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Biofuel Contenders

Introduction

I got quite a few interesting e-mails and comments following my previous essay: Biofuel Pretenders. I probably should have mentioned – but I thought it went without saying – that pretenders usually don’t think they are pretenders and will therefore protest mightily at the characterization. A number of people who e-mailed assured me that they have really cracked the code to affordable biofuels, and that we would be hearing more about them soon. Another person who wrote to me about algae said that he has been following algae since 1973, and he wrote “In spite of all the hype and non-stop press releases, no one to my knowledge is producing algae on a commercial basis for biofuel production.” Ultimately, I would be happy to be proven wrong on this, but I am just calling it as I see it.

On the other hand, there are some renewable fuel options that have either proven themselves as solid contenders, or have not yet demonstrated fatal flaws that would disqualify them at this point. In this essay I will cover some of those. First, I will cover a pair of first generation biofuels that have proven that they can compete with oil on a cost basis, and then a pair of next generation biofuels that I believe will be competitive.

The First Generation Contenders

Sugarcane Ethanol

Sugarcane ethanol, especially from tropical regions like Brazil, has some unique attributes that have enabled it to compete on a head to head basis with gasoline pricing. Specifically, during the production of sugar, the bagasse (sugarcane residue) is pulverized and washed many times. Many soluble inorganic constituents that may normally pose an ash problem for a boiler are washed out in the process. What remains after processing is a pretty clean biomass feed for the boilers. The normally vexing logistical issues aren’t there because the biomass is already at the plant as a result of the sugarcane processing. So they essentially have free boiler fuel, which minimizes the fossil fuel inputs into the process. That enables ethanol production that is relatively cheap, and that is largely decoupled from the impact of volatile fossil fuel prices.

There are several reasons we don’t do sugarcane ethanol in the United States. Last year I made a visit to the largest sugar producer in Louisiana, and they explained to me that the economics of their by-product molasses generally favor putting it into animal feed. If they had a year-round growing season as they do in the tropics, it is more likely that the animal feed market would start to become saturated, and conversion into ethanol might be more attractive. Further, a bagasse boiler is a major capital expense, so there needs to be a high level of confidence that in the future ethanol will be a more economical outlet than animal feed. For Brazil, this is certainly the case.

The ultimate downside of sugarcane ethanol will come about if the U.S. and Europe begin to rely heavily on tropical countries for their fuel needs – thus encouraging a massive scale-up. First, ethanol imports don’t do much for domestic energy security. More importantly, it may encourage irresponsible usage of the land in an effort to feed our insatiable appetite for fuel. I think the ideal situation is to produce the sugarcane ethanol and use it locally, rather than try to scale it up and supply the world. In this way, sugarcane ethanol could be a long-term contender for providing fuel for the tropics, but not a long-term contender for major fossil fuel displacement outside of the tropics.

Palm Oil

The other major first generation contender is palm oil – which also comes with a lot of environmental risk. Palm oil is derived from the African Oil Palm. The oil palm is a prolific producer of oil, which can be used as fuel (and food). This is also a plant that thrives in the tropics, and is capable of annually producing upwards of 500 gallons of oil per acre. To my knowledge there is no other oil crop that consistently demonstrates these sorts of yields (acknowledging that algae could theoretically produce more).

The price of palm oil over the past 5 years or so has traded in a range comparable to that of crude oil; $50-$75 a barrel for the most part (although like petroleum, prices shot up to around $150/bbl in mid-2008). Palm oil can be used unmodified in a diesel engine, although some precautions are in order (and I don’t recommend it). It can also be processed to biodiesel, or hydrocracked to green diesel. The extra processing will generally make the final product somewhat more expensive than petroleum, but demand has still been strong due to biofuel mandates.

The risks with palm oil are significant, though. Palm oil presents an excellent case illustrating both the promise and the peril of biofuels. Driven by demand from the U.S. and the European Union (EU) due to mandated biofuel requirements, palm oil has provided a valuable cash crop for farmers in tropical regions like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. The high productivity of palm oil has led to a dramatic expansion in most tropical countries around the equator. This has the potential for alleviating poverty in these regions.

But in certain locations, expansion of palm oil cultivation has resulted in serious environmental damage as rain forest has been cleared and peat bogs drained to make room for new palm oil plantations. Deforestation in some countries has been severe, which negatively impacts sustainability criteria, because these tropical forests absorb carbon dioxide and help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Destruction of peat land in Indonesia for palm oil plantations has reportedly caused the country to become the world’s third highest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Because palm oil is capable of competing on price, it was originally viewed as a very attractive source of biofuels. In recent years, countries have begun to rethink their policies as the environmental implications of scaling up palm oil production began to unfold. As is so often the case, the seemingly good idea of biofuel mandates has had some pretty serious unintended consequences.

Next Generation Biofuel Contenders

Here is how I would define a next generation Biofuel Contender: A technology that is capable of supplying 20% of our present liquid fossil fuel consumption on a net energy basis.

Yes, 20% is rather arbitrary, but it weeds out a lot arguments over many potential small contributors. I will focus in this essay on the United States, because I am most familiar with our energy usage and biomass availability, but these arguments should be applicable in many places around the world.

Consider for a moment the amount of energy locked up inside the 1.3 billion tons of dry biomass that the Department of Energy suggests can be sustainably produced each year. Woody biomass and crop residues – the kind of biomass covered in the 1.3 billion ton study – contains an energy content of approximately 7,000 BTUs per pound (bone dry basis). The energy content of a barrel of oil is approximately 5.8 million BTUs. Thus the raw energy contained in 1.3 billion tons of dry biomass is equivalent to the energy content of 3.1 billion barrels of oil, which is equal to 42% of the 7.32 billion barrels the United States consumed in 2008.

This calculation tells you a couple of things. First, the 42% represents an upper limit on the amount of oil that could be displaced by 1.3 billion tons of biomass. The true number would be much lower because energy is required to get the biomass to the biorefinery and then to process it. So replacing oil with biomass isn’t going to be a trivial task, and a process must be capable of turning a respectable percentage of those biomass BTUs into liquid fuel if it is to be a contender.

Imagine a process that only captures 25% of the starting BTUs as liquid fuel. The liquid fuel production of 1.3 billion tons would then be 10.5% of our oil usage instead of 42% – and that’s before we consider the energy requirements from the logistical operations (like getting that wood to the biorefinery). This is the realm of the pretenders; they waste a lot of BTUs during the production of their liquid fuel. What we really need is a process that can capture >50% of the BTUs as liquid fuels. That’s what it will take to be a contender, and quite frankly I don’t believe cellulosic ethanol has a chance of pulling this off on a large scale.

However, there are at least two technologies that can achieve net liquid fuel yields in excess of 50% of the BTU value of dry biomass. These technologies are flash pyrolysis and gasification. I will talk about each below.

Flash Pyrolysis

Flash pyrolysis involves rapidly heating up biomass to around 500°C. The reaction takes place in about 2 seconds, and the products are pyrolysis oil (also called bio-oil) and char. The process can handle a wide variety of feedstocks, the oil yield is approximately 70% by weight, and the energy content per pound of oil is similar to the starting material. Thus, approximately 70% of the initial BTUs are captured in the oil before we have to start subtracting out energy inputs.

Char is frequently mentioned as a great soil amendment (as terra preta, for instance), but I don’t really know if there is a market for it. As someone recently said to me, it may be like biodiesel and glycerin. In theory there are all kinds of uses for glycerin, but the market was quickly saturated as biodiesel production ramped up. Glycerin suddenly became a disposal problem. Terra preta does in fact appear to be a great soil amendment, but people are going to have to show that they will buy it. It seems to me that the ideal solution would be to use the char to help heat the biomass, unless the ash properties are problematic for the process.

There are definite downsides to flash pyrolysis. Heating up to 500°C will subtract from the net energy production, and while heat integration is possible, it would be more difficult to achieve in a hypothetical mobile unit (which I think could finally provide an outlet for the millions of acres of trees destroyed by the Mountain pine beetle). The properties of the raw oil are such that it isn’t suitable for transport fuel as produced. It is not a hydrocarbon and is very acidic. Without upgrading, it can’t be blended with conventional diesel. There are various issues around reproducibility and stability, especially if the biomass quality varies. The oil is suitable for power generation or gasification, and can be upgraded to transportation fuel, albeit at greater expense and lower overall energy efficiency.

With those caveats, it is still a contender. It could be knocked out of contention as a viable transportation fuel if the upgrading process is too expensive or energy intensive, but at present no fatal flaw has emerged. There are a number of companies involved in pyrolysis research. Dynamotive Energy Systems has been working on this for a while (I first wrote about them in 2007). UOP – a company that specializes in product upgrading for refineries – has teamed with Ensyn to form a joint venture called Envergent Technologies. The company intends to make pyrolysis oils from biomass for power generation, heat, and transport fuel (this is where UOP’s skills will come into play).

Gasification: Biomass to Liquids

The following example is just one reason I think gasification is going to play a big part in our future. During World War II, the Germans were cut off from liquid fuel supplies. In order to keep the war machine running, they turned to coal to liquids, or CTL (coal gasification followed by Fischer-Tropsch to liquids) for their liquid fuel needs. At peak production, the Germans were producing over five million gallons of synthetic fuel a day. To put matters into perspective, five million gallons probably exceeds the historical sum of all the cellulosic ethanol or synthetic algal biofuel ever produced. Without a doubt, one week’s production from Germany’s WWII CTL plants dwarfs the combined historical output of two technologies upon which the U.S. government and many venture capitalists are placing very large bets.

South Africa during Apartheid had a similar experience. With sanctions restricting their petroleum supplies, they turned to their large coal reserves and once again used CTL. Sasol (South African Coal, Oil and Gas Corporation) – out of necessity – has been a pioneer in gasification technology. Today, they have a number of gasification facilities, including the 160,000 bbl/day Secunda CTL facility, which has been highly profitable for the company (but very expensive relative to oil prices when constructed). In total, Sasol today synthetically produces about 40% of South Africa’s liquid fuel.

While we can speculate on the source of future fuel supplies in a petroleum constrained world, we do know that two countries that already found themselves in that position turned to gasification as a solution. The technology has a track record and is scalable. The same can’t be said for many of the technologies upon which we are pinning our hopes (and taxpayer dollars). We hope these other technologies scale and that technical breakthroughs allow them to compete. But gasification has already proven itself as a viable go-to option. There are presently a number of operating CTL and GTL plants around the world. Shell has been running their Bintulu GTL plant for 15 years, and is currently building the world’s largest GTL plant with a capacity of 140,000 barrels/day.

The biomass to liquid fuel efficiency for gasification is around 70% (See Section 1.2.2: Second-Generation Biofuels), a number cellulosic ethanol will never approach. In short, no other technology to my knowledge can convert a higher percentage of the embedded energy in biomass into liquid fuels.

Of course there’s always a catch. Despite large reserves of coal, the United States has not turned to gasification as a solution. Why? High capital costs. At the end of the day the desire to keep fuel prices low consistently overrides our desire for energy security. (There is also environmental pressure over using coal gasification which should not be an issue for waste biomass gasification).

But biomass is more difficult to handle, so there are added costs above those of coal gasification. So you are talking about a process that is more capital intensive than a conventional oil refinery, or even a cellulosic ethanol plant. But what you save on the cellulosic ethanol plant ultimately costs a lot in overall energy efficiency. Until someone actually scales up and runs a cellulosic ethanol plant, we can only speculate as to whether the process is truly a net energy producer at scale.

Interestingly, one of the “cellulosic ethanol” hopefuls that we often hear so much about – Range Fuels – is actually a gasification plant. (Ditto Coskata). The front end of their process is intended to produce syngas in a process very similar to that of World War II Germany. For their back end they intend to produce ethanol, which in my opinion is an odd choice that was driven purely by ethanol subsidies. But this is definitely not the optimal end product of a gasification process. They are going to lose a lot of efficiency to byproducts like methanol (which is actually a good end product for a gasification plant) – and that’s assuming they get their gasification process right. They are then going to expend some of their net energy trying to purify the ethanol from the mixed alcohols their process will produce.

The question for me is not whether BTL can displace 20% of our petroleum usage. It absolutely can. The question is whether we are prepared to accept domestic fuel that will cost more to produce. In the long run – if oil prices continue to rise – then BTL plants that are built today will become profitable. The risk is that a sustained period of oil prices in the $50-$70 range will retard BTL development. But I don’t expect that to happen.

Conclusions

In my opinion, the question of which next generation biofuels can compete comes down to fossil fuel prices. If oil prices are at $50 for the next 10 years, it will be difficult for renewable fuels to compete. Despite the many promises of technologies that will deliver fuel for $1 a gallon, I think that target is likely to be reached only on paper. My view on which technologies will be competitive is based on 1). An expectation of an average oil price over the next 10 years that exceeds $100/bbl; 2). An expectation that we will need to efficiently convert the available biomass. I expect biomass prices to rise as well, and inefficient technologies that may be competitive if the biomass is free and fossil fuel inputs like natural gas are low-priced will not survive as the prices of both rise.

