by David Biello, April 10, 2012 Scientific American (excerpts)
On former pineapple fields outside of Honolulu, an industrial tube has been erected, ensconced in a steel scaffold. Dwarfed by the nearby oil refinery, the modest tube represents an attempt to one day wean Hawaii from imported oil. It is the nation's first dedicated biorefinery, employing high heat to turn plant matter into oil, followed by chemical catalysis to upgrade that oil into a useable fuel, just like the much larger refinery down the road.
The biorefinery "makes a fuel which is usable in generator sets, boilers and also possibly in marine engines," says chemical engineer Jim Rekoske, vice president of renewable energy and chemicals at Honeywell's UOP, the company responsible for building and operating the facility. By next year, UOP hopes to have the full biorefinery in place, which will be able to make almost any transportation fuel.
As the company has demonstrated elsewhere in the world, it is possible to make jet fuel from plant oils—whether they come from jatropha seeds, the flowering weed camelina or any other oil-producing plant. The same is true for other forms of transportation fuel, whether corn ethanol for cars or algal oil to power ships. The new facility in Hawaii will be the first integrated biorefinery dedicated to churning out bio-based versions of the full range of fuels more commonly made from petroleum….
At present, the new biorefinery is expected to churn out five barrels a day, which, thanks to rules attached to the $25-million U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant that made the project possible, will be free to anyone who wishes to test the biofuel.
(5 x 365 x 10years = 18,250 barrels ... $25M / 18,250 = $1,370 per barrel just in amortized costs.)
Ultimately, this facility may be able to convert as much as 1,000 metric tons of biomass per day into liquid fuel; the goal is to build a commercial-scale facility that would churn out 50 million gallons (189.2 million liters) of transportation fuels per year. (50M gal / 55 gal barrel = 909,090 barrels/yr /365 =2,490 barrels/day)
Yet even an output of that scale would only account for 1/45 of Hawaii's annual oil use. To really make a dent, the state would have to build many such facilities—and grow much more biomass, though that is at least a feasible undertaking, given current land availability. The islands now boast some 400,000 acres (161,874 hectares) of fallow land….
The Navy has embraced biofuels that can immediately substitute for petroleum in conventional engines, "mainly to make us better war fighters," Mabus said. That switch has received criticism, largely because such alternative fuels are more than 10 times more expensive than petroleum-derived fuels….
That type of fuel is exactly what UOP aims to provide in the long run. "The idea is to demonstrate that the combination of our pyrolysis and our upgrading technology provides superior economic returns for people who own biomass and want to turn it into transportation fuels," Rekoske says—an effort that could be useful on other islands or even the U.S. mainland. "We'll show the world this ravenous teenager of a technology we have that can eat anything and turn it into transportation fuel."
read … 5 barrels per day
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