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Power United States Politics Technology

'Energy Beet' Power Is Coming To America 238

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 Electricity Likes Me ( 1098643 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @09:12AM (#43262451)

    The problem with corn ethanol isn't the diversion of farmland, it's that it's a completely artificial diversion. Corn is so subsidized no one knows how much it costs anywhere, and world food prices are creating local scarcity because no one can outcompete US government subsidized corn - so local farming never has any incentive to grow it or other staples, as opposed to cash crops (many of which are incredibly harmful to local soil ecology to do so).

    World food prices need to be allowed to rise gradually so the local economies which are importing can transition to growing locally or, people with an actual competitive advantage can move in to drive them down in a non-artificial way. But playing games with how much corn there is predictably creates price shocks because technically there's enough product in the market place, it's just mysteriously not getting to the locals, yet simultaneously can't be expected to reliably stay high either.

  • by nojayuk ( 567177 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @09:56AM (#43262661)

    Quite a few Europeans use vegetable oil in their diesel-engined cars. There's a thriving market for small back-of-the-garage "refineries" processing waste cooking oil from fast-food shops etc. to remove some of the more harmful byproducts like glycerine and water as well as filtering out particulates. You can usually tell if someone's doing this as their car exhaust tends to smell of french fries.

    Unused cooking oil (usually sunflower or rapeseed) can be poured into the tank without requiring treatment, especially in older diesel cars and vans with mechanical fuel pumps. In the UK the price of cooking oil is now kept artificially high to match the price of garage forecourt diesel (about UKP 1.40 a litre at the moment) since most of that is tax and too many folks were going to Costco and the like and buying vegetable oil in 5-litre containers for a lot less. Theory says that folks using alternative fuels like biodiesel should pay the same duty as petroleum-derived fuels garner but this doesn't happen much as you might expect.

  • by StormyWeather ( 543593 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @10:58AM (#43262955) Homepage

    All moving to biofuels does is destroy the large underground lake called the ogalala that the midwest sits on. Once gone it is hello dustbowl 2.

  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) * on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:09AM (#43263001)

    we've had this technology for over twenty years.

    Algae based fuel has been "just around the corner" for a lot longer than twenty years. I first read about in the 1970s, and even then it wasn't a new idea. Algae energy is like fusion energy: it has huge potential, but also huge obstacles, and those obstacles have not been surmounted even after decades of effort.


  • Much rather I'd try, oh, taking PV or some other collection mechanism to a desert, and somehow use it to provide shade and moisture retention for crops that couldn't otherwise grow there, as well as for its energy collection properties.

    That is precisely what I propose, after others. Read the report linked at the top of this thread! You pump dirty water into the desert, you grow algae on it thus capturing solar energy and carbon as well as nitrates and then you make biofuel, probably using PV for pumps and centrifuges and a combination of solar water heat and direct solar thermal for heating. Waste water is dumped into the desert, eventually replenishing aquifers. Waste material can be shipped out as fertilizer, or used on-site as fertilizer for land reclamation. You can also site the algae production facilities near coal and oil plants and use them as part of a CO2 capture strategy which can reclaim up to 80% of such emissions, increasing algae production in the process. We The People have already paid for the development of many technologies which can benefit us in this fashion if we only demonstrate the wisdom to accept them and the will to make them happen.

  • by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @12:02PM (#43263305) Journal

    Algea to biodiesel isn't a complete answer, while algea provides copius amounts of lipids for conversion to FFA, Free Fatty Acids, you still an alcohol like methanol (preferable) or ethanol to complete the process. So where do you get the methanol? Evil techniques like Pyrolysis of bio-material [], and Petro-chemical convertion []. Next problem is your going to have trouble getting most cars to run well on more than 10% biodiesel because most cars run on gasoline! To get over that you have to convince all the "green-in-theory" soccer moms to become "green-in-reality" soccer moms and buy some "stinky" diesel SUV's; good luck with that.

    "Topsoil-based fuels are wrongheaded in every way", not so, beets require soils that are unsuitable for less robust crops, FTA "the beets are an ideal crop: they grow in poor and salty soils, and can use lesser-quality water," furthermore

    “Farmers who raise energy beets may see greater soil health because the tap root penetrates as deep as 6 to 8 feet, using nutrients, nitrogen and water that other crops don't reach.” Energy beets for ethanol []

    when beets are harvested, these long tap-roots often remain in the ground, opening deep channels through any hardpan [] to alow better drainage into subsoil aquafers, bringing plants nutrients and minerals from the deep subsoils and leaving necessary organic material which will produce a deepening of the top-soil. Additionally the top growth is left on the fields providing compost. Sure you can't monoculture beets for long (like anything else), but as part of a crop rotation with science based fertilization it has positive effects on the soil, processing the beets is pretty stinky tho.

    Your going to get people to buy flex-fuel vehicles running sugar-beet based E85 a long time before your going to convert our fleet to diesel vehicles running on biodiesel.

  • by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @12:05PM (#43263311) Journal

    Please provide a link for that US government subsidized corn production, I know a lot of farmers around here who would like to get them some of that money.

  • by voss ( 52565 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @12:06PM (#43263313)

    End sugar import quotas we could buy all the sugar cane we needed for ethanol from carribean nations and have better coca-cola to boot.

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