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Senate Committee Hears Testimony on Approaches to “Energy Independence,” with the Focus on Transportation

The US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on US Energy Independence today, with testimony from four witnesses: Amory Lovins, CEO of Rocky Mountain Institute; R. James Woolsey; Susan Cischke, Ford vice president of environmental and safety engineering; and Frank Verrastro, Director and Senior Fellow of the Energy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Lovins was the most direct (and with the shortest testimony), calling for a policy focus that would accelerate the elimination of reliance on oil from any source, not just non-US sources.

Lovins asserted that energy independence and its purpose, energy security, rest on three pillars:

  1. Making domestic energy infrastructure, notably electric and gas grids, resilient.

  2. Phasing out, not expanding, vulnerable facilities and unreliable fuel sources.

  3. Ultimately eliminating reliance on oil from any source.

Listing them in this order emphasizes that achieving the third goal without the first two creates only an illusion of security.

[...]Oil elimination’s compelling business logic would drive its eventual adoption. But supportive public policy could accelerate it without requiring new taxes, subsidies, mandates, or federal laws; this could be done administratively or by the states.

—Amory Lovins

Woolsey, a former Director of the CIA who has embraced plug-in hybrids as a technology that should be pursued with extreme urgency, laid out a more detailed approach.

The realistic opportunities for reducing demand soon suggest that government policies should encourage hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles, particularly whatever battery work is needed to bring plug-in versions thereof to the market, and modern diesel technology. Light-weight carbon composite construction should also be pursued.

The realistic opportunities for increasing supply of transportation fuel soon suggest that government policies should encourage the commercialization of alternative fuels that can be used in the existing infrastructure: cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel/renewable diesel, and (via plug-in hybrids) off-peak electricity. Both of the liquid fuels could be introduced more quickly and efficiently if they achieve cost advantages from the utilization of waste products as feedstocks.

The effects of these policies are multiplicative. All should be pursued since it is impossible to predict which will be fully successful or at what pace, even though all are today either beginning commercial production or are nearly to that point. Incentives for all should replace the current emphasis on automotive hydrogen fuel cells.

—R. James Woolsey

In his testimony, Woolsey urged a focus on three directions for policy:

  1. Encourage improved vehicle mileage, using technology now in production. Three technologies that should be emphasized are, according to Woolsey:

    1. Diesel
    2. Gasoline-electric hybrids
    3. Lightweight carbon construction

  2. Encourage the commercialization of alternative transportation fuels that can be available soon, are compatible with existing infrastructure, and can be derived from waste or otherwise produced cheaply. These include:

    1. Cellulosic ethanol.
    2. Biodiesel and renewable diesel. The latter category includes fuel produced via thermal depolymerization, as well as biodiesel derived from algae.
    3. Fischer-Tropsch Gas- and Coal-to-Liquids

  3. Encourage the commercialization of plug-in hybrids and improved batteries.

If even one of these technologies is moved promptly into the market, the reduction in oil dependence could be substantial. If several begin to be successfully introduced into large-scale use, the reduction could be stunning.

For example, a 50-mpg hybrid gasoline/electric vehicle, on the road today, if constructed from carbon composites would achieve at least 100 mpg. If it were also a Flexible Fuel Vehicle able to operate on 85 percent cellulosic ethanol, it would be achieving hundreds of miles per gallon (of petroleum-derived fuel). If it were also a plug-in, operating on either upgraded nickel-metal-hydride or newer lithium-ion batteries, so that 30-mile trips could be undertaken on its overnight charge before it began utilizing liquid fuel at all, it could be obtaining in the range of 1,000 mpg (of petroleum). If it were a diesel utilizing biodiesel or renewable diesel fuel its petroleum mileage could be infinite.

—R. James Woolsey

Susan Cischke from Ford also picked up on the topic of flexible-fuel hybrids (in addition to listing the portfolio of advanced vehicle technologies of interest to Ford). She emphasized the potential of E85 Flexible Fuel Hybrid vehicles—“if just 5% of the fleet were powered by E85 HEVs, oil imports could be reduced by about 140 million barrels a year” (about 3.5%)— but called for a need to expand increases in ethanol production and refueling infrastructure development.

Accomplishing that will require, according to Cischke, the “whole-hearted” involvement of the oil industry.

...there is a limit to what we can achieve on our own. We believe that our nation’s energy challenges can only be properly addressed by an Integrated Approach: that is, a partnership of all stakeholders which includes the automotive industry, the fuel industry, government, and consumers. The truth is that we must all accept that these are long-term challenges and that we are all part of the solution.

It is clear that the solution to the energy issues associated with road transport will need to come from advances in fuels as well as vehicle technology. We need the oil industry to endorse an Integrated Approach here in the US, just as they are beginning to do with automakers and government officials in Europe. We at Ford are clearly excited about the potential role of renewable fuels. However, the fact is that without the whole-hearted involvement of the fuel industry, we cannot move forward far enough or fast enough. We obviously need key partners like the oil industry to invest in developing and marketing renewable fuels like E85—and we need it to do so now and rapidly.

—Susan Cischke

Frank Verrastro, Director and Senior Fellow of the Energy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies advised pursuing a broader array of options for ensuring that US energy needs are met, including:

  • Stimulating additional supplies of conventional and traditionally non-conventional fuel sources, including renewables and alternatives;

  • Improving energy efficiency and conservation efforts;

  • Promoting research and technology development, and where applicable, accelerating the deployment of useful technologies;

  • Addressing infrastructure needs to facilitate the delivery of fuel choices; and

  • Pursuing the development of a more comprehensive energy strategy that recognizes the potential for simultaneously introducing transformational policies while managing the realities of existing energy interdependence in a global energy market.

I would also add that focusing on Energy Independence, while politically attractive, may in fact be a misguided quest and that we would be better served by mapping out a strategy for managing the transition to a different energy future as our current path is clearly unsustainable.

—Frank Verrastro




The use of ethanol is an enormous hoax - it costs roughly the same amount of energy to make ethanol as the ethanol produces.
The process of making diesel (along with fertilyzer and electricity and other products) from coal is considerably more efficient. As long as oil costs more than about $35/barrel it is economic. We have about 200 years supply of coal, which is more oil equivalent than can be found in Saudi Arabia. The South Africans have been doing it for about 20 years.
There is a small company in this country(USA) that has three of more projects starting up as of now. The only thing that has delayed them in the past is reluctance of the government and the financiers helping them.
FT diesel could very well be the fuel of the future - which would also make us mostly independent of foreign oil.

Tripp Bisop

200 years based upon what rate of consumption? Does that figure include using coal as a transortation fuel? What about the environmental costs of pumping even more CO2 into the atmosphere? Where's the energy going to come from to convert the coal to oil? Coal to Oil on a large scale would probably drive the cost of coal pretty high. How much does a tonne of coal cost? I seem to recall that it takes about 2.5 tonnes of coal to make a barrel of oil? I'm not sure what the energy input is. I can't imagine that this process would be anywhere near energy positive. It's probably very negative. Much worse than corn ethanol I would guess. The comparison to cellulose ethanol would be very unfavorable to this process.

Of course, these economics still exclude the environmental costs. The increases from a growing demand for both stationary power generation as well as transportation fuel would translate into a tremdous increase in CO2 emissions. Converting our coal reserves to oil is a horrible idea. It's not sustainable and there are better alternatives.


First of all, just want to say thank you to whoever runs/designs/updates this site. Much appreciated.

As far as Coal To Liquid technology being discussed, it's certainly energy positive. In addition it has been done a large scale before, most notably in South Africa Aparthhied era and Nazi Germany (I know, not exactly glowing examples). It is economically viable at just above $32/barrel, and there are already a number of companies moving forward with expansion. The fuel actually burns cleaner than conventional petroleum, however the production process is still very polluting. The current focus is on achieving a method of sequestering the carbon dioxide during the production, with domestic company Rentech (Listed RTK) claiming to have a technology for this. This site has a full section on the technology listed here:



Am I reading this right? Woolsey says "incentives should be made for the alternatives (he presented) by pulling the money for fuel cell development?"

