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Biotech Technology Science

Doubled Yield For Bio-Fuel From Waste 97

Posted by timothy
from the what-about-the-oil-from-anything-guy? dept.
hankwang writes "Dutch chemical company DSM announced a new process for production of ethanol from agricultural waste. Most bio-fuel ethanol now is produced from food crops such as corn and sugar cane. Ethanol produced from cellulose would use waste products such as wood chips, citrus peel, and straw. The new process is claimed to increase the yield by a factor of two compared to existing processes, thanks to new enzymes and special yeast strains."
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Doubled Yield For Bio-Fuel From Waste

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  • of not actually decreasing the food supply and driving up the cost of staples such as grain and sugar.

    Nothing like solving the energy issues for the wealthy while letting the poor starve just a little faster.

    • by Yvan256 (722131) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @02:05PM (#32748760) Homepage Journal

      Indeed, how can they morally justify taking away the wood chips, citrus peel, and straw puree from the poor?

      Oh wait.

      • by MBGMorden (803437) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @02:17PM (#32748904)

        From GP:

        With the added benefit of not actually decreasing the food supply and driving up the cost of staples such as grain and sugar.

        Funny how a single word can completely change the meaning of a phrase huh?

      • by AioKits (1235070) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @02:35PM (#32749148)

        Indeed, how can they morally justify taking away the wood chips, citrus peel, and straw puree from the poor?

        Quite, it sounds like my exact diet in college after buying text books.

      • That was the point of the first sentence, that it was a good thing they were finding alternative sources rather than cutting into the food supply. The second sentence is with respect to growing wheat and corn specifically to create fuel, thus taking that land out of food production which these new technologies would help to offset. It is not only happening in the heartland of America, but in third world countries where large corporate owned farms are not growing food for the local population, but are inst

      • by jandersen (462034)

        Indeed, how can they morally justify taking away the wood chips, citrus peel, and straw puree from the poor?

        While it is certainly better, in some ways, to produce bio-fuel from the things we don't actually eat, it is not the same as "now we have solved the problem" - there is still a lot to be said against this.

        Just for one thing, it does not solve the fundamental problem of consumerism, the idea that "it is everybody's right, nay, duty, to own several cars and to generally waste as many resources as possible". No amount of recycling will ever be able to neutralise what this lifestyle does to our environment, so

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @02:28PM (#32749068)

      You just might want to do a little more in depth research to see where the huge price rises in corn, etc come from. Hint: not from farmers, nor from ethanol production. It comes from wall street speculators, people who produce *nothing*, parasites, who take and take and take as much as they can get through controlling the government.

      Assholes who live in NYC and Chicago make more money off of food products than the farmers make.

      Even then, we have had mountains of surplus corn sitting around, you can go buy all you want. The "poor" suffer because those speculators drive the prices up.

      If the anti ethanol people are so concerned over corn ethanol, they can put their wallets where their mouths are and actually buy shiploads of corn and distribute it..but they don't, they just run their mouths and never even do the most minimal research about that subject, or any number of other subjects where there is this far left urban centric legend about commodities.

      Farmers want to grow food, they don't want subsidy to not grow food, that was forced on them when the government-at the direction of wall street-forced the ending of buying surplus crops in bumper years to maintain prices and switched to credit card based financial "food" for welfare and aid.

      You want someone to blame for high food prices, blame those jerks, the sames ones and same mindset like with the oil spill, cut corners, skim off all you can, never think of the future or your global neighbors, just be a bloated tick and live off the labors of others.

      • by richardkelleher (1184251) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @03:26PM (#32749706) Homepage

        As we all learned in Econ 101, if you decrease availability you push the price up. This is not to say that the higher price goes to the farmer, unless you are a large corporate owned farm where the corporation owns the distribution chain.

        You will get no argument from me that the Options markets are parasitic, but they can only hold prices up for so long before the increased prices cause surplus goods and thus push prices down which cause options contracts to become very costly to the investors who manipulated the market. Having an alternate use for the food, like the production of ethanol, only helps the speculators hold the price higher. Since these same people are the ones who invest in things like ethanol plants, they can help themselves by building more ethanol capacity and getting government regulations in place to force more ethanol into the fuel supplies.

        Any way you look at it, family farmers and the poor (and yes most poor work and work hard) end up getting screwed again by large multi-national corporations and the politicians they buy.

        • by sumdumass (711423)

          As we all learned in Econ 101, if you decrease availability you push the price up. This is not to say that the higher price goes to the farmer, unless you are a large corporate owned farm where the corporation owns the distribution chain.

          Sort of.

          Here is how food markets, specifically in the US are different. You see, a lot of the surplus in the US gets used by the government in aid packages sent oversees. It's the entire subsidies issue where the government pays to have excess food produced in case a natu

        • You will get no argument from me that the Options markets are parasitic

          Quite the contrary, options markets like the Chicago Merc give sellers access to buyers and visa versa. The same with hedge funds. Where things go wrong is where large operations have fast and fat pipelines to the markets and can execute orders mili-seconds ahead of others. Those who deal in options can lose as much if not more than they can gain. A brother-in-law of mine used to day trade and he warned me about options just for this

      • by mangu (126918) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @03:39PM (#32749882)

        You just might want to do a little more in depth research to see where the huge price rises in corn, etc come from. Hint: not from farmers, nor from ethanol production. It comes from wall street speculators, people who produce *nothing*, parasites, who take and take and take as much as they can get through controlling the government.

        If this were true, farmers would have a very simple way to get rid of those parasites: sell directly to the consumers. AFAIK there are no militias that force farmers to deliver corn to the speculators at gun point.

        Here's a farmer that grows corn, there's an industry that consumes corn. Both meet, agree on a price, the corn is delivered. Simple, isn't it?

        However, both farmers and industries much prefer the system where intermediates guarantee prices and delivery. With a commodities market farmers know they will always have someone to sell their products to, industries know they will have someone to buy from. The futures market tell them what price they will get so they can plan ahead.

        If markets were as bad as you say, then North Korea and Cuba would be the richest nations in the world. Albania would still be Stalinist, China would have continued with Maoism and the Soviet Union would still be a union.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by PopeRatzo (965947) *

          AFAIK there are no militias that force farmers to deliver corn to the speculators at gun point.

          But there's something much more effective that does force them: economic realities of farming. Their exposure is so great because of input costs and weather conditions and their profit margins so small that they don't really have a lot of choice in comes to selling their crops. Usually, they're just delivering on contracts and the end-user of their product is often not even known, unless they have a specific dea

          • Farmer checking in (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:25PM (#32750968)

            This may not be true of every farmer out there, but I'm not obliged to sell anything to anyone I don't want to. We're not all just hapless pawns of some faceless organisations resident in a Manhattan skyscraper.

            If a nice man comes to me at the beginning of the season and promises to buy however much (beet/potato/turnip/broccoli/whatever) I produce at a given price, and it's a price I like, we do business. It takes a lot of the uncertainty out of the whole business. I have insurance for crop failures (owing to various natural disasters) which takes more uncertainty out. Does it all cost me money? Sure it does. If I have a surplus over and above what a speculator will pay for, I can then sell it on the spot market, or compost it, or whatever makes the most sense.

            If I'm feeling lucky and I've had a few good years I can try to second-guess the market and fight it out on the spot market unaided, but the fact is that that is not easy to get right. Farmers basically invented the futures market to guarantee some kind of return, and the commodity markets revolve around that whole issue.

            So, here's a big, fat hint for you: if you don't like AmeriGloboLeechCorp crushing the hapless peasants under the heel of its italian leather pumps, find some other way to ease the wild uncertainties which dominate the farming industry. Oh, and until you find that other way? Get used to poor ignorant peasants like me doing business with people who will work with us. Call them speculators, call them what you will, they can wheel and deal the futures that they have bought (with real cash money) amongst each other until they get dizzy. I got the cash in my pocket, and I'm using it to plant whatever's on order this season.

            PS: I maybe sound more combative than I feel, and people obviously realise some of this, but I get very tired of people painting farmers as illiterate hicks. A modern farmer in the west is an entrepreneur (or the US, anyway) and the stupid and lazy ones go broke by the dozen. As with any small business, it's the smart ones that survive. We have inputs, capital and running expenses, markets and regulations by the score. A modern farmer has to have a sound working knowledge of everything from livestock first aid through to economic principles, to do well. As far as the purchasers? I really don't care who or what they are as long as the currency is genuine. I will charge what the market will bear, and if someone else takes the delivery and sales stuff off my hands for a cut of the action, so be it. I have plenty of work to do out here on the land.

