Scorecard for Alternative Transport Energy Ranks Wind-Electric First, Ethanol In Last Place

mark jacobson professor-photo
A recent research report by Mark Jacobson (pictured), updated and available for public review in Energy And Environmental Science, ranks several alternative transportation energy sources against key criteria. Among the criteria used, are those typically overlooked by proponents of, and investors in, the various propulsion technologies being actively promoted as alternatives to the fossil fuel liquids.

See Matt's introductory post to a preliminary version of Jacobson's work in the post titled: Wind Power Beats Nuclear & Clean Coal, Other Renewables As US’s Best Energy Option.

To no ones' surprise, "...ethanol in the form of corn-E85 and cellulosic-E85 —came last."

Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack, likely to be the new US Secretary of Agriculture, is not going to be happy about this. Bio-fuel researchers seeking government grants are not going to be happy with the results, either. Hydrogen-haters, too, will be upset. It's going to be very interesting to see if politics as usual gets in the way of "good science" in 2009. Details and analysis below.

The study, which claims to be "the first comparative evaluation of proposed large-scale energy solutions... considered the implications of using each of 11 different energy sources to power three types of new-technology vehicles — run either on batteries, hydrogen fuel cells or ethanol fuel.

It weighted their contributions to global warming, air and water pollution and thermal pollution (for example from discharging power station coolants into water). It also considered their effects on water supply, land use, wildlife and resource availability. Indirect effects on energy security, nuclear proliferation, mortality and under-nutrition were also included.

Via:SciDevNet, Biofuels bottom of the heap in impact study

The original report, linked here, is short and easily understood. One of those works where it's better to read it before commenting or calling your Congress-critter or favorite lobbyist.

For those of you who don't have a half-hour, here's the money quote, reformatted to make the ranking a list.

To place electricity and liquid fuel options on an equal footing, twelve combinations of energy sources and vehicle type were considered. The overall rankings of the combinations (from highest to lowest) were:

(1) wind-powered battery-electric vehicles (BEVs),
(2) wind-powered hydrogen fuel cell vehicles,
(3) concentrated-solar-powered-BEVs,
(4) geothermal-powered-BEVs,
(5) tidal-powered-BEVs, (6) solar-photovoltaic-powered-BEVs,
(7) wave-powered-BEVs,
(8) hydroelectric-powered-BEVs,
(9-tie) nuclear-powered-BEVs, (9-tie) coal-with-carbon-capture-powered-BEVs,
(11) corn-E85 vehicles, and
(12) cellulosic-E85 vehicles.

The relative ranking of each electricity option for powering vehicles also applies to the electricity source providing general electricity. Because sufficient clean natural resources (e.g., wind, sunlight, hot water, ocean energy, etc.) exist to power the world for the foreseeable future, the results suggest that the diversion to less-efficient (nuclear, coal with carbon capture) or non-efficient (corn- and cellulosic E85) options represents an opportunity cost that will delay solutions to global warming and air pollution mortality.

Author's comment:
It's often said that government should not be in the position of picking technology winners or technology losers. Unarguable in theory; but, as a practical matter government consistently does just that. In the case of ethanol, government has picked loser-ethanol, year after year after year after year - to curry favor of the agribusiness industry and Iowa farmers who'll vote in the state's early US Presidential primary.

Dreaming On
Maybe this time Congress and the new Administration will "bite the bullet" and pick a winner that's at least among the top three on Jacobson's list. If that choice can be made, the next step is to map out the critical path and remove the roadblocks: like lack of transmission lines to population centers from areas where wind power potential is highest.

Image: Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University.
More posts on alternative transportation energy sources.
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More work by Jacobson - covered in TreeHugger
Connecting the World's Wind Farms
A Match Made in Hell: Excess Carbon Dioxide and Air Pollution ...
Networked Wind Power For Base-Load Stability
Black Carbon May be Planet's Second Most Potent GHG
Air Pollution Brakes Wind: Study Finds Aerosols Hamper Turbines ...

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