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MOSCOW, Idaho - A University of Idaho graduate student believes the answer to the world's crude oil crisis grows on trees. Juan Andres Soria says he has developed a process that turns wood into bio-oil, a substance similar to crude oil.
The process _ in which sawdust and methanol are heated to 900 degrees Fahrenheit to create the bio-oil _ is already drawing some interest from energy and wood product companies, Soria said.
"But because it's quite novel, there's a bit of reserve," he said.
Soria is testing his theory with the help of Armando McDonald, associate professor of wood chemistry and composites in the University of Idaho's College of Natural Resources.
Though the idea may sound far-fetched, Soria and McDonald say the theory has precedent in nature _ coal is the result of trees being subjected to high amounts of heat and pressure.
"We're trying to speed up the process," McDonald said. "Rather than doing it in millions of years, can we do it in minutes?"
So far, Soria's research has focused on sawdust from Ponderosa pine trees, although he said any variety of tree could be used, including fast-growing varieties like those being cultivated for wood pulp. Only about 2 percent of the mass is lost in the heating process, he said. After the bio-oil is produced, he separates it by boiling points, or grades. So far, he said, he's identified oil grades that could someday replace gasoline, tar, glues and resins that make things like lawn furniture.
Ponderosa pine sawdust is only the beginning, Soria and McDonald claim. Next, they will begin testing to see if they can get bio-oil from pine needles and bark.
The two are doing the research without grant money. Soria plans to use the research in his dissertation for his doctorate. If the private sector likes the idea enough to back it financially, Soria said he could put together an industrial-size bio refinery in five years.
Still, he said, the bio-oil isn't likely to be an immediate competitor to crude oil. Crude oil currently costs about $60 a barrel, and bio-oil will only be competitive when the cost of crude oil reaches $80 a barrel, Soria said.
Just bought a 76 F100 4x4 shortbed
"There are 10 kinds of people; those who understand binary and those who don't!"
If that were to happen the greenies would be crying about their precious trees being cut down even if they were grown especially for the oil. The have to have something to complain about. But anyway, I like my ethanol.
1997 F150, 4.6, auto, ext. cab long bed-the workhorse
1997 Exploder, 302, AWD-daily driver
1999 Ranger, 3.0, M5OD, 3.73s, a few mods, all mine
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