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Earth Power News

Cellulosic Biofuel Finally Ready For the Road 355

Posted by kdawson
from the closing-in-on-mister-fusion dept.
wdebruij writes "After years of research, promises, and plenty of discussion here, biofuel from inedible greens such as switchgrass — and even from corn cobs — may finally be getting economically viable. Two enzyme producers, Novozyme and Genencor, have both announced that they can now produce fuel at prices competitive with current corn and petrol-based methods. This is particularly good news in the wake of another report that food-based biofuels could cause hunger."
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Cellulosic Biofuel Finally Ready For the Road

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  • by AshtangiMan (684031) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @07:04PM (#31161726)
    Nice. 300 mpg is pretty sweet indeed. Wait, why are you upset?
  • by BobMcD (601576) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @07:20PM (#31161882)

    I see speculation on the cost of the fuel, but nothing whatsoever on the performance of it. This makes my suspicion meter go into alarm mode...

    Though, to be fair, ethanol suffers from the same issue.

    Looking at the 2010 Town and Country [fueleconomy.gov] (a similar vehicle to my own Flex-Fuel van), I see these ratings:

    E85 - 17mpg

    Gas - 24mpg

    Adjusted into dollars-per-hundred-miles, using these prices [fuelgaugereport.com], that's something like:

    E85 - $14.13 ($2.403/g)

    Gas - $10.87 ($2.610/g)

    So even though the price at the pump is less, I'd be a fool to run E85 in even a new vehicle of this class.

    Unless this new fuel is better than E85, I can't see how getting it down to a comparable price at the pump is doing us any favors. Now if it is somehow better than E85, then that would be some good news. Alas, the story is mute on this topic.

  • Re:Biofuels (Score:5, Informative)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @07:23PM (#31161918)

    which use a maximum of 25 percent biofuel

    The standard gasoline blend (i.e. what you get if you buy "normal" gasoline) is 20-25% ethanol in Brazil, but there is also pure ethanol available, and >80% of new cars are able to use either the E25 or E100 fuel. Some details here [wikipedia.org].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @07:46PM (#31162210)
    What the heck are you smoking? Transit system? Transit system? Where the hell is that? I (and MANY others) that live in California but NOT in San Francisco - commute a long way where no transit system exists. I drive 38 miles each way. This is so that I can actually own a house and not bring up my kids in some silly apartment (which is all we could afford if we lived right by work). There is something close to a transit system. I can drive my car about 7 miles to the "park and rob" (no doubt: cars are always vandalized and burglarized there), catch a bus from there (it is the first stop, so it stops all over the damn city), then it goes to a train, which stops all over, then to a bus which gets within 2 miles of work (which I admit is indeed walking distance). Total time on this "transit system" is just over 2 hours (yes, I have done it) whereas driving is about 45 minutes. Transit System... The price of gas would have to triple to get me to consider wasting that much more time per day getting to and from work.
  • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @07:53PM (#31162282) Journal

    Managed to go through LA, San Fran, Salt Lake City, and a handful of other cities using nothing but municipal transit.

  • by poetmatt (793785) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @07:56PM (#31162312) Journal

    I live in one of the best transit systems in the us - right outside of chicago - and I still don't have a train that takes me remotely close to my work. Trust me, I'd take one in a heartbeat over using my car, but it's simply not realistic.

  • by hardburn (141468) <hardburn@@@wumpus-cave...net> on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @07:59PM (#31162352)

    There is a fallacy hidden in there: that world hunger is due to not producing enough food.

    Here's the production of the top four biggest US corn producing states, as of 2006, in thousands of bushels [corn.org]:

    • IA: 2,244,400
    • IL: 2,088,000
    • NE: 1,319,700
    • MN: 1,120,950

    Total: 6,773,050 thousand bushels

    A blog comment [autoblog.com] cites 134,400 calories per bushel (couldn't find a better source for this). So the total calories produce from all the corn above is:

    6,773,050 * 1000 * 134,400 = 910,298,592,000,000 calories

    On a 2000 calorie / day diet, a person eats 2000 * 365 = 730,000 calories / year

    Production of just those 4 states can therefore feed a population of about 1.2 billion people. Of course, you'll be nutrient deficient on a corn-only diet, but hopefully the rest of the planet can pick up the slack for that and the remaining 5.3 billion people. And it's not like those states are only corn producers, anyway.

    If production isn't the underling problem, then we need to look elsewhere or else we'll accomplish nothing in solving the problem. One of the prime places to look is how the food often gets stopped in harbor because the right palms aren't being greased, or how local warlords hijack shipments and use food as a weapon.

    For certain, corn ethanol was never going to cover even 10% of US energy needs. But the hunger argument isn't a very good one.

  • by FishTankX (1539069) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @08:01PM (#31162386)
    usually to efficently leverage ethanol you have to have an engine designed for it. You can utilize VASTLY higher compression ratios with ethanol, because of it's massive antiknock rating. So you use a turbo, superhigh compression ratios, and boom, ethanol comes within 10-20% as efficent as gasoline. This allows you to use a smaller engine, and hence less pumping losses, opening the door for ethanol engines to surpass gasoline engines in MPG efficency. How about using ethanol in combination with gasoline to drastically boost normal fuel efficency by achieving higher compression ratios than normally possible? http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2006/engine.html [mit.edu] This MIT engine uses ethanol injection to keep an engine from knocking, delivering significantly higher compression ratios. About 1 gallon of ethanol to 20 galons of gasoline used. And the result? Engine output per liter jumped nearly 2x. Thus, overall fuel efficency gains were in the neighborhood of 20-30%, and I doubt it'd be that much more expensive than a hybrid system. Combined with a hybrid system, this could allow stratospheric mileages easily toppling diesel in 1st place. I think so far this is only on simulations, but if it were to break into the market, Ethanol could find it's home not only as an alternative fuel, but more importantly boosting the efficency of all of the other straight gasoline engines out there. All it takes is customized design for the fuel application.
  • Re:Biofuels (Score:3, Informative)

    by bunratty (545641) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @08:06PM (#31162442)
    It would be misguided to cut down forests to grow switchgrass. We should use degraded or barren land or land that switchgrass already grows on [okstate.edu].
  • by Patch86 (1465427) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @08:24PM (#31162628)
  • by twidarkling (1537077) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @08:25PM (#31162642)

    rapeseed is also known as "canola."

  • by gmhowell (26755) <gmhowell@gmail.com> on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @08:36PM (#31162754) Homepage Journal

    The other reason to use ethanol is that, IIRC, it has less energy than octane. Ethanol is used in high power (racing) applications for a few reasons, including some related to this. In addition to pre-ignition resistance, the cooler temperature prevents the head and exhaust valves from heating up (throwing off tight clearances as well as increasing pre-igition), is less dangerous in the event of a catastrophe (although the flames are harder to see), blocks and stress parts can be lightened considerably (no need for massive amounts of metal to dissipate heat that isn't generated), cooling systems can be smaller than for a gasoline engine of similar output, etc.

    Now, again, IIRC, one problem with ethanol, particularly in cooler climates is a lack of waste heat for creature comforts, and a correspondingly longer time to heat engine parts and lubricants to ideal operating temps.

  • by mirkob (660121) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @08:41PM (#31162802)

    your gas price IS quite reasonable!

    here in italy you currently pay about 1.3 euros/liter

    considering 1 euros about 1.33 dollar and 1 liter about 1/3.8 gallon

    so its about 2 dollar for 1/3.8 gallon or about than 7.5 dollar/gallon

    and it has gone higher...

  • by Martin Blank (154261) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @08:44PM (#31162840) Journal

    Having used the mass transit in the Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York/Newark areas, I dare say that you either got very luck with where you were going in the LA area, or you never left the downtown area. In a week in Chicago, I was able to get almost everywhere except for the Navy Pier and the Museum of Science & Technology via mass transit, and over a week in New York/Newark, I only rode in a car when going out to rural areas not reached by New Jersey's trains. Even when reaching a relatively rural area on Long Island, it took only about 30 minutes from Penn Station. Compare this to the local bus for me (closest train station is several miles and runs perpendicular to the route I would need to take): In the center of the main population mass of Orange County, the path from the closest bus stop to work runs just under eight miles, and takes just over an hour. This is one bus going straight down one street, no turns.

    All of the rail systems in the LA/Orange County area combine for just under 600 miles of track to provide for around 5000 square miles of land. Chicago has 600 miles of track providing for around a thousand square miles, and New York has more than 900 miles of track for only a few hundred square miles of land. It's going to take a lot of billions to get anywhere close to those.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @08:50PM (#31162894)

    First post!

    And since this stuff is finally going to be hitting the road, when will my gas prices become reasonable (for the US) again? I'm tired of $2.96 a gallon and only getting 300 miles out of it.

    Poor bastard ! Here in Australia on cheap petrol day we can get ours for $1.22/lt which works out to over $4.60 per Gallon.
    Check out this [aaireland.ie] page to see how good you have it.

  • Re:Water (Score:3, Informative)

    by slashtivus (1162793) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @09:18PM (#31163168)
    I'm pretty sure GP meant "plant" with the meaning of "manufacturing facility". That would be water used in addition to any local farming they are doing.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @10:12PM (#31163566)

    True, the corn syrup issue is caused by too much corn, NOT too little sugar.
    The problem is we (like every other industrial nation) makes far more food than we need. This leads to a problem of excess supply, which means farmers go bankrupt as the cost of the good is below what it costs to make the good.
    Also, this doesn't solve "world hunger" because shipping the food someplace else is prohibitively expensive.

    So, to keep farmers from massive bankruptcy and to slow (not stop, which they would have if they could have) the absorption of small family farms into corporate mega-farms, high tariffs on sugar were imposed AND (2 prong attack) corn was marketed as the answer to any God Damn problem corn could possibly solve (corn syrup, corn gasoline, etc. etc.)

    Also adding to this problem is that corn is high in energy and easy to grow. This is compared to other regional crops such as rice, which is high in energy but hard to grow, or wheat which is low in energy but easy to grow.

  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday February 17, 2010 @04:42PM (#31175552)

    Whereas every other country has always taxed it to compensate for the huge amount of damage cars/vehicles make to infrastructure and environment.

    Actually, it's worse than that, and it isn't just damage, it's economics. Oil is paid for in dollars. US dollars. You want oil? You buy US dollars first.

    See the trick? America gets paid for Saudi oil before the Saudis do. It gives the US a huge advantage economically. The US gets to export a significant proportion of it's inflation to the rest of the world and gets real value for it. Print a trillion dollars here, the price of oil goes up, everybody buys those fresh new bills cos they still need oil. Oil purchases for the rest of the world export value to the US.
     

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