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By Robert Rapier on May 6, 2010 with 73 responses

Is Camelina the Next Jatropha?

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We do love our wonder-crops. We want plants that yield large amounts of biofuel, and can do it on marginal soil. We want them to be drought resistant and require little fertilizer. And when one fails to deliver per the hype, we move right on to the next one without having learned the lessons of the last one.

Jatropha was a recent wonder crop that captured the world’s attention. It was drought tolerant and could in fact grow on marginal soil. It had lots of things seemingly in its favor. On the surface, it really appeared to have huge potential for helping to fill in for petroleum as fossil fuels depleted.

I had heard all the hype on jatropha, but my first indication that the hype had gotten way ahead of the truth was when someone contacted me a couple of years ago and asked if I could help them secure some jatropha oil. I figured it would be a simple matter, as jatropha was all over the news. BP and D1 Oils had just formed a partnership to grow jatropha for feeding into BP’s refineries. Clearly if big oil was getting into it, there had to be some substance there (that’s also what I have been hearing about Exxon’s venture into algae; that this proves algae is for real).

But I couldn’t find any commercial quantities for sale anywhere. It seemed very odd to me that a crop with this much seeming potential didn’t actually have any commercial operations to back up that hype. Further, on a trip to India in 2008 I asked numerous people about jatropha, and nobody could tell me who was actually growing any (even though I had heard that India was a hotbed of jatropha cultivation).

As I indicated in a recent essay, I am writing a book chapter right now on jatropha and algae, and I think I can shed a bit of light on what happened with jatropha. It is the same thing that happens with many of these wonder solutions. There are bits of truth to the story that get exaggerated, and the caveats get dropped along the way. For example, jatropha is drought tolerant, but it doesn’t do well in drought conditions. You can’t get good fruit yields unless you have adequate rainfall. Further, jatropha fruits pull nutrients out of the soil, so jatropha does require fertilizers.

But a bigger problem for jatropha is in harvesting. Jatropha is still basically a wild plant, and the fruits ripen at different times. This has made mechanization of harvesting impossible to date (a similar situation exists with coffee beans). A worker harvesting jatropha by hand can only pick about 5 kg of fruit an hour. The problem is that the 5 kg of fruit only contains about 70 cents worth of oil (valuing the oil at $80/bbl). So unless you are going to get people to pick the fruit for 10 cents an hour, the economics aren’t going to pencil out. (The seed cake is toxic, so the best value there may be to just recycle it back to the soil).

That isn’t the only problem, but it is the sort of issue that is often overlooked when these wonder-crops are hyped. People hand-wave those issues away and say “We’ll figure something out.” But after major investments in jatropha, the overlooked problems still haven’t been resolved. So the BP and D1 Oils deal fell apart, and now India’s jatropha effort is stalling:

Indian biofuel efforts falter

Jatropha’s growing conditions proved to be more complex than originally thought. Jatropha requires close care. Chhattisgarh Renewable Energy Development Agency analyst Preeti Kaur noted that while initially specialists assumed that jatropha could flourish on wasteland without irrigation, it in fact requires moderate irrigation. As a result, nationwide investments in jatropha of more than $5 billion are at risk.

Kaur added, “The plans have almost failed and our investments are stuck due to the poor quality of jatropha seeds. Other than this, small land holdings are a major reason for the failure of jatropha plantations.”

Yields have been hyped to as much as 12 tons per hectare, but a grower in Madagascar reported that their yields were far lower:

“In reality, suggestions of seed yields of 8 tonnes per hectare and 30% oil content are extravagent in the extreme. We are growing Jatropha curcas commercially in Madagascar. We are seeing average oil contents in the range 25 – 27% of which 20 – 22% is recoverable by mechanical expression…

We are averaging about 60 pods per tree/ 300 kg per hectare from 5 year old trees this year. Yield from our 4 year old seedling trees was neglegible ( aprox 3.3 kg per hectare ) in 2007. We initially approached the production of Jatropha curcas with great enthusiasm but now have grave doubts as to the commercial viability of the exercise. Certainly, it is unrealistic to suggest tying up vast areas of African land for 4 non productive years and finish up with a crop that will eventually provide a maximum of 3 months productive work with very meager returns to a participating farmer. At least this is our opinion based on practical experience rather than media hype.”

But move over jatropha, because camelina is here to replace you as the new drought-tolerant wonder-crop:

Camelina: It could fuel military aircraft

An oilseed that can grow in arid spots could one day supply fuel for commercial and military aircraft, power Navy ships and give livestock an heart-healthy nutrient.

Camelina produces an oil that shows so much promise as an aviation biofuel that 14 major airlines have an agreement with a Seattle-based company to buy up to 750 million gallons of the fuel.

Moreover, studies conducted by researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Washington State University have shown camelina can be grown in arid, nonirrigated and marginal soils found in some parts of Eastern Washington.

Researchers have found that the oilseed tolerates cold, needs a minimal amount of water, grows to maturity rapidly, doesn’t require much fertilizer and works well as a rotational crop with wheat.

That sounds like a really familiar story. And it may turn out to be true. More likely, though, is that this is speculation based on limited experience growing camelina commercially. It may be like jatropha: It can grow in arid, nonirrigated soil. It just doesn’t grow well and you can’t get commercial yields under those sorts of conditions. But I think it would be prudent to approach camelina with a greater degree of skepticism than was applied to jatropha.

In the end, all these wonder-crop stories do is give the public a false sense of security over the energy picture. After all, what’s to worry about when we have jatropha, camelina, cellulosic ethanol, and algae all waiting in the wings to replace oil as it depletes?

Note: To be clear, I haven’t written off jatropha (or camelina). I continue to believe that it deserves research dollars and does have potential especially in tropical countries (as I indicated in a 2009 essay). This essay is just to illustrate that we often run far ahead of reality with some of these new energy crops. Jatropha may someday provide meaningful quantities of fuel. But that day is likely a decade or more away, and will require a dedicated research program.

  1. By moiety on May 6, 2010 at 5:48 am

    You gotta love the simplistic hype that is abound.

     

    If these crops could grow in arid wastelands then why have they not propagated there; simple the margins are too low. (Take grasses as the example and you begin to understand what an aggressive species that has arid resistant and low nutritional needs will do; it will spread.) In other words a crop can survive but it may survive in a dormant or close to dormant phase just like bacteria.

     

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  2. By Kit P on May 6, 2010 at 6:18 am

    You gotta love the simplistic hype
    about 2 kw genset and ocean thermal too.

     

    “Researchers have found that the
    oilseed tolerates cold, needs a minimal amount of water, grows to
    maturity rapidly, doesn’t require much fertilizer and works well as
    a rotational crop with wheat.”

     

    WSU, located in Eastern Washington
    State doing research to help farmers in Eastern Washington State be
    more productive. What a waste of resources when we have the folks at
    Cornell and UC Berkley to explain why it is such a bad idea.

