20% more in the field, 20% less at the pump

October 5, 2011 |

The new generation of biofuels feedstocks, processing technologies and engines are challenging every assumption made about the cost-benefits, acreage requirements, and energy and water inputs required.Is technology making every previous analysis of gasoline-vs-alternatives obsolete?

In Canada, Agrisoma CEO Steve Fabijanski outlined his company’s plan to challenge canola for dominance in Canadian oilseed production with the introduction of carinata, which the company said could achieve up to 130 gallons per acre in production rates, or up to 200 gallons per acre when new traits were introduced using the company’s ETL gene-stacking technology.

Fabijanski, presenting at the Biofuels International conference in Calgary, said that carinata produces a 22-carbon eructs acid molecule, as opposed to a typical 18-carbon oleic acid molecule found in canola and other oilseed crops, giving it more carbon in the fatty acids for oil production, and less glycerol. Fabijanski also said that carinata was highly uniform, utilized just 9 inches of water on a “seed to seed” basis, has vigorous growth rates, and could be harvested in a single pass with a combine. He also said that carinata could provide a high protein, low fiber meal after oilseed crushing. The seeds, he said, had a 40%+ oil content.

The carinata equation

Agrisoma, which is developing and enhancing carinata, expects to supply oilseeds from contrat growers for traditional FAME biodiesel manufacturing as well as upgrading to renewable jet fuel, and said that the company had partnered with US-based ARA, which had developed a jet fuel conversion technology that produced sufficient arematics for the fuel to be used directly in jet engines, instead of being blended with at least 50 percent convention jet fuels.

Fabijanski said that the company was in the process of scheduling commercial and military flight trials, and said that, in Canada, the potential was there to produce up to 6 billion gallons of oil for renewable jet fuel conversion, from expansion of the crop to a 30 million acre footprint in its ideal geographies in the US Southeast, as well as the Canadian and US soy and canola states in the prairie lands.

Comparing carinata to camelina, Fabijanski said that camelina had a shorter growing season (95-105 days, compared to 108-115 for carinata), but said that carinata had oil content of 42 percent compared to 35-37% for cameoina, and with its more vigorous growth rates would produce substantially higher oil gallonage per acre.

Fabijanski said that the company expected to produce between 250,000 and 500,000 gallons of oil in 2012 from expected grower contracting.

Inbicon

Also at Biofuels International Canada, Inbicon VP Paul Kamp said that his company could produce cellulosic ethanol at $1.84 per gallon on an operating basis, based on expected conditions in Alberta, creating a substantial margin compared to conventional ethanol production, and could work creatively with partners on financing options through tax credits and incentives to limit the impact of higher capital expenditures compared to first-gen fuels.

Kamp said that a 50 ton per hour commercial-scale facility would utilize 463,000 tons of wheat straw, produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol, 200,000 tons of C5 molasses and 175,000 tons of lignin that could provide power for the entire process, plus extra power supplied to the grid. Kamp added that, based on the total grain acreage in North America, the potential existed, using Inbicon technolo to produce 20,000 MW of renewable power and up to 9.5 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol. The Inbicon process generally uses agricultural residues at this time, as opposed to woody biomass feedstocks.

Ricardo engines

Rod Beazley of Ricardo said that, based on tests conducted to date by the company, the Ricardo EBDI (ethanol boosted direct injection) engine could achieve equal mileage per gallon when burning E85 ethanol, compared to straight gasoline, and would cost less than engines designed to meet the tougher mileage rates that were being introduced in the US and California.

Beazley said that the current generation of flex-fuel engines were “produced by the car companies essentially for the credits against fleet mileage standards,” and said that those engined handled ethanol but were not optimized to take advantage of ethanol’s unique properties as a fuel.

As a result, he said, E85 pumps were being underutilized in the US, because the resulting 20 percent loss in fuel economy made E85 a “tough sell” to consumers.

The Ricardo EBDI engine, buy contrast, took full advantage of ethanol’s higher octane and latent vaporization properties. Beazley explained to delegates at the Biofuels International conference that octane numbers, such as the 87 to 91 octane range generally sold in the US, measure the fuel’s ability to tolerate compression before detonating. The higher compression, he said, the higher efficiency of the engine in translating energy to power.

He said that, today, oil companies “love ethanol” because it allowed them to blend low-octane gasolines that would not otherwise be able to be marketed to auto fleet, by boosting the octane ratting to the standard 87-91 range with E10 ethanol.

Beazley explained that ethanol’s 110 RON octane rating meant that ethanol could withstand compression rates that were more associated with diesel engines, and warned that, with expected stringent new emission and mileage standards, a new generation of miserly engines would be required, with average fleet mileage expected to required to rise to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Beazley said that direct injection, as a technology, allowed for smaller engines to power a car with comparable performance, which is why, he said, there is now a V6 Ford F-150 pickup available (in addition to the traditional V8 engine) and how Chevrolet was able to make a 1.4 liter 4-cylinder engine work for a midsize car like the Cruze, compared to the 3 liter V6 engines that had been used in the past.

Downsizing engines would create opportunities for ethanol-based engines, he said, by opening up new paths to high mileage through smaller engines that would create higher compression rates than achievable with gasoline, which would prematurely detonate under such conditions and create engine-damaging “knock.”

Low emissions, energy security, and a 20 percent savings at the pump

The combination of radically improved crop productivity, cellulosic ethanol systems that could utilize crop residues, and Ricardo engines that generated equal mileage for E85 compared to conventional gasoline – offered a stark choice for Canadians, said Digest editor Jim Lane in a panel discussion at the conference.

“What our presenters are telling us is that we have a path where you get the same mileage on a E85 available for $3.09 per gallon today as you get with gasoline selling at $3.89 per gallon. That fuel has substantial environmental benefits compared to gasoline. It creates increased domestic energy security for Canada, and local economic development for the communities that will supply feedstocks to the plant and workers for the plant. What government in the world is going to get in the way of a fueling system that provides all those benefits, and reduces the cost at the pump by 20 percent?”

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