Tag Archives: green energy

Biofuels: Starving the World?

Biofuels are a stepping stone to sustainable energy. Since biofuels still run on with internal combustion engines, it’s an excellent transition away from fossil fuels. The biofuel ethanol is made from corn, consuming great quantities for cars designed for it. However, the drought that has plagued midwestern states in North America have created widespread crop damage. The corn loss drives up food prices.  This was an issue before and it’s an official UN issue now, which I believe to be important in drawing attention to the flaws of ethanol.

In the article above, the UN director of Food and Agricultural Organization urges the U.S. to ease biofuel production for fear that there will be a food crisis. Now the UN really doesn’t hold significant power and functions more as an official mouthpiece for the world community. Most people tend to cite incidents like Rwanda and Iran to disparage their influence. However, it is an official global voice that can’t be easily dismissed.

This may be the first time in human history where we’re afraid of feeding more corn to machines than to actual human beings. It sounds absurd enough to be the plot of a sci-fi b-movie. The unfortunate truth is that we are facing the distinct possibility of a food shortage with this summer’s droughts.  Food is going to rise at least 6% in price. 6% doesn’t sound like much but remember that this accumulates similar to gas costs. With this potential food crisis on the horizon, I think it is important that we start recognizing the limitations of ethanol. The simple truth is that ethanol is not done in its technological journey. One of the biggest concerns of ethanol in the U.S. is the use of land in growing corn as it damages soil in the long term. Also, the amount of carbon dioxide produced is uncertain as there are mixed claims of ethanol cars producing more CO2 and corn fields absorbing enough to make up for the excess.

I’m not disparaging the advances on biofuels because these miraculous innovations are a fantastic transition away from fossil fuel cars and toward a more sustainable future. Right now, ethanol has a lot of valid criticisms at the moment. I point out these problems because critics would try to discourage biofuel advances with ethanol’s issues. I am insisting that we give the technology more time to mature and if we have to halt ethanol production to avoid a food shortage, so be it. But we shouldn’t use this as impetus to come to a screeching halt in advancing the technology. It’s only a speed bump and we’ll be over it shortly.


Sunny Side Up

What is the most under appreciated thing in your life? If you said your mom, you’re right. If you said electricity, you’re even more right.

Not that Right.

Electricity is something of a miracle in both modern life and a purely scientific sense, but it’s so commonplace that we’ve simply accepted it. However, even if the average person doesn’t contemplate their outlet, other people do. Well, more specifically, researchers at the University of Berkeley and U.S. Department of Energy do. These fantastic (and likely under appreciated) people have pioneered a way for solar cells to be made from any semiconductor, such as relatively cheap metal oxides or phosphides. This is a tremendous step forward to sustainability.

Metal oxides and phosphides were previously too unstable to be used. Also, the chemical treatment that could stabilize them was so cost ineffective that it was better to use existing rare and expensive semiconductors like silicon or cadmium telluride.

So why is this a big deal?

For environmental enthusiasts, this means that solar panels can be created at a far cheaper rate and going off grid has become easier. For political people, it means an opening has been made to reduce demand for rare earth materials from China. For everybody else, it means potentially cheaper, renewable energy. Renewable energy is the thousand dollar prize here and what’s more renewable than a 4.5 billion year old ball of nuclear fire?

All State and Dennis Haysbert: Together again

Source: WordPress

Your car insurance?

Solar energy is usually derided for not being cost-effective and that’s because it’s expensive to build solar panels and the resultant conversion of light to useful energy barely ever touches more than 30%. However, solar panels are still being researched alongside its far more popular cousin, the combustion engine. Combustion engines are still being worked on to improve fuel efficiency because despite more than a century of development, the full potential energy of a gallon of gas isn’t being tapped, which is dangerously wasteful given that we have only so much oil and so many automobiles. With this in mind, detractors should give solar panels time to mature as they do with the combustion engine. Renewable energy is not just about reducing reliance on fossil fuels but also about planning for sustainability. In essence, I am talking about the long game where every human being from this point on will be playing in. Billions upon billions of people that we may never see but will forever affect.

So let’s appreciate this step forward as much as we do our mothers.