     

    “give the public a false sense of
    security over the energy picture”

     

    I do not see a problem producing the
    energy we need. However, I also do not see any hype in the original
    story. A local paper in a ag community reports on the research being
    done at the local ag college and ag research station.

     

    Having lived in that area for 13 years
    and worked with farmers to biofuels I see it as a very positive
    story.

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  3. By russ on May 6, 2010 at 7:30 am

    Jatophra – Camelina – whatever and is next? There have been new ‘wonder crops’ around for all of my life. The state university pushes them and they try to get some farmer to try it out. Most farmers got away from the trials and latest things from the universities long ago as the occasional one works out but the large majority fail. 

    Rotation with wheat – the lands they are talking about generally support (in Central & Eastern Oregon which is not much different) a crop every other year anyway and would be replacing a foodstuff.

    The military is falling all over itself to try out the new fuels as they realize that is what the people in Washington who control promotions want – not much more.

    The AP writer needed some coulmn inches – not much hype but a rerun of standard green boiler plate. 

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  4. By Klaus-Martin Meyer on May 6, 2010 at 7:30 am

    as you said “Jatropha is still basically a wild plant” and I want to ad “that can still be optimized by breeding and/or biotechnolgy. therefore I am still optimistic (not only for jatropha)

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  5. By Douglas Hvistendahl on May 6, 2010 at 7:38 am

    There are always caveats, which often control the economic results. The french intensive gardening method produced a record of 80 ton/acre, an average of 48 ton/acre. So why isn’t it used? The labor requirements are very high. Our household is using a more recent variant for our backyard garden, one with less production, but also less need for water, labor, & fertilizer. It is working out well, partly because we are retired, and so have plenty of time. When we were working, we used it for a smaller garden.

    Anyone interested should get “How to grow more vegetables . . ..” by John Jeavons. Professional level, but easy reading. Also suggested for the northern tier of states, “Solar Gardening” by LeAndre & Gretchen Poisson.

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  6. By SMU Cox MBA on May 6, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Anything that’s being hyped is usually needing money for research. This plant might not work that well now, but I’m betting it could be GM’d into something useful. Too bad it’s going to be cast off into the dung heap while everyone goes off chasing the next pot of fool’s gold.

    I’d blame the management but I really can’t. They’re in the same catch-22 Big Pharma has been in for ages. If they don’t hype what they know is a crappy drug, the shareholders sue. If they do hype it, it goes to market and the consumers sue because of the side effects. This sounds exactly like the same thing.

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  7. By algeguy on May 6, 2010 at 10:53 am

    Here’s the correct order in which these things should progress:
    1) Basic research
    2) Applied research (the “R” in R&D)
    3) The “D” in R&D
    4) Commercialization

    Of course there is no guarantee that you will get to commercialization, or that you will be successful even if you do. But industrial biotech ventures will never get anywhere at all without ideas and R&D. I think we should just take it as given that the press releases from biofuels startups are rubbish and their commercialization timelines are ridiculous. On the other hand, if you don’t believe in research you should give back all the stuff you own that has semiconductor transistors in it. Just for a start.

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  8. By Rufus on May 6, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    I have a hunch that we’ll end up just end up getting off diesel, and diesel substitutes. Go to big “Ricardo” type ethanol engines.

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  9. By rrapier on May 6, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    as you said “Jatropha is still basically a wild plant” and I want to ad “that can still be optimized by breeding and/or biotechnolgy. therefore I am still optimistic (not only for jatropha)

    Yeah, just to be clear, I put a note at the end of the story. I have not written off jatropha. I am just pointing out that there were a lot of unreasonable expectations, when these things take time.

    RR

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  10. By rrapier on May 6, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    You gotta love the simplistic hype about 2 kw genset and ocean thermal too.

     

    Or the fact that your math skills failed you and the 2 kw you keep harping on is actually 20 kW. Plus, there is no hype in the genset story. These things are actually in people’s homes today, and more are being installed all the time. When we gush about what camelina might do when there is very little commercially grown today, that is hype. Can I go out and acquire commercial quantities of camelina? I certainly couldn’t with jatropha. On the other hand, can you order a CHP unit in Germany and have it installed in your home? Yes you can.

     

    I do not see a problem producing the

    energy we need. However, I also do not see any hype in the original

    story. A local paper in a ag community reports on the research being

    done at the local ag college and ag research station.

     

    Then perhaps you should look up the definition of hype in your dictionary. Further, this was just an example. The camelina story is everywhere, and is very reminiscent of the jatropha stories from 3 or 4 years ago. None of that means that I think the research is a bad idea. Of course I don’t think that. We just need to keep perspective that these things take time, and a lot of them don’t pan out.

     

    RR

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  11. By rrapier on May 6, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    Anyone interested should get “How to grow more vegetables . . ..” by John Jeavons. Professional level, but easy reading.

     

    I have that book at home, and it changed my gardening style forever. I recommend it to gardeners all the time.

     

    RR

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  12. By Benny BND Cole on May 6, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Jatropha looks like a bust, or near-bust. There may be hope for pongamia pinnata, a tree.

    But in general, if you want high oil yields you need lots of water. There is good news about oil palms–yields are proven high for generations and get higher all the time, akin to corn. Palm oil is an established industry, with real companies practicing old-fashioned selection (save seeds from most productive trees), and R&D. There is genomic R&D going on now too. Yields are rising by 4 percent a year. Sounds modest, but in 20 years, you see yields double. Corn yields have tripled since the late 1940s.

    Algae and jatropha, unfortunately, look like the least promising avenues for biofuels.

    There is huge potential for oil palms long the Amazon, and I am surprised the Brazilians have not moved forward on this. It may be the sugar-ethanol people are lobbying to keep them out–I know nothing of internal Brazilian politics. In any case, palm plantations are being planted aggressively in SE Asia.

    In general, I think if there is a future for bio-fuels, it is in combination with PHEVs. Our liquid fuel requirements would be so reduced with PHEVs that bio-fuels could make a meaningful contribution.

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  13. By paul-n on May 6, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Rufus, how can we get “off” diesels, when we are not even “on” them?  Presently in US/Can, there is only a tiny fraction of diesel powered light vehicles.  But try to run a semi trailer, or locomotive, or bulldozer with a ricardo type engine and see how far you get.

    The diesel engine is inherently more efficient, and it doesn’t have to be fuelled with diesel, it can, of course, be run on other oils, NG, ethanol, methanol, etc  Everything but gasoline.  In fact, it is the most multi fuel capable internal combustion engine (other than gas turbine) that there is.

    The Ricardo type engine will be fine for passenger cars, but a diesel type would be better still.  And for heavy duty vehicles, diesel type is the only sensible option, and will likely remain so.  

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  14. By paul-n on May 6, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    There is some good information about camelina at;

    http://www.hort.purdue.edu/new…..0Potential

    (Actually, the Purdue site is the first place I go to for any plant/biofuel information)

    They have been doing trials on Camelina since the early seventies, and I think I can summarise their results by saying this;

     

    The yields of camelina, in good growing conditions, are similar to other oilseed crops (canola, flax, soybeans).

     However, camelina can grow on lesser soils, and with lesser inputs, and is suitable for seeding by broadcasting with no tillage – an important advantage for marginal areas.

     

    Their results show reduced yields for camelina in years when other crops had reduced yields.  So while it is drought tolerant, as with most other plants, it won’t be that productive.  They also indicate potential for improvement by selective breeding.  While this is the case, selective breeding always make the yields greater and the plant less hardy – i.e. you can get greater yields, but only under better conditions, and then other oilseed crops may be just as good, or better.

    I would say that Camelina has potential to be a crop in marginal land that is not good for other crops, but you will get appropriately low yields because you are growing it on marginal land.  If I was the owner of said marginal land I think trees would be a better bet as an energy crop.

     

     

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  15. By Terry Y. on May 6, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    It amazes me that countries will invest $5 billion on a crop technology without some sort of smaller scale trial. Wouldn’t a lot of these problems have been discovered if they started small and worked their way up?

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  16. By rrapier on May 6, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Wouldn’t a lot of these problems have been discovered if they started small and worked their way up?

    Precisely. The problem is that we are trying to go directly to commercialization with some of these things, when they need more development. Jatropha may some day make a big contribution, but it has to be properly domesticated first.

    RR

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  17. By Kit P on May 6, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    “The AP writer needed some coulmn
    inches”

     

    Here is the original article.

     

    http://www.tri-cityherald.com/…..elina.html

     

    Kevin McCullen is a staff writer for
    the Tri-city Herald staff writer.

     

    Looks like local reporting that got
    picked up by the AP without much hype.

     

    “For health purposes, its level of
    omega-3 is as high as fish oil.”

     

    “Schweitzer earned a bachelor’s
    degree in international agronomy from Colorado State University, and
    later a master’s degree in soil science from Montana State
    University. He has owned and operated farms in several Montana
    counties and has been involved in successful agricultural business
    projects on five continents.”

     

    “Jatropha is still basically a
    wild plant”

     

    From Purdue research papers:

     

    “Although camelina has been
    cultivated in Europe since the Bronze Age (Schultze-Motel 1979), it
    is an underexploited oilseed crop at present.

     

    “Camelina monocultures occurred in
    the Rhine River Valley as early as 600 BC
    Camelina probably spread in mixtures with flax and as monocultures,
    similarly to small grains, which also often spread as crop mixtures.
    It was cultivated in antiquity from Rome to southeastern Europe and
    the Southwestern Asian steppes (Knorzer 1978).”

     

    Russ said,

     

    “a crop every other year anyway and
    would be replacing a foodstuff.”

     

    “Camelina is essentially a rotation
    crop, doing best where a farmer grows wheat the first year, camelina
    the second, and then wheat again.”

     

    “Farmers who have followed a
    wheat-fallow pattern, as is often seen in Washington and Oregon, can
    switch to a wheat-camelina-wheat pattern, realize up to 100 gallons
    of camelina oil per acre, and gain up to 15 percent more productivity
    on the wheat.”

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  18. By russ on May 7, 2010 at 1:46 am

    Kit P incorrectly quoted “Camelina is essentially a rotation crop, doing best where a farmer grows wheat the first year, camelina
    the second, and then wheat again.”

    Actually the article said ‘So far, results have shown camelina in a dry zone like Lind would work best in a rotational system of winter wheat, camelina and fallow, Schillinger said.’  They would get a crop two years out of three which is better than İ guessed.

    A lot of acres and not much oil sums it up İ believe.

     

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  19. By DHARMESH MAHAJAN on May 7, 2010 at 5:31 am

    Hello RR,

    I have followed Jatropha for some 3 years in India. I realized that core agenda majority of people had in this whole episode were targeting “government subsidies” & state owned land. People got & even still getting access to huge tract of lands from various state govts/agencies on the name of so called ‘Development of rural/poor people”. Beside that, govt provided subsidized sapling & that kind of arangements for the same agenda through many state agencies with the purpose of so called welfare of poor/rural people. Pity that this poor shrub “Jatropha” got criticized for no faults at all. It was never studied well for commercial level cultivation & harvesting till now.

    During 1 International Biofuel conference in New Delhi, a key member in DBT Committee (Department of Biotechnology) clearly stated that it will take minimum of 8 Years (3 Years for gestation + 5 Years for getting repeatitively proven data for 5 cycles. 1 Harvest every year) for DBT to provide a certificate to any agency that want to get Certificates for their seeds/saplings & than plan to sell those Certified Jatropha seeds (Assured yields) in the market. As per my limited knowledge, no one till date has come into the market with Certified Seeds/saplings of Jatropha with assured returns. Enlighten me if you heard of someone.
    Another technical expert from World’s leading Biodiesel technology company claimed to have technology for producing Jatropha based Biodiesel (Not a big deal at all) & showed a nicely prepared PPT workout giving Mass balance of producing 300 Tonns of Jatropha Biodiesel. I asked him 2 simple questions & no one dared to answer them during that event. Questions were:

    1) How they will plan to get rid of approx. 700 MT of Jatropha Cake (Deoiled) after extraction of Oil ?
    2) Are they going to guaranttee that so called U.S.P. Glycerol (Pharma grade distilled glycerin made out of crude glycerin) produced in their Glycerol purification plant having feed of Jatroha Oil based Crude Glycerol (Biodiesel plant Byproduct) is not going to contain any traces of Curcin & other toxic components ?

    Ofcourse, he didn’t reply. Another so called think tank on the subject reverted to me that his company is trying “Biomethanation” of Jatropha cake. Couple of technical guys present there shared a laugh with me for that reply as the gentleman who reverted didn’t realize the kind of volumes we were discussing.

    Anyways, I strongly suggest that people refer to a great article posted by Biofuel Digest in year 2009 with headlines of “The Blunder Crop”.

    Jatropha seems to became a victim of corporate hunger of getting Government fundings & public assets (read land).

    On the similar note but on a very large scale, US gov has provided millions of dollars out of taxpayer’s hard earned money to the people with absurd plans & stories throughout these years & your postmortem of many such cases has always inspired me to be extra cautious while listening to such “Once in a blue moon” stories & “Eueka ….Eureka” claims. Majority of the time, they have all the motives except core essence (Environment protection/Climate change etc) & purpose of Biofuels. May be these guys live with Gordon Gekko’s “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works.” . Yes, greed works for these guys for sure for couple of years atleast & than, rightly said by Robert, they jump to another bandwagon to siphon more funds. Let us wish that Camelina is not another hype & people are claiming whatever they are claiming on the basis of real hard facts which will benefit the real cause at the end.

