Here I go. This is no doubt part of my endless set of diatribes on energy. I am a physicist by education, with emphasis on nuclear physics to boot.
In Silicon Valley "Green Energy" is becoming all the rage amongst the investment community elite. Trust me the term "Green" does not refer to benefiting the environment, but rather how much money they hope to make. As with most things, the money has to come from somewhere, and the most likely place is YOU!
Remember the big rush to producing Ethanol from Corn that was all the rage a year or two ago? What happened.? What happened is exactly what many scientists and economists predicted. First, some definitions.
When it comes to powering an automobile, one important consideration in determining a fuel is energy density. This refers to how much energy is contained in a pound or gallon of fuel. The lower the energy density the more fuel you have to carry to go a given distance. Gasoline is quite good in this regard. Ethanol is 15% less dense, and methanol (wood alcohol), is 50% less dense. In our race to produce Ethanol we proceeded to triple the price of corn. So when you hear ethanol, remember in America we now burn food! Worse, we do it in with some of the least efficient sources available. Corn requires lots of nitrogen fertilizer which is produced from oil, and tractor farming and distribution requires even more oil. Ethanol costs more than gasoline and produces less energy. who pays the difference? You!! Worse, ethanol and methanol are much stronger solvents than gasoline. Just put some on your hand, notice how dry they leave it? Put gas on your hand and note it leaves an oily residue. (do i have to remind you to wash these off immediately?) Well that is how it works in engines as well. Specifically they make your motor wear out faster. Ask anyone who tries this in a marine engine. So to make it palatable we will just put in 15% by law. In addition, we via the government will pay via taxes huge subsidies to big corporations, and you ultimately pay in shorter auto life in addition to your taxes.
We always hear about Brazil and alcohol. The benefits of alcohol there are dramatically different than here. They are able to use sugar cane instead of corn. Cane has more sugar, does not use fertilizer, and cane is harvested by labor not machines. To make ethanol work there, they passed laws resulting in cars that are about half the size and weight of ours. Not that we shouldn’t do that also. Did I mention that sugar is about 1/3 the price there as it is in America, but we can’t buy it. Democrats have tariffs on foreign sugar to protect some of their largest donors in Florida. Bottom line ethanol is not an economically viable answer.
So now the bloom is off ethanol made from corn (see Wall Street Journal) , and we are on the the next great idea, methanol from cellulose i.e. grass, wood chips, coal or whatever. Future chapter coming….