Given that shipping and transportation makes up such a huge piece of the global economy, it would seem that implementing legislation and incentives to promote biofuels could have a huge impact. What's the downside for shippers transitioning over to the new fuel source? Do tankers and carriers have to be retrofit to accomodate biofuel or is just about hammering out the supply chain, procurement practices, and cost structure for a new fuel source?
Beth, the study found that the degree of adjustments that need to be made to the marine fuel supply chain would depend on the types of ship, engine, and biofuel, and the blend percentage. No retrofitting required: perhaps you are thinking about DIY retrofitting of car engines so they can run on ex-MacDonalds frying oil. That's a world away from the commercial biofuels industry, which is much father along in Europe than in the US. These commercial biofuels are considered drop-in replacements that would be gradually blended in the same locations--fuel bunker companies--that currently blend non-biobased fuels.
I think the largest challenge when it comes to implementing a new fuel source is the capital to get the chain implemented. That's where I see the government able to assist. By making the capital available. However, mandating that it be used can be difficult and I really hate it when the government tells me what to do.
I'm going to admit publicly that I don't get it. There are lots of things I don't understand in science, but I don't have a clue as to how to start understanding this. If we are rushing to use biofuels, then CO2 release and Global Warming must not be an issue (unless, maybe it is a Carbon Cycling thing). If Sulfur is a problem, DuPont's IsoTherming Technology for Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel Production reduces sulfur to levels normally found in the environment. With new technologies in natural gas and oil shale, our current projected supply of 200-years worth of ground petroleum is increasing daily.
I expect we will no longer be using hand-held computing devices in 10 years due to advances in ubiquitous cloud computing... Why should we be scrambling to insure that we can still use internal combustion technology beyond the year 2212? Somebody please explain.
Interesting points, William. And good questions. But I stumbled on your comment that cloud computing will end the use of handheld devices. I would think cloud computing would increase the use of handheld devices, since you don't need large devices when your computing power and memory are in the cloud.
Hi @Rob: My comment about was about "ubiquitous" cloud computing. There are two primary things that folks physically carry along with them: (1) Their Data, (2) A Processor. With the "Cloud", number (1) is no longer necessary --- tapes, floppies, cds, dvds, thumb drives... no longer needed. The "ubiquitous computing" part is when everything has a processor embedded in it: The refrigerator, microwave, toaster, kitchen table, office desk, automobile dash, airline seat, clothing...
We started with One Mainframe to Many People, then One PC to One Person, then A Few Devices to One Person, then Many Devices to One Person, then we finally arrive at Many Devices to Many People. When we reach "ubiquitous cloud computing", you will not need to own and carry around an access device... you will be able to use any public access device to access your own data in the cloud. $$ will be collected by what you do with your data, not in exchange for the device used to access and manipulate it. In much the same way I do not need to travel with my own personal electricity generator. I just plug into any public outlet near my current location.
My question to the topic at hand is that I don't know "WHY" we need to spend time, money, and energy on legislation and incentives to change the supply chain, procurement practices, and cost structure from petroleum to biofuels if all we are doing scientifically, is using new carbon-compounds instead of old carbon-compounds -- a supply of which is growing rather than depleting...
You have a very interesting view on the future of devices. But I think it's like mass transit -- it makes sense, but people love their cars and they love the freedom to go where they want when they want. People love their devices, and besides, if you have your own device, you can use it while driving. I can't tell you how often I'm behind a car at a red light. When the light turns green, the car just sits there until I honk. We all know why. When I honk, the driver looks up from his or her device and them proceeds through the light.
I have to agree with Rob. While I see where William is going with the idea of ubiquitous cloud computing, I still think there will be some preferred device that people will want of their own and not be fully dependent on some public access station to get to their data. Maybe it's just a small access card with a processor or some variation of a key. But there will be different models, with different bells and whistles, and people will want to be hands on with them.
That's right, Beth. It's the next generation that will be dertermining where this goes. My daughter and her friends accessorize their iPod, iPads and smartphone. These devices have become part of how this generation presents itself to the world.
