I was surprised to see that we didn't already have a thread dedicated to this subject. Let's share accounts of ways to create energy that are already off the drawing board and on the way to our daily lives.
Turning algae into fuel certainly qualifies. The algae can also be made into various kinds of oils for other purposes. Making algae is extremely low-tech, so a source of income for people with otherwise unusable land.
Just define for me 'viable'. And 'alternatives'. Energy I understand.
Viable as in able to be mass produced? Viable, as it works but is inefficient? Viable as it wont upset too many people? Alternative as not being coal/oil/nuclear? Solar? Water? Wind? What parameters have you got?
Broadly, alternative as in other than a petroleum product or other current sources that are either dwindling or potentially dangerous.
Viable as in able to be produced easily, economically, and with a minimum of waste product &/or pollution. And of course something that would perform as well or better than whatever it purported to replace. Also, viable in the sense that I stated in the OP -- ready or almost ready to be put into production in the very near future.
The best available alternatives are solar, geothermal, wind/wave/tidal and nuclear.
Solar has the potential alone to literally replace oil as an energy source in the US, but it means building solar collection infrastructure in the desert SW on a scale that many people will find alarming, particularly environmentalists/wildlife advocates/NIMBYs. But it is technically feasible and requires little in the way of assuming new tech will be developed.
Geothermal is massively untapped as well in the US although tapping into it requires pumping large quantities of water down into deep drillings and a little known side effect is local earthquakes. Cue the Eco-W-NIMBY choruses again. They will be heard.
Wind/wave and tidal power can be a significant contributor but again, environmentalists/wildlife advocates/NIMBYs will have problems with most realistic implementations just as they do with hydro.
Nuclear- the US' nuclear tech is decades behind that online in France or Russia where they have fast-breeder designs that are much more efficient and safer in the generation phase than conventional old-type fission steam plants but tend to produce fissionable U isotopes and/or Plutonium (all of which have potential as fuel for further extraction of heat energy) so there will be disposal and proliferation issues as well as a general public antipathy to nuclear generation that will raise political roadblocks.
Biofuels are looking less promising by the day, but one single breakthrough (probably an economical technology for converting cellulose to methanol or ethanol) could change that. But that's a huge if.
So really the biggest obstacles to- at least in the US case- energy and oil independence are likely to be political rather than technical in nature. And to really see the actual upsides in the maths, one has to view the US military as it really is- a publicly financed trillion dollar a year security guarantor for multinational oil companies- rather than as it is advertised but isn't- a protector of freedoms, homeland and democracy.
There's a lot of perception issues to overcome, a lot of domestic grassroots political opposition, a necessary rethinking of America's strategic military place in the world, and not least many extremely politically influential interests in the form of entrenched energy companies with incalculable political influence and almost the entirety of Eisenhower's politically integrated Military Industrial Complex who all stand to be big losers. That's a lot of big political hurdles to jump over to get there.
It may simply not be possible given the oil multinationals' and arms manufacturers immense influence on the US political system to achieve a political consensus on the necessary steps until the oil multinationals have extracted every last dollar that can be milked out of US oil dependency, which is almost the perfect scam.
France is finally taking the leap into large zones of offshore wind turbines as already exist in the North Sea. They have just decided on the locations, so now they will start building the wind farms.
With the obsession about carbon emissions, I don't think much research in Europe is being done on new things to "burn," even though the developing world is still in great need of such items. The algae idea is not bad, especially if the algae has already been used for water purification.
The good thing about nuclear energy is that it is a lot of bangs for the buck. It is small in comparison to the energy it produces. The bad thing is disposal. The good thing about fossil fuels is that the ratio between how much land is needed to produce it compared to how much of it there is, is minimal, as it's virtually all underground. The bad thing is the carbon emissions.
As yet, to me, there are no viable alternatives with the same advantage/disadvantage ratio and/or relative ease of production. I define the viability as being how likely are we to take it up to replace what we already have in sufficient quantity. There may come a point where we have no alternative, but in my opinion that is decades upon decades in the future. So far in the future in political terms as to make it not a relative priority for them.
