Emerson talks alternative fuels, and goes back to the future with pneumatics

On Monday, at the ARC Forum, Emerson Process Management's Al Novak, director alternative fuels, discussed not only the Emerson offerings for the alternative fuels industries, but also the technologies and some of the politics behind alternative fuel choices. He pointed out that corn ethanol is now being devalued as a fuel source because of the effects that using corn as a fuelstock has already had on the economy, with price inflation in foods including meats, corn products, milk products, and so forth. I can personally vouch for the effects, since I live on the edge of the corn belt...the farmers around my house left their corn standing in the fields for the past two years, since they can get more selling it to biofuels processors than they can get selling it as food stuff. Emerson has a whole suite of products they are optimizing for the alternative fuels industries, including wind power, biofuels, and of course, the dreaded nuke word. Considering how much damage the insistance on building coal-fired plants up the Ohio River has done in the past 30 years to the environment in the great north woods (just ask the inhabitants of northern Quebec, if you don't believe me) it's about time we resuscitated the nuclear power industry. I'm glad to see Emerson, as well as several other automation vendors, making pushes in this area again. After Novak, we had a very thought-provoking presentation from Jack Tan, director marketing Fisher Controllers. Tan had sent out a press release on a brand new pneumatic controller two weeks ago. While at first blush, this seems like a journey back to the past, it really isn't, and it illustrates how smart design can use any technology to make valuable additions to the arsenal of the automation professional. Tan pointed out that pneumatic controllers are still common in natural gas pipelines, since they can be operated by the gas in the pipeline itself, if necessary. The problem with this, of course, is that during operation, they vent natural gas, thus contributing to the carbon footprint of the pipeline, and this practice just isn't very green. Tan and the Fisher engineers redesigned the pneumatic controller to be more sophisticated, and require much less gas usage than previous designs. Peter Zornio, Emerson's Chief Strategic Officer, joked that this controller, now many decades old in its various incarnations, was Emerson's first generation wireless product. Neat and very clever engineering.