Claim: Researchers find way to turn sawdust into gasoline

Saw_dustFrom the “yes, but does it clog your carburetor?” department comes this claim, which might work in theory, but may or may not be practical on a large scale.

“Essentially, the method allows us to make a ‘petrochemical’ product using biomass – thus bridging the worlds of bio-economics and petro chemistry,” says co-author Dr. Bert Lagrain.


Researchers at KU Leuven’s Centre for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis have successfully converted sawdust into building blocks for gasoline. Using a new chemical process, they were able to convert the cellulose in sawdust into hydrocarbon chains. These hydrocarbons can be used as an additive in gasoline, or as a component in plastics. The researchers reported their findings in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

Cellulose is the main substance in plant matter and is present in all non-edible plant parts of wood, straw, grass, cotton and old paper. “At the molecular level, cellulose contains strong carbon chains. We sought to conserve these chains, but drop the oxygen bonded to them, which is undesirable in high-grade gasoline. Our researcher Beau Op de Beeck developed a new method to derive these hydrocarbon chains from cellulose,” explains Professor Bert Sels.

“This is a new type of bio-refining, and we currently have a patent pending for it. We have also built a chemical reactor in our lab: we feed sawdust collected from a sawmill into the reactor and add a catalyst – a substance that sets off and speeds the chemical reaction. With the right temperature and pressure, it takes about half a day to convert the cellulose in the wood shavings into saturated hydrocarbon chains, or alkanes,” says Dr. Bert Lagrain.

“Essentially, the method allows us to make a ‘petrochemical’ product using biomass – thus bridging the worlds of bio-economics and petro chemistry,” he adds.

The result is an intermediary product that requires one last simple step to become fully-distilled gasoline, explains Sels. “Our product offers an intermediate solution for as long as our automobiles run on liquid gasoline. It can be used as a green additive – a replacement for a portion of traditionally-refined gasoline.”

But the possible applications go beyond gasoline: “The green hydrocarbon can also be used in the production of ethylene, propylene and benzene – the building blocks for plastic, rubber, insulation foam, nylon, coatings and so forth.”

“From an economic standpoint, cellulose has much potential,” says Sels. “Cellulose is available everywhere; it is essentially plant waste, meaning it does not compete with food crops in the way that first generation energy crops – crops grown for bioethanol, for example – do. It also produces chains of 5 to 6 hydrocarbon atoms – ‘light nafta’ in the technical jargon. We are currently facing shortages in this because it is becoming quite difficult and more expensive to distil these specific hydrocarbon chains from crude oil or shale gas. In time, hydrocarbon derived from cellulose may provide an alternative,” says Sels.

“Our method could be especially useful in Europe, where we have little crude oil and cannot easily produce shale gas,” concluded Sels.

225 thoughts on “Claim: Researchers find way to turn sawdust into gasoline

  1. If it can be made to work as an upscaled industrial process, it could be a significant step forward, and if the process could be used worldwide. I shan’t be holding my breath waiting for it to work, however.

      • Greens are willing to pay the price – no price is too high when You pay it – but they would not give up the trees, let alone make sawdust from them.

      • No, they did not mention cost. We can turn coal into diesel fuel but not at costs competitive with petroleum stocks. I will wager that gasoline from cellulose is a big loser in an economic sense.

      • Sadly, that is always the case. Many of the processes touted by the greens require more energy input than can be obtained from the final product.

      • … or more importantly how much energy has to be added via heat and pressure in the reaction vessel and how much energy is required to create the catalyst. Then add all the energy required for the catalytic reforming to take light naphtha to gasoline. I’m gonna guess that the amount of sawdust we would have to burn to get all that energy shoved into some more of that sawdust is going to be fairly massive. That’s the problem with trying to reproduce a process driven by the planet’s tectonic heat and pressure… you need a LOT of energy.
        This is not “new” technology, it’s just a way to distract from the failure of “cellulosic ethanol.”

      • One more perpetual motion machine of the 2nd kind. Human beings do seem to have a serious weakness for these things.

      • Cost of equipment. Amount produced. Rate produced. Life/maintenance of equipment. Potential/limitations of/to improvement.
        Lot of die rolls in there. But you never know.

      • They never do. if they did, the useful idiots would catch on. They’re gullible, but not that gullible.

      • @Hugh They will give up the trees – just look at the green’s advocay of biofuels which has resulted in massive deforestaation in the Amazon. Look at their support for wind turbines despite being lethal to birds and exploding( imploding ) bats by the thousand.

      • or the energy required to produce it?
        sawdust is best used for horse stables etc then to feed worms and/or produce compost surely?

      • Actually, the technology’s been around for at least a dozen years. The problem has always been cost. I can’t see how this “new” process solves that very real problem.

    • Weren’t they desperately making fuel for kamakaze aircraft from pine trees in Japan in 1945? My dad said when one buzzed his ship at Okinawa it smelled like Pine-Sol. 😉
      Germany made “synthetic fuel” in WW-II, see the film “The Formula”. Was that gasoline?

      • Yes; they made it from coal. It was not cheap to make but in wartime the end product is more important. I believe that the South Africans were also dabbling with coal based fuel fairly recently; however the price of oil ultimately determines how cost-effective the process is.

      • The Japanese did make a motor fuel out of pine resin. The very first engine that Honda ever marketed was made to run on the stuff.

      • A fellow up here in New Hampshire has a pickup truck that runs on firewood. Basically it has a wood stove in the back, and creates hot, un-burned smoke which is fed in to the pistons and lit by the spark plugs. It seems to run fine, and I’ve driven behind it and seen it accelerate up hill, and it doesn’t belch large amounts of smoke. It is the fellow’s toy, and likely illegal in some way, but no one bothers him because he never takes it out on the major highways.

    • How many times does this scam have to be put down.
      I don’t care if they have found a way to do what they say. The economic collection area for wood waste is at best a 50 mile radius per unit of energy produced, significantly limiting any scale of operation and hence product cost. They also make no mention of the energy required to dry the wood before processing, it is no small part of the energy cycle at up to 25% of the mass of the wood, whatever form it is in.

