R-Squared Energy Blog

Pure Energy

Soliciting Reader Input for Bioenergy Chapter

9/8 Update: Lichtblick/VW announcement is now in the English version of Der Spiegel:

A Power Station in Your Basement

Green-energy provider Lichtblick and German automaker Volkswagen are joining forces and promising to stir up the energy market with an unusual plan. Instead of relying on massive energy facilities, the average consumer may soon have a miniature power station in their basement.

Chief executives of Germany’s major energy suppliers usually don’t have much time for their junior counterpart, Lichtblick. The Hamburg-based green-electricity provider’s half a million customers may be “impressive,” they say, but Lichtblick works in a niche market and is no competition for the larger companies in the industry.

The ambitious new project could be worth billions of euros and generate enough electricity to replace up to two nuclear power stations or even coal-fired power plants in the near future. The technology required to put this plan into practice is highly complex, but — depending on demand and the market situation — the new setup could network 1,000, 10,000 or even 100,000 small natural-gas-powered thermal power stations and, in effect, instantly create a virtual large one.

A giant quantity of electricity could be generated by such a system. Channelled straight from the basements of individual houses, where Lichtblick plans on installing the mini power stations, it could then be fed into the public powergrid. Likewise, the mini stations could also provide a source of cheap thermal energy and warm water for each household.

Calling All Wood Experts

In 2007, I wrote the renewable diesel chapter for a book called Biofuels, Solar and Wind as Renewable Energy Systems. One thing I did when I was working on the book chapter was to solicit feedback from readers on what I might have missed. Some of that feedback turned out to be quite useful, and I provided an acknowledgment in the book for the feedback from readers here.

Once again, I am working on a chapter for a book on sustainable development in the forestry industry. My specific chapter is Bioenergy/Biofuels. I am basically trying to cover all aspects of the energy-related things one might do with woody biomass. Some of the things I am covering are gasification, pyrolysis, torrefaction, hydrolysis and conversion to ethanol, production of steam and electricity, use as fuel for cooking, and use as fuel for home heating. So what am I forgetting?

Volkswagen/LichtBlick Announcement

There was an announcement earlier today that has gone pretty much unreported in the U.S., but has gotten heavy media coverage in Germany. Earlier today, the German automaker Volkswagen announced that it is partnering with LichtBlick – a German company that only sells ‘green’ electricity – to produce small combined heat and power (micro-CHP) units for homes. (For a rare story on LichtBlick in English, see Target Customer Base: One Million). Here is the only story I could find on today’s announcement in English (but if you read German you can find loads of media coverage):

Volkswagen To Sell Home Power Plants

Together with the German Green Power supplier Lichtblick, VW wants to sell tiny natural gas power plants people can install in the cellar of their homes. Besides power the VW home power plants also generate warm water and heating.

The tiny power plants are supposed to be networked and feed power into the grid when it is needed most. The plan is to replace at least two nuclear power plants.

Honda has already entered this market, and have installed their micro-CHP units in 50,000 homes in Japan. Personally I think there is great potential for these units to displace the conventional oil furnaces found in many cold climates. I have been privy to some of the cost/output information on micro-CHP from three different suppliers, and based on what I have seen I believe this will be a very strong growth market.

I should disclose, though, that while I am not invested in LichtBlick, in my new job there is only one degree of separation between them and me. So while I don’t have a direct vested interest, I definitely have a personal interest in seeing them succeed with this venture.

Offline for a Week

Finally, my book chapter is due at the end of the week, and I plan to spend my normal blogging time finishing it up (and hopefully incorporating some reader feedback). I don’t foresee having much time to blog again until after September 11th, when the first draft is due. If there is a particularly interesting story, I may post a link, but I can’t afford to spend much time writing this week.

September 8, 2009 Posted by | bioenergy, biofuels, chp, forestry, Lichtblick | 59 Comments

An E-Fuel MicroFueler Dealer Responds

After publishing the previous story, I went back and searched through my Gmail to see when I had first heard about the E-Fuel MicroFueler. It turns out that about a year ago a regular reader of my blog – and someone I had exchanged a number of e-mails with – sent me the first bit of information and asked for my opinion. He told me at that time that he had become a dealer of these systems.

