ENERGY: Present and Potential Sources

A cursory collection of information by Ken Wear (BSPhysics, MSEE)
commenced Feb. 2001. Whole books may be devoted to any one topic.
For definitions and discussion of concepts, click here

Energy ranks in importance next after population and food and pervades nearly every topic of concern. The availability of energy is crucially important to our economy and, indeed, to our world, which uses some 132.5 trillion kilowatt-hours annually. It is highly selfish and short-sighted if, in the urge to maintain our civilization through use of the energy on which it depends, we so rape our environment as to make life sterile, devoid of the natural wonders and pleasures that feed our souls. At the same time energy is so crucial to our economy that we must pursue all possible avenues that promise affordable energy. This page is dedicated to surveying information on the quest for plentiful and affordable energy with only a minimal impact on the environment we must share with our offspring and their future.

Energy issues will not go away. Neither will environmental concerns disappear. In the interest of its own survival the United States must become the leader in the search for alternate means of powering civilization while remaining alert to aesthetic concerns. As the various sources become strained, as, for instance, development of all hydroelectric dams our waterways will support -- and there are other needs for that same water -- it must become a burning national issue to work toward perpetual or renewable resources.

There are three faces to our energy concerns: 1) conservation -- decreasing demand in the short term in order to stretch the time that (presently) traditional energy sources are adequate -- and 2) new sources that may be developed and brought on line to replace presently used consumables, to offset depletion of existing sources and to allow for expansion of demand. 3) after effect of consumpton, both the waste heat of less-than 100% efficiency and the atmospheric gases released by consumption. To pursue a topic, click on it in the table below:

Conservation . . Petroleum . . Combustible Gases (including hydrogen)
Biodiesel or seed oils Electricity Nuclear
Solar Wind Coal
Alcohols Other (hydroelectric, geothermal, animal fats, . . .)
New sources Environmental impact
Snippets that add little to my main thread are reduced in type size

Energy is the potential to do work; to the physicist work and energy are interchangeable; efficiency of conversion becomes a dominant practical concern. While energy exists in many forms our practical interest lies entirely in its potential to assist in our routine requirements. Tabular data is an attempt to make meaningful comparisons of the efficacy and cost of various energy sources. While energy sources may be converted from one form to another, efficiency and by-products of conversion are always issues in determining the desirability of one source over another.


1. One of the most wasteful practices of modernity is location of power plants for electricity generation remote from users because the heat rejected by the generating process both degrades the environment at the generating and requires additional fuel by users who must have heat. Modern designs of generation facilities remove 98-99% of the obnoxious by-products so generating capacity as part of local development becomes desirable. (This issue involves state and local regulatory agencies and therefore has a political component; it will require aroused citizens to correct the practice.) 2009The magnitude of this problem is indicated by the fact that 41% of global energy consumption is used to generate electricity and 2/3 of that is wasted as heat in the course of generation.

2. Home and building construction should take advantage of state-of-the-art knowledge of designs that have a substantial impact on energy needs. For instance, in wooden frames, joint design in construction can have a significant impact on energy conservation. (I have examined a publication by Georgia Tech College of Architecture that shows ways to make secure joints that have a major impact on energy for heating or cooling.) Your state's College of Architecture can provide detailed information. 2009 The fact that 40% of the world's energy consumption is used to heat buildings suggests the enormity of possible savings.

A. Solar energy to heat water and provide partial heating of home or work place would make a tremendous difference. It is not necessary to sacrifice comfort even though a couple degrees may be easily tolerated and would have a huge impact in conservation. It is my understanding some localities have zoning ordinances prohibiting "unsightly structures" such as solar collectors; such rules represent the height of environmental arrogance in encouraging wastefulness rather than conservation and are in drastic need of revision. (Of course neighborhood aesthetics must be respected, but that is a matter of design.)
B. Gases exude from the ground, such as radioactive radon, and designs that retard circulation of outdoor air to the indoors allow concentration of these gases in enclosed spaces. A non-biodegradable barrier lining the pit dug for construction would prevent intrusion into the home or work place of these undesirable gases. (Trapping of rain water between barrier and floor may be readily precluded by floor-wall design.)
C. Heat pumps, while using electricity, supplant fossil fuels in heating and use the same equipment, with minor adaptation, for both heating and cooling. Air-to-air is appropriate in moderate climates; ground water-to-air has been used in cooler climates. (Years ago I participated in design and construction of air-to-air heat pumps - with humidity control - for offices in two warehouses in Atlanta; 20 years later they were still in use and produced one of the most comfortable indoor climates I have experienced.) I have not done an analysis of atmospheric consequences of substituting electricity for fossil fuel.

3. Businesses and industries are often grossly wasteful, such as lighting when and where it serves no useful purpose. For instance, only very dim lighting is needed during the wee hours in a company parking lot and lighting is needed only in selected areas overnight in commercial and industrial buildings.

4. Biofuels make use of agricultural products and algae in the production of oils as a substitute for petroleum products.

A. Home heating with biofuels is entirely a matter of cost of fuel; furnaces can just as easily burn biofuels (although fuel may itself need to be heated in order to pass the injector).
B. Algae, which use solar energy (and can use waste energy from production of electricity) and carbon dioxide to produce a variety of proteins, carbohydrates and oils, offer a potential that is crying for research in the areas of fuel production, waste heat, atmospheric pollution and uses for by-products. For information on algae, click here.
C. Diesel engines, because of higher efficiency, consume less fuel per unit of work output than gasoline-powered engines. Diesel cars make sense. And modern designs equal gasoline engines in responsiveness. For further information click here.
D. Methane is increasingly being captured from anaerobic decay of wastes as well as from farm animals.

5. Personal commitment as individuals:

A. Reduce your home energy bills. You can do it; you just have to think about it. Turn off your computer when it won't be actively used for an extended period. Set your thermostats for a degree cooler for heating and a degree or two warmer on air conditioning. Use electroluminescent light bulbs. (Replacing a single 100 watt incandescent lamp bulb with a compact fluorescent lamp will save, over its life, some 500 pounds of coal.) Install solar hot water and space heating systems.
B. There is always that choice between personal convenience and pleasure and the needs of others, sacrificing one for the good of the other. For instance, larger, heavier and more costly vehicles than are needed for everyday activities may make occasional activities more enjoyable, but they may be excessively wasteful of both personal resources and fuel for day-to-day use.

Options for new energy sources are legion

1. Reopening old oil wells closed because cheap oil was depleted, or drilling for oil in locations now prohibited.
2. Conversion of products presently considered waste such as oils from food processing, ethanol from grasses or other cellulosics, methanol from landfills, . . .
3. Algae will undoubtedly become a dominant source for both oils and food (for humans as well as animals.
4. Products grown for a combination of food, fiber and fuel such as marijuana (animal feed).
5. ??? (I wouldn't presume that I could make this list inclusive.)


Liquid petroleum has fueled the growth of the world's economies and is becoming increasingly difficult to locate. It should be obvious to all that the current rate of usage cannot be sustained, regardless of the cost to our environment. Unfortunately Federal research dollars are being directed toward projects that will continue our heavy dependence on petroleum.

It seems incredible that only 150 years ago the first oil well resulted from digging for water. Before then it was collected where it seeped to the surface and was bottled and sold as medicine. When it became obvious one of the products, kerosene, could be used to replace whale oil in lamps, which was becoming very expensive, the rush was on and within a few years there were wells and refineries everywhere. But, in the 150 years since, petroleum has become so widely used that exhaustion of Nature's bounty is a serious concern.

Pipelines to distribute liquid petroleum products have become ubiquitous; they became widespread during World War II (when patriotism overcame NIMBY objections). Since, they are very common features of the surface and sub-surface environment.

Products produced by fractional distillation of petroleum are (in order of increasing distillation temperature): petroleum gases, naphtha, gasoline, kerosene, diesel oil, lubricating oil and fuel oil. Asphalt is a residue. (Energy reqired for distillation is not commonly considered when examining the overall energy efficiencies involved with consumption of petroleum.) Chemical composition of petroleum varies considerably, depending on its source. (Helium, often simply bled into the atmosphere at the oil well, is a by-product of petroleum pumping; we have no other source for this gas. There have been attempts to capture and store helium against future depletion. Helium makes no contribution to atmospheric warming.) The table (included under Alcohols), Comparisons of Liquid Fuels, brings together energy properties of several liquid fuels.

Efficiency in conversion of the energy content of the fuel to useful work (as in vehicles) is a prime consideration in choosing a fuel. I am looking at a chart which shows 25% of the energy input for motive power plus accessories, 5% for friction (which I feel is woefully short because of friction in the pistons), 30% for cooling and 40% out the exhaust. (The same source shows 35% to motive power plus accessories for diesel.) The same document indicates a U.S. government goal of 30% (2004 baseline) to 45% by 2012 for passenger vehicles and from 40% (2002 baseline) to 55% by 2013 for commercial vehicles. (Evidently methods of calculation differ significantly.) But it is obvious that conversion of gasoline-operated equipment, including cars and light trucks, to diesel, because of its greater efficiency, and hence number of miles per gallon, would significantly reduce demand for petroleum.

Environmental impact, in the eye of the media and thus the public, of automotive equipment centers more on gaseous components of exhaust (carbon dioxide) than energy loss. However, that 30% lost to cooling would heat several houses in a cold climate; that plus the 40% exhausted increase local environmental temperatures. Seldom considered is the effect of asphalt pavement on which those vehicles travel in that it absorbs some 90-95% of incident sunlight whereas crops, trees, etc., absorb some 75-85%; thus asphalt contributes to the heat burden.

Diesel: Since there is no ignitor, compression ratios of 19 to 25 (contrasted to some 9.5 for gasoline engines) are necessary to compress air to the fuel ignition temperature, so cylinder walls must be stronger and require more steel; thus diesel engines cost more. But a comparison of automobile mileage per gallon indicates the higher initial cost will be recovered in three or four years of moderate usage and quicker with heavy travel. Moreover, diesel engines are generally more durable and enjoy a longer life cycle. Modern automobile diesel engine performance characteristics compete well with gasoline engines. Diesel-driven automobiles are a sound investment both from the standpoint of lifetime operating expense and reduced demand for petroleum.

Economic efficiency of an automobile or light truck is obviously the cost per mile, which for most of us equals payment plus insurance plus fuel divided by miles driven, all figured for the month. It is a comparatively easy calculation to compare economic efficiency of various vehicles and is undoubtedly part of your comparison when in the market for a new vehicle.

Entries on the World Wide Web indicate that most modern diesels will operate equally well on petro- or bio- diesel. (I visited the Auto Show (4-12-05) in search of information on biodiesel and found that only one car made in the U.S. is rated for biodiesel, and that was B5 (5% bio in petro). Clearly hobbyists and experimenters will have to pave the way.) Many people are operating with SVO (straight vegetable oil), which does require special considerations such as pre-heating the oil before it reaches the fuel injectors. One approach is use of two fuel tanks so petro-diesel may be used for the first and last few minutes of operation (thus cranking and warming on petro-diesel and then clearing the tubulation and injectors of biodiesel before shut-down; and using a heat exchanger between waste engine heat and fuel tubulation to pre-heat the SVO). Various single-tank designs have been used, and some people are running on waste oils and fats from cruise liners and fast-food outlets (with modest filtering and conversion).
As data on fuels and information on designs becomes available to me, I will add it to the web page accessed by
clicking here. (Also referenced at the end of this page so you need not link yet.)

There are many applications, such as trucks and fixed power plants, where constancy of fuel supply is much more valuable than volatility, and flexibility in oil sources would help assure continuity of supply.

OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) has been successful several times in curtailing production, apportioning it among member states, to cause a rise in petroleum prices. Each time one or several members, after a time, felt pressure for additional income and cheated on their allotment. It is a poor national policy to rely on the greed of OPEC members. However, I can think of nothing that would have a more beneficial effect on the greed driving OPEC than a serious effort in this country at conservation of petroleum and development and use of alternate fuels. 8-21-06 My recollection is that petroleum prices peaked in the late 1970s but the specter of increased production from Middle East oil wells discouraged development of other resources. 9-11-06 For the past year or so we have experienced unconscionable oil prices. Remarkably, the announcement of discovery of immense quantities of oil under the Gulf of Mexico has led to an immediate drop in petroleum prices. This has led me to a discussion (and suggested legislation) of how to shield the U.S. from OPEC's greed. This may be seen by clicking here.

3-2-09 I have read that sweet light petroleum (the most desirable form) in massive quantities is in the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana. Exact quantity is in dispute.

Extraction of petroleum is a study in its own right. Very little oil exists in pools, but is interspersed in crevases or between rock fragments and sand in areas from which it may migrate to areas of lesser concentration. One can readily understand why many wells are prolific when first brought into production but gradually become less productive as oil must migrate greater distances to reach the well. Often heat or chemicals introduced into the well will make the petroleum less viscous so it migrtes more readily. Thus wells are abandoned, not because they have been depleted of petroleum, but because the rate of migration has slowed to the extent it is no longer economical to continue operation.

Shale and oil sands: I was shocked to learn that many shales are so oil-rich that they can be burned as fuel, leaving an ash that has been the basis for cement manufacture. Both the shale and its over-burden resulted from geological processes of deposition and compaction of silt; the chemical composition reflects surface conditions at the time, plant and animal life, erosion products added to the silt and leaching by ground water during compaction. Oil exists as kerogen, which has not been subjected to temperatures high enough in Earth's interior to convert it to petroleum.

Studies show there is enough oil-bearing shale in our country and Canada alone to satisfy our petroleum needs for 200-300 years -- larger than any known liquid petroleum reserve anywhere in the world. There are also extensive oil-bearing sands in Canada. There must surely be a price level for petroleum that makes it economical to develop shale. The U.S. could be independent of foreign oil for decades. 8-21-06 The Green River Formation in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado is estimated to hold, under 1000 feet of over-burden, more recoverable oil than all known liquid petroleum reserves combined -- 16,000 square miles containing some one barrel of oil per ton of shale. Oil sands in Alberta, Canada, contain about half that much. China has been exploiting its shale since 1929 and Estonia's chief export is electricity generated from shale oil. Brazil has produced since 1991 100,000 tons of oil per year from its shale. Some oil companies claim they can harvest shale oil from the Green River Formation at $10 per barrel while present production is at $25 per barrel by pumping heated liquid into the shale to release oil from the rock. I understand a 2005 Federal law is intended to encourage production of oil from Green River shale. (A reader has informed me that in 2007 the U.S. Congress refused to alter a 1992 ban on exploiting shale oil that was included in the budget.)

Developing oil from shale: 06-06-08 With 1000 feet of over-burden, and the recognition that maximum petroleum production requires shale be brought to the surface for extraction of its oil, the question presents itself: what to do with the residue once its oil is extracted? Such questions beg for examination. Of course, once production moves to a new pit, filling the earlier pit would account for a major portion of the residue.

What is the nutrient content of the shale and its over-burden? It should be similar to top soil that is the basis for farming. Since it cannot be readily compacted to its present volume, alternative uses must be found beyond parks and lakes (commonly used today to leave abandoned mines in a state that is attractive to the public). Intensive farming has left much farm land depleted of nutrients in the soil and there may be enough demand for use of over-burden to replenish depleted soil to justify transporting it to farming operations. Something government leadership ought to consider!

One would think petroleum interests would give priority to learning how extraction of oil from shale can be made attractive to the public, including "green" interests. Once oil is extracted those huge holes resulting from mining must be filled. Rather than that producing eye sores, parks and cultivatable land could result. For political comment on petroleum, click here.

Hybrid vehicles are becoming, despite their cost, part of the effort to diminish the necessity to import petroleum. Hybrids derive part of their power from recharging batteries from braking with dynamos; gasoline engines are used only when batteries reach a state of discharge as to be ineffective in providing motive power. Some hybrids may have batteries recharged from 120 or 240 volt outlets.


Alternates to liquid petroleum: The popularity of automobiles has driven our choices toward petroleum and its controlled volatility. But we should examine possibilities for other sources of fuel-tankable power. (The next two sections discuss biodiesel and vegetable oils as well as compressible gaseous fuels.)

Ethanol (ethyl alcohol, the potable stuff) takes the same corn from which corn oil may be extracted, converts it to sugar and then produces ethanol (aprx 2.5 gal/bu), a fuel whose energy content is some 62% that of petroleum. It would be interesting to compare the energy production per acre using, first, corn oil, and second, ethanol. I say with tongue in cheek that, in the quest for sustainable seed oil production, the corn subsidy might usefully be switched to cannabis subsidy. USDA estimates that energy from corn ethanol is only 34% more than energy required to produce it. (Engine lubrication using ethanol may be a concern; I have no information.)

(July '07) Applications are coming on line to produce ethanol and methanol from municipal garbage. There are currently, in Georgia, several garbage dumps being tapped for methane on a commercial scale. Research is also underway to produce ethanol from cellulosic crops, such as switch grass from our Great Plains; it crosses my mind that the residue from production of oil from algae ought also be explored.

In using ethanol to fuel automobiles, "E85" is 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline.

1-12-06: I have learned that Brazil has taken advantage of its tremendous sugar cane industry to produce ethanol and encourage its use in automobiles. Over time the cost advantage of gasoline versus ethanol has varied, but recently they have introduced cars that run on flex-fuel, a continuously variable mixture of gasoline and ethanol so the cars can take advantage of whichever fuel is currently cheaper per mile. Over three decades Brazil has improved productivity of sugar to 6000 liters of ethanol per hectare of crop land (aprx 4800 kg/ha). The history of Brazil's development of ethanol is an interesting mix of Brazilian politics, world oil prices and research on sugar cane's DNA as well as uses for the remaining pulp.

Duckweed: 1-12-06 Researchers in North Carolina have discovered that duckweed uses the nutrients in wastewater for growth, thus capturing the energy for ethanol production. Duckweed has been found to be 5-6 times more efficient per acre than corn. Research was based on wastewater from hog production but could be applied to municipal wastes as well. Facilities for ethanol production are the same as from corn.

1-03-10 Butanol for fuel use is being manufactured by a fermentation process.

Methanol (methyl alcohol, the poisonous stuff)(energy content 75% that of ethanol): I lack data other than the table below.

Denatured (fuel) alcohol I lack data other than the table below.

Comparisons of Liquid Fuels
Fuel*kcal/gm% of_KBTU in a_lb/galFormula____Per mole__
gaspoundgallon gmkcalkJ
Ethanol7.1261.8 C2H5OH46327.61366.8
Methanol5.3446.3 CH3OH32170.9726.1
LNG 22.830.81.35
Hydrogen.0339 29.80.26H22 285.8

*Handbook values are presented in a variety of units, so it is difficult to compare fuels in useful terms. I have undertaken some conversions for comparison. Conversion units are listed at the end of this essay.
If your computer does not produce a readable table, try
clicking here. Your BACK button will return you here.

[I have recently become aware that my life-long assumption, that dinosaurs and other creatures of our long past produced our petroleum, has been cast into question. Perhaps methane existing at great depths -- part of the primordial soup from which Earth condensed -- was acted on by the immense temperatures and pressures to produce petroleum and that "known" oil reserves are minuscule compared with petroleum at these greater depths. I am forever the skeptic and have scant confidence that significant quantities of deep petroleum even exist, much less can be recovered. In my quest for acceptance of such possibilities, I am hopeful of finding information on the laboratory production of petroleum from methane. Whatever the results of research on this fountain of petroleum, I would urge the advocates of untamed consumption to be honest in their notions of our civilization's ability to mine and thereby harness these reserves. Science has been and likely will continue to be limited in the depth of drilling by the immense temperatures existing toward Earth's core.

[Our civilization's greed and disregard for the effects of unfettered exploration, exploitation and uses of petroleum, especially transportation of raw petroleum, are an international disgrace and a shameful lack of concern for tomorrow and its citizens. Adequate safeguards for the environment must be erected to assure that the esthetics and practical functionality are not destroyed. At the very least our technology must learn and apply techniques that prevent oil spills altogether, while in the interim avoiding the waste and environmental destruction of spills.

[I remember when the beach at Fort Walton, Florida, was clean -- sand almost white -- and the waters slapping onto the beach were so clean and clear you could see the bottom way out; now the sand is a dingy gray and has lumps of residue from a Mexican oil well that sprung a leak and remained uncapped for weeks. I have not read much of the oil dumping and well fires ordered by Saddam Hussein in the throes of the Iraqi war of the early 1990's. But the Exxon-Valdez spill in Alaska also comes to mind. Such environmental disasters simply must be precluded by evolving technology -- such as locating and pumping dry sunken oil tankers. It is often an international issue and the boundaries between private development and governmental regulation come into play.]

OILS: Vegetable or Seed or Algae (for biodiesel)

Most automobiles on roads in the U.S. are powered by gasoline, with some formulations containing a small percentage of ethanol. Many trucks and mobile equipment requiring greater power rely on engine designs that use diesel fuel. There has been some experimenting in Europe with gasoline engines converted to biodiesel but I will not speculate on the possibility of a fuel igniter that will make it possible to ignite diesel fuel at the lower compression ratios typical of gasoline engines. (Data on design for biodiesel is shown by clicking here.)

Use of by-products and leavings of oil production will become major issues and may in fact determine which crops may best be utilized for fuel production. Cattle feed from cottonseed oil production. Fiber from hemp. Tillage. Fertilizers. Pests.

It should be obvious that, politically on the international stage, our nation's reliance on liquid petroleum makes us vulnerable to political events beyond our shores and beyond our control. The lack of alternates is not a suitable or sustainable national policy. An obvious direction for agricultural research is genetic engineering for seed oil production. I am disheartened at the obvious influence of petroleum interests (and the so-called "war on drugs") in failing to direct research interest toward projects that have hope for relieving our dependence on foreign oil. 7-23-07 I have just examined tabular data from the U.S. Dept. of Energy. Regrettably, biodiesel from vegetable oils is not added into their data as biodiesel, which I regard as gross dishonesty in favor of ethanol, likely due to lobbying effort by ethanol interests. (Political chicanery?)

Nor should the environmental impact of seed oils as a fuel be overlooked. The USDA has pointed out that 10,000 acres planted in hemp will yield as much paper as 40,000 acres planted in trees and requires far less caustic chemicals in its manufacture than paper from wood pulp. Biomass (seed oil) fuels release fewer pollutants into the atmosphere and the plant source spends its growing season removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. As a fiber source hemp has an enormous potential and is perhaps the world champion photosynthesizer of solar energy, with more than four times the biomass/cellulose potential of corn or kneaf.

Seed oils have an energy content per gallon of some 85% that of petroleum distillates. And early diesel engines were operated on peanut or hemp seed oil, where one acre of plant could reportedly produce 800 or more gallons. Energy content of the fuel used is not a factor in diesel engine design since lower-energy-content oils simply need a greater depression of the power pedal in order to produce the same horsepower, so cost and volume (miles per fill in travel applications) become limiting factors. (Engine lubrication is reportedly better with seed oils than with petroleum distillates.)

Source of oil -Energy kcal/g- - - Source of oil -Energy kcal/g
Linseed9.43Rape seed10.00

Source of oil -US gal/acre - - -Source of oil -US gal/acre - - -Source of oil -US gal/acre>
corn (maize)18*oats23kenaf29
linseed (flax)51mustard61safflower83
rice88cocoa (cacao)110peanuts113
opium poppy124rapeseed127jojoba194
avocado282coconut287oil palm635
Of these, jojoba is native to the deserts of California and Mexico. Oil palm is native to West Africa and grown on South Sea islands (such as Fiji) where immense tracts of land are being cleared to plant palms.) Hemp, flax, kenaf and jute are commercial sources of fiber; opium production should be convertible to oil.

* I am suspicious of this data: compare 18 gal/acre with the earlier data of 2.5 gal/bu of ethanol from corn.; yet in 2006 the average yield of corn was 149 bu/acre.

Algae as a potential source for oils supposedly far exceeds (estimated at a factor of more than 100) any of the above oils. With some 18000 known strains of algae with oil content 2% to 40%, a separate table is appropriate; searching the Web for data on algae is for me a new (8/07) project and data collected is in a separate section; you may view a summary of research efforts as well as data on algae by clicking here.

So long as octane ratings can be maintained (and pollution is reduced with most oils) there seems little reason to avoid mixing other oils with petroleum distillates. Ignition has apparently dictated spark plugs and gasoline; but a well-warmed-up engine should allow an increased percentage of less volatile fuel, and two injectors per cylinder (one controlled by engine temperature) should allow mixing fuels with no loss of engine performance. Two fuel tanks, and two fuel gauges on the dash, should not be a severe penalty for the projected benefits of dual fuel use. Today a mixture of petroleum-derived oil and soy oil are offered for diesels: I do not know the proportions. [B20 is 20% biodiesel in petroleum distillates; B100 is 100% biodiesel.]

Viscosity of any fuel oil (which becomes less at higher temperatures) is of concern since it must traverse tubulation and some form of injection into the combustion chamber. In many cases waste heat may be used to warm the fuel to a desired temperature.

Home heating and hot water require constancy of energy supply. Seed oils will compare favorably with petroleum once cost per gallon can be brought reasonably close. The volatility of petroleum prices should be an incentive to accept somewhat higher prices for seed oil installations. While I am not familiar with ignitor designs, there should be so little difference in designs for the various seed oils that one seed oil may be freely substituted for another; in fact petroleum and seed oils are likely interchangeable so blends could and should become part of the fuel mix.

I am seeking information on costs of seed oil production and utilization of by-products; it has been a frustrating search. I offer this much:
soybean oil on the commodity market sells by the pound;
at a specific gravity (15o/15o) of .924-.927 and using water at 8.328 lb/gal(15o) as reference, there is 7.695-7.720 lb/gal -- use 7.71 as an average.
At today's (5/10/04) $0.34/lb that is $2.62/gal, compared with (wholesale) $1.00/gal for #2 heating oil and $1.33/gal for unleaded gasoline.
Clearly costs must be greatly reduced to make soybean oil competitive with petroleum distillates. (I have received information during a web search that hemp seed oil should be available at some $0.77 per gallon.) A recent TV program indicated 1.4 gallons of oil may be produced from a bushel of soy seeds.

Jet aircraft burn kerosene-like petroleum distillates. There is a penalty in weight in use of seed oils, but so long as ignition can be sustained at acceptable temperatures there should be no other advantage of petroleum over alternate oils.

Hemp: Hemp, a member of the mulberry family, is similar to flax, kenaf, jute and ramie with long slender fibers in the outer stalk, a fibrous core that has a number of uses and seeds rich in oil. When raised for high quality fiber it is harvested when it flowers; for seeds harvest is 4-6 weeks later, when fiber is a lesser quality. Few varieties contain enough THC (the psychoactive ingredient) to be of interest to smokers. Although the USDA is encouraging production of hemp, this country's drug policy may be a barrier to research but, should hemp oil become a viable alternative to petroleum, then our drug policy must of necessity be reexamined. Hemp agriculture was required of early Virginia farmers, and was encouraged by the U.S. government during World War II, as a source for fiber. I am not familiar with the history of hemp use and competitive products, but I have heard the story that a commercial process for using hemp fiber in the manufacture of newsprint motivated newspaper interests (who at the time owned large pulpwood forests that would lose value) to try to produce a public hysteria against marijuana and succeeded in 1937 in inducing the Congress of the United States to make marijuana illegal. While I doubt that the developers of that process are still living, there should be patent records of the process. Should this source of fiber be economically competitive today then that, in combination with the fuel usage of hemp seeds, will make a powerful argument for controlling marijuana use by taxation as a recreational drug (after the fashion of alcohol).

A search (2-2-05) of the World Wide Web has yielded this much: Hemp produces some 4 tons of seeds per acre, and 30% of seed weight is oil, for up to 300 gallons of oil per acre (compared with 60 gal/acre for sunflower and safflower). 300 gallons per acre, considering costs of production, yields $0.77 per gallon. USDA strongly encourages hemp agriculture. To my mind we ought as a nation embark on efforts to genetically engineer hemp to maximize its potential as a substitute for petroleum. (Use of fiber from hemp stems is reportedly used for over 10,000 different products so there is the potential for great industrial development.)

During World War II, Henry Ford developed a car that could run on hemp-based fuel.

The National Biodiesel Board offers this: Biodiesel (blended of unspecified vegetable oils -- soy suspected -- and put through their process) has been successful at 20% in #2 (petroleum) heating oil; 100% is usable without equipment modification, but they encourage delay until testing protocols can be established. In diesel-electric application in California 100% produced notably decreased atmospheric emissions. 2-5% concentration improves lubricity. Most diesel engines built since 1994 can use biodiesel without modification although transportation and storage require special management. Some biodeisels are more aggressive than petroleum so rubber parts should be of Viton or a similar compound. Their web page declines to discuss costs; there are relatively few outlets but they can deliver anywhere. The infrastructure is underway.

