Money in green

June 23, 2008
By: Tim Heston

Last week media reported long gas station lines, with motorists grumbling over record prices. That sounded like 1970s oil-crisis America, but that"s not what reporters were writing about on Friday.

They were reporting from Beijing.

There, The Times of London gave reports of long lines outside petrol stations as Chinese motorists attempted to fill up before the government removed fuel subsidies. That action jacked up gas prices by 18 percent. This came on the heels of other Asian countries reducing their own subsidies, including India and Malaysia.

The U.S. government has blamed those subsidies for helping to push oil prices to record high levels. Fingers have pointed at speculators working in the futures markets too. On the supply side, it"s now more expensive and risky than ever to build a refinery; a new one hasn"t been built in this country in more than three decades, according to a May article in The Economist. The cost to find new sources of black gold also has skyrocketed.

Although the oil companies, with their billions in windfall profits, could probably afford it, they"re not willing yet to take the risk. As The Economist reported in May, oilmen remain scarred by the rapid expansion of output in the late 1970s, in response to previous spikes in prices that led to a glut and so to a prolonged slump.

All this sounds pretty dreary, but in all this mess, some see a huge potential to make a lot of money by finding an alternative to oil. For years the green movement has been a tough sell for businesses. Alternative energy sources had potential, but none of them could be sold as something cheaper and easier to use than what the market presently hadthat is, oil and coal.

But today, when a driver sees $4-plus go into his tank with every gallon of gasoline, alternatives look a lot better.

"For oil replacements, cheap suddenly looks less of a problem, The Economist reported this week. The biofuels or batteries that will power cars in the alternative future should beat petrol at today"s prices. Alternative energy isn"t limited to cars, either. Victor Abate, General Electric"s vice president of renewables, told the newspaper that he predicts by 2012 half the new electrical energy generators in America will be provided by the wind.

For metal fabricators, opportunities may abound. It takes a lot to machine and fabricate those wind turbines, and plenty of manufacturers have cashed in on the opportunities. And consider what the keynote speaker at April"s ALAW 2008, a laser applications conference held outside Detroit, said. Mark Mathias, chief scientist at GM Fuel Cell, gave the basics of alternative fuel technologies, including fuel cell and hybrids. Considering the cost of making these [fuel cells] and making millions of vehicles a year, we need to be producing each cell component in seconds, Mathias told conference attendees. That"s what makes laser welding very interesting.

Although fuel cell technology isn"t commercial yet, you can bet it, or some other alternative to the internal combustion engine, will be in the years to come. The same could be said of coal-fired power plants and other, existing energy-generating technologies.

And you can bet that money will be made from themwith the added benefit of saving the planet.

Tim Heston

Tim Heston

Senior Editor
FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-381-1314