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Expert Columns

By Robert Rapier on Mar 30, 2006 with no responses

How Reliable are Those USDA Ethanol Studies?

Introduction The pro-ethanol contingent is quick to point to certain studies published by the USDA to support the claim that the energy balance of grain-ethanol is positive. Many anti-ethanol advocates will point to studies by Professors Pimentel and Patzek (1) to support claims that the energy balance is negative. Say what you will about the Pimentel and Patzek studies, but they have one thing going for them that that USDA studies do not: They have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Why does this matter? Peer reviewed papers have been examined by reviewers familiar with the subject matter (but who are not colleagues of the authors) who are looking for deficiencies or gross errors. Peer review is no guarantee that errors… Continue»

By Robert Rapier on Mar 28, 2006 with no responses

A Primer on Gasoline Pricing

There was a story today in the Detroit Free Press on rising gasoline prices (1). Two items caught my attention: “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in gasoline prices,” said Mark Routt, a senior consultant with Energy Security Analysis Inc. in Wakefield, Mass. “Why? The bulk of it is due to an annual and normal change from winter to summer gasoline. Unfortunately for us this year, there is also a significant impact on prices because refiners are switching from MTBE to ethanol as an oxygenate to make summer gasoline.” Methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) is a gasoline additive that oil refiners have used to help meet emissions standards set by the Clean Air Act of 1990. Refineries around the country have stopped… Continue»

By Robert Rapier on with 2 responses

Biodiesel: King of Alternative Fuels

OK, maybe not the king yet. But if we judge based on the merits, biodiesel is head and shoulders above ethanol. Let’s take a closer look at it. Biodiesel has a couple of huge advantages over ethanol. First, it is not miscible in water, so you don’t have the huge input of fossil fuels that is required to separate ethanol from water. This makes the energy balance far better than that of ethanol. A poor energy balance is my primary objection to ethanol (especially grain-ethanol). The second major advantage biodiesel has is that it has over 1.6 times the BTU value of the same volume of ethanol. A gallon of biodiesel contains approximately 121,000 BTUs/gallon (about the same as gasoline),… Continue»

By Robert Rapier on Mar 26, 2006 with no responses

Exchange with an Ethanol Advocate

I am working on a biodiesel post, but I am having an exchange with an ethanol advocate that is worth capturing here. Over at the blog 7 Deadly Sins, a number of fallacious arguments in favor of ethanol subsidies have been given. I responded, and this led to the exchange that I capture here. I have become used to unsavory tactics by the pro-ethanol contingent. You wonder why such tactics are necessary, if their arguments are any good. This is also what happened following my testimony to the legislature against the ethanol mandate. People wanted to hurl insults and call names, but nobody was interested in engaging the facts. Note that in the exchange, the following occurred: 1). Ad hominen… Continue»

By Robert Rapier on Mar 25, 2006 with 2 responses

Ethanol from Biomass: A Sustainable Option?

The Promise of Cellulosic Ethanol I have mentioned a couple of times the research I was involved in during graduate school. I have provided a couple of links (under “Links”) that describe this research in detail. Briefly, we were trying to turn biomass (switchgrass, corn stover, wheat straw, and municipal solid waste) into ethanol and various organic acids and ketones. Biomass consists of many organic components, but it is primarily the cellulose component that gets turned into ethanol, hence the term cellulosic ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol has two major advantages, and one major disadvantage over ethanol from grain. The first major advantage is that large fossil fuel inputs in the form of fertilizer are not required to produce the biomass. Therefore,… Continue»

By Robert Rapier on Mar 24, 2006 with no responses

Improving the Prospects for Grain Ethanol

In my previous essay, you probably gathered that I am not enamored with grain-derived ethanol. I consider it to be a kind of fool’s gold that looks nice and shiny to the general public. Considering the magnitude of the subsidies as I showed in the previous essay, the industry is nowhere close to being able to compete on a level playing field. If the industry is to survive, you can count on multibillion dollar handouts – or mandates – as far as the eye can see. As I write this, the spot price of ethanol is $2.43, versus $1.74 for mid-grade gasoline. Considering that most people don’t buy mid-grade, you can knock another dime or so off the price of… Continue»

By Robert Rapier on Mar 23, 2006 with no responses

Grain-Derived Ethanol: The Emperor’s New Clothes

Energy security. Homegrown fuels. Better markets for our farmers. And by gosh, it’s good for the environment. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Where do I sign up? However, the truth behind grain-derived ethanol is masked behind half-truths and myths promoted by a very powerful lobby on behalf of agricultural and ethanol interests. This is one of the biggest scams in operation today, enabled by politicians who fear the political power of that powerful lobby. I will dissect some of the claims in this essay, and show why grain-based ethanol is a huge misallocation of resources. First, what do I know about ethanol? I grew up on a farm, and my family still farms. I wanted to help farmers and the environment,… Continue»

By Robert Rapier on Jan 12, 2006 with 25 responses

About Me

The mission of R-Squared is to foster open discussions of Energy and the Environment. My career has been devoted to energy issues. (See my resume for specifics). I have worked on cellulosic ethanol, butanol production, oil refining, natural gas production, and gas-to-liquids (GTL). I grew up in Oklahoma, and received my Master’s in Chemical Engineering from Texas A&M University. I am presently the Chief Technology Officer for Merica International, a renewable energy company (more details on that can be found at this interview with earth2tech). We are involved in a wide variety of projects, with a core focus on the localized use of biomass to energy for the benefit of local populations. I am also the author of Power Plays:… Continue»

By Robert Rapier on Nov 4, 2005 with no responses

My CV

Updated 3/23/2015 Or if you prefer, my resume. I want to emphasize that I am not looking for a job. But people sometimes ask me for my CV or resume, or they want to know more about my work background. Please don’t circulate it. If you wish to contact me, my e-mail address is listed. ————————————— CURRICULUM VITAE NAME: Robert Rapier CURRENT LOCATION: Arizona CONTACT INFO: My personal Email NATIONALITY: U.S. EDUCATION: Master of Science in Chemical Engineering Texas A&M University, College Station, TX in May 1995 GPA: 3.63/4.00 Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Mathematics (double major), Texas A&M University, Commerce, TX in May 1991 GPA: 3.93/4.00 SUMMARY: Over twenty years of engineering experience in the chemicals and oil… Continue»

By Robert Rapier on Nov 1, 2005 with 2 responses

My Resume

Updated 3/23/2015 Or if you prefer, my CV, which has more specific details on patents and professional accomplishments. In a nutshell, my passions are energy, the environment, and sustainability. I have worked on a wide variety of energy projects – both conventional and renewable – in several different countries. In my spare time I write about my passions primarily in an attempt to influence the discourse over our energy policy. A major interest of mine is to find ways to better utilize the waste biomass throughout the world that is currently burned or land-filled. ——————————————————– ROBERT RAPIER Location: Hawaii My personal Email CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER Global Management Executive and published author with a track record of coaching internationally diverse, multidisciplinary… Continue»