The Biodiesel WWW Encyclopedia links to many contemporary topics regarding biodiesel. Their URL is

Combustible Gases -- hydrocarbons and hydrogen

Production and consumption of hydrocarbon gases are often great distances apart and transport is crucial. Internationally there are thousands of miles of pipelines, but many of these end at the loading dock. But it isn't economical to transport them in the gaseous state so liquifaction is essential. So of engineering concern are the properties of critical temperature and critical pressure. At temperatures higher than critical the gas cannot be liquified regardless of pressure, and at pressures lower than critical the gases cannot be liquified regardless of temperature. Therefore transport requires pressure containers that are well insulated. Gases of primary interest are tabulated below; LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) and liquified hydrogen also appear in the table for liquid fuels. (It should be evident from the critical temperature for hydrogen that ordinary insulations are not adequate to even short term storage; there must be a search for an absorbent that will hold large quantities of hydrogen at high densities.)

Comparisons of Gaseous Fuels
Note critical temperatures and pressures, esp 1st 3 fuels
Fuel**CriticalFormula___Per mole___BTU pervapor_pres
oCpsi gmkcalkJcuft760 mm @
Natural gas*-82.5673
Hydrogen-240188H22 285.8319
Ethane+32706C2H630 1560.71700-88.6oC
Butane152551C4H1058 2877.63200
*Per cent methane varies well by well, some are rich in propane; vehicles typically charged to 3000-3600 psi
**Handbook values are presented in a variety of units, so it is difficult to compare fuels in useful terms. I have undertaken some conversions for comparison. Conversion units are listed at the end of this essay.

If your computer does not produce a readable table, try clicking here. Your BACK button will return you here.

Of the fossil fuels, natural gas is the environmentally cleanest, producing half as much CO2 as coal for the same energy output.

Methyl hydrates have been estimated to contain enough methane in known deposits to power our civilization for many decades, possibly centuries. Hydrates are formed by a combination of low temperature and high pressure; 1 cu.ft. yields 150-170 cu.ft. of methane. Deposits exist in vast quantities at shallow ocean depths in the polar regions, inside the Siberian permafrost, underneath the sea floor, off the Oregon coast at 1/2 mile, in Japan's Nankai Trough. Reportedly it is formed by expulsion of water and gases from tectonic plates at the sea bed. Recovery of methane can be by heat or releasing the pressure under which the hydrates exist. The technology to recover methane from methyl hydrates presently limits this source of energy. With economical recovery technology there would become the matter of transportation (pipelines, liquifying and shipping by boat) from sites such as ocean bottom or tundra to distribution centers. Warming of arctic regions in the northern hemisphere is resulting in release of methane; off Norway it is being absorbed by the water as it bubbles upward. I have no reports (Nov. '09) of fires or other catastrophe, but the effect on atmospheric warming will predictably become a major concern.

Hydrogen may be used in an internal combustion engine just as hydrocarbons or in a fuel cell (in which oxidation is accomplished without high temperature combustion, with the resultant electricity being used to drive electric motors). (In hybrid cars, additional energy comes from capacitor storage of energy captured during braking. Since I studed electrical engineering in college I am curious about such things as size, voltage and duration of storage.) In examining energy inventories, one must realize that hydorgen requires considerable energy for its production; it is doubtful there can be any energy advantage to its use. Considering that generation of electricity (except nuclear) releases substantial carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, use of hydrogen is not likely to alleviate concerns for atmospheric effects of energy used. 2009 In addition to the cost of equipment to release hydrogen from water, efficiency of conversion back to power is approximately 50%.

Comparing CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) or methane with gasoline for motor vehicle fuel: Both have comparable operating characteristics, but natural gas costs considerably less per mile. (Tapping the gas line that heats your home brings cost to about half although you must install a compressor.) CNG has less carbon monoxide emissions. A CNG car requires a considerably larger fuel tank; even so miles per fill-up drops from ~400 to ~250. Home conversion from gasoline to methane is discouraged.

Volvo produces bi-fuel cars that may switch from gasoline to methane; tanks are under the floor, methane for 150-180 miles/fill plus gasoline 180-200 miles/fill.

Scientists in Denmark have succeeded in absorbing ammonia (NH3) in tablets of sea salt where the equivalent of 360 miles of gasoline can be stored in a comparably-sized tank. When the ammonia is depleted, simply expose the tablets to more ammonia. A catalyst is used to recover hydrogen from the ammonia; how the ammonia is recovered from the sea salt was not disclosed although the ammonia-charged tablets may be safely carried in a pocket without safety precautions.

The alga chlamydomonas reinhardii (a green alga) has been used to produce hydrogen when deprived of sulfur in an anaerobic atmosphere. Moeweesi also produces hydrogen.

10kW generators for emergency back-up using hydrogen stored in cylinders is offered by APC; they may be used when regulations prohibit pollution from traditional generators such as diesel.

Automobiles using hydrogen fuel cells are being built in Japan and operated in the U.S. as a trial (as of July 2005); refill stations are being built; present limit is 150 miles per fill. It is questionable if hydrogen power can improve pollution since hydrogen is produced from natural gas or coal (or by electrolysis of water using electricity, itself a source of pollution, as a power source).

I have learned that nine European cities operate buses in public transportation using fuel cells with hydrogen as energy source. And some fork lifts in this country are powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Evidently, where a vehicle can be filled daily, long-term storage in the vehicle is not a problem as it is with automobiles.

Internal combustion engines burning hydrogen are in cars built by BMW on an experimental basis. They use liquefied hydrogen from a fuel tank (at -423o F) "made of 70 layers of fiberglass and aluminum." I assume they have to be fueled daily since the temperature is maintained in the face of penetration of heat by evaporation of fuel. Hydrogen is produced by electrolysis of water using solar power. Range is somewhat over 200 miles per fill. Refill is by a robotic arm so users are protected from handling hydrogen at that temperature.

Anaerobic digestion of manure has been in operation on dairy farms to produce methane for over three decades. In the process manure is scraped from stalls, pumped into a covered digester tank and heated to 100oF; bacteria break down the manure into mostly methane, which is then burned to generate electricity for either use in the dairy operation or sold to the local electricity supplier. It is reported that many of these systems have fallen into disuse because the cost of maintenance outstripped revenue from sale of electricity. A secondary source of income has been selling carbon offsets. One dairy farmer reported generating 4.0 Kw-hr/cow/day. The governor of Minnesota has proposed a state program to fund anaerobic gas digesters for that state's dairy farmers.

Anaerobic digestion of organic materials dumped in landfills has recently become the source of methane for generation of electricity on a commercial basis. (See also the section dedicated to wastes.) It is being mined and sold in Georgia although I am unclear if there is a surcharge for its use.

Methane from cow dung has been captured by one California farmer, and researchers are working with microorganisms in a cow's digestive tract to produce methane for generation of electricity.

In my humble opinion, petroleum interests in the U.S. advocate hydrogen technology because of the improbability of it becoming a practical automotive fuel. When I reflect on the critical temperature and visualize an automobile sitting in the sun for hours, I cannot conceive of any insulation adequate to prevent heating the hydrogen above its critical temperature although liquid helium (at a still lower temperature) has been used in space vehicles (doubtless shielded from the sun and relying on the cold of outer space).

(I await description of an accident that ruptures a hydrogen fuel tank, with the rocket propulsion of gas escaping at several thousand psi. It has become obvious to me that my preoccupation with automotive applications has blinded me to many niche markets where hydrogen is a practical source.)


Nearly all energy sources are used to generate electricity. Its greatest peculiarity, perhaps I should say strength, is that generation and consumption may occur at widely different locations, with transmission lines providing the connection. Those lines are fixed in their termination in the home or business and do not lend to portability.

Initially generation of electricity was direct current. Because of transmission (iR or current times electrical resistance) losses -- and power=current times voltage -- much greater power levels can be transmitted without significant power loss, by using transformers so transmission is at voltage levels of hundreds of kilovolts; thus alternating current has become dominant.

Transmission losses: "NIMBY:" 'Not In My Back Yard' has become the cry of home owners. Considering the losses of transmission, generation must be within a reasonable distance from consumption. That flurry of public concern about the health hazards created by radiation effects from those overhead high-voltage lines should have made it obvious that there are significant losses. The strength of electric field diminishes as the square of the distance from the transmission line, and every erg of energy felt at the ground represents loss from the lines. Doubling the height of power lines, while creating other hazards and likely being uneconomical as well as unsound engineering, would only quarter the energy felt at the ground. I am searching for numbers but expect loss to be measured as a percentage of power transmitted per mile of line. The closer generation is to the user, the greater the useful utilization of the electricity generated. Excepting failure of local utilities and reliance on a national grid (with its increased losses) transmission losses have been estimated at 10-15%.1 (To view footnote, click here.) There seems to be a tendency to rely increasingly on massive interconnections between power grids; not only are transmission losses increased, but phase difference between generators far apart becomes an increasing concern with longer transmission lines.

Energy content of fuels is determined by calorimetry; efficiency in converting fuel to heat has been dramatically improved in recent decades; efficiency in utilization of that heat to produce electricity has been improved even more dramatically; efficiency in consumers' utilization of purchased electricity is a separate consideration. As generation and distribution of electricity have evolved, efficiency in fuel use has improved from 7% (Thomas Edison's early generators) to a possible 65-97% due to technological (and regulatory) advances. In today's practice generation is centralized in locations remote from users so heat cannot be efficiently transported to users; in thus converting fuel to electricity, only about one third of the energy content of the fuel results in electricity in transmission lines; some two-thirds is wasted by dumping it into the air or into waterways. While efficiency and economy of scale may have driven early generation capacity to remote locations requiring transmission -- and government regulations have largely locked the generating industry into that philosophy -- new equipment has removed the efficiency of scale so new capacity may be located in the midst of users, allowing heat that is presently being wasted to be used by local industry and residences as an alternative to consumption of additional fuel. 2009 The fact that 41% of energy consumed world-wide is used to generate electricity, the consequences of remote location are enormous.

