Caffeine and…. Ethanol… from Coffee?

29 09 2011

What do coffee and ethanol have in common? Well, Ethanol.

I cannot express how much I love coffee. The hot, wafting aromas, sharp acidity and ‘terroire’ (taste derived from the particular soil in which the bean is raised) all combine into one perfect package–along with the added bonus… caffeine and ethanol.

It still amazes me that 21st century advances have enabled us to use ‘waste’ feedstock leftovers and reuse them for a better purpose – providing us with homegrown and clean energy.

So, when roasting and producing the beans, a waste byproduct is generated called mucilage. Typically, this byproduct hurts the roasters/farmers economically because they have to pay to get rid of it. Well, some Colombian scientists have been able to figure out a process to generate ethanol from this waste. It’s not up to commercial production, but the technology keeps increasing and becoming more improved.

This advancement offers a multitude of positive feedback benefits: the byproduct is no longer an economic burden to dispose of, roasters/farmers can produce a clean fuel with recycled waste, and its clean nature protects our families’ health and well-being.

Succulent qualities aside, it’s important to recognize the niche sector in our food and beverage industry that produces coffee products. Alongside traditional agriculture producers, small, family owned businesses roast coffee beans throughout the Midwest –from Michigan to Iowa–providing local jobs, economic stimulus and vitality.

Check out Energy Digital’s site to learn more information on this developing homegrown fuel!

Deepwater Horizon Final Report Offers Takeaways, Lessons.

24 09 2011

I can’t believe it was early last year (April 20th 2010) when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, allowing crude oil to taint the Gulf for 87 days following the incident. Several men and women perished that day, leaving behind beloved families and children.

The final investigation has been released this week, calling to question the safety protocols blatantly neglected by the Deepwater Horizon’s owner – Transocean, BP and Halliburton.

Here are just a few of the sickening results uncovered by the  Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) and U.S. Coast Guard Joint Investigation Team (JIT):

  • The U.S. government has committed to submitting sanctions against these companies in light of the panel’s findings
  • BP violated seven regulations
  • Transocean violated three regulations
  • Halliburton’s subsidiary – Sperry Sun – violated three regulations
  • According to the panel, these companies neglected the necessary, mandated protocols to avoid “unreasonable risk to public health, life, property, aquatic life… or other uses of the ocean”

If you want to learn more about one of our nation’s worst natural disasters, I’m currently reading and would highly recommend  Drowning in Oil: BP and the Reckless Pursuit of Profit. Acclaimed Houston Chronicle journalist, Loren Steffy, recounts BP’s history and rise to its current status as a global multi-billion dollar machine; he unveils how the former CEO’s management approach led to not only the oil spill in the gulf, but several preceding warnings including a preventable burst pipeline in the Arctic and a refinery explosion in Texas City in 2005, killing 15 and injuring almost 200.

Loren discovers the main culprits to these and other negligent behavior committed by BP continue to arise because of delayed maintenance; deferred upgrades; and budget cuts.

Comparing this disaster with ethanol or biodiesel production, there will always be small accidents or mishaps when raising crops for sustainable fossil fuel alternatives – accidents happen. Fortunately, family farmers strive to uphold safety and protocol on the farm; when a small accident occurs, they maintain accountability and repair any impact within their communities.

Biofuel offers more than meets the eye.

22 09 2011

Did you know that the food we grow, after aiding in cooking, can also help us clean up the dishes, too?

I’m sure you’ve heard of folks undertaking biofuel projects either at Universities or featured in documentaries of a guy/gal that converted his/her Jetta to run on the waste cooking grease discarded from fast food joints.

But did you know that biodiesel is not only a direct substitute for dirty, fossil fuel-derived diesel, but making it creates an everyday useful byproduct?

Take a look at this neat video – it talks about how students at Loyola University Chicago are making their own batches of homegrown biodiesel that can be used directly in diesel cars! They also talk about how the conversion of the waste food oil into clean, renewable fuel gives them an added bonus – glycerin. They are using the glycerin to make soaps that are gentle enough for hands, yet strong enough for cars and hardwood floors!

Can you think of any other by-products that biofuels produce?

Just the facts – Water.

16 09 2011

As with any evolving technology, industry, idea, proposal, and alternative, the spread of misinformation can be rampant (especially from the competition, naysayers or NIMBYers). Although the advent of the 21st century communication infrastructure has spread endless information to the global community, it has also allowed for the proliferation of misrepresentation.

I wanted to use today’s post to pose some facts, statistics and truths about the renewable fuels that we grow in our very own backyard. I would also like to present legitimate sources to support these claims (i.e. not Wikipedia). Given that H20 is essential to life and everything else that we rely on to support it, it’s important to examine how we produce products, fuels and food in terms of water consumption.


According to the U.S. Geological Survey and Environmental Protection Agency, it takes only 2.7 gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol.

In contrast, it takes 44.07 gallons of water to refine one gallon of crude oil (or 1,851 gallons of water to refine a 42 gallon barrel of crude oil)!

Ethanol is non-toxic, water soluble and quickly biodegrades in soils, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.

And last but not least…

What I find the most disturbing is that gasoline contains benzene, a carcinogen that is found in the emissions from  burning coal and oil. In an event of an oil spill or leak, the ethanol (i.e. a 10% blend), would safely biodegrade first. The benzene, a constituent to petrol, however, would persist in the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, this chemical contains a classification under Group A, human carcinogen. It has the ability to cause repoductive effects in women, leukemia, unconsciousness etc.

These agencies and associations listed have a prodigious amount of information available if you want to learn more about ethanol or other homegrown fuels’ impact on our most vital resource – water.

Take flight with Camelina.

13 09 2011

Q: How does a 48,000 pound aircraft lift off the ground without a second thought?

Several agencies including the U.S. Airforce and G.E. Aviation along with Embraer have successfully completed test flights over the past several months of aircraft ranging from the F-22 Raptor to CF34-8E-powered E-170. The raptor also seamlessly flaunted a supercruise earlier this year in California – a supersonic flight, sans spleen-bursting afterburner.

Here comes the kicker: both flew on biofuels.

March 18, 2011, at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. (Image: U.S. Air Force photo/Kevin North)

Camelina sativa is a fast growing crop that requires little water and inputs; it has become the recent acclaimed cohort in an ever evolving realm of research in a quest for the next aviation fuel. A cousin to the mustard and canola families, this multi-functional plant also reduces the majority of carbon dioxide emissions when compared to its dirty step cousin: traditional petrol-derived aviation fuel.

After the seed is processed and the oil extracted for fuel, a ‘meal’ is leftover. Not to be put to waste, the USDA has also deemed the residual meal fit for poultry or livestock feed.

So. How exactly does a 48,000 pound aircraft lift off the ground without a second thought?

With a little might, a lotta grease… and a pinch of homegrown biostock.

Fall’s here… almost! Plenty of attractions for young and old.

10 09 2011

So although this particular post may not cover renewable fuels directly, I would like to explore how pre-harvested corn (before it’s produced into an amazing, local fuel for our cars) can provide a wonderful fall attraction for families looking to spend time with their loved ones.

The official start of the 2011 Autumn season is on the September equinox, or September 23. This is one of only two days a year in which we experience almost exactly 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of darkness (f you’re sitting on the equator, that is).

What better way to soak up this amazing weather than spending it outside with your kids or friends?

Insert Coleman’s Corn Maze (picture at right). They offer everything from a 17 acre corn maze, hayrides, farm animals to bonfires. They also provide U-pick pumpkins at the end of this month.

But if you don’t live anywhere near Coleman’s Corn Maze in Saline, Michigan, there are plenty of alternative corn mazes near you. Just google your state’s tourism website and search for corn mazes to find local farms.

Besides gooey, tart candy apples paired with savory kettle corn, what’s the best part about an activity like exploring a corn maze or picking apples on a family farm?

Quality time spent with the ones you love.

Lights out, ethanol.

8 09 2011

Republican presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann, has vowed to lock the doors and turn out the lights on the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, at a rally last week if she is elected. Moreover, she’s promised $2/gal gasoline.

As the presidential campaign revs up this fall, candidates will be touting promises that their platform will be better than that of their competition.

So what do bureaucratic politics have to do with ethanol or American homegrown energy?

Let us first focus on the $2/gal empty promise. Believe me, it sounds incredibly appetizing. As a broke college student, $4/gal at the pump can drive a girl to want to crave Ramen again or raid the entire maid’s cart while on vacation.

Wait a second.  We’re not talking ethanol.  She promises that gasoline will reach below $2 a gallon. Well, there are only two direct ways to reach such a heavily subsidized and frugal price for petroleum. Option number one: Increase the petroleum industry’s subsidies or tax breaks (this money doesn’t come from anywhere. It comes from you. And I. And everyone else.  Is Michele going to raise taxes, too, to pay for these additional subsidies?).  Option number two: increase drilling in ecologically fragile regions of the United States alongside negligent companies. When black tar desecrates all life forms in the Gulf of Mexico or pipelines burst in the Tundra (both of which have happened within the past couple years), who is ultimately held liable for the corporations that are too large to care? Taxpayers? Yes. You, and I.

These approaches could make way for a quasi deflated price at the pump that’s closer to $2/gal (at least it looks that way when we go to select ‘Debit’ or ‘Credit’). But subsidies, taxpayer money, drain our pockets in the first place to drive the price down. In the end, we still pay the difference.

Currently, ethanol is cheaper than gasoline at the pump. And Michele has yet to extrapolate on a plan to drive down the cost of ethanol, too. Well, it’s already cheaper than gasoline.  It’s grown here in the Midwest.  When was the last time we had an ethanol spill?  When was the last time family farmers had beg for gov’t assistance to clean up a burst pipeline on their farms?

Yet she wants to close the doors on the EPA, the very agency that recently updated a revised ratio for a greater mixture of ethanol in commercial gasoline (up 15% from 10%). She wants to turn out all lights in the EPA, the very agency that wants to proliferate this homegrown fuel into further depths within our economy.

Lights out, ethanol.

Popcorn? Check. Ethanol? Check. Movie night? Yes… please.

3 09 2011

I don’t know how many other people that are as avid documentary followers as myself.

You name it; I’ve seen it. I’ve watched documentaries on big box corporations; bees;  financial crisis and negligence; religious strife; excursions in Patagonia; and of course, environmental degradation.

Fine, I’ll even admit that one of my boyfriend’s go-to nicknames for me is “Docu-Queen,” honoring my insatiable thirst for this particular cinematic delight.

I’ve had the lucky opportunity to snag a preview of this film (sorry, top secret clearance is difficult to come by!).

Its comprehensive nature discusses our most feasible alternative to our addiction to foreign oil: ethanol. The producer travels the country to share his message and tout ethanol’s social and economic attributes.

It’s Friday night! So grab a bowl of popcorn, your significant other and pop in “Freedom.”

Because we all deserve a little Freedom 🙂

Tired of the Libyan turmoil? Grow local. Buy local. Drive local.

2 09 2011

It’s not ‘new’ news that oil prices fluctuate according to Middle Eastern politics. In fact, petrol’s volatility is most significantly influenced by geo-political factors.

As the Qaddafi regime continues to influence Libyan unrest, rebel forces have seized the capital, Tripoli. Unfortunately, it’s unclear as to when oil reserves will continue to flow again. The tyrant, still in hiding, has promised ‘hell’ on the land.

Great. But I promise this story isn’t all doomsday.

We live in a democratic state. No matter how much the left and right wing might squabble, we still have a strict set of law and order that guides our social and political structures.

Fortunately, we also have a secure economy that ensures we have reliable food… and fuel!

So there’s corn (sweet corn) for people, and corn (field corn) for fuel. The vast majority of corn planted is the perfect type that makes ethanol. And boy, is there an abundance of it here in the Midwest.

Next time you stop by to fill up, I implore you to check out how much ethanol is mixed into your gas. Even if it’s just 10% (an E-10 blend) ethanol and 90% fossil fuel, pat yourself on the back. You should be proud that 10% of your fuel proceeds just supported local farmers and families that aren’t contributing to the Libyan unrest and oil volatility.

As we all know, every little bit counts!