    • Rick:
      Sorry, but no, The process reported in the above article cannot be “a significant step forward”.
      Synthetic crude oil (syncrude) from biomass is not new. For decades pyrolysis has been used to do it. The above article reports a new catalyst for syncrude from biomass but says nothing about efficiency and economics. And, importantly, there is no need for syncrude from biomass.
      Syncrude has been made from coal whenever the supply of crude has been constrained. The Germans did it during WW2 (which is why we bombed the Ruhr valley) and apartheid South Africa used Sasol which was a development of that German process.
      However, prior to the Liquid Solvent Extraction (LSE) it was always more costly to mine, transport and convert coal to syncrude than to drill and transport crude. LSE reversed those relative costs.
      The Liquid Solvent Extraction (LSE) process has been capable of producing synthetic crude oil (i.e. syncrude) from coal at competitive cost (n.b. cost and not price) with crude oil since 1994. And there is sufficient coal to meet world needs for at least 300 years (some estimates say more than 1000 years),.
      We proved the technical and economic abilities of the LSE process with a demonstration plant at Point Of Ayr in North Wales.
      The surprising economics of LSE derive from two facts.
      LSE consumes sulphur-rich bottoms which have disposal cost for oil refineries.
      LSE can be ‘tuned’ to provide hydrocarbons which reduce need for blending.
      An oil refinery separates the components of crude oil by distilling the crude. The separated components are products which must match market demand; e.g. producing the required amount of benzene must not result in producing too much or too little petroleum. This match of products to market demand is obtained by blending (i.e. mixing) different crude oils for distillation: crudes from different places contain different proportions of hydrocarbons.
      Blending is expensive. It requires a variety of crudes to be transported and stored then mixed in controlled ratios.
      This need for blending is why Brent Crude is so valuable. Saudi crude is the cheapest crude, and blending Saudi and Brent crudes in a ratio of about 2:1 provides a blend that nearly matches market demand for its distillates.
      The LSE process can be ‘tuned’ such that it outputs a syncrude which can provide distillates which match market demand and, thus, removes the need for expensive blending. This is achieved as follows.
      An LSE plant dissolves coal in a solvent in an ebulating bed at controlled temperature and pressure.
      The resulting solution is converted to hydrocarbons by exposure to hydrogen gas (produced by coal using a water-gas shift) in the presence of catalysts and at variable temperature and pressure. Adjusting the temperature and pressure determines the resulting proportions of hydrocarbons.
      Changing the temperature and pressure causes the hydrocarbons to come out of solution and the solvent is separated then reused in the process.
      The remaining solids (mostly ash minerals) are removed by filtration as a cake.
      Conversion efficiency is greater than 98%. And the not-converted residue can be burned as a fuel.
      The UK’s Coal Research Establishment (CRE) invented, developed and demonstrated the LSE process. CRE was owned by British Coal which was owned by UK government. Ownership of the LSE Process remained with the government when British Coal was closed in 1995.
      The LSE Process is owned by UK Government. Patents on the process were taken out but details of the process are a UK State Secret. Adoption of the LSE Process would collapse the value of Brent Crude, and the sale of Brent Crude is important income for the UK.
      But, the existence of the LSE Process constrains the true price of crude oil. If that price were to rise sufficiently then it would pay the UK to adopt the LSE Process or to license it to other countries for production of syncrude. Hence, the existence of the LSE process has a strategic value as a result of its constraint on the true oil price.
      And the UK may adopt the LSE Process when Brent Crude is exhausted.
      However, frack-gas may remove need to adopt the LSE Process for use although its strategic constraint on oil price will remain.

      • Richard,
        Great to see you back! I was getting concerned. Your comments are always extremely knowledgeable; a real asset to this site. Hope to see more of them.

      • dbstealey
        Thankyou for your comment.
        Unfortunately, my health has failed (lungs, heart and liver all failed) and my time is mostly consumed with medical treatments. Also, and importantly, my heart failure requires that I don’t get too emotionally disturbed so I need to avoid interactions with trolls who e.g. accuse me of being a naz1 and/or a communist.
        Hence, I now prefer to lurk, but I will make contributions as and when issues may benefit from my provision of information and comment which are based on my past works so today I have contributed to this thread and the Mann thread.

      • MODS: Is it possible to request special moderation on medical grounds?
        Not saying that he shouldn’t be confronted on political issues if that is what is being talked about but… special moderation for out of the blue slams over political differences – is that possible?
        I know it is a lot to ask for a commenter who has himself been banned occasionally but then again, haven’t we all?
        This has not been discussed with richardscourtney but I have a personal interest in his not having another heart failure in the immediate future.
        [Reply: Yes, of course. We have a no-censorship policy, but in this case any attacks will be deleted. ~ mod.]

      • Richard, I hope you are as well as possible. Reading your post, if you don’t mind, with your rather broad system wide failures, do you suffer from hemochromatosis? Very common in Anglo-Saxons due to having to evolved on iron poor diets.

      • I have always looked forward to your contributions and comments. It takes awhile to learn who to trust/rely on in an open forum but over all these years you have earned my respect.
        I wish you the best.
        BTW, thanks for the interesting comment / knowledge. It led me on a hour long search and learn on water-gas shift and related processes.

      • Thinking of you Richard – I am very sorry to hear of your health problems.
        I have always had the highest regard for your intellect and your ethics, and can only hope and pray that your health improves.
        Best wishes, your friend Allan

    • It has been a process used years ago, heat wood to just above ignition point and burn cool and the vapour can be used in a diesel engine. But it is a poor substitute for the real thing, very inefficient. To produce useful fuel direct from wood would literally ”cost the earth”. So a green dream to be left on the shelf.

  2. We sought to conserve these chains, but drop the oxygen bonded to them, which is undesirable in high-grade gasoline.

    Nobody tell the brilliant social planners who have pushed ethanol in automotive fuel for years.

  3. “Our method could be especially useful in Europe, where we have little crude oil and cannot easily produce shale gas,”
    last time I checked you don’t have alot of excess biomass either … can’t use people, they are only good for green food, Soylent green that is …

    • Raises the question of whether this method can also use unicorn farts and good intentions as feedstock.

      • Assuming you have centaur tail hair and dragon scales for the catalytic screen and vessel linings it should work fine.

    • Spot on, JeffC, Europe is already destroying American forests in order to get enough “carbon neutral” wood supply to coal power plants…

  4. That´s an old hat. Several other companies are offering similar technology on commercial scale, i.e. CRI ( a Shell company) and Proton, both from US.

  5. In the UK they can’t make biomass work without massive subsidies, so I don’t suppose this’ll be any better.

  6. As usual, the main problems are:
    1. The fuel efficiency: how much energy does it cost to transform the cellulose into fuel
    2. the availability of cellulose: although much better, as it is in general wasted, than for corn or palm oil, the question is how much area one need for one liter of gas or diesel…

    • Ferdinand is right. Is this process endothermic or exothermic? If it requires more energy to produce than Eout, it makes no sense. Same as windmills and other such eco-nonsense.

  7. This is not new. It’s just hydrolysis followed by hydrogenation.
    Let’s see – you start with wood, subject it to high temperature and pressure, add hydrogen, a ruthenium catalyst, and after HALF A DAY in a lab pot, you get alkanes and some char! Sounds complicated, expensive, and probably net energy consuming.
    Or you could just burn the wood and use the energy produced to: heat water, make steam, convert to electricity, etc. Oh, I forget, scrub the exhaust to eliminate the sulfur.

      • “…capturing and sequestering the CO2.”
        Or you could harvest the CO2 and release it into the place where the wood grows, increasing the growth rate of the trees. Sounds like a sawmill with co-gen, no?

      • Paul I love it… “Sawmill with co-gen” +10
        That would get my comment of the week vote if it hadn’t been for yesterday’s William R comment naming NOAA’s new hurricane predicting model “Blind Squirrel.”