    Dharmesh

    PS: Comments made by me are purely mine & have nothing to do with my employers. I am currently working with PRAJ (www.praj.net) & have worked with Crown Iron, Minnesota (www.crowniron.com) & Alfa Laval.

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  20. By DHARMESH MAHAJAN on May 7, 2010 at 5:38 am

    Somehow weblink for Biofuel Digest story on Jatropha didnt appear in the main response to the thread. Here I put it again for ready reference:-

    http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/…..velopment/

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  21. By moiety on May 7, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Regarding pharmaceutical use of glycerol I would put that question to Derek Lowe (who is pretty accessible).

     

    I would be skeptical as glycerol is meant to be classified as a non active ingredient i.e. it is simply a carrier like say nitrogen is a carrier gas in a chromatography. Would the FDA in their audits have a say on the supplier; for sure. To what extend I do not know.

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  22. By rrapier on May 7, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    I realized that core agenda majority of people had in this whole episode were targeting “government subsidies” & state owned land.

    Hello Dharmesh,

    I think you hit very well on what the problem is. Commercialization efforts got ahead of research efforts. Jatropha is a crop with high potential, but it is still in the development phase. My conclusion in the chapter I just wrote was that more research needs to take place, but also I feel that jatropha has huge potential as a living fence that provides a bit of fuel for local use.

    The problem occurs when people run way ahead with the hype, then governments start to believe the hype, and then they start handing out money for commercialization of something that isn’t ready for large-scale commercialization.

    RR

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  23. By paul-n on May 8, 2010 at 3:20 am

    Dharmesh – great post!

    RR said;

    the problem occurs when people run way ahead with the hype, then governments start to believe the hype, and then they start handing out money for commercialization of something that isn’t ready for large-scale commercialization.

    Thankfully, that is just a theoretical case – that would never happen with someone like Range Fuels, Coskata, Blue Fire, Algenol, Iogen, Poet, Abengoa, CTW technologies, etc etc.

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  24. By Kit P on May 8, 2010 at 7:52 am

    You have to love the reasons anti-s do
    not like stuff. It does not matter what the stuff is, they are
    against it unless it there pet little subject.

     

    Reason #1 (in this tread anyway) –
    hype

     

    So what? Have you ever heard of a less
    important criteria? Of course then I could not find any hype about
    camelina in the original article, it was just local reporting in a
    farming community. Found a lot of that too but only one instance of
    hype. Anti-s just make up the evidence then then complain about it.

     

    Hype is fine for pet little subject
    like efficiency from an auto company know more for hyping junk than
    excellence in engineering. Oh no it is not 2 kw it is 20 kw which
    only make it less efficient. How many hours a year does home in
    Germany need 90,000 BTU/hr? CHP is great if there is a large demand
    for heat.

     

    Reason #2 – Commercialization

     

    It can not be done technically. Sure
    camelina is an invasive weed in North America where it is not native
    but it used as a energy and food crop for thousands of years until
    replaced by drilling hoes in the ground to extract energy. Just
    because some fail someplace doing something, does not mean everyone
    fails all the time.

     

    If fact in the US, the energy
    production industry is very successful at providing affordable energy
    despite all the anti-s who explain how awful it is. Again anti-s
    just make up the evidence.

     

    Reason #3 – All the starving poor in
    Africa

     

    Of course the root cause of the
    starving poor in Africa is not the ability of American farmers to
    grow food. Show then evidence of camelina is both a food and energy
    crop and increases overall production of food, anti-s just make up
    the evidence my suggesting hypothetical examples where it does not
    increase food production.

     

    Again I am not finding any reason not
    think camelina is a promising food and energy crop. Like corn
    ethanol was a few years back.

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  25. By paul-n on May 8, 2010 at 8:35 am

     

    Again I am not finding any reason not
    think camelina is a promising food and energy crop. Like corn
    ethanol was a few years back.

    Well, let’s hope it doesn’t need both a subsidy and a mandate like corn ethanol does.

    #1 Hype

    Why are we against hype? – because it is distortion of the facts, usually for financial gain at investor and/or taxpayer expense.  As an engineer Kit I am sure you do not distort the facts in your line of work, and neither do your peers.  But it routinely happens in these biofuel development areas, so we are entitled to be skeptical of hype.  You made a comment the other day about a poster here whom you presumed was too young to have learned to be skeptical, yet you criticise us now for being skeptical of something that even you agree is – hype.  

    #2 Commercialisiation.  Whether something can be done technically is not the same as commercialisation.  Something is commercial only when it can operate as a commercial enterprise, i.e. be profitable.  

    in fact in the US, the energy
    production industry is very successful at providing affordable energy

    This is quite true.  But Camelina has a long way to go before it can join the ranks of this industry.   Not saying it can’t, but it is not providing affordable energy until it can do so, competitively, without subsidy (any energy source can be deemed affordable if given enough subsidy to make it competitive)

    #3 Starving poor in Africa.

    I’m actually in agreement with you here.  Africa has brought that upon themselves, and here, there is no law that says everything a farmer grows must be edible.  A farmer has the right to grow whatever he sees fit (within the law), and whatever is (hopefully) profitable.  I’d rather see farmers being successfull (profitable) growing energy crops (unsubsidised) than being unprofitable growing food that is not required, or being subsidised to do so.

     

    Any new opportunity for agro business is good, but they have to prove themselves in the real world, for if they can’t, then they are indeed, just hype.  

    At least today, a farmer can grow camelina and produce oil, if they so choose, and if it is not profitable, they will likely choose not to do so again.   They can’t yet even try with algae or cellulosic ethanol, as those, at present, are just hype.

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  26. By Kit P on May 8, 2010 at 9:01 am

    PualN, I am against hype too but it is
    the anti-s that are doing the hyping.

     

    “But Camelina has a long way to go
    before it can join the ranks of this industry.”

     

    I did not find any claims by supporters
    of Camelina that would suggest other wise.. It looks like a small
    amount of research is being done. Saying that the research is
    ‘promising’ sounds reasonable to me.

     

    Reason # 4 ‘subsidy and a mandate’

     

    Every anti uses this one. Scrubbers on
    coal plants are mandated. It is costing my family $20 a month and
    will not make our already good air quality better.

     

    Energy production is heavily regulated.
    It has been long accepted public policy to mandate higher cost when
    it is in the public interest.

     

    I have yet to meet an anti who is not
    infavor of ‘subsidy and a mandate’ for their pet thing. That
    includes PualN. He is just calls it something else when he likes it.

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  27. By Duracomm on May 8, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Benny BND Cole,

    Palm oil is good biofuel feedstock but tearing out rainforests to plant palm oil plantations is horrendously destructive.

    Not sure palm oil currently survives a decent cost / benefit ratio analysis.

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  28. By Rufus on May 8, 2010 at 10:50 am

    Neither petroleum, nor vegetable oil can survive the onslaught of alcohol. Now, GM is producing an engine that gets within 5% the “mileage” of gasoline, and saying the next iteration will be even steven (while producing more power.)

