Sustainable ethanal production

Its been quiet on the ethanol front but FINALLY  we have some action!!!

Congrats to the Far Nrth Environment Centre and Far North Envirolab for....

Turn your farm waste into a fuel - Taipa Workshop – 2pm Friday 15 April

15th April 2011   2:00PM

Turn your farm waste into a fuel 
Taipa Workshop

2pm - Friday 15 April
49 Taipa Heights Drive

For several months a local project has been busy fermenting and distilling farm waste produce. Although the liquor being produced is not for drinking, there should be something to celebrate at the end of it. The Far North Environment Centre andFar North Envirolab have teamed up to show how a low cost distil system can add value to on-farm waste products by converting them into beneficial by-products including renewable ethanol fuel, animal food stock and fertiliser.

The project has been partly supported through the Sustainable Farming Fundwhich is administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and it is hoped that the uptake of similar initiatives could provide many economic and environmental benefits.

As part of the project, Andreas Kurmann from the Far North Envirolab wants to demonstrate how ethanol can be produced cleanly and cheaply, using a wide variety of plants and waste products, from kiwifruit to raupo. He believes that by increasing the availability of ethanol based fuels we could avoid the increasing prices at the petrol pump, become more energy independent, as well as slow and potentially reverse global warming. As a fuel ethanol is a much cleaner fuel than petrol, and you can use it in your car, right now. In addition, ethanol fuel production can be environmentally sustainable, revitalises farms and communities, and creates huge new opportunities for small-scale businesses.

What the project is trying to show is that the by-products of small-scale ethanol plants can be used in profitable, energy-efficient, and environmentally positive ways. For instance, spent mash (the liquid left over after distillation) contains all the nutrients the next fuel crop needs and can return it back to the soil if the fields are close to the operation.

demonstration workshop for anyone interested to learn more about the project has been planned for 2pm on Friday 15th April at the Far North Envirolab site: 49 Taipa Heights Drive, Taipa. For more information contact Richard at the Far North Environment Centre on 09 408 1086, click here to email him.

Location / Venue: 
Taipa, far North

Farm waste ethanol missing the point.

I do take delight in you "energy buffs" enthusiasm for these various projects. however,in my view you are missing the point by describing your raw material as "farm waste", and by your idea that we can use these "technofixes" to avoid radical lifestyle change.

Here in the Moutere we have been experiencing something of a drought this year, and so called "farm waste" has been vital to us as an alternative feedingstuff. this would include hop vines and leaves, pressed grape pulp, pipfruit grading discards and apple pomace. These materials are usually used fresh, but they can also be ensiled for later use. They help us to avoid the wasteful exercise of de-stocking during drought then having to build up again.

Your man Andreas I'm sure is well-intentioned and a nice guy, but he is "whistling dixie" if he believes that enough ethanol can be produced this way to affect the price of fuel by more than a cent or two. To claim "reversal of global warming" is nonsense. this type of thing is at best carbon neutral- if you don't count the carbon cost of the manufacture of the equipment to make and utilise the ethanol.

You say "you can use it in your car, right now." I guess for most punters this is really the hook, extend and pretend, that they believe they can avoid transition to a simpler (percieved as harder and more boring) life for the time being. Actually, I do believe there is a place for on-farm ethanol (apart from a good drink after a day in the fields, that is!) That would be for use in small portable machinery where the labour saving aspect is very high, for example, a chainsaw used for felling a large tree. If you ever felled with an axe and a two man cross-cut saw (I have, just for demonstration purposes) you would know what I mean!

Instead of clutching at straws, why don't you try clutching a garden fork? I know I'm a bit obsessed with farming and gardening but gnawing hunger really takes the fun out of driving your ethanol powered car!

So typical

I'm over defending ethanol as an alternative fuel to those who claim to be wanting to transition to an alternartive economy/energy system. I have looked at it for a very long time and actually unlike many of the knee jerkers have some knowledge about it.

No ones claiming it will replace oil but what it can potentially provide is a non fossil energy source for reclocalised communities utilising what is local waste. Whether that waste be fruits 2nds or using high yielding wetlands grasses such as sugar cane and or raupo that can soak up the phenomanal amount of effluent currently poluting our waterways from gazing land and convert those waste nutrients into fermentable sugars and starches.

I put this idea out there to the transition and permaculture communities 2 or 3 years ago and there has been very little response other than skeptisim or idealogical ranting.

......meanwhile under the Sustainable Farming Fund, the Far North Environment Centre got some $$ but so did a very large agricultural research conglomerate, who won a tidy sum of money to research pretty much everything I was suggesting to the transition community when it came to alternative crops such as raupo.

There are opportunities out there and if we don't take those opportunities, the corporations will and are. You may prefer to tisk tisk whilst you drive around on oil. I personally would rather drive on sustainably sourced fuel, when I have to....and I often do

So instead of simply branding any idea a "technofix" perhaps the transition community should inform ourselves, and collaberatively work together and start seeking answers instead of simply sitting on a high horse and rubbishing anything that does not sit comfotably with ones ideals.

Rimu's picture

go for it

It's great that you have gotten a demonstration site up and running. If I were living nearby I'd be mad keen to check it out!

Ethanol has a lot of 'baggage' due to the mad way it has been done in the US...

Richard, my apology and explanation

I realise that calling you an "energy buff" and using the term "Technofix" was loaded with a certain amount of disdain . There was no need to address my comments in the style of a slap-down to you and I apologise for it. It is a habit that comes from posting on the blogs and I forget that it is not an appropriate style when dealing with people on "our side" regardless of whether or not I agree with their point of view. Notwithstanding my apology, I do stand by everything in the substance of my reply to your post.

TT is a broad church and no-one speaks for the movement as a whole, least of all me. I know I am in a minority of users on this site in that I am of the opinion that we need to be making contingencies for managing an extended emergency, starting sooner rather than later. I am not ready, but I am more ready than most. However one ready person in a sea of unready desperados is still a dead duck. I am frustrated by the casual way even those that are thinking of the issues have no sense of urgency. This is the cause of much of my bluntness.

I do see the point of small scale ethanol production as I made clear in my comments regarding small machinery. As distilling alcohol for personal consumption is actually legal in NZ, many people are doing just this on a regular basis. In fact I quite got into the idea of growing Jerusalem Artichokes as an ethanol source a couple of years ago. The whole thing is highly "do-able" in my view. However, I think the "use it in your car, right now" was bound to rankle with many TTers.

One thing that does bear consideration is that because of the different density, viscosity and fuel/air ratio of alcohol and petrol the carburetters need to be modified. This, from a resilient communities point of view , is a bigger technical challenge than actually making the fuel, especially in small engines where the jets are drilled directly into the carb. bodies rather than being removable/replacable. Also, what about 2-stroke oil? Perhaps you would like to bring this up at the meeting.

Thanks , Rimu, for your ever-present air of calm and conciliation. A reality check for me.

Regards, Kevin Mayes.

Apologies for my defensive rant as well

Apologies for my defensive rant as well.

I guess I see ethanol as potentailly, for want of a better term "big picture" response. That is a strategy that can fit into a local EDAP.

Something that adopted at the local/regional level could help ween one's community off fossil energy, whilst at the same time stimulating the local economy through such structures as farmer and buyer cooperatives.

To respond to your query around the necessary modifications of of the vehicle the technology does exist. During the 80's when Brazil was under fuel embargos and were running the entire car fleet on sugar cane derived ethanol, they invented a flex fuel device that can automatically adjust a vehicle's workings depending on the ratio of ethanol to oil.

This technology is not that expensive...a few hundred $$ ....(much chaeper than a brand new electric vehicle, in both $$ and embodied energy) and is currently available in the US and even Australia. Many newer models of car already have it installed.