I don't agree with your view of the future regarding cloud computing for several reasons, but the most important one is, it assumes everyone always has a) electricity and b) internet access. That's not the case and probably won't be, either ever or for a really long time. Beyond that, I don't at all get what it is you think we'll be accessing the cloud with. Public access devices don't seem realistic to me, partly for the reasons just mentioned. I also agree with Beth, I think people will continue to want their own personalized handhelds.
@Ann, I wasn't presenting my view of future... just a collection of possibilities to illustrate how quickly technology is advancing. Imagine 10 year's ago in April 2002: Google was 3.5 years old, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter did not yet exist, stylus-based PDAs were only used by early adopters and techies, and cars could net yet automatically parallel park.
Through examination of innovation rates in information technology, we can draw similarities to innovation rates in other industries, such as energy and manufacturing. I personally find it difficult to expect that we will be pulling into the local convenience store to pump 87 octane gasoline in the year 2212. My point against Regulation-Catalyzed Innovation is that innovators need to be "on board". After the Chicago Tylenol murders in 1982, product-safety Regulations were created that often trailed innovations in product safety -- no manufacturer of any product wanted their product altered or sabotaged before purchase. But when dealing with Alternative Energy, Regulations that are in place BEFORE innovations have a chilling effect on other innovations as inventors scramble to meet them, diverting time, personnel, equipment, and energy from other projects. My lament is against Politically-fueled Regulations that are put in place to satisfy a political ideology or political favor.
As for the visions for the possible future of computation it appears that at least two innovators are announcing a reprise of the "Stone Age" in ceramics and glass. Corning has presented its vision in "A Day Made Of Glass 2", while only yesterday, Google announced its "Project Glass". Corning's vision is inline with my mention of "public access" while Google's vision includes wearable computing, initially in the form of glasses.
Thanks for going into more detail about your thoughts on both topics. It would certainly be better if we could somehow predict the future well enough to figure out innovations first and regulate second--or if we had the luxury of decades to prepare. But that's not the case with several environmental issues facing us. The EU is ahead of the US on first mandating (not exactly the same thing a regulating) and then working with industry to figure out how to meet those mandates, in several of these areas. Yet this doesn't seem to be stifling innovation at all; instead it appears to have the opposite effect. Japan is a also a good example of the same principle. In both locations, everyone seems to understand that they are all in this together. They are citizens--members of the polis--as well as business people. Meanwhile we've been dragging our feet over here in the name of not stifling innovation, which, in comparison, implies our innovative spirit must not be strong enough. That doesn't sound like America to me.
I see what you mean about the future of computation, as far as wearable computers go. And I certainly get how fast everything is changing, having covered electronics and electronics-related design and manufacturing for over 20 years. I suspect we will see both personal computation devices, since people like to personalize, and public access devices. OTOH, such dependence on the cloud still assumes we have 100% uptime of both electricity and Internet access, and I don't think we can make that assumption.
William, as mentioned in several other comment threads in stories about bio-based materials, the problems of finding alternatives to dino-based fuels and materials are large enough that a multi-pronged strategy makes the most sense. It would be dandy if we could get rid of internal combustion altogether, but that's probably not going to happen for awhile. So long before 2212 (was that a typo for 2022 = 2012 + 10 years?) we're going to need all kinds of alternatives in the short term while we're working out long-term strategies that can hopefully eliminate environment-harming practices.
And while I'd rather not get into an argument here about whether we should be pursuing yet more dino-fuel extraction, even if we do so the Chinese may own it all in a few years anyway, especially if they decide to call in our loans. PetroChina just announced that it's become the world's biggest publicly traded oil producer, ahead of Exxon, giving them enormous clout:
Hi @Ann... Nope. 2212 was correct - 200 years from now: The date when we predict we will run out of dino-fuels. I'm an "innovation" guy so I'm for new inventions and development daily. But what I'm not for is demanding the hard-earned talents of scientists and engineers be directed by political gamesmanship. If there is a true, defined reason why we should scramble to shift to biofuels, I'll be in line producing college graduates for the cause.
The Petroleum industry was born in Titusville, PA in the 1850s. It was not a project that was funded or envisioned by the World Governments, but by inventor Samuel Kier. He was the first human to recognize the value of distilling petroleum for fuel. Now, some 160 years later, the "petroleum industry" is somehow the property of World Governments that struggle to control its supply. If we see ourselves still based on hydrocarbon fuels 200 years from now, then it would be prudent to experiment. But would it be prudent to stop using petroleum? Maybe we should have delayed the invention of the Babbage Difference engine in 1822 until we solved the Y2K problem... after all, Y2K was only 178-years in the future -- right around the corner. =]
Politics is concerned with Power. Science is concerned with Truth. As a scientist, when Governments seek to influence scientific decisions through the use of Power, it is our responsibility to debate the issue and demand the decision be based on Truth rather than Political Whim.
My question still remains. Why switch transportation to Biofuels?
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?"
@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.
I like your example of a balanced portfolio. It is very similar. I hope that the government allows these mulitple groups to continue to work and can provide support to each equally if necessary. In some cases one or more group may have captial already established, while a new and emerging technology may need capital.
We need a multi-pronged strategy to dino-based fuel alternatives, both because we're running out probably a lot sooner than 2212, but more importantly, because they're harmful to the environment. Meanwhile, we're going to need all kinds of alternatives in the short term, including some we can source closer to home--while we're working out long-term strategies that can hopefully eliminate environment-harming practices like combustion engines. And we should certainly not wait until 200 years from now to find those alternatives.
BTW, "politics" comes from the Greek words for city and citizens. We may be in the business of technology, but we are also citizens, and must make rational and sensible decisions about our resources.
Wow. I didn't realize China's oil company has reached that size. The important thing, as you say, is to pursue a variety of alternative sources for energy. Add to that, greater efficiency and it looks like we're going in the right direction.
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.
One of the best things that can happen over the next few years is real competition between the various sources of fuels, and also the continued emergence of alternative energy sources. With all of the appropriate attention on the energy problem and efficiency, it will be interesting to see happens when/if natural gas and biofuels can begin to compete with fossil fuels. Will be a healthy development, and the sooner the better.
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.
@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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
GlennA, the market has already adjusted to the price of oil, I remember the first, and especially the second, oil shocks. I had small sports cars at the time. They were not relaible, but got great gas mileage (that is not why I bought them). When I had to borrow my father's third car, an old Oldsmobile Delta 88, it was a real problem. It got about a third the gas mileage that my regular commuting car got. I couldn't afford to run it (well I could, but i didn't want to). Cars with those mileage characteristics do not exist any more.
On a more global note, the amount of oil required to produce a dollar of economic output in the US is well below what it was in the 1970s. We also are finding much more oil that we thought existed. The Middle East is the easiest place to pump oil, expect for the turmoil it causes. That will move production elsewhere over time. We have lots more oil than thought. That trend will not change. If you think of how oil is formed, it makes no sense that it is only available in a very limited number of locations. Any replacement for oill will have to be as easy to use. That will take some time, but it will come. How about nuclear batteries? Weren't those talked about at one time?
Is there any concensus on how oil is formed? I looked it up (because I honestly don't know), and one article I read used the phrase "it is a known fact", which immediately makes my BS detector go off.
The article stated:
"The answer to how is oil formed in nature, lies in the two most widely acclaimed theories - biogenic theory and abiogenic theory. So let's see, what these theories have to say."
Then it went on to form a conclusion that it presented as "fact". I don't know how you form a factual conclusion based on two "widely acclaimed theories", but they did it.
How is oil is formed? (this is not a trick question) you made the statement "If you think of how oil is formed" in such a matter of fact way that I felt like the answer should be obvious. When I tried to think of how oil was formed, it wasn't obvious to me, which made me curious.
By the way, I also believe that there is much more oil than we supposedly know about, but I don't have any theory to back it up. If you just do some simple math, if oil were as scarce as we are led go believe, we would have probably never found it in the first place. The "known" oil reserves are somewhere in the vicinity of 10's of cubic miles. When you compare that to the volume of the earth it is a needle in a haystack.
I like the "nuclear battery" idea. I have long thought that nuclear reactors could be scaled down to the size of a baseball if we worked at it.
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.
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