Sunday, October 30, 2005

Oil alternatives gaining traction

With the price of oil high, that makes the alternative technologies economically feasible. Perhaps it's unfortunate, but one of the things keeping alternative energy technologies out of the mainstream is raw cost economics. But this is shortsighted, in my opinion, because turning the alternative technologies into actual practice takes a lot of R&D, and when the oil crunch hits there won't be time to do that R&D.

But with the price of oil high, as it is now, the alternatives are getting more attention. Perhaps one of them will catch on this time?

Both Promise and Problems for New Tigers in Your Tank (BY MATTHEW L. WALD, Published: October 26, 2005, NYTIMES.COM)

This article is an overview of some alternatives that can be a direct replacement to liquid fuels such as the fossil based gasoline and diesel we use today.

The first example is Iogen Corporation, and their process for converting basically any vegetable matter to ethanol. They call this cellulose ethanol and part of their process uses an enzyme, derived from Trichoderma reesei, a fungus that company officials say was discovered by American soldiers on Guam in World War II, and which induces rot. They're able to use agricultural "waste" that would otherwise be burned, and turn it into ethanol.

The ethanol can then be blended into oil based fuels, or burned directly. It's very compatible with the existing liquid fuel delivery systems. Ethanol is already widely used by the oil industry, and Iogen's cellulose ethanol is completely compatible.

Next up is Rentech Inc. ( and their gas-to-liquids technology based on the Fischer-Tropsch developed in the 1920's and 1930's by Germany. It's able to take either natural gas or coal, and make a liquid fuel for it. The main demonstration of its usability was the German war engine in WWII that used this technology to create the oil used to fuel their tanks and other war machines.

For example natural gas is often discarded (burned) by oil companies because they have no feasible way to ship it. But with a gas-to-liquids technology this waste can become product.

Also discussed is Syntroleum with a different technology for making liquid fuel out of natural gas.