Better Biofuel Crops

One way to increase biofuel production is to engineer plants that can withstand harsh environmental conditions, thereby expanding the range in which such crops can be grown. 

By | July 1, 2012


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One way to increase biofuel production is to engineer plants that can withstand harsh environmental conditions, thereby expanding the range in which such crops can be grown. Plants that can tolerate drought, for example, may be grown in the 600 million hectares of land that is no longer used for agricultural production because it is semi-arid and prone to drought, while plants resistant to flooding could be harvested in the water-logged, low-lying areas called swales. Engineering energy crops to survive and thrive in such conditions would eliminate competition for land with food crops, while also providing insights for making food crops similarly robust.

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Avatar of: anyow


Posts: 3

July 3, 2012

Re:  " 4.6 million
hectares of Brazilian sugarcane were used to produce about 27 billion liters of
ethanol plus two gigawatts of electricity  from combustion of bagasse ..." -
just a reminder to the authors of this note that "watt" is a unit of
power (i.e., energy rate), not energy. Therefore,  liters of ethanol and watts of electricity are proverbial apples and oranges. A power plant may have
a capacity to generate "x" watts but the correct unit for the
electricity generated is watt x h (as everyone can quickly see on their
electricity bills). Did the authors mean sustainable (round the clock for whole
year?) electricity generation at a rate of 2GW from the combustion of sugarcane
processing byproducts? Or did they mean that there are power plants with a standing capacity
to generate UP TO 2 GW of electricity from those byproducts? (But the latter
statement does not say anything about actual energy production without specifying the time factor).
Unfortunately, the authors  made the same elementary unit error in their Science paper (cited in this note as Ref. 2).  A magazine with the word
"Scientist" in the title should not allow for such a slip to happen (even if a magazine with the word "Science" in the title let if go).

Avatar of: dande_lionne


Posts: 2

July 4, 2012

Engineer crops, why? From the examples you give, it looks like nature has already provided us with everything we need, we just need to choose carefully.

Avatar of: bkilkis


Posts: 1

July 5, 2012

You are absolutely right. This is such a common mistake all over the world. By the way, I must go one step further:
kW h (or W h) is not a proper unit but they use it in the electricity bills, because probably it is a convenience for the customers to understand. The reason is that  in SI (İnternational System of Units) 1 watt is 1 J (joule) per second.

Therefore one may not simply multiply J/s by the hour, must multiply W by 3600 seconds to get the proper unit of Joule (or kJ or GJ) after the terms h cancel out after multiplication. In fact there is not a unit named W h (or more commonly kW h) is the SI system.
We engineers and scientists have a log way to educate the public and sometimes the editors and authors.

Avatar of: agelbert


Posts: 50

August 18, 2012

Exactly. Duckweed grows several times faster than corn and can use hog waste as fertilizer. It can be pelletized for animal feed and furnace fuel and has an EROI of over 20:1 when used as biomass for ethanol because the stagnant ponds require no tilling, chemicals for fertilizer or pesticides and harvesting uses much less energy than land crops.
More info at the Doomstead Diner

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