R-Squared Energy Blog

Pure Energy

Biofuel Niches

This is the final installment of a three-part series that examines some of the renewable energy options that are presenting themselves as possible contenders to step up as petroleum steps down the depletion curve. The previous installments were:

Biofuel Pretenders

Biofuel Contenders

Today I want to talk about Biofuel Niches. Here is how I would define a Biofuel Niche: A technology that is capable of supplying, long-term, up to 10% of our present liquid fossil fuel consumption, often by utilizing specific, localized synergies.

This definition covers a great number of possibilities, and I don’t pretend that I will even cover a large fraction of them. But I want to cover some specific fuels – like cellulosic ethanol – that I believe can work in a niche. If readers can think of others, let’s discuss them. I want to lead off with some of the options I categorized as “Pretenders”, and then discuss corn ethanol which I did not discuss in the previous installments.

To reiterate, my views are based on the following expectations: 1). That the average oil price over the next 10 years will exceed $100/bbl; 2). That biomass prices will rise in response to demand, putting a premium on efficient conversion technologies; 3). That these biofuel technologies will eventually have to compete on the basis of oil price and not government handouts. This latter point is key, because it favors those technologies that can decouple from fossil fuel inputs.

Algal Biofuel

I classified this as a pretender based on the fact that technological improvements are needed in order to make algal biofuel economical – yet the hype over algae is mind-boggling. We don’t even know if it will work at scale, and yet it is going to be the solution to all our problems? Following my previous essay, I had a discussion with someone involved in testing fuels for the U.S. military. They are optimistic about the future of fuel from algae, but admitted that they were only able to secure algal fuel for testing at the cost of $100/gal! How likely is it that there will be a more than 20-fold decrease in production costs?

Having said that, there are three situations in which I think algae can work. Two of these are niches. The first is a situation in which the oil is produced as a by-product. Algae has a great number of uses in consumer products, and oil can be produced as a by-product of those consumer products. As a hypothetical, assume that algae can be engineered to produce a valuable pharmaceutical. This is certainly not science fiction; the first commercial usage of genetic engineering was to design bacteria to produce human insulin. Imagine instead algae, and oil that is removed during processing. The costs are largely born by the more valuable primary product. The problem of course is that this approach isn’t scalable. Imagine again that something like insulin production is the primary role of the algae. If you tried to scale that up to a significant fraction of our fuel usage, you will have thoroughly saturated the market for the insulin. But perhaps if we can pair up a number of primary products with algal oil production, algae can make a contribution to our fuel supply.

The second situation is similar. If algae production is one step in an integrated energy complex, it could work. For instance, I was recently asked to comment on just such an approach by Desert Biofuels, a company in Arizona. Without endorsing their specific approach, this sort of approach may work. (Actually their approach is quite complex and has unique technical risks). But algae can be effective at cleaning up waste water. Imagine algal-cleanup as one step of an integrated complex, and the costs go down substantially.

The only scalable approach I can see is for algae to be engineered to excrete their oil in situ. What drives the cost of algae up so much are the difficulties of collecting the algae, separating from water, and then separating the oil from the algae. (Often overlooked is that the oil must be further processed to biodiesel or green diesel). Now imagine a pond of algae in which the oil “leaks” out while the algae grow. The process of collecting the oil would be dramatically simplified. A caveat of course is that engineered algae tend to get out-competed by native strains. The bigger caveat is that this technology doesn’t exist, but companies are working on it.

The wild card out there is the Solazyme approach. Think sugarcane ethanol, except instead of yeast producing ethanol you have algae producing oil. The approach is interesting – which is why I mention it – and gets away from many of the problems inherent in trying to produce fuel from algae. Is it more efficient than sugarcane ethanol? I think it’s too early to tell. But one poster at The Oil Drum indicated that during a Q&A with a Solazyme representative, he couldn’t come close to a believable answer regarding scale-up costs. So while I think this one bears watching, it is far too early to suggest that this will pan out.

For a balanced overview of fuel from algae, see Biotech’s green gold?

Cellulosic Ethanol

I see two major problems with the scalability of cellulosic ethanol. First, the logistical challenges of getting a lot of biomass into the plant is going to limit the size of the plant. As I pointed out in an essay on Coskata, to run their proposed plants would take the equivalent of over a million trees per year. In terms of rail cars, this is over 1 per hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in and out of the plant to dump the biomass. And bear in mind that this is really a gasification to ethanol plant, with higher forecast yields than a conventional cellullosic process (i.e., a real cellulosic plant of this size would require even more biomass).

But beyond that, the ethanol that is produced from the cellulosic process is at a far lower concentration than that of corn ethanol. That means big energy inputs in order to make pure ethanol.

A good niche application for cellulosic ethanol could be a situation in which there is a lot of waste heat available near a point source of biomass. Generally, there isn’t a lot of high quality waste heat that would contribute a lot to the steam needs of a cellulosic ethanol plant. But picture something like a cogeneration unit near a collection point for woody waste. The waste is being collected and is coming in anyway for disposal, and the heat output from the cogen unit may improve the economics.

Another alternative could be if there is another very cheap source of steam around that can’t be better utilized. If you had a lot of coal in the same location as a lot of biomass, again a cellulosic process might work (but I would argue that depending on the source of biomass, gasification might be a more efficient solution here).

Hydrogen

While not generally considered a biofuel, I discussed hydrogen in my “Pretenders” piece so I will address it here as well. In my opinion, the most interesting realistic option for hydrogen is as energy storage for excess power. For instance, let’s say you have a neighborhood in which most houses have enough solar panels to produce excess electricity at mid-day. Once the batteries are charged, what else can you do with that excess electricity? If it can’t be diverted to someplace that has a need, then it may make sense to electrolyze water to produce hydrogen. This is not a very efficient process, and not something you would do under normal circumstances, but in this case it could be the best storage option.

Once the hydrogen is produced, it could either be used to fuel stationary fuel cells for the neighborhood when the solar panels aren’t producing, or it could be compressed and used to fuel hydrogen combustion engines.

Corn Ethanol

A niche, you say? Aren’t we producing 10 billion gallons of corn ethanol already? True, but I am talking about something that could actually stand on its own in the long run – unsubsidized – and still make a decent net contribution to our energy supplies. In that case, producers might still be able to sell 10-15 billion gallons of ethanol a year and make a profit, but the distribution pattern would be different. In a state with ample rainfall and rich soil, corn ethanol may be able to stand unsubsidized by making and consuming the ethanol locally. Corn ethanol may be a fine solution for Iowa (although E85 is not even cornering the market in Iowa, where it should be in its optimal market). Stretching it beyond a local solution is where the economics start to break down and the scheme only works with subsidies.

Here are some examples of what I am talking about. When corn ethanol is produced far from corn supplies – like in California – the economics became difficult due to the cost of shipping the corn to the plant. I talked about that in 2006, when I warned of the potential problems of Pacific Ethanol’s plans to do just that. They filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.

Another example is when ethanol is produced from a state in which ethanol’s energy balance is poor (e.g., parts of Nebraska, due to corn’s irrigation requirements) and then shipped to California. If you look at the USDA’s most recent paper on corn ethanol’s energy balance (the one in which they used creative accounting), you can see from Table 2 that Nebraska’s energy inputs for growing corn are about 20,000 BTU/bushel above the Midwest average. (By comparison, Iowa’s are 11,000 BTU/bushel under the Midwest average). This has the overall impact of actually causing Nebraska’s net energy from producing ethanol to be negative unless one adds a BTU credit for co-products. With such a marginal energy balance (and I haven’t even mentioned the Ogallala Aquifer) it hardly makes sense to produce ethanol in the drier regions of Nebraska. It makes even less sense to then spend more energy shipping that ethanol far from the point of origin.

Conclusion

Those are some of the major niche applications I see, but there are certainly others. What corn ethanol could be for Iowa, sugar beet ethanol may be to the EU and palm oil may be to Malaysia. The key to success for any of these is not to try to scale something that should operate in a niche. When we attempt to do this, we open up a can of perpetual subsidies in order to force something that doesn’t fit, and often get unintended consequences in the process.

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September 7, 2009 - Posted by | algal biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol, ethanol, hydrogen

111 Comments

  1. The first is a situation in which the oil is produced as a by-product. Algae has a great number of uses in consumer products, and oil can be produced as a by-product of those consumer products…. The problem of course is that this approach isn't scalable…. If you tried to scale that up to a significant fraction of our fuel usage, you will have thoroughly saturated the marketOne of those consumer products is the health food industry where they are interested in the protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. How much algae oil biofuel can be made using just the byproducts of this and other current consumer product uses? I'm curious as to the order of magnitude.

    Comment by Clee | September 7, 2009

  2. Good post Robert. I'll keep holding out hope for the magically engineered yeast or algae strain. All of this speculation may be moot if deep geothermal pans out. If it can scale up,the cheap electricity can power EV's or be used to make hydrogen,or even liquid fuel from CO2. I'm keeping an eye on those Aussies. I'm sure big oil is too.

