Friday, July 11, 2008


Fifty plus years ago Robert Heinlein, one of the world’s greatest science fiction authors wrote TANSTAAFL.

“There Aint No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.”

I am reminded of the above every time I read someone spouting about his/her’s latest solution to energy problem. From electric cars to hybrids to wind power to…. Well, you get the idea.

First we all need to come to an understanding that the world runs on carbon. First there was wood, then coal and then petroleum.

Wood is relatively easy to harvest and store, pollutes like crazy when burned and its heat yield is low. It is also renewable, but requires a long time frame and is bulky to store and difficult to transport. These short comings are sometimes given for the collapse and abandonment of whole cities in ancient civilizations.

Coal is harder to harvest, but still relatively easy to store, pollutes like crazy when burned but has a much greater heat yield. It is not renewable in man’s time frame, and is bulky and difficult to transport.

If you want to see what pollution really looks like take a peek at some pictures of Denver before they had natural gas.

Then we have petroleum, oil and natural gas.

Petroleum is hard to harvest, pollutes, but less than the coal or wood, and has a much higher heat yield. In fact, with proper technology, its pollution ability is almost nothing, and when refined it produces a real bang for the buck when mixed with compressed air and burned rapidly.

It is less bulky than coal or wood based on heat (energy) yield and is easy to transport and store in its unrefined state, but more difficult when refined.

Natural gas is hard to harvest, hard to store and very difficult to transport outside of pipelines. It gives a nice bank for the buck when used and is almost non polluting when burned.

All of the above is pretty basic stuff, if we stop and think about it.

Anyway, petroleum beget gasoline and the internal combustion engine beget the automobile.

And a little over a hundred years later we are here.

Along the way several alternatives were examined and discarded.

First was a steam engine powered by coal and/or wood and/or whatever would burn. Worked fine except 0 to 10 MPH was three minutes and having your wife, or your date, shovel coal into the fire box wasn’t considered the smartest thing to do.
Jet engines were examined but they suffered the same problem as the steam engine. There is a lag between the time fuel is applied and power occurs. Several jet aircraft have dug deep holes in the ground because the pilot didn’t thoroughly understand that. In addition they were noisy, produced huge amounts of pollution and the exhaust was a problem. They would, of course, burn almost any fuel, including perfume, as was demonstrated on TV back in 60’s.

Electric cars were always in favor, but no one could get around the battery problem. Large, heavy, expensive and short lived. They did make fine carts for golf and industrial use because if one quit it was no big deal.

Alcohol – ethanol - was tried as an early fuel, but it had, and still does, have the problem of mixing with water, plus it is only about 70% as powerful as gasoline. To revisit the water problem, gasoline is lighter than water, so it floats on water, and it is fairly easy to remove water from a tank by just letting everything settle down and sucking the water out of the bottom. In addition, you can pull gasoline through a pipe, shine a light through it via a lens and receiver and tell if it has water in it. Plus, it plays heck with rubber hoses and some seals.

Besides, petroleum was plentiful and cheap so it won the lottery and we now have the world’s largest refining and distribution system. Pay attention to that because almost any real overt change in the fuel, say increasing the alcohol content to 50% means that you have to take extra steps to prevent water contamination. And going to a 100% alcohol fuel, assuming in both cases the car can be adjusted to use it, magnifies the distribution problem.

So you can say that ethanol is part of the solution, but solving the problem requires a lot more than just making it.

It takes about one bushel of corn to produce 2.7 gallons of ethanol. Since corn is also human food, any increase in its use will jack the price of corn which will jack the price of food.

The people we give tons of money to and allow to call each other “Honorable” and “Learned” didn’t know that so they pushed for corn to be grown and now it’s at a record $8.00 a bushel.

Of course ethanol could easily be made from sugar, but sugar is subsidized so the amount raised is controlled…. We could import all we need from Brazil but we don’t want to have competition so we charge a tariff of 54 cents per pound…

Like I said “Honorable and Learned.” Did I also mention stupid and venal? Where’s the tar and feathers when you need’em??

But enough. My point is simple. Alcohol would work but has technical problems that are solvable. Unfortunately its use will require some people starving, or some politician’s political base be gored. Guess which one is going to happen??

Stranger and stranger for the Swiss

Far right groups in Switzerland have collected enough signatures to force a nationwide referendum on banning minarets, the distinctive towers of Islamic architecture. In what is being seen as a sign of growing Islamophobia in Europe, more than 100,000 Swiss citizens signed a petition to halt the construction of minarets. […]

Seems pretty simple. The people want a referendum on whether or not to ban what many see as symbols of Islam. You may agree, you may disagree, but since Switzerland is a country, and since banning minarets isn't like declaring you are going to destroy Iran (Israel) or building nucelar weapons you'd think it to be an internal matter.

Not so.

Marcel Stüssi, a researcher at Lucerne University […] says any ban would be incompatible with articles of international law to which Switzerland is a signatory. In the event that Swiss voters were to ban minarets, any of the 107 other signatories to the Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties of 1969 could launch action against Switzerland.

Nothing like having your own elites on the other side..... I mean that would never happen in the US. Right?? Right?? I can't hear youuuuuuuuu!


Tribute to Itally

As usual, the Gates of Vienna has it down pat. The whole article should be required reading for all Americans.

Throughout much of the Western world, the state-sponsored bureaucracy is no longer there to look after our individual or national interests; it is there to force us to surrender our countries to hostile aliens in the name of dangerous, utopian ideologies promoted by unaccountable transnational organs which do not have our interests in mind. In this situation, reluctance to allow faceless bureaucrats to run your life is a blessing, not a curse, and the ingrained Italian distrust of bureaucrats is probably one of the reasons why Italy is among the leading European nations in resisting unilateral cultural surrender.