My Green Gasoline

By Josh Painter Posted in Comments (25) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »

News item:

ScienceDaily (Apr. 8, 2008) — Researchers have made a breakthrough in the development of "green gasoline," a liquid identical to standard gasoline yet created from sustainable biomass sources like switchgrass and poplar trees...

While it may be five to 10 years before green gasoline arrives at the pump or finds its way into a fighter jet, these breakthroughs have bypassed significant hurdles to bringing green gasoline biofuels to market...

"Green gasoline is an attractive alternative to bioethanol since it can be used in existing engines and does not incur the 30 percent gas mileage penalty of ethanol-based flex fuel," said John Regalbuto, who directs the Catalysis and Biocatalysis Program at NSF and supported this research.

"In theory it requires much less energy to make than ethanol, giving it a smaller carbon footprint and making it cheaper to produce," Regalbuto said. "Making it from cellulose sources such as switchgrass or poplar trees grown as energy crops, or forest or agricultural residues such as wood chips or corn stover, solves the lifecycle greenhouse gas problem that has recently surfaced with corn ethanol and soy biodiesel."

Beyond academic laboratories, both small businesses and Fortune 500 petroleum refiners are pursuing green gasoline. Companies are designing ways to hybridize their existing refineries to enable petroleum products including fuels, textiles, and plastics to be made from either crude oil or biomass and the military community has shown strong interest in making jet fuel and diesel from the same sources...

What's that I hear? Why, it's the music track from the Lemon Pipers' 1968 hit, "My Green Tambourine." I've altered the lyrics slightly...

I don't need no oil from Saudi sheikhs
Or from those crazy Persian freaks
It's the coolest thing you've ever seen
Watch me while I burn... my green gasoline

Take this message to the Mid East, dude
And tell Chavez what to do with all his crude
Hear them cryin' while your hear my engine sing
And watch me while I burn... my green gasoline

Corn was made to eat and not to burn
When will the politicians ever learn
Don't need no ethanol in my machine
Watch me while I burn... my green gasoline

Song parodies are lots of fun, but energy is a serious issue. What do we do while we wait five to ten years for green gasoline to make the long journey from biomass to the pumps in front of the local convenience store?

The smart thing would be to ramp up our domestic exploration, production and refining capacity so we would have plenty of American oil to help us make the transition to biomass gas and other alternative fuel technologies. We should start tapping the undrilled oil fields in Alaska's ANWAR and off the Gulf Coast. There's billions of barrels in the Jack Field some 270 miles south of New Orleans and billions more in the Cuban Basin 50 miles off of Florida's coast. The Chinese are going after that Eastern Gulf oil, but the Democrats, under the thumb of the environmental lobby, would have us idly stand by and watch the Chinese and Cubans exploit those fields while we do nothing.

With oil going for $100 or more a barrel, suddenly extracting crude from shale and tar sands has become economically feasible, and we are sitting on such oil deposits in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Billions of barrels are believed to be just waiting to be extracted from the Baaken Oil Formation which covers parts of North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. Just how many billions will be the subject of an eagerly-awaited report from the U.S. Geological Survey. Horizonal drilling technology is allowing several oil companies to begin tapping crude oil and gas underneath North Dakota's Lake Sakakawea.

With billions of barrels of crude oil and trillions of cubic feet of clean-burning natural gas under our feet, it is pure stupidity not to rebuild a strong domestic oil and gas industry in the United States. Making ourselves more self-reliant on energy is more than simply an economic issue - it is a security matter as well. If we have the foresight to exploit our own plentiful energy resources, the U.S. can avoid any potential disruptions in our energy supply due to political factors abroad. This ain't rocket science. It's just common sense.


I agree that we are not getting oil production in the US like we should. Recently I did this blog on it.

If the rules are transparent and clear, and if the state has no author­ity to license businesses or restrict exports and imports, there will be no opportunities to pay bribes in those areas. Mart Laar

The Russians may have lost the space race, but they're kicking our butts in the energy derby.

500 billion barrels. I'd rather see us explore and exploit our Nation's sources of petroleum to their fullest first. The other stuff needs more time to be developed to a fuller extent to nail down what is the most economical. I would say the electric car with the means to hold 150 to 200 miles per charge would be the best route. I'm not talking about little death trap plastic pieces of crap either.
Tim Schieferecke

but I don't think electrical cars are really the answer.

Batteries do a lot more damage to the environment that fuel emissions, and batteries needed to charged using some type of fuel source.

Of course, I recently read something about an organic batter powered by algae . . .

They are the main obstacle to the electric car as it stands now. With time though, I think some brilliant Gates-like nerd will develop a battery with huge storage capacity in a very small package. That, or I could see a day when cars are designed with easily exchangable battery packs or electric lanes in roadways that recharge your battery while you drive. Absent the battery problem, which is huge, the electric motor is perhaps the simplest means to get from point A to point B. It's a pipe dream until the battery is figured out. Good to hear from you.

Tim Schieferecke

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"If we want to take this party back, and I think we can someday, let’s get to work." – Barry Goldwater

As farmers plant crops for fuel instead of crops for food, food prices will go up as supplies go down. In fact, it's already happening thanks to the ethanol push.

In theory you could harvest trees in a rotating system and just use wood chips.

Making gas from cellulose won't compete for prime farm land.

I wonder if it is sustainable long term though? It depletes the nutrients out of the soil very quickly and the land become unfarmable if you harvest a WHOLE plant (as opposed to just the fruits). Lots of fertilizer would be needed I think.

The plants extend nearly as far below ground as above. And with its network of stems and roots, switchgrass holds onto soil even in winter to prevent erosion. Switchgrass is a self-seeding crop, which means farmers do not have to plant and re-seed after harvesting. Also, unlike corn, switchgrass can grow on marginal lands and requires little or no fertilizer to thrive.

is whether switch grass can grow on marginal land or not, if we use it for fuel it has a high potential to affect our food prices. If farmers can get more money from harvesting switchgrass than they can get from harvesting corn, wheat or soybeans, they will substitute it for corn, soybeans and wheat on all of their land. Particularly if it requires less fertilizer. They'd be fools not to make the substitution.

The devil is in the details of how much marginal land is used and what other cropland gets crowded out. Depends on the price fetched by switch grass. If it has value as an energy crop but not as valuable as other food crops it would be plugged into the marginal type land. Let the market decide. Plus it's great for pheasant hunting!

Ask not what I can do for my country, ask what my country can do for me. Washington Elected Elite

ethanol production, and we'll let the market sort things out.

"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."
-Thomas Paine: The American Crisis, No. 4, 1777

...let's not go making plans on 500 gazillion barrels in the Bakken Shale just yet. There is no subject more prone to hype and misunderstanding than oil and gas reserves.

From Wikipedia:

Estimates for ultimate oil contained in the entire Bakken play range from 271 billion to 503 billion barrels (40–80 km³), with a mean of 413 billion barrels (65 km³) of technically recoverable and irrecoverable oil.[6]

This massive estimate appears to dwarf the estimated 50–70 billion barrels (8–11 km³) of technically recoverable and irrecoverable oil in Alaska's North Slope. A conservative estimate of Bakken's technically recoverable oil would be 1% to 3%, or between 4.1 and 12.4 billion barrels (0.6–2 km³) of oil, due to the fact that Bakken's shale is so tight. However, other estimates range from 10% to as high as 50% technically recoverable reserves.[7] By comparison, recoverable oil estimates in the Alaska formation are 30% to 50%, or a mean of 26 billion barrels (4 km³). [emphasis added]

"Technically recoverable oil" is a very liberal definition - it has nothing to do with the economic feasibility of that recovery. And under Sarbanes-Oxley, engineers that quote anything but the most conservative, economically recoverable proved reserves, end up wearing orange jumpsuits in a federal facility.

Yes, there is a lot of oil trapped in Bakken Shale. Hint: your Escalade will not run on "irrecoverable" oil. What no one is highlighting here is that the permeability of the Bakken is incredibly low for an oil reservoir, and economic production so far has heavily depended on 1) horizontal drilling technology; 2) hydraulic (induced) fracturing technology and 3) pre-existing natural fractures. Achievement of 5% recovery of oil initially in place (what they're calling "recoverable and irrecoverable oil') would be the engineering achievement of the age.

This isn't the end of our oil supply problems. Neither is the deep Gulf of Mexico. New supplies will come on slowly, and at high cost.

There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life. - Frank Zappa

And I have a milkshake and my straw reaches across the room, I'll end up drinking your milkshake

"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."
-Thomas Paine: The American Crisis, No. 4, 1777

There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life. - Frank Zappa

"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."
-Thomas Paine: The American Crisis, No. 4, 1777

Nature Biotechnology has a really good article detailing the pros, cons, and the future of lignocellulosic ethanol.

Even as cellulosic ethanol seeks steady commercial footing, the ground is shifting. "What investors want to see now are projects that look beyond biofuels to byproducts," says Paul Winters, a communications director at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, in Washington, DC. Industrial chemicals, electricity and food ingredients are all potential byproducts that can help make a cellulosic plant profitable. The response to this is already underway: Lignol Innovations, in Burnaby, Canada, and Colusa Biomass Energy, in Colusa, California, are both planning to commercialize the lignin byproduct produced during their pretreatment processes. And this month, the DOE will award up to $200 million for proposals of pilot plants that can convert lignocellulosic feedstocks into some combination of transportation fuel, biobased chemicals and substitutes for petroleum-based products, says John Ferrell, a biomass manager at the DOE.

