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Biofuel Pretenders

Note

This article was initially titled “Pretenders, Contenders, and Niches.” However, the section on pretenders grew to the point that I have decided to split the essay up into three parts. The first part, Biofuel Pretenders, will cover many of the current media and political darlings. The second part, Biofuel Contenders, will discuss some options that have received less attention, but in the long term are more likely to have staying power. The final part, Biofuel Niches, will discuss situations in which some of the pretenders might actually work.

Reality Begins to Sink In

There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal this past week:

U.S. Biofuel Boom Running on Empty

A few pertinent excerpts:

The biofuels revolution that promised to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil is fizzling out.

Two-thirds of U.S. biodiesel production capacity now sits unused, reports the National Biodiesel Board.

Producers of next-generation biofuels — those using nonfood renewable materials such as grasses, cornstalks and sugarcane stalks — are finding it tough to attract investment and ramp up production to an industrial scale.

This all boils down to something I have said on many occasions: You can’t mandate technology. Just because you mandate that 36 billion gallons of biofuel are to be produced by 2022 doesn’t mean that it has a remote chance of happening. This is not a hard concept to understand, but it seems to have eluded our government for many years. The government would probably understand that they couldn’t create colonies on the moon in 10 years via mandate. They know they can’t cure cancer via mandate. But in the area of biofuels, they seem to feel like they can just conjure up vast amounts of hydrogen, cellulosic ethanol, or algal biodiesel.

Domestically produced biofuels were supposed to be an answer to reducing America’s reliance on foreign oil. In 2007, Congress set targets for the U.S. to blend 36 billion gallons of biofuels a year into the U.S. fuel supply in 2022, from 11.1 billion gallons in 2009.

Cellulosic ethanol, derived from the inedible portions of plants, and other advanced fuels were expected to surpass corn ethanol to fill close to half of all biofuel mandates in that time.

But the industry is already falling behind the targets. The mandate to blend next-generation fuels, which kicks in next year, is unlikely to be met because of a lack of enough viable production.

Most people don’t realize that the Germans were the first to produce ethanol from cellulose. That happened in 1898. For our political leaders and many industry boosters, cellulosic ethanol is a recent discovery, and thus they expect big leaps in the technology in the next few years. These expectations completely ignore the fact that researchers have been hard at work on making cellulosic ethanol a reality for decades – with little success.

In President Bush’s 2006 State of the Union address, he broadly expanded the mandate for ethanol. He voiced his strong support for cellulosic ethanol, and included billions of gallons in the Renewable Fuel Standard – as well as billions of dollars of financial support.

How quickly our politicians seem to have forgotten the 2003 State of the Union, in which Bush set forth his vision of the hydrogen economy:

A simple chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen generates energy, which can be used to power a car producing only water, not exhaust fumes. With a new national commitment, our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to taking these cars from laboratory to showroom so that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen and pollution-free.”

We spent some two billion dollars toward that goal. Once again, this ignored many technical and economic realities, and so in May 2009 the headlines read:

Hydrogen Car Goes Down Like the Hindenburg: DoE Kills the Program

The dream of hydrogen fuel cell cars has just been put back in the garage. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced yesterday that his department is cutting all funding for hydrogen car research, saying that it won’t be a feasible technology anytime soon. “We asked ourselves, ‘Is it likely in the next 10 or 15, 20 years that we will covert to a hydrogen car economy?’ The answer, we felt, was ‘no,’” Chu said.

My prediction is that in the not too distant future we will start to see headlines like this for cellulosic ethanol. The troublesome barriers to commercialization are quite fundamental, and aren’t likely to be resolved by government mandate. If enough money is thrown at it, cellulosic ethanol will of course be produced. But it can never be a scalable, economic reality.

Pretenders

Broadly speaking, in the world of next generation biofuels there are contenders, pretenders, and niches. Over the past decade, we have thrown a lot of money at pretenders and have little to show for it. There are many reasons for this, but fundamentally I believe it boils down to the fact that our political leaders can’t sort the wheat from the chaff. If a proponent extols the benefits of hydrogen, cellulose, or algae – the politicians just don’t know enough to ask the right critical questions. They listen – often to the very people who will benefit from more funding – and then they allocate money. Billions of dollars and little progress later, they or their successors may begin to realize that they have been misled and they start to dial the funding back.

Here is how I define a next generation Biofuel Pretender: A company or group that makes grandiose promises about the ability of a technology to displace large amounts of fossil fuel, despite facing significant (and often unrecognized) barriers to commercialization.

Here are some examples:

Hydrogen

The poster child for the pretenders. Proponents ignored practical realities in many different areas, including fuel cell vehicles that cost a million dollars, the fact that most hydrogen is produced from natural gas, the fact that the energy density of hydrogen is very low, and the fact that there are multiple issues with hydrogen storage and transport. Technical breakthroughs were being counted on to solve these challenges. After all, we put a man on the moon. Surely we could solve these challenges.

The real problem is that the potential for success falls rapidly as the number of needed breakthroughs pile up. Imagine for instance that the following – cost of production, cost effective storage, and cost effective transport – each have a 25% chance of achieving commercial viability in the next 20 years. The total chance for success of all three in that case falls to 1.5% – so this is overall probability of success. Thus, the vast majority of technologies that require multiple technical breakthroughs will fail to materialize commercially except perhaps over a much longer period of time.

Cellulosic Ethanol

As was the case with hydrogen, this one requires multiple technical breakthroughs before commercial (unsubsidized) viability can be achieved. I won’t go through them all now, as I have covered them before. The fundamental reason that cellulosic ethanol won’t scale up to displace large amounts of gasoline is that the energy efficiency of the process is so low. You have the sugars that make up cellulose locked up tightly in the biomass – which has a low energy density to start with. So you add energy to unlock the sugar and turn it into ethanol, and then you end up with ethanol in water. More energy inputs are required to get the ethanol out. Even if the energy can be supplied by the by-products of the process like lignin, the net BTUs of liquid fuel that you end up with are going to be low relative to what you started with.

For example, assume you start off with 10 BTUs of biomass. You expend energy to get it to the factory, to process it, and then to get the water out. You burn part of the biomass to fuel the process, and input some fossil fuel. You might net something like 3 BTUs of liquid fuel from the 10 BTUs of biomass you started with.

Don’t confuse this with fossil fuel energy balance, though. If the external energy inputs in this example only amounted to 1 BTU of fossil fuel, one could claim a fossil fuel energy balance of 3/1. But that doesn’t change the fact the final liquid fuel input is a small fraction of the starting BTUs in the biomass.

This is analogous to the situation with oil shale, which is why I have compared the two. There may in fact be a trillion or more barrels of oil shale locked up in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. But if the extraction of those barrels required a trillion barrels worth of energy inputs and lots of water – then that oil shale might as well be on the moon. That means that a trillion barrels isn’t really a trillion barrels in the case of oil shale, and a billion tons of biomass is much smaller than it seems when talking about cellulosic ethanol.

So despite the claims from the EPA that the “Renewable Fuel Standard program will increase the volume of renewable fuel required to be blended into gasoline from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons by 2022” – that is not going to happen unless the government is willing to throw massive amounts of money at an inefficient process.

Algal Biofuel

Like many, I was initially enchanted by the possibility of weaning the world away from fossil fuels by using fuel made from algae. Proponents wrote articles suggesting that we could do just that, provided the necessary investments are made.

Sadly, the story is much more complex than that. The U.S. DOE funded a study for many years into the potential of algae to produce fuel. (For an overview of where things stand from John Benemann, one of the men who co-authored the close-out report of that study, see Algal Biodiesel: Fact or Fiction?) The problem is again one of needing to surmount multiple technical hurdles, and the close-out report states that reality. Again, I won’t go into those details, as that has been covered before.

While it is a fact that you can produce fuel from algae, the challenges are such that John has written that you can’t even buy algal biofuel for $100/gallon. He said that if you want to separate the reality from the hype, just try to secure a contract with someone to supply you with algal fuel.

First Generation Biodiesel

This story is primarily about 2nd generation fuels, and as such I won’t get into corn ethanol issues. But I will say a bit about biodiesel. As indicated in the Wall Street Journal story, conventional biodiesel producers are in trouble. Briefly, a conventional biodiesel producer is someone who takes vegetable oils or animal fats and uses methanol (almost all of which is fossil-fuel derived) and converts that into an oxygenated compound (called a mono-alkyl ester). This compound has been defined as ‘biodiesel’, and can be used – subject to certain limitations – in a diesel engine.

Again, the problems are fundamental. It takes a lot of effort (energy, cost) to produce most of the oils that are used as raw materials, and then you have to react with methanol – which usually contains a lot of embodied fossil fuel energy. Up til now, the first generation biodiesel producers have benefited from a high level of protectionism (to the extent of punishing the more efficient 2nd generation producers). But even with the protectionism and the subsidies, producers are still struggling to survive.

Miscellaneous

There are a number of miscellaneous pretenders that we probably don’t need to discuss in depth, such as various free energy schemes or water as a fuel. If you think you might be dealing with a pretender, one caution flag is when their promoters are from backgrounds that have nothing to do with energy. For instance, the person who founded the dot.com that ultimately morphs into an energy company is almost certainly a pretender who is chasing investment funds.

Summary

To summarize, the biofuel pretenders fall into several broad categories. The big ones are:

• Hydrogen

• Most would-be cellulosic ethanol producers

• Most would-be algal biofuel producers

• Most first generation biodiesel producers

This isn’t to say that none of these will work in any circumstances. I will get into that when I talk about niches. But I will say that I am confident that none of these are scalable solutions to our fossil fuel dependence. The problem is that political leaders have been, or are still convinced that there is great potential for some of these and we waste billions of dollars chasing fantasies. This is a great distraction, causing a loss of precious time and public goodwill as taxpayer money is squandered chasing schemes that ultimately will not pan out.

In the next installment, I will talk about contenders – options that I think can compete with fossil fuels on a level playing field.

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August 31, 2009 - Posted by | algal biodiesel, biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol, hydrogen, john benemann

145 Comments

  1. "U.S. Biofuel Boom Running on Empty"It sounds more like government beaurocrats are screwing things up. 2/3's of biodiesel production wouldn't be idle if those beaurocrats had done their job right and issued the blending requirements on time. "You have the sugars that make up cellulose locked up tightly in the biomass – which has a low energy density to start with. So you add energy to unlock the sugar and turn it into ethanol, and then you end up with ethanol in water. More energy inputs are required to get the ethanol out. "Or,maybe you just add a yeast that can ferment the corn as well as the stalk. There are companies working towards that end. The big oil companies employ thousands of engineeers. They've had decades to study this problem. So,why are they sinking billions into a "pretender" like algae? They could just as easily build gasification facilities,couldn't they Robert?

    Comment by Maury | August 31, 2009

  2. On hydrogen, you wrote "The poster child for the pretenders. Proponents ignored practical realities in many different areas…", and went on to list drawbacks in several areas. But the biggest issue with an economy that runs on hydrogen is an issue that I had no understanding of and in fact hadn't even thought of or considered until last year*…and it's a biggie.Simply put, hydrogen is not an energy source. It is instead merely an energy carrier. Chris Martenson put it this way in Chapter 17b (Energy Budgeting) of the Crash Course: "Because there are no hydrogen reservoirs anywhere on earth, every single bit of it has to be created from some other source of energy at a loss. In other words, hydrogen is an energy sink. In creating hydrogen, we lose energy, and that’s not pessimism, that’s the law. The second law of thermodynamics, to be exact. Because hydrogen is a carrier of energy, not a source, it is more accurately described like this: A battery."If we were gearing up for a hydrogen economy, we'd have to find surplus energy to generate the hydrogen. Every cubic centimeter of the stuff we made would be produced at a net loss of energy…which sort of defeats the purpose. And unless we are going to go on a nuclear power building spree or go massively solar, we'd be generating the bulk of that hydrogen with some sort of fossil fuels. This makes sense?When we extract fossil fuels like oil and coal, we get a pretty massive EROEI. That is to say that we get much more energy from the fuels we have extracted than was used in the extraction (and refining and distribution) process. The very low net (EROEI) energy returns on corn-based ethanol are part of why it's such a bad idea (regardless of how much the congress and the farm lobby love it.) But at least with corn ethanol, as bad an idea as it is, there is a potential for a positive EROEI. With hydrogen, the EROEI is negative. Always.*While I am sure that there may be some areas with which people will find disagreement with the material and how it's presented (and probably some outight errors as well), I really recommend Chapters 17a (Peak Oil), 17b (Energy Budgeting) and 17c (Energy and the Economy) of Chris Martenson's Crash Course. The material I found there is what led me to sites like this blog, The Oil Drum and others in the first place. And before anyone asks, I am not affiliated in any way with Chris Martenson or his web site. The material I linked is 100 percent free.