Government policy in most localities grants a monopoly to generation and local distribution of electricity, guaranteeing to the utility company a reasonable return on investment. Advances in technology have resulted in reducing emissions of greenhouse and noxious gases (and soot) to 1-2% of their former value, which ought, in reason, remove local objections to locating generating capacity within the local industrial community, where heat that is now wasted could be used. Despite demonstration1 (To view footnote, click here.) of the improved economy of distributed (or local) generation of electricity, despite the lack of incentive of monopoly to seek improved methods, despite the increased consumption of irreplaceable fuels and growing concern for environmental issues, and despite the potential for failue of mammoth distribution grids, governments have chosen to listen to interests vested in the status quo; monopoly and centralized generation continue. Governments need to hear from advocates of free enterprise as well as advocates for our descendants.

Curiously, by simply making customers aware of their energy use lowers it by 5% to 15%. Smart meters that allow tracking energy consumption reduce it still more.

Environmental impact: Approximately 2/3 of the caloric content of the fuel used to generate electricity is waste heat rejected to the environment. Moreover, each kilowatt-hour generated by burning fossil fuel adds some six pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. As I find informamtion on efficiencies of specific fuels I will include that data here.

I should note that batteries and hydrogen fuel cells provide electric power for many applications.

May 13, 2009 REASON Magazine, in their June issue, dealt with energy issues. It is not surprising that local regulation of electricity generation was at the forefront of discussion. Their point is that utilities have little incentive to be innovative because of local political control of investments, rates, etc., so it is safer to build what has been previously approved. There was also a comparison of various methods of generation, including (1) pulvarized coal (the dominant technology today where coal is ground to the texture of flour and blown into the furnace to burn), (2) gassification of coal, (3) natural gas, (4) nuclear (fission), (5) wind turbines, (6) biomass (agricultural residue, wood wastes and dedicated energy crops -- algae grown using waste heat and carbon dioxide from combustion apparently not considered), (7) solar thermal (reflectors to concentrate sunlight to make steam), (8) silicon photovoltaic solar cells (direct generation of direct current), and (9) thin-film photovoltaic solar (similar to 8).
In the table below 'Carbon emitted' is in metric tons per megawatt-hour, 'CC' is 'Carbon Capture,' plant costs are billions of dollars, and running costs are pennies per kilowatt-hour.

Method --- Carbon --- Plant Cost --- Running Cost
emitted w/o CC - w/CC w/o CC - w/CC
Pulvarized coal 0.86 2.8 3.9-4.7 6.5 8.5-10
Gassified coal 0.83 3.4 3.7-4.6 7.2 7.9-9.3
Natural gas 0.38 0.9 no need 7.5-8.9
Nuclear fission 0.0 4.0 7.5
Wind turbine 0.0 5.6 9.3
Biomass 0.10 3.5 7.5-8.8
Solar thermal 0.0 12.5 17.9
Silicon photovoltaic 18-20 33.5-39.4
Thin film photovoltaic 10-12 24.6-31.5
In light of today's controversy over carbon dioxide emissions and the remedial 'cap and trade,' it is important to note the difference in your electric bill with carbon capture; it should be obvious that manufacturers will face significant additional costs of production, leading to further job drain due to relocation of factories to foreign lands. (I am puzzled at 'no need' for emissions of carbon dioxide from natural gas combustion -- likely the authors felt reduction by half warranted taking a short cut in data collection.)


Of the two nuclear processes for the release of energy, fission and fusion, only fission has been controlled. In fission heavy radioactive atoms split to produce lighter atoms; in fusion light atoms join together to make heavier atoms. Both processes involve rearrangement of the constituent parts of atoms with the release of excess energy over that required for stability of the end products of the process. Our Sun is powered by fusion and research continues, in our laboratories, to contain the immense temperatures and pressures of the fusion process.

In common with coal- and oil-fired generation of electricity, heat from the reaction produces steam, which is used to drive the turbines that produce the electricity. Of course the steam could be used for motive power as in nuclear-powered submarines or aircraft carriers; in time it will undoubtedly be harnessed in trains.

Politics: Like so many scientific advances, war motivated progress. The public is well aware of the destructive potential of the atom bomb (a fission reaction), where primitive versions were exploded over Japan to end World War II, and experimental explosions of the vastly more powerful hydrogen bomb (a fusion reaction). After World War II scientific effort was dedicated to harnessing the immense potential for constructive purposes such as generation of electricity, and several processes were developed, each with its own safety requirements. And concern for public safety has driven politics.

Barring accidental releases of radioactive material from a nuclear reactor there are no local environmental degradation issues other than temperature increase in cooling water that is released into a waterway. Of course, the public is aware of the Chernobyl (Russia - 1986) and Three Mile Island (U.S. - 1979) incidents, which resulted from failure of control devices and a resultant melt-down of the radioactive core; it became obvious that initial design and construction must deal with the possibility of accident. In the Three Mile Island incident, there has been no reported leakage of radiation from the containment building or into the river; evidently design of that reactor facility was adequate. In the Chernobyl incident the immediate area is still a wasteland, some of it too 'hot' to allow tourists to visit; survivors have become the subjects of study on the effects of radiation poisoning.

We are continually bombarded with background (naturally occurring) radiation from both space (gamma radiation which produces nuclear events when it strikes molecules) and sub-surface (radon) sources. In evaluating radioactive leakage the concern is for increase in radiation beyond this natural background -- in the increases we can control -- rather than in total radiation. It is unfortunate that the public fear of accident and the resultant outcry against nuclear power generation has produced a near-hysteria and has curbed further research efforts. As various possibilities for problems became obvious, designs became more elaborate, resulting in the cost of nuclear power plant construction being so greatly increased by safety concerns that nuclear power is marginally uneconomical and initial investment has become a limiting factor in development of nuclear generation of electricity. (To my knowledge, no new installations have been undertaken in this country for years -- decades, in fact.)

There are concerns for public safety in three aspects of nuclear generation of electricity: (1) failure of a nuclear reactor that releases radioactive products into the environment, (2) accident in transporting hazardous wastes (by-products of nuclear reaction) through populated areas, and (3) long term storage of hazardous wastes since half-lives of some wastes are thousands of years and geological stability of storage sites is difficult to guarantee. Failure and construction costs are twin problems; hopefully new designs and new realizations will both reduce risk and lower costs. Accidents happen; containment vessels must be adequate to prevent rupture in all but the most grotesque accidents. Long term storage embraces several technical and scientific concerns, each of which can be addressed if there is will and foresight.

Disposal of radioactive wastes presents several challenges. Some concerns, such as protection of reprocessing and research personnel, are common to all. Processing spent fuel rods, which is the source of all concerns about waste, can separate non-radioactive from radioactive products. Researchers should strive to turn waste from one process into a resource for another. Many radioactive products have half-lives on an hour-days-weeks time scale; unfissioned radium and plutonium plus other heavy elements can be recycled back into new fuel rods; elements of intermediate half-lives may be irradiated in a nuclear reactor to transform them into non-radioactive or stable, non-toxic elements. Thus the volume of waste can be reduced by 95-99% and what remains may be encapsulated and stored; information available to me shows that encapsulated wastes -- and here we deal with isotopes (such as strontium-90, cesium-137, technetium-99 and iodine-129) one by one -- will decay and lose toxicity over the course of a few hundred years (rather than the many tens of thousands of years presently postulated). Wikipedia offers information on transmutation of nuclear wastes by either linear accelerator or sub-critical reactor so the bulk of waste has a remaining half life of less than 30 years.

I understand that, in the U.S., uranium ore is sufficiently plentiful there has been little incentive to extract uranium from spent fuel rods, so entire rods become waste. Were the uranium extracted from spent fuel rods, what remains may be treated as radioactive waste.

It is unfortunate that research in the U.S. on breeder reactor technology -- that is, generation of more fissionable material than is consumed in the course of expending fissionable material -- ceased. If power demands continue to escalate, nuclear will become a necessity, and breeder reactors will be a feature of the future. Simply put, if the United States does not maintain a lead in this technology, someone else will, to our probable disadvantage.

Technical: We are familiar with the orbital description of atoms, with electrons orbiting around a nucleus consisting of protons and neutrons and the number of electrons equal to the number of protons. Chemically, the number of electrons governs. Of course protons, being all positively charged, repel each other, so neutrons are necessary to prevent the nucleus from flying apart. And as the number of protons increases, there is an increasing possibility for extra neutrons, which gives rise to isotopes of the elements, such as carbon-12 (normal) with six each and carbon-14 with six protons and eight neutrons. And the nucleus of carbon-14 is unstable with a half-life of 5700 years, that is, in a sample of carbon-14 atoms, on average half will decay within 5700 years.

So we go on up the scale of elements through iron-56 (Fe56) with 20 protons and 36 neutrons, through strontium-88 (Sr88) with 38 protons and 50 neutrons to uranium-238 (U238) with 92 protons and 146 neutrons and plutonium-242 (Pu242) with 94 protons and 148 neutrons, the imbalance between protons and neutrons increases. As atomic weights (the '242' or '238') increase, fewer isotopes are stable although half lives may be exceeding long. The most common naturally-occurring isotope of uranium is U238 (over 99%) with the remainder U235, which is sufficiently unstable to be fissionable by ejection of an alpha particle (helium-4, with 2 protons and 2 neutrons). U235 may fission to U231 which may in turn fission to U227, which may in turn fission to a lighter atom.

Thorium, with some help from traditional fissile materials, can set up a self-sustaining breeder reaction that produces U233, which can be used in power generation and is resistant to nuclear proliferation because of emission of enough gamma rays that the fuel is dangerous to handle and easy to track.

Ejected protons and neutrons may escape to the surrounding space and thus not participate in a chain reaction, but if they strike another atom, that atom may in turn eject a particle. When more particles escape than strike other atoms, the reaction is 'sub-critical' and no chain reaction occurs; if more particles strike other atoms than escape, the reaction is 'critical' and there is a chain reaction. In reactors for power production the degree of criticality is controlled by inserting or removing absorbing materials between fuel rods. However, other reactors may be designed for sub-critical operation so materials may be inserted to be bombarded by neutrons, thereby increasing the number of particles in their nuclei in order to create a heavier chemical and, depending on the stability of that nucleus, perhaps creating a different chemical.

We recognize the probability a spent fuel rod will contain a variety of chemicals and isotopes, including Pu242 (U238 absorbing one alpha). Exact mixture of isotopes will obviously depend on the energetics of the various reactions with nuclei in the fuel rod, which must depend on composition of the fuel rod and power level of reactor operation. For a light-water reactor, enrichment of U238 with U235 is only 3-5%; spent fuel rods contain about 94% uranium, 1% of transuranic elements (Plutonium and heavier) and fission products.

The uranium content of coal could produce more energy than combustion of the coal; yet it either goes up the smokestack or is dumped in a landfill as a constituent of ash.

COLD (nuclear) FUSION excited a great deal of public interest some years ago. It has been suggested that loading deuterium into palladium (by electrolysis) will produce the gas helium plus an excess of output energy over input energy. Development has been hindered by lack of federal interest and the apparent unwillingness of private sources to fund research. Graphs I have seen show insignificant power levels although there seems a modest amplification in power. Production of helium in the process suggests fusion is indeed occurring. The use of palladium, an extremely expensive precious metal, militates against widespread application; less expensive metals must be sought if there is to be hope for this technology. My personal estimate is that practical application is so far in the future as to be unworthy of heavy investment at this time, though a modest level of experimentation should be continued.

(There was a suggestion years ago that useful energy could be derived from a simple arrangement, using electrolysis of water in the presence of finely divided nickel. Demonstrations reportedly produced 1 kilowatt of heat energy for each 1 watt expended in operating the system, a multiplication of 1000. The author of this statement has offered no reference, and I have found none in following links at his web site. If such an experiment were successful I would think it would be a widely-used high school chemistry demonstration.)

Politics, July 2009 It is foolhardy in the extreme to think the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty will bar other governments from developing nuclear technology -- delay it, yes, but not prevent it. Aside from the U.S. and Russia, nuclear explosives are known to be in the hands of Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea. One man, I think his name was Kahn, a native of Pakistan, was in possession of the knowledge and apparently sold it -- who knows where else? My personal suspicion is that nations other than Iran are currently surreptitiously developing their own nuclear technology.

Waste is the explosive political issue. At present France produces nuclear reactors of a design different from ours and undoubtedly has facilities to reprocess spent fuel rods since they have no native sources of raw materials. The political decision not to reprocess spent fuel in this country lies behind the disposal problem. Chemical composition of spent fuel is 95.6% the same oxide of U238compounded in the original fuel, with 3.4% hot fission products and about 1% actinides, including Pu242, which is itself usable as nuclear reactor fuel. I worked at Battelle Memorial Institute, a contract research organization, in the early days of effort to exploit nuclear technology, and I have stood on the bridge of a low-power reactor in complete confidence of my personal safety. Research then lay in bombarding various products with slow neutrons to see how radiation would alter the chemicals and what isotopes would be produced; I was not privy to details. I have read that bombardment of spent fuel with slow neutrons will convert many of those hot fission products into isotopes of short half life. So, recovering U238 and Pu242 for future use in fuel rods and then bombarding the remainder with slow neutrons should reduce the half lives of the remaining waste to decades at most. Political stupidity


It has been estimated that 444 trillion kilowatt-hours can, in principle, be harvested annually using current technology. 2009

Solar energy may be used directly as a heat source, or it may illuminate photovoltaic cells to generate electricity. Direct heating of a heat transfer liquid, which is used to produce steam to power generators, has taken two forms: 1) Extended lengths of tubing in reflective troughs that follow the sun are heated by direct sunlight, and 2) Reflectors, that follow the sun, direct sunlight onto a container of heat transfer liquid to raise its temperature. There are currently installations of both types but I am lacking in data; troughs produce elesctricity at $0.20-0.28 per kilowatt-hour. Photovoltaic generation currently costs $0.50-0.70 per kilowatt-hour.

Constancy is the greatest question to the user. The promise of solar energy is of course greatest nearer the equator (or between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn) and where clouds do not obscure the sun. And with ground-based collection, sufficient energy must be captured and stored during daylight hours to provide the needs of the overnight hours. In European installations huge arrays of solar panels produce megawatts of electric power. Every kilowatt-hour and every barrel of oil or cubic foot of gas that is saved is that much gain for the useful life of our resources.

It has been suggested that huge solar collectors in space could collect and concentrate solar energy and beam it to the ground. There may be promise in such technology, but we must be extraordinarily careful that the transmission of power to the ground does not sterilize the ground nor cook everything in the intervening atmosphere (including birds who may have a flyway during migrations).

In residential application, water heated by incident solar energy is an obvious application, especially since short term storage can overcome the irregularities in collection and usage. Home heating should be feasible in many regions; for comfort's sake it may be necessary to provide back-up equipment although some level of temperature discomfort during periods of extreme weather should be acceptable as a trade-off for conservation. On average about a quarter of the home energy budget is for hot water, with most of the rest for heating and cooling of the living space. I estimate that in most homes the cost of equipment for solar energy collection for hot water would be recovered in a year or two. I further estimate that, in using circulating hot water for space heating, solar energy could, in the northern United States, supply over 50% (and in the south over 90%) of total needed heat (with minimal auxiliary equipment for use in extreme weather). I have seen house designs for using solar heat only, using window location and massive walls (and other ballast) for heat collection and retention. (I am, in fact, surprised that federal subsidies have not been offered for retrofitting existing residences and for initial equipment in new housing.)

Commercial and industrial applications should not be overlooked. Certainly for hot water and heat in commercial buildings, solar energy should be part of their energy considerations. In industrial and commercial application it should not be a barrier to exploitation that there may be brief periods during the year when solar plus auxiliary heaters allows space heating to fall below ordinary comfort levels. In Spain it is now required by law that new buildings use solar energy for a portion of their needs.

And solar energy has been successfully applied to recovering potable drinking water -- and water for other home needs -- from the ocean on a commercial scale. It dumbfounds me that local solar distillation has not been massively applied in the Third World and in areas with adequate but contaminated water.

In Spain new commercial buildings are required to use solar energy for a high percentage -- wish I had kept the reference -- of their energy requirement.

A solar chimney is planned in Australia where a chimney some 0.4 miles high will be heated by the sun and rising air trapped within will drive turbines.

To deal arithmetically with solar energy, we measure a solar constant (amount of energy received atop Earth's atmosphere on a square meter that is normal to the sun) at Earth's average distance from the sun. It is about 1.3 kilowatts with a variation of some 2% due to solar activity. As the sunlight penetrates our atmosphere, some 20% is absorbed by atmospheric constituents and some 30% is reflected from clouds, aerosols, glaciers, water, sand, vegetation, etc. (not as infrared energy but at the same wavelengths as are incident). So some half reaches the ground and is absorbed there. Of this half some 40% rises into the atmosphere as water vapor (including the heat of vaporization) and convection currents; the balance heats Earth and the warmer Earth radiates energy into the atmosphere as infrared energy, some of which penetrates to space while some is absorbed and heats certain atmospheric constituents (the so-called "greenhouse gases"). Of this absorbed heat about half is reradiated into space and the other half is reradiated to the ground, raising ground temperature further. A temperature balance (or, more accurately, a balance of energy flows) is reached between incoming and outgoing radiation.

The effect of solar radiation on any specific unit of Earth's surface varies according to angle with incident radiation, distance energy travels through the atmosphere, intervening clouds, and the radiative nature of the surface (both reflective, absorptive and reradiative). Evidently, numbers describing local reception of solar energy are highly dependent on local conditions so averages for Earth are not predictive of local reception. It is estimated that, on average, 240 watts reaches every square meter of surface.

I had at one time wanted to pursue application of solar energy to distilling ethanol from fermented vegetables. It was not at the time interest in economy but interest in technology because vacuum distillation would be involved and my specialty had been vacuum technology; I did not pursue it.

8-18-05 From a report dated in 1997: Solar cells of polycrystalline silicon of 12-15% efficiency are on the market with promise of 18% upon removal of impurities. Photovoltaic cells vary in response to wavelengths of incident radiation; maximum theoretical efficiency of conversion has been estimated at more than 70% using the entire spectrum, which would require multi-layer construction, while a two-layer cell may reach 50% conversion efficiency. It is estimated that an efficiency of 14% is the boundary for commercial competitiveness. 12-12-05 Researchers at Ohio State University claim 97% capture of the solar spectrum in solar cells designed for satellite experiments. OSU researchers also have produced a hybrid material capabale of capturing the entire energy content of sunlight. 11-6-08 Researchers at Renssalaer have developed a reflective coating that makes possible collection of energy without repositioning the array as the day advances.

10-24-09 Photovoltaic applications have reportedly increased 81% during the past year, while solar hot water has increased 50%. The 12-09 issue of Scientific American magazine indicates that installation of solar panels in Southern California, using current technology, is proving economically feasible. With the cost of fossil fuels increasing 3-5% annually and cost of solar panels falling 20% for each doubling of installed base, with no improvement in technology we can predict that solar will become the fuel of choice in a gradually widening geographical area. Work on battery technology for transportation will undoubtedly hasten the advent of a solar era.


Coals differ considerably in energy content as well as environmental effect. For instance, anthracite (hard coal) yields some 11,620 BTU/lb; bituminous (soft coal) yields from 10,240 to 14,630 BTU/lb; lignite (coal in process of formation) yields some 6,000 BTU/lb; peat (lignite in process of formation) less. The sulfur content varies from 0.3% to 6.2%, so there is evidently great variation in noxious waste gas resulting from burning coal.