Nothing I've seen pays anything other than lip service to tackling the problem. (More in a minute, the kids are getting up)
We need energy mainly for two things - the production of electricity and the running of internal combustion engines. This is done in various ways and there is an overlap, some power stations run on oil and some vehicles run on electricity. However, electric vehicles are still not the be all and end all as there are still too many downsides to them (battery making using exotic substances and environmental disposal plus storage capacity). Power generation from anything other than nuclear and at the moment fossil fuels take up too much land area and are too inefficient and not cost effective.
One quick point, bear in mind in the algae production above making it in to oil, when it is burnt, don’t you still have the emissions problem as with all carbon based fuel?
Solar power is the only massed produced alternative at the moment, but this again is relatively inefficient and takes up masses of land space. You may argue that there are vast areas with nothing on them, like deserts, where we could put them. But I'd be hesitant to cover half the Sahara to supply the needs of the world when the political situation is now and always has been as it is.
Wind energy is a waste of space, literally, tide and wave energy could be effective but are too awkward to place and maintain, hydroelectric production is very localised, as is geothermal energy - and no matter what you try there is always the point of fumobici of nimbys and eco people.
The world is doomed and I will be taking my family into the woods with several firearms, plenty of MRE’s and a copy of the Mad Max series of films until you’ve sorted it all out.
The good thing about fossil fuels is that the ratio between how much land is needed to produce it compared to how much of it there is, is minimal, as it's virtually all underground. The bad thing is the carbon emissions.
Have you heard about the Alberta oil sand rape extraction process? You would not say that it takes little land. They strip boreal forest off, dig up the oil-containing dirt, use millions of gallons of water in processing it, and leave the spoils. It is about the worst environmental disaster of oil production - short of nuclear accident - you can imagine.
I agree, it is appalling. However in the whole subject of fossil fuels it is minor, though horrendous, part. The point is if you just consider a ratio of, say, how much energy a certain acreage on the surface produces in a comparison between oil/coal and agricultural alternatives, there is far, far less with fossil fuels.
And even though you speak of strip boreal forest off, dig up the oil-containing dirt, use millions of gallons of water in processing it, and leave the spoils. Stripping forest for agriculture is not a new thing, is it? Nor is contamination, from fertilisers. I'm just pointing out that it isn't a unique situation and acre for acre one uses less than the other.
Let me just stick a couple of figures in here. Energy is often measured in 'Joules'('MJ' = mega joules). It's not so important what that denotes, I'm more after showing a comparison.
One kilogram of wood produces about 18 MJ One kilogram of coal produces about 30 MJ One kilogram of sunflower oil produces about 40 MJ One kilogram of diesel produces about 48 MJ One kilogram of Uranium-235 produces about -
Using simple maths, for every kilogram of uranium you need over six thousand acres of sunflowers continually producing oil to get the same energy output.
I'm not saying I love nuclear power. I am saying it's a hard act to follow for mainstream electric production. Oil from plants or algae for the running of engines is another thing entirely. It has to come and I think algae will be the way to go as it seems to produce a far greater energy benefit by producing more oil per kg or acre or whatever than plants.
Fast forward to two hundred years in the future. Vast areas are used to produce oil from algae. Water wars have been fought to secure supplies to feed the algae fields. Only three strains of algae have shown to be able to produce enough oil.
A flash message originating somewhere in the middle east after being diverted around many countries arrives at the offices of the New York Times. They pass it on to another paper that actually reports the news rather than having 99% of it taken up by adverts and it is then taken up by CNN, now owned by the Hilton family after a takeover generations before by one Paris Hilton who wanted sole rights to having her dreary boring feckless life publicised.
Instantaneous reporting is passed via sensors built in to buildings, road signs, bus shelters straight to either your personal communication device which alerts you of an incoming message (which you find after going through many layers of spam adverts) or immediately is flashed before your eyes through a digital implant in your contact lenses (a bit like a "HUD" display).
The message reads "We are an organisation in possession of a virus that will kill all the algae producing oil. There is no defence to it and it will be deployed in the next 24 hours unless our demands are met. We demand the Great Satan remove its entire military from any other country in the world and return to base. We demand all so called terrorist prisoners be released from their jails and flown to their home countries. We demand this not only of China but the Satan in Waiting, India” Signed – G.W. Bush c/o The Triangle (formerly the Pentagon, but due to an economic downturn large parts of it have been sold to fast food franchises).
I have always been skeptical of oil being taken out of our earth. Of course I completely understand the necessity of it and that we would not have what we do today without it but...