Currently to my knowledge it is not available here but if a local cooperative were to initiate an ethanol scheme, it would not be hard to ship a load in and build the cost into the membership fee of the cooperative.

This is what I mean about "big picture" To adopt ethanol it would take communities to organise themselves in such a way. But by doing so it could lead to a strengthen more sustainable local economy. Imagine if even a fraction of the $$ your local economy spend on petrol was redirected to local farmers and workers at you local ethanol plant. Those $$ filtered through a cooperative structure such as a credit union could then be the starting point to create a local currency actually backed by a tangible

To address a point in your first post Kev. Distilling crop waste removes no nutrients only carbon and energy. Therefore the solid residues can be and often are used as a stock food. In other words a secondary value added product your local energy coop can then potentially sell back to farmers, thus reducing the need for imported supplementary feed such as palm kernal.

Finally on the climate change front. Vehicle use is NZ largest GHG contributer. Fermentation/distillation and combustion of the fuel does release carbon to the atmosphere but as this was atmospheric carbon the feed stock had taken up over its growing phase, ethanol is in effect carbon neutral. From memory evey 1 litre of oil you burn releases 2.4 kg of atmospheric carbon that had been sequestered for the last 600 million years. So I would suggest any carbon neutral fuel source can infact benefit the climate dramatically.Admittedly its not ideal but as a transitional strategy, it could help give us time to deal with those bigger structural issues such as urban planning, public transport etc

I too am concerned that we are not ready. There are plenty of people now growing their fruit and vege and dabbling with chooks but if we really do want to prepare we need to find ways to collaberatively organise ourselves. I got involved with TT because I saw Hopkin's Energy Decent Action Plan as a functional way to udertake that communty design and it is through that lens that I see initiatives such as ethanol production working.



Great work and effort!
Ethanol does have many complex issues, not the least of which are feedstock sourcing, integrating production with other processes and activities, and especially vehicle/small machinery compatibility (we do not have a widespread FFV fleet here in NZ yet). Its not as difficult as many think, but it's often more complex than many realise, and the same old hoary myths propogated by oil companies and ignorance still exist unfortunately, especially the food vs fuel debate, energy cost, vehicle destruction etc.

It *is* one of those things that can be done very well, or really badly, and being performed "badly", is not indicative of how beneficial a truly well integrated biofuel and alternative energy industry could be.

When we look at how many billions of liters of fossil fuels are consumed in this country every year, consider how this is purchased, and where the dollars are going, it's sickening to see how our present (and past) governments appear to place so much priority on bailing out failed finance companies, employment summits etc, and so little on future fuel security, a future source of employment, and a balance-of-payments reducing, revenue generating industry that could enable local and regional resilience, make good use of marginal and under-utilised land, while also creating opportunities for making better use where apropriate (above comments noted!)of a range of horticultural and municipal "wastes".

It's not madness in the States (or Brazil for that matter), that they are gradually developing the means of being less dependent on imported oil, and are in fact begining to do this very well with systems such as "Poet" that not only use "2nd generation" cellulosic technology, but integrate this with bio-gas generation from material (we won't call it waste!)generated as outputs from one process are fed into another.

Many processes or techiques that can be seen as bad or relatively inefficent when taken in isolation, are useful and valid when integrated with a range of other processes taking into account local climate, existing infrastructure, land use, and production of yet more useful outputs, such as lignin-derived plastic alternatives, natural ferilisers etc. Some activities produce ethanol as a by-product of energy generation where liquid fuel/spirit is only a bonus of the operation. It seems certain that the surface of many possibilities are only just being scratched due to the relatively low emphasis, effort and funding that appears to be available for creating an alternative to fossil fuels, and a fossil fuel supported economy and infrastructure.

