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US Offers $30M For High-Risk Biofuel Research

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the dream-fuel dept.

Power 183

coondoggie writes "This one sounds a bit like really wishful thinking. The US Department of Energy today announced $30 million for research projects that would develop advanced biofuels that could replace gasoline or diesel without requiring special upgrades or changes to the vehicle or fueling infrastructure. The $30 million would be spent over the next four years to support as many as five 'traditionally high-risk biofuels projects,' such as converting biomass into biofuels and bioproducts to be eventually used for hydrocarbon fuels and chemicals."

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First Post (0)

lttlordfault (1561315) | more than 3 years ago | (#34566930)

A Drop in the ocean

Re:First Post (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34566952)

But if it comes out frosty, is it still a drop, or is it a frozen globule of urine?
 
No answer needed. This is a rhetorical question.

$30m/5 years? (2)

appleguru (1030562) | more than 3 years ago | (#34566934)

That's not much of a development budget....

Re:$30m/5 years? (1)

appleguru (1030562) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567006)

err.. 4 years.. still $7.5/year isn't exactly a ton of money. That being said, I think the powers that be recognize that fossil fuels and similar power sources are inherintly a dead end. Creating new fuels is an energy intensive process, effectivly making the new fuel a one-time use battery. And depending on the process used to create it, generally not a very efficient one.

A bunch better way to spend money is developing new battery tech and at looking at utilizing solar energy to power them. That, or get over the stigma against nuclear tech and utilize small personal reactors for energy...

Re:$30m/5 years? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567078)

> personal reactors

from http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/nuclear-faq.html

Q. Are we ever likely to have nuclear powered cars?

Alas, no, if present nuclear physics is all there is to say about the possibility. A nuclear reactor engine that would provide the right amount of energy for a car could be built and would run fine and would require refuelling only every 5 or 10 years. The only problem is that it would kill the driver, the passengers, and perhaps bystanders. Nuclear reactors, as described above, produce neutrons, which are very penetrating particles and give people radiation sickness if the exposure is substantial. (All our bodies are penetrated all the time by small numbers of neutrons.) Power reactors have several feet of concrete shielding between the active part of the reactor and the operators. A big enough vehicle like an aircraft carrier or a big submarine can afford the shielding. In the 1950s some thought that nuclear aircraft were feasible. Maybe they were, but the projects were abandoned.

Re:$30m/5 years? (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567450)

pesky details.... you some sort of tree hugger?

Re:$30m/5 years? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567818)

Pesky details are also the sort of thing I like to call "engineering and physical reality", something that people just think are made up to inconvenience their lives of consuming, commuting and making babies.

There wouldn't be enough uranium or thorium on the planet to supply every car in the world anyways. This is it, folks, we're in the end-game of cheap energy oil-driven civilization. It's gonna be fun.

Re:$30m/5 years? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567474)

http://www.marshield.com/page/2/60/

Are there alternatives to feet of concrete shielding available that are lighter-weight?

Re:$30m/5 years? (3, Funny)

jameskojiro (705701) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568000)

OMG, what about using a beta-volatic cell utilizing a lightweight isotope that decays via beta emission into a stable element.... Something like say Sulfur 35. Use the small reactory to continually recharge the battery packs in an electric car like a Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt....

Beta Emitters = No pesky neutrons, Gamma rays of alpha particles...

The "reactor" actually more like a batter cell type design, can be shielded with the same kind of tin foil bat shit insane people use to cover their heads for crying out loud.

Re:$30m/5 years? (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568424)

can be shielded with the same kind of tin foil bat shit insane people use to cover their heads for crying out loud.

Most bat-shit insane people I've seen wearing foil hats wear ones made from aluminum. Which is kind of ironic, given that they suppose themselves to be in the enlightened minority, but are unaware that aluminum foil does not offer the same protective properties against telepathic rays as tin. It does, however, protect against beta rays, but it's need to be much thicker than aluminum foil (orders of magnitude thicker).

All that said, the big problems with your idea are (1) amount of energy produced per unit weight is insufficient for cars; (2) disposal; (3) cost of enriching the fuel.

There are reasons beta electric cells are generally reserved for special-use cases like satellites.

New Battery tech - already being done (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568488)

A bunch better way to spend money is developing new battery tech and at looking at utilizing solar energy to power them. That, or get over the stigma against nuclear tech and utilize small personal reactors for energy...

Thing is, billions are already being spent on developing battery and solar tech. $30M is a drop in the bucket, but could possibly point to a way to make things like lubricating oil, aviation fuel, etc... from biological sources economically.

Unfortuantly, hydrochemicals still beat batteries like a red headed stepchild when it comes to energy density, and will for the forseeable future. So in applications where you NEED that density, demand isn't going away. Examples I can think of - airplanes, long haul trucks/trains*, backup power generators, etc..

