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Straw Converted to Gasohol in Canada 74

Posted by michael
from the short-straw dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Government of Canada announced that its vehicle fleet is the first in the world to use cellulose-based ethanol. Iogen Corporation produces the ethanol from wheat straw at its leading-edge demonstration facility in Ottawa."
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Straw Converted to Gasohol in Canada

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  • master blaster (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by enrico_suave (179651)
    master blaster run barter town, eh?

    e.
  • is spinnging straw into (black) gold?

    It had to be said. Sorry. I'm leaving now.
  • Northern neighbors (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SilverspurG (844751) on Friday January 07, 2005 @05:27PM (#11291347) Homepage Journal
    For all the grief the US people give Canada, they're really kicking our butts on the reality checks. The lobbyists and SIGs would have the US tied in knots trying to move any significant bulk of vehicle fleet to something like this.

    At least I think so. I'm sure someone will find some obscure example of some community in CA that does it...
    • by Linux_ho (205887)
      Yeah, well, except that they don't say anything about cost comparisons between making ethanol from cellulose versus traditional starch ethanol production. If it really is less expensive to produce ethanol from cellulose, it's REALLY cool! And you have to factor in that most cellulose is waste that would cost money to dispose of. But if it's not overall more cost effective than traditional ethanol production, then big deal. US companies are also developing new enzymes and techniques of making ethanol from ce
      • I don't think an alcohol subsidy which was brought from SIGs counts the same as moving a good portion of infrastructure to vehicles capable of running on 85% ethanol blends. I could be wrong.
      • right now about 12% of US gasoline contains ethanol, vs 5% in Canada.

        Bullshit [energy.gov]. Ethanol blends higher than 10% would void the warranty of your car. The most common blen in US and Canada is 10%, called "E10".
        • by Smidge204 (605297) on Friday January 07, 2005 @10:52PM (#11293969) Journal
          Uh, no... I think he means 12% of all the gasoline sold in the US contains ethanol, not gasoline is 12% ethanol. In fact, the article you linked to says exactly that: In the United States, one out of every eight gallons of gasoline sold contains ethanol. (1/8 = 12.5%)

          Thanks for the link, though. I find it interesting that MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether), which is used during the winter to reduce air pollution, in turn increases groundwater pollution. Where I live our only source of water is groundwater, so the local governments are SUPER DUPER anal about pollution control like septic/chemical waste systems and fuel storage... but the pumps say that the fuel is oxygenated with an ether from November to February. I wonder if it's the same stuff...
          =Smidge=
        • I don't know if it passed, but MN was at least considering legislation to require all new cars to accept 20% ethanol blends without modification.


        • Huh? You link shows E10, which is the most common, and E85, which has 85% ethanol. Not a word about warranties.

          During our little oil crisis, I started looking into making my own gas. I read somewhere that some cars can sense if you put in E85, and will adjust accordingly.
          • I read somewhere that some cars can sense if you put in E85, and will adjust accordingly.

            I doubt it [e85fuel.com].
          • Preferably an old diesel (European rather than the USian monstrosities). It will run perfectly well on waste cooking oil. If you're fussy you can process the oil with a rather nasty alkali and turn it into biodiesel. I didn't bother, and ran my old Citroen CX 25DTR on waste veg oil for months (and paid the appropriate fuel taxes, pennies per litre). It was quieter, less smoky and a seemed a bit smoother, maybe a little down on power but not really noticeably.
    • the problem with bio energy sources is the massive, massive, MASSIVE amounts of energy that we're using from oil.

      (basically..if you would start using it in a big big way you would run into problems making it. like, one person can run his car from waste oil from some mcdonalds.. but not the whole town)
      • Well the idea is to get the average usage of fossil fuels down so they can be used in places where other fuels cant be (jet fuel) and to buy more time to fix our energy problems.
        • ah but the point is that to do so at any reasonable level that would have an effect we could see we can't really turn to bio energy, as we would need so vast farms for it that it's not really feasible compared to nuclear power as power source for example, as there can be only so much biowaste and farms.
        • There have been lots of attempts to "buy more time", conspicuously CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) regulations in the US. They were touted as means to the end of energy independence, and they have been abject failures by this measure.