            PPS: The single biggest cause, as far as I can tell, for the rise of agribusiness in farming concerns particulary is that this is about the best way of gathering the kind of big capital that really large scale farming demands. It's not my style, and I don't need it, but a lot of people who complain about factory farming (which is really a misnomer) would do well to, again, come up with some kind of alternative rather than just whining about where the economic realities of today have led.

            • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

              Farmers basically invented the futures market to guarantee some kind of return

              But now it's a golem that's eating your lunch. More money is made betting on the price of corn than growing and selling corn. That's not a healthy situation.

              When our economy collapsed in October of 2008, it was because there was more money at stake in credit default swaps, betting on mortgages, than all the mortgages were worth. It's a recipe for disaster, but if the family farm goes under, some big agribusiness firm is just go

              • by maxume (22995)

                The problem wasn't the credit default swaps, it was the fact that huge numbers of the mortgages were 'fucking bogus'.

                If home buyers had told the truth and the buyers of mortgage backed securities had understood what they were buying (or rather, understood that there were things they should not buy), there could have been 10 quabrillion dollars stacked up on top of them in CDSs with no ill effect. The credit default swaps just showed how stupid a couple of firms were compared to their peers.

              • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

                by Anonymous Coward

                Hi, farmer checking back in to answer this.

                You said: But now it's a golem that's eating your lunch. More money is made betting on the price of corn than growing and selling corn. That's not a healthy situation.

                I get the impression that you missed every second word I typed, or failed to comprehend the implications, so here's an explanation for you:

                First, if there weren't people dealing with the purchase, accumulation, marketing and shipping, I would have to do all that myself, and that is a lot of work. I'm

          • by maxume (22995)

            So your theory is that speculators pour money into the futures markets, thus ever driving the price of the goods traded on those markets down?

            Sounds stupid.

          • Independent farming (aka "family" farming) is one of the hardest ways to make money, and thank goodness there are still people willing to do it. Far from being in a position of power regarding their transactions with "speculators" farmers are pretty much at their mercy.

            Farmers are only at the mercy of the markets if they allow it. Instead of selling to speculators, who can themselves lose money, farmers can start a Community-supported agriculture [wikipedia.org], CSA, program. Local people can buy a share of produce wher

        • by matthewd (59896)

          I would also add that farmers can participate in the futures market, at least one way I understand it is used is to hedge against price declines. They even have access to these newfangled things called computers and spreadsheets that help them keep track of their breakeven points and develop trading strategies. Some farmers have even been known to store their harvests when market prices are low (ie, below their profitability targets) and sell them when the market prices have recovered. Go figure. It alm

      • You just might want to do a little more in depth research to see where the huge price rises in corn, etc come from. Hint: not from farmers, nor from ethanol production. It comes from wall street speculators

        ok, so i'm a speculator. I've bought 1000 tonnes of corn in the hope it goes up. Then what do I do?

        Do I burn it?
        Do I dump it in the ocean?
        What?

        At some point, that corn has to be sold to the end user, and in the process I increase the supply, just as I increased the demand when buying. i.e. when it's consumed, someone paid the market rate for it.

      • It'd seem to me that any country that could make a surplus on staple crops could actually benefit from higher prices. Excess produce can be sold for higher prices, bringing higher income. The problem comes when you're importing food to survive, like haiti. Or when you're not a farmer and the higher food prices produce a significant impact on your life.

        It's always a bit of a balance between the farmers, who want higher prices, and the people, who may or may not be able to afford them. In countries where a

        • It'd seem to me that any country that could make a surplus on staple crops could actually benefit from higher prices. Excess produce can be sold for higher prices, bringing higher income.

          That's not how economics works, the scarce costs more than the abundant. For instance when the supply of silicon does meet the demand the price of silicon goes up. And when supply is greater than demand then prices go down.

          The problem comes when you're importing food to survive, like haiti.

          Question, why are Haitians impor

          • Goods can be scarce on the global market but still have a production excess in the local economy. If i'm not mistaken, this would produce high profits for the people producing the excess.

            A good example might be nickle mining in say, Canada. Canada produces significantly more nickle than it can use domestically, so an increase in the price of nickle due to global shortages will help nickle producers in Canada.

            Simply apply the same theory to agricultural production. Like, for example, the coffee production in

            • Goods can be scarce on the global market but still have a production excess in the local economy. If i'm not mistaken, this would produce high profits for the people producing the excess.

              Yea, higher profits until a competitor starts exporting as well. Or the market is flooded with the product. Then prices drop.

              Falcon

    • Ok, so it doesn't compete with food supplies - but what uses does it compete with?

    • by e4g4 (533831)
      My question about the whole benefits of yeast produced ethanol thing is whether, in the long term, it can actually produce enough energy to make the whole process carbon neutral. Can we power all the devices that produce the industrial byproducts with all of the energy from those by products?

      I get that theoretically , the whole thing is carbon neutral (at least it seems so to me) - as the yeast is releasing carbon sequestered in plant material via ethanol and carbon dioxide (and that eventually gets con
      • Two Points:

        First, you are looking at the wrong angle. Biofules is just solar power using a different angle. Thre is more then enough carbon to make biofules work.

        Second, the real question is knock on effects. Farming the fuel stock could increase CO2 in the area. Farmed land tends to relase greanhouse gasses that was stored in the land. . Fertilizer tends to use a lot of hydrocarbons in production. Most biofules need to be cooked with heat - which tends to come from hydrocarbons. I think biofules are vi

      • My question about the whole benefits of yeast produced ethanol thing is whether, in the long term, it can actually produce enough energy to make the whole process carbon neutral. Can we power all the devices that produce the industrial byproducts with all of the energy from those by products?

        The process is, or can be, carbon neutral. It can actually be carbon negative, taking more carbon out of the atmosphere than what's released when farmed then used. That's because the residue, what's left after the alc

    • Nothing like solving the energy issues for the wealthy while letting the poor starve just a little faster.

      Gee, imagine poor people with land that can't grow food on growing crops for fuel they can sell, then being able to buy food.

      Falcon

  • Duke Nukem Forever (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bzzfzz (1542813) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @02:04PM (#32748752)
    There have been research and "breakthroughs" in cellulosic ethanol production reported with stunning regularity since 1898. Yet, a commercially viable process remains elusive. The combination of enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation described as a breakthrough in TFPR is prior art and covered in the Wikipedia article (see link in summary).

    Until the process becomes cost competitive with corn, this is just a story about some enzymes and yeast that only a zymurgy nerd could love.

    We'll see whether they commercialize this before cold fusion becomes a practical source of commercial electrical power.

    • by Americano (920576) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @02:46PM (#32749260)

      Yep, it's a press release, and we have to wait until we see some hard numbers to see whether or not this single development would make it "commercially viable".

      But you can't disregard the fact that - if the claim is true - doubling the output of the fermentation process makes it one step closer to "commercially viable" than it was before.

      They're not claiming that "fermentation & enzymatic hydrolysis are the breakthrough," what they're claiming is that a new combination of enzymes and refinement of the process have increased the yield significantly.

    • by skrimp (790524)
      No problem was ever solved until it actually was.
    • by couchslug (175151)

      That's because the "breakthroughs" are referred to as such out of wishful thinking.

      It is a waste to Slashvertise them.

      • by Americano (920576) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @03:18PM (#32749628)

        Man I wish I could have figured out that this is just another clever lie from the cellulosic ethanol cabal.

        How do you do it? It's like you're privy to data that's not available to normal people!

        Skepticism is perfectly healthy. Refusing to consider anything because "it's never worked before" just makes you look sort of dumb.

    • Even with this, does ethanol still cost more in energy to produce than it provides? It currently provides a way to raise the price of corn by increasing demand, but that is really hurting many people who rely on cheap corn as a food source.