At the time, the idea was to use sugar as the feedstock. I made a number of comments, including my concern that the capital costs alone were too high to make the unit economical. I said that I felt like they would need to get capital costs down by 2/3rds, and I questioned several assumptions in the economics. Further, I flagged up a concern that people who couldn’t program their VCRs would be expected to produce ethanol in their garage. On the other hand, I did favor the idea of localized production of fuel (and still do).

Following the previous essay in which I pulled no punches, we exchanged several e-mails. I told him that I felt like what was being presented about the MicroFueler’s capabilities bordered on fraud. In response, he said he wanted to clarify a number of points raised in the L.A. Times article that I addressed. Since he is not authorized to speak on behalf of E-Fuel, he will not be identified and this will be his opinion – and not the official company position. One of my core principles is to allow people to respond to my criticisms, so in the interest of fairness, I present excerpts of his response to me.

On the topic of the government picking up half the cost, he wrote:

Section 30C of the US Internal Revenue Code (as amended by the Stimulus Act) provides an income tax credit of 50% (up to $50,000) for a taxpayer to install “Alternative Fuel Vehicle Refueling Equipment” as long as the fuel is used in a “trade or business”. Individuals can qualify for a credit of up to $2,000. This credit applies to commercial E-85 pumps, natural gas refueling equipment, hydrogen, biodiesel, and yes, even MicroFuelers. The credit also applies to other “turn-key” ethanol fuel production/dispensing solutions. The same government that provides these incentives is the same one that gives incentives to the petroleum industry for exploration, infrastructure, research & development, etc. Fair is fair.

If individuals qualify for $2,000, then that puts the out of pocket cost at $8,000 – and not the $5,000 that I have seen mentioned again and again.

Regarding my comment about people being trusted to put the correct amounts of ethanol in their vehicles, he wrote:

There was a study by the University of North Dakota that looked at the ability of unmodified non-flex fuel vehicles to run on ethanol/gasoline blends. The study showed that these vehicles could run quite well on high-level blends such as E-50, E-60, etc. The study also looked at fuel economy when using these various blends and concluded that blends of E-20 or E-30 might well be the “optimal” blend in terms of overall fuel economy for non-flex fuel vehicles, but the results tended to be different for each make/model/year vehicle tested.

“Optimal” in the real world translates (and this is very important) into two things:
1. Lowest net cost per mile (including vehicle manufacture & upkeep)
2. Lowest net “well to wheel” emissions per mile (including vehicle manufacture & upkeep)

Optimal Ethanol Blend-Level Investigation

Unfortunately, it didn’t address the question of vehicle longevity, but we have many real-world data points that support our position that ethanol is unlikely to cause any problems.

We know that most vehicles built after 1989 have parts that are ethanol compatible (fuel pumps, fuel injectors, fuel lines, etc). In fact, if you compare part numbers between today’s “flex fuel” and “non-flex fuel” vehicles, you’ll find the exact same part number used in both applications. There is a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt about whether ethanol can be used in non-flex fuel vehicles – but the fact is that we’ve been using high-level ethanol blends (up to E100) in a number of unconverted non-flex fuel vehicles with no problems except the occasional “Check Engine” light… and the only reason the Check Engine light comes on is because the on-board ECU thinks that the fuel system is putting too much fuel into the engine so it assumes there is a problem when, in fact, there really isn’t. It’s just that the ECU was never programmed to take the possibility of using ethanol (lower energy density) into account. In these cases, the “Check Engine” light is a false indication of a non-existent problem.

I am familiar with the University of North Dakota study. It was paid for by the American Coalition for Ethanol. I think we would agree that if an anti-ethanol result was found as a result of research funded by the American Petroleum Institute, ethanol proponents wouldn’t accept that at face value.

The study has been widely spun as showing that an optimal ethanol blend was E20 or E30. But I looked at the report, and previously commented on it at TOD. Here were some of my comments on this paper:

I took some time to review this paper again. This is what I see from the ethanol tests. Look at Figures 10-13. Here is the reality of the tests:

Figure 10. 2007 Toyota Camry, 2.4-L engine – 6 of 7 tests show worse fuel efficiency on an ethanol blend. There is one apparent outlier, which was the basis for the claims. (And it looks like a classic outlier, with almost all of the other points falling as predicted).

Figure 11. 2007 Chevrolet Impala (non-flex fuel), 3.5-L engine – 5 of 5 tests show worse fuel efficiency on an ethanol blend.

