Stories tagged biodiesel

Aug
19
2011

An albino alligator: Imagine how creamy and awesome its fat would be!
An albino alligator: Imagine how creamy and awesome its fat would be!Courtesy Mila Zonkova
Am I right? Alligator powered trucks? Like, big ol’ trucks with alligators trotting along on treadmills? Or harnessed like vertically challenged oxen? Or with their feet sticking through the floor of the trucks, running all Flintstones-style?

Oh, wait, none of those things. Ha ha ha. My bad. Alligators will actually power trucks by being rendered into diesel fuel. Laugh out loud.

Or, at any rate, alligators could be rendered into truck-powering diesel fuel. There aren’t necessarily any plans to do so.

The idea to render alligators came from a recent study authored by researchers form the University of Louisiana and published in Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research. Most of the 700 billion gallons of biodiesel produced in this country each year come from soybean oil. As we increase production of biodiesel (we consume 45 billion gallons of diesel every year), some people are concerned that using soy as a feedstock will cause the price of food to increase, so scientists are on the lookout for alternative products to use for biodiesel. Alligator fat, it turns out, is pretty nicely suited to be turned into diesel—it has the right chemical composition, and requires less processing than many other feedstocks.

Are alligators taking the place of 19th century sperm whales as a living source of fuel oil, you ask? When does the scouring of the swamps begin? Weeeeell, sort of never. I know you’d like to go make your fortune by hunting alligators for their sweet, sweet fat, but the study is only proposing using fat from existing alligator farming and hunting operations. Apparently, the alligator meat industry disposes of about 15 million pounds of alligator fat every year. While processing that quantity would only make a very small dent in current biodiesel production, it’s still much more efficient than dumping it in landfills. And it’s much more hilarious.

Oct
11
2010

Industrial hemp: Fields of green, etc, etc. Don't be tedious.
Industrial hemp: Fields of green, etc, etc. Don't be tedious.Courtesy Aleks
Oh, happy day! It was getting dry out there, Buzzketeers. I’m referring, of course, to the dearth of hilarious science news items; everything is extinction this, cancer that, radioactive this, greenish discharge that. If you wanted to write a clever and humorous article about scientific research, you’d have to lower yourself to making fun of oil-covered seabirds, or the stupid things babies do when they’re learning. Ugh.

But not any more, thanks to researchers at the University of Connecticut. By exploring the potential of industrial hemp to be a bio-fuel feedstock, they have opened up a plentiful new source of raw material for puns.

We could spend hours discussing how “green” the research is! Ha ha ha! Or, like, the high expectations scientists have for technology that can convert up to 97% of the oil from hemp seeds (a commonly discarded byproduct in hemp farming) into biodiesel. Ho ho ho ha!

Or what about this: there’s been a lot of… buzz surrounding biofuel production, because it could potentially remove food crops and high quality land from our food production system. But because hemp—which is typically grown for its fibers—can grow on relatively poor-quality land, it shouldn’t affect our production of munchies! Ha ha hahahahaaa!

It turns out that industrial hemp has a lot of applications, but it can’t be used as a drug! Ha ha… Oh, wait, I guess that wasn’t really a pun.

In any case, it’s illegal to grow industrial hemp in 41 states, so this one is probably just for other countries.

PS—Drug abuse isn’t any funnier than drug-related puns. Don’t yell at me.

May
06
2009

Green machine: This race car is made from sustainable materials and burn a biodiesel fuel composed of waste material used in making chocolate.
Green machine: This race car is made from sustainable materials and burn a biodiesel fuel composed of waste material used in making chocolate.Courtesy Yahoo UK
Powered by the byproducts created in making chocolate and constructed out of materials created from vegetables, this is no ordinary race car.

In fact, the WorldFirst Formula 3 race car unveiled this week in Great Britain bills itself at the world’s first sustainable race car. The car, which is being prepped for racing in the Formula 3 series, is opening eyes on may levels.

Initial tests had the car going at 60 miles per hour. With a few more tweaks, designers estimate that it should go at around at a competitive 145 miles per hour.

Powering that speed is a special turbo-diesel engine that runs on bio-diesel fuel. The current fuel formulation uses waste products leftover from making chocolate.

Other “green” components of the car include a steering wheel made from a polymer created out of carrots, wing mirrors constructed from a potato starch base and brake pads that have cashew nut shells as a component. The car’s seat includes materials created out of flax fiber and soy bean oil.

