Are there serious alternatives to oil?

Steve Forbes suggests in the Feb. 27 edition of Forbes magazine that there really aren’t any serious alternatives to oil.

“President Bush accused Americans of being ‘addicted to oil’ in his state of the union address. He might as well have said we are addicted to prosperity and progress. Without oil, of course, we would be an infinitely poorer nation–on a par, say, with Bangladesh.” He suggested that nuclear power is the only real alternative but even that would not stop our increasing demand for oil but only slow it.

Do you think he’s right? Does it matter? That it, does it matter that we keep our standard of living? If so, why? If not, why not?

Here’s the link but you’ll have to join to see the article.


Biofuels are the only serious alternative right now.

However, there are plants being built to turn coal in to fuels like diesel. And there are also plants being built that are turning waste products from poultry plants into gasoline.

It will be a number of years for any other alternatives to be found. But I think it will come sooner than later.


I don’t know if he is right or not. I do believe that there are lots of smart and creative people out there and some of them are bound to come up with solutions. Some of those will be good solutions, some will be bad. Some may be good for some and bad for others, etc. The best way, though, to sort it all out is through the free market. The government not only does not need to get involved, but will bollix it up when it does get involved.

There’s actually a process by which coal can be converted into a gasoline-like substance which could power our cars pretty much identically to oil. It was invented, oddly enough, by the Nazis after the rest of the world stopped selling them oil.

It currently costs more to get gas out of coal than it does to get gas out of oil, but as world oil supplies become increasingly depleted and the price continues to rise, it’s only a matter of time before that changes and people start eyeing our coal supplies with a bit more interest.

He makes that assertion, but he doesn’t try establish it with any facts.I am not sure why he thinks nuclear power is the only alternative to oil. Others have mentioned coal conversion, and I would say that wind turbines are a economically viable source of electricity right now.

From what I have read, alternative sources of energy exist. But most, such as biodiesel or ethanol, are not economically viable because oil is so darned cheap. For that matter, abundant reserves of natural gas exist and it is an underused resource. I think when oil rises in cost, the market will supply alternatives to it.

Ethanol is reported to be able one day cover 30% of oil needs today. It will take another 10-20 years to get there.

I know Montana and Pennsylvania are building plants to do this process. I think oil is now at the price where this is becomming economically feasible.


The key to this question is the word “serious”.

There really is only one serious alternative to oil and that is nuclear-generated electricity.

And then to electrify as much of our industry as possible. Railroad transportation using overhead electrical catenaries. Electric heat where ever possible. Everybody gets two cars: an electric runabout for local trips and the SUV gas guzzler for visits to grandma and for camping.

We only generate about 20% of our electricity with nuclear energy now. The French are up to 80% of their electricity with nuke.

We could raise our percentage to 40% in five years with a minimum of effort… by reducing the PAPERWORK (which takes five years by itself) and bureaucracy and by installing one additional reactor at each existing nuclear electric generating plant.

A few places can or could use geothermal… places that already are sitting on active volcano locations… Iceland already does. Hawaii, for one, could be another. You need lots of heat and a safe place to dump the waste products… nature already dumps them into the ocean.

I’m going to provide a reference for the limitations on solar:

This site has some excellent technical information for reference and for discussion.

Wind and biomass are just too small to make a meaningful contribution. Wind also has terrible side effects - mostly killing birds, which is ignored by proponents. Some folks in New England are opposed to wind because of noise and unsightliness; classical antinomianism – ok for others but not for them.

In addition to nuclear generated electricity, I think that there are other serious alternatives to oil such as hydrogen, methane, natural gas, wood and vegetable oil. There are in place hydrogen cars and vehicles at the present time. For an article on hydrogen vehicles please see:

I don’t think the wisest solution is to find another SINGLE source. We need to deveolope and utilize as many energy resources as are available. Certain regions will be richer in one source than others.

Solar hot water, windmill electricity, biofuels, public transit, tankless hot water, less packaging, hybrid vehicles, higher fuel economy, etc. Just a few examples of employing a multipronged solution.

Also, when you consider biofuels like ethanol and biodeisel, what nations do you think will dominate that market? Certainly not desert nations!


I believe most of these we can do on our own or as members of collectives, but some will require some government regulation and investment.

Long term, I think Hydrogen cars will work better than hybred - It’s a matter of getting the infrastructure in place. That may require some government regulation and investment. The reward will be that cars would no longer need gasoline or create the pollution by-products of gasoline or diesel.

I don’t think people realize how much we rely on people for oil who hate us and who believe that we are Kafirs who need to be brought into submission to their version of Islam, and how freeing ourselves from having to rely on their oil just might save our lives.

