Archive for May, 2009

Getting Beyond a Fossil Fuel Culture

May 16, 2009

A reader, responding to my 14 May post “Two Sides …” vented some real anger at our fossil fuels culture. ‘Guitars-and-More’ said:

Burning Fossil Fuels:

1. Keeps us in the Middle East spending trillions of dollars on fifty years wars.
2. Causes health problems such as heart disease and lung disease
3. Creates spiraling health care costs rising out of sight.
4. Pollutes streams, destroys forests, destroys wildlife, removes mountains.
5. Leaves the USA dependent on the whims of foreign governments that hate us.
6. Sends money back to countries that finance international terrorism.
7. Causes huge destructive fluctuations in our economy when gas goes way up.
8. Requires dangerous mining and drilling resulting in frequent deaths.
9. Requires delivery via ships and trucks that pollute and use additional resources.
10. Subject to spills which are difficult, expensive, and often impossible to clean up.
11. Contributes to global climate change

There’s plenty of room to quibble over details of Guitars-and-More’s accusations, but the real challenge is “How do we get beyond fossil fuels?” And the simple answer is “It ain’t easy, it ain’t cheap, and it won’t be quick.”

1. BIG taxes on gasoline and other fossil fuels, to give alternative sources a price umbrella under which they can survive. Collected funds go to alternative energy infrastructure development.
2. BIG tax on car milage. Drive a fuel efficient car, pay a lower rate; drive a gas guzzler (even if you think it’s safer or more comfortable), pay an astronomical rate. Collected funds go to R&D and science education.
3. BIG permanent subsidies for alternative energy, BIG tax penalties for conventional energy. Again, reinvest the funds in education, research and seed projects.
4. Be willing to pay – and to convince your family, friends and colleagues – to happily pay the higher prices that will absolutely be required to finance the transition to non-fossil fuels.
5. Have a lot of patience, because science, engineering and investment on this scale will take many years to accomplish.

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Two Sides of the Alternative Energy Coin

May 14, 2009

Two columns from the May 18 edition of NEWSWEEK neatly frame the “here-and-now” versus “the future of energy” dilemma of alternative energy development. Daniel Lyons argues in “TECHTONIC SHIFTS: Time For A Trade-In” that it may be time to phase out the first generation of gasoline-electric hybrid cars in favor of all electric vehicles or ‘extended range’ electrics. Robert J. Samuelson, on the other hand, makes the case in his “The Bias Against Oil and Gas” that an alternative energy reality is so far in the future that it is irrelevant to our energy policy decisions.

It’s tempting to say these postions represent the two faces of the same energy coin, but the coin analogy suggests there’s barely anything separating the two faces. In reality, there is galaxy of possibilities and trades-offs between these extremes. The real world, as always, is way more complicated than either of these positions would suggest – and way more subtle and nuanced that the press will typically report. Perhaps a loaf-of-bread analogy would work better – the opposite ends of the loaf are not very useful, and the good stuff is all in the middle.

An honest argument on energy policy would acknowledge that there are useful truths in Lyons’ rosy vision of an alternative energy future and in Samuelson’s no-nonsense world driven by fossil fuels – and it would ruefully acknowledge that both extremes tend to ignore the wisdom of compromise and incorporating the good ideas of the other. Here is a quick and dirty summary of some of the key points of each position …

On the positive side of alternative energy:
1. It’s better for the environment – not totally clean, of course, but cleaner than unrestrained burning of fossil fuels.
2. It could be better for our economy, and it certainly improves our safety and security by reducing our dependence on imports
3. The new technologies could spawn huge new spin-off industries
However …
4. Alternative energy sources are almost always more expensive and less convenient and efficient than their conventional energy counterparts. Getting people and industires to actually adopt them on an economy-altering scale will require some combination of big carrots and big sticks.
5. Reaching an alternative energy future will require huge investments in time, $$$ and effort. It will take patience and political will, and it ain’t going to happen in a couple of years or a Presidential term. The histories of new technologies caution that it’s likely to be a couple of DECADES before we’re effectively weaned off fossil fuels.

And for fossil fuels:
1. Oxidizing the carbon-hydrogen bonds by burning oil, natural gas and coal is an astoundingly efficient and economical sources of primary energy.
2. Our whole world is organized and optimized around fossil fuels – especially liquid fuels to power our transportation network of cars, truck, buses, trains and planes. Duplicating this distribution and user infrastructure for alterntive sources will take additional time, $$$ and effort.
3. Despite popular reports, there is still a tremendous untapped reserve of fossil fuel deposits in North America. Some of it is difficult and dirty to get to, but much of it is not.
But …
4. There’s a lot of coal, oil and gas still out there to be discovered, but it won’t last forever. Reserves we exploit in the futrue are likely to be substantially more expensive, difficult and dirty.
5. The cheapest and most accessible oil and gas come from regions of the world where we’re not very popular.