Figure 12. 2007 Chevrolet Impala (flex fuel), 3.5-L engine – 8 tests, 2 show better fuel efficiency, 2 show the same, and 3 show worse fuel efficiency on an ethanol blend.

Figure 13. 2007 Ford Fusion, 2.3-L engine – 4 of 5 tests show worse fuel efficiency on an ethanol blend. There is one apparent outlier.

So, what can we conclude? Of 25 data points, 18 confirm that the fuel economy is worse on an ethanol blend. That is 72% of the tests, and these tests were paid for by the ethanol lobby (which is why I suspect the results were spun as they were). The outliers are interesting enough for further investigation, but you have vastly overstated the test results. In reality, if you pulled the results out of a bag, you have only a 28% chance of improving your fuel efficiency on the basis of any particular test. Further, the outlier didn’t always occur at the same percentage, which would be quite problematic even if the result is confirmed.

On the L.A. Times article itself, and my claim that the author had been duped:

“Duped” might be a bit strong, but there were certainly a few problems with the article. I’m not sure if Tom/Chris misspoke or if they were misquoted (I wasn’t there), but the inaccuracies should have been identified and cleared-up before the article went to press. Incorrect? Perhaps in some ways. Misleading? Maybe. Intentionally misleading (fraud)? No… I’m confident that there was no intent by E-Fuel or GreenHouse to be misleading. I think it’s unfair to expect any journalist to have the same level of technical knowledge and industry experience that we have, so I’m prepared to live and let live when an article doesn’t get everything exactly right. The fact is that nobody “lied” here, and there’s really no way to control what gets printed. No journalist in the world would allow us to review the article before it goes to print.

I agree that someone with more experience could have handled the interviews or at least reviewed the article before it went to press. And perhaps an “interview” isn’t the best way to present the concepts that were discussed. Maybe a “press sheet” or “whitepaper” would be more appropriate. We (the biofuels industry in general) need to be careful to properly manage customer expectations because, ultimately, failure to do so could seriously undermine our credibility.

Regarding my comment that a big ethanol refinery would be more efficient:

Energy efficiency of huge biorefineries isn’t going to be much different than in the MicroFueler. It takes a certain amount of energy to distill no matter what quantities we’re talking about. Take a look at Floyd’s 1982 design and then look at the MicroFueler design and you’ll see it’s pretty well thought out. Where “the big boys” have a definite advantage is there economies of scale with respect to capital costs. Where we have a huge advantage is the cost of feedstock, carbon balance, and the (near) elimination of the whole petroleum distribution system.

I disagree with that. A smaller purification system is going to suffer heat losses to a much greater degree. It is inevitable. You see it all the time when trying to run a laboratory column to simulate a production column. Efficiencies aren’t nearly as good because of the higher relative heat losses.

Regarding the comment that 100 billion gallons of fuel are thrown away:

Misquoted or misspoken. He probably meant to say that the US is sitting on about 100 billion gallons worth of cellulosic biomass on a sustainable, annual basis. That’s the USDA/DOE “Billion Ton” study. There’s a fine line between “thrown out” and “not utilized”. Then there’s all the stuff that we’re paying to haul away to landfills (another 6-10 billion gallons worth). Tom knows the difference, but somehow the two thoughts got combined into a single statement.

We exchanged a number of e-mails regarding the claims around adding water to ethanol to improve the engine efficiency. I have seen some references to that, but I haven’t been able to find actual results. (See this article, for instance). My comment was that the results may have been spun like the University of North Dakota study cited above. But one thing that I told him I don’t believe is credible is that a person was running out of fuel and added 3 gallons of water to their tank to get home (see the previous story for that example). It is possible that a vehicle running on ethanol – and with a pretty full tank – could “tolerate” that much water.

But this much is true. It takes a lot of energy and capital to get that last 5% of water out of ethanol that is produced. Cars can run on ethanol that contains water (hydrous ethanol), albeit at a lower efficiency (which is why the water is removed). Brazil runs some of their cars on hydrous ethanol. But the claim that this improves the efficiency is pretty far-fetched, in my opinion. One of the articles I recently read stated that the water lowered the combustion temperature, thus increasing the efficiency. But if you look at the equation for efficiency of an engine, a lower combustion temperature will normally result in a lower efficiency. Regardless, I don’t put much faith in highly counter-intuitive results until they have been well-replicated (see ‘cold fusion’). And if they are – it would be a potentially revolutionary finding.

