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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."
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Driving on Starch

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  • 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
  • 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 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.

  • Re:Question (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tofof (199751) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:52AM (#19289357)
    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 station', and you'd have to fill a 12' x 16' tank [watertanks.com] every week full of starch. Not to mention the hassle of loading your car's tank with a powder. Are they really suggesting you'd buy off-the-shelf from a grocery store? What are you going to do, spoon it in, one tablespoon at a time? 3328 tablespoons later.... [google.com]

  • by drgonzo59 (747139) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @02:20AM (#19289511)
    How about pop and junk food? One Twinkie for me -- one for my horse...er my Honda.

    That should curb obesity in this country. But then we have all this energy already stored as fat on our bodies. Well, we'll just have to design a car that runs on human fat. Just cut that love handle, toss it in a gas/fat tank and there you go, drive to the store and buy more Twinkies to put that lost chunk of fat back and keep going...


  • by no-body (127863) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @02:24AM (#19289539)
    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 one human body over some distance?

    Not sure either what those hydrogen-from-starch inventors are dreaming about. Besides developing a completely new fuel system, if they want to take the hydrogen with enzymes away from starch (carbohydrate, made of C6H12O6 chunks), what's going to happen with the carbon and oxygen? That's not clear at all from that article. Doesn't production of CO2 defeat the purpose of using hydrogen? Ideal would be to generate hydrogen from renewable resources and burn it to gain energy. Maybe its because the CO2 would come from a renewable resource - starch grown now with plants?

  • 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.
  • Re:Food (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @10:09AM (#19291727) Homepage Journal
    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 a very messy and dirty process, it basically has to be "cooked" out of the rock or sand.
  • Re:Question (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PPH (736903) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @11:18AM (#19292129)
    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, when you dump your starch in the tank, it begins producing H2 and continues until all the consumables are gone. If you park your car for a few days, the H2 produced is going to have to be stored. That means tanks and pumps.


    This might work as the basis of a hydrogen fuel system, where the H2 is the product being pumped into your car. It might have a definite advantage over other fuel technologies in that the production process, being relatively benign environmentally, will promote the establishment of local starch refineries. They would seem to make for much more suitable neighbors than petrochemical plants. This will, in turn undermine the monopoly that the major producers have on production and distribution of fuel and keep profit margins within reasonable range. We might even see a combination of retail H2 outlets and home production equipment. If the prices spike up, you can switch to your backup stash of potatoes. Try storing a supply of gasoline at home when it goes on sale at Costco and see what your local fire department has to say.

  • Re:Question (Score:2, Interesting)

    by architimmy (727047) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @03:23PM (#19293859) Homepage
    The flaw I see in this line of thinking is that it is often predicated on the notion that economies of scale require that we have ONE means of energy or powering vehicles. There's no reason to crown a successor to the gas powered car when we could instead replace it with 4-5 viable alternatives each of which is dependent on a source of energy derived in a different fashion. This generates 4-5 new fuel production industries each of which competes with the other driving down costs and driving innovation. In turn this helps to improve the efficiency of each method which helps to protect our environment and improve that methods ability to scale, etc, etc, etc...

    Stop thinking that we need to replace Big Oil with Big (insert fuel of choice here) and this whole "scaling" argument breaks down. It's not like we won't need to replace gas as a fuel of choice sometime in the future anyway.
  • by caseih (160668) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @04:14PM (#19294173)
    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-neutral, high-density, combustible molecules (renewable), that is the only way to go. Combustion (reaction with oxygen) is still the best form of energy production. In the meantime, burning bio-organic materials that are normally just going to waste, we need to be capturing that waste. Burn the materials. Burn the methane.

Man must shape his tools lest they shape him. -- Arthur R. Miller

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