Will Blog for Experience: Ashley

I'm a student blogger for Experience.com and if my blog gets the most readers out of these 5 blogs I will be going to Washington, D.C. for a job shadow at the Department of Energy, courtesy of CBCampus. Experience is a career site specifically for college students & alumni. They provide extraordinary job opportunities, real-world insights, and a network of inspirational role-models to help students explore and launch careers they love. Keep reading my blog if you want me to lead this challenge!

Experience, Inc.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

More Thoughts on Nuclear Energy

What is the biggest challenge associated with the use of nuclear power?

Unfortunately, the use of nuclear power poses a risk that will not easily be resolved. That risk is global security. As history has taught us, nuclear power can be used as a source of energy or as a deadly weapon. As long as conflicts exist between nations with the capability to produce nuclear energy, that threat will remain. This threat mars the face of scientific progress. Nuclear weapons may ensure the safety of one country, but they jeopardize the well-being of another.

Don't get me wrong, I think that nuclear weapons are a necessary evil, but I am still saddened by the inevitable threat that they will always pose. The Nuclear Information and Resource Service "...aims to educate wider audiences about the connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the parallel pathways to a safer world free from these dual dangers."

For more information, please visit their website at http://www.nirs.org/

What countries encourage further exploration of the peaceful use of nuclear power?

Australia, France, Japan, the Slovak Republic, Austria, Germany, Korea, Spain, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Sweden, Canada, Hungary, Mexico, Switzerland, Czecch Republic, Iceland, Netherlands, Turkey, Denmark, Ireland, Norway, United Kingdom, Finland, Italy, Portugal, and the United States are all members of the Nuclear Energy Agency, the NEA. Together these countries make up about "...85% of the world's installed nuclear power."

The current membership includes "...28 countries, in Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific region." "The Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) is a specialized agency within the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of industrialised countries, based in Paris, France."

The NEA's mission "... is to assist its Member countries in maintaining and further developing, through international co-operation, the scientific, technological and legal bases required for the safe, environmentally friendly and economical use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."
-quotes taken from http://www.nea.fr/html/nea/flyeren.html

In conclusion...

Clearly, nuclear power has both pros and cons. Depending on who you ask, one side will outweigh the other. Many will argue that nuclear energy is cost efficient, while others will counter that it is, in fact, the most expensive means of producing power. I believe that the many proposed benefits of nuclear power are encouraging. While there are many risks involved with the implementation of nuclear power, I feel that the source should be studied further. With time, we may find a solution to issues such as the threat of meltdowns and radition and wate disposal. However, I do not necessarily foresee a resolution to the issue of national and global security being reached after any amount of study. Sadly, dangerous dictators will always aim to turn energy dreams into nuclear nightmares.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Say it with me folks, N-U-C-L-E-A-R, Nuclear

"Anonymous" asks, "what is your perspective on the use of nuclear energy?"

I encourage the use of nuclear energy, currently one of our four primary sources of energy.

My other posts urge Americans to decrease their reliance upon all four of these sources, but I do not fear the scarcity of nuclear energy like I do that of the remaining three sources. (coal, natural gas, and renewable resources)

According to the Advanced Energy Initiative, a part of President George W. Bush's greater National Emergy Policy, nuclear power seems to be an excellent source of power.

  • Nuclear Power Is Both Abundant And Affordable- Nuclear power is America's second-leading source of electricity. Today, more than 100 nuclear plants operate in 31 states. Once a nuclear plant is constructed, its fuel and operating costs are among the cheapest forms of energy available today.

  • Nuclear Power Is Clean- Nuclear power produces no air pollution or greenhouse gases, and there is a growing concensus that it is an environmnetally responsible choice. Without nuclear energy, carbon dioxide emissions would have been 28 percent greater in the electricity industry in 2004, America would have an additional 700 million tons a year of carbon dioxide, and nitrogen-oxide emisions would rise by the equivalent of 58 million passenger cars.

  • Nuclear Power Is Safe- Advances in science, engineering, and plant design have made nuclear power plants far safer than ever before- plant workers and managers focus on security above all else.

