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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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  • Wrong market (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dolohov ( 114209 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:08AM (#24151819)

    Assuming for the moment that their claims are legit (TFA doesn't give us anywhere near enough information to evaluate them) it seems to me that the US is the wrong market for this. If I were in their shoes, I'd deploy this in China: the country's still very agricultural (that fertilizer might be worth a lot more there) but growing rapidly (i.e. they're looking for new sources of fuel, not just for cars but for power plants), there is a strong political will to invest in infrastructure, and they like to boast about any engineering feat. Prove it there, work out the kinks for large-scale production and refinement, then bring it west. That's what I'd do.

  • Alcohol (Score:2, Interesting)

    by FrameRotBlues ( 1082971 ) <framerotblues @ g m a i l . com> on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:41AM (#24152263) Homepage Journal
    I'm pretty sure it's some form of alcohol. Alky-burning dragsters and monster trucks can have ice built up on the outside of the block after a run, due to the way it's atomized and evaporates. Sure, it explodes, but with not a lot of heat. High compression ratios and a really high A/F mixture rule the roost here.

    Sure, it runs cool, but my guess is he'll be getting 6 or 7 MPG in a Honda Civic with it.
  • by Ex-MislTech ( 557759 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @10:45AM (#24152341)

    True these are snake oil too I guess ?

    Valcent Vertigro Algae Oil: []

    Coskata $1/gal Ethanol partners with General Motors:
    (non-crop oriented ethanol) []

    Bacteria the eats waste and releases petroleum: []

  • by IBMOOSE ( 609850 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:01AM (#24152609)

    I agree,
    I sent them an email via their "Contact us" page with the following text. Note that my email address reflects that I work for a major newspaper, maybe they will be forthcoming with some details or run like Hell one or the other :)
    Here is the text of the message I sent them...

    Your site and news release is suspiciously light on details. No disrespect intended, but a little detail on your process would go a long way towards lending your cause some credibility You may wish to read the posting on "Slashdot" "". The Analysis could have been done on any substance. The ability to duplicate your findings by your scientific peers is essential if this is to be the miracle solution that you tout it to be. I look forward to your response.

  • Re:Oooo magic! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:04AM (#24152649)

    surely the chemical reaction is maximising the amount of CO2 that the engine will then pump out; simple high-school chemistry says that there are byproducts of the combustion, they are just invisible to the human eye. The byproduct is also quite honestly the one that we don't want.

    Yes, but because that carbon has recently been captured from the atmosphere via photosynthesis, rather than being released from long term fossil stores, you are not causing any harm.

  • Eek (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:05AM (#24152665)

    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.

    Looks like they've discovered a great new way to scare off venture capital.

  • Re:awesome (Score:4, Interesting)

    by saigon_from_europe ( 741782 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @11:11AM (#24152747)

    I guess that CEO did quite good demonstration but the journalist did not get everything right. No smoke - that's ok and experiment proves that. No heat - that's rubbish, of course there was heat - experiment proved that. Efficient burning means that almost all amount really burns. You may think that every fuel does so, but it is not the truth. Coal for instance, does not burn fully. Gasoline is better, but there are still some unburned hydrocarbons. LNG is way better than gasoline, since almost everything goes to either C02 or water. "No smoke" means no visible smoke. You cannot see C02 nor water vapor. The more pure is the fuel, it burns better. Buy some gasoline from a pharmacy (they sell it for some reason), it burns perfectly. But what we buy as gasoline at the pump station is actually a mixture of many different hydrocarbons, and it does not burn so well.

    Long story short, if they are able to produce fuel without heavy hydrocarbons, aromatic hydrocarbons etc, it will burn almost 100%, without smell (i.e. unburned hydrocarbons) and without trace (again, unburned hydrocarbons).

  • No need for heat (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2008 @12:44PM (#24154241)

    Since the pressure depends not just on T but also on moles of gas you could use a completely non-combustion process to power the piston. You could use bits of dry ice which would sublime into a much greater volume of gas. This process wouldn't exactly be practical though as you slowly creeped down the road.

