Alternative-fuels like bio-diesel (from algae) and ethanol/methanol (cellulosic ethanol) would allow us to quickly displace a great quantity of petroleum while continuing to utilize our existing distribution infrastructure.
Ethanol-fuel vehicles have existed for decades, and have been used with great success in sugar-cane ethanol rich Brazil since the 1980’s. Known as “Flex-Fuel” this technology allows a greater combination of ethanol mixed with gasoline (up to 85% ethanol) to be used safely in a standard internal combustion engine, while adding as little as $100 to the cost per vehicle in upgraded fuel system parts. (The current estimate is that there are approx. 7.5 million Flex-Fuel vehicles on American roads today… you may be driving a Flex-Fuel vehicle and not know it.)
One of the biggest problems with Flex-Fuel and ethanol in general is the “decrease in MPG” blamed on ethanol “containing less energy” than an equal quantity of gasoline. You’ll suffer a loss in MPG (but a substantial gain in MPGG) by using ethanol-blends in Flex-Fuel engines because gasoline engines are not designed to take advantage of one of the particular strengths of alcohol-blended fuels – tolerance for higher compression ratio.
Engines designed to be fueled with higher-octane alcohol blends are designed with higher compression ratios, able to squeeze more energy out of the fuel, improving efficiency and producing a greater amount of power. Ricardo recently announced they have developed an engine that takes advantage of the physics, and have developed an ethanol-fueled engine with superior efficiencies…
Ricardo says this engine, which it dubbed the Ethanol Boost Direct Injection engine, or EBDI, is tuned to make the most out of ethanol’s properties where it has an edge on other fuels. Ethanol has a higher octane rating than diesel or gas, so it’s more likely to ignite at just the right point in the engine’s combustion cycle. Diesel and gasoline can sometimes ignite earlier or later than intended, causing knocking noises in the engine. Automakers compensate with knock detection systems, but those can cut an engine’s efficiency.
Ricardo will be testing this new engine in a heavy-duty GMC truck, expecting an 18% improvement in efficiency with the new ethanol-powered engine over the stock gasoline engine.
The engine runs best on a blend with gasoline that is 30% to 50% ethanol, but, Ricardo says, can run on anything from all gas to all ethanol. Ricardo is bringing a GMC Sierra 3500HD pickup to the Washington, D.C., auto show this week that will be outfitted with its V-6 ethanol engine. On gas, it says, the GMC truck gets about 12.7 miles per gallon. On all ethanol, it would get about 12.1 mpg, the company says. But with an optimum blend, it says the engine could get 15 mpg.
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Take a look at this graph of average gas prices courtesy of GasBuddy.com and you’ll see that prices continue to rebound from the “crash” of 2008… which shouldn’t be a shock to anyone.
Not much has changed as far as our “oil addiction” since the “crash”. Looking back, it seems that Cash for Clunkers was the only national attempt at dealing with oil’s monopoly since the collapse, and the merits of that program as an energy policy are laughable.
It took a global economic collapse to undercut the oil gouging, something we can not afford to repeat. (I continue to assert that the uncertainty of affordable fuels contributed to the economic tsunami that brought world markets to their knees that summer.)
What are we going to do to shift oil from a strategic political and economic weapon to just “another” commodity that must compete with alternative sources?
1. I’ve long been a proponent of Flex-Fuel vehicles, since they offer the simple option to use purely petroleum based gasoline or alternative alcohol-blended (up to 85%) gasoline replacement fuels. Manufacturers “promised” to add Flex-Fuel capabilities into much of their fleets by 2010, yet most only add the systems to the most inefficient models, taking “credit” for making their fleet more efficient instead. Having Flex-Fuel vehicles on the road in great numbers will be an incentive for stations to carry more alcohol-blends, and at the same time allow motorists to travel far and wide without worry that they won’t find a filling station specific to their vehicle while the network of supply is created by the opportunity to serve this demand.
