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Power Earth

$1/Gallon "Green Gasoline" In Sight 740

Posted by kdawson
from the happy-earth-day dept.
mattnyc99 writes "We've gotten excited here about the startup that claims it can make $1/gallon ethanol out of anything from trash to tires. But we've also seen how cellulosic ethanol is a better option, and how ethanol demand in general is only adding to the worldwide food crisis. So what about $1/gallon gasoline? NSF-funded researchers at UMass Amherst just completed the first direct conversion from cellulose using a new method of hydrocarbon refining, which they claim can be commercialized within 5-10 years and essentially make fuel out of anything that grows. Quoting: 'We already have the infrastructure in place to distribute liquid fuels. We're using them to power transportation vehicles today, and I think that's what we'll be using in 10 years and in 50 years,' Huber says. 'And if you want a sustainable liquid transportation fuel, biomass is the only way to go.'" The process is running at about 50% efficiency now; the $1/gallon figure is based on getting to 100%.
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$1/Gallon "Green Gasoline" In Sight

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  • I say! (Score:5, Funny)

    by jawtheshark (198669) * <slashdot&jawtheshark,com> on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:18PM (#23164568) Homepage Journal

    Mr Fusion!

    Seeing doc putting in that banana peel was just too much :-)

    • Re:I say! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Erioll (229536) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:21PM (#23164612)
      So this technology is 5-10 years away? Kinda like how fusion is always 20 years away?

      Basically, I'll believe it when I'm pumping it into my gas/ethanol tank.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jawtheshark (198669) *

        Kinda like how fusion is always 20 years away?
        ... I might have been too subtle, but that was my point.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by electrictroy (912290)
          I think California had the right idea with their EV Mandate. Electricity is a practical solution that is here NOW, not some future time which may or may not ever arrive.

          And over time, we could transition to nanoscale solar cells on top of people's roofs so they can charge their cars.

          • Re:I say! (Score:5, Insightful)

            by prisoner-of-enigma (535770) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @08:20AM (#23170010) Homepage
            Electricity is a practical solution that is here NOW, not some future time which may or may not ever arrive.
            Well, if you consider "practical" to mean a car that has a third of the range of a gasoline powered car, needs hours to "refill", costs twice as much (when you consider the federal subsidies), needs battery replacements every 18-24 months (if you want to maintain range), and can't tow anything to be "practical" then you're right on the money! I'm sure people are flocking to electric cars because they're so darn practical! They are flying off the showroom floors, aren't they? Aren't they? Hello?

            Practicality is only one of the issues facing your "practical solution." Electric cars need to be plugged in to something called "utility power" in order to recharge. Where do those magical electrons come from? I'll take "power plants" for $500, Alex. California already has a utility power shortage crisis, with rolling blackouts and brownouts thrown in for fun. Suppose the entire state went electric with their cars tomorrow? Just where do you think all that juice would come from? Pixie dust? Nano-solar isn't going to save you anytime soon, either.

            Electric cars are neat. For some people they fit the bill. For the vast majority of people they do not. You've got a lot of learning to do about what the meaning of the word "practical" is for folks who aren't clones of you.
            • Re:I say! (Score:4, Insightful)

              by clonan (64380) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @08:59AM (#23170370)
              Actually, most small (sub compact) size electric cars have similar ranges to gas powered cars. Since to this point most electrics have been intended as in-town cars, so long as the recharge time was under 8 hours it didn't make a difference. Now that electrics are trying to go more mainstream, the recharge time is gropping fast. I have seen systems that can recharge in under an hour and this can drop even further.

              As for replacing the batteries, even with older systems like lead-acid, it has ALWAYS been cheaper to maintain electrics than gas powered vehicles. Things we take for granted like regular oil changes, tune ups, timing belts etc aren't on electrics at all. On top of that, newer battery systems are projected to last the life of the vehicle. Think about the only maint. you need to do is to change your tires.

              You are correct that electric cars must be powered off power plants. However, electric cars are so much more efficient that california would end up with GOBS more power if they simply redirected the gas for cars into powerplants. Currently electrics have an 85-90% efficiencey considering battery and motor loses. Gas vehicles have a 26% efficiency at best. Considering transmission losses, about 5% of electric power is lost and a similar percentage is used in the transportation of gas. Finally, the processing. Power plants typically operate on a 60% efficiency. Therefore, gas powered vehicles operate at around 20% efficiency at best while electrics are hovering around 50%. Two and a hoalf times better! Plus much of the US power is generated by hydro electric and wind, solar-termal and nuclear are starting to come back...

              Over the last 10 years electric cars have been a niche market. However the current technology actually allows for wide spread use and the price tag (especially when you include power/fuel expenses) are actually comperable. With near term developments in super capcitors and batteries, the range of applications will increase, the fueling times will decrease and the cost will drop.
              • Re:I say! (Score:5, Informative)

                by d3ac0n (715594) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @10:18AM (#23171256)
                A couple problems with your argument.

                Actually, most small (sub compact) size electric cars have similar ranges to gas powered cars

                True. The problem is that most subcompact cars aren't practical either. Maybe for single people or childless couples, but for people with families these vehicles are entirely impractical. Thus the popularity of SUVs.

