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By Robert Rapier on Oct 31, 2011 with 42 responses

How Not to Use EROEI

This week I will be at the 2011 ASPO-USA Conference. I will deliver one talk on technical due diligence and one on our new energy reality. I will also participate in a roundtable discussion on investing.

On the talk on our new energy reality, I am going to have a slide on my general observations over the past few years. One of those observations is that the concept of Energy Return on Energy Invested — EROEI — is frequently misused. The most common example is when people simply dismiss a process because it has a low EROEI or a net negative energy return. So as I am finalizing my slides, I thought I would share my EROEI observations here.

What a net negative energy return really says is that a process is not sustainable. If you consume 1 BTU of fossil energy to create less than one BTU of a derivative of that fossil fuel, this is a process that will speed up the depletion of fossil fuel reserves. However, if the two forms of energy are not fungible (interchangeable), then economics can easily trump EROEI. For example, it might be economically attractive to consume 2 BTUs of coal to produce 1 BTU of ethanol (EROEI = 0.5). In that case the process speeds up the depletion of coal reserves, but economics (and potentially subsidies) — not EROEI — would dictate whether that process is commercialized.

The other major caveat is that there is no time factor involved in EROEI calculations. Thus, it is possible for a lower EROEI process to be more attractive than a higher EROEI process if the former returns the energy over a shorter time interval. Think of it in terms of interest. Consider an investment that returns 3% on a daily basis versus one that returns 50% on an annual basis. If you invested $1 in each, the 3% daily return will earn you more than $47,000 at the end of one year (assuming you reinvest the returns) while the 50% annual return will earn you 50 cents. But EROEI would simply say that one return is 1.03 to 1 and the other is 1.5 to 1. So, if someone says that a process has an EROEI of 1.5, the first question needs to be “Over what time interval?”

I have four examples that I will share in my ASPO presentation. Two will cover the aforementioned caveats of economics and time. The third will show how failure to account for biomass consumption in a process can skew EROEI calculations. The final example will be the infamous example showing that the EROEI of corn ethanol at 1.4 (or pick a number) is superior to gasoline’s EROEI which is given to be 0.8. I will show the problem with that calculation (it isn’t really an EROEI calculation).

Next Monday’s posting will most likely cover some aspect of the conference.

  1. By perry1961 on November 2, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    I don’t think you’ve thought this through Wendell. The vast majority of farmers grow corn, but very few do it every year. Requiring “corn farmers” to buy farm equipment that runs on ethanol would require just about every farmer to do so. That equipment is going to be more expensive, because the engines have to be much larger to carry the same workload. Do you really want everyone to pay more for food in order to prove some point? Nothing short of an act of Congress would accomplish what you ask for anyway. Even if John Deere agreed to build this equipment, no self-respecting farmer is going to put himself at a cost disadvantage in order to prove some meaningless point. It will happen eventually, but only when diesel is outrageously priced. Right now, on a btu basis, wholesale ethanol and diesel are similarly priced. That’s not the sticking point.

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  2. By russ-finley on November 2, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    Good post as always, RR. People usually don’t realize that wealth is a rate problem, money per unit time. Time is money. A million dollars in hand is worth a great deal more than a million dollars spread out over a lifetime.

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  3. By Wendell Mercantile on November 3, 2011 at 12:25 am

    The vast majority of farmers grow corn, but very few do it every year.

    What!? Very few do it every year? Where do you live? Drive IH-80 across Iowa some summery and then tell me “…very few do it every year.”

    In the Corn Belt most farmers grow only corn and beans, and they do it year after year. In fact, many corn farmers grow corn-on-corn for years in a row. Instead of using ages-old practices such as crop rotation and letting a field lay fallow every three or four years, they have sucked all the nutrients out of the soil and resort to synthetic nitrogen (made from natural gas) and other chemicals to give the corn something to feed on.

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  4. By perry1961 on November 3, 2011 at 9:25 am

    “What!? Very few do it every year? Where do you live? Drive IH-80 across Iowa some summer and then tell me “…very few do it every year.”

    According to satellite images, 15% of Iowa farmers were planting corn every year in 2001, and the number grew to 20% in 2007. During the same time, acres under continuous soybean production dropped from 8% to 4%. Still, more than 75% of Iowa farmers are rotating their crops.

    http://www.ars.usda.gov/resear…..115=228113

    There’s nothing wrong with a soybean/corn crop rotation.

    http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/pl…..eb48-2.htm

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  5. By JonSCKs on November 2, 2011 at 10:59 am

    Jon,

    If the EROEI of corn ethanol is as high as you say, why aren’t you using some of that ethanol to run your ag equipment instead of buying diesel fuel? And why aren’t you using ethanol to supply the energy for fixing the nitrogen you use?

