Archive
2014
January
February
March
April
2013
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
2012
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
2011
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
2010
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
2009
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
2008
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
2007
January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
2006
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
Jan. 26, 2011

Sputnik Moment

by Carl Flatow

Post on Twitter
Share on Facebook

Our President linked “the future of America” with “tomorrow’s energy” and “millions of electric cars” in his State of the Union message last night. Indeed, one flavor of electric cars – one in which most of the current auto makers are betting heavily is the fuel cell powered vehicle.

It surprised me to find out that there are over 150 fuel cell vehicles on the roads right now (including almost a dozen buses) in California, according to an industry group. There are actually 20 stations open to supply those vehicles with hydrogen fuel in pilot programs. These companies are serious.

I wrote the other day that we need to make choices about from where we harvest that energy. A lot of that hydrogen is made from natural gas, but we can also produce it from solar energy and other renewables.

In my post the other day I mentioned that we could use ethanol as a bridge fuel. Most people don’t know that the fuel originally used by Henry Ford in his first automobiles (and was in use for decades) was ethanol. A comment from Rik engaged the question of what we use to make that ethanol. The current science of making ethanol shows that corn is one of the least efficient plant choices when it comes to producing ethanol, so I, for one, don’t think it’s a great idea. We use corn, not only because we grow so much of it, and the economics work partly because our tax dollars are used to subsidize the growing of corn – we have our thumb on the scale.

But the argument that we have to choose between food and fuel is uninformed. By far, most of the corn we produce is used to feed livestock. Ethanol is made from the carbohydrates in the corn. We feed what’s left AFTER we make that ethanol (known as distillers’ grains) to those animals. It is argued that it represents a better animal feed – lower carbs, all the protein still there. Let us not throw the baby out with the bath water. One of my reasons for liking ethanol is that it can easily be produced regionally/locally in community projects with ecologically beneficial side effects (corn free). Let’s move the science forward across the spectrum.

About Carl Flatow

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Science Friday® and SciFri® are registered service marks of Science Friday, Inc. Site design by Pentagram; engineering by Mediapolis.

 

topics