                As for replacing the batteries, even with older systems like lead-acid, it has ALWAYS been cheaper to maintain electrics than gas powered vehicles. Things we take for granted like regular oil changes, tune ups, timing belts etc aren't on electrics at all. On top of that, newer battery systems are projected to last the life of the vehicle. Think about the only maint. you need to do is to change your tires.

                This one is COMPLETELY wrong, and shows a real lack of understanding of basic mechanics. Most of the "Electric" cars out there are actually HYBRID cars. Why? Because of the inherent problem of the lack of range of full electrics Since they are hybrids, they have small gasoline engines in them. These engines need all the maintenance of any other engine. So take the normal maintenance costs of a standard automobile, THEN add the costs of replacing the battery pack (roughly 3-5 grand US each 3-5 years) ON TOP of that. NOT cheaper.

                Even for full electrics, the maintenance costs are still comparable, because even though there is no Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) in the vehicle, it still has plenty of moving parts that need regular lubrication and get worn out and need replacing over the life of the car. The average full electric vehicle needs about 50% to 75% of the year-to-year maintenance that a hybrid or a standard ICE vehicle needs. But you still need to calculate in the cost of replacing the battery pack every 3-5 years, which pushes the maintenance costs of an Electric to WAY over the cost of an ICE vehicle. if I may demonstrate with a simple chart:

                ICE vehicle expected maintenance costs on a yearly basis over 5 years: $1000.00 US
                Total average maint. costs: $5000.00 US

                Hybrid vehicle expected maintenance costs on a yearly basis over 5 years: $1000.00 US
                Hybrid replacement battery pack costs within a 5 year period: $3000.00 - $5000.00 US
                Total average maint. costs: $7000.00 - $10,000.00 US

                Full Electric Expected Maintenance costs on a yearly basis over 5 years: $500.00 - $750.00 US
                Electric replacement battery pack costs within a 5 year period: $3000.00 - $5000.00 US
                Total average maint. costs: $5500.00 - $8750.00

                These are rough figures, but I'm sure you can spend some time on edmunds.com or Google and find similar numbers.

                One additional point, you aren't taking in the disposal costs of the HIGHLY TOXIC batteries. Yes, some can be recycled, but many cannot. What do we do about those? ICE vehicles are 99% recyclable. Hybrids and Electrics are not, due to the batteries.

                california would end up with GOBS more power if they simply redirected the gas for cars into powerplants

                Power plants DO NOT run on gasoline. MOST are coal-NG plants, some are Nuclear, some are Hydro power, and a very small number of low-capacity plants run Diesel. So you CANNOT re-direct the gasoline to power plants, they can't use it!

                Also, California's power grid problem is twofold:
                1) Over-regulation by the California government has economically strangled the power plants, making it a loss-proposition to run a power plant in California.

                2) The Eco-Freaks and NIMBYs have wrangled a practical ban on building any NEW power plants in CA, such that demand has now FAR outstripped supply. Thus the rolling blackouts and brownouts. There simply isn't enough power to go around, and no way to get more power plants built.

                You will notice that NEITHER of these problems are IN ANY WAY related to Gasoline or automobiles.

                You can talk all about supposed efficiency gai

                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  by GnarlyDoug (1109205)
                  Note sure where you got your numbers from, but I'm going to refute some of them.

                  Hybrid replacement battery pack costs within a 5 year period: $3000.00 - $5000.00 US

                  Battery packs for hybrids are generally warrantied for 8-10 years, and they are expected to last the lifetime of the vehicle. To date Toyota claims that they have never needed to replace [cleangreencar.co.nz] a battery pack on a Prius due to it simply wearing out, and there are Priuses with over 300,000 miles on them on the road today. So if you need to replace a

              • Re:I say! (Score:4, Informative)

                by Firethorn (177587) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @11:31AM (#23172212) Homepage Journal
                Actually, most small (sub compact) size electric cars have similar ranges to gas powered cars

                Do you have figures on that? I've always figured that the range for a gasoline car is ~300 miles. All the EV sites I've seen touting economical EVs(excludes the Telsa) is around 100 miles.

                As for recharge time, it's all dependant on two factors. Well, one usually ends up being the limiter. The first is battery chemistry. You can only charge a lead-acid battery so fast. NiMH is a bit faster, and you have a better 'fast charge' ability. LiIon is better yet, though it gets really slow near the end. The second is the wattage capacity of your charging system.

                If all you have is a 120V outlet, you're only going to be able to push about 1.5KWh into the batteries in an hour. 2KWh for a 'heavy duty' 20Amp dedicated circuit. Switch to a dryer type outlet at 240V@30A, and you're up to 6KWh. Which would fill most EV batteries in about 3 hours. The Tesla, sportscar that it is, has a 53KWh battery. That dryer outlet would take 9 hours to charge it from empty. There's nothing except the pain of handling 000 gauge* wires and running most of a modern house's capacity to it to keep you from charging it in just over an hour. Well, assuming the charging system can keep up. Of course, at that point a transformer and kicking the voltage up to levels only line workers normally see**.

                However, electric cars are so much more efficient that california would end up with GOBS more power if they simply redirected the gas for cars into powerplants.

                Better yet, just burn the crude oil, better still, build nuclear plants, wind farms, etc... Leave the gasoline for other areas.

                Over the last 10 years electric cars have been a niche market.

                They've been a niche market for the last 100+. Look up Jay Leno's antique electric car [popularmechanics.com].

