August 28, 2007

"Energy Victory" - Book of the Sentry

In September of 1911, the fate of two world wars was pre-ordained by England's young First Lord of the Admiralty. He made a choice at considerable national economic and political risk that linked England's future to a dependence on its North Atlantic political, military, and trade relationship with America. Still, Winston Churchill decided the advantages far outweighed the liabilities. From that point on all ships in the Royal Navy would run on oil (which England imported) instead of coal (which the British isles could stockpile in rich abundance).

This counter-intuitive decision meant that England's battleships could be built lighter, refuel at sea, and stoke their fires without drawing precious manpower during combat. As he stated it - "If we overcame the difficulties and surmounted the risks, we should be able to raise the whole power and efficiency of the Navy to a higher level."

It was this advantage that eventually destroyed the coal-burning German navy of WWI. It was lack of access to oil supplies that defeated both Germany and Japan during WWII. The Axis powers had trained troops and effective weapons systems but they couldn't hold the front without fuel.

Robert Zubrin, author of the soon to be released Energy Victory: The War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil, cites this history and contrasts it to our harrowing predicament of today. Not only are we thoroughly dependent on an energy resource we no longer control, but those who do control it now have our treasure to fuel terrorism against us and create chaos around the world. With thirty years warning we have squandered ample opportunity to end our dependence on foreign oil supplies. There is no more time to waste.

It is our time to make a decision like Churchill's: define new alternative energy standards, develop a decentralized plan of production and infrastructure development, and stick with it through decades of administration changeover. The challenge is not to pick one alternative, but to increase the range of choices that enable consumers to make purchase decisions based on value (whatever that may be for each decade) instead of allowing ourselves to coerced into making bad decisions caused by limited access.

I highly recommend Robert Zubrin's book to readers of this blog. It is scheduled to be released October 31st by Prometheus Books. In this well-researched study he paints a picture of our current predicament in the Middle East including foreign intrusions into U.S. policymaking. He follows that with an evaluation of alternatives and a broadbrush plan for how we can substantially reduce our dependence within a decade. He excoriates policymakers who perpetrate what he calls the "hydrogen hoax." He draws lessons from the "Brazil experience" and shows how "The New Alcohol World Economy" can benefit developing and developed nations alike. He also addresses "global warming", explains his cynicism about hydrogen, and defends nuclear power as a clean source of electricity. But the bulk of the book is focused on the use of biofuels to break our dependence on oil.

Book orders can be reserved on Amazon right now. Look for book signings at future alternative energy conferences.

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August 20, 2007

High Performance E85 with Jay Leno

E85 detractors often cite the comparative high energy content of gasoline to ethanol. It is true that currently designed combustion engines and even current flex-fuel models get lower mileage on ethanol than they do on gasoline. However, that is far from the whole story.

On Jay Leno's Garage website he features a video titled "E85 Demystified" which contains an interview with noted engine designer Carl Banks who specializes in high performance engine design. Carl insists that the reason that automobiles don't run as well on ethanol as they do on gasoline is because they are not designed to. If they are designed to, the cars would operate with much higher performance because of the relatively high compression ratio of ethanol compared to gas.

"It’s the octane number,” he says. “Octane is a rating of knock-resistance. The higher the number the better. E-85 is 105 octane.”

Coupled with plug-in hybrid automobile technology, it is not likely that there will be an appreciable difference between buying gasoline or ethanol because the mileage will be dependent on electric storage efficiency and the secondary motor efficiency for whatever fuel it runs on. The decision to buy ethanol is likely to hinge on the comparative price of the fuel options and its availability at local pumps.

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