April 29, 2006

FAQ: BIOconversion Blog

1. What is "BIOconversion"?

I named this blog "bioconversion" because it is a double entendre. The first meaning is quite literally what is in the dictionary - "a process in which a fuel is generated from waste matter, plant matter, etc., as in using bacteria to feed on waste to produce methane." I think bioconversion is the means by which we will be able to not only sustainably create fuel, but also efficiently rid ourselves of accumulating waste..

The second meaning of "BIOconversion" relies on seeing the word as a contraction of "biomass conversion." Biomass includes matter that is not waste - like corn, sugar cane, switchgrass, and other crops. It also includes waste that we don't typically consider to be biologically based - like tires, auto fluff. It can also be blended with fossil fuels, even coal. New processes can convert ALL of these feedstocks into ethanol or hydrogen, while co-generating electricity. The more biomass we recognize as feedstock, the more fuel we can produce.

The second of three biomass processing blogs, this one covers international biomass conversion issues - process R&D, facility deployments, and new developments. The other two related blogs are the BIOstock Blog and the BIOoutput Blog.

2. Why are so many blog entries about California?

I live in California. I have access to people and events in California that I think would interest people around the globe. California is the launching site of so many technological paradigm shifts that I am convinced that either the impetus to change will occur here first, or the shift will mature here before going global - or both. I have immense appreciation for Brazil and American Midwest where much of the bleeding edge R&D and deployment of infrastructure has already taken place.

3. What do I see as the biggest investment opportunity?

Alot of investors visit alternative energy sites including this one. The iron is hot. There are no sure winners right now and many future winners are at a nascent stage of development. From what I have read and what I know cellulosic ethanol produced by syngas fermentation offers the biggest Energy ROI. The feedstock is the cheapest and most varied, it can be blended before gasification, and requires the least amount time and storage to produce.

4. Do I believe in global warming?

I do believe that most industries and utilities are wasteful on a grand scale - particularly in developing nations where environmental standards have been sacrificed to achieve more energy. We have a responsibility to clean up waste and develop more energy-efficient techniques - which is why I am frustrated by environmental Luddites who obstruct attempts to do just that. Clean technologies that can convert waste into energy and useful products are a WIN-WIN for the environmental cause.

I think conversion technologies (CTs) have been proven to provide positive environmental benefits for remedying industrial waste. Any deficiencies in CTs can be corrected and society should have vigilence and patience, not fear, in dealing with unintended effects.

5. What is the significance of a decentralized energy paradigm?

Right now, energy production is centralized to a dangerous extent. Too many resources being managed through too few stable countries, too few refineries distributed among too few locations, and too many managers and politicians who lack principle and foresight. Fortunately, "dinosaurs" give way to "mammals."

Since biomass is plentiful throughout the world and feedstock streams for bioconversion are so varied, each ecosystem and culture could develop unique facilities based on their own natural resources, waste, climate, local demand, and geographic location. The more decentralized the production of energy, the less geopolitical pressure and fear of deprivation throughout the world.

Ethanol cannot be piped like oil can which makes it more important that the source of production is near the source of use.

In short, "fear" of shortage is the primary cause driving up the price of fossil fuels. It is a fear that can be remedied with leadership, patience, and creativity.

6. What needs to happen next in California?

For California to lead the world in developing bioconversion technologies, the state legislature needs to loosen biorefinery permitting restrictions. The executive branch will conduct emissions testing as facilities are deployed. They will halt operations who can't meet environmental regulations, but they must allow them the opportunity to find solutions to comply. Our energy future is best secured with problem solving - not problem avoidance.

The legislature should also enact diversion credits to municipalities that reduce landfill use by recycling unrecyclable waste through conversion facilities.

Pilot and commercial-scale facilities should begin deployment at the earliest possible time. We won't be able to fine-tune conversion technologies and the necessary supporting infrastructure if there are not commercial-scale facilities to process the various feedstock and blends, and test for emissions.

Once proven, investing companies will have new technology to market and help deploy throughout the world.

7. What is the significance of the Rubik's cube imagery on the Blogs?

The Rubik's cube is emblematic of the multi-faceted energy puzzle that confronts civilization. This four blog series is my attempt to create some semblance of order out of the chaos of global interlinking challenges - geopolitics, employment, pollution, energy, waste, carbon emissions, etc. Each Blog is an attempt to work on a side of the puzzle - BIOstock, BIOconversion, BIOoutput, and BIOwaste. Solve these and I believe many international problems will be substantially mitigated.



Anonymous said...

The great examples of converstion technology is Plasma Gasification used by Plasco Energy Group in some pilot projects. It uses plasma torch to convert solid municipal waste to energy-rich fuel.

Anonymous said...

You know you never really did exactly answer #4. Not that I really care what your motivation is aslong as there is a positive net benefit to the environment. I just think it's kind of funny.

C. Scott Miller said...

You are probably right. But for me it is not a yes / no question. For everyone, I think it is a matter of degree(no pun intended).

For the record, I think that the evidence from core samples in Antarctica (as shown in Gore's movie and elsewhere) corollating the temperature of the earth and the concurrent amount of CO2 in the atmosphere over hundreds of thousands of years is very troubling. I am not sure that the cause/effect relationship between them has been established - it could be that "CO2 is high because the temperature rose" instead of "the temperature rose because of CO2 levels."

The fact that CO2 levels from the last 100 years of industrialization are at unprecedented levels should give us all pause. In any case, I think our health is in jeopardy from excessive GHG even if our existence isn't. That is more than reason enough to be proactive in reducing GHG. This blog is part of my commitment to my children in this regard.

Is that clear?

Anonymous said...

Could somone pint me to a direct comparison between Gasification (downward draft NOT plasma)and incineration. I am working on geting a permit to install a gasifier. Any help will be appreciated.

C. Scott Miller said...

Take a look at an article about the deployment of down draft biomass gasifiers in India (http://biopact.com/2006/09/biomass-gasification-systems-to-power.html). This article can give you some links that may help you.