Calling All Ethanol Proponents

Request for Info on Ethanol Incentives and Biomass Sources

I need some help gathering information. I know that some of you will be quite knowledgeable about certain aspects of what I am looking for. I was in London this weekend (found myself standing next to Jesse Jackson at one point) having a look at a promising cellulosic ethanol technology. I will not go into details, because they don’t want to release details yet, but they have asked for my assistance in developing a business plan and helping work through technical hurdles.

This is not the first time I have been asked to do something like this. It probably isn’t even the 100th. But there have only ever been 2 or 3 that I saw and thought “This could be something.” And this could in fact be something. It is a unique approach to the cellulosic ethanol problem – and I have no doubt that this technology will handily beat the economics and energy returns of the current cellulosic plants being built. And this isn't just a sketch on paper. They are deep into R&D on this thing.

Here is what I am looking for. While this technology already looks like it could compete right now on equal footing with corn, corn ethanol has been heavily subsidized. My counsel is that it would be very wise – looking mid to long term – to first determine who – states, federal governments, and/or foreign countries – is offering incentives for locating a cellulosic ethanol plant. It doesn’t have to be limited to incentives for cellulosic ethanol, but again it has to compete with the established corn guys. There are certain areas of the country – such as the coasts, where I think this can beat the corn guys right now. But you look first to the incentives that are being offered and take advantage of those (not to say I have changed my mind about these subsidies; I still think this system is incredibly inefficient and attempts to pick technology winners).

The second think I need to know is where there are massive quantities of biomass coming into a point source. This is the low-hanging fruit. The New York City dumps have always seemed like good candidates. But I don’t know if there are far better sources (quantity, uniformity) of biomass. For all I know New York recycles all of their paper and there isn’t much biomass to be processed at their dump. (I doubt it, though). An additional benefit would be to find waste biomass that currently requires tipping fees for disposal.

So, to summarize I am looking for 1). Who is offering attractive incentives for cellulosic ethanol?; and 2). Where are very high volume sources of biomass coming into point sources? Again, I ask that you don’t request specific details, here or through e-mails. If you want to speculate, that’s fine. I think this has enough potential that tomorrow I am going to put in a request to my company to allow me to assist. If we can come to an agreement that this specific application does not present a conflict of interest or an ethical issue, I will be working with these guys. If not, then maybe a wink and a nod can put them on the right path.

What This Is Not

One thing I want to address is that this is absolutely not a silver bullet. What it is, I believe, is something that could be a significant silver BB. I think this technology could be used to realistically displace a fair fraction of our gasoline usage. But we are still talking about less than 50% in all probability (20% was my back of the envelope calculation - but that is much greater than the 0% that I currently foresee from cellulose). Even if this works out to the most optimistic forecasts, we are still going to have to conserve in a major fashion.

Personal Note

In 10 days, I will be reunited with my family for the first time in 5 months. At that time, I will take an extended break from writing. I have some time that I must make up, so instead of coming home from work and writing, I am going to make a point not to write, and use that time to experience Scotland and Europe with my family. It is an understatement to say that the past 5 months have been the most difficult of my life. My heart goes out to those in the military who are routinely separated from their children. I have filled the void in my life by writing, and I have been on a rampage for the past 5 months. But the void is about to be filled, and I doubt I will ever again participate in the same way that I once did.

The Fox River Valley is home to the world's largest concentration of paper mills, 19.

and similar ideas. See:

Landfill mining

Solid waste from large manure processing plants - need to check if cellulose is preserved after biogas is produced (competition: fertilizer)

Yard trimmings from distributed recycling plants (competition: composted fertilizer, mulch)

Vegetable agricultural wastes (competition: hay, silage, fertilizer)

Your posts and comments have been a wealth of information and a great way of educating many of us on TOD. your contributions are truely appreciated. I hope you can still provide posts & comments on frequent basis.

As I commented on the Drum Beat a major source for cellulose could be municipal waste streams. Many cities have programs to separate the yard waste (plant clippings, wood and leaves) from the trash. If you could throw in paper and cardboard that is now part of the trash, the amount would be even greater.

The incentive for cities to fully deal with supplying such material must be monetary, such as federal funds. Plus the EPA could issue regulations on how to handle the waste to boost the cellulose stream going for this fuel industry. Put a federal tax on every ton or cubic meter going into a land fill, then refund the tax to cities to help them handle the proper sorting of the waste and direct it to the proper ethanol users.

Right now some cities are hauling garbage by train and truck for many miles to dump it at landfills out of their ares. Instead of hauling it to landfills, send it to a cellulostic ethanol facility.

Main problem is getting the public to cooperate (separate the usable from the nonusable). But $8 a gallon gas would help in that regard. Also the ethanol producers paying for the waste might help the cities cope with more complicated trash sorting and handling of larger amount of material.

Looking at a cellulosic feedsouce...think pulp and paper mills,or lumber,small sawmills straw from grasseed here in ore its burned,for that matter any manure,feedlot,or grass based industry.Waste from pulp and paper may be your best bet

Read this article: "Brazil May Become First to Produce Economically Viable Cellulosic Ethanol" at this link:

They are already gathering the feedstock but won't switch to cellulosic until the price of the enzymes falls another 60% or so. You may have the missing piece of the puzzle. Keep in mind they have a vast amount of feedstock. I don't know if they are willing to subsidize, but frankly, if your method is promising enough they have an incentive to play ball. Good luck.

Well, sounds very secretive. Forgive my cynicism but I have a few questions:

1. Since most of the biomass we want to convert to fuel is produced by using fossil fuels how sustainable is this really? Ok, great, we can now use the cornstalks as fuel, but we still have to grow them in prodiguous amounts.

2. If you are talking about using waste cellulose(paper,etc) then this will dry up the recycled paper market. No more packaging made from recyled products, we'll just burn it in our engines instead.

3. On a similar note as 2 above, are we now not going to plow the waste agricultural cellulose(cornstalks, etc.) back into the earth, or are we now just going to use every bit of the plant for our use? I would think that this would demand a lot more fertilizer than even now.

4.What is going to stop people from just using any cellulose? Why not mow down the forest and turn it into ethanol?

5. If you are just using non-recycled waste from cities then there is a problem. As oil production declines and living standards drop there will be less and less waste to use.

I'm not the brightest guy in this group but even I see this for what it is. Bandaid. And dangerous. I can see us talking about peak ethanol 10 yrs from now when Brazil has cut down 50% of the rainforest and can't cut it down any faster...

"Considering the many productive uses of petroleum, burning it for fuel is like burning a Picasso for heat"
Big Oil Executive

I'm not the brightest guy in this group but even I see this for what it is. Bandaid. And dangerous.

You know, I appreciate the ability that some of you have to jump to conclusions based on very limited information. It is admirable. I possess no such ability. I find myself going through one of these proposals after another before deciding whether something is a good idea. And as I said, I have been through at least a hundred of these. So while I can certainly understand the cynicism – because I am a cynic myself – all I really need is information on concentrated biomass sources.

One thing I didn’t make clear is that the process is not dependent on biomass coming into a point source. I am looking for this as the fastest way of proving it commercially. Something like farmed miscanthus may work out later on (is one of the best at leaving nutrients in the soil). I would also point out that the process has been commercially proven – in another industry. So there isn’t a question of whether it works. It does. It also won’t deplete the soil. In fact, I made it a point to cover this topic in depth.

