Energy Fair attracts thousands

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112429816621040.jpg’, ‘Photo by Becca Pierson’, ‘Onlookers admire the Toyota Prius at this year’s Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Fair at the Ogle County Fairgrounds Aug. 13-14. The Prius is a "full" hybrid vehicle that includes a much larger motor than traditional vehicles yet omits less than 90 percent less nitrogen oxide and 50 percent less carbon dioxide. ‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112429836621036.jpg’, ‘Photo by Frank Schier’, ‘Tony Rockwell proudly stands by the display of his conversion machine that turns vegetable oil into a bio-fuel that any diesel engine can burn.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112429844221035.jpg’, ‘Photo by Frank Schier’, ‘Fairgoers enjoy renewable energy products on display at the Ogle County Fairgrounds. ‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112429850121036.jpg’, ‘Photo by Frank Schier’, ‘Hunter Lovins, author of Natural Capitalism, calls for organizing talent and the economy for their mutual benefit. ‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112429867621035.jpg’, ‘Photo by Frank Schier’, ‘Ralph Bonner sang classic kids’ song such as "Froggy Went a Courtin'" in a wonderful session that the children and adults loved at the Renewable Energy Fair. Bonner serves as CEO of the famous Dr. Bonner’s Magic Soap, a company founded by his father. His tales of his father, his own life and philanthropy inspired many at the Fair.’);

Fourth annual Illinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Living Fair held in Ogle County

With record high gasoline prices and the Byron nuclear power plant cooling towers as a backdrop, more than 2,300 people, up 12 percent from last year, attended the 4th annual Illinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Living Fair at the Ogle County Fairgrounds Aug. 13-14. The fair featured 55 workshops and speakers, children’s programs, food vendors, a dozen hybrid and biodiesel motor vehicles, and more than 100 exhibit displays.

Exhibits ranged from the virtues of organic farming and earth-sheltered homes, to the latest in biodiesel fuel production. With gasoline prices climbing nearly every week with no end in sight, one of the more intriguing exhibits featured a system many motorists may soon consider as an alternative to the local gas station.

Gas prices and

personal biodiesel production

Exhibitor Tony Rockwell, owner and operator Azure Biodiesel Company in Sully, Iowa, told the story of an Iowa truck driver and his wife who recently switched from burning petroleum diesel to biodiesel fuel during the trucker’s four weekly round trips from his Iowa home to Chicago.

By using biodiesel fuel rather than petroleum diesel, Rockwell estimated the family is saving $720 per week in fuel expenses, while emitting 80 percent less pollutants into the air.

At the Fair, Rockwell was selling a refrigerator-sized apparatus that converts waste vegetable oil into cleaner burning diesel fuel for use in any diesel engine—cars, trucks or electrical generators. Rockwell said for $2,995 the “Fuelmeister,” 40-gallon personal biodiesel production system will process any vegetable oil into useable diesel fuel for less than $1 per gallon, which Rockwell pointed out is significantly less than paying $2.50 or more for petroleum-based diesel fuel. An 80-gallon unit is priced at $3,995. Depending on use, each device has a three-month to one-year payback.

Rockwell said the trucker’s wife quit her old job to work full time making the biodiesel fuel, which includes collecting vegetable grease from restaurants. Rockwell said many restaurants often pay contractors to haul waste grease from their facility. Instead, Rockwell said the trucker and his wife offer to haul the grease at no charge to the restaurant operator.

After the grease is collected, it is filtered and placed into the biodiesel production system, where it chemically reacts with methyl alcohol to produce biodiesel fuel and glycerin. The glycerin is considered a waste product, which can be used for lubrication purposes, or for production of soap or other products.

Rockwell said the biodiesel production system, which consists of two closed funnel-like containers mounted on metal stands, can make up to 40 gallons of biodiesel fuel in 24 hours.

With approximately 3.6 billion gallons of used vegetable oil produced each year in the United States, Rockwell said the future is promising for his two-year-old business. He added there are only 500 to 600 personal biodiesel production systems in use nationwide.

In addition to biodiesel and hybrid electric motor vehicles, the fair featured several exhibits for homeowners and builders. According to one exhibitor, one way to beat the heat and cold, and save on energy, is to live partially underground, otherwise known as an earth-sheltered home.

Earth-sheltered homes

Marty Davis, owner of Davis Caves Construction of Armington, Ill., said his business offers more than 80 floor plans for earth-sheltered homes ranging from 670 to 5,000 square feet. Davis said the homes, which are covered with at least 3 feet of earth on the roof and 3 sides of the building, can save from 50 to 80 percent in energy costs, and additional savings on exterior maintenance.

Davis added the homes also offer shelter from storms and tornadoes, as well as security advantages and resistance to exterior fires. He added that fears of lack of natural light, water seepage and radon gas are addressed through design construction by using strategically placed windows, drainage tile, water-absorbing betonite rock and installation of a subterranean air circulation system.

According to Davis, the energy savings is derived primarily from the insulating properties of the earth, which is approximately 58 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, 8 feet below the ground. This means the air temperature of the home doesn’t need to be raised or lowered as much as conventional homes to maintain comfortable conditions.

Davis invited the curious to spend the night at the earth-sheltered Jackson House Bed and Breakfast in downstate Alton, Ill.

While the fair featured more than 100 exhibits, speakers also informed attendees about trends in renewable energy and sustainable living.

Sustainable living

Keynote speaker Aug. 14 was United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization professor Charles Hopkins of York University in Toronto. Hopkins coordinates sustainable development efforts of 36 teacher education institutions in 35 countries, and 25 Canadian university networks.

Hopkins tried to define sustainable living in a world in which only 8 percent of the world’s 6.4 billion people have discretionary income to support such a lifestyle, and where one-third cannot properly dispose of sewage. The improper disposal of human sewage greatly increases the risk of transmitting debilitating and fatal diseases, primarily from insects that feed on the waste, to humans who have contact with the insects.

Hopkins said: “Sustainability, in its simplest definition, means not living beyond the means of ongoing support.” In other words, the quantity and type of resources consumed is equal to the quantity and type of resources generated.

Hopkins described how the three aspects of sustainable living—environment, economics and society—interact toward the goal of achieving universal human rights, protecting the environment, spurring economic growth and overcoming corruption.

He added many factors play a role in supplying reliable sources of energy for the world’s people, which include energy education, public awareness and training programs.

As China and India continue to develop, all nations that depend on oil to drive their economies will need to find more sustainable forms of energy if the standard of living in those countries is to be maintained and increased, due to limited oil supplies.

One of those sustainable forms of energy is light, which may be captured by solar panels to power all types of electrical machines. With the signing of the recent $14.5 billion federal energy bill, solar exhibitors are as confident as biodiesel proponents about the future.

Solar energy

Mark Burger, sales manager for Spire Solar Chicago and president of the Solar Energy Association, said renewable energy sources are available “here and now” throughout the area.

“We are on the verge of a great expansion of markets, where the average homeowner can now start thinking about this stuff. …They can start looking at putting solar, wind and other kinds of renewable energy on their property. Also, in terms of the vehicle that they drive,” Burger said.

Addressing the federal energy bill, Burger said: “It could have been a lot better. …Renewables got some incentives, which wasn’t much. But considering we got virtually nothing for 20 years, it’s a start. …I guess in my mind it’s a question of whether we will remain competitive with countries in Europe and Asia in terms of retaining market share in these multi-billion industries or not. That’s the question.”

Burger said he has attended all four of the Energy Fairs, which were organized by Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl. Burger said the fair has steadily grown in attendance from about 1,000 to more than 2,300 people this year.

The Vogls have written a weekly article concerning renewable energy for The Rock River Times for more than three years. The couple also established the Illinois Renewable Energy Association in 2002.

The newspaper was and remains one of the original sponsors of the Energy Fair.

Frank Schier, editor and publisher of The Rock

River Times, began advocating renewable energy shortly after the 9/11 attacks in the fall of 2001. Schier advocated retooling Rockford industries for producing renewable energy products and services in an effort to spur local economic growth, lessen dependence on foreign and domestic oil, and address issues related to human-induced global climate change.

As Hopkins asserted during his presentation, education and public awareness are of the keys to achieving sustainable living to which Schier and the Vogls are committed. That commitment is catching on with other local institutions, including Rock Valley Community College, which displayed its new renewable energy education trailer.

Education trailer

Robert Lindstrom, program director for Rebuild Rockford at Rock Valley College, demonstrated in their portable trailer how to capture and use “real-time” energy. Displaying on his computer video screen, Lindstrom showed how nearly 20 percent of the energy used for displays in the trailer was obtained from solar panels on an overcast day.

Other displays in the trailer included a solar powered electrolyzer that was used to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen gas. The hydrogen gas was used to power a fuel cell, which was used to power a light bulb that illuminated a mini solar panel hooked up to the electrolyzer.

The Vogls plan to make the 2006 Energy Fair bigger and better than ever to keep the public informed regarding the most recent developments about renewable energy and sustainable living.

Lindstrom, and many others in attendance this year, plan to be at next year’s Energy Fair. For a complete list of vendors and participants at this year’s Fair, visit the Illinois Renewable Energy Association’s Web site at:

A good selection of the informational materials distributed at the Fair will be available at the offices of The Rock River Times next week.

From the August 17-23, 2005, issue

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