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Coskata Inc. grows many microbes in how, in its efforts to find natural bacteria that optimally produce ethanol. These little guys are the key to Coskata's new method. Its current generation features high efficiency, live in-gas in an aerobic environment, and reproduce naturally.

A Coskata employee mans the ethanol reactor.  (Source: Coskata Inc.)

Tubing with selective membranes separates the reactor's output into pure water and pure ethanol.  (Source: Coskata Inc.)
GM and Coskata partner to bring transform the way ethanol is mass produced

At the General Motors section of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) at Detroit, the biggest news wasn't cars -- it was fuel.  GM unveiled and detailed its efforts to take Ethanol from a impractical technology into a viable alternative energy strategy.  Not too long ago it looked like the end of ethanol fuel, with advent of a hungry microbial hydrogen production research effort, which promised better efficiency than current ethanol production.

The biggest current downside of current ethanol infrastructure is simply its source; current ethanol can only be produced using the chemical breakdown of sugar-laden crops, such as corn and sugar cane.  This makes ethanol more expensive and extremely agriculture dependent.  Most U.S. experts agree that the amount of land needed to grow enough sugar crops to power the nation's vehicles would be prohibitive.  Microbial hydrogen currently has ethanol trumped on this count, as it can use anything from crop waste to household table scraps as a source of hydrogen.

Ethanol is down, but certainly not out.  An advanced new approach, dubbed "cellulosic ethanol production," developed by Coskata Inc. located in Warrenville, Illinois promises to make ethanol cheaply and efficiently from virtually anything organic-based.  The long list of possible sources include used tires, crop waste, sewage, household kitchen waste, yard waste etc. 

GM, inspired by Coskata's innovation, announced a major partnership with firm last night.  GM reportedly looked into as many as sixteen ethanol startups offering different processes, and picked Coskata as the winner.  GM invested a small amount of equity to cement the relationship, and both firms are aggressively moving ahead to bring the technology to the market. 

The alternative energy auto market is not unfamiliar ground for GM.  The company showcased leading designs with its Provoq fuel cell concept, its Volt electric car, and its fleet of 100 fuel cell-equipped Equinox SUVs that are currently being deployed in California and New York.

In an interview with GM's Vice Chairman of Product Development, Bob Lutz, DailyTech was provided exclusive insight into exactly how this process works.  Lutz, in response to DailyTech's question, began by stating, "All the other companies use enzymes, which are incredibly expensive.  This has been a major stumbling block."

Lutz went on to detail how instead of enzymes -- which are tricky to mass produce and prohibitively expensive -- GM turned to nature.  GM's approach starts rather traditionally by putting the various organic waste materials, such as tires, crops, crop waste and yard waste into a grinder.  The remaining powder is then exposed to plasma, which causes the organic powder to ferment, releasing carbon-chain gas.  It rises into the air where natural anaerobic bacteria eats the gas molecules and excretes ethanol and water vapor.  This mixture then rises, and travels through a series of tubes with a separating membrane.  The yield is pure water and pure ethanol.

"The bacteria are from nature so no patent was needed.  And they reproduce on their own," Lutz explained, excitedly.  The process, Lutz elaborated, is a down-to earth approach that does not use designer organisms or chemicals.  Further it eliminates many steps in traditional or enzymatic processing, including the need for a centrifuge or still. 

The process trumps traditional production in efficiency.  Less than a third as much water is needed to produce a gallon of ethanol, which makes the process more affordable and easier to implement.  Further an analysis of the process conducted at Argone National Laboratory reveals that for every unit of energy Coskata uses, it creates approximately 7.7 times as much energy, a ratio well above current tradition ethanol production.

Lutz emphasizes the importance of reducing reliance on foreign energy via ethanol fuel.  He also explained that the move will take GM and other auto makers "out of the firing line" of accusations that they contribute to everything from "out-of-control global warming, to funding terrorism."

GM plans to aggressively fund Coskata and deploy the technology.  While many alternative energy research technologies languish in the development phase, GM announced that a pilot plant will begin producing fuel before the close of 2008.  By 2011 a full scale plant will come online, capable of producing 50 to 100 million gallons of ethanol a year.  Such a plant would almost amount to 1% of the world's total ethanol production, including ethanol used for industrial sources.

The price per gallon to produce the fuel is approximately $1 per gallon, but Lutz stated that with Coskata profits, shipping, taxes, storage, and a retailer's cut, the fuel would likely raise the price to a still very affordable $2 per gallon. 

Lutz said that while such a fuel would be very attractive to the consumer, the big hold up is the oil companies.  He points out that while GM has sold 6 million flex-fuel vehicles in the U.S. capable of using ethanol, less than 1% of pumps in the U.S. are ethanol-equipped. 

Will GM's new advanced ethanol process win out over hydrogen fuel cells and other efforts?  With promises of mass production by the end of the year, and $2 per gallon fuel costs that don't dip into American agriculture, Coskata and GM might end up in the spotlight a lot in 2008.

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First Post Ever
By stickninja on 1/14/2008 11:55:46 AM , Rating: 3
I am tired of people criticizing ethanol fuel as a viable alternative to gasoline and especially hybrids, without doing the research. Saab’s Biopower vehicles achieve increased horsepower and torque without sacrificing fuel efficiency. The 9-3 Saloon (Biopower is only sold in Europe currently), manages a combined MPG of 36.7 MPG.

The fact is, ethanol requires higher compression ratios (or boost) to effectively utilize it due to higher octane rating. Turbo-charging and super-charging are becoming more common, so ethanol's viability as an alternative to gasoline will increase without drastically increasing the complexity of vehicles, as hybrids do.

RE: First Post Ever
By TomZ on 1/14/2008 12:00:50 PM , Rating: 3
The main problem with ethanol is on the supply side - limited supply generally with associated costs as well as secondary economic impacts, e.g., raising food prices.

RE: First Post Ever
By rdeegvainl on 1/14/2008 12:06:19 PM , Rating: 2
Big chicken and the egg situation here. Ethanol will have a hard time breaking the image that it is less efficient whilst the vast majority of engines are designed for gas, but until they can get lots of people selling it, they can't push out vehicles optimized for ethanol to break the preconceived notions.

RE: First Post Ever
By zombiexl on 1/14/08, Rating: 0
RE: First Post Ever
By NullSubroutine on 1/14/2008 2:04:05 PM , Rating: 2
Food prices can be more accurately associated with the price of oil per barrel and gas prices increase. Doesn't matter how cheap you produce something in the US it has to be shipped and Trucking is typically the most used, as it is less expensive than air, and boarder than trains (which in this area only bring coal to the local power plant).

RE: First Post Ever
By Ringold on 1/14/2008 3:00:18 PM , Rating: 3
Food prices can be more accurately associated with the price of oil per barrel and gas prices increase.

Unfortunately, that's completely wrong, even though it does on the surface make some sense.

Two primary drivers. Asian prosperity and America converting food to fuel.

A third, smaller reason is the problems with Australia's crop.

Coming in dead last, and a point I've not heard mentioned at all by economists, would be the transport costs. There's no way it could explain the *massive* run up it costs.

RE: First Post Ever
By Praze on 1/15/2008 8:13:44 PM , Rating: 2
Unfortunately, the relation between food costs rising and the increased production of ethanol as seen by the consumer is a common misconception and is entirely coincidental. Crops grown for ethanol refinement are non-food-grade crops. The corn grown to produce the ethanol used in flex fuel vehicles and the like exist for that sole purpose, while the farms growing food-grade corn are not related.

However, this method could never fulfill the requirements of a full fledged adoption of ethanol as THE alternative to gasoline, as the amount of US farm land in existence could only produce about 4% of the total national fuel consumption. You most definitely would see some rising food prices in that extreme case, but it just isnt going to happen.

RE: First Post Ever
By dluther on 1/16/2008 8:59:57 AM , Rating: 3
The corn grown to produce the ethanol used in flex fuel vehicles and the like exist for that sole purpose, while the farms growing food-grade corn are not related.

That statement is not even partially true, and I don't know where you get your information, but before you say things like that, you need to educate yourself on corn production in general.

There are three distinct types of corn grown: sweet corn, dent corn, and popcorn; of those three, dent corn and sweet corn are the "food grade" corns, all of which have been selectively bred to produce a uniform color and size kernel.

