Grand Challenges for Engineering  -  Nov 28, 2014

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Mike Huckabee on Biofuels

By Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas and a current Republican candidate for U.S. President.

"Engineering, in antiquity as now, is the process of finding a way through and over the challenges of environment and culture."
John Noble Wilford

If engineers could design and build a prototype of a universal bio-fuel conversion machine that was affordable, capable of mass production, and space-efficient enough to be on every farm, and perhaps in every home, it would truly be an invaluable wonder. If a farmer could collect the waste of his livestock and remains of his crops and deposit them into a machine that would convert them to a concentrated bio-fuel which he could use to power vehicles and generators, not to mention sell to energy companies that would pass it on to other consumers, it would be an incredible way to facilitate the transition away from fossil fuels and toward bio-fuel. It is likely that such a machine could be used by more than just farmers to generate fuel. Many production processes generate waste that could possibly be converted in this way as well.

If it also was possible to design a machine so efficient that the average household could use it to convert their waste into bio-fuel for personal use or to sell to an energy supplier, the impact on our economy and natural environment would be even greater. Such an invention would revolutionize not just the energy industry and how we power our machines, but also the recycling and waste disposal industries, environmental conservation, and the design and production of future products that would benefit society.

If engineers meet such a challenge, it would have an almost immediate, beneficial impact on the energy security of every country now totally dependent on fossil fuels, on the prospects for economic growth now hampered by the high price of oil, and on the health and future of our planet and the other species that share it. I know that the most worthy endeavors are rarely easy, but the rewards are worth the effort. I humbly commend this challenge to our engineers in hopes of achieving a cleaner, more prosperous world in this century.

Godspeed,
Mike Huckabee



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MARGRET-MARIE, United States

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Hello Mr. Mike Huckabee, I am a chemical engineer that is interested in this type of work and would like to know were I can start. I currently live in Colorado and have spoken to executives concerning this same topic. How can I get on board with this and get funding for my project. Sincerely, Margaret Thornton

Steve Frazer, Boulder City, NV

"The initial capital costs along with the parasitic energy needed for such processing at small scale would not provide a positive return with the technology of today or that of the near future (5 years). " 

Gov. Huckabee, I have been working in energy for more than a decade with DoD and DoE funding in research universities and private firms. Today I am with the Emerging Technology Corporation (http://etcgreen.com). While there are technologies that partially support the vision contained in your document above, short of solving the nuclear fission challenge or possibly the development of some "nano" technology, such processes demand large scale operations for capital investment recovery. The initial capital costs along with the parasitic energy needed for such processing at small scale would not provide a positive return with the technology of today or that of the near future (5 years). Tom Brokaw's, "The Greatest Generation", a wonderful story of amazing people, does not address the concept that this single generation had radically advanced transportation and communications tools over all previous human history as the result of learning to burn stored energy at a higher rate. The future of US transportation is in question. By 2030, 30% of the US population may no longer own private cars. If you have not viewed the movie "Crude", please take the time to do so. Also, the DoD J.O.E. report is eye opening - massive worldwide oil shortages by 2014? Not to mention the suggestion of WWIII in Africa. Gov. Huckabee, you have a platform from which you can educate the American citizens. The media and lobbies have confused the masses. People need to have the facts: Between a 2010 Toyota Prius (55mpg on gasoline) and a 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee with CRD diesel engine (22mpg on B100), which is the most Green? The Jeep - The Prius is running a fuel that is not sustainable therefore cannot be considered Green at all. I tell everyone I know that the gasoline powered car they are driving now is likely to be the last of its kind they will ever buy. Hybrids and EV's do not make sense based on financial, energy or recycling issues. My company embraced Jatropha orchards years before Daimler, GM, Toyota, ADM, Doe, and hundreds more organizations made the same decision. There are 103 public utility nuclear power plants operating in the US today. There are hundreds of new nuclear power plant licensing requests submitted with the US NRC, but estimates of over 200 years are common to replace the current fossil fuel power plants with nuclear plants. The sad reality is that heavy minerals needed for the fuel in these proposed nuclear power plants are not sustainable and some mineral reserve reports suggest they are not simply not available even today. Will we soon be mining Mars and other planets? Mr. Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" burned energy at a rate never before seen on this planet. It took the earth hundreds of millions of years to store that much energy and we used it up in a blink of the eye. Our world economies and our world energy sources are changing. My firm is a development partner for a radically new wind turbine design. This technology will likely put 80% of all current wind turbine manufacturers and virtually all current wind farms out of business within 5-10 years. Such an example offers hope for a better life in this radically changing world, but frankly the world should expect less and less such technology breakthroughs. People will be too busy just trying to survive. Sincerely, Steve Frazer

Ross Pert, Glasgow

"Solar powered biofuel warehouses on the edges of cities which will hold the waste of a city would be perfect." 

