The most fundamental truth

The most fundamental truth

First of all I'm thankful very much to Ilon Musk, as he delivers an example of very extraordinary person which take an extraordinary efforts. I track his videos on youtube and consider them as very inspirable. But also I got some questions which are very unclear to me. One of these questions is about the mission of Tesla Motors.

Ilon Mask often says the worthful thought: if you want to understand something, you have to find the most fundamental truth about the subject.
Let's talk about the most fundamental subject of Tesla Motors: electricity as a power for vehicles.
Once Ilon said, if you are trapped in a stuffy room, then you have to go out of this room as soon as possible. It was said about fossil fuel. Clearly. Nothing to add.

But is the fossil fuel is the only possible kind of fuel available for internal combustion vehicles? Probably not. There is also alcohol fuel, which is renewable. Why not to take an effort to find out more efficient way of producing alcohol fuel? There are gigatons of biomass rotting every year (including leaves, straw, dung, hay). What if all that biomass can be turned into alcohol, and by solar energy? There are another issue about combustion engines - greenhouse gas. But rotting biomass emits greenhouse gas in either way, where or not we transform it into alcohol.

Ilon said that electric power allows to utilize free sun energy. That is true. But what about batteries? Even if we drop battery prices 10 times, they will still to be consumables. They need to be produced, continuously, as long as people will drive electric cars. And they also need to be recycled. So instead of dependency on fossil fuel we gain dependency on batteries. Is it sustainable solution? I don't think so.

There are already built a millions of combustion engines and a lot of factories which can produce a lot more if needed. These engines can be reliable enough if properly served. You can see the videos from repair man who shows old LADA 2106 engine after 300,000 km run. It is weared, but it can be repaired and then it can run another 300,000 km. It costs less than $1000/pcs in new condition. It is already available even for poorest people of the world.

So why not to take an effort to save and prolong the goods that are already made and already available almost for everybody?

I hope Ilon will publicly get comprehensive answer to this question. If he already did, I will be appreciate if you link me his answer.

gfb107 | 2015年3月13日

It's Elon, not Ilon

DarrellH | 2015年3月13日

We'd rather see this biomass generate electricity. We don't want or need ICE any longer. We are all electric and won't go back. ICE is not the solution to anything even using the output of biomass.

Dramsey | 2015年3月13日

This might surprise the OP, but research on alcohol production for fuel has been ongoing for decades. Here's the problem: it's hard and energy-intensive to produce alcohol from stock that doesn't contain a lot of sugar. That "rotting biomass" can't easily be converted to ethanol, which is why nobody's doing it on an industrial scale yet.

(Not that this little piece of reality has penetrated the bureaucratic minds of the EPA, who still enforce regulations requiring a certain amount of cellulosic ethanol be purchased and blended into gasoline for some unknown reason. But I digress.)

This is why most new ethanol production uses corn as a feed stock-- lots of sugar in corn. Sure, it's driven up food prices and contributed to starvation around the world, but you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, now can you?

Tesla's mission is battery-electric cars; unattainable blue-sky alcohol fantasies would be a distraction with no payoff.

xxxiter | 2015年3月13日

"...still enforce regulations requiring a certain amount of cellulosic ethanol be purchased and blended into gasoline for some unknown reason still enforce regulations requiring a certain amount of cellulosic ethanol be purchased and blended into gasoline for some unknown reason" // What about the reason of adding some environment-friendly antiknock agent?

You say "unattainable alcohol fantasies". But is this statement matches to be a fundamental truth? Of course, research on alcohol production for fuel has been ongoing for decades... But researches on batteries also has been ongoing for decades. And also are researches in PV-panels. The progress is not always go as fast as somebody wishes.
Is there any proven fact that waste biomass can't be adapted for producing alcohol fundamentally? Even with potentially developed biotechnology and microorganisms?

Brian H | 2015年3月13日

Neither Ilon Musk nor Ilon Mask. It's Elon Musk.

xxxiter | 2015年3月13日

Of course, Elon Musk. It is due to my non-perfect english (which is not my native language), sorry.

Here Du Pont say they are close to producing alcohol from straw commercially. The the fact is: some big corporation controls the technology. Remember what Elon said about General Motors: they wasted EV1 project just because they can. What can disturb the big corporation such as Du Pont from slowing down the progress just because they can?

Grinnin'.VA | 2015年3月13日

@ xxxiter | March 13, 2015

The most fundamental truth ...

Neither science, nor engineering focuses fundamentally on "truth".
That's because scientists have no hope of ever validating a "perfect" theory. And engineers don't need anything approaching absolute perfection to do their thing designing major advances in technology.

