Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Power Science Technology

Driving on Starch 232

Posted by Zonk
from the oh-mr.-fusion-you're-so-efficient dept.
Roland Piquepaille writes "Using sugar contained in corn or potatoes to build hydrogen-powered fuel cells has already been done. But now, a team of U.S. researchers has developed a new sugar-to-hydrogen technology. Why not put the starch inside the tank of your car? With the help of 13 specific enzymes, 'a car with an approximately 12-gallon tank could hold 27 kilograms (kg) of starch, which is the equivalent of 4 kg of hydrogen. The range would be more than 300 miles, estimates one of the researchers. One kg of starch will produce the same energy output as 1.12 kg (0.38 gallons) of gasoline.' The beauty behind this idea is that no special infrastructure would be needed. Starch could be distributed by your local grocery store."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Driving on Starch

Comments Filter:
  • by mrmeval (662166)
    I want my car to burn hay!
  • Question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by VanHalensing (926781) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:21AM (#19289149)
    Wouldn't that be a lot of starch? I mean, wouldn't we then have a shortage of it? I know it's more renewable than gas, but could they even produce enough? They're having a hard enough time with 10% corn for gas. 12 gallons of starch is like, 110 or so bags of starch at the store...
    • Re:Question (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gad_zuki! (70830) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:28AM (#19289193)
      >The beauty behind this idea is that no special infrastructure would be needed. Starch could be distributed by your local grocery store.

      Yeah, someone isnt thinking energy alternatives through again. 1,000 people a day probably visit my grocery store. How are they going to pull 13 gallons of starch each? Where will by store put 13,000 gallons a day. In the cereal aisle?

        You will need a gas station like place to move this much product.

      Secondly, where is this stuff coming from? etc etc etc
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by normuser (1079315) *
        From your comment:

        Yeah, someone isnt thinking energy alternatives through again. 1,000 people a day probably visit my grocery store. How are they going to pull 13 gallons of starch each? Where will by store put 13,000 gallons a day. In the cereal aisle?

        From TFA:

        A car with an approximately 12-gallon tank could hold 27 kilograms (kg) of starch, which is the equivalent of 4 kg of hydrogen. The range would be more than 300 miles

        So all of these people drive 300 miles a day?
        I see your point regarding the s

        • Re:Question (Score:5, Insightful)

          by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Sunday May 27, 2007 @02:33AM (#19289593) Homepage Journal
          There is a little confusion on both your parts. It doesn't matter how many people visit the grocery store a day right now. Because right now that number has nothing to do with how much gas they use.
           
          The question is - how many gas stations are there and how many grocery stores are there. Then find out how many people go to the gas stations and fill up every day - then look at what kind of traffic that means for the grocery store. I'm willing to bet that the gp is right in that the number is large.
           
          What do people normally buy at the grocery store in 12 or 13 gallon quantities right now?
           
          And when you say do those people drive 300 miles a day - that's not accurate either. I don't think too many people go to the grocery store every day. I go 1 or 2 times a week. We fill our car about once a week. So in my case, the number of trips to a gas station and grocery store are similar now. But when I buy gas - there are 3 or 4 gas stations near where I live - and one grocery store.
           
          The numbers are all guesses, but like I said, the intent of the gp is probably pretty much right. The current distribution system for groceries (in the US anyway) is not sufficient to handle also providing fuel needs for the public on top of the food.
          • Re:Question (Score:5, Insightful)

            by mcrbids (148650) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @03:05AM (#19289743) Journal
            The numbers are all guesses, but like I said, the intent of the gp is probably pretty much right. The current distribution system for groceries (in the US anyway) is not sufficient to handle also providing fuel needs for the public on top of the food.

            Perhaps you don't realize how little that actually matters. It's one thing to build an infrastructure that's inherently incompatible with existing infrastructure. It's another thing entirely to extend and amplify an existing infrastructure.