Sweet corn has high sugar and low starch levels and is the kind we find still on the cob or cut to form fresh kernels for canned products, as well as used to produce corn sweeteners. Young sweet corn is more tender because the pericarp (outer seed covering) hasn't developed fully, but as the corn matures, it becomes thicker and some of the sugars are converted to starch. "White" corn is sweet corn harvested at a particularly immature level that has the highest levels of sugar and thinnest pericarp, where "yellow" corn is harvested at a later date and has a thicker, more developed pericarp. Sweet corn cannot be dried because the starch levels are not high enough to sustain the kernel's pericarp as it dries, and has a wrinkled, sunken appearance.

Dent corn refers to the food-grade corn that has lower sugar and higher starch levels, but with the same pericarp structure and endosperm on the end of the end of the kernel as sweet corn. The "dent" occurs as the endosperm dries and cannot sustain the structural integrity of the kernel, and falls off, creating a "dent" in the end. This is the corn that is dried and used in cereals, chips, meal, and animal feed.

Popcorn, like dent corn, has high starch levels and thus can be dried. But popcorn has a hard endosperm and a very tough pericarp.

Ethanol is made from food-grade corn, specifically dent corn. However, dent corn markets have skyrocketed specifically because of ethanol production. Since it it more economical to grow dent corn, sweet corn crops are then replaced by dent corn.

RE: First Post Ever
By KristopherKubicki on 1/14/2008 12:23:37 PM , Rating: 5
We omitted some of Lutz's interview for publication purposes. He brings up this point, and I'll include the omitted interview segment below:

Federal mandated guidelines for rates of adoption of ethanol pumps by gas stations is essential to the adoption of the technology, Lutz feels. Larger stations should be required to have 1 or 2 ethanol pumps he feels. This would eliminate the "chicken and egg" scenario he discussed where producers wouldn't produce since there was no place to sell, and oil companies refused to deploy pumps because no one was producing.

Lutz expressed frustrations about the oil companies efforts to stab ethanol in the back particularly during the formation of the new CAFE legislation. He points that oil companies successfully lobbied to remove pro-ethanol language from the bill and to scrap portions of the bill that would have rolled back oil tax cuts to help fund alternative energy development by firms such as Coskata. Change, Lutz believes must start with the auto industry, but it also must happen on the national level.

RE: First Post Ever
By SoCalBoomer on 1/14/2008 5:16:22 PM , Rating: 2
I looked into biodiesel for my truck but since there are no places to buy it within 50 miles or so (that I could find) I don't run it - and would really like to. Strangely, the number of places that sell biodiesel in the LA area are pretty sparse. . .

If we could get people to stock it, then I know that there would be more people who would buy it. Get the egg and I'll eat it! :D

RE: First Post Ever
By UNCjigga on 1/16/2008 1:44:07 PM , Rating: 2
Might have something to do with the fact that California has the toughest emissions requirements for diesel? Even though the fuel source may qualify it as a "flex fuel", the engines need to catch up.

That said, automakers are promising quite a few 50-state diesels over the next few years (I'm interested in Honda's new diesel.) I don't know if all of these can run biodiesel, but hopefully as the market increases you'll see more biodiesel options in California.

RE: First Post Ever
By ajfink on 1/14/2008 12:57:17 PM , Rating: 4
True, but Ethanol makes a very viable stopgap measure for vehicle fuels until the US can wean itself off of all forms of foreign energy (including imported oil for electricity production).

Ideally, Hydrogen and straight electricity produced in modern nuclear plants, hydroelectric dams, wind farms, etc. would account for a far greater portion of vehicle "fuel."

RE: First Post Ever
By mrteddyears on 1/14/2008 12:11:55 PM , Rating: 4
So are you saying that Turbo/Super charging my Cadillac V8 is necessary to save the environment?

I have been trying to convince the wife of this for a long-time.

Thanks DT you really are Gods among men

RE: First Post Ever
By masher2 on 1/14/2008 12:21:06 PM , Rating: 4
> "Saab’s Biopower vehicles achieve increased horsepower and torque without sacrificing fuel efficiency"

Oops-- read the fine print on that link. Those fuel efficiency were taken with regular gasoline.

Sorry, its just not possible to get equal milage with ethanol. It has about 35% less energy per gallon than gasoline. One can indeed design an engine around it that has substantially increased power (and even a slightly higher relative efficiency from higher compression), but you can't compensate for the lack of energy. All else being equal, MPG is going to decline.

That of course doesn't mean ethanol is worthless of course, but it is a factor that needs to be considered when comparing the two.

RE: First Post Ever
By ChronoReverse on 1/14/2008 12:43:53 PM , Rating: 2
Can pure ethanol engines achieve higher efficiency than gasoline engines? If they can (gasoline engines are very inefficient aren't they?) getting greater mileage is plausible.

RE: First Post Ever
By masher2 on 1/14/2008 12:55:15 PM , Rating: 2
All heat engines are inefficient. Large ultra-high temp coal plants are still under 50% efficiency...a gas engine usually is doing around 20% efficiency over its entire operating range.

An engine designed to run *only* on pure ethanol (rather than a flex-fuel vehicle) can raise compression (and thus temperatures) somewhat. Without doing any calculations, I'd guess it'd rise by maybe a couple of percent over a gas engine, certainly nowhere near enough to compensate for a 35% drop in fuel energy.

RE: First Post Ever
By Keeir on 1/14/2008 1:49:49 PM , Rating: 3
Most types of heat engines are very inefficient... but a heat engine's maximum efficieny (theorectical) is specificify by the laws of thermodynamics and Carnot (Cycle, Theorem, etc)

Its possible to design a real Enthanol Engine that is better than a real Gasoline Engine. But assuming the same amount of research and customization is invested in both fuel engine types, the gasoline engine should win in efficiency per liter each time.

RE: First Post Ever
By stickninja on 1/14/2008 1:08:01 PM , Rating: 2
Oops. Thanks for pointing that out. It's nice to know that marketing is more important than facts <sarcasm>. Still, I'd rather have the option of using ethanol, something we don't have much of today regarding fuel or energy choices.

It would also be a bit easier to transition to ethanol in terms of technical development/manufacturing and infrastructure than moving to an all-electric fleet.

Or we could all buy horses...

RE: First Post Ever
By Sahrin on 1/14/2008 12:21:56 PM , Rating: 3
The point isn't that ethanol as a fuel is bad/worse than gasoline; it's that it's perpetuating the core problem by sidestepping the pressure to change methodology. Combustion is not an efficient method of autolocomotion. It's just not, nothing against ethanol, gasoline, diesel or hampster-fuel; it's not the best way of moving people.

Ethanol may solve very big political and economic problems, but it massively perpetuates environmental, technological, economic (of a different stripe) and cultural ones - this is why it is a bad solution.

Ethanol is the "Soylent Green" of the fuel world.

RE: First Post Ever
By AlexWade on 1/14/2008 12:33:18 PM , Rating: 5
I knew it! Ethanol is made up of people!

RE: First Post Ever
By Durrr on 1/14/2008 12:40:45 PM , Rating: 2
Hell, it might be because it could potentially use human cadavers

RE: First Post Ever
By Clauzii on 1/16/2008 6:15:11 AM , Rating: 2
Sarcasm on.

"The demand for alchoholics will go up, since they contain more 'energy' than non-alcoholics!"

Sarcasm off.

RE: First Post Ever
By Eris23007 on 1/14/2008 4:47:18 PM , Rating: 1
Combustion is not an efficient method of autolocomotion. It's just not, nothing against ethanol, gasoline, diesel or hampster-fuel; it's not the best way of moving people.

From a perspective that views things solely from the perspective of the individual vehicle, that is a true statement. However, from the perspective of the entire system (that is, millions of people who all want/need autolocomotion), I believe the opposite is the truth, and that's exactly why it is such a market-dominant technology.

The reason I say this is primarily related to storage and distribution. Liquid fuel of the form used for combustion is efficient to transfer - in a pipeline or large tanker ship, there is very little energy lost in the transfer process, and as well, the distribution system is extremely well established. As for storage, it is essentially 100% efficient and very simple - just make a big metal tub and put it in. Cheap and effective.

