BIOFUELS forum: Sweet Sorghum Maybe, Corn No

 
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Steve812
Apr 26, 2011 11:57 AM CST
Name: Steve
Prescott, AZ
I'm glad to learn that there is a hope of getting sweet sorghum to yield six or seven energy units per unit input: corn to ethanol might range from .75 to 2.0, depending on your accounting scheme and starting assumptions. Corn to ethanol may be a good thing to do for other reasons, but it is definitely not an intelligent primary energy source.

One of the things that doesn't get talked about much is that the use of distillation to separate ethanol from water can be very energy intensive. I don't know whether that is taken into account in the video. The process could, of course, be driven with waste heat from some other power generation facility - a coal or nuclear power plant for example. But if you burn fuel specifically to drive distillation, most ethanol production schemes simply don't make much sense. I would include sorghum, here.

Bear in mind that in the long run, when we are dependent totally on renewable resources, the cost of making fuel will be related to the energy used to derive the output. Fossil fuels typically have a ratio in excess of 100 to 1. A unit of energy spent on producing fossil fuels typically yields more than 100 units of energy. Fuels derived from sources with a ratio of 10 to 1 will be roughly ten times as expensive. So ethanol from sweet sorghum should run around $40 per gallon once all the fuel sources to make it are derived from ethanol as well. Ethanol from corn at 2 to 1 would be about $200 per gallon. I could believe that sweet sorghum might be part of the primary fuel mix in the future. I cannot believe corn (using existing technologies) ever could be.

One of the ethical problems with biofuel will be how to justify letting people in poor places starve because we want to drive our cars. It happened for a moment in Mexico a few years ago when the first ethanol plants came on stream in the US and corn prices spiked. And it will continue to happen as we dedicate more of our arable land to fuel production.
ImageDesertPirate
Apr 26, 2011 1:31 PM CST
Name: Rand Lowe
Vista, CA
Philosophy:common sense w/big words
It's not just people in "poor" countries that suffer from using our food supply to make fuel. Algae seems to make sense, but staple food for fuel is a little looney to me.
dp
ImageAguane
Apr 26, 2011 2:21 PM CST
Name: Susie
Phoenix AZ
Welcome, Randy! Glad you found us!

I run with the notion that all technologies and materials need to be look in to. In the end the most viable product as regards, ease and cost effective production and ultimate demand with no displacement to food availability will prevail. There are going to be drawbacks to just about any research, the unintended consequences. Certainly, the corn to ethanol was not a good idea and through the food supply out of whack. Heck, look at the world today just in the context of the dependence on OPEC oil. Who knew?

Steve, I am glad you delve into the practical details of the issues. Definitely grounds the debate. And, for sure, Randy the impact to food supply is paramount. As far as the sweet sorghum research goes it looks like when grown in the southwest, under stressful growing conditions, it doesn't displace too much that we NEED for survival... though environmentalists may argue that.
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." --Albert Einstein
~ All Things Plants, SOUTHWEST GARDENING ~Cubits.org ENERGY & POWER
AlohaHoya
Apr 27, 2011 7:48 PM CST
Name: Carol Noel
Hawaii (near Hilo)
It's all about choices.
People are just darned funny:

DH and a friend proposed building a BioChar plant on 100,000 acres the county is going to turn into agricultural land...but currently it is covered with trees: Ironwood and Eucalyptus. At a neighbourhood meeting they explained that the felled trees could go directly ino the kiln...the process produces biodiesel extracted from the emissions which could be sold to the Power Company to burn instead of oIL OR coal.

Nearby are some very wealthy people with 20 acre estates...lotsa bucks. NIMBY reigned...and the Mayor didn't want to persue it because he counted on those folks to help him run again.

So they would not consider the proposal...so all of those trees will be left to rot....producing methane instead...into the atmosphere. Another opportunity lost due to greed.
Leap. The net will appear.
ImageAguane
Apr 27, 2011 8:03 PM CST
Name: Susie
Phoenix AZ
Amazing. Silly people.

