Getting Free from Toxic Oil – Now
You are looking at my surfboard. Notice the blackened area in the middle. This is from a blob of oil – AKA tar ball – that found its way onto my board yesterday during a surf at my home break, “the rock,” in Morro Bay. It’s a byproduct of the recent oil spill from Santa Barbara.
The blackened oil blob was actually a lot worse when it happened – about a half-hour into my session. For about a half hour I waded and tried to scrape it off with the wax in order to prevent it from spreading all over my hands, feet and wetsuit as I was paddling. Encapsulated in my board wax, most of it dropped to the ocean floor.
If you have ever come into contact with a tar ball of oil you know: The oil is extremely sticky, smelly and doesn’t easily come off. This is why it is called tar. As in tar-baby.
Oil is toxic
So far at least 45 marine mammals and 80 sea birds have died so far from the Santa Barbara county oil spill of May 19, 2015. Of these, at least nine dolphins have died from the toxic oil spill. Other victims include pelicans, sea lions, elephant seals, crabs and many other critters that live along the Gaviota coast.
The spill was caused by an oil pipeline that broke and leaked some 105,000 gallons of crude oil near the beach at Rufugio State Beach Park. According to the pipeline owner, Plains All American Pipeline, at least 21,000 gallons spilled into the ocean.
The oil spill cleanup process has been making headway, but information on its progress to date is hard to come by. Four miles of coastline is now closed due to oil tar balls. And the black tar balls are being found all along the beaches to the south, as far as Long Beach.
Most of the news notes that the oil debris will coast south with the current.
Well, now I can confirm that the tar balls are also making their way north. Morro Bay is a good 100 miles north from Refugio State Beach.
Are we ready to get out of toxic oil yet? Have we ruined enough of our environment and health yet? We do have the technology to do this – now. If we as a human species, decide to.
Why are we burning toxic oil anyway?
Petroleum is one of the most toxic forms of fuel. Using oil as a fuel for a combustion engine – whether it is in our cars, energy plants or otherwise – produces a host of toxins. These include soot – particulates that can damage our lungs, our brains and produce free radicals within the body.
Burning petroleum also produces ozone. Ozone is good in the upper atmosphere. But when ozone is released into the lower atmosphere from combustion, it becomes a part of smog. This sort of ozone has damaging effects upon our health, our waterways and our soils. Ozone is produced when sunlight interacts with hydrocarbons released by hydrocarbon combustion.
Petroleum burned in many combustion engines also produces sulfur. This can harm waterways and wildlife as well as human health. Nitrogen oxides and other toxins are also released when petroleum is used as a fuel.
In addition, petroleum also contains benzene and other carcinogens.
What about electric?
Certainly the electric car provides a good long-term solution, but the technology is still problematic for longer drives. This is due to a combination of a relatively short battery range (100-150 miles), a shortage of charging stations and the length of time it takes to charge the batteries.
We are right on the edge of solving these, however – thanks to the innovations of Elon Musk and his companies, Solar City and Tesla, as well as some car companies such as Nissan – which produces the Leaf.
Changing out all of our automobiles will take some time, however.
There is an immediate solution
Most people do not realize this, but when Henry Ford launched his model Ts, every one of them could run on alcohol or gas. At that time, alcohol was the most plentiful fuel, and it could be easily made with low technology through fermentation.
Put it this way: If you could make moonshine, you could drive your Model T.
And during the first few years of our frenzy to mechanize personal transportation, we utilized alcohol as fuel. It was easy to make, and there was (and still are) plenty of debris that can be used to make alcohol.
Furthermore, wood alcohol – referred to as methanol – can be produced easily from a variety of sources.
Thanks to oil monopolies and kindly legislation, the availability of alcohol/methanol at the pump soon dried up – and the mantra for the next century was “drill, baby, drill.”
But there is no shortage of methanol sources. We’re talking nearly any biomass – any kind of tree limb, grass, cow dung, human poop, algae, you name it – can be converted to alcohol/methanol simply by fermenting it.
And its not as if alcohol/methanol/ethanol are the step-sisters of combustion fuels. Racing cars have been using alcohol to drive in races for decades. Not only is alcohol powerful, but it does not explode like gasoline. So its safer for race car drivers.
So what about the rest of us? Don’t we deserve the safer fuel too? Not according to big oil. Gasoline explosions kill tens of thousands of people every year in automobile accidents.