    Comment by Roman | August 31, 2009

  3. Your argument about fuel made from algae isn't a grounded one. If you did some deeper research you would find many companies like Algaeventure Systems (www.algaevs.com) have made huge cost breakthroughs bringing costs down over 99% from 800$ for a ton of dewatered algae down to a 1.92$ per ton, and other advancements such as genetic alterations can make algae a better source of energy. This is our future. Saying the "Biofuel Boom" is slowing down and may stop is far from the truth. I personally work at an algae biofuel company and things are very exciting and we constantly make advancements and have gained federal and private investments to continue our work.

    Comment by Clinton | August 31, 2009

  4. "Your argument about fuel made from algae isn't a grounded one. If you did some deeper research you would find many companies like Algaeventure Systems (www.algaevs.com) have made huge cost breakthroughs…I personally work at an algae biofuel company." – ClintonNothing like a dispassionate observer to quickly get to the point that people with a stake may not want to see. ;-)I pulled up the press release (Breakthrough Development in Algal Harvesting, Dewatering and Drying) at the site you listed. There are a couple of PDF's listed on the page (AVS Haverster Overview and AVS Harvester Technology) which I just took a quick glance at. There is also mention that video would be up but they didn't link it. I found the video (AVS Harvester in Action) on a page of press releases.Does it work? Dunno. Does it scale? Dunno. If it does, they've overcome a major hurdle. Now they need to overcome the many more that stand in the way. If you've been reading this blog and other sites and journals, you're aware that some of a few of those hurdles have to do with the amount of water (a limited and extremely vital resource in its own right) needed and the gross area required to produce enough algae to make significant quantities of algal bio-diesel. And others.A small scale prototype is great. Press releases are great. I am not a cynic, but I'm nothing if not skeptical. It'll take more than press releases and what looks like essentially a bench-top sized model to convince me. Regardless, I wish them (and you) the best of luck.

    Comment by Roman | August 31, 2009

  5. I'm pretty sure of One thing: The "Last Thing" our Lords, and Masters want is for Rufus to Drive his FlexFuel Chevy on locally-made Ethanol.So, That's Exactly what I intend to do.My Grandkids Won't Die for MY Fuel.

    Comment by rufus | August 31, 2009

  6. I've been reading up on Agave, today.I'm really getting interested.

    Comment by rufus | August 31, 2009

  7. There have been a number of significant breakthroughs in the past year on the H2 generation side, significantly lowering both the cost and some of the infrastructure issues of distributed H2. You should see some of the patents coming through review in the next 6-8 months and we should see prototypes in that same period with the possibility of production units within two years. On the fuel cell side, more recently there have been some significant breakthroughs moving away from platinum so your % for realization on the hydrogen side might be significantly underestimated.

    Comment by Bay | August 31, 2009

  8. All biofuels come down to the issues of scale, logistics, and energy density of the feedstock.It is theoretically possible to figure out a process for making a liquid fuel from almost all biological sources. (Sewage, watermelons, hemp, cow chips, autumn leaves, you name it.) But the questions are then always:1. Will it scale up to be both practical and economical?2. Is the energy density of the feedstock high enough that the logistics of collecting and transporting it doesn't become unsustainable?The answers to oil and coal for both questions was yes. Largely because millions of years of time solved the scale question. And Mother Nature provided the free energy to compensate for the low energy density of the trillions and trillions of tons of algae, phytoplanktons, giant ferns, and all the other bio-matter that went into oil and coal.Even the most clever process for converting biomatter to fuel, can't easily compress the millions of years of heat and pressure, and trillions and trillions of tons of biomass Mother Nature gave us free into something usable on the human time scale.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | August 31, 2009

  9. Largely because millions of years of time solved the scale question.Wendell,What is this millions of years business. Diamonds and other gemstones can be manufacture in a matter of days.This is not "pop science" or lab scale experiments that "won't scale up." This is reality, my friend.I suspect that coal, a bit less dense than a diamond could also be easily made in a matter of days.John

    Comment by Anonymous | August 31, 2009

  10. Wendell,Besides,There are at least two ha;f-way credible theories about how oil was formed in the first place.Not everyone agrees on how the oil deposits were originally formed.John

    Comment by Anonymous | August 31, 2009

  11. "What is this millions of years business. Diamonds and other gemstones can be manufacture in a matter of days."Of course they can ~ in micro quantities compared to the mass of the entire Earth. But we're talking about converting trillions and trillions and trillions of tons of organic matter into oil and coal over hundreds of million of years. No one is about to replicate that "in a matter of days."

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | August 31, 2009

  12. Yep, oil is great. Unfortunately, Nigeria, Mexico, Venezuela, Prudhoe Bay, Gulf of Mexico, The North Sea, Kuwait, and UAE all had one thing in common last month.Their Production was "Down."Saudi Arabia is trying to figure out how to get oil out of "Tarmat." What's "Tarmat?" you ask. The best I can come up with is something like an asphalt parking lot buried a mile down in rock.Meanwhile, in the middle of a very bad recession, Wholesale Unleaded is $2.00/gal. I wonder which way it will go if the economy improves?The Ethanol refineries, though, are turning a small profit at $1.61/gal wholesale, and that is Without any subsidies anywhere in "their" supply chain.EROEI, and similar definitions will only get you so far. Eventually, "Price" will rule the day. The only question is, "When."

    Comment by rufus | August 31, 2009

  13. Your argument about fuel made from algae isn't a grounded one.I almost stated the obvious: People who are working in any of these areas are going to disagree; insisting that their process really is economical. But in the vast majority of these cases this is because they are overlooking practical realities. Amory Lovins is going to insist that my hydrogen argument isn’t grounded, and Vinod Khosla will insist that my cellulosic isn’t grounded. I personally work at an algae biofuel company and things are very exciting and we constantly make advancements and have gained federal and private investments to continue our work.It is almost as if you are trying to prove my point. Tell me, where can I buy some of your algal fuel? How much are you producing? I bet I can answer that. You are producing little to none (waiting on more funding to build a pilot plant or something like that) and you can’t actually buy any of your algal fuel. Right?RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | August 31, 2009

  14. I wish the biofuel crowd the best of luck, but I think natural gas has cut them off at the pass. We have epic supplies of natural gas in North America. We know we can run motor vehicles on CNG.There is a guy in Oklahoma selling CNG cars off the lot for under $10k. Anybody middle-class person can convert to CNG, at those prices.A gasoline station can add a CNG pump for $750k. All of this assumes oil will become expensive, and it might not for decades yet. Oil demand will likely be feeble for years and years, and we may have seen Peak Demand already. Europe, Japan and USA are likely to buy less, not more, oil in years ahead.Meanwhile, lithium batteries are getting better all the time. At some point, lithium is competitive. Not to Kinu: I agree with your sentiments regarding our leadership on energy issues–it is galling to think that Bush spent $1 trillion in Iraq on an oil war, while radically increasing heavily subsidized ethanol production at home. Both loser concepts. Loser with a capital "L".Can Obama and Dems do better? Obviously, you think not.Still, I see no reason Dems or Repubs will foil a buildout of natural gas. The infrastructure–largely, well-situated gasoline stations–is already in place. Adding CNG pumps to gasoline stations is just not that big of a deal. Every city in America has natural gas. I agree our political leadership can execute on some monumentally terrible ideas–see the Bush follies–but CNG is a great idea with no enemies. I expect the White House and Congress will watch this happen, neither helping nor hindering. Even Pelosi thinks natural gas is green. Obama seems to have no energy program. Maybe that is just as well.

    Comment by Benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole | August 31, 2009

  15. a good summary of where we are and how we got here. it's good to periodically do a mental catharsis as this–a periodic "postmortem" leading to new start in thought.it also brings forth the better candidates for "the P. T. BARNUM" award.fran

    Comment by Anonymous | August 31, 2009

  16. Wendell,I was just saying "It doesn't take "millions of yeaes" to make either coal or diamonds,John

    Comment by Anonymous | August 31, 2009

  17. "Tell me, where can I buy some of your algal fuel?"You're missing an important point when it comes to algal fuel Robert. It's scalable. The cost will drop. It's just a matter of finding the best production method. That,or Exxon's engineers are dumber than you."Exxon Mobil launched the partnership after years of being publicly opposed to investing in renewable energy. Privately, though, Jacobs said the company has been investigating the sector for years."It's fair to say that we looked at all the biofuels options," Jacobs said. "Algae ended up on top."http://tinyurl.com/m4m6lu

    Comment by Maury | August 31, 2009

  18. These kind of advances are being announced almost daily. Exxon has invested 600 million in algae,and is ready to invest billions more. $500 a gallon algae will become $200,and then $100…and eventually it will compete with oil. "Aurora Biofuels said that it has succeeded in optimizing its base algae strains to more than double CO2 consumption and fuel production. The company has proven these results in an outdoor open system over the last several months."http://tinyurl.com/mbb4xb

    Comment by Maury | August 31, 2009

  19. Benny, 750K for a Natural Gas Station storage tank seems prohibitive. Not something my local gas station would look to do.Robert, your post on roadside electricity looked like a pretender or at least a boondoggle. This technology looks very intriguing http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/energy-from-sea-water-consider-ibm-intrigued/Jim Takchess

    Comment by JIMj | August 31, 2009

  20. Seattle-based bioscience firm Targeted Growth Inc. (TGI) has developed a way to increase the lipid content of cyanobacteria by approximately 400 percent.This discovery will dramatically increase the oil yield per acre for algae-based biofuels, decrease the cost of algae production, and help algae-based biofuels become price-competitive with petroleum.http://tinyurl.com/muo3dv

    Comment by Maury | August 31, 2009

  21. JIMj-Yeah, expensive. That's the price in L.A., and for a one-off. If certain designs can be standardized and pre-approved, maybe the price will come down. Banks might provide financing. Another way to look at it: We could build more than 13,000 CNG pumps across the USA for $10 billion. That's what 10 days in Iraq costs us. Or, about three times the Clunker program.You choose.

    Comment by Benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole | August 31, 2009

  22. The ethanol refineries, though, are turning a small profit at $1.61/gal wholesale, and that is without any subsidies anywhere in "their" supply chain. — RufusHuh? No subsidies? Come again? Per Btu, ethanol is one of the most heavily subsidized forms of energy around!www.globalsubsidies.org/en/research/biofuel-subsidies-united-states-2007-updateGiven that $1.61 per gallon is about $2.30 per gallon of gasoline equivalent, it is clear that blenders would not be paying that price if they weren't getting $0.45 per gallon in federal tax credits (plus additional subsidies in several states) for the priviledge of adding it to gasoline.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | August 31, 2009

  23. I think we're seeing a lot of failure to understand the difference between some specialty chemical used in relatively small amounts vs. a normal fuel burned in bulk day in and day out.We replaced ozone-depleting refrigerants with new chlorine-free refrigerants (and are now set to go about replacing the replacements with lower global warming potential replacements). But you build an air conditioner, fill it up with refrigerant, and, eventually, 10 or 20 years later, when the system wears out, you suck the refrigerant out and send it out for reuse/disposal. There is a certain amount of leakage (which is why we care about ozone and global warming), but, basically, you don't go to the air-conditioning store every week and pump 100kg of fresh freon into your car. So maybe the stuff is expensive, and takes a lot of energy to manufacture. Not a problem.Sure, rocket fuels tend to be exotic expensive handling nightmares. But how many rockets do you launch? There isn't a rocket-launch rush-hour twice a day. So no one cares about the price of hydrazine or how much other, normal, fuel goes into manufacturing it. But you don't fuel the heating at mission control, and all the workers homes as well, with hydrazine. For that matter, beeswax makes a great candle. In theory, you could chuck hunks of beeswax into a boiler instead of coal. There is a reason no one does that. Not enough bees in the world.People keep talking about "low carbon fuels" as if that was the same as low-ozone-depletion refrigerant. It's not the same. Not when you're burning through billions of liters per day, every day.