I reiterate. I did not just fall off of a turnip truck. I have been around the block many times. And I have said that this is not a silver bullet. It is a technology that can add to the diversity of our energy supply. We need that. I won’t have my kids growing up in a world that we sat around and watched go to hell without making some serious attempts at mitigation. And just because I have been very critical and skeptical of grain and cellulosic ethanol, does not mean that I would not like to see them succeed in a sustainable manner.

As I said, I will not be answering specific questions. If I ever get the thumbs up, I will detail the process. Right now, as you might imagine, they don’t want this getting out. But this isn’t a bunch of guys sitting around in their living room. They have research labs, a pilot plant, a number of Ph.D. scientists on staff, and lots of funding.

For those who have contributed information, thank you. I am logging it all.

'I won’t have my kids growing up in a world that we sat around and watched go to hell without making some serious attempts at mitigation.'

Except we are not just sitting around, and watching the world go to hell, essentially everyone reading and posting at TOD is actively participating in that process right now, though obviously in differing amounts. (I would consider myself average on that scale, by the way.)

I don't think that saving IC powered automotive infrastructure counts as useful effort - in fact, a fairly convincing argument can be made that it makes life worse for those spending significant time each day in cars - like children being toted from school to sport to shopping to 'play dates.'

To the extent that a significant fraction of our current social/economic structure is totally reliant on many individuals driving IC powered automobiles, watching that structure go to hell doesn't concern me that much - whether now or in a decade isn't that important to me either.

Here would be the point to quote something pithy, but why bother?

However, the news that the TGV now goes through Karlsruhe was a big deal in this region, where Mercedes has a major presence - A-Klasse, Unimog, and trucks are manufactured around here. Who knows, maybe in a decade, the U.S. could actually start celebrating electric powered high speed rail, instead of worrying about how much a tank of gas costs - or in that time frame, where they can find gas to tank.

Addicts never want to quit their addiction, as stopping is their greatest terror. However, quitting is not exactly the same as having the addict's world go to hell, regardless of what the addict might think beforehand - especially as generally, the addict's world is hell to non-addicts.

Edit - thread was in Drumbeat

Except we are not just sitting around, and watching the world go to hell, essentially everyone reading and posting at TOD is actively participating in that process right now, though obviously in differing amounts.

I completely, absolutely, 100% disagree with that statement. Unless regularly declaring "We are all doomed" is what you mean by "actively participating." In case you haven't noticed, there is a fair amount of that around here and I don't find it particularly helpful. But I agree that there is a lot of good participation here. There is also a lot of "we are doomed no matter what." I don't accept that.

I don't think that saving IC powered automotive infrastructure counts as useful effort...

Really, I don't know why I bother sometimes. I knew that when I posted my request, I would get some of this. But it is fairly annoying that people go to such lengths to misrepresent what I actually said. "Less than 50%" becomes "50%". Despite giving no details, this is "mining topsoil" and "dangerous." And I have gotten a good deal of what you posted above - despite the fact that I said that this would only be one more option in the arsenal and the displacement would be modest. Anyone who knows me knows that I believe things have to change.

But we are going to need some liquid fuels. We are going to need a diverse supply of energy. If you are happy to see that come from tar sands and coal to liquids, good for you, because that's what's going to happen on the trajectory we are currently on. Bemoaning our current transportation infrastructure will not change that.

If one totes up the "essential" uses of liquid transportation fuels (fire & ambulance should make everyone's list, agriculture, minimal rural transportation (go to town every other Friday if the weather is good), expanded barge use, air travel at 10% to 20% of today's levels, some military use, postal delivery twice a week, local truck delivery, plumber & related trades, etc.), we have a "hard core" need for at least 10% of our current demand. (If theory says 20%, reality means that we will be DAMN lucky to get 10%).

I would MUCH prefer to see a non-GHG source for that 10% than CTL and tar sands.

Yes, there is a political risk that TPTB will proclaim that ALL of our oil problems are solved. However, I trust that RR will remind people that is simply NOT true. And if he is in a pivotal position to "make this happen" he will be heard.

Best Hopes,


I like Burgundys comments from yesterday.

An Open source solution could be what TOD evolves into. The intellectual capitol here is world class and when PO enters the public consciousness IMO this will snowball along with the financial capitol.

I no longer have any faith in the Capitalist System. Sorry Robert but you may want to explore alternative structures for pushing this new project. Otherwise given the current state of Global economics I for one don’t see your project coming to fruition

It’s time for a new approach and if you truly don’t believe what I propose is possible then we really are screwed.

But I’m just an old troll and you can tell me to consume feces and cease to exist.


You know that the vast majority of us respect you and I respect your need for secrecy at this point. So, if someone takes this opportunity to debate ethanol at this point, don't take it personally.

One problem, though, is that you used the phrase less than 50%. Well, that includes 49% and 49% is not modest. So, I don't think you should conclude that people were unfair to conclude that the displacement might be more than "modest". "Modest" is more like less than 20%.

And, of course, you are right to point out that this should be better than CTL and tar sands.

But really, the same Senators, like Obama, who are touting the glories of ethanol (in his state) are touting the glories of "clean" CTL (in his state).

Damn right that many of us out here are cynical, but not just about the efficacy of ethanol. We are cynical about the ability of politicians and the American people from restraining themselves. When it comes to supply, we want it all; damn the consequences.

But, yeh, it is obvious that none of us are in a position to evaluate the specific technology that you have in mind.

Having said that, this whole alternative fuels deal is like Pandora's box. Unfortunately, we open it up and get the good with the bad. On top of that, we are not very adept at discriminating the good versus the bad so we take it all.

Peak oil is a curse, not just because there will be less oil around. It is a curse because of all the alternatives that we will puruse in trying to mitigate the problem. Your alternative may be relatively good, but it will just be a part of a big arsenal, not all good.

Alan's comments are in the direction I meant.

The people posting at TOD are generally people living a typical lifestyle for members of an industrial society - which means, we are the ones driving, buying frozen food, and living in air conditioning while making sure the grass stays green year round.

Ethanol isn't a solution - it is part of the problem, an attempt to keep the gasoline motor running, because for many, the alternative seems worse - or unimaginable. And we will, to use Leanan's perspective, burn everything, before we change how we live. A concrete example - our use of oil today will likely be met with the same incomprehension as we have looking back to 1850, when the planet's whales were burnt to provide lighting at night for a couple of decades.

Obviously we will 'require' liquid fuels - which is why biodiesel/straight plant oil seems reasonable - no need to create any new farm equipment, keeps construction machinery running, fire trucks, etc.

Ethanol is fundamentally a fuel intended to keep our current lifestyle rolling - and the underlying problem is how we live, not what we put in our fuel tanks.

I also read the Choren web site - they seem to be just on the edge of suggesting that clear cutting forests would be a practical alternative to using oil - or that any plant material left on the ground is waste.

