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Scientists Create New Gasoline Substitute Out of Plants

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the miles-per-leaf dept.

Transportation 419

destinyland writes "California scientists have just created a new biofuel using plants that burns just as well as a petroleum-based fuel. 'The discovery, published in the journal Nature, means corn, sugar cane, grasses and other fast-growing plants or trees, like eucalyptus, could be used to make the propellant, replacing oil,' writes the San Francisco Chronicle, and the researchers predict mass marketing of their product within 5 to 10 years. They created their fuel using a fermentation process that was first discovered in 1914, but which was then discontinued in 1965 when petroleum became the dominant source of fuel. The new fuel actually contains more energy per gallon than is currently contained in ethanol, and its potency can even be adjusted for summer or winter driving."

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potential for warmongering? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42613643)

but can you use it as an excuse to invade?

Re:potential for warmongering? (4, Funny)

Cryacin (657549) | about 2 years ago | (#42613687)

First you get the sugar, then you get the women.

Re:potential for warmongering? (5, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about 2 years ago | (#42613807)

but can you use it as an excuse to invade?

You've got it backwards man, oil is the reason to invade. Evil dictators and terrorists are the excuse.

Re:potential for warmongering? (1)

wakeboarder (2695839) | about 2 years ago | (#42613901)

Don't you think it would be easier to get it in your backyard, considering that the US has tons of it?

Re:potential for warmongering? (1, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about 2 years ago | (#42613935)

NIMBY.

There is a major difficulty between the US and countries like Brazil for extracting oil: in the US, all the oil countries are private, so politicians have no problem restricting them for environmental reasons. Politicians in California complain when a new oil reserve is found.

When the politicians have a major stake in the oil company, like Petrobras or Gazprom, they are more than happy to ignore environmental concerns to fund their projects. Politicians there celebrate when a new oil reserve is found.

Re:potential for warmongering? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42614281)

Are you serious? Are you trying to make us believe for a moment that US millionaire politicians have nothing to do with the oil industry? Like, the Bushes? And that the oil lobby has not thoroughly permeated and the senate?

Not saying that Gazprom has not corrupted the Russian government, but your government is quite corrupt.

Re:potential for warmongering? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42613961)

but can you use it as an excuse to invade?

You've got it backwards man, oil is the reason to invade. Evil dictators and terrorists are the excuse.

No, the USD as the world's reserve currency (i.e. petro-dollar) being threatened is the reason to invade. Easy to mistake oil itself as the actual reason, though.

First (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42613645)

First!

OILIX!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42613647)

Where's Dr. Kio Marv?

hmm (5, Insightful)

buddyglass (925859) | about 2 years ago | (#42613651)

How much energy does it take to create given a requirement of infinite sustainability? i.e. you have to replenish the soil in which the trees grow with fertilizer, etc.

Re:hmm (4, Informative)

ComfortablyAmbiguous (1740854) | about 2 years ago | (#42613667)

Well, if you wanted to really keep your energy usage down you'd grow a nitrogen fixing plant like peanuts every other year, avoiding the need for petroleum based fertilizers.

Re:hmm (2)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | about 2 years ago | (#42614195)

Or genetically modify your fuel source to do this by it self. Or maybe alfalfa grass is a good fuel crop. It already has Rhizobia nodules in it's roots, so it can use nitrogen in the air.

Re:hmm (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 2 years ago | (#42614257)

there's other elements than nitrogen which are needed too.

but the question is, is a plot of plant going to produce enough to pay for taking care of it.

Re:hmm (4, Insightful)

FridayBob (619244) | about 2 years ago | (#42613685)

To put it another way, How many gallons of this fuel will it take to produce one gallon of this fuel?

Re:hmm (2)

jhoegl (638955) | about 2 years ago | (#42613803)

About as much shit as people can shit in a week to reconstitute the soil with vital shit that plants need.

Re:hmm (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42614085)

You mean like electrolytes?

