Friday, June 06, 2008

BioFuel

In March, Biofuel was the title story of the Time magazine. In The Clean Energy Scam, Michael Grunwald reports on 'new studies' that investigate closely especially the efficiency in using cropland for growing such 'renewable' energy sources. I was puzzled about the following discussion in which it was 'revealed' that ethanol production from corn does not make sense, neither economically nor ecologically. Instead, under quite general circumstances, more energy is needed to produce the ethanol than is obtained from it.

If one takes into account all energy inputs more than 140% more energy (mostly high value oil and natural gas) is needed to produce a gallon of corn ethanol than is in the ethanol itself. There are various environmental impacts of corn ethanol, including severe soil erosion of valuable cropland, and heavy use of nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides that pollute rivers. Because significant amounts of fossil fuel energy are used in ethanol production, large quantities of carbon dioxide are produced and released into the atmosphere, and during the fermentation process about 25% of the carbon from the sugars and starches is released as carbon dioxide [1]. Besides this, growing the crops takes large amounts of water which in some parts of the US is already becoming an issue that will likely worsen in the soon future.

And that doesn't even touch on the ethical problems it causes because ground that's used for biofuel crops is ground that's not available for food production. (The type of corn used in biofuels is not the same that is used to feed humans.) Some of the richest countries, among them the United States, Brazil, Canada and several European Union states, have large and expanding food-for-fuel industries. The poorer countries, among them Egypt and Venezuela, have been highly critical of biofuels because the crops used to make them take food off the table.

I was puzzled by this biofuel discussion because it wasn't news to me. Okay, I couldn't have quoted the exact numbers or details, but I knew the general sentiment. Neither did I have the impression this was news to commenters on my blog when it was casually mentioned in a previous post. I am not usually following these things too closely, I mean, I have a job and spend most of my time reading papers anyway. So, I think it must have been my younger brother, who is a mechanical engineer, explaining me that, which leaves me wondering how widely known these facts were.

To state the most important fact again and really clearly: Growing 'biofuel' does not make your country more independent of oil and gas resources, because you need more of these resources to grow it than you eventually gain. The only thing it does is a psychologically interesting 'greenization' of energy. You could as well use an oil-powered turbine to pump water up a hill, then let it run down again and call that clean energy from water-power. The energy you gain back is of course less than you invested, but since it's now an 'alternative' energy it deserves governmental subsidies. (I think they've actually been doing that somewhere in Switzerland, but can't recall the details, anybody has a reference?) It's not an investment that makes sense in any way.

I probably would have forgotten about the biofuel, hadn't I read some time later that the German ministry for environment wakes up when hearing biofuel might drive up food prices and utters confused statements ("muss auf den Prüfstand"), before calming down and proclaiming one would hold onto what the plan says. Meanwhile Sean from Cosmic Variance states that Energy Doesn't Grow on Trees and is pleased that "People seem to be gradually catching on to the fact that biofuels are an especially wasteful and dirty energy storage system." Talking to my friends, they confirm my sense that little of that was surprising.

So I tried to find out how 'new' actually is that news. Here's the story. Since the early eighties, there have been dozens of studies showing that ethanol production from corn and other crops is not an economically and ecologically sensible option. It is expensive and under quite general circumstances takes more energy than one gains from it. Two articles by the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) dealing with ethanol production using corn for liquid fuels from biomass reported a negative energy return [2,3]. These reports were reviewed by 26 expert U.S. scientists independent of the USDOE; their findings concluded that the conversion of corn into ethanol energy was negative and these findings were unanimously approved. Since then other investigations have confirmed these earlier findings.

In 2002 and 2004 there were reports from the US Department of Agriculture [4,5] in which it was claimed biofuels could have a net energy return (34% in 2002, 67% in 2004). These studies however were based on wrong assumptions that neglected needed energy sources, and the conclusions not appropriate. This has has been documented in further research articles. For an excellent review, see [1].

Now this makes me wonder how can it be possible that this knowledge has been so consequently disregarded? Sure, there's big money in the game, there's lots of people trying to make profit, but how can we life with a system in which scientific studies are just ignored? And now that the problems are catching up with us, and we're possibly seeing the first signs of a global food crisis, I read
"Food-summit draft rejects biofuels control

The final declaration of United Nations food summit will not call for controls on biofuels even though almost every delegate at conference agrees that turning crops into fuel has had some role in raising food prices to crisis point. A draft declaration making the rounds at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the sponsor of the three-day summit which ends Thursday night, calls only for more study on the effect of biofuels on food security. "

More study?

Why this bothers me: The world economy is a very powerful system that has without any doubt done an incredibly well job increasing wealth, improving the infrastructure and the lives of billions of people. But not in all cases does this pursuit of micro-interests lead to a desirable outcome on the macro-level, especially not when long time and/or distance scales are involved. To put it bluntly: what do I care what happens in a decade somewhere in Africa? Its for this reason that we have political systems that ought to implement these aspects. Unfortunately, our political systems are far too slow and inefficient for this task, especially on a global level.



[1] Pimentel D, Patzek T (2005) Ethanol Production using corn, switchgrass, and wood and biodiesel production using soybean and sunflower. Natural Resources and Research 14(1): 65-76.
[2] ERAB (1980) Gasohol. Energy Research Advisory Board, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, DC.
[3] ERAB (1981) Biomass Energy. Energy Research Advisory Board, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, DC.
[4] Shapouri H, Duffield JA, Wang M (2002) The Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol: An Update. USDA, Office of Energy Policy and New Uses, Agricultural Economics. Report No. 813. 14 p.
[5] Shapouri H, Duffield J, McAloon A, Wang M (2004) The 2001 Net Energy Balance of Corn-Ethanol (Preliminary). US Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC.

123 comments:

Riemannzeta said...

The theoretical framework for understanding this type of phenomenon in political economy was pioneered by Mancur Olson. It's called "public choice theory," and you may already know all about it.

The basic problem is that a small, concentrated minority interest can easily overpower a large, dispersed, and disorganized majority.

In the case of ethanol production, the minority was a group of farmers and later VCs (cleantech was a great marketing theme in Silicon Valley in 2006 and 2007) and entrepreneurs who were pushing ethanol as a clean fuel alternative. And the majority was... well, everyone else.

The situation is actually a lot like the Kitty Genovese case if you've heard of it. Even when everybody knows that something has gone badly wrong, in some situtations, everybody will assume that somebody else is going to do something about it until it's too late.

Bee said...

Hi Riemann,

I've heard about it, but I'm just presently trying to read myself into the subject so I don't know much more than the name. It seems to me we share a lot of interests. Did Olson offer a framework in which the problem would not occur, or at least make a suggestion how the situation could be improved?

Best,

B.

Andrew Thomas said...

Well done for drawing attention to this, Bee. I promise to behave myself and not to rant!

That TIME article you posted was heartbreakingly sad - I could hardly read it:

"Brazil just announced that deforestation is on track to double this year"

"People see the forest as junk"

"The grain it takes to fill an SUV tank with ethanol could feed a person for a year."


Changing the topic to something relatively trivial and unimportant (but not unrelated), in the town where I live they have just ripped up the road system and laid new roads (heaven knows how much CO2 that generated) for a "Metro" system (basically, just a bendy bus). And it's all being done because the council wants to appear "green", of course. And the buses have "low emission" painted down the side which is of course completely meaningless and a joke. Because it's "green" in name only. Everywhere you get people jumping on the green bandwagon, wanting to appear green, and making no improvement to the situation whatsover.

Madonna, for example, flew by private jet to that Live Earth concert. Apparently that wasn't a problem because the jet had "the lowest emissions in its class". Just an absolutely meaningless phrase, trying to make something which is terribly polluting appear green. Like our "low emissions" buses. And that's how it is with biofuels: people wanting to appear green, but making no improvement whatsoever. Did Live Earth do anything to reduce carbon emissions at all?

And what about the people who recycle their wine bottles at the depot, but drive there in their SUVs? Makes you despair.

I believe climate change is inevitable, but please lets not take the Amazon down with us.

(Riemannzeta, I don't think your analogy of a "small, concentrated minority interest easily overpowering a large disorganized majority" is relevant here because the majority are completely unaware of this biofuel problem. The large majority in this case thinks biofuel is green.)

Riemannzeta said...

Well if you keep talking about stuff like the underlying causes world hunger, then we're certain to continue share interests. :-) But seriously, there aren't enough clear-eyed, quantitative-minded folks working on these problems. So I'm glad I found your blog.

There is really only one strategy for solving collective action problems that seems to work: centralizing control over decisionmaking into the hands of a person or group who will both enjoy the benefits and suffer the consequences of that decisionmaking.

Early strategies for this seemed to focus more on implementing command-and-control structures -- i.e., government by technocrat. The administrative agencies of the executive branch in the U.S. are one version of this strategy.

Another strategy is to setup a legal system in which individual rights and obligations are discretized into packages that encompass both positive and negative consequences. This second strategy is actually quite powerful, as it permits for more dispersed and diverse information to be reflected in the (temporary) equilibrium of how those rights and obligations are allocated within society. This is the system of property (definition of rights), contract (how rights and obligations can be voluntarily transferred), and tort (what to do when the definition of rights was wrong or they can't easily be transferred). Criminal law is actually a subset of tort. This system, which I'll call "the common law" for lack of a better term (civil law systems often follow similar strategies, especially lately), has been evolving for centuries.

The second strategy has hit a roadblock because its most prominent theorists (such as Judge Posner and Gary Becker) haven't yet grasped the full non-equilibrium picture well-enough to anticipate and articulate when "phase transitions." They understand the thermodynamics (that's what Law & Econ has been obssessed with for the last fifty years at least). But they don't have a good picture of the underlying kinetics.

Physicists with a good understanding of spontaneous symmetry breaking (and credibility -- kind of a catch) could be very useful in helping economists to get through this roadblock.

For example, the current state of the art (I'm ignoring some important work from people like David Teece) in the theory of the firm -- i.e., the theory of how and why private companies form -- is from Ronald Coase fifty years ago, who explained that when the costs of privately contracting for a job are less than the costs of setting up the internal bureaucracy that's necessary for doing the same job, then the job will be contracted out. Another version of this idea (the Miller-Modigliani theorem) says that when transactions costs and taxes don't cut either way, it doesn't matter to the value of the firm whether it's financing is structured as debt or equity.

Obviously, these are very crude approximations. If you think about institutions as coupled oscillations with different symmetries that depend on an external potential, they basically correspond to the harmonic approximation.

I want to say that there have been inroads into improving the non-equilibrium models, but if there are, I don't see too many good ones, and I've been looking.

The problem seems to be that too many economists are looking at a very rich phenomenon, such as price in the commodities market as a function of money supply. That's too rich to model yet. So instead they're taking an engineering approach of using a bunch of coefficients, and then trying to give physical interpretations to the coefficients. Actually, Paul Romer will probably win a Nobel prize for that.

As any physicist knows, the better approach is to go back and rethink the system from scratch, and try to find the best way to measure how dynamics come into the simplest system, and then build up from there.

So as an aside, in terms of experimental data, I think that the U.S. constitution comes awfully close to being the best public solution to the Public Choice problem defined by Mancur Olson (and others). Privately, I think Berkshire-Hathaway and Koch Industries are near the top.

Sorry for the longwinded answer.

mako said...

As for pumping water uphill, you may be thinking of pumped-storage hydro plants. They generally use base load power at night to pump water into a reservoir. Then the water gets released during the day as demand requires.

Andrew Thomas said...

Absolutely fascinating, Riemannzeta!

Now, back to biofuels ...

Uncle Al said...

(Proper spacing is tough)

Area necessary to generate 1 GW electrical, theoretical minimum

mi^2
Area   Modality
====================
1000   biomass
 300    wind
  60    solar
    0.3  nuclear

http://journeytoforever.org/biodiesel_yield.html

    Biodiesel      (big=bad)
Crop  gal/acre   Iodine #
===========================
Corn              18    125
soybean         48    130
sunflower     102    125
opium poppy 124    117
olive             129      81
castor bean   151     85
jojoba           194    80
avocado        282     85
coconut         287    10
oil palm        635    37-54

A national energy policy based upon agriculture would fill in Louisiana and Florida and plant oil palm.

Bee said...

Hi Andrew,

Yes, sometimes it makes me want to bang my head against the wall. But Riemannzeta's assessment is insofar accurate as the real problem today is one of awareness and information of the majority. The Live Earth concert e.g. addresses this point, they are trying to raise awareness for the problem to begin with, without which nothing will ever change. I guess the problem with the distribution of information is simply that information spreads more easily the more money is invested into it. There are too few people with enough influence to spread the relevant scientific information. What remains is rhetoric by lobbies which is what eventually directs the opinions of the public and - here comes the problem - the politicians. That is the problem in my eyes. There should be a large public interest in that not being possible, but the system isn't adequately representing this interest. My interest isn't actually in biofuels, but it makes for a nice case study.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Riemannzeta,

I am very skeptical there can possibly be one solution since the problems can be very diverse, and on different scales. They can occur in completely different social, economical, political circumstances and in various stages of technological development.

My problem is more on the meta-level if you want to put it this way. Consider there's a problem. Now you want to set up institutions to deal with the problem optimally. Let us say, in the best case there has been extensive scientific examination of the issue and there is a recommended strategy. How does the system have to look like in which this implementation can take place? Evidently, this is not presently the case, for why don't we have institutions that deal appropriately esp. with global environmental/economical issues. But also on local scales there's problems, especially in the developing world. There's just hurdles that aren't automatically overcome by free market tactics, think about the poverty trap or family planning.

The US constitution is certainly one of the best (the German constitution is quite similar). The problem is though, that it currently doesn't live up to its spirit. As I said to Andrew above, there's a very obviously present distortion of the public opinion through influential lobbies. Which is known, has been known since decades, but the danger it poses to democracy apparently has not been realized. The public choice depends dramatically on information. Let me make that 'cheap' information, for in the age of the internet all that information is somewhere - the question is what part of it reaches people's awareness. And that's where money comes in that's pumped into media campaigns - which are even central to how politics is lead today! What an irony! How can you expect a democratic system to work under such circumstances, when the public opinion is deliberately, openly, without any doubt manipulated and directed by those who can afford the best PR agents?

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Or, to put it differently: what good is a right for free speech, if you need money to get people to listen to you.

Bee said...

Hi Mako,

Sure, but does that make the energy any 'greener'? Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee

With what lies for the most part as to form to be at the heart of the green movement, I am not in the least surprised by this biofuel debacle. That is although for the most part they are what I consider to be well meaning and concerned people, yet they hold to strange ideas about where to look to find the answers to our short and long term problems as they are philosophically centered to believe what is good for us and the related solutions are somehow tied up with our morality. This has the effect to have them not only be suspicious of ,yet actually fear advancing science and technology. Many of them are coninced that we should be looking only to nature for the answers, culminating in some sort of Garden of Eden return.

The fact is, we now have over six billion people on the planet, with over two thirds of them looking to improve their general lot in life in the hope they might enjoy some of the basics we take for granted. I’m sorry, yet I have to say that for the most part, these same people who currently are seen as and looked to be the leaders in this, simply don’t have what it takes. That is in terms of vision, knowledge or the broad understanding required as to even realize what the right direction(s) to take; let alone the expertise required to develop and implement what is needed.

So then, when are many going to stop believing that simply things like making fuel out of food, planting eucalyptus trees, bringing our own bag and eating all natural organic food will lead to our salvation as being all that's necessary? The truth is, science and technology has brought us to the point where we find our selves with our six billion, and for those that think we can continue to survive and improve while denying its necessity and importance, form to be a large part of the problem, rather then the solution.

Best,

Phil

anonymous snowboarder said...

Bee - you touch on a few important points. First, the disregard for constitutional principles prevalent in the US (and probably elsewhere). "Outdated" or "Living" are usually the reasons given to summarily ignore and violate it.

Second, one can have all the studies in the world saying 'no' but if the money says 'yes' it usually happens. Money need not be cash, it can be transfer of jobs as well.

Third, you skirt the political aspect of this, at least in regards corn. We have a disaster in corn ethanol not just because it suited ADM or Morgan Stanley but because it also suited the farmers and general population of those states. The house and senate allowed themselves to be held hostage to the whims of a few small states who wanted to grow a lot of corn. How/why did this happen? Horse trading. You back me on ethanol, I'll give you xy or z.

Klaus said...

Greetings!

I wonder.. Hydrogen is sold as clean and green fuel, but H2 is a product of "un-burning" water..!