That we will burn everything seems an ever more realistic prospect. And the tragedy is that it is so unnecessary. But there is no real profit to be earned in having people walk or bicycle - and meeting other people, instead of watching ads on a screen - so we will continue to invest our children's future in today's equivalent of a whaling ship - which also represented a major capital investment, where the owners were obviously entitled to earn wealth from a product that customers were clamoring for.

Robert, I want to clarify what you mean by a "process not dependent on biomass coming into a point source." There's no central processing facility to make the ethanol?

Glad you are keeping away from turnip trucks, but I am skeptical about any claims of "not depleting the soil." This would be a reinvention of agriculture and I hope you are right!

Perhaps the major problem with agriculture is that soil carbon is lost during cultivation. If you can use a mix of perennial crops, harvest the above ground biomass only, and make sure all animal and manufacturing byproducts based on that harvest go back to the land...perhaps the process is sustainable.

There's a paper in Nature by Tilman and others from Univ. of Minesota on the biomass of praire ecosystems and the potential for sustained harvests. The key is to NOT focus on one productive crop, but used a mixed species system.

I am not sure whether I should wish you luck or hope for a complete failure!

A little OT but since you brought it up.

Nitrogen can be produced by lightening and other artifacts of nature, I read. Letting land lie fallow is also a means of reinvorigating it.

As I have stated elsewhere we had NO fertilizer except for animal manure back in my youth on the farm so we had a very large mix. Sheep,ducks,geese,cows,pigs and mules. We gathered hay on a field then not for several years.

We lived without those chemical nutrients and did ok.
HOWEVER there was NO lime. Today the lands are kept to certain PH levels by hauling and spreading lime.

Thinking about that I realized that entirely different varieties of hay were grown then. Ones that I no longer see.

My point is that very much is going to have to change. Way way back to what it was like back in the 30s and 40s.

I am agreeing with you on this. Many think of farming as just not too complicated. Its gotten real complicated and returning to the past is going to likewise be very complicated , if we can do it at all or let nature take its course, which might mean far far too long.

I speak of the upper south Mississippi valley region.

Calif and others are far different I would suppose.

Airdale-we have a big big turnaround if this country loses chemical nutrient inputs and I believe it will do so

As I understand it, Brazil's ethanol industry poses little threat to rainforest, as sugar cane does not grow well in the same soil types and climatic conditions. The threat that I have seen mentioned is the conversion of U.S. soy crops to corn crops, which has driven up the demand for imported soy - largely from Brazil, and rainforests are very much at threat from soy production. However it's hard to find verifiable facts from reputable sources on the issue.

I've thought quite a lot about municipal solid waste. Here in Seattle the dumps contain something like 80% construction debris. Of that, probably half is stuff like gypsum board. What is not construction debris is very low grade. I don't know if there are areas with "better" garbage, so to speak, but it really seems to me that garbage is hard to deal with.

Any kind of fresh vegetative biomass with high water content is hard to transport even very short distances, so we are sort of down to wood byproducts (sawdust, mill scraps, perhaps some direct line on sorted construction debris, and paper).

What about tree services? Does anyone know how many tons of wood chips are removed per day from a large city? Where do they go? Do they get paid for the chips, or are they a disposal problem? Large infrastructure projects always rip out large numbers of trees - where do they go?

Big construction firms pay huge dump fees. They can recycle clean wood, but perhpas if one were to allow free dumping of non-clean wood it might encourage them to supply you, but then how could you deal with it? How can one grind up a big timber that is full of bolts, drift pins, steel brackets, and is covered with lead paint?

One thing that has crossed my mind several times is whether there are specialty institutions that have better waste streams? Prisons? Postal service? Old phone books? Somewhere there is the ticket, but the trick is to find it.

I have said several times over the past few days that I have seen a least a hundred of these proposals, and only 2 or 3 of them looked like very good ideas. Of the 2 or 3, one of the other good ideas is your proposal. That's why I have helped you with it - I think it can succeed. I think the Choren process in Germany - and I have had a lot of interactions with them - has high potential but I think the capital costs right now are out of sight. And that process may fall victim to receding horizons. So while it is a good idea in principle, it may not be ultimately feasible.

There are other processes, like Robert Rohatensky's SHPEGS system:

That appear to me to be good ideas. But I don't have the expertise in that particular area to judge it. So you won't hear me weighing in on that one. I mostly just watch from the sidelines as the merits are debated. But no doubt, at least 95% of the stuff I see is immediately discardable. No further evaluation required.

In my experience, talking to the lay public, 99.999999% of ideas they throw at you will not work for any given field of science.

With scientists/eng/doc its closer to 99% non working ideas.

Cursory glances at even ideas I come up with; typically tossing away 9/10 of what I come up with.

/edit, i am heavily biased towards ideas i come up with ;)

/edit, i am heavily biased towards ideas i come up with ;)

So am I :-)

Best Hopes for Rational, and not Ego driven, Analysis,


(Repeat post from Drum Beat request, referring to Los Angeles CA as best potential location made by other posters. Some of the links have interesting data)

It looks like L.A. would be the winner....

I think this issue may be settled, unless anyone can come up with a better option than Los Angeles.....
Los Angeles produces 8,000 tons of garbage every day. With limited landfill space, LA was an early pioneer of curbside recycling. Currently, 62 per cent of waste is diverted from landfills and the goal is to increase that percentage to 70 per cent by 2015 through increased recycling programs and proposals to divert green waste to ethanol production facilities. mayorindexright243045238_05152007.pdf
“Shift from Waste Disposal to Resource Recovery. Recycle 70% of trash by 2015

Catalyze the Growth of the Green Economic Sector

Promote local research, development and production of green technology

Strengthen global economic relationships to secure investment in Los
Angeles’ green sector and help environmentally-focused companies
penetrate local and foreign markets

Identify locations for green businesses and offer effective incentives for the
growth of these businesses

Train residents of low and middle income communities, local university
students and participants in adult education programs for jobs in the green
There is a bit of an “Alternative Dialy Cover” controversy going on in LA, as Waste Management and some other waste disposers have been allowed to put a certain amount of “green waste” they collect on landfills as “ground cover” and get credit for it as though it were not being disposed of at landfills. Apparently, this system has been abused as they have used it as a method of waste dumping for green waste that they cold not otherwise easily dispose of. What this means in practical terms is that LA actually has more “green waste” for other use than the stats have been making it look like.

Given the market size of L.A. for llquid fuel, it's long history of support for "green" industries, top notch education system, and closeness to massive venture capital and investment possibilities, I can't imagine a better place.
And I am from Kentucky, so if anything I would be biased against L.A.

But fair is fair, they win the first consideration, hands down.

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Richard Branson is nominally spending 3billion dollars on ethanol projects,
and supporting innovative R&D and applications.
RB's an open entrepreneur I'd imagine proposals would be welcome-

On the 10th September 2006, following Richard's commitment at the Clinton Global Initiative to invest all proceeds from the groups transport industries, Virgin Trains and Virgin Atlantic, of an estimated $3 billion over the next 10 year into Bio-fuel Initiatives Richard Branson and Virgin announced the launch of Virgin Fuels.

Virgin Fuels will be delivering Richard's renewable energy strategy by investing up to $400 million dollars in renewable energy initiatives over the next three years.

Their first investment supports the group's belief that all businesses, especially those involved in transportation, must be at the forefront of developing environmentally friendly business strategies with a focus on replacing traditional energy with energy coming from renewable sources.

