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Tilting at Windmills

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May 19, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

IS ETHANOL GREEN?....There are probably some of you out there who believe that not everything in the world can be put into chart form. On Thursday, for example, I wrote that "corn ethanol is a boondoggle," and that probably seems like an un-chartable statement. But it's not. After all, one can always chart how much of a boondoggle something is.

The chart on the right, provided by Berkeley's Michael O'Hare from a paper he co-authored last month, doesn't quite do this, since there are many dimensions to boondogglishness. However, it does measure one aspect of boondogglishness: whether corn ethanol actually provides any green benefits. As you can see, the answer is "it depends on how you make it."

The thing I've labeled Corn 1, for example, is "Coal-fired ethanol production with cogenerated electricity." Basically, it sucks, producing nearly as much total greenhouse gas emissions as gasoline. Other types of corn ethanol are better, the best being "Biomass-powered ethanol production," which clocks in at about half the GHG production of gasoline. Switchgrass ethanol, the holy grail of the ethanol community, is even better.

There's more to corn ethanol than this, of course, since ramping up corn production requires big federal subsidies (bad), drives up the price of food (also bad), and demands intensive nitrogen fertilization that produces greenhouse gases of its own (yet badder still). A complete boondogglishness index would take that and more into account. But if it's basic greenness you're interested in, this chart tells the ethanol story pretty well.

UC Berkeley's Transportation Sustainability Research Center is here if you want to check them out. The full paper this chart comes from is here. Michael has more at his own blog here.

Kevin Drum 1:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (83)

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Comments

ramping up corn production requires big federal subsidies (bad)

Surely if you stimulated, or the market elicited, a demand for corn for ethanol there becomes a point where the massive federal subsidies would no longer be necessary...

Of course that still leaves bads b. (food prices) and c. (requirements for nitrogen). And I'm sure there are other externalities we've forgotten.

There's something about this whole corn-ethanol business that reeks of a NFL nationals policy-debate affirmative plan come to life.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on May 19, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Ethanol is not worth the cost
…In terms of energy output compared with energy input for ethanol production, the study found that:
* corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced;
* switch grass requires 45 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced; and
* wood biomass requires 57 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.
In terms of energy output compared with the energy input for biodiesel production, the study found that:
* soybean plants requires 27 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced, and
* sunflower plants requires 118 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.
In assessing inputs, the researchers considered such factors as the energy used in producing the crop (including production of pesticides and fertilizer, running farm machinery and irrigating, grinding and transporting the crop) and in fermenting/distilling the ethanol from the water mix. Although additional costs are incurred, such as federal and state subsidies that are passed on to consumers and the costs associated with environmental pollution or degradation, these figures were not included in the analysis….

Needless to say, critics find themselves under attack concerning their data and suppositions. This critic of ethanol defends himself here

Posted by: Mike on May 19, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Lest we forget that agriculture relies on chemicals & pesticides other than just nitrogen fertilizer... ramped up production means more of these, which means more toxic runoff.

Posted by: chaunceyatrest on May 19, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Why is driving up food prices (or corn prices, anyway) "bad"? It certainly helps third-world corn farmers who are otherwise at risk of being submerged by subsidized US corn. Maybe it'll even make corn syrup expensive enough that junk food goes up a bit in price.

Posted by: mattsteinglass on May 19, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Davis:

Your point about subsidies becoming unnecessary over time makes sense except doesn't fly in the real world. Corn is grown in low-population farm states, which our constitution has guaranteed an over-representation in government. Therefore, the growers of corn and makers of ethanol have political leverage to keep subsidies going indefinitely. If we legally require ore ethanol useage, more money will accrue to agribiz and through them to the senators from Kansas, Nebraska, etc. They will fight like dogs to keep the subsidy faucet running full blast forever, regardless of whether or not it actually helps global warming or if there are cheaper substitutes.

Posted by: RWB on May 19, 2007 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

The dirty secret of gasoline/ethanol is that the only realy solution is everyone needs to friggin' drive less ... or not at all

Ah, but addictions are addictions... America's not addicted to oil, America's addicted to ostentatious energy use, and what's more ostentatious than the personal automobile?

Posted by: Adam Piontek on May 19, 2007 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

ramping up corn production requires big federal subsidies (bad)

You can always finance those with tax on gasoline.

Posted by: ogmb on May 19, 2007 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

rwb: Why wouldn't this have the effect of making corn a more valuable commodity, and, therefore, worth a market price high enough to eliminate subsidies?

Posted by: chaunceyatrest on May 19, 2007 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

chaunceyatrest:

Maybe it would, but that's not the point I'm making. The point I'm making is that farm subsidies are self-perpetuating not because of economic reasons, but because of political reasons. It has been shockingly difficult to get rid of or even reduce the subsidies we already have, even though no one except their recipients think these subsidies are economically useful or good for the country. I large scale, import-substitution-oriented subsidized ethanol program would rachet farm subsidies to an even higher level, making it even harder to get rid of--even if it were obviously the right thing to do economically.

Posted by: RWB on May 19, 2007 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

you also need to take into account the environmental consequences of GM corn and large-scale monoculture -- both mean enormous quantities of pesticides in addition to the nitrogen fertilizers, which are poisonous in and of themselves and, like most things, generate greenhouse gas in the production process.

Posted by: daniel on May 19, 2007 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

"Needless to say, critics find themselves under attack concerning their data and suppositions. This critic of ethanol defends himself here"
Posted by: Mike on May 19, 2007 at 2:39 PM

Mike,

I checked that link and read through the article. His analysis is somewhat flawed. The most fair analysis would be to ignore the inputs on producing the corn and even processing to some extent as far as they are common to processing for food or for fuel. Reason? The inputs are going to be made to produce food or fuel anyways. You wouldn't see the inputs in production of corn as signficant unless you started to increase acreage of corn produced and even then you would have to factor inputs that would have been used anyways for alternative crops. Despite that, the process is still inefficient at the level of technology we have now. I still vote on solar/wind/nuclear inputs into the electrical grid and then using plug-in hybrids or 100% electric cars to cut carbon consumption most effectively.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on May 19, 2007 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

As this report by a Brazilian organic farmer indicates there isn't enough land in the USA to produce enough ethanol to supply the gluttonous fuel appetites of USA drivers.
http://www.energybulletin.net/21064.html

As pointed out above the problem is that those in the USA use way too much fuel. If every needless driver of an SUV or compensator pickup would switch to a high mileage vehicles the gas price would drop, and highway congestion would be reduced as well.

The comment above, by mattsteinglass, that higher corn prices would benefit "third-world corn farmers who are otherwise at risk of being submerged by subsidized US corn" betrays a woeful ignorance of the importance of corn to the diet of hundreds of millions of folks around the world. Already the rising price of tortillas here in Mexico has caused the government to negotiate corn price controls with processors.

Posted by: Chris Brown on May 19, 2007 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

The unpleasant reality of our global situation is much deeper and broader than most people are willing to face. Atmospheric change is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The human population and their resource demands are simply out of balance with the resources of the planet on so many levels.

Eventually the situation will correct itself. If allowed to proceed to it's final grim conclusion, it will likely be a disaster not seen since the end of the dionsaurs.

However, if we take intelligent and rational action immediately (immediately = 30 years ago) a planetary crash may be averted, along with the suffering that will come along with it.

Unfortunately, intelligence and rationality seem to be in rather short supply.

Posted by: Buford on May 19, 2007 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

This is rich. You people clamor and clamor for "action on the boogie man of global warming." Then, when the President finally breaks down and decides to throw you a bone, it's all :"Oooh, ethanol is just as bad as gasoline!"

You people are a joke. You will never be satisfied with anything Bush does. As long as he runs your ire I know he's doing a good job.

Posted by: egbert on May 19, 2007 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

Boondogle? What are you talking about? For Cargill and Archer, Daniels, Midlands it is a bonanza, and likewise for all the politcians (including a certain sitting POTUS) who get big campaign contributions from them.

Posted by: bobo the chimp on May 19, 2007 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

I know you like charts, Kevin, but could you put this in a form for the rest of us?
For example, what have you labelled "corn t"?
Thanks.

Posted by: sal on May 19, 2007 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

As a skeptic of the ethanol boom, let me note a few relevant points:

First, with the exception of the first (i.e. coal-fired co-gen) method, all the listed methods of producing ethanol produce significantly lower greenhouse gan emissions than gasoline. The coal-fired co-gen method is also not as frequently used as the others.

Second, it isn't increasing corn production that would increase subsidies; it's increasing ethanol production. The ethanol boom means the market price for corn is going up, and the way federal farm programs are designed means that rising market prices means lower subsidy outlays. To the extent land is planted to corn and not to other subsidized commodities (e.g. soybeans or wheat) farm subsidy outlays would be lower still. The fairly lavish tax subsidies for ethanol production, though, could offset some or all of these savings (depending on how the revenue loss is calculated).

Third, switchgrass ethanol is not "even better" in terms of GHG emissions. It might be, if a commercially viable process for making ethanol from switchgrass existed. It doesn't.

Finally, the points about food prices and fertilization are true. Note, though, that a major impact of more expensive corn is less to raise the cost of meats and milk than it is to change how -- and especially where -- they are produced. Concentrated livestock operations involving minimal grazing make more economic sense when cheap feedstocks are available; more expensive corn could result in pressure on large feedlot operations in the South and in California and opportunities for smaller cattle and dairy operations in the Midwest (the many ethanol plants in the Midwest needing to dispose of protein-rich byproducts of the ethanol refining process point in this direction also).

The impact of increased ethanol production on food prices could be mitigated by a policy change that should be made anyway -- ending the federal programs supporting the sugar industry. The main one is a highly restrictive set of import quotas for sugar, in place for many years, that has made this sweetener so expensive that the development of alternatives has been and remains not only profitable but lucrative. The major alternative happens to be made from corn. Let more cheap imported sugar in, and you reduce the impact of increased ethanol production on food prices.

As far as increased use of fertilizer producing more greenhouse gases, well, it probably would, but in quantities barely more than negligible compared to most other sources. The real problem with increased use of fertilizer to sustain continuous corn production is its impact on water quality -- in sources of groundwater, in freshwater and also marine ecosystems.

There's nothing wrong with ethanol as a fuel source. The growth of the ethanol industry is a good thing. The lavish subsidization of that industry by federal and state governments, however, is highly questionable public policy -- it replaces healthy growth that would happen without subsidies with boomtime growth that threatens all sorts of undesirable side effects. There is also no reason to think that ethanol can ever be more than a supplement to petroleum-based fuels. With respect both to energy independence and greenhouse gas reductions, extravagant promotion of ethanol represents mostly the fierce desire of politicians to be seen doing something and getting praise for it.

Posted by: Zathras on May 19, 2007 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

egfart: "You people are a joke."

If you hate Americans so much, you shluld just leave. And a president who ignores the wishes of the people should also leave, by legal force.

Your laugh has the smell of treason. But you are not even that smart, so just piss off.

Posted by: Kenji on May 19, 2007 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, right we were talking about ethanol.

Of course, all of this boondoggle biz is aside from the fact that it allows the usual suspects to stay in charge of a commodity similar to the one they are already abusing. Apparently monopoly and big government are now the core beliefs of "conservatives", as well as corporations.

Posted by: Kenji on May 19, 2007 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting that you count all of the energy to create ethanol but none of the energy required to product the gal of gas.

We don't have to by ethanol energy from people who hate us and want to kill us.

Seems Brazil is doing OK

Posted by: Paul on May 19, 2007 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

I need to read the article to fully see what they mean, but mostly ethanol has two benefits, lowering dependence on oil and that it is renewable. The "greenness" is much less obvious. Your graph cites feedstock production and processing, but the fuel use is not included. Also, I am not sure, if green is an objective, then the graph should include CO2 incorporation into the plant. Carbon dioxide to biomass is a sink. Also, your discussion of processing the ethanol with electricity co-generation (case #1) fails to consider that electricity is being generated, whereas in the other cases, including gasoline, only production seems to be measured. The added energy is a net plus for the process that gasoline does not possess.

Measuring the green effect is nice, but the impetus for ethanol development is as a fuel replacement, not as an intrinsically green process on its own.

Posted by: Mudge on May 19, 2007 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

Corn does indeed have value as a transportation-related energy source -- as feed for one's team of norses or mules.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on May 19, 2007 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

Excuse me -- "horses".

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on May 19, 2007 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

Paul: "We don't have to b[u]y ethanol energy from people who hate us and want to kill us."

Well, sure, but for now, Exxon and friends are the only game in town.

Posted by: Kenji on May 19, 2007 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

Stupid Urban Vehicles are a boondoggle...

And the culture that believes it can keep widening roads for them indefinitely... isn't worth shitting on.

Posted by: ROTFLMLiberalAO on May 19, 2007 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

Just to expand on what Mattsteinglass said above:

Driving up the price of FOOD would be bad.

Driving up the price of CORN SYRUP could be hugely helpful in containing the obesity epidemic.

This doesn't really affect most of the points Kevin is making, but the main thing I'm hoping the corn-based ethanol craze will help with is obesity.

The second thing I'm hoping is that politically-powerful corn-based ethanol will lead to ethanol-capable vehicles and gas stations, and over time we can build up and subsidize switchgrass ethanol production to take advantage of that infrastructure.

Posted by: JR on May 19, 2007 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Ethanol can be produced in a green way if we were committed to a lengthy process of harvesting and production. We could harvest it with wind-generation battery powered electrical vehicles. It is all in how you choose to develop something. If you spill ethanol, it is not a bio-hazard either.
The nay-sayers are just obstructionists. The genius of invention has barely been applied to competitors of oil companies.

Posted by: Sparko on May 19, 2007 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

for some reason, I am unable to copy text from the original. However, the ethanol that Mrs Greensleeves buys has been shipped long distances, and the makers do not return the nitrogen-rich leftovers back to the farms that grow the corn, even though such a practice is cheaper for the farmers than buying new fertilizer. This particular group is rather famous for not credicting the reductions in nitrogen use when they write their worst-case scenarios. (this has been commented frequently by contributors to the peer-reviewed literature, like Science.) Only the worst-case scenario matches the use of gasoline, and all other scenarios reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Recycling the nitrogen-rich leftovers from fermentation substantially reduces fertilizer use, hence fuel use.

It is possible to switch to ethanol without reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That isn't what is happening, however, and it depends on farmers dedicated to maximizing their costs.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 19, 2007 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

Chris Brown: As this report by a Brazilian organic farmer indicates there isn't enough land in the USA to produce enough ethanol to supply the gluttonous fuel appetites of USA drivers.

it could, however, supply energy equivalent to what we import from the Middle East. And it would contribute to national defense because it would not have to be transported across the oceans in time of war.

RWB: Corn is grown in low-population farm states, which our constitution has guaranteed an over-representation in government. Therefore, the growers of corn and makers of ethanol have political leverage to keep subsidies going indefinitely.

That is true of the Senate, but not the House. Already there is resistance to corn ethanol in other states, and even in other agribusinesses within the corn-growing states. The most recent version of the new energy bill in the House puts a cap on subsidized corn ethanol.

Zathras: Third, switchgrass ethanol is not "even better" in terms of GHG emissions. It might be, if a commercially viable process for making ethanol from switchgrass existed. It doesn't.

Let me repeat my reference to table 2, p. 809 of Science, vol 315, 9 February, 2007 (a peer-reviewed article, unlike the one cited by Kevin Drum.) Cellulosic ethanol costs $2.25 to manufacture and produces 10 times the energy that it consumes. Already this year 10 new federally-funded plants are under construction to produce it. Not necessarily from pure switchgrass, which works, but I take "switchgrass" to stand for sources of cellulosic ethanol generally.

ramping up corn production requires big federal subsidies (bad)

Why do you regard federal subsidies as bad? You support federally subsidized medical care and drug development, IIRC. You don't object to the federal subsidies to roads and Amtrak, IIRC. You like the government-subsidized rail system of Europe, don't you? Plenty of people who post here object to federal subsidies, but you support lots of them, I thought. It's one thing to say that the subsidy is bad in this case because corn ethanol is bad; it's different to say that corn ethanol is bad because it requires a subsidy. Western agriculture (e.g. the Imperial Valley) gets a substantial federally-funded water subsidy, but you have never complained about that -- do you think it is bad? should it be discontinued, and the water sold at auction? Should the private sector be billed for the Colorado River dams?

