This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bioelectricity

The “corn into ethanol as automotive fuel” supporters received another bit of bad news the other day. They were already smarting from criticisms that corn based ethanol would not only dramatically drive up the price of food but would also generate more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels (once you take into account the entire life-cycle of corn growing/ethanol manufacturing). Now, Elliot Campbell (UCM), David Lobell (Stanford), and Chris Field (Stanford) have calculated you can get more energy per acre by simply burning the biomass (corn, switchgrass, or whatever you’re growing) to make electricity. Converting the biomass into ethanol just wastes a significant portion of its energy content. The authors also point out that an additional benefit of “bioelectricity” might be in the area of carbon sequestration. You can sequester carbon at a stationary power plant, but not for mobile sources like automobiles.

Of course, this only helps lower our dependence on oil if we’re all using electric cars.