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Volvo puts its mind towards alternative energy

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On climate, on energy security, time is not on our side.

Researchers at NOAA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, say that the record heat of 2006 was, in large part, caused by us.

Researchers at NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, conclude in a article in Earth Observatory – “Greenland’s Ice Island Alarm” – that the island, eighty percent the size of the US east of the Mississippi, is losing significant amounts of ice. A side bar to the article says:

“The Greenland Ice Sheet could contribute around 4 centimeters to sea level rise by the year 2100, about 10 percent of the total predicted rise. This estimate could be too low, however, since it does not account for rapid, large-scale ice loss through processes such as the accelerated flow of glaciers into the sea.”

(The accelerated flow of glaciers into the sea is now a concern.)

President Bush said in a speech regarding consequences of a pull out from Iraq, “Extremists would control a key part of the world’s energy supply, and could blackmail and sabotage the global economy.

” They could use billions of dollars of oil revenues to buy weapons and pursue their deadly ambitions.”

Likely, there’s much truth in what he said. Yet eventually the US may have to leave.

Fossil fuels for transportation are only one cause of global warming, but the only cause for growing energy insecurity. Slow petroleum supplies from the Persian Gulf, and the world’s economies would come to a halt.

It seems time for a rapid switch over to something else to power our cars, trucks, boats and airplanes. There are many options. Perhaps too many.

Willing to show off its technical expertise (and perhaps out of frustration) Volvo has produced seven different medium duty trucks as demonstration vehicles to run on fuels made from renewable resources that the company says are carbon dioxide free. (Actually, carbon neutral.) All seven trucks use diesel engines but each is adapted to run on one of seven different renewable fuels. Seven different trucks, seven different fuels, one truck per fuel.

The fuels are, and the trucks operate on:

— Biodiesel. Presumably 100 percent biodiesel (B100) for its carbon neutrality.

— Biogas. Can be extracted in sewage treatment works, at garbage dumps, and at other sites at which biodegradable materials are found.

— Biogas plus Biodiesel. Stored in separate tanks and used in separate injection systems, a small percentage (10 percent) of biodiesel, or synthetic diesel, is used for achieving compression ignition in the diesel engine. The biogas in this alternative is in a cooled and liquid form that increases its range.

— Dimethyl ether (DME). A gas that is handled in liquid form under low pressure.(It handles like Propane.) DME can be produced through the gasification of biomass.

— Ethanol/Methanol. Methanol can be produced through the gasification of biomass; ethanol through the fermentation of crops rich in sugar and starch.

— Synthetic Diesel. A mixture of synthetically manufactured hydrocarbon produced through the gasification of biomass. Synthetic diesel can be mixed with conventional diesel fuel without problem.

— Hydrogen gas plus Biogas. This vehicle operates on a combination of hydrogen gas and biogas whereby the hydrogen gas is mixed in small volumes with compressed biogas The hydrogen gas can be produced through the gasification of biomass or electrolysis of water with renewable electricity.

Certainly Volvo could produce more low carbon and carbon free variations – hybrid, electric, fuel cell – if they wanted too.

And therein lies the problem. Many solutions will work but all need investment in infrastructure, something that vehicle manufacturers can’t do.

Determining which solution, which fuel, may now be more of a problem than finding the fuel itself.

The decision may come from the bottom line of the cost and carbon emissions comparative analysis: Which is the least expensive and yields the lowest greenhouse gas emissions?

Behind the scenes vehicle manufacturers, like Volvo must be frustrated. They seem ready to move forward, are aware of the ticking clock, but can’t on their own determine which fuel to go with. Someone else has to make that decision.

Almost daily news tells us time is running out on climate as well as Middle East petroleum. Vehicle manufacturers read the news too.

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