Saturday, March 23, 2013

Will Alternative-Energy Growth Tank During New Fossil-Fuel Glut? [Slide Show]: Scientific American

Will Alternative-Energy Growth Tank During New Fossil-Fuel Glut? [Slide Show]: Scientific American

This has happened more than once before, suddenly low energy prices kills off clean alternatives,  this is real bad news..

The alternative energy landscape is in tumult, judging by the recent fourth annual summit of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, or ARPA–E. A glut of cheap natural gas threatens to sweep all other energy sources before it. The so-called "shale gale," as Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski put it at the recent ARPA-E energy summit, is forcing a rethink of energy strategy. "Before this so-called shale gale came upon us, groupthink had most of us focusing on energy scarcity," Murkowski noted. "The consensus now is that we have abundant energy. We can't fall into the trap of groupthink again."

Funding for alternative energy—whether from the federal stimulus bill or venture capitalists—has dried up. "We're here because it's ARPA–E, and they have some resources," says Saul Griffith of OtherLab, a research and design firm that has received funding from the agency for researching uniquely shaped tanks for natural gas. "We all suffer from a lack of resources. We all have ambitions that want to go faster and bigger." Or as retired Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones put it as part of a talk about the link between national security and energy security: "A vision without resources is a hallucination."

More than 250 exhibitors came to show their wares alongside ARPA–E efforts ranging from Smart Wire Grid's power-flow controllers for electricity transmission lines to OPX Biotechnologies's modified microbe that builds liquid fuels from hydrogen and carbon dioxide. "After three years have there been home runs?" asked retiring Secretary of Energy Steven Chu at the summit. "Maybe not, but there are people rounding second or third base."

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