*Just too expensive to run wires over that much territory

As for the AC about nuclear cars - neutrons aren't actually that big of a deal; a single sheet of metal is normally sufficient to stop them.

Re:$30m/5 years? (2)

AhabTheArab (798575) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567082)

Right. In other news: The DoD is currently bitching that they might be losing something like $10 billion in funding next year. Of course, even that is a just a small fraction of DoD's full money allocations.

Re:$30m/5 years? (1)

TheL0ser (1955440) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567100)

"to support as many as five 'traditionally high-risk biofuels projects,'" (emphasis mine)

So it's actually much, much worse.

High Risk? (3, Funny)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 3 years ago | (#34566968)

As in, high risk of genetically modified bacteria escaping the lab and turning every carbohydrate it finds into fuel oil?

Re:High Risk? (2)

Stregano (1285764) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567042)

Possibly high risk because you car explodes, or high risk because if it comes within skin contact, you become a mutant, but not a cool X-Men type of mutant. Like the Mutant whose special power is that one of their arms is on their back

Re:High Risk? (1)

TheL0ser (1955440) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567212)

Hmm, I think we can negotiate. Is this arm in addition to my first two, or in replacement of one? Will I have use of it like my dominant hand or my off hand?

Re:High Risk? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567372)

"Like the Mutant whose special power is that one of their arms is on their back"

That could have its uses: it would make wiping ones ass easier.

Re:High Risk? (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568502)

"Like the Mutant whose special power is that one of their arms is on their back"

That could have its uses: it would make wiping ones ass easier.

Well, that depends on which way the elbow bends, what part of the back the arm is attached to, and whether there's a shoulder joint, doesn't it?

I mean, sure, it could make wiping your ass easier if the arm has a shoulder joint right in the middle of your back, and the elbow bends toward the ass. What if it bends towards the head? I guess that's a bad example, since then you could brush your hair more easily. But what if it bent towards the side?

And even if the arm was perfectly position to help you wipe your ass, you'd have to have clothes specially fitted. And you couldn't comfortably lean back in a chair. And forget about laying on a blanket to do some stargazing.

And what about laying in bed with your partner? If you want to face eachother, you've already got a where-do-we-put-the-extra-arm problem. Now you've also got that problem when you're laying on your back (forget cowgirl positions!), if you're being spooned, etc.

All in all, having an extra arm originating from your back is more hassle than it's worth. Unless you are unable to prevent getting shit all over your hands when you wipe, in which case you may be an edge case where it would be useful.

Re:High Risk? (5, Informative)

ducomputergeek (595742) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567074)

High risk or what used to be called "basic research". These are project that may work or provide useful insight for down the road. Chances are they may not lead to some kind of "success" in the commercial world. When companies fund research and development it usually evaluates projects based on the likely hood they'll be able to produce something that is commercially viable and they can break even or profit from the work. We really haven't seen a lot of basic research labs where companies throw money into R&D and see what happens. That's the way it used to work back in the day with places like Bell Labs and even Xerox. Today this is usually done at research universities.

Re:High Risk? (1, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568222)

We really haven't seen a lot of basic research labs where companies throw money into R&D and see what happens. That's the way it used to work back in the day with places like Bell Labs and even Xerox. Today this is usually done at research universities.

Why do your own research when you can get government to throw a bunch of money at it? The US, for example, throws billions of dollars every year at basic research. Where's the incentive for me to do basic research on my own dime?

I see this as one of the big social drivers for destroying scientific progress in the world (not just in the US). Currently, in a lot of fields the only gain from genuine scientific inquiry is status. And that can be gamed too. I see in many decades the possibility of a huge publicly funded, parasitic scientific community which doesn't do anything. Any attempt at genuine science would threaten the status quo and so is actively squelched.

Re:High Risk? (2)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568576)

Where's the incentive for me to do basic research on my own dime?

There never was one. That's the nature of basic research -- there's no monetary incentive to do it.

This is precisely *why* we have public funding for basic research. So that it gets done, absent a natural monetary incentive to do it.

Re:High Risk? (0)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568832)

There never was one. That's the nature of basic research -- there's no monetary incentive to do it.

Then there's no such thing as basic research. Any useful research eventually leads to a monetary incentive.

Re:High Risk? (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568542)

Today this is usually done at research universities.

And even at research universities, the proportion of basic research is being actively reduced.

This is partly because of reduced government funding for projects that do not produce tangible viable results, and partly because of the increasing partnership between public research universities and private for-profit enterprises.

Re:High Risk? (3, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568622)

We really haven't seen a lot of basic research labs where companies throw money into R&D and see what happens. That's the way it used to work back in the day with places like Bell Labs and even Xerox.

That's the "back in the good old days" version. The reality is that Bell Labs worked almost exclusively on research eventually intended to have commercial yield, any basic research was done in support of that goal.

