Monday, June 1, 2009

How the French go green - 3rd generation biofuels from household waste

In a never-ending attempt to find new ways to fuel our world - something that Steven Hodson has noted is necessary for our technological society to survive - we've been trying all sorts of "alternative" fuels. Ethanol was supposed to be our great savior, but unfortunately the increased demand for ethanol moves production away from other things that we need, like food. There aren't people competing for trash, unless you count reality TV show producers, so if we can produce energy from trash, this is a good thing. John Gaynard found a page, apparently machine-translated, that describes French efforts in this area.

In [France] was first inaugurated global platform for producing fuel from algae cross. Plants, grown in an artificial basin, are fed with carbon dioxide from the fermentation of household waste.

Séché Environnement Group inaugurated last week at Vigeant, common in southern region of the Vienne department of France Poitou-Charentes, the first global platform for production of biofuels based on algae....

I was able to find another English-language report on the project:

Located in Vigeant, the plant will produce fuel from micro algae. As a first step, it will produce 4 500 liters per hectare from 30 tonnes of dry biomass. Eventually, 20 000 liters of ethanol per hectare are expected....

This project, presented by the region as the first pilot site in industrial-size open "to" third-generation fuel "is a collaboration between Séché Environment, Renewable Carbon Valagro SEM and lecentre Studies and Utilization of Algae (CEVA).

I hadn't run across references to third-generation fuel before, but Craig Rubens helpfully tried to define the generations:

First-generation biofuels rely on food crops as their feedstock. Corn, soy, palm and sugarcane all have readily accessible sugars, starches and oils....The problems with first-generation biofuels are numerous and well-documented in the media, ranging from net energy losses to greenhouse gas emissions to increased food prices....

Second-generation biofuels use lignocellulosic biomass as feedstock, among them dedicated biofuel crops like switchgrass and agricultural residue such as corn stalks. Using specially designed microorganisms, the feedstock’s tough cellulose is broken down into sugar and then fermented....

Rather than improving the fuel-making process, third-generation biofuels seek to improve the feedstock. Designing oilier crops, for example, could greatly boost yield. Scientists have designed poplar trees with lower lignin content to make them easier to process.

If you can't, or won't, go to France, you can see something kinda sorta similar in Henderson, Nevada. It doesn't produce energy, but it does produce something that we need even more than energy - water:

Another popular attraction on the grounds [of the Ethel M. Chocolate Factory is] the "Living Machine". This is where live bacteria, algae, protozoa, snails, and fish are used in a cutting-edge wastewater-treatment facility to recycle 100 percent of the water from the factory so that it can be reused in the manufacturing process at the factory. Don't forget: this is the desert and water is a rare and expensive commodity. This machine uses no chemicals and is able to recycle 32,000 gallons of water each day, which is then used in landscaping as well.
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