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America's First Cellulosic Ethanol Plant

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the sounds-corny-but-isn't dept.

Power 522

hankmt writes "The state of Georgia just granted Range Fuels a permit to create the first cellulosic ethanol plant in America. Cellulosic ethanol produces ethanol from cellulose, which all plants have, instead of from sugar, which is only abundant in food crops. Corn ethanol only produces 1.3 units of energy for every unit of energy that goes into growing the crop and converting the sugar to ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol can produce as much as 16 units of energy for every one unit of energy put into the process. The new plant will be online in 2008 and aims to produce 100 million gallons of ethanol a year."

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522 comments

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the "Hardware" sect. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19870927)

Or perhaps kdawson is... but in my interpretation, it's about computer/electronics hardware, not power plants. Between this and yesterday's BP story, I'm guessing one of us is wrong.

Re:Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the "Hardware" sec (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871571)

what are you simple? massive hardware goes into such a plant.

millions in process control is involved. hardware is not limited to your home pc you small minded freak. your the one that's wrong.

Re:Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the "Hardware" sec (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871875)

But if you go with that definition, almost all stories could fit in hardware. Software? Runs on hardware. Politics? Well, they use computers to run the government. Science? There's a lot of equipment used in modern science, too. You have to draw a line somewhere. Slashdot hasn't updated their FAQ on sections [slashdot.org] since 2004, so it doesn't include Hardware.

Where do these numbers keep coming from? (5, Interesting)

plover (150551) | more than 6 years ago | (#19870933)

This isn't the first time I've read that corn yields 1.3 units of energy out for each unit put in (or some factor other than 1.3) But where does this number come from? And really, how far back does it go -- gas in the farmer's 4x4 inspecting his fields? Energy used to produce the fertilizer? The energy to produce the food the farmer ate?

I'd like to know because it's so hard to compare with oil at that level. It's much easier for a consumer to simply look at the price on the pump. But that only tells us what the market is willing to bear (what the fuel is worth), not the true costs of production.

Re:Where do these numbers keep coming from? (5, Interesting)

aichpvee (631243) | more than 6 years ago | (#19870969)

It isn't about monetary value at all anyway. It's about corn being a poor source of material for producing ethanol because it is low in sugar. This type of ethanol works great in places like Brazil because they make it out of sugar cane.

If it were just about the monetary cost of things even corn ethanol wins over oil, which would be $13/gallon or more if we started charging the oil companies for our military services.

Re:Where do these numbers keep coming from? (2, Informative)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871003)

It's even worse than that, since methanol production is heavily subsidized by the Federal Government.

Re:Where do these numbers keep coming from? (0, Redundant)

djh101010 (656795) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871727)

It's even worse than that, since methanol production is heavily subsidized by the Federal Government.
Your reliability on this topic is, ahem, somewhat diminished let's say, by the fact that you seem to have confused "ethanol" and "methanol". Sometimes the better way to support your point, is to stay silent when you don't have a basic understanding of it.

I might even expand on that to say, that if you aren't clear on what you're arguing against, you just might now have done enough research to have made your decision on facts rather than emotions. Just sayin...

Re:Where do these numbers keep coming from? (1, Flamebait)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871911)

{sigh} you really must be new here. There's no need to be snide over a typo, and other than your pointless grammar-Nazism, you offered nothing of substance in your reply.

Your inappropriateness aside, are you actually claiming that the Federal Government does not subsidize the conversion of corn into motor fuel? Huh. That's a remarkable degree of ignorance, given the nearly forty billion dollars that Congress has given in such subsidies in the past decade. Your taxpayer dollars at work. In any event, just so you won't think that I'm making this up, there are some [zfacts.com] who would disagree [slate.com] with you on this subject [techdirt.com].

Re:Where do these numbers keep coming from? (2, Interesting)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871603)

At some point you have to say "It's not valid to count this as a cost." Why not charge military expenses to the existence of religious insanity? Why not add the cost of building roads to the price of oil? How about the cost of educating future oil company employees, or feeding them until they join the oil company?

Re:Where do these numbers keep coming from? (2, Insightful)

tepples (727027) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871795)

Why not add the cost of building roads to the price of oil?
This already happens in the form of tax on the sale of gasoline.

