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Oil Alternatives Are Now Necessary

by joelado Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 12:47:18 PM EST

We can only effectively solve the affects of high priced gasoline in the United States in three ways, either a tremendous increase in domestic output of oil that creates a surplus of oil and requiring that oil to stay here, or reducing our consumption significantly thereby creating an oversupply here in the United States and requiring that oversupply to stay here, or that the we look at possible substitutes or alternatives to oil to moderate demand on oil by providing consumers choices. The first approach, increasing our domestic supply has happened, however, with exports our price dropping excess oil can be shipped overseas where the emerging economies will grow to soak up all of that extra production. The push to reduce demand is also happening. The government's dramatic increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards has pushed new car fuel efficiency dramatically upward thereby reducing the growth of the demand for oil. The recession and the high price of gasoline has also dampened demand significantly and moved consumers to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles and less gasoline. Yet, these two major factors have not had a significant effect on the price of gasoline as of late, which is an example that oil doesn't follow normal economic assumptions. There is greater than good chance that oil prices are dictated and manipulated quite effectively by individuals and groups who control its supply. In this case the third option, which is to find other ways to power our vehicles, may be the only true way to control oil prices. Unlike finding more oil, substitutes have a strong moderating effect on future oil prices because consumers can switch to a substitute if oil prices get too high. Alternatives or substitutes for oil provide for a more effective competition in fuels. International prices can't go up but so high since the height of their price depends on the height of the price of its competing alternatives. Remember if oil becomes more expensive than an alternative then everyone who can will switch to an alternative to save money.

The three oil substitutes that need the fewest infrastructure changes for distribution are ethanol, natural gas and electricity. Unfortunately ethanol prices have risen dramatically in recent weeks because of the droughts in western and mid-western states. Making ethanol a real alternative would also added demand to a commodity that is not used to the demand levels of crude oil. Shifting America's motive power to ethanol will probably push prices up much higher and production would be limited by land availability. There are also ethical problems using a food crop to power our vehicles. However, making ethanol from non-food feed stock would be a highly effective alternative to gasoline. Natural gas, on the other hand, has a very strong distribution network already in existence; it is in abundant supply and is far less expensive than gasoline. If vehicles were made to be multi-fuel vehicles, taking both natural gas and any combination of ethanol and gasoline we could be heading down the path of providing the vehicle owner with what the motive fuel arena really needs, which is a lot more choices in fuels. Electricity has the added advantage of being produced from a variety of fuel sources such as natural gas, coal, nuclear, as well as renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydroelectric power. This variety keeps prices for fuels under control by distributing demand among a wider variety of fuel suppliers.

The ultimate solution to the oil price problem would be a vehicle that can take advantage of all three fuels. This vehicle would be a multi-fuel vehicle capable of taking advantage of gasoline or natural gas, or even liquid petroleum gases such as propane or butane. It would also be a flexible fuel vehicle able to use 100% gasoline all the way to 100% ethanol and any mixture in between. Ideally this vehicle's combustion engine should be reserved to play a backup role as a range extended generator for an electric vehicle similar to the Chevy Volt and the Fisker Karma set up. In this way the owner could easily choose between fuels to the one that allows him or her to keep more of their hard earned income to use for other purposes. It is the other purposes that will spur the economy onward and upward.

All three fuels, ethanol, natural gas and electricity, when combined would provide choices to consumers and provide a moderating force on run-away oil prices. They would do that by competing with each other to provide the lowest price so that each can hold onto a share of the fuel market. There are other reasons for using alternatives to oil such as the lower impact on the environment and lowering our dependence on foreign sources of energy. Still, for strictly economic reasons, alternatives are now a necessary strategic response to preventing future economic hardships caused by oil price increases and volatility.

I catch the bus.
by njh on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 02:04:33 PM EST
Good for you. Is it natural gas, diesel or hybrid?
by joelado on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 03:32:20 PM EST
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trolley :)
by njh on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 11:39:40 PM EST
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How is the electricity generated?
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Oct 10th, 2012 at 02:30:53 AM EST
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I'm in WA, so I think it's mostly hydro, wind and nuclear.  My deeper point is that we have workable solutions today to these problems, and perhaps the best strategy is to just let the existing fossil system collapse.
by njh on Thu Oct 11th, 2012 at 01:34:40 AM EST
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by joelado on Wed Oct 10th, 2012 at 02:05:20 PM EST
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What excess oil?

Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 03:46:53 PM EST

How oil undermines democracy, and our ability to address the environmental crisis.

Oil is a curse, it is often said, that condemns the countries producing it to an existence defined by war, corruption and enormous inequality. Carbon Democracy tells a more complex story, arguing that no nation escapes the political consequences of our collective dependence on oil. It shapes the body politic both in regions such as the Middle East, which rely upon revenues from oil production, and in the places that have the greatest demand for energy.

Timothy Mitchell begins with the history of coal power to tell a radical new story about the rise of democracy. Coal was a source of energy so open to disruption that oligarchies in the West became vulnerable for the first time to mass demands for democracy. In the mid-twentieth century, however, the development of cheap and abundant energy from oil, most notably from the Middle East, offered a means to reduce this vulnerability to democratic pressures. The abundance of oil made it possible for the first time in history to reorganize political life around the management of something now called "the economy" and the promise of its infinite growth. The politics of the West became dependent on an undemocratic Middle East.

In the twenty-first century, the oil-based forms of modern democratic politics have become unsustainable. Foreign intervention and military rule are faltering in the Middle East, while governments everywhere appear incapable of addressing the crises that threaten to end the age of carbon democracy--the disappearance of cheap energy and the carbon-fuelled collapse of the ecological order.

