Plan for American Energy Independence, by Hybrido
Policy Paper Draft [reference key -> (page number)]
One of the major ideals engraved into the American lifestyle is to be self-sufficient. This is the nature of the American Dream: anyone can succeed in this country, but it is not going to be handed out on a silver platter in all cases excluding nepotism. The government has certainly taken this approach with the nation’s resource concerns, both in the past and today. However, the nation has become alarmingly dependent on foreign oil, as shown by the consequences of the rise of OPEC and the oil embargo in the 1970s. No government can effectively maintain its duties to the people if an outside influence can exert this much power on its economy and lifestyle.
This situation has not changed favorably in the past 30 years. Foreign oil is still a necessity to fuel the civilian and commercial energy concerns, both with vehicles and thousands of petroleum products, such as plastics. However, there are multiple ways to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. Many of these are currently available for use now; all that is needed is a push in the right direction on the part of the private sectors and the citizens. Although some of them will not lead to energy independence, one must keep in mind that such a massive undertaking requires time and multiple vectors of attack to accomplish.
One such vector would be improving energy efficiency in automobiles. John McAuley of Basell USA Inc. states in his manuscript that, “Vehicle use in the United States accounts for nearly one third of all domestic energy use…” (5415). He also brings up an interesting way to improve fuel economy by a basic change in automotive design: the usage of new and light materials for vehicle construction. By reducing the weight of the vehicle, the engine will not need to produce as much power to move as before, improving fuel economy. Lower mass also means that the driver is in better control of the vehicle by merely having less inertia. McAuley notes that “Typically a 10% weight reduction alone can lead to about a 3-7% improvement in overall fuel economy” (5415). He then goes onto describe the many benefits of increasing the usage of plastics in automobiles for an increased capacity for recycling and lower production costs.
If such a plan were implemented, either the burden of our dependence on foreign oil would lower, or the purchase and usage of automobiles would explode. Regardless, it is nowhere near a permanent solution for energy independence. Petroleum is still needed as a fuel and a source for the carbon chains needed for polymers. Robert McFarlane, a chair of an energy and environmental development firm, outlines several steps from a report from the Rocky Mountain Institute called “Winning the Oil Endgame: Innovation for Profits, Jobs and Security.” It reiterates McAuley point of redesigning automobiles to use newer and lighter materials in construction, and spreads this point out to other vehicles. The report concludes that it will be significant cheaper for the United States in the long run to replace oil as a primary energy source than to continue its usage. McFarlane brings up another useful point in the report; Russia has access to about 1,700 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which can be used for energy as well as a feedstock for hydrogen production.
Hydrogen is one of many alternative methods of energy to foreign oil. Joan Ogden of Princeton University outlines the costs, the benefits, and infrastructure suggestions for a conversion to hydrogen in her paper “Prospects for Building a Hydrogen Energy Infrastructure.” Her paper states, “It has been technically demonstrated that hydrogen…could replace current fuels in all their present uses.” (229). She makes an interesting point by showing that several of the pieces needed to achieve a hydrogen energy economy are already available, such as sustainable hydrogen production methods. The paper mainly concentrates on transportation energy needs, and the infrastructure needed to sustain it. Regardless, the principles discussed can be applied to other uses, such as electricity generation.
Hydrogen energy has multiple benefits compared to the current usage of fossil fuels. There are numerous resources from which it could be derived. Natural gas is one of the biggest sources of hydrogen at the moment. According to Ogden, “About 1% of U.S. primary energy use (~5% of U.S. natural gas use) goes to hydrogen production for chemical applications.” (232). The United States does decently in natural gas production, which lessens the need for foreign fuel imports. It can also be made through innovative uses of biomass, wastes, and electrolysis of water through solar and wind power. Then there are other sources, such as fossil fuels. Currently, hydrogen fuel cell systems for cars are being designed to be able to use gasoline as the hydrogen source. Hydrogen is known to be a near zero to zero emission fuel; the main product of its combustion is ordinary water.
This sounds very promising, but hydrogen has not had the best history on safety, thanks to various catastrophic events related to it, such as the Hindenberg. Ogden takes a technical look at the safety issues of hydrogen and comes up with some interesting facts. Hydrogen is safer than gasoline in some important ways; hydrogen disperses very rapidly, whereas gasoline tends to linger as a liquid and persistent fumes. Hydrogen is not toxic, unlike gasoline. Of course, hydrogen is also easy to ignite compared to gasoline, and enclosed spaces with hydrogen leaks are comparable to natural gas leaks. Being a serious issue, Ogden cites a few studies that came to the conclusion that proper engineering would be needed to ensure that hydrogen is made into a safe fuel. In fact, a 1997 Ford Motor Co. report “concluded that the safety of a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle would be potentially better than that of a gasoline or propane vehicle, with proper engineering.” (Ogden, 268).
Although this idea of hydrogen energy has been floating around since the rise of nuclear power plants, it has been seen as a very economically taxing venture. It is generally thought that liquid fuels tend to have lower production and infrastructure related costs. This is another area where Ogden focuses some discussion in her paper.
Apparently, studies cited by Ogden “found that capital costs for hydrogen are similar to those for [liquid fuels]…once a high level of fuel use is achieved.” (262). Hydrogen has a higher delivery cost, but its cheaper to produce compared other alternatives such as methanol and synthetic middle distillates from natural gas, which can also be used with fuel cell technology. Pure hydrogen is also 50% more efficient in fuel cells than the liquid fuels, evening out the delivery costs.
However, such a program cannot be funded on savings alone. Also, when taken in the context of transportation, the private sector is the source rather than government; transportation is not really a public good. However, the government can do certain things to push the private sector into taking the financial and innovative burden. For automobile redesign, the government could impose stricter fuel efficiency and emissions regulations to force the majority of consumers into desired vehicles. It also forces the private sector to effectively have another paradigm shift, this time from heavier cars to lighter, more efficient cars. Taxes based on fuel efficiency rather than a standard tax on gasoline would also be a motivator for the consumers directly force the private sector react. This is not to say that the private sector is ignoring potential alternative fuels; it just means that a little push is required to speed up the process. It would then be the government’s main job to ensure that an effective production and delivery infrastructure is developed to make hydrogen safe and accessible.
The United States is in need of a way to escape being controlled by foreign energy brokers such as OPEC. Seeing as a third of our energy consumption comes from our oil-dependent vehicle fleet, a great design paradigm shift is required, effective immediately. Developing technologies such as fuel cells provide an interesting and high effective alternative fuel: hydrogen. The benefits of hydrogen make the burden of development manageable, especially due to the fact that staying the course with oil would cost the nation more than taking the time, money, and effort to develop an alternative to it. The government can do its part by pushing along private industry to convert the vehicle fleet through regulation tightening, effectively cutting the government’s own burden on infrastructure development. Such a path is certainly capable of achieving American energy independence.
You did very well on your paper and argument. You convinced me :)! Anyways, I like that you stated not only the problem and the effects, but also solutions to the problems. Including names and specific information about the issue, displays your knowledge of the issue. One thing that I would work on is organization. The paper looks good, but I think the two paragraphs that begin with Hydrogen should be placed together. They are not long and they are talking about a "product" and its benefits. Overall great job!!! KatGT0
I agree with Kat that this is a great paper. You don't need much revision before turning in your final. You have a good overall structure of introducing the problem, analyzing the data, presenting a solution, (and here's what most people leave off) acknowledging the problems of the solution, but then showing how it can work. The only thing I really noticed in your paper was a few awkward sentences that need a slight rephrase. Most of it is just being picky on my part (you don't have to change it), but I would change around the last sentence of the second paragraph - get rid of the "one must keep..." phrase and maybe get rid of the "...in all cases excluding nepotism" in the second sentence of the paper. I think it just takes away from what you're trying to say and is unnecessary. Anyway, great paper, if I were Mr. Barke I'd give you A+ (and give myself that too, just because I could). JoeCool
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