In a high-octane twist to making lemonade when life hands you lemons, a California company has developed the technology to make biofuel from beetle-killed lodgepole pines. Commercial production of butanol from timber promises to provide a clean-burning bio-fuel that offers several advantages over ethanol made from corn.
By Clint Williams
Green Right Now
An expectation met is rare enough. An expectation surpassed is a culturally appropriate winter solstice celebration miracle.
So imagine my surprise and delight when reading the miles per gallon readout on the trip computer of the 2009 Jetta TDI during a recent holiday drive over the river and through the woods. The display reads: 43.7 mpg. That’s significantly above the Environmental Protection Agency estimate of 40 mpg in highway driving.
And we weren’t doing any of that 55 mph, coast-down-hills, hyper-miler sort of driving. We were zipping along at 70 mph or so, singing loudly along with the Christmas tunes provided by the satellite radio.
That sort of fuel economy apparently isn’t a fluke. Volkswagen hired a third party, automotive evaluation company AMCI, to test the real-world fuel economy of the Jetta TDI and found it performed 24 percent better than EPA estimates, getting 38 mpg in the city and 44 mpg on the highway.
Biomass technology promises what few other alternative fuel schemes can: energy from waste. Given the controversial use of corn (and other food crops) for biofuel, which is turning out to be less of a greenhouse gas saver than once thought, waste is looking pretty attractive.
A new plant in Central Texas, dedicated last week, promises to take sewage waste, organic garbage, grass clippings and manure, and convert them into gasoline.
Initially the plant, designed as a large-scale demonstration project, will use forage sorghum as its base material. Forage sorghum, unlike other varieties grown to produce sorghum seed for food products, does not steal directly from the human food chain. It is used as feed for cattle, but even so, it’s more renewable than corn because about twice as much (5-7 tons) can be grown per acre.