18 July 2008

The road to energy independence

Allow me to indulge in a bit of fantasy.

After the latest round of oil-price shocks and anti-Western saber-rattling by Middle Eastern gangster states, the nation finally decides to get serious about energy independence. Some effort is made to increase domestic oil production, but the centerpiece of the program is a massive investment in the development of ethanol fuel produced from home-grown crops, mainly sugar cane. Even though the government is run by conservatives, it does not hesitate to offer lavish incentives to the nation's auto-makers to produce ethanol-fueled cars, to subsidize the building of ethanol plants, and even to set mandatory targets for ethanol production and use. The development of a fully ethanol-fueled internal combustion engine proves technically difficult, and many setbacks are encountered, but the country is both confident in its technological know-how and grimly determined to free itself from bondage to foreign oil, and presses forward relentlessly.

At length the technical challenges are overcome. Eventually millions of ethanol-only cars are on the nation's roads. The public embraces them enthusiastically, especially since ethanol costs only $1 per gallon at the pump, a fraction of the cost of gasoline (and, as an added bonus, ethanol cars emit no greenhouse gases). No more oil is imported. Oil-price increases become irrelevant. China and India, well aware of their own growing energy needs, send high-level delegations to study the great success as a possible model for their own countries.

It will never happen, you may be thinking. We just can't do it. But it did happen. The nation that did it was Brazil. You can read the full story here. Brazil has achieved what the United States has failed for decades to achieve -- complete energy self-sufficiency.

Brazilians are rightly proud of the way that their country applied its technological ingenuity in a systematic, practical way to solve a major problem. Americans, by contrast, seem hopelessly mired in a "can't-do" mentality where this issue is concerned.

No problem in history has ever been solved by dwelling on all the reasons why the solution would be too difficult or inconvenient or expensive. Anyone who claims that it's impossible to kick our oil addiction while maintaining our car-based national culture, needs to explain why the United States cannot do what Brazil, with much more limited resources, was able to do. In one respect our task would actually be easier: there is no need to invest years of effort and billions of dollars in developing ethanol-burning car engines. Those engines already exist -- the Brazilians have already done the work.

And, yes, China and India have indeed sent delegations to Brazil to study the Brazilian model. China is already starting to invest in methanol, another biofuel. Will we someday be left as the only major nation still dependent on foreign oil?

4 Comments:

Blogger BlackSun said...

Great post. More Americans need to have their attitude adjusted by reading about Brazil. We can not only do sugar cane, but also cellulosic ethanol from crop waste (corn stover) and other biomass. We also have the technology to electrify transportation (Chevy Volt). Even municipal solid waste and sewage can contribute to the energy mix.

18 July, 2008 10:39  
Anonymous handmaiden said...

A very encouraging post.
Have you checked out the link on this post
titled, Global Energy: Myths and Realities?

19 July, 2008 08:47  
Blogger the chaplain said...

Will we someday be left as the only major nation still dependent on foreign oil?

Probably. But at least our oil barons will be filthy rich.

19 July, 2008 08:51  
Anonymous handmaiden said...

No problem in history has ever been solved by dwelling on all the reasons why the solution would be too difficult or inconvenient or expensive.

This is so very true. Independent & innovative thinking certainly benefits from a positive attitude.

You know the old saying, "Understanding the problem is half the battle." We are getting there. I think the American people pretty much understand that there is an energy issue that needs to be addressed.

The US definitely has the resources to solve the energy problem.

How it all plays out will be interesting.

22 July, 2008 09:17  

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