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Power Science

America's First Cellulosic Ethanol Plant 522

hankmt writes "The state of Georgia just granted Range Fuels a permit to create the first cellulosic ethanol plant in America. Cellulosic ethanol produces ethanol from cellulose, which all plants have, instead of from sugar, which is only abundant in food crops. Corn ethanol only produces 1.3 units of energy for every unit of energy that goes into growing the crop and converting the sugar to ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol can produce as much as 16 units of energy for every one unit of energy put into the process. The new plant will be online in 2008 and aims to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol a year."
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America's First Cellulosic Ethanol Plant

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  • by lecithin ( 745575 ) on Sunday July 15, 2007 @06:15PM (#19870943)
    But hey, it is something.

    How would hemp do?
  • Are you sure? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 15, 2007 @06:23PM (#19871019)
    I know there are plenty of ethanol plants in S. America, especially Brazil, but are they cellulosic? It's a big difference, as the article explains.

    Spain made the first plant of this type in 2006 [evworld.com], and Europe is usually ahead of the Americas in regards to alternative energy.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 15, 2007 @06:25PM (#19871039)
    People were just decrying the permits issued to BP for a plant to crack Canadian oil.

    The ethanol plant uses a two-stage process to turn cellulose into gas, and then crack the gas into ethanol. Bet the emissions might be interesting.

    Do we hold these guys to the standards we expect out of the oil companies, or do they get a pass because they are "greener."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 15, 2007 @07:17PM (#19871377)
    Rape and Pillage the price of Corn? I THINK NOT, SIR
  • by Skreems ( 598317 ) on Sunday July 15, 2007 @07:37PM (#19871517) Homepage
    And that's only 85% if you consider industrial waste from a turkey processing plant to be "usable energy". If you consider the fact that they can run off of completely useless waste products, and feed 15% of their output back into the plant to power it, this is essentially free energy, AND a reduction in landfill contents.
  • by Dogtanian ( 588974 ) on Sunday July 15, 2007 @07:46PM (#19871573) Homepage

    America is one huge continent. The USA is the only country that splits it.
    Wrong; they are called "North America" and "South America" in the UK, and probably many other countries too.

    Why do you think there are 5 rings in the olympic symbol? The 5 continents: America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania.
    Let me tell you something; at its thinnest point, the connection between North and South America is significantly narrower than that between Africa and Asia.

    More significantly, I have *never* seen a truly convincing argument or explanation as to why Europe and Asia are (or were ever) considered separate continents- it seems to be a cultural distinction, which has nothing to do with physical geography. At any rate, North and South America are *far* more separate then Europe and Asia are.

    Ironically, you can see this in the picture that you linked to.
  • Why not add the cost of building roads to the price of oil?
    This already happens in the form of tax on the sale of gasoline.
  • by mothlos ( 832302 ) on Sunday July 15, 2007 @08:15PM (#19871805)
    What they fail to figure is the opportunity cost of turning all of that cellulose into ethanol vs. its current use, which is largely animal feed and compost that is used to make products, as cover for off seasons, and to enrich soils for another season of crops. What is the energy cost of destroying your soil or offsetting the loss in other areas of the economy?

    The number comes from estimates that agricultural analysts make about the energy inputs of farm production. Human inputs are generally not considered, but equipment repair costs (not replacement) are. The big energy inputs are equipment, water, and soil enrichment.
  • by infaustus ( 936456 ) on Sunday July 15, 2007 @08:42PM (#19871981)
    It's true that the government subsidizes corn to ethanol conversion (and corn itself) to a ridiculous degree, but it's balanced by incentives against sugar-to-ethanol conversion. (If we stopped keeping sugar prices artificially high, and especially if we let Cuban sugar in, it would be amazingly cost-effective.)
  • I'm worried (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bagsc ( 254194 ) on Sunday July 15, 2007 @08:43PM (#19871983) Journal
    If cellulosic ethanol works, say goodbye to things that are mainly made of cellulose, like rainforests. You think Indonesia gives a shit where the ethanol they sell you comes from? There's something much worse than global warming, and that's deforestation. If this technology works, its more dangerous than nuclear power to the ecology, and we need to be very careful who learns how to use it.
  • by StarKruzr ( 74642 ) on Sunday July 15, 2007 @08:48PM (#19872019) Journal
    The existence of advocacy for both cellulosic ethanol and algae-derived biodiesel shoots your ridiculous envirowhackery full of holes.

    Biodiesel is not a carbon SOURCE. Petrodiesel is a carbon source in that it takes carbon that was NOT part of the biospheric carbon cycle before and MAKES it part of the carbon cycle.

    This is not hard to understand. Try retaking 9th-grade earth science, chief.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 15, 2007 @08:51PM (#19872047)

    There's no need to be snide over a typo

    I don't know what kind of keyboard you are using, but from where I'm sitting the 'm' is an awfully long way from the 'e'. Typo indeed!

  • by djh101010 ( 656795 ) * on Sunday July 15, 2007 @08:53PM (#19872055) Homepage Journal

    {sigh} you really must be new here. There's no need to be snide over a typo, and other than your pointless grammar-Nazism, you offered nothing of substance in your reply.
    Sorry, but going from "ethanol" to "methanol" isn't likely to be a typo, it's either an intentional manipulation to introduce FUD, or an outright error, or an example of dramatic ignorance of the topic. Wasn't sure which was the case, hence my question.

    Your inappropriateness aside, are you actually claiming that the Federal Government does not subsidize the conversion of corn into motor fuel? Huh. That's a remarkable degree of ignorance,

    And, that's a remarkable degree of "where the fark did you get that from what I wrote?".

    given the nearly forty billion dollars that Congress has given in such subsidies in the past decade. Your taxpayer dollars at work. In any event, just so you won't think that I'm making this up

    Yeah, whatever. Far as I'm concerned, better we subsidize biofuels from US sources, than give money to countries who hate us, so, yeah thanks for the link and all that but I don't see it as a problem. In fact I think we should subsidize the infrastructure for same, so we can get this stuff into production and stop pretending we like the arabs.

    You seem to have taken my question about "Methanol, who said anything about that, we're talking about Ethanol here" and expanded it into a series of assumptions, some amusing, and some outright wrong.

    I wonder why you do that.
  • by jeff4747 ( 256583 ) on Sunday July 15, 2007 @09:02PM (#19872097)

    If we remove natural forest to plant sugar cane / corn, it's even worse: we're destroying stuff just to get fuel, instead of just taking it from the underground.

    You do realize that a oil wells, pipelines, refineries and all the other related infrastructure is going to destroy a lot more natural plant life than a farm, right?

    And since lots of US farmland is actually fallow to keep food prices up, using that land for fuel crops would probably be a good idea.

    They don't give a crap about the environment and they would gladly defend taking out a lot of the amazon forest just to grow sugar cane and replace those big corporations.

    Why clear rainforest when we've got lots of good, unused farmland here?

    More to the point, somebody is going to have to distribute that ethanol to consumers. Now, who out there has lots of experience distributing a flammable liquid to millions of consumers using hundreds of thousands of distribution centers all over the US? Biodiesel and ethanol won't destroy Exxon, et al. They'll just distribute a different product. And you know what? Environmentalists know this. Re-using as much of the existing infrastructure as possible is the only way we'll switch from fossil fuels to biofuels.

    and try to convince us that replacing dinodiesel for biodiesel is good, while it's just about trading one CO2 source for another one.

    And here you completely fail to understand the difference between fossil fuels and biofuels. Burning ethanol and biodiesel releases CO2 that was just recently fixed by a plant. Let's say you burn 1 gallon of ethanol in your car. Now consider the CO2 level over a year-long timeframe: the CO2 level is the same.

    Fossil fuels are releasing CO2 that was sequestered. Over that same year, the CO2 level rises because you burned that gallon of fossil-fuel ethanol.

    They are the same ones who complain about global warming while they protest against nuclear

    Nuclear power is not "emission free". Sure, it produces no CO2, but it produces lots of nasty stuff that we have to pack away for a few thousand years. And even if you reprocess the fuel itself, there's still lots of other material that becomes irradiated that must be disposed of.

    You also fail to mention any way that nuclear power would actually work as a motor vehicle fuel. Battery technology won't let us all drive electric cars, trucks and semis. So we're left with bringing the power plant along with our vehicle. There's no way in hell we can put nuclear reactors in every car, truck and semi on the road.

  • Re:I'm worried (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pkbarbiedoll ( 851110 ) on Sunday July 15, 2007 @09:03PM (#19872101)
    See your point, and I share in your general concern. However cellulosic ethanol, as produced using Range Fuel's proprietary technology, can be produced from just about any green biomass.. including corn stalks, cobs, switchgrass, sugar cane, agricultural waste, pig shit and wood chips/sawdust.

    What encourages me about this is we will be able to produce a very efficient, clean burning fuel domestically. As will just about any country that can grow wheat straw, corn or whatever else. Remember this is just the first wave of technology. Soon we'll be making fuel from algae. :o)

  • by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Sunday July 15, 2007 @09:13PM (#19872177) Journal
    There's one and only one way to find out if ethanol-from-corn is a net win, or in fact any other alternative energy proposal: Strip it of all subsidies and throw it out into the marketplace. (More advanced students will note that we also need to internalize the appropriate externalities.)

    If it is in fact an energy-positive process, the extra energy can be sold. If the process is economically viable, then pretty much by definition of "economically viable" they will be able to run at a profit. If it is not, then they will eventually go out of business.

    Now, my point is not that this is desirable. It must be the ultimate goal of any alternative energy production system, but in the short-term you can make good arguments about subsidizing things to get over start-up costs, experiment with multiple things before we know which is the correct answer, etc. My point is simply that you can do math from now until the last drop of oil is pumped out of the ground and you won't really know whether such a marginal process is truly net-positive.

    That's the beauty of money; it's hard to wrap your mind around it, but if you just let it do its thing, it will automatically account for labor costs, equipment costs, etc., and with some judicious law making (which has a roughly 0% chance of happening) it can account for the externalities as well, and the final result will be obvious and unambiguous. It can even account for corruption and mismanagement etc., which are really real risks, not illusions. It's the only way to go from theory to reality.
  • by Ancient_Hacker ( 751168 ) on Sunday July 15, 2007 @09:23PM (#19872235)
    First the story's lead is total crap. The State of Georgia could print licenses for Interstellar Fusion Drives, for what it's worth. Which is nothing.

    So ignore the lead.

    Now for the meaty guts of the story..... cellulose to alcohol. Searching, searching, ...... Nope, not the teensy tiniest clue re : how they're doing it. Usually you'd see some words like "chemical process", "patent pending", or names and links to competent colleges, scientists, or chemical companies. Not a one.

    As to actual verifiable facts, here's only one, and it's non-sensical:: a 100 million gallon a year pilot plant.

    So lacking the tiniest foothold, and plenty of nonsense, we'll have to assume this is all PR crapola.

  • Funny, I must have missed the black helicopters dumping fertilizer on the forests and fields next to my house.

    The whole point of cellulosic plants is that we don't have to use craploads of fertilizer and pesticides to push production of one single overengineered monoculture of corn...
  • Sugar (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mark_MF-WN ( 678030 ) on Monday July 16, 2007 @01:55AM (#19873591)
    Thanks for not reading the article... or even the headline. The article is about CELLULOSIC ethanol. You know, cellulose? The stuff that isn't sugar?

    You can make cellosic ethanol from grass clippings, those bags of leaves that everyone is getting rid of each falls, fallen tree branches, corn husks, not to mention the tonnes of produce that each and every grocery store throws away every single day because it couldn't be sold.

  • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Monday July 16, 2007 @02:06AM (#19873635)
    1. By and large, sugar cane-producing countries tend to be more politically stable. than oil-producing ones at the moment.
    2. At least sugar cane is renewable -- even if one year's crop gets wiped out, another can be planted and prices will go back down.
  • Laughter... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mark_MF-WN ( 678030 ) on Monday July 16, 2007 @02:45AM (#19873773)

    No, ethanol and biodiesel are the darlings of a group of environmentalists whose cause is just about trying to destroy Exxon, Shell and others
    I just had to laugh when I saw this, given that Shell in particular is investing in both ethanol and biodiesel.

    I hate to toss around insults, but what a fucking retard you are!! Ethanol is the darling of farmers who want to make money because they're capitalists. See how that works? They turn corn husks and straw into ethanol, sell the ethanol, and make money. Of course, they could just keep living off of government bailouts the way they do right now... but I thought we were trying to get away from that kind of shit.

    Biodiesel, meanwhile, is the darling of big industrial companies, who want to use the technologies that they developed for oil refining to turn cheap feedstocks -- like the offal from slaughterhouses, waste plastics, and so on -- into oil. They want to take cheap stuff, turn it into more valuable stuff, and sell it for money because they're capitalists. See how that works?

    You communist types make me sick. You think that everyone on earth just goes around subscribing to your stupid little ideologies. Sorry, it's not the case. Most of us are a bit more pragmatic, and would like to make some money rather than your solution of just weeping like a spanked child everytime everytime you gas up your hummer and while paying the Islamic fundamentalist oil-masters.

    Oh, and where do you think that the carbon in plants COMES from? That's right -- the air. It's called a cycle -- the carbon cycle. Plants consume CO2, plants die, plants rot / burn, CO2 gets released. Seriously, you ARE a retard. Possibly an inbred one, but there's no way to be sure. How do you not KNOW these things?!? Do you live in a cave? Are you a convict? Have you spent your entire life in a church basement hiding from the Great Science Conspiracy that wants to destroy you with evil notions of evolution and thermodynamics?

  • by MrNiceguy_KS ( 800771 ) on Monday July 16, 2007 @10:17AM (#19875919)
    Every time cellulosic ethanol comes up, I wonder about the feasibility of planting the crop in the median strips of interstate highways. Generally people are talking about something that grows like a weed, so instead of having median strips full of grass and weeds that the state crews mow every month, we'd have median strips of, say, switchgrass that crews would mow and bale. The only increased costs would be baling the stuff up and transporting it to the ethanol plant.

    Of course, with cellulosic ethanol production you could process the clippings from the grass that's growing there now.

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982