Re:High Risk? (1)

aethogamous (935390) | more than 3 years ago | (#34569054)

From the grant documents:

Funds are not intended for basic research leading to process development, although if an applicant deems such R&D to be necessary to achieve performance targets, the inclusion of such work may be included in the overall project plan and schedule, up to 20% of the total proposed budget under...

so, no, not basic research. The high-risk here refers of course to the risk of commercial success:

OMP's emphasis on advanced biofuels is intended to encourage industry to invest in traditionally high-risk biofuels.

From a science (but not commercial) point of view basic research grants tend to be very risk adverse.

Re:High Risk? (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567436)

High risk as in no chance of being profitable within the next quarter, or even the next year, may not even be profitable before you cache in your golden parachute and move on to the next corp to gut and sell.

Re:High Risk? (1)

kick6 (1081615) | more than 3 years ago | (#34569442)

As in, high risk of genetically modified bacteria escaping the lab and turning every carbohydrate it finds into fuel oil?

Considering the dearth of nutritional value in carbs, especially processed carbs, would this be all that bad? I guess vegetarians would piss and moan, but they're too physically weak to put up much of a fight anyway.

Colza ? (1)

SCiPS (672691) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567008)

Yes sure... burn the rain forest to put colza instead... great idea biofuels !!!

Re:Colza ? (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567202)

If the microbe solution can be scaled, no country will need to burn anything down. There will be vast lakes with bacteria eat algae and convert it to fuel. The fuel will be skimmed of the surface of the lake and refined.

The lab microbe are quite specific in that each type produces 1 type of fuel.

But the engine upgrades are what make it fun... (5, Interesting)

rwa2 (4391) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567014)

Biofuels like Ethanol have a very high octane rating, so you can increase power output with really high compression ratios with superchargers and turbochargers. Supposedly these turbo gasohol vehicles are popular in Brazil, where they can actually grow and produce their cane sugar ethanol with a net positive energy output (whereas corn-based ethanol in the US costs more energy to make than you get from it in return... so it's really just an agricultural subsidy as well as a way to water down imported petroleum-based fuels and decreasing your gas mileage - FTW!)

Meh, some interesting reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethanol_fuel [wikipedia.org]

Re:But the engine upgrades are what make it fun... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567150)

Actually, no. Ethanol-powered vehicles have fallen out of fashion in Brazil for a variety of reasons. At any rate Petrobas has just open that new deep-water oil field, so no worries.

Re:But the engine upgrades are what make it fun... (3, Informative)

bruno.fatia (989391) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567408)

That's not really true. Ethanol-only vehicles have been discontinued and now the flex fuel vehicles are the most usual.
You can read more at wikipedia [wikipedia.org] it's pretty complete.

Re:But the engine upgrades are what make it fun... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567672)

Actually, yes. I do live in Brazil, and I have a flex car. Flex cars are able to run on either gasoline or ethanol at any mixture rate. So there is absolutely no worries here, and this US research seems to make absolutely no sense, since this has been a solved problem in Brazil for quite some time. Ethanol is doing good, thanks for asking.

Re:But the engine upgrades are what make it fun... (2)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568610)

this US research seems to make absolutely no sense, since this has been a solved problem in Brazil for quite some time.

Unfortunately, here in the US we do not have the right climate for growing enough sugarcane to satisfy our appetite for fuel. Nor do we have the cheap labor required to make it cost-effective.

On top of that, we have various agricultural groups spending millions in lobbying to ensure that *their* crop (read: maize) is the target of most of the research, despite the possibilities of switchgrass or other plants being much better.

Re:But the engine upgrades are what make it fun... (2)

WamBamBoozle (113151) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567614)

Ethanol from corn was always a goofy idea. What holds promise is biodeisel from algae.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodeisel#Yield [wikipedia.org]

The yields tropical regions can get from palm are pretty amazing to but what is ideal is using useless land (NV) for algae farms.

Re:But the engine upgrades are what make it fun... (1)

Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567732)

Engine mods and upgrades are NOT fun. The reason is that it often costs upwards of $100,000 [gonaturalcng.com] to certify any conversion kit for a vehicle with the EPA. What this means is that all alternative fuel mods on post 1975 vehicles are a no-go. Unless the fuel can go in without conversion (like with biodiesel), then the costs are going to be too high to make it viable. This is why CNG is not our primary transportation fuel right now.

Re:But the engine upgrades are what make it fun... (1)

mlts (1038732) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568108)

If one takes ethanol (or E85), this is a good solution -- less MPG, but better HP. Its downside is that oil needs to be changed more often because water dissolves in it, creating an acid. This is also why the service guide tells you to run a tank of pure unleaded every 3000-7000 miles.

However, here in the US, we don't have sugar cane whose by-product can be turned into booze for the car, and the effect of using corn means that food prices go higher since it is an either or unlike sugar cane -- corn goes to be processed for ethanol, or it gets made into food.

