Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Biodiesel-fuel for the 21st Century

In this new age where fuel is the most precious commodity available, it is time that mankind turned to a more efficient, safer, cleaner, renewable fuel for use in our massively transportation dependent society. The answer to a century of wars over oil and the horrendous aftermath thereof are simply, in one word - biodiesel. Biodiesel has been around for over a century, but only recently has the world awakened to a need for fuels at any cost that will not destroy our already fragile ecosystem, and you will soon know why the whole world should be excited.

Biodiesel was first synthesized back in 1893 before the first diesel engine was even developed. Biodiesel is essentially oil of any type-be it animal fat or vegetable oil that has been reacted with an alcohol in a process called transesterification. The chemical name of the results of this reaction is mono-alkyl ester or biodiesel, and glycerol-common glycerin. Biodiesel can be used as an alternative to petrodiesel in more applications than you may think.

Biodiesel has some very interesting properties. While not as energy dense as common petroleum diesel, it is a much cleaner fuel with lower sulfur, and it burns cleaner leaving the atmosphere less harmed. Biodiesel even cleans engines which have been run on petroleum diesel from the inside, dissolving deposits of gunk and particulates that originated in typical petroleum fuel. Biodiesel's main lure is the fact that in theory we could supply the world’s energy needs from one safe clean alternative fuel that is 100% renewable.

As for applications, biodiesel can be utilized in most locomotives that you are already aware of, with little or no changes to the engine. This means that if you have a vehicle that runs presently on diesel-be it a sport utility vehicle, station wagon, car, or tractor trailer truck-it can run on biodiesel with only one step. That step is filling the tank! This is the primary reason why biodiesel could revolutionize the fuel industry. With biodiesel, there is no need to upgrade our present fleets of trucks, cars, trains, vans, and boats that run on diesel into prohibitively expensive solar powered vehicles; we can simply pull them into a gas station that offers biodiesel and fuel up. It is true that any engine built for diesel can run on biodiesel, the only issue that could come up is with engines that were built before 1992. Many of these engines have rubber parts that would slowly be dissolved by biodiesel. But the modifications required can be done in a few minutes by any mechanic. Also, other than transportation most diesel generators as well as heaters can be run on biodiesel without modifications. This means that we can generate electricity using this exciting new renewable fuel. There was even a test flight in early 2008 of a jumbo jet run only on biodiesel. The potential of biodiesel to revolutionize our energy industry is enormous, not to mention the economic opportunities for farming nations that depend on the agricultural industry to survive. Many of these nations have begun to plant many acres of oil rich crops that are then sold to make biodiesel all over the world. The real opportunity for biodiesel to save our energy dependent society lies in algae. Algae has proven to be capable of a higher yield per acre of biodiesel convertible oil than any other plant. With time and effective engineering of an efficient algae farming method, we will be able to utilize the solar energy more efficiently than ever, and we will easily be able to answer the worlds energy needs with biodiesel.

You know a bit more than you did about biodiesel. Biodiesel may not be the holy grail of energy sources, but it comes pretty close in these times of oil wars and a rapidly depleted ozone layer. Perhaps you should look into biodiesel as your personal alternative fuel today. The more informed we are as a society, the brighter the future may be for our children. Biodiesel is not the fuel of tomorrow, I dare to say it is the fuel of today. Cleaner, renewable, convenient, and available; biodiesel may be a turning point in the world's energy resources.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Exploring the Ins and Outs of Gasoline

As the prices of gas continues to rise in the 21st century, motorists are yearning for the days when the substance that powered their cars cost less than $1 or even closer to $2. The demand for this influential resource has been outweighing the supply long before war broke out in the Middle East. The constant consumption of regular, leaded, unleaded, and now diesel fuel has placed a huge strain on reserves, which has caused prices to reach new heights.

