Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Plastic and Fuel That Grow On Trees

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the fur-for-all dept.

Power 188

Tim Hanlon writes "Biofuels continue to lead the field in the search for a renewable, environmentally friendly replacement for crude oil. Besides its use in the transport industry, crude oil is also used to produce conventional plastics and chemical products such as fertilizers and solvents. Now chemists have learned how to convert plant biomass directly into a chemical building block that can be used to produce not only fuel, but also plastics, polyester, and industrial chemicals, cheaply and efficiently."

cancel ×

188 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Radiohead is a modern Nostrodaumus... (4, Funny)

Serilleous (1400333) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054253)

and has shown its portents to be but one word off. *real* Plastic Trees.

Re:Radiohead is a modern Nostrodaumus... (2, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054385)

You mean they make no accurate predictions, but people maker shit up about their predictions?

Re:Radiohead is a modern Nostrodaumus... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28054467)

You mean they make no accurate predictions, but people maker shit up about their predictions?

yes people do maker shit up. didn'ter you know that? proofreadinger is harder, so very hard. er.

Investment (3, Insightful)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054277)

Trillions of dollars in previous investment and commercial interests will see that doesn't happen for a long time, if ever. I, for one, continue to pay due obeisance and tribute to our vile oil-powered overlords.

Re:Investment (3, Insightful)

notarockstar1979 (1521239) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054321)

That's one reason. The other is the licensing that will come from this revolutionary discovery. Why pay to license a new process/technique/whatever when I already have one that brings in billions of dollars?

Re:Investment (2, Insightful)

wealthychef (584778) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054733)

If the license is priced right, then they will build it. Speaking of which, the cost per mile is all that matters to consumers. So either tax the oil, or make this stuff cheap. No other choice that I can see. Oh, and don't forget any infrastructure that might need to be modified for this new fuel.

Re:Investment (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055937)

i suspect it have much the same quality as diesel, and as such can be sold from the same gas station as existing products...

Re:Investment (4, Insightful)

somersault (912633) | more than 5 years ago | (#28056021)

To me the interest here is not in the fuel at all - we can already make electric vehicles and have plenty of renewable energy sources. I have always been more concerned about the plastics situation - just look at how much of the stuff around you right now is made from plastics! So it's nice that they have figured out a way of producing the raw materials they need from renewable resources (waiting a few million years for more oil may be a renewable solution of sorts, but it's not the one I'd personally prefer).

Re:Investment (1, Informative)

ilblissli (1480165) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054331)

not to be a conspiracy nut or anything but i completely agree with you.

Re:Investment (5, Insightful)

causality (777677) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054763)

not to be a conspiracy nut or anything but i completely agree with you.

So I've read Ambrose Bierce's "The Devil's Dictionary" a couple of times. It's a humorous work, if a bit dated. This isn't a "Devil's Dictionary" but here is my own contribution because there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding this basic issue.

"Conspiracy nut", n. - 1. A term used by an opponent in an argument in order to shut down certain occurrences of debate. Often used as a substitute for having any sort of valid basis for dissent. The preferred technique when said opponent has no evidence or logic by which he can disagree but does have a strong dislike of whatever is being said and wishes to end the discussion, or at least cause it to degenerate into a contest, by any means available.
2. Advocate of theories involving conspiracies, typically of the "smoky back room" type as opposed to the "business and government collusion" or "power behind the throne" type, most noted for the total lack of any evidence or reasoning behind them. This type of conspiracy nut does exist, which enables the intellectually dishonest to ignore conspiracy nuts fitting definition (1) and lump them together with the conspiracy nuts fitting definition (2), again as a means of shutting down debate (see: "argumentation", "intellectual honesty" and "propaganda techniques").

"Common sense", n. - the self-evident realization, easily supported by relatively small amounts of personal research and investigation into the matter, that a very small number of people control the world and that the general public is largely ignorant of this fact. The willingness to face this reality despite the insulting nature of those who do not want to accept it and will use all manner of personal attacks, logical fallacies, or dismissal without examination while congratulating themselves on their levelheadedness (see: "denial"). Said control is exerted primarily by means of media, propaganda, and the creation or manipulation of fiat currencies throughout the world.

Re:Investment (2, Insightful)

Rob Kaper (5960) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054383)

Previous investment will slow down mass adoption, but nonetheless it's good to know more options are becoming available. Especially because we didn't really have that many for plastics as opposed to fuel. Developments like these are the ones that will make us laugh at peak oil in the future and I for one would rather be able to laugh at it than suffer from it.

Re:Investment (3, Funny)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054769)

I can see a future for plastics, but to use the technology to produce fuel for burning is rushing towards the same dead end we've been following for ages.

I can just imagine my hypothetical grandchildren asking me what we did with all that oil.

"We burnt it."

"You did what?"

(Sheepish look.)

