The government and alternative energy

The government and alternative energy

Isn’t it wonderful that we have both state and federal governments to do our thinking for us? I don’t know what I’d do without their help, but I would certainly like to find out.

The Federal Department of Energy (DOE) recently released its second Quadrennial Technology Review. Amongst the political babble about how we are producing more, newer and better alternate sources of energy, I found absolutely no mention of geothermal or hydroelectric sources of energy. Of course, there was also no mention of a national energy policy. The report did, however, mention that climate change (notice how they quit using the term “global warming” when ambient temperatures began to decrease) was the most important threat to our nation’s future. Really? Not wars? I’m glad the government cleared that up for me.

Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz also mentions that he supports President Obama’s request to double U.S. energy production by 2030. The DOE even developed a detailed road map of how this can be accomplished. Of course, the energy production figures used for the baseline were for 2010, perhaps the U.S.’s lowest energy production level in this decade.

I find this all to be quite hilarious, since we currently have an energy surplus—that’s why crude oil prices are so low. Energy production numbers will always be linked to energy consumption, unless the DOE and President Obama intend to somehow repeal the law of supply and demand.

California Air Resources Board (CARB) also recently re-adopted its Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) that requires a 10% reduction in the carbon intensity of transportation (no mention of stationary) fuels by 2020. Good luck with that. What about stationary sources of energy?

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CARB did present some interesting data on the carbon intensity of various transportation fuels:

Fuel Carbon g/MJa.
Diesel 103
Reformulated Gasoline 99
Corn-based Ethanol 80.1
Natural Gas 79.5
Soy 51.8
Canola 50.2
Tallow 32.8
Corn oil 28.7
Used cooking oil 19.9

(Carbon, g/MJ stands for grams of CO2 equivalent per mega joule of fuel.)

This data shows corn-based ethanol is 20% better than reformulated gasoline. I’m not sure how this data was generated, but straight diesel fuel, given its 25% to 30% inherently better fuel economy than gasoline, looks equivalent to ethanol. Used cooking oil, corn oil and tallow also looked like better choices for biodiesel than soy beans. What about 10% to 15% biodiesel in southern California?

The report also stated that the average biodiesel on the California market was 38.4 g/MJ and that would be very competitive with electric vehicles. I personally think the best CO2 emissions reduction scenario would be to give California back to Mexico.

I’ve also noticed, recently, that innovative fleet operators have been switching to alternate fuels that are sustainable for their particular operations.

A 13-unit pick up and delivery fleet recently switched to propane for several reasons. The fleet already used propane for heating and cooking at its facility. The fleet’s operations allowed it to be centrally fueled. It convinced its local propane supplier to install a single refueling dispenser off its 12,000 gallon LPG storage tank. Finally, converting its units to propane was relatively simple and least expensive.

A 500 unit truckload carrier recently converted to liquefied natural gas (LNG) with the commitment of two of its largest customers and the agreement of a supplier to install refueling stations at appropriate locations. The fleet estimates it can haul its 54,000 lb. trucks approximately 650 miles before refueling.

Way to go guys! Fleets that are willing to do a little thinking and planning can accomplish quite a bit if they have their customers’ support. The new natural gas tax legislation should also help ease the economic burden, or maybe our government showed them how to convert their operations to alternate fuels. I doubt it!

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