Exploring alternative fuel options

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115394423731037.jpg’, ‘File photo by Rebecca Pierson’, ‘Vehicles, such as this Honda Insight displayed at last year’s Illinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, will again be a focus at this year’s Energy Fair, Aug. 12-13 at Ogle County Fairgrounds.’);

Energy Fair presentations stress hybrids, electric vehicles and biofuels

Most current energy solutions are not only temporary, they create other problems that must be addressed. The sheer volume of energy consumed, increasing competition for it, environmental damage from its use and dramatic increases in cost are forcing worldwide changes in its production and consumption.

Some experts believe there are no technological solutions—therefore, we should be prepared for a survival-type existence. Others want us to ignore the problems and convert almost anything available into useable forms of energy.

We advocate conservation, efficiency and renewable energy, which all address the issues of peak oil and gas, energy security, price stability and environmental protection. Theoretically, all the world’s existing energy needs could be met by renewable sources.

In a report to the Department of Energy, Robert L. Hirsch, senior energy program adviser at Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), and others, describe the current situation as a liquid fuels crisis. If we have no replacement for oil, our cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships will no longer meet the transportation needs of the global economy, leading to widespread economic hardship. If we start developing oil substitutes now, we can avoid the hardships. If we wait 10 or 20 years to act, the situation will only become worse.

One way to achieve rapid social change is to have a crisis, allowing the government to implement changes the public would resist in a less emotionally-charged atmosphere.

Hirsch argues the situation is so dire now that forceful federal action is essential to overcome local or state resistance to implementing the report’s recommendations. His solutions include capturing isolated pockets of stranded natural gas, gasifying coal and processing tar sands, heavy oil and oil shale into liquid fuels. Neither biomass fuels nor electric vehicles are seen as ready.

Although these solutions involve substantial adverse environmental impacts, Hirsch prefers to minimize environmental assessment and public involvement. His solutions imply we can maintain our inefficient system by using higher-priced fuels.

The Apollo Alliance defines the energy problem more broadly than merely a liquid fuels issue. They emphasize hybrid cars and efficient factories, buildings and appliances. They would modernize our coal-fired power plants and sequester carbon, rebuild urban centers, improve planning on a metropolitan basis and alter our transportation system to increase reliance on bikes, buses and trains.

Biofuels are included in their solutions as they are renewable, lessen our dependence on imported oil and decrease carbon dioxide releases. According to a report by Argonne National Laboratory, the energy cost of gasoline is 1.2 Btus of fossil fuel energy for every 1.0 Btu of energy in gasoline. The energy cost of ethanol is 0.6 Btus of fossil fuel energy for every 1.0 Btu of ethanol. Some energy for ethanol comes from sun and is incorporated into the corn kernel.

If a cellulosic approach is used, only 0.01 of a Btu of fossil fuel is used to make 1.0 Btu of liquid fuel. The fuel used to process cellulosic ethanol can come from lignin in the plant material so fossil fuels need not be used. The steam produced by lignin can also be used to generate electricity, which improves the system’s overall efficiency. The cellulosic approach can be used with a wide range of plant materials, including crop residue, grasses, woody material and selected construction and yard wastes.

An article in the June 29 issue of The Wall Street Journal provides an excellent overview of various developmental efforts to turn farm wastes and other plants into alternative fuels.

Presentations about transportation at this year’s Illinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, Aug. 12-13 at Ogle County Fairgrounds, stress hybrid cars, electric vehicles and biofuels such as soy diesel and ethanol.

From the July 26-Aug. 1, 2006, issue

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