If there is some type of crop that can be grown for its main function, but have lots of sugar that can be fermented/distilled into ethanol, this would be ideal -- people eat, cars get filled up.

On a long term scale, what would be interesting is a way to pull CO2 directly from the air, mix it with water (best bet is desalinated so it does not interfere with water needs) and start making crude oil this way ready for refining and reuse. Nuclear power has enough density per square foot, so one could combine a nuke plant, a desalination plant, and a CO2 remover in one area, and get crude in quantities that are usable for fuel or for plastics. To boot, it would be a crude oil free of mercury, sulphur, or other possible toxic metals.

Re:But the engine upgrades are what make it fun... (1)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568444)

Sugar beets have plenty of sugar, around 20% of the beet is sugar. And it grows perfectly in the north central USA, such as the Dakotas, Minnesota and Michigan, or farther south. The problem is that corn gets tons of subsidies from the government (corporate welfare for the Monsanto asshats) and beets do not. Beets will get you around 20% more fuel per acre than corn but costs more because of the subsidies on corn. Without the subsidies, it would likely be comparable or cheaper to use sugar beets. You also get about 8x more gallons of fuel than using soybeans for oil, although oil has around 20% higher carbon density, thus it is about 5x to 6x more net BTU per acre with sugar beets/alcohol versus soybeans/biodiesel.

And alcohol has MUCH lower energy density than petrol. It also absorbs water, enough so that I just found it trashed about $500 worth of carbs on two of my electrical generators. Alcohol doesn't get better HP, it simply is less prone to detonation, so it can be run in higher comrpression engines, which by their very nature, are less efficient. So you can end up with more HP by jacking the compression up, but then your mileage goes down even more, in relative terms. This isn't exactly in keeping with green philosophies, is it?

You can't really say you use alcohol to help the environment, then drive a 300HP car that gets a combined 25MPG, unless the goal is to be hypocritical.

Re:But the engine upgrades are what make it fun... (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568654)

On a long term scale, what would be interesting is a way to pull CO2 directly from the air, mix it with water (best bet is desalinated so it does not interfere with water needs) and start making crude oil this way ready for refining and reuse. Nuclear power has enough density per square foot, so one could combine a nuke plant, a desalination plant, and a CO2 remover in one area, and get crude in quantities that are usable for fuel or for plastics. To boot, it would be a crude oil free of mercury, sulphur, or other possible toxic metals.

It's hideously expensive, energy-wise, to make crude from CO2 and H2O. We'd be better off getting away from liquid fuels entirely if we're going to use nuclear as the primary power source. Nuclear --> electricity on grid --> car battery would be far better, I'd think. Sure, we'd need to improve the grid... but the last-mile infrastructure is already in place.

Re:But the engine upgrades are what make it fun... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568840)

So where can I get this pure unleaded?
All our gas here in NY state is contaminated with 10% ethanol.

Re:But the engine upgrades are what make it fun... (1)

mlts (1038732) | more than 3 years ago | (#34569168)

Even worse, it may be going to 15% soon in a lot places. For older engines that don't have the ability to change timing for dealing with this, this will suck, not to mention the voided warranties of engines which are warranties to work with no more than 10% alcohol.

Re:But the engine upgrades are what make it fun... (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568670)

Supposedly these turbo gasohol vehicles are popular in Brazil, where they can actually grow and produce their cane sugar ethanol with a net positive energy output (whereas corn-based ethanol in the US costs more energy to make than you get from it in return...

That's because Brazil can slash-and-burn rainforest and raise cane on the fertile soil. It's a great business plan so long as you can slash-and-burn more rainforest after the old fields become exhausted after a year or two. Massive government subsidies and mandating the use of ethanol didn't hurt either.
 
Even if we could raise cane in significant quantities in the US (we can't), we lack the tropical rainforest to slash-and-burn.

Paranoia Reigns (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567040)

The Oil Companies regularly pay more than that to bury the technology. Or the inventor ...

Re:Paranoia Reigns (1)

Q-Hack! (37846) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567294)

The Oil Companies regularly pay more than that to bury the technology. Or the inventor ...

eh... When the oil companies run out of oil, they can then sell us energy from all the patents they hold. We get to continue using energy and they get to continue making obscene amounts of cash. Sort of a win/win situation... at least until we run out of arable land to produce fuel with. We are all doomed in the end [youtube.com] anyway.

Urgency (1)

cosm (1072588) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567054)

This sense of urgency makes me think that the US Govt is paying attention to the problem of Peak Oil. [wikipedia.org] This country will experience some serious pain when we hit the downside of that slope, and probably the world for that matter.

Re:Urgency (4, Interesting)

jfengel (409917) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567216)

Well, I wouldn't call $30 million over 5 years "urgent". That's doughnut money to the Department of Defense, whose budget is 100,000 times more than that.

