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Green Gas

By C.J. Barbre

Once in a while an idea comes along that is so sane, sensible, doable and such an improvement for everybody (except maybe a few big businesses) that you simply cannot believe anyone would want to impede it.

There is no argument that we are running short of fossil fuels. Ethanol is a happening solution. But it’s not happening as fast in California as the Midwest.

“California is moving toward biofuels. My job is to make sure there is enough fuel for California transportation,” said Mike McCormack with the Fuels Office of the California Energy Commission at a well attended seminar on biofuels in Tulare last month.

Ethanol (ethyl alcohol, grain alcohol), a clear, colorless liquid, is the drinkable alcohol, the active ingredient in beer, wine and spirits. Methanol (methyl alcohol, wood alcohol) is the poisonous one.

Ethanol is also a high-performance motor fuel that cuts poisonous exhaust emissions and is better for the environment.

Ethanol is made by fermenting and then distilling starch and sugar crops – maize, sorghum, potatoes, wheat, sugar-cane, even cornstalks, fruit and vegetable waste.

  • Manufacturing it and burning it does not icrease the greenhouse effect.
  • It provides high octane at low cost as an altenative to harmful fuel addtives
  • Ethanol blends can be used in all gas engines without modificaitons
  • Ethanol is biodegradable without harmful effects o the environment
  • Ethonal’s high oxygen content reduces carbon monoxide leves more thatn any other oxygenate- by 25-30%, according to teh US EPA
  • Ethanol blends dramaticaly reduce emissions of hydrocarbons, a major contfbutor to the depletion of the ozone layer
  • High-level ethonal blends reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 20%
  • High-level ethanol blends can reduce emissions of Volatile Organci Compunds (VOCs) by 30% or more (VOCs are major sources of gorund-level ozone formation)
  • As an octane enhancer, ethanol can cut emissons of cancer-cause benzene and butadiene by more than 50 percent

In march 1999, Gov. Gary Davis banned use of MTBE (methyle tertiary butly-ether) in gas because it was contaminating the gorund wate. Refiners had until 2003 to remove it. N December 1999, the Air Resource Board adopted California reformulated gas with ethanol. In March 2002, Gov Davis delayed the MTBE ban until Jan. 1, 2004 was phased out and ethanol subsituted by Union 76, which ethanol at 6%.

McCormack eplained that, “Unlike MTBE, which can be blended in refineries, ethanol has to be blened at the terminal. That meant more than 60 termainals all over the state had to be upgraded with tanks to storethe ethanol.” IT cost $600 million to refurbish the necessary equipment, not to much compared to the $6 billion it cost to upgrade for MTBE in 1996, McCormack said.

In January 2004 California completed a transition for MTBE to ethanol as as gasoline oxygenate additive, with most gasoline sold in the state presently containing 5.7%  ethanol. According to a report on the California Energy Commission wbsite, Califronia is now the larges ethanol fule market in the U.S. using about 600 million gallons in 2004. That figure is expected to reach 800 million gallons this year.

Most of california’s current ethanol supply comes from the Midwest with a small supply coming from foreign imports.

“We’re not buliding any new refineries in California beacasue environmental regulations are too tough, so we must import it,” McCormack said.

The Energy Commission has recommended reducting the use of gasoline and diesel by 15% below the state’s 2003 level by the year 2020. At that time McCormack said they want to increase the use of biofules up to 20% by 2020 and 30% by 2030. California only produces 10 million gallons at this time, “more or less a drop in the bucket,” he said, “but at least it’s a start.” We could start brewhing it in our backyards. But Western Milling in Goshen, Just a hop, skip and jump form Visalia, is in partnership with Phoenix Bio Industires and creating an ethanol facility that Tob McKeown, a consultant with Phoenix  Bio Industries, said would be operatonal by by May.; The plant is expected to produce 25 million gallons of ethanol a year in cooperation with oone of the largest feed mills in the Valley. That will result in teh production of 190 tons of wet distiller grain per day which is highly prized by the dairy cows in this county.

don WInes, also with Phoenix Bio Industireis, said the Goshen plant has a receiving system to bring in 100-car-unit trains of corn which can be unloaded at the plant in 15 hours. Twenty tons of corn per hour will be ground up, “home on a large scale,” and it takes from 60-66 hours to covert the starch to alcohol. He said on company in the Midwest has 13 such projects under construction at this time. He said farmer co-ops are sprouting up and putting together the financing.

McCormack said and ethanol plant is being built in Pixley by Calgeren Company and Pacific Ethanol is building a plant i Madera. “Back in the Midwest there are 87 ethanol proudciton facilities, Virtually all the growth has been in teh Midwest,” he said.

The Pixley plant is expected to produce 45 million gallons per year when it is completed in about two years according to William Hayter, dividson manager with Tulare County Community Development. He said these are midsize panst compare to the Midwwest where the average size of a new facility in 120million gallons. But it’s a big deal in the Central Valley, not to mention Tulare County.

Hayter said the two plants have created 65 new jobs and an investment of almost $40 million. Certainly teh fouth largest ag economy on the planet-the Central Valley – in concert with the largest dairy producing county in the state and onty shouldn’t need to import corn or othe plant proudcts to produce cow feed along with all that clean, renewable energy.

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