    Comment by Maury | September 7, 2009

  3. A study, published in the journal Energy Policy, has found that geothermal is both the most efficient alternative-energy technology and is also improving at the fastest rate. Wind power places second, while solar does not fare nearly as well, despite receiving the most government funding among emerging technologies.http://tinyurl.com/l23ruk

    Comment by Maury | September 7, 2009

  4. I see another niche for hydrogen. Hydrogen is made as a byproduct of other chemical manufacturing (which means in this case it's still not a biofuel), avoiding the conversion losses of electrolysis. The Integrated Waste Hydrogen Utilization Project (IWHUP) has been testing this out.http://www.sacre-davey.com/files/iwhup_executive_summary.pdf The impression I get, based on very little information, is that the most economically feasible use of the waste hydrogen is for local stationary fuel cell combined heat and power, and not for transportation vehicles. Hopefully there will be a report on the demonstration phase within the next year.

    Comment by Clee | September 7, 2009

  5. This Canadian waste hydrogen looks like it scales to fewer vehicles than our Cash for Clunker program.http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/energy/hydrogen.html"While IWHUP current powers 15 vehicles, Tamehi estimates that the amount of hydrogen gleaned from the Erco and Canexis plants could power 20,000 vehicles and, if all the similar plants in Canada were tapped, there would be enough to run 250,000 vehicles."

    Comment by Clee | September 7, 2009

  6. Maury, re: deep geothermal… a setback

    Comment by PeteS | September 7, 2009

  7. RR – A quick summary of your excellent broad overview of biofuels is that they are going to make only a limited contribution to the 100 TeraWatt world that humans need to build. Good in some niches, one may hope — same as wind power & photovoltaics — but not a big piece of the overall solution.We can also reject Maury's untechnical hopes for Deep Geothermal — already demolished in prior discussions. And let's throw out wave energy & Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion while we are at, along with any substantial expansions of hydro-power. Some of these may also be niche contributors — but that is their limit.So is there any real current alternative to nuclear fission for the bulk of our post-fossil future power needs?

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 7, 2009

  8. "Predictions is hard," said Ol' Casey, "Especially when they involve the Future."Quadruply hard when it comes to anything "Bio." We are, just now, really getting knee deep in the age of "gene-splicing." Every University in the World has a Biology Dept where a handful of pretty smart cookies are trying to figure out how to "slice, and dice" the genes of something to make fuel.I don't know "when," or "where," but I have a feeling that one of these Biologists is going to hit the "Comstock." Maybe 🙂

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  9. We don't really have an "electricity" problem at present, K. If we're going to have a "problem" in the next few years it will be in transportation. Basically, we'll need a liquid to burn in our existing fleet while we, possibly, switch over to something else.Oil palm? Takes those trees a while to grow. Maybe we could replace 1/2 of 1% of our diesel every year. Hard to get it much faster than that.We have ethanol. Corn, or Cane. Take your choice. Domestic, or Imported. About one out of ten cars going by your window is running on it, now; and we could, pretty easily, and pretty quickly, get that to 1 in 5."That's" where we're at, "Now."

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  10. From Maury's Motley Fool article:"The authors, from NYU's Stern School of Business, used a technology S-curve model that should be familiar to anyone who's read the work of Motley Fool CAPS mentor Clayton Christensen. …"… for geothermal to take the world by storm, it has to move beyond the exploitation of natural reservoirs … Unfortunately, such projects have seriously stumbled lately. …"That road to commercialization of EGS would certainly be easier if the oil and gas industry would clue the geothermal folks in on the dark arts of deep drilling. The conspiratorially minded among us may conclude that the energy majors have no such interest in doing so, since they have a good thing going with fossil fuels. Even though Chevron (NYSE: CVX) is the biggest geothermal producer in the world …"Quick summary:- The authors of the article touting the great promise of deep geothermal have no technical expertise.- Geothermal currently works only in the niches where it has worked for decades.- The Motely Fool's conspiracy theory is dumb, even by the standards of conspiracy theories. And it demonstrates the Motley Fool does not even know that oil companies have limited expertise in drilling — the actual drilling is done by contractors who are just as willing to take contracts from the geothermal industry as from the oil industry. Given that something like 600 drilling rigs have been idled in the US already this year, geothermal promoters could probably get a good deal on drilling costs — if they really wanted to drill.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 7, 2009

  11. "We don't really have an "electricity" problem at present, K."Except in California — where the problem has been caused by California's oh-so-smart (& green) Political Class.Of course you are right that the weakest link is transportation fuel. But we can use different energy sources & different paradigms to make transportation fuels — provided we have very large sources of net energy to take up the slack as fossil fuels reach their supply limits. The point of RR's article seems to be that, absent some 'deus ex machina', that source won't be biofuels.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 7, 2009

  12. Except that, "It already IS biofuels."We're running the equivalent of approx. 20 Million Automobiles on Ethanol, Today.

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  13. “For instance, let's say you have a neighborhood in which most houses have enough solar panels to produce excess electricity at mid-day.”Most what if scenarios are akin to when pigs fly. There is not a lot of places in the world with excess electricity. The reason is very practical. Why build a power plant that is not needed?Places with large amounts of excess electricity soon become aluminum producers.“unsubsidized” Until recently, all electricity was subsidized. Regulated monopolies or government agencies built power plants and passed the cost on to customers. If you utility was well managed, you had cheaper electricity than a poorly managed utility in the next city or state.There are some cash machines out there including hydro at BPA, TVA, and 104 nuke plants. The cheapest electricity generation comes from the power plants that were the most expensive to build. “Except in California ..”Once upon a time California was a leader in hydro and nukes. One of the byproducts of the 70s oil crisis was cheap NG. States like California, Texas, and New York decided to meet growing demand with NG generation because of low capital cost.To the credit they built CCGT before the lights went out. Conservation is an unintended of 'clean' NG generation. All those jobs that depended on cheap NG are gone.

    Comment by Kit P | September 7, 2009

  14. Robert,I'd be interested in your thoughts on high altitude wind.

    Comment by Erik | September 7, 2009

  15. Dedicated energy crops like miscanthus are still being overlooked, as is the reality of DEC's to replace solid fossil fuel like coal. Perennial grasses can supply much more Btu per acre than wood.

    Comment by morrotom | September 7, 2009

  16. Rufus wrote: Except that, "It already IS biofuels." We're running the equivalent of approx. 20 million automobiles on ethanol, today.How do you arrive at that number, Rufus? Ethanol consumption in the United States is running at around 7 billion gallons of gasoline equivalent on an annualized basis. That is less than 6 per cent of total consumption of fuel for spark-ignition engines.According to worldmapper there were 140 million cars in the United States in 2002. (The total number of vehicles, counting big diesel-operated trucks and such like, was more that, of course.) Let's increase that number by 2% per year, bringing the estimated number in 2009 to 160 million, and assume that, of that, all but 10 million can consume gasoline or ethanol (at least E10).Six percent of 150 million is 9 million.Bear in mind, also, RR's criterion here: "That these biofuel technologies will eventually have to compete on the basis of oil price and not government handouts."Ethanol has not reached that stage yet (if it ever will).

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 7, 2009

  17. About one out of ten cars going by your window is running on it, now…Rufus~Perhaps 1 in 10 is flexfuel, but that doesn't mean they are RUNNING on ethanol. Even if they are burning E85 (which few flexfuel cars are) they are still not RUNNING on ethanol — 15% of that would still be gas. They would be running on E85.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 7, 2009

  18. I said, Automobiles. This would include pickemup trucks. My understanding was that there is about 250 million autos (cars, and light duty trucks) in use in the US. If the fuel in our tanks is 8% ethanol, then 250 X .08 = 20 million. I guess that if you adjusted that down to .064 X 250 that would be fair. That would be 17 Million. Of course, while I'm thinking about it, I guess I could throw the rest of the world in, and double it to 34 Million. It IS a Global Market, right?

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  19. That these biofuel technologies will eventually have to compete on the basis of oil price and not government handouts."Why? Oil never did?Besides, I think we established that ethanol is just about at the "break even price" (without subsidies,)now.

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  20. Why? Oil never did?Of course it has. Oil has paid trillions in taxes. The net is money into the treasury, which has helped allow some of these bailouts. So no, the corporate welfare can't continue indefinitely. Besides, I think we established that ethanol is just about at the "break even price" (without subsidies,)now.No, you have asserted it again and again, ignoring the effect that the blender's credit has on the market. I don't think that's very honest of you to continue to do this. But I think we can agree that if you took that credit away and there were no mandates, the value of ethanol would fall. Hence, the price is being subsidized even if the ethanol producer doesn't get the credit. Why else would they scream when someone mentions removing it?RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 7, 2009

  21. I think we can agree that without the Mandates Ethanol would have been "Squashed into Oblivion" this winter. The nascent industry would be gone. The oil industry, the Sauds, and the Kuwaitis would Like That.Me, not so much.