          Petroleum is still pretty cheap even after the recent runup in oil prices. If you want to get people to stop using so much petroleum, you have to make petroleum expensive enough to get their attention. Making ethanol as cheap as petroleum is just going to feed the increa

          • well we could put in an oil tax, but that would hurt the economy alot.

            However you could justify it by putting the money into alternative fuel research. Doubt it will ever happen though.
            • we could put in an oil tax, but that would hurt the economy alot.
              Dealing with oil-financed terrorists doesn't hurt the economy? I'd rather pay for those defense expenses at the pump (where they are incurred) instead of via my income taxes; an oil tax would give everyone an incentive to reduce the problem by becoming more efficient.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 07, 2005 @05:28PM (#11291358)
    I moved to Canada after being placed on the US no-fly list by trying to bring flammable materials on board an aircraft just by stepping aboard. Now Canada does this! They might as well declare open seasons on me.

    I'll never know when I'll go to sleep one night and wake up in a gas tank on a highway in Hamilton, Ontario, powering a Pontiac Firefly. I'm sure I'll have nightmares of this "straw to fuel" scheme. It took me years to get over nightmares of that damn green witch.

    Sincerely, the Scarecrow of Oz.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I moved to Canada after being placed on the US no-fly list by trying to bring flammable materials on board an aircraft just by stepping aboard. Now Canada does this! They might as well declare open seasons on me.

      I'll never know when I'll go to sleep one night and wake up in a gas tank on a highway in Hamilton, Ontario, powering a Pontiac Firefly. I'm sure I'll have nightmares of this "straw to fuel" scheme. It took me years to get over nightmares of that damn green witch.

      Sincerely, the Scarecrow of Oz.
  • duh. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Knights who say 'INT (708612) on Friday January 07, 2005 @05:31PM (#11291379) Journal
    About one fourth of brazilian cars have been running on cellulose-based ethanol since the late 80's.

    The whole system is only economical when we subsidize sugarcane farmers though :-|.
    • Re:duh. (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      About one fourth of brazilian cars have been running on cellulose-based ethanol since the late 80's. The whole system is only economical when we subsidize sugarcane farmers though :-|.

      Uh, no.

      Brazil uses standard fermentation from *sucrose* not *cellulose*. That's why you need sugarcane - to get the sugar. If you are just using cellulose, you can use anything with cellulose: straw, cornstalks, paper pulp, old cotton clothes, grass clippings, etc.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        And hemp! Don't forget the weed!
    • About one fourth of brazilian cars have been running on cellulose-based ethanol since the late 80's.
      That's interesting considering that the enzymes required to convert cellulose to sugar are at the cutting edge of alternative fuel research today.
  • by Hamstij (831222) on Friday January 07, 2005 @05:37PM (#11291430)
    With the American government completely owned by the governments of oil producing countries and the management of oil producing companies, our dependence on fossil fuels will only be broken by a foreign nation. They at least have the freedom to innovate!

    Good on you Canada, I hope other nations pick this up and help run with it.

    • by Tanktalus (794810) on Friday January 07, 2005 @05:42PM (#11291477) Journal
      Both the US and Canada are oil producers, too. The difference? The US is "led" by Texas (sitting president is from which state?), while Canada's leaders cannot consistantly point out "Alberta" on a Canadian map.
      • Sitting president is from Conneticut. He, however, can point out Alberta on a map, since it has more oil than the Middle east, now that the oil sands have been properly plumbed.

        I'm waiting for the day Bush declares Alberta the 51st state. It'll sure come as a shock to Albertans, who weren't consulted on the matter, but wouldn't dream of offending the 130,000 troops that just crossed the undefended border to "protect Canada from oil-targeted terrorism".

