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Live from ASPO

Me With Jim Kunstler at ASPO 2008

Live from the 2008 ASPO Conference, where I am still running on European time (waking up at 3 a.m. and dead tired by 8 p.m.). The talk of the conference so far is on the proposed $700 billion bailout of the financial services sector, and whether this may be just the tip of the iceberg. This is the same sort of bailout that I think is eventually destined to happen to some of the biofuels sectors that have had mandated expansions. When it becomes clear that they aren’t doing much about our dependence on foreign oil or fossil fuels, support will likely dwindle. But it would be devastating for the Midwest to just let these companies fail en masse, hence there will be a lot of pressure to bail them out.

Yesterday was a light day at the conference, with several sessions running in parallel. I gave a talk on the energy information agencies, which I will write up as an essay as soon as time allows. I have had a chance to meet a lot of people that up to now I only knew by name. I got to have lunch yesterday with Jim Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, and during the Q&A following my talk someone pointed out that Matt Simmons, author of Twilight in the Desert, was standing at the back of the room. Both of those books really had an impact on me (for several reasons, and not because I accepted all of their conclusions) and it was a pleasure to see them in person.

In energy news, gas prices are beginning to ease off, but there are also a number of reports of gasoline shortages in the south. I expect this situation to improve – not get worse as I have heard a number of people suggest – in the coming week. However, if we have another hurricane in the gulf a week from now, I expect that we will see shortages that haven’t been seen since the early 70’s.

Comments from me will continue to be sporadic until late in the week. At that point, things should start to get back to normal. My talk on biofuels takes place tomorrow. I will try to cover the world of biofuels in 20 minutes. Here is the outline of the talk as I will present it:

Stacking up the contenders

• Ethanol
– Crop-based (corn, sugarcane)
– Cellulosic and Lignocellulosic (gasification)
• Renewable Diesel
– Biodiesel
– Green diesel (hydrocracked, Fischer-Tropsch)
• Miscellaneous
– ‘Renewable petroleum’
– Di-methyl ether
– Butanol
• Contenders with Promise

Can the U.S. emulate Brazil?

• The truth about Brazil
• The truth about the U.S.

Fact or fiction?

• Anything Into Oil
• Algae to biodiesel
• Ethanol for $1/gal

Where Politicians Fail


As with the other talk, I will write this one up and present as an essay.


September 22, 2008 - Posted by | ASPO, Jim Kunstler, Matt Simmons


  1. One of the many odd aspects of the doomer nation is the conflating of the financial mess with crude oil prices. Our financial mess is due largely to unvetted home mortgages, given out freely, and by the hundreds of billions. You might add in the huge federal budget deficits of the Bush years.This is completely unrelated to the oil business, or the speculative excesses that have characterized the futures markets. (The only possible connection I see is that in the days after the Fed floated out several hundred billion dollars to U.S. and foreign banks, the oil futures market mildly recovered. It is almost as if the extra cash allowed speculators to shore up positions, instead of liquidating).Indeed, if we do have a deep recession, that can only depress oil demand, leading to lower prices.The fact that the APSO is obsesseed with an entirely different issue — a financial mess — confirms to me that they simply like bad news and doom-like scenarios. It may also reflect that fact that oil prices have already peaked, and they have to seize upon other bad news to celebrate.

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | September 22, 2008

  2. Be certain to look at this link:http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2008/09/15_biofuels.shtmlExtremely informative, best stuff ever on biofuel research

    Comment by Anonymous | September 22, 2008

  3. the current “financial mess” topic has the potential to alter the energy picture[future] well beyond all of our prior expectations.the impacts/discussion by APSO could be interesting/enlightening.is “the mess” really understood and ready for action? or is the truth months away?fran

    Comment by Anonymous | September 22, 2008

  4. miscanthus is retarded faggotry. where are they going to grow it? replace corn with a purely cellulosic feedstock? why not just use the millions of acres of stover, straw and grain fiber by-products? Oh that’s right, the hippy eco-fascist Pol Pots think that’s a crime against humanity aka the Soil vs Fuel Myth, second only to the dimwitted Food vs Fuel Myth. Just plant a winter cover crop if you’re wondering how you stop erosion with near-100% removal of corn stover etc.If cellulose is going to become an important part of a Carbohydrate Economy the first place it should go is as a starch replacement for ruminants, which shoots the Food vs Fuel Myth bullshit right the frak down. Jumping through hoops to make cellulosic fuel while feeding starch to ruminants while it should be going to non-ruminants and yeast is just the type of thing you expect from these dumbass eco-clerics.

    Comment by Anonymous | September 23, 2008

  5. Hi Robert,Your picture reminds me of Steve Carell, which reminds me of “The Office” which reminds me of your looking for a “mini-me” to assist you in your job. Do the similarities deepen from there or is it just coincidental?

    Comment by Anonymous | September 23, 2008

  6. Interesting note today from Chrysler: Sept. 23 (Bloomberg) — Chrysler LLC, the U.S. automaker most dependent on truck sales, plans a full line of plug-in electric vehicles and will sell a battery-powered car in its home market in 2010. The car will be used in test fleets next year, President Tom LaSorda said today after Auburn Hills, Michigan-based Chrysler showed working prototypes of a sports car, Jeep and minivan. A car model will be sold in Europe after 2010, he said. While RR is being scared to death by doomsters, Chrysler is (like GM) hatching a response to higher gasoline prices. The EV crushes the doomer arguments. Also notable: We are spending a trillion dollars in Iraq, and a trillion to fix the mess in financial markets. The auto industry is asking for $25 billion to re-tool to EVs.Sheesh. And some people say we cannot lick the oil problem? It is peanuts!

