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Driving on Starch

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the oh-mr.-fusion-you're-so-efficient dept.

Power 232

Roland Piquepaille writes "Using sugar contained in corn or potatoes to build hydrogen-powered fuel cells has already been done. But now, a team of U.S. researchers has developed a new sugar-to-hydrogen technology. Why not put the starch inside the tank of your car? With the help of 13 specific enzymes, 'a car with an approximately 12-gallon tank could hold 27 kilograms (kg) of starch, which is the equivalent of 4 kg of hydrogen. The range would be more than 300 miles, estimates one of the researchers. One kg of starch will produce the same energy output as 1.12 kg (0.38 gallons) of gasoline.' The beauty behind this idea is that no special infrastructure would be needed. Starch could be distributed by your local grocery store."

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Poll Troll Toll (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19289123)

What's better...

Starch [impoll.net]
Gasoline [impoll.net]
Animals [impoll.net]
Mare Juice [impoll.net]

Re:Poll Troll Toll (1)

ndogg (158021) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289965)

What's better...
Mare Juice [impoll.net]
I misread that last option as something else that had an 'l' instead of an 'r' and thought, "Hells yeah!"

"Sex in the back seat" could take on a whole new meaning.

Hay (1)

mrmeval (662166) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289129)

I want my car to burn hay!

Re:Hay (4, Funny)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289143)

I want my car to burn hay!

I have one that burns rice.

Hey! (1)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289211)

Hay is for horses, of courses.

Re:Hay (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289279)

I want my car to burn hay!

Done. [wikipedia.org]

Pop and junk food or ... human fat ! (2, Interesting)

drgonzo59 (747139) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289511)

How about pop and junk food? One Twinkie for me -- one for my horse...er my Honda.

That should curb obesity in this country. But then we have all this energy already stored as fat on our bodies. Well, we'll just have to design a car that runs on human fat. Just cut that love handle, toss it in a gas/fat tank and there you go, drive to the store and buy more Twinkies to put that lost chunk of fat back and keep going...


Back to the future... (1)

alexandreracine (859693) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289645)

Sounds like our Doc is pretty good for the future after all :)

The only infinite resource is "human stupidity" (4, Funny)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289699)

The only infinite resource we have is "human stupidity". When we figure out how to split water molecules using stupidity we'll have the problem licked fer sure.

I'm sure a breakthrough can't be too far away, most modern SUVs are already running on 50% stupidity, we just need to improve the yield.

Re:Pop and junk food or ... human fat ! (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289837)

How about pop and junk food? One Twinkie for me -- one for my horse...er my Honda.

The problem is that the car's brain box would suffer from diminished capacity [snopes.com]

Question (5, Interesting)

VanHalensing (926781) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289149)

Wouldn't that be a lot of starch? I mean, wouldn't we then have a shortage of it? I know it's more renewable than gas, but could they even produce enough? They're having a hard enough time with 10% corn for gas. 12 gallons of starch is like, 110 or so bags of starch at the store...

Re:Question (4, Interesting)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289193)

>The beauty behind this idea is that no special infrastructure would be needed. Starch could be distributed by your local grocery store.

Yeah, someone isnt thinking energy alternatives through again. 1,000 people a day probably visit my grocery store. How are they going to pull 13 gallons of starch each? Where will by store put 13,000 gallons a day. In the cereal aisle?

  You will need a gas station like place to move this much product.

Secondly, where is this stuff coming from? etc etc etc

Re:Question (2, Informative)

normuser (1079315) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289341)

From your comment:

Yeah, someone isnt thinking energy alternatives through again. 1,000 people a day probably visit my grocery store. How are they going to pull 13 gallons of starch each? Where will by store put 13,000 gallons a day. In the cereal aisle?

From TFA:

A car with an approximately 12-gallon tank could hold 27 kilograms (kg) of starch, which is the equivalent of 4 kg of hydrogen. The range would be more than 300 miles

So all of these people drive 300 miles a day?
I see your point regarding the supply of starch to all the people in a givin town, but exagerated statements just make me wonder if you actually RTFA.

Re:Question (4, Insightful)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289593)

There is a little confusion on both your parts. It doesn't matter how many people visit the grocery store a day right now. Because right now that number has nothing to do with how much gas they use.
 
The question is - how many gas stations are there and how many grocery stores are there. Then find out how many people go to the gas stations and fill up every day - then look at what kind of traffic that means for the grocery store. I'm willing to bet that the gp is right in that the number is large.
 
What do people normally buy at the grocery store in 12 or 13 gallon quantities right now?
 
And when you say do those people drive 300 miles a day - that's not accurate either. I don't think too many people go to the grocery store every day. I go 1 or 2 times a week. We fill our car about once a week. So in my case, the number of trips to a gas station and grocery store are similar now. But when I buy gas - there are 3 or 4 gas stations near where I live - and one grocery store.
 
The numbers are all guesses, but like I said, the intent of the gp is probably pretty much right. The current distribution system for groceries (in the US anyway) is not sufficient to handle also providing fuel needs for the public on top of the food.