This first deal in this sector is an investment in Cilion, Inc. Cilion was formed in June 2006 to build and operate ethanol plants that will be cheaper and greener than standard corn-to-ethanol plants, as they substantially reduce the need for fossil fuels in ethanol production. Cilion plans to build seven plants by 2009 with a total of 440 million gallons per year capacity. The first three plants are expected to be in California.

Branson was discussed over the weekend. Khosla was discussed. I think this would be right up their alley. I think the consensus was that at some point Branson might be approached, but right now they still want to keep a tight lid on things.

Check out a radio interview with scientist David Fridley. He doesn't think any biofuel could get anywhere near the 50% displacement of gasoline, as you appear to, Robert. One amazing fact (if true) that he mentioned was that the US uses 100 quads of energy per year, mainly fossil fuels, but the amount of solar energy collected by all the plant life in the US is only up to 90 quads (that's all plant life, including crops and forest). Significant quantities appear to be a pipedream, no matter what process is used, though it might provide essential liquid fuels, once we decide just what it essential.

It's an interesting interview that covers a lot of ground, including cellulosic ethanol and the logistical problems (never mind the energy problems) of biofuels.


I just listened to that. Fascinating. He really shuts the door on biofuels.

He goes on to explain that of those 75-90 quads collected by plants, 25% is under control in the agriculture system and another 25% in human controlled forestry.

Of course this is just for the US but its still a very sobering number.

Rethin said,

“I just listened to that. Fascinating. He really shuts the door on biofuels.”

I have not listened to the interview yet (I am on dialup and it is 45 minutes long, so is still downloading, I can’t run it in streaming format, it would take all day!)

However, going by the numbers that sofistek quotes, there seems to be a lot of mixing of apples and oranges going on:
“He doesn't think any biofuel could get anywhere near the 50% displacement of gasoline, as you appear to, Robert.”
Now at this point, we seem to be talking only about gasoline. But in the very next sentence we get:
“One amazing fact (if true) that he mentioned was that the US uses 100 quads of energy per year, mainly fossil fuels, but the amount of solar energy collected by all the plant life in the US is only up to 90 quads (that's all plant life, including crops and forest).”

Now suddenly we switched to “US uses 100 quads of energy per year, mainly fossil fuels”. Suddenly we are talking about “energy” not just gasoline. That would include all energy, including oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, what renewables (solar and wind) plus our current biofuel production! So while the paragraph makes it sound like it, the U.S. in fact uses no where near 100 quads of gasoline or for that matter, any liquid fuel!
(the sentence itself gives that away with the words “mainly fossil fuels”, but as we see above, not all 100 quads are fossil fuels, and fossil fuels includes nat gas, oil and coal.

A rough guess would be gasoline use is no more than 20 to 25 quads (anyone have numbers? I am just calculating back from the total energy number given)

HOWEVER, David Fridley’s point is still very much on and to be taken very seriously. I will take his estimate of plant conversion of 90 quads at face value, it doesn’t sound far off, given the amount of the U.S. that is desert, high mountain and area covered by cities and highway. To try to replace a full 50% of U.S. gasoline use with biomass would indeed be a stretch, if possible at all, which is debatable.

The only way to even attempt making biofuel more than a marginal option would be:
(a) get more land into production of higher yielding crops/biomass
(b) recover far more biomass waste product
(c) through the use of grid based transportation with regenerative braking make the transportation system MUCH more efficient, thus reducing liquid fuel need
(d) Move to “confluence” in biomass production, i.e., using solar and wind imput as well as methane recovery.

Now what was that one other point that I was going to mention.:-?
Oh yeah, that’s it....just pour the money into solar to hydrogen production and skip this damm “death by 1000 conversions”, since it is the hydrogen in the biofuel that you are after anyway!

Interestingly, Pimental & Patzek, Honda Motor Corp and several European Community think tanks and research labs are coming to the same conclusion. However, as Robert Rapier seems to be working on, if waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill can be used rather that wasted to produce liquid fuel efficiently, that option should not be ignored. We need to close the waste loop and put all byproduct back into the productive stream if at all possible.

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

I have not listened to the interview yet

Why don't you just do us all a favor and actually listen to it first ok?

And if you are going to reply to my post, and write "Rethin said" can you at least have the common decency to quote me and not somebody else?

"“I just listened to that. Fascinating. He really shuts the door on biofuels.”

Rethin, wasn't that comment in your post? If you were quoting someone else, I did not see that noted.

"Why don't you just do us all a favor and actually listen to it first ok?"
I explained why I had not got to listen to it yet, or so I thought. However, the numbers given in this string concerning the interview were obviously inconsistant on the face of it.

If I had waited to mention that, this string of posts would (if other strings are any indication) been so long with fights and gibberish and long drawn out discussions about having to return to the use of horses for farming, mass starvation and the collapse into the "undoable gorge" or was it Uldoaval, or Unduvial? back to that later..... and then it would have been pointless to attempt to point up the inconsistant numbers that obviously were already here on this string of posts.

Oh, by the way,
""“I just listened to that. Fascinating. He really shuts the door on biofuels."

Just to check, are you sure that comment wasn't in your post?
(I just checked, the interview in question is getting close to a third downloaded, give it a couple of more hours, we can't all afford he newest technology out here in the country! :-)
Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

I reread your post and noted that you did attribute the second set of quotes to sofistek not me. sorry. I missed that the first time through.
It would have been much clearer if you had just responded to his post when quoting him.

Quite right, Roger. Apples and oranges. It was not my intention to mislead, so thanks for putting us straight. I understand oil has the highest energy density of all the energy sources we use, so your rough figure of 20-25 quads may be well out. I seem to remember a figure that about 40% of our energy is from oil. If so, some people will be seeking to turn about half of all plant life in the US into biofuel. If that is not unsustainable, I don't know what is.

"Waste" is a word invented by humans. Nothing really goes to waste, as far as the earth is concerned. Maybe we can find a way to extract just the energy from biomass, putting everything else back into the soil we need to grow our food and our oxygen. However, I'm not too hopeful on that.


According to this it is 26.5 quads


Great chart, I saved that one once from somewhere and then let it get away...I will save it again! :-)

Actually, that should be 39.2 Quads of oil (14.9+24.3), or about 39% of the 99.4 Quads of total primary energy use shown here.

Thanks, Sparaxis. It seems my recollections aren't way off the mark.

While your comment about nature is true, once something goes into a landfill, it is pretty much locked up away from natural processes of degradation and recycling. So, I don't think we are doing nature much of a failure by putting most of our crap in landfills.

But landfills exist, anyway, so I suppose the idea of getting some fuel from the stuff that would normally sit there in a landfill for decades, or maybe centuries would be a good idea.

Looking at the big picture, though, perhaps it would be more productive from an energy and resource standpoint, to reduce, reuse, and recycle in the first place.

Living in Boulder County, which has an excellent recycling program, I am able to recycle most of the packaging, for example, from the products I buy. However, the items I buy could be packaged in a way that used a lot less materials.


Given the existence of crap, it makes sense to recycle or get energy from that crap.

But let's work to reduce the amount of crap.

