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September 01, 2005



I find that these studies continue to beg important questions:

1. If we are trying to displace petroleum, is ethanol the preferred thing to use (other than over the short term)?
2. If we do intend to use (maize|switchgrass|paper mill byproducts) as an energy source, is ethanol the best thing we can make out of it?

Without answering those, the productivity of various crops is not terribly relevant.


Thank-you, Jim, for this short and insightful analysis.

Jim from The Energy Blog

I believe that cellulosic ethanol is the best answer for replacing gasoline for at least the next 25 years. The combination of growing cellulosic crops plus waste product feedstocks provides the necessary feedstock to make significant quantities of ethanol.

Biodiesel from oil seed is not the answer because engine manufacturers do not like it and there is not enough land to grow it. It might be a good short term fuel until we have enough to make a 5% blend with petroleum diesel which the engine manufacturers accept. Some fleet operators seem to have no objection to biodiesel and if they are proved correct, the engine manufacturers should come along. An algae feedstock might change that picture if anyone can develop that system.

Fischer-Tropsch fuels are not well enough demonstrated or as energy efficient as ethanol at the present time. FT processes should be well explored on a large scale, as with the CHOREN gasifier/Shell FT process. The product from FT is very low sulfur and should be acceptable to engine manufactures. FT processes are likely to be the source for diesel fuel at some time.

I do not like hydrogen fuel cells at the present and don't think we can afford to wait until they are developed. My mind could be changed if a sensible plan could be developed for the hydrogen production, required infrastructure and cost and reliability of the cells. Biofuels make a much more sensible choice at the present time.

None of these alternatives will be implemented on a sufficient scale to be of any significant help in compensating for the decline of oil production and/or to reduce our dependence on forign oil in the next 5-10 years, but we must proceed with them. Hybrid vehicles, specifically plug-in hybrids are our best short term solution to reducing transportation fuel consumption.


I have some preliminary answers regarding ethanol: production of ethanol from maize is not as good as burning the maize as home-heating fuel and using the natural gas or LPG that would otherwise be used for distillation or home heating as motor fuel.  Blog entries on this:

One: http://ergosphere.blogspot.com/2005/09/ethanol-mirage.html
Two: http://ergosphere.blogspot.com/2005/09/ethanol-mirage-ii.html


There is a new, patented distillation process available for ethanol, taking low content fermentation "beers" of 10-15% up to 99.5%, with no heat distillation process involved. This reduces the energy required to "refine" ethanol by 70%, thereby making it a truly viable fuel-stretching additive.

See January issue of "Chemical Engineering", page 15 for a brief article covering this new process, and the company owning it, Ultrasound Brewery Co. (Japanese).

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