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Power Earth Science

"Vetrolium" From Agricultural Waste 438

Posted by kdawson
from the six-gallons-from-a-bushel dept.
junctionvin writes "The company Sustainable Power Corp. claims to have created a form of bio-crude oil from agricultural refuse. They use agro-waste from cracked soy beans, rice and cotton seed hulls, grain sorghum, milo, and jatropha and turn it into bio-crude oil. This crude can then be further refined into everything from gasoline to jet fuel and just about every petrochemical in between. The CEO is quoted: 'Our biggest problem is that we are too good to be true. We can literally replace every gallon of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel in the United States using just 12 percent of the waste byproducts in the country.' They also claim that their fuel burns to near 100 percent efficiency." The article doesn't mention what price the "vetrolium" would command in today's market or going forward, except to report the CEO's promise "to one day sell his gasoline for $1 less than the pump price for regular fuel, no matter what the cost. 'Even if it's $2 per gallon, I'll sell mine for $1,"' he said."
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"Vetrolium" From Agricultural Waste

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  • by pablo_max (626328) on Friday July 11, 2008 @09:47AM (#24151547)
    Perhaps, but ever time I hear something like this, I still have the hope it really is true. Each time I'm wrong, but who cares! It would be awesome!
  • Oooo magic! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@@@gmail...com> on Friday July 11, 2008 @09:48AM (#24151555) Journal

    Sounds like a pump and dump to me. Their stock is at approximately nothing, this claim has no actual details of process. It also violates common sense (complete combustion from a hydrocarbon? They're not zero impurity fuels), and promises an astounding return from the use of a waste product. They make claims that they can put it into production very quickly, which is extremely unlikely given the issues with biofuel scaling.

    From their website:

    Matters discussed in this press release contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. When used in this press release, the words "anticipate," "believe," "estimate," "may," "intend," "expect" and similar expressions identify such forward-looking statements. Actual results, performance or achievements could differ materially from those contemplated, expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements contained herein. These forward-looking statements are based largely on the expectations of the Company and are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties. These include, but are not limited to, risks and uncertainties associated with: the impact of economic, competitive and other factors affecting the Company and its operations, markets, product, and distributor performance, the impact on the national and local economies resulting from terrorist actions, and U.S. actions subsequently; and other factors available from the Company.

    I think that sums it up nicely.

  • by Kamokazi (1080091) on Friday July 11, 2008 @09:50AM (#24151579)

    Nah, we'll hear about them in a few months.

    You know, after the company goes bankrupt from this guy embezzling the millions of investment capital they get from this announcement.

  • Energy Input? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IAAE (1302511) on Friday July 11, 2008 @09:53AM (#24151617)
    Sure they can make a lot of crude and fertilizer out of their agricultural waste, but how much energy are they using to convert it? It's all good and wonderful that they can make gasoline out of "waste", but if the energy costs to convert it are more than the production and transportation costs from other sources, either conventional or unconventional (oil sands for example), they may not really be accomplishing anything useful... However, if they were using say a nuclear plant to power their conversion, that'd be a different story.
  • Fire the reporter (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LSD-OBS (183415) on Friday July 11, 2008 @09:56AM (#24151659)

    TFA: "Even after a few minutes of operation, the engine block was cool to the touch while the four-wheelerâ(TM)s exhaust pipe seemed to emit little more than warm, odorless air."

    So. This fuel is oxidised thermally neutral? So what's causing the gas to expand? What's driving the pistons?

    I'm not going to call bullshit on this whole story yet, but when a reporter thinks he sees crap like the above, he needs to ask WHY.

    I refuse to make puns about "hot air" :)

  • by Thelasko (1196535) on Friday July 11, 2008 @09:56AM (#24151677) Journal
    Is the bio-fuel from rice the same as the bio-fuel from cotton seed oil? Usually, it isn't. Different sources yield different products. A company that can produce a consistent product from a variety of different sources will make billions.
  • Re:Oooo magic! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mr. Slippery (47854) <tms@infa[ ]s.net ['mou' in gap]> on Friday July 11, 2008 @09:57AM (#24151681) Homepage

    Not to say these guys are or aren't legit, but that's a pretty standard investment disclaimer. An annual report for even the bluest of blue chip companies will warn you how it contains "forward-looking statements" and how the sky might fall and result in a loss for stockholders.

  • Boilerplate (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sjbe (173966) on Friday July 11, 2008 @09:59AM (#24151709)

    Matters discussed in this press release contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. ... I think that sums it up nicely.

    While you are absolutely correct, that's just a standard bit of boiler-plate required by every company in financial statements so that they can talk about the future. Nothing special about this particular piece of boiler-plate.

