Critiquing Robert Zubrin on Energy

A couple of weeks ago, I said that I would be working on several posts. One of them, a book review for Robert Bryce’s new book, Gusher of Lies, is finished but I won’t post it until the book is officially released on March 10th. Beyond that, I was going to write a post on refinery economics, which I have yet to do, and a post critiquing Robert Zubrin. So here’s the post on Zubrin.

I haven’t read Zubrin’s energy book – Energy Victory– so this critique is based mainly on a very long article that he wrote about his ideas. A bit of trivia that I have mentioned before, many may know that Zubrin is a passionate advocate for Mars exploration, and has come up with some novel ideas for speeding up progress there. I am also a Mars buff, and Zubrin and I have corresponded over the types of fuels that could be synthesized from native Martian materials, because at that time I was doing some related work. But that is history, so let the critique (debunking?) commence.

I have been asked about the feasibility of what Zubrin is proposing. Zubrin gets some credit in my book for understanding the flaws in the hydrogen economy. So, what does he propose instead, and does it have similar flaws?

There is a very extensive article, based on his book, at The New Atlantis:

Achieving Energy Victory

Let’s cover some of the key points:

The world economy currently runs on oil, a resource controlled by our enemies. This threatens to leave us prostrate. It must change—and it can change, quickly.

Saudi Arabia is the primary global financier of the Islamist terror cult. Until the Saudis started racking up billions in inflated oil revenues in the 1970s, the Wahhabi movement was regarded by Muslims the world over as little more than primitive insanity. Without rivers of treasure to feed its roots, this horrific movement could neither grow nor thrive.

This is just the sort of thing Robert Bryce tackles in his newest book. He argues that almost all of the claims in the previous paragraphs are myths. The one sentence there that I think all three Robert’s – Zubrin, Bryce, and myself would agree on is that the world economy runs on oil.

Much of the first section of the essay is a rant aimed at OPEC, Saudi Arabia, and Islam. I won’t address that, other than to say that a good portion of it uses unfortunate stereotypes, and it contains a number of inaccuracies. Zubrin also offers opinions on many issues that he would have a hard time supporting if pressed. But there is one comment that I want to address before I get to his solutions section:

Fortunately, however, the claim that the world is running out of oil has no foundation whatsoever. Such claims have been made repeatedly in the past, and all have proven false. For example, as Learsy notes in Over a Barrel……

First of all, instant credibility point deduction for citing Learsy. The guy is a loon, and I have mentioned him just briefly here once before. Furthermore, the claim that “the world is running out of oil” is a strawman. Everyone knows – right down to your most hard core doomer, that there is an enormous quantity of oil left. The problem is getting it out quickly enough to meet demand – either because supply isn’t growing as quickly as is demand, or supply is actually falling due to an eventual peak in world oil production. Zubrin does a great job of demolishing this strawman, but let’s not pretend it was anything else.

Now, on to the main course. Zubrin first tackles the topics of conservation and CAFE standards:

When the subject of fighting OPEC comes up, the foremost proposal generally advanced is conservation. Since OPEC is taxing us by selling us oil, the thinking goes, we should simply use less. It sounds very sensible—but it is completely unworkable. It needs to be discredited because it proposes a strategy that guarantees defeat.

There are essentially just three ways to convince people to conserve: economic incentives, moral persuasion, or governmental action. None will succeed in this instance.

The most powerful persuader of the three is economics. Yet that is impractical here, because the objective is to reduce OPEC’s profits. If the oil price is allowed to soar high enough to induce conservation, OPEC wins big.

And if you think that was a flippant dismissal on the economics issue, try this one:

That leaves the possibility of government mandates. These can certainly have some effect within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States—but the demand for oil is a global issue. No practicable U.S. government conservation initiative could lead to domestic consumption reductions large enough to influence the global oil price.