    Comment by Michael Pereckas | August 31, 2009

  24. "I was just saying "It doesn't take "millions of years" to make either coal or diamonds…"John,Where do you think coal came from, and how long do you think it took to form?Most the references I've been able to find say "~300 million years." and that it takes a layer of about ten feet of organic material (giant ferns, dead leaves, peat, etc.) to be compressed, densified, and transformed into a layer of coal about one foot thick.I'm not saying coal should be the fuel of choice, but it does have the huge advantage that Mother Nature did all the heavy lifting for us by solving the scale and logistics problems of converting all that biomass into an energy dense fuel that requires nothing more from us than to dig it out of the ground.Most people seem blissfully unaware of this fact: Coal and oil are the original biofuels, and any attempt on our part to replicate what Mother Nature did free of charge over millions of years will be very difficult and costly.Instead of trying to replicate processes that naturally take millions of years, we'd be much better off looking at energy sources at the nuclear level, where scaling and time compression issues are not nearly so daunting.For example: All the subsidies we've dumped into corn ethanol would have given us a much greater return had they been directed instead at nuclear energy – both in building reactors for the present and research into practical fusion for the future.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | August 31, 2009

  25. Still at it, eh, Ron? How's things in Switzerland?I was Very Specific. I even put "Their" in quotation marks.Let me 'splain. "Their" supply chain is all of the "Suppliers," and "Supplies" that feed Into Their Process.(The Blenders' Credit goes to the "Blenders" – you know, the Oil Companies, primarily.) That comes After the Ethanol leaves the Refinery."Their" = "Their."Ron, the oil companies wouldn't be using ethanol, At All, if they weren't forced to by the Government. They ARE "Oil" Companies you know. And, you DO know, don't you?As for your $2.30: Ron, the readers of This Blog are way too smart for that. Most of them are aware of someone (like me) that owns a Flexfuel Car, and realize that as long as E85 is in the 20% discount range as regards gasoline everything works pretty good. $2.00 X .20 = $1.60. Pretty close, Bubba.One other thing. They know thatTheir Kids Won't DIE for MY Fuel.

    Comment by rufus | August 31, 2009

  26. As for that $0.46, the Blenders/Oil Companies are, pretty much, putting That in their pockets. Unless, the retailer puts in a Blender Pump.I bet you guys just hate "Blender" Pumps, don't you?

    Comment by rufus | August 31, 2009

  27. By the way, Ron, the Univ of Iowa found that the presence of ethanol in the marketplace saved Americans approx. $0.35 Gallon at the Pump, last year.How does your organization feel about that?

    Comment by rufus | August 31, 2009

  28. "…the oil companies wouldn't be using ethanol, At All, if they weren't forced to by the Government. They ARE "Oil" Companies you know."Rufus ~Oil companies are above all else ENERGY companies. If they could make money picking up and selling cow chips for you to burn in your fireplace they would be doing that. Oil companies have no bias for or against ethanol. When the day comes they can make as much money from ethanol as from oil, they will be doing that.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | August 31, 2009

  29. Don't kid yourself, Wendell. They've fought ethanol every step of the way. They own "Oil" fields, not Corn Fields.They do it through their "proxies." When you see an article by an "environmental" group, or "trade" group that doesn't immediately ring a bell (and, sometimes, by ones that do) try to chase down the "funding." Hint: Exxon, Shell, BP pop up, constantly.

    Comment by rufus | August 31, 2009

  30. "They do it through their "proxies.""Proxies? Are you paranoid? Ethanol from its current feedstock (corn) is no threat to energy companies except for the manner in which Corn Belt politics, subsidies, tax credits, and protective tariffs artificially skew the market.And if corn ethanol was profitable (both thermodynamically and economically) w/o subsidies, tax credits, and tariffs, those energy companies would be snapping up corn farms and ethanol plants, and be at the leading edge of biofuel R&D.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | August 31, 2009

  31. Wendell, I will refer you, once again, to the Ia State, study. From Whose ass do you think that $0.35 gal is coming?Wendell, that 750,000 barrels/day of ethanol that we're using is replacing something. Care to guess, "What?"

    Comment by rufus | August 31, 2009

  32. Rufus said"They do it through their "proxies." When you see an article by an "environmental" group, or "trade" group that doesn't immediately ring a bell (and, sometimes, by ones that do) try to chase down the "funding." Hint: Exxon, Shell, BP pop up, constantly.—————————-Thanks for stating the obvious. It's a political thing…..Actually, "It's a "money" thing…"With 100 T.R.I.L.L.I.O.N. bucks worth of oil still in the ground, the oil companies won't give up easily.John

    Comment by Anonymous | September 1, 2009

  33. “For example: All the subsidies we've dumped into corn ethanol would have given us a much greater return had they been directed instead at nuclear energy – both in building reactors for the present and research into practical fusion for the future.”Why not both? Ethanol is now a successful solution to supplying part of demand for transportation fuel. How large a par remains to be seen. Nuke have already succeed in replacing oil for generating electricity. Two paths for nukes to fuel transportation include BEV and hydrogen. Hydrogen can be produced more efficiently using high temperature chemical reactions. Modular Gen IV are being developed to provide hydrogen to oil refineries.Clearly Bush promoted energy policy for the long term not those interested in short term solutions.

    Comment by Kit P | September 1, 2009

  34. I'm with you, Kit. I would cry with joy knowing that in 20 years we were going to be driving 80% of our miles with electricity generated by Nukes, (or wind, or solar, or ocean current, or geothermal, or fairy dust, whatever,) and, the other 20% with ethanol, biodiesel, green gasoline, or, again, whatever, and saving most of our oil, coal, and nat gas to stretch out amongst future generations.Heck, I'm even in favor of burning some coal, and nat gas (the crops will appreciate the extra CO2.)Just think how great it would be for the people of Africa, for instance, if they really could get a crop like Agave to work. Small villages that could produce Their Own Electricity, and Transportation Fuel.The Malthusian ("Greens") would hate it; but, I would Love it.

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  35. Wendell,Abiotic TheoryThere is an alternative theory about the formation of oil and gas deposits that could change estimates of potential future oil reserves. According to this theory, oil is not a fossil fuel at all, but was formed deep in the Earth's crust from inorganic materials. The theory was first proposed in the 1950s by Russian and Ukranian scientists. Based on the theory, successful exploratory drilling has been undertaken in the Caspian Sea region, Western Siberia, and the Dneiper-Donets Basin.The prevailing explanation for the formation of oil and gas deposits is that they are the remains of plant and animal life that died millions of years ago and were compressed by heat and pressure over the years. Russian and Ukranian geologists argue that formation of oil deposits requires the high pressures only found in the deep mantle and that the hydrocarbon contents in sediments do not exhibit sufficient organic material to supply the enormous amounts of petroleum found in supergiant oil fields. John

    Comment by Anonymous | September 1, 2009

  36. Well, RR, you tried. And congratulations for doing that, in your own inimitable even-handed reasonable fashion.But there are obviously those who don't want to open their minds to facts & assessments which gore their ox.In a reasonable world, people would back their views on future energy supplies with their money & time. Those who chose well would prosper; those who chose poorly would live with the consequences.Unfortunately, this is an unreasonable world. It is far easier for the dreamer to persuade the Political Class to steal from others and give the proceeds to him than it is to win in the marketplace by providing his fellow citizens with sources of energy that are cheaper and more convenient. Makes some people very sensitive to criticism of the boondoogle they are hoping to ride.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 1, 2009

  37. You're missing an important point when it comes to algal fuel Robert. It's scalable.No, not in its present form. To be scalable it requires at least two technological breakthroughs. The vast majority of companies trying to commercialize this now are doomed to fail because they either don’t recognize this, or just presume they will come. If they do come, it won’t be soon. My prediction is that you won’t see an algal biofuel plant of any significance for at least 10 years – and maybe never.These kind of advances are being announced almost daily.Don’t you see that this is the whole point? These ‘advances’ that keep being announced amount to next to nothing with respect to the real challenges of algae. But they give the impression that "real" progress is being made. If we go back and review hydrogen, I can recall that there were always various advances being announced on a regular basis. It's like making a journey of 10 miles, and people announce a breakthrough every time they move an inch.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 1, 2009

  38. Seattle-based bioscience firm Targeted Growth Inc. (TGI) has developed a way to increase the lipid content of cyanobacteria by approximately 400 percent.Maury, it seems as if you are out to prove my point. Would you like me to go back and show you all of Xethanol’s announcements leading up to their bankruptcy?What you are falling victim to is the same thing our political leaders fall victim to – which is why we keep funding boondoggles.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 1, 2009

  39. (The Blenders' Credit goes to the "Blenders" – you know, the Oil Companies, primarily.) That comes After the Ethanol leaves the Refinery.Why, Rufus, is it always the ethanol companies who scream when there is talk of removing the blender’s credit? After all if it benefits the oil companies they should be glad to get rid of it. By the way, Ron, the Univ of Iowa found that the presence of ethanol in the marketplace saved Americans approx. $0.35 Gallon at the Pump, last year.I am sure you know that those sorts of claims have been debunked. The following story was brought to my attention via Subsidy Watch:Show Me You would think you would have learned your lesson from that North Dakota study. You know, the one you pimped until it was rebutted by NREL. Then you suddenly thought we should slow down and not draw hasty conclusions. I don’t suppose the same applies for your University of Iowa study? You don’t suppose any ethanol money funded that study do you? Because I know that’s the sort of question you would ask if the research concluded the opposite and the university was in Texas. Anyway, if I recall correctly this paper completely ignored the impact of higher prices on demand. Lower demand has a mitigating impact as prices rise, and this study was done during a period of rising prices. The credit was given to ethanol.Don't kid yourself, Wendell. They've fought ethanol every step of the way. They own "Oil" fields, not Corn Fields.Wendell is correct. The reason the oil companies have been against ethanol is that they are being forced to use something that they believe represents a fundamentally unsound business model. Given the inability of the industry to stand on their own two feet, can you blame them? If you were running UPS and someone told you that you had to use a renewable resource like horses for 10% of your deliveries, would you fight it? Yes, unless you felt like that model is long-term capable of standing on its own.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 1, 2009

  40. Having worked in the oil industry and in trade associations and in universities and in the federal government, I continually to spontaneously laugh out loud every time I hear folks like Rufus whisper about Big Oil Conspiracies and their endless 'proxies'. Having direct exposure to all those groups leads me to believe that such conspiracies are far more likely to originate within the politically corrupt agencies of the federal gov't than in oil companies. On biofuels, it's hard to see that the AAA, Sierra Club, NRDC, EDF, WWF, World Bank, UN, European Union, Consumer's Reports, EWG, UCC, etc, are all just puppets of Big Oil. Can you identify ANY environmental group that supports current US corn ethanol mandates? Can you find any climate scientists who think that current biofuels are actually beneficial for GHG reductions?? There are a lot of good things to like about biofuels, and even corn ethanol, but one cannot be close-minded to their negative attributes. Constantly dismissing any legitimate criticism of biofuels as oil industry disinformation is as disingenuous as the Bush administration's Quest for Saddam's WMDs

    Comment by Anonymous | September 1, 2009

  41. Ethanol is now a successful solution to supplying part of demand for transportation fuel.Successful in the same way that solar power has been successful: As long as there are mandates and subsidies in place.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 1, 2009

  42. John – abiotic theory is pure unmitigated BS from Tinfoil-Hatland. I suggest applying the "Rapier test" for algal fuels to the products of your "successful exploratory drilling". Try to buy some!Wendell – "Instead of trying to replicate processes that naturally take millions of years, we'd be much better off looking at energy sources at the nuclear level, where scaling and time compression issues are not nearly so daunting."The time compression factor for nuclear is about as huge as it gets. A minimum of tens to hundreds of million years for the largest (and thus shortest lived) first generation stars to burn through their nuclear fuel and go "supernova", scattering heavy elements; followed by umpteen tens or hundreds of millions of years of dispersal, mixing and recompression; followed by five billion years of formation of a second or third generation high-metallicity star with attendant planets … one of which we happen to be on. Nuclear fuels have literally taken the lifetime of an entire galaxy to arrive in place. The planet might see it's coal and oil replenished in a far-off future, but fissile materials are definitely one-time-only.The point of this? None, really .. except to say that this "time compression" argument is irrelevant. All that matters is whether you have sufficient energy density that can be efficiently liberated. Although I am a fan of nuclear, it's no foregone conclusion that it is the "only" or even the best way forward.