Methanol is less toxic
Furthermore, alcohol, methanol and ethanol are cleaner burning fuels. They produce a fraction of the carbon dioxide that gasoline-burning does. Because they are pure alcohol, more of the carbons are burned, and less carbons are released after combustion.
Burning methanol instead of gasoline in our cars would reduce CO2 emissions in a car by between 20 and 35 percent.
But it isn’t just combustion that favors alcohol. There is significant CO2 being produced by oil refining and by oil flaring than is put into the air by cars and energy plants.
For example, just to produce a gallon of gas, refining crude oil will put 2.45 pounds of CO2 into the air. And gas flaring – burning off of gas during production changes or simply to burn it off to decrease inventories in order to maintain current gas prices – emits some 400 million tons of CO2 every year just in the U.S.. This is equivalent to the CO2 produced by 77 million automobiles in a year.
And none of this flaring produces any energy or transportation.
Methanol can be produced from carbon in the air
Furthermore, methanol can be produced by converting existing CO2 in the atmosphere. The technology, developed at the University of Texas, utilizes very little energy and it can be easily scaled up. Another technology to recapture CO2 and produce methane has been developed at the University of Laval in France. This one is a bit more costly to scale.The method developed at University of Texas utilizes sunlight to convert the CO2.
This means that while burning methanol in our cars does produce CO2, the analyses of these technologies means there would be no net increase in CO2. Because the methanol production is recapturing the CO2 produced by burning the methanol.
Another type of low CO2 fuel is dimethyl ether (DME). DME is often made from methanol and is significantly less toxic to the atmosphere. According to DME producer Oberon Fuels:
“DME is a clean-burning, non-toxic fuel that can be derived from renewable sources. Its high cetane number and quiet combustion, as well as its inexpensive propane-like fueling system, make it an excellent, inexpensive diesel alternative.”
I watched the acclaimed 2014 documentary “Pump” the other day. They did a calculation that showed that if the garbage that is sent to landfills were to be converted to methanol, the amount of methanol produced could fuel every car on the road in the U.S.
Yes, we can convert our garbage into our fuel today – and shut down the oil platforms that sit off our coasts and fracture our earth. Today we have the technology to completely eliminate the need for drilling for oil. This would eliminate the risk of ruining our natural beaches and oceans with toxic oil spills. And it would cut our greenhouse emissions immediately.
What is holding up the show?
Not much. Practically every car and truck on the road today can run off of methanol/ethanol. According to the experts interviewed on Pump, for any car built after 1996, all it takes is a simple electronic conversion to adjust the fuel and air mixture to allow the car to utilize methanol. For older cars, the conversion is also very easy – taking about the same amount of time as changing the oil.
This theoretically could be done at any car mechanic, or done at home. Some car manufacturers are now offering the conversion on new vehicles. Getting your mechanic to do it may prove more difficult, given current U.S. law that forbids after-market changes by certified professionals.
Until this monopolistic law is changed, the conversation can also easily be done at home. There are several kits out there that can be quickly installed to make the conversion. And its not illegal. Here is one of them.
And here is a video that teaches you how to do the conversion:
The process of converting our cars and economy to methanol and get out of the oil economy is a simple one. The first step is to convert your car and start filling up at ethanol gas stations (E85).
The next step is to urge your congressperson to pass the fuel independence bill that has repeatedly not passed committee, to allow the conversion of all cars to methanol/ethanol and allow all gas stations the ability to sell methanol/ethanol. The market will do the rest, because alcohol is cheaper to make than gasoline.
REFERENCES and MORE INFO:
“Pump” The Movie. 2014
Hayden T. What will the Regugio Oil Spill Kill? The Independent. May 26, 2015
Ridge T, Peters ME. The Methanol Alternative to Gasoline. NY Times, Feb 23, 2012.
Blood. MR, Melley B. Break in Pipeline Was “Extremely Unlikely,” Santa Barbara Oil Spill Company Told CA Regulators. NBC Los Angeles.
Massive Santa Barbara Oil Spill 2015 Killing Ocean Life. Higgins News. June 4, 2015
Open Fuel Standard. The CO2 Advantage of Methanol. Dec. 27, 2013
Université Laval. “Too green to be true? Highly effective method for converting CO2 into methanol.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 June 2013.
Using Methanol as a Fuel Additive. Doityourself.com
Conversion kit for gasoline engines. Emsh-ngtech.com