R-Squared Energy Blog

Pure Energy

Delusional Thinking

I read a story this morning on California’s new low-carbon fuel standard, and there were some bits in there that either amount to delusional thinking, or worse to purposely misleading people:

California’s low-carbon fuel standard has oil companies anxious

Here are the bits that raised my eyebrows:

The petroleum industry and some economists say the new standard adopted by the state Air Resources Board on Thursday will cost motorists billions, because blending gasoline will become considerably more complicated.

But state officials and environmentalists say the “low-carbon fuel standard” will actually save Californians money by reducing oil consumption and ushering in a competitive new era of biofuels and electric vehicles.

A big problem, she [Dorothy Rothrock] said, is that the air board’s standards will limit the use of corn-based ethanol in gasoline – leaving refiners with a major hurdle.

Yet the Air Resources Board, in approving the low carbon standard Thursday, dismissed forecasts of higher costs. The board’s staff contends that when the standard is fully operational, in 2020, Californians will save about $11 billion a year.

“It’s the reduction in the use of petroleum,” said board spokesman Dimitri Stanich.

We could argue about whether the new standard is a good idea, but that’s not the purpose of this essay. What should be beyond dispute is that it will cost consumers more money. It may in fact reduce oil consumption and usher “in a competitive new era of biofuels and electric vehicles.” But it will do so not by mandating new technology that is magically more cost-effective than the status quo, but instead by making fuel more expensive.

Where are gasoline blenders supposed to get these low carbon fuels, given that corn ethanol has been declared taboo with the new standards? Why, it’s the old reliable ethanol from switchgrass:

Refiners and entrepreneurs will have plenty of time – and economic incentive – to make inexpensive biofuels, hydrogen-based fuels, even ethanol from such “cellulosic” materials as switchgrass.

Plenty of time? They have until 2020 before the rules are fully phased in. And economic incentive? How does that work, given that the new rules are supposed to save consumers money? Where does the incentive come from, if not higher prices for the new, ‘low carbon’ biofuels?

Of course I knew that we have been trying to commercialize cellulosic ethanol for decades, but Robert Bryce recently pointed out that this was in fact known technology as far back as 1921:

Consider this claim: “From our cellulose waste products on the farm such as straw, corn-stalks, corn cobs and all similar sorts of material we throw away, we can get, by present known methods, enough alcohol to run our automotive equipment in the United States.”

That sounds like something you’ve heard recently, right? Well, fasten your seatbelt because that claim was made way back in 1921. That’s when American inventor Thomas Midgley proclaimed the wonders of cellulosic ethanol to the Society of Automotive Engineers in Indianapolis. And while Midgley was excited about the prospect of cellulosic ethanol, he admitted that there was a significant hurdle to his concept: producing the fuel would cost about $2 per gallon. That’s about $20 per gallon in current money.

So, what we have failed to achieve in the past 90 years will be easily achieved in the next 10? Keep in mind that we knew how to convert switchgrass into ethanol not long after the Wright Brothers made their first flight. Since that time, airline travel has become a major commercial enterprise, and we have even managed to put a man on the moon. Cellulosic ethanol still toils away in the lab or at very small scale demonstration plants. The reasons are fundamental, and even if commercialization occurs, it will only be very marginally commercial for those fundamental reasons. And we all know what happens to marginally commercial ventures in the cyclical energy business: Volatility wipes them out.

Having said that, there are some possible bright spots in the new standard. Corn ethanol producers will have a strong incentive to reduce fossil fuel inputs to improve their greenhouse gas score. Sugarcane ethanol production in the U.S. will now have more attractive economics (it gets a better score than corn ethanol with the new standard). But the reason for both is that these fuels will now command a premium, as gasoline blenders search for something to replace corn ethanol. Costs will absolutely, positively go up. Not that there is anything wrong with that, as I think higher costs will lead to some of the intended benefits. But let’s not lie to people about the costs.

April 25, 2009 Posted by | air pollution, California, CARB, cellulosic ethanol | 41 Comments

Implications of the CARB Ethanol Ruling

A number of people have written or commented regarding the California Air Resources Board (CARB) ruling that is expected on ethanol later this week. Treehugger had the story:

Corn Ethanol Worse than Oil? California Rules Yes

In what would certainly be a huge blow to the US’ formidable corn-ethanol industry, the California Air Resources Board is readying a report that says ethanol is worse than oil in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Daily Climate, the California regulators are prepared to go as far as to declare that biofuels cannot help the state fight climate change–could this be the beginning of the end for ethanol?

So, what does this mean? The article above has a different interpretation than my own:

What’s especially interesting about all this, however, is that such a groundbreaking finding will probably have a major impact at the national level as well: Obama is leaning towards establishing a national emissions standard, so California’s report is bound to form something of a precedent. Which spells bad news for the corn industry.

My own interpretation comes from a previous CARB ruling that had zero impact on what the EPA ultimately decided to do. This one is from 2005:

Senator Feinstein Renews Call for Federal Oxygenate Waiver for California

The California Air Resource Board (CARB) researched this issue at length and found that ethanol-blended gasoline does not help California meet the goals of the Clean Air Act as it relates to reducing ozone formation, particularly during the summertime, and, in fact, ethanol actually increases the emission of pollutants that cause ozone during the summer months.

In September 2004, CARB sponsored a study by the Coordinating Research Council (CRC). The CRC issued a report entitled Fuel Permeation From Automotive Systems. The study was designed to determine the magnitude of the permeation differences between three fuels, containing MTBE, ethanol, or no oxygenate, in the selected test fleet. The study found that emissions increased on all 10 vehicle fuel systems studied when ethanol replaced the MTBE. In fact, the ethanol blended gasoline caused emissions to increase by 65% when compared with MTBE blended gasoline, and by 45% when compared with non-oxygenated gasoline.

In a November 2004 report, CARB staff issued a preliminary analysis of increased emissions due to ethanol blended gasoline. The staff reported that “on-road vehicles hydrocarbon emissions increase[d] by 40-50 tons/day, statewide, [in] 2004.” CARB staff is currently working on a final analysis of the impact of ethanol blended gasoline on emissions.

So what happened? The EPA said “too bad.”


EPA Upholds Reformulated Gas Requirement in California, New York, and Connecticut

On June 2, 2005, EPA denied requests made by the states of California, Connecticut and New York for a waiver of the oxygen content requirement of the RFG program. The Clean Air Act includes specific guidelines for when EPA may grant a waiver from the Congressional mandate that RFG contain oxygen. States must provide to EPA clear evidence that the oxygen content requirement will prevent or interfere with their ability to meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). EPA determined that the petitions submitted by California, Connecticut and New York fail to meet the waiver requirements outlined in the Clean Air Act.

If the previous ruling was that California didn’t have good enough evidence to warrant the waiver (and last time they had lab data in hand), I don’t see any way that they are going to get any slack this time. My prediction is that this won’t have any impact on the ethanol mandates. It might slow down a rush to increase the percentage of ethanol allowed in gasoline (ethanol proponents want to see this ramped up to 15%, and that might be a tougher sell now). There is also more recent precedent than California in 2005; the EPA recently turned down a request by Texas Governor Rick Perry for partial relief from the mandate.

As expected, the Renewable Fuel Association took exception to CARB’s findings, presenting a 117-page document that disputes the ruling. I have not had time to browse through the document, and present it here merely for information.

April 21, 2009 Posted by | air pollution, California, energy policy, ethanol | 63 Comments

So, You Don’t Believe in Global Warming?

I can understand that there are a number of people who think Global Warming via human activity is a myth. I know that a number of regular posters here are of that opinion. My position, as I have stated before, is that I am not an expert in the area, but the consensus of the experts is that Global Warming is a direct result of increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Sometimes the consensus has been proven wrong, but a scientific consensus carries a lot of weight with me. So, unless I see compelling evidence to the contrary, I accept the scientific consensus in this case. That doesn’t mean that I think we will do anything about it:

We Won’t Stop Global Warming

Incidentally, that essay holds the all-time record for the number of comments received (560) following an essay at The Oil Drum. People feel very strongly about this issue.

But I don’t want to open up the debate to the merits of the evidence on Global Warming. Instead, I want to discuss something else: The fact that concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are rising unabated. While you may debate the impact of that on Global Warming, there is no debate that atmospheric CO2 concentrations are increasing:

Source: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

You may know that CO2 dissolves in water to form carbonic acid. As atmospheric CO2 concentrations rise, so will the acidity of oceans, lakes, and rivers. As the acidity rises, the shells of tiny marine animals like snails can dissolve, along with coral reefs. It’s basic chemistry. This weekend I saw a story that details what can happen when the acidity rises in the ocean:

Marine life is destroyed by acid environment

Traditional marine communities containing creatures such as sea urchins and snails are being destroyed as CO2 emissions make their environment more acidic. Algae which is vital for the well-being of coral reefs is also retreating as acidity increases and is being replaced by invasive species which don’t offer coral the same protection.

The changes have been witnessed for the first time by a British-led team monitoring volcanic carbon dioxide vents off the Italian coast in the Mediterranean. Dr Hall-Spencer said: “What we saw was very dramatic and shocking.

“All the predictions made in lab experiments about acidity causing the disappearance of species is coming true. When we looked in the field it was already happening. I must admit I though a lot of the claims being made about species disappearing amounted to scaremongering but now I have seen it with my own eyes.

“Our observations verify concerns, based on laboratory experiments and model predictions, that marine food webs will be severely disrupted and major ecological tipping points are likely if human CO2 emissions continue unabated.”

I have said before, and I say again: Whether you accept the idea that man is contributing global warming, it is not a good idea to conduct such a grand experiment on the atmosphere because the ultimate consequences can’t be predicted. What’s the backup plan if things don’t work out? I guess we are going to find out one way or the other.

June 9, 2008 Posted by | air pollution, global warming | Comments Off on So, You Don’t Believe in Global Warming?

So, You Don’t Believe in Global Warming?

I can understand that there are a number of people who think Global Warming via human activity is a myth. I know that a number of regular posters here are of that opinion. My position, as I have stated before, is that I am not an expert in the area, but the consensus of the experts is that Global Warming is a direct result of increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Sometimes the consensus has been proven wrong, but a scientific consensus carries a lot of weight with me. So, unless I see compelling evidence to the contrary, I accept the scientific consensus in this case. That doesn’t mean that I think we will do anything about it:

We Won’t Stop Global Warming

Incidentally, that essay holds the all-time record for the number of comments received (560) following an essay at The Oil Drum. People feel very strongly about this issue.

But I don’t want to open up the debate to the merits of the evidence on Global Warming. Instead, I want to discuss something else: The fact that concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are rising unabated. While you may debate the impact of that on Global Warming, there is no debate that atmospheric CO2 concentrations are increasing:

Source: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

You may know that CO2 dissolves in water to form carbonic acid. As atmospheric CO2 concentrations rise, so will the acidity of oceans, lakes, and rivers. As the acidity rises, the shells of tiny marine animals like snails can dissolve, along with coral reefs. It’s basic chemistry. This weekend I saw a story that details what can happen when the acidity rises in the ocean:

Marine life is destroyed by acid environment

Traditional marine communities containing creatures such as sea urchins and snails are being destroyed as CO2 emissions make their environment more acidic. Algae which is vital for the well-being of coral reefs is also retreating as acidity increases and is being replaced by invasive species which don’t offer coral the same protection.

The changes have been witnessed for the first time by a British-led team monitoring volcanic carbon dioxide vents off the Italian coast in the Mediterranean. Dr Hall-Spencer said: “What we saw was very dramatic and shocking.

