Farm­ing for fuel

The world needs to use en­ergy smartly and gen­er­ate it from re­new­able sources.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIFESTYLE -

COM­PA­NIES the world over are in pur­suit of al­ter­na­tives to fos­sil fu­els. DuPont, too, is in the race.

Armed with the be­lief that bi­ol­ogy will help re­duce the global re­liance on fos­sil fu­els, the com­pany is de­riv­ing two bio­fu­els from re­new­able ma­te­ri­als, cel­lu­losic ethanol and biobu­tanol, aside from de­vel­op­ing var­i­ous tech­nolo­gies to boost the pho­to­voltaic sec­tor.

Cel­lu­losic ethanol or ethanol from non­food sources, can po­ten­tially re­duce green­house gas emis­sions from 80% to 150% when com­pared with petrol. The DuPont Danisco Cel­lu­losic Ethanol pi­lot plant in Vonore, Ten­nessee, is set to de­liver cel­lu­losic fu­els to the mar­ket by 2012.

The ethanol will be pro­cessed from agri­cul­ture waste such as corn cob, stalk and husk, as well as switch­grass, ac­cord­ing to Jan Koninekx, DuPont busi­ness di­rec­tor for bio­fu­els.

“We want to use feed­stock that is al­ready avail­able, so agri­cul­ture residue is a good place to start. This is also eas­ier to process than wood. But as we are go­ing large-scale, we also need other feed­stock and that is why we are also pro­cess­ing switch­grass.”

He says switch­grass (an en­ergy crop that is pro­duced solely for con­ver­sion to fuel) is na­tive to the United States and suit­able for plant­ing on mar­ginal land, so there is no fear of com­pe­ti­tion with other food crops for farm­land. The hardy crop not only tol­er­ates poor soils, flood­ing and drought, but is also re­sis­tant to pests and dis­eases, mak­ing it a choice raw ma­te­rial for pro­duc­ing bio­fuel.

To en­sure a con­stant sup­ply of switch­grass for the ethanol plant, there is a tie-up with the com­pany Gen­era En­ergy.

“6,000acres (2,400ha) are be­ing planted with switch­grass un­der con­tract with 60 farm­ers around Vonore. We are also de­vel­op­ing a sys­tem to har­vest, trans­port, store and process the biomass,” says Kelly Tiller, pres­i­dent of Gen­era En­ergy.

To de­velop biobu­tanol, which is con­sid­ered as the next gen­er­a­ton of bio­fu­els, DuPont has teamed up with oil com­pany BP. Biobu­tanol holds much prom­ise as it is su­pe­rior to other bio­fu­els and has prop­er­ties sim­i­lar to petrol. For ex­am­ple, it has higher en­ergy den­sity, so it will give more kilo­me­tres per litre. Petrol blended with bu­tanol is less sus­cep­ti­ble to sep­a­ra­tion in the pres­ence of wa­ter than ethanol/petroleum blends. As a re­sult, it can eas­ily be used in the in­dus­try’s ex­ist­ing dis­tri­bu­tion in­fra­struc­ture with­out re­quir­ing mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

DuPont’s Bu­ta­max Ad­vanced Bio­fu­els buthanol demon­stra­tion fa­cil­ity that is un­der con­struc­tion in Hull, Bri­tain, will process corn grain, wheat grain and sug­ar­cane to de­rive biobu­tanol. The fuel is ex­pected to be com­mer­cially avail­able in 2013.

DuPont is also a ma­jor technology sup­plier to the pho­to­voltaic in­dus­try, pro­duc­ing com­po­nents used in both crys­talline sil­i­con DuPont and Bio Ar­chi­tec­ture Labs are study­ing if sug­ars from sea­weed can be turned into isobu­tanol fuel. and thin-film so­lar cells and mod­ules. The com­po­nents, which in­clude resins, en­cap­su­la­tion sheets, flex­i­ble sub­strates, con­duc­tive pastes and seals, are de­signed to work to­gether to pro­tect the sen­si­tive por­tions of so­lar mod­ules and in­crease their ef­fi­ciency and life­time. One new com­po­nent un­der devel­op­ment is a ma­te­rial to re­place the glass used in thin-film so­lar cells.

“As thin film so­lar cell is sus­cep­ti­ble to mois­ture, it has to be sand­wiched be­tween sheets of glass. This takes away its flex­i­bil­ity and adds to its weight. The DuPont ma­te­rial, made from stan­dard poly­mer and a pro­pri­etary Du Pont ma­te­rial, will work in the same man­ner to block wa­ter vapour from the PV cell, yet is flex­i­ble, trans­par­ent and light,” ex­plains Steve Freilich, DuPont di­rec­tor of DuPont’s So­lamet screen-printable thick film en­ables so­lar cell man­u­fac­tur­ers to re­duce cost per watt by achiev­ing higher cell ef­fi­cien­cies and pro­duc­tion yields and lower ma­te­rial con­sump­tion. ma­te­rial sci­ence.

The US Depart­ment of En­ergy is fund­ing the re­search into the new ma­te­rial, which is suit­able for all thin-film so­lar mod­ules. The com­pany is also work­ing with the fed­eral govern­ment and uni­ver­sity part­ners to de­velop so­lar cells for mil­i­tary and com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­tions that are tar­get­ing a 50% so­lar mod­ule ef­fi­ciency rate verses the 15% ef­fi­ciency of con­ven­tional technology.

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