Re:Question (4, Insightful)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289743)

The numbers are all guesses, but like I said, the intent of the gp is probably pretty much right. The current distribution system for groceries (in the US anyway) is not sufficient to handle also providing fuel needs for the public on top of the food.

Perhaps you don't realize how little that actually matters. It's one thing to build an infrastructure that's inherently incompatible with existing infrastructure. It's another thing entirely to extend and amplify an existing infrastructure.

Let's take your "tank a week" scenario. It's roughly on par with Gasoline per unit of weight (Kg) so we're talking about a 10-gallon tank in your average 4-5 seater car. Gasoline weighs about 6 pounds per gallon, so that's about 60 lbs per week to meet a not-atypical situation. I buy a 50-lb bag of dogfood every other week thanks to my large golden retriever.

What's important is the cost of entry - not the total cost. It doesn't really matter what the total cost is, as long as the initial cost can be made up in profits quickly. Once the enterprise is profitable, it doesn't really matter much what the costs are, since the enterprise is, by definition, profitable and thus has the means to grow.

Here, we're talking about starch as merely an additional product that I can buy, along with the 50-lb bag of dog food. The initial cost of entry to sell starch to early adopters is so low as to be inconsequential.

Compare/contrast that with typical hydrogen scenarios, with expensive retrofits of existing fuel stations, special tanks, special dispensation stations, etc. See the difference?

Yes, your local grocery mart probably isn't going to provide enough fuel for everybody in town next to the dog food aisle. But they can start there, and then as the profits grow, roll out more specialized stations as the demand justifies it. See the difference?

Re:Question (4, Insightful)

Romancer (19668) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289907)

Starch is also used for a wide variety of purposes currently. The food industry alone uses it to make the molds for almost all the jelly like candies on the market. It's used as an additive for most mixes that thicken, and quite a few quick recipies that are becomming more and more popular. The bulk rate at which these companies currently buy and consume starch is astonishing. We pay mostly for the carton and shipping when we buy a box. It's quite close to a surplus waste item right now. If the demand rises, the extraction would easily be ramped up and production trippled in a matter of months. This gives the infrastructure of vehicles that can run on it a chance to grow easier than any other alternative fuel besides wall chargeable electric cars.

My one fear is the process that releases the hydrogen gas might not be as fast as we can demand it from a red light and once the process is started can we shut off the car and not have it wasted. If there is a storage tank that meters in hydrogen to keep a constant reserve available for quick use and a way to store the excess after pulling into the driveway, then it might be ok. This all adds weight and complexity not discussed in the article. They make it sound like all you'd have to have is a tank full of starch. Where are the reacting agents stored and how do we refill those? What waste products to the chemical reactions give off and are they containable or toxic? What about the liquids that would be needed to move the starch and reactive agents around the system, or are we dealing with pellets of starch and have to have a hopper system like in pellet stoves? I think that these are the concerns that people should be asking rather than will Walmart have enough starch to run my new starch SUV. That's jumping the gun a bit in my opinion. Or in slashdot pun style, putting the cart before the horse.

Re:Question (2, Interesting)

Tofof (199751) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289357)

Yeah, someone isnt thinking energy alternatives through again. 1,000 people a day probably visit my grocery store. How are they going to pull 13 gallons of starch each? Where will by store put 13,000 gallons a day. In the cereal aisle?

Why, in a big tank [google.com] of course. Doesn't your local grocery store have one of these in the cereal aisle?

Not that you'd have each customer filling their gas tank, from empty, every day. But sure, figure a thousand tanks per week - that's only 6 an hour for a 24-hr 'starch station', and you'd have to fill a 12' x 16' tank [watertanks.com] every week full of starch. Not to mention the hassle of loading your car's tank with a powder. Are they really suggesting you'd buy off-the-shelf from a grocery store? What are you going to do, spoon it in, one tablespoon at a time? 3328 tablespoons later.... [google.com]

Re:Question (1)

CosmeticLobotamy (155360) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289395)

Not to mention the hassle of loading your car's tank with a powder.

The fuel system is going to need a complete redesign, so there's nothing to stop them from putting a funnel with a vibrating channel to the tank to keep it moving. Just dump it in.

Re:Question (0, Flamebait)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289433)

errrr powder isn't the only form you can store starch in dimwit.

Re:Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19289911)

...you can store starch in dimwit.

That's in California, right?

Re:Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19289991)

errrr powder isn't the only form you can store starch in dimwit.

It isn't? How would you go about that? Do you mean by pressing it into a solid block?

Re:Question (1)

stretch0611 (603238) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289679)

Its a sugar to Hydrogen technology. Every grocery store already sells tons of sugar and in a liquid form regularly. It is called soda. It is proof that distribution system is already in place and cheap to boot. It comes in convenient 2 liter bottles selling 50 cents(no-name brand) which comes to less then 1/3 the current price of gasoline.

Re:Question (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289871)

Yeah, I remember when diesel was much cheaper than gasoline, too. Until it got popular. Then it was more expensive for a time. Now they're about the same, I believe.

