News Stories

Travel on Soybeans & Algae

It's long past time to start to plan for the future. We may soon have soybean tires?How about soybean fuel...and a jet plane that runs on algae?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) says they've discovered a way to create gasoline from soy. Biodiesel?which can be prepared from vegetable oil, animal fats, used cooking oil, or microalgae?is a potential replacement or extender for petroleum-based diesel fuel. Besides its obvious advantages, such as decreased emissions of carbon monoxide and particulate matter, it also has several serious DISadvantages, including increased nitrogen oxide emissions and chemical instability, especially at higher temperatures. This comes from the antioxidants which are often are added to vegetable oils to retard oxidation during storage. But NIST researchers say they've found a way to prevent oxidation and overheating, which can cause biodiesel fuels to break down, adversely affecting performance.

Plane travel has become frustrating enough, but it may become less expensive?with fewer emissions?if we run our jets on fuel made from algae. United Airlines reports that a 90-minute flight by a Continental Boeing 737-800 that was powered by algae went "better than expected."

BBC News quotes test pilot Rich Jankowski as saying, "The airplane performed perfectly."

Meanwhile, researchers Jeff Gaffney and Nancy Marley are studying the history of combustion and its affect on the environment. They say that byproducts of combustion have been polluting man's environment and affecting his health since cavemen fires.

The researchers say, "We have been aware for some time that in order to avoid or at least minimize the air quality and climate impacts of fossil fuel combustion, alternatives must be put in place."

Today, man's need for energy has led to the formation of megacities?large urban and suburban centers whose populations exceed 10 million inhabitants. In 1950, New York City was the world?s only megacity. By 2007, there were 14.

"If this trend continues," according to the researchers, "the world's urban populations will double every 38 years and within the next 10 to 15 years, it is predicted that there will be more than 30 megacities worldwide." And big cities mean an increased demand for fuel.

In the midst of these warnings, we may have fewer biofuels in the future than we think. Other researchers say that global yields of most biofuels crops, including corn, rapeseed and wheat, have been overestimated by 100 to 150% or more. Researchers Matt Johnston and Tracey Holloway think that the biofuels production potential in both developing and developed countries has often been exaggerated, because the statistics don't account for local differences in climate, soils, technology and other factors that influence agricultural outputs.

Johnston says, "The biofuels industry has grown at an incredible rate. It's a multibillion-dollar industry now?[so] we need to look at better data sources and make more informed decisions."

Holloway agrees and says, "?If you're going to be making land use decisions related to biofuels, it's critical that you at least know what you're going to get from a plot of land."

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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