What are Bio-Fuels?
Why it is so incredibly Important
that we all use them.
As opposed to fossil fuels
Using bio-fuels instead of fossil fuels makes the air cleaner…….. I’ll say that again and then explain how…… The creation of bio-fuels takes more greenhouse gasses out of the air than is released when those fuels are used.
Anyone who has spent time in the forest already knows the air is better there than it is in the city or suburbs. The best air is being produced by managed, rapidly growing forests.
Renewable Bio-fuel vs Fossil fuel.
New means recent or fresh. Renewable is something that can be made new again. Fossil is defined as something dug out of the Earth from a previous geological age. Beyond dead, beyond necrotic. Something that the powers that be buried deep in the Earth to not be part of today’s natural carbon cycle.
Foremost of everything All renewable energy comes from the sun.
Even wind and hydro power result from the the fact that the sun delivers more heat to Earths equator than the poles. The first law of thermodynamics turns this imbalance into a heat engine with air and moisture convecting heat from tropics to poles and gravity bringing cold back in an endless cycle. We can catch some energy from this flow as it goes past. Storage of this energy can be a challenge.
- Green plants have been collecting and storing solar energy for millions of years and humans learned to use this stored energy to their advantage.
Lets take a good look at what bio-fuels are.
Bio means life. Bio- fuels are those made by living things. They are being made right now, mostly by plants that are converting sunshine to forms of energy that can be stored and used later. But also by my dog who quietly converts Alpo to natural gas.
And by our culture of tiny yeast creatures in the fermentation tank, partying and making alcohol and CO2 out of sugar.
Plants make sugar that they can use immediately. They make starch that can be stored for longer periods of time and that they can convert back to sugar when needed.
They also make cellulose which they use for structure and support, and, for reasons of their own, they also make oils.
All of these things can be utilized for energy.
Firewood is a good example. In a sustainably managed hybrid poplar woodlot, an acre of trees could provide all non-transportation energy needs of a typical American home. Yup. Same acre, every year, all the needs.
If this fuel created by plants is not used and decays naturally in field or forest natural oxidation puts just the same amount of greenhouse gasses into the air as happens when it is used by humans for fuel. So, unlike fossil fuels which put stuff into the air that would otherwise never get there, Bio-fuel use does not put anything into the air that wouldn’t naturally get there. But that’s not the best part. Growing new plants to replace those that were used takes more greenhouse gasses out of the air than are released when used for fuel.
The increasing number and severity of forest fires is an example of the need for better management of our forests
I know that the idea of wood as fuel has been enthusiastically discouraged in the last hundred years by propaganda from the fossil fuel industry. And traditional campfire or charcoal grill cooking is a challenge because the smoke always blows in your face. Research has shown that those who cook all day on an open fire inhale as much smoke and have a similar health as smoking 4 packs of cigarettes a day. Bringing the wood fire indoors resulted in additional problems to be solved…..and they have.
Modern woodburning stoves are a good place to start for people who can use them. The celulose structure of the plant can be cut and dried and is ready to burn for heat. Airtight stoves that were produced in the mid 70s right after the oil embargo only burned at about 50% combustion efficiency and half the fuel went up the chimney as smoke. If the chimney was not hot enough some of that smoke condensed on the inner walls of the chimney to form creosote. This resulted in numerous chimney fires as well as air pollution that resulted in EPA regulations that required manufacturers to build cleaner burning wood stoves. Most manufacturers chose to do so by making the wood burning appliance more efficient. Modern woodstoves are designed to burn the smoke. That has led to not only cleaner air, but fewer chimney fires and the happy fact that your woodpile can last twice as long. If Automobile manufacturers had taken a similar path to meeting regulations I think we would all be driving full size vehicles that get 100 MPG
Pellet burners use sawdust that has been compressed into small pieces about the size of a soybean and are augured into a burner where combustion air is metered in producing heat with very little smoke and ash. These are available in home heating size or could be used on a larger size to replace coal or other fossil fuels for generation of electricity.
I mentioned my feeling about snake oil salesmen.
I looked up Bio-fuel electric generation on the internet and this is an example of what I found……
“Despite the challenges, by 2030 biomass-fueled electricity production is projected to triple and provide 2% of world total, 4% in OECD Europe, as a result of government policies to promote renewable energy.
a 10 MegaWatt generating plant would need 12,350 acres land for biomass planting to keep it supplied with sufficient fuel.”
“This compares with less than 2.5 acres for two 5 MegaWatt wind turbines.
While biomass crops provide an environmentally friendly fuel source for generating electricity, their cultivation occupies land which may be better employed for food production.”
If you put it that way the case for bio-fuels doesn’t really sound too promising does it? Lets look closer and think about it. How much really is 12,350 acres?…… There are 640 acres in a square mile so that would be a square of land a little less than 4 and a half miles on a side. 4 and a half miles is a lot of green space. Green spaces are popular. People are drawn to green forest spaces.
The air is better. There are nice things to do. If we had more sections of forest I believe there would be fewer angry people .
There is a Native American artifact in Wisconsin that can be seen from space. The Menominee Forest can be seen from the ISS and is used to calibrate instruments that tell where they are. The Menominee Nation has been managing this forest more than 100 years and foresters come from all over the world to learn sustainable forest management.
Wind generators and solar panels are important for making renewable energy but only growing plants store energy and, at the same time, clean the air. Use them. We should grow more.
The next step is liquid fuels
Thermodynamics tells us that when you change energy from one form to another you have to use some of what you started with to make the change.
This is a worthwhile sacrifice when you are putting it in a form that is portable and can be used to power transportation.
Wood can fuel electric plants that charge the batteries in your Tesla.
Sewage can be fed to micro-organisms that make methane to be compressed into the tank of your CNG Civic.
Anything containing sugar, starch or cellulose can be made into alcohol that can run any engine that can be run on gasoline.
Government testing has been done to evaluate alcohol vs gasoline as fuel. One report is from the US Geological Survey published in 1909 Titled Bulletins 389-394. The title of the report # 392 is COMMERCIAL DEDUCTIONS FROM COMPARISONS OF GASOLINE AND ALCOHOL TESTS ON INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINES. By Robert M. Strong.
Full report at https://pubs.usgs.gov/bul/0392/report.pdf
This authors summary is found in the bibliography of this essay
The vast amount of fake or twisted information about alcohol fuels is enough by itself to have inspired this author to do independent testing and research to satiate thirst for the spirits of knowledge.
Ten years ago we were as disappointed as the next person with the addition of 10% alcohol blend at the gas pump. That mixture had left my wife and I waiting for a tow truck next to the interstate in our classic carbureted Celica. Our mechanic, and others who should know, led us to believe it was the inclusion of ethyl alcohol to the fuel at the gas pump that caused the problem.
Our own testing and research has proved to us that this is not the case and we now run our cars and lawnmowers on alcohol and our Amish neighbor improved the air quality in his house by using alcohol instead of kerosene in his lanterns
“We can get fuel from fruit from that shrub by the roadside.
Or from apples, weeds, saw-dust almost anything! There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented.
There is enough alcohol in one year’s yield of a hectare of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the field for a hundred years. And it remains for someone to find out how this fuel can be produced commercially –
Better fuel at a cheaper price than we know now.”
Henry Ford, 1925
100 years ago people used alcohol as fuel. It was about 6 times more costly than gasoline but people used it. Gasoline, then as now, is a toxic waste product of the petroleum industry. The industry can’t incinerate it but they can sell it cheap to the public who burn it for them in their cars.
Henry Ford made his prototype engine to run on alcohol. Model T cars made before 1927 could run on any mixture of alcohol and gasoline. Prohibition eliminated alcohol as a fuel source. Ford made the adjacent statement to the New York Times in 1925. He then stopped building cars that could be adjusted with a lever to run on alcohol.
Coleman Co. made lamps that used alcohol at about the same time ans stopped for apparently the same reasons.
I agree with the experts and mechanics, and everyone else that the blend of fuel that is “up to 10% alcohol” and the rest gasoline has got to be the worst fuel ever made. I take issue with the implication that it is the added alcohol that is causing the problems. The only contribution alcohol makes to bad fuel is that it is so pure and high octane that it can be used to bring some really nasty low grade gasoline up to sale-able level. You thought they were adding alcohol to the unleaded regular we had been using in order to make it cleaner. I thought the same thing but it turns out not to be the case
If 10% alcohol were bad for fuel more would be worse. That also turns out not to be the case. In 2006 & 2007 The Indy race cars made the switch to run on pure ethanol or in other words 200 proof white lightning. These cars were designed and tuned to run on pure alcohol. We can extrapolate backwards from their fuel economy at 220 mph with the cube squared law and conclude that a vehicle designed for highway speeds could get about 50 mpg on alcohol fuel. The down side to such a vehicle is that it could not use gasoline.
Making and buying fuel
President Jimmy Carter passed legislation that made it legal to once again make your own alcohol fuel. Permit application can be found at https://www.ttb.gov/forms/f511074.pdf
Getting our permit was easy. Before you apply you need to have a still with a serial number and a place that can be locked to do your distilling work and to store your product. This can not be in a dwelling. One of the requirements is to sign an agreement that we would not let anyone drink it. Why anyone would want to drink 190 proof grain neutral spirits is beyond me, but it is still the most frequent question asked. In the years since prohibition was lifted people seem to have been conditioned to think of alcohol as only a recreational drug.
We have learned that small scale fuel production is time consuming but a good thing to know how to do. You can make fuel for about a dollar a gallon. Like growing and preserving your own food. Your product can be better, but it is easier to buy it at the store.
Alcohol fuel is available to buy. Paint stores sell denatured alcohol by the quart and the gallon. Some gas stations sell E85. Up to 85% alcohol.
Large scale alcohol production
Large scale production of alcohol fuel is being done now. Many people we talk to at energy shows believe that alcohol/ethanol fuel is bad because production procedures use too much fossil fuels and too much fertilizer and the most unlikely lie ever that it takes more energy to make alcohol fuel than you get out of it. They tell us hat they don’t care to support Monsanto and the corn growers association on general principals. I tell them that corporations are like children. We get the best results by rewarding good behavior. We can do that by using bio-fuels as soon and as often as we can substitute them for oil. Learn how to use them in your car and lawnmower.
We need to grow more.