Thanks, Jack. The next step is to coordinate among industries and regions and manufacturers so that the trash from food crops can be sent where they can be used for producing new fuels and/or materials. This will take a lot of forethought and cooperation. Hope we're up to it!
I was thinking the same thing. The advantage of this, as spelled out in the headline, is that it is putting a current waste product to good use. I am not a fan of using farmland to grow crops for things other than food production, when there is a very real concern about that production and the prices. The fact that this is from the "leftovers" is a definite advantage.
Thanks for the vote of confidence. Personally, I will be happy when no food crops are being used for ethanol production, and when only the trash from them, or the materials from non-food crops, are being used to make alternative fuels and materials feedstocks. Of course, to separate food crop trash from food crops and send it somewhere it can be converted will require infrastructure and cooperation on a wide scale.
I am very happy to see this technology coming of age. Cellolisic Ethanol offers so much more over Grain Ethanol. As the technology matures we will see an even greater gap between the two. Through this technology post harvest processing of the remaining biomass feedstock makes it possible to produce both food and ethanol from the same plant. Some biomass only feedstocks can be harvested multible times. As I understand it switchgrass, once established can be harvested 3 times annually. While Industrial Hemp may produce up to 30% more ethanol per acre over switchgrass, the 3 vs 1 harvest ratio allows switchgrass to produce 2.25 times more ethanol annually.
Personnally, I would like to see the development of Ethanol Hybrid agricultural equipment. Farm scale adaptations of cellolisic ethanol technologies could someday reach the point to where both the electrical and fuel needs of the farm are met using biomass grown onsite greatly reducing the overhead related to food production.
Using trash from food crops--like cane trash or corn husks--to create ethanol instead of the food crops themselves is in fact being done, just not yet on a wide basis. I'm researching bioplastics for an upcoming feature, and things are further along than I'd thought, though not as far as my sci-fi imagination would like to think. Stay tuned.
Justajo, Dave is correct. They are primarily a corn based producer. I think this is a way to go, but you will not end up with one feedstock in the future. The demand is very large. Remember when George W. Bush started talking about cellulosic ethanol production. He was laughed at by his critics. Well, that is a major area of research as we see here. Isn't it ironic?
Justajo, I'm a little puzzled by your comment, since neither I nor the article said we can't make ethanol from food crop wastes. Clearly, it can be done. And I'm glad to hear about Poet.
That said, I was surprised to discover that sensible industry cooperation--meaning food crop producers sending their waste products to participants in the ethanol producing chain--hasn't been put into place yet. At least not in the US. Europe is way ahead of us in so many regards when it comes to green engineering and environmental considerations.
Making ethanol from food crops vs food crop wastes is a huge difference, as Dave rightly points out several times.
@justajo: Take another look at the POET website. Cellulosic ethanol is something new for them too. They recently got a loan guarantee from the federal government to build a pilot plant in Iowa. It's true that they are the largest ethanol producer in the U.S., but when it comes to producing ethanol from corn stover (as opposed to corn), they have yet to commercialize it.
My bad. Of course you are correct that it is 26 years. (Don't know where that other number came from. Nice to have fact checkers.) But despite my mistake in the time aspect, it remains that ethanol has been made from lignocellulosic biomass mentioned in the article for quite some time. The tone of the article and the authors follow up suggests to me that it has yet to be done on a large and efficient scale by any previous method. Thus my reason for inserting this info. It would be nice to know if this is a better method, especially more efficient and greener.
@Justajo: POET has indeed been producing ethanol from corn for a long time -- 26 years, not 40, according to their website. However, their project to produce ethanol from cellulosic corn waste (called Project LIBERTY) is just beginning. They use an enzymatic process to break cellulose down into sugars, rather than the supercritical water based process which Renmatix uses. Time will tell which process works best. But to say that POET -- or anyone else -- has been producing ethanol from cellulosic corn waste for 40 years is simply not true.
Although plastics make up only about 11% of all US municipal solid waste, many are actually more energy-dense than coal. Converting these non-recycled plastics into energy with existing technologies could reduce US coal consumption, as well as boost domestic energy reserves, says a new study.
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