Re:Question (4, Insightful)

PapayaSF (721268) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289765)

The beauty behind this idea is that no special infrastructure would be needed. Starch could be distributed by your local grocery store.

Yeah, someone isnt thinking energy alternatives through again. 1,000 people a day probably visit my grocery store. How are they going to pull 13 gallons of starch each? Where will by store put 13,000 gallons a day. In the cereal aisle?

I think you're a bit unfair here. What I think he means to say is "The starch could be distributed by your local grocery store," or "It could be starch distributed by your local grocery store." The point is not that all vehicle fuel will henceforth be bought at grocery stores, but that the substance is already widely available, and wouldn't need a new, special infrastructure the way mass distribution of hydrogen would.

bio-diesel may be affecting cooking oil prices... (1)

christian.einfeldt (874074) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289205)

...according to this CNet article by Michael Kanellos:

If you think the high price of gas has been irritating, wait until you see the cost of french fries. The popularity of biodiesel--made from vegetable matter intead of fossil fuels--"will tighten the supply of vegetable oils," William Camp, executive vice president of Archer Daniels Midland, said during a presentation at the ThinkEquity Partners Growth Conference in San Francisco. Because agricultural prices typically fluctuate with supply levels, the vegetable oil shortage could cause food prices to rise. Martin Tobias, CEO of Seattle-based biodiesel start-up Imperium Renewables, agreed. Vegetable oil prices have declined in the past three weeks because projected demand for biodiesel has come down from the speculative levels achieved a few weeks ago. Nonetheless, lowered levels of projected demand still seem destined to make supply difficult. "I do think there will be a crimp in vegetable oil supplies in three to five years," said Tobias, who once worked at Microsoft.
When I quote a Microsoft employee or former employee, it is often with a large grain of salt. And Archer Daniels Midland is the Exxon of food. So for whatever it is worth, there it is.

Re:bio-diesel may be affecting cooking oil prices. (1)

christian.einfeldt (874074) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289235)

Oops, sorry, I forgot the link for that blockquote above about the cost of cooking oil being affected by bio-diesel. Linky here:

http://news.com.com/Biodiesel+to+drive+up+the+pric e+of+cooking+oil/2100-11389_3-6114425.html [com.com]

And here is the tinyurl for it:

http://tinyurl.com/esxef [tinyurl.com]

That Michael Kanellos article in Cnet was dated 2006/9/12 and was entitled, "Biodiesel to drive up the price of cooking oil".

Re:Question (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289209)

27kg of expended material to generate 4kg of hydrogen doesn't sound like a good idea. What makes it worse is that it is a food component. I am not fond of this idea of creating a fuel/food dichotomy.

Re:Question (1)

interiot (50685) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289361)

Well, our synthetic methods for capturing sunlight are inefficient, plants are better at it. So, plant-originated ethanol/hydrogren/etc is a compelling solution. And it turns out that high-energy plants.... tend to be food sources, imagine that.

Has anyone done long-term economic forecasts of the effect of using the same source for both food and fuel? While it would drive up prices in the short term (before supply ramped up to meet demand), there's some chance that the larger volume would result in lower prices in the long term.

Re:Question (1)

h2_plus_O (976551) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289807)

Note that TFA suggests that celluolose is one of the polysaccharides this process is supposed to work with. Unless you're a ruminant, celluolose is not food.

Re:Question (1)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289591)

Starch containing produce is easier to grow than sugar based fruits or vegitables. Potatoes are the obvious case. They grow in poor soil and colder climates. The profits are so low that a lot of farmers stopped growing them. The real problem is growing them cheap enough. Eventually energy costs will hit $10+ a gallon then a lot of these technologies will get practical. The real point is eventually either we have to go to this type of technology or we go to coal based diesel. Once oil runs out that will be the only hydrocarbon option but ironically that releases even more CO2 inspite of burning cleaner, I'm referring to what is called white diesel.

Re:Question (1)

mrbluze (1034940) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289661)

I mean, wouldn't we then have a shortage of it?

I did read somewhere that much of the rise in global food prices can be accounted for the use of basic crops such as corn being used to generate biofuels. It seems to me that 'biofuels' are not as comprehensive an answer to the 'peak oil' scare as they look. We might well be robbing Peter to pay Paul in that the expanded cropping needed to cater for the biofuel market will put more pressure for deforestation and other environmental blights.

Hydrogen as a fuel for mass transportation is looking better and better all the time methinks.

Re:Question (1)

baadger (764884) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289857)

Forget the starch, what about this bit

With the help of 13 specific enzymes...
So now as a car owner I have to worry about keeping my car fed with a cocktail of enzymes? How are these enzymes produced? Are they produced in a eco-friendly manner? Are they expensive? Are they themselves perishable?

Besides, everyone knows that potato enzymes can be a little over enthusiastic [bbc.co.uk]

Re:Question (1)

Shabadage (1037824) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289889)

Well, we could pull out the good old gemetically altered spuds.