Go Tesla!

xxxiter | 2015年3月13日

Go Tesla! // It looks exciting, until you look and the problem as a whole. If sustainable biofuel solution will be found (and I belive it must be found, despite of will of big corporations: just because it will be enormously expensive to cover the whole planet with superchargers. Have you ever tried to calculate the rising demand on electricity needed to replace all ICEs?) and established in near 5..10 years, then it will freeze the electric vehicles as a kind of expensive nice-looking luxury-class toys for reach geeks.

xxxiter | 2015年3月13日

*rich geeks, sorry.

Larry@SoCal | 2015年3月13日

"Most Fundamental" = "Fundamentalist"?

Dramsey | 2015年3月13日

Is there any proven fact that waste biomass can't be adapted for producing alcohol fundamentally?

No, because you can't prove a negative. But nobody's done it yet outside of a lab or test facility.

Du Pont say they are close to producing alcohol from straw commercially.

Here in America, we have a saying: Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Producing alcohol from straw or arbitrary biomass is easy enough; but it has to be scaled to commercial quantities and the alcohol produced must be cheap enough to make the whole process worthwhile.

And there are hidden costs: by some estimates, it takes about 75 gallons of water to produce one gallon of corn-based ethanol.

I don't see any indication that ethanol will be a significant factor in automotive fuels any time soon.

gfb107 | 2015年3月14日

Not only is the production of ethanol inefficient and expensive, but the use of it in an ICE is also inefficient (by its very nature, burning/exploding fuel (of any kind) produces large amounts of wasted heat. Electric motors are so much more efficient!

Find an efficient way to convert biomass to electricity without burning it, that would really make a difference!

Earl and Nagin ... | 2015年3月14日

The biomass takes up real-estate to grow. Essentially it is just a form of solar energy albeit one that gets conveniently stored in the process.
The issue with biomass as a form of solar electricity comes down to a few key metrics that must be compared between methods to find better energy sources:
1) Kwhr/acre of land produced
2) $/Kwhr produced
3) $/Kwhr stored (for when solar is not available and with cars, for carrying)
With #1, you also need to take into account what else the acres of land could be used for.
With biomass, the metrics above look quite bad, especially when the same land for producing biomass is needed to produce food to eat.
Solar (PV or thermal) and energy storage (Gigafactory batteries, used EV batteries, and pumped water storage), on the other hand look quite good, especially when you consider you can use land that is not suited for much else or already ruined (rooftops, parking lots, desert).

Svenssons | 2015年3月14日

Biofuel like ethanol have less than half the net energy compared to solar panels. Biofuel is not the future for transportation and is not suitable to replace fossil fuel in large scale.

Link to document that list net energy from different energy sources:

Svenssons | 2015年3月14日

Sorry, wrong link...

This was the correct one:

Earl and Nagin ... | 2015年3月14日

I'll change my first metric above to reflect what most people are more used to:

1) miles driven/acre of land.

While Kwhr/acre is related, for transportation, it is the actual miles driven that should probably be optimized. It will take into account the terrible efficiency of the ICE as well as the energy collected.

FactDoc | 2015年3月14日

I think your brain is running on fossil fuels and we're reaching the end of the tank.

Watt fun | 2015年3月14日

xxxiter is on to a fairly good idea, but its already being done in many places/many ways.

What makes animal manure and rotting vegetable matter so noxious is the volatile compounds which could be make into fuels in their own right. Using digesters to cycle hog or chicken manure to make methane ends up with a useful product, and the manure one processed to extract the methane-making compounds is benign in months, not years.

I don't believe that bio-fuels make any sense...with a few asterisks for some exceptional circumstances that aren't followed when discussing the most common one in North America, Ethanol (made from specific type of corn crop)

*1 In a suitable climate (Brazil) from a suitable crop (sugar cane) as long as you don't run out of water. Corn is not the right source, and using farmland is the wrong use of land to make ethanol. A BETTER source of starch/sugar to make Ethanol is using plant waste from food processing plants, rather than dumping/composting it. The residue after fermentation of plant waste to produce Ethanol is less noxious for composting.

*2 If making Methanol from wood cellulose or other cellulose, ONLY if the methanol stage is a byway product instead of an end in itself.

*3 If making Butanol (a direct, non-corrosive drop in replacement to gasoline with slightly lower BTUs but otherwise not harmful to ICE engines designed to run on gasoline, the way that Ethanol and Methanol are harmful to ICE unless ICE engines and systems are designed from scratch) as long as it is a byway process. eg using grain to make whisk(e)y and the using the post-fermentation grain to make Butanol as an intermediate process and only then using the second time leftovers as cattle feed, compost, or solid fuel (instead of after the first stage.) This way, no additional land is used.

