Ashley E. Organ, Assistant Editor The American mentality generally is that we can do everything on our own, and moving toward energy independence is no exception. Lewis Reynolds, author of “America the Prisoner: The Implications of Foreign Oil Addiction and a Realistic Plan to End It,” provides five viable solutions to that end. 1. Invest in new infrastructure to process alternative fuels. Manufacturing liquid fuels from non-petroleum sources is feasible. Brazil, Germany, and South Africa have the technology to produce ethanol from sugarcane, coal, and natural gas. That same technology is capable of producing fuels in the US. According to Reynolds, the only difference is that research and the emergence of nanotechnology in the US make fuel produced this way more affordable and economically competitive with oil-based fuels. 2. Use existing biomass to ease our transition away from petroleum use. Biomass use makes the entire fuel cycle carbon-neutral, so no matter how much fuel is consumed, there will not be a net increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. The combination of relatively modest supplies (residues generated by traditional logging operations, processing wastes, urban wood residues, etc.), Reynolds said, is a formidable supply of biomass that can be refined to supplant a portion of petroleum currently imported to the US. 3. Grow ‘energy’ crops. To go beyond the fuel production capabilities from the existing biomass supply in the US, Reynolds believes we need to make the production of fuel from biomass consistent and sustainable. This will require cultivating “energy crops,” he said. Although the US already produces ethanol from corn, it has its disadvantages. The solution is finding alternative crops with higher yields than corn, such as switchgrass and arundo (a perennial grass). “In theory,” Reynolds said, “the addition of arundo and switchgrass to the agricultural scheme should have very little effect if energy crops are grown on land that is currently not used for other agricultural production.” 4. Implement government intervention wisely. According to Reynolds, any attempt for the US government to directly invest the US $900 billion needed for energy independence is not likely to yield ideal results. However, some legislative action will be needed to convince private investors to get on board. For long-term survival of an alternative fuel industry, the government can shield it from oil exporters and multinational oil companies by protecting it from a reactionary drop in prices. Reynolds suggests establishing a price floor for crude oil through an import tariff to support alternative fuels as well as the domestic oil and gas industry. 5. Develop more fuel-efficient cars. “It’s time for a new focus,” Reynolds said. Several revolutionary innovations in vehicle design have been proposed to significantly impact fuel demand, with hybrid and plug-in electric hybrid vehicles as the most promising options. According to Reynolds, “This is a step in the right direction.” Although incremental steps are important, Reynolds warns, “Americans should beware of any false sense of security.” US consumption of foreign oil is so substantial that improved fuel efficiency will not bring energy independence without significant production of alternative fuels.
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