscarriages. If facts are not on the table they are not facts.

    As to bio fuel, the one thing missing in the article is cost. And how that cost would escalate for raw materials first, followed by road taxes on private production, and concluding in government mandates to use it forcing consumers to pay more for cars.

    But if it is for the planet and the children who are we to question the mighty hand?

  • avatar
    hazard

    Pch101 :
    March 18th, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Biofuels are just as much of a pipe dream as is the notion that we can drill out our way out of it.

    We don’t have enough oil to drill our way out of it, so that won’t work.

    We can’t produce enough biomass quickly enough to grow our way out of it, so that won’t work, either.

    I think you missed the point of the piece. It’s not about growing our way out of it with biodiesel made out of beets or ethanol made from sugar cane. Algal biodiesel was explicitly mentioned.
    For example, these guys here:
    http://www.unh.edu/p2/biodiesel/article_alge.html

    they propose a system by which, if the vehicle fleet of the US were to switch to more efficient diesel-electric hybrids, you could fuel them all with algal biodiesel produced in ponds covering roughly 9.5 million acres, all of which can be in deserts (agricultural land in US: 450 million acres, unaffected).

  • avatar

    “we can’t provide for the needs of 300 million or even a fraction of that number by running to the neighborhood Chinese restaurant for a fill-up. Do the math, folks – there just isn’t enough to go around.”

    As a BioFuel user and (micro-scale) producer I feel I should remind people that this is not a zero-sum game. The point of BioFuels is not to REPLACE petroleum, but to supplement and extend it. Every gallon of homebrew I make is one more gallon of petroleum I’m NOT using and one more gallon of petroleum for you folks to use, right? Even if BioFuels at peak only represent 10-15% of the total that provides that much more dino-juice runway for the macro-economy. This is the OPPOSITE of plundering the future… we’re extending it.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    hazard

    GS650G:

    As to bio fuel, the one thing missing in the article is cost. And how that cost would escalate for raw materials first, followed by road taxes on private production, and concluding in government mandates to use it forcing consumers to pay more for cars.

    I would, for once, like someone to show me the total cost of petro-fuel: no, not just the stuff you pay at the pump, but all the “externalities” too. Externalities not payed by the petro-companies directly. Like all those wars financed by taxpayers and the resulting deficits and aid given to various questionable governments around the world to keep the oil flowing. And then the damage done by some of these governments once they amass all this oil cash.

    The US can be pretty energy independent – it’s big enough, and has enough resources if only the mental power is applied.

  • avatar
    bluecon

    This is taking care of itself. As the US plunges into recession fuel consumption is dropping.

    The government themselves are a huge oil glutton and their tax receipts are quickly dropping.

    President Obama is greatly increasing the slowdown in the economy and should be given the credit for the drop in oil consumption.

    Although I guarantee all the anti oil, anti anything green crowd is not going to enjoy the new poorer America as much as they enjoyed the old rich one.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The point of BioFuels is not to REPLACE petroleum, but to supplement and extend it.

    That’s fine, but a substance that can, at most, replace an amount equal to 5% of current usage — that’s current, not future usage — is a drop in the bucket that shouldn’t be touted as some sort of salvation.

    It’s not about growing our way out of it with biodiesel made out of beets or ethanol made from sugar cane. Algal biodiesel was explicitly mentioned.

    Again — you can’t grow enough algae or anything else to meet more than a tiny percentage of our needs.

    It’s tough for people to cope with the idea of using less, but that’s what we are going to have to do over the long run. Sufficient supplies can’t be created. Some supplies can be, but those won’t be nearly enough.

  • avatar
    Lokki

    I guess I have this all wrong, but I don’t give a damn about future generations as far as saving gasoline for them goes.

    I just can’t get my head around all this, no matter how many times I try. I keep getting into a loop.

    We are going to run out of oil, so we should save it.

    We have other technologies that we can use but they’re more expensive than oil, so they’re not viable.

    We should stop using the oil that we have and make people use the more expensive alternatives to save the oil.

    Hell, why not just use up all the oil and get it over with?

    We are saving the oil for future generations that they won’t need because of the new techonogies available today that you must adopt to save the oil that the future generations won’t need because of the (Loop infinitely)…

    Bah

    The new technologies will then actually become viable. Consumers will adopt them When it is economically wise to do so. (See the rise and fall of Prius sales compared to gas prices).

  • avatar
    bucksnort

    It is amazing how prejudicial these discussions get. The one thing that can save us and replace all but portable fuel is not even mentioned. Nuclear power can supply almost all stationary power needs thus freeing up gas/coal/oil resources for raw material and portable fuel needs. The folks proposing the wonders of bio-fuels tend to be the same ones condemning nuclear power. Nuclear technology has become safe and efficient. If the US would drop its ban on reprocessing spent fuel rods (…Jimmy Carter to thank for that one) we could even minimize nuclear waste. Yucca Mountain would only be needed for industrial/medical wast. Oops. Obama won’t even allow that. Myopia is a wonderful way to rationalize pet projects and avoid the big picture.

  • avatar
    AWD-03

    So many points to discuss here:
    1) Diversity will save the day. It is this relying on one fuel only that causes such huge problems. This same arugument applies to agriculture as well, but that is off topic.
    2) Global Warming and its effects on hurricanes is only a hypothesis, so his argument for that one is really iffy
    3)Why exactly can we not grow our way out of this? I understand that biomass is pretty much ANYTHING. That means castoff from our huge food producing sector, switchgrass grown on any roadside, rocky terrain, unused property, or what would have been considered unusable growing area.
    4) Using less doesn’t mean driving less. It means that maybe I don’t need 5000 horsepower from a v-8. How about this little hiccup in our economy help people and these companies see the light. We don’t need 300 hp from a v6. We need the focus to shift.

  • avatar
    AWD-03

    Hey bucksnort, Not in my Backyard!

    I forgot to mention nuclear power as a savior that many countries already utilize that we can’t get out heads around. This would truly free up all those other fuels sources for our vehicles.

  • avatar
    Eric_Stepans

    @GS650G:

    The comment about Hurricane Katrina being caused by global warming should be dropped as it is not based on evidence…Same thing with the link of petroleum to his mother’s miscarriages. If facts are not on the table they are not facts.

