Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?
Power Science Technology

Driving on Starch 232

Roland Piquepaille writes "Using sugar contained in corn or potatoes to build hydrogen-powered fuel cells has already been done. But now, a team of U.S. researchers has developed a new sugar-to-hydrogen technology. Why not put the starch inside the tank of your car? With the help of 13 specific enzymes, 'a car with an approximately 12-gallon tank could hold 27 kilograms (kg) of starch, which is the equivalent of 4 kg of hydrogen. The range would be more than 300 miles, estimates one of the researchers. One kg of starch will produce the same energy output as 1.12 kg (0.38 gallons) of gasoline.' The beauty behind this idea is that no special infrastructure would be needed. Starch could be distributed by your local grocery store."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Driving on Starch

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:34AM (#19289231)
    Unfortunately, this would be far from commercialization. I can forsee two problems.

    First would be the effective rate of production of hydrogen. Demand for high hydrogen production rates, as in throw the starch into your tank and get your ass on down the road, would probably demand high levels of these enzymes. Which would mean cost.

    Second would be the fact that enzymes are protein-based and therefore have finite lifetimes before catalytic activity is lost totally. Potentially, bacterial contamination and consequent enzyme degradation could accelerate this. Cost again, to replenish the enzymes. Freezing and thawing in the winter might be very bad for the enzymes as well.

    I think that this process is only viable on a factory scale, where skilled people can manage it under controlled conditions.
  • Food (Score:4, Insightful)

    by McGiraf ( 196030 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:37AM (#19289269)
    Now that oil is getting near to being all used the big plan is to use food crops to run you cars? Brilliant, what can go wrong?
  • Re:Nope. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Solder Fumes ( 797270 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:46AM (#19289331)
    I was wondering who actually made that inane grocery store comment, only to find out it was Roland P. No fucking surprise there! What a retard.
  • by koreth ( 409849 ) * on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:50AM (#19289349)
    Yuck. Go visit beautiful downtown Beijing [] and then we'll talk about what a fabulous idea it is for everyone to own their own little coal plants.
  • Re:Question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stoolpigeon ( 454276 ) * <bittercode@gmail> on Sunday May 27, 2007 @02:33AM (#19289593) Homepage Journal
    There is a little confusion on both your parts. It doesn't matter how many people visit the grocery store a day right now. Because right now that number has nothing to do with how much gas they use.
    The question is - how many gas stations are there and how many grocery stores are there. Then find out how many people go to the gas stations and fill up every day - then look at what kind of traffic that means for the grocery store. I'm willing to bet that the gp is right in that the number is large.
    What do people normally buy at the grocery store in 12 or 13 gallon quantities right now?
    And when you say do those people drive 300 miles a day - that's not accurate either. I don't think too many people go to the grocery store every day. I go 1 or 2 times a week. We fill our car about once a week. So in my case, the number of trips to a gas station and grocery store are similar now. But when I buy gas - there are 3 or 4 gas stations near where I live - and one grocery store.
    The numbers are all guesses, but like I said, the intent of the gp is probably pretty much right. The current distribution system for groceries (in the US anyway) is not sufficient to handle also providing fuel needs for the public on top of the food.
  • Re:Question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @03:05AM (#19289743) Journal
    The numbers are all guesses, but like I said, the intent of the gp is probably pretty much right. The current distribution system for groceries (in the US anyway) is not sufficient to handle also providing fuel needs for the public on top of the food.

    Perhaps you don't realize how little that actually matters. It's one thing to build an infrastructure that's inherently incompatible with existing infrastructure. It's another thing entirely to extend and amplify an existing infrastructure.

    Let's take your "tank a week" scenario. It's roughly on par with Gasoline per unit of weight (Kg) so we're talking about a 10-gallon tank in your average 4-5 seater car. Gasoline weighs about 6 pounds per gallon, so that's about 60 lbs per week to meet a not-atypical situation. I buy a 50-lb bag of dogfood every other week thanks to my large golden retriever.

