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john65pennington's avatar

Is the Oak Ridge, Tn. laboratory on the verge of a major discovery?

Asked by john65pennington (29225points) April 7th, 2012

The scientists, at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge laboratory, are currently working on a project that will convert Prairie Switchgrass to ethanol or alcohol for automobile fuel. This could be a major event for Oak Ridge and close-by Knoxville, Tennessee.

Question: if Switchgrass has been discovered as a possibe resource for conversion to alcohol, are there other plants that also may be converted to ethanol?

Source: CNN Money

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6 Answers

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

That would be a boon. Currently, I believe it’s only corn that can be used for ethanol.

LuckyGuy's avatar

You are referring to “second generation ethanol” or “Cellulosic ethanol.”
Ethanol from corn is easy and has been around for a long time – with many associated problems. The new process uses better “bugs” and better feedstock.

My company has a project that converts genetically modified switchgrass and /or a sorghum sudan hybird into a fuel that can be used in furnaces.
Not that none of these grasses, yeasts, or enzymes came over on the Ark. They are all genetically modified / manufactured organisms.
Right now both processes are more expensive than cheap oil out of the ground. But when, not if, oil gets to $200 per barrel and gasoline is $6 per gallon, the alternatives are cost competitive without subsidies.

The plan is to be ready when it happens.

Ron_C's avatar

I don’t think that the switch grass project is new. I understand that switch grass is a viable, low cost, alternative to corn and beets. Plus it does not compete with the world’s food supply and can be grown in marginal soil.

I also think @LuckyGuy is also correct.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Ron_C Switchgrass has been around for a long time. The ‘magic beans’ I’m talking about are new. They are specifically designed for the particular project. One version produces low ash when burned. Another is designed to break down easier during the cellulosic conversion process.

Ron_C's avatar

@LuckyGuy didn’t know about the different types.

I just find it strange that the research is done at Oak Ridge. I have a customer there and they are concerned more with radiation and government projects than agriculture research.

LuckyGuy's avatar

They are looking at all aspects of the Energy problem: nuclear, renewables infrastructure, etc. They partner with other institutions and organizations to look at specific issues and are considered the final arbiter when figuring out the costs vs. benefits of a process.

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