    I did NOT say climate change caused Katrina. However, there is evidence that climate change is possibly (the word I did use) increasing the intensity of hurricanes.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/09/hurricanes-and-global-warming/

    There is also substantial evidence that pollution from petroleum refining causes a host of reproductive problems

    http://www.ehponline.org/members/2005/6362/6362.html

    Those are just two of the multiple externalities that don’t get included in the pump price of fuels

    @Pch101:

    Again — you can’t grow enough algae or anything else to meet more than a tiny percentage of our needs.

    The point of “Fuel” is that Yes, we can….

    No, there isn’t enough used fry oil to power the entire US vehicle fleet. No, there isn’t enough corn-growing land to replace all gasoline with E85.

    But if we start ‘stacking’ technologies, there is plenty to go around. There is plentiful wastewater and CO2 to feed algae. There is plenty of wind power (enough wind turbines to meet 20% of US needs would fit in the area of one coal strip mine). There are plenty of rooftops on which we can put solar panels. There are large vehicle fuel efficiency gains to be had (if only by converting more vehicles to diesel). There is plenty of marginal land on which to grow megaflora trees for biomass.

    No one technology is the ‘magic bullet’. But a bucket of technologies based on the principles of efficiency and sustainability can be.

    @hazard

    I would, for once, like someone to show me the total cost of petro-fuel…: no, not just the stuff you pay at the pump, but all the “externalities” too.

    There are a multitude of studies about this. Here are just a few:

    http://www.icta.org/doc/Real%20Price%20of%20Gasoline.pdf

    http://www.progress.org/cobb01.htm

    http://tqe.quaker.org/2006/TQE142-EN-OilAddiction.html

    http://www.iags.org/costofoil.html

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    i am very much into boifuels, i’d love to end out realtionships with most of the corrupt facist governments we are currently making rich.

  • avatar
    Eric_Stepans

    The system ate my previous comment, so I’ll summarize:

    – Our petroleum dependence has huge externalities associated with it. Try searching under “the real cost of oil” or “the real cost of gasoline” for many many studies.

    – The point of “Fuel” is that there is basket of technologies that can take us to a post-petroleum future. No, we can’t fuel every car in the US on used vegetable oil. But we have to get rid of the stuff anyway, why not use it as fuel?

    -The obstacles to getting off petroleum are political, not economic. If the real costs of petroleum were reflected in the retail price, we’d be adopting efficient sustainable technologies as quickly as we could.

    -Possible connection between global warming and hurricane intensity:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/09/hurricanes-and-global-warming/

    -Links between petroleum refining and reproductive defects:

    http://www.ehponline.org/members/2005/6362/6362.html

  • avatar
    buzzliteyear

    The system ate my previous comment, so I’ll summarize:

    – Our petroleum dependence has huge externalities associated with it. Try searching under “the real cost of oil” or “the real cost of gasoline” for many many studies.

    – The point of “Fuel” is that there is basket of technologies that can take us to a post-petroleum future. No, we can’t fuel every car in the US on used vegetable oil. But we have to get rid of the stuff anyway, why not use it as fuel?

    -The obstacles to getting off petroleum are political, not economic. If the real costs of petroleum were reflected in the retail price, we’d be adopting efficient sustainable technologies as quickly as we could.

    -Possible connection between global warming and hurricane intensity:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/09/hurricanes-and-global-warming/

    -Links between petroleum refining and reproductive defects:

    http://www.ehponline.org/members/2005/6362/6362.html

  • avatar
    bucksnort

    The incredible irony of the Not-In-My-Backyard issue is it is being used by some of the “sustainable” energy types against their own causes. They don’t even want the power lines or the bird shredders, much less the nuclear plants. At present, the US does not have the power transmission capacity to handle a significant shift to electric vehicles. I wonder where the propeller-hat types plan on getting the electricity for their Chevy Volts? Photovoltaics? Hah! That might work in the boondocks where I live but not in high density energy use urban areas. Plus, photovoltaics have that other little problem…it gets dark, and we have no way to store electricity…which is the main problem the Volt isn’t running yet…which takes us right back to fossil fuels because we don’t have enough nuclear plants.

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    @Pch101:

    You are right – there is no drop-in replacement for oil at this point – and there may never be.

    Bio-fuels will help fill the gap between petroleum and other fuel types, but you are correct – we can’t make enough of it to completely replace oil.

    We can, however, put large scale nuclear power into place relatively quickly (20 years or so). Upgrade the grid, build 30-50 more power plants, and use hydrogen in fuel-cells to “store” the electricity.

    As far as nuclear waste goes – the reason our waste stays hot for thousands of years is because it still has a ton of energy left in it. We need to reprocess nuclear fuel to extract as much energy as possible from it before considering it “spent”.

    Nuclear power will give all the other alternative energy sources (wind, bio, solar…etc) time to mature and scale up to meet demand. Nuclear is the way to go for now – we know how to do it, and we know how well it can scale.

    -ted

  • avatar
    bluecon

    This sort of pie in the sky stuff is why the country is going broke. Rejecting nuclear, hydro electric, drilling for available oil, producing oil from oil shales, etc. and subsidizing lousy replacements is the sort of stuff that is bankrupting the country.

  • avatar
    200k-min

    Bio-diesel isn’t going to replace good old fashioned dino juice, there is just no way America can produce enough to replace 20 million barrels/day of oil consumption.

    That said, bio-diesel users leave some fuel for others to use that otherwise wouldn’t be available, similar to the conservation effects of a hybrid vs traditional ICE. That’s all well and good but doesn’t fix the problem.

    The hard truth not explored in this series is simply the fact that when the supply of liquid fossil fuels starts a downward slide, and it will since the world is finite, we will need to adapt to a lifestyle where we simply use less liquid fuel, i.e. drive less.

    Alternatives like electrified rail or transit/pedestrian oriented development are never discussed, only alternatives to gasoline to keep our happy motoring alive and well. Why is it blasphemy to say personal motor vehicle transport should be reduced by a significant percentage? This country is warped to the point where a car is seen as a right…not the luxury that it is.

