The world is changing. Is it getting worse? Is it getting better? It doesn’t matter. It’s changing. America has less than 6% of the world population and yet it consumes a quarter of the world’s oil supply. There is no way the rest of the world can live at American level’s of consumption. That doesn’t mean the rest of the world can’t enjoy a high standard of living. Technicallly it’s possible, but politically extremely unlikely. It would require very radical changes in the way we live and I won’t get into it here. The world population is putting extreme pressure on the biosphere. The rich countries are causing one set of problems and the poor countries are causing a different set of problems.
Where does butanol fit into all of this? I’m getting to it. To achieve sustainable living in America conservation, reuse and recycling is going to be base of our new technology. And using energy efficient technology and using renewable resources are the next step.
Ethanol as a replacement or supplement to gasoline is a scam. It has less energy, it’s corrosive, it’s a solvent, and it cannot be transported in pipelines. Why is it a scam? Most of the ethanol is going to come from corn. Forget cellulosic ethanol for a moment. Could we grown enough corn organically without subsidies, without fossil fuel based fertilizers and pesticides? Could the tractors run on biodiesel produced by the corn oil that also produce the starch that is converted to high fructose corn syrup to be fermented into ethanol? Oh and will there be enough water available to ferment. When I get to butanol water will also be an issue. I think the answer is yes, but industry won’t do it that way. They’ll continue to use fossil fuels and charge even more for ethanol it. So from a consumer standpoint it doesn’t make economic sense.
Butanol is basically organic gasoline, or rather it can be. It has almost as much energy as petrol and suffers none of the transport problems that ethanol does. It is a kind of alcohol like ethanol but is fermented from a different organism. It’s going to have some of the same drawbacks as ethanol but it’s positives outweigh ethanol’s negatives. Cars don’t have to be modified. It doesn’t absorb water like ethanol and it’s not a corrosive solvent like ethanol.
Replacing fossil fuel gasoline with organically produced butanol is a solution but not the solution. It’s only one part of the energy mix. Different solutions will depend on where you live. Things like climate and population density and driving distances will all play a factor. Places that are relatively flat with a good climate and close together would be a good place for lots of bicycles. The think globally act locally is a tired mantra but accurate.
I think the two fuels that we should move to are biodiesel and butanol for personal transportation and save the petroleum for planes and trains. The arguments in favor or biodiesel (not from soy) and organic butanol are very compelling and I think those fuels will figure very prominently for transportation in the near future. Ultimately, to have a high standard of living, we will have to radically change the way we live. Otherwise, we’ll still radically change the way we live, only we’ll have a very low standard of living.
One final comment. I’ve read of people wanting to produce hydrogen from coal. Coal is mostly carbon. So where they get the hydrogen from I don’t know. Apparently, it can be done, but it also produces lots of carbon dioxide. Needless to say on the surface this looks retarded. Hydrogen should be produced from electrolysis of water either using solar or wind energy.