Re:Where do these numbers keep coming from? (2, Interesting)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871651)

You make a hell of a point. I say we fund the war through gas taxes. You want to end this war tomorrow add a $10 tax on gas to cover the cost of fighting for it. Even Congress might be on the people's side when it costs them $600 to top off their Hummer.

Re:Where do these numbers keep coming from? (4, Informative)

evanbd (210358) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871045)

Comparing prices also gets subsidies (especially corn subsidies, but also renewable energy subsidies) involved.

Those numbers certainly ought to include the energy content of the fertilizer -- it's decidedly non-trivial in comparison to the output energy, though I don't have a reference handy so I won't go quoting numbers. Most fertilizer is ammonium nitrate (or other nitrates), which is made from atmospheric N2 + H2 from fossil fuel sources (mostly natural gas, but also oil and coal to some extent). The ammonia is oxidized to nitric acid and reacted with more ammonia to form fertilizer AN, or used directly as anhydrous ammonia.

Re:Where do these numbers keep coming from? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871435)

The DoE publications and others are all fairly consistent at a factor of 1.2 to 1.4. High sugar sources, like sugar cane, are over 3:1 ratio. High oil-content plant products like soybeans are also over 3:1. That is the "direct" energy cost. Includes the energy for the tractor but not energy for the farmer. The tractor fuel really is negligible... the real cost is in the heating of the water and lost water needed to make ETOH from corn. Sort of like using an electric raxor uses less energy than a plain manual safety razor because of the hot water used. But petroleum based fossil fuels are well over 50:1, and can be 100:1. That's right, 50 to 100 units of energy released for each unit of energy needed to produce it. That drops by about 15% when you include cracking it to gasoline, but you are still at 50:1 even on a bad day. Now do you see why oil it is so widely used?

Re:Where do these numbers keep coming from? (3, Informative)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871465)

This is the ratio of fossil energy put in to energy out. Most of the fossil energy input for corn comes from nitrogen fertilizer which is produced using natural gas (though it does not need to be http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2007/04/smelling-salts .html [blogspot.com]) and fuel used for harvesting and planting. Some distilleries also use natural gas. Forest waste products to be used here don't have any fertilizer inputs and much of the fuel used for harvesting would have been used anyway. Brazil is achieving some very impressive values for this ratio in its biodiesel production: http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2007/05/juicing.html [blogspot.com]. On the energy out side, everything is really stored solar power.
--
Get solar power with no installation cost: http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2007/01/slashdot-users -selling-solar.html [blogspot.com]

Awesome! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871531)

I'll drink to that!

Re:Where do these numbers keep coming from? (4, Interesting)

slughead (592713) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871579)

But that only tells us what the market is willing to bear (what the fuel is worth), not the true costs of production.

Actually, it's especially easy with gas. The 'demand curve' is so steep, usually quantity demanded remains very constant regardless of price (at least, in the short term, obviously).

This is noted by gas taxes: the burden is almost entirely bore by the consumer, so an extra 18 cent tax adds nearly 18 cents to the price of gas because the companies know we'll pay it. In addition from gas taxes end up being nearly proportional to the rate.

Compare this with something like cigarettes taxes: The companies actually reduce the price of cigarettes and end up paying (I'm guessing here, from my days as a smoker) roughly half of the tax. This is directly related to the demand curve and the nature of the market. In addition, revenues are not nearly proportional to the tax rate increase because people generally do buy many fewer cigarettes when they cost more. The companies have to balance the tax burden with their loss of revenues, and they hire really smart guys to do this.

By the way, the emboldened words in this post are there to indicate trends and averages.

Re:Where do these numbers keep coming from? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871871)

Boris, the demand curve you describe for gasoline is nearly flat, not steep.

Re:Where do these numbers keep coming from? (5, Informative)

Gibbs-Duhem (1058152) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871601)

It comes from a selection of five papers from the late nineties which did the calculation in a number of ways. Generally, they attempt to account for the entire manufacturing process, from energy in oil used in fertilizers to fuel for farm equipment, to transport of the ethanol or corn, to the refineries that distill out all the water. I do not believe they go so far as to account for feeding the farmer, but I honestly suspect that is a very minor correction, as much as I like farmers.

