Consumer Energy Report is now Energy Trends Insider -- Read More »

By Russ Finley on Jul 22, 2015 with 29 responses

Everything Old is New Again; Biofuels, Still a Bad Idea

Gorilla at Woodland Park Zoo

Gorilla at Woodland Park Zoo

I recently recieved two emails on the same day; one about more palm oil plantations usurping yet another tropical ecosystem, this time for highly endangered African Gorillas instead of Indonesian Orangutans, and the other from my local Sierra Club asking me to urge my elected representatives to reject a transportation funding bill that would not allow our Governor to mandate the consumption of biofuels. Instead, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Seattle Times expressing my opposition to a biofuel mandate (which, of course, wasn’t published). I put a copy of that rejected submission at the end of this post as an example of what not to send to the Seattle Times Op Ed department.

And today the headline in the Seattle Times reads: “Inslee, the ‘greenest’ governor — not so much

Why?

“He pushed ahead with a highway-expanding $16 billion transportation package, accepting a “poison pill” provision that could hinder his administration’s plans to enact a new clean-fuels regulation.

The Republican-backed provision would divert hundreds of millions of dollars away from transit, bicycling and walking projects if the Inslee administration tries to enact the cleaner fuels rule, known as a low-carbon fuel standard, by executive order.”

Printed newspapers are in the middle of their own extinction event, which isn’t moving fast enough in my opinion. I wrote my first critique of biodiesel in an article for Grist back in 2005 called “Bad Idea” at the height of the biodiesel fad hitting Seattle. In 2009 I wrote an article about why Seattle dropped the use of biodiesel.

Scientists submitting work to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are having issues over the issue of biofuels. The following paragraph represents the compromise wording finally released last year to placate both sides:

“Biofuels have direct, fuel‐cycle GHG emissions that are typically 30–90% lower than those for gasoline or diesel fuels. However, since for some biofuels indirect emissions—including from land use change—can lead to greater total emissions than when using petroleum products, policy support needs to be considered on a case by case basis”

The problem in my eyes is that, thanks to human nature, the profit motive will continue to roll over indigenous people and ecosystems. Corporations sensitive to public image simply sell off problematic plantations to corporations who are not so sensitive. At one point in our recent geologic history, there were several upright walking primate species coexisting on this planet with our species. We are the last primate species that will walk on this planet, but hopefully, we won’t one day be the last primate species.

With shifting climate patterns, drought in five states, forest fires raging from Alaska to Southern California, chronic water shortages, and a global population still growing by roughly 75 million a year, how wise is it to further expand agriculture to fuel our cars?

As we approached our campsite in Okanogan County a few weeks ago we saw what we thought was a big thundercloud on the horizon which turned out to be a forest fire burning just fifteen miles away. Our tents were dusted with falling ash before it was brought under control. Another camper had recently returned from a camping trip where even the Hoh rain forest is experiencing its largest fire in recorded history. In the last several years it has become the norm to check for forest fires before setting off on a camping trip. This is how it happens. Slowly, over time, changes to the environment become accepted as the norm, with only the old-timers remembering what used to be (sky darkening clouds of passenger pigeons, herds of bison over the horizon, Carolina parakeets, ivory billed woodpeckers).

Washington State, thanks to its mountains and river systems providing hydro electric power, has one of the lowest carbon electrical grids in the nation along with some of the lowest electricity rates. It puts Germany’s electrical grid to shame with respect to both carbon emissions and especially cost (never mind for the moment the destruction of salmon and sturgeon migrations that resulted).

US State GHG Emissions

German GHG Emissions

That’s the thing about renewable energy. Economic viability is a function of where on the planet you are. …location, location, location. A one-size-fits-all global solution, it is not. Whatever mix and associated costs Germany settles on will be unique to Germany.

By circumstance, Washington is already way ahead of the game when it comes to decarbonizing energy consumption. By comparison, a state like Indiana; flat as a board, not particularly sunny or windy, using a lot of air-conditioning in the summer, heat in the winter, and powered mostly by coal might best be decarbonized with the help of nuclear energy.

Indiana GHG Emissions

Washington’s main source of carbon comes from transportation. Electric cars would not be particularly effective at reducing emissions in Indiana thanks to the coal used to make electricity. On the other hand, they can be highly effective in Washington State.