US domestic oil production peaked 40 years ago. We've been subject to nasty oil shocks ever since, as well as the unpleasant fact that many key oil exporters are avowed or tacit opponents of the US. We'd much rather be self-sufficient in oil, regardless of whether the rest of the world experiences Peak Oil or not.

Re:Urgency (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568446)

The DoD has actually been somewhat more active than the government generally in alt-energy research.

Partially, I'd assume that this stems from the simple fact that, when your oil products have to be shipped to you through hostile territory, you are already experiencing the sorts of prices that peak oilers have in mind(never mind something really dramatic, like enemy infiltrators blowing a few gulf coast refineries just before starting a hot war...)

Partially, I'd assume that it stems from the fact that the military has years of experience with blowing off popular opinion. Politically, admitting anything more than "Maybe we'll have to switch from oil to Clean Coal: America's Power(tm) to sustain our God-given lifestyle" will get you lynched and not reelected. Within military R&D circles, you have a better chance of hiding behind the flag and getting your work done.

Re:Urgency (1)

corbettw (214229) | more than 3 years ago | (#34569474)

many key oil exporters are avowed or tacit opponents of the US.

Considering we get about 50% of our oil from Canada, I'd say you were absolutely correct!

Re:Urgency (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567234)

Urgency? $7.5 million? Please tell me you're being ironic.

$7.5 million isn't even pocket money. By comparison, the US military spent that every ten HOURS in 2009. If they get what they're asking for in 2011, they'll be spending that in more like five or six hours.

This isn't even paying lip service to the idea of peak oil being a future issue. This is sticking our fingers in our ears, and screaming "LALALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!!!" at the top of our lungs.

Re:Urgency (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567402)

Of course, after I clicked submit, I realized I meant to say $7.5 milion/year. Whoops!

Re:Urgency (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567434)

$7.5 million isn't even pocket money. By comparison, the US military spent that every ten HOURS in 2009.

Umm ... every 10 hours during 2009, the military spent $758 million.

So, in comparison, we are talking about 20 minutes of the military budget.

Re:Urgency (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34568208)

Yep, it's a double d'oh moment for me. Dropped a decimal point on the way to the comment button.

Re:Urgency (1)

Amorymeltzer (1213818) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567236)

This sense of urgency

The same page as TFA features this story [networkworld.com] :

The US Naval Air Systems Command has given Lockheed Martin $45.8 million to buy two of its K-MAX unmanned helicopters and Boeing's Frontier subsidiary $29.9 million to buy two A160T Hummingbird unmanned aircraft. The Navy/Marines will ultimately choose one of the unmanned helicopters...

More than $75 million to get four count 'em 4 aircraft so that they can later pick which one they like best. Spending $75 million now so that they can shell out hundreds of millions is urgent. $7.5 million a year for four years wouldn't even buy you a test run in the aircraft, which the military should be demanding anyway.

Re:Urgency (1)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567590)

The difference being that, in one case, they're buying a finished product, while in the other they're throwing money at something that may never pan out.

That's sorta like complaining that it costs millions of dollars to build a nuclear reactor, but your crazy neighbor swears he'll be able to build you a perpetual-motion machine - eventually - for only a $100 investment. Maybe the neighbor is worth investing in, on the off chance that he actually makes something useful, but it doesn't compare to buying something you can use right now.

The big oil and gov are afraid (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567072)

of Hydrogen Too easy to make and too hard to control

Re:The big oil and gov are afraid (4, Insightful)

RobertB-DC (622190) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567692)

The big oil and gov are afraid of Hydrogen Too easy to make and too hard to control

I wouldn't have bothered responding to this old canard, especially from an AC, but my future son-in-law laid this on me during a (very) long road trip. He was convinced that hydrogen must be that Secret That Oil Companies Don't Want You To Know. After all, it comes from WATER, for crying out loud. You can drop a 9-volt battery and get hydrogen, for crying out loud... all we have to do is put that in a car and run it on water, right? Right?

*facepalm*

For those new to the laws of thermodynamics: Hydrogen is combined with Oxygen to form Water, yes. But it takes energy to get the menage-a-trois separated. And the energy required to liberate H2 from that codependent relationship is, by the laws of physics, no greater than the energy you'll get by combining it *back* with O.

My discussion partner said, "That's ok, we'll just have batteries to do the electrolysis." I gently suggested that if you're going to have enough batteries to generate enough electricity to generate enough hydrogen to run a car, you've got enough batteries to generate enough electricity to run a car -- without that lossy "generate hydrogen" step.

To his credit, I think he understood. That's one. AC, here's hoping you're #2.

Re:The big oil and gov are afraid (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567944)

Now you know how I feel when I deal with similarly deluded folks I like to call Space Nutters. You know the type; the human race MUST colonize the universe, we'll have space-based solar energy, mining asteroids, etc. We don't have remotely the energy or technology to do any of these things, yet the Space delusion is so powerful no amount of logic, reason or reality can make Space Nutters see reality.