The bottom line, for me at least, is that Lyons and Samuelson are, at the same time, both totally right in what they advocate and grievously off the target of what we ought to be doing:
1. Our future – for the next 10-20 years – will contain a lot of fossil fuels and continue to be dominated by liquid fuels for transportation. Bio-fuels and synthetic fuels for gasified coal will only slowly augment petroleum sources.
2. We need the full menu of alternative energy sources – solar, wind, wides and waves, etc – but they must be commercially viable in their own right, not just because of the enthusiasm of the ‘feel good’ altruists or government subsidies.

For the alternative energy enthusiast, Lyons closes with a fairly dismal assessment. Successful growth of alternative energy schemes will require taxes on conventional energy high enough to shelter infant alternative energy ventures. “That” says San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom, quoted in the Lyons piece, “requires someone to give up their political future. There’s nobility in that [but] I’m looking forward to someone else doing that.”

Our Alternative Energy Perspective

May 7, 2009

Reflecting my take on the universe of Alternative Energy, my growing body of posts are built around 3 themes:
1. Alternative Energy technologies and business ventures are important, exciting and
2. For an Alternative Energy source to make a significant impact on greenhouse gas, global warming or energy independence, it will have to convincingly display technical and economic viability without being subsidized by governments or a coterie of altruistic enthusiasts.
3. Hydrogen and electricity (as, for example, transportation energy) are not primary energy sources but are (perhaps) convenient means to convey and store energy from a primary source – fossil fuels, wind, solar and nuclear, …. Without a non-fossil fuel primary source, relying on hydrogen or electric cars simply transfer the greenhouse gas problem from tailpipes to factory and power plant smokestacks.

Introducing The Alternative Energy Page from Market-Intel.com

May 7, 2009

Hello, and welcome to The Alternative Energy Page, a publication of Market Intelligence and Strategy Associates, a website devoted to excellence in marketing, marketing research and new business development.  Be sure to check our marketing practices blog.

I am Bob Brothers, a creative, forward thinking business development and marketing professional, with a record of accomplishment with global leaders in science driven products for consumer and industrial end users. Building on BS and MS degrees in Chemical Engineering, I have excelled in market development / new business development / marketing research roles addressing a broad range of science and technology driven products and services, across a variety of end use markets and complex business models.

I led or played key roles on business development teams which created and executed marketing and business strategies to introduce new products, to enter new markets, and to capture additional sales in existing businesses. For example …
– Introducing a new family of engineering polymers into BPA-free housewares and containers, infant care products, medical devices, and similar applications
– Creating a subsidiary to provide business process outsourcing services in the Health, Safety and Environmental compliance area
– Building marketing and manufacturing licensee channels and creating business / marketing plans for new decorative and functional building products
– Developing marketing and business strategies, and managing the sales development team, for a new industrial chemical
– Generating marketing insights and business development strategies to support Coal Gasification Services and Chemicals from Coal ventures
– Rationalizing and reorganizing internal and market-facing plastics recycling operations

I have, in addition, played a substantial role in building global marketing capabilities by creating and rolling out important components of Business & Marketing Excellence and Stage Gate platforms. I enjoyed great success managing, training, and gaining recognition and promotions for new marketing research staff members, and am sought-after as a mentor for young marketing professionals.

I performed a similar spectrum of market research and business development roles in support of subsidiaries and distributors in Latin America.

I earned a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, and an MS in Chemical & Petroleum Engineering from Kansas University.

The Darker Side of Brazilian Ethanol

May 1, 2009

Reminiscent of Asian child labor scandals of the international shoe and apparel industries, the Brazilian sugarcane-ethanol business gets a black eye in a widely circulated Associated Press story for practicing ‘debt slavery’. Poor laborers, forced to buy food, shelter, clothing from plantation owners at prices far beyond what their wages will support quickly fall so far behind that they can never escape the clutches of the owners. See, for example, the Miami Herald.

The AP article cites estimates of 25000 Brazilians trapped under slave labor conditions (over a third in the sugarcane sector), and of 30000 debt slave being freed by government intervention since 1995.

While the situation likely reflects more on the general conditions of Brazilian agri-industry than on any special virulence of the sugar-ethanol business, it underscores an opportunity for the bio-energy sector to strenghten and polish its image as a leading corporate citizen. Better to be seen as a leader in building a social responsible industry.

“Brazil Slave Labor Complaints Rise”
By BRADLEY BROOKS, Associated Press Writers
April 29, 2009