One wonders then why countries with high gas taxes have much lower per capita energy consumption than the U.S. What Zubrin wants is an easy solution that requires no sacrifice, and yet reduces our dependence on oil. That would be great, and after dismissing CAFE (which I actually have a problem with as well, but for different reasons) he outlines his solutions. After mentioning America’s reserves of coal and natural gas, as well as our potential for producing biomass, he writes:

None of these fuels is on an equal footing with oil because none of them is currently used to produce liquid fuel for transportation. But what if we could convert them into usable liquid fuel?

In point of fact, we can. No new Manhattan Project will be required to discover how. The chemical knowledge required to do it is quite well established, being hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of years old. All we need to do is make alcohol.

At that point, he steps out onto shaky economic ground:

That said, the food crops used as a basis for ethanol production through this technique have significant commercial value, and that puts a floor under the production cost of fermentation-based ethanol. For sugar, that cost is about $1 per gallon, while for corn it is around $1.50 per gallon (without any subsidy). Ethanol has about two-thirds the energy value per gallon as gasoline, so these prices correspond to gasoline sold at $1.50 and $2.25 per gallon, respectively (before taxes—most gasoline sold in the United States is taxed about $0.50 per gallon). These gasoline prices, in turn, correspond to oil priced at $36 and $54 per barrel. So long as oil is pegged above this level (as it currently is), crop-fermentation ethanol can beat the price of gasoline.

That paragraph is full of problems. First, I fail to see his point about a floor under production costs for ethanol. Right now, that floor for corn is up around the $2/gal mark, which means the cost is already above his “floor.” Second, he doesn’t speak at all to the energy inputs (which mean that corn ethanol is also very sensitive to fossil fuel prices) nor does he attempt to quantify how much oil this would actually displace. He might find that some of the other options he so casually dismissed above have much greater potential for reducing our oil usage than does this one. At least he does admit that cellulosic ethanol is not there yet, although he classifies the chance of success as “highly probable.”

But from there, he does move into somewhat more fertile ground:

Fortunately, however, there are simpler techniques to make usable alcohol fuel out of biomass, and much else. This brings us to methanol, the simplest liquid fuel molecule known to chemistry. Commonly called “wood alcohol” because it can be readily produced from wood, it can also be manufactured out of virtually any kind of organic material, including every kind of biomass (whether edible or not), as well as coal, natural gas, human and animal metabolic wastes, and municipal trash. Since its potential sources are so vast, varied, and cheap, methanol promises to be an inexpensive fuel. In fact, it already is: during the summer of 2007, the wholesale price of methanol, manufactured and sold without a subsidy, was $0.93 per gallon. Methanol has about 54 percent the energy density of gasoline, so this price is the equivalent of gasoline selling for $1.70 per gallon (before taxes).

One thing to note is that the price he quotes for methanol is based on methanol produced from natural gas – not from biomass. His quote above is like suggesting that cellulosic ethanol promises to be competitive, and then quoting corn ethanol production costs for support. I don’t know the economics of the production of methanol from wood (although they are higher than methanol from natural gas), but it would be interesting to look into them. A quick search came up with a paper presented at an alternative energy conference in 1985. On comparing methanol from wood to ethanol from corn, the author said that no plants to produce methanol from wood have been built. I don’t know if that is still the case.

However, I will say that I agree with him in general on his methanol points. Methanol is relatively cheap and easy to produce, and can be produced from a wide variety of starting materials. Most of those starting materials don’t pose a food versus fuel debate.

Zubrin starts the last section by going into some history of methanol-fueled vehicles. He then makes the case for flex fuel vehicles (FFVs) that can run on a methanol blend. He wrote:

The cars worked well. As the CEC’s Tom MacDonald reported in a summary paper on the program published in 2000, the over 14,000 methanol/gasoline FFVs demonstrated “seamless vehicle operation on methanol, gasoline, and all combination of these fuels.” He also noted that FFV engines were as durable as standard gas engines and that there were incremental improvements in emissions fuel efficiency.