  • by Sandbags ( 964742 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @01:04PM (#24154517) Journal

    Take a look at this. Some good friends of mine work for this research firm in South Carolina. They went live with a project today that they have been working on for nearly a decade.

    Basically, it's an idea for using wind and other free power to turn water into H2, then combine that with sequestered and other forms of CO2 to make hydrocarbons. It can be done at a very competitive cost to refining oils, and at quite a profit at existing prices.

    Yes, it will take a few trillion in investments, but since it has significant profit potential, it's only a matter of time until the money is invested. This process works, using todays technology, it simply has to be built...

    It's not vaporware, this is the real deal, a good solution that is feasable, and the patents for it are all filed and ready to be licensed.

    They are actively requesting people to read their information, and find the faults in it. Prove to them it can't be done...

    The site just went live a few hours ago, so keep checking over the next week or two as they add to the challenges and references sections, and expand on the details. Contact them with your feedback.

    As a close friend of the family, and a network engineer, I'm doing my part to spread the word. I have nothing to do with the product, process, or any of the information in the site, but I am on a ton of forums, and this looked like a great place to chat about it.

  • by RGRistroph ( 86936 ) <> on Friday July 11, 2008 @01:31PM (#24154879) Homepage

    But the article implies that one by product of his process is fertilizer. It emphasizes the cleaniness and clarity of the fuel. I think what the article is trying to imply, although it and the company's web site are extremely non-technical and informationless, is that the carbon is extracted from the feedstock to make fuel, and the "contaminants" of phosphorous, nitrogen, and minerals, are pulled out and labeled "fertilizer". Because of emissions issues it is unlikely that a fuel with nitrogen and phosphorous compounds in it could be widely used.

    Although there is no technical information in the article, the picture shows merely agricultural feed hoppers and a table of buckets and pans. No picture of a vessel that could cook waste at around 500 psi and 500 degrees F is shown, and that is roughly the temperatures and pressures needed for those kinds of reactions. I'd be more interested in seeing that apparatus. You can look at the wikipediate articles on Thermal Polymerization and the Fischer-Tropsch process to confirm this. [] []

    I collected some notes on various books and articles I read, because I was thinking of attempting some small scale way of powering an internal combustion engine: []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 11, 2008 @01:33PM (#24154909)

    It sounds good if they are opening their tech to reviewers.

    Do your friends have working prototypes of this technology?

  • by Sandbags ( 964742 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @01:45PM (#24155075) Journal

    My assuption from talking with them is, in a lab, yes, all of the parts that make this plan feasable are either already in use in some way today, or are proven technologies. There's no "magic" here, no vaporware, this is simply a method for producing hydrocarbons from H2 and CO2 using input energy. Building the infrastructure behind it is the real challenge (a 40+ Trillion dollar challenge).

    I however am no scientist, nor have I detailed all the information this company is making available. I know David, and many of the other people working in their firm. They do not make light about new ideas, and they're no stranger to the patent office or cutting edge research. From what I have read thus far, this is a well thought out idea, and the science behind it is in fact NOT really cutting edge. It's a plan, not a technology (though there are several patents involved from what I understand).

  • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @01:46PM (#24155091) Journal

    Nah, we'll hear about them in a few months.

    You know, after the company goes bankrupt from this guy embezzling the millions of investment capital they get from this announcement.

    It's understandable that you'd be cynical. But there's definitely reason for hope. Another company has successfully done something similar at a turkey plant. The company is called Changing World Technologies [] and the technology is called thermal depolymerization []. My understanding is that they're making money, but only just barely. Waste turkey parts are apparently in higher demand than expected, and the work doesn't qualify for an expected govt subsidy.

    Nonetheless, the technology is real, it works, and does what's claimed - turns garbage (of a specific type) into oil. I have little doubt that with refinement, this technology and others like it could be made to work.

    That doesn't reduce the likelyhood that this CEO is blustering snake oil that will never materialize - the fact that similar stuff has been proven to work may make it more likely that he's blowing it. But it's by no means a definite certainty.

