Each year, the MIT Energy Conference brings industry leaders and scientists together from around the world to discuss the future of energy use and production. Now in its 7th year, the 2012 event saw a number of breakthrough discussions and ideas develop. Inventors, investors, CEOs and scientists all shared their knowledge and experience with the college students responsible for planning the event.
One panel was focused on transportation fuels. The trucking industry and other transportation industries all rely on fossil fuels, which are slowly running out. Air pollution and drilling have made fossil fuels even more unattractive and expensive, leading to a slow-down in the creation of new truck driving jobs. The panel had experts from companies like Ford Motors, Chevron, the US Air Force, alternative fuel investors, ethanol producers and the FAA. All of them contributed unique ideas on how to create petroleum alternatives that work equally well for the jets of the Air Force and the fleets of trucking companies.
Current alternatives involve compressed natural gas, algae, green plant material and used cooking oil. Unfortunately, large scale production does not yet exist for any of these methods. There are also safety concerns in the trucking industry about carrying large qualities of compressed natural gas. Despite these concerns, hundreds of trucking companies have already begun the process of switching over to natural gas. These companies are happy to find that this type of fuel is cheaper in the long run, leaving them with more money to create new truck driving jobs. The trillion dollar value of the alternative fuel market ensures that more options will soon arrive. Specialty research into alternative fuel for diesel engines is also picking up strong interest along with other engine types.
Ford Motors presented their position in reduction rather than switching fuels at this point. The representative explained that they will be able to increase efficiency by another 30% before reaching a design limit. The company plans to begin designing cars that support alternative fuels when these fuels become more available and their customers demand the re-designed vehicles. Until then, there is no point for the company to produce natural gas or ethanol vehicles. Most customers can’t find these fuels, even if they want to use them.
The US Air Force demonstrated a remarkable interest in the development of alternative fuels. The branch spends over 8 billion on jet fuel alone each year. Most of this fuel comes from petroleum products supplied by other countries. The Air Force is actively developing and testing new biofuels and alcohol-based options as part of their mission. Finding a fuel that could be produced domestically would save them billions of dollars annually.
The representative from Chevron reported on the issues standing between biofuel integration and our current fuel system. The US government requires a high percentage of all gasoline to contain ethanol, but the speaker said that it is impossible to meet these mandates due to supply fluctuations. There simply aren’t enough producers yet. However, the ethanol production team said that ethanol is growing by leaps and bounds, and will soon rise to meet the demands of the government mandates.
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