How is the calculation for energy consumption and useful KWH in the vehicle if the H2 "fabrication" is included in the equation?

best

Klaus

CarlBrannen said...

This whole post is based on this concept: "Growing 'biofuel' does not make your country more independent of oil and gas resources, because you need more of these resources to grow it than you eventually gain." As evidence for this you've got two obsolete articles and one bad modern one that used the same data.

Basically, you're an average physicist. You're not in the position to understand the ethanol industry any more than the average amateur is to understand elementary particles. The problem with understanding this stuff by reading papers is that many of the authors have axes to grind that are not at all obvious. Pimental is an ecologist (specializing in insects) who is very worried about land use. He is not a neutral observer on the issue.

The report by Pimental (source [1])is your basic junk science and has been roundly corrrected.

The ERAB reports (your source [2-3]) is from 1980-1981 (!!!) and, like Pimental, uses obsolete figures for the energy required to make corn into ethanol.

Your other sources [4-5] give the correct facts.

For example, one of Pimental's famous errors is assuming that corn production requires water. Only 13% of US corn is irrigated. The rest is watered by God, for free. My own ethanol plant is permitted to run on barley, which is a crop grown on unirrigated dry lands that are currently not being used in Washington State.

If that is not enough to convince you that ethanol is not necessarily a bad idea (and of course it is not, the essence of academia is never having to say you're wrong), and you want political evidence that it makes sense to convert crops, specifically corn, to ethanol, then you might do an internet search to see which corn producing countries have factories that convert corn to ethanol. The answer is ALL OF THEM (except Mexico, which exports oil), specifically, Argentina, Brazil, China, Australia, Canada, the EU, and the US.

So in the unlikely event that ignorant opinions like yours force the US to shutter its ethanol industry (doing so will require making it illegal as the conversion is highly profitable) the result will be that you will force US farmers to sell cheap corn to China which will then use it instead of oil. As long as oil is expensive and food is cheap, food will be turned into fuel.

Both the Republican and Democratic parties supported US ethanol production. The same happened in all the other democratic countries that grow corn. But if it's just because democracies are stupid, then how come China is doing the same thing.

It's not personal. Nobody is trying to starve anyone. It's just a matter of the relative prices of gasoline and corn.

But before anyone blames the US ethanol industry on starving the poor people of the world, please note that after the most recent harvest, the US exported record amounts of corn wheat and soybeans.

The 3rd world got hungry because there were crop failures all over the southern hemisphere last year. This year is probably going to be a bumper harvest and food prices will drop again. But between now and then, the oil companies and OPEC will try to stop ethanol to the extent they can.

For example, Venezuela is talking down ethanol. Hey, if Hugo Chavez wanted to feed poor people, why doesn't he buy food and give it to them? He's got oil dollars that make the whole world's ethanol industry and all the corn they use look tiny.

John Baez said...

Bee asked:



Now this makes me wonder how can it be possible that this knowledge has been so consequently disregarded? Sure, there's big money in the game, there's lots of people trying to make profit, ...



There you go! You answered your own question. Both in Europe and the US, there are wealthy farming lobbies - big agribusiness - that manage to extract big government subsidies in return for helping politicians get elected.



but how can we live with a system in which scientific studies are just ignored?



We can't live with it. We'll die from it. But that doesn't matter, unless the politicians feel our displeasure in time.

A "democracy" that's been taken over by lobbyists who get money in return for helping politicians get re-elected is like a brain that's become addicted to cocaine. Crucial feedback loops have been short-circuited, so the system gets positive feedback for doing things that will damage it in the long run.

Avoiding this sort of short-circuiting of the decision-making process is the hardest problem in politics. This has been known for a long time: it's why the people who started the US were so concerned with "checks and balances". But, it could be that no political system avoids these problems for long; so far they've all collapsed eventually.

Andrew Thomas said...

Carl, I don't mind the US biofuel industry. Carry on. But the destruction of the Amazon and Indonesian rainforest (which you conveniently don't mention) is real. And that's a tragedy. And I won't have you dismiss TIME article as "bad". The journalist had travelled to the Amazon for his research (have you?). The article was a wake up call for all of us.

Let's face it, a massive motive for the switch to biofuels in the US in nothing whatsoever to do with the environment - it's to do with politics. You don't want to be forever invading oil-rich countries to ensure your oil supply.


(Also, I know you didn't mean it, but to call Bee an "average physicist" came out as slightly insulting - I know you meant "her knowledge on this subject is the same as would be expected of any physicist". I hope. Otherwise you should apologise.)

Samuel said...

Bee. You are missing two important points.

1) The economy "force". It is profitable for the ethanol business. It means either the scientific studies on the energy balance are outdated or the energy costs along the processes are cheaper than it should be.

2) The comparative time and depth scales of the biofuel and petrofuel. In this sense biofuel is cleaner than petrofuel because, growing "trees" take much less time using fewer meters down the earth resources than the thousands of year process for petro-oil which we extract mostly from deep places.

I can not believe the farming lobbies can win the oil lobbies. Just take a look at the five biggest company in the World.

Please, spare us the usual hypocrite comments on hungry.

I live in Brazil where lots of farmers are growing sugar cane for ethanol. Yes, the price of some food has been adjusted. No, the number of hungers has not increased.

Andrew Thomas said...

Samuel, as someone from Brazil, can you tell us what people think of the Amazon forest there? Do they value it? Thanks.

Bee said...

Hi Andrew,

call Bee an "average physicist" came out as slightly insulting

Well, Carl has been waiting for this opportunity for a long time, now don't spoil his fun ;-)

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Carl,

Well, then enlighten me.

The ERAB reports (your source [2-3]) is from 1980-1981 (!!!) and, like Pimental, uses obsolete figures for the energy required to make corn into ethanol.

I know they are from the early eighties, I wrote so in the text. I mentioned them merely to show how long back this discussion dates, I also mentioned there have been dozens of other studies since then. You probably know that better than I.

The report by Pimental (source [1]) is your basic junk science and has been roundly corrrected.

Reference please.

Your other sources [4-5] give the correct facts. [...] one of Pimental's famous errors is assuming that corn production requires water.

Pimental isn't much concerned with the water, the reasons he mentioned for the positive numbers in [4,5] are as follows

"all the energy required to produce and repair farm machinery, and the fermentation-distillation equipment is not included. All the corn production in the U.S. uses an abundance of farm machinery, including tractors, planters, sprayers, harvesters, and other equipment. These contribute substantial energy inputs in corn ethanol production, even when allocated on a life-cycle basis."

further, he mentions that Shapouri's analysis used corn data from only 9 states, compared to his analysis which includes corn data from 50 states, pointing out that most of the 50 states have ethanol plants (not that I'd have known).

He further explains

"Shapouri reported a net energy return of 67% after including the co-products, primarily dried-distillers grain (DDG) used to feed cattle. These co-products are not fuel."

All of which are reasons that make sense to me. If they are incorrect, please explain why.

If that is not enough to convince you that ethanol is not necessarily a bad idea (and of course it is not, the essence of academia is never having to say you're wrong), and you want political evidence that it makes sense to convert crops, specifically corn, to ethanol, then you might do an internet search to see which corn producing countries have factories that convert corn to ethanol. The answer is ALL OF THEM (except Mexico, which exports oil), specifically, Argentina, Brazil, China, Australia, Canada, the EU, and the US.

Sorry, I don't understand what you are trying to say. Yes, of course there is political evidence that it 'makes sense' for many countries to produce biofuel. There is unfortunately a lot of things that can 'make sense' politically or economically but still fail to take into account all necessary facts. That was indeed the problem I was aiming at. As I mentioned previously, I am not terribly interested in esp. biofuels, but how out political and economical systems have dealt with/deal with the situation.

Regarding your comment

the essence of academia is never having to say you're wrong

I consider this to be a deliberate insult, and an inappropriate one. I don't know where your grudge about academia comes from, and I too have a lot of not-so-nice things to say about it, but fortunately most of the people I know understand that the task of scientists is to find the best answers to open questions, and that's most often a community enterprise in which some will be right, and others will be wrong.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Samuel,

The economy "force". It is profitable for the ethanol business. It means either the scientific studies on the energy balance are outdated or the energy costs along the processes are cheaper than it should be.

Of course it is profitable, otherwise it wouldn't take place. To follow from this however that on the long run it makes sense ecologically or economically is a big leap of faith that I am not willing to take. There's been more than a century history in which farmers have changed their landuse to grow products that bring high profit on the export market, damaging their ecological balance and causing dependencies on food supplies from elsewhere. Governmental subsidies are another important factor that distorts the reasoning of your argument.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

I most often believe everybody has only the best intentions, but the outcome isn't as desired. I mean, I don't actually think anybody would on purpose want to cause a global food crisis. The problem as I see it is that the necessary information about consequences or alternatives is often not where it should be, is not objectively enough evaluated, is neglected on the premise that it 'will work out somehow' and we will be lead by an invisible hand to the optimal configuration. The problem with this 'invisible hand' however is that it inappropriately slowly takes into account the political and ecological aspects, whereas it is much faster on the economical side. The balance is off, and it is even quite obvious why so: because there's no money to make in readjusting it, so the system hinders it's own self-correction. There are just factors that a monetary system will never be able to 'automatically' include, and it is to our all damage if people believe money is a cure for everything.

The truth is, science and technology has brought us to the point where we find our selves with our six billion, and for those that think we can continue to survive and improve while denying its necessity and importance, form to be a large part of the problem, rather then the solution.

Yeah, the problem being that I think the issue of time-scales isn't well taken into account. I hear the optimists saying we will find a solution to all our problems, but the big question is will that be fast enough. And notice that it can take decades to get from an idea to a technological realization. There is also the argument that if economical pressure is high enough it will speed up the process, but there are processes you can't accelerate with money, no matter what. Knowledge finding takes time, and it doesn't run ever faster just because more people work on it because the limiting factor is the human brain which doesn't run faster if its host is better paid. There will very obviously be a point at which the pace with which we cause new problems exceeds our capability to solve them. It's like jiggling with more and more balls, only a matter of time until one drops to the ground.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Snowboarder,

What does the snowboarder to at 30 ° C and sunshine? Here it's so humid it feels like swimming outside instead of walking.


First, the disregard for constitutional principles prevalent in the US (and probably elsewhere). "Outdated" or "Living" are usually the reasons given to summarily ignore and violate it.

Well, it might sound funny, but I actually don't think this is entirely a bad thing. These constitutions date back a long time (esp. the US one) and one would think they need to be updated every now and then. I don't think the basic principles are the problem, more the question what the best way is to realize them. That is to say, the organizational and institutional structure that was once envisioned might just no longer be able to appropriately deal with the problems we are facing today. I think this issue is in some sense in many people's heads, but the outcome is some sort of 'muddling through' which works in some way, but not necessarily the best way. What is worse, it causes a lot of frustration and an erosion of trust.

Second, one can have all the studies in the world saying 'no' but if the money says 'yes' it usually happens.

Indeed. But does that make sense?

Third, you skirt the political aspect of this, at least in regards corn. We have a disaster in corn ethanol not just because it suited ADM or Morgan Stanley but because it also suited the farmers and general population of those states. The house and senate allowed themselves to be held hostage to the whims of a few small states who wanted to grow a lot of corn. How/why did this happen? Horse trading. You back me on ethanol, I'll give you xy or z.

Yes, the horse trading is another factor that negatively affects political decisions. It's a commonly tolerated mechanism for negotiations, but it is very likely to correlate factors that actually have nothing to do with each other, what henceforth hinders the subsequent correction of sub-optimal choices. It is clear to me why it is practiced, it is not clear to me why it is tolerated because of its obvious drawbacks. I admit on not knowing much about the farmer lobby in the USA. I know there must be many people who grow that corn and that it's a big deal in some states, but it seems to me there must be other solutions to keep these people as happy as possible that make more sense ecologically and economically. As I said, I'm not an expert on biofuel, but I have to wonder whether the solution space has been studied sufficiently. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I agree with much of what you say and yet I think that the fostering of general understanding to be the most important. As in contrast actually I would accept Carl’s contention that within a stringent embodied energy assessment that some biofuel processes are now or could later prove to be feasible. The unfortunate truth is despite this they in the end turn out to be simply another carbon based fuel no matter how you slice it.

At the same time as you of course know C02 in the atmosphere forms to be a necessary part of the ecological and climatic balance. It is that balance along with others that we are trying to maintain. This I’m afraid is also not something that is commonly understood among many. For instance if you took a poll of the general populous and stated as the question:

“If there is to be found a way to have the CO2 levels in the atmosphere reduced to nearly zero both cheaply and effectively would they support such an initiative?”

I would wager almost anything that you would find that the majority of the answers would be yes. With this being true how then would one expect to even begin to address the problem?

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Indeed, I too find it possible that with some further developments and improvement, biofuel does at some point indeed have a more positive economical and ecological outcome. However, one has to wonder then how it compares to other options, and whether the investments made are appropriate given the side effects. I'm in no position to judge on this, I would be interested though how a system would have to look like in which such a discussion could be lead without distorting influence from wealthy lobbies that, no matter how you put it, do nothing than giving their voices more weight than that of others which is against the very basic idea of democracy. It is not that I do not respect the mechanism behind profit allocation that allows those who do well to direct further investments, but it is a disaster if these economical successes affect the political system that is supposed to correct the weaknesses of the free market. Best,

B.

Gordon Pasha said...

Hello

What average theoretical physicists can easily appreciate is that trying to compute "how much energy does activity X cost" is an ill defined concept that depends where one decides to stop the calculation . They would call it "cutoff dependent".

Every human activity interacts with various degrees of strengths will all others and therefore whomever is doing the calculation can keep on adding energy impacts of a given action till she/he gets any result desired.

This largely explains why there are so many contradictory studies on if ethanol production is energetically positive or negative.

Don't believe me? There are even people out there claiming that nuclear reactors, when you take into account all the energy costs of construction, supplies and decommissioning are... energetically negative! (See for instance http://www.stormsmith.nl/)

Regards
Gordon

Thomas Larsson said...

You basically have the same problem with all kinds of alternative fuels. Electric vehicles (cars and trains) and plug-in hybrids don't produce any CO2 emissions when running, but the production of electric power is dirty. Even if water and nuclear don't produce any CO2, they have their own problems (cf Three Gorges), and at any rate it will take decades before they produce significantly more energy. And it is unclear to me if wind power plants produce more energy during their life-cycle than is needed to build and repair them.

AFAIU, the only sustainable path is to increase efficiency. Hybrid vehicles like the Prius would a good start, although the technical solution with a planetary gear is clearly suboptimal; a Strigear vehicle would be more efficient. At the end of the day, it is probably necessary to change our way of life. For starters, we could decide on which side of the Atlantic we want to live, and don't fly across it several times a year.

Well, don't blame me. I don't own a car, and my wife does not even have a driver's license (she is a member of the Nobel assembly, though). Alas, considering that the internet consumes as much energy as the aircraft industry, and that I spend too much time writing stupid comments on blogs, my CO2 footprint is probably not as small as it could be. Therefore, I will now turn off my computer, walk out into the sun and enjoy global warming.

Bee said...

Hi John,

A "democracy" that's been taken over by lobbyists who get money in return for helping politicians get re-elected is like a brain that's become addicted to cocaine.

It is funny you are saying this because I used a similar analogy elsewhere, though in my case the brain was on speed, not cocaine. I like this analogy because it very clearly documents the problem with short-term interests versus long-term decisions that don't provide such a great kick.

Avoiding this sort of short-circuiting of the decision-making process is the hardest problem in politics. This has been known for a long time: it's why the people who started the US were so concerned with "checks and balances". But, it could be that no political system avoids these problems for long; so far they've all collapsed eventually.

Gee. I am not willing to swallow that. I am pretty sure there's ways to improve political systems such that they take into account these known problems. Our understanding about the workings of the political, social and economical systems has improved quite a lot over the last, say, 5 decades or so. It's about time this knowledge gets implemented. The actual problem is in your sentence "It has been known for a long time" - a sentence that one could echo in many other situations. Yet, this knowledge hasn't been taken into account because the system is too inflexible for that. I don't think this is an unsolvable problem, but before there can be a solution, one has to face that the problem is severe and needs to be solved. This again is very similar to the problem of addiction. Unfortunately, in many cases, it takes a breakdown to realize a problem desperately needs treatment. And that still doesn't guarantee a cure. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“I'm in no position to judge on this, I would be interested though how a system would have to look like in which such a discussion could be lead without distorting influence from wealthy lobbies that, no matter how you put it, do nothing than giving their voices more weight than that of others which is against the very basic idea of democracy.”

