Fuel For The Rich

May 15, 2008 at 1:18 pm 11 comments

Efuel100 Microfueler

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is time to kick farming into high gear and start producing sugary sweet hooch across America. And some entrepreneurs have just released a machine that opens the innovation doors to partially kick peak oil’s butt.

Introducing the Efuel100 Microfueler. Fuel for the very rich so they can still ride in their FlexFuel high-end vehicles.

This this is so rad, I can hardly contain myself. But at the same time, I am not too excited.

I have been working hard to promote David Blume’s work while ignorant journalists have been poo-pooing ethanol. Now, not only has the truth emerged that we can sustainably make alcohol fuel, but this amazing machine has been released to kick the home-brew fuel market into high gear. Sort of.

For a cool $10,000, you can join the ranks of big oil and start making your own fuel without doing any of the hard work like chasing down plans and building your own small scale ethanol still. You can simply buy this fabulous machine and PRESTO! You are on the road again.

The problem is that it is a membrane system, which means there can be no solids in the mash. This means you are limited to a complete liquid feedstock (namely bags of sugar). And if you sink in $10,000 for a fuel machine that makes alcohol fuel at a rate of let’s say $2.00 per gallon and can make about 35 gallons a week, it would take you many years to break even on your fuel investment.

But hey, if oil crashes, at least you can still get from A to B, right? As long as Costco still carries big bags of sugar. The good news is that David Blume is working on a larger scale still that will deliver the convenience of the EFuel100, but it will crank out many more gallons per week for less money using multiple feedstocks (he is looking for investors to help fund his venture).

Not that I believe we should continue as-is with our car culture. Riding a bike now and then feels great! And we must consume MUCH less per-person in America, and make intensely smart decisions. But before all of you Food VS FUEL hotheads go on a tirade, you need to know that alcohol fuel can be made from a hell of a lot more than bags of sugar and corn. Go and read the MANY posts on Lawns to Gardens sharing the truth with you. But let me sum it up:

1. Almost every country can become energy-independent. Anywhere that has sunlight and land can produce alcohol from plants. Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world imports no oil, since half its cars run on alcohol fuel made from sugarcane, grown on 1% of its land.

2. We can reverse global warming. Since alcohol is made from plants, its production takes carbon dioxide out of the air, sequestering it, with the result that it reverses the greenhouse effect (while potentially vastly improving the soil). Recent studies show that in a permaculturally designed mixed-crop alcohol fuel production system, the amount of greenhouse gases removed from the atmosphere by plants—and then exuded by plant roots into the soil as sugar—can be 13 times what is emitted by processing the crops and burning the alcohol in our cars.

3. We can revitalize the economy instead of suffering through Peak Oil. Oil is running out, and what we replace it with will make a big difference in our environment and economy. Alcohol fuel production and use is clean and environmentally sustainable, and will revitalize families, farms, towns, cities, industries, as well as the environment. A national switch to alcohol fuel would provide many millions of new permanent jobs.

4. No new technological breakthroughs are needed. We can make alcohol fuel out of what we have, where we are. Alcohol fuel can efficiently be made out of many things, from waste products like stale donuts, grass clippings, food processing waste-even ocean kelp. Many crops produce many times more alcohol per acre than corn, using arid, marshy, or even marginal land in addition to farmland. Just our lawn clippings could replace a third of the autofuel we get from the Mideast.

5. Unlike hydrogen fuel cells, we can easily use alcohol fuel in the vehicles we already own. Unmodified cars can run on 50% alcohol, and converting to 100% alcohol or flexible fueling (both alcohol and gas) costs only a few hundred dollars. Most auto companies already sell new dual-fuel vehicles.

6. Alcohol is a superior fuel to gasoline! It’s 105 octane, burns much cooler with less vibration, is less flammable in case of accident, is 98% pollution-free, has lower evaporative emissions, and deposits no carbon in the engine or oil, resulting in a tripling of engine life. Specialized alcohol engines can get at least 22% better mileage than gasoline or diesel.

7. It’s not just for gasoline cars. We can also easily use alcohol fuel to power diesel engines, trains, aircraft, small utility engines, generators to make electricity, heaters for our homes—and it can even be used to cook our food.

8. Alcohol has a proud history. Gasoline is a refinery’s toxic waste; alcohol fuel is liquid sunshine. Henry Ford’s early cars were all flex-fuel. It wasn’t until gasoline magnate John D. Rockefeller funded Prohibition that alcohol fuel companies were driven out of business.

9. The byproducts of alcohol production are clean, instead of being oil refinery waste, and are worth more than the alcohol itself. In fact, they can make petrochemical fertilizers and herbicides obsolete. The alcohol production process concentrates and makes more digestible all protein and non-starch nutrients in the crop. It’s so nutritious that when used as animal feed, it produces more meat or milk than the corn it comes from. That’s right, fermentation of corn increases the food supply and lowers the cost of food.

