September 18, 2013

In a world seeking new energy options, with individual nations looking to become self-sufficient, interest in alternative energy sources is at an all-time high―and growing.

At the same time, a host of issues related to energy usage are debated daily. Projected shortages of certain energy forms, along with carbon emissions and their impact on global climate change, can often appear to be in conflict. In addition, population growth and improving standards of living will result in increased energy demand.

These are some of the topics WPI chemical engineering professor Robert Thompsonwill address Thursday, September 19,when he presents The Myths of Alternative Energy at 5 pm in Higgins Labs 116.

According to Thompson, the presentation will review several proposed alternative energies currently being promoted―and will take a hard look at the wisdom of investing in those technologies. Also, land utilization will be discussed in the context of biofuels as alternatives to fossil fuels.

In advance of Thursday’s program, the Daily Herd posed a few questions to Thompson about his talk and global energy concerns.

What will be your main message Thursday?

A multi-pronged approach is needed to solve our energy problems. My talk comes from advising alternative energy IQPs since fall 2002. Some of our results have been published.  In my opinion, IQPs should be taken more seriously, and more results should be disseminated.

What are some of the major myths of alternative energy?

There are no single, or simple, solutions. Many suggestions will make very little impact.

In your faculty bio, you mention snake oils. Can you give examples of these?

Suffice it to say there’s always someone out there wanting to take the public’s money.

You also note that biofuels may be viable options in certain societies. Which biofuels are likely to be good choices?

I will use Jatropha oil in Haiti and (other) Caribbean and African climates.

Critics of biofuels often point out that it takes five gallons of oil to make four gallons of ethanol. If true, does it rule out this technology or can the process be improved?

I haven’t heard that statistic, but most ethanol plants in the Midwestern states use coal to run the processes. Yes, there are ways to improve the energy balance, most involving the bio-crop.

In the early 1970s, some scientists insisted the earth was on the verge of a second ice age. Now the talk is global warming. How could the findings have been so far apart?

The newest IPCC report, due out later this month, will soften their gloom-and-doom position on global warming.

What can individuals do to aid our energy future?

Use less, and support rational alternatives.  Think locally.

― Mike D’Onofrio