Monday, December 17, 2007

It's Our World...

Information and Images from: National Geographic,,,,,,, and

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Patzek's Perspective...

Note: Please be patient as the podcast may take a little while to load. This podcast was recorded by Margot Gerritsen.

Ethanol is definitely the word these days. It seems the majority can find no fault in it. However, there are people (including myself) who question whether or not ethanol is the "silver bullet" it's claimed to be, or if today's obsession is just "irrational exuberance", and not a viable cure for our dependence on foreign oil. Margot Gerritsen, assistant professor at Stanford University, interviews Professor Ted Patzek of Berkeley University about his opinions of ethanol and biofuels. Topics discussed include the effects of large scale production of biomass crops, energy consumption in the United States, and why ethanol's success in Brazil cannot be considered indicative of our future with ethanol. I believe with the majority of what he says, but must admit that I have not yet investigated the possibility of nuclear energy in depth.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Once Upon a Survey...

I conducted a small-scale survey of high school students, asking the question, "How much do you know about energy consumption, ethanol, and alternative energy sources?" Before I examined the results, I hypothesized that most students would select either choice B)"I know some" or choice C) "I know little". The students I surveyed did not disprove my thoughts. Out of forty students, eleven said they knew only "some" about energy consumption, ethanol, and alternative energy sources, while twelve said they know "little", and nine admitted to knowing "practically nothing". Only eight of the forty were knowledgeable enough to claim they know "a lot" about the topic. I broke the results down by grade, just to be more specific than lumping everyone into one large group, but this hardly brings anything new to observation, because I only surveyed ten students from each grade (out of around 350 students per grade). I also made a chart of people's choices grouped by gender, to see if anything interesting came from it. We see that fewer females chose either of the extremes, but I really think this might be because they are less outspoken. In contrast, more males picked choices A)"I know a lot" and D)"I know practically nothing" than I had expected. Despite these two trivialities, the survey still shows that the least popular response was A)" I know a lot". You ask, "Why is this significant?". It is important because I truly believe in order to make an "informed decision", one must be informed. Based on this small survey, we conclude that only eight out of forty students, a mere twenty percent, can be considered informed. Now you ask, "Why does it matter how "informed" a bunch of high school students are?" The answer to that, my friend, is actually quite simple. High school students are "on the brink", so to speak. On the verge of adulthood, and independence, and soon to become eligible voters. What does our future look like if we have a bunch of ill-informed and uneducated voters? Similar to today, in my opinion. Full of thick headed people with one-sided arguments. Polls show that most people favor candidates who support ethanol. I don't mean to be pessimistic, but I interpret this to mean that the majority of people aren't informed about the cost of ethanol. Let us just hope that people soon realize the necessity of looking at all sides of issues and accumulating knowledge before they make decisions.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Production & Value

Ethanol is an "alternative" energy source. At least, that is what many people are saying. I, however, believe it takes at least as much, if not more, energy to produce ethanol as it provides, and if not, the effect on the environment is still unimproved. If it were truly "alternative", it would be completely independent of fossil fuels. We currently can't make ethanol with out using oil, or coal. How are the machines that plant and harvest the corn powered? How are the vehicles that transport the corn to production, and then distribute the ethanol, fueled? What about the milling process?

So the question is: Do we really gain anything through the production and use of ethanol? Some think converting to ethanol is one of the best things we can do. David Lorenz and David Morris, authors of the report "How Much Energy Does It Take to Make a Gallon of Ethanol?", state in their report: "Our analysis again concludes that the production of ethanol from corn is a positive net energy generator. Indeed, the numbers look even more attractive now(1995) than they did in 1992. More energy is contained in the ethanol and the other by-products of corn processing than is used to grow the corn and convert it into ethanol and by-products. If corn farmers use state-of-the-art, energy efficient farming techniques and ethanol plants integrate state-of-the-art production processes, then the amount of energy contained in a gallon of ethanol and the other by-products is more than twice the energy used to grow the corn and convert it into ethanol." The key in that is using "state-of-the-art, energy efficient techniques". Ideally, that would be wonderful, but currently it is not a reality, and until people are willing to invest in making production more energy efficient, the net energy value can't be as great as Morris and Lorenz claim.
Others believe that while the net energy value may be positive (meaning ethanol is worth more energy than it takes to produce), it still doesn't help reduce the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. Increasing usage of corn ethanol would not lower environmental damages.
All things considered, corn ethanol isn't worth the time, energy, and money that could be put towards alternative energy research and applications.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ethanol & Energy Today

Sadly, it seems people are more interested in what's happening to their favorite pop star than they are about what's happening in our world. A 'sign of the times', I'm sure. However, anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention to real news has most likely heard of ethanol. "Yes," you're thinking, "I've heard of it, but what exactly is it and how does it affect me?"
Simply put, ethanol is an alternative fuel to petroleum, made from corn in the United States(though it can be made from other plants, corn is currently the most used here).
Ethanol is by no means a "new" thing-- it's been produced for years. The reason it's "in" at the moment is that people are becoming more aware. Aware that oil is expensive, and taking more than just a pretty penny out of their pockets. Aware that consumption is on the rise, while resources remain finite. Aware that our world is changing, as a result of our careless behavior.
What it means to you is certainly not so easily defined. Do you take responsibility for your contribution and realize you need to help find a solution, or do you deny that global warming is even occurring?
If you've an educated mind, following simple facts, you realize energy is in fact a problem. Now, the question remains: What do we do about it? Cease petroleum consumption? Use alternative energy sources?
I plan to explore different aspects of this issue in further posts.