Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sorry for the Absence - I'm Back

I'd like to say sorry to all you regular readers out there (and there's got to be a couple of you, right?!) for my recent absence here at Watthead. Work on my thesis, has been absorbing much of my time lately, as it probably should (it now has an official title though: On the Road to Replacing Oil - Exploring Alternative Transportation Fuels and Energy Sources) .

Additionally, I spent the last week on the road and away from reliable internet access. I headed down to Chico State University in California last Tuesday evening to attend the Western Regional Sustainability Conference. There, my girlfriend, Jenny, and I gave a presentation on our work here at the University of Oregon to institute an optional program that will allow residents of the UO dorms to purchase Green Tags to cover their personal electricity consumption. I then headed on to San Francisco on Thursday for a bit of a visit with family.

I'm back home now and should resume the 'regularly scheduled programming' here at Watthead, assuming my real world commitments don't intrude to much. I hope you stay tuned...


bob said...

"On the Road to Replacing Oil - Exploring Alternative Transportation Fuels and Energy Sources)" ... great topic! We need to change how we use energy.

It appears that many commentators ignore the overall energy balance of the processes for making alternative fuels, as well as what sources can generate the alt fuels. Please satisfy the critics that we'll get more out than we put in.

WattHead said...

Thanks Bob. As for satisfying the critics, I am conducting a well-to-wheels analysis using the Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy Use in Transport (GREET) model developed by Argonne National Labs.

That is, I am examining the entire fuel production pathway from mining/farming/production of the feedstock down through transportation and refining of feedstock, transportation, storage and distribution of fuel, on through to the vehicle's fuel tank/battery/fuel storage and on to the vehicle's wheels.

That will give a good picture of total GHG and criteria pollutant emissions as well as petroleum, fossil and total energy use associated with each mile driven by a vehicle given a particular fuel pathway and vehicle technology. That's the plan anyway...

bob said...

I’m not familiar with GREET, but hope it is thorough, accurate and based on defendable assumptions. My comment was driven by having noticed that politicians (here in MO) stress the local income benefits of govt regs requiring more ethanol in auto fuel. I think they believe it gets them votes. They don’t respond to questions relating to the energy balance so I suspect they haven’t the foggiest notion of what I’m asking. Someone has to do the right analysis and it seems you are.

My underlying concern relates to a non-environmental issue: we need to stop (or seriously reduce) importing oil from the bad guys. I recently read an online article (which I can’t find) which points out that the total cost of producing a bbl of oil at the wellhead (~$4-6/bbl) has declined over the past 20 or 30 years. This means two things: we aren’t going to run out soon, and there is a massive transfer of wealth from the west to the mid-east. If the producers are enjoying $50 to 55/bbl margins, they are winning. So we need ‘new’ sources of energy to drive ourselves and the economy. The environment is a driver, and will be a beneficiary of this change as well!

Robert McLeod said...

You may also want to use RETScreen or Homer if you want to simulate the actual electricity production of alternate energy sources. Homer can be particularly useful if you want to generate data that shows the intermittancy of wind power.

I have links to them on Entropy Production.

WattHead said...

Thanks Robert. I do have RETScreen but I haven't heard of Homer before. I probably won't use them for my thesis, however, as I don't need that detailed a look at individual renewable energy facilities to use the caluclations in the GREET model needed for my Well-to-Wheels analysis. RETScreen, and Homer I assume, are very interesting models though and worth poking around in.

Bob, I'm not sure that I agree that we are not going to run out of oil anytime soon. There's a lot of evidence to support the opposite contention. Anyway, the way I see it, there are three forces motivating our push towards alternative fuels, and the same fuel/energy source/technology isn't necessarily the best at solving all three:

(1) reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate global climate change.
(2) reducing criteria pollutant emissions - i.e. those that cause smog, acid rain, etc - particularly in our populated urban areas.
(3) reducing our dependence on foreign oil and oil in general, assuming that it is a finite resource which is depleted by our continued use.

Our light duty transport fleet contributes significantly to all three of those problems. My thesis seeks to explore the relative benefits of various alternative tranport options in terms of mitigating those three problems.

bob said...

I'm new to your blog so forgive my not knowing ... "Our light duty transport fleet ..." Is this something specific, or are you looking for a broad solution? (I'm interested in either case.)

BTW ... we've been running out of oil since it was discovered. Partly because the definition of 'proven reserves' has an economic component. As soon as the price of oil goes up, Proven Reserves increase. Also, as of the mid 80's, only 5% of the world's sedimentary basins had been explored. (I don't know the number now). But we will eventually run out and should conserve this highly valueable asset for those applications that can use only it.

In any case we need new sources of energy as well as how we use it.

WattHead said...

Bob, I'd like to give you a formal welcome to the site! I'm curious how you stumbled across it?

Light duty transport fleet refers to cars and light trucks, i.e. personal vehicles, and excludes medium and heavy trucks, buses, off-road vehicles, etc. Basically its all the cars, minivans, light trucks and SUVs normal people drive plus those same vehicles belonging to government and business fleets. Hope that clears it up.

bob said...

I don't recall how I discovered your blog. Several weeks ago I was noodling around energy sites and most likely some other blogger linked to your site, I went there (here) and liked what I saw. I use Bloglines to track the 20 or so sites I read regularly.

Keep in mind that as the US moves away from hydrocarbon fuels, specifically mid east oil, others (like China) will be happy to buy Arabian oil. For the US economy to be competitive in world markets (which is vital to our survival), the alternative sources of energy need to be cost competitive.