Making Gasoline From Plants
It's been awhile since corn got surpassed as the plant of choice when it comes to producing alternative fuel.
From trashanol made from waste material that would have ended up in landfills, to grease from restaurants, and algae from ponds, scientists are looking at just about any form of biomass to be made into biofuels. What are the other contenders? Soy, plastics, and switchgrass.
According to Al Darzins, principal group manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, biofuels are the next green industry.
A 2008 law mandates 36 billion gallons of U.S. grown biofuels by 2022. This law caps the amount of biofuels produced from corn grain at 15 billion gallons, which leaves a lot of room for other materials to meet the demand for biofuels.
Scientists at Phycal, LLC in Highland Heights near Cleveland, Ohio, consider algae to be the perfect fuel source because it outproduces other renewable fuels and can be "harvested" year round. The fuel output is so impressive to the U.S. Department of Energy that it is investing $27.2 million in Phycal.
Phycal's ultimate goal is to farm algae commercially, and the company says they're at least 7 years away from doing that.
Meanwhile, Athens Alternative Education Program in Albany, Ohio, is a place where teachers and students have planted rows upon rows of sunflowers that stretch over 10 acres.
They plan to convert the sunflower seeds into 1,200 gallons of biodiesel in October.
The goal was to extract 120 gallons of biofuel per acre, but last summer, the hybrid sunflower plants yielded 200 gallons per acre, said Ben Stuart, the director of the biofuels laboratory at Ohio University.
The sunflower seeds are collected and pressed to extract the oil. Lye prevents the oil from becoming solid in cold temperatures. When methyl alcohol is added, biodiesel is the result.
It appears that in the future, we will be able to grow fuel rather than dig it out of the ground, making driving about greener than pumping gasoline made from crude oil.