    • Just what I thought. Here in Germany we have a big market for saw dust products – wood pellets for example or wood brickets; they are sold at a price higher than lignite brickets – and turning most of their energy into building heating. Process energy is very little (some pressure) and the economy is high. Better to use sawdust this way and save the energy for valuable petrol products – as gasoline. Except you have excess atomic power – or solar….?

    • But then how do I drive my car from Atlanta to St.Louis? Unless I have a steam powered car with a very large trailer to carry all this biomass to burn, I need gasoline or something with a similar energy density and portability to get me around. Batteries only work on short daily commutes.
      I still doubt the practicality of this and will continue to doubt until I see the refinery making this stuff at a non-subsidized profit. ( I am not holding my breath!)

  8. “…it is becoming quite difficult and more expensive to distil these specific hydrocarbon chains from crude oil or shale gas.”
    Since Naphtha is obtained in petroleum refineries as one of the intermediate products from the distillation of crude oil, this is a curious statement. Why is it “becoming quite difficult” to distill these hydrocarbon chains from crude oil? What has changed? Does the process use some kind of rare-earth catalyst that is becoming more difficult to obtain? Or is there another reason why the distillation process is “becoming” more difficult?

    • Likely due to the increasing scarcity of “light” crude which already contains a high proportion of short chain “low boilers”. With long chain “heavy” crude, you have to crack it first to get the short chains. More capital + more labor = higher cost.

  9. Reviewing the abstract, the process (patented) requires H2 gas as a second input into the feedstock (which comes from where?). The catalyst is tungstosilicic acid, (dissolved in the aqueous phase), which is not cheap. Commercial sources look to be around $500USD/Kg. Of course then the reactor vessel has to heated with some available energy source.
    Don’t look to be driving cellulosic petrol from this method until nearly all the world’s oil reserves are consumed.

  10. Here are the Mexicanos (Physicist) debunking AGW

    This is important because nornally developing world countries are real believers in AGW. I hope your latinos viewers can see this LOL

    • Most original material on CAGW is in English. The papers here in Latin America subscribe to syndicated news sources with sources translated from English. That is all that people see (read). The other side of the story (Denialist, science-based) is never seen nor heard. But mostly, people are more concerned with cost, and are not terribly interested in Warmista ideology when they realize the costs involved.

  11. Alternatively of course they could just use the trees that grew during the Carboniferous period and have already been subject to heat and pressure. They call the product ‘ coal ‘and prices at the moment in the USA are at a low.

  12. Oh Great!… now the price of sawdust for my horses will go through the roof!
    It’s bad enough that hay is $6 a bale.

    • Because the Democrats will force people to use the damned stuff, and their green friends will get rich. Richer.

  13. Another horrible idea. If one wants to manufacture fuels, build lots of thorium reactors and use the electricity generated during non-peak hours. The Chinese are, as you read this, have plants to manufacture fuels plus prototyping thorium reactors. Sawdust and wood products are best used as they are now.

  14. Wow! A good use for that sawdust instead of dumping it in landfills. Oh… wait! They dont do that, do they.
    No matter what, NO ONE dumps sawdust in a landfill or in the ocean. they make other stuff with it.
    >> There is NO SUCH thing as ‘wood processing waste’ just as the bottom level use for ‘Agricultural Waste’ is ‘Soil Conditioner’

  15. A company called Virent in Madison, Wisconsin, has been doing this (or something like it) for some time now and is working with client companies including Shell Oil and Coca-Cola (for plastic bottles) as well as the U.S. Navy to scale it up to commercial production:
    From the company’s website:
    ” Virent is replacing crude oil by creating the chemicals and fuels the world demands through utilization of a wide variety of naturally occurring, renewable resources. Our patented BioForming® technology features catalytic chemistry, which converts plant-based sugars into a full range of hydrocarbon products identical to those made from petroleum, including gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and chemicals for plastics and fibers. Our products are “drop-in” replacements that enable full utilization of today’s existing processing, pipeline, storage and transportation infrastructure. Virent produces its hydrocarbon chemicals and fuels from plant sugars in a few hours, compared to the millions of years required for petroleum.”
    A company spokesman has stated that Virent hopes its products will displace between 7 and 9 million barrels of crude oil a year by 2020. I realize that this is a drop in the bucket for the U.S. (we import that much crude in one day). But every little bit helps if we want to be energy self-sufficient someday.

    • Or, you could replace the heavy crude from Venezuela with heavy crude from Alberta. But BO would rather buy from the folks that hate the US, so that when the shzt hits the fan the US oil supplies will dry up. Instead, use Keystone to blackmail Harper into towing the line on Global Warming.

    • Already patented in the 1920’s: Fisher-Tropsch synthesis. Large scale use by the Germans during WWII and in South Africa (Sasol) in the 1960’s to circumvent the blocking of oil supplies…

      • SASOL was formed in 1950. They make many things including polyethylene and candle wax and sulphur-free kerosene etc.
        “In 1997 Sasol Technology Research and Development began research on the selective trimerisation of ethylene to hexane. This led to the development and patenting of 6 trimerisation catalyst systems. A ground-breaking innovation was made in 2002, with the discovery of a tetramerisation catalyst that could make 1-octene in high selectivity. This was considered impossible by international experts in the field. Construction of this first-of-a-kind plant in Lake Charles Louisiana is currently under way. The ready for commissioning date is August 2013”

  16. What’s an economical way to collect and transport sawdust to the chemical plant? I see limited utility for this unless the equipment is not only affordable but also small enough to put on site at locations that generate a large volume of sawdust.

  17. So? Rumpelstiltskin could spin straw into gold. If they could do that, then they could use the sawdust to make biofuel and not worry about the cost.

  18. As many others have noted, this is a “me too” technique. Interesting change of catalyst, but that doesn’t solve the basic problem. The basic problem is that oil has to be over about $120 / bbl for any of these to work. Rentech had been doing it commercially and making bio derived Diesel for the L.A. airport using garbage as feedstock. Don’t know if that’s still being done. There website looks like they are doing more with making wood products and fertilizer now (they had a neat trick of geting nitrogen fertilizers out of their synfuels system)
    Since at least the 1930s this could be done (carbon source to fuel) via an every growing list of methods from special bacteria to FT processes to pyrolysis to … The problem is always the same:
    Oil is too plentiful for prices to stay high (especially with OPEC able to open the spigot any time someone starts to make money).
    Carbon sources are typically diffuse and expensive. Often more easily harvested to energy via burning / electrical generation.
    So it goes…

  19. “Our product offers an intermediate solution for as long as our automobiles run on liquid gasoline. It can be used as a green additive – a replacement for a portion of traditionally-refined gasoline.”
    Well, maybe the days of automobiles running on liquid gasoline are numbered. Toyota has just announced that they will start selling their hydrogen fueled, fuel cell vehicle (called the Mirai) in Japan by the end of the year, and in the U.S. late next year. While I realize there are many people who question the viability of hydrogen as a fuel, the success of the hybrid vehicle has taught me not to bet against Toyota. It will be interesting to see what the market place ultimately says.