            Let's take your "tank a week" scenario. It's roughly on par with Gasoline per unit of weight (Kg) so we're talking about a 10-gallon tank in your average 4-5 seater car. Gasoline weighs about 6 pounds per gallon, so that's about 60 lbs per week to meet a not-atypical situation. I buy a 50-lb bag of dogfood every other week thanks to my large golden retriever.

            What's important is the cost of entry - not the total cost. It doesn't really matter what the total cost is, as long as the initial cost can be made up in profits quickly. Once the enterprise is profitable, it doesn't really matter much what the costs are, since the enterprise is, by definition, profitable and thus has the means to grow.

            Here, we're talking about starch as merely an additional product that I can buy, along with the 50-lb bag of dog food. The initial cost of entry to sell starch to early adopters is so low as to be inconsequential.

            Compare/contrast that with typical hydrogen scenarios, with expensive retrofits of existing fuel stations, special tanks, special dispensation stations, etc. See the difference?

            Yes, your local grocery mart probably isn't going to provide enough fuel for everybody in town next to the dog food aisle. But they can start there, and then as the profits grow, roll out more specialized stations as the demand justifies it. See the difference?
            • Re:Question (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Romancer (19668) <romancer&deathsdoor,com> on Sunday May 27, 2007 @03:41AM (#19289907) Journal
              Starch is also used for a wide variety of purposes currently. The food industry alone uses it to make the molds for almost all the jelly like candies on the market. It's used as an additive for most mixes that thicken, and quite a few quick recipies that are becomming more and more popular. The bulk rate at which these companies currently buy and consume starch is astonishing. We pay mostly for the carton and shipping when we buy a box. It's quite close to a surplus waste item right now. If the demand rises, the extraction would easily be ramped up and production trippled in a matter of months. This gives the infrastructure of vehicles that can run on it a chance to grow easier than any other alternative fuel besides wall chargeable electric cars.

              My one fear is the process that releases the hydrogen gas might not be as fast as we can demand it from a red light and once the process is started can we shut off the car and not have it wasted. If there is a storage tank that meters in hydrogen to keep a constant reserve available for quick use and a way to store the excess after pulling into the driveway, then it might be ok. This all adds weight and complexity not discussed in the article. They make it sound like all you'd have to have is a tank full of starch. Where are the reacting agents stored and how do we refill those? What waste products to the chemical reactions give off and are they containable or toxic? What about the liquids that would be needed to move the starch and reactive agents around the system, or are we dealing with pellets of starch and have to have a hopper system like in pellet stoves? I think that these are the concerns that people should be asking rather than will Walmart have enough starch to run my new starch SUV. That's jumping the gun a bit in my opinion. Or in slashdot pun style, putting the cart before the horse.
              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by Rei (128717)
                Not only is the infrastructure already there, but it should scale nicely, too. As the article notes, running a starch/hydrogen car is three times more efficient than an ethanol/IC system. So, if you could replace a third of our current needs with corn ethanol, you could replace all of our needs with starch/hydrogen. The reason is pretty simple. You lose energy in brewing ethanol (the source is still the corn starch), and then you burn the ethanol at ~30% efficiency. With starch/hydrogen, you skip that
            • Another big problem iwth the hydrogen economy, is it's really hard to get it going because it's a chicken and the egg scenario - people don't want to buy hydrogen cars if there are no stations to fuel them, and people don't want to invest huge amounts of money in stations because there aren't enough cars to make them profitable.

              The cool thing about this idea is that *starch is already sold*, and you can even buy it in large quantities at bakery supplys. SO if I wanted to I could go get one of these cars *ri
            • by zotz (3951)
              "Yes, your local grocery mart probably isn't going to provide enough fuel for everybody in town next to the dog food aisle."

              Hey, if this could work except for this, your local gas stations would be happy to sell you the starch. That is fairly certain. Or your pet foor stores. Or your bottled water depots. Roadside hot dog vendors?

              all the best,

              drew

              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biOFnAlXrV8 [youtube.com]
              A UFO takes a potcake for nefarious purposes.
          • by bl8n8r (649187)
            A man walks into a store to buy a bag of starch. If each isle is 30 meters long, and each shelf is 27 inches high how many bags of starch can the grocer fit in the Cereal isle? How many bags of starch can the man fit in his grocery cart? For extra credit, calculate the time it will take the man to return the bags of starch when his wife sees him unload them in the garage.
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward
            The question is - how many gas stations are there and how many grocery stores are there.

            Right now, the US consumes about 9.3M barrels (390M gallons) of gasoline [doe.gov] per day. That's per capita, annual consumption of about 468 gallons (3000 pounds) per year. By comparison, in 2004, US consumers bought 192 pounds of grains [usda.gov] per person.

            You're not going to "fill up" your car at the grocery store the way grocery stores exist now.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by PPH (736903)
            That's a good point about the grocery store distribution shortcomings.

            One other thing to consider is the viability of having this enzyme process run in the tank of a vehicle. Even the most robust kinds of these reactions require a relatively stable environment. It might be possible to do this in a reactor in one's garage, but not in a vehicle that gets parked in the hot sun or below zero winter temperatures vehicles encounter. Additionally, is this process throttleable? It doesn't seem so. In other works, w

            • by DeadChobi (740395)
              Yeah, but molecular hydrogen isn't nearly as energy-dense as gasoline, so really we'd be back to square one as far as long-haul trips are concerned. Oh, also hydrogen has a tendency to explode, and it will need to be stored in a pressurized tank. My guess is that this system has a slurry of starch in a semi-sterile container. When the car needs hydrogen, the slurry is pumped into a reaction chamber where the enzymes break it into hydrogen gas. It's really pretty simple in principle. They could do the same t
          • Re:Question (Score:4, Funny)

            by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:47PM (#19293187) Homepage Journal
            "What do people normally buy at the grocery store in 12 or 13 gallon quantities right now?"

            Beer! 24oz cans, 10/$10 at Krogers!
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Tofof (199751)
        Yeah, someone isnt thinking energy alternatives through again. 1,000 people a day probably visit my grocery store. How are they going to pull 13 gallons of starch each? Where will by store put 13,000 gallons a day. In the cereal aisle?

        Why, in a big tank [google.com] of course. Doesn't your local grocery store have one of these in the cereal aisle?

        Not that you'd have each customer filling their gas tank, from empty, every day. But sure, figure a thousand tanks per week - that's only 6 an hour for a 24-hr 'starch st

        • Not to mention the hassle of loading your car's tank with a powder.

          The fuel system is going to need a complete redesign, so there's nothing to stop them from putting a funnel with a vibrating channel to the tank to keep it moving. Just dump it in.
      • Its a sugar to Hydrogen technology. Every grocery store already sells tons of sugar and in a liquid form regularly. It is called soda. It is proof that distribution system is already in place and cheap to boot. It comes in convenient 2 liter bottles selling 50 cents(no-name brand) which comes to less then 1/3 the current price of gasoline.
        • by sepluv (641107)
          You'd put that stuff in your car? I mean feed it to your kids, ye, even if it might destroy their DNA (see next story) [slashdot.org] but long-term exposure of your fuel tank would probably burn a whole in the bottom. Think of the cars!
      • Re:Question (Score:5, Insightful)

        by PapayaSF (721268) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @03:11AM (#19289765) Journal

        The beauty behind this idea is that no special infrastructure would be needed. Starch could be distributed by your local grocery store.

        Yeah, someone isnt thinking energy alternatives through again. 1,000 people a day probably visit my grocery store. How are they going to pull 13 gallons of starch each? Where will by store put 13,000 gallons a day. In the cereal aisle?

        I think you're a bit unfair here. What I think he means to say is "The starch could be distributed by your local grocery store," or "It could be starch distributed by your local grocery store." The point is not that all vehicle fuel will henceforth be bought at grocery stores, but that the substance is already widely available, and wouldn't need a new, special infrastructure the way mass distribution of hydrogen would.