Just out of curiosity (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28054765)

Could you please describe the micromechanics of exactly how commercial interests will prevent this from happening? Who will speak to who? What will they say? Will they enlist assassins? Will they demand to have it outlawed? On what grounds? If this method can reliably convert a tree into cheap raw material, how will any individual be prevented from starting a company doing this at a small scale?

Re:Just out of curiosity (1)

jenn_13 (1123793) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054933)

mod + insightful (I'd like to hear an answer to this as well)

Re:Just out of curiosity (1, Insightful)

Amouth (879122) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054993)

AC - People with money who back campains and make "donations" to the right places and people - will whisper sweet nothings about how harsh or unproven this is. And the government will some how make it not exactly impossible but just out of reach of being cheaper.

it's like power plants.. allot of them are built on federal land grants (they rent them).. but if you look it's been almost 10 years since a solar plant was given a land grant.

He who has the money makes the rules.. Oil will be here till there literly isn't any more of it.

Re:Just out of curiosity (1)

jenn_13 (1123793) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055829)

But isn't our current government committed to green energy? Doesn't that mean that this won't happen anymore?

Re:Just out of curiosity (1)

Amouth (879122) | more than 5 years ago | (#28056245)

meet the boss same as the old boss..

sure there is change.. we have a new person in the top slot.. but that person doesn't do everything and it would exceptionally naive to believe it would change the ones that are profiting from the current arrangement.

while sure some top leaders are more blatant about their bias - they are all stuck in the rut.

these people get elected and then do what they want - they will say anything to get there. and only care about staying there.. once there they are set for life - so why should they care?

sorry the recent credit card law revamp you hear about in the news?? it went through the senate and passed 4 to 2.. yes 6 people out of 100 there to vote on it.. the others?? who knows.. they aren't exactly required to show the fuck up to work like the rest of us.

Falsifying easy-to-check facts: priceless. (3, Insightful)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | more than 5 years ago | (#28056467)

sorry the recent credit card law revamp you hear about in the news?? it went through the senate and passed 4 to 2.. yes 6 people out of 100 there to vote on it..

I think you misspelled "90 to 5" [findlaw.com] .

Why do "they" "always" mock conspiracy theorists? Because so many of said theorists spew so much garbage. Post a screed with a few dozen "facts", and most people won't be bothered to check every one of them. Some will discount the whole mass, others will accept the whole mass.

Missing the point (5, Insightful)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054821)

Oil companies don't sell oil - they sell energy. Oil is just how they get the energy to you. It's a transport medium and nothing more.

If you give them something that does the job better (which is to say, with a higher profit margin) they'll be all over it.

That's why discoveries like this are great, even if financially unfeasible right now. It sets a ceiling. If gas jumps to 3 or 4 or 5 dollars a gallon, eventually other technologies will be competitive.

It's like telling the oil bearing countries, "We've drawn a line - right here. See it? Cross it and we'll switch technologies."

It's always nice to have alternatives. And it's even better to let the people you buy from know that you have alternatives, so they better watch it.

Re:Missing the point (4, Informative)

vinn (4370) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055011)

As someone who has worked in the 'energy' business and knows lots of people in the 'energy' biz, I can summarize the ENTIRE mentality of that entire industry: drill, drill, drill.

The concept of better, faster, cheaper doesn't apply to them - they are too narrowly focused on moving a rig from one well to another.

profit is the point (4, Insightful)

voss (52565) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055495)

if energy companies can put it in a pump and sell it alongside cigarettes,beer, and condoms they will sell it. if someone discovered how to make ethanol from cellulose in unlimited quantities for 50 cents a gallon and the oil companies could sell it for $1.25 a gallon, oil companies would happily sell it. "drill,drill,drill" is about having control of supply. If supply is cheap and guarunteed, then drilling no longer matters

 

Re:Missing the point (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28055551)

As someone who has worked in the 'energy' business and knows lots of people in the 'energy' biz, I can summarize the ENTIRE mentality of that entire industry: drill, drill, drill.

The concept of better, faster, cheaper applies to them - the fastest and cheapest thing to do is move a rig from one well to another.

Re:Missing the point (4, Interesting)

nextekcarl (1402899) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055707)

I read this article about the railroad companies around the late 1800's that basically said they forgot what business they were in. They made the mistake of thinking they were in the railroad business rather than the transportation business, and that's why they missed the significance of the automobile and in a short period of time went from being the overlords of America (in many ways) to a struggling industry that required government bailout to stay afloat.

Re:Missing the point (1)

prograde (1425683) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055595)

True, I agree. However, what's on the other side of The Line is sometimes worse.

When the price of oil gets high enough, then projects like Oil Sands [wikipedia.org] start to get profitable. The Athabasca Oil Sands produce 5% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions and the tailing ponds occupy something like 130km^2.

Re:Missing the point (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055727)

Oil companies don't sell oil - they sell energy. Oil is just how they get the energy to you. It's a transport medium and nothing more.

I'd argue the oil companies don't like the fact that oil comes from nations that don't play nice with them on their terms and would jump for joy if they found an alternative if they could get full control over it.

Re:Missing the point (2)

commodoresloat (172735) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055817)

If gas jumps to 3 or 4 or 5 dollars a gallon, eventually other technologies will be competitive.

3 or 4 or 5? It's at least 5 almost everywhere in the world outside of the US.

Re:Missing the point (1)

Sparohok (318277) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055981)

If you give them something that does the job better (which is to say, with a higher profit margin) they'll be all over it.

However, oil companies have a vast investment in oil infrastructure, technology and expertise which give them a significant advantage over potential competitors when it comes to delivering oil at a profit. They do not have an advantage at delivering plastic trees. As a result, they are not quite as unbiased as you imply with regard to the exact form in which energy is delivered to the customer.

Re:Missing the point (1)

GooberToo (74388) | more than 5 years ago | (#28056629)

If you give them something that does the job better (which is to say, with a higher profit margin) they'll be all over it.

That's not an accurate statement at all.

If you give them something that does the job better, with minimum capitol investment, a captive customer base, control over supply, demand, and pricing, with both government subsidies and federal tax credits, they'll be all over it.

Keep in mind, contrary to popular myth, oil does not participate in free market pricing nor does gas. Furthermore, pricing is based on speculative models rather than real supply/demand numbers. Anyone who believes the oil companies are just another company looking for profit is nieve to say the least.

Re:Investment (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28054891)

You'd be surprised that biofuels is the one renewable energy source a lot of traditional oil companies are interested in.

The oil distribution network, existing liquid fuel infrastructure and refineries for the trans-esterification or Fischer-Tropsch processes used to convert biomass to biofuels means that much of their technology is still relevant, as opposed to complete obsoletion by electric vehicles etc.

Further, having biofuels lets you use blends of conventional oil and biofuel giving the oil majors a chance to actually be a bit greener. They'll pounce on biofuels the moment it becomes scalable. Do read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Issues_relating_to_biofuels

I think I read a few weeks back here on slashdot that Shell scrapped it's research into all renewables except Biofuel. Maybe this is the only way they stay relevant.

cheap? (1, Flamebait)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054311)

where the fuck does it say it's now cheap to make, kdawson? FTFA

"Although it is a fairly simple process to convert HMF into plastics or biofuel, it is seldom used because HMF is costly to make"

they go on to say they made it less expensive, but no where does it state they have broken into a price range that makes it useful aka "cheap".

seriously if this is the level of reporting the bio faction are going to stick to, be prepared to laughed at a LOT.

Re:cheap? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28054439)

"FTFA"

I'm sorry I went there. For some reason I only remember one word FTFA: mSpa.

Darn, it has to be Friday!

Re:cheap? (3, Interesting)

TinBromide (921574) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054565)

Not to mention the energy costs. I wonder how much oil energy it takes to create a pound of plastic or biofuel. Would it cost less oil energy to just make the plastic or fuel from oil? That's the problem with ethanol, it takes a crazy amount of oil to grow corn (in worst case scenarios: 2 calories of oil energy for 1 of corn energy in fertilizer and pesticides and other stuff), then the wet milling takes another crazy amount (ignoring the energy costs to GROW corn, it takes like 6 gallons of oil energy to create 8 gallons of ethanol energy).

Simply coming up with a product that doesn't take oil in as a raw product doesn't mean that the process doesn't use any oil.

Re:cheap? (2, Insightful)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054803)

Does it absolutely require oil energy? If all it requires is electricity/heat, it can be from wind, solar or hydro power.

No I didn't RTFA, this is slashdot.

Re:cheap? (1)

TinBromide (921574) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054971)

It probably doesn't, but oil is the predominant form of energy right now, and until oil is replaced, this process will take oil. Sure they can set up a plant to take energy from a wind farm, but unless they built the farm, that energy would have reduced oil energy use elsewhere.

Re:cheap? (4, Insightful)

Morphine007 (207082) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055445)

Well you have to grow the crops to create the biomass, no? That requires things like herbicides (potentially not required if the weeds are just as useful as the crop) and pesticides. It also requires harvesting in some fashion. All that is currently accomplished (except on not-so-useful small scales) via tractors. Tractors use gasoline or diesel. Currently (citation likely needed, but I can't remember where I read it) biofuels are being slammed because of the fact that it takes more fuel to grow and process the biomass than is actually recovered from the biomass as biofuel to begin with.

I would put forth that the absolute dollar cost is not really the issue, it's the ratio of energy in vs. energy out that is.

Of course, that's also ignoring the amount of arable land required to grow that biomass - use too much land and suddenly the cost of crops that could otherwise be grown there increases.

Re:cheap? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28056061)

To create food, yes. To create "biomass", no. Biomass gets tossed into various forms of landfill or destruction methods all the time because biomass is usually the byproduct of crop growing.

For example, when you harvest fields of grain you get much more biomass in cellulose form from the stems and husks than the actual grain you get out of the process.

Other forms of plant-to-oil usually need otherwise unusable plants that have a high oil-to-cellulose ratio. This method actually needs a high cellulose proportion which means it can be harvested from crops useful for other things.

Re:cheap? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28055093)

most new biomass conversions are not corn based.

switchgrass, lawn grass clippings, hay, straw, crop harvest remains all can be used.

There's one company who claims they can replace all crude oil used by the United States with bio-crude from switchgrass, and lawn grass clippings.

Although there seems to be lively debate on the methods and energy used to make the stuff....

Re:cheap? (1)

Aradorn (750787) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055875)

Timber companies like rayonier are using the waste from the paper and saw mills to create cellulose and fuel biomass plants.

Re:cheap? (1)

BikeHelmet (1437881) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055737)

Ethanol is a horribly inefficient biofuel. I don't know why it's pushed so hard. Whenever someone says "Biofuel" people immediately think Corn.

Soy based biofuels are many times more efficient than corn... and Algae based biofuels are even more efficient than those! It's not a small number either; something like 20x more efficient. (Can't give exact numbers; don't remember how much exactly)

Re:cheap? (4, Insightful)

Kohath (38547) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054741)

If you subsidize it enough and penalize the oil-based products enough, it could be competitive. Just like ethanol.

Of course, then we'll all be worse off because we'll be forced to buy an inferior product for a much higher price. Just like ethanol.

Re:cheap? (3, Informative)

techess (1322623) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055779)

Ethanol is only inferior if you are only judging it based on mpg. Ethanol is a high octane fuel (usually between 110 & 130 octane). So if you have an engine designed to use ethanol (and take advantage of the extra octane) you are going to get more power. If you need that extra power it makes ethanol well worth it.

If/When they start offering ethanol from plant sources that don't "waste" farmland I think even losing the few mpg will only be a minor drawback to using it.

Re:cheap? (3, Interesting)

Fahrvergnuugen (700293) | more than 5 years ago | (#28056375)

Furthermore, because of the high octane and increased power, you can use a smaller displacement engine, which will off set the increase in MPG while increasing the overall efficiency.

The higher the compression ratio in a combustion engine, the more efficient it is. The problem is with these so called flex fuel cars, which are low compression and high displacement originally designed for gasoline, now being fueled by ethanol. Sure it works, but its completely inefficient.

What about the food? (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054837)

Y'see. Most of our fertilizers and pesticides are produced using fossil fuels. The Haber-Bosch process for example.

Which means that when the fossil fuels run out, so will the food.

What is the EROEI on making bio fuels to produce fertilizers to produce bio fuels? Is it even above 1? And how will the cost of food compare against the cost of a tank of gas in that environment? Should we encourage people to starve to feed the Hummer?

 

Re:What about the food? (1)

corbettw (214229) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054983)

Should we encourage people to starve to feed the Hummer?

That depends on which people and who's Hummer, doesn't it?

Re:What about the food? (1)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055039)

If only someone could come up with ways to make fertilizers that weren't petroleum based. They'd have to use something really crazy, like worms or something.

Re:What about the food? (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055381)

Nitrogen based fertilizers hugely increase the productivity of arable land. Rice (the staple for most of the world) productivity up 50% for example[1].

So... No fertilizer... 30% drop in human population... Or, put another way. 100 million Americans.

[1]http://books.google.nl/books?id=H2MbKYjymI4C&pg=PA76&lpg=PA76&dq=nitrogen+fertilizer+productivity&source=bl&ots=UDWeYRN3z_&sig=NamKPjWGuGOJxgjVLQFQ7DNF0b4&hl=en&ei=jNAWSuSNGsuZjAfqz-GBDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2
 

Re:What about the food? (1)

Dog-Cow (21281) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055925)

I'm not getting the downside.

More seriously, though, we already produce way more than we consume, even taking account obesity figures for US citizens. I don't think the US itself would have a problem with food, though we may not like it.

Re:What about the food? (1)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 5 years ago | (#28056005)

I see you didn't bother to look up vermiculture.

Sewers == fertilizer (4, Insightful)

mangu (126918) | more than 5 years ago | (#28056101)

Most of our fertilizers and pesticides are produced using fossil fuels

Manure was used as fertilizer before they invented the Haber-Bosch process. There's one tropical plant, the Brazilian water hyacinth [wikipedia.org] , that's considered one of the world's worst weeds [issg.org] . It doubles its mass in six to eighteen days, probably the fastest growing plant in the world. One hectare produces up to 750 kg of dry organic matter per day.

The ideal biomass production scheme? Grow water hyacinth in ponds of untreated sewage. Make cellulosic ethanol from that, or else just burn the biomass to power steam turbines.

Re:cheap? (5, Informative)

ericrost (1049312) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054843)

From TFA:

Now chemists have learned how to convert plant biomass directly into a chemical building block that can not only be used to produce fuel, but also plastics, polyester and industrial chemicals cheaply and efficiently.

