by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Dec 15, 2011
It took nature tens of millions of years to turn dead plants and other organic matter into coal and petroleum. Now GE has teamed up with researchers at the University of Illinois who can do the same in the lab with pig manure in as little as ten minutes.
This is one example illustrating GE's innovative approach to energy sustainability. The world population just hit 7 billion people and will add another billion in 15 years. This growth is exerting an enormous strain on natural resources and the environment, with food, energy and climate change being at the top of the list.
The three are often linked. For example, deforestation to create new fields for crops accounts for some 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, more than the total CO2 contribution from the world's transportation sector. Data from the World Bank estimate that in Brazil, which has become one of the world's major bread baskets, deforestation and agriculture generate more than 70 percent of the country's CO2 emissions.
"We could see a world where there could be a greater conflict between energy and food," says Peter Evans, GE's Director of Global Strategy and Planning.
That's why GE has focused its engineering expertise and research efforts at finding and developing smart sustainable technologies that will help customers conserve resources better.
Some tangible results have already reached the market. For example, GE's Jenbacher engines help farmers recycle biogas such as methane from manure and turn it into electricity. GE's upgraded J312 gas engine can now gulp as much as 2.3 million cubic meters of biogas annually and generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity.
Other research is still in the lab. The company has partnered with highly specialized academic institutions like the top-ranked University of Illinois - alma mater of former GE Chairman and CEO Jack Welch - to tap their expertise and foster breakthrough research.
For example, one of the projects that GE and the university are pursuing is converting pig manure into oil. Researchers have found a way to essentially speed up nature's process of turning dead organic matter into petroleum from tens of millions of years to 10 to 40 minutes. Another project is looking at a better way to mill corn to make the production of ethanol more efficient.
"The issues that we are going to face in both food and energy are bigger than just the population going from 7 billion today to 9 billion by 2050," says Dan Walter, General Manager of GE Food and Beverage.
"The population is moving to the middle class at a higher rate than the population growth. Anytime you have populations that are lifting themselves like that, there is an increase in demand for electricity and an increase in demand for food." GE is working to make sure that there is plenty of both to go around.
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