Cue the "hydrogen is not a power source" chorus... (0, Flamebait)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289153)

...in 3...2..1...

Re:Cue the "hydrogen is not a power source" chorus (3, Informative)

Raptoer (984438) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289299)

You're right, it is not a power source. Nothing is a power source if we were to take it to a certain degree, oil based products got their energy from the sun, so does ethanol, and this new system using starch.(the sun gets its energy from the fusion, so I guess you could say that is a power source, but that gets its power from the mass, which gets its power from... well... magic!)

But the real important thing is turning it into a form of energy that we can use. We cannot use the sun's energy directly, we instead use plants (corn/sugar for ethanol, or long dead plants for oil) that changes it into chemical energy that we change into a different chemical energy that is then used for kinetic/thermal energy to drive our cars, which then goes entirely to thermal in the form of friction.

Enough with being pedantic and onto the being practical.

Oil is a power source in the sense that it is readily available stored energy. The difference between it and hydrogen is that hydrogen manufactured through electrolysis is manufactured at a 1:1 ratio of energy put in verses energy removed (under perfect conditions). This starch process allows hydrogen to be produced at a rate much closer to a perfect 0:1 (from our point of view, yes I know energy cannot be created) which is similar to oil.

The question now is, are there enough of these enzymes to go around? Does processing the starch via enzymes leave a byproduct which ends up in our cars? will people be willing to modify their cars to run on hydrogen (a fairly simple process, but try convincing someone of that)? will there be enough starch to go around? In other words, yes it works out chemically, but does it work out practically?

Re:Cue the "hydrogen is not a power source" chorus (1)

revengebomber (1080189) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289587)

(from our point of view, yes I know energy cannot be created)
Unless we're running our cars on antimatter.

You have us mixed up... (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289663)

You have us mixed up with the "hydrogen* extracted from water by electrolysis is a power source" chorus.

{*} Sorry, I meant "Brown's gas", not "hydrogen"...

Net versus Gross (1)

Nymz (905908) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289325)

FTA

the use of carbohydrates from biomass as transportation fuels will produce zero net carbon dioxide emissions

I'm not impressived by the "net" ammount of carbon dioxide released by one process, if you're going to compare to the "gross" ammount released by the oil/gasoline process.

Try it with your paycheck, compare the gross income or your paycheck to the net income of a coworkers. Don't they have a word for this type of "accounting", specifically when used in the energy sector? Ah yes, they call it Enron-nomics.

Re:Net versus Gross (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19289503)

The point is that the gross amount of carbon released by this process doesn't matter because its net is zero. All of the carbon that goes into the environment was taken out of it by the plant within the past year. With oil, the gross amout of carbon released is the same as the net because its carbon was all stored underground for millions of years.

Burning oil moves carbon from rocks into the atmosphere. Burning starch simply moves carbon from one part of the atmosphere to another.

dom

Nothing is (1)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289817)

Other than nuclear power and Mr. Fusion.

Gasoline is solar energy. Sun -> plants -> dinosaurs -> decomposition -> pressure -> time -> oil -> human intervention -> gasoline.

People who complain about hydrogen not being a power source are not seeing the whole picture. Most of the energy on this planet comes from the sun. Gasoline seems efficient, but only because it's had millions of years to collect. What we really need is a solar capture that doesn't take so much time.

Personally, I'm betting on solar splitting of water into hydrogen.

Doesn't really discuss costs. (1)

Jartan (219704) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289195)

My first thought on reading this is about if it costs to make starch than hydrogen? Sure we can grow starch but there are upper limits on that production method. We'd eventually have to manufacture the starch from non biomass derived sources if we wanted to use it as fuel.

As far as a storage mechanism goes it sounds like it might have advantages but how complicated is the process to break it down for hydrogen? How much does it cost to make the enzymes and what not needed to break it down as well?

Overall an interesting idea but still far less important than the question of where we are going to get energy to make starch or hydrogen in the first place.

from the article (4, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289197)

The abbreviations are: PPP, pentose phosphate pathway; G1P, glucose-1-phosphate; G6P, glucose-6-phosphate; 6PG, 6-phosphogluconate; Ru5P, ribulose-5-phosphate; and Pi, inorganic phosphate. The enzymes are: #1, glucan phosphorylase; #2, phosphoglucomutase; #3, G-6-P dehydrogenase; #4, 6-phosphogluconate dehydrogenase, #5 Phosphoribose isomerase; #6, Ribulose 5-phosphate epimerase; #7, Transaldolase; #8, Transketolase, #9, Triose phosphate isomerase; #10, Aldolase, #11, Phosphoglucose isomerase: #12, Fructose-1, 6-bisphosphatase; and #13, Hydrogenase.
it looks like they built it like this: starch=>glucose [amylase]=>glycolysis=>pyruvate decarboxylation=>TCA cycle and finally liberating the hydrogen from protons and electrons from the TCA. I wonder from this is how they deal with the enzyme's need for cofactors, corrosion, stability of enzymes and side reactions. it looks promising for sure but it looks like they have a lot of work ahead of them. there is also the problem of the starch settling in the tank and thus being unavailable for the reaction unless that is where it happens in that case what about H2 build up? lastly, with the problem of corn shortages being possible for ethanol, what exactly will happen when starch is used instead as it is also taken from food plant sources?

