February 1, 2007 4:00 AM PST

FAQ: Guide to alternative fuels

What will you fill up your car with in five to ten years? It's hard to say. Several different alternatives to petroleum and diesel, or ways to economize on them, have come forward in the past few years, and each has its own pluses and minuses.

Experts warn that it won't be easy to get off of petroleum or reduce how much the world uses. The amount of energy per liter derived from petroleum is far better than most of the alternatives, a worldwide infrastructure based on it already exists, and people tend to be lazy--seeking out alternative fuels takes some effort.

Fuels of the future

If oil drops below $55 a barrel, most of these alternatives stop becoming attractive, says Dan Arvizu, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. And the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is watching what is going on in alternative fuels and can gauge oil prices accordingly.

"We do have a problem with how serious we are about our energy challenges," he said.

Global warming and improving technology, however, are making the alternatives more realistic all the time. Here's a guide to the main alternatives.

1. Ethanol

What: Ethanol is an alcohol produced out of corn, sugar cane or other food crops. During the production process, the plant material goes through several stages of heating and reduction. Ethanol is typically mixed with gasoline. Some cars can run on a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gas, but ethanol is most commonly used as an additive in smaller percentages. Forty-seven percent of U.S. drivers today use some form of ethanol, but they usually only put small amounts in their cars: many states now use it for a substitute for MTBE, a common fuel additive with potential health risks to humans and other animals.

Pros: Ethanol pollutes less than regular gas. And we already know how to make it in large volumes. Brazil uses ethanol made from sugar cane extensively. Investors are pouring billions of dollars into ethanol refineries in the U.S. There are 109 ethanol plants in the U.S. and 40 new projects coming on line, according to Michael Eckhart, president of American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE).

Cons: Where to begin? First, food crops aren't an ideal fuel source. An acre of corn produces 480 gallons of ethanol, according to Paul McCroskey, chief financial officer at Ceres, which makes enzymes for the fuel industry. That's a lot of land.

Ethanol only puts out two-thirds the energy of gas, so car mileage is lower on ethanol. Ethanol production also generates tons of carbon dioxide, which, if it's not captured turns into greenhouse gases. Producing ethanol also requires lots of energy. It's popular, say some, because farmers love it, and they tend to show up on Election Day.

To top it off, the price of corn is climbing, while gas prices are declining. In January 2006, ethanol sold for $3 a barrel, while a bushel of corn cost $2. Now, ethanol sells for $2 per barrel and corn goes for $4.20 a bushel, according to ACORE. "We have seen the most profitable space in the fuel business disappear in a year," said Eckhart. OPEC, he added, will lower oil prices to put pressure on the ethanol industry.

2. Cellulosic ethanol

What: Cellulosic ethanol is also an alcohol, but it's made out of wood chips, corn stalks and agricultural waste products. Some scientists also believe cellulosic ethanol can be produced out of plants like switchgrass that require little fertilizer and water and could grow in the windswept plains of South Dakota.

Pros: The feedstock dilemma essentially disappears. The vegetable matter used in cellulosic ethanol has almost no value, which will mean margins won't get compressed by commodity price shifts, and critics can't argue that food crops in a hungry world are going to cars. Mascoma, Dyadic International and other companies are also devising ways to convert the high-cellulose waste matter into alcohol with microbes and enzymes, thereby cutting production costs and total greenhouse gas emissions.

The goal is to get cellulosic ethanol to the point where the "real" cost per gallon will run you $1.62, according to Arvizu. (The real cost is how much ethanol it will take to go as far as a gallon of gas will take you. Typically, 1.67 gallons of ethanol equal 1 gallon of gas.) By contrast, the "real" cost of standard ethanol is close to $3.50 or more now, he added.

Cons: It pretty much only exists in labs right now, but larger-scale production is coming. Mascoma plans to open a trial plant that can produce 500,000 gallons a year by the end of this year.

"It (commercial cellulosic ethanol production) used to be five or six years out, but we could get it done in three years. The key is being able to build a plant that can do one to two million gallons," said William Baum, executive vice president of Diversa, which finds microbes in exotic locales and puts them to work.