    The easiest reduction in oil consumption is simply conservation. You don’t need a Prius or diesel running on McDonalds fry oil to do that, just drive less.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The point of “Fuel” is that Yes, we can

    Then “Fuel” is wrong. Do the math, and it’s really obvious that you can’t create enough biomass of any sort quickly enough to replace more than a fraction of our current consumption. We don’t have enough land or production capacity to make the quantities of biofuel necessary to do this.

    I’m not against biofuels per se, but they can’t do all that much for us. They are not a panacea or even a stop gap, but just a tiny substitute for a small portion of what we use.

    The search for magic bullets creates blinders. Nuclear power certainly is no answer, either, given that our cars don’t run on electricity, and even if they did, most of our electricity is not coming from oil and gas.

    There are no easy answers. We need to use less, but even conservation won’t be enough.

  • avatar
    bucksnort

    Nuclear power is hardly “pie in the sky.” It has existed for a number of decades. Bio-fuels are “pie in the sky” and money in the pockets of Iowa corn farmers.

    Nuclear power is also the only path to the holy grail….hydrogen as a fuel. The only way we are ever going to be able to afford to produce enough hydrogen for fuel cells is by nuclear power. First we use it to supply our fixed electricity needs, then we use surplus electricity to produce hydrogen…the ultimate “fuel.”

  • avatar
    Engineer

    Two of the most promising technologies on this front are algae-based biodiesel and biomass-based alcohol.
    Nope and WTF.

    Let’s start with algae-based biodiesel: unless you are refering to an open ocean-based system, no algae-based system makes any sense. And for the open ocean system to work, somebody still needs to invent the low energy harvester and algal biomass concentrator.

    Also, while biodiesel is great for DIY (Go Chuck! Go!) it is not feasible on large scale. The biosphere (and this includes algae) simply do not produce enough lipids for this to work. You need a technology that has the potential to use every available atom of carbon. Gasification, anyone?

    And, if we are going to nit-pick, even for lipids, biodiesel is being overtaken by Big Oil, as COP producing superior fuel (diesel) from inferior feedstock (waste) proves.

    The less said about cellulosic ethanol (or all ethanol) the better. Let’s just point out that then technology once counted W among its enthusiastic supporters.

    To sum up: biofuels’ best hope is converting waste into hydrocarbon liquid fuels, capable of utilising existing infrastructure and vehicles. Look to Big Oil, not hippies, for viable biofuels.

    I know it hurts. Do you want this to work or feel good?

  • avatar
    GS650G

    I did NOT say climate change caused Katrina. However, there is evidence that climate change is possibly (the word I did use) increasing the intensity of hurricanes.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2005/09/hurricanes-and-global-warming/

    There is also substantial evidence that pollution from petroleum refining causes a host of reproductive problems

    http://www.ehponline.org/members/2005/6362/6362.html

    Those are just two of the multiple externalities that don’t get included in the pump price of fuels

    You can mince words all you want, but when possibility turns into legislation binding us all that is when the kidding stops. Plenty of people blame mercury added to vaccines for autism too. The “possible” cause has driven the vaccine business from this country and encouraged lawsuit abuse. Nothing like blaming mysterious forces at work to explain something you can’t.

    Sure there are costs with petroleum beyond the pump, we are not that stupid. What’s your point though? Everyday we trade costs for benefits and the free market sorts out winners and losers,or until Congress gets involved. The alternative is either horses or building a bio diesel still in the backyard. I applaud efforts to find a great alternative, as soon as it’s easily available and costs the same or less than gasoline count me in. But I’m not behind taking billions of dollars of my heirs income and spending it on feel good projects we are not supposed to question because of green earth policy.

    This is not as ridiculous as the alcohol/methanol idea because at least there are enough calories to get the job done.

    Pitch these green ideas to the Indians and Chinese. They have more people and the potential to do the greatest environmental damage once they all buy cars. With the infancy of their infrastructure they can invest in new fuels and refueling. We can pick what works after they experiment with all methods.

  • avatar
    mytruth

    Well.. there goes five minutes of my life that I won’t get back.

  • avatar
    dean

    bucksnort: bluecon was not referring to nuclear as “pie in the sky.” Read his post again.

    I see 200k-min is a fellow Kunstler reader. Whether you find his relentless doom-and-gloom scenarios fanciful or not, he makes excellent points about how we need to reconsider our living arrangements as energy becomes increasingly expensive.

  • avatar
    njdave

    One thing I find amusing is that the “oil is running out we all must switch to alternate fuel” types are almost all anti-war types also. Consider what will happen when the oil DOES run out, and we are no longer propping up countries with petro dollars. When their standard of living plunges and they all blame US. We better be ready for war then. Same thing happens (albeit a bit more slowly) if the alternate fuel push succeeds. If you take money from people they tend to get angry about it.

  • avatar
    jackc10

    I think Tickell’s mother should have moved away from the Mississippi River.

  • avatar

    Bucksnort: It is amazing how prejudicial these discussions get. The one thing that can save us and replace all but portable fuel is not even mentioned. Nuclear power can supply almost all stationary power needs thus freeing up gas/coal/oil resources for raw material and portable fuel needs. The folks proposing the wonders of bio-fuels tend to be the same ones condemning nuclear power. Nuclear technology has become safe and efficient.

    If nuclear power is so efficient, why aren’t the utilities building nuclear plants? (See “capital cost”)

    If the US would drop its ban on reprocessing spent fuel rods (…Jimmy Carter to thank for that one) we could even minimize nuclear waste. Yucca Mountain would only be needed for industrial/medical wast.

    If the US would drop the reprocessing ban, then we could have nuclear proliferation all over the world! Great for terrorists!

  • avatar
    tesla deathwatcher

    I’ll have to take a look at Fuel. I hadn’t heard of the video. Sounds interesting.

    But count me, for now at least, in the skeptic’s column. Plenty of companies are working on things like waste-to-ethanol. The concept works in theory. In practice, though, no. Some companies in the field, like Earthanol, have been out and out scams.

    In the long term, the only proven energy source that can fill in for oil and coal is nuclear. The film Nobody’s Fuel presents an excellent overview of why. In the short term, who knows?

