Ethanol In Your Gasoline Tank: The Pros And Cons

Ford Model T - the first commercially available flex fuel vehicle

Flex fuel vehicles have been around a while (Source: Wikipedia)

A really nice summary of ethanol as a replacement fuel for automobiles and light trucks over at Green Car Reports:

Conclusion If you want to use ethanol as a vehicle fuel today, you’re already getting up to 10 percent of the alcohol fuel in your “gasoline” every time you fill it. That percentage may slowly rise to 15 percent, but it’s far from settled as to whether occasional–or regular–use of use E15 may damage cars built since 2001. You can buy a flex-fuel vehicle, especially among full-size sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks, and larger sedans offered by U.S. carmakers. Your challenge will be finding E85 to put in it, since only about 2 percent of all gas stations offer it, and those stations are not geographically dispersed. While ethanol offers numerous benefits as vehicle fuel, it comes with quite a number of drawbacks as well–and increasing its use to the levels mandated by law for the next decade may prove challenging, even impossible.

Meanwhile, you’re likely buying at least a little ethanol every time you fill up with regular gasoline–making it the future fuel you’re already using today.

via Ethanol In Your Gasoline Tank: The Pros And Cons.

Fortunately, I do live in the Midwest, and there are E85 stations reasonably close; unfortunately, I don’t own a flex-fuel vehicle (FFV). In fact, there are only about 10 million on the road in the US – out of over 247 million registered passenger vehicles.

And of course, situations like the one current drought affecting more than half the country will impact availability of corn for conversion to ethanol and exacerbate the “Food or Fuel” conundrum.

Hey, I didn’t say I had all the answers.

Renewable jobs growth faster than any other energy sector

More good news from the renewable energy front:

Clean energy is now creating more jobs for the energy produced than coal or natural gas, and solar energy is the fastest growing industry in the United States, according to industry and academic sources.

Solar energy is on track to add another 25,000 – 50,000 jobs this year, according to a report from the Solar Energy Industry Association. Even in this sluggish economy, fully 50 percent of the association’s members plan to add new hires.

And then there’s this story from the Des Moines Register:

Iowa’s wind generation reached 20 percent of the state’s total electricity network during the second quarter, the American Wind Energy Association reports.

Over 7,000 megawatts of new capacity was under construction nationally by July 1, according to the American Wind Energy Association. That’s the busiest the wind generation industry has been since the third quarter of 2008.

So to all the skeptics that keep saying that renewables only supply a small part of America’s energy, I say: take another look. The times, they are a-changing.

Why does that train smell like french fries?

Fun fact: The trains at Disneyland run on bio-diesel. They burn oil from the park’s restaurants.

from What I Learned From A Mouse With Big Ears by Guy Kawasaki

New 200MW wind farm will double wind energy in Michigan

How crazy is this? With Michigan’s long history of manufacturing, a single 200MW wind farm will more than double the amount of wind generation capacity in that state.

Big expansion soon for Michigan’s wind power grid
Associated Press
11:30 a.m. CDT, July 10, 2011

BETHANY TOWNSHIP, Mich.— An array of 133 wind turbines that will tower 46 stories over farmers’ fields and rural homes will begin taking shape in a few weeks in central Michigan’s Gratiot County.

The Invenergy LLC project is designed to produce 200 megawatts of electricity, starting in 2012. That’s more than the 164 megawatts made by all of Michigan’s wind turbines now in operation, according to the American Wind Energy Association. In all, 103 turbines now operate statewide.

How much crazier is it that Ohio has no utility-scale wind farms yet, and Iowa leads the country?

US renewable energy generation exceeds nuclear

Here’s another story you won’t hear about in the news. The U.S. Energy Information Administration Monthly Energy Review for June 2011 shows that for the first time, domestic renewable energy (.pdf) production surpassed nuclear (.pdf) in the first three months of this year.

To make the head to head comparison requires converting nuclear generation in kilowatt-hours (KWH) to British Thermal Units (BTU). EIA uses a conversion factor of 10460 BTU per KWH, so nuclear generation of 203,194 million KWH equates to 2.125 quadrillion BTU (2.125 x 1015). Renewable energy (hydroelectric, geothermal, solar thermal, solar PV, wind, ethanol, biodiesel, and biomass) was 2.245 quadrillion BTU.

Renewable energy increased by 15 percent year-over-year, while nuclear generation has been fairly constant at 8.4 quadrillion KWH/year. The pace of additional renewable capacity should get another boost when utility-scale solar PV projects start coming online later this year, driven by a reduction of almost 60 percent in the cost per KW generated of solar PV panels. And as the market for solar energy heats up, (pardon the pun), a US company will continue to enjoy a major competive edge over its Chinese competitors, according to Standard & Poor’s Credit Analyst Swami Venkataraman:

First Solar Inc. (FSLR), based in Tempe, Arizona, is likely to remain the market leader because its cadmium telluride generators cost at least 30 percent less to produce than the polysilicon panels made in China, Venkataraman said. “Even if poly prices were to fall significantly below the current spot price of about $50 per kilogram ($22.70 a pound), First Solar would still have a significant edge over the lowest- cost Chinese players,” he said.

(h/t to Ars Technica)

(edited 7/14/11 to fix broken link to Bloomberg article)

Navistar to Launch Electric Truck for Medium Duty

This is interesting:

Navistar Launches Electric Truck in “Green” Portland WA

Navistar, Inc. announced that it will launch it’s new eStar™ truck, the first full-production, purpose-built all-electric truck, in the uber-green, environmentally sustainable city of Portland, Oregon. “Freight and service trucks present the biggest opportunity for real and significant reductions in carbon emissions and pollution, especially in the urban environment,” said Portland Mayor Sam Adams. “Because of all Portland is doing to be a more sustainable and prosperous city and encourage the electric vehicle industry, I’m proud that Navistar chose Portland as its initial launch city for the eStar purpose-built, all-electric truck.”

Navistar also announced its eStar dealer for the Pacific Northwest market will be Cascadia International Trucks of Tacoma, Wash.

via Green Car Magazine

I’m not sure what the market will have to say about a delivery truck with only 100 mile range. The article notes that the design allows for easy battery swapping, but I’m not sure that counts as “convenient” – the driver will have to return to the garage/warehouse, and be idle while the changeout takes place.

I’ll count that as a baby step in the right direction.

LEEDCo announces partnership with GE for offshore wind turbines

A big step forward in the pursuit for wind energy off the north shore was announced today at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) annual WINDPOWER Conference in Dallas. Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) announced that it will be partnering with GE for the Northeast Ohio offshore wind energy project.

This step has been in the planning for almost two years now. I’ve been to some of the public meetings for the Lake Erie wind development project, and recently I was struck by the sense of determination about the wind farm. I don’t think I can recall that sense of positive vision taking shape since maybe the Gateway development.

via Green City Blue Lake

Tesla, Toyota to build electric cars at Fremont, CA NUMMI plant

Tesla, Toyota to build electric cars at NUMMI plant

“Stunning” says it all.

In a stunning deal, Tesla Motors announced late Thursday that it is teaming up with Toyota to build its all-electric Model S sedan at the recently shuttered NUMMI plant in Fremont, creating more than 1,000 new jobs.

This is exactly the kind of partnership I was hoping one of the Big Three would do with Tesla.

Tesla will use the former New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant to begin production of the Model S, a sedan that can seat five adults and two children and has a range of 300 miles. Once it reaches full production at the NUMMI plant, Tesla expects to produce 20,000 electric vehicles each year, which will sell for $50,000.

But the Model S would occupy only a small part of the NUMMI plant, leaving room for Tesla and Toyota to manufacture other models of electric cars there.

“Long term, we think we could create 10,000 jobs, half from Tesla and half from our suppliers,” [Tesla CEO Elon] Musk said.

(via San Jose Mercury News)

Wind farm in Champaign County gets green light from Ohio Power Siting Board

More good news for renewable energy – and jobs – in Ohio:

COLUMBUS – The Ohio Power Siting Board approved a certificate Monday to allow construction of 53 of 70 wind turbines proposed for eastern Champaign County by New York-based developer, EverPower Renewables.

via Wind farm OK’d (Urbana Citizen)

Of the 17 turbines that were not approved, all but two were rejected due to safety concerns, as they interfered with the flight space requirements for a nearby airfield. Two others were denied because they did not meet the minimum property setback.

All in all, this is good news for the citizens of Champaign County and Ohio. The Buckeye Wind development will be the first commercial-scale wind farm in Ohio, and long overdue.

A plumber explains the “Bathtub Model”

Have you heard of the “Bathtub Model” for expaining CO2 accumulation? I hadn’t until last week, when I attended the sustainability symposium at Baldwin-Wallace College. Dr. Susan Solomon, who was the lead author of th 2007 IPCC report on global climate change, was the one who introduced the concept. Here’s a much more succinct description from, appropriately enough, a plumber.

Picture a bathtub with a running faucet and open drain. When we use energy, carbon dioxide (CO2) pours into the atmosphere just like water pours into a bathtub. If water pours into the tub faster than it can drain out, the tub fills with water. The bathtub stays full until more water is draining out than is pouring in. The same concept applies to CO2. At our current rate of energy consumption, CO2 emissions produced by burning fossil fuels are pouring into the atmospheric bathtub twice as fast as they are draining out.

via Raymond Plumbing blog – Air Conditioning Heating and Cooling Lorain.

Everyone can do something about CO2 emissions, and some of those changes are relatively easy to make – as the good folk at Raymond Plumbing go on to explain. For instance, using high-efficiency heating and cooling and Energy Star certified appliances. Even simple steps, like turning down the thermostat on the hot water heater will help – and save money, too.

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