As an agricultural powerhouse, Indiana could try decarbonizing its transport sector with corn and soy beans. This idea of the Midwest consuming their own biofuel products was first suggested by Robert Rapier years ago. Never mind for the moment that corn ethanol may not actually reduce carbon emissions much, if at all. A University of Wisconsin study published this year by the Institute of Physics estimated that emissions from the expansion of cropland in the United States to meet demand for mandated use of biofuels was “equivalent to a year’s carbon dioxide release from 34 coal-fired power plants or an additional 28 million cars on the road.”

The Governor of Indiana does not mandate the use of flex fuel cars and E85 gas, or even a blend of soybean biodiesel quite simply because the economic cost of doing so would largely negate the high grain prices being received by Indiana farmers (transfer of wealth) thanks to the federal fuel mandates.

Maybe Indiana should burn corn instead of coal to make electricity? And I realize that sounds absurd but there are wood stoves designed to do just that. Displacing coal with corn might be less carbon intensive than making a liquid fuel out of it, but again, it all comes down to cost. Coal is a lot cheaper than corn …and I don’t know which lobby is more powerful in Indiana, corn or coal.

Which brings us back to Washington State. Instead of doing something really innovative, like promoting the installation of high speed chargers at 7-Elevens (or wherever) in urban areas to match Tesla’s Walled Garden of high-speed chargers which are only for Tesla owners, our Governor favors the more politically astute strategy of mandating biofuel use to capture the farm vote. For now, he can’t do that but because he tried, he will still get his farm vote and that’s how politics work.

For anyone interested, more about the camping trip below:

Our campsite on the dry side of the mountains in Washington State, which we have returned to for many years, was, for the first time, visited by rattlesnakes, one of which I carried away from the campsite on the end of my camera monopole. He was curious about the pole, nosed it a few times, and once I got him to crawl over the “far” end, I was able to gently picked him up without alarm. When I sat him back down a safer distance from the tents, he calmly crawled away …in the opposite direction of the campsite.

Western Rattlesnake

Western Rattlesnake

I failed to get a picture of any of them but they were similar to the subspecies shown above (photo courtesy Wikipedia).  The pattern looks similar to that of a common gopher snake, especially after dark. One teenage camper had actually reached down to pick up what he thought was a gopher snake after dark but thought better of it when he heard a strange rattle sound. Two problems; gopher snakes are not nocturnal and what are the odds the rattle sound was not from a rattlesnake? That was a close call and I hope he learned a lesson.

Dragonfly on a stick

Dragonfly on a stick

If you see three rattlesnakes, you can bet there are more you didn’t see, and they tend to come out at night. They’re pit vipers. Those small pits located on their heads are sensory organs that can essentially see heat, especially at night when the cooler air contrasts better with a warm prey body …that also can’t see the snake in the dark. My guess is that the especially dry, hot weather was drawing them out of the hills toward the lake in search of water. Our campsite just happened to lay between the hills and the lake.

Immature Rubber Boa

Immature Rubber Boa

Minutes after I had moved the rattlesnake, my wife and daughter walked up with a young rubber boa that had been crossing the road. No mistaking one of these for a rattlesnake. Like rattlesnakes, rubber boas are often active at night but also spend most of their time underground (note its small eyes). You will rarely see the other common snakes in this area (racer, garter, or gopher snake) out after sunset. I’ve included a few other photos from past camping events below.

Mature_Boa

Mature Rubber Boa

 

Mountain Blue Bird

Mountain Blue Bird

Tree Frogs

Tree Frogs

bigmantis

Immature Praying Mantis

Osprey

Osprey

 

Frog on a flower

Frog on a flower

And for anyone interested, the copy of the rejected submission to the Seattle Times follows:

This is Why We Have a Two Party Political System

Thankfully, the senate transportation package on its way to Governor Inslee’s desk still contains the purported poison pill (language that should prevent Governor Inslee from mandating the consumption of biofuels). Roughly a third of America’s corn harvest is already in our gas tanks thanks to federally mandated biofuel consumption. Last year, the IPCC warned that some biofuels can lead to more total emissions than petroleum based fuels and that “increasing bioenergy crop cultivation poses risks to ecosystems and biodiversity.”

A University of Wisconsin study published this year by the Institute of Physics estimated that emissions from the expansion of cropland in the United States to meet demand for mandated use of biofuels was “equivalent to a year’s carbon dioxide release from 34 coal-fired power plants or an additional 28 million cars on the road.”

Times change. At the height of Seattle’s biodiesel craze you could practically walk across Ballard on the top of smelly, soot spewing, biodiesel fueled Jettas. The once ubiquitous biodiesel bumper stickers have practically disappeared.