    • I’ve wondered if the nat gas used as the feedstock for hydrogen would be better off being used directly, instead of the multiple conversion steps that a fuel cell requires?

      • Not to mention the problems with economical, large scale, collision safe fuel storage. Fuel density is also a problem since gaseous hydrogen isn’t really practical and cryogenic fuel tanks in cars and trucks really scares me. The acronym is BLEVE.

    • Show me the hydrogen mines or wells. Until that day, a “hydrogen car” is just using hydrogen as a battery and the energy source is still some other primary fuel. Nuclear, oil, coal, nat gas, whatever. Inevitably that then means it is more efficient to skip the hydrogen making step and use the primary source directly. For electrical sourced hydrogen, it then becomes the relative efficiency of producing hydrogen as a battery or using the best alternate technology ( Li Ion or whatever). A battery is not an energy source.

    • It’s safe to bet against a Toyota built fuel cell powered vehicle. It’s a gimmick because it requires a huge subsidy not even the People’s Republic of California can afford.

    • old engineer , the success of the hybrid vehicle has taught me not to bet against Toyota.
      What real success? From–and-if-so-why
      Could U.S. Hybrid Car Sales Be Peaking Already–And If So, Why?
      Although the number of hybrid offerings offered has almost doubled–from 24 in 2009 to 47 in 2014–U.S. hybrid sales haven’t dramatically increased. They reached 2.4 percent for 2009, peaked at 3.3 percent in 2013, and presently stand at 3.0 percent for this year through March. In fact, hybrid market share actually declined from 2009 to 2010, and then again from 2013 to 2014.”

  20. “Green” hydrocarbon? They’ll never buy it; anything that burns is evil.
    And it doesn’t even have to burn. Making heat is wicked. So forget plutonium or thorium. Haven’t you heard? “Thermal pollution” is the new CO2. I kid you not.
    Think of it as job security for WUWT.

    • “Thermal pollution” is the new CO2.”
      Good catch! Remember a couple years ago, a guy published an energy-used budget which matched up nicely with ‘warming’.
      And who’s to say it’s not true. Efficiency is king when you get down to it. Why I’m going LED lighting.

    • ‘Thermal pollution’, or waste heat. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. No getting around it. We will just have to reduce the number of people doing work. Oh, that is the objective, verdad?

  21. . . .it can be used as a green additive – a replacement for a portion of traditionally-refined gasoline.”
    Genuflecting to the gods of AGW. This isn’t any more green than using gasoline from oil.

  22. My neighbors to the south, in the Carolinas, have been turning sawdust into turpentine for centuries. Also pitch and tar – hence the name ‘Tarheels’. The basic process – anaerobic pyrolysis – has also been used to recover flammable hydrocarbon liquids from tires. Nothing novel here…

  23. There simply isn’t enough sawdust worldwide for this to supply a significant amount of fuel. They would have to use whole trees.

  24. “Cellulose is available everywhere; it is essentially plant waste, meaning it does not compete with food crops in the way that first generation energy crops – crops grown for bioethanol, for example – do.”
    Yes it will compete with food crops, there is only so much land on which crops can be economically grown. If this BioFuel becomes more economic because of things like government meddling with subsidies then food crops will suffer.

    • Grow corn, send the ears to the mills for food and the stalks to the reactor for hydrocarbons. Likewise for just about every other grain. The only problem then is where are we going to get the organic waste materials to plow back into the field as soil conditioner?

      • “The only problem then is where are we going to get the organic waste materials to plow back into the field as soil conditioner?”
        Got it covered, we”ll use fertilizer, with ammonia made from natural gas…

  25. It doesnt matter; we know the issue is not the environment but is population control.
    They’ve admitted enough times.
    If this is real, it will never happen. Same as fusion.

  26. The Father of the “evil” Koch brothers developed a method to convert PEAT into petroleum, 65 years ago. He found NO MARKET in the USA (plenty of crude oil). He went to Europe and in post WWII, with various systems “fractured” he found a market. Made millions. Returned to the USA in the mid ’50s. Began buyin refineries. Died a BILLIONAIRE, which his (evil, of course) sons inherited. So does this puff piece excite me? No, BS (Barabara Striesand) in any form, shape or stage of the processes, is still B.S.

  27. Wood gasification is old technology and can be used to power gasoline fuelled vehicles. There are many device plans available via the interwweb if you wish to make one.

  28. Lots of innovations along these lines have been reported in recent years. The difficulties have been in economically scaling up production. It looks now like a long slog will be required to get a commercially viable product. It’s probably worth doing, but don’t hold your breath.

  29. Kior has been scaling up the thermal cracking of wood chips to make a bio oil as a industrial scale process, and is in bankrupcy. Wood to oil is not easy. One of their big cost problems for Kior was managing thier wood yard.
    Catalytic cracking of celulose might work in the end, but if all they have is lab results, it means little.

  30. It’s good chemistry.
    It’s lousy economics.
    If someone finds a use for this technique that has a practical purpose and that can’t be achieved more cheaply by other means, well, I’ll be surprised.
    But if I was them I’d patent away. Just in case…

  31. This is probably some variation of the Fischer-Tropsh process. There are already several companies pursuing this. Rentech is one I’ve been following, they built a pilot plant in Louisiana. They shut it down last year and I haven’t heard anything else since.
    Sasol does the same thing with natural gas and should make a killing with the cheap NG prices in the US.

  32. There simply are too many challenges for commercially viable biomass-to-fuels technologies using woody biomass. Most biomass costs $60-80/ton to produce/collect, and it cannot be transported more than 25-50 miles before it is uneconomical to use. Thus BTL plants are limited to about 2000 bbl/day, or 1/100th of a real refinery. And the cost of building these BTL plants is in the $200,000/bbl/day range or $400MM for a 2000 bbl/day plant. Thus financial costs are a real challenge to getting this technology deployed. The only really viable feedstock seems to be Municipal Solid Waste. Rentech was using Municipal Green Waste (lawn clippings, etc), but even that was not available enough to support a large scale plant, and the RTK Rialto project was not economically viable even with heavy government subsidies and loan guarantees. So it was never built. The same goes for essentially all Cellulosic Ethanol (CE) and other biofuels projects. Without government funding and RINs, they are not cost competitive with crude derived fuels. And with the drop in crude value recently, they will not compete on price in any way.
    There is a lot of creative thought going into developing novel ways to make alternative fuels, but until the cost of crude increases substantially, they will not be commercialized.

  33. Ah, looks like Rentech sold their tech to the Chinese:

    Rentech Closes the Sale of Alternative Energy Technology Assets
    LOS ANGELES, CA (November 4, 2014) – Rentech, Inc. (NASDAQ: RTK) announced today that it has closed
    the previously announced sale of its alternative energy technologies to Sunshine Kaidi New Energy Group Co.,
    Ltd. (Kaidi). Rentech received a cash payment of $14.4 million from Kaidi, which is in addition to $0.5 million in
    cash payments previously received. Kaidi will pay an additional $0.4 million to Rentech to purchase various
    equipment currently located at Rentech’s decommissioned Product Demonstration Unit (PDU), resulting in
    $15.3 million of total proceeds to Rentech from these transactions. This additional transaction is expected to
    close before the end of the year.
    D. Hunt Ramsbottom, president and CEO of Rentech, stated, “We are pleased to have closed this sale as part
    of our cost reduction efforts and focus on our wood fibre processing and nitrogen fertilizer businesses. By
    monetizing these non-core assets, we have improved our balance sheet and will be realizing significant SG&A
    savings going forward.”
    The transaction calls for the possibility of success payments to Rentech of up to $16.2 million. These payments
    would be triggered if Kaidi successfully builds and operates, at its cost, a demonstration-scale plant in China
    that uses the technologies acquired from Rentech and performs at specified levels. Rentech and Kaidi will
    share equally in any proceeds from the future sale of the PDU site in Commerce City, CO, net of transaction
    fees and carrying costs of the property incurred by Rentech after September 30, 2014. Rentech expects to
    close on the sale of the site in the first half of 2015.
    The sale of the technologies should increase Rentech’s net operating loss carryforwards applicable to federally
    taxable income by approximately $12.5 million.

    Basic problem remains the relative costs of cheap plentiful oil and natural gas vs synthetics costs. With WTI at $73.83 / bbl right now (per ) the synthetics are in the hole by about $50 / bbl. I’ve been watching this particular market since Reagan announced our Synthetic Fuels Program and was interested in it when my Dad told me about WWII German Synfuels. (In High School ran my car on various odd mixes of gasoline, alcohols, and ‘other stuff’ to gather data. Ran a Honda Trail 90 motorcycle on propane too…) Well, in about 40 years of watching, it has not changed one whit. ( Is the fundamental unit of whittling a whit? 😉
    It’s not going to change either, until there is a significant REAL shortage of fossil fuel feedstocks. That’s a few hundred years…. There is a small posibility of some kind of nuclear process heat being used to make fuel cheaply, but that will be stymied by irrational fears (otherwise we could have synthetic gasoline for about $3 / gallon right now).
    Don’t get me wrong: I am a strong advocate of synthetic fuels. Were I “God” of USA fuel policy, I’d be building out all sorts of production facilites. Why? Spanks OPEC and keeps them pumping excess… moves them off of the monopoly pricing optimum point. Forget ethanol from corn. Turn coal and garbage into gasoline and Diesel… at whatever price. No fleet change. No garbage gasoline. Spanks OPEC. IMHO, a nice package.
    (Sidebar: My old carbureted 1979 Mercedes does not like 10% Ethanol gas. However, it runs very well on the ethanol-free gasoline sold here in Florida for boats. Costs me about 50 ¢ / gallon more than Premium, but worth it. I also get a bit more MPG, so at the end of the day, it’s about a 5% to 10% uplift for the gas price / mile. Yes, I’m still playing with “funny fuels”… and my own octane booster.)

    • As Dr. Bob points out, economics for wood to fuel aren’t favorable in most cases. In fact, KIOR that did something similar to the research above, only on a larger demonstration plant scale, just declared bankruptcy. Their stock is now trading at $0.03 down from about $20 in 2011. It seems only the U.S. government and military want to use fuels costing $20-50/gallon.
      With regard to making straight chain hydrocarbons in the C6 range, these molecules have poor octane and not good for gasoline. It might be better to dimer and trimerize them for use in jet and diesel. But still not economical.

    • We will see a serious oil shortage within 20 years or so. Thus will be reflected in oil price increases to the $130 to $170 per barrel. This in turn will bring on more oil supply….but we are getting to the end of oil. It’s a given unless the world population and gdp start shrinking.

      • It depends. Nations without coal reserves may lean towards biofuels. Also, coal will also be getting more expensive. I think this type of research is bound to be useful in the future. We just consume too much fossil fuel of all types, the consumption rates are increasing, and the whole system just isn’t viable for the long term. This of course depends on population growth, and whether we take up socialism. The final outcome of socialism is poverty, which means lower consumption. Thus the politics has a lot to do with the way things go.

    • The $.50 more than premium is a recent scam I’ve noticed where I live too. 10% Ethanol gas cost slightly more than regular to produce. However, when you factor in the cost of EPA RINS, I can see why they might charge more.
      Since the EPA sets it’s ethanol blending targets over 1 year late, the oil companies are probably factoring that uncertainty as well.

  34. Type the following words into a search box and use the images tab:
    wood shavings bedding horses
    Competing with the horse, dog, and cat aficionados will be costly.
    I haven’t seen a pile of “waste” sawdust since about 1958.
    Other sources of cellulose are also problematic and have been debunked in comments above or elsewhere.

  35. Though the authors talk about cellulose waste products being converted, large scale applications will probably evolve into another excuse for mass deforestation, just as bio-ethanol has. Just incorporate the technology into some U.N. Carbon Credit scam and the good green intentions will follow the pattern of every other renewable before it, of the cure being worse than the made up disease!

  36. Costs aside, I don’t think there is enough sawdust to replace mineral oil production. Trees only grow at certain rate and even if we were turning them to sawdust and processing to gasoline as they grow, I can’t imagine there would be enough gasoline produced to cover all needs.
    If we extend that to all biomass then maybe but we’ll need to be very careful not to cause ecological disaster. Cellulose is not really a byproduct – it is highly energetic compound and there’s plenty of bacteria and fughi ready to crack it into sugars and use it for their metabolism and to keep the whole food cycle running. If we remove too much cellulose from the cycle, it will start starving. So again there’s the question how much we can afford to take and how big is the area we need to use for such purpose to produce enough gasoline for a country. If the area is bigger than that country, then we have a problem.

  37. I live in Northern Michigan, where it’s not too uncommon for a home to have a wood-pellet burner. The pellets are fairly cheap to make anyplace where there’s a large amount of waste wood, (sawmills, paper plants, which are common up here). A pellet stove is efficient, safe, and easy to use, and the emissions are about as clean as natural gas. I don’t know why anyone would waste their time trying to figure out alternative uses for waste wood when the technologies already exist to heat homes in a cost effective and energy efficient manner, (oh I forgot about the subsidies, that explains it)

      • It better. If nothing else there is more cornstalks than corn, and corn is useful for other stuff. With cellulosic ethanol or similar there is little point to biofuels other maybe than oils.

    • Heavily subsidized corn based biofuels are an enviromental crime. The industry we see in the USA is an excellent example of FAR (fire-aim-ready) syndrome, which we see so often in watermelon party members,who forget to get in touch with their inner peasant, and can’t figure out that cash registers need cash.

