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Peak Oil and the Lunatic Fringe

I have been posting at The Oil Drum as a contributor for about a year now. Yesterday, I announced that I would be taking a break for a while. (I will continue to post at least one new essay a week here). As I am getting quite a few e-mails about this, I wanted to document what has precipitated this for those who may not know the history.

The Oil Drum receives a great many visitors each day (currently over 12,000 a day). While the vast majority are interested in intelligent discourse on energy issues, there is a very vocal lunatic fringe who accept Peak Oil RIGHT NOW with a religious fervor. They lash out at any viewpoints that challenge this notion. To be clear, not all who believe Peak Oil is now fall into the lunatic fringe category. In fact, most don’t. There are many very serious posters who argue that peak is now, and they use data and logic to argue their point. However, the lunatic fringe will tend to associate themselves with posters espousing these views, and legitimate challenges of the data are sometimes met with bitter ad hominem attacks. Add to that the fringe who think that because I work for an oil company, they are entitled to pile on with ad hominem attacks, and I have found myself increasingly on the receiving end of some very nasty comments and e-mails.

I have recently written two articles examining a technique that is claimed to be able to predict a peak in a country’s oil production. I reproduced the first one (Predicting the Past) here on my blog, but the second one had far too many graphics. Here are the links to both essays, as well as to an essay I wrote in which I made my argument that Saudi Arabian oil production has not yet peaked:

Does the Hubbert Linearization Ever Work?

Predicting the Past: The Hubbert Linearization

A Debate on the Substance and Timing of the Peak of Oil Production and Consumption, Part II

My conclusions, supported by a number of other modelers, is that the Hubbert Linearization (HL) technique does not in fact work well enough for one to call a peak in oil production with any sort of precision. The error range can span decades, as I documented in those posts. In fact, it is a very good example of an ad hoc model. And while I certainly believe that we should be preparing right now for Peak Oil (this is a position that my opponents consistently misrepresent), I also want to understand more about when Peak Oil will occur. If we “cry wolf” this year, and oil production rises next year because we didn’t do a good enough job forecasting, I believe this will diminish our ability to influence policy-makers that we must take action.

In response to my latest essay, in which I compared some of the arguments in favor of the HL as “faith-based”, many posters bitterly lashed out. As I documented at TOD, here is a sampling of the comments (without corrections for spelling errors) I received in response to my essay. Again, this is a minority, but a very vocal one:

“basically garbage”, “dangerous”, “keep being unreasonable or start thinking”, “not that interesting”, “not even close to being the right way to critique HL”, “assumption you childischly refuse to mention”, “sad, silly, egotistical”, “pissing contest”, “disingenuous”, “arrogance, pigheadedness and perhaps even childishness”, “waste of time”, “absurd”, “clumsy and actually self-defeating”, “gross”, “way off base”, “contrived examples”, “get off your high horse”, “re-inventing the wheel”, “junk”, “deceitful”, “unrealistic scenarios”, “let me hand you a clue”, “over the top”, “not very useful”, “cheating”, “vindictive, and spiteful”, “constructed cases where it does not work”, “diatribe”, “obnoxious attempt”, “a guy with an aganda and a axe to grind”, and “quite revealing in an unflatering way”

It was after reading some of those comments (and the posters attempted justifications of them) that I finally decided to take a break. However, in response to my note about taking a break, one poster provided a shining example of – in addition to the sort of insulting comments above – the kind of misrepresentation I have to deal with on a daily basis. It is absolutely comical, except for all of the slander.

But I think you have to see this for yourself, if you are unfamiliar with the sort of lunatic fringe I am talking about. Following my note, a poster decided to waste everyone’s time with this gem:

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/2398#comment-172203

I read through it, and I couldn’t make anything of that gibberish. I had to study it, and go back to the comments following my essay to even figure out what he was talking about. Here were some of the things this poster attributed to me (along with a very long personal attack):

“because you did post these words yesterday didn’t you Robert. paraphrased: I can make 2+2=5 if I want to also.

I am sure you can Robert, for a while, so if you make such a statement why should we believe that you haven’t found a way to fudge the numbers and data in your post yesterday.”

Of course I had written no such thing, but it got worse:

“With your time off Robert why don’t you examine Mary’s paper. I am sure she would love for you to tell her why she is incorrectly interpreting the statistical data. You have nothing to do now since your not posting here. I might even send Mary your post that said she was intentionally manipulating the data to fit the outcome. Pretty strong words Robert, and in the scientific community that is a real no no. Are you saying Mary is a charlatan with the credentials she has to back up her abilities. You must be pretty smart to take her on. Whoops, wait, you just made a statement, but didn’t back it up. You will not do it though will you Robert. As Mary asks, why why why, is this showing up in the data.”

I couldn’t make heads or tails of what this person was saying. So, I went back to the comments following my essay, and I found that he had posted a link to some mystical gibberish in which a scientist had claimed to have found a relationship between the alignment of the stars and NASA missions. So this person was accusing me of saying things about this scientist, when I had never even acknowledged his post. Furthermore, he demanded that I show that she is incorrectly interpreting statistical data. Now, to cut to the chase, I clicked on the link to see what it is this person was yammering on about. You know what was displayed at the top of the page in which the scientist had laid out this mystical “relationship”?

http://www.angelfire.com/ca3/citystars/

“AUTHOR’S NOTE THERE ARE ERRORS IN THIS STATISTICS PAPER THAT I HAVE NOT HAD THE CHANCE TO CORRECT. They do undermine the conclusions of this paper. In order to determine how seriously my math errors affect the results, it would be necessary to redo the paper. Since I do not currently have time for that, I am posting this addendum.

On March 24, 2003, I entered into a debate regarding the merits of this statistics paper I wrote in 1999. It is at this time in 2003 that I reviewed my paper again, only much more thoroughly for the purposes of debating with my paper’s detractors — and I then decided that the errors I made in the paper definitely do undermine at least some of its conclusions.”

Anyway, sorry for the long story but I thought it provided an exclamation point on my decision to take a break. This person had just provided a clear example of why I end up wasting a good portion of my time. I am being slandered, and this person is attributing to me things that I did not say, while demanding that I address a paper that the author has already acknowledged to be in error. And while I am completely sympathetic to the need for anonymity in many cases, this clearly drives some people to behave in these sorts of inappropriate ways. Therefore, to lower my stress level a bit, I have decided to remove the bulls eye from my chest. As I mentioned in the opening, I will continue to post at least 1 essay a week here.

March 24, 2007 Posted by | critics, hubbert linearization, Peak Oil | 66 Comments

Peak Oil and the Lunatic Fringe

I have been posting at The Oil Drum as a contributor for about a year now. Yesterday, I announced that I would be taking a break for a while. (I will continue to post at least one new essay a week here). As I am getting quite a few e-mails about this, I wanted to document what has precipitated this for those who may not know the history.

The Oil Drum receives a great many visitors each day (currently over 12,000 a day). While the vast majority are interested in intelligent discourse on energy issues, there is a very vocal lunatic fringe who accept Peak Oil RIGHT NOW with a religious fervor. They lash out at any viewpoints that challenge this notion. To be clear, not all who believe Peak Oil is now fall into the lunatic fringe category. In fact, most don’t. There are many very serious posters who argue that peak is now, and they use data and logic to argue their point. However, the lunatic fringe will tend to associate themselves with posters espousing these views, and legitimate challenges of the data are sometimes met with bitter ad hominem attacks. Add to that the fringe who think that because I work for an oil company, they are entitled to pile on with ad hominem attacks, and I have found myself increasingly on the receiving end of some very nasty comments and e-mails.

I have recently written two articles examining a technique that is claimed to be able to predict a peak in a country’s oil production. I reproduced the first one (Predicting the Past) here on my blog, but the second one had far too many graphics. Here are the links to both essays, as well as to an essay I wrote in which I made my argument that Saudi Arabian oil production has not yet peaked:

Does the Hubbert Linearization Ever Work?

Predicting the Past: The Hubbert Linearization

A Debate on the Substance and Timing of the Peak of Oil Production and Consumption, Part II

My conclusions, supported by a number of other modelers, is that the Hubbert Linearization (HL) technique does not in fact work well enough for one to call a peak in oil production with any sort of precision. The error range can span decades, as I documented in those posts. In fact, it is a very good example of an ad hoc model. And while I certainly believe that we should be preparing right now for Peak Oil (this is a position that my opponents consistently misrepresent), I also want to understand more about when Peak Oil will occur. If we “cry wolf” this year, and oil production rises next year because we didn’t do a good enough job forecasting, I believe this will diminish our ability to influence policy-makers that we must take action.

In response to my latest essay, in which I compared some of the arguments in favor of the HL as “faith-based”, many posters bitterly lashed out. As I documented at TOD, here is a sampling of the comments (without corrections for spelling errors) I received in response to my essay. Again, this is a minority, but a very vocal one:

“basically garbage”, “dangerous”, “keep being unreasonable or start thinking”, “not that interesting”, “not even close to being the right way to critique HL”, “assumption you childischly refuse to mention”, “sad, silly, egotistical”, “pissing contest”, “disingenuous”, “arrogance, pigheadedness and perhaps even childishness”, “waste of time”, “absurd”, “clumsy and actually self-defeating”, “gross”, “way off base”, “contrived examples”, “get off your high horse”, “re-inventing the wheel”, “junk”, “deceitful”, “unrealistic scenarios”, “let me hand you a clue”, “over the top”, “not very useful”, “cheating”, “vindictive, and spiteful”, “constructed cases where it does not work”, “diatribe”, “obnoxious attempt”, “a guy with an aganda and a axe to grind”, and “quite revealing in an unflatering way”

It was after reading some of those comments (and the posters attempted justifications of them) that I finally decided to take a break. However, in response to my note about taking a break, one poster provided a shining example of – in addition to the sort of insulting comments above – the kind of misrepresentation I have to deal with on a daily basis. It is absolutely comical, except for all of the slander.

But I think you have to see this for yourself, if you are unfamiliar with the sort of lunatic fringe I am talking about. Following my note, a poster decided to waste everyone’s time with this gem:

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/2398#comment-172203

I read through it, and I couldn’t make anything of that gibberish. I had to study it, and go back to the comments following my essay to even figure out what he was talking about. Here were some of the things this poster attributed to me (along with a very long personal attack):

“because you did post these words yesterday didn’t you Robert. paraphrased: I can make 2+2=5 if I want to also.

I am sure you can Robert, for a while, so if you make such a statement why should we believe that you haven’t found a way to fudge the numbers and data in your post yesterday.”

Of course I had written no such thing, but it got worse:

“With your time off Robert why don’t you examine Mary’s paper. I am sure she would love for you to tell her why she is incorrectly interpreting the statistical data. You have nothing to do now since your not posting here. I might even send Mary your post that said she was intentionally manipulating the data to fit the outcome. Pretty strong words Robert, and in the scientific community that is a real no no. Are you saying Mary is a charlatan with the credentials she has to back up her abilities. You must be pretty smart to take her on. Whoops, wait, you just made a statement, but didn’t back it up. You will not do it though will you Robert. As Mary asks, why why why, is this showing up in the data.”

I couldn’t make heads or tails of what this person was saying. So, I went back to the comments following my essay, and I found that he had posted a link to some mystical gibberish in which a scientist had claimed to have found a relationship between the alignment of the stars and NASA missions. So this person was accusing me of saying things about this scientist, when I had never even acknowledged his post. Furthermore, he demanded that I show that she is incorrectly interpreting statistical data. Now, to cut to the chase, I clicked on the link to see what it is this person was yammering on about. You know what was displayed at the top of the page in which the scientist had laid out this mystical “relationship”?

http://www.angelfire.com/ca3/citystars/

“AUTHOR’S NOTE THERE ARE ERRORS IN THIS STATISTICS PAPER THAT I HAVE NOT HAD THE CHANCE TO CORRECT. They do undermine the conclusions of this paper. In order to determine how seriously my math errors affect the results, it would be necessary to redo the paper. Since I do not currently have time for that, I am posting this addendum.

On March 24, 2003, I entered into a debate regarding the merits of this statistics paper I wrote in 1999. It is at this time in 2003 that I reviewed my paper again, only much more thoroughly for the purposes of debating with my paper’s detractors — and I then decided that the errors I made in the paper definitely do undermine at least some of its conclusions.”

Anyway, sorry for the long story but I thought it provided an exclamation point on my decision to take a break. This person had just provided a clear example of why I end up wasting a good portion of my time. I am being slandered, and this person is attributing to me things that I did not say, while demanding that I address a paper that the author has already acknowledged to be in error. And while I am completely sympathetic to the need for anonymity in many cases, this clearly drives some people to behave in these sorts of inappropriate ways. Therefore, to lower my stress level a bit, I have decided to remove the bulls eye from my chest. As I mentioned in the opening, I will continue to post at least 1 essay a week here.

March 24, 2007 Posted by | critics, hubbert linearization, Peak Oil | 33 Comments

What is it about Silicon Valley executives?

Over the weekend, I had an essay posted at VentureBeat on California’s Proposition 87:

Prop 87: Deceptively marketed

Most of you know that Vinod Khosla and I have butted heads on a few issues, but now Silicon Valley executive Bill Jolitz threw in his $0.02:

How naive. Do the research. California is the only oil producing state that DOESN’T tax oil companies for pumping the stuff out of the ground or beneath the water!

Why can’t we do a tax like Louisiana or Texas or Alaska, and put it to good use. How ironic that California is more conservative on taxes than Louisiana, Texas, and Alaska.

Oil isn’t forever – why don’t we start thinking about our kids for once?

A question for any readers from California: Is the average California voter this misinformed, or is this limited to the average Silicon Valley executive? My response to Bill is below.

—————-

I have done the research, Bill. It would appear that you are the one being naïve. In fact, I specifically discussed the tax situation in this essay. Did you read it before commenting? I have gone into more detail on the tax situation in this essay on my blog. What you have done is take a single tax, out of many, and used that to declare that “California is more conservative on taxes than Louisiana, Texas, and Alaska.” Sorry, but that’s just not correct. Here is what three of your own newspapers – of the many who have endorsed a “No” vote on 87 – have written about the tax issue.

From an Oakland Tribune editorial on 10-25-06:

Right now, California’s tax rate for oil is in about the middle among oil-producing states. The new tax proposed by Proposition 87 could make our tax the highest in the nation and force some smaller oil companies to cap their wells, reducing the 630,000 barrels a day we produce.