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 19, 2007 at 6:54 PM | PERMALINK

Wait a minute folks, I have some simple physics to spout to you:

So we load the Buick with the blended fuel after we crapped up everything makin the stuff, and passin it around to blend. So the Buick weighs 3500lbs, gets about 30 mpg, and has 200hp on gasoline but when we loaded her up w/E65 she only got 150hp @best. Now we have to floor it to climb the hill with 4 folks on board and the fuel goes @20mpg.

Now after putting my throttle in an advanced position the lousy stuff cost me more than straight gasoline too.

Do not try to rationalize the use of the lower btu fuels. To move the piston you need the rapid expansion in the combustion chamber that is well provided by gasoline. Ahh, a fast high btu hot and relativly complete burn.

Desigh a different size engine around this blended stuff? Ok, but what can you run efficiently with the finished product. Wow the problems to build some engine to run better and enviornmentally cheaper than a present day straight gasser. With enviornmently cheap materials too.

Come on, why are we even talking about this ill concieved plan promoted by the worst President of all time? Oh I forgot he's a hell of an In-gin-ear. Whatz the hold up on the Impeach and Jail routine? The fool and his holymen keeps on try'n to run us farther into the ground. I don't think he got the Robin Hood thing right when he read it.

Posted by: Dennis 'd Mennace on May 19, 2007 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK

The problem is our addiction to the gasoline engine. We need to make diesel from algae and drive fuel efficient diesels.

Posted by: Sebastian-PGP on May 19, 2007 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

Ethanol from corn is a very bad idea indeed, Kevin. It depletes soil of nutrients which have to be replaced artificially, reduces feed corn available for livestock and thereby drives up meat and dairy costs. Ethanol can be made from lawn clippings and, hey, they can have all of mine free! Switchgrass or sugar beets/cane are much better alternatives.

Look into the connection between Archer-Daniels Midland, the Andreasson family that controls it and the RNC and you will understand why corn-based ethanol is being touted so highly. The profits will find their way into RNC coffers, no doubt.

We need to be a little more imaginative - solar/hydrogen cars, anti-gravity platforms, maglev mini-trains, modified Segways, etc. We won't get any imaginative ideas out of the flat-earthers in the GOP. It will be up to the progressives to find solutions - as it always is.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on May 19, 2007 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

I believe that "boondogglishness" should immediately be adopted into the OED.

Posted by: craigie on May 19, 2007 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

"...Note, though, that a major impact of more expensive corn is less to raise the cost of meats and milk than it is to change how -- and especially where -- they are produced. Concentrated livestock operations involving minimal grazing make more economic sense when cheap feedstocks are available; more expensive corn could result in pressure on large feedlot operations in the South and in California and opportunities for smaller cattle and dairy operations in the Midwest (the many ethanol plants in the Midwest needing to dispose of protein-rich byproducts of the ethanol refining process point in this direction also)..."
Posted by: Zathras on May 19, 2007 at 4:14 PM

Interesting point. That should benefit organic beef producers in the midwest. You would have healthier beef-maybe a bit tougher steaks-but the prices wouldn't necessarily go up a lot in the store.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on May 19, 2007 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

"
The dirty secret of gasoline/ethanol is that the only realy solution is everyone needs to friggin' drive less ... or not at all

Ah, but addictions are addictions... America's not addicted to oil, America's addicted to ostentatious energy use, and what's more ostentatious than the personal automobile?
"

Uhhh... This is not actually the only "reall" solution.
The alternative solution is a whole lot fewer people on the planet.
There are basically two choices:
- we all live like paupers (all 6 billion soon to be 9 billion) of us OR
- we all (half a billion or so of us) live like kings.

Since, nowhere in the history of humanity have people voluntarily curbed their lifestyle, I don't have much faith in the first option.
On the other hand, since the world is primarily populated by morons who, even as they tell me and others to stop driving so much, continue to pop out kids, to insist that the federal govt subsidize their kids and, in the most extreme cases, to insist that foreign countries be denied contraceptives, I don't have much faith that we'll reach the sane solution of the second option.

Just don't come crying to me in thirty years as it all falls apart --- I was arguing for lower population back in the 70s, at the same time that most of you were probably making fun of Paul Ehrlich because the green revolution was supposed to solve all our problems.

Keep telling each other your fantasies all you like --- you can move the problem around but you can't make it go away. Switching to biofuels is going to make the food problem more difficult. More agriculture is going to hit the problems of water, salinization, and shrinking top soil. More hydro (in the few places that could still be dammed) is going to hurt locals and local wildlife. Windmills, apart from the limited power they can generate, are going to hurt birds, ruin (according to some people) the view, and have who knows what other effects.

When your eco footprint is three planets, minor league dicking around is not going to solve the situation.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on May 19, 2007 at 7:14 PM | PERMALINK

I am amazed that 99% of the stuff I read about Ethanol and corn and how bad it is fails to mention that using sugar as a feedstock actually works. Corn EROEI is about 1.3 while Sugar as a feedstock is between 7 and 10 depending on the climate it grows in. Kevin, do a little research on it and write it up. Sugar as a feedstock silences most of the ethanol critics. Spread the word.

Posted by: Max on May 19, 2007 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK


Ethanol made from SUGAR CANE is at least 10 times more efficient than that made from corn. But the hold the sugar business has on our government prevents us from using ethanol from sugar - or importing it from Brazil.

Please don't equate ethanol with corn ethanol. Corn is actually the worse source of ethanol production.

There was an article in The New Yorker that explained all this in one page or less. (I think it was in last November's issue.)

Posted by: sea on May 19, 2007 at 7:24 PM | PERMALINK

"Driving up the price of CORN SYRUP could be hugely helpful in containing the obesity epidemic."

Well sure, if you believe that corn syrup is the primary driver of obesity. Since this is basically faith-based science (albeit liberal faith based science) rather than reality based science, all I can ask is "what's your excuse then going to be when you get your wish, corn syrup prices rise, and, big surprise, obesity does not go away"?

If the corn syrupers want respect, act like real scientists. Give us a set of real prediction as to what will as corn syrup prices rise, and we can then compare the results over the next few years.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on May 19, 2007 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

Dennis: Do not try to rationalize the use of the lower btu fuels.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody is trying to require low btu/volume fuels for everyone. However, part of the cost of gasoline is the money that goes to Saudi Arabia, to the madrassas in Pakistan, to support military action against our interests in the Middle East. And it is desirable to find fuels that reduce the CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere.

"Simple" physics is not sufficient to achieving multiple goals.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 19, 2007 at 7:43 PM | PERMALINK

"...So we load the Buick with the blended fuel after we crapped up everything makin the stuff, and passin it around to blend. So the Buick weighs 3500lbs, gets about 30 mpg, and has 200hp on gasoline but when we loaded her up w/E65 she only got 150hp @best. Now we have to floor it to climb the hill with 4 folks on board and the fuel goes @20mpg..."
Posted by: Dennis 'd Mennace on May 19, 2007 at 6:57 PM

Dennis, if the engine has the proper flex-fuel technology to vary the air-fuel ratio constantly you should be able to get the some power output, just lower mileage with the higher alcohol %. But, since alcohol burns a little cleaner you don't get as much reduction. Here's a link with some advantages and disadvantages of alcohol fuel:
http://www.ext.colostate.edu/Pubs/farmmgt/05010.html

"...There are many disadvantages to using alcohols, particularly methyl and ethyl alcohol. Although these alcohols, when used near their stoichiometric air-fuel ratios, produce more power, a larger quantity of fuel is required to produce a specified power output. For example, in an automobile, more fuel is required for each mile driven..."