In the end I would hold to my contention, that in these matters and ones that have been discussed before, that personal individual awareness and knowledge is the key to all this. I also maintain that we must stop looking to the powers to be will serve to be any great assistance in all this. We find ourselves at a point where in many things we must dismiss the notion that we are children in such matters and stop counting on others to take us by the hand to lead us to safety. We must move away from a world where “caution contents are hot” or “buckle up it’s the law” is considered required and realize we must not simply learn more, yet even more importantly reason more for ourselves. This should not be considered simply only as the basic and fundamental right of the individual, yet more so their responsibility.

Best,

Phil

Samuel said...

Andrew,

Samuel, as someone from Brazil, can you tell us what people think of the Amazon forest there? Do they value it? Thanks.

In general, we value the rain forest a lot. But this is not enough to stop some to destroy it for logging and farming. This is a big political issue in Brazil nowadays. A few weeks ago the enviromental minister was replaced for that reason.
It boils down to money.

Samuel said...

Bee,

To follow from this however that on the long run it makes sense ecologically or economically is a big leap of faith that I am not willing to take. There's been more than a century history in which farmers have changed their landuse to grow products that bring high profit on the export market, damaging their ecological balance and causing dependencies on food supplies from elsewhere. Governmental subsidies are another important factor that distorts the reasoning of your argument.

In Brazil I would say the ethanol business is profitable for about 3 decades, basically for domestic demand. So it is viable, no subsidies. Recently the world demand for alternative fuel is pushing for more exportation.
My point is. If the petro-oil get too expensive, there is no ecological argument effective enough to contain the ethanol business.

As you said, the landuse aim profit. If the food is expensive enough with high demand, that what the farmers will do. If energy is more profitable, the offer and demand law will prevail. If the preservation is somehow profitable, that what they are going to do.

For the good or for the bad, free market rules!

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Samuel,

“For the good or for the bad, free market rules!”

If this serves to be the total depth of your understanding and concern, plus also represents to be the consensus, we are not only for certain doomed yet more so deserve to be. I might complain yet am aware that nature as Darwin indicated cannot be denied.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Samuel,

If the petro-oil get too expensive, there is no ecological argument effective enough to contain the ethanol business.

That is what one should be afraid of, yes. I have no idea what you want to say. That ecological arguments under the present circumstances very possibly won't suffice to invest money more intelligently in other options, and that long-term plans for developing sensible sustainable energy sources will be neglected to the benefit of immediate profit is exactly the 'free-market-rules' problem I am talking about.

Best,

B.

Arun said...

I think there is a difference in the energy balance of sugarcane-based ethanol versus corn-based ethanol versus switch-grass based ethanol.

As to profitability, let us look at an example:

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23784461-30417,00.html

"GEOFF Cornford has battled years of drought while managing the North Australia Pastoral Company's Wainui cattle feedlot near the southern Queensland town of Dalby.
Now, just 20km down the road, a new threat looms for the $3 billion feedlot industry in the form of Dalby Bio Refinery's $150million plant, the first in Australia to be devoted to ethanol production. The plant is due to open in August, using sorghum to make a product that until recently held great hope for containing spiralling petrol costs.

Despite a bumper sorghum crop following summer rains, local feedgrain prices of $300 a tonne are twice what they were pre-drought. Like other ethanol producers, the Dalby plant will receive a commonwealth subsidy to compensate for a 38.14c-a-litre fuel excise, about $34 million for its annual production of 90 million litres.

Cornford says further hikes in feedgrain prices are inevitable because of the biofuel plant, which will need about 250,000 tonnes of grain a year: "We've had grain shortages in three of the past four years. The ethanol producers are our competitors for grain but are subsidised by taxpayers."

The plant receives a subsidy of $34 million (on fuel produced), its input is 250,000 tons of grain at $300 a ton; i.e., a subsidy that amounts to $136 a ton. (Before the price of grain doubled they were getting almost free grain - grain at $14 a ton!) It would be wonder if they were **not** profitable.

Yet Samuel worships at the altar of the "free market".

Of course, he will now point to the excise tax on fuel as not being free market; and will totally ignore the fact that grain-based ethanol would not be viable in Australia but for this tax/tax subsidy.

I may be doing Samuel an injustice, but this is how most "free marketers" I've met are; I'd be glad to be pleasantly surprised.

Bee said...

Dear Arun,

Pimentel et al in the above mentioned paper also consider switchgrass (as well as biodiesel from soybeans and sunflower). They find the energy return for switchgrass is comparable, but slightly worse than that of corn. Best,

B.

Frédéric Balmer said...

Sure, but does that make the energy any 'greener'?

The right question to ask...

See Wikipedia on pumped-storage hydroelectricity. Their goal is to sell "dirty" energy at high prices during peak times (noon), using cheap electricity (during the night) from coal or nuclear plants that cannot easily adapt their output power. I remember visiting one whose efficiency was about 0.75.
Still, according to Wikipedia, they're quite common.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Frederic,

“Their goal is to sell "dirty" energy at high prices during peak times (noon), using cheap electricity (during the night) from coal or nuclear plants that cannot easily adapt their output power. I remember visiting one whose efficiency was about 0.75.”

I would take exception to your lumping as to categorize coal & fission as “dirty” energy. In the context of CO2 emission they are certainly not comparable and in the light of overall risk to the environment statistically are not equivalent. I would not expect you to change your opinion by way of admitting your error. However, my intent here is to point out that it should be noted and therefore accessed as to what be its purpose as to what it serves to be.

Best,

Phil

Plato said...

Dear Bee,

What goes on behind the scenes?:)

Canadians say no to SPP: “Disaster” summit produces more secrecy



Click here to read more about how Canadians feel about deeper integration through the SPP.

The media and business consensus following the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) summit in New Orleans is that the trilateral meeting didn’t produce anything significant. While this is partly correct – no new initiatives were announced – the ones we’re stuck with are still bad enough. And as usual with the SPP, very few of the details about ongoing work ended up in the news.

For his part, Prime Minister Harper used the summit to “defend” Canada’s bargaining power with the United States, imploring the importance of NAFTA and pointing to the U.S.’s need for our energy resources. "Canada really is confident that the next President will also understand the importance of NAFTA, and the importance of the commercial relationship between the United States and Canada,” said Harper.

He then emphasized what he understands to be “energy security,” meaning North American energy security. “Canada is the biggest and most stable supplier of energy to the United States in the world,” he said. “That energy security is more important now than it was 20 years ago when NAFTA was negotiated, and will be even more important in the future.”

The SPP once again was shown to be a venue for the business elite to lock in and expand their tight grip over North America’s wealth, which continues to skyrocket at the expense of third-world poverty abroad and income stagnation at home. That wealth is also gained at the expense of the environment (through increased greenhouse gas emissions) and public health concerns (through dirty air, water and increased toxins).

The failure of the NAFTA/SPP model was the main topic at a People’s Summit that took place April 21-22, 2008 in New Orleans to coincide with the official SPP summit. National Chairperson Maude Barlow and other Council of Canadians’ representatives joined dozens of U.S., Mexican and Canadian civil society groups in New Orleans to participate in the locally organized event, which made the links between NAFTA’s corporate profiteering and the devastation to communities on the ground.

In Canada, we now have proof, in the form of a pubic opinion poll commissioned by the Council of Canadians, that this country overwhelmingly opposes the policy directions of the SPP and demands the agreement be fully debated in Parliament. Click on the picture to read more about how Canadians feel about deeper integration through the SPP.

Public opposition has obviously weakened the SPP. Now it’s time to put it out of its misery completely.


Canada is the largest foreign supplier of crude oil to the U.S.

Sometimes th eslight o fhand tricks about place in other countries helps to cover what is happening just next door to a nation that prides itself on imports, more then it's exports.

This has created a dependency on it's citizens, as long as all fractal facets of the initial energy concern is alleviated then it has successfully guaranteed that it has truly tapped the market?

While pipelines are being bought in Canada and diverted to the states, energy consumption is being sold at a premium by multi-nationals that are trying to capitalize further on Canadian resources.

What shall become the spirit of the Canadians as our system is further stigmatized to no longer enshrining the true confederation of the Provinces? True North Strong and Free.:)

wolfgang said...

Bee,

according to Wikipedia
the energy balance for corn based ethanol is somewhat positive (1.3) and better for other input.
Of course, Wikipedia is *the authoritative reference* on this 8-)

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

“What shall become the spirit of the Canadians as our system is further stigmatized to no longer enshrining the true confederation of the Provinces? True North Strong and Free.:)”

I must say in reaction in the context as also being Canadian that who owns what and who should it serve has little place in the world that presents itself as of now and into the future. To pride ones self and their nation as being significant in the future will largely depend if we are finally able to rid ourselves of such notions. When I was just a teenager and witnessed Neil Armstrong view of the world this became self evident to me. My question is when will not just our nation, yet all nations and their people come to the same inescapable realization and conclusion?

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Wolfgang,

Yes, the article also explains where the difference comes from, as I mentioned above

"Wang finds it appropriate to credit corn ethanol based on the input energy requirement of the feed product or good that the ethanol by-product displaces [...] there is no consensus on what sort of value to give the rest of the corn (such as the stalk), commonly known as the 'coproduct.' Some studies leave it on the field to protect the soil from erosion and to add organic matter, while others take and burn the coproduct to power the ethanol plant, but do not address the resulting soil erosion (which would require energy in the form of fertilizer to replace). Depending on the ethanol study you read, net energy returns vary from .7-1.5 units of ethanol per unit of fossil fuel energy consumed."

But honestly, though 1.3 is larger than one, it is an incredibly poor outcome. It means there goes a lot of money in low-yield procedures, money that is not there to develop more efficient alternatives. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“But honestly, though 1.3 is larger than one, it is an incredibly poor outcome. It means there goes a lot of money in low-yield procedures, money that is not there to develop more efficient alternatives.”

Yes, the future will only be made possible and secure for those and by those who can both imagine it and strive for it. What the past should serve is to remind us where we failed and why, as to temper our judgment so we might be able to narrow our focus to what should be explored and hopefully discovered to succeed. This of course as you would agree is how science works as well.

Best,

Phil

Plato said...

Phil:who should it serve has little place in the world that presents itself as of now and into the future. To pride ones self and their nation as being significant in the future will largely depend if we are finally able to rid ourselves of such notions.

Often hidden in the comment is a recognition of what may be good on one's own country is good in another's?

Not that I would impart to rule another country from here, just that we acknowledge a right to constitutional rights and freedoms guaranteed not only in our country but in another's as well.

Why write such constitutions if you are not given the people a law by which they can live in freedom to have it usurped by wealth creation that will determine the rate of inflation in one's country?

Plato:Sometimes the slight of hand tricks about place in other countries helps to cover what is happening just next door to a nation that prides itself on imports, more then it's exports.

This has created a dependency on it's citizens, as long as all fractal facets of the initial energy concern is alleviated then it has successfully guaranteed that it has truly tapped the market?


Imports have hurt the United States and the dependency it has created asks that it's population go back to creating and developing the supplies internally(provide jobs) that will make it strong again? Makes us, True, North, Strong, and Free.

It's an underlying notion that people in countries have to rely on themselves to provide for, and produce, what costs money in term of fuel to deliveries, can be in essence what is asked of the wealth of it's nation to turn the nation back on itself?

This strength has to exist in our country as well.

To allow such speculations to ruin the safety net provided for by mortgages( do you qualify- greater then the potential income one brings in, two family members working?) and the security of jobs invited capitalism to take advantage of the population and then, when the bank falters ask for bail outs because of the potential crisis it has caused.

So in this "new election" health care? Our own country Canada to an American system, when America itself sees that it must provide for it's citizens.

Your claim is wide sweeping, yet, not in full awareness. :)

Samuel said...

Dear Arun, Bee and Phil

Arun,

I do not worship at the altar of the "free market" at all, but we can learn what really is going on by watching the forces of the free market. I would add, in a democracy.

I am aware of the corn-based ethanol problem with the subsidy. My readings of this is that the american society is willing to pay for the difference.

The sugar-cane based ethanol in Brazil do not have the same help. There are other factors, we can not be naive, which favor large land owners, but this is not different for soy farmers, for example.

Bee,

That ecological arguments under the present circumstances very possibly won't suffice to invest money more intelligently in other options, and that long-term plans for developing sensible sustainable energy sources will be neglected to the benefit of immediate profit is exactly the 'free-market-rules' problem I am talking about.

That is exactly what I meant.

There are few examples of viable eco-tour farms. They are very important to make a political point, but they are not big enough to make a difference, I would say.

The oil business is several orders of magnitude stronger than the agro-business. One sets the political agenda and the price of their commodities. The other follow the economy demand.

Phil,

You call my attention I may be too pessimist on human race. Perhaps I am depressed today. Let get my pills.

Cheers to all.

Phil Warnell said...

Plato,

“Often hidden in the comment is a recognition of what may be good on one's own country is good in another's?”

I’m truly surprised that you would resort to such tactics which I am confident you are aware not be to legitimate in terms of debate or logic. This statement forms to be both a “Red Herring” as it doesn’t relate to what it pertains to and also “a straw man” since it is designed to wrongly associate me with the character you portray. This is what I would expect of a politician and not a philosopher or scientist.

So rather then continue knocking down all your points (as most if not all have anything to do with my position), I will cut to the chase by asking you to answer just one question which is as follows:

Do you understand and or believe that the world and its problem in terms of the future are better served by continuing to insist on and maintain distinct divisions in terms of nation, creed, belief and circumstance; or do you understand and or believe that the future challenges can only be meet by striving to seek unity consistent with common purpose based on expectations born of shared aspirations and goals to be necessitated by logic.

I will tell you I understand the later to be required. I then simply ask you what you think it should be?

Just as a last point and qualifier in regards to my statement you have trouble with; I suggested no time frame or methodology; I simple pointed to a direction required as it relates to a destination I understand be necessarily reached. My only wish is that the more practically sooner the better. Also ,I will tell you simply that in terms of the future the concept of “united nations” forms for me to be an oxymoron. If this then is to indicate that I lack vision or awareness, I stand to be guilty as charged :-)

Best,

Phil

Frédéric Balmer said...

Hi Phil,

by using the word "dirty" I may not have been cautious enough (I did put it between quotes, though...). I do think it reflects public opinion quite well, which is not necessarily my own.
Putting labels like "clean"/"green" and "dirty" on energy sources would require defining measurable criteria, their relative importance and so on, which I am clearly unwilling to do (and incapable of).

Best,

Frederic

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Frederic,

“Putting labels like "clean"/"green" and "dirty" on energy sources would require defining measurable criteria, their relative importance and so on, which I am clearly unwilling to do (and incapable of).”

I apologize for assuming you saw it as such and yes I am sensitive to the use of labels as they are often lead to the wrong impression by many. As for your comment in not being able to distinguish I think you underestimate yourself and I further hope you to be wrong since it will be primarily people such as you (age & aptitude) that will be required to do so as the future dictates.

Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Samuel,

“You call my attention I may be too pessimist on human race. Perhaps I am depressed today. Let get my pills.”

There is reason for pessimism that can only be relieved by hope facilitated by understanding; so as for the pills don’t take too many for the world needs us all to be lucid most times to deal with the challenges:-)

Best,

Phil

plato said...

Plato:as long as all fractal facets of the initial energy concern is alleviated then it has successfully guaranteed that it has truly tapped the market?

I wonder who I meant when I said this?:)

Phil: or do you understand and or believe that the future challenges can only be meet by striving to seek unity consistent with common purpose based on expectations born of shared aspirations and goals to be necessitated by logic.


A difference of opinion in terms of our "political idealizations" for sure, but not in relation to your second point.

You and I could be different countries, yet, I think such adventures to explain our relations have been served with regards to all people, under the appropriate logic. Not as a strawman.

This does not mean the resulting effect of oil as a resource, and it's wealth creation while it lasts, does not mean that we are not to look for news way to provide travel, hold sacred, food stuffs.

Foreign debt will force a country to change. Not by anyone's will, but it's own.

Food sources, while an opportunistic depletion of wealth creation run's as a fuel additive, is currently set at 5% under a government policy? If it's the wrong thing to do, then it is a political mistake.:)

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,


“A difference of opinion in terms of our "political idealizations" for sure, but not in relation to your second point.”

