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By Russ Finley on Mar 25, 2012 with 1 response

Energy Sources Versus Nature

Welcome to the sixth extinction event.

This is a portrait of an axolotl. My youngest daughter has two of them. They are almost extinct in the wild. However, because they breed well in captivity and because they are valuable for research (they can regenerate entire lost appendages), there is a large captive population. Coincidentally, she also has a pet New Caledonia crested gecko, also on the verge of extinction in the wild, which also breeds well in captivity, and also has a large captive population.


By Russ Finley on Mar 18, 2012 with 12 responses

Clearing the Air On Ethanol Mandates

A regular commenter on the R-Squared blog made some reasonable, articulate, and civil comments under my previous post. Rather than address them in the comment field I’ve opted to give my response (which got rather lengthy) in a new post.

If the EPA doesn’t want to up the blend wall, there’s plenty of demand for ethanol around the world. It’s an excellent oxygenate, if nothing else. And there’s no shortage of smog filled cities.

Nobody is arguing to remove the freedom to blend corn ethanol into fuel as an additive if desired by refiners. A 2004 CARB study showed that ethanol actually increased smog forming emissions relative to non-oxygenated gas by 45%. Two years later the EPA dropped the requirement to oxygenate gas. Modern cars can meet very strict emissions standards in a variety of ways.

The official stated goal of ethanol mandates is to reduce dependency on foreign oil, not smog. Although, spending billions to create a corn ethanol refinery infrastructure to replace a modest portion of our oil with a fuel that itself derives 70% of its energy content from fossil fuels seems like a rather (pick a word) way to accomplish that goal. A corn crop can be seen as just one of many steps needed in a process to convert diesel, natural gas, and coal into ethanol.


By Russ Finley on Mar 13, 2012 with 10 responses

Study Suggests Corn Ethanol Can’t Get There From Here

Flex Fuel Logo

A new study published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal by the American Chemical Society, has this to say about “the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) aims to increase annual U.S. biofuel (secondary bioenergy) production by more than 3-fold” :

While EISA energy targets are theoretically achievable, we show that meeting these targets utilizing current technology would require either an 80% displacement of current crop harvest or the conversion of 60% of rangeland productivity. Accordingly, realistically constrained estimates of bioenergy potential are critical for effective incorporation of bioenergy into the national energy portfolio.

I can hardly wait to see the critique of this study that will be cobbled together by the RFA and Growth Energy–the dynamic duo of corn ethanol lobbying organizations.


By Russ Finley on Mar 5, 2012 with 16 responses

Inside Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown — The Unsensationalized Version

Impending Media Tsunami

March 11 will be the one year anniversary of last year’s quake in Japan. Brace yourselves for the coming media tsunami. My hypothesis is that the media will focus on the Daiichi reactors instead of the 22,000 who lost their lives. I will also hazard a few guesses as to why they will do that.

Below is my nutshell synopsis of the major events that occurred at the Daiichi power plant:

  1. The reactors shut down and the fuel rods began cooling as designed when the quake hit.
  2. A 30-foot high tsunami swamped the emergency power generators.
  3. Water that was covering fuel rods evaporated causing them to start melting.
  4. Hydrogen that had accumulated in the upper stories of the buildings that covered the fuel pools and containment vessels exploded (eliminating the potential to trap more hydrogen).
  5. People living within a twelve mile radius were evacuated prior to venting the containment vessel.
  6. A badly misguided attempt was made to dump water on the pools using helicopters.
  7. Within one hour of their arrival, firefighters using a single pump truck parked near the ocean managed to leave enough water spraying into the reactor buildings to avert further overheating, which allowed workers to safely return to continue containment and cooling.

Certainly, just as airline regulatory bodies have always used major incidents to improve designs, inspections, and procedures, the nuclear regulators will do the same as a result of this latest nuclear incident.

By Russ Finley on Feb 29, 2012 with 6 responses

Do Government Subsidies Ever Pay Off?

