Monday, April 9, 2012
Bioethanol has successfully substituted Gasoline as a fuel for cars both in the form of blends with Gasoline or individually as an Anhydrous Ethanol. This successful demonstration by Brazil opens up new generation of cars called flex-fuel cars that allow usage of various blends of Ethanol and Gasoline.Bioethanol can also be used to generate Hydrogen onsite by steam reformation so that even Fuel cell cars such as Honda FCX can be felled by Bioethanol.This makes Bioethanol unique as an alternative fuel for transportation. It also facilitates onsite power generation using Fuel cell, replacing diesel engines. Substitution of Gasoline by Bioethanol has several advantages over other alternative fuels. The biggest advantage with Bioethanol is, it is renewable and it allows reduction of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and it will be eligible for Carbon credit. It can be produced by both developing as well as developed countries using locally available agriculture produces such as cane sugar, corn, tapiaco, sorghum etc. Hydrogen generated from Bioethanol is also free from Sulfur compounds normally associated with natural gas, making it an ideal fuel for Fuel cell application in cars, as well as for power generation using SOFC (solid oxide Fuel cell) or PAFC (Phosphoric acid Fuel cell).The resulting high purity Hydrogen 99.99% can be used as fuel for all type of transportation including Fuel cell Buses, scooters and even boats. The stoichometric reaction of steam reformation in presence of catalyst can be represented by the following chemical reaction: C2H5OH + 3 H2O---------- 6H2 + 2 CO2 The Ethanol and water mixture is preheated and the vaporized mixture is fed into a catalytic reactor. The resulting Hydrogen is contaminated with carbon monoxide. This gas mixture is separated using membrane such as Palladium to get Hydrogen with less than 50ppm CO as contaminant. Such purity is acceptable by Fuel cell such as SOFC as well as PAFC.In future a small micro-reactor for on-board reformation may be possible making Fuel cell cars with onboard liquid fuel storage. Commercial reformers consumes about 0.88 lits of Bioethanol of 96% purity to generate 1 Nm3 of Hydrogen with 60% conversion. This translates to $ 5.90 per Kg of Hydrogen. Fuel cell cars offer a mileage of 240 from 1 kg Hydrogen costing only $5.90. For onsite power generation 1 kg Hydrogen generates as much as 15Kw electricity and 20Kw heat .Onsite Hydrogen generation with steam reformation also facilitates using SOFC and PAFC for high temperature power generation applications. They are ideal for CHP (combined heat and power) applications for 24x7 operations like hospitals, hotels and super markets. These fuel cells are silent in operation without any emissions except water vapor. Governments should encourage Bioethanol production and distribution for both transportation and power generation. There is a fear that Ethanol could be diverted for potable purposes illegally depriving Governments of potential reveneues.But this can be solved by denaturing Bioethanol and making it unsuitable for potable purposes. Denaturants such Pyridine has no effect on steam reformation and number of denaturants are available. Such policies will allow transition from fossil fuels to Hydrogen or Bioethanol.This is a simple and straight forward step any Government can take irrespective of the size or type of a nation. But it requires political will, determination and leadership. Developing countries need not wait for big greenhouse emitters such as US, China and India to make a decision on their Carbon emissions but start introducing Bioethanol as fuel locally.
Friday, April 6, 2012
We live in a technological world where fuel and power play a critical role in shaping our lives and building our nations. The growth of a nation is measured in terms of fuel and power usage; yet there are many challenges and uncertainties in fuel supply and power generation technologies in recent past due to environmental implications. Fossil fuels accelerated our industrial growth and the civilization. But diminishing supply of oil and gas, global warming, nuclear disasters, social upheavals in the Arabian countries, financial problems, and high cost of renewable energy have created an uncertainty in the energy supply of the future. The future cost of energy is likely to increase many folds yet nobody knows for certain what will be the costs of energy for the next decade or what will be the fuel for our cars. Renewable energy sources like solar and wind seem to be getting popular among people but lack of concrete Government plans and financial incentives for renewable, are sending mixed signals for investors. Recently number of solar industries in Germany are facing bankruptcy due to withdrawal of Government subsidies. Wind energy in India has got a setback due to withdrawal of Government financial support. Renewable industries are at their infant stages of growth both technologically and financially. These industries will face a natural death in the absence of Government supports and incentives. Individuals, small businesses and industries are unable to plan their future due to above uncertinities.In a globalised world such problem have to be tackled jointly and collectively. But that too looks unlikely due to ideological, political and social differences between countries. In the absence of any clear path forward, a common man is left with no alternative but find solutions for himself. Individuals can form small groups to produce their own fuel and generate their own power. There has never been a right moment in our history for such ventures. It can be easily done by people from rural areas especially in farming communities. They can set an example and rest of the country can follow. This will also help preventing mass migration from rural areas to cities, especially in China and India. They neglect their farms and migrate to cities to work in electronic industries for a better life. The farming communities can form groups and generate their own ‘Biogas’ or ‘Bioethanol’ from a common facility to fuel their cars and power their homes without any Government incentives and political interefernces.Making ‘Bioethanol’ from cane sugar molasses, beet sugar, corn, tapioca or sorghum on a small or medium scale is a straight forward method. Fermentation and distillation is a well known technology. It is controlled by Government excise departments for revenue purpose but Government can certainly allow farms or individuals to make their own ‘Bioethanol’ for their cars. Farms can generate their own 'Biogas’ from manure, agriculture wastes, food waste and waste water treatment facilities and generate their own power and supply biogas for heating and cooking for their communities. Governments should allow people to make their own choices and decisions instead of controlling everything, especially when they are unable to solve a problem. Countries like India should encourage farming communities in groups to set up their own ‘Bioethanol’ and ‘Biogas’ plants and allow import of flex-fuel cars for Ethanol blends of various proportions. Alcohol has been a a’taboo’in many countries for several years but with current uncertainties with supply of fuel and power, Government can certainly remove such ‘taboo’ by highlighting the value of ‘Bioethanol as a source of fuel.Goevernments can forgo their excise revenue by allowing people to make their own fuel. Alternatively, they should provide incentives and subsidies for renewable energy developments. They cannot refuse both and still hope to continue in power because people will sooner or later throw them out of power. After all Governments are elected by people to address their problems.