05 May 2005

Ethanol from Wood

A friend forwarded this from the May 05, 2005 edition of the Christian Science Monitor. The article implies that the technology could be up and running commercially in two years or so.

Will wood help fill US energy needs?
By John K. Borchardt, Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Forget corn processing. Don't wait for switch grass. The real key to producing enough ethanol for America's cars and trucks this century is wood.

That's the contention of researchers at the State University of New York (SUNY). By revamping the way paper is made, they've found an economical way to extract important energy-rich sugars from the trees and then convert these sugars into ethanol, a gasoline additive, and other useful chemicals.

Read the whole thing.


At 5/08/2005 09:48:00 AM, Blogger jesusyazzie said...

Do you really suppose that the gas companies are ever going to allow this? I remember you talking about ethanol to power vehicles about twenty-some years ago.

At 5/29/2005 12:34:00 PM, Blogger Greg Brown said...

The problem with using ethanol from any organic source is the sheer volume of production that would be needed to meet the energy requirements of just the US. Further, ethanol from any distributed source (like wood or wood products) needs to be gathered and transported to a production center. If a truckload of organic debris is going to produce a few gallons of ethanol, then it would cost more to gather than could be converted into fuel stocks. While those piles of wood chips look impressive in the picture, I suspect they would evaporate as soon as industrial-strength conversion to alcohol began.

The article is also terribly misleading when it says: "biorefineries could produce 2.4 billion gallons of ethanol a year, they estimate, or 80 percent of the nation's projected need this year." That's ethanol consumption and is a tiny fraction of the 20 million barrels (55 gallons each) of oil consumed in the US each day. We use 400 billion gallons of oil per year in the US.

Last but not least, it's not the gas companies that have a problem with ramping up methanol and ethanol production it's the farmers in the Midwest who would stand to lose the most. Oil companies can only dream of the subsidies agricultural interests get.



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