04 February 2008

Peak Oil: Meet Australian Biocrude

Nature took millions of years to turn plant cells into petro-crude. Short-lived human beings are in more of a hurry. Australian researchers have developed a form of bio-crude from ligno-cellulose that is more stable than all previous versions.
The bio-crude oil, also known as bio-oil, can be used to produce high value chemicals and biofuels, including both petrol and diesel replacement fuels. The breakthrough removes one of the major obstacles holding back the development of decentralised production concepts, as the stability of the oil is important in the logistical chain.

Bio-crude oil or bio-oil is a next-generation biofuel obtained from the fast pyrolysis of any type of biomass including waste. Fast pyrolysis is a process in which the organic materials are rapidly heated to 450 - 600 °C at atmospheric pressure in the absence of air. Under these conditions, organic vapours, pyrolysis gases and charcoal are produced. The vapours are condensed to bio-oil. Typically, 70-75 wt.% of the feedstock is converted into oil.

....Dr Steven Loffler of CSIRO Forest Biosciences says his team made changes to the chemical process, which allowed it to create a concentrated bio-crude which is much more stable than that achieved elsewhere in the world. This makes it practical and economical to produce bio-crude in local areas for transport to a central refinery, overcoming the high costs and greenhouse gas emissions otherwise involved in transporting bulky green wastes over long distances (previous post, here and here).____Biopace

Biocrude can be made from trees, plant waste, or any organic material--including the dead bodies of politicians who keep insisting on using your tax money to pay for ethanol from maize (corn).

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Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

Transporting dead politicians would require blocking off roads to protect people from the festering scum. But then, so does transporting live ones.

This raises a lot of interesting questions. I wonder what fraction of our current energy needs can be met without impacting forests more than the pulp industry does or adding much crop land. Naturally, a lot depends on how many advances in biomass productivity. And our energy needs will change with new automotive technologies and renewable energy sources.

If this technique works for all biomass it might make for simpler method of aquatic photosynthetic production. Instead of having to keep tanks or cylinders of carefully cultured algae to maximize oil production you could just have tanks of native flora growing and keep skimming them for whatever biomass shows up. Feed it some of the local sewage - any pathogens will have their components pyrolysed anyway.

I wonder which requires more energy input, this pyrolysis process or thermodepolymerization.

Is bio-crude as chemically versatile as normal crude? There are so many substances that come from petroleum processing that this could have important uses besides those of energy.

Monday, 04 February, 2008  
Blogger Bruce Hall said...

The development of bio-fuels, particularly bio-diesel, is hampered by U.S. diesel emission regulations which prevent the U.S. market from taking advantage of new European diesels, which in turn stifles the economic incentive to develop bio-diesel sources and distribution in the U.S., which in turn ensures our future dependency on gasoline engines ... whether or not hybrid versions.


Monday, 04 February, 2008  
Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

It would not be the first time that government intervention in the name of environmentalism negatively impacted the environment. Legislation to promote "social justice" makes people poor, equality legislation turns people into dependents of the state... It would be so wonderful if people could elect representatives who were capable of learning from experience but computer companies and university research projects have yet to perfect such machines.

Monday, 04 February, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Thanks for the comments.

Bruce: I enjoyed your article on the high mpg diesel autos. I join you in hoping that regulators and legislators in the US get it together soon.

Baron: Yes, when the government comes around claiming it is there to help you, hang onto everything you have.

The US senators from the corn-growing states are particularly toxic in their diversion of funds away from useful approaches to biofuels.

Monday, 04 February, 2008  

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