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Power Science

Fuel Tanks Made of Corncob Waste 176

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the corncob-pipes dept.
Roland Piquepaille writes "The National Science Foundation is running a story on how corncob waste can be used to created carbon briquettes with complex nanopores capable of storing natural gas. These methane storage systems may encourage mass-market natural gas cars. In fact, these 'briquettes are the first technology to meet the 180 to 1 storage to volume target set by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2000.' They can lead to flat and compact tanks and have already been installed in a pickup truck used regularly by the Kansas City Office of Environmental Quality. And as the whole natural gas infrastructure exists already, this new technology could be soon adopted by car manufacturers."
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Fuel Tanks Made of Corncob Waste

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  • by Shadow Wrought (586631) * <shadow.wroughtNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @03:15PM (#18099530) Homepage Journal
    Perhaps they could use this technology for the tailpipe, too...
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by AP2k (991160)
      Because engines have to vent exhaust gases through a pipe with very little backpressure, that makes little sense. Can you breate through a brick of charcoal running a marathon, let alone sitting in your chair?

      Didnt think so. Thats why engines stall when you plug their exhaust pipes.

      As for the topic at hand, I am pretty excited about it. The volume of the average gas tank is 15 gallons, so that makes a 2700 gallon tank for methane thats the same size as a gasoline tank. 2700 gallons of methane makes approxia
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by drgonzo59 (747139)
        A better way to recover the internal combustion dissipated energy is probably through some small steam engine. Didn't BMW try that? http://www.gizmag.com/go/4936/ [gizmag.com]
        • The Still marine engine had Diesel cycle on the top of the piston and steam cycle under the piston (in a marine engine the wrist pin is not inside the piston but attached to a crosshead, with a rod attached to the piston, so this does not mean water in the crankcase.)

          Like every other single attempt to add complexity for a marginal gain in efficiency, it was not a success. All engineering involves tradeoffs: combining technologies with different metallurgical, thermal, gasflow etc. requirements means that no

        • by zakezuke (229119)
          A better way to recover the internal combustion dissipated energy is probably through some small steam engine. Didn't BMW try that? http://www.gizmag.com/go/4936/ [gizmag.com]

          I did think about doing something similar to power an air conditioner. There is alot of wasted heat which can be used to generate engery.
          • by Nf1nk (443791)
            you can increase efficiency notably by replacing the throttling valve with a small turbine. It doesn't even matter if the turbine power is used for anything. Just changing from a constant enthalpy process to a constant entropy process will improve efficiency.

            It won't happen because you can make a throttling valve out of crimped piece of pipe, while turbines are still expensive little devices, and the energy savings are not large enough to justify the extra upfront cost.
            YET
      • by Gordonjcp (186804)
        Because engines have to vent exhaust gases through a pipe with very little backpressure, that makes little sense.

        They have to have a certain amount of back pressure, otherwise the engine won't run properly. This is why adding a coffee-can exhaust gives you less power and more noise.
    • by Herkum01 (592704)
      It would certainly bring new meaning to the expression, "Shut your corn hole!"
    • by tobiasly (524456)

      Perhaps they could use this technology for the tailpipe, too...

      Let's not be too hasty here... we all remember that tragic day over a decade ago when NASA's Straw Shuttle [theonion.com] project ended in catastrophe. We must introduce these organic technologies very carefully when dealing with such explosive substances.

    • by Fordiman (689627)
      Actually, if they're burning natural gas (or bio-methane), there's no need; it burns cleanly.

      Use it with a quasiturbine (google it!), and the 500PSI head becomes an additional form of energy. Use a quasiturbine in detonation mode, and you get an engine efficiency which is close enough to Carnot to kiss him on the lips, in a nice light package producing higher-than-ICE torque.

      Unfortunately, the guy who's got the patent on the things hasn't finished prototyping a combustion model yet. This is really annoyin
    • by samkass (174571)
      Is there any setting in Slashdot preferences to automatically hide the first 1-liner "funny" post and all the inane replies for each topic?
      • The first one? Nope. But you can go to your preferences [slashdot.org] and ahutomatically lower any comment modded Funny. You can also Foe most of the culprits (you'd want to add me straight away since 90% of what I post to the main page is an attempt at pun-oriented humor). Finally, if you were being rhetorical, well, I annoy the kids when I answer their rehtorical questions, too;-)
  • by gardyloo (512791) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @03:17PM (#18099544)
    That's all great, until I go out in the morning and find that the damned raccoons have eaten through my gas tank and drunk all my biofuel. Varmints!
    • Having had rats eat the insulation off my spark cables, I can see this as a problem.

