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.



The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by Control Engineering subscribers. Vote now (if qualified)!
The System Integrator Giants program lists the top 100 system integrators among companies listed in CFE Media's Global System Integrator Database.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
This eGuide illustrates solutions, applications and benefits of machine vision systems.
Learn how to increase device reliability in harsh environments and decrease unplanned system downtime.
This eGuide contains a series of articles and videos that considers theoretical and practical; immediate needs and a look into the future.
HMI effectiveness; Distributed I/O; Engineers' Choice Award finalists; System Integrator advice; Inside Machines
Women in engineering; Engineering Leaders Under 40; PID benefits and drawbacks; Ladder logic; Cloud computing
Robotic integration and cloud connections; SCADA and cybersecurity; Motor efficiency standards; Open- and closed-loop control; Augmented reality
Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) represent the logic (decision) part of the control loop of sense, decide, and actuate. As we know, PLCs aren’t the only option for making decisions in a control loop, but they are likely why you’re here.
This digital report explains how motion control advances and solutions can help with machine control, automated control on assembly lines, integration of robotics and automation, and machine safety.
This article collection contains several articles on how advancements in vision system designs, computing power, algorithms, optics, and communications are making machine vision more cost effective than ever before.

Find and connect with the most suitable service provider for your unique application. Start searching the Global System Integrator Database Now!

Control room technology innovation; Practical approaches to corrosion protection; Pipeline regulator revises quality programs
Cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Automation Engineer; Wood Group
System Integrator; Cross Integrated Systems Group
Jose S. Vasquez, Jr.
Fire & Life Safety Engineer; Technip USA Inc.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me