Bioelectricity beats biofuels – if you’re driving

Posted on May 8, 2009. Filed under: automotive, environment, research & development | Tags: , , , , |

Premise: The quantity of land available to grow biofuel crops without impacting food prices or greenhouse gas emissions from land conversion is limited. Therefore, bioenergy should maximize land-use efficiency when addressing transportation and climate change goals. Biomass could power either internal combustion or electric vehicles, but the relative land-use efficiency of these two energy pathways is not well quantified.

A paper published yesterday in Science concludes that, from a sustainability point of view, using biomass to produce electricity for electric vehicles would produce 81% more transportation (miles driven) than using the same amount of biomass to produce ethanol for internal combustion engines.  The researchers also conclude that the electricity option has greater potential for reducing CO2 also.  Results are summarized in a poster here.

The researchers reached their conclusions after conducting a life-cycle analysis  of bioelectric and bioethanol technologies.  The analysis took into account not only the energy produced by each technology but also the energy consumed in producing the vehicles and fuels. 

Part of the reason, as reported in today’s ScienceNow summary, is that electric engines are far more efficient than internal combustion engines, and other factors also must be considered.  If only complex problems could have simple answers! –nks

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Environmental analysis of manufacturing processes – efficiency falls as technology advances

Posted on May 3, 2009. Filed under: environment, manufacturing, nanotechnology | Tags: , |

A multi-year MIT study funded by the National Science Foundation shows that, for industrial manufacturing, more advanced technologies are less efficient in their use of energy and materialsper kilogram of output than older technologies. 

The MIT team surveyed twenty manufacturing techniques, and used a framework, based on the laws of thermodynamics, to keep track of the energetic, as well as the physical or chemical, transformations of materials as they pass through the stepsof an industrial process.   They found that as processes become more technologically sophisticated, they tend to manipulate smaller and smaller quantities of material at slower rates, but power consumption per process stays about the same, leading to a noticeable increase in the amount of energy needed to produce a given quantity of final product.

To date there haven’t been strong incentives to reduce energy consumption, but that may be changing, according to the NSF summary. –nks

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Iceland will try to convert CO2 into rock

Posted on April 21, 2009. Filed under: climate, environment, research & development, science & technology | Tags: , , |

Engineers in Iceland will scale-up experiments to convert carbon dioxide into rock by pumping a carbon dioxide solution into layers of basalt about 400-700m below ground, in the expectation that it will be converted to a solid carbonate that could trap the CO2 for millions of years.  So reports The Guardian UK.com, April 16, 2009.

In a project called Carb-fix, CO2 from an Icelandic geothermal energy plant will be dissolved in water under high pressure; the solution will then be pumped into the basalt layers.  Lab experiments indicate the solution will interact with calcium in the basalt to form solid calcium carbonate  This could be a safe medium for storing this “greenhouse gas”.  

The project is scheduled to begin pumping the solution in August; it’s expected to be a year before the team will know if the CO2 is converting to calcium carbonate as expected.  –nks

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