Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bioelectricity Beats Biofuel in Efficiency

Burning plants to produce electricity is a more efficient way to power cars than turning those plants into biofuels.

That's the conclusion reached by a study conducted by a team from the University of California at Merced and reported in the journal Science.

In fact, the bioelectricity from an acre of crop would propel a car 81% farther than the ethanol produced from the same acre. The bioelectricity would power an electric car, of course, while the ethanol would turn an internal combustion engine.

Electric powertrains are more efficient than internal combustion engines, giving biolectricity an inherent edge over ethanol.

Another advantage of using bioelectricity: Unlike the ethanol conversion process, bioelectricity generation produces no greenhouse gases. The carbon released during combustion is the same carbon that the plant absorbed during its growth, which means there's no net gain of CO2 in the atmosphere.

To make bioelectricity, crop is burned and the steam is used to turn the turbines of a generator. Ethanol is produced through fermentation and distillation.

The study's authors hope it will be used to expand the discussion from how we can best produce and market ethanol to how we can use our land most efficiently.

(Photo: University of California at Merced.)

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