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Consumer Ethanol Appliance Promised By Year's End

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the and-a-pony dept.

Power 365

Newscloud brings us news of a startup called E-Fuel promising to ship a home-brew ethanol plant, the size of a washer-dryer, for under $10,000 by the end of this year. We've had plenty of discussions about $1/gal. fuel — these guys want to let you make it at home. The company says it plans to develop a NAFTA-enabled distribution network for inedible sugar from Mexico at 1/8th the cost of trade-protected sugar, to use as raw material for making ethanol. A renewable energy expert from UC Berkeley is quoted: "There's a lot of hurdles you have to overcome. It's entirely possible that they've done it, but skepticism is a virtue."

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Cellulosic version? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23217958)

Rather have Cellulosic, that way you could recycle all your paper and plant matter in house. :)

Re:Cellulosic version? (1)

mini me (132455) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218116)

I've got a grain bin full of corn in my backyard. It would be pretty sweet to be able to just auger that into this machine and make fuel as needed.

But for considering the price of corn and $10,000, it doesn't sound very cost effective on the scale I would be using it.

Re:Cellulosic version? (1)

Smidge204 (605297) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218292)

Local landfill offers free mulch and wood chips made from all the collected leaves/tree branches etc. No limit if you bring your own container (eg open-top trailer).

I'd consider $10,000 an investment if it could do that. Not only would I run my car with the fuel but I'd heat my home, make hot domestic water and find a way to cook with it too.
=Smidge=

Expensive Still (1)

solweil (1168955) | more than 6 years ago | (#23217960)

So a $10,000 still is considered a breakthrough? And what sad material is "inedible sugar?"

Denatured alcohol (3, Informative)

tepples (727027) | more than 6 years ago | (#23217992)

And what sad material is "inedible sugar?"
Probably the same sort of material as denatured alcohol [wikipedia.org] . It contains poisons that don't affect the majority of uses but do interfere with human consumption.

Re:Denatured alcohol (1, Interesting)

solweil (1168955) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218012)

To a certain extent, I can understand the twisted reason behind denatured alcohol (alcohol is a sin, must poison sin), but denatured sugar? Crazy.

Re:Denatured alcohol (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218072)

Nice troll...but denatured alcohol being un-drinkable has more to do with taxes than sin.

Re:Denatured alcohol (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218114)

But the desire to consume alcohol, the earlier prohibition of it, and the current fact that it is taxed to such an extent have more to do with sin. That's why cigarettes and alcohol are taxed to a rate unlike that applied to automobiles and ball-point pens: the former are sinful and the others not as much so.

Taxation of dangerous products for welfare (0)

tepples (727027) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218534)

That's why cigarettes and alcohol are taxed to a rate unlike that applied to automobiles and ball-point pens: the former are sinful and the others not as much so.
Secular humanists on the left might argue that it's not as much sin as social(ist) welfare. States tax automobile fuel to help pay for roads and for the environmental impact of driving. Likewise, they tax cigarettes to pay hospitals to care for COPD and cancer patients, and they tax beverage-grade alcohol to pay hospitals to care for liver disease patients and victims of impaired driving.

Re:Taxation of dangerous products for welfare (3, Insightful)

mcsporran (832624) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218682)

Sinful ?
What does that mean ? It can vary from faith to faith, and within faiths, and even then changes as religion evolves along with society.
Calling things sinful, is simply meaningless, as it projects your theist views on others, who may have differnet interpretations of sinful.
Some followers of Yaweh, will tell me that the yummy, healthy, normal sex I has last night is wrong and a sin.
I can't take that crap seriously, so I can't take you comment about "sin" seriously.

Re:Denatured alcohol (1)

solweil (1168955) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218278)

Nice troll yourself. Have you never heard of sin taxes?

Re:Denatured alcohol (5, Funny)

Rayban (13436) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218684)

Unfortunately, there was sin tax error on line 1.

Re:Denatured alcohol (2, Interesting)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218382)

denatured alcohol being un-drinkable has more to do with taxes than sin.

and denatured sugar has more to do with farm subsidies and protectionism than food quality or safety. The fact that when they denature grain alcohol or in this case sugar, suddenly the price plummets, tells me that those "food grade" products are horribly over priced.

How insulting is it to the Mexican sugar farmer to tell him "If you want export sugar to the US, you have to poison it first and then only charge 1/8th the price that US farmers charge. But no you cannot immigrate to the US. Hooray for the North American Free Trade Agreement."

Re:Denatured alcohol (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218172)

Denatured sugar exists mostly because of the corn sugar lobby, to whose influence we owe the incredibly high price of Sugar in the US. We pay this high price directly, due to incredible tariffs on the importation of sugar, and indirectly, due to tax dollars funding subsidies; furthermore, the fact that domestic producers can charge exorbitant prices and still compete with international product thanks to the tariff further exacerbates the problem.

Additionally, some studies suggest that cane sugar is better for you than the high fructose corn syrup most commonly used in substitution for it, although according to some the jury's still out on that.

Re:Denatured alcohol (2, Interesting)

pongo000 (97357) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218110)

From the same article:

Methanol itself is not toxic; rather, the toxicity is due to the accumulation of its metabolites -- formaldehyde and formic acid.

