In preparation for when the oil runs out (or becomes economically unviable to extract – as detailed in The End of Oil by Paul Roberts) scientists have started developing alternative methods for making plastic. In this case from trees:
Some researchers hope to turn plants into a renewable, nonpolluting replacement for crude oil. To achieve this, scientists have to learn how to convert plant biomass into a building block for plastics and fuels cheaply and efficiently. In new research, chemists have successfully converted cellulose — the most common plant carbohydrate — directly into the building block called HMF in one step.
HMF, also known as 5-hydroxymethylfurfural, can be used as a building block for plastics and “biofuels” such as gasoline and diesel, essentially the same fuels processed from crude oil.
Given that so much of our industrial infrastructure rests on oil it is reassurring that alternative sources of basic materials are being developed.
[from Physorg][image from linh.ngân on flickr]
It’s not quite the “chocolate-fueled car” that the headline from the indispensable PhysOrg.com promises. What we have instead may be close enough — a car its makers claim can reach 145 miles per hour,
powered by waste from chocolate factories and made partly from plant fibers….
The steering wheel is made out of plant-based fibers derived from carrots and other root vegetables, and the seat is built of flax fibre and soybean oil foam. The body is also made of plant fibers….
Scientists at the University of Warwick say their car is the fastest to run on biofuels and also be made from biodegradable materials. It has been built to Formula 3 specifications about the car’s size, weight, and performance.
[Image: Never Eat Purple Chocolate by i’m george]
Prof Mark Jacobson of the University of Stanford believes that (for the USA) the best solution to the various problems of energy security, peak oil, and global warming lies in wind and solar thermal power:
The raw energy sources that Jacobson found to be the most promising are, in order, wind, concentrated solar (the use of mirrors to heat a fluid), geothermal, tidal, solar photovoltaics (rooftop solar panels), wave and hydroelectric.
In Prof Jacobson’s research paper he looks at how you could power every road vehicle in the USA using different methods and finds the best combination is wind power and electric battery vehicles.
[at Physorg][image from kevindooley on flickr]
With oil prices again reaching historic highs today of more than $113 a barrel, there are unofficial reports that a massive oil reserve may have been found in the ocean off the coast of Brazil. The drilling company involved, Petrobras, has yet to announce confirmation but National Petroleum Agency President Haroldo Lima said the reserve could have as much as 33 billion barrels of oil, making it the largest find in decades.
Petrobras played down the reports, with the second well drilling into the deposit yet to break through the salt layer under which the oil could be expected. However with biofuel production threatening food shortages in Latin America and the rest of the world, a big oil find in Brazil would come at a much needed time for fuel security.
The world’s second largest producer of oil, Russia, had falling production in the first quarter of 2008, with industry officials ‘gloomy’ about the prospects of even staying at current production levels. Global production has plateaued in recent years, with growth in production in Angola and Russia balancing falling production elsewhere. More finds like the one in Brazil, as well as increased efficiency in using the oil produced will be needed if global production begins to decline.
[via the Oil Drum, picture by gattobrz]
Although PetroSun have picked the worst possible day for beginning production, their algae to biofuel processor plant is ready to begin working tomorrow, April 1st. 1080 acres of the site in Rio Hondo Texas will be devoted the process, with an additional 20 acres making experimental jet fuel . I’d question their choice of launching on April Fool’s Day but if this is a real development it’s potentially very exciting.
“Our business model has been focused on proving the commercial feasibility of the firms’ algae-to-biofuels technology during the past eighteen months.” said PetroSun CEO Gordon LeBlanc, Jr “Whether we have arrived at this point in time by a superior technological approach, sheer luck or a redneck can-do attitude, the fact remains that microalgae can outperform the current feedstocks utilized for conversion to biodiesel and ethanol, yet do not impact the consumable food markets or fresh water resources.”
Algae conversion to biofuel is much more efficient than other techniques. It provides as much as 30 times more energy per acre than corn or soy . In addition, it doesn’t impact on the growing of human fuel – food stocks in grains are low and shortages threatening because of farmland switching from food to biofuel production. Algae promises a good compromise to stop a Downward Spiral.
[story and picture via TreeHugger ]