Like regular ethanol too, cellulosic faces a retail problem: the stations emblazoned with Shell or ChevronTexaco signs won't be clamoring to carry it. That's partly why only 1 percent of U.S. stations--mostly independents or pumps at grocery stores--serve ethanol.

3. Poo-troleum and fish-tank fill-up

What: It turns out you don't have to compress dinosaurs and plants for millions of years in the earth's crust to get petroleum. You can make it. BioPetrol in Israel says it has adapted the Fischer-Tropsch process for turning coal into petroleum to turn human sewage into petroleum.

Meanwhile, in the States, LiveFuels is working with Sandia National Labs to refine a technique for converting algae into petroleum. The dinosaurs actually had little to do with our modern-day tar pits, said CEO Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones. The big oil fields, such as the ones in the North Sea, were actually created by algae, she claimed.

Pros: No one really wants the feedstock. LiveFuels says it can potentially get 10,000 gallons of useable hydrocarbons for an acre-size pond a year. The hydrocarbons would be boiled down into useable diesel or petroleum. The ponds would be fed by farm waste water.

"This stuff loves agricultural run-off," Morgenthaler-Jones said.

Cons: It's experimental with a capital E, so no one knows what the costs will be or whether it can work on a broad scale yet. Plus, there is the greenhouse gas question. These fuels are carbon neutral in the sense that no carbon will be dug up from beneath the earth and ejected into the atmosphere. These fuels rely on carbon that's already on the surface in the form of waste or algae and it will decompose. Still, it's petroleum, so CO2 still comes out of the tailpipe.

4. Biodiesel

What: It's diesel fuel made out of soy, palm or other vegetable oils. The drippings from a deep fat fryer can run a diesel car, as long as you filter it and heat up the oil to make the oil more viscous. Biodiesel refiners essentially do the filtering for consumers. There are 85 biodiesel plants in the U.S. and 65 in construction, according to ACORE.

Pros: It's got far fewer economic and environmental hurdles than ethanol, says Martin Tobias, a former Microsoft exec who now runs Imperium Renewables, a biodiesel maker. Diesel cars are very popular in Europe, and several manufacturers make high-mileage diesel cars. Some truck and bus makers already produce diesel hybrid trucks. Biodiesel could be sold to those people right now. And since industrial diesel users buy their fuel directly, they don't have to worry about corporate service stations snubbing biodiesel altogether.

Finally, biodiesel puts out far less carbon gases. Sulfur can be a problem with soy-based biodiesel, but Tobias says it can be contained.

Cons: Farming sometimes isn't the most eco-friendly activity, and some worry that a surge in demand for palm oil will lead to slash-and-burn agriculture and pollution in the tropics. Advocates, though, say that farmers are tackling this problem. One group in Colombia is growing biodiesel feedstock on old coca plantations. The rising popularity of biodiesel is expected to impact the cost of food oil.

Even after the new facilities get built, biodiesel is a drop in the bucket of the world's fuel needs. There are only 150 million gallons of the stuff produced a year in the U.S. and, although that number will climb to 250 gallons this year, the U.S. consumes about 62 billion gallons of diesel a year.

