Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Bio Fuel By-Products

This article excerpted from the New York Times outlines the possible uses for bio fuel by-products.
The baking tins and muffin cups lining the countertops in a corner of Ronald Holser’s cluttered laboratory were filled with curious substances resembling angel food cakes and loaves of bread.
Victor Lin, right, the founder of Catilin, invented a way to make biodiesel fuel that also yields a higher-quality glycerol. With him are Larry Lenhart, chief executive, and Yang Cai, a researcher.
But Mr. Holser did not advise eating them. The concoctions were prototypes for biodegradable weed barriers and sticky films intended to hold grass seeds on the ground long enough to germinate.
If Mr. Holser, a research chemist, and his colleague Steven F. Vaughn, a plant physiologist, are successful, they will have found more than ecologically friendly ways to fight weeds and grow grass.
They will have found innovative uses for a byproduct of the production of biodiesel fuel, glycerol. This, in turn, could help transform the biodiesel industry into something that more closely resembles the petroleum industry, where fuel is just one of many profitable products.
“Just like petroleum refineries make more than one product that are the feedstock for other industries, the same will have to be true for biofuels,” said Kenneth F. Reardon, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at
Colorado State University in Fort Collins. “Biorefining is what the vision has to look like in the end.”
Glycerol is used in a variety of products, including foods, soap and dynamite. But as biodiesel fuel production in the United States has risen, the market for glycerol has become saturated.
If scientists like Mr. Holser, who works at the
United States Department of Agriculture’s research center in Athens, Ga., and Mr. Vaughn, who works at the department’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., can expand the number of valuable uses for the syrupy liquid, biodiesel makers could sell their glycerol instead of paying someone to haul it away.
“Every week I get at least one or two calls from biodiesel producers who have all this glycerol and don’t know what to do with it,” Mr. Holser said.
Glycerol, also called glycerin, is not the only byproduct of biofuel production that is the subject of experiments. Scientists are also looking at profiting from the leftovers from the production of corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol, made from materials like switch grass, corn husks and prairie grass. Around the country, scientists, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are becoming increasingly interested in making more than fuel out of the raw materials for biodiesel fuel and ethanol.
“The opportunity, as we think about increasing our consumption of biologically derived fuels, is to consider what besides fuels can we make,” said Erik Straser, general partner of MDV Mohr Davidow Ventures, a venture capital firm in Menlo Park, Calif.
Some researchers, like Mr. Holser, are simply trying to find new uses for the regular byproducts of biofuels: distillers’ dry grain from corn ethanol and lignin from cellulosic ethanol.
Other researchers are trying to develop technologies and processes that could yield different, more valuable byproducts. And still others are placing their bets on “biorefineries.”
Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 22 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at

No comments: