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Fuel for Thought: Cars and Trucks and Things That Go

I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the feasiblity of ethanol as a gasoline replacement. Two things always struck me as major problems with the idea:

  1. We’d still be using petroleum based fertilizers to grow the the plants used to create the ethanol. Would the required dramatic increase of fertilizer use (and the energy used to create that fertilizer) be fully offset by the reduction of petroleum used in our tanks?
  2. It would take a heck of a lot of land do produce these crops. Do we really have the land to spare, and can enough farmland be converted to energy production without negatively impacting our food supply?

Besides that, I’ve doubted whether the economic incentive was there to switch. As energy sources go, it’s always been a pretty safe assumption that oil was the cheapest option. And Detroit’s recent enthusiasm for ethanol seems to be rooted more in damage control and a desire to preserve the status quo for the internal combustion engine than out of real concern for the environment or the political ramifications of importing oil from the Middle East.

I take it back.

This presentation makes a really convincing case for ethanol, and addresses all of my previous criticisms. My only real remaining concern for the viability of a switch to ethanol is the enormous financial and political clout held by the petroleum economy.

The really cool thing about the idea is that it can all be done with existing technology, and only modest changes in infrastructure. And it would require virtually no changes in consumer behavior. In fact, we already have a model for the switch: Brazil has already done it.

Seriously, this presentation is really intriguing. It’s an hour long, but it’s worth it even if you only watch the first 10 minutes. This really could be a win-win for just about everyone except the oil companies (that recently made the biggest profits in the history of profits) and a few despotic nations in the Middle East and Africa.

Click here to see what I’m talking about.

PS – Enterprising “do-it-yourselfers” in the Appalachians have been making ethanol for over a century. It’s called moonshine.

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