Posted By RichC on January 30, 2006
President Bush will use his State of the Union address this week to stress a package of energy proposals. He will continue to talk about our nation’s development and implementation of fuel-saving technologies. Front most in the President’s vision is hydrogen. He believes that eventually Americans will be filling their fuel-cell cars at hydrogen stations and eventually it will replace petroleum providing us near limitless supplies of clean burning fuel. (hmm … probably not in my lifetime?)
In the short term, President Bush will promote biofuels as a way to use our existing vehicles. Many vehicles already run on fuels processed from farm produce or even trash called biodiesel and ethanol. The president remarked regularly about these alternatives in his first term and notably referenced them in his stump speeches, like the one in West Chester, OH in 2004. (click for short mp3 audio)
The President’s proposals will be aimed at spreading the use of biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen and renewable fuels — some were part of the energy bill that he signed into law in August of 2005. The addition of subsidised alternatives like biodiesel and ethanol have largely gone unnoticed by most Americans and so far are only seen as a drop in the bucket. According to a Pew Research poll, 9 out of 10 Americans worry about high fuel prices and US citizens are feeling pinched as high energy costs are reflected in nearly everything they purchase. We’re all are seeing higher heating and utility bills and who hasn’t noticed the cost of filling up their car? Even though the economy has shown some encouraging signs, energy and fuel prices continue to dampen that mood.
No doubt the biggest concern Americans face as we ponder energy, is the unrest in the middle east. President Bush expressed this in a comment to CBS, “I agree with Americans who understand being hooked on foreign oil as an economic problem and a national security problem.” He told CBS that he is looking for tax breaks that encourage new technologies, which is popular with farmers, with industry and with consumers of those products. “We have got to wean ourselves off hydrocarbons, oil. And the best way, in my judgment, to do it is to promote and actively advance new technologies so that we can drive – have different driving habits.”
Bush stresses that the federal government needs to push harder toward a more widespread use of corn-based ethanol, although non-corn ethanol from sources like grasses, wood chips and even garbage could prove practical and cost-effective. (although most in this industry suggest we are still years away from using raw products other than corn for ethanol)
Most likely the President will point out that we already have vehicle capable of using these alternative fuels. For example, 4.6 million cars on the road in the United States can run on ethanol. The fuel works in more than 30 models, however, almost all drivers of those vehicles outside the corn belt fill up with gasoline — as do many ‘even’ in the corn belt. (See E85 ready vehicles)
Although the automakers and most environmentalists are excited about the prospect of fuel cells and hydrogen, developing and adopting this technology is going to be extremely expensive. The production of hydrogen is energy intensive and we as a country lack the infrastructure and specialized fueling stations to make it viable in the short term. (unlike biodiesel and ethanol) The date most government officials place on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is 2020.
As for electricity, fuel oil and natural gas that Americans used to power their homes, we are well behind the curve in supplantting these with renewables. Very little U.S. electricity now comes from renewables such as wind, solar, geothermal, wood and waste; it will be interesting to see what options are presented.