Scaling up biofuel tech: chemical versus biological processes

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Offline peppercorn

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Since reading sometime ago about technologies for producing higher alcohol biofuels, such as butanol, I've been interested in whether purely chemical processes would be a better route for large-scale manufacture of next generation fuels.

Ethanol is, as I'm sure has been discussed in many other threads, the political flavour of the month: probably driven on in the main by the US corn lobby, but I digress...

These higher alcohols are chemically far closer to petroleum fuels (by the number of C's & H's) with subsequently comparable volumetric energy density & hydroscopy; unlike ethanol.

The big question is:
   Does the increased complexity of two stage anaerobic bacterial processes required for bio-butanol (and others) production render these methods uncompetitive?
-Although I know Dupoint & BP are having a go...

More to the point: how come all the chemical processes (pyrolysis for example) appear to require far more external energy than their biological counterparts?

Can we not emulate nature's methods?
I have an amateurish knowledge of microbiology, but it appears that it is mostly a question of ion-transport (excuse my simplicity!)...
Fuel cells also involve ion-transport; can we not develop similar small-scale structures that are "programmed" to convert sugars, etc into alcohols at low temps/pressures?

Thanks.

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Offline peppercorn

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Scaling up biofuel tech: chemical versus biological processes
« Reply #1 on: 27/05/2008 12:43:09 »
Additionally, I've come across research on 2,5-Dimethylfuran (DMF) as fuel from biomass:
http://www.news.wisc.edu/13881

This has the perceived advantage of being a purely chemical process, but there seems to be questions over its toxicity.
Also the article claims DMF is 40% more energy dense than ethanol. Where do they get this figure? Is there a table for such things?
Further, is DMF compatable with IC engines?

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Offline chris

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Scaling up biofuel tech: chemical versus biological processes
« Reply #2 on: 30/05/2008 19:07:05 »
We interviewed Jim Dumesic, who came up with the DMF synthesis pathway, last year. This link contains a transcript of that interview in which he discusses its strengths:

http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/content/interviews/interview/758/

Chris
I never forget a face, but in your case I'll make an exception - Groucho Marx

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Offline peppercorn

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Scaling up biofuel tech: chemical versus biological processes
« Reply #3 on: 31/05/2008 12:39:26 »
Thanks Chris for the link to the DMF interview: Very interesting stuff!