It’s one thing if Muslims end up having to integrate into the modern word so they can prosper, quite another if they manage to prosper purely as an accident of geography (sitting over several pools of oil). The first is requires adaptation and is beneficial. The second falls under Gandhi’s sin of wealth without work and can’t be good.

In Christ, Michael

No, there isn´t.

I doubt that any one alternative energy source will take over the bulk of what oil does for us. I think we will probably need to rely on a variety of sources such as hydro, solar, wind, geothermal, etc.

Nuclear electrical generation and biodiesel seem to offer to most immediate benefits. Biodiesel is renewable and could become competitive with dino fuel, leaving our limited oil resources for other uses. Many products made from oil can also be made from coal, at a price, though. Coal and natural gas, although currently plentiful, are limited resources, and renewable energy supplies are needed for the very long haul.

Ethanol made from grains will never be competitive because it takes more energy to distill it than the finished product can produce. Other crops, such as sugar cane, are much better for this. I don’t remember the percentages, but Brazil produces a significant percentage of its automotive fuel from cane.

Hydrogen seems to be the best bet for the long term. The unknown about it is the environmental effect of the additional water from a kazillion vehicles going into the atmosphere. I guess we won’t get the answer to that question until we try it.

If we could find a way to use the geothermal energy from Yellowstone to process Canads’s tar sands, we would have enough cheap oil to last until viable alternatives could be found.

My :twocents:

Years ago there was a report, MOPPS, on a 600-year supply of geopressurized methane. Was too good; so a second report was published that toned down the projections.

Hydrogen does not naturally occur in quantity. So it has to be manufactured, which is expensive in dollars and in energy. It’s more of an energy storage system.

Bio-fuels are also expensive to manufacture. [Some folks HAVE had success burning dry corn for heating fuel.]

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This is a myth we really need to shake off in America. One nut from Cornell (an insect scientist) and another in California (with deep ties to the oil industy) made these points a few years ago. Their work has since been largely dismissed and a large body of work shows that there is a significant net gain. Actually, when compared to the production of oil, grain based ethanol produces a greater net energy gain than fossil fuel.

The problem with petroleum is that energy is just one part of our addiction. Just about everything we own, wear and drive is made from petroleum products. Soy and corn will cover many of these demands, but the “age of plastic” in which we live will require as much alternative use research as energy.


There are no serious alternatives to crude oil. We will always need crude oil for plastics, jet fuel, certain types of lubricants, and other industrial products.

We can eventually mandate all cars and small SUVs to be hybrids, increase the amount of ethanol and bio-fuels in the mix, etc.

In 50 years, we may not need gasoline anymore, but we will always need crude oil.

Forbes is right, as long as the Bush Chaney administration exists. Alternative fuels should have become a high priority item for the USA in the Carter Adm. in 1973. We just never learn.Both parties are to blame.

If anyone really gets interested in this topic, do some research on the theories of Thomas Gold. He suggested that oil reservoirs are renewed from the earth’s core regions… that owing to the high temps and pressures, oil is continuously formed and dribbles up into the oil bearing strata.

It’s an interesting theory with some evidence to back it up. Deserves a read.


While that’s true, replacing the energy produced by oil and it’s by-products would dramatically reduce our need for oil.

Most of the oil we use isn’t used to make plastics, fabrics and other durable petroleum products. It’s used to produce gasoline, heating oil and other forms of energy. Replace the oil you use to produce energy with other sources of energy and we’ve just about solved most of the geoplitical and environmental problems facing us today or placed them in a posititon where we can begin to solve them.

If we don’t do this, we’ll continue to pay for the US Armed Forces with our tax dollars, while paying Al-Queda’s budget at the pump. I don’t think that’s a very smart policy, esp. if we can get ourselves off of ME oil by collective consumer action, spending some money on R&D and by some thoughtful government intervention.

I’ve seen the people jumping out of windows on 9/11 and the beheadings of innocent people by bigots screaming “Allahu Akbar!” And, I know how Al-Queda uses the money they get from our purchases of gasoline.

That’s one reason I’m not so worried about the “Bird Strikes” that I know will occur if we use wind-turbines to generate electricity, or the tortoises whose habitats will be impacted if we lay out 100’s of acres of solar panels in the Mojave Desert.

There are alternatives to crude oil FOR ENERGY. We just have to have the courage to use them and to say to those who complain, “Thank you for sharing, but we need to do this.”

And, we have to have the courage to adopt a comprehensive EVERGY POLICY TODAY and stop the partisan bickering before Al-Queda makes more money from the sale of gasoline!

In Christ, Michael