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The Democratization of Energy, or God Bless the Child That's Got His Own

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Message John Sanchez Jr.
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The entire world, with its dependence upon, and sharp competition to secure, fossil fuel energy sources, is coming to a crisis that may be unmatched in its history. Serious questions are raised about whether the world can maintain a population that it is already straining to provide for unless it has the availability of cheap petroleum fuel to drive nations' economies. Complicating this is the unquestionable negative impact that fossil fuel use has on the environment, which threatens the well being of the population that it is needed to support.

It is clear to even the most casual observers that a change away from fossil fuels to clean, non-polluting renewable fuels is required, and several forms are available. There is no single source of these fuels that can be provided in adequate amounts to satisfy a huge and growing demand, but a mix of these technologies can fill the bill.

Let's begin with an inventory of the technologies that are most frequently touted in the popular media.

Biomass Fuels

Fuels from plant materials, like ethanol and methanol, are an easy option to replace some petroleum used in powering internal combustion engines. The attraction of this option rests exclusively in its being a renewable option, since more biomass can be grown to provide refinery feed stocks. It also enjoys strong political support in states with large agricultural industries. However, it does have its disadvantages.

One disadvantage is the arable acreage that is required to grow enough biomass to provide enough energy to satisfy demand. In Brazil, significant strides have been made to use this type of fuel to replace gasoline, but they have the luxury of much land, a long growing season and a smaller population to provide with this transportation fuel. The United States does not have that much additional farmland to provide for its significant demand, which means that acreage that is devoted to providing food crops would have to be diverted to energy production.

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I am a lifelong resident of the Chicago suburbs, with a several year hiatus to serve in the Navy when my Vietnam era draft notice turned up. I had been told that guys with last names like mine were among the preferred cannon fodder in the Army, so (more...)
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