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Guest Post: Alternative Fuels for the Future

Guest Post: Alternative Fuels for the Future

Editor’s note: this blog is a guest post written by Kathryn Patterson at Ally Charter Bus, one of the sponsors of NOFA-NY’s 2019 Winter Conference.

If you take a bus down the U.S. northeastern countryside to visit local organic farms, there's a high probability you'll see a variety of new-wave farming techniques, practices, and environmentally-friendly farming equipment. But have you ever wondered how the farming industry could be altering the future of modern transportation? Organic farms are opening up a channel of more eco-friendly biofuel options to harness energy and power in new and exciting ways.

 

 

The Benefits of Organic Farming

One of the most challenging problems facing the world today is how to end our dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels. Fossil fuels cause environmental devastation that demands the development and implementation of more sustainable, affordable, and greener energy sources. Farmers are now moving towards more organic farming solutions to turn around our dependence on dwindling reserves in the face of rapidly-increasing demands.

Organic farming is not only transforming the agriculture industry; it could also transform the transportation industry. Byproducts of organic and conventional production can be used to create alternative fuel sources and revolutionize the way we use and think about fuel.

fields road no credit needed

Four Ways to Turn Food into Fuel:

Today, there are many alternative fuel options that can solve two global environmental problems: fossil fuel shortages and food waste. There are now a multitude of industrial-scale waste-to-energy systems in countries around the world. According to Anthropocene Magazine, “around one-third of the food produced around the world today is wasted.” NBC News reports that this adds up to Americans wasting about 133 billion pounds of food per year.

Here are a few examples of common food items that can be converted into efficient fuel sources for cars and buses.

Organic Food Waste:

When municipal food waste ends up in landfills, bacteria turn the decomposed matter into methane, which is contributing to the high level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Capturing this methane allows food waste to be converted into fuel. It’s a win-win!

There are several different methods to derive energy from food waste, but the most modern process involves hydrothermal liquefaction (or anaerobic digestion) where bacteria slowly break down the organic matter and the resulting methane is captured and used as fuel. This two-step process is detailed in the journal Bioresource Technology, where scientists explain how they extract nearly all the energy present in food waste materials.

Ethanol:

Converting crops into ethanol provides us with a clean, renewable fuel option. Corn ethanol is already widely used – most gas you purchase at the pump is a gasoline/ethanol blend. This fuel method is most often used as a motor fuel for cars and buses.

Corn ethanol is often referred to as the fuel of the future. Alternative Fuels Data Center outlines that more than 98% of U.S. gasoline contains ethanol. However, the amount of corn needed to produce ethanol can lead to soil degradation and polluted waterways. Other sources of cellulosic ethanol may have less of an environmental impact, like agricultural and lumber byproducts.

Agricultural & Lumber Waste:

Leftover agricultural and forestry waste, such as cereal straws, corn stalks, sawdust, and paper pulp can be combined into a green fuel that supports some of the most influential environmental efforts in the biofuel industry. Wood chippings such as wood pulp and sawdust can be repurposed to create an even more efficient ethanol strain.

There are a multitude of ways in which cellulosic biomass from wood chips can be converted into efficient biofuels. Valley Carriers states, “you can convert wood chips into biofuel by using heat, bacteria, and chemical reactions.” The most common method is ethanol dehydration, during which wood chips are treated with high pressures to break down tough fibers and expose the sugars (cellulose and hemicellulose). The wood chips are then broken down into ethanol via hydrolysis, fermentation, esterification, and hydrogenation until the ethanol is polymerized.

wood chips photo credit usdaWood chips for cellulosic ethanol production. Photo Credit: USDA

Common Organic Wheat, Oat, & Barley Straw:

Grains and oils can be turned into a viable fuel resource. Foods that you would normally find hidden behind the snacks in your kitchen cabinet can also be used as an efficient renewable energy source and fuel alternative. Common foods that can be turned into non-petroleum-based fuel sources include soybeans, switchgrass, and used cooking oil. While regular ethanol is made from whole grains like corn or wheat, these single-grain feedstocks create a cellulosic ethanol-based fuel that is considered even more efficient than fossil fuels, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center.

In addition to these organic food options being used as energy sources, many buses are now joining the environmental mission to run solely on clean fuel sources instead of oil and petroleum- or coal-based fossil fuels. By prioritizing alternative fuel sources, we can maintain a vast transportation network, economic vitality, and a better quality of life overall. If we all embrace the positive environmental impacts of clean fuel alternatives, we can evolve in the right direction together.

Our transportation companies support this new wave of environmentally-friendly biofuel options: Shofur, Ally Charter Bus, and Easy Charter Bus are all eager to transform the transportation industry in a significant way. These ground transportation companies have partnered up to provide buses for pressing environmental causes, such as the People’s Climate March in New York and surrounding areas. Check out their websites to learn more about how transportation companies plan to support these new-age environmental efforts.

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