TreeHugger readers made some good points in the comments of a recent post about biodiesel. It's indeed always a dilemma between happy and sad when there's a step in the right direction in something that is far from perfect to begin with. In the mid/long-term, the internal combustion engine is on the way out. It's just not very efficient at converting liquid fuels into mechanical motion (most of the energy is lost as heat).
But what about the short-term? Biofuels are a minefield. Corn ethanol? No! Methane from bio-digesters and landfills? Yes, better use it than have it in the atmosphere. Waste cooking oil biodiesel or SVO? Yes! Algae biodiesel? Probably, when available. Soybean biodiesel? Maybe. Depends where and how it was made and what it replaces.
But what about other types of biofuels made from waste? There's some news on that front from Syntec Biofuel. Read on for more.Syntec Biofuel, a spin-off from the University of British Columbia, is working on ways to turn biomass into alcohols which can then be used as fuel.
Syntec’s technology uses any renewable waste biomass such as hard or soft wood, sawdust or bark, organic waste, agricultural waste (including sugar cane bagasse and corn stover), and switch-grass to produce syngas.
Hard and soft wood is probably not a good idea, but the rest is promising. Much better to make fuel from corn stalks than from corn kernels!
Last October, Syntec was making 73 gallons per ton of biomass. Yesterday, it announced a yield of 105 gallons of alcohols (ethanol, methanol, n-butanol and n-propanol) per ton, with a target of 113 gallons per ton.
In October 2007, Syntec calculated that the variable cost per gallon alcohol on then current yield (approximately 73 gallons per ton) was C$0.48 per gallon, which it expected to shrink to C$0.37 per gallon on reaching a targeted yield of 113 gallons per ton.
So once again, we have a step in the right direction, but we're far from perfection; We're still talking about liquid fuels that can help maintain the current infrastructure when what we really need is a move to something much better.
Still, if offered the choice between driving a car powered by petroleum or corn stalks, what would you pick?
You'd hop on your bike, of course!