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    …hydrogen as a fuel…

    The idea behind efficient use of energy is to reduce the amount you waste changing it from one state to another. Two of the really nice things about petroleum are a) it doesn’t take much energy to make it useful and b) it doesn’t take much energy to get to where it’s going to be used.

    Electricity is especially bad by comparison: you have to create it, which involves state-change waste. You have to transport it, which is wasteful since practical superconductors are a long, long way away. You have to store it, which entails another state-change waste, as well as dealing with the limitations of battery technology.

    Hydrogen is about as bad, for exactly the same reason. It’s a little friendlier because you’re not transporting it through wires that waste it, or storing it in batteries that waste it, but it still has the problem of wasteful production and poor storage. Hydrogen is a really bad choice as fuel unless you’re a fusion reactor: it’s not very energy-dense and is really, really hard to store.

    Of a bad lot, biofuels are the best alternative. But they don’t scale to meet current usage, and usage is not decreasing.

    Pch101 makes an important point: the panacea is not in alternative fuels, it’s in more efficient usage and conservation. And, unfortunately, reduced expectations about the cost and availability of resources. Unless there’s a quantum leap in technology (superconductors, commercially viable fusion, solar panels that don’t suck, dilithium crystals, etc) we’re going to have to address the problem of energy in unsexy but practical ways.

    Expect more Priuses, window caulking, thermostats set to “Jimmy Carter”, denser neighbourhoods, CFL lightbulbs. Don’t expect seas of algae belching biofuel, or Nucleons at your local Ford dealer.

    Actually, the Nucleon is probably more viable (you know, discounting the whole radioactive waste thing) than hydrogen fuel cells ever would be. I went to a university that hosted an on-campus slowpoke reactor and it was decidedly simple, dull and safe.

  • avatar
    njdave

    David Holzman – Oh I see as long as WE don’t reprocess fuel, then those dirty terrorists won’t get any fuel, right? It doesn’t matter if the French, Germans, Danish or anyone else reprocesses as long as we don’t. It is this kind of ridiculous thinking that holds the US back from advancing Nuclear technology and energy independence while doing absolutely nothing to stop terrorism. And the reason capitol costs to build new nuclear plants is so high is because antinuclear activists created legislative barriers and hundreds of lawsuits to make it so high, for the express purpose of stopping it. They succeeded admirably in their goals, thereby driving the huge growth in coal-fired power plants in this country. And of course burning coal is so good for the environment these activists are concerned about. Not to mention the large amount of radioactive radium and radon gas these plants emit. I would much, much rather live downwind from a nuclear power plant than a coal fired one. Unintended consequences strike again.

  • avatar
    Eric_Stepans

    @bluecon – (Unsubsidized) nuclear power is very expensive. We don’t have enough oil long term. Oil shale requires huge energy and water inputs. Which is more “pie in the sky”? Growing algae or assuming that the 2% of the world’s petroleum reserves we have will feed our 25% of the world’s petroleum consumption habit?

    @bucksnort – Yes, you will always find some NIMBY who is against anything (for example, I think most opposition to burning municipal waste is ridiculous). But that does not mean that all NIMBYs are against everything. Yes, some people are not going to get everything that they want.

    @PCH – I respectfully submit that ‘the math’ is on the side of “Fuel”. For example, a passage from the government research report on algal biodiesel:

    To produce [enough fuel for the entire US transporation fleet] would require a land mass of almost 15,000 square miles. To put that in perspective, consider that the Sonora desert in the southwestern US comprises 120,000 square miles. Enough biodiesel to replace all petroleum transportation fuels could be grown in 15,000 square miles, or roughly 12.5 percent of the area of the Sonora desert.

    @GS650: –Sure there are costs with petroleum beyond the pump, we are not that stupid. What’s your point though?….I applaud efforts to find a great alternative, as soon as it’s easily available and costs the same or less than gasoline count me in

    You need to connect those two thoughts. The point is that you use gasoline because you are not paying the full price of it (at least not directly). And the reason you are is a political decision, not an economic one.

    If petro-gasoline was $9/gallon (due to taxes to mitigate all of the externalities) and M85 or E100 was $3/gallon, you’d switch in a heartbeat.

    How much per gallon does the $3 trillion cost of the Iraq War work out to?

    @Engineer – Curiously, a few of the people Tickell interviews in “Fuel” are oil/gas people who have decided to switch to working on sustainable biofuels.

    http://www.petrosuninc.com/

  • avatar
    Stein X Leikanger

    @Lokki

    Let me help you with the loop that has your head in a spin.

    The factor you’re leaving out is the alternative uses for hydrocarbon, beyond just burning it in inefficient ICE units to move to the local 7/11 to buy a six-pack of beer, in a two ton vehicle.

    Oil, gas and their derivatives can be used to produce a near unimaginable diversity of materials, composites, medicines, fluids, plastics, and so on, that we really, really like.
    And it’s these that some would like to hand over to future generations, while we substitute something else inside the loop that has you flummoxed.

  • avatar
    bucksnort

    DH:

    The old Jimmy-Carter-nuclear-proliferation argument is borderline old wives tale at this point. Name an incident where terrorists have attacked a nuclear facility or transport of any kind in the US or Europe. There are plain white semis with two black suburban escorts and flatbeds with two large canisters driving along our freeways on a periodic basis. I have personally seen both.

    Besides, the bad-guys have no need for our spent fuel rods, they can get better quality material from directly from Iran, Pakistan, N. Korea…maybe even the Russians and some of those other places that end with “…stan.”

  • avatar
    cmcmail

    Petroleum is a “BioFuel”, and the evidence is that is “renewable” just how quickly it renews is the question. Most ( not all)petroleum scientists believe it comes from micro lifeforms. Some believe it come from the core of the earth, until we know for sure where it comes from, we can’t be sure we are running out.

  • avatar
    tesla deathwatcher

    If nuclear power is so efficient, why aren’t the utilities building nuclear plants? (See “capital cost”)

    Nuclear power certainly is not a panacea. Plants cost a fortune, up front. Nuclear waste is tough to deal with, both physically and politically. (The waste facility at Yucca Mountain in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s home state Nevada was just abruptly cancelled for political reasons after more than 20 years of research and preparation.) Nuclear fuel is limited and its future cost uncertain (unlike wind or sunshine).

