Friday, October 8, 2010

Rice In Your Gas Tank?

Boosting Biofuel Production From Rice Straw

A discovery by Chinese researchers that could turn rice straw into an inexpensive new renewable source of biofuel has been under developed in the past two years.  Scientists report the production of biofuels from rice straw which is a leftover from harvesting the grain, therefore, making it a much more sustainable alternative to rice production.  The key question that the author is addressing is the need for alternative renewable fuel sources to replace gasoline.  Whether or not rice harvesting byproducts can be used sustainably and hold a profitable market is also important.   It seems that the opportunity that this process provides could help a continent such as Asia, where population is reaching alarming highs and causing for much more fossil fuel consumption.  

In ACS' bimonthly journal Energy & Fuels, it goes on to describes this as discovery as a way to boost production of biofuel from rice straw by almost 65 percent. Another important fact is that China is the world's largest rice producer, a crop that leaves behind about 230 million tons of rice straw each year.   Looking at the troubles associated with this process, scientists have not turned to rice straw for production of biofuels because it contains a tough cell wall which they have found difficult for bacteria to break down.

My conclusions from this article are that the process is a good way to reduce waste material form a major industry like rice harvesting, but it will take some tinkering to produce the best biofuel product. The process does look promising and the initiative is well respected.  This looks like a great idea in theory, what could be more renewable then using parts that were to just be thrown away?  This type of technology looks to be a great stepping stone for the future and a possible option when fossil fuels become scarce.

After continuing my research into this specific topic, I have found little to no further developments on this technology from its break though in 2008.  Does this mean that the technology is obsolete? Could this be a hump in the sustainability movement?  Are people beginning to sweep fuel concerns under the rug now that prices have dropped from 4-5$ per gallons to now a “low” rate of 2-3?  Since when did the fluctuation in the price of gas change the environmental impacts that fossil fuel burning produces?  All of these kinds of questions are causing people to wonder what will really change in today’s society if everything blows over and convenience seems to always have the upper hand.
By, Lindsay Hofer

American Chemical Society (2008, May 28). Rice In Your Gas Tank: Boosting Biofuel Production From Rice Straw. ScienceDaily.

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