How about a direct answer to a direct question, for again all I see is politicking. How about a different approach with this statement? I believe that if one was able to travel into the future two hundred years to our world that had chosen not to have a global government then you also should expect not to find much remaining of what could be recognized as civilization. What would be your expectation?

Best,

Phil

Plato said...

Phil,

A new form of travel in 200 years, based on our understanding that "gravity will be understood in a new light.:)"

See: ASSESSING POTENTIAL PROPULSION BREAKTHROUGHS by Marc G. Millis

Levitation Energy: Levitation is an excellent challenge to illustrate how contemplating breakthrough propulsion is different from contemplating rocketry. Rockets can hover, but not for very long before they run out of propellant. For an ideal breakthrough, some form of indefinite levitation is desirable, but there is no clear way how to represent the energy or power to perform this feat. Since physics defines work (energy) as the product of force acting over distance, no work is performed if there is no change in distance. Levitation means hovering with no change in height. Regardless, there are a variety of ways to toy with the notion of energy and power for indefinite levitation. A few of these approaches are listed in the next session. For now, only one approach is illustrated, specifically the nullification of gravitational potential.

An object in a gravitational field has the following defined value for its gravitational potential energy:

Equation 11

(11)

Usually this definition is used to compare energy differences between two relatively short differences in height ( r) but in our situation we are considering this potential energy in the more absolute sense. This same equation for potential energy can also be derived by calculating how much energy it would take to completely remove the object from the gravitational field, as if moving it to infinity. This is more in line with the analogy to nullify the effect of gravitational energy. This is also the same amount of energy that is required to stop an object at the levitation height ( r) if it were falling in from infinity with an initial velocity of zero.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

“A new form of travel in 200 years, based on our understanding that "gravity will be understood in a new light.:)"

I’m happy to find that you have finally given me a straight answer as to what your position be, which is you have none since it is still apparently up in the air:-) Despite your inability to decide, I would suggest that this is one of the things that must be determined if civilization is to remain sustainable let alone progress. Therefore, along with all your other contemplations that you feel important to consider, I suggest you include this one as central, as otherwise everything else could be for not.

Also,as it appears that things have drifted off topic or you may prefer to say hovered, I suggest we return:-)

Best,

Phil

Arun said...

Bee,

The YouTube posted here should be watched. It may help explain some of your puzzlement of how our "free" system often has sorry results.

-Arun

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

I agree with much of what you say and yet I think that the fostering of general understanding to be the most important.

I am not sure about this for two reasons. First, before anything else one needs a system in which understanding can be accumulated, and communicated in an unbiased way. Second, people often act non-rationally, are subjective, and the average person does not judge information as critically as necessary. In short, people fall for all kind of fallacies, or they aren't interested enough, or just don't have the time to look into details of possibly very complex problems. I don't think this is going to change soon, though one can certainly dream of a dramatic shift in values towards some culture of debate. In lack of such values however, `understanding' remains most often an illusion, and it is therefore even more important to be careful what and how information is communicated.

For instance if you took a poll of the general populous and stated as the question:

“If there is to be found a way to have the CO2 levels in the atmosphere reduced to nearly zero both cheaply and effectively would they support such an initiative?”

I would wager almost anything that you would find that the majority of the answers would be yes. With this being true how then would one expect to even begin to address the problem?


First, I am not sure about the outcome of the poll. The problem lies in the word `cheaply'. Second, this is not a question that I would consider appropriate for a public poll. It contains already too many details, and it comes pretty close to polling 'Does high atmospheric CO2 levels cause global warming'. And this is a question I would say the average person does not have the expertise to judge on (neither do I have that expertise). Instead, the underlying question is how highly people value long term investments to solve ecological problems (one might make a difference between local and global ones), even if on the expenses of short-term profit of the own nation/community or on the danger or slowing economical growth. This isn't a question that can be answered with yes or no, but is a continuous value that might very possibly change over time.

I would guess, or at least hope, that many people would consider solbing ecological long-term being worth more investment than is presently made. This mismatch is exactly what I mean when I say that the 'free-market' does not appropriately reflect all values.

The following questions are then multiple, but don't take place on that same level. There is for example the question which are the most pressing problems, what are the causes, how can we address them, what can solutions look like, which are the best solutions, what consequences will these cause etc. Now that's where things become interesting for the following reason: you have previously defined a macro-interest (more investment in solution of long-term ecological problems). Yet, if you work out the details, you will very likely find it to be in conflict with individual micro-interests. If that wasn't the case, the free-market would take care of these questions by itself. At this point however, politicians as well as taxpayers, often shy away, suddenly realizing this conflict and more often than not it is the short-term benefit that wins. To me this failure is a great tragedy. To come back to the analogy of the brain on drugs that came up in a comment by John above, here you see where it comes from. Even though you have the best intentions to change your habits, when faced with the actual situation once again the temptation to fall for the immediate kick on the expenses of long-term health is large.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Arun, thanks - That speech is brilliant!

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“In lack of such values however, `understanding' remains most often an illusion, and it is therefore even more important to be careful what and how information is communicated.”

I’m not sure where we differ here except that I perceive (perhaps wrongly) that you understand that all relevant information should be screened through some filter. If that filter takes the form of government or appointed authority (anointed ones), I would certainly disagree. If however this filter takes the form as to provide for and ensure universal access to uncensored information by any means(journals, newspapers, websites, blogs, etc) and that rebuttal is not denied such that it remain open and uncensored I would say yes. This is a very important point, since many in this media for instance that express views often censor any and all comments that conflict with them, particularly if presented rationally. So the first step is to educate people to test the validity of information and opinion by considering if it to truly be open and transparent. Your recent experience on this blog with those that oppose the LHC should serve as a poignant example and lesson for that.

“First, I am not sure about the outcome of the poll. The problem lies in the word `cheaply'. Second, this is not a question that I would consider appropriate for a public poll. It contains already too many details, and it comes pretty close to polling 'Does high atmospheric CO2 levels cause global warming”

I’m sorry I think you missed the point of my question as it was purposely drafted to expose the general lack of understand as the key part was “to have the CO2 levels in the atmosphere reduced to nearly zero”. The point being that to reduce the levels to zero would in fact extinguish much of life on the planet including our own. That’s why I spoke of it being a question of balance and not of absolutes which I’m quite sure many do not understand.

I also totally agree that the issues are indeed complex and difficult. That in turn is exactly what makes the average citizen so vulnerable to bad information or even worse intentional misinformation. I would also admit as yourself not to having any crystal ball type solutions, yet would agree with you that the first step is to decide on how such information should be presented as it to represent what can be considered for the most part to be reliably accurate, true and unbiased. Therefore, the first step (as I see it) is to assure its availability and methodology so that it might worthy to be considered to be trusted. John may indeed be right that despite our best efforts that the weaknesses of humanity may prove to be stronger then it strengths and yet I can see no other way other then to try and hope he be wrong.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Ha, see how much attention I paid to the rest of the proposed poll-question besides the words 'cheaply' and 'reduce CO2'. Sorry about that.

I think we actually do mean the same, I must have misunderstood your comment as a wish for the enlightened citizen which I think is unlikely to happen any time soon.

I’m not sure where we differ here except that I perceive (perhaps wrongly) that you understand that all relevant information should be screened through some filter. If that filter takes the form of government or appointed authority (anointed ones), I would certainly disagree.

No, I don't mean to screen anything, that's not the point. Regarding filter, you know that I said earlier, information has to be filtered for better or for worse, and the very least we can do is to ensure the filtering that actually takes place is not in conflict with the values of our democratic system. That is to say, is it strongly influenced by monetary interests or popularity this is a reason for concern. The point in which we differ is the notion of 'government' I think. I do not see 'government' in conflict with the society's interest, at least not in principle. If this conflict is there, this signals already a problem. Let me put this somewhat differently: people can realistically only process a limited amount of information, and for a democratic system to lead to optimal outcome one has to ensure there is a good probability the information they obtain is relevant. The question is then, how do you achieve this. I can't give you a good answer to this question, except that I am sure PageRank (TM) is not the way to do it. As I said earlier elsewhere, I am a strong believer in representative democracy, as it has the benefits of combining the public opinion without washing out expert's opinions by majority votes. If this is an 'authority' that you have a problem with, then I suspect the reason is the lack of trust that many people already have in the functioning of the systems that govern our lives. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Arun,

I would agree with both you and Bee that the speech is both relevant and brilliant and forms to be what I understand to be required. However, I would also caution that the prophet’s proclamations may not be consistent with his intentions. That is he warns that the media has become polarized through consolidation and self interest and at the same time expresses in places political views and attitudes that for America would be considered on the far left.

I therefore would agree that the message if followed as outlined be true and helpful, yet at the same time am reminded as he himself insists to maintain a skeptical posture as to the messenger and his disciples. Now don’t consider this to allude to my views politically, for that would not be true;: its just that I would have all to recognize that as the ond saying goes, what is sauce for the goose should remain the same for the gander.

Best,

Phil

Arun said...

Hi Phil,
If people were getting all sides of an issue, and then more often than not picking the wrong sides, that would be one kind of problem. Then it would be a matter of educating people on critical thinking.

In the US at least, the problem is that all sides are not being presented. As Dan Rather put it in a speech at the same forum, by acquisitions and mergers, news organizations have become a tiny part of vast corporate entities that "literally hundreds of regulatory issues before multiple arms of the government concerning a vast array of business interests." Therefore, they find it advantageous to become an arm of government propaganda.

To me this is a problem that precedes people's thinking skills; and serves to explain various strange far from optimal outcomes.

---

If someone tells me "make sure you're getting good, complete information before making a decision" that is in general something worth listening to, no matter what that somebody's ideology is. Even someone who is trying to get me to sharpen my critical faculties presumably has an ideology one of whose precepts is to teach people to think critically. Being skeptical of that is carrying it too far, IMO.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Arun,

“Even someone who is trying to get me to sharpen my critical faculties presumably has an ideology one of whose precepts is to teach people to think critically. Being skeptical of that is carrying it too far, IMO.”

I’m certain that you have no problem in comprehension, thus I am forced to now consider your intent; for I agreed that the message be true and helpful. I also said I believe it to be what should be followed. My skepticism lies only with the messenger and not with the message, which he himself would have to admit be both consistent and correct, in terms of himself and all messengers. Therefore, there is no bias or overreaction to be found with my contention, yet quite the opposite only neutrality born of reason. If ones master is reason and fairness then why should I not hold them to it?

Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“Ha, see how much attention I paid to the rest of the proposed poll-question besides the words 'cheaply' and 'reduce CO2'. Sorry about that.”

It is I that should be sorry, for it was not intended that I catch you in the trap I set, even though not as I believe it would be if responded to by the populous in general. As I have expressed to you earlier that I’ve have some exposer and thereby a limited experise in such matters. Therein I’ve long since realized that the power of suggestion when applied in the form of a question can have almost the same effect as hypnosis:-)

“I am a strong believer in representative democracy, as it has the benefits of combining the public opinion without washing out expert's opinions by majority votes. If this is an 'authority' that you have a problem with, then I suspect the reason is the lack of trust that many people already have in the functioning of the systems that govern our lives.”

I have no problem with the concept of authority; unless it is limited to that the only one to be considered and trusted is a central one. Central authorities within a democracy as such are empowered by the people for whom they serve, not the other way around. Therefore, it is the people which are the masters and not the authorities. It is here that the checks and balances intended and demanded by the system should not be allowed to be compromised.

A free, open and transparent system then forms to be the first piece of the structure. The second piece is the unencumbered access to information as being a basic right. The third piece being it requires the people themselves to participate by not simply holding an opinion but also openly expressing it; more so most importantly looking to the sources made available by the system to be considered in forming them. It is well known that as for instance when constructing a structure intended to support, such as a chair on which to sit, that for it be and remain stable requires it to have and maintain at least three legs; as I see it, for society to function properly it cannot be expected to manage with less. Somewhat metaphorical perhaps, yet it does express what I understand to be true.

This of course is not a new concept for it has been often expressed. As it pertains for Americans it was first state by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address when he summed up his thoughts on democracy when he said :

“and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Many may contend this to be simply nice sounding rhetoric, while I maintain if understood and practiced to be the truth not only for government yet for our species itself when considered globally.

Best,

Phil

Plato said...

Phil:I’m happy to find that you have finally given me a straight answer as to what your position be, which is you have none since it is still apparently up in the air:-) Despite your inability to decide, I would suggest that this is one of the things that must be determined if civilization is to remain sustainable let alone progress. Therefore, along with all your other contemplations that you feel important to consider, I suggest you include this one as central, as otherwise everything else could be for not.

Did you not think I knew your question was loaded with a perception "you had already formed" when you thought to ask it?

Now everyone dances, right?;)To create a discussion? Some, more then others.LOL

Plato:This has created a dependency on it's citizens, as long as all fractal facets of the initial energy concern is alleviated then it has successfully guaranteed that it has truly tapped the market?

I was actually sitting last night trying to calulate that statement I made to you that was uttlery disregarded. Weaver of illusions, you?:)

Disregarding transport problem's of ethanol production "while not in a pipeline," "drives up the cost factor" of ethanol production.

I was looking to cost the price of ethanol versus gasoline, might hide an "increased profit" attained by driving the price of ethanol up while fuel prices continue to climb. Your assessment about my attitude working in other areas that you have denounced from a logic point of view, yet, which I have work extremely hard to point out to you is contained in what is self evident( the other things I consider.)

They are derive from a logic that Euclid might be happy to see, leads to other ideas related, as well. Should I take the Fifth?

Gravity, non-euclidean perceptions Bla Bla, I know.

Cosmic particle collisions in nature, the associative value of our perceptions about environmental correspondence? Who knew this could exist in our determinations?

Self proclaimed tree hugger:)Accusations I know, but why not?;)

"An alternative resides" in our perceptions of what is of value too, a "wealth creative system" which also looks to maximized profits, and continues to fuel this drive in "alternate energy resources."

What does the future hold and a whole different attitude is adopted that does not find room in the assessment of our future? "A mathematical derivative" facing the question of "new modes of transportation" being nurtured! How strange. Does not what is currently taking place "now" determine that future?

Why, such statements about "maximizing" to discount this, is of no value in our assessment of the future? More profitable to grow crops for?

You do not need to "pat my shoulder." I am already a close observer of "not only my human nature"in all it's follies. I look to see such trends can amount too, in the future as a result as well as in one's personal habits.

Have a look again and you might find the Thalean connection?:).

While always referring to the "depth of perception" this is what a "wide sweeping claim can do" while one perceives to think "a citizen" has somehow missed the mark. That's not nice.

An emotive valuation on the "phases of water" are always an interesting view about our lives in general.

Clean air. Steam and Ice solidification of our values from one, and the latter, an emotive discharge. Talk about pollution.:)We are all guilty of it.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

“This has created a dependency on it's citizens, as long as all fractal facets of the initial energy concern is alleviated then it has successfully guaranteed that it has truly tapped the market?”

To be honest I have no clear idea as to what this statement is meant to communicate and as such cannot imagine how it pertains to the position I asked you to clarify. I did not ask it so I might set you up for something; to the contrary it was simply so I might be aware of what it is. So perhaps I’m just thick, (please others advise) for I fail to understand why you cannot or will not make it clear. If you think I sit in judgment of someone who maintains ideas that differ from mine, then I would protest that you don’t understand me very well. If on the other hand, if you fear that making your position clear renders you vulnerable in some fashion, I would insist that is something that you need to deal with and not expect it to form to be necessarily my sole responsibility.

I will also admit, that for the most part I’m a person of plain language and therefore it best to communicate with me plainly resultant of this limitation; since it’s ambiguity, uncertainty and false impression I always wish to avoid. If you find my question too personal or perhaps inappropriate, I apologize and promise not to ask again, unless however what is said at times suggests to me to be relevant and you can simply choose to respond or refrain.

So once again, as you might understand my center in all this, is that on one hand the world (as I see it) is brought closer and made more holistic by science and technology while on the other more divergent and polar by the lack of understanding and compassion. How long can this persist before it has dire consequence? I also am not so naive as fail to recognize that this understanding and compassion must be mutual and yet in all things of such nature someone must be the first to offer the first olive branch and it is then only logical to assume it better to be by those with the most olive trees:-)

Best,

Phil

CarlBrannen said...

Samuel writes: "Carl, I don't mind the US biofuel industry. Carry on. But the destruction of the Amazon and Indonesian rainforest (which you conveniently don't mention) is real."

