Gasoline from Lawn Debris

What with gasoline prices rising beyond two dollars a gallon, it reminded me of the oil embargo of the '70s, and the various alternative fuel and conservation ideas that came to public attention.

    During the "crisis", I distinctly recall newspaper coverage of a Professor at the University of Michigan, who took grass clippings, leaves, and other yard waste, and using a process perhaps similar to a pressure cooker, thus accelerated what nature did over many eons, transforming

these organic materials into the equivalent of crude oil, which then could be refined to produce gasoline. He supposedly had been powering his cars and other gas engines with the end product.

    The last I heard was that he was hired by one of the energy companies in Texas to work on programs for them. While it sounds like a cheap conspiracy theory, I don't recall hearing anymore about him or his concept, and my searches on the web haven't turned up much... Thought I'd harness the power of your vast research empire on the idea.


Well, I’d guess that it’s probably more energy efficient to somehow convert the cellulose in the yard waste into sugars, then ferment & distill ethanol out of that.

Now, how you convert the cellulose into sugars is where I’m unsure. I’ll bet there are enzymes which can do this for you, but I don’t know what they are.

One thing you can be sure of is that this will result in a net loss of energy as you use more than one unit of energy to produce one unit of energy.

Sure, but how will you put that energy into your gas tank?

That’s the tradeoff- it may be cheaper to ferment & distill your own ethanol than it is to buy gasoline, but the energy consumption may be greater with the ethanol.

Personally, I think biodiesel is the way to go.

/me is happy to be driving an electric car. screw OPEC.


sailor said
One thing you can be sure of is that this will result in a net loss of energy as you use more than one unit of energy to produce one unit of energy.
What if that energy were free.Tomorrow,go outside and look up. There is a very large heater up there.It is capable of producing the heat necessary for distillation. As a matter it will do it without any help in some situations.

Here’s a neat URL dealing with biofuels:

justwannano conjectures:

Ah, but all fuel is free. Of course, the cost of collecting it, processing it into a usable and legal form, and transporting it to the point where it’s needed, may be considerable.

Your post assumes that alcohol is the prime product. What if it is the by product or better yet a product made from waste.
When cornstalks are used as feed in the form of silage that pile of silage leaks juice the entire time it is there.
I don’t know weather to believe it but I have heard of animals getting drunk from licking up the juice.At any rate it is fermented.What if that juice is collected and used as (must).
I don’t know where you live but if there is a river grain terminal near by see if you can go in there and see how much grain is lost on the riverbank. If you can get close enough put your hand inside that pile. You will notice it is hot. Guess what is happening there.
What if the distillery is on the farm or better yet have local distilleries.I can see politicians fainting at the thought.
The government is the problem here.alcohol distillation is a natural occuring phenomeonon and it is not being taken advantage of.

Every study that I have seen shows that to make whatever biofuel you choose that will save 1 gallon of gasoline you will spend more than one gallon of gasoline resulting in a net loss of energy. I saw one particular study (which, of course, I cannot find online now) which showed that the ethanol program was just useful as a crop subsidy but the fuel used in the production is greater than what is saved by what is produced.

Yes the sun is free, the wind is free, but oil is also free and it is cheaper to process it into a useful form. There are Solar (electric power) plants and wind plants and bioplants out there and they just cannot compete with conventional or nuclear plants. (I am not saying it is impossible in the future, just that today it is not the case).

I saw a study about solar generation of electrical energy and it came down to one thing: the electricity produced did not even begin to pay for the use of the land they were using (not to mention the plant and equipment). Land does not come free.

The wind is free and yet steamships displaced sailships very fast even when fuel was much more expensive than today.

Another case in point: My house has solar panels that heat the sanitary water. They were already installed when I bought the house and they work fine with the maintenance I give them. I save a lot of gas for heating etc.

About 5 years ago I thought the system might need a major overhaul and I did an economic study of the whole thing. My conclusion is that here it does not make economic sense to install solar panels as it is cheaper to burn gas to produce that heat, not to mention the hassles of the maintenance of the solar system.

Solar panels may make sense in places (like third world countries) where energy is very expensive and sun is plentiful and the panels may provide energy cheaper than other sources but that ain’t the case in Washington DC.

At that time I had a very interesting exchange with a guy who installs solar systems in this area and I found the file where I kept it. My conclusion was that the natural gas I use to heat water would have to cost three times as much for solar panels to make economic sense.

here is part of the exchange:


I also studied the financial yield of investing in a system of solar panels and you will probably not like the result of my analysis which is very contrary to what I thought before.

Assuming a 60 ft2 system like mine costs (I’m guessing) about $3000 to install and delivers 80 therms per year, it does not make economical sense to install. Let us assume a 15 year amortization which I think is a reasonable lifespan. Even at zero interest, the system would have to deliver about $17 /month for me to recover the invested money.

If I invest the $3000 at 8.75% it will bring back $30 every month for 15 years so that the solar system would have to yield more than that value in energy savings to make sense. Delivering less than 7 therm /month it does not come even close to that. Using a gas water heater (which I have anyway) the net cost of that energy would be under $7 (about $1/therm, net). My money will yield four times more if financially invested. If the water heater is electric the difference is not so great but still much in favor of electric power.

A system that yields about 8 MBTU/Yr ($80 - $100 / Yr) would have to cost no more than $800 - $1000 to install to make financial sense. And these figures do not take into account maintenance costs which would make the picture even more favorable to conventional systems.

Maybe in rural locations where there is no gas or electric supply and the cost of these or other forms of energy are much more expensive a system of solar collectors will make sense financially speaking. Or maybe large installations for hotels or other large buildings can be installed at lower cost per unit (square foot of collector, gallon of tank, etc.)

I will try to find the stuff online about biofuel and solar electricity generation