  38. Well where do you get all of this sawdust from ?
    I know a very greenie couple (very nice folks actually) who live on a farm, and run their diesel tractor on …….DONUT WASTE FAT…….which they get from their local donut shop.
    Man, can’t you see all the 5AM fights with people camping outside their obesity emporium, waiting to get their donut fat waste.
    I have a picture of a round the world diesel race boat that supposable ran on liposuction fat. Hey get all the donut fat , and then liposuct the victims as well.
    Now green or not, running your diesel on donut fat is not practical for primary energy. People don’t always want to eat donuts, when you need to take a shower.
    But the question I would ask, is how much water does it take to get a gallon of sawdust gasoline ??
    We don’t have water in California any more.
    PS The liposuckermobile got entangled with a Greenpeace harassment of a Japanese whaler, that was trying to save the whales, by collecting the whole set, and it got run over and sunk by the whaler. Luckily nobody went bye bye as a result.
    It was a heck of a looking machine though. It was tied up in the Viaduct Harbor in Auckland NZ when I saw it.

  39. There is nothing new or ground breaking about fuel from cellulose. None the less, this statement caught my eye:

    “Our method could be especially useful in Europe, where we have little crude oil and cannot easily produce shale gas,” concluded Sels.

    I’d hazard a guess that they also don’t have enough cellulose based natural product to do much either … translating to, “our method is not much good in Europe.”

  40. After reading through a number of WUWT posts over the years, one thing is for sure about so many claims of new processes, ideas, inventions, climate theories and etc that so frequently appear here on WUWT.
    If any of those claims and propositions survive the collective wisdom and huge reservoir of knowledge as well as the cynical and frequently well justified sarcastic appraisal of the collective of WUWT denizens and commenters whenever some suspect, spurious or dubious claim is made and published here on WUWT, if that claim still survives the attentions of the denizens and commenters intact, then it very likely has a damn good chance of being a viable and worthy proposition or development in whatever field of human enterprise it is related to.
    If it doesn’t pass the WUWT panel of commenter’s appraisalsalmost completely intact then it’s back to the drawing board for the promoters of that proposition or claim.
    In most cases of failure to pass the WUWT commenter’s judgement, that judgement is usually such that the funding should be mandatorily returned as a penalty for the promoters delivering such seriously bad and corrupted science or just a tired old repeat based on their profound ignorance of the subject of some process or idea that has been around for decades.
    An example of which we see in this claim above.
    And a point for which numerous previous examples of the well developed industrial processing of cellulose to achieve a similar outcome has been provided by the commenters here.

  41. I cant see a lot of new ideas in this process as described either. Possibly this is an improvement but you can make bio fuel (ethanol) from just about anything with cellulose.
    However if it actually works – ie is economic, be sure the establishment will jump on it.
    Get the feeling that the real aim of AGW is to break the economy?

  42. This reminds me to a south polar sea ice faring master called Chris(mas) Tur(k)ney (do you remember?) who has developed a method to capture CO2 by using a monster micro wave stove to turn sawdust into charcoal (…do you remember?).This can be buried forever in the ground or used by coming generations…
    But here is my idea too: Just collect all the waste paper, old books, bureaucratic outpourings, etc, and bury it deep into the ground. Generations later this be can used as coal…
    If anyone likes to use this idea – just use it – i have no patents….
    (Hmm… just thinking if I should mark this with a sarc. tag… better not… possibly it could be recycled to something more valuable….)

    • Here in UK we use wood pellets (from USA) to fuel our (previously coal fired) largest power station…The Greens don’t seem to mind …its the futile gesture at a non problem that matters afterall….

  43. Commercial scale cellulosic biomass plants are starting to come online, after being delayed by the recession.
    Additionally, corn ethanol plants continue to improve efficiency and yields as we learn how to maximize all of the feedstock and waste. Energy yields have increased to the 2.2 units of energy produced for each 1 unit of energy expended in production range as plants have incorporated up to 50% of the waste products into the production process.
    A recent study showed that, as these plants further refine the process – and use the remaining 50% of the waste stream in the process, we will see net energy balance increase to as high as 20 units of energy produced for each 1 unit expended in production.
    Since we have proven using corn for fuel does NOT affect the food supply, and that corn used for fuel does not affect food prices, and that ethanol encourages lower gasoline prices, maybe one day the mindless opposition will subside … and we can focus on this clean, renewable fuel.

      • Mpainter,
        Because the claims are total BS, but they are useful to fool the incompetent folks that work in the DOE

    • A Scott says:
      Since we have proven using corn for fuel does NOT affect the food supply, and that corn used for fuel does not affect food prices…
      I’m hoping that A Scott was being sarcastic.
      If not, may I remind him of the food riots in Egypt, Mexico, the Middle East, and other places, when the corn supply was diverted into making ethanol? Prices of corn-based foods skyrocketed, and the people rioted.
      I question Scott’s assertion that there are 2.2 units of energy produced for each unit required for production, and his 20 – 1 number seems preposterous. Citations, please. Saying “a recent study showed” is not enough. Let’s see it.

      • db, please do not believe everything you read or see on TV. The food riots, especially in Egypt, were over wheat, not corn. Wheat supplies very little to making ethanol. Not-PC commenting may help set your mind.
        The situation on this front was and is dire. About half of Egypt’s 85 million people are dependent of handouts of subsidized wheat. With its past domestic production, the country has only been able to sustain about half its needs. This has long made Egypt the world’s largest wheat importer.
        That is why the terrific drought that struck that entire region in 2010 had global ramifications. It was especially disastrous for Egypt. The drought caused Russia and other exporters to end wheat exports.
        Egypt tends to mix its domestic variety in with foreign wheat to extend supplies. The higher the contribution of the local wheat, the more bread — but of a lesser quality.
        On Thursday, July 11th, the Rome based UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that Egypt’s dwindling cash reserves and its expanding population, combined with the ongoing civil unrest, raised “serious food security concerns.”
        The FAO said even if Egypt has a bumper harvest this year, its demand for foreign wheat next year would remain the same.
        and from the USDA-
        The lower production levels contributed to the sharp increase in global wheat prices in 2007 and early 2008. Macroeconomic factors, such as the declining dollar and a shift of funds from equities and real estate into commodities also contributed to rising global commodity prices.
        As to ethonal energy –
        The use of alternative fuel sources like the methane gas, the practice of marketing wet distillers grain, and the reduction of grid electricity use all add up to significant new efficiencies in U.S. ethanol production. The Argonne report finds that total energy use in the ethanol production process – both fossil fuel and electricity – is down from 2001 by 7.2 percent in wet mill ethanol plants and down by 21.8 percent in dry mills.
        In energy input terms, ethanol production in 2001 required on average 39,719 BTUs per gallon, but by 2007, the BTU requirements had dropped to 31,070 per gallon. Experts note that the energy required to produce ethanol will continue to decline as process design continues to advance and as existing producers implement cutting-edge energy saving technologies.

        About the water use? – The 2001 study by USDA marked the amount of water used to produce each gallon of ethanol at 4.7 gallons. In the 2007 Argonne report, water use was down to 3.45 gallons per gallon of ethanol. This 26.6 percent reduction of water consumption is a significant achievement in just a few years’ time.
        Ethanol’s water consumption is often pointed to in media discussions, but the 3.45 gallons of water used per gallon of ethanol is small when put into context with the production of other common items. A typical Sunday newspaper, for example, requires 150 gallons of water during its production. One pound of chicken takes 11 gallons of water. And the refining of one barrel of oil requires 1,851 gallons of water, or 44 gallons of water per gallon of oil.
        Ethanol producer POET notes that within the last year, its network of 26 plants has achieved an average of 3 gallons of water used to produce a gallon of ethanol. POET’s Bingham Lake, Minnesota in particular has begun using a new technology to bring its water consumption even below the 3 gallon level.
        General Manager Randy Dittmann says since February the plant has discharged zero wastewater thanks to a new process that reclaims and reuses water. The Bingham Lake plant initiated a capital project for the new system that reclaims wastewater throughout the plant, filters the water to clean it, then reroutes it back to a storage tank for reuse.
        “We’re officially now a zero-discharge facility,” Dittmann said.
        Previously, a small amount of water had passed through the process and was discharged into the wastewater system at the back end of the plant. Now the only water to leave the ethanol plant is in the form of steam or in the moisture content of the distillers grain.
        The zero-liquid discharge technology has helped the ethanol plant achieve a 26 percent reduction in water usage, down to 2.7 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol.

        A lot of the management teams are from old farmer families. They are always improving.

      • DD More,
        No, no, you must not come to this skeptics blog and feed us industry propaganda. Food prices have gone up because of the demands for corn-based ethanol. Do you dispute that?

      • mpainter
        No, no, you must not come to this skeptics blog and feed us industry propaganda. Food prices have gone up because of the demands for corn-based ethanol. Do you dispute that?
        If you are really serious – let’s review raw material prices with finished goods pricing.
        Let’s take a box of cereal such as corn flakes, and a loaf of whole wheat bread. What is the value of the corn in corn flakes, and the wheat in a loaf of bread? If the box of cereal is 18 ounces, and the entire 18 ounces was corn, the value of corn in that 18-ounce box at the farm level went from seven cents ($3.50 a bushel) at 2010 prices to 13 cents ($6.50 a bushel) in 2011. (The corn in a 56-pound bushel will be enough for 50 18-ounce boxes of corn flakes). What about that loaf of bread? If it is 16 ounces, and the entire loaf is made of wheat, the value of that wheat went from 7½ cents ($4.50 a bushel) at 2010 prices to 14 cents ($8.50 a bushel) at 2011 prices. (The wheat in a 60-pound bushel will be enough to make 60 loaves of bread).
        Yes, the price of the unprocessed farm ingredients in many grocery store products has doubled. But, as you can see, the raw farm ingredients are a very small portion of the price reflected at the retail level. At today’s prices, a $3 box of Corn Flakes would have 13 cents worth of corn, and a $3 loaf of bread would have 14 cents worth of wheat.

      • DD More
        I note that you reply acknowledging that food prices have increased because of ethanol production.
        I also note that you passed through raw costs incorrectly. The increase to the consumer is more than the raw costs to the manufacturer.
        I also note that you presented no more industry propaganda. That was wise.

  44. I once turned mountains of wood-waste into kilowatts with direct burning in four specially designed power plants in Northern California. Even got an environmental award from the National Heart & Lung Association. Once I’d sucked up every scrap of wood-waste within a 300 mile radius, I became so desperate for fuel I went into the forest thinning ‘bidness where California worker’s comp. rates for “woods work” just ate me alive. When the price of fuel reached $40 a bone-dry-ton, I knew I’d made a really horrible mistake. About that time, I discovered just how abrasive wood waste can be. Ate up my boiler tubes; ate up my conveyor belts; ate the belly-pan off a couple of D-8 Cats; made boiler clinkers the size of Volkswagen Beatles. Wood waste sucks!

  45. Mother nature has been experimenting for 350 million years on efficient ways to break-down Cellulose.
    She has not found a good way to do it in all these eons and in all those experiments and there are only a few methods/organisms which can do it over long, long time-frames (and only a slightly more efficient manner than those of 350 million years ago).
    The first time I was subjected to a direct proposition to invest in a cellulose to gas/ethanol process (using the latest patented new revolutionary enzymes) was 23 years ago. To this day, the company still can’t make it work although they have extracted hundreds of $millions from governments/investors since then.
    How many manufacturing plants have been built that promised to do exactly this in the last 25 years? At least two dozen and none of them have produced anything of merit to date (and 95% have simply been shut-down).
    This is a scam. Some people believe in the newest, greatest new process but they all fail in the end and dollars are wasted.
    I started with the example of mama nature to explain how big of a problem this is. 350 million years of evolving micobes have not been able to crack the problem yet which means it is impossible. Cellulose degrades over many years. It is not a rapid refinery-type process.

    • Hi Bill.
      The end of coal formation era, the Carboniferous period appears to be linked with the evolution of a White Rot fungus enzyme that had the ability to break down lignin.
      From The NSF site;
      Study on Fungi Evolution Answers Questions About Ancient Coal Formation;
      [ I’ll pass on the second part of this headline ]
      [ Selectively quoted;]
      A new study–which includes the first large-scale comparison of fungi that cause rot decay–suggests that the evolution of a type of fungi known as white rot may have brought an end to a 60-million-year-long period of coal deposition known as the Carboniferous period. Coal deposits that accumulated during the Carboniferous, which ended about 300 million years ago, have historically fueled about 50 percent of U.S. electric power generation.
      The end of a geologic era;
      Coal is composed of the fossilized remains of plants–mostly lignin, which is a complex polymer that is an important component of the cell walls of plants and helps give wood its strength and rigidity. The study indicates that white rot fungi, which are the only types of microorganisms that can break down lignin, evolved at the end of the Carboniferous green period, and that the synchrony between the rise of white rot fungi and the close of the Carboniferous was no coincidence.
      According to the study, once white rot, which breaks down lignin via enzymatic activity, became an ecological force, it destroyed huge accumulations of woody debris that would have otherwise escaped decay to ultimately be fossilized as coal.
      So if not for the advent of white rot, large coal deposits may have continued to form long after the end of the Carboniferous period. This study supports a paper published in 1990 by Jennifer M. Robinson that pegged the evolution of white rot as a potential contributing factor to the end of the Carboniferous period.
      Results of molecular clock analyses suggest that the oldest ancestor of the Agaricomcyetes was a white rot species that possessed multiple lignin-degrading enzymes and lived roughly 300 million years ago. Many surviving lineages of Agaricomycetes-including fungi species known as wood-decaying polypores and bracket fungi-produce lignin-degrading enzymes. “Our results suggest that the ability of fungi to break down lignin evolved only once,” said Hibbett.

