Growth for the Future: Biofuels

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Growth for the Future: Biofuels

The internal combustion engine, so vital for sustaining America's burgeoning economy, is omnipresent in most vehicles from the greatest semis to the smallest economy cars. The combustion engine is also a mode of transportation that is fraught with problems, both costing billions of U.S. dollars to fuel and causing enormous air pollution problems. Iowa, the nation's largest producer of corn and a leading agricultural state, may have the solution to the problems caused by the enormous burden of gasoline and diesel powered engines, biofuel. Biofuels coming out of Iowa include biodiesel, a diesel fuel additive, and ethanol, a gasoline additive. Both are locally produced products that reduce domestic dependence on volatile foreign oil prices, decrease polluting emissions and stimulate the local economy.

Every internal combustion engine is built the same. It is composed of a varying number of fuel-saturated gas-filled chambers called cylinders. Each cylinder is expanded and compressed by a piston, driven by a rotating arm called a crankshaft. Every time the piston is pushed into the cylinder, gas inside is compressed to nearly 6 to 10 times atmospheric pressure. At this instant of maximum pressure, the gasoline-saturated air is ignited by a spark and the mixture literally explodes, causing the gas to expand rapidly and force the piston back down, then to come back up again to repeat the process20. When the piston is pushed back down, the crankshaft rotates and performs work which can be harnessed to drive the vehicle. This process, unfortunately, does not capture all of the energy contained in the gasoline, in fact it only uses about one-fifth of the available chemical energy20.

Diesel engine...

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...hew, "A New Breed of Fuel," Canadian Business. (2002).

14Paulos, Bentham, "Renewable Energy Proposals Are Inadequate, Say Environmental Groups," American Wind Energy Association. (2000).

15Stipp, David, "Why Ethanol Is No Longer a Punch Line," Fortune. (2000).

16Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Energy Bureau, "Switch grass and Other Energy Crops." http://www.sate.ea.us/dnr/energy/pubs/irerg/switchgrass.htm

17Economagic.com, "Unemployment Rate: Iowa." http://www.economagic.com. (2003).

18Iowa Corn, "Where Does America's (Iowa's) Corn Go?" Educational Information. http://www.iowacorn.org/consumption.htm. (2002).

19Renewable Fuels Association, "U.S. Ethanol Industry Today." http://www.ethanolRFA.org. (2002).

20Kraushaar, Jack J. and Ristinen, Robert A., Energy and the Environment, John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, 2002), pp. 73-77, 293-299.

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