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Tilting at Windmills

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February 12, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

ETHANOL: IT'S EVEN WORSE THAN YOU THOUGHT....A few days ago two studies were published showing that biofuels like ethanol had no positive effect on global warming. In fact, it turns out that they're actively bad for the environment. One of the studies concluded that use of corn-based ethanol produces twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as regular gasoline over a 30-year period, and only becomes carbon neutral after 167 years.

I didn't blog about it at the time because I was waiting for biofuels guru Mike O'Hare to weigh in and tell me if these studies were legit. Last night he finally did, and he says this is the real deal:

There is now more than good reason to expect that no biofuel from seeds, possibly none (even cellulosic) grown on land that could grow food, will reduce global warming if substituted for petroleum products. The insight of the papers discussed in the article, and work by some others who have been worrying at this bone for years without anyone paying enough attention, is a remarkable synthesis of economics and plant/earth science.

The first piece of the puzzle is the recognition that if a piece of forest is cut down, or natural grassland plowed up, to grow biofuel, decay and/or burning of what was there before releases an enormous puff of carbon into the atmosphere that needs to be counted along with the carbon releases of the biofuel crop. Even spreading the initial release over decades of biofuel growing, it is large enough to push almost any biofuel's global warming intensity way above that of gasoline, especially because it all occurs right at the beginning of the future rather than a few years or decades down the line.

[Further technical discussion.....]

Small amounts of diesel and ethanol will probably be available from trash and agricultural waste like the tree branches and bark scraps the logging industry leaves around to decay, or cornstalks, or McDonald's used frying oil, and these are environmentally OK because they don't induce land use conversion....And many smart folks in this business expect that algae growing in tanks in the desert (for example) can eventually be taught to make a lot of diesel cheap, with no land use implications. But for now, and for a while, biofuels generally are going over a very rough patch of road, a patch that may go on for years before new technologies smooth it out again.

I've never been a fan of corn ethanol, and now it looks like cellulosic ethanol might not be worthwhile either unless it's grown on wasteland. Better technology might eventually help out with that, or maybe those algae tanks will pan out. In the meantime, though, corn ethanol subsidies, which looked merely stupid in the past, now look catastrophically idiotic. With the Iowa primaries safely over, surely it's safe for our brave presidential candidates to use these studies as an excuse to do an about-face and promise to kill corn ethanol subsidies in their first term. Right?

Kevin Drum 11:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (88)

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Well (slaps forehead)...back to da drawing board.

Posted by: Mad Scientists on February 12, 2008 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

Must kill the messenger!!

Posted by: CarlP on February 13, 2008 at 12:04 AM | PERMALINK

.


Kevin,

Just for fun, notice also that hydroelectric projects, which are supposed to give us clean power from falling water, in fact give us vaste tonnages of greenhouse gases through, e.g.:

the rotting vegetation that is caught in the huge catch-basins;

the previously fecund marshlands which suddenly become sources of freed carbons;

and, just for laughs, the dead bodies of the suddenly extinct species venting their no-longer circulated carbon to the atmosphere.

Of these three I would thing that the first is important, simply because the land taken out of use represents a permanent loss of carbon re-catchment, on top of the one-time hit through the rotting of everything previously in the catchement.

I cannot judge the second: it is so huge, so beyond my experience, and so complex, that I have no reasonably justifiable views.

The third I threw out as a joke -- but of course buggering up the chain of species is, to use the most obvious metaphor, a form of the canary-in-the-mine effect. When they go we may be next.

Best,

-dlj.




Posted by: David Lloyd-Jones on February 13, 2008 at 12:05 AM | PERMALINK

Corn ethanol? Its a bad thing no doubt. The one upside to it, though, has been the creation of a market that could eventually be filled by more environmentally friendly biofuels. For example, many companies are currently working on processes that could take cow manure, or organic waste that would go to landfills, and convert it to ethanol or diesel. For these companies to be profitable, they need a pre-existing market for ethanol. These processes are also much more energy efficient than corn ethanol, which takes as much energy to make as you get out of it.

Also, lets not forget, lets not forget dude, that worldwide oil supply is peaking. so global warming, while a pressing problem, may not be the nearest crisis we face. Doing whatever we can to get off the black stuff that comes out of the ground takes precedence in my mind.

Posted by: nathan on February 13, 2008 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

Well, where there is a grave crisis for humanity, there is the next great economic opportunity. We should bandage our ailing industrial base with an infusion of resources not seen since Apollo to beat down the oil oligarchies, and to deny terrorists and our enemies vast sums of money for pumping oil.
Electricity is the answer to me. I say we nationalize the oil companies (by default anyway) and use their profits to help turn America into the world leader for renewable energy sources. That would end a lot of terrorism too. Then we could get the Constitution off death watch.

Posted by: Sparko on February 13, 2008 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

One a dam has been built and filled with water, the damage has already been done, so we might as well continue to use it as an electricity source. The same argument might be true for farmland (although with proper management over time the soil carbon could be restored). A better use for the feedstocks nathan talks about is biogas, which is really methane. We use methane in the form of natural gas, in power plants, and most of our homes use it for heat, and our stoves. Generating methane instead of ethanol converts maybe twice as much of the starting energy in the waste to usable fuel energy. So given this fact ethanol stupid, biogas smart. And stuff like cow poop gives off methane to the atmosphere if we don't capture it (and it is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2). Capturing this stuff, and using it as part of our energy economy makes sense.

Posted by: bigTom on February 13, 2008 at 12:26 AM | PERMALINK

"With the Iowa primaries safely over, surely it's safe for our brave presidential candidates to use these studies as an excuse to do an about-face and promise to kill corn ethanol subsidies in their first term. Right?"

I hate to make this political, but after having read about these studies in the news a few days ago, I noticed that in Hillary's speech tonight in Texas she was talking up Texas as a state that could benefit from growing crops for biofuel. You'd sort of think someone on her staff would stay on top of news like this. Of course Obama could be as clueless.

Posted by: nepeta on February 13, 2008 at 12:36 AM | PERMALINK

We should be focusing on biodiesel, not ethanol.

Biodiesel has a couple of huge advantages over ethanol. First, it is not miscible in water, so you don’t have the huge input of fossil fuels that is required to separate ethanol from water. This makes the energy balance far better than that of ethanol. A poor energy balance is the primary objection to ethanol (especially grain-ethanol).