Re:The big oil and gov are afraid (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34568250)

But it's powerful enough to mod me down in the time it takes to wank to tranny porn. Way to go, Nutters! You won't silence me!

Re:The big oil and gov are afraid (1)

Rising Ape (1620461) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568626)

Except the cheapest ways of making hydrogen are from fossil fuels - natural gas, and perhaps coal. The gap's even bigger than the difference between fossil and alternative methods of making electricity.

Re:The big oil and gov are afraid (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#34569226)

"of Hydrogen Too easy to make and too hard to control"

Show us pics and specs of your successful hydrogen-converted vehicle. No one can control YOUR personal production and use of hydrogen, so have at it, bitch-ass AC, and prove your point.

Hydrogen zealots are great at selling equipment to others, and that's about it. Don't fuck off and die, because fucking off wastes time. Just die.

30 Million? (2)

ShaunC (203807) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567124)

Aren't we spending untold billions of dollars every year chasing Iraqi oil? $30M is a droplet of piss in the sewer. Fund it for real or get the fuck out.

Re:30 Million? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567288)

And Russian via Afghanistan.

Re:30 Million? (1)

box2 (1885028) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567304)

Why would they have to get out? That doesn't even make sense. That's like "Well, we don't have enough food for everyone, so all of you have to leave." It may not be as much spending as maintaining our current fuel source, but probing for alternatives and helping them to not die out before they can reach something beneficial is nothing to be angry about.

Re:30 Million? (0)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567622)

Didn't you get the memo? Now that Obama is in office, you're supposed to drop the no-blood-for-oil bullshit. It only works when the republicans are in charge.

Less wishful thinking then one might think. (2)

alexander_686 (957440) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567132)

In the lab they have gotten microbes to produce crude oil – oil that could go into a standard refinery for gasoline, jet fuel. Etc. Of course scaling from the bench top to a industrial process.

Ethanol fails because it is hydrophilic and can not be transported with our current pipelines.

Re:Less wishful thinking then one might think. (3, Interesting)

ciggieposeur (715798) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567678)

It's not only in the labs. Terrabon [terrabon.com] is right now demonstrating a biomass-to-gasoline process on a pilot plant scale. It's real gasoline, not alcohol or other alternative fuel.

Uh, how about butanol? (3, Insightful)

Xonstantine (947614) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567136)

Pros:
1) Burns in gasoline engines without modification
2) Can be transported in existing gas pipelines (does not emulsify water like ethanol does)
3) Higher energy content per gallon than ethanol, only a little less than gasoline
4) Can be produced in the same manner that ethanol is (ie, fermentation)

Cons:
1) Does not have a farm lobby attached to it

Re:Uh, how about butanol? (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567374)

Cons: 1) Does not have a farm lobby attached to it

Also low motor octane/high sensitivity. Put it in many gasoline engines without modification and they'll either knock heavily under load, or retard the timing severely reducing power and efficiency.

Re:Uh, how about butanol? (1)

Xonstantine (947614) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568868)

tert-butanol has an octane of 89, which should satisfy most engines.

Re:Uh, how about butanol? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34569200)

Cons:
1) Does not have a farm lobby attached to it

Also low motor octane/high sensitivity. Put it in many gasoline engines without modification and they'll either knock heavily under load, or retard the timing severely reducing power and efficiency.

As opposed to putting Ethanol in a gasoline engine without modification?

Changing the air/fuel ratio to make optimal use of butanol is trivial in comparison to the hoop-jumping required to make ethanol a viable gasoline-replacement. Adding some water-injection to the mix will take care of the knock, even in a high-performance engine.

Re:Uh, how about butanol? (1)

jfengel (409917) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567392)

"Cons" should also include that it's toxic (more so than gasoline).

As well as the fact that it's currently expensive to manufacture and distill, with low yields.

Neither of this is necessarily impossible to overcome, but it's dishonest to claim that the only thing wrong with it is that it doesn't have a lobby. In fact, it DOES have a lobby: BP and Dupont have both been working on it.

Dealing with these issues might be a great use of some of that $30 million. But it's not a miracle cure.

Re:Uh, how about butanol? (4, Interesting)

jpedlow (1154099) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567520)

Was lucky enough to do some work with butanol while in school (O-chem, with some manufacturing chemistry)
Apparently nowdays there's several fancy nickel catalysts that do the trick, but with relatively low yields
BUT, fiberous bed bioreactors are the trick for half decent yields...
I'm out of chem now, I stuck with my computer nerd roots and am in a server room right now, but it was readily apparent (back in the day) that butanol was the clear choice for ease of transition, octane rating, transportability, and it's emissions are 'supposed to be' cleaner than current gas offerings.
ANYWAY, go butanol go! Not quite the same octane ratings as ethanol, but it'll run on almost any vehicle with very little-if any- tuning

Re:Uh, how about butanol? (2)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568702)

1) Does not have a farm lobby attached to it

Since butanol can be produced (an on an industrial scale certainly would be) from farm raised biomass... One suspects it's just a wee bit more complex than that.
 