However, there is a fairly well known outlier which claimed to do a better job of accounting for processing costs. Pimentel and Patzek attributed what they claim are more accurate inputs to the agriculture, transport, industrial, and distribution components of the manufacturing process, giving the also oft-quoted value of around 25% energy *loss*. Ordinarily, people would probably dismiss that one given the seemingly overwhelming amount of contrary evidence, but Pimentel and Patzek are very well-respected scientists. It's difficult for me, as an energy researcher, to know who to believe. I suspect it's nigh impossible for people who only study this passingly.

Personally, I'm inclined to believe that even if Pimentel et al are wrong, 1.3 is just way, way too low to be reasonable. Improvements to technology (as this plant represents), are the only way that ethanol can ever be practical. We'll see soon enough if it's as good as they claim.

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/July05/ethanol .toocostly.ssl.html [cornell.edu] has a summary of the debate.

Re:Where do these numbers keep coming from? (2, Insightful)

mothlos (832302) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871805)

What they fail to figure is the opportunity cost of turning all of that cellulose into ethanol vs. its current use, which is largely animal feed and compost that is used to make products, as cover for off seasons, and to enrich soils for another season of crops. What is the energy cost of destroying your soil or offsetting the loss in other areas of the economy?

The number comes from estimates that agricultural analysts make about the energy inputs of farm production. Human inputs are generally not considered, but equipment repair costs (not replacement) are. The big energy inputs are equipment, water, and soil enrichment.

USA's first plan, not America's First (-1, Offtopic)

denisbergeron (197036) | more than 6 years ago | (#19870941)

Plan like this exist in other America's country !

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19870991)

quit being an ass, the USA is known as America. Canada is not known as America. Mexico is not known as America. Neither of the two continents are known as America, they are North and South America respectively. So get off your high horse!

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871287)

Does it strike anyone else as odd that "America" is smaller than either North or South America?
Just a thought.

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871351)

That's why they are refered to as "The Americas" then huh?

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871467)

Yes, that *is* why they are referred to as "The Americas", and not "America".

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871481)

America is one huge continent. The USA is the only country that splits it.
Why do you think there are 5 rings in the olympic symbol? The 5 continents: America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Continental_mod els.gif [wikipedia.org]

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (3, Insightful)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871573)

America is one huge continent. The USA is the only country that splits it.
Wrong; they are called "North America" and "South America" in the UK, and probably many other countries too.

Why do you think there are 5 rings in the olympic symbol? The 5 continents: America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania.
Let me tell you something; at its thinnest point, the connection between North and South America is significantly narrower than that between Africa and Asia.

More significantly, I have *never* seen a truly convincing argument or explanation as to why Europe and Asia are (or were ever) considered separate continents- it seems to be a cultural distinction, which has nothing to do with physical geography. At any rate, North and South America are *far* more separate then Europe and Asia are.

Ironically, you can see this in the picture that you linked to.

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871839)

Uh, Mexico is not South America, and yes people in Central America (and elsewhere in this hemisphere) do consider themselves part of the Americas.

Are you sure? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871019)

I know there are plenty of ethanol plants in S. America, especially Brazil, but are they cellulosic? It's a big difference, as the article explains.

Spain made the first plant of this type in 2006 [evworld.com], and Europe is usually ahead of the Americas in regards to alternative energy.

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871137)

In the context of nations, USA is America. Despite what a bunch of under educated Spanish speakers may think, it isn't used in English to refer to other countries. I know posting these types of things probably makes you feel intellectual, but it doesn't.

It amazes me that this was modded as such and not what it really is, offtopic or flamebait.

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871457)

"educated Spanish speakers may think"

That's a bit rich coming from an Yank isn't it? I can just see you there with your big fat belly shouting "U S A! U S A!" and waving your little flag.
LOL! Ignorant warmongering racist wanker.

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871255)

Clearly, you do not speak English very well at all. Therefore, I forgive you for not understand that in the English speaking world, the United States of America is ubiquitously abbreviated to just "America". No other county, and not even North or South America is referred to simply as "America". Thus, there is never any confusion about calling the USA "America" when speaking in the English language. When referring to all of North and South America, "The Americas" is correct, for each continent seperately one would refer to the people there as "North Americans" or "South Americans". Unfortunately, you perhaps do not understand enough English to understand what I have just said. Perhaps you can find someone who does to translate for you.

Anyway, I will fix your post for you, using proper English and incorporating also the way your intention comes across.

Subject: I feel insulted because of the way foreigners use their language!

Body: Somewhere else in the Americas there's a plant like this already. So we can't all be inferior in the way that everyone, including ourselves, thinks.

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871421)

So, what do you call people from the USA? U-S-A-ians? Unite-ites? States-ians? Of-ins? Like it or not, we have the word "America" in our name, so people the world over call us "Americans". It's not like we claimed the name out of conceit - it's how everyone refers to us. Fortunately, there is no other North or South American country with "America" in the name... so I don't know why people keep bringing this up. It's not like we're stepping on someone's toes.

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871501)

So, what do you call people from the USA?
Gringos.

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871565)

You can call yourselves Americans.
But the continent was always America, and not Americas or North and South America.

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871747)

I think that it's a pretty safe bet that the continent was not known as "America" by the pre-Columbus inhabitants. Which continent are you talking about, anyway? North or South America?

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871569)

So, what do you call people from the USA?

Jackasses.

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871813)

You mean like a jackass that posts the exact same joke as the guy two messages up?

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871619)

It's not like we claimed the name out of conceit . . .

Actually, I am pretty sure it was claimed out of conceit, manifest destiny and all that.

Re:USA's first plan, not America's First (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871791)

I never claimed we weren't conceited, only that the whole English-speaking world seems to refer to us as Americans - it's not our own nickname. We also respond to "Yanks".

Still harder to make than corn (3, Insightful)

lecithin (745575) | more than 6 years ago | (#19870943)

But hey, it is something.

How would hemp do?

Great! (0)

valderievaldera (952266) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871027)

Do I understand correctly that this way the US will still be able to produce CO2, even when fossilised fuels have run out? Kyoto here they come..

Re:Great! (3, Informative)

ElBeano (570883) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871127)

Your understanding is a little twisted. It isn't "producing C02", it's shortening the carbon cycle to the point where we are using plants that have grown as recently as a few months ago for energy. The carbon in the plants was removed from the atmosphere by said plants. There may be no net reduction in C02 in the atmosphere over time by using cellosic alchohol, but burning fossil fuels presents a dramatically different situation. The carbon in fossil fuels has been buried for millions of years. This process took a very long time. Burning the fuels releases the carbon sequestered over a period of millions of years in a matter of decades.

In theory, the CO2 is recycled (4, Informative)

benhocking (724439) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871155)

In theory, the CO2 that is released from burning the ethanol is reabsorbed by the plants used to make the ethanol, so there's no net CO2. This is why ethanol and biodiesel fuels are the darlings of many environmentalists. In practice, there are other CO2 costs involved, such as (probably) fertilizer, transportation costs, conversion costs, etc. (By "costs" here, I'm referring to CO2 output and nothing else. Of course, there are other costs involved as well.)

Still, it's probably much better than burning fossil-fuels with respect to CO2 output.

Re:In theory, the CO2 is recycled (2, Informative)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871513)

When you use forest waste products there is no fertilizer involved so this really reduces the amount of fossil fuel input. They do need quite a lot of heat input for their process so they may be less efficent than enzyme processes, but they are ready to go into production now.
--
Solar power without the permit hassles: http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2007/01/slashdot-users -selling-solar.html [blogspot.com]

Re:In theory, the CO2 is recycled (0, Troll)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871597)

C02 isn't significant in the green house effect anyway. you've been mislead into thinking it. the only emissions significant with cars are the noxious gases that are suplhur based. diesel is really bad for this.

