Sunday, March 1, 2009

Feeding your 128 slaves.

A typical person is burning energy at a rate of about 100 Watts. However if you add up the total energy usage of a modern American the number comes up at something like 12800 Watts. So, you have the equivalent of 128 slaves working full time for you.

This is a common thing for energy researchers to point out. After all it demonstrates the amazing progress of the human race over the past few centuries and the importance of energy in our lives. It also gives a great deal of perspective on just how massive the issues we will be facing are. It also happened to show me another way to think of the impossibility of using biofuels to keep our economy going at its present state.

Right now we are feeding these 128 slaves with mostly oil, coal, natural gas, and Uranium. Since we can't eat any of these it is really hard for us to think about just how energy rich these materials are. Switching to biofuels would require you to stop feeding them this inedible material, and start literally feeding them food. To keep our standard of living we would then have to grow 128 times as much food as we grow today. This is the equivalent of feeding thirty eight billion Americans!

Of course next generation biofuels will allow us to stop feeding these slaves corn and soybeans and swap them with switch grass or some other inedible plant. It doesn't really change anything though. We can certainly grow more switch grass than corn, but we can't even get close to 128 times as many calories of switch grass. Why waste research money on this when there are so much more promising routes to take?

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