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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

 

Georgia ethanol production... no, not moonshine

Corn-based ethanol has quite a few problems. The corn farming takes a lot of fuel for the tractors, and then you have to use heat to distill it. So it takes a significant amount of energy to get that fuel - some have even argued that it can take more energy to make ethanol than you would get by burning it, some have said that isn't the case. Some have even accused American ethanol programs of being nothing more than corporate wellfare for Archer Daniels Midland. All sides agree that it would take a lot of land for the US to try to grow its own fuel supply this way, and that the production is very energy-intensive.

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.

Comments:
I have started making ethanol that I am currently using as a racing fuel. You can get the price down below $1/gal if you do things right and its 126 octane fuel. If you are interested contact me. I am starting to sell systems that will allow you to produce ethanol and be self sufficient. http://www.craigslist.org/sfc/for/160717400.html
 
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