        • Diesel engines are available now, get *way* better mileage then gasoline engines, are absolutely prefect for SUV-sized vehicles whose owners are convinced they might need to tow something or go off-road, and we know how to make it with almost zero-sum CO2 emissions from human waste.

          Most people wouldn't even notice the difference between gas/diesel SUVs unless you told them.

          So:

          a) Which part of that isn't "win"?

          b) Which part doesn't make "starch" or "ethanol" look like a silly idea?
      • I came across this page on the subject of Running Cars on Hydrogen Made from Starch. [technologyreview.com] The page's subtitle is A new way to make hydrogen from corn or potatoes could make fuel-cell vehicles more practical. They provide some links, and have a discussion area.

        IMHO, although this might work, I doubt the technology could be scaled to meet any substantial need, such as we now have with Gasoline.
      • Yeah, someone isnt thinking energy alternatives through again. 1,000 people a day probably visit my grocery store. How are they going to pull 13 gallons of starch each? Where will by store put 13,000 gallons a day. In the cereal aisle?

        I think the idea is not that everyone would buy their fuel starch at the grocery store. Rather, the idea is that it would require no special infrastructure to do so, and that it would be safe to do so.

        Compare this with the distribution of other fuels. Your gas station ha

    • ...according to this CNet article by Michael Kanellos:

      If you think the high price of gas has been irritating, wait until you see the cost of french fries. The popularity of biodiesel--made from vegetable matter intead of fossil fuels--"will tighten the supply of vegetable oils," William Camp, executive vice president of Archer Daniels Midland, said during a presentation at the ThinkEquity Partners Growth Conference in San Francisco. Because agricultural prices typically fluctuate with supply levels, the v

    • 27kg of expended material to generate 4kg of hydrogen doesn't sound like a good idea. What makes it worse is that it is a food component. I am not fond of this idea of creating a fuel/food dichotomy.
      • by interiot (50685)

        Well, our synthetic methods for capturing sunlight are inefficient, plants are better at it. So, plant-originated ethanol/hydrogren/etc is a compelling solution. And it turns out that high-energy plants.... tend to be food sources, imagine that.

        Has anyone done long-term economic forecasts of the effect of using the same source for both food and fuel? While it would drive up prices in the short term (before supply ramped up to meet demand), there's some chance that the larger volume would result in low

        • by HUADPE (903765)
          Well, our synthetic methods for capturing sunlight are inefficient, plants are better at it. So, plant-originated ethanol/hydrogren/etc is a compelling solution. And it turns out that high-energy plants.... tend to be food sources, imagine that.

          Sorta. Plants are much less efficient than solar cells per sq meter. But plants are also dirt cheap (literally) to use. Solar panels can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for a large area. Solar cells have a much higher marginal efficiency, but invo

      • by h2_plus_O (976551)
        Note that TFA suggests that celluolose is one of the polysaccharides this process is supposed to work with. Unless you're a ruminant, celluolose is not food.
      • by mpe (36238)
        27kg of expended material to generate 4kg of hydrogen doesn't sound like a good idea.

        Especially if it produces 23 kilos of (unidentified) waste which needs to be removed from the tank in order to refuel.
    • Starch containing produce is easier to grow than sugar based fruits or vegitables. Potatoes are the obvious case. They grow in poor soil and colder climates. The profits are so low that a lot of farmers stopped growing them. The real problem is growing them cheap enough. Eventually energy costs will hit $10+ a gallon then a lot of these technologies will get practical. The real point is eventually either we have to go to this type of technology or we go to coal based diesel. Once oil runs out that will be t
    • by mrbluze (1034940)

      I mean, wouldn't we then have a shortage of it?

      I did read somewhere that much of the rise in global food prices can be accounted for the use of basic crops such as corn being used to generate biofuels. It seems to me that 'biofuels' are not as comprehensive an answer to the 'peak oil' scare as they look. We might well be robbing Peter to pay Paul in that the expanded cropping needed to cater for the biofuel market will put more pressure for deforestation and other environmental blights.

      Hydrogen as a fuel for mass transportation is looking better and

    • by baadger (764884)
      Forget the starch, what about this bit

      With the help of 13 specific enzymes...