The closest competitor, electricity, has significant issues - transmission line losses are significant over long distances (even at extremely high voltages and such), and as well transmission lines are politically very unpopular - just look at how difficult it has become for new transmission lines to be built (cf. Connecticut-Long Island or West Virginia - Virginia - DC). They are prime NIMBY targets, as are most power plants, whether nuc, coal, LNG, whatever. Even past the generation & transmission issue is the storage issue - unless you wish for vehicles to be constantly connected to the power grid (a MASSIVE systems challenge), you need batteries of some sort to store the energy and provide essentially instantaneous power, which as we've seen from countless examples in the technology business has its own challenges with efficiency, longevity, and even safety, not to mention long recharge times - people accept the need to stop for 10 minutes to refill their cars with gas. Are they going to accept the need to stop for 2+ hours to recharge their batteries when they run out?

Beyond centrally-generated electricity are hydrogen and other such presently-impractical technologies, each of which have their own attendant challenges - again mostly related to the distribution and storage issues.

These are not minor challenges - for example, hydrogen is a beast to keep contained, and must be under very high pressure. This requires very heavy tanks which, if they encountered large forces (such as in a car accident) could catastrophically fail (think zeppelin but much worse due to the pressure of the hydrogen gas inside). Beyond that, most hydrogen-oriented approaches focus on electricity generation via fuel cells, but fuel cells are best suited for "base" power, not "peak" power, so the previously mentioned electricity storage problem again becomes enormous.

This is not to suggest that an electricity-, hydrogen-, or other-fuel-focused solution is out of the question, but to suggest that we ignore one very strong potential solution (I dispute your contention that this would perpetuate environmental and technological problems) in the hopes that the risks associated with the "holy grail" solution can be ironed out strikes me as unwise.

RE: First Post Ever
By Sahrin on 1/14/2008 7:59:50 PM , Rating: 3
You took a good whack at me, and I appreciate that - but it seems like you ultimately fell into the same trap everyone seems to.

Ethanol isn't a solution to the transportation problem - it's a perpetuation of it. I'm not suggesting that we ignore it (Well, yes, I am, but that's my personal view and I believe in personal freedom and market economics - so I'll just not buy ethanol, and that'll be the extent of my protest).

My problem is with the perception that Ethanol is a solution to the "oil problem." It's not. It's just another kind of oil. It pollutes in roughly the same way as oil, and it ultimately will likely cost the same as oil (for pollution consider that the creation load is on the environment as well, not simply production as with oil). The fundamental problems with transportation are things that will require real honest-to-goodness breakthroughs. They will be incredibly difficult and expensive to achieve.

It seems to me that we would be best served by trying to address the challenges before us, boldly; rather than serving the short-term problem immediately.

Ethanol is fine as a fuel source, it should be developed, let it be developed; however let us also understand that they key is not ethanol; for ethanol perpetuates the problems that exist today. A new solution is required, and while I can't exactly predict what shape it will take - much like pornography, I will know it when I see it (and corn smut it ain't).

Some of your specific points don't make a lot of sense (loss due to transmission for instance - isn't it something like 87%-95% efficient?), but again, it's better to address those than it is to perpetuate the core problems of internal combustion.

RE: First Post Ever
By Hoser McMoose on 1/15/2008 3:09:52 PM , Rating: 2
(loss due to transmission for instance - isn't it something like 87%-95% efficient?)

Last numbers I saw were a few years old but they suggested the average transmission loss for electricity in the U.S. was 7%. This isn't something that should be ignored though, the U.S. electrical grid is far from top-notch at this point in time (though it's theoretically improved since the big blackout in 2003 cast light on the issue).

I can't find any numbers for the piping losses for oil and gasoline. My guess (and it's just that) is that it's probably in the 3-5% range.

RE: First Post Ever
By Hoser McMoose on 1/15/2008 2:28:11 PM , Rating: 2
The closest competitor, electricity, has significant issues - transmission line losses are significant over long distances (even at extremely high voltages and such), and as well transmission lines are politically very unpopular

Liquid fuel pipelines are also politically very unpopular and there are significant loses to pipe liquid fuel over long distances. It's most certainly not a clear-cut win for either solution over the other in this regard.

The two clear-cut losers here are ethanol and hydrogen, neither of which can be easily pumped through pipelines. They requires new, expensive and less efficient distribution.
They are prime NIMBY targets, as are most power plants,

Oil and gas refineries are even bigger NIMBY targets.
you need batteries of some sort to store the energy

And this is the number one challenge for electric vehicles in my mind. It's also why I think GM is taking the right road forward with the Volt. Charge the batteries when it's convenient (probably good for between 40 and 80% of all driving, depending on the individual), use the gas generator when it's not.

RE: First Post Ever
By Hoser McMoose on 1/15/2008 2:01:39 PM , Rating: 2
The point isn't that ethanol as a fuel is bad/worse than gasoline;

In terms of ethanol from corn I would argue that it IS worse then gasoline. Corn farming is very environmentally damaging and the massive subsidies (in excess of $10 BILLION per year and climbing!) are extremely poor fiscal policy.

I hold out a lot more hope for this cellulosic ethanol, though it's still a bit of a poor choice in my mind. Ethanol as a whole was a BAD choice in fuels and chosen only because we have a massive history of using the stuff. Ethanol is good for drinking, but butanol would have been a far superior fuel. Other less publicized biofuels might be better still.

RE: First Post Ever
By ElFenix on 1/14/2008 2:34:47 PM , Rating: 2
that's in imperial gallons, which are about 20% larger than US gallons. so about 31 MPG combined. and then there is the difference between UK and EPA estimates (not sure how that affects it).

still pretty good mileage, considering E85 doesn't have nearly the energy content of E10.

RE: First Post Ever
By ElFenix on 1/14/2008 2:38:02 PM , Rating: 2
oops, didn't see the fine print. pretty shady of them to put (e85) next to the figure and then, at the bottom, say efficiency is based on regular unleaded.

RE: First Post Ever
By Hoser McMoose on 1/15/2008 2:32:17 PM , Rating: 2
Just as a FWIW, the UK test is slightly 'easier' then the OLD EPA numbers. Compared to the new EPA figures I would guess the UK test would show at least 20-30% better fuel efficiency for the exact same vehicle and fuel.

Great, even more ethanol BS
By BrownTown on 1/14/08, Rating: 0
RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By eye smite on 1/14/2008 12:32:59 PM , Rating: 4
Perhaps instead of pointing out the downside and why it won't work, you could offer us a more viable solution? I'm tired of being a slave to oil companies, so electric cars would be fine with me.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By BladeVenom on 1/14/2008 7:01:13 PM , Rating: 2
California can't even supply enough electricity now. Imagine what would happen if people started using electric cars.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By nofumble62 on 1/15/2008 1:18:41 AM , Rating: 2
We just turn off the PC to save electricity.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By inperfectdarkness on 1/14/2008 12:33:12 PM , Rating: 2

ever stop to evaluate what the energy required to create a gallon of gasoline is? it's higher than ethanol. and lower than hydrogen.

food supplies have nothing to do with it. humans around the globe will be taking dumps until the end of time. that's a lot of sh*t, and a lot of feedstock for creating ethanol. if anything...look for a MAJOR upheaval in septic/sewage systems worldwide. soon, we will all be pooping the equivelant of a fill-up every morning.

unlike yard clippings, harvest wastes, restaruant leftovers, etc--feces will always be available.

build a car with 9.5:1 compression & 15 psi supercharger...and your fuel economy/power will be = or > 93 unleaded performance.

within 50 years, we should be seeing most cars getting 40mpg on ethanol, and $1.50/gal.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By masher2 on 1/14/2008 1:02:58 PM , Rating: 5
> "ever stop to evaluate what the energy required to create a gallon of gasoline is? it's higher than ethanol."

I'm not sure where you got this information, but it couldn't be more wrong. The "energy to create" gasoline is a tiny fraction of what is currently required to produce ethanol.

> "humans around the globe will be taking dumps until the end of time. that's a lot of sh*t, and a lot of feedstock for creating ethanol"

Compared to the amount of energy the average person consumes in fuel, the amount to be gained from human waste is trivial. The human body is fairly efficient at extracting energy from biomass...and we stuff far more energy in our cars than our mouths in any case.

The OP was correct. While this is a major innovation, we're never going to "solve the energy problem" with waste biomass. It can certainly help reduce the growth in demand somewhat for petroleum, but it's not going to do more than that.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By dluther on 1/14/2008 2:44:25 PM , Rating: 2
we're never going to "solve the energy problem" with waste biomass. It can certainly help reduce the growth in demand somewhat for petroleum, but it's not going to do more than that.

