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New Fuel Source Grows on the Prairie: With Oil Prices Up, Biomass Looks More Feasible
Washington Post ^ | 06/21/2006 | Justin Gillis

Posted on 06/22/2006 12:05:04 PM PDT by cogitator

If ambitious plans taking shape in Washington and in state capitals come to fruition, this pile of stalks and many more like it will become the oil wells of the 21st century. The idea is to run the nation's transportation system largely on alcohol produced from bulk plant material, weaning America from foreign oil and the risks that go with it, including wars, global warming and terrorism.

...

Yet fundamental questions about the biomass alternative have yet to be answered. The economics of making ethanol from biomass remain unproven on a commercial scale. Simply collecting all the necessary straw, cornstalks, wood chips and other waste would be a vast logistical problem, and growing energy crops would require big changes in U.S. agriculture.

...

Two former directors of central intelligence, R. James Woolsey and John M. Deutch, have become advocates of biomass as a fuel source. The basic insight, Woolsey said in an interview, is to realize that global warming, the geopolitics of oil, and warfare in the Persian Gulf are not separate problems -- they are aspects of a single problem, the West's dependence on oil.

(Excerpt) Read more at washingtonpost.com ...


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Government; News/Current Events; US: Utah
KEYWORDS: biodiesel; cellulose; diesel; economy; energy; environment; ethanol; farming; fuel; gas; gasoline; oil; security; vehicles
This is a really good (and relatively unbiased) story on the promise and pitfalls of producing ethanol from biomass stocks.
1 posted on 06/22/2006 12:05:07 PM PDT by cogitator
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To: cogitator
And it sounds like ethanol production has come a long way...

http://www.comcast.net/news/finance/index.jsp?cat=FINANCE&fn=/2006/06/20/417620.html

Like ethanol, butanol is an alcohol compound, but with four carbon atoms instead of two. DuPont officials said the different chemical structure of butanol gives it several advantages over ethanol, including tolerance to water contamination, facilitating transportation via pipeline.

The U.S. fuel market has been constrained by the fact that ethanol, which attracts water molecules and therefore tends to corrode pipelines, must be transported on trucks, trains and bargest in relatively small batches to storage terminals where it is then blended with gasoline.

Another advantage of biobutanol, officials said, is that it can be blended into gasoline at higher concentrations than ethanol without the need to retrofit vehicles, and it offers better fuel economy than gasoline-ethanol blends.

2 posted on 06/22/2006 12:09:21 PM PDT by P-40 (Al Qaeda was working in Iraq. They were just undocumented.)
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To: cogitator

Ethanol bump.


3 posted on 06/22/2006 12:22:33 PM PDT by IronJack
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To: cogitator

Diesel will be (and is) the answer............


4 posted on 06/22/2006 12:25:31 PM PDT by Red Badger (Follow an IROC long enough and sooner or later you will wind up in a trailer park..........)
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To: Red Badger
Diesel will be (and is) the answer............

Biodiesel is a great product...but the gasoline engine is just so entrenched in our market and culture.
5 posted on 06/22/2006 12:28:26 PM PDT by P-40 (Al Qaeda was working in Iraq. They were just undocumented.)
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To: P-40

Entrenched or not, people just want to get from point A to point B. If more people knew of the reasons we should convert to diesel, they'd be clamoring for more diesels. It is all around the best answer to our "Oil dependency"........


6 posted on 06/22/2006 12:37:34 PM PDT by Red Badger (Follow an IROC long enough and sooner or later you will wind up in a trailer park..........)
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To: cogitator
I'm buying stock in Safe Fuel
7 posted on 06/22/2006 12:38:36 PM PDT by pabianice
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To: Red Badger
If more people knew of the reasons we should convert to diesel, they'd be clamoring for more diesels.

That they would...but they always think of soot and smell or rattling engines. Perhaps next year when the new diesels hit the market more people will start looking at them.
8 posted on 06/22/2006 12:46:23 PM PDT by P-40 (Al Qaeda was working in Iraq. They were just undocumented.)
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To: Red Badger
I too am considering a diesel for my next vehicle.
do you happen to know a few sites and/or sources offhand that I can convince my co workers?
9 posted on 06/22/2006 12:47:53 PM PDT by akorahil (Thank You and God bless all Veterans. Truly, the real heroes.)
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To: akorahil

http://journeytoforever.org/biodiesel_make.html


10 posted on 06/22/2006 12:49:36 PM PDT by Red Badger (Follow an IROC long enough and sooner or later you will wind up in a trailer park..........)
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To: akorahil

http://www.biodiesel.org/


11 posted on 06/22/2006 12:53:11 PM PDT by Red Badger (Follow an IROC long enough and sooner or later you will wind up in a trailer park..........)
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To: P-40
I am in Sicily on deployment with the Navy. The great majority of vehicles here are diesel. There are all kinds of little ford cars with turbo-diesels here.
12 posted on 06/22/2006 12:55:52 PM PDT by P3pilotJAX
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To: akorahil

