Hippies need not apply

I feel it necessary to once again delve into the political forum, though the topic is at its heart a scientific one. Alternative energy has become such a BS thing in recent years. People have this idea that there is some technology out there that will allow us to make energy from water, air, moon rocks or whatever that will revolutionize the world and let us all drive hummers guilt free. There is no perfect solution out there and their never will be. I think the public by and large needs to really start thinking critically about solutions that are presented and realize that energy must come from somewhere and that things that are inherently low energy...will not just produce it spontaneously given the right circumstances, it just violates fundamental laws of physics. That last point falls on deaf ears more often than one might think, I saw a documentary on PBS about the "energy crisis" and some environmentalist claimed that the oil companies were keeping down technology that would allow us to run cities on sea water. I know it seems great that there is this possibility that we could do this but it all hinges on a specific process called electrolysis. That is, you split a water molecule (H20) into its component parts and separate them, hydrogen and oxygen. This makes a hydrogen fuel cell, you can either put them into a battery and make electricity or you can burn the two gasses and make heat and reform the water. Up until now it all seems great until you remember that first law of thermodynamics, or maybe you don't remember it: "energy is neither created nor destroyed." For those mechanical or civil engineers out there reading this post who struggled through thermo...I know thats not the actual law but thats the point of it. Anyways, when you look back to the beginning the process of splitting the water requires a tremendous amount of energy that is equal to the amount of energy that you could potentially reclaim at the end. The problem lies in that no energy conversion is 100% efficient, you always lose energy in the form of heat or light or sound or something but it never all goes where you want it to. Thus, we actually lose energy through hydrogen fuel cells. Ethanol is a different story, in that it is perhaps a true alternative fuel. Up until recently however this was not so in that it took more energy to produce ethanol than the energy you got out of it but now plants are better and genetically engineered strains are helping too. The only other problem with ethanol is cost. I read an EPA report that said that ethanol raising the price of food was unfounded because they don't use sweet corn and that the corn they use currently only goes into sweeteners. Once again, this sounds great until you look a little further. Sweet corn is the most commonly consumed corn on the dinner plates of american and world wide but one must understand that every time you buy a coke...that "high fructose corn syrup" comes from this second variety of corn and that syrup is what ferment into ethanol. So, the price of everything with HFCS would go up concordantly. I can see my environmentalist friends ( I know some of you are saying, "there is no way he has environmentalist friends," but i do) shaking their collective heads and saying so what's your solution smart ass? Well, I like biogas, geothermal, and hydroelectric power production. Biogas technology essentially collects the methane being naturally emitted from animal waste, landfills, and swamps and burns it to produce energy. In this case, all the energy conversion is being done by bacteria without any additional being supplied by us so the energy balance is positive in our favor. Some of you with a background in chemistry are probably saying but that produces CO2 and Al gore said that the world is going to turn into a desert/flood-plain/tundra/worst case scenario inserted here if we don't curb our CO2 emissions. What he didn't tell you is that methane is a 20x more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 and so we are actually helping the situation by removing that and converting it to CO2. Geothermal is also pretty cool, they use it in Iceland and because of that they have free electric power there. You can't use it everywhere but if we used it everywhere that it was possible to use then just imagine the possibilities. Anyways, this has been a long post and so while I could go on for quite a bit longer on the intricacies of these, I will end here. Patrick OUT!

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