The second major advantage biodiesel has is that it has over 1.6 times the BTU value of the same volume of ethanol. A gallon of biodiesel contains approximately 121,000 BTUs/gallon (about the same as gasoline), versus approximately 75,000 BTUs per gallon for ethanol. Diesel engines also run 35-40% more efficient than spark-ignition engines (the kind that use gasoline or ethanol). That means that 1 gallon of biodiesel has the effective energy value of 1/0.65, or 1.5 gallons of gasoline. As shown in previous essays, 1 gallon of gasoline is worth around 1.5 gallons of ethanol on a BTU equivalent basis, so 1 gallon of biodiesel is effectively equivalent to (1.5*1.5) or 2.25 gallons of ethanol! The biodiesel group at the University of New Hampshire has done similar calculations if you want to get into greater detail.

Feedstocks are always where the rubber meets the road, and in the case of biodiesel, there are promising second-generation feedstocks that don't use arable land and produce more oil than food crops. One of these is jatropha.

Jatropha is a plant which is able to tolerate arid climates, rapidly growing, and can yield up to two tons of biodiesel fuel per year per hectare. Put another way, Jatropha can yield about 1,000 barrels of oil per year per square mile. In such quantities, Jatropha, like biofuels in general, cannot become a replacement for oil. But Jatropha requires minimal inputs, stablizes or even reverses desertification, and has use for a variety of products after the biofuel is extracted. Moreover, diesel fuel with biodiesel additives causes far less pollution.

The second emerging non-food feedstock is algae. Michael Briggs at UNH reported in a 2006 study that biodiesel can be produced from algae, at yields as high as 15,000 gallons per acre! Briggs did a number of calculations of the feasibility and cost of replacing the entire motor fuel supply of the U.S. with biodiesel. In his own words, regarding the acreage that would be required:

. . . we found that to replace all transportation fuels in the US, we would need 140.8 billion gallons of biodiesel, or roughly 19 quads (one quad is roughly 7.5 billion gallons of biodiesel). To produce that amount would require a land mass of almost 15,000 square miles. To put that in perspective, consider that the Sonora desert in the southwestern US comprises 120,000 square miles. Enough biodiesel to replace all petroleum transportation fuels could be grown in 15,000 square miles, or roughly 12.5 percent of the area of the Sonora desert. This hypothetical example is used strictly for the purpose of showing the scale of land required). That 15,000 square miles works out to roughly 9.5 million acres - far less than the 450 million acres currently used for crop farming in the US, and the over 500 million acres used as grazing land for farm animals.

Apologies for the length of this post and apologies to Robert Rapier who wrote much of the preceding content.

Posted by: DevilDog on February 13, 2008 at 1:10 AM | PERMALINK

Agricultural products convert less than 0.5% of the sun's energy into fuel and require substantial processing with additional energy.

Solar Thermal to Electric efficiency in converting sunlight directly to electricity is 30% to 37 % with minimal pollution or greenhouse gases. This is at least 60 times better than crop based ethanol.

We have less than 30 years of proven oil reserves left.

The sun will shine for eons.

Use what little oil we have left to build the solar electric economy on less than 0.5% of the continental USA.

None of the candidates now running for President have called for a massive program to convert to solar derived energy in the next five years.

Talk of replacing a small percentage of our energy needs from solar over the next 30 years is the best they can do.

When we run out of oil, we will not be able to fuel the conversion to solar.

See Solar One Nevada on YouTube for a working system supply electricity for 15,000 homes.

Posted by: deejaayss on February 13, 2008 at 1:14 AM | PERMALINK

I didn't know that ethanol was ever seriously touted as an antidote for global warming. All hydrocarbons burn to CO2 and water, including ethanol. Ethanol is a possible substitute for oil, however.

Posted by: Luther on February 13, 2008 at 1:21 AM | PERMALINK

Good God Almighty! John McCain's daughter Meghan is smokin'! And she has her own vlog!

http://www.mccainblogette.com/

(I promise never to promote pseudo-Republican propaganda again - just this once.)

Posted by: lampwick on February 13, 2008 at 1:21 AM | PERMALINK

Gee, another "alternative" energy source shown to be impractical or worse than the fossil fuels.

Why not just invest in the obvious -- more efficient use of the energy we have and conservation?

Counting on alternative fuel to solve our energy problems is like counting on artificial sweetener to solve obesity. Or, perhaps, olestra.

Nuclear, solar and geothermal energy will certainly have a role in our energy future, but why not do the easy and obvious thing first?

We could have more public transportation, we could have engines that get over 100 mpg, we could all replace our nice "warm" incandescents with fluorescents, more insulation, better home design -- It's all a matter of priorities.

I bet we don't do jack shit until gas hits $10 per gallon, and electricity gets to $.30 per kwh.

Meanwhile, we're wasting trillions for a war that has not helped us one bit with respect to securing reliable sources of oil. If anything, the whole picture is more unstable.

Thanks Bush.

Posted by: lobbygow on February 13, 2008 at 1:22 AM | PERMALINK

Ethanol, hell! Global shipping ...

Is 3x worse on CO2 than previously believed.

Shipping contributes twice as much atmospheric carbon dioxide as much-maligned air travel.

Let's thank Bill Clinton and the DLCers on down who gave us an environmentally emasculated NAFTA and WTO.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on February 13, 2008 at 1:24 AM | PERMALINK

Shit, Obama's been a HUGE anti-enviro panderer, to Big Coal, Big Ag, and Big Mining out in Nevada. Actually worse than Clinton.

Let's vote... Green!

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on February 13, 2008 at 1:26 AM | PERMALINK

The concept that carbon comes from dying plants is obvious...

...But the idea that it's 'worse' because you have not only the fuel-carbon but the waste-carbon is... I dunno, silly.

What are they expecting would be in that field if not a crop? Grass that doesn't whither and die?

It certainly doesn't solve global warming, but... Grasslands aren't really carbon-neutral, either. A specially wet year or dry year and more carbon is released than absorbed. Good years and more is absorbed than released.

Farming is about managing that release - if more carbon is released than absorbed, the soil is impoverished. Bare dirt farming probably needs to go for this reason. But that doesn't mean we should suddenly say all farming is bad...

Posted by: Crissa on February 13, 2008 at 1:31 AM | PERMALINK

Make ethanol from sugar cane, it's much more efficient that way.

We should have better a relationship with Brazil anyway, and there's tons of arable land in Hawaii going unused.

Posted by: TB on February 13, 2008 at 2:47 AM | PERMALINK

Ah. If only rape were used to make biofuel instead of biodiesel.....

Bavarian farmers have been planting rape in place of hops for the past few years because of its higher monetary yield when it is used to create biodiesel. Result: increase in the price of beer, here.

Posted by: monoglot on February 13, 2008 at 4:59 AM | PERMALINK

Hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe - let's use it!!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on February 13, 2008 at 6:21 AM | PERMALINK

Algae tubes not algae tanks !

