Moving to the next biofuel generation

11/03/2010


This week, The Economist has a survey of the future of the biofuels industry, headlined “The Post-Alcohol World.” The opening premise of the discussion is that ethanol as fuel has become passé due to its many drawbacks, e.g., low energy content relative to gasoline, tendency to absorb water, corrosiveness, etc. The real promise lies in so called “drop-in” fuels that are chemical equivalents to existing hydrocarbons and can be added to conventional fuels with nobody noticing the difference.

The discussion points out that much is happening with this newer approach, and it is pulling the limelight away from plain old corn ethanol and the hugely disappointing efforts to create economically viable cellulosic ethanol. The assumption is that sugar will still likely be the main feedstock, but the product will be a hydrocarbon that can be blended with conventional fuels. Cellulose and even lignin will eventually enter into the picture, but that is still a long way off.

Producers of corn-based ethanol have to look at this scenario and wonder if they have any place in it. This concern isn’t hard to understand. Such companies have had reason to be worried for some time given the vagaries of public opinion and relentless cost pressures. It’s an industry that has always teetered near the edge. If legacy plants can’t be modified and repurposed without too drastic a cost, they may have to take up a new line of work.

I’ve often thought that moonshine on an industrial scale could take over. Imagine adding a bottling line to your local fuel ethanol plant where you could fill standard two-liter soft drink bottles with a 100 proof industrial alcohol/water mixture. This “yellow lightning” could have great potential as a punch base for frat parties at some of our more recreationally minded universities. If the ATF folks (revenooers) could be kept out of the equation, it could create a whole new income stream.

At the same time, The Economist has also just published an interesting chart that says alcohol is the most harmful abused drug, and the only one where harm to others is greater than harm to the user. Maybe my suggestion isn’t that good an idea after all.



No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
World-class manufacturing: A recipe for success: Finding the right mix for a salad dressing line; 2015 Salary Survey: Manufacturing slump dims enthusiasm
2015 Top Plant: Phoenix Contact, Middletown, Pa.; 2015 Best Practices: Automation, Electrical Safety, Electrical Systems, Pneumatics, Material Handling, Mechanical Systems
A cool solution: Collaboration, chemistry leads to foundry coat product development; See the 2015 Product of the Year Finalists
Digital oilfields: Integrated HMI/SCADA systems enable smarter data acquisition; Real-world impact of simulation; Electric actuator technology prospers in production fields
Special report: U.S. natural gas; LNG transport technologies evolve to meet market demand; Understanding new methane regulations; Predictive maintenance for gas pipeline compressors
Cyber security cost-efficient for industrial control systems; Extracting full value from operational data; Managing cyber security risks
Getting ready for industrial IoT; Visualizing the (applied) automation continuum; Preventing VFD faults and failures; Using wireless for closed-loop applications
Migrating industrial networks; Tracking HMI advances; Making the right automation changes
Understanding transfer switch operation; Coordinating protective devices; Analyzing NEC 2014 changes; Cooling data centers

Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role that compressed air plays in manufacturing plants.