Brazil Presents a “Sweeter Alternative”

Brazil – a country which has done more than any other nation to replace oil with ethanol – is ready to ramp up production of its sugarcane-based fuel, a sweet solution it hopes to market around the world.

Brazil has collected billions of dollars of new foreign investment and is on the cusp of a possible jettison of the long-standing trade barrier in the U.S.

Marcio Zimmerman, the Brazil Mines and Energy Minister said South America’s largest country plans to more than double its ethanol production, from 7 billion gallons annually to 17 billion gallons, by 2019.

Last August, Shell signed a $12 billion joint venture with the Brazilian sugar and ethanol maker Cosan, S.A. Earlier in the year, BP, who already holds a two-year-old stake in Brazilian ethanol, announced plans to expand their investments by $5 billion to $6 billion in the coming decade. U.S. agricultural company, Bunge Ltd., and France’s Louis Dreyfus Commodities have each expanded their presence in Brazil with acquisitions of ethanol companies last year.

The country sends 18% of its production overseas (mostly the U.S., Japan and Europe), though, the majority of Brazil’s ethanol is to be consumed domestically; actually, half of the nation’s car and light truck transport is now fueled by ethanol, a level which is bound to increase, as most cars sold in the country are flex-fuel vehicles that run entirely on ethanol.
For years, a 54-cent-per-gallon tariff has discouraged imports of ethanol at U.S. borders, even though fuel alcohol from Brazilian sugarcane is cheaper than the U.S. alternative – from corn.
(Not to mention the move to protect the heartland corn industry in the states).

In the meantime, much of the debate in the United States and Europe over sugarcane ethanol has become about whether it is even an environmentally friendly alternative, or whether its real impact on land use and the planet’s greenhouse gas burden is far worse than previously understood.

Coming Soon To a Gas Station Near You: E15

Give your automobile an adult cocktail!

The Environmental Protection Agency will approve the ethanol blend, E15, for cars in the 2007 model year. This is a result of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, mandating an increase in renewable fuels for the transport sector.

The decision will apply to more than 42 million vehicles; that’s almost 20% of all passenger cars and light-duty trucks in the U.S.; that is, all 2007 and newer.

Then, come November, after the engine testing on those models is finalized, EPA is expected to decide whether to approve E15 for vehicles 2001 to 2006. Approval of those 86 million trucks and cars would mean that E15 would be permitted in more than half of the total passenger cars and light-duty trucks on the road today.

E15 is a compound made of 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline. It is the highest ratio of ethanol to gasoline possible for auto manufacturer-recommended vehicles in the US.

In March 2009, Growth Energy, a lobbying group from the ethanol industry requested the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) to allow the ethanol content in gasoline to be increased to 15%, from 10%.

By June 2010 the E.P.A. failed to reach twice the self-imposed deadlines to rule on this issue. The necessary tests had not been completed, they argued. But now it is set to take action.

The blend will show an initial appeal, thanks to the novelty. Ethanol is cheaper, measured by volume than gasoline, so a blend that is 15% ethanol will be cheaper than a blend at the current 10% standard.

However, writes Matthew L. Wald, in the New York Times’ Green Blog,

“…in a quirk of fuel production, it often turns out to be more expensive to use. Ethanol has only about two-thirds as much energy per gallon as gasoline, so it has to sell for about one-third less than gasoline before it is equal in price per mile.”

Growth Energy, raised EPA eyebrows though when they explained that

“If one retailer began selling E15, others would be forced to follow or customers would be drawn to the competitor.”

Growth Energy official, Jeff Broin said:

“We are not surprised that retailers are cautious at the offset…You know we have been producing ethanol for 23 years, and E10 is just now reaching market saturation. So even though E15 is not a mandate, we expect it to be a good value for consumers, and that will drive adoption.”

When one retailer starts selling the mixture, “and they can sell it a lower price, it will encourage others to sell it.”

Israel’s Hunt for Oil Alternatives

Largely brought on by obvious security incentives, the Jewish Country in the Middle East, Israel is uniquely poised to become a world leader in the field of alternatives to oil.

Last year, around the time of the Climate Summit in Copenhagen, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared that Israel would find a substitute for oil in the next 10 years – despite that country’s relative (enough for self-sufficient success at best) surplus.

Well this year, he is recalling the promise which he made in that green year.

A national plan for developing alternatives to crude oil will be proposed by the Israeli prime minister to his cabinet this week.

Under the auspices of Dr. Eugene Kandel, head of the [Israeli] National Economic Council, the new plan will invest $53.3m a year over the next 10 years in financing research and development for companies involved in the quest for alternative fuel.

The plan also calls for government money to be supplemented by donations from the private sector at $48m a year.

In Israel, 60% of all oil is used in transportation and electricity claims only 5%. The latter statistic is due to that country’s large switch to coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels for electricity during the oil crisis of the 1970’s.

25% of oil is actually spent on petrochemicals, fertilizer and other oil-based products.

Israel justifies its pricy plan like this:

– Foreign oil is produced largely by countries which do not have cordial relations with Israel – some of which are even said to fund terrorist activity against her.

– Transportation is responsible for about 40% of greenhouse gases, and massive amounts of air pollution – this, as we are all aware, has adverse affects on the health of a population.

– The price of foreign oil is expected to rise even from its formidable price (and beneficially so) soon. In fact, projections predict oil prices rising to $130 a barrel by 2030.

The world used 85 million barrels of oil, daily in 2007. The US Department of Energy predicts that usage will rise to 107 million barrels a day by the year 2030.

Israel admits that it uses between 75 to 100 million barrels a year.
Israel’s new plan now calls for the appointment of a project manager with expert staff in the Prime Minister’s Office to emphasize the national need for the task.

Energizing Brew

A new facility in the UK, Adnams Bio Energy anaerobic digestion plan, using brewery waste and local food waste will begin producing renewable gas which can be used as liquid fuel among other things.

Working in partnership with National Grid, the facility expects to generate up to 4.8 million kilowatt-hours of energy per year – that is enough to heat 235 family homes annually.

Well, the average home in the UK burns 56 kilowatt-hours of gas per day. The same amount of energy which could be generated from the waste left behind from brewing roughly 600 pints of beer.

Some 28 million pints of beer are enjoyed daily by Britons — well, the waste from brewing that much beer could produce enough biomethane to heat 47,000 homes.

The Adnams plant plans to be able to produce enough renewable gas to power the company’s brewery and run its fleet of lorries, while leaving up to 60% of the remaining output available for injection back into the national grid.

By diverting waste from landfill, the plant will also prevent the release of methane into the atmosphere.

Biomethane is like natural gas. Once it’s upgraded to grid specification, it may be injected into the gas network to be used by customers.

National Grid suggests that biomethane could account for at least 15% of domestic gas consumption by the often-cited year 2020.

The Adnams Bio Energy plant has three digesters – these are sealed vessels in which naturally-occurring bacteria act without oxygen to break down up to 12,500 tons of organic waste every year. In addition to producing biomethane, the process also yields a liquid organic fertilizer.

Working in connection with Centrica, the parent company of British Gas, Adnams Bio Energy has also deployed British solar thermal panels at the plant and will soon install cutting-edge photovoltaic cells on site, thereby creating a sort-of mini energy park.

Natural Gas Gold

While all of the world leaders will be gathering in Copenhagen this week for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, to come up with new and creative ways to reduce climate-altering emissions and make plans for a low-carbon energy future; a simple solution is right in front of our noses: natural gas.

natural gas terminalGasoline prices this year are 33% lower than they were last year and the industry is producing way more gas, now that they have uncovered large supplies of natural gas.

The USA has three times more natural gas than it thought it had in 1966 – and 40% more than thought just a few years ago. Actually more than 2,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is the estimated available amount – this is enough to hold for the next 519 years.

More than 20% of U.S. electricity is generated by natural gas, and it is an important feedstock in chemical and fertilizer production. Natural gas serves to eliminate soot, for cleaner diesel fuel, and is used as a raw material in lightweight cars, wind-power blades and solar panels.

It seems like a no-brainer. Natural gas is produced in accordance with the strictest environmental standards and is one of the cleanest fuels in existence. Its use addresses a myriad of environmental concerns: smog, acid rain, greenhouse gas emissions. So why not embrace natural gas as the key to a low-carbon energy future – as it is the scientist’s best friend in developing solar energy and wind power technology.