It turns out that the greasy algae which should be very useful for biofuel need alternating light and dark. The grow best if they are in tubes which are partly exposed to light and partly covered. The water in the tubes has to circulate being pushed by bubbles of gas. I saw such a tube at the Boston museum of science (it was gross).

The best part is that algae grow best with lots of Co2 so the best bubbles are exhaust from a power plant. This can reduce emissions of CO2 30% (and of nitrogen oxides by 90%). If there is a carbon tax, the equipment pays for itself via carbon emissions credits and biofuel.

The desert might not be the right spot though as clean water has to be added to the system as some is lost when the algae is removed and even the filthy looking algae can't grow in totally recycled water.

This is all going commercial as a produce of Greenfuels Inc.
http://www.greenfuelonline.com/

A supersmart friend who has become super rich managing a hedge fund has bet on greenfuels so I think it's the real deal.

Now back to land management. If the forest cut down to grow corn is used to build houses, the carbon won't end up in the atmosphere. Home building has been a major carbon sink in the USA during the super bubble years. I once tried to calculate and estimated that US CO2 emissions would have been 10% higher if lumber used in construction had been burned instead.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on February 13, 2008 at 7:15 AM | PERMALINK

There are plentiful "wastelands" all over our Earth. Lets put them to biofuel use, while we feed our world's growing population with fertile land.

Posted by: Jeff in Clearwater on February 13, 2008 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

There is a crop that grows like a weed, and has one of the highest yields for biodiesel. It's also good for paper, fabrics, and many other uses. Unfortunately, hemp is illegal to grow for some reason.

Get hemp growing, get the algae farms going, and get high mpg turbo diesel engines in play, a few more pebble bed reactors and yucca mountain, and we're looking at some serious energy policy ...

And maybe, some massive research funding for solar panels on every roof? ;) you've gotta love Lewis Black!

Posted by: royalblue_tom on February 13, 2008 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

Forget hydrogen which will just be a reincarnation of the big oil monopoly. What about compressed air cars? If the energy is from a non-greenhouse source they sound pretty cool.

Posted by: bellumregio on February 13, 2008 at 8:38 AM | PERMALINK

The point of the new science is not that biofuels are a bad idea, but that cutting down forests to plant biofuel crops is a bad idea. Well, duh. Cutting down forests for anything is a bad idea, at least from from a climate standpoint. But what about converting tobacco cropland? Is it fair to penalize biofuel for the carbon that would have been sequestered by the trees we could have planted on the land? What about switchgrass, a native grassland crop that grows on land that does not support forests? Is corn syrup bad for global warming because the corn it was made from was grown on land that could have been used to grow carbon-sequestering forests? The new science gives important quantitative insights into the tradeoffs involved, but let's not be simplistic about it.

Posted by: Chase on February 13, 2008 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

Ethanol is to gasoline what methadone is to heroin.

Posted by: mike on February 13, 2008 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

As a general principle, can't we assume that any substitute for oil that involves burning a carbon-based substance (ethanol, bio, coal) will just perpetuate the problems of global warming? And, as a second principle, can't we assume that any substitute that we find will end up producing its own set of environmental problems if used in sufficient quantity?

So obviously, the goal has to be 1. conservation (eg, using energy-efficient lightbulbs); 2. changes in habits to avoid use of electricity and fuel (that is, a net decrease in the number of lightbulbs overall); as well as 3. the development of sustainable, non-carbon energy sources, whatever those may be.

At the present time, the US is squandering energy by failing to conserve, but another threat is increased demand caused by economic development, not only in the US but among the ~5 billion people who have not been living in the developed world. Among GWB's colossal failures, I rank his failure to position the US as the leader in conservation and in the search for sustainable, non-carbon based energy sources.

On the other hand, just brainstorming here, I've spent the past 1.5 hours tossing a squeaky ball to a dog who appears to be indefatigable..If only there were some way of harnessing squeaky ball dog energy.

Posted by: PTate in MN on February 13, 2008 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

the only thing corn is good for was figured out long ago in bourbon county kentucky.

Posted by: andyvillager on February 13, 2008 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

There are plentiful "wastelands" all over our Earth.

1. Define "wasteland."
2. With current agricultural practices, the amount of available non-fertile "wasteland" is rapidly increasing.

Biofuel on a scale large enough to fuel an energy-wasting industrial economy such as ours is a scam, and a pipe dream.

Posted by: thersites on February 13, 2008 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

Ethanol and all other fuels contain carbon which is converted to CO2 when the fuel is burned, and CO2 is thought to cause global warming.

"Biofuel" has been a bit of a PR victory IMO, in this case "green" means alternative and renewable sources of global warming.

Posted by: leo on February 13, 2008 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

I'll agree with some of the thoughts above.

1) conservation
2) squeaky dog ball energy
3) hemp -- because it's the simplest way to increase the agricultural workforce

Posted by: B on February 13, 2008 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

If the problem is turning forest into cropland, then there is no problem using waste from cropland already growing food, such as making cellulosic ethanol from corn stalks or other agri-industrial residue.

Posted by: anandine on February 13, 2008 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

Another problem is that these guys are always assuming a straight swap of one fuel for another.

Let's approach this problem from the standpoint that driving, that operating a vehicle, is the main problem.

Quit driving so damn much. Find a used vehicle which operates on fewer cylinders. Don't drive the biggest vehicle you can find. Commute with friends and coworkers. Consolidate your outings to maximize fuel usage. This oughta be common sense.

The biofuels are and have been portrayed as a 'transitional' fueling system. They are not the perfect solution, and anyone talking about switchgrass/corn ethanol, or biodiesel like they are the perfect solutions is missing the boat.

The actual problem is driving vehicles, more vehicles on the road, owning two and three vehicles, and the layouts of cities such that people need to drive just to do really basic grocery shopping.

Posted by: sara on February 13, 2008 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

Typical SocraticGadfly and other Neanderthal Republicans blame President Clinton! The positive about ethanol is that the profits do not go to big oil; or so one would hope.

Posted by: Captain Dan on February 13, 2008 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

Crissa is right.

Not only that, the concern he has that the forest is going to be burned doesn't make much sense. Couldn't you just use the forest for lumber?

With such obvious errors, you have to question the rest of his research due to bias.

Posted by: DR on February 13, 2008 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

IIRC, curing concrete is a big source of co2. So, large dams initially release substantial amounts of greenhouse gases.

