The Ergosphere
Friday, December 23, 2005
 

What can you do with 1.3 billion tons?

There's an estimated 1.3 billion tons of unused (waste) biomass produced in the USA every year.  <Dr. Evil voice> 1.3 billion tons. </Dr. Evil voice>  Sounds like a lot, doesn't it?  Should be a great energy supply, right?

Maybe, maybe not.  It depends how it is used.

The buzz today is all about cellulosic ethanol.  Ethanol is touted because it is miscible with gasoline and can be used by some vehicles in concentrations up to 85% (E-85).  There is a large agribusiness lobby behind ethanol, which claims it as the route to energy independence.  Is it?

Iogen is a biotech company which makes enzymes for the hydrolysis of cellulose to sugars; these sugars are then available for yeasts to ferment into ethanol.  Iogen claims a net yield of 330 liters (87 gallons) of ethanol per dry ton of biomass.  This is an energy efficiency of roughly 48%; the balance of the energy is in lignin which is not converted to sugars (and typically burned to distill the ethanol) or used by the yeast for their own metabolism.

A gallon of ethanol has energy equivalent to roughly 2/3 of a gallon of gasoline, so Iogen's process turns a ton of biomass (roughly 15.2 million BTU) to the equivalent of about 58 gallons of gasoline (about 7.3 million BTU).  1.3 billion tons of biomass would yield 75 billion gallons-equivalent, about 54% of US gasoline consumption or about 38% of total US motor fuel consumption last year.  Due to other uses of petroleum, it represents an even smaller fraction of total demand.

This is clearly not going to get us to independence; even with complete use of the entire 1.3 billion tons, losing about a quarter of petroleum supply would put us right back where we are now.  But are there other ways to use this biomass surplus which would get us there?

Maybe.

Someone I won't name has been bugging me to write about direct-carbon fuel cells (DCFC's).  These things are lab test articles and not ready for production, but they are remarkable nevertheless.  The efficiency of any energy conversion machine is limited by the increase in entropy during its operation; entropy can only be carried away as waste heat, and so limits the possible conversion of chemical energy to electricity.  DCFC's convert oxygen and carbon directly to carbon dioxide, which has approximately the same entropy as the reactants.  Their theoretical efficiency is accordingly very high, and researchers claim 80% at practical current densities (100 mA/cm2).

It's easier to convert biomass to carbon than to ethanol; the production of charcoal is older than recorded history.  Simple processes can convert biomass to 28-30% of its dry weight of charcoal, of which perhaps 25% of the original mass is carbon.  1.3 billion tons could produce 325 million tons of carbon, plus pyrolysis products.  How far could we get with that?

A mole of carbon burns to yield 93960 calories of energy; that's 7830 calories/gram, or 32.8 kJ/g.  A ton of biomass at 16 GJ converted to charcoal yields about 8.2 GJ of carbon as charcoal (51%) and the balance (49%) as chemical energy and heat in the pyrolysis gases.  The carbonization of 1.3 billion (metric) tons of biomass would produce 1.02e19 joules (9.7 quadrillion BTU) of energy in addition to the charcoal.  This is 1.6 times as much as all the natural gas burned for electricity in 2004; if it could be converted to electricity at 45% efficiency, it would make 4.4 quads of electricity, or an average power of 145 GW.  That's more than 30% of total US electric consumption in 2004.  Alternative possibilities include conversion of the pyrolysis gas to syngas followed by F-T synthesis to produce liquid fuels and other products.  As a SWAG, perhaps 15% of the pyrolyzed mass might be converted to hydrocarbons; that would come to 146 million tons, roughly 42 billion gallons (1 billion barrels) of liquid at the density of diesel fuel.  A half-ton of hydrocarbon per capita should meet US needs for plastics and other chemicals.

1.3 billion tons of biomass converted to carbon at 25% efficiency yields 325 million tons (325 teragrams) of carbon.  At 7830 calories/gram, this represents 2.54e18 calories (1.06e19 J, 10.1 quadrillion BTU) of energy.  At an efficiency of 80%, DCFC's could convert this to roughly 8 quads of electricity.  This is an average power of 267 GW.  But what's that compared to motor fuel demand?

US gasoline consumption in 2004 was up to 139 billion gallons; at 126,000 BTU/gallon, this comes to 17.5 quads of raw energy.  But gasoline vehicles are inefficient; at 16% efficiency, only 2.8 quads of this gets to the wheels.  Diesel vehicles are better.  The 60 billion gallons of distillate oil consumed in 2004 contained 8.7 quads at 145,000 BTU/gallon; converted to work at 35% efficiency, it would deliver 3.0 quads to the wheels.  The total of 5.8 quads is about 73% of the energy available from the carbon, allowing a surplus for other uses.

The one liability is that the DCFC cycle cannot use energy from sources other than biomass; if productivity runs low, there's the potential for a crisis.  This is why I still like the thermal zinc process (driven by solar or any other heat source).  Its direct path is not as efficient as the DCFC system (93960 calories of carbon yields 84670 calories of zinc, which produces 52500 calories of electricity - about 56% throughput to the DCFC's 80%) but it produces more net energy (via the carbon monoxide, the output from a mole of carbon includes another 68330 calories of chemical energy), more useful byproducts, and zinc can also be regenerated using electricity from any source.  Zinc also allows nearly complete carbon capture even when the energy is used in mobile applications.

So, what CAN you do with 1.3 billion tons?  The answer, I think, is "enough."

Further reading:  Direct Carbon Conversion Workshop presentations.

 
Comments:
As natural-gas based fertilizers become more expensive, will mulch and compost make a comeback?

Seriously, I'm interested in what "unused" means. "Left in fields" means improved soil. "Hauled to landfills" means carbon incarceration.
 
"Unused" means "left to rot on the surface".  I understand that soil tilth isn't changed much by matter left on top (it decomposes too quickly); it is influenced much more by the deep roots left 8 inches or so below the surface, which are not disturbed by combines.
 
The most interestinf part of the carbon cell is that people think they can mass product it cheaply. It is very nice to get a more efficient engine, but to get a cheaper and more efficient one, this is incredible.

But you are a bit too fast when you put ethanol out. When produced the right way, one can get a lot of fuel with a reasonable amount of biomass. Brazil got very far this way, if you want an example.
 
Marcos, look again at the ultimate recoverable energy using the ethanol route.  Calculate how much biomass it would take to replace the US's petroleum consumption using ethanol.

Now consider what you would need to get that much biomass.  Tell me what other land uses you would replace to make fuel, and how much you would take.
 
Fascinating stuff, EP. How does the pyrolysis part of the process scale? Can you have pyrolyzers small enough, and geographically scattered enough that you don't get whacked by transport costs for bulky and widely dispersed biomass? Can it be done cleanly? If the process is high emission, it will be hell to site. Are pyrolysis products a decent feedstock? (for making plastic, e.g.) My gut feeling is that they're pretty gnarly, but I haven't researched it. I guess anything's possible with enough chemistry applied to it, but what's it cost?
 
"How does the pyrolysis part of the process scale?"

Pyrolysis definitely works at a small scale, but I'll bet that the equipment to do synthesis with the pyrolysis gas needs to be much bigger.

"Can it be done cleanly?"

The researchers seem to think so.

"Are pyrolysis products a decent feedstock? (for making plastic, e.g.)"

If coal (which yields some mighty nasty stuff as coal tar) can be made into clean syngas, I have no doubt that biomass pyro-gas can be too.
 
Using google, I was able to discover that the cannae average productivity at Bazil is 57ton/ha, and that each ton have the net energy sorplus of 1.2gal of diesel (that is the only figure I found).
You said that the US uses 139e9gal (how much is to run cars?) of gas per year (1gal diesel = 1.12gal gas), so would need 1.7e9ha of canae. Yes, you are right, it is not viable.
 
Iogen is a biotech company which makes enzymes for the hydrolysis of
cellulose to sugars; these sugars are then available for yeasts to
ferment into ethanol. Iogen claims a net yield of 330 liters (87
gallons) of ethanol per dry ton of biomass. This is an energy
efficiency of roughly 48%; the balance of the energy is in lignin which
is not converted to sugars (and typically burned to distill the ethanol)
or used by the yeast for their own metabolism.

As far as I know Lignin is impervious to yeast. It is one of the
hardest to break down natural substances for a reason. If it were
easily attacked then trees would fall over
The Iogen process is not very efficient and there are others that
get far more, in the vicinity of 150 gallons per ton of lignocellulosic
material. In Brazil there is a pilot plant today pumping out 1000
gallons per day of cellulosic alcohol, using only half the available
sugars produced in the process, for less than 50 cents per gallon.
There is absolutely nothing to prevent commericalization of that process
here or anywhere else and the utilization of the rest of the sugars.

A gallon of ethanol has energy equivalent to roughly 2/3 of a gallon of
gasoline, so Iogen's process turns a ton of biomass (roughly 15.2
million BTU) to the equivalent of about 58 gallons of gasoline (about
7.3 million BTU). 1.3 billion tons of biomass would yield 75 billion
gallons-equivalent, about 54% of US gasoline consumption or about 38% of
total US motor fuel consumption last year. Due to other uses of
petroleum, it represents an even smaller fraction of total demand.

Wrong Wrong Wrong: Heating value is only valuable for comparison for
heating. Heat production is a by-product of ICE operation not the main
event which is mechanical energy. Although alcohol starts out with a
lower heating value its efficiency in a properly designed internal
combustion engine can yield 22% more MPG than gasoline. The current
assembly line version of the GM/Swedish Saab 9-5 gets the same mileage
on alcohol or gasoline and would get better mileage on alcohol if it was
run 100% instead of 85%. It does that by taking advantage of alcohol's
105 octane rating which has nothing whatsoever to do with its heating
value.


The discussion of fuel cells is an interesting sideshow with no merit.
Fuel cells make electricity at fairly low efficiency from highly
valuable liquid fuels or they require massive amounts of coal/nuclear
power to make hydrogen. The materials materials needed to convert to a
fuel cell based transportation system, such as copper for electric
motors and platinum for cells, are non-renewable, energy intensive and
limited in supply compared to tried and true cast iron for ICE.s The
ultimate difference between and ICE running on alcohol and a fuel cell
engine with all the losses along the way, is the difference between
about 43% and 45% thermal efficiency. This is not even close to a
significant difference to retool the entire transportation industry even
if it was possible. For instance there is not enough platinum in the
world today to replace all current engines with 100 hp (small) fuel cell
electric systems. Given the expected increase in the number of engines
in growing economies like India and China, fuel cell systems are
unlikely to be important in transportation. They may however be
practical in distributed electric power production. The cheapest fuel
cell catalyst to date, a Rhodium Cerium mix. that only works with
ethanol, costs less than $5 for 200hp plus engine. So making ethanol
has more importance than just running cars. In fact replacing wood
cooking fuel with ethanol has huge implications for human health and
mitigating destructin of forests that could be said to dwarf its value
as an auto fuel.


Alcohol fuel production in Brazil uses virtually no fossil fuels at
all! The process energy comes from burning a fraction of the cellulose
left over. In India, none of the 200 plus alcohol fuel plants there
burn any electricity since the process energy comes from making methane
from process by-products. US plants are now being built this way and
even a small increase in natural gas prices will push all existing
plants to retrofit methane digestors to avoid paying for natural gas.

There is far more than enough land to produce all the fuel we need for
vehicles even if we didn't do our damndest to reduce our consumption,
such as with very high compression, vaporized alcohol engines. These
are already rolling off the assembly line and very small changes would
boost their efficiency. In termas of space we'd be looking at a
different mix of crops but that has been due for a long time anyway.
When you design properly with cellulose in mind yields of 5000 gallons
per acre are easily attainable compared to the puny yields of corn at
about 300 gallons per acres. Sugar cane yields are now topping 1000
gallons of alcohol per acre using no chemical fertilizer, just the
liquid and ash by-products from the alcohol plants being returned to the
field. Bear in mind that sugar cane is a perennial grass which only
needs replanting every 5-10 years. Less than a third of its biomass is
made into alcohol leaving two/thirds or more as cellulosic material that
can be made for the most part into more alcoholNothing from the soil
ends up in carbohydrates and therfore not in the alcohol. Carbohydrates
are made of water, carbon dioxide from the air and solar energy, period,
end of subject.
 
" As far as I know Lignin is impervious to yeast."

Even cellulose is impervious to yeast.  There are obviously organisms which can degrade lignin, because it decays in nature; however, that's marginally relevant to the energy balance of biomass-to-ethanol.

"Wrong Wrong Wrong: Heating value is only valuable for comparison for heating. Heat production is a by-product of ICE operation not the main event which is mechanical energy."

You're telling me that the same engine can run at 50% greater thermal efficiency burning ethanol than burning gasoline?  The same engine in the same vehicle?  On alternate tanks of fuel?

I question that claim, especially since you've cited nothing to support it.

Even if true, it would only allow ethanol to displace slightly more than half of total US gasoline consumption and about 36% of total motor fuel demand.  That's nowhere close to eliminating oil imports, let alone replacing our decreasing domestic production.

"The discussion of fuel cells is an interesting sideshow with no merit. Fuel cells make electricity at fairly low efficiency from highly valuable liquid fuels or they require massive amounts of coal/nuclear power to make hydrogen. The materials materials needed to convert to a fuel cell based transportation system, such as copper for electric motors and platinum for cells, are non-renewable, energy intensive and limited in supply compared to tried and true cast iron for ICE.s"

Funny, my calculations show that ethanol is the sideshow with no merit.  Further, it's obvious that you did not read the links on direct-carbon fuel cells (which need neither liquid fuels nor platinum nor hydrogen) and paid no attention to the calculations in the main post.  Last, there is already plenty of material used in modern vehicles (copper and aluminum) which is also suitable for high-current wiring; in the future, Buckytube wires (6 times as conductive as copper) could replace both of them.  (The 100 ppm of post-industrial CO2 in the atmosphere means there's about 270 grams of excess carbon above each and every square meter of Earth's surface; we're not about to run out of carbon.)

You score a zero on your homework.

"Alcohol fuel production in Brazil uses virtually no fossil fuels at all! The process energy comes from burning a fraction of the cellulose left over. In India, none of the 200 plus alcohol fuel plants there burn any electricity since the process energy comes from making methane from process by-products."

That's very nice for them.  It's also irrelevant to the issue of meeting US demands with US supplies (unless you want to postulate a radical change of lifestyle).  Marcos did that calculation right before you, but you appear to have been too hasty to have read his work either.

"There is far more than enough land to produce all the fuel we need for vehicles even if we didn't do our damndest to reduce our consumption"

Even with 1.3 billion tons you can't even get halfway there; anything beyond that requires changes in land use from something else to fuel crops.  While that might be desirable, you can't take it for granted; people have more than just one priority.

" Sugar cane yields are now topping 1000 gallons of alcohol per acre using no chemical fertilizer, just the liquid and ash by-products from the alcohol plants being returned to the field."

Very little land in the USA is suitable for growing cane, and cane is both non-native and one of the more polluting crops we grow.  Regardless, fermentation is a lossy process and the internal combustion engine is lossier yet.  Direct-carbon fuel cells and zinc-air fuel cells can produce a great deal more energy at the end per unit of biomass.  You may not like that, but the facts are against you.
 
I think it is useful to think about this question from the opposite direction. Instead of wondering if there is enough waste to supplant petroleum dependence, how about considering the cost of the biomass waste (agricultural, forestry, and urban) as it is and what positive thing can we do with it that would reduce our dependence on fossil fuel.

For instance, farmers have a problem with disposing rice straw to the point where it is no longer financially even breakeven to grow rice in some states that have outlawed burning it. Disposal of autofluff is a big waste problem throughout the country. MSW have relied on landfills for its disposal - and I would say we are beyond "peak land" for the availability of alternative landfill sites given NIMBYism and the expense of trucking it to remote locations (which doesn't deal with the real problem anyway). So what can we do with all this biomass that is economically feasible?

You mentioned cellulosic ethanol. According to Wikipedia there are two methods for its production - enzymatic hydrolysis you mentioned and it is very expensive and not very efficient - nor is it applicable to most biomass feedstock.

Syngas fermentation you did not mention. You can gasify 75-85% of all unrecycled waste (agricultural, forestry, and urban) into syngas which can then be fermented into ethanol using bioconversion processes - anerobic bacteria ingesting the gas and expelling ethanol and water.

So - you are not only reducing waste volume by 75-85% but you are co-generating clean electricity (from the heat of the process) and producing renewable liquid fuel to blend or replace gasoline.

You also did not mention the emissions data related to any of the processes you mention - a HUGE issue. I refer you to Argonne National Laboratory and U. of Riverside/CE-CERT for comparative data.

Could waste and biomass conversion supplant all of fossil fuel dependence? Who cares so long as it reduces the waste problem and provides a clean technology for renewable fuel.
 
"Instead of wondering if there is enough waste to supplant petroleum dependence, how about considering ... what positive thing can we do with it that would reduce our dependence on fossil fuel."

The standard for that is much lower.  Suppose you could make one gallon of ethanol per ton; that's 1.3 billion gallons/year, about 1% of gasoline consumption.

Sure, that's something.  It's also so trivial that it's barely worth doing (a 0.3 MPG increase in CAFE would do more), and it offers no prospect of a sustainable energy cycle.

"Syngas fermentation you did not mention. You can gasify 75-85% of all unrecycled waste (agricultural, forestry, and urban) into syngas which can then be fermented into ethanol using bioconversion processes - anerobic bacteria ingesting the gas and expelling ethanol and water."

I've seen those claims, and I'm skeptical.  Enzyme hydrolysis and fermentation is about 48% efficient (87 gallons/ton).  I'm having trouble finding the reference, but I've seen a claim of either 110 or 140 gallons/ton for the gasification/fermentation cycle (61% or 77% efficiency respectively), plus electric generation.  You still have to do the distillation step, with all the losses there.  I don't see how this works.

I've also searched for information on the Clostridium pathway from syngas to ethanol.  I didn't find any papers which described experiments which worked smoothly even at the laboratory scale.  This is not to say it hasn't been done, but at this point I say "show me".

"You also did not mention the emissions data related to any of the processes you mention - a HUGE issue."

The zinc-air fuel cell is emissions-free.  The DCFC can be sealed on the fuel side.  The conversion of biomass to charcoal makes tars and such, but it's pretty much the same as the first step in syngas fermentation; you could even add air to break down heavy tars and feed the results to a fermenter.  The charcoal would yield much more energy in a DCFC than ethanol could make in an engine.

"Could waste and biomass conversion supplant all of fossil fuel dependence? Who cares...."

I do.  If we can get all the way there, there's no reason to settle for a tenth, or even half.
 
still having problems posting

A couple of things. You don't need sugar cane. Beets and the like will do. Dr. Barry Commoner studied the question in the 1980s at the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems and showed that a shift away from starch crops to sugar crops, like beets, would dramatically increase yields of both alcohol and animal feed compared to corn. For instance, fodder or sugar beets yield 900+ gallons of alcohol per acre . He concluded that these slight shifts could easily accommodate - all the fuel we need and even more animal feed than is currently produced. Easily done in the US of A.

Am I talking an agricultural revolution, organic farming, polyculture? You bet.

According to the U.S.D.A., we have 434,164,946 acres of cropland. This is a very conservative number, describing land that is able to be worked in an industrial fashion, primarily for annual crops. There are actually 939,279,056 acres of farmland, nearly double what the U.S.D.A. considers cropland, much of which could support perennial crops which don’t require that the soil be plowed every year or that soil would be plowed on contour.
 
According to what I've been able to find, sugar beets yield roughly 20 tons/acre and are about 16.7% dry matter by weight.

That's about 3.3 tons of dry matter per acre, which is very unimpressive compared to Miscanthus, switchgrass or willow shrubs.  The one reason to use sugar beets is to avoid the expense of enzymes for cellulose hydrolysis, though I suspect that the lower yields and higher cultivation costs would offset that.  When someone breeds a yeast which makes its own cellulase, even that argument will be out the window.

Perhaps I'm wrong.  Show me the data (like you didn't for that Saab).
 
Hi,
truthfully, on the issue of flexible fuel vehicles, etc, you'll just have to wait for the book in July. "Alcohol Can Be a Gas," which I edited. There was a lot of first hand experimentation However, I know there's tons of stuff on the Saab flexible fuel vehicle on the Internet. This below is in the book.

