Which Presidential Candidate Has the Best Alternative Energy Plan?

Some of the most important issues of the 2008 Presidential campaign revolve around alternative energy and breaking our dependence on foreign oil.  Thanks to our current energy crunch, Americans have had to deal with much higher prices for gasoline and energy, and are likely to face record high heating bills this winter.

On top of the economic pain, it’s hard to deny that the green movement is in full effect.  Since it’s pretty hard to deny the link between our use of fossil fuels and our current environmental problems – most notably, global warming – an alternative energy plan predicated on carbon neutral resources is extremely important to a lot of voters.

So, which candidate won over the most Americans with his energy plan?  Right now, it’s kind of hard to tell.

According to a recent poll on Daily Fuel Economy Tip, most Americans are torn over whether either, neither, or both Presidential candidates will be able to implement a solid alternative energy plan.

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The Car That Will Save the Planet

About a year or so ago, I was being interviewed by a radio program out in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the host asked me about what I thought would be the best “energy and transportation” solution to that would get us off oil and gasoline and save the environment.

At the time, I wasn’t sure how to answer, so I gave a very broad response like, “There are many promising technologies out there that are being explored, but until one becomes the indisputable front runner, we should just focus on driving less and buying more fuel efficient cars.”

Clearly, a very PC answer – maybe I’ll run for office some day.

Regardless, I’ve now come up with what I think is the answer to our oil/gas/environmental problems. It’s not exactly revolutionary, and will probably be expensive to implement, but I have yet to come across a better solution.

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Fuel Efficient Vehicles Dominate Super Bowl Ads. Just Kidding.

If you’re trying to pitch a new product or put a re-brand your corporation (e.g. from a eco-disaster to one of a more environmental leader), there’s likely no better forum than in a Super Bowl ad. With hundreds of millions of people watching around the world, it’s near impossible to not get your point across.

Unfortunately, it looks like the world’s major car manufacturers missed that memo.

Out of the 64 commercials shown during the Super Bowl, nine were dedicated to cars, trucks and/or SUVs. Of those nine commercials, exactly one was dedicated to a fuel efficient, hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle. And, oddly enough, that one commercial was for General Motor’s Yukon hybrid. Click here to see the ad.

(In GM’s defense, during the pre-game there were several commercials for their Fuel Cell prototype vehicles. Unfortunately, pre-game commercials don’t count.)

Now, I suppose for $2.7 million a pop, these car manufacturers are probably going to try and push vehicles that are already available for public consumption and not focus so much on products that have yet to hit the streets.

That being said, for companies like Ford and Chrysler, each of whom is desperately (and ineffectively) trying to keep from losing market share, this Super Bowl would have been a great opportunity to show that they are at least working on more fuel efficient vehicles.

Considering gas mileage is now the number one factor in determining which car to purchase, Ford and Chrysler likely would have increased interest in their vehicles and foot traffic in their dealerships had they simply shown an add saying, “we know what you want and we’re working as quickly as we can to get it to you.”

Instead, Ford decided to shill it’s F-150 and Chrysler (who seems to be facing significant financial issues) decided to do nothing.

Until these companies get it right and really start pushing to give the people the fuel efficient vehicles they want, Ford and Chrysler are going to continue to lose people to Toyotas, Hondas and, apparently, the GMs of the world.

What’s Going to Replace Gasoline?

I think by now everyone is well aware of the fact that we’re past due to begin serious research into finding which of the new alternative fuels will be the best option to replace gasoline as the major source of energy for our vehicles.

Whether it’s due to environmental factors like pollution and global warming or due to the fact gasoline is a finite resource that for all intents and purposes is shrinking with each passing day, the time has come for us to begin taking the slow and arduous steps towards finding a cheap and renewable fuel source.

Unfortunately, because all of these alternative fuels are relatively untested and still in concept phase, it seems it’s going to be pretty hard to choose which one to go with. And if you go by the results of a recent poll on GasBuddy.com, it appears that we’re pretty evenly divided between the alternative fuels we believe will ultimately power our vehicles.

When asked, “what will be the next best automobile alternative to petroleum?” here’s how nearly 16,000 people responded:

  • 33% chose hydrogen fuel cells
  • 21% chose biofuels
  • 21% chose electric (battery)
  • 17% chose unknown/no opinion
  • 2% chose compressed natural gas
  • 2% chose liquefied natural gas
  • 1% chose liquefied petroleum gas

As you can see, not are there a lot of possible options, but we’re pretty well divided between those options. Each alternative fuel has its pros and cons, but it unfortunately it appears that it’s the lack of definitive information that’s making it difficult for us to settle on “the next” fuel.

The results from the GasBuddy.com poll were pretty much in line with a similar poll I ran back in April, which asked, “which type of vehicle do you think will best help solve our environmental problems?” Not coincidentally, hydrogen fuel cell cars came in number one in my poll as well, with 41% of the responses. Plug-in hybrids (27%), electric cars (25%) and ethanol vehicles (7%) were the other responses.

