Monday, June 6, 2011

An Interesting Step

A company in Wisconsin is reporting that they have found a way make biofuel out of wood chips and agricultural waste such as corn stalks.  This may be a significant step.  If fuel can be made from what is normally a waste product, then the increased demand for food grains such as corn, and the resulting higher prices for food, could be eliminated.  It would be even more interesting if this process uses the cellulose in the plant matter to make ethanol, and not just the sugar in it.  That breakthrough would allow just about any plant material, such as grass or leaves, to make fuel.

Before cheering about this, I want to see some math that shows that more energy is produced by this fuel than is used to make it. That's always been one of the drawbacks of corn based ethanol.  The amount of energy a gallon of ethanol provides is dwarfed by the amount of energy from petroleum that is needed to plant, fertilize, harvest, transport, and process it.

So, on the whole, I'll give this one a qualified "cool".  If this company can a) produce fuel that has a net increase in the energy produced and b) can do it economically enough that it can compete with petroleum fuels, then I'll upgrade it to a "sweet".

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