        • I know many Albertans who would welcome it ;-) My constituency had one of those "Alberta separatist" party clowns running in the last provincial election. Sad thing is that they didn't get zero votes...

          (I'm neither for nor against Alberta separating from Canada in principle. However, I don't trust anyone to do it properly, so I'd never vote in favour.)

          • I don't want Alberta to secede, just because it would cement in the minds of the Canadian Federal Government that everything west of Hudsons Bay doesn't deserve squat. We already have 1/3 of the population, and 1/5th the financial disbursement. If Alberta leaves and becomes an economic power, BC will have no choice but to revert to a hunter-gatherer-stoner society.

            Back to the topic, though... cars that run on muffins.

        • Those troops will find they are a lot less welcome here than they are in Iraq. I've got a couple of 30-30's that'll be happy to help explain it to them too.

      • The synthetic fuel goals in northern Alberta keep getting funded by the billions for some reason (I'm currently working on a side project - nothing impressive to the average Slashdot reader). The cost of extraction is high, but the available resources are quite impressive.

        Anyone want to take a shot as to why why all this money is being spent on crappy oil?

        If you guessed self-sustainability for North America you're probably right. All the while we learn more about clean production, co-gen, etc.

        If midd
  • by human bean (222811) on Friday January 07, 2005 @05:49PM (#11291579)
    on soil where wheat wouldn't grow before (go check...) in order to grow the wheat, then use the straw to make ethanol to burn in the car that was originally designed to run on the oil. Not to mention the oil products it takes to run the combines, discers, etc. and the power it took to run the fertiliser plant.

    While this gets an "A" for using a product that would ordinarily not have a high value, straw does rot back to its initial components and forms a major source of nutrients for upcoming wheat crops. Removing it for fuel just means you have to put more oil-based fertiliser.

    Seems to me that if you shorten this chain the efficiency might go up a little...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      straw does rot back to its initial components and forms a major source of nutrients for upcoming wheat crops. Removing it for fuel just means you have to put more oil-based fertiliser.

      Except that for the ethanol you only take out the carbon portion of the straw - the stuff that doesn't stick around when it rots anyway. You don't fertilize with carbon, you use (fixed) nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, iron and other micronutrients (basically salts). "Using oil to make fertilizer" means burning the oil for f
      • Letting straw rot has the advantage of feeding all kinds of decomposers, including fungi, which hold the soil together. (Zero-till leaves the roots in the soil and feeds them anyway, but not quite as much.) Raw cellulose contains little in the way of nitrogen.

        The grandparent poster may have meant that natural gas is used to make fertilizer (methane steam-reformed to hydrogen, the hydrogen combined with nitrogen to make ammonia [NH3] in the Haber process, ammonia either applied as-is or oxidized to nitrate)

    • I was going to post something like this. I'm all for non-petrolium energy sources, but unless the corn is grown with an organic crop rotation system, it often consumes more oil to grow the crop than if it had just been tipped straight into the car. I notice the article is seriously lacking in any information about the way the crop is grown.
      • You ought to do a little research before you make statements that have not been true since the early 1990s.

        one (start here) [journeytoforever.org] two [cornandsoybeandigest.com] Three [ndcorn.com], just to list a few links that I found.

        Now if you go back to the techniques of the 1970s, yes ethanol is an energy sink, but you won't last long in the farming buisness if you try that.

        • Who says farming would be uneconomical if it was an energy sink? The inputs and outputs of farming are very different and are treated dissimilarly; for instance, 10% ethanol blends of gasoline are exempt from the US federal gasoline tax (of 19 cents/gallon, I seem to recall) so the ethanol is subsidized to the tune of $1.90/gallon. If each gallon of ethanol required one gallon of off-road diesel at $1.40 to make, it would pay $.50/gallon even though the gallon of ethanol contains a lot less energy than the
          • Got any proof of that federal exemption? Last I checked most gas in MN is 10% ethanol, and other states (California) are going the same way because ethanol is the only easy way to meet their air quality requirements. (They used to use something else, started with an M, but it pollutes the ground water). I find it hard to believe the feds would allow themselves to loose that much tax.

            MN used to subsidize ethanol, but it only amount to 4 cents/gallon, and has been gone for 10 years.

            Don't forget to fact

            • I (finally, belatedly) checked this. The Federal tax exemption isn't the full 18.4 cents/gallon, but 5.2 cents/gallon [ncga.com]; this amounts to a $0.52/gallon subsidy for ethanol. That's still about $2/gallon to $2.50/gallon of energy actually created.

              ... ethanol is the only easy way to meet their air quality requirements.

              That's actually not true any more. Modern vehicles do not require oxygenated fuels to meet emissions standards. So-called "reformulated gasoline" requires special low-vapor-pressure blends (mor

        • That still only makes Ethanol an oil booster, it doesn't provide any sort of independence from fossil fuels.
    • straw does rot back to its initial components and forms a major source of nutrients for upcoming wheat crops

      Presumably you could put the leftover sludge from the ethanol production back onto the field and get a similar effect. The only elements that end up in the ethanol are hydrogen (which plants get from water), carbon, and oxygen (which they get from atmospheric CO2).
    • The FAQ of Iogen [iogen.ca], the company that is 'commercializing' this process states, (and no, I'm not joking)

      Is there enough agricultural residue in Canada to support a commercial cellulose ethanol industry?
      There are substantial quantities of straw and other crop residues already produced in Canada. In the Western provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta alone, annual production of straw is about 40 million tonnes. If 1/3 of this material was used to make fuel, the nation could replace 10% of its gas

      • If 90% of the waste biomass could be captured it would replace about 27%, and perhaps something else (like electricity from the abundant wind resources of western AB, SK and MB) could replace the remaining 73%. Just a thought.
    • Generally, the straw is already being taken of the land and being used for various agricultural/household purposes. E.g. it's commonly used to mulch gardens.
  • Cost to convert? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jtapper (461531)
    If today's vehicles can only use up to 10% ethanol, how much does it cost to convert an average vehicle to use up to 85% ethanol?
    Is this financialy feasable for your average vehicle owner and will it save them money, or just help save the world one kilometer (0.62 miles) at a time?
    • Re:Cost to convert? (Score:2, Informative)

      by chizzad (35279)
      Actually, some DaimlerChrysler cars (my parents' minivan) have a little sticker that says it can run on E85. The interesting thing is that E85 which is 85% etanol can be purchased in corn-towns in Minnesota cheaply. E85 and %10 must be subsidized in rural MN. /I wouldn't put E85 into my Golf IV but I do use the subsidized %10 ethanol mix.
    • I heard that the mainproblem is not with the engine itself but the fuelling system. Ethanol can cause hoses, seal etc to become brittle, and it is also hygroscopic (absorbs moisture from the air) which can then lead to corrosion. Aside from that it's just a matter of tweaking your fuel/air ratios (easy to do with modern engine management software)

      Seems that the auto companies could make these changes for peanuts, but I guess they just don't want to.
      • In any case since the mid 1970s or so the fuel system is compatable with ethanol.

        Your right it is a matter of fuel/air ratios after that, but it is more complex than you might think. E-85 is 105 octane, and needs to run at a higher compression ratio to work best. You can run at less, in fact this is what most cars do, but you it comes at the cost of needed to burn more fuel. (Ethanol has less energy per gallon, run at high compression and you essentially get more efficiency)

        Ethanol has a fairly high

      • Changing the lines and seals costs pennies. The real problem is being able to deal with a fuel which can vary so widely in stoichiometric mixture and vapor pressure. Consider the case of a vehicle which has 1/8 tank of gasoline, shuts down next to an E-85 pump, is refuelled with E-85 and then not restarted for two hours in 0 degree F conditions. How does the fuel system know what mixture to use to get a combustible mixture when the engine is cranked? You need a good fuel-composition sensor and smart softwar
        • Thanks for the clarification, both of you. I guess auto makers just need consumers to demand such flexibility. Cars are already marketed with different specifications for different countries [for example, until recently here in .au, a US-sourced car would have the standard-in-USA airbags deleted (because 97% of Aussies wear seatbelts) but disc brakes on all four wheels, while the US models retained rear drums.] I guess that multi-fuel capability is just pretty low on consumers' priorities.