    This, at the same time respected companies, and scientists, are saying they’re going to produce $2.00 ethanol from cellulose (Fiberight is now saying $1.65.)

    Camelina has the same problem as soy oil. Too little yield per acre. Benny is right about one thing. To get a decent yield of oil you have to go to the tropics. Palm oil will work, but it’s just too labor intensive, and it has to be transported to the North. Like Brazilian Cane Ethanol, it’s not so much the cost of shipping as it is the cost of getting it to the Port, and onto the ship.

    There might be a “Defense” reason for having a Domestic supply of “Camelina” oil, or soy oil, but it seems unlikely to make a dent in the 4 million bpd + of diesel we would need to run our trucks, trains, and tractors in a BAU scenario.

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  29. By paul-n on May 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm

     

    Neither petroleum, nor vegetable oil can survive the onslaught of alcohol.

    I’m not so sure of that, and neither am I sure if I can survive your onslaught of pro-cellulosic ethanol posts!

    Lots or respected companies and scientists have said many things in the past, that have not come to pass.  The track record for cellulosic is that, to date, not one producer has a large scale operation that is even close to being cost competitive with corn.  So forgive my skepticism, but having yet another one, even if it is jeff Broin, say they can do what no one else has done yet, does not inspire unshakeable confidence.

    Yes, he has said he can do it, and we don’t really need to hear anything else until he has done it.

    As for your comments about Camelina, they are spot on – neither it, nor any other oilseed that can be grown in the US, can displace current diesel consumption.

    Just for fun, here are the numbers.

    Camelina, (and soy, canola, flax etc) average about 100gal/ac/yr.  To get to 4mbpd, or 61bn gal/yr (!), we would need to plant 610,000,000 acres to oilseeds.  The current US crop area is about 450m acres.  We could plant more in Canada, which has plenty of marginal area, but I still don;t think we could get to 610m. ac, and that would leave zero for food (or ethanol) production.  So, yes, we might be able to make enough for the military, or the trains (0.25mbpd), but not all the diesel needs, and probably not even 10% of it.

    Power to those farmers that can make a living out of camelina, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it can power the country, at least not in the BAU situation

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  30. By Rufus on May 8, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    You might want to take a look at This, Paul:

    http://ethanolproducer.com/art…..le_id=6585

    Fiberight claims to have COMMENCED “Commercial” Production of MSW to Ethanol, and says it will be producing at a cost of $1.65/gal by Summer. That’s not very far away.

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  31. By Kit P on May 8, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Now Rufus is sounding like an anti-
    because either he did not do much research or because he can only be
    for one thing at time.

     

    Tow more reasons anti-s make up.

     

    Reason # 5 ‘Too little yield per acre ‘

     

    Is the yield of camelina less than the
    food and energy from a fallow field? Is the yield so small that it
    will not pay for the seed and fuel to run the tractor?

     

    Reason # 6 ‘Too little ‘

     

    “unlikely to make a dent”

     

    I can think of more than a few counties
    than could produce biofuels to meet local needs. Some might come
    from corn ethanol and some might come camelina.

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  32. By Rufus on May 8, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    I’m not “anti-” Camelina, Kit. No more than I’m “anti” soybeans.” It’s just that camelina is a low-profit, low-yield crop. A farmer might plant some as an afterthought, but it would be hard to “make a living” messing with it.

    Believe it, or not, I try to be realistic about what is, and isn’t, likely. I think it’s “unlikely” that Camelina will be a very big player.

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  33. By paul-n on May 8, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Rufus,

     

    That press release said;

    At targeted full production, the Blairstown plant will be processing over 350 tons of wastes per day into valuable biofuel, at a cost of less than $1.65 per gallon.

    And also says they won’t be at full production until 2011.

    So, they are going to start now with pulping waste, but other companies have been making ethanol from pulp waste for decades.  When they start using MSW in summer, that will be of interest.

    AS for the $1.65, well I hope they can make it for that, and if they are getting their MSW for free, then they are off to a good start.

    But I still won’t accept this as cellulosic until they are processing their own feedstock, rather than getting it from someone else who has already processed it.

     

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  34. By Benny BND Cole on May 8, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Duracomm: Actually, I agree with your sentiments, to the effect the natural rain forest must be protected. However, from what I read, there is already enough degraded land in Brazil (cattle or clear-cutting) to grow palm oil. I guess palm plantations are better than some uses (palm plantations are actually carbon negative. Not only does palm oil sub for crude oil, but the palm trunks and roots are carbon traps. If the palm fronds are used in medium-density fibreboard, then that is more carbon sinking (although they are often used to fire boilers).

    Were it up to me, large tracts of land would be set aside everywhere to be preserved from development. I think we can improve our material standard of living easily with nukes and PHEVs. If I could wave a wand, we would go to PHEV-methanol cars, and methanol big rigs, and use our abundant natural gas reserves (methanol is made from natural gas).

    We could obtain a radical decrease in the burning of fossil fuels, and a total elimination of oil from ground transport. Urban air would be much cleaner.

    But what I want, and what happens…..
    For the time being, palm oil is a very competitive biofuel, the only one already grown in commercial quantities and proven….yields are rising nicely, due to better hybrids and more acreage…

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  35. By rrapier on May 8, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Oh no it is not 2 kw it is 20 kw which only make it less efficient. How many hours a year does home in Germany need 90,000 BTU/hr? CHP is great if there is a large demand for heat.

    That’s just you being an anti, and a hypocrite I might add. Further, if you had paid any attention to anything up to this point, you would see that these things are networked together, so this fills the demands of more than one dwelling. But large parts of Germany are pretty cold for most of the year. And I am glad you continue to repeat the point I made from the beginning: These systems make the most sense when there is a high heat demand. Nobody is suggesting them for temperate climates.

    But feel free to continue being an anti over something you have taken little time to understand to this point.

    RR

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  36. By Rufus on May 8, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Here’s the “Money:”

    Fiberight’s facilities operate at low temperatures in a closed-loop system resulting in very low levels of emissions or effluents. Fiberight’s highly effective, low capital cost process has distinct competitive advantages over other waste to energy methods as it can capture a significantly higher value from MSW while avoiding emissions created from incineration or gasification.

    Here’s the thing: If there was “One,” or, even “Two” Companies out there saying they can do this in some future scenario for approx. $2.00/gal, I’d say, okay, let’s wait and see. But, there are now Several Legitimate Players saying the same thing. I’m finding it harder, and harder to be skeptical.

    This is a pretty simple deal. These people are all talking, low heat, enzyme-driven processes. To me, the important thing is, No one is playing with these new enzymes, and coming out an refuting their assertions. And, they Are making them available to researchers in Universities, and other labs around the world. I read an article last week where some professor was working on finding the optimum “combination” of their enzymes.

