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Amyris's biofuel plant in Brazil is one of the largest test deployments of sugar-based microbial biodiesel to date. It should be an important test of the new technology's commercial potential.  (Source:
Will company offer the best biofuel yet, or just another pricey alternative?

A new kind of fuel production has launched in Brazil.  Unlike ethanol plants in the country which turn sugarcane to ethanol or traditional oil refining, the new plant produces the equivalent of diesel fuel formed from the waste byproducts of microbes that "eat" and reprocess the sugar.  Built by Emeryville, CA-based Amryis Technologies, the plant aims to produce 10,000 gallons a year (approximately 238 barrels).

While biodiesel and biofuels are not exactly a new concept, this is one of the largest test deployments to date of sugar based biodiesel, particularly of a microbial scheme (most biodiesel is formed from plant oils, such as palm oil).  The plant aims to produce, with government regulation and carbon taxes, fuel at $60/barrel (approximately $1.43 per gallon).  This indicates that their technology may be nearing cost competitiveness with cellulosic ethanol manufacturers -- the best of which, Coskata, claims to be on the verge of $1.00 per gallon ethanol.

Advantages of the cellulosic ethanol include being able to come from waste materials unlike the biodiesel that’s formed from sugar crops.  However, the biodiesel packs more energy per gallon and the microbes could eventually be genetically engineered to process cellulose as well.  It’s hard to tell which solution costs less, given that the target costs for the biodiesel are post-subsidy, while Coskata's targets are pre-subsidy.

The plant will go online in 2011 and should looks to sell its high-grade fuel products primarily overseas as Brazil doesn't use much diesel fuel.

One key advantage of the biodiesel is like ethanol it lacks the harmful impurities found in standard oil.  The fuel features less sulfur, less carbon monoxide, and fewer nitrogen oxides, particulates, and other emissions, compared with petroleum diesel.  States Neil Renninger, founder and chief technical officer of Amyris, "The greenness of the fuel might drive a few people to it, but we need to be cost competitive."

The plant will use existing sugarcane delivery infrastructure.  However, it faces tough competition.  Sugarcane ethanol production is much more energy efficient than that of its American brethren, corn ethanol.  Sugarcane waste is burned and the production consumes less electricity, leading to a net electricity surplus.  Corn ethanol, meanwhile consumes more electricity to produce than it generates.  Lester Lave, a professor of economics and co-director of the Electricity Industry Center at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, praises sugarcane ethanol, stating, "The net energy invested in sugarcane ethanol is not very high and leads to huge gains relative to the gain from corn."

However, sugarcane is unfortunately limited by geography, as it grows best in tropical regions which are warmer and receive more sunlight.  A few states -- Hawaii, Louisiana, and Florida do have conditions conducive to moderate sugarcane yields.  A corn-sugarcane hybrid called corncane might be viable across a broader range of states, though, while retaining much of sugarcane's benefits.

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Read the title...
By Alexstarfire on 7/10/2009 7:47:20 AM , Rating: -1
and figured it had to be a Jason Mick article with the misspelling and sensationalist headline. Was spot on.

This article isn't very newsworthy anyway. Only two things to get out of this article is the 10,000 gallon a year production and the claimed $1.43 price per gallon they say it should be at. Although at 10,000 gallons it really doesn't matter. Just about every gas station probably pumps more than that per day, especially in Atlanta.

RE: Read the title...
By Denithor on 7/10/2009 8:17:07 AM , Rating: 2
It's a pilot plant to prove the concept and get an idea of price scaling. Not meant for large-scale production. If this plant meets their production efficiency targets and price points they will build a larger capacity facility in the future.

RE: Read the title...
By Lord 666 on 7/10/2009 9:23:51 AM , Rating: 2
Instead of bashing Mick (got old a long time ago), focus on what is being presented.

1. This article is about sugar based biodiesel. What Mick should have tied in for US capabilities is algae based biodiesel that can produce 10,000 gallons per acre or more.

2. I am going out on a limb and presenting future looking statments, but within this presidental term, the US will be setting up shop in Cuba. Not only does this open the door for sugar based diesel, but allows access to the real dino juice and area for other biofuel crops.

3. Also missing from the article is WVO recycling into diesel. The US has great capacity to handle that.

So again, instead of wasting everyone's time putting someone down, actually focus on the material or shut up and learn something of the whole concept first before saying something.

RE: Read the title...
By FITCamaro on 7/10/2009 12:06:25 PM , Rating: 1
is algae based biodiesel that can produce 10,000 gallons per acre or more.

I'm assuming that's per year. But that's not bad at all. Doing a little math that's around 14 million acres of land needed to "grow" all the motor vehicle fuel the US uses per year if we all switched to diesel.

Better than wasting land on solar power plants that put out less power than a coal or nuclear plant which takes up far less space.

RE: Read the title...
By corduroygt on 7/10/2009 12:31:16 PM , Rating: 1
I can live with switching to diesel rather than a gutless hybrid or an EV with ridiculously expensive batteries, long charge times, and practically useless in the winter. Then maybe we would get all the cool diesels europe gets. I also believe algae is the future.

RE: Read the title...
By Iaiken on 7/10/09, Rating: 0
"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

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