"Using a turbocharger, Saab has in production a very cool FFV engine used in the Saab 9-5 in Sweden. The adjustable turbocharger is controlled by the ECU which has a knock sensor. As soon as s little pinging happens the engine control opens the automatic waste gate a little and drops the boost pressure. Starting in 1993 Volvo front wheel drive vehicles like the 850 have a vacuum operated wastegate that adjusts the turbocharger based on listening for ping. The only thing you’d need to add to a system like that would be an air-fuel tuner if you wanted to run leaner than stoichiometric air fuel mixture, which is desirable on alcohol to increase mileage.. They discovered something very interesting in developing the Saab engine. They were able to get 15% better mileage than gasoline in the mid to high load ranges. In essence what they discovered was that extra fuel for cooling the combustion chamber while climbing a hill or accelerating was not needed when running on alcohol. So mileage between gasoline and alcohol was quite close depending on the kind of driving one does."

The experiment done with the Acura Integra will have to wait until the book comes out. Let's just say the results were gratifying.

More later.
 
Popfuel, it seems that there are a lot about fuel cells that you don't know. Fuel cell is simply a name for a battery where the reactors are not inside it, but pupped into it all the time.
That means that you can build one with any kind of chemical reaction that outputs energy, not only with Hydrogen and oxygen. It also means that your generator is not restricted by the Carnot cycle's efficiency, but it is possible to get something near 100% efficient.
Also, the platinun cataliser is used only on the hydrogen fuel cells, and, even there, it have cheaper replacements.
About the ethanol, I made the calculations up there, it is not viable to get everything that is needed from canae and other traditional cultures. those numbers put at a new light the recent rise on the price of this fuel at Brazil.
But with alternative cultures, it may be possible to run the world on ethanol. Eichornia crassipes is a plant (angimnosperm) that lives on polluted waters, and helps cleanning it. It produces 150+ ton/ha of almost all cellulosis. With 87 gal of ethanol by ton, 16e6 ha of it can produce the energy equivalent of those 139e9 gal of gas. It is worth notice that this plant spreads very well at the south at the US.
Of course, there may not be 16e6 ha of polluted water out there to produce it, but it could be possible to produce a significant amount of fuel this way. And if this plant can yeld a so large amount of cellulosis, other cultures may do the same.
 
yes, some of what you're talking about re ethanol in the Third World, Marcos can be found here
http://www.permaculture.com/newsletter/1105-newsletter.html
The feedstock sources are endless. Desert plants...
Actually the Acura story is in the link, I forgot about that, so read and enjoy, E-P!
 
Dave Blume writes:

2000 pounds of cellulose converts to more than 1000 pounds of alcohol. In real life that comes out to 180 gallons per ton not 87. This is close to what Brazilian cellulose alcohol producers are getting
from their pilot plant. Check out the Oil Endgame website for confirmation on cellulose alcohol yield.

Brazil only cultivates 8% of its total land for ALL crops. Of the cultivated land only about 5% is used for sugar/alcohol. They provide about 50% of all their fuel right now and export a lot. In our case we
cultivate a much higher percentage but in the case of corn, about half the acreage, we throw away more than 80% of the carbohydrates when we
feed it to cattle that don't digest it. Even if we just grew corn we could supply the US on what the US defines as cropland. There is twice as much farmland which is not classified as prime "farmland" and perhaps 5 times as much land that isn't classified as either than can grow non
traditional crops that have high yields. That's without kelp production which from our coastline could produce most of what we need and clean up
the nutrients we flush into the ocean at the same time. Our potential for economical production from sunlight is immense.

Neither Corn nor Soybeans are the largest US crop by weight. Grass clippings are and they are nearly pure cellulose.

As I mentioned its easily possible to get 5000 gallons per acre with a designed cellulose production (compared to corn's 300 gallons per acre) . That is in line with the estimate your writer discussed, 150 tons/ha.

How much further we can push that figure is quite open to experimentation. In theory it should be possible to at least triple that using fermentation carbon dioxide either in land plants or in kelp
farming.

Can we produce enough is not even a question worth discussing in detail. Other places in the world have far more surplus than the temperate US.
 