On the cellulosic issue, he wrote:

The MicroFueler is an automated fermentation, distillation, and dispensing platform. Our fermentation process regulates agitation, temperature, and other parameters to optimize output, but fermentation is fermentation. Distillation isn’t rocket science. If you can boil water then you can distill ethanol. We happen to be able to do this very efficiently and we produce a very high quality fuel. So the question is, can we really hydrolyze cellulosic materials to liberate the sugars and then convert them into ethanol? The answer is yes. The better question is “can we do this efficiently in order to get close to the maximum theoretical yields?”

You can’t just put grass clippings in a MicroFueler and walk away from it and expect ethanol fuel. There’s more to it than that. But, it’s not a big deal to put a grinder, pump, and a 300 gallon tank next to a MicroFueler or to add a bottle of enzymes now and again. It’s like having a pool, and then having the pumps, filters, to make it work, and the chlorine to keep it all clean. Or like a washing machine for that matter. Laundry detergent is mostly enzymes, and the clothes don’t wash themselves.

There’s another issue here which is that people toss around the term “cellulosic” far too often without really knowing what it means. Food waste (starch/carbohydrates) is very easy to work with, but it’s not cellulosic. People think that anything other than corn is cellulosic. Blame that on the media.

Around the economics, he essentially said that not everyone will save money, but some will save a lot of money. I haven’t seen the assumptions that went into those financial calculations, but I am highly skeptical that the average person would save any money.

In his conclusion, he again hit upon the local production aspect, which was the one part I did find appealing:

And here’s the $64,000 controversy… Say for example I feed my MicroFueler a steady diet of corn (grain) and amylase enzymes. I grow the corn on my farm, make the fuel on my farm, and feed my chickens the WDGS that are left-over from making ethanol. No transportation. Then I collect the chicken manure and spread it back in my corn field (which I also irrigate with the wastewater). By the way I’m also paying a premium for wind power to run my MicroFueler in this scenario. Is this sustainable? Does this defeat the argument that all corn ethanol is patently unsustainable (by definition)? I guess it all depends on the price delta between a bushel of corn and a gallon of gasoline. High gas prices and low corn prices you better believe I’m making fuel.

I don’t think anyone would argue that corn ethanol is unsustainable by definition. If a farmer is growing his own corn and taking care of the soil, and using that to produce his own ethanol, then he has a shot at sustainability. We lose the plot when we try to ramp that up to be a large scale solution.

To conclude, I recognize that my original article was pretty harsh. But that is because in my opinion there had been a distinct pattern of embellishment with this device, and if there is one thing I loathe it is people making far-fetched promises around renewable energy. I found the L.A. Times article to be irresponsible, either because the journalist did a poor job or the developers were overselling their device.

The end result of articles like this is that it creates the potential for money – private equity and taxpayer funds – to flow to an undeserving source. Ultimately this will have the effect that the funds will dry up, and promising technologies won’t be funded as a result. Imagine funds for cancer research being diverted to some of the fraudulent cancer cures, and you have the sort of example that gets me worked up. That is the reason I am quick to pounce on embellishment.

August 26, 2009 Posted by | biofuels, ethanol, Media coverage, scams | 68 Comments

It’s Always Something

I spend a lot of time thinking about the trade-offs involved with different energy options. Take petroleum, for instance. It offers great convenience, and has been relatively inexpensive for decades. Cheap petroleum has enabled numerous people a level of mobility that had never before been possible. Some of the downsides, though, are that we get air pollution, oil spills, and resource wars. And because of U.S. dependence on petroleum, we find ourselves increasingly at the mercy of regimes hostile to U.S. interests. And when prices go up, money flows out of our economy into theirs. However, we have been willing to live with those trade-offs.

The same trade-offs hold true for renewable energy, and I actually spend a lot more time thinking about those. My near future is going to take me back into the energy sector, trying to work out sustainable, long-term solutions. Sustainable is the key word here. If the renewable option requires fossil fuels, for instance, it isn’t sustainable. It might be sustainable for a long period of time if the fossil fuel inputs are low – or if they consist of fossil fuels that we still possess in abundance – but that brings up other trade-offs.

There is no perfect solution, but there are those in which the trade-offs are more favorable. For a tropical country like Brazil, I think ethanol from sugarcane is a good solution. However, try to scale that up to fuel the world, and you start dealing with more difficult trade-offs. One of the options I think looks good longer-term is green diesel made from either hydrotreating/cracking various plant oils, or from gasifying biomass and then converting it via Fischer-Tropsch to diesel (as Choren is doing).

For the hydrocracking option, the specific plant oil (or animal fat) you use is going to involve more trade-offs. Take palm oil, for instance. It is a prolific producer of oil, to be sure. It has provided a new source of income for many tropical countries. But demand from developed countries has led to massive deforestation as some tropical countries rush to plant palm oil plantations.

Jatropha curcas, which I have written about previously, is an interesting option. The primary attraction is that it can reportedly grow in marginal soil, and it is drought tolerant. Presumably, this would imply that it doesn’t use much water. Not so, according to a recently published paper in PNAS:

The water footprint of bioenergy

In case you can’t read that, the graph shows jatropha as the highest user of water per GJ of fuel produced. Many believe the world faces some very serious issues with availability of fresh water. In that case, an important trade-off will be the amount of water a energy crop uses.

The study doesn’t describe their methodology in detail, so it is difficult for me to critique their result. I can say that other studies have shown that jatropha still produces oil under minimal water requirements:

Response of Jatropha curcas L. to water deficit: Yield, water use efficiency and oilseed characteristics

It may be that the best yields are produced when lots of water is supplied. But then there are locations that would be willing to trade lower oil yields for low water requirements. The point is that these sorts of trade-offs are going to be involved with every energy choice. As the title says, “It’s always something.” But that doesn’t mean we don’t have options.

As we turn increasingly to bioenergy in the future, it is critical that we make choices that minimize the negative side of the trade-offs. Unfortunately, history shows that the group benefiting from the positive side of the trade-off is not always the same group getting hit with the negative side. But for me, this is going to be an important consideration as I search for optimal bioenergy options.

Note: Incidentally, when I was writing this essay, I ran across a very informative source of jatropha information that I hadn’t seen before. There are a lot of nice pictures there: Jatropha Cultivation

June 11, 2009 Posted by | biofuels, jatropha | 16 Comments

We Do Not Have a Simple Solution

Those were the words of Helena Chum, a research fellow at NREL on the topic of advanced biofuels. Forbes just published an article on this:

Biofuels Battle: Chemistry Versus Biology

A lot of the subject matter and the companies discussed will be familiar to regular readers.

There are 1,865 biofuels companies out there, and sometimes it seems that there are at least 1,865 different ways of turning every manner of biological material into fuel for a car, truck, train or plane.

The problem is finding a way of doing this alchemy on the scale of millions of gallons a year at a cost that comes somewhere near the price of gasoline without leveling the world’s forests, sucking the world’s fresh water supply dry or starving the world’s humans.

I wouldn’t have guessed there were that many companies working on this problem. I have harped on the difficulties in scaling these lab experiments up, and Dr. Chum tried to put a price to it:

Despite all the hope, the finish line is not close. Helena Chum, a research fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, estimates that next-generation biofuels now cost anywhere between $5 and $1,000 a gallon, with a median of about $25.

“The finish line is not close.” “A median of about $25.” Of course that’s based on a certain energy price. If the cost is high because the energy inputs are high, you have a loser no matter the price of a barrel of oil. Which approaches might come in around $5/gal? (You may be surprised that this was the low end, given the claims of so many of making ethanol for $1 or $2 a gallon).

My guess is that lipid hydrocracking to give renewable diesel and propane – so called ‘green diesel – would be on the lower end of the price range. (I explained the difference in green diesel and biodesel here, and then gave a much more extensive explanation in my Renewable Diesel Primer). At the upper end, I have no idea which approach would cost $1000 a gallon, but I might reconsider that approach.

As the article concludes, having 1,865 companies in the game does not ensure success:

So who’s going to win? Certainly not all 1,865 companies. And maybe none will. Maybe the science will be too hard to scale up cheaply. “There has never been as much science and engineering done,” Chum says. “We do not have a simple solution. But the conditions for making it work are there.”

