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Power Earth Science

"Vetrolium" From Agricultural Waste 438

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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  • Home Page (Score:5, Informative)

    by bizitch ( 546406 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @09:56AM (#24151665) Homepage

    Here is their home page

    http://www.sustainablepower.com/ [sustainablepower.com]

    I can't decide which is harder to believe

    Their Science or the fact that they are a penny stock! - Wow who would have guessed that?

  • by spineboy ( 22918 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:08AM (#24151813) Journal

    I wonder just how much "bio-waste" is available anyway, to supply this venture. Would the specific ingredients they require ever amount to enough so as to provide a significant percentage of a states fuel needs.

    The engine temperature observation from the story may just imply that the vetroleum has a very low flash point, or combustion temperature. My friends and I used to set our hands on fire with alcohol from alcohol burners, The alcohol burns at a fairly low temperature, and thus doesn't heat your hand much.

    Lower temperature burns would probably generate less side products, producing a cleaner smoke. That's nothing surprising nor revolutionary. It's actually a bad thing too, since the amount of power produced is also less (less heat -> less thermal expansion = less power)

  • Low temp fuel burns (Score:3, Informative)

    by spineboy ( 22918 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:10AM (#24151853) Journal

    see my prev message. If a fuel has a low combustion point, then it doesn't generate much heat. It also, unfortunately, generates less power too.

    So the truck engine that runs w/o getting hot is realistic. Of course it might not be able to pull anything either.

  • Re:awesome (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ellis D. Tripp ( 755736 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:11AM (#24151861) Homepage

    Why sell? Bunsen burners run on gas.

    Alcohol lamps, of course, are another story....

  • Re:Home Page (Score:5, Informative)

    by zwei2stein ( 782480 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:11AM (#24151869) Homepage

    Vaporware scam success meter - LIVE!:

    http://finance.google.com/finance?q=SSTP [google.com]

  • Re:awesome (Score:4, Informative)

    by Tinamil ( 1149455 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:11AM (#24151873)
    No, normal engines work by using the expanding gasses that are a product of combustion to exert pressure to move the cylinders.
  • by BobMcD ( 601576 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:13AM (#24151887)

    ...just like keep trying to do with the plant in my neck of the woods.

    http://www.res-energy.com/ [res-energy.com]

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_depolymerization [wikipedia.org]

    Scroll to the bottom, under 'Current status' and 'Smell complaints'.

    Too bad there's not a section for 'pressure from big oil'. If it isn't the case today, it certainly will be tomorrow.

    This outfit in Carthage is already producing 500 barrels a day from guts and fat, at a profit of $4 per barrel. In January 05, their price was $80/barrel ($1.90/gal).

    The tech is real, so why don't we have the gas yet?

  • mod up (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:15AM (#24151903)
    Parent is making an excellent point; what the company describes as "agricultural waste" is a nutrient-rich and fiber-rich compostable material, essential to keep topsoil in top condition for growing crops. If you don't recycle the so-called "waste" into the ground, the topsoil starts to lose aeration capacity, nutrient load, compaction resistance, etc, after which crop yields can easily fall 30% or more.
  • by Kirgin ( 983046 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:19AM (#24151945)
    http://www.natchezdemocrat.com/news/2007/sep/28/judge-oks-rivera-fraud-suit/ [natchezdemocrat.com] Yup, do people that get scammed by these people not have access to google? That took me 32 seconds to find.
  • by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:19AM (#24151947) Journal

    At best this is a variation on TDP [wikipedia.org], therefore it probably works, it definitely doesn't work as economically as the article implies, but you have to over-hype this stuff to get the attention of the venture capitalists. I expect that the ROI isn't really good enough to get the venture capital excited when compared with the risks involved.

  • by ozmanjusri ( 601766 ) <aussie_bob@[ ]mail.com ['hot' in gap]> on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:20AM (#24151957) Journal
    You know, after the company goes bankrupt from this guy embezzling the millions of investment capital they get from this announcement.

    His previous endeavour [ussec.us] is still chugging along.

    I think he may have discovered a sustainable income source. It's kept him fed for a few years at least.

  • Re:awesome (Score:5, Informative)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:24AM (#24152007) Homepage Journal

    Hmmm. An alcohol flame gets plenty hot. Hot enough to melt glass rods if you don't have a bunsen burner handy, so temps can probably reach over 1000 degrees F.