Yes creating a device which would covert waste in power and energy is perfect for the home and farms across the world, but with everything which requires alot of research and input, the cost to actually have these things in the average home or farm is just not feasible??Or not in the immediate future. Ideas need to be thought of that are going to produce renewable energy in the next 5 to 10 years. Solar powered biofuel warehouses on the edges of cities which will hold the waste of a city would be perfect, the waste can then be moved on to a larger factory (again powered by sun) to be converted into fuel. Everyone knows that biofuel is cheaper and if it can be produced on a large scale then it will be used and will quickly expand.

Sidney Clouston, Michigan, USA

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Dear Chairman Huckabee, Fellows and Friends Our group is a Type Two Partnership as suggested by the UN during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 held in South Africa. We are focused on Biomass Energy and Biofuels in particular. We have a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU signed with the Energy Commission of Nigeria, the Applied Research Center of the Florida International University and my small business Clouston Energy Research, LLC. We have demonstration gardens growing in Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal. in Africa. We ought to to have fields in Guyana South America started and Nepal as well shortly. The Switchgrass and Jatropha can suppliment or replace the fuels used in the transportation sector. It is Renewable and can be home grown for the greater part. However we do think that importing feedstock and/or finished products is needed. A three year period is needed for the full establishment of the roots of the Switchgrass. Time is needed also for Jatropha to be matured and better established. It woulld be nice for our team to get the attention it deserves and any participation from this NSF team. Lastly, I have written a White Paper that has the Millennium Development Goals supported by the Poor growing this feedstock. Uplifting the Poor will not only help them but be an economic stimulas as well. Sidney Clouston cloustonenergy@aol.com

Phil Z., Southern California

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Mr. Huckabee makes a good point when he talks of using the biofuels at the point where they are created, thus reducing the costs of trucking the fuel to distant markets. Still, the energy costs associated with the refining of biofuels far exceed their benefits. Mr. Huckabee's emphasis on using animal & plant waste as opposed to purpose grown crops is another good point, but all these biofuel projects are just an attempt to shorten the cycle of capturing solar energy. Oil, natural gas and coal are all examples of solar energy converted in readily usable forms of energy. Solar energy, whether thermal or photovoltaic, is clearly the best way to address our energy crises. BTW, I enjoy the Governor's bass playing.

aaron, nj

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I also believe in this idea of a universal bio-fuel, or bio-diesel. Henry Ford once used Hemp as fuel as well as to build his first model T. From the research i did on it in High School, I found out that this plant has very short grow seasons, and can be used to make Bio-diesel or ethanol. The emissions themselves would basically cancel out, because while growing, the plants still use photosynthesis to convert CO2 into O2. But, once again engineers are faced with the problem of adapting this carbon emissions efficient fuel into the modern day fossil fuel guzzling automobile.

David L. Larson, 1535 Daffodil Ct Naples FL

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The katabatic winds of the Antarctic must be the world's greatest untapped renewable resource. If wind turbines can be installed high above the ground level they could generate an enormous amount of electricity. The power can be stored in 4000 lb. pressure tanks such as will be used in German built cars in 2008. Vast areas of insulated greenhouses could be supported, providing food for a million meals served per year in Antarctica.. They would be fee from insects and diseases. Much agricultural work could be effectively done under those conditions All the power needs of some of the bases could be satisfied. Nearly all need for polluting fuel oil would be eliminated. There would be electrical power all along the coast-to-south pole highway.

jerry, arkansas

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Since we are seeing that biofuels will not scale up to our needs rapidly or maybe even never to our present glut we need to focus on getting the fuel where it will benefit society the most. Thanks to Richard Heinburg it is clearer to me that it is the farmers who need the fuel security and they may be in the best position to help themselves. Below is a web site which talks about a logistics problem with biofuels Cellulose is not very energy dense, which makes transporting it a real problem.What I think I see here is a problem that could be solved by having smaller more local refineries. I saw a web site that talks about the mini refinaries being made in Brazil The question I have is why do these cellulosic plants/refineries have to be so large as in the one described in the web site below? Can we follow the Brazillian example and solve this logistics problem? I am certainly not going to be the one who deals with these high tech problems but food producers I believe in a few years will begin to be desperate. --Gerald http://i-r-squared.blogsp ot.com/2007/03/logistics- problem-of-cellulosic-eth anol.html

jerry, arkansas

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A good Idea and it has been done on large dairy farms. For the home scale, would it be difficult to have enough wast/material?

