Thursday, March 29, 2012

Will Bioethanol and Hydrogen replace Gasoline?

Many universities, research and development institutions and industries are studying various biological processes to produce Hydrogen using different sources of organic materials such as Starch, Glucose, Bioethanol and cellulosic materials. However many of these technologies are at “proof of concept’ stages. Moreover these processes depend upon location and availability of specific raw materials in these locations. For example, Brazil has been very successful in the production of Bioethanol form sugar cane molasses and using it as the fuel for cars. Brazil has also successfully utilized Bioethanol as a substitute for Naphtha as a feedstock for the production of Ethylne, a precursor for several plastics such as PVC and Polyethylene and Glycols. Bioethanol is a classic example of biological process than can successfully substitute Gasoline. Many industrial raw materials are also derived from Sugar cane and Corn Starch. The main issue in substituting Gasoline with bio-chemicals is political in many countries. India has been producing industrial alcohol from sugarcane molasses for number of years but they are not be able successfully substitute Gasoline with Alcohol.They have to fix the price of Alcohol in relation to the price of Gasoline or Naptha.This pricing mechanism is critical. We have been using coal as the raw material for several decades not only to generate power but also to produce host of organic chemicals and fertilizers such as Urea, coal tar chemicals such as dyes and pharmaceuticals. These industries later switched over to oil and Gas. Now the world is facing depletion of fossil fuels at a faster rate. Greenhouse emission and global warming threats are looming large. There is a clear sign that the energy prices will sharply increase in the near future. Renewable energy projects are at early stages and their initial costs and cost of productions are much higher compared to fossil fuel based power generation. However biological processes and biofuels offer a glimpse of hope to get over the energy crisis and also to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Production of Biohydrogen using bio-organic materials such as starch, glucose and cellulosic materials are under development, but it may be a decade before they can be successfully commercialized. But production of Bioethanol and Biogas are well-known technologies. Generation of Biogas from agricultural waste, food waste and municipal solid waste and waste water are known technologies. However Methane the major constituents of biogas,is a potential greenhouse gas.The Biogas can be easily cleaned from other impurities such as Carbon dioxide and Hydrogen sulfide and can be readily converted to Hydrogen gas by steam reformation. This will substantially increase the energy efficiency of Biogas plants. Many developing countries can adopt these technologies on a wider scale and promote Bioethenaol and Biogas generation to substitute petroleum oil and gas. They can convert Gasoline cars into 100% Bioethanol (anhydrous) or blended with gasoline fuels for cars.These technologies are commercially available.Number of countries in Asia, Africa and South America produce starches such as Tapioca starch for industrial applications.Vegetable oils such as Jatropa and Castor oils are excellent for bio-fuels and lubricants.Though it is theoretically possible to substitute most of the petrochemicals with bio-organic materials,it is important that food products such as corn should not be diverted for commercial applications such as fuel. The coming decade will be a challenging one and Hydrogen generation from various biological organic materials can substitute fossil fuels at a much faster rate. A judicial mix of bio-energy and renewable energy such as solar and wind should help the world to overcome the challenges.