Hopefully over the next couple of years, the world’s major oil companies will reduce their dividends and share buyback programs and start pumping money into alternative fuels. Maybe that way we’ll know which direction we’re going before it’s too late.

Oil Companies Buy Back Stocks – Why You Should Be Angry

The other day Chevron announced that they were planning to buy back nearly $15 billion worth of their stock, a move which is great for current stock holders. For those of you who are unaware, a stock buy back program essentially drives the price of a company’s stock higher due to the fact the company is taking a certain percentage of the available stock out of circulation.

Chevron isn’t the only oil company to have recently approved a buy back program, as ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips have similar programs. Unfortunately for these companies, this time there might not be safety in numbers.

It appears that these share buy back programs have drawn the ire of many people who feel that the money used to purchase company stock (and thus rewarding the shareholders) would be much better served going towards either building new refineries or alternative fuel research and development.

While I know and understand that publicly traded companies have an obligation to maximize shareholder wealth (which is what a stock buy back does) it would be nice to see these multi-billion dollar companies be willing to overlook increasing shareholder value by a couple of percentage points and do what’s best for their customers.

Considering we’re in the midst of ever increasing energy costs as well as facing a global climate crisis brought on by our reliance on fossil fuels, I think it’s pretty clear that the best investment Chevron, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips could have made was to pour the stock buy back money into research and development of cheap and renewable energy sources.

While I don’t think $15 billion is enough to come up with a viable alternative fuel, it’s certainly a pretty good start.

In the meantime, I guess we’ll just have to sit back and hope that the shareholders who are reaping the financial benefits of the buy back reinvest their profits in companies that care about the greater good, not just their price per share.

Will Any Good Come From Higher Gas Prices?

While it’s fairly safe to say that most of us are pretty unhappy with the fact that we’re paying more than $3 for a gallon of gas – roughly 40% more than what we were paying less than five months ago- it seems that a majority of us think that these increased prices might actually lead to something positive.

According to a recent poll on Daily Fuel Economy Tip, over 60% of us believe that this latest increase in gasoline prices will bring a greater sense of urgency towards finding dependable alternative fuels.

When asked, “Do you think higher gas prices will bring a greater sense of urgency towards finding alternative fuels?” 63% of respondents stated yes, 28% stated no and 9% stated that they were unsure.

Granted, because the environment and oil tend to be a pretty hot topics as it is, it’s likely that the push for finding reliable, cheaper alternative fuels would have come even without the dramatic increase in the price of gasoline.

That being said, it certainly seems that most people expect these fuels will receive greater attention not because of the environmental impact, but because of the potential financial impact.

So, even though it’s a pain to have to pay more at the pump, if it means that there will be a greater emphasis on the research and development of possible replacements for fossil fuels, I think that shelling out the extra money will be worth it in the long haul.

ConocoPhillips and Tysons Teamup to Create Biodiesel Fuel

It looks like biodiesel may be the alternative fuel of the future if ConocoPhillips and Tysons have anything to say about it.

According to a report published on CNN.com, the two giant corporations have planned a partnership that will allow the two companies to create millions of gallons of biodiesel fuel each year.

This agreement seems to make perfect sense: Tysons – one of the largest meat processing companies in the world – will provide ConocoPhillips – one of the largest oil companies in the world – with the raw material necessary to produce one form of biodiesel fuel (beef, chicken and pork fat), while ConocoPhillips will refine the material into nearly 200 million gallons of the alternative fuel, once production is fully ramped up.

Biodiesel fuels have long believed to be one of the most viable alternative fuels available due to the fact it’s renewable, can be produced domestically and, once converted, can be added to regular diesel fuel or be used as its own stand alone fuel.

Unfortunately, biodiesel fuels tend to not perform well is colder temperatures and currently, if added to your regular diesel fuel car’s engine, may void the manufacturer’s warranty.

However, a commitment to biodiesel by two companies of this magnitude will certainly only add to the alternative fuel’s credibility.

Are Biodiesel Fuel Vehicles the Answer to the Growing Environmental Problems?

After taking a couple of days off to talk about some other things, it’s time to get back to reviewing cars that might be able to save the planet.

Today I’m going to look at biodiesel fuel, which I think is one of the more interesting alternative fuels out there because it is essentially a creative way of turning waste products into fuel for our cars.

According to FuelEconomy.gov:

“Biodiesel is a form of diesel fuel manufactured from vegetable oils, animal fats, or recycled restaurant greases.  It is safe, biodegradable and produces less air pollutants than petroleum based diesel.”

And, the best part is, most diesel fuel vehicles are currently able to run on biodiesel fuels.  Granted, you can’t just run out to the store, buy a bottle of vegetable oil and be on your way; you would still need to be refined before it was ok to use as fuel.

Here’s a list of pros and cons that I was able to pull together from a couple of different online resources:

Pros:

  • Is a completely renewable source of fuel.
  • Can be produced from products (restaurant greases) that would otherwise be thrown away.
  • Emits substantially less hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides and sulfate.
  • Biodegradable and less toxic to handle when compared to gasoline.