Re:from the article (1)

sokoban (142301) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289485)

Well, it should be possible to modify the system to use cellulose as well, which would increase the amount of energy available from plant sources.

Re:from the article (3, Interesting)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289567)

they already tried that, it didnt work. cellulose takes 2 days on average to be hydrolyzed into usable fuel. they use starch because it is immediately broken down into sugars. enzymes in saliva can break down starch in less than a few minutes producing that sweet taste after holding a piece of uncooked spaghetti in your mouth. animals have special bacteria in their stomachs which break down cellulose but it is a very slow process. one that isnt so great for powering cars.

Re:from the article (1)

VariableGHz (1099185) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289815)

Does anyone else's eyes hurt? ;P

Wave the magic wand? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19289231)

Unfortunately, this would be far from commercialization. I can forsee two problems.

First would be the effective rate of production of hydrogen. Demand for high hydrogen production rates, as in throw the starch into your tank and get your ass on down the road, would probably demand high levels of these enzymes. Which would mean cost.

Second would be the fact that enzymes are protein-based and therefore have finite lifetimes before catalytic activity is lost totally. Potentially, bacterial contamination and consequent enzyme degradation could accelerate this. Cost again, to replenish the enzymes. Freezing and thawing in the winter might be very bad for the enzymes as well.

I think that this process is only viable on a factory scale, where skilled people can manage it under controlled conditions.

We welcome our starchy overloards... (1)

HappyUserPerson (954699) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289243)

Thank you for submitting yet-another alternative energy idea. Unfortunately, your idea suffers from the following problems:

General:
[X] The jury is out on whether or not it takes more fuel to produce it than is produced

Environmentalists
[X] Environmentalists won't go for it because it makes CO2

Conclusion
[X] Wake me up when it's not vaporware

External combustion engines (3, Interesting)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289255)

Well, what need to do is bring back external combustion engines. Then we can simply burn anything: Garden waste, wood, coal, anything that will burn. There is enough coal on this planet to fire up steam engines for thousands of years...

Re:External combustion engines (4, Insightful)

koreth (409849) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289349)

Yuck. Go visit beautiful downtown Beijing [midwinter.com] and then we'll talk about what a fabulous idea it is for everyone to own their own little coal plants.

Re:External combustion engines (2, Interesting)

no-body (127863) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289539)

There is enough coal on this planet to fire up steam engines for thousands of years

That coal/oil burning/swamping CO2 into the atmosphere in what? 2 centuries or so of accumulated solar energy which took maybe millions of years to build up is exactly what the dilemma of global warming causes (some still dispute that it is actually happening or discredit any argument towards it).

Now you want to put all kinds of dirty burning junk into your "converter" to accelerate over a ton of steel and plastic and move one human body over some distance?

Not sure either what those hydrogen-from-starch inventors are dreaming about. Besides developing a completely new fuel system, if they want to take the hydrogen with enzymes away from starch (carbohydrate, made of C6H12O6 chunks), what's going to happen with the carbon and oxygen? That's not clear at all from that article. Doesn't production of CO2 defeat the purpose of using hydrogen? Ideal would be to generate hydrogen from renewable resources and burn it to gain energy. Maybe its because the CO2 would come from a renewable resource - starch grown now with plants?

Re:External combustion engines (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19289633)

Great idea! Because large cities in the late 19th century didn't have any health problems associated with external combustion engines. I mean the air was so much cleaner back when we were using steam instead of this new-fangled petrol fad.

byproducts much? (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289267)

And nobody will notice the trail of the other like 20 kg of byproducts dripping out your exhaust lol. I'm pretty sure it would be a thin oil substance so all the cars would slide around and crash and everyone would die....hmm that seems like a minor bug to work out lol.

Re:byproducts much? (1)

normuser (1079315) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289385)

And nobody will notice the trail of the other like 20 kg of byproducts dripping out your exhaust lol. I'm pretty sure it would be a thin oil substance so all the cars would slide around and crash and everyone would die....hmm that seems like a minor bug to work out lol.

Its not a bug. Its a feature!

Re:byproducts much? (-1, Flamebait)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289455)

your burning hydrogen moron, very little is coming out the tail pipe. once the fuel tank is spent it could just be off loaded, all that would be left is a kind of harmless organic sludge you could probably just use for land fill. an no landfill is not a problem dispite what whacko's like greenpeace claim.

Re:byproducts much? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19289795)

You still have to put that carbon dioxide byproduct that's coming from the sugar+enzymes soup somewhere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. Those sugar molecules will release a great volume of carbon dioxide once converted. That stuff we would need to put somewhere, unless it's pumped trough the exhaust pipe.

Certainly there's a benefit of getting higher energy per kg of greenhouse gases produced, but it's still not ever going to be close to solar energy or other non-carbon-based energy sources being used to power electric vehicles. Keep your hats on for now, folks!

