Friday, January 25, 2008

Ethanol at decent cost, from any organic cellulose -- sounds good.

We are in startup land again, but these folks claim to be able to produce ethanol at around $1 a gallon. And, they'll leave the corn itself for food -- they can use everything else instead. Apparently, they can use much of municipal waste for their process.

The Wired article linked above states, "It also generates 7.7 times more energy than is required to produce it. Corn ethanol typically generates 1.3 times more energy than is used producing it." This was one of my biggest concerns about U.S. ethanol -- with the old technology, it was damn near taking as much gas to produce as it was producing, and in many climates taking more. If the claims are true, they've made the process efficient enough to be truly viable.

Sounds awesome, but I'll wait til the BBW is singing before I get too jacked up about it. Let's see how the plant flies once it's running (hopefully next year).

Enjoy technology flowering at the behest of need and funding,



Stu Farnham said...

This is good news, but only as a bridge measure to address supply issues.

There are two issues here as I see it:

1. Ethanol's impact on air quality is mixed. While it reduces CO and CO2 emissions (when mixed with gasoline; most of the studies of ethanol are based on it as a fuel additive, not as a replacement), it increases N02 and VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which are contribute to smog though not, AFAIK, to global warming.
2. /SOAPBOX The long term solution to mankind's energy and environmental problems is not going to take the form of some silver bullet that allows our unbridled growth in consumption to continue. Yes, ethanol reduces CO/CO2 emissions which is great; it moves the dial back on the rate of global warming. However, it does not reduce those emissions to zero; we will continue to add CO and CO2 to the environment. And, to the extent that it lessens supply problems, it will allow more people around the world to operate motor vehicles, potentially increasing the total amount of emissions worldwide).

The bottom line is TANSTAAFL when it comes to our thirst for energy. We have yet to find a solution that is both economically feasible and without significant impact (talk to me about wind some time).
We can't fix it from the supply side; we have to fix it from the demand side.
I also fear that improvements on the supply side and in the emissions of CO and CO2 will make matters worse by removing much of the incentive for change. The auto industry does not want to bear the engineering and retooling costs of switching from internal combustion engines; any excuse to continue will maintain the status quo write large.

So, from my POV, this is great news as a potential bridge strategy only. It's not a magic wand.

Not being Mr. Negative here; this is something I have thought about and researched. I have a lot of interest in seeing more fundamental changes in our patterns of energy use.

Finally, it is diffcult to find impartial data on ethanols impact. Many of the "studies" out there are published by ethanol propoenets.

Shocho said...

I want an electric car. Not a hybrid. With a lightning bolt on it somewhere.

I was gonna comment that I had also heard that Ethanol ain't that great in the big picture, but Stu is totally all over that one. Thanks, man.

Bpaul said...

My opinion about improved fuels/electrical production facilities (hmmm, I maybe aught to post this --- ) is that they are proof that Peak Oil isn't going to be some event that turns off the switch all at once. I know people who think that way, and they're pretty freaked out.

I honestly think energy problems humans will inevitably face (are facing) will be more of a glide than a sudden plummet, and technology like this will be part of the glider apparatus.

Paraglide might be the best analogy, a bit of directional control, but down nonetheless.

Also, there are absolutely and utterly unexpected (from our current perspective) events, inventions and changes coming, possibly even within our lifetime. Mark my words on that.

Stu Farnham said...


I expect that you are correct about peak oil; the real question will be how steep or shallow the glide is.

While the magic bullet may appear, we cannot afford to bet on it.I come back to my main point: the only ironclad way to have a lasting impact is to decrease consumption (slowing population growth would also help -- if the world population increases, say 2% a year, the beak even point is a 2%decrease in usage/ consumption/ emsissions -- in other words, you start in a hole. And, since population increases geometrically, improvements need to scale in the same way.
This is a truly ugly problem we've found ourselves in.

stingite said...

Whatever energy was used to produce this graphic so I could post in on brandon's blog was so worth it . . .

kidding . . /hide

Bpaul said...

Attack of the Tommy LOL