Our US ethanol plant uses US grown corn. No rain forests were cut down to provide for it. If you want to argue about what Brazil does with its rainforest I suggest you learn Portugese, move there, and apply for citizenship because I don't think you can have an effect unless you vote in their elections.

Bee writes: "I know they are from the early eighties, I wrote so in the text. I mentioned them merely to show how long back this discussion dates, I also mentioned there have been dozens of other studies since then. You probably know that better than I."

Historical improvement in corn yields per acre:
www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/corn/news/articles.06/YieldTrends-0615.html

Historical improvement in ethanol plant efficiency per gallon:
www.ethanolrfa.org/industry/conference/blog/2008/04/21/ethanol

"The report by Pimental (source [1]) is your basic junk science and has been roundly corrrected. Reference please."

Shappouri, Duffield,[USDA] and Wang [Argonne National Lab]
The Energy Balance of Ethanol: an Update
www.usda.gov/oce/reports/energy/aer-814.pdf

The only modern studies saying otherwise are by Pimentel, who certainly isn't modern. (You're trusting the work of a guy who got his PhD in 1951, and who is in disagreement with about a dozen other articles. In short, Pimentel's a classic crank.)

"Pimentel isn't much concerned with the water, the reasons he mentioned for the positive numbers in [4,5] are as follows: "all the energy required to produce and repair farm machinery, and the fermentation-distillation equipment is not included."

Even in Pimentel's exaggerated estimates, these things amount to 7000 BTU/gallon which is negligible. In general, these numbers depend on how many years the equipment is used and recycled. Our plant is built from recycled equipment and Pimentel's numbers do not apply to us at all.

"further, he mentions that Shapouri's analysis used corn data from only 9 states, compared to his analysis which includes corn data from 50 states, pointing out that most of the 50 states have ethanol plants (not that I'd have known)."

Pimentel used obsolete data for his corn production. Whether it comes from 9 states or all 50 is largely immaterial. The corn variety used (in the US) for ethanol is Zea mays var. indentata or "dent corn" or "field corn". It is primarily grown in the corn belt, which consists of 9 states. Farmers elsewhere grow dent corn but in far smaller quantities. The corn that you grow in your backyard and eat fresh is "sweet corn", not dent corn, so the production statistics can be confusing. Total US acreage (1000s) in total corn in 2003 (latest data I found by googling for 10 seconds) was 79,000 acres. Iowa: 12,300; Illinois: 11,200; Nebraska: 8,400; Minnesota: 7,200; Indiana: 5,400; South Dakota: 4,400; Wisconsin: 3,650; Ohio: 3,200; Michigan: 2,250;
www.ncga.com/03world/main/production.htm

"He further explains: "Shapouri reported a net energy return of 67% after including the co-products, primarily dried-distillers grain (DDG) used to feed cattle. These co-products are not fuel."

Distiller's grains are a high quality animal feed. They are used to feed cattle, which is the primary use of field corn. So distiller's grains reduce the need for corn to be sent directly to the feed yards. As such, ignoring distiller's grains is quite silly and a sign that Pimentel is grinding an axe.

"All of which are reasons that make sense to me. If they are incorrect, please explain why."

Done.

"I consider this to be a deliberate insult, and an inappropriate one. I don't know where your grudge about academia comes from ..."

It is an insult.

"... but fortunately most of the people I know understand that the task of scientists is to find the best answers to open questions, and that's most often a community enterprise in which some will be right, and others will be wrong."

You've done no science on ethanol. You've written no papers. As far as I can see you've never even written down an equation or computed anything as would be required of any student. You're not educated in this area. All you have done is to quote another (famous) crank. Stick to physics or put in the effort to educate yourself (and that means reading the literature, not just one author). Outside of physics, you're just another crank without the appropriate degree or experience.

I have great sympathy for cranks. What bothers me about this is that you're painting your work as the "task of a scientist" when actually you have not the slightest tidbit of education in this area and have spent very little effort trying to understand things. And it's possible for you, and people like you, to influence politicians to make misguided choices that effect me personally. Surely this is something that you can sympathize with. What do you think of the people who are saying that the LHC could destroy the world? They're also quoting real papers.

Let's get back to your specialty, physics, in this context. Pimentel's analysis is about the BTU content of fuels. Ethanol has considerably less BTUs per gallon than gasoline. Do you think that this is a valid comparison or do you think something has been simplified? Here's some physics ideas for you to think about:

In terms of the Carnot cycle, what is the actual work that can be obtained from a fuel? Does it depend on the pressure that the fuel is burned at? What is the difference in pressure that ethanol can be burned at relative to gasoline? What is "octane"? What does it physically mean when your car's engine "knocks"? Why is it that American race cars use alcohol instead of gasoline? Is it possible to redesign an internal combustion engine so that it runs better on ethanol? Could you do it with a machine shop to a standard engine? What is "valve clearance"?
www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/05/27/sportsline/main1662809.shtml
www.racecarbook.com/articles/racingfuels.shtml

Bee said...

Hi Carl,

You've done no science on ethanol. You've written no papers. As far as I can see you've never even written down an equation or computed anything as would be required of any student. You're not educated in this area. All you have done is to quote another (famous) crank. Stick to physics or put in the effort to educate yourself (and that means reading the literature, not just one author). Outside of physics, you're just another crank without the appropriate degree or experience. [... ] What bothers me about this is that you're painting your work as the "task of a scientist" when actually you have not the slightest tidbit of education in this area and have spent very little effort trying to understand things.

You can call me a crank if that makes you feel better, but I don't quite understand your anger. I haven't written a paper, I have written a blog post. I have never pretended any of what I write on this blog is the 'task of a scientist' as you put it. In fact, me writing this is my effort to understand things, and your insults are not very helpful in this regard.

My remark about the academic world was a general one and had nothing to do with my interest in the topic.

The 'update' you provide as reference in which Pimentel's paper has been "roundly corrected" is three years older than Pimentel's paper, and btw one of the articles I mentioned above.

Distiller's grains are a high quality animal feed. They are used to feed cattle, which is the primary use of field corn. So distiller's grains reduce the need for corn to be sent directly to the feed yards. As such, ignoring distiller's grains is quite silly and a sign that Pimentel is grinding an axe.

Sorry, I don't get it. I thought we were talking about fuel. If there was just corn be grown on the fields with the purpose to feed either cattle or humans, this does of course provide energy. But I wouldn't have called that fuel. Now why would I start calling it fuel when I'm using the biggest part of the corn otherwise?

Best,

B.

Samuel said...

Carl,

You misquoted me. Maybe you are confusing with someone else. Anyway, since you mention Brazil, I can comment on

Our US ethanol plant uses US grown corn. No rain forests were cut down to provide for it. If you want to argue about what Brazil does with its rainforest I suggest you learn Portugese, move there, and apply for citizenship because I don't think you can have an effect unless you vote in their elections.


A single vote of a Brazilian may be comparable to the effect a single American demand for energy. "I can prove this theorem, if I have space enough".

John Baez said...

Bee wrote:

I am pretty sure there's ways to improve political systems such that they take into account these known problems. Our understanding about the workings of the political, social and economical systems has improved quite a lot over the last, say, 5 decades or so. It's about time this knowledge gets implemented.

I'm more pessimistic, because to me the problem is not mainly one of finding better ways to do things - it's getting powerful people to believe it's in their best interest to change their ways before things get very unpleasant. It seems almost as hard as convincing water to run uphill, or breaking an addiction.

Perhaps my pessimism comes in part from living in the United States, where - to take just two examples - political appointees are busy trying to keep NASA scientists from revealing information about climate change, and cover up the decision process that led the EPA to block improved air pollution standards in California. One reads about something like this almost every day, and it's demoralizing. But I'm still hoping for a regime change.

If you want to compare corn-based ethanol versus sugar cane versus switchgrass versus even more futuristic biofuels based on algae, National Geographic has a nice fun place to start.

Anonymous said...

Dear All

Sorry if I am too late to this forum, but there are some questions puzzling me about biofuels, and if anyone wants to enlighten me, that would be great. Sorry to Bee if the post was intended to make more general political points; having bought a diesel car I just happen to be interested right now in biofuels, specifically.

(1) So my first question is, why do we want to use biofuels at all? My understanding would be that we use e.g. petrodiesel in cars because (a) its relatively high energy density allows for a large travel range, and (b) the relatively high power and torque of a diesel or gas engine provide the acceleration and speed consumers expect in a car.

My intuition is that the appeal of biofuels is essentially the same, but with the addition that there may be no net release of carbon from the fuel itself (production and transport fuel use notwithstanding), since plants sequester carbon and then release it.

I hope there is essentially agreement on what I've said so far.

(2) The issue then seems to be, is more energy being used to farm biofuel crops and convert them to biofuels than is obtained from the fuel produced? There is obviously some dispute in this thread about this, but most people I've spoken to are hugely skeptical about the (current) efficiency of biofuels.

My question really is, do those who've expressed that skepticism on this thread (for example you, Bee) expect that biofuels will become efficient in the future? I suppose I am optimistic about this, and I'd be interested to know if the (current) skeptics are, too. Is the future of biofuels going to be algae farmed in a shed in Texas?

Maybe it is, and I can believe that such fuels *will* become a genuinely renewable energy source---but with significant energy storage and power delivery advantages over other renewable sources, which will (I would think) need to use batteries and electromagnetic motors when powering personal transport.

Right now there are problems with the efficiency and social impacts of biofuels, and the usual multinational suspects appear to be cashing in on the biofuel green image. But is it really so obvious that some kind of biofuel isn't the future of fuel for personal transport in the US? In thirty years time, will my diesel car be running off biodiesel produced by a local algae-farming collective, or will it simply be obsolete? I'd be interested in people's takes on this question.

-reddiesel

CarlBrannen said...

"Sorry, I don't get it. I thought we were talking about fuel."

Let me give the (accurate) numbers. From one bushel of grain a modern ethanol plant obtains 2.9 gallons of ethanol and 1/3 bushel of distiller's grains (dry weight equivalent, don't make me explain the boring details which involve density and water content corrections). If you ignore the distiller's grains you get a figure for the "fuel produced from corn"; the yield amounts to 2.9 gallons per bushel.

However, you also obtain 1/3 of a bushel of distiller's grains. That 1/3 of a bushel of "DDGs" is typically fed to cattle. In fact, it is more nutritious (higher % protein and fiber) than corn and sells at a premium to corn. Animal feeds are complicated, and if you look around, you can find propaganda on this subject as well.

Economically, the primary use of field corn is animal feed. Consequently, to obtain a fair calculation of the net fuel obtained by an ethanol plant, you have to take into account not the amount of corn used, but the net amount of animal feed that is lost due to ethanol production. Doing without is a gross simplification. An ethanol plant that threw away its DDGs would lose money, lots of it, in today's economy.

After correcting for the return of distiller's grains to the animal feed market, one finds that an ethanol plant requires a net 2/3 of a bushel of "animal feed" in order to produce 2.9 gallons of ethanol. This is a production rate of 2.9/(2/3) = 4.35 gallons per bushel.

Pimentel used a figure of 2.5 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn. This is just wrong, close to half the actual value. It is from the 1980s and does not include the value of the byproducts. He put his thumb on the scale because he is an entomologist worried about land use and insect ecology, not because he is a chemical engineer.

Along that line, you should read what Pimentel says about the sustainable population of the US. What do you think his opinion is on the population density of Germany, LOL.

"If there was just corn be grown on the fields with the purpose to feed either cattle or humans, this does of course provide energy. But I wouldn't have called that fuel."

As noted above, only about 25% of this year's (US) corn crop will be used for ethanol. And 1/3 of that will be returned as animal feed.

With the present situation, the corn based feed available for cattle etc., from corn is 75% (primary) + 8% (byproduct) = 83% of what is planted. Thus the ethanol itself only required a net 17% of the corn/feed acreage. Pimentel acts as if it required the full 25% and then uses 1980 era corn production figures and ethanol plant efficiency because he is setting up a strawman argument.

"Now why would I start calling it fuel when I'm using the biggest part of the corn otherwise?"

I'm not sure what you're saying here. The net energy balances are all sums of very large numbers of fairly small factors. If you want to get an answer that makes sense, you have to do it right, whether or not it's the "biggest part of the corn". Leaving off the byproduct would be like, uh, treating a gluon like it was a photon and only keeping tree diagrams.

Hey, if all you want to do is promote your prejudices and never admit error, you can call "fuel" whatever you like and do computations that are wrong for political reasons having to do with land use and ecology. But I don't think that's what you want.

The fact is that US corn will be primarily grown for animal feed no matter whether there is an ethanol industry or not. And it is also a moral fact that as long as there is widespread starvation in the world, it is wrong for the US government to pay farmers to not plant acreage.

What Pimentel and the deep ecologists want is for the US to quit all "factory farming" altogether. They see biofuels as the nose of the camel that will cause widespread use of land to provide man's needs. If that is your fears as well, then admit it, and say it out loud. But your primary concerns should not be with the US, where the farmland is relatively ecologically benigh, but instead with the tropics where the rain forest will be cut down. And increasing US production of biofuels means decreasin pressure on other countries to do so.

In the current situation, the fuel that goes into your car is provided by hard working, hard headed specialist engineers like me (who are not in the position of being able to ignore byproducts and a lot more than just that). In addition to your fuel, our taxes provide your income. After you use your political power to cripple the economy with bad science, what do you think is going to happen to your industry? You are living off the fat of the land. Physics is not a basic industry like fuels or farming; if all the physicists on the planet went on strike tomorrow the rest of us would notice it less than a Hollywood writer's strike.

Furthermore, I should add that our ethanol plant is built from equipment that is "food grade" and we can therefore certify it to produce human edible distiller's grains (for export). Since dent corn isn't eaten much by people, making ethanol can increase food available for humans. You may be eating it yourself one of these days.

The alternative, feeding the corn to animals, produces meat, the cost of which is NOT what is starving people. Ironically, the other main use of corn is corn syrup which is used to sweeten soft drinks. In short, corn can be used to make ethanol or it can be used for McDonald's happy meals (without the fries).

As far as reducing land use by farmers, the place to go is to make people (a) eating meat, and (b) quit needing gasoline.

plato said...

Phil,

Yep, thick:)

The attempt at discovery of profit increase at a base of 5% ethanol of the fuel gallon calculation should have been enough to make it clear?

Profit mark up increase meant for ethanol, while takings lands for growth for ethanol production are in consideration of "creating wealth." This then becomes profitable adventure for company to take over of farm lands?

I already answer to your second point above and you were not happy.

plato said...

Gas pricing from one country to the next, from one town to the next and then to top it off, additives that cost less then the fuel in regards to enthanol production yet charge the same price when the cost of gasoline should go down once efficiency has gone up?

You look for the mathematical seed.

CarlBrannen said...

arun writes: "Yet Samuel worships at the altar of the "free market"."

Samuel is writing about the Brazil experience where the result is that ethanol prevails with no remaining subsidies (but did have significant subisidies years ago). It's hardly fair to blame him for something that is going on in Australia, especially when the Australian problem with high grain prices is largely one of drought rather than ethanol. See
www.fas.usda.gov/grain/circular/2006/10-06/graintoc.htm

Bee writes: "Pimentel et al in the above mentioned paper also consider switchgrass (as well as biodiesel from soybeans and sunflower). They find the energy return for switchgrass is comparable, but slightly worse than that of corn. Best,"

First, "et al" is hardly much of an abbreviation for Pimentel and Pimentel. And their true complaint about switchgrass is the same as that of corn. They want the land to be fallow.

Plato writes: "Disregarding transport problem's of ethanol production "while not in a pipeline," "drives up the cost factor" of ethanol production."

A lot of the ethanol plants in the corn belt have to ship their ethanol long distances. It goes by rail. Ethanol is like gasoline in terms of safety. This raises the cost of shipping it to about $0.20 per gallon from Iowa to the west coast. It's more efficient to make the ethanol in California and ship it by tank truck. (And remember those tanker trucks that fill up your local gas station? After they're done they drive them around empty to ge another load. If there's a local ethanol plant, they can fill up with ethanol and take it back to the "rack" where fuels are mixed. If this can be arranged, it decreases the cost of shipping ethanol by using the backhaul.)

Plato writes: "I was looking to cost the price of ethanol versus gasoline, might hide an "increased profit" attained by driving the price of ethanol up while fuel prices continue to climb."