Cons:

  • Currently, if you try and use biodiesel fuel in your diesel vehicle, it may void your car’s warranty.
  • Unless you’re getting waste products from restaurants for free and then converting it to biodiesel yourself, it’s going to cost you more than gasoline.
  • Emissions include a slight increase in nitrous oxide, which is commonly referred to as “laughing gas.”
  • Tends to not perform well in cold temperatures.

While biodiesel fuels certainly have their drawbacks, it looks as if it could definitely be a very viable alternative fuel.  And, if we can try and set it up in such a way that most of it is produced via waste products, I think that biodiesels should be pushed to the top of the list of possible alternative fuels. 

For more information regarding biodiesel fuels, please check out FuelEconomy.gov and Biodiesel.org.

Are Ethanol Vehicles the Answer to the Growing Environmental Problems?

When gas prices hit record highs last summer, most of the talk about possible cheap and renewable fuel sources seemed to surround ethanol, which a product of carbon based feed stock.  Currently, most of the world’s ethanol comes from either corn or sugarcane.

As a matter of fact, you’re probably using a small bit of ethanol when you drive your cars, as most gas stations have begun to use ethanol – usually less than 10% – as a mixture with regular gasoline.

Unfortunately, after doing some research, it appears that ethanol will help much less with the growing environmental problems than it will with helping to wean the United States off of its addition to foreign oil.

Here’s a list of pros and cons that I was able to pull together from a couple of different online resources: 

Pros:

  • Because ethanol is a derived from feedstock, it is a completely renewable fuel source.
  • Can be produced domestically from cradle (the harvesting of the feedstock) to grave (turning the feedstock into fuel).
  • It can be used by itself as fuel, or can be mixed with gasoline.

Cons:

  • Because Ethanol requires so much corn, it’s driving the prices of many food products – such as corn, beef and poultry – much higher.
  • In order to farm enough corn to make ethanol a viable fuel source, it’s going to take a lot of land.  Not to mention the fact that farming on this massive of a scale can create its own environmental problems.
  • When Ethanol is burned greenhouse carbon dioxide is still released, however less carbon monoxide is released.
  • Ethanol contains roughly 2/3rds of the energy per gallon as gasoline.

In terms of being more environmentally friendly than burning fossil fuels, it looks like the jury’s still out.  According to a study published by two Cal-Berkeley professors, ethanol actually produces similar amounts of greenhouse gasses as gasoline.  However, as technologies advance and scientists are able to determine which feedstocks produce less harmful emissions, it’s not unreasonable to think that ethanol will become more environmentally friendly.

One of the major concerns regarding ethanol is weather or not it really is an economically viable fuel source.  Many economists are arguing that because the energy it takes to grow, harvest and process the ethanol is greater than the energy produced by the ethanol, that this is essentially a losing proposition. 

If this is true, I think they are 100% correct, as this means more harm to the environment and to the economy.

For additional information, please check out National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition and Wikipedia.

Are Fuel Cell Vehicles the Answer to the Growing Environmental Problems?

In continuing my “series” on environmentally friendly cars of the future, today I will be taking a look at Fuel Cell vehicles.  Yesterday I wrote about Plug-in Hybrids, which seem to be an obvious short term answer to decreasing both our demand for oil as well as carbon emissions.

The long term answer, however, probably lies in a vehicle that can be completely independent of gasoline and the power grid.  And many people feel that this is where Fuel Cell vehicles will come into play.

Fuel Cell vehicles are powered by electric motors that are charged by the electricity created when hydrogen is mixed with oxygen from the air.  This hydrogen can come either from either pure hydrogen gas, or hydrogen rich fuels such as methane or natural gas.

Undoubtedly, the biggest buzz in alternative fuels surrounds fuel cell vehicles.  While these vehicles are still a long way away from mass production, their potential is undeniable.

Here’s a list of pros and cons that I pulled from a couple of different online resources:

Pros:

  • When using strictly hydrogen as fuel, the vehicle’s exhaust will only contain water and heat.
  • Even when using hydrogen rich fuels, carbon emissions will be greatly less than regular gasoline burning engines.
  • Will help to reduce the dependency on foreign oil.
  • Fuel cell vehicles have the ability to produce their own electricity, meaning it isn’t necessary to plug the car into the power grid to recharge its batteries.
  • Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, so chances are this is a pretty renewable resource.

Cons:

  • Fuel cell vehicles are pretty much still in the concept phase, so they’re a long way away from hitting the mainstream.  Many auto manufacturers are aiming to begin slowly releasing the vehicles to the public by 2010.
  • Currently there’s little to no infrastructure in place for hydrogen refueling stations.
  • These vehicles, as well as the hydrogen fuel, are currently projected to be far too expensive for most people.

Fuel cells are certainly very promising and they do look like they could help solve a lot of our oil and environmental problems.  Unfortunately, the technolgy is unproven so the hopeful release date of 2010 will probably be even later than that.

Regardless, fuel cells are absolutely worth exploring and have the potential to revolutionize transportation.

For additional information regarding fuel cell vehicles, please check out Fueleconomy.gov and EPA.gov.

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