10. Locally produced ethanol supercharges regional economies. Instead of fuel expenditures draining capital away to foreign bank accounts, each gallon of alcohol produces local income that gets recirculated many times. Every dollar of tax credit for alcohol generates up to $6 in new tax revenues from the increased local business.

11. Alcohol production brings many new small-scale business opportunities. There is huge potential for profitable local, integrated, small-scale businesses that produce alcohol and related byproducts, whereas when gas was cheap, alcohol plants had to be huge to make a profit.

12. Scale matters—most of the widely publicized potential problems with ethanol are a function of scale. Once production plants get beyond a certain size and are too far away from the crops that supply them, closing the ecological loop becomes problematic. Smaller-scale operations can more efficiently use a wide variety of crops than huge specialized one-crop plants, and diversification of crops would largely eliminate the problems of monoculture.

13. The byproducts of small-scale alcohol plants can be used in profitable, energy-efficient, and environmentally positive ways. For instance, spent mash (the liquid left over after distillation) contains all the nutrients the next fuel crop needs and can return it back to the soil if the fields are close to the operation. Big-scale plants, because they bring in crops from up to 45 miles away, can’t do this, so they have to evaporate all the water and sell the resulting byproduct as low-price animal feed,which accounts for half the energy used in the plant.

By combining permaculture, smart agriculture and market forces, we can turn Peak Oil on its ugly head and not have to have a collapse. It will be interesting to see how many people actually buy these personal fuel units. In the meantime, get together with your neighbors and start to learn about how you can start making changes to deal with peak oil – whether you buy one of these machines or not!

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Entry filed under: Creativity, Ethanol, How To, Peak Oil, Permaculture, Solutions, Sustainability, Technology, Trends. Tags: , , , , .

Blowing Bubbles From Their Blowholes Shopping Your Way Out Of Peak Oil

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. bubbaa  |  May 16, 2008 at 7:16 am

    Better have these plants near plenty of water, not near the growing number of drought areas in the US. Even cellulosic ethanol that is deemed the ‘magic bullet’ here and elsewhere, requires an amazing amount of water for the entire process, not even counting the growth of the plants…

    Here is snippet. Perhaps you can discuss
    Water use in ethanol plants

    Most of the water – about 60 percent – is used in the cooling tower, which is where the ethanol is converted from a super-hot vapor into liquid fuel. Another 20 percent is absorbed into the ethanol itself, while the remaining 20 percent is used to feed the boiler. The corn feedstock is boiled to separate the ethyl alcohol from the corn starch in a process similar to a brewery. An ethanol vapor is then sent to the cooling tower to convert it into liquid form. “That takes a lot of cooling. The water is used to suck up the heat, ” says Paul Greene, an industry expert with Siemens, the engineering giant.

    Reply
  • 2. peakoilboy  |  May 16, 2008 at 9:38 am

    Certainly it is a big factor.

    In the past using water to evaporate and cool was considered cheap and effective. But this method of cooling threw away the heat of which an alcohol plant needs a great deal. Newer plants are using heat pumps to both do the cooling and recover the heat both lowering energy costs and eliminating the use of cooling water. This approach is now standard in new designs and is being retrofitted in older plants.

    Reply
  • 3. bubbaa  |  May 17, 2008 at 4:45 am

    Sounds good, hopefully the water ‘concern’ I’ve read about many times is something this new industry has a handle on. Droughts in general are a serious concern, perhaps large scale “farms” can start investing in water cachment….not just small scale folks which are still a negligible portion of food production.

    No they just need to quit using corn altogether and get to the real viable ethanol crops…and maybe the contraction/collapse of modernity will be more of a powerdown mixed with ingenuity experience– rather than a “things are OK right, ooops we are falling off a cliff how did that happen?”

    Reply
  • 4. mjolsen  |  May 17, 2008 at 5:27 am

    “Scale matters—most of the widely publicized potential problems with ethanol are a function of scale. Once production plants get beyond a certain size and are too far away from the crops that supply them, closing the ecological loop becomes problematic.” I think this is a very big problem. Business schools teach that as soon as you have a viable business “then you have to grow” and spend much of their time on “how to grow your business”. Capitalism can’t work without it. MJ

    Reply
  • 5. Mark  |  May 23, 2008 at 4:50 am

    The water issue is 100% FUD disinfo. Ever seen a beef cattle feedlot or petroleum refinery getting dissed for their water use? It’s like blaming pot smokers for air pollution.

    No serious design would forego heat pumps and pneumatic vacuum pumps. When such capital investments are not being used to service the ethanol part of an enterprise/household, they would be employed to provide services within the enterprise/home (air-cycle open compressor chiller-heater, refrigeration, ice maker, air conditioner, high-velocity ventillation, central vacuuming, pneumatic battery for an air-motor etc). The energy savings will always pay for the capital investment which is always single digit % when the capital, operating and maintenance (COM) costs are added up.