Governor Inslee is an old-school biofuel enthusiast and long-time supporter of the biofuel industry. In 2007 he co-wrote the book “Apollo’s Fire” which extolled the virtues of corn ethanol (25 mentions), biodiesel (31 mentions), and cellulosic ethanol (42 mentions). The book also praised the newly formed Imperium Renewables biodiesel refinery in Grays Harbor (12 mentions) …which has since decided to get into the oil business by expanding its facilities to transfer a daily trainload of crude oil to tanker ships bound for refineries along the West coast.

From the book:

“It would be comforting to avoid the prospect of being proven wrong by the passage of time. But your authors are built of sterner stock. We refuse to take refuge in the privilege of punditry to cloak our comments in vague surmises.”

One of many predictions proved wrong by the passage of time was that “cellulosic ethanol will make a rapid penetration of the market” and that “meaningful amounts of cellulosic ethanol” will be available at service stations across the country by 2011. According to the EPA, there was no cellulosic ethanol available in 2011 and last year, total national production of cellulosic ethanol was still measured in the thousands of gallons while corn ethanol exceeded 14 billion gallons. It is entirely likely that cellulosic ethanol may one day be dropped from the biofuel mandate.

With shifting weather patterns, drought conditions in five states, and forest fires raging from Alaska to Southern California, how smart is it to expand agriculture to fuel our cars? There are many other options we can take to reduce our transportation footprint. For example, in Seattle, a two-car family driving a Prius and a Leaf emit half the GHG emissions per mile of a one-car family driving a car that gets the U.S. average for gas mileage.

Sources:

University of Wisconsin Study:

http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/10/4/044003/pdf/1748-9326_10_4_044003.pdf page 9, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institute_of_Physics and http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/05/07/3654392/corn-ethanol-illegal/

 

Amount of corn used for ethanol:

http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-01-06/u-dot-s-dot-ethanol-mandate-would-be-eliminated-if-bipartisan-legislation-passes

 

IPCC quote:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2014/04/20/its-final-corn-ethanol-is-of-no-use/

 

Quotes from book Apollo’s Fire used “search inside the book” on Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00ZY8KG7K/ref=mp_s_a_1_6?qid=1436978338&sr=8-6&pi=SL75_QL70&keywords=apollo%27s+fire+inslee

 

Two-car family calculation:

Prius MPG = 48:

http://touch.toyota.com/prius/

U.S. Average MPG = 24:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/12/13/cars-in-the-u-s-are-more-fuel-efficient-than-ever-heres-how-it-happened/

 

Nissan Leaf in Seattle is charged by Seattle City Light Grid which is composed of 95% low carbon energy sources hydro, wind, and nuclear:

http://www.seattle.gov/light/FuelMix/

 

Imperium Renewables oil transport:

http://www.opb.org/news/article/a-washington-clean-fuel-business-that-can-hardly-make-a-buck-in-washington/

 

Cellulosic Ethanol available in 2011:

http://www.epa.gov/otaq/fuels/rfsdata/2015emts.htm

  1. By Carney3 on July 22, 2015 at 10:21 am
    [link]      
    • By Russ Finley on July 22, 2015 at 10:42 pm

      That article was written in 2008. Most of the arguments it presented have been obsoleted, especially the high price of oil argument. It mocks the impacts of Indirect land use, which has since been accepted as fact by the EU and EPA. The corn land use chart it presents was just obsoleted by the UW study linked to in this article, and on, and on.

      [link]      
      • By Forrest on July 24, 2015 at 10:27 am

        So, since ethanol production is at all time record and price of corn down to $3.62/bushel, how does that savings get attributed to ethanol? We need to take out inflation and market speculators such as teacher union retirement fund that was manipulating corn market prices. Also, the economists studies indicate the low cost of ethanol per environmental regulations and the consumer ability to chose at the pump have historically been a positive factor to control fuel cost up to $1/gallon savings upon rare occasions. We need to factor in the most important component of life stock feed is protein in which is boosted upon ethanol process. Factor in the loss of much federal farm subsidies per farm new found wealth. Factor, the healthier animal feed per ferment process production of distillery grains. The list of co-product production and probably the job creation and economy boost during the countries recession and the positive effects of economy therein. Where is the crude oil dollars spent per consumers in golden era of no competition? You know the 18 mBd of $100/barrel oil for all those years? That would be $2 trillion within your time frame.

