How I Made $50,000 In About Two Minutes

Posted in Uncategorized on September 14, 2008 by palmerjay
Online Game Teaches Kids About Business Management

Online Game Teaches Kids About Business Management

Wow, that sounds like one of those scammer spam emails. But to be honest, I didn’t really make $50k in two minutes – at least not real money.

I was checking out the Johnny Money game from the NFIB (The National Federation of Independent Business). The game is designed to teach young people about starting and operating a business.

Of course, it is somewhat simplified. Processes that normally take days or weeks to accomplish are finished in about 2 seconds with the click of a mouse – I sure wish MY taxes were that easy to do!

But the basic ideas of limiting your debt and managing cash flow are in there, and I think presented in a way that younger folks can get an appreciation of the basics of business management.

If your kids or students are interested in starting a business, you might have them go through this game a few times and talk about some of the things that come up.

Check out the game here at the NFIB website: http://www.nfib.com/object/IO_38451.html

Which is Healthier?

Posted in politics with tags , , , on September 2, 2008 by palmerjay
Biotech versus Organic

Biotech versus Organic

If you take a quick look at what most teenagers eat, the question of whether an Organic peach is healthier than a “regular” peach is most likely moot.

I was watching this funny video about the differences between Organic and Non-organic produce, and one funny quote got me to thinking. A teenage girl said, “In the beginning of the year I was on the “Pizza Kick”, where I had Pizza every day. But then I switched to Nachos.”

I mean, I think that if she ate any fruit or veggies at all, it would probably do her some good, right?

According to the several experts interviewed on the video there is no advantage to eating Organic foods. Really, this only confirms my long-standing belief that the primary difference between Organic and Non-organic, is the marketing.

Is Palin’s Daughter Really Important?

Posted in politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 1, 2008 by palmerjay

I suppose the issue is whether we need to be sticking our noses in her business. I seem to recall that in high school it wasn’t incredibly unusual for someone to get pregnant. Does that really mean her mother can’t run for public office?

Methinks the media should focus more effort on the following:

  • Price of oil
  • War
  • Economy
  • Iran
  • Russia/Georgia/Ukraine
  • Hurricanes

World BioFuels Industry Answers OPEC Lies

Posted in Ethanol, politics with tags , , , , , on July 21, 2008 by palmerjay

When President Khelil of OPEC said last week that the cause of high gas prices was domestic production of biofuels, I was ROFL’ing. But then the fear set in. What if people believed him?

In fact a lot of people DO believe what OPEC says. Don’t believe me? Just watch TV news for 20 minutes or so, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. They are quoting 30 year-old efficiency studies, and blaming the price of food on Ethanol – instead of the high price of diesel.

Fortunately, the biofuels industry is getting their voice heard as well. In an open letter to OPEC, the World BioFuels Industry refutes these ridiculous claims. You can read an article about it (as well as see a scan of the original letter) here: www.goodfuels.org/opec

The Ethanol Controversy – Fuel from Cellulose

Posted in Ethanol, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 12, 2008 by palmerjay

One of the greatest potentials of Ethanol is to be able to create the alcohol fuel from garbage plants and waste materials like switchgrass and wood chips or pulp.

Currently, most of the Ethanol produced in the United States comes from corn. As grain prices rise, popularity for the fuel goes down. And anyone can admit that it does seem ridiculous to use food-grade corn to make fuel.

But ethanol doesn’t need to be made from corn. As I pointed out in a previous article, “The Case for Ethanol“, recent advances in manufacturing specialized enzymes could negate many of the arguments made against ethanol.

First some background.

In order for yeast to create ethanol, they need an energy source. That energy source is primarily glucose – a simple sugar. Think of a molecule of glucose as being like a train engine. Now hold that thought!

Grains such as corn contain large amounts of carbohydrates and starches, but little glucose. Carbohydrates are kindof like if you hook three or four cars up to that train engine. Starches are even more complex, so they are like adding 8 or 10 cars to that train.

But our little yeast cells can only handle one train car at a time.

So enzymes have been isolated that can break these carbohydrate strings down (a process called hydrolyzation) into simple sugars – making them digestable for yeast. So this is where the train cars are broken apart and dealt with as individuals rather than an entire train.

But there is a whole lot more plant material OUTSIDE the seed than inside it. This material is called Cellulose. It makes up the fiberous material in a plant’s stem, leaves, trunk, and roots.

Cellulose is like a really, really long train. A train with up to 9,000 cars (glucose units) attached. That’s why it’s so dang tough.

Now, the enzymes that have been used to do this process in the alcohol industry are only capable of breaking down carbohydrates and starches (the little trains) - and only after they have been fairly well torn apart mechanically and boiled to soften them up. These enzymes couldn’t even begin to chew up a tree’s roots.