*4 If making bio-diesel (a direct--in limited amounts/percentages-- drop-in replacement for part of dino-diesel fuel) from crops, use the SPOILED portion of the crop. Canada does this now, and Canadian diesel fuel is 2% bio-diesel, 98% dino-diesel from one source alone, the spoiled (mildew, rot, green at freeze up, frozen etc) portion of just the Canadian Canola crop from only part of the country. This was previously just burned or plowed under. After pressing for oil to catalyze into bio-diesel, the remainder can still be composted or burned as solid fuel. Oils that are unsuitable to be processed into products for people or animals can still be processed into fuel. The 2% is a minimum, and the Canadian government plans to expand that processing of unsuitable/unusable harvest to slowly raise the bio-diesel level to 5% or more, without using any cropland, OR any high energy inputs (tractors for tillage etc)

These sources will never be a complete replacement for crude oil based liquid fuels to the extent currently used, but they can be used to replace all/part of crude oil based liquid fuels as we transition off it completely.

Electricity is still the future.

GeekEV | 2015年3月14日

If you're wondering what Tesla's mission is, try reading their website. They're pretty clear about it:

Earl and Nagin ... | 2015年3月14日

Much of that agricultural waste goes back into the soil for nutrients today. Turning it into fuel will just mean more petroleum-based synthetic fertilizers will be needed. Probably not much of a win.
I still think solar on waste land (desert and developed) and wind on farmland is the only truly viable approach to sustainable energy known today.

Brian H | 2015年3月14日

Yeah, Yeah. Desertec was going to power Europe with Sahara sunshine, and North Sea Windmills power SE Germany's industry, etc. In neither case could the monstrous expense of the cables and lines be justified. The windmills were built, or some were, and sit idle, but Desertec is still a fantasy.

Renewables are an 18th C solution to 21st C needs.

Ethanol production uses more fossil fuel than it replaces. And dissolves engine components. Even Gore admitted it was a mistake. Meanwhile 40% of US corn was redirected into its fermenters. When modern industry does something stupid, it does it very efficiently.

DonS | 2015年3月14日

Industry isn't stupid. It is the government that made the requirements for ethanol as an additive. Farmers and industry just try to make money under the rules given. Politicians shouldn't be allowed to make decisions requiring scientific knowledge.

Earl and Nagin ... | 2015年3月15日

@Brian H,
So what is(are) your proposed sustainable solution(s) to our society's energy needs/wants? Is fossil fuel going to last forever?

Red Sage ca us | 2015年3月15日

Simple: The only universally sustainable power sources involve burning carbon based fuels, because it has been proven by the socioeconomic advances made in all First World nations from the outset of the Industrial Revolution, and only the past proves useful or profitable or affordable in the future, and anything else is a money grubbing scam or barefoot commie pinko longhaired hippie tree hugger pipe dream... Because Brian H says so.


Brian H | 2015年3月15日

Pretty much emptied your kit of stupid stereotypes there, dincha? Please cite ANY posts I've made referencing commie tree-huggers. I don't bother; they're beneath contempt.

Evidence rules. AGW and renewables have only fiddled and fudged evidence to rely on, pushed by sources with fundamental conflicts of interest. Did you notice how the very rational Swiss electorate rejected carbon taxation 92% to 8% just recently? They failed to be confused. "Unsinn und Tuer" was their accurate motto.

Brian H | 2015年3月15日

Oops, misspelled: "Unsinn und Teuer" - crazy and costly.

Red Sage ca us | 2015年3月15日

Yeah, but... "Is fossil fuel going to last forever?"

Earl and Nagin ... | 2015年3月15日

@Red Sage,
See, you diverted him and gave him a chance to attack AGW. Let's put AGW aside. I have a lot of respect for Brian H and would like to hear his solutions for heating Canada and driving around in 20 to 100 years. A long time ago, we learned to harness the horse, then the wind and rivers as the horse became insufficient to meet our insatiable needs/wants. Then whale oil and coal took over when we exhausted those previous renewable energy sources and then petroleum and natural gas took over for them.
Will there still be plenty of coal, natural gas, and oil around forever or do we need to keep growing? If not now, when?

Brian H | 2015年3月15日

People keep using the "forever" club to deflect the discussion. Irrelevant. No one knows what will be wanted and needed in even 100 years, much less 100^100 millennia.