In the mean time, I will recyle all my agricultural related "waste" back into my garden. And some clean paper products, too, for that matter. My compost bin needs the carbon.

"if waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill can be used rather that wasted to produce liquid fuel efficiently, that option should not be ignored"

Hello? HELLO?

Test, Test... one, two, three.

Is this thing on?

I am afraid that your mute button is on.



He doesn't think any biofuel could get anywhere near the 50% displacement of gasoline, as you appear to, Robert.

I never said nor implied that. I said "less than 50%", as I was trying not to be particularly specific. Some immediately pounced on that as if I had said "50%".

Sorry about that, Robert. But "less than 50%" implies a number up to 50%. But even 20% looks like it might be wildly optimistic. And peak ethanol would happen very quickly.


But I also wrote "20% was my back of the envelope calculation." What that means is that literally on a piece of paper with no calculator I scratched out an ultimate potential of 20% - which could be more or less. I said less than 50% for no other reason than to make sure people understand that I am not suggesting that this can displace gasoline. It becomes incredibly frustrating to have your words nitpicked to the nth degree.

I need some information on biomass and subsidies. That's it. Some have provided that. I am putting together a folder. But I am not going to attempt to defend something that I am not at liberty to discuss in detail. I don't even know if my company will give me the thumbs up to work on this, but I have lodged an official request to do so.

I'm sorry you've taken it so hard, Robert. If you really did mean that there is a place for a little ethanol, then you need to choose your words more carefully. In another post, you claim to have anticipated this reaction. I find this hard to believe, since you would then not have worded things in quite the way you did.

Unfortunately, your words, in the post, give the impression that cellulosic ethanol could provide a significant proportion of our liquid fuel needs. If you don't believe this then please try to be explicit, rather than use phrasing that could be misunderstood.

I've already said that it could be useful for some essential liquid fuel uses. But we need to figure out just what is essential, first, before heading down what people other than yourself feel could be "the answer".


Unfortunately, your words, in the post, give the impression that cellulosic ethanol could provide a significant proportion of our liquid fuel needs.

No. That is your impression based on the way you see the world. When I say "less than 50%", that's what I mean. That you chose to read that as "50%" is not my problem. I did anticipate all sorts of negative reactions. And I thought "less than 50%" would be a clear enough indication that I did not think this was "the answer." But I have been around enough to know - even if you spell things out in explicit detail - people are going to misunderstand and misrepresent.

Some will lash out simply because they feel that their certainty of a doomed world is being challenged. So they read far more into what was written than they should, and they start making all sorts of silly conclusions - all based on practically zero information about the process. I guess what I should have written, to appease everyone, is "Not that we aren't all still doomed, but this is interesting."

It seems to me that there are several biomass streams which might be able to be used for such a scheme, but the possibility of them being "practical" does not make most of them by any means "desireable" from the point of view of sustainability, which I assume is your goal Robert, since you referenced your childrens future upthread.

In terms of significant tonnage we have:

1) "One time only" streams. This would be clearance of primary tropical forests to allow for bio-fuel plantations or other agriculture. One could imagine a modular bio-fuel plant that could be moved to follow the edge of the cleared forest to process the "waste" wood that would be otherwise burned. Might make money, but would provide an incentive for increased forest destruction, so not good for "sustainable" practice.

2) "Post consumer" streams i.e. such things the bio fraction of residential garbage. Turning these streams to ethanol robs from recycling and /or composting programs. Seems to me that increasing soil fertility close in to urban areas is a "greater good"

3) "Pre consumer" streams; Agriculture and Forestry: Again, as with residential composting it seems to me that the goal ought to be to get as much of the biomass back onto the soil as possible for fertility , but there may be cases.... Sludge from paper mills for example... may be 60% water thus energy expensive to use as process heat fuel or transport (even with recycling paper can only go through the loop a few times prior to its fiber length being broken down to the point where it's "scrap")

Not sure if your process would scale down to the point where it would make sense co-located at a paper mill using recycled feed stock?

Robert, I have my doubts about any industrial scale ethanol production having any significant net energy. Listen to the interview with David Fridley interview for the reasons.

However, a larger point is the notion that if humans were to develop the technology to expropriate even more of the biological productivity of the planet, and to redirect plant cellulose, which is the main source of life for the soil, into engines that go vrooom...well, that would really be it for all of us. We can live without vrooomy things, but not living soils.

I also happen to enjoy the existence of other species.

Have you ever read Kurt Vonegut? Ice 9? I have Ice 9 feelings about this sort of thing.

No. That is your impression based on the way you see the world.

Fair point, Robert, but from some other posts, I think you'll find it's a common impression and I'm surprised you would not have realised that such an impression could be given.

Jeez, guys, give the man RR a break. He is trying to accomplish something, not sniveling around. If Brazil can run cars on ethanol, we can too. And what if cars have high-compression (20-to-1) engines? The ethanol mpg goes up. Make the ethanol cars into PHEVs, and we use a couple gallons of ethanol to get us where 50 gallons of gasoline used to.
Good luck RR. It is nice to see an Aggie get somewhere in the world. And no more scare stories.

And as we all know, there is no higher goal of human existence than keeping the cars running.

Well, who decides what it is that mankind wants to do? You? If our fellow man has decided that cars make life more pleasant, are we to somehow overrule the free choice? I wholeheartedly concur that thr price signal must be modified so that our fellow man faces the true cost of running a car. Pollution etc, loss of energy security must be reflected in the price of gasoline.
But I dread when a even a well-meaning state decides for me what is best.
By the way, w/o subsidies and cars, the rural areas of the US would all but empty out. Only federal highways and electrification projects have made our rural areas reachable and bearable, and there can be no mass transit to rural areas. You would see a few towns clumped along railroad stations, and our cities would receive extra millions upon millions of immigrants, much as is going on all over rural Third World today.
W/o cars we become even more heavily an urban society, each of us dependent on state-run mass transit. Forget living in the country, forget ever vacationing anywhere you could not take a train to. Most people in Third World cicties never see the country. Too hard to get to.
Why give all that up, when PHEVs and biofuels allow each of us to choose how we want to live? You have your choices, and I have mine.
RR is doing something which increases our freedom of choice. For an Aggie, that is pretty good.

...we to somehow overrule the free choice?

Our auto-centric society is NOT the result of free choice, but of a long string of gov't policies and subsidies.

According to surveys linked by Lawrence Aurbach, 30% of Americans want to live in TOD but this free choice is denied them by gov't policies.

By the way, w/o subsidies and cars, the rural areas of the US would all but empty out

Excellent !! That is as it should be. Farmers should live in rural areas (perhaps with trips to town every other Friday if the weather was good) and not exurbanites commuting to city jobs (a majority of residents in many rural areas) using subsidized highways.

W/o cars we become even more heavily an urban society, each of us dependent on state-run mass transit. Forget living in the country, forget ever vacationing anywhere you could not take a train to

All good !

The first resorts in the Canadian Rockies were started by railroads with no road access. There were excursion trains to Niagara Falls, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon if memory serves me. MUCH more natural and beautiful without the cars and roads fouling the air and scenery.