So, the holy grain in the ethanol industry is to see who can come up with an enzyme that can break cellulose down into glucose.

The Holy Grain of Ethanol Has Already Been Found

In 2004 the Cellulosic Ethanol industry was born with the opening of a plant in Canada by Iogen Corporation. This plant processes 40 tons of wheat straw into ethanol per day. They use enzymes that they manufacture themselves, and have plans to roll this technology out worldwide.

So, what does this mean?

This means that fairly soon we could all be driving cars powered, at least in part, by things like grass clippings, waste from the lumber industry, and switchgrass from non-arable lands. It also produces approximately 85% less carbon dioxide than gasoline.

And the best part is that the fuel regrows itself every year. It is basically solar power that has been liquified in a distillation column.

Next Post: Debunking the Myth that Ethanol Plants Use Too Much Water

The Ethanol Controversy – Food to Fuel

Posted in Ethanol, politics with tags , , , , on July 10, 2008 by palmerjay

In the wake of my last post on Ethanol (http://darkpalmer.wordpress.com/2008/07/03/the-case-for-ethanol/), I had a number of people push back with criticisms that I would like to answer more thoroughly here. A couple of these criticisms were on this blog. But most occured on disussion forums and emails that are not visible to everyone here.

So in the interest of consolidating everything to one place, I am going to addreess each of these issues on this blog over the next few days.

Food to Fuel and Back Again

The first issue I’m going to address is the idea that if you make ethanol, then you are diverting the corn that used to be used to make food to corn that is used to make fuel.

This isn’t true.

In my article, The Case For Ethanol I explained that the primary by-product of Ethanol is Dried Distillers Grains (DDG). This DDG is used as animal feed, and so therefore it is not true that if you use grain to make fuel that it isn’t used for food – since the byproduct of the fuel is, in fact, animal feed.

The counter-point was made by a critic that ethanol production removes the calories from the grain, so how can it be used for food once it has been used for fuel.

The answer is that the ethanol production process does indeed remove some of the calories, but not all – fortunately or unfortunately the enzymes simply cannot break the starches down efficiently enough to get all the food value out.

But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing because the DDG by-product is actually healthier in many respects than the grain it comes from. It is higher in protein and various vitamins and minerals.

Super-Duper Corn Flakes for Cows

According to the USDA, “the nutritional value of distillers grains … equals from 120 to 135 percent of the nutrition of corn in the feed ration”. And that “distillers grains are discounted relative to corn (despite having a higher nutritional value), feeders look for ways to include (substitute) more of it into their ration.”

Here’s a link to that article: http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/rbs/pub/sep06/measuring.htm

Nevertheless, there is in fact a loss of feed volume. A bushel of corn (56 lbs) will yield approximately 3 gallons of ethanol, and provide approximately 17 lbs of DDG. 17 lbs is approximately 30% of 56 lbs, but remember, the nutritional value of this feed is ~130% that of corn. So, really the nutritional value of the by-product of that bushel of corn is about 40% of the input.

Adding DDG to an animal’s ration is a bit like putting vitamins in your morning cereal. Given the same amount of feed, the ration that contains DDG is healthier than the ration that does not.

So, the question becomes: Can we afford to lose this percentage of feed yield?

The answer is that if we were currently producing grain at capacity, then it would be hard to justify using it for fuel. However, we aren’t at capacity. Not even close.

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, by this time last year the United States had exported a little over 46 MILLION TONS of corn. So far this year?

Over 52 MILLION TONS year-to-date - a 13% increase.

One BILLION Acres

There is no shortage of food – not now, and not in the future. That’s because we have millions of acres of fallow farm ground in this country. As grain prices go up, farmers put more of that ground into production.

Now, the market is providing an incentive for farmers to put these fields back into production.

And the number of fallow acres isn’t just in the United States. According to this article from LiveScience.com, there are around 1.2 BILLION ACRES OF FARMGROUND in the world that could be used to make biofuels.

Now, the average corn farm in the United States produces about 150 bushels of corn per acre. Each bushel will make about 3 gallons of ethanol (PLUS 17 pounds of super-duper corn flakes for cows!).

Assuming all that was used to grow corn, then this currently fallow ground would produce approximately 540 BILLION GALLONS of ethanol – which is 77 gallons for every man woman and child on this planet. And this would have zero effect on the availability of food.

So, can we afford to lose some percentage of our grain yield to ethanol? Of course, all we need to do is put this fallow farmland into production.

But we don’t even need to use farm ground to make ethanol. And that will be the point of my next post. Stay tuned.