  • by stankulp (69949) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:00AM (#24151721) Homepage

    They could just start making fuel and sell it on a small scale, then plow their profits back into their production facilities.

    Apple was profitable from Day One.

    This would be too, if it actually worked.

    The fact that they're not just doing it means they can't.

  • Re:Oooo magic! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Crowley (24666) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:01AM (#24151729) Homepage

    Sounds like a pump and dump to me. Their stock is at approximately nothing, this claim has no actual details of process. It also violates common sense (complete combustion from a hydrocarbon? They're not zero impurity fuels)

    Having RTFA, they actually claim no by-products - by which they mean no smoke. If (and this is a *big* if) the hydrocarbon was burning with 100% efficiency - no soot being produced - then surely the chemical reaction is maximising the amount of CO2 that the engine will then pump out; simple high-school chemistry says that there are byproducts of the combustion, they are just invisible to the human eye. The byproduct is also quite honestly the one that we don't want. Ecologically, from a global warming POV, having diesel *not* emit useless soot is absolutely catastrophic, as the carbon has to go somewhere. It's either soot, or carbon dioxide.

    I still call bull on the claims, though...

  • Re:awesome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Otter (3800) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:05AM (#24151769) Journal
    Also, while I mostly spent Auto Shop getting beaten up so may have missed something important, isn't that heat what makes a normal engine work?
  • by King_TJ (85913) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:06AM (#24151775) Journal

    I'm a regular subscriber to Popular Science magazine, and I recall seeing several similar-sounding devices covered in there over the years.

    Maybe the problem is, most of them work great in a lab environment, as a "demo", but can't scale up to cost-effective, usable/functional products for the real world?

    Like what's going on with Frank Pringle's microwave emitter:

    http://www.popsci.com/popsci/flat/bown/2007/innovator_2.html [popsci.com]

    Or Joseph Longo's plasma trash converter thing:

    http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2007-03/prophet-garbage?page=1 [popsci.com]

  • TFA Looks Sketchy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dire Bonobo (812883) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:06AM (#24151777)

    Rivera claims that products made from Vetroleum burn at near 100 percent efficiency, leaving behind neither heat nor pollution as proof of the chemical reactions taking place.

    Burns without heat? WTF?

    Correct me if (when) I'm wrong, but doesn't no heat output mean no enthalpy [wikipedia.org] in the reaction means no ability to do useful work with that reaction? How is a reaction with no heat output supposed to do work in a heat engine [wikipedia.org] like your car?

    Your car converts gasoline into mechanical energy by mixing it with air and using the resulting explosion to push a piston (see, for example, here [mainspot.net]). Without heat output, how is the reaction supposed to cause the rapid pressure change needed to drive the piston?

    If "no heat output" is one of their big selling points, I don't see how this can be legit.

  • by Bob Uhl (30977) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (24dnumdae)> on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:06AM (#24151785) Homepage
    This may or may not be a scam (my bet's on the former). But even if by some chance it is true, it's still a horrible idea. Think about it: it's taking agricultural waste and burning it up in car engines. It's one thing to burn petroleum--it's a nasty poisonous substance with few uses other than fuel, plastics and medicines.

    But agricultural waste is chock-full of valuable organic substances. It should be composted and returned to the soil so that it can fertilise the next year's worth of food. Burning it up is not all that different from burning corn in the form of 'ethanol' (really, just whiskey): it's just another way to take the last remaining topsoil in the United States and use it to fuel our car addiction, not entirely different from a junky selling his blood every day to get his fix.

  • by korbin_dallas (783372) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:06AM (#24151787) Journal

    Theres more than one way to make money.
    Perhaps hes betting that the PetrolCorps(e) will buy him out to keep his invention OFF the market.

  • by Firethorn (177587) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:10AM (#24151847) Homepage Journal

    I have to agree - this doesn't inspire confidence in me.

    I'd much rather see samples sent off to independent testing labs. Heck, I'm sure there's some mechanical equivalents to Dan [dansdata.com] out there.

    Heck, Popular Mechanics and consumer reports will occasionally provide free testing of various 'too good to be true' methods and devices.

    His idea, taken raw, sounds a lot like thermal depolymerization, which does have a test plant up. But the TD guys aren't proposing a 100% replacement for oil, or making claims that their fuel is almost magical(the lower heat). It IS naturally lower in a number of contaminants such as sulfur, but nothing magical.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:11AM (#24151857) Journal

    A diesel engine can run on just about anything, so what's the problem?

  • by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:13AM (#24151883) Homepage

    ...if it weren't for those pesky laws of Thermodynamics!

    Okay, it's not a perpetual motion machine but the article glosses over or completely ignores a few important details about his ultra-secret process, like just how much energy is required to produce and refine this stuff. He could make the nicest bio-diesel around, but if it takes fire barrels of oil just to make one barrel of it then he's going to have some troubles making his power plant work.

    "Our biggest problem is that we are too good to be true"

    Yup, that would be one way of putting it. I'd be happy to see this project succeed, but it has been tried before and always run into the same problems.

  • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@@@gmail...com> on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:25AM (#24152013) Journal

    That hope, that beautiful little flower of perfect happy hope, is how they take your money away from you.

    Let me tell you how the fuel of the future will come about. Some guy in a lab will come up with something that is woefully inefficient, and they will haggle with it for a decade with little funding and little respect, and it will become more efficient, and then more people will say, "Wow, maybe there is something to (insert inefficient process here)" and they'll start working on it. And a decade or so later it will be roughly equivalent to our current fuel in cost.

    People have been working on the idea of biofuels forever, and we've got some semi-decent methods out there, but every one of them is the fruit of a LOT of crappy thankless work done when oil was cheaper than bottled water.

    Likewise fusion; we know it can be done. One day we will do it, barring an intellectual dark age. But right now its an expensive boondoggle.

  • Oil Bubble (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sesshomaru (173381) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:26AM (#24152041) Journal
    This Oil Bubble has been fun, huh? Sort of like the Housing Bubble, different than the Tech Bubble. With the Housing Bubble it was "oh no, real estate is going to just keep going up, after all, no one is making more land." Of course, looking at the situation now, it seems someone was making more land, at least with the price declines we've been seeing.

    .

    Now we have an Oil Bubble, and it is fun in its own way. Peak Oil! We're all doomed, the great die-off! Foriegners are eating our lunch! Kuntsler hasn't been this happy since we were all going to be totally doomed by Y2K!

    Of course, I wouldn't mind seeing trains make a comeback, and some serious investment in improving nuclear tech, but I'm guessing that the current bubble will pop before we get very far in either on one them. You know its bad when, 12 U.S. airlines call on Congress to curb excessive speculation. [cnn.com]

    I'm wondering what the next Bubble will be. Some are thinking a Green Tech Bubble, but I'm hoping for a Water Bubble. You know, sort of like that episode of Darkwing Duck with the Liquidator.

    Of course, someone could do something about all the insane, emotion-driven speculation but that wouldn't be as much fun. It might lead to economic stability, and who wants that?

  • by pla (258480) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:38AM (#24152225) Journal
    vaporware, literally.

    Although TFA has a few obvious errors, they apparently just use thermal depolymerization to crack just about anything organic into a light crude-like goo.

    Not at all vaporware, and not even all that difficult (though not something you can really do on a small scale, thus the need for VC).

    The biggest "problems" with it appear mostly regulatory... At the same time we have everyone crying about the price of energy, we have just about every viable alternative energy proposal shot down for completely assinine reasons ranging from cosmetic to FUD.
  • by couchslug (175151) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:48AM (#24152375)

    That sort of hope is what makes scams thrive.

    I don't "hope" for golden bullet solutions. I hope for market pressures to drive R&D that produces many different solutions to energy problems so we grow away from an energy monoculture.

  • by Joe Snipe (224958) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:11AM (#24152749) Homepage Journal

    And how, exactly, does oil not require energy input? For that matter (bad pun, I know), can you think of any exchange that does not require energy input? The goal here is to find a renewable, lasting portable supply of cheap energy.
    For what it's worth "high heat" is a pretty abundant and cheap form of energy; using it to create a fuel source from waste sounds like a good option (although I would wait for actual data before investing).

  • Re:Oil Bubble (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .retawriaf.> on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:24AM (#24152945) Homepage

    This Oil Bubble has been fun, huh? Sort of like the Housing Bubble, different than the Tech Bubble. With the Housing Bubble it was "oh no, real estate is going to just keep going up, after all, no one is making more land." Of course, looking at the situation now, it seems someone was making more land, at least with the price declines we've been seeing.

    Those, like myself, who invest in land and housing with an eye on making returns on a time scale of decades will do nicely. The bubble only hurt those who had an eye on the short term.

  • by GerardM (535367) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:26AM (#24152961)

    When you burn carbon based material, you do want it to burn to CO2. When the process of burning is incomplete, you get stuff like CO and soot. One is poisonous the other carcinogenic..

    The fact that we do not want to produce CO2 implies that we need more efficient engines and/or burn less fuel.
    Thanks,
            GerardM

  • Re:awesome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Captain Hook (923766) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:37AM (#24153123)

    The problem is that this alleged wunderfuel is still a hydrocarbon, which means that you still have carbon atoms to dispose of (lots of 'em)

    Carbon from this source wouldn't be a problem at all.

