01.25.05 NOTES: Tuesdays@REI: A Biofuels Primer

Submitted by Ted Takacs on Wed, 01/26/2005 - 13:30.

A Biofuels Primer, Phil Lane, Analog Motors, LLC

Ed Morrison, Director of REI, introduced the speaker, Phil Lane. Phil has been attending Tuesdays@REI sessions and he offered to give this presentation on Biofuels. Ed proceeded with a short synopsis of some of the objectives of REI and the Tuesdays@REI series. A major objective is the creation of open networks within the NEO region. Colleges and Universities will serve as nodes in this network and promote innovation in our traditional industries, sustainable enterprise, and creative industries.

The next Tuesdays@REI session will take place at the Natural History Museum and will feature a panel discussion on Early Childhood education. Early Childhood education represents a critical investment in brainpower. Early community investments in childhood can provide substantial future economic prosperity.

Presented by Phil
Lane, Industrial Ecologist and
owner of Analog Motors LLC, East Cleveland, Ohio.
Mr. Lane brings 35 years
experience as a professional automotive technician, CNC machinist, welder,
process control designer, racecar fabricator and data acquisition specialist.
In the early 1980’s he built the General Motors Engines Laboratory Internal
Combustion Engine (ICE) test rigs for the Department of Aerospace and
Mechanical Engineering at Case Western
Reserve University,
gaining valuable insight into the emissions characteristics of ICE powerplants.
Originally founded in 1995 to restore vintage automobiles, the need to address
the emissions of these vehicles has led to Analog Motors LLC developing a focus
on advocating and facilitating the adoption of Sustainable Mobility as an
economic driver in our petrocentric culture.

 Biofuels are a category of Alternative Fuels that are
inherently renewable, not derived from finite sources like coal and oil. The
Department of Energy broadly defines alternative fuels as “substantially non-petroleum and
yielding energy security and environmental benefits�. They include ethanol,
biodiesel, BTL (Biomass to Liquid) and many others. Electricity and hydrogen,
energy carriers, are described within the DOE framework. Natural gas, propane
and methanol, although derived from fossil fuel, are also recognized because of
their inherently lower emissions and high performance when used as transport
fuels.

The presentation begins by introducing the concept of the
Earth’s atmosphere as a laboratory, in which the current pace of global
development is resulting in huge increases in Greenhouse Gases (GHG). Because
the notion of global warming and even the finite nature of petroleum is hotly
debated, the most successful strategy is to focus on the economic development
inherent in creating a network of integrated biorefineries. The Latin phrase
“Mobilis in Mobili� from Verne’s submarine Nautilus, “mobile within the mobile
element� means that survival in a rapidly changing environment requires rapid
adaptation. Biofuels offer a viable platform for such adaptation.

In terms of chemistry, alternative fuels tend to have
smaller simpler molecules that are more easily and completely combusted. Petroleum
fuels, known as “middle distillates�, are larger, more complex molecules that
result in higher levels of pollutants. Most alternative fuels also contain
oxygen atoms, which further enhance clean combustion.

In the early 1990’s, the EPA mandated the use of Methyl
Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) as an additive to gasoline as an oxygenate.
Subsequent testing revealed the propensity of MTBE to contaminate soil and
aquifers, and the additive was phased out. Ethanol is commonly used now at the
10% level, also known as E-10. E-10 was introduced at the height of the Great
Depression to create markets for mounting grain surpluses. The same controversy
that surrounded the use of Biofuels then, as part the Farm Chemurgy movement,
is present today and requires careful Life Cycle Analysis, including
Well-to-Wheel thermal efficiency comparisons, when evaluating risks and
benefits.

While there are many types of alternative fuels, those
derived from organic matter are considered Biofuels, an important distinction.
During combustion, the CO2 generated by these fuels is quickly absorbed by the
plant and animal matter grown to create feedstocks, thus sequestering the
majority of GHG emitted. By comparison, fossil fuels release carbon sequestered
centuries ago, compounding the Greenhouse Effect. Additionally, these Biofuels
possess a positive energy balance, meaning they are very efficient to produce.

New and promising technologies like fuel cells and
nano-fuels are on the horizon, however, rapacious demand here and abroad requires
a more timely answer to growing demand for energy. The use and benefits of
biofuels are proven and far outweigh the limitations they incur when all
factors are considered. A mounting trade deficit is one factor while the cost
of military intervention is another. Estimates of the true cost per gallon of
fuel in the U.S.
range from $5 to $15. Biofuels are to be considered a supplement to fossil
fuel, not a replacement. In much the same manner of the abundance of
co-products and chemicals derived from fossil fuels, integrated biofuel
refineries will provide many valuable products, all of them renewable and
domestic. The investment in these plants creates solid employment across a vast
demographic.

 Advanced vehicle
technologies, like hybrids, are also crucial to reducing our dependence on
foreign oil and reducing GHG. The reciprocating piston,internal combustion
engine is not going away any time soon and Biofuels offer an opportunity to
further enhance the benefits of this technology, while cleaning up emissions
from vast existing fleets today. Additionally, the biorefineries offer a means
to produce low-cost, renewable hydrogen for the advent of fuel cell technology.
They can be thought of as a carbohydrate bridge to the hydrogen economy.

By studying the history of Biofuels, valuable insights are
gained as to the promise and pitfalls. “The perfect is the enemy of the good� admonishes us to resist debating
over the silver bullet approach and take the necessary steps to secure domestic
and global security through innovative applications of current technologies. 

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