-bulletted text taken from http://www.whitehouse.gov/energy/

However, as with many energy options, nuclear power has significant drawbacks. A few of these drawbacks include:

  • Meltdowns- While meltdowns are stringently guarded against with increased safety pre-cautions, they are a dangerous and frightening possibility. In short, a meltdown is caused by the rods in a fission reactor overheating. Rods overheat when there is a loss of coolant water in a fission reactor. If the rods reach 2800°C, the fuel within the fission reactor melts, and a white-hot molten mass will seep out of its containment and into the surface below.

Of course, this is a worst case scenario. Many steps are taken to ensure that such meltdowns do not occur, but they have in the past. The Three Mile Island disaster is classified as a partial meltdown. "The worst case of a nuclear disaster was in 1986 at the Chernobyl facility in the Ukraine. A fire ripped apart the casing of the core, releasing radioactive isotopes into the atmosphere. Thirty-one people died as an immediate result. And estimated 15,000 more died in the surrounding area after exposure to the radiation. Three Mile Island and Chernobyl are just examples of the serious problems that meltdowns can create."

-quotes taken from http://members.tripod.com/funk_phenomenon/nuclear/procon.htm

  • Radiation- Radiation sickness is caused by radiation doses of about 200 rems. "The three major effects of radiation (cancer, radiation sickness and genetic mutation) are nearly untraceable at levels below about 50 rems."

However, radiation sickness only occurs if these 200 rems are experienced all at once. To put these number into perspective, "the average person receives about 200 millirems a year from everyday objects and outer space." Even if all of our power came from a nuclear source, we would only "...receive an extra 2/10 of a millirem a year."

-quotes taken from http://members.tripod.com/funk_phenomenon/nuclear/procon.htm

  • Waste Disposal- "The byproducts of the fissioning of uranium-235 remains radioactive for thousands of years..." This threat means that such byproducts and waste must be stored far from society. Although many underground sites have been built, their storage capacity is met within a few short months. "Storage facilities are not sufficient to store the world’s nuclear waste, which limits the amount of nuclear fuel that can be used per year. Transportation of the waste is risky, as many unknown variables may affect the containment vessels. If one of these vessels were compromised, the results may be deadly."

-quotes taken from http://members.tripod.com/funk_phenomenon/nuclear/procon.htm

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Robert J. Smith III. makes a great suggestion:

"...Regarding national energy policy, a preferrable approach is long-term heavy investment in alternative (non-petrol) energy sources, particularly if they can be produced domestically in the United States. Oil dependency (or any type of dependency) should be avoided through innovative approaches. Automobile and fuel corporations have already taken some of the initiative to follow this path. Let's work on a way to perpetuate and increase the switch to cleaner, more affordable energy."

Robert, I could not agree more! The United States must face the fact that continued investment in petrol sources will only prolong our dependency on foreign oil.

Through the domestic production of fuel alternatives we can alleviate our heavy burden while strengthening our own economy. By sending American dollars abroad, we are only aiding the economies of our competitors.

I applaud the initiatives demonstrated by automotive and fuel corporations, but this example must be followed. Gas prices are still much too high despite the demonstrated initiative, and despite our complaints, many Americans are still guilty of blind consumption. Until consumers change their selfish ways, we can make no argument against the high energy prices imposed by uncaring corporations.

While President Bush may not go down in history as the most beloved American President, I do agree that we must devote ourselves to an energy policy that is "...reliable, affordable, and environmentally sound..."
-President George W. Bush

Americans must lessen their dependance on our four main energy forms: coal, natural gas, nuclear, and renewable resources. Oil is not our only problem. I strongly advocate the continued research and study of alternative energy options. Such options might include hydrogen, ethanol, and biofuel.
Thank you, Robert, for your post. I wish that more people would adopt your astute attitude towards energy conservation.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The New Brazilian

Americans can learn much from Brazil, as demonstrated by Britney Spear's recent wild nights. Jokes aside, Brazil has a lot to teach the United States when it comes to successful biofuel production and implementation.

What can the United States learn from Brazil's use of biofuel?

Most importantly, the United States can learn that there is life after oil. Brazil has proven that innovations in the area of alternative fuel can work wonders for a national economy and the environment. Through increased production of sugar cane biofuel, Brazil has lessened their dependance on foreign oil, while strenghtening their own national economy. Not only has Brazil been able to lessen the hold of foreign oil proucers, but also the country has been placed at "...the forefront of a "biofuels" movement in which many countries view sugar cane, corn, soybeans, beets, cornstalks and native grasses as cleaner, money-saving substitutes for oil produced in politically unstable countries."

-quotes taken directly from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/17/AR2005061701440.html

Brazil is currently the largest producer and exporter of ethanol, and the country sends half a billion gallons a year to a dozen countries, including the United States. Brazil's President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has vowed that the country will one day become the world's leader in renewable energy. Realizing the many benefits of biofuel, Agriculture Minister Roberto Rodrigues says, "we don't want to sell liters of ethanol, we want to sell rivers."

Does Brazil serve as an adequate model for comparison on the biofuel issue?

I want to give credit to those who argue that the needs of the United States vary greatly from those of Brazil. As I have said, the energy issue does not have a one size fits all solution. Many will argue that Brazil's sole purpose for implementing the use of biofuel differs from the United States' motives. Many claim that the country began using the fuel alternative not as an economic or environmental safeguard, but rather, as a measure to increase patriotism. While the United States would only benefit by increasing nationalism, the decision to mass produce biofuel in our country would not be in response to this need. Rather, the production of biofuel would refelct our country's desire to sever our ties with foriegn oil dependency. Some agricultural economists also argue that "biofuels also could be alternatives for U.S. farmers facing cuts in large federal farm subsidies on traditional crops," as well.

-quotes taken directly from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/17/AR2005061701440_2.html

It is important to keep in mind that although biofuel alleviates some problems, it brings with it new concerns. For example, NOx emmissions are increased with the use of biodiesel. The widespread use of biofuel could also increase the cost of the fuel alternative's ingredients. Brazil has learned first hand that once the price of sugar cane increased, the many benefits of biofuel were questioned. You see, while emptied wallets are immediately recognized, it is much harder to place a dollar sign next to the many environmental rewards. These rewards can take years to manifest themselves, and their benefits are often masked by this time table.

What other countries use biofuel?

Biofuel is quickly becoming a popular fuel substitute in many developing nations. Like Brazil, many countries realize that the implementation of biofuel technology can strengthen national economies, lower gas pump prices, lessen dependency on foreign oil, and help to ameliorate envirnmental stressors. "Many countries are looking for new energy sources that can replace the role of oil, and biofuel has what they want. So far America, Canada, Australia, China, India, Thailand and most European Countries all use biofuel, biodiesel and bioethanol." Portugal is another country that has realized the positive effects of biofuel, and New Zealand has also taken interest.

-quotes taken directlyfrom http://scienceclassgreely.tripod.com/id1.html

"Anonymous" has not only opened my eyes to Brazil's successful work regarding biofuel production, but the post also echos my sentiments. "... more people need to be thinking of the future of biofuel!"

I could not agree more that biofuel offers endless possibilities, and it would be a terrible mistake not to investigate these options further. Biofuel can be made from a variety of materials, and its use is not the least bit limited.

Biofuel can be derived from a variety of sources including (but not limited to) corn, sugar cane, soybean, waste vegetable oil, and wheat. The ease with which the fuel alternative can be made demands that citizens of the world, not just the United States, become much more familiar with its many benefits.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Brazil and Biofuel

I have recently received another insightful comment.

"Anonymous" posts, "I'm surprised that you did not mention how Brazil is a country that is currently using biofuel (with sugar cane) as another standard means of providing a source of energy for running cars... even offering at "gas" station fuel derived from the sugar cane. The U.S. government would benefit from taking a closer look at its biofuel infrastructure..."

Although Brazil is not using biodiesel specifcally, the country has been experimenting with the idea of using biofuel since the 1980s. (Unlike biodiesel which is composed primarily of waste vegetable oil, Brazil's blend uses a mixture of alcohol, ethonol to Americans, and sugar cane.) Derived from the country's plentiful supply of sugar cane, Brazil's biofuel has received a lot of international attention due to the country's mass production of the fuel alternative.

How did biofuel get its Brazilian start?

