Category Archives: Ethanol Research

Fuel innovation: Ethanol from CO gas

So, where’s your fuel coming from next? Out of thin air. Scientists around the country continue to innovate new fuels that reduce dependence on petroleum and improve air quality. And this development caught our attention.

Ethanol from Carbon Monoxide Gas
No corn, sugarcane or switchgrass needed. Stanford University scientists have developed a method to produce ethanol out of carbon monoxide gas.

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As quoted in a recent Ethanol Producer magazine article, Matthew Kanan, an assistant professor of chemistry at Stanford and coauthor of the ethanol study says, “we have discovered the first metal catalyst that can produce appreciable amounts of ethanol from carbon monoxide at room temperature and pressure – a notoriously difficult electrochemical reaction.”

Unlike current ethanol production, this method does not require fermentation of biomass, typically corn, sugarcane or other starchy crops. The technique is similar to a process that reduces water into hydrogen—but in this case, reducing carbon monoxide into liquid ethanol.

While petroleum will only get more difficult to find and more costly to produce in the future, alternative fuel sources will increase, improving upon existing renewable fuel methods and inventing new and diverse sources.

Read more about the Stanford study.

Audi gets behind renewable gasoline made from sugar

Audi  sees renewable biofuel alternatives as an integral part of the future of motor fuels—in fact, according to a recent report from Wired, the automaker is investing in gasoline made from sugar. This sweet fuel can run in any gasoline-powered vehicle, without modification!

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image: audi

Audi has partnered with Global Bioenergies, a French company creating bio-isooctane by fermenting sugar with specially engineered E. coli bacteria. This reduces production cost and increases efficiency.

“Bio-isooctane can be used as a direct replacement for gasoline, or blended with conventional gasoline much like ethanol. The company has demonstrated the process in a lab, and is in the process of building two production plants. The goal is to produce more than 100,000 liters of gasoline annually — a pittance from a global perspective, but the program is a working proof-of-concept, and that’s where Audi’s investment comes in.”

Bio-iooctane is not the only “drop-in” fuel headed to the pump. Renewable diesel made from tallow and other renewable oils is in production and ready to replace petroleum diesel in the near future. And it just so happens that Audi has several turbo diesel models on the roads and more on the way—looks like Audi is on board with renewable fuel and ready to offer drivers choice at the pump.

Read more from Wired.

Five surprising things that can be made into fuel for your car

You may be familiar with the most common feedstocks for renewable fuel, but there is a whole host of lesser-known products that can be made into fuel for your car. Below we’ve listed  a few of our favorites.

1. CHRISTMAS TREES!

Xmastrees_1227

Once January rolls around, un-tinseled and de-decorated Christmas trees line the sidewalks, waiting for garbage trucks headed to the dump. But in some cities, like San Francisco, California, discarded trees are turned into more than just landfill fodder. Instead, the trees are processed into biomass, which can be used as a renewable fuel feedstock.

Photo credit:  CINDY CHEW/S.F. EXAMINER

2. SUNFLOWERS

sunflower

Sunflowers, as it turns out, aren’t just for brightening up long stretches of rural highway or yielding seeds for snacking and spitting: they can also help power your diesel car. Those same seeds you seed scattered under the bleachers at the local Little League diamond have a high oil content that makes an ideal biodiesel feedstock. Next to solar-powered vehicles, it just might be the closest you’ll get to running on sunshine.

3. ALGAE

These little photosynthesis machines are masters of turning sunlight and CO2 into energy. Industrious producers, like the fermenting engineers at Solazyme, can capture the processing power of algae to create a super-efficient source of  renewable oil. Last year, in a successful month long pilot program, Propel Fuels and Solazyme partnered up to launch the nation’s first publicly available algae-derived biodiesel at Propel stations across the Bay Area. Hopefully, a full-scale launch is in the near future.

Photo credit:  National Algae Association

4. CORN COBS

Forget the kernel, just give me the cob! Ethanol producers are developing methods to use agricultural waste, like corns cobs and stalks, as feedstock for producing cellulosic ethanol, an alcohol-based fuel. In fact, “Project Liberty,” a 20-million-gallon cellulosic fuel plant operated by POET is slated to open this year, and the resulting fuel can be plugged right into today’s growing network of ethanol retail stations.

Photo credit:  Domestic Fuel

5. ANIMAL FATS

Mazda6-tallow

Turns out you can make biodiesel from pretty much any fatty oil including the leftovers from rendering plants a.k.a tallow a.k.a animal fats. In fact, the diesel Mazda6 NASCAR racer was loaded up with some “chicken guts, beef tallow and pork lard” biodiesel for the Rolex 24 Endurance Race in Daytona this past spring. Perhaps the bumper sticker, “My Car Eats Meat” is apt?

Ethanol proves to be a sweet opportunity for California farmers

Most of California’s sugar mills have closed up shop in recent years, leaving sugar beet farmers without a market for their crop. But now ethanol derived from sugar beets is providing a new opportunity for these farmers and their communities.

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Farmers in the small community of Mendota, California are leading an effort to bring back the once widely-grown sugar beet crop. In 2008, Spreckels sugar plant was shuttered, leaving many residents without a job and farmers without a purchaser for their beets. In a stroke of ingenuity, the seed company suggested the community grow beets for ethanol. Thus, the Mendota Bioenergy company was formed!

field_beets

According to a recent report from California public radio, “Mendota Bioenergy has a $5 million grant from the California Energy Commission – and the partnership of university experts from UC Davis and Fresno State – to complete the test site. It should be up and running this winter and, if all goes as planned, the company will then build the nation’s first commercial sugar beet biorefinery in Mendota by 2017.”

