You know by now I'm sure that I love reading about these stories. This is great news. I know a few people with cars that run on used cooking oil, so it's good to see it being used on a larger scale. And you're right, it's such a high-profile story it should get others looking more seriously at biofuels if they haven't already. Thanks for keeping up with this coverage.
Thanks, Elizabeth, I appreciate your enthusiasm. And I enjoy finding and writing these stories. Although the subject is very different from robotics, these achievements also remind me of a lot of science fiction I read in the 60s ands 70s.
The practices of Willie Nelson and Neil Young can't be all bad. Both of those muscians have used old cooking oil to fuel their tour busses. But let's hope the pilots on the transatlantic fights are using a different fuel from that used by Willie and Neil to power themselves.
Rob, jet fuel, whether petro-based, bio-based or a blend, is a quite different formulation from fuels made for automobile engines. Also, the fuel used depends on whether those engines were modified. In most cases, the oil has to be processed to various extents before it's usable as fuel.
Rob, if you mean that it's a limited resource, well sure, so are all fuels or energy sources. OTOH, there's a lot of it going to waste right now that could be used for fuel. And the McDonald's story shows how a closed-loop system would work if more restaurant chains participated in their own reuse strategies: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=257392
Ann, I hope we run into the problem of used cooking oil becoming scarce. That will mean we're making full use out of a material that had previously gone to waste. The funny thing is, once alternative fuels become widely used, the cost of oil will likely go down, making it attractive all over again.
It's supply and demand, Ann. The less oil the world consumes, the lower the price. The boom in Asia, particularly China, is what drove up prices in the last decade.
During the Carter Administration, pressue on the American people to conserve energy worked. Add to that additional exploration powered by the high price of oil. And add to that a recession that supressed demand. Oil fell to $19 a barrell. Half of Texas went broke.
Recently, the Saudi's expressed concern that if the price of oil stays above $80 per barrell, the world will move to alternative energy sources. If we turn aggressively to alternative sources, the demnd for oil will go down, and likewise the cost of oil.
Supply and demand, if that's all that was going on, would in fact work as you said regarding pricing. But that's not all that's going on with alternative fuels vs petroleum-based fuels. They don't exist in a vacuum, as so much modern so-called economics theory seems to assume. In fact, alternative fuels exist not only because petro-based fuel supplies were declining, but more importantly, because of the carbon footprint problem. That has not disappeared.
I agree, Ann. When you factor in the carbon footprint you end up with a completely different story. At some point, government incentives and disincentives will likely distort the world of supply and demand. Also, there's the possibility one of the arternatives may hit a breakthrough that will give it a game-changing cost advantage.
I don't think government incentives or disincentives in themselves will be nearly as powerful an effect on supply and demand as popular demand to change fuels--this has already happened in plastics by making bioplastics a major alternative because of consumer demand. Consumer demand to change materials such as fuels and plastics is, in fact, behind much of the corporate sustainability "movement." This is less visible here in the US than in many other countries, such as European ones, and Japan.
Hey, Ann, I didn't realize consumers were making their voice heard on bioplastics. Are they voting with their pocketbooks? I knew Europe and Japan had consumer bases that preferred green, but I didn't realize that green had gained significant traction in the U.S.
Rob, I don't know how specific the link from a consumer's pocketbook to a company's profits has been in the US. But that's not the only way they make known their demands--another is the voting booth--and everyone in bioplastics has told me consumer demand (meaning from everyone who buys anything) is what drove the changes--not to mention the entire sustainability movement. What do you mean, exactly by "significant traction"?
Ann, what I meant by significant traction is just what you explained, that consumers are making their voices heard when it comes to green products, I know that European consumers have been willing to pay a premium for green products for some time. I also know that US consumers have lagged in this area. Maybe not any longer.
Thanks for the explanation, Rob. I agree, the US is still catching up with Europe in that regard, but it does seem to be happening. I'd say one definition of "significant traction" is the increase in laws banning single-use plastic bags, which consumers (meaning everyone who buys anything) voted for. Another is definitely not buying/boycotting non-green products, which has certainly happened in the US. Greenwashing or not, more consumers are buying more "green" products.
Most studies I've seen have shown that US consumers won't pay extra for sustainable, eco-friendly products, but that's apparently been shifting over the last few years: some definitely will, and the cost difference has shrunk.
Yes, Ann, I've seen the cost difference come down as well and it has affected my choices. The cost difference on many products has become negligible. When that's the case, I choose the more sustainable product. Also, sometimes -- such as lighting -- the sustainable product is often more economical if you calculate the long run.
Well, I don't always wait for cost parity to buy the (truly) green alternative, depending to some extent on how badly the non-green alternative is hurting ecosystems and wildlife. The more damaging the non-green product, the more likely I'll pay more for green. Lots of people, although by no means a majority, vote this way with their pocketbooks.
Ann, do you have access to any volume numbers regarding this fuel? For instance, what capacity is the KLM jet, and what capacity a typical fast food fryer has (and how often the fryer oil gets changed)? It would give us an idea of how far-reaching this fuel will be?
I would expect the fryer oil supply to slowly dwindle as big brother forces us to give up fried food (bad for your health). Maybe this will change their minds and allow us to eat fried food to help fuel the planes!
Cooking oil into jet fuel sounds like a worthy effort, although I would rather that any risks of engine problems were more down to earth. I think that I have seen the process done in a "garage lab", my recollection is that it used a hot plate, and I have no idea what else. So how much energy is needed for the conversion as opposed to refining it from crude oil? Does anybody know? Or is it just that used cooking oil is a renewable resource, and quite an inexpensive feedstock?
Although I didn't see any lifecycle analysis (LCA) figures for the fuel KLM is using, if it has an overall lower carbon footprint than petro-based fuel, then it's greener. You can find more details about the fuel at its manufacturer's website: http://www.dynamicfuelsllc.com/
The nice thing about gas turbines is that they can run on many different fuels - even the exhaust from internal combustion engines. With the prevalence of fried foods this is a good use of used cooking oils. Heck, the airline could serve chicken fried steak, french fries, and deep fried Oreo's and run a fuel line from the fryer (through a filter) down to the engines...
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