    Comment by PeteS | September 1, 2009

  43. But there are obviously those who don't want to open their minds to facts & assessments which gore their ox.Yes, it is hard to get some people to face up to facts. Many people really think they have cracked the code, and then as they try to move out of the lab they realize they haven't.It reminds me of discussions that I have had with Doomers. Try to prove them wrong. You will find that they are never wrong, just too early with their predictions. So arguing with them is futile. The same is true of the pretenders. Their mantra is similar to that of the Doomers: "Just you wait." They will never say "you know, Robert was right", because they will make up excuses for their failures.Funny, but related story. The EIA just revised 2008 down such that the calendar year 2005 is once again the peak for oil, but just by a tiny amount. But the 12 month period from mid-2007 to mid-2008 was far higher than for 2005. An all-time production high was reached when oil prices peaked, and production fell when oil prices fell in the 2nd half of 2008. But the Doomers jumped back on their "See! See! 2005 was the peak, just like we said."Cheers, RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 1, 2009

  44. "Nuclear fuels have literally taken the lifetime of an entire galaxy to arrive in place. "Pete,Yes, true. But all those atoms are now just sitting there waiting to be split. And if we decide to use a breeder reactor, we can even make our own Pu.And the amount of nuclear fuels available for fusion approach infinity. We just need to do the research to find a practical and controllable way of igniting them. We only lack the political fortitude to stop dumping money into programs like corn ethanol and put it where it can pay real dividends for a better tomorrow.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 1, 2009

  45. Pete,For 30 years Hawkins doggedly adhered to the idea that matter (information) was lost in "Black Holes" when it passed the event horizon.Many physicists were perplexed, angered and upset by this.A while back Hawkins finally tacitly "recanted" and proposed that black holes in our universe were merely canceled by the absence of black holes in alternate universes and that matter (information) is not actually lost.Just goes to show. Newton's explanation of the universe was not "comprehensive". Neither was Einstein's nor Hawkin's.Glad to know that you have the "definiive word" on how oil was formed.John

    Comment by Anonymous | September 1, 2009

  46. Why did you put hydrogen in a post about biofuels? Is hydrogen considered a biofuel? I guess there are a few people looking at it that way. But I'm on board with Kit, high temp next generation nukes producing H2 through a thermal chemical cycle (such as the SI cycle) and then feeding it into a facility making liquid fuel.It could go into an oil refinery, but I imagine a CTL plant near some coal (maybe Wyoming) with a nuclear H2 plant next door feeding all the H2 and O2 they can use.I don't know what would be better, a BEV being fed a combination of coal and nuclear electricity or a car running on coal and nuclear produced fuel. To me it doesn't matter if the energy is stored in a battery or in CH chemical bonds.

    Comment by Dennis Moore | September 1, 2009

  47. I don't see how it matters if oil were formed from biological or abiotic origins, when oil field decline rates average 4.5% annually and if global proved oil reserves are dropping, like the BP Statistical Review suggests.http://www.bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/reports_and_publications/statistical_energy_review_2008/STAGING/local_assets/2009_downloads/oil_table_proved_oil_reserves_2009.pdf

    Comment by Clee | September 1, 2009

  48. Yep, you're right, RR; the presence of 750,000 barrels/day of ethanol (1,500,000 bbl/day, globally) has NO Effect on oil prices. None. Zip. Nada. What was I thinking? Why, I musta bin crazy.

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  49. A fellow that posts over at e85vehicles.com did a little research on Timothy Searchinger's, and some of his fellow travelers' funding.NOTE: You have to start at the Bottom, and Scroll UP.Nature Conservancy and Corn Ethanol

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  50. Next, for your edification, and reading pleasure, a little primer on Ca ARB:CA ARB

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  51. The oil companies want ethanol to "die." That means, NO MANDATES.They know if they can get rid of the "Blenders' Credit," they can get rid of the MANDATES. Pretty simple, really.Your Kids won't Die for My Fuel.

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  52. I'm not the least bit interested in whether oil production peaked in 2005, or some period in 2008.I'm interested in the fact that during the boom years of 1998 – 1999 oil was $10.00/bbl. Today, in a horrible recession Oil is $70.00/bbl.As I look around the world at the declining fields (and, increased consumption in China, and India) it seems likely to me that oil is still on its way up.Meanwhile, we're still losing Troops, and spending close to a $Billion/Day "Protecting" the Oil Supply.The UK just released the "Lockerbie Bomber" (killed 169 American Men, Women, and Children) so BP could make an "Oil Deal" in Libya.Horsehockey.Your Kids Won't Die for My Fuel.

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  53. John: "Newton's explanation of the universe was not "comprehensive". Neither was Einstein's nor Hawkin's. Glad to know that you have the "definiive word" on how oil was formed."John, I was at the set of lectures were Hawking conceded his bet to Preskill and Thorne. (I have to admit I didn't see Hawking, only Thorne). Anyway, if your point is that the controversy over an entirely mathematical argument about information and black holes in some way adds room for doubt about the biotic origins of oil (where the evidence is tangible and in your face) … well, I can only say that the argument that "someone was wrong in the past so someone could be wrong in the future" doesn't impress me much, or strike me as very scientific. Anyway, as Clee reminds us, unless abiotic oil was actually replenishing our reserves at a very substantial rate it makes no difference to our predicament.Wendell: "But all those atoms are now just sitting there waiting to be split. And if we decide to use a breeder reactor, we can even make our own Pu."True, but the fuel still needs to be discovered at sufficient concentration, mined and refined… and that's quite apart from all the political and environmental concerns. The problem with nukes seems to be that — even if the problems are of our own making — it's hard to get them online in a reasonable amount of time.And the amount of nuclear fuels available for fusion approach infinity. We just need to do the research to find a practical and controllable way of igniting them. That's a rather large leap though. Even if some research looks more promising than the ITER white elephant, none of it is close to a done deal.

    Comment by PeteS | September 1, 2009

  54. "which is why we keep funding boondoggles."Except it's Exxon that put 600 million into algae research Robert. They say they studied the problem and concluded algae was the best solution. We can believe they like pissing their money away,or their engineers are dumb as mud….or maybe they could be right.

    Comment by Maury | September 1, 2009

  55. "Yep, you're right, RR; the presence of 750,000 barrels/day of ethanol (1,500,000 bbl/day, globally) has NO Effect on oil prices."Rufus~But how much did the farmer demand for the fossil fuels they need to grow corn add to the price of oil?Doesn't their demand for fossil fuels more than cancel any benefit we get from the ethanol made from the corn they grow?If they would just use some of the ethanol they make as fuel instead of buying gasoline, diesel, and natural gas from those evil fossil fuel companies, I could more easily buy into your argument. But take away fossil fuels from corn farmers and ethanol plants, and there would be no corn ethanol industry.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 1, 2009

  56. Nat gas does NOT compete with Oil in the U.S. The fossil fuel input in Ethanol is 98% nat gas.In DDGS-adjusted numbers, it takes about 7 Gallons of Diesel to produce 700 Gallons of Ethanol.Sorry, Wendell. Gotta try, again.

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  57. And, by the way, if you weren't using the nat gas to produce ethanol you would just have to use it to produce Gasoline.

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  58. "Yep, you're right, RR; the presence of 750,000 barrels/day of ethanol (1,500,000 bbl/day, globally) has NO Effect on oil prices." — RufusEthanol probably has had an effect on oil prices, but not the one you claim. If all of a sudden ethanol had been pulled off the market, sure: oil prices would have spiked further. But other dynamics than changes in ethanol supply were what determined prices in 2008.Over the long term, however, the way that ethanol policies are applied in the United States may actually be depressing gasoline prices slightly — enough to actually make the country MORE dependent on imports.As explained by by Harry De Gorter and David R. Just (both of Cornell University's Department of Applied Economics and Management) in "The Law of Unintended Consequences: How the U.S. Biofuel Tax Credit with a Mandate Subsidizes Oil Consumption and Has No Impact on Ethanol Consumption","With a mandate, U.S. policy of ethanol tax credits designed to reduce oil consumption does the exact opposite. … With a tax credit or mandate, gasoline consumption declines but more so with a mandate (for a given ethanol price and production level). However, a tax credit with a binding mandate always generates an increase in gasoline consumption, the extent to which depends on the type of mandate. … For a consumption mandate (as in the United States), the tax credit is even worse as it acts as a gasoline consumption subsidy. Market prices of ethanol do not change, even as the price paid by consumers for gasoline declines (while gasoline market prices rise)."

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 1, 2009

  59. Robert,If you are going to write articles about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, you should at least take the time to learn about the current status of the technology.Here it is:7 reasons to love Toyota hydrogen fuel cell vehiclesHere are 7 reasons to love Toyota hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (which the company started developing in-house back in 1992 when I was a senior in high school):1. 431-mile real-world driving range with Toyota FCHV-adv (mid-size SUV) hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (See YouTube video below)2. 68.3 real-world miles per kilogram fuel economy with Toyota FCHV-adv (See YouTube video below)3. Ability to operate in temperatures as low as minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 30 degrees Celsius)4. Irv Miller, TMS group vice president, environmental and public affairs, made the following comment on August 6th:“In 2015, our plan is to bring to market a reliable and durable fuel cell vehicle with exceptional fuel economy and zero emissions, at an affordable price.”5. Masatami Takimoto, a Toyota executive vice president and board member, made the following comment in January at the North American International Auto Show:“By 2015, we will have a full-fledged commercialization effort.”6. The Toyota FCHV-adv (Highlander) hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has the same trunk and passenger space as the gasoline-powered version.Click on the following link to see a picture of the trunk in the Toyota FCHV-adv hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.7. Here is a comment made by Justin Ward, advanced powertrain program manager-Toyota Technical Center, in a Ward’s Automotive article (subscription required) that was published on July 16th:“We have some confidence the vehicle released around 2015 is going to have costs that are going to be shocking for most of the people in the industry. They are going to be very surprised we were able to achieve such an impressive cost reduction.”http://hydrogendiscoveries.wordpress.com/2009/08/17/7-reasons-to-love-toyota-hydrogen-fuel-cell-vehicles/Greg BlencoeChief Executive OfficerHydrogen Discoveries, Inc."Hydrogen Car Revolution" blog

    Comment by Greg Blencoe | September 1, 2009

  60. …if you weren't using the nat gas to produce ethanol you would just have to use it to produce Gasoline."Actually, we could more efficiently use that natural gas directly as a motor fuel rather than inefficiently using it to make synthetic nitrogen with which to grow corn inefficiently and then using more NG to distill the alcohol.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 1, 2009

  61. Part of this makes sense:Market prices of ethanol do not change, even as the price paid by consumers for gasoline declines (while gasoline market prices rise)."I'll leave it to you to figure out which part.

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  62. Really, Wendell, what part of that $750,000.00 to add nat gas fueling to a filling station, and that $10,000.00 to convert your car to nat gas are you having problems with?BTW, a gallon of ethanol (containing about 30,000 btus of nat gas) will take my Impala about 22 miles. How far do you suppose 30,000 btus of nat gas would take it?

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  63. "Actually, we could more efficiently use that natural gas directly as a motor fuel"But….we don't. We could,but we don't. We could build a gazillion nuclear plants. But….we don't. If all these things we should be doing aren't getting done…..maybe there's a reason.

