The TV quiz show Jeopardy! had a difficult task in replacing the legendary Alex Trebek with a new host. Mayim Bialik and Ken Jennings have been chosen to split the task, and it’s hard not to be fan of the show regardless of who the hosts are. How about giving the new hosts an interesting category to work with? Let’s call it “Renewable Energy.” Players ready?
For 200 Points –– Answer: They are the five energy types most typically grouped into the category of renewable energy.
Question: What are Geothermal, Wind, Hydroelectric, Solar, and the one that is often forgotten, Ocean Waves?
It’s the correct question but it’s not a complete response. Today, clean and renewable energy is being produced in a variety of forms including renewable propane. From a chemistry standpoint, renewable propane is identical to its conventional counterpart, so it requires no infrastructure changes. It is being produced today and production is ready to scale.
For 400 Points –– Answer: Sometimes characterized as a renewable depending on how it is manufactured, this gas does not exist naturally so is mostly made from coal and natural gas, and when it is, it is often described as “gray.”
Question: What is Hydrogen?
Hydrogen is getting a lot of attention these days because when combusted, the emission is water vapor. At the same time, hydrogen is a real challenge. For one, it’s wasteful to make it “green,” that is, via electrolysis. Using renewable electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen takes a lot of energy. In fact, nearly 50% of the energy used to create hydrogen, is lost in the manufacturing and transport process. Also, its density is extremely low so it must be kept at high pressure (10,000–15,000 psi) to be used practically.
For 600 Points –– Answer: This tree-related energy production technique was once promoted as a smart renewable energy, but the idea is now viewed as more of a problem than a solution.
Question: What is biomass?
The European Union (EU) led the way on the scaling of biomass. It pledged to curb greenhouse gas emissions by shifting to renewables and tried to do so by incentivizing the burning of wood biomass under the assumptions that trees could be replanted. Burning wood, however, puts CO2 in the atmosphere immediately and it takes between 40 and 100 years for re-planted trees to pull it out. Unfortunately, the EU directive didn’t prevent the cutting down of whole forests for wood pellet production, and so that has become a new problem.
Dr. William Moomaw, professor emeritus of international environmental policy at Tufts University reacted to this phenomenon when he said, “I can’t think of anything that harms nature more than cutting down trees and burning them.”
For 800 Points –– Answer: This little-known gas has a carbon intensity of -278 when derived from dairy biogas.
Question: What is renewable dimethyl ether or rDME?
Conventional propane has a carbon intensity of 80 while gasoline ranks at 95 and diesel at 96. DME has a carbon intensity of -278 when derived from dairy biogas. Blend DME with propane at a 20:80 ratio to create bioLPG and its carbon intensity drops to just 11! And, instead of using the conventional form, DME can be blended with renewable propane, which is made from a mix of waste residues and sustainably sourced materials including agricultural waste products, cooking oil, and meat fats rather than fossil fuels like natural gas.
This kind of fuel blending has the potential to create novel energy mixes for precision use. Imagine, for example, a blend of renewable propane with renewable DME in a ratio specific for heavy trucks. We might call it the “Long-haul Blend.” In states with specific requirements, it’s easy to imagine a propane/DME cocktail called “California Blend.”
For 1,000 Points –– Answer: It’s the perfect energy.
Answer: What is, “there isn’t a perfect energy?”
That’s right. We’re going to burn a lot of carbon to get to a low carbon future. The reason is because solar panels and wind turbines can’t be made without carbon-intensive manufacturing processes. Lithium-ion batteries –– the so-called mineral-based miracle replacement for molecules –– require tremendous carbon resources to produce and are also terrible for the environment.
Likewise, “electrify everything” isn’t a practical answer in the short term. The electric grid can’t deliver the load necessary to keep our world running and even the most optimistic view of an all-electric future estimates that strengthening and expanding the grid will likely require over 20 years at about 20-25 trillion dollars. The most recent IPCC report tells us we don’t have that much time.
Wide-path thinking is needed to address our transition to a low-carbon future because no single solution will work to avoid climate change jeopardy.