Miglietta’s Second Response
Joseph sent the response below via e-mail. I have done a bit of formatting, but otherwise it is exactly as received. I will respond by the end of the week. As always, feel free to add your comments following his essay.
Joseph’s first reference is a paper written by him that I have hosted for now at Sharelor. I learned today that it is very difficult to find a free file hosting service. The first one I tried made you wade through a ton of ads. The second had porn popups, which wasn’t apparent until you were trying to download the file. Finally, I found Sharelor, which is actually pretty good. The file is a 1.2 meg PDF. It is quite well-written, and details his work with fuel additives. (If anyone wants to host Joseph’s paper permanently, let me know and I will change the link).
Miglietta’s Second Response
I just finished reading your response. Congratulations are in order for your stout position. I am responding by email because you do a great job in formatting (among other things).
As a premise, I wish to say that I have an indirect interest in alcohols (not necessarily ethanol alone) and therefore somewhat biased. My direct interest is in increasing the engine efficiency for alcohol blends with gasoline, buttressed by my findings. (1) I feel, however, I can still participate in this discussion with an open-mind position.
In principle, I hate waste. I’m all for conservation of energy that is wasted in transportation. Several solutions may be on hand: Combining more than one chore in a single trip, whenever feasible, improving vehicle efficiency, find alternative fuel sources, find new types of vehicles, such as hybrid cars, etc. Car-pooling, however, already implies a certain amount of sacrifice that not everybody is willing to accept. Mass transportation has been around with us even before the advent of personal vehicles. I find mass transportation acceptable as a free choice but not as an imposing substitution to our personal vehicle. If the time came that we no longer have this choice, then I consider we reached a point of regression; we have failed in our ability to make technological advancement. But I consider our resourcefulness inextinguishable.
On the long run we may tap on fusion energy. We have come a long way since the first magnetic fusion containment made in France that lasted a fraction of a second. We are actively pursuing the two paths: magnetic fusion energy (MFE) and inertial fusion energy (IFE), the latter is more for military applications. MFE has already been demonstrated that is both scientifically and technically achievable, and IFE may be achieved in 2008. There are problems still to be solved for MFE, among others: maximizing the pressure of plasma held in the confining magnetic field, and achieving stable, steady-state operation in the self-heated plasma for an efficient conversion of neutron energy to electricity. Nuclear fusion will provide safe and inexhaustible electrical energy without atmospheric emission. Research funding, however, is relatively small and has been cut back during this administration. In Europe, instead, this application is actively pursued. When electricity will be affordable and available to the entire world, plug-in cars would be the personal transportation of the future. For now, however, electricity is still very expensive, a good portion is still made from natural gas. So, in my opinion, plug-ins are still not much an advantage over gasoline. Plug-in vehicles are still very expensive and will remain so until more efficient and cheaper batteries are developed.
For the afore said, I disagree with your statement, “In the long-term, our energy needs must be met with sustainable solutions. The status quo can’t be maintained, because there is simply no alternative out there that compares to pumping an energy rich liquid fuel right out of the ground.” First of all, there is still a lot of oil underground to sustain our needs for a few more decades. In the meantime, we’re making progress. I agree, we must conserve. But conservation is a natural course of action that people opt for when facing with high prices. When the price of gasoline is high people will, as in the past, resolve to buying less gasoline-guzzler cars, and take other measures. But it should not be imposed on us, as by government decree, to use public transportation. In my opinion I believe, you use a negative approach: we must conserve, you say, “because we simply can’t get the energy we need. No alternatives can meet our current energy desires.” We must conserve, while our efforts in finding alternative fuels are intensifying.
This crisis is spurring our ingenuity. As in the past, when there is a need, we will fill it with better product(s). Liquid fuel is our most immediate and practical approach, even if this alternative fuel has less energy than gasoline. Methanol has less than half the heating capacity of gasoline, but it offers other advantages: it can be readily produced, it does not have to be farmed, and we have the world’s largest supply of starting material to last us well into next century. But it has a single big disadvantage: it does not have the lobbying support of ethanol. So, we must go around it.
There is no need to discuss any further the disadvantage offered by producing ethanol, its energy balance, farm land availability in our country, etc. Ethanol, however, is a starting point. Lets have the necessary infrastructure: distribution, fuel stations, and flex-fuel vehicles. Let’s play along with the farmers. When the demand for ethanol is higher than what they can produce, or to farm corn for ethanol, the same legislation that they pushed for is going to work against them. Hawaii, for instance, cannot produce yet enough sugar cane, so they resorted to import ethanol.
The oil companies are now pressed for ethanol. What we need is to reassure the farmers that importing ethanol will not go against their interests—a quota system should be established to import only the ethanol they cannot produce. When we have the necessary infrastructure, gradually, instead of importing more ethanol, we produce methanol, or produce ethanol from other sources.
We are working on farming other sources of starch. As I have indicated before, they are even studying a process to produce starch from algae, Veridium Bioreactor Technology, claims to produces 94% starch vs. 63% obtained from corn and without the use of farming land. (2) So, many things are in the works to gradually substituting at least a portion of gasoline.
So, long before we exhaust our resources, we may have the cheapest and inexhaustible energy source: electricity from nuclear fusion. This has been going on for several decades, but we have made significant progress and we seem to be much closer to reaching this goal. Of the two paths: magnetic MFE and inertial fusion IFE, the latter seems to be less likely to be used in actual fusion research, due to its low energy. (3) But attempts to combine the magnetic confinement MFE with the laser-driven fusion implosion of the inertia confinement IFE may overcome some of the problems encountered with MFE. (4) The object is to achieve stable, steady-state operation in self-heated burning plasma for an efficient conversion of neutron energy to electricity. Within a decade, ITER (International thermonuclear experimental reactor) will produce the first sustained fusion reactions before a commercial prototype. Nuclear fusion offers zero green house emissions and does not lead to large storage of nuclear waste as the nuclear fission plants currently in operation. (5)
We are experiencing now literally an explosion over the Internet of reports of new findings. Small accelerators that could fit on a desktop, are now being proposed. They offer a single pass linear acceleration for plasma to increase its desired density—fast particle accelerator near the speed of light—a net departure from the mainstream toroidal Tokomak machine to meet the required conditions for a self-sustained reaction. This is to show we are actively pursuing our energy dream of abundand, accessible worldwide energy and making fast progress towards its realization.
In the meantime, we could use the alternative fuels we have now on hand. I stressed the point of importing ethanol. The energy balance does not work out the same in Brazil as in the U.S. First, cultivating sugar cane by rotation, harvesting sugar cane, fermenting higher-than-corn ethanol yield from raw sugars (including invert sugar) offers a significant advantage. Moreover, sugar/ethanol mills offer a significant energy balance: they are self-sufficient. They produce the required steam and generate even excess electricity for the grid or to sustain the surrounding village of workers from burning bagasse in their boilers. They are actively researching to utilize both stems and leaves to produce more ethanol. Their mills can produce interchangeably sugar or ethanol according to market conditions, and if they succeeed in producing ethanol from the vegetable residue, eventually they will be able to produce simultaneously both ethanol and sugar.
There are vast territories in the state of Sao Paulo that can be turned to sugar cane cultivation to meet more demand. I have not heard of their intentions of reducing the ethanol production. They are self-sufficient for oil too, thanks to their advanced technology for off-shore drilling. In fact, Petrobras, their government-owned and only oil company, has interests and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.
But they are using a minimal amount of gasoline for domestic production. At the pump, regular gas is blended with 10% ethanol (E10), but most popular are E85 and E100 used by flex-fuel vehicles. GM, Ford and Volkswagen are the car manufacturers marketing FFV’s. They made a simple, and inexpensive adaptation to their flex-fuel vehicles to burn straight ethanol. By law, no car can have a diesel engine. Diesel is reserved only for heavy-duty trucks or buses. I don’t think that this measure encourages oil products over ethanol. Petrobras is the only authorized distributor and exporter of ethanol in addition to their oil products. They have about 33,000 fuel stations as compared to our 140,000, of which only about 600+ are dedicated also to E85 in our country. In my view, this report from Argentina is groundless and serves political purposes, since Argentina is not in the same conditions as Brazil both for oil and for ethanol.
Presently, we are at the beginning of a state of energy turmoil. If disappointed taxpayers continue their pressure and complains in an election year we may be able to see some results. People, the media, and the politicians should be made aware of the stark facts. Supporting the farmers and increasing ethanol production is like a drop in the bucket. We must import the needed ethanol, while we find new sources and establish the needed structure. Oil companies should provide ethanol/gasoline pumps at their gas stations and car manufacturers to produce a great deal more flex-fuel vehicles. The contribution that hybrid and plug-in cars can provide is for now very limited. These vehicles can be made more affordable as production increases, but the real bottleneck is batteries.
Much more can be said. I think that events will take their natural course. In a little way, I am trying to make a contribution…
1. Miglietta, J., “A New Fuel Project”. Download Warning: 1.2 meg PDF; also a 30 second wait before download begins. Update on 6-2-06: I just checked, and the file is no longer at Sharelor. If you want a copy, e-mail me and I will send it to you, or I can put you in touch with Joseph.