    Comment by Maury | September 1, 2009

  64. But….we don't. We could,but we don't. We could build a gazillion nuclear plants. But….we don't. If all these things we should be doing aren't getting done…..maybe there's a reason.All I can do is point out what we should be doing. There is nothing I can do about Corn Belt politics and our lack of political fortitude when it comes to fission and fusion power.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 1, 2009

  65. An article on next gen nuclear. And Finns are good engineers http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/29/business/energy-environment/29nuke.htmlJim Takchess

    Comment by Anonymous | September 1, 2009

  66. Wendell, have you considered the possibility that Matthew Simmons might be right about "shale gas," and how stupid we would look ten years from now, having converted all of our cars to nat gas, and seeing it disappear right before our eyes?

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  67. Part of this makes sense: 'Market prices of ethanol do not change, even as the price paid by consumers for gasoline declines (while gasoline market prices rise).' I'll leave it to you to figure out which part." — RufusWhat this says, Rufus, is that final (blended) product prices decline IN THE UNITED STATES, driving UP the consumption (and therefore imports) of gasoline, and also the world price of pure gasoline.So there goes your argument that ethanol doesn't support foreign regimes or wars.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 1, 2009

  68. Ron, that's nonsensical, even for you.Gasoline consumption was Down 5% last year. VMT was down last year.The idea that people went out for an extra "Joyride" because gasoline was only $4.25, and Not $4.60 is bizarre.

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  69. Was it Conoco that gave $20,000,000.00 to Cornell? It seems like I ran across something like that a couple of years ago when I was investigaing the good Dr. Pimental.

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  70. And, while you're bashing ethanol you might want to tell us what to do about this. Norwegian Oil Production Dropping like a Rock

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  71. Ron, that's nonsensical, even for you. Gasoline consumption was Down 5% last year. VMT was down last year. The idea that people went out for an extra "Joyride" because gasoline was only $4.25, and Not $4.60 is bizarre. — RufusMaking joy rides? Perhaps not. But if you don't believe in the elasticity of demand, then you should not go around claiming that ethanol has an affect on oil prices, because that is exactly how people who claim that ethanol reduces global demand for oil products arrive at their back-of-the-envelope numbers.Lower prices means more consumption. It's basic economics.Was it Conoco that gave $20,000,000.00 to Cornell? It seems like I ran across something like that a couple of years ago when I was investigaing the good Dr. Pimental.What a laugh. Conoco (and other oil companies) contribute to the chemical engineering program. Pimentel worked for the Agricultural School. But he is emeritus and so writes on subjects that interest him, not to please big donors. And, in any case, the paper was written by two independent researchers unconnected with Dr. Pimentel.Meanwhile, of course, the ethanol industry is spending millions paying directly for hired-gun research.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 1, 2009

  72. “Successful in the same way that solar power has been successful: As long as there are mandates and subsidies in place.”No, corn ethanol is proving a portion of my transportation fuel that is not imported at a reasonable cost although it may not the cheapest cost. It would appear that corn ethanol is limited by the current infrastructure to use it. When and where I need it!Unlike transportation fuel electricity is not dependant on unfriendly sources of energy. The solar industry has been successful at providing product but not enough electricity to notice.

    Comment by Kit P | September 1, 2009

  73. “Finns are good engineers”The French and Germans are building a nuke plant in Finland. TVO is a very good operator of nuke plants. Finland has also approved additional new nukes.

    Comment by Kit P | September 1, 2009

  74. How's about a Cite for This One, Bubba:Meanwhile, of course, the ethanol industry is spending millions paying directly for hired-gun research.Ron, your stuff is weaker, today, than it was two years, ago.By the way, the top 4 oil companies EACH spent 20 times as much last year as the RFA, for a Total of $43,000,000.00

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  75. Dudes: I think you all may be barking up the wrong trees.Check this website out: cngvehicles.net/ This guy, a used car dealer, is today, now, not maybe, not hypothetically, selling CNG cars and trucks for under $10k. You can buy one now, and drive away. No federal funds, no heroics, no subsidies. Why exotic biofuels, fuel cells and hydrogen vehicles?Under $10k today, you can buy a CNG car.Game over, dudes. The problem is solved. Next problem.

    Comment by Benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole | September 1, 2009

  76. Nice article. Haven't gone through most of the comments so forgive me if the group already covered this:-Another major problem with current projected cellulosic biomass 2nd generation biofuels is the large CAPEX cost for 2nd generation biofuel production plants relative to annual output from these plants. Another way of stating this is that very expensive cellolosic plants have low annual through put since it takes catalysts a long time to break down "cellulose locked up tightly in the biomass" {your other points on cellulose are also valid.}-I think you are too pessimistic on 3rd gen biofuels. A lot of private funding has recently allocated to biomass. A lot of the actual research in this field is not public knowledge.-What do you think about Vinod Khosla's investments in 2nd and 3rd Gen biofuels?My main suggestions regarding this article would be to mention liquefied natural gas (LNG.) Today, natural gas prices fell sharply to hit a new historic inflation adjusted low. The ratio of liquid natural gas to oil prices {price of natural gas/price of oil} has never been lower in recorded history. LNG is currently far cheaper as a transportation fuel than oil based fuels. The cost of electricity from LNG is at historic lows.LNG has a very low carbon footprint. As a result, even with a high price for carbon (say $30/ton of CO2), LNG is very cheap per gallon as a transportation fuel or for generating electricity.The primary impediment to using LNG for everything is that global LNG storage capacity needs to be increased dramatically. Today, global storage capacity in LNG is full, forcing flaring of natural gas around the world. Increased global LNG storage capacity would help capture NG during times of excess NG (like now) and limit rises in NG prices during shortages in NG (such is in 2005/2006.)The primary competition for biofuels is LNG; especially given LNG's low carbon footprint, LNG's low price relative to oil, and today's sharp drop in natural gas prices.I look forward to reading your articles about the contender and niche biofuels that can potentially compete with LNG in long term cost of goods sold.Off topic, do any commentators here have any thoughts on why natural gas prices are so low now, and where natural gas prices might go from here?

    Comment by Anand | September 1, 2009

  77. How's about a Cite for This One, Bubba: "Meanwhile, of course, the ethanol industry is spending millions paying directly for hired-gun research."Don't need to. Just do a web search with the words "study" or "survey" and "ethanol" and "Commissioned by the Renewable Fuels Association" or "Commissioned by the American Coalition for Ethanol" or any of the other lobbying groups for ethanol.One of the consultants that the RFA seems to rely on heavily is John M. Urbanchuk. Readers can decide if the RFA is getting value for its money: http://www.globalsubsidies.org/en/subsidy-watch/analysis/how-much-oil-does-ethanol-displaceRon, your stuff is weaker, today, than it was two years, ago.Rufus, you would say that no matter what I wrote. Your punctuation is appalling, by the way.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 1, 2009

  78. Off topic, do any commentators here have any thoughts on why natural gas prices are so low now, and where natural gas prices might go from here?I know we sound a little "crazy" from time to time. But, do we sound That Crazy?

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  79. Don't need to. Just do a web search with the words "study" or "survey" and "ethanol" and "Commissioned by the Renewable Fuels Association" or "Commissioned by the American Coalition for Ethanol" or any of the other lobbying groups for ethanol.Yeah, that's what I thought. Throw some bullcrap number out there, and then say, "go prove me wrong." Sorry Bubba, it don't work that way.And, I'd rather have appalling punctuation, than weak, or no, facts.Jes go look it up, he sez.sheesh

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  80. Gosh, a lot of stuff to wade through this morning. I will need to be selective with my time. First up, one I had intended to address yesterday:Why did you put hydrogen in a post about biofuels? Is hydrogen considered a biofuel? I guess there are a few people looking at it that way.The title went through several iterations. It was really about renewable energy, but then I didn’t want to get into a debate about renewable electricity. So the title might have been better had I referred to renewable fuels.Next, Maury wonders if Exxon doesn’t know a secret about algae:Except it's Exxon that put 600 million into algae research Robert.Except it is far less money than that. The 600 million only kicks in if the milestones are met. The initial investment was a small drop in their research bucket. That’s what this is for them; fundamental research. And as I have said, there are a couple of approaches that might work. The approach they are trying is one that I have specifically mentioned. But it requires technical breakthroughs, hence they are spending the money to see if they can make it. But the vast majority of algae wannabes aren’t going down this road.Next up is a hydrogen interest suggesting that I have got it all wrong about hydrogen. We have seen algae weigh in, so now we are just waiting on a biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol representative to assure us that they are the future:7 reasons to love Toyota hydrogen fuel cell vehiclesYou are singing the same tune that all the others sing: “Just you wait! In 6 years we are going to be commercial. And the cost will be an order of magnitude lower!” That’s the whole point. People in all of these fields believe these things, otherwise they wouldn’t be working on them. Then we have Steven Chu taking a look and saying “Is it likely in the next 10 or 15, 20 years that we will covert to a hydrogen car economy?’ The answer, we felt, was ‘no.’” But I am sure he just doesn’t know what he is talking about, and the vested hydrogen interest is the guy who knows the real score. The algae guy and the cellulosic guy will tell you the exact same story.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 1, 2009

  81. From the Energy Section of the globalsubsidies.org website:The most prominent global study, carried out by the World Bank in 1992, estimated annual fossil-fuel consumption subsidies at around USD 230 billion. An OECD study the same year estimated global energy consumption subsidies at USD 235 billion,

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  82. Rufus writes: Was it Conoco that gave $20,000,000.00 to Cornell? It seems like I ran across something like that a couple of years ago when I was investigaing the good Dr. Pimental.Well, if there is one thing we have learned from you it is that a vague recollection is good enough to attempt a smear – provided it involves an oil company. Yet you want a reference for someone suggesting the ethanol industry is paying for research? These are the sorts of things that destroyed your credibility a long time ago.No, it wasn’t Cornell you were thinking about. It was $22.5 million to Iowa State for biofuel research:COP Donates $22.5 Million for Biofuels ResearchThen, hard to believe that in this thread – after the attempted Cornell smear – you would demand a cite from someone and write:Rufus: Yeah, that's what I thought. Throw some bullcrap number out there, and then say, "go prove me wrong." Sorry Bubba, it don't work that way.Are you trying to provide comic relief? Or are you just trying to show us what irony looks like?RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 1, 2009

  83. Ron, in spite of the above factoid (from your own site,) you have spent several years running around bashing the couple of billion subsidies for ethanol. Who IS sending enough money to Switzerland that you can afford to devote years to ignoring the subsidies for oil, and pounding on poor little old American Ethanol?

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  84. The most prominent global study, carried out by the World Bank in 1992, estimated annual fossil-fuel consumption subsidies at around USD 230 billion. An OECD study the same year estimated global energy consumption subsidies at USD 235 billion,Which even if true, would amount to about $0.17/gallon, a small fraction of ethanol's blending credit.The funny thing is that if all of these things that are called subsidies were eliminated, the ethanol industry would scream loudly because their fuel costs would go up.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 1, 2009

  85. That 22.5 was for Cellulosic Research. That particular dept bashes Corn Ethanol quite frequently.

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  86. And, yes it was Cornell I was thinking about. Give me a minute.

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  87. Kit writes: No, corn ethanol is proving a portion of my transportation fuel that is not imported at a reasonable cost although it may not the cheapest cost.I have always found it interesting that you are unable to see the parallels. You complain that renewable electricity isn’t competitive. Yet it is – as long as it is subsidized. This is the same situation with ethanol. It is only providing a portion of your transportation fuel because of years of heavy subsidies by the taxpayer. This is analogous to the wind and solar industries. Not that I am complaining about giving renewable electricity a helping hand, but your arguments against them are no different than arguments against ethanol.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 1, 2009

  88. That 22.5 was for Cellulosic Research. That particular dept bashes Corn Ethanol quite frequently.You really are a piece of work. Now complaining that COP donated money for cellulosic ethanol.Given that COP has (or at least had) a matching gifts program, there is no doubt they have donated money to Cornell. And every other major university for that matter. For you to constantly attempt to smear universities that have received donations from oil companies really says a lot about you – especially since you have no problem accepting research paid for by the ethanol lobby.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 1, 2009

  89. Isn't this interesting? It looks like ethanol is interfering with Cornell's "family bidness."However, there is always a possibility for surprising good news to surface too. Recently, scientists from Cornell University discovered an enormous amount of oil off the coast of Louisiana. The find is some 60 billion barrels or three times more than the current US recoverable oil of 20 billion barrels.Chevron funded the find, it seems.Actually, it seems Cornell has Always been in bed with Standard Oil, and the Rockefellers.