Best Hopes for all ethanol going for essential transportation and none to the waste beloved by Benjamin Cole,


I think huge bonfires, made up of ethanol infused wood, are a good idea. Then I could read by the nightlight created. The Big Easy? You guys don't even know how to build a levee. And you are offering advice on surviving urban living? In a solar-powered houseboat?
Pump out the bilgewater, Alan. I think your hold is still flooded.

Thanks for the insults, which also show, once again, your ignorance as well as your lack of class.

The US Army was given responsibility for designing and building the New Orleans levees in 1928. The local levee boards were responsible fro maintenance under US Army supervision (but no breaches were due to maintenance failures, just design failures). It was a federal flood and not a local failure. The blame is squarely on those responsible, the Army of the United States of America.

Yet you blame the victims. Contempt is too mild a word for my feelings towards that attitude. I am sure that you also believe all rape victims richly deserved it.

Pre-Katrina, New Orleans was tied with New York City for fewest miles driven by residents. A most useful fact as we head towards post-Peak Oil. NYC is one solution, New Orleans is another. I would argue that we have the more livable, human scale and enjoyable solution of the two equivalent solutions.

Much of New Urbanism theory was developed by observing New Orleans and a few other cities in the US and more abroad. I have been told that New Orleans had a greater impact on New Urbanism than any other community.

I can see that showing some comity towards you was sadly misplaced,



As posted on the Drumbeat thread I'd suggest with the stranglehold that corn ethanol has over the US marketplace, that it would be sensible to look elsewhere for development. Too many vested political interests ready to trip things up.

Specifically, I would look at the EU and the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) as a way of both funding development work, and making the connections that allow scalable development into EU businesses/industry. Is a great excuse for making the connections, and being supported in doing it.

First calls of this are out now, and one of the thematic priorities is "Renewable fuel production". Of course, there is bureaucracy, but there is also a total of 2.3 billion euro in funding for the energy theme as a whole.

Let us know if you need specific pointers.

Robert I really find your posts very informative. Keep up the good work.

Maybe we should think along the lines of - it would be more efficient if we just set fire to the planet and ran a really big stirling engine because the long term effect of this technological approach is just about the same. Unfortunately this is just another misallocation of funds and research into an environmentally devasting activity. We can only take, take, take for so long before its all gone.

I don't know what it is about you and trolls, but you attract them and they stick around, and you argue with them. They are not worth the trouble. It really detracts from the message in the thread.

I really enjoy your posts, but think you need to spend time with your family first. I've never regreted any time I've spent with mine, only the times when I couldn't be with them. Loving people and being loved seems to help anyone be more balanced as a human being. And my breakthroughs always seem to come from my unconcious, its often better to let it work while I focus my attention on something else.

As far as waste streams, try the Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia area. The upper Chesapeake bay has both excellent water and rail transportation. All the government agencies have huge streams of paper waste, and the military bases too. Plus, the military has the manpower to sort their garbage. The final bit is political-the company would be in a great position to get subsidies. Just on photo opportunities with politicians wanting to appear green it would help. There would be a steady market for the ethanol at the New Jersey refineries, and the transport costs by barge would be a lot less expensive than corn ethanol from the midwest.


I rarely see the word "water" and "irrigation" mentioned in the context of crop growth for biofuel production.
Worldwide, 70% of all water use is agricultural irrigation, according to the UN World Water Development Report ( (22-23% is used for industry, and the remaining 7-8% is domestic use.) In the US, irrigation uses 80%, and in the dry western states 90%, according to the USDA.
Where should that freshwater water come form to irrigate all those areas to produce biofuel crops? Large-scale biofuel production will upset the freshwater balance of entire continents and create serious water shortages for domestic use, with all the socio-economic consequences that go with it.

I wouldn't be too hasty in your assessment...

Jatropha curcas for instance -grown specifically for biofuels- is a drought tolerant perennial and arguably much better for the water table and environment than say, GM wheat grown for human consumption.

Organic DECs (dedicated energy crops) grown per Tilman's biodiverse plotting and in coordination with a Terra Preta or biochar replenishment program, is but a tiny sample of the bioeconomy that will expand by leaps and bounds as we surf the backside of Hubbert's Peak.

I am certainly no expert on theese matters, but as a layman i am wondering, if not strait burning of the biomass(wood) isn´t the most effective means to use the energy instead of processing the biomass to something else, using energy for that conversion. We did that during WWII in cars equipped with gengas aggregates, when woodchips burned slowly generating gas for the car engine.

Perhaps there could be a modern more effective solution how to take care of the energy from burning wood. Then many people could take care of their own fuel needs for shorter car trips.

Then of cource that don´t rule out the need for liquid fuels from biomass, and EV:s.

Direct burning of wood for heating of a home is IMO the most effective way to use biomass for heating energy. Why not for transportation limited range?

EDIT: This would of cource only be practical for limited use in rural areas, but nevertheless one bit in the puzzle.

Can this process use non-cellulose bio-hydrocarbons such as lignin ?

Answer me by private eMail if need be. This affects yields from sugar cane and rice hulls (just called Statistics at Louisiana Dept. of Agriculture).

Just FYI

Wood is mainly carbohydrates , cellulose, hemicellulose polymers polysaccharides

The chemical composition of wood

cellulose 40-45%

lignin 20-30%

hemicelluloses 20-35%

pectin 2%

resin, etc 10% or less

Best Hopes,


I can´t tell. I only know, that we used woodchips in gengas aggregates durin WWII, when we were under blockades from oiltransports. The gas generated in a special aggregate with slow burning wood chips mounted outside the back of the car, was fed to the combustion motor, and it worked, but it was a messy buisnness to handle it. And they had to have sacks with wood chips in the car.

But with modern tecknik i suppose we could develope something better, and perhaps use the heat instead of the gas? It would be something for rural population, if they could fix their own wood chips. Ceartainly it can be done in some way now, when it could be done during WWII.


Yes, they created a mis of carbon monoxide and some more complex evaporates from wood. I saw an old Mercedes one (the Germans mounted it on the front bumper) on eBay. It worked better on the low compression engines of the 1930s than today's engines.

It would be quite difficult (IMHO) to pass modern pollution requirements with this. But if it is used in rural areas, that is less of a concern.

Perhaps a prototype should be developed now, doing the best that we can with modern technology.

The Swiss also converted over 1,000 farm tractors to this system.

Best Hopes for all alternatives,


RR, as I said yesterday, not sure if this helps but take a look:

I work next to a municipality's dumping yard for woodchips and I can say they maintain a small mountain at all times. The city has tried to make mulch out of them for landscapers to buy but still it leaves a good portion of the unusable bits in a mountain of their own that need to be disposed of somehow. Multiply this mountain by the number of cities and that is a considerable supply. Its transportation that would create a bottle neck for biomass energy use. Anyone industrious enough to try and use biomass for measurable saleable energy creation would need to figure out a way to balance the needs for disposal and the cost to transport a low density fuel source. They would also have to be politically savy enough to herd the cats of local governance into a semi-centralized planning regimen.

Why not just burn it on site to produce electricity and dump it into the grid? save all the haulage energy loss...

...but then it couldn't be used to maintain America's non-negotiable way of life based on the internal combustion engine

I know you have repeatedly said that you cannot give out details of the process, but I have to ask anyway:

Is there an upper limit or required range of moisture content of the feedstock?

