Need a Last Minute Costume Idea? How About Homegrown Fuel!

31 10 2011

I’m sure you’re probably scrambling to throw together a quick idea for a last minute Halloween costume for some sort of social event. Don’t worry – we’re in the same boat.

Traditionally, scary costumes preside over those deemed ‘cute’ or ‘whimsy.’ Don’t be fooled, however, by this traditional costume stigma; more people are challenging the status quo while not breaking the bank.

Here are some fun ideas that yes, I threw together on the spot (much like you are probably doing at this point on your Hallow’s night):
1) Grab an old t-shirt (preferably yellow) and leftover paint lying around your garage. Draw “E-85” on the shirt. When friends ask you what you are, respond with “money in my pocket when I go to fuel up.” Kidding aside, the yellow shirt would represent the yellow ethanol gas pump.
2) Pin some corn stalks on your head for corn stover. Don’t underestimate the cellulosic potential in which the ethanol industry is expanding.
3) We’ve recently learned that ethanol can be made from not just corn, but other feedstocks such as coffee. Got an old white sweater with a stubborn coffee stain? Wear it with pride and say the eye-sore arrived on your clothing from an unfortunate coffee ethanol manufacturing experiment.
4) Sport a Nascar ethanol racing shirt. Who doesn’t like American muscle and fast cars?
5) As a last minute idea, just wear your regular garb. Keep breathing in deeply every couple minutes and exhaling with a large smile. When people give you odd or perplexed stare, just explain that you’re a happy citizen in a world with decreased smog because everyone drives vehicles run on clean burning fuel.

Family Farm, Boorito, Chipotle, Halloween Costume, Ethanol

Okay, your evening is almost set. What kind of party could you attend dressed up as such a character? That I cannot answer. However, I came across a special that Chipotle is running tonight called BOORITO. Any customer that comes in dressed as a farm-related animal or implement can purchase a giant burrito from 6pm to closing for only $2. Yes, home-grown fuel is definitely farming-related.

This event is sponsored by Farm Aid, a long standing, national organization that benefits family farmers and strengthens America through musical festivals and outreach programs.

Where ever you end up tonight, I hope these costume ideas sparked your creative interest.



Symbiosis at its best: Algae and Poultry Feed, Additional Products

24 10 2011

A company in Iowa, Green Plains Renewable Energy, is currently conducting several trial testing and studies to examine the feasiblity to utilize the leftovers of ethanol production, carbon dioxide, heat and water, to convert into algae. However, they are also applying this anciallary ethanol production to yet another application: feed for chickens.

Algae, Green Plains Renewable Energy, Iowa, Corn, Poultry FeedThe joint venture, dubbed the BioProcess Algae Project, grows algae in greenhouse (like that in picture at left) and has passed the scrutiny from notable professors from the University of Illinois and Univesrity of Missouri. Initial testing also revealed positive remarks. The professors have noted the algae provides a good ratio of amino acids and protein, both required in feed for poultry.

They are also looking to generate algae for products in the neutraceuticals market for cosmetics and Omega supplements. The high nutritional content in algae would provide the perfect source for Omega supplements without the need for oils from fish.

It’s amazing to think how these products can be produced from waste outputs generated in ethanol production. I wonder what they’ll think of next?

Check out the CEO, Todd Becker, discuss the ethanol process and its importance in our energy portfolio.

Ethanol Producers Eye Homegrown… Trees?

22 10 2011

When we all think of ethanol, we think ‘corn.’ Well, many scientists consider the next frontier of ethanol will include not only corn as the main feedstock, but also corn stover (leftovers such as the stalks) and wood chips.

This process that utilizes the ancillary corn and vegetation products is called cellulosic ethanol.

I recently read an article on Western Farm Press about how a team of researchers at Purdue University are looking into just this. They have several test plots at Purdue and are pursuing a five year study on how trees can produce biomass for cellulosic ethanol. He envisions these agriculture products adding a valuable mix to Indiana’s cash crop portfolio.

