Saturday, May 10, 2008

Swift Enterprises

Wow, it has been a while since I felt comfortable writing in this blog. With exams to get through and work to keep up with, it has been a busy few weeks but, I'm back and hopefully can continue to write about things of interest. During my absence, there has been more than enough debate and all too often blatant criticism of biofuels and ethanol in particular. Rather than dwell on these arguments that, I fear, rely too often on raw emotion then on any kind of intellectual debate, I think it is time to look forward for a story to move beyond this impass.
With crude oil prices ridiculously high, I have heard more than one oil analyst state that it is not speculation that is driving the market, but rather the market is working correctly to force new innovations in the United States. While I doubt this is fully the case and I question the morality of crippling people's lives just to move us beyond fossil fuels more quickly, I know for a fact that $125 per barrel oil is having an effect on research. Everyone is looking for a solution that moves beyond corn as a primary feedstock and a solution that will produce higher energy (so called 'next generation') fuels that act more like gasoline.
Swift Enterprises, in conjunction with engineers at Purdue University, has announced that they have developed a method to generate the high octane (100 octane rated) diesel fuel that propeller planes use. They go on to assert that their method can use any biomass feedstock so they are not limited to corn and they say their method costs as little as $1 per gallon to make. While this is a great announcement and couldn't come sooner for an airline industry that is going into debt daily because of high fuel prices, there may be some problems. The first is that the method doesn't produce jet fuel used in commercial airlines. The second is that synthetic processes to make such things as car gasoline are already known. The problem with these processes is that they use chemical catalysts (which are materials that cause a chemical reaction to occur). These catalysts are often "poisoned" by contaminants in the biomass material, such as other metals or other organic materials. Because of this, even though the process is possible, it is not available on a large scale because it is simply too difficult to replace the expensive catalysts every time.
Although Swift isn't releasing much information yet for patent concerns, it looks like they've taken a bold first step. Hopefully they can continue to develop their method to gain more efficiency and reliability. If so, I guarantee we hear more about this company in the future.

For more information on Swift Enterprises:


Tim said...

In the summer of 2006 we met a person in Belize on vacation. He said he was running his hauling business on vege-diesel for several months until the State of NY shut down the vendor on anti-trust terms. They do not allow selling fuel for less than within 10 cents of the fixed price! He was paying a buck 30 or something like that and said he was saving $300/month per truck. Said the supplier used various processes and additives so the fuel ran just like normal diesel.

Anonymous said...

Re, your comments about Swift Enterprises bio-mass based avaition fuel "high octane (100 octane rated) diesel fuel that propeller planes use."??? In the first place diesel fuel isn't rated by octane number. Octane is a measure of the fuel's RESISTANCE to autoignition (otherwise known as knock). Diesel fuel is rated by CENTANE numbers which are a measure of it's EASE of autoignition. In the second place, Swift Enterprises doesn't make diesel fuel, they make a substitute GASOLINE which is suitable for use in aircraft piston engines (Avgas)