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For thousands of years we have used the process of burning to convert fuel to useful work. Its time to move into the 21st century with truly renewable sources of energy that are clean, reliable and cost competitive.

My Experience
I worked on a storage design for highly radioactive waste, primarily spent fuel assemblies that are stored on site in every operating nuclear reactor power plant.  The company I worked for was Framatome Cogema Fuels.  The design was called CONSTAR.

In addition I worked on a machine that was designed to consolidate spent fuel rods. The concept was to separate the fuel rods from the non-fuel bearing components.  Placing the spent fuel rods into separate dedicated containers would reduce the space in half.  Shearing the non-fuel bearing components and placing the pieces in a separate dedicated container would reduce space by 80%.  This piece of equipment was tested at Millstone.

The United States consumes on average more than 400 million gallons of gas per day. The United States had 81,759,000 acres devoted to corn production in 2005. The average yield per acre was 147.9 bushels with the five year average at 142.5 bushels per acre. According to studies, you can get 2.5 gallons of ethanol from one bushel of corn. In 2005, the US produced 1.5 billion gallons of ethanol. This consumed 5.2% of all the corn grown in the US. 

If all corn were devoted to ethanol production, we could produce 29.1 billion gallons of ethanol. To equate this to the US gasoline consumption of 400 million gallons per day and the fact that ethanol has 70% of the energy content of gasoline; we could reduce gasoline consumption by no more than 14%. In addition if all corn were devoted to ethanol production, we would not have corn for feed or on our dinner tables.

 The by-products from the production of ethanol are used else where, but can the market absorb and use this amount of by product efficiently or will some of it simply be scrapped? Ethanol can show a positive energy value when an energy credit is given for the by-product. If the by-product is scrapped, any energy credit applied to ethanol for the by-product cannot be realistically counted.

The energy needs of the US is very large. We need to think bigger and outside the box if we want to be truly energy independent and environmentally clean. It is far easier to drive smarter (combine trips) and build more efficient cars than to depend on ethanol as our solution to reducing foreign oil.

 E-85 gasoline is being promoted as clean, renewable and cheap, is this true? We the taxpayers are subsidizing the production of E-85 to the tune of 51 cents per gallon. If E-85 cost 51 cents more per gallon would it be cheaper than regular gas, no? E-85 contains 30% less energy than gasoline. When gas is $2.30 a gallon, E-85 should cost $1.66. Subtracting 51 cents, it shoul cost $1.15. In terms of cheaper, it fails this test. Someone is making a lot of money. Studies show that production of ethanol is an energy loss. It takes 90,000 to 131,000 BTU’s to produce a gallon of Ethanol, which has just 83,961 BTU’s. When energy credits are applied to by products produced, Ethanol can be slightly positive. However, the studies do not take into account total energy consumed to support the production of Ethanol such as; building the combines to plow & harvest the grain, the energy to heat and maintain the farmer’s home, the energy cost to build the ethanol plant and the energy consumed by the workers who work at the plant. Energy credits for by products are estimated, but energy costs for the ethanol infrastructure are not.

Much depends on the grain used, the grain yield per acre, method of farming and whether the grain is wet or dry prior to distillation. The bushels per acre will affect the energy balance considerably. The higher the yield per acre the more energy per acre that can be obtained. However, since we eat grains and the supply of grain affects price, there is no escaping the fact that using grains to produce ethanol will not hold down costs. If we divert those areas of the country with highest yield to ethanol production while diverting those with lowest yield to non-ethanol consumption, we will have to bring more acres into production consuming more fossil fuels to meet our feed and food needs. Did we save anything, no?

It takes a distillation process to convert grains to ethanol. The energy used in this process comes from natural gas, coal, nuclear or hydro. Coal is dirty and produces acid rain; nuclear has a waste disposal problem, which after 40 years is still unresolved; hydro is the cleanest of all and renewable. In the Midwest, there is little hydro electric. Most of our electrical production is from coal, natural gas or nuclear, all non-renewable and all somewhat dirty. Though ethanol is being touted as clean burning, the production of ethanol is anything but clean. The backyard where the coal fired plant is located is being polluted more while the area the E-85 is sold will have less pollution. Rather like selling pollution credits.Energy is very important to our economy and standard of living. It affects our jobs, costs, environment and more. Burning a fuel to get work out is old technology and pollutes. What we need is a new 21st century power source, one that is renewable, clean, abundant, reliable and not dependent on others. That energy source is right in front of our faces.