Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Bush Call For Energy Independence Fails To Take Note Of Problems With Alternate Power Sources For Automobiles

It might appear to be a populist effort for Mr. Bush to act as a champion for efforts to develop alternate energy sources for automobiles and reduce the U.S. dependence on foreign oil. For some this many be seen as extrordinary for a Texas oilman to be discussing efforts to alter the oil consumption industry. Yet there are many sobering facts that are not often publicly discussed.

For whatever excitement than Mr. Bush has created about ethanol, hydrogen fuel cells or even biodiesel, serious problems remain with each technology.

For example, Toyota strongly feels that fuel cell automobiles which use hydrogen are unlikely to be viable due to serious problems, and see the hybrid, gas-electric automobiles as the most dominant automobile power source types in the near future. Toyota is pinning their hopes mainly on these type of automobiles and are spending little in cash to explore the fuel cell technology automobiles. On the other hand, GM, which is severely cash strapped and is facing plant closings and job layoffs is the main U.S. corporation exploring hydrogen fuel cell automobiles. Besides temperature storage problems with hydrogen, there are temperature concerns where cold weather tends to destroy sensitive membranes used in the conversion process with fuel cell experiments. This has led to $1 billion dollars in mainly unsuccessful experiments by GM, instead of development of automobiles that could compete better with high selling import models right now.

And ethanol and biodiesel both currently involve the need for more energy to produce the fuels than the fuels themselves will produce.

For now, only biodiesel made at home from old french fry oil discarded from fast food businesses has proven viable as a cheap source of alternate fuel.

Using old french fry soybean or vegetable oil, some homemade or purchased units allow for home production of biodiesel where a chemical conversion process using methanol and lye is used. First a minibatch must be created to judge the pH level of the soybean oil, and the amount of lye and methanol required for the chemical conversion process. This minibatch experiment takes the better part of a day. Then once the pH is determined, then calculations are required to determine how much lye and methanol are then used in the chemical conversion.

The lye forces some molecules from the soybean oil to attach to the methanol molecules, and then harmless and nontoxic glycerine drops to the bottom of the processing tank as harmless waste than can be used as liquid handsoap, or boiled into bar soap. The resulting top mixture in the main processing tank is a fuel that is usable in any diesel powered engine and produces less pollution than normal diesel, but is not cost effective for large scale corporate production.

The problem is that ethanol and biodiesel both involve far more in energy output than they produce for large makers to profit from. This makes no economic sense to them or to serious scientists unless this can be changed somehow. And fuel cell powered automobiles have proven to largely be failures with GM experiments. Only foreign maker, Volkswagon has expressed some interest in biodiesel, but they are also financially challenged. Toyota has seen many years of wise judgement. Their opinions on hybrid technology rather than fuel cell or other alternate energy automobiles may well be correct.

Unless some significant breakthroughs in technology can make any of these alternate energy sources cost effective and viable, then these are merely dreams that can only be fulfilled by small experiments or by high school or college kid experiments for science fairs or small time alternate energy events.


Post a Comment

<< Home