That requires the same old "all-or-nothing" mentality that people tend to get sucked into when thinking about alternative fuels, which is both foolish and wrong.

There are two primary goals of this alternative fuels initiative:

1) Decrease or eliminate our dependence on foreign oil
2) Reduce pollution

with the implicit caveat that we don't break the country while doing it, taking into account the production and transportation energy expenditures.

Ethanol is less efficient than gasoline as a fuel for the reasons you've plainly stated before to the tune of 34%. However as you know, blending ethanol with gasoline at mixtures up to 50% (E50) results in only a 15% MPG reduction which most people *could* live with, given that such a ratio has the happy benefit of nearly a 25% decrease in fuel costs, depending on where you live, with a 16% reduction in pollutants. Of course, this is all dependent on your driving a vehicle that can burn E50...

Compared to the amount of energy the average person consumes in fuel, the amount to be gained from human waste is trivial. The human body is fairly efficient at extracting energy from biomass...and we stuff far more energy in our cars than our mouths in any case.

This is a bit misleading, because you're comparing apples to automobiles. The human body does extract fuel from food, but not even most of it. And while you're mulling that last statement, consider this: who says that humans are the only source of such scatological waste?

I've been a vocal opponent of ethanol because of the source: corn. But I love this method because it solves some fundamental problems with the source feedstock, overcomes the energy expenditure needed to produce it, and can neatly resolve some problems not even remotely associated with fuel production such as what to do with that mountain of sh!t you'll find outside of every feedlot, chicken coop, and even the waste water treatment plants.

Another problem this helps resolve is refining capacity. This past summer's fuel prices didn't have so much to do with the price of imported crude as it did with our capacity to refine it into gasoline.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By TomZ on 1/14/2008 2:56:15 PM , Rating: 2
How does blending in more ethanol reduce the overall fuel costs? Considering the lower MPG, plus the cost of subsidies, it seems that the overall cost would be higher per mile, right?

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By dluther on 1/14/2008 7:04:00 PM , Rating: 4
Pretty simply:

1 gallon of gasoline: $3.75
1 gallon of ethanol: $1.50

Combined price: $5.25 = [(3.75+1.50)/2]

Price per gallon of E50 blend: 2.63 (5.25/2)

Percent price reduction: 30% (over gasoline)
Percent MPG reduction: 15% (over gasoline)

plus the cost of subsidies

How much in subsidies does gasoline incur?

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By masher2 on 1/14/2008 7:59:19 PM , Rating: 2
> "How much in subsidies does gasoline incur? "

None. In fact the production and sale of gasoline incurs a fairly hefty profit for the state.

Ethanol is just the reverse....every gallon you buy costs you (and me) a sizeable hidden chunk of tax dollars.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By dluther on 1/15/2008 2:36:08 PM , Rating: 2
Again, you with that 'all-or-nothing' attitude...


Not even close.

When I speak of government subsidies, I'm including such non-visible considerations such as:

- Reduced corporate taxes on the petroleum industry
- Hugely reduced sales taxes on gasoline and petroleum
- Government funding of programs that primarily benefit the petroleum industry
- Government financed wars and military actions that only benefit the petroleum industry

Right now, ethanol production needs to be subsidized because that's the only way it will grow to be a self-sustaining industry. And really, name the industry of any importance that hasn't received federal subsidies. I can name a few that have:

- Petroleum
- Public transportation (including rail and air)
- Banking
- Agriculture
- Highway

... the list of distinguished club members continues.

The ethanol production industry needs to be embraced by the petroleum industry instead of shunned like it currently is, because like it or not, the world is slowly but surely moving away from petroleum-based locomotion and energy production.

You won't find me arguing that right now, at this moment, gasoline works better in our cars than ethanol does. Tomorrow is another story.

And the production method mentioned in this article eliminates my objection to ethanol by eliminating the use of our food crops to make it.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By TomZ on 1/14/2008 11:01:09 PM , Rating: 1
According to this web site, the subsidies add $2.21/gallon for ethanol:

Combined price: ($3.75+($1.50+$2.21)) = $3.73

Then considering the MPG hit, it's a net loss.

The moral of the story: It's real easy to underestimate the magnitude of the handouts from the federal government.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By iowafarmer on 1/15/2008 1:07:23 AM , Rating: 2
Here is a recent article published in the Des Moines Register:

They don't seem to editorialize a lot in the article. Cargill and Monsanto are companies that know a little about agribusiness.

I have a degree in math, you and your linked website must be using a new math. Since there are >2.6 gal of ethanol produced per bu of corn I wouldn't mind splitting up the extra "$2.21/gal," over $6 a bu. you seem to be suggesting ethanol production adds to the value of a bushel (56#'s) of corn. Oh wait, even with corn prices at all time highs it's not worth much more that $4/bu at the farm gate, and 100% Ethanol is worth less than $2.21 a gal on the open market. I sure wish I saw all the subsidies from the government you and some other posters seem to think farmers and ethanol produces get because of ethanol. There is a blender tax break for ethanol that the ethanol producer and farmer does not see. It is like a windfall profit for the blender. The zfacts site sure puts an interesting spin on the "facts according to zfacts."

It was recently brought to my attention that there was a popular TV show that used ethanol as "the evil" plot device. I guess that explains why many of the facts I read about ethanol seem to be made up facts, or facts taken out of context to make a point.

I agree with the complaint that the governments shortsighted cheap food policy has hurt the economy in the long run. Policy that resulted in cheap grains with surpluses measured in days when the annual harvest would start encouraged many new uses for grains, especially corn. Ethanol is just one of those uses. So now when it seems we might run out of Corn, Wheat and Soybeans before the next harvest, endusers are getting a little excited about locking in their supply needs. But don't despair, it won't be long until corn is so high priced ethanol producers won't be able to afford to use corn to produce ethanol..... Maybe it won't be long until a bottle of soda is more expensive than a bottle of water.

Think I'll go out to the kitchen right now and make a big tasty bowl of field corn.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By masher2 on 1/15/2008 8:32:56 AM , Rating: 2
Since there are >2.6 gal of ethanol produced per bu of corn I wouldn't mind splitting up the extra "$2.21/gal," over $6 a bu. you seem to be suggesting ethanol production adds to the value of a bushel (56#'s) of corn. Oh wait, even with corn prices at all time highs it's not worth much more that $4/bu at the farm gate, and 100% Ethanol is worth less than $2.21 a gal on the open market.
For someone with "a degree in math", you've wholly misinterpreted a simple 8th grade word problem. To compute the true cost of ethanol, the amount of corn input isn't required, and you've also confused the hidden costs with the market rate.

The equation is simple:

Total Cost to Consumer = Market Rate + Hidden Cost (this is true for any product subsidized by the government)

To compute in costs per unit, we need Market Rate per unit (price in gallons, which we know) and Hidden cost in gallons. To compute the latter, we simply do this:

Hidden cost/gallon = Total Subsidies Paid / Total Gallons produced.

Now, I don't know if the DATA on that website is correct or not, but they've certainly set up the problem correctly.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By glennerd7 on 1/15/2008 8:47:18 AM , Rating: 2
Masher, I thought you might be interested in this....

This is old news in terms of converting organic material to fuel. A company back in 2003 designed a plant that would take any carbon based material and turn it into oil. Discover magazine ran an article on it back then.

It is really an incredible process. Discover then ran a follow up article in 2006 to see where they were at with it.

After reading the second article it was very disheartening to see all the red tape that the designers have fought. The politicians and special interest groups have made it very difficult to produce anything oil related by taxing the snot out of it. Just from a recycling point of view this is great. The United States could begin digging up our land fills and running the refuse through one of these to lower our foreign oil dependence.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By masher2 on 1/15/2008 12:07:46 PM , Rating: 2
That's interesting. I heard about the plant when the state Governor had it shut down. Glad to hear its back in operation, and hopefully they'll get to the breakeven point soon.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By Fritzr on 1/15/2008 9:44:38 PM , Rating: 2
More info on this comapy and their version of hydrous pyrolysis is in a Wiki article

The page also has links to more general information on the process.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By iowafarmer on 1/15/2008 10:46:56 AM , Rating: 2
Why don't you enlighten me on the "Hidden Costs." I'd like to plug them into my bank account.

