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VeraSun Energy files for bankruptcy

Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio
The worst economic crisis in the history of the ethanol industry has claimed one of biofuels most prominent players. VeraSun Energy, based in Sioux Falls, has filed for bankruptcy. It’s the latest in a series of problems for ethanol producers, who’ve had to deal with huge swings in corn costs and falling ethanol prices.

Worthington, Minn. — VeraSun bills itself as one of the nation’s largest ethanol producers, but that high-flying label meant little when corn prices soared last summer. The company bought contract positions betting that corn prices would go even higher. Instead, corn prices plummeted, sticking VeraSun with huge losses, as much as $100 million.

In it’s bankruptcy filing last Friday, VeraSun officials said the company is “essentially out of cash”. VeraSun officials declined to comment for this story. After the company announced the big losses last September, it went looking for someone to buy the company. Ethanol industry analyst JinMing Liu, of Ardour Capital Investme
(3 November 2008)

Scientist Discovers Fungus That Could Fuel A Car

Alex Chadwick, NPR
A researcher at Montana State University has found a micro-organism in a plant in South America that could fuel vehicles one day. The unusual fungus contains the essence of diesel, which one could use to run a bus, for example, without processing it at all.

Dr. Gary Strobel discusses his findings on “myco-diesel,” which are being published Wednesday in The Journal of Microbiology in London.

Dr. Strobel made the discovery by chance, while collecting fungus from the stem of a tree in an old forest in southern Chile. When he finally got around to sending it off for sophisticated analysis — years later — he discovered that this version of Gliocladium wasn’t like others he’d encountered before.

“I’ve scoured the earth for not only organisms like Gliocladium, but many other endophytes [a plant that lives in the tissue of another plant]. I’ve been to almost every rainforest on the planet,” he tells Alex Chadwick. But, “in over 50 years, I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Why would a fungus create diesel? Essentially to protect from plant invaders, he says.
(4 November 2008)
Related at MSNBC: Newfound fungus makes better biofuel . The article adds:
The discovery also questions assumptions about how fossil fuels are made.

“The accepted theory is that crude oil, which is used to make diesel, is formed from the remains of dead plants and animals that have been exposed to heat and pressure for millions of years,” Strobel said. “If fungi like this are producing myco-diesel all over the rainforest, they may have contributed to the formation of fossil fuels.”

Water, Sun and Dung

Li Taige, WorldChanging
Environmental challenges make supplying the ever-growing population of Tibet with sufficient and sustainable electricity a logistical conundrum.

Puntso’s yard is piled high with dung – specifically, wind-dried dung.

The 68-year old is a herder in the village of Niangqu, in the Nagqu area of Tibet. The household uses dung for fuel for cooking and winter heating.

Dung is an essential part of Tibetan life and is Tibet’s most common form of biofuel. The 420,000 residents of the Nagqu area burn an estimated two million tonnes of dung per year.

The dung would make good fertilizer to help the grass in the pastures grow. Its use as a primitive fuel source causes pollution and breaks the link between grass and grass-eating animals.

Research by the Academy of Agricultural Science’s Institute of Agricultural Environment and Sustainable Development and the Nagqu Agriculture and Livestock Bureau has shown that about one half of the pastures in the area are damaged – 300 million mu (20 million hectares) of land. The burning of dung is believed to be one cause of this.

Yet there is no way that dung can meet Tibet’s ever-growing demand for energy.
(4 November 2008)