Energy as Easy as Waffles
by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest) … Long-term, there are numerous opportunities for developing the right kind of renewable feedstocks based on careful development of agricultural markets and gaining grower adoption. But anyone who has been through the wringer in trying to gain adoption for crops like jatropha, camelina or switchgrass can tell you that grower adoption is tough, and slow.
And that establishing the data trail and end-user markets that powers adoption — well, that’s tough too. There aren’t that many staple, bulk-production crops around the world. They’ve been introduced, since the dawn of agriculture, at a rate of about one per century.
And, in using existing crops and the wood basket — ell, there’s fearsome competition for limited resources, which plays havoc with the prices and stable policy.
Parsing out the feedstock assets
So — where are the short-term answers? In residues, of course. They fall into three categories.
1. Already aggregated, “demonstrated at scale” processing technology available.
2. Already aggregated, no “demonstrated at scale” technology.
3. Limited or no aggregation, but (increasingly) “demonstrated at scale” technology.
4. No aggregation, no proven technology, R&D underway.
You could consider, as examples of the above: animal residues, municipal solid waste, forest and industrial gas residues, agricultural residues, atmospheric gases. As for companies, think: Diamond Green Diesel, Dynamic Fuels and Neste Oil; Enerkem, INEOS Bio, UPM, Fulcrum, LanzaTech, Coskata; POET-DSM, GranBio, Beta Renewables, Abengoa, DuPont, and the algae companies.
1. In-field or local pre-processing. Lot cheaper to transport sugars than the whole biomass. Lower cost means larger affordable feedstock footprint for the plant, which means scale. Right now, we have proven technology to separate cobs from stalks — but not yet to separate sugars from the cobs, or algae oils from the water, carbs and proteins that surround them.
2. Fast, single-pass systems — aggregating residues in the same pass that aggregates, for example, corn or wheat. One of the great advantages of sugarcane bagasse is that it is aggregated along with the sugars in the field and separation occurs at the plant. Currently, separation takes place in the field for crops like corn — meaning that residues are just left in the field to rot.
The bottom line
If there was one area of R&D that has been left relatively unattended — it is aggregation of already abundant resources in order to make them affordable. READ MORE and MORE (Ethanol Producer Magazine)