The current farm program is complex. Would you point out the hidden subsidies for ethanol. I think if you look at the farm bill you'll find money for food stamps, school lunch, foreign aid and many other programs. Some minor declining direct payments to farmers were decoupled from production, I see the decoupled payments as a mistake. Other direct payments kick in to keep farmers in business when market prices are so low no farmer could afford to raise corn, beans, wheat etc.; not currently a factor. There are non recourse loans on commodities that the farmer has to repay with interest, often cited as a subsidy. I find it interesting that China has a grain reserve, the USA does not; If you play with fire you get burnt.

There is a blenders tax credit for ethanol, but I wouldn't call that a "Hidden Cost;" lost revenue, sure. The blenders tax credit should encourage infrastructure investment. See article above for GM complaint on blender foot dragging.

I don't see ethanol, especially from corn, as the "answer." However it is not "the evil" either. The fact is ethanol from corn can be done now, but I would think there are better cheaper alternatives being worked on. In a free market the market decides the winners.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By masher2 on 1/15/2008 12:06:38 PM , Rating: 2
> "Why don't you enlighten me on the "Hidden Costs"

Glad to. A hidden cost is one you don't pay directly. The hidden costs for ethanol are twofold. First is the government subsidy package, which totalled about $3.4B in 2006. That's money you and I pay in taxes, even if we don't see the cost at the pump. The second hidden cost is the lost mileage for ethanol, which forces us to buy more gallons to travel the same distance.

> "I think if you look at the farm bill you'll find money for food stamps, school lunch, foreign aid and many other programs"

Yes. So what's your point? That one government program deserves another?

> "In a free market the market decides the winners"

That's just the point. Subsidizing ethanol distorts the free market. Alternatives which might truly be cheaper appear not to be, due to the subsidy. Ultimately, that only slows introduction, and forces us to waste resources on less efficient alternatives.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By iowafarmer on 1/15/2008 1:10:03 PM , Rating: 2
$3.4 B is nothing. Administrative costs eat a lot of that. I also think you have lumped some of the program costs of the programs I've mentioned in that figure. A figure that you seem to dislike paying taxes for, but you don't mind paying less for food you buy. It's much like taking money from one pocket and putting it in another. Unless of course you don't think that that tax expense is reflected in the lower price you pay at the grocery store. The farm program could have been viewed as a social program, a cheap food program, it subsidizes production and is reflected in lower prices to the consumer. Ethanol wasn't even on the screen when the last farm bill was passed, so it's a bit of a stretch to ascribe the cost to ethanol. I think they are working on a new one right now.

I do agree the blender tax credit and lack of the tax credit on imported ethanol is troublesome. But I'm not sure the argument that alternative sources of energy production are being suppressed because of the "subsidy" is a bit of a reach. I repeat I do not see ethanol as "the answer." I personally view it as an alternative energy source that is opening the door for other alternative energy sources. But to blame current market conditions entirely on ethanol is to deflect the blame from poor planning in the past. Some people seem to be using Ethanol as a smoke screen and ethanol has become a convenient "evil" plot device.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By masher2 on 1/15/2008 2:11:00 PM , Rating: 2
> "$3.4 B is nothing."

Whoa there! Glad you're not my congressman. And you have to remember that's just for the very small amount of ethanol already produced. The lion's share of that money is the $2.5B spent on the 51 cent/gal blender credit. Which means if we buy ten times the ethanol, the government subisidy rises to nearly $30B.

> "Administrative costs eat a lot of that"

No they don't...and even if they did, it would change nothing. It's still a hidden cost you and I have to pay regardless.

> "But to blame current market conditions entirely on ethanol"

I don't see anyone doing that. The fact that other problems exist, however, doesn't change the rational analysis of ethanol.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By iowafarmer on 1/15/2008 2:48:22 PM , Rating: 2
I don't see a $2.5B tax not collected as a subsidy. I also see I wasn't writing about the same "subsidy" as you were, sorry.

Actually a lot of bad press is not based on a rational analysis. If corn had not been so dirt cheap ethanol production from corn would never have gained traction. Even now it seems to be economically viable.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By Fritzr on 1/15/2008 9:42:08 PM , Rating: 2
Okay the subsidy cost for ethanol is $2.21 per gal. Now find the equivalent figure for the gasoline. Starting point would be the cost of military ventures to secure oil supply, cost of support for maintaining friendly governments in countries that supply our oil, subsidies (if any) to the various companies transporting, producing & distributing the oil & oil derived products. Add in any other costs that you can find that would not exist without the petroleum economy. When you have done this, then your adding the subsidy cost will be reasonable. You made a mistake that is very basic. You took an equation and added an extra factor to one side without adding the matching factor to the other side. Note the military cost is a lot less for subsidy cost purposes than the published budget, since expenditures for things like US bases, Pacific theatre deployments, NATO commitments etc. are not part of the subsidy cost. There are many "foreign aid" expenditures that are also disguised bribes for oil producers.

The relative costs will matter little a century from now since at that time the petroleum economy will be over. There will likely still be oil production, both extraction and synthetic, but the supply will be unlikely to be enough to support today's lifestyle. Now is the time to plan for the economy that will replace the petroleum economy. If we wait until the oil supply drops below what is required then the time to do the R&D, design & deployment of commercial solutions will no longer be available. Ethanol is not the solution. It is instead one of many solutions that collectively will solve the problem.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By spluurfg on 1/14/2008 6:02:24 PM , Rating: 2
The human body is fairly efficient at extracting energy from biomass...and we stuff far more energy in our cars than our mouths in any case.

Humans lack the enzymes to digest cellulose. I am no expert, but as the name of the process is called cellulosic ethanol, I am assuming that it is derived from cellulose.

Just out of curiosity, they say they have to grind up the material and expose it to plasma. I suppose they mean some sort of ionized gas? I'm no scientist, but I sure hope they ran the numbers correctly and said plasma is economically feasible to generate.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By inperfectdarkness on 1/15/2008 10:00:15 AM , Rating: 2
the article was from pop mechanics...referencing alternative fuels(it was about 2 years ago). hydrogen production was listed at 32% efficiency, gasoline at 80% efficiency, ethanol at 112% efficiency. the percentages were based on amount yield vs. amout input.

fossil fuels will always remain inherently semi-efficient. though they have high energy contents--the amount of energy required to extract them is high. bear in mind, most estimates on energy required to extract fossil fuels do NOT accurately map the energy/labor taken to initially drill, pump, mine, and harvest the fuels (much higher than any alternative sources); and instead focus only on the refining process.

that's not even to mention the additional expenditure to scout new places to drill/mine.

anerobic ethanol production from microbes can be installed for a much lower cost--especially seeing as how we already have sewage systems in place for collection of waste. (not to mention landfills, etc). we don't have to collect and ship to a central processing station. we can simply build the processing station at the landfill or sewer plant.

since the "feedstock" will be provided by existing processes, and the process itself is essentially self-sustaining; the energy efficiencies reaped by this method of ethanol production will be much higher than anything else. AND...we'll have additional water supplies for those areas that are stricken with drought.

The OP was correct. While this is a major innovation, we're never going to "solve the energy problem" with waste biomass. It can certainly help reduce the growth in demand somewhat for petroleum, but it's not going to do more than that.

when we've depleted our landfills, and we've used all of the sewage we create--and we STILL haven't curbed our dependence on oil...then i'll believe you. we have way too much garbage, etc for me to agree.

worst case? we have solved the problem of waste materials...and we use the bountiful supply of ethanol in electricity plants; while we buzz around on 400mile electric plug-in cars.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By masher2 on 1/15/2008 12:28:05 PM , Rating: 2
> "fossil fuels will always remain inherently semi-efficient...the amount of energy required to extract them is high."

Again- I don't know where you're getting this information. Lifting costs for Saudi oil are a few cents/bbl. It's significantly higher for, say, oil from the Gulf of Mexico, but its still a tiny fraction of the energy received. The largest consumer by far is the refining process, particularly if heavy cracking or reforming is done, and even still its nowhere near the amount required to produce ethanol. It's not even on the same order of magnitude.

Seriously, Google is your friend here. Even a few minutes of intelligent browsing should convince you of this.

> "we have way too much garbage, etc for me to agree."