CONTINUED: How green are hybrid cars?…
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81 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Biofuels in general
If biofuels are ever developed into desirable replacements for
petroleum, what is to prevent a competition between food and
fuel crops? Just because switchgrass grows where food crops
don't doesn't mean that it, or some other fuel crop, can't be
grown where food crops can. Do we really want to find out how
expensive food can become if energy crops, which as you say
take tremendous amounts of land per unit energy, become
attractive to farmers?
Poo-troleum sounds better, but how much fuel can be produced
this way? From numbers I looked up on the internet, it seems
that the production from 33 million acres of poo ponds would
be required to replace the 22 million barrels of oil we use per
day. That's a bit larger than 1 percent of the land area of the U.S.
Seems doable, but is there enough poo to fill the ponds?
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Switch grass and other grasses
I think the switchgrass idea would be good for the off years where farmers rotate their crops to let the land rest. But I am not sure how much switchgrass pulls from the soil... probably less than corn though.
Posted by arluthier (112 comments )
Link Flag
Biofuels in general
If biofuels are ever developed into desirable replacements for
petroleum, what is to prevent a competition between food and
fuel crops? Just because switchgrass grows where food crops
don't doesn't mean that it, or some other fuel crop, can't be
grown where food crops can. Do we really want to find out how
expensive food can become if energy crops, which as you say
take tremendous amounts of land per unit energy, become
attractive to farmers?
Poo-troleum sounds better, but how much fuel can be produced
this way? From numbers I looked up on the internet, it seems
that the production from 33 million acres of poo ponds would
be required to replace the 22 million barrels of oil we use per
day. That's a bit larger than 1 percent of the land area of the U.S.
Seems doable, but is there enough poo to fill the ponds?
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Switch grass and other grasses
I think the switchgrass idea would be good for the off years where farmers rotate their crops to let the land rest. But I am not sure how much switchgrass pulls from the soil... probably less than corn though.
Posted by arluthier (112 comments )
Link Flag
Source of energy is important
Interesting article but I think it only skims the surface.
Taken as a whole I believe electric cars can meet most peoples needs. How often do you actually have to drive over 100 miles in one go ? I expect like me it is probably one maybe twice a year.
But, what we need to look at is the source of electricity. If it is still from oil/coal burning power plants then we are just moving the carbon emissions.
For this reason I believe that alternative fuels only work when the product process is factored in. For electricity we need to crack wind/solar/wave/?
Then the source of electricity will be greener and the affect will be overall less pollution.
Posted by ahickey (177 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Long drives
I am one of those over 100 miles guys. I am in Arkansas and regularly need to drive over 100 miles in one go... or at least 50 there and then turn right around and drive back (with not enough time to "recharge").

I like the concept of the Cellulosic Ethanol. I saw a show on History channel (might have been TLC ro Discovery) the other day. And this stuff is can be created from the left over stalks from food crops (stuff that is normally just burned off). they are also looking at creating it from wild grasses.

The only downside I see to that concept (which also applies to standard ethanol and the biodiesel is that if we continually take away all the stalks and crops from the land without putting those nutrients back in... we will end up with fields that can no longer grow crops. It is the same thing that happened years back before the concept of rotating crops and fields took hold.

If this is the future fuels are crop or crop byproduct based... the US will have to put more emphasis on farms and farmers.
Posted by arluthier (112 comments )
Link Flag
Source of energy is important
Interesting article but I think it only skims the surface.
Taken as a whole I believe electric cars can meet most peoples needs. How often do you actually have to drive over 100 miles in one go ? I expect like me it is probably one maybe twice a year.
But, what we need to look at is the source of electricity. If it is still from oil/coal burning power plants then we are just moving the carbon emissions.
For this reason I believe that alternative fuels only work when the product process is factored in. For electricity we need to crack wind/solar/wave/?
Then the source of electricity will be greener and the affect will be overall less pollution.
Posted by ahickey (177 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Long drives
I am one of those over 100 miles guys. I am in Arkansas and regularly need to drive over 100 miles in one go... or at least 50 there and then turn right around and drive back (with not enough time to "recharge").

I like the concept of the Cellulosic Ethanol. I saw a show on History channel (might have been TLC ro Discovery) the other day. And this stuff is can be created from the left over stalks from food crops (stuff that is normally just burned off). they are also looking at creating it from wild grasses.

The only downside I see to that concept (which also applies to standard ethanol and the biodiesel is that if we continually take away all the stalks and crops from the land without putting those nutrients back in... we will end up with fields that can no longer grow crops. It is the same thing that happened years back before the concept of rotating crops and fields took hold.

