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8 Ways around the Big, Bad Oxygen Problem in the Advanced Bioeconomy Parts 1 and 2

Submitted by on October 14, 2015 – 10:34 amNo Comment

by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest)  In the terrestrial world, oxygen is colorless, odorless, and try to get through an hour without some.  In the Bioeconomy Cinematic Universe, oxygen is harder than steel, heavier than a black hole, and higher than the Himalayas. Here’s the why and what’s being done about it.

… 56% of a sugar molecule, by weight, consists of oxygen — and in the world of making hydrocarbons from sugar, the oxygen in the molecule poses as daunting a challenge as the absence of oxygen posed for the moon-shot science team. It turns out there really can be “too much of a good thing”.

Stripping Away the Os

Either you can’t afford to move it (raw biomass, which also contains oxygen in the form of water, to compound the felony), or you can’t afford the molecule after you’ve stripped away the Os.

If it costs $312 for a metric ton of sugar (the value that edible sugar is traded at this morning on NYMEX), then you need to spend $834 to get a ton of hydrocarbons if you have a process that gets 85% of the theoretical yield.

That equates to a feedstock cost of $2.38 per gallon (if you are making renewable gasoline) when the fossil-fuel variety is wholesaling at $1.42 — well, “Houston, we have a problem”.

So, what do you do? There are 8 routes which biofuels producers pursue, typically in combination. Let’s look at those individually.

I. What this country needs is a good five-cent sugar. …

II. We don’t need no stinkin’ sugar. …

III. Juicin’ the process yields and slashin’ that ol’ production cost …

IV. O2 give me a home where the customers roam …

READ MORE (Part 1)

V. The niche fuel …

VI. The low carbon mandate …

A lot of people carp about the subsidy that RINs represent, but they really aren’t. What they are is, essentially, a fine as an optional behavior. Like paying rent, you can pay on time, or pay late and add a late fee. Consider it a soft mandate — you really don’t have to blend renewable fuels, you have to acquire RINs, and if RINs happened to be available at a nominal marlet price, as happens from time to time, you can skip blending renewable fuels altogether.

At the same time, low carbon mechanisms help solve a pressing problem in the low carbon economy: low carbon technologies provide a public benefit (i.e. lower greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to the fight against global warning), but don’t bring a direct benefit to investors. It’s impossible to inspire investors without a return for the cost of developing a technology — especially when small start-ups have to compete with established behemoths. So, the low carbon mechanism injects an extra form of return into a venture, so that the public itself doesn’t have to directly make all the investment in technology.

VII. The high-value product …

VIII. Wishing for higher fuel prices

READ MORE (Part 2)

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