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5 Comments

  1. Gentlemen, another great show. I just have a comment about biodiesel, ethanol, butanol, etc. At one point in your show you say that even a 1% difference in production and consumption leads shortages or gluts (lack of storage) in short order, yet you denigrate the contribution that bio-fuels can make. I don’t think anyone (except one I’ve found) is advocating the complete replacement of fossil fuels with bio-fuels, but they can make a good contribution to reducing the need for foriegn energy sources and exploit existing distribution and transportation infrastructure. We certainly don’t want to rip up the country or stop food production to make bio-fuels, but there is some government subsidized fallow land that could be used, and a lot of crop products which could be used for bio-fuels without problems. Better yet, there is this project: http://www.unh.edu/p2/biodiesel/article_alge.html which advocates using a particular species of algae with about 50% oil content to produce bio-diesel on the Salton Sea in California. This relatively small tract of land could produce quite a lot of bio-diesel.

    Many bio-fuels should be able to compete with petro-fuels on their own merits with the current price per barrel of oil without government subsidies.

    Also, some of the bio-fuels interest me and others because, as I mentioned earlier, I will never have a fission reactor powering my car, although I like your idea of making some larger vehicles, especially ships, nuclear powered. Why on Earth has the US Navy begun going to gas turbines for the fleet and commissioned less nuclear ships? I don’t know about putting reactors on land vessels, like trains though. You’d have to have a heck of a containment vessel with Amtrack’s safety record. Bio-fuels also interest me because even if I had your level of nuclear experience (which I don’t) I couldn’t walk into a bank or get Angel investors and start up my own nuclear plant, but I could license the technology from these guys (http://www.butanol.com/) and start up my own Butanol plant. As you guys said, between nuclear power and bio-fuels, we can nibble at fossil fuels from both ends.

    I agree with your blog entries about the financial feasibility of nuclear plants, however. It’s a large capital investment, but it’s one that is as close to a sure bet as you can get.

  2. PowerPointSamurai:

    Thanks for listening and glad that you liked the show. I am not sure that denigrate is the right word for our views about bio-fuels (with the possible exception of corn based ethanol and its subsidy laden history).

    A better word for our attitude may be honest skepticism and a desire to ensure that it is not viewed as a panacea or a solution. Yes, I agree that a 1% difference in production makes a measurable difference in the market, but if bio-fuels are only competitive at current market prices, they will not do much to drive down the cost or to prevent future increases.

    As I have said before, I am probably going to do some experimentation with biodiesel in my Jetta, now that I have turned over 100,000 miles and am out of even the extended portion of my warranty. Unlike another famous podcaster, however, I have no fancy Jag as my second vehicle.

  3. You are right, denigrated was probably a bit of a strong word choice. Sorry. You are also right that the bio-fuels need to stand on their own merits and not heavy subsidies–although I’d even say that might be more palatable than shipping off boat loads of money to countries like Venezuala, Iran, etc. It may even be more palatable than shipping all that money over to friends, since it will affect the trade balance, and oil is killing us there right now. I have to admit Ethanol has been disappointing me a bit. I run E85 in my work vehicle (actually “encouraged” by policy for some time now) and the loss of fuel efficiency (lower energy density) vs. the lower cost, I come out behind with it at the price points it’s sold at locally. I can provide some numbers to support this if you wish. I do know, however, that ethanol performance would improve quite a bit if vehicles were specifically designed for it, such as higher compression ratio engines, because ethanol and E85 has a higher octane rating than straight gasoline (10% ethanol is used in a lot of parts of the country to boost octane) and can handle higher compression rations. Higher compression ratios translate into more energy recovery from the combustion process, but it also means you would never be able to use regular gasoline again, you’d have to use premium or super or whatever would meet the requirements for your new compression ratio.

    Hybrids are also not quite the solution they are touted to be in some circles. http://www.omninerd.com/2005/11/11/articles/41

    By the way, I wish you luck with the bio-diesel experiment, but I would caution you to wait until the temps are up a bit, because the stuff does gel at a higher temp than regular diesel. I also hear that after burning regular diesel for a long time, the bio-diesel might sweep up stuff in your tank and clog your filters after a few tanks. After that, I hear it’s great.

    I just wish I had a diesel to do this with. I have a boat, and a Durango to pull it. I’ve been evaluating the Jeep Liberty CRD to replace the Durango, but alas, it might not fit the whole crew and cargo I need when I take the boat out–it is charitable to say it seats 5. I read that Jeep may release a CRD Grand Cherokee, which might fit the bill.

  4. RE: PowerPointSamuri’s comment

    >

    & why bother? We already have nuclear powered trains anywhere that nuclear is a significant part of the electricity supply & trains run off electricity from an overhead line or third rail.

    Using nuclear generated electricity to run trains is going to look better & better as oil gets more expensive & the evidence for CO2 induced climate change accumulates.

    Even though I work in the oil patch, reserving fossil fuel use for mobile machinery like cars, bulldozers & farm tractors looks like a good idea.

  5. Atomic is fine if we can agree on the disposal problem. The new plants just off the drawing boards are a far cry from the TMI types. And I lived 15 miles away when THAT event took place, so I’m not predisposed toward nuclear. Also we need to curb our appetites. Why do we need a 2 tone vehicle to get a loaf of bread or drop a kid off somewhere? Conservation still has a long way to go. Regarding oil, the buzz seems to be that diesels will make a big comeback around 2008. Newly developing emission controls will be in place and there should be a dramatic increase in mpgs.

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