    Alcohol flames burn so clean that they look innocuous. You also can do some impressive stunts that exploit the cooling effect of alcohol evaporation. These seem to have combined to create the myth that alcohol burns cool. Anybody mucking around with alcohol flames for amusement would be well advised not to believe this.

  • Re:awesome (Score:4, Informative)

    by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:26AM (#24152043) Journal

    Mostly - fuel/air vapor is compressed, then detonated. The expansion of that detonation pushes the piston. Heat causes the majority of that expansion force.

    The trick is that their fuel is either: cold as Hell to start with (e.g. like putting dry ice in a bottle of water and sealing the bottle - there's still heat involved in making the detonation, but it's still way colder than pretty much anything immediately surrounding it), or dissipating the heat before the exhaust can get out of the tailpipe.

    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), and the nature of a car's combustion process still involves compression and ignition of the fuel, which will still generate a lot of heat.

    Now some fuels do burn cooler than others, esp. in a short test run like the CEO was describing (for example, alcohol burns far cooler than gasoline), and a short test run with a cooler fuel will likely not give you as much heat in the exhaust (then again, on a really cool/cold day, a gasoline engine would only produce "some warm air" at your tailpipe if the engine has only ran for "a couple of minutes").

    As for what's in the stuff? *shrug* - I dunno. I'm not holding my breath until/unless I see some show up in marketable quantities, though.


  • by Temujin_12 ( 832986 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:31AM (#24152115)
    While I believe a lot of the claims made are a bit hyperbolic, this kind of biodiesel certainly is more scalable than food-crop based ethanol, and does have some promise (as well as problems).

    I make a point to follow emerging trends in new energy technologies and there is certainly no silver bullet (unless we can get cold fusion going). However, I'm also of the opinion that the US (and certainly most other nations) has the ability to independently supply its own energy through using a healthy balance of diverse energy technologies.

    Off the top of my head:
    • Solar (both photo voltaic and focusing mirrors): Huge potential (especially in south). This can be done both commercially as well as deployed residentially to offset customer's bills (and in some cases even sell excess energy generated back onto the grid).
    • Wave and tidal
    • Geothermal: Yellowstone is sitting on top of on of the earth's largest super volcanoes. I know it's a national park, but the material pumped from geothermal stations is water. As long as the infrastructure is responsibly deployed and maintained, this is a no brainier.
    • Wind: huge potential on coasts, mountain ranges, and through the entire mid-west. Concerned about the effects on birds? No problem. There are some pretty ingenious non-propeller turbines (some of which can work with wind blowing in any direction).
    • Hydro-electric dams: Tried and true.

    Combine this with newer technologies that reduce consumption.

    • LED lamps
    • Better fuel efficiency (fuel mileage, hybrid drives, alternative fuels)
    • Broader use of recycled goods
    • Better energy consumption of electrical appliances and devices
    • Thermal underground radiation for residential and commercial climate control
    • Better insulation requirements

    Again, none of the above (which are incomplete lists) alone can be a viable solution and each as their own set of problems to overcome. What is needed is a diverse portfolio of renewable energy technologies combined with a more conscious responsible use of resources. I really do believe that in doing this, there is a potential to achieve complete energy independence. What people seem to be having a hard time with is that this requires a huge infrastructural investment as well as the creation of a whole new industry. The infrastructural problems, I think, will work themselves out as the potential of ROI of these different technologies becomes attractive. A jump start from the government would help as well.

  • by LSD-OBS ( 183415 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:34AM (#24152161)

    And what you've said is not in any way at disagreement with what people are saying when they call this story bullshit.

    Anything that causes expansion can be used to drive a piston. This can include air heated by sunlight, or really slow burning hydrocarbons. Also, I'm sure everybody has played with burning methylated spirits and such.

    However, for the purposes of a combustion engine suited to road vehicles, you need decently fast (and therefore hot) combustion to make it practical.

    Therefore, this "Vetrolium" is completely unsuited to the purpose, if indeed everything described in the story is accurate.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:47AM (#24152369)

    By the way, it's Vertroleum, not Vetrolium. Now go to their web site at
    and click on the stock link. Check out current price and the 5 year price chart. It's a penny stock that at one point - years ago - hit about $25 a share. I smell scam.

  • Re:Oooo magic! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:49AM (#24152401)

    CO2 emission from agricultural waste is a zero sum process. The problem with CO2 release from fossil fuels is that you are releasing sequestered carbon in the form of CO2. When you burn the by products of agricultural waste, or even wood for that matter, the carbon you release was all recently absorbed from the atmosphere. Carbon in == carbon out.