Effectively Replacing Petroleum

oil drillingI need not strain myself by explaining that people and governments are both stubborn when it comes to going green. Global warming is nearly an impossible sell and as for energy, well, “if it ain’t cheap, it won’t compete.” Governments, worldwide apparently do not have the cajones to legislate a significant cut in oil consumption. And while the global oil supply is not actually running out, it is getting harder to find. Drill drill drill, that’s been the motto for as far back as we can remember. Now oil companies are anxious to begin drilling in the North Pole, the only untouched continent in the world.

Given the global aloofness to environmental concern, oil will only disappear as a necessity for transportation fuel when someone replaces it with a power-packed, cheap, stored energy alternative, which is easy to handle and quick to refuel with. These, my friends, are the facts.

As far as energy cost goes, the one obvious choice for replacing diesel and gasoline is pure battery electricity. Electric vehicles can be recharged from the grid for much less than the cost of gasoline or diesel from the pump. However electric vehicles and their batteries ARE expensive.

Currently lithium-based rechargeable batteries are used. And they cost an arm and a leg. They are costly because of the combination of using a rare, expensive metal combined with an involved production process. So what’s the cost solution? How about, Rechargeable Zinc-Air batteries!

It has long been thought that zinc battery chemistries could not be electrochemically recharged. ReVolt Technologies of Norway, proudly denies this myth. They have developed zinc-air technology which is indeed rechargeable. They have developed a technology which may be used to power anything from cars to cellular phones. ReVolt claims that their zinc-air chemistry has twice the amount of stored energy than conventional Lithium-ion batteries.

ReVolt is trying to break into the U.S. electric vehicle market; they are opening up a U.S. headquarters in Portland, Oregon. Currently the company is applying for $30 million in grants from the US Department of Energy (DOE) under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), in order to speed up the commercialization process of its large format zinc-air batteries for energy storage and electric vehicle applications.

Not Just a Piece of Scum

The race is on to find a way to mass produce affordable fuel from pond algae. Sound strange? Here’s the scoop:
Factors such as fluctuating oil prices and the hopes of easing climate change have caused the hunt for creative knew energy sources.

pond scumThe icky pond scum known as algae grows remarkably fast and is full of fat; for these reasons scientists have cause to believe that it has a huge potential as a renewable energy source. The objective will be to find a COST-EFFECTIVE way to convert the lipids found in algae ponds into fuel. Then the fuel may be pumped into cars, trucks and jets. Pretty cool!

Algae is remarkable for its ability to quickly devour carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas caused by the burning of fossil-fuels. Also it grows in places that are not used for growing food crops, for example, dirty pools and waste water.

Taking Action

Last summer ExxonMobil declared that it would invest 600 million dollars into algae research, in a partnership with a California biotechnology company. A chemical engineer named George Philippidis, director of applied research at Florida International University in Miami said:

“I think it’s very realistic. I don’t think it’s going to take 20 years. It’s going to take a few years…we could hook up to the exhaust of polluting industries…we could capture it and feed it to algae and prevent that CO2 from contributing to further climate change.”

Sapphire Energy, a smart California company, fueled a cross-country road trip with, get this, algae-tinged gasoline. So while still in its formative stages, we at least know that the idea will work. Sapphire Energy’s cross country journey was meant to raise awareness, and it prompted the headline, “Coast to Coast on Slime.” A different California company is looking for a way to fatten fish on algae and then process the fish for oil. Poor fish, lucky Earth.

The Hurdle
Of course the process of converting algae into usable fuel will not be simple. There is a small stumbling-block which is not unique, and that would be the $$$ factor. Although the stuff grows incredibly fast, currently it costs $100 to make a gallon of algae fuel. This is by no means a savings.

Roy Swiger, a molecular geneticist and director of the Florida division of the non-profit Midwest Research Institute said,

“It would not make sense to spend five dollars of electricity to run a centrifuge to dry out algae, that in turn would only produce one dollar of fuel.”

Mazda Premacy, a Hydrogen Hyrbid

Mazda Premacy Hydrogen RE HybridThe Mazda Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid. It is touted as the most
advanced minivan ever created. You can put either gasoline it, or hydrogen, doesn’t matter which. (Different tanks. Can’t mix gasoline and hydrogen in the same tank. Bad news.) It runs on both. If you fill it with hydrogen, it becomes a zero-emissions vehicle, with a range of 120 miles. The big problem with the hydrogen tank, though, is that hydrogen, as we all know, is a gas.

Gases take up a lot more volume than liquids, since the molecules are so far apart. You can do what you can to squish them together, but you can’t squish them that hard with just a metal tank, because you’re not going to suddenly squish it back into a liquid. That would require much more energy than the hydrogen itself provides, and the last thing you want is a car running on liquid hydrogen.

Start messing around with that, and if you get into an accident, big explosions and such. And liquid hydrogen is very, very cold. And very, very big explosions. Insurance companies won’t be happy and people will probably die.

But anyway. Along with the 150 liter hydrogen tank, it’s got a 25 liter gasoline tank, and an electric battery for hybrid purposes. Though, until hydrogen refueling stations become the norm, the car has limited appeal to those without easy access to some hydrogen. Make the battery a bit bigger, and this car is basically the same as the Chevy Volt, which runs 40 miles on an electric motor and then switches to gas.

Nissan Turns a New Leaf

Nissan Leaf

Looks like the world is waking up from it’s gasoline gorging party. Slowly, but surely. The latest step happened just today, with Nissan’s unveiling of its 2010 Leaf. (Get the title now?) It’s a cute little hatchback, but it’s not a clown car, as it comfortably seats 4 to 5 people (depending on tush size, of course). While electric cars have been around for years as concept cars, this signals a serious change because they are just now approaching economical and mass produced, with Nissan hoping to get the Leaf up to 100,000 units produced a year.

It can go about 100 miles on one “tank,” and with 80% of US drivers traveling less than 100km a day, the Leaf fits most potential consumers in terms of distance. But let’s talk about the charge cycle for a second. The battery is 50 kW and can do a fast-charge in 30 minutes. The executives are working with local governments in the States and around the world to help build supporting infrastructure, though they’re not going to maintain them with their own wallet. That’ll be the cities’ job.

Now for costs. As for the cost of the car, Nissan’s keeping a gag rule on that. Let’s say the upscale gasoline cars are about 48 miles per gallon. At 1000km (620 miles), that’s about $63 a month. The cost of charging a Leaf to go the same distance is about $13 by those numbers.

Leaf Electricity Plug

For countries with no power infrastructure for these cars, people who still want one can always charge up at home, and even program it to charge in the middle of the night to take advantage of lower energy costs.

The batteries, however, are prohibitively expensive at $10,000 for a replacement. To take care of that little glitch, Nissan plans to lease the batteries to Leaf owners and exchange them for new ones as part of a maintenance fee.

Obama’s Ambitious Energy and Environment Plans

President Barack ObamaU.S. President Barack Obama may still be trying to sort out the American economy, but he hasn’t gone back on his promise to use his executive powers and influence to develop renewable energy programs as well as those more friendly to the environment. In a speech he gave on March 19th, the President said:

“So we have a choice to make. We can remain one of the world’s leading importers of foreign oil, or we can make the investments that would allow us to become the world’s leading exporter of renewable energy.”

The new administration has already taken steps in the right direction by drafting the American Recovery and Investment Act which has earmarked $60 Billion for projects that will not only help stimulate the economy, but to do so with projects which will be more environmentally friendly while saving tax paying dollars. Some of these projects include:

  • $ 11 billion for constructing energy saving electricity grids for urban environments, as well as more efficient electricity meters in homes
  • $ 5 billion to better “weatherize” low income homes
  • $4.5 billion to make federal building more “green” to save further on energy bills
  • $ 600 million for “green” job training programs
  • $2 billion for developing the next generation of more efficient storage batteries

In addition, fuel economy standards on motor vehicles are to be raised, to require new cars and trucks to be more fuel efficient as well are burning cleaner. Special incentives are to given for developing vehicles like hybrids and totally electric ones; as well as increasing efficiency standards for electrical appliances like refrigerators and dishwashers.

On Earth Day 2009, the President announced a program that would involve developing projects in the oceans off America’s coastline to utilize the energy of waves, ocean currents and wind power. Solar energy projects are also high on the President’s list for clean, alternative energy.

Emphasis on renewable and alternative energy projects is hoped to reduce pollution caused by carbon based fuels, as well as reducing dependence on foreign oil Energy independence appears to be at the top of the list as well as creating a cleaner environment. Let’s all hope these projects will result in a much cleaner environment as well as be beneficial to the economy.