America’s Energy Future

America’s energy future shouldn’t be a politically-partisan issue. Perhaps Americans of all political orientations can find common ground on what America’s energy future should be.

Let’s begin by dealing with a harsh reality:
Non-renewable fuels are just that – non-renewable.

That is because Mankind is using those fuels faster than Mother Nature can create them.

Sure, we don’t know just when the Earth’s supply of non-renewable fuels will be depleted. It could be 100 years from now, or it could be 300 years from now.

Still, that depletion will happen. For example, on 02/17/17, the Houston Chronicle reported, “U.S. shale oil production, which reshaped the global energy equation, will begin to wane in less than a decade as reserves are drawn down and well output decreases, the Energy Department reported.”

So, it makes sense to prepare for the inevitable loss of crude oil as a source of fuel.

Granted, plenty of Americans aren’t concerned about that inevitable loss because they don’t expect to be alive when it happens. Some people simply couldn’t care less about the fate of future generations.

Those of us who do care seek to plan ahead for America’s future energy needs. The question is, “Where do we start?”

I suggest that we start with the need to continuously move heavy freight. That is what locomotives and semi tractors are used for.

Currently, diesel engines are primarily fueled by petroleum-based diesel fuel. However, diesel engines can also run on biodiesel. Here is an explanation of biodiesel from the U.S. Energy Information Administration:

“Biodiesel is a renewable fuel that can be used instead of the diesel fuel made from petroleum. Biodiesel can be made from vegetable oils and animal fats.

In 2015, soybean oil was the source of about 67% of the total feedstock (raw material) used to produce biodiesel in the United States. Canola oil and corn oil provided about 25% of the total feedstock, and animal fats provided about 9% of the total feedstock. Rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, and palm oil are other major sources of the biodiesel that is consumed in other countries.

Biodiesel is most often blended with petroleum diesel in ratios of 2% (B2), 5% (B5), or 20% (B20). Biodiesel can also be used as pure biodiesel (B100). Biodiesel fuels can be used in regular diesel engines without making any changes to the engines. Biodiesel can also be stored and transported using diesel fuel tanks and equipment.”

Biodiesel may seem promising, but there is a catch. Its ingredients have to be grown. Agricultural land that is used to produce fuel is agricultural land that isn’t used to produce food. If food production is reduced in order to produce biodiesel, then Americans might face higher food costs. That is something that plenty of Americans are opposed to.

Physicist Dr. Jo Hermans writes, “This [biofuel] does not seem to be a viable option. First, the efficiency of photosynthesis is only around 0.5% in moderate climates, up to 3% in the most favorable conditions. Second, there is the competition with food supply, at least for the ‘first generation’ biofuels. Third, the CO2 emission is even higher for 1st generation biodiesel than it is for fossil fuels, and hardly lower for bioethanol.”

If not biodiesel to fuel locomotives and semi tractors, then how about hydrogen?

From Fox News, December 02, 2016:

“It was in June that American electric vehicle startup Nikola turned up out of the blue and announced plans to unveil an electric semi-trailer truck by the end of the year. On Thursday, the company stayed true to its word and presented the One electric semi-trailer Class 8 truck. The Nikola One is an extended-range electric truck, with the company choosing to go with a hydrogen fuel cell as the range-extender…

… The fuel cell is targeted at customers in North America while a natural gas turbine will be available in markets where hydrogen fueling stations are lacking. But hydrogen fueling stations are pretty much non-existent here, too. Nikola’s plan is to build its own network of 364 fueling stations starting in 2018. These will serve hydrogen sourced from Nikola’s own solar farms, which will generate the fuel via electrolysis of water.”

Here is an explanation of hydrogen and fuel-cells from the U.S. Department of Energy:

“Hydrogen is the simplest and most abundant element in the universe. It is a major component of water, oil, natural gas, and all living matter. Despite its simplicity and abundance, hydrogen rarely occurs naturally as a gas on Earth. It is almost always combined with other elements. It can be generated from oil, natural gas, biomass or by splitting water using renewable solar or electrical energy.

Once hydrogen is produced as molecular hydrogen, the energy present within the molecule can be released, by reacting with oxygen to produce water. This can be achieved by either traditional internal combustion engines, or by devices called fuel cells. In a fuel cell, hydrogen energy is converted directly into electricity with high efficiency and low power losses.”

If the kind of semi-tractor devised by Nikola proves to be sufficient for delivering heavy freight across country, then the use of hydrogen as a fuel is also promising.

Dr. Hermans believes that hydrogen could be used to fuel something else: aircraft. He writes, “One must conclude that using liquid hydrogen as a potential energy carrier for air transport deserves serious consideration.”

In his study The challenge of energy-efficient transportation, Dr. Hermans concludes, “Achieving sustainable transportation systems in the post-fossil-fuel era is indeed a great challenge, in view of the unique convenience of oil-based liquid fuels. For road transport, batteries assisted by supercapacitors can provide a good alternative. Hydrogen, probably in compressed form, may also be an option, especially in combination with fuel cells. For aviation, liquid hydrogen may provide an excellent option for a number of reasons.”

Due to the great challenge that Dr. Hermans mentions, America can’t wait until the eventual depletion of non-renewable fuels. Americans have to plan ahead.

Yes, America is experiencing an oil glut right now, a glut so big that, as CNBC reports, America recently exported a record amount of crude oil, “topping a million barrels a day“.

Yet, a feast today doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be a famine sometime in the future. For example, in the Tanakh book of Genesis, Joseph tells Pharaoh, “Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land.”

Today’s generations of Americans might not see an oil famine, but future generations will.

It is only a matter of if today’s Americans will help future Americans be ready for that famine.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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