Rick Brooks, Madison, WI

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There are many versions of biodigesters in use worldwide, including some that cost less than $150, which can converse human, animal and other organic waste into sterile soil and gas for cooking. They are quite useful for homes which have low energy requirements. I have wondered for a long while why we waste so much potential fuel by simply flushing our toilets into septic systems and sewers. And other methods of generating fuel abound if we could simply live more simply and consider the life cycle of growing things. For example--dendropower. Not cutting down full grown trees but coppicing the branches that grow every year. Again, I have wondered why fast-growing species like bamboo or even moringa couldn't be used for such purposes. This is not all wishful thinking. If one looks at moringa (also known as miringa or drum stick), one can see that it grows exceptionally well in dry climates where extreme hunger exists. It has fantastic nutritional value among other things. Bamboo and hemp also have excellent benefits for products and processes that we have barely begun to explore. The key, I believe, is to consider such options on the smaller scale that pertains to households, neighborhoods or single buildings rather than the mass scale of most windfarms, power grids, etc. Appropriate technology.

doug askelson, battleground, WA

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I think we should pray and wait for GOD to answer. presupposing he exists he /she would tell us that controlling our wants and our consumptions is the answer. 7 billion on the planet is going to mightily tax our engineering abilities. While Gov. Huckabee seems a little niave at least he has made the first steps

Omri Schwarz, Boston

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If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. Mr. Huckabee, I refer you to the Book of Genesis, to the story of the Pharoah's dream. We are heading for some lean years, and they will not be evaded with wishfull thinking.

Dave M, Vancouver USA

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From where does the energy to run such a machine come? From the output product of this multi-stage waste processor? From a coal fired power plant miles away? Ideas like this sound great! Until you consider the Energy Returned On Energy Invested (EROEI). Net energy output must be greater than the energy input, or you are wasting time. Such a wonderful machine does not exist, for a reason. Come on Mike, get real.

david a. bequeaith, Iowa

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I think that the comments by Governor Huckabee demonstrate a total lack of perspective as to the amount of energy used by the average American. Sounds like a pie in the sky. The steel industry uses immense amounts of energy yet has no or limited waste products suitable for energy production. There is probably room for efficiency gains but I didn't hear that. I have reduced my waste at the source and come no where close enough to power my frugal lifestyle. Empty dreams about various forms of co-production is what I believe I read.

Marcello Romagnoli, Modena (Italy)

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I think this idea not only interesting, but also indispensable. The engineers can play a role of design and optimisation, but are the biologists and chemists the ones that must set the conditions and the process.

Prateek Singh, Durgapur, India

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Its very heartening to see that somebody has focussed on this energy saving topic. seeing the rising demand of petroleum based products, and global warming becoming a global issue, the bio-fuel cells will lead the future.

Shana Carlsen, California

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The Aquatic Species Program Microalgae Biodiesel --  In 1978 Jimmy Carter launched The Aquatic Species Program to cultivate Microalgae for the production of bio-diesel from algae. Carter's research program funded by the US Dept. of Energy, operated over a span of twenty years in search of finding alga specie with large lipid content and thus created 1000 square metre pond systems. Why was the funding to Carter's viable research program cut by Clinton back in 1996?

William Johnson, 27614

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Governor Huckabee, In 2007, I am surprised to see your comments on _Biofuels_. As a leader in our American system of _governance_, I'd expect you to challenge the great minds in Engineering to solve our pressing problems of governance. For example, the folks who brought Unix to ATT and Virtualization to IBM more than 3 decades ago know a LOT about resource management. Why aren't you asking them to solve "The Closing of the Frontier", and other challenges of national resource sequestration? We are dying of our own political inertia. At other peoples' expense, we sped past Europe largely because abundant resources enhanced our freedom to adapt, leaving Europe mired in their contentious past. Australians, starting later, also at the expense of other people, reached world prominence even faster. Europe, after using our help to press the Reset Button twice before 1950, is restructuring itself nicely now, and restructured China's progress has the world's attention. How are we going to escape OUR inertia? How are we going to release some of the energy now dissipated in OUR internal political conflicts -- and move more toward the "reinvention" models that have succeeded worldwide?

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