Food (4, Insightful)

McGiraf (196030) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289269)

Now that oil is getting near to being all used the big plan is to use food crops to run you cars? Brilliant, what can go wrong?

What can go wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19289397)

Grammar?

Re:Food (1)

slashing1 (818431) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289431)

Actually, the article mentions that their technology focuses on polysaccharides, including both starch and cellulose. Last time I checked, humans still can't digest cellulose, although I suppose you might argue this will increase the cost of feeding cows, and thus milk and steak-lovers, if we drive up the price of grass.

Re:Food (1)

McGiraf (196030) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289585)

Well, resources are limited, all of them. Cars are an indecent waste of resources.

Re:Food (1)

Paperweight (865007) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289967)

Not too much, as long as we don't run out of chemical fertilizer...

How does this work - (1)

HW_Hack (1031622) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289289)

in conjunction with my Jenny Craig diet plan ? If I do a starch exchange with my car how many points do I deduct ? And what are the points for the various starches ? These are importnat questions for millions of Americans

Roland the Plogger again (4, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289303)

It's Roland the Plogger again, wrong as usual.

It's been possible to convert cellulose to ethanol using enzymes for a while now. The problem is that making the enzymes is still too expensive for this to be useful as a fuel process. This Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] provides some background on that. It's a good idea. If the cost of making the enzymes can be brought down, there's plenty of agricultural waste (straw, bagasse, corn cobs, wood chips) available at low or even negative (it costs money to dispose of it) cost. Venture capital is going into developing cost-effective processes.

But it's not likely to be done in a car's fuel tank. Something more like a brewery scaled up to oil refinery size is more like it.

Re:Roland the Plogger again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19290135)

RTFA. The process is for getting hydrogen out of starch, not ethanol out of cellulose.

Nope. (1)

Solder Fumes (797270) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289311)

The beauty behind this idea is that no special infrastructure would be needed. Starch could be distributed by your local grocery store.

WRONG.

It might be that way for the first person who does it, or the first thousand people. But anything connected to transportation requires special infrastructure. Millions and millions of cars and trucks drive millions of miles per day, and consume millions of gallons of gasoline. Your local grocery store is not set up to handle the business your local two dozen gas stations currently handle.

Re:Nope. (2, Insightful)

Solder Fumes (797270) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289331)

I was wondering who actually made that inane grocery store comment, only to find out it was Roland P. No fucking surprise there! What a retard.

Re:Nope. (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289721)

But anything connected to transportation requires special infrastructure.

      Not to mention the fact that if they are arresting people in the UK for adding cooking oil to their gasoline (on tax evasion charges of all things), I can just imagine what they will do to people who use starch!

Re:Nope. (2, Insightful)

wish (60120) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289789)

The grocery stores allow you to get around the bootstrapping problem. Otherwise no one would buy the cars until infrastructure was in place and no one would build the infrastructure until there were cars to buy the fuel.

Only one *major* problem... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19289335)

If you thought hydrogen was scary when it explodes (hydrogen bomb, space shuttle to name a few), just think about those midwestern starch silos that tend to explode like miniature atom bombs in the summertime.

Nice, but... (1)

WED Fan (911325) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289351)

...the only way an alternative fuel will gain wide acceptance, manufacturer support, and wide distribution is if you can...

  • Make it cheaper than gas
  • Make it as easy to get as gas
  • Get the environmentalists off everybody's ass long enough to get the details working

Re:Nice, but... (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289417)

it's a great concept if they can REALLY make it work outside a lab. it can fill all 3 of those criteria provided the reaction is quick enough to keep up with consumption. i'm betting the production of the hydrogen is too slow to be useful right now.

gasoline the new starch (0, Redundant)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289371)

gasoline is mostly made of octanes, heptanes and similar hydrocarbons which can be degraded to hydrogen and CO2 using a similar number of enzymes. it also doesnt need so much new infrastructure that starch would except it might be a problem getting the gasoline to dissolve in water with the enzymes... detergents might be able to fix that though.

confusing figures (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289391)

it takes 27 kg's of starch to make 4kg's of hydrogen... it then states 1kg of starch contains MORE energy then 1kg (or liter) of fuel. correct me if i'm wrong here, but 4kg's of hydrogen does not have the same energy potential as 27L of fuel? sounds like the journalist got a little carried away to me

super cool idea though, i'm impressed that they can even break even and produce enough energy to move the weight of the starch.

Re:confusing figures (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289437)

hydrogen is very light, one molecule of hydrogen weighs 2 units where one gasoline [octane] molecule weighs 114 units. gasoline had a density anywhere between .6 and .8 kg/liter and each gram of gas gives 40 kilojoules of energy where hydrogen gives about 122 kilojoules. so 1 liter of gas gives 24000 to 32000 kilojoules while 1 kg starch=4/27 kg hydrogen which is 18000 kilojoules which is about 2/3 what gasoline gives. this doesnt take into account that cars that use gasoline are about 20% efficient while a very good fuel cell can get 60% efficiency. all in all starch gives 1.5 times the USEFUL energy that gasoline does with current technology.

