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Energy's Future - Moving Forward
Don't forget to ring in with your thoughts in our new forum called "Energy's Future"

Is there a "bio-revolution" coming to the world chemical industry?  For those of us that follow the chemical industry, think back to around 1995.  Remember reading much about biorefineries?  What about biodegradable
plastics?  Now, let's fast forward to the April 2006 issue of Chemical Market Reporter.  Here are some telling headlines:

"DuPont joins forces with Syngenta to cooperate on biotechnology...and also launches BioFuels concern"

"Dupont heats up solar energy"

"Firms support coal-to-gas plan"

"US raises oil and gasoline price forecasts"

"Cie invests major stake in biofuels"

"Biotechnology thrives as a global industry"

That's correct.  All of these headlines appear in a single issue.   In short, the majority of those involved in the chemical processing industry are talking about the vast wave of changes that are coming. 

Talking isn't all that is happening.  Recently, Archer Daniel Midland, announced the appointment of Patricia Woertz to the CEO post.  Now, ordinarily, this may not be headline news except for the fact that she was formerly the Vice President of Chevron Corporation.  That's right, an oil company executive just took the reigns of one of the largest "bio-revolution" players in the world.   That made me think, "What does an oil company executive know about the agro business?"  Well, probably not much.  But what she does know is the refining business....from the ground up.  Does this give you any hints to the future direction that Archer Daniel Midland is heading?

So, it's fairly clear that the global race is on to see who will rule the chemical industry heading into the future.  Everyone has their own opinions on how the world should proceed.  In launching "Energy's Future", we wanted to open diverse discussions on the important topics facing the chemical industry in the coming years.  So, please join the conversation on our message board, and I'll continue ringing in with new articles that I hope are thought provoking and provide a framework for our discussions for years to come. 

To launch "Energy's Future", I'll begin by addressing some of the concerns facing my county, the United States.


Powering the United States into the Future

On August 14, 2003 the northeastern U.S. experienced a blackout of mega-proportion.  Why?  Well, the answer is complex.  An aging infrastructure combined with electric deregulation forced the electric system grid to operate in a manner for which it was not intended.  Author Eric Lerner explains this continuing problem quite well in his article that appeared in The Industrial Physicist.

In short, electricity is being treated as a commodity rather than an essential public service (think Enron and California power crisis).  So, the power industry ramped up construction of power plants all over the country, many of them based on natural gas as a feedstock.  As these plants came online, the price of natural gas has increased dramatically.  But, what about the power infrastructure?  Without a reliable delivery system, does it really make sense to focus on power generating technologies?  The topic has received little attention because there hasn't been a repeat of the 1998 blackout. 

So, if you haven't guessed by now, my first priority on the road to strengthening the U.S. industrial base, economy, and transportation sectors would be, develop a plan to upgrade the nation's power grid.  Electricity usage is on the rise and the population continues to grow.  Doesn't this have to be a priority?  Sure it will be expensive, but consider the alternatives.  First and foremost, let's ensure that our power distribution system is capable of growing with our country.  In conjunction with this plan, it would also make sense to study electricity conservation technologies for integration into the next generation electronics.  That's not to say that this hasn't happened because it has, but I'm sure that if it were made a priority, even more could be done.

While the power infrastructure is being upgraded, more work is needed in areas such as waste minimization for nuclear power plants (yes, I believe more nuclear power plants are coming, so let's minimize the known problem that comes with it), air pollution control techniques for coal burning plants, and coal gasification which has renewed attention lately. 

Of course, I haven't even mentioned the transportation sector.  Could electric cars be poised for a comeback?  Imagine a car that takes today's hybrid a step further.  A car that can run on electricity only for day-to-day travel, but also can switch to a gas engine for longer commutes.  Is such an automobile feasbile?   We need good intermediate options to bridge the gap between the internal combusion engine and the next long term transportation solution.  All the while, every bit of conservation is extremely valuable.  So, we'll continue discussing both transportation technologies and fuels.

As for the chemical processing industry, the time will come when engineers will have to find suitable replacements or alternative production methods for each chemical currently produced from oil.  Both bioprocessing and "green" chemistry routes will play a major role in this transition.

As I've outlined here, we'll be discussing three main topics in "Energy's Future" in the years to come.  We'll use a simple color coded system to immediately identify which category each article will fall into as follows:

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Power Industry
Discussions on power generation and distribution

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Discussions on transportation technologies and fuels

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Chemical Industry
Discussions on general advancements in the chemical industry

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Power Industry / Transportation
Discussions on electric power as it relates to transportion

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Transportation / Chemical Industry
Discussions on transportation fuels


By: Christopher Haslego, Owner and Chief Webmaster (read the author's Profile)


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