    At some point, you just have to admit that this ship is probably going to sail, and sail pretty much like the shipbuilder is saying it will.

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  37. By rrapier on May 8, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    Is the yield of camelina less than the

    food and energy from a fallow field? Is the yield so small that it

    will not pay for the seed and fuel to run the tractor?

     

    This is the case with jatropha. The yields are too low to pay for the labor to gather and process it. But as I concluded in the book chapter I just wrote, jatropha as a living fence, providing some amount of fuel for local farmers, may make sense even though it is labor-intensive to harvest and process. But there are numerous examples where a fallow field is better than growing a specific crop that yields less energy than it takes to grow it. The fact is, you don’t know. Nobody will know until there are large trials of camelina. That’s what it took to understand the issue with jatropha, which by then many investors had sunk billions of dollars into.

    I can think of more than a few counties

    than could produce biofuels to meet local needs. Some might come

    from corn ethanol and some might come camelina.

     

    Exactly the case with the small CHP units. Electricity and heat for local needs, which oddly you are against in that case. You simply make up your mind before hand, and then try to come up with ad hoc reasoning to be for or against something. Your double-standards are mind-boggling.

     

    The point here – which everyone seems to get except for you – is that hype like this (and if you think this story was an isolated incident, you should really do some research on camelina) distorts energy policy and creates false expectations. Why should the public worry about conservation when all these wonder-crops are in the pipeline to replace oil? We heard for years that it was jatropha, now it’s camelina. So there is always a false sense of assurance that this gives the public. That’s why I am against hype. That’s much different, though, than being “anti” jatropha or camelina. This is a subtlety that appears to have slipped your grasp, so you resort to childishly calling people “antis” for asking the sorts of questions you are asking about the CHP systems.

     

    RR

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  38. By Rufus on May 8, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Here’s the problem with your metanol scenario, Benny. I can guarantee you that in the year 2030 sunshine, and rain will cost the same as it does now – Zero.

    Can you give me a “Guaranteed” price on Natural Gas?

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  39. By rrapier on May 8, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    Rufus said:

    Here’s the problem with your metanol scenario, Benny. I can guarantee you that in the year 2030 sunshine, and rain will cost the same as it does now – Zero.

    Can you give me a “Guaranteed” price on Natural Gas?


     

    How many times must you be told that methanol is easily produced from biomass? It is a much simpler process than the cellulosic ethanol process (and more efficient because you don’t have to remove a lot of water), it just hasn’t gotten the same sort of hype or funding.

     

    RR

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  40. By paul-n on May 8, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Rufus, how can you guarantee that.  The way things are going, both sunshine and rainfall will be taxed by then…

    [link]      
  41. By Rufus on May 8, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Just out of curiosity, are you referring to gasificatio, ala Range, or pyrolysis, or something else?

    [link]      
  42. By Rufus on May 8, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Paul, I gotta admit, you got me on that one. :)

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  43. By Duracomm on May 8, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Benny BND Cole,

    A lot of the problems with palm oil are in the asian rain forests. The palm oil plantations actually increase carbon emissions because peat lands are burned to put in the plantations.

    Just another example of the damage caused by hype artists attempting to commercialize biofuel technologies before they are working. Most of this damage is paid for gullible, technically ignorant government policies.

    Palm oil: the biofuel of the future driving an ecological disaster now

    The numbers are damning. Within 15 years 98% of the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia will be gone, little more than a footnote in history. With them will disappear some of the world’s most important wildlife species, victims of the rapacious destruction of their habitat in what conservationists see as a lost cause.

    But the European Union’s aim of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020, partly by demanding that 10% of vehicles be fuelled by biofuels, will see a fresh surge in palm oil demand that could doom the rainforests.

    That is likely to kill off the “flagship species” of wildlife such as the Asian elephant, the Sumatran tiger and the orang-utan of Borneo which are already under enormous pressure from habitat loss.

    [link]      
  44. By Rufus on May 8, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Indonesia has about 450,000 sq miles of forest. They have about 25,000 sq miles under oil palm cultivation, and their long-term plan is for 75,000 sq mi of oil palm trees. I don’t think I’d panic over that.

    At 40,000 gallons/sq mi that comes out to 1 Billion gallons/yr at present (goal of 3 Billion gpy in 2020.)

    25 Million barrels yr at present/365 = 68,493 barrels of oil equiv day The U.S. uses about 4,500,000 barrels of diesel/day? Enough to give us a B 1.5 blend? In twenty years a B4.5 blend?

    [link]      
  45. By Rufus on May 8, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    I expect Indonesia will be able to provide for themselves. The “oil” pods to vegetable oil, and the substantial amount of cellulosic waste (fronds, etc) to alcohol, and they should be fine. I doubt they can help us out very much. At least in the long run.

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  46. By Kit P on May 8, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    “should really do some research on
    camelina”

     

    Well I did research. Found lots of
    data too unlike RR VW CHP gimmick. Did not find any of the hype that
    RR was talking about. There is a story in a local paper that I
    subscribed to for 13 years. Clearly camelina is a promising energy
    crop that would be of interest to local people who read the paper.

     

    This paper does very good reporting on
    energy and environmental issue. Major employers in the area are
    Hanford, PNNL, a nuke plant, a nuclear fuel fabrication facility
    (produces about 1/3 of US commercial fuel demand), hydroelectric,
    wind farms, and agriculture.

    [link]      
  47. By takchess on May 8, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    what about miscanthus ? This looks llikes a good substainable base for biofuel perhaps in pellet form.

    [link]      
  48. By Rufus on May 8, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Takchess, I could be wrong about this, but I seem to remember an outfit in Fl wanted to do miscanthus, and they got a little pushback because it wasn’t a “native” species (?)

    I kinda assumed the cellulosic guys only wanted to fight one battle at a time, maybe? Anyway, I seem to recall the miscanthus yields might have been a bit more than switchgrass, but maybe not worth fighting over.

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  49. By Rufus on May 8, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    Takchess, I just ate an oreo cookie, and, possibly, restored a little brain function. That wasn’t Miscanthus down in Fl. It was some hard to remember the name of, somewhat invasive grass from somewhere or other. Miscanthus is not endemic to the U.S., but it’s Not considered an invasive grass.

    There’s an article in Wikipedia that gives a ridiculously high yield that I won’t even repeat for fear of having shoes thrown at me, but most of what I have read gives it a higher potential yield than switchgrass. Now, you’ve got my curiosity up. If I see anything that might explain the lack of movement I’ll bring it back here for all to see.

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  50. By Rufus on May 8, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Here is a little information on Miscanthus:

    http://bioenergy.ornl.gov/pape…..nthus.html

    The “Harvest” wt isn’t all that high. About the same as switchgrass. It looks like it might be a little harder to start. It looks like it’s been mostly grown in Europe. They might still be looking for the “best” strain for the States. They grow it, mostly, in higher lattitudes than we expect to grow the majority of our cellulose grasses here. We would expect most of our cellulosic production to be in the Southeastern states which are a little warmer, and wetter than where they are used to growing it in Europe. Perhaps that might have something to do with it. Just guessing. :)

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  51. By Rufus on May 8, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Here’s a wiki article on switchgrass.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P…..m_virgatum

    It looks like switchgrass might be a little easier to get started, and maybe a little better suited to the Southeastern climate. Maybe, a little less trouble to plant, and harvest. There’s also a company (Ceres?) that’s doing a lot of work on different switchgrass strains, trying to match the strain to the area/soil, etc.

    [link]      
  52. By Benny BND Cole on May 8, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    No, Rufus, I cannot assure you the price of natural gas in 50 years.  I can assure you, that if we were to switch over our fleet to PHEVs, we would need comparatively little liquid fuel of any type.  It seems likely within 10 years we will have cars that can go 60 miles on a charge, and then get 50 mpg.  With such diminished demand for liquid fuels, I suspect methanol, or maybe even ethanol, could supply our liquid fuel needs for ground transport for a long, long time. 

     

    I look forward to the day that I can drive a PHEV with a very high compression ICE that uses pure ethanol, but preferably methanol. 

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  53. By Rufus on May 8, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    Well, Benny, as long as it doesn’t involve sending a $ Billion, plus, a day to Saudi Arabia, and the Jihadis, I’m on your side.

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  54. By paul-n on May 8, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    Benny, here’s an interesting, tongue in cheek (just) look at electric cars.

    http://www.lowtechmagazine.com……html#more

    The way to get around the range problem is, of course, to go PHEV, or just go smaller.  Be interesting to see whether serial or parallel wins out there. I like the simplicity of serial, much less complicated control equipment.

     

     

    [link]      
  55. By paul-n on May 9, 2010 at 12:05 am

    Rufus, when you really get down to it with the cellulosic crops, I don;t think there is that much difference between switchgrass, miscanthus and coppiced trees (willow, poplar, eucalyptus).

    Under good conditions, (irrigation/lots of rain and fertile soil) they can all yield about 10 dry ton/ac/yr.  There are some reports of much higher yields in special situations, but we’ll ignore those.

    The key thing about these crops is that they are all perennial, so you don’t need to plough and plant each year, just watch them grow and then harvest.    This minimises the energy inputs (and machinery requirements).  In the case of eucalyptus and poplar, you let them get 5-7yrs old before cutting, so you would just cut 1/5 or 1/7 of your area each year, and you can harvest it at any time of year.

    You also get a longer growing season, as it is not growing from seed each year.  Eucalyptus doesn;t actually shut down for the winter and so has more activity than the deciduous trees.

    For total dry matter production, they are on par with corn, but with far less effort/input to grow.  I particularly like the eucalyptus energy farm.  You can harvest whenever, independent of season or weather, it regrows from the stump, you can get eucalayptus oil out of the leaves (and the wood) in the drying process.  A “bad year” does not mean a bad crop for that year, as you are always getting a “rolling avergae” of 7 yrs – no need for crop insurance (except perhaps for fire – they do burn well).  You can harvest at a steady rate all year round -= perfect if you have your own on farm process (be it ethanol, methanol or pelletizing) as you can have smaller equipment for the same annual throughput, without needing crop storage.  

    But best of all with non-food energy crops, you can use sewage sludge or effluent, if you are close to the treatment plant, as your fertiliser.  Growth rates of trees have been recorded to double/treble under irrigation with effluent, but any of these crops will respond well.

    Much better than expensive N and P removal from effluent before it goes into rivers!

     

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  56. By takchess on May 9, 2010 at 7:18 am

    youtube on miscanthus. University of Illinois got 15ton/acre yield

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…..M42EScO_Uw

     

    This is the group doing the most research.

     

    http://miscanthus.illinois.edu/

    http://www.energy-daily.com/re…..s_999.html

     

     

     

     

     

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  57. By Kit P on May 9, 2010 at 9:24 am

     

    “Much better than expensive N and P
    removal from effluent before it goes into rivers!”

     

    PualN I am sure that you are aware that
    all US municipal WWTP are mandated and 100% subsidized by the tax
    payers. It is much cheaper to just let it run into a river. Cholera
    epidemics help control populations too.

     

    “poplar, you let them get 5-7yrs old
    before cutting,”

     

    If you look at a satellite view of the
    region around where the camelina article was originally published
    (Kennewick Wa) you will see dense green rectangles. The very dense
    rectangles are poplar and the less dense are apples.

     

    The tan rectangles are dryland wheat
    close to harvest at a higher elevation. Biosolids from Seattle was
    used on marginal land with great success.

     

    A good example of productivity of
    American framers can be seen by looking at the Hanford Nuclear
    reservation which was set aside during WWII. There is also a
    operating nuke (and two unfinished nukes) so if you look real close
    you can see the impact of making electricity with nukes.

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  58. By Rufus on May 9, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Paul, Kit, I agree with everything you wrote. Once the cellulose can be profitably converted (and, it’s starting to look like that might be now) the farmers, and growers will, Quickly, figure out the best crop for their area.

    Every area will have some biofuel producing ability. The locals will figure it out to a “T.”

    [link]      
  59. By rrapier on May 9, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Well I did research. Found lots of data too unlike RR VW CHP gimmick.

    That’s something anti’s do. They call things that threaten their own industry gimmicks. Focus on the positive Kit, and stop being so negative. Engineers are supposed to figure out how to make things work, not tell you why they won’t. What other Kit sermons can I insert here that you like to use when we are talking about something you favor?

    Did not find any of the hype that RR was talking about.

    Perhaps you don’t understand what the word hype means, or perhaps your Internet search skills could use some improvement. But even in that story I posted, when they start talking about a crop that has very little in the way of commercial operations as something that can fuel our airplanes, that is hype. Maybe the hype eventually comes true, but it is hype nonetheless.

    RR

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  60. By Kit P on May 9, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    “Perhaps you don’t understand what
    the word hype means”

     

    Get over it RR. Who cares about hype?
    That is right RR cares. Thank you RR for the warning about hype.

     

    In any case I did find the topic of
    camelina interesting especially and I will be sure to discuss it when
    I go back on vacation. It is really cool that the navy used camelina
    to fuel fighter jet on earth day. It is a start.

     

    I am also interested in CHP. Too bad
    RR did not provide more information. If VW was promoting using
    renewable energy from biofuels instead of importing NG from Russia.

     

    VW does make a good small diesel. One
    was running on used French oil at a biofuels conference in Boise.
    Simplot that it was a good idea and so did the NPS when they did
    trial in Yellowstone.

     

    Turned out to be a really bad idea. A
    VW running on used FF oil smells pretty tasty. Unfortunately the
    bears thought so too.