Re:hmm (5, Insightful)

afidel (530433) | about 2 years ago | (#42613997)

I was listening to NPR on the way home today and the article mentioned that if we took all the biomass from all of the farmland both producing and fallow and were able to convert it all directly to ethanol that it would STILL only account for 14% of the US energy budget. So if we all stopped eating, and stopped exporting food, we'd still only scratch the surface of the energy we use. Converting crops/crop waste is a dead end track, it's simply not in the right order of magnitude to solve our problem, we need to focus on increased efficiency on the consumption end of thing if we want to get a handle on the problem and then we can start looking at non-plant solutions like solar, wind, and possibly large scale algae farming (much higher production per acre and it doesn't have to compete with food production)

Re:hmm (5, Insightful)

proca (2678743) | about 2 years ago | (#42614101)

Solar and wind and every other new-wave energy source is just a way to supplement base load. If you know anything about electricity generation, you should know that the world depends on base load energy: energy generated from reliable sources that accounts for like 70% of all energy usage, i.e. coal, gas and nuclear. Until we find a solution for base load energy like fusion or invent god-like batteries or power lines made of superconductors that cost $100 per mile, everything else is a pipe dream.

Re:hmm (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42614119)

You understand that we can never produce enough fuel from biomass to even scratch the surface of our energy needs, but then go and start talking about increasing efficiency on the consumption end as if that would do anything to fix this problem. Do you think their is any possibility of any combustion technology being refined to the point that it is able to lower our fuel consumption by 70% or more? Obviously not. Combustion is not the answer there is not sustainable approach to energy production that relies on the release of chemical energy through combustion. All combustion related energy production technologies must end. The answer to this conundrum is simple. Their are 3 options. 1, is to come up with an energy production technology that does not exist such as fusion power. 2, is to cull 80% of the population from the earth. Or 3, the only reasonable answer, full scale 100% adoption of clean safe Nuclear energy using modern reactor design and proper fuel life cycle management and reclamation.

Re:hmm (2)

OhANameWhatName (2688401) | about 2 years ago | (#42614187)

That sounds like a load of bullshit to me.
- What would you be growing on the land to come to the 14% figure? Different plants have different yields for hectare along with differing growth periods.
- What process of refinement was used for the estimate?
- How was the total US energy 'budget' calculated? Note the word 'budget' not 'usage' .. which is indicative of an estimate, not a fact

That '14%' is the most elaborate and outrageous guess I've ever seen quoted by a commentator.

insightful :- characterized by or displaying insight; perceptive.

Regurgitating Exxon's 'scientific research' isn't perceptive, it's blind obedience.

Re:hmm (2, Funny)

taucross (1330311) | about 2 years ago | (#42614297)

If grasses can be used then the OP's idea isn't so far fetched. Could you imagine racks of dirt and grass 1km high? Creating giant tower racks of biomass to support the creation of fuel could be done to create sufficient energy density. I guess we could call it a "Rack-mount Blade server". Boom boom

Re:hmm (2)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 2 years ago | (#42614319)

And that's why what we're looking for is a water-borne algee that can be converted into fuel. Blanket the oceans with it and watch it soak up the CO2 from the water (where it's doing the most damage) then turn it into fuel. Easy to raise, self reproducing, needs little to no care.

Re:hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42614033)

And I was so looking forward to peak oil. Fewer annoying automobiles whizzing by my house.
If we want to continue burning shit up, we really got look at the climate consequences, or having fuel won't much matter.

Re:hmm (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42613719)

And the sun, it has to keep shining! What if the sun gets blown out like a giant candle in the sky?

Re:hmm (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 2 years ago | (#42614113)

One would hope that in 4.5 billion years, we'll have figured out space travel.

Re:hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42614249)

Whoosh!

That's the sound of the sun going out.

You wish you'd listened to me.

Re:hmm (1)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | about 2 years ago | (#42614251)

By that time we may well have found a way to mix the sun. A star dies because it doesn't have enough hydrogen in it's core, but the outer layers are still mostly (guess: 90%) hydrogen by that time. Give it a good mix and enjoy the rays.

Re:hmm (3, Interesting)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | about 2 years ago | (#42614287)

By that time we may have found out how to mix the sun. A star dies because it burned all the hydrogen in the core. The outer layers, where fusion does not occur, are still mostly hydrogen (guess: 90%). If we bring that hydrogen to the core the life of the sun may be extendable by a factor 10.

Re:hmm (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 2 years ago | (#42613757)

How much energy does it take to create given a requirement of infinite sustainability? i.e. you have to replenish the soil in which the trees grow with fertilizer, etc.

TFA says grasses might be via source material - "anything fast growing" - perhaps clippings from cutting all our lawns?