If this is the future fuels are crop or crop byproduct based... the US will have to put more emphasis on farms and farmers.
Posted by arluthier (112 comments )
Link Flag
future
new fuel is our future

-----
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://mortgage.emigrantas.com" target="_newWindow">http://mortgage.emigrantas.com</a> - all info about mortgages
Posted by darix2005 (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
future
new fuel is our future

-----
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://mortgage.emigrantas.com" target="_newWindow">http://mortgage.emigrantas.com</a> - all info about mortgages
Posted by darix2005 (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Question about Hybrids?
With hybrids becoming more popular, it seems to me that are
just shifting the energy consumption from one bad source to
another. As an example if you charge you car's batteries with
household electricity, you are increasing the consumption of
Coal (to some degree) to generate that increase electricity usage.
Using Einstein's famous equation ( energy can not be created or
destroyed ) then it seems to me that a true hybrid should
substitute a true clean energy source for gasoline. An example (
although not practical ) would be a an electric car that could
recharge its batteries with solar panels built in to the body of the
car, and/or using solar panels at home to recharge it's batteries
when we are not using the car.
Posted by redison (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I think you misunderstand hybrids
Hybrids don't get their electricity from the power grid, like pure electric cars, they generate their own. They do this every time the car is braking, by using the electric motor/generator to generate electricity as part of the braking force. They also generate electricity when driving at constant speed when the gas engine is at its most efficient.

However, they still have the problem of batteries that are very expensive and contain nasty chemicals that present other environmental risks. They may burn less gas, but dollar for dollar they really don't save any money.
Posted by lschweiss (9 comments )
Link Flag
Errors
First, the law of conservation of energy is not Einsteins, it is a much older law that's been accepted by physicists for centuries.
Second, while it is true that an electric car (not a hybrid) moves generation from one place to another, not all sources are equally efficient. A large clean coal generator can be five times as efficient as an average gas car (and fivefold is already a HUGHE difference). But other energy generation methods are even more efficient and have lower environmental impact.
Finally, you can feed an electric car with energy generated in house, wether it's solar or wind power (the sun energy falling over the surface of a car, even with perfect efficiency, is not enough to run any decent car), so you get a car that's 100% clean.
Posted by herby67 (144 comments )
Link Flag
Question about Hybrids?
With hybrids becoming more popular, it seems to me that are
just shifting the energy consumption from one bad source to
another. As an example if you charge you car's batteries with
household electricity, you are increasing the consumption of
Coal (to some degree) to generate that increase electricity usage.
Using Einstein's famous equation ( energy can not be created or
destroyed ) then it seems to me that a true hybrid should
substitute a true clean energy source for gasoline. An example (
although not practical ) would be a an electric car that could
recharge its batteries with solar panels built in to the body of the
car, and/or using solar panels at home to recharge it's batteries
when we are not using the car.
Posted by redison (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I think you misunderstand hybrids
Hybrids don't get their electricity from the power grid, like pure electric cars, they generate their own. They do this every time the car is braking, by using the electric motor/generator to generate electricity as part of the braking force. They also generate electricity when driving at constant speed when the gas engine is at its most efficient.

However, they still have the problem of batteries that are very expensive and contain nasty chemicals that present other environmental risks. They may burn less gas, but dollar for dollar they really don't save any money.
Posted by lschweiss (9 comments )
Link Flag
Errors
First, the law of conservation of energy is not Einsteins, it is a much older law that's been accepted by physicists for centuries.
Second, while it is true that an electric car (not a hybrid) moves generation from one place to another, not all sources are equally efficient. A large clean coal generator can be five times as efficient as an average gas car (and fivefold is already a HUGHE difference). But other energy generation methods are even more efficient and have lower environmental impact.
Finally, you can feed an electric car with energy generated in house, wether it's solar or wind power (the sun energy falling over the surface of a car, even with perfect efficiency, is not enough to run any decent car), so you get a car that's 100% clean.
Posted by herby67 (144 comments )
Link Flag
another problem with ethanol
um - you forgot that it's nearly impossible to get ethanol anywhere. That's a major roadblock in any of the alternative fuels - where are people going to fill'er up? The government needs to spend a little cash in setting up a widescale fueling infrastructure to make these fuels accessible (should these fuels come to market).
Posted by astodg (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
another problem with ethanol
um - you forgot that it's nearly impossible to get ethanol anywhere. That's a major roadblock in any of the alternative fuels - where are people going to fill'er up? The government needs to spend a little cash in setting up a widescale fueling infrastructure to make these fuels accessible (should these fuels come to market).
Posted by astodg (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oil isn't from Dinosaurs and plant matter
yikes! CNET gets it wrong. Oil was originally thought to come from dinosaurs because oil was found near bones. Geologists have a theory but there is no real sound evidence that explains where oil comes from. We know that there is oil in places that dinosaurs never were and under huge slabs of granite. New theories spout the abiotic theory that the earth creates oil. Regardless, we might NEVER run out oil. At this time, WE ARE AWASH in oil. The only reason gas is high because of regulation (different blends-adding ethanol increases gas prices), taxes, and refinery bottle necks.
Posted by floppydik (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hmmm....
Do not underestimate your fellow humans ability to consume resources at an exponentially increasing rate. The earth may never quit producing oil, but our consumption rate could definitely exceed it's production rate.
Posted by drfrost (467 comments )
Link Flag
Ah abiotic oil
Someone always brings that up. It's also known as "oil creationism" as in "we want oil to be 'renewable' so it is because we say so"

