More Wood Chip Commentary
By Arnold Kling
Congress could make an enormous step toward American energy independence within a decade or so if it would simply pass a law stating that all new cars sold in the U.S.A. must be flexible-fuel vehicles capable of burning any combination of gasoline and alcohol. The alcohols so employed could be either methanol or ethanol.
Flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) offer consumers little advantage right now, because the high-alcohol fuels which they could employ are not generally available for purchase. This is because there are so few such vehicles that it doesn’t pay gas station owners to dedicate a pump to cater to them. Were FFVs made the standard, however, the fuel they need would quickly be made available everywhere.
…This chicken-and-egg problem can be readily resolved by legislation. One major country has already done so. In 2003, Brazilian lawmakers mandated a transition to FFVs, with some tax incentives included to move things along.
I have heard the “chicken-and-egg” excuse for hydrogen, as well. But Zubrin writes,
When hydrogen is made by electrolysis, the process yields 85 units of hydrogen energy for every 100 units of electrical energy used to break down the water. That is 85 percent efficiency. If the hydrogen is then used in a fuel cell in an electric car, only about 55 percent of its energy value will be used; the rest is wasted to heat and so forth. The net result of these two processes: the amount of useable energy yielded by the hydrogen will be only about 47 percent as much as went into producing it in the first place. And if the hydrogen is burned in an internal combustion engine to avoid the high production costs of fuel cells, the net efficiency of this vehicle will be closer to 25 percent.
Meanwhile, Peter Huber says,
Mr. Bush proposed modest new support for the development of technology to help displace gas-fired electricity with “clean coal,” “safe nuclear” and “revolutionary solar and wind technologies.” Wind and solar combined currently deliver about 0.02 BBOE a year, so the green revolution won’t arrive any time soon. But we do use about seven BBOE of coal, uranium and natural gas to generate electricity. Simply shifting the mix toward coal and uranium, and away from natural gas will curb demand for oil — significantly in the short term, and dramatically down the line.
On the wood chip issue, he writes,
The question isn’t whether carbohydrates can be turned into hydrocarbons, it’s whether corn and wood will ever be as cheap and easy starting points as fossils. Alberta’s tar sands, for example, currently yield about 0.4 BBO per year, contain 180 BBO recoverable with current technology [more than 25 years of U.S. oil consumption], and hold another 1,000 BBO (at least) that will become accessible as technology improves.
I really think we should let the market sort all this out, rather than have an energy policy.