From a San Francisco Chronicle editorial on 10-9-06:

The seemingly nonstop succession of pro-87 television ads presents the measure as a matter of fairness: Unlike most oil-producing states, California does not impose a severance tax on the extraction of oil. The claim is accurate, but missing context. The tax burden on oil producers here in this state is comparable to others when income, property, sales and other taxes are added.

How about the L.A. Times on 9-26-06:

Proposition 87’s backers are equally disingenuous in suggesting that oil companies are getting a free ride in California, given the absence of an extraction tax. Oil companies are hardly undertaxed here; most states that have extraction taxes don’t charge California’s steep corporate income taxes.

Furthermore, your statement that California is not the only oil-producing state without an extraction tax is also incorrect. It seems you have been sipping the Kool-Aid, and failing to do your own research.

About the only thing you did get correct was your statement that oil won’t last forever. That’s true, which is why I have spent many years (and continue to do so) working on and promoting alternatives. You read that part too, right? Or did you simply read the title, and decide to grace us all with your wisdom? Again, I am not suggesting that voters should vote no, but they should certainly be more informed that you seem to be.

Cheers,

Robert Rapier

October 30, 2006 Posted by | critics, Prop 87 | 8 Comments

What is it about Silicon Valley executives?

Over the weekend, I had an essay posted at VentureBeat on California’s Proposition 87:

Prop 87: Deceptively marketed

Most of you know that Vinod Khosla and I have butted heads on a few issues, but now Silicon Valley executive Bill Jolitz threw in his $0.02:

How naive. Do the research. California is the only oil producing state that DOESN’T tax oil companies for pumping the stuff out of the ground or beneath the water!

Why can’t we do a tax like Louisiana or Texas or Alaska, and put it to good use. How ironic that California is more conservative on taxes than Louisiana, Texas, and Alaska.

Oil isn’t forever – why don’t we start thinking about our kids for once?

A question for any readers from California: Is the average California voter this misinformed, or is this limited to the average Silicon Valley executive? My response to Bill is below.

—————-

I have done the research, Bill. It would appear that you are the one being naïve. In fact, I specifically discussed the tax situation in this essay. Did you read it before commenting? I have gone into more detail on the tax situation in this essay on my blog. What you have done is take a single tax, out of many, and used that to declare that “California is more conservative on taxes than Louisiana, Texas, and Alaska.” Sorry, but that’s just not correct. Here is what three of your own newspapers – of the many who have endorsed a “No” vote on 87 – have written about the tax issue.

From an Oakland Tribune editorial on 10-25-06:

Right now, California’s tax rate for oil is in about the middle among oil-producing states. The new tax proposed by Proposition 87 could make our tax the highest in the nation and force some smaller oil companies to cap their wells, reducing the 630,000 barrels a day we produce.

From a San Francisco Chronicle editorial on 10-9-06:

The seemingly nonstop succession of pro-87 television ads presents the measure as a matter of fairness: Unlike most oil-producing states, California does not impose a severance tax on the extraction of oil. The claim is accurate, but missing context. The tax burden on oil producers here in this state is comparable to others when income, property, sales and other taxes are added.

How about the L.A. Times on 9-26-06:

Proposition 87’s backers are equally disingenuous in suggesting that oil companies are getting a free ride in California, given the absence of an extraction tax. Oil companies are hardly undertaxed here; most states that have extraction taxes don’t charge California’s steep corporate income taxes.

Furthermore, your statement that California is not the only oil-producing state without an extraction tax is also incorrect. It seems you have been sipping the Kool-Aid, and failing to do your own research.

About the only thing you did get correct was your statement that oil won’t last forever. That’s true, which is why I have spent many years (and continue to do so) working on and promoting alternatives. You read that part too, right? Or did you simply read the title, and decide to grace us all with your wisdom? Again, I am not suggesting that voters should vote no, but they should certainly be more informed that you seem to be.

Cheers,

Robert Rapier

October 30, 2006 Posted by | critics, Prop 87 | 4 Comments

Fan Mail – Part II

Now, for the second installment – Jim Paris’ over the top rant in which he ignores everything I have been telling him – followed by a response to the points he raised. I did send him a direct e-mail response prior to writing this one, but I basically just blasted him for the willful ignorance he displayed in his response. I offered to address his points provided he gave me permission to post the exchange, but told him I was finished doing this solely for his benefit. Ultimately, after he said “no” to posting the exchange, I decided to post it anyway.

An Analogy

However, I still hope that Jim can learn something. If he doesn’t learn anything else, I want to offer him up an analogy that might help the key issue click in his brain. This is an analogy that a 5th grader should be able to understand. Let’s say that we are discussing breakfast foods. You assert that eggs are much better for you than bacon, because eggs have no cholesterol. I point out that this is actually not correct, that eggs do in fact have cholesterol, and that claiming they don’t exaggerates the benefits of eggs. I also make it clear that I think fruit is a better choice. I point to references, or do the calculations to back up my claims.

At this stage you start to become agitated, and you accuse me of being a “big pork” defender. You suggest that it is ridiculous to think that eggs have cholesterol, and then you start to tell me just how bad bacon is. I attempt to get you back on topic by explaining that the issue here is not whether eggs are good and bacon is bad. The issue is simply the question of whether eggs have cholesterol, and that I prefer fruit anyway. However, you can’t get your mind wrapped around this, because you have blinders on and so aren’t actually listening to what I am saying. You continue to make accusations toward me. You accuse me of supporting the killing of poor animals, despite the hypocritical fact that you eat bacon each morning. That is the situation we have here. The issue is not angelic ethanol versus satanic oil. It is about whether the claims on energy return of ethanol versus gasoline are correct, therefore exaggerating the benefits of ethanol. That is the issue to which Jim responded, but he really didn’t have much interest in discussing that particular issue. The broader issue is ethanol versus more sustainable alternatives.

Jim’s Rant

So, here is Jim’s final rant; a stunning display of naivety, hypocrisy, and willful misrepresentations.

Robert,

After your last exchange, I thought I would go back and look a little more closely at your website. It isn’t clear what fossil fuel company your work for, you just call it an energy company. My first impressions of you were correct, you are a “big-oil” advocate. So after this, I’m not going to spend any more time on your big-oil defending butt, I’ve got more productive things to do with my own biomass project.

You have an article called “Challenge to Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture’s Ethanol Claims”
http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/2006/04/challenge-to-minnesota-dept-of.html where you attempt to exonerate the virtues of big oil over ethanol to some undisclosed “official” at the MDA. Apparently you were taking some delight in that the official wasn’t as informed as yourself, he was lost for words, and you mused with a few of your minions on your website. I also found other articles on your website where you attempt to “dress down” the opponents of big oil and advocates of ethanol. “R-Squared, Telling it like it is” is your mantra. I don’t know about the “R-Squared” part, but the “Telling it like it is” part is obviously a misnomer. None-the-less, you seem to view yourself self as some sort of champion fighter for big oil that obscures himself with limited and charitable endorsements of alternative energy. Nice touch Robert.

In the above article, you build a convenient little box around some cherry picked data to force a point, that big oil has an 80% efficiency, with someone at MDA. Maybe he’s willing to take that crap from you, but I’m not, because I actually know the truth, and there’s a difference between the truth and being right in some narrow self-serving context.

You say that for “convenience sake” that you’re leaving out many of the external costs of producing crude oil because it would be an “even trade” to do the same thing for ethanol. Unfortunately, that is not even remotely true. Let’s put in all the external costs for both ethanol and crude oil and let the chips fall where they may. Let’s also keep in mind that the single greatest component of any cost, is by far and away energy that’s incurred somewhere by someone for something they need or produce. In other words, if all energy were somehow Scott free, what would we need money for? Ponder that for a minute.

Here are just some of the things we have to include in the cost of bringing crude oil energy for consumption:

1.) Mining resources and fabricating all the materials used to produce equipment and supplies exclusive and expansive for the oil industry.

2.) The actual manufacturing and assembly of all the interdependent goods and equipment for the oil industry that civilization wouldn’t otherwise need. We don’t need to go all the way back, but let’s go back 100 years. This will include all exploration equipment and facilities, aircraft, ships, drilling rigs, platforms, pipelines, refineries, office complexes, roads, trucks, cars, etc. (For corn ethanol, you can’t add all farm infrastructure costs because 90% of it is currently already there for food production.)

3.) Let’s also include all the costs of securing leases, not just the actual leasing costs, but lets include all the lobbying costs, salesman costs, consultant costs, permit costs, court costs, lawyer costs, etc., that otherwise wouldn’t be needed if it weren’t for the oil industry. All those things take energy too; look closely, it’s there.

4.) Let’s also include the costs of hiring and paying all the millions of people that are employed to serve the oil industry that otherwise could be doing something more energy efficient, like growing food, engineering more efficient living systems, teaching their children, etc. (Don’t worry we’ll do the same for ethanol.)

5.) Also, let’s not forget the energy and costs to “clean up” after the oil industry. Let’s look at all the ground water contamination around the globe caused by the oil industry and not only count what we’ve already spent, but let’s include what it will cost to finally clean it up when “big oil” is mostly been replaced. Let’s put in the cost of VOC suppression in combustion processes, for instance; catalytic converters, absorbents, etc. Of course, any dedicated infrastructure specific for that purpose needs to be included with the rest. (And again, let’s do as required for ethanol.)

6.) We certainly can’t forget all the toxic and hazardous compounds that the oil industry has produced and the immense toll it has taken on health care costs around the world. We are only now discovering how hundreds of these toxic chemicals, derived from petroleum, have invaded the bodies of virtually every human on the planet. Let’s include the expansion costs of the health care industry and all the energy they involve in some way to deal with these health problems. (Don’t panic, we’ll do the same for ethanol).

7.) Oh, let’s not forget the cost of war to secure oil rich lands so we can have plenty of oil. Let’s count the cost of producing any war machinery dedicated for this purpose and all the inherent cost of waging the war in the land in question. As an example, Iraq. We’ve spent 350 billion there (that’s dollars Robert) and it appears that we’re not only losing the oil, but paying much more for the oil we get every place else. (We’ll include the cost of war for ethanol too.)

8.) Last but not least, let’s take a look at the deleterious impact of “global warming.” Without question, it is already changing the climate to the extent that crops are affected, diseases are being accelerated, wildlife is being threatened, and more. It’s difficult for me to imagine the costs of removing the billions of tons of CO2 we’ve belched into the atmosphere in the last 100 years. It’s probably not even possible, — but wait, we could switch to self sustaining ethanol that doesn’t add new CO2 to the atmosphere, so maybe we need to factor that into the cost of burning fossil fuel as well!

Do the above considerations seem like “straw men” to you? Which of those costs aren’t painfully real? You’re welcome to use the same 8 cost outlines above to generate the actual reciprocal costs for ethanol. But, I’ve got a feeling that ignoring the external costs of both crude oil and ethanol, wasn’t really that charitable for ethanol. Maybe that’s why your mentor, Pimentel, likes to ignore those costs too.

Also, 2 letters back, I mentioned burning the trees on my property for heat and you said: [Your EROEI is simply the BTUs that went into the gasoline, chainsaw manufacture, and transportation. The EROEI of burning biomass is very good. Probably even better than from extracting and burning crude oil.] “Probably better,” Robert? For the example I cited, 100 times better would be more accurate.

I am a professional inventor, I know what’s safe to patent and what isn’t. Most of the technology I develop is “behind door” technology which is quite foolish to patent since you would never know if it is being encroached. The only people that patent that type of technology are “academics” that were paid to make the patent in the first place, and really just do it for recognition. Most of their patents are feckless as well. I use the Trade Secret system to protect nearly all my technology.

My technology is about making ultra-fine bio-powders in the 25 micron range with less than 1/3 the energy of any other methods. Since you’re already an expert on cellulose to ethanol, I shouldn’t need to explain the profound benefits of this.

Your question: [Would you mind if I published this exchange? If I have to spend time on misunderstandings, I prefer to have the exchange accessible to others so they too might learn. I would publish all exchanges in full, unedited.] I’m one person that knows your “end game” which is to ingratiate your authority, on your hobby project website, with your minions. I’ll say no to the posting, but I’ll make you an offer that will actually be better for you. Go ahead and write an article on how much better big oil is than ethanol, write as many pages as you want, cherry pick all the data you want, build all the little boxes you want, peck away at your calculator all you want, and let those equations fly. In response, I’ll write just one page. And let’s not just post it on your website where all your loyal big oil buddies can “hiss” and “titter” about it. Let’s post it on numerous ethanol websites so that people in the ethanol industry can learn how to refute the casuistic claims being tossed around by big oil advocates, such as yourself. Since you already “know my hand,” you should be safe with this offer.

Your attitude on the E3 plant comports nicely with my perceptions of what your’re up to. The E3 plant has a fossil energy ratio of 46 to 1. Of course, you felt compelled to contact them to make sure they weren’t getting too reckless with their claims and compelled them to “downgrade” their projections somewhat. Then you tell me [Original projections on energy balance have been downgraded, and no, it won’t be as good as crude.] What the hell are you talking about Robert? They’re getting 90% of their energy from the Sun, which arrives free, within a 50 miles radius of the plant, and converting it to ethanol. Robert, big oil must spend big money to get their energy out of ever increasingly difficult formations, at depths measured in miles, sometimes half way around the world. E3’s energy is free, local, and easily managed. They use the byproducts for the heat they need, generate cattle feed, and generate fertilizer with only 10% of their energy coming from CO2 adding fossil fuels. Only a consummate big oil advocate could ever say “that’s not as good as crude.” What kind of “itty bitty box” are you defining crude in when you say that Robert? This I got to hear!

As I’ve said previously, the Sun sends awesome and endless amounts of “free” energy, right onto our heads. Big oil can never beat that because it is a snake that must always swallow ever more of itself to survive. The challenge of alternative energy is holistic in nature, to work with nature; where as petroleum is narrowly capitalistic with little regard to it’s side effects, and those side effects and peripheral costs must be included in the equation. Which has been my point from the beginning, Robert, and those considerations should have been made before you started belittling some faceless person working for the ethanol cause in the Minnesota Dept of Agriculture. (Incidently, I’d like to know who that person is.)

Later,

Jim

My Response

Jim’s words are italicized:

After your last exchange, I thought I would go back and look a little more closely at your website. It isn’t clear what fossil fuel company your work for, you just call it an energy company. My first impressions of you were correct, you are a “big-oil” advocate.

