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Research into butanol has shown promising results

Combining butanol with mutant bacteria and polyester could help double butanol's production in the years to come.

Butanol is able to produce more energy than ethanol and other biofuels, which makes it a popular topic for research.  Butanol normally is used as a solvent or type of chemical to make other chemicals.

Ohio State University researchers believe they created a new method to brew butanol in bacterial fermentation tanks and offers better butanol output from bacteria.  Current scientific standards allow bacteria to produce 15 grams of butanol for every liter in the tank, then the tank is simply too toxic for bacteria growth.  However, OSU researchers created a new mutant strain of bacteria that is able to produce up to 30 grams of butanol per liter.

Butanol is an important biofuel, as it can be blended easily with gasoline, used in internal combustion engines without expensive, difficult modifications, and can be distributed with pipelines in use today.

Biofuels are being heavily researched today as the fuel of tomorrow, in an effort to help the environment and move Americans away from traditional gasoline.  As an example, researchers are trying to bioengineer yeast and other microbes into biofuels that can be used to power vehicles in the next decade.

Furthermore, Tulane University researchers are attempting to extract bateria out of animal feces that is able to break down cellulose in animals.  Ideally, a genetically modified bacteria could be used in landfills to help turn some waste into fuel. 



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30g/liter - it's a joke, isn't it?
By lucyfek on 8/30/2009 9:06:00 PM , Rating: 3
the future of biofuels is surely bright - when the price does not matter.
what a waste of water (and energy needed to treat it)




By Totally on 8/30/2009 9:51:44 PM , Rating: 2
a 3% percent yield at best can't be all that bad.


RE: 30g/liter - it's a joke, isn't it?
By shikigamild on 8/30/09, Rating: 0
RE: 30g/liter - it's a joke, isn't it?
By Jeffk464 on 8/31/2009 1:59:25 PM , Rating: 2
I agree 100% with you when your talking about turning corn into ethanol. Some of the other methods being researched might turn out to be efficient and cost effective though. From what I have read the process of getting biofuel from algae looks very promising as does the possibility of getting ethanol from cellulose. I say keep funding the research and see what ends up being the best way to go because for sure we will not always have cheap gasoline.


By Jeffk464 on 8/31/2009 2:00:36 PM , Rating: 2
P.S. sugar cane to ethanol has already been proven to be cost effective, its just not a good US crop.


RE: 30g/liter - it's a joke, isn't it?
By GaryJohnson on 8/31/2009 12:40:36 AM , Rating: 1
As I understand it: in some cases crude only yields about 5% gasoline. So that's only around 36g/liter.


RE: 30g/liter - it's a joke, isn't it?
By pequin06 on 8/31/2009 9:09:49 AM , Rating: 3
There's more to crude oil than gasoline.


By JediJeb on 8/31/2009 11:55:00 AM , Rating: 3
Correct, but when looking at it in a sense of powering your vehicle then this process is almost as efficient as making fuel from crude oil. Plus if you distill the butanol then reuse the starting mixture and add more bacteria then you get another 30g/L and if you continue doing that you end up with a much better yield from starting material than from crude.

The big question is what is the difference in energy input required to distill off the butanol versus that needed to distill off the gasoline from the crude oil. If it requires 5 times as much energy to convert crude oil to gasoline than it does to distill butanol from the water mixture then the butanol process would be much better for the environment overall.


By menace on 9/2/2009 9:10:57 PM , Rating: 2
This is heavy crude like the Venezuelan goop and the 5% yield is based on straight fractional distillation. Yield can be boosted by various methods. Also you have yields of diesel and kerosene to add into the process that you are discounting. But processing heavy crude can take 2-3 times the energy to refine as light crude and its ultra high viscosity create technical challenges just to transport from the production fields.


RE: 30g/liter - it's a joke, isn't it?
By Alexvrb on 8/31/2009 12:47:16 AM , Rating: 5
I think the article is saying that the most the bacteria can create is 15g/liter before the mix becomes toxic. I don't think they're saying it CONSUMES a liter to produce 15g. So the boost to 30g/liter is a good improvement, since they can then extract the butanol and start again. Anyway I hope thats what they mean.

That aside, butanol is much better than ethanol in terms of energy content. Butanol has almost the same volumetric energy content as gasoline. We should be able to blend it into gasoline with no problems, and it wouldn't impact fuel economy negatively like ethanol blends. We also should be able to blend more of it into gasoline for use in regular gas engines without requiring a flexfuel type of setup.

The main thing I am concerned about are its long-term effects on different materials used for fuel tanks, fuel lines, injector o-rings, and carburetor seals. If it is no more corrosive than ethanol, then we have nothing to worry about since we've been prepping for ethanol for some time. But I'm just not sure at this point.


By Moishe on 8/31/2009 2:06:35 PM , Rating: 2
If it's anything like making wine, the bacteria is dead.

Yeast converts sugar into alcohol, but it can only produce alcohol up to about 18-20% max before the years dies in its own piss. You can try to get more hardy bacteria or you can convert to another method to remove the non-fuel portions of the bacteria bi-product.

The bacteria dies in the toxic fuel.


RE: 30g/liter - it's a joke, isn't it?
By FaaR on 8/31/2009 1:59:57 AM , Rating: 2
It takes quite a lot of energy to extract/crack petrol out of crude oil also (not to mention a hugely complicated and expensive refinery installation), so not really sure your point is all that accurate, really.