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | September 23, 2008

  7. Did you ask Jim Kunstler how he got to the ASPO conference?

    Comment by Norman Conquest | September 23, 2008

  8. While RR is being scared to death by doomstersYou have it exactly wrong. I am not being scared, I am talking about solutions. One thing I said during my presentation (that just finished) is that I don’t want to be the guy who debunks everything and solved nothing.I just spoke to a man who said his son was very depressed about the future. He was desperate for good news; obviously concerned about his son’s mental state. I gave him hope by giving him a number of potential solutions. Cheers, RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 23, 2008

  9. RR-Glad to hear you are spreading some good news. I know you are not actually being “scared to death.” I was (perhaps inelegantly) poking a little fun at the whole tone of the ASPO crowd, and your photo-op with King O’Doom, Kunstler.

    Comment by benny "peak demand" cole | September 23, 2008

  10. Robert,The first time I ask for an autograph, I’ll be upset if don’t sign, “Tom Cruise.” That passenger was almost right, ya know those “doubles” can make a lot of money?Thanks for your work and the updates from the conference._Ghawier Downing

    Comment by T | September 23, 2008

  11. I just spoke to a man who said his son was very depressed about the future. He was desperate for good news; obviously concerned about his son’s mental state. I gave him hope by giving him a number of potential solutions- RobertDo you think that if all this doomer crap doesn’t happen then say 10-15 years down the road I could sue these idiots for a hefty sum of money for the mental anguish that they caused me in my earlier years? Kinda a joke but kinda a serious question as well?

    Comment by Anonymous | September 23, 2008

  12. “Do you think that if all this doomer crap doesn’t happen then say 10-15 years down the road I could sue these idiots for a hefty sum of money for the mental anguish that they caused me in my earlier years?”If it doesn’t happen, just think how elated you’ll feel 10-15 years from now. You couldn’t sue them since they would be responsible for your elation.

    Comment by Planck's Constant | September 23, 2008

  13. Touche, haha

    Comment by Anonymous | September 23, 2008

  14. Robert, did you claim yet again that the production of ethanol uses more than 1 gallon of gasoline for every 1 gallon of ethanol distilled?Why do you use Pimental’s negative numbers when meta-studies show the consensus is clearly otherwise?Haven’t you every looked at the DDGS studies or the combined-cycle studies?

    Comment by Anonymous | September 24, 2008

  15. I will try to cover the world of biofuels in 20 minutes.You did a great job, Robert, and I enjoyed finally meeting you and talking in person!For everyone else, he talked fast to cover all he’d prepared. I’m looking forward to the essay version to read in more leisure.

    Comment by Darrell Clarke | September 24, 2008

  16. Hay Robert, here’s a model for a sustainable ethanol fuel plant:Take apples.Make hard cider.Flash distill the mash.60 proof ethanol and distilled water is removed.Make low-sugar concentrated apple nutrient and flavor drink.Enzymes naturally sweetened the drink iso-calorically with C5 sugars and residual fructose. (Think Lactaid milk – really sweet)Drink has been sterilized with heat and alcohol solvent.Drink is nutrient dense, yet “food calorie” depleted. But is it less food, really?1) Low-sugar (naturally)2) Naturally re-sweetened with C5 sugars (xylitol, ect) and left-over fructose (tail-end sugar)3) Concentrated vitamins, minerals and flavors via low-temp vacuum distillation.4) Sterilized via ethanol and yeast (think yogurt).5) Nutrient-fortified with health food store style yeast.The processing is mostly what would happen anyways. Apples made into a drink.Cooking heat is recycled until it is used to heat local housing as it would have been anyways.Distillation is cryo-vacuum using the CO2 by-product as an open cycle refrigerant. Vacuum distillation uses less than 50% of usual energy, not counting opportunity to recycle lower-temp heat. Dry ice is used as a condeser coolant, drawing a vacuum from the fermenter via a flash pot as well as the CO2 trap. The CO2 isn’t internally recycled, rather it is used to capture photons in greenhouses and photoreactors growing algae for local urban production of tilapia and shrimp aquacultures.If local businesses could use the CO2 as dry cleaning solvent and refrigerant then it would be used that way. CO2 transported as corn grains is much more efficient than apples, let alone liquid CO2.Ofcourse there is the 100 lbs of stover from the bushel-worth of corn which we have avoided using because people like you promote the falacy that corn ethanol uses food rather than the pre-waste of ruminants that would pass nearly 100% of the starch out of their gut… *breath*…, which could be made into food, either via direct ruminant gut fermentation or using mushrooms to pre-process the cellulose for non-ruminants.All this runs on feces and grass-clippings. 😉

    Comment by Anonymous | September 24, 2008

  17. Robert, did you claim yet again that the production of ethanol uses more than 1 gallon of gasoline for every 1 gallon of ethanol distilled?Where on earth did you get such a thing. Number 1, had I claimed it, it wouldn’t be ‘yet again.’ I have never made this claim. Every time I have mentioned Pimentel, I said that I thought he was pessimistic, and that I did think the EROEI was slightly greater than 1 (and I specifically discussed USDA methodology). That’s what I said at ASPO. So I am curious as to why you thought otherwise? Have I been misquoted somewhere?RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 24, 2008

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