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alternative energy - non-political but off topic

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I love this topic and could talk about it forever, but it is a structural list... Sorry this got a little long.
 
Corn/ethanol/alt engergy is a cover story right now on National Geographic or Time, I keep seeing it at the store and will now pick it up.
 
The world's largest solar farm was just opened in Spain and this is a cover story of Civil Engineering this month, using mirrors to superheat a tank in a tower (steam generation).
 
Popular Science had an article last month or two ago on ALL energy supplies and productions, especially alternative energy. Essentially there will be no overnight solution or magic bullet. Ethanol, hyrdrogen and fuel cells, cleaner coal, more nuclear, wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, biomass in general, etc etc are all on the board and should all be looked at as a solution to using less foreign oil and overall using less fossil fuels (and in other countries of course it is just as important). Also drilling for new oil in this country is going up and new wells are being found further out in the Gulf (better drilling technology and higher profit margins), in California, etc (not talking about Alaska). Extracting oil from sand in large deposits in Canada and Colorado is also becoming more viable.
 
What they and others have said about ethanol is that even if we turned ALL of our corn in the US into ethanol, this would be in the 10-15% range of our consumption of gas. So it is not the one answer for sure. And like others have said, this would require massive subsidization. Corn produced ethanol is not very high in energy compared other fuels so you get less MPG out of it, and it requires a LOT of water and energy to grow corn, plus fertilizers, pesticides, pollution, and land degradation. There are other fast growing grasses like cane and others that grow better in sub tropical and tropical climates that are much easier to grow, faster growing, and cheaper, so they are probably better alternatives. The are looking at building a power plant in S/Central Florida that would have a few thousand acres of some type of fast growing grass and a biomass plant and power plant all on premises. The plant matter leftovers would be used as fertilizer.
 
Brazil does not import gasoline or oil, but it also has sizeable oil deposits on and off the coast, pipes in Nat Gas from Columbia, and had a militiary dictatorship in the 70s that made fuel independence a major mission. They use faster and more naturally growing cane, which they have abundance of, but depending on sugar prices they have plants that can switch from producing sugar or ethanol overnight. They print the price of gas and of ethanol in the paper to let people know on a daily basis which ones are the best bargain. But consider how many fewer people are driving individual cars in Brazil and you will realize how it can work there and not here, for now...
 
Guess my point is I think we should look at all options and ethanol is one of them, probably more as an additive then as an all out replacement (supply and infrastructure would be very difficult outside the grain belt). Of course economics, profit, big business, and the government probably play as big a role in this as all the scientists and engineers in the world.
 
I personally would love a politician to come out JFK-style and say in the next 20 years we will do whatever we need to do to be free of foreign energy dependence, and want to work with our allies to come up with solutions to this problem. We will invest NASA and Militiary-type dollars to come up with a myriad of solutions and set up an infrastructure as required to accomplish this. We will get the best and brightest scientists and engineers from around the planet to assist us, as well as other country's governments. We will make sustainability and environmentally benign solutions our main goal to lessen our environmental and carbon footprint.
 
Heck, I would love the same thing to be said about our infrastructure and the $ we MUST spend on water resource planning and solutions, storm water management, environmental protection and clean-up, waste-water treatment, roads, railways, bridges, dams, etc.
 
But that is very wishful thinking and I was not trying to start a political debate. But this is a VERY important and interesting subject.
 
Andrew Kester, PE
Principal/Project Manager
ADK Structural Engineering, PLLC
1510 E. Colonial Drive, Suite 301