Before we throw what remaining resources we have at “solutions”, it would really be a good idea to spend the energy on something that might work. For decades scientists have longed to study EROEI, but haven’t been unable to obtain funding, the EROEI of various energy sources.
Ultimately, all that matters is energy. When it comes to evaluating alternative energy sources such as ethanol, if it takes more fossil fuel energy to create ethanol than the energy contained in the ethanol, then ethanol is an energy sink, and it’s not worth pursuing.
Tad Patzek at LBNL and U.C.Berkeley, has not been able to get funding for a project which would determine a consistent thermodynamic description of all major energy capture schemes, both biological and fossil, so that we could compare apples to apples. This would be a simpler way than EROEI to see what energy sources might replace fossil fuels, because EROEI gets endlessly bogged down in which inputs of energy to include or exclude – boundary issues.
Patzek wrote me that one of the reasons he suspects he can’t get funding for this is that “no one wants to know that they may be working on a senseless project, such as industrial hydrogen from algae.
Charles Hall, at SUNY, who’s written some of the most important papers on EROI for decades now, has gotten a total of $800 in grant money to study EROI. He believes it’s too political an issue.
Hall guesses you’d need an EROEI of at least 5 to continue western civilization.
Keep this number in mind when EROEI figures are mentioned below. Most of our infrastructure was built when oil had an EROEI of 40 to 100 (i.e. one barrels’ worth of energy netted you 40 to 100 more barrels of oil).
The issues and problems of energy “Solutions
I’ve pulled the issues with energy alternatives from books, scientific journals, and internet discussion forums such as energyresources and the oildrum. I find people are bored silly by anything with a lot of numbers and equations, so this is a very easy to understand and non-technical discussion of the issues. In fact, it’s too simple – discussion of complex energy issues does not lend itself well to the sound-bites, so you’ll need to follow up with your own research by reading the references to get the full picture.