      My only regret is that I wasn't able to crank the engine over why they were still gnawin'... ain't nothing like the smell of flash-fried rat.
  • Supply? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rsmith-mac (639075) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @03:17PM (#18099562)

    These methane storage systems may encourage mass-market natural gas cars.

    Do we even have enough natural gas for this to work? I thought it was expected to run low about the time petroleum was.

    • Re:Supply? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @03:31PM (#18099720) Journal
      Fossil fuel natural gas is also a finite source. But dont forget America alone has 100 million cows and about 120 million pigs. Cant guess how many million chicken. All their waste produced methane. Currently their wastes are a mixture of methane, nutrient rich fertilizer and small amounts of extremely stinky gases mainly H2S.

      If these can be seperated you get so many benefits. Pollution/odour abatement, organic fertilizer, auto fuel, green house gas emission reduction, etc etc. Last time I actually did the calculation I came up with six cows can keep one car running. With a million cow, we are talking about 15% reduction in oil consumption. Since we import 50% of the oil, this would represent 30% reduction in oil imports. Add the pigs and chicken, we can run our cars on their shit instead of importing oil from the middle east. On national security standpoint alone, we should be investing very heavily on recovering fuel from farm waste.

      • After eating my refried beans and a cabbage salad for lunch, in a couple of hours I would be quite ready to accomplish my civic duty of solving our energy crisis.

      • Re:Supply? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Radon360 (951529) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @03:41PM (#18099846)

        Biomass would be a good way to make methane renewable. However, the trick is removing all the impurities, such as carbon dioxide from the raw gas. Right now, that isn't very cost-effective, compared to some natural gas wells. Heck, the United States would have quite a bit more petroleum-derived natural gas for its use if an inexpensive way to remove carbon dioxide were developed (many sources of natural gas are contaminated with varing levels of carbon dioxide, some to the point that they are unusable).

        • Another good thing if you use biomass such as manure etc to make biogas in an anaerobic digester is that you actually cut back on methane (which is a greenhouse gas, 20 times more so than CO2 according to wikipedia) emissions into the atmosphere. If the used biomass would be left to decompose by itself it would emit the methane anyway. And it's not like you are wasting the fertilizing properties of the manure since one of the byproducts is methanogenic digestate which is an excellent fertilizer.

          More abou
        • There are cheap(ish) ways to remove carbon dioxide. Membranes have been around since the 80s that allow co2 through and keep methane behind. Maybe that's vice-versa. You just run pre-treated gas through the membrane under pressure and get purified gas.
          • by Radon360 (951529)

            Perhaps you were thinking of this [nist.gov].

            One-third of the natural gas reserves in the United States cannot be used because of excessive contamination with nitrogen and/or carbon dioxide. Engelhard Corporation had developed some adsorption system technology to address this. However, at the time the project was conceived in 1999, it was considered too preliminary and too high risk despite its potential benefits to the natural gas market. ATP support enabled the development of this promising technology, and provided the means for Engelhard Corporation to partner with universities possessing the special scientific and engineering expertise needed to bring the adsorption system technology to commercial fruition.

            • No, adsorption is different - although molecular sieves are quite common, not for natural gas yet. There are several membrane technologies, here is an interesting one [airliquide.com] Membranes have been in use for a long time and have increased in performance over the years. It's pretty neat that a physical membrane can be made that sorts molecules based on their size. Sort of like the screens archeologists use.
      • I going to stop procrastinating, starting tomorrow.

        Don't let it wait another day. Procrastinate now!
      • by Benwick (203287)
        In other words... someday people will say "What a load of shit!" and they'll mean it as a compliment!

    • by Kenja (541830)
      Without some major changes in our diet, America will never run out of methane.
    • Is a movie example of how it can be solved. Corn in, methane out, more or less.


    • Methane is a gas created by animals and insects (termites). Currently it mostly escapes into the atmosphere where it damages the ozone layer. As other posters have responded, it can be harvested from pig farms or garbage dumps. Methane and other natural gas hydrates are also found frozen at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in massive quantities [sciencenews.org].

      Unlike traditional fossil fuels like petroleum, methane can be generated in very short time spans and as a byproduct to other production activities (bacon). The p
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Unlike traditional fossil fuels like petroleum, methane can be generated in very short time spans and as a byproduct to other production activities (bacon). The problem remains that burning anything is not a clean energy source. Natural gas cars will still emit carbon dioxide, which is one of the main problems we're grappling with in terms of global warming.

