The threee options for global transportation fuel

As should be now clear, mankind has three options capable of supplying transportation fuel similar to what we are used to. That is fuels that derive their energy from the burning of molecular carbon and hydrogen.

As shown yesterday, it appears likely that we can extend the usage of geological hydrocarbons for around a century or so because we are mastering the art of their extraction. This will continue to be cheapest once it is all sorted out over the next twenty years.

The second source is the two stage conversion of wood chips into firstly a bio liquid through fast pyrolysis and then into a usable fuel perhaps through several reforming technologies. Since the first stage is liquid, and the feedstock is sufficient to globally replace oil, the payoff is obvious and the research should succeed.

The third source is algae oil. Research on production is in its infancy and it is still impractical and poorly understood. Did you ever wonder how many centuries it took to master the art of making wine? Same problem. The reward however is a huge leap in productivity on a per acre basis and the ability to preferentially use deserts. And the product will need little processing to use. It is also capable of completely replacing geological oil.

Then it comes down to preferences. The best solution is to successfully harness wood chips, not because of the fuel itself but because of the secondary need to manage woodlands properly worldwide. We truly kill two birds with one stone.

This second goal must also be met if we hope to handle much larger populations. The integration of agriculture, woodland management and the human population is very necessary in order to achieve a fully energy efficient civilization.

The farm and woodland needs access to a community with available surplus labor in order to be able to maximize productivity of the resource. Ultimately that is how we prospered when the only available energy came from our backs.

One reason I totally appreciate the amazing achievement of the Amazonian Indians is the fact that they managed to create terra preta soils with a resultant high population density and a semi urban society using only their backs. If they had had to cut anything, it would never have happened. It simply would have taken too long to both cut material and to build out a proper kiln. Having a crop that could easily be pulled out of the seed bed with its soil contribution made the job possible.

Modern technology allows a small community to have all benefits of the urban world while still integrated with farm and woodland. This was not true ever. Such formal integration must now be planned for and implemented for civilization to achieve maximum energy efficiency while handling much larger populations.

Recall that five condo towers tied to one square kilometer of farm land gives us a population density of around 1000 people per square kilometer. We can all imagine that. Since around 15,000,000 square kilometers are readily available to us for human occupation in some form or the other, it becomes fairly clear that we can accommodate a population of 15 billion without becoming cheek and jowl. The real secret is to plan so energy needs are minimal and self sustaining.

It is all very possible.

As an aside, I have focused on strictly organic solutions to the transportation energy equation. Other options exist but are technically much more challenging and face the natural problem of an inability to integrate at all with the current legacy of gasoline and diesel power plants and engines.

Electrical systems require super batteries that are cheap. This research has been ongoing forever and has not changed anything that matters. And other storage systems ultimately give us the problem of traveling around with a bomb in our fuel tank. Not very likely even though I like a couple of the methods.

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