A fascinating statistic: A typical coal-fired generating plant consuming 10K tons of coal per day is liberating 100 kg of uranium per day, either up the smokestack or in the ash that is dumped into a landfill. The energy content of the uranium in the coal is greater than the energy yielded by burning the coal.

Atmospheric consequence: Coal is pure carbon plus impurities; burning it produces CO2 plus compounds of the impurities, such as sulfur dioxide (SO2), which combines with water in the air to produce sulfurous or sulfuric acid which may in turn decompose to aerosols.

During World War II Germany converted coal to liquid fuel using the Fischer-Tropsch process developed in the '20s .


It has been estimated that, in principle, 167 trillion kilwatt-hours annually can be harvested from wind using current technology. 2009 After installation, cost is estimated at $0.06-0.075 per kilowatt-hour.

Like solar energy, constancy is an essential concern. There are localities with prevailing winds of a constancy and velocity where turbines may be used to generate electricity on a competitive basis. Where there is sufficient wind to power industry, there seems the possibility of suspending industrial output during periods of calm so extended as to exceed the limits of energy storage (batteries). While I cannot foresee a likelihood that whole communities could be developed with the possibility of extended discomfort, I can see a local dual-energy economy with wind as a primary energy source with only nominal back-up, perhaps solar, for home heating and hot water.

I have not followed the installation of wind farms on the Oregon coast for the generation of electricity, but I am heartened at efforts to tame the winds. But I have recently read (National Geographic, Aug. '05) that wind turbines are generating significant quantities of electricity, in Denmark some 20% of the nation's needs, significant installations in Germany and some in Britain. A web search reveals the competitive nature of a developing technology and useful general information is difficult to find. There are maps of wind velocities at various heights above ground although wind is highly localized and strongest on mountain ridges. New Hampshire's White Mountains has reportedly the highest velocities in this country, and such locations as the Himalayan mountains should hold possibilities for exploitation although transportation would become a question. (I can visualize whole nations being supported -- as in the case of petroleum -- by production of electricity by mountain winds.)

A Dutch firm has anchored a wind turbine off the coast of Italy, expecting to generate nearly 10 megawatts per turbine.

FloDesign Wind, a domestic start-up company is preparing to test wind turbines 60 feet in diameter based on jet engine designs (instead of propellers some 150 feet long). Whereas many propeller designs generate 1-2 megawatts per unit, their design is expected to generate 250 kilowatts per unit. In a wind farm, units may be spaced much closer than propeller turbines.

Winds in the stratosphere, if harnessed, could provide more than a hundred times the power presently consumed by civilization. Ground-tethered windmills (kites?) have been proposed.


convert chemical energy to direct current electricity; many are discarded when their chemicals are consumed; many may be recharged. Generally they are limited to small appliances such as flashlights and wrist watches, although there are battery-powered automobiles (recharged from electric mains). Hybrid automobiles recharge their batteries using excess kinetic energy and use the battery to then augment power produced by a liquid fuel. There is a great deal of research underway to improve ratios of weight to energy storage and/or power output. Batteries are unlikely to become major sources of prime power but will remain important accessories, and, from researach currently underway, may provide overnight power in residential solar energy applications.

Automobile makers are seeking lithion-ion batteries that will endure 15 years and 5000 charging cycles and store enough energy to drive a car 40 miles. Stationery batteries have been used to augment solar heat although it is quite expensive.


I have heard that every waterway that can be profitably exploited, in this country and, indeed, in the world, has been dammed. As efforts in the old Soviet Union, in Egypt (Aswan) Brazil (Amazon) and in modern China demonstrate, there are population and agricultural costs in almost any dam that is undertaken.

Atmospheric consequence: Methane is produced by the anaerobic decay of plants and stumps submerged in creating the dam, and methane is 21 times as powerful in the greenhouse effect as CO2. On balance a dam may produce as much atmospheric consequence as burning the fossil fuel it replaces.

Levies on the Mississippi have demonstrated that Nature will work its way and that there are practical limits on man's ability to control Nature.

Tides have also been harnessed in locations where it was economically advantageous to do so. A wave generator is being developed at England's cliffs to convert the ocean's wave motion into electricity. A number of patents have been filed for various devices to use wave motion to generate electricity, and other developments are presently under way.
Off Oregon's coast a wave generator is planned to supply 400 homes. Cost $4 million. It is some 150 feet tall, 40 feet wide and weighs 200 tons. Others are planned but there are skeptics.

Research in the Netherlands uses ion exchange membranes where fresh water and sea water come together. Alternating membranes have river water between +-- pairs and sea water between --+ pairs, each pair producing a voltage difference. The Dutch reportedly expect to generate 300 MW at a single site.

BIOMASS: Wood and Wastes (including agricultural)

It has been estimated that 69 trillion kilowatt-hours annually can, in principle, be harvested from biomass using current technology. 2009

Oak 3.99 kcal/gm; pine 4.42

Conversion of biomass into various fuels depends on the temperature to which the biomass is initially exposed.

There is tremendous waste of combustible wood, such as roadside burning of trees felled for highway development. Or of trees cut for beautification or for safety reasons. And clear-cutting of forests for agricultural land. I am unaware of any organized effort to collect these (otherwise waste) woods for use in electricity generation or other energy applications -- not even for home fireplaces. I am unaware how wood chips, produced for tree management or clean-up of storm debris, are disposed of.

The National Bioenergy Center is testing various organisms that can digest woody cellulose to produce methane or methanol. And it is claimed that switchgrass, native to the American prairies and presently used for animal food, if converted to methanol could produce 1/2 to 2/3 of demand for U.S. transportation fuel.

Despite their ubiquity I do not see the collection and burning of leaves and pine straw as commercially viable energy businesses or fuel choices although it may be possible to ferment either to produce alcohol. Where household organic wastes are composted as a means of waste disposal, should the heat generated find useful application, then organized collection of leaves, straw and yard waste could become justifiable.

I have learned of two landfills in the State of Georgia where the methane produced by (anaerobic) decomposition of waste is captured and used to generate electricity. A sketch of one installation shows a liner underneath waste and a cover of dirt, with wells used to collect the gas. (Landfills emit some 34% of the methane released into the atmosphere.)

In my own practice I am composting leaves and lawn clippings. This should provide fertilizer for what gardening efforts I undertake.

I recall there was at one time talk of collecting hyacinth from northeast Florida waterways for use as fuel. This as a means of controlling unwanted vegetation in navigable waterways; use as fuel was incidental.

A study of 62 kinds of biomass in 1985 reported 17.5-18.75 mJ/kg for corn, 13.75 for weathered rice star (straw?) and 23.28 for prune pits. That equates to 4.3, 3.3 and 5.6 kcal/gm, respectively. One estimate is that, should biomass become the principal transportation fuel source, it would require doubling the amount of land committed to agriculture. (See comments on seed oils.) Another estimate, in 2009, suggests that 1/2 of domestic transportation fuel can be derived without any demands whatever on food production.

Raw sewage is being used in some parts of the world as a combination of fertilizer and water for crops.


Mean 9.5 kcal/g; tallow 9.50; whale sperm oil 10.0

Manufacturing plants are currently on line to produce the equivalent of crude oil from agricultural waste such as waste from a turkey processing facility.


It has been estimated that 139 trillion kilowatt-hours annually can be harvested using current technology. March '09

Heat is brought to the surface by a heat transfer liquid, which heats water to produce steam to generate electricity. Cost per kilowatt-hour is $0.06-0.076. Geothermal enjoys the advantage that it produces electricity around the clock as demand varies.

There are applications aplenty in regions where volcanic heat lies just below the surface and has been used as an apparently inexhaustible source of heat. And there is no doubt that, with some innovation, volcanic heat may be tapped, in selected locations, at increasing depths.


Just three feet or so below ground surface commences a reservoir that is relatively unaffected by variations in weather, and temperatures increase at about 2-3o per meter, or 33-50o per mile (which has limited the depth for mining). Moreover, underground water, whether streams or aquifers, are at a reasonably constant temperature. Withdrawals of underground water for air conditioning purposes has long been practiced. However, considering the difficulty in extracting large quantities of heat energy at useful temperatures, it seems likely ground heat must be limited to local applications requiring only modest quantities of energy; it seems unlikely that there can be commercial developments as an energy source.

I have just learned (Jan 07) of heat pump applications of commercial and industrial size using loops of buried liquid (antifreeze)-carrying tubing to use ground heat for both heating and cooling. Electric energy cost has been determined to be half to a third that of conventional petro heat, with no other fuel required.

Undoubtedly homes of the future will take advantage of ground heat, with sub-surface temperatures near 55oF throughout the year. A home partially submerged, and using the displaced earth for thermal insulation, would need only nominal energy to increase its internal temperature 10-15oF, well within the bounds available from ground-level solar collectors or collection of ground heat.

The mountain home I did not build contemplated using a subterranean tunnel for air entry over heat transfer surfaces using ground heat for cooling and heating, with supplemental heat. I never got around to designing the heat exchange device for rejecting heat to that immense underground heat sink but did contemplate something akin to a septic tank leach field. Due to low thermal conductivity of soil, collection surface area would be large.


Expansion of compressed air is being used in automobiles manufactured in Australia and to be offered in Europe in late 2005. Its footprint is 5.4 x 8.7 feet long; weight 3/4 ton, with a range of 125-180 miles per charge. By my calculation the charge pressure is nearly 15000 psi, which is extremely high and dangerous. (I prefer to think information in hand is incorrect and that pressures will not exceed 4000 psi -- even that can be dangerous.) While the car may be non-polluting; the energy needed to compress air, likely electricity, will make its contribution to atmospheric constituents.


Whether for personal comfort, process control or air quality, circulation of outdoor air is one of the simplest -- least polluting and most cost effective -- uses of energy. Of course outdoor air varies in temperature and quality throughout the day and with the seasons, so that alternate means of heating or cooling must be available. But I suspect that one of the most effective possible conservation programs would be maximizing the use of ventilation for personal comfort at home.

Obviously if air is to be drawn in from outdoors there must be ports for both entry and exhaust.

At one time our home used a large exhaust fan, primarily in lieu of air conditioning in the summer but occasionally for heating when indoor and outdoor temperature conditions allowed. It required operator intervention in selecting the times when it would be cost effective and in opening windows or other inlets; of course the process could have been automated but we did not undertake controls beyond on-off and opening selected windows. This seems a fertile application for home computers and "smart homes" as the products of the digital revolution become more widespread.

Automatic ventilation of attics to retard penetration of heat collected by the roof has long been common.


There are concerns at each step along the way from prospecting to production to transporting to refining to consumption to disposal of residue. I will undertake to record here some concerns that are common to all or most fuels. And I will try to include under each topic above concerns that are peculiar to that energy source. However, expansion of this section is a luxury that demands on my time may limit. Environmentalists -- troublemakers, bless their hearts -- are trying to get the public's attention for the benefit of the future; they need to soften their rhetoric and we need to give them greater heed.

Ultimately nearly all the energy available to us comes from the sun and is, after taking part in various energy interchanges, radiated into space. A simple calculation equating energy received from the sun with radiation into space (by the fourth-power law) yields an average world-wide temperature of 0oF. (I won't get into computation of world-wide average; that is a study unto itself.) The measured average is 59oF. Over geologic time it is estimated that changes producing ice ages were less than 5oF, a small change for such a significant result. The only reason that can be postulated for the difference between the theoretical average of 0o and the measured 59o is trapping heat in Earth's atmosphere and its reradiation to the ground before ultimately escaping into space. So there is a natural greenhouse effect that has made Earth habitable.

Each gas and each kind of particulate matter in the air makes its contribution to the greenhouse effect, nitrogen and oxygen essentially none, water vapor, methane and carbon dioxide being the principal contributors to trapping heat (water vapor on a short time cycle, methane on an intermediate time cycle and carbon dioxide on a time cycle of many decades. Carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was measured at 270 parts per million in the year 1750 and is some 350 now; and presumably the increase is primarily the result of the activities of our species. Scientists have undertaken to learn the carbon cycles worldwide -- the sources of carbon such as carbon dioxide and the sinks where it is removed from the atmosphere and bound up in vegetable matter, etc. This information is far from complete, but it is obvious that massive reductions in rain forest and destruction of kelp beds removes substantial sinks and may be a major contributor to the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide. It is the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (and to a lesser extent methane) that causes environmentalists such concern about a generally increasing average temperature of Earth.

Sequestration of CO2 from electricity generation is accomplished by combining the CO2 with the mineral serpentine to produce magnesium carbonate, which is then used in place of limestone in the manufacture of cement.

A more extended discussion of global warming may be seen by clicking here.

Of Earth's total energy budget, about 90% comes from fossil fuels, about 1/3 each from petroleum, coal and natural gas. Of these, for each kilowatt-hour of electric power generated, methane produces about 1.0 lb., petroleum about 1.6 lb and coal some 2.5 lb of carbon dioxide.

The Feb. '09 issue of Scientific American magazine offers data on the atmospheric consequences of various activities using 'carbon dioxide equivalency' for its presentation. The portion of world-wide carbon dioxide equivalent is shown as:
21% energy production (electricity)
18% livestock production (beef, pork, chicken)
14% transportation
12% fossil fuel retrieval
10% residential usage (heating, cooking, etc)
7% manufacturing
4% land use
3% waste disposal and treatment
which totals 101% so there has been some rounding upward.
In production of beef, which is by far the most environmentally damaging (nearly 4 times that of pork and 13.5 times that of chicken) in carbon dioxide equivalent due to beef, 32% comes from cattle and their wastes, 14% from fetilizer used in production of feed crops, 14% from general farm production, and 40% from destroyed capacity for greenhouse gas absorption due to farming of feed crops. (This is based on the feedlot method of beef production used in the U.S.) And demand for beef is increasing due to population increase as well as increased demand as people are lifted from poverty.

You undoubtedly have information or comment that should be incorporated here. To offer it please use as Subject - I read your post about energy - exactly as you see it here and click here for the e-mail form. seems a good source for links to research in many aspects of energy production.

To examine information on biodiesel, click here.
To return to Contents of this web site, click here.

Definitions, formulas and conversion factors: (Values cited are for the most part handbook values.)
In the international scheme, energy (or work or heat) is measured in joules (J) and power is measured in watts (W). Both units being small, it is easier in practice to use the prefix "kilo (k)," which is 1000 times larger. As a unit of energy the calorie (cal) has been so widely used that it is included (as kcal).
Power is the rate at which energy is expended, so energy is power expended multiplied by duration of its expenditure.
Arithmetically, anything multiplied or divided by unity (or 1) is unchanged. To use these conversions, make a fraction of two equal values (carrying along the units); multiply the quantity being converted by that fraction, cancelling units to be sure you have an accurate conversion
1 kJ = 1 kW-sec = 0.948 BTU = 0.239 kcal
1 kW = 1 kJ/sec = 1.341 hp = 293 BTU/hr = 0.239 kcal/sec
1 kcal = 3.967 BTU = 4.186 kJ = 0.001163 kW-hr
1 kW-hr = 3412 BTU = 3600 kW-sec
1 liter = 1.057 qt = 0.264 gal = 0.0284 bu, or 1 gal = 3.788 liters = 0.1337 cuft = 0.1076 bu
1 cuft = 7.481 gal or 1 cu m = 1000 liters
1 lb = 454 g or 1 kg = 2.203 lb
1 mi = 1.609 km or 1 in = 2.54 cm or 1 m = 39.37 in
1 acre = 0.4047 hectare (ha)
1 quad = 1015 BTU
Specific gravity (SpGr) is the ratio of weight of a liquid to that of water, measured at one temperature but reported at a reference temperature. Water at 15oC of 8.328 lb/gal is taken as reference. SpGr times density of water yields density of the liquid. Thus SpGr(Xo/15oC) times 8.328(15oC) yields weight per gallon in pounds of the liquid at 15oC.
Mole: For each element in the formula, multiply its atomic weight by the number of atoms in the formula; add them together. That number of grams is one gram-mole; and that number of pounds is one lb-mole.
STP: Standard Temperature and Pressure: At a temperature of the ice point of water (0oC) and a pressure of 1 atm (14.7 psi)
A perfect gas at STP occupies 22.4 liters per gram-mole. While few gases are perfect near their boiling points, it is a useful approximation and, well above the boiling point is quite correct.
Absolute temperatures: To degrees Fahrenheit add 460 to get degrees Rankin. To degrees Celsius (or Centigrade) add 273 to get degrees Kelvin.
Critical temperature: The temperture above which a gas cannot be liquified regardless of pressure
Critical pressure: Equilibrium pressure at critical temperature so gas and liquid can coexist; at lower pressure it cannot exist as a liquid
Critical temperature and pressure: For the gas to exist in the liquid state, it must be at a temperature below critical and a pressure above critical.
A quad is short for 'quadrillion BTUs,' or 1015 BTUs.
Temperature is related to mass and velocity of constituent molecules 1/2 mv2. In solids the movement of molecules is contrained; in liquids molecules are free to glide past one another; in gases each molecule moves in a straight line until it collides with another molecule. In compressed substances such as our atmosphere energy transfer between molecules results in a common temperature. In rarefied gases such as our upper atmosphere, temperature of a molecule may be as high as 3000oF but the reading on a measuring device (such as your skin) it would be cold due to the low frequency of collisions with the device.

FOOTNOTE: An engineer and energy policy analyst have together presented extensive data in Skeptical Inquirer, Vol 29 #1, Jan-Feb '05. They argue that present centralized generation, wise at the time for economic and aesthetic reasons, has outlived its usefulness due to improvements in combustion efficiency and reduction of undesirable emissions. Moreover, heat that is rejected at the site of generation as waste (thermal pollution) results in additional consumption of fuel at the site of electricity utilization due to needs for heat energy there.

Regulatory agencies ought to switch to encouraging localized generation in order to avoid the double damage of rejection of waste heat at the site of generation and consumption of additional fuel for heat at the site of usage. Investments in both generation and manufacturing facilities suggest change in existing facilities are unlikely; however, new manufacturing plants (and large scale retooling or renovation) should be encouraged to include generation of their own electricity if their processes can effectively utilize the heat that is now wasted during generation of electricity. Legislative and regulatory machinery may be unwieldy and some toes may be trampled, but stewardship of our atmosphere and our resources demands this change.

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Comparison of Liquid Fuels
  Fuel     kcal/gm % of   _KBTU in a__ lb/gal Formula   ___Per mole___
                   gas   pound  gallon                 gm   kcal   kJ
Gasoline   11.528  100   20.750  128  6.152
Kerosene   11.006  95.5  19.810  135  6.822
Ethanol    7.12    61.8                      C2H5OH   46  327.6  1366.8
Methanol   5.34    46.3                      CH3OH    32  170.9  726.1
  Alcohol  6.456   56.0  11.620  79.4 6.836				
LNG                      22.8    30.8 1.35
Hydrogen   .0339                 29.8 0.26   H2       2          285.8
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Comparison of Gaseous Fuels
  Fuel        Critical  Formula  ___Per mole____  BTU per
              oC   psi           gm  kcal   kJ    cuft
Natural gas* -82.5 673
Hydrogen     -240  188  H2       2         285.8    319
Methane      -83   667  CH4      16  210.8 890.8   ~950
Ethane       +32   706  C2H6     30  368.4 1560.7  1700
Propane      97    616  C3H8     44  526.3 2465
Butane       152   551  C4H10    58        2877.6  3200
*Per cent methane varies well by well, some are rich in propane
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My printer uses 21 pages or 11 sheets of paper to print this document.