The Case for Ethanol

Posted in Ethanol, politics with tags , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2008 by palmerjay

Corn Field

If you want to help break our country’s dependence on foreign oil or decrease the amount of pollution we put into our atmosphere, then there is something you can do right now to help: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/declare-july-4th-energy-independence-day.

It is a petition to help promote the use of Ethanol, and it was put together by DrivingEthanol.org (http://www.drivingethanol.org/news_events/epic_news.aspx?Newsid=213)

I know, perhaps you heard bad things about Ethanol (e.g. it takes more energy to produce than it yields; it’s driving up the price of grain). If so, then you should continue reading the rest of this post. It will tell you the other part of the story – the part that never seems to make it onto the evening news.

MTBEs

One of the least reported, but most important applications of ethanol, is its use in replacing Methyl tert-butyl Ether (MTBE) in the production of gasoline.

If you’ve never heard of MTBE, then you can hardly be blamed. Newspapers and cable news organizations don’t like to talk about it.

They don’t like to report on it because it has a long, technical sounding name. And they are probably afraid to tell people it causes cancer (read: lawsuits). But this stuff is nasty, and has been added to our gasoline since the early 1990s to increase octane and lower emissions.

You see, adding MTBE helps oxygen bind with petroleum and burn more completely. Theoretically that’s a good thing. And the government requires oil companies to take steps to help make gasoline burn more cleanly. But wait, there’s more…

The downside is that MTBE is highly soluble in water and is a known human carcinogen according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Every time someone fills up his or her gas tank a little gas spills on the ground. The MTBE from the gas ends up in surface and groundwater.

Gas Storage TankFurthermore, many of the big fuel storage tanks that gas stations have underground contain small leaks. So even if you are very careful filling up your car, the MTBE is still seeping into the ground water.

I’m not going to geek out on you too much here, but MTBE does not readily break down in nature. The bacteria that contain the enzymes necessary to decompose the ether are not plentiful enough to keep up with the level of pollution.

Therefore as MTBE builds up in the water supply, it renders large areas of ground water non-potable. You may not think you care, but if it contaminates the area where your water comes from, then you’ll care.

Ok, so what does this have to do with Ethanol?

Ethanol accomplishes the same goal of increasing the octane of gas as MTBE. Only it isn’t going to poison the groundwater. Why? Because ethanol is basically purified beer! You can pour it all over the ground and all you’re going to get is a bunch of drunken worms.

Furthermore, Ethanol requires less energy to produce than MTBE. So, it is a more efficient way to make our cars pollute less.

Oh, and ethanol helps reduce engine knocking!

Fuel Cells

Fuel CellYou may have heard of fuel cells. Basically this is the process of making hydrogen – but in reverse. You bring hydrogen (or a solution containing hydrogen such as, hmmm… Ethanol) together with oxygen (err… air), and when the two combine to make water, electricity is given off.

It’s like a battery, but you recharge it by adding more fuel instead of plugging it in.

The electricity is channeled into an electric motor to power the vehicle.

This car gets over 12,000 miles to the gallonTraditional fuel cells have been made using gasoline, but you can also use Ethanol. When you do so, the only emission is trace amounts of water and CO2 – way, way, way less than an internal combustion engine.

These types of fuel cells are called Direct-ethanol Fuel Cells (DEFC). The result is a vehicle that can get amazing mileage.

In fact, the world record in automotive efficiency was set by the PAC-Car II (http://www.paccar.ethz.ch/) in 2005 when it achieved 12,645 miles to the gallon using a fuel cell system!

Yeah, I know, you heard some idiot on TV say that Ethanol isn’t efficient. Keep reading.

Corn-based to Cellulosic Ethanol

Historically, ethanol in the United States has been made out of corn.

Why?

The answer comes down to the alcohol industry. You see, as mentioned above, Ethanol is basically beer that has been distilled into a very pure form of Vodka or Whiskey. The easiest, least creative way to make more ethanol is to simply follow the methods that have been used to make liquor in the past.

You take a pile of corn, boil it up into a mash. Let it ferment for a while, then distill it to fuel grade (195 proof or so) and dehydrate it. Presto! You have pure Ethanol.

This is the way we’ve been making Whiskey, Moonshine, and Vodka for two hundred years. Heck, we’re good at it! Just ask all those Koreans who buy Jack Daniels for $100 a bottle!

The problem? We use corn for food, and it takes a lot of energy to do all this.

So, it turns out that the process of making “beer” can be carried out by enzymes instead of heat and energy. It doesn’t have to taste good, it just has to make ethanol.

Even better, if you use non-food materials such as straw, wood chips, saw dust or switchgrass, then you could produce ethanol more efficiently and have virtually no effect on the food supply.

Wait, What the Heck is Switchgrass?