Dave also writes, his final words on the subject:

"There are so many variables and hidden assumptions in fuel cell technology.  There's good reasons why no one has ever used them before.  Developing a whole system  to make electricity and then turn it back into mechanical power is inherently flawed.  For instance, worldwide we use about 22 lbs of copper per person per year as I recall.  There is a real struggle to come up with that every year right now. Some years demand surges and the price of copper goes way up.  Some years they cannot produce as much as is needed and so the scrap price goes way up and plumbers and electricians suddenly start saving construction scrap for another little profit stream.  Now add 1.5 billion vehicle engines, at over 100 lbs of copper, on average,  over some number of years to that figure and you will quickly see that there aren't enough copper mines and smelters to keep up with that demand even if you could or would want to mine this much material.  It takes temperatures of over 10,000 degrees to melt copper and only 3,000 to melt steel. Right now 75% of steel is recylced.   So energy wise the embedded energy alone is way more than ICE's.  That energy comes from fossil fuels currently.  

Note too that the carbon fuel cell uses coal as fuel.  Co2 problems here?
And where will you get renewable carbon?

best fuel cell type: Ethanol is a dream compared to gasoline. It will reform at a tepid 550ºF over a nickel catalyst or more efficiently autoreform over a Rhodium/Cerium catalyst at 1200 degrees C. The huge advantage over gasoline reforming is that the fuel is renewable and the catalyst does not contain platinum which is a limited non-renewable resource in itself. The catalysts needed for an ethanol reformer cost maybe $5.

So am I advocating going to fuel cells for cars? No. Even if on board reformers are about 45% efficient, vaporized alcohol in an ICE has already been proven practical at 43% efficiency. "

Happy holidays, folks
 
I asked the VP Marketing of BRI Energy what a rough number for conversion of a ton of waste to ethanol using syngas fermentation is. His answer:

"It depends upon the BTU content of the material being processed.

In very rough numbers, I would say between 70 and 85 gallons per dry ton for such materials as MSW, animal wastes, sewage sludge, agricultural residues, etc., and between 160 and 180 gallons per ton for such high BTU materials as coal, used tires or plastics."

Feedstocks can be blended which would affect yield.

Another efficiency factor is - where does the feedstock reside? Shipping sugar fermented ethanol from the Midwest doesn't make much sense for California, although the state imports 99% of the ethanol it uses. However, California could produce all of its needs for ethanol from the ample waste that is generated here. We could even "mine" landfills for feedstock.
 
poopfuel:  You don't have a cite for the Saab, and your link has a statement but zero supporting data for the economy claim.  I realize that alcohol will burn lean without knocking and allow greater economy, but you've not provided any evidence that this can be done while meeting NOx emissions limits.  The standard flex-fuel car runs at stoichiometric and will have an economy penalty for greater ethanol fractions.

Hand-waving will get you far among believers, but if you aim to solve problems in the real world you have to show how you'll handle real-world complications.  You haven't done that; you're not even close.

Neither have you supported your claim regarding sugar beets.  Where are the yield figures which would support that much productivity?  How many farmers are getting that?  Your failure to support your claims with pertinent data makes me question your accuracy; keep it up, and I'll have to question your truthfulness.  Especially when you're writing to mislead:

"2000 pounds of cellulose converts to more than 1000 pounds of alcohol."

Even if true, very misleading:  biomass is a lot less than 100% cellulose.
 
"Neither Corn nor Soybeans are the largest US crop by weight. Grass clippings are and they are nearly pure cellulose.
"

Figures on the web are all over the map, but I've seen no claim for total yard waste (more than just grass clippings) which is over 30 million tons/yr (example).  Other sources are far greater; there is about 200 million tons of excess corn stover alone.

The actual 2004 maize harvest was 11.8 billion bushels, which is 330 million short tons at 56 lb/bu.

It appears we cannot trust anything you write.  Either you don't check your facts, or you just don't care what's true.
 
Last, poopfuel writes:

"Note too that the carbon fuel cell uses coal as fuel. Co2 problems here?
And where will you get renewable carbon?
"

RTFP.
 
Scott:  That's far more realistic (and in line with what I thought I remembered from the last go-ground with this concept).  "Agricultural wastes" is probably equivalent to biomass in general, so it appears that the ethanol conversion efficiency is a bit below Iogen's claims (87 gal/ton).  That's more like what I would expect given the nature of the bio-processing and the ancillary output.

Does BRI have figures on the web that they're willing to stand behind?  I've been over their site and found nothing pertinent.

There are many technologies which appear to be able to process ag wastes into useful substances.  For instance, fast pyrolysis could convert all that rice straw into bio-oil, char and gas.  The gas heats the process, the char is either used for heat or a carbon-sequestering soil amendment, and the bio-oil could be used as a natural gas substitute in powerplants (perhaps a bigger deal for California than anything petroleum-related).

What concerns me is that we not get locked into a system which commandeers all the available resource but won't let us get very far toward sustainability.  I fear that ethanol will do that, by harnessing us to the internal combustion engine.  DCFC's won't, and alternative fuels for stationary powerplants probably won't.
 
rtfb

b is for book- plenty of cites, plenty of context
July 2006.
 
Wait 6 months so that we can pay to see if you've actually got facts to back your claims?  After your sorry showing here, I won't be waiting.
 
I don't have any figures more definitive than what I have told you although I am assured that Dr. Gaddy tends to understate yield. The chicken or egg concept applies here - their numbers are based on pilot plant data to help secure investment on a full scale installation - they expect groundbreaking next quarter.

My focus at BioConversion Blog has been on supporting California AB 1090 which is a linchpin piece of legislation that could open the doors for investment in waste conversion technologies in CA. Crucial first committee vote is scheduled for January 9.

In general, I support ethanol because it (and flex-fuel vehicles) exist. And, as you pointed out, ethanol is miscible with gasoline. For me the key to any broad acceptance of any renewable is infrastructure. I also like the idea of weaning a wary public off fossil fuels by providing them with a price competitive alternatives at the pump (like they have in Brazil). Change will be glacial and gradual.

I am told that the BRI process can also be used to produce hydrogen from biomass.
 
Regarding poopfuel's economy claim for the Saab:

I went digging and found a press release which states that fuel cost declines 15% when burning an ethanol mix which costs 25% less per unit volume.  This indicates that the vehicle burns 13% more fuel by volume when running on E-85, or 98% as much ethanol as gasoline plus another 15% gasoline.

Efficiency does appear to go up (the fuel has only about 80% of the energy of the displaced gasoline), but it's not the 50% leap he implies.
 
My research reveals that the MPG for ethanol is almost always lower for E85 than gasoline with lower blends of ethanol.

Check out http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/byfueltype.htm. This has a handy chart/calculator for comparing not only MPG for city and hwy but also annual fuel cost (with user customizable gas prices), GHG in tons/yr., and EPA air pollution score for each 2006 model of FFV.

But let the market decide which is more economical. Two things are certain - 1) fossil fuel prices will make renewable fuel prices more affordable by comparison and 2) competition between gas and ethanol prices will keep each in check.
 
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link



<< Home
Talk largely about energy and work, but also politics and other random thoughts


Mail Engineer-Poet

(If you're mailing a question, is it already in the FAQ?)

Important links

The FAQ
Glossary
The Reference Library

Blogchild of

Armed and Dangerous

Blogparent of

R-Squared




The best prospect for our energy future:
Flibe Energy

ARCHIVES
January 1990 / February 2004 / March 2004 / June 2004 / July 2004 / August 2004 / September 2004 / October 2004 / November 2004 / December 2004 / January 2005 / February 2005 / March 2005 / April 2005 / May 2005 / June 2005 / July 2005 / August 2005 / September 2005 / October 2005 / November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / December 2007 / January 2008 / May 2008 / June 2008 / August 2008 / October 2008 / November 2008 / December 2008 / February 2009 / March 2009 / April 2009 / May 2009 / June 2009 / July 2009 / August 2009 / September 2009 / October 2009 / November 2009 / December 2009 / January 2010 / April 2010 / May 2010 / June 2010 / July 2010 / August 2010 / September 2010 / October 2010 / November 2010 / December 2010 / January 2011 / February 2011 / March 2011 / April 2011 / May 2011 / July 2011 / August 2011 / September 2011 / October 2011 / April 2013 / November 2013 / December 2013 / January 2014 / February 2014 / March 2014 / April 2014 / July 2014 / August 2014 / September 2014 / October 2014 / November 2014 / February 2015 / April 2015 / October 2015 / March 2016 / April 2016 / May 2016 / June 2016 / July 2016 / November 2016 / December 2016 /


Powered by Blogger

RSS feed

Visits since 2006/05/11: