Partnership aims to advance biodiesel fuel in military
Making biodiesel fuel could be as easy as printing photos at a drug store.
That’s the comparison Gina Lee-Glauser, associate vice president for research at Syracuse University, hopes will be a reality through the partnership between entrepreneurs Wayne Arden and SU alumnus John Fox. The two are working to advance biodiesel as an alternative energy source for U.S. armed forces.
‘If we challenge ourselves, we will come up with the right solution,’ Lee-Glauser said.
SU announced the partnership Oct. 18, and since then, the university and those behind a report about the benefits of biodiesel have been working to gain funding and raise awareness of the project. Undergraduate and graduate students have been given an opportunity to work on the project alongside faculty.
Fox is a 1992 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences. He now runs Fox Enterprises, a company that involves itself with building economically, environmentally and socially sustainable enterprises.
The Arden-Fox report, ‘Producing and Using Biodiesel in Afghanistan,’ was released in June and analyzed alternative energy sources that could reduce U.S. war casualties and create business in Afghanistan. The Department of Defense is trying to achieve net zero energy or significantly reduce the military’s dependence on fossil fuel resources.
Work on the biodiesel report began after President Barack Obama’s Dec. 1 announcement to send 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan, according to the report’s website. The troops will need more fuel convoys, which would increase casualties and expenses as they make themselves vulnerable to attack while transporting fuel. But manufacturing biodiesel in Afghanistan, a landlocked country that requires shipments, could end these risks.
Jake Turetsky, a 2010 Master of Public Administration candidate, had been working for Fox Enterprises and became involved in the project in January. He helped research the paper by looking into army policy and facts, such as how much diesel fuel is currently used in Afghanistan.
Using biodiesel fuel is a good idea for the military as it will save lives, reduce costs and build industry, Turetsky said. He said he and other members of the project took a trip to Washington, D.C., last week to promote the research to groups, including the CIA and the Department of Defense. He said the group hopes to have the process approved by the end of the year.
But gaining funding and approval is a slow process. Involving SU has been helpful because it has brought resources from schools like the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and from campus outlets like the Syracuse Center of Excellence, Turetsky said. He said he hopes people will come to recognize the environmental and economic benefits of switching to biodiesel.
But finding a crop to make biodiesel from will not be an easy task, Lee-Glauser said. Especially because the group would like to have a biodiesel source that is popular and easily ready to manufacture within two years.
Faculty at SU and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and people at the Syracuse Center of Excellence will be working on the project, she said.
Students have been involved in planning and discussing new research ideas, Lee-Glauser said. Students have started a discussion about how to best harvest the safflower crop — a potential component of biodiesel fuel — without the risk of draining the nutrients from the ground if not rotated.
SU will be looking into using resources, such as fast-growing willow or safflower plants, she said, instead of corn. Lee-Glauser said she personally did not like the idea of taking away a food source to use for fuel.
‘One alternative fuel is not enough. We need multiple alternative energy fuels for the U.S.,’ Lee-Glauser said. She said wind turbines were also a good alternative energy source, but were not enough.
The group will be testing the viability of biodiesel sources by growing them in the northern United States, which has temperatures similar to Afghanistan, Lee-Glauser said. SU will be speaking with members of the Oneida Indian Nation next week on possibly using its land.
But biodiesel needs to be both popular and affordable, Lee-Glauser said. If the technology is ready before the population is, she said people would not easily adapt.
‘We have to think critically about all the sources of fuel we use,’ Lee-Glauser said, ‘and how we use them.’
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