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Editorial

Journal: Biomass conversion to industiraly usable energy

Journal by jtev
This is my first journal entry. As such I'm going to discuss something I find rather interesting, and a step in the proper direction for our country. This is mostly rant, I'd love hard numbers from people on these topics, but the main reason I'm starting this is to continue a debate that I was having with someone else, but in a totaly different direction, so time to market, so to speak was more important to me than completeness.

Our country is saddled with an unfortunate dependance on foreign oil. First let's start with what's good about oil

  1. Good Properties of Oil
  2. Easy to extract
  3. Most distilates are liquid, which makes them easy to handle
  4. Has a high energy to weight ratio

Now for just about anything that's motile these are very nice properties. The low weight means not as much to lug around, the liquidity means it's easy to measure, easy to contain, and relitively easy to transport.

Now for an alternative to oil we'll need something else that's liquid, and is fairly energy dense. There are two main biomass products that meet these requirments, biodisel and alcohol. Biodesiel is plant oils with an apropriate viscosity and density to burn in disel engines. Alcohol is the stuff that gets you drunk, it also does a very good job of burning. In fact it has roughly the same combustive properties as octane, the main component of gassoline.

The problem with both of these is that with current technology and crops neither option yeilds more energy than it consumes. Also both would require a substantialy lower energy demand if they were to keep up with it. Current crops simply are not grown for energy content, they are grown for nutrition and taste. Also protein is very hard to convert to an energy source usable by machinery. Fat and sugar are the main energy sources that can be used for industrial purposes. Fats can be used directly as biodisel, or converted to forms that can be, and sugars can be fermented into alcohol.

I mentioned earlier that these are requirements for things that move. For immobile objects such as factories and power plants the liquid fuel is less important. Because of this these situations often use coal. While the US is not a coal dependant nation at this time, once upon a time we weren't oil dependant either. Homes and factories also use a great deal of Natural Gas, which as a gas, so has low density, and is dificult to contain. This brings us to a major waste product of agriculture, Celulose, or fiber as dietitians refer to it. Celulose is an indigestable carbohydrate, very few organism can metabolise it. Included in these few is a class of microorgaisms called methanogens.

Methanogens turn organic waste into methane and sludge, a very rich fertiliser. These microbes can turn nearly any organic matter into sludge and methane, from alge to straw to sewage. Methane is the prime ingredient in natural gas so there is no cost to convert from natural gas to biogas. Sludge can be used as a fertalizer for the crops being used to to create these energy sources. Comments are wanted, so please, anything that you have to add please add.

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