The schematic below visually demonstrates the basic steps of how cellulosic ethanol is produced. cellulose, ethanol, production(Picture borrowed from Autogreenblog).

When we usually think of the country, we think corn and fields. What if we added an additional piece to that picture… corn, fields and trees.

cellulosic, ethanol, poplar tree, Indiana, Purdue University

Lessons from Mr. Ford.

15 10 2011

We might think that biofuels are a 21st century invention. Well, they kind of are, and kind of aren’t, depending on what feedstock you’re talking about. There is more than meets the eye on this ever-prevalent fuel.

Henry Ford, automotiveHenry Ford Ethanol, Model T, Alcohol, Fuel pump, gasoline pioneer and champion of the assembly line, revolutionized  the machining processes and drove down the cost of the Model T from $800 to $290, making automobiles economical for the first time to families and mainstream society.

Another notable component to the Model T appears under the hood. Mr. Ford first engineered his cars to run off of either alcohol–ethanol–or gasoline, depending on what was available at the time or location. The Model T was in fact the first flex fuel car America has ever seen.

Insert prohibition in 1919 which threw a wrench into things for Henry Ford (literally). In order for his cars to continue to run on alcohol,  the fuel had to undergo a denaturing process to make it poisonous and undrinkable.  Prohibition finally released its grasp on Ford in 1933.

Henry’s innovations and applications have taught us that ethanol has made itself known to be a successful ethanol, Model T, Henry Ford, assembly linecompetitor to gasoline for over 100+ years. After all, this alternative was powering cars before the Wright Brothers and their crazy inventions ever took flight.

Free Trade Agreements – A Vital Constituent to Ethanol’s Success.

12 10 2011

In Congress this week, thColombia, Korea, Panama, Free Trade Agreement, Corn Exportere is buzz regarding a vote on free trade agreements with several latin American countries such as Panama and Colombia in addition to Korea.

So why do these free trade agreements matter when ethanol is concerned? Well, the United States is the world’s leader in corn exports. Stemming from that foundation, much of ethanol’s success depends on the steady supply and fair access to other countries.

As Congress stalls, this ambivalence is costing rural America jobs and hurting our local and national economies. FoExport, Colombia, Korea, Free Trade Agreement, Corn r example, over the past two years when corn exports decreased dramatically to Colombia, it resulted in a half a billion dollars in lost revenue to our economy.

It is also important that we recognized the emerging alliances between the European Union and Korea Fair Trade Agreement that was implemented the middle of this summer. In order to maintain our competitive edge in an ever prevailing global market, we need to stake our seat at the table.

I hope Congress recognizes this potential importance to the health of our local and national economies.

Good for National Defense – Good for Civilians.

6 10 2011

When I think national defense, several images emerge: the war in Iraq, drug cartels and shanty-towns along the Mexican border and

The Secretary of Navy, Roy Mabus, recently spoke at a Mississippi State University biofuel conference. He lauded their MSU Energy Institute’s conference and research on emerging biofuel technologies.

The navy and our National Defense is extremely interested in biofuels. Why? Our military branch budget takes a brutal hit whenever a barrel of oil rises. Given the volatile nature that surrounds foreign sources of energy and fossil fuels, it makes sense that they are more attracted to stable, reliable and local fuel sources.

So why biofuels? It’s pretty simple, actually. Given that the majority of our petroleum comes from rogue, unpredictable nations, the price of oil is extremely sensitive to geo-politics, causing price unpredictability as a result of supply shocks.

 (Photo: MSU)

Therefore, that’s why the Secretary of Navy is touting biofuels — to protect the military’s budget against price volatility. Moreover, diversifying the navy’s fuel portfolio will also be another way to support our local, national economy.

Since the national defense feels so strongly about American biofuels, a lot of people think that mainstream society should, too (including myself!). And although as individuals we don’t provide the national defense that the Navy performs on a daily basis, each purchase and fill-up at the pump does, and can, make an aggregate difference to our National Security.

