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December 01, 2009

Comments

Pofarmer

The reasoning is that renewable carbon sources are carbon neutral, at least if one neglects processing costs. The carbon that is generated in burning is consumed in making more of the renewable resource.

But the problem is the conversion generally sucks. The positive energy balance, at least to me, isn't a great enough "pay out" for all the energy, fertilizer, soil, etc, etc, for what you get. I think the bang for the buck is small, and, it does have the possibility of creating food shortages.

Pofarmer

Pretty darn good audio link on Climategate.

here

DrJ

It depends on what carbon source one uses. Corn is a terrible idea unless one burns it, but sources like switchgrass (with the proper enzymes to digest cellulose) are promising. Ethanol from Brazil, fed from sugar, already costs $0.40 per gallon on a petroleum-equivalent basis. Only the import duties prevent its use here.

DrJ

Po, I think I have the price per gallon of sugar-derived ethanol wrong. Let me go back to my notes. But it is below the current retail price of gasoline these days.

Pofarmer

On switch grass and sugar cane. Number one, there aren't that many areas in the U.S. that are acclimated to Sugar cane. However there ARE other types of cane that can be used. However they DO require a whole new infrastructure to be put in place from the farm to the processing facility. #2, things like switchgrass only make sense if they can cost them at a very low number. In reality, switchgrass is going to have to compete for acres just like everything else, and the crop with the best returns wins. In other words, their cost projections aren't anywhere close to reasonable, at least not on any studies that I've seen yet. The best cellulose source, would be no cost wood waste, but, even that won't stay free if somebody has a use for it. In short, bio fuels are the EXACT wrong prescription, because the cost of them is GAURANTEED to go up the more of them you use. Think about it.

Pofarmer

Po, I think I have the price per gallon of sugar-derived ethanol wrong. Let me go back to my notes. But it is below the current retail price of gasoline these days.

Don't bother, as done in Brazil, it's cheaper, not sure that would hold true under our conditions.

DrJ

Po, the US prospects for economically-attractive biofuels certainly differs from other areas. What works for Brazil likely will not work here for the reasons you mention.

I'm not a big proponent of biofuels, but at least they are not nonsense. I just think their energy density is too low. Even given that, they are not so far out economically that they are unreasonable to pursue.

Pofarmer

Oh, it's not unreasonable to pursue them. However, given the amount of oil the U.S. uses, not just fuel, it's unrealistic to think that biofuels are going to supply a large percentage of our oil use anytime in the near future without causing severe disruptions somewhere else. Right now it's happening in the hog and cattle sectors. Expect your steaks to get VEERRRRYYYYY expensive in the not too distant future. Would you rather import your energy or your food? I think it's a stopgap measure to a long term problem. Ditto wind and solar, but they're not even stopgap, they're just expensive pipe dreams.

glasater

A couple of years ago I had a job photographing a bio-diesel plant in an industrial part of our county located across the way from a meat processing plant and believe I mentioned it months ago.
Funny thing--not too long ago the bio plant burned to the ground.
And not one word of the cause. The plant was as clean and modern as could be...

DrJ

Basically I agree, Po. The amounts of energy we use truly is staggering, and that is the key point. That said, it does make sense to try to capture the radiation hitting the earth, and plants are a pretty efficient way to do so.

boris

To me what makes no sense is to burden the ecosystem for both food and energy. Cutting down the Amazon rain forest to grow ethanol for autos just seems like the wrong direction.

boris

Charlie, still waiting for an explanation how my comment along the same lines as Clarice's "honest scientist whose careers the Jerk Circle interfered with" gets interpreted as an attack on all scientists.

Rick Ballard

Dunno, Boris. North, speaking on behalf of a NAS Panel (which he chaired) made a complete ass of himself (admitted in comments) by babbling about something which he did not even understand. He also could not bring himself to actually read the emails that he was whitewashing.

He didn't help "all scientists" too much in that article.

Pofarmer

That said, it does make sense to try to capture the radiation hitting the earth, and plants are a pretty efficient way to do so.

I'd rather see us further utilizing the radiation released by the atom, than invest ourselves in "renewable energy" schemes that are going to compete for resource that we are going to need at some point. Like I said, at this juncture, you can import your fuel, or import your food, you can't have the cake and eat it to. Now, if we would use more domestic sources of energy, we could reduce our imports, with less environmental and social impact than what we're going to have going the biofuels route, at least that's my contention. We're going to cause a lot of grief to supply a fairly small percentage of our energy usage, when we ought to be looking at BIG solutions, not this incremental crap.

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