                However the current technology actually allows for wide spread use and the price tag (especially when you include power/fuel expenses) are actually comperable.

                Not yet. You can obtain a ~35 mpg gasoline car for around $15k. Zap [zapworld.com] wants $14k for a truck with a max speed of 25mph, a payload capacity of 770 pounds, and a range of 30 miles. Great for zipping around a warehouse, not so great for commuting in most areas. The Zap-X, which looks like a car has a ESRP of $60k. The Tesla is $100k.

                Conversion kits [electroauto.com] seem to run around $10k, excluding the batteries.

                Even if you assume power is free, in many cases battery aging and replacement needs exceed the cost of the gasoline in and of itself.

                It is getting better, but slowly.

                With near term developments in super capcitors and batteries, the range of applications will increase, the fueling times will decrease and the cost will drop.

                Fueling times, at this point, are generally limited by infrastructure. There's not magic bullet out there to make batteries cheap enough to make them the right choice anytime in the near future, I'm afraid.

                *IE bloody huge
                **lethal very quickly if not done right. I'm thinking 600-1000V. A thousand volts could handle the charge using 'only' 4 or 5 gauge wire. Still going to look and handle worse than a garden hose full of water.
      • Re:I say! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:34PM (#23164790)
        Well, I can't say exactly how long it will take to commercialize, but the company I work for, which may or may not have been mentioned in the article (wink) has a production-scale run of the catalyst scheduled for later this year. I wouldn't scoff too hard at a 5-10 year projection.
        • Re:I say! (Score:4, Funny)

          by chaim79 (898507) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:57PM (#23165058) Homepage

          So, what you are saying is that the Test is 5-10 Months away, and getting it to 100% efficiency is 5-10 years away.

          So in theory we could be seeing this with $2 or $3 a gallon gas fairly soon, and after a while the production cost will be reduced (though the price will probably stay where it is.) :)

          • nope (Score:4, Insightful)

            by goombah99 (560566) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @08:33PM (#23166018)
            50% efficiency does not imply $2/gallon.

            They have to input pre-processing and heat. They don't say where break-even is. Maybe that's at 90% efficiency.

            • Re:nope (Score:4, Insightful)

              by jgoemat (565882) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @09:47PM (#23166710)
              It kinda does imply $2/gallon, but it's the OUTPUTs that would keep that from being the case, not the inputs.

              If you heat too fast, you make mainly vapors. The sweet spot, about 1000 degrees per second, transfers roughly half the celluloseâ(TM)s energy into hydrocarbons. âoeIf we can get 100 percent yield, we estimate the cost to be about a dollar per gallon,â Huber says. âoeRight now weâ(TM)re at 50 percent. Can we get 100 percent? I donâ(TM)t know. Hopefully weâ(TM)ll bump those numbers up.â

              Think of the process like you put x materials in, perform the process, and you get 1 gallon of gasoline at 100% efficiency. At 50% efficiency you can just run the process twice as long and get twice as much output, but still only 1 gallon of gasoline. So given the information they have in the article, they could produce gasoline at $2 per gallon now.

              The problem is with the outputs. If you output 100% gasoline, you just pour it into your car and go. If it is a mixture of only 50% gasoline, you have to refine it and remove impurities. That process might be prohibitively costly.

      • Re:I say! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Rei (128717) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:39PM (#23164852) Homepage
        Actually, it reminds me of thermal depolymerization [wikipedia.org]. Anyone remember that [slashdot.org]?

        Really, though, what we're looking at is one of the things that drives me crazy about a lot of environmental "trends" and congress's role in pushing them. And don't get me wrong; I say this as a hardcore green with CFLs in every socket who is on the waiting list for an electric car [youtube.com].

        Most of these new biomass-to-ethanol plants work based on syngas. That is, partial oxidation of carbon-and-hydrogen-bearing matter into a mixture of CO and H2. They then either, through an wasteful catalytic process or an even more wasteful biological process, convert the syngas into ethanol. Great. Except that we've been converting syngas to gasoline, in a rather simple and fairly efficient process, for the past century. The main syngas source was coal. This Fischer-Tropsch process powered a large portion of Nazi Germany's war machine (until their plants were bombed flat). It powered South Africa during the Apartheid regime.

        Let's state this again: they typically are using *more energy* to create *less output* of a product with *less energy density* that *can't be transported in normal pipelines* and can only be used in *small amounts* in cars unless they're *specially modified*, rather than, more efficiently, just creating gasoline. Why? Because gasoline is a dirty word. Because there aren't the same sort of subsidies for "cellulosic gasoline" as there are for cellulosic ethanol. Because cellulosic gasoline won't win you green cred, or get the investors lining up. So the inferior solution gets chosen.
        • same reason i was apopleptic about the idiocy of hydrogen power. which, as a fashionable topic for science morons, seems to have run its course thankfully

          please, science idiots, learn:

          if you expend lots of energy manufacturing your energy medium, you are being more wasteful than just choosing a more intelligent energy medium

          hydrogen is great, of course, because it burns clean. but it is a b*tch to store and transport, and most importantly, although something clean is coming out of your exhaust, everything that went into getting hydrogen into your fuel tank created more pollution than if you were burning coal in your car

          the solution to our energy crisis is nuclear and electric cars

          japan and france: show us the way to a cleaner, cheaper energy future, without the security concerns: nuclear

