Archive for the ‘Alternative Fuels’ Category

High MPGs offer supercharged learning

24th annual SuperMileage Challenge gives kids chance to shine in the “green” arena

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

On May 14 and 15, ultralight gas-powered vehicles took to the 6-mile course at Brainerd International Speedway for the 24th year of the Minnesota Technical Educators Association SuperMileage Challenge. Teams made up of middle school and high school students had constructed the vehicles around Briggs and Stratton small engines, and achieved results in the hundreds of miles per gallon of fuel.

In the largest turnout ever, 105 vehicles passed the technical inspection and competed. Most vehicles made multiple runs, and the teams fielded vehicles for mileage runs 1,007 times. Of those, 697 runs were completed—one every 53 seconds of the 15 hours of competition. But it’s not a race in the strict definition of the term—the vehicles maintain their speed within a specific window and compete to see which one can achieve the highest gas efficiency.

Four liquid fuel vehicle categories include one specifically for E85. The other vehicles utilize E10 fuel. For the first time this year, teams fielded electric vehicles. Alden Conger, a long time participant in SMC, won the E85 category with 535.65 mpg. However, when you realize that only 15 percent of their fuel was gasoline, and you want to measure how far a gallon of gasoline will take you when you are using more than six times as much ethanol fuel, this vehicle traveled at an astonishing fuel efficiency rate of 3,571 miles for every gallon of gasoline required.

Here are this year’s results

1st        Willmar                                                 644.30 mpg
2nd      Chisago Lakes                                     594.91
3rd       Eden Prairie                                         397.80
4th       Stillwater                                              349.92

1st        Minnetonka                                          579.51
2nd      Water Town Mayer                            512.99
3rd       Chisago Lakes                                     437.75
4th       Alden Conger                                      422.21

1st        Alden Conger                                      535.65
2nd      Chisago Lakes                                     365.16
3rd      Stewartville                                          178.47                              
4th      Fergus Falls                                         156.26

1st        Alden Conger                                      489.84
2nd      Minnetonka                                          320.
3rd      Pequot Lakes                                       128.42
4th      St. Michael/Albertville                   101.48

1st        Eden Prairie                                         32.91 watt/hours
2nd      Grand Rapids                                       37.27  
3rd       Grand Rapids                                       38.08
4th       only three vehicles had 6 or more runs

Minnesota Corn Growers Association, longtime sponsors of the event, fielded volunteers and staff to help make the day a success. It was the culmination of many months of preparation and work by the student teams and their advisers.

“SuperMileage is such a great event and learning experience for everyone involved. It’s fun to see the cars these teams design and build each year and to watch them work together as a team to accomplish their goals,” said Jenna Kromann, outreach and communications specialist for Minnesota Corn Growers Association. She attended the event along with MCGA regional representatives Tim Dolan and Dottie Smith-Jacobs. “You can tell a lot of time and effort was put into each car and it’s very enjoyable to witness what these students have been working towards all year.”

Smith-Jacobs noticed that family and community are a central feature of the SuperMileage Challenge and that the pride of the students, their families and their teachers in the accomplishment of these young people makes it an intense and memorable experience, and incredibly valuable to everyone involved.

“Tim and I took a lot of students and teachers around in the MCGA ethanol-powered golf carts,” said Smith-Jacobs. “One teacher went around with us videotaping the students–they were so proud of their students. All the teachers really care about their students and what they were doing. There were a lot of grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters of the kids racing the cars. You could see the competing students smiling when they saw their parents and their grandparents.”

Kromann spent a day helping spread the word about the value of ethanol. In addition to offering informational brochures, Kromann played Plinko with many of the spectators, giving them a chance to have fun while learning from the quiz-show format questions about farming and ethanol.

Smith-Jacobs spoke at length with the teams running E85 vehicles and was impressed at the depth of their knowledge about this cleaner-burning, farm-based biofuel.

“The ethanol class–the students learn about the fuel, and see firsthand how the vehicles run on it,” said Smith-Jacobs. “The kids know a lot more about it, about how clean and cool it runs, and it’s neat to see kids being more environmentally aware and using our resources to the best that they can be used—the SuperMileage Challenge teaches all these kids about how we impact the environment. Whether they are running electric, ethanol, biodiesel or even regular gas vehicles, all these students are trying to be “greener.” With ethanol in there—even the regular gas has ten percent ethanol just like most of the gas in Minnesota—and they can see for themselves that it’s a good, high quality, high performance fuel.”


America poised to regain momentum in manufacturing

(An excerpt from an article featured on the Huffington Post: “Americans Will Need To Lower Their Expectations, Ex-GM Executive Says”)

DETROIT (Ben Klayman) – The United States has a window of opportunity to dump its reputation as a nation of importers and get back to being a global manufacturing powerhouse, a former top General Motors Co (GM.N) executive said.