So, Jim decided he would search for data to confirm his preconceptions, while ignoring my essays on conservation, biodiesel, butanol, cellulosic ethanol, E3 Biofuels, raising the gasoline tax, lowering the speed limit, etc. Because those are things that a “big-oil” advocate would spend a lot of time writing about. Eh, Jim? Of course the fact that Jim is an ethanol advocate with little regard for facts must mean that he thinks I am the same, just on the other side of the issue. That is known as projection, Jim. That is not to say I have not defended the oil industry in some of my essays. If a politician is whining about price gouging while their Expedition idles in the background, I will be all over something like that. But I have also allowed a number of people to write guest posts who have an entirely different viewpoint from my own. Somehow, I doubt that Jim would do the same.

So after this, I’m not going to spend any more time on your big-oil defending butt, I’ve got more productive things to do with my own biomass project.

I bet you do, Jim. Misinformation must keep you pretty busy.

You have an article called “Challenge to Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture’s Ethanol Claims”
http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/2006/04/challenge-to-minnesota-dept-of.html where you attempt to exonerate the virtues of big oil over ethanol to some undisclosed “official” at the MDA.

I invite the readers to check out that essay, and see if Jim isn’t guilty of telling some lies in order to make his point. The purpose of that essay is not that difficult to understand for most people: It was to highlight and address a false claim about the efficiency of ethanol versus gasoline. In no way was it an endorsement of gasoline, and I explicitly stated as much. I even showed the calculations as to why this was wrong (something lacking in every single one of Jim’s e-mails to me). But this doesn’t fit the image Jim has fixed in his mind of what I am up to, so his response comes across as half-baked.

Apparently you were taking some delight in that the official wasn’t as informed as yourself, he was lost for words, and you mused with a few of your minions on your website.

Jim is projecting again. Perhaps this is because these would have been his emotions in this situation. But I don’t find it amusing when people are misinformed; especially when they are passing the misinformation on to others.

I also found other articles on your website where you attempt to “dress down” the opponents of big oil and advocates of ethanol.

Welcome to that club, Jim. There is nothing wrong with advocating ethanol. But you are a naïve, hypocritical advocate who has to distort his opponent’s views in order to attack them. Your spot place in that club of dressed-down opponents was earned.

None-the-less, you seem to view yourself self as some sort of champion fighter for big oil that obscures himself with limited and charitable endorsements of alternative energy. Nice touch Robert.

Nice touch yourself, Jim. That’s a lot of insulting insinuations packed into that short statement. However, I have actually worked for years on alternative energy. I hardly characterize that as limited and charitable endorsements. But if that characterization will allow you to actually ignore what I have written, said, and done in this area, hey go for it. Right? Don’t let the truth get in the way of your crusade.

Note that you are also once again projecting. Clearly from your language, you view yourself as some sort of champion fighter for ethanol. In fact, you thought so highly of your fighting skills that you actually copied the director of the Biofuels Lab at NREL on all of your responses! Talk about your delusional behavior.

In the above article, you build a convenient little box around some cherry picked data to force a point, that big oil has an 80% efficiency, with someone at MDA. Maybe he’s willing to take that crap from you, but I’m not, because I actually know the truth, and there’s a difference between the truth and being right in some narrow self-serving context.

In what way are the data “cherry picked”? As far as you actually “knowing the truth”, let’s reserve judgment for now. There are fanatics worldwide who make the same claim every day.

You say that for “convenience sake” that you’re leaving out many of the external costs of producing crude oil because it would be an “even trade” to do the same thing for ethanol.

That’s not what I said Jim. Not even close. I am not sure why you are confused about this (actually, I am sure), so let’s try again. The entire ethanol industry is heavily dependent upon fossil fuels. The whole “green ethanol” shtick is such a joke, when 90% of the BTUs that go into your typical gallon of ethanol came from fossil fuels. So all of those externalized costs for oil are also borne by the ethanol industry. You complain about soldiers fighting overseas. Do your tractors run on diesel? Do the trucks that ship the ethanol around the country run on diesel? Do the trucks that bring the corn to the ethanol plant run on diesel? Are the tires of your tractors and trucks made from fossil fuels? Are the plastic components throughout the vehicles and ethanol plants made from fossil fuels? What I would like to see, Jim, is for people like you to stop the blatant hypocrisy. You have the right to not use petroleum (and I would strongly encourage you to start walking the talk). If you do so, then you can hurl all the criticisms you want without being a hypocrite. But given that the U.S. ethanol industry is currently completely dependent on fossil fuels, and was built on cheap fossil fuels, forgive me if I point out your blatant hypocrisy.

Here are just some of the things we have to include in the cost of bringing crude oil energy for consumption:

This still hasn’t soaked in for you, has it? First, I am not defending oil. I want to see us move to sustainable energy ASAP. I don’t expect you to get that, because once again it doesn’t fit your preconception. But you just don’t seem to understand the flagrant hypocrisy in your position. Ethanol is primarily recycled fossil fuel. Maybe that won’t always be the case, but that is the status quo at the moment. All of your gripes about the external costs of fossil fuel are embedded in the cost of producing ethanol. The ethanol industry has been built on the back of cheap fossil fuels. Furthermore, ethanol has its own externalized costs on top of those (soil depletion, herbicide and pesticide runoff into waterways, aquifer depletion). While you have a lot of misinformation and hypocrisy in your list, one item deserves special attention:

Last but not least, let’s take a look at the deleterious impact of “global warming.” Without question, it is already changing the climate to the extent that crops are affected, diseases are being accelerated, wildlife is being threatened, and more. It’s difficult for me to imagine the costs of removing the billions of tons of CO2 we’ve belched into the atmosphere in the last 100 years. It’s probably not even possible, — but wait, we could switch to self sustaining ethanol that doesn’t add new CO2 to the atmosphere, so maybe we need to factor that into the cost of burning fossil fuel as well!

You have got a lot of nerve to lecture me on Global Warming, Captain Crusader. Why don’t you do a little bit more research on my Global Warming position, which I have made blatantly clear?

Furthermore, your comment about “self sustaining ethanol that doesn’t add new CO2 to the atmosphere” shows just how deep your delusions run. Where can I find one of these self-sustaining ethanol plants that doesn’t add new CO2 to the atmosphere? There aren’t any in the U.S., because every ethanol plant in the U.S. relies on fossil fuel inputs. Brazilian ethanol is a different story, but we don’t run their model in the U.S.

You’re welcome to use the same 8 cost outlines above to generate the actual reciprocal costs for ethanol.

Given the level of embedded fossil fuel in ethanol, they are actually about the same, aren’t they? Is it starting to soak in finally?

Also, 2 letters back, I mentioned burning the trees on my property for heat and you said: [Your EROEI is simply the BTUs that went into the gasoline, chainsaw manufacture, and transportation. The EROEI of burning biomass is very good. Probably even better than from extracting and burning crude oil.] “Probably better,” Robert? For the example I cited, 100 times better would be more accurate.

Jim, ask yourself why power plants use fossil fuels instead of biomass to fuel their processes. Your “100 times better” is just another example of you having no facts at your disposal, so you shoot from the hip.

I am a professional inventor, I know what’s safe to patent and what isn’t. Most of the technology I develop is “behind door” technology which is quite foolish to patent since you would never know if it is being encroached. The only people that patent that type of technology are “academics” that were paid to make the patent in the first place, and really just do it for recognition. Most of their patents are feckless as well. I use the Trade Secret system to protect nearly all my technology.

Whatever you say, Jim. The level of honesty and integrity you have displayed in our exchanges convinces me that I should take you at your word.

I’m one person that knows your “end game” which is to ingratiate your authority, on your hobby project website, with your minions.

I have minions? So it isn’t enough to insult just me, you have to spread it around, eh?

I’ll say no to the posting, but I’ll make you an offer that will actually be better for you.

As you can see, I decided to post it anyway. I want this to serve as a deterrent to others who have so little respect for other people’s time.

Go ahead and write an article on how much better big oil is than ethanol, write as many pages as you want, cherry pick all the data you want, build all the little boxes you want, peck away at your calculator all you want, and let those equations fly.

So you would prefer to address the box you have drawn around me, instead of addressing my actual position? That much was clear from your writing already. However, you are going to have to settle for my actual position, not some straw man that you think you can dress down.

Your attitude on the E3 plant comports nicely with my perceptions of what your’re up to.

That can happen with preconceptions. You have an idea of how the world should be, so you filter that through and massage the data until that’s what it becomes. That’s probably why your patent portfolio is a bit light. The data is what it is, not what you wish it to be.

The E3 plant has a fossil energy ratio of 46 to 1.

Really? How so, since it hasn’t even started up yet? Is this really your best work, Jim?

Of course, you felt compelled to contact them to make sure they weren’t getting too reckless with their claims and compelled them to “downgrade” their projections somewhat.

And you know this because….? Right, because otherwise it doesn’t fit your preconceptions. Well, sorry Jim, that’s not how it went down. Contact E3 Biofuels, and let them burst another one of your misconceptions. I already told you who to contact.

They’re getting 90% of their energy from the Sun, which arrives free, within a 50 miles radius of the plant, and converting it to ethanol.

In a plant that hasn’t started up yet. Seriously Jim, did you think at all when you sat down to write this? Do you understand the first thing about photosynthetic efficiency? Have you taken a look at their energy balance? Do you understand that they still require (fossil fuel-based) nitrogen fertilizer, because the manure is not enough to meet the fertilizer needs? You are so misinformed, it’s pathetic that you think you are qualified to even argue about this.

Only a consummate big oil advocate could ever say “that’s not as good as crude.”

Ah, an inverse “no true Scotsman fallacy.” Bravo. Jim, when you actually learn how to draw an energy balance around the two processes, such that you can compare the two on an apples to apples basis and put some actual numbers in the equation, contact me.

As I’ve said previously, the Sun sends awesome and endless amounts of “free” energy, right onto our heads. Big oil can never beat that because it is a snake that must always swallow ever more of itself to survive.

Jim, just what do you think oil actually is? Don’t you understand that it is captured solar energy, with some geothermal thrown in for good measure. Furthermore, unlike ethanol, it is not completely soluble in water, and hence very energy intensive to process.

Well, this was quite a waste of time, Jim. But it is a perfect example of just how delusional certain ethanol advocates can be. I am not against ethanol, you see. That was only one of your major misconceptions. I am against bogus arguments and misinformation, which is why I posted this exchange. I think what E3 Biofuels is doing is great. I think every ethanol plant in the country should strive for such efficiency. I think cellulosic ethanol holds great potential, but certainly is not a sure thing. And I think biomass gasification will trump them all in the long run.

Learn to pick your battles, Jim. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. And don’t resort to willful misrepresentations of your opponent. If you can’t attack their actual position with verifiable facts and calculations of your own, you have no business attacking them at all. Feel free to comment below and address anything I have written. I don’t censor anyone.

October 9, 2006 Posted by | critics, ethanol, reader submission | 35 Comments

Fan Mail – Part II

Now, for the second installment – Jim Paris’ over the top rant in which he ignores everything I have been telling him – followed by a response to the points he raised. I did send him a direct e-mail response prior to writing this one, but I basically just blasted him for the willful ignorance he displayed in his response. I offered to address his points provided he gave me permission to post the exchange, but told him I was finished doing this solely for his benefit. Ultimately, after he said “no” to posting the exchange, I decided to post it anyway.

An Analogy

However, I still hope that Jim can learn something. If he doesn’t learn anything else, I want to offer him up an analogy that might help the key issue click in his brain. This is an analogy that a 5th grader should be able to understand. Let’s say that we are discussing breakfast foods. You assert that eggs are much better for you than bacon, because eggs have no cholesterol. I point out that this is actually not correct, that eggs do in fact have cholesterol, and that claiming they don’t exaggerates the benefits of eggs. I also make it clear that I think fruit is a better choice. I point to references, or do the calculations to back up my claims.

At this stage you start to become agitated, and you accuse me of being a “big pork” defender. You suggest that it is ridiculous to think that eggs have cholesterol, and then you start to tell me just how bad bacon is. I attempt to get you back on topic by explaining that the issue here is not whether eggs are good and bacon is bad. The issue is simply the question of whether eggs have cholesterol, and that I prefer fruit anyway. However, you can’t get your mind wrapped around this, because you have blinders on and so aren’t actually listening to what I am saying. You continue to make accusations toward me. You accuse me of supporting the killing of poor animals, despite the hypocritical fact that you eat bacon each morning. That is the situation we have here. The issue is not angelic ethanol versus satanic oil. It is about whether the claims on energy return of ethanol versus gasoline are correct, therefore exaggerating the benefits of ethanol. That is the issue to which Jim responded, but he really didn’t have much interest in discussing that particular issue. The broader issue is ethanol versus more sustainable alternatives.

Jim’s Rant

So, here is Jim’s final rant; a stunning display of naivety, hypocrisy, and willful misrepresentations.

Robert,

After your last exchange, I thought I would go back and look a little more closely at your website. It isn’t clear what fossil fuel company your work for, you just call it an energy company. My first impressions of you were correct, you are a “big-oil” advocate. So after this, I’m not going to spend any more time on your big-oil defending butt, I’ve got more productive things to do with my own biomass project.

You have an article called “Challenge to Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture’s Ethanol Claims”
http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/2006/04/challenge-to-minnesota-dept-of.html where you attempt to exonerate the virtues of big oil over ethanol to some undisclosed “official” at the MDA. Apparently you were taking some delight in that the official wasn’t as informed as yourself, he was lost for words, and you mused with a few of your minions on your website. I also found other articles on your website where you attempt to “dress down” the opponents of big oil and advocates of ethanol. “R-Squared, Telling it like it is” is your mantra. I don’t know about the “R-Squared” part, but the “Telling it like it is” part is obviously a misnomer. None-the-less, you seem to view yourself self as some sort of champion fighter for big oil that obscures himself with limited and charitable endorsements of alternative energy. Nice touch Robert.

In the above article, you build a convenient little box around some cherry picked data to force a point, that big oil has an 80% efficiency, with someone at MDA. Maybe he’s willing to take that crap from you, but I’m not, because I actually know the truth, and there’s a difference between the truth and being right in some narrow self-serving context.

You say that for “convenience sake” that you’re leaving out many of the external costs of producing crude oil because it would be an “even trade” to do the same thing for ethanol. Unfortunately, that is not even remotely true. Let’s put in all the external costs for both ethanol and crude oil and let the chips fall where they may. Let’s also keep in mind that the single greatest component of any cost, is by far and away energy that’s incurred somewhere by someone for something they need or produce. In other words, if all energy were somehow Scott free, what would we need money for? Ponder that for a minute.

Here are just some of the things we have to include in the cost of bringing crude oil energy for consumption:

1.) Mining resources and fabricating all the materials used to produce equipment and supplies exclusive and expansive for the oil industry.

2.) The actual manufacturing and assembly of all the interdependent goods and equipment for the oil industry that civilization wouldn’t otherwise need. We don’t need to go all the way back, but let’s go back 100 years. This will include all exploration equipment and facilities, aircraft, ships, drilling rigs, platforms, pipelines, refineries, office complexes, roads, trucks, cars, etc. (For corn ethanol, you can’t add all farm infrastructure costs because 90% of it is currently already there for food production.)

3.) Let’s also include all the costs of securing leases, not just the actual leasing costs, but lets include all the lobbying costs, salesman costs, consultant costs, permit costs, court costs, lawyer costs, etc., that otherwise wouldn’t be needed if it weren’t for the oil industry. All those things take energy too; look closely, it’s there.

4.) Let’s also include the costs of hiring and paying all the millions of people that are employed to serve the oil industry that otherwise could be doing something more energy efficient, like growing food, engineering more efficient living systems, teaching their children, etc. (Don’t worry we’ll do the same for ethanol.)

5.) Also, let’s not forget the energy and costs to “clean up” after the oil industry. Let’s look at all the ground water contamination around the globe caused by the oil industry and not only count what we’ve already spent, but let’s include what it will cost to finally clean it up when “big oil” is mostly been replaced. Let’s put in the cost of VOC suppression in combustion processes, for instance; catalytic converters, absorbents, etc. Of course, any dedicated infrastructure specific for that purpose needs to be included with the rest. (And again, let’s do as required for ethanol.)

6.) We certainly can’t forget all the toxic and hazardous compounds that the oil industry has produced and the immense toll it has taken on health care costs around the world. We are only now discovering how hundreds of these toxic chemicals, derived from petroleum, have invaded the bodies of virtually every human on the planet. Let’s include the expansion costs of the health care industry and all the energy they involve in some way to deal with these health problems. (Don’t panic, we’ll do the same for ethanol).

7.) Oh, let’s not forget the cost of war to secure oil rich lands so we can have plenty of oil. Let’s count the cost of producing any war machinery dedicated for this purpose and all the inherent cost of waging the war in the land in question. As an example, Iraq. We’ve spent 350 billion there (that’s dollars Robert) and it appears that we’re not only losing the oil, but paying much more for the oil we get every place else. (We’ll include the cost of war for ethanol too.)

8.) Last but not least, let’s take a look at the deleterious impact of “global warming.” Without question, it is already changing the climate to the extent that crops are affected, diseases are being accelerated, wildlife is being threatened, and more. It’s difficult for me to imagine the costs of removing the billions of tons of CO2 we’ve belched into the atmosphere in the last 100 years. It’s probably not even possible, — but wait, we could switch to self sustaining ethanol that doesn’t add new CO2 to the atmosphere, so maybe we need to factor that into the cost of burning fossil fuel as well!

Do the above considerations seem like “straw men” to you? Which of those costs aren’t painfully real? You’re welcome to use the same 8 cost outlines above to generate the actual reciprocal costs for ethanol. But, I’ve got a feeling that ignoring the external costs of both crude oil and ethanol, wasn’t really that charitable for ethanol. Maybe that’s why your mentor, Pimentel, likes to ignore those costs too.

Also, 2 letters back, I mentioned burning the trees on my property for heat and you said: [Your EROEI is simply the BTUs that went into the gasoline, chainsaw manufacture, and transportation. The EROEI of burning biomass is very good. Probably even better than from extracting and burning crude oil.] “Probably better,” Robert? For the example I cited, 100 times better would be more accurate.

I am a professional inventor, I know what’s safe to patent and what isn’t. Most of the technology I develop is “behind door” technology which is quite foolish to patent since you would never know if it is being encroached. The only people that patent that type of technology are “academics” that were paid to make the patent in the first place, and really just do it for recognition. Most of their patents are feckless as well. I use the Trade Secret system to protect nearly all my technology.

My technology is about making ultra-fine bio-powders in the 25 micron range with less than 1/3 the energy of any other methods. Since you’re already an expert on cellulose to ethanol, I shouldn’t need to explain the profound benefits of this.

Your question: [Would you mind if I published this exchange? If I have to spend time on misunderstandings, I prefer to have the exchange accessible to others so they too might learn. I would publish all exchanges in full, unedited.] I’m one person that knows your “end game” which is to ingratiate your authority, on your hobby project website, with your minions. I’ll say no to the posting, but I’ll make you an offer that will actually be better for you. Go ahead and write an article on how much better big oil is than ethanol, write as many pages as you want, cherry pick all the data you want, build all the little boxes you want, peck away at your calculator all you want, and let those equations fly. In response, I’ll write just one page. And let’s not just post it on your website where all your loyal big oil buddies can “hiss” and “titter” about it. Let’s post it on numerous ethanol websites so that people in the ethanol industry can learn how to refute the casuistic claims being tossed around by big oil advocates, such as yourself. Since you already “know my hand,” you should be safe with this offer.

Your attitude on the E3 plant comports nicely with my perceptions of what your’re up to. The E3 plant has a fossil energy ratio of 46 to 1. Of course, you felt compelled to contact them to make sure they weren’t getting too reckless with their claims and compelled them to “downgrade” their projections somewhat. Then you tell me [Original projections on energy balance have been downgraded, and no, it won’t be as good as crude.] What the hell are you talking about Robert? They’re getting 90% of their energy from the Sun, which arrives free, within a 50 miles radius of the plant, and converting it to ethanol. Robert, big oil must spend big money to get their energy out of ever increasingly difficult formations, at depths measured in miles, sometimes half way around the world. E3’s energy is free, local, and easily managed. They use the byproducts for the heat they need, generate cattle feed, and generate fertilizer with only 10% of their energy coming from CO2 adding fossil fuels. Only a consummate big oil advocate could ever say “that’s not as good as crude.” What kind of “itty bitty box” are you defining crude in when you say that Robert? This I got to hear!

As I’ve said previously, the Sun sends awesome and endless amounts of “free” energy, right onto our heads. Big oil can never beat that because it is a snake that must always swallow ever more of itself to survive. The challenge of alternative energy is holistic in nature, to work with nature; where as petroleum is narrowly capitalistic with little regard to it’s side effects, and those side effects and peripheral costs must be included in the equation. Which has been my point from the beginning, Robert, and those considerations should have been made before you started belittling some faceless person working for the ethanol cause in the Minnesota Dept of Agriculture. (Incidently, I’d like to know who that person is.)

Later,

Jim

My Response

Jim’s words are italicized:

After your last exchange, I thought I would go back and look a little more closely at your website. It isn’t clear what fossil fuel company your work for, you just call it an energy company. My first impressions of you were correct, you are a “big-oil” advocate.

So, Jim decided he would search for data to confirm his preconceptions, while ignoring my essays on conservation, biodiesel, butanol, cellulosic ethanol, E3 Biofuels, raising the gasoline tax, lowering the speed limit, etc. Because those are things that a “big-oil” advocate would spend a lot of time writing about. Eh, Jim? Of course the fact that Jim is an ethanol advocate with little regard for facts must mean that he thinks I am the same, just on the other side of the issue. That is known as projection, Jim. That is not to say I have not defended the oil industry in some of my essays. If a politician is whining about price gouging while their Expedition idles in the background, I will be all over something like that. But I have also allowed a number of people to write guest posts who have an entirely different viewpoint from my own. Somehow, I doubt that Jim would do the same.

So after this, I’m not going to spend any more time on your big-oil defending butt, I’ve got more productive things to do with my own biomass project.

I bet you do, Jim. Misinformation must keep you pretty busy.

You have an article called “Challenge to Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture’s Ethanol Claims”
http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/2006/04/challenge-to-minnesota-dept-of.html where you attempt to exonerate the virtues of big oil over ethanol to some undisclosed “official” at the MDA.

I invite the readers to check out that essay, and see if Jim isn’t guilty of telling some lies in order to make his point. The purpose of that essay is not that difficult to understand for most people: It was to highlight and address a false claim about the efficiency of ethanol versus gasoline. In no way was it an endorsement of gasoline, and I explicitly stated as much. I even showed the calculations as to why this was wrong (something lacking in every single one of Jim’s e-mails to me). But this doesn’t fit the image Jim has fixed in his mind of what I am up to, so his response comes across as half-baked.

Apparently you were taking some delight in that the official wasn’t as informed as yourself, he was lost for words, and you mused with a few of your minions on your website.

Jim is projecting again. Perhaps this is because these would have been his emotions in this situation. But I don’t find it amusing when people are misinformed; especially when they are passing the misinformation on to others.

I also found other articles on your website where you attempt to “dress down” the opponents of big oil and advocates of ethanol.

Welcome to that club, Jim. There is nothing wrong with advocating ethanol. But you are a naïve, hypocritical advocate who has to distort his opponent’s views in order to attack them. Your spot place in that club of dressed-down opponents was earned.

None-the-less, you seem to view yourself self as some sort of champion fighter for big oil that obscures himself with limited and charitable endorsements of alternative energy. Nice touch Robert.

Nice touch yourself, Jim. That’s a lot of insulting insinuations packed into that short statement. However, I have actually worked for years on alternative energy. I hardly characterize that as limited and charitable endorsements. But if that characterization will allow you to actually ignore what I have written, said, and done in this area, hey go for it. Right? Don’t let the truth get in the way of your crusade.

Note that you are also once again projecting. Clearly from your language, you view yourself as some sort of champion fighter for ethanol. In fact, you thought so highly of your fighting skills that you actually copied the director of the Biofuels Lab at NREL on all of your responses! Talk about your delusional behavior.

In the above article, you build a convenient little box around some cherry picked data to force a point, that big oil has an 80% efficiency, with someone at MDA. Maybe he’s willing to take that crap from you, but I’m not, because I actually know the truth, and there’s a difference between the truth and being right in some narrow self-serving context.

In what way are the data “cherry picked”? As far as you actually “knowing the truth”, let’s reserve judgment for now. There are fanatics worldwide who make the same claim every day.

You say that for “convenience sake” that you’re leaving out many of the external costs of producing crude oil because it would be an “even trade” to do the same thing for ethanol.

That’s not what I said Jim. Not even close. I am not sure why you are confused about this (actually, I am sure), so let’s try again. The entire ethanol industry is heavily dependent upon fossil fuels. The whole “green ethanol” shtick is such a joke, when 90% of the BTUs that go into your typical gallon of ethanol came from fossil fuels. So all of those externalized costs for oil are also borne by the ethanol industry. You complain about soldiers fighting overseas. Do your tractors run on diesel? Do the trucks that ship the ethanol around the country run on diesel? Do the trucks that bring the corn to the ethanol plant run on diesel? Are the tires of your tractors and trucks made from fossil fuels? Are the plastic components throughout the vehicles and ethanol plants made from fossil fuels? What I would like to see, Jim, is for people like you to stop the blatant hypocrisy. You have the right to not use petroleum (and I would strongly encourage you to start walking the talk). If you do so, then you can hurl all the criticisms you want without being a hypocrite. But given that the U.S. ethanol industry is currently completely dependent on fossil fuels, and was built on cheap fossil fuels, forgive me if I point out your blatant hypocrisy.

Here are just some of the things we have to include in the cost of bringing crude oil energy for consumption:

This still hasn’t soaked in for you, has it? First, I am not defending oil. I want to see us move to sustainable energy ASAP. I don’t expect you to get that, because once again it doesn’t fit your preconception. But you just don’t seem to understand the flagrant hypocrisy in your position. Ethanol is primarily recycled fossil fuel. Maybe that won’t always be the case, but that is the status quo at the moment. All of your gripes about the external costs of fossil fuel are embedded in the cost of producing ethanol. The ethanol industry has been built on the back of cheap fossil fuels. Furthermore, ethanol has its own externalized costs on top of those (soil depletion, herbicide and pesticide runoff into waterways, aquifer depletion). While you have a lot of misinformation and hypocrisy in your list, one item deserves special attention:

Last but not least, let’s take a look at the deleterious impact of “global warming.” Without question, it is already changing the climate to the extent that crops are affected, diseases are being accelerated, wildlife is being threatened, and more. It’s difficult for me to imagine the costs of removing the billions of tons of CO2 we’ve belched into the atmosphere in the last 100 years. It’s probably not even possible, — but wait, we could switch to self sustaining ethanol that doesn’t add new CO2 to the atmosphere, so maybe we need to factor that into the cost of burning fossil fuel as well!

You have got a lot of nerve to lecture me on Global Warming, Captain Crusader. Why don’t you do a little bit more research on my Global Warming position, which I have made blatantly clear?

Furthermore, your comment about “self sustaining ethanol that doesn’t add new CO2 to the atmosphere” shows just how deep your delusions run. Where can I find one of these self-sustaining ethanol plants that doesn’t add new CO2 to the atmosphere? There aren’t any in the U.S., because every ethanol plant in the U.S. relies on fossil fuel inputs. Brazilian ethanol is a different story, but we don’t run their model in the U.S.

You’re welcome to use the same 8 cost outlines above to generate the actual reciprocal costs for ethanol.

Given the level of embedded fossil fuel in ethanol, they are actually about the same, aren’t they? Is it starting to soak in finally?

Also, 2 letters back, I mentioned burning the trees on my property for heat and you said: [Your EROEI is simply the BTUs that went into the gasoline, chainsaw manufacture, and transportation. The EROEI of burning biomass is very good. Probably even better than from extracting and burning crude oil.] “Probably better,” Robert? For the example I cited, 100 times better would be more accurate.

Jim, ask yourself why power plants use fossil fuels instead of biomass to fuel their processes. Your “100 times better” is just another example of you having no facts at your disposal, so you shoot from the hip.

I am a professional inventor, I know what’s safe to patent and what isn’t. Most of the technology I develop is “behind door” technology which is quite foolish to patent since you would never know if it is being encroached. The only people that patent that type of technology are “academics” that were paid to make the patent in the first place, and really just do it for recognition. Most of their patents are feckless as well. I use the Trade Secret system to protect nearly all my technology.

Whatever you say, Jim. The level of honesty and integrity you have displayed in our exchanges convinces me that I should take you at your word.

I’m one person that knows your “end game” which is to ingratiate your authority, on your hobby project website, with your minions.

I have minions? So it isn’t enough to insult just me, you have to spread it around, eh?

I’ll say no to the posting, but I’ll make you an offer that will actually be better for you.

As you can see, I decided to post it anyway. I want this to serve as a deterrent to others who have so little respect for other people’s time.

