The biggest question is the "end to end" efficiency of the various kinds of fuels. How much work and energy does it take? Alcohol from corn is an example of one poor choice fuel, in that more energy is required than it can deliver. Plus it takes away from the corn supply that people eat. The ultimate "prize" would be to be able to duplicate the process that nature uses, only a bit faster. Consider for instance "swamp gas", which will form from one years leaves in a lake and the following summer, it can be squeezed out of the bottom. Probably there is a much better way to gain the same results. Consider the ways that methane is produced in sewers, there should be a way to industrialize that process as well. Those biofuels that use waste would seem to be more economical because they don't use anything that we want for some other use. That concept should steer at least a bit of research, I hope.
Glenn is correct it's cash flow and the most nasty fuel other than bad coal is bunkerC that many ships use is close to tar than oil and has to be heated just to get it to flow. These ships are unlikely to change, instead replaced. But only is EU, others refuse to allow them in their waters, ports will they change as the US has done.
Small vessels mostly can use drop in biofuels or get converted. Smart money would be NG which here is only $.25gal/gas equavalent at $2.15mmbtu at 7gal gasoline to mmbtu.
My next boat, a 32' trimaran will be tidal, sail, wind generator and PV powered and if those don't go, used veg oil or biodiesel. Though most they are there to power my A/C in the summer, my big load, heating in the winter plus charging my EV's, workshop, etc.
The real way for big ships is Hyperion style nuke reactors which make about 25-35MW output and that goes for our military ships too. And while at dock can help run the base, city.
Another is an automatic sail rig/s to assist the ICE saving fuel. Sailing for smaller freighters, coastal, island can be viable. Planesail is one or kites is another and both are viable cost, ROI wise.
I heard shipping makes as much pollution to rank #6 in countries if it was one. So cleaning them up is important.
It's this rising cost, time, of overseas shipping will be and is a major reason manufacturing is coming back to the US.
Good points, Glenn. One of our commenters quoted 200 years as the actual oil supply if you count the difficult-to-get oil. Ultimately price will determine what we use. At some point biofuels may become less expensive than hard-to-extract oil. My guess is that the government will play some role in tipping the scales.
The first prediction that I recall reading about for the world-wide oil supply running out was the turn of the century = 1899 to 1900. As the price of a barrel of oil increases, costs-of-production can rise, while still turning a profit. The oil sands in Alberta became a viable supply when the price of oil was high enough. Deep sea reserves become viable as the price of oil rises.
As oil prices rise, alternate energy sources become competitive. Also, as oil prices rise, portions of the population reduce their consumption, either by switching to an alternative, or just consuming less. If, or when, biofuels become cheaper than oil - or oil becomes more expensive - there will be a shift.
I think the biggest factor still will be cash flow. The big oil companies are very profitable. I think their marketing strategy is to 'charge what the market will bear'. A couple of years ago they found out the market could not sustain gasoline at over $4.00 per gallon. So the prices dropped back to the 'bearable' $3.00 range. Cheaper biofuels could hasten the end of oil as the cheaper reserves are used up, and the cost of extraction leaves less profit.
The biofuels referred to will be too expensive to power aircraft or ships economically. The people that promote this don't consider the food costs this imposes on poorer people. There is not enough arable land to produce enough biofuels on this scale. Ships typically change fuels once 100 or so miles offshore and burn very heavy fuel oils. the power yields and economy are improved, but the pollution is high. When near port they switch to lighter oils that don't pollute.They would have to be retrofitted to burn large quantitys of biomass in order to be economical. You don't burn food for fuel.
@jmiller: I think your comment re: covering all the bases is spot on. It's too soon on the curve to cast a bet on any one of these emerging energy technologies, be it EV batteries, biofuel, or something else. The idea is a balanced portfolio of innovation and resources, just like the finance guys strive for a balanced portfolio around risk. Having multiple groups focused on exploring and refining multiple energy technologies is the smartest and safest path to an energy-independent future.
@jmiller -- I'm all for development of new technology. When new technology that makes sense hits the market, the biggest problems are how to supply the new technology fast enough. The study in this article does not describe the difficulties with providing enough biofuel to meet increased demand, rather it describes:
"According to the study's authors, the main barriers to making these changes and accelerating the introduction of marine biofuels lie in market incentives, which are not coordinated among EU member countries. The EU's Renewable Energy Directive, for example, sets required targets for the use of renewable fuels in transportation, which includes shipping. However, EU members can implement the directive somewhat differently from one another in their national legislation. This can lead to variations in preferred offsets for renewable fuels in road transport."
Words like "coordinated", "directive", "required targets", "national legislation", "preferred offsets", sound like the creation of Political Demand, rather than demand created by members of an economy.
If I may make an analogy that may be a bit more familiar, what if the U.S. Government decided that with the passing of Steve Jobs, Apple's dominance in personal electronics is not sustainable and the Government passes legislation that limits the number of iPhones and iPads that are sold to unwary customers. Because the Government knows best, it also passes regulations that set a increasing target number of Windows Phones that must be sold by each electronics seller. Those sellers that do not meet their quota of Windows phones are fined and would have their business licences revoked if they do not meet quota for more than three consecutive months.
Along with this will be the advancement in the ability to stor energy. When we talk about wind energy or tide energy or others that are not at a constant production rate, we need to examine how we can store power from times with high production rates to be used at times with low production rates. And I see that as a big challenge. Right now wind energy is getting bigger and bigger but the wind doesn't always blow at the same speed and how can we keep all that energy stored for those calm days.
I always like a good discussion on what is science vs technology. But in answer to your question on why switch to biofuels, I think the answer lies in the continuous improvement on the use of resources. We should always strive to build a better mousetrap and I think the developement of the biofuel industry is just that.
One coule argue that we should just keep on finding better ways to drill for oil. But that would leave us with all of our eggs in one basket. By allowing some groups to explore biofuels while other explore better ways to drill while others focus on more efficient ways to use the fuel I think we are covering all of the bases so to speak.
And I don't think we want to wait 200 years to run out before we start to work on addressing the issue that we currently have an end to the tunnel. We should be focused on ways we can extend that 200 years to 400 years. And all of these different technological advances are ways to do that.
Now, the next question I have is, "What other ways can we extend the life of that oil supply?"
I think the question may be which is more efficient. And which makes more efficient use of the resources available. In some cases can we use biofuels that are easier to access as opposed to underground petroleum. I do not really know the answer to that question. But I think it is a good one to ask. Do biofuels result in more jobs and a greater overall affect on the economy then petroleum based fuels. I don't know but I do think its a good question to ask.
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