Mountain Dew Throwback (1)

gimmeataco (2769727) | about 2 years ago | (#42613657)

Nooooooooooooo! You can't take my Mountain Dew Throwback back. All your sugar cane are belong to me.

eucalyptus (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42613661)

planting eucalyptus can cause serious environmental problems.

How is this different from bio-diesel? (4, Insightful)

msobkow (48369) | about 2 years ago | (#42613665)

I know bio-diesel requires oil-producing crops vs. sugar producing crops, but other than that I'm curious how this fuel might be "better" than bio-diesel. Given that bio-diesel can be produced using hemp seed oil (a plant that literally grows like a weed in the worst of conditions), I'd think the hemp alternative would be better.

The milled hemp kernels left behind by the oil extraction provide a high-protein animal feed, and the stalks produce fiber that can replace a wide number of products.

I'd guess the remaining hemp stalk material after the fiber has been extracted could still be put through this fermentation process.

So enlighten me.

Why aren't we pursuing hemp-based bio-diesel instead?

Aerial surveillance (5, Insightful)

tepples (727027) | about 2 years ago | (#42613715)

Why aren't we pursuing hemp-based bio-diesel instead?

Because aerial surveillance can't tell the low-THC strains of C. sativa grown for hemp from the higher-THC strains grown for a psychoactive substance. Perhaps one of the U.S. states that has legalized pot on a state level (with President Obama's announced lack of enforcement priority) can experiment with a hemp industry.

Re:Aerial surveillance (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42613969)

Hey, that's a really good idea. Cheers from the North West! :)

Re:Aerial surveillance (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42614063)

Obama only said the Feds would not go after small time users in the legalized pot states. But they never have, so he essentially said nothing.

Re:Aerial surveillance (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42614065)

Hemp isn't even the best one. Jatropha is more likely to become the source with the amount of research being poured into it. This hemp pushing shit is silly. There are a ton of ground plants like hemp that aren't hemp so no legal issues and probably perform better in their specific situations.

Re:Aerial surveillance (1)

Khashishi (775369) | about 2 years ago | (#42614111)

You mean this lack of enforcement?

Re:How is this different from bio-diesel? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42613737)

Dave's not here, man.

Re:How is this different from bio-diesel? (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 2 years ago | (#42613741)

The article claims: " about 90 percent of the raw material remains in the finished product." Seems like good efficiency, I guess.

Re:How is this different from bio-diesel? (1)

AshtangiMan (684031) | about 2 years ago | (#42613777)

The article calls the resulting fuel "diesel" a couple of times. This apparently is bio diesel, using an old industrial process and then a new catalyst (I'm betting that the ip for the catalyst will be owned by bp) to convert the output of the old process into the fuel.

Re:How is this different from bio-diesel? (4, Insightful)

Jiro (131519) | about 2 years ago | (#42613779)

Because hemp is being vastly oversold by people who want to get high on pot and figure that promoting hemp growing is a way to legalization.

Growing hemp is legal pretty much everywhere in Europe. If hemp was as much a wonder material as its promoters claimed it was, Europe would be using it for bio-diesel anyway.

Re:How is this different from bio-diesel? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42614015)

Europeans lack the American entrepreneurial spirit, and so the wonders of hemp are wasted on them.
Hemp is promoted by people who want to get high on pot because they think the plant is useful and shouldn't be banned. It takes a high level of retardation to be unable to discern between industrial hemp and smokable marijuana. The former is several meters tall and sparse, the latter is short and bushy.

Re:How is this different from bio-diesel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42614215)

Goes back to established infrastructure and quantity. Europe has a relatively finite area for growing crops. Compare that to the US, which still has untapped areas. North Dakota is still battling the DEA over being allowed to grow Hemp.

So say you want to push hemp based bio-diesel to mainstream integration levels. How much land will that require? You really think Europe has that available, much less to displace an existing crop?

Soy and some other grasses still have some potential in producing higher energy per L bio-diesels, including higher than hemp based. However no one is really going for any of them because, well, the Oil industry is too big, the Corn lobby is too strong, and getting the American people onboard would be tougher than battling the other 2.

Rather than a bio-diesel 'miracle' on the horizon, I'm more concerned that the Corn lobby is pushing for increased ethanol percentages in mainstream gas. This in turn, will end up destroying fuel lines and ignition systems, and corroding engines in rapidly shorter timeframes.

