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Report: 2013 Will Make or Break Alternative Fuels

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Elizabeth M
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Excellent coverage
Elizabeth M   4/4/2013 6:28:41 AM
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Thanks for the thorough coverage of this report, Ann. It's exciting to see alternative fuels finally coming into their own and I'll be curious to see which ones actually end up making the grade this year and emerging as the leaders. After seeing what happened in Arkansas recently, which had oil running through the streets after an Exxon pipeline leak, now more than ever is the time to consider alternative fuels.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Excellent coverage
Ann R. Thryft   4/4/2013 7:55:15 PM
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Elizabeth, you are entirely welcome :) I, too, was excited to see the press release on this research and follow up to find out more details about the report's findings. Stay tuned--I'll be writing about reports on wind, solar and biofuels in the new few weeks.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Excellent coverage
Ann R. Thryft   4/4/2013 7:55:24 PM
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Elizabeth, you are entirely welcome :) I, too, was excited to see the press release on this research and follow up to find out more details about the report's findings. Stay tuned--I'll be writing about reports on wind, solar and biofuels in the new few weeks.

Cabe Atwell
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Re: Excellent coverage
Cabe Atwell   4/5/2013 2:08:26 AM
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I like the analysis here. I would love to see more biofuels used...

But, ultimately, zero fuel is reason behind the make or break case here. I have no intention of buying another fuel burning vehicle. I wait for the next best option...

C

Elizabeth M
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Re: Excellent coverage
Elizabeth M   4/8/2013 7:43:11 AM
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I like your attitude, Cabe, to wait for a better option to any fuel-burning vehicle. I wish there were more people who shared it, particularly among the people in the industry making the decisions about what people drive.

Cabe Atwell
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Re: Excellent coverage
Cabe Atwell   4/9/2013 5:41:53 PM
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Alleviate the perceived stress of charging your car, and electric will be the only option. I do not want the onmi-present worry of keeping my cell-phone charged to in every facet of my life.

I hope that magnetic-resonance charging, Witricity, makes headway in the near future. Everything would always be charging... I wouldn't give it a second thought.

C

Elizabeth M
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Re: Excellent coverage
Elizabeth M   4/10/2013 3:51:08 AM
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I didn't know about Witricity but that sounds perfect. Charging batteries seems like the bane of our existence, and to worry about your car having juice, as you mention, would be a complete pain. If everything was always charging, this would solve a lot of our device-battery woes, and the electric car problem, too.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Excellent coverage
Ann R. Thryft   4/11/2013 1:14:04 PM
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Thanks for the Witricity info, Cabe--I didn't know about it either.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Excellent coverage
Ann R. Thryft   4/8/2013 11:56:23 AM
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Cabe, I agree with the ultimate goal of non-burning fuels. But I don't think that will be a reality for some time to come. Meanwhile, it would be better to be burning these fuels than the alternative.

oldguywithtoys
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Re: Excellent coverage
oldguywithtoys   4/5/2013 10:30:43 AM
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Biofuels are manufactured substitutes for fossil fuels.  They're still oils and gasses that have to be moved from the point of manufacture or refinement to the point of use.  It doesn't matter whether the liquid flowing through a pipeline is pulled out of the ground or manufactured: it's still oil and a pipeline break is still a problem.  The Arkansas leak, in and of itself, is not a reason to demand a switch to biofuels.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Excellent coverage
Ann R. Thryft   4/5/2013 11:59:34 AM
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I had the same reaction as oldguywithtoys: the fuels are essentially the same chemically--which is why diesels, anyhow, can be drop-in replacements--so a pipeline break isn't going to produce anything worse with petro-fuel than with biofuel.

Mydesign
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Re: Excellent coverage
Mydesign   4/9/2013 6:50:12 AM
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"Biofuels are manufactured substitutes for fossil fuels. They're still oils and gasses that have to be moved from the point of manufacture or refinement to the point of use."

Oldguywithtoys, yes you are right. I don't think there is much difference between bio fuels and fossil fuels. Both can be drained out .

Rob Spiegel
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Will fracking hurt development?
Rob Spiegel   4/4/2013 1:08:17 PM
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While the wide range of alternative fuel looks promising, I wonder how fracking will affect the economic feasibility of alternatives. Fracking is bringing down the cost of natural gas and may bring down the cost of oil. Without high energy prices for traditional fuels, alternaqtive fuels may face a sizeable roadblock.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Will fracking hurt development?
Ann R. Thryft   4/4/2013 1:39:07 PM
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Rob, good point; however, that was taken into account by LUX and the report's authors, at least as far as volumes go. The need to replace such huge quantities of petroleum-based oil means that there's room for many different technologies. Shale oil quantities will by no means be sufficient. Whether fracking's results will serve as an excuse not to continue pursuing alternative fuels is a different question. Price is not the only reason to pursue these other sources.

LauraKearns
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We have viable options now
LauraKearns   4/4/2013 2:19:43 PM
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Switching from expensive imported oil to alternative fuels has moved from a far-off dream to an achievable reality. Today's gasoline alternatives promise a path away from the imported-oil addiction that squeezes our pocketbooks, pollutes our air and endangers our national security.