Explain why the United States had its maximum oil production in 1970, and with the greatest number of oil wells, expertise, transparency and technology in the world, has not been able to increase production ...
Posted by Clouseau2 (329 comments )
Link Flag
Oil isn't from Dinosaurs and plant matter
yikes! CNET gets it wrong. Oil was originally thought to come from dinosaurs because oil was found near bones. Geologists have a theory but there is no real sound evidence that explains where oil comes from. We know that there is oil in places that dinosaurs never were and under huge slabs of granite. New theories spout the abiotic theory that the earth creates oil. Regardless, we might NEVER run out oil. At this time, WE ARE AWASH in oil. The only reason gas is high because of regulation (different blends-adding ethanol increases gas prices), taxes, and refinery bottle necks.
Posted by floppydik (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hmmm....
Do not underestimate your fellow humans ability to consume resources at an exponentially increasing rate. The earth may never quit producing oil, but our consumption rate could definitely exceed it's production rate.
Posted by drfrost (467 comments )
Link Flag
Ah abiotic oil
Someone always brings that up. It's also known as "oil creationism" as in "we want oil to be 'renewable' so it is because we say so"

Explain why the United States had its maximum oil production in 1970, and with the greatest number of oil wells, expertise, transparency and technology in the world, has not been able to increase production ...
Posted by Clouseau2 (329 comments )
Link Flag
I know this may scare a few people but their is one alt fuel not discussed.
Nuclear energy vehicles have been designed that would require very little material that could actually be transfered from car to car and that had little if no nuclear waste and yet were as safe as other cars.

I mean if we ever got over the stigma of the word nuclear this could be a real option.

If fact from what I have read the main Con would be in securing the material so it could not be removed by terrorist.

We might even be able to use nuclear waste material we are having trouble getting rid of now.

The vehicle I read about had pretty much no chance of contamination in an accident.

It seemed to actually be much more sound than anything else.

Let's not let our fear of this type of energy let us rule it out. We should be very sure it has low risk but it really is an option.
Posted by slim-1 (229 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'd be for it, but...
The politics would be intractable. Are you talking about a
radioisotope thermal generator? Once upon a time, pacemaker
batteries using that technology were developed and built, but I
don't know if any were used for that purpose. They did make dandy
calibration standards for neutron measurement systems, though.
Which of course means that they emitted neutrons. Which of course
would freak a lot of people out.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Link Flag
Bad idea IMO
Anytime you put something into a car you have to consider wrecks, explosions, etc. If we put radioactive material into a car, now we run the risk of a radioactive wreck site. I'd much rather see us go with electric cars and put a big central nuclear power plant somewhere.... like in the desserts of Nevada.... or a mile underground somewhere.
Posted by drfrost (467 comments )
Link Flag
I know this may scare a few people but their is one alt fuel not discussed.
Nuclear energy vehicles have been designed that would require very little material that could actually be transfered from car to car and that had little if no nuclear waste and yet were as safe as other cars.

I mean if we ever got over the stigma of the word nuclear this could be a real option.

If fact from what I have read the main Con would be in securing the material so it could not be removed by terrorist.

We might even be able to use nuclear waste material we are having trouble getting rid of now.

The vehicle I read about had pretty much no chance of contamination in an accident.

It seemed to actually be much more sound than anything else.