Google "Wood as engine fuel", there you get many answers.

Try Georgia Pacific. They have large managed forests and lots of wood/paper products. Probably have concentrated wood waste streams. Murray


A thought for you WRT potential biomass sources:

The NC furniture industry generates a lot of wood wastes. I don't know much about it, but a quick Google* suggests that this is a problem they are trying to reduce. Killing two birds with one stone is usually a promising opportunity to explore.

* A couple of sites found:

Good luck Robert. I hope you prove all of my prognistications right, then one day I can say I told you so :)

To find out about subsidies read about Iogen's experiences. The articles I read always talk about the states and Canadian provinces that were battling to attract their facilities. Just get these places to battle over you.

I would also look at Iowa. They love corn; but they understand it won't work forever and they have generous grants to set up cellulose ethanol plants.

California would be able to help you except we didn't pass that legislation that you fought against.

California would be able to help you except we didn't pass that legislation that you fought against.

I didn't fight against it. I fought against the misconceptions that were being thrown out there. I never came out and said that I wouldn't vote for it. It would have been hard, given the lengths the proponents went to to paint my industry as the antichrist.

I told Vinod Khosla then, I told him more recently, and I told Ana Unruh Cohen, who helped write the proposal that next time instead of going out of their way to antagonize oil companies, they should try to engage them. I think I could have written something that would have passed pretty easily and raised the same amount of money. The difference is that I wouldn't be dishonest with the taxpayers by suggesting that it wouldn't raise their gas prices. What ultimately torpedoed it was that it was uncertain how much it would raise gas prices. Proponents tried to paint it as a free lunch, but I think voters ultimately realized this was not true.

Incidentally, it is funny to find myself the recipient of some of the attitude that is usually reserved for you, Syntec, and Practical. I find it interesting that some have positions that are so incredibly entrenched, that any time they feel those positions threatened they lash out. Happens on both sides, and I have gotten it from both sides. But you guys aren't going to have ole RR to kick around for much longer. :-) I got an early furlough. I am flying back to the states on Friday. Then I am bowing out.

Intrigued to say the least Robert and I look forward to full disclosure on the technology in due course.

Seems a little odd that the group in question has structure, financial backing and an operational demo plant even, but has yet to identify where the first commercial plant should be built.

They know where they want to put it. We discussed this, and there is one pretty obvious candidate. I am really looking for 2 things. First, to make sure the commercial proving ground is done in the best possible environment. Second, to start sketching up a longer term plan.

I will say again that the technology is working commercially in another industry. They have tested it with cellulosic ethanol (a number of pilot runs) and they blow the current cellulosic technology out of the water. That's why I am talking to them. And I put in an official query with my company yesterday to be able to work with them. If the company says no, then I am stuck (I won't leave and go live in London).

Incidentally, I have been expecting that you would chime in. I presume you know the lay of the land on these matters.

RR: I mistakenly attached this to a previous thread, I was referring the question to you.

Is there an upper limit or required range of moisture content of the feedstock?

Bob, dry is better. I am sure there is an upper limit, but I don't know that this has been tested. Wet wastes are a definite no.

I don't think this applies to a pilot project but I think it's a fundamental error in logic to look for bi-product feedstock.

You laid out some of the issues that TDP had with feedstock assumptions and corn ethanol had the fundamental flaw of assuming corn was going to continue in a surplus and going to stay at $2/bu regardless of demand. It's a logic error in initial planning to look for something "cheap" or "free" supplied by another industry. They may be paying to have it hauled away now, but if an industry gets built that can use the bi-product the feedstock will be subject to supply and demand and capitalism kicks in. At least fuel-from-"waste" generally doesn't cause the food supply issues of fuel-from-food, but everything still has to compete with traditional petroleum and the bitumen/coal/etc schemes and if you create a demand for something, it will no longer be cheap.

This is why I've been stuck on solar/geo thermal built from common materials for electricity and structure heating/cooling.

For a liquid fuel cellulose feedstock, what I would recommend for something sustainable and scalable is alfalfa and a grass intercropped on marginal land and a renewable electric powered harvesting system. The combination of a deep rooted legume and a shallow grass prevents wind erosion, removes the nitrogen fertilizer input of other crops and from my experience locally, it's reasonable to expect 6-10 years of good alfalfa/brome hay without plowing/reseeding.

I was asking about moisture content, because it is possible to dessicate alfalfa topgrowth without killing the plant. I had an alfalfa seed grower renting for several years and they use Leafcutter bees to cross-pollinate and then spray the mature alfalfa with Reglone (a desiccant) and then harvest the seed without pre-cutting/drying as in regular hay. Desiccating isn't a cheap alternative, but it would be a harvest option that may simplify the consistent moisture content and harvest equipment.

My whole suggestion:

  • Wind and/or solar thermal collectors in alfalfa fields on marginal farmlands
  • Battery powered, renewably charged automated harvesting 'bots
  • Renewable electric light rail infrastructure from field-to-plant where possible, renewable electric heavy trucks elsewhere

This is about the best feedstock idea that comes to mind.

This January California established a low carbon fuel standard which mandates a 10% cut in transportation fuel emmissions by 2020. This is intended to support the development of alternative fuels.

On the feed stock side a few years ago the air pollution people banned the burning of rice straw. California's Sacramento Valley is a major producer of rice. Farmers have had to find alternative ways to dispose of the straw. A company called Arkenol proposed to produce ethanol by acid hydrolysis but I don't know if their plant ever got built. Another company, Colusa Biomass Energy Corporation also wants to do this and claims to be able to harvest straw for $10/ton. They might not have started building their ethanol plant yet, so they might be interested in your technology. Note that the rice straw is contaminated with silica, which is often a problem for its use.

California also has 30 plants converting ag waste into electricity and steam.

UC Berkeley recently got a large amount of money for biofuels R+D.

Local VCs (not just Khosla) are throwing all sorts of money at lots of alternative energy ideas. I think the founder of EBay and the founders of Google are interested in this kind of thing. Paul Allen's Vulcan Investments may also be into it.

Note that California has very strict air pollution laws and that water supplies are fiercely fought over. There is a lot of environmental law and power prices are high.

Some areas collect garden waste and compost it so that is another potential source of feedstock.

In other parts of the world the forest products industry generates a lot of waste wood and bark and sawdust and which are fed into boilers to generate steam for process heating. When biomass shows up in energy statistics that is where it is coming from.

Khosla has funded a plant in Georgia using those kind of feedstocks.

My recommendation would be the palm oil plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia. They process huge amounts of empty fruit bunches for the oil they eventually get from the fruit.

The waste all has to be chopped up and is generally sent to places like paper mills, which means if you colocated you would have a preferential supply of something that otherwise had to be shipped off site.

Also, they already have contacts with all the biofuel companies you would need to sell the end product.

One question for you:

Can this great new process you have discovered be implemented at the village/farm level, or does it require a hundred trillion dollar factory? I have serious doubts any process that requires substantial capital will be able to make a significant contribution (other than a significant contribution to the wallet of the inventor, which helps him but leaves the rest of us freezing in the dark). So for all of us readers on this list who believe that any realistic solution in the future will require localization, what is the smallest size that you believe would be practical for this process?

