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'Energy Beet' Power Is Coming To America 238

Posted by timothy
from the yes-but-do-you-have-a-lobby dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Gosia Wonzniacka reports that farmers in Fresno County, California, supported by university experts and a $5 million state grant, are set to start construction of the nation's first commercial-scale bio-refinery to turn beets into biofuel with farmers saying the so-called 'energy beets' can deliver ethanol yields more than twice those of corn per acre because beets have a higher sugar content per ton than corn. 'We're trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to shift our transportation fuels to a lower carbon content,' says Robert Weisenmiller. 'The beets have the potential to provide that.' Europe already has more than a dozen such plants, so the bio-refinery would resurrect a crop that has nearly vanished. The birthplace of the sugar beet industry, California once grew over 330,000 acres of the gnarly root vegetable (PDF), with 11 sugar mills processing the beets but as sugar prices collapsed, the mills shut down. So what's the difference between sugar beets and energy beets? To produce table sugar, producers are looking for sucrose, sucrose and more sucrose. Energy beets, on the other hand, contain multiple sugars, meaning sucrose as well as glucose, fructose and other minor sugars, called invert sugars. To create energy beet hybrids, plant breeders select for traits such as high sugar yield, not just sucrose production. America's first commercial energy beet bio-refinery will be capable of producing 40 million gallons of ethanol annually but the bio-refinery will also bring jobs and investment, putting about 80 beet growers and 35,000 acres back into production."
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'Energy Beet' Power Is Coming To America

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  • by nweaver (113078) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @08:52AM (#43262399) Homepage

    It's all a simple matter of area: With an electric vehicle my entire transportation energy usage can pretty much be covered with a small rooftop solar system. To do it with biofuels would require acres of space.

    The problem is simple: Photosynthesis is just vastly less efficient than photo voltaic solar

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Sunday March 24, 2013 @10:45AM (#43262891)

    From the summary: "Europe already has more than a dozen such plants". So maybe it is viable.

    European beet farmers are heavily subsidized. So Europe is an example of beet-energy not being viable.

    In any case your argument suggests that anything that isn't currently being done isn't viable. So any sort of progress is never possible.

    We need to try new things. But we also need to not squander resources on dead ends. Beet ethanol is not as stupid as corn ethanol, but it is still stupid. If we were serious about ethanol as a fuel (rather than as a source of subsidies for special interests) we would eliminate the prohibitive tariffs on Brazilian cane ethanol.

  • by MangoCats (2757129) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:01AM (#43262967)

    Well, what I read that I like is over 1000 gallons of ethanol produced per acre-year. Since my family ethanol/gasoline needs are approximately 1000 gallons per year, that means that even evil energy beet fuel production only needs one acre of farm land to produce our energy needs, half that if we update our vehicles to higher efficiency ones. This is, of course, ignoring the cost of production issues.

    Now, with nearly 100 million families of four (equivalent, also consider that we might be below average in our fuel consumption) in the U.S. - 100 million acres is a lot of farmland - a bit over 10% [census.gov], but it wouldn't be a bad transition from oil.

    Maybe algae energy is better, certainly is if it can be done on marginal lands, but either way, I'm liking the biofuel implications here.

  • by BooMonster (110656) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @03:29PM (#43264615)

    Hopefully something directly from the USDA will suffice:

    http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/corn/policy.aspx#.UU9Txb-9LTo

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Sunday March 24, 2013 @08:09PM (#43266263)

    why is no one using their own land to produce it in quantity?

    There are several reasons:

    1. It is difficult and expensive to extract fuel from algae. The algae first has to be dried, then the cell walls crushed, and then the fuel is extracted with heat and expensive solvents.

    2. Invasive species, that spend their energy reproducing rather than making fuel, tend crowd out fuel producing algae. They can be controlled with chemicals (expensive) or by growing algae in sealed enclosures (even more expensive).

    3. Viral and bacterial diseases, as well as microscopic predators, tend to wipe out algae monocultures.

    Research on fuel from algae has been ongoing since the 1960s, with little progress in any of these areas. Algae has so much potential, that (in my opinion) further research is justified. But to claim that it is ready to be deployed at scale is absurd.

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