Barak Obama has committed to increasing funding for alternative energy and has pledged to wean the country off of oil imports from unfriendly countries. This is all election talk and now the real work has to begin. Bio-ethanol is a bust and just this week Verasun, a NYSE traded ethanol company, entered into Chapter 11 of the thermodynamics text book. Many of the other ethanol producers are teetering on bankruptcy and only survive on government subsidies and high tariffs on Brazilian ethanol imports. Had the present Secretary of Energy Dr Sam Bodman heeded my sage advice that Mother Nature did not intend photosynthesis to propel 250 million vehicles in the good old USA we may have embarked on a real and appropriate energy policy a while back and not have to have endured the disaster we are experiencing.
Ethanol, whether corn based, cane based or somehow miraculously cellulose based is a dead end and not the solution to our energy needs. The government should focus on rebuilding a new “Detroit” with auto companies engineering, producing and selling efficient smaller vehicles that are also profitable for the manufacturer. A good way to help kick start this would be for the Feds to provide a $3,000 subsidy to the automakers for each vehicle they produce and sell that achieves more than 35 mpg. The subsidy could be a direct grant or a subsidy toward the pension and medical expenses these companies are liable to their workers by contract. The foreign automakers rely on their governments for national healthcare for their workers, and US automakers suffer a significant cost disadvantage.
My one concern is that the UC Berkeley based academics led by one Prof Kammen are the President Elect’s energy policy gurus. These misguided academics have been on the wrong side of the argument in many instances and in particular on ethanol and hydrogen. Their academic publications have erroneous and often non-thermodynamic claims of how ethanol and hydrogen were the saviours. They have already caused much more harm than good and much money, time and human effort has been expended on these dead ends.
I do feel confident that there has been a sea change in our fellow Americans attitude toward energy and the environment, and that we will not return to the misguided belief that there are inexhaustible and abundant energy and natural resources to drive around in behemoth SUVs. I do hope that we can succeed in mass production of lithium battery systems for hybrids and plug in hybrids and by the end of President Obama’s first term, and that we have a couple of vibrant US based auto companies who can compete on the world stage. As for the Secretary of the Treasury, that person will have to understand the color green as it relates to money.