I think of the Earth as a completed puzzle. Over time we have been slowly taken pieces away from the puzzle, from the top (ozone layer), from under the ocean (oil and steam), out of the rock (ore), and out of the core (oil/coal).
Think of the earth as a balloon, stick a straw in it and start sucking out air. What happens, it weakens and collapses. Continually sucking out oil, coal and ore, is this not going to eventually leave empty pockets all over the earth and weaken the very structure of it. Digging deep holes to take oil, coal and ore, they leave empty pockets do they not.
Some may be amused at my thoughts on the subject. I have nothing to substantiate them, no higher education in this area, these are just the thoughts of a regular lady wondering what are we doing. I think harnessing the wind, water and sun seems like a safer idea. Mich
Yes Kerouac. But these are unlikely to supply the world in general as they were a private enterprise set up between BYD (Build Your Dreams) of Shenzhen and Mahindra of Aishwarya Rai (formally Mumbai, formerly Bombay, now called after an Indian actress) and are unlikely to save the civilised world (centred around Oaxaca, Mexico after years of efforts by a local female inhabitant who was instrumental in setting up the world famous Anyport website which took the world by storm and reached out to the masses in terms of cultural content) and the uncivilised world (centred on Paris after a local male inhabitant had completely the opposite effect due to focusing too much on fashion photography).
Am I boring you yet? Have you noticed I find this thread quite interesting? Anyway, here is something else to think about -
Oil will run out, yes? When? 30 to 40 years? Saudi Arabia, which is the biggest oil producer, supplies just over 1 million barrels per day to the USA. In reserves, apparently proven reserves, it has 260 billion barrels.
A simplistic calculation to give a scale to this thing is that Saudi Arabia can continue to supply the USA at the same rate for the next 712 years.
The USA consumes about 20 million barrels of oil per day, for everything. If it is cut off from world supply, according to what its reserves are, and maintaining the same consumption, it can only supply itself for the next 1122 days.
The ridiculous part was brilliant, Mark. However tongue-in-cheek, though, your vision of a crucial supplier holding countries in hostage is pretty accurate here in the present.
It's probable that a certain dependence on petroleum products will continue. But even supposing that the oil-rich nations were completely benevolent and the nations buying from them would never do anything nasty in order to lay hands on those oil reserves, it's wise to explore other avenues as well.
The article about Drax is really interesting, not only in its use of an alternate fuel, but in raising awareness that the public can have its cake (electricity) and eat it too (in the form of less CO2 to produce it).
Saudi Arabia suspects that its reserves are not as big as it once thought. Of course, "proven" reserves are only a speculation anyway. Not to mention the fact the nobody doing the original calculations ever thought that China and India would start consuming so much energy so fast.
Reading the below on a wikipedia article on peat en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peat I can already imagine Malaysia selling its peat and then being flooded. yippie another ecological catastrophe!
"Many peat swamps along the coast of Malaysia serve as a natural means of flood mitigation. The peat swamps serve like a natural form of water catchment whereby any overflow will be absorbed by the peat. However, this is effective only if the forests are still present, since they prevent peat fires."
Dans les grandes choses, les hommes se montrent comme il leur convient de se montrer; dans les petites, ils se montrent comme ils sont.
I watched a wonderful hour of David Suzuki and his daughter visiting Denmark for alternative energy sources this weekend.
They visited the coastline where there were hundreds of new state of the art windmills. While many people dislike the view, I welcomed their harnessing the wind to create the energy their country needs. They have no oil resources, therefore, 100% would be imported. They have decided to utilize what resource they have, wind.
There also was a field full of mirrors, not solar panels, mirrors to harness the energy from the sun. The field glistened like diamonds. I found the program educational and beautiful. Mich
I should mention for those who do not know who Dr. David Suzuki is. He is a Geneticist with a B.A. in Biology and a Ph.D. in Zoololigy. A world leader in sustainable ecology and has educated the public for over 40 years as an award-winning scientist, environmentalist, broadcaster and author.
He has had a long running series in Canada called "The Nature of Things". He is a "Social Activist". He also is currently employed by the University of British Columbia, Professor Emeritus. If you google him you will find he is quite an accomplished man with many useful solutions to viable energy alternatives. Cheers, Mich