Let's not let our fear of this type of energy let us rule it out. We should be very sure it has low risk but it really is an option.
Posted by slim-1 (229 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'd be for it, but...
The politics would be intractable. Are you talking about a
radioisotope thermal generator? Once upon a time, pacemaker
batteries using that technology were developed and built, but I
don't know if any were used for that purpose. They did make dandy
calibration standards for neutron measurement systems, though.
Which of course means that they emitted neutrons. Which of course
would freak a lot of people out.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Link Flag
Bad idea IMO
Anytime you put something into a car you have to consider wrecks, explosions, etc. If we put radioactive material into a car, now we run the risk of a radioactive wreck site. I'd much rather see us go with electric cars and put a big central nuclear power plant somewhere.... like in the desserts of Nevada.... or a mile underground somewhere.
Posted by drfrost (467 comments )
Link Flag
Air-pressure Powered vehicles...
I mean, why isn't this something that manufacturers are looking into. You fill your car with pressurized air, and while you drive the air that enters the grill of your car also gets pressurized.

Of course it would be clean, and wouldn't require any farming, or labs. Seems like a cheap/clean alternative to me.
Posted by nyte3k (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well, it's energy storage, at least...
The only question is how much energy for how much weight of the
tanks to store the compressed air. As for taking advantage of the
air entering the grill becoming pressurized, it will, but even at
mach 1 the pressure gain would only be about a factor of 1.9 over
atmospheric. That's why ramjets are only used above mach 2 or so.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Link Flag
Requires large amounts of energy to compress air
It requires more than just the ram effect of a vehicle driving to compress air more than just a couple of PSI. Any restriction in the grill would negate any gain. And to compress air it will take a lot of power and space to store the amount that would be needed to drive for any reasonable distance.
Posted by srwitt (4 comments )
Link Flag
Great Idea!
How about a wind-generator on the roof to charge the batteries on a hybrid vehicle?
Posted by pike49 (2 comments )
Link Flag
Air-pressure Powered vehicles...
I mean, why isn't this something that manufacturers are looking into. You fill your car with pressurized air, and while you drive the air that enters the grill of your car also gets pressurized.

Of course it would be clean, and wouldn't require any farming, or labs. Seems like a cheap/clean alternative to me.
Posted by nyte3k (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well, it's energy storage, at least...
The only question is how much energy for how much weight of the
tanks to store the compressed air. As for taking advantage of the
air entering the grill becoming pressurized, it will, but even at
mach 1 the pressure gain would only be about a factor of 1.9 over
atmospheric. That's why ramjets are only used above mach 2 or so.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Link Flag
Requires large amounts of energy to compress air
It requires more than just the ram effect of a vehicle driving to compress air more than just a couple of PSI. Any restriction in the grill would negate any gain. And to compress air it will take a lot of power and space to store the amount that would be needed to drive for any reasonable distance.
Posted by srwitt (4 comments )
Link Flag
Great Idea!
How about a wind-generator on the roof to charge the batteries on a hybrid vehicle?
Posted by pike49 (2 comments )
Link Flag
ethanol from grain is a bad joke
Ethanol from grain is a bad joke. You get less energy per gallon that it takes to produce it!. An honest farmer (I come from the farm) will tell you that is ridiculous boondoggle. Heck, compare your gas mileage between the summer and winter blends. It is a wonderful way for large ag companies (think ADM) and for the petroleum distribution companies to make money. Everybody else loses.
Posted by bbahnmiller (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ethanol from grain is a bad joke
Ethanol from grain is a bad joke. You get less energy per gallon that it takes to produce it!. An honest farmer (I come from the farm) will tell you that is ridiculous boondoggle. Heck, compare your gas mileage between the summer and winter blends. It is a wonderful way for large ag companies (think ADM) and for the petroleum distribution companies to make money. Everybody else loses.
Posted by bbahnmiller (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A whole lot of Quibbles
Firstly, I doubt whether Nuclear power will be used in cars for a
long time at least. I'm certainly not afraid of Nuclear power, but
plenty of people are. Instead, I think we should be putting more
effort in research towards nuclear fusion. The world has an
almost limitless supply of hydrogen in the world's oceans. The
only drawback of Nuclear fusion is that it is very difficult to
accomplish, as it requires insanely hot temperatures, at least in
the hundreds of millions. However it is completely
environmentally friendly, with zero radioactive products. If you
ran one of hydrogen from seawater, you would only get
electricity, oxygen, useful helium product and some similarly
useful excess hydrogen, perfect for running cars. Of course a
small portion of the electricity generated would be used to
sustain the fusion process and electrolyse the desalinated water.
Almost unlimited amounts of extremely cheap energy, and
hence almost unlimited amounts of extremely cheap hydrogen
(and desalinated water for all us drought affected Aussie
readers).

