Tuesday, August 12, 2008

More on Alternative Power

I wrote a few weeks ago on Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens' bold plan to make the United States independent of foreign oil via wind power. On Sunday, Dr. Robert Zubrin of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies wrote a response to Pickens on Pajamas Media.

While Dr. Zubrin gave credit to Pickens for at least trying to develop alternative energy sources, he states that pickens' plan of using wind power to free up compressed natural gas for automobile power is not a long-term solution to the American energy crisis. Writes Dr. Zubrin,
So hats off to Mr. Pickens. That said, the plan he is advancing for dealing with the crisis — build windmills to release natural gas from electricity generation so it can be used to power compressed natural gas (CNG)-driven cars, displacing gasoline in the process — is technically flawed and needs to be revised.

According to Dr. Zubrin, the United States cannot replace the energy currently provided by natural gas unless wind power somehow can generate at least thirty times what it currently provides. This is extremely unlikely, as wind power is notoriously fickle and is entirely dependent on weather conditions to function at all. In addition, Dr. Zubrin states that at the united States' current rate of natural gas usage, there is approximately ten years' worth of supply. Thus it is not a reliable long-term solution.

Instead of natural gas and wind power, Dr. Zubrin recommends forcing automobile manufacturers to make all future vehicles flex-fuel capable. As Dr. Zubrin explains,
The key is for Congress to pass a bill, such as the current Open Fuel Standards Act (S.3303, HR.6559) requiring that all new cars sold in the U.S. be fully flex-fueled — that is, capable of running equally well on gasoline, ethanol, and methanol. Such technology is currently available and only adds about $100 to the cost of a car (in contrast to CNG capability, which adds about $2,000). The reason why establishing a full flex-fuel standard is the answer is that methanol — a very safe and practical liquid vehicle fuel — can be made from a vast array of feedstocks, including not only natural gas, but also coal, recycled urban trash, and any kind of biomass without exception.

Thus making automobiles flex-fuel capable would free Americans (and the rest of the world as well, as an American requirement for flex-fuel would probably carry over to the rest of the world) from having to rely on any single power source. Flex-fuel means that cars could be powered by methanol, gasoline and ethanol. This is especially important since methanol can be made from a variety of sources, including refuse. And Dr. Zubrin says that the United States has enough source material to last for centuries. He concludes,
By creating such a true free open-source fuel market, we can make it possible for every nation to contribute to the world’s fuel supply, breaking the monopoly power of the oil cartel, everywhere and forever.

This last is the money quote. Why are we paying countries that are dedicated to our eventual destruction? By cutting off the supply of oil money, we can reduce the Middle East to the position of irrevelevance it richly deserves. And we can finally free ourselves from energy dependence. I am not certain that this alone will work- I would recommend nuclear power plants to generate most of our domestic, non-transportation energy as well, but this is certainly a start. And anything that reduces the amount of money we pay to the unstable oil producing countries is a benefit. Faster, please.....

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.

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