    But unlike solar, wind or biofuels, nuclear power has been proven to work. Compare Germany to France.

    Germany has subsidized both wind and solar energy heavily, and decided to drop its nuclear power plants (although that decision is being reconsidered). In spite of that, it has had to build new coal power plants to keep up with demand for electricity.

    France gets almost 80% of its electricity from nuclear power plants, and most of the rest from hydropower. France closed its last coal mine and imports coal mostly just for industrial uses.

    Sweden, by the way, just changed its policy that would have closed its nuclear power plants. It will continue to get 50% of its electricity from nuclear power plants, with the remaining 50% coming from hydroelectricity.

    No country gets a significant amount of electricity from solar or wind. France and Sweden get a big chunk from nuclear of theirs. Looking at that, I’d bet on nuclear power were I to invest in an electricity generating plant.

  • avatar

    NJdave: And the reason capitol (((capital–“capitol” refers to places like wash DC))) costs to build new nuclear plants is so high is because antinuclear activists created legislative barriers and hundreds of lawsuits to make it so high, for the express purpose of stopping it.

    You are giving activists far too much credit.

    You also have to remember that Congress had to pass the Price Anderson Act, absolving the utilities of liability in the event of a nuclear accident before utilities would touch nuclear power. Wind is now usually cheaper than NP. Coal and natural gas are much cheaper than NP. And solar PV will soon be cheaper than NP. One of NP’s problems is huge capital costs.

  • avatar

    Bucksnort: Name an incident where terrorists have attacked a nuclear facility or transport of any kind in the US or Europe. There are plain white semis with two black suburban escorts and flatbeds with two large canisters driving along our freeways on a periodic basis. I have personally seen both.

    That stuff is not nearly as tempting as reprocessed fuel would be. The latter is much more highly concentrated. The difference is like coca leaves vs cocaine.

    And btw, name an incident where terrorists crashed jets into tall buildings before 2001.

  • avatar

    @Tesla Deathwatcher

    Denmark produces the equivalent of 20% of its electricity with wind power, keeping about a third and exporting most of the rest to Sweden and Germany. The world is currently adding wind capacity four times as fast as it’s adding nuclear power, and wind is the second fastest growing energy source in absolute supply, after natural gas. The world currently has 120 gigawatts of wind capacity (a gigawatt is roughly the amount of power produced by a typical US nuclear plant), and wind grew by 28% in 2008.

    Texas alone has plans to build wind capacity equivalent to one quarter of the NP capacity in the US–about 25 gigs. Wind is going up in many parts of the US and Europe.

  • avatar
    bluecon

    And on those hot 90 degree days when there is no wind we will…..

  • avatar
    windswords

    psarhjinian:

    “Actually, the Nucleon is probably more viable (you know, discounting the whole radioactive waste thing) than hydrogen fuel cells ever would be. I went to a university that hosted an on-campus slowpoke reactor and it was decidedly simple, dull and safe.”

    I want a Nucleon! Slap a “Mr. Fusion” label on it and I will buy one.

  • avatar
    jackc10

    “The world currently has 120 gigawatts of wind capacity (a gigawatt is roughly the amount of power produced by a typical US nuclear plant), and wind grew by 28% in 2008.”

    Not Quite right. A simple Wikopedia search indicates:
    “The Millstone Plant in CT has two active reactors.
    In 2007, Unit 2 generated 7,686 GWh and Unit 3 generated 8,699 GWh. Three Mile Island in PA generated 6,645 GWh last year.

    Even if you generously assume the gigawatt statement in question above is based on a a daily amount, (actually it is wattage you still have 18.2 gigawatts a day at 3 Mile, a higher number at the others.) That is 18.2 times higher than the alleged gigawattage produced by an American NP.

    So even if on was to believe the wind figures, you have to divide the claims by at least 18.2 and then figure where the power is coming from when the wind is not blowing at maximum design capability of the turbines. And that is most of the time.

    Even in Texas, there are calm days, windwise, occasionally.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Nuclear power is hardly “pie in the sky.” It has existed for a number of decades. Bio-fuels are “pie in the sky” and money in the pockets of Iowa corn farmers.

    These points are misleading. All of these energy sources work, but only to a point. They each have their own advantages and disadvantages.

    The biofuel problem is one of scale. You just can’t make enough of the stuff. There’s frankly no point in making anything beyond E10 because we can’t produce enough ethanol to consistently produce a greater gasoline/ethanol mixture than that.

    Nuclear power has its obvious deficiencies, but as it pertains to cars, it doesn’t help us to power vehicles because battery-fueled cars aren’t adequate for most users. Electric motors are fine, but batteries are lacking. Until we improve batteries or have a substitute for them, nuclear has no place in this discussion. (We aren’t just going to shut down the gas- and oil-powered power stations, so using nukes as a substitute is a non-starter.)

    The answer is not magical or glamorous. We will need to have diverse sources and reduce our consumption simultaneously, and then hope that it works. Or, in the alternative, the next time that we start a war in order to secure our long-term access to oil, we had better be sure to win it.

  • avatar
    tesla deathwatcher

    Denmark certainly does get poster child credit for wind power. But Denmark’s experience shows the drawbacks of wind power as much as the benefits.

    In spite of huge investments in wind turbines, and subsidized rates paid to wind power producers, Denmark has been unable to use wind power to replace any fossil fuel plants. Much of the wind power Denmark produces gets sold to Norway at a loss. It’s cheaper for Norway to use Denmark’s wind power than its own hydroelectric power. So Denmark uses expensive wind power to replace inexpensive hydropower. Not much sense there.

    That’s not to say the Danes’ ambituous experiment with wind power has been a total failure. It has not. And Denmark has done a great job decentralizing power plants to local combination heat and power plants, increasing efficiency by quite a bit. But Denmark still has the highest electricity costs in Europe, and the highest carbon output per capital for electricity generation.

    Contrast that with France and Sweden’s experience with nuclear power. With its nearly 80% nuclear power for electricity, France has the lowest electricity price and the lowest carbon output per capita for electricity. Sweden recently decided to continue its nuclear power program, where 10 reactors produce 50% of its electricity, after finding all alternatives impractical. As the leader of the political party that shifted its position on nuclear power said, “we need to do this for our children and grandchildren.”

