Saturday, 20 March 2010

What's the difference between biofuels and biodiesel?

— The EditorsSanta Fe, New Mexico seems like you need some educating, here. And being the jackbooted, card-carrying henchman of the liberal media--and author of the white-knuckle-ride non-fiction biofuel thriller entitled Greasy Rider--that I am, I'm just the person to provide it. In fact, I'll go beyond simply defining "biofuels" and "biodiesel." I'm going to give you the Ultimate Glossary of Sustainable Energy for Huggers of Tall Perennial Woody Plants That Consist of a Main Trunk and Branches. I promise that it will be as unbiased as Webster's Dictionary. Almost.
Alternative energyA term cleverly hijacked by the nuclear and coal industries to lump themselves together with biofuels, solar, geothermal, and wind as "alternatives" to oil. The correct phrase to use when referring to green power is "renewable energy" (see entry below). Unfortunately, the PR flacks for coal and nuclear have been so successful in their efforts that "alternative energy" has become a part of the lexicon. Its use instantly sends Sierra Club types into seizures.
BiofuelsFuel (either liquid or solid) created from organic, renewable materials (usually plant matter). Common biofuels include ethanol (which I explain below as evil in most forms), biodiesel, cow farts, and even wood chips. The drawback to biofuels is when they're produced from food crops, like corn or soybeans because this creates a competition between energy producers and the starving masses for the same commodities. The result can be a rise in food prices, placing a heavy burden on the poor and people in Third World countries. That's why biofuels from sources like algae hold so much promise. I use biofuel in my veggie-powered car, but it's a recycled waste product--a.k.a. french-fry grease that comes from restaurant deep-fat fryers.
BiodieselDiesel fuel that's made from renewable organic sources such as algae, vegetable oils, or animal fats. It can be pumped straight into the fuel tank of a diesel vehicle. Most of the time, it's mixed with traditional dino-diesel. A sign at the gas pump for B2 fuel, for instance, indicates that the contents are two percent biodiesel and 98 percent fossil fuel. B20 is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent traditional diesel. B99 is as close to the pure, uncut Grade A stuff as you can get.
Clean coalThe words "clean" and "coal" go about as well together as "benign" and "Death Star." No such technology exists, no matter how much politicians pandering to voters in Pennsylvania and West Virginia like to talk about it. Around 47 percent of the electricity produced in the United States comes from coal, and coal power accounts for about 42 percent of the world's carbon emissions (otherwise known as greenhouse-gas emissions). It's the most carbon-spewing fuel we've got. Making it "clean" largely involves capturing the carbon it emits and burying it underground or beneath the sea.
EthanolEthanol is simply pure alcohol, like what you can extract from beer, wine, or vodka. It's generally made from corn, which is very bad. Here's why: Corn is a highly water- and fertilizer-intensive crop that encourages erosion of the topsoil (even though it tastes so damn good on the cob). When corn-based ethanol is in demand, it shoots up the price of corn, and farmers plant fewer other crops, like soybeans and wheat, which also become costlier. On top of that, huge natural gas-fired plants are needed to distill ethanol from corn. The real promise of ethanol comes from potentially getting it from algae or plant waste like sawdust, grass, and corn stalks.
Do you have a question of your own?
Nuclear powerThere's been a big push to promote nuclear power as a clean source of energy (discounting the tens of thousands of tons of radioactive waste from nuclear plants that we're already sitting on in the U.S.) because it doesn't produce greenhouse gases. As distasteful as the prospect may seem to environmentalists, though, this form of energy may be a necessary ingredient in dramatically reducing emissions in the near term.
Renewable energySimply put, energy created from natural sources--like solar, wind, geothermal, and biofuels. Unlike fossil fuels, you can never run out of renewable energy (at least not until eight billion years from now, when the sun expands into a red giant and swallows the earth like a guppy).