What's important is that we *start* making the steps toward building the infrastucture and industry to generate alternative fuels, alternative energy etc in a variety of ways, because the total amount we require to support our needs is far greater than any one solution, and we require a *variety* of transportable, distributed energy methods, from electricity, to liquid fuels such as, and especially, heavy fuel oils (replaced by bio-diesel)to support logistics, distribution and transport, and the very fabric of our economy, before we even start thinking about personal transport (although that's nice!).

NZ, is one of the few countries in the world that has a favourable land to population ratio, and actually has the real opportunity and ability to make better use of our resources.

If we don't use what now appears to be a fairly narrow window of opportunity while fossil fuels are available to help us create these alternatives, we face the grave risk of being intimately connected to every world crisis by that supply, and a very uncertain future.

We simply must make every effort possible at every level, to increase our resilience and reduce dependence on imported oils and oil-derived products, and applaud practical efforts made, even if some steps along the way aren't, or don't seem perfect at this time.

Here here Azeo

And just to reiterate my point that we as transition communities are missing the opportunity to actually create energy resilience and the associated economic resilience that comes from locally produced energy, not to mention the myriad of other potential environmental benefits, we now have two very large players developing the ethanol market in NZ. Gull has teamed up with Fonterra to launch their new E85 blended fuel at the Hamilton V8s of all places. See

E85 is 85 percent ethanol blended fuel and is common in the US, Brazil and parts of Australia. Gull is claiming it reduces GHG tail pipe emmissions by 1/3 to a half.

The Ethanol is sourced from Fonterra fermenting its whey....and surprise surprise Brazillian sugarcane.

In my opinion you are going to see a lot more of this. On a RNZ story on the launch a boffin from EECA quoted a SCION report which indicates that NZ could be providing ALL of its fuel needs from cellulosic ethanol derived from tree species grown on low productivity marginal land.

And here is my little bug bear, sugar and starch based ethanol is relatively easy and the technology to produce it is relatively cheap as little as 10s of thousands of $$ for a small plant producing 10,000litres per week. There are also plenty of high yeilding easily grown feed stockcrops that could be cultivated to help mitigate NZ's appalling record on nutrient pollution of our waterways.

The negating factor for the Big End of Town is that processing sugar and starch crops needs to be close to the feedstock. Hence sugar and starch based ethanol HAS to be produced at a regional scale and decentralised.

On the other hand 2nd generation ethanol, i.e cellulosic ethanol is technically very difficult and requires a high level of technology thereby easier to centralise and therefore control.

As I have stated before sugar and starch is a great opportunity for farming communitioes to get together and cooperatively deshackle themslves from the global energy economy. But unless we do that soon the opportunity will be lost to the same old BAU model.

No probs, & I also wished to

No probs, & I also wished to add in addition to my last comment and reiterate that I do see this work being very good, and potentially beneficial in many ways, particularly perhaps for small-holders, farmers, and communities prepared to co-operate together.

I see where Kev is coming from too, and there are certainly elements of governmence and community who put their reliance too much in techno-fixes, not just as a solution for problem solving, but also for continued growth, ie a bau *replacement* (alternative) for fossil fuelled activity to maintain the existing model.

This will definitely put more pressure on land *area* and use, whereas with the status quo, we're drilling through the land, and putting pressure on the atmosphere and biosphere (including also, the land!) in other ways using previously "locked-up" solar energy and carbon. Unless performed with care and respect for the environment, and concern for energy descent protocols and consumption tenets, we still face terrific hurdles in trying to substitute one system for another, even with a shift in paradigm.

It can come down to effort vs convenience, responsibility vs being cared for, time being used by our hands, rather than just *in* our hands, relying on ourselves and community rather than just relying on "the Man", and helping create the environment where these qualities are *encouraged* and fostered, and indeed work and work well, better than they do now in our present structure as a whole.

There's no doubt that there are elements of centralisation, offshore trade and distribution essential or hard to move away from, we could even just consider how difficult high-precision machinery and technological components are to replicate and manufacture here now (a fuel injector for one's diesel?), but there's also no doubt we could be a bit less spoon-fed when it comes to energy and fuel, a bit less dependent on some imported goods, and certainly not connected so directly to inflationary and risky offshore fuel supplies. Like a good cheese, "it takes time"! A continual series of small steps, and uptake from following generations.

It's also a matter of creating choices and options, solutions that work, solutions that integrate, solutions that cleverly solve as Richard says, nutrient pollution in waterways for example, rather than creating further problems themselves. And solutions that work for those who *don't* care or can't, as well as those that do, because there will always be a percentages thing, majority, or minority, at different phases of life and need who can only receive, or wish to receieve, more than is given.

"2nd generation" technology is getting *very* interesting. There is much activity it seems now to put the tools for this kind of technology and ability into the hands of small scale producers. This helps take the monopoly away from the "big boys", (interesting to see the E85 rumour confirmed - thanks!)and hopefully again, puts more options into the hands of farmers and communities, for the *wise* and careful use of resources, for the benefit of all.

Keep up the good work Richard, I for one, will be "watching this space", very closely!

two stroke oil for ethanol fuel

before I forget, your question about two stroke oil Kev, castor oil has been the standby for engines of old, and for the R/C crowd using methanol for a long time, but it also mixes clearly with *hydrous* ethanol, it's one of the few suitable oils that do. It even mixes without emulsifying down to 160 proof/80% (quick rush out to the garage to verify!), and smells great to boot. Redline also make a specific two stroke alcohol fuel oil which mixes successfully with 92-95% , and may even cope with a bit more water - something I need to verify before claiming too much!

The author of "Alcohol Can be a gas" David Blume also says that bio-diesel works well (might depend on the oil source), but the main thing to check would be long-term wear, mixing ratios, and if the oil reduces octane too much, otherwise that's another possibility. So apart from cold starting (nothing that a squirt of petrol or "engine start" can't fix, and maybe access to the end of the crankshaft for a battery drill and socket)and mixture/timing adjustment, should be quite doable, despite the unavoidable extra consumption. R/C guys seem to convert chainsaws and weed-whackers quite often to alcohol for monster aircraft!

Thanks, Mate!

Thanks, Mate!

The paradigm thing

Its very interesting reading all your comments. I do not live in a TT here in Rotorua but I have recently begun researching approaches to sustaining life after peak oil etc. I would like to point you to a documentary available for free I believe, on Youtube. Its called "Zeitgeist: Moving Forward". I mention it because like Kevthefarmer, the producer Peter Joseph believes time is short and that radical paradigm shift is Briefly he supports the notion of 'economy' defined as: "careful management of resources, sparing restrained or efficient use". With that in mind his analysis of the dysfunctional "money" economy is compelling. He and others tell us that science today has the ability to enact a properly defined 'economy' immediately. It would involve a global stock-take of resources, and an integrated systems approach to the efficient 'equitable' distribution of those resources. The film concludes that 'money' has no place in this scenario as it has outlived its utility as exchange and is now merely a valueless tool of exploitation that the earth can no longer afford. Your blogs acknowledge the place and importance of science in solving future resource problems so I wonder what you might make of non-market scientific allocation. I am sceptical that scientific methods applied by scientists (i.e. humans) could be free of 'value'. PJ however believes that scientific data fed into computers will give logical scientific answers for the care, control and distribution of global resources, and that someone (scientists?) will apply those answers so 'every' human being can receive what they need to thrive (without money). Science can count, calculate, and care for resources in a way humans have never been able to, so, I think it sounds bloody great on paper. It's a big topic so may not be suitable for this blog but Transition Towns may need to consider these notions if they want to do right by their local populations, especially in light of the fact that politics has shown itself to be a woefully inadequate platform for equitable, rational resource allocation.

Rimu's picture

You may be interested in this

You may be interested in this discussion we had a few weeks ago about that doco and related ideas