Switchgrass is a native American grass that doesn’t require irrigation, and thrives in environments where you can’t grow any other crops except maybe cactus.

Therefore if we could use it to make ethanol, then it wouldn’t effect our ability to grow food, and it would just employ a whole lot more farmers (see below).

Switchgrass is a grass that grows about 7 – 8 feet tall and contains a lot of cellulose.

The cellulose can be broken down into simple sugars by the use of special enzymes. These enzymes are the key to this fuel, and this is where all the research is going right now.

The first cellulosic ethanol plants came online a couple years ago. A whole lot more are coming online in the near future. And this is what makes this kind of fuel efficient enough to replace gasoline.

Ethanol Helps Domestic Farmers

All things being equal, wouldn’t you rather pay a farmer in the United States, Mexico or Canada for your fuel than a dictator in the Middle East?

When our farmers make money to produce fuel, the investment stays here in North America. It doesn’t fund our enemies. Our farmers turn around and use that money to buy equipment and materials manufactured in our country to help them to develop their lands and grow even more crops in the future.

The money that’s left over goes into our Farmers’ IRAs and Keogh plans. It pays for their kids to go to school at the University of Iowa. It doesn’t fund Medrasas in Pakistan; it doesn’t buy North Korean missiles.

Addressing the Critics

You will often see pundits on TV providing misleading information to kill the idea of ethanol. Reporters rarely contest these misinformed and misleading assertions because the reporters just don’t know the facts.

Let’s change that. Here is how we can address these criticisms directly with FACTS.

Myth #1: Ethanol Diverts Feedstocks Away from Producing Food…

There is a common misconception that anytime you make ethanol you are diverting grain from food to fuel. This just simply isn’t the case.

The primary byproduct of the ethanol production process is Dried Distillers Grains (DDG). This is used almost exclusively to make animal feed.

The grain is used to make ethanol first, THEN it is turned into animal feed. So, if the grain is ultimately used to make animal feed, then how can anyone honestly say that if you use the grain for fuel, it isn’t being used for feed?

Furthermore, as cellulosic technologies are advanced, less and less of the available farmland will be used to make fuel at all. Instead, lands that are currently unused will be utilized to harvest indigenous crops like switchgrass to make ethanol.

Myth #2: Ethanol Drives Up the Price of Grain…

Grain prices are affected by a number of factors - the cost of fuel is chief among them. It takes a lot of fuel to run the tractor, to dehydrate the grain for storage, to take it to market, deliver it to the manufacturer, process it into products, then deliver it to the end consumer. By creating domestic alternatives to foreign oil, we can bring the cost of fuel down, and with it the price of grain and products made out of grain.

By using each bushel of grain produced in this country more efficiently we actually increase the yield of the grain. Over time this increased yield (read: profitability) will bring more farmers online and increase production of grains. Temporary adjustments of commodity prices will happen, but the overall trend will be to make food and fuel more affordable.

Myth #3: It Takes More Energy to Produce Ethanol than it Yields…

Yawn.

Back when ethanol was first considered as an alternative to petroleum products in the late 1970s, the process of making ethanol was incredibly inefficient. Back then; it really did take more energy to produce ethanol than the ethanol would yield.

Today things are different. Even the traditional methods of making ethanol are more efficient, and with advances in cellulosic technology the efficiencies are proving to be even greater.

Comparing the efficiency of ethanol production today to what it was like in 1978 is like comparing the efficiency of a 2008 Toyota Prius to that of my father’s old 1972 Mercedes.

You cannot honestly argue that the Prius only gets 8 or 10 miles to the gallon simply because it has an internal combustion engine similar in function to that of the 1972 Mercedes. It’s a stupid comparison.

Modern efficiencies are around 1.34:1 using corn. If you use cellulosic processes with switchgrass, then the efficiencies are around 5:1; and if you use sugarcane, then the efficiency is 8:1.

So, this would be like if my old man’s Mercedes could hypothetically get about 70 miles to the gallon.

When you add in the value of the by-products (DDGs, Proteins, etc), the efficiencies are actually much higher since you are negating the need to produce these products using other manufacturing processes.

Now this “analogy” Benz is getting about 100 mpg. Nice! We might just have to paint the old girl green.

Make Your Voice Heard

There are plenty of voices that would prefer our Nation to maintain the status quo. Who say we should continue to purchase petroleum from people like Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadenijad; and nations like Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen.

What does your voice say?

Declare your independence this July 4th. If you have a website then link to this article (heck, republish this article – just make sure you tell people where you got it). If you have a blog, then write about the truth.

Help us to educate our fellow Americans about Ethanol and all the alternatives we have. There isn’t much time.

Vote for independence: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/declare-july-4th-energy-independence-day.

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