E85 Boondoggle of the Day: Ethanol From Garbage Breakthrough. In Theory.

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
e85 boondoggle of the day ethanol from garbage breakthrough in theory

I debated posting this blog [via The Daily Breeze] in our E85 Boondoggle of the Day category. Who knows if BlueFire Ethanol's concentrated acid hydrolysis waste-to-ethanol technology will create commercially-viable E85 fuel near a garbage dump in Lancaster, CA? (Define "commercially viable.") The company certainly thinks so; BlueFire plans to build 20 cellulose-to-ethanol plants in the next eight years generating over $2b in revenues by 2013 with pre-tax income of over $1.2b. Good luck with that. (Really.) Ultimately, the fact that BlueFire sucked $40m bucks from the U.S. Department of Energy for a cellulosic waste processing plant in Corona tipped the balance. Debate that editorial choice if you must, remembering that I believe that anything ethanol-oriented that isn't corn-for-fuel is better than anything that is. Meanwhile, BlueFire's process uses flash fermentation, membrane distillation and chromatographic separation of the acid from the sugars. TTAC's Best and Brightest can read and analyze (please) BlueFire's boffinology here, as the company's website is non-functional. (Not the best of portents, but there you go.) TTAC is investigating taxpayer "contributions" to BlueFire's Lancaster site.

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  • UnclePete UnclePete on Sep 01, 2008
    dastanley: It would sure be nice if the company is successful and can actually produce E85 from garbage. Some of us would argue E85 is garbage... no, I am not convinced about ethanol in any form. If I was to bet on the furthest-out technology to create fuel, I still like the algae to fuel prospect. Algae production takes up less space than corn production, less impact on food sources, and would deliver a product that could use the current infrastructure. Even if it was cheaper to produce from garbage, ethanol will still have significant transportation and storage issues.

  • Corvair Corvair on Sep 01, 2008

    The acid digestion piece of this process has been around for almost a century. Maybe the new bits like chromatographic separation will tip the scales, but I wouldn't bet the kids' college savings on it. For commentary on several of these ethanol from cheap-or-free stuff ideas, peruse Robert Rapier's R Squared Energy Blog http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/

  • SunnyvaleCA SunnyvaleCA on Sep 01, 2008

    dwford: "We are attempting this transition backwards by producing the fuel without the means to consume it. " I'd say quite the opposite: we are attempting this transition backwards by requiring billions of gallons consumed with no effective way to produce it. If we could effectively (cheaply) produce the stuff then most of the problems would take care of themselves. It would take very little effort to produce cars that were E85 capable and had a 40 gallon tank (so you only had to find an E85 pump once a month). The amount of ethanol produced from this plant and the next 20 plants will be so small in the grand scheme of things that it is really just a government-funded cellulose experiment. I'm OK with that, given how many taxpayer dollars go into pork-barrel projects that have absolutely no chance of doing any good for the country as a whole.

  • EJ_San_Fran EJ_San_Fran on Sep 02, 2008

    They'd better get at it. The last time I checked that company had only 5 employees.