Monday, January 10, 2011

"Biofuels" Doesn't Mean Just Corn Ethanol Any More

When most bloggers think of biofuels, they are thinking of 5 year old studies that use 10 year old data to look at efficiencies for producing corn ethanol and soy biodiesel. But a ten year runup in oil prices is pushing more money and creative individuals into the bioenergy and biofuels field. This ain't your father's biofuel world any longer.

Some of the most intriguing possibilities for reducing reliance on petroleum using biofuels, come from addition / blending -- not total substitution. Bio-additives to liquid fuels hold enormous potential for reducing petroleum transportation fuels and heating oil use. Bio-additives to solid fuels -- as in co-firing with coal -- likewise present a very good way to reduce solid fossil fuel use.

Consider various blends that can be used with diesel:
Biodiesel is commonly blended with petrodiesel.
Ethanol can also be blended with diesel up to 10%.
Ethanol + Biodiesel (PDF) can be an effective additive to petrodiesel.
Butanol isomers can be blended with diesel.
Di-methyl ether (PDF) makes a good diesel additive.
"Hydro-treated" vegetable oil can make a good combination with diesel
Furfural derivatives can make great diesel blends
Fischer-Tropsch biofuels (PDF) can be blended nicely with diesel
And so on. Butanol also blends with gasoline much better than does ethanol, as do some of the other bio-derived fuels mentioned above.

Bio-syngas can be used as a substitute for natural gas, or can be blended with natural gas if appropriate adjustments and precautions are made.

Various forms of biomass -- including torrefied biomass -- can be co-fired with coal.

Interestingly, lignocellulosic biomass can produce multiple biofuels products, including ethanol or butanol from C6 saccharides, furfural from C5 saccharides, and F-T biofuels from lignin

Bio-acetic acid can be converted to ethanol

Farnesenes from biomass can be feedstock to produce polymers, lubricants, and biofuels

Bio-succinic acid can be substituted for petroleum feedstocks for certain industrial processes

In the long run, microbial fuels -- followed by advanced acellular nano-catalytic fuels -- should outstrip most current bioenergy schemes.

And so it goes. Little by little, slow but sure, the process of economic blending and partial substitution of bio-fuels for fossil fuels is driven by high oil prices. Clearly bioenergy is not ready to take the place of petroleum, and will not be ready for decades to come. But thanks to the shale gas bonanza and the improvement of oil sands technologies, the bio-derived feedstocks can remain in the R&D phase for a while longer without causing significant shortfalls of fuel supplies.

It would be nice if the US Obama regime were not stonewalling safe, clean, abundant, new-gen nuclear reactor designs and SMRs. An enlightened nuclear energy policy would further relieve any strains from political constriction of fossil fuel supplies. But incompetence and ideological suicide such as Obama's regime displays, eventually becomes obvious to voters, and auto-remedied at the voting booths.



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