According to a Stanford University researcher, 'wind, water and sun beat biofuels, nuclear and coal for clean energy.' The scientist 'has conducted the first quantitative, scientific evaluation of the proposed, major, energy-related solutions by assessing not only their potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, but also their impacts on global warming, human health, energy security, water supply, space requirements, wildlife, water pollution, reliability and sustainability.' Wow! The researcher found that some sources of energy were 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options. Some of his conclusions make sense, some are controversial, but read more...
You can see on the left a photo of the researcher, Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford. (Credit: Stanford University). Here is a link to the original version of this image.
Before going further, please note that "Jacobson received no funding from any interest group, company or government agency."
Let's start with some Jacobson comments. "'The energy alternatives that are good are not the ones that people have been talking about the most. And some options that have been proposed are just downright awful,' Jacobson said. 'Ethanol-based biofuels will actually cause more harm to human health, wildlife, water supply and land use than current fossil fuels.' He added that ethanol may also emit more global-warming pollutants than fossil fuels, according to the latest scientific studies."
So what are his recommendations? "The raw energy sources that Jacobson found to be the most promising are, in order, wind, concentrated solar (the use of mirrors to heat a fluid), geothermal, tidal, solar photovoltaics (rooftop solar panels), wave and hydroelectric. He recommends against nuclear, coal with carbon capture and sequestration, corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol, which is made of prairie grass. In fact, he found cellulosic ethanol was worse than corn ethanol because it results in more air pollution, requires more land to produce and causes more damage to wildlife."
Now, let's look at why he decided that wind is the best promising source of energy. "Wind was by far the most promising, Jacobson said, owing to a better-than 99 percent reduction in carbon and air pollution emissions; the consumption of less than 3 square kilometers of land for the turbine footprints to run the entire U.S. vehicle fleet (given the fleet is composed of battery-electric vehicles); the saving of about 15,000 lives per year from premature air-pollution-related deaths from vehicle exhaust in the United States; and virtually no water consumption. By contrast, corn and cellulosic ethanol will continue to cause more than 15,000 air pollution-related deaths in the country per year, Jacobson asserted."
Even if Jacobson's research was done a long time before the possible bailout of the U.S. Big Three automakers, his research can give additional arguments to the opponents of this bailout. "Jacobson's research is particularly timely in light of the growing push to develop biofuels, which he calculated to be the worst of the available alternatives. In their effort to obtain a federal bailout, the Big Three Detroit automakers are increasingly touting their efforts and programs in the biofuels realm, and federal research dollars have been supporting a growing number of biofuel-research efforts. 'That is exactly the wrong place to be spending our money. Biofuels are the most damaging choice we could make in our efforts to move away from using fossil fuels,' Jacobson said."
Please read the whole Stanford University document for additional details.
But for more information, this research work has been published online on December 1, 2008 as an "advance article" by the scientific journal Energy & Environmental Science under the name "Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security." Here is the beginning of the abstract. "This paper reviews and ranks major proposed energy-related solutions to global warming, air pollution mortality, and energy security while considering other impacts of the proposed solutions, such as on water supply, land use, wildlife, resource availability, thermal pollution, water chemical pollution, nuclear proliferation, and undernutrition. Nine electric power sources and two liquid fuel options are considered. The electricity sources include solar-photovoltaics (PV), concentrated solar power (CSP), wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, wave, tidal, nuclear, and coal with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The liquid fuel options include corn-ethanol (E85) and cellulosic-E85."
The full paper, which will appear in the printed version of the journal in 2009, is available from the link above or from this direct link. Here is an excerpt from the conclusions. "In summary, the use of wind, CSP, geothermal, tidal, solar, wave, and hydroelectric to provide electricity for BEVs [battery-electric vehicles] and HFCVs [hydrogen fuel cell vehicles] result in the most benefit and least impact among the options considered. Coal-CCS and nuclear provide less benefit with greater negative impacts. The biofuel options provide no certain benefit and result in significant negative impacts. Because sufficient clean natural resources (e.g., wind, sunlight, hot water, ocean energy, gravitational energy) exists to power all energy for the world, the results here suggest that the diversion of attention to the less efficient or non-efficient options represents an opportunity cost that delays solutions to climate and air pollution health problems."
Sources: Louis Bergeron, Stanford University, December 10, 2008; and various websites
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