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodiesel

http://www.dancingrabbit.org/biodiesel/

http://www.eere.energy.gov/afdc/altfuel/biodiesel.html


13 posted on 06/22/2006 12:56:09 PM PDT by Red Badger (Follow an IROC long enough and sooner or later you will wind up in a trailer park..........)
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To: akorahil

Just remember. We can GROW diesel fuel. We cannot grow gasoline..........


14 posted on 06/22/2006 12:58:30 PM PDT by Red Badger (Follow an IROC long enough and sooner or later you will wind up in a trailer park..........)
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To: P3pilotJAX
The great majority of vehicles here are diesel.

I've heard that much of the UK is trending towards diesel engines...and it is making diesel expensive here at home...which is doing wonders for creating a market in biodiesel. Six months ago it was hard to find someone that had even heard of biodiesel and if they had they thought it came exclusively from used fry oil.
15 posted on 06/22/2006 1:00:57 PM PDT by P-40 (Al Qaeda was working in Iraq. They were just undocumented.)
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To: Red Badger

Thank you! I will now have some sources for coworkers!


16 posted on 06/22/2006 1:02:24 PM PDT by akorahil (Thank You and God bless all Veterans. Truly, the real heroes.)
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To: cogitator

Me? I'll put any darn thing in my truck if it means my money stays out of the muddle east, out of venezoola, and out of the pockets of people who hate our guts.

If I can make a bunch of great American mid-westerners wealthy in the process, I'm happy to do it!

Let the rags eat sand!


17 posted on 06/22/2006 1:07:24 PM PDT by MyDogAllah
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To: P-40
...but the gasoline engine is just so entrenched in our market and culture.

And the reason it has been for over 100 years is because...?

18 posted on 06/22/2006 1:07:59 PM PDT by yankeedame ("Oh, I can take it but I'd much rather dish it out.")
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To: yankeedame
And the reason it has been for over 100 years is because...?

Because until relatively recent times the small engine market was not well-served by diesel.
19 posted on 06/22/2006 1:11:42 PM PDT by P-40 (Al Qaeda was working in Iraq. They were just undocumented.)
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To: cogitator

Why is it necessary to go through the intermediary of producing alcohol, when it is possible to make kerogen DIRECTLY from biomass? Take just about ANY kind of organic material, put it in a sealed retort in anaerobic conditions, and heat it up to about 900° F., for about two hours, maintaining a pressure of two atmospheres. The product is the aforementioned kerogen, a precursor of most of the fractions which are extracted from crude oil, and some slightly brackish water.

This is just a very rapid acceleration of the process that goes on, continuously, in nature. Petroleum IS a renewable resource.


20 posted on 06/22/2006 1:22:30 PM PDT by alloysteel
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To: P-40

My wife and I drove a diesel wagon through Germany, Czech Republic and Austria in 2000. I estimated we got 45 miles to the gallon.

That's with a lot of city and small town driving as well as 90 mph on the Autobahn.


21 posted on 06/22/2006 1:30:28 PM PDT by RowdyYates
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To: P-40

bump


22 posted on 06/22/2006 2:09:59 PM PDT by dangerdoc (dangerdoc (not actually dangerous any more))
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To: alloysteel
"Why is it necessary to go through the intermediary of producing alcohol, when it is possible to make kerogen DIRECTLY from biomass? Take just about ANY kind of organic material, put it in a sealed retort in anaerobic conditions, and heat it up to about 900° F., for about two hours, maintaining a pressure of two atmospheres. The product is the aforementioned kerogen, a precursor of most of the fractions which are extracted from crude oil, and some slightly brackish water."


How much energy would that take? How much energy would it take from the time you prepare the fields to plant the biomass up to the point where it is finally converted into the end product you can pump into your vehicle? You can produce more energy from ethanol than it takes to make it, but not by much, and you don't have to get the temperature anywhere near as high as 900 degrees, especially if you distill your "beer" under negative pressure, in a vacuum.
23 posted on 06/22/2006 2:13:47 PM PDT by TKDietz
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To: alloysteel

That sounds like a lot of work....


24 posted on 06/23/2006 5:52:53 AM PDT by P-40 (Al Qaeda was working in Iraq. They were just undocumented.)
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To: alloysteel
his is just a very rapid acceleration of the process that goes on, continuously, in nature. Petroleum IS a renewable resource.

Your process is basically the same as the oil-from-turkeyguts (and potentially a lot of other feedstocks) being done in Carthage, MS by Changing World Technologies. The process was called "thermal depolymerization", but now they just call it "thermal conversion". Find the April 2006 Discover magazine for an update.

25 posted on 06/23/2006 7:16:12 AM PDT by cogitator
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To: TKDietz; alloysteel
TKDietz, see post 25 and below.

Anything Into Oil

(this looks like the complete article)

26 posted on 06/23/2006 7:19:36 AM PDT by cogitator
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To: cogitator
Yeah, I read about thermal depolymerization (sp?). It sounds really interesting, but the company behind it is being very secretive with regard to particulars on things like energy balance and production costs. I know there is a Butterball turkey plant in Missouri operating an experimental thermal depolymerization plant right now where they are turning waste material from the turkey processing plant into some kind of oil that can be used in place of diesel, but there is no information out as to how well it's working, how much it costs to do it, how much energy it's taking, how much negative impact it has on the environment, or anything like that. When you look at Changing World Technologies website everything they say is rosy and positive, sounding almost too good to be true, but real details are seriously lacking. It may be that they have viable technology that will help us fulfill a major portion of our fuel needs with fuel made from waste material, or it may be that what they have is technology that isn't environmentally sound and that will never be cost effective enough. They have a really interesting concept, but there just isn't enough known about it to know if it's going to amount to anything of great importance with respect to our energy concerns. We'll just have to wait and see.
27 posted on 06/23/2006 9:45:55 AM PDT by TKDietz
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To: TKDietz

Did you read the article? It seemed to be fairly presented on both the pros and cons of the process.


28 posted on 06/23/2006 10:14:16 AM PDT by cogitator
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To: cogitator
I must admit that I read that after I made my post because I thought I had already read that particular article and didn't realize I hadn't until I clicked on the link after I posted. This is interesting stuff, the kind of thing we should be looking into. I'm glad to see they'll be experimenting with it in Europe as well. New technology tends to get better the more it is put into use.

It could be that this ends up being a great way to produce fuel that turns out to be cost effective and provides the added benefit of helping us deal with the mountains of trash and other waste materials we produce. This type of thing along with things like ethanol and biodiesal might go a long way toward reducing some of the dependence we have on foreign oil. I don't know that there will ever be one single replacement for petroleum based fuels, at least not in the next few decades. In the next few decades I see us diversifying into several different fuels that work with existing engines, even if in some cases they require slight modification. We'll still be drilling for more oil and using the dwindling reserves, but more and more we'll have to rely on alternative fuels, none of which thus far seem to be a perfect replacement for petroleum based fuels, both in terms of costs and on terms of production capabilities. We could never grow enough feedstock for either ethanol or biodiesel to replace petroleum based fuels, and neither of those is anywhere close to being as cheap to produce as petroleum based fuels. Fuel produced from oil shale will be more important in the future, but like ethanol and biodiesel, it is costly and requires significant amounts of energy to produce, and with existing methods of extraction of fuel from oil shale there are serious environmental concerns.

This thermal depolymerization or thermal conversion process is also very costly. If it really is only costing them $80 a bbl, that's still high. That's 42 gallons, and I don't know how many gallons of gasoline equivalent they could get out of that. It varies with crude oil considerably, and the more gasoline they try to get from a barrel of crude, the more complex and costly the refining process. I've heard the average is 19.5 gallons of gasoline from each 42 gallon barrel, plus several more gallons of heating oil, tar, asphalt base, etc., but I don't know if that is true. Anyway, that $80 42 gallon barrel is not going to turn into 42 gallons of something you can just put in your standard car and drive, it's going to be significantly less than that. On the other hand, $80 a barrel is not that much more expensive than crude from the ground and if that $80 is the costs without subsidies, that's not too bad because as they perfect the process they might be able to bring costs down even further and be more competitive with petroleum based fuels, especially since they are now able to actually get subsidies. I'm still taking a wait and see stance on this because it all seems a little too good to be true. I don't know that I trust their numbers just yet. We'll see how things pan out over the next few years as more and more of these plants get up and running.
29 posted on 06/23/2006 1:47:15 PM PDT by TKDietz
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