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Published on July 18th, 2008 | by Anthony Cefali

15

2018: The Year of Petroleum Independence?


Former Vice-President Al Gore says we cannot wait until 2050 to curtail our carbon emissions.  In Washington this week Gore made his case for eliminating petroleum from the United States economy by the year 2018.  Is his goal too ambitious?

Editor’s Note: This is Anthony’s first post as a contributor to Gas 2.0. Anthony works on sugar-based biofuels at the Raines Lab of Petroleum Alternatives, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

I have a lot of admiration for Al Gore.  I was in the 7th grade when he lost his bid for the presidency, and even then I could feel that something awful was upon us.  Fast forward eight years and we find ourselves in a world where Al Gore is running a campaign to help mankind in a much more focused manner.  Instead of defecting to the private sector, Gore remains a public servant dedicated to the environment.  Recently, he called for the United States to lead the way to stop global warming, and now he is calling for the United States to be off of carbon based fuels by the year 2018.

Gore’s battle cry could not have come at a better time.

I’ve often heard people say that this generation needs a man on the moon, someone who inspires us to think outside the proverbial box.  We do need this symbol of unabated grandeur and testament to the reality of mankind and what it can do.  Al Gore knows he isn’t that man, but he is the messenger.  He’s the Paul Revere of environmental ethics, and people are really starting to listen.  In his speech in Washington this week, the former Vice-President and Nobel Prize Winner called for America to focus its ingenuity and imagination on the petroleum crisis.  It took eight years for us to reach the moon once President Kennedy made it a national priority, and Gore thinks that the same collective tenacity should be applied to the energy crisis.

We can expect that this benchmark set by Gore will be met with skepticism and fact-less arguments, but that’s not going to stop him from speaking.  “Of course, there are those who will tell us that this can’t be done,” he said during the speech.  “But even those who reap the profits of the carbon age have to recognize the inevitability of its demise.  As one OPEC oil minister observed, ‘The Stone Age didn’t end because of a shortage of stones.’”

Gore is calling for an end to all petroleum consumption.  His goal doesn’t just apply to importing foreign oil.

I work in a lab where we try to turn table sugars into combustible fuels. From where I stand, Gore’s 2018 deadline seems almost too generous.  With Th!nk Motors set to release the Ox EMV in the next few years (not to mention NICE Motor’s Ze-O and maybe even someday the Chevy Volt), we have already taken the first step.  It’s almost safe to say that buying any petroleum based car is not a good idea right now because who knows what we will be using for fuel in the next three years? Nobody wants to be that awkward neighbor who still drives a car that runs on petroleum.

Last weekend I saw The Dark Knight, leaving me with little to look forward to now that the excitement has passed.  Thanks to Al Gore for filling that void with some faith in the human race.

Quote from the New York Times

Photo from the World Resources Institute.

More information at Al Gore’s web page.


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About the Author

Anthony is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in biology as well as English. He became interested in the biofuel initiative after getting a job in the Raines Lab of Petroleum Alternatives at the university turning sugars into biofuels. He is the first to admit that he doesn't fully understand everything that he does or is trying to do, but enjoys doing his bit to help the environment. Anthony has very few plans for his future, but is interested in how natural systems work and how urban development changes these systems. On a good day, Anthony enjoys riding his bike really far away and reading Kurt Vonnegut books.



  • Samuel Clark

    “now he is calling for the United States to be off of carbon based fuels by the year 2018″

    I don’t mean to be to be a stickler for details but, with the exception of pure water, aren’t all fuels carbon based? Even the “table sugar” that the author “turns into combustible fuel” is almost 40% carbon (C12 H22 O11) and, incidentally, already combustible.

    Just an observation from another member of the biofuels production community.

  • Samuel Clark

    “now he is calling for the United States to be off of carbon based fuels by the year 2018″

    I don’t mean to be to be a stickler for details but, with the exception of pure water, aren’t all fuels carbon based? Even the “table sugar” that the author “turns into combustible fuel” is almost 40% carbon (C12 H22 O11) and, incidentally, already combustible.

    Just an observation from another member of the biofuels production community.

  • Samuel Clark

    “now he is calling for the United States to be off of carbon based fuels by the year 2018″

    I don’t mean to be to be a stickler for details but, with the exception of pure water, aren’t all fuels carbon based? Even the “table sugar” that the author “turns into combustible fuel” is almost 40% carbon (C12 H22 O11) and, incidentally, already combustible.

    Just an observation from another member of the biofuels production community.

  • http://atomicinsights.blogspot.com Rod Adams

    Anthony:

    Sorry to spoil your youthful idealism, but former Vice President Al Gore is no longer employed a public servant, despite the fact that his speech looks a lot like a political speech with a political background of American flags.

    In actuality, Mr. Gore is currently a partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that has made a number of large investments in alternative energy projects.

    Now, I have nothing against venture capitalists, but it seems a bit deceptive for someone with a deep financial involvement in an industry dependent on government subsidies to be able to get on a public stage in an “elder statesman” role and ask for increased support for his company’s investments.

    For Samuel Clark – about 16% of the world’s electricity currently runs on a non-carbon based fuel system called uranium fission. That fuel source had a market share of 0% in 1970. I think its success in capturing markets had something to do with the well funded and well organized effort to slow its growth.

  • http://atomicinsights.blogspot.com Rod Adams

    Anthony:

    Sorry to spoil your youthful idealism, but former Vice President Al Gore is no longer employed a public servant, despite the fact that his speech looks a lot like a political speech with a political background of American flags.

    In actuality, Mr. Gore is currently a partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that has made a number of large investments in alternative energy projects.

    Now, I have nothing against venture capitalists, but it seems a bit deceptive for someone with a deep financial involvement in an industry dependent on government subsidies to be able to get on a public stage in an “elder statesman” role and ask for increased support for his company’s investments.

    For Samuel Clark – about 16% of the world’s electricity currently runs on a non-carbon based fuel system called uranium fission. That fuel source had a market share of 0% in 1970. I think its success in capturing markets had something to do with the well funded and well organized effort to slow its growth.

  • http://www.TheCarbonAge.com Eric Roston

    Gore dropped the phrase “the carbon age” into his address — a topic that I have given an enormous amount of thought to. Last week in fact my book of that title, The Carbon Age, came out, the result of four years of reading thousands of journal articles, interviewing hundreds of people, and reading many, many books.

    I’m a former climate reporter for Time magazine. The book emerged from my conclusion that “carbon” — in climate, energy, what to eat (or avoid), aerospace, sporting goods — is the most important word people know the least about. Feel free to contact me with questions/comments through my Web site or blog — and keep up your own good work!

  • http://www.TheCarbonAge.com Eric Roston

    Gore dropped the phrase “the carbon age” into his address — a topic that I have given an enormous amount of thought to. Last week in fact my book of that title, The Carbon Age, came out, the result of four years of reading thousands of journal articles, interviewing hundreds of people, and reading many, many books.

    I’m a former climate reporter for Time magazine. The book emerged from my conclusion that “carbon” — in climate, energy, what to eat (or avoid), aerospace, sporting goods — is the most important word people know the least about. Feel free to contact me with questions/comments through my Web site or blog — and keep up your own good work!

  • http://redgreenandblue.org Tim Hurst

    Rod-

    Since when must someone be a public servant to make a political speech? I know you are too smart to think political speeches only come from politicians. Gore may not be a public servant, but he is still a political leader of the largest social movement this country has seen. Despite the hopes of some, Citizen Gore is not going away any time soon.

    Also, if you think Gore made this speech merely to pad the coffers of KPC&B, I think you are a little misguided in your understanding of Gore’s motivations.

  • http://redgreenandblue.org Tim Hurst

    Rod-

    Since when must someone be a public servant to make a political speech? I know you are too smart to think political speeches only come from politicians. Gore may not be a public servant, but he is still a political leader of the largest social movement this country has seen. Despite the hopes of some, Citizen Gore is not going away any time soon.

    Also, if you think Gore made this speech merely to pad the coffers of KPC&B, I think you are a little misguided in your understanding of Gore’s motivations.

  • Uncle B

    If the U.S. had chosen to be a moral people, and leaving Iraqi oil alone, and following Al Gore, decided to develop the South Western deserts, with the technology of the times – solar/thermal-molten sodium – electricity installations, for the same amount of money as that war cost, ($650 Billion), today, we would be tapping into the largest, renewable, sustainable, energy source the world has ever known. It would have paid every energy bill in the U.S.A. for maintenance fees only – FOREVER! It would be equivalent to an oil field that can NEVER run dry! Low cost electric power, and storeable hydrogen gasoline replacement from the electricity, for all!

    After the millions of murders, and $650 billions of dollars, borrowed from our children’s futures and pissed away, with thousands of our own and others maimed and disfigured for life, millions of families utterly destroyed, ours and theirs, we are no closer to Iraqi oil production than the Iraqis are!

    The next time you hear a blithering idiot spoiled brat, drunken, drug addicted, sociopath, rich Arabic saber dancing daddie’s boy oilman, stand at a microphone and threaten YOUR safety with someone ELSE’S weapons, remember what you lost America, remember, and weep! (also see http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan)

  • Uncle B

    If the U.S. had chosen to be a moral people, and leaving Iraqi oil alone, and following Al Gore, decided to develop the South Western deserts, with the technology of the times – solar/thermal-molten sodium – electricity installations, for the same amount of money as that war cost, ($650 Billion), today, we would be tapping into the largest, renewable, sustainable, energy source the world has ever known. It would have paid every energy bill in the U.S.A. for maintenance fees only – FOREVER! It would be equivalent to an oil field that can NEVER run dry! Low cost electric power, and storeable hydrogen gasoline replacement from the electricity, for all!

    After the millions of murders, and $650 billions of dollars, borrowed from our children’s futures and pissed away, with thousands of our own and others maimed and disfigured for life, millions of families utterly destroyed, ours and theirs, we are no closer to Iraqi oil production than the Iraqis are!

    The next time you hear a blithering idiot spoiled brat, drunken, drug addicted, sociopath, rich Arabic saber dancing daddie’s boy oilman, stand at a microphone and threaten YOUR safety with someone ELSE’S weapons, remember what you lost America, remember, and weep! (also see http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan)

  • Uncle B

    If the U.S. had chosen to be a moral people, and leaving Iraqi oil alone, and following Al Gore, decided to develop the South Western deserts, with the technology of the times – solar/thermal-molten sodium – electricity installations, for the same amount of money as that war cost, ($650 Billion), today, we would be tapping into the largest, renewable, sustainable, energy source the world has ever known. It would have paid every energy bill in the U.S.A. for maintenance fees only – FOREVER! It would be equivalent to an oil field that can NEVER run dry! Low cost electric power, and storeable hydrogen gasoline replacement from the electricity, for all!

    After the millions of murders, and $650 billions of dollars, borrowed from our children’s futures and pissed away, with thousands of our own and others maimed and disfigured for life, millions of families utterly destroyed, ours and theirs, we are no closer to Iraqi oil production than the Iraqis are!

    The next time you hear a blithering idiot spoiled brat, drunken, drug addicted, sociopath, rich Arabic saber dancing daddie’s boy oilman, stand at a microphone and threaten YOUR safety with someone ELSE’S weapons, remember what you lost America, remember, and weep! (also see http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan)

  • john a diaz

    I would like to trust. But I Would Be An Idiot.

  • john a diaz

    I would like to trust. But I Would Be An Idiot.

  • john a diaz

    I would like to trust. But I Would Be An Idiot.

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