“All the predictions made in lab experiments about acidity causing the disappearance of species is coming true. When we looked in the field it was already happening. I must admit I though a lot of the claims being made about species disappearing amounted to scaremongering but now I have seen it with my own eyes.

“Our observations verify concerns, based on laboratory experiments and model predictions, that marine food webs will be severely disrupted and major ecological tipping points are likely if human CO2 emissions continue unabated.”

I have said before, and I say again: Whether you accept the idea that man is contributing global warming, it is not a good idea to conduct such a grand experiment on the atmosphere because the ultimate consequences can’t be predicted. What’s the backup plan if things don’t work out? I guess we are going to find out one way or the other.

June 9, 2008 Posted by | air pollution, global warming | Comments Off on So, You Don’t Believe in Global Warming?

So, You Don’t Believe in Global Warming?

I can understand that there are a number of people who think Global Warming via human activity is a myth. I know that a number of regular posters here are of that opinion. My position, as I have stated before, is that I am not an expert in the area, but the consensus of the experts is that Global Warming is a direct result of increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Sometimes the consensus has been proven wrong, but a scientific consensus carries a lot of weight with me. So, unless I see compelling evidence to the contrary, I accept the scientific consensus in this case. That doesn’t mean that I think we will do anything about it:

We Won’t Stop Global Warming

Incidentally, that essay holds the all-time record for the number of comments received (560) following an essay at The Oil Drum. People feel very strongly about this issue.

But I don’t want to open up the debate to the merits of the evidence on Global Warming. Instead, I want to discuss something else: The fact that concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are rising unabated. While you may debate the impact of that on Global Warming, there is no debate that atmospheric CO2 concentrations are increasing:

Source: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

You may know that CO2 dissolves in water to form carbonic acid. As atmospheric CO2 concentrations rise, so will the acidity of oceans, lakes, and rivers. As the acidity rises, the shells of tiny marine animals like snails can dissolve, along with coral reefs. It’s basic chemistry. This weekend I saw a story that details what can happen when the acidity rises in the ocean:

Marine life is destroyed by acid environment

Traditional marine communities containing creatures such as sea urchins and snails are being destroyed as CO2 emissions make their environment more acidic. Algae which is vital for the well-being of coral reefs is also retreating as acidity increases and is being replaced by invasive species which don’t offer coral the same protection.

The changes have been witnessed for the first time by a British-led team monitoring volcanic carbon dioxide vents off the Italian coast in the Mediterranean. Dr Hall-Spencer said: “What we saw was very dramatic and shocking.

“All the predictions made in lab experiments about acidity causing the disappearance of species is coming true. When we looked in the field it was already happening. I must admit I though a lot of the claims being made about species disappearing amounted to scaremongering but now I have seen it with my own eyes.

“Our observations verify concerns, based on laboratory experiments and model predictions, that marine food webs will be severely disrupted and major ecological tipping points are likely if human CO2 emissions continue unabated.”

I have said before, and I say again: Whether you accept the idea that man is contributing global warming, it is not a good idea to conduct such a grand experiment on the atmosphere because the ultimate consequences can’t be predicted. What’s the backup plan if things don’t work out? I guess we are going to find out one way or the other.

June 9, 2008 Posted by | air pollution, global warming | 37 Comments

So, You Don’t Believe in Global Warming?

I can understand that there are a number of people who think Global Warming via human activity is a myth. I know that a number of regular posters here are of that opinion. My position, as I have stated before, is that I am not an expert in the area, but the consensus of the experts is that Global Warming is a direct result of increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Sometimes the consensus has been proven wrong, but a scientific consensus carries a lot of weight with me. So, unless I see compelling evidence to the contrary, I accept the scientific consensus in this case. That doesn’t mean that I think we will do anything about it:

We Won’t Stop Global Warming

Incidentally, that essay holds the all-time record for the number of comments received (560) following an essay at The Oil Drum. People feel very strongly about this issue.