Basically, it looks like human activity changes things, and a lot of the time, that's going to have negative consequences.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on February 13, 2008 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Sara, walking more should be encouraged, and mass transit. But the US is huge, and driving is extremely enjoyable; people are not willingly going to give up the freedom of getting in a vehicle and going somewhere without having to consult a train schedule. And without oil, trains can't run either anyway.

There will not be a 1 to 1 replacement for oil, or an energy source with zero impact. At best we're going to have to lurch along for a while trying out various technologies until we find some combination that is satisfactory. Whether we survive the transition is another issue.

Posted by: emjaybee on February 13, 2008 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

sara: "Quit driving so damn much"

That's a very good point. So here's an fascinating factoid: the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, situated in the ice and snow and really, really cold belt, is second only to Portland, OR, in the percentage of people (2.4%) who commute to work by bike. The average for the rest of the country is .4%. And Portland, of course, is second only to Amsterdam in the world.

In any case, if WE can do it, the rest of the country can do it.

Posted by: PTate in MN on February 13, 2008 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

With biofuels, you're trading 'short cycle' carbon for 'long cycle' carbon.

All of the CO2 released by burning short-cycle carbons comes out of the current atmosphere... so after the initial 'hit' incurred by introducing new fuel-lands (made that term up) you are actually 100% recycling carbon. (provided you use biofuels in the process too).

While that sounds good, the real problem is too 'hot' to be addressed by current political systems.

The fundemental problem is that there are too many people consuming too much energy to be sustained by planetary resources. Period.

Until this is rationally addressed, we are doomed as a species.

Posted by: Buford on February 13, 2008 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

We use methane in the form of natural gas, in power plants, and most of our homes use it for heat, and our stoves. Generating methane instead of ethanol converts maybe twice as much of the starting energy in the waste to usable fuel energy. So given this fact ethanol stupid, biogas smart. And stuff like cow poop gives off methane to the atmosphere if we don't capture it (and it is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2). Capturing this stuff, and using it as part of our energy economy makes sense.

Yeah, but if someone starts talking about building a Thunderdome, include me out. ;-)

Posted by: Gregory on February 13, 2008 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

sara:
Very good points. Ethanol is being used by Detroit to greenwash the idea of business as usual. They also get to cheat on CAFE by getting credits for flexfuel vehicles. And the farmers get higher prices. But after Carter's unpopularity, it has been assumed by all following politicians that conservation is untouchable (i.e. it will lead to defeat at the polls).

Now we can make a lot of progress with the hybrids to plugin hybrids route. Not enough that we can continue business as usual indefinitely, but it should move us a long way in the right direction.

Posted by: bigTom on February 13, 2008 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

What was it that Ron Paul said, you subsidize something you get more of it? Well what did you expect when it came to ethanol? Once again subsidies screw up U.S. agriculture by skewering the market, creating an oversupply that winds up having more perverse environmental effects that it was designed to allieve and creating a dependent class of farmers who make politicians bend over backwards to defend their handouts. The free market would allow as much enthanol as demand would ask for. Ethanol can be part of the U.S.' energy future, but as American are want to do, we overdo everything.

Posted by: Sean Scallon on February 13, 2008 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

...many companies are currently working on processes that could take cow manure...

Can someone tell me if factory farm cows make more manure and methane than natural (no BGH, no funny injections or feeds) cows? I've always thought so, simply because of the amounts of feed and water forced thru a FF cow to get it to grow so fast.

If so, are there costing strategies for any forthcoming cow manure plans which require it to be produced on a factory farm scale?

(And yes, I'm aware that it sounds like a silly question. But sometimes ya gotta ask 'em.)

Posted by: ThresherK on February 13, 2008 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

Hmm, this kind of makes me nervous. I thought the technocracy would run the ship of state with a calm hand filled with skill and knowledge. But in this technocratic problem, where's the calmness that comes from knowing it all?

Posted by: Bob M on February 13, 2008 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

Remember, one of the studies echoes an earlier study from, among others, a University of MN professor that shows that diverse *perennial* plantings, harvested for biomass, *are* helpful. Not only are the growing above ground biomass converting CO2 but the roots become a carbon sink (and help the soil).

All that fertile loam in the Midwest is a product of the deep and product route systems of prairie grasses (ala switchgrass).

Using corn for ethanol is terrible for all the reasons discussed (other than to create a market/distribution system) but perennial (i.e. non-seed based biomass) will still have a role once celulosic ethanol is viable.

Posted by: jehrler on February 13, 2008 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

It is more likely a president Barack will withdraw the military from Iraq before he will do an about-face on ethanol subsidies.

Posted by: Brojo on February 13, 2008 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Here is a link to a story about Tilman's study:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061207161136.htm

Posted by: jehrler on February 13, 2008 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry, but conservation by itself is not the solution. It actually makes things worse in the long run.

Let us assume, for the moment, that everyone in America sees the light and we all cut our driving 50%. Let's even assume the cost of that conversion is zero. Everyone carpools or something.

The automobile industry greatly shrinks but tough luck to them. Everyone gets a big savings and what do they do with that? If they spend it that will grow the economy meaning more people more houses more factories and more energy use.

Instead they save the money. The bank then loans that money out to where it eventually leads to an expanded economy which leads to the same place as the previous paradox.

By increasing the overall energy efficiency of the global economy we allow the economy to expand which increases the rate of energy consumption.

Google "Jevons Paradox."

Posted by: Tripp on February 13, 2008 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

The studies Kevin links to are accurate in the sense that if (and only if) the assumptions they have hold true, ethanol may not be particularly useful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, if (1) one looks at the body of work suggesting various means to increase production that don't rely on cutting down forests, (2) one understands that much of the criticism Kevin links to relies on a roundabout theory that increased prices for various commodities may indirectly lead to practices that increase greenhouse gases, and (3) one considers that proponents for ethanol are also pushing for more use of bio-diesel and methanol then the argument is, to say the least, weakened.

I just finished reading Robert Zubrin interesting book Energy Victory which makes the case for ethanol/methanol. He, by the way, is a pioneer in space development and not some shill of the corn industry. You can find out more about the book at http://www.energyvictory.net.

His case is primarily focused on the importance of using flex fuel cars to shift our energy use from Middle East oil to non-Middle East ethanol and methanol. It is a national security-based argument more than an environmental one. However he also makes the environmental case - both in terms of greenhouse gases and other environmental issues. At a minimum, if ethanol/methanol is essential neutral in terms of overall greenhouse gases, then the national security imperative alone (i.e. stop sending hundreds of billions of dollars to the Saudis) makes it worthwhile. Moreover, as Zubrin shows, ethanol and methanol are far less damaging to the environment than oil - to wit, they are water soluble meaning an Exxon Valdez of ethanol, while bad, would have literally dispersed itself rather than lead to decades of environmental damage.