Re:confusing figures (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289491)

your whole reply tackles a none issue. i was directly comparing it kg for kg already.

"so 1 liter of gas gives 24000 to 32000 kilojoules while 1 kg starch=4/27 kg hydrogen which is 18000 kilojoules which is about 2/3 what gasoline gives"

you prove my point right there

Re:confusing figures (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289541)

I also mentioned that because cars have a HORRIBLE efficiency problem the fuel cell more than makes up for the lower amount of total energy generated from the starch.

Re:confusing figures (0)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289703)

one molecule of hydrogen weighs 2 units

      In which universe is this? Or are you playing with the heavy hydrogen again? AFAIK Hydrogen is always 1. You can't get much smaller...

Re:confusing figures (0, Redundant)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289711)

bah, ignore me, I'm drunk...just noticed ... molecule. You are correct sir. H2. Now where is that delete key?

Required Post: ER/EI (0, Flamebait)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289429)

It doesn't freakin matter - the ER/EI (energy return over energy invested) for hydrogen always is and always will be NEGATIVE.

I don't know why these idiots bother. When are they going to get a clue and abandon this pipe dream of the Hydrogen society? It'd pathetic.

RS

Re:Required Post: ER/EI (2, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289471)

you are correct that you put more energy into a system in this case hydrogen production than you get out but hydrogen is meant to be an energy carrier not a true energy source. it is useful when your battery technology relies on crummy Ni/Cd or lead acid technology. it's useful when you can make more usable power from gasoline once it has been converted into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. it isnt the least bit pathetic as you suggest.

Re:Required Post: ER/EI (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289691)

the ER/EI (energy return over energy invested) for hydrogen always is and always will be NEGATIVE.

      This is true for ANY fuel. With fossil fuels we're just cashing in on the fact that the Earth had several million years' head start. And your point is?

Re:Required Post: ER/EI (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19290383)

True, the rate on conversion to hydrogen is always going to be a factor, (hydrogen isn't an energy at least here on earth)

Hydrogen is key to the problem and I wish people would take it seriously.

Hydrogen can be produced from a wide range of sources, wind, solar and nuclear. You can't use these kinds of fuels directly in an automobile.

Hydrogen is a bit like the "abstract class" of energy, be it coal, solar, nuclear ... so long as it's consumed as hydrogen, it doesn't matter.

And you know what? abstract classes and "wrapper libraries" are slower than invoking kernel routines directly. You don't advocate throwing away standard OOP because of the "conversion ratio" do you?

So... (1)

thezig2 (1102967) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289463)

So, does this mean that next time the neighbor's kid pours sugar into my gas tank, I should thank him?

Driving on Starch? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19289487)

But starch doesn't have any psychoactive effect. No, wait...

Won't happen (1)

SpeedyDX (1014595) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289533)

Although an interesting idea, that's about as far as it'll go. There are a few reasons for this. The most important of which:

  • This will drastically increase the price of produce that starch comes from. We are already seeing this effect from corn-based ethanol.
  • Gas companies won't let it happen. They don't want to lose their customers to any other stores/retailers.
  • This is talking about burning a carbohydrate. Carbohydrates contain (dur) Carbon. This article doesn't mention any by-products of the conversion(s), but I assume (perhaps incorrectly, if someone more knowledgable can shed some light on this) that it involves a good amount of CO or CO2.


I just simply don't see it happening. There's just not enough benefits that I can see, both from economic and environmental perspectives.

Re:Won't happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19289761)

This is talking about burning a carbohydrate. Carbohydrates contain (dur) Carbon. This article doesn't mention any by-products of the conversion(s), but I assume (perhaps incorrectly, if someone more knowledgable can shed some light on this) that it involves a good amount of CO or CO2.

There is certain to be some CO2 released. HOWEVER, if you look at NET CO2 produced, it's zero.

How can this be?

Plants take up CO2, plants make starch. Using starch as a fuel releases CO2, however it's CO2 that was already just taken from the atmosphere by the plant. There is no NET CO2 put into the atmosphere. However, using fossil fuels you're releasing carbon that had been fixed in the ground for millions of years.

Very impressive. (5, Informative)

Gibbs-Duhem (1058152) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289589)

Now, I know this probably will never get seen by anyone, but none of the posts so far were appropriate to reply to.

I am actually a bioengineer, and I'm actually working in this field, trying to convert ethanol into hydrogen.

And I can say, this process looks excellent. Finding natural enzymes that do the conversion makes everything enormously easier.

