Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Georgia ethanol production... no, not moonshine
One obvious drawback that I can see with making ethanol from corn is how little of the plant you use. The ears of corn are just a small part of the whole thing, and the kernels of corn are just a small part of the ears. And you only get ethanol from the kernels - the cobs, husks, leaves, and stalks all get thrown away, or at best used for things other than fuel production. But they're hydrocarbons too. So there's one major source of inefficiency - you grow a six foot tall corn plant, and only use a tiny portion of it to actually make ethanol.
Well, today I heard on the radio that the Georgia Forestry Commission is trying to promote a different way to make ethanol. This method uses pine trees, and converts the cellulose present in the wood into ethanol. You can use a much larger fraction of the whole plant, and according to this article in Georgia Trend, it is about seven times more efficient than getting ethanol from corn in terms of the energy needed to grow, harvest, and convert the crops. According to WMAZ-TV, there are already a few programs in Georgia producing small quantities of ethanol by this method.
I don't know if this is anything like a permanent solution to oil problems, but it does seem like a possible improvement over current ethanol production.
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