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“Fuel”: A persuasive argument for kicking our addiction to oil

Tom Keogh, Seattle Times
“Fuel,” directed by Josh Tickell, is a dynamic and persuasive documentary about clean energy sources and America’s doomed addiction to oil. It’s a must-see, and not just for environmentalists.

Arriving in the midst of postelection optimism that a new U.S. president just might turn out to be as progressive as he promises, this documentary about the linkage between economic, environmental and policy salvation in America is right on time.

Opening in Seattle after a week of national furor over any thought of channeling billions to an antiquated American auto industry, “Fuel” also couldn’t look more topical. Indeed, director Josh Tickell spends a fair amount of time in this dynamic, stirring film tracing the mutually beneficial relationship between a tax-subsidized car industry high on gas guzzlers and a tax-subsidized oil industry happy to supply product.

It’s precisely that kind of old-school corporate and institutional synergy, Tickell maintains, that has fed America’s addiction to oil to the extent that we go to war for it.

… But while “Fuel” takes persuasive swipes at the influence of oil-based energy companies over domestic and foreign policy, the film is more dazzling as an introduction to all kinds of clean energy alternatives many of us have never heard of.

We all know about ethanol, solar- and wind-generated power, hybrid engines and the like. But by the end of “Fuel,” one might very well come out of the theater ready to invest in companies deriving energy from wood chips and algae, or growing food in vertical, inner-city farms.

… “Fuel” took so long to make, in fact, that it survived a couple of brief periods of media and public disenchantment with alternative energies. Tickell embraces those chapters as part of necessary public debate rather than ignoring or navigating around them.
(21 November 2008)
EB reader Jesse Olympia writes:
I just saw this film last night in Seattle, WA. Congressman Jay Inslee was in attendance and said a few words and answered some questions after the film. I am sure you are aware of this film already, but I have not seen any coverage at EB. It is an important film and has the potential to reach a wide audience and focus attention on important energy issues. See

I haven’t seen the film yet, but I share Robert’s uneasiness about pushing biodiesel (see next item). At the film’s website, the Things You Can Do sound reasonable. However some FAQs at the website do not inspire confidence in the film’s science:

Q: For every one unit of energy put in to making gasoline, how much energy do you get?

A: Only 80%. It takes more energy to make a gallon of gasoline than that gallon of gasoline actually contains.

… Q: For every unit of energy put in to making biodiesel, how much energy do you get?

A: 3 units of energy. Production of biodiesel is energy positive.

UPDATE (Nov 24) comment from jim bethel:
your example of questionable science regarding EROEI of gasoline vs. biofuels represents a common argumnet put forward by advocates of biofuels. i first heard it from vinod khosla and listened in a kind of stunned disbelief. he says you have to count the energy of the crude oil as an input, so by (questionable) definition, any petroleum based fuel is automatically a net energy loser.

but i have also heard this argument from prestigious academics. a couple of years ago i attended the “richard lugar energy summit” at purdue university. at the conclusion i put a question to the (prestigious) panel on exactly this issue. the response was vitually identical to khosla’s, that when you count the energy input of the crude oil, petroleum fuels are losers.

naturally all of these people are well funded with government and industry research money to develop biofuels. by this logic, john d. rockefeller was an idiot for investing in petroleum, he should have invested in biofuels. people get away with making these claims and are not challenged. this is a fundamental issue which needs more vigorous debate.

Using Energy Like Pigs

Robert, Seattle Peak Oil Awareness
… The new movie “Fuel” has all the greenies in a tizzy about how Jay Inslee and Barack Obama are going to make us independent from oil. We just need American can-do attitude and our old friend science to help us out.

The blog for the film’s website today has a photo of the guy who made the film with a cardboard “Biodiesel, No War Required” sign. I guess he isn’t reading our blog, eh?

The blog is also sporting a story snippet with link from the Seattle Times titled:

“Fuel”: A persuasive argument for kicking our addiction to oil

The title should be:

“Fuel”: A thoughtless argument for continuing to use energy like pigs!

… Did he just say people are outraged over “channeling billions to an antiquated American auto industry”? I think he did! What does he think the biodiesel boondoggle is all about? It is about nothing more or less than channeling billions to an antiquated American auto LIFESTYLE!

He also complains about the tax subsidies the oil companies get. Lovely. What is it that the biodiesel geeks in front (and the big ag industry players right behind them) want from Inslee and Obama in the first place?

Great guess! Subsidies! You just can’t compete against 5-15 EROEI when your product only offers 1-4 EROEI.

The main problems with this enterprise are rooted in the fact that nature gives us nothing for free. Biodiesel is a form of strip mining our soil for fuel, and generally the scale most Americans unwittingly endorse for this project would also endanger our food supply by both damaging the environment, using food land for fuel land, and pretending that water supply is not an issue.

I could go watch the film and then debunk the claims about how they get around the food-fuel question, but why bother? I already know the answer because we’ve done the math 10 different ways, years ago.
(23 November 2008)
Are there any critical reviews out there by people who have seen the film? -BA

Brazil’s biofuel industry dries up

Alan Clendenning, AP via Boston Globe
Brazil’s biofuel industry just months ago was being flooded with billions in new investments for vast new sugarcane plantations and gleaming distilleries that churn out the cheapest ethanol on earth.

But the global financial crisis has put the brakes on that boom, drying up foreign investment and domestic credit, stalling new projects and prompting cash-strapped ethanol producers to indefinitely postpone expansions.
(23 November 2008)