          its safer than it ever was (you can walk away from a pebble bed reactor and it will just gradually shut down: no active management needed), and horrible waste is only a product of the usa's hesitance to use breeder reactors (because they make bomb grade materials). but if you use breeder reactors, you have a tenth of the nuclear fuel waste which loses its radioactivity in a few centuries, rather in 10,000s of years, AND you get way more energy output. as uranium runs out, use thorium like india. and as we begin to run out of thorium in a few centuries, mankind better have been able to master fusion power by then, or we are doomed anyways

          i think, to provide security to nuclear plants, you would need one one hundredth of the amount of security resources you need now to make sure oil still flows to our shores

          or just keep counting the body bags coming from iraq because your mind still believes propaganda about nuclear power based on 1960s technology
          • by Belial6 (794905) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @09:24PM (#23166448)
            You are quick to call people stupid, but then turn around and get energy generation and energy storage. If you can make clean energy for batteries, you can make clean energy for hydrogen generation.

            While I agree that electric cars the way to go, I am not convinced that batteries are the right way to store the energy. The are netoriously environmentally dirty both to make and dispose of, expensive, and and just don't last very long.

            It certainly isn't stupid for someone to think that the problems with storing and transporting hydrogen can be solved easier than solving the huge problems with batteries. It is entirely possible that the real solution will be a hybrid solution.
            • by TheLink (130905) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:15AM (#23168352) Journal
              I figure a better way to store hydrogen would be with around a chain of carbon atoms ;). There's a lot of hydrogen you can store that way.

              Either we burn the result, or we figure out how to build filters, fuel cells and catalysts that can handle the result in an environmentally friendly way.

              A big benefit of having an electric subsystem is for the regenerative braking.

              The benefit of sticking to hydrocarbons would be backward compatibility.

              One of the problems is if we use rare catalysts - there might not be enough to go around to put in every vehicle (assuming a believable catalyst recycle rate when the vehicle is scrapped).

          • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <`ten.suomafni' `ta' `smt'> on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @10:04PM (#23166842) Homepage

            show us the way to a cleaner, cheaper energy future, without the security concerns: nuclear

            Uh, no, at least not nuclear fission of uranium and plutonium.

            its safer than it ever was (you can walk away from a pebble bed reactor and it will just gradually shut down: no active management needed)

            No. There's already been one accident with radiation release at a pebble bed reactor [wikipedia.org], and adding a whole bunch of graphite - the stuff that caught fire at Chernobyl - to a reactor is not a good idea.

            the usa's hesitance to use breeder reactors (because they make bomb grade materials). but if you use breeder reactors, you have a tenth of the nuclear fuel waste which loses its radioactivity in a few centuries, rather in 10,000s of years, AND you get way more energy output.

            And you have plutonium factories all over the place. If you don't see the problem with that. Google the news for "Iran nuclear". >

            And remember that that these plutonium factories would not be built to U.S. safety standards, no; many would be being built in China or other developing nations. If you don't see the problem with that. Google the news for "China contaminated".

            And the waste problem remains unsolved.

            as uranium runs out, use thorium like india.

            Skip uranium entirely. Go to an "energy amplifier [wikipedia.org]", where thorium is hit with a proton beam. It's subcritical - pull the plug and it shuts down. It's proliferation-resistant, and it can even be used to burn up plutonium. And it produces a lot less waste.

            • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @02:40AM (#23168472) Homepage Journal

              And you have plutonium factories all over the place. If you don't see the problem with that. Google the news for "Iran nuclear". >

              Actually, you're wrong. That's a POSSIBLE consequence, but not a necessary one. The reactors do not need to be of a type useful for making weapons-grade material in order to be useful for making useful nuclear reactor fuel.

              And the waste problem remains unsolved.

              The reprocessed waste has a half-life which at least seems manageable on a human time scale, and is not nearly as nasty in any case.

              Skip uranium entirely. Go to an "energy amplifier", where thorium is hit with a proton beam. It's subcritical - pull the plug and it shuts down. It's proliferation-resistant, and it can even be used to burn up plutonium. And it produces a lot less waste.

              Per your source, This design is entirely plausible with currently available technology, but requires more study before it can be declared both practical and economical.

          • by Upaut (670171) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @10:30PM (#23167030) Homepage Journal
            What your missing is that the hydrogen economy is actually a nuclear economy. It would be a seamless transition from whatever energy source is used to derive the hydrogen. Most hydrogen proponents know this, and simply promote hydrogen because there is a good chance that with proper research you could get a greater energy density packed into a fuel cell then a battery, and fuel cells refuel faster then many batteries recharge, enabling the 'pumps' to still be scattered across the landscape.

            Remember, "Hydrogen" supporters are "Nuclear Energy" supporters, even if they do not know it yet...
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            I tend to agree, although I do think as an intermediate step, sufficiently cheap electricity, nuclear or otherwise, also can be used to gasify some of our huge and otherwise very ecologically unfriendly reserves of coal, so that existing ICE and fuel-cell vehicles can continue to run in a cost-effective manner during the transition period.

