Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Alternative Energy

Though the politics around it are intense, one hopes they are gradually surmounted and good energy sources—without consequences worse than the problem—are discovered and developed.

Thrive: Fuel Wars
When Silicon Valley meets Big Oil, there are more twists than a Bond Flick
By Michael Bowker

Hollywood should pay attention to what’s going on deep in the Georgia pines this summer. On the surface, the plot may not seem like much — a virtual company called Range Fuels with offices and operations in Northern California and Colorado. Armed with a $76 million government grant and $150 million in private venture capital, it is developing a new cellulosic ethanol plant in the Georgia hills.

However, underneath this straightforward scenario is a seething potboiler of a storyline that is part old-fashioned soap opera and part James Bond-like thriller.

It features big stars, from the Silicon Valley’s legendary venture capitalist Vinod Khosla and Microsoft’s Bill Gates to President Bush, Gov. Schwarzenegger and the boys at Big Oil. Like a Bond thriller, there are surprise twists, a few rooftop fistfights, some nifty subplots and nothing less at stake than changing, perhaps saving, the world.

Range Fuels is one of several that Khosla, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, has bankrolled. The renewable-energy firm breaks ground this summer in Georgia for a plant that will produce ethanol from the wood scraps left behind by the Georgia timber industry. Ethanol, a non-polluting alternative to gasoline, is hardly a new idea; 5 percent to 10 percent of the gas you pump these days is ethanol, most of which is made from corn.

But, there are problems. Corn ethanol isn’t very energy- efficient to produce, it pollutes, and it consumes huge quantities of corn, driving prices up around the world. It’s actually being blamed for higher tortilla prices in Mexico.