The Community BioRefinery and Occam’s Razor (keeping it simple…)

Occam’s Razor theory is taught in engineering and medical schools. When you see a simply-engineered, fully operational Community BioRefinery (designed to reduce or remove costly energy), think of plant-based foods; think bio-plastics; think green electricity; and think of the Next-Generation of Biofuels – bio butanol … but not an ethanol factory.  

The Principle of Simplicity   

Occam’s Razor (also spelled Ockham’s Razor), is a law of economy, always choosing the simplest explanation when conducting a scientific experiment.  When evaluating two competing theories, the more straightforward, simplistic approach is preferred in engineering. This focus is expressed as “steps are not to be repeated beyond necessity.” Although there are competing theories as to the original meaning, benefits, or drawbacks of Occam’s Razor, the most widely held and accepted is that amongst the most complicated theories, problems or answers sought, the simplest solution is usually the way to go.

Think of Occam’s Razor 

Community BioRefineries (CBR) is a card-carrying member of the Carbohydrate Economy, processing feed stocks and biomass by transforming the source materials into plant-based foods, bio-chemicals, bio-plastics, green electricity, green industrial materials – and much more.  The road to accomplishing all this is paved with successes and failures (sometimes failures help us focus on how not to do a thing.

In the modern-day world of chemistry and engineering applications, finding solutions often sees problems encountered – ranging from unexpected results in calculations to securing a supply source?  Along the way, huge amounts of money and time pile up, costing and jeopardizing the success of a product or process, only to discover that coming full circle back to the simplest solution works best. 

Granted, there are times when complicated issues require complicated answers.  But, if we can step outside that box, we can often find the solution more quickly and perhaps even multiple solutions in that same place.  This encapsulates the development of the Community BioRefinery process:  thinking outside the box.

For over 35 years, the principle of simplicity was the focus of the Community BioRefinery (CBR), which has been the world’s oldest research and development company in biofuels, per the USDA.  The application of Occam’s Razor factored prominently in accomplishing this achievement.  CBR focused on thinking outside the box to come up with the simplest solutions to otherwise complex problems.  Our ultimate goal in making the Next Generation biofuels (using zero petroleum) was to engineer the process of making a biofuel using little or no energy to produce it.  An allied goal was to also create value-added products to keep costs down.  

Using Occam’s Razor, the CBR’s first objective was to make the Next Generation Biofuel – biobutanol.  Next, the CBR focused on the two competing theories concerning feedstocks in the “Food vs. Fuel” debate.  First, do we grow crops to feed the world or crops to fuel the world?   In the end, CBR solved that question – we can do both.

Dr. Dan Kammen of the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley, published his study, appearing in the January 2006 issue of Science, attempting to settle the ongoing debate of whether ethanol or biobutanol are good substitutes for gasoline, thereby lessening the country’s reliance on foreign oil and increasing the support to farmers.  Dr. Kammen’s weighed these arguments against several other studies claiming that it takes more energy to grow the corn to make ethanol than what it produces when it is burned.  Each yielded the same conclusion: production of ethanol from corn uses much less petroleum than producing gasoline. But in those studies, the actual debate on Food vs. Fuel was only focused on the energy used in producing ethanol. They did not address the resulting loss of food content or any discussion of biobutanol. 

The Community BioRefinery has perfected the biofuel process; we looked at the Food vs. Fuel debate and worked to simplify the process by removing the energy input. The question we are often asked is: Do we grow crops to feed the world or grow crops to fuel the world?  CBR feeds and fuels the world!

The Community BioRefinery has answered the debate on Food vs. Fuel by vertically integrating each step in the CBR process by applying Occam’s Razor to simplify each step of CBR’s vertical integration.  As a result, we have reduced or eliminated the need for energy to produce our plant-based food and biobutanol. Following this approach, the CBR incorporated simplicity in favor vs. complexity in solving problems it encountered. 

CBR achieved its straightforward approach through years of research and engineering to remove barriers to a continuous flow of bio-reactor.  A ‘30,000-foot view’ of the CBR’s vertical process of utilizing every molecule in the feedstock – resulting in a pristine state and not destroyed by harsh temperatures, high pressures, or toxic chemicals, is reasonable – notwithstanding Ockham’s Razor.  

To tackle the debate of Food vs. Fuel, you need to simplify the 30,000-foot view of a simple problem: how to get the most from a feedstock without the energy* to make it feasible?  

*Note:  Energy is certainly used in the CBR process; however, this same process enables the creation of its own green electricity to completely power the facility with an added benefit of a significant excess. 

In the immortal words of Scott Hewitt, CEO of the Community BioRefinery (when discussing the CBR process) “the “KISS” principle usually works best”.  (‘KISS’ is a 1960s acronym for “Keep It Simple, Stupid,” a design principle originally used by the US Navy.)

Posted in

The Community BioRefinery