Nearly everyone in the country is concerned about carbon emissions and interested in alternate forms of energy. Momentum is finally building on the concerns we had nearly fifty years ago, during the era of the first Earth Day. Back then, we avidly read the Mother Earth News and the Last Whole Earth Catalog and searched for ways to make Earth more sustainable.
It was primarily hippies and hobbyists back then who did the exploring and innovating, and innovation was done on a very small scale and with very low budgets.
Windmills could charge a battery for a single light bulb and a transistor radio, solar panels were only a few percent efficient—and of marginal value, and biomass consisted of a methane pit with endless attempts to keep the gas from escaping before it was used.
With the revitalization of the concerns of carbon emissions and climate change—given added impetus by Al Gore in 2006—governments are providing subsidies to individuals and companies to help support the innovation and the implementation of alternate energy sources. It is no longer pragmatists, with a dream and a few dollars, who are single handedly trying to change the world.
In addition to government subsidies, there is money to be made with innovations and energy savings to help to create alternate forms of energy that release less carbon. There is also money to be made using innovation and many new opportunities in the marketplace.
Today, there is a growth in environmental awareness, and the sources of our energy are coming under closer scrutiny. This has led to R&D using many different sources of alternative energy sources. In some cases, it is possible to make them carbon neutral, in other cases, simply reducing carbon emissions is a first step in the process for an energy hungry world.
While the viability of some can be argued, they all contribute something positive when compared to fossil fuels alone. Lower emissions, lower fuel prices, and the reduction of pollution are all advantages that the use of alternative fuels can provide.
At Optimation, we are often asked to work with clients to help finalize the design of their alternate energy innovations and help bring them to the marketplace:
- One of the more interesting ones is the production of jet fuel from farm waste. This process requires a series of reactions. First taking the farm waste to ethanol, then converting the ethanol to ethylene, and finally the ethylene to jet fuel;
- Wind energy based on large scale windmills is widespread. We are working with a major corporation to design and build a robot system to 3D print concrete bases for the windmills in more cost-effective ways;
- We are working with a major university to create fuel from biomass. When blended at a 50% level with home heating oil it is considered carbon neutral. This is because the Ethyl Levulinate is oxygenated and it uses less combustion air, burns cleaner, and lowers the gel point of home heating oil. This is very useful in winter environments such as the one in northern Maine;
- We are designing and building modular systems that can be placed next to oil fields.These units can process the methane, routinely flared, into liquid methylene, at cost effective rates. The liquid fuel can be trucked or pumped for distribution. The result is less CO2 emissions and cost savings at the same time;
- We’ve designed the batch plant for a $250 million-dollar glass factory to manufacture sheet glass used in the production of solar arrays;
- We scaled up and helped build chemical plants that link hydrocarbon chains from CO2 for the manufacture of “green” plastics;
- We’ve designed and built frack water treating facilities to reduce the pollution that may have resulted from the production of natural gas;
- We’ve built hydrogen distribution systems to fuel fleets of fork trucks operating indoors.The trucks are powered by fuel cells and the hydrogen fuel allows them to run with emission free operation; and
- We have a client who developed a process to coat fruit and vegetables with organic material and extend the shelf life without refrigeration. We built their coating stations.The result is less energy used and less food spoiled.Both results contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions.
In many cases there was private or public grant money used in the initial phases of research.But ultimately these projects are carried out by for-profit companies who see a future in alternate energy, reduction of carbon emissions, and furthering the greening of the planet.
There are many issues that arise from continued use of traditional fuels in their present form.With innovation, new alternatives will be developed, and alternate forms of energy will gain broader acceptance and more importance. There won’t be a single offering that can meet the needs of all applications. Invention, innovation, and development will continue. We are excited and proud to be a part of it.
Bill Pollock is president and CEO of Optimation Technology, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Optimation, visit its profile on the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange.