Alternative Energy -- Part One

2001-10-20 16:14:00

Wow, Rick. Run a car on music? I have to admit that is one that I have not heard of before. The principle you describe sounds accurate though.

If I ruled the world I'd give you a grant and see what you'd come up with. It would be interesting.

Dehara's article on blacklight power also sounded interesting. I hope to find out more about it.

Rob gave an interesting site on alternative fuels at:

Brian also gave good references and made the excellent point that instead of threatening the oil industry with extinction that they should be encouraged to shift some of their attention to alternative fuels so they will not go out of business when we make the shift.

The bottom line is that big business must eventually take an interest in alternative fuels to make them a success.

Who would have thought a few years ago that Honda, Mazda, Mercedes Benz, Ford and other giants would take an interest in innovative engines that may do away with oil? They are today and investing billions in the endeavor.

Let us look at the pros and cons of other alternatives in the mix in present time.

Alcohol -- Larry brought up the fact that we do use limited alcohol made from farm produce which is mixed with gasoline. There is a big push for this in Idaho in support of the farm economy. They mix 10% alcohol and 90% petroleum and call it ethanol in this area -- gasohol in others.

The advantages of ethanol are that it burns cleaner than regular gas and reduces our dependence on oil. Some claim that it reduces pollutants and carbon within the engine extending its life. There seems to be no disadvantage...


I talked to a mechanic a while back who told me what he thought was a major problem that most are not aware of. He said that because it burns hotter than regular gasoline that it causes the o-rings to harden causing engine problems. He told me that if I wanted to get maximum mileage out of my engine to not use it often. He said using it one tank out of ten may be useful to keep your engine clean, but do not use it regularly.

Another major drawback is that the creation of ethanol requires the energy contained in a gallon of alcohol plus an additional 48% to produce a gallon of this fuel. In other words it takes one and a half times more energy to produce ethanol than the burning of it will yield. Chances are this energy requirement will come from coal which is one of the highest pollutants. This discounts the pollution advantages from the ethanol, making it possibly worse than oil -- all things considered.

The one indisputable advantage, however, is that it reduces our need for foreign oil and helps our farmers survive.

Solar Power -- As far as being a clean energy solar power is a definite improvement over oil or coal. Some see it as free energy and completely pollution free, but this is not quite so.

Producing the materials (vast quantities of steel, glass, and concrete) for deployment of a solar hardware requires about 3% as much coal burning as producing the same amount of electricity by direct coal burning.

In addition to this, solar panels often use cadmium compounds which are very poisonous and must be replaced and disposed of periodically.

The greatest pollution problem is space and this item alone will prevent standard solar energy from ever supplying more than a couple percent of our energy needs.

Consider this:

If we could convert 100% of the sun's energy into electricity, a square foot of land at the equator would supply enough energy to light a 125 watt light bulb. But then if we take the night time the variable weather into consideration we would only have enough for a 22 watt bulb. The big problem is that we can only convert about 10% of this into energy so this reduces the power to 2.2 watts. Finally, if we move our solar collector to a more probable location in the United States the power is reduced to less than one watt.

To build a solar energy plant equal to the power of a typical coal burning one of a billion watt capacity then would occupy a space of 50 square miles.

To even come close to supplying our energy needs we would need about 500 plants which would require (figuring maintenance roads and access) 25,000 square miles of ground which is equal to the surface area of Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and New Jersey combined.

On this ground there could be no farming, no fishing, no hunting, no camping etc. and would be a great eyesore on the environment.

It is true we may have a breakthrough in energy conversion, but even if efficiency doubled from 10% to 20% it would remain impractical as a large scale energy source.

Another problem is that in large population centers (New York, Boston, and Chicago) where the greatest amount of energy is needed, the amount of sun available is much less and transporting electricity from solar power over long distances is impractical and involves large energy loss.

And Great Britain and other northern nations are out of the question. It would take about half of the surface area of that country to supply power through solar means. If you ever lived there you would understand.

The main reason there is not greater proliferation of solar power is the cost. Each watt created by solar power just costs more than those produced by coal, oil, nuclear or natural gas. Believe me, if it was cheap the power companies would be taking it seriously.

Over 20 years ago, however, I heard an idea for harnessing solar energy which I thought sounded very practical as an alternative, but have not heard a mention of it since and cannot find anything about it on the internet. It goes like this:

The most efficient solar collector available is right under our noses produced by nature. This is the giant sunflower plant. These flourish in the hot sun, grow very quickly and store a high percentage of the sun's power.

The idea was to grow large fields of these plants in sun rich areas of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and other Southern states. After they are mature we would then harvest and dry them. The dried sun flowers would then be taken to a specially built power plant and burned for fuel to be turned into electricity.

The advantages over coal here are numerous:

I could live with the deserts of Arizona being covered with sunflowers much more easily than a five state area being covered with solar panels.

If anyone has any knowledge of internet, or other sources of sunflower power information, please share that with us.

-- End Of Part One --


Go To:

Alternative Energy - Part Two

Ten Deceptions of Nuclear & Alternative Energy (Article Index)

Global Warming Enlightenment (Article Index)