Go ahead and write an article on how much better big oil is than ethanol, write as many pages as you want, cherry pick all the data you want, build all the little boxes you want, peck away at your calculator all you want, and let those equations fly.

So you would prefer to address the box you have drawn around me, instead of addressing my actual position? That much was clear from your writing already. However, you are going to have to settle for my actual position, not some straw man that you think you can dress down.

Your attitude on the E3 plant comports nicely with my perceptions of what your’re up to.

That can happen with preconceptions. You have an idea of how the world should be, so you filter that through and massage the data until that’s what it becomes. That’s probably why your patent portfolio is a bit light. The data is what it is, not what you wish it to be.

The E3 plant has a fossil energy ratio of 46 to 1.

Really? How so, since it hasn’t even started up yet? Is this really your best work, Jim?

Of course, you felt compelled to contact them to make sure they weren’t getting too reckless with their claims and compelled them to “downgrade” their projections somewhat.

And you know this because….? Right, because otherwise it doesn’t fit your preconceptions. Well, sorry Jim, that’s not how it went down. Contact E3 Biofuels, and let them burst another one of your misconceptions. I already told you who to contact.

They’re getting 90% of their energy from the Sun, which arrives free, within a 50 miles radius of the plant, and converting it to ethanol.

In a plant that hasn’t started up yet. Seriously Jim, did you think at all when you sat down to write this? Do you understand the first thing about photosynthetic efficiency? Have you taken a look at their energy balance? Do you understand that they still require (fossil fuel-based) nitrogen fertilizer, because the manure is not enough to meet the fertilizer needs? You are so misinformed, it’s pathetic that you think you are qualified to even argue about this.

Only a consummate big oil advocate could ever say “that’s not as good as crude.”

Ah, an inverse “no true Scotsman fallacy.” Bravo. Jim, when you actually learn how to draw an energy balance around the two processes, such that you can compare the two on an apples to apples basis and put some actual numbers in the equation, contact me.

As I’ve said previously, the Sun sends awesome and endless amounts of “free” energy, right onto our heads. Big oil can never beat that because it is a snake that must always swallow ever more of itself to survive.

Jim, just what do you think oil actually is? Don’t you understand that it is captured solar energy, with some geothermal thrown in for good measure. Furthermore, unlike ethanol, it is not completely soluble in water, and hence very energy intensive to process.

Well, this was quite a waste of time, Jim. But it is a perfect example of just how delusional certain ethanol advocates can be. I am not against ethanol, you see. That was only one of your major misconceptions. I am against bogus arguments and misinformation, which is why I posted this exchange. I think what E3 Biofuels is doing is great. I think every ethanol plant in the country should strive for such efficiency. I think cellulosic ethanol holds great potential, but certainly is not a sure thing. And I think biomass gasification will trump them all in the long run.

Learn to pick your battles, Jim. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. And don’t resort to willful misrepresentations of your opponent. If you can’t attack their actual position with verifiable facts and calculations of your own, you have no business attacking them at all. Feel free to comment below and address anything I have written. I don’t censor anyone.

October 9, 2006 Posted by | critics, ethanol, reader submission | 18 Comments

Fan Mail – Part I

Warning: If you send me an e-mail, in which you proceed to waste my time and make a fool of yourself, consider it fair game for publication. When I get these e-mails, I have always asked permission for publication, but I will no longer extend that courtesy for flagrantly rude, over-the-top e-mails, like the exchange I am about to highlight. If I am going to waste time on this sort of stuff, others should be able to learn from the exchange. I don’t have time to answer too many e-mails in detail AND post essays to my blog and The Oil Drum.

I get all sorts of e-mails, but inevitably get some that disagree with my position on some point or another. Those are fine. We can discuss the point or points of contention. Most of these exchanges are courteous and respectful. But occasionally I will get one from someone who has vastly overestimated their debating skills, and then they start digging themselves a hole when that becomes clear.

The exchange started out reasonably enough. I got an e-mail from Jim Paris, who calls himself President of Paris Innovation, LLC. (I should have signed my e-mails: Robert Rapier, CEO of Rapier’s Refutations).

Jim Paris’ Opening Volley

Hi Robert,

I just read some of your opinions about how you believe that gasoline has a better ERoEI than ethanol. http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/2006/04/challenge-to-minnesota-dept-of.html You seem to have bought into the “big oil BS.” You seem to be saying that for every 10 barrels of energy that are extracted from the earth, 8 barrels make it to the gas pump. Do you actually believe that? How ridiculous! Furthermore, the oil industry infrastructure alone has cost “trillions” to create, do you think that was created without fossil fuel? Do you think it operates without fossil fuel?

When it comes to ethanol efficiency, check out this technology:

http://www.e3biofuels.com/efficiency.html

Lets start with a real simple example of biomass energy. I own farm with lots of trees. These trees grow all by themselves without any time, energy, or money invested. With a chainsaw and one gallon of gasoline, I can cut up enough wood to heat my house all winter, and with a couple of ponies and a wagon, bring it up and stack it in my back yard. So Robert, what’s my ERoEI? Are you going to count all the energy that the sun invested into making the aforementioned tree, then deduct it from the btus recovered in my house? Maybe with those figures you could show that my ERoEI is the same you claim for crude oil 🙂

At any given moment, the sun is bathing the earth with at least 10,000 times as much energy that civilization is using. That sunlight creates lighting, direct heating, biomass, and wind; and arrives here “free of charge.” Additionally, it does not pollute or create excess CO2 as does fossil fuel. On the other hand, there is no such thing as “free fossil fuel,” which means you have to expend more energy to make money to by it. The web of cost of fossil fuel is so extensive, it’s hard to fathom.

By contrast, farmers already have the infrastructure to grow crops for fuel. They don’t have to buy any new or dedicated equipment. All they have to do is build an ethanol plant like the one cited in the above website and the fossil energy consumption plummets to inconsequential levels.

Big oil wants people to believe that the world can not exist without them, which is nothing more than self-serving denial of the obvious. They kind of remind of cult-like evangelistic religions that are so prevalent these days, the non-sense they believe is so deeply ingrained, they can’t even hear you when you attempt to point it out.

James L Paris, President
Paris Innovation, LLC
104 E. Loomis St.
Ludington, MI 49431

OK, no big deal. The guy is another person confused about the energy balance of gasoline versus ethanol, who also apparently ignored my opening statement in that essay:

In this essay, I will again be discussing the energy balance of gasoline versus ethanol. I am not doing this to suggest that gasoline is a great fuel of choice, but merely to show that grain ethanol is not. Gasoline has its own set of baggage, most notably that it is not sustainable. But the purpose of this essay is merely to examine claims from ethanol advocates who would have us believe that ethanol is actually more energy efficient to produce than gasoline.

What I was about to learn is that this was a bad habit of Jim’s: He only read what he wanted to read, ignoring everything else that didn’t support his preconceptions. Worse, in my opinion, is that he copied NREL’s Michael Pacheco, who is director of the National Bioenergy Center, on every one of his responses. I see this kind of behavior from time to time, typically in people who think their arguments are so good they warrant a high-level audience. Now, any person moderately good at reading comprehension can see that I was not pushing gasoline as a solution in that essay, nor have I done so in any essay. But that didn’t slow Jim down from jumping on that line of argumentation, and continuing despite multiple attempted corrections.

So, I responded with the hope of clearing up some of his misconceptions. Jim’s words are italicized.

Robert Rapier’s First Response

Hi James,

“You seem to be saying that for every 10 barrels of energy that are extracted from the earth, 8 barrels make it to the gas pump. Do you actually believe that? How ridiculous!”

I don’t “believe” it, James. I know it to be fact. I do this for a living (but have also worked extensively on alternative energy, including cellulosic ethanol). For 10 barrels of oil extracted, the actual conversion to products is about 95%. So, 10 barrels will gross about 9.5 barrels. Now the net will be lower, because of energy inputs. Typically, a heavy, sour refinery will take about 1 BTU to refine 10. So you can lower the net to maybe 8.5 barrels. The overall EROEI for gasoline, starting with crude in the ground, is at least 6.5. I have done extensive calculations, using actual process data.

“When it comes to ethanol efficiency, check out this technology:”

LOL! That’s good stuff, James. So good, I have raved about it, and was even quoted in National Geographic endorsing the process:

http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/2006/08/national-geographic-story.html

I have spoken at length with their project manager, and he asked me for advice on a number of issues. I also have a copy of the energy model for their plant. The claims in the National Geographic article are a bit exaggerated, but E3 is a big step in the right direction.

“So Robert, what’s my ERoEI?”

Your EROEI is simply the BTUs that went into the gasoline, chainsaw manufacture, and transportation. The EROEI of burning biomass is very good. Probably even better than from extracting and burning crude oil. If you do it sustainably, then your EROEI will drop because now you have energy inputs for replanting the biomass.

“Big oil wants people to believe that the world can not exist without them, which is nothing more than self-serving denial of the obvious.”

Well, right now it is true that the world can’t exist without Big Oil. Just imagine that they shut off all oil tomorrow, and the world would quickly descend into chaos and starvation. But we have to transition to a sustainable society. Ethanol from corn is ultimately not sustainable, because it relies heavily on fossil fuel inputs. The EROEI is too poor to seriously compete with gasoline. Biomass gasification would be a far better option. Biodiesel is a better option than ethanol. Direct solar capture is better. Butanol is probably better (I also worked on this for years). We have many better options, but none has the lobbying power behind corn ethanol. My goal is to prod us in the direction of a more responsible energy policy, lobbyists and special interests be damned.

Cheers,

Robert Rapier

This seemed to really get under Jim’s skin, and he started to seriously misrepresent my position. He did a great job whacking away at those straw men, but ultimately he is talking to himself. Furthermore, since Jim believes that the world can exist just fine without Big Oil, I invite him to stop using petroleum-based products, or admit that (for better or worse) the world is incredibly dependent on Big Oil. Denial of this has to make you wonder about Jim’s level of self-delusion.

Jim Paris’ Second Response

Hi Robert,

There you go again! You completely ignore all the energy to build, maintain, and operate the extraction of crude. Maybe you’ve overlooked things like building refineries, pipelines, giant ships, drilling and producing platforms, exploration costs, software development, administration costs, etc. etc.. I’ve been doing numerous oil field projects for nearly 30 years, I understand things like “dry holes,” “damaged formations,” and ruptured hulls. I know what’s involved, and the often immense losses.

The premise of your argument is disingenuous because you exclude all those costs except the actual energy to crack the crude. You attempt to make the reader believe that 8 out of those 10 barrels end up at the gas pump for the public’s use. You conveniently leave out the other 3-4 barrels of energy that go right back into the previously mentioned infrastructure of getting the damn crude in the first place. Was all that infrastructure built and maintained without fossil fuel? Explain please. Those costs are so omni-directional and massive, I doubt that they could be truly delineated with the “process data” that you’ve been using. At least you amended your 8 barrels down to 6.5, but I would be surprised if any credible study by any “non big oil funded” institution could ever show more than 3 or 4 barrels of energy out of 10 actually being consumed by a purpose not related to the delivering of the crude oil energy in the first place.

The infrastructure of agriculture already exists, no “trillions” needed to build, maintain, and operate anything remotely like the oil industry. Further more, planting trees can be done by hand. Back in the 30s and 40s, we planted 3 billion of them here in Michigan by hand, and most of them are still growing and accumulating the sun’s energy today along with 9 billion others.

You’re attempting to force a prejudicial point by cherry-picking data to make the oil industry look way better than what it is. Why? What is your purpose in attempting this? In effect, your message seems to be, since old ethanol plants are inefficient, we should not attempt to build any new ones. I imagine that the Wright Brothers received similar criticism.

I guess you do accept that the project that I pointed out to you is substantially more efficient than crude, but you probably don’t want to come right out and admit it after you “sabbed” on grain ethanol as much as you did.

I’ve actually developed very important technology in the production of ethanol from cellulose which will be a nearly complete detachment from fossil fuels. I have been engineering and promoting the construction of a $200,000,000. project here in Michigan for nearly 3 years. When it comes to making ethanol from cellulose, I doubt that you’re going to point out something I don’t know.

What does sort of “tick me off” though, is when some engineer starts cherry picking data to promote his prejudice to an unwitting public. I’ve seen a lot of it, and quite often, I stomp on it when I do. We need to get away from fossil fuels before we plummet this planet into catastrophe. (Perhaps you deny global warming too.) Wind, solar, wave, biomass, and conservation are going to play an important part in this. Trying to make crude oil and coal look better than it is, is like “putting lipstick on a pig.”

Jim

There were so many unsupported and flagrantly false assertions in his response, that I didn’t even address them all, nor did I delve into great detail. I was also starting to become annoyed at spending so much time addressing one person’s willful misconceptions. So, I asked for permission to publish this exchange (permission denied – no surprise). Again, Jim’s responses are italicized.

Robert Rapier’s Second Response

Jim,

Would you mind if I published this exchange? If I have to spend time on misunderstandings, I prefer to have the exchange accessible to others so they too might learn. I would publish all exchanges in full, unedited.

If you are unclear about my position on something, I would be glad to explain. But it is a waste of my time to whack away at these straw men. You read an essay addressed at the misconception that it is more efficient to produce ethanol than gasoline. A common misconception, and one that I have addressed many times. However, suddenly you felt like you had my position pinned down, and so you felt the need to tell me all about this keen E3 Biofuels process – a process that I have already heartily endorsed and am well-acquainted with. My objective here is not to make crude oil look better than it is or ethanol worse than it is. My objective is factual debate and correction of misconceptions – some of which you have demonstrated in your e-mail. Let’s address them:

“You completely ignore all the energy to build, maintain, and operate the extraction of crude.”

No, I don’t. I used a very conservative EROEI for crude extraction that embodies the costs of extracting, transporting, etc. the crude to the refinery. The EROEI is a multi-step calculation: The crude portion and the refining portion. Both portions are captured. Furthermore, the numbers I have used are validated by (pro-ethanol) Argonne’s GREET model. It attempts to add up all of those inputs to come up with an overall efficiency of crude in the ground to gasoline in the tank.

But what you are missing, is that even if some inputs have been ignored, the ethanol EROEI calculations rely on the same numbers! If you manage to make the crude oil EROEI worse, then you will make the ethanol EROEI worse – until you can demonstrate that ethanol can prove itself without using the fossil fuel crutch. Also, the stated EROEI numbers for ethanol all ignore secondary inputs: the construction of the ethanol plant, the construction of the tractors, etc. So, what we have here is an apples to apples comparison between ethanol and gasoline, and the EROEI for ethanol is far inferior. Now, that’s not a knockout punch, because gasoline obviously has negative externalities, namely greenhouse gas emissions and the fact that it isn’t renewable. But until ethanol can break free from its fossil fuel addiction, it has the same negative externalities embedded within the process.

“The premise of your argument is disingenuous because you exclude all those costs except the actual energy to crack the crude.”

Hopefully, you now understand that this is not the case.

“At least you amended your 8 barrels down to 6.5…”

It was not my “8 barrels.” You are the one who mentioned 8 barrels.

“I would be surprised if any credible study by any “non big oil funded” institution could ever show more than 3 or 4 barrels of energy out of 10 actually being consumed by a purpose not related to the delivering of the crude oil energy in the first place.”

Given that you are making the insinuation, perhaps you can show a study that corroborates your insinuation?

“The infrastructure of agriculture already exists, no “trillions” needed to build, maintain, and operate anything remotely like the oil industry.”

Trillions of what? Dollars? If the ethanol industry was as big as the oil industry, it would certainly take massive dollars to maintain that infrastructure.

“You’re attempting to force a prejudicial point by cherry-picking data to make the oil industry look way better than what it is. Why? What is your purpose in attempting this?”

This is where I have to call you out, Jim. What is the prejudicial point? Have you read my essays on butanol, biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol, conservation, gas taxes, etc.? No? Then why are you attempting to stereotype my position into something it isn’t?

“In effect, your message seems to be, since old ethanol plants are inefficient, we should not attempt to build any new ones.”

Really? Then whatever do you think was the purpose of my glowing essay on E3 Biofuels? Perhaps your own prejudices are getting in the way of your objectivity.

“I guess you do accept that the project that I pointed out to you is substantially more efficient than crude, but you probably don’t want to come right out and admit it after you “sabbed” on grain ethanol as much as you did.”

Their plant hasn’t even started up yet, Jim. Original projections on energy balance have been downgraded, and no, it won’t be as good as crude. But it is a big step in the right direction. I think Brazilian sugarcane ethanol may very well have a better EROEI than crude. I think grain ethanol and cellulosic ethanol could potentially have a better EROEI than crude. But they certainly don’t right now, and those who claim they do are doing a disservice by making these false claims.

“I’ve actually developed very important technology in the production of ethanol from cellulose which will be a nearly complete detachment from fossil fuels.”

What are the patent numbers? I would be interested in reading them, because I am very interested in this area. I have pointed out to others before that I believe I was the first person ever to attempt to use termite gut microorganisms to produce cellulosic ethanol. I did that during my grad school research at Texas A&M in the early 90’s.

“When it comes to making ethanol from cellulose, I doubt that you’re going to point out something I don’t know.”

Oh, I wouldn’t bet on it. Maybe you are right, but if you know a lot about cellulosic ethanol then you know it still has a ways to go before it is commercially viable. The cellulose conversion step still adds too much cost for the process to be competitive with corn ethanol. I do support heavily funding the research, because there is great potential there. But it isn’t a sure thing.

“What does sort of “tick me off” though, is when some engineer starts cherry picking data to promote his prejudice to an unwitting public.”

My prejudices are toward honest scientific debate. My prejudices are against misleading and exaggerated claims. My prejudices are toward sustainable energy policy. Other than that, I don’t believe I have any.

“Perhaps you deny global warming too.”

You really don’t know anything about me, do you? You picked out an essay, thought you had me pegged, and then let loose. If you want to continue the debate, please don’t throw out any more gratuitous insults like that.

Take a bit more time to understand my position on these things, and you will save us both some time.

Cheers,

Robert

The level of delusion and denial in Jim’s post regarding energy inputs was stunning. In essence, he wanted to say that oil has a very expensive and complex infrastructure that ethanol simply does not require. Not only is this not true, but the ultimate irony is that due to the poor EROEI of grain ethanol (which I was addressing in the essay to which he responded), all of those infrastructure costs of petroleum are embedded within the ethanol process anyway. This will be the case as long as grain ethanol relies heavily on fossil fuel inputs, but Jim persisted in ignoring this. Furthermore, it is silly to focus simply on total infrastructure cost. The proper metric, if this is what he wants to consider, is infrastructure cost (or energy input) per barrel processed. A whole lot more barrels of oil get processed than ethanol, so most people should not be surprised at the overall cost of oil infrastructure.

Also note that to this point Jim has not actually supported any of this arguments with data. From the very first e-mail, when he challenged my EROEI claim with “ridiculous”, he just threw out a series of claims. No calculations or data to back them up.

I am going to save Jim’s most recent e-mail for Part II. It was so over the top and littered with ad homs and straw men, that I decided to publish the exchange regardless of whether he wanted me to. I will let you know that Jim told me he doesn’t have any patents (which I already knew, since I had done a patent search). It seems his research is “top secret”, that he is protecting his very valuable inventions with Trade Secrets, and “the only people that patent that type of technology are “academics” that were paid to make the patent in the first place, and really just do it for recognition.” Wink, wink. I know all about Trade Secrets. Several of my inventions have gotten that distinction, instead of being patented. It is always a downer to find out that your invention was only deemed worthy of Trade Secret status, and I question anyone claiming preference of Trade Secrets over a much more legally protected patent – especially for the development of “very important technology.”

October 8, 2006 Posted by | critics, ethanol, reader submission | 12 Comments

Fan Mail – Part I

Warning: If you send me an e-mail, in which you proceed to waste my time and make a fool of yourself, consider it fair game for publication. When I get these e-mails, I have always asked permission for publication, but I will no longer extend that courtesy for flagrantly rude, over-the-top e-mails, like the exchange I am about to highlight. If I am going to waste time on this sort of stuff, others should be able to learn from the exchange. I don’t have time to answer too many e-mails in detail AND post essays to my blog and The Oil Drum.

I get all sorts of e-mails, but inevitably get some that disagree with my position on some point or another. Those are fine. We can discuss the point or points of contention. Most of these exchanges are courteous and respectful. But occasionally I will get one from someone who has vastly overestimated their debating skills, and then they start digging themselves a hole when that becomes clear.

The exchange started out reasonably enough. I got an e-mail from Jim Paris, who calls himself President of Paris Innovation, LLC. (I should have signed my e-mails: Robert Rapier, CEO of Rapier’s Refutations).

Jim Paris’ Opening Volley

Hi Robert,

I just read some of your opinions about how you believe that gasoline has a better ERoEI than ethanol. http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/2006/04/challenge-to-minnesota-dept-of.html You seem to have bought into the “big oil BS.” You seem to be saying that for every 10 barrels of energy that are extracted from the earth, 8 barrels make it to the gas pump. Do you actually believe that? How ridiculous! Furthermore, the oil industry infrastructure alone has cost “trillions” to create, do you think that was created without fossil fuel? Do you think it operates without fossil fuel?

When it comes to ethanol efficiency, check out this technology:

http://www.e3biofuels.com/efficiency.html

Lets start with a real simple example of biomass energy. I own farm with lots of trees. These trees grow all by themselves without any time, energy, or money invested. With a chainsaw and one gallon of gasoline, I can cut up enough wood to heat my house all winter, and with a couple of ponies and a wagon, bring it up and stack it in my back yard. So Robert, what’s my ERoEI? Are you going to count all the energy that the sun invested into making the aforementioned tree, then deduct it from the btus recovered in my house? Maybe with those figures you could show that my ERoEI is the same you claim for crude oil 🙂

At any given moment, the sun is bathing the earth with at least 10,000 times as much energy that civilization is using. That sunlight creates lighting, direct heating, biomass, and wind; and arrives here “free of charge.” Additionally, it does not pollute or create excess CO2 as does fossil fuel. On the other hand, there is no such thing as “free fossil fuel,” which means you have to expend more energy to make money to by it. The web of cost of fossil fuel is so extensive, it’s hard to fathom.

By contrast, farmers already have the infrastructure to grow crops for fuel. They don’t have to buy any new or dedicated equipment. All they have to do is build an ethanol plant like the one cited in the above website and the fossil energy consumption plummets to inconsequential levels.

Big oil wants people to believe that the world can not exist without them, which is nothing more than self-serving denial of the obvious. They kind of remind of cult-like evangelistic religions that are so prevalent these days, the non-sense they believe is so deeply ingrained, they can’t even hear you when you attempt to point it out.

James L Paris, President
Paris Innovation, LLC
104 E. Loomis St.
Ludington, MI 49431

OK, no big deal. The guy is another person confused about the energy balance of gasoline versus ethanol, who also apparently ignored my opening statement in that essay:

In this essay, I will again be discussing the energy balance of gasoline versus ethanol. I am not doing this to suggest that gasoline is a great fuel of choice, but merely to show that grain ethanol is not. Gasoline has its own set of baggage, most notably that it is not sustainable. But the purpose of this essay is merely to examine claims from ethanol advocates who would have us believe that ethanol is actually more energy efficient to produce than gasoline.

What I was about to learn is that this was a bad habit of Jim’s: He only read what he wanted to read, ignoring everything else that didn’t support his preconceptions. Worse, in my opinion, is that he copied NREL’s Michael Pacheco, who is director of the National Bioenergy Center, on every one of his responses. I see this kind of behavior from time to time, typically in people who think their arguments are so good they warrant a high-level audience. Now, any person moderately good at reading comprehension can see that I was not pushing gasoline as a solution in that essay, nor have I done so in any essay. But that didn’t slow Jim down from jumping on that line of argumentation, and continuing despite multiple attempted corrections.

So, I responded with the hope of clearing up some of his misconceptions. Jim’s words are italicized.

Robert Rapier’s First Response

Hi James,

“You seem to be saying that for every 10 barrels of energy that are extracted from the earth, 8 barrels make it to the gas pump. Do you actually believe that? How ridiculous!”

I don’t “believe” it, James. I know it to be fact. I do this for a living (but have also worked extensively on alternative energy, including cellulosic ethanol). For 10 barrels of oil extracted, the actual conversion to products is about 95%. So, 10 barrels will gross about 9.5 barrels. Now the net will be lower, because of energy inputs. Typically, a heavy, sour refinery will take about 1 BTU to refine 10. So you can lower the net to maybe 8.5 barrels. The overall EROEI for gasoline, starting with crude in the ground, is at least 6.5. I have done extensive calculations, using actual process data.

“When it comes to ethanol efficiency, check out this technology:”

LOL! That’s good stuff, James. So good, I have raved about it, and was even quoted in National Geographic endorsing the process:

http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/2006/08/national-geographic-story.html

I have spoken at length with their project manager, and he asked me for advice on a number of issues. I also have a copy of the energy model for their plant. The claims in the National Geographic article are a bit exaggerated, but E3 is a big step in the right direction.

“So Robert, what’s my ERoEI?”

Your EROEI is simply the BTUs that went into the gasoline, chainsaw manufacture, and transportation. The EROEI of burning biomass is very good. Probably even better than from extracting and burning crude oil. If you do it sustainably, then your EROEI will drop because now you have energy inputs for replanting the biomass.

“Big oil wants people to believe that the world can not exist without them, which is nothing more than self-serving denial of the obvious.”

Well, right now it is true that the world can’t exist without Big Oil. Just imagine that they shut off all oil tomorrow, and the world would quickly descend into chaos and starvation. But we have to transition to a sustainable society. Ethanol from corn is ultimately not sustainable, because it relies heavily on fossil fuel inputs. The EROEI is too poor to seriously compete with gasoline. Biomass gasification would be a far better option. Biodiesel is a better option than ethanol. Direct solar capture is better. Butanol is probably better (I also worked on this for years). We have many better options, but none has the lobbying power behind corn ethanol. My goal is to prod us in the direction of a more responsible energy policy, lobbyists and special interests be damned.

Cheers,

Robert Rapier

This seemed to really get under Jim’s skin, and he started to seriously misrepresent my position. He did a great job whacking away at those straw men, but ultimately he is talking to himself. Furthermore, since Jim believes that the world can exist just fine without Big Oil, I invite him to stop using petroleum-based products, or admit that (for better or worse) the world is incredibly dependent on Big Oil. Denial of this has to make you wonder about Jim’s level of self-delusion.

Jim Paris’ Second Response

Hi Robert,

There you go again! You completely ignore all the energy to build, maintain, and operate the extraction of crude. Maybe you’ve overlooked things like building refineries, pipelines, giant ships, drilling and producing platforms, exploration costs, software development, administration costs, etc. etc.. I’ve been doing numerous oil field projects for nearly 30 years, I understand things like “dry holes,” “damaged formations,” and ruptured hulls. I know what’s involved, and the often immense losses.

The premise of your argument is disingenuous because you exclude all those costs except the actual energy to crack the crude. You attempt to make the reader believe that 8 out of those 10 barrels end up at the gas pump for the public’s use. You conveniently leave out the other 3-4 barrels of energy that go right back into the previously mentioned infrastructure of getting the damn crude in the first place. Was all that infrastructure built and maintained without fossil fuel? Explain please. Those costs are so omni-directional and massive, I doubt that they could be truly delineated with the “process data” that you’ve been using. At least you amended your 8 barrels down to 6.5, but I would be surprised if any credible study by any “non big oil funded” institution could ever show more than 3 or 4 barrels of energy out of 10 actually being consumed by a purpose not related to the delivering of the crude oil energy in the first place.

The infrastructure of agriculture already exists, no “trillions” needed to build, maintain, and operate anything remotely like the oil industry. Further more, planting trees can be done by hand. Back in the 30s and 40s, we planted 3 billion of them here in Michigan by hand, and most of them are still growing and accumulating the sun’s energy today along with 9 billion others.

You’re attempting to force a prejudicial point by cherry-picking data to make the oil industry look way better than what it is. Why? What is your purpose in attempting this? In effect, your message seems to be, since old ethanol plants are inefficient, we should not attempt to build any new ones. I imagine that the Wright Brothers received similar criticism.

I guess you do accept that the project that I pointed out to you is substantially more efficient than crude, but you probably don’t want to come right out and admit it after you “sabbed” on grain ethanol as much as you did.

I’ve actually developed very important technology in the production of ethanol from cellulose which will be a nearly complete detachment from fossil fuels. I have been engineering and promoting the construction of a $200,000,000. project here in Michigan for nearly 3 years. When it comes to making ethanol from cellulose, I doubt that you’re going to point out something I don’t know.

