According to OPEC’s 2009 World Outlook, world demand for middle distillate fuel, chiefly diesel, will grow faster than any other refined oil product, up to as much as 34.2 million barrels per day by 2030. The U.S. currently consumes around 19 million barrels of fuel per day, with diesel accounting for 3 million or around 16% of that amount.

Joule Biotechnologies, Inc, a producer of alternative energy technologies based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, announced in 2009 that it had made a major step forward in its’ development of renewable fuels. This step forward involves the direct microbial conversion of carbon dioxide (CO2) into hydrocarbons via engineered organisms, powered by solar energy. I know it sounds convoluted but the creation of renewable energy requires working around.. and I mean a long way around.. current technologies.

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Here is another idea for biofuel: Sunflowers. I know this makes about a hundred ideas that have crossed the table, from algae to corn and back, but they are trying, I suspect, to come up with something that doesn’t take up too much land, is sustainable over the long haul and can be processed inexpensively. So in their search for this miracle, scientists in Canada are trying to determine the genetic makeup of Sunflowers in the hopes that it will lead to a species that can be used for both food and fuel. This is a great idea; something sustainable that has more than one purpose. In this regard, plants that can be used for both food and fuel should be first in line on the testing table.

So the USDA has joined a venture with Genome Canada and France’s NIAR (National Institute for Agricultural Research) which aims to create a reference genome for Sunflowers within the next four years. That seems reasonable to me. I just hope they don’t end up genetically modifying Sunflowers now, creating frankenseeds. That would be another mess like the failed attempt to modify corn for food and fuel. That little experiment had the entire world rejecting our corn, including starving masses who would take the bags and dump them rather than eat them and this during major disasters and war.

The Sunflower comes for the world’s largest plant family. This family of plants contains 24,000 species of food crops, medicinal plants, decorative plants and noxious weeds. As a footnote, I will add that the Sunflower genome is 3.5 billion letters long, slightly larger than the human genome. In modern molecular biology, the genome is the entirety of an organism’s hereditary information. It is encoded either in DNA or, for many types of virus, in RNA. The genome includes both the genes and the non-coding sequences of the DNA.

But once the experiment is completed and the genetic makeup of the Sunflower is known, the species could be crossbred to produce a plant that grows as high as 15 feet with stalks up to 4 inches in diameter and also produces high quality seeds. Sounds like a fantasy, doesn’t it? It’s almost scary when you think about it. But a plant like this, capable of both feeding and fueling, would be a miracle of sorts. The project engineers are saying that the seeds would be harvested for both food and energy, while the stalks could also be used like wood or converted to ethanol. Quite a feat, I believe. A dual use crop that they hope will not be competition with other food crops for arable land. Sustainable. Imagine that! All I hope at this point in time that this isn’t just another scheme dreamed up by folk who want government money to fool around for awhile. We’ve had quite a few busts so far and I am not sure we can afford a lot more of that. I’ll be watching this study closely and I will report back on the results.

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This is such a cool idea that I just had to come at it, even though I’m a few months behind on the original announcement. In September, 2009, a new car aptly named the “Algaeus” completed it’s cross country tour successfully and refueled the idea that algae might bring natural solutions to our high tech problems after all. The algae fueled car traveled 3,750 miles across the country, spreading the word of new possibilities. After it completed it’s tour, it then joined the “Green Energy Bus”, the Veggie Van Organization and the FUEL team for a college tour to further spread the green word. The “Green Energy Bus” is a retrofit interactive classroom that shows students just how the new concept works.

The Algaeus is the brainchild of Sapphire Energy, the leader in algae-based renewable fuel, who joined with the team behind the award winning film FUEL, to complete the first cross-country car tour powered by a blend of algae-based gasoline in an unmodified engine. It took a total of 10 days after starting in San Fransisco and making it’s way to New York City, to which it arrived on September 18. The Algaeus presents a tantalizing peek into a very likely future which excites me. Sapphire Energy provides the fuel for the extraordinary car, containing a mixture of hydrocarbons refined directly from algae-based Green Crude and extracted through Sapphire’s proprietary process. However, there really is nothing extraordinary about the car in reality. It could be your car, the way things are hopefully going to turn out!

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In Florida, 12 waste-to-energy facilities from Miami to Panama City process nearly 20,000 tons of municipal solid waste each day while continuously producing over 500 megawatts of clean, renewable power. This amount of waste is enough to fill a football stadium, imagine that! The Tampa Bay area is home to four waste-to-energy facilities, located in the City of Tampa and in the counties of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco. Without these facilities, local governments would be faced with the daunting task of siting large landfills near rapidly growing residential communities. The issue of this development is another problem to be addressed in a different forum but there is no doubt that this landfill to energy idea is a good one.