          It's particularly
          • The problem is when the oxygen sensor is not giving a signal, such as on a cold start. You need to have a roughly-combustible mixture to get the engine to fire, and if you've changed the composition a lot while the car was shut down (such as refilling most of the tank with pure gasoline or E-85 when it had previously contained only the other) the mixture parameters stored from the last run will be way off. The only way to get it even approximately right is to be able to sense the composition of the fuel com
  • by rider_prider (698555) on Friday January 07, 2005 @06:13PM (#11291854)
    Since oil is now more expensive than alternative fuels, the alternatives will now be used... There many are groups in Canada's prairie provinces (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, yes even Alberta) trying to get ethanol plants built. They are trying to catch up to states like minnesota, the dakotas. On a recent trip through the Dakota's nearly every truck stop sold bio-diesel.
  • by justanyone (308934) on Friday January 07, 2005 @06:57PM (#11292308) Homepage Journal

    There are huge numbers of data points missing from this article:
    • What is the production cost of the ethanol in CDN$/litre (or gallon, whatever);
    • What is the capacity in millions-of-liters/year of a plant of x cost (fixed vs. variable costs);
    • Is there new technology at work here?
    • (advanced)What is the experience curve coefficient for cellulose ethanol?
    • What is total number of gallons (or litres) of gasoline used by Canada per year
    • what is the total number of liters per year of Ethanol?
    • what is the difference between cellulose-based-ethanol and other ethanols in (production cost, production capability, capacity, etc.).

    I know no one here will know this stuff necessarily, but it would be great if science articles like this could give the geeks in the room a nod and give __SOME__ of this info...

    -- Kevin
  • I can now use grass clippings to power my lawnmower!! I wonder if that will somehow lead to a case of Mad Grass Disease?
    • I can now use grass clippings to power my lawnmower!! I wonder if that will somehow lead to a case of Mad Grass Disease?
      Yeah, I believe it's been detected already in Vancouver BC.
    • Only if you are intending to export your lawnmower to the usa.
  • The process (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The ethanol is being produced by iogen http://www.iogen.ca/ [iogen.ca]. Info from their website, for those who won't even RTFA (Posted Anonymous so I'm not accused of karma whoring):

    "EcoEthanol(TM) is the patented name of Iogen's cellulose ethanol process. The process uses an enzyme hydrolysis to convert the cellulose in agriculture residues into sugars. These sugars are fermented and distilled into ethanol fuel using conventional ethanol distillation technology."

    ...

    Cellulose ethanol differs from conventional ethan

  • by azav (469988) on Friday January 07, 2005 @08:48PM (#11293260) Homepage Journal
    How does it taste?

    I'm looking for a smoothness without that old straw taste.
  • If you examine the energy cycle on this planet a majority of it ultimately came from sunlight striking a plant, making the weather, etc.

    Unfortunately nobody in charge really cares how the planet works as long as they pump their black gold from the ground. There is only so long we can operate our economy in direct opposition to nature before something bad happens.


    • Agreed. It's also helpful to point out supposed mistakes of the past 100 years without offering any reasonable alternatives.

      Then again, the morons of the world keep electing non-Gaia candidates so I guess we're all doomed.

      I'm planning to be smiling and giving a full-up "cheers!" to the asteroid that wipes us out. Last I heard, this was going to be next Wednesday.
  • The fact that Canada's fleet uses ethanol is vacuously true, sort of like saying that all green elephants like to play bridge. I've never seen a green elephant, and I'd sure like to see this "fleet" of ours. ;-)

Don't steal; thou'lt never thus compete successfully in business. Cheat. -- Ambrose Bierce

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