Scientists turn CO2 Into ethanol easier than they ever thought

❝ Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have discovered a chemical reaction to turn CO2 into ethanol, potentially creating a new technology to help avert climate change. Their findings were published in the journal ChemistrySelect.

The researchers were attempting to find a series of chemical reactions that could turn CO2 into a useful fuel, when they realized the first step in their process managed to do it all by itself. The reaction turns CO2 into ethanol, which could in turn be used to power generators and vehicles…

“By using common materials, but arranging them with nanotechnology, we figured out how to limit the side reactions and end up with the one thing that we want,” said Adam Rondinone.

This process has several advantages when compared to other methods of converting CO2 into fuel. The reaction uses common materials like copper and carbon, and it converts the CO2 into ethanol, which is already widely used as a fuel.

Perhaps most importantly, it works at room temperature, which means that it can be started and stopped easily and with little energy cost. This means that this conversion process could be used as temporary energy storage during a lull in renewable energy generation, smoothing out fluctuations in a renewable energy grid.

“A process like this would allow you to consume extra electricity when it’s available to make and store as ethanol,” said Rondinone. “This could help to balance a grid supplied by intermittent renewable sources.”

More thought and considerations are at offer in a follow-up interview PM did with the lead scientist, Adam Rondinone. He’s a research scientist on the public payroll at the National Lab in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. You know – doing the kind of scientific work today’s conservatives from penny-ante Republicans to Tea Party know-nothings really want to halt.

Solving the energy crisis with affordable, renewable clean fuel — in Hobbs, NM

Joule has pioneered a CO2-to-fuel production platform, effectively reversing combustion through the use of solar energy. Free of feedstock constraints and complex processing, this platform can achieve unrivaled scalability, volumes and costs without the use of any agricultural land, fresh water or crops.

Unlike products derived with complexity from petroleum or biomass, Joule Sunflow® products are produced in a direct, continuous process from abundant resources. The novel CO2-to-liquids conversion requires only sunlight, non-potable water and proprietary catalysts that are tailored to produce specific products, including ethanol and hydrocarbon fuels that are inherently compatible with existing infrastructure.

…This uniquely modular system can achieve replicable productivity, whether installed across 100 or 1,000 acres, mitigating scale-up risks and ensuring stability of supply. At full-scale commercialization in ideal locations, the company ultimately targets 25,000 US gallons of Joule Sunflow®-E (solar ethanol) or 15,000 US gallons of Joule Sunflow®-D (solar diesel) per acre annually, for approximately $1.20/US gallon ($50/barrel).

Joule has successfully pilot-tested its platform for over two years, initiated demonstration-scale operations, and assembled a specialized team to lay the groundwork for commercial deployment. The company is moving rapidly to commercialize Joule Sunflow-E, with Joule Sunflow-D and additional hydrocarbon fuels to follow.

Phew! The link above is from the “about us” statement at their website. Wander through the whole site starting here. Looks interesting. A winner if it works.

Had this link in the hopper for a short spell and just got round to clicking through.

Milestone: commercial grade ethanol from wood and green waste

After months of frustrating delays, a chemical company announced Wednesday that it had produced commercial quantities of ethanol from wood waste and other nonfood vegetative matter, a long-sought goal that, if it can be expanded economically, has major implications for providing vehicle fuel and limiting greenhouse gas emissions…

The company, INEOS Bio…said it had produced the fuel at its $130 million Indian River BioEnergy Center in Vero Beach, Fla….The company said it was the first commercial-scale production of ethanol from cellulosic feedstock, but it did not say how much it had produced. Shipments will begin in August…

The process begins with wastes — wood and vegetative matter for now, municipal garbage later — and cooks it into a gas of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Bacteria eat the gas and excrete alcohol, which is then distilled. Successful production would eliminate some of the “food versus fuel” debate in the manufacturing of ethanol, which comes from corn…

The plant, which uses methane gas from a nearby landfill, has faced a variety of problems. One was getting the methane, which is a greenhouse gas if released unburned, to the plant’s boilers. (The plan is to eventually run the plant on garbage that now goes to landfills.) Another problem was its reliance on the electrical grid.