There are two problems with compressed air. One is it is
outstandingly inefficient, and therefore any car would have a
shockingly short range. Also the concept of using the
compressed air at the front of the car to top up the tanks
violates half a dozen fundamental physics principles, the most
important being you can't get energy for free, or at least not in
that way. Ramjets don't need air compressors, but they still need
fuel.

Lastly, it is always better to take enrgy from the powerpoint than
to make it in your car. Petrol engines are only about 8% or
something efficient. Full power stations have the money and the
space to employ methods of power generation that are much,
much more efficient, therefore more power is produced in
relation to carbon dioxide in a power station than a car, whether
it's a gas guzzler or a Prius.
Posted by Erasmus_Dave (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fusion would be great..
If you are talking about H-H fusion, like the sun uses, that is
very far away indeed. Needs temperatures much higher than D-T
(deuterium-tritium) fusion, and we haven't really accomplished
that yet. And of course, as you probably know, D-T fusion
produces energetic neutrons that would activate a lot of the
structure, which would have to be periodically replaced, creating
radioactive waste.

Plus, all those neutrons are not needed to sustain the reaction,
so they could be used to surreptitiously produce plutonium by
introducing natural uranium into the neutron field, close to but
outside of the reaction chamber.

D-T fusion would have important advantages, but it would not
be problem free.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Link Flag
A whole lot of Quibbles
Firstly, I doubt whether Nuclear power will be used in cars for a
long time at least. I'm certainly not afraid of Nuclear power, but
plenty of people are. Instead, I think we should be putting more
effort in research towards nuclear fusion. The world has an
almost limitless supply of hydrogen in the world's oceans. The
only drawback of Nuclear fusion is that it is very difficult to
accomplish, as it requires insanely hot temperatures, at least in
the hundreds of millions. However it is completely
environmentally friendly, with zero radioactive products. If you
ran one of hydrogen from seawater, you would only get
electricity, oxygen, useful helium product and some similarly
useful excess hydrogen, perfect for running cars. Of course a
small portion of the electricity generated would be used to
sustain the fusion process and electrolyse the desalinated water.
Almost unlimited amounts of extremely cheap energy, and
hence almost unlimited amounts of extremely cheap hydrogen
(and desalinated water for all us drought affected Aussie
readers).

There are two problems with compressed air. One is it is
outstandingly inefficient, and therefore any car would have a
shockingly short range. Also the concept of using the
compressed air at the front of the car to top up the tanks
violates half a dozen fundamental physics principles, the most
important being you can't get energy for free, or at least not in
that way. Ramjets don't need air compressors, but they still need
fuel.

Lastly, it is always better to take enrgy from the powerpoint than
to make it in your car. Petrol engines are only about 8% or
something efficient. Full power stations have the money and the
space to employ methods of power generation that are much,
much more efficient, therefore more power is produced in
relation to carbon dioxide in a power station than a car, whether
it's a gas guzzler or a Prius.
Posted by Erasmus_Dave (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fusion would be great..
If you are talking about H-H fusion, like the sun uses, that is
very far away indeed. Needs temperatures much higher than D-T
(deuterium-tritium) fusion, and we haven't really accomplished
that yet. And of course, as you probably know, D-T fusion
produces energetic neutrons that would activate a lot of the
structure, which would have to be periodically replaced, creating
radioactive waste.

Plus, all those neutrons are not needed to sustain the reaction,
so they could be used to surreptitiously produce plutonium by
introducing natural uranium into the neutron field, close to but
outside of the reaction chamber.

