An Alternative Vision for Northeastern Ohio
Our region now faces challenges as varied and significant as the resources we collectively possess. Building on the past includes responsibility for earlier methods and policies with an eye towards the legacy we are creating today. An opportunity exists to address all of these issues by implementing a vigorous analysis concerning the benefits of alternative fuels. Broadly defined as “substantially non-petroleum and yielding energy security and environmental benefits” by the United States Department of Energy, they include ethanol, biodiesel and hydrogen. Natural gas, propane and methanol, although derived from fossil fuel, are also recognized because of their inherently lower emissions and high performance when used as transport fuels, applications of which can be seen in urban passenger buses, rural farm tractors and auto racing. Other fuels of interest include Fischer-Tropf “green” diesel, P-series, E-diesel and water emulsions. Active research and development efforts are creating new types of alternative fuels and improving existing ones. No matter which type is considered, it is vital to our analysis to recognize the limits and merits of each, not only in contributing to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and improved air quality, but just as importantly supplementing and securing finite reserves of oil, thereby ensuring economic growth and national security.
When the source of fuel is derived solely from plant matter, or biomass, these are considered renewable forms of energy, an important distinction. Biodiesel and ethanol are of particular value to the regional economy and environment. Biodiesel is manufactured from a variety of oilseeds, the most common being soybeans, a major Ohio crop. Most ethanol is distilled from corn; however, it can, and should be made from less valuable feedstocks, even beverage and food processing waste streams. Similarly, biodiesel can be produced from used cooking oil and livestock renderings. By utilizing material once bound for landfills as a source of transport fuel, and marketing the by-products, for example glycerin from biodiesel production, waste streams become revenue streams. A rational scientific and political discourse is needed to address tax incentives, subsidies and other issues relating to large-scale production and distribution infrastructure. Seamless integration with existing petroleum-based systems is critical as the benefits of these fuels are best realized in blends, ranging between 2 and 85 percent. The voting (and motoring) public requires clear information and choices. The implementation of these and other renewable forms of energy, wind and solar power among them, results in a portfolio of solutions to the need for sustainable economic growth and domestic sources of energy.
Both of these biomass fuels possess several important characteristics. The carbon dioxide generated during engine combustion is reclaimed by the farm crops grown to create the next supply of fuel. This results in transport miles achieved with little net gain in carbon dioxide emissions. In the case of combusting fossil fuels, carbon once sequestered in the earth is released into the atmosphere, compounding the greenhouse effect. Additionally, with proper farming and manufacturing techniques, these alternative fuels yield a positive energy balance. That is, the energy contained in a portable, liquid gallon of them is more than the energy required to produce that gallon. By comparison, gasoline refining results in about a 15% negative energy balance. Furthermore, when blended with conventional gasoline and diesel fuel, tailpipe emissions of harmful pollutants are greatly diminished. Engine life and performance are also improved while dependence on imported crude is reduced and our oil reserves are extended. Far from a theoretical, “pie-in-the-sky” scenario, a vast body of well-documented applications exists in neighboring states and around the globe. The successful implementation of proven ethanol and biodiesel blends requires feedstocks, production and blending facilities, distribution and delivery infrastructure, all of which we possess here in Northeastern Ohio. Besides benefiting farmers, local jobs are created in many categories. This is a major undertaking, needing regional investors and business expansion. Through production and distribution, entry-level jobs providing immediate employment abound and skilled trades are vital in achieving these goals. As renewable sources of hydrogen for fuel cells, local universities are spearheading research into these fuels as bridge technologies to a more sustainable future. Urban brownfield redevelopment fits neatly into the search for production, blending and distribution facilities. Robust funding for the development and deployment of integrated biorefineries and biomass-fueled power generation, nationally and globally, signals the growing acceptance of these market driven strategies. The strategic combination of major biofuel production and our abundant source of fresh water will create the foundation of a quality place in which all endeavors may thrive, secure from much of the volatility and voracious growth of the new global economy. The steadily growing market for sustainable, domestic energy production is ours to serve and requires the cooperation and commitment of traditional and emerging energy producers and distributors, environmental organizations, regulatory agencies and legislative bodies. Rather the adversarial stance of the past, better that we heed the words of Ben Franklin, "We must hang together, gentlemen...else, we shall most assuredly hang separately."
The size of the prize ensures mutual success, and in the face of increasing local economic disparity and global demand for energy, we must work in unison to bring our region to a position of leadership in sustainable energy and sound economic growth.
Phil Lane, Technology Director
New America Energy, LLC