However, he then notes that interest in methanol FFVs declined:

But beyond the CEC’s successful pilot program, there has been very little interest in FFVs. The farm lobby has pushed for them as a means to expand ethanol sales, which is why, for the past decade or so, FFVs have been designed primarily for ethanol use. All told, some six million FFVs have been produced to date in America—a number that sounds impressive, and that indeed is quintuple the number of gas/electric hybrid cars in the United States today, but is still dwarfed by the total U.S. fleet of about 230 million cars now on the road.

Unless an ethanol FFV can also burn methanol, it seems like Zubrin’s first challenge is getting some interest in building the vehicles. As he notes, we make fairly cheap methanol today, albeit out of natural gas. I don’t know if methanol can be added in small quantities to your typical car, but if so then Zubrin can skip the FFV challenge and go straight to getting it into the fuel supply.

Zubrin closes with a call for action:

In a game of chess, the struggle ends not with the taking of the enemy king, but with his entrapment. If we could engineer a liberation from oil, the enemy would be rendered helpless, and one way or another, the oil-for-terror game will be finished.

Call it checkmate. Call it victory.

It might be fun to watch him and Bryce debate that “oil-for-terror” angle.

Overall, Zubrin is not completely in left field. He strays out there now and then, but his methanol argument is OK. I don’t consider him at all a crackpot (although that Learsy reference raised one eyebrow). What I don’t know – and have never attempted to determine – is how much methanol we could realistically produce from sustainable biomass. If the answer to that comes in too low, it’s really a moot argument. In that case we are again left with methanol potentially contributing as one of a wide variety of solutions – none of which can shoulder the majority of the load. This is actually what I think we would find with methanol – that it could not displace substantial amounts of oil. But then again, that’s just a hunch.

28 thoughts on “Critiquing Robert Zubrin on Energy”

  1. One wonders then why countries with high gas taxes have much lower per capita energy consumption than the U.S.

    Many reasons. Higher US economic productivity, for one. Area, for another — Texas alone is about the size of Western Europe. Population density, for third. Climate, for a fourth.

    Be very careful about assessing the impacts of higher taxes in the US on gasoline. As your excellent posts on biofuels show, Robert, politicians are extremely poor at recognizing potential unintended consequences.

    Europe already has high fuel taxes (although somehow their super-highways are still clogged with cars and their airports packed with planes). Suppose the US joins them?

    Look at that from the point of view of the oil exporters. The end-use customers are prepared to pay a very high price for oil (in parts of the EU, equivalent to over $250/Bbl), but most of the economic value is captured by the high-taxing importing governments. If you were an oil exporter, selling your finite national patrimony, would that seem fair?

    As long as the US is a low tax environment, the issue just bubbles in the background. But high oil taxes in the US would put this unfairness front & center for the oil exporters — the very people we need to persuade to invest hundreds of billion of dollars in oil production facilities.

    Tough situation, because the data in the US shows that CAFE standards don’t work — gasoline use has increased over the last 30 years. An example of Jevons Paradox — make energy use more efficient, and total demand goes up.

  2. I agree with all of RR’s critiques, except perhaps on the reasons for the spread of extreme Islam. It has been fairly well documented that Saudi Arabia set up schools worldwide, which have spread extremist points of view. If you read literature stemming from the government of Saudi Arabia (and many other Mideast governmnts), it will turn your hair white. The hatred is deep. Think of the Irani president, and his statement about Jewish people and Israel.
    Now, of course, poverty plays a role, corrupt government plays a role, native idiocy plays a role in the spread of all hateful ideologies.
    Still, we may be well-advised to developed domestic sources of energy.
    Taxing consumption, and shifting the wealth back to taxing governments rather than OPEC hate=machines, may not be the worst idea ever.
    I still think the PHEV offers an excellent solution. Acorfing to The Energy Blog. Mitsubishi is soon to produce car using lithium batteries. GM says they will too.
    We might have cracked this problem already.

