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August 12, 2008

The whole picture on alternative fuels

Everyone is looking for the next big fuel to replace oil and gas. Some of the candidates are solar power, wind power, wave power, geothermal and hydrogen. Scientists in Canada have even made fuel from the kudzu plant. However, is it enough just to say a fuel has been successfully made from some source or process?

Dr. Mike Walden, North Carolina Cooperative Extension economist in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at N.C. State University, responds:

"No, in some sense that may be the easy part. It's just the first step in a process. There are a whole bunch of steps that you have to go through in getting a fuel to the final user. You obviously have to develop the fuel, but you also then next have to get it to people. You have to have the infrastructure to move that fuel to the final user. This is actually now an issue now with ethanol. It's an issue with wind power. For example, there's a proposal right now being talked about to dramatically increase our use of wind power in the country. You essentially have to build a whole new infrastructure to deliver that to consumers. Another question is whether the fuel is safe, both to develop and use. That's an issue with hydrogen. And then finally, that fuel has to pass the economic test. Can it be produced, can it be delivered at a price that is competitive with other prices and other fuels? And that's an issue, for example, right now and still is with solar power. With solar power, you have to incur all those enormous costs up front in order to install the panels. So this is certainly not to disregard alternative fuels. I think we are on a move in our country to look for alternative fuels, but it's not that easy. It's a very complicated and expensive process."

Posted by Dave at August 12, 2008 08:00 AM