There *is* an alternative!

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  • Mon, Sep 29, 2008 - 09:29pm



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    There *is* an alternative!

Okay, I know in the presentation Chris said that he’d get to biofuels later, but since he wrapped up section 17a with a statement to the effect that "no reasonable alternative has been proposed", I have to assume the later material will argue that biofuels aren’t reasonable. I disagree. 

I will concede that there aren’t enough biofuels available for every person alive in the world today to have the standard of living of the US middle class today. But there is fuel. We may not get the luxury of living as if there are 100 strong men (that take no feeding) available for our every whim, but that doesn’t mean a sudden drop to no machines. 

If we had not found oil and begun exploiting it at the beginning of the 20th century we would have completed our transition to alcohol fuels. As we are coming off our oil high, we will have to complete that transition 100 years later. Henry Ford’s Models A and T were both built initially to use gasoline and alcohol, because Ford believed only alcohol-fueled vehicles were sustainable over the long term. 

<quote> When Henry Ford told a New York
Times reporter that ethyl alcohol was "the fuel of the future" in 1925,
he was expressing an opinion that was widely shared in the automotive industry.
"The fuel of the future is going to come from fruit like that sumach out
by the road, or from apples, weeds, awdust — almost anything," he said.
"There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented. There’s
enough alcohol in one year’s yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery
necessary to cultivate the fields for a hundred years."1

1 "Ford Predicts Fuel from Vegetation," New York Times, Sept.
20, 1925, p. 24. 


Quote from:

I’m also not a subscriber and I don’t know what "action points" subscribers get that aren’t available here, but for a set of "things to do" check out "Alcohol Can Be A Gas". Buy a copy if possible, we need to make sure this book gets everywhere before it gets shut down again or it gets too expensive to print books. 


  • Tue, Sep 30, 2008 - 12:15am



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    Biofuels aren’t going to keep the ship from sinking

Most biofuels are net energy losers (takes more energy to produce than you get back from it) and require heavy fossil fuel inputs, which will be declining in supply over the next several years.  Corn ethanol is particularly ridiculous, since we’d need to use between 157% – 262% of existing cropland that we now use to grow food simply to produce one-half as much energy from corn ethanol as we get from oil.  Corn ethanol isn’t that clean of a fuel, either.  It emits 81-85 kilograms of CO2 for ever mega joule of energy produced.

Sugar cane ethanol is somewhat more promising and has been used successfully in Brazil, but still requires large amounts of water (which is becoming more scarce) and fertilizer (natural gas-based, and natural gas supplies are dwindling) and is limited in terms of where it can grow.

Algae is the most promising of all sources for biofuels.  But the technology is currently not scalable and it does require high energy inputs.

All of this is moot, to some degree, because the truth is that it would take a couple of decades to fully transition to a transportation fleet and economic infrastructure that runs on alternative fuels – whatever they are.  During that time there will be a declining supply of energy, and by definition, a contracting economy.

It’s not just a question of people driving Prius’s instead of Hummers, selling the family boat or paying a few more bucks for gas at the pump.  A decline in oil supply will have profound effects on every aspect of our lives, from transportation to food production and distribution to health care.  It’s hard to convey the magnitude of what we face.

Biofuels may help mitigate the impact to a small degree, but they’re far too little and far too late to keep the ship from going down. 

  • Tue, Sep 30, 2008 - 12:22am



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    Bio fuels – its really just for fun :(

I am with you switters,

Not only are all bio-fuels very expensive in terms of energy returns, there is also the question of arable land.  There just isn’t enough for us to feed the worlds growing population and create bio-disel too.  The EU has already shelved it’s bio-fuel programs, decided food was needed more. 

  • Tue, Sep 30, 2008 - 02:14am



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    Anything Into Oil

Google on the "Anything Into Oil" process (technical name (hydro)thermal depolymerization, AKA "TDP"). As its colloquial name implies, it can convert virtually any complex organic feedstock — garbage, plant or animal waste, used tires, you name it — into a product virtually indistinguishable from light kerosene,with better than 85% thermodynamic efficiency (implying a 560% coefficient of performance, compared to the meager 130% COP of corn ethanol production), by mimicking under controlled and accelerated conditions the same process that probably created natural petroleum in the first place.

Unlike "cellulosic ethanol" — a process that doesn’t yet exist, that
would produce a fuel we currently lack an infrastructure to distribute
and don’t have engines capable of using (unless mixed at a mere 15% with 85% gasoline) — there is already a functioning TDP pilot plant operating in Carthage Missouri, which for the last 5 years has been converting turkey offal from the local Butterball plant into a fuel that can be burned by any oil furnance or diesel engine.

Past reports by the Carthage TDP plant’s managers claimed that they estimated their product would become competitive when petroleum hit US$ 80/bbl — so even after correcting for inflation since the reports, they should finally be well in the black.

Why aren’t you hearing about TDP on the news? Simple: The patent doesn’t belong to a major oil company or an agro corporation, so its owners have no "pull" with the White House, Congress, nor the folks on "K Street." (Its owners even had a very hard time getting TDP-produced oil legally recognized as a "biofuel" under the terms of current "biofuel" law — despite their turkey-offal feedstock being 100% biological in nature!)

What are the major remaining technical problems? Right now, TDP is still a "batch"
process rather than a "continuous flow" process, which adds to production cost, and inhibits scaleup; also, TDP has to be
"tuned" to match its feedstock. But once one finds the "sweet spot" for a given feedstock, one can guarantee a consistent product given a consistent feedstock.

Furthermore, TDP even converts biological and chemical toxins in the feedstock into relatively benign (and often industrially useful) byproducts — for example, in addition to concentrating the toxic "heavy metal" fraction of municipal garbage into an insoluable and easily displosed-of "ash," TDP converts dioxins, PCBs, and other chlorinated componds into water, CO2, and hydrochloric acid — a useful and valuable industrial chemical. With high-sulfur coal as a feedstock, TDP would convert the sulfur into sulfuric acid — a useful and valuable industrial chemical — which can easily be separated from the now "sweet" kerosene-like fuel.

For the Wikipedia article on the "Anything Into Oil" process linking to numerous external references, see

  • Tue, Sep 30, 2008 - 03:25am



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    energy transitions

There are dozens of energy alternatives, but history shows that energy transitions- the shift from one dominant energy source to another (wood to coal, coal to oil & gas) take about 60 years to complete.  Some alternative or combination of alternatives will become dominant, but it will take decades to adjust infrastructure and hardware.


  • Tue, Sep 30, 2008 - 10:19pm



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    General Principles for last chapter

A specific answer to "what to do about this" may be very complicated and change with each situation, so I would like to see you begin your last chapter with General Principles.  Here are my votes on these:  1. First, the economic system was invented/developed in order to create wealth (food/clothing/shelter.etc) and all decisions on "what to do" must be made with this principle in mind.  All future problem solving is informed and illuminated by this basic principle. For example, humans evolved an agrarian society in order to create more energy (with the surplus as you explained).  Such ag-energy provided human and animal muscle power to the first societies and money was used to organize that (valuate and encourage behavior): we are merely following that same principle.  2. Perform acts that make you valuable (and thus can receive benefits in exchange from this system) by contributing wealth to the system.  Provide real wealth. A promise of future wealth is the only good reason to receive a loan, for example, and if you are providing food/clothing/shelter-etc. then you dont worry about prices, the market will adjust your producer price (whether it is in almost worthless dollars or in barter) up with inflation.

From one and two, some strategy points might then be:

1. become a producer.  Even now, the companies and people that are building things (machines, food etc) are florishing and doing better than they have for years.  I asked a couple small manufacturers recently about this, this is not only because of the export market.  Start a real wealth production business, or participate in someone else’s real wealth production business.

2. education.  Study reality.  that means engineering and science.  Physics, chemistry, biology. Only take the ***tology courses (psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science etc) for entertainment.  The only exception would be if you happen to be in the top 1% ability and the world really needs your rare talent for the non-producer subject.

 3. Choose as subjects for work and education: anything that provides real wealth.  Technology itself represents non-tangible wealth.    Good patents and tech ventures that are serious about creating real future wealth should be pursued and valued (and so do patents that cover this).

A very interesting big issue raisd in your presentation is how to design an economic system that does not rely on a money supply increase based on growth of population and growth of real wealth based on development of ever increasing energy and resources..  Such alternative system might be attacked by convention as being anti-capitalist, but actually, all solutions must be very market oriented.  If we slipped into socialism then the strong link between real wealth production and the producer would be broken and then we would lose.  Maybe a fundamental theme to add to the background above would be to maintain and enhance the link between producer (of real wealth) and return (from the economic system) to the producer (perhaps as a or the most important function of government).
For a new system, I would take a clue from biology and look at system resonances.  Money flow could be evaluated by frequency and path of recycling.  Natural large harmonies might be a basis for organizing money transactions and even valuation.  For example, food producer investment (borrowing) in the spring with pay back to investors in the fall upon harvest.  Isnt this the most important financial (money flow) resonance with respect to real wealth?  Things that favor this and other resonances that produce wealth could be valued higher.  Resonances that produce value could  be inventoried and given valuation (point scale) and an economy would be based on those valuations.  Instead of increasing money supply, we could be increasing the amplitude or quality of resonances that produce wealth.  Many examples could be given.  Preparing every Summer for hurricanes.  Preparing (new) transportation systems to get fresh fruit from warm climes to the north during winter,  Harvesting switchgrass for biomass energy in late winter, after it is dried and ready to be converted.  Instead of investing passively, those who work on solar energy for example, would receive small real time income and larger dividends AFTER completion and according to how much energy is created


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