  3. In Sweden the energy content of all wood biomass harvested from our forests is around 92 TWh/year. That is about equal to the energy consumed in the transport sector. So if we found some magic way to convert the biomass to some liquid fuel we could in theory replace all our current liquid fossil fuel.

    Sweden is 70% forest with 20 inhabitants per km2, I think we’re pretty much the best case scenario for biofuel from cellulose.

    Realistically after saw, pulp and paper mills get their share we will be able to replace 10-20 % of all current diesel and gasoline.

  4. ==Tough situation, because the data in the US shows that CAFE standards don’t work — gasoline use has increased over the last 30 years. An example of Jevons Paradox — make energy use more efficient, and total demand goes up.==

    Actually over the last 30 years we’ve gone from a CAFE of 27mpg down to 21mpg.

    But yeah, more to the point this is largely why it doesn’t make sense to artificially depress the price of fuel,
    And simultaneously try to reduce demand for liquid fuels.

    It’s counter productive.

    In order for efficiency to be fully effective, the price of the resource also has to go up.

  5. Just a point, perhaps a small one but meaningful too, I think. We ARE running out of oil.

    Not soon, but inevitably. So while peak oil is a rates problem, it’s not as if fixing the rate problem solves the whole problem. Oil is a depleting, nonrenewable fuel, period.

    This makes a difference in terms of how much energy you spend trying to prop it up with band-aids like ethanol. If we were not running out of oil, then attempting to get through a flow-constrained period with biofuels would make a hell of a lot more sense.

    But we ARE running out of oil. We have as much oil now as we will EVER have (within 5% would be my guesstimate).

    Anyone pushing replacements for oil that leave the infernal combustion engine at the center of our transport system is simply making the problem worse.


  6. greyflcn wrote:
    In order for efficiency to be fully effective, the price of the resource also has to go up.

    Agreed. There are many definitions of efficiency. In terms of reducing oil use, the price for oil paid by the user certainly has to go up.

    But pushing the price of oil above the “market” rate gets us into a very tricky area, where the potential for unintended consequences abounds.

    For example, if consuming countries put up the cost to the consumer by taxes on oil products (bringing no benefit to the oil exporter), oil exporters may logically react by not investing in maintaining or increasing production capacity — bringing about an actual premature supply shortfall.

    Politicians in oil importing countries may have to get used to the idea of sharing some/most of their oil-related tax revenue with oil exporters, in return for the exporters increasing their investments in export capacity.

    For alternate energy, the implication is that consuming governments may not be able indefinitely to use tax revenues from oil to subsidize the fad-du-jour. Not sustainable.

  7. Well one also has to question

    Is the “market” price, an honest representation of the actual cost?

    Since if were to take the fully internalized price of oil, we’re looking at nearly $15 a gallon.

    Much of which is paid for via income taxes.

    Additionally one has to question what the meaning of a “premature” decline is.


    That said, lets assume that there was a tax on fuel, and it went to pay for increasing fuel use efficiency.

    As the revenue for that service went down, the direct market incentive to conserve/substitute would go up to counter-balance.

    i.e. An effective pigovian tax.

  8. We know that Jeavons’ Paradox is a real factor, weighing toward greater consumption, but it know it isn’t the only factor.

    If you own your house and like your job you probably aren’t going to commute more, for fun. And your vacation road trips are going to be limited by other factors like hotel costs or campground reservations.

    And … energy is still cheap, even now.

    The median commute is 20 minutes or about 20 miles. The median family income is about $48,000.

    Let’s assume a single-earner family and do some rough math. To make that a day’s pay, assume 50 working weeks of 5 days each, $48000/(50*5) = $192 a day gross income, or assuming an 8 hour day, 40 cents a minute.

