Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fertilising the Bioenergy Revolution . . . . .

About 75% of all fertilizers and fertilizer technology used around the world today were developed or improved during the 1950s to 1970s by scientists and engineers at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in the United States... _Biopact
If the biosphere of Earth is to provide a substantial portion of future biofuels and electrical power, the process will need to be fertilised in a sustainable way. Nothing is gained by depleting soils or destroying land and ocean habitats of plants and animals.
Borlaug thinks the price tag for increasing productivity in Africa might be quite high unless new fertilizers are developed. The fertilizer industry therefor needs to do everything in its power to minimize that cost. Farmers are paying way too much for fertilizer products because we are transporting millions of tons of material that is not nutrient and because much of the nutrients in applied fertilizers are never used by the crop. Nutrient losses to the environment are high with consequences for global warming and water pollution, Borlaug says.

According to Borlaug, work should begin now on the next generation of fertilizer products using advanced techniques such as nanotechnology and molecular biology, especially in conjunction with plant genetics research. 'Smart' fertilizer products that will release nutrients only at the time and in the amount needed should be developed, he thinks.
Meanwhile, scientists are trying to understand how cyanobacteria can be twice as efficient (even up to ten times more efficient) as plants in converting the sun's radiant energy to chemical energy.

In other news, syngas made from the gasification of biomass is finally being understood by more people as a promising approach to bioenergy.
Reducing solid waste was a key consideration in the founding of Ze-gen. Davis said more than 300 million tons of waste end up in US landfills every year, about 15 percent of it wood waste from construction. Ze-gen's idea: Tap the waste's energy potential.

The company's engineers determined that channel induction furnaces used in the steel industry provided an energy-efficient way to turn construction debris into a high-quality, clean syngas. The electricity used for the furnace offsets about 15 percent of the energy produced by the syngas, Davis said.

The construction debris is first ground up, then injected deep into the molten metal with ceramic cylinders, much like dipping forks into a fondue pot. The intense heat converts the debris to gas. Heavy metals, such as lead from paint, settle to the bottom of the bath while other contaminants are trapped in crust of silica, known as slag, that forms on top.
There are many other approaches to biomass gasification, but the molten metal approach has the advantage of separating out and trapping contaminants.



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