You’ve heard the question : What are conservatives conserving? It doesn’t appear they are conserving the environment. This is about future of oil. When it came for me to buy a new car, I seriously looked at hybrids. I wasn’t trying to be ecologically friendly, that was just a benefit. I’m a geek and I love cool technologies. I determined that it just wasn’t cost effective for me.
One note about my politics. I’m not a conservative, a liberal, a libertarian, a socialist, a communist, a fascist, a theocrat, nor an objectivist. My political views are eclectic and I consider myself independent though my views my overlap some of those ideologies mentioned. I’ve promised my friends an essay on my views, so someday I may state them.
None of the hybrids, the Toyota Prius or Honda Civic Hybrid, were pluggable. I thought, well that’s just insane. I ought be able to plug my car into the grid rather than totally rely on the gasoline to charge the batteries. You could get a kit to make the pluggable. Then I discovered that a Jetta TDI diesel got as good or better mileage tha a Prius. Then I thought why doesn’t someone make a diesel hybrid? Diesel-electric technology is a century old in submarines. And to make them eco-friendly you can use biodiesel. Since bio-diesel isn’t that plentiful in Oklahoma yet and I really didn’t want to make my own biodiesel (because you can), I opted for a 2001 5-speed Honda Civic. It was in my price point and it gets 33-37 MPG. I’ve calculated it.
Eventually, I’ll be able to buy ethanol blends and maybe in a few years, I could buy a biodiesel hybrid. Hybrids have two technical advantages. They can recover braking energy. This is sweet because instead of turning your forward motion into waste heat, you can recover it and use it to re-accelerate the vehicle. And they don’t need a big honking motor because, and I’m not too clear on this part, either the batteries help the engine to accelerate the car or vice versa.
I was all hot and heavy for biodiesel because I found out that certain species of algae can produce thousands of gallons of oil per acre. Many, many times that of any plant. Soybeans are one of the worst per acre producers. And biodiesel can be made from waste animal fat as well. And biodiesel burns much cleaner than the fossil fuel variety. Diesel engines last much longer than gasoline engines do.
I also heard about a microbe discovered on Guam that can break down celllulose to sugars and make it fermentable. Hence all the hype with switchgrass. Ethanol requires very special handling and preparation. It is difficult to remove the water and has to be mixed at the end. I’d heard of water being used to inject into airplane engines to increase thrust in WWII. So what’s the problem with a little water in ethanol-gasoline blends? I suspect that the water in the water injected engine has to be added at the last moment. Those engines burn cooler. But that’s a different topic.
I then just read about butanol, a four carbon chain, alcohol. Gasoline engines can burn butanol straight with no modification. Corn that’s used to produce ethanol can be used to produce butanol. That’ll make the corn conglomerates happy. Butanol is also created through fermentation. And there was an active industry producing it in the early part of this century. I’d also heard of methanol too, but didn’t seriously see any persuasive arguments for it’s use.
A word about hydrogen. Hydrogen is a storage medium. It is too expensive to produce and would require a whole new infrastructure. One of the benefits of making butanol is that hydrogen is a byproduct. The hydrogen can be burned right away to generate electricity. One note about hydrogen. I heard that it can be produced from coal. I thought that’s insane. Coal is mostly carbon.
Maybe, someday we’ll see all electric or fuel cell powered vehicles, but for now we have the technology to create hybrids that can use biodiesel and butanol. And the time to market and scaling up the technology is much less than any of the other alternatives.
America is going to have to wean itself off of fossil fuels, whether it be imported oil or local coal. Americans need to start conserving. We can do more with less. More efficient lighting, better insulated homes. More public transportation. We can still enjoy a high standard of living, but it’s going to require different technologies and changes in our lifestyles. I’d be in favor of nuclear power if the industry pulls it’s head out of it’s ass and really uses safer technology. Until they can prove they are going to do things right I’m against.
Ultimately, we are going to have to go solar. Wind is a good idea, but it could potentially harm birds. With more energy efficient technologies and improved solar conversion rates, solar will be the our source of energy. We’d still use renewable chemical fuels, such as biodiesel from algae and butanol from switchgrass and their ilk. I will keep my eye out for other biofuel alternatives.