• Ethanol is not the future

    When I was in high school (from which I graduated in 2008), a major topic in social studies and government classes was biofuels. At the time, there was talk that corn-derived ethanol would be the fuel of the future.

    Seven or eight years later, you don’t hear much about ethanol anymore. Yet, it’s quietly gained a foothold in the market. Most of the gasoline sold at U.S. gas stations is now 10 percent ethanol, which is the safe amount for most car models past and present.

    Now, Chicago is considering taking ethanol another step forward. The city is considering a bill that would require most gas stations to provide a pump that dispenses gas that’s 15 percent ethanol.

    There’s been a backlash, much of it from the petroleum industry, but also due to the fact that most engines (cars as well as other machines) aren’t made for 15 percent ethanol gas. But the larger issue, I think, is that in the long run, ethanol is not a great answer to our energy woes.

    For one, while it’s generally agreed upon that ethanol is cleaner to produce than regular gasoline, burning it still releases carbon dioxide into the air. Supporters contend that since the fuel comes from corn, the carbon dioxide burned is cancelled out by new corn plants that use it. But, burning it still puts it in the atmosphere, which isn’t what we want to do considering the very real dangers of climate change.

    Moreover, making ethanol creates a higher demand for corn, which causes the price of food to go up. All that aforementioned talk of an ethanol revolution was mostly derailed by a major jump in food prices in 2008. Given, that was an extreme circumstance caused by a number of factors. Still, with food prices already being affected by population growth and environmental turmoil, it’s not a good idea to select an energy path that’ll raise them further.

    Also, the mere fact that most vehicles can’t use it is a valid issue, precluding any environmental progress intended by the legislation. If the city wanted to incentivize its residents to make their driving habits greener, it would make more sense to push for a major change (something like, say, electric cars), not  an incrementally small one like an extra five percent ethanol in their tank.

  • Tesla taking charge at home

    Battery technology, it isn’t the sexiest tech subject but it is impactful on our daily lives. The battery life of smartphones is certainly one of the most important aspects of any new device that we are looking to purchase. But is battery life going to be something that we will soon be researching when we purchase our next home? 

    The Tesla Powerwall is a home battery and solar panel that interfaces with a home’s existing electrical box through an inverter. The battery unit itself is roughly the size of a car door and mounts directly to the wall. The Tesla Powerwall stores energy generated by the solar panel and uses it during peak demand hours when energy providers tend to charge more. That is the real genius behind the Tesla Powerwall and it is incredible that someone hasn’t created a solar panel/battery tandem system like this before, right?

    Just like Apple didn’t make the first smartphone, Tesla isn’t the first to make a home battery. But Tesla, like Apple, is great at marketing their technology. The Tesla name has quickly become one of the most prestigious names in tech. I would say that they are the Apple of big high-tech automobile purchases. Plus, Tesla has a focus on sustainability, which is something that all consumers should be looking for in the products they buy.

    What is really exciting about the Tesla Powerwall is the pairing of the solar panel with the home battery. Though solar energy isn’t the most most viable energy source for those in northwest Indiana, I believe that options for wind and other sustainable energy sources will be available in the future. And once they do become available, I envision a completely sustainable northwest Indiana where everyone’s power comes from their backyard or roof.