David Kirkpatrick

September 17, 2008

Better newewable biofuel options

Here’s an article from PhysOrg on two better biofuel options — camelina and switchgrass. Two companies are teaming up to expand global biofuel operations — INEOS Enterprises and Great Plains-The Camelina Company.

From the link:

Camelina and Switchgrass are making news in the bio-fuel industry. Camelina is a seed crop whose history goes back some 3500 years in Europe. Camelina is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and is currently undergoing various stages of research and development as a bio-fuel in the Pacific Northwest. Switchgrass has been used for years in many Western states farmers for livestock forage or for use as deterrence for soil erosion.

Camelina and Switchgrass have the advantage of being able to grow in arid conditions unsuitable for most food crops. It isn´t an exaggeration to say that both crops grow like weeds almost anywhere and under the most harsh weather conditions. This is particularly true of Camelina which seems to have a high tolerance for cold weather.

According to the Department of Energy, Switchgrass has a distinct advantage due to its fast growing, low maintenance propensities and ability to absorb carbon dioxide as it grows. It has the ability to seek out water sources far beneath the soil surface and adds organic material to the soil as opposed to depleting it. Research is continuing in various labs including Auburn University to increase the yield and improve gasification technology. The goal is to create direct methods to produce alternative fuels like synthetic gasoline, diesel fuel, hydrogen and fertilizer, solvents and plastics. Additionally, Switchgrass is a suitable and stable feed crop.

August 13, 2008

Nanotech and biofuels

Gasification is a biofuel tech that nanotechnology is provided catalysts to create Ethanol from all sorts of biomass. This process is being researched by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and Iowa State University.

From the link:

Gasification is a process that turns carbon-based feedstocks under high temperature and pressure in an oxygen-controlled atmosphere into synthesis gas, or syngas. Syngas is made up primarily of carbon monoxide and hydrogen (more than 85 percent by volume) and smaller quantities of carbon dioxide and methane.

It’s basically the same technique that was used to extract the gas from coal that fueled gas light fixtures prior to the advent of the electric light bulb. The advantage of gasification compared to fermentation technologies is that it can be used in a variety of applications, including process heat, electric power generation, and synthesis of commodity chemicals and fuels.

“There was some interest in converting syngas into ethanol during the first oil crisis back in the 70s,” said Ames Lab chemist and Chemical and Biological Science Program Director Victor Lin. “The problem was that catalysis technology at that time didn’t allow selectivity in the byproducts. They could produce ethanol, but you’d also get methane, aldehydes and a number of other undesirable products.”

A catalyst is a material that facilitates and speeds up a chemical reaction without chemically changing the catalyst itself. In studying the chemical reactions in syngas conversion, Lin found that the carbon monoxide molecules that yielded ethanol could be “activated” in the presence of a catalyst with a unique structural feature.

In this transmission electron micrograph of the mesoporous nanospheres, the nano-scale catalyst particles show up as the dark spots. Using particles this small (~ 3nm) increases the overall surface area of the catalyst by roughly 100 times.

In this transmission electron micrograph of the mesoporous nanospheres, the nano-scale catalyst particles show up as the dark spots. Using particles this small (~ 3nm) increases the overall surface area of the catalyst by roughly 100 times.

In this transmission electron micrograph of the mesoporous nanospheres, the nano-scale catalyst particles show up as the dark spots. Using particles this small (~ 3nm) increases the overall surface area of the catalyst by roughly 100 times.