America’s Biofuels – Putting America Back to Work

5 10 2011

as also seen on the IL Corn Corps…

We’re reminded of it every day when we tune into NPR on the way to work or turn on any media station at night. This omnipresent “elephant in the room” isn’t good for business, and it certainly isn’t good for morale. Michigan and Illinois alone have 11.2% and 9.2% unemployment, respectively.

How can we fix it? How can you and I make a difference?

The truth is, I don’t think we’ve ever really lost sight of how to apply our vast knowledge as a nation. As our economy shifts to a more global one, other countries advance and become more competitive. They see our industrialized success as an example and push us harder than ever before to keep our competitive edge.

Living in Michigan near the auto industry capital, I see cars on a frequent basis proudly displaying bumper stickers that say “Out of a Job Yet? Keep Buying Foreign.”

Whether meant to warn as a result of their current situation or not, these drivers offer a somber reminder and a reality. It really does matter, on a macro and micro economic scale, what products we buy and where they come from. This trend to buy American products continues to garner greater attention in mainstream society, but I feel we only pay attention to the origin of particular household products, such as t-shirts or new wrenches.

So, let’s go back to the beginning. How do we fix our unemployment? I think the answer is twofold.

First: as a society, I think we need to commit to not accepting skyrocketing unemployment. Just last week the USDA and the Obama Administration announced that they will be creating extensive and diverse jobs throughout rural America through various biofuel programs in 41 states.

Second: we need to continue to take a serious look at where our products, especially fuel, come from. Ask yourself: Where were they made? What communities do they impact? Does the revenue from my purchase stay within my economy, or state, helping my neighbors, families and friends? We don’t always have the opportunity to buy American-made products anymore, but we absolutely do have that option with fuel.

To celebrate Alternative Fuels Day yesterday, I encourage you to look at the pump when you fill up to see how much biofuel is in your gasoline. That percentage, small or large, is the direct result of hard work from families throughout the Midwest.

A lot of people—politicians, business and industry leaders alike—think they know who or what to blame for the downslide or stagnation in our current economy. Whatever the cause, the solutions are clear. We need to focus on viable, effective solutions to putting our ingenuity back to work through American made, American bought—biofuels.

Cellulosic Ethanol: Compliment–not Substitute–for Food Crops.

1 10 2011

Whenever I talk to my friends or overhear passersby, the topic of food prices will sometimes casually be brought up. Well, this post won’t cover the economics of food prices (because they are very complex). I do want to discuss the important, unrelated connection of cellulosic fuel with the corn that we eat everyday.

The Department of Energy just issued a $132.4 million federal loan guarantee for a cellulosic ethanol plant that will be built in Kansas by Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass of Kansas, LLC. The reason why this loan guarantee made a significant statement is twofold. Not only does the Department of Energy recognize the importance mitigating  our dependence foreign oil through producing 21st century fuels, but this project will also provide 300 construction jobs and 65 permanent jobs in rural America.

So what exactly is cellulosic ethanol and how does it relate to the food we put on our plates?

First off, traditional ethanol fuel is made from field corn, not the same corn that we lather up with butter, sprinkle with salt and roast over a fire at a cookout (that’s sweet corn). Ethanol, however, can still be created without using field corn for the main feedstock.

That’s were cellulosic comes in. Chemically speaking, cellulose is a long organic chain of that comprises the cell walls of plants. So, cellulosic ethanol is created using cellulose from the corn stover, or the leftovers (stalks and leaves) of corn harvesting after a combine runs through the field to harvest all the kernels (either sweet corn for food, or field corn for fuel).

This developer is breaching the limits when it comes to making smart, holistic business practices: this ethanol plant will be entirely self sufficient. It will make it’s own 20 MW of power by combusting biomass.  As if this plant wasn’t sustainable enough!

So, here’s what I think is the most exciting part about this type of fuel: cellulosic ethanol utilizes the leftover corn stover (leaves and stalks) from harvesting grain. This fuel makes farming  more efficient; decreases our dependence on foreign oil; creates rural employment opportunities; and doesn’t compete against food grain prices!

(Photo from RECHARGE)