Here's the deal. Ethanol has slightly more energy than straight sugar, because the fermentation adds energy to the system. That added energy is negligible in comparison to the total energy. However, you lose a butt-load of energy because you have to heat the sugar up in order to ferment it, deal with transportation costs for the crops, and if you're using it as an additive (instead of reforming 20-25% ethanol in water directly), distill it to 100%, which uses a ridiculous amount of energy (10 times more to get it from 95-100 than from 20-95). However, the plus side is that ethanol is a pretty high energy density liquid, about 85% that of gasoline, and much higher energy density than compressed hydrogen gas. So, with an ethanol+water mixture, you end up getting 6 H2 out of every one etOH molecule. Pretty durn good. (if you think I'm an idiot because I have more hydrogen coming out than are on an ethanol molecule, look up steam reforming instead of making yourself look like a fool)

However, at the end of the day, it's extremely questionable whether or not ethanol itself is net energy positive, because of all the energy that goes into producing it (even though the liquid itself increases in energy density). Sugar, however, is less refined, and so less energy goes into making it. The idea is this -- if the net energy is negative, then you're still using more fossil fuels than you save. But if sugar is energy positive, then you can use 1kg of sugar to produce 2kg of sugar, and use that to make 4kg of sugar, and so on.

Sure, you have to pay attention to the problems of rising food costs. But starch? Don't worry about it, it'll be more efficient than gasoline, and it'll be more efficient than ethanol. You're talking a 3x fold improvement on efficiency right off the bat because it's a fuel cell instead of an I.C.E. Now, your sugar production has to be net energy positive, so multiply that factor (guess would be around 2-3) times the 3x fold efficiency improvement in the fuel cell and you're using 6-9 times less energy to produce the same amount of work. The economy will figure out the rest -- hell, you can get starch out of all sorts of crop waste way more easily than you can get ethanol out of them.

Re:Very impressive. (1)

sycomonkey (666153) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289723)

Do you believe that it would be easier to iron out fuel cells to use starch and produce enough starch to run all the cars, or to finally design a good battery and figure out how to replace oil upstream at the power plant? Either way cars can't run on a ICE for much longer, that's obvious, but fuel cells are still very new, and this tech in TFA is even newer. I certainly hope Honda and Toyota have everyone they can throw at the Battery problem working on it, but do you think this could beat them to it?

Re:Very impressive. (1)

turing_m (1030530) | more than 7 years ago | (#19290245)

"Ethanol has slightly more energy than straight sugar, because the fermentation adds energy to the system."

How does that work? Where is the yeast getting the energy from to multiply, let alone heat the vessel you are fermenting in, if not from the sugar?

Rice cars (1)

AmVidia HQ (572086) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289665)

that will eat your rice?

A double cheese burger... (1)

SlashDev (627697) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289717)

Yeah hi, I'd like to order a double cheese burger, large fries and a startch fill up please.

sugarmotor (1)

sugarmotor (621907) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289745)

As in sugarmotor -- sugarmotor.net :-)

Stephan

So I read the linked article (1)

Whuffo (1043790) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289839)

Let me see if I can summarize: 1: Start with starch 2: Put it in a car 3: (waving of hands) 4: Profit! Next: Electricity from seawater, loosely based on biochemistry of electric eels.

Circus Science..... (1)

IHC Navistar (967161) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289901)

::groan::

I think that this "idea" is little more than a half-baked potato.

When will I be able to use it for my laptop? (1)

Mathinker (909784) | more than 7 years ago | (#19289975)

As a lot of previous posters have noted, it will be a while before this technology will be in wide use to power cars, because of the need to provide a viable distribution infrastructure, and the fact that the rate at which the hydrogen is generated isn't fast enough yet to power a car.

However, the minute I have a source of hydrogen I can use it to run a fuel cell to generate electricity to power my laptop or other portable electronic device. The rate at which I need hydrogen is a lot smaller. The heat from the fuel cell could be used to help run the reaction which generates the hydrogen (only needs 30 degrees Celsius). Sounds like it could be available within only a few years.

Nu? Is someone out there listening and starting to work on this?

Yeah! And the byproducts... (1)

NoseBag (243097) | more than 7 years ago | (#19290049)

...of enzyme/combustion are.....pancakes! Yummm!

Oh, great... (1)

DieByWire (744043) | more than 7 years ago | (#19290197)

There goes the price of potato chips.

First corn syrup, now this. How's a /.'er going to eat?

Ammonia (1)

Polybius (743489) | more than 7 years ago | (#19290203)

Theres a whole heck of a lot more Hydrogen in Amonia (NH3), which already has a MASSIVE infrastructure for shipment, why can't they figure out a way to safely use it as a base for fuel cells or some such instead of starch?

Re:Ammonia (1)

WalksOnDirt (704461) | more than 7 years ago | (#19290247)

Theres a whole heck of a lot more Hydrogen in Amonia (NH3)
1. Ammonia is poisonous.
2. There's a lot of hydrogen, but not all that much energy.

We finally got a horse. (1)

Sqreater (895148) | more than 7 years ago | (#19290387)

Do we put diapers on our starch-using cars, or do we just let them crap in the street like horses of old? Gotta love those scientists thinking one dimensionally again.

Ooblick! (2, Funny)

Lt.Hawkins (17467) | more than 7 years ago | (#19290489)

This will cause world-wide ooblick shortages! Won't someone think of the Children?
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