Friday, December 12, 2008

Liquid Gold

Tim O'Reilly (@timoreilly) retweeted a message via @judell from Saul Griffith: "Best case, you can look at bio-fuels as a 1%-efficient solar cell." After a few years of various small scale, more or less controlled experiments with feedstocks to make biofuels, and some attempts actually to produce liquid bio-fuels I would have to agree with Saul. Not only that, in order to get the feestock, one frequently has to work very hard, which calls into question whether even 1% efficiency can be claimed. I think we should regard liquid fossil fuels as a form of gold - so precious we should price it exorbitantly and treat as if it were very rare. One day it liquid fossil fuels will be very rare, and I suspect future humans will wish their forebears had been more careful.

Having said all this, what are we to do now? Should we abandon liquid biofuels? From a food and environment point of view, the easy answer would be yes, but in the real world we cannot do without liquid fuels, especially not with a planet so over-populatated. At the very least, it would be helpful to have an enlightened debate both amongst politicians and the public. How to get there, though, that is yet another knotty problem.

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