Dr. Stephen Chu, Noble Prize winner and Secretary of Energy, talked about solving the energy crisis. His main focus was on climate change, but he also made a brief mention about a future struggle for conventional oil, which is why China is modernizing its army. He believes we are developing solar power with nanotechnology to replace the high carbon footprint electricity generation methods like coal power plants. Cellulosic alcohol looks promising as a carbon neutral fuel for transportation.
He believes we may sustainably grow enough biomass in the United States to replace half to all the liquid fuel for our cars without reducing food production. About 58 million acres of land is not being cultivated because the United States government is paying farmers to not use their own land. He believes farmers can grow weed grasses like switch grass or miscanthus on that land, without using any water or fertilizer. Those weeds need very little water to grow, and have bacteria near their roots that can fix nitrogen. Because is already a weed, you do not need herbicides. If butanol is made instead of the ethanol that dominates today, that fuel can be transported with pipeline instead of the trucks we must move ethanol now. Some scientist like David Pimentel say that we consume more energy creating ethanol than ethanol provides.The main challenge is the development of cost effective bioreactors, which we can do with genetic engineering.
What he didn't say in his talk was how affordable this change is. Car maker need to make a few modifications to engines to make them flex fuel, at about US $ 100. If you wanted to modify you car so handle E85 fuel, it would cost about US $ 300. I got those figures from Set America Free, a non-profit organization that wants to end the importance of oil as a strategic commodity.
However, as promising as this future technology is, I believe we should still conserve as the main focus to counteract the problem of Peak Oil. We should discourage buying SUVs, or cars in general. We need to make walking and biking viable alternatives; we must reverse the suburban sprawl that made cars such a dominant form of transportation in American culture. These scientists and engineers could be wrong in their optimism; President Nixon declared a War on Cancer in the 1970's because he believed it could be won in that decade. Scientists at that time believed that all cancers were cause by viral infections that could be prevented by the creation of the appropriate vaccines. The recent downturn in American petroleum consumption happened because gasoline cost over four dollars a gallon and many people had lost their jobs. Gasoline is dirt cheap again, and after more people become employed, Americans will waste oil in crazy ways again.
Dr. Stephen Chu speaks with intelligence, optimism, and humor. This is over an hour, but is worth the investment in time:
[Use link above to continue reading]