Alternative Energy...

So, any scientists here?

with the gas shortage, it’s pretty clear we NEED something else.

But what?

Mr.Fusion from BTTF would be perfect. renewable garbage recycling energy. just go to a can and refuel.

But, barring that impossability…

How tough is it to engineer a car to go on another fuel source? One thing we can last forever on is ocean water or rain.

Another would be super absorbing solar panels.

just frustrating not to see anyone else think up something. let the Europeans use gas. we need something different :).

I’m sure we’ll make this decision right after it becomes too late.


The problem is not an alternative form of energy. The problem is the ability to STORE that energy in a usable form.

Fossil fuel stores tremendous amounts of energy in very light, portable, and safe form factors. Natural Gas has a density of 54 MJ a kilogram. Gasoline is 46.4. Coal is about 28.

Lithium ion batteries … which are still the current standard in EVs? About 0.6. So functionally it takes 77 times more weight in batteries using current technology to store the equivalent amount of energy of a tank of gasoline. EV’s are somewhat more efficient in wheel to well transfer, but they are less efficient in the storage of energy (batteries don’t hold a charge like gasoline can) and are subject to much less efficiency from environmental factors unless the car is engineered very specifically to insulate them correctly.

The second layer of the storage issue is in municipal level energy generation. Cities generate power from fossil fuel, which ultimately is kind of a shell game in terms of being a sustainable system and moves the source of pollution from the exhaust pipe to the power plant. There are some benefits from that, but they’re moderate.

The goal is to get off of fossil entirely … and municipal power can’t do that with solar/wind because they have proven to be very poor ‘on demand’ power generation sources. Power needs are point of demand and so a power generation system has to be able to ‘spin up’ at the peaks, and that’s difficult for solar & wind to do because their peak generations are either fixed (solar) or unpredictable (wind). Therefore if solar and wind are replace fossil then it is critically important to have the ability to store huge amounts of peak energy for at least a moderate period of time.

And we currently just can’t do that very well. There are salt heat storage systems that try to store the energy as heat to then drive turbines, but they’re not very efficient and are massively expensive to set up and maintain.

The true revolution will come when human beings invent a better energy storage technology. They’re trying. Some exotic tech like Lithium Air batteries are kind of sort of at bench level existence (about 7 MJ per kg). But we don’t have anything that’s even close to being suitable for practical energy storage on a level even vaguely comparable to the convenience (and cost) offered by fossil fuels…

…except for one…

A rational bridge between sustainable energy and fossil exists. Nuclear. Thorium nuclear plants are incredibly promising and could very easily fill in the gap as humanity works on a proper solution. Unfortunately very few governments are considering it, despite the fact that small thorium plants that could power entire cities exist that are as small as a shipping container. The stigma of nuclear just seems to hold government’s back, despite it being a safe and viable alternative to fossils.

Solar cars don’t work except as a cute tech demo … too heavy and unreliable. Garbage? The only energy from that is either methane emissions (a fossil fuel) or burning it (not a good solution). Hydrogen cells are cool, but the catalysts are mega expensive and not practical for mass adoption.

We all want Mr. Fusion … but alas it remains a fantasy at the current time. I predict fossil will be around for quite some time as it is the cheapest, most powerful energy storage medium that exists. EVs will continue to improve, but will remain more expensive than ICE equivalents and will continue to use fossil generated electricity for the foreseeable future.


As an engineer with degrees in mechanical and civil engineering, I’m aware of the challenges (though I don’t work in the field). It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do. We have yet to find a substance that combusts as efficiently as gasoline (and it’s not great). From Wikipedia:

Diesel engines generally achieve greater fuel efficiency than petrol (gasoline) engines. Passenger car diesel engines have energy efficiency of up to 41% but more typically 30%, and petrol engines of up to 37.3%, but more typically 20%.

Renewable resources have energy storage limitations currently, though I hope breakthroughs can help with that soon.

I did see one promising innovation recently: a road
surface made out of solar panels.
I hope this gains traction, but don’t expect it on your state highways anytime soon. In my state, we don’t have enough in the budget to do a thin mill and overlay on all roads that need it, let alone completely reconstruct them with a brand new (i.e., cost-prohibitive) surface.

We already have one Tesla in the garage, and a plan to get another in the coming years, but they’re not affordable for everyone, so gas will still dominate for some time, unfortunately.

Keep funding those research universities!!


I believe that if we continue our fossil fuel use at the current rate, the future will literally be irrelevant because the planet will be unable to support human civilization, perhaps even human life. People don’t realize what a narrow range of climate conditions are necessary to make this possible.

I favor nuclear power until something better becomes possible. But I think we need to devote massive amounts of investment and research – like, science fiction level amounts – into making it absolutely safe. When an earthquake can cause a meltdown, that’s light years away from an acceptable situation.


Sadly, Solar “Freaking” Roadways are also just a pipe dream…

And as an engineer you’re probably aware of many of the reasons why. A drivable surface that is transparent/translucent and able to maintain friction as a road surface … while also being affordable … is even more sci-fi than Mr. Fusion. :slight_smile: It’s a romantic idea. But that’s kind of all it is at this point.


I was thinking of getting a hybrid as my next car. at the very least I can save some money on gas ;). anyone have one that can offer reviews?

When I was on nuclear submarines we used a process called electrolysis on water to split off the hydrogen molecules from oxygen and we stored the oxygen in O2 banks to have continuous breathable air while underwater.
Back in 2000 my cousin in Nova Scotia had an experimental hydrogen plant onboard his government vehicle that used a similar process but burned the hydrogen as fuel and released the oxygen into the air. It sounded promising but we all know how volatile hydrogen is and if you were in an accident it could make a small accident much worse…
But hydrogen power like nuclear power would seem to be the cleanest forms of power so long as you weren’t in an accident😮

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BTTF? Do you mean “Bridge To The Future”?

edit: Psst. :point_up_2:There’s riffing in there. :point_up_2:


I have a Prius and I love it. Great car. Never any problems and the mileage is superb.

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I’m trying to do my part. The last car I owned was a hybrid, a Honda Civic bought in 2002. In 2004 I drove it from the east coast out here to move to Portland and sold it to a dealer (for more than I paid for it), and haven’t owned a car since. That hybrid worked great, and I’m sure they’ve advanced in 20 years.

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My parents had a Prius – they bought it used with something like 80k miles on it. By the time they moved on to another car it had more than 200k miles on it. It was great, very low maintenance.


hydrogen fuel delss seems to be the way to go in the long term tbh, most abundant element available,zero emission, but tricky to store hydrogen, so one for the future i think.

The sad thing is that nuclear power is much more efficient and is far cleaner than fossil fuels. I’m old enough to remember the acid rain of the ‘70s and have been to China and seen the air you can break chunks off of just a couple years ago. The problem is when it does go bad it goes VERY bad and so everyone is gun shy about using it.

It also doesn’t help things that it seems like every day there are more and more people against clean energy because some political demagogue in the fossil fuel companies’ pockets told them to be.


Yeah, I think Earth’s R&D department should be working on safety measures that would leave the nuclear power plants floating safely in space if the Earth were destroyed by the Death Star.

Why don’t we just build a Dyson sphere? :slight_smile:


We can’t even manage to build affordable housing.


More seriously, I wish that there would be more efforts with nuclear power because it has so much potential. The INL isn’t far away from me and they’ve been doing some research on how to use nuclear waste to generate more energy and have less dangerous byproducts, but there’s not as much funding.

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We’ll run out in only 200 years. [1]

Assuming we don’t find any more. [2]

And it doesn’t regenerate. [3]

I think there are safe models around. 10-15 years ago there was talk of neighborhood nuclear reactors. Like, ones that would power a suburban block. Though that always makes me think of Neighborhood Nuclear Superiority:

I think this thread really nicely covers a lot of the technical issues with alternative forms of fuel.

But we are not dealing with a fundamentally technical problem.

  1. I don’t know if the 250 year estimate is correct, of course. I do know that whole life has been full of predictions we’d run out in 30 years, and I am older than 30, and we know about more than ever. ↩︎

  2. This article from 1999(Why We'll Never Run Out of Oil | Discover Magazine) is from before massive gas reserves were found in Israel, e.g., completely reversing their oil dependence. It was pretty accurate on predicted consumption, however! ↩︎

  3. This is one of my favorite crackpot theories. But plate tectonics was a crackpot theory once, too. This link undersells exactly how crackpot it was because they’ve all changed their mind now. ↩︎



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