Re:In theory, the CO2 is recycled (2, Interesting)

gregorio (520049) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871855)

In theory, the CO2 that is released from burning the ethanol is reabsorbed by the plants used to make the ethanol, so there's no net CO2
In theory, the place where you are growing corn or sugar cane was already occupied by CO2-absorbing plants, either natural ones or food-destined ones. If we remove natural forest to plant sugar cane / corn, it's even worse: we're destroying stuff just to get fuel, instead of just taking it from the underground.

This is why ethanol and biodiesel fuels are the darlings of many environmentalists.
No, ethanol and biodiesel are the darlings of a group of environmentalists whose cause is just about trying to destroy Exxon, Shell and others (*). They don't give a crap about the environment and they would gladly defend taking out a lot of the amazon forest just to grow sugar cane and replace those big corporations. They are the same ones who complain about global warming while they protest against nuclear (emission free) and try to convince us that replacing dinodiesel for biodiesel is good, while it's just about trading one CO2 source for another one.

(*) Why? Because back in the 70's, when global warming was not a hot agenda yet and they were "fighting" oil spills, made by the big oil companies, both sides got excessive and people died, got bankrupt, jailed, fired, etc. That's their motivation: plain old revenge. They spent decades braiwashing the alternative youth against those companies and now their political system reached the self-sustaining state.

Re:Great! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871165)

Do I understand correctly that this way the US will still be able to produce CO2

It takes CO2 to make the cellulose. In theory, you could have no net CO2 production (or you could even bury some of the celluose underground permanently and be taking CO2 out of the atmosphere). Essentially, ethanol from cellulose is a form of solar energy where your intermediate storage is ethanol (and to some extent cellulose) rather than electric batteries.

Re:Still harder to make than corn (2, Funny)

Spookticus (985296) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871053)

if you used hemp, you would then have all these people getting upset over people smoking it instead of using it for fuel.

Re:Still harder to make than corn (3, Funny)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871087)

you would then have all these people getting upset over people smoking it instead of using it for fuel.

      But like, chill out, man. I mean, who needs to drive to work after smoking one of these, man? I use less fuel by staying at home. Hemp is a win.... god I am hungry

What is the energy net gain? (1)

philpalm (952191) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871363)

If a corn farmer needs to use say 200 gallons of gas to produce 200 gallons of ethanol, you might figure it is a no net gain enterprise. Whatever carbon dioxide used to make ethanol is canceled out by the same amount of carbon dioxide gas made buring gasoline. However with more experience and practice the equation may be changed with efficiency and pipelines added to reduce costs and buring of gasoline.

Uniquely in California the mash leftover, after making ethanol, the wet mass is fed to the cows eliminating some of the waste products of producing ethanol.

As more cellulose is converted into ethanol, more of the cellulose waste is disposed. California is hoping their process will eliminate the ricestalk waste left over from rice producing. Inefficient though the early processes may be, with practice they hopefully will become more efficient and not need subsidies. Not all processes will be an economic winner or an ecological achievement but unless tested who knows if they could possibly become a wining process?

Re:Still harder to make than corn (1)

meburke (736645) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871059)

Kudzu! We could do a lot for the environment by making paper, cloth and now ethanol from kudzu.

Re:Still harder to make than corn (5, Informative)

Suicyco (88284) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871637)

See here:

http://fuelandfiber.com/Hemp4NRG/Hemp4NRGRV3.htm [fuelandfiber.com]

Hemp is one of the top producers of biomass per acre. It is much better than corn and can be grown on fallow fields as well. And you can't even smoke this type of hemp, it grows 10-20 feet high and is all stalk with a clump of seeds at the top. Of course, nobody ever smoked this form of hemp, even when it was one of the primary cash crops of the south prior to the 1930's.

Too bad, since hemp is evil. It makes you rape white wimin: http://www.oddfrog.com/paper.htm [oddfrog.com]

Re:Still harder to make than corn (1)

mh1997 (1065630) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871693)

Hemp might be good, but here in rural Indiana, I get 50lbs of feed corn for $9, yeast costs about $1, propane about $2. So, for $12, I can drink about 4 gallons of corn.

Sorry, I thought I was at http://homedistiller.org/ [homedistiller.org]

Cellulosic? (4, Funny)

Icarus1919 (802533) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871013)

What the hell kind of adjective is that? It's bullshity.

