Reason to stray, but don’t go far before you fill up.

9 12 2011

I will have to admit. This breakthrough is by far the most startling milestone that I’ve come across in the realm of emerging biofuel research.

E. Coli, the bacteria we all fear. Responsbile for many food scare epidemics. Culprit for frequent illnesses. Cause for some deaths.

DOE, E. Coli, Joint BioEnergy Institute, Biofuel, Jet Fuel

Now researchers at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Joint BioEnergy Institute in San Francisco have experimented with a strain of E. Coli and found promising, and surprising, results. Their creation is rigorous enough to eat away at swithgrass, a touch plant which could be the next promising feestock for cellulosic ethanol. They found that when the E. Coli eat the swithgrass, the feast yeilds three products: gasoline (that’s renewable), diesel and jet biofuel.

It’s important to understand the BioEnergy Institute’s reasons for putting in so many resources to find a bacteria that could eat a renewable fuel feedstock. I coundn’t come up with any idea why, but hang on– it makes sense. The bacteria breaks down the woody matter (called lignen) in the feedstock that otherwise requires intensive processes, technology and finances to break down. By doing so, they have been able to cut projected costs dramatically and ramp up production more cheaply, efficiently and quickly.

Thumbs up to this globally feared bacteria.

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US Navy’s “Green Strike Force”: A Blossoming Initiative

9 12 2011

We hear talk about biofuels within political debates and media specials.  Now, about how often you hear about sustainable fuels in the context of our ruggad, die-hard military and defense departments? If you ask me, they don’t exactly seem like the most ecologically-minded bunch.

navy, green strike force, biofuel, algae

Looking to lower their ecological footprint, the US Navy is creating a “Green Task Force” through purchasing half a million gallons of biofuel. They plan to meet a portion of the energy demandwithin their jet and carrier fleet. As an added and noteworthy bonus, this move also supports American jobs and economic vitatlity on our home soil. Most of the ordered fuels are made from re-processed cooking oil while many are algae-based.

Their over-arching hope is to meet their goal of 50% alternative, homegrown fuels by 2020.

The implications of this partnership could be various and extensive. Partnering with American clean fuel producers could help our nation secure energy security. The Navy relies on unstable, rogue nations for fuel and this provides perverse implications to our national secity. Moreover, these fossil fuels are subject to extreme price volatility, putting the Navy’s budget at risk. Biofuels, however, are produced domestically and do not exhibit that price volatility. Adding these renewable fuels into their diversified portfolio acts as a hedge against price risk.

Now this is blossoming relationship in which I want to keep up to date!





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.





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?





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.





Michigan or Bust: How Ag Can Help Solve Detroit’s Woes

27 08 2011

They say there are two seasons here: construction…. And winter.

As I drove my car down highway 94 east towards my new home this morning, the transition to Michigan from Illinois didn’t seem too bad.

To pass the time, I tried to read everything down the interstate that I could. Passing cars, semis, billboards… you name it.

I stopped in the Welcome Center and picked up the Michigan Agricultural Tourism booklet (oh yeah, and to grab a state map and other free schwag).

Where does it mention anything about alternative fuels that are grown here in the heartland of the Midwest? Well, kinda. There is mention of how adding soy to your plate is a great way to support Michigan agriculture and your health. What about how soy can fuel our cars?

Apparently, there doesn’t seem to be a large focus on raising corn, either, for food or fuel. Berries (you name it, I think they got it here), at first glance in this booklet appear to be one of the staple crops.

Now, I am an avid berry eater. Do not get me wrong! They offer some of the greatest health benefits out of all fresh foods. You can’t say enough about antioxidants.

But… do blueberries have the potential to eliminate smog? Don’t think so. Can cherries power vehicles while reducing our dependence on foreign oil? Not likely.

Corn, while also a tasty summer snack on the grill, can also satisfy the preceding characteristics. Soy can, too.

It seems to me that folks in Detroit are hurting. Hurting for industry, hurting for a better housing market, hurting for job security. They need alternatives, now. They need cutting edge technology, fast. They need a proliferating industry that has the potential to put food on our families’ plates AND power a greener, cleaner tomorrow.

So Michigan, please tell me… why not add a little green industry to your fields?