DailyDirt: Microorganisms For Biofuel Production

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

In recent years, there has been increasing interest in biofuels due to growing concerns about global warming and rising oil prices. Biofuels are generally made by using chemicals, fermentation, and heat to break down the starches, sugars, and other molecules in plants to produce a fuel that can be used by vehicles. However, growing crops, making fertilizers and pesticides, and processing the plants into biofuel requires so much energy that it's questionable whether biofuels are really as environmentally friendly as they might seem on the surface. Plenty of research is already under way to figure out ways to make biofuel production more efficient with the help of microorganisms. Here are just a few examples. If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2013 @ 5:57pm

    biotech will save us!

    Considering we don't know exactly how all of our oil was formed to begin with... it's possible that we're just re-inventing what biology made for us when it created fossil fuels. But we're not going to store it underground.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2013 @ 6:16pm

    Check out 2,5 Dimethylfuran

    Very high octane rating, needs less air than gasoline (though a little more than ethanol), and can be created from cellulosic feedstocks.

    Biofuel race gas anyone?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    artp (profile), 4 Mar 2013 @ 6:29pm

    It kind of makes sense, sort of, if you stick your tongue out the side of your mouth and squint just right.

    I wonder how many biofuel production plants are in states that don't provide tax breaks for them? I know that in Iowa, gasohol would not be economical if the state didn't subsidize the price by lowering gas tax rates for gasohol - 15% and 85%.

    Think about this for a while: biofuel production as it currently is implemented only makes sense for corporate, commodity export agriculture. The kind of agriculture that thinks that chemical fertilizers, herbicide and insecticide application and genetically engineered seedstock are the right thing to do.

    If you pour enough fertilizer on, you can avoid looking at broad spectrum soil health. I know that people measure percent organic matter content in soil. But what isn't measured is whether the soil is alive or not. How many soil micro-organisms are present in what numbers? How many insects, earthworms, etc are present?

    What trace minerals are present, not just NPK? What is the soil compaction? I have had people tell me that modern equipment doesn't compact soil any worse than 1930s tractors. However, force is proportional to the square of velocity. When you have a combine with a 24' grain head followed alongside by a semitrailer off-loading harvested grain at 20 mph, don't you think that might be a little worse than a McCormick Deering Farmall "H" going 6 mph? I know that when I was working on a simulation project, we found that a truck could compact soil somewhere in the range of 30-50 feet deep, depending on speed.

    If organic matter is being removed for fodder, bedding or biofuel production, what does that do to the soil and the life it contains. It ain't just dirt, you know.

    Biofuel is one of those feel-good projects that you just really want to have succeed. And it does sometimes. I've heard that the Brazilians are doing just fine with sugar cane stalks after the juice is squeezed out. But their crops and climate are a tad bit different in a way that favors biofuel production with leftovers from the harvest.

    A project that I worked on back around 1980 (right before Reagan vetoed the Synfuels Bill and destroyed alternative energy research in the US for the next 25 years) found that gasohol plants only made sense as small farm-scale production units that a farmer could use to power his equipment. It took all the feedstock and transportation costs out of the equation, and some of the processing costs. Trucking and shipping grain all over the world makes sense only for the Teamsters Union.

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