Re:Cellulosic? (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871905)

What the hell kind of adjective is that? It's bullshity.
Even if it is, what would you rather use to mean "of or pertaining to cell-wall sugars"?

I wonder what the emissions are like? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871039)

People were just decrying the permits issued to BP for a plant to crack Canadian oil.

The ethanol plant uses a two-stage process to turn cellulose into gas, and then crack the gas into ethanol. Bet the emissions might be interesting.

Do we hold these guys to the standards we expect out of the oil companies, or do they get a pass because they are "greener."

Re:I wonder what the emissions are like? (4, Informative)

wolfgang_spangler (40539) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871275)

People were just decrying the permits issued to BP for a plant to crack Canadian oil.
Actually that wasn't what people were upset about. People were upset that the state of Indiana gave BP a waiver to dump extra amounts of ammonia and heavy metal sludge into Lake Michigan.

Re:I wonder what the emissions are like? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871283)

The difference, fellow Anonymous Coward, is that there is no net carbon gain on ethanol production (assuming the plant isn't being powered by coal, fuel-oil, natural gas, etc). Whether or not there are other emissions like oil and coal have, NOx, NH3, etc, this plant doesn't contribute CO2.

Skeptical (5, Interesting)

Bombula (670389) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871049)

You have to be careful of these kinds of companies' claims. I remember getting interested in a biodiesel-from-algae-grown-vertically project run by an outfit called Global Green Solutions (www.globalgreensolutions.com). They claimed to be able to get 150,000 gallons per acre per year, which is 1000 times the output of oil palm and other biodiesel crops - and 15 times more than other folks' projections for regular algae ponds. It all sounded great, until the basic calculations showed that their 'projections' would have meant converting 85% of the TOTAL solar energy directly into stored energy in the fuel - a physical impossibility. I called their bluff, and they just shrugged and said, "our 100-million-gallon-per-year plant will be open next year and then you'll see." Well, it's now next year, and you can imagine what happened. Nothing.

Re:Skeptical (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871397)

The plant is in Georgia, they probably going to feed it kudsu, hope the plant can keep up with all the kudsu, but I am skeptical about that.

Back to the Future? (1)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871093)

Sure, it's not Mr. Fusion, but this technology sure as heck sounds cool.

On the flipside, I wonder what sort of waste products this plant is going to produce...

Anything like this is a good thing (1)

mlts (1038732) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871103)

This is a good step, but what is needed is work on thermal depolymerization technologies. These can turn waste, be it plastic bottles, dead goats, papers, or pretty much any organic item and turn it into usable crude oil.

Long term, its still just a patch... what is really needed are batteries with far more energy density than what we have now, and more research into fission, fusion, solar, and other energy generating technologies that don't spew carbon into the air.

Re:Anything like this is a good thing (1)

jandrese (485) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871123)

The problem with thermal depolymerization is that it requires a tremendous amount of energy compared to what you get out of it.

Re:Anything like this is a good thing (1)

Martin Blank (154261) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871343)

How is it inefficient? The primary plant in Carthage, MO, is running at about the efficiency ratio predicted early on, where 85% of the energy content that goes in comes out as high-grade fuel oil. Looking at it from a different perspective, that's 15 parts energy use resulting in 85 parts energy in the oil, or a factor of ~5.7.

There are some numbers that are off about the technology -- the amount of waste usable as input, for example -- but it seems to be an effective method of fuel production.

Re:Anything like this is a good thing (2, Insightful)

Skreems (598317) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871517)

And that's only 85% if you consider industrial waste from a turkey processing plant to be "usable energy". If you consider the fact that they can run off of completely useless waste products, and feed 15% of their output back into the plant to power it, this is essentially free energy, AND a reduction in landfill contents.

Re:Anything like this is a good thing (1)

bluephone (200451) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871897)

Carbon is turned into carbon black and sold to ink manufacturers and such. The water is converted to steam (and that steam is actually recycled through the system to heat other parts of the process) and the water ruynoff from that is either reused in the process or discharged as clean water. The methane and butane gases are captured and either used in plant to power the plant, or sold. Metals and such are sold on the open market. Ditto with the calcium and other minerals. It's incredibly efficient and clean.

