Blogroll Review: Bottles, Biobutanol, Bagasse

by Frank Ling

DIY Solar Water Heater

The Chinese have done it again. In a country that puts waste to good use, they have found another use for beer bottles: solar water heating.

Matt James writes about a Chinese farmer who made his own solar heater in the EcoGeek blog:

“…we get the story of a man who made his family a solar hot water heater from 66 recycled beer bottles. He should have called, I could have helped him empty the bottles.”

In this setup, 66 bottles were linked by hose to collect solar energy from the sun to heat up water. The farmer says this is enough to provide water for all 3 members of his family.

Bottoms up or as the Chinese say “ganpei.”

Biobutanol Bust?

While ethanol received more attention than any other alcohol out there, it’s time to rectify situation. Methanol, which causes blindness, has a bad rap. Propanol is best known as a disinfectant.

But butanol with four carbons could be the next alcohol rock star. Scientists say it is superior fuel to ethanol.

However, it may be years until we see biobutanol pumps along the highways. Robert Rapier at R-squared Energy Blog argues that biobutanol’s time has not come yet. He says:

“Sad to say, but I believe biobutanol is dead. While research will (and should) continue, the process is currently at least 10 years from any sort of commercial feasibility. And I would point out that ‘never’ falls under the umbrella of ‘at least 10 years.'”

One of the problems with biobutanol is the energy intensive process needed to remove water from the product. Nevertheless, companies like DuPont and BP are investing heavily to develop butanol from biological processes.

Bagasse Hope

At the end of the day, ethanol still holds the spotlight. Brazil has now shown how to make ethanol even more competitive. Toward realizing energy returns from the cellulosic components from sugar cane, Dedini SA has developed a process to convert bagasse or leftover can stalk into ethanol.

Jim Fraser at the Energy Blog explains:

“The technology uses two pretreatment steps to convert bagasse, the lignocellulose-rich byproduct from cane processing, into ethanol: (1) pretreatment of the biomass with organic solvents, and (2) dilute acid hydrolysis. The innovation consists of adding a first stage pretreatment step which allows the diluted acids to do their work much faster and more efficiently. The liquid hydrolyzates are then easily fermented and distilled into ethanol.”

Now if there was only a way to convert Spam into fuel. 🙂

Frank Ling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at UC Berkeley. He is also a producer of the Berkeley Groks Science Show.

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