  • Re:awesome (Score:3, Interesting)

    by raddan ( 519638 ) on Friday July 11, 2008 @02:27PM (#24155695)
    I am not a chemist, but I am a backpacker, I can verify what you say is true. I have made several of these stoves [] (PDF warning), and they work amazingly well. Better, in fact, on most counts than my commercially-made and comparatively expensive backpacking stoves. They are also very lightweight. The main thing for me is: I can buy fuel damn near anywhere. That was a problem for my butane and white gas stoves.

    Anyhow, the interesting thing about these is yes, sometimes it's hard to tell if they're lit-- until you burn yourself. I have done it many times. Also, the bottom of the stove gets very cold-- cold enough that if you run them during the winter they actually extinguish themselves. But butane stoves have the same problem and are actually worse in this regard, in my experience-- they actually condense water vapor into frost on the sides of the bottle, and when this gets bad enough, they just stop working. Boil times for a liter of water are nearly identical for my butane and alcohol stoves, which makes me think that vast amounts of energy is being wasted with conventional stove designs despite the fact that butane (27.7 MJ/L) has a higher energy density than ethanol (23.5 MJ/L).
  • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Saturday July 12, 2008 @09:39AM (#24163899) Journal

    That is the most insane thing I have ever read. Its a fact that without oil revenue the middle is by and large a dust bowl. There is some niche hight dollar crops that can be grown, food agriculture is hardly possible above the subsistence level. The big oil produces in the mideast region import between 25 and 100 percent of their food needs. Those economies don't stand a chance without oil revenue.

    This is why the better run of those nations are essentially using the money they have now from oil to transform their entire nations into what amount to large investment banks. If it was not for the vast and continued transfer of wealth from the United States to the region it would be in the same state of development it was 60 years ago. Even that direct transfer was not enough to build the mideast economy as it exists to day. Our substantial military presence has been a requirement to keep stability in the region. We have been there in large enough numbers to prevent little turf wars and keep sanity and stability for 50 years. That has been a huge expense even before we hotted things up in Iraq this time arround. In the interest of fairness this peace keeping has been good for us as well, its assured as a resonably stable flow of oil we thought our economy needed. The truth is that the Unitied States military has effectively provided a subsidy for oil for our own nation and the entire world.

    The leaders ( OPEC ) have know this, which is why oil has been so cheap for so long. They needed us there at least at arms length. They have kept the prices low enough that we would keep buying it in large quantity and not look for better alternatives. Its getting so expensive now because two things have changed. China has risen and could now provide a market for almost their entire production and fill our void in peace keeping if we left. The other thing being their own reseves are becoming harder to reach so they need to push prices up to keep the revenue coming.

    Again the better run states over there are slow extricating themselves from the oil biz and investing around the world. The rest of the middle east is destine for collaps pure and simple. There is virtually no way around it. It will be just like poorer regions of Africa.

    As to our economic troubles I think it really does come down to trade deficent of which about 30% of is probably oil. All this credit curch business is a response to inflationary pressures. People were paying to much for realestate, with two many dollars that they thought were worth more then they are. This has inturn rippled throug the banking industry. I still think the dollar is way over valued; this fact will come to a head if the government is forced to either bailout reddy mac fannie mae or extend them a large line of credit. It will destroy the governments own credit rating. We can already see T-bills discount rates falling just in anticipation of it. If this goes forward the value of the dollar will drop like a stone. I know everyone is saying "to big to fail" but I think it might be in the best overall economic interest to let one of them fail. In our short sitedness we have incurred a vast anual expense on foreign oil that has gutted our own nation and build the middle east.

    so I'd be more than happy if the USA got the fuck out of there.

    So in short I agree with you, I think to save our own nation that is probablly a requirement. Don't think though that we will be doing anything to stabilize them though. We will infact be plunging vast areas of the region into abject poverty and war, just like large parts of Africa. I say better them the us, but I would also say cut the smug crap and lets not feel to good about it. We will be destroying many lives.

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell