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Power Science

Startup Claims to Make $1/Gallon Ethanol 456

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the get-ready-to-fight-the-lobbies dept.
gnick writes to mention Wired is reporting that an Illinois startup is claiming they can make ethanol from most any organic material for around $1/gallon. Coskata, backed by General Motors and several other investors, uses a process that is bacteria based instead of some of the other available methods. The bacteria processes organic material that is fed into the reactor and secretes ethanol as a waste product.
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Startup Claims to Make $1/Gallon Ethanol

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  • wrong metric? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Erpo (237853) on Friday January 25, 2008 @11:30PM (#22190038)
    $1/gallon would be great if it were gasoline, but one gallon of ethanol doesn't store the same amount of energy as a gallon of gas.

    How many joules per dollar does that work out to compared to gas?

    Or, even better, how many miles per dollar does that work out to in today's ethanol-powered cars?
  • Re:Great, but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mixmatch (957776) on Friday January 25, 2008 @11:30PM (#22190040) Homepage
    That is a modest proposal if I may say so myself.
  • Re:logic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatmanNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday January 25, 2008 @11:34PM (#22190068) Homepage Journal

    we could get 2% efficiency, but if we're getting it cheap, that's all that matters, right?

    Yes.

    The efficiency argument as it pertains to ethanol is related to the so-called "energy positive" problem. The concern is that if it takes more energy to create the ethanol than it does to farm it and convert it to fuel, then what exactly is powering all that farm equipment? It can't be the ethanol, or we'd eventually run out of energy.

    On the other hand, grid power consolidates the power infrastructure and therefore is wonderfully inexpensive. If this machine did nothing more than take grid power and convert it straight into ethanol, it would be a miracle machine. It's almost as good as if you had a machine that converted uranium or plutonium directly into millions of barrels of ethanol. If you get a slight boost from the energy already stored in the corn, so much the better!

    The key thing (economically) is to get off of oil. Oil is starting to weigh down our economy and gives far too much power to current and potential enemies. Making transportation cheap again would rebound the economy, bring food prices back in line, and generally improve things for the U.S. (and really, the rest of the world) all around. :-)
  • by FlatEric521 (1164027) on Friday January 25, 2008 @11:35PM (#22190080)

    Besides cutting production costs to fire sale prices, the process avoids some key drawbacks of making ethanol from corn, company officials said. It wouldn't impact the food supply, and its net energy balance is high because the technique works almost anywhere using almost anything with great efficiency.
    If it can do all that, then lets go for it. I always had reservations about corn ethanol's impact on the food supply and prices, but by using the garbage/waste products they describe, that problem goes away. Corn is central to our food economy, from sweetener (corn syrup) to feed for livestock. Little price hikes due to burning corn in our cars means bigger price hikes in so much of the rest of the food we buy. Let take ideas like these and stop burning usable food in our cars.
  • by CajunArson (465943) on Friday January 25, 2008 @11:35PM (#22190088) Journal
    Car makers like to sell.... wait for it..... cars. Despite the Illuminati Trilateral Bush 9/11 conspiracy theories that are popular on Slashdot, GM really doesn't make out that well when oil is expensive and people don't buy their cars. Case in point: Look at the profits oil companies are making right now vs. the insane losses GM is making right now.
        Now unlike the John Edwards types who look at profits as always being "evil" they are instead incredibly useful. GM would not be putting a dime into ethanol if the Oil companies WEREN'T making huge $$ right now and there was a big desire to expand alternative fuels. This is also how I knew that Greenpeace didn't really give a shit about the environment. When gas first went above $3 per gallon, they had some airhead on venting about how the evil oil companies were price gouging. If Greenpeance actually cared about the environment they would have been jumping up and down praising the high cost of gas since that would spur more investment in alternatives.
  • by ILuvRamen (1026668) on Friday January 25, 2008 @11:35PM (#22190090)
    with cars lasting longer these days, people will sell their old one just because the new one gets like double the gas mileage. It's a huge selling point that makes people dump their old cars abnormally fast. So that's kinda why. As for the "OMG this can't be true" thing, you dump organic stuff in a tub, let it rot, and drain out the ethanol. Maintain an environment that the bacteria lives in and keep getting cheap organic matter and you're set. How expensive can that be?
  • by John Hasler (414242) on Friday January 25, 2008 @11:36PM (#22190092) Homepage
    But I forget: this is Slashdot.

    Hint: the process does not use corn.
  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Saturday January 26, 2008 @12:00AM (#22190240) Homepage Journal

    "inthishouseweobeythelawsofthermodynamics" is cute when someone's bragging about their perpetual motion machine. It makes you look ignorant when the story is about someone converting one form of energy to another in an incrementally more efficient way than before. News flash: it's obvious that current production methods can be improved upon. What part of that smacks of breaking the laws of physics?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 26, 2008 @12:28AM (#22190396)
    That was a really rough way of putting it, but I'll bet most Americans have the exact same sentiment.

    If you really want to "stick it to them", do your part. Seriously.

    Reduce demand by laying off the lead foot. Get rid of the short hops to the store by making a weekly trip, preferably coupled with other errands. Buy a few shares of an alternative energy stock and put it in the IRA. Things like solar panel companies or even OLED for the ultimate lighting in 5 years. Recycle your plastic religiously.

    Bottom line is the less oil used, the less oil purchased from the Middle East. It's not a Republican or Democrat issue, it's an American issue.
  • by Bryan Ischo (893) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @12:31AM (#22190410) Homepage
    From TA:

    "Even if you produce it county by county, you still need an infrastructure," he said. "People aren't going to go to some remote location for fuel."

    This has not been my experience. I have met countless stupid people who will drive 20 miles to save 2 cents per gallon on gas. People would probably drive 50 miles to save 5 cents per gallon of gas.

    If this stuff was sufficiently cheap, I'll bet there are people who would drive for hours just to fill up and save themselves $20 at the pump.

  • Re:Great, but (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bryan Ischo (893) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @12:34AM (#22190422) Homepage
    Sounds good to me. I'm all for artificially limiting the supply of gasoline to force people to improve their efficiency and seek out alternative fuels. I hope they don't build anymore oil refineries, ever.

  • by GreatDrok (684119) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @12:41AM (#22190460) Journal
    Don't expect the price of any petrol replacement to be any less than petrol if widely deployed.

    One of the reasons for the high taxes in the UK for fuel is that they want to keep traffic numbers down. Pushing the price up should discourage people from driving so much in theory. Of course, the government just becomes dependent on the taxes and so will want a big cut of any other fuel source. Certainly, in the UK if you drive a diesel fueled by used cooking oil, a waste product which would normally be dumped, the government expect you to pay tax on it. The justification is that the tax is used to maintain the roads although that is supposed to be what the road tax is for. Anyway, it is currently cheaper to use vegetable oil and pay the tax than to use fossil diesel but if it gets more popular to use such biofuels the price differential will go away. Sure, they will be largely carbon neutral but the government will still want the same amount of income from fuel sales, they're addicted. I think the US drivers will have to get used to similar things. Accept it, whether the fuel is from fossil or modern sources, the price is going to remain high. You'll never see $1 per gallon again.
  • Re:Great, but (Score:3, Insightful)

    by T-Bone-T (1048702) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @12:47AM (#22190504)
    There's just one problem with that thinking. It assumes that all oil gets turned into gasoline. It is only one of many products that are all more expensive because of rising oil costs.
  • by heroine (1220) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:06AM (#22190574) Homepage
    Still waiting for the $1/watt solar panels from last week. Would even take the silicon nanotube batteries from the week before.

  • Re:logic (Score:3, Insightful)

    by p0tat03 (985078) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:08AM (#22190582)

    The nice thing about ethanol is that continued research is almost guaranteed to drive down the price-per-energy cost by orders of magnitudes from what it is today, whereas oil will continue to rise simply by virtue of the fact that it is a limited supply.

    So while ethanol is still too expensive to be worthwhile, it's only a matter of time (IMHO a short one!) before ethanol will be as cheap as gas was in the late 90! I still remember 25c per liter (here in Canada, about $0.95/gallon). Maybe then I can afford a car! And maybe then my public transit won't have yearly price hikes on fuel price alone!

  • Re:logic (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zippthorne (748122) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:16AM (#22190614) Journal
    124%? That's a pretty slender margin. How many acres are we going to have to devote to ethanol feedstock to supplant oil, at a farm ratio of four times as much land just for running the process to make the fuel for everything else? And are you using fossil-derived fertilizer, or are you synthesizing the fertilizer as part of the energy cycle?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:38AM (#22190746)
    Actually it's not true. Oil prices are determined on a free market. The price of oil has been driven up by fears and anxiety of market participants as well as the decline of the value of paper currencies(aka inflation). Everyone villainizes Opec because they won't satisfy the demands of self centered twits who don't understand that demand has begun to exceed demand for a limited non-renewable resource, but OPEC can't do a god damned thing about it anymore. That's the truth of it. Fat lazy shits who live wasteful lives driving around in SUVs and bitching about OPEC should go on diets so they can fit their asses in smaller more fuel efficient cars, recognizing that there is a reason people have been warning about relying on non-renewable resources for decades, and that reason is the current set of circumstances that many saw coming, but most chose to ignore.
  • Re:wrong metric? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:42AM (#22190772)
    So let's do a rough calculation...
        $0.85 production cost of .85 gallon ethanol
      +$0.27 production cost of .15 gallon gasoline
      +$0.20 distribution
      +$0.45 federal/state taxes
      +$0.08 profit!
        x138% factor for BTU equivalence
    ---------------
      =$2.55 per BTU-equiv gallon

    So even in the *best* case of $1 ethanol, this only really saves maybe $0.45 per gallon over current peak prices. If production cost is really $1.50, suddenly it's not economically feasible.
  • Re:logic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatmanNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday January 26, 2008 @02:06AM (#22190934) Homepage Journal

    The nice thing about ethanol is that continued research is almost guaranteed to drive down the price-per-energy cost by orders of magnitudes

    That's true of most technologies. e.g. If we were to embrace hydrogen, I can guarantee that the price of hydrogen fuels would drop like a rock over time.

    The real beauty of ethanol is that it is similar enough to gasoline to make it a viable alternative for powering existing engine designs. Which means that the massive investments made in the modern, overdesigned, otto-cycle piston engine can continue to be leveraged while new engine technologies are developed.

    In short: Hydrogen would require an entirely new infrastructure. Ethanol would not. Which is a huge win for ethanol.
  • Re:Great, but (Score:1, Insightful)

    by douji (959987) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @02:22AM (#22191020) Homepage
    wow. what a troll. but just in case you're serious, reading your third paragraph, i wonder who's "a selfish son of a bitch who loves the idea of forcing other people to bend to your will, regardless of the cost."
  • Re:Great, but (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ArcherB (796902) * on Saturday January 26, 2008 @02:33AM (#22191078) Journal

    So hell yeah! Give me my cheap, locally produced gas so I can live my life the way the founding fathers wanted and so many died for, FREE!
    wow. what a troll. but just in case you're serious, reading your third paragraph, i wonder who's "a selfish son of a bitch who loves the idea of forcing other people to bend to your will, regardless of the cost."
    If saying that I want to live my life the way I choose, and not let those decisions made by people who live thousands of miles away is trolling... Then yeah! I'm a troll. Looking at our founding fathers, who must also must be trolls, then I'd say I'm in pretty good company. I guess the repressed people of world who are not allowed to make decisions for themselves might take some comfort in knowing that they are not trolls, but I prefer to be free. (as in speech)

    So you can give me liberty or kiss my trolling ASS!

  • Re:stop the lies (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 26, 2008 @02:53AM (#22191154)
    You aren't looking at the bottom line. Potatoes have a much higher yield per acre in terms of usable biomass.This is why they are so cheap at the supermarket.
  • Re:Great, but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bryan Ischo (893) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @02:55AM (#22191170) Homepage
    Just so you know, as soon as I read the first five words or so of your rant and saw the ad hominem attacks coming, I stopped reading. If you want to make a point, try to do it without resorting to insults. Obviously you cared enough about what you wrote to wrote a large diatribe, and if you want your time to be used effectively, you shouldn't hurl insults, because it just means you will have wasted your time in writing it.
  • Re:stop the lies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shbazjinkens (776313) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @02:59AM (#22191180)

    Corn on the other hand $502 per acre to produce.
    How much without subsidies?
  • Re:Great, but (Score:1, Insightful)

    by RealGrouchy (943109) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @03:46AM (#22191416)
    Yes, that's the Free Market that Americans and right-wingers the world over show so much affection for: they will charge you as much as you're willing to pay.

    - RG>
  • Re:logic (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 26, 2008 @04:11AM (#22191528)

    Unfortunately, the current refinement processes still result in a more costly product per unit of energy than petroleum. Gasoline prices are close to making ethanol affordable, but not quite.
    Of course that's not the whole story - an inmportant factor is that them sand niggers don't have any ethanol.
  • Re:stop the lies (Score:4, Insightful)

    by edittard (805475) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @04:24AM (#22191572)

    Potatoes cost $2017 per acre to produce. Corn on the other hand $502 per acre to produce.
    I fail to see the relevance, since they're usually sold by weight, not area.
  • Re:Great, but (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mcrbids (148650) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @05:06AM (#22191728) Journal
    Such a long rant, so lacking in substance. Whine whine whine whine.... But then there's something!

    I figure it's not about all these bullshit reasons you guys spout off. It's all about control. You and your do what you do to control people, for nothing more than the satisfaction, because you have to live by the same restrictions you put on the rest of us. Your lust for power makes that all worth it, I guess.

    I support rising fuel costs, with taxes if necessary. You know why? Because I want control. Not of you - you are an insignificant twat I could care squat about - but over myself. As long as the US is importing the majority of our fuel from the most politically unstable region in the world, our nation's stability and ability to defend itself is seriously compromised.

    But, if we bit the bullet, put a $1/gallon gas tax, and used the money to develop alternative energy, higher-efficiency vehicles, and became self-reliant using solar, switch grass ethanol, algae bio-diesel, or whatever, then our stability as a political power is assured. Some extremist whackjobs can't fark us up economically and/or politically just by dickering with our energy supply.

    And that's important to me. Right now, the US is in a seriously compromised position since we have to kneel at the behest of the middle east, and take it up the backside from the Chinese who are loaning us the money to fund the Iraq war.

    I don't like them apples.

    For the record, I've never protested solar, hydro-electric, wind, or nuclear development. So pull your head out of your arse, and take a longer view! This is about YOU when you are an old fart. And, when you are an old fart, you'll care just as much about your freezing ass as you do now.
  • Re:Great, but (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ranton (36917) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @05:09AM (#22191742)
    He wasnt referring to your wanting to live the way you choose. He was referring to the attitude that you should be able to do what ever you want regardless of how it hurts others. Just because killing off 100,000 caribou doesnt hurt you, that does not mean that it doesnt hurt others. There are people in this world that live off of caribou meat. Caribou meat makes up 75% of the diet of the Gwich'in tribe for instance. How does your desire for cheaper oil trump their desire to eat? Because the people in power have more guns?

    Doing whatever you want just for your own needs without thinking of others is pretty much the exact definition of selfish behavior. You want to force people to bend to your will just because you want some cheaper oil.

    Liberty requires personal responsibility. Responsibility to both yourself and others. Liberty means freedom from compulsion, but without personal responsibility all you are left with is a chaotic void.

    And cheap oil has absolutely nothing to do with what the founding fathers wanted for their descendents.
  • Re:logic (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dfgchgfxrjtdhgh.jjhv (951946) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @05:58AM (#22191922) Homepage
    I think you could make fertiliser as a waste product of the biofuel process.

    its a very valid point about farmland though. food prices will still go up, because of the increased cost of land, even if you could make it slightly cheaper to transport.
  • Re:Great, but (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kqc7011 (525426) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @08:48AM (#22192560)
    Right now before being made into gasoline the price of light sweet crude is going for right around $2.14 a gallon. This process cooks almost anything into organic fuel, not just expensive corn. Switch grass, trees, garbage, sewage solids and any number of organic waste products. If this can come out of the pump for equal to or less than the price of gas it is a win/win product.
  • by DECS (891519) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @01:57PM (#22194476) Homepage Journal
    Actually the government plays a huge role in making GM's business decisions. Carter drafted laws that mandated the CAFE MPG regulations that pushed carmakers to be more aggressive and innovative in their engineering, and mandated catalytic converters so that society wouldn't be enshrouded in a perpetual cancerous smog. The result was less dependence on foreign oil, cleaner air, and more efficient use of resources.

    Reagan scribbled out regulations, pushing carmakers to dial back the amount of effort they put into safety and economy, and instead invested in securing relations with the Saudis to ensure oil would be cheap enough to prevent competition. This was exactly the same as having a ditto head administrator clear out all the mainframe terminals and minis and replace them with "client server" PCs running Windows: it appeared to be cheap, but ensured a monopoly where there would only be one flawed product, one flawed vendor, and it would become outrageously expensive as it also prevented any new competition from arising.

    The oil monopoly was not an example of free market economics, but fascist corporate collusion with government. You're right that Reagan and Bush didn't invest in alternative fuels because they supported the Bush/Saudi oil monopoly. But Clinton did push alternative energy. When Bush II arrived, that was all cleaned out for the shell game of hydrogen, which Bush knew would sound good while accomplishing nothing other than to single source US energy back to Bush/Saudi oil.

    You can give Bush credit for handing corporations money to play with hydrogen, but this hasn't accomplished anything in the last 8 years other than to prevent any rational alternative energy research and keep us tied to Bush/Saudi oil. Notice that Bush/Saudi oil has also jumped from under a dollar in the early 90s under Clinton to nearly $4 under a decade of Bush. Also notice how Windows has changed from being around $100 in the early 90s to being $400 with Vista.

    That's what you get when you have no free market operating, and monopolize an industry under one vendor with no regulations to check what they do. If we're only going to have one OS vendor, we should mandate some kind of minimum functionality and reliability standards for operating systems and encourage competition. If we only have one fuel source, we should mandate efficiency standards and encourage competition.

    Sorry to explode your neocon brain with some reality. Now go back to your scheduled Fox programming and learn more about how "no other administration has offered a single penny of federal money to spur any type of alternative fuels/energy research, but Bush did." Retards like you are significant part of the reason why the US is fucked.
  • Re:Great, but (Score:2, Insightful)

    by emilper (826945) on Saturday January 26, 2008 @05:31PM (#22195870)

    You're saying that our only choices are either cheap gasoline, or unaffordable food, housing, and transportation. There is no reason to believe that there aren't a huge number of possibilities in between as well.

    You are right, there are lots of possibilities in between, such as malnutrition, diseases caused by exposure (to cold, not to the blazing sun), lack of economic competitiveness etc. When I have to work twice as hard to get the same stuff I got before just because some punks believed we have an unfair advantage because we don't need to buy oil from the OPEC and produce most of the electricity with hidro- (which is not green at all, fyi) and nuclear power and threaten with sanctions unless we jack up the prices, and then the same punks attempt force us to cut the carbon dioxide emissions quota by 20%, emissions which are already at about half of what is due according to the Kyoto treaty, just because they got the Green bug and/or want some more cheap guestarbeiters, yes, I am angry and I start hating the whole Green /Global Warming alarmism that's pushed on my throat (and yours too) by organizations that spend more on propaganda than my country spends on education or on the army - I mean the crooks from GreenPeace.

    Last time I checked New Zeeland wasn't faring very well: people live for Australia and GDP isn't stellar. Maybe the price of gasoline has something to do with that.

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