Tom In Thailand

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2007 farm bill proposals include $1.6 billion in new funding for renewable energy research, development, and production. Special attention is to be given to cellulosic ethanol.

A May 4 press release from Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty describes the $170 million Agriculture and Veterans Omnibus Bill supporting the Next Generation Energy Board and providing grants totaling $1.4 million for biomass energy.

Broin Companies’ Voyager Ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa, will make use of Broin’s fractionation technology combined with their raw starch hydrolysis process.

Biomass for the plant will come from corn stover, the stalks that remain after the corn has been harvested. It is classified as lignocellulosic biomass.

Biomass research by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Dupont CRADA worked on a corn stover pretreatment and microbial biocatalysts.

Broin Cos. will receive up to $80 million to build a biorefinery that would make fuel from corn cobs as well as corn kernels in Emmetsburg. The completed project would produce 125 million gallons of ethanol a year from cobs and kernel hulls as well as the starch that is in grain. Construction will take 30 months and could be completed in 2009.

The Vogager ethanol plant is one of six receiving support from the U.S. Department of Energy. Other plants receiving grants are located in Idaho, Kansas, Georgia, California, and Florida.

Jerry Perkins & Philip Brasher, “Iowa scores an ethanol coup.” Des Moines
Register, November 21, 2006.

Philip Brasher, “Iowa ethanol biorefinery gets $80 million grant.” Des Moines
Register, February 28, 2007.

Brian Merchant
St. Paul, MN

Corn prices doubled with the use of corn in ethanol. Milk prices are up more than 15% this year. Food prices are up 6% over the past 12 months.

Ethanol produced 27% fewer miles per gallon than gasoline. Methanol/methyl alcohol produced 2/3 fewer BTU's than ethanol. Methanol (cellulose alcohol) was used on a limited basis during WWII as a gasoline additive as the allies had cut Germany's gasoline supply lines.

It was like trying to extract gold from seawater. It sounded good to the naive, but in reality was not economical, even if it was physically possible.

In addition to palm oil for biodiesel, corn and sugarcane for ethanol, there were some programs to grow rapeseed (mustard family oilseed) for biodiesel. It costs more than regular diesel therefore there is not a market for it.

Wood has been used to heat homes in the northern USA in wood burning stoves for thousands of years. It is yet economical for those with woodlots and spare time to use it to heat their homes. Third world nations used much wood for cooking. In deforested areas livestock took much of the available cellulose for milk production. The poor people gathered weeds and grass for use in their small open air hearths.

Please consider:

The downscaleability of the process (could it go on a smaller acre operation like 40 acres/120 acres because the shipping of ag wastes off the land for processing can lead to soil quality issues. Small operations per farm means left overs will go back to the land it came from).
Can it have a plant pay-off of under 10 yearS?
The failure modes (if driven by bio-critters, what happens when they escape? See history)
How much of the process could be driven by solar - heat inputs via heilostats, motors powered by PV/wind. Can the process 'wait' if the solar power/wind was not there? (using variable non man controlled power inputs to create a energy source that is long-term-storable and releasable as man wants)

Of all of these, I worry most about the failure modes.

Sailorman is back. (Rejoice:-)

Consider Minnesota as a place to build a cellulosic ethanal plant because:
1. We have lots and lots of timber and other biomass.

2. Minnesota is extremely gung-ho on corn based ethanol.

3. Our Republican governor and Democratic legislature are both very pro-ethanol and pro-business environment.

4. Minnesota is a very good place to live.

5. If you come to Minnesota, then I can teach you and your wife to sail. After all, one of the questions we should all ask is: What am I going to do more of after peak oil that uses little fossil fuel and is fun, fun, fun. All right, but you can't have sex 24/7 . . . probably. Therefore it is my plan to encourage more people to sail more, something I've been doing since 1963 and plan to continue doing until I get old and decrepit.

(By the way, the North Sea is an excellent place to learn sailing, navigation and piloting in bad weather.)

The high price of enzymes

The price of enzymes used to turn cellulose to sugar are not such that cellulose ethanol might be economically practical at this time. Promises that the cost of enzymes might be reduced by mass production seem strangely like the claims made for photvoltaic cells. It was thought that mass produciton techniques might make solar cells a cheap alternative to nuclear or coal generated power. So far the consumers seem to like nuclear and coal generated electricity better.

In order to get the feedstock, one would need wood chips. Wood chips were currently used in particle board for construction and were not free. Switch grass might have to compete with corn, wheat, and soybeans for acreage in some areas and timber in other areas. With corn at $4.00 a bushel and perhaps climbing the once "cheap" switchgrass is not longer cheap. Dairy costs have increased rapidly. Alfalfa and other feeds were being affected by increased demand for corn.

The harvesting of hardwood stands for cordwood has reduced stands of mature timber. Harvesting of softwoods for pulp and framing timber has reduced mature stands of coniferous forests.

After the sugars in the wood were released by acid or enzyme treatment, the cellulose-ethanol premash had to be fermented. Then it leads you back to needing natural gas or nuclear powered (pebble reactor) stills. Compressed natural gas is a ready substitute for gasoline as it is. Natural gas in auto use is growing worldwide.


Your request for help herein is difficult to digest for most folks. They keep thinking that you really mean cellulosic ethanol when I feel that you are getting knee deep into something that might be gas-to-liquids or GTL technologies instead. There have been bigshot billionaires going after lingo-cell grants when indeed that is not at all what the technology they rant about - is really all about - even though cellulose might be a carbon feedstock for such new and old thermal conversion processes. I want to see these bigshots isolate ethanol from their blends of mixtures...

Alcohols are formed using carbon, hydrogen and one oxygen atom in each molecule. It is the oxygen which makes the alcohols biodegradable, water soluble and oil soluble too.

Corn ethanol is a very inefficient 4-day batch fermentation process. Ligno-cellulosic is an even further inefficient 7-day batch fermentation process where occassional batches are lost to contamination by mother nature's own biological bugs and the yields, when harvested are less on a volumetric basis for ethanol actually produced. Seven daze is too long to cook the porriage herein. The ligno-process utilizing carbon in corn stalks vs: carbon in corn kernals takes an extra acidic enzyme to break down and convert those stalkly carbons into long-chained sugars. Then yeasts are used to close the loop and ferment these sugars into ethanol which much be highly distilled, typically nearly 90% volumes in order to get the water out - then clean the tanks and begin another batch process.

When people think about ligno - they immediately think about growing some crop and then somehow converting it by fermentation into ethanol. This has become a literal buzzword this past year and the lynchpin to ligno is getting a better and cheaper acidic enzyme to break down the stalks on the front-end of this inefficient back-end fermentation process.

The waste feedstocks you are thinking about isolating like society's waste streams can be coupled with gasified coal, petroleum coke bottoms, tires, other carbon-containing materials as well. It is just the carbon atoms which are isolated in a totally different mechanism and then re-arranged through catalysis into longer, stronger Btu alcohols.

To me, you are now likely moving along this particular path and I wouldn't be surprised to learn the names of those from London asking for your help. I think I've dealt with some of them before where they were all talk and no money.

Best of luck - I'm sure that reuniting with your family will interfere with your progress herein.

Gary Bridge