Those of you interested in space travel may know the name Dr. Robert Zubrin. He’s an aerospace engineer who’s written detailed books about how humans can settle the planet Mars. As president of Pioneer Astronautics, his company develops projects like the Gas Hopper Airplane. This self-sustaining research vehicle uses solar panels to compress CO2 (which makes up 95 percent of the atmosphere on Mars) and then stores it in liquid form. It is then sprayed over a pre-heated pellet bed, which increases the gas pressure to the point it can provide thrust. You can watch a video of it in action (flying on Earth) at http://www.pioneerastro.com/projects.html. Dr. Zubrin’s other inventions include Alternate Propellant Thermal Rockets (APTR), which are powered by either a nuclear thermal reactor or a solar thermal engine used to heat a storable propellant. Dr. Zubrin also worked for Lockheed Martin as a senior engineer.
While that’s an impressive resume, the reason I’m interested in Dr. Zubrin is because of his book Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror By Breaking Free of Oil (published in 2007) in which Zubrin focuses his expertise on solving problems here on Earth.
Interview with a Rocket Scientist
This is the second time I’ve interviewed a real rocket scientist who was convinced our short- and long-term energy problems could be solved by internal combustion engines and renewable fuels. Eddie Sturman was the first. Mr. Zubrin outlined the main points of his book during the conversation.
Disaster Waiting to Happen
Zubrin said the United States’ foreign policy is largely driven by a thirst for oil in countries considered unfriendly to American interests. “In the early ’70s, we imported less than a third of our oil, and the total cost was less than 5 percent of our defense budget. Today, we are 60 percent dependent on imported oil and spend more on imported oil than we spend on national defense.” Energy Victory argues whoever controls the fuel supply controls the future. Since the Middle East and North Africa have the largest share of oil reserves, that’s where the transfer of power will take place.
Changing To Biofuels
Since Zubrin already figured out how to power future self-sustaining civilizations on Mars, he was also able to come up with a plan for making it happen here on Earth. He said, “Instead of selling our corporations to Saudi princes, we could be selling tractors to Africa.” The heart of his solution comes down to switching our vehicles to flex-fuels. That means they are able to run on ethanol, methanol, renewable diesel, biodiesel, and normal petroleum fuels. Diesel fuel can be made from methanol, and there are many ways to obtain it, including from plant cellulose (includes wood chips, grasses, forest residue), industrial and residential waste, and any source of electricity. By giving the consumer an alternative energy option, it breaks down the oil monopoly and will bring down prices.
Brazil Has Done It
Another thing we learned from this book was that in 1980 Brazil imported 80 percent of its oil. It now exports more energy than it imports. In the mid-’80s, the price of oil dropped (which usually wipes out alternative energy programs), but since Brazil stuck with its energy policy, the nation prospered when the price of oil went back up.
Power and Freedom Through Creativity and Hard Work
Dr. Zubrin ended with a good point when he said he didn’t really like the concept of energy independence. Instead, he prefers flooding the world with access to a clean and abundant energy supply. Because right now, most of the population is getting jerked around by gatekeepers who hold a limited, fixed, and tainted supply of power.