Alternative Energy
3/15/2003

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Fuel Cells
    Unfortunately, an MIT alternative energy study concludes that:
    " Even with aggressive research, the hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle will not be better than the diesel hybrid (a vehicle powered by a conventional engine supplemented by an electric motor) in terms of total energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, says a study recently released by the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment (LFEE).   
    "And while hybrid vehicles are already appearing on the roads, adoption of the hydrogen-based vehicle will require major infrastructure changes to make compressed hydrogen available. If we need to curb greenhouse gases within the next 20 years, improving mainstream gasoline and diesel engines and transmissions and expanding the use of hybrids is the way to go.
    "These results come from a systematic and comprehensive assessment of a variety of engine and fuel technologies as they are likely to be in 2020 with intense research but no real "breakthroughs."
    Fuel cells are coming into the marketplace, and will eventually find their way into many applications.

Hybrid vehicles
    Apparently, the most practical way to reduce emissions and wean ourselves off petroleum is with hybrid diesel vehicles. One possibility would be the use of biodiesel fuel. Right now, biodiesel costs $1.80 a gallon in Minnesota: House fuels biodiesel use. It has been claimed that the energy cost of growing our fuel is greater than the the amount of energy we can extract from it. However, inasmuch as the energy used to generate fuel biologically can also be biologically generated, it simply means that as presently envisioned, the overall efficiency of biological fuel production is less than 50%. However, it might be possible to improve that overall efficiency over the course of time, given emphasis upon such a strategy. For example, more efficient farm engines might change that balance. And of course, biodiesel fuels add nothing to the world's carbon dioxide levels, since the carbon dioxide released when biological fuels are burned must match the carbon dioxide that is absorbed from the atmosphere when biofuels are created.
    The UK has estimated that it would have to dedicate about one-fifth of its arable land to biofuel production in order to power its economy this way.
    In practice, we could draw upon various partial solutions, such as mixing a little ethanol with our other fuels to stretch them further.
    Alternative biofuels might include methyl, ethyl and isopropyl alcohols.  Bed Turns Cheese Waste to Alcohol - Science Quest.

Better Batteries
    Automotive companies have abandoned batteries because they just don't have the energy density it takes to do the job (not to mention their limited lifetimes and recharging times). However, new discoveries in battery technology might improve that outlook Composite anode could boost lithium batteries - El. Engr. Times. Higher energy density batteries could eventually be a suitable approach to automotive propulsion, although cost, lifetime, and other characteristics are also crucial.

Geothermal power to create hydrogen.
    Geothermal power might be the optimum way to generate stationary power. It's inexhaustible, non-polluting and doesn't generate carbon dioxide. One problem with it might be that it doesn't require fuel, and coal and oil companies can't make money selling fuel for geothermal power plants. (This isn't to say that they won't support the development of geothermal power plants. Oil drilling companies might profit by drilling state-of-the-art wells to geothermal energy.)
    Geothermal power plants are presently limited to areas that have volcanic activity, such as the western United States. However, drilling technology is about ready to allow the sinking of wells deep enough that geothermal power plants could be constructed anywhere.
    The first step would seem to be to build them in neighborhoods that have hot springs (Hot Springs, Arkansas?). 
    Geothermal power could be used to produce hydrogen, or to synthesize conventional fuels.

Solar power to create hydrogen.
    Solar power must suffer from the same problem as other forms of alternate energy: you can't sell fuel for it.
    Solar power has the additional problems of availability only by day (with maximum effectiveness only on sunny days), and of requiring energy storage for nighttime operation. It's also too expensive to be competitive anywhere that power is available from "the grid".
    I've wondered if solar power wouldn't be well-suited to solar farms in equatorial deserts, where it could be used for chemical applications such as the synthesis of chemical fuels, or the production of aluminum. (The problem with this is probably that conventional electrical costs for these kind of "as available" applications are so much cheaper that industry wouldn't find solar power competitive even if storage weren't required.
    Alternatively, solar power could be used to supplement conventional power plants, thereby reducing the amounts of fossil fuel required.

Shell chairman says companies can reverse global warming - Nando Times