What could and should the world in 1910 have saved and conserved for us in 2010 that they used for themselves instead? They wouldn't have been able to even guess. Why are we so much smarter? More certain, but surely just as wrong.

Svenssons | 2015年3月16日

Brian still avoid the question. Guess he does not have an answer that he want to write down or can stand by.

Earl and Nagin ... | 2015年3月16日

@Brian H,
I'm a bit disappointed.

Brian H | 2015年3月16日

My answer is on point. Any attempt to "preserve" X,Y, or Z resource is misguided. There is no way to know what the technology of 100 years from now will depend on. It is VERY unlikely to be what we currently use. I also could have referred to the economic discount rate, which values future costs in current dollars, etc. By the usual minimum 3% per annum standard, it's about a 20:1 ratio over 100 years; if a future benefit of $20 costs >$1, it's not worth the expense. At 5%, also often used, the factor rises to 130:1! AGW proposals often tend to fudge this, by using 1% or less, to minimize and play down the current impacts.

(If those predicting a Singularity are right, any attempt to deliberately shape even the mid-term is delusory.)

As an example of this, the UN projects that with current developments and technological expectations, Bangladesh e.g. will match current UK living standards by 2100. But Green attempts to restrict energy resources in developing countries to nice renewables will substantially retard that, as the added expenses balloon future losses by about 50X as high for them. Fortunately for the Bangladeshi and Indians, it now seems they have vast frack-gas resources which may rescue them from the machinations of the World Bank and co. Amusingly, the current drop in US emissions of evil CO2 (!!) are dropping mostly because the new-found frac resources of gas emit half as much as coal and oil etc. per kWh, not because of the single-digit % share of renewables, at about 20% of their cost. (The other contribution comes from the Great Obama Recession.)

TeoTeslaFan | 2015年3月17日


In Norway 14% of all news cars sold is electric. Source:

Clearly it works. So you are suggesting, Elon should give up on something that already works and spend his money and time on something that might or might not work at some point in the future. Do you think your suggestion makes sense?

If you came up with the idea of building better hybrid cars, then I would say yes that sounds like a reasonable argument that one could support. I think in the current car market there is room for hybrid cars that have over 100 miles EV range. Currently the longest is 72 miles with BMW i3. Source:

Remnant | 2015年3月17日

@ xxxiter (March 13, 2015)

<< But is the fossil fuel is the only possible kind of fuel available for internal combustion vehicles? >>

It's not just the fuel, but the ICE. I could accept a chemical generator, such as a Metal-Air Range Extender (REX) -- which is likely to be simple, safe, compact, light, quiet, non-polluting, and inexpensive to run and carry (you can even keep it on a shelf in your garage and only take it with you on the longer trips) -- but not an ICE -- which is complex, potentially dangerous, bulky, heavy, noisy, expensive to run and carry, and polluting to boot.

In general, a generator reduces your payload. Why carry it along more than necessary?

Blueshift | 2015年3月17日

This is a good read regarding biofuels:

"Another way to highlight how daunting a full-scale embrace of biofuels would be, consider that global oil consumption amounts to 6 TW of power (30 billion barrels per year, or 1000 barrels per second, at 6 GJ per barrel). This is about 12 times the human metabolic dietary intake—largely derived from agricultural lands. We’re not about to give up eating, so in the simplest analysis, we would have to find an additional cropland approximately ten times the area of our current cropland.

For scale, Earth’s land totals about 140 million square kilometers. About 50 million are classified as agricultural (includes permanent grazing land), and 13 million as arable. On what planet would we find enough land for sufficient biofuel crops?

- See more at:"

Mike83 | 2015年3月17日

@Blueshift Well said.
In addition to land use there is the problem of water and its quality. Also K and P are limited.
Solutions are many provided we work on them instead of living in the problem of burning fossil fuels.

Grinnin'.VA | 2015年3月17日

@ Brian H | March 16, 2015

...the UN projects that with current developments and technological expectations, Bangladesh e.g. will match current UK living standards by 2100.

That's assuming that the ocean doesn't flood coastal areas, forcing an expensive move to higher ground.

The other contribution comes from the Great Obama Recession.

Bull $#it! There has been NO "Obama Recession". Our recent recession started in 2007. If it is to be blamed on the president of the U.S., that president was George W. Bush.

Red Sage ca us | 2015年3月17日

I think there was some evidence the recession began in late 1999, but the US government kept redefining the terms of what constituted a recession every quarter for the next several years to keep ahead of it... Worked great. Until it was too bad to ignore anymore.