A simple back-of-the-envelope calculation will show you why "garbage" cannot solve our energy problems. I'll start you off. We consume some 20.7 M bbl/oil per day. That's over 125 trillion joules of energy/day.

Now-- using the caloric content of all food produced in the nation, and even assuming this process was 100% efficient and required no energy input, AND we don't even eat any of the food the nation produces-- demonstrate why we cannot possibly fill our needs with garbage (proof left as an exercise to the reader).

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By clovell on 1/15/2008 2:59:26 PM , Rating: 2
Masher, why are you only counting food in those calculations? I thought that this process could use a lot more than just food.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By masher2 on 1/15/2008 3:48:10 PM , Rating: 2
The comment that started this all was that "sewage" (waste food) could solve our energy needs. My statement was simply to prove that incorrect, not to deny there may be other sources for this process.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By clovell on 1/16/2008 12:33:27 PM , Rating: 2
XD - Ah, that makes sense.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By inperfectdarkness on 1/16/2008 2:24:00 PM , Rating: 2
you're not counting other waste.

sewage alone can't fill all of our least not if you're using human waste alone.

however, look at how many hydrocarbons we trash every year. plastic bottle, old cd's, worn tires, etc. we not only have feces to use as feedstock...we have FORMER oil that was processed into various, now-used-up items.

in 1995, 151.9 MILLION tons of trash were disposed of (that's net trash...after excluding recyclables). well over 60% of that contained hydrocarbons (read: feedstock). (metals and glass accounted for a mere 15% of that).

now i'm no energy expert...but wessex water treats 480 MILLION litres of sewage per day.

it's fair to assume we produce, cumulatively, a lot more here in the U.S.

400,000 tons of trash & oh, let's say 1 million liters of sewage--PER DAY...hmmm....

maybe not enough to totally supplant oil...but damn close if it doesn't.

By inperfectdarkness on 1/17/2008 9:00:26 AM , Rating: 2
p.s. subtracting the 15% that's glass and metal, that's:

680 MILLION pounds of trash per day. in just organic materials.

680 M pounds of trash to create the energy in only 20 M barrels of oil.

PLUS the amount of sewage we generate each day.

i'm not seeing what's so impossible here.

By Hoser McMoose on 1/15/2008 2:42:17 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not sure where you got this information, but it couldn't be more wrong. The "energy to create" gasoline is a tiny fraction of what is currently required to produce ethanol.

The process in question is claiming an EROEI of 7.7:1, which is pretty respectable and well in line with what we're getting for gasoline these days (probably a bit worse then the 'easy' oil from Saudi Arabia, but definitely better then oil from Alberta's oil sands).

When looking at ethanol from corn though, you're definitely correct. Most optimistic studies have placed the EROEI for corn ethanol at about 1.2 or 1.3:1 which is pretty terrible.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By Rugar on 1/14/2008 1:22:27 PM , Rating: 3
I'm skeptical of the reality of any cellulosic ethanol production. Not because the tech isn't possible, just that I've seen lots of claims with very little production so far. That being said, I'm not sure I agree with a couple of your arguments.

1) Cellulose is the most common organic compound on the planet and the one which is the most renewable of all the renewable sources of energy. The best example in the US is the often discussed switchgrass which requires no added fertilizer or water. Other sources for wetter areas include things like bamboo or even invasive weeds like kudzu or hydrilla. The entire concept of cellulosic production is that starch crops aren't necessary since energetically starch and ethanol are equal. In fact, the cellulose waste produced from food crop production could also be fed into the ethanol pipeline.

2) Industrial microbial processes (ie: fermenters) are extremely efficient. Whether the end product is hydrogen or ethanol, use of microbes are the best bet to do so in energetic terms. There are energetic costs, but these are relatively small. The article here states an ERoEI of 7.7. I'll take that, it's much better than current ethanol production (barely breaking 1, depending on who you believe). While it's not the crazy numbers I've seen for gasoline (100? 150?), an ERoEI of 7.7 would definitely be the best alternative fuel I've seen anyone publish.

Even if we dismiss environmental concerns/costs for petroleum production, petroleum products (including all fossil fuels if you like) are a finite resource and we are finally starting to realize that there is a bottom to the barrel. Barring the discovery of reliable fusion or major advances in battery tech in the near future, cellulosic ethanol is the most likely prospect for our near term fuel needs.

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By Rugar on 1/14/2008 1:30:27 PM , Rating: 2
Sigh.... Bad proof-reading on my part. Please change "...starch and ethanol are equal" to "...starch and cellulose are equal".

RE: Great, even more ethanol BS
By ElFenix on 1/14/2008 3:53:59 PM , Rating: 2
yes, 7.7x energy return is so much worse than corn ethanol with a 1.1x energy return, if even that.

What about coal?
By coal2be on 1/14/2008 1:24:50 PM , Rating: 2
So, would coal be able to be used as a source
for this new process?

( Colorado has the largest coal deposits in the world )

PS I think that after all the oil runs out people
will finally quit bashing coal and start trying
to find a way to use it,

( one of America`s last natural resources ).

RE: What about coal?
By TomZ on 1/14/2008 5:17:37 PM , Rating: 3
Mining and burning coal has a long list of known environmental disadvantages:

So I think the reputation that coal has developed is pretty justified.

Obviously if we can avoid burning it, this would be better, but the current claim by the industry of "clean coal" is kind of a bad PR joke.

RE: What about coal?
By coal2be on 1/15/2008 11:20:26 AM , Rating: 2
Firstly, coal has been the backbone energy source
for the world since the Bronze age.

Like it or not.

Yes, the short term hazards are significant.
( by short term I mean the last hundred years )

New question: Why tear down an existing infrastructure
( one of the last American Industries ),
just to rebuild it when there`s no other choice?

Couldn`t the clean coal campaigne be a clumsy, short
sighted attempt by Industrialists to channel more money
into an inevitiable solution?

With the massive coal deposits in Colorado, America
could recapture some of the great things it sorely
needs in it`s economy once again.

Such as freedom from foreign oil
( and oil wars )...

RE: What about coal?
By dluther on 1/15/2008 3:19:46 PM , Rating: 2
You have absolutely no idea how much I detest doing this, but I'm siding with TomZ on this one.

"Clean coal" is a lot like saying "clean sh!t" -- while I'm sure it can be done, there are other alternatives that are more attractive; and even then I'm not all that sure the gains are worth the effort.

The things we have to do to coal to make it clean: afterburning, scrubbing, and catalyzing significantly reduce the energy output gained from burning coal when you factor in all the energy necessary to produce and perform those actions.

Yes, burning coal has been around since the bronze age. But technologically we've advanced very, very far since then everything else we do.

RE: What about coal?
By Hoser McMoose on 1/15/2008 3:41:39 PM , Rating: 2
"Clean coal" isn't.

Coal gasification is less dirty then conventional pulverized coal burning, but it is definitely not without series environmental and health concerns. In particular it mostly changes the waste stream from flue gas coming out the smoke stack to effluent in the waste water. An improvement for sure, but definitely not a "clean" technology, just a "less dirty" one.

Coal will inevitably play a role in America's (and the world's) energy mix, but in my mind it should be pushed to as much of a 'choice of last resort' as possible (well, maybe second last before oil shale).

RE: What about coal?
By coal2be on 1/15/2008 5:26:53 PM , Rating: 2
Well, all of what you say about coal is true,
unfortunately, if you study the game board
closely, it`s the only solution with a chance.

Nobody is talking about a way to make gasoline
from uranium.

ps I guess oil shale could also be used to make
fuel thru these new microbial processes? Coinciden-
tally, America has massive deposits of this as well.

By stonemetal on 1/14/2008 3:13:11 PM , Rating: 2
nothing in the known universe produces energy. should that 7.7 times more efficient conversion of energy?

Also I know it is just semantics but exposing something to plasma is more like burning the crap out of it rather than fermenting.

RE: Correction
By masher2 on 1/14/2008 3:21:15 PM , Rating: 1
> "nothing in the known universe produces energy"

Eh? Better tell our sun that.

RE: Correction
By TomZ on 1/14/2008 3:39:57 PM , Rating: 3
i.e., E=mc^2

I guess Einstein's famous formula still isn't known by everyone.

