Lesson in Green Fuels

Posted on April 17, 2008 by LCT Magazine

TRUTH IN LABELING: Y. Fray, the owner of ECO-LIMO in Santa Monica, Ca., has responded to a New York Times analysis posted this week about a backlash against ethanol fuel production. Her posting is an excellent primer on the different types of alternative fuels and how each reduces carbon emissions. For operators considering alternative fuel vehicles and needing some hard facts, please read below.

Please know and be advised that ECOLIMO does not promote the use of ethanol in our business or in our cars. First of all, ethanol is not widely or readily available in the State of California.  If other transportation providers are promoting themselves as “green” and they should be “yellow” via the use of ethanol, where are they getting it and do they even know what it is? The most recent trend by California limousine companies is to buy a Flex Fuel vehicle because it says Flex Fuel on the back (sounds good right?) and just put regular gas in it because E85 is not readily available. Or, how about a large operator who was given large SUV hybrid cars by a large car maker for a major award show and didn't really care about fuel economy, emissions or global warming "as long as the car says" HYBRID" on the outside". Oh, please!

Basically, here are current choices for alternative types of energy for cars on the road today:

  • Hybrid electric vehicles reduce tailpipe emissions by approximately 28 per cent.
  • Ethanol, as a 10 per cent blend with gasoline, produces about three to four per cent fewer emissions than gasoline.
  • Biodiesel, as a 20 per cent blend with diesel, produces 12 to 18 per cent fewer emissions than pure petroleum diesel.
  • Natural gas burns more cleanly, efficiently and completely than gasoline or diesel fuel, producing far fewer toxic pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Propane produces up to 20 per cent fewer toxic pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Fuel Cell cars have been in development for years and use a sophisticated electrochemical energy conversion device similar to a battery. The power is then put to the wheels via an electric motor. The core source of energy is hydrogen, which is sometimes extracted from water. Despite the appeal of fuel-cell cars an affordable, commercially available model is not on the horizon.
  • Methanol is another alcohol derived from a variety of sources such as oil shale, coal, natural gas or agricultural waste. Methanol can also be derived from landfills (LFG).

ECOLIMO promotes the use of renewable biodiesel fuel, CNG (a fossil fuel byproduct) and hybrid gas / electric technology. The primary reason is that these alternative types of energy are within our current domestic infrastructure and are the cleanest, most effective to date to help fight our climate crisis, reduce greenhouse gases and further reduce the dependence on our natural resources, specifically fossil fuels and foreign fossil fuels to boot.  ECOLIMO does not promote the use of ethanol.  Corn is the major agricultural stock for ethanol in the United States.  ECOLIMO’s position is simply this regarding the use of ethanol for our company: there is not enough corn in the world to feed it yet fuel it.  Corn, after all, is a feedstock for hog, poultry, beef, and dairy farmers. Corn sweeteners and syrups are widely used in food preparation and processing. Rising corn prices also put upward pressure on wheat and soybean prices, because all three grains compete for land and customers. Food prices are rising faster than the overall inflation rate.

What's the difference between ethanol and biodiesel? Which one is better, cheaper? Here are some of the facts about ethanol and biodiesel, with a few thoughts on which on might be better, depending on your transportation needs.
What are they?

Ethanol is "an alcohol product produced from corn, sorghum, potatoes, wheat, sugar cane, even biomass such as cornstalks and vegetable waste. When combined with gasoline, it increases octane levels while also promoting more complete fuel burning that reduces harmful tailpipe emissions such as carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons." Essentially then, Ethanol is alcohol made from plants, usually corn, and it is blended with fuel to make it burn cleaner.
Biodiesel is "a domestic, renewable fuel for diesel engines derived from natural oils like soybean oil, and which meets the specifications of ASTM D 6751." It is "a fuel comprised of mono-alkyl esters of long chain fatty acids derived from vegetable oils or animal fats..."

How are they produced?
According to the Renewable Fuels Association (the US ethanol trade organization), there are two processes for making ethanol: wet milling and dry milling. Each process is explained in detail on the RFA's site.

Biodiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification "whereby the glycerin is separated from the fat or vegetable oil. The process leaves behind two products -- methyl esters (the chemical name for biodiesel) and glycerin (a valuable byproduct usually sold to be used in soaps and other products). (NBB) Interestingly enough, the City of San Francisco is making biodiesel fuel from restaurant waste bi-products. The glycerin bi-product is not suitable for manufacturers to buy to make soap products. In an innovative move, the City has found that this particular bi-product is perfect for cleaning up the streets and gutters of San Francisco (sfbiofuels.org. / sfgreasecycle.org).
Which one is better for the environment?

About Biodiesel
Emission Type B100 B20
Carbon Monoxide -43.2% -12.6%
Hydrocarbons -56.3% -11.0%
Particulates -55.4% -18.0%
Nitrogen Oxides(NOx) +5.8% +1.2%
Air Toxics -60% to -90% -12% to -20%
Mutagenicity -80% to -90% -20%
Carbon Dioxide -78.3 % -15.7%
*Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
B100 is defined as 100 percent biodiesel
B20 is defined as 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petrol diesel

However, both forms of biofuel have definite environmental advantages over petroleum-based gasoline and diesel fuel.
According to the RFA, "Ethanol contains 35% oxygen. Adding oxygen to fuel results in more complete fuel combustion, thus reducing harmful tailpipe emissions. Ethanol also displaces the use of toxic gasoline components such as benzene, a carcinogen. Ethanol is non-toxic, water soluble and quickly biodegradable."
Biodiesel, on the other hand, "is the only alternative fuel to have fully completed the health effects testing requirements of the Clean Air Act. The use of biodiesel in a conventional diesel engine results in substantial reduction of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter compared to emissions from diesel fuel. In addition, the exhaust emissions of sulfur oxides and sulfates (major components of acid rain) from biodiesel are essentially eliminated compared to diesel."

Biodiesel is made from renewable feedstocks, such as vegetable oils and animal fats, through a simple refining process. One of the main commodity sources for biodiesel is soybeans, a major crop produced by almost 400,000 farmers in 29 states. (NBB) As a renewable resource made from domestically produced agricultural products, biodiesel contributes to domestic energy security. Biodiesel has the highest energy balance of any fuel. In other words, for every unit of fossil energy needed to produce biodiesel, 3.2 units of energy are gained and every gallon of biodiesel used has the potential to extend petroleum reserves by four gallons.

The US EPA currently estimates that the use of biodiesel represents a 67% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in comparison with petroleum based fuels. However, if deforestation and monoculture farming techniques were used to grow biofuel crops, biodiesel is predicted to become a serious threat to the environment. greater clarity on the fundamental distinctions between smog and other local pollution issues vs. greenhouse gas emissions will be essential for both well founded public policy as well as well informed consumer choices. In February 2006 a Navy biodiesel expert claimed NOx emissions in practice were actually lower than baseline. Further research is needed.

And, although ethanol can replace gasoline with significant energy savings, there are comparable impacts on greenhouse gases. No doubt "It is better to use various inputs to grow corn and make ethanol and use that in your cars than it is to use the gasoline and fossil fuels directly," said Dan Kammen, who is co-director of the Berkeley Institute of the Environment and UC Berkeley's Class of 1935 Distinguished Chair of Energy.

Ethanol is not a renewable( in-exhaustibles: wind, solar and biofuels: Renewable energy is derived from naturally regenerating energy resources such as the sun, wind, water, biomass, and heat from the Earth’s interior. The key characteristic of renewable energy resources is that they are replenished naturally or through sustainable management practices such that it is not depleted at current levels of consumption. Thus, the world cannot run out of renewable energy. ECOLIMO’s biodiesel fuel is responsibly purchased and solely made from renewables.

Put it this way regarding (non-cellulosic) ethanol: Economist Richard Rahn succinctly explains why ethanolism is ecologically unsustainable:

“If all the U.S. cropland (371 million acres) were planted in corn to produce ethanol, it would provide 111 billion equivalent gallons of gasoline, but Americans currently consume more than 140 billion gallons of gasoline. So, if Americans imported all of their food (or starved to death), they still would only attain 80 percent of their gasoline needs if it had to come from domestically produced ethanol.” http://www.globalwarming.org/node/1188

That's my take on it!

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