The need for alternative energy is now. Oil dependency has to be reversed now. It is incompetent and stupid to plan on increasing our reliance on foreign oil, as mapped out by the Bush-Cheney-Enron-Big Oil energy plan (NEP). Greenhouse gas emissions have to be a primary enemy.
The hydrogen economy beckons from twenty or more years in the future, when hydrogen fuel cells will theoretically replace gasoline. But there is a gap. In that gap the only conveyance available will be a hand basket.
That gap can be filled by methanol, a hydrocarbon that can be used directly as fuel, can be created with existing technology from abundant domestic coal, and can replace the petroleum as the building block for a multiplicity of products, from plastics to fertilizers. On the front end, methanol can step into the fuel distribution system currently devoted to gasoline. On the back end, with enough research and development it can be produced in a process that actually consumes carbon dioxide, possibly even atmospheric carbon dioxide, but certainly CO2 produced in industrial operations.
Eventually hydrogen energy can be converted into methanol and methanol fuel cells, bypassing the technical difficulty (in the sense that leaping the Grand Canyon is a "difficulty") of hydrogen's volatility. Methanol can be come the common currency of an alternative energy economy, converting all forms into a fuel. It can serve to bridge the gap from oil to hydrogen. And it can start not immediately, but relatively soon.
I am not an engineer or a chemist, but I am an economist. Our current adventure in Iraq is proof that oil is too expensive in every way. The daily news stories on global warming are proof that an alternative path needs to begin now. Waiting for things to get worse only means the mitigation measures will need to be harsher. And methanol offers an alternative to a massive corporate infrastructure that will be served. Developing it is cheap compared to the investment that is needed to extract the oil in the Gulf that will be needed, even if conditions there were sufficiently placid to allow that investment.
University of Florida report on methanol from coal
A new book by USC's George Olah:
The Methanol Economy
Forget about the hydrogen economy. Methanol is the key to weaning the world off oil. George Olah tells us how to do it.
By Kevin Bullis
Wiley (Olah's publisher)