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post #1 of 11 Old 04-23-2008, 12:38 AM Thread Starter
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More on Ethanol from cellulose

http://www.autoweek.com/apps/pbcs.dl...225446544/1636

By KEVIN A. WILSON



Imagine converting virtually any waste--grass, municipal waste, old tires, wood chips--into fuel for your car. A company called Coskata claims it can do this using a patented bioreactor and anaerobic microbes found in nature (microbes that, although they're not genetically modified, are patented). Factories using this proprietary process could produce ethanol for $1 per gallon or less and sell it for twice that much, Coskata claims.

When ethanol-promoting General Motors signed on with a "strategic ownership investment" (large but short of controlling interest) announced at the Detroit auto show, Coskata, a 35-employee company in Warrenville, Illinois, moved into the limelight. Ever since President Bush suggested in his 2006 State of the Union address that we could reduce dependence on imported oil by getting ethanol from switch grass or wood chips, there have been lots of start-ups pursuing this Rumpelstiltskin-like profit-from-straw idea and the federal grants and tax breaks that go with it.

"Most companies doing cellulosic ethanol are trying to use enzymes to digest the sugar out of organic matter," says Wes Bolsen, Coskata vice president. "We don't do it that way."

The bioreactor first phase is essentially an update of old-fashioned gasification, burning the feedstock at up to 4000 degrees Fahrenheit. Some organic materials can be gasified at lower temps. One advantage: Plant fibers also get converted to energy.

Either way, the feedstock is reduced to ash, which has agricultural uses, and carbon monoxide, hydrogen and that nasty greenhouse gas, CO2. Some of the exhaust might need scrubbing, but most of these gases are "fed" to anaerobic bacteria that consume them and emit ethanol as a waste product.

"It's kind of like a fish tank. Bacteria recycle the waste into something beneficial," says Bolsen.

Research was done with microbes floating around in a big tank, but in our visit to Coskata's lab and HQ, tucked into an office park in the western Chicago suburb, we saw early research toward industrialization, in which the microbes would be grown as a slime layer on a dense matrix in a plastic tube. The water-and-gas mixture would bubble through these tubes, and the liquid coming out would be 3 percent or more ethanol. The ethanol comes out through distillation and passing the liquid through a membrane, and the water is reused. Coskata needs only one gallon of water per gallon of ethanol, less than one-sixth of that needed for corn ethanol. The gasification phase produces waste heat that makes a Coskata plant an ideal collocated partner for something like a paper mill. It's a continuous process (you don't want to starve the microbes) so you need a reliable supply of feedstock, but Bolsen says "you could do straw one week and tires the next." Once it's running, the process takes only two-minutes to convert feedstock to ethanol.

Unlike many cellulosic ethanol start-ups, Coskata doesn't aim to go into ethanol production itself. It wants to sell its processes and colonies of its proprietary bacteria to bigger companies that have the massive capital resources to build cost-intensive production facilities.

"We want to provide the software, essentially," says Bolsen. "In our business model, you'd license the process, and we'd help you set up your plant. Say it makes 600,000 gallons a year. You're making money selling ethanol and we're getting a per-gallon royalty. We're back at work in the lab, developing better processes, more efficient organisms, and we come back to you and say, 'We have version 2.0 now. Buy this upgrade, and you'll get 800,000 gallons a year.'"

Besides GM, Coskata's other industrial partner is ICM, builder of most corn-ethanol plants in America. It also has ties to several venture-capital firms and educational and research institutes such as the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, Brigham Young University and Argonne National Labs. The microbes-Coskata owns rights to five--were discovered by academic researchers funded by the company. By selectively breeding the germs--making them "thoroughbreds," Bolsen says--the company has improved output 100-fold.

If oil companies don't want to be involved or block access to their fuel stations, Bolsen says, there are alternative distribution channels, "big-box retail outlets that have fuel pumps, essentially. They're eager to have this."

A 40,000 gallon/year demonstration plant will be announced on April 24. Then, a new partner would build a production plant making millions of gallons annually. Bolsen says he envisions one more round of drumming up venture capital and eventually an IPO.

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post #2 of 11 Old 04-23-2008, 06:28 AM
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There are two problems with this: A.) its ethanol which means we'd have to overhaul the fuel distribution system in order to supply it to the pump economically and B.) its a fairly wasteful process.

Why is it wasteful? Because they convert biomass into syngas then into ethanol instead of the much more efficient process converting biomass into syngas then into gasoline. This was discussed yesterday on Slashdot and one user in particular had a very good explanation of why this is a bad method:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rei View Post
Actually, it reminds me of thermal depolymerization. Anyone remember that?

Really, though, what we're looking at is one of the things that drives me crazy about a lot of environmental "trends" and congress's role in pushing them. And don't get me wrong; I say this as a hardcore green with CFLs in every socket who is on the waiting list for an electric car.

Most of these new biomass-to-ethanol plants work based on syngas. That is, partial oxidation of carbon-and-hydrogen-bearing matter into a mixture of CO and H2. They then either, through an wasteful catalytic process or an even more wasteful biological process, convert the syngas into ethanol. Great. Except that we've been converting syngas to gasoline, in a rather simple and fairly efficient process, for the past century. The main syngas source was coal. This Fischer-Tropsch process powered a large portion of Nazi Germany's war machine (until their plants were bombed flat). It powered South Africa during the Apartheid regime.

Let's state this again: they typically are using *more energy* to create *less output* of a product with *less energy density* that *can't be transported in normal pipelines* and can only be used in *small amounts* in cars unless they're *specially modified*, rather than, more efficiently, just creating gasoline. Why? Because gasoline is a dirty word. Because there aren't the same sort of subsidies for "cellulosic gasoline" as there are for cellulosic ethanol. Because cellulosic gasoline won't win you green cred, or get the investors lining up. So the inferior solution gets chosen.
http://hardware.slashdot.org/hardwar.../2120218.shtml

The hyperlinks he had in his post were about thermal depolarization, a waste to oil conversion start up, and a electric car:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_depolymerization
http://science.slashdot.org/article..../05/21/0057234
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2Ke1VWhZJA

This a step in the correct direction as I think it to be a logical fallacy that we use food to fuel cars when people are still starving in the world. IMHO, the argument can already be that the current corn based ethanol production levels are already causing food shortages due to rising costs. The guy I quoted makes an absolutely valid point. Search "cellulosic gasoline" in Google and the first 2 hits are papers (they are in PDF format) about cellulosic biofuel technologies such as cellulosic diesel, cellulosic gasoline, and cellulosic aviation fuel. And the best part is, none of these fuels require any significant modification to the current fuel distribution systems or engine modifications.

Hopefully, we'll see that gasoline isn't the problem. Rather, where we get it is the problem.

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post #3 of 11 Old 04-23-2008, 09:13 AM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 89RS View Post
There are two problems with this: A.) its ethanol which means we'd have to overhaul the fuel distribution system in order to supply it to the pump economically and B.) its a fairly wasteful process.
A. These plants can be located anywhere in the US, so they can be local, so there would be no need for new pipelines.

B. Is he talking about the same cellulosic process as they are using in the article, because this process is fairly new and much much improved over the old process. Pretty much the bateria eats waste and poops out pure ethanol and water then its seperated.

http://blogs.cars.com/kickingtires/2...g-garbage.html

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post #4 of 11 Old 04-23-2008, 10:05 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brandonppr View Post
A. These plants can be located anywhere in the US, so they can be local, so there would be no need for new pipelines.

B. Is he talking about the same cellulosic process as they are using in the article, because this process is fairly new and much much improved over the old process. Pretty much the bateria eats waste and poops out pure ethanol and water then its seperated.

http://blogs.cars.com/kickingtires/2...g-garbage.html
In relation to A, I never realized (or thought for that matter) that the plants could be built locally.

As far as B is concerned, yes he is talking about the exact same process used in the article. You are correct in that the bacteria create the ethanol, however you missed a step or got them out of order. I'll quote directly from the article:

Quote:
Coskata's system, which is currently small in scale, works on a variety of source materials, or feedstocks, including shredded tires or other waste material, as well as cellulose such as wood chips. The feedstock goes into a pressurized tank at a temperature high enough to break it down, releasing gases such as hydrogen and carbon monoxide. What emerges from the gasifier is known as synthesis gas, or syngas. Gasification isn't new; syngas itself can be turned into synthetic petroleum. What's new is Coskata's next step, in which microorganisms in a bioreactor feed on the syngas, and those microorganisms then produce ethanol.
That process in bold is where the lack of efficiency comes in. The conversion process is this:

Biomass => Syngas => Ethanol

The reason the process is inefficient is because the bacterial conversion of syngas into ethanol is about a 8.1:1 ratio. This means that for every 8.1 units of syngas, you get 1 unit of ethanol.

The process the Slashdot poster said was better was this:

Biomass => Syngas => Gasoline

Here the conversion ratio of syngas into gasoline is in the range of 3:1 to 1.7:1. This means that for every 3 to 1.7 units of syngas you get 1 unit of gasoline.

The second process is far superior to the first because:

-less energy used to create the fuel
-greater energy density (ethanol has 2/3'rds the energy per unit volume compared to gasoline)
-faster process
-more economically viable
-no need to build localized plants

We'd be using the same amount of biomass to produce more fuel, and because we're already using a renewable source, we wouldn't have to worry about adding more carbon to the air. Hopefully I made some sense.

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Last edited by 89RS; 04-23-2008 at 10:10 AM.
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post #5 of 11 Old 04-23-2008, 01:59 PM
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Guve me a nuke powered ride and call it done .

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post #6 of 11 Old 04-23-2008, 03:19 PM
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I think the high-volume conventional moonshine method works best. I respect the research and improvement over the old method, but I still think the guys involved in this is trying to make a dollar off the green bandwagon.

This what I like to see by 2010:

-Every station that has diesel and gasoline, also has dedicated ethanol pump.

-For every $50 dollars in ethanol spent one dollar is exempted from federal taxes. If state has property tax on vehicles, like here in NC, you only pay 50%
of the tax value.

-For every new flex fuel bought (polar opposite to gas guzzler tax) at a dealership, the sales tax is reduced by 25%,

-Companies should begin to offer flex-fuel conversion at dealerships, in turn dealership get a massive tax break as incentive

-At least every state have ground breaking to built the ethanol plants

-Solve cold start issues with 100% ethanol (E100), by ignition improvement or some other measure; that way (E85, with 15% gasoline) can be done away with or considered the "regular" with E90 is "plus". Stick it to the Middle East profiteers.

-Have only state sales tax on ethanol at the pump

-Be $2.00 a gallon, with a prices reducing at the rate gasoline is going up now. I think this realistic because I think after every state has at least one plant prices should be competitive because there always a chance that an alien inverstor can come in with a better, cheaper process and sell for less to the consumer.


By 2015:

-Take the sum of gallons we are using now as a whole country. We should be producing 150% percent of that and steadily increasing the production, so we can trade places with the Arabic Nation in terms of exporting fuels. That brings the cost down here and gives the rest of the world to actually like us again.

-gasoline pumps will be as common as diesel pumps, and ethanol pumps will be as common as gasoline pumps are now.

-Every vehicle will have flex fuel capacity

-McCain will make a younger clone of himself, transplant his brain, and have a scene in which he fights Obama like the Emperor did with Mace Windu in Revenge of the Sith.

-Hillary gets a sex change, and force Bill to become a Uniq (prolly spelled that wrong, but oh well)


I man can dream.


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post #7 of 11 Old 04-23-2008, 04:20 PM
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Jinx, ethanol isn't the answer. It has about 2/3'rds the energy per unit volume of gasoline, takes 3-5 times the amount of energy and raw material to produce, and actually puts more carbon into the atmosphere when you consider the carbon generated by farming. Cellulosic gasoline is actually better because its using the same biomass and syngas as ethanol, but at 3-5 times the efficiency and no loss of power.

I'm all for cellulosic gasoline, because its something we've been able to produce for the past century with great ease, but high cost. Now that oil based gas is so expensive, cellulosic gasoline is viable alternative.

And to you slims, Ford actually had a concept car the late 60's to early 70's called the Nucleon and it used a miniature nuclear reactor as the engine.

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post #8 of 11 Old 04-23-2008, 08:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 89RS View Post
Jinx, ethanol isn't the answer. It has about 2/3'rds the energy per unit volume of gasoline, takes 3-5 times the amount of energy and raw material to produce, and actually puts more carbon into the atmosphere when you consider the carbon generated by farming. Cellulosic gasoline is actually better because its using the same biomass and syngas as ethanol, but at 3-5 times the efficiency and no loss of power.

I'm all for cellulosic gasoline, because its something we've been able to produce for the past century with great ease, but high cost. Now that oil based gas is so expensive, cellulosic gasoline is viable alternative.

And to you slims, Ford actually had a concept car the late 60's to early 70's called the Nucleon and it used a miniature nuclear reactor as the engine.
I didnt say it was but its the boat we are on, so if we are going to do, do it right. I understand the principles of ethanol.


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post #9 of 11 Old 04-23-2008, 08:52 PM
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Theres a yes and no answer there.

The yes answer is that we need to find a good way to exploit renewable energy for the time required to transfer us from dependence on coal and oil to completely renewable energy (i.e. solar). We're doing good on that so far, and we've came up with several ideas that are quite feasible.

The no answer is ethanol isn't a viable source of renewable energy and let me explain why. While Congress and the vocal portion of the "go green" groups out there continue to push ethanol, a vast majority of people have realized that ethanol is doing more harm than good. Increased carbon output because of more farming, increased food costs leading to food shortages, and lack of efficient ways to produce ethanol just to name a few.

Sure we could follow the logic of "if Congress is backing it, lets go ahead and do it", but what will we do when we starve ourselves trying to power our cars? Thats what many an average joe has already hit upon in the frequent trip to the grocery store, and they are already looking for the next best thing. It's real easy to say "Lets make ethanol out of corn and subsidize it to help those broke farmers" when you can afford to pay for the increased cost of food due to more people growing corn for ethanol and less of other crops to feed the world.

I for one think it to be a shortsighted venture to think that our answer to oil lies in food. So what are the options?

Biomass fuels not based on food, rather waste products (i.e. sawdust, grass clippings, and raw sewage) and hemp. The infrastructure already exists to make cellulosic gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel and it is economically viable to do so now, and they are 3-5 more efficient and far cheaper than the best ethanol production methods available.

Carpet bomb everything with solar panels that is over a certain size. Train cars a great start for. Sure, you won't have 100% power all the time, but the less you run that diesel motor the less fuel you're using.

These are but a few of the far better ways we can make the transition to renewable energy. Jinx, I'm not trying to put you down or pick a fight with you, but in this case we need to convince our government that the other biomass fuels like cellulosic gasoline and diesel are far better in the short term long run than corn based ethanol.

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post #10 of 11 Old 04-24-2008, 10:58 AM
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Quote:
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Jinx, I'm not trying to put you down or pick a fight with you, but in this case we need to convince our government that the other biomass fuels like cellulosic gasoline and diesel are far better in the short term long run than corn based ethanol.
Thats just it, CONVINCE the government. I like to see that one. Then CONVINCE everyone else. That the virtually unfeasible part. Once the ethanol ball is rolling then good luck stopping it. I know people who once made moon shine on there garage and enough to fuel their vehicles, if this morons could make moonshine aka E100 in there garage without trouble, then it easy enough to convince a politician. Those same moron couldnt make cellulosic gasoline and prolly couldnt afford the equipment.

If the alternative ethanol sources are used such as switchgrass, then food staples such as corn wont be touched. Switchgrass has a higher yield than corn anyhow. To "farm" switchgrass is not a harmful, cost consuming, or polluting method. Hell, if we can convert to ethanol, then tractor can convert to biodiesel.

Ethanol may not yield the pros of cellulosic gasoline, but it on the mind of the majority and that the con to alternatives.


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