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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: Wired.com)
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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RE: They should stick to Rum
By werfu on 7/10/2009 1:40:00 PM , Rating: 1
You didn't understood the article didn't you? It's made from sugercane waste. Sugarcane a partially harvested, only the top being cut and the bottom of the cane stay there. Usually cane farmers burn their field once the cane as been harvested. Ashes act as a fertilizer. The edible sugarcane part itself IS used for food production.

Cellulosic ethnol production can use waste from various industrial or farming activities. Here in Canada we're investigating cellulosic ethanol to use logging waste. Cellulosic ethanol could also be produced from any other plant waste, as it use cellulose which is the basic plant structure (like our cell). Now, sugercane is more efficient because it contains more sugar, but nothing is stopping us from using other byproduct. It could even use our own veggy wastes.


RE: They should stick to Rum
By menace on 7/10/2009 2:19:17 PM , Rating: 2
I don't believe you understood the article yourself. Maybe you misread the following:

quote:
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.


Here they are talking about cellulosic alcohol production using waste materials not biodiesel derived from microbial processing. Nowhere does it say they are using any throwaway byproduct of sugarcane farming in this process.


RE: They should stick to Rum
By pequin06 on 7/10/2009 3:33:18 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
You didn't understood the article didn't you? It's made from sugercane waste.


Yep, just like Rum.

Cellulosic ethanol is basically anything that doesn't use corn.
Big whoop!

BTW, I was a big backer of ethanol myself before it was fashionable but when someone takes an honest look at ethanol they wouldn't back it anymore.
It's all about the money.


“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls














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