Monday, June 12, 2006

Butanol for Gasoline, Biodiesel for Diesel: Renewables Step Up

It takes time for a society that is dependent on petroleum fuels to convert to renewable fuels. Fortunately, the cost of petro-oil is high enough now to encourage the development of alternatives. Biodiesel from oil seeds can substitute for petro-diesel, and ethanol or butanol can substitute for gasoline.

Jim at the Energy Blog reports on the Green Star Biodiesel continuous processor biodiesel reactor.

GSPI Biodiesel Plants have the following competitive advantages:

* All plant design is modularized so additional capacity can be added at minimal cost.
* Speed of construction - plant can be placed in service in 14-16 weeks versus industry standard average of 14 to 18 months.
* Small footprint of plant because of its modularized "continuous flow waterless design" versus industry batch plant design, which also results in lower production and maintenance costs.
* Minimum plant management and operations staff required because plant is automated.
* Proven technology - Industrial size plant operated and produced biodiesel for over three years in Bakersfield, California.
* Minimal permits required from regulatory agencies. Plant requires no wastewater permit, which could take up to one year to obtain and minimum air quality permits.
* The plant design is very energy efficient and reduces energy requirements by over 30% of industry average.
* Lower capital costs by at least 40% compared to biodiesel industry standards. (between $.80 cents per gallon to a high of $1.25 per installed gallon for conventional biodiesel plants)
* Plants require 30 to 40% less energy (increased efficiency) to run motors and pumps.
* Faster achievement of positive cash flow is due to a much shorter time frame to complete construction and permitting.

Since GSPI's Continuous Flow Biodiesel Production (CFBP) system is completely enclosed and waterless, it greatly reduces the time to secure construction permits, which can take a year or longer to obtain. Mr. LaStella, President of GSPI, points out that California is probably the toughest state to obtain air and water discharge permits. Recently, the GSPI CFBP system received the permits to construct a biodiesel plant in California in only eight weeks. Since many cities and towns across the U.S. do not have the expertise to evaluate new biodiesel plants being built in their jurisdiction, they have welcomed the California permit package to save them the need to research this emerging biodiesel technology and save GSPI the time to receive these valuable permits.

The basic production cost to build the reactors has been reduced to only $30,000 per 10-million GPY reactor module. Smaller units will cost even less. This will significantly reduce the costs and time to build biodiesel plants. The prefabricated reactors make it possible to construct plants within 14-18 weeks versus the 14-18 months that is typical for conventional plants. The balance of the infrastructure--which includes land, building, electrical, storage facilities, railroad access and final cleanup of biodiesel--will still be required.
More at the source.

Renewable liquid fuels are carbon neutral in terms of the carbon cycle. Whatever CO2 that is released by burning the fuel is later re-absorbed from the atmosphere in the plant that produces the oil seeds.

The same applies to the use of ethanol or butanol for gasoline replacement, as long as the ethanol comes from a renewable source. The hare-brained idea to produce ethanol from coal should be stuffed down the garbage chute.

Butanol is much preferable to ethanol as a liquid gasoline replacement, due to better burning characteristics and much lower corrosion potential. Unfortunately, the microbiological infrastructure for efficiently fermenting butanol is far behind the ethanol micro-infrastructure by thousands of years. I expect significant progress from microbiologists on that front, however.

There is tremendous potential for efficient use of agriculture to produce liquid fuel replacements for petrofuels. Using oil seeds for biodiesel, then using the byproducts from biodiesel to produce ethanol, and finally using the cellulosic waste from the plant itself to ferment either ethanol or butanol. Then, there is always the pig factor, which has the advantage of producing "the other white meat" as well as fuel.

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