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  61. By Benny BND Cole on May 9, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    BTW, Thailand is experimenting with eucalyptus to ethanol, and also casava to ethanol.  

     

    As pointed out by Paul N, the more sun and water you get, the better your yields. Palm oil still does better, and you do not rip up the soil every season as with corn.  

     

    I will be surprised if wood crops into liquid fuel ever work in North America.  The problems of collection, and yields, seem insurmountable.  Remember, a large stand of trees does not just jump into your factory.  There may be some piggyback places where it will work, where the wood has already been collected for another reason. 

     

    An interesting side note:  Certain “cold-tolerant” strains of palms have been bred, and they would be useful along the southern rim of the USA, down by Louisiana and southern tip of Florida.  Cuba could do well to plant palms, and I suppose parts of Mexico.  If oil stays above, say, $125 for the long run, I think you will find palm plantations popping up anywhere within 10 degrees of the equator, where there is water.  The old rule was 5 degrees of the equator, but newer breeds can go further north or south. 

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  62. By Kit P on May 9, 2010 at 7:29 pm

     

    Benny has a thing for Thailand and RR
    has a thing for Brazil. Should we tell them why American farmers
    grow corn and camelina show promise?

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  63. By Rufus on May 9, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    Because you can bring the equipment to bear.

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  64. By paul-n on May 10, 2010 at 1:52 am

    @ Benny;

    The problems of collection, and yields, seem insurmountable.  Remember, a large stand of trees does not just jump into your factory.

    These problems are not at all insurmountable, mankind has been harvesting timber for millenia.

    Every 2×4 came from a tree that was harvested, sorted transported etc.  The going rate for roundwood (spruce/hemlock)delivered to the local log sort is $30/cubic metre! The cu.m contains half a ton of dry wood, or about 10GJ of energy.  That’s $3.00/GJ (or $3.10 per mmbtu, if you work in archaic units), half the price of NG which is at decade low prices.

    Turning it into liquid fuel is a challenge, as you lose almost two thirds of the energy content along the way.  So GJ of wood yields 3.3GJ of methanol (or ethanol), worth about $60 at today’s prices.

    Use the slash to make the fuel, and you will have $30 worth of product, for every $30 worth of raw wood, using the existing harvesting equipment and infrastructure.

    Better yet though is to make pellets, where 90% of the energy content is preserved.

    There are lots of viable ways to make energy from wood – producing liquid fuel is the worst pathway, better to find applications for the solid fuel, of which there are many.

     

     

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  65. By Kit P on May 10, 2010 at 9:27 am

    “Use the slash to make the fuel, “

     

    This is how my company does it to make
    electricity. I am not currently involved in biomass projects so I do
    not have any inside information other than a line on a spread sheet
    showing project work. The biomass line show expectations of billions
    in future work.

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  66. By Benny BND Cole on May 10, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Paul N-

    You seem to agreeing with me.  I said (or meant to say) I see little hope of commercially producing liquid fuel from wood (especially in light of alternatives such as natural gas to methanol). 

    If we want to burn biomass to make fuel, then let’s grow the cheapest most-rapidly growing stuff (miscanthus?) possible, and burn it to turn steam-power plants with it, and make electricity.  Our PHEVs can use the electricity.  Personally, I prefer nuke-plants to make power, but a mix of plants may be a positive for unforeseen reasons. 

    The most important point is that the “tyranny of liquid fuels” probably can be broken by PHEVs, in that they so radically reduce oil consumption that biofuels begin to make sense.   We might be abe to have our fleet totally powered either by ethanol or methanol.

     

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  67. By paul-n on May 10, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    “use the slash to make fuel”

    Yes, quite a radical concept, really.   Something that has already been accessed, cut and concentrated (into a pile) and has always been regarded as “waste”.  The equivalent of mining companies finding that they are better off mining their own tailing than low grade deposits!

    The only lumber operations in BC that are making money are ones that are using wastes for energy (cogen) or pellet production (BC exports about a million tons of pellets to Europe).

    Benny, I am agreeing with you.  You can turn wood to methanol, of course, and this may yet be done, but indeed why do it unless you have to?

    I wouldn’t put all my bets on miscanthus – it will be good for some places and not others.  Try to get agreement to clear woodland to grow it and see how far you get.  There will be different crops for different locales, and that is as it should be. 

    The real challenge, is to develop the markets bulk, solid, biofuels.  Then landowners can grow whatever is best in their region, and have market to sell into.  

    The first priority should be to replace all heating oil usage – there is over 500,000bpd there.  Much cheaper to displace that and use the oil for transport, than to turn solid fuels into liquids.  

    But to get back to the original article, to grow crops to provide fuel is not a bad idea.  I suggest that the ag industry’s first priority should be to supply all its own fuel needs first, before worrying about jet fuel and the like.  If there is a real oil crunch, I would feel much better knowing that food production is self sufficient, than that airplanes are flying around on the stuff.

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  68. By Benny BND Cole on May 10, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    OT but BTW, check out special energy report in today’s Wall Street Journal, paper edition. Long cover story on shale gas. The authoress, an Amy Myers Jaffe, Rice University, makes a case that shale gas is a game changer.
    Her most intereting observation: Whatever we think our reserves of shale gas are now, history shows they will be boomed upwards in the future. Rserves get larger as knowledge and technology improve.

    This says to me, “methanol.”

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  69. By Kit P on May 10, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Imagine people in Texas thinking that
    increasing domestic production of NG and idling LNG terminals is a
    good thing. I must agree because it is a good thing for all
    Americans.

     

    Energy is a boom or bust industry.
    With the availability of large amounts of $2/MMBTU NG from Canada,
    there were not a large number of drilling rigs looking for more
    expensive sources. Unfortunately, there is not the political will to
    maintain steady investment.

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  70. By paul-n on May 11, 2010 at 2:09 am

    Well, the days of cheap NG from Canada are almost over.  Unless something changes (like lots of new discoveries), by decades end, almost all of AB/BC export capacity will be used by the oilsands.

    Now, all that stranded NG off the north coast of Alaska/Yukon/Northwest Territories is a different story.  They have been talking about a pipeline (or two) for decades, and neither seem any closer to being built.  Stranded NG up there is tailor made for either LNG or methanol, you could run that through the trans alaska pipeline once they run out of oil (which will be by the end of the decade).

    That shale gas article reads like something from an industry PR person!

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  71. By Kit P on May 11, 2010 at 9:19 am

    “Well, the days of cheap NG from Canada are almost over.”

     

    Which is why biomass and wind are now econmical in the PNW. 

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  72. By Herm on May 11, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    http://online.wsj.com/article/…..=rss_Today‘s_Most_Popular

     

     

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  73. By art on October 8, 2011 at 7:29 am

    Hi RR,

    just another variation is algae the next jathropa… this type of news seem to me alternating hypes with lots of promises but fail to deliver…

    http://www.algaeindustrymagazi…..agazine%29

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