The elevated cost of gasoline has greatly impacted the United States, as well as the rest of the world. The current energy crisis has forced scientists to seek out innovative ways of supplying energy and has encouraged consumers to find other methods of preserving fuel, such as riding a bicycle to work or purchasing electric cars.

In the future, the use of gas alternatives may gain more attention, especially since the following methods are less damaging to the environment: biodiesel, biobutanol, hydrogen fuel, ethanol, and bioethanol.

Taking a Brief Look at Gas Prices

In September 2003, the price of standard crude oil was less than $25 per barrel and with the help of inflation adjustments - it remained below the mark since the middle of the 1980s. However, a chain of events over the past couple of years has caused the price to increase to more than $60 in August 2005 and exceed the $75-mark by the summer of 2006. In October 2007, a barrel of crude oil was $92. The start of 2008 only heightened the continued rise in prices, establishing several record highs, including an inflation-adjusted all-time peak of $103.05 per barrel in February 2008.

Different Kinds of Gasoline

A mixture of liquid hydrocarbons and crude oil undergo a distillation process in order to generate gasoline. Gas was invented during the late 1850s after crude oil was discovered and researchers were able to fine ways on how to use this material. Early types of gasoline were created as a byproduct of the process that made kerosene fuel for oil lamps. Since the internal combustion engine had yet to become a reality - the majority of early gasoline was tossed away because no one had a use for the substance.

Today, the United States offers a wide-range of gasoline types. Finished motor gasoline consists of a complicated mixture of volatile hydrocarbons and other additives that help power spark-ignition engines. Reformulated gas mostly uses methyl tertiary-butyle ether as an oxygenate with three different kinds. For example, the exclusive oxygenated reformulated gasoline is typical only during the wintertime throughout the New York City region where heavy carbon monoxide pollution is found.

Gasohol is often a combination of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline mixture. Ethanol is a liquid that actually comes from the fermentation of some sugars located in agricultural crops or wood. However, the most widely available type is conventional gasoline, which has been designed to evaporate at a slower pace in hot temperatures, which creates less smog.

Overall, each type of gas (whether conventional, oxygenated, or reformulated) is available within three different grades: regular, midgrade, and premium. As a rule of thumb, premium gas offers an octane rating greater than 90, which contributes to its higher price per gallon.

The Lowdown on Gas Stations

With exorbitant prices, gas stations not only struggle to make a profit but to also find ways on how to entice consumers into purchasing their gas. Depending on the location of a gas station and company trend - a range of prices sees states like New Jersey and Missouri offering the lowest costs with California pushing the limits as of March 2008.

A couple of popular gas companies and stations within the United States and Canada include:


Founded in 1879 in Pico Canyon, California - Chevron would grow to become the fifth largest global energy company - playing a major role in the oil and gas industry. Making great strides in exploration and production, Chevron is also responsible for Texaco found in Europe, United States and Latin America.


With a merger in 1999 that saw the combined power of three major companies - ExxonMobil is considered the world's largest company by revenue. The company also supports Exxon in the United States; Esse/Imperial Oil in Canada; and Mobil in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand.


Founded in 1938 as Husky Refining, the company focuses on petroleum and gas. Employing close to 4,000 people - Husky is known as one of Canada's biggest energy companies - which supplies Husky and Mohawk-brand gas.

Petro Canada

Established in 1975 in Ottawa, Ontario, Petro Canada is known as the second-largest company associated with various gas operations. Petro gas stations also offers a loyalty program called Petro Points, where consumers receive credits for fuel, car repair and store purchases.

Conoco Phillips

A merger in 2002 saw Conoco and Phillips join forces to become one of the six "supermajor" oil companies in the world. The company is responsible for heading Conoco in the southeastern and central region of the United States, Phillips 66, and other international ventures.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Hydrogen Fuel Cells: Cars Of The Future

Imagine a world where you don't have to pay $3 to drive twenty or thirty miles, where trucks belching diesel smoke are unheard of, where you can walk down the road without inhaling the fumes of a thousand vehicles, where thousands of cars pass you and you hear nothing but a gentle hum and whoosh, and you have an idea of where hydrogen fuel cells will be taking us.