At least four alternatives are not only already in use, but have what it takes to put us on the road to permanently breaking oil's death grip on America's drivers: ethanol, methanol, natural gas, and electricity. 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: We have viable options now
Ann R. Thryft   4/4/2013 7:56:06 PM
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Laura, thanks for the thumbs up on alternative fuels development. Seems like some people that comment on the site are not exactly in favor of funding or aiding their development.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: We have viable options now
Rob Spiegel   4/8/2013 10:09:26 AM
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I agree, Laura, those fuels are on their way. But there are significant bumps along the road. For one, once alternative fuels get some traction in the market -- beyond their current single diget share -- the price of oil will come down, again making it attractive. Oil will look particularly attractive is there continues to be virtually no environmental restraint on its use.

oldguywithtoys
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Re: We have viable options now
oldguywithtoys   4/9/2013 11:12:44 AM
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I'll lump ethanol and methanol together: biofuels.  As their use increases, their prices (low now more due to government subsidy than production efficiency) will go up.  As the production volumes go up, it will be more profitable for farmers to turn their land to the production of ethanol/methanol-producing crops than food and food prices will rise... and petroleum prices will fall.  Meanwhile, ethanol and methanol are still hydrocarbons, the burning of which will still produce greenhouse gasses.

Natural gas is a fossil fuel and still produces greenhouse gasses when it burns.  When a natural gas pipeline leaks, it doesn't spout black goop all over the landscape, it dissipates into the air.  But unburned natural gas is itself a greenhouse gas

The vast majority of our electricity is produced by the burning of fossil fuels and it will take major breakthroughs in battery capacity and solar cell efficiency before wind and solar can replace more than a tiny fraction.

The push by our government should not be to force the use of alternative fuels, but to help fund research to increase the efficiency of solar cells, the capacity of storage batteries and the efficiency of our use of the energy ANY fuels can produce.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: We have viable options now
Ann R. Thryft   4/9/2013 11:52:00 AM
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oldguywithtoys, I wish everything could be powered by the sun, too. But we're a long way off from that for multiple reasons, and many people would rather start somewhere on alternatives than wait. Meanwhile the biofuels scenario you describe is out of date. Second-generation biofuels are made from plants that are not food crops and don't compete with them (crop-based biofuels), or they're made from the waste from food crops or the waste from other plants (cellulose-based biofuels).

oldguywithtoys
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Re: We have viable options now
oldguywithtoys   4/9/2013 2:09:35 PM
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Whether a crop is people-food or animal-food or inedible and only useful for creating ethanol or methanol, it still takes land to grow that crop.  Whether you divert a corn crop from animal feed to the production of ethanol or you divert a field from growing corn to growing switchgrass, you're still decreasing the food supply to increase the alcohol supply.

My own opinion is "all-the-above" - we need to cut our dependence on imported oil by
  1. finding substitutes and making them cost effective.
  2. increasing domestic production.
  3. increasing the efficiency of everything that uses energy.

So far, the processes used to generate biofuels from plant waste haven't scaled very well.  I read somewhere that the federal government has mandated that the oil companies use a certain amount of cellulosic alcohol each year, but that they pay hefty fines simply because nobody has figured out how to make that much cellulosic alcohol in a year.

I'm not saying they'll never be able to figure it out.  What I'm saying is that we need to go more with the carrot than the stick - tax credits for research toward the efficient large-scale production of cellulosic alcohol rather than fines for not using what isn't available.  And above all, funding for R&D into making everything that uses energy as efficient as possible, as cost-effectively as possible.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: We have viable options now
Ann R. Thryft   4/9/2013 3:57:09 PM
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oldguywithtoys, first of all, second-generation biofuels that are based on crops are based on non-food crops, for either people or animals, and grown on land that cannot be used to grow food crops on. So they are not at all decreasing the food supply. Second, ethanol and methanol are not the only fuel possibilities. There's also biodiesel and butane, among others. I do agree that federal subsidies for cellulosic-based biofuels (ethanol, methanol, butane or biodiesel) are a good idea.



Mydesign
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Research for alternate Energy
Mydesign   4/5/2013 5:01:52 AM
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Ann, there are lots of R&D is going for alternate fuels. As of now only electrical vehicles are in market using alternate energy sources. Why researchers are not looking for solar energy for automobiles, any particular reason?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Research for alternate Energy
Ann R. Thryft   4/5/2013 12:00:23 PM
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Mydesign, interesting question about solar energy for vehicles. I remember hearing something about that back in the 60s, meaning people were looking in to it. My guess is there are two problems: 1) the same old problem of energy storage, but more important 2) the energy density isn't high enough to power a car, and doing so would require enormous collectors as well as enormous batteries. But that's just a guess. Does anybody know?

