Monday, September 7, 2009

Sins of omission

After watching the NrK debate on environmental issues today, I'm left with the sense that none of the participants even come close to being honest about the issues at hand. The energy sources discussed are on one hand oil and gas that we strive to phase out, and on the other hand the so-called renewable energy sources we need to develop and phase in. In this election, three forms of "alternative" energy sources have been mentioned (with the exception of FrP and their penchant for hydroelectricity) - solar power, wind power and biofuel. I'm all about solar- and wind power, but the problem is that none of these power sources are practical for transportation - with the exception of trains and subways. There's a missing link between solar/wind power and transportation: battery technology. If you think you can power a truck or a plane using either of these technologies via the battery technology which exists or which lies around the corner, I've got a cathedral here in Trondheim I'm offering up for sale.

The transportation problem is one of the main reasons why the financial crisis and subsequent fuel price were blessings in disguise. If the US reduces their consumption of fossile fuel for transportation purposes (i.e.; deep-six Hummers in favor of smaller and hopefully more environmentally friendly vehicles), it goes a long way towards reducing CO2 emissions. President Obama actually comes across as having credibility on this issue.

The only "alternative" energy source which currently can power the transportation sector is biofuel, which ironically is the biggest detour of alternative energy. First of all, it's not that efficient compared to fossile fuel. Second, it creates a massive industry, pressure groups and government pork barrels for what is at best transitional technology. As such, it diverts hard-needed funding from research on energy sources which can actually make a difference. Third, growing crops for purposes of fuel means less crops for consumption, and last time I checked, the ratio of population growth to food production was not favorable.

Fourth and final, one of the primary producers of biofuel is - and will be - the third-world semi-dictatorship known as Brazil. Brazil does one thing well - apart from keeping the vast majority of its population way below the poverty limit despite having a fast-growing economy - destroying the rain forest. Whether it's for purposes of cattle grazing, oil-field development or for biofuel crops, the sub-mexicans of Brazil have proven not to give a damn about any deleterious effects on the environment. Seeing as how the rain forest contains a whole lot of - well - trees and trees do an awfully good job of absorbing CO2, this would be nothing short of disastrous.

In my admittedly not so humble opinion, none of the political parties featured in debates prior to the election have a realistic view of alternative energy. One might actually argue that FrP is the most honest party out there, as they're the only ones to state that they don't believe in any climate changes and thus don't see a problem with upholding or even increasing the energy consumption.


T-bombz said...

The only reasonable approach to biofuel is to grow algae for the purpose of providing oil for biofuel production. Algae have a very high growth rate compared to other sorts of plants, and may contain a large precentage of oil.

However, it is not clear (to me, at least) what the price per litre of such bilfuel will be.

Wilhelm said...

Sure - algae are promising, but how is this going to put a dent in Brazil's deforestation rates? They're still going to produce biofuel if it's profitable, and reduce planetary CO2 absorption rates at the same time.

Still, even the best case of biofuel production via algae is limited by the carnot cycle in efficiency. Combustion engines pretty much suck as far as efficiency.

Anders said...

Biofuel and cold fusion is the way of the future. The research just hasn't recieved enough funding.