His views on plug-ins make sense. If I drive 12000 miles a year on my vehicle, this equates to ~33 miles per day. Since my daily commute is roughly 26 miles a day, I could easily tolerate this range. A plug-in-hybrid which allows full electrical propulsion for at least 30-40 miles would substantially decrease my gasoline usage. Just wish it were possible!


Woolsey also said: But because so little energy is required to cultivate crops such as switchgrass for cellulosic ethanol production, and because electricity can be co-produced using the residues of such cellulosic fuel production, the energy requirements for converting switchgrass and other cellulosics to ethanol is very small. Indeed, with the right techniques reductions in greenhouse gas emissions for celluslosic ethanol when compared to gasoline are greater than 100 per cent. The production and use of cellulosic ethanol can be, in other words, a carbon sink.

Tripp Bisop

Does anyone know that the rough coal-to-liquids energy balance is? A quick google search just gave me nothing but corn-ethanol energy balances.


Life in a Grass House

Burning coal in place or in-situ gasification

Coal gasification in National Geographic

Clean fuel from dirty coal?


1. First of all, America is virtually energy independent. The foreign dependence is on liquid transportation fuels only. So natural gas, wind, photovoltaic and alike are irrelevant.
2. Coal-to-liquid is good technology, but expensive and polluting. Gas-to-liquid is much cheaper and cleaner. But it is still not particularly economical. And both of them have nothing to do with oil dependency: there are plenty of much cheaper coal and NG recourses everywhere in the world than in US.
3. Biofuels such as corn ethanol and vegetable oil are economical and energy balance nonsenses and are just the way to give cash to farmers. In last case for farmers of Malaysia, who begin to dominate US biodisel market with their palm oil.
4. The highest efficiency of conversion of solar energy to biomass energy in plants is less then 3%. Good photovoltaic panels convert 30% (to electricity, thought). Growing of crops or algae for energy and fuel production is a pipe dream of 19 century pastoralists.
5. The only true way to economically viable domestic production of biofuels are waste-to-fuel technologies, such as cellulose ethanol and waste oil refining. Wastes should be treated any way, no matter the oil crude price on the market, and there are a lot of agricultural, livestock, forestry, gardening, and constructional wastes around country.
6. Plug in capability should be made mandatory for US-sold hybrids, but I wouldn’t count a lot on it. Most of America drivers do not care once a month to inflate their tires (safety, ride, and 5% fuel consumption penalties), let alone plug-in their car every evening.
7. It is not possible to somehow significantly decrease weight of cars - less then 2000lb anyway, without putting life of their riders at risk , because there are too much tremendously heavy vehicles on American roads right now. Any collision of SUV and 1000lb car will lead to car's occupants death just because of shear g-force, no matter how strong is the car body. What must be done is to mandate that every new model year heavy-weights should be 5% lighter.
8. As an emergency measure US government should phase-in duty on all imported in US oil. Conveniently enough, Canada and Mexico (but not Venezuela) will be excluded from duty because of NAFTA agreement.

Adam H.

First poster, read this. Scroll down to page six.


This is MUCH more relevant than talking about whether or not ethanol is net energy positive. According to this study, per BTU, ethanol is 66% MORE efficient to produce than gasoline. Ethanol is energy positive, regardless of what Pitzkel and Pimental say every 2 years.

I'm so sick of people acting like they know WTF they're talking about without any sort of source of information whatsoever.

I do agree, however, with your assessment that CTL looks promising. I'm glad we have so many technological exercises that point to an energy independent future for the U.S. - it won't be more than a decade or two before our time as the sole world superpower is over, and hopefully we'll be well insulated by then.


Yet more ethanol bashing...obviously, some missed one of the major points in this article, which was best summed up by R. James Woolsey, "The effects of these policies are multiplicative. All should be pursued since it is impossible to predict which will be fully successful or at what pace, even though all are today either beginning commercial production or are nearly to that point."

Too many exhaust far too much energy trying to promote a certain greenER (than petroleum) technology at the expense of others. I think everyone would agree that some have more long term potential, but anything that is an improvement over petroleum is a worthwhile endeavor. Often overlooked is time to market. Why wait for the perfect technology that would take 20 years to deploy on a mass scale? What happens in the meantime - we do nothing?

The fact that so many ethanol studies were so all over the board should have lead people to believe that many were not that credible, such as the infamous Pitzkel and Pimental studies. The first credible information I've seen was an analysis of many of these earlier attempts by UCAL Berkeley,


Harvey D

Andrey:... I like some of your propositions. Canada and Mexico should apply a pollution export tax of xx% (or $10/barrel equivalent) on all liquid fossil fuel exported or consumed locally to help Americans, Canadians and Mexicans to convert to greener transportation technologies. Of course, USA is free to add another penalty tax on fossil fuels, but with elections coming up, it will not happen soon. Getting elected comes first. Mass production of large quantities of cellulosic ethanol, wind and solar power should be accellerated to feed PHEVs and EVs, replace imported fossil fuels and reduce GHGs. Unfortunately, this will not happened soon in Canada because the OIL reserves will last 300+ years. For those of you who are interested in better electricity storage devices, a quick look at ESStor Super Caps may be worth while.


I have come around to the view that ethanol, while not a cure all, is an improvement over oil and should be pursued without putting all one's eggs in one basket. We should pursue it but not think that it excuses all sins like horrible gas mileage. It will have negative impacts, like everything else, and so should be pursued with some prudence with an eye to its ecological effects on the land and water.

I also agree that the key thing is that we need to pursue alternatives immediately without pissing around with ten more years of studies. DOE and this administration loves to study but is lame when it comes to actually funding something in a way that will cause adoption on a widespread basis.

We need PHEVs now, not in five years and not in ten years. While they will improve, we shouldn't be waiting until the perfect battery comes along. But this will not happen just based on voluntary action. We need to do whatever is necessary to get people out of their guzzlers and into these alternative vehicles now. But it won't happen because we are too busy giving tax breaks to the rich and spending hundreds of billions of dollars on war. Those are our priorities, folks, and all this talk about "addicted to oil" is pure bullshit if the money is not put where the mouth is.

Harvey D

CORRECTION: re: energy storage devices should read EESTOR not ESSTOR. You may check with:
http://fraserdomain.typepad.com/energy/2006/01/eestor_ultracap.html for more details.

Harvey D.


Regarding Plug-in Hybrids, I think people are more likely to plug-in than one might suspect if it's convenient since it could save them the hassle of filling up at the gas station as often.

Regarding lighter vehicles, there is going to be a movement towards somewhat lighter vehicles among SUVs because of the recent change in CAFE standards that classifies a vehicle as a truck based on crash-worthiness instead of on weight. This removes the penalty for making lighter truck and SUVs.

Patrick Malone, Nixa, MO

A plug in is by far the dumbest approach of all. While it "looks" terrifically efficient, consider the REAL cost in energy; when the vehicle is plugged in, the primary source of energy still comes from burning fossil fuel (at the power plant) where an immediate 30% in energy is lost as heat - then there is 10% lost as it is transmitted over the wire - then 30% is lost when that energy is stored again as chemical energy in the battery - then another 10% is lost in the wiring and motor as you drive.

80% of the original energy that you started with in the fossil fuel is lost - and to fully get the energy you need to drive - you burn 125% of the fuel you would have burned in a normal gasoline vehicle.

Now, the immediate thing for most to do is jump and say, "Well! Then we'll just have to charge it off solar and wind!"

Great ... you still lose 50% of the energy.

Plug-ins are just not the solution.


Despite all the losses, a PHEV is still more efficient than a conventional ICE vehicle. Losing energy is common to all vehicle types. The fact that you have outlined the energy losses from the electic approach means nothing out of context.

Harvey D

Patrick Malone: Did you know that walking and filling in with tender Texas beef is less than 5% efficient? What is your proposition to move around more efficiently? Electric Power from the sun is abondant (about 1000 watt per sq. meter)clean and free. Once your roof is lined with solar panels you could reload your home electric energy storage device (ultra capacitors) while your away and reload your car free every evenings. With enough solar panels you could supply the house with extra clean power and even sell power to the grid thru a bi-directional meter. You would break 'Oil Addiction' and go a long way towards breaking 'Power Grid Addiction' and about zero GHGs at the same time. PHEVs will eventually be replaced with pure EVs when on-board energy storing devices become cheaper and smaller and lighter vehicles are produced.