Want to learn more? Here are links to two different stories on the WorldFirst Formula 3 car.

With the Indy 500 coming up, this new eco-friendly car could prove to be a boost to drivers in that marathon race. If they get hungry during the race, they could just take a bite of the steering wheel or driver’s seat.

Jun
28
2007

Pond scum to the rescue: Researchers are looking at ways to produce fuel from algae. Photo from NOAA.
Pond scum to the rescue: Researchers are looking at ways to produce fuel from algae. Photo from NOAA.

If some researchers in Colorado have their way, you may one day be driving a car powered by pond scum. Solix Biofuels is one of a handful of companies trying to produce biodiesel from algae.

May people consider biodeisel fuels, like ethanol, a preferable alternative to gasoline for powering. It is renewable (we’ll never run out; we just grow some more); it pollutes less; it is non-toxic and biodegradable; and we can grow it in the US, and not have to import oil from overseas.

One of the big problems with biofuels, though, is they are made from plants. Some of those plants, like corn and soybeans, we eat. Turning those plants into fuel is already driving up the price of food. And replacing all our oil with biofuel would require more farmland than exists in the entire nation.

This is where algae comes in. Algae produces vegetable oil, which can be refined into biodiesel. It can grow anywhere you can set up water tanks. It thrives on sunshine, which is plentiful and free. And it pulls carbon dioxide out of the air. (You could, in fact, take the CO2 produced by a traditional power plant and pump it straight into an algae farm)

Algae researchers are a long way from producing any biofuel yet. But this could be a way of meeting our energy needs while being gentler to the environment.

May
09
2007

It seems that everywhere I look, energy is in the news these days. Here are a few more stories that caught my eye recently.

Wind power

Delaware is considering building a massive windfarm in the waters off their Atlantic coast. Experts estimate this could generate enough energy to light 130,000 homes. But some people raise concerns about the damage this might do to migratory birds, ocean shipping, and the natural beauty of the view.

Nano solar panels

We’ve discussed how nanotechnology might revolutionize solar energy elsewhere on this blog. Now come word from Rice University of a breakthrough: an efficient means of creating molecular-sized semiconductors, an important component of high-efficiency solar panels.

Green fuel guide

Ethanol. Biodiesel. Hydrogen. Lots of new fuels are vying to replace gasoline as the automotive energy of the future. Popular Science magazine gives a run-down on the pros and cons of each.

All about CFLs

We’ve had a couple of threads here on Compact Fluorescent Bulbs and the advantages of replacing your regular bulbs with low-energy CFLs. For those who want to learn more, here’s a handy round-up, telling you everything you need to know about these bulbs.

Aug
07
2006

Corn field: Corn is used to produce ethanol fuels, such as E85.  Photo courtesy killermart, Flickr Creative Commons.
Corn field: Corn is used to produce ethanol fuels, such as E85. Photo courtesy killermart, Flickr Creative Commons.
Biofuels are fuels that are derived from recently living organisms, such as corn or soybeans, or their byproducts, such as manure from cows. A recent study at the University of Minnesota examined the total life-cycle cost of all of the energy used for growing corn and soybeans and converting these crops into biofuels to determine what biofuel has the highest energy benefit and the least impact on the environment.
Corn grain ethanol vs. soybean biodisel
Two types of biofuels are becoming more visible as we look for alternatives to petroleum because of increasing gas prices: soybean biodisel and corn grain ethanol, such as E85. The study showed that both corn grain ethanol and soybean biodiesel produce more energy than is needed to grow the crops and convert them into biofuels. However, the amount of energy each fuel returns differs greatly. Soybean biodiesel returns 93 percent more energy than is used to produce it, while corn grain ethanol currently provides only 25 percent more energy than is used to produce it.
The study also compared the amount of greenhouse gases each biofuel released into the environment when used. Soybean biodiesel produces 41% less greenhouse gas emissions than diesel fuel while corn grain ethanol produces 12% less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline.
Not a silver bullet
The researchers conducting this study caution that neither biofuel is ready to replace petroleum. Even if all current U.S. corn and soybean production were dedicated to biofuels production, it would still only meet 12 percent of gasoline demand and 6 percent of diesel demand, and we still need to produce these crops for food. Biofuels are steps in the right direction, however, and can be a piece of the overall puzzle needed to be put together to solve our energy needs.