I am certainly interested in helping develop promising next generation technologies, so if you think I have missed some really promising ones then feel free to add your thoughts. It is possible that a company like LS9 or KiOR will ultimately be successful, but they are going to require some technical breakthroughs. Given the great number of renewable energy start-ups, it won’t be surprising if one or more of them eventually makes a contribution, but the odds are against most of them. I selected pyrolysis and gasification as strong contenders because they don’t require technical breakthroughs in order to produce large amounts of fuel. The technical aspects of gasification at large scale are well-known. This is not the case with most companies seeking to compete in the next generation arena.

Personal Note on Technology Development

On a personal note, since I have long believed in the promise of gasification as a future solution to our liquid fuel problem, it will come as no surprise that my new role in Hawaii has connections into this area. While a few have figured out what I am doing (and quite a few others know because of various meetings I have attended), I still don’t have the green light to explicitly discuss it. We still have some pieces to put in place, and then I will explain why I believe we are building a platform that is unique in the world. I can say that my new role is as Chief Technology Officer of what we are building, and that it involves quite a few pieces.

One of the things I am very interested in is developing conversion technologies for woody biomass and crop wastes. I have a number of technologies on my plate right now, but I am searching for other pieces that improve the economics (scalability is important).

For example, in the earlier example of the beetle-infested forests, the logistical challenge of getting the biomass to a processing facility – without consuming a large fraction of the BTU value of the tree – is significant. Biomass has a low energy density relative to fossil fuels, and cost-effective technologies are needed for improving that equation. I am speaking to a number of people with promising technologies around this area, but am always open to speaking to others who have ideas, prototypes, or pilot plants demonstrating their technology. You can find my contact e-mail hidden away from the spambots in my resume.

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September 3, 2009 - Posted by | biomass gasification, Coskata, Germany, pyrolysis oil, range fuels, Sasol, South Africa

124 Comments

  1. Do you know what happened to the technology from the International Harvester gasify-on-the-spot project after it was canceled? Does this have anything to do with what you're doing now?

    Comment by Anonymous | September 3, 2009

  2. When discussing the 'Billion Ton Study', it's important to remember that the 1.3 billion tons of 'sustainable' biomass is their projection for the year 2030. As noted in that study, there are a dozen or so assumptions (some think they are pretty optimistic) regarding advances in ag and forestry technologies that are needed to get to that biomass production goal. Current annual biomass availability is much closer to 400 million tons. So they are talking about tripling existing available biomass, no small feat. Also, they are updating that study, and should have new estimates published very soon. While RR's assessment just focuses on liquid biofuels to displace petroleum, it is also critical to understand that biomass electricity is also going to be competing with biomass liquids for that resource, and it will be interesting to see what that does to biomass prices. You can find a number of existing power plants that are converting to biomass as some proportion of their feedstock to displace dirty coal. Many studies have shown biomass electricity is a much cheaper (2-3x or more) way to reduce GHGs than liquid biofuels. If Congress passes a RPS for power generation (as many states already have), this competition will increase rapidly.

    Comment by OxyMaven | September 3, 2009

  3. Excellent summary in relation to palm oil. I have had regular correspondence with a Thai company named Univanich. They are experiencing 15 percent improvement in yields with each new generation of hybrids–one "problem" is that perfectly good trees are already planted, and will live for more than 25 years, even as improved hybrids come to market.Another interesting twist: Univanich says it has palm oil hybrids that will work as far as 20 degrees from the equator–meaning Louisiana and Florida might work–if pollinating insects are there. Palm oil trees guzzle water, although not a problem for Louisiana. Along with annual improvements in lithium batteries, the annual improvements in palm oil yields raise interesting longer term scenarios. Obviously, if palm oil yields double every 10 years or so, or if lithium batteries double in performance every 10 years, you eventually reach a point where batteries and palm oil become not only commercially viable, but compelling. I suspect we are seeing the end of the Oil Era, and it will end with a whimper, not a bang.Brazil has enormous acreage it can devote to palm oil.

    Comment by Benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole | September 3, 2009

  4. The point about biomass to electricity is important.I would estimate that the number one biomass use in Scotland right now is for electricity generation.And thats because we have one tiny little 44MW biomass power station.As we have a reasonable sized forestry industry its reasonable to expect there to be more in the long run.Andy

    Comment by Andytk | September 3, 2009

  5. “Sugarcane ethanol, especially from tropical regions like Brazil,…”At least RR is predicable but fails to understand the idea behind is US production of biofuels is to produce them in none other than the US. “Yes, 20% is rather arbitrary…”Not rather arbitrary but completely arbitrary. Like most of RR criteria, they are selected to support his position not good energy and environment choices. To be fair to RR, if something is a contender then he implies that things like corn ethanol and biodiesel are already the successful middle and light weight champions. It is a knock out decision too.

    Comment by Kit P | September 3, 2009

  6. You did a nice job (in an understated way) on the horrific consequences of the palm oil explosion — yet you don't mention the carbon consequences of coal-to-liquids at all. Which would be a gigantic crapshoot, a global roll of the dice on the hope that, as CO2 accelerates past 500 and climbing fast, that the climate change deniers were right. Which seems like a pretty bad bet. The reward on one side, best case, is a few more years of business-as-usual carheaded society; the downside is global climate catastrophe, with all four horsemen of the apocalypse riding roughshod over humanity.We need to put coal in the same category as biodiesel derived from human childrens' rendered bodies.

    Comment by Walker | September 3, 2009

  7. At least RR is predicable but fails to understand the idea behind is US production of biofuels is to produce them in none other than the US.Running to the airport, so I must be brief. I can only conclude that you didn't read the essay, since I explicitly stated that these don't do much for energy security in the U.S. Next time read for comprehension.“Yes, 20% is rather arbitrary…”Not rather arbitrary but completely arbitrary. Like most of RR criteria, they are selected to support his position not good energy and environment choices.No, not completely. Set the bar too low – say 5% – and all kinds of things come out of the woodwork and make claims. Too much to debunk. Set it too high – say 50% – and no renewable fuel can meet that target via biomass. Although the pretenders will insist that they can. So there was a reason for the 20%.To be fair to RR, if something is a contender then he implies that things like corn ethanol and biodiesel are already the successful middle and light weight champions. It is a knock out decision too.Perhaps you missed the first essay, in which we went through the many problems that have brought the biodiesel industry to its knees. Yes, so much for a knockout. But I must not forget your criteria. If something is heavily subsidized and is then able to convert natural gas into ethanol via farmland (while providing a net benefit that is in the range of 1% of our gasoline consumption – don't forget to subtract the natural gas inputs!) – that is a knock out success. Personally, my version of a knock out is something that can actually compete head to head and make a bigger contribution. You clearly don't agree (unless we are talking about wind and solar, in which case your criteria are different).Out for the day.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 3, 2009

  8. Kit, the only hands down champ that these fuels are competing against is petroleum. You fail to recognize that your ethanol champ relies heavily on fossil fuels to compete.

    Comment by Anonymous | September 3, 2009

  9. I still don't understand how clearing rainforest hurts the environment. A mature forest doesn't absorb any CO2. Dying trees and plants emit CO2 that new plants and trees absorb. The forest is carbon neutral. If a forest is replaced with palm oil trees,it will absorb CO2 for the next 25 years,until the trees reach maturity. In the meantime,palm oil is being burned instead of fossil fuels,so X amount of CO2 is being displaced. Someone correct me if i'm wrong here.On the other hand,much of those 1.3 billion tons of biomass available for biofuel production annually are currently sequestered in landfills. Burning it will definately add to CO2 emissions. How much rainforest does 1.3 billion tons equate to?

    Comment by Maury | September 3, 2009

  10. RR,For the more promising contenders like sugarcane and palm oil, can you say a few words about the water requirements of these processes? I imagine that they consume large volumes of water. Many tropical areas have wet climates so I assume source is not a problem there. What about disposal? Are the costs and environmental impacts of waste water treatment material to the discussion? Also, curious to know how many acres of palm oil or sugarcane would equate to, say, one million barrels of crude oil per day. You quoted a palm oil yield but I wasn't sure what time period would go in the denominator, or how those palm oil barrels would translate into crude oil barrels.

    Comment by armchair261 | September 3, 2009

  11. "I still don't understand how clearing rain forest hurts the environment. A mature forest doesn't absorb any CO2."Maury,Once the rain forest is cleared, the exposed soil releases CO2 it has stored for tens of thousands of years in all the dead leaves, rotten wood, humus, peat moss, etc. that can be many tens (or hundreds) of feet thick.As all that dead, rotting organic matter becomes exposed to the atmosphere and Sun, it releases much of the CO2 it had entrapped for all those years.The issue is not cutting down the trees in the rain forest as much as it is exposing the trapped organic matter in the soil underneath to heat and light. If we allowed rain forests to evolve naturally, that deep layer of trapped organic matter would eventually be metamorphosed into coal.It's one of those, "Pay me now, or pay me later" scenarios. Cut down the rain forest now to grow oil palm and expose the soil so it releases its CO2, or wait several million years, then dig up the coal, burn it, and release the CO2. 🙂

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 3, 2009

  12. "acknowledging that algae could theoretically produce more"More fuel per acre and vitamins, protein,food,food additives,fine chemicals,animal feed,and agricultural fertilisers as well. It also sucks CO2 like a vacuum cleaner. Seambiotic has been running a pilot plant off flue gas for the last 5 years in Israel. Now,they're transitioning to the commercial phase. Algae simply has too many positives to NOT be a contender.

    Comment by Maury | September 3, 2009

  13. "As all that dead, rotting organic matter becomes exposed to the atmosphere and Sun, it releases much of the CO2 it had entrapped for all those years."But,the land doesn't stay exposed in this case Wendell. How much sun can it be getting if it's covered with palm trees? I'd like to see a study on the CO2 effects of replacing a rainforest with palm trees….over a 25 year period.

    Comment by Maury | September 3, 2009

  14. Maury,Have you ever been in a rain forest? Have you ever walked through an oil palm or rubber plantation? There is a huge difference in the density of organic matter growing in a rain forest and tropical plantation. On the floor of a jungle or true rain forest, there can be very little light reaching the ground because of the density of the foliage and organic matter above. (The rain forest in much of the tropics is called "triple-canopy" jungle because of the vegetation growing at three levels.) While plantations are usually quite open: Oil palm plantation – IndonesiaJunglePart of it that I also didn't explain in the previous post is that cutting down and getting rid of the rain forest (usually done with bulldozers and not chain saws) greatly disturbs and overturns the soil underneath to some depth, exposing to the atmosphere, organic matter that may have been buried for hundreds of years.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 3, 2009

  15. I can see where clear cutting the jungle would release a lot of CO2 Wendell. Still,the palm trees are displacing 500 gallons per acre of fossil fuel emissions annually. By my calculations,that's 250,000 lbs. of CO2 displaced over a 25 year period. I have trouble believing an acre of cleared forest can release that much CO2.

    Comment by Maury | September 3, 2009

  16. I have trouble believing an acre of cleared forest can release that much CO2.I don't have the metrics Maury, but we're talking about organic matter than has accumulated on the floor of a rain forest for thousands of years.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 3, 2009

  17. Actually, most of the carbon released from rain forest clearing is from burning the above ground biomass. The soils can add a lot as well, but the aboveground mass if huge – maybe 100-150 tons / acre (see http://news.mongabay.com/2007/0508-amazon.html ) Studies show that if you harvest the timber instead of burning it, the GHG impacts are far less. Now if you are plowing up US virgin grasslands, there it is the soil carbon release that dominates. Think even US forests probably have more C in the timber than in soil, but it's probably closer to 50-50.

    Comment by Anonymous | September 3, 2009

  18. The reality is that those rain forests are comprised of hugely, valuable hardwoods. They are Not "bulldozed," or burned. They are cut down, and made into furniture, etc.Then, the underbrush, and residue is bulldozed into a heap, and burned.Once hardwood is made into furniture the CO2 is locked up for hundreds of years.Common sense tells you that this is a gigantic straw man.

    Comment by rufus | September 3, 2009

  19. Whatever Rufus ~Clearing rain forest for palmRain forest cleared for palmBulldozer in rain forest

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 3, 2009

  20. Good job, RR!You also made a good argument about why gasification seems to be a natural fit for biofuels. I would add that gasification has the potential to use ALL the carbon in a given feedstock while cellulosic ethanol starts with a fraction and goes downhill from there.There is also this: why would you go from low value biomass to medium value ethanol via high value sugars? Once you have a good way to convert wood into glucose, you'd sell the glucose for a major profit.Of course, part of the problem is that Uncle Sam's subsidies tend to obscure the obvious link between value and price…

    Comment by Optimist | September 3, 2009

  21. Of course, part of the problem is that Uncle Sam's subsidies tend to obscure the obvious link between value and price…Optimist~Excellent point. There needs to be a "gasification lobby" with as much clout as Big Corn and the Corn Belt politicians.Same thing is true of coal to methanol — they need a stronger lobby to divert some of those subsidies from corn. Now, if someone could just arrange for a Montana or Wyoming caucus to replace the quadrennial Iowa presidential caucus that has so distorted U.S. energy policy.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 3, 2009

  22. You made my case, Wendell. Do you see any big, old hardwoods in that pile of limbs, and bushes in front of that bulldozer?You referred to a rainforest as being a "triple-canopy" forest. A "Triple-canopy" forest, by definition, has big, tall hardwoods. You "Log" the hardwoods (big, big money.) then you burn the trash. Then, you replant with oil palm (if you're in Indonesia, or Malaysia.)If you're in Brazil, you plant in soybeans for a couple of years, to capture the subsidy for "improving" the land, then you graze it for a couple of years, then you let it return to nature (Or, wherever it wants to return to.)

    Comment by rufus | September 3, 2009

  23. "Which would be a gigantic crapshoot, a global roll of the dice on the hope that, as CO2 accelerates past 500 and climbing fast … " etc, etc, etcGet yourself some scientific education. Then study the facts.Global Warming Alarmism is an unsupportable, unscientific crock. Neo-Stalinists push it, because it gives them an excuse to control other people. Useful Idiots parrot the Neo-Stalinists because, well, they are useful idiots. And the Empty Headed Followers of Fashion follow right on behind.In the interests of fairness, there is a small handful of thoughtful people who understand the scientific weakness of the Alarmist case, but still have concerns about the trivially small atmospheric concentration of anthropogenic CO2. They are easy to spot – they are the environmentalists promoting nuclear power.Not only is Global Warming Alarmism scientifically wrong, it is being used by the aforementioned Neo-Stalinists as an excuse for distorting the energy market — which can only have bad consequences for everyone, and will delay the development of real alternative power sources. Anthropogenic Global Warming is a scam — but fossil fuels are still finite.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 3, 2009

  24. "but the aboveground mass is huge – maybe 100-150 tons / acre"That would be 200-300,000 lbs.,but how much of that is carbon? As Rufus pointed out,the trees are harvested,so they shouldn't be included anyway. Here's an article from the same site you linked to that suggests the real reason rainforests are coming down isn't to plant oil palms,but to get the timber. http://tinyurl.com/d3fr2u

    Comment by Maury | September 4, 2009

  25. "On a 9.6-hectare tract of land on the Texas coast south of Houston, a start-up company from Florida called Algenol, in partnership with the Dow Chemical company, plans to build more than 3,000 bioreactors, starting next year. The bioreactors will grow algae that can produce ethanol fuel through a special process that involves using carbon dioxide from nearby coal-burning power plants to promote faster growth of the algae.For Dow Chemical, the main focus will be producing material from algae that can be used to make plastics. The company currently uses natural gas for that purpose.The Algenol bioreactors also produce oxygen as a byproduct and that can be fed into a power plant to burn coal more cleanly. Carbon dioxide produced by the power plant can be recycled back into the bioreactors to help promote more algae growth.Once the site is developed, Paul Woods says the fuel it produces will be competitive with gasoline produced from petroleum at nearby refineries."http://tinyurl.com/nlvrrq

    Comment by Maury | September 4, 2009

  26. Anonymous wrote: but the aboveground mass is huge – maybe 100-150 tons / acreMaury wrote: That would be 200-300,000 lbs.,but how much of that is carbon?Wood is about 45% C by weight, so 200,000 lbs of wood is about 90,000 lbs of C, which when oxidized with O2 into CO2 would be 330,000 lbs of CO2. Burning 300,000 lbs of wood yields 495,000 lbs of CO2.

    Comment by Clee | September 4, 2009

  27. RR: On the topic of first-generation ethanol, you gloss over a lot of the economics. First, regarding sugar cane ethanol, the reason it is not produced in the USA is because of government policies that maintain a high domestic price for sugar. Hence the opportunity cost of diverting sugar to ethanol is high.You then write:The ultimate downside of sugarcane ethanol will come about if the U.S. and Europe begin to rely heavily on tropical countries for their fuel needs – thus encouraging a massive scale-up. First, ethanol imports don't do much for domestic energy security.I'm surprised that you write that. You are equating local production with security of supply. They are not one and the same thing. Think of increasing security as reducing risk. A big (perhaps over-stated) risk of petroleum is the fact that its production is concentrated in a few politically unstable countries, and the transit points are vulnerable to disruption.Simply obtaining fuels (of any kind) from other countries lessens the risk of physical disruption, though not necessarily the price risk. Clearly there are advantages to domestic production, at least if your country has good infrastructure and is politically stable. But when agriculture is involved, there are other risks — pestilence and drought being big ones. Hence there is always a security advantage to have some capacity to import, and to import quickly.But — ignoring environmental and food-security issues — how much risk to the importer would there be to buying ethanol from a number of poor developing countries? I would submit not much.Interesting, though, that you hardly speak of the environmental pressures that would be created by a substantial increase in sugar-cane production. There are proposals now to develop the delta of one of Kenya's main rivers — an estuary with enormous environmental value. It is that country's sovereign right to develop it. But, from a global perspective, is it the best use of that land?You ignore also the opportunity cost of turning palm oil into transport fuels. For much of the recent history of prices for vegetable oils, diverting those oils (production of which, in barrels, is a tiny fraction of world petroleum production) to the production of biodiesel or bio-jet is a value SUBTRACTING activity. The only reason there is (occasionally) profit in the business is because of subsidies in the producing countries, and subsidies (like the $1/gallon federal tax credit in the USA) and mandates in importing countries. It would have been smarter for most countries to sell the palm oil as oil, and not downgrade it into fuel.Regarding environmental impacts from palm-oil production, they are two-fold. First, the biodiversity of a palm-oil plantation is, of course, much less than for a natural forest. And cutting down tropical forests releases a lot of carbon (even allowing for the hard wood that simply gets harvested and then "sequestered" in furniture or other wooden items). However, the particular problem in Indonesia is not even so much the carbon in the forest, but the enormous amount of carbon stored below the forst as peat. It is these peat bogs, especially once they are drained and dry out, that are so incendiary.To be fair to the Indonesian palm-oil industry, however, their own contribution to the problem, at least until recently, has been modest. Many forests were cleared in the name of palm oil – i.e., with permits that were given under the expectations that the land would be developed for palm oil, but in fact never were.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 4, 2009

  28. As for cellulosic ethanol, shouldn’t we discuss the dependency of the industry's very existence on government policies? The oil price is, of course, a factor. But so is the $1.01/gallon producer tax credit for cellulosic ethanol (unlike the VEETC, not available for Brazilian ethanol), the 2.5% + $0.54/gallon import tariff on fuel ethanol, the federal blending mandates, and the subsidies to farmers who convert over to growing feedstock for cellulosic ethanol production. In addition there are numerous state-level schemes supporting biofuels, some specifically targeted at cellulosic ethanol.Most of those policies have expiry dates. And while the U.S. Congress has so far shown its willingness to keep extending the subsidies and tariff barriers, can it be counted on doing that indefinitely, especially once (if) the industry starts scaling up? Unlike subsidies for capital investment, the volume-related subsidies on which the ethanol industry relies have to be paid out year after year. With tight budgets, is Congress going to be willing to commit indefinitely several tens of billions of dollars a year to, effectively, to subsidize driving?Other than those concerns, thanks for a handy update on the state of the various technologies.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 4, 2009

  29. Maury and Clee: the reference cited on carbon mass indicates that there can be 100-150 tons of carbon (not total biomass) stored in the tropical rain forest canopy. Carbon. So your calculations are unncecessary. see http://news.mongabay.com/2007/0508-amazon.htmlAlso, I find Algenol to be a hoot. Just cruise their own website and look at their lame claims. They claim they are already working with a Mexican company to build a 1 billion gallon per year facility in Sonoran desert with millions of their bioreactors and production to start next year, but apparently they don't know enough about the merits of their technology and still want to build a 25 acre experimental facility. And I still don't understand why, when they apparently think they can produce massive amounts of micro-algae very cheaply, that they want to produce ethanol instead of biodiesel. They seem like the poster child for RR's (and others) rightful skepticism of current algal fuel technology, maybe the Cello Energy of the algal world. Algal has a lot of potential, but there sure is a whole lot of BS out there currently, all of it trolling for some big DoE/USDA renewable fuels grants / loans guarantees.

    Comment by Anonymous | September 4, 2009

  30. Let's remember, the only way that "efficient" sugar cane ethanol achieved profitability was with Years of Massive Government Subsidies.By the way, next year Brazil will import up to 750,000,000 Million Gallons of ethanol to the US, Import Tax-free by shipping it to the Caribbean to be "denatured, and finished, and then to the US throught the Caribbean Basin Agreement.As far as I know Brazil has never paid a dime in "Import" fees on ethanol exported to the US.And, speaking of "Import" Tariffs, Brazil has just about the highest in the world. Try exporting something to Brazil some day. It is, from all evidence, a "trip."

    Comment by rufus | September 4, 2009

  31. Quotes from rufus:Let's remember, the only way that "efficient" sugar cane ethanol achieved profitability was with Years of Massive Government Subsidies.Those capital subsidies stopped a decades ago, rufus. Is that your justification for U.S. subsidies — which, unlike the Brazilian ones, show no sign of drying up?By the way, next year Brazil will import up to 750,000,000 Million Gallons of ethanol to the US, Import Tax-free by shipping it to the Caribbean to be "denatured, and finished, and then to the US throught the Caribbean Basin Agreement."Up to" is the operative phrase. In recent years, imports of ethanol under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (not "Agreement") have been around 75% of the quota. In 2008 they were just under 350,000 gallons. As far as I know Brazil has never paid a dime in "Import" fees on ethanol exported to the US.Well, for one, it is the importer, not the exporter, who pays import duties (why "import" in quotes?).And you are probably right, rufus, that for many years most of the ethanol that was imported from Brazil directly benefited from the duty drawback scheme, which allowed duties on fuel ethanol to be refunded on a gallon-for-gallon basis for every gallon of jet fuel that an ethanol importer exported.That loophole was closed last year, and one can see its effects: direct imports of Brazilian ethanol to the United States in the first half of 2009 were just 12% of what they were in the same period of 2008.The fact that, historically, so little Brazilian ethanol that has been imported has been charged a duty is strong evidence the duty, when applied, is prohibitive — i.e., very effective at keeping the stuff out of the country.And, speaking of "Import" Tariffs, Brazil has just about the highest in the world.Brazil's average applied MFN tariffs on goods are certainly higher than those applied by the United States. But its import tariff on fuel ethanol is 0%, compared with the USA's 2.5% + 54 cents per gallon.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 4, 2009

  32. Rufus ~There are many trees in a rain forest that provide valuable wood: Sapele, cocobolo, teak, bocote, and balsa to name a few, and it would be foolish to destroy a rain forest to plant palm and not harvest the wood from those valuable trees.But most of the carbon in a rain forest is not embedded in that valuable wood.Most of the carbon in a rain forest is in the thousands of years of organic matter that grew, died, and fell to the forest floor.The same dead organic matter that would eventually turn into fossil fuels (peat and coal) if we let it lay there undisturbed. About ten feet of dead organic matter will eventually turn into a foot thick coal seam.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 4, 2009

  33. Speaking of tariffs: What are the European tariffs on Ethanol? Around $1.00/gal? Does Globalsubsidies.orc ever write articles decrying the high European Import Tariffs?

    Comment by rufus | September 4, 2009

  34. Rufus wrote:Speaking of tariffs: What are the European tariffs on Ethanol? Around $1.00/gal?They are 19.20 euros per hectolitre (around $1.04 per U.S. gallon at today's exchange rate) for Undenatured ethyl alcohol of an alcoholic strength by volume of 80 % vol or higher (HS 2207.10) and 10.20 euros per hectolitre (around $0.55 per U.S. gallon) for Ethyl alcohol and other spirits, denatured, of any strength (HS 2207.20). Reduced rates are offered to some less developed countries, but Brazil is not a beneficiary.Switzerland's general tariff on both kinds of ethanol is CHF 35 per100 kg gross (just under $1.00 per gallon). However, it applies a zero duty on imports from most developing countries, including Brazil.Does Globalsubsidies.orc ever write articles decrying the high European Import Tariffs?A little bit of effort on your part (at wwww.globalsubsidies.org, not "orc"), rufus, would have avoided your having to ask that question. The answer is: yes, very much so:Biofuels at What Cost? Government Support for Ethanol and Biodiesel in the European UnionBiofuels at What Cost? Government Support for Ethanol and Biodiesel in Switzerland: 2008 update

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 4, 2009

  35. Robert,You say gasification is a contender, but you don't say what the output fuel should be. Are they all pretty much the same? I know that the Fischer Tropsch process gives a diesel type fuel, can it also produce a gasoline equivalent? Methanol could also be an easy output (maybe the easiest) that could be a fuel by itself, or you could turn that into higher alcohols (like Range) or you could turn that into gasoline. What do you want coming out of your gasification plant? How flexible can that output be?Next comment, you make your syn gas, and you always have too much CO and not enough H2, so you use a water shift gas reaction, CO + H2O to yield CO2 and H2. You lose a little energy in this step and you dump a bunch of CO2. In other words, you are burning a bunch of your feedstock to make your fuel.If on the other hand you had an external supply of hydrogen from nuclear (or solar appease the greens) then you would increase your output and you would be incorporating that energy into the fuel. In doing so, I would say that putting this type of fuel into your vehicle's gas tank would be very similar to having a PHEV, but without the battery. Am I close to being right on this, or am I way off base?