        [link]      
      • By David on July 28, 2015 at 3:30 am

        I don’t know how Energy Trends Insider divides up the topics (if they do), but I think Robert Rapier should be the one to write about the technical and commercial feasibility of biofuels.

        The article and the comment author’s comment above have several errors.

        1. A third of the corn crop is not in the gasoline tank. About 30% of a corn kernel, when ground for ethanol, becomes a mid-protein animal feed.

        2. The little copy and paste table immediately above is meaningless. The quantities produced are not accurate; farmers didn’t make any money at $2 corn so farm program payments were higher (they’re still too high, even in the good times, but that’s another subject); food vs. fuel is complex, but even the World Bank has backtracked on their ~2008 comments, which got a lot of attention. Also, the UN FAO came out just a week or two ago with a statement that was generally supportive of biofuels.

        3. The Univ of Wisconsin study does not “obsolete” any other study or set of assumptions. Its authors do not have a lot of experience and it has been harshly critiqued. If someone agrees with the conclusions because it fits their pre-existing beliefs, that’s fine, but land use change (domestic, international, direct, indirect) is an evolving area and I can assure you that the models used by the EPA, university researchers, US energy lab researchers, CA-ARB, and the EU vary quite a bit and remain as contentious as ever. Related: carbon sequestration in the soil is also a relatively new area of study for soil scientists. It takes years to run experiments with different crops and different management practices. Whoever tells you they have the answer on sequestration/LUC is lying. The EPA’s own LUC model, when comparing ethanol to gasoline, uses the midpoint of a wide range.

        4. Comparing biofuel quality (what was the feedstock and blend?) from 2006 to 2015 is like apples and oranges.

        Overall, biodiesel is good at reducing GHGs but it makes no economic sense. The industry would disappear were it not for the mandate, RINs and the occasional blender’s tax credit.

        Corn ethanol has come a long way – higher yields in the fields and in the plant and less energy and water use. The mandate and RINS are still around, but the federal subsidies are gone. Using the EPA model, corn ethanol generally results in 20-29% GHG reduction. The industry and the biofuels team at Argonne say the EPA’s model has an unsupported (and high) LUC, but even so, the EPA is approving corn ethanol petitions every month that state in black and white that the GHG reductions are 20%+.

        I could point out more errors, but I don’t want to be as long-winded as Forrest.

        [link]      
        • By Forrest on July 28, 2015 at 6:41 am

          You and Optimist have a superior personally offensive writing style.

          [link]      
        • By Russ Finley on July 31, 2015 at 11:54 pm
          [link]      
          • By David on August 2, 2015 at 8:27 pm

            I won’t go point-for-point. Not enough time and it’s not going to change opinions. I am confident that the numbers I used were factual, and when precision was not possible, I stated a range or noted that they were open to debate.

            Two clarifications:

            1. I said the table was meaningless because the production figures are wrong and therefore the calculation purporting to show excess expenditures on corn is wrong. The US never produced 13B bu of corn until 2009 so it’s impossible to use 13B as an average or weighted average production figure for the decade before 2006. Also, any discussion of food prices that fails to mention China’s increasing appetite for meat and dairy products is woefully incomplete.

            2. The Univ of Wisc study. LUC is not settled here or in Europe. One study does not obsolete anything and if you truly believe that’s how science progresses, then you must spend a lot of time reading about, worrying about and changing your current food and medicine products and medical treatments because new and conflicting studies are released quite frequently. Note: I wouldn’t even consider LUC or life cycle analysis “science” at this stage. Sure, there are some hard numbers provided by chemists, soil scientists, plant specialists and engineers, but then they’re blended with some big honkin’ assumptions, often politically or underwriter-driven.

            For the record, I trust RFA-sponsored research and statements about as far as I can throw Bob Dineen. Argonne Lab provides more details, but they have a mission to promote biofuels from their DOE (and maybe USDA) funders. I am not a cheerleader for corn ethanol. Post 2011 it’s better than it used to be, but it has a long history of being a subsidy hog and an energy sink. Biodiesel, as noted, is better on the GHG front, but I don’t think it should have much of a future in the US unless we ramp up canola production or find some oilseed (or algae) that doesn’t require intensive mgmt and heavy use of fertilizer and water.

