Moving to the next biofuel generation

11/03/2010


This week, The Economist has a survey of the future of the biofuels industry, headlined “The Post-Alcohol World.” The opening premise of the discussion is that ethanol as fuel has become passé due to its many drawbacks, e.g., low energy content relative to gasoline, tendency to absorb water, corrosiveness, etc. The real promise lies in so called “drop-in” fuels that are chemical equivalents to existing hydrocarbons and can be added to conventional fuels with nobody noticing the difference.

The discussion points out that much is happening with this newer approach, and it is pulling the limelight away from plain old corn ethanol and the hugely disappointing efforts to create economically viable cellulosic ethanol. The assumption is that sugar will still likely be the main feedstock, but the product will be a hydrocarbon that can be blended with conventional fuels. Cellulose and even lignin will eventually enter into the picture, but that is still a long way off.

Producers of corn-based ethanol have to look at this scenario and wonder if they have any place in it. This concern isn’t hard to understand. Such companies have had reason to be worried for some time given the vagaries of public opinion and relentless cost pressures. It’s an industry that has always teetered near the edge. If legacy plants can’t be modified and repurposed without too drastic a cost, they may have to take up a new line of work.

I’ve often thought that moonshine on an industrial scale could take over. Imagine adding a bottling line to your local fuel ethanol plant where you could fill standard two-liter soft drink bottles with a 100 proof industrial alcohol/water mixture. This “yellow lightning” could have great potential as a punch base for frat parties at some of our more recreationally minded universities. If the ATF folks (revenooers) could be kept out of the equation, it could create a whole new income stream.

At the same time, The Economist has also just published an interesting chart that says alcohol is the most harmful abused drug, and the only one where harm to others is greater than harm to the user. Maybe my suggestion isn’t that good an idea after all.



No comments
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners.
Control Engineering Leaders Under 40 identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Learn more about methods used to ensure that the integration between the safety system and the process control...
Adding industrial toughness and reliability to Ethernet eGuide
Technological advances like multiple-in-multiple-out (MIMO) transmitting and receiving
Virtualization advice: 4 ways splitting servers can help manufacturing; Efficient motion controls; Fill the brain drain; Learn from the HART Plant of the Year
Two sides to process safety: Combining human and technical factors in your program; Preparing HMI graphics for migrations; Mechatronics and safety; Engineers' Choice Awards
Detecting security breaches: Forensic invenstigations depend on knowing your networks inside and out; Wireless workers; Opening robotic control; Product exclusive: Robust encoders
The Ask Control Engineering blog covers all aspects of automation, including motors, drives, sensors, motion control, machine control, and embedded systems.
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
News and comments from Control Engineering process industries editor, Peter Welander.
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
This is a blog from the trenches – written by engineers who are implementing and upgrading control systems every day across every industry.
Anthony Baker is a fictitious aggregation of experts from Callisto Integration, providing manufacturing consulting and systems integration.
Integrator Guide

Integrator Guide

Search the online Automation Integrator Guide
 

Create New Listing

Visit the System Integrators page to view past winners of Control Engineering's System Integrator of the Year Award and learn how to enter the competition. You will also find more information on system integrators and Control System Integrators Association.

Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Control Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.