Fuel cells were invented in 1839 by Sir William Grove, who figured out that you could separate hydrogen and oxygen from water through hydrolysis, and suggested that the procedure could be reversed to create clean energy, with a by-product of water. Back then, it was called the gas voltaic battery; only in 1889 did it get the name fuel cell.

How Hydrogen Fuel Cells Work

Like batteries, fuel cells use chemical processes without combustion to create energy with a clean by-product. Because they do not work with the process of combustion, fuel cells never have partly used components, and therefore do not produce poisonous by-products (combustion engines produce carbon monoxide and a wide variety of other poisons, in contrast.)

They are very different from batteries in that they are not self-contained. Instead of counting on an enclosed chemical process that ends when all the components are used up, fuel cells have a constant inward flow of their fuel, usually but not always hydrogen and oxygen. In the case of automobile fuel cells, this means you need a storage tank for water or a hydrocarbon fuel and a place where hydrogen can be separated (this place, called a reformer, has its own technological development problems), as well as an exhaust system that directs used water out of the car or back to the original storage tank.

There are several types of fuel cells right now, but currently the most favored model is the polymer exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC). This cell uses precious metals like platinum to create atom-thin layers of oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen gas, at this time H2, is split into two protons and two electrons at an anode. The electrons are conducted along a path to do useful work - in this case, run your car - before returning to a cathode where they are recombined with their protons and with oxygen, producing water as a by-product. Right now, the typical fuel cell produces less than a single volt of electricity, so several cells must be piled into a stack in order to produce enough energy to do useful work. Currently, the cost of creating each of these volts is prohibitively high, and technology is focused on making fuel cells more cost effective.

The big problem with the fuel cell is separating water into its constituent components to begin with. Elementary physics dictate that you cannot create or destroy energy, and entropy will cause energy to be lost. In addition, you're using up some of the energy from the fuel cell to run the car. So where does the initial energy to split the water molecules come from?

Currently, instead of using water as a base fuel, we have to use other technologies to produce hydrogen, which is then transferred to the car's storage tank. This is costly, and we have no infrastructure for delivering hydrogen the way we can deliver gasoline. It's also dangerous to handle flammable hydrogen in large quantities; remember the Hindenburg?

Freezing and boiling are also problems. Most forms of fuel cells, including the PEMFC, require water to function properly, but if your fuel cell is frozen or heated above 80 degrees Celsius, it may be destroyed.

Who Is Working On Fuel Cells

Researchers all over the world are working on fuel cell technology; it is potentially a very lucrative field. The United States Department of Energy supports many different fuel cell initiatives with block grants, and it also supports work at its own Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. Most car companies that have a reasonably forward-looking research and development arm are also working to create fuel cells for their own vehicles; this includes companies like Daimler AG, Honda, Ford, and General Motors.

Governments are also becoming increasingly sensitive to the need to have alternative fuel cars. Leading politicians like Newt Gingrich, who is rarely considered a leader in green technology, has spoken out for years about the need for government to support alternative fuel initiatives. Look for this to become the norm in the political future.

When Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars Will Be Available

We currently have several fuel cell cars in production as prototypes, including the DaimlerChrysler Necar, which drove cross country in 2002 from San Francisco to Washington DC. The trip was beautifully successful despite the extremes in temperature the car had to endure. At that time, Chrysler predicted no fuel cell cars would be available commercially before about 2010.

However, the Honda FXC Clarity is scheduled to be available in limited quantities in late summer 2008, leasing for about $600 a month (they will not be available for sale at all, only lease). It will not use gasoline at all, but instead fill up at hydrogen stations; these stations will be available primarily in Southern California at first. Honda is working on developing home fueling stations that will allow you to generate your own hydrogen at home using electricity.