Now if you had good flex-fuel air/fuel metering you could combine a turborcharger that could increase boost also with increasing % of alcohol being burned-that would increase the efficiency since alcohol can utilize much higher compression rations than gasoline without knocking.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on May 19, 2007 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

Whoops - I meant "Corn is the worst source", not "worse".

Just noticed Max's comment right above mine. He's right. Please research SUGAR ethanol, Kevin.

Maybe ethanol isn't the way to go, maybe it is.... But why contribute to the disinformation in mentioning only corn? It's horrible to have everyone just assume that our subsidies and tariffs are a given - what if our treatment of protecting the sugar industry is having a significantly negative impact on the environment?? And, if you are a supporter of those tariffs and subsidies, then at least be explicit about why you want to go along with everyone in ignoring the obvious about sugar ethanol.

Posted by: sea on May 19, 2007 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

One problem: Try getting Grassley, Hegel, ADM & Co. to face the truth about our addition to corn.

Posted by: Rula Lenska on May 19, 2007 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

Ethanol is not green. It is clear.

Posted by: absent observer on May 19, 2007 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK

Several months ago I wrote that using corn instead of sugar was like using 3.2 beer instead of 200 proof rum - glad to see the message is starting to get out - why don't the Dems try to speak truth to ADM's power? Maybe because Harkin, et al, aren't that interested in fiscal integrity after all?

Posted by: minion on May 20, 2007 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

To answer your rhetorical question, matthew, yes the water in the west should be sold at auction. Right now, in states like New Mexico, among the biggest users of water is a tiny sliver of the population which employs this most valuable resource to grow alfalfa to feed to cattle. They are able to do this becuase they don't have to pay market value for water. The world does not lack for cattle. It does lack for potable water. To use water in New Mexico to raise cattle is a tremendous example of the damage done by agricultural subsidies.

Posted by: Will Allen on May 20, 2007 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK
Why is driving up food prices (or corn prices, anyway) "bad"? It certainly helps third-world corn farmers who are otherwise at risk of being submerged by subsidized US corn. Maybe it'll even make corn syrup expensive enough that junk food goes up a bit in price.

Because people need to eat food to survive, or the higher food prices are, the harder it is for poor people to survive. Richer people are less affected, of course, because a smaller percentage of their income goes to provide food at all (and there is a bigger difference when you look at providing food necessary to survival.)

It certainly helps third-world corn farmers who are otherwise at risk of being submerged by subsidized US corn.

Well, sure, it helps all farmers that make corn and products that substitute for it, for sale, just as it hurts everyone who relies on food purchases (either by themselves or by a third party that doesn't benefit from higher corn prices) to survive. In the third world, there are a lot more of the latter than the former, and the latter are generally poorer. As in the First World, in the Third World it benefits a certain subset of the locally advantaged and hurts others, particularly the locally disadvantaged.

Maybe it'll even make corn syrup expensive enough that junk food goes up a bit in price.

Probably. Which may be good for the American middle class that eat junk food out of choice, but bad for those that eat junk food because it is cheaper, especially when the costs associated with preparation and storage are taken into account, than eating well, and they simply can't afford the latter period.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 20, 2007 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen: matthew, yes the water in the west should be sold at auction.

I am in favor of selling the water at auction, and I think that I have said so, but maybe only indirectly. I have criticised the CA water subsidy of CA agriculture. San Diego buys drip irrigation systems and gives them to Imperial Valley farmers, and buys the conserved water from them, since by law San Diego can't buy the water rights directly. that amounts to a "city subsidized" drip irrigation system for the farmers, but really the drip system is part of the purchase price for the water. I would like to see the system adopted more broadly, wherever irrigation water is sprayed.

However, I was really asking Kevin Drum, and any others who may generally favor federal interventions. He supports lots more federal intervention in the marketplace than either you or I, and I was wondering if he would tell us why in this case the federal subsidy would be bad.

Since federal programs sometimes work (F-16, F-18) and sometimes don't (York AA artillery, Crusader mobile artillery), and sometimes are not known for a while to have worked or failed (Osprey), I consider a blanket statement that subsidies are bad to be empty. They are especially empty coming from someone who favors national health insurance and increased taxes for Social Security.

Want to tackle the other questions: should businesses and municipalities be taxed by the feds sufficiently to pay off the price of constructing the Colorado River dams? Imperial Valley, Las Vegas and San Diego are certainly subsidy-dependent boondogles.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 20, 2007 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Matthew, weapons systems are quite often boondoggles, but they aren't subsidies. National defense can only be performed by national government, and purchasing a weapons system may be a good idea or a bad one, but it isn't a subsidy. There is nothing intrinsic to agricultural production which requires a role by national government.

The problem, however, for both weapons systems and subsidies, is similar; political realities prevent poorly pertforming examples of either from being terminated,no matter how clear the evidence. Actually, terminating poorly performing weapon systems, while exceedingly difficult, is easier to do than poorly performing subsidies, and it would be interesting to study why. The fact that mohair production is still being subsidized, however, gives one an appreciation of how difficult they are to end. Creating ever more, or ever larger subsidy programs, is a terrible idea, unless, again, you are of the opinion that capital is inexhaustable.

Ford Motor Co. fairly quickly stopped devoting capital to the Edsel, to mention a purely private sector failure that you wrongly identified as providing an example of how private sector missteps are as egregious as public sector missteps. It would approach a state of Nirvana, however, for a public sector misallocation of capital to be ended in even double the time it took Ford to end their Edsel misadventure.

I'll ask again; how much evidence exists which
indicates that powerful Congressional incumbents will ignore their short-term political interests in order to use capital in a way which achieves optimal technology development, as opposed to the evidence which exists that such incumbents will use capital in the opposite fashion? Given the option exists, with some creative lobbying, to simply create a tax structure which places petroleum extraction or carbon emmissions at a distinct disadvantage, thus creating markets which will lead to innovations which we cannot predict, without the innovation deadening effect of having Congressional incumbents choose specific winners, based upon the incumbents' political interests, why choose the latter paradigm?

By the way, look at a link at Instapundit today, for news of an Indian manufacturer, teamed with European engineering, that is ready to start production of zero-emmissions vehicles that use compressed air to drive pistons or cams. Of course, electricity is needed to compress the air, but electric generation seems to have diverse avenues to pursue that don't employ hydrocarbons. The point is to allow innovation to proceed with a minimal amount of political interference, and that is very, very, hard to do in a subsidy regime.

Posted by: Will Allen on May 20, 2007 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen: Matthew, weapons systems are quite often boondoggles, but they aren't subsidies.

OK, but that's a minor quibble. You were the first to mention the Crusader as an example relevant to the ethanol subsidy. If the Crusader is relevant, so is the F-18. Also, government purchases of weapons systems often is a direct subsidy to commercial enterprises, as in the govt. purchase of aircraft powered by GE engines, and the Boeing research on aircraft wings for the B-47 and B-52 that was paid for by the govt and gave Boeing a competitive advantage over Douglas in getting the first commercial jet liner out the door.

The point is to allow innovation to proceed with a minimal amount of political interference, and that is very, very, hard to do in a subsidy regime.

Ah, the famous "minimal amount" -- so what level of intervention is "minimal"? Is there anything that works in the U.S. that has not been subsidized or supported by government? When you drive a compressed-air car in most parts of the country, especially including Los Angeles, you'll have to "fill it up" using electricity off of a municipal power plant or government-authorized monopoly (SoCal Edison, SDG&E, PG&E, etc.) Not to mention the tax-paid roads, only a few of which are paid out of gasoline taxes. We'll have to wait and see whether the compressed-air car actually works in the marketplace; the idea isn't new. As you know, the federal government sets standards for the manufacture of tanks for compressed gases, and for some of the equipment used in the compression. I have some doubts about the efficiency because compressing the air heats it. It definitely works really well in toy cars.

In the mixture of government programs that worked and government programs that didn't, why don't you tell us how you know that the corn ethanol will be in the latter category.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 20, 2007 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

I'll ask again; how much evidence exists which
indicates that powerful Congressional incumbents will ignore their short-term political interests in order to use capital in a way which achieves optimal technology development, as opposed to the evidence which exists that such incumbents will use capital in the opposite fashion? Given the option exists, with some creative lobbying, to simply create a tax structure which places petroleum extraction or carbon emmissions at a distinct disadvantage, thus creating markets which will lead to innovations which we cannot predict, without the innovation deadening effect of having Congressional incumbents choose specific winners, based upon the incumbents' political interests, why choose the latter paradigm?

As to the first, there are countervailing political pressures, between congressional districts, and even within districts that stand to benefit. As to the second, I do not think we are going to get any kind of pure structure, but a combination of things. I support a "combination of things" for two reasons, maybe more. First, we can not in fact predict winners and losers, and more importantly we can not predict when a "local optimum" will dominate a "global optimum". Second, "a combination of things" is the only program that can pass Congress. Remember what American tax structure actually is: it's less simple and less transparent than the structure of subsidies, and it contains at least as many useless antiquated provisions.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 20, 2007 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

First, let it be noted that once again you refuse to address the question, which was an inquiry as to which sort of Congressional behavior is more prevalent. I'll take that as a concession that powerful Congessional incumbents far more commonly use subsidies to pursue their short term interests as opposed to directing capital to technologies which will serve the population as a whole best.

Next, if you are truly unable to discern that there is no alternative for national defense other than to have Congress specifically direct capital for weapons development, whereas this is not the case for energy technology development, well, fine. If you want to place your faith in DOD-style capital investment, you go right ahead. It is such a terrific example of using capital well, after all.

Finally, if you know that it is impossible to predict winners and losers, I am at a loss as to why you want Charles Grassley and Tom Harkin endeavoring to perform that task. Once again, how long did Ford dump money into the Edsel project, your chosen example, compared to how long the Crusader Artillery System was pursued?

Posted by: Will Allen on May 20, 2007 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen: Once again, how long did Ford dump money into the Edsel project, your chosen example, compared to how long the Crusader Artillery System was pursued?

for that one, let's wait and see how much longer Ford survives. For their most recent loan, they put the whole company up for collateral.

I am at a loss as to why you want Charles Grassley and Tom Harkin endeavoring to perform that task

I support the corn ethanol subsidy as a step; for the same reason I support other subsidies, such as the quite active cellulosic ethanol subsidy.

If corn ethanol were the only action, or if the facilities could not be converted to cellulosic ethanol (other things being equal, which they wouldn't) I would probably write in opposition.

which sort of Congressional behavior is more prevalent.

On the whole, the good programs have outweighed the bad, at least if you look at the weapons systems we have compared to the weapons systems that were dropped: many Strykers, Abrams, and Bradleys built; Yorks and Crusaders dropped. However, you never put it that way before. Are you asserting now that the bad outweighs the good over time? You listed a few bad subsidies and asserted categorically that the corn ethanol subsidy would be one of them. The honey and sugar protections should be dropped, but the agricultural subsidy program generally has guaranteed stable ag prices and plentiful supplies, as well as cushioning the economic blows to farmers. (the boom and bust cycles that some people call "efficient" were very costly.) The Social Security system is at worst a cross between true insurance and a low-risk/low-return investment plan; plenty of people have nothing else because they blew their disposable incomes investing in Worldcom or Enron.

If we depend entirely on the private sector to solve the fuel problem, they'll pump all of the oil out of the OCS and ANWR and the rest of the continental U.S., and all of our energy will be imported. I do not believe that we WILL fight another global war with a large enemy such as China, but I do believe that we MIGHT, and we ought to be prepared in advance with a dependable fuel supply. That isn't the only argument in favor of the diverse subsidies that I support, but it is worth remembering that the U.S. oil industry tried to sell the oil in the Teapot Dome naval reserve. Of course it was a scandal that congressmen took bribes, but the naval petroleum reserve was created by Congress in the first place.

Back to the corn ethanol subsidy. It is a specific step in the right direction, to be accompanied by and followed by many other steps. Like many other useful subsidies, it is a useful subsidy.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 20, 2007 at 7:17 PM | PERMALINK

Matthew, do you even bother to read what I have written? Where did I propose that we rely solely on the private sector to solve the fuel problem? Have I not repeatedly, over several threads, proposed that the externalities of peteroleum extraction and carbon emission be captured via government action? Why should you and I even bother to have a conversation, if your consistent response is to erect strawmen which entirely ignore what I have previously written? I am truly curious; what do believe is added by this method of rhetoric?

Finally, you write as if the possible bankruptcy of Ford, or some other private entitity, was a bug, instead of a feature. This reveals that it entirely escapes you why government subsidies are very predominantly a bad idea.

Posted by: Will Allen on May 20, 2007 at 7:31 PM | PERMALINK

As I said before, biodiesel made from low-maintainence crops, rubbish, grease, etc., is the way to go. The corn scheme is powered by politics, not good science.

Posted by: Neil B. on May 20, 2007 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

Matthew, if you don't think winners can be succesfully picked, how do you know a corn ethanol subsidy, or any other subsidy, is a good idea?

Posted by: Will Allen on May 20, 2007 at 7:47 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen: This reveals that it entirely escapes you why government subsidies are very predominantly a bad idea.

So you do believe that "government subsidies are very predominantly a bad idea", as I conjectured? but you do like the annual operational subsidy to the Panama Canal?

Matthew, if you don't think winners can be succesfully picked, how do you know a corn ethanol subsidy, or any other subsidy, is a good idea?

The subsidies exist to promote change from the current suboptimal semi-equilibirum, and to promote possibilities. They are not to promote "winners". How do I know? Well, for one thing, the infrastructure can be converted to cellulosic ethanol if that actually proves to be better. For another, even corn ethanol has 1.4 times the amount of energy necessary to produce it. Literally, I do not "know", but the evidence is supportive, and I think it's likely to prove a good bet.

Matthew, do you even bother to read what I have written? Where did I propose that we rely solely on the private sector to solve the fuel problem? Have I not repeatedly, over several threads, proposed that the externalities of peteroleum extraction and carbon emission be captured via government action? Why should you and I even bother to have a conversation, if your consistent response is to erect strawmen which entirely ignore what I have previously written? I am truly curious; what do believe is added by this method of rhetoric?

You usually leave a few details out, and leave uncertain where the border is between what you do support and what you don't. Why you bother with a conversation is your business: I just respond to what you write.

As I noted, I also support that the externalities of petroleum be captured by government action, but if we wait for the single one best solution to pass Congress we'll wait for ever. One of the ways that writing laws is like making sausage is that every issue gets ground to bits and all mixed up in the end product. You need something that gets a majority of Senators, a majority of Representatives, and the President. That something will be a lot of little bits: some subsidies here and there, and everywhere; some taxes; some other subsidies reduced; some other nice programs postponed or underfunded.

If you built something in every congressional district that people could see getting built, that produced fuel, then you could get a tax on gasoline passed to build more of them. In the present climate, you might get a tax passed in exchange for some other tax being cut, but that won't increase the availability of funds to build new fuel generating capacity. Depending on the tax, I wouldn't necessarily oppose it, but I doubt you could pass a tax that raised fuel prices by 10%.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 20, 2007 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen: Finally, you write as if the possible bankruptcy of Ford, or some other private entitity, was a bug, instead of a feature.

Even before the first Ford car was built the government was funding roads. Without government-funded roads, I doubt that Ford would have ever sold a single car.

powerful Congessional incumbents far more commonly use subsidies to pursue their short term interests as opposed to directing capital to technologies which will serve the population as a whole best.

Before and after Ford started building the cars, Congress appropriated funds for roads at the behest of their constituents.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 20, 2007 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK

the federal government is going to spend about $2.8T in fy 2008. It is not true that most of that is going to be badly spent, and not in the public's general interest.

Neil B. biodiesel made from low-maintainence crops, rubbish, grease, etc., is the way to go.