Mydesign
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Re: Research for alternate Energy
Mydesign   4/9/2013 6:45:32 AM
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Ann, thanks for the clarification. When Google for the same info, it seems that power density, Cost and Vehicle design considerations are some of the constrains. More info will be available with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_vehicle

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Research for alternate Energy
Ann R. Thryft   4/9/2013 11:52:42 AM
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Mydesign, cost is also a constraint, as you point out, but that's primarily because of the low energy/power density.

Mydesign
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Re: Research for alternate Energy
Mydesign   4/11/2013 11:59:11 PM
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"cost is also a constraint, as you point out, but that's primarily because of the low energy/power density."

Ann, am not sure about the cost part. But for house hold purposes, vendors or service proving companies are clamming that ROI is possible within 4 year and there won't be any maintenance for 5-6 years.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Research for alternate Energy
Ann R. Thryft   4/12/2013 11:50:49 AM
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Mydesign, are you still talking about the use of solar energy for vehicles? In your previous comment on this, you mentioned that a Wikipedia article cited power density, cost and vehicle design considerations as constraints. I was pointing out that if cost is a problem, it probably has at least as much to do with the low power density, which would be an ongoing problem as a cost-of-ownership factor, as it would with the initial one-time cost of the solar module. So even if there's a 4-5 year ROI on the module--on a house or on a car--in a car there will still be a cost-of-ownership problem with low power density.

Mydesign
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Re: Research for alternate Energy
Mydesign   4/16/2013 11:15:12 PM
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Ann, thanks for the clarification. When I further dig in to the article, it seems that the ROI and other statical details mentioned are for solar energy for house hold purposes. Am not sure about such statists for automobiles.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Research for alternate Energy
Ann R. Thryft   4/19/2013 11:38:08 AM
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Mydesign, thanks for the clarification on your end. I'm not surprised that the numbers were run for household solar, not other applications. Household solar is on everyone's radar, but other uses have a lot less visibility. Too bad, since it would be good to have more data about other applications easily available.

Cabe Atwell
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Re: Research for alternate Energy
Cabe Atwell   4/22/2013 6:09:37 PM
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Witricity... magnetic-resonance power coupling is not the only option.

There are plenty of places when power is delivered to vehicles through roads. Mostly in a finite area for testing, but it is happening. Perhaps that is best way to go?

C

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Research for alternate Energy
Ann R. Thryft   4/25/2013 12:46:29 PM
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I can see several flaws in that basic design concept/system architecture--what do cars do for power when they're not on the road? If it means they have to switch power sources, isn't that unnecessarily complex and costly? And doesn't it put too much "power" of another sort in too few hands?



Mydesign
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Re: Research for alternate Energy
Mydesign   4/24/2013 11:33:43 PM
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Ann, I think other than moving applications, everywhere solar power generators are using. Especially with industries, hospitals, offices etc. But I think its bit difficult & not that much reliable in fixing solar panels over a moving object, especially automobile.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Research for alternate Energy
Ann R. Thryft   4/25/2013 12:44:06 PM
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Mydesign, the energy requirements for a stationary object--such as an energy source for a building that provides lights, heating and outlets for plugging in electric/electronic devices--will be very different from an object that must a) propel itself somewhere, and usually also b) provide energy for lights, heating and outlets for plugging in electric/electronic devices. It takes a huge amount of energy to self-propel, which we moderns have perhaps forgotten, since we're so used to the combustion engine and the "horseless carriage." But that aside, solar power is simply another potential source for electricity for an electric vehicle, but one without nearly enough energy density.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Not so fast...
Ann R. Thryft   4/8/2013 11:57:20 AM
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Ceylon0, thanks for the link. I see several announcements like this every month, in fact, tens of announcements such as this one in a year. I don't usually report on these initial research breakthroughs in possible bioprocessing or pre-treatment technologies because they're years away from a production stage. Let's hope this one pans out.

William K.
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The various alternative fuels, who will win?
William K.   4/5/2013 4:37:18 PM
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All of the alternative fuels are based on solar power, either more directly or less. Using vegatable oils takes a bit of fuel to plant and harvest the feedstock, although it takes less if the feedstock is waste from other products. The various bio-diesel products using processed animal oils also depend on solar to raise the feed for those animals. And electric power to charge battery vehicles may come from some sort of fuel driven generation, although it may also come from hydro-electric sources, which ultimately are solar powered. So most vehicle movers already consume fuel in one way or another. 

My preference would be to use liquid propane as a fuel, since the technology for those engines is well developed and the needed infrastructure for distribution is well understood. But widespread LP use would also have quite a few challenges, including the fact that at least half of the drivers in the US would have not a clue about how to dispense fuel into an LP powered vehicle. So safety and avoiding spillage would probably be show-stopping issues there. 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: The various alternative fuels, who will win?
Ann R. Thryft   4/10/2013 12:20:27 PM
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LP (liquid propane) has been proposed several times as a transportation fuel. But even as a fuel for use in the home--as it is out here in the woods--it is hindered by the main problem of distribution. It has to be trucked in big tankers since it won't flow in pipes as natural gas does. OTOH, gas stations here routinely dispense LP, at least into small portable handheld tanks.

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