    Nuclear power has had a checkered history in the United States. The name Chernobyl still scares me, I must admit. But worldwide, experience with wind power has not been good. Experience with nuclear power has been.

    Were I president instead of Barack Obama, I would spend the billions of dollars he has allocated to green power on research and development of a cheap (as possible) and standardized Generation III nuclear power plant design. I would open a nuclear waste depository. And I would encourage, through regulation, tripling over the next 20 years the amount of nuclear power the United States makes. For our children and grandchildren.

  • avatar

    Anti-nucleites should do some research before they start their knees-a-jerkin’. Waste production from a modern, efficient plant is several barrels – a decade. 30 years worth of waste would fit into your living room. Some new designs are so efficient they can take the waste from an old design plant and re-use it for additional power production. In fact, there is a new reactor design that has been able to produce the entire world’s power consumption in a fraction of a second – problem is, it can’t produce for more than a fraction of a second because of stability and heat problems. And the issue of harnessing that much power.

  • avatar
    grifonik

    There’s a problem with the “Fuel” message. Follow the logic.

    A) So, the oil producers and their ilk are forced to pay for the social costs of peddling their vile carbons.

    B) Oil producers hike the price to cover these costs.

    C) Costs derived from oil become very high everywhere EXCEPT in those countries that don’t give a gnatt’s ass.

    D) Those lower costs be come target input possibilites for businesses (who don’t act ethically).

    Result = NO CHANGE. The problem was only shifted to somewhere else.

    To really fix the problem, you need either complete economic control of the entire economic system (World wide government). Or, you need to beat the minimum price to get oil out of the ground and refined into its various uses.

    I think “Fuel 2”; I would name it “Fuel – Afterburn”; would be better focused on achieving the economic oil beaters WITHOUT applying any type of economic props that can’t be applied world wide. If they’re found, they’ll be very successful quite quickly and of their own accord.

  • avatar

    But worldwide, experience with wind power has not been good. Experience with nuclear power has been.

    Then why is wind capacity growing 4x faster than nuclear?

    Denmark’s problem with wind, and a likely solution, are described herein: http://www.ehponline.org/docs/2007/115-7/innovations-abs.html

  • avatar

    In fact, there is a new reactor design that has been able to produce the entire world’s power consumption in a fraction of a second – problem is, it can’t produce for more than a fraction of a second because of stability and heat problems.

    Are you talking about the Sun? If not, document this.

  • avatar
    Eric_Stepans

    I think a lot commentators are missing the key message of “Fuel”. The point is not that one technology will do everything. The point is that a combination of technologies can substantially reduce or eliminate our petroleum needs.

    Imagine an integrated gasification combined-cycle power plant (IGCC) with an algal biofuel farm next door.

    Coal (or some other source of carbon) goes in. Some of it is burnt to create steam which runs an electrical turbine. The rest is reacted with the post-turbine steam to form syngas with is then reacted to make methanol.

    The CO2 output from the power plant is fed into the algae farm, where the algae convert it into biodiesel fuel

    From one bite of the fossil fuel apple, we’ve generated electricity, methanol and biodiesel (and the process is nearly carbon-neutral)

    If we then use the electricity, methanol and biodiesel to fuel a fleet of PHEVs (either flex-fuel or diesel engine), we get that much more ‘bang for the buck’.

    We can do this. We have the technology. All it takes is the political will.

    FYI, I stopped by a gas station today that sells biofuels.

    87 Octane = $2.09/gal
    E85 = $2.29/gal

    B99 Biodiesel = $2.69/gal

    Petroleum diesel (nearby stations) = $2.10/gal

  • avatar
    tesla deathwatcher

    Then why is wind capacity growing 4x faster than nuclear?

    Nuclear power has been effectively stopped in many countries. But it already provides a fifth of the world’s electricity. Wind power less than 1%. So wind has a lot of catching up to do.

    Government subsidies power wind power. Lots of people make money putting in wind turbines as long as government money flows. Without subsidies, I’d bet there would be little new wind power going in.

    Of course, private investors also put money in from time to time. I myself invested a hard-earned $500 in a new wind power company as a high school senior in 1974, and have followed the industry closely since.

    Wind power is not a scam by any means. But it’s never lived up to its billing. I’m not sure it ever will.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    A great series of editorials. Thanks, Eric.

    I’d like to know more about biodiesel as derived from rapeseed. The companies involved say that rapeseed is a soil improver. So, if you plant rapeseed every three years or you’re not substituting food crops. Instead, you’re increasing the quantity and quality of other harvests. Truth or propaganda?

  • avatar

    Eric,
    Although biofuel has promising potential, the reality is that we have a long way to go.

    Assuming feedstock is abundant and cheap (which it isn’t), there is a problem with the cost and resources needed for the factories. They require a lot of expensive stainless steel.

    Currently, cellulosic ethanol plants are being constructed at a cost of around $8 for a production capacity of one gallon per year.
    To scale that to 50 million barrels per day (half of future oil usage) you would need to invest $6 Trillion.

    Even if we wanted to spend that kind of money, it’s going to take decades.

  • avatar

    @ tesla

    without the Price Anderson Act, essentially absolving the utilities of liability for N accidents, there would be no nuclear in the US. Knowing France, I’m willing to bet that essentially the same holds there. Without the huge R&D subsidies that the N industry got and the renewables industry missed, there would also be no nuclear.

    From 1950-1978, Uncle Sam spent around $14 billion (~100 billion in today’s $) on nuclear R&D, about $10 billion in today’s $ on uranium enrichment, ~$7 billion on regulatory according to Battelle. That money would have bought an awful lot of solar.

    Utilities used to get 10% tax credits for new power plants.

    Without subsidies, wind is now cheaper than nuclear.