The plant usually generates more power than it needs — selling the surplus to the local utility — and is supposed to be able to operate independently. But when thunderstorms knocked out the power grid, the plant unexpectedly shut down and it took weeks to get it running again, said Mark Niederschulte, the chief operating officer of INEOS Bio…“We’ve had some painful do/undo loops,” he said…

The Department of Energy hailed the development as the first of a kind, and said it was made possible by research work the department had sponsored in recent years…

INEOS has a goal of eight million gallons a year.

If they can get up to consistent production of commercial-grade, commercial quantities of ethanol, a number of goals become practical. Replacing fossil fuels is the most obvious. But, even the process of producing fuel to be burned is freeing up land to produce more cellulosic products which absorb carbon while growing.

High Plains aquifer shrinks, profits dwindle for irrigating farmers

Forty-nine years ago, Ashley Yost’s grandfather sank a well deep into a half-mile square of rich Kansas farmland. He struck an artery of water so prodigious that he could pump 1,600 gallons to the surface every minute.

Last year, Mr. Yost was coaxing just 300 gallons from the earth, and pumping up sand in order to do it. By harvest time, the grit had robbed him of $20,000 worth of pumps and any hope of returning to the bumper harvests of years past…

The land, known as Section 35, sits atop the High Plains Aquifer, a waterlogged jumble of sand, clay and gravel that begins beneath Wyoming and South Dakota and stretches clear to the Texas Panhandle. The aquifer’s northern reaches still hold enough water in many places to last hundreds of years. But as one heads south, it is increasingly tapped out, drained by ever more intensive farming and, lately, by drought.

Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry. In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers.

And when the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains…

Kansas agriculture will survive the slow draining of the aquifer — even now, less than a fifth of the state’s farmland is irrigated in any given year — but the economic impact nevertheless will be outsized. In the last federal agriculture census of Kansas, in 2007, an average acre of irrigated land produced nearly twice as many bushels of corn, two-thirds more soybeans and three-fifths more wheat than did dry land.

Farmers will take a hit as well. Raising crops without irrigation is far cheaper, but yields are far lower. Drought is a constant threat: the last two dry-land harvests were all but wiped out by poor rains.

In the end, most farmers will adapt to farming without water, said Bill Golden, an agriculture economist at Kansas State University…Some already are. A few miles west of Mr. Yost’s farm, Nathan Kells cut back on irrigation when his wells began faltering in the last decade, and shifted his focus to raising dairy heifers — 9,000 on that farm, and thousands more elsewhere. At about 12 gallons a day for a single cow, Mr. Kells can sustain his herd with less water than it takes to grow a single circle of corn.

…And while the big pivots have become much more efficient, a University of California study earlier this year concluded that Kansas farmers were using some of their water savings to expand irrigation or grow thirstier crops, not to reduce consumption.

A shift to growing corn, a much thirstier crop than most, has only worsened matters. Driven by demand, speculation and a government mandate to produce biofuels, the price of corn has tripled since 2002, and Kansas farmers have responded by increasing the acreage of irrigated cornfields by nearly a fifth.

Economics still rules. Enforced ethanol demand inflated the price of corn. Farmers aren’t in business to refuse higher profits. They plant more corn. They have federal crop insurance and hedge funds to help cover unanswered questions.

And if you have a six-figure investment in the hardware and plumbing to make pivot-irrigation work, you ain’t especially interested in switching over to crop systems using less water.

Brazil aids Cuba’s move into a market economy

Dilma Rousseff and Raul Castro
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Brazil is easing Cuba into the free market economy with a generous package of aid in cash and kind and joint projects that give the Latin American country a pre-eminent position in Havana’s heady mix of communism and experimental capitalism.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff appeared to be in the right place at the right time when she flew into Havana in a spirit of revolutionary camaraderie and clinched deals that secured Brazil’s status as the senior partner in a long-term, multifaceted relationship…

Rousseff followed in the footsteps of populist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva…The “excellent” ties secure Brazil an advantageous position in Cuba’s hugely porous economy, hungry for basic consumer goods, investment and modernization. Economic upgrading in all sectors and a phased end to Cuba’s international isolation offer lucrative opportunities for Brazil’s state and private sectors.

Brazil will invest $640 million in a $900 million modernization of the Mariel container port, west of Havana, led by the Brazilian firm Odebrecht.

Brazil is also giving Cuba $400 million in credits for food imports and investing $200 million in modernizing Cuban agriculture. Rousseff pledged Cuba a long-term commitment to help its economic regeneration…

Brazilian interest in the modernization of Cuban sugar industry is linked to Brazilian plans to promote its pioneering production of cane-derived ethanol, which has led to most new cars in Brazil being fitted with flex-fuel technology to run on ethanol or gasoline or a mixture of both.

The port modernization program also fits in with Brazil’s plan to forge fruitful partnerships that will benefit its aim of making its exports of both commodities and manufactured goods more competitive in the international markets.

Cubans say they need the Mariel port to be ready for expanded trade with the United States, whenever the U.S. embargo is lifted. The embargo, begun in 1960, is the longest on record.


Now, which will provide long-lasting trade and commercial relationships? Efforts like this from Brazil or the usual capitulation to Gusano voters in Florida by Congressional politicians?

Free rides for Rick Perry on corporate jets are just part of the job

Pilgrim Chickens on the left – with his favorite chicken plucker

On a July morning in 2008, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and several aides boarded a plane for Washington to lobby on ethanol use, an issue important to corn growers and livestock owners in his state.

The growers favored federal rules requiring the use of the corn-based fuel in gasoline, but beef and chicken suppliers said the rules would raise the price of feed stocks. Mr. Perry was firmly in the livestock camp, and he took his case straight to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, urging him to waive the ethanol mandate to lower the cost of corn.

While executives from the livestock industry did not attend Mr. Perry’s private meeting at the E.P.A., the governor would not have made it there without them — literally. The Hawker 800XP plane that Mr. Perry and his team flew from Austin to Washington and back was provided by Lonnie Pilgrim, one of the world’s largest chicken producers and a leading critic of the ethanol mandate…The poultry magnate also flew the governor to Washington in June to take part in a news conference on the issue.

The two trips, each valued at $9,179, were among more than 200 flights worth a total of $1.3 million that Mr. Perry has accepted — free — from corporate executives and wealthy donors during 11 years as governor, according to an analysis of Texas Ethics Commission records by The New York Times.

Although many of the trips were for political or ceremonial events — not unusual for elected officials — others involved governmental functions, including some that were of interest to the planes’ owners. As a result, a group of well-heeled businessmen has effectively helped underwrite some of Mr. Perry’s activities as governor.

The head of a Texas oil refinery spent almost $20,000 flying Mr. Perry and his staff to a trade meeting in Mexico, where the governor asked Mexican energy officials to consider more joint ventures with Texas oil companies. Other Texas business owners have paid Mr. Perry’s way to Washington to lobby on immigration, testify before Congress and meet with the homeland security secretary.

Mr. Perry’s travels adhere to Texas ethics laws, and he is far from alone in accepting gifts of air travel. But among politicians he stands out for taking private flights for activities that are considered part of his job as governor. That is different from campaign travel or the sort of quasi-official trips for which officeholders normally use private planes, like attending a conference or giving a speech.

Texas ethics laws, of course, is a contradiction in terms. Ethics has little or nothing to do how Rick Perry or pretty much any other Texan governs. Taking care of the Big Boys is what counts. The Texas legislature will make certain laws are bent, broken, or stapled together to allow for as much influence as “grassroots” organization like the Petroleum Club or Chickenpluckers International require.

RTFA for lots of details, anecdotes, the sort of corrupt practices considered trivial in Texas.

Sugarcane grown for ethanol fuel cools Brazil’s climate

Sugarcane grown to power Brazil’s cars and trucks as an alternative to climate-warming fossil fuels has a beneficial side effect: it also cools the local air temperature…

Researchers warned that this does not mean replacing Amazon forest or other natural vegetation with sugarcane fields. The benefit comes when sugarcane is introduced into existing agriculture, replacing pasture land or crops like soybeans.

Sugarcane manages this win-win feat by its ability to reflect sunlight and to “sweat” out cooling moisture into the air, said lead researcher Scott Loarie of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

Plants draw moisture from the soil and emit it into the air in the process of photosynthesis…”We showed that with sugarcane, it was these evaporative cooling effects that were much more significant than the albedo (reflectivity),” he said, speaking of research published online in Nature Climate Change.

Sugarcane is used in biofuel that powers about a quarter of the motor vehicles in Brazil, and in that way, it helps to keep some of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, which affects global climate.

However, because of its efficiency at emitting cool moisture, it also can push down local temperatures by 1.67 degrees F (0.93 degrees C) compared to other crops or pasture.

Now, if we could only figure out how to do this with kudzu?

Drink Beer, Make Fuel

They’re also beta-testing a diesel-hybrid for Peterbilt

A brewing company in Chico, Calif. is adapting a new system at its brewery that will make its own high-quality ethanol fuel from discarded beer yeast.

The Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., working with the E-Fuel Corporation, will start testing the system in the second quarter of this year, and hopes to move to full-scale ethanol production in third quarter.

“This has the potential to be a great thing for the environment and further our commitment to be becoming more energy independent,” said Ken Grossman, founder and president, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Currently, Sierra Nevada resells almost 1.6 million gallons of unusable “bottom of the barrel” beer yeast waste to local farmers to be used as dairy feed. The waste contains 5 to 8 percent alcohol content, including enough yeast and nutrients to enable the ethanol system, the MicroFueler, to raise that level to 15 percent alcohol, allowing for an increased ethanol yield.

We usually drink local beer. I guess we’re going to have to think about switching to Sierra Nevada. What a thoughtful, responsible company.

Next-gen Cellulosic Ethanol scores benefits all the way round

Saying “fill ‘er up” with cellulosic ethanol instead of gasoline or corn-based ethanol may be even better for our health and the environment than previously recognized, a new University of Minnesota study shows.

Cellulosic ethanol—made from wood, grasses, or the non-edible part of plants—has fewer harmful effects on human health because it emits smaller amounts of fine particulate matter, an especially damaging component of air pollution, the researchers find.

Earlier work showed that cellulosic ethanol and other new biofuels also emit lower levels of greenhouse gases…

The study is the first to estimate the economic costs to human health and well-being from gasoline, corn-based ethanol, and cellulosic ethanol made from biomass.

“To understand the environmental and health consequences of biofuels, we must look well beyond the tailpipe to how and where biofuels are produced. Clearly, upstream emissions matter,” Hill says.

The paper also points out that other potential advantages of cellulosic biofuels, such as reducing the amount of fertilizer and pesticide runoff into rivers and lakes, may also add to the economic benefit of transitioning to next-generation biofuels.

If you stay up-to-date with the science, none of this is surprising. But, it surely is useful to have a compact chunk of research at hand to pass along to beginners. Uh, that includes politicians, of course.

Sugar-based ethanol stateside – finally

The American ethanol industry, the world’s largest, is about to get a little sweeter. Louisiana Green Fuels (LGF), an international investment group, says it is on schedule to open up the first commercial sucrose-to-ethanol plant in America. LGF, which is 80 percent owned by Inverandino, a Colombian business group, tells Earth2Tech it plans to have four ethanol plants and three sugar mills in operation in Louisiana in the next 10 years pumping out 100 million gallons of sugar-based ethanol a year.

In the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, LGF has been buying up shuttered sugar mills and dormant equipment in the devastated Gulf region, and now owns three mills in Louisiana. Prices were probably pretty good for those hurricane-ravaged mills and LGF says that a sucrose-based ethanol industry could help revitalize the area…

This is a good experiment for the American ethanol industry, which has come under heavy fire for using so much corn for fuel. Sugar can give an eightfold return on the fossil energy used to make it while corn only yields 1.3 times the fossil energy used. Count sugar in as a potential major player in U.S. biofuels market.

All overdue, of course. Northern tier states with an excess of sugar beet product should have been in on this already.

Sugar cane mills can sell the bagasse for cellulosic ethanol production as that ramps up, as well.