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  22. Okay, the Numbers; one more time (Without Tax Credit.)$1.52/gal from the refinery.Add $.48 for mileage differential.Add $0.55 for trans. tax, shipping, and mark-up. =$2.55Pretty Close.

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  23. “Bear in mind, also, RR's criterion here”So much for RR's criterion Ron, 'less than 6 per cent' is past a niche source of energy. If fact it is an amazing success story in a short period of time. This is RR's blog and he can make up any criteria he wants. No one else in the energy production industry uses such silly criteria. There is a difference between a hobby called bogging and producing energy. The most important criterion is producing energy when and where our customers need it. The second is not harming anyone. Third is providing the energy with insignificant environmental impact. Rufus math may be a little fuzzy but at least he see the big picture and does not have to invent criteria.

    Comment by Kit P | September 7, 2009

  24. I think we can agree that without the Mandates Ethanol would have been "Squashed into Oblivion" this winter. The nascent industry would be gone. The oil industry, the Sauds, and the Kuwaitis would Like That.The very fact that we have the mandates and subsidies is proof that the oil industry isn't as all powerful as you seem to believe. The oil industry isn't out to crush threats; it would be much happier to incorporate promising new technologies into the business model. I know that when I was with ConocoPhillips we were looking at lots of different things – and not because of the PR.Okay, the Numbers; one more time (Without Tax Credit.)$1.52/gal from the refinery.It is like we are speaking different languages. The only reason the price is $1.52 is because of the tax credit. Based on the wholesale price of gasoline right now, a refiner wouldn't be willing to pay more than around $1.20 for ethanol. So when you say that it is close – without the tax credit – that is nonsensical. RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 7, 2009

  25. “The nascent industry would be gone.”Exactly true Rufus. Renewable energy and nuke capacity is not going to get built without incentives of some kind because there is a less risky for investors to produce energy. The ethanol industry has done what they said they would do if given incentives. Will this generation of ethanol plants be in 40 years as big a national asset that the 104 US nukes and those hydro plants? “That the average oil price over the next 10 years will exceed $100/bbl….”If RR crystal ball is correct, ethanol will be a self supporting taxing paying industry. Since ethanol is the only new renewable energy technology is the last 10 years to show this kind of growth, why not brag about it.

    Comment by Kit P | September 7, 2009

  26. So much for RR's criterion Ron, 'less than 6 per cent' is past a niche source of energy. If fact it is an amazing success story in a short period of time. You can enable all sorts of things if you pay high enough subsidies. But something that only exists because of subsidies isn’t a success story in my opinion. I suppose it is in yours – unless of course the topic is wind and solar in which you complain that they aren’t competitive without subsidies.This is RR's blog and he can make up any criteria he wants.And as I have pointed out, you are free to find a new home if you don’t like it.The most important criterion is producing energy when and where our customers need it.The situation is much more complex than that, Kit. I can enable algal fuel if I pay a tax credit of $100/gal. Based on the criteria you have applied for ethanol, if the industry quickly ramps up on the back of that tax credit, this is a success story. But if the industry can’t function without the tax credits, it is a boondoggle – even if they are supplying the energy the customers need. Rufus math may be a little fuzzy but at least he see the big picture and does not have to invent criteria.Have you actually read any of Rufus’ posts? He is constantly making up criteria.If RR crystal ball is correct, ethanol will be a self supporting taxing paying industry. This is where your superficial understanding of the issue is glaring. Whether it will be a self-supporting industry is dependent upon the energy inputs that are required to make the product. If they are too high, it can’t be a self-supporting industry because the costs will skyrocket along with the cost of fossil fuel. This, more than anything, explains why ethanol requires subsidies to compete with fossil fuels. It IS fossil fuels, with just a pinch of sunshine thrown in. When you understand this, all will be clear to you.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 7, 2009

  27. Well, what about that Chippewa Valley plant that is currently using wood chips, and will soon be using corn cobs for energy?Where's the "fossil fuels," there?

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  28. What about the Poet Chancellors plant that's using a combination of wood waste, and landfill gas?

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  29. What about the Corn Plus plant in Winnebago, Mn that has cut its nat gas usage in half by gassifying its syrup (and, producing better Distilled Grains as a result?)

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  30. Well, what about that Chippewa Valley plant that is currently using wood chips, and will soon be using corn cobs for energy?Where's the "fossil fuels," there?Are they harvesting themselves and walking to the plant?You still have to get your head around energy density. These things have a low energy density. From an economic standpoint, I might be able to bring corn cobs in from 200 miles away to fuel my plant. But because this is dependent on cheap fossil fuel prices, it isn't sustainable if the price of fossil fuels rises. When that happens, the density of how far out you can go shrinks. That is why it is very important to understand and manage the fossil fuel inputs. Minimizing them is the only one some of these schemes will survive with much higher priced oil.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 7, 2009

  31. Rufus! Do not misquote Casey Stengel! I can tolerate your ethanol-madness, but misquoting Stengel is beyond the pale!It goes, "Making predictions is hard, especially about the future." Good summary by RR. Politically, ethanol is here to stay. Farmers are the power potent lobby group. Farm subsidies will outlast any of us. We can only hope that long-term corn yields continue their upward path (about 2 percent a year, and that inputs keep decreasing (relatively), so that corn ethanol becomes only a so-so idea, instead of a poor one. Hey, like Rufus says, if I have to subsidize Iowa, or I have to subside Iraqistan, I choose Iowa.

    Comment by Benjamin | September 7, 2009

  32. A couple of weeks ago, wholesale unleaded was about #2.05. Today, it's $1.75. The burning question on the day, I suppose, is, next year, will it be closer to $2.05, or $1.75?What about Two years from now?5?

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  33. Benjamin, :)I wondered who was going to "call me" on the Stengall "Quote."

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  34. Damn, it gets worse.I spelled Casey Stengel's name wrong.They'll never trust me, Again.

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  35. I doubt they'll be bringing those corn cobs from farther away than 15, or 20 miles. In fact, I'd bet against it.No extra energy in "harvesting." The only difference is, instead of blowing the cobs out the back of the combine, they're throwing them in a separate bin (or, trailer.)As for transport: let's see. 30,000 lbs of cobs would, probably, provide enough energy to produce 5,000 gallons of ethanol.So, we use 3 gallons of diesel (or, biodiesel,) or 6 gallons round trip to transport enough cobs to produce 5,000 gal of ethanol.6/5,000 = 0.0012 X 132,000 btu/gal of diesel = 158.4 btus of diesel (for transport of cobs) in a gallon of ethanol.Well, that does it. Back to the cave.

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  36. I said, Automobiles. This would include pick-up trucks. My understanding was that there is about 250 million autos (cars, and light duty trucks) in use in the US.Please provide a link for that source, Rufus. The current population of the United States is 307 million.250 million cars and light-duty trucks would mean 8 gasoline-powered cars (or pick-up trucks) for every 10 people — man, woman and child — including youths under 16 (about 15% of the population), people who are too poor to own a vehicle, people who live in big cities and don't own a vehicle, elderly who don't own a vehicle, people in jail who don't own a vehicle, etc., etc., etc.I think that the 250 million figure relates to ALL vehicles, including diesel-powered trucks.Besides, I think we established that ethanol is just about at the "break even price" (without subsidies,)now.Actually, I now see you were referring to futures prices. According to the DTN ethanol blog, the spread is putting the rack price for ethanol at 80% of the price of reformulated gasoline blendstock for oxygen blendove ing (RBOB) … implying that the price is above gasoline partity. It can sell at that price because of the mandate, and because blenders get a tax credit when they blend it.Ethanol may be selling at something around gasoline-price parity, but is that price covering all the production costs, including a market return on the capital invested?

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 7, 2009

  37. "We can also reject Maury's untechnical hopes for Deep Geothermal — already demolished in prior discussions."It's a good thing nobody bothered to tell Iceland about those demolished hopes Kinuach. They've used geothermal to reduce their total dependence on fossil fuels to about 20%. They're ready to produce hydrogen with all that cheap electricity too. They just need automakers to come out with affordable fuel cells. Iceland is currently drilling two miles deep,going for "supercritical" steam. 750 degrees plus. It could produce 10X the electricity of a normal geothermal well. The geothermal we use today is low hanging fruit. We'll go deeper and deeper as time goes on,just as oil companies drilled deeper when the low hanging fruit was gone.

    Comment by Maury | September 7, 2009

  38. Actually, I was looking at a little more recent data CBOT, Ethanol Sept 7, 2009.Those distillers that kept their head last year, and didn't get too deep into the Commodities Trading game are making a small, but steady profit. Most of them have bank notes that they're paying on time, and investors that they are rewarding with quarterly dividends. So, yeah, I guess you could say that all costs are being met, and they're in a sustainable proposition. Even with the Floods, and run-up in corn prices last year, those distillers that just kept their head down, bought their corn, and sold their ethanol came out alright.