    • Yeah. When I saw this I wondered what ever happened to the producing ethanol from switchgrass that was making the news a couple years ago.
    • by vasago17 (972827)
      Check out POET (www.poet.com), they have a commercially viable cellulosic ethanol process up and running right now in Scotland, South Dakota and will be opening their first commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant in 2011 in Emmetsburg, IA. I work for a company that was invited to demonstrate and test our equipment on their corn cob bales last November at their Project Liberty Field Day. They've got the process down and are going into full swing with it.
    • corn

      Ethanol from corn is not cost competitive. The only reason corn is used to make ethanol is because of the massive subsidies corn ethanol gets. Brazil [wikipedia.org], the second largest producer and the world's largest exporter of ethanol uses sugarcane as it's feedstock. Sugarcane produces more ethanol than corn does. Even better as a feedstock is switchgrass [wikipedia.org].

      Falcon

  • Monsanto effect (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RyanFenton (230700) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @02:10PM (#32748844)

    There's a potential problem with the whole 'special yeast' part - yeast is airborne, and its main feature is that it rapidly reproduces as it eats. Historically, yeast strains were developed by leaving starched/sugared water out, then selectively culling the foam that grew on top until you had something that made bread rise and taste good.

    Basically, yeast is everywhere - and the problem with using a special yeast is the same problem that many biofuels using microflora have: Contamination of your carefully bred cell lines, and spread of your proprietary licensed lines into nature leading to lawsuits.

    I hope the Netherlands has better laws about owning and licensing life than Monsanto follows. Yeast would be FAR harder to legally control than even food crops, as enough use would mean you could accidentally gather their 'product' almost anywhere on earth just by leaving out some floured water, then rapidly selecting for best performance across quick generations.

    Ryan Fenton

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Patch86 (1465427)

      As you quite rightly mention in your first paragraph, people have been creating "special" yeasts for years. There are already literally countless "special" yeasts manufactured for use in beverage making and industry.

      In other words- that's hardly new. Presumably that problem has long since already been encountered and solved.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        It has been encountered and ignored. For brewers and bread makers (and the many other varied users of yeast), it is really not that important that the yeast not get into the wild because that's where they got it from. Basically the question is, is this "special" strain of yeast one that they isolated from the wild or is it one they created by injecting new DNA into an existing strain? If the former, it is no problem if it gets into the wild, it was already there. If the latter than there may be problems, bu
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MikeyO (99577)

      An overwhelming majority of the beer and wine and spirits we drink are made from specialized yeasts. Its not terribly difficult to keep a specialized yeast strain from being contaminated by other yeasts. Ask any homebrewer (like me).

      • Yikes! I've been dumping the trub from my brewing on my compost pile. God only knows what damage I've done.
      • An overwhelming majority of the beer and wine and spirits we drink are made from specialized yeasts. Its not terribly difficult to keep a specialized yeast strain from being contaminated by other yeasts.

        What do you do? I used to freeze starter in ice cube trays however I stopped because I preferred making different beers and wines. I don't make enough to justify keeping starter for each style. So I buy a strain of yeast for each one now. I'm hoping to grow kiwis in my garden next year or the year after

  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @02:21PM (#32748960) Homepage

    Enzymes for conversion of cellulose into something more useful as a fuel have been around for years. The problem is that the enzymes tend to cost too much. This outfit at least has a plan to grow the enzymes at the refinery, rather than shipping them in. The costs of these processes have dropped substantially in recent years. [nytimes.com]

    Fuels are very cheap per unit volume. Any input to the process has to be even cheaper.

  • what waste? everything list would be better being mulched and returned.

  • In that it also eats flesh, controls your mind, and makes you smell funny. Oh yea, and make you crave braaaaaiiiinsss!
  • POET (www.poet.com), the world's largest ethanol producer has had a pilot scale cellulosic ethanol plant running in Scotland, South Dakota for over a year now. I work for a company that was invited to test our equipment on their corn cob bales last November. Right now, POET has dropped their production cost to about $2.35/gal of ethanol and are in line to get the price down even more. They will be starting up a commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant in November, 2011 in Emmetsburg, IA. They've cut en
  • >would use waste products such as wood chips
    If this is true, it would be nice to be able to contact all wood working companies and have them send their wood chips left overs to a recycling plant to make some biodiesel fuel and maybe be able to set up more gas stations with bio diesel alternative

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