The 1973 oil crisis, and the oil embargo that precipitated it, has had a lasting effect on U.S. energy policy and global geopolitics. As the price of oil quadrupled and long lines formed at gas stations across the country, U.S. energy independence became a policy goal that every president has since sought to achieve.
Despite these consequences, several developments occurred that both minimized the short-term impacts of the crisis and the likelihood of a similar crisis in the future, for the United States to become increasingly energy independent. The federal government, for example, instituted the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards—the nation’s first, vehicle, fuel-economy standards—in 1975, as well as other policies to ensure global security for energy production.
But as the ecological impacts of burning fossil fuels became apparent, a greater interest in renewable energy, technological entrepreneurship and innovation, and new energy markets emerged. Over time, federal funding toward research, development, and deployment to find alternative energy sources increased dramatically ensuring progress in renewable energy, such as the commercialization and widespread use today of wind and solar technologies. Such progress was possible because of new manufacturing technologies that became available in the decades following the oil crisis.
From one crisis to another
Today, a new crisis is now upon us: a global, climate-change crisis.
Today, a new crisis is now upon us: a global, climate-change crisis. The climate crisis and efforts to combat it has profound implications for the future of the U.S. economy, state and federal policies, and American manufacturing. The major cause of this crisis is the continued, world-wide use of fossil fuels to provide energy and produce power. To reduce the dependence on fossil fuels, there is a need for climate-change mitigation and reduced carbon emissions—a need that requires new climate policies and new manufacturing technologies to be developed.
President Biden’s new climate-change goals – such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the use of fossil fuels – and policies to achieve those goals will fundamentally reshape markets, from agriculture to transportation. New manufacturing technologies – such as biomass, wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric – will sustain the future power demands while simultaneously becoming more competitive and reshape markets and the economy. In addition, achieving these goals, implementing these policies, and commercializing these manufacturing technologies will make U.S. manufacturing firms more competitive the country more sustainable.
From analyzing historical data and understanding past technologies, we have developed insights into what new technologies can achieve decarbonization and increase the global economy. As the global population continues to increase in the next few decades, the amount of energy consumption will increase in proportion, primarily in developing economies, and fossil fuels will be part of the energy portfolio of such countries. In the United States, the national end goal is to achieve aggressive decarbonization while maintaining economic competitiveness. However, several technological issues are hampering attempts to meet that goal.
There are two technological issues which require particular attention. First, the contribution of the national, renewable, power network is not increasing quickly enough.
Meeting decarbonization goals will require an advanced power system.
Second, meeting decarbonization goals will require an advanced power system. That system must 1) provide new energy capabilities for more sophisticated consumers and 2) create and distribute power from renewable sources like biomass. The scientific research foundations, and the advanced manufacturing strategies for developing, distributing, and maintaining such a power system do not exist today. Let’s look at some challenges causing this situation.
There are many policy ideas that can make the U.S. transportation system become more sustainable including improving freight efficiency, increasing the use of public transportation, increasing the number of electric vehicles on the road, and using green materials in construction, among others. More R&D is needed to develop and implement these ideas. Some examples are 1) building better predictive and emissions-performance models, 2) creating approaches to improve safety and minimize defects, 3) developing an integrated hydrogen infrastructure, 4) manufacturing sustainable transportation fuels or low carbon fuels, 5) having a better understanding of human behavior when it comes to transportation choices and travel patterns, and 6) designing new vehicles such as powered scooters and small electric vehicles that can used for shorter commuting distances, while simultaneously reducing the carbon footprint.
The National Policy on Biofuels-2018 has a target of 20 percent blending of ethanol in petrol and 5 percent blending of biodiesel in diesel by 2030. These policies will impact agriculture, energy, transport, environment, and trade. To successfully implement these policies and mitigate these impacts, the U.S. needs a new, flexible feedstock and fermentation infrastructure before biofuel manufacturing can become viable. The potential for a billion-ton biofuels production industry would require addressing issues around regionalization, because feedstocks will vary accordingly. Once the feedstocks are provided, there is the need for stockpiling and redistribution. Also, most of the fermentation part during feedstock processing is done overseas because the U.S. lacks a scale-up fermentation capability.
Collaboration among government, industry, and academia should foster a common and cohesive vision, mission, and goals. For example, for new technologies to work, industries must be engaged early enough so they can guide the direction, transfer, deployment, and scale-up of those technologies. It is equally important to also align the right the technology with the proposed application. Why? Because investments need to be made. There is an incentive that will come along with the investment on deciding which technologies have real product potential. The technology transfer model should then be redefined so that it becomes time and economic efficient.
As a final remark, using novel technologies to manufacture both existing and new energy-related products will grow our economy, strengthen our national security, and improve our quality of life.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own, and may not be shared by The Fuse.