RE: Correction
By Cr0nJ0b on 1/14/2008 6:23:18 PM , Rating: 2
Sorry, but I read this the way, i believe, the original poster intended. He is making a symantic (hair splitting) point, that energy is not PRODUCED out of nothingness. It's converted. your point about einstein and E=MC^2 is a good supporting argument to this point. Conservation of energy would require that matter is decrease relative to the energy that it converts into.

and again, this is a little too deep in my opinion for this discussion, but I think the reference to people's ignorance of Einstein's formula is off base.

RE: Correction
By masher2 on 1/15/2008 8:33:30 AM , Rating: 2
Point taken.

RE: Correction
By Jellodyne on 1/14/2008 5:54:57 PM , Rating: 2
Actually the energy contained in the cellulose comes from our sun. And the equation is X units of cellulose + 1 unit of energy = 7.7 units of energy. The input energy is required to extract or convert the energy from the cellulose into a more usable form. The biomass is left out of the ratio but obviously the equation doesn't work without it.

By someguy743 on 1/14/2008 2:36:04 PM , Rating: 3
I think America's scientists and engineers should be working like crazy on BATTERY technological breakthroughs. Once they come up with the battery that can be charged up in 10 minutes or less and has a range of 400+ miles we will be when we no longer need to have fuels in the car at all ... not to burn in internal combustion engines OR used for fuel cells. All we'll need is electrons coming from the battery. Electrons are "the fuel" of the future we'll stop at service stations to buy.

The big question is .... WHEN are these new "super batteries" going to be invented? It's just a matter of time really.

The next big question is HOW do we get the electricity for doing all this quick charging of 100% electric cars. We are going to have to have some major breakthroughs in renewable electricity generation .... such as solar photovoltaic, wind, and solar thermal. Plus, we're probably going to need safer and cheaper fission nuclear energy.

To say the least it would be HUGE if scientists had some big breakthroughs on FUSION energy. Nothing like creating your own "mini-sun" to get your energy. Talk about a safe and inexhaustible source of energy! It's revolutionary if they can make the fusion power plants inexpensive. Fusion is very safe and you get the raw materials from places like seawater. The day the first super efficient fusion energy plant comes online is going to be as big a day as the day we stepped on the moon. It'll happen eventually. Humans are clever critters ... the extraterrestrial aliens will be very impressed with us.

Electric cars are clearly "the future". It's just a matter of WHEN. Scientists and engineers all over the world are going to have to work like crazy to make it happen. Let's face it the oil is not going to last much longer. It's going to keep going up in price probably especially as people from China and India start driving more and more. Plus, global warming really is a major concern. All these greenhouse gasses are clogging up Mother Nature's lungs and heating up the planet. We don't want her to get lung cancer and cause flooding, extreme weather and who knows what else.

I hope the development of electric cars becomes like the "space race" in the 60s. The students coming out of college have plenty of work to do. They'll be in demand ... especially electrical and chemical engineers ... all sorts of fields of science actually.

By s12033722 on 1/14/2008 6:15:35 PM , Rating: 2
Just out of curiosity, where do you get the idea that fusion is "very safe"? The last I heard, the incredible energy fluxes seen inside fusion reactors require replacement of the shielding fairly quickly as it breaks down. I am all for fusion research and energy production, but it still has a long way to go. So far the EROI of a fusion reactor hasn't broken 1, although that may change in the next decade. I hope it does.

Your point on all-electric cars is good, though. I would like to see more research in that direction.

By masher2 on 1/14/2008 6:35:45 PM , Rating: 2
Safe in the context that it cannot explode, melt down, and produces very little radioactive waste.

Of course, we already have a means to do this without requiring's called the "Rubbiatron", a generator which is essentially half fission reactor, half particle beam.

By PlasmaBomb on 1/15/2008 7:45:13 AM , Rating: 2
This design is entirely plausible with currently available technology, but requires more study before it can be declared both practical and economical.

From wiki

By someguy743 on 1/16/2008 7:39:24 AM , Rating: 2
"So it’s exciting to hear that Stanford researchers have discovered a new type of battery using silicon nanowires which they say has 10x the life of today’s lithium-ion batteries ."

"The technology was developed through research led by Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, who worked with his graduate chemistry student Candace Chan and five others to create the new battery thanks to the wonders of nanotechnology, said that: " It's not a small improvement. It's a revolutionary development ”.

"On the issue of commercialising nanowire technology, Stanford researcher Yi Cui said that " Given the mature infrastructure behind silicon, this new technology can be pushed to real life quickly ", something he is considering through the formation of a company or by working with an existing battery manufacturer to quickly put nanowire batteries into production."

" The nanowire batteries could well be so good that such an additional generator is rendered unnecessary , but in the short term, despite ever higher petrol prices, the widespread availability of petrol in most of the western world is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, making the backup generator a great backup - at least for now."

"According to the Stanford article, the nanowire battery uses lithium “stored in a forest of tiny silicon nanowires, each with a diameter one-thousandth the thickness of a sheet of paper. The nanowires inflate four times their normal size as they soak up lithium. But, unlike other silicon shapes, they do not fracture” – and thus work to reliably store much more energy than ever before ."

"Without nanotechnology, this battery breakthrough would not have been possible, and while there are undoubtedly even better battery technologies yet to be invented that can store and deliver even more power, nanowire batteries look set to deliver the revolutionary leap in battery life the digital age has been so impatiently waiting for ."

" Let’s hope one or more of the major battery companies jump on this development and fast tracks the first true breakthrough in ultra long battery life in the small battery sizes we’re used to, forever changing and improving the way we store and use our portable power – please don’t let this technology end up somewhere on a shelf!"

By someguy743 on 1/16/2008 8:11:43 AM , Rating: 2
Check out this article from the Chevy Volt blog website. Way to go Dr. Cui! You are going to be famous and probably a very rich guy.

I bet GM and their battery suppliers A123 and LG Chem are going to aggressively try to get this new nanowire battery technology implemented in the new generation of cars pretty quick. The stakes are high. A lot of these new batteries will be sold in the next 10-20 years. It could be a HUGE industry ... a $100 billion+ industry maybe.

Trust me, this new nanowire battery breakthrough is going to freak out the fatcat Middle East oil sheiks and oil companies like Exxon/Mobil. They aren't going to be able to stop electric cars from taking over now!

Put a small hydrogen fuel cell or small internal combustion engine running on cellulosic ethanol in the car and you will have cars and trucks with incredible range. You might only need to recharge your batteries once every few weeks and fill up the tank with hydrogen or ethanol only a few times a YEAR when you need to take a long trip or whatever. The fuel cell or internal combustion engine will really just be a backup device like those Honda generators people use when power lines are down because of bad weather. This battery breakthrough is HUGE.

By Spuke on 1/16/2008 12:06:39 PM , Rating: 2
DT, we need an article about this so we can argue about how it won't work.

Very well written!
By rangerdavid on 1/14/2008 11:57:37 AM , Rating: 2
Kudos to Dailytech for a really good article. I criticize, and I complement; I've found some of the writing on this site sophomoric and childishly biased. But this one holds great merit and should be an example to other site contributors. Again, nice job, and a fascinating topic.

RE: Very well written!
By KristopherKubicki on 1/14/2008 12:26:41 PM , Rating: 2
Thank you.

Enough about Ethanol. Let's talk Butanol.
By goz314 on 1/14/2008 1:29:15 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not a chemical engineer, so this info comes from a ChemE professional site. Don't shoot the messenger if any of this info is incomplete or erroneous. I'm suprised, however, that Butanol is not being talked about more as yet another renewable or semi-renewable alternative to gasoline.

Butanol or Bio-Butanol:

- Can be made from natural sugar or starch including waste materials.

- Costs less than ethanol.

- Has 92% of the energy content of gasoline.

- Mixes well with gasoline or ethanol.

- Evaporates more slowly than either gasoline or ethanol.
Can be used in place of gasoline with no engine or fuel system changes.

- Makes usable hydrogen as a by product.

- Higher energy content (110,000 Btu’s per gallon for butanol vs. 84,000 Btu per gallon for ethanol). Gasoline contains about 115,000 Btu’s per gallon.

- Butanol is six times less “evaporative” than ethanol and 13.5 times less evaporative than gasoline, making it safer to use as an oxygenate.

- Butanol can be shipped through existing fuel pipelines where ethanol must be transported via rail, barge or truck.

