By Jeff Reinke

Recently I read about the shutdown of a $5 billion clean energy project in Australia that dealt with the prospects of converting coal into liquid fuels. The reasons given for the initiative’s failure were both practical—developmental costs getting too high, and ridiculously short-sighted oil price reductions over the last several months.

The article, from the December 3 issue of the Financial Times, also referenced that banks and investors as a whole are leery about investing in alternative energy projects.

I’ll admit to knowing very little about the chemistry involved with this process, and it’s certainly possible that the whole project just didn’t make sense. However, if an initiative of this size and scope is being eliminated based on temporarily lower oil prices, it doesn’t bode well for other new energy programs or the financial powers that are less than excited about supporting them.

Our cover story for this issue discusses how biowaste is being processed to create biogas that could power, heat and fuel any number of energy-consuming applications.

However, one of the primary obstacles to wider-spread acceptance of the technology is very limited government support. I guess I find this particularly alarming after seeing my tax dollars used to bail out the banking industry, and potentially (a decision had not been reached as of press time) the automotive marketplace as well.

In both cases, legislators waited until the ship was sinking before addressing the gaping hole and rising water levels that many had voiced concerns about previously. Will we really be forced to implement a similar approach if innovative new energy programs are put on the backburner until finite natural resources are exhausted, or more likely, oil prices escalate again?

Currently, billions of taxpayer dollars are allocated to fix broken industries at a point when more extreme (and costly) change is needed. Hopefully we’ll learn our lesson, and when it comes to addressing our current energy situation, the only bailout targets innovation and continued development.

We can change the diagnosis from waiting to invest in a sinking ship to investing smaller amounts of capital in more promising initiatives that can positively implement changes in energy production now. President-elect Obama pledged to refrain from funding cuts related to these types of programs, and I certainly hope he stays true to his message.

One of the key tools many U.S. plants have implemented in order to stay competitive and reduce overhead costs involves taking a preventive approach to maintenance procedures. In light of rising unemployment rates, a growing trade imbalance, finite natural resources and an undeniable fix on foreign oil, let’s hope our government and financial leaders can implement a similar preventive approach to address and implement innovative new energy supply initiatives.

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