I think ‘winning’ here is going to be on a sliding scale – from marginally economical to moderately economical. My prediction is that the companies that win – and there are probably a dozen or so that have staying power – will still produce a product that is significantly more expensive to produce than gasoline. But the real winners must get their fossil fuel inputs down to a low level, otherwise rising fuel prices may make them less competitive, not more.

I will have Part III of the Vinod Khosla interview posted in a day or so.

May 3, 2009 Posted by | biofuels, green diesel, NREL | 75 Comments

A New Approach to Biogasoline

My ideal microbe for biofuel production would consume garbage, excrete gasoline, and die if it escapes into the wild. Excretion of longer chain hydrocarbons like gasoline would enable a less energy-intensive separation, because the product would phase out of water. LS9 is exploring this sort of pathway via microbes, and Virent is trying to do the same thing catalytically.

It is quite a challenging problem, but should be technically viable. And a company that can achieve an edge in this space could really dominate the biofuels arena. As I have said, it is difficult, but Holy Grail research.

Today a new and quite novel approach was announced in the Journal of the American Chemical Society:

Synthesis of Methyl Halides from Biomass Using Engineered Microbes

Professor Christopher Voigt and his team at UC San Francisco are researching a multi-pronged approach to the problem. They are using a bacterium that was discovered at a landfill in France to consume cellulose and convert it to acetate. (This was exactly what I did in graduate school, except we were using microbes from the stomachs of cattle to convert cellulose into acetate. After all, the stomach of a cow is a cellulose conversion factory).

Once acetate is produced, Professor’s Voigt’s team utilized a yeast to convert the acetate into a methyl halide. The beauty of this approach is three-fold. First, the acetate poisons the bacterium as the concentration builds, but the yeast prevents that by consuming it as it is produced. Second, the product comes off as a gas, simplifying the separation of the product from the aqueous solution. Finally, methyl halides can be converted into gasoline catalytically.

So what’s the catch? Generally the yields and reaction rates via these sorts of approaches are too low to be economically viable. This means that even if you have something that phases out of solution (or a gas that bubbles out in this case) the reactor(s) may need to be enormous to produce commercial quantities of product. Another potential issue here is the possibility that other gases are produced along with the methyl halides, potentially requiring a separation after all. Finally, methyl halides have never been turned into gasoline at large scale. If the economics were attractive, we would probably be using this process to convert natural gas into gasoline.

Still, this is a very interesting approach and an avenue that appears to be worthy of much more research.

Finally, hat tip to a reader for bringing this story to my attention earlier today.

Additional Reading

Lab finds new method to turn biomass into gasoline

Yeast and bacterium turned into gasoline factory

Californians engineer microbes to produce methyl halides

April 22, 2009 Posted by | biofuels, biogasoline, LS9, Virent | 133 Comments

My ASPO Slides are Available

I just learned today that the two presentations I made at this year’s ASPO conference are now available. The slides are pretty self-explanatory, but they only served as background for the talk so people could read through them as I made my points. I intend to write up my notes and post them as time allows.

First up, the slides I presented on the energy information agencies:

The Energy Information Providers

Here is a sample slide from that presentation:

Second was my presentation on biofuels:

Biofuels: Facts and Fallacies

A couple of sample slides from that presentation:

If they make the video available, I will post that link as well.

September 27, 2008 Posted by | ASPO, biofuels, cera, EIA, iea | 18 Comments

My ASPO Slides are Available

I just learned today that the two presentations I made at this year’s ASPO conference are now available. The slides are pretty self-explanatory, but they only served as background for the talk so people could read through them as I made my points. I intend to write up my notes and post them as time allows.

First up, the slides I presented on the energy information agencies:

The Energy Information Providers

Here is a sample slide from that presentation:

Second was my presentation on biofuels:

Biofuels: Facts and Fallacies

A couple of sample slides from that presentation:

If they make the video available, I will post that link as well.

September 27, 2008 Posted by | ASPO, biofuels, cera, EIA, iea | 137 Comments

Outline for ASPO Talks

I am scheduled to deliver two presentations at this year’s ASPO conference in Sacramento. You can see the agenda overview here. I will be speaking on the EIA, IEA and CERA on the 21st, and then I have a presentation on biofuels scheduled for the 23rd.

For the first talk, the draft of my slides is heavily slanted toward the EIA. I will discuss what they do well (in my opinion they are the best source of energy data around) and what they historically haven’t done so well (forecast). I will also devote some space to This Week in Petroleum.