"Austere, intolerant, well-armed, and blood-thirsty, in their own regions the Wahhabis are a distinct factor which must be taken into account" - Winston Churchill, 1921

The Li-On batteries used in the Telsa Roadster are current technology.

Nothing needs to be invented to utilize this in every car built in America today.

The problem is the expense and that will be driven down very quickly. Since most folks will re-charge at night they get to "tank up" with the cheapest electricity. This may be a problem in California since they haven't built any new electrical capacity in years but the rest of the country will be able to quickly embrace electric cars.

Clean Coal and Nuclear are expensive but a drop in the bucket compared to bio-fuels with their food price impacts.

"The most significant events in life are usually the result of unintended consequences."

no region of the US has anywhere close to enough generating capacity to support a substitution of electric cars for all cars currently powered by internal combustion engines, aprticularly in the summer. We could not support a substitution of one third of the cars on the road today. Reserve margins are quite thin and we see numerous maximum generation emergencies ( where all generation available is required to run and no testing or maintenance, which could jeopardize plant availability is allowed) every summer. We haven't seen rolling brown outs and black outs like California, but we're not that far away.
Additionally, it takes ten years or more to turn over the inventory of cars from any given year, so even if the cost of the Tesla roadster was within the reach of a typical American family today, we'd need lots of gasoline for the forseeable future.

...the problem comes when you try to scale it up from the lab to running a 250 million-vehicle fleet.

There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life. - Frank Zappa

Which is why solar technology is headed for an extraordinary boom. You only need a few panels on your garage to charge the batteries of a plug-in hybrid (due 2010: Toyota | Saturn). Of course the early adopters (Prius owners & wannabes) are exactly the type to go solar whatever the costs may be. But by 2010 thin-film solar systems will be commercially available from a number of companies, so the costs will be lower than traditional silicon panels. In any event, the early adopters pave the way towards lower manufacturing costs, and that begets more customers, which lowers costs further ... and off we go to the races. Having said that, the transition from a nation of gas to fully electric vehicles is on the order of three decades or so.

"Austere, intolerant, well-armed, and blood-thirsty, in their own regions the Wahhabis are a distinct factor which must be taken into account" - Winston Churchill, 1921

analysis. The only place solar makes any sense is in the south and southwest (including Southern California). Unless we artificially increase the price of electricity astronomically, solar will not have sufficient energy density to be competitive with conventional power sources. The sun just does not shine enough in most of the nation for this to be practical. Producing gasoline from coal makes way more sense.
You only need a few panels to recharge your car, if you don't care if it takes 24 hours to recharge your batteries, remember you won't be charging the batteries at night, unless you want to pay for a large array of storage batteries in your garage, which will significantly increase the cost (further degrading the cost benefit equation. Solar energy is neither free nor cheap. I think you'll see fuel cell cars before your see large scale deployment of all electric vehicles.

You sell the electricity in the day (when the rates are higher) and buy it back at night (when the rates are lower) and come out ahead.

Toyota Motor to boost Japanese output of Prius hybrid by 60%
Thomson Financial, March 27, 2008

Japan's largest automaker Toyota Motor Corp plans to boost domestic output of its Prius hybrid car by 60% to 450,000 units a year by 2009, the Nikkei reported on Friday, without citing sources. The company aims to make and sell more than 500,000 hybrids globally next year and intends to boost this to 1 million early in the next decade.

Sunny for Small Tech in Solar
Tom Cheyney, Small Times/Power Engineering, January, 2008

Thin-film advocates also point to production advantages such as inherent process scalability and lower cost, claiming potentially exponential savings compared to the capital outlay required for crystalline manufacturing facilities. Several thin-film companies say they will offer full solar panels at around $1 per watt and grid parity of about $0.10 per kWh within the next few years.

A recent report on the thin-film, organic and printable PV sectors from NanoMarkets forecasts the overall thin-film PV markets (by application) to grow from just over $1 billion in 2007 to nearly $7.2 billion in 2015 (see Table 1). Three segments—large projects and utilities, commercial and industrial buildings and residential buildings—will account for more than $5.4 billion of the projected 2015 total. Industry analysts at Photon Research Associates say thin-film PV will experience a 63% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2010, accounting for 2,000 MW of the 10,000 MW of total solar cell and module production forecasted for 2010.

"Austere, intolerant, well-armed, and blood-thirsty, in their own regions the Wahhabis are a distinct factor which must be taken into account" - Winston Churchill, 1921

And thats from a technology/gadget junkie.

"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."
-Thomas Paine: The American Crisis, No. 4, 1777

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