I am going through this at length because of my great disappointment that Kevin would so easily link to and sign up to the "bad bad ethanol" crowd. There are compelling reasons to consider what Zubrin call for - both environmental and other. Zubrin notes Brazil made this decision in 2003 and now has largely replace Saudi oil with fuels from Brazilian sugar. Of course it is important to ensure that moves such as this do not lead to the wanton destruction of forests. But to dismiss so simply, as I think Kevin does, the potential advantages of the US doing what Brazil has done is to do a real disservice to his readers.

I recommend Zubrin's book to everyone. I was a big ethanol skeptic before reading it, for some of the reasons Kevin has cited. But the book changed my mind and I think folks here would be well served by using it to inform themselves.

Posted by: Hacksaw on February 13, 2008 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

Ethanol is to gasoline what methadone is to heroin.

"Give me librium or give me meth."

The positive about ethanol is that the profits do not go to big oil

A negative about ehtanol is that the profits go to big agriculture.

Posted by: Brojo on February 13, 2008 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

I guess these studies assume farmers don't cut down forests and find new ground to farm unless we have high prices, which is just not true. When prices are low you need to farm more ground to spread out your equipment cost. Also the price of fertilizer has skyrocketed---not all farmers are increasing the use of it. With high prices you can make really good money without chasing super high yields. I get so sick sick of these "studies" that are so one-sided it makes my head spin.

Posted by: Duane on February 13, 2008 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

Sugar cane ethanol has been used successfully for years in Brazil. They even fuel the plants with bagasse, the waste left over after the sugar cane has been pressed.

The US has a 54 cent per gallon tariff on Brazilian ethanol. Bear that in mind the next time you hear our leaders talk about "free trade."

There is much more to ethanol than corn and switchgrass. Much more.

Posted by: Randy Paul on February 13, 2008 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

I thought half the argument in favor of biofuels was some small measure of energy independence. You know, the more biofuels we grow ourselves, the less oil we need from the Middle East (or Venezuela, or Nigeria, or..., or...)

Posted by: mroberts on February 13, 2008 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

Hmm. I never really associated ethanol with reduced emissions (I don't associate any fuel that gets burnt with reduced carbon emissions), but reduced dependency on oil per se. I'm looking at a senate speech on ethanol as part of an "energy security" program here, and the Iowa caucus dustup over ethanol here . Neither of the Dem front runners seem to consider ethanol part of an emissions reduction strategy (that's the role of fuel efficiency efforts and cap-and-trade programs).

This is all just to say that while oil-independence and reduced-emissions fall under the umbrella of alternative energy research, research showing a domestically-produced oil alternative isn't *also* an emissions winner doesn't change ethanol's role in an alternative energy platform.

Posted by: Benjamin on February 13, 2008 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

I've been following the broader issue of biofuels and the specific issues raised in the Science articles for a while now as part of my work for the Natural Resources Defense Council on low-carbon energy technologies. I've blogged on the articles at http://swtichboard.nrdc.org/blogs/ngreene. My latest post, Biofuels: not quite dead yet, thankfully, makes the following points:


- The dynamics the authors have identified are undeniable and analysis of the indirect land-use impacts uses one of the most respected agricultural economic models, but it is only that--one model. Others have been doing similar analysis using at least partly a different model and getting different results. And many folks will make the case for different assumptions and inputs into the models.


- Fortunately, we knew about these dynamic before yesterday, and we�ve won a preemptive victory in getting the dynamics written into the legislation in the form of the land-use safeguards and minimum lifecycle GHG standards (which as I noted a few weeks ago include, by law, the indirect land-use emissions). Now we have to defend these provisions and make sure a scientific debate (not one issue of Science) guides the implementation.


So we shouldn't assume that either article means that no crop-based biofuels will be able to comply with the RFS or that their analyses are definitive.


Finally, recall that we�re struggling with how to get biofuels on the right path not out of some perverse desire to work on difficult tasks, but because the other parts of the transportation solution set also face major challenges in scaling up and doing it quickly. There are no easy solutions to a low-carbon transportation sector that do not require a significant contribution from biofuels. The challenges facing vehicle efficiency, electrification, VMT reductions, smart growth are different from those facing biofuels (they lessen the benefits we can get instead of risking costs), but for me, they do mean that the just-say-no approach to biofuels is irresponsible.

Cheers,

N-

Posted by: Nathanael Greene on February 13, 2008 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

Hacksaw,

I understand the security argument. I would love to never again have to be worried about what they do to each other in the Middle East.

One point is still of concern though. Does Zubrin address the fact that ethanol takes two gallons of water to create one gallon of ethanol, and that is after the crop has been grown and harvested?

Posted by: Tripp on February 13, 2008 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

I thought the point of moving towards ethanol was to decrease out dependence on foreign oil, not to help the environment. Now I'm not a big fan of ethanol, but most of the comments seem to buy into a false premise that ethanol should dies because it was supposed to help the environment and it turns out that it does just the opposite.

Posted by: Tom in Houston on February 13, 2008 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

>The fundamental problem is that there are too many people consuming too much energy to be sustained by planetary resources. Period.

Until this is rationally addressed, we are doomed as a species.
Posted by: Buford

Yep. [fixed that little spelling boo-boo ya]

"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."
- Edward Abbey

Posted by: MsNThrope on February 13, 2008 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

Tripp,

Zubrin has a lengthy and, I though, fair discussion of criticisms that have been levied about ethanol/methanol and responds to each of them. I believe water was in that discussion but don't remember off hand. To be sure, Zubrin is not presenting ethanol/methanol as a panacea but rather as a far, far preferable energy source than oil.

For those that seek a review of his book from a more lefty source, I did find this diary over at Kos.

Posted by: Hacksaw on February 13, 2008 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

"The first piece of the puzzle is the recognition that if a piece of forest is cut down, or natural grassland plowed up, to grow biofuel, decay and/or burning of what was there before releases an enormous puff of carbon into the atmosphere that needs to be counted along with the carbon releases of the biofuel crop."

This doesn't seem to me a convincing argument against biofuels. It seems to me a convincing argument for incentives for farmers to start burning less and mulching more. Ag burning is a significant source of PM emissions (in addition to C02) and mulching ag waste (including waste from land clearing) is an effective form of carbon sequestration.

To be blunt you get the sense that certain environmentalists just don't like biofuels. After it became clear that the food-prices-will-rise-if-we-grow-more-fuel argument was stupid (thousands of small and family farmers continue to go under every year because of price deflation - there is lots of land that could grow fuels in the U.S.) they've moved on to the next argument; this argument seems kind of lame in the final analysis too.

Posted by: Linus on February 13, 2008 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Linus

You are nuts.

Farmers go under because the likes of Tesco and WalMart squeeze their producers-- forcing them to consolidate to cut costs. That's in manufacturing too as well as farming.

Read fast food nation for a description of the process.

World food prices are soaring, and biofuels are part of the reason-- cutting production of crops for food.

The argument against biofuels is that it generates more CO2 than it saves. that argument is now buttressed by peer-reviewed scientific papers in Science.

The single worst danger of biofuels is accelerating tropical rainforest deforestation: losing one of the planet's most important carbon sinks.

Posted by: Valuethinker on February 13, 2008 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

For what it's worth, the lead author of the Princeton article usually cited first, Tim Searchinger, is an environmental attorney, not a scientist.

Posted by: urban legend on February 13, 2008 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

David Lloyd-Jones: Just for fun, notice also that hydroelectric projects, which are supposed to give us clean power from falling water, in fact give us vaste tonnages of greenhouse gases

That's heavily dependent on where the dams are built. In hard rock country (e.g. Hoover dam) it's not much of an issue, but it is in areas where there's heavy vegetation (e.g. Amazon basin).

Posted by: alex on February 13, 2008 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

Wow - as misinformed and annoying as Kevin's post was, many of your posts, dear readers, are encouraging. Nice to see.

Posted by: cazart on February 13, 2008 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

Linus: Ag burning is a significant source of PM emissions (in addition to C02) and mulching ag waste (including waste from land clearing) is an effective form of carbon sequestration.

Interesting. Do you have a link or anything on that? If true, it would argue for mulching in food farming. Perhaps the Amish are well ahead on this issue.

Posted by: alex on February 13, 2008 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

Every gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel you buy is heavily subsidized, even while oil companies make record breaking multi-billion dollar profits. The subsidies we pay on OIL BASED fuel is 6 times higher than what we pay on ethanol and biodiesel. Our economy is vulnerable and subject to disruption, because over 60% of our fuel is made from imported foreign oil, which we pay for mostly with IOUs. On our $9 Trillion National Debt and our yearly $750 Billion Trade Deficit, we pay interest to the privately owned Federal Reserve Corporation (collected by the IRS). This debt is accumulating at a rate we cannot sustain. The U.S. floats a huge trade deficit with oil producing countries. Since our money is backed by NOTHING, we pay for deficit foreign oil with IOUs. They trade them for American stocks, real estate, and Government Bonds, which we pay interest on. AMERICANS ARE GOING INTO DEBT TO BUY FOREIGN OIL. When you buy gasoline or diesel fuel, there is a HIDDEN COST. When tax time comes around, you will also pay floating interest on up to 60 percent of the fuel you bought on the portion that was made from imported oil and paid for with a debt instrument. Buy gasoline made with foreign oil, and you are paying floating interest on up to 60% of it. Buy domestically produced ethanol or bio-diesel, and pay zero interest. Eliminate foreign oil entirely, and you will be energy independent. Besides reducing Debt Consumption, there are other good reasons to support domestic bio-fuels. We would be in a major recession if it wasnt for the money being invested in alternative energy and the thriving bio-fuels industry. States that have well-developed ethanol industries, like Iowa and Nebraska, now have huge budget surpluses. Subsidizing ethanol and biodiesel creates jobs, stimulates our economy, and generates County, State, and Federal tax revenue. Money back in your pocket. Do the math. We are now spending more than $250 Billion a year to protect wealthy oil war interests abroad. Add that to the price of your gasoline, diesel fuel, and your airline ticket. Would you rather pay a price fixing Cartel and hostile foreign governments for your fuel? Or would you prefer to support the American Farmers who feed you?

Posted by: Jeff Baker on February 13, 2008 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK
Sugar cane ethanol has been used successfully for years in Brazil. They even fuel the plants with bagasse, the waste left over after the sugar cane has been pressed.

The US has a 54 cent per gallon tariff on Brazilian ethanol. Bear that in mind the next time you hear our leaders talk about "free trade."

There is much more to ethanol than corn and switchgrass. Much more.

ahem.

RAINFOREST!

Such as it is.
Wait, there goes another hectare.

And another.

Oh boy.

Posted by: kenga on February 13, 2008 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

60% of the sugarcane grown in Brazil is grown in São Paulo state thousands of miles away from Amazonia. Precious little is grown in any of the states of Amazonia, none to my knowledge in the state of Amazonia and a little in Pará.

Indeed, the cerrado in the Center-West region is far better for growing sugarcane. Moreover, the infrastructure for bringing ethanol to market is far better there than in Amazonia as it borders the states of Minas gerais and São Paulo.

Cane, by the way, has been grown in low grades strictly for ethanol for some thirty years.

Ahem.

It's called Google.

Posted by: Randy Paul on February 13, 2008 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

PTate in MN: As a general principle, can't we assume that any substitute for oil that involves burning a carbon-based substance (ethanol, bio, coal) will just perpetuate the problems of global warming?

No. Plants, whether corn, algae or whatever, get their carbon from the atmosphere. Growing plants then burning them is just cycling it around, and so is carbon neutral.

Growing corn and many other plants seems to have side effects that make it less than neutral, but algae has no such problems. I wouldn't bet the farm on algae (yuk, yuk) but if it can be made to work on a large scale it will be an amazing fuel source.

BTW, in additional to diesel fuel, you can get cellulosic ethanol from algae. So anyone who can't bear the thought of an efficient compression ignition engine can keep their antiquated, inefficient spark ignition engine.

Corn is for bourbon - algae is for fuel.

Posted by: alex on February 13, 2008 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Great points Randy and Alex.

I'd only add that Zubrin makes a very strong case for methanol, which can be generated from just about anything, including much of the trash we throw away.

His major point in calling for all new cars sold in the US to be flex fuel cars is that by creating a much, much larger market for these fuels, we can stimulate all kinds of innovation in terms of finding more environmentally friendly ways of producing these fuels. And methanol may turn out to be the real solution here.

Posted by: Hacksaw on February 13, 2008 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Hi Randy,
Thanks, as that is information I was unaware of and undermotivated to Google.

It sounds, from a cursory visit to the Great Gazoogle, as though increases in cane production aren't causing food crop production to be shifted elsewhere. It may be driving a small percentage of deforestation, but from what I have just seen, cattle ranching is the single largest contributor, followed by logging and mineral extraction.
And once they've stopped burning the cane fields before harvest, even that negative externality will be a non-issue.
I still think it's better for rum, but, that's me.

