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Mobile machine can make biofuel for military and humanitarian operations

By

August 20, 2012

A diagram of the process utilized by the Endurance Bioenergy Reactor

A diagram of the process utilized by the Endurance Bioenergy Reactor

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) have created a device called the Endurance Bioenergy Reactor (EBR) that can produce bioenergy on location, using waste from kitchens and latrines. The fuel can go directly into engines and generators without any need for refining, avoiding the complications of distribution and supply chains associated with fuel production. The researchers say the EBR can produce 25 to 50 gallons (94.6 to 189.2 liters) of biofuel a day from waste streams or processed cellulosic materials.

The EBR is based on an engineered photosynthetic bacterium, an organism that divides itself quickly. The technology combines plant enzymes with an efficient light-harvesting system that is found in abundance within these cells. The reactions from the combination of enzymes and bacteria result in fuel molecules that are foreign to the bacterium, which then expels them into a culture medium where they can be sequestered and separated from the fermentation broth. When it gets to that stage, the molecules can be used, without refining, as diesel surrogates in engines or generators.

Because of its inherent mobility, the system would be ideal for military settings, humanitarian activities in emergency zones, native peoples' villages, and in any other remote setting. The same version of the system can be used for military and civilian purposes. It is estimated that one EBR can fuel a generator that can charge up to 60 light- to medium-duty electric vehicles per day, with an estimated daily range of 50 miles (80.4 km).

The EBR is past its development phase, so all the team needs to do now is to deal with integration and scale-up issues. The researchers anticipate only a small investment will be necessary, somewhere between US$2 and $3 million.

The Argonne National Laboratory is part of the US Department of Energy. It’s a multidisplinary project that works on pressing national issues related to science and technology.

In the video below Argonne bioscientist Phil Laible talks about the EBR and its applications.

Source: ANL

About the Author
Antonio Pasolini Brazilian-Italian Antonio Pasolini graduated in journalism in Brazil before heading out to London for an MA in film and television studies. He fell in love with the city and spent 13 years there as a film reviewer before settling back in Brazil. Antonio's passion for green issues - and the outdoors - eventually got the best of him and since 2007 he's been writing about alternative energy, sustainability and new technology.   All articles by Antonio Pasolini
14 Comments

Gee....that'll get my M1 Abrams MBT about 25 miles....too bad I'll get there alone.

SteveZ
20th August, 2012 @ 10:17 am PDT

I don't understand SteveZ's comment. I don't think the article suggested this would power an M1 tank. M1 tanks run on diesel. I just don't understand the hostility? This creates electricity. The waste to energy solution sounds very practical and like all innovation I hope this does scale and become a cost effective way to displace diesel. These military research arms created the internet, GPS, and wouldn't be great if this too could eventually be applied to civilian use.

James Poch
20th August, 2012 @ 11:43 am PDT

It could greatly reduce the amount of fuel that needs to be bought and delivered and it takes safely care of sanitary disposal of human waste. But is it more efficient than anaerobic digestion feeding a engine/generator.

Slowburn
20th August, 2012 @ 12:56 pm PDT

Great work! Light-harvesting bacteria converting waste into a liquid medium that can be stored in ordinary tanks and burned in ordinary engines.

So maybe the house of the future will have a special collector panel for sunlight for this system on its roof, and use all of the year-around generated waste from inhabitants and garden/land to ongoingly "breed" a winter's supply of energy.

There's so much stuff out there now, solar hot water systems, photovoltaic systems, super-insulation materials, and new ideas like this one. Combine them all, and I won't bet any money on oil or gas, ever again.

BeWalt
20th August, 2012 @ 01:15 pm PDT

re; BeWalt

Do you really think that all we get from oil is fuel?

What about plastics and lubricants?

Pikeman
20th August, 2012 @ 10:31 pm PDT

The figures for this device sound totally unbelievable.60 electric vehicles a day? It makes fuel and electricity, and gets rid of all your waste?

Why do they need 2-3million$? This lab is at the US dept. Of energy. Something sounds decidedly strange about all of this. It says it contains GMO. Let's hope it doesn't leak.

windykites1
21st August, 2012 @ 05:16 am PDT

this could also be a boon to every kind of Rural based operation imaginable-hey, we're trying to tout "Sustainability"...this kind of tech could go a long way toward that goal-profitably.

R Andrew Ohge
21st August, 2012 @ 10:06 am PDT

I'm the Energy Specialist for 15 remote isolated Native Villages in the Bering Strait Region of Western Alaska. Our villages are not road or grid connected. (For many good reasons that we won't go into here). A few don't have water and sewer (ditto). This isn't the first waste to fuel machine to come along.... ok, perhaps the first to produce a direct petroleum substitute. What I find atractive about this one, however, is its apparently small size.

Most biomass digestors are way too large for a village of say 120 people. I believe they looked into it a few years ago for Nome, and even Nome, the regional hub of 3,500 didn't generate enough waste. If this one is smaller, or scalable, it might have some potential here.

The Alaska Emerging Energy Technology Grant Fund would have been a good fit for this. It funded technologies that promise to be commercial within 5 years. Unfortunately the AK legislature didn't continue the program last year. Perhaps they'll do something next session. Project developers should keep an eye out for this.

NRGHound
21st August, 2012 @ 12:35 pm PDT

How much does it need to "eat" to produce that amount of output??

A whole village (100+ ppl) worth of waste per day? There is no way to tell if it's efficient given the info in the article.

And this will prob be $$ with the engineered bacteria.

Calvin k
21st August, 2012 @ 01:02 pm PDT

Well,hell,if it works as well as they say,it could be a great start towards distributed power generation. One could supply the power needs of a few dozen homes.Central power generation is dangerous in this day and age,with malware threats from terrorists and the potential for widespread damage to high voltage transformers,which take years to replace.Some of them are in dangerously fragile condition right now.A few pounds of C4 could destroy them,and kill power for millions for months if not years.Geomagnetic storms have the potential of inducing transformer killing currents as well.

michael_dowling
21st August, 2012 @ 02:56 pm PDT

Calvin: I agree. My first thought was the info given is meaningless. I can not calculate the efficiency from "25-50 gallons a day". Is that 24 hours? How much raw material? Why the spread? What is "cellulosic material"?

We really need this info to evaluate the feasibility of a much needed home energy machine. The grid is a dinosaur which destroys individual energy independence.

Don Duncan
21st August, 2012 @ 04:58 pm PDT

re; The grid is a dinosaur which destroys individual energy independence.

Don Duncan

You mean that the grid delivers energy more cost effectively than you can generate it yourself.

Pikeman
22nd August, 2012 @ 01:11 am PDT

Pikeman: No. I mean exactly what I said. If the grid is so efficient why does it need to be a monopoly? And how can you evaluate the cost? The only way to know the most efficient energy system is by the market. But no such system is allowed in this, or roads, or water, or garbage, or defense, or medical care. So we muddle along with a mixed economy, slowly sinking.

voluntaryist
29th August, 2012 @ 03:23 pm PDT

Hmm? I saw this idea looks like that back to the future movies, break down bananas and beer, get methane gas. Make it small enough to fit in a car and, poof, no more land fills.

Gargamoth
8th November, 2012 @ 05:26 pm PST
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