Tell the folks on the hill that the organic growers in L.A. are paying big bucks for ...char... for their gardens. You can actually order the bags off the Web. Have a look at Zany's comments from Scotia CA. The biofuels forum Clean burning from BioMass plant. Stuff CAN be burned clean!
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." --Albert Einstein
~ All Things Plants, SOUTHWEST GARDENING ~Cubits.org ENERGY & POWER
AlohaHoya
Apr 27, 2011 8:40 PM CST
Name: Carol Noel
Hawaii (near Hilo)
It's all about choices.
Of course...but it only takes one jerk (whom they know) telling them that these people 'over there' are going to make a mess and lower our land values. We KNOW how precious biochar is especially in this soil that has ZIP...but it's all about $$.

Hopefully they will learn. Sad. The 100,000 acres is a done deal. Crying
Leap. The net will appear.
ImageAguane
Apr 27, 2011 8:47 PM CST
Name: Susie
Phoenix AZ
Do not fret. I guess it will all decompose in time... not our life time Crying
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." --Albert Einstein
~ All Things Plants, SOUTHWEST GARDENING ~Cubits.org ENERGY & POWER
AlohaHoya
Apr 27, 2011 8:56 PM CST
Name: Carol Noel
Hawaii (near Hilo)
It's all about choices.
We have few renewable wood sources...and the trees that are coming down made into biochar would be an incredible boon to agriculture!!! Which this island depends on. So...The County (Island) buys a biochard retort (great ones on the mainland) produce the biochar and sell it to everyone!!! Win Win Win.

My fear is that while there ARE concepts and methods and proceedures that would be so beneficial it is the small closed not understanding not caring mind that prevails...and they just dont get it (and don't want to).... Rolling my eyes.
Leap. The net will appear.
ImageAguane
Apr 27, 2011 9:09 PM CST
Name: Susie
Phoenix AZ
So, you're saying you import (from Mainland or where ever) your commercial soil amender? Can you even buy local compost? With or without char amend? Wondering. Here in AZ we had a HUGE fire Rodeo-Chediski about 7-8 years ago. That burned forest is a boon to gardeners for nutrients. People scoop it up and bring it back down to Phoenix for their gardens. You need to take the Big Kahuna's out to the woodshed and show the a new way!
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." --Albert Einstein
~ All Things Plants, SOUTHWEST GARDENING ~Cubits.org ENERGY & POWER
AlohaHoya
Apr 27, 2011 11:10 PM CST
Name: Carol Noel
Hawaii (near Hilo)
It's all about choices.
Yes. That's what I am saying.

There are many many mini groups helping eachother, discovering new ways to farm, new genera,species,cultivars to grow...but we are still dependent up on the mainland. 90% worth. Scary!!! Some local products are happening...but they are more expensive than the trash that comes in plastic bags in Home Depot or Walmart, so not really popular. Many local families have never eaten anything green, except cabbage cooked to death.

Whistling
Leap. The net will appear.
ImageAguane
Apr 27, 2011 11:30 PM CST
Name: Susie
Phoenix AZ
I know what you're saying.
I've vacationed at Napili on Maui many many times. A little place with studio kitchen right on the beach. I shopped at Nagasako's market in Lahaina. Great little local store with local produce and fish as available.... About 5 yrs after vacationing there someone had the bright idea to bring in a freakin' Safeway. Last I was there Nagasako was in business... I wonder, though, today. Loved that local store! Seemed to be all local with the small mainland imports such as Pringles and paper plates.... otherwise MAUI CHIPS! and Maui Onions etc. Great local pork and sashimi.
I'm crying!
We're off topic Sad Meet you at the Chat place. Big Grin
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." --Albert Einstein
~ All Things Plants, SOUTHWEST GARDENING ~Cubits.org ENERGY & POWER
ImageGardenGuyAZ
Apr 28, 2011 2:01 PM CST
Name: Alan
Chandler, AZ; 85225
Sunset Zone 13
Ewww...what a way to ruin a good cabbage!!
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart. ~Hellen Keller
ImageAguane
Apr 28, 2011 2:54 PM CST
Name: Susie
Phoenix AZ
I know! I prefer cabbage raw, actually! Napa mostly.
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." --Albert Einstein
~ All Things Plants, SOUTHWEST GARDENING ~Cubits.org ENERGY & POWER
ImageGardenGuyAZ
Apr 28, 2011 3:06 PM CST
Name: Alan
Chandler, AZ; 85225
Sunset Zone 13
I like it raw, and just stif fried a little bit with polish sausage, balsamic vinegar, and just a smidge of sugar :)
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart. ~Hellen Keller
Steve812
Apr 28, 2011 7:05 PM CST
Name: Steve
Prescott, AZ
I love napa cabbage in cabbage rolls, normal cabbage in cole slaw.