Re:Anything like this is a good thing (1)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871815)

It's great as long as there is only one of these plants. After that, well...

The problem is that when there is no market for turkey processing waste it is free or extremely low cost. When the second plant comes online there is now a bidding process that is going to happen (one way or another) for the raw materials - see, they aren't waste anymore. They are valuable raw materials now.

Same thing happens with used vegetable oil. It is cheap and works fine as long as there is no market. Once there is a market, all bets are off.

Without government price controls (unlikely) we have no idea where the price for such materials would fall.

Re:Anything like this is a good thing (5, Interesting)

Vader82 (234990) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871175)

I don't mean to be contrary, but spewing carbon into the air isn't a bad thing. Its introducing EXTRA carbon into the air that hasn't been there for millions of years thats a bad thing. If we stopped pumping oil out of the ground today and instead used biofuels of whatever variety you like (biodiesel, ethanol, etc) that would be enough. The carbon in the air would get sucked up by plants as they grow, we would harvest said plants for the energy they have locked up, and we would use it.

The carbon-hydrogen class of molecules have excellent energy storage properties, from methanol (CH4) up to octane (C8H18). Some have higher energy density, cleaner burning, etc. Humanity has around 100 years of investment into the internal combustion engine and it would be wise not to do away with that until we've found something SIGNIFICANTLY better. And by significantly, I don't mean 20-30%. I'm thinking more like 100-300% before it really looks worthwhile.

Anyhow, if we stopped introducing EXTRA carbon back into the surface carbon cycle thats been sitting locked away for the last 10M+ years that'll be enough to do one of two things: stop any potential increase in surface temperatures OR show us that there is a different cause than CO2 causing warming.

Why don't they burn the wood chips (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871205)

boil water and produce electricity? That should be a lot more efficient than turning it into moonshine.

Re:Why don't they burn the wood chips (1)

Courageous (228506) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871445)

Because they are specifically looking for a liquid fuel that can be used in internal combustion motors.

I know, I know, you're thinking: electric cards, electric semitrucks, electric tractors, electric everything. Well it's not so easy.

Liquid fuel appears to be a better energy sink than batteries at the moment by a long shot.

C//

Free energy (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871221)

One unit in, 16 out, wow, I think it's source of free energy [maricopa.edu]!

Re:Free energy (3, Informative)

Terminal Saint (668751) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871317)

That's for one unit of energy WE use to produce it; all that solar power that goes into it is what we're getting out.

Re:Free energy (1)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871607)

That's for one unit of energy WE use to produce it; all that solar power that goes into it is what we're getting out.
Well, of course. Short of breaking the laws of thermodynamics, the energy is always going to come from *somewhere*. However, as things stand at present, we can consider this as a free and almost unlimited source of energy that is just not as convenient to get at as we'd like.

No, you idiot. (4, Informative)

MrTrick (673182) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871411)

X amount of raw cellulosic product in, plus 1 unit of energy to power the process.
The output is enough ethanol to generate 16 units of energy.

In practice, these plants often loop part of the output back to power itself, so the process is simplified to:
X of raw cellulosic product in, 15 units of energy out.

Which is pretty cool.

Sweet (1)

N8F8 (4562) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871233)

Time to grab the chainsaw! Stop the bastard neighbor's tree from dropping leaves on my lawn AND fill up my car.

This is great news! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871377)

Rape and Pillage the price of Corn? I THINK NOT, SIR

Corn is still a good plant to process there. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871461)

Throw in the whole thing. we have a major corn glut here in the USA. so much that we destroy it by the semi truck load daily.

too bad it's illegal to send it to countries where people are starving, because most of the US corn crop has been tainted by the Monsato patented disease and has been deemed unfit in the rest of the world.

Re:Corn is still a good plant to process there. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871523)

I thought that disease was false propaganda spread by PETA to keep genetically enhanced crops out of Africa?

Wan' some rye? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871471)

'Course you do!

