Other energy - May 31
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Quest for energy alternatives heats up
Dave Carpenter, Associated Press via Yahoo!News
...Solutions for high gasoline prices might seem painfully far off to drivers as summer travel season begins, but experts say the skyrocketing costs of oil and gas have given new momentum to the push to develop alternative fuels and alternative energy sources.
The efforts are readily apparent in the nation's heartland, where a boom in ethanol is expanding and scientists at laboratories far and wide are working to turn agricultural waste or "biomass" such as switchgrass, wheat straw, cornstalks and miscanthus into a fuel called cellulosic ethanol that could be produced commercially to reduce U.S. dependence on oil.
In a separate burst of alternative energy developments unrelated to transportation fuels, wind farms are sprouting up across the country thanks to larger, more efficient turbines, and nascent coal-to-energy technology holds promise for pollution-free power plants in the future.
The driving force for most of the energy efforts, though, is oil. And researchers are thrilled about the impetus that soaring prices have given their work.
...Those now in labs trying to devise cheaper energy solutions applaud federal and state government support but emphasize that more will be needed if they are to succeed.
"A lot of people in government who ridiculed energy conservation and alternative energies ... are now investors," said Al-Hallaj. "The people who are funding these projects are the same ones who said, `Drill and spend and forget about it.'"
Rather than a single breakthrough, experts say it will likely take a combination of energy developments to help break free of oil's grip.
"There are a lot of people out there who think there's a silver bullet to answer the energy challenge facing this country — one technology that will answer everything," said Gerald Groenewold, director of the Energy and Environmental Research Center in Grand Forks, N.D. "Some people say wind's the answer to electricity generation, ethanol's the answer to vehicle generation. We think it will be a mix of a lot of things."
(28 May 2006)
Fill 'er up with corn and politics
Erik Curren, Augusta Free Press
Have you been infected yet? I mean with ethanol mania?
It's not clear yet whether it started with Midwest corn farmers, hippie do-it-yourselfers or Brazilians who swear that ethanol will soon free them from foreign oil. But now it's spread to Washington and Wall Street, and no political persuasion appears to be immune. President Bush, Hillary Clinton, Bill Gates and the traders at Goldman Sachs have all become ethanol maniacs.
Gates and Goldman are investing big money in ethanol producers. Clinton wants to put ethanol pumps at half of all U.S. gas stations by 2015. And last year's energy bill, supported by Bush, requires refiners to buy a minimum of 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol by 2012, which is almost double today's production.
With Peak Oil here and gas prices spiking as world oil supplies begin their long-feared, final decline, supporters say there's a lot to love about ethanol - ethyl alcohol - a liquid biofuel distilled from food crops to replace gasoline. In the U.S., most ethanol is made from corn.
Instead of pumping dollars over to Arab oil sheiks and Al-Qaeda, we help American farmers when we fill up with ethanol. As gas goes up in price, ethanol will be relatively cheaper. Our current cars can already use ethanol in various mixtures with gasoline. Fuel trucks can deliver it, and gas stations can start selling it right away. And best of all, ethanol burns clean, which reduces global warming and local air and water pollution.
"We've got to be aggressive about finding alternative sources of fuel," Bush told the Energy Efficiency Forum in June last year. "And one such source is ethanol. Ethanol comes from corn - and we're pretty good about growing corn here in America, we've got a lot of good corn growers."
Those corn growers are where the politics comes in.
Skeptical of anything that comes from the agricultural lobby - with its uncanny ability to win lavish government subsidies while keeping family farmers dirt poor - vocal critics have denounced ethanol as just another scheme for big corn-producers to feed at the public trough.
...Is ethanol just a scheme by big agribusiness to sell corn and get subsidies, or does it have real potential to make America more energy independent? Can ethanol be made without using so much fossil fuel? Can we make enough of it to replace gasoline and preserve our lifestyle?
Next week, part two: Moonshine over a thousand farms.
(29 May 2006)
Related editorial from The Echo (Eastern Michigan University).
There are ways to solve our carbon addiction without choking growth
Editorial, Vancouver Sun
Could a solution to greenhouse gas emissions be right below our feet? Carbon dioxide, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, is the chief culprit implicated in global warming, although some challenge the science behind the allegation. Despite controversy over its impact on the planet, most can agree that pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is best avoided.
Unfortunately, there are few viable alternatives to carbon-based matter that would generate sufficient power to keep the economy growing. Researchers, policymakers and even environmentalists reluctantly agree that coal, oil and natural gas will continue to be major energy sources for some time to come.
However, just because we produce carbon dioxide doesn't mean we have to blow it into the air. We can bury it.
...Despite these limitations, CCS deserves attention as a component of a comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists say there is enough global storage space to bury the world's entire output of carbon dioxide emissions for centuries, and that we'll run out of fossil fuels before we run out of storage space.
Of course, having a place to hide carbon dioxide doesn't mean we should stop trying to spew out less. The development of fuels derived from renewable resources, such as ethanol, should be stepped up and campaigns that preach the merits of walking, cycling, mass transit and car pooling should continue.
Industrial processes are responsible for the bulk of carbon dioxide emissions, but with a little ingenuity and a lot of money, solutions will be found to cope with our carbon addiction without choking off economic growth and higher incomes.
(29 May 2006)
Related: Clean coal can help meet Europe's energy needs, energy chief says (Pravda)
Positive: important energy issues are discussed.
Negative: wishful thinking prevails.
We need a rigorous treatment of the science and economics of all energy issues, including carbon sequestration. For example, some scientists are skeptical that it is possible to keep carbon stored for the hundreds of years that would be required. Also, wouldn't nations avoid the expensive sequestration technologies to keep their energy prices low? Newspapers like the Vancouver Sun can help the dialogue along by providing background and analysis. -BA