In a new book, Robert Lutz, who retired last year as GM vice chairman, criticizes the “creeping malignancy” that has seen the nation lose its way as a manufacturer.

In “Car Guys vs Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business,” which goes on sale on June 9, Lutz tells of the battles he fought after joining GM in 2001 to steer the automaker away from over-reliance on data and back to its roots making well-designed, popular cars.

More broadly, the book serves as a clarion call for all U.S. manufacturers to focus on their products rather than quarterly numerical targets.

“We are no longer the richest, most all-powerful nation in the world, where we can afford to pay each other high salaries and high wages and high benefits and import $19 DVD players from China,” Lutz said in an interview.

“That is not going to work. We pay for it in IOUs called Treasury bills,” he added. “Time is running out and the country is going to have to reestablish its industrial base.”

Lutz, who also held executive positions at Ford Motor Co (F.N) and Chrysler during his career, said the United States now has a chance to regain its footing in the manufacturing sector because of favorable exchange rates and competitive labor rates, as well as its long history of innovation.

“With the current exchange rate, a lot of this offshoring no longer makes any sense,” he said.

Our Take:
American business can also look to agriculture. Ag is America’s strongest export sector, and this has been a backstop to American equipment manufacturing when so many other elements of that demand evaporated in 2008.

Lutz is the visionary who shepherded the Chevy Volt to market. It’s that same spirit of innovation and commitment to quality production that will make value-added ag a huge growth-center for the US economy.

We may not be accustomed to speaking in this way, but ethanol makers are manufacturers–of high quality fuel and high quality animal feed. The ability to replace petroleum with biomass could be the next big expansion of US manufacturing muscle, a real job generator. And it will begin in our nation’s farm-based energy makers, who will become biorefiners–the foundation of a new carbohydrate economy in which the feedstocks for energy, textiles and many manufacturing processes and products come ultimately from the farm.

GAO Report on government duplication reveals fragmented approach to alternative fuels

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the audit and investigative arm of the US Congress, indicates government duplication that is wasting federal resources.

Ethanol advocates decry its singling out of the ethanol blender credit program among all of the government’s energy spending. Farmers and ethanol producers suggest that ending the credit as a matter of fiscal austerity is a terribly narrow-minded approach during this critical time in the growth of alternative energy use in America. Given that price sensitivity to oil may be one of the worst drags on an economy that is still pulling itself up from Recession and still trying to add jobs, ethanol advocates suggest this move would be counterproductive if it slows growth in biofuels–a sector that supports hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The GAO report  ( spotlights 34 areas of duplication, and another 47 areas where agencies and Congress could reduce operational costs or enhance revenue collection. Though the majority of these findings concern homeland security and law enforcement spending, the ethanol program is singled out among all of the federal government’s energy spending.

The report finds that the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, which pays fuel blenders $0.45 cents per gallon of ethanol blended into gasoline, is unnecessary in light of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) adopted as part of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. The RFS provision alone should ensure that domestic production of conventional (grain) ethanol grows to 15 billion gallons per year by 2015. The report states that this past year, the government spent $5.4 billion on the VEETC, and in 2015, the amount would top out at $6.

“The VEETC blenders credit has worked very well as a component of the nation’s renewable energy program,” said Greg Schwarz, a farmer in Le Sueur, Minnesota who produces corn, soybeans and turkeys, and an active proponent of farmer-owned ethanol production. “It’s unclear whether ending VEETC would disrupt the incorporation of ethanol by gasoline fuel terminals, and we can’t help but perceiving politics in a report that would gut spending on ethanol and leave incentives for oil production in place.”

The only other element of the nation’s energy policy addressed in the GAO report is the “fragmented approach” to increasing alternative energy use, reducing petroleum use and lowering greenhouse gas emissions in the government’s vehicle fleet. It singles out the executive orders that have required the purchase of flexible fuel vehicles, noting that E85 is available in many areas and suggests that higher MPG non-FFVs be purchased instead.

“This is just the kind of suggestion that shows how fragmentary our approach to alternative energy remains in the US,” said Schwarz. “It’s clear that the best approach to the fleet vehicle fuel supply would be a program to vastly increase the fuel station infrastructure so that these government vehicles can pull up at any gas station and fill up with the E85 they are designed to be able to use. Like the federal highway program–this is spending that would achieve national security goals and improve the efficiency of government–and at the same time, the broader driving public would benefit. There are 8 million FFVs on American roads and not nearly enough stations that sell higher ethanol blends.”

Some ethanol advocates, including Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) have suggested transforming the VEETC credit into a program to fund infrastructure. With the undeniable benefits of lower emissions and reduced consumption of foreign oil, no matter how stringent the budget necessities in Washington, spending on E85 fueling infrastructure would make a handsome return on the investment.