    The Greenhouse Gas problem is really about taking carbon which has been buried and effectively out of the biosphere for millions of years and dumping it into the air in quantities large enough to affect atmospheric carbon concentrations.

    All those Biofuels are effectively carbon neutral (or would be in an ideal world if we weren't using fossil fuels to harvest the feedstock) because the carbon in the feedstock has come directly from the atmosphere within the last 1-2, 10-20 years (depending on the feedstock).

    If we could run the entire worlds fleet of cars/buses/planes/trains on biofuels, it would have eventually balance out and have zero effect on atmospheric carbon concentrations.

    Biofuels have a single problem, in the last hundred years we have (in the west at least) got used to burning a fuel store which took millions of years to produce, biofuels have to produce energy in a 1:1 time ratio and there is simply no way to do that without a significant proportion of the earths surface being turned over to energy collection and conversion into an energy store.

  • by Zemran (3101) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:54AM (#24153375) Homepage Journal

    He says "we are too good to be true" and he is telling the truth...

    Trouble with a lot of these wonder solutions is that you do not really know yet how environmentally damaging the production process is. If it is possible I would be happy to pay more to get less reliant on areas of the world that we should get away from... (speaking as someone living in Azerbaijan [north of Iran])

  • Re:awesome (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SomeJoel (1061138) on Friday July 11, 2008 @12:23PM (#24153907)
    Well, a lot of people here aren't familiar with the term "bathtub".
  • Re:awesome (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Eiron (1030492) on Friday July 11, 2008 @12:41PM (#24154205)
    The heat is not exactly a wasted byproduct. An internal combustion engine is a way to transfer chemical energy into thermal(heat) energy into linear energy into rotational energy. A Wankel skips the linear energy step. The heat is important, because although you can run an engine off "cryogenic" power, for example using liquid nitrogen as fuel, what you are doing there is taking something very cold, and as it warms due to its environment you harness the energy of its expansion. Similar to an external combustion engine. These are both very ineffective; Google it if you like. If you could use all the thermal energy from combustion, the exhaust and engine would be cool to the touch, no matter how long it ran. Good luck with that. That isn't what is happening here, which is either a reporter making changes to the story in order to show the subject in a more favorable light, or a reporter making mistakes. Either way, the reporter is not a subject matter expert, and is screwing things up; it happens.

    I have had engines I referred to as "cold blooded" before, generally because they were built so heavily that it took forever (one was over half a god damn hour) for them to warm up to peak operating temperatures, and you got no power or reliability out of them until then. These engines pissed me off. If you want one, look for a small displacement (less than 300cc) "universal Japanese model" motorcycle from the 70's. There are lots of other places too, but that is a reliable, inexpensive source.

    Pressure and heat are very closely related. A diesel works by creating enough thermal energy through pressure on the fuel to cause it to spontaneously combust, which vastly increases the temperature, which increases the pressure enough to drive the pistons through their power cycle. Replace the pressure induced heat with an electric spark and you have a gasoline engine. The thermal energy is still the integral part of the operation of the engine.

    As far as no byproducts, the only way you are going to ever end up with no physical byproducts would be a 100% efficient nuclear reaction (again, good luck with that), during which you would expect large quantities of some form of energy, most likely thermal energy, electromagnetic radiation, and light. No harmful byproducts, on the other hand, could be as simple as water, in the case of hydrogen power, but is likely claimed to be water and CO2 for this stuff. In reality, there would be some carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide too, just because that stuff gets everywhere, and unburned hydrocarbons.

    The idea that there would be no heat from this fuel source's combustion is silly at best, and certainly wouldn't be a selling point as a gasoline replacement even if true, but the idea that it burns much cleaner than petroleum based fuels is both likely and laudable. If the whole thing isn't a sham, which is possible.
  • by homer_ca (144738) on Friday July 11, 2008 @02:24PM (#24155643)

    Bio-crude from thermal depolymerization needs to be refined too. No difference there. The EROEI of refining is typically 10:1, 1 unit of energy (usually natural gas) in for finished product worth 10 units of energy.

  • by homer_ca (144738) on Friday July 11, 2008 @02:55PM (#24156109)

    Energy is like the universal currency whether it takes the form of heat, electricity or the chemical potential energy in an easily stored liquid. You can convert them at various rates of efficiency, and there are financial markets for each type of energy. Given the low efficiency of thermal depolymerization, I suspect it's worth more to use your solar collector to run a steam turbine and sell power to the grid.

  • by avandesande (143899) on Friday July 11, 2008 @02:56PM (#24156137) Journal

    Let's get real. Supposing the stuff was real, what distribution network would they use to get the fuel to consumers? Who would have the capital to improve on the process and then market the fuel oversees? I don't think oil companies care where the oil comes from as long as they can sell it.

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