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  39. You know, we all overlook the fact that about 32% of these distillers Sell their CO2. They produce about 5 lbs of CO2 for every gallon of ethanol. That would be somewhere between 250 Million, and 500 Million Pounds of CO2, depending on the size of the refinery. I have no idea what CO2 sells for, but it's got to be a significant revenue stream for those that are in a location to sell it.

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  40. The great thing about unsubsidized markets is there is no need for a Rufus to argue with everyone — if ethanol is a viable competitive transportation fuel, then a Rufus will just go do it & become the next Bill Gates. Time will tell.If we lift our eyes up from the corn field for a moment, we will see that unsubsidized markets are coming.The US dollar is weak, the US is running unsustainable trade & budget deficits, the Chinese are starting to prefer gold to US bonds, and the Obama Administration has tons of IOUs it needs someone somewhere to buy for as far as the eye can see.Clearly not sustainable. The US government is running out of the ability to pay. Any business model built on the perpetual extension of government subsidies & mandates is a guaranteed failure. RR is right. Biofuels (and a whole lot else) need to start standing on their own feet.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 7, 2009

  41. rufus wrote: We have ethanol. ….About one out of ten cars going by your window is running on it, nowAnd yet according to http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy09osti/43543.pdf"Approximately 7 million flex-fuel vehicles, or about 3% of the U.S. fleet, are in use today with less than 1% of U.S. fueling stations providing E85."Those stats are for passenger vehicles, including pickup trucks (but not big rigs). The stats may be from 2008, but I'm sure they haven't more than tripled to 25 million in just 9 months or so.

    Comment by Clee | September 7, 2009

  42. Maury wrote: "It's a good thing nobody bothered to tell Iceland about those demolished hopes Kinuach. They've used geothermal to reduce their total dependence on fossil fuels to about 20%."Maury, of course geothermal is great if your entire country happens to have the population of a modest US suburb and is sitting on top of a whole lot of volcanic activity. Geothermal is a niche energy source — great where Mother Nature provided the ideal conditions, not much use anywhere else.The concept that deep geothermal — something very different from what keeps those few Icelanders warm — will provide bounteous energy everywhere is, to be kind, unproven. There are good physical reasons for thinking that deep geothermal will never amount to much — reasons like thermal conductivity, salinity, corrosion, and thermodynamics.The Laws of Physics — they win every time.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 7, 2009

  43. "it demonstrates the Motley Fool does not even know that oil companies have limited expertise in drilling — the actual drilling is done by contractors who are just as willing to take contracts from the geothermal industry as from the oil industry."It's not that simple Kinuach. I've worked on oil rigs. The Company Man,the oil company representative on the rig,oversees everything. He's the one hunched over maps,studying the mud,deciding where and when to drill. Yes,the Tool Pusher oversees the drilling. Tell him to go 3000 ft. and he'll get 'er done. But,he can't tell you what will be there when the drilling's done. Or,what you'll be drilling through to get there. Big Oil has a natural advantage when it comes to drilling deep. Hiring a drilling rig can't overcome that.

    Comment by Maury | September 7, 2009

  44. Clee, you didn't pay attention to what I, actually, "wrote."I said, 250 million vehicles running an 8% ethanol blend comes out to, the "equivalent" of 20 Million vehicles running on ethanol. I'm informed that I should have allowed for the lower mileage with ethanol; and I agree. I changed it to 17 Million.Ron Steenblik also questions whether we actually have 250 million cars, suvs, and pickemup trucks. I confess, the last number I, actually, saw was 230 Million, and that was, I think, 2007. It might only be 240 million, but I can't see how it really matters.

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  45. My understanding was that there is about 250 million autos (cars, and light duty trucks) in use in the US.Please provide a link for that sourcehttp://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_01_11.html

    Comment by Clee | September 7, 2009

  46. rufus, I haven't checked the math you used to reach 17 million, but 17 million is still not 10% of 240 million. It's more like 7%.

    Comment by Clee | September 7, 2009

  47. Righto, I call bullshit.Rufus said: "As for transport: let's see. 30,000 lbs of cobs would, probably, provide enough energy to produce 5,000 gallons of ethanol."Ethanol is about 6.57 lb/gal. So 5000 gal is 32,850 lb.Are you really telling me that 30,000lbs of low grade (6,500 btu/lb) biomass can be upgraded to 32,850 lbs of high grade (11,500 btu/lb) liquid fuel without massive fossil energy imputs????Wow, that must be some magic process you've got there, as it defies the basic laws of physics.It sucks being an Engineer, as we have this ability to run sanity checks on things that other people just have to take as read.Sorry if this come across as massively sarcastic, but I really don't like it when folk just make stuff up, or believe rubbish PR handouts and start parroting them as the truth.Andy

    Comment by Andytk | September 7, 2009

  48. Yeah, it's more like one out of fourteen.Okay, let's get out of the weeds, and back into what's important.We're using a little over 750,000 barrels of ethanol/daily. Let's say that replaces 600,000 barrels of oil imported from our "marginal producer" (that would be Saudi Arabia.)600,000 X 30 = 18,000,000 Barrels/mo. At $70.00/barrel, that's $1,260,000,000.00/mo that stays in the U.S.Over a year, that's $15 Billion, 120 Million/Yr staying in the U.S.Plus, we get the income taxes from the Distillery Workers, Farmers, Construction Workers, Property Taxes from Same, Corporate Income Taxes off of the Refineries, Equipment Manufacturing, etc. etc.And, that's 750,000 barrels/day that the Saudis/Venezuelans, Kuwaitis CANNOT "Cut Off."

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  49. It sucks being an Engineer, as we have this ability to run sanity checks on things that other people just have to take as read.Yeah, too bad that 'njuniring skool didn't teach a little readin, along with the rithmetik.We were discussing gassifying the cobs for "Process Energy," not converting to ethanol.

    Comment by rufus | September 7, 2009

  50. “The situation is much more complex than that, Kit.”Not really, there are always those who like to make things more complex then they are violating the KISS principle.“unless of course the topic is wind and solar in which you complain that they aren’t competitive without subsidies.”RR is confusing me with someone else. I support incentives for renewable energy for making electricity. Wind and solar just does not meet the criteria for making electricity when and where my customers need it but I do not have a problem with incentives for the industry to try and make it work.“I can enable ….”Sorry to disagree. Some things just do not work beyond the hobby level. I know a guy that drove a PU across country using as a gasifier. During WWII, the same technology was used out of necessity. Some things you can not wish into consumer acceptance or make work as an engineer to a level that consumer acceptance does not matter. “because the costs will skyrocket along with the cost of fossil fuel.”So RR is predicting the price of PRB coal will skyrocket. Just be careful RR, never plot coal fuel cost on the same graph as NG. I do not have a problem with Wyoming coal being used to process corn into transportation fuel. I think adding anaerobic digestion to the process is better if the feedlot is nearby. “pinch of sunshine thrown in.”According to who, losers at Cornell and Berkely? Midwest farmers and the ethanol is showing how to create jobs and get the job done. Tell me again what the output of your process is and the location of the facility. I hope RR succeeds and producing transportation. He is not going to succeed by blaming ethanol.

    Comment by Kit P | September 7, 2009

  51. “It sucks being an Engineer, ..”Especially when some old jarhead understand the engineering better. “We were discussing gassifying the cobs for "Process Energy," not converting to ethanol.”Old age and cunning trumps everytime. So Andy after you get your BS meter calibrated and are still interested in some good old biomass engineering check out Energy Products of Idaho.

    Comment by Kit P | September 7, 2009

  52. Not really, there are always those who like to make things more complex then they are violating the KISS principle.Are you purposely being ironic? This is exactly the point with the ethanol subsidies: It certainly violates the KISS principle. The industry exists to convert natural gas into ethanol, and only exists because it is subsidized to exist. Keeping it simple would be ethanol just going out and competing in the marketplace. But it can’t, despite 30 years of direct subsidies. KISS indeed!I do not have a problem with incentives for the industry to try and make it work.Perpetual subsidies? In 30 years, if the industry is still living solely because of subsidies, will you still feel that way?“I can enable ….”Sorry to disagree.You disagree with the first 3 words of that sentence? I gave a specific example. Do you disagree with that example? If so, why? What is the difference between enabling algae on the back of heavy subsidies and calling that a success?According to who, losers at Cornell and Berkely? No, according to the very pro-ethanol USDA. I referenced their study in this essay. Perhaps you should read it, if you think the only people who have reported on ethanol’s poor energy balance are Pimentel and Patzek.Midwest farmers and the ethanol is showing how to create jobs and get the job done. Likewise, if I mandate that everyone must buy a Ford, I can “create jobs” as well. We can put Detroit back to work. I can do all kinds of wonderful things if I ignore the bill that my children are going to have to pay. This is what you are doing with your narrow view of ethanol.Tell me again what the output of your process is and the location of the facility.Patience, Kit.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 8, 2009

