Dr. Jeremy Martin, a chemist and researcher with the Union of Concerned Scientists, took part in a Reddit AMA, answering all sorts of questions about the future of fuels used for transportation. Fielding inquiries about EVs, ethanol, peak oil, and even cats (hey, it's the internet), Martin tried to offer a realistic picture about emissions, alternative fuels, and specifics about how green our favorite stand-ins for gas and diesel actually are.
Do you lie awake at night wondering what's going to happen when we run out of oil? Well, you needn't. Martin has plenty of faith in scientists to find novel sources of oil from which to make gas and diesel. Basically, because geologists and chemical engineers are good at their jobs, we'll destroy the planet from using fossil fuels faster than we could ever run out, so that's where your anxieties should lie. Martin also points out that emissions from oil extraction and refining are rising as producers go after new, dirtier sources. "This is by no means inevitable," he adds, injecting a merciful modicum of hope. "We just need to hold the oil industry to the same level of accountability as all other fuel producers."
As for the alternatives, Martin puts a fine point on the fact that sourcing is important when it comes to the environmental footprint of any specific fuel. How hydrogen is made, what sort of feedstock and conversion method is used to make ethanol or biodiesel ("palm oil biodiesel is a disaster"), and where the electricity comes from to charge electric vehicles all have an important effect on lifecycle emissions. He adds that most researchers are more concerned with climate-changing emissions than net energy balance of any particular fuel, though he does indulge some questions to the latter.
And with each answer about specific alternative fuels, Martin points out that they're each emitting less than oil, a fact that sometimes falls to the wayside when we discuss the challenges new fuels and technologies pose. With biofuels unable to fulfill the current demand of petroleum (scalability is one of the focuses of Dr. Martin's research), the shift will ultimately need to be to battery electric and fuel cell vehicles, a transition that will take time, but that Martin is confident will happen.
Hosted on a website that bills itself as "the front page of the internet," it's no surprise that the unofficial mascots of the interwebz, cats, were inserted into the discussion at one point. Redditor rom8n asked about the process of Catalytic Pressureless Depolymerization to turn organic matter, including cats, into biodiesel. Martin's reply: "I have not studied this technology or the use of cats as a biofuel feedstock, but my expertise in lifecycle analysis is perhaps not ideally suited to grappling with the issues raised by this approach." Gotta love a scientist's dry sense of humor.
Read the whole Q&A over at Reddit.