In light of the money about to be poured into alternative fuels research, I thought I’d do a Top 5 list of my own: My top 5 alternative fuels.

I’m not one to get sucked in to talk of crisis and hysteria. If I were, I would be wondering why people aren’t melting in Australia, why there haven’t been any off-the-charts hurricane seasons since 2005, and why hundreds of millions of people didn’t die of starvation in the ’70s. I would also be curious as to why, despite Alexander Graham Bell’s 1917 prediction that we were about to run out of coal and oil, we keep finding more. But that’s neither here nor there.

What’s important is that since the beginning of technology (something along the lines of a rock used to break things) we’ve been moving away from carbon as our source of energy. We moved from wood to coal to oil to natural gas, and now we’re moving on.

  1. Kinetic – This isn’t really an alternative fuel, but I’ve loved the concept ever since I saw those Seiko watches as a kid. Using the product of expended energy (motion) to create new energy is incredibly efficient. It’s like recycling, with electricity.
  2. Biodiesel Diesel engines are more efficient than gas engines, which means better emissions; the only problem is that petroleum diesel is just so dirty. Enter Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel and peanut oil. Okay, it doesn’t have to be peanut, it could be any vegetable oil. Or it could be any thing that used to be alive: “Wood, hemp, straw, corn, garbage, food scraps, and sewage-sludge may be dried and gasified to synthesis gas. After purification the Fischer-Tropsch process is used to produce synthetic diesel.” It could also be made out of natural gas or coal, but that kind of defeats the purpose. The best part is that current diesel engines can run on bio-fuel with only a few modifications!
  3. Cellulosic Ethanol Ethanol seems to be the one alt fuel that no one is excited about. Well, I am. But not that piddly corn-based stuff. I want mine to come from lawn clippings. Instead of using a basic food crop, we could start growing fuel on all those acres of farm-land that are left empty every year to keep food prices from going haywire. Trust me, a sudden increase in the supply of available switchgrass will not affect the commodities market. The major problem here is that the methods are still too expensive. Enter “stimulus” (hopefully).
  4. Solar – I like to daydream about whole neigborhoods where people’s roofs are tiled with solar panels and covered with plexiglass, but there’s so much more to it. Passive solar technology can change the way we conserve energy. Consider the solar chimney, Trombe wall, or industrial strength solar furnace.
  5. Water – In the conventional “hydroelectric” sense, though I’m still holding out for cold fusion. Water can be harnessed for power in plenty of places, the only real problem is that it has a significant impact on it’s surrounding environment. And of course, if you are convinced by the aforementioned catastrophes, all that water will be gone soon anyway.

Honorable Mentions –

Wind – T. Boone and the President will be there for you, as long as it takes. And it might take a long time, if only because wind turbines are huge and hideous, and no one wants them by their own house.  And as long as you don’t supply too much of the power, we won’t have to worry about those still summer days.

Hamster on a Wheel – I had a nightmare recently that I worked in a power plant. There were about a thousand of us…we were taking turns on a various exercise machines – treadmills, stairmasters, bikes – attached to the power grid. There was a lot of Gatorade being consumed.

Some, if not all of these energies will be our major energy sources in the future, not because of global warming or a shortage of oil and coal, but just because they’re better, cleaner, and cheaper. Cleaning up creation is a bonus.


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