It says so right in TFA that's "where the fuck it says" it.

real breakthroughs are kept secret until marketed (1)

uncreativeslashnick (1130315) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054339)

Tell the world what you've discovered, and if it's real, you'll have 10,000 copycats. Keep it secret and be first to market, and you'll be a billionaire.

Based on that thesis, I declare this article a load of crap.

Re:real breakthroughs are kept secret until market (1)

bunratty (545641) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054617)

You've described trade secrets, but there are also patents.

Why? (4, Funny)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054351)

If all the arable land in all the world were used to grow the highest yield plant for biofuel, it wouldn't come CLOSE to what we need for fuel, or our plastic demand. Hell, it might not even be a need to support the polyester demand...should the 70's happen again.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28054403)

What's more, look who benefits - the Arabs have all the oil AND NOW it seems you can only grow these bio crops on their kind of land!

Talk about falling on your feet!

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28054711)

I thought polyester was strictly made from recycled plastic.

Re:Why? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28055015)

You don't necessarily need arable land, you can grow algae. You need about a million square kilometers for the entire world's fuel demand. That's 1/10th of US's land area.

Do read http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0734975007000262

Seconded. (5, Insightful)

vuo (156163) | more than 5 years ago | (#28056183)

I am an industrial chemist in an immediately related project. I do think the discovery is important, but I don't see the point of converting prime cellulose to fuel, because that's sort of missing the point. Currently cellulose has plenty of uses; it is being used widely as is in things like paper, paper tissues, cardboard, viscose fibres and cellophan. The fact is that only 20% of the Earth's land area outside the polar regions is in a natural state. The rest is in human use somehow. We'd need to cut down energy consumption severely and improve the efficiency of current technology to live with 100% renewables only.

Most of plant matter is not prime-quality cellulose, and there is a major research effort underway to evaluate the uses of the rest of the plant. For example, the second-largest constituent of wood, lignin, has been up to this point only burned to regenerate pulping chemicals and produce energy for the pulp mill.

The discovery is important in the sense that first, it provides information of the catalysis on cellulose, and second, annual plants or other more difficult sources than wood could be used for producing plastics and liquid fuels. Then again, we have to consider the alternative of using oil for plastic: it's not really that bad environmentally to take oil and then convert it into solid plastic, because the carbon it contains is sequestered into the landfill. Liquid fuels from this source would compete with other land plant sources or e.g. algae that produce oils (either triglyceride or terpenes that can be converted with hydrocracking).

I read the article in Applied Catalysis A itself, and found it fairly impressive. The system is truly catalytic, there are no impossible stoichiometric (in this case about 100 g chromium or 220 g chromium chloride per 100 g cellulose) non-regenerable reactants so common in the "alternative fuel" literature. They needed only 0.5%. I see only one major problem in it: chromium. It is being increasingly avoided because it can form carcinogenic compounds. You can distil off the furfural, but you can't distil sugars, so you'll have to deal with the residual chromium somehow. Probably a simple ion exchange could be used.

It's about time... (5, Funny)

beatbox32 (325106) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054365)

Alright! Let's chop down those trees and start saving the environment!

Re:It's about time... (1)

greenguy (162630) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055155)

I think the cleverest part about this is the way they've come up with a ingenious and patentable way to convert plant biomass into fertilizer. These guys are truly gifted.

Re:It's about time... (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055503)

Damnit. You already said exactly what I was thinking, but in one compact sentence. :)

I think, when we can turn sand and iron (or similar abundant materials) into something plasticlike, by using a plant that only needs electricity from sun, and maybe other things that are made from these materials... And a process that recycles 100% of it... Then we have got a sustainable cycle that can work even on tomorrow's overpopulated world.

Wake up people. (2, Interesting)

speciesonly (1194865) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054367)

I know that here in Florida we have a few plants that we in Forestry researched called Titi and saw palmetto.

These plants grow fast in mass groves and were viable candidates for biofuel. Alas the biofuel plant was nixed.

Though it provided green jobs, an alternate fuel source, environmental karma and would aid us in the fight against overgrown ground fuel for wildfires the community voted against the smell the plant would cause.

The oil won't last forever so people need to wake up. Even though I burn trees down with Forestry I also hug them. :)

Re:Wake up people. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28054677)

^^The smell? Yet no one complained when then damn Everglades were on fire FOR A WEEK! Ever smell a burning swamp? I can only guess that a chemical factory smells an order of magnitude better than a burning swamp. Chalk this one up as yet another reason for me to hate Florida and all the selfish assholes that live there.

--disclaimer--
I lived in Islamorada for 3 years and Naples for a couple more.

Re:Wake up people. (1)

speciesonly (1194865) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054739)

They felt that a continuous smell was somehow worse than the occasional fire.

I worked in a swamp forest and I can tell you, yes I have. It is a bit stinky.

You know, we burn because we have to though. Most fires BTW are caused by 1. stupid humans and 2. lightening.

I LOVE THE SMELL OF BURNING PEAT IN THE MORNING!

Diesel that grows in trees (5, Informative)

mangu (126918) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054389)

Copaiba [wikipedia.org] is a tree from the Amazon region that gives diesel oil. Drill a hole in the tree and pour the oil that comes out in your tank, that is all you need to do. Typical yield is 40 liter per tree every year.

Re:Diesel that grows in trees (4, Informative)

Flimzy (657419) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054501)

That's hardly "diesel oil" any more than other forms of vegetable oil are "diesel oil". It still needs to be converted to biodiesel to be safe for long-term use in a diesel engine. Of course it simplifies the oil extraction process greatly (usually done by pressing). You're going to get a lot of impurities (like water!) if you do what you suggest, too.

No conversion needed (5, Informative)

mangu (126918) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054901)

It still needs to be converted to biodiesel to be safe for long-term use in a diesel engine

Googling for more data on this, I found at least one article [acs.org] that claims otherwise: "... copaiba (Copaifera Langsdorfii) has raised the possibility of eliminating even the processing step. The copaiba produces at least 20-30 liters of oil every six months -- and this oil is a mixture of 15-carbon hydrocarbons which can be used directly to power a diesel engine"

Re:No conversion needed (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055047)

...which can be used directly to power a diesel engine".../quote>

Reading between the lines, I theorize that they really mean "which could possibly be used to directly power some form of theoretical diesel engine that does not yet exist, but could be built, although it may not be as clean or efficient."

I don't think they mean that an existing engine would work with it. Can't be sure though.

Normal diesel engines work with vegetable oil (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28055783)

Here in Germany it was very common for people to use unprocessed oil from plats (just pressure and a filter against non-oil components) with normal diesel plants (before oil industry recently lobbied for law change to have mineral oil tax on those non-mineral oils, too).

There are only three problems: Your car supplier will say it is not supported (because they fear liability if they say otherwise), you need slightly better filters for the exhausts in the long run, and it behaves differently on different temperatures, so if you want to be sure it also works and you have no problems in winter (and do not want the trouble to mix with normal diesel), you need a little extension to heat the oil.
There were garages changing your car this way for about the money you had saved in three months by cheaper oil instead of diesel, but then the law was changed. (The law also made some percent of eco-fuel in all normal fuel mandatory, but I read that also only helps the big firms, as they usually always add some artifical fuel for better properties in there, and do not care much if they produce that from gas or biologial sources, but only care that people have to buy it from them and not from the farmer at the next village).

Re:Normal diesel engines work with vegetable oil (3, Informative)

Flimzy (657419) | more than 5 years ago | (#28056313)

Those are far from the "only" problems... they are the easiest problems to detect. There are countless forums on the Internet that discuss all the finer points of running veg oil in diesel engines... use google if you want to find them to read all the nitty gritty details. General consensus is that running unprocessed veg oil most diesel engines will lead to coking over time, unless you heat the veg oil first. If you aren't extremely careful to remove all water from the oil, you can wear out the cylinder walls very quickly, too... and won't necessarily even notice a degradation in performance until it's too late. There are other problems that apply to specific models of diesel engines, too--you can't even run biodiesel in an '09 model year Volkswagen TDI engine without serious problems; I wouldn't even dream of trying straight VO.

Re:No conversion needed (2, Interesting)

Flimzy (657419) | more than 5 years ago | (#28056247)

Practically any veg oil *can* be used directly to power a diesel engine. But most diesel engines are not designed with such oils in mind, and therefor do not work well for extended periods of time with such oils. You risk damaging your engine if you run unmodified vegetable oil in most unmodified engines. This has been known for a century or so.

Re:Diesel that grows in trees (1)

CompMD (522020) | more than 5 years ago | (#28056329)

No.

You do not need to crack vegetable oil for long term use in a Diesel engine. There are several *types* of Diesel engines out there. Indirect injection engines with linear injector pumps work absolutely fine with natural vegetable oil, and they'd work just fine with copaiba tree oil. If you're worried about impurities, sump your tank to get rid of any heavy junk and water. Its easy and takes less than a minute. Well designed Diesel powered cars have excellent fuel filtration systems. My Mercedes 300SD had a dual-stage system with the first filter being transparent and the second an easily accessible spin-on filter that took no time to replace if necessary. The Mercedes 617 engine isn't considered indestructible for no reason.

Re:Diesel that grows in trees (5, Informative)

bzzfzz (1542813) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054547)

Like any other vegetable oil, the oil derived from Copiaba has to be processed using Transesterification [wikipedia.org] to be useful as a fuel. Though the process is not difficult or costly, there's more to it than just dumping the raw oil in your fuel tank.

No transesterification (4, Interesting)

mangu (126918) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055841)

As I already posted above, copaiba oil is remarkable exactly because, unlike other vegetable oils, it needs no further processing to be used as fuel.

Copaiba's main limitation is that it requires Amazon region climate, warm temperatures and abundant rainfall all year long. However, a researcher in Colorado [biodieselmagazine.com] is trying to insert the oil producing gene from copaiba into grasses. This could have a very interesting use, if it could be used with plants such as wild grasses that grow in regions unsuitable for growing food plants.

Re:Diesel that grows in trees (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | more than 5 years ago | (#28056613)

...has to be processed using Transesterification...

Man, I am sick of reading about Scientology.

Too good to be true... maybe? (4, Informative)

bzzfzz (1542813) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054481)

The process described is about two years old [wikipedia.org] and was published last month. [sciencedirect.com]

Untold millions of dollars have been spent in search of a cost effective process to produce ethanol from cellulose [wikipedia.org] for use as a fuel, leading me to wonder exactly what the catch is.

Of course, converting much of the world's cropland to pulpwood production [wikipedia.org] isn't exactly an environmental panacea.

Re:Too good to be true... maybe? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Monkey (795756) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054675)

The first issue needs to be reduction. We use too much stuff. Period. The second issue is finding substitutes. If we start with step two it won't any good what so ever. If I eat too many Twinkies and I switch to whole wheat bread and organic butter, but I don't eat less, it's not a net change. If I eat fewer Twinkies then I'm better off.

Reduction should be the first priority.

Re:Too good to be true... maybe? (1)

uncreativeslashnick (1130315) | more than 5 years ago | (#28054791)

The catch is that the process costs more per barrel than just hoovering the stuff up out of the ground. Until it becomes cheaper, it's a non-starter, now matter how many dollars are thrown at the problem.

Re:Too good to be true... maybe? (3, Informative)

Dr.Potato (247646) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055187)

We don't need to convert cropland into pulpwood production. The idea, IMHO, is to use crop waste (which is discarded) into ethanol.

Much of sugar-cane production isn't used for ethanol, but burned because it's cellulose, and bacteria find it hard to degrade cellulose into its component sugar blocks.

If you get a cheap way to do this, you can produce much more ethanol per square meter. Be it from beet, soy, rice, sugar-cane or the grass you cut from your lawn.

Re:Too good to be true... maybe? (1)

bertoelcon (1557907) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055485)

Ethanol from cellulose, could we just use human blubber like we used to use whale blubber, there is an excess of that and it sounds highly renewable for now.

Stop wasting oil by burning it inefficiently (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28054825)

...and there will be enough to supply all our plastics needs for 100Ks of years.

Salt needs new creative uses, also (0, Troll)

Simonetta (207550) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055085)

Salt?!? WTF?

Yes, salt. We not only have a serious petroleum problem, but also a big fresh, potable water problem. There's not enough to support the massively growing populations and the industries that consume hundreds of millions of gallons of it. Industries like integrated circuit manufacturing.

But the world is two-thirds water. However it is mixed with 23% salt: sodium chloride. We can separate the salt from the sea water, but it currently uses a lot of petroleum to do so. Today the areas that have the greatest need for fresh water derived from the sea tend to have a lot of petroleum nearby. That will change as the easy-to-reach oil is consumed and population grows in oil-poor lands.

We have also lots of sand. Sand can be melted into glass, which can be shaped into lenses that can focus the sunlight to evaporate the water from the salt. It's a big and complicated project, but we can do it.

But we end up with a lot of salt. Mountains of the stuff.

We have another great need. We've cut down many of the forests that has provided our basic housing building material. The alternatives such as brick and steel is expensive.

We need some way to transform the mountains of salt into cheap, workable, flexible, strong, and bio-degradable building materials to build housing, pipelines, aqueducts, and all the other things needed now for the massively growing population. We need chemists who can transform NaCl into new and presently-unknown materials. And to produce a new class of materials in a environmentally-friendly manner. And to do new material manufacturing in ways that will scale both up and down in order to supply millions of new jobs for all types of economies.

Any chemists need a serious challenge? Or, looking for a doctoral thesis topic?

An Alternative to massive environmental damage (1)

clonan (64380) | more than 5 years ago | (#28056029)

There is an interesting thing about salt...it dissolves in water!

If you start ussing NaCl for building you will desalinate the oceans causing massive damage to the environment.

How about instead we put it on a ship and slowly dissolve it with ocean water...tereby maintaining the balance.

Re:Salt needs new creative uses, also (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28056075)

A simple solution to a supposedly complicated problem.

Soylent Green Inc.

OMG! Premium grade fuel, it's made from....people!!

Seriously, you want to get rid of half the oil consumption, pollution or what ever, get rid of half the people.

You don't have to go the Hitler route, there are plenty of other ways of getting the numbers down without resorting to genocide.

The human race, never has been, or ever will be "environmently" friendly. No amount of wishfull thinking or new technologies will ever change that.

Re:Salt needs new creative uses, also (1)

canajin56 (660655) | more than 5 years ago | (#28056119)

Why not cut out the middle man and ask them to find a way to turn sand directly into high strength flexible glass instead of the weak rigid stuff we currently have? As you say, we have lots of sand. So just get some chemists, buy them some coffee, and this weekend they can bang out the designs for Ultraglass (tm) light, flexible, and easy to work as wood, strong as steel, biodegradable as wood, too...hey, sounds like wood has almost all the properties you want. Screw the chemists, just find a biology student and get them to invent a tree that's as hard as steel. That shouldn't take more than an afternoon, there's already woods that come close! For an added bonus, let's engineer it so it can grow in salt water, then we can grow them anywhere, and not increase our consumption of fresh water to do so!

If only science worked that way, and just wanting something meant it was possible!

Trees Vs. Oil (1)

supajerm (1415313) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055233)

Great instead of a lack of oil and large polution problem, we're just going to have a lack of trees problem? Awesome, I see nothing wrong with that! Who needs the rain forests anyways? ...errr remind me again how oxygen is made?

Re:Trees Vs. Oil (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28055745)

In stars. All(okay almost all) atoms that are not hydrogen (and some helium) were first fused (made) in stars. On earth we do have this funny cycle where these plants separate C02 into C + 02.

Re:Trees Vs. Oil (1)

FishTankX (1539069) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055777)

Largley by plankton/algae?

Re:Trees Vs. Oil (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055951)

First of all, trees might not be the best source of cellulose. Other plant types are probably better, in terms of the amount of cellulose yield per acre per year (things like switchgrass, bamboo, hemp, etc which grow faster and denser).

Such an industry will, of necessity, be growing large quantities of these plants, which will be pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and freeing up oxygen. Yes, we should still work on protecting rainforests and other wild areas - we shouldn't need to cut/burn down all the rainforests to have enough land to grow the plants.

Even if we did use trees - again, such an industry would lead to *more* trees, not less trees, because the energy industry would need huge quantities of plant matter.

Think about it like this - are cattle at risk of going extinct because of ranching? No - because ranchers BREED the cattle. As long as man eats beef, cows are safe from ever coming close to extinction. I'm sure there are probably more cows on earth now than ever before in history. Now, apply the same economic forces to plant matter, and you have guaranteed, well, not biological diversity, that's true, but you've at least guaranteed that whatever plants are grown for fuel will be grown in massive quantities.

The truth is, if you are worried about ecology and environment, the biggest problem is human overpopulation. We need to try to self-control our reproduction, as a species, so we can drop our population from, whatever it is today - something like 6.5 Billion, down to something more sustainable like 4 Billion-ish.

So what happens... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28055341)

So what happens if there's a forest fire with these plastic trees? Wouldn't that be a pretty hazardous situation to the Environment?

Science reporting at its best! (2, Informative)

damian cosmas (853143) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055617)

The article reports the ground-breaking/unprecedented/whatever direct conversion of cellulose to HMF. Here's an earlier article from a different research group that the editors of "Gizmag" seem to be unaware of. It was published earlier and actually describes the same process from either cellulose or untreated biomass:

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/ja808537j [acs.org]

plastic from grass (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 5 years ago | (#28055771)

I'm ready for the home inventor plastic making machines. Stuff your grass, shrub, and tree cuttings in one end and pull your invention out of the other. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_printing [wikipedia.org]

Hemp (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28055801)

This isn't exactly new technology, it's already proven that oil and plastic (as well as paper, high-durability concrete, etc) can be made from hemp. The only problem with hemp is that it's illegal to grow it in the US because it looks too much like Marijuana, and is therefore controlled by the DEA, despite the fact that you can smoke all the hemp you can handle and still not even get a buzz.

Re:Hemp (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28056317)

Did you not read the article, or have your reading-comprehension skills been whittled away by recreational THC use?

Hint: the topic here is not that someone is claiming that they've discovered how to make oil and plastic from biomass.

Seriously, dude. I like pot too, but don't smoke & post.

Biofuel is EVIL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28056065)

Fuck you.

I don't want my food, or potential food, turned in to fuel.

I don't use the term lightly ... Biofuel is EVIL.

Re:Biofuel is EVIL (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#28056241)

What do you think your food is, dipshit?
Also, you are what you eat.

New organic high-strength composite material (1)

Carbaholic (1327737) | more than 5 years ago | (#28056163)

we call it.......wood.

UGH...WTF IS CRUDE OIL ANYWAY (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28056275)

Its derived of biomass idiots, why reinvent the wheel. It delivers more punch per cc and using todays state of the art is cleaner than ever.

Biofuels is trading good fuel for bad as water will be used to now produce the mass needed to produce this new "biofuel". So instead of the great war of oil, it will be over water.

Day by day, its becoming obvious the state of cluelessness that is the new scientist spurned by that fucking hypocrite blowhard al gore

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>