Wow. By the same token, antifreeze (ethylene glycol) isn't really toxic. It's just the metabolites that will do you in.

Can we just permanently ban Wikipedia references here and stop the madness?

Re:Denatured alcohol (3, Insightful)

Afecks (899057) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218306)

Can we just permanently ban Wikipedia references here and stop the madness?

Why? Because you can't understand the difference and don't understand how to check citations? Go ahead and just ignore the citation that links directly to the Oxford Journal of Occupational Medicine. Clearly you're the medical expert and not those idiotic MD's at Oxford...

Re:Expensive Still (1)

mrmeval (662166) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218212)

I want to know how they'll add the poison to it so it's not drinkable and avoids the federal tax.
Are they adding the poison to the sugar or will the poison be a byproduct of their process?

Re:Expensive Still (1)

Xacid (560407) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218460)

Easy: Splenda.

Re:Expensive Still (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218612)

Have to list possible side effects like, anal leakage and loss of bowel control with every advertisement of splenda.

Shortsighted? (4, Informative)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 6 years ago | (#23217976)

TFA mentions that the device requires 14 Lbs. (6.5kg) of NAFTA-approved nonedible sugar from Mexico, which costs approximately $0.025 per pound in addition to several other "ingredients". Regular "edible" sugar costs about $0.20 per pound.

Apart from the blatant inefficiencies present in transporting these quantities of raw materials, I imagine that the cost of sugar will skyrocket even if the thing actually works.

Probably not a good thing...

Stop turning food into fuel (4, Interesting)

rjamestaylor (117847) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218088)

Not only is Ethanol shortsighted it is exactly the wrong direction for us to take. Ethanol is taken from food sources and results in local, regional and, as it increases in popularity, global increases in food prices as well as predictable food shortages.

Besides the inefficiencies of transporting the raw materials, the finished product CANNOT be piped due to the inherent water in the ethanol rusting/corroding the pipes. So, the only means of transportation is truck, train or barge -- fossil fuel transportation systems.

[!-- insert face-palm photo here --]

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (5, Interesting)

littlerubberfeet (453565) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218142)

Two points: I agree that ethanol is the wrong way to go. ANY distilled biofuel is a bad idea. We need to start differentiating between distillates like corn or sugar ethanol and refined products like biodiesel. Biodiesel is best made from non-food sources like switchgrass. Incidentally, many biodiesel materials stocks are not grown on food-producing farmland.

Second point: Trains use (1/5) the fuel of trucks per ton-mile, barges (1/10) and the engines are far easier to convert to biodiesel. Each cylinder in a train engine is something like 2 liters, and there are 12 of them. The engines are tolerant of crap. In fact on EMD locomotives, one never changes the oil, just the oil filter. I agree though, that using fuel to move fuel is not good.

The point of mentioning trains though, is that railroads have to pay HUGE property taxes on the one best solution to their pollution. The railroads would see their property taxes TRIPLE on electrification improvements. That, coupled with high capital costs means that railroads won't touch electrification.

If they did electrify, rail transportation could potentially be carbon-neutral. They merely need to buy the power from a renewable source.

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218268)

The point of mentioning trains though, is that railroads have to pay HUGE property taxes on the one best solution to their pollution. The railroads would see their property taxes TRIPLE on electrification improvements. That, coupled with high capital costs means that railroads won't touch electrification.
Why? (I assume some kind of law, but it seems strange that the law hasn't been changed when there are obvious advantages to electrification.)

If they did electrify, rail transportation could potentially be carbon-neutral. They merely need to buy the power from a renewable source.
A fact clearly pointed out by some train operators in Europe (e.g. Eurostar from London to Paris/Brussels.)

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (2, Informative)

$inisterAngel (768361) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218632)

Oh you're damn right you change the oil on an EMD! The boat I worked on had oil changes on the mains every 2000 hours, filters at 1000 hours. Also, just because EMDs have large displacement (the boat I was on had 2 GM EMD 20-645-E7s - 645 Cu inches per cylinder x 20 cylinders x 2 engines = big propulsion) doesn't mean you can feed them crap. There's the entire fuel system you have to take into account as well when dealing with an engine.

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (4, Informative)

vhogemann (797994) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218654)

Ethanol might not work for the USA, but don't discard it so fast.

Look at Brazil for an example, here we make Ethanol from sugar-cane.It had virtually no impact on food price or availability, mostly because the culture is concentrated at the north-east region while our grain production is more concentrate on the middle and southern regions.

Also, Ethanol harvested from sugar-cane is a good alternative for lots of developing coutries, because it would give them a valuable commodity to export.

Ethanol would be good for Europe too, because they would have a cheaper alternative to petrol.

But Ethanol is bad for the USA, mostly because you don't get the same level of production from corn, so it's more expensive. And you have to dedicate a bigger slice of land to produce enough to supply the demand for fuel, and this means less space for food.

Also, the North American Petrol industry don't want to see their market taken away.

Ethanol is viable, and it's already a reality here at Brazil. My car can run on both ethanol and gasoline, but since Ethanol is about 30% CHEAPER I almost never put gasoline on it.

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (2, Insightful)

Loconut1389 (455297) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218152)

Maybe I missed something, but do you count inedible sugar as food? Would that still cut into edible food supplies? Also, what's wrong with plastic pipelines? They already make plastic water mains- is a plastic pipeline impossible- or is static a problem?

Please fill in the details for me/us?

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (3, Insightful)

zblack_eagle (971870) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218266)

I don't think that inedible sugar would cut into food supplies in the US. It is likely that the sugar is rendered inedible so that it isn't subject to tariffs on importation into the US. But if demand goes up, it's going to raise the price of the edible sugar in Mexico and elsewhere. Like corn-derived ethanol is making corn and corn-derived foodstuffs more expensive, so will this with sugar. Really, ethanol should not be made from foodstuffs, only waste. And if we're wasting foodstuffs, we should be reducing that waste, not making ethanol out of it. And the idea of poisoning a foodstuff just to get around import duties should be considered abhorrent.

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (3, Insightful)

InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218282)

When governments such as the United States' starts offering farmers subsidies if they switch over to growing switchgrass and corn for ethanol, those farmers stop making food. This is the reason for the rise in price of flour, bread, beer, etc.

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (1)

Trogre (513942) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218308)

Plastic pipes?

*shrugs*

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (2, Informative)

wpiman (739077) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218508)

I hear you. This is a very solvable problem. Solutions for converting gas pipelines to hydrogen pipelines have already been devised-- this is a far smaller issue.

A bottle of tequila will sit indefinitely in a glass bottle, one could simple line existing pipe infrastructure with glass or any other material that ethanol doesn't corrode.

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (1)

potat0man (724766) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218432)

Your alternative, sir, that doesn't involve fossil fuels and allows for personal vehicles that can go over 300 miles at reasonable speeds carrying reasonable cargo without refueling?

So the big downside you're pointing out here is that we have to transport things for it to work. So what? We can convert the transport devices to run off ethanol or other biofuels, or electricity in the case of trains.

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (2, Interesting)

potat0man (724766) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218462)

Oh yeah, and... increased food prices are actually a good thing for all but the richest people in the world. The poorest people in the world make their money from selling food. Higher prices means better lives for and faster development for people in the poorest parts of the world.

Even then you might argue that increased food prices are even GOOD for the rich people in the world since the development of the third world is ultimately good for everyone. More people with money means more customers which means more business which means faster improvement in technologies, etc etc etc.

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (1)

krazytekn0 (1069802) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218596)

In theory (not necessarily reality, hence inflation) there is a finite amount of wealth in the world. (read money) So what builds wealth for some ALWAYS takes wealth from someone else. Back to inflation... Governments and people try "creating" more wealth, but this just results in the devaluation of all existing wealth to achieve equilibrium.

Also of note is the fact that ethanol is a good way to keep having fuel when we run out of fossil fuels, but it still takes carbon that otherwise wouldn't be in the atmosphere and puts it there. I thought that was what we're trying to avoid, no?

Lastly, if increased food prices are GOOD for poor people why do poor people starve? Seems like if they are all growing food like you assume they wouldn't be starving to death. But that's just my silly affinity for facts.

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218742)

[i]but it still takes carbon that otherwise wouldn't be in the atmosphere and puts it there[/i]

No, it doesn't. Think about it. Biofuels come from plants. Where do plants draw carbon from? The problem with fossil fuels isn't that they put carbon in the air. It's that they put ancient carbon that has been trapped for eons in the air. Biofuels use fresh, already in circulation carbon. Burn it, or just let it decay. Either way it's going back into the air.

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (0, Flamebait)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218436)

Have you ever stopped to think that the transportation systems constructed to deal with a hypothetical "ethanol infrastructure" will be powered by the same fuel that they are carrying? Even if we have to transport Ethanol by fossil-fuel-based means in the short-term, we'll still be a good bit better off than we currently are.

Similarly, any sort of ship, truck, or train carrying Ethanol is likely going to be prone to the same sort of corrosion you mention. Solutions are being developed, and there are several alternatives to deal with the problem. We won't be able to start pumping Ethanol through our oil pipelines tomorrow, although we can build new pipelines and retrofit existing ones to cope with the new challenges. (Plastic pipes come to mind!)

Although the "ingredients" to produce "renewable" Ethanol are biologically sourced, they are not necessarily derived from food-based agricultural products.

Corn-based Ethanol, which the US agricultural lobby has been pushing, is laughably inefficient, and almost certainly will never reach the break-even point. This will also inevitably bring up the ugly monster of corn subsidies...

Other crops are a bit better. Algae can produce up to 500-2000 times as much usable ethanol per square acre than Corn, although the infrastructure demands are also a good bit higher.

Similarly, cellulose-based plant matter can be used to produce Ethanol. Cellulose is found in stalks, stems, grasses, wood, and cannot be digested by humans. One proposal suggests reprocessing household/commerical waste into ethanol as an alternative to other recycling methods, as cellulose-based matter composes up to 40% of landfill waste by volume. However, the jury's still out on whether or not this method can be done economically.

<troll>Also, I've noticed that conservatives are using that "stupid stupid stupid" line quite a bit these days. Is that part of the handbook?</troll>

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218510)

While the absorption of water by ethanol does pose a problem for pipelines, it is by no means insurmountable. Ethanol pipelines are currently being considered in both the US and Brazil.

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218562)

global increases in food prices as well as predictable food shortages


Not a great thing for the poorer parts of the world, but 'round here lots of folks look like they could do with more expensive food and a lot less of it.

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218566)

The amount of progress in cellulosic ethanol production that is currently coming to fruition should help remove your first concern.

Ethanol has been pipelined for years in Brazil in old lines, now they are building new dedicated lines. I am guessing that sacrificial anodes which are likely standard on these lines, would have to be replaced more often.

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (1)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218656)

Not only is Ethanol shortsighted it is exactly the wrong direction for us to take.

Tell that to the Brazillians who are reportedly 100% free of oil, and are running all their vehicles off ethanol. The problems you sight are legitimate but not insurmountable. If we divert just one-third of the monthly expenditures in Iraq to solving the problems you highlight we will be very far.

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (1)

domatic (1128127) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218696)

Ethanol from sugarcane grown in a subtropical environment is a completely different animal from ethanol made from corn in the US. The Brazilians aren't cutting into their food supply to do this and the efficiencies for them is much higher.

Corn ethanol is loser fuel and another subsidized gift to agribusiness.

Re:Stop turning food into fuel (1)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218752)

I agree with you. What can be done is to grow the sugar cane in the southern states. There are conducive conditions in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi and tens of thousands of acres of [empty] land.

Re:Shortsighted? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218112)

So you're talking 0.025 * 14 = 35 cents / gal versus $2.80 / gal versus edible sugar. What's your problem? Say the "other ingredients" cost an extra 65 cents.. Call gas $4/gal because it will be soon and is in some parts of the country. That's $3 / gal savings. $10,000 / $3 = ~3,333 gallons you'd have to use to break even. Say the average person travels 40 miles a day (15 mile commute + some errands is maybe being nice for some). Call the average E-85 vehicle 35 mpg average (highway and city 50/50), they're generally less efficient than non flex-fuel cars though. So, 40 miles / 35 miles/gallon = 1.14 gallons. 3,333 / 1.14 = 2,923 days = 8 years to break even. Ok, so inedible sugar prices go up because of transportation costs (they're not using this new fangled inedible sugar ethanol to transport) but eventually they'll go down again, and so will the cost of the device itself. So generally you're talking break even in the life of 1 or two vehicles, and faster if you have 2 or 3 cars. For the middle class, $10,000 is 25% of the usual car value (call it $40k average since lots buy $30,000k cars and many have $70k cars). Save a little on you and your wifes car and you've got the thing paid for pretty fast! This would be amazing!

Re:Shortsighted? (1)

mi (197448) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218758)

The main reason I can see for the scheme to work, is the "saving" from highway taxes embedded in the price of each regularly-purchased fuel...

Apart from the blatant inefficiencies present in transporting these quantities of raw materials, I imagine that the cost of sugar will skyrocket even if the thing actually works.

The inefficiencies of "trade-protection" keeping the regular sugar prices high don't bother you? ;-) Anyway, the cost of the "inedible" sugar will unlikely exceed that of the edible kind, will it? What we may see is the larger share of sugar getting classified as "inedible" and other quirks intended to get around the protectionist regulations...

Oh, lol, internets! (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23217978)

They didn't mention the little fact about having to get a frelling federal ethanol production license. I looked into this a few years back, and...YIKES. (Pay lots of money. Send in a sample. Keep logs of your activities, etc. etc.)

Oh, and how about calculating in electricity costs?

And I thought there were a subsidies for this (1)

sweet_petunias_full_ (1091547) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218162)

"They didn't mention the little fact about having to get a frelling federal ethanol production license. I looked into this a few years back, and...YIKES. (Pay lots of money. Send in a sample. Keep logs of your activities, etc. etc.)"

Actually, on page 2 of TFA:

"In addition, it's illegal in the United States to operate a car on 100 percent ethanol, with exceptions for off-road vehicles like Indy cars and farm equipment. Quinn has a U.S. permit to make his own fuel, and believes that if MicroFuelers start popping up like swimming pools, regulators will adapt by certifying pure ethanol for cars."

(emphasis mine)

There are so many hurdles for breaking free of dependency on the oil economy... it's spectacular. I wonder if the hurdles are the reason for the stiff price tag for this glorified washing machine?

$10,000?! (3, Insightful)

erroneus (253617) | more than 6 years ago | (#23217984)

That would take a LONG time to "pay for itself" and this doesn't even take into consideration the various restrictions on the use of such devices that will most assuredly follow shortly after competing interests start buying laws to that end. Further, what will the cost of unprocessed materials be? Ah yes, they'll go up in demand and the prices will rise too.

This doesn't strike me as a good alternative.

Re:$10,000?! (1)

MagdJTK (1275470) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218074)

With prices in Scotland shooting up to £1.30 per litre (that's $9.74 per US gallon) due to the strike we've got here in the UK, it might not be as bad as it sounds...

Plus, ethanol has other uses for which I also pay. :-)

Less than $1 a gallon? Ha. (2, Insightful)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218000)

The company says it plans to develop a NAFTA-enabled distribution network for inedible sugar from Mexico at 1/8th the cost of trade-protected sugar, to use as raw material for making ethanol.

Of course, once this machine is actually available, I predict the price of that inedible sugar will suddenly rise to a level where using it to create ethanol yields a final price-per-gallon that is comparable to just buying E85 at your local gas station. After all, the sugar will suddenly have a much higher value in use as a fuel verses whatever they do with it now.

Re:Less than $1 a gallon? Ha. (3, Interesting)

shbazjinkens (776313) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218050)

After all, the sugar will suddenly have a much higher value in use as a fuel verses whatever they do with it now.
Answer: In addition to ethanol production already underway, it's used as sweetfeed for horses, pigs and some other livestock.

Count on other things to go up as well.

Re:Less than $1 a gallon? Ha. (1)

potat0man (724766) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218504)

Wrong.

Eventually the price of raw materials MAY make home production of ethanol approach the same price as E85 or whatever other commercially available fuel happens to be offered, including petrol gasoline. But the hassle of buying the raw materials and maintaining the machine, plus the initial investment costs of buying such machines will mean it will always be cheaper to make it yourself. It depends on what your time is worth to you. Though, you get the added security, in this case, of being to produce your own fuel and quickly change which raw materials you happen to be using while the rest of your neighbors are at the mercy of quickly changing markets.

Probably bad energy return on investment... (4, Insightful)

nweaver (113078) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218018)

You've got the energy cost in growing the raw sugar, transporting a LOT of raw sugar, and distillation. WHich means a LOT of energy goes into this. And you only really save on taxes (beacuse otherwise, they could just do this in a big factory and bring it too, duh, gas pumps).

you won't save on taxes in some states (5, Interesting)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218076)

North Carolina will probably hunt you down and charge you with tax evasion. They did it in 2007 for a guy buying vegetable oil and converting it to biodiesel.

hell they have been known to test fuel at events, to see if people are using fuel they don't like. They check NC registered trucks to make sure they don't buy fuel over the border.

you think that they just won't slap a silly tax on the sugar?

The one thing people keep ignoring as cars become more efficient are tax addicted governments are going to have to raise them to make up for the losses because of our efficiency and if we circumvent the whole tax strategy they have they will simply make a new one

Not only that... (1)

nweaver (113078) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218158)

The tax savings are SMALL.

EG, in CA, you'll still have to pay sales tax on the raw sugar. So your only savings are on the dedicated gas taxes:

With the federal gas tax at .184 $/gallon, and another ~.20 $/gallon. So you could save only .40 $/gallon.

While if you could do Ethanol for $1/gallon production, you could make a fortune, as thats energy-equivelent to about .8 gallons of gasoline.

So that would be "make gasoline at $1.25/gallon". With oil prices NEVER looking back, thats a LOT of profit to be made.

Sugar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218028)

Inedible sugar, I think not!

E* (2, Interesting)

DogDude (805747) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218070)

First off, just about any company named E* isn't going to be a company worth doing business with. Didn't anybody learn anything from the dot-bomb bullshit just a few years ago?

Secondly, this will fly when somebody comes out with a gadget that will accept all kinds of organic household waste, not just some product that you have one source for. If there's a device that'll take all of the stuff I normally throw on my compost pile, I'll buy one.

Re:E* (1)

Iron Condor (964856) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218286)

First off, just about any company named E* isn't going to be a company worth doing business with. Didn't anybody learn anything from the dot-bomb bullshit just a few years ago?

Yeah, like eBay. Look how those have tanked. Clearly not something anybody should ever have invested in. Or Electronic Arts.

Not to mention many pre dot-com companies from Edison through Eastman to Exxon.

I think one thing people learned in the dot-com era (or maybe not) is that investment strategies should look at something more than just the first letter of a company name?

Re:E* (1)

psychicninja (1150351) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218372)

First off, just about any company named E* isn't going to be a company worth doing business with. Didn't anybody learn anything from the dot-bomb bullshit just a few years ago?
Okay, I'm not sure if you're joking or not, but... really? Do you really thing that names caused the .com bust? If so, perhaps you should avoid anything that ends in ".com". That... um... that'll work.

A good reason to get rid of the alcohol taxes. (4, Funny)

kidsizedcoffin (1197209) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218078)

They already have consumer ethanol appliances, they go by other names: bread makers, home beer breweries, and the like. Won't help me much on getting around in my car, but I'll be too full and drunk to care.

Sounds like they just invented the still (4, Insightful)

Whuffo (1043790) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218080)

The time-honored method of turning sugars into ethanol is to ferment the sugars; the yeast culture will excrete ethanol until they perish in their waste products at about 7% ethanol.

Then you just distill it to concentrate the ethanol. You'd probably have to make two or three passes through the still to get it up to E85 level.

There's a couple of fairly significant problems with this scheme, though. One is the energy that's used to operate the still; where does that come from, how much does it cost? And the other one - and one that'll be very difficult to overcome - is that ethanol is the stuff we drink. Dilute ethanol with distilled water at about 50/50 and you get some so-so vodka. Add this or that flavor and you've got a party.

The BATF isn't going to like this one little bit. Liquor taxes are an important source of revenue; they'll insist that you comply with their bureaucratic regulations if you're going to make any kind of product that contains ethanol.

And if this magic box will produce 170 proof at $2 per gallon - how much of that is going in the car and how much will be going into mixed drinks? Imagine the parties; gallons and gallons of alcohol and more being produced in every neighborhood every day. I suspect the law of unintended consequences is going to kick in on this one...

Re:Sounds like they just invented the still (1)

Dr. Spork (142693) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218140)

Yup, exactly what I was thinking. Of course, if I spent the $10,000 on drinks I let someone else distill, I'd probably be better off. But you're right, in a frat house this device could pay for itself in two years!

Re:Sounds like they just invented the still (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218660)

And the other one - and one that'll be very difficult to overcome - is that ethanol is the stuff we drink. Dilute ethanol with distilled water at about 50/50 and you get some so-so vodka. Add this or that flavor and you've got a party.

I don't think this is a problem at all. In fact I think it probably explains the "inedible sugars" mentioned in the article.

Chances are the sugar by itself isn't inedible. It is probably treated to make it inedible with something that won't easily be distilled out.

So yeah, it'll make a lot of alcohol. But I'm willing to bet it wouldn't be alcohol you'd want to drink very much of at all.

Re:Sounds like they just invented the still (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218668)

I already homebrew and can easilly make all the alcohol I want with about $100 in equipment, not a $10k machine... I've noticed the price of beer and liquor go up in the supermarket as much as gas. 5 years ago I used to get 12 packs on sale for $7, now it's $12. Homebrew costs about half that, less if you buy in bulk.

Pretty much if one supplies the cheap sugar, there are plenty of people willing to make it into fuel. All you need is a tub, some attenuative yeast and a still. One still would have to pay fuel taxes on fuel they made (don't laugh), and the private use of distillation would be rather controversial. The government doesn't really want joe public being particularly knowledgeable about chemistry.

Re:Sounds like they just invented the still (2, Interesting)

gatzke (2977) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218762)


For distillation, you don't use "two or three passes". You use a distillation column with a few (20-40) trays. Ethanol comes out the top, water out the bottom (usually).

It takes energy, but usually you can do heat integration to save a lot of energy in a chemical plant. If you have a stream that need to get hotter and another that needs to cool down, you put them through a heat exchanger to save on utilities.

EtOH has another problem, it forms an azeotrope. You can't easily get above 95% EtOH using simple methods. You can put in an organic and break the azeotrope, but then you need to distill twice. I doubt your engine can run with 5-10% water...

Butanol is an interesting one, it settles out from water without distillation. Or rot anything and collect methane. Or algae based biofuels. If oil stays above $100 /barrel, a lot of these become interesting. Problem is, most companies are worried it won't stay up. Back in the 80s, oil ran up to $40 / barrel then dropped to $10. That would be like dropping from $120 to $30, which I doubt will happen...

The latest I hear was coal for gassification. Methanol can apparently be made at about $0.40 / gallon. But volumetric energy content is lower, so it is really like $0.80/gallon. And they can sequester a lot of the CO2 in the process. Lots of interesting options...

OT: Is kdawson posting from China (0, Offtopic)

flydpnkrtn (114575) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218086)

or are the server/article timestamps off? It's definitely not 3:30 am in any of the US timezones....

Re:OT: Is kdawson posting from China (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218226)

The timestamps are based on user settings. Perhaps you're in the wrong timezone?

danger much? (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218092)

Then people still store flammable ethanol in their garages and houses. Remember how that went in the...umm...like 60's or whatever, I dunno, I wasn't alive back then. You know, during all the gasoline shortages when people stored dozens of gallons in their garages. It turned out to be a bit of a fire hazard lol. But if people can make their own fuel without having to ship fuel across the country to the gas stations, that'd save like twice the gasoline than people think. Plus it would employ mexicans at farms in their own crappy country and make it less crappy so they don't have to come here. And best of all, nobody will stop at gas stations anymore so the country-wide price of beef jerky will fall greatly and I'll be able to buy even more!

Re:danger much? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218468)

Yes, because NAFTA has always treated Mexicans well.

Are you for real?

Not very useful. (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218122)

Petrol engines run incredibly badly on pure ethanol, unless they're set up correctly. You'd either need to get perfectly consistent results from batch to batch, or you'd need to be really really good at tuning engines (and I mean tuning as in carefully adjusting fuelling and ignition, not sticking blue LED windscreen washers on).

If you're going to use biomass fuel, use biodiesel. The petrol engine is dead. Let it pass with some dignity.

Re:Not very useful. (2, Insightful)

potat0man (724766) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218542)

Or you could just go buy a new Ford Taurus or any other flex fuel vehicle and let the car self-adjust to account for changes in fuel quality.

MOONSHINE! (1)

AB3A (192265) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218156)

These guys are trying to sell a moonshine still. You can build them very easily. You can bet that whatever impurities they have in "non-edible sugar" will be distilled out.

I think this is a ridiculously inefficient process, and people will want to drink the product instead of burning it.

What could possibly go wrong?

Re:MOONSHINE! (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218206)

Even if its inefficient, once petrol gets to 6 bucks a gallon, it will be cheaper to make alcohol.

Below 6 a gallon, its a wash or a loss. ( but still worth it if you can, as at least its domestic. )

BATF'll be all over you like a sniper at Ruby Ridg (1)

Iowan41 (1139959) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218178)

You really don't want to do that.

higher prices for everything (1)

suck_burners_rice (1258684) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218186)

A question I keep asking myself is whether this ethanol thing is really as price efficient as it's supposed to be. Since farmers are able to make more money in the lucrative ethanol market than in growing wheat for bread production, there will eventually be a shortage of bread and other foods in the name of fulfilling energy needs. Since the laws of supply and demand dictate that a new equilibrium will be reached, I think this means that food prices will rise even more than they have lately, bringing back production of some crops for food, but overall raising the prices of both food and ethanol. We're not going to achieve $1.00 per gallon fuel; instead, we're simply going to cause yet higher prices for everything.

Re:higher prices for everything (4, Interesting)

xaxa (988988) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218368)

A shortage of bread eventually? I don't think you've been reading the news recently.

how to solve global food crisis [bbc.co.uk]
end of cheap cotton is near [bbc.co.uk]
walmart restricts rice purchases [bbc.co.uk]
government to examine effects of biofuels on food prices [bbc.co.uk]
action to help poor with food prices [bbc.co.uk]

Sorry, you have been reading the news (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218386)

...it's late, I didn't read your comment properly. Sorry.

Re:higher prices for everything (1)

textstring (924171) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218512)

Unfortunately, both increasing fuel prices and using food as fuel cause the price of food to increase.

Conversion isn't the problem (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218196)

Ever seen a backwoods still?

The problem is getting the 'fuel' to feed this thing. To really make it cheap you need to grow your own, which is way out of the realm of possibility for the average person.

Impurities (1)

ByTor-2112 (313205) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218198)

I'd be worried about other water-soluble impurities making it across their filtration system. What kind of contaminants are in that low-budget sugar? Ethanol isn't the smallest molecule in the world, and I can see at a minimum metallic ions and chlorides easily passing through. Do you really want chloride deposits building up in your engine? One "failure" caused by a bad tank of ethanol could cost you a lot.

Re:Impurities (1)

krazytekn0 (1069802) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218680)

That's why it's a still and not a filter.

Cue all the naysayers (3, Insightful)

soupdevil (587476) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218224)

Is this "the answer" for our consumption and supply issues with gasoline? Of course not. There is not going to be a single answer, at least not until we figure out a better battery combined with a global solar grid. Meanwhile, prepare for a myriad of small solutions, like biodiesel, ethanol, heavy crude sources like tar sands and shale, converted coal, none of which are perfect on their own, but which, together, can bridge us to the next big thing.

Ethanol = Bad Idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218242)

I have found that ethanol is an interesting topic. This factsheet [mattparnell.com] has helped me understand all of the information around it...wow, it's expensive in so many ways outside money!

Did Someone Miss The Memo???? (2, Informative)

Skeetskeetskeet (906997) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218272)

Stanford proved Ethanol is more pollutive than standard gasoline... http://www.therawfeed.com/2007/04/ethanol-pollutes-more-than-gasoline.html [therawfeed.com] I guess Al Gore was asleep during that press release.

Re:Did Someone Miss The Memo???? (1)

st_gonzo (1280256) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218718)

from the link on the link: "Mark Jacobson at Stanford University in California, US, modelled emissions for cars expected to be on the road in 2020." that guy knows enough about cars that haven't even been designed yet that he can get meaningful data from his models? right.

Ethanol from newspapers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218296)

I remember seeing a story on CITY TV in Toronto a couple of years ago about some guy in Toronto who was making ethanol from old newspapers. He had a still set up in his back yard, and neighbours would give him their old newspapers. He produced enough to fuel his own car and some of his neighbours' cars.

He didn't want his real name used in the story though, because he wasn't sure if what he was doing was legal.

Re:Ethanol from newspapers (1)

belg4mit (152620) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218526)

Are you sure he wasn't making methanol, a.k.a wood alcohol?

or, instead of making the fuel... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218304)

wouldn't it make more sense to put the 10 grand towards a more fuel-efficient vehicle?

$1/gal fuel to perpetuate a cheap energy lifestyle (2, Funny)

colourmyeyes (1028804) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218322)

I would hate for there to be any incentive to change the current urban-sprawl mentality of a nation built on cheap energy. We need to continue to make things needlessly far apart, segregating housing and businesses in such a way that even when they are only a mile apart a car is required to travel between them. Just imagine all the ugly stores right next to houses and sidewalks all over the place that would have to spring up if we couldn't afford to drive our SUV's 3/4 of a mile for a gallon of milk.

Re:$1/gal fuel to perpetuate a cheap energy lifest (1)

potat0man (724766) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218570)

I prefer cities too. But some people don't. And if we can allow those people to live their fuel-intensive lifestyles in a way that doesn't rely on foreign imports or a net carbon addition to the atmosphere then let's do it.

It has already been done, and far cheaper... (1)

NimbleSquirrel (587564) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218388)

People can already do this, and for far less than $10,000. Many people already make homebrew alcohol (although the legality depends on where you live). A home brewing kit, a still and the activated charcoal filter only costs a couple of hundred dollars. The only difference is that they are intended to make alcohol for drinking. It isn't hard to distill a higher concentration of alcohol. The only difference to this device is that it seems to have some method of reverse osmosis to increase energy efficiency of the distillation process. You still have to feed it water, sugar, yeast and electricity. I'm not going to pay $10,000 for that.

Now if they made a device I can dump my lawn clippings into, that made ethanol, I would be the first in the queue. ;)

instead of trying to make the fuel... (2, Interesting)

st_gonzo (1280256) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218406)

how about putting the 10 grand towards a vehicle that uses less fuel?

Sugar as fuel? (3, Funny)

l0ungeb0y (442022) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218424)

I am sure the International Ant Coalition will have something to say about this. It could get ugly folks.

Its a set up for making you look like a ...... (1)

3seas (184403) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218426)

....terrorist.

Lets not forget about them mobile WMD plants we saw pictures of.

This will help make the spying on US citizens seem legit.

Let's drive the price of food up more (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23218438)

If the last 6 months have taught us anything is that fuel at the expense of food to eat is NOT a good trade off. The last thing we need is another product taking us down that path.
In the article they cite using non-edible sugar, however this sugar needs to grow somewhere, thereby it will displace edible food crops.
Look the biofuels thing was a nice idea but it didn't work, unless we want to end up with half the planet starving. Let's start looking in new directions before we waste anymore lives/effort/time in a misguided attempt to 'grow' fuel.

- James

If this works, why not set up production plant? (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218456)

if this is such a great idea, why not just set up a medium-sized production plant, make ethanol from "inedible sugar", and make some money?

What do they mean by "inedible sugar", anyway? Bagasse [wikipedia.org] ? Ultra-high cellulose sugar cane? [grain.org] It's not a standard term.

Besides, shipping a solid material to homes to make ethanol, then getting rid of the solid waste, is an incredibly inefficient process. You're going to need maybe 150-200 pounds of sugar to fill up the tank of an SUV. Then you have to get rid of maybe a hundred pounds of sludge. Does this thing come with a home forklift?

Re:If this works, why not set up production plant? (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218574)

"if this is such a great idea, why not just set up a medium-sized production plant, make ethanol from "inedible sugar", and make some money?"

Because that would require much more capital and is more work than milking suckers out of mad cash for home production appliances.

Photovoltaic solar (1)

RJFerret (1279530) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218546)

If I was going to invest $10k, I'd splurge another couple grand for a photovoltaic system. With subsidies many states in the US are currently offering, you could install a system to completely power your home. For just a bit more, you could cover the recharging of an electric vehicle or more than cover a plug-in hybrid. The roi a couple years ago was about two-thirds the life of the system. Depending on energy costs in your area, that could be better. Same investment, no transportation of raw materials or future costs AND powers your home as well as potential vehicle.

There are worldwide food riots, right now. (1)

Kenja (541830) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218610)

There are worldwide food riots, right now. So is converting food into fuel a good idea?

Bad bad idea. (3, Insightful)

ugen (93902) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218688)

This whole Ethanol idea is a disaster waiting to happen.

A simple fact - Mexico produces a total of 5 million tons of sugar a year. That amount, according to the article, is enough to make about 800 million gallons of ethanol. US consumes 400 million gallons of gasoline a DAY for transportation. That means the entire crop of Mexican sugar would be completely used up by cars in TWO days. What would we do the rest of the year I don't know. And guess what this would do to sugar prices. Also - no more sugar in your food either.

And if the proposition is to use this as an addition to oil-based fuels, well - we are talking less than 1% of total gasoline requirement from entire Mexican crop. This would hardly make a dent in oil consumption, but sure as heck would wreck havoc on the sugar and food markets.

Didn't you see the Family Guy episode? (3, Funny)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218750)

We Irish had an advanced civilization long ago based on this technology, but then we started drinking the damned stuff...

For 10k one can convert to an electric car (3, Interesting)

Fireshadow (632041) | more than 6 years ago | (#23218768)

The premise of the E-Fuel 100 MicroFueler is you pay 10K to have a pre-made still (for lack of a better word) to make ethanol. Then you take your home-brew and put it into your car. I'll let others poke holes in this approach.

For $10,000 you can convert your gas powered car to be powered by electricity. "A typical conversion, if it is using all new parts, costs between $5,000 and $10,000 (not counting the cost of the donor vehicle or labor). The costs break down like this:

  • Batteries - $1,000 to $2,000
  • Motor - $1,000 to $2,000
  • Controller - $1,000 to $2,000
  • Adapter plate - $500 to $1,000
  • Other (motors, wiring, switches, etc.) - $500 to $1,000"
The advantage here would be a form of daily transportation with zero-emissions, using a quiet motor that's cheaper to operate per mile (3).

References

  1. 1)http://auto.howstuffworks.com/electric-car7.htm [howstuffworks.com]
  2. 2)http://www.electroauto.com/info/cost.shtml [electroauto.com]
  3. 3)http://www.ccds.charlotte.nc.us/~jarrett/EV/cost.php [charlotte.nc.us]
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