Saturday, December 10, 2011


I told you yesterday that the good folks at Google were working on a project. It's a potential game changer. The largest single problem we face as a society is that we aren't one single society anymore. We're a scattering of survivors, most of whom want to trade and deal with each other but limited by the fuel we can find or have stockpiled. Once that's gone, we're back to horse-and-buggy days. Which doesn't do much for sending perishable goods thousands of miles.

While we're using the massive fuel reserves from Sparta, they won't last forever. There are doubtless millions of gallons of fuel out there, and pretty much everyone has people looking for and gathering it. Again--once those reserves are gone, we're in trouble.

So the lads and ladies here are working on a solution. They're building a hybrid engine for a train that basically uses alcohol to power a generator to run the electric engine of the train. It's the same thing many trains have done for years with diesel fuel, but this is a fuel we can make ourselves reliably. The really hard part is (apparently, since I'm not a mechanical engineer) getting the efficiency high enough to make long trips. Remember, back home in Kentucky we've got access to tens of thousands of gallons of the stuff, and we've got stills set up to reduce it to pure ethanol.

Yes. The idea these geniuses have is to enable trade by powering trains with moonshine. It makes a country boy proud.

It isn't exactly an engineering conundrum, don't misunderstand. It looks very likely that success on the project is close. The larger problem is going to be planning routes, organizing trade stops, refueling, and of course making sure that the tracks aren't screwed up everywhere they want to send the thing. That means teams of people travelling all over America checking rails and making sure the right switches are engaged. It's huge and complicated and makes me thankful these people have lots of computers at their disposal. Just thinking about managing that huge mess is giving me a nosebleed.

On the small scale side, the idea is to run a closed route between Google HQ and the communities near Harlen. It's ideal since Harlen and the rest provide literally tons of food to the Googlers. If it works out, then they'll begin work on a much farther-reaching version. I've got my fingers crossed.

It just takes time. We've got some leeway for trade with the remaining fuel out there, but I'm confronted by the interesting reality that eventually things are going to change. I was such a big supporter of alternative fuels and energy sources, and now I'm seeing new infrastructure being born for them. It's not that we wouldn't use the old stuff if we could, but that's just not possible anymore. I'm not happy that it took the destruction of everything I knew to make this happen, but I'm not sad to see these changes happening.

Silver linings, you know?

I'm happy to see any foundations for our future being laid. We don't have the power or people to mine coal or run big power plants. But all of us can raise a crop and ferment it with a little training. Anything we can use to make the future brighter and easier is on the table for us. Ironic that large-scale ethanol production wasn't feasible before because so much of it would have been needed to service the population, and the drastic reduction in the population now makes it a perfect fuel.

We're heading out. I'll be thinking about this for days now.

No comments:

Post a Comment