    Comment by Dennis Moore | September 4, 2009

  36. You look at the fuel side of the equation but you rarely look at the vehicle or engine side (which makes sense based on your background). Gas and diesel engines require fuels with very specific properties. Internal combustion engines are not true heat engines.While I am no expert in this, I am usually very interested in external combustion heat engines such as a stirling, steam, or the johnson thermo-electrochemical converter, because these would be truely flex fuel, and would only require a fuel that burns easily and produces enough heat.So hypothetically speaking, if such an engine existed, and you needed to make a fuel for this engine. You can apply whatever criteria you like, cost, sustainability, environmental impacts, energy security, etc. What would the fuel be?

    Comment by Dennis Moore | September 4, 2009

  37. "It would have been smarter for most countries to sell the palm oil as oil, and not downgrade it into fuel."Interesting stuff Ron. Don't get the impression I'm for clear cutting rainforests and planting them all with oil palm. I was just unclear if the harm is as bad as environmentalists make out. The situation in Borneo is pretty disgusting imo. Borneo has many plant and animal species not found anywhere else. As for the economics of palm oil,can we agree that Indonesia and Malaysia will be sitting pretty if and when oil spikes through $200 per barrel? The food or fuel debate will be pretty moot if folks have to push their car to the market imo.

    Comment by Maury | September 4, 2009

  38. Anonymous wrote: the reference cited on carbon mass indicates that there can be 100-150 tons of carbon (not total biomass) stored in the tropical rain forest canopy. Carbon. So your calculations are unncecessary. see http://news.mongabay.com/2007/0508-amazon.htmlI searched the article for the word "canopy" and it wasn't in there. Also the map shows "AGLB", or "Aboveground Live Biomass". The writer seems to equate this directly with "carbon". That looks like some non-scientific journalist misinterpreting the scientific data. I wouldn't be surprised if the writer equates "carbon" with "CO2" too.Looking at the JPL site,http://www-radar.jpl.nasa.gov/carbon/ab/fbc_map.htmThe map gives Biomass range in Mg/ha. After doing the biomass to carbon conversion, the units change to MgC/ha, with the added "C" to show they're talking about just the carbon. (The chart seems to indicate most of the carbon is above ground, not below ground.)In more detail,http://www-radar.jpl.nasa.gov/carbon/ab/Saatchi_GCB_revised_small.pdfpage 36 "Converting biomass to carbon (0.5 x biomass)"They used a more generous conversion factor than I did.

    Comment by Clee | September 4, 2009

  39. I'm mostly ok with RR's analysis of pretenders vs contenders, and applaud him for making such a comprehensive assessment. But I also wonder if the game might change at all if Congress does eventually put a price on carbon? Guess I assume the same technologies that appear to be superior now might still be the winners? Am also curious as to how much 'diversity' there might be in the biofuels technology sector in 20 years – will there be dozens of technologies that are all relatively equally competitive, or will there be a couple 'low cost producers' that blow the rest of them away?

    Comment by Anonymous | September 5, 2009

  40. RR wrote "If something is heavily subsidized and is then able to convert natural gas into ethanol via farmland (while providing a net benefit that is in the range of 1% of our gasoline consumption – don't forget to subtract the natural gas inputs!) – that is a knock out success. Personally, my version of a knock out is something that can actually compete head to head and make a bigger contribution."Actually, I think there is a case for some level of subsidy, depending on the circumstances of the country involved and the technology being considered, for two reasons:– To "buy insurance" against outside factors/shocks.- For the whole country, there is something of an externality which shows up as an increase in tax revenues from doing this stuff (a subsidy at the right level retargets these spillovers to their generating activity).These are very hard to quantify, but luckily the deadweight costs are second or higher order in terms of deviation from optimal levels so it doesn't matter too much. For Australia as a whole, where I am, I think that it might be worth paying for coal to oil (Fischer-Tropf) even at twice the consumer price of ordinary petrol, i.e. it's worth adjusting the consumer price about that much to make it competitive. To put it another way that would be simpler to implement and involves less churning of funds, it would be worth the Australian government's while making the synthetic product tax free because it would be clawing back a lot of the shortfall from a shrinking petrol tax base with a larger tax base elsewhere, with the rest being an "insurance cost". It would be even better to switch to biomass feedstocks and nuclear rather than coal energy inputs, but that's further down the track.If a shock actually hit without any of this in place, it would be worth Australia's while temporarily bringing in an inefficient biofuel approach that could be ramped up quickly without installing much capital plant, as a bridging technology to buy time to do things right. I see biobutanol refined by sparging, low pressure boiling or freeze distilling until it phases out as a contender for this.

    Comment by P.M.Lawrence | September 5, 2009

  41. Algae simply has too many positives to NOT be a contender.Think about all the benefits from curing cancer, Maury. Just because we really, really want something doesn’t mean we will get it. I sat with someone from the Department of Defense this week, and they were pretty optimistic about algae – while admitting that the current costs for the companies they are dealing with is $100/gal. There are reasons for that, even though algae seems like an answer to a lot of problems. Getting the cost down by more than an order of magnitude is going to be difficult.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 5, 2009

  42. …a start-up company from Florida called Algenol, in partnership with the Dow Chemical company, plans to build more than 3,000 bioreactors, starting next year.Maury, as someone recently wrote in the comments here: They recently got Dow to partner with them so you'd think they might have something. But they say they are building a 180,000 acre facility in Mexico that will produce 1 bil gal/yr, but at the same time they want to build a 500 acre research facility in FL! (see Algenol ) plus one in TX with Dow! Why do they need the research facilities if they have the funds and science to build the Mexican venture? They all are starting to sound like Khosla / Cello grifters!The point is that these sorts of announcements are a dime a dozen. About 1% of these might follow through. But if you listen to the announcements, you will have totally unreasonable expectations about where things stand with respect to cost and scalability.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 5, 2009

  43. First, regarding sugar cane ethanol, the reason it is not produced in the USA is because of government policies that maintain a high domestic price for sugar. This is true, Ron, but they don’t have to produce the ethanol out of sugar. When I was in India, I toured a plant that produced sugar, and ethanol from the molasses. I was specifically talking about that option, and for the guys in Louisiana it is tight race between ethanol and animal feed – but they would have to build a plant to do the ethanol option.Hence there is always a security advantage to have some capacity to import, and to import quickly.No doubt, but I think in the U.S. our ultimate energy security would be to be self-sufficient in energy production within our borders. That way we can easily protect the supply chain. Right now, we are in a situation where Saudi or Venezuela could cut us off at the knees. If we trade oil for imported ethanol, we may be in a situation where Brazil could cut us off at the knees. Interesting, though, that you hardly speak of the environmental pressures that would be created by a substantial increase in sugar-cane production.I didn’t get into details, but I pointed out that a massive scale-up could lead to “irresponsible usage of the land.” There are a number of specific examples we could get into, but that’s not the point.You ignore also the opportunity cost of turning palm oil into transport fuels.Again, it is not an essay on “Should we use palm oil for biofuel?” The point I am making is that it competes on price in the marketplace. There is no question that there are all kinds of externalities that aren’t priced in, which was the point I made.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 5, 2009

  44. Do you know what happened to the technology from the International Harvester gasify-on-the-spot project after it was canceled? Does this have anything to do with what you're doing now?No, and no.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 5, 2009

  45. You say gasification is a contender, but you don't say what the output fuel should be. Are they all pretty much the same?Very different both in terms of capital costs and performance of the fuel. If I could wave a magic wand we would all embrace methanol or mixed alcohols and that’s what we would do with the syngas. It is easy, efficient, and requires a lot less capital than some of the other options. The Chinese are making DME from their coal; Sweden is making a bio-DME plant. DME is another good fuel that we have essentially ignored so we can chase pseudo-solutions. The output of the plant is not too flexible, though. The back end clean up and upgrading are pretty specific to what you are producing. If on the other hand you had an external supply of hydrogen from nuclear (or solar appease the greens) then you would increase your output and you would be incorporating that energy into the fuel.Correct. Ideal synergy is to be able to have a supply of hydrogen. Process would be much more efficient.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 5, 2009

  46. Responding to RR:When I was in India, I toured a plant that produced sugar, and ethanol from the molasses. I was specifically talking about that option, and for the guys in Louisiana it is tight race between ethanol and animal feed – but they would have to build a plant to do the ethanol option.Well, you actually wrote, "There are several reasons we don't do sugarcane ethanol in the United States." I was explaining why ethanol from cane juice (the pathway for most ethanol in Brazil) is not economical as an option in the United States.I do not disagree with your assessment regarding ethanol from cane molasses. There are lots of countries that produce their ethanol from molasses (Australia, for one, and as you mention India) — in all cases, as far as I know, subsidized. I agree: it would be dicey for a U.S. producer to invest in ethanol-producing capacity to use molasses. But more importantly, as soon as any significant amount was diverted to ethanol, the price for molasses as a feed ingredient would rise, increasing the opportunity cost of diverting the stuff to ethanol.I think in the U.S. our ultimate energy security would be to be self-sufficient in energy production within our borders. That way we can easily protect the supply chain. Right now, we are in a situation where Saudi or Venezuela could cut us off at the knees. If we trade oil for imported ethanol, we may be in a situation where Brazil could cut us off at the knees.With all do respect, I strongly disagree. Not that I advocate being heavily dependent on OPEC, but there has not been an oil embargo since 1973-74, following which (as I am sure you know), the western countries established the International Energy Agency's emergency oil-sharing system, which is still in operation. So while, hypothetically, Saudi Arabia or Venezuela could "cut us off at the knees", the likelihood is small. The bigger risk is internal turmoil (as happened in Iraq), or sabotage of critical pipelines or terminals.Brazil "cut us off at the knees"? It is unlikely that — under a scenario in which all current trade barriers were to be removed — Brazil would ever supply more than 20% of U.S. demand for fuels for spark-ignition engines — so say, roughly, 10% of total liquid fuel supply. Yes, it is within the realm of possibilities for the government to do something crazy like impose a ban on shipments to the United States. But do you think the (private-sector) ethanol producers would go along with that for one nano-second? Don't forget that we are seeing an increasing amount of investment in the Brazilian ethanol industry by multinationals. They may be interested in good profits, but not in cutting off their noses to spite their faces.In any case, if trade in ethanol were to be liberalized (it already is for biodiesel), Brazil will not be the only foreign supplier.I have to chuckle when I hear people speak of foreign suppliers holding consumers over a barrel. So, instead, we have domestic lobbies holding taxpayers over a barrel.All in all, your argument that security=self-sufficiency is simplistic — the kind of argument I would expect from a pandering politician, not from an intelligent, thoughtful expert.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 5, 2009

  47. Responding to one more of RR's comments:Again, it is not an essay on “Should we use palm oil for biofuel?” The point I am making is that it competes on price in the marketplace. There is no question that there are all kinds of externalities that aren’t priced in, which was the point I made.Then you miss my point I am not talking about externalities, I am talking about opportunity costs. Say somebody gives you a big pile of well-seasoned mango wood. You can turn around immediately and sell it for a good price to some furniture maker. Or you can sell it to somebody else, at a much lower price, for firewood. Your "cost" for the wood may have been zero. But your opportunity cost of selling the wood for firewood would be the difference between the that price and the price you would have been able to fetch for it had you sold it to the furniture maker.Same thing for vegetable oils (and indeed, at times, for sugar cane). Your cost for making biodiesel may be low. But if your profit after purifying it, transesterfying it, and selling it as biodiesel is less than it would have been selling it into the market for vegetable oils, then you also need to consider the cost of that missed opportunity.Finally, in response to Maury:As for the economics of palm oil,can we agree that Indonesia and Malaysia will be sitting pretty if and when oil spikes through $200 per barrel?Yes, they would be, thanks to fuel-tax breaks for biodiesel in the EU and several other countries, and to the blenders credit in the United States. And they would be sitting pretty whether they were to sell their palm oil directly, or if they turned it into biodiesel or bio-jet.The food or fuel debate will be pretty moot if folks have to push their car to the market imo.Aye, aye, aye! Show some cultural sensitivity, please? Most of the rest of the world (outside of North America, Australia and a few European countries) does not drive to the grocery store in SUVs to buy their groceries. Most walk, bicycle, ride an animal (or an animal-pulled cart), or take some form of public transportation (usually a bus). At the end of the day, the world can adjust to less energy. It would not so easily adjust (except through reduced consumer waste in the rich countries) to a significant reduction in its food supply.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 5, 2009

  48. When all is said, and done, you can go down to the farm, right now, and buy all the corn you want for $0.05/lb ($2.80 bu,) or you can dial up your local ethanol refinery and buy Denatured Ethanol for $1.52 gal.Add in 25% for reduced mileage, and you're at $1.90. Add taxes, transportation, and mark-up, and you're around $2.40 in Corn Country, and, maybe, $2.55 in Ca., and the East Coast.And, that's without a "Subsidy" in sight.And, without spending a Couple Hundred Billion in Iraq.

    Comment by rufus | September 5, 2009

  49. "For Australia as a whole, where I am, I think that it might be worth paying for coal to oil (Fischer-Tropf) even at twice the consumer price of ordinary petrol, i.e. it's worth adjusting the consumer price about that much to make it competitive."Ever hear about the Law of Unintended Consequences?All the discussion here about existing subsidies & mandates just makes the point. No matter how smart some member of the Political Class thinks he is, any well-intended action will have reactions which said smart punter did not predict. Unfortunately, real world examples abound.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 5, 2009

  50. On the other hand, Brazil spent a number of "Fortunes" in years, past, Promoting, and Heavily Subsidizing "Cane" Ethanol.Now, it's held up as a "Model" for Efficiency, and Brazil is "Energy Independent."Oil has had Tremendous subsidies. So has Nuclear. No one, really, griped "too" much when we were subsidizing Cattle Feed; but, now that we're subsidizing energy, and not livestock rations, the garments be A'rending.

    Comment by rufus | September 5, 2009

  51. Rufus writes:[Y]ou can dial up your local ethanol refinery and buy Denatured Ethanol for $1.52 gal. Add in 25% for reduced mileage, and you're at $1.90. Add taxes, transportation, and mark-up, and you're around $2.40 in Corn Country, and, maybe, $2.55 in Ca., and the East Coast.The 25% reduced mileage is what the EPA rates E85, not E100. But let's go with your figure and say it is 25%. Your math is still wrong, as to convert to gasoline equivalent you divide the price by 0.75 (=1-0.25), not multiply by 1.25 (=1+0.25). That brings the gasoline equivalent price to $2.03. Add in state and federal taxes, plus transport and distributor's margin, and you're looking more or less at gasoline parity (~$2.55). It's no great bargain for the consumer. Nor would economists expect it to be: if it were a great bargain, demand would drive up the price until it reached parity.And, that's without a "Subsidy" in sight.Well, I guess if you keep repeating a falsehood, people may eventually believe you. For every gallon of ethanol sold, the U.S. Treasury loses at least $0.45, and an additional $0.10 if the ethanol comes from a small plant. And, in addition, many states provide producer subsidies (or reductions in fuel or sales tax) on top of that.And, without spending a Couple Hundred Billion in Iraq.Ah, always expenditure in Iraq. Are you honestly claiming, Rufus, that the current level of ethanol output in the United States saves the U.S. government $200,000,000,000 a year in avoided expenditure in Iraq?No one, really, griped "too" much when we were subsidizing Cattle Feed; but, now that we're subsidizing energy, and not livestock rations, the garments be A'rending.Then you really weren't paying attention, Rufus. There have been reams of studies, articles, etc. over the years complaining about grain subsidies. Agricultural subsidies is one of the issues that is the most contentious in the WTO-sponsored multilateral trade negotiations.Indeed, many of the people who are critics of biofuel subsidies have long been critics of other agricultural subsidies. I would count myself as one, as well as a critic of subsidies to fossil fuels, to nuclear power, and to marine capture fishing.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 5, 2009

  52. Ron, I get about 26.5 mpg on E0, and about 21.5 on E85. That's a loss of about 19%. Note: these numbers can bounce around a lot, depending on who's driving, where they're driving, and the weather.) Some older cars don't get as good; some newer cars get better. Looking at it again, I think you're right. $0.48 adjustment would be better. So What? You said:"and you're looking more or less at gasoline parity (~$2.55)."I agree.Is it a "Wonderful Bargain?" I don't know; to ME it is. I'm not supporting Terrorists when I fill up. I'm spending my money "At Home." Maybe, I'll "Get another Crack" at that dollar.How much "higher" would gasoline be if we weren't using that 750,000 Barrels/Day of Ethanol? I don't know; but, my gut instinct is that it would be "somewhat" higher.What happens when the recession is over and gasoline goes back to $4.00/gal +?And, you know what? No one here's kids are going to die for MY fuel.

    Comment by rufus | September 5, 2009

  53. Oh, and I was NOT repeating a "falsehood." Those numbers were for ethanol without any subsidies.The nationwide average E85 price, today, according to E85prices.com is $1.99 gal.

    Comment by rufus | September 5, 2009

  54. Thanks Robert, you say If I could wave a magic wand we would all embrace methanol or mixed alcoholsSo Ranges should be focusing on getting people to embrace mixed alcohols. instead of selling E85 they could sell nOH85.Am I right in assuming the DME (dimethyl ether) is similar to propane in that it is a gas at atmospheric pressure and temp but can be easily compressed to liquid. It looks good for a diesel replacement.

    Comment by Dennis Moore | September 5, 2009

  55. Rufus wrote:Ron, I get about 26.5 mpg on E0, and about 21.5 on E85.You think 21.5 mpg on E85 is great? The AVERAGE for the private vehicle fleet in Europe is 50% better than that. Per $ of government dollar spent, I suspect that helping to bring the U.S. fleet up to European or Japanese standards would be more cost-effective than trying to reduce gasoline consumption through subsidizing ethanol.And, you know what? No one here's kids are going to die for MY fuel.What, are you driving your vehicles on pure ethanol? If not, then you are also consuming gasoline — unlike somebody who drives an electric car, takes an electric train, tram or bus, rides a bicycle, walks …And, accepting for the moment that no American kids die as a result of ethanol consumption, what about kids elsewhere in the (less developed) world?"How the rich starved the world"Granted, the prices for food commodities have slumped (as always happens in a recession). But as you ask, "What happens when the recession is over and gasoline goes back to $4.00/gal +?"Oh, and I was NOT repeating a "falsehood." Those numbers were for ethanol without any subsidies.Are you denying that the government pays out at least $0.45 per gallon for every gallon of ethanol blended with gasoline?

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 5, 2009

  56. No, I'm just saying that, Today, corn ethanol is just danged, near, competitive with gasoline. AND, since about 35% of our gasoline comes from Domestic sources, we would need to import no oil for gasoline if everyone drove a Chevy Flexfuel. Or, a Ford Flexfuel, or a Chrysler Flexfuel.Also, corn prices are much more sensitive to Supply (floods/drought) and Demand issues than "recession" forcings. The thing is: as oil supply gets ever, more iffy, corn yields, inexorably, increase 2.5 – 3.0%/Year. Yields were 151 bu/acre in 2007, and are looking to be about 161 bu/acre this year. BTW, that's yielding about 2.4 Billion Gallons more Ethanol on the same Acreage.

    Comment by rufus | September 5, 2009

  57. And, since corn is up between $0.01 and $0.02 per pound in the last forty years, or so, and, since it would be very difficult for Any kid to eat more than a half pound of corn/day, I very much doubt that ethanol has starved any children.BUT, I'll tell you what Has staved children. According to the FAO, 70% of the World's Malnourished are "Subsistence Farmers." Their biggest problem is the lack of a "Cash Crop." With the U.S., and Europe Subsidizing Corn, and Wheat production the poor small-holders of Africa, and Asia couldn't "Compete." After they had raised a little Cassava for their own needs, they had nothing to sell to raise "Cash" to buy fruits, and vegetables.

    Comment by rufus | September 5, 2009

  58. When grain prices are low,we're starving farmers in poor countries. When they're high,we're starving poor consumers. American farmers must keep therapists in business."What happens when the recession is over and gasoline goes back to $4.00/gal"Yes,food prices rise when input prices rise. That was the case before ethanol,as well. Some of the biggest price spikes in '08 were in the rice market. Some claim it was because farmers grew less rice,and more corn. But,that doesn't explain why Asian specialty rices saw 300% price increases. Production was fairly constant. So was consumption. Fuel and fertilizer prices more than doubled though.

    Comment by Maury | September 5, 2009

  59. Ron, I drive a "full-sized" car. An Impala. It's a nice comfortable ride for my 6'3", well-fed frame. It's got a trunk big enough that I could carry my own alcohol still around with me if I wanted to.I could get much better mileage in a little diesel rice-burner, or Eurocar. I could get much better mileage in the Chevy Cruze FFV that's supposed to be out next year. If I had a 15:1 Compression, VT, DI, 1.6 litre 4cyl I could get the same power with a whole lot better fuel mileage. If I had a 2011 Chevy Volt with the 1.6 L Flexfuel Engine (to be Standard on the Volt) There's just NO Telling what kind of mileage I'd get. In short, there are a Lot of ways to skin this cat; but sending Hundreds of Billions of Dollars, and Thousands of our Kids' Lives to the Middle East isn't one that I'm interested in.

    Comment by rufus | September 5, 2009

  60. "It's got a trunk big enough that I could carry my own alcohol still around with me if I wanted to."There you go Rufus.If you wanted to? Let's see you do that. Use the waste heat from your exhaust to power the still, and you would no doubt get infinite fuel mileage. 😉

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 5, 2009

  61. Rufus ~Regarding fuel mileage with ethanol blended fuels: I get 32 mpg highway with straight gasoline and 29 mpg with E10 in a 4-cylinder compact pickup truck.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 5, 2009

  62. Wendell, those numbers are just wrong.Explain how you arrived at them, if you don't mind.

    Comment by rufus | September 5, 2009

  63. "… sending Hundreds of Billions of Dollars, and Thousands of our Kids' Lives to the Middle East isn't one that I'm interested in."On one level, I am with you all the way, Rufus. The main beneficiaries of the US attempt to keep the peace in the Middle East are those ungrateful Europeans and insular Japanese. Screw the lot of them! Get the US out of the Middle East — and Germany — now. Let those worthless bastards in the EU & Japan look out for their own interests.But, there is always a but, US "Kids" — as you condescendingly refer to citizens who are voluntarily bearing the burden for those unworthy EUnuchs — are much more likely to die at home in the US, when the wheels finally come off the unsustainable perversion of government that the Political Class has foisted upon us since the end of World War II.When there is not enough fuel to meet US needs, the justifiable anger of the population is not going to be directed at distant Arabs — not when your local politician and his fat lawyer buddies in the Sierra Club have spent decades spiking every attempt to provide serious energy supplies at home.Sadly, the course that the Political Class has chosen will end in a bitter civil war. Citizens against lawyers & politicians, young people against their grandfathers. It will be hell.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 5, 2009

  64. Well, I certainly don't mean to be condescending to our fine young men, and women in Uniform, K; but, the average age of the troop in Iraq is less than 20 years, I believe. To an old fart like me, that is, pretty much, the definition of a "Kid."I don't think it will come to that, Kinandrauch. Our problems will be recognized, fairly quickly, as "Solvable," I think. Although, I think (hope) there will be considerable anger at the brainless "Lords, and Masters" that let us get into the pickle that is, undoubtably, coming.Wendell, when I said those numbers are just "wrong," I didn't mean that I thought You had done anything wrong. Just that those numbers are so far out of the ordinary that "something" has to be wrong.For instance, when did you last run E0? Have you had a tune-up since? Do you "Normally" run E0, and used just one tank of E10? I'm just looking for something that could cause that big an anomaly.

    Comment by rufus | September 5, 2009

  65. BTW, I'm starting to fall in love with the idea of a "still in the trunk."Fuel tank getting low? Just run out into some farmer's field, steal a little corn, throw it in the hopper, and keep on truckin. What could go wrong?:)

    Comment by rufus | September 5, 2009

  66. For those think the US can be brought to her knees, 10 reasons not to worry. Nuclear air craft carriers.“Sometimes it is difficult to understand the scope of American military power relative to that of the rest of the world. This graphic illustrates America's aircraft carriers, and those of the rest of the world.”http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/carriers.htm

    Comment by Kit P | September 5, 2009

  67. "… the average age of the troop in Iraq is less than 20 years, I believe …"It has always been thus, Rufus. The average age of the Communist insurgents who accompanied Mao on his 6,000 mile march was reputed to have been about 16. Future President George H. W. Bush was about 21 when he was bombing Japanese invaders, and getting shot down.The fighting age male. The most potent force throughout history. Which is why some thoughful people are so concerned that a consequence of China's "one child" policy (combined with sex-selective abortion) has been to leave China with something like 10-20 million surplus fighting age males — as much a threat to Chinese oligarchs as to the rest of the world.The bottom line is that time is not on our side. We don't have decades to fritter away on different groups lobbying the Political Class for subsidies and other special advantages. We need to get on the path to providing very large scale, economically self-supporting post-fossil power sources — before the whole world goes pear-shaped, bringing down those who would be our Lords & Masters along with everything else.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 5, 2009

  68. rufus wrote: No one, really, griped "too" much when we were subsidizing Cattle Feed; but, now that we're subsidizing energy, and not livestock rations, the garments be A'rending. and later70% of the World's Malnourished are "Subsistence Farmers."…With the U.S., and Europe Subsidizing Corn, and Wheat production the poor small-holders of Africa, and Asia couldn't "Compete."That supports Ron Steenblik's contention about WTO griping.I've seen plenty of strident griping in the US about corn subsidies and "Big Corn" that have nothing to do with ethanol. Griping from the kind of people who make films like "King Corn" and complain about industrial farming, high fructose corn syrup and obesity.

    Comment by Clee | September 5, 2009

  69. rufus wrote: Wendell, when I said those numbers are just "wrong," I didn't mean that I thought You had done anything wrong. Just that those numbers are so far out of the ordinary that "something" has to be wrong.Interesting. That sounds an awful lot like what RR said when rufus insinuated that RR claimed "those N. Dakota Students rigged their test". Except RR was talking about a few data points being outliers compared with the others in the ND study, and rufus appears to be talking about numbers being outside of his personal expectations.Do you "Normally" run E0, and used just one tank of E10? I'm just looking for something that could cause that big an anomaly.If Wendell did that, it should have caused a smaller apparent drop in fuel economy with E10 because of mixing with the E0 left in the bottom of the tank. That would mean the true number would have been even worse fuel economy on E10 then Wendell reported.

    Comment by Clee | September 5, 2009

  70. Uh, not necessarily, Clee. I've written, before, that you have to be careful placing too much emphasis on that first tank of higher ethanol blend (even if it's just going from E0 to E10.Upon putting a higher blend in your tank, DO NOT drive over to the Q Shop, and turn off the engine. Your engine needs to run at least 7 – 10 miles to go through the different permutations of figuring out "persistently higher O2 in Exhaust," and "Fueling Event" = higher ethanol blend.If you introduce a higher blend, drive over to the Store, and shut off your engine you will end up driving very "rich" for the rest of the tank. Mileage will suffer, greatly.There are some older ffvs (that used a different sensor) that this doesn't apply to, but, not many.There's, also, the possibility that something has changed, mechanically, since the E0 was used. I'm assuming that it might have been several years since Wendell used E0 in as much as E0 is getting kind of hard to find. I get my fuel from an MFA station in Wynne, Arkansas; and MFA does sell E0.

    Comment by rufus | September 5, 2009

  71. Upon putting a higher blend in your tank, DO NOT drive over to the Q Shop, and turn off the engine….you will end up driving very "rich" for the rest of the tank. Fine, but that's a different issue from simply asking if he "used just one tank of E10". It has more to do with how you treat that tank.I was not aware that Wendell's engine knows about "Fueling Event"s. I know my old car's computer doesn't tell my ScanGauge II when there's been a fill up. I have to tell it manually.

    Comment by Clee | September 5, 2009

  72. Maybe it doesn't, Clee. It IS possible that that particular car is incredibly sensitive to the slightest change in fuel. If so, perhaps he should take it in to the dealer for a "reflash," or to get the timing reset. I mean, we're talking "zero value," here. Somethin ain't right.

    Comment by rufus | September 5, 2009

  73. For those think the US can be brought to her knees, 10 reasons not to worry. Nuclear air craft carriers.We don't have to be brought to our knees by force. $147 oil might be enough to bring on a recession as massive wealth is transferred out of the country.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 5, 2009

  74. So Ranges should be focusing on getting people to embrace mixed alcohols. instead of selling E85 they could sell nOH85.Absolutely. They are going to pay more to make pure ethanol than if they had sold the alcohol as mixed. Further, the energy value and octane are better than for ethanol. Mixed alcohols are already EPA approved, but there is a company that has some formula patents that have been granted around mixed alcohol blends. Am I right in assuming the DME (dimethyl ether) is similar to propane in that it is a gas at atmospheric pressure and temp but can be easily compressed to liquid. It looks good for a diesel replacement.Yes on both counts. But we have let China really seize the lead on DME.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 5, 2009

  75. So while, hypothetically, Saudi Arabia or Venezuela could "cut us off at the knees", the likelihood is small. As I said to Kit, cutting us off at the knees does not have to amount to an embargo. Prices shooting back into the stratosphere will have a similar impact as an embargo. Imagine if the U.S. was completely energy independent. Prices may have shot up, but that money would have stayed in the country.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 5, 2009

  76. …those numbers are just wrong. Explain how you arrived at them, if you don't mind.Rufus~I have done the experiment a least five times since owning my current truck since 2004 ~ all while driving on long trips at fairly constant highway speeds, and trips where I know I'll need to burn at least two tankfuls in the same day.I drive my truck until the gas gage is as near empty as I can stand it, and then fill up with either straight gasoline or E10. Then after driving until the gas tank is again as near empty as I can stand it, I fill up with the other kind and keep driving.It's not scientific I realize, as temperatures, wind conditions, etc. change through the day. But the results have all been fairly close to 32 mpg w/ gasoline: 29 mpg w/ E10.The last time I did it, I got 31.7 mpg with gasoline, and 29.1 with E10.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 6, 2009

  77. Absolutely. They are going to pay more to make pure ethanol than if they had sold the alcohol as mixed. Further, the energy value and octane are better than for ethanol.Concur Robert.Although mixed alcohols will muddy the water and not be readily accepted because of the corn lobby and Big Ethanol. But there is no reason to ignore the easier to make blend of methanol, ethanol, propanol, butanol, pentanol, and hexanol. It would be an energy intensive (and needless) process for them to strip the ethanol out of that mix just to satisfy Big Ethanol.That would also open the door for coal to methanol which may be the real kingpin in alleviating our reliance on foreign petro.As I've said before, it's our loss there is no "coal-to-methanol lobby" with as strong an influence as Big Corn and Big Ethanol.If only the first primaries and caucuses were in Wyoming or Montana instead of Iowa.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 6, 2009

  78. Fuel tank getting low? Just run out into some farmer's field, steal a little corn, throw it in the hopper, and keep on truckin. What could go wrong?Rufus~For one thing, that would be felony corn theft. In my part of the country, corn farmers look as unkindly on taking a few ears of corn from their fields as ranchers in Wyoming look on taking a head of cattle or two.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 6, 2009

  79. I misremembered: it's Fischer-Tropsch, not Fischer-Tropf.Kinuachdrach wrote "Ever hear about the Law of Unintended Consequences?", and so on.Would you care to elaborate? I only raised an option, that currently seems worth exploring and which certainly currently looks like a good idea. Isn't your approach one that would lead to "analysis paralysis" as opposed to the other extreme, "in any project the time comes to shoot the engineers and start the work"?Rufus wrote 'According to the FAO, 70% of the World's Malnourished are "Subsistence Farmers." Their biggest problem is the lack of a "Cash Crop." With the U.S., and Europe Subsidizing Corn, and Wheat production the poor small-holders of Africa, and Asia couldn't "Compete." After they had raised a little Cassava for their own needs, they had nothing to sell to raise "Cash" to buy fruits, and vegetables.'Those aren't subsistence farmers, by definition, if they need to buy anything for subsistence. That's as opposed to needing cash to pay off obligations imposed from outside like taxes; they very often do need a cash crop or activity for non-subsistence reasons like that, in the modern world.Wendell Mercantile wrote of Rufus's "Fuel tank getting low? Just run out into some farmer's field, steal a little corn, throw it in the hopper, and keep on truckin. What could go wrong?", "For one thing, that would be felony corn theft".Trivia: no, not necessarily. In the USA there is a special exemption for serving soldiers, set up by Abraham Lincoln in their civil war to allow them to forage (I believe, to remove the incentive to loot further on the "you might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb" principle, and even to kill those they stole from). It might well extend to seizing crops for fuel.

    Comment by P.M.Lawrence | September 6, 2009

  80. Jeez, I wuz jes kiddin, honest. (I would never steal anything that cost a nickel/lb.)

    Comment by rufus | September 6, 2009

  81. "$147 oil might be enough to bring on a recession as massive wealth is transferred out of the country."RR — you are assuming that dollars paid to oil exporters stay outside the US. If the US is able to export goods of value, then having richer oil exporters as a market would not be an (economic) problem. In the 1970s, one of the "Unintended Consequences" of the Arab Oil Embargo was that oil exporters spent much of the additional money they earned from higher oil prices worldwide on goods from the United States. In effect, the oil exporters recycled addtional money they took from Europe into the US. This is why the Political Class's currrent functional de-industrialization of the US through regulations and taxes is so dangerous — it will leave the US with no goods to export to pay for imports. Unsustainable.Bottom line is that imports are no problem (economically speaking) as long as they are balanced by exports of equal value.There are good reasons for seeking energy self-sufficiency. The fear of transfer of wealth to oil exporters is not one of them.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 6, 2009

  82. So many comments. So many misconceptions. Let's start with the fuel-vs-food debate.Rufus: … corn yields, inexorably, increase 2.5-3.0%/Year. Yields were 151 bu/acre in 2007, and are looking to be about 161 bu/acre this year.Inexorably? A 3% compound annual increase is a doubling every 23years — i.e., 300 bushels per acre by 2030. Here is what experts at Iowa State University say about that:At Iowa State University in Ames, Roger Elmore, Iowa Extension corn specialist, and Kendall Lamkey, chair of the agronomy department, say they’re skeptical that the national corn yield will hit 300 bu. per acre by 2030 or increase 40% during the next decade. They believe the average corn yield will increase at about the same rate it has in the past 10 years, putting it a little more than 200 bu. per acre by 2030."You could argue that we’ve picked the low apples on the tree already. How much earlier can we plant? We’ve gained a lot of yield by planting earlier. We can’t control weeds and insects better than we’re already doing. Most biotech traits have been protective, not for yield," Elmore says…. Ken Ferrie, Farm Journal Field Agronomist, says the price of corn will be key to a yield push.“Is it 300-bu. at $2 per bushel or $7 per bushel? At $2 corn, a lot of marginal areas will not raise corn, which would help the national average. If it’s $7, you start throwing in a lot of acres that never were in corn, and that’s a bigger hill to climb. The learning curve is steep on those acres," Ferrie says.Source: Charles Johnson, "Corn's Big Challenge", Farm Journal Magazine, January 10, 2009.Both these guys have good points. But the last one is perhaps the most important one: as corn production increases, any new land devoted to it on the margin is likely to have lower yields than in the Corn Belt. That brings down the average yield.As an anecdotal note, France is now planting corn in the Paris basin. Farmers there have always planted a small amount of corn as a second crop, for silage. But last year –- in response to the high world corn prices farmers started to plant it over a much larger area … for grain. That may have helped to moderate the price of corn, but it has cut into production of wheat, barley, and sugarbeets. (Demand for the other traditional crop, oilseed rape, is still high, thanks to subsidies for biodiesel.)

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 6, 2009

  83. Here is a Good Article on that topic.One of the paper's authors, Dr. Joe Fargione, has acknowledged that co-products have been undervalued in calculations of land use impacts and argued before EPA in June 2009 that existing models significantly undervalue the amount of soybean meal replaced by distillers grains (1). Using the information presented to EPA by Dr. Fargione, the land use credit for distillers grains is above 0.60, more than twice what was used for this paper.For all corn ethanol scenarios, the authors assumed ethanol yield per bushel will not increase beyond 2.7 gallons per bushel. Average ethanol yields are already approaching 2.85 gallons per bushel and are likely to near 3 gallons/bushel in the next decade. Ethanol yields by 2030 are likely to be moer than 3 gallons/bushel.There's LOTS more.

    Comment by rufus | September 6, 2009

  84. Maury wrote: When grain prices are low,we're starving farmers in poor countries. When they're high,we're starving poor consumers. American farmers must keep therapists in business.Rufus wrote: And, since corn is up between $0.01 and $0.02 per pound in the last forty years, or so, and, since it would be very difficult for any kid to eat more than a half pound of corn/day, I very much doubt that ethanol has starved any children.Yes, developed-world crop subsidies, especially export subsidies, hurt grain farmers in developing countries. But many of the ones who were hurt (in terms of their pocketbook) were generally already productive: farmers in places like Argentina and Uruguay. Cotton farmers in Africa and Pakistan have also been hurt by subsidized production in rich countries, but people don’t eat cotton. Poorer farmers in Mexico and Southern Africa would eventually also benefit from higher grain prices. But they could not boost production fast enough to counteract the large and sudden increase in corn prices — which went up by more like 7 cents per pound between 2002 and 2008, not 1-2 cents –- nor the similar rises in the prices of other grains. That meant that households that are net importers of food, who live on $2 or less per person per day, and spend 50% or more of their household income on food, felt the pinch.How crass is it for farmers in the developed countries (and, in some countries, official policy) to say for years to the developing world: we will feed the world, by subsidizing our exports if necessary, then to put in place policies that artificially helped drive the price of grain through the roof, and then to say to those countries whose agriculture is under-developed in part because of decades of depressed prices: “What’s your problem? We thought you wanted high prices?”No, what developing countries wanted was the phasing out of production-related subsidies in the North (over a period sufficiently long for their own farmers to make the investments needed to increase production and to put in place policies to help the urban poor adjust to higher food prices), not the retention of those policies and the introduction of new policies (to encourage crop-based biofuels) that further add to the distortions and instability in the market.Rufus wrote:BUT, I'll tell you what HAS staved children. According to the FAO, 70% of the world's malnourished are "subsistence farmers." Their biggest problem is the lack of a "cash crop."P.M. Lawrence has already largely dealt with that comment. But there are plenty of people –- indeed, a growing part of the population in developing countries –- who are urban poor, and produce no food of their own. (Indeed, could you please provide a link to back up your FAO quote that “70% of the world's malnourished are subsistence farmers”, rufus. The share looks too high to me.)

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 6, 2009

  85. Maury said: Yes, food prices rise when input prices rise. That was the case before ethanol,as well. Some of the biggest price spikes in '08 were in the rice market. Some claim it was because farmers grew less rice,and more corn. But,that doesn't explain why Asian specialty rices saw 300% price increases. Production was fairly constant. So was consumption. Fuel and fertilizer prices more than doubled though.Please have a look at Donald Mitchell’s trenchant "A Note on Rising Food Prices", written for the World Bank in July 2008. As he points out, rising energy prices contributed to the cost of farming, but were not the most important cause of the rise in wholesale prices for food crops. (Don’t confuse the numbers that have been reported for retail U.S. food expenditure with the wholesale price for food commodities, which is what concerns net food-importing developing countries.) Mitchell also explains that, yes indeed there was a link between rice prices and the prices of other grains. Not because rice was used for biofuels, or because rice acreage was lost to corn, but because of cascading effects from the corn market to the wheat market, and from the wheat to the rice market. Mitchell explains: “Rice is not used for biofuels, but the increase in prices of other commodities contributed to the rapid rise in rice prices. Rice prices almost tripled from January to April 2008 despite little change in production or stocks. This increase was mostly in response to the surge in wheat prices in 2007 (up 88 percent from January to December) which raised concerns about the adequacy of global grain supplies and encouraged several countries to ban rice exports to protect consumers from international price increases, and caused others to increase imports.” (bolding in the original.)

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 6, 2009

  86. Rufus wrote: For all corn ethanol scenarios, the authors assumed ethanol yield per bushel will not increase beyond 2.7 gallons per bushel. Average ethanol yields are already approaching 2.85 gallons per bushel and are likely to near 3 gallons/bushel in the next decade. Ethanol yields by 2030 are likely to be moer than 3 gallons/bushel.I don't recall anybody disputing the recent (and future expected) increases in ethanol yield. What I was questioning was your assumptions about CORN yield (in bushels per acre).

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 6, 2009

  87. Monsanto is pretty adamant that they will have yields to over 200 bu/acre before 2020. I would be more likely to believe them than anyone, considering their track record.High yields tend to drive down price, and acreage. Yields have more than doubled, on less acreage, over the last forty years. DDGS will, also, start to affect the price of soybeans as more, and more, soy meal is displaced in cattle feed.I warned, last year, on the oil drum, and elsewhere, that many times you get good yields in "Flood Years." DTN, meanwhile, had a gal on CNBC talking about $12.00 Corn. Well, we ended up with 154 bu/acre, and Corn "Crashed."It's quite likely that a lot of feedlot operators haven't caught on, yet, to the savings to be realized feeding DDGS, and cutting back on Soybean Meal. But, it won't take, forever, either.I should rephrase that. The average Rancher, feedlot operator pays for the groceries by "feeding" cattle. To not be "cautious" about changing his feeding regimen would be "wreckless." These folks ARE NOT "wreckless." They will "wait and see," and "move" slowly.But, when they "move" it will affect soybean prices, and acreage.

    Comment by rufus | September 6, 2009

  88. Rufus write: Monsanto is pretty adamant that they will have yields to over 200 bu/acre before 2020. I would be more likely to believe them than anyone, considering their track record.No doubt … on prime Corn Belt land. But average for the country? Less certain.And the scenario you describe — "High yields tend to drive down price, and acreage" — is correect in a free-market situation. But when governments mandate growth in a product that uses that crop, such truisms no longer necessarily hold. What we could just as well see is politicians, seeing lack of progress towards fulfilling the mandates for "advanced" biofuels and seeing a few good years of yields (no corn blight, no severer drought) and ratcheting up the mandate for "conventional ethanol" once again.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 6, 2009

  89. There's something else, very important, to consider. Let's set aside Argonne Lab's study that says you get back 70% of your "Feed Availability" with DDGS, and use the 60% figure admitted to by Fargione (no ethanol supporter.)At present we're looking at 160 bu/acre X 2.85 = 456 gal/acre. Now, if you're getting back .60 of your cattle-feeding ability in the DDGS you have a functional yield of 456/.4 = 1140 gal/acre.If Monsanto, and others, are right, and we get 200 bu/acre in 2020 (they're, actually, predicting more, but I figure I'll be a little conservative, here,) and we're getting 3 gal per bushel (it should be a little higher, inasmuch as everyone will probably be fractionating out the oil by then,) and Argonne is right about the 70% return you're looking at 200 X 3 /.30 = 2,000 gal/acre.What was that you were saying about "Sugar Cane" Ethanol?Oh yeah, I guess the only thing left to do is provide the plant energy by burning the corn cobs.Did I miss Anything?

    Comment by rufus | September 6, 2009

  90. Oh, the "Prime" lands are already producing "Way More" than that, Ron. I think I saw where Nebraska is looking at 260 this year. Iowa has Large areas that do 250 plus.20 Million gallons of corn ethanol, at 2,000 gal/acre would be 10 Million Acres, or about 1/8 of our corn crop. Eminently Doable, I think.

    Comment by rufus | September 6, 2009

  91. What was that you were saying about "Sugar Cane" EthanolOh yeah, I guess the only thing left to do is provide the plant energy by burning the corn cobs.Did I miss Anything?Yes, I am afraid you did. The deal with sugarcane ethanol is that the fuel ends up free at the plant. The fuel is pulverized and washed out, lowering the ash content and making it therefore an attractive boiler feed. That is the engine that drives sugarcane ethanol.I have had farmers tell me that it wasn’t worth the trouble for them to gather and store the corn cobs. So they are going to have to paid for them, and then lots of things are going to start to add up. The cobs haven’t been processed like bagasse either, so there may be issues with using large scale cob boilers as well. But the biggest difference is that bagasse is a byproduct that needs to be disposed of, and cobs have to be gathered and brought in.You just don’t get it, though. You chalk up the competitiveness to big subsidies from the Brazilian government, thus justifying in your mind the same for corn. Apples and oranges, because the differences are fundamental.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 6, 2009

  92. Oops, that's 20 Billion Gallons.By the way, you Are aware that we cut the Ethanol Subsidy by 10% this year, right?

    Comment by rufus | September 6, 2009

  93. If the US is able to export goods of value, then having richer oil exporters as a market would not be an (economic) problem.They are more likely to get those goods from elsewhere, though. Our enormous trade deficit says that when everything is added up, lots of wealth is indeed being transferred out.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 6, 2009

  94. Well, Poet's been collecting cobs for two years, now; and it seems to be working okay.This might, eventually, knock the Nat Gas input down to zero, which would only leave five, or six thousand btus/gal in the fertilizer. Surely we can trade 6,000 btus of nat gas for 76,000 btus of Transportation Fuel.

    Comment by rufus | September 6, 2009

  95. Well, Poet's been collecting cobs for two years, now; and it seems to be working okay.As a test. They haven't figured out what to offer farmers, but in response to the numbers that have been floated came this response from our corn farmer, "X", on The Oil Drum:From a farmer's point of view the corn cob based cellulosic ethanol issue is becoming clearer. I have been very skeptical in the past and can now see that my skepticism was justified.If the price is going to be $50 per ton and the yield is .65 ton/acre that would be $32.50 additional income per acre. I grow 114 acres of corn each year. So my additional income would be $3,705 if I sold the cobs to Poet. Poet has an ethanol plant 14 miles from my house but it is not the corn cob pilot plant.It looks as though the farmer is expected to provide the storage for the cobs until needed as is the current case with corn. If cobs are like corn there will be a moisture test that they have to meet. No purchaser is going to pay $50/ton for wet cobs that have been stored outside in the rain. So that means I will need a large shed of some kind to cover them from the weather.And in addition I will need some kind of elevator to get the cobs in the shed since cobs will not work in the augers I use for corn. Then there will be the problem of loading them up. Cobs do not flow like corn. That means I need some kind of large loader which is not cheap. This is all in addition of the special combine attachments to separate the cobs from the corn. I'm pretty sure that these will only fit newer combines. My combine is 35 years old.Then there is the cost for fuel for taking them to the ethanol plant. Since cobs are bulky and relatively lite compared to corn that means lots of trips with my little F700 truck that gets 5 MPG of gas. With corn the elevator is 8 miles away. But the cobs would have to go much further since the ethanol plant is further away. So in my case that would mean at least double the fuel for transporting them.For $3750 no small corn farmer in his right mind is going to save his cobs for ethanol. Perhaps a large farmer with 1000 acres of corn could pull it off if he can use Sec. 179 write offs of the additional equipment required. But most of these guys are at wits end trying to get their corn crop in before the snow flies and most barely get it done. They are not going to fuss with corn cobs either unless the price is much higher.There is no something for nothing in cellulosic ethanol. The feed stock may look cheap, but the infrastructure and additional labor requirements actually make it more expensive. Corn cob ethanol will fail.

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 6, 2009

  96. By the way, did you ever see this?Analysis of the Efficiency of the U.S. Ethanol Industry 2007Actual plant surveys of energy usage – just the plants – and the ethanol product is reported as denatured ethanol (thus counting gasoline as ethanol yield).The USDA studies I saw for fertilizer, pesticides, and other farming inputs were around 20,000 BTUs per gallon of ethanol production.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 6, 2009

  97. Uh, you'll notice Robert that I didn't say anything about "corn cob ethanol." I merely referred to using the cobs as process energy. I like reading what X writes, but I'm not for sure his is a typical case (I mean, 114 acres is sorta small.)My (rather incomplete, for sure) understanding is that the cobs will be stored on the ground, and Poet will be doing the transporting.Poet's too smart an outfit, I think, to be this far along on a scheme the farmers won't go for.And, I'm pretty sure I read about another ethanol plant that's getting ready to start burning cobs for energy. I'll have to try to find that one.

    Comment by rufus | September 6, 2009

  98. Uh, you'll notice Robert that I didn't say anything about "corn cob ethanol."Logistics of collecting and getting them to the plant will be the same either way.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 6, 2009

  99. Yes, I had seen that 2007 Study. It was very interesting. You always, though, have to take these things with the proverbial grain of salt. I don't think Poet participated, and that's important, because I think their 26, or so, plants use considerably less heat in the fermenting process. That could have moved the needle a bit.I tend to look at the "Range" in these studies. The Study is a Snapshot of where the industry, more, or less, Is; whereas the "Range" gives you an idea of where it's going.The industry hit the doldrums the last several months due to the price of oil crashing, but a study like this can give you a pretty good idea of what will happen when things "pick up."

    Comment by rufus | September 6, 2009

  100. Okay, here it is. Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co is buying cobs, getting ready to run its plant on them (it's, currently, using wood chips.Chippewa Valley is supplying the Custom Harvestor, and is doing the Transporting.The farmer says the corn cobs are paying for the cost of harvest.Article

    Comment by rufus | September 6, 2009

  101. The farmer says the corn cobs are paying for the cost of harvest.The cost works out to be $2/MMBTU. This is a discount to natural gas, but the boiler and maintenance are going to be more expensive. So it remains to be seen whether they stick with this long-term (or whether the farmers will continue to accept that price).RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 6, 2009

  102. It'll look better when nat gas gets back to the $7.00 range.I imagine, though, they'd settle for "break-even" if it could help them sell in California.

    Comment by rufus | September 6, 2009

  103. RR wrote: "Our enormous trade deficit says that when everything is added up, lots of wealth is indeed being transferred out."Totally agree, RR. When the price of oil was lower, the US was at times paying more to import automobiles than to import the fuel to run them. Today, the US is paying as much to import consumer goods as to import oil.This is totally unsustainable, of course. Which is why the dollar has declined over time, and why the Chinese now are getting cold feet about buying any more US government debt.The price of natural gas is near an all-time low. In other news, industrial use of gas is down by 20% in parts of the US. Why? Economics says that low price should encourage use. But what if the low price of gas is a consequence of government regulations & taxes which are killing demand by driving industry — and jobs, Mr. Obama please note — out of the US? Bottom line — the US needs to re-industrialize to start replacing some of those imported Volvos & Mercedes, and lots else. That will drive up energy use in the US. We need to get serious about large-scale expansion of domestic energy supplies — and soon!

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 6, 2009

  104. “14% are coal fired” “predominant fuel is coal (71.6%)”Yea coal, the American fuel.

    Comment by Kit P | September 6, 2009

  105. Rufus wrote: At present we're looking at 160 bu/acre X 2.85 = 456 gal/acre. Now, if you're getting back 0.60 of your cattle-feeding ability in the DDGS … .Ah, but cattle are not the only kinds of livestock that are fed corn. Ruminents digest DDGS well (compared with corn, at least), but non-ruminents do not. One cannot look at the situation for cattle and extrapolate that to the rest of the livestock economy.And pigs and poultry also require the starch in corn, not just the protein.I have not found feeding figures for the country as a whole, but here is the distribution of feed in the State of Iowa (one of the leading concentrated animal feeding states) according to its latest edition of "Corn Use as Livestock Feed in Iowa":ANIMALS …………………. SHARE OF CORNRuminents (cattle, sheep) …………. 23%Non-ruminents (hogs, poultry, etc. … 77%Note that DDGS is included in these numbers.If DDGS were so great for the livestock industry why aren't they calling for MORE subsidies for corn ethanol, and higher mandates for the stuff — instead of the opposite?

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 6, 2009

  106. Rufus wrote: 20 [b]illion gallons of corn ethanol, at 2,000 gal/acre would be 10 million acres, or about 1/8 of our corn crop. Eminently Doable, I think.Robert, you heard it here first! (The sound of ratchetting.)Thank you, Rufus, you have confirmed what a lot of us have suspected all along: that the industry, not satisfied with a 15 billion per year mandate, will soon be lobbying for a requirement that the country blend another 5 billion gallons per year on top of that.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 6, 2009

  107. Ron, I think your chart says it all. It's probably fair to say that if you fed corn, alone, it would cost you another hundred dollars to feed out a steer for slaughter.Prices bounce around, but we "supported" corn prices to the farmers to the tune of from $8 Billion, to $11 Billion/Yr. This guaranteed the farmer a "small" profit, and made corn much cheaper for the Cattle Producers.The farmers are, now, in a slightly better situation, but the ranchers have been hit in the shorts. The Good news is that, after all the floods in Iowa, droughts in China, and general goofiness in Argentina the price of corn has more or less stabilized in a range that the cattle/pig/poultry producers should be pretty much able to "pass on."In answer to one of your questions, people realized from the start that DDGS were a pretty good substitute for Some of the Corn in the Cow's diet. It didn't occur to most, at first, that it also made feeding a lot of the soy bean meal, unnecessary. Soybean Meal is expensive. In short, it will probably end up that the cattle ranchers didn't get hurt (in the long run) as much as it might have seemed at first.They are in the process of making the Distilled Grain Meal more suitable for pigs, and poultry. As for the starch, cattle, pigs, and pullets all need some starch. DDGS, and Meal will probably never replace more than 50% of the corn in the livestock diet.It seems to me that, although, the cattle ranchers would just as soon go back to the pre-ethanol days, the criticism hasn't been quite as strident from the bovine front as it was, say, last year. Ethanol still has some work to do on the pig, and poultry front, though.

    Comment by rufus | September 6, 2009

  108. RR wrote: We don't have to be brought to our knees by force. $147 oil might be enough to bring on a recession as massive wealth is transferred out of the country. …Imagine if the U.S. was completely energy independent. Prices may have shot up, but that money would have stayed in the country.Are you suggesting that the oil price was the main trigger for the recession?Gee, you mean biofuels didn't forestall it? And what price were biofuels selling at? Pretty close to petroleum-fuel parity. So they did not do much to protect the country from a price shock, nor would they unless they became a substantial share of world — not U.S., world — supply of transport fuels.In the meantime, how much treasure are countries going to lay out on biofuels? As Rufus admitted, ethanol is at gasoline-price parity now. So no significant savings from a price shock. But if biofuels were simply competing on the basis of price, that would be the end of the story. Good for them: the value added would be doing something for the economy.But biofuel producers are just barely covering marginal costs, so the value added is rather small — especially compared with the subsidies. Corn farmers are doing well, but what do we get in the long run? Asset-price inflation, as the "rents" from subsidized biofuels gets capitalized into the value of the land.Meanwhile, as grain prices rise, value added in the livestock industry declines.Let's generalize that now. Say the Government decides, come Hell or high water, it is going to become energy independent, and it spends 1/3 of GDP each year to get there. No problem, because all the money was spent at home? First, that would not be the case under any practical scenario: the United States is too integrated with the rest of the world to adopt a policy of autarky. So some of those goods to get to that point would be imported. But even for the domestically produced goods, there would be an opportunity cost to diverting land, labour and capital away from exporting sectors towards domestic energy production, especially if the chosen method of energy production is much more expensive than the imported alternative.If self-sufficiency were the secret to national wealth and security, then every country would be self-sufficient in not only energy and water, but also food, medicine, strategic metals, etc., etc. (Say bye-bye to Singapore in that case.)To cut the story short, it is not as simple a story as you sum up with assertions that "we have to become energy independent."There may be some insurance value of increasing domestic energy supplies, but that insurance has a cost. (Else the country would be energy self-sufficient alreaqdy.) So we'd better damn well procure the best deal on that insurance that we can.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 6, 2009

  109. Ron, if those numbers came to pass What would be "wrong" with it?You realize, you would be using less acres than you are NOW, right?

    Comment by rufus | September 6, 2009

  110. Rufus wrote: Ron, if those numbers came to pass What would be "wrong" with it? You realize, you would be using less acres than you are NOW, right?Sorry, but I am logging off for the night, so I have not been able to double-check your numbers. What matters, in any case, is percent of production, not percent of acres. We are looking already at ethanol absorbing 30% of output (40% of domestic consumption), and we haven't yet hit 15 billion gallons per year.Let me ask you, though: if the outlook for the industry looks so rosy, can we assume that it will soon no longer "need" subsidies, and that you would be in favour of ending them?

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 6, 2009

  111. Ron, I don't know what it was like in Switzerland, but I'll double-guarantee you that that $4.00 Gasoline had an "Effect" here in N. Mississippi.And, according to Ia State Univ. it would have been $0.35/gal Worse had it not been for ethanol.Do you, for a second, think that a Dollar spent with an Iowa Farmer doesn't do more for our economy (here in the U.S.) than a dollar spent with the Saudi Royal Family?

    Comment by rufus | September 6, 2009

  112. Ron, I posted this upthread:At present we're looking at 160 bu/acre X 2.85 = 456 gal/acre. Now, if you're getting back .60 of your cattle-feeding ability in the DDGS you have a functional yield of 456/.4 = 1140 gal/acre.That means we're using about 10 million acres for ethanol out of 80 Million Acres of Corn. That's 12.5% of our Corn Acreage.We Cut the Tax Credit 10% This Year. I'm sure other cuts will be made in the future. In the Meantime,NO Soldiers are Dying for MY Fuel.

    Comment by rufus | September 6, 2009

  113. Are you suggesting that the oil price was the main trigger for the recession?I think oil prices played a key role in pushing debt-strapped consumers over the edge, as well as bringing the airline and auto industries down.Gee, you mean biofuels didn't forestall it? And what price were biofuels selling at?But we aren't remotely self-sufficient, so we still had a huge outflow of money from our economy. If all of that money had stayed within the country, industries may have been hurt but jobs would have sprung up as money flowed into the energy sector.To cut the story short, it is not as simple a story as you sum up with assertions that "we have to become energy independent."Energy independence isn't likely something we can achieve, but we certainly have to lessen our dependence or we are going to continue to be subject to oil-price-induced economic shocks that simply transfer wealth out of the country.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 6, 2009

  114. Well, Poet's been collecting cobs for two years, now; and it seems to be working okay.Rufus~Collecting cobs to burn them wasn't even worth it to the pioneers who settled the Great Plains and the HIgh Plains. Only in the most dire circumstances would they burn cobs and corn stover to heat their sod shanties and homes. (There are stories of some of them riding out blizzards by twisting corn stalks together to feed their stoves, but that was a a 24 hour process, and done when there was no other choice.) They much preferred hitching up a team and going to the nearest stand of trees two or three times yearly, even it it were 20-30 miles away.What was that thing Santana said about history?

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 6, 2009

  115. Monsanto is pretty adamant that they will have yields to over 200 bu/acre before 2020.Sure on some demonstration plot* in the middle of prime 3-Eye (Iowa/Illinois/Indiana) corn land. But for the average farmer?________________________* One of those demo plots where Monsanto scientists and technicians show up once a week to "coach and guide" the farmer.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 6, 2009

  116. Wendell, I guess you need to contact Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co. and let them know about those old settlers. They probably don't know any of that.Hurry now, before they make a big mistake.

    Comment by rufus | September 6, 2009

  117. RR wrote: "we are going to continue to be subject to oil-price-induced economic shocks that simply transfer wealth out of the country."I hate to keep going over old ground, but there seems to be something here that one or other of us is missing.If you are concerned about wealth being transferred out of the country, then you ought to be very concerned about the importation of automobiles. That defnitely transfers wealth out the country. Not to mention the transfer of wealth to China to pay for TVs, computers, etc.The US clearly has a trade problem just now, as demonstrated by the unbalanced "Balance of Trade". But that imbalance applies to many things, not just oil. And given the propensity of oil exporters to spend money, the money sent to them for oil is more likely to be spent back in the US than, say, the money sent to Germany for automobiles.Why the special concern over the cost of oil imports?

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 7, 2009

  118. RR wrote: "we are going to continue to be subject to oil-price-induced economic shocks that simply transfer wealth out of the country."I hate to keep going over old ground, but there seems to be something here that one or other of us is missing.If you are concerned about wealth being transferred out of the country, then you ought to be very concerned about the importation of automobiles. That defnitely transfers wealth out the country. Not to mention the transfer of wealth to China to pay for TVs, computers, etc.The US clearly has a trade problem just now, as demonstrated by the unbalanced "Balance of Trade". But that imbalance applies to many things, not just oil. And given the propensity of oil exporters to spend money, the money sent to them for oil is more likely to be spent back in the US than, say, the money sent to Germany for automobiles.Why the special concern over the cost of oil imports?

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 7, 2009

  119. If you are concerned about wealth being transferred out of the country, then you ought to be very concerned about the importation of automobiles.Oh, I am. I am quite concerned about all elements of our trade imbalance. Why the special concern over the cost of oil imports?First, because this blog is about energy. Second, those other things are in a different category. If Japanese car imports get too expensive, domestic suppliers can pick up the slack. If oil gets too expensive, we just have to suck it up and suffer the consequences. So I believe oil is something to be more concerned about than TVs or automobiles.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 7, 2009

  120. Wendell, I guess you need to contact Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co. and let them know about those old settlers. They probably don't know any of that.Rufus~What's your theory on why the settlers in the High Plains and Great Plains would have rather hitched up a team and spent a couple of days going to a wood lot 20-30 miles away, than to burn corn cobs and stover only in emergencies?Perhaps they just wanted to get away from the old sod house for a couple of days and see something different, right?

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 7, 2009

  121. Wendell, the settlers "collected" cobs at the same time they "collected" kernels — during harvest. Machines to shell corn in-field did not come around until the 20th century.Settlers used cobs as cow feed, hog bedding and "prairie toilet paper". They made corn cob pipes, corn cob jelly and corn cob bottle stoppers. But mostly they were burned in fireplaces and stoves. I refer you to Chapter 14 of "Shucks, Shocks and Hominy Blocks: Corn As a Way of Life in Pioneer America".

    Comment by doggydogworld | September 7, 2009

  122. "If Japanese car imports get too expensive, domestic suppliers can pick up the slack. If oil gets too expensive, we just have to suck it up and suffer the consequences."RR — that is being a little simplistic. The domestic auto suppliers have largely been driven out of business. See GM, Chrysler. Parts suppliers have gone bankrupt, and the machine tools have been ripped out & shipped to China. There is no well-maintained domestic surplus auto-manufacturing capacity, just sitting waiting. In reality, given the decades of Political Class de-industrialization, it would take many years to rebuild the domestic auto industry & its supporting infrastructure.This is the same thing as on energy. If imported oil becomes unaffordable, the US will have to expand the use of coal, gas & nuclear. Entirely doable (once the political barriers have been eliminated), but again it would take years to rebuild the infrastructure to adjust.The situation is basically the same — whether we are talking about oil or any other import.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 7, 2009

  123. "Shucks, Shocks and Hominy Blocks: Corn As a Way of Life in Pioneer America"Thanks doggydog, I'll look for that.Those early settlers certainly did burn corncobs rather than let them pile up around the barn. But from all I've read, the two or three times trip each year to the nearest wood lot to haul back firewood was a necessity, and once the rails got to them, coal became a precious commodity — corn cobs couldn't do the job alone.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 8, 2009

  124. Wendell, one thing I read mentioned burning cobs and wood together in fireplaces. Wood burns longer and cobs burn hotter. They'd use wood as "baseload", with a small amount always burning slowly (very slowly in the case of banked embers at night). Cobs provided "peaking power", e.g. first thing in the morning and for cooking.As iron stoves replaced fireplaces practices changed. Stoves can control heat output via airflow, thus no need to mix fuels. Some stoves were designed specifically to burn cob. Heck, even hay stoves were common in places farther west such as Nebraska.

    Comment by doggydogworld | September 8, 2009


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