    • Good stuff there ROM,
      I was exactly thinking about the Carboniferous by noting the timeline of 350 million years ago. There was a change in the Carboniferous at a certain point, but it might also be the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. They were so high back then until the end of the period that forest fires had to be something to behold. A fire could burn right across a Continent at the time and most of the forests simply burnt completely to the ground every few years. A process that might lead directly to coal if those burnt remnants were then repeatedly buried by sea level changes caused by the melting and regrowth of the huge glaciers at the south pole where Gondwana was which also appears to have happened. Huge new Tree-fern Forests, massive forest fires, rapid sea level change burying the coal/burnt seams under sediments. Coal 300 million years later.

  46. Isn’t the conversion of biomass to petroleum by heat and pressure what Nature has been doing for hundreds of millions of years? What’s next? Shall we crush and heat sea shells to make limestone blocks?

    • “What’s next?
      With enough heat and pressure we could sequester carbon as diamonds. It’s as good a scheme as any of the other ways to get rid of “carbon pollution.” In the future, if we’re running low on fuel, we can just have everyone turn in their jewelry and convert it back.
      It’s easy to be green when you don’t give a hang about cost.

  47. The chemistry of converting organic matter into low molecular weight hydrocarbons has been well understood and practiced on an industrial scale for a very long time. This is how the Germans powered the wehrmact. Of course, they lost the war in no small part because we were able to destroy so much of their fuel manufacturing capability. Meanwhile, South Africa (Sasol) continues to use the same basic technology today to convert coal to gas and liquids and other products. There is one industrial scale coal gasification in the U.S. It is in North Dakota, and has been operational since the 1980’s. It’s primary product is methane, but the process to convert the gasifier output to liquids instead of gas is straight forward. Using biomass instead of coal is entirely feasible. It’s not done now only because of the economics. It’s not the pie in the sky technology that people keep thinking is going to make the carbon stay in the ground, but it’s always going to be there if we really need it.

    • Using biomass instead of coal is entirely feasible. It’s not done now only because of the economics.
      makes sense. coal is almost pure carbon. cellulose needs to be processed to extract the carbon. so, given the low cost of coal versus wood, it should be cheaper to add hydrogen to coal than to sawdust.
      sawdust is only a waste product in small quantities. In large quantities it has value as a feedstock. eg: particle board, heat generation. So gasoline from sawdust would need to compete on price with the alternative uses.
      A ton of thermal coal is about $50 and has about the same energy as 2 barrels of oil. It should be possible to combine 7 parts coal and 9 parts natural gas to create gasoline. Natural gas is also cheap, so with the right catalyst this would make more sense than sawdust conversion, so long as oil prices stay high..
      9CH4 + 7C yields 2C8H18

  48. Ahhh….. Old news!
    I worked on a similar project in the 1970’s. The client had mountains of sawdust to get rid of.
    Turned out that in attempting to convert the biomass there was a huge energy deficit. Cost a fortune to run the process.
    Then there was all the toxic waste to get rid of.
    The original project was abandoned, but the client ended up converting his steam boilers to burn sawdust. Thus increasing his carbon footprint, and causing Global Warming. And the end of the earth. And all that other stuff.

  49. The idea of wood resources (which we now use for houses and furniture) being used for plastic and gas? It must be something the Boomers were smoking…obviously an exceedingly dangerous substance, with side effects that worsen catastrophically with age.

  50. As others have indicated, manufacturing liquid fuels from wood or other cellulosic feedstocks is not a new concept in the Lab. The hurdle time and time again is developing a commercial scale plant that economically produces much more than a few gallons of fuel.
    One of the many fundamental problems is that wood, like coal, contains a lot of nasties like sulfur and other tramp elements that are very corrosive and expensive to separate and dispose. The residuals are not useful..
    I don’t think the “inventors” have a clue as to the quality control and specifications associated with gasoline that has sufficient octane, burns clean, starts in zero weather, and emits minimal pollution. They claim minimal processing is required for the product.
    I consulted on one $10 million demonstration plant that only produced jars of liquid that looked ugly, more like molasses. Another even more expensive plant was supposed to produce ethanol, but only made methanol because the catalyst was too expensive.
    I chuckle at a batch process that needs to cook for 1/2 day, realizing that another hurdle is to turn the process into a continuous process that produces at least 10,000 barrel of fuel /day to be economic

  51. During WW II “Wood Gas” vehicles were fairly common in various parts of the world.
    Due to gas shortages it was found to be fairly easy to burn wood and directly run a carbuerated
    vehicle off of the combustion fumes without modifying the mechanics of the engine.
    Looks like they are rediscovering the wheel to me.

    • Chicken poop was a more reliable source during that period. Talk about a methane generator! Strap a barrel of chicken-poop-and-water on the bumper of that Mercedes and you’re “green and mean”.

  52. They seem to lack knowledge of basic economics:
    – plants compete for land and human agricultural effort, not ‘edibility’.
    – Europe doesn’t need to make oil to consume oil. Canada doesn’t grow cotton and bananas, yet we have both in great abundance.
    Economics should be madatory.
    I have visions of huge expanses of land growing cellulose to painstakingly make what we can easily get out of the ground. Maybe we can all become farmers..

    • “Maybe we can all become farmers..”
      Or back another step to hunter-gatherer.
      That should make the Greenies happy, except maybe PITA.

  53. Many people here have commented on the economics of the process outlined by this post. I would like to extend the sentiments of many by pointing out that if subsidies are needed to make a thing doable in the marketplace then you are practicing corporatism (Mussolini’s term for fascism) and not a free-market. But then, the western world has not seen anything close to a laissez-faire free market since the 1800s. (if then)
    A lady teacher I know recently had a tiny “fender-bender” accident. She was horrified at the damage and the cost of repair to both cars. She suspected a vast conspiracy to drive up cost and make body-shops rich. I told her that she should look to safety regulations by the federal government to see why cars will crumple like paper tigers at the smallest crash. The government showers you regulations that control your life — and that is the way it is. Should the central government finance this boondoggle, people will denude the land to get enough wood to get in on the action.

  54. Utter madness, in what way is this different from burning Fossil Fuels?
    They burn Fossil Fuels to make it and then burn it as well?
    Of course they could use RE to make it and then burn it.

  55. Greens, who love to scold the rest of us about “sustainability” cannot seem to understand the concept of economic sustainability. When everything is “socialized”, then the numbers don’ matter because the scheme is always paid for with money stolen from somewhere else in the economy. When that plan eventually fails, economic reality (as hard it it is) always returns.

  56. Basically, anything that can be turned into carbon monoxide can be then turned into any length hydrocarbon you could want. This is 1920s technology.
    The problem is doing so at a cost ($ or BTU, take your pick) that makes sense. This is whatever-the-current-date-is-plus-five-years techonolgy (& has been for the last 90years)

  57. energy density of biomass in terms of land area used to harness solar energy is probably the worst renewable figure there is.
    It doesn’t matter how clever you are in turning that biomass into useful stuff, you can’t make energy that isn’t there.
    So technically interesting, politically economically and socially, value-free.

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