Posted by: kenga on February 13, 2008 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Like I said once before, it's the damn Iowa Primary positioning that's largely at fault. We must take Iowa off the front of the Primary system.

Posted by: N. B. on February 13, 2008 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

kenga,

While Randy's points are valid and I agree with them, I think it is also fair to be worried about impacts such as deforestation. What I take issue with is when people assume that switching to ethanol/methanol must inevitably result in clear-cutting the rain forest. That fact it, we can make the switch and protect these areas. So folks should remain aware of the potential issues (and supporters of ethanol/methanol should not simply dismiss the issues) but recognize they are potential and not inevitable results of doing what Zubrin proposes.

Posted by: Hacksaw on February 13, 2008 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Solve our fuel problem with ethanol from Brazilian sugarcane?!

There ain't enough cane in Brazil (or rice in China) to do that.

Do the math. The US currently uses about 400 Million gallons of gas a day. Ethanol has about 75% of the energy of gasoline, so figure we need about 500 Millions gallons of ethanol per day.

In 2005 (the latest figures I could find) Brazil produced about 12 Million gallons/day of ethanol.

Today the entire Brazilian ethanol industry would cover 2.4% of the US gasoline usage.

It does not scale.

Posted by: Tripp on February 13, 2008 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp,

It's not a panacea, but it's a start and could play a part.

Kenga,

Cachaça, not rum. Rum is made from molasses, cachaça from cane juice. Cachaça makes the great caipirinha, rum makes mojitos.

What is a greater danger is the expansion of the soybean industry in Brazil, especially as American farmers decide to grow corn in lieu of soy.

Posted by: Randy Paul on February 13, 2008 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Full disclosure, btw, my father-in-law is a farmer in the Jequitinonha Valley in Minas Gerais state in Brazil. He grows some cane, but makes cachaça with it.

Posted by: Randy Paul on February 13, 2008 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK
What I take issue with is when people assume that switching to ethanol/methanol must inevitably result in clear-cutting the rain forest. That fact it, we can make the switch and protect these areas.

I agree that it isn't necessarily inevitable. However, Randy's point that cane isn't being grown in recently clearcut rainforest areas notwithstanding, land is being clearcut for agricultural purposes. Some percentage is a result of having switched from food-crop or grazing over to cane, requiring that those activities take place elsewhere.
Tripp's point is quite valid - it would require logarithmic increases in cane acreage to replace even half of our current gasoline usage in just the U.S.A.
I'm of the opinion that methanol, even at the levels Tripp mentions, is at best a stopgap.

It's substituting (m)eth for crack.
In both cases, you're an addict. And that's the problem - the particular drug/fuel is the symptom.
Flex-fuel vehicles, especially if US automakers and importers change over to them as a large proportion of their production, will lead to less reliance on petroleum. But, the real reduction in CO2 emissions will be to reduce the number of vehicles on the road, and the amount they are used.

Believe me, as a motorcycle enthusiast, I really really don't like that idea. But that's the reality.

Posted by: kenga on February 13, 2008 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK
Cachaça, not rum. Rum is made from molasses, cachaça from cane juice. Cachaça makes the great caipirinha, rum makes mojitos.

Randy, cachaça(cut'n'paste - how you make funny c?) is a very good thing.
However, my favorite rum is also made from cane juice. At a little bitty run-down pot still on Tortola BVI, the cane crusher is out back. Smooth, and smells strongly like butterscotch. Not a bad mixer, but it really deserves a snifter.

Posted by: kenga on February 13, 2008 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp,

The suggestion isn't that we switch our fuel source from Saudi oil to Brazilian ethanol but rather to a combination of US and other sources of ethanol/methanol. Flex fuel cars can burn a variety of combinations of ethanol, methanol, and gasoline so the premise would be we start with the standard 10-15% ethanol mix and then, as production capability for ethanol and methanol increase, go to higher percentages of each.

In terms of scalability, Zubrin also discusses what it would take both in terms of US and foreign production to meet US demands. A large part of his argument for methanol is that, because you can make it from practically any organic matter, this may be the long-term solution to meeting US demand. But in the short- to mid-term, it would be combination of US and foreign agricultural sources for ethanol.

Posted by: Hacksaw on February 13, 2008 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

For the cedilla, hold down the ALT key and type 0231, then release.

Posted by: Randy Paul on February 13, 2008 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

Captain Dan, you're full of crap. My second post, immediately below the first, said "Vote Green." How that is "Neanderthal Republican," except in your own, Australopithecine mind.

How's that for a little snark?

And, Sara is right. Buying MUCH more economical cars and driving less is the bottom line.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on February 13, 2008 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Without strict population control and a changed perception about what constitutes quality of life, conservation is just bullocks. If you were serious about sustainability, the only way to achieve it long term is to have no more than one kid per woman, force your neighbors to have no more than one kid per woman and force people in other countries to have no more than one kid per woman.

Technology, especially earth bound technology, can only delay the Malthusian end game for so long. The idea that perpetual population growth is inevitable or good is one of those asinine economic ideas that should be put out of its misery ASAP.

Posted by: anon on February 13, 2008 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Hey man, anytime you're burning fuel in an engine you are creating greenhouse gases. Some fuels may be cleaner than others in terms of pollutants. But the fact that they get burned means that CO2 comes out of the tailpipe.

Posted by: Steve on February 13, 2008 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

I want to ride my bicycle.

Posted by: Freddie Mercury - RIP on February 13, 2008 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK


Making fuel from crops, agricultural waste, algae, palm oil, or sugar cane is less than 0.5% efficient in converting sunlight into useful energy.


Converting the sun's energy directly into electricity using solar concentrators is 30 to 37% efficient. That is over 60 time better. And there are no pollutants or greenhouse gases directly produced. You drive your electric car or ride your electric bus or train without ruining the planet.

The process of tilling virgin soil results in a blossoming of micro-flora that produce an estimated 14% of CO2. See University of Washington, Professor William Calvin's web page.

There is not enough arable land on the planet, even assuming you cut down every tree in the rain forests, to plant crops to fuel our current energy use. Do the math. Assume a crop like palm oil that produces the most oil per acre and multiply by the number of worldwide acres available. You still will not have enough oil.

Solar-thermal to electric is already working. See Solar One Nevada on YouTube.

Posted by: deejaayss on February 13, 2008 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

Steve: Hey man, anytime you're burning fuel in an engine you are creating greenhouse gases ... CO2 comes out of the tailpipe.

Hey man, if that fuel comes from plants, then its carbon was sucked out of the air by the plants.

Posted by: alex on February 13, 2008 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

Hacksaw: I'd only add that Zubrin makes a very strong case for methanol

Does he address the ground water contamination problem? Methanol and ethanol are both highly soluble in water, so any that leaks from storage tanks, etc. can get mixed into the ground water. No problem with ethanol, as it's non-toxic. Not true for methanol though.

Another problem with methanol is very low energy density. I thinks that's an inconvenience rather than a show stopper though - we could easily build cars with fuel tanks 2x to 3x bigger.

Posted by: alex on February 13, 2008 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK
Hey man, if that fuel comes from plants, then its carbon was sucked out of the air by the plants.

Right. So, it's a wash, net, as the plants sequestered that carbon recently.
It's better in that respect than fossil fuels.
But that doesn't do anything to bring CO2 levels back down under 400 ppm, which is what is going to cause serious climate issues. And lots of wet feet.
It's a step in the right direction, yes, but the goal has to be to emit less CO2 than is extracted for long-term sequestration.

Whether we as a species/civilization will be able to do so within any effective timeframe is dubious. Especially since we're still at the stage of arguing whether fossil fuels can be replaced with renewable fuels, and not how we can get to a net negative CO2 load.

Posted by: kenga on February 13, 2008 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

Glad to see so many are aware that these so called new revelations concerning biofuels are not coming from the bible. The methanol concepts are good however look into butanol if you want to see a better alternative. Its non-corrosive and much more energy dense than ethanol. It can be pipelined instead of trucked or hitching a ride on the rails like ethanol has to do today (part of the reason the current pricing is screwy by the way - not enuf railcars to get the stuff to the coasts). Butanol may become the alcohol of choice for cellulosic conversion. The current yield per bacth is low but this probelm is passing as we transition from batch to continuous based fermentation, membrane extraction of the alcohol, and higher yielding microbes. Check it out!

Also DCFC Direct Cabon Fuel Cells, that is, direct conversion of carbons and carbon base materials into electricity has tremnendous potential - much progress is being made. Check out the BIOPACT website for updated Biofuel information globally recorded on daily basis.

Posted by: northcoaster on February 13, 2008 at 10:31 PM | PERMALINK

The author of the above article has limited knowledge about biofuels, and is relying on two recent studies that are defective. Both studies are based on generalizations, false assumptions and calculations made in ivory towers, not based on actual field data. There is a huge volume of vital information about fuels which has been omitted from the two recent studies. Last year only the starch was extracted from 1 out of 5 bushels of corn. Roughly half of that one bushel was used to make ethanol, and the other half of the bushel came out as animal feed byproduct and 5% oil. By weight, roughly 10% of all American corn goes to domestic human consumption; 10% is exported; 60% of whole corn goes directly to livestock, dairy, poultry, and fish feed; another 10% in the form of distillers grains goes to the same; Only 10% of the entire corn crop (by weight) is starch converted to ethanol. Nobody starved or went hungry last year because we removed the 10% starch to make ethanolHigher oil prices caused higher shipping costs and higher food prices across the board. Not ethanolAmazon Rain Forest is first being illegally logged. Once the big trees are down, nomadic herders come in and graze cattle for several years, until the grass is depleted by overgrazing. The land is abandoned. Next come rogue farmers who finish clearing and illegally grow soybeans on land that doesnt belong to them. Brazil has been criticized recently for allowing Amazon Rain Forest to be destroyed. In response, the Brazilian government is now implementing a strictly enforced program to protect it, employing specially trained police. Cutting down Amazon Rain Forest is now a mute point, because the Brazillian government is stopping it. Besides, illegal logging of Rain Forest in Brazil and Indonesia has been going on for a long time, long before biofuels became a factorCO2 from biomass is recycled and does not add anything new to the atmosphere. In contrast, virgin CO2 brought up from deep oil and gas wells continues to add to green house gases. Comparing these two types of CO2 is not a fair comparison. They are very differentThe Ethanol Industry is evolving rapidly. The new wave of biorefineries are self powered. Many are now integrated with a source of manure, which makes combined heat and electric power (CHP) from methane. The byproduct distillers grains are then consumed by the adjacent or nearby animals, making their manure into power to run the plant. A good example of an integrated 2700 acre dairy farm and biorefinery is XL Renewables, in Vicksburg AZ. This is a 10 to 1 efficiency, state of the art operation that is totally self-powered from adjacent dairy cow manure. Corn is fractionated into 3 components. The starch is converted to ethanol; Oil is extracted from the corn germ and made into biodiesel. The high protein distillers grains byproduct is fed to the onsite dairy cows to produce milk. And the CO2 is collected and sold for industrial use. Again, this ethanol and biodiesel refinery is self powered and totally disconnected from the gridIn Texas there are 12 new ethanol plants being built, and several of them also convert adjacent or nearby manure into production power, with the distillers grains going directly to nearby livestock. 5 new ethanol refineries are being built in California; 3 in Arizona, several in Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and numerous other states. Ethanol production is no longer just in the corn belt. Localization is the trend. Every city has the potential to produce biofuels by recycling local organic waste into fuel programsThere are many energy saving processes being developed and implemented in the biofuels industry, and fossil fuels are being replaced by biomass and waste products. 100 to 200 ton per acre Algae will be the next King of Biomass. Algae farms will also be integrated with biorefineries and power plants, whereby all CO2 will be recycled to grow the algae. Farm manure that is left to rot or run off releases methane gas into the atmosphere, which is 22 times more potent than CO2 as a green house gas. Ethanol critics are ignoring the fact that biorefineries are mitigating this problem. They are also ignoring the fact that the U.S. government is spending over $250 Billion a year: To protect a new oil pipeline running though Afghanistan, which they bullied away from the Taliban; and to wage war in Iraq, in order to restrict the flow of Iraqi oil down to half of what it was before the war. If youre going to start counting indirect causes for the energy balance of fuels, then add up the environmental impact of all the petroleum based fuels used by the military in these two wars. Also add up all the CO2 pollution and poisons cause by the massive bombing campaigns. And calculate how much fossil fuel and human energy it takes for taxpayers to pay for these two wars. Now account for all the interest being paid on Federal Reserve debt instruments that are used to balance our trade deficit with oil producing countries. How much fuel and human energy is being consumed by taxpayers to pay interest on the imported foreign oil deficit. Now add all that pollution and CO2 to the energy balance of petroleum based fuelsWe pay floating interest on imported oil, but not on domestically produced ethanol. Ethanol may have lower BTUs, but it has higher octane than gasoline. Thus, consumers are reporting better mileage using E-30 than regular gasoline. This is also backed up by a recent study. All vehicles built after 1995 can handle E-30 with no problems. Ethanol is Even Better than You Thought.

Posted by: Jeff Baker on February 14, 2008 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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