  53. Why? Oil never did?Rufus~Never? Do you think they were getting any subsidies back in the 1910's and 1920's when oil gushed out of the ground under its own pressure in Texas and Oklahoma and they we were getting only about 10 cents a barrel?That's why oil got so entrenched in the American economy and psyche. It was dirt cheap, energy dense, easy-to-find, and in the early years came out of the ground without even needing to pump it.Its advantages were so great, it needed no subsidies to get established as the fuel of choice.As I'm sure you know, Henry Ford initially envisioned his cars running on alcohol, and Diesel thought his engine would use peanut oil ~ but the astounding EROEI of petroleum blew both of those fuels out of the water — with nary a subsidy.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 8, 2009

  54. That would be somewhere between 250 Million, and 500 Million Pounds of CO2, depending on the size of the refinery. I have no idea what CO2 sells for, but it's got to be a significant revenue stream for those that are in a location to sell it.Rufus~There can hardly be any future in the CO2 market can there? In case you haven't heard, our dear planet is already plagued with too much CO2. Counting on profiting from a CO2 "co-product" wouldn't be the best of business plans. Coke and Pepsi can buy only so much CO2 to carbonate their high-fructose corn syrup sweetened soft drinks, and even that CO2 doesn't stay out of the atmosphere very long, as Coke and Pepsi drinkers tend to burp.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 8, 2009

  55. It's a good thing nobody bothered to tell Iceland about those demolished hopes Kinuach. They've used geothermal to reduce their total dependence on fossil fuels to about 20%.Good point Maury, but you have to admit Iceland has the unique advantage of sitting on top of a crack in the earth's crust.We should take advantage of those places where we can, but the opportunity is limited. Now if we could just get everyone in Chicago to move to Yellowstone Park. 🙂

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 8, 2009

  56. "Over a year, that's $15 Billion, 120 Million/Yr staying in the U.S."Let's keep a sense of perspective. $15 Billion out of a US annual economy that is approximately $7,000 Billion (or at least it was back when the evil Chimpy McBushitler was running the show).Also, you are making the same unwarranted assumption that our esteemed host has been making — that money sent out of the US to pay for oil never comes back.Have you ever been to the Middle East? There are more Cadillacs & Lincolns on the streets of Kuwait City than San Francisco. Many of the Mid-East airlines fly Boeings. US contractors have a big piece of the high-end construction market there. Some of that money sent out of the US to pay for oil comes back to pay for exports from the US. Send the 'Thug States' less money, and they have less to spend in the US. Who benefits?Full disclosure — I would like to see the US put a lot of effort into becoming self-sufficient in food & energy, for strategic reasons. (Basically, shut the door and let those foreigners fight it out amongst themselves; call us when it is all over). But claims about sending money out of the country are not a sound argument in favor of that policy.

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 8, 2009

  57. "This has the overall impact of actually causing Nebraska's net energy from producing ethanol to be negative unless one adds a BTU credit for co-products."Ah yes, cost accounting which includes the value of most of the output (grains and CO2 = >50% value) would certainly be "creative accounting."

    Comment by Anonymous | September 8, 2009

  58. "There can hardly be any future in the CO2 market can there? In case you haven't heard, our dear planet is already plagued with too much CO2."The sucking sound the intellectual vacuum here is creating is ear-splitting and eye-watering. The industrial and agriculture value is immense and any commentariate prole worth his salt would be famaliar with it. JFGI, RTFM or STFU. C02 is food (fertilizer mass) and energy carrier (pneumatic transmission, refrigerant). etc.

    Comment by Anonymous | September 8, 2009

  59. Ah yes, cost accounting which includes the value of most of the output (grains and CO2 = >50% value) would certainly be "creative accounting."That's not what they did. They allocated a disproportionate amount of the energy inputs to the DDGS. When you do that, you can make the energy return anything you like. Need it higher? Just allocate more inputs to DDGS.The only reason they did it was because the first time they attempted to estimate it they came up with a 1.3. They then found out they had underestimated some of the energy inputs, so on the update instead of reporting that the energy return was worse than they thought, they changed the methodology and made it look like it had gotten a lot better.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 8, 2009

  60. "C02 is food (fertilizer mass) and energy carrier (pneumatic transmission, refrigerant). etc."You sir, are a genius. So instead of companies having to pay to emit CO2, they should instead just sell it. Coal-fired power plants everywhere will rejoice at this new income stream you have uncovered.

    Comment by Anonymous | September 8, 2009

  61. The back and forth over ethanol solves nothing. Obama owes his presidency to those corn huskers. They won't lose the subsidy on his watch. Like it or not,ethanol is here for at least another 7 years.

    Comment by Maury | September 8, 2009

  62. Thank you very much, Clee, for the link to the table from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics — a much more authoritative source than worldmapper. :-)What it shows is the following in millions (for 2007):Passnger cars …. 136Motorcycles …… 7Other 2-axle, 4-tire vehicles .. 101Total ………… 244It looks, in short, as if the worldmapper numbers refer to passenger cars and motorcycles only (a number that has remained surprisingly stable since 2001.)So, I agree with Rufus that the 244 million is closer to the population of vehicles that potentially run on gasoline (or ethanol). But we need to subtract out the share that runs on diesel (or biodiesel). First, rounding up, let's say the total in 2009 is 250 million vehicles.Various studies, including this one from Oak Ridge National Laboratory seem to suggest that the current market share of diesel-propelled light-duty vehicles is 4%. My guess is that for the category "Other 2-axle, 4-tire vehicles it is probably at least 10%. (If anybody has better numbers, please provide them!) So the table for gasoline vehicles in 2007 might be something like the following:Passnger cars …. 130Motorcycles …… 7Other 2-axle, 4-tire vehicles .. 90Total ………… 227So, let's say 235 million in 2009.Seven percent of 235 million is 16,450,000, which is close to Rufus's number of 17 million.Of course, if the share of diesel in "Other 2-axle, 4-tire vehicles" is greater than 10%, the share would be lower.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 8, 2009

  63. "but you have to admit Iceland has the unique advantage of sitting on top of a crack in the earth's crust."Very true Wendell. But,Iceland is something like #14 on the list of countries with geothermal resources. Hawaii could produce all its electricity with geothermal and have plenty left over to make hydrogen. And,that's just the low hanging stuff. Advances are being made left and right in geothermal and deep geothermal. Not press releases and hype,but real world stuff. Turbines can produce electricity with 180 degree heat these days. That's bath water,LOL. Every time an advance is made in oil and gas drilling,deep geothermal comes one step closer to reality. Throw in carbon-emissions pricing and geothermal is a lock.

    Comment by Maury | September 8, 2009

  64. Turbines can produce electricity with 180 degree heat these days. That's bath water.DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME, FOLKS!According to WomensHealthCareTopics.com, "Hot bath or shower consists of a water temperature ranging between 96 F to 105 F." You'll slowly cook in 180 F water!That said, I agree with you Maury, that the technology of geothermal energy continues to improve, and that there remains a significant, as yet untapped potential.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 8, 2009

  65. “The industry exists to convert natural gas into ethanol, and only exists because it is subsidized to exist.”RR has his cart in front of his horse. Until he understands simple logic, his engineering degree is a waste. This why I would like folks like RR to read the National Energy Policy, May 2001. Until you understand the goal, you can not be a good engineer.The goal in this case is a reliable long term supply of energy or having energy when and where you need it. In the case of transportation fuels, biofuels is a practical alternative to oil.Since RR grew up in oil country and worked in the oil industry, RR has only one tool in his tool box. Drill baby drill! Not having a reliable supply of energy is not some abstract concept for my generation or my father's. When I went to college, corn was rotting on the ground because of NG shortages. When I was in the navy, the USSR was in Afghanistan and American citizens were being held prisoner in Iran. I has to come home on emergency leave to get heating oil for my mom's house when she was dying. The issue and challenge has not changed. If we want domestic biofuels to be part of the energy mix, incentives must be provided.Kit wrote, “do not have a problem with incentives for the industry to try and make it work.” RR replied, “Perpetual subsidies?” I do not know if anyone else noticed but RR took my statement about wind out of context and applied it to corn ethanol. Again, my broader view of the long term issues is that incentivized corn ethanol has returned the US to world leadership in biofuels in just a few years. Furthermore, incentivized wind and solar has resulted in building wind and solar capacity at the industry capacity and has returned the US to world leadership in both. Currently, 30+ nukes are in the planning stage and one legacy nuke is under construction. My point is that energy policy to promote renewable energy and nukes has resulted new capacity. I think this is an example of successful policy. I looked at the 2005 Energy Bill line by line in my areas of expertize. I judged that 75% was meat and 25% pork.In a not so perfect world, I think that tax payers are making a good investment 2005 Energy Bill and RR's children will benefit.It is too early to tell if Obama's spending is an investment or a waste.

    Comment by Kit P | September 8, 2009

  66. “there remains a significant, as yet untapped potential.”Not really Ron! The numbers from California show the untapped potential to be about ½ of a new nuke or 10 average sized biomass plants. The reason is that California has already done a good job of tapping resources. Just like every other energy source, geothermal has significant engineering, environmental, and safety issues. Maury is an example of someone who confuses something being interesting with being a good idea. Ron is right about bathwater.

