BioCycle August 2011, Vol. 52, No. 8, p. 4
Last week, I attended the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Biomass 2011 Conference. This year’s theme was: “Replace The Whole Barrel, Supply The Whole Market … The New Horizons of Bioenergy.” Much of the discussion at the conference centered around advanced biofuels – essentially alternative fuels engineered to perform identically to petroleum. The common term to describe these products is ‘drop-in’ fuels.
One of the opening speakers at the conference was Jackalyne Pfannensteil, Assistant Secretary of the Navy. By 2020, the U.S. Navy plans to have half of the fuel supply for its ships, aircrafts and support vehicles come from renewable sources. “While we are feedstock agnostic,” said Assistant Secretary Pfannensteil, “we can only use drop-in fuels.” The reason, she explained, is that the Navy, as well as other branches of the armed forces, needs to continue using its existing fleets (ships, aircraft, support vehicles) and distribution infrastructure.
Less than a week earlier, we had an opportunity to interview Carol and Eddie Sturman, founders of Sturman Industries in Woodland Park, Colorado. The Sturmans are the keynote speakers at BioCycle’s 11th Annual Conference on Renewable Energy From Organics Recycling, October 31-November 2, in Madison, Wisconsin (see pages 14-17 for details). Sturman Industries has developed an engine technology that is “fuel agnostic,” i.e., it has designed a “smart” engine using digital valve technology that adjusts as it operates to the type and quality of fuel being used. “We need smart engines and not smart fuels,” explains Carol Sturman – essentially the opposite of a drop-in fuels approach. “Our philosophy is that you need to be in the sweet spot for whatever the fuel is,” she continues. “The quality isn’t as relevant.”
While it was very interesting to listen to the executives of the advanced fuel companies and their investors speak at the DOE Biomass conference last week, I left with the sense that we are still a long way away from making a dent in our dependence on fossil fuel. That was a contrast from when we were on the phone with the Sturmans. During the hour-plus interview, I blurted out several times how inspiring it was to learn more about their company. Sturman Industries’ smart-engine technology is ready for prime time today. “We are now at the point of implementation,” says Eddie Sturman. “We can start slow, and expand community by community, or we can do this on a very big scale. We are working with industry because it is to their benefit to jump into the future instead of being left behind.”
BioCycle’s full article on Sturman Industries appears in the next issue. But you don’t have to wait until September to get inspired. Instead, turn to page 37 and read our cover story, “German Village Achieves Energy Independence … And Then Some.” This article profiles the small community of Woldpoldsried in Bavaria that needed a new school, gym, wastewater treatment plant, etc. But the elected officials did not want to go into debt to make that happen. The solution? Invest in renewable energy, especially given the favorable incentives for electricity production. Today, Wildpoldsried is a model – an inspiration – not just for the future. It is a real place where we can visit and see what we can make happen today.