            [link]      
            • By Forrest on August 3, 2015 at 10:19 am

              Please, anyone whom offers a positive aspects of corn ethanol is a superficial cheerleader. How much money with ensuing influence does the gas fan boys partake? They claim ethanol is puny and worthless, but spend great effort in attempt to convince public. It must not be so obvious? Why are they so concerned, if what they say is true, it will soon be forgotten and avoided. Why the vicious fight to prevent mid level blends? If half of what they post is true, who would purchase corn ethanol? Where is the indirect carbon penalty of fossil fuels? You know the Boreal Forest and wildlife. The terrorist and tyrant funding. The military costs to protect oil tanker and well supplies. These concerns would rate a few notches above theoretical jungle land conversion to corn. U.S. has no history of agricultural conversion per USDA records. Corn price/bushel follows inflation rate per history of production. Most of the human consumption of corn goes to spirit production. Not something to fret about. Corn ethanol provides a stable base to pull alternative fuels into production and distribution. Ethanol makes gasoline a cleaner product. It improves the gasoline side to burn completely. It enables gasoline to be burned within high efficient engines requiring high octane and does so without health harming additives. The most valuable component of the corn for feed is maintained and improved per distillery process, protein.

              [link]      
            • By Russ Finley on August 4, 2015 at 11:36 pm

              The US never produced 13B bu of corn until 2009 ….

              The spreadsheet only covers the years 2011-2013.

              For the record, I trust RFA-sponsored research and statements about as far as I can throw Bob Dineen.

              …no argument there ; )

              [link]      
            • By Russ Finley on August 4, 2015 at 11:41 pm

              The US never produced 13B bu of corn until 2009 ….

              The spreadsheet only covers the years 2011-2013.

              For the record, I trust RFA-sponsored research and statements about as far as I can throw Bob Dineen.

              …no argument there ; )

              [link]      
  2. By Forrest on July 23, 2015 at 6:37 am

    While the purchasing a battery Leaf car in Washington state should reduce GHG transportation emissions by 50%, it’s still yet to be determined. Meaning like cellulosic ethanol promise, the reality of current day benefits per high cost is not realized. Many barriers exist such has charging stations, range, inconvenience, purchase cost, practical, obsolescence cost, loss of gov’t revenue dedicated to debt load. The biofuels benefit can be shared and enjoyed by most citizens without such losses. Ethanol is proven to be very efficient to lower environmental harm per octane and oxygenate enhancement of gasoline that historically utilized foul components of lead, MTBE, and unhealthy petrol fluids such as benzene. Ethanol is cheaper than the base stock which enhances customer value. E15 is proven to reduce metro pollution a good thing. As you know Chicago is leading the adaption for such purposes.

    [link]      
  3. By Forrest on July 23, 2015 at 6:54 am

    University of Wisconsin has a strong biofuel development program. Also, a consortium of three or four combining efforts. They have frequent articles on progress of bio engineering to enhance processes. A lot of change or development in the works, that would deter expensive build up of current state of art cellulosic ethanol per obsolescence costs. But as all universities, staff receive funding from various sources and have biases. What R. Rapier suggested of corn states to consume more of their ethanol product is widely practiced. These states invest more in infrastructure and consume the most mid and high level blends. Capital resources expended on timely and cost effective manner as information and hardware becomes available. Michigan has just started the venture to E15 and blender pump installs as well as the steady spread of E85 pumps. The industry is in a learning curve from federal regulators, hardware vendors, and consultants on cost effective ways to accomplish giving customers more choice at the pump. Sales of mid level ethanol very positive per independent gas station owners that look to serve customers wants and not to merely salute oil industry. As you post the nasty profit motive.

    [link]      
    • By Optimist on July 25, 2015 at 3:32 am

      Corn states using more corn ethanol? That’s pure horse manure and you know it Ethanol Fan Boy! They want Uncle Sam to build them pipelines to get that *crap* out of their states…

      [link]      
      • By Forrest on July 25, 2015 at 7:48 am

        Interesting, when looking up data found every state produces ethanol, even D.C.. Comparing high ethanol production states with low, always a direct increase in ethanol use. I had to crunch this data to find comparables. Ethanol consumption per person range of .7 barrels per year to 1.6 bpy. California 1, Alaska .7, Wyoming 1.2, Iowa 1.2, Michigan 1.3, N Dakota 1.6. This is 2013 info and Iowa has made improvements in infrastructure for mid level blends per news release with ensuing sales records. The high ethanol production states spending the most for ethanol infrastructure. It appears average motorist attracted to benefits of mid level blends of ethanol. Hence, why International Oil corporations fought dirty and spent million upon Capital Hill to stop the progress.