    Comment by Kit P | September 8, 2009

  67. Well, here's something that isn't going to make the Saudis, and a few others, very happy.Lotus introduces Volt-type "range extender" engine.I honestly believe that technology is a "Game Changer."

    Comment by rufus | September 8, 2009

  68. It's a "Flexfuel," too.

    Comment by rufus | September 8, 2009

  69. The numbers from California show the untapped potential to be about ½ of a new nuke or 10 average sized biomass plants. The reason is that California has already done a good job of tapping resources.Please excuse my international perspective. I was thinking of more than just California.Just like every other energy source, geothermal has significant engineering, environmental, and safety issues.I agree.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 8, 2009

  70. As for Co-products: You wouldn't charge all the costs of finding, extracting, transporting, and refining a barrel of oil off against the 22 gallons of gasoline. That would be silly.You charge those costs against all of the products. Diesel, gasoline, propane, jet fuel, asphalt, bunker oil, etc.When you produce a bushel of corn to be used for ethanol, livestock feed, CO2, corn oil, etc, you charge the cost of that corn against All of those products. Hopefully, in the appropriate ratios.That's just basic accounting. And, common sense.

    Comment by rufus | September 8, 2009

  71. I've got a question for anyone. How many miles would a mid-sized car travel on 30,000 btus of nat gas?The reason I ask is this: I can take 30,000 btus of nat gas, and, as RR put it, a pinch of sunlight, and produce a gallon of ethanol which will take me 21 miles.So, how far would the 30,000 btus of nat gas have taken me?

    Comment by rufus | September 8, 2009

  72. The industrial and agriculture value is immense and any commentariate prole worth his salt would be famaliar with it. JFGI, RTFM or STFU. C02 is food (fertilizer mass) and energy carrier (pneumatic transmission, refrigerant). etc.Anon~Well, by golly, I believe you've just solved the earth's greenhouse gas problem. All the CO2 emitters have to do is sell it–to someone. You had better make airline reservations for Stockholm this December. The Nobel committee probably already has "Anonymous" at the top of their list. Could it be chemistry, economics, or perhaps even the peace prize?

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 8, 2009

  73. The only "CO2" problem we have is there just isn't enough of it in the atmosphere.We need about another 600 ppm.

    Comment by rufus | September 8, 2009

  74. Yesterday, rufus wrote:We're using a little over 750,000 barrels of ethanol/daily. Let's say that replaces 600,000 barrels of oil … No, let's say 525,000 barrels, assuming that the petroleum inputs for refining crude oil are of the same magnitude as the petroleum used in growing corn and transporting it to the ethanol plants. … imported from our "marginal producer" (that would be Saudi Arabia.)Says who? Saudi Arabia is a low-cost producer, not a marginal producer. It can undercut just about any other supplier.Let's look at the trade statistics from the EIA. In 2008, U.S. imports of crude oil and products fell significantly (which I'm defining here as 4% or more year-on-year) for the first time since 1991. Yet imports from the Persion Gulf, including from Saudi Arabia, increased, as did imports from Russia and Canada.Countries that exported less to the United States in 2008 than 2007 included Nigeria, Venezuela (who exports heavy crude) and Mexico.600,000 X 30 = 18,000,000 Barrels/mo. At $70.00/barrel, that's $1,260,000,000.00/mo that stays in the U.S.Here, at least, Rufus, I give you credit for being straightforward — unlike the RFA, which makes much more extravagant claims about the "savings" from displaced gasoline consumption. (Basically, grossing up the figures by making the demand for all the other products from a barrel disappear.) See "How much oil does ethanol displace?Over a year, that's $15.12 billion a year staying in the U.S.Actually, not exactly. The demand for any final consumer good stimulates imports of inputs — fertilizers, for example.But the bigger issue here is the implication that import substitution — that we spend the money at home — is all that matters. If so, then what are we waiting for? Close the borders! Adopt a policy of autarky! Stop buying foreign anything. We'll all be rich, because we'll all be buying only from ourselves!It did not work for North Korea, nor for the African or Latin American countries that tried it in the past. It would not work for the United States either.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 8, 2009

  75. Maury, you are incorrigble!You introduced geothermal to this thread on biofuel with a link to a Motley Fool article which said:"This is exciting stuff, but for geothermal to take the world by storm, it has to move beyond the exploitation of natural reservoirs such as occur at Calpine's (NYSE: CPN) Geysers facility and move to Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) that can pull the heat out of hot dry rock. Unfortunately, such projects have seriously stumbled lately."The successful niche use of naturally-occurring geothermal reservoirs in Iceland & California does not prove that the very different deep geothermal process has a chance. Does the success of the Scotch Whisky industry prove that corn ethanol will be an economically self-supporting transportation fuel?

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | September 8, 2009

  76. Production/Exports from Mexico, Venezuela, and Nigeria have been Plunging the last few years. Of course we're buying more, elsewhere. Interestingly, though, Russia is where we found the extra oil last year. We imported a little over 600,000 bpd from them compared to about a million from Saudi Arabia.The Dollar is in Freefall, today. Oil is UP $3.00 bbl.We need to cut oil imports all we can, wherever we can. $25 Billion is $25 Billion.Nah, I'll stick with 600,000. No way I'm giving you more than 2% in a 10% blend.

    Comment by rufus | September 8, 2009

  77. Oops, that should have been $15 Billion.Oh well, at the rate oil's rising it'll be $25 Billion soon enough.

    Comment by rufus | September 8, 2009

  78. Did you all notice where China will produce 12 Billion Cars this year? 98% for their Domestic Market.The last couple of months their auto production is running 80% Above Year ago levels.And, when they're adding 20 Million cars/yr in 2012 what will they be using to pay for the petrol? How about $1 Trillion in U.S. Bonds?

    Comment by rufus | September 8, 2009

  79. 12 "Million" CarsDang, I need a nap.

    Comment by rufus | September 8, 2009

  80. How many miles would a mid-sized car travel on 30,000 btus of nat gas?The reason I ask is this: I can take 30,000 btus of nat gas, and, as RR put it, a pinch of sunlight, and produce a gallon of ethanol which will take me 21 miles.The process doesn’t run on 30,000 BTUs. We have been through that. Third party energy surveys have been done, but you would rather cling to unvalidated claims than actual energy surveys.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 8, 2009

  81. Until he understands simple logic, his engineering degree is a waste.Kit, my patience for this will be quite limited this week. Please be on your very best behavior.In the case of transportation fuels, biofuels is a practical alternative to oil.It boggles the mind that you still don’t understand this. It all depends on how heavily something relies on oil. For example, something that required a BTU of oil to produce a BTU of ‘biofuel’ wouldn’t be an alternative. Agree? Then things that also have economics that are heavily influenced by oil are not exactly practical alternatives. Since RR grew up in oil country and worked in the oil industry, RR has only one tool in his tool box. Drill baby drill! I almost deleted your post because of this comment. Frankly, I get sick of wasting my time on these sorts of things. Before I worked in the oil industry, I made butanol (for longer than I was in the oil industry). Before that I made biofuels. So if you can’t even get basic matters of fact correct, what hope is there for you in this debate?If we want domestic biofuels to be part of the energy mix, incentives must be provided.You have heard me say exactly the same. The problem comes when incentives become a permanent part of the solution. The important question is “Why did they become a permanent part of the solution?” When the reason is that the biofuel is heavily dependent on fossil fuel, you have a problem.That’s all the time I have for you today, and probably this week. If you post more nonsense, I would rather delete it than spend time answering your misrepresentations.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 8, 2009

  82. RR wrote: The problem comes when incentives become a permanent part of the solution. The important question is "Why did they become a permanent part of the solution?" When the reason is that the biofuel is heavily dependent on fossil fuel, you have a problem.When agriculture, and hence land, are significant factors of production, there are other reasons for the persistence of subsidies. Support policies that raise the price of a commodity above the cost of producing it affect the value of the land. Thus, as the price of corn rises, so does the price of arable land. Some farmers sell out while the gowing is good, and hence any subsequent owners of that land need the higher prices (or subsidies) in order to be able to pay off their mortgage on that land. Hence the political pressure to maintain the subsidies mounts.The media does not pay much attention to these land-price rises when they are happening (neither do politicians protest), but as soon as prices fall (or there is talk of reducing subsidies), and some farmers have to sell out because they are too deep in debt … then the media is whipped into a frenzy.It takes a tough politician to stick to his or her guns and vote for reforms when tearful farmers and their spouses are shown on national television waving good-bye to the ol' family farmstead.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 8, 2009

  83. Anon, I am deleting your last 3 comments. If you want to come here and debate, please do so. If you want to insult posters and just call names, I simply don't have time to be your babysitter and will just delete your comments.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 8, 2009

  84. No, Corn Plus runs their process on 16,600 btus of nat gas, and Chippewa Valley runs theirs on NO nat gas.But, no one has answered my question, "how far will a midsize car run on 30,000 (or, 35,000 – knock yourself out) btus of nat gas?

    Comment by rufus | September 8, 2009

  85. But, no one has answered my question, "how far will a midsize car run on 30,000 (or, 35,000 – knock yourself out) btus of nat gas?Given that the energy surveys indicate that the processes require substantially more than that (you have of course forgotten about the bit about corn growing and transportation), one wonders about the relevance. Have you personally verified the energy usages for any of these plants you are touting? When you tell us how much energy they use, don't you really mean "claim they use?" Didn't we go through this lack of objectivity on another study recently?RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 8, 2009

  86. Rufus said:"Yeah, too bad that 'njuniring skool didn't teach a little readin, along with the rithmetik.We were discussing gassifying the cobs for "Process Energy," not converting to ethanol."My apologies. My mistake, I had thought the converstion was about cellulistic ethanol again.That'll teach me to skim read.I'm still annoyed about the misrepresentation of other facts though.Although, being Scottish, I don't have a horse in this race so to speak. It ain't my tax dollars being used to fund corn ethanol, so I can't be too bothered.Interestingly, one of RR's most prominent arguments, (if ethanol is mandated, then why is a subsidy needed?) plays out for real over here.In the UK there is a biofuel mandate, but no subsidies. So the oil co's have to work out for themselves which mix of biofuel they would like to provide (at the least cost to themselves) and pass of the increase in cost to the consumer. 5% by volume must be biofuel by a certain date.I can't say ethanol (from sugar beet) is terribly successful. Most oil companies have worked out that its cheaper to sell higher blends of biodiesel and simply not bother debasing the gasoline supply.I've done milage trials in my own car with the only available E5 mix that is available locally (E85 also available, but I ain't touching that with a bargepole).So far I've discovered that over reasonable lengths of time the milage is a few % worse on E5. (going from an average of 45 to 43mpg consistently)Thats despite giving the E5 a good couple of tanksfulls in succession, and trying not to vary my driving pattern/destinations.Over the course of a 14,000mile/year I'd have to buy an extra 65 litres of fuel (costing about $110 at current exchange rates)This is with a state of the art 2006 model year car, with o2 sensor, so I would expect it to adjust fueling to suit.Due to these findings, I'll be mostly avoiding E5 fuel.Andy

    Comment by Andytk | September 8, 2009

  87. Be sure to throw soil and water into that equation.

    Comment by Anonymous | September 8, 2009

  88. RR, YOU posted this page from the NREL Study.The 16,600 comes from there.I don't know, do you think a major, investor-owned ethanol refinery is saying they're using wood chips, and corn cobs, and is secretly using nat gas? Really?Okay, let me rephrase? How far can a midsize car go on 10,000 btus of nat gas?Anyone?Beuhler?

    Comment by rufus | September 8, 2009

  89. Rufus, I truly do not have time for this. You used my link, and cherry-picked data. This is a very common tactic for you, but let's review for readers what you just did. You went to a study which covers only the inputs into the ethanol plant (i.e., it doesn't cover the farming inputs) and selected the best possible number. They surveyed two types of plants: Wet mill and dry mill. For wet mill, the average BTU input was 47,409 BTU/gal ethanol. Naturally this wouldn't interest Rufus. For the dry mill, the average was 31,070 BTU/gal. Still not that interesting, given that the farm inputs aren't included. So we are still faced with a crappy energy return. What to do?Well, there was a range for the dry mill plants that went from 17,706 to 44,034. Now, if he just takes the lowest number from the two different kinds of plants and throws that number around (as if it were typical), he can proclaim the wonders of ethanol.He seems to have forgotten the last time he latched onto some extreme numbers that ended up coming back to bite him when subsequent studies did not bear this out. But this is how Rufus operates. If he sees a number he likes, he uses it – no questions asked and no need to do any energy balances.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 8, 2009

  90. No, I didn't put that number forward as "typical." I started out using 30,000. If you want to add on four, or five thousand btu for fertilizer go ahead.Pick a number. Then, tell me how far a car would go on that number of btus from nat gas. If you had such a car, of course.For some reason, no one wants to answer this question.Never mind, I'll see if I can find it, myself.

    Comment by rufus | September 8, 2009

  91. The reason nobody wants to answer it is that it is a red herring. You aren't comparing total pictures. Plus, you are under-estimating ethanol's energy inputs. By continuing to do that, you are asking a question for which the answer is a nonstarter.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | September 8, 2009

  92. Well, some people keep saying we should just burn the nat gas (despite the fact that we have no nat gas filling station structure, or cars,) so I was just wondering; should we?Even with a fairly old, and inefficient dry mill plant we know it can't be much over 31,000 (I think Poet is probably down around 22, or 23; but I'm not for sure about that.) We know it takes about 25,000 btus to create enough nitrogen fertilizer for a bushel of corn. If you charge 60% of that back to the DDGS, which you have to, that leaves 10,000 divided by, roughly, 3, which would leave 3,333 btus/gal. Just round it off to 4,000, add it to the 31,000 (aver. for your link,) and you're at 35,000. Diesel fuel might add, a thousand btus, so make it 36,000 if you want.Heck, I might be getting an answer that isn't all that positive for ethanol. I don't know; I'm just asking a question.

    Comment by rufus | September 8, 2009

  93. rufus wrote: Corn Plus runs their process on 16,600 btus of nat gas, and Chippewa Valley runs theirs on NO nat gas.When did Chippewa Valley Ethanol stop using natural gas? Their last newsletter sayshttp://cvec.com/SiteImages/FileGallery/1_24.09%20news.pdf"The gasifier has been operating very well. In December it replaced about 20% of our natural gas.

    Comment by Clee | September 9, 2009

  94. Clee, I thought they had gotten up to 90%, by now; but, I can't find it. If I do, I'll let you know.Meantime, I'm going to go look up Poet's Chancellors plant. See how they're doing with their wood waste, and landfill gas scheme.later.

    Comment by rufus | September 9, 2009

  95. Well, 90% would still mean 10% natural gas, not "NO nat gas".rufus wrote: Well, some people keep saying we should just burn the nat gas (despite the fact that we have no nat gas filling station structure, or cars,)There is the Honda Civic GX natural gas car and those Ford F truck conversions.There are 17 public CNG stations but only one public E85 station within 25 miles of me, in the San Francisco Bay Area according to http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/locator/stations/

    Comment by Clee | September 9, 2009

  96. Oke, Doke, Nat gas it is, then. Sounds good to me. What kind of mileage are we going to get on that nat gas? Any idea?

    Comment by rufus | September 9, 2009

  97. I'm not saying we should use natural gas. That's Benny's position. I'm just saying you got another one of your facts wrong.

    Comment by Clee | September 9, 2009

  98. But, no one has answered my question, "how far will a midsize car run on 30,000 (or, 35,000 – knock yourself out) btus of nat gas?Rufus: I'm going to make some simple assumptions here, in the hope that if I am wrong the engineers will correct me.A gallon of gasoline contains 114,000 Btus. If one assumes the efficiency of a spark-ignition engine running on CNG is the same as on gasoline, and the mid-sized car gets 25 mpg, then it sounds as if 30,000 Btus would propel it slightly less than 7 miles.Just as an aside, back in 1974 I delivered propane bottles on a truck that ran on LPG. It was clean, and had really great pick-up.

    Comment by Ron Steenblik | September 9, 2009

  99. rufus wrote in the biofuel pretenders thread: I'm going to try to do a couple of tests over the next two, or three weeks. But you claimed you already did the tests. I just want the results. rufus wrote in the biofuel contenders thread: 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.) Okay, that's the numbers for two of the blends. How about the other blends? You mentioned previously doing E20, but didn't give the mpg and didn't say what blend you were comparing it with.

    Comment by Clee | September 9, 2009

  100. Clee, I ran E20 (actually, it was E17 – I thought I was mixing the E70 with E10, but it turned out I was mixing it with E0.) We had had fairly decent, cool weather prior to the test, but the entire week of the test it rained cats, and dogs. I lost about 1 mpg on E20. Recently, my mileage has been 1 mpg higher on E85 than it was then. I'm afraid my tests aren't really, very good. When I drive, I usually drive longer distances. When my sweetie drives it's all short hops. I'm going to try again in a couple of weeks, and see if I can do a better job of apples to apples. But, somehow, I'm not optimistic. Life keeps intruding.Anyway, I'm off ethanol, and throwing in with natural gas. Causes less arguments. And, I'm getting too old for strife.All hail nat gas. After all, it's green, renewable, and it's going to be cheap Forever. Right?

    Comment by rufus | September 9, 2009

  101. Well, RR's point is that ethanol is recycled natural gas (including fertilizer, process energy, etc) so ethanol isn't much more green, renewable, cheap Forever than the natural gas it is made from. But I'll let RR fight that one out with you.So do you have a mpg number for that E17? You keep saying things like "lost about 1 mpg on E20" without saying compared with what, and without giving absolute numbers, which means it gives me no data at all.

    Comment by Clee | September 10, 2009

  102. Come on, Clee, read what I wrote. I was getting one mpg less back then (in other words, 25 mpg.) On that test, with all the rain, etc, I got 24 mpg.) It was, also, just one tank which the testing agencies say is a no-no.Anyways, I'm serious, I'm tired of the deal. I'm getting on board with nat gas. BTW, I think 10,000 btu will get considerably less miles than will 10,000 btus of gasoline, but I don't care.I'll just be quiet, now, and build my still, and pull for you guys, and your nat gas powered transportation system as gasoline gets more, and more scarce.Good Luck.

    Comment by rufus | September 10, 2009

  103. I'll just be quiet, now, and build my still…Rufus~Your are going to use ethanol as the heat source for your still, aren't you?Please be so kind as to let us know how that works out.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 10, 2009

  104. Why would someone use something as valuable as ethanol to heat a still, Wendell? I'll use whatever's cheapest, and practical for the location.And, no, I won't "report back." You'd just call me a "Liar," anyway.Enjoy your trips to the "gasoline" pumps next year.All the best, Rufus

    Comment by rufus | September 10, 2009

  105. Why would someone use something as valuable as ethanol to heat a still, Wendell?Rufus~Because that way you could be self-sufficient and not have to use any of those fossil fuels.But, oh I forgot, if it were possible to power a still with some of the product you are distilling, ethanol stills would already be doing that, and would have long ago broken their dependence on fossil fuels.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 11, 2009

  106. Wendell, are you just "naturally" stupid, or do you work really, really hard at it?Does Exxon run their refineries off of "Gasoline?" Of course not. Gasoline is a very valuable "transportation fuel."They burn nat gas. It does the job; and, it's cheap.Why in the world would you use a very valuable "transportation" fuel to power an ethanol refinery? You could, easily; but, you wouldn't. It would be silly.This is my last reply to you. You'll have to jerk someone else's chain. Good luck at the fuel pumps next year. Really.

    Comment by rufus | September 11, 2009

  107. Does Exxon run their refineries off of "Gasoline?" Of course not. Gasoline is a very valuable "transportation fuel."No, but they do run them off of the same fossil fuel feedstock they bring into the refinery from which to make gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, etc.That would be equivalent to a corn ethanol still burning raw corn to provide the needed heat. (After of course, first using NG to dry the corn so it would burn.)Corn ethanol stills can't do that because of the low EROEI of corn ethanol; oil refineries can afford to because of petroleum's relatively high EROEI. It's simply part of the process efficiency ratio.Someday the EROEI of petroleum will drop to that of corn ethanol as it becomes more difficult to find and refine, and when it does, corn ethanol will become competitive without subsidies, tax credits, or protective tariffs. But that day is not here yet.Do let us know how the trunk-mounted still you plan to run with corn pilfered from local farmers pans out.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 11, 2009

  108. The geothermal we use today is low hanging fruit. We'll go deeper and deeper as time goes on…Maury~Not too deep perhaps. A German geothermal project may have caused an earthquake and is now under review: German Geothermal Project Leads to Second Thoughts After the Earth Rumbles

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | September 11, 2009

  109. "Conclusion from that exercise? Some of the available carbon will go into microbe production, and some will end up as carbon dioxide. Some will be lost as tail gas in the process. But if 100 gallons is converted to ethanol, that means only 34% of the carbon in the starting biomass ended up as ethanol."There are several problems with the mass balance in this statement. You say some will end up as microbe. Yes, the key is to limit this of course. But microbe mass is essentially the same as catalyst. The catalyst mass is constant and if you are a clever chemical engineer and biologist, the dead microbe is converted to ethanol (or other biofuel). Yes, the technology is not in significant production now. But another thing that is interesting is that the waste stream the microbes from this process is usable N, P, S fertilizer. All those trucks delivering fuelstock are not going home empty. They return with fixed nitrogen fertilizer. (I think a lot of posts on biofuel point to the energy intensive nitrogen fertilizer production. There is something silly about this. If the feed stock is a nitrogen fixing crop, or co-cultivar, the net effect is to create nitrogen fertilizer. You put woody stuff in the front end which is about 50% C. There's not much N in the mix (0.5%) but it doesn't get put in cars and burned. It doesn't get lost as N2 gas. It comes out the bottom as "marmalite", fixed N and other goodies. There are nitrogen fixing trees that grow in temperate to tropical environments, some can be copiced. So, this crop adds nitrogen fertilizer to the marketplace. If the feed stock is a non-fixing crop, then you recycle the marmalite sludge from the fermenter back to the field and you should be close to a closed N cycle. Sawgrass is not nitrogen fixing, but has good yield in low N soil. Probably have to plant a legume every 5 years or so. Corn is hopeless, except we already grow tons of corn and toss the stover and cobs.)On the energy balance side of this you point out that some of the mass ends up as CO2 (at least 66% by your calculation). How does this happen? It started as cellulose (or other biomass) and got oxidized to CO2 releasing heat. From your calculations, I think this is about 2 million BTU per ton. (13 M BTU per ton switchgrass as USDA, less 34% to fuel product is 8.6 M BTU per ton, recover 25% and you have 2 M BTU per ton) . The other way to calculate this is from Intro Chemistry, but its too late to try the calc that way and trust that I will be corrected if wrong. Perhaps I missed this in your analysis, but it seems that you have neglected this heat 'loss'. A large fermenter is going to get very hot. Could that waste heat run the still? Could you balance fermentation with the needs of the still? Sure. Can heat be recovered off the fractionating column? Yep. Might you need nat gas to top off? Sure from time to time. When you started production would you bother with getting the heat exchangers working or would you burn gas, then build the exchangers? I know how I would do it, burn gas. Get revenue, save money, build exchangers.Again maybe I am missing something, but it seems to me that much, if not all, of the heat (energy) that you are asking to be put into the process to drive distillation is already present as 'waste' heat from the fermenter. Ready for prime time, no. Ready for pilot scale. I ain't followed this field much but it seems we are getting close. Again, maybe I'm missing something.

    Comment by Anonymous | September 16, 2009

  110. a far better process would be to run the fermenter at high temperature, high enough so that there was a significant vapor pressure of ethanol and relatively low water vapor pressure. Here you use the heat of digestion to drive the still and also help to melt the crystalline cellulose (a bit). A fractional still sitting on top of the fermenter would drip water back to the fermenter and pull the alcohols off the top. That would be probably run in the range of 75°C (its been a very long time since Chem Lab, so I'm not sure that would quite do the job). But how could the microbes grow at 75°? What you need is a thermophile that also digests cellulose. Do these exist? My guess is yes. I think I have seen wood sitting in a hot spring that is being chewed away by something. If they don't exist in nature, it shouldn't be too hard to engineer something.Oo, do a google search for "thermophile cellulose" and find fungi: Sporotrichum thermophile, Chaetomium thermophile,Thermoascus aurantiacus and Trichoderma reesei. The first of these grow at 50°C, if not higher. There exist marine bacteria and marine archaea that grow over 80°, but don't digest crystalline cellulose. There are bacteria that grow at close to 75° that can. And pretty clearly the "clone head bone heads" (as we used to call ourselves, because even a bone head can be a clone head, ie a recombinant gene jock) have gotten in on the game. Lots of papers on recombinant thermophilic cellulases.I'm not a big fan of ethanol as an end fuel. Its not dense enough. But engineering the bugs to make oil from cellulose will take a bit longer. If its true that we can only get 50% of our 2008 transport fuel from biofuel (as you quote the NREL), well, not so bad. Lets say we also got from our current 22.4 MPG to 50 MPG (gas) = 40 MPG ethanol (Prius = 45 MPG), still not independent of fossil fuels, but getting close. Either step alone gives us enormous market power. The balance of power is no longer with OPEC. And this is why biofuel will never be cost effective compared to fossil fuel. The more biofuel we make, the less demand there is for fossil fuel, the lower the price goes (production costs does not cause the price spikes). But if we never make the biofuels, the producers control the price. We can't hold our economy hostage to a long supplly chain under the control of occasionally friendly countries. In the end, it will be side products that really drive a new industrial revolution. Petroleum led to plastics (a plastics revolution). But you had to have enough petroleum being processed to have enough of a market to make the plastics industry large. Biofuel will lead to "bioplastics", but we aren't talking bioplastic bags and bioplastic coke bottles. Ok some companies are already making ethene (the precursor of polyethylene) from cane sugar, but this isn't really where economic growth will come from. What will be the killer app? The plastic shampoo bottle of the bioplastics era? Wish I knew!

    Comment by Anonymous | September 16, 2009

  111. Well written and very interesting. We certainly should think about the ecological side of our lives too. By the way, I have recently written an article about the possibilities of algae oil. You are very welcome to read it if you are interested.Regards, Julie

    Comment by realtor Julie | September 19, 2009


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