    20 miles each way at an average 20 mpg is 2 gallons a day. 2 * $3/gal = $6

    6 / 0.40 = 15 minutes

    The median worker spends the first 15 minutes of his day to pay for his commute. Is that so much that we should have already seen a transformation?

    I think the frog is still pretty cool.

    (I think Mr. Zubrin is totally wrong about economy, efficiency, and conservation, and the reason he is wrong is that he’s looking backwards. But then that is common foible in this energy stuff …)

  9. A couple of questions:

    1) Is there a huge difference in the economics of coal-to-methanol compared to coal-to-diesel?

    2) Has Zubrin even considered caps on CO2 emissions in his scenario?

  10. One proposal I keep hearing about methanol is to use a methanol fuel cell but run it in reverse. This will take CO2 out of the atmosphere and turn it into fuel. I am not sure how efficient or practical this would be (how much energy needed and what concentration of CO2 in air). There is one nagging concern that I have with all this talk about using methanol as transport fuel is toxicity. If we start using this to significantly displace our gasoline in transport, then we’re going to be handling a huge volume of methanol. The permissible exposure limit for methanol is about 1/3 lower than that for gasoline.

  11. I found this very funny: Chavez: No Plans to Cut US Exports .

    Somebody must have told him that if he cut off the oil that the US wouldn’t be sending back any dollars. What a tool.

    For those who decided to stay in Venezuela, here is their reward: Noting that oil prices have increased drastically in recent years, Chavez floated the possibility Sunday of establishing a new tax on foreign oil companies that continue operating in Venezuela.

    Chavez sounds a lot like Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, or Oilwatchdog.

  12. Terry wrote:
    I am not sure how efficient or practical this would be (how much energy needed and what concentration of CO2 in air).

    Atmospheric CO2 concentration is nominally around 380 Parts Per Million. Yes, Parts Per Million. To put it in more customary units, the concentration is 0.038% (in dry air — less in normal moist air).

    The nominal increase in CO2 concentration since the start of the Industrial Revolution over 200 years ago is about 0.01%.

    The natural engineering response to these concentrations is to ask – What is all the fuss about? Especially when we know that atmospheric CO2 is only a very minor contributor to the radiatively active gases in the atmosphere.

  13. I’ve started reading your blog over the last month or so, and I appreciate your realism in face of the doomsters (like Kunstler).

    Generally, I find you to be well-reasoned, but I think that you are against increasing CAFE standards for the wrong reasons. Government does wield significant influence in altering people’s behavior. Increasing CAFE standards will force the public into efficiency (even if it is by making fuel inefficient vehicles more expensive and rare), and it’s pretty evident that the general public is sadly too ignorant to change their ways to build more fuel efficient vehicles. Also, you mentioned in your original post on CAFE standards more efficient ways to encourage fuel-efficient vehicles. How would you propose doing this?

  14. Assuming biomass-to-methanol conversion can be done at high efficiency, then the next step should be to convert the methanol to gasoline. This technology is on the shelf (Google “Mobil MtG”, or “methanol-to-gasoline”), and has been demonstrated at process scale in New Zealand in the 1980s. This would remove the obstacle of having to convince people to buy FFVs.

  15. kinuachdrach, if your simplistic calculation is all there is to it as far as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, why don’t you publish it in a peer-reviewed journal??

    Certainly you would save the world a lot of wasted time??

    To me, it’s the equivalent of suggesting that blood banks eschew donations from humans, and instead concentrate on gathering rose petals with the same spectographic color number as blood. “Red is red, from an engineering point of view”.

    I still haven’t heard any good reasons why we cannot restrict the top speed of motor vehicles to solve our problems. A lot cheaper than a “methanol economy” and an “ethanol economy”.

  16. Remind me.
    If your blood contains 0.01% cyanide,
    What happens?

    Stop equivocating volume with potency.


    Furthermore, why do you keep acting like water vapor has the potential to accumulate in the atmosphere for hundreds of years.

    It can’t even accumulate for hundreds of days.


