Robert Rapier posted a guest essay on R-Squared Energy Blog, yesterday 8 January 2008. I credit Mr. Rapier on his boldness to post this essay and pass my admiration to his guest Stephen DuVal. The essay and its introductory letter are posted in full at R-Squared Energy Blog. I was a little taken aback by Mr. Rapier’s limited comments, and the thin agreement with some matters Mr. DuVal raises. As with most essay work the expected depth of opinion of the essay offers a lot of hard information for the premises. I’ll deal with those after you look at the essay. It’s just a tad long, and gets to beating on the green folks towards the end with some really hard truths, and as Mr. Rapier says “unnecessarily inflammatory.” But hey, that’s what makes it fun and entertaining – to slap the truth a bit!

“Energy Independence, A Construction Project Rather Than a Research Project”

The nice thing about the truth is it only needs to show the facts instead of explaining them. As Mr. Rapier points out the opening paragraphs are a little inflammatory, and the facts support the opinion Mr. DuVal sets forth. Mr. DuVal offers the nuclear effort in France and the ethanol production in Brazil with mandated flex fuel vehicles as the foundation of his theme. All fine, but the facts can be seen quite differently; the notion that France is content and expanding the nuclear generating isn’t so, for a wide range of good reasons. The flex fuel matter is a truth, but the simple $100 change misses a bunch other matters in building vehicles to include methanol in the mix. Combining the attributes of methanol, ethanol and gasoline isn’t just as simple a substituting the injectors and a computer reprogram. There are many materials issues to be worked out, capacities of the tank, problems with filters and filter media, effects of temperature in which vehicles operate and many more details. It can be done, but $100 isn’t going to cover it. That’s not to say it shouldn’t be done, rather the facts offer another view that should include engineering to cover the whole range of likely fuels from simple gasoline to synthetics, on to methanol up to at least butanol. It is one of my concerns that auto and light duty trucks, SUVs, Vans and so forth are not being sold now with the assurance that they can or can be cheaply modified to cover a wide range of fuel choices over the coming years.

The next point worthy of a highly positive note is Mr. DuVal discussing the matter of hydrogen storage answered by using methanol as a substitute for hydrogen. I was bowled over by the comment that “There is more hydrogen in a gallon of methanol at room temperature than in a gallon of liquid hydrogen at –400 degrees F.” That makes gasoline double that and diesel another 15% again. This has to help put the awl bidness, the ethanol business and the algae investors at ease. Sure, methanol is a fine way to carry hydrogen, so is anhydrous ammonia, and they both pose interesting and incompatible problems. While the discussion seems final, it certainly is not. Yet, the reality is that the hydrogen economy is coming, but carbon is far from being outside of the calculation, and will most likely be a part for centuries to come.

Another worthy point “is first drive the price of oil and natural gas down . . .” I’m with that, but a massive jump to methanol isn’t a practical path. There isn’t enough natural gas for the methanol production, nor could we compel the current customers to pitch their current investments overboard and buy something entirely new without a huge economic dislocation. Passing a law might well be an answer, but it has to be the least practical one imaginable.

Now I am part of the cabal of people who have concluded that the winding down of fossil fuels is inevitable. I foresee with certainty that electrical generation and distribution with a new business class of electrical or energy storage will get on track. I readily acknowledge that carbon will play a role in portable fuels, whether from oil or from biofuels or from biomass formed by agriculture for the carbon recycling and recapture processed with hydrogen, however the most economic means may be, into synthetic fuels.

I do not see a future with uranium and plutonium as realistic. Thorium fission is a better, cheaper, safer choice. The Bussard or Rostoker, Lerner and even “cold fusion” are better alternatives that need continued development. To commit now to what would be a trillion dollar commitment to uranium fueled reactors would, eventually be a disaster. With wind turbines, ocean wave, photovoltaic, thermal solar and now frequencyvoltaic installing now or in development, a single source decision would eliminate competitive drives to lower costs. Count me out and willing to fight over this. The drive to higher efficiency and lower costs is just getting started and it’s the most important part of all.

The most salient and worthy point that Mr DuVal offers is a fact in the theme of the essay. An effort to get out from under the costs and risks of importing so much fuel and energy supplies from cultural and political regimes of low, inhuman, and authoritarian qualities is a point he discusses with urgency. I agree, all free people everywhere need to take this matter much more seriously.

The “West,” the civilizations that offer the world the inventiveness, innovation, and creativity; the source of development, tolerance, and inclusiveness, and the leadership in human freedom have the problems Mr. DuVal offers so concisely. Nevertheless, history has shown and we in the west are moving now to solve these problems because so many of us recognize the opportunities within the problems. It may take a generation to find the top solutions, but along the way the west will grow, prosper, and get further ahead of the nations relying on selling energy and fuel supplies priced in distorted markets.

It doesn’t matter in the end if its “peak oil” or some religious fascism, global warming or another cause, mankind is stepping into a much higher energy use phase and it will not be stopped. For consumers the question is how to get the most for the lowest cost, for suppliers it is how to make or preserve markets. The war is on, let’s be sure the best solutions win.


4 Comments so far

  1. M. Simon on January 9, 2008 8:52 AM


    One of your very best.


  2. M. Simon on January 10, 2008 2:09 AM

    WB-7 First Plasma

    The world has just changed. Cheap fusion is on the way. About 5 years.

  3. The Four “Salvation” Themes of Energy and Fuel on January 10, 2008 6:02 AM

    […] Yesterday’s post about Stephen DuVal’s salvation scenario based in fission offers the notion that other connections of technologies can solve the energy and fuel demand questions. […]

  4. Raul on January 10, 2008 11:24 AM

    Good post. Glad to see people working on solutions. Also note that Rapier often posts essays from readers – even when he doesn’t agree with them. That’s one thing I like about him – he is objective and lets people speak their mind.

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