Junior Ganymede
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Under the Hood, a Hod of Coal or a Cord of Wood

July 27th, 2011 by G.

Robert Zubrin approaches problems like an engineer. He tries to solve them. The engineering approach to problems is problematic when the problems are unsolvable–like the problem of human nature, for instance. But when it comes to fuel, actually trying to solve our fuel problems is an idea whose time has come. Zubrin’s flex-fuel plan allows vehicles to use methanol, which can be economically derived from coal, natural gas, and wood and organic byproducts. It’s a great plan.

Contrast with T. Boone Pickens’ plan, which consists of the following:

1. Have the Treasury cut large checks to T. Boone Pickens.
2. ????
3. ????

Most other energy plans that Congress has enacted or is contemplating look a lot like the T. Boone Pickens’s plan, except–key difference!–the name on the checks is different.

Comments (7)
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July 27th, 2011 08:49:39

July 27, 2011

Methanol has some problems, including the safety risk from its almost invisible flames; its rather broad explosive concentration range; its toxicity; and its corrosiveness. But at least methanol is being argued on its technical merits, not on its political correctness. Which gives it a big plus up on (for example) biodiesel.

Adam G.
July 27, 2011

Thanks for the knowledge, Vader.

July 27, 2011

These are challenges that might be met. I am all for incremental improvements, and methanol might well provide superior tradeoffs to its alternatives. But I am a bit allergic to panaceas.

Perhaps there is a form of snake oil that cures all ills. I’m betting it has a lot of unpleasant side effects.

July 29, 2011

As it is, a significant fraction of our electrical power is obtained from oil. If we could retool them to burn methanol instead, that would make the transition much easier. At least, it would require us to import less.

As it is, this whole scenario is presently uncomfortably similar to the civilization extinction stories in Jared Diamond’s Collapse. No body ever thinks it will happen to them, I expect.

Man SL
July 29, 2011

As it is, a significant fraction of our electrical power is obtained from oil.

The major inputs for methanol production would be coal and natural gas, which can be burned directly to produce electricity.

July 29, 2011

That’s correct. And we can get all the electrical power we need from nuclear, supplemented by solar, if the political barriers can be overcome.

The trick is getting liquid fuel for transportation, which is where methanol may be of help.

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