But I don’t want to open up the debate to the merits of the evidence on Global Warming. Instead, I want to discuss something else: The fact that concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are rising unabated. While you may debate the impact of that on Global Warming, there is no debate that atmospheric CO2 concentrations are increasing:

Source: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

You may know that CO2 dissolves in water to form carbonic acid. As atmospheric CO2 concentrations rise, so will the acidity of oceans, lakes, and rivers. As the acidity rises, the shells of tiny marine animals like snails can dissolve, along with coral reefs. It’s basic chemistry. This weekend I saw a story that details what can happen when the acidity rises in the ocean:

Marine life is destroyed by acid environment

Traditional marine communities containing creatures such as sea urchins and snails are being destroyed as CO2 emissions make their environment more acidic. Algae which is vital for the well-being of coral reefs is also retreating as acidity increases and is being replaced by invasive species which don’t offer coral the same protection.

The changes have been witnessed for the first time by a British-led team monitoring volcanic carbon dioxide vents off the Italian coast in the Mediterranean. Dr Hall-Spencer said: “What we saw was very dramatic and shocking.

“All the predictions made in lab experiments about acidity causing the disappearance of species is coming true. When we looked in the field it was already happening. I must admit I though a lot of the claims being made about species disappearing amounted to scaremongering but now I have seen it with my own eyes.

“Our observations verify concerns, based on laboratory experiments and model predictions, that marine food webs will be severely disrupted and major ecological tipping points are likely if human CO2 emissions continue unabated.”

I have said before, and I say again: Whether you accept the idea that man is contributing global warming, it is not a good idea to conduct such a grand experiment on the atmosphere because the ultimate consequences can’t be predicted. What’s the backup plan if things don’t work out? I guess we are going to find out one way or the other.

June 9, 2008 Posted by | air pollution, global warming | 40 Comments

So, You Don’t Believe in Global Warming?

I can understand that there are a number of people who think Global Warming via human activity is a myth. I know that a number of regular posters here are of that opinion. My position, as I have stated before, is that I am not an expert in the area, but the consensus of the experts is that Global Warming is a direct result of increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Sometimes the consensus has been proven wrong, but a scientific consensus carries a lot of weight with me. So, unless I see compelling evidence to the contrary, I accept the scientific consensus in this case. That doesn’t mean that I think we will do anything about it:

We Won’t Stop Global Warming

Incidentally, that essay holds the all-time record for the number of comments received (560) following an essay at The Oil Drum. People feel very strongly about this issue.

But I don’t want to open up the debate to the merits of the evidence on Global Warming. Instead, I want to discuss something else: The fact that concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are rising unabated. While you may debate the impact of that on Global Warming, there is no debate that atmospheric CO2 concentrations are increasing:

Source: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

You may know that CO2 dissolves in water to form carbonic acid. As atmospheric CO2 concentrations rise, so will the acidity of oceans, lakes, and rivers. As the acidity rises, the shells of tiny marine animals like snails can dissolve, along with coral reefs. It’s basic chemistry. This weekend I saw a story that details what can happen when the acidity rises in the ocean:

Marine life is destroyed by acid environment

Traditional marine communities containing creatures such as sea urchins and snails are being destroyed as CO2 emissions make their environment more acidic. Algae which is vital for the well-being of coral reefs is also retreating as acidity increases and is being replaced by invasive species which don’t offer coral the same protection.

The changes have been witnessed for the first time by a British-led team monitoring volcanic carbon dioxide vents off the Italian coast in the Mediterranean. Dr Hall-Spencer said: “What we saw was very dramatic and shocking.

“All the predictions made in lab experiments about acidity causing the disappearance of species is coming true. When we looked in the field it was already happening. I must admit I though a lot of the claims being made about species disappearing amounted to scaremongering but now I have seen it with my own eyes.

“Our observations verify concerns, based on laboratory experiments and model predictions, that marine food webs will be severely disrupted and major ecological tipping points are likely if human CO2 emissions continue unabated.”

I have said before, and I say again: Whether you accept the idea that man is contributing global warming, it is not a good idea to conduct such a grand experiment on the atmosphere because the ultimate consequences can’t be predicted. What’s the backup plan if things don’t work out? I guess we are going to find out one way or the other.

June 9, 2008 Posted by | air pollution, global warming | 3 Comments

Now That’s an About Face!

It’s been almost two years now that 60 Minutes did a special on ethanol, in which Dan Rather was just bubbly with enthusiasm. He had as a guest Berkeley Professor Dan Kammen, who heads up Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL). (I frequently see visitors from RAEL showing up on my site meter). Anyway, Professor Kammen talked up the virtues of ethanol with Dan Rather, and also spoke very positively on ethanol in this article:

Ethanol can replace gasoline with significant energy savings, comparable impact on greenhouse gases

Boy, that takes me back. You have to love the appeal to authority:

Knowledgeable venture capitalists already are putting money behind ethanol and cellulosic technology, as witnessed by recent investments by Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates and strong interest by Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla.

How did those investments pan out, fellows? Oh, yeah. But I digress. A couple of Professor Kammen’s Berkeley colleagues, Alex Farrell and Michael O’Hare, also featured in the above report. Well, it seems that they have all gotten religion, as evidenced by a story in today’s WSJ Energy Roundup:

More Bad News for Ethanol

Academics tasked with plotting California’s transition to a low-carbon fuel have delivered more bad news: Ethanol appears to come with a higher greenhouse-gas price tag than previously thought — higher, indeed, than fossil fuel.

The University of California at Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center told the California Air Resources Board that ethanol could be twice as bad as gasoline, from a carbon-emissions point of view. How? Basically by turning land now covered with trees, grass, and other natural “carbon sinks” into farmland for corn and other crops used for ethanol.

“Simply said, ethanol production today using U.S. corn contributes to the conversion of grasslands and rainforest to agriculture, causing very large GHG emissions,” wrote Berkeley profs Alex Farrell and Michael O’Hare in a January 12 memo to California regulators. “Even if only a small fraction of the emissions calculated in this crude way [through land use change] are added to estimates of direct emissions for corn ethanol, total emissions for corn ethanol are higher than for fossil fuels.”

Professor Kammen is listed as a co-author on the report, which appears to be an enormous position shift for him. Maybe his Berkeley colleague Tad Patzek finally showed him the light. Or maybe those many visits they made here slowly won them over.
🙂

Of course you had to know that some would immediately reach for the ad hom:

I would like to know who are backers of The University of California at Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center? Exxon, Shell and Chevron?

Ah, yes. Good times. On the scientific front, this battle is being won. If we could only start convincing those darn lawmakers.

January 23, 2008 Posted by | air pollution, dan kammen, Dan Rather, ethanol, global warming, greenhouse gases | 17 Comments

Now That’s an About Face!

It’s been almost two years now that 60 Minutes did a special on ethanol, in which Dan Rather was just bubbly with enthusiasm. He had as a guest Berkeley Professor Dan Kammen, who heads up Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL). (I frequently see visitors from RAEL showing up on my site meter). Anyway, Professor Kammen talked up the virtues of ethanol with Dan Rather, and also spoke very positively on ethanol in this article:

Ethanol can replace gasoline with significant energy savings, comparable impact on greenhouse gases

Boy, that takes me back. You have to love the appeal to authority:

Knowledgeable venture capitalists already are putting money behind ethanol and cellulosic technology, as witnessed by recent investments by Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates and strong interest by Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla.

How did those investments pan out, fellows? Oh, yeah. But I digress. A couple of Professor Kammen’s Berkeley colleagues, Alex Farrell and Michael O’Hare, also featured in the above report. Well, it seems that they have all gotten religion, as evidenced by a story in today’s WSJ Energy Roundup:

More Bad News for Ethanol

Academics tasked with plotting California’s transition to a low-carbon fuel have delivered more bad news: Ethanol appears to come with a higher greenhouse-gas price tag than previously thought — higher, indeed, than fossil fuel.

The University of California at Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center told the California Air Resources Board that ethanol could be twice as bad as gasoline, from a carbon-emissions point of view. How? Basically by turning land now covered with trees, grass, and other natural “carbon sinks” into farmland for corn and other crops used for ethanol.

“Simply said, ethanol production today using U.S. corn contributes to the conversion of grasslands and rainforest to agriculture, causing very large GHG emissions,” wrote Berkeley profs Alex Farrell and Michael O’Hare in a January 12 memo to California regulators. “Even if only a small fraction of the emissions calculated in this crude way [through land use change] are added to estimates of direct emissions for corn ethanol, total emissions for corn ethanol are higher than for fossil fuels.”

Professor Kammen is listed as a co-author on the report, which appears to be an enormous position shift for him. Maybe his Berkeley colleague Tad Patzek finally showed him the light. Or maybe those many visits they made here slowly won them over.
🙂

Of course you had to know that some would immediately reach for the ad hom:

I would like to know who are backers of The University of California at Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center? Exxon, Shell and Chevron?

Ah, yes. Good times. On the scientific front, this battle is being won. If we could only start convincing those darn lawmakers.

January 23, 2008 Posted by | air pollution, dan kammen, Dan Rather, ethanol, global warming, greenhouse gases | 17 Comments

Now That’s an About Face!

It’s been almost two years now that 60 Minutes did a special on ethanol, in which Dan Rather was just bubbly with enthusiasm. He had as a guest Berkeley Professor Dan Kammen, who heads up Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL). (I frequently see visitors from RAEL showing up on my site meter). Anyway, Professor Kammen talked up the virtues of ethanol with Dan Rather, and also spoke very positively on ethanol in this article:

Ethanol can replace gasoline with significant energy savings, comparable impact on greenhouse gases

Boy, that takes me back. You have to love the appeal to authority:

Knowledgeable venture capitalists already are putting money behind ethanol and cellulosic technology, as witnessed by recent investments by Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates and strong interest by Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla.

How did those investments pan out, fellows? Oh, yeah. But I digress. A couple of Professor Kammen’s Berkeley colleagues, Alex Farrell and Michael O’Hare, also featured in the above report. Well, it seems that they have all gotten religion, as evidenced by a story in today’s WSJ Energy Roundup:

More Bad News for Ethanol

Academics tasked with plotting California’s transition to a low-carbon fuel have delivered more bad news: Ethanol appears to come with a higher greenhouse-gas price tag than previously thought — higher, indeed, than fossil fuel.

The University of California at Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center told the California Air Resources Board that ethanol could be twice as bad as gasoline, from a carbon-emissions point of view. How? Basically by turning land now covered with trees, grass, and other natural “carbon sinks” into farmland for corn and other crops used for ethanol.

“Simply said, ethanol production today using U.S. corn contributes to the conversion of grasslands and rainforest to agriculture, causing very large GHG emissions,” wrote Berkeley profs Alex Farrell and Michael O’Hare in a January 12 memo to California regulators. “Even if only a small fraction of the emissions calculated in this crude way [through land use change] are added to estimates of direct emissions for corn ethanol, total emissions for corn ethanol are higher than for fossil fuels.”

Professor Kammen is listed as a co-author on the report, which appears to be an enormous position shift for him. Maybe his Berkeley colleague Tad Patzek finally showed him the light. Or maybe those many visits they made here slowly won them over.
🙂

Of course you had to know that some would immediately reach for the ad hom:

I would like to know who are backers of The University of California at Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center? Exxon, Shell and Chevron?

Ah, yes. Good times. On the scientific front, this battle is being won. If we could only start convincing those darn lawmakers.

January 23, 2008 Posted by | air pollution, dan kammen, Dan Rather, ethanol, global warming, greenhouse gases | 86 Comments