Turning Oil Into Salt (1): Things I liked

First off, there were a number of things I liked about Turning Oil Into Salt. The overall thesis - the emphasis on fuel choice as the path to energy independence, and the Open Fuel Standard as the primary mechanism – was compelling, and while I will tear into some of their arguments shortly, I think the overall case holds together pretty well.

They also addressed all of the major issues. Every time I thought “Hmm, what about Issue X” (e.g. methanol feedstock, price of electric cars, sourcing lithium, etc.), they addressed it a chapter or two later. Not always to my satisfaction, but each issue was at least addressed in a whole-hearted way, so kudos for that.

Despite a fair amount of political rhetoric, they side-stepped some of the tempting memes like demonizing Big Oil:
This is probably the point where cynics would suggest that Exxon’s interest in critical components of car batteries stems from its desire to perpetuate oil’s monopoly in the transportation sector, that they will sit on the patent, drive up the battery price and keep us addicted to oil forever. The evidence for such conspiratorial thinking is flimsy. Oil companies have shown growing interest in technologies that can displace oil. [followed by several examples]
They also recognize resource interdependencies that are often overlooked in public dialogue:
For example, environmentalists who still lament the killing of the electric car and who promote the so-called “green economy” should realize that the road to electric cars, efficient light bulbs, and both wind and solar energy production passes through the mine and entails easing some of our mining laws and opening new areas for exploration and discovery. To put it plainly: one cannot go green and tout energy independence while reflexively opposing any mining activity and lobbying for the designation of millions of acres where essential minerals can be found as wilderness.
Finally, the analogy with salt is surprisingly good. Not only did I not appreciate beforehand the strategic importance of salt (as the only method of food preservation), which the authors convincingly make a case for, I particularly enjoyed how it was brought full circle at the end with the anecdote of how Napoleon (desirous of more logistical flexibility for his armies) incentivized the invention of modern food canning by offering a 12,000 franc prize in 1800. The authors suggest a similar prize for whoever can devise a thin-film plastic separator for electric batteries as good as Exxon’s, and it sounds like a great idea to me.

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