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A Viable Biofuel? 70

natural rah writes "A laboratory in India has developed a process for making diesel fuel from an inedible plant which grows in barren wastelands. Although biofuels are mass produced and used in USA and EU, they have been traditionally derived from edible oils like soy bean and rapeseed. Using edible oils to make fuels is evidently not an option in a country like India. This fuel is "carbon neutral" (at least theoretically), has potential to make good use of barren wastelands, is clean and sustainable. Read more here -- could you have a SUV and not put excess carbon into the air?"
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A Viable Biofuel?

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  • Ummmm... (Score:3, Funny)

    by gottafixthat ( 603767 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @03:57PM (#10453580)
    What is "rapeseed"? Is that what happens to soy beans in prison?
    • Only if they drop the soap in the showers.
    • Re:Ummmm... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Profane MuthaFucka ( 574406 ) <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:09PM (#10453714) Homepage Journal
      Rapeseed is a plant that made an oil that was too bitter to eat. Rapeseed oil was commonly used to lubricate steam engines until the 1940's. Recently, Canadian farmers have bred the bitterness out of the oil to make an edible product called Canola. (Canadian Oil).
      • Re:Ummmm... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by jaakkeli ( 47383 ) <raipala@pcu.helsinki.fi> on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @07:08PM (#10455151)
        Rapeseed is a plant that made an oil that was too bitter to eat. Rapeseed oil was commonly used to lubricate steam engines until the 1940's. Recently, Canadian farmers have bred the bitterness out of the oil to make an edible product called Canola. (Canadian Oil).

        I see reading a few bits from Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] and answering without actually knowing anything about the subject now gets you modded up. See the article on rapeseed [wikipedia.org] to actually learn something about the subject; it's less nonsensical.

        Rapeseed oil has traditionally been the most important cooking oil in many countries, especially here in the north where you can't grow corn, peanuts, soybeans, palm trees or pretty much anything (I live in Finland...). You need some processing to make it edible, but it's been one of the most significant sources of vegetable oil long before Canola was bred. Most of the world hasn't even heard of canola oil but is happy to eat rapeseed oil. I just fried some stuff using some.

        • I actually did NOT read the article on Wikipedia. I was going from memory, because I have had occasion in the past to look up rapeseed oil.

          Now, if you think about it, what are the chances that some Finns eating rapeseed oil being considered significant? And, as you well know, some cultures will eat almost anything, despite the fact that someone else considers it obnoxious. Finns will eat a bitter oil, but Americans and Canadians won't touch it, except in the altered form marketed as Canola Oil.

          I've visite
          • And, as you well know, some cultures will eat almost anything,

            In fact, most cultures will eat anything, as the international success of McDonalds well proves.

            Finns will eat a bitter oil,

            Well, since this already degenareted to the level of national slurs... I can see that you learned to read at an American school.

            The rapeseed oil that I use is not bitter. Not even fresh rapeseed tastes very bitter (I grew up in the middle of rape fields, so I tried rape many times and actually found it rather pleas

            • Canola Oil is rapeseed that has had bitter components bred out of it. You claim it's not, but the explanation is there, you just have to be willing to read it and look it up.

              Now what's so hard to understand that, you giant cock licker?

              Oh, I forgot, the Finns invented rapeseed oil, so what the fuck am I doing with an opinion here? After all, I'm just an American.
      • "Canola" stands for "CANadian Oil Low Acid". Source: Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]
    • Here's more info:

      http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/nexus/Brassic a_ rapeseed_nex.html
  • See also (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:18PM (#10453802)
    See also Algae (cow crap) [unh.edu], and thermal depolymerization (just about any kind of garbage) [wikipedia.org] as biodiesel sources.
    • Without risking my staning in slashdot and following the link, I'll say that Algae != cow crap. Both could be used through thermal depolymerization to yield oil, but they're not the same thing - unless the cow was fed algae, but then it would be "processed".
  • by Engineer-Poet ( 795260 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:25PM (#10453861) Homepage Journal
    Unless this plant is extraordinarily productive, it's not going to address anyone's petroleum dependency or carbon emissions (and it's hard to believe that a plant which grows on wasteland could be as productive as e.g. sugar cane). The reason for growing this plant is that it may make it possible to reclaim wasteland (increasing the carbon content of the soil, perhaps removing salt) while supporting the effort with a cash product (biofuel).

