Will Lobby Sludge Stymie a Green Future?

It looks as if the new Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 bets the farm, so to speak, on biomass. This approach is controversial. As Joseph Romm points out in today’s Salon

Unfortunately, most biofuels are not a realistic climate solution for one simple reason: Biofuels from most food crops or from newly deforested lands do not provide a significant net decrease in greenhouse gas emissions — and some may cause a net increase. Most life-cycle analyses show that corn ethanol has little or no net greenhouse gas benefit compared with gasoline because so much energy is consumed to grow and process the corn.

In fact, recent research, led by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, found that corn ethanol might generate up to 50 percent more greenhouse gases than gasoline, when you account for the extra emissions of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, from increased use of artificial fertilizer. That same study found that the favorite biofuel worldwide, biodiesel from rapeseed, releases up to 70 percent higher total greenhouse gas than regular diesel.

Romm leaves unmentioned another side effect — the probable growth of lobby sludge. Lobby sludge is that substance known to clog the gears of progress as it seeks to maintain its own state of equilibrium in Washington, D.C.  So to the lobby sludge generated by big oil, we may well look forward to ADM’s and Cargill’s sludge also.

I sometimes think that if lobby sludge were as thick in the 19th Century, the buggy and horse interests would have strangled the automobile in its crib.

Let’s hope I’m wrong about 21st century sludge metastasizing, especially in light of this promising report from Stanford University:

Stanford researchers have found a way to use silicon nanowires to reinvent the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power laptops, iPods, video cameras, cell phones, and countless other devices.

The new version, developed through research led by Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, produces 10 times the amount of electricity of existing lithium-ion, known as Li-ion, batteries. A laptop that now runs on battery for two hours could operate for 20 hours, a boon to ocean-hopping business travelers. 

The greatly expanded storage capacity could make Li-ion batteries attractive to electric car manufacturers. Cui suggested that they could also be used in homes or offices to store electricity generated by rooftop solar panels.

“Given the mature infrastructure behind silicon, this new technology can be pushed to real life quickly,” Cui said…

Cui said that a patent application has been filed. He is considering formation of a company or an agreement with a battery manufacturer. Manufacturing the nanowire batteries would require “one or two different steps, but the process can certainly be scaled up,” he added. “It’s a well understood process.”

I hear the drum beats of 21st Century energy. Here it comes…..


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