In making the production of energy the central force shaping the democratic age, Carbon Democracy rethinks the history of energy, the politics of nature, the theory of democracy, and the place of the Middle East in our common world.

hope it's not too OT, but it seemed to fit in a way.

i heard this author interviewed on 'electric politics' podcast, and found his take on history fascinating, thanks for the diary, Joe.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 04:09:38 PM EST
oops, link didn't work, here...

http://www.amazon.com/Carbon-Democracy-Political-Power-Age/dp/1844677451/?_encoding=UTF8&camp=17 89&creative=9325&keywords=carbon%20democracy&linkCode=ur2&qid=1349329183&sr=8-1& amp;tag=electricpolit-20

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 04:13:09 PM EST
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carbon based fuels are indeed a curse. We need to go to 100% renewable. We need to be more distributed in our energy generation. We need to break the monopoly like hold that big oil has on our economy, politics and our environment. Only electric powered vehicles can truly be emissions free when talking about their propulsion. The thing is my piece is just a look at the economics. If we have high production of oil and a reduced consumption of oil we should have lower prices of gasoline. Since we don't alternatives are necessary to bring prices down. But, alternatives also give us a pathway out of our dependency on oil and a road to a day when we won't need to use fossil fuels ever again.
by joelado on Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 08:40:18 PM EST
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The ultimate solution to the oil price problem would be a vehicle that can take advantage of all three fuels.

This would necessarily be at the expense of optimizing the efficiency of the vehicle for any given fuel as well as at the expense of the sale price of the vehicle. An alternative approach would be to make refueling for all three fuel types more available, even at a minimum level.

Now the chief limitation on natural gas vehicles is the availability of refueling options, which confines them largely to fleet operations. A minimal availability would be to make fleet refueling facilities available to the public at a reasonable cost. This is being done, for instance, in Little Rock Arkansas and other US cities.

With electric vehicles the time to recharge batteries also becomes a limit. This is also affected by battery technology. But additional efforts to make recharging quicker and more routinely available to the public, both from home and on the road would help. Transit arteries are especially critical if the vehicles are to be general use all electric vehicles in the USA.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Oct 10th, 2012 at 09:34:12 AM EST
Good stuff.

Looking at efficiency, I think anything other than pure electric is a distraction in the long term. For recharging we can simply swap standard battery packs - 30 second job.

For the European (urban/suburban) market, the current range with electric (100 miles) is plenty for commuters and shopping.

I have a feeling Americans drive more and need longer range?
In that case you'd need a second fuel. Can any of these be changed easily into the other?

How far are we, at most, from a fuel station these days? (I think you can get 100 miles in the contiguous USA - Nevada somewhere.)
Anyone know how long it took to build that infrastructure?

by Number 6 on Wed Oct 10th, 2012 at 10:09:13 AM EST
More on ethanol
by Number 6 on Wed Oct 10th, 2012 at 12:28:03 PM EST
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These statements about ethanol are pure conjecture. I know it is hard to believe but since the collapse of food prices during the Great Depression American grain foods have been highly subsidized. Farmers grow corn and sell it to a central station. This was for most of our history from the Great Depression a government owned and operated function. Small mid-western towns were dominated by these huge highrise grain elevators that purchased grain at a price that would sustain the family farm while providing grain to food processors at a price that was inline with inflation when the end product was calculated. The Federal Government would loose money on the subsidies and on the storage because the United States main fear is that there would be an over supply of grain that would put prices at an amount that would not sustain family farms, and that we would have Dust Bowl days return and there wouldn't be enough food. Today the elevators are run by a contractor to the government. The idea of using corn was so that the government wouldn't need to pay for such a high amount of corn to support prices that would rot in the grain elevators. It would purchase corn and it would have a ready fuel market to sell into. So the grain being used to make ethanol was surplus grain owned by the government and typically not grain set for feed or the production of corn sweetener and other foods. So it wasn't the purchase of corn for fuel that made the prices rise, but actually the cost of transportation, fertilizing chemicals and other costs associated with high gasoline prices rather than ethanol as a product. In the meanwhile oil companies were getting the full subsidy from the Federal Government of around 56 cents a gallon, but purchasing the ethanol at 38 cents or lower, in effect putting ethanol producers out of business all the while pocketing tax payers money. It is best when you know the entire story.
by joelado on Wed Oct 10th, 2012 at 02:24:12 PM EST
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The idea of using corn was so that the government wouldn't need to pay for such a high amount of corn to support prices that would rot in the grain elevators. It would purchase corn and it would have a ready fuel market to sell into. So the grain being used to make ethanol was surplus grain

Your narrative supposes that the government diverts towards ethanol part of the corn that would be produced anyway. But, with ethanol subsidies, increasing land surface is being planted out in corn:

This is a switch in land use where corn drives out other crops. The corn is not surplus grain, it is produced for ethanol. And it is other food crops that are replaced by it.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Oct 11th, 2012 at 02:55:10 AM EST
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Interesting. That's a diary in itself.
As you subsidise so shall you reap I guess.

(Slightly different topic:)
Making sure there's enough food seems to have similar "solutions" in the USA and Europe: don't ever pay farmers a decent price directly, but introduce subsidies that make it "worth their while". (A completely free market would of course regularly wipe out farmers' bank accounts/insurance and leave the rest with not enough food.)

Not having been through the Dust Bowl or the Post-WWII food shortages in Europe I'm not in a position to complain.

by Number 6 on Thu Oct 11th, 2012 at 05:46:31 AM EST
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