There is an urgent need to stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, dramatically reduce wasted energy, and significantly shift our power supplies from oil, coal, and natural gas to wind, solar, geothermal, and other renewable energy sources. ~Bill McKibben
Denmark produces the most wind power per capita, and Germany produces the most solar power per capita. Sadly, the US is known as the largest producer of fossil fuels in the world and is now changing rules to allow the fossil fuel industry to wreck more of our environment! Leave it to science and technology to help invent new alternate energy sources that may help us leave more of that carbon in the ground.
In this issue, I share some research that describes how hydrogen can be cleanly extracted from buried coal and how engineered bacteria can produce biodiesel from agricultural waste.
Hydrogen Gas from Oil and Coal
You’ve heard of “clean coal,” right? Sorry, that is fake news. There is no such thing as clean coal. However, this article describes using oxygen to extract hydrogen from oil and coal while leaving the nasty carbon in the ground!
Scientists have developed a large-scale economical method to extract hydrogen (H2) from oil sands (natural bitumen) and oil fields. This can be used to power hydrogen-powered vehicles, which are already marketed in some countries, as well as to generate electricity; hydrogen is regarded as an efficient transport fuel, similar to petrol and diesel, but with no pollution problems.
Good News: Proton Technologies is commercializing the process which produces H2 for between 10 and 50 cents per kilogram compared to current costs of around $2 per kilogram. Five percent of the H2 produced powers the oxygen production plant, so the system pays for itself!
Tech Breakthrough Could Change Biofuels Forever
Did you know that when you run a diesel vehicle on waste cooking oil, your exhaust smells like French fries? Now there is a better source of biodiesel for more than one reason.
At present, standard biodiesel is produced [from] vegetable oils or animal fats, a process in organic chemistry that creates a reaction exchanging ester for alcohol (like ethanol or biodiesel, the two most common forms of biofuel). This creates a problem, however, as the production of biofuels requires huge amounts of organic material and agricultural products for its creation, taking up valuable land area that could otherwise be used for food production.
Good News: Researchers from South Korea engineered Rhodococcus opacus bacteria to produce long-chain fatty acids from fermenting glucose, an abundant and cheap sugar derived from non-edible biomass. This invention has the potential to revolutionize biodiesel without depending on fossil fuels and vegetable or animal oils.
I believe that these alternate energy sources may help us until solar energy joins wind power to replace fossil fuel. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that solar panels covering less than 2% of the land currently dedicated to cropland and grazing would be enough to power the entire country!
But first, we have to extract the fossil fuel dollars from the pockets of our legislators.