        [link]      
        • By Forrest on July 25, 2015 at 8:10 am

          Wait, that is every state consumes ethanol and that is what would be expected. Twenty eight states produce ethanol, 2014. I’m guessing they don’t keep track of all the small quantity generators of waste ethanol.

          [link]      
        • By Optimist on July 27, 2015 at 6:20 pm

          Wait, the ethanol fat cats are pointing a finger to Big Oil when it comes to lobbying? Rich…

          [link]      
  4. By Forrest on July 23, 2015 at 7:24 am

    The typical and all to squishy indirect land change per biofuels is accepted per regulators as GHG penalty burden to lower the fuel rating. The science of which is soft and still within discussion. I think regulators have a fear of unbridled land conversion upon foreign lands. It doesn’t make economic sense to strip pristine wilderness and jungle to farmland as their is so much poor or barren land of low value. Modern agriculture practices actually improves soil fertility, but still conditions must be present to make it profitable. Naturalist will fight anything man made and claim nature in any variation superior if man were eliminated and only they were able to enjoy benefits. So we get descriptions of weed infested land bank reserves as pristine grassland and natural land when a farmer decides to convert. I’ve seen to much “pristine” land bank land that would better be described as weed infested barren. The globe has much of this land to chose from.
    To safe guard against conversions of pristine wilderness, sanction those countries that do per the loss of sale of their biofuel. This should be an attractive international development to promote environmental practices. One must realise, the carbon accounting of indirect land change is often laughable and full of faulty assumptions. Refer to this vetting of the UW study. http://www.ethanolrfa.org/exchange/entry/university-of-wisconsin-study-based-on-shaky-foundation/stydy:

    [link]      
  5. By Superhawk on July 23, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Wow, another moronic article that assumes the
    only way to make biofuels from biomass is to use conventional agriculture
    which is highly dependent upon petroleum based tractors, pesticides and
    fertilizers and that requires the dedication of millions of acres of food
    generating crop land. The future of biomass generated fuels is from waste
    streams that already exist and from intensive agriculture approaches, such
    as hydroponics, that require vastly less energy, space and fertilization
    and from crops that can provide food and fuel and also do not require the
    use of valuable crop land, e.g. algae. Look, I think these type of articles
    that dismiss biofuels based on the red herring arguments of taking food
    from a starving world or that petroleum is so much cheaper, do a
    disservice to the entire biofuel industry by giving the average person the
    impression that all biofuels are bad or impractical. Nothing could be
    further from the truth. And, I would ask the authors of these articles,
    what is the bleeping alternative? Do you not understand that continuing
    our reliance on fossil fuels is insane and impossible? What part of the
    word “unsustainable” do you not understand? Do you realize that the
    “cost” of fossil fuel does not include a factor for its detriment to
    the environment? Have you not figured out that if we continue to liberate
    all the sequestered carbon in fossil fuel into the current biosphere we
    would be releasing all the carbon produced by natural processes, such as
    volcanic eruptions that occurred over tens of millions of years,
    essentially all at once? Also, the fact of the mater is that we are not
    going to have to replace fossil fuels gallon for gallon. Hybrids sip gas and
    electric vehicle use none. But where is the electrical power going to
    come from you ask? In part from solar, wind, geothermal, hydro electric,
    and conventional nuclear. However, that said, we need a new “Manhattan
    Project”, just as the Chinese are currently doing, to develop Thorium based
    nuclear power. Thorium is more abundant than Uranium, there is enough
    to provide power for thousands of years, its fission reaction does not spin out of control should a disaster happen and does not produce fissile (bomb) by products
    or explosive hydrogen, and the waste it produces has half-lives of two
    years rather than thousands. That decay rate means the waste can be
    stored on site for 20 years and then very safely transported to a
    permanent site where, after a hundred years, it is probably not far from
    natural background radiation levels. Thus, we do not have to make
    the decision as between starving now or starving, choking or burning to
    death later. With a little more investment of money and ingenuity we can
    produce sufficient volumes of biofuels cost-effectively and do so without
    compromising our ability to feed our increasing population or do harm to
    the environment. Got it? Please, no more of these narrow focus, conventional
    agriculture centric, lack of alternatives, and incomplete articles
    on biofuels. You are doing a disservice to all of us including your
    children and mine.

