Monday, August 11, 2008

Bio-Energy Bites

Grain prices are dropping, and apparently "The Great 2008 Food Crisis" has been called off, for now. This makes maize, soy, rape, and wheat bio-fuels more profitable for producers. Even so, the race to develop alternative feedstocks continues.

The common, everyday beet is beginning to compete for ethanol feedstock. Beet is a hardy plant that grows well in different climates and types of soil.

This may surprise you: the cattail is being explored as an ethanol crop. Cattail has 60% starch, as opposed to 70% for maize. And they don't need planting, watering, or fertilisation.

Ocean kelp is another unconventional feedstock that should do well for ethanol production.
...kelp can be used to make alcohol near the ocean. Kelp could be grown on floating platforms in the ocean and harvested weekly. It grows an average of 10 inches a day. _Bioenergy
In Australia, University of Queensland researchers are placing their hopes on the Pongamia Pinnata, and other energy species.
A hectare of the trees can produce 5500 litres of biodiesel a year – enough to run 100 cars for a year.

All of Queensland's fuel needs could be met by about 1.5 million hectares of the trees – an area about 10 times the size of Brisbane.

The potential for large-scale commercial production is "super high" says Professor Peter Gresshoff, an expert in plant biotechnology and biofuel at the University of Queensland. _Bioeneryg
India is certainly expecting a major payback from its biofuels research. They are probably right to have high expectations, given the large number of bio-energy plants that can thrive in the diverse climates of the sub-continent.

To make sure that long-term bioenergy projects can be placed on a sound economic and scientific footing, researchers at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are exploring the most fundamental processes involved in converting biomass to energy.
"Cellulose and hemicellulose are recalcitrant," Goldberg says. "They don't want to break down. It takes a long time for wood to rot. It even takes termites a long time to break wood down, and they're pretty good at it. Ethanol producers face the same problem. Because of the way these molecules are arranged, it's difficult to get access to the reactive centers in wood and other biomass. What we have done is to study some of the most basic reactions associated with the breakdown of these materials."

With enzymes to speed the reactions, the team used calorimetry and chromatography to measure the thermodynamic property values of several reactions associated with the breakdown of cellulosic and hemicellulosic substances. Because process design and bioengineering benefit from the availability of these values, the data obtained in this investigation represent a "small but significant step toward maximizing the efficiency of biomass utilization," Tewari says. _Bioenergy
This basic but crucial information should assist researchers around the world to select the most efficient approaches to getting energy from biomass.

The race is on for the best way to produce an abundant supply of biofuels. The size of the biofuels infrastructure will necessarily grow rapidly, along with improved processes and economies of scale. Substituting a plentiful commodity for one that is more scarce, is simple economics.



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