Mendota Bioenergy will not only produce a domestic alternative to petroleum gasoline, but the ethanol plant itself will also have a sustainable focus with measures in place to let nothing go to waste. Plus, beets grow well on marginal lands and require very little fresh water. Overall, ethanol produced from California-grown sugar beets and processed in the Mendota refinery will have a much lower carbon footprint than petroleum gasoline, lower even than typical corn-based ethanol. Now that sounds like a sweet deal.

Read more from The California Report.

New engines maximize ethanol’s power and MPGs

Most drivers like the power, price and renewable benefits of E85, but are looking for ways to increase MPGs. Engines designed with gasoline as the primary fuel are not maximizing ethanol’s potential, which can often lead to mileage penalties. However, new  technology from manufactures like Ricardo is geared toward running efficiently with ethanol’s higher octane rating.

In a recent interview with Fleet Owner magazine, Robert Kozak, president of Atlantic Biomass Conversions pointed out that, “Such engine designs tap into the positive ability of ethanol to resist early ignition, thus regaining much of the previous fuel economy loss,” Kozak explained. “Higher octane ethanol makes an internal combustion engine operate more efficiently – up in the 30% to even 40% range – while it’s also priced lower than gasoline, on the order of 10 to 15%, because of its lower Btu or energy content.”

The goal is to produce direct injection engines that perform equal to if not more efficiently than current gasoline engines. And this is what Ricardo engine product group has developed in their ethanol boosted direct injection platform.  According to Rod Beazley, director of Ricardo, Ethanol’s higher octane rating allows the fuel to withstand compression rates closer to that of diesel engines. The higher the compression rates the better an engine can translate energy into power.

These first steps toward boosting ethanol efficiency in heavy-duty engines opens the door for continued technology innovation and helps solidify ethanol as a desirable choice for drivers.

Read more from Fleet Owner.

Wired Magazine Debunks Top Five Ethanol Myths

We couldn’t help but repost this succinct and well-written piece from Wired Magazine’s Forrest Jehlik — guest contributor extraordinaire and mechanical engineer for the US Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory’s Transportation Technology R&D Center.

While there is no single super-solution to all the world’s energy needs, ethanol-based Flex Fuel E85 is a domestically produced, sustainable fuel that is readily compatible with millions of vehicles on the road today, no conversion or modification required. (See a list of current Flex Fuel vehicles here.)

As Jehlik writes, he’s spent a lot of time at Argonne researching ethanol (though an editor’s note clarifies that he remains energy-neutral). In the article, Jehlik quickly debunks the following five ethanol myths, with legitimate sources to boot:

>> READ THE FULL ARTICLE FROM WIRED.COM

Myth #1: Ethanol requires more energy to make than it yields.
Myth #2: Ethanol production reduces our food supply.
Myth #3: Ethanol crops and production emit more greenhouse gases than gasoline.
Myth #4: Ethanol requires too much water to produce.
Myth #5: Cars get lower gas mileage with ethanol.
(Currently, there is some truth to this last one, but modern engineering could significantly improve fuel economy and further increase a cents-per-mile advantage for ethanol.)

Jehlik’s piece is a reminder that ethanol is an alternative fuel that can be readily used to help relieve our dependence on petroleum today — and next generation ethanol fuels will only increase in sustainability and energy efficiency.

Be sure to check out Jehlik’s full write-up at Wired.com, or for more information on ethanol as a fuel, visit the Argonne National Laboratory Transportation Technology R&D Center and the Renewable Fuels Association online.

Michigan Sheriff’s Fleet Saves with E85

Low price at the pump combined with limited MPG-loss combine for significant savings.

Huron County Sheriff’s Office began an experiment last March that had the department testing blends of Ethanol from E50 to E85. The goal: saving the county money through its fleet of 12 flex-fuel vehicles.

Sheriff Kelly J. Hanson found that as long as ethanol prices are less per gallon than the price at the pump for unleaded fuel, it would result in a significant cost savings. “As it turns out, our patrol fleet, which is mainly Chevrolet Impala cars, averaged between 1.5 miles to 2 miles less per gallon on E85 as opposed to unleaded,” said Hanson.

The Department also experimented with E50 and found that there was just about a one mile per gallon difference.

“When we basically went and took a pencil to it, it was determined that as long as pricing patterns remained the same, E85 would be the better choice,” he said. “Obviously, we are going to have to continuously monitor price differences in order for the county to benefit.”

If the price difference (with unleaded fuel costing significantly more) remains the same between E85 and unleaded, Hanson said the department stands to save nearly $1,000 per 25,000 miles.

“When you take into consideration our office puts on more than 400,000 patrol miles in a year, our county could benefit from the use of ethanol,” he said.

But access to the fuel can be an issue. Because Bad Axe and Harbor Beach do not have ethanol stations, Hanson said those patrols vehicles that start out of Bad Axe and Harbor Beach will frequently be forced to use unleaded fuel.

“Our deputies are being encouraged to purchase ethanol if they are in the vicinity of an ethanol station and their vehicle could use fuel,” said Hanson. “It would be pointless to specifically drive several miles in order to just buy ethanol.”

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