Maggie Striz Calnin
Maggie Striz Calnin is the program coordinator for Greater Lansing Area Clean Cities (GLACC), a nonprofit organization working with local stakeholders to increase the availability and usage of alternative fuels and clean vehicles in mid-Michigan.
GLACC is one of more than 80 coalitions across the country designated under the U.S. Department of Energy Clean Cities Program. GLACC is managed by Kuntzsch Business Services, Inc., a business consulting and nonprofit management firmed focused on advancing renewable energy and resource conservation in Michigan.
Maggie is an alumna of Michigan State University (MSU) and a lifelong Michigan resident.
This week Maggie will opine about our alternative energy options, the Capital region’s commitment to alternative energy and the impact Lansingites have on motorized vehicle related pollution.
All Photographs © Dave Trumpie
Photo: Maggie Striz Calnin surrounded co-workers Rachel Kuntzsch and Abby Brengle
It is clear that our country is in trouble in terms of our dependency on foreign petroleum. Petroleum imports cost us more than $5.7 billion a week—money that could be well spent on sustainable alternatives made right here in the U.S.
However, what isn’t as clear is that the individual driver can make a significant difference in the effort to mitigate this issue, both by decreasing our dependency on foreign oil and reducing individual carbon footprints.
We know that burning one gallon of gas creates 20 pounds of carbon dioxide. That means if one driver cuts down fuel use by one tank of gas every month, either by carpooling, walking, riding a bike, or using public transportation, that person alone could prevent 3,360 pounds (for a 14 gallon tank) of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere a year.
If we crunch the numbers, there are about 303,824,640 (July 2008 est.) people in the United States, 57 percent of whom are drivers. That brings us to 173,180,045 drivers. If one out of every five drivers cut down by one tank every month, we could save more than eight million pounds of carbon dioxide gas from entering the atmosphere in one year! (Numbers are based on a 14 gallon tank of gas and are compiled from Car Talk and the CIA.)
In Lansing alone, if one out of every five of the more than 115,500 people who live here use one less tank of fuel every month for an entire year, the city could save nearly 78,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere (numbers based on 2005 population, www.idcide.com.)
What these numbers boil down to, is that every single driver can make a difference, a difference that adds up quickly when we all join the effort.
According to www.fueleconomy.gov, some ways to start saving some fuel, and some money, include:
Drive Sensibly. Speeding, rapid acceleration/breaking and general aggressive driving wastes gas and can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by five percent around town. Driving sensibly can save you five to 33 percent on fuel economy and $0.09-$0.62/gallon on gasoline.
Observe the Speed Limit. While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds higher than 60 mph. It is safe to say that each five mph you drive more than 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.24 per gallon for gas. By observing the speed limit, you not only will be a safer driver, but can save from seven to 23 percent in fuel economy, which translates to $0.13-$0.43/gallon in gasoline savings.
Check and Replace Air Filters Regularly. Your car's air filter keeps impurities from damaging the inside of your engine. Replacing a clogged air filter can improve your car's gas mileage by as much as 10 percent. Not only will replacing a dirty air filter save gas, it will protect your engine, allowing for savings of up to $0.19/gallon.
Keep Tires Properly Inflated. You can improve your gas mileage by around 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3 percent for every one psi drop in pressure of all fourtires. Properly inflated tires are safer and last longer, allowing for up to a 3 percent fuel economy benefit, and up to $0.06/gallon.
Consider Alternative Vehicles. If you are in the market for a new vehicle, choosing one that offers better fuel economy will help save you money and reduce emissions.The difference between a car that gets 20 MPG and one that gets 30 MPG amounts to $473 per year (assuming 15,000 miles of driving annually and a fuel cost of $1.89). That's $2,363 extra in fuel saving over five years!
While alone, each of these tips yields a small amount of savings per car, it is clear that they add up quickly. Individual drivers and their driving habits will be a large factor in the future of our dependence on foreign petroleum, as well as in reducing our nation’s carbon footprint.
We are all part of a larger community that together can do small things, to change our daily routine, to collectively make a very big difference for ourselves, our region, and entire global community. About 150 million people live in counties where monitored air pollution levels in 2007 reached unhealthy levels, according to www.fueleconomy.com.
Our efforts here can affect positively well beyond our own neighbors and even our own country, but the entire earth.
(Note: All cost savings are based on an assumed fuel price of $1.89/gallon.)
Our future energy resources have to be renewable and diverse. They also have to be paired with energy conservation practices to ensure air quality and energy security for generations to come.
Transportation is one area where we have plenty of room to improve, providing opportunity to create a big impact from adopting alternatives. To get away from one, non-renewable fossil fuel, it’s especially important for the every day driver, as well as large vehicle fleets, to approach new, cleaner transportation fuels with an open mind.
Many innovative options are on the horizon, and rather than depending on one fuel, it’s key to look at an entire portfolio of alternative fuels.
Companies throughout Mid-Michigan and the rest of the state are looking at conventional biofuels, cellulosic fuels, compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG, better known as propane), hydrogen and electricity as a way to encourage sustainability and economic development.
In East Lansing, Greater Lansing Area Clean Cities (GLACC) member Working Bugs, LLC., converts natural feedstocks like wood, grass and even algae into cellulosic fuel. The process of fermentation used to make this biofuel is similar to the fermentation used in cheese, wine and penicillin. Microorganisms (“bugs”) such as yeast, bacteria and fungi work to convert the raw materials into fuel, creating a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.