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  90. Linky-poo to Cornell's intrepid Oil Discovery Business

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  91. So, couldn't find the COP/Cornell reference, so you decide to just hurl more mud?Rufus/Kum Dollison/kdolliso – you have been given an awful lot of leeway here. You have made numerous unfounded accusations and thrown mud on many occasions. You have wasted a lot of my time (which I saw you boast about on another board once). After your performance in this thread, I am putting a stop to that.As always, contrary opinions are welcome. Smears and mud-throwing are not. If you want to make an argument, make the argument and leave the mud at home. I won't allow you to use this blog in your lobbying efforts. Proceed with caution.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 1, 2009

  92. Robert Rapier, I admire your patience in dealing with "Rufus/Kum Dollison/kdolliso."Any response to my questions above?

    Comment by Anand | September 1, 2009

  93. Fine, I'll not refer to Cornell's oil discovery business if you'll not claim those N. Dakota Students rigged their test. Fair enough?

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  94. By the way, I don't think I ever boasted about "wasting your time."I think, once, on Planet E85, someone made reference to me "keeping you busy." It was in the middle of a heated debate, and I didn't pay much attention to it.The reason I don't think I did that is it's never been a goal of mine to "keep you busy," or "waste your time."That doesn't seem like a very productive use of time.

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  95. Fine, I'll not refer to Cornell's oil discovery business if you'll not claim those N. Dakota Students rigged their test. Fair enough?These were the sorts of things that led me to conclude – long ago – that you are an ethanol lobbyist. Normal people could not equate these two things. A lawyer being paid to promote ethanol? Sure, any tenuous link works.Let’s review just a bit. Yesterday you posted a study from Iowa State – which has certainly received funding from ethanol companies – that suggested that ethanol has reduced gas prices by $0.35/gal. No disclaimers. You published a pro-ethanol study by students at North Dakota that was directly paid by the ethanol lobby. Again, no disclaimers. You presented the study at face value, and only suggested that we hold off conclusions after NREL published a contradictory study. Now that is your behavior when you are trying to promote ethanol.When you are trying to defend ethanol, you smear people/companies/universities. You “seem to recall” or “you heard” that this or that university has oil links. Your standards are so laughably different that it is impossible not to conclude that you are being paid for these ridiculous positions. You wish to claim that because a university has scientists who discovered oil, another researcher’s findings against ethanol are suspect. At the same time, you accept at face value studies paid for DIRECTLY with ethanol money. Really, only one conclusion is possible here. Regular people don’t behave like this. Bob Dinneen behaves like this. Matt Hartwig behaves like this. But I can’t think of a single person that isn’t linked to the ethanol industry who behaves like this. Of course being anonymous, you can pretty much pretend to be anyone you like. But actions always speak the loudest.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 1, 2009

  96. Anand,A quick reply, as I am dashing to a meeting.What do you think about Vinod Khosla's investments in 2nd and 3rd Gen biofuels?I think he is spreading his bets widely in the hopes that something works. But it may be that he is making 30 bets, and the odds are 1,000 to 1 for each. Certainly seems to be the case if Cello is an example of the sort of due diligence he is doing.Off topic, do any commentators here have any thoughts on why natural gas prices are so low now, and where natural gas prices might go from here?There is a glut of gas. From all I have read, there will be a cap on prices for a good while at $7-$8, because a lot of shale gas can come online at those prices.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 1, 2009

  97. Maury, I owe you a comment on Microbiogen. I will look into them later. The name seems a bit much. Like Greennanocleanalgae.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 1, 2009

  98. Let me get this straight. You, really, really believe that someone pays me, a guy with no website, no credentials, no particular expertise to sit around all day, and opine on your website, the elephant bar (a really, rough and tumble social website, and wattsupwiththat (where I spend most of my day?)I mean, I wish they did; and maybe I should make a few inquiries, but from what I've read about the financial situation of the ethanol industry, at present, I don't hold out much hope.It's a nice thought, though

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  99. Thanks Robert. I can't see my mind ever being changed on ethanol. It ain't controlled by Chavez or Ahwannajihad. Until we find substitutes that can do better….subsidies and all….corn ethanol is here to stay.I really want you to be wrong on algae. It would be the perfect biofuel. Carbon neutral. 80% lower particulate emissions. Will grow anywhere. The government gave up on algae research back in the 90's,because they thought it would never compete with oil. It cost $20 to make a gallon then,and probably still does. But,that was before all the advances in genetics. Never say never.I'm an avid supporter of deep geothermal for the same reasons I back algae. The potential is enormous. It's clean and provides baseload power. Yes,we could run our cars and utilities with natural gas for the next 25 years or so…..assuming demand stayed constant,which it never does. Then,we are right back to square one. Worse,the environment is dirtier than ever. Every time we have an oil shock,money pours into alternative energy reasearch. When the price drops again,funding dries up. But,OPEC always has us by the balls. Always. We need to stay the course and find acceptable substitutes this time around.

    Comment by Maury | September 1, 2009

  100. Kit P said… “Finns are good engineers”The French and Germans are building a nuke plant in Finland. TVO is a very good operator of nuke plants. Finland has also approved additional new nukes.Ah that explains it . If the Finns built it it would be 10% underbudget plus have a really kick ass sauna Jim

    Comment by Anonymous | September 1, 2009

  101. Let me get this straight. You, really, really believe that someone pays me, a guy with no website, no credentials, no particular expertise to sit around all day, and opine on your website, the elephant bar (a really, rough and tumble social website, and wattsupwiththat (where I spend most of my day?)That's the thing about being anonymous. You can pretend anything you like. Lobbyists do it all the time. There are lots of cases where people have misrepresented themselves online while plugging their interests.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 1, 2009

  102. I really want you to be wrong on algae. It would be the perfect biofuel.I agree. The algae story is compelling. But the reality is a lot more complicated.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 1, 2009

  103. The most prominent global study, carried out by the World Bank in 1992, estimated annual fossil-fuel consumption subsidies at around USD 230 billion. An OECD study the same year estimated global energy consumption subsidies at USD 235 billionYes, and the IEA estimates that subsidies were over USD 300 billion in 2007. Those numbers, if you bothered to do a bit of research, Rufus, refer to the sum total of subsidies to CONSUMERS of fossil fuels (and fossil-fuel-based electricity), all in oil-producing countries, countries of the former Soviet Union, and several developing countries.And you will also see on the GSI's web pages, and in Subsidy Watch, lots of criticisms of those subsidies, and calls for their reform.But how do those subsidies justify ethanol subsidies in the United States, which seems to be what you are hinting at?Are you suggesting that the United States should emulate Iran or Venezuela and heavily subsidize the consumption of transport fuels?

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 1, 2009

  104. rufus writes: Fine, I'll not refer to Cornell's oil discovery business if you'll not claim those N. Dakota Students rigged their test. Fair enough?More smears? RR never claimed or implied that those N. Dakota students rigged their test. It seems to me he accepted the data as true test results. Rather, he blasted the conclusions trumpeted in the media as not being supported by those data/test results.

    Comment by Clee | September 1, 2009

  105. US Federal energy subsidies not related to electricity production in 2007 per million BTUs was 190 times higher for ethanol/biofuels than for natural gas and petroleum liquids, according to Table 36 ofhttp://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/servicerpt/subsidy2/pdf/chap5.pdf

    Comment by Clee | September 1, 2009

  106. "I really want you to be wrong on algae. It would be the perfect biofuel."Maury,Your right ~ algae IS the perfect biofuel. The many forms of phytoplankton, (diatoms, cyanobacteria, dinoflagellates, and algae) was the feedstock for most of that petroleum we've been burning the last 120 years.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 1, 2009

  107. “These were the sorts of things that led me to conclude – long ago – that you are an ethanol lobbyist.”That explains why a jarhead is better at explaining ethanol than an oil industry engineer from Texas and Okalhoma. Tell me about growing corn and soy beans in Indiana again.“I have always found it interesting that you are unable to see the parallels. You complain that renewable electricity isn’t competitive.” Anyone besides me notice how fast RR took my statement about solar out of context and generalized it to all renewable energy. I am not against solar and wind when it works. Biomass and geothermal are proven sources of renewable energy generation.

    Comment by Kit P | September 1, 2009

  108. When Purdue does research on energy related to corn and soy beans they are supporting a large segment of the local economy.When Cornell and UC Berkley does research explaining why Indiana farmers should not produce something, who are they serving? Jarheads and squids have a little thicker skins that comes from respecting and questing authority.

    Comment by Kit P | September 1, 2009

  109. Clee, that goes all the way back to the Oil Drum (before I was banned.) RR denigrated the test as having been paid for by ACE, and I said, "so what, either the test is legit, or the kids who ran it, fixed it."I found it hard to believe that those College Kids fixed the test. Still do.If that gets me barred, so long. It's been real.

    Comment by rufus | September 1, 2009

  110. “Can you find any climate scientists who think that current biofuels are actually beneficial for GHG reductions?”Interesting dual major, climate studies and energy production. Of course, I do have a dual major of energy production and environmental protection. The environmental benefit of thinking forests of excess biomass is huge. The environmental benefit of using anaerobic digestion to treat animal manure is huge. The Sierra Club has opposed both by bring lawsuits to stop projects. The environmental benefit of growing crops like corn and soybeans to produce transportation fuel is modest to good. For those who do not like corn ethanol, RR and Pickens scam will agree. They agree with Sierra Club. Natural gas is better.

    Comment by Kit P | September 1, 2009

  111. That explains why a jarhead is better at explaining ethanol than an oil industry engineer from Texas and Okalhoma.You will have to tell me when and where that happened. Anyone besides me notice how fast RR took my statement about solar out of context and generalized it to all renewable energy. I am not taking anything out of context. I am not referring to a specific statement you just made. I am referring to lots of statements that you have made with respect to various renewable electricity options not being able to compete. Yet they are just like ethanol: They can compete if you subsidize them. I am not against solar and wind when it works. What does that mean? If it works as a result of subsidies – as ethanol does – is it working or not in your view?RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 2, 2009

  112. RR denigrated the test as having been paid for by ACENow you are lying. You threw the test out there. I pointed out that it had been paid for by ACE, and said maybe we should await some independent confirmation. You then said – on that basis – that I was denigrating the students. Again, ironic that you don’t think that the source of funding could possibly influence an outcome if that funding is from ethanol, but any tenuous link to petroleum calls the output of entire universities into question in your mind. Again, that is the way lobbyists think.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 2, 2009

  113. I found it hard to believe that those College Kids fixed the test. Still do.But you think that kids who got petroleum funding fix their tests? Incidentally, "fixed the test" is your spin. What I have said is that there are all kinds of possible sources of error. You can't possibly know what may have gone wrong, but the fact that it was pro-ethanol and funded by ethanol calls for testing by an independent body. I called for this, and you said I was denigrating the kids. Now a study shows a different conclusion, and you think we should slow down and not jump to conclusions.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 2, 2009

  114. No, I did my Own "real world" test, and it came in better than the NREL average, but not as good as the N. Dakota test. BUT, I drive a flexfuel Impala, and the flexfuel Impala is one of the better cars at utilizing ethanol.I need to do the test, again (maybe I will this week,) because my hotrod, sweetie drove the car most of the time that week, and it was raining quite a bit.It occurred to me after looking at the NREL test that, although, it seemed to me, at first, that the last 5 ethanol sensitive cars was a bit questionable, many people actually do drive those cars, and maybe the test was more fair than I, at first, gave it credit for.On the other hand, something like 50% of the miles are put on by cars 6 years old, or less.I'm kind of like an economist that's run out of hands.Bottom Line: I don't think most of the cars in the N. Dakota test will quite replicate those results in "real world" driving. On the other hand, I think the NREL test was a little too "loaded" with older clunkers.

    Comment by rufus | September 2, 2009

  115. “You will have to tell me when and where that happened.”Everyday when Rufus posts. Just my expert opinion.“What does that mean?” A power plant works when makes electricity. The more electrical it makes the better it works. I am one of those all of the above folk. I do take issue with Californian who think solar can is better than coal. First solar to be better. I have to problem with subsidies or mandates if that is what it takes.

    Comment by Kit P | September 2, 2009

  116. Everyday when Rufus posts. Just my expert opinion.But of course you aren't an ethanol expert, nor a liquid fuels expert for that matter. Per your own criteria, we can heavily discount your opinion on these issues. But I think this does explain why you think the things you do about ethanol, and particularly with respect to Rufus' completely one-sided views.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 2, 2009

  117. "Recently, scientists from Cornell University discovered an enormous amount of oil off the coast of Louisiana. The find is some 60 billion barrels …" Seems like "recently" was referring to geological time. The only reference I could find was this –http://www.news.cornell.edu/Chronicle/03/4.3.03/ACS-Cathles.htmlAnd yes, the 4.3.03 does in fact mean April 2003 — as in over 6 years ago. The article may refer to the Jack field Paleogene finds which started being made around that time — the ones where evil oil companies are spending $100 Million to drill a single well, and then wondering if they will ever get their shareholders' money back.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 2, 2009

  118. K, This Article makes it sound like early 2006.

    Comment by rufus | September 2, 2009

  119. K, I, now, see your date in the address. It probably was the Jack Field.

    Comment by rufus | September 2, 2009

  120. I think it was entirely appropriate for NREL to include 1999 cars. The median age of cars in 2008 was 9.4 years.http://www.autoblog.com/2009/03/04/study-median-age-of-cars-in-u-s-increases-to-record-high/Subtract that from 2008 and you get 1999. So in fact, those 1999 cars are pretty typical. More typical than flex fuel cars which make up less than 5 percent of cars on the road.

    Comment by Clee | September 2, 2009

  121. rufus wrote: I did my Own "real world" test, and it came in better than the NREL average, but not as good as the N. Dakota test. BUT, I drive a flexfuel Impala, and the flexfuel Impala is one of the better cars at utilizing ethanol.Cool. What is the BTU/mi your Impala consumes on each of E10, E20 and E85 (and E0 if you can get it)?

    Comment by Clee | September 2, 2009

  122. Clee, I wrote that I "rethought" that. I still think that, considering 50% of mileage is from cars 6 years old, and newer, the older cars were overrepresented; however, I will grant that perhaps some overrepresentation is warranted since the drivers of these older cars would tend to be less wealthy, and, thus, more affected by cost per mile.I haven't looked at it in a btu/mi vein. I'm going to try to do a couple of tests over the next two, or three weeks. I guess I could track btu/mi. However, maybe I'm just tired, but I'm having a hard time right now coming up with an "important" reason for doing so.Okay, I'll do it. I guess it might be interesting. The MFA station I buy from has E0. This could, actually, take a couple of months since ALL of our driving in the next month, or two is going to be short hops around town.

    Comment by rufus | September 2, 2009

  123. The older cars were over represented? Considering 50% of mileage is from cars older than 6 years, I think having only 4 out of 16 (or 25%) of the cars being older than 6 years means they were under-represented.I would not be able to do a meaningful ethanol blend test myself, considering that my fuel economy varies +/-1%

    Comment by Clee | September 2, 2009

  124. "I found it hard to believe that those College Kids fixed the test. Still do."Rufus~The issue is not the kids who did the test, the issue is who is paying for the test, and who is promoting the results?If the ACE pays for a study or test, do you think they would publicize the results if not favorable to their position, or to what they are advocating? Of course not.For all we know, the ACE may have paid 20 land grant universities to do the same study, but only told us about the one favorable to their interests.And yes, I have the same jaundiced view of tests paid for by other types of energy companies. When you look at the results of any study, test, or survey, the first thing you should always ask yourself is who funded it? And then whether they have anything to gain from the results.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 2, 2009

  125. “Rufus' completely one-sided views”Actually I read both sides. RR dwells on what does not work and Rufus spends more time providing links to what does work. I have been researching biofuels for a long time before ever coming to this web site. I have learned from Rufus’s links. It is like Clee’s links to solar success stories including TEP’s Springerville Solar Array which is churning out electricity. I often learn more from the readers than the authors of a blog. “In the next installment, I will talk about contenders – options that I think can compete with fossil fuels on a level playing field.”Look forward to the next installment RR.

    Comment by Kit P | September 2, 2009

  126. Robert,Very interesting article, as always. Early on, you say "This all boils down to something I have said on many occasions: You can't mandate technology. … This is not a hard concept to understand, but it seems to have eluded our government for many years." I'm not sure I buy that the problem is due to the immpermeability of the bureaucratic intellect. I think the real reason that politicians vote for this kind of stuff year after year is that there is very little downside fore them to do so.a) they aren't spending their own money, and b) if the million(billion?, trillion?)-to-one shot hits, they're a hero for supporting it; If it fails, they can just add it to their enviromentalism bonafides and say 'yeah, well, we tried …'.So mwhy don't more knowledgeable technology people run for public office? – Are they too smart … ;-) ???

    Comment by Anonymous | September 2, 2009

  127. "So why don't more knowledgeable technology people run for public office? – Are they too smart …"Most engineers and scientists lack the political skills and savvy. They are more into "things and processes" than caring how people feel. They are also too honest. When asked a question about something, they will give a direct answer based on their knowledge, whether that answer will curry favor with (also know as "pander to") the voting public or not.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 2, 2009

  128. RR dwells on what does not work and Rufus spends more time providing links to what does work.No. RR debunks things that are being pushed as solutions, and getting funded from taxpayer funds when they are either pseudo-solutions or pie-in-the-sky. Rufus spends all of his time promoting ethanol. End of story. If you will look at his writings on other boards, it’s all the same. That North Dakota study, for instance, is a perfect example of his M.O. and it was spread across multiple boards he frequents. Second, what I am saying to you is that you are applying different notions of “what works” when talking about electricity versus liquid fuel. Would ethanol work without the blender’s credit and mandates? No. Perhaps in some niche situations (it could work as a solution for the Midwest). Otherwise, it doesn’t make must sense from an economic or energy security point of view to make ethanol in Iowa and ship it to California or New York. The only reason we do that is because of mandates. So does that mean ethanol works for California? There are three questions that I am interested in. First, does it work from a technical standpoint? Second, does it work commercially with subsidies? Third, do I think it is viable long-term without subsidies, but with higher fossil fuel prices? This is where I think corn ethanol falls down. The one saving grace may be the growing delta between natural gas prices and oil prices, but again if you look at the overall economics I think it makes more sense to promote CNG in California instead of ethanol.I have learned from Rufus’s links. I occasionally learn something from one of Rufus’ links as well, but I have learned to keep my expectations low. I always know that there will only be one view presented, so I apply my filter. If there is a pro-ethanol study that is countered by 10 other studies, you will only ever hear about the pro-ethanol study.Look forward to the next installment RR. It’s almost finished.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 2, 2009

  129. Great post — I can't wait to see the others in the series.I hope that you and your readers are still reading the comments because I believe you get the story on H2 wrong.I'm not convinced that H2 is practical when we can use natural gas directly for combustion or use excess power or excess electricity to produce methanol from CO2, but I do know that the reasons you offer are solved problems.In turn:1) $1 million vehicles. This is simply a bogus stat that includes design costs. Every prototype costs an absurd amount. Studies looking at the cost of the power plant show that there is no fundamental reason the mass produced price needs to be much more than the cost of the power plant in a gasoline engine.2) Volume. H2 at 700 bar (the pressure used in the current generation of test vehicles) has 1/6th of the energy density by volume of gasoline. However, in a FCV, H2 is used 2.5x as efficiently so it actually takes only 2.4 times as much volume for H2 compared to gasoline (6.1 / 2.5 = 2.44). By comparison a lithium ion battery car needs at least 15 times the battery volume to go the same distance as a gasoline car (and for li-on the weight is the real killer).3. Transportation. H2 from natural gas costs $3/kg (at the plant) which moves a car the same distance as 2.5 gallons of gasoline. A distribution system based on stations producing H2 from natural gas should be able to be profitable at about $3 or $4/mile-GGE (some people incorrectly say that 1kg = 1 GGE, ignoring the 2.5x greater efficiency of a FC) and using electrolysis locally at $6 or $7/GGE. These costs would drop substantially with pipelines and so on.The real problem for H2 is that it's much easier to just use natural gas or coal-to-methanol without bothering with FC.However, those options rely on fossil fuels. For normal performance and normal driving range vehicles H2 is much superior to battery cars which would need gasoline to cost $15/gallon because of the high material costs for the battery which cannot be reduced.In other words, H2 is the best realistic alternative to fossil fuels for transportation available and the real obstacle is simply that gasoline is a little too cheap.-Mercy

    Comment by Mercy Vetsel | September 2, 2009

  130. $1 million vehicles. This is simply a bogus stat that includes design costs.Robert Zubrin wrote a pretty comprehensive essay on this: The Hydrogen Hoax.PEMFCs use a platinum catalyst, which is very expensive, and despite billions of dollars of R&D efforts to reduce the amount required, it has proven impossible to cut the cost of such systems below about $7,000/kW. This is very unfortunate, because an electric car with a 100-horsepower motor needs about 75 kilowatts of electricity to make it go. At this price, the cost for just the fuel cell stack powering the car would be about half a million dollars. Actual costs for complete Ballard fuel cell engine systems have been well over a million dollars each. Then there’s still the rest of the car to pay for, although with the propulsion system costing this much, the additional cost would seem like a rounding error.It is true that the costs of PEMFC might conceivably be reduced over time due to technology improvements (although no real cost reduction has been achieved over the past decade despite several billion dollars in research investment). Moreover, if somehow the vehicles ever went into mass production, increased demand would likely drive the price of the platinum they contain, and thus the overall system cost, through the roof.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 2, 2009

  131. RR wrote:Robert Zubrin wrote a pretty comprehensive essay on this: The Hydrogen Hoax.Interesting. That was article was offered to me before and is part of the reason I think the anti-H2 has swung to the opposite extreme of being excessively pessimistic. Re-reading his rhetorical crescendo, I realize that I'm actually being more conservative about the pump price of H2 than he is! Here is what I responded:x wrote: In [Zubrin's] analysis, the costs of electrolyzing hydrogen to make a fuel are summarized:"This, as should be obvious, is economic insanity. For just $6,000 per day, plus insurance costs, you could make $200, provided you can find fifty customers every day willing to pay triple the going price for automobile fuel."Well, some of what Zubrin says is obviously correct (H2 is an energy carrier and so on), but he makes some fatal errors in quantifying the cost of H2 and ultimately he gets the story fundamentally wrong. For example, the paragraph above concludes an absurd analysis. He is comparing costs to profits. Is it economic insanity that WalMart spends $6000 to make $200 over and over again day after day?The correct analysis of the feasibility of an electrolysis station is be to figure out what all of the costs are including the cost of capital. I don't know if Zubrin really doesn't understand this or is merely too enrapt with his own overblown rhetoric to makes such a silly argument about how to analyze what the market price of a product would need to be. If his 3% profit margin is too low then one increases the price by 10% and the profit quadruples. That paragraph is a an example of mathematical reasoning that is very dramatic and rhetorically effective, but ultimately utter nonsense when one really thinks it through.For all of his dramatic description of the costs, he arrives at a price of "three times the price of gas [in winter of 2007]" that is actually only a 20% premium over the price gasoline. That's because of a glaring point he neglects to mention. An H2 fuel cell powered car gets about 2.5 times the mileage as gasoline on an energy basis, so you need to divide the cost of a kilogram of H2 by 2.5 to get to the USABLE Gallon of Gas Equivalent (GGE) price.Also, fueling stations would most likely use reformers fueled by natural gas and not electrolysis:http://www.hydrogen.energy.gov/pdfs/review07/pd_1_aaron.pdfSo his $6/kg wholesale price becomes $2.40/GGE, but that's for LIQUID H2. The commercial cost of compressed H2 is tied to natural gas prices, but is more like $3/kg. Now, I fully understand the tradeoffs between H2 and liquid fuels. With H2, it's a pain to store and transport it, but once you get it in the vehicle the fuel cell uses it extremely efficiently. Liquid fuels are easy to transport, but from the tank to the wheels, they waste about 75% of the energy content. No one is arguing the fact that oil is currently the cheapest way to move vehicles around, so it's a bit disingenuous to compare oil to H2 when considering the fuel of the future. The real analysis is H2 versus batteries, synthetic liquid fuels or bio-fuels.-Mercy