2. Small efficient diesel engines are hot sellers in Europe – 50% of all new car sales across the pond are diesels. Why? Because they are clean, quiet, powerful, last a long time, and get upwards of 65 to 80 MPG every day of the week. Plus you can fuel them with bio-diesel, and reduce the amount of petroleum based diesel fuel. Again, you can travel far and wide, taking advantage of bio-diesel when available – an incentive for stations to carry the product. Since bio-diesel is made closer to home, distribution is cheaper, jobs are created locally, and competition controls costs.
3. Hybrids are great technology for getting slightly better mileage from a gallon of gas – but they are all still 100% petroleum-dependent. Flex-Fuel Electric or Diesel Electric hybrids would allow motorists to offset even more of their oil addiction to alternatives, not just kick the can down the road a little further.
4. 100% electric vehicles are still not a replacement for the family car in most cases. High costs, limited range, and long recharging times limit options and create a situation where drivers must change habits (and hardware) to participate. Plus there is the battery problem, making exotic metal ore addiction the replacement for oil addiction.
5. Conservation (aka: eco-driving) is first-aid remedy immediately available for free (better than free when you consider the money savings) available to everyone right now. With modest changes to your driving habits, you can increase your fuel mileage 5% to over 25% no matter what you prefer to drive (including Hummers and Hybrids). And while “ecodriving” sounds like “hypermiling” to some people, in fact eco-driving is easy, courteous, and safer driving. It does require you to pay attention to operating your car (shouldn’t you be?), but relieves you from the urge to compete against those other drivers around you, and instead compete against the gas pump.
In the end, as we approach the future still addicted to oil we limit our geopolitical power and remain at the mercy of markets we do not have much control over politically. We have been at war for years thanks to oil, with no end in sight. While our planets poorest nations are prime real-estate for several bio-fuel industries that could lead them from poverty to prosperity, the “powers that be” lobby and maneuver to protect their monopoly on your mobility.
What are you doing to make progress? What do you see as our future?
Source: CNET Green Tech
Last year, Lotus announced the development of its Omnivore engine, the name denoting flex fuel capability. Today Lotus released test results for the engine, along with the kind of detail on how it operates only an engineer could love. These test results cover the first phase of testing the Omnivore engine with gasoline. Presumably, testing with fuels derived from alcohol and other sources are in the next phases.
In Lotus’ lab, the Omnivore engine brought in 10 percent better fuel economy than current direct injection engines, which are the most efficient on the market.
Two-stroke engines have twice as many “power strokes” at any given RPM when compared to the common four-stroke engines, making them more powerful and naturally efficient. (The engine is not “wasting” as much energy moving the piston up and down in power-robbing intake and scavenging strokes.) Two-strokes are smaller and lighter when compared to four-stroke engine of similar horsepower, and have fewer moving parts that simplifies the inner workings, making them cheaper to build and maintain.
In the past, the problem has always been pollution – it was considered near-impossible to build a two-stroke engine that could meet modern emission standards. Apparently Lotus is solving this problem:
Omnivore also uses a two-stroke, rather than a four stroke cycle, but still manages to turn in emission levels equivalent to modern production engines.
This Lotus prototype engine uses an ignition system called “homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI), meaning that instead of igniting its fuel charge with a spark plug, the compression of the cylinder causes the charge to ignite, similar to a diesel engine.”
More good news – the prototype is a flex-fuel engine, which would allow the owner/operator to choose what kind of fuel preferred to power it with – fossil-fuel gasoline (and diesel?) or bio-mass alcohol (ethanol/methanol) or a combination of the two.
Flex-fuel engines already exist, the problem with the current crop is that they are engineered as gasoline engines, and re-programmed to also run on alcohol blends – meaning that mechanically they are still designed for the lower compression ratios required to run on modern gasoline blends. Alcohol fuels have “less energy” per gallon than gasoline, but can run at a much higher compression ratios, allowing a properly-built alcohol engine to “gain” additional efficiency and reduce the “MPG” gap with gasoline.
The Lotus engine can apparently modify it’s compression ratio thanks to what they call the “puck” – or the “variable compression mechanism…at the top of the cylinder which dynamically changes the displacement depending on running conditions.”
Once again innovative engineering is proving that there still are many ways to improve fuel efficiency with the internal combustion engines, and there are no technical reasons we can’t be driving cars that get 60+ MPG regularly. The “fuel efficiency flat-line” from the mid-1980’s until just recently was due to something else – not because it was “technically impossible” to build more efficient engines.
Last year I had a quick conversation with Bob Casper, President of POET Ethanol Products, after a conference where he had said that the ethanol industry in America was about to meet the current 10% blend-wall mandate, providing all the fuel the market could use, while continuing to improve efficiencies and producing more fuel with fewer resources.
I asked him what his single greatest challenge is, and he told me that the industry was about to have excess capacity, without any real FFV progress, the blend-wall for non-FFV vehicle fuel needed to be raised to 12% or 15% in order to create room for the industry to continue to grow, to encourage continued innovation and investment.
One of the challenges of increasing the blend-wall is certifying that the existing equipment like pumps, tanks, and dispensing machines can operate without problems due to the higher alcohol content. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) creates standards for this kind of equipment, and recently announced it will support the sale of E15 in existing approved 87-regular gasoline systems.
Underwriters Laboratories (UL) says it will support the sale of 15% ethanol blends through “legacy” dispensers, as long as those pumps meet current UL standards for the sale of 87-regular gasoline. The decision by the Chicago-based standards-setting group is a major coup for marketers and ethanol suppliers, who have pushed for UL approval of higher blend sales. UL has tested pumps up to a 15% blend but until now has said it will only give its stamp of approval to dispensers cleared for 10% ethanol fuel, the current limit for non-flex fuel vehicles under the Clean Air Act.
There are other challenges, from auto manufacturer warranties, to congressional action still needed, to consumers potentially noticing reduced mileage from using a greater percentage of alcohol in their low-compression gasoline engines. (While “miles-per-gallon” may slip, the “miles-per-gallon-of-gasoline” will increase significantly.)
One of the common arguments against ethanol/methanol is that we “don’t have enough arable crop land to produce enough ethanol to replace our projected demand for oil without starving to death first”.
In a way this is true, but it misses the point. We don’t have to replace all oil with alcohol (or anything for that matter), we just have to displace enough of it to reduce the strategic value of oil, making oil a plentiful commodity instead of an economic weapon.
Here’s an interesting idea from FFV Club of America that illustrates how Flex Fuel technology can effectively increase your “miles per gallon of gasoline” to over 100 MPGG.
I get 100+ miles per gallon of gasoline (MPGG) using E85, so I use less gasoline and more domestically produced alternative fuels.
When using E85 in my FFV I can get 100+ MPGG (miles to the gallon of gasoline). After all, the challenge is about gallons per gasoline not only miles per gallon. For example. The 20 gallon fuel tank on my Dodge minivan takes 17 gallons of ethanol and 3 gallons of gasoline (E85). I normally average about 20 miles per gallon and go about 400 miles on that tank full. Even if I assume a 20% loss in mileage (truthfully I do not check or care, I just use E85 when I can) I go about 320 miles on those 3 gallons of gasoline or about 106 MPGG. Now that is progress and I have one of the highest miles per gallon of gasoline cars on the road!
In essence, you’re going much further on each gallon of petroleum-based gasoline but “cutting” it with biomass-based alcohol.
I like this so much I’m adding the capability to measure and track “MPGG” using FuelClinic in a future update.
Daydreaming: Imagine the kind of MPGG possible if the existing gasoline-hybrids like the Toyota Prius were also Flex Fuel capable (they are not). Taking the daydream one step further, how about a plug-in flex-fuel hybrid… (Need to stabilize E85 in storage, to prevent moisture from being absorbed, but otherwise – it’s possible today to build such a vehicle.)
Calculating MPGG also helps debunk another frequent argument against alcohol-blends that, gallon for gallon, drivers will actually see a decrease in mileage using ethanol/methanol vs. straight gasoline.
Note: It is true, generally speaking, that in existing gasoline powered automobiles you will get “fewer miles per gallon” using ethanol/methanol, but only because gasoline powered cars are engineered to efficiently use lower-octane gasoline as a fuel. If cars were engineered to take advantage of the higher octane/higher compression ratios possible with ethanol, the efficiency would rival that of gasoline. There’s nothing “wrong” with alcohol as a fuel, just ask IndyCar Racing, it’s just not apples-to-apples to compare fuel efficiency in engines that are not tailored to take advantage of the different properties of each fuel.
If the goal is to reduce oil consumption, control oil prices, cut carbon emissions, and help ourselves and our nation economically, then thinking about the ability of your Flex Fuel car to “off-set” oil by a substantial margin with each mile you drive makes each fill-up a little more satisfying.
What do you think about MPGG, ethanol/methanol, or Flex Fuel technologies?
Would measuring mileage by MPGG make refueling a little more satisfying to you, or am I just nuts?
As always, your comments are important and greatly encouraged. :)
Michigan State University has submitted a patent application for “a process for increasing production of sugars from cellulose in a plant biomass using ammonia after swelling of the biomass with water and enzymatic hydrolysis is described. The sugars are preferably fermented to an alcohol, particularly ethanol as a fuel for vehicles.”
Biomass is roughly translated into nearly any organic material – including the parts of plants we harvest but do not use as food or feed.
A process by which whole plants are harvested as a biomass and processed together as one unit so that sugars are generated and then optionally fermented to an alcohol which comprises:(a) soaking the biomass in water for a period of time so as to increase the water within the biomass and to enhance sugar production from the biomass;(b) treating the plant biomass with concentrated ammonia under pressure in a closed vessel and then relieving the pressure to provide a treated plant biomass with recovery of the ammonia;(c) hydrolyzing the treated plant biomass in the presence of water to sugars using a combination of enzymes which hydrolyze cellulose, hemicellulose and other carbohydrates in the biomass to produce sugars; and(d) optionally fermenting the sugars to produce the alcohol.
Such a process would allow ethanol fuel manufacturers to grow a wider variety of crops that could be used as fuel stock in fermenting ethanol and methanol fuels – as well as possibly turning harvested scraps, lawn clippings, and other biomass into fuel stock.Â ThisÂ couldÂ potentially remove some ofÂ “food-related” arguments from the opposition of alcohol-based fuel technologies, and encourage a wider mandate and adoption of flex-fueled vehicles.Â
The growing U.S. appetite for petroleum, together with demand growth in China, India, and the rest of the world, has pushed prices to new highs. The United States uses over 20 million barrels of petroleum per day, of which 58% is imported. Prices of oil are significant and continue to rise. Bioethanol is one of the low cost, consumer-friendly ways to reduce gasoline consumption and carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. It is a clean fuel that can be used in today’s cars. One of the many attributes of bioethanol is that it does not contribute net carbon dioxide to the atmosphere
By making America a flex-fuel vehicle market, we will effectively make flex-fuel the international standard, as all significant foreign car makers would be impelled to convert their lines over as well. Around the world, gasoline would be forced to compete at the pump against alcohol fuels made from any number of sources, including not only current commercial crops like corn and sugar, but cellulosic ethanol made from crop residues and weeds, as well as methanol, which can be made from any kind of biomass without exception, as well as coal, natural gas, and recycled urban trash. By creating such an open-source fuel market, we can enormously expand and diversify humanity’s fuel resource base, protecting all nations from continued robbery by the oil cartel.
To save America we need to break the oil monopoly. To break the monopoly, we need to create fuel choice. As the economic disaster unfolds, and Middle East power grows by billions daily, there is no time for further delay. Therefore, we call upon the US Congress to take patriotic action and pass the Open Fuel Standard Act now.
As alcohol-based fuels manufacturing matures, newer more efficient farming methods geared specifically toward renewable energy sources will increase the amount of fuel-per-acre produced.
One slide from a recent energy independance conference projected a 428%+ increase in corn crop yield per acre for corn-based ethanol per acre possible withinÂ the next 20Â years asÂ new seed types, farming methods, and distilling technology are developed.
â€œWe know yield is what matters,â€ said Tracy Mader, marketing manager for Agrisure Corn Traits. â€œWeâ€™ve taken great care in leveraging the science of trait integration technology with the art of plant breeding to produce hybrids built for yield. Knowing that Syngenta scientists have set rigorous standards and work with only elite genetics, growers can have complete confidence in their crop yields.â€
Over the next few year you’ll see a change at your local gas stations as more alcohol-blended fuel pumps are installed across the nation. Alcohol-blended fuels like E85 are already available in some areas, and more are coming to market as more FFVs are sold in the United States.
US based manufacturers have committed to making 50% of their new autos FFVs by 2010 and and 85% by 2012. In addition, there is proposed legislation called the Open Fuel Standard Act which will mandate all cars sold in America meet the same goals, so this will mean that all imports sold in the US will meet the same FFV standard. (You can help support this legislation here.)
Since FFV is an widely available and mature technology (there are already millions of FFVs on the road in the US – you mayÂ be driving one), adding the capability to all new vehicles sold in the US doesn’t add notably to the cost of making new cars (usually about $100) – and provides a way for auto manufactures to “green-up” their product lines.
Drivers of FFVs will be able to choose what fuel to buy, based on price at the pump, performance needs, personal preference, etc. – just like shopping for any other commodity. You’ll be able to mix E85 with E10 (the current flavor of gasoline almost everywhere in the US) and newer alternative blends like E25 or M50. Using FFV technology, your car will automatically adjust your engines settings to run properly on any combination of gasoline and alcohol fuels.
Unlike more exotic alternative fuels like compressed hydrogen or natural gas, drivers of FFVs are not stuck on a virtual “energy island” of specialized refueling stations. You will be able to travel freely, just like today, as far and wide as you like – choosing your favorite blend of alcohol fuels as you go – or using straight gasoline where no other choice exists.
So if your next car has an engine that burns liquid fuel, makes sure it is “future proof” and check that it’s a Flex-Fuel Vehicle before you buy it, or else you’ll be left withoutÂ options at the pump when the alcohol-blended fuels hit the wider market.
I’m home from the Energy Freedom Summit in Chicago with so much material and information that it’ll take me weeks to digest, understand, summarize, and disseminate it to you. Let me start with a “sound-bite” sized summary of the theme of the conference…
Once was a time when nations went to war over salt. Seriously.
Until the 19th century salt was a strategic commodity much like oil is today. Salt was required to preserve meat – and preserved meat was required to allow armies to march. Salt was required for societies to grow beyond traditional collectives, and salt was required to store, transport, and sell meat that could not be consumed immediately. Wars were indeed fought over salt, and those nations with large salt reserves had tremendous political and economic prosperity – and power over those who needed their salt – much like countries with oil do today.
So, what happened to change the world, and strip salt of it’s strategic importance?
New technologies were invented which made salt unnecessary for food preservation. The invention of electricity, refrigeration, canning, and other preservative technologies forever changed the world, and salt became just another freely traded commodity like we are accustomed to today.
You can still preserve your meats with salt if you wanted to, but most choose to refrigerate it.