As for waste of water, how do you figure? The water in this case would be a nutrient solution pretty much - you'd recycle it continuously after extracting the butanol, for example via destillation. The waste would be low, to none... Besides, water isn't really the scarcest resource on the planet.


By hathost on 8/31/2009 1:45:44 PM , Rating: 2
Water in general is not a scare resource. Fresh water is though.


By mars2k on 8/31/2009 10:33:53 AM , Rating: 2
More to consider. One major point of biofuels is that they use carbon already in the environment not carbon sequestered for millions of years below the ground. Any hydrocarbon production from waste wins the race in my book.

Our goal is to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.


nice but it isn't the future
By Murloc on 8/31/2009 6:25:50 AM , Rating: 1
It's a nice improvement, and it doesn't consume too much, but imho biofuels are just a way to push combustion engines in time, the real future cars can't use classic fuels.




RE: nice but it isn't the future
By Masospaghetti on 9/2/2009 9:46:03 AM , Rating: 2
I disagree. It is far more practical to find a renewable, domestic source of fuel (like Butanol, or even ethanol if they can make it from a non-food source) than can use the existing infrastructure than to devise an entirely new system. It would be incredibly expensive and difficult to convert all gas stations across the country to either charging stations (for electric) or hydrogen stations. And plus, by using biofuels, all of the existing equipment (cars and trucks) can still be used through their entire life cycle.

And personally...I like the sights and sounds of a internal combustion engine too much to just give it up for a brushless motor :-)


RE: nice but it isn't the future
By OpenSource on 9/3/2009 10:45:34 AM , Rating: 2
I have to agree with Murloc on this one. One of the main flaws with the 100+ year old technology of the internal combustion engine is that it takes pressure from a three dimensional explosion and translates it into a linear motion (pistons moving up and down) then translates that linear energy into a rotational motion (turning the crankshaft).

The losses there cause the ICE to have a typically low thermal efficiency. Although turbo two-stroke engines in ships have had TE's as high as 50%, typical ICE's have a thermal efficiency of 18-20%.

Then there's the waste heat. Have you ever burned your leg on an exhaust pipe? That energy is pumped into the atmosphere, but we have a means of extracting electricity from heat without using turbines and steam. Thermoacoustic refrigeration works by exciting piezoelectric devices using heat to resonate the structure. The excitation causes a current to be produced; temperature differentials as low as 100*F have been used to produce a current. Although this technology is still in its infancy, we cannot deny its effectiveness and simplicity.

Jet turbine hybrid electrics seem to be the wave of the future. Consider the capstone hybrid electric vehicles in use today. http://thefraserdomain.typepad.com/energy/2008/04/...

The beauty of jets is that they take that three dimensional explosion and use the pressure to drive rotor directly, foregoing the processes of piston and crankshaft interaction. Being a hybrid, the generator need not be as powerful as the desired peak power. For example, a 30kW powerplant, which translates to 40.23 HP, is enough to power and move a bus. Less heat is lost in the electric motor and thus less energy is wasted.

I am not saying that this is financially a sound plan, nor am I saying that the internal combustion engine must be done away with. What I am saying is that the search for a better fuel can be futile if there's no search for a better means of consuming it.


By OpenSource on 9/3/2009 10:51:53 AM , Rating: 2
I also failed to mention that jets can burn a multitude of liquid fuels quite readily without modification to the physical construct of the unit.


Get a mix
By Danger D on 8/31/2009 9:56:55 AM , Rating: 2
Flex fuel cars can be designed for methanol, butanol and ethanol as well as gas. We need to make gas stations into fuel stations, where you can pick what you want based on economics, environmental concerns, domestic v. foreign sources, etc.

If you don't like biofuels, you can use gas. If you prefer butanol, have at it. Same with ethanol or methanol.

There's no reason to limit us to just gas or just ethanol as fuels. Everything has its own advantages, and it's stupid that we're stuck with no choices.




RE: Get a mix
By RU482 on 8/31/2009 12:23:28 PM , Rating: 2
doesn't sound very practical


RE: Get a mix
By Starcub on 8/31/2009 1:53:51 PM , Rating: 2
Some choices are clearly better than others though. Right now the primary drivers behind ethanol are energy independance and CO2 reduction. The increasing cost curve associated with gasoline (and thus the predicted rise in prices) also plays a role. The best ways to get energy today are through clean renewable energy, increased efficiency, and increased conservation.

However, pollution, which in my opinion is more costly than CO2, is still going to be the same problem with ethanol as it is with gasoline. In addition, using traditional distribution methods means that we are negating prospective efficiency gains. Consider that the transportation sector will be going electric soon, on a worldwide basis.

The most sensible option right now would be to invest in building up our capacity to move electricity in support of new electric cars and charging stations. Burning biomass (even 'crops' like switchgrass) to drive combustion generators at electric power plants for electric vehicles would result in much better field to road efficiency (almost 2x what ethanol currently looks to be capable of providing) than using the crops and microbes to produce alcohols that power ICE engines.

Unless advances in producing electricity also allow for cheap and easy clean liquified fuel (like hydrogen as a byproduct of processing existing fuel sources), it seems to me that traditional fuel distribution methods and infrastructure will be going away.


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gasoline in crude
By owyheewine on 8/31/2009 9:28:11 AM , Rating: 2
Just to inform. Some heavy crude oils don't contain much gasoline, but are processed to yield 50% or more gasoline. The big difference is that crude is all hydrocarbons, which can be utilized in various ways. Biofuel mixes are mostly water, which is just in the way.




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