Military leaders testify about energy efficiency

National security is at stake, state panel told
Friday, March 19, 2010 at 9:30 p.m.
Cutting Americans’ addiction to fossil fuel isn’t a tree-hugger issue but a national security one, a retired Navy vice admiral told state lawmakers yesterday.
The United States consumes a quarter of the world’s oil, and much of that comes from countries that aren’t friendly to us. Meanwhile, we have a military that increasingly marches on oil, to the point where long convoys must cross dangerous territory to deliver fuel for troops in vehicles that get 3 miles a gallon.
Two top military leaders told state senators that the armed forces are taking energy issues seriously — by working on ways to make their operations at home and abroad more efficient.
The testimony, at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, was part of a hearing by a state Senate committee on climate change designed to gather more information on how energy use affects national security.
Getting more oil within the United States is not a solution, said retired Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn, a consultant on energy security issues.
“We cannot drill our way to sustainable prosperity and security,” he said.
And because oil is a commodity, deciding to avoid buying it from countries that don’t like us doesn’t solve the problem, because other people will.
Whenever we gas up, he said, “part of that money inevitably is getting to states that fund terrorism.”
Oil extraction in developing countries causes instability between haves and have-nots, he said, showing a slide of an impoverished fishing village next to an oil terminal in Nigeria.
And global warming can lead to fights over scarce resources like arable land.
“The pressure of climate change, left unchecked, will create many more Darfurs,” he said.
For the Marine Corps, a big issue is making sure that fighting forces are supplied with the fuel and energy they need to move around and communicate, said Maj. Gen. Anthony M. Jackson, who commands Marine Corps Installations West, including Camp Pendleton.
“It is critical to those Marines and soldiers to accomplish the missions this country sends them on,” he said.
Modern warfare has increased energy use dramatically. Fighting vehicles have to be heavier to survive roadside bombs and as a result, use more fuel.
Troops are equipped with GPS, night-vision goggles, radios and other devices, all with batteries that must be charged.
“It is energy-intensive,” Jackson said.
Half of the tonnage in supply lines, he said, is fuel, and nearly a third is water. Getting fuel into a place like Afghanistan makes it cost about $15 a gallon, and that jumps dramatically, to $400, to get it to troops in forward operating bases.
To deal with that, the Marines are looking at using water purifiers and solar chargers, plus making their vehicles more efficient, he said.
The Navy, meanwhile, is also working on lowering its energy usage, said Rear Adm. William French, commander of Naval Region Southwest. He oversees installations in California and Nevada, where conservation efforts have reduced energy usage by 18 percent since 2003.
The Navy is working on using biofuels in new ships, he said, plus generating power from the sun and the wind on its bases.
The state’s climate change laws — designed to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions — are under attack from politicians who say they should be put on hold until the economy recovers.
The Democratic senators who put together yesterday’s hearing, Christine Kehoe of San Diego and Fran Pavley of Agoura Hills, disagree.
“We have no time to waste,” Kehoe said.
Onell Soto: (619) 293-1280;

Wind turbine training tower opens

Published Date: 19 March 2010
The UK's first wind turbine training tower has been opened in Northumberland.
Built at the New and Renewable Energy Centre (Narec) in Blyth, the 27 metre high facility is designed to allow education and training for technicians working in the wind industry and at height, both onshore and offshore.It is hoped the facility, which was the result of a training partnership, backed by regional development agency One North East, between Northumberland College, Mainstream Renewable Power and Narec, will lead to an increase in the number of technicians suitably qualified to install, operate and maintain new and existing farms.One North East director of business and industry Ian Williams said: "Firms across North East England have already won over £150m of offshore wind contracts with the biggest opportunities from the Round 3 development still to come. "The creation of the wind turbine training tower and the developing training partnership will ensure the North East has skills to capitalise on the £100bn investment that will be made over the next decade."One North East established Narec to build on the region's existing strengths in energy and engineering and our funding for the new tower, Narec's 100m blade testing facility and drive train test rig, together with investment by firms like Clipper Windpower and JDR Cables have helped make North East England a leader in the development of offshore wind."Rachel Ellis-Jones, chief executive of Northumberland College said: "The Training Tower will help to ensure that the students on the wind technician training programme at Northumberland College are trained to British and European industrial standards. "The specification of the tower and the equipment within it will also allow us to develop new training modules which will enable us to meet the skills needs of the wind energy industry."

Damage to peat bogs driving climate change

Some of the most beautiful areas of England are releasing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year because of damage to peat bogs, environment watchdogs have warned.

By Louise GrayPublished: 7:00AM GMT 18 Mar 2010
Peatlands in beauty spots like Exmoor and the Peak District store carbon dioxide in ancient deposits of rotted vegetation.
However a report by Natural England found farming practices such as ploughing the earth and burning heather means three quarters of the deep peat area in England is now damaged.

This is causing three million tonnes of carbon dioxide stored in the soil to be released every year, the equivalent to the average emissions of 350,000 households.
Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, said preserving peatlands could help the UK meet its target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.
She is calling for peatlands to be preserved by allowing the land to flood, blocking gullies to retain water in bogs and creating nature reserves.
"England's peatlands are a crucial buffer against climate change but have been extensively damaged by centuries of inappropriate management. We have to stop the rot and ensure that peatlands are properly looked after as one of our most precious environment resources," she said.
It is estimated that globally, peat stores twice as much carton as forest, and the UK contains about 15 per cent of the world's peatlands.