|Biomass | Gasoline's Cleaner Cousin | The Alternative to Alternative Energy | Ethanol for Big Trucks | Electrical Power Generation|
Fossil fuels are nothing more than dead and compacted biomaterial. Why wait until it's been dead for millions of years? Today's technologies allow us to extract the alcohols and other naturally occurring chemicals in bio-matter to create clean fuels.
Already used as a gasoline additive, ethanol (or ethyl alcohol) can be used as an alternative to gasoline, as well as an additive that can make gasoline burn cleaner and more efficiently. Ethanol is made using a process that ferments the biomass using catalysts (bacteria and yeast). This fermented biomaterial is then processed further to create fuel-grade ethanol. The byproducts associated with ethanol can be used to make other fuels and chemicals.
The biomaterial used for ethanol ranges greatly from corn, to forestry residues, to solid waste. All of these are already produced in mass quantities and are being dumped and unused and create health risks of their own. By turning these materials into fuels, we empty landfills while producing cleaner vehicles and power plants.
Certain forms of diesel fuel are already considered alternative fuels under the Energy Policy Act of 1992. Biodiesel is a new form of diesel gas that is made from soy bean oil and user restaurant grease. This cleaner fuel is one of the only forms of alternative energy for cars that works in conventional engines. A regular diesel engine can run off of biodiesel without any change in performance.
E-Diesel is currently still experimental, but could prove to be a cleaner diesel fuel. Combined with ethanol, E-diesel would reduce particulate emissions from 27% to 41%. It would also decrease emissions of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. The major drawback of E-Diesel is the loss of efficiency and mileage.
Biomass is in use today as a supplement to current electrical grids. Municipalities can use their solid waste to generate up to 3,308 Megawatts of electricity. Other biomass sources are forestry residue, agriculture and landfill gases. These biomasses are used in one of four ways: 1)direct-fire, 2)co-fire, 3)gasification, and 4)modular systems.
Direct-fire systems work much like conventional power stations, but instead of using oil or natural gas, biomass is used. Unfortunately, biomass systems work at only the bottom 20% efficiency range. Co-fire systems work the same way, but may be supplemented with coal or other fossil fuels. These work much better, and after "tuning" the boilers properly, fossil-fuel plants may produce the same output but with far less emissions using biomass fuels.
Gasification systems are highly efficient power plants that employ gas chambers where biomass is superheated to form flammable gas. That gas is then treated to remove problem chemicals (ones that may cause pollution but not contribute to energy output) and then used to turn the turbines. Power plants like these can reach efficiency ratings of 60%. All of these systems can be scaled down into modular systems and used in small towns and villages. One day, these systems could even become mobile, and be used in conjunction with fuel cells.