    If the EROEI of ethanol is the 12 or 15:1 you claim, why haven’t you completely stopped your use of fossil fuels, and started running your entire farm on ethanol?

    We are.. we use ethanol as well as bio-diesel.

    The numbers I quoted are just to produce the crop.. it still must go to the plant so the EROEI is lower… but it’s not negative and it is improving with time.

    This may be the article that Robert is commenting on…???

    http://www.ethanolrfa.org/page…..df?nocdn=1

    As it notes we are improving our EROEI over time and there is room for substantially more improvement. One of the major misconceptions is how much liquid fossil fuels are required to produce ethanol.. when I read ethanol critics I get the impression that it takes something like a gallon of fossil fuels to produce a gallon or less of ethanol.. which is comical.. it’s no where near that low.

    When you throw EVERYTHING in including the BTU’s to produce the sink in the washroom.. then you get numbers of EROEI of around 2 to 1 but a lot of that is counting the BTU’s of nitrogen fertilizer as well as the Natural Gas to dry the co-products.

    We can produce Nitrogen fertilizer from electrolysis by wind power.

    http://www.agmrc.org/renewable…..e_corn.cfm

    Kansas is currently on path to double it’s wind energy production.

    http://www.kansasenergy.org/wi…..tm#flatter

    As well as feed the co-products.. which again is about a third of the ethanol output.. as a wet feed. Which more should happen over time as we incorporate efficiencies into the system. These are the points that I believe are being overlooked in Robert’s criticism of EROEI of ethanol.. it’s not 15:1 but it’s also not 0.8:1

    I believe the 2.3:1 number found in the study is close.. and will continue to improve over time. I also believe that the non-renewable liquid fossil fuel component will decline over time. That number could be as high as 8 or 10 to 1 now… not sure.

    The importation of nitrogen fertilizer has to do as much with the stranded values of foriegn cheap Natural Gas.. aka see Trinidad.. as anything. With the boom in US Shale gas.. will we see domestic production rebound.. or will we see electric hydrolsis increase.. these things depend on markets and time.. as we see fossil fuels depleted.. and wind energy grow.. the economic incentives will increase over time.

    fwiw.

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  6. By Wendell Mercantile on November 2, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    We can produce Nitrogen fertilizer from electrolysis by wind power.

    Jon,

    That’s nice. Theoretically possible, but does any of the nitrogen you apply come from wind power?

    It’s also possible to use ethanol as the energy source for fixing nitrogen, but does anyone do that? If the EROEI of ethanol is as high as you claim, why aren’t you using ethanol to fix nitrogen instead of natural gas?

    One of the major misconceptions is how much liquid fossil fuels are required to produce ethanol.

    Let me know when your farm and the ethanol plant for which you grow corn have completely cut your ties to fossil fuels. What would your yield be if you no longer used any fossil fuels?

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  7. By perry1961 on November 2, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    “If the EROEI of corn ethanol is as high as you say, why aren’t you using some of that ethanol to run your ag equipment instead of buying diesel fuel?”

    Probably for the same reasons heavy equipment doesn’t run on gasoline….torque and efficiency. A heavy duty work truck will run on diesel, or a much larger gas engine. I had a Dodge V10 that ran on gas, and it could pull as well as any diesel, but the engine was 25% larger than any diesel on the market.

    Diesel is 30% more efficient than gas, and 60% more efficient than ethanol. Even if farm equipment running on ethanol had enough torque to get the job done, who wants to fill the tank twice as often?

    Whatever the EROEI, ethanol gives us 800,000 bpd, year in and year out. Prudoe Bay put out 1.5M bpd 20 years ago, and less than 400,000 bpd today. When Prudoe Bay finally peters to a dead halt, corn ethanol will probably be putting out a million bpd. Do I care if the farm equipment uses ethanol to make ethanol? Not really….

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  8. By Wendell Mercantile on November 2, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    …who wants to fill the tank twice as often?

    A salient point to be sure. But don’t you think that also applies to the drivers of motor cars?

    Do I care if the farm equipment uses ethanol to make ethanol? Not really….

    You should. Corn farmers should have been in the vanguard of using the fuel for which they grew corn, instead of relying on political mandates forcing others to use it. You don’t find it ironic that corn farmers prefer using diesel while expecting others to embrace ethanol?

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  9. By perry1961 on November 2, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Farmers are constantly balancing cost and efficiency Wendell. Should they use a seed that yields 20% more, but costs 50% more? Can they afford to buy a tractor with an engine that’s 50% larger, or afford the time it takes to fill it twice as often? Why would a farmer do that, even if it was available on the market? He’d be at a distinct disadvantage to those who didn’t want to prove your point. Would ethanol work in a pinch? Yes. Does it make economic sense at this point in time? No.