D-T fusion would have important advantages, but it would not
be problem free.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Link Flag
Where oil comes from
oil comes from plants and animals. it doesn't exist without them. Astroids don't have any oil unless a plant or an animal was their to combine the raw materials to create it. While we're on misconceptions, how about the oxygen in the air. from trees and plants. Half right. from algae.
the water covers approximately 71% of the earth and algae grows on top of most of it. A tree shades its own leaves as well as grass. the conversion of CO2 to O2 works in sunlight. the more sunlight the more conversion as long as the other materials to make the conversion are there. Our oceans are are real treasure. There is more oil and everything else man might need at the bottom of the ocean than man has plundered in his entire existance. and most life starts with algae and plankton. We should be farming it. whatever man could remove would be replaced with in 24 hours.
Posted by Paninteas (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Where oil comes from
oil comes from plants and animals. it doesn't exist without them. Astroids don't have any oil unless a plant or an animal was their to combine the raw materials to create it. While we're on misconceptions, how about the oxygen in the air. from trees and plants. Half right. from algae.
the water covers approximately 71% of the earth and algae grows on top of most of it. A tree shades its own leaves as well as grass. the conversion of CO2 to O2 works in sunlight. the more sunlight the more conversion as long as the other materials to make the conversion are there. Our oceans are are real treasure. There is more oil and everything else man might need at the bottom of the ocean than man has plundered in his entire existance. and most life starts with algae and plankton. We should be farming it. whatever man could remove would be replaced with in 24 hours.
Posted by Paninteas (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
alternative fuels produced locally
would it be cheaper if major cities or states had their own fuel producing plants using one or more of the alternatives that work just for their area.
Say a city that is self supportive as far as fuel.

Just an idea please talk back tell me what you think.
Posted by 38prime (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How many kinds?
How many different types of fuel would there be? If transports
(dare I say cars...) wanted to travel among various cities, would
they have to be able to use, oh, I don't know, 25 different kinds
of fuel?

Not to be too picky, but I don't think there has been one kind of
alternative fuel produced yet, in the sense that a usefully
positive energy balance has been achieved. So far, everything
has been leveraged off of oil, which is pretty much free energy
lying around for the taking, from an energy balance standpoint,
as distinct from a financial standpoint.

If you had to burn ethanol to make ethanol, you'd only be able
to use a very modest percentage of the product for uses other
than making it. With oil, its pretty much the other way around-
you use a modest percentage of its energy to get it out of the
ground, process it, and transport it to the point of use.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Link Flag
alternative fuels produced locally
would it be cheaper if major cities or states had their own fuel producing plants using one or more of the alternatives that work just for their area.
Say a city that is self supportive as far as fuel.

Just an idea please talk back tell me what you think.
Posted by 38prime (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How many kinds?
How many different types of fuel would there be? If transports
(dare I say cars...) wanted to travel among various cities, would
they have to be able to use, oh, I don't know, 25 different kinds
of fuel?

Not to be too picky, but I don't think there has been one kind of
alternative fuel produced yet, in the sense that a usefully
positive energy balance has been achieved. So far, everything
has been leveraged off of oil, which is pretty much free energy
lying around for the taking, from an energy balance standpoint,
as distinct from a financial standpoint.

If you had to burn ethanol to make ethanol, you'd only be able
to use a very modest percentage of the product for uses other
than making it. With oil, its pretty much the other way around-
you use a modest percentage of its energy to get it out of the
ground, process it, and transport it to the point of use.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Link Flag
Who's in charge?
If oil drops below ~$55/barrel then alternatives become more attractive. But who sets that price? It seems to me as more advances are made on alternatives the oil price drops. Is this a coincidence? It seems designed (I hope I'm not paranoid on this) to discourage alternatives. If this is so, what if the goverment put an increasing tax on oil. That would drive the price up and then cause the oil companies to drop their price or else face the inceasing attractiveness of alternatives and thus the loss of their revenues. Does this make any sense to anyone?
Just a thought.
Posted by spothannah (145 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sounds backwards...
Alternatives are more expensive than oil, so when oil drops below
some price level (I have heard around $55), the alternatives tend to
be ignored again. So the price of oil needs to stay up to get
alternatives going.
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Link Flag
 

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