Grass Makes Better Ethanol than Corn Does

Discussion in 'Chemistry' started by kmguru, Jan 19, 2008.

1. kmguruStaff Member

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Grass Makes Better Ethanol than Corn Does
Midwestern farms prove switchgrass could be the right crop for producing ethanol to replace gasoline

By David Biello

Farmers in Nebraska and the Dakotas brought the U.S. closer to becoming a biofuel economy, planting huge tracts of land for the first time with switchgrass—a native North American perennial grass (Panicum virgatum) that often grows on the borders of cropland naturally—and proving that it can deliver more than five times more energy than it takes to grow it.

Working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the farmers tracked the seed used to establish the plant, fertilizer used to boost its growth, fuel used to farm it, overall rainfall and the amount of grass ultimately harvested for five years on fields ranging from seven to 23 acres in size (three to nine hectares).

Once established, the fields yielded from 5.2 to 11.1 metric tons of grass bales per hectare, depending on rainfall, says USDA plant scientist Ken Vogel. "It fluctuates with the timing of the precipitation,'' he says. "Switchgrass needs most of its moisture in spring and midsummer. If you get fall rains, it's not going to do that year's crops much good."

But yields from a grass that only needs to be planted once would deliver an average of 13.1 megajoules of energy as ethanol for every megajoule of petroleum consumed—in the form of nitrogen fertilizers or diesel for tractors—growing them. "It's a prediction because right now there are no biorefineries built that handle cellulosic material" like that which switchgrass provides, Vogel notes. "We're pretty confident the ethanol yield is pretty close." This means that switchgrass ethanol delivers 540 percent of the energy used to produce it, compared with just roughly 25 percent more energy returned by corn-based ethanol according to the most optimistic studies.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is partially funding the construction of six such cellulosic biorefineries, estimated to cost a total of $1.2 billion. The first to be built will be the Range Fuels Biorefinery in Soperton, Ga., which will process wood waste from the timber industry into biofuels and chemicals. The DOE is providing an initial$50 million to start construction.

MORE...

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hmm..

5. draqonBannedBanned

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after the corn was gone...we began munching our own grass

and than...

the humans came to see themselves as power...

7. kmguruStaff Member

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Is it just a simple hmm.. or a deep thought hmm.. ?

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ummm?

9. KilljoyPropelling The Farce!!Valued Senior Member

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`
Switchgrass doesn't have a powerful lobby shoving cash into the pockets of US Scoundrels and Recidivists... ( aka - Senators and Representatives )

Isn't the cellulosic process yet to be perfected in a manner which would make it commercially viable, though ?

10. domesticated omInterplanetary homesteaderValued Senior Member

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Only needs to be planted once? I take it the harvesting instrument is probably going to be a giant lawnmower w/bag.

It also says "there are no biorefineries built that handle cellulosic material". I wonder why there is a difference between fermenting-distilling sawgrass and fermenting-distilling corn? Mash is mash right?

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Because there's a MAJOR difference between cellulose and starch, that's why. Starch in corn is easily broken down into sugars and then converted to alcohol by yeasts but cellulose is very, very tough material!

12. kmguruStaff Member

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Conventional ethanol and cellulosic ethanol are the same product, but are produced utilizing different feedstocks and processes. Conventional ethanol is derived from grains such as corn and wheat or soybeans. Corn, the predominant feedstock, is converted to ethanol in either a dry or wet milling process. In dry milling operations, liquefied corn starch is produced by heating corn meal with water and enzymes. A second enzyme converts the liquefied starch to sugars, which are fermented by yeast into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Wet milling operations separate the fiber, germ (oil), and protein from the starch before it is fermented into ethanol.

Cellulosic ethanol can be produced from a wide variety of cellulosic biomass feedstocks including agricultural plant wastes (corn stover, cereal straws, sugarcane bagasse), plant wastes from industrial processes (sawdust, paper pulp) and energy crops grown specifically for fuel production, such as switchgrass. Cellulosic biomass is composed of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, with smaller amounts of proteins, lipids (fats, waxes and oils) and ash. Roughly, two-thirds of the dry mass of cellulosic materials are present as cellulose and hemicellulose. Lignin makes up the bulk of the remaining dry mass.

As with grains, processing cellulosic biomass aims to extract fermentable sugars from the feedstock. But the sugars in cellulose and hemicellulose are locked in complex carbohydrates called polysaccharides (long chains of monosaccharides or simple sugars). Separating these complex polymeric structures into fermentable sugars is essential to the efficient and economic production of cellulosic ethanol.