Thank goodness that is all subsidized as well. To repeat a point I made above, federally and privately funded scientists have bred salt-tolerant varieties that can grow fuels on what is now very unproductive land. I mentioned the Colorado River delta, but it's in Mexico where nothing useful is likely to be done soon. But there are plenty of other places where fuels can be grown in brackish water where practically nothing grows now. I once mentioned the value of the secondary cooling water of the San Onofre nuclear power plants for populations (if desalinated), but it could also be used to irrigate fields growing lots of fuel where now very little is grown.

I only object to the word "the". We can not tell now what fuels will be the best 20 years from now, or 40 years from now. So I like to see federal monetary support for everything promising.

"Let a thousand flowers bloom."

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 20, 2007 at 8:33 PM | PERMALINK

The "greeness" of ethanol depends on the raw material from which it is made. Sugar is far more efficient than corn for ethanol production. Sugar is not on the chart in Kevin's piece. Why not?

Further "why" questions: Why do we impose a tariff (e.g., sales tax) of more than 50 cents per gallon on imported ethanol and 50 some cents per barrel on gasoline and oil? Why do we favor the oil-producing states of the Middle East, as well as Chavez in Venezuela, over sugar producing Brazil, Australia, India, Thailand, many small countries of the Caribbean and Central America?

Posted by: Dave on May 20, 2007 at 8:44 PM | PERMALINK

Matthew, I left no details out. You are now merely being dishonest again. A straightforward tax is the best way to capture the externalities of petroleum extraction. No, I don't like the current subsidy for the Panama Canal. There is no reason why the ships that use it can't cover the operational expense. Your belief in Congress promoting possibilities, instead of winners, is so naive as to be breathtaking. Do you really think that making sugar from beets in thr Red River Valley is merely a "possibility" that is being promoted? Truly, do you think capital is infinite, thus not presenting an opportunity cost when subsidies flow on the basis of which Senator chairs a committee? Upon what basis have you concluded that Congress are can recognize which 1000 flowers are worth fertilizing?

You avoided, by the way, the central issue regarding the possibility of a Ford bankruptcy, by going off on a non-sequitur regarding state-funded roads. The point is that absent a Congressional bail-out, Ford can go bankrupt, whereas directly subsidized firms hardly ever do. The possibility of bankruptcy is essential to using capital optimally.

I will say this, Matthew. You are an able defender of corporate welfare abuse.

Posted by: Will Allen on May 20, 2007 at 9:32 PM | PERMALINK

Dave we do those things because various Congressional incumbents actively work against what is in the best interest of the American people, in an effort to advance the incumbents' career prospects . Along with making one of Matthew's thousand flowers bloom, of course.

Posted by: Will Allen on May 20, 2007 at 9:41 PM | PERMALINK

I'll admit I haven't read through the article cited. Other studies I've seen have not been nearly that optimistic about the usefulness of ethanol from any source.

The devil is, as usual, in the details. Cellulosic ethanol is not yet a reality. I guess it is getting closer. Switchgrass sounds good on the surface. It flourishes as a weed in many places. However, once you start harvesting it you remove nutrients from the soil. Eventually the soil becomes barren and requires fertilization. This requires energy to manufacture and apply. Also, switchgrass is low density energy and requires a energy to transport unless you can place the reactors very close to the source.

Some good analyses of this have been posted at TheOilDrum.com.

Posted by: JohnK on May 21, 2007 at 2:02 AM | PERMALINK

Will Allen: The point is that absent a Congressional bail-out, Ford can go bankrupt, whereas directly subsidized firms hardly ever do.

but Ford has always depended on the subsidy for roads. Everything that works in the U.S. is a public/private parnership.

If you really object to the Panama Canal subsidy, why did you not say so when I first mentioned it? And if you object to the operating subsidy, why not object to the construction subsidy in the first place?

Lastly, I said that most of the $2.9T of the federal budget is not in fact wasted. That most of the money is well spent. Do you disagree that most of the money is well spent, just because not all of it is well spent?

Matthew, I left no details out.

Yes you did. After granting that some federal programs are good, you left out your criteria for which are good, and did not even supply an illustrative list. Interstate highway system and other road subsidies? Intracoastal waterways? ninetheenth century rail subsidies and twentieth century lock and dam subsidies? Air traffic control? After granting that some federal programs work, the only programs that you give as examples for thinking about were those that didn't. Is the entire federal agricultural subsidy to be judged by beets, honey and sugar? Is the Crusader the only weapon system ever funded? No, and No.

You are an able defender of corporate welfare abuse.

Which abuses did I defend? I defended the Panama Canal, the Interstate Highway system, the federal dam system, the TVA, the air traffic control system, NACA and the defense procurement system of the Civil War and WWII. I also showed how private industries of various sorts, like autos, have depended on federal subsidies.

JohnK, I agree with you. The Oil Drum is one of the good sources of information. Cellulosic ethanol is not yet a reality. I suppose that depends on "reality"; read recent articles in the journal Science. Cellulosic ethanol produces 10 times the energy consumed in making it; new microbes have been found and made that enhance the process; new production facilities are under construction, backed by federal and private funding. Production will increase by more than a factor of 10 in the next few years.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 21, 2007 at 2:34 AM | PERMALINK

Matthew, stop lying, or at least lie more creatively. You clearly implied that I had left details out regarding how to solve the fuel problem without relying solely on private eneterprise. I did not, and now you lie further by stating that the details you were referring to pertained to which federal programs I thought were worthwhile. This is another lie, in that I clearly stated that there were some functions, like national defense, which only national government could perform, and that some weapon systems were worthwhile.

Look, it is quite obvious that you aren't the least bit interested in having an honest dialogue, and that you will misrepresent what others have written, along with your own words, so let's just end the conversation. As to what corporate welfare abuse you advocate, well, go no further than your support for subsidies for corn-based ethanol.

Posted by: Will Allen on May 21, 2007 at 3:28 AM | PERMALINK

Will Allen: You clearly implied that I had left details out regarding how to solve the fuel problem without relying solely on private eneterprise.

Not so. I said that you left out details regarding which government programs you support and which you don't. And how you know that the corn ethanol subsidy will be more like the Crusader and less like the F-18, more like the sugar subsidy and less like the interstate highway system.

You and I both favor internalizing all the external costs of fossil fuels. At least I think you said that you favor such. It isn't going to pass. So what to do instead?

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 21, 2007 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

"Let me repeat my reference to table 2, p. 809 of Science, vol 315, 9 February, 2007 (a peer-reviewed article, unlike the one cited by Kevin Drum.)"

Science magazine's 'perspective' articles aren't peer-reviewed. They're opinion/review pieces(hence the name "perspectives", plus the fact they're intelligible to the layperson should tip you off.) The article you cite isn't written by an academic, but by a Brazilian state-level environment secretary, who's citing testimony from an NREL official at a congressional hearing. NREL does great work, I'd consider its estimates to be as good as you'd get, but they're still estimates and a long way from costs from commercial practice (plus, they're factory gate costs, not retail price).

"Cellulosic ethanol costs $2.25 to manufacture and produces 10 times the energy that it consumes."

I was surprised when you wrote this, 'cos AFAIK there isn't any commercial production of cellulosic ethanol (Iogen's rice straw plant being shot in the head back five-odd years ago) but then I saw you missed this piece in the Science article:
"Cellulose[sic] ethanol is a promising option in the
long term, but is not being produced on a commercial scale."

"Already this year 10 new federally-funded plants are under construction to produce it."

Matthew, you're exaggerating here again. Bluefire, one of the grant recipients, from its website has a small pilot plant, but mentions nothing about pouring concrete and steel. Plus, its technology is acid hydrolysis [= shedloads of waste], not enzymatic.

I'm not anti-cellulosic ethanol: one of my ex-colleagues bet his career on it ten years ago, and I hope he's right. But it's a limited technology, and it's still a long way from primetime.

Posted by: Sock Puppet of the Great Satan on May 21, 2007 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

No, Matthew, you wrote, first quoting me.....

""Matthew, do you even bother to read what I have written? Where did I propose that we rely solely on the private sector to solve the fuel problem? Have I not repeatedly, over several threads, proposed that the externalities of peteroleum extraction and carbon emission be captured via government action? Why should you and I even bother to have a conversation, if your consistent response is to erect strawmen which entirely ignore what I have previously written? I am truly curious; what do believe is added by this method of rhetoric?""

"You usually leave a few details out, and leave uncertain where the border is between what you do support and what you don't. Why you bother with a conversation is your business: I just respond to what you write."

....in other words, I, in the quote you provided, clearly referenced fuel problems, to which you falsely stated that I left details out. Also you wrote previously....

"If we depend entirely on the private sector to solve the fuel problem, they'll pump all of the oil out of the OCS and ANWR and the rest of the continental U.S., and all of our energy will be importede private sector to solve the fuel problem, they'll pump all of the oil out of the OCS and ANWR and the rest of the continental U.S., and all of our energy will be imported".

....Which erected the strawman that I had suggested that we depend entirely on the private sector to solve the fuel problem. I did not, nor did I omit details as towe how to avoid this scenario. Your rhetoric in this entire thread has been dishonest, thus I decline to continue.

Posted by: Will Allen on May 21, 2007 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

Sock Puppet of the Great Satan on May 21, 2007 at 12:32 PM

I think what I wrote about "under construction" is correct. If I learn different, and we come back to this, I'll correct what I wrote. I don't have my source here.

"Cellulose[sic] ethanol is a promising option in the long term, but is not being produced on a commercial scale."

I wrote that production will increase by a factor of 10 in about 3 years. I think that's a fair statement. Not on a commercial scale NOW is certainly true. I also wrote that new organisms for digesting cellulose and lignin have been recently discovered, or developed. they have not yet been included in large volumes of production.

one of my ex-colleagues bet his career on it ten years ago, and I hope he's right. But it's a limited technology, and it's still a long way from primetime.

In the intervening years the price of petroleum on the international market fell to $10 per barrel before rising to what it is now.

Science magazine's 'perspective' articles aren't peer-reviewed.

Are you sure about that? Even the letters to the editor are reviewed a little. The fact that the Berkeley authors' web piece had not been peer-reviewed was mentioned by one of the authors of one of those perspective pieces: he certainly seemed to believe that his perspective had been peer-reviewed.


Will Allen: clearly referenced fuel problems,

in that case, why you mentioned weaponry in the first place is a mystery. Somehow the Crusader is a reason not to fund corn ethanol, but the F-18 is irrelevant, dishonest, a strawman, or something.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 21, 2007 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

Because, Matthew, the discussion pertained to the efficacy of Congressionally directed capital for the purpose of technology innovation. Thus the topic of weapons technology development is pertinent. You seem to think that because some weapons work well, this means that the DOD track record of capital usage is a good one. I won't bother to respond to this silly notion, because this has nothing to do with your decision to lie regarding what I had written specifically regarding fuel technology. Why do you think it serves your purposes to lie?

Posted by: Will Allen on May 21, 2007 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

sock puppet of the great satan,

meanwhile here is an item about a genetically altered maize that grows the enzyme cellulase directly in itself, facilitating conversion of the cellulose once the plant is harvested and heated:

http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/18741/

Another idea not yet ready for commercial scale.

Will Allen: Matthew, the discussion pertained to the efficacy of Congressionally directed capital for the purpose of technology innovation. Thus the topic of weapons technology development is pertinent.

glad to hear it. Now, how can we tell whether the subsidy of corn ethanol will be more like the successful F-18 or more like the unsuccessful Crusader?

You seem to think that because some weapons work well, this means that the DOD track record of capital usage is a good one.

I thhink what I wrote was that most of the weapons sytems actually purchase work well, and that ethanol was at least as likely to be like the successful programs as like the unsuccessful programs.

this has nothing to do with your decision to lie regarding what I had written specifically regarding fuel technology.

So. How do you know that the corn ethanol subsidy will be more like a failed system (the Crusader) than like a successful system (the F-18)?

The only way to know for sure is to experiment: fund the corn ethanol and see how well the program works out. That's the only way to know for sure, and I think that the experiment, the corn ethanol subsidy, is worth carrying out.

Do you really think that making sugar from beets in thr Red River Valley is merely a "possibility" that is being promoted? Truly, do you think capital is infinite, thus not presenting an opportunity cost when subsidies flow on the basis of which Senator chairs a committee? Upon what basis have you concluded that Congress are can recognize which 1000 flowers are worth fertilizing?

Yes. No. I have not concluded that Congress can recognize for sure which 1000 flowers are worth fertilizing. Also, they can not know, nor can anybody, which are not worth it, at least not for sure. So, I think corn ethanol is likely to be a good bet. corn ethanol is likely to be supplanted by cellulosic ethanol. We'll have to meet again in 5 years and see how it has turned out.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 21, 2007 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK

Gosh, matthew, maybe you should call what you propose The Great Leap Forward!

No, I can't predict the future, in detail, either. What I can predict is that, on average, having Congress direct capital flows in detail will result in a gigantic waste of capital, and a significant hindrance of innovation, compared to capital flows directed by a decentralized aggregate of a several hundred million consumers. I thus favor keeping Congress' role limited to creating unfavorable economic conditions for petroleum extraction and carbon emissions.

You go ahead and sing the praises of having 535 hacks picking winners, though, even though you won't admit that the very act of granting a subsidy entails picking a winner.

Thanks for writing one post that didn't completely misrepresent my views, by the way.

Posted by: Will Allen on May 21, 2007 at 9:10 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen: Gosh, matthew, maybe you should call what you propose The Great Leap Forward!

I prefer what I already called it: one step.

I thus favor keeping Congress' role limited to creating unfavorable economic conditions for petroleum extraction and carbon emissions.

If they do that, I'll be happy.

even though you won't admit that the very act of granting a subsidy entails picking a winner.

That is correct. I deny that "granting a subsidy" entails "picking a winner". Note again that I support many subsidies, not just one. The government subsidises biomedical research, but the market picks the winners. On its own the pharmaceutial industry would never have financed the study of retroviruses (indeed, Gallo's work on retroviruses received one of the coveted "Golden Fleece" awards before the HIV/AIDS epidemic) or reverse transcriptases.

What I can predict is that, on average,

We are not talking about an average. We are talking about a transition from one particular suboptimal semi-equilibrium to another suboptimal semi-equilibrium.

the U.S. subsidises Boeing through its military aircraft contracts. The E.U. subsidises Airbus more directly. The market picks the winners and losers, and over time the two companies have alternated in the lead. the E.U. subsidy to Airbus has made Boeing's planes better.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 21, 2007 at 9:48 PM | PERMALINK

I thus favor keeping Congress' role limited to creating unfavorable economic conditions for petroleum extraction and carbon emissions.

A question that I think more people in democracies need to spend more time thinking about is: "What policies should I support when the policies that I think would be ideal have no chance of being enacted?" 300 million Americans show no sign of reducing energy usage sufficient to end importation from the Middle East. They are most likely unwilling to enact a $0.50/gallon tax on gasoline or end U.S. naval protection of the sea lanes. Every actual policy is a compromise with someone else who has a different ideal than yours.

If I really believed that internalizing all the external costs of petroleum could be effected, that is what I would write in support of (as I have on other threads.)

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 21, 2007 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

Well, matthew, absent subsidies to Airbus and Boeing, consumers may well have benefitted. For some reason, you have come to the conclusion that since there is no alternative to national government participating in national defense, it thus is wise to have national government participate in activities for which there are alternatives. You fool yourself by claiming that Congress is not picking winners because it picks more than one.

Look, if you think a command economy is a preferable state of affairs just come out and say so, instead of lying to yourself that a dencentralized market is picking winners in which Congress directly sends capital to some entities which desire it, but not all, and to various degree of satidsfaction. Or are you truly proposing that Congress has unlimited access to capital and thus can satisfy each and every economic entity which petitions Congress for capital? Does opportunity cost exist in your world?

Posted by: Will Allen on May 21, 2007 at 10:36 PM | PERMALINK

this one is a commercial site:

http://www.soliant-energy.com/PressRelease_Schiff.pdf

I think at the federal level this is a tax credit. The award-winning device is nifty.