    [link]      
    • By Russ Finley on July 25, 2015 at 5:18 pm

      Wow, another moronic article that assumes the only way to make biofuels from biomass is to use conventional agriculture …a disservice to the entire biofuel industry by giving the average person the impression that all biofuels are bad or impractical. Nothing could be further from the truth.

      Not so moronic. The truth is that roughly 98% of biofuels use conventional agriculture. From cellulose, maybe a tenth of a single percent. What we need is a lot more research to see if we can find less destructive, more cost effective ways to make biofuel.

      And, I would ask the authors of these articles, what is the bleeping alternative?

      The article you pretend to have read presents one alternative that would reduce liquid fuel consumption by 75% compared to two vehicles that get average mileage.

      Do you realize that the “cost” of fossil fuel does not include a factor for its detriment to the environment?

      Do you realize that the “cost” of today’s biofuels does not include a factor for their detriment to the environment?

      Please, no more of these narrow focus, conventional agriculture centric, lack of alternatives, and incomplete articles on biofuels. You are doing a disservice to all of us including your children and mine.

      I’d be doing my children a disservice by not critiquing existing biofuels. Apparently you don’t disagree about the way 98% of biofuels are produced. This isn’t a newspaper article where the author has to hide his or her bias and pretend to present the opposing viewpoint as the Seattle Times article I linked to does. It’s about the downsides of existing biofuels, not a dissertation on biofuel research and future potentials. I don’t spend a lot of time trying to predict the future or debating those who claim they can.

      [link]      
  6. By Optimist on July 25, 2015 at 3:33 am

    Russ, please tell me you’re NOT a Malthusian…

    [link]      
    • By Russ Finley on July 25, 2015 at 12:28 pm

      What is a Malthusian? I’m sure I’ve mentioned this book review before:

      Book Review: The Rational Optimist–How Prosperity Evolves

      [link]      
      • By Optimist on July 27, 2015 at 6:18 pm

        Wow – that was exhausting…

        Suffice to say a strict separation between optimists and pessimists aren’t possible as even the darkest pessimist is optimistic about something, just as even the sunniest optimist is pessimistic about something. Point taken.

        Back to Malthus: do you believe more people = more damage and destruction? Seems like you lean that way. Does that not make you a Malthusian, even if you’d perhaps prefer to be called an optimistic Malthusian? Sorry, make that a realistic Malthusian…

        [link]      
        • By Russ Finley on July 30, 2015 at 7:33 pm

          Well, that’s a start. We have your definition of a Malthusian:

          “…more people = more damage and destruction.”

          But now we need your definition of damage and destruction. Google “Sixth Extinction Event” and get back to me ; )

          [link]      
          • By Optimist on July 30, 2015 at 7:47 pm

            Let’s see. Paul Ehrlich learned a big, scary new word? Shiver me timbers…

            [link]      
  7. By Forrest on July 26, 2015 at 8:17 am

    Wholesale attacks or supports of biofuel comments are not very productive in light of the variety of production. Corn ethanol is the overwhelming production champ, but their is nothing that would lock the future to either corn or ethanol production. Meaning many alcohols being evaluated for performance upon market sales and ease of production. Processes could evolve to more than just ethanol and the usual coproducts. Processes do now include cellulosic and starch as does sugar and cellulose. Diesel fuel is within these processes as a natural coproduct as does, animal feed, corn gluten, corn starch, and pure CO2. Some process plants have ability to produce plastic feed chemicals and or food products. Straight Cellulosic ethanol process appear to be noncompetitive with $50/barrel crude products and lay in weight for better markets. The process weak point upon pretreatment cost, process delay, capability, and stability. The weak acid steam explosion process to date rated the most competitive, but that process still has needs to be neutralized with chemical treatment afterwards. I’m getting the impression the current processes are capable, yet insufferably slow and methodical with accompanying need of continual adjustment per elimination of bad bacteria or compounds. Much sterilization and testing required. Also, in the pipe stream, technology that would greatly improve the process upon all stages from feed stock, pretreatment, conversion, and dehydration. I don’t think their is any more to learn from running process plants upon full production in such competitive markets.
    The biodiesel process and feed stocks supply market is going through evolution of learning best practices for cost and impact on environment. Poor solutions will be replaced with superior. Agriculture, landscaping, and forestry for example can be a wonderful and powerful way to cleanse the environment per bumping up the natural biological energy. Improvements per modern sharing of ideas such as the Rational Optimist book depicts continue to work to meet demands of both society and nature. This is opposite of what Naturalist would want you to believe. They want man’s influence to be limited to apartment house living with flower pot upon balcony experience. This is opposite of Bible principles of nature being for Man’s enjoyment and purposes all of which includes the bountiful and development of nature.

    [link]      
    • By Forrest on July 27, 2015 at 9:10 am

      Same could be said of petrol. Different harvest processes, varying locations, varying oil chemical makeup with trailing needs of custom distillation, cracking, blending and long distance transportation. Some local to market crude very economical and least harmful to environment as the production usually entails natural gas of which needs little processing and easily distributed. Others like deep water drilling and sand harvesting have much higher costs and harm to environment. Also, the petrol economics of concentrated wealth creation is problematic upon international harmony of helping low wealth citizenry enjoy constructive government operations and the ability to curtail lawlessness and terrorism. For example the U.S. newly invented drilling operations has pushed light crude (of which we have little distillery capability) to ever higher production records. This petrol has high content of NG liquids, way beyond our consumption needs. Hence, the production value only one half of normal international trade since U.S. regulations prohibit the export. We have to much natural gasoline, propane, LPG, and natural gas then our domestic markets can consume. We can now export liquefied natural gas per relaxed regs and construction of expensive ships and port equipment. R&D efforts continue to develop catalyst process to convert more natural gas liquids to common fuel additives. Also, processors are looking at the natural advantage of high octane ethanol with low VP emissions to blend higher percentage of natural gas of which need both of what ethanol has.

      [link]      
  8. By Forrest on July 28, 2015 at 8:40 am

    We sit upon cross roads of RFS ethanol production stimulants. Our technology for process plant construction and ethanol still rated best in world, but as usual we abandon such efforts when results don’t live up to hype. Our Rhino Republicans work to hard for business as usual benefactors and fight change. Meanwhile Democrats fight just about everything that doesn’t perfectly align with their “magnificent” ideals. During Bush years both parties enthusiastically supported bio fuel production. Now, just a non partisan core offer optimism. Ethanol benefited when opposing party CIC picked up the baton to continue biofuel development, but that support continues to wane per lost of political support as gasoline, currently, cheap. The true blue environmentalist and naturist hate ethanol competition and benefits per the the competition to their over rated battery car and need to spend $trillions to overhaul the way society functions.
    Lately, the news of another Brazilian cellulosic plant opening per Iogen process and Shell support of the company. Find, the country of Brazil is currently leading upon the cellulosic path. Also, take note of another Iogen new product offering of which starts with bio-digester to natural gas pipeline product stream to offset same NG feed stock needed to produce hydrogen within current process plants. Iogen has technology to blend hydrogen into common fuel stocks of diesel and gasoline. The process capable of billions of gallons equivalent energy as the ethanol industry already migrating to include bio-digester technology to bump up carbon rating of fuel. May our country, politics, and petrol businesses need to get on the stick to pull ethanol development forward per RFS to maintain a potentially huge economic advantage within international trade? I think so!

    [link]      
    • By Forrest on July 29, 2015 at 7:07 am

      The flame speed of hydrogen very fast. This fuel character is of primary importance to increase max cylinder pressure (torque) of the engine and this is the primary driver of increase engine efficiency. Ethanol has fast combustion as well. The motoring public needs to understand this fact per the contribution made to make gasoline more efficient for ICE. Both hydrogen and ethanol will make gasoline side of the fuel mix burn more efficient. This means the public gets a better bang for the petrol purchase with ethanol as first the fuel is cheaper per gallon as compared to gasoline and the fact that this additive makes gas perform better. It appears hydrogen will complement ethanol to do more for gasoline, as well. H20% a very attractive rated fuel per combustion benefits as well as E30. This combination would really kick the ICE engine up several notches per efficiency rating and same per decreasing tail pipe emissions. What a super blend! If this fuel could become a certified standard blend and gradually change the formation from natural gas generated hydrogen to bio-digester generated hydrogen as ethanol migrates to higher percentage of cellulosic the green rating of this new fuel would likewise naturally rise. More importantly the new fuel would allow automotive engineers to maximize engine efficiency that in turn would work to magnify the benefit of all three fuels. The net result should be a small fraction of tail pipe emission stream of plain gasoline engine. Consider the advance of ICE efficiency that compare with that achieved by the grid. The bump in efficiency achieved with hybrid technology and finally the greening of the fuel.

      [link]      
Register or log in now to save your comments and get priority moderation!