Green energy in MichiganPublished 10:27am Friday, February 19, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
When Dan Rajzer visited Iowa in the summer of 2008, Cass County’s Extension director noticed corn cobs being collected from fields after harvest.
“They process those into ethanol,” Rajzer said.
“The thing we’re going to be looking at in Michigan quite heavily are perennial and woody crops,” like a test plot at Edward Lowe Foundation’s Big Rock Valley Farm.
“We’re looking like things like switchgrass. Of every ton of product you get, you can get about 72 gallons. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but these crops can be raised on marginal ground.”
Thanks to such alternatives as ethanol blends, “We’re already seeing a 19-percent reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions, which is great,” Rajzer said. “If we went strictly on natural gas for all of our transportation needs, we could reduce greenhouse emissions by 28 percent. If we went over to corn ethanol, 52 percent.
“Sugar cane as an ethanol product and a transportation fuel can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by 87 percent.
“Brazil is no longer dependent on imported fuels. They basically produce all the fuels they need.”
U.S. petroleum-based energy consumption is “most out of whack” compared to four other countries, including Russia and Japan, Rajzer said.
America, with 4.6 percent of the population, consumes 21.8 percent of the world’s energy.
“Quite a disparity there,” he told Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889.
China, by comparison, while growing rapidly and industrializing, uses 14.5 percent of the energy with 19.9 percent of the population.
India, with 17 percent of the population, uses just 3.5 percent of the earth’s energy.
“Unfortunately,” Rajzer said, “petroleum products are a finite resource. Eventually, there’s a good chance it will run out.”
Rajzer said about 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption remains rooted in petroleum; natural gas, 23 percent; 22 percent, coal; nuclear, 8 percent; and renewables, 6.3 percent.
“The national goal is to expand that renewable energy section,” Rajzer said. “Fifty-eight percent of the petroleum we use is imported, 33 percent of energy from all sources is imported.”
The leading source of oil is Canada – 19 percent; Saudi Arabia, 12 percent; Mexico, 10 percent; Venezuela, 9 percent; Nigeria, 8 percent; Iraq, 5 percent; and Algeria and Angola, 4 percent each.
“I don’t know if this is true or not,” Rajzer hedged, “but the story I’ve heard is that we get the most of our oil out of Canada because countries in the Middle East don’t want to deal with the United States. They deal with Canada and we buy it from Canada. Canada has a lot of oil shale, but it isn’t really known as a large oil-producing country.”
Rajzer said the United States imports 12.9 million barrels of oil “each and every day. You’re looking at six to 6 1/2 supertankers coming into this country with foreign oil every day, 365 days a year. If we’re importing 12.9 million barrels a day, and that represents 58 percent of our oil imports, 100 percent represents 22,267,000 million barrels a day.”
“If those numbers aren’t big enough for you,” he said, “there are 42 gallons of oil in a barrel. All that isn’t converted to gasoline. On a per-day basis, it ends up being about 623 million gallons of gasoline per day. There are about 28 gallons that you can get out of a barrel of oil,” he said. “Per month, you’re up to around 18 billion. A year, 227,531,207 gallons. Just our country alone, we’re using 8.03 billion barrels of oil per year.”
Rajzer has been Cass County Extension director and agriculture agent for Michigan State Extension in Cassopolis for the past 15 years.
His duties include conducting agricultural education programs and helping producers resolve and address local issues and problems.
The Michigan State University graduate is also responsible for directing the local Extension staff, including program chair Sarah Mathews’ mother, Mary Wilkinson, in other program areas such as 4-H, Snap Ed and swine production.
Prior to coming to Cass County, Dan served as ag agent in Van Buren County for nine years.
He was involved in the agriculture lending business for eight years.
In 2007, the federal government’s Emergency Independence and Security Act, which proposed to systematically develop renewable energy sources to “eventually wean ourselves off imported oil.”
The goal is 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022 – 12 years from now.
“In addition to that,” Rajzer said, “they want to improve the CAFE fuel efficiency standards. You’re going to be seeing the requirements start ratcheting up from year to year. In addition to federal policies under the USDA Farm Bill, which regulates ag production, there was the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, which assists processors in accumulating biomass, whether it be a tree farmer or an agricultural producer.
“It also provided incentives for the producers – the farmers – to produce biomass that can be converted to ethanol and used as a fuel source,” Rajzer said. “The main source of starch is corn. We use 3 billion to 4 billion bushels of corn to produce what right now is 10 billion to 11 billion gallons of ethanol a year. One of the difficulties is we don’t have a large enough land base to produce all the bio-energy from corn production, which we don’t want to do anyway. We’re concerned about too much of our corn product going into fuel rather than food. We could max out with ethanol production from corn at about 15 billion gallons in about another four to five years. From that point on, if we still have this mandate of 36 billion gallons per year, we have to make that up from bio-energy sources.”
Cellulosic fuels are produced from plant materials such as trees and shrubs.
“The advantage Michigan has is both agricultural production and a lot of forests,” such as north of Grand Rapids.
Logging leaves “residue” in the form of tree tops and leaves which can become an energy source.
“I didn’t realize you can use the paper mill waste product, pulping liquors. They can extract ethanol out of that. In the southern part of Michigan, corn is the major source of ethanol production. We’ve got a plant right down here in South Bend where our corn goes,” Rajzer said.
Michigan’s Renewable Energy Portfolio stipulates that the state derive 10 percent of its electrical supply from renewable energy sources by 2015.