What does sort of “tick me off” though, is when some engineer starts cherry picking data to promote his prejudice to an unwitting public. I’ve seen a lot of it, and quite often, I stomp on it when I do. We need to get away from fossil fuels before we plummet this planet into catastrophe. (Perhaps you deny global warming too.) Wind, solar, wave, biomass, and conservation are going to play an important part in this. Trying to make crude oil and coal look better than it is, is like “putting lipstick on a pig.”

Jim

There were so many unsupported and flagrantly false assertions in his response, that I didn’t even address them all, nor did I delve into great detail. I was also starting to become annoyed at spending so much time addressing one person’s willful misconceptions. So, I asked for permission to publish this exchange (permission denied – no surprise). Again, Jim’s responses are italicized.

Robert Rapier’s Second Response

Jim,

Would you mind if I published this exchange? If I have to spend time on misunderstandings, I prefer to have the exchange accessible to others so they too might learn. I would publish all exchanges in full, unedited.

If you are unclear about my position on something, I would be glad to explain. But it is a waste of my time to whack away at these straw men. You read an essay addressed at the misconception that it is more efficient to produce ethanol than gasoline. A common misconception, and one that I have addressed many times. However, suddenly you felt like you had my position pinned down, and so you felt the need to tell me all about this keen E3 Biofuels process – a process that I have already heartily endorsed and am well-acquainted with. My objective here is not to make crude oil look better than it is or ethanol worse than it is. My objective is factual debate and correction of misconceptions – some of which you have demonstrated in your e-mail. Let’s address them:

“You completely ignore all the energy to build, maintain, and operate the extraction of crude.”

No, I don’t. I used a very conservative EROEI for crude extraction that embodies the costs of extracting, transporting, etc. the crude to the refinery. The EROEI is a multi-step calculation: The crude portion and the refining portion. Both portions are captured. Furthermore, the numbers I have used are validated by (pro-ethanol) Argonne’s GREET model. It attempts to add up all of those inputs to come up with an overall efficiency of crude in the ground to gasoline in the tank.

But what you are missing, is that even if some inputs have been ignored, the ethanol EROEI calculations rely on the same numbers! If you manage to make the crude oil EROEI worse, then you will make the ethanol EROEI worse – until you can demonstrate that ethanol can prove itself without using the fossil fuel crutch. Also, the stated EROEI numbers for ethanol all ignore secondary inputs: the construction of the ethanol plant, the construction of the tractors, etc. So, what we have here is an apples to apples comparison between ethanol and gasoline, and the EROEI for ethanol is far inferior. Now, that’s not a knockout punch, because gasoline obviously has negative externalities, namely greenhouse gas emissions and the fact that it isn’t renewable. But until ethanol can break free from its fossil fuel addiction, it has the same negative externalities embedded within the process.

“The premise of your argument is disingenuous because you exclude all those costs except the actual energy to crack the crude.”

Hopefully, you now understand that this is not the case.

“At least you amended your 8 barrels down to 6.5…”

It was not my “8 barrels.” You are the one who mentioned 8 barrels.

“I would be surprised if any credible study by any “non big oil funded” institution could ever show more than 3 or 4 barrels of energy out of 10 actually being consumed by a purpose not related to the delivering of the crude oil energy in the first place.”

Given that you are making the insinuation, perhaps you can show a study that corroborates your insinuation?

“The infrastructure of agriculture already exists, no “trillions” needed to build, maintain, and operate anything remotely like the oil industry.”

Trillions of what? Dollars? If the ethanol industry was as big as the oil industry, it would certainly take massive dollars to maintain that infrastructure.

“You’re attempting to force a prejudicial point by cherry-picking data to make the oil industry look way better than what it is. Why? What is your purpose in attempting this?”

This is where I have to call you out, Jim. What is the prejudicial point? Have you read my essays on butanol, biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol, conservation, gas taxes, etc.? No? Then why are you attempting to stereotype my position into something it isn’t?

“In effect, your message seems to be, since old ethanol plants are inefficient, we should not attempt to build any new ones.”

Really? Then whatever do you think was the purpose of my glowing essay on E3 Biofuels? Perhaps your own prejudices are getting in the way of your objectivity.

“I guess you do accept that the project that I pointed out to you is substantially more efficient than crude, but you probably don’t want to come right out and admit it after you “sabbed” on grain ethanol as much as you did.”

Their plant hasn’t even started up yet, Jim. Original projections on energy balance have been downgraded, and no, it won’t be as good as crude. But it is a big step in the right direction. I think Brazilian sugarcane ethanol may very well have a better EROEI than crude. I think grain ethanol and cellulosic ethanol could potentially have a better EROEI than crude. But they certainly don’t right now, and those who claim they do are doing a disservice by making these false claims.

“I’ve actually developed very important technology in the production of ethanol from cellulose which will be a nearly complete detachment from fossil fuels.”

What are the patent numbers? I would be interested in reading them, because I am very interested in this area. I have pointed out to others before that I believe I was the first person ever to attempt to use termite gut microorganisms to produce cellulosic ethanol. I did that during my grad school research at Texas A&M in the early 90’s.

“When it comes to making ethanol from cellulose, I doubt that you’re going to point out something I don’t know.”

Oh, I wouldn’t bet on it. Maybe you are right, but if you know a lot about cellulosic ethanol then you know it still has a ways to go before it is commercially viable. The cellulose conversion step still adds too much cost for the process to be competitive with corn ethanol. I do support heavily funding the research, because there is great potential there. But it isn’t a sure thing.

“What does sort of “tick me off” though, is when some engineer starts cherry picking data to promote his prejudice to an unwitting public.”

My prejudices are toward honest scientific debate. My prejudices are against misleading and exaggerated claims. My prejudices are toward sustainable energy policy. Other than that, I don’t believe I have any.

“Perhaps you deny global warming too.”

You really don’t know anything about me, do you? You picked out an essay, thought you had me pegged, and then let loose. If you want to continue the debate, please don’t throw out any more gratuitous insults like that.

Take a bit more time to understand my position on these things, and you will save us both some time.

Cheers,

Robert

The level of delusion and denial in Jim’s post regarding energy inputs was stunning. In essence, he wanted to say that oil has a very expensive and complex infrastructure that ethanol simply does not require. Not only is this not true, but the ultimate irony is that due to the poor EROEI of grain ethanol (which I was addressing in the essay to which he responded), all of those infrastructure costs of petroleum are embedded within the ethanol process anyway. This will be the case as long as grain ethanol relies heavily on fossil fuel inputs, but Jim persisted in ignoring this. Furthermore, it is silly to focus simply on total infrastructure cost. The proper metric, if this is what he wants to consider, is infrastructure cost (or energy input) per barrel processed. A whole lot more barrels of oil get processed than ethanol, so most people should not be surprised at the overall cost of oil infrastructure.

Also note that to this point Jim has not actually supported any of this arguments with data. From the very first e-mail, when he challenged my EROEI claim with “ridiculous”, he just threw out a series of claims. No calculations or data to back them up.

I am going to save Jim’s most recent e-mail for Part II. It was so over the top and littered with ad homs and straw men, that I decided to publish the exchange regardless of whether he wanted me to. I will let you know that Jim told me he doesn’t have any patents (which I already knew, since I had done a patent search). It seems his research is “top secret”, that he is protecting his very valuable inventions with Trade Secrets, and “the only people that patent that type of technology are “academics” that were paid to make the patent in the first place, and really just do it for recognition.” Wink, wink. I know all about Trade Secrets. Several of my inventions have gotten that distinction, instead of being patented. It is always a downer to find out that your invention was only deemed worthy of Trade Secret status, and I question anyone claiming preference of Trade Secrets over a much more legally protected patent – especially for the development of “very important technology.”

October 8, 2006 Posted by | critics, ethanol, reader submission | 6 Comments

Postscript with Wang and Khosla

I think the thread on efficiency of ethanol versus gasoline left a lot of things hanging, and there have been some communications with Dr. Wang and Mr. Khosla since then. So, I wanted to more or less close the book on this and share those communications. I don’t want to spend another 300+ posts arguing about efficiency, but I do want to let the readers know how this all turned out.

Dr. Wang was clearly miffed about my usage of “sleight of hand.” While I do not consider usage of this phrase insulting, I felt like the right thing to do was to apologize since Dr. Wang took offense. So, I e-mailed back to Dr. Wang, Tom (who never again responded) and Mr. Khosla. Again, my comments are in blue, Dr. Wang’s are in green, and Mr. Khosla’s are in red:

Dear Tom, Dr. Wang, and Mr. Khosla:

First of all, let me apologize for the offense you took at my usage of “sleight of hand.” Never in my life have I considered that phrase insulting, but clearly you were insulted by it. I have used that term on many occasions, and had that term used against me. For me, it just means that things are not as they appear to be. So please do not presume that I was being intentionally insulting, because I was not.

Second, I have been stunned at the response from publishing our exchange. Between my R-Squared blog and The Oil Drum, the exchange received well over 400 responses to date, and I got around 200 e-mails. And while you may consider me combative and stubborn, I am also open-minded and very analytical. I engage in this discourse as much to learn as to convey information, and I was able to understand through those responses just why people are so confused about this issue of gasoline efficiency versus ethanol efficiency.

The reason I am engaged in this debate is that it is very important to me that we pursue the correct energy policy. While I have argued in favor of certain solutions, I have also spent a lot of time debunking certain claims. I don’t believe we do ourselves any favors, nor do we help ourselves make educated decisions by allowing myths to persist.

I agree with Mr. Khosla that maybe there are other questions that are better asked. We can debate many different angles over whether or not we should be advocating ethanol from corn. But this particular point of contention is about whether the claim “the efficiency of producing ethanol is better than the efficiency of producing gasoline” is accurate. I have lost count of how many times I have heard some variation of this claim. Tom, in your initial response to me, you included an attachment which made the claim:

“As you can see, the fossil energy input per unit of ethanol is lower–0.74 million Btu fossil energy consumed for each 1 million Btu of ethanol delivered, compared to 1.23 million Btu of fossil energy consumed for each million Btu of gasoline delivered.”

That is simply a false claim. Dr. Wang will probably acknowledge that this claim as written is incorrect, and yet it is derived from his work. That is why I say people are being misled as a result of his work. Perhaps it is unintentional, but when people make a claim such as the one above, they have misinterpreted what is being said, and used this misinterpretation to promote the ethanol agenda.

The real critical point when comparing the two processes is to make sure the boundaries are drawn in exactly the same place and definitions are consistent. When this is done it becomes clear why the above claim as written is incorrect. But please don’t misinterpret this into thinking that I am trying to completely rebut all ethanol arguments. I am addressing a single issue.

Again, please accept my sincere apologies for offending you. That was not my intent.

Sincerely,

Robert Rapier

Dr. Wang responded:

Dear Mr. Rapier,

Thank you for your email. Apparently, you know that I was pretty upset with your original way of characterizing my work and my character. Working in the scientific area, I am very careful in using language for characterizing others’ work and personalities. I expect that others would do the same to me. Simply put, just like you with great intention of pursuing facts, I have been doing the same myself in my professional career. To characterize me of knowingly misleading the public in biofuel debates is simply wrong. I am gratified that you realized that I treat such mischaracterization seriously.

Getting into the technical discussion that you originated, we all agree that energy efficiency is defined as energy output divided by all energy input (including energy in the feedstock itself). That is, we will take into account Btus in gasoline, ethanol, and all process fuels consumed for producing gasoline and diesel in our accounting for energy input. The amount of process fuels is about 0.25 for each Btu of gasoline produced from 1 Btu in crude oil. Meanwhile, for each Btu of ethanol produced from corn, which is from solar energy during corn growth, about 0.75 Btu of energy are consumed. This amount includes fossil energy (namely, petroleum, natural gas, and coal) in fertilizer production, corn farming, ethanol production, among many other activities. With this definition of energy efficiency (as it is accepted by all of us), ethanol has worse energy conversion efficiency (1/(1+0.75)=58%) than gasoline (1/(1+0.25)=80%). Note that in both calculations, the one Btu in ethanol and gasoline is taken into account as energy input, since they are energy eventually from solar energy in the ethanol case and petroleum energy in the gasoline case. Now you can see that such efficiency calculations take all Btus into account (renewable or non-renewable). That is, the efficiency calculations treat all Btus the same. In reality, all Btus are not created equal. I will get back to this point later.

What has been debated about bioethanol is ENERGY BALANCE, not energy efficiency. Energy balance is defined as the energy in the fuel minus FOSSIL energy input to produce the fuel. Why only fossil energy? That is because to many, fossil is non-renewable. As long as we use it, it will be gone, and it takes millions of years to get it back, if ever. But anyway, we can debate whether energy balance is a right matrix to use for energy policy evaluations. I, together with Mr. Khosla and many others, maintain that energy balance is NOT a good matrix for energy policy debates. But energy balance for ethanol has been debated for more than 20 years and it seems that there is still no way near an ending of this debate.

Now if one thinks a little more about energy balance calculations, one realizes that the calculation excludes renewable energy in energy input accounting, which a small step to the right direction to differentiate different types of Btus. But it adds all three fossil energy types (petroleum, natural gas, and coal) together. The calculation treats all fossil Btus equal, which is still not accurate for energy policy debates. For example, the US has several hundred years of coal supply, while it may have only 10-20 years of oil supply. I do not think that both of us would disagree that the US should value petroleum Btus more than coal Btus. But energy balance calculations do not provide us results to differentiate these two different types of Btus. Mr. Khosla alluded you about the flaws of energy balance calculations in his email.

With the energy balance definition, fossil energy input for one Btu of ethanol produced is still 0.75 Btu. However, fossil energy input for one Btu of gasoline is 0.25 Btu of fossil process fuels consumed PLUS the one Btu in crude oil that is converted into gasoline. Now you may see that the difference between a fossil energy-based fuel (gasoline) and a renewable fuel (ethanol) lies in the Btu embedded in the fuel itself. If it was not this difference between fossil fuels and renewable fuels, we all would conclude without any calculations that renewable fuels could not compete with fossil fuels with respect to energy (that is, all Btus are taken in account with differentiation).

I have made arguments against energy balance comparisons among energy products because they can be less meaningful or misleading. In the past ten years, I have tried to steer the debate on energy products to meaningful issues such as petroleum reductions, fossil energy reductions, greenhouse gas emission reductions, and reductions in criteria pollutant emissions. My point has been that even though corn ethanol has a positive fossil energy balance value, such debates are not that meaningful. I elaborate this step by step in some of my conference presentations. If you read my publications, you would see the consistency in what I think is more important to debate.