    Additionally, the greenhouse layer is a small portion of the total atmosphere.

    It’s a small band in the lower half of the troposphere. And in that band, there’s a higher concentration, than if you were to average it over the ENTIRE atmosphere.


    That said, I’m curious about what you do think is causing the warming we’re experiencing.

    I’ve never seemed to have gotten a straight answer on that.

  17. There are a number of problems with methanol. As you know we did a lot of work on methanol as a fuel in the ’80s. First all the numbers generated for methanol are, as you pointed out, from natural gas. As I recall the thermal efficiency is about 70%, lower than for crude to gasoline through a refinery. Wide spread use of methanol will drive producing it from coal which will inevitably lead to much higher CO2 emissions given that coal has the lowest H:C ratio and methanol the highest. Everyone seems to be pushing biomass as a feedstock (will that be true of methanol?) The net primary productivity for switch grass is reported to be between 0.5-1.1 kg/sq meter. Assuming zero fossil fuel inputs, this results in a solar energy yield of only about 0.12%-0.28%. Since switch grass is presumed to be planted and harvested from marginal land, I would further assume that the lower yield would be the most probable. Once harvesting and conversion costs (gasification?), I suspect that the net yield on an energy content basis would not be much better that of biodeisel from soy and, of course, now fossil fuels are being used.

    Other issues with methanol are as follows. 1) Methanol is not very soluble in gasoline and is non-ideal. 2) Any water present causes it to phase so it is likely that gasoline would have to be dry or 100% methanol would need to be used. 3) Due the phasing problem methanol cannot be pumped through pipelines used for other hydrocarbon products. We tried this in a Canadian pipeline and it was a disaster. 4) Methanol burns with a rather non-luminous flame so it cannot be see if it is burning (gasoline is the best thing to add to deal with this problem). 5) When methanol is used a an automobile fuel, it produces significant formaldehyde pollution.

    All of the issues in the second paragraph can be overcome, but at a cost. The problem in the first paragraph is fundamental and is the inherent problem with all biomass approaches.

  18. On the economy front, the Los Angeles Times reports today:,0,794487.story

    Americans are getting serious about using less gasoline, confounding some economists who have argued that most people can’t reduce their driving much because they have to get to and from work and make those necessary trips such as shopping and chauffeuring their children around.

    “The truth is more complicated, according to some energy experts: When the price reaches a certain threshold or the driving reaches a peak point of aggravation, people are willing to give up personal space and independence…

    “In California, the nation’s biggest fuel market, drivers have been burning through less gasoline than they had the year before for six straight quarters. From July through September, the most recent data available, Californians used 46.2 million fewer gallons, or 1.1% less than in the year-earlier period…

    “With gasoline prices doubling since 2003, motorists nationwide are conserving fuel by taking fewer trips, driving slower and paying premiums for the most fuel-efficient vehicles, the Congressional Budget Office said in a recent report.”

    So let’s not count out the possibility of conservation making a difference.

  19. That said, I’m curious about what you do think is causing the warming we’re experiencing.

    Personally, I don’t know that we are experiencing warming.

    Last winter in my neighborhood was the coldest & snowiest in decades. On the other hand, all the old guys remember the hot dry period in the 1950s when a lot of the farmers went bust.

    If you look at where the data to support the alarmism comes from, the astonishing thing is the shear paucity of it. Alarmists have built a mountain of speculation on a molehill of hard data. The ratio of statistical manipulation to underlying measurements is enough to cause any serious person to wonder.

    But if you take the manipulated fagures at face value, northern hemisphere average temperatures have been stable for most of the last decade, and southern hemisphere temperatures have been declining. The “data” does not support the assertion that global warming is occurring.

    I am more impressed by the geological & historical evidence that “climate” (however defined) has never been stable. Temperatures have always been varying, for reasons that long predate industrialization, and even mankind.

