By on July 22, 2008

\"Gary Neuenschwander, an engineer at PNNL, works on a bench-scale system for fast pyrolysis of biomass. (courtesy www.biomassmagazine.com)Bioethanol is so last year. Biomass Magazine (yes, there really is such a publication) reports the latest research in biofuels is directed at producing "green hydrocarbon fuels.' While biodiesel is becoming relatively commonplace, it's based on oils derived from plants and animal fats. Green hydrocarbon fuels are second-generation biofuels made from the same biomass materials used for bioethanol, with several advantages. Since they're chemically identical to the petroleum-based fuels, they carry the same amount of energy. Unlike ethanol, no vehicular modifications are required, AND they can use the current fuel delivery infrastructure. The down side: the process to produce the fuels is much more complex than either petroleum or ethanol production, requiring the conversion of the biomass to bio-oil before the refining process can begin. Researchers are working to simplify the solution, but it'll still be a few years before there'll be a bountiful supply of biogas– at least the kind that isn't produced by a diet of burritos and beer.

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9 Comments on “Biogas from Biomass...”


  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Eventually, science will progress to the point where Genetically Modified bacteria are designed to eat things we don’t like (e.g. landfills) and emit things we do like (e.g. auto fuel).

    We are a few years out, but whoever owns the technology will be worth a lot of money. And our nations landfills will be the Saudi Arabias of the next century.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    “We are a few years out, but whoever owns the technology will be worth a lot of money. And our nations landfills will be the Saudi Arabias of the next century.”

    That’s the promise of all the research on these alt fuels. Take stuff we don’t want and turn it into stuff we do. Kind of like 21st Century alchemy.

    Only much better.

  • avatar
    ash78

    This is great stuff.

    In a sense, I almost fear that if gas magically went down to $2 a gallon, we’d suddenly forget about all of this and the studies would lose their funding. So I’ll gladly pay $4 if it means more incentive for long-term stability and independence.

  • avatar
    mdf

    And our nations landfills will be the Saudi Arabias of the next century.

    Current solid waste production in the USA is something like 250 million tons per year.

    Current oil consumption is about 1000 million tons per year.

    Right off the top, assuming perfect conversions and no energy cost, conservation of mass says “ultimately unsustainable”: 250 hydrocarbon conversion, and the mass efficiency (the referenced article mentions facts that suggest this is about 0.2), and that a lot of solid waste would not be usable as as feedstock.

    This would indicate that even the large “reservoirs” we have accumulated over the past century may not be the coming new Saudi Arabia, in that we would chew them up very rapidly (1-2 decades, given the processing apparatus suddenly appeared tomorrow).

    Not that this sort of thing shouldn’t be done. But other approaches

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

    might end up being a bit more useful. As for portable energy:

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

    With minimal modifications the stuff works in cars just fine.

  • avatar
    Kevin

    There you go. One of the reasons I’ve never been too concerned with landfills and recycling agitprop is that I figure someday in the future, technology will surely have a way to utterly solve the problems we fear, and perhaps even make good use of the crap.

  • avatar
    WildBill

    So I’ll gladly pay $4 if it means more incentive for long-term stability and independence.

    Bah! You are speaking for yourself only. Give me back my $2 gas and let the market determine what’s next, not some liberal shit-stick (coughalgorecough)who doesn’t like those bad old petrol burners.

  • avatar

    In the meanwhile folks, keep eating those french fries. I’ve got a TDI to run here.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    WildBill

    Hmmm… if I could make methanol for fuel from the crap of the 33 llamas I have… wouldn’t that be cool!

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    “they carry the same amount of energy. Unlike ethanol, no vehicular modifications are required, AND they can use the current fuel delivery infrastructure”

    All of those problems are pretty easy to solve. There is just no reason to do so, since ethanol doesn’t solve the real problems of quantity, price, and sustainability. Solve the production problems and the country would gladly build new pipelines, install new ignition and fuel systems, and increase the size of car gas tanks by 50%.

    Biogas from biomas suffers from the same quantity, cost, and sustainability problems as ethanol. I’m glad to see more research effort in this area because some will eventually (hopefully) figure out production.


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