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  10. By Wendell Mercantile on November 2, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Farmers are constantly balancing cost and efficiency. Does it make economic sense at this point in time? No.

    Everyone is balancing cost and efficiency. Unfortunately, you probably don’t even realize the hypocrisy in your state.

    How corn farmers ask others to follow ethanol mandates if they are unwilling? Ethanol mandates should first apply to corn farmers and ethanol producers.

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  11. By JonSCKs on November 2, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Wendell Mercantile said:

    …who wants to fill the tank twice as often?

    A salient point to be sure. But don’t you think that also applies to the drivers of motor cars?

    Do I care if the farm equipment uses ethanol to make ethanol? Not really….

    You should. Corn farmers should have been in the vanguard of using the fuel for which they grew corn, instead of relying on political mandates forcing others to use it. You don’t find it ironic that corn farmers prefer using diesel while expecting others to embrace ethanol?


     

    Tell you what Wendell.. I’ll personally eat my corn.. as well as use the ethanol that is derived from it.. Would YOU be willing to go pop the gas cap on your car and DRINK it’s contents?  (I’m NOT reccomending this btw…)

     

    Right now.. Crude is cheaper.. nobody disputes that.. However.. looking at the numbers.. and depletion rates and such.. how much longer is this going to last?  We are in a parody of plenty problem… Crude remains cheap and affordable up until the point that we’re out.. then you are stuck.

     

    SO.. how do you transistion to “the next thing?”  Now granted I NEVER said that ethanol was going to be the end all be all.. it’s probably going to take “a little more” of everything.. including new technology to reach more crude.. but for today.. and certainly for tomorrow.. we are going to need “alternatives” for a growing world population.. what was it.. 7 Billion people on the planet now.  Ever since our forefathers settled this land.. my Great Grandfather came from Illinois in the late 1800′s.. we have wondered what to do with all the agriculutural surpluses.. for over 100 years we have produced more then we can consume OR even export.

     

    Today we can feed everyone and fill exports AND provide ethanol at the 10% level across the country.. so what is wrong with that?  As we build the infrastructure.. the ethanol plants.. the distribution system.. the flex fuel vehicles.. and optimize ICE’s for a higher octane fuel.. btw.. the real success story is ethanol blending up a bunch of JUNKY low grade gasoline now that there is less and less of the light sweet Crude to make the “sweet stuff” with.

     

    Mandate smandate.. we have to transition to something.. and preserve what we have.. ethanol is not the TOTAL solution.. but it’s part of A solution.  10% ethanol used to only be $0.02 cheaper here.. now it is $0.10 cheaper.. and I expect that difference to continue to grow as things “progress.”

     

    So how bout it Wendell.. are you sipp’in what you are selling? 

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  12. By Wendell Mercantile on November 2, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    …we are going to need “alternatives” for a growing world population..

    Jon,

    That’s true — that’s why I’d like to see corn farmers and ethanol producers take the lead in using ethanol to power their farms and distillation refineries. Why not end your reliance on ethanol mandates that apply only to the rest of us while you continue burning diesel fuel and natural gas?

    The next time you need to dry your corn, are you ready to fire up an ethanol burner instead of using propane?

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  13. By Walt on November 2, 2011 at 6:28 am

     

    Here are some of the largest companies getting government grants since they apparantely cannot make these plants economic without taxpayer support to create jobs in America.

     

    Archer Daniels Midland Company: $1,852,067.10 for Biodiesel Trans Esterification.

    Louis Dreyfus Agricultural Industries, LLC: $2,394,192.13 for Biofuel From Waste Products.

    Cargill, Inc. : $1,267,659.93 for Anaerobic Digester/Biodiesel.

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  14. By rrapier on November 2, 2011 at 9:20 am

    JonSCKs said:

    Of course this isn’t everything.. but I’ve grown the ethanol source stock for about an EROEI of about 12 or 15 to 1.. I think your numbers are WAY off…  It doesn’t take that much to turn it from grain to ethanol at the plant.  Oh fertilizer.. about 220 units of N.. not sure how much energy to account for that..  Questions.. what if I run my pump with electricity which is generated by a wind turbine?  Things like that…


     

    They aren’t my numbers, they come from surveys of plants done by the USDA. Which specific numbers are you talking about?

    Fertilizer is a major component of the fossil fuel inputs, but I am not sure how much a unit actually amounts to. Does that contain one pound of nitrogen? And in what form?