    If you want to change the world's energy cycles you're going to need something with at least 20 times the productivity of standard farm crops, like the UNH biodiesel-from-algae thing. [unh.edu]

    • According to that biodiesel-from-fuel article, you can grow the algae that's the feedstock for biodiesel at about half the current cost of diesel. So where is it? If someone can make tons of money doing it, that usually implies someone is already doing it.
    • I might go offtopic, so bear with me here. Not many point out the differences and similarities between conventional fuels (petrol, diesel) and alternative fuels (biodiesel, hydrogen) chemically. Those who wish to further hydrogen as a major fuel fail to point out its volatility to oxygen and its lack of energy density. According to the UNH article [unh.edu] on algal biodiesel (linked by Engineer-Poet [slashdot.org]), highly-pressurized hydrogen must be stored in tanks that are constructed with rust-proof materials. In addition,
      • Please disregard my previous message, for I clicked the 'submit' button by mistake. My apologies.

        Those who wish to further hydrogen as a major fuel fail to point out its lack of energy density. According to the UNH article [unh.edu] on algal biodiesel (linked by Engineer-Poet [slashdot.org]), gaseous hydrogen (at 250 atm [3626 psi]) has an energy density of 68 kBtu ft^-3, while petroleum diesel and biodiesel have energy densities of 1058 kBtu ft^-3 and 950 kBtu ft^-3, respectively.

        Biodiesel, while requiring slightly more
        • by Anonymous Coward
          It would produce CO2, yes. But the CO2 would come from the air initially, so the overall CO2 added to the air by burning a tank of fuel is zero. This is what makes it a very exciting technology as far as CO2 emmissions are concerned.
    • If you want to change the world's energy cycles you're going to need something with at least 20 times the productivity of standard farm crops, like the UNH biodiesel-from-algae thing.

      The "UNH biodiesel-from-algae" thing is in part based on a DOE study that ran from 1978 to 1996. You can read the close-out report here [osti.gov].

      The UNH web pages glosses over a number of real show stoppers. Consider this quote from the UNH web page;

      "There are solutions to these problems, but for the purpose of this paper, we wil
      • I doubt I'm going to have time to read a 328 page PDF (my "fun time" is going toward Quicksilver, and I've got 4 other dead-tree tomes and the Lovins' old "Brittle Energy" on my list where most of them have been for months), but I'll take a minute to ask questions about the points you raise:
        • In principle, why is it impractical to constrain the energy-production habitat to the desired species by e.g. harvesting everything in an area and re-seeding with a population grown from your best producers? This is how
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Personally, it's not the carbon balance that worries me, its the production of lung-cancer causing and asthma-at-least-aggravating particulates. Most euro cities are "smoke free" in that burning coal has long been eliminated... but they still have petrol-burning cars spewing foulness into the air.

    Just set up a VLF power transmitter network, dammit, and run cars on beamed electricity! The cancer risk from such e.m. fields is tiny if it exists at all, compared to airborne particulate pollution. Tesla wo
  • "Biodiesel is available anywhere in the US. The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) maintains a list of registered fuel suppliers. " - one of their FAQs

    Okay, so problem solved with the whole oil/middle east issue, ya?
    • Not unless we get a lot more people eating junk food, no. Biodiesel, even from reclaimed french fry oil, is currently only produced in very small batches in comparison to gasoline and standard diesel.
      • So produce more? It's made from inedible seeds. Grow more seeds, harvest more oil, convert the appropriate machinery, reduce dependancy on oil imports. Or so that site seems to claim.
        • That's the best part of the Indian discovery- you can grow it in places where crops won't grow. Makes me wonder what other poisonous oils would work just as well in an engine- nightshade oil? How about Milkweed sap, that grew rather well on my parent's farm until the bull thistle invasion....
          • Soybeans. Squeeze the oil out and you're left with tofu. I wouldn't eat it but I'm sure you could sell it to some city dwelling vegetarians :)

            I don't know what the yields are, but they are already making biodiesel from soybeans. I'd suspect that there is more of this produced than recapturing left over cooking oil from mcdonalds.

  • How much hemp oil biodiesel compared to other crops can you get out of the same crappy ground. Maybe we should take a realistic look at hemp oil, if we get more of the finished product out of an otherwise unproductive soil.

    And besides, you can also smoke it. I think that's a GOOD thing.
    • by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) * on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:37PM (#10453952)
      Hemp and Marijuana aren't the same thing.


      So smoke all the Hemp you want. :)
    • I have to wonder why this is modded as a troll. Despite the humor aspect of it, and the fact that hemp isn't smokable, hemp will grow where many other plants won't. My only thinking is that hemp has got such a bad reputation because it is basically marijuana without the THC that people just dismiss it. It is really quite the versatile plant.
      • Agreed - that was not a troll -- I'd like to see more on hempseed oil versus other biofuel alternatives. Slashdotters ought to be on this bandwagon, or at least aware of it.