      So now as a car owner I have to worry about keeping my car fed with a cocktail of enzymes? How are these enzymes produced? Are they produced in a eco-friendly manner? Are they expensive? Are they themselves perishable?

      Besides, everyone knows that potato enzymes can be a little over enthusiastic [bbc.co.uk]

    • Wouldn't that be a lot of starch? I mean, wouldn't we then have a shortage of it? I know it's more renewable than gas, but could they even produce enough? They're having a hard enough time with 10% corn for gas. 12 gallons of starch is like, 110 or so bags of starch at the store...

      Just build a beowulf cluster of potatoe batteries and be done with it. If you run out, just dump another bag in from the grocery store

      tm

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ncc74656 (45571) *

      12 gallons of starch is like, 110 or so bags of starch at the store...

      You'd finally have a use for the mega-sized box of starch at Costco...you'd need only 11 of those. :-)

  • My first thought on reading this is about if it costs to make starch than hydrogen? Sure we can grow starch but there are upper limits on that production method. We'd eventually have to manufacture the starch from non biomass derived sources if we wanted to use it as fuel.

    As far as a storage mechanism goes it sounds like it might have advantages but how complicated is the process to break it down for hydrogen? How much does it cost to make the enzymes and what not needed to break it down as well?

    Overall
    • Well let's see potatoes are practically 100% starch, so how hard is it to grow potatoes? Of all the new ideas this the only one I can see where the average person could make some of their own fuel without any real impact on the environment. (We already have these big useless lawns that are devoted to growing grass.) Now as far as enzymes, goto the grocery store and look in the baking section for yeast. You'd probably want more than those little packets, but it's not much harder to handle than that.

      Wan

      • Hehe, I just thought of something else. Depending on the enzyemes you could potentionally end up with a tank full of hooch. Talk about drinking and driving! The farther you drive the more you have to drink.

        The end of a hard week, you drain your tank into still and make some vodka out of your weekly commute. I'm starting to think this idea could fly.

  • from the article (Score:5, Informative)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:28AM (#19289197) Journal
    The abbreviations are: PPP, pentose phosphate pathway; G1P, glucose-1-phosphate; G6P, glucose-6-phosphate; 6PG, 6-phosphogluconate; Ru5P, ribulose-5-phosphate; and Pi, inorganic phosphate. The enzymes are: #1, glucan phosphorylase; #2, phosphoglucomutase; #3, G-6-P dehydrogenase; #4, 6-phosphogluconate dehydrogenase, #5 Phosphoribose isomerase; #6, Ribulose 5-phosphate epimerase; #7, Transaldolase; #8, Transketolase, #9, Triose phosphate isomerase; #10, Aldolase, #11, Phosphoglucose isomerase: #12, Fructose-1, 6-bisphosphatase; and #13, Hydrogenase.
    it looks like they built it like this: starch=>glucose [amylase]=>glycolysis=>pyruvate decarboxylation=>TCA cycle and finally liberating the hydrogen from protons and electrons from the TCA. I wonder from this is how they deal with the enzyme's need for cofactors, corrosion, stability of enzymes and side reactions. it looks promising for sure but it looks like they have a lot of work ahead of them. there is also the problem of the starch settling in the tank and thus being unavailable for the reaction unless that is where it happens in that case what about H2 build up? lastly, with the problem of corn shortages being possible for ethanol, what exactly will happen when starch is used instead as it is also taken from food plant sources?
    • by sokoban (142301)
      Well, it should be possible to modify the system to use cellulose as well, which would increase the amount of energy available from plant sources.
      • Re:from the article (Score:4, Interesting)

        by wizardforce (1005805) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @02:29AM (#19289567) Journal
        they already tried that, it didnt work. cellulose takes 2 days on average to be hydrolyzed into usable fuel. they use starch because it is immediately broken down into sugars. enzymes in saliva can break down starch in less than a few minutes producing that sweet taste after holding a piece of uncooked spaghetti in your mouth. animals have special bacteria in their stomachs which break down cellulose but it is a very slow process. one that isnt so great for powering cars.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Unfortunately, this would be far from commercialization. I can forsee two problems.

    First would be the effective rate of production of hydrogen. Demand for high hydrogen production rates, as in throw the starch into your tank and get your ass on down the road, would probably demand high levels of these enzymes. Which would mean cost.

    Second would be the fact that enzymes are protein-based and therefore have finite lifetimes before catalytic activity is lost totally. Potentially, bacterial contamination and
  • by flyingfsck (986395) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:36AM (#19289255)
    Well, what need to do is bring back external combustion engines. Then we can simply burn anything: Garden waste, wood, coal, anything that will burn. There is enough coal on this planet to fire up steam engines for thousands of years...

    • by koreth (409849) * on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:50AM (#19289349)
      Yuck. Go visit beautiful downtown Beijing [midwinter.com] and then we'll talk about what a fabulous idea it is for everyone to own their own little coal plants.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by caseih (160668)
        Burning != Bad. Let's not forget that. Anything that's carbon-neutral can be burned cleanly, without any environmental impact. We know how to clean up NOx emissions. We know how to clean up particulates. Once you do that, CO2 is harmless.

        Beiging is not burning carbon-neutral fuels. Nor are they filtering emissions. Don't confuse the issue here.

        Anyone who automatically things combustion is bad needs to start with themselves first. We burn sugar all day long.

        If we can find a way to produce carbon-neutra
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by no-body (127863)
      There is enough coal on this planet to fire up steam engines for thousands of years

      That coal/oil burning/swamping CO2 into the atmosphere in what? 2 centuries or so of accumulated solar energy which took maybe millions of years to build up is exactly what the dilemma of global warming causes (some still dispute that it is actually happening or discredit any argument towards it).

      Now you want to put all kinds of dirty burning junk into your "converter" to accelerate over a ton of steel and plastic and move

      • by Firethorn (177587)
        Maybe its because the CO2 would come from a renewable resource - starch grown now with plants?

        Bingo. Wood, ethanol, peat, biodiesel all get a 'free' ride for their CO2 production because CO2 is removed from the atmosphere in it's creation.

        H2O + CO2 + energy -> hydrocarbons(CH4 and up) -> H2O + CO2 + energy

        it's a closed loop.
    • Even small coal fires smell awful (unless they're very low sulphur?) A coal-based transportation system would not be a good thing.
  • Food (Score:4, Insightful)

    by McGiraf (196030) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:37AM (#19289269) Homepage
    Now that oil is getting near to being all used the big plan is to use food crops to run you cars? Brilliant, what can go wrong?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jeff DeMaagd (2015)
      Oil isn't getting near all used up, but there is a concern about how quickly it can be pulled out of the ground and at what cost oil will become as demand increases.

      Oil production does seem to be slowing in growth, if this chart is any indicator:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:WorldOilProduct ion2002-2006Q2.gif [wikipedia.org]

      There are plenty of sources for oil, but it's a question of access, cost to get it and how quickly it can be produced. There is supposedly a lot of oil sand and oil shale, but recovering it can be
  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:43AM (#19289303) Homepage

    It's Roland the Plogger again, wrong as usual.

    It's been possible to convert cellulose to ethanol using enzymes for a while now. The problem is that making the enzymes is still too expensive for this to be useful as a fuel process. This Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] provides some background on that. It's a good idea. If the cost of making the enzymes can be brought down, there's plenty of agricultural waste (straw, bagasse, corn cobs, wood chips) available at low or even negative (it costs money to dispose of it) cost. Venture capital is going into developing cost-effective processes.

    But it's not likely to be done in a car's fuel tank. Something more like a brewery scaled up to oil refinery size is more like it.

  • The beauty behind this idea is that no special infrastructure would be needed. Starch could be distributed by your local grocery store.

    WRONG.

    It might be that way for the first person who does it, or the first thousand people. But anything connected to transportation requires special infrastructure. Millions and millions of cars and trucks drive millions of miles per day, and consume millions of gallons of gasoline. Your local grocery store is not set up to handle the business your local two dozen gas statio
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Solder Fumes (797270)
      I was wondering who actually made that inane grocery store comment, only to find out it was Roland P. No fucking surprise there! What a retard.
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      But anything connected to transportation requires special infrastructure.

            Not to mention the fact that if they are arresting people in the UK for adding cooking oil to their gasoline (on tax evasion charges of all things), I can just imagine what they will do to people who use starch!
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by wish (60120)
      The grocery stores allow you to get around the bootstrapping problem. Otherwise no one would buy the cars until infrastructure was in place and no one would build the infrastructure until there were cars to buy the fuel.
  • ...the only way an alternative fuel will gain wide acceptance, manufacturer support, and wide distribution is if you can...

    • Make it cheaper than gas
    • Make it as easy to get as gas
    • Get the environmentalists off everybody's ass long enough to get the details working
    • by timmarhy (659436)
      it's a great concept if they can REALLY make it work outside a lab. it can fill all 3 of those criteria provided the reaction is quick enough to keep up with consumption. i'm betting the production of the hydrogen is too slow to be useful right now.
  • it takes 27 kg's of starch to make 4kg's of hydrogen... it then states 1kg of starch contains MORE energy then 1kg (or liter) of fuel. correct me if i'm wrong here, but 4kg's of hydrogen does not have the same energy potential as 27L of fuel? sounds like the journalist got a little carried away to me

    super cool idea though, i'm impressed that they can even break even and produce enough energy to move the weight of the starch.

    • hydrogen is very light, one molecule of hydrogen weighs 2 units where one gasoline [octane] molecule weighs 114 units. gasoline had a density anywhere between .6 and .8 kg/liter and each gram of gas gives 40 kilojoules of energy where hydrogen gives about 122 kilojoules. so 1 liter of gas gives 24000 to 32000 kilojoules while 1 kg starch=4/27 kg hydrogen which is 18000 kilojoules which is about 2/3 what gasoline gives. this doesnt take into account that cars that use gasoline are about 20% efficient whil
      • by timmarhy (659436)
        your whole reply tackles a none issue. i was directly comparing it kg for kg already.

        "so 1 liter of gas gives 24000 to 32000 kilojoules while 1 kg starch=4/27 kg hydrogen which is 18000 kilojoules which is about 2/3 what gasoline gives"

        you prove my point right there

        • I also mentioned that because cars have a HORRIBLE efficiency problem the fuel cell more than makes up for the lower amount of total energy generated from the starch.
  • Very impressive. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Gibbs-Duhem (1058152) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @02:32AM (#19289589)
    Now, I know this probably will never get seen by anyone, but none of the posts so far were appropriate to reply to.

    I am actually a bioengineer, and I'm actually working in this field, trying to convert ethanol into hydrogen.

    And I can say, this process looks excellent. Finding natural enzymes that do the conversion makes everything enormously easier.

    Here's the deal. Ethanol has slightly more energy than straight sugar, because the fermentation adds energy to the system. That added energy is negligible in comparison to the total energy. However, you lose a butt-load of energy because you have to heat the sugar up in order to ferment it, deal with transportation costs for the crops, and if you're using it as an additive (instead of reforming 20-25% ethanol in water directly), distill it to 100%, which uses a ridiculous amount of energy (10 times more to get it from 95-100 than from 20-95). However, the plus side is that ethanol is a pretty high energy density liquid, about 85% that of gasoline, and much higher energy density than compressed hydrogen gas. So, with an ethanol+water mixture, you end up getting 6 H2 out of every one etOH molecule. Pretty durn good. (if you think I'm an idiot because I have more hydrogen coming out than are on an ethanol molecule, look up steam reforming instead of making yourself look like a fool)

    However, at the end of the day, it's extremely questionable whether or not ethanol itself is net energy positive, because of all the energy that goes into producing it (even though the liquid itself increases in energy density). Sugar, however, is less refined, and so less energy goes into making it. The idea is this -- if the net energy is negative, then you're still using more fossil fuels than you save. But if sugar is energy positive, then you can use 1kg of sugar to produce 2kg of sugar, and use that to make 4kg of sugar, and so on.

