Monday, December 15, 2008

Aw shucks, it seems it ain't ethanol after all

The Discover "100 Best Science Stories of the Year" issue is out and the #1 story spotlights alternatives to petroleum-powered transportation.

Titled "The Post-Oil Era Begins," the article breaks down the ups and downs of ethanol and other bio-fuels as petroleum substitutes. Unfortunately, the article is not online as of yet, which is rare for the magazine.

Essentially, while ethanol has doubled since 2006, but recent studies have shown that it is "much more costly, both economically and environmentally, than people thought." That, combined with lowering petroleum prices, has made ethanol "significantly less competitive in the energy marketplace." ["The Post-oil era begins." Discover. Jan., 2009. p. 19.]

Another down-side is that most other bio-fuel plants are nowhere near reaching noteworthy production of alternative fuel.

Further, scientists have realized that increased ethanol production could actually increase emissions by up to 100% because farmers would begin using more land that once absorbed carbon. Not only that, ethanol consumes 186 times the amount of water per mile traveled than petroleum.

The seeming solution?

Hybrids and Plug-in Hybrid vehicles. Toyota sold nearly 200,000 of their Prius model last year. The upcoming Chevy Volt is touted to run 40 miles on nothing but electricity before the combustion engine kicks in.

The main hurdle to an EV America is infrastructure. If people are willing to charge their vehicles during off-peak hours at a low rate (which would entail a longer recharge time), no additional electrical plants will be required. However, this means asking Americans to show deference and perhaps suffer some inconvenience. The innovators and early adopters in the field most likely have no problems with such minor trivialities, but what happens when EV becomes the norm?

Do we build more power plants? If so, certainly not coal, and nuclear power still puts a lot of people on edge.

If not, what do we face? A nation-wide black-out and no way to travel in the manner many have grown accustomed?

I think I smell a Road Warrior-esque plot approaching. I can see it now - Snake Pliskenn in: Escape from the Alamo.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Rick Perry

The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, recently "accused federal environmental protection officials of 'actively working to do more economic harm' to the state through potential regulation of carbon emissions linked to climate change," according to the Houston Chronicle.

This is because he has his hand in so many energy-producing pockets that he would stand to lose part of his growing personal fortune. He wants companies to worry about their emissions and the government to stay out of it. That way, companies can continue to cut corners and make decisions based on economic want and not the good of all.