Being able to make biofuels cheaper, faster, and without the help of government subsidies seems to be the theme of some recent work by American researchers.
This story in the Des Moines Register highlights a couple of programs, in particular, one by an Iowa State professor who has teamed up with the private sector to find a way to make biodiesel more efficiently:
New ideas have found support through venture capital firms such as Mohr Davidow Ventures in Menlo Park, Calif. MDV licensed the biodiesel technology of ISU professor Victor Lin and created Catalin, a company that will build its pilot plant at the university’s Biomass Energy Conversion Facility in Nevada.
Erik Straser of MDV said Catalin’s new method can use cheap waste grease from restaurants and animal-processing plants as well as, or instead of, more expensive virgin plant oils. And it reduces the amount of water each plant has to use, he said.
The secret is in the “giant tea bag,” which is a solid reusable catalyst – something that triggers a chemical reaction.
“If you want to wash one gallon of biodiesel, you would need about four gallons of water. That’s a lot,” Lin said. He said adapting the catalyst to existing biodiesel plants should be a reasonably affordable option.
The new process could reduce the cost of making a gallon of biodiesel by 10 to 20 cents… that would make the fuel more profitable and possibly able to live without the 50 cent to $1 a gallon government subsidies.
The article goes on to talk about the competition heating up to build cellulosic ethanol plants and mentions the world’s first closed-loop ethanol plant that runs on the manure from the cows fed the distillers grain made from producing the ethanol that just opened in Nebraska (see my post on June 28th).