    Sure, you have to pay attention to the problems of rising food costs. But starch? Don't worry about it, it'll be more efficient than gasoline, and it'll be more efficient than ethanol. You're talking a 3x fold improvement on efficiency right off the bat because it's a fuel cell instead of an I.C.E. Now, your sugar production has to be net energy positive, so multiply that factor (guess would be around 2-3) times the 3x fold efficiency improvement in the fuel cell and you're using 6-9 times less energy to produce the same amount of work. The economy will figure out the rest -- hell, you can get starch out of all sorts of crop waste way more easily than you can get ethanol out of them.
    • Do you believe that it would be easier to iron out fuel cells to use starch and produce enough starch to run all the cars, or to finally design a good battery and figure out how to replace oil upstream at the power plant? Either way cars can't run on a ICE for much longer, that's obvious, but fuel cells are still very new, and this tech in TFA is even newer. I certainly hope Honda and Toyota have everyone they can throw at the Battery problem working on it, but do you think this could beat them to it?
    • by turing_m (1030530)
      "Ethanol has slightly more energy than straight sugar, because the fermentation adds energy to the system."

      How does that work? Where is the yeast getting the energy from to multiply, let alone heat the vessel you are fermenting in, if not from the sugar?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Ethanol's oxygen content is less than a sugar's, hence it contains more energy per unit mass - the more a fuel's oxidised to start with, the less you can gain by oxidising it further. But since (as you correctly suggest) yeast can't violate the laws of thermodynamics, I'd guess without looking it up that the balance probably comes from the ratio of input sugar to output alcohol.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Gibbs-Duhem (1058152)

        You're right! The reason is actually extremely subtle. I was talking about enthalpies of reaction. The gibbs free energy (i.e. the important one), however, goes down. All values are kJ/mol. Enthalpy is the relevant free energy when pressure is constant, but your reactor doesn't allow heat flow (i.e. entropy is constant). Gibbs is the relevant free energy when pressure is constant, and your temperature is constant. Not really sure which is applicable to the fermentation itself, but certainly after temperatur

  • that will eat your rice?
  • As in sugarmotor -- sugarmotor.net :-)

    Stephan
  • As a lot of previous posters have noted, it will be a while before this technology will be in wide use to power cars, because of the need to provide a viable distribution infrastructure, and the fact that the rate at which the hydrogen is generated isn't fast enough yet to power a car.

    However, the minute I have a source of hydrogen I can use it to run a fuel cell to generate electricity to power my laptop or other portable electronic device. The rate at which I need hydrogen is a lot smaller. The heat from
  • ...of enzyme/combustion are.....pancakes! Yummm!
  • There goes the price of potato chips.

    First corn syrup, now this. How's a /.'er going to eat?
  • Ooblick! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Lt.Hawkins (17467) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @05:52AM (#19290489) Homepage
    This will cause world-wide ooblick shortages! Won't someone think of the Children?
  • FTA: the enzymes use the energy in the starch to break up water into only carbon dioxide and hydrogen

    Doesn't seem a whole lot better than gasoline if it releases as much CO2...

  • The animal-loving end of the Green movement are not going to like this one bit. The process involves killing little fluffy bunnies! No, really, it does!

    The paper says that four of the enzymes, glycogen phosphorylase, phosphoglucomutase, triose-phosphate isomerase and aldolase, are all sourced from "rabbit muscle" (see Table 1 on page 4 of the PDF). So, the process may be good for reducing fossil carbon emissions but starch-powered cars are not suitable for vegans!
  • TFA says the production costs would be about $1 per pound of hydrogen. BTUs in one pound of hydrogen: 61,000. BTUs in one pound of gasoline: 20,500.

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying. -- Woody Allen

Working...