    Of course if you run parts on wind generated electricity versus electricity generated from diesel, your EROEI is going to be better.

    Regarding your question about the co-products, the USDA studies allocate energy inputs to them. So they would take a portion of that diesel input and assign it to the co-products. This has the potential for mischief, though, as you can overassign energy to the co-products to exaggerate the energy return for the ethanol.

    RR

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  15. By Wendell Mercantile on November 2, 2011 at 9:45 am

    I run a 16 row planter.. which can cover about 25 acres per hour burning about.. 8 to 10 gallons per hour.. so with harvesting we are up to about 1.4 gallons of diesel per acre.

    JonSCKs,

    Jon,

    If the EROEI of corn ethanol is as high as you say, why aren’t you using some of that ethanol to run your ag equipment instead of buying diesel fuel? And why aren’t you using ethanol to supply the energy for fixing the nitrogen you use?

    If the EROEI of ethanol is the 12 or 15:1 you claim, why haven’t you completely stopped your use of fossil fuels, and started running your entire farm on ethanol?

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  16. By Wendell Mercantile on October 31, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    RR~

    Another examples of where negative net energy is acceptable — and even beneficial:

    It may take more energy to make a high-explosive such as TNT than the explosive contains. But only a high-explosive can release that energy so rapidly it can perform a needed task such as blowing a hole in a mountain for a highway tunnel.

    Making steel and cement for concrete are also net energy losers, but the energy we consume making them provides other benefits of incalculable value.

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  17. By Jamie Bull on October 31, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    I came across the idea of using the rate of return as a complementary metric alongside EROEI via Tom Konrad at the Clean Energy Wonk blog. I’ve posted on the topic on my own blog here.

    Wendell, your example of steel and concrete applies to everything that isn’t involved in producing energy – or at the very least saving energy. I like the TNT example though. Incidentally, what is the EROEI on high explosives?

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  18. By Wendell Mercantile on October 31, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    …your example of steel and concrete applies to everything that isn’t involved in producing energy…

    You’re right. Everything we make or produce of material value has a negative EROEI. Should have stopped while I was ahead with the high-explosive example. :-)

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  19. By takchess on October 31, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    RR,

    OT>
    I saw this and wonder what you would think about it. This is a minature FT plant which could serve to regionalize fuel production (thus cutting transportation costs).

    http://newenergyandfuel.com/ht…..-reactors/

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  20. By rrapier on October 31, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    takchess said:

    RR,

    OT>

    I saw this and wonder what you would think about it. This is a minature FT plant which could serve to regionalize fuel production (thus cutting transportation costs).

    http://newenergyandfuel.com/ht…..-reactors/


     

    I am very familiar with these guys. I have an extensive Nexant analysis of them on my desk and I visited their headquarters a couple of years ago. They are currently doing an extended test of their system in Austria; I am looking forward to seeing the results.

    RR

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  21. By takchess on October 31, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Thanks. I thought it in keeping with your philosophy on “X” to fuel. It would be interesting to hear what you find out about cost, yield, reliabilty and any gotchas as you learn more.

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  22. By Benny BND Cole on October 31, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    Some palm oil plantations are selling their biomass (palm fronds) to makers of medium-density fibreboard. Others burn the fronds to fire boilers and refine the oil.

    Obviously, the palm plantations firing their boilers with fronds earn a higher EROEI. That does not mean they are more competitive. The fronds may be more valuable as stock for MDF.

    As a rule, I do not like the whole EROEI reasoning, which borders on a cult.

    The price signal is much better.

    The price signal misses the costs of pollution and national security. If there is a fair way to inject those costs into the price signal, that makes sense.

    Gasoline, for example, probably needs a $2 a gallon additional tax levied upon it, for the stated reasons.

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  23. By Walt on November 1, 2011 at 8:24 am

    takchess said:

    RR,

    OT>

    I saw this and wonder what you would think about it. This is a minature FT plant which could serve to regionalize fuel production (thus cutting transportation costs).

    http://newenergyandfuel.com/ht…..-reactors/


     

    Al Fin comment was:

    —————

    Nice overview, Brian.

    The price differential between oil and gas should drive a lot of interest in these devices both offshore and in shale country.

    The Velocys / Oxford Catalysts technology brings the cost of entry
    for F-T GTL down into the range where a community bank could finance a
    small plant. Right now it costs about a billion dollars to build an F-T
    GTL or CTL plant.

    —————

    The latest figures I’ve seen is roughly $60 million to process about 6 mmscfd (very low for FT).  This is better than the $150 million some technologies require at that scale.  Our cost would be $20 million for the same scale so if the Velocys/Petrobras/TOYO project is successful you will see these plants soon offshore.  Unless the gas is free….which it is not…the OPEX is not cheap. 

     

     

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  24. By Walt on November 1, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Although this plant is for methanol, it is a small scale plant processing 7-8 mmscfd and costing $200 million (30 million gal/yr capacity).

    http://www.epa.gov/cmop/docs/c…..uction.pdf

     

    The CompactGTL was ~$45 million to demonstrate micro-channel reactors processing 200 mscfd to make 20 bbls/day syncrude.  A recent study suggested natural gas prices at small scale should be in the range of $0.50 to $1.00/mcf.  This is totally unrealistic in my opinion.  The EPA promotion of methanol technology by Davy is more accurate which states:

     

    “Production costs are $US 1.00–$1.30/gallon ($US 0.26–$0.34/liter), assuming natural gas prices of $5.00–$6.00/mcf ($1.88–$2.10/thousand m3). At $5.00/mcf, natural gas typically accounts for about half of production costs at small plants.”

     

    I’ve yet to find anyone willing to sell gas at $0.50 to $1.00/mcf (even if it is flared and polluting).  They want at least $2.50 to as high as $7.00/mcf for flared gas depending on the liquids being flared.  I think in today’s market pipeline gas is the best option at $3.50-$4.00/mcf off the interstate pipeline.  Fighting with flared gas operators is a waste of precious time for “small scale” GTL “cheap gas”.

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  25. By JavelinaTex on November 1, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Excellent post Robert.

    The coal used in ethanol (and natural gas for that matter) is really not a bad use. It becomes a pathway for coal or natural gas to liquid fuels. This is true of ammonia based fertilizers, too.

    Liquid fuels have their advantage and we use them despite their much higher cost because they are so easily transported and stored. In fact, despite their “high” cost they are overall the lowest cost solution.

    There are a lot of different exciting ideas out there, from all the variations of GTL, CTL, Electric, etc. All of them have at root, involve finding a way to arbitrage the difference in value between low grade energy (Coal, Nat Gas, Uranium, Solar & Wind) and higher grade energy (mobile heat engine fuel and electricity) in a way that allows us to continue to and expand being “artificially” mobile.

    Into the arbitrage mix, one must also include communication technologies.

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  26. By sameer-kulkarni on November 1, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Robert Rapier said:

     

    The other major caveat is that there is no time factor involved in EROEI calculations. Thus, it is possible for a lower EROEI process to be more attractive than a higher EROEI process if the former returns the energy over a shorter time interval. Think of it in terms of interest. Consider an investment that returns 3% on a daily basis versus one that returns 50% on an annual basis. If you invested $1 in each, the 3% daily return will earn you more than $47,000 at the end of one year (assuming you reinvest the returns) while the 50% annual return will earn you 50 cents. But EROEI would simply say that one return is 1.03 to 1 and the other is 1.5 to 1. So, if someone says that a process has an EROEI of 1.5, the first question needs to be “Over what time interval?”

     


     

    ??? Now how can the Energy product (say ethanol) produced from a process be compounded? Energy (product) is after all traded commodity. It is to be liquidated. Your assessment implies that the output energy product  from the process plant is being bartered for an equivalent amount of input feedstock. 

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  27. By sameer-kulkarni on November 1, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Wendell Mercantile said:

    RR~

    Another examples of where negative net energy is acceptable — and even beneficial:

    It may take more energy to make a high-explosive such as TNT than the explosive contains. But only a high-explosive can release that energy so rapidly it can perform a needed task such as blowing a hole in a mountain for a highway tunnel.

    Making steel and cement for concrete are also net energy losers, but the energy we consume making them provides other benefits of incalculable value.


     

    Energy released rapidly for blowing a hole cannot be viewed in context of EROEI because it is the energy yield of combustion & not physicochemical conversion.

     

    Vis-a-vis Ethanol stored in storage tank of a car will obviously have less energy than that which is released during ignition inside the ICE.

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  28. By rrapier on November 1, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    SAM said:

     

    ??? Now how can the Energy product (say ethanol) produced from a process be compounded?


     

    It is done all the time. It is done in the oil industry by using some of the fuel gas byproduct to run the process. The sugarcane ethanol industry does it by using some of the byproduct to operate their boilers.

    Of course these schemes all involve some aspect of solar capture. If corn ethanol is 1.4, for instance, that excess comes from solar power (directly from the sun and indirectly from fertilizer). You could in theory use that energy output to create more fertilizer and more process heat for the fermentation and distillation.

    So it could definitely be done (and is done) to some extent.

    Your assessment implies that the output energy product  from the process plant is being bartered for an equivalent amount of input feedstock.