Right now ethanol is amazingly cheap compared to gasoline. The reason is that there are very few fuel pumps that sell E85. The cure for this is to require new cars to be capable of running on any ratio of gasoline to ethanol to methanol. Most cars in Brazil are flex fueled as are many American made automobiles. Surely the US can afford it (about $100 per car). This will allow the coal to methanol conversion as well as all the other alcohol producers to have a market.

John Baez writes: "If you want to compare corn-based ethanol versus sugar cane versus switchgrass versus even more futuristic biofuels based on algae, National Geographic has a nice fun place to start."

National Geographic is hardly known for the quality of its academic articles on chemical engineering and is subject to the same misconceptions as anyone else. In fact, their argument that corn from ethanol is inefficient uses the same Pimentel article. But other than that, their article is more balanced than most.

In the long run, the US ethanol business will switch its feedstock. One of the possibilities is a US version of sugar cane. This was only recently discovered. It's a tropical variety of corn:
www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071016101454.htm

If the above "temperate sugar cane" works out, the present US corn ethanol plants will switch their feedstock over. Switching feedstock is much much cheaper and easier than building a new plant from scratch so the US investment in corn ethanol will not be wasted. On the other hand, if this does work out and we don't build the plants now, the time required to build plants will effect our energy consumption in the future by a considerable amount.

For the eventual farm fuel that solves the oil problem, my first guess is biodiesel from algae. However, you should note that biodiesel is incompatible with modern gasoline engines and so there will be a substantial use of ethanol / methanol as direct fuel even if the algae problem is solved. In addition, to convert the algae oil to biodiesel requires 10% alcohol. Consequently, money our societies spend now on ethanol will not be wasted even if we later convert to biodiesel. Biodiesel plants are cheap and easy to build, but I am afraid the algae farms will be expensive and time consuming.

The biggest problem in making algae biodiesel is maintaining an ecology where only the algae you want grows. In the ethanol business, this is solved by using yeast. Yeast produces alcohol from sugar which kills off pretty much everything but yeast. Photosynthesis produces sugar so why not add ethanol DNA to algae? Then the algae would produce ethanol directly and poison all their compeitors as yeast does.

The fuel problems we have are temporary and solvable and will be solved. What we need to do is for each of us to get back to our own specialties and leave the deep thinking to the people who are paid to do it, who have been doing it for years, and who know a whole lot more than we do.

In the mean time, do think about the Carnot cycle and what it says about gasoline, ethanol, and diesel in terms of miles per gallon.

plato said...

Hi Carl,

"A lot of the ethanol plants in the corn belt have to ship their ethanol long distances. It goes by rail

Yes thanks for clarification. I was thinking in terms of the pipeline. It gathers moisture was thet hought and the necessity to tanker it.

Right now ethanol is amazingly cheap compared to gasoline

Yes that was my point Carl. They are maximizing profit on that 5% additive, on a gallon of gas.

Best

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

Yes, it was clear that you were talking about the ethanol issue, which of course you know I have already said (to Bee) is either currently or in the near future feasible from an embodied energy perspective and which from that aspect I have no issue. I also pointed out it was simply substituting one carbon based fuel for another, which in terms of our long term problems doesn’t address this issue and as such no matter which way you slice it is a waste of resource when looked at in the broader view. To tell you the truth I was trying to fathom how that relates to being a globalist and could make no connection and still can't.

“already answer to your second point above and you were not happy.”

In terms of our discussion it’s been my only point and I can’t say I’m happy or not with your answer for if you have offered one I’ve missed it somehow.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Carl,


But your primary concerns should not be with the US,

My primary concerns are not with the US. Why would they?

What do you think his opinion is on the population density of Germany, LOL.

"et al" is hardly much of an abbreviation for Pimentel and Pimentel.


I don't see what the population density of Germany matters in this context. Besides this, that paper is 17 years old. Sustainability is a difficult concept, one that differs greatly from theory to practice and depends on the system boundaries.

I was referring to coauthors called Tad Patzek and Gerald Cecil. I'm not sure in how far that matters.

In addition to your fuel, our taxes provide your income.

I doubt it.

After you use your political power to cripple the economy with bad science,

Hey, cool, I have the 'political power' to 'cripple the economy'? Can you give me more details?

what do you think is going to happen to your industry? You are living off the fat of the land. Physics is not a basic industry like fuels or farming; if all the physicists on the planet went on strike tomorrow the rest of us would notice it less than a Hollywood writer's strike.

That is very likely true. I have expressed previously my opinion that fundamental research is a luxury of civilization, and in addition not a very popular one. I consider myself very lucky to have the opportunity to do this job. If you want to come up with your 'tax' argument again, please see what I wrote above in reply to Phil about the conflict between macro and micro-interests.

However, you also obtain 1/3 of a bushel of distiller's grains. That 1/3 of a bushel of "DDGs" is typically fed to cattle. In fact, it is more nutritious (higher % protein and fiber) than corn and sells at a premium to corn. Animal feeds are complicated, and if you look around, you can find propaganda on this subject as well. [...] An ethanol plant that threw away its DDGs would lose money, lots of it, in today's economy.


Sorry, I still don't get it. Let me clarify my problem with the argument. Consider there's a patch of land, untouched, anywhere. Now I go an build an oil well there. For the sake of simplicity let me assume that oil well is build without any initial energy investment, I'm only interested in the running costs. Now when I start running it, it will need some fuel and it will yield some, and if you drilled in the right place you'd hope more comes out than goes in. Not all of the energy needed has to be in terms of fuel, so you could improve that in/output ratio. Also, not all the fuel needed is used on location (e.g. transport and so on.)

Now forget about the oil drilling. Take that same patch of land, and build a corn farm there, prepare the land area appropriately whatever there needs to be done etc. Again, assume that doesn't need any initial energy. Start growing corn (or whatever). That farm needs fuel to run it, and it produces fuel. Also here, not all the fuel used is used at location. Question is, is the outcome larger than the input.

I don't see how animal feed plays a role there, unless possibly you want to use cattle to get the fuel cost for transportation down or so (then I'd have said you're running the farm with alternative energy sources, thereby improving the in/output ratio). I certainly understand that cattle feed brings money in, but I don't know what this is supposed to say about the idea of making a country more independent of oil imports. If all the oil wells in the middle east suddenly started producing cattle feed as byproducts, that would probably be interesting, but would that increase the world's oil supply and bring prices down?

What Pimentel and the deep ecologists want is for the US to quit all "factory farming" altogether. They see biofuels as the nose of the camel that will cause widespread use of land to provide man's needs. If that is your fears as well, then admit it, and say it out loud.

? I don't have that fear. I wrote above repeatedly what my concerns are about the situation, which has little to do with the biofuel in particular.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Reddiesel,

do those who've expressed that skepticism on this thread (for example you, Bee) expect that biofuels will become efficient in the future? I suppose I am optimistic about this, and I'd be interested to know if the (current) skeptics are, too.

To offer my completely unqualified opinion, I do think that biofuels will become efficient in the future, if efficient means that fuel output increases over input (as you can see, there is some argument about whether this is the case already. It certainly depends on the location and varies from country to country and farm to farm). Reason why I believe this is that I think there's range for optimization in the procedure in lowering the cost and increasing the output and if it's anywhere around one, one can probably get it above one. I am skeptical however about the merits of biofuel as compared to other alternative energy sources that could replace oil, as a) it doesn't seem to me that growing plants and extracting oil is such a terribly effective way to use sunlight b) it has a whole bunch of ecological and social drawbacks and c) money that goes into farming could be used otherwise with better outcome in terms of energy, e.g. nuclear energy (fission) seems to be the obvious option. Very likely, the corn farmers don't want to hear that, and also people typically prefer corn fields in their backyards over nuclear power plants, but as somebody said so aptly above 'the free market rules' (not that I think that's always a good thing, just saying that's what is likely to happen, see e.g. here.) That does then leave the problem of how that alternative energy eventually drives you car and so on.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi John,

I'm more pessimistic, because to me the problem is not mainly one of finding better ways to do things - it's getting powerful people to believe it's in their best interest to change their ways before things get very unpleasant. It seems almost as hard as convincing water to run uphill, or breaking an addiction.

As long as we live in a democracy we do have the possibility to initiate change. I think that the way to convince water to run uphills in this situation is for the scientific community to speak up. I do not think this is a change that can come from within the political system itself, as it hinders the correction of its own mistakes very efficiently. What gives me hope though is that I have the strong impression many people more or less rationally notice that something doesn't quite work as it should, which is why political topics are most often surrounded by an atmosphere of cynicism or outrage. It signals to me an erosion of trust. I do agree with what Phil said above that part of the problem is one of eduction. You can't explain people why the free market fails in some situations if they don't understand what the difference is between their economical and political system is to begin with (Esp. in the USA I've repeatedly encountered the believe that economy is some sort of grass-root democracy in which consumers 'vote' with the money they invest for what they want to happen. There's no way you can argue with people if they don't even understand the flaw in that thinking.) Best,

B.

Arun said...

Ah, it is CarlBrannen, not Samuel, who tells us that

"If that is not enough to convince you that ethanol is not necessarily a bad idea (and of course it is not, the essence of academia is never having to say you're wrong), and you want political evidence that it makes sense to convert crops, specifically corn, to ethanol, then you might do an internet search to see which corn producing countries have factories that convert corn to ethanol. The answer is ALL OF THEM (except Mexico, which exports oil), specifically, Argentina, Brazil, China, Australia, Canada, the EU, and the US."


Me bad.

Shorter CarlBrannen - corn ethanol produces cattle feed (and hence much bullshit); and you had better shut up or else we'll yank your physics funding.

-- Why I'm particularly offended is because of the ethanol lobby is blaming India (and China) for the rise in world grain prices when the USDA says the following - (note, it is per capita consumption below).

"Figures released by the US Department of Agriculture for 2007 say each Indian eats only 178 kg of grain in a year, while a US citizen consumes 1,046 kg. Likewise, milk consumption per person per year is 36 kg in India, while in the United States is 78 kg. While each American consumes 45.5 kg poultry meat per year, an Indian takes in only 1.9 kg. Besides, while the US per capita grain consumption rose from 946 kg in 2003 to 1,046 kg in 2007, India’s per capita consumption remained static during this period."

Arun said...

You can read more about this blame India here. The Indian analysis is:

"High subsidies for bio-fuel production in the US have resulted in the diversion of foodgrain-producing land to bio-fuel production. In 2007-08, an estimated 30% of maize/corn produced in the US was used for ethanol production. At the WTO, developing countries have been pressuring the US and European Union to bring down its trade barriers.

Again an FAO-sponsored meet on the ongoing food crisis to be held in June is likely to see demands for reduction in subsidies for bio-fuel, and for allowing trade in bio fuels. By blaming India, which is the second most populous country in the world, Mr Bush merely tried to deflect attention from the more fundamental issues impacting global food prices.

What seems to lend further credence to Mr Bush’s statement being just a diversionary tactic, is that analysts have now suggested that India’s record wheat and rice production estimates in 2007-08 have calibrated downward world foodgrain prices."

Arun said...

The free market is a wonderful thing.

This loophole may have been closed by now.

"Commodity traders are also exploiting a loophole in the subsidy system that is making its impact even more damaging.

The perfectly legal trick - coined "splash and dash" by the industry - also makes a mockery of the purpose of biofuels, which is to reduce the use of fossil fuels and thereby cut carbon emissions.

Traders are buying biodiesel on the European market in Rotterdam and shipping it to the US. There, conventional gasoline is added to the biodiesel blend - or "splashed with gas" - to qualify for the subsidy. Then the cargo is shipped back - or "dashes" - to Europe and resold at a lower price."

-----

Arun said...

The industry is full of CarlBrannen shut the f*** up types:

example

"Before the summit, leaders of the US, Canadian and European biofuel industries wrote to Diouf warning him not to condemn biofuels.

"It would be highly precipitous ... for the United Nations or other international bodies to single out biofuels as the major cause for escalating food prices and take actions that might lead to even higher food prices," the industry group argued. But Diouf appears to have shrugged off the appeal."

----

The Free Market Rulez!

""We can't control the weather, we can't control the growth of demand in China, we can't control the oil price but we can control biofuels policy, because it's politically created in the first place."

Arun said...

FYI - for those who think that the WTO promotes free trade, hahaha!

A simple example came to light in the newspaper the other day. Japan was going to ship rice to Myanmar for disaster relief and the US protested.

Strange isn't it? Here's the scoop. Japan refuses to open its rice market to imports. Supposedly rice prices there are four times the world average.

However, under WTO rules, Japan has to import rice, at least a certain minimum quantity. So, the Japanese government imports rice and simply puts it into warehouses.

It was this rice that Japan proposed to ship to Myanmar. But if Japan could reexport the rice it imports, that would be an unacceptable work-around of the Japanese rice import quota.

Hence the US protest.

QUASAR9 said...

I try not to get too emotional about debate, but hell ... if
"the grain to fill one tank with biofuel could feed a person for a year"

you need to believe or assume that the person driving the gas (or biofuel) guzzler cares about other peoples hunger & welfare, never mind the environment & Nature.

Unfortunately as a rule we are a selfish species - now JB, where is the cocaine? - I've been trying to come off it like forever, but like sugar, fuel, chocolate and food in general - I'm addicted to it.

Yes, some people believe we can pollute as much as we like, and the morning wind will make it all go away, or future state subsidies (ergo generations) will pay for the cleanup, as in old Europe, and the pollution from old industry.

And yes, we do need alternatives for any finite resource, especially when demand grows incrementally.

However as Michio KAKU pointed out we are a long way from creating something out of nothing - nano technology may appear to promise this impossible possibility - but no nanotech can produce or replicate a tv dinner or stake & chips from nothing. I guess the closest we have got to is solar cells, solar power & wind power, where we seem to produce energy from virtually nothing. Well strictly speaking NOT nothing, just that we class the wind & Sun as renewables. I guess we can never use all the wind up, after all we just produce more wind and/or more hot air, and fortunately we are not likely to burn the Sun any quicjer than it is burning, so to most people having a renewable resource that still has 5 billion years left, is still a renewable or semi-finite resource.

Aaaaargh, after all that I've said nothing but blow hot air, and contribute who knows however much to the carbon footprint ...
darn, damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Seems China was greener when they enforced birth control or limited childbirth to one per family, but now they've discovered Capitalism, and believe in the more consumers the 'better' it is for the 'economy' they really have and are becoming the monster that awoke, the 'smoking' dragon ... breathing more and more sulphur into the air.

Arun said...

My last words on this topic. If biofuel production was economically viable without government subsidy, then no political pressure could threaten it. The sensitivity shown by biofuel advocates is an indicator that subsidies are required.

Secondly, if biofuel production was economically viable, then government should not subsidize its production; but rather subsidize the capital costs involved in the conversion to biofuels. (e.g., c onversion of farm machinery to use ethanol). If biofuel production is not viable without government subsidy then we should not be going down that path anyway.

Bee said...

Speaking of drugs:

'We Need to Give up the Oil and Gas Drug'

Anonymous said...

Hi Bee

Thanks for your comment. My optimism is also quite unqualified, but probably exists for much the same reasons as yours---if the ethanol technology `almost' works, it can probably be made to work.

However, I suspect that algae and biodiesel may actually be quite an efficient way to turn the sun's energy into oil. Am I wrong? And moreover without the same social impacts, and quite possibly without such severe ecological impacts as growing corn etc for ethanol.

(In terms of efficiency, unless I've misunderstood or been misinformed, some algae apparently have as much as 50% of their biomass stored as oil. And I would imagine evolutionary necessity makes them relatively efficient in storing the sun's energy in this way. Again, that is an unqualified opinion at the moment and I need to read more, but that is the cause of my optimism.)

Your last point is kind of key, in my opinion. That biodiesel is ideal for use in personal transport is actually pretty important, particularly in the US culture---so I wouldn't brush over this issue with regard to alternative sources. Batteries and electric motors are just quite different technology, and powers personal transport differently.

I'm not even American, I just live here---nor a huge fan of car-culture. But it seems to be quite crucial that biofuels offer the possibility of carrying on `life as normal' in the US---with the plausible aim of zero, or very low net carbon emissions. (When the technology, becomes efficient enough to power its own production.)

And is there anything really wrong with `life as normal', if it achieves this aim of hugely lower emissions?

-reddiesel

Neil' said...