For the biofuels talk, my slides are roughed out. Below is the outline. If you think I missed something important, let me know. I only have about 20 minutes, so I will be limited to 20-30 slides. I want to cover a lot of ground, which means I can’t delve too deeply.

Here is the outline of what I have prepared. Comments or suggestions are welcome:

Stacking up the contenders

– Crop-based (corn, sugarcane)
– Cellulosic and Lignocellulosic (gasification)
– Biodiesel
– Green diesel (hydrocracked, Fischer-Tropsch)
– LS9
– Butanol

Can we emulate Brazil?

•The truth about Brazil
•The truth about the U.S.
•Those pesky differences

Separating fact from fiction

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

How Politicians Screw Things Up


September 6, 2008 Posted by | ASPO, biofuels, EIA, iea | 115 Comments

The Controversial World Bank Report on Biofuels

I mentioned it earlier in a post, but now the full text of the World Bank report blaming biofuels for 75% of the rise in food prices has been posted:

A Note on Rising Food Prices

I don’t have time to critique it right now, but wanted to call attention to it since many had questions about how the conclusions were reached. So, you now have access to it.

July 14, 2008 Posted by | biofuels, food prices, The Guardian | 2 Comments

News on a Lazy Sunday

First up, Vinod Khosla:

On the Record: Vinod Khosla

On biofuels:

I have no question that in 10 years, there’s no way oil will be able to compete with biofuels. Even in five years. Now it will take a long time to scale biofuels, but I’m the only one in the world forecasting oil dropping in price to $35 a barrel by 2030. I’ll put it on the record: Oil will not be able to compete with cellulosic biofuels. If you do it from food, the food will get so expensive you can’t make fuel out of it.

Let’s focus our energy on the research and development and innovation that allows us to produce a $1-a-gallon fuel. There’s no question about it, we can produce it for $1 a gallon and retail it at Wal-Mart for $1.99 a gallon and create a competitor for oil. Oil is a monopoly. It leads to an energy crisis, it leads to a terrorism crisis and it leads to an environmental crisis. So we have to replace it.

And on electric cars and solar power:

Others talk about things like electric cars. Nice cars. In fact, we can make money on them and are investing in electric hybrid batteries and things like that. But they will not make a dent in either worldwide oil consumption or carbon reduction in the next 20 years. And that’s why we have to be clear about nice, (patchwork) solutions that make people feel good.

People say, “Priuses are selling a lot, people want them.” Yeah, but so are Gucci bags. You know, they make people feel good, they’re great fashion statements. Do they reduce carbon emissions enough? If you do a critical analysis, a hybrid reduces carbon emissions about the same as corn ethanol, and costs 100 times more. So what’s the point?

I drive a hybrid, and I can afford it. But in the next 15 years, we’re going to ship a billion cars. Unless a technology can reduce carbon emissions dramatically for 50 to 80 percent of those cars, we haven’t made a dent in the climate change problem. And too many politicians are focused on silly ideas like that, because politically it sounds good.

Take San Francisco, for instance. Putting solar cells on anybody’s roof is absolutely silly, in a foggy city like San Francisco. If somebody wants to do it with their own money, that’ s great. Do it. But don’t do it with other people’s money.

Somehow, not-so-sunny Germany has developed a large solar industry.

Next, Barack Obama shows that he can pander like everyone else:

Obama: Solving energy crisisis going to take time

It isn’t right that oil companies are making record profits at a time when ordinary Americans are going into debt just to fill up their tanks. That’s why we’ll put a windfall profits tax on oil companies and use it to help Oregon families reduce energy costs.

We’ll also take steps to reduce the price of oil and increase transparency in how prices are set so we can ensure that energy companies aren’t bending the rules. And to help Oregon families meet the rising cost of gas, we’ll put a middle-class tax cut in their pockets that will save them $1,000 a year, and we’ll eliminate income taxes altogether for seniors making less than $50,000.

But the truth is, there is no easy answer to our energy crisis — and we need a president who’s going to be straight with us about that; a president who’s going to tell the American people not just what they want to hear, but what they need to know.

So, in addition to telling them what they want to hear, you will also tell them they need to hear. Funny, I didn’t read the “need to hear” bit in that article.

May 11, 2008 Posted by | Barack Obama, biofuels, Vinod Khosla | 24 Comments