Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

November 17, 2013

Harley Luplow: New technology, fuel and 'old way'

TRAVERSE CITY — “Alternative View of Change” is the subtitle of the acclaimed television series Connections.

In the not too distant future I think this will be an apt way to explain how we ultimately shift from our current use of ethanol-blended gasoline to a more efficient, economical and environmentally-friendly use of M85 fuel, a blend of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent methanol.

The TV show Connections posited that current technological developments and their commercial uses do not follow a linear path. Rather, we enjoy many modern day conveniences because of a mix or web of interconnected events and discoveries motivated by greed, curiosity, self preservation, necessity, or something else entirely.

Three and a half years ago I wrote a column about the virtues of M85 and how it could bolster the economy of Michigan due to our abundant natural gas resources combined with the impending commercialization of locally invented technologies that convert our natural gas into methanol.

Last month the Wall Street Journal published an article “A Chemistry Breakthrough That Could Fuel a Revolution: Now methanol can be made from natural gas and captured carbon dioxide.” The article reports that the “methanol-conversion process can be a game changer, because shale gas can immediately be put to use as a liquid transportation fuel.”

I asked Nathan Pawlak his thoughts on this breakthrough announcement. Mr. Pawlak, founder of Stranded Solutions LLC in Charlevoix, and a client of mine, tells me that “The mathematical limitation here is that converting CO2 (an exhaust) into methanol (a fuel) means adding energy back into the mix. Methane does this... but there's nothing new here in this article. I've seen CO2–to-methanol technologies that simply use more energy... and that's the catch.”

Mr. Pawlak is an inventor of nine patents on methanol-conversion. Three of Mr. Pawlak’s patents issued in 2012 recently received the highest quality score in an independent IP study commissioned by Crain’s to evaluate Michigan’s high-value patents – patents that matter in specific industries and that can be traced to disruptive technology advancements.

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