    Yes, it is simply a hypothetical example to show that time has to be a consideration when EROEI is concerned. I don’t know of an actual process in which you could feed the output back to the input and just let it compound.

    RR

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  29. By Wendell Mercantile on November 1, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    I don’t know of an actual process in which you could feed the output back to the input and just let it compound.

    RR~

    Me neither. Although theoretically, a closed-loop system of a corn farm and corn ethanol plant could do that IF making corn ethanol actually had a positive EROEI.

    If an ethanol plant produced more energy than it consumed, it would be possible to divert a portion of the ethanol from the “out” pipe and run it back to the “in” pipes of the ethanol plant and the corn farm.

    At last they could answer the question of why they don’t use ethanol with which to make more ethanol? (Of course, they never will be able to do that.)

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  30. By Walt on November 1, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Robert Rapier said:

    SAM said:

     

    ??? Now how can the Energy product (say ethanol) produced from a process be compounded?


     

    Yes, it is simply a hypothetical example to show that time has to be a consideration when EROEI is concerned. I don’t know of an actual process in which you could feed the output back to the input and just let it compound.

    RR


     

    Recycle loop is efficient to compound ultimate yields.

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  31. By takchess on November 1, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Whenever I hear of manure being used to produce methane I immediately think of it then being used to produce fertilizer. 8)

    Perhaps this is not an EROEI question but one of missed opportunity cost or wastefulness.

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  32. By perry1961 on November 1, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    OT: Huntsman’s Cure for U.S.’s “Heroin-Like Addiction to Foreign Oil”

    http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/po…..reign-oil/

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  33. By JonSCKs on November 2, 2011 at 1:21 am

    Hey Robert, what is the EROEI of my neighbor’s corn crop that he just finished delivering to the local ethanol plant? He ran one (1) combine over 4,000 acres bringing in just under 750,000 bushels which can be turned into 2.1 Million gallons of ethanol.. He burnt a little over 4,000 gallons of diesel to operate his combine. He put 180 units of nitrogen down preplant… and buzzed across it once with a 115′ boom sprayer in season.

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  34. By rrapier on November 2, 2011 at 1:38 am

    JonSCKs said:

    Hey Robert, what is the EROEI of my neighbor’s corn crop that he just finished delivering to the local ethanol plant? He ran one (1) combine over 4,000 acres bringing in just under 750,000 bushels which can be turned into 2.1 Million gallons of ethanol.. He burnt a little over 4,000 gallons of diesel to operate his combine. He put 180 units of nitrogen down preplant… and buzzed across it once with a 115′ boom sprayer in season.


     

    It was weird to see your comment here because I had just been reading your comments over at TOD.

    Your neighbor’s EROEI is going to depend on lots of things like the nitrogen you mentioned, how much herbicides and pesticides he put down, and whether he is in Nebraska or Iowa (i.e., whether he had to irrigate). The most recent USDA survey I saw had Iowa using 4 gallons of diesel per acre and Nebraska using 18. The numbers you quoted for your neighbor would amount to 1 gallon per acre, so my guess is that he isn’t counting up some of his diesel inputs (like planting).

    RR

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  35. By JonSCKs on November 2, 2011 at 1:59 am

    Robert Rapier said:

    JonSCKs said:

    Hey Robert, what is the EROEI of my neighbor’s corn crop that he just finished delivering to the local ethanol plant? He ran one (1) combine over 4,000 acres bringing in just under 750,000 bushels which can be turned into 2.1 Million gallons of ethanol.. He burnt a little over 4,000 gallons of diesel to operate his combine. He put 180 units of nitrogen down preplant… and buzzed across it once with a 115′ boom sprayer in season.


     
    It was weird to see your comment here because I had just been reading your comments over at TOD.

    Your neighbor’s EROEI is going to depend on lots of things like the nitrogen you mentioned, how much herbicides and pesticides he put down, and whether he is in Nebraska or Iowa (i.e., whether he had to irrigate). The most recent USDA survey I saw had Iowa using 4 gallons of diesel per acre and Nebraska using 18. The numbers you quoted for your neighbor would amount to 1 gallon per acre, so my guess is that he isn’t counting up some of his diesel inputs (like planting).