And not really speaking of drugs, but seeming to (; - ): I suggest hemp oil as a great biofuel. The plant is low-maintainence, doesn't compete for food (well, excepting a few hardy souls like Alice B. Toklas), is pretty easy to render down I hear, and the proper industrial strain has low THC (and might even cross-breed around to reduce potency of other Cannabis varieties.) I took a ride in a hemp-oil powered diesel car, it sounded and ran great. Check out the link http://www.hempcar.org.

Most people don't even realize that using biofuels doesn't add net CO2 to the air, because it is recycling the surface CO2 through the carbon cycle. (Whereas pulling new - for us - carbon out of the ground does increase atmospheric CO2.)

Bee said...

Hi Anonymous,

the possibility of carrying on `life as normal' in the US

I think on the long run there's no way to keep business running on oil efficiently. The sooner we start implementing other energy sources into 'life as normal' the better. That requires a huge investment into R&D and technology. I think many people grossly underestimate the time it takes to develop a technology such that it can be used large scale. It is also of a certain concern that developing new technologies takes energy in itself (don't put the keys in the trunk, it will lock on close). Regarding the biomass to oil conversion, that might be but that wasn't what I had in mind. Even prior to this there is the sunlight to biomass conversion. Best,

B.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bee,

I think I agree in general, but if I had to guess what our future energy sources would be, I would think a combination of:

(1) a nuclear backbone, supplemented by
(2) `traditional' renewables, like wind and wave
to power most industry and e.g. domestic electricity, but for use in personal transport, I would also tentatively include
(3) biodiesel, quite possibly derived from algae, or a similar source.

As I said, I need to read more about the theoretical maximum efficiency of that kind of biofuel. There will obviously be some loss due to the sun to oil conversion, but this is why I handwavingly invoked evolutionary advantage. Plants have had a long time to evolve what they do, and they usually end up doing it quite efficiently.

Handwaving aside, I wonder what would be the result of a comparison between algae and solar panels---maybe somebody here can enlighten us? Is it obvious that the algae loses to the solar panels in terms of efficiency of capturing and storing solar energy?

Even if it loses but has the same order of magnitude of efficiency, it still seems important to me that that energy is stored in the form of oil, and not batteries, which has advantages in terms of both storage and power delivery.

I guess it does partly come down to the balance of R&D costs. If one can make biofuel farming efficient, it will take more R&D. But then you can simply run oil from algae in your 1978 Mercedes 300D. It may or may not be easier to find alternative ways to deliver power, but we should probably research both/all.

I guess my summary is that oil is apparently a good way to store energy, and a good way to deliver energy for use in certain applications, e.g. cars. The question then is, can we, and how can we, create oil efficiently from solar energy? I would imagine that some kind of algae-farming will provide this means---but maybe I'm hopelessly optimistic ;-) In any case, if my optimism isn't misplaced, life as normal seems sustainable. Agreed?

Plato said...

Phil:Do you understand and or believe that the world and its problem in terms of the future are better served by continuing to insist on and maintain distinct divisions in terms of nation, creed, belief and circumstance; or do you understand and or believe that the future challenges can only be meet by striving to seek unity consistent with common purpose based on expectations born of shared aspirations and goals to be necessitated by logic.

It is preposterous to me that in the first part you might think that I would stoop to "creating divisions" when the borders that I am revealing, are not the borders of the freedom which are implied by multinationals whose postures transcend those very same borders, while we might discuss have a philosophical debate about the United Nations. Call me a politician then?

I reject what Nafta has done. Legal ranglings that sit in their courts over a justification multinational have set in place to rule over governments and governments become their pawns.

We, by our own democracies elect them to implement the tax on gasoline and encourage funding(alternative energies) while they continue to "tax and reap what the forces of big business are doing while the rate of inflation is being raised to supersede the right of the citizens of every country. Hmmm..... how to make "ethanol profitable" while you were sleeping and taking the drug?

Slight of hand tricks are what multinationals do, and while some might call them the "Men in Grey," such banks were destined in Canada to be control (gobbling each other up) by take overs in the market while such tendencies might be better served to realize that such a thing in the advent of computers controls and Microsoft were "principal events" while they sought to control the market.

Kinder Morgan buys who, and soon enough you have lost track of the company and the millions that are exchanged as the agenda is put into place.

These are not uncommon, and we are "selective about what shall go on" and "what shall not in the division of borders?"

The tricks themselves are based on what "profiteering is doing" while I am trying to show you that each and every citizen of both countries are being fleeced, and we accept the drug they are offering, and we sit in complacency to be "conceptuality raped" by such a light?

If I point out dependencies, then it is "also the right to get off the drugs." To recognize that the message is, "is the greater importance on exports?" Call it "fairness to what is left to be done in one's own country." We might see cost of the product has a larger market potential(fairness to all countries) and not apply themselves to very step of the way, then thinking, import and exports laws while seemingly balanced are selective to what are the most opportune to moving one's own multi- nationalistic agendas into another country.

Such dependencies are what is being pointed out, for affirmative action for the populace. Such a thing is not impartial to what every citizen would like to see, what ever the race , creed or country with which you belong. Why behind the "scene things" are the pulse of the nation, and while originating in one country under a health care platform" it is the will of another country to loose this impartiality to what is a god given right to fairness regardless of those borders and distinctions.

So while the view demonstrated is complicated, it is really quite easy to undertaking self sufficiency on our own parts do not call for hold ups(cults) for the new coming events of the millennium, but to create this independence in the nation, and thus, to bring independence to the people for choosing, with out having "a shadow placed over them.

Without "others" overshadowing the destiny of countries unaware.

Plato said...

While you were sleeping, and/or taking drugs.:)

Major Crude Oil Pipelines in Canada

While the rest of the world might think Iraq is about oil, why would we not be aware of what is happening north, of the 200 million people, while I drawn attention to only the 36 million of Canada?

Cynthia said...

Arun and Quasar, I couldn't agree more! Too much energy is needed to turn sugarcane (and especially corn) into fuel. Microbes and, to a lesser extent, switchgrass might have what it takes to become viable alternatives to fossil fuels, simply because they need little water and fertilizer to grow. But as Quasar says, we are far from turning nothing into something.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

“It is preposterous to me that in the first part you might think that I would stoop to "creating divisions" when the borders that I am revealing, are not the borders of the freedom which are implied by multinationals whose postures transcend those very same borders, while we might discuss have a philosophical debate about the United Nations. Call me a politician then?”

It seems I’ve hit a nerve with my question, as that is all it was and certainly not an accusation. You call it one, not I. The question was meant to have you clarify your position on yes or no to globalism, as if for you to be seen as a necessary direction and goal in humanities course in terms of sustainability, stability, equality and progress. I hold one opinion, which I’ve stated unequivocally to be yes and you haven’t either way, as all you do is continue to protest the question.

You divert the subject to multinationals and disputes in which they take advantage of between nations, on issues that are influenced by self interest and need, born of shortsightedness. What must be realized is that business of any scale doesn’t so much create situations and conditions, yet rather simply adapts as to exploit them. It is also one of my concerns that our world has disparity and differences that multinationals can exploit, which is actually what also forms to be but just one of my reasons for favoring globalism.

That being you are perfectly correct that they can play one against the other, to take advantage of differences in economic strengths, resources, developmental state, custom, power and stability of many nations. Yet if there were only one government and nation there would then be one less thing they could use as leverage. Money and commerce has had no borders for quite some time and I say the only way to counter is that we must again impose one by way of having none.

This is only my opinion and was never intended to be taken to be anything other. I think it important we have one, as it being a necessary first step in any call for action. As this discussion centers around what those might be, this is simply one I propose; so don’t protest the question, simply support or deny my call with one of two words that many find hard to answer with that being yes or no. I would also like the reasons and yet as I know and respect it to be your choice.

Best,

Phil

CarlBrannen said...

Bee writes: "I don't see how animal feed plays a role there, unless possibly you want to use cattle to get the fuel cost for transportation down or so ..."

No, no no. The animal feed reduces the economic (and energetic) costs of the input corn by substitution. I see that you want to analyze the calculation from a land use point of view. I'm quite sure you're giong to understand this eventually and I don't mind explaining it to you that way:

Suppose you need 1 million acres of land to grow corn that will be fed to cattle. This is the primary use of farmland in corn belt so this is a very realistic assumption. 75% of corn is fed to animals, not to ethanol plants. Now suppose you have 2 million acres of fallow (unused) land that can be used to produce ethanol. In fact, about 1/4 of US farmland is fallow. The ethanol solution to this is to plant 3 million acres with corn and send the corn, not directly to the cattle, but instead to the distillation plants.

The distiller's grain byproduct is 1/3 of the input corn so the distiller's grains from 3 million acres amounts to the equivalent cattle feed of 1 million acres of corn, just enough to feed the cattle whose corn we have taken. The resulting land requirement for ethanol is not 3 million acres, it is the net, only 3 - 1 = 2 million acres. Pimentel acted as if all 3 million acres was used for growing ethanol.

In computing the energy cost of growing the corn, he used the energy figures for all 3 million acres. This is just wrong, adding ethanol plants only increased the land use by 2 million acres. The other 1 million acres would have been planted for cattle feed even if no ethanol (or oil) was produced on the extra 2 million acres. (And besides this, Pimentel used numbers for corn yield and ethanol plant efficiency that are very wrong, which fact you have not denied, and he made various other errors which you're not arguing about and presumably agree with.)

In physics, it is frequently important to analyze both sides of a process, for example, both the incoming particles and the outgoing ones. For example, suppose you were asked to analyze a process for obtaining energy from uranium. When a U-235 atom is hit by a neutron, it emits energy (and various byproducts which, following Pimentel, we will ignore because it is the energy we want). So to obtain energy from U-235, we create a beam of neutrons and apply them to a 100kg cubic block of U-235. (Don't do this at home.)

Analyzing the energy efficiency of this process, Pimentel would note that neutron beams are expensive to create. In fact, it takes more energy to create one of those neutrons then the amount of energy emitted by the U-235. Therefore, it is impossible to use the neutron fissioning of U-235 to release energy. The so-called "test" at Alamogordo was probably just government propaganda trying to justify the huge waste of funds at Hanford, Los Alamos, and the TVA.

After Pimentel's hopelessly incorrect analysis got picked up by the press, the scientists in this area of research were forced to respond. Here's a meta analysis of corn ethanol by the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley. Pimentel is just wrong.

Guys like Pimentel show up at science conferences all the time. They give their presentations and everyone politely ignores them. The weird thing about Pimentel is that his cause got taken up by the greenies. Part of the weirdness is that Pimentel is trying to get the illegal aliens pushed out of the US (as part of his effort to get the population down to 100 million).

As a result, Pimentel was involved in a famous fight over immigration at the Sierra club. This is the green side of white supremacy.

Plato said...

Phil:Yet if there were only one government and nation there would then be one less thing they could use as leverage. Money and commerce has had no borders for quite some time and I say the only way to counter is that we must again impose one by way of having none.

So "let loose and run rampant?":)

I really try to go back to the institution with which I am learning. Logic, and it's formative principals, in behind our selection of "constitutions and freedoms"

These to me are non distinctive boundaries to selection of a "world government" that guarantees rights and freedoms to it's populations.

If housed under a "United Nations "then the very ideal of this institution is to serve "democratic values" which are governed by the principals of that same right and freedoms, by the nations, and it's people respectively.

If you have not studied the very things which I have alluded to in terms of banks, Media, or oil and gas, how would you know to think of what goes on behind the scenes, is met by a resistance to such things with which I am talking?

This things, these rebels, "communistic to some" are the non distinctive of boundaries and borders with which you imply "some inorder to my reason," is on the contrary, serves to help people recognize that a vein runs in these countries, that have to be recognized for what can manifest as to the origins and goals as the lifeblood which run to those constitutions as they are written.

Non profit organizations and the "writing of their constitutions," the board of directors, and so on.

I will be honest with you I had written such a thing for the "World Government Manifesto" and realized my folly.:)

Anonymous Snowboarder said...

Bee said:What does the snowboarder to at 30 ° C and sunshine? Here it's so humid it feels like swimming outside instead of walking.

It was crazy hot here today! But thankfully yesterday came the summer issue of Frequency: The Snowboarder's Journal complete with some very cooling snow on the cover!

As to the constitution - the problem, as I and others see it, is not so much that there may be (or not) a need for it to change but that it is never done properly by amendment. In the run up to the Iraq war one committee chair said that the need for congress to declare war was 'outdated' and no longer relevant. If so, bring an amendment to the people to ratify this change - but until then it is still the law, no?

Regarding the sub-optimal choices and why they are tolerated, perhaps taken as a whole they minimize the collective anger of the electorate over a finite period of time which is easier than maximizing happiness?

Re ethanol - do these studies also factor in the increased transporation energy cost for the final product as ethanol can't go through the pipeline system?

And likely missing in the subsidy category is some states do not tax ethanol


Carl: Why does the US import soybeans from Brazil if we are having record exports?

cheers

CarlBrannen said...

Arun writes: "If biofuel production was economically viable without government subsidy, then no political pressure could threaten it. The sensitivity shown by biofuel advocates is an indicator that subsidies are required."

For me, the reason this is sensitive is because the bad science has made it more difficult to get funding for projects. People believe the simple things the media tells them because it takes too much effort to dig out the complicated truth. Look at the problems Bee has had understanding this. And by the way, political pressure can threaten all kinds of industrial activities.

US public policy is not terribly likely to be modified; the legislators rely on scientific advice from people who have studied the issues in depth. The US congress just voted for corn ethanol (and various other things) over Bush's veto (of other things in the bill, he does not have anything against ethanol and has praised it in speeches). Clinton and Obama were supporters also (see link below). I guess McCain would too. Similar laws just got passed in Canada.

Robert Zubrin's book, Energy Victory, is getting a lot of play in Washington and it is making progress. The last time I heard him on the radio he was getting giddy. He's spending a lot of time in Washington talking to legislative aides. His website:
www.energyVictory.net

The eventual plan is to require all "gasoline" cars sold in the US be flex fueled for ethanol, methanol and butanol. The result will be that whatever biofuel (or fuel from coal or whatever) will have a flexible market. The flex fuel bill is making progress:

"In the Senate, prospects appear even stronger. The bill got critical support in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee where committee chairman Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) of New Mexico is a cosponsor. Other key Democratic cosponsors include Sens. Richard Durbin, Charles Schumer, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Barack Obama."
www.csmonitor.com/2007/0126/p01s04-sten.html

US car makers are in the lead in flex fueled cars (other than Brazil's auto makers). Requiring flex fuel gives them an advantage over imports which means that the US car maker lobby is all in favor of it. See:
www.greencarcongress.com/2005/11/

And the primary ethanol subsidy is that taxes are not collected on fuel ethanol. This is not a "subsidy", it is a tax reduction. On the other hand, when the Saudis pump oil the US government doesn't collect taxes on that either.

Arun: "Secondly, if biofuel production was economically viable, then government should not subsidize its production; but rather subsidize the capital costs involved in the conversion to biofuels. (e.g., conversion of farm machinery to use ethanol)."

I have to disagree. Subsidy of capital equipment is still a subsidy. Right now, the cost of building an ethanol plant is about $2 per gallon (of production per year) for the big, inefficient companies, and $1 per gallon for small companies. The net profits depend very much on how and where the plant is built but can be around $1 per gallon per year so they pay themselves off rather quickly for industrial equipment.

Small ethanol plants can run off of agricultural waste. Our plant used to run off of potatoes that were not good enough to make into french fries. That market dried up when somebody invented a french fry replacement called "tater tots", but there is still various other spoiled food inputs that are available to a small plant, such as bad apples, wine or sugary soft drinks past their due date, etc.

CarlBrannen said...

Anonymous Snowboarder: "Carl: Why does the US import soybeans from Brazil if we are having record exports?"

The record is in total exports, not soybeans per se. The US exports a heck of a lot more soybeans then it imports. See the USDA figures here along with projections.

Honestly, I don't know where people get these IDEAS. Surely you haven't flown over the US and looked out of the plane window to see what is going on down there between the cities. Or gone into a US supermarket in a small town and tried to buy something made with soybeans, tofu for instance, LOL. Our soybean exports mostly go to China.

By the way, soybean oil is used for biodiesel. Our company has sold a lot of equipment to biodiesel makers and we've written up P&IDs for a biodiesel plant.

The problem with biodiesel from soybeans amounts to coproducts. The primary output of soybean biodiesel production would be soybean meal. The oil is the tail and cannot wag the dog. So rising vegetable oil prices can't cause significant increases in soybean planting.

