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Biofuels

Moore & Warner Farm Management is very enthusiastic about biofuels and their promise. We believe that the world is transitioning into a new type of energy usage and that the impact of this transition has just begun to be felt. Investing in the efforts of American agriculture now will reap sizeable returns in the coming years.

The May, 2006, issue of Popular Mechanics has an excellent article on alternative fuels entitled, “How far can you drive on a bushel of corn?” We’ll be quoting from it and urge you to take a look at it.

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Ethanol & E85

Ethanol is ethyl alcohol, commonly referred to as “grain alcohol.” E85 is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Presently most ethanol is made from grain and so it can be thought of as “moonshine” or “white lightning.” Research is also underway in the production of “cellulosic ethanol” as well – ethanol made from virtually any cellulose source, such as grass cuttings, tree leaves and so forth. Ethanol is greenhouse gas neutral.

BTU content is a good measure of a fuel’s available energy. A gallon of E85 has an energy content of about 80,000 BTU, compared to gasoline’s 124,800 BTU, so about 1.56 gallons of E85 will take you as far as 1 gallon of gasoline. The octane rating of E85 soars above straight gasoline to an octane rating of 124! E85 burns cooler than gasoline.

This combination of high octane and low temperature hold out the promise of high performance vehicles with strong fuel efficiency. Higher octane allows a much higher compression ratio, which translates into higher thermodynamic efficiency. Researchers at Saab, for example, recently reported that by increasing the turbo charging of an E85 test engine, mileage and performance really soared.

Pure alcohol is not generally volatile enough to get an engine started in cold weather, hence the addition of a small percentage of gasoline, as in E85. According to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, E85 is currently available in 36 states. Much smaller quantities of ethanol are also added to around 30 percent of the gasoline sold in the United States to meet EPA requirements for oxygenated fuels in metropolitan areas with the country’s worst ozone air pollution.

The EPA lists 34 models of “Flex-fuel” vehicles – cars and trucks that can burn gasoline, E85 or any ratio of gas/ethanol in between – available in the 2006 model year. Approximately 6 million Flex-fuel vehicles have been sold in the US to date. Flex-fuel vehicles that retain the capability of operating on straight gasoline alone cannot take advantage of the octane boost of E85 since they also need the ability to run on pump-grade gasoline.

According to the Renewable Fuels Association, 95 ethanol refineries produced more than 4.3 billion gallons of ethanol in 2005. An additional 40 new or expanded refineries coming on line within the next 18 months will increase production to 6.3 billion gallons. Annual production of 6.3 billion gallons of ethanol represents just over 3 percent of our annual consumption of more than 200 billion gallons of gasoline and diesel.

One acre of corn can produce 300 gallons of ethanol per growing season. To replace the 200 billion gallons of petroleum products, American farmers would need to dedicate 675 million acres, or 71 percent of the nation’s 938 million acres of farmland, to growing fuel stock!

Biodiesel

Biodiesel fuels for diesel engines are made from non-petroleum sources. Vegetable oil, used fry oil and rendered chicken fat qualify as biodiesel fuel sources. In processing these oils for fuel use, glycerins and other contaminants are removed. In a diesel engine, high air pressure in the cylinder (compression) is utilized to raise the temperature of the air enough to adequately ignite the fuel. Consequently, diesels will operate well on fuels of varying grades and qualities and the high engine compression brings about high efficiency. Diesel engines extract more energy from each gallon of fuel than gasoline engines.

Biodiesel fuels offer a BTU per gallon content of 120,000; petrodiesel fuels offer a BTU per gallon content of 130,000. Consequently a diesel engine can run well on 100 percent biodiesel with little decrease in performance.

Biodiesel burns cleaner than petrodiesel with reduced rates of emissions. Biodiesel molecules are oxygen-bearing and partially support their own combustion. The Department of Energy estimates that pure biodiesel reduces carbon monoxide emissions by 75 percent. B20, a blend 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petrodiesel, reduces carbon dioxide emissions 15 percent.

Moore & Warner View

First of all, there’s nothing particularly new about ethanol and its availability in the central grain belt of the United States. Ethanol gasoline blends have been available in this region for twenty years or more. The fuel has not been a significant alternative to gasoline, but it’s been available, and underwritten by way of government research grants, as a method of educating the public about its use. The issue has been an economic one over they years – the price of a bushel of corn relative the price of a gallon of gasoline has not, historically, made the distillation process economically justifiable.

All those economic equations have changed recently, of course, and the economic forecasts suggest a growing value to producing fuel from grain.

Predictions now are that ethanol production will grow regionally. Transportation is something of a problem and the experts suggest that the various regions of our nation will produce ethanol for their own commercial uses. Archer Daniels Midland, the worldwide grain processor based here in the Midwest, is significantly boosting their production capacity; they also have a product delivery capability based on their already established grain handling network.

Moore & Warner Farm Management is very enthusiastic about biofuels and their promise. We believe that the world is transitioning into a new type of energy usage and that the impact of this transition has just begun to be felt. Investing in the efforts of American agriculture now will reap sizeable returns in the coming years.

We can grow the fuel and use the fuel. If the United States successfully develops an alternative to petroleum fuels, we’ll be doing a service to the entire world. We can help to liberate the world from a dependence on a limited resource. We can bring greater environmental stewardship to world energy use. And, if we can help the world move away from dependence on petroleum resources, perhaps we’ll see that international tensions will ease and the world will become a calmer place.

For You

This is an especially appropriate time to think of farmland as a portion of your investment portfolio. Now’s the time to become a farmland owner! You can own the land, grow the grain for ethanol production, and use the E85 fuel in your family’s Flex fuel vehicle. Be part of the energy solution!

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