  • avatar
    njdave

    @David Holzman
    You are overlooking the fact that the lions share of R&D for nuclear reactors in the US went for military reactors, especially for Navy ships. Even without any domestic civilian nuclear industry most of that money would have been spent. This why all domestic reactors resemble scaled up ship reactors – they are. Contrast this with for example, the current Danish reactor which is a much simpler design that requires much less human monitoring, and a foolproof shutdown system involving a tank of neutron absorbing liquid above the reactor. In the event of a runaway, the tank dumps into the reactor without the need of any human involvement at all. In contrast US reactors store their SCRAM materials outside the containment vessel, and require active pumps to get it into the reactors, and require human operators to turn it on. This reflects Navy priorities where compact size able to fit into a ship was very important, and they knew they would always have plenty of crewmen to watch the reactor 24 hours a day. It is an acceptable design for the military, but overly complicated and expensive to operate for civilian use. It would never have been designed that way if the R&D for civilian reactors was subsidized by the government directly.

  • avatar

    My numbers are strictly for civilian nuclear expenses. I am well aware of the huge expense for military nuclear hardware and activities.

  • avatar
    Kurt.

    The problem with nuclear is that there isn’t enough uranium for the plants now, much less if we built more. It MIGHT make a good bridge energy but it won’t be our future. There is a lot less uranium than oil future.

    Not having watched the video, I think the point is diversity. A little Biodiesel here, a little solar there, some wind, some dino oil, some coal, some forest products…maybe some bodies…all until the next big monopoly can take over and we can have someone else to hate.

  • avatar
    tesla deathwatcher

    =

  • avatar
    jkross22

    @Engineer:

    “I know it hurts. Do you want this to work or feel good?”

    This seems to be the problem with this discussion. Politics trumps facts. Eric has leftist tendencies, so it’s no surprise he is advocating what sounds nice.

    As you say, it seems more important to feel like you’re doing the right thing than actually doing it.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Eric_Stepans : You need to connect those two thoughts. The point is that you use gasoline because you are not paying the full price of it (at least not directly). And the reason you are is a political decision, not an economic one.

    If petro-gasoline was $9/gallon (due to taxes to mitigate all of the externalizations) and M85 or E100 was $3/gallon, you’d switch in a heartbeat.

    How much per gallon does the $3 trillion cost of the Iraq War work out to?

    Prices are determined by a lot of factors, I use gasoline for practical reasons of economics. So you want to see me pay more by fiat? I’ve been to places where gasoline was 4 or 5 times the price here. They were not paradises of plenty. The extra money extracted from fuel is spent on a myriad of other things. But high prices only reduces consumption so far, then the high price enforces by government is simply passed on to consumers. By your logic we should go to 40 dollars a gallon or more. Why stop at 9?

    And where does the government get off raising a commodity like gasoline to 9 a gallon to force us into E85 or buses anyway? Global warming? We currently still can vote for these people so if they seriously consider 5 dollars a gallon in taxes even the safest seat in Congress won’t be safe.

    And you know darn well if fuel taxes on gasoline pushed it to 9 a gallon E85 would not remain at one third the cost for long. It would be at 7 or 8 easily because revenue would be lost to it. That is the real political end of this debate. With greater fuel efficiency the G-ment is losing revenue.

    And none of these methanol/ethanol/french fry schemes are going anywhere without billions of my tax dollars. You mention the costs of the war like it only applies to pump prices. The issue is a lot deeper in the middle east than oil prices but that is a debate for another forum. Maybe if we drilled domestically more we could put a hurting on the middle east a bit. But we will never know because drilling in the US is a sacrilege.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Then why is wind capacity growing 4x faster than nuclear?

    Because it’s cheaper to implement and not subject to the same degree of NIMBYism?

    Wind, wave, geothermal and solar have their place. So does nuclear. So does burning petroleum. The trick is to develop them in a sane, sustainable manner, and to use the energy they produce in a similarly sane and sustainable manner.

    The problem is that you have any number of people on all sides of the spectrum clamouring for or against their pet method. A shame, really, because the infighting is preventing us from having a real discussion about a real policy.

  • avatar

    I’d say it’s mostly about cheaper to implement. Wind actually faces NIMBYism in my state, Massachusetts. Both of our senators, our former governor, and a lot of wealthy people who live along Nantucket sound have worked very hard to prevent Cape Wind, ~130 turbines, from being constructed in Nantucket Sound, although from land, the turbines will appear about as big as your fingernail from arm’s length.

  • avatar
    Eric_Stepans

    @kross22 and @Engineer:

    As you say, it seems more important to feel like you’re doing the right thing than actually doing it.

    Why don’t you go talk to this guy…

    http://www.spacewar.com/images/iraq-injured-us-soldier-bg.jpg

    …and explain to him how his paying the externalities of your petroleum addiction is the ‘right thing to do’?

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Wind actually faces NIMBYism in my state

    It does where I do (Ontario, regarding the Scarborough Bluffs project) as well, but it’s not got the momentum or conviction that anti-nuclear NIMBYism has. It’s very hard for people to take the concerns of wealthy beachfront landowners seriously.

    And yes, I’m aware of the potential harm it could cause migrating birds, but I’m also remarkably unsympathetic given what the real objections (property value, eyesores for the wealth) are. How does a coal or gas turbine, or better yet, a reactor, sound as an alternative? Would this be an issue if they were going up somewhere that poor people had to put up with them?

  • avatar
    Engineer

    I’d like to know more about biodiesel as derived from rapeseed. The companies involved say that rapeseed is a soil improver. So, if you plant rapeseed every three years or you’re not substituting food crops. Instead, you’re increasing the quantity and quality of other harvests. Truth or propaganda?

    Martin, I’d say any time you take a food crop and convert it into fuel it’s a crime against humanity. Of course, the ethanol advocates like to point out that the corn used for making ethanol is slightly different form food grade (as if that makes any difference) so one would have to expand it to Food-based biofuel (or any crop-based biofuel that would compete with food production) is a crime against humanity.

    Only waste-based biofuels should be allowed. Unfortunately prostitutians are still MUCH to affordable…

  • avatar

    It is apparently pretty easy to avoid major harm to migrating birds through proper siting. In Mass, Audubon supports the project. And besides, climate change would do a lot more harm to birds than well-sited wind turbines. Birds have much worse problems than wind plants. Things like habitat destruction. (The State of the Birds was released today by the Secy of Interior, and there is a lot of population decline in the US.)