            One thing to keep in mind is that China, Japan, and France already have significant nuclear infrastructure. If we do not begin now to catch up, we will be left behind,

          • This is completely off-topic for the current thread, but I've always wondered why people do this. Why did you substitute an asterisk for the "i" in "bitch"? There's no swearing filter at Slashdot. It's clear that you wanted to use a swear word, as opposed to using a less "offensive" word (perhaps "pain" in this case, for example). And since none of "batch", "botch", or "butch" will fit semantically, no one is going to mistake which word you meant, so you aren't saving anyone any offense they would have had
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Bombula (670389)
          A couple of things. First, beware the Green Scam. I looked closely into biodiesel-from-algae as a possible startup last year, and found a number of scammers in the market - most notably Global Green Solutions (www.globalgreensolutionsinc.com) whose technology claims turned out to be not only ambitious by thermodynamically impossible: over 80% total efficiency. The physical limit of photosynthesis is under 20%.

          Still, algae biodiesel is probably the way to go because it can use seawater in concrete raceway

    • Re:I say! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by 0racle (667029) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:28PM (#23164702)
      Mr. Fusion only powered the time circuits and the Flux Capacitor, the engine runs on ordinary gasoline, always has, always will.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Torsoboy (1057192)
        Truth. The premise of the third movie was that they couldn't get the Delorean up to 88 MPH since they had no gasoline.
  • by thrillseeker (518224) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:19PM (#23164580)
    well, it should be fun driving the Hummer around in all that future desert such "cheapness" will lead to
    • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:58PM (#23165066)
      I think that you're confused and assuming that this gasoline will add carbon to the atmosphere. In reality, the carbon that's being added to the atmosphere is carbon that was taken out to make the gasoline in the first place. The reason oil's such a problem is that the carbon was sequestered in the earth's crust and not being released until we got to it. In this case the carbon would have almost certainly made it back into the atmosphere, which means it's effectively carbon neutral (although there might be some electricity costs that would add more carbon to the air).

      That brings an interesting thought to mind, though. I know that we can't sequester carbon very well in a gaseous form, and that other forms are expensive to produce, but what if we were to grow plants, cut them down, and stick them underground in some salt mines or something?
      • by Rorschach1 (174480) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @08:14PM (#23165882) Homepage

        That brings an interesting thought to mind, though. I know that we can't sequester carbon very well in a gaseous form, and that other forms are expensive to produce, but what if we were to grow plants, cut them down, and stick them underground in some salt mines or something?

        It's been done before. Works great, until some stray asteroid happens by and wipes out your civilization, and 65 million years later those scrappy little mammals that survived the nuclear winter in their cozy burrows have evolved a civilization of their own and are busy pumping all your carefully sequestered carbon back to the surface to be burned and released into the atmosphere...

      • by filmotheklown (740735) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @08:56PM (#23166220)

        This is being done/worked on. It's called Terra Petra "Black Earth" and is being developed for use in biomass gasification.

        Basically you gassify carbonaceous materials such as wood or other biomass. Instead of allows all the biomass to be consumed in the process, you pull a portion of the charcoal out of the gasification stream and then disc it into the earth. Charcoal, being a fairly stable version of high density carbon will remain in this state for a very long time and in a sense becomes fertilizer for the soil (over time). Charcol is a more stable form of carbon than just raw biomass which will otherwise decay into CO2 as it rots

        In fact, in the amazon, this has been going on for 1000s of years and is a way to make otherwise not so great tropical soils fertile.

        Gasification combined with Terra Petra has the possibility of not only being carbon neutral, but carbon negative. If you gassify existing biomass (in particular the waste wood and garden clipping stream of most municipal wastes) you start out carbon neutral. The carbon in the waste stream is already destined to either be incinerated or 'mulched' which releases the carbon as CO2 either way.

        If during the process of gassifying this biomass stream, you extract a portion of the charcoal that is created, you can then sequester it in the soil. Thus becoming carbon negative to the extent you pull from your gassifier. The trade off is that you have less carbon to convert to CO for use as a producer gas.

      • by alispguru (72689) <bane@gs[ ]om ['t.c' in gap]> on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @09:16PM (#23166380) Journal
        what if we were to grow plants, cut them down, and stick them underground in some salt mines or something?

        This is essence what happens to most of the paper that enters most American homes (newsprint, magazines, junk mail) - it gets put out in the trash, and ends up in a landfill, where it gets buried and takes decades to centuries to break down.

        So, don't recycle that paper! Put it in a landfill and sequester that carbon!
        • Re:Burying plants? (Score:4, Informative)

          by Phat_Tony (661117) on Wednesday April 23, 2008 @12:44AM (#23167890)
          That's great, except that to the extent that it is gradually broken down by bacteria, in a dump, it's done anaerobically, which releases methane gas instead of just carbon dioxide. And methane is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Dumps emit a whole lot of methane, which more than offsets any carbon sequestration going on there.
  • by ottawanker (597020) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:19PM (#23164582) Homepage
    I'm willing to pay $2/gallon for the opportunity to use the 50% efficient stuff.. Why wait until you reach your target of $1/gallon when what you have is already cheaper than normal gas?
    • by Overzeetop (214511) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:43PM (#23164892) Journal
      That's rough, but at $118/bbl, the cost of refined gasoline is somewhere about $2.50/gallon. The $3.50 you're paying at the pump includes distribution and taxes. So you'd pay $3/gallon for a fuel that stores only about 60-65% of the energy as the $3.50/gallon gas your paying now. Not really economical. At their theoretical 100% efficiency, it's about a wash, though you'll still have to visit the pump half again as often to fill up.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by timmarhy (659436)
        $3/gal not economoical? fuck me i'm paying $1.5 a LITRE. that's about $6.6 USD/gal.

        sign me up if you can make fuel for $3/gal.... or maybe you need to realise there is more to the world then the USA

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by N1ck0 (803359)
      Because they don't have a process... According to the article they can make this high-octane cellular extraction in small quantities.

      This is not a large scale production process running at 50% capacity, its an lab-scale process which can see a 50% energy extraction. Extracting more energy might require a completely different method.

      Also where they heat the cellulose 1000 degrees per second will probably not scale very easily to the hundreds to thousands of gallons needed in mass production (its easy to do
    • by Zymergy (803632) * on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @07:23PM (#23165358)
      Remember that we use "Heat Engines"... The more BTU's per gallon of fuel translates into more miles per gallon!
      With the new mandate for 35 MPG cars on the horizon, I'd imagine they will be using Diesel. (Anyone notice the new Volkswagen "clean Diesel" commercials?)
      Also, the US Government pays a $0.50 per gallon as a subsidy. (I think this is at the production level). Otherwise, Ethanol production could not compete with oil.
      FYI:
      Methanol 64,600 BTU per gallon
      Ethanol 84,600 BTU per gallon
      Gasohol 120,900 BTU per gallon (10% Ethanol to 90% Gasoline)
      Gasoline 125,000 BTU per gallon
      Biodiesel 130,000 BTU per gallon
      Diesel 138,700 BTU per gallon
      Most from this page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gasoline [wikipedia.org]
  • The process is running at about 50% efficiency now; the $1/gallon figure is based on getting to 100%.

    this sounds all too good to be true. (especially the 100% efficiency).
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Smidge204 (605297)
      Gotta be careful with how they're defining "efficiency" here.

      They are not talking about thermal efficiency, they are talking about conversion efficiency: how much of the input gets converted to final product. The thermodynamic limits on efficiency do not apply here, so 100% is technically doable.

      =Smidge=
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I heard about a guy that knew a guy that got 500%, but a Big Oil company bought all rights to the process, murdered his wife and slept with his dog!
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        I heard about a guy that knew a guy that got 500%, but a Big Oil company bought all rights to the process, murdered his wife and slept with his dog!

        That clearly shows that Big Oil companies are either stupid or into bestiality.. they should have killed the dog and slept with the wife..

  • Huh What? (Score:5, Informative)

    by tgd (2822) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:22PM (#23164618)
    FWIW, we do NOT have an infrastructure for distributing liquid fuels that are predominantly ethanol... thats one of the real big problems. It corrodes the living sh#% out of virtually all of our liquid fuel transportation infrastructure.

    Cheap ethanol is good if the production of biomass to produce it doesn't displace food production, and $1/gallon would certainly be nice, but we have to be realistic about ALL the problems an ethanol-based fuel economy will entail... replacing all the pipelines being just the start.
    • Re:Huh What? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Dr. Eggman (932300) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:33PM (#23164772)
      The article appears a bit vague, but it appears they are not talking about running ethanol through the pipelines, but gasoline. Infact, talking about converting Biomass into gasoline, not ethanol. Atleast that's the idea I got from the quote:

      Huber and his colleagues aren't the first to derive hydrocarbons from renewable sources. Virent Energy Systems, for example, just signed a deal with Shell to produce gasoline from plant sugars and expects to open a pilot facility in the next two years. UOP is working on a project to produce jet fuel for U.S. and NATO fighters from algal and vegetable oils. But Huber's work stands out as likely the first direct conversion from cellulose, opening up as potential fuel sources virtually anything that grows. Commercialization of the technology may take another five to 10 years, the researchers predict.
      ...
      Developments in so-called "green hydrocarbons" arrive as ethanol continues to come under attack as expensive, inefficient and a contributor to rising food prices around the world. (More than a billion bushels of corn are diverted to ethanol production each year.) "There's certainly a lot of historical inertia for ethanol. It's gotten us off to a great start, but I can't see the country transitioning to flex-fuel," says John Regalbuto, director of the Catalysis and Biocatalysis Program at the National Science Foundation. "I almost think, long term, that we will go to plug-in hybrids. But we're still going to need diesel and jet fuel--you can't run trains or fly planes with ethanol or hydrogen."
      But, then again in describing the process it goes back to vague (emphasis mine:)

      Using a catalyst commonly employed in the petroleum industry, Huber and his colleagues heated small amounts of cellulose very quickly for a matter of seconds before cooling it, producing a high-octane liquid similar to gasoline.
      The article seems to be trying to distance this technology from ethanol, stating that ethanol has its problems and that it's not going to be the right direction
  • by l2718 (514756) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:24PM (#23164638)
    Quoth the scientist:

    "Crude oil looks more similar to gasoline than biomass does"

    More importantly, if they get 50% of the cellulose's energy into hydrocarbons then processing twice as much cellulose should given them a $2/gallon hydrocarbon. What they should tell us is whether a gallon of their hydrocarbon mixture has the same amount of energy as a gallon of oil For example, a gallon of ethanol has about 2/3rds the energy of a gallon of regular gasoline, so if it's only priced at 2/3rd the price of regular it won't break even.

    The bottom line: we need price in dollars per kilojoule, not in dollars per gallon.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by N1ck0 (803359)
      The 50% efficiency is how much of the biomass energy they can convert to the "high-octane liquid". Can they get to 100%? No...you cannot extract 100% energy from something, also the process that is getting you 50% yields will probably require much more energy then what you are doing right now.

      Also does this $1/gallon figure account for the energy needed to raise/cool this biomass the 1000 degrees per second? Also the cost of getting the biomass? And the cost of collecting (and probably liquifing/straining
  • by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:24PM (#23164646)
    The minute the government stops subsidizing the production of ethanol, not only will farmers start moving back to wheat and other foods that the world needs, but ethanol will be forced to survive on its own next to gasoline, and it will vanish in the puff of bad logic that brought it into existence. Let's not forget the recent story about increases in beer cost as farmers switch over to corn for ethanol [slashdot.org]. Also informative is this recent Time magazine article [time.com] debunking the benefits of ethanol. This is just another political stunt at the expense of the world's food crops and my inebriation. When will Congress learn that manipulating the economy never has the desired effects.
    • CELLULOSE != FOOD (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jnadke (907188) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:40PM (#23164862)
      [rant]

      Cellulose is plant matter. You know. Grass clippings, corn stalks, etc. I see you really must like eating GRASS CLIPPINGS along with the COWS. Similar intelligence, perhaps?

      CELLULOSE IS NOT FOOD!

      Cellulostic Ethanol [wikipedia.org]: Educate Yourself!

      [/rant]

      • by N1ck0 (803359) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @07:07PM (#23165188)
        Although collecting large amounts of easy to process cellulose materials will cost money too. You can't just go around picking up everyone's grass clippings and store them, or take a week transporting them. Nature also breaks down cellulose, and dissipates the energy they are extracting. So you would need to gather this material, ship it, process it and/or store it in ways that prevent decomposition....and all that costs money.

        And most likely means things like switchgrass farms, or some other dedicated farming, so its concentrated in one place (easy for processing and transport). But then you have the problem of that farm land competing with our food growing farm land...which causes land prices to rise, causing increased food costs.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Planesdragon (210349)

          You can't just go around picking up everyone's grass clippings and store them, or take a week transporting them.

          Sure you can. You just need to get the cost of the conversion + transportation to lower than the cost to farm it locally.

          But then you have the problem of that farm land competing with our food growing farm land...which causes land prices to rise, causing increased food costs.

          You have no idea how much ariable land is in the United Sates, do you?

          If it was just a question of land, we could feed the entire plant. Just us. Forget India, Europe, China, Africa, or any other breadbasket.

          (And tell your parents that their house really isn't worth a quarter of a million dollars, and they should just sell.)

    • by prxp (1023979) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @07:26PM (#23165382)

      Also informative is this recent Time magazine article debunking the benefits of ethanol.
      I've read the article and I'll tell you I was amazed... read on. First of all, I saw no hard evidence that would debunk the benefits of ethanol nor anything that would imply that more ethanol = less food (though I won't go into the matter itself, the article is just poor on defending these arguments). Also, a good chunck of the article is spent on describing Brazil's vanguard on ethanol and its problem with the Amazon forest (separately). What it is funny (not to mention outrageously stupid) is the way the author goes about these two separate things: he tries to make a correlation between the two issues like the fact Brazilian vanguard in biofuels is somehow destroying the Amazon Forest! It's simply stupid! Come on! There's no correlation whatsoever! Brazilian ethanol program is almost 30 years old and the problems the Amazon Forest faces (now and before) haven't increased nor decreased because the program started and kept going. Hell, sugar cane is hardly one of the most profitable business that comes from deforestation, let alone the core reason for the problem! This Time Magazine article only debunks one thing: the ability its author has to assess his readers' naiveness.
  • PopMech! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:27PM (#23164688)
    I thought this was a joke, then I saw that the article was in Popular Mechanics and thought "whew" (because every story that has ever run in popular mechanics about technologies of the future has been spot on).
  • by blair1q (305137) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:34PM (#23164782) Journal
    if i had a car that ran on patent applications, i could literally shovel garbage into it and get wherever i needed to go

    and it wouldn't cost anything

    heck, they'd pay me to take the stuff away
  • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:34PM (#23164786)
    "ethanol demand in general is only adding to the worldwide food crisis."

    Utter bullshit. Consuming crops that are grown entirely in the U.S. cannot create a "worldwide food crisis". Unless you believe that the U.S. is responsible for supplying food to people too lazy and stupid to grow their own.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Cyberax (705495)
      USA also _buys_ food in other countries. Reduced internal food supply causes less exports and more international purchases.
  • by bill_kress (99356) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:36PM (#23164810)
    I just bought a car that happens to take this E85 ethanol combo gas.

    It dropped my mileage from city 22 to like 16, highway 30 to 22.

    It was a little cheaper due to government subsidies ($2.77 vs $3.30 at the time), but it didn't come close to breaking even with the drop in mileage.

    Overall very disappointed.

    Where are the plug-in hybrids?
  • by rickb928 (945187) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:48PM (#23164944) Homepage Journal
    When we can make affordable fuel out of trash, garbage, and untreated sewage, then trash, garbage, and untreated sewage will nearly immediately be in short supply. Cost of the raw material will increase, and make the finished product less affordable.

    Pretty soon after that, we will cut down perfectly good trees for no other reason than to make liquid fuels. Darn. There goes the forest. And the parks, etc. Not so good.

    It's just not that easy. But it's attractive, and will keep us until we can do the electric car thing and do away with liquid fuels altogether.

    Maybe.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ChrisMaple (607946)
      Trees are not a step in any efficient process that goes from sunshine to liquid fuel. It takes too much energy to make wood. Some plants are much better at turning light into useable biomass.
  • by Regul8or (603030) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:59PM (#23165078)
    I've been putting used motor oil, hydraulic fluid, transmission fluid, gasoline, solvents, and misc. oils in my truck's tank for years now. I mix in these waste products with clean bio/#2 diesel at a rate of about 33%. Of course I filter down to 20 microns and check for water in my fuel.

    When I calculate my fuel mileage based on ONLY how much diesel I actually pay for, I get about 30-33 highway mpg in my 7900 pound 3/4 ton diesel truck.

    Gasoline engines are a flawed design and gasoline/ethanol is a flawed fuel. It does have a place such as in motorcycles or small engines. I'll take my diesel powered vehicle any day of the week over some inefficient gasoline powered vehicle.

    • How are your emissions?

      I've been putting used motor oil, hydraulic fluid, transmission fluid, gasoline, solvents, and misc. oils in my truck's tank for years now.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jeff DeMaagd (2015)
      You make a diesel sound like a panacea. It's not. There are clear benefits, but ignoring the negatives doesn't do us any good.

      Even the best diesels emit particulates, which aggravates breathing problems. Then you're putting in all sorts of crap that's not really intended to be burned in a diesel engine and might contain additive compounds that might have toxic combustion byproducts, who knows what sort of pollution you're putting out.
  • by MtViewGuy (197597) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @07:12PM (#23165240)
    I think using enzymes to break down the ENTIRE plant is the way to go if we're going to do biofuels. The reason is simple: by using the entire plant, it means all the agricultural waste from conventional farming can be turned into almost any fuel you can imagine using enzyme processing, avoiding the major issue of having to overgrow corn and sugar cane/beets just to make more ethanol.

    Suddenly, all those weeds out there become a biomass base, and farmers will be more than happy to ship the plant waste from growing corn, wheat, rice, etc. to a cellulosic processing plant to turn into biofuels.
  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @07:58PM (#23165724) Homepage

    Here's the home page of the University of Amherst prof [umass.edu] who did this. There's a picture of him holding a test tube of synthetic fuel derived from biomass sugars.

    I'd be more impressed if he was standing next to a 5000 gallon tank of the stuff. On a small scale, if you're not worried about cost, you can make just about any hydrocarbon from any other hydrocarbon. It's hard to measure operating costs until the process is scaled up. So I'm skeptical of the cost claims.

  • Careful folks (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tjp($)pjT (266360) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @08:00PM (#23165750)
    Don't compare the pump price for gasoline to the $1 hypothetical price for a 100% efficient process (which so far does not exist). After all if we pay at $2.50 a gallon for gas (as a nominal figure) about $0.75 in taxes. And then about 40-50 cents a gallon for the distribution. And then there is recovery of costs also known as profit, of about 18 cents. It varies by state but they go all the way back to minor taxes per gallon at the blending stage to the final additional federal and state taxes at the pump. It is not just the final taxes that are there. You have to dig really deep to find all of them. I will admit I have not looked for a couple years at the whole set of them, but very few taxes are ever reduced or repealed, so I am pretty confident they can be ferreted out with a bit of work. The raw material in this case is one that requires more handling than a liquid does so refining costs are likely higher.

    So make sure all the costs are considered when comparing them. Just like sunlight is free, and all those CFLs are mercury laden hazardous waste when spent.
  • "In sight"? Hardly. The only way to make gasoline is to distill hydrocarbons. As usual, the hyperbole of the title obscures the actual article. $2/gallon combustible organic fuel which is very inefficient compared to gasoline is the real situation. "Hope" of reaching $1/gallon and 100% efficiency is just empty hope

    As long as it's ethanol, it's going to be monstrously expensive to transport. Ethanol is, essentially, a food product which rots.

    If this process can help make with turning coal and other high-carbon materials into actual gasoline, it might be interesting.

    However, do not underestimate the physical space and cost to build new fuel processing factories. No matter what, the world's energy needs will increase.

    The goals should be to focus on the most effective methods of converting physical substance into harnessed energy, not the fantasy of "clean" energy. Think of all the people who bought or promote electric vehicles claiming they are "clean". That idea is beyond stupid. The energy has to be created somewhere then distributed. All distribution systems have loss. They might be "cleaner" at the point of use but they are not gross clean.

    The cleanest energy would be something like wind or water power. They're not efficient and they can't power wheeled vehicles sufficiently. That leaves the concept of combustion in some form. Little pebble reactors in vehicles? Forget it. That leaves the process of a controlled burn. What is the best substance to burn considering infrastructure, portability and energy return aspects? Hydrocarbon. That's all there is to it.

    Having said that, for static location energy needs like an electric grid, there could be some advantage to biomass conversion or forms of incineration when they are also used as a way to reduce the expense of handling trash. They'll never be as efficient as burning hydrocarbons because it takes energy to turn them into hydrocarbons. Oil and coal are the closest forms to carbon which are viable fuel sources for combustion.

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