    Comment by Mercy Vetsel | September 3, 2009

  132. Well, I must admit that I have had my own issues with Zubrin:Debunking Robert ZubrinIt isn't so much his cost analysis of hydrogen that I was interested in, though. It was the cost of the fuel cells. The price of hydrogen is the very least of hydrogen's issues.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 3, 2009

  133. Where does the $7000/kw come from? It certainly isn't based on the Platinum content. The number that I've been hearing for the current prices are between $100 and $150/kw. So who to believe?I don't know, but I did find this MIT study to be very thorough in estimating the current state of various alternatives including costs with sources for each one:http://greisnet.com:8080/gnc/images/b/b9/MIT_ElectricDrivetrains.pdfAt the end there are some pretty interesting charts and graphs. Page 118, is the ideal format for summarizing the alternatives giving the marginal capital costs and fuel costs together.I think their cost estimates look optimistic, but they are all sourced. The cost for the H2 fuel cells is $50/kw for the best case and $75/kw for the conservative case.So it's hard to know who to believe. If it's really so cheap, why isn't H2 taking off in countries where the price of gas is twice as high? Obviously the prices of the fuel stack aren't quite there yet, but how far away?The one telling point for me is that Toyota, Daimler Benz and Hyundai are all very bullish on FCV and are all talking about mass produced vehicles for sale at dealerships in 2015.Toyota is very skeptical about PHEV's and only grudgingly talking about introducing them to take advantage of the huge $7000 subsidy from the U.S. government which is equal to the total cost of all the gas that a small car owner will use in 10 years.For $7000 Toyota would be obliged to grudgingly install a cistern on top of the car to collect rainwater.In sharp contrast, Toyota has been very optimistic in discussion of their massive investment in H2. With their tremendous success with the Prius, it seems odd that they would be so pessimist about battery cars and so optimistic about an entirely different technology.Here are some of my sources for the car company claims:Kia: Current price is $50,000 per car if 50,000 produced per yearDaimler: FCV ready, will be priced the same when 100,000 per year produced in 2015Finally, the King of H2, Toyota says:"Toyota's hydrogen fuel cell technology has advanced rapidly over the last two years," said Irv Miller, TMS group vice president, environmental and public affairs. "In 2015, our plan is to bring to market a reliable and durable fuel cell vehicle with exceptional fuel economy and zero emissions, at an affordable price."5 years seem a long way off, but that's the way the Japanese auto manufacturers work. They don't make vaporware release dates or bogus performance claims like the software millionaires who are making battery cars.-Mercy

    Comment by Mercy Vetsel | September 3, 2009

  134. RR wrote:Well, I must admit that I have had my own issues with ZubrinYes, exactly! The guy is a numerical magician casting his spell by adding subsidies here and taxes there plus oil imports in the other place and suddenly a $3 billion dollar subsidy is repaying taxpayers on the order of 10 fold.That's almost as good as the "pre-tithing" that you could send to the TV preacher (reverend Robert Tilten) and lock-in the 10-fold return.So either he's very confused about these concepts or he's committing the crime of numerificationalizing which I define as using numbers fraudulently to dress up a sloppy and inaccurate analysis.BTW, I think the statements from Daimler and Toyota (Aug 6, 2009) warrant including H2 as a contender. After all, you're a fair-minded guy with enough confidence to change your mind!Toyota has a tremendous amount of hard-earned credibility in this regard, especially since they are moving into production with a technology that isn't cool any more. H2 is decidedly untrendy and not subsidized (well, relatively unsubsidized at this point in time). I'm sure the billions are government spent on this technology in the past was to little avail.-Mercy

    Comment by Mercy Vetsel | September 3, 2009

  135. I was of the opinion that fuel cells would be prohibitively expensive until some technological breakthrough happened. But now I see that they are being used to power forklifts and tugs here. Maybe this almost kind of answers the 'where can I buy some' question that can be so valuable in separating out the pretenders.I know that these are methanol fuel cells, and they are trickle charging the battery, and the payoff depends on scale of the operation and forklifts are not as exciting as cars, but this is worth a second look.I wonder if methanol will be a contender?

    Comment by Dennis Moore | September 3, 2009

  136. Dennis Moore, thanks for the info. Didn't know that methanol fuel cells were being used to power forklifts and tugs on a large scale.

    Comment by Anand | September 3, 2009

  137. Ah, finally: meaty, civil discourse. Thank you, RR, Mercy and Dennis.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 3, 2009

  138. I agree that $1 million is not unusual for prototype cars, but look what the auto manufacturers say themselves about the current cost of hydrogen cars. It's still terribly expensive.http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/17/business/worldbusiness/17fuelcell.html"Honda Motor celebrated the start of production of its FCX Clarity, the world’s first hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle intended for mass production….Mr. Fukui said the cars cost several hundred thousand dollars each to produce, though he said that should drop below $100,000 in less than a decade as production volumes increase. In the meantime, the car company will be effectively subsidizing its customers, who will lease the vehicles for $600 a month."Toyota has a Highlander Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) available in Japan on a 30-month lease 1,050,000 yen per month. That's about $10,000/mo. At that price you could by a standard Toyota Highlander every two-and-a-half months. I wouldn't be surprised if Toyota is also doing the leases at a loss.http://pressroom.toyota.com/pr/tms/document/2009ToyotaFCHV_FactSheet.pdfhttp://www.cleantech.com/news/3784/hyundai-plans-fuel-cell-car-2012"[GM] is currently testing 100 hydrogen fuel-cell powered Chevrolet Equinox demonstration vehicles.The company has put the current price as between $100,000 and $1 million, which is expected to decrease with government incentives and production economies of scale."That's a really vague range. Considering how companies tend to spin things, it probably means the cost is closer to $1 million than to $100,000.I trust the Honda number the most, since it is the most specific and I suspect they've made more fuel cell cars than anyone else. But all seem not too far out of line with the cost of platinum that RR mentioned.Still, this $100,000 figure keeps coming up as a decade-distant goal to cross with economies of scale. That's still 4 times the price of an average car, not something an average consumer is willing to spend. How many cars do you need to build to get economies of scale? It took Toyota seven years from when they started selling the Prius in Japan before they reached an annual global sales volume of 50,000 in 2004 and started to make a profit on the Prius. That's with a car that uses familiar standard gasoline as a fuel with a widescale distribution infrastructure. I think a hydrogen fueled car will be a harder sell.Maybe some day fuel cell cars will be affordable, but I'm not holding my breath.

    Comment by Clee | September 3, 2009

  139. That Toyota claim about an "affordable" fuel cell car in 2015 intrigues me. It makes me wonder what they consider "affordable". On the other hand, Toyota may sell an electric car and a PHEV three years sooner than that, which I also find intriguing.http://pressroom.toyota.com/pr/tms/toyota/maintain-pace-broaden-scope.aspx"Toyota… confirming its plan to launch an urban commuter battery-electric vehicle (BEV) by 2012.http://www.reuters.com/article/reuterscomService5/idUSTRE5630DY20090704"Toyota to mass produce plug-in hybrids from 2012 – Nikkei"I still suspect that 2012 magic number has to do with the CA ZEV mandate. Oddly, a fuel cell vehicle can count as more than one ZEV under the mandate. So other things being equal, there should be a greater incentive to sell fuel cell vehicles rather than EVs or PHEVs in 2012, but I haven't seen news of any plans to sell fuel cell cars in 2012.

    Comment by Clee | September 3, 2009

  140. Keep in mind the $7000 federal subsidy for a BEV in the form of a tax credit. With enough govt. subsidy anything makes sense. Slapping a battery in a car isn't that hard, so when a company is producing a PHEV AND also saying that it's not economical, I assume that it's all about the govt.It appears to me that the key barrier to H2 is reducing the manufacturing cost of the fuel cell. Based on GM's claim to only need 30g per vehicle (that's about 5x as much a catalytic converter) it doesn't seem like there is a fundamental material problem.Still, it's hard to get good numbers, but if Daimler AND Toyota are saying that the production-scale prices will be affordable by 2015 (actually Daimler claims parity), then I think that claim needs to be taken seriously.Notice that except for Nissan the auto manufacturers aren't saying the same thing for BEV's because the technology to replace the functionality of a gasoline car of a isn't even feasible let alone economical.On the other hand, I don't believe the H2 advocates who claim that the only problem is the infrastructure. If fuel cells on par with what Toyota, GM and Honda have been testing could be made economically, the infrastructure problem would solve itself.-Mercy

    Comment by Mercy Vetsel | September 8, 2009

  141. Keep in mind the $7000 federal subsidy for a BEV in the form of a tax credit. With enough govt. subsidy anything makes sense.The $7,000 federal tax credit for BEVs is small compared with the $12,000 federal tax credit for hydrogen fuel cell cars. http://www.irs.gov/businesses/corporations/article/0,,id=203908,00.htmlAnd yet I still haven't seen any news of any plans to sell fuel cell cars by 2012 despite claims that BEVs will be sold by then. A larger subsidy somehow is not enough for selling a hydrogen fuel cell car to make sense. Odd that the Honda FCX qualifies for the tax credit, but Honda won't sell the FCX.

    Comment by Clee | September 9, 2009

  142. The US has spent over $2.2 billion dollars on algae research and nothing has been commercialized to date. As long as algae researchers can continue to say it is too expensive and it is 3-5 years away, they can continue to live on grant money and keep their jobs at the universities. This has to stop if we really want to get off of foreign oil. Most ponds have all had contamination problems and do not exceed 8,000 gallons per acre per year. For industrial use it has to be done through commecial scale closed-loop photobioreactors. There are algae production plants being built today with all off-the-shelf existing proven technologies at costs between $1.10 – $1.50 per gallon. Within 2 years and economies of scale costs will go down to $.43 – $.45 per gallon.We need to slow down the research and build out commercial scale plants throughout the US, if we really want to get off foreign oil. Research will continue but only on full-scale commercial lines.

    Comment by Anonymous | September 10, 2009

  143. Run before you walk!

    Comment by Anonymous | September 11, 2009

  144. I've been a scientist for most of my adult life, and now work for an algae biofuels company. I would estimate that it's a ten year problem at best to produce fuel photosynthetically on a small scale at a cost competitive with petroleum. If successful, scaling up to the point where we're doing more than farting in the wind compared to 80 million barrels a day will take longer still. However, since it is a research problem and we can't sell you any biodiesel today, would you propose that we just not bother? I will grant that way too many players in the algae space are full of hype and bs, and invite this kind of derision by drastically overselling the short term. Nevertheless, the NREL program got to the point where they determined that algae biofuels could be feasible but there were serious problems to be solved. We are quietly trying to solve the problems. Most endeavors start somewhere. If we make it, I'll be back in 20 years to rub it in your face ;)

    Comment by Anonymous | October 27, 2009

  145. GM CEO Fritz Henderson says hydrogen fuel cell vehicles cost over $400,000.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/28/AR2009102802329.htmlWe spent through the mid part of this decade a reasonably high portion of our research and our development money on hydrogen fuel cells. We put 100 vehicles into the market. Consumers have tested them . . . We've learned a lot. The vehicles work. The issue is always cost, 100 percent cost. [He put the cost of the vehicles at upwards of $400,000.]

    Comment by Clee | October 30, 2009


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