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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In anticipation of today's radio show

Take a look at one of the lead stories we ran on the main site today (renewablenow.biz).  We'll be talking about this and amazing new technology around hydraulic hybrid energy systems for medium and heavy trucks.  Listen in live at 1-2p, EST

The effects of well over a century of fossil fuel usage on our planet are becoming increasingly evident. The summer of 2012 is was one of the hottest and driest on record. More extreme weather and rising sea levels are expected in the coming years, with most experts pointing to the warming planet and widespread natural resource use by humans. In order to avoid crises around the world due to resource use, ecologists, engineers and even enterprising environmentalists have been working to create new biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels.

While progress has been sporadic and at times controversial, the relatively untapped potential of biofuels may prove instrumental in protecting both human culture and our natural environment.

Despite years of conversation on environmental solutions, many people are still unsure of how exactly to define biofuels. Essentially, biofuels are any fuels derived directly from living matter. In fact, the often demonized crude oil we use around the world today is technically biofuel, only the plants and animals from which the fuel is derived have been extinct for millions of years. That makes crude oil a non-renewable biofuel. So the energy sources that scientists have studied recently and now refer to as biofuels are derived from common plant substances like corn, sugar cane or vegetable oil. Since these crops have been grown and harvested recently, the carbon dioxide they release when burned as fuel represents a net zero contribution to the harmful greenhouse effect that is largely behind climate change.

Two major biofuel sources are in effect today. Ethanol, made from heavily processed corn, is the most commonly used biofuel. In fact, much of the gasoline used in the U.S. is blended with ethanol. For use as a biofuel, the starches, sugars and other molecules in ethanol are broken down through chemical reactions, fermentation and heat. 



Two major biofuel sources are in effect today. Ethanol, made from heavily processed corn, is the most commonly used biofuel. In fact, much of the gasoline used in the U.S. is blended with ethanol. For use as a biofuel, the starches, sugars and other molecules in ethanol are broken down through chemical reactions, fermentation and heat. 
  


Biodiesel is another common biofuel, usually made from combining methanol with vegetable oil, animal fat, or recycled cooking grease. Biodiesel is often used as an additive to reduce vehicle emissions, though biodiesel can solely fuel diesel engines, creating a truly renewable alternative energy source that many diesel drivers have embraced. Co-op Baltimore Biodiesel in Maryland has reported that environmentally conscious drivers are prepared to spend a premium of 30% over the cost of petroleum-based diesel in order to use the renewable biodiesel. 
  


Though its use has caught on rapidly among environmentalists, recent controversies have put the future of biofuel use in jeopardy. There is much concern that the increasing use of the world's crops for biofuels could contribute to higher food prices and hunger. Furthermore, the process of growing the crops, making fertilizers and pesticides and processing the plants into fuel actually consumes a great deal of energy, adding to debate that ethanol from corn may actually require more energy to be grown and processed than it saves.
  


Yet, the logic of biofuel use has been too enticing for many energy experts to ignore. Scientists are already looking at microorganisms in algae that use the sun's energy to combine carbon dioxide with water, creating biomass more efficiently and rapidly than terrestrial plants. Cellulose, the material making up plant cell walls, has also been looked to as a biofuel that may run far more efficiently than current biofuels while emitting less carbon dioxide. Indeed, compared to the vast array of biological organisms on Earth, the amount of research into biofuels has thus far been limited. With advances in technology and support from government and civilians, scientists may be mass producing truly sustainable and efficient biofuels in the near future. 

  
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