Biomass gasification: let’s talk methanol

The Methanol Institute reports: “President Bush has set an aggressive goal of increasing alternative fuels use in the transportation sector to the equivalent of 35 billion gallons. However, the Energy Information Administration forecasts ethanol output to reach only 11.5 billion gallons in 2017. Only 2% of this projected ethanol supply will come from cellulosic ethanol. One way to fill this gap is through biomass gasification for methanol production. Cellulosic ethanol may someday be able to produce 60 gallons of ethanol from a ton of biomass material. Using technology available today and largely developed for coal gasification, methanol yields could achieve 165-185 gallons per ton of waste wood. Methanol biomass gasifiers are also highly energy efficient (50-60%), and can use a wide range of feedstocks from forest residue to municipal solid waste. Rather than completing with weather-dependent food crops for transportation fuel feedstock, it is estimated that 250 million tons of waste wood is generated in the U.S. each year. That’s enough wood to produce 41 to 46 billion gallons of methanol, or roughly one-third of the 140 billion gallons of gasoline consumed in the U.S. last year. North Shore Energy is looking at building a plant in Mississippi capable of producing 50 million gallons of methanol per year from 260 tons of wood per day. Air Products is looking at a dozen potential gasification projects around the world, nine of which involved biomass feedstocks.[...] this is a mature technology that is potentially decades ahead of producing ethanol or Fischer-Tropsch diesel from synthesis gas.

This is yet another reminder of why automakers should make as many new cars as possible GEM flexible fuel vehicles, cars that can run on any combination of gasoline, ethanol, methanol (and other alcohols as well) and cost an auto manufacturer less than $100 extra to make – would be a huge step forward to reducing oil dependence and increasing energy security by opening up the transportation fuel market wide for competition.

This 2003 article from Ford Motor Company’s Roberta Nichols about GEM flexibility is a must read. Detroit has already committed to 50% flex fuel vehicles by 2012 – faster and bolder please!

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