Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Fill'er Up!

As promised here's my post on alternative fuels. It seems particularly timely now that gas is going to go through the roof because of Katrina's possible damage to the Gulf of Mexico oil refineries. I'm sorry this isn't going to be one of my better documented (with links) posts, but there's been another unrelated subject that has taken up most of my internet research time for today. And a lot of my information comes from David who listens to talk radio during the day while he's driving from job to job. I guess this is more of a rant. So off the top of my head here goes.

The environmentalists have succeeded in stopping the building of new oil refineries over the last twenty or so years. They've also kept new domestic oil exploration and drilling to a bare minimum. So now we are facing a choice of remaining at the whims of the Arab and Argentinean oil producers or doing something for ourselves. I do care about the environment, but I'm no tree-hugging hippy whacko. (No offense to them. I have good friends who are.) I have no problem with oil companies drilling in Alaska or even here in TN where we have oil and natural gas just waiting to be tapped. But that's not really what I want to say. I want to indict those large, powerful environmental groups for not putting their money where their mouths are.

What I mean is, I think they should do more to encourage and support and market alternative fuels. Instead of spending all their time and money on protests and destruction of property and whatever else the do they should be investing in the development of new fuels. What good is there in yelling "don't do this" and "don't do that" without giving people an alternative? Parents know this. They know just telling children not to do something isn't as effective as telling them what to do instead. And no, telling everyone to ride a bike isn't going to work either. You have to give people viable alternatives.

Well, a while back David and I were watching a show on the History Channel about the development of the diesel engine (probably an episode of Modern Marvels, but I don't remember). We were fascinated to learn that diesel engines can run on just about any kind of oil there is. Even vegetable oil. You can refine the vegetable oil (taking out the glycerin) so that it burns better in an engine. This is called 'biodiesel' and it's available in limited areas, but it's usually mixed with petroleum-based diesel fuel. But on this show there were people who had made slight modifications to their engines that allowed them to use 100% vegetable diesel. (Much better, more detailed information can be found if you google 'biodiesel.')

I have also seen a show about how difficult it can be for restaurants to dispose of their used cooking oil. The land fills don't want it because it clogs them up. The sewers can't handle it for the same reason. This set my little Hoe brain a-churning with ideas. Now, I'm not a doer. I'm a thinker. I'm not an entrepreneur or a starter. That's David. But here's a free business plan for anyone out there who has the gumption and drive to pursue it.

Well, hello? Here is this huge resource just screaming to be exploited. Why don't some of these environmentalists jump on it? They could strike lovely deals with McDonalds and all the other fast food chains to take away their used oil and then refine it into biodiesel. Build the freakin' refineries for it and get rich off the biodiesel. And they could use the glycerin to make their funny soaps on the side! Hey, it's great, don't you think? Now, I'll admit this is a very over-simplified concept and that I have no idea how difficult it might be to implement this plan. But dang, it's an alternative. It's more than I hear of Greenpeace or the Sierra Club or the Nature Conservancy promoting. Oh, but, no, I'm not the only lazy thinker around. It's so much easier to protest and holler and carry on than to actually DO something to solve problems.

So there it is. Since I don't have the incentive and resources to build vegetable oil refineries and make deals with restaurants to obtain their oil (thus keeping it out of the waste system, another environmental plus!) and to market biodiesel and strike deals with the auto makers and to use government resources like the SBA and whatever else is available, then I guess I'll leave it up to someone else.

But don't say that I haven't at least offered something.


DHammett said...

You're right, Rae Ann. It seems that everybody has a complaint, but nobody wants to step up to the plate to do something about it. It happens with almost everything.

I don't know enough about alternative fuel options to comment on vegetable oil refineries. I have read that ethanol is not effective because it takes more energy to produce ethanol from corn than the energy that ethanol produces as a fuel.

Drilling in the Alaskan wilderness is an option for getting more oil, but it has to be refined. That's where the biggest problem is...as you noted, there are too few of them in operation. And the refineries in operation are handcuffed because of the many different formulations of gasoline that are required by states. Many of them have to re-tool several times a year in order to produce different formulations for different states at different times of the year (California is the worst!). Maybe one nationally standardized formulation would be helpful as well.

Rae Ann said...

dh, I can always count on you to add so much to the topic at hand. I haven't researched the issues with the petroleum refineries, so what you've said has helped explain the problems even more. Thanks! I don't know much about ethanol either. Maybe biodiesel sounds too good to be true. I don't know, but I wish someone would do something with it.

Assorted Babble by Suzie said...

Great points made and an idea for ones to research for an answer, instead of always complaining. I agree also with the Child analysis, we need to always try to give a reason or an alternative.

This is a subject I do not know much about, but you sure did a good job of bringing attn to it. I know in Italy fuel is over $5.00 a gallon and we would rent a diesel vehicle and got way better gas mileage of our 1400+ mile 10 day trip.

There has to be answers for recycling anyway we can...I enjoyed reading this post...humm will think of this for awhile. Thanks! Hope my response was somewhat intelligent in regards to something I am not familar.