    Whatever recent changes in global temperature have occurred are within our realistic measurement uncertainties. And I have yet to see any reasonable proposal on how to separate whatever changes are deemed to have occurred into natural & anthropogenic components. But surely we can all acknowledge that the natural component is likely non-zero?

    The one thing that is absolutely and totally clear from the evidence is that the correlation between CO2 and global temperature is very poor — which completely blows the assertion that CO2 is driving global temperature.

  20. A lot to chew on. Like Mr. R, our esteemed host, I have not read the Zubrin book. I did, however, listen to his dialog with Glenn and Helen Reynolds of Instapundit.

    My take away is that Zubrin blames/credits OPEC with creating and sustaining $90+ bbl. oil. He posits that we can break the OPEC stranglehold and cut the price of fuel by allowing cars to use alcohols as fuel.

    I think he has mis-identified the problem. $90+ oil is not the cause, it is the symptom. I don’t think OPEC held oil down in the 90s and I don’t think it is holding oil up now.

    I think demand from a growing world economy, coupled with production constraints in various producing areas (from Ghawar exhaustion in Arabia, to caribou fetishization in the US, etc.) is the major source of the problem. I also think that the weakness of the Dollar vs other currencies is part of the picture.

    Because Zubrin has mis-identified the problem, he mis-specifies the solution. I am very skeptical that flex fuel will do anything for anybody. The current ethanol push is at best irrelevant.

    Turning natural gas into methanol might produce cheaper fuel. Currently NG runs around $9/MMBTU. A million BTUs (1.055 GJ) is the energy equivalent of about 30 l (8 Gal) of gasoline. If we used the NG to supplement the liquid fuel supply, prices would adjust, but my guess would be that NG would rise to meet the disparity.

    Of course this is true even if we use the NG to make gasoline or diesel rather than alcohol.

  21. I think it almost inarguable that the high price of oil has put a lot of cash in the hands of some very unsavory characters. The Sa’uds are just one clan of thugs made wealthy by the accident of geography. We should also notice their Iranian neighbor, Amadrasdinnerjacket, and also the very non-Islamic Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez.

    This is, for anyone hoping for world peace, an undesirable situation. And reducing our dependence on oil would not only reduce CO2 emissions, but it would also reduce the cash-flow of some people who ought to have their cash flow reduced.

    And no, they are not investing in oil production facilities. They are investing in nuclear weapon production, exporting terrorism, fundamentalist propaganda, and revolutionary agitation. The world would be a better place if such dictators did not have money.

  22. There are a number of problems with methanol. As you know we did a lot of work on methanol as a fuel in the ’80s.

    Hello, Jerry. Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the MeOH info. I am in Amsterdam right now, and I have been meeting with Phil Snyder, Finlay, and a few others. Back to Aberdeen in the morning, and back to the Netherlands on March 1 to stay. I will talk to you soon.

    Cheers, Robert

  23. One proposal I keep hearing about methanol is to use a methanol fuel cell but run it in reverse.

    Should be possible, but you would have to supply a constant energy supply to run it.

  24. 1) Is there a huge difference in the economics of coal-to-methanol compared to coal-to-diesel?

    Yes, the difference is pretty large, because the FT piece required for diesel is much more expensive.

    2) Has Zubrin even considered caps on CO2 emissions in his scenario?

    He addresses that some in the article. He thinks we can do this from biomass, and hence have an environmental solution as well.

  25. Should be possible, but you would have to supply a constant energy supply to run it.

    What if we did this using renewable energy like wind? There are vast stretches in the US where there is a lot of wind power potential but are isolated and far from the existing grid. It could also be a means of dealing with the unevenness of power generation from wind.

    An anonymous poster also pointed out we can convert methanol into gasoline. From reading one of the links it seems like 90% of the cost of the end gasoline product from this process is due to the methanol which seems doable. Then we can take that methanol and put it into existing pipeline infrastructure. No need to build out a whole new infrastructure.

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