I hope this clarifies my positions. By the way, you indicated that you have read some of my publications, I encourage you to take a look at of the report that I coauthored in May 2005 in which I discussed problems of energy accounting and presented well-to-pump energy efficiencies for many transportation fuels including gasoline and corn ethanol. The report is posted at http://greet.anl.gov.

Regards,

Michael Wang

I note in his response that he acknowledges that the efficiency of producing gasoline is indeed higher than for producing ethanol. But he also says the debate is about how much fossil energy is contained in the input. I disagree with this, because the claim I have been rebutting is “it is more energy efficient to produce ethanol than gasoline.”

I responded:

Dear Dr. Wang,

Thank you for the cordial response. It seems that we agree on two key issues. First, the claim that ethanol proponents often make – “it is more efficient to produce ethanol than gasoline” – is wrong. Second, the debate is about more than just this one claim. Furthermore, you touched on the very reason this debate means so much to me: Peak Oil.

I believe that oil production will peak in a few short years, and it will have very serious ramifications for society. Without a doubt, we need to seriously research every possible alternative. This is primarily the reason that I spent my graduate studies at Texas A&M University working on cellulosic ethanol.

However, in my view the current national infatuation with ethanol hampers our preparations for a post-petroleum world. I have talked to many people who think that once the oil starts to run out, we will just switch over to ethanol. After all, they will say “E85 can lead us to energy independence.” Or they will repeat some other ethanol myth. That kind of thinking, in my opinion, lulls the public into complacency and provides a fig leaf for politicians so they don’t have to seriously address the key issue, which I believe is: We are going to have to learn to make do with a much lower per capita energy usage after oil production peaks.

On the one hand, I applaud Mr. Khosla’s willingness to invest in cellulosic ethanol, because I think cellulosic ethanol can indeed make an impact, and I think it has great potential. But on the other hand, I am very concerned about the consistent message I hear from the public that there is really nothing to worry about since cellulosic ethanol will save us once oil production peaks. If Mr. Khosla’s cellulosic ethanol ventures fail, it will be much more serious than a mere business failure. This has ramifications for the entire country. Failure will mean that we lost precious years in which we could have been making national preparations for Peak Oil. The fact that this threat is not being taking serious enough frightens me, and that is why I take this debate very seriously.

I hope that helps you better understand my position. And yes, incidentally I have read pretty much all of your publications, and I frequently run simulations with the GREET model.

Sincerely,

Robert Rapier

Dr. Wang responded, but in his response he just indicated that he had made a typo in his earlier response, and he thanked me for my e-mail. At this point, I thought the correspondence was finished, but Mr. Khosla weighed in with some final comments:

Robert, you should then stop talking about the irrelevant variable of “production efficiency” or even “energy balance” or “fossil energy balance” and change the debate to (a) petroleum reduction (since we have lots of coal fossil energy to produce corn ethanol and if you care about the environment also talk about (b) GHG reductions per mile driven. It is not what you say but how it is perceived/interpreted by the masses that is critical.

I am optimistic that at some point increasing CAFE will be mandated to reduce energy used in passenger transportation. I am highly supportive of that. I am not trying to convince anybody that we shouldn’t worry about reducing our energy use. Though I worry about peak oil, personally I think that the GHG problem is much more urgent. Market prices will address peak oil but if we have sufficient oil there is not market mechanism to reduce GHG emissions.

There are certainly some interesting points made in this correspondence, but I think it does vindicate my initial position. We can find metrics that favor ethanol, but energy efficiency of production is not one of them. What the proponents are saying is that for ethanol, we are going to count the captured solar energy from growing the corn. For oil, we are going to ignore the millions of years of captured solar energy. We are going to ignore that nature has already done the heavy lifting for us, that we are trying to replicate on an annual basis with ethanol. What you have is a metric, but it isn’t an efficiency metric.

September 2, 2006 Posted by | critics, energy balance, ethanol, Michael Wang, Vinod Khosla | 3 Comments

Postscript with Wang and Khosla

I think the thread on efficiency of ethanol versus gasoline left a lot of things hanging, and there have been some communications with Dr. Wang and Mr. Khosla since then. So, I wanted to more or less close the book on this and share those communications. I don’t want to spend another 300+ posts arguing about efficiency, but I do want to let the readers know how this all turned out.

Dr. Wang was clearly miffed about my usage of “sleight of hand.” While I do not consider usage of this phrase insulting, I felt like the right thing to do was to apologize since Dr. Wang took offense. So, I e-mailed back to Dr. Wang, Tom (who never again responded) and Mr. Khosla. Again, my comments are in blue, Dr. Wang’s are in green, and Mr. Khosla’s are in red:

Dear Tom, Dr. Wang, and Mr. Khosla:

First of all, let me apologize for the offense you took at my usage of “sleight of hand.” Never in my life have I considered that phrase insulting, but clearly you were insulted by it. I have used that term on many occasions, and had that term used against me. For me, it just means that things are not as they appear to be. So please do not presume that I was being intentionally insulting, because I was not.

Second, I have been stunned at the response from publishing our exchange. Between my R-Squared blog and The Oil Drum, the exchange received well over 400 responses to date, and I got around 200 e-mails. And while you may consider me combative and stubborn, I am also open-minded and very analytical. I engage in this discourse as much to learn as to convey information, and I was able to understand through those responses just why people are so confused about this issue of gasoline efficiency versus ethanol efficiency.

The reason I am engaged in this debate is that it is very important to me that we pursue the correct energy policy. While I have argued in favor of certain solutions, I have also spent a lot of time debunking certain claims. I don’t believe we do ourselves any favors, nor do we help ourselves make educated decisions by allowing myths to persist.

I agree with Mr. Khosla that maybe there are other questions that are better asked. We can debate many different angles over whether or not we should be advocating ethanol from corn. But this particular point of contention is about whether the claim “the efficiency of producing ethanol is better than the efficiency of producing gasoline” is accurate. I have lost count of how many times I have heard some variation of this claim. Tom, in your initial response to me, you included an attachment which made the claim:

“As you can see, the fossil energy input per unit of ethanol is lower–0.74 million Btu fossil energy consumed for each 1 million Btu of ethanol delivered, compared to 1.23 million Btu of fossil energy consumed for each million Btu of gasoline delivered.”

That is simply a false claim. Dr. Wang will probably acknowledge that this claim as written is incorrect, and yet it is derived from his work. That is why I say people are being misled as a result of his work. Perhaps it is unintentional, but when people make a claim such as the one above, they have misinterpreted what is being said, and used this misinterpretation to promote the ethanol agenda.

The real critical point when comparing the two processes is to make sure the boundaries are drawn in exactly the same place and definitions are consistent. When this is done it becomes clear why the above claim as written is incorrect. But please don’t misinterpret this into thinking that I am trying to completely rebut all ethanol arguments. I am addressing a single issue.

Again, please accept my sincere apologies for offending you. That was not my intent.

Sincerely,

Robert Rapier

Dr. Wang responded:

Dear Mr. Rapier,

Thank you for your email. Apparently, you know that I was pretty upset with your original way of characterizing my work and my character. Working in the scientific area, I am very careful in using language for characterizing others’ work and personalities. I expect that others would do the same to me. Simply put, just like you with great intention of pursuing facts, I have been doing the same myself in my professional career. To characterize me of knowingly misleading the public in biofuel debates is simply wrong. I am gratified that you realized that I treat such mischaracterization seriously.

Getting into the technical discussion that you originated, we all agree that energy efficiency is defined as energy output divided by all energy input (including energy in the feedstock itself). That is, we will take into account Btus in gasoline, ethanol, and all process fuels consumed for producing gasoline and diesel in our accounting for energy input. The amount of process fuels is about 0.25 for each Btu of gasoline produced from 1 Btu in crude oil. Meanwhile, for each Btu of ethanol produced from corn, which is from solar energy during corn growth, about 0.75 Btu of energy are consumed. This amount includes fossil energy (namely, petroleum, natural gas, and coal) in fertilizer production, corn farming, ethanol production, among many other activities. With this definition of energy efficiency (as it is accepted by all of us), ethanol has worse energy conversion efficiency (1/(1+0.75)=58%) than gasoline (1/(1+0.25)=80%). Note that in both calculations, the one Btu in ethanol and gasoline is taken into account as energy input, since they are energy eventually from solar energy in the ethanol case and petroleum energy in the gasoline case. Now you can see that such efficiency calculations take all Btus into account (renewable or non-renewable). That is, the efficiency calculations treat all Btus the same. In reality, all Btus are not created equal. I will get back to this point later.

What has been debated about bioethanol is ENERGY BALANCE, not energy efficiency. Energy balance is defined as the energy in the fuel minus FOSSIL energy input to produce the fuel. Why only fossil energy? That is because to many, fossil is non-renewable. As long as we use it, it will be gone, and it takes millions of years to get it back, if ever. But anyway, we can debate whether energy balance is a right matrix to use for energy policy evaluations. I, together with Mr. Khosla and many others, maintain that energy balance is NOT a good matrix for energy policy debates. But energy balance for ethanol has been debated for more than 20 years and it seems that there is still no way near an ending of this debate.

Now if one thinks a little more about energy balance calculations, one realizes that the calculation excludes renewable energy in energy input accounting, which a small step to the right direction to differentiate different types of Btus. But it adds all three fossil energy types (petroleum, natural gas, and coal) together. The calculation treats all fossil Btus equal, which is still not accurate for energy policy debates. For example, the US has several hundred years of coal supply, while it may have only 10-20 years of oil supply. I do not think that both of us would disagree that the US should value petroleum Btus more than coal Btus. But energy balance calculations do not provide us results to differentiate these two different types of Btus. Mr. Khosla alluded you about the flaws of energy balance calculations in his email.

With the energy balance definition, fossil energy input for one Btu of ethanol produced is still 0.75 Btu. However, fossil energy input for one Btu of gasoline is 0.25 Btu of fossil process fuels consumed PLUS the one Btu in crude oil that is converted into gasoline. Now you may see that the difference between a fossil energy-based fuel (gasoline) and a renewable fuel (ethanol) lies in the Btu embedded in the fuel itself. If it was not this difference between fossil fuels and renewable fuels, we all would conclude without any calculations that renewable fuels could not compete with fossil fuels with respect to energy (that is, all Btus are taken in account with differentiation).

I have made arguments against energy balance comparisons among energy products because they can be less meaningful or misleading. In the past ten years, I have tried to steer the debate on energy products to meaningful issues such as petroleum reductions, fossil energy reductions, greenhouse gas emission reductions, and reductions in criteria pollutant emissions. My point has been that even though corn ethanol has a positive fossil energy balance value, such debates are not that meaningful. I elaborate this step by step in some of my conference presentations. If you read my publications, you would see the consistency in what I think is more important to debate.

I hope this clarifies my positions. By the way, you indicated that you have read some of my publications, I encourage you to take a look at of the report that I coauthored in May 2005 in which I discussed problems of energy accounting and presented well-to-pump energy efficiencies for many transportation fuels including gasoline and corn ethanol. The report is posted at http://greet.anl.gov.

Regards,

Michael Wang

I note in his response that he acknowledges that the efficiency of producing gasoline is indeed higher than for producing ethanol. But he also says the debate is about how much fossil energy is contained in the input. I disagree with this, because the claim I have been rebutting is “it is more energy efficient to produce ethanol than gasoline.”

I responded:

Dear Dr. Wang,

Thank you for the cordial response. It seems that we agree on two key issues. First, the claim that ethanol proponents often make – “it is more efficient to produce ethanol than gasoline” – is wrong. Second, the debate is about more than just this one claim. Furthermore, you touched on the very reason this debate means so much to me: Peak Oil.

I believe that oil production will peak in a few short years, and it will have very serious ramifications for society. Without a doubt, we need to seriously research every possible alternative. This is primarily the reason that I spent my graduate studies at Texas A&M University working on cellulosic ethanol.

However, in my view the current national infatuation with ethanol hampers our preparations for a post-petroleum world. I have talked to many people who think that once the oil starts to run out, we will just switch over to ethanol. After all, they will say “E85 can lead us to energy independence.” Or they will repeat some other ethanol myth. That kind of thinking, in my opinion, lulls the public into complacency and provides a fig leaf for politicians so they don’t have to seriously address the key issue, which I believe is: We are going to have to learn to make do with a much lower per capita energy usage after oil production peaks.

On the one hand, I applaud Mr. Khosla’s willingness to invest in cellulosic ethanol, because I think cellulosic ethanol can indeed make an impact, and I think it has great potential. But on the other hand, I am very concerned about the consistent message I hear from the public that there is really nothing to worry about since cellulosic ethanol will save us once oil production peaks. If Mr. Khosla’s cellulosic ethanol ventures fail, it will be much more serious than a mere business failure. This has ramifications for the entire country. Failure will mean that we lost precious years in which we could have been making national preparations for Peak Oil. The fact that this threat is not being taking serious enough frightens me, and that is why I take this debate very seriously.

I hope that helps you better understand my position. And yes, incidentally I have read pretty much all of your publications, and I frequently run simulations with the GREET model.

Sincerely,

Robert Rapier

Dr. Wang responded, but in his response he just indicated that he had made a typo in his earlier response, and he thanked me for my e-mail. At this point, I thought the correspondence was finished, but Mr. Khosla weighed in with some final comments:

Robert, you should then stop talking about the irrelevant variable of “production efficiency” or even “energy balance” or “fossil energy balance” and change the debate to (a) petroleum reduction (since we have lots of coal fossil energy to produce corn ethanol and if you care about the environment also talk about (b) GHG reductions per mile driven. It is not what you say but how it is perceived/interpreted by the masses that is critical.

I am optimistic that at some point increasing CAFE will be mandated to reduce energy used in passenger transportation. I am highly supportive of that. I am not trying to convince anybody that we shouldn’t worry about reducing our energy use. Though I worry about peak oil, personally I think that the GHG problem is much more urgent. Market prices will address peak oil but if we have sufficient oil there is not market mechanism to reduce GHG emissions.

There are certainly some interesting points made in this correspondence, but I think it does vindicate my initial position. We can find metrics that favor ethanol, but energy efficiency of production is not one of them. What the proponents are saying is that for ethanol, we are going to count the captured solar energy from growing the corn. For oil, we are going to ignore the millions of years of captured solar energy. We are going to ignore that nature has already done the heavy lifting for us, that we are trying to replicate on an annual basis with ethanol. What you have is a metric, but it isn’t an efficiency metric.

September 2, 2006 Posted by | critics, energy balance, ethanol, Michael Wang, Vinod Khosla | 7 Comments