    “No they just need to quit using corn altogether and get to the real viable ethanol crops…”

    Ouch. That right there is a meme infection. When ethanol bashers begrudgingly use switchgrass and sugarcane as a contrast to corn they commit a great intellectual error of ignoring the industrial ecological systems underlying corn economics.

    Corn provides far more utility than sugarcane and the only reason people mention switchgrass is because they’ve heard it mentioned on the Boob Tube (television) and Boob Tube v2.0 (the internets) without knowing how our 4-dimensional world actually operates.

    Corn produces a broader array of outputs than sugarcane and it’s “lower” reported EROEI relative to sugarcane is always skewed due to the stover not being included. Sugarcane requires the whole cane be harvested (hence low per ton yield) so it’s a small step into a combined cycle via the biomass-fired boiler. Corn stover and bran fiber harvest is purely an optional step for gas and electric utility grid Borgified USA, thanks to the easily field-fractionated corn cob.

    Try running a distributed agro-economy on tomatoes rather than corn grain (seriously, think of the mess). Corn is the closet thing to biological gold (think gold-backed money) that we have. Easily transported – and yes, everything eventually gets transported, fantasies of hand-to-mouth localism aside – and high-density (per ton) durability makes corn, and especially wheat for drier, colder areas, a perfect commodity for a carbohydrate economy that includes alcohol and food production from the same raw resource.

    Sweet sorghum and chicory might make great feedstocks for a small community measured in square acres, and believe me I advocate packing our local niches until they’re bursting with primary productivity, but expecting metropolitan areas to grow their own raw resources inside city limits is a case of not doing one’s homework.

    That little living corn grain is the most efficient way (per ton + per acre combined) to transport food, feed, fuel, fiber, fertilizer and carbon dioxide into high population areas all in the same golden yellow package.

    And hi, I’m Mark.

    Reply
  • 6. Mark S  |  May 28, 2008 at 4:23 am

    Has anybody done a ROI computation? I have but I’d like to see what other people have come up with.

    At $10,000 with a ROI of the standard 15% for business purchased we would need a savings of $666 per year not including operating costs. If you are happy with the FED conspiracy to loot your wealth via inflation then you can choose a lower return for the computation.

    Reply
  • 7. Mark S  |  May 28, 2008 at 4:30 am

    Actually make that $1500 per year. It would be nicer if other people did this rather than me.

    Reply
  • 8. Mark S  |  May 28, 2008 at 4:36 am

    My green swastika is kinda creepy.

    Reply
  • 9. Mark S  |  June 4, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    Ah, ok thought somebody might have found more cost info on this. Late night (actually late morning with my schedule) made me mix-up the 6.66 years for a $10,000 investment to make full returns with what I assume is a pretty standard 15% ROI for established business purchasing. Money sitting in a bank isn’t going to be doing much and business investment is not much better these days.

    Assuming (very conservatively) the following:

    $10,000 capital investment
    15% return on investment (vs bank CD, money market, risk capital)
    -$1,500/year reduction in fuel costs required
    -$125/month reduction in fuel costs required
    3,000 gallons per year (gpy) fuel ethanol production
    2,000 gallons per year (gpy) gasoline equivalent (appropriate for conservative accounting of it’s heating value e.g. heating oil replacement and cogeneration heating; higher-thermal efficiency credits due to powertrain optimization are secondary to this)
    $3.00 per gallon gasoline retail price. A conservatively low price based on recessionary and post-bubble (demand destruction) deflation. Inflation due to scarcity and/or Banks Gone Wild only improve ROI outlook.
    $2.00 per gallon fuel ethanol retail price (again, a $/Btu assumption)

    So…

    2,000 gpy x $3.00: $6,000 per year fuel costs at retail prices
    $6,000 – $1,500: $4,500 / 3,000 gpy: $1.50 per gallon cost
    3,000 gpy x $1.50: $4,500 per year fuel ethanol production cost

    $1.50 per gallon seems the magic number for a healthy return from saved costs (a penny earned…) Feedstock, electricity, water and opportunity labor costs need to be under this conservative cost point. Accepting a 0% return and $10,000 sunk costs would still make sense if it kept you in high-torque muscle car fuel during the Road Warrior battles over the last diesel fuel tanker trucks.

    3,000 gpy x $2.00 retail sales: $6,000 (-$4,500 costs: +$1,500 before taxes profit) Home-based private and tax-free production will make even more business sense.

    identicon seriously does look like a green swastika.

    Reply
  • 10. The Future  |  August 5, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    “fantasies of hand-to-mouth localism”

    hilarious

    Reply
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