        Re: versatility -
        Hemp fiber clothes are better than cotton - more durable, longer lasting.
        Hemp fiber paper - more paper per acre than wood pulp, quicker crop turns, lower environmental impact by harvest.
        Hemp seed - tasty snack!
        and so on...

        Many books available on this topic - here are a few for starters.

    • So, two people marked me as a troll. This is not a troll, it's a valid question.

      Let me put it another way: what makes more oil? Hemp, or rapeseed?

      Stupid moderators.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @04:36PM (#10453946)
    http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/duke_energy/Jat ropha_curcas.html [purdue.edu]
    potential environmental ("alien invader") hazard evaluation:
    http://www.hear.org/pier/species/jatropha_curcas.h tm [hear.org]
    Source for seeds:
    http://www.tropilab.com/jatropha-cur.html [tropilab.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    250 years from now, after everyone is growing and using biofuel, someone's going to accidentally strike oil and realize "we can this shit from the ground, practically for free!"
    • Heh, and then they'll be like, "But wait, we'll have to fight a few wars, impose a few regimes, and deal with some really unsavory people to get our hands on shit we can grow in Iowa... nevermind."

      If biofuels ever really becomes practical, the farm lobby alone will be enough to ensure its permanenet use.

  • Someone thought of using Jojoba seeds for biofuel. However, after giving the Jojoba plant enough water to grow fast, the resulting product was too expensive and too slow-growing.

    So, I was skeptical about this plant until I read more. This plant is different. It's a tropical plant, where presumably there is enough water.

    See the Jatropha curcas description and cost [tropilab.com] and photo [ibiblio.org]. The Jatropha System [jatropha.de] explains the advantages.

    U.S. Gov.: Borrowing [brillig.com] money to kill Iraqis [iraqbodycount.net]. 140 billion borrowed [costofwar.com]. With interest, you pay 200 Billion.
  • by Eccles ( 932 )
    The fundamental problem with biofuels is that they are simply too inefficient to produce. In the U.S., at least, our cars use much more energy than we do. So even accounting for the meat part of our diet, we probably would need to cultivate about as much or more land to grow plants for fuel as we already do for human food. That's an immense amount of extra farmland, especially considering that much of the most productive land is already taken, and the drain on our freshwater supplies from farming is quit
    • by TykeClone ( 668449 ) <TykeClone@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 06, 2004 @06:15PM (#10454741) Homepage Journal
      There's no one good answer, but -

      - Converting corn to ethanol leaves some feedstock that is used to feed livestock - the entire bushel of corn isn't converted into fuel, there is some leftover for other uses.
      - Hybrid and GMO varieties of corn and soybeans are increasing yields every year.
      - As noted earlier, algae can be converted into biodiesel - there are places where it would not make sense to grow crops, but it would make sense to set up algea growing stations (in the southwestern desert perhaps)
      - Thermal depolymerization - make oil out of garbage. It's my understanding that you can take any organic waste and run it through this process to make oil. Right now, many communities have people separate out their paper and plastics for recycling - have a separate deal for table scraps too and send them right to one of these plants.
      - Methane - capture methane from sanitary sewers, livestock feed lots, and landfills. Not sure what you'd need to do to make it usable, but there is a lot of that being produced and just plain vented into the atmosphere now.
      - Right now, the US has something called the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) - where the government pays farmer to idle erodable land. Allow them to grow stuff like switchgrass (or hemp) - anything fast growing, harvestable with conventional mowing or baling equipment, and that will regrow without needing a replant (it'd be nice to get 2 or 3 crops per summer out of that).

  • " The Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI) in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, has developed a process to refine oil from the seeds of Jatropha curcas, a tropical shrub that grows well on degraded lands, is not eaten by animals, and is highly resistant to pests and disease."

    so basically, if the USA were to import this, it would be the new kudzu?

    don't get me wrong, i think this could be a great thing, however, what would happen if this were introduced to american soil, since it may not have an
  • I have a friend who is changing the micro-economies of tropical nations by helping them extract coconut oil.

    " Kokonut Pacific [kokonutpacific.com.au]" grew out of Dan Etherington seeing coconuts: (1) going to waste, or (2) being exported as copra and the oil and flesh imported at highly inflated prices.

    Dan designed a process he calls Direct Micro-Expelling (DME)" and a device that is essentially an overgrown calking gun -- like a 4x4 jack on a track -- that squeezes the oil out of the coconut flesh in a way much like olive oil [kokonutpacific.com.au]

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus