Former Shell President John Hofmeister is off the reservation. The former oil head is now on the board of the Fuel Freedom Foundation. He joins others like James Woolsey, former CIA chief, then energy/security analyst for Booz Allen Hamilton. The money quote- or anti-money quote, in this case- is: “Fuel Freedom’s approach to opening the fuels market by breaking the oil monopoly is America’s next giant leap forward.” When an oil man tells you we must shift from oil, I think he knows a thing or two.
Since my retirement from Shell, I have focused a large portion of my time and efforts on educating the public regarding our nation’s dire situation as it relates to oil and the future of energy, specifically transportation fuels. We can’t sustain our transportation needs in the current situation, demand is growing on a global scale, while supply is becoming more and more expensive, and this trend will not stop.
Hofmeister, though, is leaning toward the easy way out. He seems to favor converting natural gas into methanol, which can then be burned in flex-fuel piston engines, or existing piston engines with minor modifications. I certainly applaud anyone looking for a better way, but I think he’s aiming low here. Natural gas is better than oil, but in the same sense that meth is better than heroin. And piston engines on methanol still convert less than 20% of fuel energy into vehicle motion, just like any other Otto-cycle internal-combustion engine. (And Diesels are still just at 20%.)
If you like methanol, you can also make it from pyrolyzing biomass (plant wastes, and other organic matter) or reducing carbon dioxide. No drilling needed. If you insist on natural gas, the Fischer-Tropsch process and others can convert it into longer chains, that are now transportable liquids (but not poisons that can seep through you skin). In the longer term, high-temperature fuel cells already on the market in low production can take feedstocks like natural gas, butane, or methanol, and turn them into electricity at much higher efficiencies. I foresee vehicles with significant battery capacities, but natural-gas, butane, or methanol range-extender fuel cells.
And then there’s the hard way out: simply driving less. No one wants to admit it, but the most effective way to burn less oil for transportation is… burn less for transportation. Smaller vehicles, fewer miles, less of the time, by fewer people. Via local goods and services within dense neighborhoods. Neighborhoods dense enough to walk to some places, and bike to some more… and GASP! take public transportation to even more.