To be clear, there is NO Silver Bullet solution to our energy woes, to peak oil, to Global Warming.
There are, however, approaches that, when combined together, can have a major impact on the challenges before us, that offer a path for rapidly changing our hurtling path toward catastrophic climate change, toward a prosperous, climate-friendly society.
Here are several Energy COOL developments that could, combined, foster a faster move to Energize America:
- New Plug-In Hybrid announcement coming’
- Algae biofuel advances
PHEVs are, to me and many others, a serious potential game changer, to foster a rapid move of as much transportation from fossil fuels to electricity. And, with each passing day, we have the potential to make the electrical grid cleaner while the liquid fuel, as long as it is fossil, will only get dirtier as time passes.
When it comes to Plug-Ins, expect to see some unveiling of concept cars at the Detroit Automotive 2008 Show that starts Sunday, with the media in the halls tomorrow. (Ahh, someone’s decided I’m worth ‘influencing’ and I had invites for free hotels from several different automotive firms, resisted the temptation. At the moment, starting to get tidbits, regretting the missed opportunity.) Re concept cars, for example, Saab will have a diesel plug-in concept car
More solidly, a Chinese manufacturer, BYD Auto, will be showing off a PHEV with a 100 kilometer (60 mile) range on electricity. A PHEV that will be going on sale in China by late summer and in the United States before 2010, now putting pressure on the Chevy Volt to introduce sooner rather than later and perhaps on Toyota to introduce a Prius PHEV in the near term.
There is going to be a CBS evening news story Saturday night about PHEVs, reportedly a breakthrough one, with a NYTimes story expected Sunday. Maybe about the BYD Auto or something else … the buzz is on.
Might there be PHEVs entering the general market even earlier than late 2009?
A 50 mile on electricity PHEV would, on average, reduce liquid fuel requirements by about 80-90%. That would be a serious shift for the individual driver. Mass introduction of PHEVs (including, for example, PHEBs (buses)) would create a path for rapidly reducing oil use for transportation.
In any event, I am keeping my 1996 car on life support (with over 30 mpg, above the EPA rating) until I can go into debt to buy a PHEV. I’m hoping that it will be sooner rather than later.
As PHEVs begin to dominate the market, driving inefficient vehicles off the road, the amount of liquid fuel required for powering the transport sector will level off and begin to nose dive. While there are tremendous challenges (problems, concerns) with the ever-mounting corn-ethanol, other paths exist for bio-fuels. There has been some positive news re cellulosic ethanol, which has a much better EROEI than corn ethanol. (EROEI: Energy Return on Energy invested. Corn is somewhere between .7 and 1.5 (e.g, at best, 50% additional energy above that required to make it) while cellulosic might be a 6 to 10 EROEI, e.g., much better.) As liquid fuel requirements fall, the increasing biofuel can be combine with growing electrification to ever faster displace oil, enable US to have Freedom from Oil, improving national security, economic strength, and reducing GHG emissions. A win-win-win strategy.
But, corn is a serious problem and cellulosic ethanol has yet to prove itself in the commercial marketspace.
Algae fuel has been an exciting prospect on the horizon, something to watch. Recent news suggest that the horizon might be getting closer. 9 January, Petrosun announced that it will be breaking ground on a biodiesel refinery in Arizona later this year. The feedstock? Algal oil from farms near by.
The refinery will have an annual production capacity of thirty million gallons and will produce 100% renewable biodiesel that will meet or exceed industry quality specifications for the domestic market. PetroSun BioFuels will process the residual algae biomass into ethanol.
About 750,000 gallons or about 3.5% of one day’s oil demand. That one plant certainly is not a silver bullet to solve the nation’s challenges. But, if this plant and production process works, we should expect it to be replicated, speeding the elimination of fossil fuels from the transport system.
The biorefinery and algae farm complex will generate all of its own electrical and heat requirements, utilize non-potable or saltwater, consume no fossil fuels and will be carbon neutral.
So, to top it off, it will operate in a carbon neutral fashion throughout the production process …
Now, in the longer, 2020s time frame, Sandia National Labs has released news of Sun-to-Fuel, a process that they are working on to pull carbon from the atmosphere to make liquid fuel.
Summing up …
Peak Oil means finding paths toward Freedom from Oil and to do so in ways that improve, rather exacerbate, our ability to deal with Global Warming. Will there be a Silver Bullet, single point solution? Maybe … maybe … but I wouldn’t bet the farm (our future on the planet) on any single “solution”.
Instead, we should be thinking of systems-of-systems opportunities.
PHEVs, using renewable fuels (from algae) for a far reduced liquid fuel requirement, offer a core element to developing a systems-of-systems response to Amreica’s transportation challenges, Peak Oil, and setting us (US) on a path for real reductions in our GHG emissions.
Time for an automaker to give me a reason to go into debt to buy a new car!
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