    RR


     

    Yal I was just over there.. and remembered reading your article over here yesterday so brought it here also.  I run a 16 row planter.. which can cover about 25 acres per hour burning about.. 8 to 10 gallons per hour.. so with harvesting we are up to about 1.4 gallons of diesel per acre.. the sprayer will blow across about 50 or 60 acres an hour.. burning.. probably about 5 gallons per hour.. so now we are up to about 1.5 gallons per acre.  On some fields we have an APH.. (Actual Production History) of 195 bu corn.. which is irrigated.. we probably burned about 35 gallons of diesel per acre.. so now we are up to 36.5 gallons to produce 195 bu corn.. which will make about 550 gallons of ethanol along with 1.67 tons of animal feed by-products.  Of course this isn’t everything.. but I’ve grown the ethanol source stock for about an EROEI of about 12 or 15 to 1.. I think your numbers are WAY off…  It doesn’t take that much to turn it from grain to ethanol at the plant.  Oh fertilizer.. about 220 units of N.. not sure how much energy to account for that..  Questions.. what if I run my pump with electricity which is generated by a wind turbine?  Things like that…

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  36. By JonSCKs on November 2, 2011 at 2:41 am

    btw.. If you allocate ALL of the energy costs to just the ethanol.. the 1.67 tons of animal feed by-products are produced for FREE!!  That isn’t fair.. how much energy “costs” do I get to subtract for raising that?  It’s equivalent to about 60 bushels of corn…  About a third of the production process.. and it is a high value feed.. which can be added to lesser other feeds such as wastes forages or grasses.

    Also.. my corn breeder says they are close to fixing nitrogen (which comes from the atmosphere) with a corn plant like a legume does.  Although.. he’s said this for over a decade now.. however, they are coming with a nitrogen efficiency gene soon.. so some progress is being made there.

    If you don’t want to talk about irrigated.. subtract the pumping and reduce the yield to about a third… which actually raises the EROEI.. assuming the pumping is diesel.. which on our farm.. half are electrics.

     

    fwiw.

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  37. By Walt on November 2, 2011 at 5:49 am

    JonSCKs said:

    Questions.. what if I run my pump with electricity which is generated by a wind turbine?  Things like that…


     

    Here is a recent report that will help answer some of those questions.

     

    I am a believer that currency and monetary issues play a large role, and to that end this comment was interesting:

     

    “An extended period of U.S. dollar weakness – which likely increased the
    dollar-denominated price of turbines and components imported into the
    U.S. – is estimated to have been the second-largest contributor to the
    turbine price doubling through 2008.  The risk of further
    dollar weakness pressuring turbine prices higher, however, has been
    somewhat mitigated by greater localization of the supply chain in recent
    years.  “Almost two-thirds of the cost of an average
    turbine installed in the U.S. today comes from domestically manufactured
    components, up from roughly one-third just five years ago,” notes
    Berkeley Lab staff scientist and report co-author Ryan Wiser.  “This increase in domestic content reduces not only foreign exchange rate risk, but also transportation costs.”

     

    The full report (“Understanding Trends in Wind
    Turbine Prices Over the Past Decade”) and a presentation slide deck that
    summarizes the report can be downloaded from:

    http://eetd.lbl.gov/ea/ems/re-pubs.html

     

    The point with fuels is I do not believe one is a protectionist if they oppose US government funding of technology knowing that is must be established overseas to be profitable, and requires the import of the fuels to America using taxpayer subsidies, mandates, grants and loan guarantees.  If it cannot create jobs in America, I think the equity markets should take on the risks not the US government.

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  38. By Walt on November 2, 2011 at 5:52 am

    USDA Announces $44 million in Advanced Biofuels Funding

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
    announced on October 31 payments totaling $44.6 million for 156 advanced
    biofuel producers in 38 states to support the production and expansion
    of advanced biofuels. The funding is being provided through USDA’s
    Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels program.

    Under the program, payments are made to
    eligible producers to support and ensure an expanding production of
    advanced biofuels. Payments are based on the amount of biofuels a
    recipient produces from renewable biomass, other than corn kernel
    starch. Eligible examples include biofuels derived from cellulose; crop
    residue; animal, food, and yard waste material; biogas (landfill and
    sewage waste treatment gas); and vegetable oil and animal fat. USDA is
    working to support the research, investment, and infrastructure
    necessary to build a biofuels industry that creates jobs and conserves
    natural resources.

    In Dubuque, Iowa, Western Dubuque Biodiesel,
    LLC, received a $487,871 payment. The company’s production facility
    produces 30 million gallons of biodiesel per year using soybean oil,
    canola oil, and tallow esters as feedstock. The operation is expected to
    save 18 jobs. It is also expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by
    an estimated 309 million kilowatts. And, in Kinsale, Virginia, the
    Potomac Supply Corporation received a $36,530 payment for producing two
    types of advanced biofuels: fuel pellets and dry kiln. Both are made
    from clean pine chips, sawdust, and shavings feedstock. The payment will
    help save 10 jobs. See the USDA press release.

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  39. By sameer-kulkarni on November 3, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    Robert Rapier said:

    It is done all the time. It is done in the oil industry by using some of the fuel gas byproduct to run the process. The sugarcane ethanol industry does it by using some of the byproduct to operate their boilers.


     

    Yes but fuel gases & CH4 derived from Vinasse are by-products and not principle products viz. petrol et al and ethanol respectively. They could be looped back to start only when these by products have less market value or are production surpluses.  Eventually the EROEI of process is improved, but only marginally I guess.

     

    Of course these schemes all involve some aspect of solar capture. If corn ethanol is 1.4, for instance, that excess comes from solar power (directly from the sun and indirectly from fertilizer). You could in theory use that energy output to create more fertilizer and more process heat for the fermentation and distillation.

     

    Yes but that means lower ethanol output from the distillery & an equivalent amount of gasoline to be compensated for that at the gas station.

     

     

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  40. By fg on November 4, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    I have four examples that I will share in my ASPO presentation. Two will

    cover the aforementioned caveats of economics and time. The third will

    show how failure to account for biomass consumption in a process can

    skew EROEI calculations. The final example will be the infamous example

    showing that the EROEI of corn ethanol at 1.4 (or pick a number) is

    superior to gasoline’s EROEI which is given to be 0.8. I will show the

    problem with that calculation (it isn’t really an EROEI calculation).

    Robert, I just don’t understand your argument about ethanol. The stated goal to substitute a depleting resource – fossil fuel – with a renewable one – biomass.

     

    Assuming the GREET model actually accounts for all fossil fuel inputs in the ethanol process, assuming that the end consumer can use ethanol as efficiently as gasoline, assuming a lot of stuff …, you will agree that if you get 1 BTU of fossil energy out of the ground, you get 0.8 BTU worth of end product if you refine it directyl to a product or you get 1.4 BTU worth of end product if you invest your initial 1 BTU to grow biomass and transform it into ethanol. 1.4 is better than 0.8 by my book.

     

    I agree that EROEI including biomass ernergy can be an interesting metric to evaluate a process, especially to compare two processes using the same inputs, say Solazyme oil vs. yeast-based ethanol. But, here, I don’t understand why such a focus on it to compare corn ethanol vs. gasoline. What matters the most is the end-product yield vs fossil input, and I think this is what ethanol boosters use to make their case.

     

    Also, EROEI is subject to fairly arbitrary definitions. Why not include the whole solar energy falling on the corn fields, 95%+ of it being “wasted” by the plants? Where do you place the cut-off for the EI in EROEI and why? The whole solar radiation would be relevant to the calculation, to compare, lets say, biomass-to-liquid vs. photovoltaics-to-BEV in terms of land use efficiency.

     

    Sometimes, EROEI looks to me like a metric/concept that has been a little bit too succesful for its own good Wink.

     

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  41. By Optimist on November 11, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    you will agree that if you get 1 BTU of fossil energy out of the ground, you get 0.8 BTU worth of end product if you refine it directyl to a product or you get 1.4 BTU worth of end product if you invest your initial 1 BTU to grow biomass and transform it into ethanol. 1.4 is better than 0.8 by my book.

    Typical corn booster sleight of hand: RR will NOT agree that the EROEI of gasoline is 0.8. More like 10+? Way more than 1.4. The overall efficiency of producing gasoline may be 0.8. Again, for ethanol is probably 0.6, or lower.

    And then we haven’t even mentioned the crime against humanity angle: we should NOT be converting our (high value) food into (low value) fuel. Only a (crooked) politician would support that…

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  42. By rrapier on November 11, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    FG said:

    Robert, I just don’t understand your argument about ethanol. The stated goal to substitute a depleting resource – fossil fuel – with a renewable one – biomass.


     

    I had totally missed this post. The point about EROEI is that if it is less than 1 — even if biomass is involved — the resource isn’t renewable.

    Assuming the GREET model actually accounts for all fossil fuel inputs
    in the ethanol process, assuming that the end consumer can use ethanol
    as efficiently as gasoline, assuming a lot of stuff …, you will agree
    that if you get 1 BTU of fossil energy out of the ground, you get 0.8
    BTU worth of end product if you refine it directyl to a product or you
    get 1.4 BTU worth of end product if you invest your initial 1 BTU to
    grow biomass and transform it into ethanol. 1.4 is better than 0.8 by my
    book.

    The reason that doesn’t work is that it is apples and oranges. If you “invest” your fossil fuels into ethanol production in that way, the correct analogy then would be to “invest” them back into more oil production. In that case you have 1.4 versus something like 10. The only way to get 1.4 versus 0.8 is to mix efficiencies with EROEI.

    RR

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