Re:How is this different from bio-diesel? (1)

ColaMan (37550) | about 2 years ago | (#42613783)

Something to do with replacing the half-a-billion existing vehicles that can't run on bio-diesel perhaps?

If someone can figure out how to manufacture a 'drop-in' replacement for normal petrol / gasolene then you can jump start the entire process without waiting the 20-30 years for passenger diesel engines to become the bulk of the market.

Re:How is this different from bio-diesel? (4, Interesting)

egcagrac0 (1410377) | about 2 years ago | (#42614097)

If biodiesel was 30% less expensive than gasoline, I would expect to see a market shift within 5 years.

The technology is available now, but diesel cars don't seem to be popular in the US - probably because diesel is 20% more expensive than gasoline in the US. In Europe, where gasoline and diesel fuel prices are much closer to even, diesel cars are far more common.

Re:How is this different from bio-diesel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42613813)

Most biodiesel fuels are petrodiesel blends, unless you use a motor specifically converted to run on pure biodiesel.

A biofuel that burns just as well (or better) than pump gas would be huge. Especially if it's inexpensive and domestically produced.

I don't know what the exotic hemp source has to do with the discussion though.

Re:How is this different from bio-diesel? (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 2 years ago | (#42613831)

Most are blends for cold weather - any diesel motor will run on pure bio.

Re:How is this different from bio-diesel? (2)

afidel (530433) | about 2 years ago | (#42614013)

But modern common rail injectors will foul on pure biodiesel (I know the Volkswagen group specifically allows only a certain percentage for EU warranty coverage and excludes any biodiesel for US spec vehicles)

Re:How is this different from bio-diesel? (4, Interesting)

shutdown -p now (807394) | about 2 years ago | (#42614125)

I know the Volkswagen group specifically allows only a certain percentage for EU warranty coverage and excludes any biodiesel for US spec vehicles

They actually allow B5 - presumably because quite a few states require the stations to serve it.

The majority consensus on VW community forums seems to be that B20 works great in practice, but anything above that is potentially risky. B100 will definitely make a mess (some people have posted pictures of what it makes out of the engine eventually).

Re:How is this different from bio-diesel? (1)

asm2750 (1124425) | about 2 years ago | (#42614137)

This is true AC.

The most common bio-diesel blend out there is B20. Which means only 20% of the fuel is actually bio-diesel. However, slowly phasing in increases to the biodiesel content when car and truck makers can handle it would help wean us off normal diesel fuel. There are also new processes like the McGyan process which should make bio-diesel production cheaper and easier should it take off. Then all we need to do is grow a bunch of hemp or switch grass, heck even regular tallow and cooking fats can be recycled into bio-diesel.

Re:How is this different from bio-diesel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42613985)

Why is it a matter of pursuing one "instead" of the other? Seems like they're both great industries that need to start booming and can compete against each other to see which turns out to be better instead of fossil fuels.

Re:How is this different from bio-diesel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42613995)

hemp seed oil (a plant that literally grows like a weed in the worst of conditions), I'd think the hemp alternative would be better. ...
Why aren't we pursuing hemp-based bio-diesel instead?

because we already have enough bad drivers without them getting high off exhaust fumes during rush hour.

Re:How is this different from bio-diesel? (1)

Grayhand (2610049) | about 2 years ago | (#42614089)

Actually the fiber extraction process leaves a sugary caustic residue. You can take most any plant material especially grasses then just heat them with regular fireplace leavings. After a while it starts to smell sugary as the caustic ash breaks the long chain sugars holding the plant fibers together. That waste product can be used to make ethanol. Every part of the hemp plant is useful including the waste residues. Another plant called kenaf has the same benefits and is totally legal while industrial hemp remains iffy to grow. One type of Kenaf looks like hemp but the other strains look nothing like it. It's easier to grow Kenaf than jump through the hoops and end up getting Christmas cards from the DEA to grow industrial hemp. Kenaf is unregulated.

Re:How is this different from bio-diesel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42614117)

Because drugs, that's why.

Please, one obvious request (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42613673)

Don't mix it in with the nation's gasoline and assume there will be no problems with it. Ethanol is such a complete joke because it actually decays parts of the machine that runs it. Oh and the fact it takes more gasoline to create than it makes up for is the other punchline.

Re:Please, one obvious request (2)

afidel (530433) | about 2 years ago | (#42614025)

Both statements are incorrect, unless you vehicle is pre-1990's by law the components have to be able to handle at least 10% ethanol, and the current ethanol production chains range from 1.5:1 to 3:1 efficiency.