If present trends continue (a prudent person always preserves some skepticism about claims like this) solar-generated electricity will be cost-competitive with electricity by 2017. My bet would be by 2012. Not all by PV cells, some by solar-powered Stirling engines of all sizes. SDG&E is having a field of large "daisy" style Stirling-engine-powered electrical generators built "now" by a commercial company. By "now" I mean that the contract has been signed and the site chosen and approved, but I am not sure how much construction has been completed. For info contact SDG&E or www.ucan.org.


Will Allen: Look, if you think a command economy is a preferable state of affairs just come out and say so, instead of lying to yourself that a dencentralized market is picking winners in which Congress directly sends capital to some entities which desire it, but not all, and to various degree of satidsfaction.

Who said anything about a "command" economy? We have privately built autos running on govt.-subsidised roads, privately financed pharma using results from federally subsidized research, privately funded aircraft owned by privately backed airlines flying in and out of govt.-funded airports and guided along the way by federally funded air traffic control, using federally-developed radar and computational systems. Private companies make all sorts of stuff using intellectual property that was financed by government contracts (I mentioned the Boeing 707 wing that grew out of work on the B-47 and B-52.) We have thriving and diverse economies dependent on water and electricity from federally funded dams. Add to that commercial petroleum that depends in part on federally funded military forces. We have private -practice doctors, nurse and PCTs who were trained and licensed at taxpayer expense. WVERYTHING THAT WORKS is a public/private partnership. Examples of success of government and industry abound; examples of failures of government and industry abound.

Even if it is the case that commercial capital allocation is more efficient over the long run, on average, than government capital allocation, I doubt that you could demonstrate the existence of a successful large private enterprise that doesn't depend on large government subsidies (e.g. autos and roads). Let's not forget who adjudicates contracts when disputes arise, and who operates the copyright and patent system.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 21, 2007 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, Matthew, government exists for a reason. Congratulations on the insight. You still haven't addressed the reality of the opportunity cost entailed in having Congress pick winners, which, as much as you lie to yourself, is what you favor. Sometimes Congress must pick winners, because there is no alternative. You favor Congress doing so when there is an alternative, because you believe that 535 elected politicians can allocate capital more effectively than several hundred million decentralized allocaters. The only thing you haven't done is call it a Five Year Plan.

Posted by: Will Allen on May 21, 2007 at 11:59 PM | PERMALINK

as much as you lie to yourself

You are such a jerk.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on May 22, 2007 at 12:19 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, Matthew, if you want a civil conversation, don't deliberately misrepresent what others have written, because it is something a jerk does. Now, if you will lie about what I have written, is it not reasonable to say that you are lying to yourself when you write something plainly at odds with reality?

Posted by: Will Allen on May 22, 2007 at 12:56 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I can't think that the bar for switchgrass is correct....there is NO yellow part for the processing....and I would think it would take the most of all.
And as a diesel-K.I.S.S. proponent, I would point out that:
= soy actually enriches the soil (by fixing nitrogen) instead of leaching it).
= in Europe, half the new cars are diesel, VW makes two sizes smaller than the Golf, the smallest with a 3-cylinder diesel engine get 75MPG, and these engines are emmission clean (because the Euros have long had super low sulfur diesel that can be cleaned).
= soy diesel can be environmentally controlled since it doesn't have any sulfur
= soy oil can be used without further processing in the summer.
= diesels get fantastic MPG because a) the fuel, being denser, has more energy and b) the engine is more efficient than a gas (Otto-cycle) engine. I drive a mid-size VW Jetta and get 45MPG.
= as a petro-fuel, diesel is simpler to make

Posted by: Stewart Dean on May 22, 2007 at 7:19 AM | PERMALINK


"meanwhile here is an item about a genetically altered maize that grows the enzyme cellulase directly in itself, facilitating conversion of the cellulose once the plant is harvested and heated:

http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/18741/"

Yeah, Matthew, but from the title of the original scientific article they've only expressed one of the three enzymes of the cellulase complex - an endoglucanase, not the exoglucanase or the cellubioase. Balancing the three is important, as each of the enzymes are product-inhibited. On first impressions, I'd also say the technology might conflict with the received wisdom that you need simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (SSF) to ethanol (as cellubioase is inhibited by the presence of glucose.) I'd say at best the might shrink your SSF fermenter by an unknown factor, but that'd be offset by needing a pre-step to heat the residue to get the heat-enabled endoglucanase to work.

It's great that you have the enthusiasm for the technology, Matthew, but there are still serious barriers to commercialization of a completely biotech-enabled cellulosic-to-ethanol. NREL has been working on this for decades, using T.reesei (which is also used by one of the two big enzyme companies to make cellulase), and I'm skeptical that Magical Microbe #289 that Diversa or whoever prospects out of a geyser is going to overcome all the process problems. We're still talking 5-10 years before true commercialization.

Posted by: Sock Puppet of the Great Satan on May 22, 2007 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Engineer Poet from ergosphere.blogspot.com in his thesis titled: 'sustainability' proposes that we convert to p.h.e.v.'s. Organize the use of 'waste' and cellulosic sources of biomass to produce electricity with d.c.f.c.'s (direct carbon fuel cells )which apparently are now highly efficient (80%).
The electricity is then fed to the grid and the byproducts of the process are charcoal and gases.
The process sequester the CO2 by directing the gas stream to greenhouses to grow algea to then convert to bio-diesal/ethanol. Charcoal is stable

The e.r.o.e.i. (energy return on energy invested)of cellulosic ethanol is ridiculously poor as internal combustion engines (i.c.e.'s) are very inefficient.
As such bio-diesal is the better option.

The efficiency of electric motors on the other hand confers a better e.r.o.e.i.

His (E.P.) detailed analysis includes comparisons in quads of energy needed and how we could replace
all coal nuclear and natural gas. Efficiency is the key, support return to rail and ships as they are very efficient should adopted.

Charcoal makes fabulous fertilizer/soil improvement
(ref terra pretta)

His is the only proposal that I'm aware of that comes close to addressing the huge energy demands secured from environmentally sound practices.

Thoughts?

Cheers

Posted by: Eboy on May 27, 2007 at 3:05 AM | PERMALINK

Just finished reading your posting about the potentials of alternative energy. Thanks for the great information. I recently came across this free report about the investment potential of ethanol and thought you or your readers may be interested in checking it out. Thanks -DRFan

http://www.whiskeyandgunpowder.com/Report/EthanolReport.html

Posted by: DRFan on June 6, 2007 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

You talk about corn like it is the only way t make ethanol cheap. What about all the unused sugar cane fields in Hawaii? Sugar cane has been use by Brazil to make ethanol for 20 years. Hawaii has all but stopped growing sugar cane. It looks like they could use there sugar cane fields to make ethanol and improve there economy. In the rest of the US, why, has no one tried to use sugar beets to make ethanol? And instead of using coal or gas to fire the stills why not use ethanol and solar to fire them? Every problem has a green answer. I think the reason this study is skewed is because the oil companies want ethanol to look bad. I am not buying this load of BS. Ethanol is greener than Gasoline and always will be. It also is not supporting countries who are trying to kill us. Wake up people!! Big oil wants your money!! They want you to keep this stupid war going so they can get the oil to sell to us for a very high price. They want us to let them continue to charge more for gasoline than it cost to make ethanol. There are people right now making there own ethanol out of potatoes for there own use. They claim they can make it a lot cheaper than $2.00 a gallon some have told me they can make it for less than 1 dollar per gallon. The oil companies are ripping us off and they are trying to get us to believe that oil is the only answer. Forget the ecology for a minute think of the cost to every one of us who are paying the gasoline bill, not to mention the diesel that brings or groceries to us. The oil companies want to sell the last drop of oil to us to get as rich as they can. Even Pres Bush is an Oil Man he is on there side!! I can not buy E85 in my neighborhood! And if I could all the cars that can run on it are sent to Brazil. Wake up people! We are being fed a line of pure bull! It is time the people tell it like it is.
Victor Ritchie a non oil man!

Posted by: Victor Ritchie on April 1, 2008 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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