Stories tagged fuel

Apr
05
2007

Will new technologies render oil obsolete?: Photo by tbone55 via flickr.com
Will new technologies render oil obsolete?: Photo by tbone55 via flickr.com

There’s been lots of energy news lately. Here’s a round-up of some articles I found interesting:

An inventor in Colorado is making biofuel from pond scum. Algae grow rapidly; they produce waste products that can be turned into biodiesel and ethanol; and they can absorb carbon dioxide from traditional coal- and oil-burning factories.

A company in Arizona has announced on their corporate blog that they have invented a new process of creating hydrogen on-demand from magnesium and water. This would allow a clean-burning fuel cell to produce its own hydrogen.

And speaking of fuel cells, Ford Motor Company has unveiled a prototype hydrogen / plug-in car. It runs on batteries powered by hydrogen. But, very few stations in the US carry hydrogen for refueling. So, you can also recharge the batteries by simply plugging it into a household electrical outlet. Ford hopes to have a commercial model available within 10 years.

Feb
15
2007

Michael Waltrip's car: Courtesy stevejk.
Michael Waltrip's car: Courtesy stevejk.

Michael Waltrip's NASCAR team was heavily fined this week for cheating. Inspectors found an unspecified substance in the engine which was thought to unfairly boost his car's performance. But what was this mysterious stuff? Most sources say inspectors found oxygenate in the engine's intake manifold. So if that's the case how does this stuff work?

Internal combustion engine: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Internal combustion engine: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
First we need to do a quick run down of how a standard car engine works:

  1. Gasoline and air get mixed together inside a small chamber called a cylinder.
  2. A piston shrinks the size of this valve compressing the gasoline and air.
  3. A spark plug makes a tiny electric spark which ignites the gasoline and air causing the piston to move. The piston's movement is linked to the wheels, causing them to turn.
  4. The piston also comes back around another time to force out the gases left over after the explosion. That's the exhaust that that comes out your tail pipe.

The air that gets sucked into the engine just comes from the outside world. The same air we breath. The explosion works because our air has about 21% oxygen in it and oxygen really likes to burn. But what if we could add more oxygen to this equation? This results in a more complete combustion of the fuel and more power. More power means more speed.

From what I've read on the web it seems that Waltrip's team was using a type of gel that sits in the air intake on the engine. As the gel evaporated it would release oxygen into the engine which would then be used for combustion, increasing power. NASCAR was none to happy about this and fined the crew chief of the team, David Hyder, $100,000 and kicked him out of the garage.

Incidentally you might be using another type of oxygenate in your car right now, ethanol. Ethanol is mixed in with gasoline to reduce emissions because it is an oxygenate. When you get a more complete combustion with added oxygen you also get less exhaust and less harmful emissions. I still think that Ethanol is a poor alternative fuel strategy but that's another story for another time.

Oct
30
2006

Many people, from the President on down, believe that the US must reduce its reliance on oil. But where will we get the energy we need to run our homes, businesses and cars? People have suggested nuclear power, solar, wind, biomass and many other approaches. All have their advantages and disadvantages.

One idea getting a lot of support is hydrogen—as a fuel or in batteries. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and when you consume it, the only waste product is pure, clean water.

But hydrogen has a lot of drawbacks, too. An article in the November issue of Popular Mechanics runs down the challenges in hydrogen production, storage, distribution and use.

Meeting America’s energy needs will probably require a combination of approaches.

Mar
03
2005

With all the doom-and-gloom stories in the news about how we might soon run out of space in landfills and fossil fuels, it's nice to read about an innovation that uses landfills to provide energy.

Methane forms when organic waste decomposes in the absence of oxygen, as in landfills. At a few landfills, the methane is collected and used to power vehicles or to heat nearby buildings. But most of it goes to waste. Landfill operators burn it off to prevent dangerous build-ups of the flammable gas. Burning off the methane not only wastes the potential fuel, but it also pumps pollutants into the atmosphere. In Europe alone, landfills have the potential to generate as much as 94 billion cubic meters of methane per year.

Why don't we use the methane from more landfills? Well, people usually extract it by sinking pipes into the landfill and sucking the gas out. But if the landfill isn't airtight, sucking out the methane also sucks in air. The oxygen is not only difficult to separate from the methane, but it also slows down methane production inside the landfill. So, until now, the only landfills where methane extraction has been viable have been those large and deep enough to restrict the entry of air.

But Viktor Popov, at the Wessex Institute of Technology, has figured out some simple modifications that allow methane extraction from any landfill. His solution is to cover the landfill with a membrane that prevents air from getting in. The membrane consists of three layers: a middle, permeable layer sandwiched between two mostly impermeable layers. Popov continuously pumps carbon dioxide (which can itself be extracted from the gasses in the landfill) into the middle layer so that the CO2 is slightly above atmospheric pressure. This creates a barrier that prevents air being drawn into the landfill—as the methane is sucked out of the ground, CO2 gets sucked into it from the membrane.

You can see a diagram of how this works

A landfill can continue to be a source of energy long after it's closed to new garbage. Decomposition can keep going underground, producing methane, for 15 to 20 years.

Are you interested in new sources of energy? Would you be willing to pay more for "green energy" if the option were available to you?