        Burning methane produced from shit is a clean energy source. Methane burns EXCEPTIONALLY clean, and it is carbon-neutral. The CO2 to make the plants, w

  • by Perseid (660451)
    I don't have any scientific reason for saying this, but that sounds...dangerous to me. A gaseous car fuel seems like asking for trouble.
    • What could possibly go wrong [wikipedia.org]?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Aqua_boy17 (962670)
      It's already being done. Been to Disney lately? Their trams and many other vehicles arlready run on natural gas. Same with the National Park Service in some areas. You probably have an LP tank sitting there under your back yard BBQ grill. When was the last time you heard of one of these blowing up? The problem with this is not the nature of the fuel, but in how you store it. Pretty strict regulations are in place in the US that regulate the manufacutre and limit the life of LP tanks (I think it's 12
      • "You probably have an LP tank sitting there under your back yard BBQ grill. When was the last time you heard of one of these blowing up?"

        Last 4th of July, but that did involve alcohol (consumption) and a rifle...
      • by drinkypoo (153816)
        Practically every fork lift you've ever seen being used inside ran on LP. If it were a serious danger likely to blow people up, some states (I'm thinking my home of California) wouldn't even let you operate them indoors. CAL-OSHA would be on your ass before you could say "liability".
    • Here in Linköping, Sweden the overhelming majority of buses, municipality vehicles and taxis all run on biogas (i.e. methane made with anaerobic digestion) and safety has never been an issue. Translated from the FAQ:

      Question: Is it dangeour to fill the tank and drive with biogas?

      Answer: No. The cars are tested in the same way as petrol cars. The system is close with means that leaks are avoided while filling up the tank. The gas is lighter than air and non-poisonous and has a higher ignition tempera

    • ...they could be talking about putting hydrogen in cars.

      oops.
    • In a crash, gasoline will puddle under the vehicle you'd probably be trapped in. A gaseous fuel would dissipate in the air.

  • Lots of talk in the article, but no hard dollar facts.

    Cost of methane.
    Cost of storage.
    Cost of transportation.
    Cost of local distribution & storage.
    Cost of the delivery pump & tankage system in the vehicle.
    • by compro01 (777531)
      1. methane is natural gas (http://www.energyshop.com/es/homes/gas/gaspricef o recast.cfm [energyshop.com])

      2. infastructure is already in place, as a lot of furnaces run on natural gas

      3. infastructure is already in place, as a lot of furnaces run on natural gas

      4. infastructure is already in place, as a lot of furnaces run on natural gas

      5. depends on how much this scheme costs.
      • by hazem (472289)
        infastructure is already in place, as a lot of furnaces run on natural gas

        The infrastructure is already in place to support the current use. But how much MORE use could that infrastructure withstand before major and costly upgrades? Could the existing system handle a 10% increase? 20%? 30%?

        And I know at least here a lot of people are very agitated about a proposed LNG terminal that would be installed off the Oregon coast. And with the recent explosion of an NG line in Washington, people may not be so ex
    • The same problem will exist that dogs pure-electric vehicles: existing infrastructure for delivering power and fuel for industrial and residential purposes won't be able to handle the additional load of millions of automobiles. Designing a practical car that will run on some alternative fuel or even battery power is not especially difficult, but you do need to get fuel to all those cars. That requires a distribution network rivaling that for gasoline. The cost of that buildout has to be factored in, it woul
  • by asadodetira (664509) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @03:26PM (#18099662) Homepage
    Compressed natural gas (mostly methane and low C alkanes) has been in use in Argentina for years, it's cheaper and cleaner than gasoline, the autonomy of compressed gas is lower but for city driving it doesn't matter, and cars can still use gasoline because the engine has only minor modifications. This method seems to admit lower pressure in the tank, and might enable to store more gas without need of thick heavy steel was for containing it. Sounds like a good idea to me.
    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      This method seems to admit lower pressure in the tank, and might enable to store more gas without need of thick heavy steel was for containing it. Sounds like a good idea to me.
      500 PSI vs 3,600 PSI (steel tanks)
      It's still quite a bit of pressure.

      P.S. the captcha was "bicycles"
    • by virtual_mps (62997) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @03:54PM (#18099972)

      Sounds like a good idea to me.
      Sounds like an idiotic idea to me. Natural gas was billed as a cheap, clean fuel years ago. So people started using it, for houses, electricity generation, industry, etc. Now natural gas is an overused resource, with oversubscribed pipelines, severe seasonal price shocks, etc. Why on earth would we start converting cars to use an energy source that's already overutilized? It's going to be a lot easier to deploy a more sensible alternative vehicle fuel (e.g., biodiesel) than to convert tens of millions of furnaces, power plants, and other durable consumers to use something else because the natural gas distribution network can't cope with the demand of a bunch of new cars trying to use it also.
      • by juancn (596002) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:25PM (#18100406) Homepage
        You are forgetting that natural gas can be replaced by gas made from decomposing organic matter (i.e. trash), which is renewable (although the CO2 emmisions are still there, but it's the same with biodiesel).

        Adapting a regular gasoline car to natural gas, costs around U$S 700 in Argentina. The equipment pays itself after a year or so.

        The economics may be different in the US, though. For example, some year ago, before natural gas was widespread, we used a mixture of regular-gas and ethanol on some parts of the country (no modifications to the engine required, but as with natural gas, a thicker engine oil is needed). The biggest problem was that the fuel hoses and some plastics in the car worn out faster due to the ethanol.

        Brazil still has widespread use of ethanol mixed with the gas.
        • You are forgetting that natural gas can be replaced by gas made from decomposing organic matter (i.e. trash), which is renewable (although the CO2 emmisions are still there, but it's the same with biodiesel).

          Natural gas from trash is nothing more than a novelty; there is no way you're going to fill a significant fraction of the world's energy needs from trash gas.

          Adapting a regular gasoline car to natural gas, costs around U$S 700 in Argentina. The equipment pays itself after a year or so.

          Apples and oranges. There are less than one million CNG cars in Argentina, compared to about 240 million cars in the US. There's something on the order of 10k km of natural gas pipeline in Argentina, compared to 330k km in the US. And Argentina's population density is such that those 10k km of pipeline cover the population better than the 300k km of

      • Well, I see what you mean with the problems with natural gas in the US. But sooner or later you have to expand the infrastructure, the same goes for the electrical grid. All these new energy ideas are good, but true energy savings in transportation would take a re-thinking of housing and commuting patterns, which might take decades to happen, or a sustained large increase in gasoline prices. If you lived really close to the stores, your friends and your workplace what do you need cars for?.
        • But sooner or later you have to expand the infrastructure, the same goes for the electrical grid.

          Or, you use something like biodiesel which wouldn't require millions of kilometers of new natural gas pipelines.

          true energy savings in transportation would take a re-thinking of housing and commuting patterns, which might take decades to happen, or a sustained large increase in gasoline prices. If you lived really close to the stores, your friends and your workplace what do you need cars for?

          Dreams that involve

  • Yep. Corn gives you gas.
  • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @04:31PM (#18100500) Journal
    I hope they also use mesquite in their charcoal. I like my car exhhaust to have that flavor that only mesquite can deliver.

    Will the new engines come with a grill?
  • How it's made (Score:4, Informative)

    by Mr.Sharpy (472377) on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @05:11PM (#18101020)
    Here's a neat poster [missouri.edu] (pdf link) about how these briquettes are made.

    It looks ultra simple to do. This poster references only 120:1 storage ratio, so maybe there have been process changes that have improved storage capacity. Maybe this will also help with fuel cells that run on methane to provide portable electrical power too. I think this could be an exciting development.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 21, 2007 @05:17PM (#18101106) Homepage Journal

    ...you're a bunch of alarmist buffoons.

    Anything you can do with natural gas from a well can be done with methane. It's very easy to produce. Here's how it works. You've got a pond with a tent over it. The pond is full of beneficial bacteria. "Fresh" water (can be contaminated) and sewage are introduced into the bottom center of the pond. Over time the system is colonized with algae. The algae and other organisms digest the sewage, resulting in lots of algae (a resource itself), fairly clean water, and methane (mostly.) The methane can be captured and the algae can be harvested; the algae can be used to make either alcohol or biodiesel depending on what kind it is - some have more carbohydrates, some have more oil.

    Right now, a lot of our sewage treatment systems, even the ones that look like oil refineries, are producing and flaring off methane. This is stupid. It should be captured and used. In fact a lot of agricultural producers of shit, like pig farms, are starting to use this technology to power their farms - and in many cases they actually produce enough power not only to run their operation, but to actually make a profit by selling excess to the grid. The resulting effluent has been "cooked" to the point where it can be applied directly to the crops as fertilizer. Normally this is achieved by storing it in an uncovered holding pond for months, where the methane simply escapes.

    If we simply applied this technology to waste treatment plants and forced it on those who have a lot of animal shit currently posing a health hazard, we could get a lot of power and it would actually save money for everyone involved.

  • Here is the source... The "ALL-CRAFT" of the University of Missouri. http://all-craft.missouri.edu/ [missouri.edu]
  • Wow, it's just like Energon cubes, except I can fill them with farts.

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