    What's important is the cost of entry - not the total cost. It doesn't really matter what the total cost is, as long as the initial cost can be made up in profits quickly. Once the enterprise is profitable, it doesn't really matter much what the costs are, since the enterprise is, by definition, profitable and thus has the means to grow.

    Here, we're talking about starch as merely an additional product that I can buy, along with the 50-lb bag of dog food. The initial cost of entry to sell starch to early adopters is so low as to be inconsequential.

    Compare/contrast that with typical hydrogen scenarios, with expensive retrofits of existing fuel stations, special tanks, special dispensation stations, etc. See the difference?

    Yes, your local grocery mart probably isn't going to provide enough fuel for everybody in town next to the dog food aisle. But they can start there, and then as the profits grow, roll out more specialized stations as the demand justifies it. See the difference?
  • Re:Question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PapayaSF ( 721268 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @03:11AM (#19289765) Journal

    The beauty behind this idea is that no special infrastructure would be needed. Starch could be distributed by your local grocery store.

    Yeah, someone isnt thinking energy alternatives through again. 1,000 people a day probably visit my grocery store. How are they going to pull 13 gallons of starch each? Where will by store put 13,000 gallons a day. In the cereal aisle?

    I think you're a bit unfair here. What I think he means to say is "The starch could be distributed by your local grocery store," or "It could be starch distributed by your local grocery store." The point is not that all vehicle fuel will henceforth be bought at grocery stores, but that the substance is already widely available, and wouldn't need a new, special infrastructure the way mass distribution of hydrogen would.

  • Re:Nope. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by wish ( 60120 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @03:17AM (#19289789) Homepage
    The grocery stores allow you to get around the bootstrapping problem. Otherwise no one would buy the cars until infrastructure was in place and no one would build the infrastructure until there were cars to buy the fuel.
  • Re:Question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Romancer ( 19668 ) <> on Sunday May 27, 2007 @03:41AM (#19289907) Journal
    Starch is also used for a wide variety of purposes currently. The food industry alone uses it to make the molds for almost all the jelly like candies on the market. It's used as an additive for most mixes that thicken, and quite a few quick recipies that are becomming more and more popular. The bulk rate at which these companies currently buy and consume starch is astonishing. We pay mostly for the carton and shipping when we buy a box. It's quite close to a surplus waste item right now. If the demand rises, the extraction would easily be ramped up and production trippled in a matter of months. This gives the infrastructure of vehicles that can run on it a chance to grow easier than any other alternative fuel besides wall chargeable electric cars.

    My one fear is the process that releases the hydrogen gas might not be as fast as we can demand it from a red light and once the process is started can we shut off the car and not have it wasted. If there is a storage tank that meters in hydrogen to keep a constant reserve available for quick use and a way to store the excess after pulling into the driveway, then it might be ok. This all adds weight and complexity not discussed in the article. They make it sound like all you'd have to have is a tank full of starch. Where are the reacting agents stored and how do we refill those? What waste products to the chemical reactions give off and are they containable or toxic? What about the liquids that would be needed to move the starch and reactive agents around the system, or are we dealing with pellets of starch and have to have a hopper system like in pellet stoves? I think that these are the concerns that people should be asking rather than will Walmart have enough starch to run my new starch SUV. That's jumping the gun a bit in my opinion. Or in slashdot pun style, putting the cart before the horse.
  • by Bloke down the pub ( 861787 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @06:43AM (#19290745)
    Ethanol's oxygen content is less than a sugar's, hence it contains more energy per unit mass - the more a fuel's oxidised to start with, the less you can gain by oxidising it further. But since (as you correctly suggest) yeast can't violate the laws of thermodynamics, I'd guess without looking it up that the balance probably comes from the ratio of input sugar to output alcohol.
  • by nickovs ( 115935 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @08:21AM (#19291175)
    I think you're totally missing the point here. The source of the starch will be plant material, which will be the result of photosynthesis. This means that the production process will take out of the atmosphere exactly as much CO2 as will be released when the starch is split up again.

    Ultimately this is a "solar powered" system. The energy what goes into the production of the starch comes from sunlight. It also happens to output the energy in a convenient chemical form which has better energy density that current battery technology.

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll