Tuesday, July 11, 2006

New Processes Promise Cheaper Ethanol

A major drawback to replacing gasoline with ethanol is that ethanol, especially when made from corn, has a very low rate of energy return against energy invested. But now researchers are working on multistep process that produce ethanol more eficiently and also generate useful byproducts.

Y.H. Percival Zhang, an assistant professor at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, has developed one cost-effective process for creating lignocellulous ethanol. The process integrates three technologies in a multistep process that does not require the high pressure system, high temperature system presently used. In addition the new process can utilize the entire corn plant rather than just the kernels.

The byproducts from this process include lignin, hemicelluose sugars, amorphous cellulose, and acetic acid, which have numerous industrial uses, making the process more profitable.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Demand for Organic Food Outstrips Local Supply

In an ironic twist for the sustainability community, the demand for organic foods in the U.S. has grown so rapidly--15 to 20 percent a year--that it has outstripped the ability of existing organic farms to produce. As a result, organic manufacturers have had to import ingredients from places like Europe, Bolivia, Venezuela and South Africa.

So, while the the organic movements is promoting healthier farming practices, it now has to rely on the ever more expensive fossil fuel transporation industry.

With the approach of peak oil, real sustainability will require a much greater effort to localize the production of food, which may be a difficult transition.