Brazil realized the need to reduce its dependance on foreign oil while under the military government in power from 1964 to 1985. During the 1970s oil crisis, Brazil made the bold decision to look towards lessoning its oil dependancy. While the idea of using biofuel and its corresponding technology was not new at the time, no other country had put the knowledge into practice on such a large scale. "Under the Pro-Alcohol programme, farmers were paid generous subsidies to grow sugar-cane, from which ethanol was produced." The price of the biofuel "...was also subsidised to make the new fuel cheaper than petrol, while the motor industry turned out increasing numbers of vehicles adapted to burn pure ethanol."
The push towards biofuel resulted in the majority of Brazil's cars and motor vehicles being designed for alcohol consumption.

-quotes taken directly from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4581955.stm

Did Brazil face any challenges after implementing the use of biofuel?

Despite biofuel's early Brazilian success, the fuel alternative faced many challenges. First, the government shifted towards a civilian rule, and this shift allowed for a decreased interest in promoting the fuel for national security purposes. Sugar prices also rose, making the ethanol grant too expensive. Next, oil prices fell. Perhaps the most devastating blow to Brazil's biofuel initiative was the discovery of new offshore oilfields by Petrobras, the State oil company. This discovery lessened Brazil's vulnerability to the problems of pricing and availability of foreign oil, and in turn, made the country more self-sufficient in oil.

How did the biofuel effort respond?

Although biofuel was threatened by the above obstacles, the environmental argument continued to favor ethanol over petrol. Ethanol, unlike petrol, "...is free of pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, while the carbon dioxide emissions it produces can be cancelled out by growing another sugar-cane plant." Despite biofuel's strong enviromental argument, interest in the fuel alternative reached its lowest point in 1997. Just a few years prior, "...more than 75% of all motor vehicles produced in Brazil - and more than 90% of cars - were designed for alcohol consumption." However, in 1997 "...just 1,075 motor vehicles built to run on alcohol rolled off the country's production lines - a mere 0.06% of the total output."

-quotes taken directly from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4581955.stm

What has become of Brazil's biofuel efforts?

Brazil's production of biofuel has taken another interesting turn! In the decade that has passed since Brazil lost its enthusiasm for biofuel, production has been reborn. In response to the rise in oil prices, Brazil has once again turned to biofuel for help. Again faced with the high price of petrol at the pump and risky dependancy on foreign oil, Brazil has realized the error of its premature decision to halt production of biofuel. This ironic turn of events has taught the country that despite the ever-changing oil trends, oil's availability and inevitable high price leave little room for its continued implementation.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Green Up or Get Out!

I have received several interesting questions since the start of this contest. I apologize for not answering each sooner, but I want to research each question before responding. I also want to answer questions in the order that most benefits the clarity of my blog. I appreciate everyone's interest, patience, and support.

On that note, I have been asked by Ms. Fisher, "...will BD [biodiesel] increase the cost of vegetable oil and other products such as McDonald's fries...There is supply and demand..."

The use of vegetable oil as an alternative fuel source has existed as long as the diesel engine, itself. In fact, Rudolph Diesel, the inventor of the diesel engine, "...experimented with fuels ranging from powdered coal to peanut oil." Despite early interest in such alternatives, diesel engines were adapted in the 20th century to burn petroleum distillate. This form of petroleum was both cheap and widely available at the time. Eventually, the cost of petroleum distillate rose, and interest in biodiesel re-surged during the late 1970s. The commercial production of biodiesel in the United States began during the 1990s.
-quotes taken directly from http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/analysispaper/biodiesel/index.html

When gasoline-powered automobiles were introduced in the early 20th century, "...oil companies were obliged to refine so much crude oil to supply gasoline that they were left with a surplus of distillate, which is an excellent fuel for diesel engines and much less expensive than vegetable oils. On the other hand, resource depletion has always been a concern with regard to petroleum, and farmers have always sought new markets for their products. Consequently, work has continued on the use of vegetable oils as fuel."
-quotes taken directly from

Early durability tests showed that engines would fail if using fuel blends composed partly of vegetable oil. However, continued testing demonstrated that engines would run successfully if the vegetable oil was mixed with certain alcohols. These early tests greatly contributed to our current understanding of biodiesel.

In the early 20th century, petroleum distillate was preferable to vegetable oil because it was inexpensive and widely available. However, the tables have turned. Crude oil has become much scarcer, and there is no longer a "surplus" of petroleum distillate. This shortage has sparked interest in biodiesel. No one will argue that we are not terribly dependent on foreign oil, and as global tensions increase, Americans must begin to embrace alternative fuel sources.

Unfortunately, Ms. Fisher is correct that supply and demand control our economy. While the ingredients of biodiesel are less costly than crude oil, their worth will only increase with their popularity. Some proponents of biodiesel fuel will argue that because the petroleum substitute can be made from waste oil (recycled cooking oil from restaurants), its cost will remain static. Call me a pessimist, but I credit the low cost to the current low demand. The majority of Americans have no use for left over bacon grease, and restaurants are happy to lessen their mess at closing time by pawning off the crud to a few eco-friendly hippies. Believe me, if there was currently a profit to be made, fast food franchises would be quick to smell the bacon-no pun intended.

Luckily, yellow grease is unlike oil in that it is neither a natural resource or nonrenewable. Looking back to the recent transfat regulation and the American uproar that immediately followed, I do not predict any sudden shortage of double cheeseburger combo meals. For now, our beloved grease is safe. This immunity means that there will likely be enough waste oil to continue the production of biodiesel. An increased reliance on soy beans is also likely, but at least higher costs of this ingredient will benefit our national economy. Rather than sending United Sates dollars overseas, we can keep them at home, strengthening the now shaky American farm industry.

Despite my prediction that the cost of biodiesel ingredients will inevitably rise, alternative fuel sources seem to be America's best bet. That being said, I feel that the study of alternative energy as a whole, not just that of biodiesel, should be greatly increased. Until we can find a way to fully replenish what we are taking from nature, we have no other choice but to explore our other energy options.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Fat Guy In a Little Coat

Remaining response to Ms. Fisher's question, "...Some wiley character will figure out a way to create a shortage to make his fortune. Would widespread use of BD require more government oversight and regulations?"

The current American oil crisis resembles Chris Farley's phrase, "Fat Guy in a Little Coat." As the late comic has taught us, if you put a fat guy in a small jacket, the jacket's days are numbered. Hilarity ensues, and the jacket tears. Just as a little coat can not bear a fat man's girth, the remaining amount of crude oil can not satisfy the rate of American consumption. Something has got to give, because this ill fated consequence will not be nearly as funny.

Tommy Boy clip

Fat Guy in a Little Coat Clip
-WARNING: Adult language

The current rate of American consumption guarantees a shortage of several natural resources, and if the American people are to continue in the lifestyle of blind consumption that the vast majority of us are guilty of, we must find a way to combat this dearth. Alternative fuel sources have the ability to alleviate this eventual crisis.

I do not doubt that some profit hungry nut will discover a way to exploit American vulnerability. Our capitalistic system, by its very nature, and for better or for worse, provides incentives and opportunities to profit. Even more upsetting is the thought that this nut will be a visionary of sorts, and overzealous corporations will find a way to improve upon his scheme. Hopefully, such corporations will be too busy to make contributions to political parties, and their actions will not go unpunished. Hell, maybe they will even be careless enough to break some sort of patent law. However, we can only weather that storm once the front moves in.

The widespread implementation of biodiesel, as well as any alternative fuel source, will require stringent government oversight and regulations. Oil dependency is a crime committed by much of this country. For that reason, the funding for and the study of alternative fuel sources has fallen short.
As mentioned in my previous post, biodiesel has significant drawbacks including premature engine failure and the emission of dangerous levels of NOx. The government currently regulates biodiesel production, and such regulation will continue to increase with the use of the product. The Environmental Protection Agency is one of many outlets charged with the responsibility to ensure that the use of such fuels does not do more harm than good. In this case, regulation would not serve as a setback, but as an engine for environmentally friendly safety and success. Government measures may slow the process down a little, but they will improve the quality of alternative fuel sources and worsen the odds of the above mentioned profiteers. Simply put, government regulation and oversight must correlate to the level of use if any product is to serve as an efficient and reliable petroleum substitute and meet our future energy needs.

If the ongoing OJ Simpson scandal has taught us anything, it should be that one glove will not fit every hand, and you do not always acquit just because the glove don't fit. Energy conservation and the study of alternative fuel sources will face many challenges. Some of these challenges will further our goals, while others will set us back. The energy issue is not a "one size fits all" solution, and we should not approach it as such.