  • Re:awesome (Score:5, Informative)

    by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:58AM (#24152541) Journal

    The Ideal gas law [wikipedia.org] is PV=nRT, so while the increased number of moles of gas will inherently increase the combustion chambers pressures and temperature, but the lion's share of the pressure increase is due to the exothermic nature of the combustion heating the gasses.

  • by Interl0per ( 1045948 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:00AM (#24152579)
    My father has been an organic gardener for 30 years and he purchases cottonseed hulls every couple of years for mulch. The parent is correct, these are not "waste" products that are being miraculously turned into useful energy, this application would be a net loss. Hopefully the biofuel bubble will collapse quickly enough for people to wake up to the necessity of responsible energy policy rather than hoping for a magic pill.
  • Re:awesome (Score:5, Informative)

    by A Pancake ( 1147663 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:03AM (#24152639)
    Technically speaking the air/fuel charge does not detonate, it deflagrates. In a gasoline engine detonation is a bad thing, and is marked by ping or knock.
  • Re:awesome (Score:3, Informative)

    by wattrlz ( 1162603 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:06AM (#24152679)
    The gases in question expand, mostly, because they are hot. That's why you can do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation for Carnot efficiency or Otto efficiency by comparing the difference between the peak combustion temperature and the exhaust temperature.
  • by NotQuiteReal ( 608241 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:14AM (#24152807) Journal
    furlongs are kind of small, so the fph numbers are pretty big. I used to like leagues per hogshead.

    However, your system of measurement does have some merit. For example the average 500 lph car could be relabled as getting over 13,000 fph!

    These kinds of fuel economy numbers have staggering marketing potential, but may be just too good to be true. Nobody would believe a car could get "over 13,000 fph", the number is just too big for the average consumer who can't handle numbers bigger than, say the number of digits on their cable tv system.

    Therefore, I suggest we stick with simple furlongs per gallon, for an instant 8-fold increase in numberage. We can work our way up to yards per pint (but not the kind in those silly tourist glasses) and eventually to mindnumbing feet per barrel (where the average car would get over 4 MILLION).

  • Re:Energy Input? (Score:3, Informative)

    by BobMcD ( 601576 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:14AM (#24152811)

    Posted elsewhere, so apologies for that, but ag waste is actually a PROBLEM, not a valuable resource:

    http://www.fao.org/bestpractices/content/02/02_01_en.htm [fao.org]

    In parts of Europe and the USA, and densely populated areas of East Asia, animal waste production can exceed the absorptive capacity of land and water. Continuous nutrient import results in over-saturation of nutrients with a series of negative implications on the environment, including biodiversity losses, groundwater contamination, and soil pollution.

    Most stockyards just keep pumping it over and over again onto the same fields. They can't get rid of the stuff and only do the minimum required to adhere to the law.

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

    by ivan256 ( 17499 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:19AM (#24152875)

    I'm frankly fine with speculators speculating because, frankly, it always ends up with them losing their asses. Commodities will even back out as the markets settle down.

    It's pretty generous, I think, to call "cornering the market" "speculating".

    They're not simply betting on continued price increases. They're creating continued price increases. They're working with a pile of capital that's bigger than the market.

    90 days of oil futures inventory is worth about 810 billion dollars at $150/barrel. Given the tight correlation between supply and demand, controlling 1/10th of the inventory will maintain upward price pressure for a long time. $81 billion is chump change for these guys. Way less than half of what they pulled out of their sub-prime mortgage investments.

    Speculation is fine. Cornering the commodities market is extortion.

  • Re:Fire the reporter (Score:3, Informative)

    by jockeys ( 753885 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:26AM (#24152955) Journal
    actually, if the engine is highly efficient, the "bang" phase will use most of the heat towards expansion (driving the piston), thus exhaust is cooler.

    just because there was a lot of heat in the burning, highly-compressed fuel/air mix doesn't mean the exhaust can't be cool. in fact, the hotter the exhaust (in naturally aspirated engines) the less efficient the piston. ideally, the movement of the piston would harness every bit of heat energy by decompressing the gas to ambient, but that's not going to happen in the real world.

    check out the Bourke engine... it runs on normal gas (or diesel, sometimes) and has cool exhaust because it uses the energy from the "bang" phase to drive the "squeeze" phase of the opposing cylinder. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bourke_engine [wikipedia.org]
  • by c ( 8461 ) <beauregardcp@gmail.com> on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:31AM (#24153031)

    > But agricultural waste is chock-full of valuable organic substances.

    Well, yes and no. Specific agricultural wastes aren't necessarily balanced enough to be immediately reused, if you've even got enough land handy to be able to spread it as fertilizer. And composting takes time. On a large scale, storage, transportation and/or enrichment of ag waste is a huge problem.

    Pig shit from factory farms in places like South Carolina is the canonical example. Besides all of the above, it's also full of antibiotics and other goodies you might not want in your food.


  • by Thelasko ( 1196535 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:42AM (#24153201) Journal

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

    A common misunderstanding among the general public. I design diesel engines, and these inconsistent sources of bio-fuel are a major issue.

    The largest problem being emissions. In engine design, we are currently at delicate balance in engine tuning to meet emissions standards. One thing we must assume constant, is quality of fuel. Using various kinds of fuels will cause variances in NOx or particulate over running the type of fuel the engine was designed for.

    There are also issues with oil change intervals and fuel injection equipment. There are efforts to overcome these challenges. My point is, just because a diesel engine will burn anything, doesn't mean it will do it well.

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

    by khallow ( 566160 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:50AM (#24153313)

    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?

    We can always pass a law making it so there's no uncertainty about the future and that everyone should be rational and omniscient. That would fix the bubble problem. In fact, that would be the only thing that could fix the bubble problem.

  • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:59AM (#24153483)

    You know this is how the Germans survived WWII? [wikipedia.org] Even though they had no

    GTL is looking to be the next "big thing" bio-fuels. Now I'm not saying that this guy has figured out all the hard stuff that is holding big corporations back, but there's a chance.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gas_to_liquids [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biomass_to_liquid [wikipedia.org]

    If the cost of diesel fuel goes much higher I might look into buying some from racing stores [hiperfuels.com]. Shipping is the killer right now.

    There are a few people running it on the forums and say it's great. [tdiclub.com] 63 Cetane Number, 20% more BTU vs regular D2, etc, etc.

  • by emagery ( 914122 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @12:19PM (#24153825)
    The problem with this is that if this invention turns out to be 100% true, than it is a MAJOR problem for the oil companies who, it turns out, are the constituents that politicians care most about. They'll be all for silencing any kind of competition for their oil buds.
  • by IAmCthulhu ( 1286262 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @12:54PM (#24154385)

    "High heat? Using what, free energy?

    Thermal depolymerization produces 3 things: 1) bio-crude, 2) carbon ash, and 3) biogas. According to the company's website, they use the ash as fertilizer on the feedstock, and the biogas powers the process. It's not unique. There are quite a few other companies playing with thermal depolymerization right now.

  • Re:awesome (Score:2, Informative)

    by CensorshipDonkey ( 1108755 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @02:06PM (#24155377)
    Have we completely forsaken science in this country?

    Burning something breaks high energy bonds and forms low energy bonds. The energy released is the difference. If you're burning alcohol with oxygen, you are forming the lower energy compounds of carbon dioxide and water. The energy doesn't "come" only from the alcohol or oxygen.

    And, for the love of Ned, burning ANYTHING with ANYTHING releases heat. That's the definition of "burning". Any chemical reaction that is spontaneous once start (burning) releases energy, which becomes heat.
  • by OwnedByTwoCats ( 124103 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @02:14PM (#24155497)

    If this pans out, it's a major problem for the oil companies, but a major boon to consumers, many of whom are voters.

    I don't anticipate many politicians standing in the way of $2/gallon gas with no net carbon emissions, no matter what happens to big oil. They'd get trampled in the stampede.

  • by homer_ca ( 144738 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @02:42PM (#24155919)

    The metric here is Energy Return On Energy Investment (EROEI). Oil is a very concentrated source of energy. In the early days of oil, EROEI was 50-100:1. These days it's still over 10:1 (http://www.theoildrum.com/story/2006/8/2/114144/2387). Thermal depolymerization is nowhere close to that, and it's probably a net negative. Then remember that the feedstock for it is much less energy-dense, and you're moving a huge amount of mass for a small amount of oil. You can mitigate that by locating the plant at a garbage dump where it's already being collected, but there's not enough garbage to replace more than a tiny fraction of our oil use. If you collect virgin feedstock, you're back to the same old problem.

  • by CyBlue ( 701644 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @03:07PM (#24156365)
    The process does not refine the oil out of a product, it uses the carbon content to make oil. So, when you burn the waste, you don't end up with a lot of carbon ashes left behind. Look it up. Thermal depolymerization: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_depolymerization [wikipedia.org]

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington