Alternative Energy Sources | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 86 Issue 22 | p. 7, 9, 11 | Letters
Issue Date: June 2, 2008

Alternative Energy Sources

Department: Letters

It's interesting to me that everyone has turned into bean counters when it comes to evaluating energy alternatives. News flash: In times of scarcity, things become more expensive. Looking back at the early days of petroleum and associated technologies, one finds they weren't considered economical for that time in history. At issue wasn't the common man commuting to work or goods being delivered to market that supported early automotive technologies so much as it was some rich folks getting new toys. Probably some folks were scratching their heads wondering why someone would choose an expensive automobile using what was then scarce gasoline over a cheap horse and why we should allow the diversion of important resources like iron to individual transportation.

Now we should expect new technologies to hit the ground running as the cheapest thing going? Isn't that a narrow analysis and a little unrealistic? And just because an energy source also happens to be edible, should that determine whether it is used? Food prices are going up for quite a few reasons in addition to using corn to make ethanol, one of which is the increasing price of petroleum. That may get us to where the lesser evil may be to make ethanol from corn.

The shift to alternative energy sources will require more complex analysis than focusing on one or two specific issues. If one person is worried about fertilizers for growing energy crops polluting rivers and oceans and someone else doesn't like the idea of tearing down the Rocky Mountains to go after shale oil, how do we reconcile those two issues? Someone needs to look down the road on a systems-analysis basis and determine what factor or factors will trump everything else, maybe climate change, maybe the nonnegotiable energy requirements to maintain the stability of modern society. Then we can get to where we need to go by shaking out of the analysis the best solutions based on competing technological and environmental requirements.

In the meantime, if they can't see it for themselves as a status symbol, why don't we "persuade" anyone with more than "x" million dollars of net worth to get off the grid? Maybe give them one year to do it and then we cut off their power? Repossess their gas vehicles and require that they replace them with electric ones of some kind? They can afford any of the current solutions without blinking an eye, and the money they spend will kick-start the development of these products. It's probably not the "American Way," but tough times require tough solutions.

Stanley D. Young
Fort Collins, Colo.

I keep reading letters and articles about biofuels consuming more energy than they produce. Not one of those articles or letters has included or taken into account the by-products left over from the distillation process that is used as animal feed. Most of the corn grown in the U.S. is fed to livestock, so are we to assume that the by-products from biofuels, such as distillers' dry grains, have zero energy? Or is it left out of the energy equation to make biofuels look bad?

Ralph Anders
Greeley, Colo.

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