Lansing-based waste management company, Granger, is exploring another option. Granger captures the methane produced from its landfills for electricity. This methane also has the potential to be used as a transportation fuel. Compressed natural gas (CNG) used as motor fuel primarily takes the form of methane gas. CNG is considered renewable when produced as “biogas” which is captured from municipal solid waste and landfills.
Michigan State University (MSU) is working on long term plans to incorporate plug-in parking spaces for electric cars in campus parking garages. MSU has a charging station in the Communication Arts parking garage oncampus, which is intended for electric vehicles for MSU Parking Services that are currently on order. Campus electric cars will test the initiative and MSU will use those results to plan eventual plug-in parking spaces for the public in campus parking garages.
Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) can be used in internal combustion engines and has more recently been used in diesel engines. Varieties of LPG bought and sold include mixes that are primarily propane, mixes that are primarily butane, and the more common, mixes including both propane (60 percent) and butane(40 percent), depending on the season. LPG is non-toxic, non-corrosive and lead free. LPG burns cleanly and most importantly is free of harmful particulates. Though not a Capital region based company, GLACC member Schwan’s Fine Frozen Foods has used propane fuel in delivery trucks for more than 20 years, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, vehicle maintenance costs and fuel costs.
This broad portfolio of alternative fuel options will supply energy to move us from place to place in the future. We now have a responsibility and the capability to address environmental and public health issues related to the way we travel and move goods.
Initial research and development fostered through government initiatives along with public acceptance is crucial for the success of young alternative energy industries. Incentives help the public and the business community access alternatives to petroleum, and help companies that produce alternative fuels and vehicles develop products that benefit public health and the environment.
The work of Michigan companies, research institutions and organizations – like GLACC and members – is incredibly important to create a supportive environment for new fueling infrastructure.
Options like biodiesel and ethanol replace petroleum diesel and gasoline. Biodiesel is non-petroleum-based diesel fuel made from vegetable oil, soy beans, or animal fat (tallow), which can be used alone or blended with conventional petro-diesel in unmodified diesel-engine vehicles.
Most vehicle manufacturers support the use of biodiesel blends up to 20 percent biodiesel/80 percent petro-diesel. Similarly, conventional ethanol can be made from crops such as sugar cane and corn to replace gasoline.
Ethanol is the same type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, but is not intended for consumption and blended with fuel additives. Farmers across Michigan are finding new markets by growing these renewable resources, which are being used by local companies.
In working to mitigate our dependence on foreign petroleum, it is clear that we won’t be able to turn to a single answer to save us; a silver bullet won’t do. Michigan’s efforts show that our solution will rather be more like silver buckshot, taking the form of a diverse set of alternatives to petroleum that must be employed collaboratively and simultaneously.
Greater Lansing Area Clean Cities (GLACC) members are working today to advance a variety of fuel options. Meridian Township near East Lansing is looking into the feasibility of local and regional biodiesel production from recycled restaurant vegetable oil for use within the region. The Township’s diesel vehicles could use the fuel, and surplus biodiesel could be sold to public or private fleets or individual diesel drivers. Art Santa Cruz of local restaurant, El Azteco, is already recycling his business’ used vegetable oil to produce biodiesel.
In the shadow of the struggling auto industry, officials in Flint, Michigan and Kettering University have begun to work with Swedish Biogas International to plan a joint facility to convert the city’s wastewater into biogas. Biogas burns 95 percent cleaner and can cost up to 20 percent less than gasoline. Producing methane from sewage, landfills and manure is common in the United States. It’s often burned onsite to produce electricity rather than compressed and purified for use by vehicles. The Flint plant will be one of the first in the nation to follow Sweden, which already has 100 biogas fueling stations, making up about two percent of the country’s fuel emissions.
Similarly, Michigan waste management company Granger uses the methane from local landfills to produce electrical energy. While the Granger methane recapture is not currently used for transportation fuel, this type of production has the potential to help meet motor fuel needs.
Michigan State University (MSU) is making great advances in the development of a bioeconomy, a future in which people rely on renewable resources to meet society’s need for energy. Rooted in decades of research, the MSU Office of Biobased Technologies is working to identify, encourage and support research programs that will position Michigan State University as a world leader in the development of the bioeconomy.
Lansing Community College (LCC) offers a national Alternative Fuels Training Consortium as a component in their Automotive Technology Program. This state of the art program allows fleet managers and automotive service technicians to get training through LCC’s National Alternative Fuels Training Center to service vehicles that run on alternate sources of power. The consortium “strives to improve air quality and decrease the dependence on foreign oil by promoting, supporting and expanding the use of alternative fuel vehicles,” which is not only beneficial for the environment but offers much-needed good news for employment opportunities in Michigan.
As a young industry sector, alternative fuels and advanced vehicles can succeed best through collaboration to raise awareness about these products and their benefits to the economy as well as public and environmental health.
A diverse fuel portfolio helps to stabilize fuel prices and availability of fuel. Moving toward alternative fuels helps us all by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. It’s important to remember that a stable economy, a healthy environment and public health are all interwoven, and respond to each other. Through working locally on a diverse range of options to alleviate our dependency on petroleum, we are working to improve all of these simultaneously.