Another pie-in-the-sky plan (4, Insightful)

A bsd fool (2667567) | about 2 years ago | (#42613677)

What is with these people that think we can meet any reasonable amount of our energy needs, nationally or globally, with alcohol? It takes literally seconds to look up the maximum arable land in a country, determine how much fuel you could make if you used all of it at 100% efficiency, and then see that this is nowhere near enough fuel to replace gasoline. During this exercise you're allowed to ignore the impact this would have when that land is no longer available for current purposes.

Until there are major advances in where this stuff can be grown, to get the energy produced per acre much higher than it actually is, and prevent "simple" natural disasters from ruining entire crops for the season, this stuff is never going to take off no matter the hype.

Cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass (1)

tepples (727027) | about 2 years ago | (#42613753)

Until there are major advances in where this stuff can be grown

Advances like the ability to process switchgrass, which can grow on marginal farmland, and other sources of cellulose such as waste wood? They're working on that.

Re:Cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass (3, Insightful)

A bsd fool (2667567) | about 2 years ago | (#42614019)

1. Switchgrass average production: 14.6 tons / hectare

2. Ethanol 100 gallons/ton

3. Total land area (not arable, total for CONUS, period) 766 million hectares

Total fuel production per year: 1.1 trillion gallons

Gasoline and diesel consumption in 2011: 200 billion gallons.

So you tell me. Do you think it's realistic to convert 20% of the total land area of the country to switchgrass production? It would certainly make sense to use it to replace corn, once the technology matures, but it's never going to replace petroleum unless they figure out a way go grow it much more densely without raising the cost of production too much. There are better alternatives to solve the oil crunch than plants-as-fuel. CNG is one. LPG is another.

Re:Cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | about 2 years ago | (#42614129)

How about algae-as-fuel (i.e. biodiesel)? You don't need to convert land area for that, and oceans are vast.

Re:Cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass (1)

TheLink (130905) | about 2 years ago | (#42614225)

How do you propose to manage all the square kilometres/miles of ocean required to grow your algae on? You'd still need a lot of surface area assuming the algae needs sunlight to grow.

These biofuels are basically solar energy. From the efficiencies you can work out how much surface area you need - whether land or sea.

They might be less efficient than solar panels but unlike algae and plants solar panels don't build and repair themselves. But if they are too inefficient, the area required becomes a big issue.

Re:Another pie-in-the-sky plan (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42613781)

Further than that, realize that all of this energy stored in anything "grown" is from the sun so you can put an upper-bound on maximum POSSIBLE yield by determining how much energy the Earth receives in sunlight, multiply that by the efficiency of a plant storing this into whatever the input of some "process" is and you will likely realize that this is completely impossible since we are currently burning more than one day (probably some number of years) of "stored sunlight" (oil) per day just to live our current lifestyle.

The key to fixing your supply problem is to make sure the demand makes sense. For some reason, this is an unpopular area of exploration.

Re:Another pie-in-the-sky plan (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | about 2 years ago | (#42614185)

Further than that, realize that all of this energy stored in anything "grown" is from the sun so you can put an upper-bound on maximum POSSIBLE yield by determining how much energy the Earth receives in sunlight, multiply that by the efficiency of a plant storing this into whatever the input of some "process" is and you will likely realize that this is completely impossible since we are currently burning more than one day (probably some number of years) of "stored sunlight" (oil) per day just to live our current lifestyle.

Have you actually tried computing how much of Earth's surface area is needed to capture enough sun energy (assuming 100% efficiency, for the sake of simplicity - we can always scale later) to fully satisfy all our energy needs?

Here's a quick attempt. Average insolation of Earth is 1kW/m^2 (on a clear day). So every square meter captures ~8.7 MWh of solar energy, annually. Total world energy consumption is somewhere on the order of 150 PWh. Hence, assuming 100% conversion, you need 17,200 km^2 of area to fully satisfy world's energy needs. And the total surface area of world is 500,000,000 km^2, 30% of which is land (and not everything needs land to grow). So even assuming 1% efficiency, it seems like we could pull it off without reducing the present energy consumption, if we really wanted to.

Re:Another pie-in-the-sky plan (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about 2 years ago | (#42614321)

Further than that, realize that all of this energy stored in anything "grown" is from the sun so you can put an upper-bound on maximum POSSIBLE yield by determining how much energy the Earth receives in sunlight, multiply that by the efficiency of a plant storing this into whatever the input of some "process" is and ...

Sure: let's do it.

Consumption: World energy production [google.com.au] 2009: 11M kT oil=1.1e+7 kT oil = 4.60548E+20 J [unitjuggler.com]

What surface of vegetation would convert (by photosynthesis) the same amount of solar energy as the one consumed?
* Solar constant [wikipedia.org] : for simplified calculation, 1kW/m.
* a flat patch "stuck" to the Earth surface captures during the day only 1/PI of the incident flux (assume equatorial position; take the "cosine law" and integrate between "dawn" and "dusk". Divide by the whole duration of the day). For an year, the "effective exposure time"=365*24*3600/PI= 1e+7 "full sun seconds".
* Photosynthetic efficiency [wikipedia.org] : for simplified calculation, 5%
Equivalent power needed: 4.60548E+20 J/1e+7 "full sun seconds"=4.60548E+13 W=4.60548E10 kW.Because 5% conversion efficiency, we actually need 9.211e+11 kW.
The surface needed to capture that much: 9.211E+11 m=9.211E+5 km. For comparison: Amazon jungle area=5.5e+6 km.

... and you will likely realize that this is completely impossible since we are currently burning more than one day (probably some number of years) of "stored sunlight" (oil) per day just to live our current lifestyle.

Let me call BS on your assertion

Gald to see it is still getting coverage (1)

Jonah Hex (651948) | about 2 years ago | (#42613679)

When I first submitted [slashdot.org] this last November I thought it might be something that would be shot down fairly soon by "Real Science" (TM), good to see that it is still considered viable. And you'd get more plant material with less environmental impact from industrial hemp than most of the others. - HEX

Let the fuel wars begin (1)

jakimfett (2629943) | about 2 years ago | (#42613697)

I'm wondering how long it will be before Big Oil starts claiming that this substitute damages your car. Or that somehow, "true oil" is better for the environment. Brings to mind the situation with lab grown carbon crystals...it just isn't a diamond unless it was pulled out of the ground through the sweat and labor of someone making minimum wage, right?

Re:Let the fuel wars begin (5, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about 2 years ago | (#42613767)

Not to shatter your conspiratorial fantasy, but this research was actually funded by BP. A lot of big oil companies are investing in alternate energy these days as a hedge for when oil is no longer needed. They say, "We're not in the oil business, we're in the energy business."

Re:Let the fuel wars begin (4, Insightful)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 2 years ago | (#42613949)

Not to shatter your conspiratorial fantasy, but this research was actually funded by BP. A lot of big oil companies are investing in alternate energy these days as a hedge for when oil is no longer needed. They say, "We're not in the oil business, we're in the energy business."

Correction: A lot of big oil companies are interested in patenting alternate energy sources these days, because patents can stifle innovation...

Re:Let the fuel wars begin (2)

phantomfive (622387) | about 2 years ago | (#42613971)

Correction: A lot of big oil companies are interested in patenting alternate energy sources these days, because patents can stifle innovation...

Where did you get that information? Is that something you made up? Go look at BP's wind farms, and ask yourself why they would actually be building things if they only cared about patents and stifling things.

Re:Let the fuel wars begin (1)

swillden (191260) | about 2 years ago | (#42613999)

BP is also one of the biggest manufacturers of solar panels.

Re:Let the fuel wars begin (1)

AnotherAnonymousUser (972204) | about 2 years ago | (#42614059)

Patents are also only valid for 20 years. I see this bandied point around to the point of being nearly trollish - by patenting something, yes, you tie it up, but you've also created 1) an asset you can license out 2) a codified body of knowledge that anyone can refer to. You've done your homework well enough that someone else can look at later and see what you did, in exchange for protection of that process. Big Oil companies have been around a lot longer than 20 years and have their fair share of patents, some of which have already expired. By revealing that they've done the research and patenting the process, they've started the clock ticking on what will eventually become public domain. So yes, they can "stifle innovation" for a short while, but it's not a permanent block, just a temporary stopgap to widespread use, if they found something that would get in the way of their own commercial success.

Re:Let the fuel wars begin (1)

egcagrac0 (1410377) | about 2 years ago | (#42614127)

I'm pretty sure they don't care what they're selling, so long as they're making money.

If people want to buy biofuel instead of petrofuel, and they (the company) can produce (and distribute, etc... the whole chain) it for less than the price people want to pay, there's money to be made.

I've yet to hear anyone in business say "I don't want to make money."

And the oil majors will join (1)

tepples (727027) | about 2 years ago | (#42613775)

I'm wondering how long it will be before Big Oil starts claiming that this substitute damages your car.

Given how far BP and the other big energy companies claim to want to extend themselves "beyond petroleum" (as BP rebranded itself), I'd imagine they'd want to get into the ABE fuel business themselves.

System efficiency? (3)

BlackPignouf (1017012) | about 2 years ago | (#42613707)

What about the system efficiency?

"Look!
You only need 20kWh of electricity, 1m**3 of water, 2m**2 of land and 3 liters of fertilizer to get 1 liter of biofuel.
We will revolutionize the world in 10 years!"

People complain all the time about low efficiency of PV Panels, but they're still 5 times better than photosynthesis.

Anyone hungry? (4, Interesting)

astro (20275) | about 2 years ago | (#42613729)

With a planet full of starving people I continue to fail to understand how using food crops for fuel makes any kind of rational sense at all.

Food exists, but you can't have it (3, Insightful)

tepples (727027) | about 2 years ago | (#42613821)

Hunger in poor countries is not a production problem quite as much as a distribution problem.

Re:Food exists, but you can't have it (1)

Demonantis (1340557) | about 2 years ago | (#42614171)

Then why did corn prices jump after ethanol was mandated in fuel? I realize in poor countries it is distribution that is the problem, but it still affects food prices here.

Re:Food exists, but you can't have it (5, Informative)

afgam28 (48611) | about 2 years ago | (#42614221)

According to this site [cnn.com] total global food production is 4.4 billion tonnes per year, so in a world of 7 billion people that's 629 kg per person per year, or 1.7 kg per day. The average (median) American eats 1.03 kg per day, and the 90th percentile eats 1.73 kg per day, according to the EPA [epa.gov] .

About 2.4 billion tonnes is cereals [wikipedia.org] (e.g. corn, rice, wheat).

So yeah, if we're producing enough to feed 7 billion 90th percentile Americans, I think it's safe to say it's a distribution problem not a supply problem.

Re:Anyone hungry? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42613833)

With a planet full of starving people I continue to fail to understand how using food crops for fuel makes any kind of rational sense at all.

I know. We should be using people as fuel.

Re:Anyone hungry? (3, Funny)

Farmer Tim (530755) | about 2 years ago | (#42613893)

Call it Soylent premium.

Re:Anyone hungry? (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about 2 years ago | (#42613889)

The problem with food-for-fuel is that it's just not efficient. On top of the damage that ethanol does to vehicles...

Doesn't solve the problem (1)

Casandro (751346) | about 2 years ago | (#42613755)

We just need _so_ much more fuel than plants could produce. Even if we use high efficiency plants like hemp we don't have enough fertile ground to grow enough plants.

Plants are really inefficient when it comes to turning sunlight into carbohydrates. That's simply just a by-product of their life.

Re:Doesn't solve the problem (2)

dbc (135354) | about 2 years ago | (#42613929)

Compare the efficiency of plans turning sunlight into carbohydrates, with that of a planet's geologic processes turning the results of mass-extinction events into fossil fuels over millions of years. Most of Earths oil was produced during two distinct mass-extinction events long ago. We're on track to use every drop of it up over the course of a couple hundred years. The phrase 'burn rate' comes to mind. If the planet can't produce energy that fast, then perhaps, we need to cut back how much we burn, eh?

Re:Doesn't solve the problem (2)

Casandro (751346) | about 2 years ago | (#42613941)

Absolutely. Or at least we'd have to move to more sustainable forms of energy gathering like wind or solar.

5 to 10 Years Out (4, Funny)

cosm (1072588) | about 2 years ago | (#42613773)

Gasoline substitute....5 to 10 years out.....***puts on shades***...sounds like vaporware.

5 years (4, Funny)

phantomfive (622387) | about 2 years ago | (#42613787)

According to the article, it will be ready for the market in five to ten years [xkcd.com] .

Fossil fuels stored many years of sunlight (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42613825)

Fossil fuels stored many years of sunlight. I doubt there's any sustainable bio fuel that can compete with that.

Conservation, direct solar where possible, and nuclear are better answers. You can supplement that with bio fuels, but you'll never replace fossil.

Re:Fossil fuels stored many years of sunlight (1)

Pinky's Brain (1158667) | about 2 years ago | (#42614053)

Electricity to methane is already claimed to be 50% efficient, it's not as ideal as petrol/diesel but we can make do with it for everything but planes (which can run on biofuels). Ideally we will find some high efficiency conversion to convert methane to propane ... but as I said, we can make do with methane.

I see no problem with replacing fossil fuels, other than that as a society we have become completely unable to sacrifice for a communal good and the market is being engineered for a sudden collapse so market forces won't be able to create the transition.

My prediction: cancelled by next month (1)

Narcocide (102829) | about 2 years ago | (#42613875)

Corn-ethanol lobbyists will never stand for this.

Re:My prediction: cancelled by next month (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42613931)

You might want to try reading the summary before commenting next time; might save you from making an ass of yourself.

Re:My prediction: cancelled by next month (1)

Narcocide (102829) | about 2 years ago | (#42613943)

I think you may want to check yourself. What part of "but ethanol sucks by comparison" was ever relevant to the push for ethanol?

Let's see some EROEI figures (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | about 2 years ago | (#42613879)

Until cost and EROEI [wikipedia.org] figures come out, this is vaporware. There are lots of ways to make fuel from biomass, but most of them are too expensive. Some consume more energy than they produce (EROEI < 1). Any useful process needs an EROEI over 5, and preferably over 10, to be worth the trouble. Photovoltaic is now up to 7, which is encouraging. Ethanol from corn is listed as 1.3, and some studies put it at less than 1. (Ethanol distillation plants, unlike oil refineries, don't run on their own product; they take in natural gas or some other fuel.)

I see the hemp enthusiasts are out in force again. Hemp isn't a good fuel crop. If you just want biomass for cellulose, you use agricultural waste - corn husks and cobs, straw, bagasse from sugar cane, etc. Hemp seed oil is useful, but only a small part of the biomass comes out as oil. There are better plants for direct oil production.

Bye bye forests! (2)

GenieGenieGenie (942725) | about 2 years ago | (#42613915)

Hello, (Subaru) Forester.

Is it cost effective? (1)

wakeboarder (2695839) | about 2 years ago | (#42614043)

By the sound of the article summary, this 'gas' will also make you thin and get you a job promotion. The article itself is much less rosy. It says its compatible and efficient, but how efficient. It suggests that it is for niche markets like the military ect., aka big spenders. And no you can't produce fuel from plants to offset oil because of land area, for more info see http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/renewables/a-skeptic-looks-at-alternative-energy [ieee.org]

If it seems too good to be true.. (1)

proca (2678743) | about 2 years ago | (#42614079)

If it seems too good to be true... then its probably food made into fuel. Or at least I think that's what they say.

Curious the affect on engine seals? (3, Interesting)

Grayhand (2610049) | about 2 years ago | (#42614109)

Just wondering how corrosive it is to the seals in an engine? That's the downside of regular alcohol it rots the seals on most cars. The description makes it sound even more corrosive than straight alcohol or ethanol. Sounds great but if it kills the engines after a few thousand miles it's hardly a replacement. I love bio fuels but most engines aren't designed to run them. They need to work more with car makers to bring this stuff to market. My guess is that's part of the ten year plan.

CO2? (4, Insightful)

spongman (182339) | about 2 years ago | (#42614199)

great, but when you burn it does it still spew CO2 into the atmosphere?

when are we going wake up and start using cars powered by hydrogen separated from water in LFTRs?

That's not the problem (2)

atari2600a (1892574) | about 2 years ago | (#42614233)

The problem is having synthetic plastics replacing all rubber fittings, o-rings, hoses & gaskets in non-'Bio'/'flex'-fuel cars. This is a common trend for pretty much all biofuels. While the prospect of a gasoline-compatible biofuel with the energy density of standard petrol is promising, it makes more sense to buy a bio-ready diesel vehicle & make B80 a thing. Plus, in countries where industrial hemp is a thing, it could even be sustainable up until we fix the energy density / charge time problem w/ existing electricity storage solutions.

Not all good (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42614315)

Ummmm, aren't we supposed to find a fuel that doesn't pollute?

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