I first heard about this idea several years ago when a small county northwest of where I reside started pumping landfill gas through pipes and converting it to energy. In fact, I later heard a follow up that claimed the entire city was running on this power alone. Amazing. Not only is this greenie meanie but it’s cheap, too. These waste-to-energy projects eliminate 90% of the waste that might have ended up in a landfill. But it isn’t nearly enough, as you can imagine, because landfills throughout the state are reaching capacity faster than anticipated. It is becoming increasingly difficult to expand landfills or open new ones as residential development encroaches on once-remote landfill sites. People are already living in homes where they can smell garbage 24/7 in various lower income areas around the state. Florida’s current population of over 17 million is expected to reach almost 23 million by the year 2020, bringing even more challenges to managing municipal solid waste.

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As of today, now playing in a theatre near you, is a film with a fascinating new look at the oil industry and it’s dark side. CRUDE, the film, tells a shocking story that Chevron, the 5th largest company on this planet, does not want the world to know. Like, The Cove, another documentary about the uglier side of industry, this one is a bombshell that should awaken everyone who sees it to the environmental tragedies that are ongoing here on Earth and the battle to save our planet.

Three years in the making by acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Brother’s Keeper, Paradise Lost, and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster), CRUDE chronicles the epic legal battle to hold Chevron accountable for its systematic contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon. If you are not aware of the disaster, it was an environmental tragedy experts call the “Amazon Chernobyl,” and believe is the worst case of oil-related contamination on Earth. I have had my own firsthand experience with the self absorbed and mostly indifferent oil industry in my own life; we had a property that was contaminated by big oil and basically lost our fight. I know how hard it is to battle these powerful people.

But here’s the story on this current battle. While drilling in the Ecuadorian Amazon from 1964 to 1990, Texaco, which is now called Chevron, deliberately dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater, spilled roughly 17 million gallons of crude oil, and left hazardous waste in hundreds of open pits dug out of the forest floor. The company selfishly resorted to substandard practices that were obsolete in order to increase its profit margin by a mere $3 per barrel of crude. Of course, the local people and ecosystems paid the price instead, and at a much higher price than $3.00. In fact, many have paid with their lives and their livelihoods. But, good for them, they have been fighting back and this is where the film comes in.

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Everyday choices are the foundation of our energy usage and financial expenses. You already know that if you make wise choices in the grocery or department store you can save money and get what you want. The same is true of energy choices. You don’t have to go without air in the heat of the day or stop using your dryer. Although cutting back when it’s least painful is not a bad idea. If you are motivated to get this done, then I have some suggestions.

The government website, Energy Awareness, offers a number of materials and resources. When you go there, ask for the CD Rom “Power Kit of Energy Awareness Resources,” which is instructional and helpful in the real world. They also offer a book, “Go Green”, which gives some great ideas for saving energy.

In a nutshell, here’s what they suggest (with a few of my own thrown in):
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I know this sounds absolutely crazy and I admit I do a lot of posts on various types of new fuels, but this one is a fact and I find it fascinating. Actually, I find all these fuel ideas fascinating. Imagine that we’ve been surrounded by energy in every form since time began and we got focused on the one type of energy that wreaks havoc on the atmosphere. I mean, seriously. Doesn’t that sound like the rhythm of human life in general? I mean, it sounds a lot like the big fat lampoon my own life often turns out to be.

But here’s the real laugh after all the other laughing is done. The Liverpool John Lennon Airport, in the city of Liverpool, in stodgy old England, will soon become the world’s first airport to try a revolutionary piece of technology: recycling the breath of passengers into biofuel. And I don’t mean they have to be drunk first. Oh, I know, not funny. But heck, this seems a little flaky to me.. and yet, it’s not. It’s a viable option that looks fantastic when considered carefully.

This new contraption, called the Eco-box, developed by Origo Industries, will capture the CO2 exhaled by airport travelers and convert it to fuel to be used in the airport’s diesel vehicles and heating system. In fact, the Eco-box was originally designed to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles. It works by capturing carbon emissions through a photo-bioreactor as a feedstock for algae, producing biomass that is then refined and converted to green fuel. Aha, Algae again. One of my favorites. How cool.

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Here it comes! The first Jeep, to my knowledge anyways, to be run on algae. Actually, it runs on what is called “algal-based renewable diesel” under the trade name, SoladieselRDTM. They recently showed the new car at CALSTART Target 2030: Solutions to Secure California’s Transportation Energy and Climate Future, which was held in Sacramento, California in January.

This very cool new fuel is a drop in replacement for ordinary petrodiesel (also known as #2 Diesel). It has already passed the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) D975 Specifications. I know, everything technical is a mouthful and some of us more technically challenged individuals find it hard to even say these words, much less make sense of them. But, according to Biofuel Daily: “both SoladieselRDTM and SoladieselBDTM, a FAME biodiesel that meets the (ASTM) D6751 specifications, have been successfully road tested unblended (100 percent) for thousands of miles in standard unmodified diesel engines”.

The Jeep was available for rides throughout the event and although I don’t know anybody personally that went to the event, all reports have been positive. Jeep lovers, like me, are excited about the prospects.

Quoting Jonathan Wolfson, co-founder and CEO of Solazyme, Biofuel Daily reported that “with new elected officials across the country, now is an ideal time for events like CALSTART Target 2030, which look at energy solutions that will serve us in the long term” The article went to add that Mr. Wolfson is
“proud to be in California, a state known for leading energy policy” and that he is also “pleased to showcase our solutions which include clean and scalable renewable fuels derived from algae that meet today’s demanding performance and regulatory specifications, while dramatically reducing the carbon footprint versus petroleum based-fuels.”

I know all of this sounds like a sales pitch but I am hoping that algae finds a real future on the biofuels scene. It is both abundant and sustainable and I can show you where you can get a load of it right now! (LOL). And, according to Solazyme, their unique process grows algae in the dark using standard industrial bioproduction equipment. This makes it affordable and easily to start, without needing special equipment or for current equipment to be retooled, a problem with many other biofuels. The algae are fed a variety of non-food and waste biomass materials including cellulosic biomass and low-grade glycerol, which makes their growth and sustainability affordable. It also allows the company to produce oil with a very low carbon footprint and to do it efficiently in a controlled environment.

Solazyme’s fuels have already been road tested in unmodified vehicles for thousands of miles. The results, from what I have seen so far, are positive. If my readers have other information, I would like to know it so feel free to leave a comment. FYI: This company has also recently announced that it has produced the world’s first algal based jet fuel which met all eleven of the tested key criteria for (ASTM) D1655 (Jet A-1). This is another huge milestone in the making of viable bio fuels that can energize our future into the next century! Additionally, Solazyme’s process is the very first bridge from non-food carbohydrates and certain industrial waste streams to edible oils and oleochemicals. Now, think about that!

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I know it seems like I’m dedicating January to posts about the uses for algae but so much is happening in this sector, it’s hard to ignore. Besides the fascinating news that scientists now believe that algae production in the oceans will help alleviate the carbon explosion, I know hear about big advances in algae production as a biofuel. It seems that OriginOil has announced the successful automation of its Helix BioReactor system. The Helix is a groundbreaking technology that optimizes algae growth, making large-scale commercial algae production scalable.

The design of the Helix BioReactor utilizes low-energy lights arranged in a helix pattern combined with a rotating vertical shaft design, which allows algae culture to replicate exponentially within a smaller installation footprint. This system allows the replication of algae on a large scale basis, making it a viable source of fuel for all purposes, including automobiles. Now, the automation of this system is a key step towards continuous algae production, taking the work out of human hands and onto equipment that can run 24/7. Talk about reduction in manpower and labor costs! Like all automation, this process allows greater control of the growth environment and efficient, low-cost industrial algae production. It means that algae can be produced in jaw dropping tonnage and done so cheaply.

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India’s largest automaker has announced that it will begin producing the world’s first commercial air-powered vehicle. The Air Car, developed by ex-Formula One engineer Guy Nègre for Luxembourg-based MDI, uses compressed air to push its engine’s pistons, instead of gasoline. Some 6000 zero-emissions Air Cars hit Indian streets in August of 2008. Here is a picture of their model:

The $12,700 CityCAT, pictured above, can hit 68 mph and has a range of 125 miles. It will take only a few minutes for the CityCAT to refuel at gas stations equipped with custom air compressor units. And you can imagine how cheap compressed air is actually going to be. According to the manufacturer, MDI, it should cost around $2 to fill the car’s carbon-fiber tanks with 340 liters of air at 4350 psi. Drivers also will be able to plug into the electrical grid and use the car’s built-in compressor to refill the tanks in about 4 hours. This last perk is the best. You can just fill up your car while it’s in the garage. Cool.

The problem with this item is that we won’t see it here. It has an all glue construction that won’t pass our stringent regulations for automobiles. Also, if you take a look at it you can see that it’s not the kind of thing that Americans are going to get worked up about. Even so, you can’t write it off as insignificant considering that MDI has signed deals to bring this vehicle to 12 countries, including Germany, Israel and South Africa. It is ideally suited to these smaller countries where cars don’t take as much of a beating.

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