Two processing options are employed to produce fermentable sugars from cellulosic biomass. One approach utilizes acid hydrolysis to break down the complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. An alternative method, enzymatic hydrolysis, utilizes pretreatment processes to first reduce the size of the material to make it more accessible to hydrolysis. Once pretreated, enzymes are employed to convert the cellulosic biomass to fermentable sugars. The final step involves microbial fermentation yielding ethanol and carbon dioxide.

13. kmguruStaff Member

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One type of process

14. draqonBannedBanned

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sweet chart, kmguru

15. Billy TUse Sugar Cane Alcohol car FuelValued Senior Member

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Kmguru's post 9 is completely accurate and nicely concise, but he omitted three important facts.

1) He failed to mention that sugar cane, sugar beets and few others avoid all the steps required to breakdown the complex molecules in to sugar and hence have a very significant economic advantage over other feed stocks. Furthermore, although the acid hydrolysis process probably can produced sugars from more different feed stocks (than the enzymatic process) and acids are cheaper than enzymes to make, it produces at least several different sugars, not only one as enzymes tend to do. Thus, although getting sugars may be cheaper via acid hydrolysis, converting them to alcohol is more complex as different yeasts are required. Which route to cellulosic alcohol is cheaper no one now knows and both are being tested is larger than lab scale.

2) He mentioned lignin, but failed to note it must be separated and as yet does not have an economically viable market. Lignin has lots of potential uses. It is the basic "glue" that holds the fibers of plants together. - Nature's composite structures like man's fiber glass, etc. Year of research trying to utilize lignin have concluded:

"You can make anything from Lignin, except money."

Thus, the removal of lignin is also an extra expense for the cellulosic alcohol route.

3) He did not mention the obvious fact that if alcohol is to be efficient, then most of the energy it contains must be solar energy transformed into stored chemical energy, not chemical energy stored originally in fossil fuels. When corn is used at least 90% of the energy in the alcohol is just transformed oil energy and many with no economic interest in the corn based alcohol (like Cornell & UCLA groups making detailed analysis) believe that more oil energy is required than ends up in the alcohol. Not only is this potentially a way to INCREASE man's contribution to global warming by increasing the CO2 but more importantly biologic processes acting on the fertilizer required for economic production of corn in USA (short growing seasons regions in general) produce very significant nitrogen oxide compounds. When they are considered along with the CO2 corn based alcohol is 4 to 8 times worse than simply using gasoline from a global warming POV.

Also sugar cane, corn, and a few others use the more efficient 4 step process for converting solar energy into chemical energy. I do not think switch grass does. Furthermore the Iowa corn must try to store the chemical energy more quickly as the growing season is shorter and this make it less efficient than tropical sugar cane even though both have about the same leaf area and use the 4 step process. I.e. nothing beats sugar cane as an economical solar energy system.

Fortunately, the economics of sugar cane based alcohol are so much better than corn based alcohol (when neither receives government subsidies) that eventually the US will cease the current stupidity of sending dollars to countries that support the terrorist and buy alcohol from tropical lands. I.e. US will remove the tariff wall of 54cents/ gallon and terminate the huge subsidies to US produced alcohol (>$1.00/gallon when farm subsidies are included with the direct gifts to the distillation facility owners). You could be driving for half the current cost per mile if GWB were not trying to appear to be doing something but actually making sure nothing reduces the imports of oil from his friends and biggest$ campaign supporters in Saudi Arabia, which uses part of the oil money to fund the "religious" (hate America) training schools that supplied 15 of the 19 members of the "9/11 crew." It is difficult to find a LESS democratic, more feudal society than Saudi Arabia, but of course, GWB said nothing about this or the abuses, especially of women, even embodied in Saudi Law during his just completed visit. Instead GWB agreed to send 20billion dollars more of weapons to his good Saudi friends.

More details along these lines in old Thread: "How DUMB can US Voters be?"

Last edited by a moderator: Jan 21, 2008
16. kmguruStaff Member

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Billy is correct in that alcohol from Sugar Cane is more efficient than from Corn. However, the news is about what is happening in USA where there is limited Sugarcane availability. Because complaints about the use of corn, fertilizers etc., companies are testing Switchgrass as the feed stock. How efficient this process is, time will tell. The objective here is to be energy independent and not more imports.

17. Billy TUse Sugar Cane Alcohol car FuelValued Senior Member

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Why not import it INSTEAD OF supporting the terrorists by importing oil?

GWB's corn alcohol subsidies and tariffs against a rational energy import behavior, which would reduce both oil imports and the cost of driving by ~50%, actually caused US's alcohol imports from Brazil in 2007 to decrease 14% from the 2006 quanity! GWB and Saudi Arabia are killing the US in more ways than one. Again: How DUMB can US voters be?

BTW the yield per acre of sugar cane alcohol will soon increase 15% thru good genetic work done in Brazil. Cane geneticly modified for higher sugar content is now in field demonstrations:

"Cane Technology Center (CTC), a private firm based in the state of Sao Paulo, made a great step forward in February 2007 by obtaining approval from the Brazilian authorities for field trials with three varieties of genetically modified cane. According to the organisation, these GM plants have been modified to exhibit sucrose levels 15 % higher than those of ordinary sugar cane – for now, under laboratory conditions. ...

The development of CTC’s high-sucrose GM plants builds on the success of the Brazilian Sugar Cane EST Genome Project (SUCEST). This project was funded by FAPESP, the Sao Paulo State research agency, and was carried out by several Brazilian universities between 1998 and 2003. Scientists used project results to establish one of the most comprehensive databases integrating genome sequences for this crop. Subsequently, with cooperation of the Cane Technology Center (CTC), the Lucelia Central Alcohol Distillery, and various Brazilian universities, a new project was launched to analyse more than 2,000 genes of sugar cane. Researchers found and patented 200 target genes related to the accumulation of saccharose in the plant.

Other biotech companies also are interested in the potentially large market of GM sugar canes. The local company Allellyx is such an example, and still is awaiting approval from the Brazilian authorities to conduct field trials with several sugar cane varieties. Equally, the governmental linked agricultural research firm EMBRAPA, as well as the US multinational company Monsanto, also newly have expressed interest in stepping up research in this area.
... "
From:
http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/news/stories/273.gmos_fuelling_brazilian_future.html

SUMMARY:

THE ALREADY BEST IS GETTING BETTER!

Last edited by a moderator: Jan 21, 2008
18. kmguruStaff Member

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Who has excess alcohol for sale that does not need for their own people?

19. Billy TUse Sugar Cane Alcohol car FuelValued Senior Member

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Brazil has a glut - Most alcohol producers are hurting big time as the price they can get has fallen.* Twenty nine new distilation facilities that were planed have been cancelled.

Headline across the 20Jan07 front page of the financial section of my news paper (Folio do Sao Paulo) translates as:

"Alcohol frustrates investors and producers."

Article states the expectation that even with this cancellation of facilities, the production will exceed local demand by 20% until 2010. etc.

Stock in the largest producer, COSAN was 36R$/ sh about 6 months ago - it is now 23R$.** I bought shares in the third largest producer back then and was showing a loss until about two weeks ago. Strangely it is now showing a profit for me. (Someone is quitely trying to take them over, I think.)
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*In March 2006 alcohol sold forR$1.25/ Liter. It is now R$0.71 - data from same article. Two interior pages told more about the glut also.
**In dollar the fall has been ev en greater as now it takes perhaps 15 or 20% more dollars to buy 0.71 Real than it did in March 06. George Sores probably has lost about a billion Dollars by taking a big position in Brazil's alcohol production about a year ago.

Last edited by a moderator: Jan 21, 2008
20. kmguruStaff Member

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In that case, can you name the major suppliers and their contact information?

21. Billy TUse Sugar Cane Alcohol car FuelValued Senior Member

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COSAN is number one. I forget who is number two. San Martino is number three (I own 2500 sh of them, which I bought at R$26.23/sh, roughly$45,000 back then, but ~50K now as dollar continues to drop in value.)

I will go to bloomberg and look up their symbols for you (I have been wanting to see them both on same graph to make myself feel good, finally, about chosing #3 anyway.)
later by edit: Bloomberg not responding: San Martino has stock symbol SMTO3, but at to see it at Bloomberg, etc must add .br The maker of the cane processing and distillation equipment for much of the world is Dedini. I really wanted to buy them, but they are private still. Name search on COSAN to get symbol, I think it may be COSO3 or COSO4.

Last edited by a moderator: Jan 21, 2008
22. kmguruStaff Member

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Do you know anyone at San Martino. May be we can do something for them that will help your stock holdings. Could not find San Martino at http://www.distill.com/brazil.html

23. Billy TUse Sugar Cane Alcohol car FuelValued Senior Member

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I keep news files on most of the 60 or so companies (mainly small early stage drug developers) I own. Try:
SMTO3 at www.saomartinho.ind.br
I think you can ask for most there in English.
Go to the investor relations page and then to "Why San Martino?" I think they are the best. Some of their big new facility is Japanese financed and for 30 years Japan get 30% of the production - these numbers from memory - may not be correct.

Last edited by a moderator: Jan 21, 2008