Just like ethanol, PHEVs are likely not the final solution, but certainly, better than what we have. Yes, much energy is lost by the time it makes it to the wheels. However, the agreed well-to-wheel efficiency of a gasoline ICE is just a little bit above 10%.

Again, the point is that we have the infrastructure to start doing this now, and it would help the environment AND our economy (the money stays within our borders). The naysayers will point out that we don't have the proper "buffers" to store large amounts of electricity, but the grid consists of plenty of facilities that can vary their output, with plenty of capacity to meet the small-scale increases that would occur right away. Additionally, the batteries in the cars collectively become the storage repository.

An Engineer

Patrick Malone,
Plug-ins are great for the simple reason that the electric grid has excess power at night - that is why electric power is much cheaper during off-peak hours. Currently, that power just goes to waste. A plug-in would store the power and use it to reduce oil consumption.

Since much of the electric power goes to waste, there is still an overall saving for using the plug-in.

An Engineer

"Am I reading this right? Woolsey says "incentives should be made for the alternatives (he presented) by pulling the money for fuel cell development?"

Yip. Reasons:
1. By investing exclusively in fuel cell/hydrogen this administration is betting the house on a single technology. If things don't work out, $trillions went to waste. In the mean time, development on all other technologies grind to a halt.
2. You cannot force a technology ripe. California tried this with the electric car. In the end, they had to back out.
3. Cost: Fuel cell cars currently cost ~$1 million a piece. Although increased production would reduce this, it is unlikely that a 100-fold reduction (to make FC competitive with existing technology) would happen anytime soon.
4. Of all energy carriers, hydrogen is one of the worst: hard to store and transport, inefficient to manufacture and transport, explosive in a very wide range of concentrations in air.
5. It is not typically clean, or even carbon-free. The #1 source of hydrogen today is natural gas, i.e.
CH4 + O2 -> CO2 + 2H2
You could make hydrogen out of clean energy. But why waste >50% of your clean energy to convert it to something dangerous and hard to handle?


Actual solar light power density at the orbit of Earth is 1400 Watt per square meter, or 130 W per sq. ft. Actual power density at Earth surface is less, but still tremendous. Considering one sq. mile has two and a half million sq. meters, you do the math.


It should be noted that the Roomba vaccuming robot automatically docks itself in order to recharge. It is pretty evident that a charging station could be developed for placement in a garage so that the car would automatically charge itself each night without owner intervention.

Sunny Tai

patrick, according to your calculations an electric car would have a ~40% well to wheel efficiency. A gasoline car has less that half that. You can't simply add the energy loss percentage. when it loses 30% of its energy, theres that 70 % left. then when you take 10 % off again, its 10% off that 70 %. You get what i'm saying?


I did some calcs on that 2.5 tons of coal per 1 barrel of oil figure. According to this site
a midrange conversion is 4 barrels of oil in a ton of coal. I assume that is the 100% efficiency figure. Therefore CTL uses 10 equivalent barrels to get 1 actual, a thermal efficiency of 10%. This suggest the oft quoted figure of merely double CO2 emissions is industry spin. Not only is CTL inefficient but remember even with carbon capture at the plant what comes out of the tailpipe is carbon that was safely underground.



This just confirms for me that we need to get away from burning liquids in vehicles. You will never be able to capture the carbon that emitted at the vehicle level. This does not even include the other emissions that can be controlled more efficiently in a centralized facility. All these schemes to perpetuate our dependency on liquids don't solve the problems we have. Not to mention all that we should be doing so that we don't need all this combustion in the first place.

Let's just say that PVs will be less convenient than ICEs. Isn't it worth sacrificing a little convenience for the sake of the planet? So far, apparently not.

Be very skeptical of schemes to perpetuate or increase the dominance of the coal companies. Look what they have done to West Virginia.

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