The answer largely depends on your definition of a subsidy and what you mean by payoff.

I’d suggest that many, if not most, subsidies are a roll of the dice (crap shoot) when it comes to the purported pay off. They are social experiments without any guarantee of success, which is not to say they should not be undertaken as long as a mechanism is in place to end the subsidy in a timely manner.

There are many examples that have paid off royally, along with many that were (and are) a waste of time and money to varying degrees.


By Russ Finley on Feb 26, 2012 with 13 responses

How to Turn a Tesla Battery Pack Into a $40,000 Brick

Li-ion, Not Your Father’s Battery

This Tesla-to-brick story first appeared in the Understatement blog, authored by Michael Degusta. Some rich guy, too busy to read his owner’s manual, parked his six-figure sports car in a garage for six weeks while his home was being remodeled.

From the Tesla owner’s manual:

“Keep in mind that when the vehicle is left unplugged with a full Battery, the initial rate of decline can be significant. When fully charged, the Battery’s charge level can drop as much as 7% a day and 50% within the first week. When the Battery’s charge level falls below 50%, the rate of decline slows down to approximately 5% per week. Over-discharge can permanently damage the Battery.”

That equates to a ruined battery in roughly 11 weeks. In other words, for this Tesla to be damaged in six weeks, it was likely parked with a mostly discharged battery. Ouch.


By Russ Finley on Feb 23, 2012 with 10 responses

E15 Update: When Will it Receive Final Approval?

Warning Labels

Note how the brightly colored original warning label with easy to read contrasting text first proposed by the EPA on the left has, under pressure from ethanol lobbyists, evolved into a dull, greasy looking sticker replete with small print that should quickly fade even further into the background as it accumulates gas pump grime. This sticker is the backbone of the EPA’s “misfueling mitigation plan.”

Picture a harried low-income parent in a hurry to pick up a kid at daycare before it closes, who has to first gas up their older model car. Assuming this parent even notices the bland warning sticker, their thought process might go something like this; “Here’s the lowest priced gas. Up to 15% ethanol? Sounds like a good deal to me. Not sure what year this car was made …wonder what the fine print says.”


By Russ Finley on Feb 20, 2012 with 20 responses

Nissan Leaf Maintenance Issues — Or Lack Thereof

A new Nissan Leaf comes with a free one-year subscription to Carwings, which is a Nissan system available in several of their models that connects your car to the internet so you can do things like get traffic updates, and in the case of the Leaf, check on battery charge and start the car’s defroster, from your computer, while still in your pajamas.

Mine stopped working last week. The Leaf is in many ways analogous to a giant laptop on wheels. Some owners have found a way to reboot the car to reset annoying problems like a non-functional Carwings by temporarily disconnecting the car’s small lead-acid battery.

I fixed my problem with an internet search that showed me which 20 amp fuse to remove for thirty seconds. Personally, I could have done without all of the bells and whistles because I know they are going to come back to bite me in the wallet some day.


By Russ Finley on Feb 16, 2012 with 12 responses

Biofuels Update: How is the Industry Doing?

VEETC Expiration, Ethanol Exports & Oil Imports

For those of you who missed it, the corn ethanol lobby failed to convince Congress to extend the ethanol import tariff (54 cents/gallon) as well as the blenders tax credit (46 cents/gallon), which were slated to expire at the end of 2011 …sound of crickets chirping.

My guess is that because we exported almost 9% of our ethanol production last year, it was hard to argue that we still needed a tariff to protect us from Brazilian ethanol imports, especially since Brazil was our biggest customer. In a related vein, it should also be hard to argue that we mandate ethanol use to reduce oil imports while exporting ethanol to Canada (second largest customer and largest oil importer) as well as the United Arab Emirates (our fifth largest customer).

As for the tax credit, well, paying oil companies to blend something they were already legally mandated to blend never did make much sense, except maybe to the oil companies who were not about to look that gift horse in the mouth.