On the other hand, soybeans fix nitrogen in the soil and so it is common to alternate soybeans and corn so as to reduce the need for fertilizer.

Plato said...

If so, bring an amendment to the people to ratify this change - but until then it is still the law, no?

A game of numbers? A game of war?

How eloquent the speech to direction, not only the opposition, but the reigning party itself to see the light? Democratic processes allow for a time and place for such rhetoric.

While on the outside, and from a European, or Middle Eastern perspective, how well do we know what sits at their very values?

What those "inside a country" might ever be privy too. We go about our lives thinking we had all the information to make the right decision? Acted upon it.

We have and can be deceived. Just as others can be deceived.

If you thought it cannot happen, we know otherwise. We know that the European and Middle Eastern facets had never fully understood, that the major contributors to the needs of Oil and Gas, were sitting right next door. Places untapped, within one's own country.

So, if the 5% or 10% fuel additive is not taxed, what is the price per gallon of gasoline? Is it cheaper then a "regular gallon of gasoline?"

I would think consumers would flock to adjust their behaviour, while we know that profiteering is going on and a "cheaper gallon" is anything but the case.

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

“These to me are non distinctive boundaries to selection of a "world government" that guarantees rights and freedoms to it's populations.”

So I will take your answer to be no, as its fair to say that if I were to mail you something you would still prefer it read something like:

Mr. Plato
1234 Somewhere Place
Noneofit, Canada
N0T 2B1

For me I’d like to see it read something like:

Mr. P Warnell
Latitude: 43 degrees 28 mins 36 sec North
Longitude: 79 degrees 23 mins 15 sec West
Third Rock From the Sun

So our perspectives differ here and that’s fine. You have to admit one thing however, mine would make it somewhat easier for the delivery considering GPS :-)

Best,

Phil

Plato said...

Phil,

IN this case, I am your "Glaucon by Proxy":)

I would rather be at home in the minds of people, showing, that while sleeping or taking drugs, that a infrastructure has now with a "qualitative value" to the current system, been challenged.

Ask your government that while they already taxed this commodity(gas), why it is that alternative fuels should cost so much while we can show ethanol can made cheaply and less then a gallon of gas?

It is money that you already spent, and "the governmental policy is to provide incentives to what, "to make you pay more?"

Incentives to fuel:) alternative energies then "raise the value" not in the price per gallon, but on the alternative and choice to a current system that "is" maximizing profits through "manipulative means" to an end.

These governments have been inactive to long, to sit and collect, and direct, money to the conglomerates.

Oh, and Sweet grass is abundant on the wide open plains, where a farm may of not sprung up. Rejuvenate the plains, or, make it farm land.

Best,

Bee said...

Hi Carl,

No, no no. The animal feed reduces the economic (and energetic) costs of the input corn by substitution. I see that you want to analyze the calculation from a land use point of view.

No, land use isn't the point either. Sorry to be insistent, but I still dont get it:

I understand that the production of animal feed is energy of some sort and thus makes for a better balance. What I am trying to say is that I absolutely don't care what you produce with that corn except fuel. Your argument with the land-use now essentially says: but part of the fuel would have been used ANYWAY to grow corn because we've feed our cattle before anybody ever heard the word biofuel. But again, this is not the point.

Let me put it like this. In our societies we have a lot of processes depending on fuel input. In the absence of new natural oil resources, to lower this dependence you can a) try to be more energy efficient altogether but that has limitations b) produce fuel or c) reorganize to use other energy sources instead of fuel.

Now we are talking here about option b) produce fuel. Fuel is all I care about. I don't care whether you have byproducts to feed cattle which is some sort of energy form, unless you do argue eventually that this lowers fuel use in the input process.

Your argument with the land use I understand as follows: If I have a farm and grow corn, that farm needs fuel and produces none; it produces that cattle food. Now I take 3 times that land, grow corn and extract biofuel. Leftover I get 1/3 of that cattle food which in this example is exactly the same amount as you had previously. However, the fuel you need for that farm is the one you need for 3 times that land. You can't just forget about the 1/3 that would have been used without the biofuel detour. That whole cattle-food stuff is completely irrelevant for the question of fuel production. The best way to see this is to ask yourself whether it makes sense to start another biofuel farm if you already have all the cattle-food you can possibly ever feed to all the cattle around, and you really don't need anymore of that stuff.

I'd rather see investments going into option c).

Best,

B.

CarlBrannen said...

Bee writes: "The best way to see this is to ask yourself whether it makes sense to start another biofuel farm if you already have all the cattle-food you can possibly ever feed to all the cattle around, and you really don't need any more of that stuff."

Let's say our first farm is 30 thousand acres and it produces 3 million bushels of corn per year. We suppose that this is just exactly the amount our cattle need. We will use round numbers and say that 1 bushel of corn makes 3 gallons of fuel and 1/3 bushel of distiller's grains.

So, does it make sense to start another farm and grow another 3 million bushels of corn, this corn for use as fuel? Let's see what actually happens in a marketplace economy if you actually do this.

The 3 million bushels of corn from the new farm makes 3x3 = 9 million gallons of fuel plus 3/3 = 1 million bushels of distiller's grains (DDGs). The DDGs is available for cattle feed. But the cattle are already fed!!!

So what do we do??? Do we let the DDGs rot? Do we pay for them to be hauled away as garbage? No! The US already produces vast quantities of distiller's grains and they are not thrown away. Instead, they are fed to cattle.

But the cattle are already fed? Oh, what to do, what to do? How can we ever avoid this quandry??? How is it that distiller's grains are not already thrown away, since the ethanol industry has grown immensely in the last 5 years?

Well the market is smarter than that. By starting the new farm the market ends up with extra animal feed. This is fed to animals. This means that the market will end up with excess corn. Naturally, since we wouldn't want to waste corn, our ethanol plant buys this surplus corn. Now, instead of having 3 million bushels of corn our plant now takes in 3+1 = 4 million bushels of corn. And instead of making 9 million gallons of fuel we make 9+3x1 = 12 million gallons. And now, instead of having 1 million bushels of DDGs from 3 million bushels of corn, we have 1.333 million bushels of DDGs from 4 million bushels of corn. This is 0.333 million bushels more than the market already absorbed (by selling us the extra 1 million bushels of corn).

The next step: We've thrown an extra 0.333 million bushels of DDGs on the market. This frees up 0.333 million bushels of corn, which our ethanol plant buys as well. And this makes yet more DDGs.

I realize that this process is quite confusing and complicated. It is an infinite series. These sorts of problems are analyzed by graduate students in mathematics. Fortunately, I was educated in this area and can solve the problem.

By growing the extra 3 million bushels of corn, making it into animal feed and fuel, and then buying the excess corn back from the market, the extra 30,000 acres of corn farm produces the following total fuel amounts (millions of gallons):

9.000 - initial 3M bushls of corn
3.000 - 1st DDgs free this corn
1.000 - 2nd DDgs free this corn
0.333 - 3rd freed up corn
0.111 - 4th freed up corn
0.037 - 5th freed up corn
...
------
13.50 - total fuel production from 3 million gallons of corn.

So the new farm, which produced only 3 million bushels of corn, caused changes to the market which produced 13.5 million gallons of fuel. The effective fuel production rate is not 3 gallons per bushel, but instead is 13.5/3 = 4.5 gallons per bushel. Pimentel ignored the DDG output, which amounts to assuming 3 gallons per bushel instead of 4.5. This is not what actually happens in a real society. His assumptions were unrealistic.

The market is not so stupid that adding an extra farm to make corn for ethanol plants results in DDGs that have to rot. And the efficiency of the process should not be analyzed as if the market were so stupid.

Bee said...

Hi Carl,

How a free market would deal with the situation is a completely different question. I did not say it is going to happen that we will end up with loads of cattle food. What I said was to figure out whether or not a corn farm produces excess fuel that flows back into the society and thus lowers dependencies on oil export, forget about the cattle food and assume it is useless, e.g. for the reason that there is already enough of that stuff. As long as the cattle food does not save fuel or eventually is turned into fuel, it does not play any role for the question under consideration: does the society gain net fuel? I said above that I certainly see it does play a role economically for the farm owner.

To put it differently: what you are saying is that if you have a corn farm that needs fuel and produces cattle food, what you can do is to take a larger area of land, grow more corn, extract biofuel from it, and still have the cattle corn. To make things particularly simple, let us assume that the farm just uses its own biofuel again for the next round (note, whether this is an optimal choice economically is a different question). Then, that corn farm produces the same cattle-food-output, but does so much more energy-efficient. Good. Except possibly if one considers the ecological side effects of that farming. But anyway, that does not mean the farm produces a fuel excess that is available on the market for the rest of the population. To find out whether this is the case, a product like cattle-corn or whatever else does not matter.

The example you use above with nuclear fission is not a good analogy for several reasons. For one, there is no comparable situation here in which a system goes into an energetically preferable state thereby releasing energy. Second, I explicitly said above let us put aside the initial energetic cost you need to build the farm and clear the land (or whatever one has to do with the land) to begin with. This would be comparable to creating the neutron beam which you say has been taken into account. Third, the chain reaction works because you produce more outgoing neutrons than you had ingoing ones. If you want to understand the neutrons as fuel, it doesn't matter what byproducts you have, what matters is whether you can at least emit as many neutrons as came in (ratio = 1, farm runs without external fuel need). If it's anything less than that, you would have to still constantly supply neutrons (fuel) to keep the process running.


Best,

B.

Christine said...

Wow, 105 comments, I can't read them all. I apologize if this has been already mentioned: the ethanol production in Brazil comes from sugar cane, not from corn. It produces eight times more energy per pound than corn, if I'm not mistaken. Brazil is a huge tropical country with plenty of space to have large productions of sugar cane.

Concerning the rainforest: there is no intention of clearing it for the production of sugar cane; it is well known that the rainforest soil is very nutrient poor. This is not the main issue. There are other concerns, which are gradually being addressed.

BTW, I'm tired of hearing that other countries are "concerned about the Amazon forest". These countries have already destroyed most of their own natural reserves. Now what? They want to tell *us* what do to with *our* reserves?

Ha.

Bee said...

Regreening of Europe

We all have to live on the same planet.

Christine said...

Yes, Bee, but nationalism is something that people turn on and off according to immediate arguments and needs.

In any case, we all have to live on the same planet with the same rights.

Bee said...

If we all had the same rights that would already be quite something.

Christine said...

Yeah... how do we achieve this?

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Christine,

“BTW, I'm tired of hearing that other countries are "concerned about the Amazon forest". These countries have already destroyed most of their own natural reserves. Now what? They want to tell *us* what do to with *our* reserves?”

Yes, they are essentially the same group that insists and enforces that no additional nations are to develop and deploy nuclear weapons, while maintaining their own right to do so. Of course I realize it’s not necessary to remind one from Brazil to wake up and smell the coffee :-) With that said I still remain hopeful your people to be more enlightened then the ones mentioned.

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

If I have finalized my plans to save the world, the readers of this blog will be first to know ;-) Communication is probably a good starting point.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“If I have finalized my plans to save the world, the readers of this blog will be first to know ;-) Communication is probably a good starting point.”

I didn’t know you were working on one! Now that I’m aware I’m more convinced the before I should set this as my home page:-)

Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

“IN this case, I am your "Glaucon by Proxy":)”

“I would rather be at home in the minds of people, showing, that while sleeping or taking drugs, that a infrastructure has now with a "qualitative value" to the current system, been challenged.”

Yet don’t you remember your namesake’s words when choices such as these are presented, for in the Allegory of the Cave when Plato speaks as Socrates he reminds:

“Would he not say with Homer, Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?”

To which Glaucon responds:

“Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.”

Therefore , philosophy must first be consistent if is it also to be considered relevant.


Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Plato said...

PhilTherefore , philosophy must first be consistent if is it also to be considered relevant.

While some might of thought I'm out to change the world too, it was just making one aware of "a method by which they could change the pricing system" and bring more value to the use of ethanol in all gasoline products at 10%.

It seems to run efficiently when I use it?

So while only 10% at the price paid from the suppliers, and not the inflated price you pay when you buy the gallon of gas. It would serve the "benefit of change" that the cost of fuel "go down with this additive" and not being sold at the price of a gallon of gas produced versus, the cost of the ethanol in production.

IN the "interest of philosophy" I have supplied a "basis of argument" that "is consistent" and one you do not seem to comprehend.

Best,

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

“So while only 10% at the price paid from the suppliers, and not the inflated price you pay when you buy the gallon of gas. It would serve the "benefit of change" that the cost of fuel "go down with this additive" and not being sold at the price of a gallon of gas produced versus, the cost of the ethanol in production.”

“IN the "interest of philosophy" I have supplied a "basis of argument" that "is consistent" and one you do not seem to comprehend.”

Do you really think I don’t understand the argument you present? For me this price difference has little relevance when the price at the pump has more then doubled in the space of a year. Do you also think I would believe that the price to produce it has at the same time doubled? Then you would also need to believe that I understand words like “free market” to be true when the producers only comments about the current price is that they expect it to raise further in the coming months and I were also to believe this forms to be a concern for them.

I would then pose another question being, in a world where your drug of the masses is being sought by a few to be exposed as a poison to not just the users but all, how would one attempt to have the addicted lose focus or interest in the contention, raise the price or lower it?

The shadows have always been the problem and more so who provides the fire and the objects presented yet more important to remind they not ignore the chains that are the true key to the situation they fail to realize who forged them and insists they be maintained.

For as the prisoners said:

"Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death."


Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Carl,

Despite my reading of all the back and forth exchange between you Bee and others and yet there is something that has not yet become clear to me. This is most likely a fault on my part resultant of not being able to follow all that you and others have said; so therefore excuse this rather straight forward and perhaps what might be considered silly question.

The question being, no matter what scale one uses, so let’s call it old fashion BTU’s, which I have a sense for, how many (or fraction of a) BTU’s at the actual realized efficiencies are required to produce ethanol from corn which delivers when burned 1 BTU. Another way to have you express it is if all you had as a fuel source was ethanol how many gallons (or fraction of a gallon) of ethanol could be produced with one gallon of ethanol. I’m not being coy or anything here, it’s just with all the acres of corn vs. feed stock vs. grain to distiller’s grain and so forth I see no such clear figure or calculation shown. So if you know it, regardless of measure what would that be?


Best,

Phil

Plato said...

Phil,

"Dependency" is admitting you were sleeping, and/or taking drugs.

Admission of such a dependency is the first step.:)

It's true, we can go on an on here, and I will continue to show, that such innovation to producing other means of fuel production does not resolve the ultimate objection to carbon foot printing as you say, but more the realism, that by attacking a current pricing system, and moving "change to take place" in the market, will reduce our dependency, and thus, while being selective about our choices of which fuel to use or not, 10% or straight gas, should be reflective at the pump.

This reflects an immediate change in innovation to move to other means of creating a whole generation of new fuels to be introduced. Efficiencies toward production of ethanol. Less dependency, on Crude Oil.

"The light in this matter" is the recognition of what is happening under one's nose, and if I point this out to you, and you feel this does not warrant an exchange of, "taking prisoners out of the cave" then what you have said is, "inconsistent with what I think Plato has said.":)

My prediction of the futre still stands as a "ultimate realization of the light." While you think it up in the air, there is a introduction, as to the "basis of what must be done" to over come gravity, which further purports the condition of the light and shedding a greater light amongst the problems of Carbon foot printing by Elimination.

Arun said...

Bee's question a different way - let us suppose I have land, corn, animals, ethanol-producing machinery and ethanol-using machinery. I have enough ethanol for running the farm and the ethanol production for one season. I have no wood, oil, coal or other energy source.

At the end of the season, do I end up with more ethanol than I started out with?

Bee said...

Hi Phil, Hi Arun,

Yes, that's the question. You've expressed that more clearly than I managed to. I understand why Carl wants to include the byproducts - they are some sort of energy, but I still don't see how that matters for the question of whether the farm produces more fuel than it needs to run. Best,

B.

Anonymous said...

you are little behind with biofuel resuch. You do not say any thing 2nd gen biofuel. You do not know any thing about gasfiers. a gasfier can turn grasses and other soild biofuels into gases that can be use to fuel ICE engine. If grow stwich grass about 2.5 acres with prdouce engouh fuel to fuel a full size pick up for a year if the pick aves about 2000 miles per mouth. Anther method is grow tall wheat. The seeds are use for food. Everything elas is use for fuel. Killing two birds with one stone.