But, knee jerk blaming the corporations and lobbyists is easier than actually trying to understand the issues.

Re:Uh, how about butanol? (1)

Xonstantine (947614) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568850)

Since butanol can be produced (an on an industrial scale certainly would be) from farm raised biomass... One suspects it's just a wee bit more complex than that.

But, knee jerk blaming the corporations and lobbyists is easier than actually trying to understand the issues.

Yes, butanol can be produced from farm raised biomass, same as ethanol. But as far as air time and subsidies go, it's ethanol, all the time. Therefore the logical conclusion is that the butanol lobby, such as it is, isn't nearly as effective as the ethanol lobby. To the point of not existing.

http://finance.yahoo.com/q?s=OOIL.OB (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567162)

Being done...

Farm it on the OCEAN (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567228)

2/3 of the Earth surface is for biofuel farming...

What about Compressed Natural Gas? (2)

emo65170 (1915892) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567246)

It makes sense to me that we should be developing technology to exploit the vast natural gas reserves we have here in the U.S. We're already familiar with CNG tech for automobiles plus its cleaner burning. Perhaps the government could subsidize CNG conversions for older automobiles and for gas stations.

Re:What about Compressed Natural Gas? (1)

homer_ca (144738) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568240)

Try running 200 million cars on natural gas and those reserves won't be so vast any more. We use it for 20% of our electricity, and it's already one of the most expensive sources of power, useful more for peak load than base load.

CNG vehicles are already subsidized in some cities for air quality reasons. It's ok for buses and local delivery vehicles, but it's a long way from being practical for long haul trucking and personal use.

hemp (0)

iONiUM (530420) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567270)

Remind me again, why we aren't using hemp instead of oil and corn? Oh right, something to do backdoor deals made to vilify hemp [wikipedia.org] back in the day. I guess this isn't the first time political agenda has come before the good of people.. and it sure won't be the last.

Re:hemp (1, Funny)

Motard (1553251) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567592)

Remind me again, why we aren't using hemp instead of oil and corn? Oh right, something to do backdoor deals made to vilify hemp [wikipedia.org] back in the day. I guess this isn't the first time political agenda has come before the good of people.. and it sure won't be the last.

Because hemp fuel only seems a viable option if you're smoking a joint.

Gas != hemp or corn or sugarcane. Even Al Gore finally gets it.

Re:hemp (1)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567660)

Remind me again, why we aren't using hemp instead of oil and corn?

Our reptilian overlords are allergic to it.

On the bright side, every time we smoke a bowl, we're striking a blow against Alien Oppression!

Grandpa Munster invented this already (3, Funny)

countSudoku() (1047544) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567296)

Back in the 60s he invented the Gasoline Pill, which converts water into gasoline right in your tank! Unfortunately he lost the formula, so that's why there's a prize now.

There's nothing that Grandpa Munster, The Professor from Gilligan's Island, or Scotty can't solve with their engineering geniusness!

Biobutanol... (1)

mgH20 (1959732) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567500)

a long enough chain it works pretty nicely in standard internal combustion engine. Just gotta find a bug that can make economically and doesn't take of the planet...seems simple enough. We have opposable thumbs which should help! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butanol_fuel [wikipedia.org]

there isn't enough biomass (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567642)

The world uses too much fuel for biomass to make a significant contribution . The only case i see is when the cars stop moving due to the fossil fuels running out . That means this is a real hail mary .

Re:there isn't enough biomass (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568564)

Nah it's self correcting. When the cars stop moving, people start dying (after all, many of those vehicles are transporting things essential to the sustenance of our overcrowded cities), there's less need for freight and more resources to go around again.

The end winner has to be fueled (0)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567656)

Battery technology will never be at the point where we can go as far as we currently can in a small car, and along the way charge up in under a few minutes (unless people start gaining acceptance for sealed personal nuclear power supplies)...

People don't want and cannot afford specialized cars just for commutes. Shared cars are great but you cannot rely on them 100% like your own car.

I'm sure battery powered cars have a future but I just cannot see them as being the mainstream car that most people drive. Fueled vehicles make a lot more sense for how people use cars, so as oil dwindles it's just a question of what fuel we'll be using. I think hydrogen might well win in the end, but something like this biofuel project could make for quite a long term transition using traditional engines.

Re:The end winner has to be fueled (4, Interesting)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568736)

Battery technology will never be at the point where we can go as far as we currently can in a small car, and along the way charge up in under a few minutes (unless people start gaining acceptance for sealed personal nuclear power supplies)...

So you say. People also said that gasoline cars would never be as reliable as a horse and wagon.

People don't want and cannot afford specialized cars just for commutes.

Horseshit. I drive a specialized car just for my commute. You think I *enjoy* driving an econobox? I do it becaause it's cost-effective. The family wagon gets used by my wife during the week, and by the family on the weekends.

When liquid fuel prices get high enough, then you better believe people will want to drive a specialty vehicle for commuting... and all their other driving.

I'm sure battery powered cars have a future but I just cannot see them as being the mainstream car that most people drive.

Obviously, I disagree. I think there are inherent disadvantages to fuel systems due to:
(1) distribution and transportation costs
(2) the relative inefficiency of small engines, and
(3) the decreased dependence on a limited set of fuels.

With regards to (3), I think from a security standpoint, as well as a market efficiency standpoint, we're far better having a system where we can swap out power sources as needed. This gives us better long-term viability (for example, allowing us to more easily change to nuclear and renewable energy sources).

$30M? Over 4 years!? (2)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 3 years ago | (#34567802)

Just to put this into perspective - $30M is about 12 hours worth of profit (not revenue, profit) for Exxon. Even with the oil spill costs, it's about a day of profit for BP.

Careful.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34567986)

Biofuels only make your food more expensive, it is a huge error to bet on something that comes from the same place your food does.....

Re:Careful.. (1)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568470)

Depends on the source of the biomass, there is some work in developing Algae with a high lipid content for use in creating biofuels.

Fuel from high explosives (1)

Megahard (1053072) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568174)

Maybe power my car with JATOs like on Mythbusters. That should qualify as "high-risk research".

Farm biofuels on the OCEAN (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34568210)

The ocean surface is waiting for biofuels farmers.

Make Engines That Don't Suck (2)

CompMD (522020) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568298)

100 year old Diesel technology is more helpful in our current situation than wasting money trying to conjure up new fuels from nothing. Here's a couple vehicles I have that provide a better solution:

1984 Mercedes 300SD Turbo (OM617): It will run on just about anything. All kinds of oils, both vegetable and petroleum, jet fuel, heck, you can even dump ATF in the tank (though I don't recommend it) and it will burn that.

1983 Chevrolet Suburban (Detroit Diesel/Allison 6.2): This will also run on just about anything. It has the engine that AM General picked to power the HMMWV. There are probably still lots of these 6.2s running around all corners of the earth powered by who knows what.

These vehicles are likely going to still be puttering around for a very, very long time. Rust will get them before the engines go. We need to be focusing on developing better engines so that we don't end up backed into a corner on fuel. If we truly have options on what we can power our vehicles with, we'll be in a much better position.

Re:Make Engines That Don't Suck (2)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568746)

heck, you can even dump ATF in the tank (though I don't recommend it) and it will burn that.

ATF? Alcohol, tobacco, and firearms? I recommend burning two of those three, and for the third -- combustion is part of how they work.

Re:Make Engines That Don't Suck (1)

mattack2 (1165421) | more than 3 years ago | (#34569322)

But your old diesel technology also puts out a lot more pollution, doesn't it?

(Though I don't see why they don't make more diesel hybrids, instead of gas hybrids.)

$30m over 4 years split 5 ways (1)

eepok (545733) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568472)

Yay... $1.5 million per year for 4 years per project. I sure hope they're really promising because that's much time or money to do anything major like find a means to turn biomass into a gasoline substitute that would utilize all the current fuel line infrastructure. Good luck, guys!

To clarify (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568546)

High Risk of not being profitable. Not, you know, of destroying civilization as we know it and rendering the planet inhabitable for human life.

Re:To clarify (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 3 years ago | (#34568972)

> Not, you know, of destroying civilization as we know it and rendering the planet inhabitable for human life.

You say that like its a bad thing... ;-)

Henry Ford had it right all along. (3, Insightful)

Ozlanthos (1172125) | more than 3 years ago | (#34569084)

It was this nation's #1 cash crop for over 100 years. As such, 90% of the components for the first automobiles were made of it (and previous to prohibition of alcohol, most cars were fueled by it). Henry Ford grew acres of it, and envisioned that we'd literally be "GROWING CARS"... But unfortunately William Randolph Heart made his money from newspapers printed on paper made from wood pulp (one of the three textiles it would have displaced had it remained legal after the invention of the decordicator...the other two being oil, and cotton). A medium he used to demonize it, and stigmatize our nation to the point where to this day (80 years later) all most of us do is make stupid snarky comments at the mere suggestion of it's use as an alternative to oil. Due to this nation's ignorance of it, and our resulting dependence on it's competitors, most of civilization will most likely perish before it becomes legal again....I am of course talking about Industrial Hemp.

Think I'm lying? Rather than make stupid remarks about smoking it, try looking it up on Google or Youtube and enlighten yourself!!!

-Oz

It's about time! (1)

gottabeme (590848) | more than 3 years ago | (#34569190)

They should have been doing this every year since a long time ago! Just imagine, funding research that might actually lead to something useful and solve a real problem!

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