Today we find ourselves in a 19th-century dilemma again, where oil has replaced salt as a global strategic commodity, and where the trade in this commodity is tightly controlled in order to weild political and economic power.
Oil’s strategic value stems from it’s monopoly in the transportation sector. This monopoly gives the petrocrats that control OPEC and the bulk of world oil reserves unacceptable power over the global economy.
How exactly can we “turn oil into salt”. The answer is surprisingly simple and familiar – by using technology to provide fuel choice thru Flex Fuel Vehicles (FFV) and plug-in hybrid w/ FFV engines or new 100% electric vehicles (EV).
“Future-Proof” Flex Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) keep to a liquid-fuels based technology that is no different from the norm today. The element of “choice” is created by allowing drivers to decide what type of fuel to consume, with options ranging from straight gasoline (no change from existing habits) to a variety of blends of alcohol/gasoline like E25, E85, M50. FFV technology does not restrict auto manufactures in any way – they can make any variety of vehicle they’d want, from scooters to Hummers.
Plug-in Hybrids w/ FFV engines (similar to the Prius Plug-In) move the hybrid technology forward by decoupling the vehicle from the gasoline pump. With a plug-in hybrid, you can choose to recharge your car using your residential electricity. For distances greater than your battery capacity, your hybrid will switch to using it’s FFV engine, where you’ll have the same fuel options of non-hybrid FFV’s.
Electric Vehicles (EVs) (like these from an auto show earlier this year) are quite different and have no engine and require no liquid fuels on board. Instead they have bigger and better batteries and electric motor(s) which meet commuting needs of most Americans, and are recharged at home or at specialized recharging stations around town. This option allows a “no-oil” choice, as your car is recharged by the power grid. (The power grid is of course fueled somehow, in the U.S. usually natural gas, hydro-electric, coal or nuclear.)
At this point, when there are a variety of ways to power your vehicle, gasoline will have to compete with other forms of fuel that are not completely controlled by “big-oil”. As in Brazil, market forces will control costs and create a vigorous new-energy economy. Consumers decide what fuel to buy, based on a variety of reasons they get to determine.
When consumers have a choice and a real alternative to replace 100% gasoline, oil will no longer be a strategic commodity and it will be forced to be valued competitively, just like salt.
Fuel or folly?
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
In the pantheon of well-intentioned governmental policies gone awry, massive ethanol biofuel production may go down as one of the biggest blunders in history. An unholy alliance of environmentalists, agribusiness, biofuel corporations and politicians has been touting ethanol as the cure to all our environmental ills, when in fact it may be doing more harm than good. An array of unintended consequences is wreaking havoc on the economy, food production and, perhaps most ironically, the environment.
E85 is an alternative fuel for many of todays production cars. It’s 85% ethanol that is created from crops, and 15% gasoline. There are many cars on the road in America today that can burn either gasoline or E85 – these are “flex-fuel” cars. You may own one of these cars, and not even know it.Â
E85 is the term for motor fuel blends of 85 percent ethanol and just 15 percent gasoline. E85 is an alternative fuel as defined by the U.S. Department of Energy. Besides its superior performance characteristics, ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline; it is a completely renewable, domestic, environmentally friendly fuel that enhances the nation’s economy and energy independence.
You can find out if your car is a flex-fuel car by contacting the dealer where you bought you car and asking them if your’s is a flex-fuel car, or by checking this resources at this site about E85 fuels.
If your car is a flex-fuel car, you can find a service station in your area that sells E85 fuel. Hopefully there is one close enough to you to be convienent.
E85Â hasÂ one major drawback, it’s that you won’t go as farÂ per gallon. E85 may cost you as much as 30% in MPG, althoughÂ this can be offset by lower pump prices, with a net gain of going farther for less money.Â
E85 is aÂ step in the right direction forÂ drivers who want to help reduce our dependence on foreign oil and at the same timeÂ curb the amount of emissions you personally contribute to the global pollution problem.Â