  • avatar
    Engineer

    @Engineer – Curiously, a few of the people Tickell interviews in “Fuel” are oil/gas people who have decided to switch to working on sustainable biofuels.
    Dude,
    I gotta say, I admire your tenecity, if not your logic!

    These oil/gas people you refer to obviously believe that they have come to see the light. Time will tell.

    Look, Eric, I agree, there is a LOT we can do if we put our minds to it. And a can-do attitude is what got this country so far in many undertakings, and will do so for alternative energy.

    But the future of energy is just a bit more complicated than one dedicated crusader and his video camera.

    Here’s my list (partial, of course) of suggested reading on some of the relevant topics:
    – The limitations on algal biodiesel As well as a prequel.
    – Why biodiesel is being overtaken by alternatives and the same story from a different angle, coming from someone who previously paid biodiesel its dues.
    – Why Big Oil will ultimately kill “large scale” biodiesel, much as we all kill ants without noticing.
    – A case study in how investing in ethanol (or other alternative fuels) may leave you looking stupid, even if you have deep pockets.
    – USDA downplaying expectations for cellulosic ethanol

  • avatar
    Engineer

    @Engineer – Curiously, a few of the people Tickell interviews in “Fuel” are oil/gas people who have decided to switch to working on sustainable biofuels.
    Dude,
    I gotta say, I admire your tenecity, if not your logic!

    These oil/gas people you refer to obviously believe that they have come to see the light. Time will tell.

    Look, Eric, I agree, there is a LOT we can do if we put our minds to it. And a can-do attitude is what got this country so far in many undertakings, and will do so for alternative energy.

    But the future of energy is just a bit more complicated than one dedicated crusader and his video camera.

    Here’s my list (partial, of course) of suggested reading on some of the relevant topics:
    – The limitations of algal biodiesel As well as a prequel.
    – Why biodiesel is being overtaken by alternatives and the same story from a different angle.
    – Why Big Oil will ultimately kill “large scale” biodiesel, much as we all kill ants without noticing

  • avatar
    agenthex

    Or, in the alternative, the next time that we start a war in order to secure our long-term access to oil, we had better be sure to win it.

    This is more a nitpick, but a misconception nonetheless. There isn’t enough oil there to justify the amount of money spent. The economic oil-related goal seems more likely for additional sources of profit for some companies. External costs indeed.

    For “oil” that runs cars, we still have a ways to go as long as we’re willing to pay more $ since once the easy to pump stuff peaks, there’s the low grade convertible crud all over. Europe has already shown $10 gas to be viable as long as people crowd together so it isn’t all doom and gloom.

    If anything, the electricity problem is easier to solve since tech to improve conservation in many places is cost of microchips away, ie the cost tends to taper out.

    A more interesting question would be population growth trends as that may be more unpredictable since there are cultural factors.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    All I’ve got to say is diversity. Diversity of consumption (the way we get around) and diversity of source (not everything delivered by diesel powered trucks and consumed by people driving gasoline powered vehicles).

    Get solar up on rooftops, wind out to where it works, and battery cars on the roads where they work best. Get Chevron to license the NiMH batteries they bought from GM and then shelved.

    That would ease the pressure on the coal powered plants, and the hydro installations where the lakes levels compete with drinking water sources and making electricity. That would put zero emissions vehicles on our roads in our cities whenever possible and should reduce pollution.

    Carry long distance freight on trains vs trucks and understand how resource intensive JIT manufacturing is. Understand how taxes favor trucks over trains. Understand how trucks affect our road safety, our air quality, and the frequency of road maintenance.

    Start to redesign our cities and suburbs so that the folks who want to spend their time without a car – CAN. Its time for otherwise intelligent Americans to understand how they may actually be spending more money driving to discount big box retailers over smaller options closer to home. My grandmother will drive 20 mins up/down a mountain to go to Wal-mart so she can save $5 on her grocery trip. There is a nice large well stocked grocery store 5 mins from her house that she avoids b/c the prices are a little higher. Meanwhile she laments that the Kmart, and two other grocery stores near the Wal-Mart are going out of business. Won’t quit Wal-Mart though… “I know” she says when reminded how these things happen – and keeps going to Wal-Mart. That’s as bad as a germophobe I know that won’t quit smoking. Germs on the kitchen counter are bad but carcinogens from smoking isn’t???

    I figure what will happen is we will poison the environment to a point where there is some epidemic of health issues before we accept that only personal responsibility by everyone will actually drive change in this country. The big money makers want to keep making money so they won’t change. People want their easy suburban lives so they won’t change. Politicians don’t want to make hard choices so they won’t foster change. We’ll either have a quick succession of periods where we buy VERY expensive gas like last summer on steroids or we’ll have a generation or two of unhealthy babies (see Russian pollution effects) or somebody will have to come out with some CHEAP alternative that makes gasoline seem silly.

    Since I don’t think there is any single silver bullet, why don’t we get on with making more sophisticated choices that have positive long term consequences. I don’t like either political party in their country – we need a better third alternative – but I’ll side with whoever doesn’t want to go to war for fossil fuels and whoever wants to get off their duff and make some tough decisions and reshape America. If that means we get more European style cities with trolleys, stacked housing, high taxes on thirsty vehicles (or the large quantities of fuel that they consume) then fine! If that means suburban people (like me) reorganize their beighborhoods so they can walk/bike to Mom&Pop markets and neighborhood schools then great. If that means we have 25 small schools in neighborhoods vs 3 school buldings serving hundreds then so be it. Let those scmaller schools have roving administrations shared with other schools.

    My guess is that we’ll just keep going until the last drop is burned and our society will become more like many 3rd world countries where a few have a lot and the rest of us get by on much less.

    I don’t want gov’t intervention but not enough people are going to make changes for themselves so it’ll take gov’t intervention. Kind of like putting pollution controls on cars back in the early 70s. Nobody running down to get a catalytic converter installed on their Dodge Dart out of a sense of personal responsibility (not that it would have quite that easy with a carbureted engine).

    I liked the CA CARB idea – if you are going to sell cars here then a small percentage of them will have to be zero emissions. Accomplish that any way you’d like…


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