- Butanol can be used as a replacement for gasoline gallon for gallon e.g. 100%, or any other percentage. Ethanol can only be used as an additive to gasoline up to about 85% and then only after significant modifications to the engine. Worldwide 10% ethanol blends predominate.

By masher2 on 1/15/2008 8:36:30 AM , Rating: 2
> "I'm suprised, however, that Butanol is not being talked about more "

Quite simply, ethanol has a huge political lobby behind it.

As another poster has said, ethanol's a way to turn corn from Iowa into votes.

Put Back into the Ethanol Grid
By Machinegear on 1/14/2008 12:53:37 PM , Rating: 3
In the future, we can have net metering hooked up to our toilets. The more you sh*t, the more you make!

By neihrick1 on 1/14/2008 12:46:49 PM , Rating: 2
the hydrogen producing bacteria has a at most 91 percent efficiency, does that mean its requiring more energy than it produces. While this process gives 7.7 times more energy than it takes in?

Series of tubes!?!?
By EODetroit on 1/14/2008 1:06:51 PM , Rating: 2
This mixture then rises, and travels through a series of tubes with a separating membrane.

Is that like a spam filter on the internets???

By andrinoaa on 1/14/2008 4:08:12 PM , Rating: 2
I guess its about time we aussies got a few scoops! Its now official.
In a stunning announcement at the opening of the Detroit Motor Show yesterday, GM's chairman and chief executive officer, Rick Wagoner, said ethanol was an important interim solution to the demand for oil, until battery technology gave electric cars the range of petrol-powered cars.
"There is no doubt demand for oil is outpacing supply at a rapid pace, and has been for some time now," Mr Wagoner said. "As a business necessity and an obligation to society we need to develop alternate sources of propulsion.

We have a 10% ethanol blend available at 4c/Ltr discount. Its got less kick than pure unleaded but not enough to worry me.
It seems that Ethanol, like Nuclear, is just a transition fuel, so maybe, the smart thing to do is leapfrog over them, no? Maybe its the " socialist" in me? lol

By Howard on 1/14/2008 10:03:33 PM , Rating: 2
It's pretty easy to tell when Jason writes an article.

By nofumble62 on 1/15/2008 12:36:52 AM , Rating: 2
Seaweed, kelp, etc??? They just suck water,CO2, and sunshine. Too ideal.

Grammatical error
By Creig on 1/14/2008 11:51:54 AM , Rating: 1
This mixture then rises, and travels threw a series of tubes with a separating membrane.

Should be "through", not "threw".

By unambiguous on 1/14/2008 4:49:43 PM , Rating: 1
These blocks of comments are, as a rule, naught but leaves of grass. The muddled discourse here undertaken verges on hubris more often than not.

To project from one's personal perceptions of weighty issues any semblance of constitution is a recursive exercise of unstable gain. Those who undertake this seek shelter in temporal discontinuities in experience, non sequiturs in action, and unbounded sets of axioms in spirit. These dreadful practitioners, to all intents and purposes, claim the right to control ether.

By JasonMick on 1/14/2008 11:45:50 AM , Rating: 5
Actually I would disagree with both ops. Granted, I am usually down on Ethanol (did you read my other article?), but in my interview GM firmly stated that you would be seeing an estimated @ pump price of around $2/gallon after ALL factors. Food prices won't increased, as this can process waste plastics, tires, etc, which make up a significant portion of our landfills across the country.

If you look @ the logistics, ethanol has about 67% of the energy content of regular gasoline, and as long as the price of gas stays @ $3 or above, this would be very competitive. Plus the psychological impact of seeing $2 at a pump would give a slight edge to it I believe. And depending on OPEC's upcoming monitoring decisions, that may be even more competitive (look into the buzz on OPEC and the US dollar).

In this sense it is extend the life of petroleum by recycling petroleum byproducts into ethanol. It may not be the solution for 100% of the nations vehicles, but its a practical solution for the near future.

You gotta give GM credit for working hard at this one. I think it really is practical American ingenuity in action in this case.

By JasonMick on 1/14/2008 11:50:49 AM , Rating: 3
*monetary decisions.

OPEC has been mulling over abandoning the dollar for a while now.,8599,1685...
which would both hurt the economy and raise gas prices. May not happen, lets hope, but if it doesn't tech like this becomes even more critical.

By masher2 on 1/14/2008 12:14:20 PM , Rating: 3
I have to agree with Jason here. Assuming this really does result in ethanol from waste at an unsubsidized cost of $2/gallon, its a major innovation, and one well worth supporting.

The key word here is unsubsidized. though. I do wonder if GM is calculating current government subsidy rates into their figures.

By eye smite on 1/14/2008 12:22:12 PM , Rating: 2
My skepticism comes in with GM. They have shown a strong tendency in the past to initiate these type of projects and then quietly pull them 2-4 yrs later counting on everyone forgetting it was even there. Their new Malibu Hybrid listed mpg on their site makes me laugh. It gets 24 town and 32 hwy. I have a 93 Olds 88 that get 24 town and 31 hwy. How is this an improvement?

By DigitalFreak on 1/14/2008 1:14:54 PM , Rating: 2
The problem with the Malibu hybrid is that it's a stage 1. All it does is turn off the engine at the stop light (or when normally idling). Hardly what I would classify as a hybrid.

By killerroach on 1/14/2008 12:29:15 PM , Rating: 3
I'm not convinced over the ability of these microbe-based solutions to produce large quantities of ethanol cheaply, but they are impressively elegant in their approach...

That being said, if it means we can get the government to end corn ethanol subsidies (which, in turn, are having a nasty ripple effect on food prices)... all the better. Personally, I'm more in favor of using a combination of AFEX and chemical hydrolysis for the production of cellulosic ethanol, but if these guys can really get the sort of efficiency that they say they can out of these microbes, then more power to them.

By Chadder007 on 1/14/2008 12:49:46 PM , Rating: 2
As long as the prices for some tasty Corn doesn't skyrocket i'm for it. :D

By drank12quartsstrohsbeer on 1/14/2008 1:06:19 PM , Rating: 4
Even of the cost of ethanol is equal to the cost of gasoline, it would be worthwhile.

Heck I'd pay $6 a gallon if it meant we could tell the middle east to --- ----.

By SeeManRun on 1/14/2008 11:46:09 AM , Rating: 2
Did you read the article before posting? Says it will use waste, so won't affect food sources. Read before posting.

By JackBeQuick on 1/14/2008 11:47:19 AM , Rating: 2
Did you read the article?

This fuel comes from WASTE. Crap we throw away. The Back to the Future thumbnail sort of tipped you off if you didn't read the article.

Less efficient, sure. But if it costs half what fuel will cost next year I'm OK with taking a 20% efficiency hit.

God knows Americans have enough garbage. This could do really well.

By JackBeQuick on 1/14/2008 11:48:04 AM , Rating: 2
Wow 3 responses in less than a minute :) I guess a few other people were reading this story too lol

By maverick502 on 1/14/2008 11:50:34 AM , Rating: 2
Read the article again...

"but Lutz stated that with Coskata profits, shipping, taxes , storage, and a retailer's cut, the fuel would likely raise the price to a still very affordable $2 per gallon. "

His $2 remark is for retail price...all costs have been added in.

and as other people said, this does not use food crops, just waste materials.

By michal1980 on 1/14/2008 11:50:58 AM , Rating: 1
Actually this technology is not food depedant. its depends on the waste from food. In fact it reminds me alot of the power sourch in back too the future 2, where they put garbage into the car to power it.

And if the final cost of the product is 2 dollars a gallon at the pump. As long as the efficency of the car on ethanol is 66% that of fossile fuel gasoline then you would save money.

By James Holden on 1/14/2008 11:52:33 AM , Rating: 2
The thumbnail is brilliant.

By euclidean on 1/14/2008 12:00:27 PM , Rating: 2
Increase in food prices? Did you read it? It's from waste...old tires...not food. Besides, the only reason ethanol has less fuel economy and doesn't give as much performance is because the engine systems in these "Flex" cars are not designed specifically for ethanol, and until the demand rises, they wont be.

Also, this doesn't solve the issue of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere and other chemicals, as ethanol isn't as regulated as gasoline...which is why i'm still for Hydrogen Fuel Cells :D

By DigitalFreak on 1/14/2008 1:16:54 PM , Rating: 2
Aye. Hydrogen powered vehicles are the way of the future.

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