Carbon neutral? (0)

TopSpin (753) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871535)

If we can create carbon-neutral fuel from waste economically...
I've heard the carbon-neutral claim about *anol fuels before. The assertion is that because the fuel is realized from a biological source the net increase in environmental carbon is zero. Either I'm missing something or this is muddled thinking.

Plants mine soil for carbon. Petroleum is widely used as fertilizer due to this. If I dump oil on the ground (or not; perhaps I happen to have rich soil somewhere,) dig it back up with plants, make a liquid from it and burn it in an engine, is this considered carbon neutral? Oil fertilizer or not, carbon that was sequestered in the ground is now in the atmosphere.

Seems fishy to me.

Anyhow, it would be nice to stop bombing atavists for gas; carbon neutral or not there are plenty of reasons to pursue this.

Re:Carbon neutral? (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871639)

nicely put. it does take fertiliser to achieve enough growth to make a decent amount of bio fuel. rich soils don't stay rich with intensive farming. the only way to break the hold of oil on our energy needs to is to completely remove oil from the cycle. you might be able to do that by using fertiliser from another source such as human waste composted by worms or other animal waste.

Re:Carbon neutral? (3, Informative)

Ari1413 (872981) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871641)

Actually, plants get carbon from the air, and they do it for "free" (solar energy by way of photosynthesis). It's nitrogen that's the issue. It takes energy (and quite a bit of it) to reduce atmospheric nitrogen to a form that plants can use for protein. Fertilizer supplies nitrogen. That's where the carbon "footprint" comes in, since industrial fertilizer production burns carbon (or some alternative energy, of course).

Re:Carbon neutral? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871661)

Plants absorb CO2 from the air. Where were you during high school biology?

Re:Carbon neutral? (1)

edbosanquet (729289) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871705)

Plants get a lot of their carbon from CO2. That part of the process would be carbon neutral. If the farmers supplement the soil from other sources then its not completely carbon neutral. Plants harvest atmospheric CO2 to make oxygen. If you grow a plant from purely atmospheric CO2 then burn it, you are completely carbon neutral.

If nothing else it is more carbon balanced than simply using fossil fuels.

Nice to see Georgia in some positive news (1)

mooncaine (778422) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871647)

Nice to see Georgia in some positive news for a change. Here's hoping it inspires Georgians to other innovative ideas in the future.

Thermochemical? (1)

purduephotog (218304) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871649)

The only thermo-chemical method of producing alcohol from cellulose that I know of uses concentrated sulfuric acid. If this is what they're doing...

And their explanation of expensive enzymatic reactions? Hogwash. Enzymes work for 1000's of turnovers (at a minimum) before they become poisoned and lose their efficiency. They don't go to ethanol solutions, they go to starch solutions, which then get converted to sugar (think beer), and THEN get converted to ethanol.

That goes into a refluxing column, add a couple of zeolites or corn grits to dry it to 100% Ethanol, and you've got Fuel!

Enzymes are where it's at.

Re:Thermochemical? (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871869)

They are actually going to gasification first: http://www.rangefuels.com/conversion_process [rangefuels.com]. The enzymes are expensive (and proprietary) http://www.iogen.ca/cellulose_ethanol/what_is_etha nol/process.html [iogen.ca]. The extra heat used here probably make the whole thing less efficient, but it may still be less expensive. So far as I heard in May, the enzyme based method is not profitable yet.
--
Solar power is even more efficient: http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2007/01/slashdot-users -selling-solar.html [blogspot.com]

Hemp Contains the Most Cellulose (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19871725)

Compared to other North American crops, such as corn or switchgrass, HEMP contains the highest percentage of cellulose [fuelandfiber.com].

This is yet another reason to re-legalize industrial hemp in the US.

This great annual crop, grows in even the most arid lands, virtually anywhere in North America, without the use of pesticides, or herbicides, and can be baled like hay for easy transportation. It can be used to make:

Why is this crop illegal in the USA? Oh yeah, because politicians and others confuse it with marijuana, and demigog it to death. HEMP is NOT marijuana! You cannot get high from smoking hemp!

Nip / tuck (4, Funny)

Zombie (8332) | more than 6 years ago | (#19871825)

Hmm? America making fuel from cellulite? What a good idea. There's certainly plenty of it.
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