I wonder if cabbage would be a good biofuel for the arctic regions? I understand that it can grow quickly and large in Fairbanks.
ImageAguane
Apr 28, 2011 9:00 PM CST
Name: Susie
Phoenix AZ
Good point, Steve.
I've seen pictures of HUGE cabbage heads grown in Alaska. Cabbage has some pretty special characteristics that can possibly contribute an extra blast of energy to the normal oil extraction that creates cellulosic ethanol.
Thumb of 2011-04-29/Aguane/300f0c
(Google images.)
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." --Albert Einstein
~ All Things Plants, SOUTHWEST GARDENING ~Cubits.org ENERGY & POWER
AlohaHoya
Apr 28, 2011 11:04 PM CST
Name: Carol Noel
Hawaii (near Hilo)
It's all about choices.
Wow...I could roll up in one of those leaves!!!!
Leap. The net will appear.
mamajack
May 2, 2011 10:02 AM CST
Name: barb allison
Fate, Texas zone 8a
hello all. i am here to be educated.

one thing...........a plant like kudzu............what would it take to make that into a fuel we could use?


and did i understand this correctly.........fossil fuels when refined or whatever the process is called give us about 100 parts of usable fuel and we only use 1 part fuel to create it. but other fuel sources like corn only give us about 10 parts? thus more expensive. so a plant like kudzu might not be used as it would not give us enough bang for the buck.
is this logic correct?

biochar is a term i have not heard. do you buy it in a bag at home depot?

ImageAguane
May 2, 2011 10:16 AM CST
Name: Susie
Phoenix AZ
You can buy biochar. I don't know that they sell it in bags at Home Depot, however. I've heard of a source in Los Angeles and I know that people are using the ashes on the forest floor from the Rodeo-Chedyski fire of about 8-10 years ago here in Arizona. I'd think there are many other sources. I have heard however, that it's NOT a good idea to use bar-be-que charcoal in the garden.

I'll have to find the certain answer to your reference to the carbon footprint comparing energy produced from biofuel to crude fossil fuel. I think your assumption is correct but part of the reason to explore other sources of energy other than fossil fuel is that that resource is finite. We will run out one day. That's given as a reason why Exxon Mobile bought a huge natural gas company recently.

Currently, I've read that the research and now production of biomass is the energy it takes to produce it. Water, fertilizer, pesticide, land, gas, etc. The thing that's attractive about sweet sorghum is that it grows with little water and doesn't need arable land. Kudzu needs lots of water, right? The product has to have massive cellulose content and lots of sugar (the thing that ferments). Sugarcane is good but it takes too much water to grow.

This is all a work in progress so I may get back here in a few days with something on the biofuel carbon footprint.

Thanks for stopping by!
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." --Albert Einstein
~ All Things Plants, SOUTHWEST GARDENING ~Cubits.org ENERGY & POWER
Steve812
May 2, 2011 10:38 AM CST
Name: Steve
Prescott, AZ
I know that kudzu grows quickly and rampantly. And if I am not mistaken it stores its energy as starch in a root. It certainly seems like it should be a serious candidate. One of the qualities of many grasses such as sugarcane, corn, and perhaps sorghum, is the ability to make sugars about 1/3 more efficiently from sunlight than most plants. Not sure whether kudzu has this capacity. Of course, there might be other qualities that more than make up for that - for instance if the plant could grow more densely than corn, or if it used a lot less fertilizer, or if it yielded more energy per acre because it grows more densely.

Kudzu starch has the disadvantage of corn and sorghum, namely that the starch has to be fermented then the ethanol needs to be extracted using distillation. Lots of energy gets lost in those processes. Sugarcane and sweet sorghum keep the sugars and don't form starch which makes fermentation more efficient, but distillation is still costly.

Kudzu may not be ideal, but I've frequently wondered why kudzu has not gotten more attention. My guess is that it is partly because it is not a cultivated crop, so it has no high-powered agribusiness advocates.

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