Coming Attractions

Just wanted to provide a quick update, since it will be a few more days before I have a new essay up. I am trying to finish up an article on Peak Oil for Omninerd, and need to devote a couple of days toward working on that. I recently finished my first submission for The Oil Drum entitled Big Oil and Alternative Energy . Feel free to comment on it at The Oil Drum, or if you aren’t registered there you can comment on it in this thread. The article addresses the statements from various groups that oil companies should invest their record profits into alternative energy. I explain why this is wishful thinking.

Below is a list of subjects that I will be covering in upcoming essays (not necessarily in this order), along with a brief description. If you have a topic you would like to see addressed, let me know.

The Solar Economy – I have only mentioned solar energy on my blog in passing, but it is far and away my favorite alternative energy choice. There is nothing else that compares to the efficiency of direct solar capture. I can envision a society that is driven largely off of solar power, but electrical applications and many automotive applications would need to be operated via rechargeable batteries.

The Diesel Economy – Even if we had no oil at all left, we can produce diesel from coal, natural gas, or even biomass. The capital costs are pretty high, but the feasibility exists (and in fact, is already taking place).

Fischer-Tropsch – I plan to give a brief, layman’s overview of this very important reaction, which will enable The Diesel Economy. This is also how the Germans produced some of their liquid fuel in WW2.

GTL – Gas to liquids, or diesel production from natural gas. This option is currently well under way in Qatar.

CTL – Coal to liquids. This is Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer’s dream for Montana coal. While it is viable, capital costs will be high, and the environmental costs may be steep. I will have a detailed discussion of the issues.

BTL – Biomass to liquids. This one is the least developed, but has the most potential for producing diesel from a renewable resource. I will discuss potential hurdles to be addressed.

I am open to suggestions on other topics. As always, I will continue to comment on current events, so I expect this list of ideas to take me through the next month or so. But I am always open to suggestions.

9 thoughts on “Coming Attractions”

  1. I would like to hear more on solar energy. While it seems like an easy matter, I’ve learned enough to know there is more to it. Also the part where it ties into cars would be interesting.

  2. Robert,

    Heads up. Tonight’s edition of “60 Minutes” is supposed to be dedicated to the ethanol issue.


  3. Gary,

    Thanks for the reminder. I am setting up to TIVO it right now.

    I spent a couple of hours yesterday, and so far an hour this morning, refreshing myself on solar energy. This is by far the best alternative energy source there is, and we ought to be putting more effort into something like PEHVs, with the electricity derived from solar energy.


  4. I’d like to see some analysis of wind tidal, and geothermal power generation. And I’d like to see something on hydrogen fuel cells.

  5. If you have a topic you would like to see addressed, let me know. .


    Apparently there was a recent study on hybrid cars showing that their energy consumption over their total life cycle is actually higher than some all-internal combustion cars.

    If the study is correct, the energy embedded in hybrid cars at manufacture is much higher than most other cars. Sounds as though most of that comes from making the battery packs and the short life of those batteries.

    May be something you want to look into.



  6. Here’s a basic fact I wish more people were aware of: the world’s total energy consumption from all sources averages to 13 terawatts (TW). The energy from the sun that falls on the earth is 120,000 TW, over 9,200 times as much.

    With existing (i.e. commercially available) PV and energy storage technology we could get all the energy we need from the sun, even allowing for all kinds of conversion losses.

    see: Report on the Basic Energy Sciences Workshop on Solar Energy Utilization

    Lot’s of great stats from a US government energy lab. My favorite quotes:

    “Covering 0.16% of the land on Earth with 10% efficient solar conversion systems would provide 20 TW of power, nearly twice the world’s consumption rate of fossil energy and the equivalent 20,000 1-GWe nuclear fission plants.”


    “For calibration purposes, the required U.S. land area is about 10 times the area of all single-family residential rooftops and is comparable with the land area covered by the nation’s federally numbered highways.”

    Note that 10% efficiency is quite conservative — a system using SunPower panels should be close to 15% (allowing for about 20% losses in the system), thus require only 2/3 the area mentioned above.

  7. on the subject of large scale energy storage, check out the Eletricity Storage Association which has info on technologies that are already in use in power plant sized applications

    – VRB (Vanadium Redox Flow Battery)
    – ZnBr
    – NaS
    – Li-Ion
    – CAES
    – Super Capacitor
    – Flywheels
    – Lead-Acid Battery
    – Pumped Hydro Storage
    – Metal-Air Battery

    here’s a sample:

    Pumped hydro was first used in Italy and Switzerland in the 1890’s. By 1933 reversible pump-turbines with motor-generators were available. Adjustable speed machines are now being used to improve efficiency. Pumped hydro is available at almost any scale with discharge times ranging from several hours to a few days. Their efficiency is in the 70% to 85% range.

    There is over 90 GW of pumped storage in operation world wide, which is about 3 % of global generation capacity. Pumped storage plants are characterized by long construction times and high capital expenditure.

  8. Gary said Apparently there was a recent study on hybrid cars showing that their energy consumption over their total life cycle is actually higher than some all-internal combustion cars.

    I don’t think that study is credible.

    The Camry Hybrid (similarly equipped) has an MSRP about $2250 more than the Camry XLE. This is around 750 gallons of gas. Over the lifetime of the vehicle you will save over 1000 gallons of gas.

    Also, we shouldn’t confuse the price (amount we pay) with the cost (amount Toyota pays).

    Toyota has said that now that the Prius is in volume production they are not subsidizing it. Naturally for competitive reasons they don’t give much detail, so this is difficult/impossible for an outsider to verify. The Camry is the best selling passenger car in the USA, so the hybrid version has a good chance at being high volume, and therefore profitable for Toyota.

  9. re: life cycle energy of hybrids

    oops, hit publish too soon, left out part of my argument: this assumes you can calculate an approximate upper bound on the extra energy input required to build a hybrid car based on the MSRP difference.

    This in turn depends on the energy/$ that Toyota pays, which if it is significantly less than the energy/$ in gasoline, leaves room for the possibility that the life cycle energy of hybrids is indeed higher.

    Any additional profit Toyota makes on the hybrid should be subtracted, which lowers the upper bound.

    AFAIK Toyota has not given out the details needed to make an accurate assessment.

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