Questioning the Energy Agenda

Gas prices this summer are expected to top $5.00 a gallon, meaning that it will take more than $80.00 to fill an average midsize car’s tank.  And if a family has more than three children, and therefore needs a vehicle that seats more than 5 people, that single fill-up cost can run to nearly $100.00.

In response, there has been a plethora of finger pointing.  Oil industry executives and elected officials battle over whether price gouging or politically motivated decisions banning domestic oil drilling are at fault for the never-ending rise in gas prices.  But despite the constant rhetoric, the price keeps going up.

The debate now includes ethanol, the fuel made from corn.   That discussion includes evidence that diverting the tons of corn necessary to produce adequate amounts of ethanol from food to fuel is resulting in near-starvation conditions in third-world countries. 

What is missing from the public debate is a discussion of coal-generated methanol.  In fact, California terminated a state-wide flex-fuel program using methanol after 25 years and 200,000,000 miles of success.  This despite the fact that methanol derived from coal is priced at less than $2.00 a gallon.

The US Department of Energy has funded several projects on the feasibility of converting coal to methanol, and has been reporting success in those projects since the 1990’s.  A May 2003 report by the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security states that “clean coal technology processing plants, making co-products of electricity and methanol, could simultaneously meet the needs of local communities for dispersed power, transportation fuels and manufactured chemical products.”

In other words, methanol-from-coal offers a real solution to the rising cost of gasoline.  The new Clean Coal technologies have already solved the pollution questions that used to surround coal-refining processes.  And while there are still issues that must be addressed, such as the capital costs of creating the production facilities, the initial demonstration projects are beginning to find cost-effective solutions.

United States coal reserves, many of which are located in Pennsylvania, are estimated to be about 4 trillion tons.  That means that with just United States coal, we could produce 1 million barrels of methanol EVERY DAY for the next 20,000 years, according the Governor’s Ethanol Coalition (an interesting admission since this Coalition is dedicated to promoting corn-based ethanol).

Using United States coal eliminates American dependence on foreign oil, and many of its attendant foreign policy ramifications.  Coal is not a food product, so there is no “starvation” side effect.  The United States could potentially be an energy supplier to the world, instead of an energy consumer. 

So it would seem reasonable for a citizen to wonder why no one is hearing anything about methanol, or why California was encouraged to stop its successful methanol project in favor of the more-expensive, less-effective ethanol.  It would seem reasonable for us to ask why those running for office continue to point fingers and make accusations at each other and the oil industry instead of promoting a possible and economical solution that not only addresses the cost of gasoline, but the underlying problem of American dependence on foreign sources of energy. 

Given this information, a reasonable person might begin to wonder if producing abundant and economical fuel and securing American energy independence is not really the agenda.

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  • Methanol faces two significant challenges. The technical one is that it is far more corrosive than ethanol. The political one is that it is derived from fossil fuel. Those who tout biodiesel and ethanol claim that these are “sustainable” fuel technologies, because they are derived from crops (even if it is at the cost of world starvation). They oppose ANY fuel obtained by mining or drilling.

  • momof11

    The recent flooding in the Midwest has me thinking also about just how wise is it to rely on bio-fuels when a bad crop year can have devastating effect on availability. So not only will ethanol reliance take food from the mouths of the poor, but it is not a sure thing that it will be available. Someone in a comment about another article about the morality/immorality of ethanol usage said that the corn used for ethanol production is not the same type of corn used for human food, which may be true, but the acreage used to grow the corn could be used to grow other crops if it were not being used to grow ethanol/corn.

  • kent4jmj

    Given this information, a reasonable person might begin to wonder if producing abundant and economical fuel and securing American energy independence is not really the agenda.???

    Very good question considering we have vast reserves in Alaska, that new techniques in drilling leave a very small “footprint,” that we have oil in Colorado and in the the Gulf and the list goes on.

    Food for thought.

    Government involvement once again proves to be the worst case scenario. Government’s role is to enforce law not micro mange private industry. Free markets and limited government really do make more sense.

  • kent4jmj

    The response of a friend with whom I share this article.

    ““Given this information, a reasonable person might begin to wonder if producing abundant and economical fuel and securing American energy independence is not really the agenda.”
    “Agreed, because if abundant and affordable energy was the agenda of our political class, we would simply execute the agenda and enrich the lives of everyone on the planet. So, what is going on here?”

  • wgsullivan

    Historically the corn raised on the vast majority of corn acres in the U.S. is No. 2 Yellow corn. Feed grade corn. Economically it has not and does not pay to raise other crops. Until it makes sense and cents for the U.S. farmer to raise something other than feed grade corn there is no reason for the farmer to change. In fact it would be poor business practice until it makes economic sense to do so.
    As I have mentioned elsewhere the major by product of ehtanol is a corn based mush that is marketed to the feedlots for beef and pork weight gain in a feed ration. The corn not fermented at the ethanol plant is marketed to the same feedlots and ground for a feed ration as well. It all becomes food for human consumption through animals. Again, I stress this is feed grade corn and has been for decades.
    The safest way to have a good food supply that is cheapest is to get back to the family farm. The government’s tax system and support system does not support the small family farm.