From a seminar on sustainable transportation at the Sweden House in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, a glimpse over the horizon, such as a camless engine and turning waste into fuel: Sturman Industries,
working with Navistar International, this year expects to demonstrate a camless 9-liter diesel engine that produces the power of a 15-liter engine.
President Carol Sturman said the engine will go into production next year.
Sturman, which pioneered digital control of fuel injectors, will be installing its unique control systems in some Navistar engines in 2013, said Eddie Sturman, Carol's husband and the company's chief engineer.
The technology replaces the traditional mechanical camshaft with an electromagnetic-hydraulic valve actuating system managed by a digital control system. This allows microsecond control of the intake and exhaust valves, which opens the door to better engine efficiency, lower emissions and the use of a wide variety of fuels, Sturman said.
Solena Group, a U.S. company based in Washington, D.C., has a process that turns municipal waste into fuel that can be used by jet airplanes and diesel trucks.
Solena is working with airline companies around the world, including FedEx, to set up production plants in major cities, said Pernile Hager, vice president of business development.
There's plenty of feedstock for the "plasma gasification process" in urban areas, and the product can be added to diesel fuel to stretch the gallon, she said. Some airline companies are testing the fuel in their airport ground transportation equipment.
The big hurdle is finding the money to build the plants in the wake of the 2008 global financial collapse, she said. "There's plenty of waste, and there's no limit to how many plants we could build if we had the money."
It may be that the future for biodiesel is to introduce the biofuel into the diesel refinery process before the diesel is finished, said Mary Beth Stanek, director of environment and energy policy at General Motors.
Biofuels in general have not advanced as quickly as expected because it is expensive to get them to a usable state, she said. Also, refiners have been reluctant to introduce biofuel into their piping systems for fear of contamination, but now she sees these products coming in at the beginning of the oil refining process.
"This will open up the biobased world, and we should be encouraged by that," she said.
One company taking this approach is KiOR, which last year signed an agreement to provide renewable diesel blends to FedEx affiliates.
KiOR says it has a method to convert biomass to renewable crude oil that is compatible with existing fuel infrastructure.
National security: A gallon of petroleum not burned, either by improved efficiency or by replacement with a renewable fuel, is a gallon saved toward national security, said Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, president of the American Council on Renewable Energy.
If the confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program gets out of hand, the price of a barrel of oil could jump from about $105 to $150 or more overnight, McGinn said.
Those crazy Swedes. They have an official national goal of achieving zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, said the Swedish ambassador to the U.S., Jonas Hafstrom.