R-Squared Energy Blog

Pure Energy

Book Review: Big Coal

Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future by Jeff Goodell

One of the triumphs of modern life is our ability to distance ourselves from the simple facts of our own existence. – Jeff Goodell

Big Coal by Jeff Goodell is a book I have had on my reading list for a long time, but I only got around to reading it during my recent trip to Europe. It has taken me a very long time to finish this review for a number of reasons, but one is that I had a hard time deciding what to write. Normally, when I read a book I will dog-ear the pages that I want to revisit either because 1). There was something significant that I did not know; or 2). I want to reference a particular point in the book review. By the time I finished reading this book, I probably had 50 pages dog-eared.

My introduction to Jeff Goodell came a couple of years ago when he was writing an article for Rolling Stone about ethanol. He contacted me and we talked a few times, I got to know him a bit, and he published a pretty scathing article during the early days of the ethanol euphoria. For more on that episode, see Rolling Stone Article, Jeff Goodell Debates the Rolling Stone Article on CNBC, or Bob Dinneen Responds to Rolling Stone.

I wish I could write like Goodell. I really enjoy his writing style. I sometimes disagree with particular points, but in Big Coal he makes a very compelling argument that we don’t come close to paying the societal costs of coal usage when we pay our electric bill.

Even though we don’t often see it, coal is a part of daily life for most of us. It produces a great deal of our electricity. But we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the implications. As Goodell notes on the first page, “We love our hamburgers, but we’ve never seen the inside of a slaughterhouse.” Isn’t that the truth? I have always imagined the number of people who would become vegetarians if they ever saw the inner workings of a slaughterhouse.

When we fuel up our cars, we don’t think (much) about the ramifications of our oil dependence. When we flip a light switch, we do not associate that with the coal-driven mountaintop removals in West Virginia. In this book, Goodell thrusts those associations right in your face.

The book is divided into three parts: Extraction, conversion to power, and the resulting emissions. He covers the history of the industry, tells the stories of the people in and around the business, and while most of the book is based on U.S.-happenings, he does spend a chapter on China.

I would imagine the coal industry was none too pleased with Big Coal, because it paints a really ugly picture of the industry.  Goodell contrasts the coal industry with the individuals whose lives have been negatively impacted by coal in one way or another. He details corruption and politics that allowed the industry to delay implementation of pollution control equipment. And on a big picture level, he argues that continued usage of coal poses a serious threat to the earth’s climate.

This book will leave you shaking your head, wondering why we use coal at all if the overall picture is as troublesome as Goodell suggests. I found myself wondering as well, which was actually what led to my post on the cost of various energy sources. There at the top of the list for the cheapest source of energy was Powder River Basin coal, which is why we continue to heavily use coal despite the issues Goodell spells out.

We humans aren’t very good at willingly making sacrifices today in order to potentially improve the situation a few years down the line. We want instant gratification and coal fits the bill. (I would argue this is also why the U.S. is so deeply in debt and our personal savings rate is so low.)

I noted in my book review of Crude World that Peter Maass didn’t present a balanced picture of the oil industry; it was all bad. His book was intended to highlight the negative aspect of our oil dependency. Big Coal is the same in that respect. It is hard to argue that coal hasn’t improved the lives of a great many people around the world, and I know a number of people who would argue that these improvements outweigh the negatives. Further, it is fair to say that the coal industry has come a long way in cleaning up their emission profile over the past few decades.

But it is clear which side of that argument Goodell would come down on. To be honest, I come down on that side as well. I would like to see us limit our coal consumption and boost electricity generation from other resources. I know a great number of people who feel this way, but coal is like oil in that replacing it will likely entail economic sacrifices that individuals don’t like to make. Coal produces half of the electricity in the U.S., and I would have a hard time arguing that anything – outside of nuclear power – can scale up and take on the role that coal currently plays.

The realist in me thinks that we will eventually use up all of our coal, as will China, Australia, India, and all of the other major coal producers. This is primarily why I sit out the debates on climate change; I can’t realistically envision anything that will get the world to collectively NOT burn up all the coal. In an energy-constrained future, prices will rise and people who feel morally opposed to coal will suddenly find their moral fiber weakening as high energy prices bite into their budgets.

I don’t discount that renewable energy can eventually make a bigger impact (I hope so, because that’s what I am doing for a living), but it is starting from a very small basis compared to electricity generated from coal. While coal produces about half of the electricity in the U.S., renewables other than hydropower account for only about 3.5% (per the EIA).

So I think Big Coal will continue to be a very big part of our lives for many years to come – although with a strong political commitment the nuclear option could put a dent in our coal dependence.

March 9, 2010 Posted by | book review, coal, Jeff Goodell, nuclear energy | 142 Comments

Bob Dinneen Responds to Rolling Stone

I know it’s been a bit heavy on ethanol lately, but I continue to get quite a bit of activity over the recent Rolling Stone article. That’s the whole reason for writing a FAQ. I have in the queue a half-finished essay on solar thermal, and would really like to delve into that topic a bit more. I don’t want to become “The Ethanol Blog”, but it seems like that recently.

Bob Dinneen, President of the Renewable Fuels Association (the same association that claims displacement of 170 million barrels of oil with the energy equivalent of 64 million barrels of ethanol) wrote to Rolling Stone and addressed Jeff Goodell’s recent story:

Letter To The Editor: Response to “The Ethanol Scam”

In the letter, Dinneen took a shot at me, writing “As is to be expected, Mr. Goodell relied on the figures of an energy blogger for his facts.” Goodell defended me:

For a thorough clarification, check out oil industry engineer Robert Rapier’s analysis. I know that Dinneen finds bloggers unsavory, but Rapier is among the most fair-minded and insightful critics of the energy industry I’ve come across.

And he pointed Dinneen here. So, Bob Dinneen, this one’s for you. Let’s deconstruct his letter. Jumping past the all too predictable ad hominems:

Wow, I am having to jump pretty far. Farther than I thought, as the letter is laced with ad hominems. Four paragraphs into the letter, Dinneen is waving the flag and talking about “Mr. Goodell’s Hugo Chavez.” Was this the best the RFA could come up with? Actually, I want to jump down and address the most egregious error, and the claim that I was most certain would be made by ethanol proponents:

Yet another common misconception offered by ethanol novices is that ethanol is at best energy neutral, meaning it takes as much energy to produce as it yields. As is to be expected, Mr. Goodell relied on the figures of an energy blogger for his facts. Inconveniently for his arguments, the federal government has different figures. According to the Argonne National Laboratories, ethanol yields nearly 70% more energy that it took to produce. Conversely, refined gasoline contains 20% LESS energy that it took to produce.

Can you count the errors and misleading statements? First, “ethanol yields nearly 70% more energy that it took to produce”. Then “gasoline contains 20% LESS energy that it took to produce.” Are you comparing like to like, Mr. Dinneen? Of course you aren’t. By your gasoline metric, ethanol also contains less energy than it took to produce. Why? Because you are counting the crude oil feed as an “input” to the gasoline process, but you are not counting the crude ethanol feed as an input to the ethanol process. You are not comparing like to like; you are comparing an efficiency to an energy return. So, here’s a question. If I give you some quantity of energy to invest in energy production, will you end up with more energy if you invest that into gasoline production, or into ethanol production? The answer is gasoline production, by a wide margin. And I have demonstrated that numerous times, using the pro-ethanol USDA’s own numbers. I repeat: I am using pro-ethanol sources for my analyses. So accuse me of bias if you wish, but that doesn’t change the numbers.

Which brings us to the claim of a yield of nearly 70% more energy than it took to produce. I wonder if Dinneen knows (or cares?) how the USDA paper arrived at this number. I am going to show you how they did, and cite the reports so you can check for yourself. I analyzed the reports in detail here, using their own numbers to show what they did. You can read the analysis for yourself, but here’s the executive summary.

In 2002, the USDA reported on the energy balance of corn ethanol, stating that the energy balance was 1.34 units of energy out for every unit in. As I showed, they did a little accounting trick to get that, as the real number – when full BTU credit was taken for the animal feed by-products – was 1.27. Minor quibble, but it made me alert for more accounting tricks. And we got them in a report released 2 years later.

In their 2004 report, the USDA acknowledged that they had grossly underestimated a number of energy inputs in the 2002 report. So, they corrected those numbers. But some energy inputs had gone down, and at the end of the day, the energy inputs/outputs in the 2004 report were about the same as in the 2002 report. Yet in the 2004 report, they reported that the energy ratio for ethanol was 1.67, which is where Mr. Dinneen got his number.

Now, what was it really? Look at Table 3 in the 2004 USDA report. I will just produce it for you so you can see for yourself:

Table 1. 2004 USDA Report Showing the Energy Return for Corn Ethanol at 1.06.

I know that’s kind of hard to read, but here’s what it says. (You can always check out the original if you think I am pulling any funny business). The energy produced in a wet mill process is only 2% greater than the energy it took to produce the ethanol. And I would point out that things like topsoil and aquifer depletion, energy to build the ethanol plant, etc. were not part of the analysis. (They said they didn’t have good information, so they just omitted any attempt to account for it). For a dry mill process, they reported that the energy return is 1.10, 10% energy produced, and the weighted average of the two is 1.06. Those are the raw, unmanipulated numbers. In other words, input 1 BTU of fossil fuels, output 1.06 BTUs of ethanol. And given the subsidy for ethanol, it should be clear that this is actually a subsidy for fossil fuels, which is responsible for nearly all of ethanol’s BTUs.

In Table 4, to the right, you can see the manipulated numbers, and the energy return of 1.67. So, how did they do that?

What they have done, is they have lowered the energy inputs into the ethanol process by a great deal. And the way they did that was to change their methodology. Instead of taking a credit for by-products, what they did was increase the energy alloted to the by-product. By doing this, they subtracted the energy inputs allocated to ethanol, and therefore manipulated the answer.

There is no reason that they couldn’t have boosted the energy return to any number they wanted, just by allocating more and more of the energy inputs to the by-products. I could boost the energy return to infinity by allocating all of the energy inputs to the by-product. It makes the by-product energy return look horrible, but it artificially boosts the ethanol energy return. And they aren’t reporting the by-product energy return, so you have to pay close attention to see exactly what they did.

Dried distillers grain (DDGS) has become a good dumping ground for the ethanol industry’s claims. When you point out that the energy balance is poor, they take a BTU credit for DDGS, just as if you could put in in your car and drive. But they have now figured out that they place more of the “blame” of energy of production into the DDGS and exaggerate the energy return for ethanol. But you can’t have it both ways. If the energy of production gets dumped into DDGS, it suddenly becomes a by-product with an incredibly high energy cost to produce.

Bottom line: Playing with the numbers doesn’t change the fact that ethanol production is marginally above energy neutral. Despite Mr. Dinneen’s claim that this is a “misconception offered by ethanol novices“, it is in fact true, based on the USDA’s own numbers. Mr. Dinneen and those who repeat the 1.67 number are either misinformed, or purposely misleading the public.

Mr. Dinneen concludes with:

It is entirely appropriate to have a debate about our energy policy in this country.

I agree. Here’s my proposal. Three rounds, 2,000 word limit per round, with the debate hosted here, at your site, and at The Oil Drum. I suggest the debate resolution: “Corn Ethanol is Responsible Energy Policy.” I will take the negative. If you have an alternate proposal, I would be glad to entertain it.

References

1. Shapouri, H., J.A. Duffield, and M. Wang. 2002. The Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol: An Update. AER-814. Washington, D.C.: USDA Office of the Chief Economist.

2. Shapouri, H., J.A. Duffield, and M. Wang. 2004. The 2001 Net Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol. Washington, D.C.: USDA Office of the Chief Economist.

August 9, 2007 Posted by | Bob Dinneen, energy balance, ethanol, ethanol subsidies, Jeff Goodell, Renewable Fuels Association, Rolling Stone | Comments Off on Bob Dinneen Responds to Rolling Stone

Bob Dinneen Responds to Rolling Stone

I know it’s been a bit heavy on ethanol lately, but I continue to get quite a bit of activity over the recent Rolling Stone article. That’s the whole reason for writing a FAQ. I have in the queue a half-finished essay on solar thermal, and would really like to delve into that topic a bit more. I don’t want to become “The Ethanol Blog”, but it seems like that recently.

Bob Dinneen, President of the Renewable Fuels Association (the same association that claims displacement of 170 million barrels of oil with the energy equivalent of 64 million barrels of ethanol) wrote to Rolling Stone and addressed Jeff Goodell’s recent story:

Letter To The Editor: Response to “The Ethanol Scam”

In the letter, Dinneen took a shot at me, writing “As is to be expected, Mr. Goodell relied on the figures of an energy blogger for his facts.” Goodell defended me:

For a thorough clarification, check out oil industry engineer Robert Rapier’s analysis. I know that Dinneen finds bloggers unsavory, but Rapier is among the most fair-minded and insightful critics of the energy industry I’ve come across.

And he pointed Dinneen here. So, Bob Dinneen, this one’s for you. Let’s deconstruct his letter. Jumping past the all too predictable ad hominems:

Wow, I am having to jump pretty far. Farther than I thought, as the letter is laced with ad hominems. Four paragraphs into the letter, Dinneen is waving the flag and talking about “Mr. Goodell’s Hugo Chavez.” Was this the best the RFA could come up with? Actually, I want to jump down and address the most egregious error, and the claim that I was most certain would be made by ethanol proponents:

Yet another common misconception offered by ethanol novices is that ethanol is at best energy neutral, meaning it takes as much energy to produce as it yields. As is to be expected, Mr. Goodell relied on the figures of an energy blogger for his facts. Inconveniently for his arguments, the federal government has different figures. According to the Argonne National Laboratories, ethanol yields nearly 70% more energy that it took to produce. Conversely, refined gasoline contains 20% LESS energy that it took to produce.

Can you count the errors and misleading statements? First, “ethanol yields nearly 70% more energy that it took to produce”. Then “gasoline contains 20% LESS energy that it took to produce.” Are you comparing like to like, Mr. Dinneen? Of course you aren’t. By your gasoline metric, ethanol also contains less energy than it took to produce. Why? Because you are counting the crude oil feed as an “input” to the gasoline process, but you are not counting the crude ethanol feed as an input to the ethanol process. You are not comparing like to like; you are comparing an efficiency to an energy return. So, here’s a question. If I give you some quantity of energy to invest in energy production, will you end up with more energy if you invest that into gasoline production, or into ethanol production? The answer is gasoline production, by a wide margin. And I have demonstrated that numerous times, using the pro-ethanol USDA’s own numbers. I repeat: I am using pro-ethanol sources for my analyses. So accuse me of bias if you wish, but that doesn’t change the numbers.

Which brings us to the claim of a yield of nearly 70% more energy than it took to produce. I wonder if Dinneen knows (or cares?) how the USDA paper arrived at this number. I am going to show you how they did, and cite the reports so you can check for yourself. I analyzed the reports in detail here, using their own numbers to show what they did. You can read the analysis for yourself, but here’s the executive summary.

In 2002, the USDA reported on the energy balance of corn ethanol, stating that the energy balance was 1.34 units of energy out for every unit in. As I showed, they did a little accounting trick to get that, as the real number – when full BTU credit was taken for the animal feed by-products – was 1.27. Minor quibble, but it made me alert for more accounting tricks. And we got them in a report released 2 years later.

In their 2004 report, the USDA acknowledged that they had grossly underestimated a number of energy inputs in the 2002 report. So, they corrected those numbers. But some energy inputs had gone down, and at the end of the day, the energy inputs/outputs in the 2004 report were about the same as in the 2002 report. Yet in the 2004 report, they reported that the energy ratio for ethanol was 1.67, which is where Mr. Dinneen got his number.

Now, what was it really? Look at Table 3 in the 2004 USDA report. I will just produce it for you so you can see for yourself:

Table 1. 2004 USDA Report Showing the Energy Return for Corn Ethanol at 1.06.

I know that’s kind of hard to read, but here’s what it says. (You can always check out the original if you think I am pulling any funny business). The energy produced in a wet mill process is only 2% greater than the energy it took to produce the ethanol. And I would point out that things like topsoil and aquifer depletion, energy to build the ethanol plant, etc. were not part of the analysis. (They said they didn’t have good information, so they just omitted any attempt to account for it). For a dry mill process, they reported that the energy return is 1.10, 10% energy produced, and the weighted average of the two is 1.06. Those are the raw, unmanipulated numbers. In other words, input 1 BTU of fossil fuels, output 1.06 BTUs of ethanol. And given the subsidy for ethanol, it should be clear that this is actually a subsidy for fossil fuels, which is responsible for nearly all of ethanol’s BTUs.

In Table 4, to the right, you can see the manipulated numbers, and the energy return of 1.67. So, how did they do that?

What they have done, is they have lowered the energy inputs into the ethanol process by a great deal. And the way they did that was to change their methodology. Instead of taking a credit for by-products, what they did was increase the energy alloted to the by-product. By doing this, they subtracted the energy inputs allocated to ethanol, and therefore manipulated the answer.

There is no reason that they couldn’t have boosted the energy return to any number they wanted, just by allocating more and more of the energy inputs to the by-products. I could boost the energy return to infinity by allocating all of the energy inputs to the by-product. It makes the by-product energy return look horrible, but it artificially boosts the ethanol energy return. And they aren’t reporting the by-product energy return, so you have to pay close attention to see exactly what they did.

Dried distillers grain (DDGS) has become a good dumping ground for the ethanol industry’s claims. When you point out that the energy balance is poor, they take a BTU credit for DDGS, just as if you could put in in your car and drive. But they have now figured out that they place more of the “blame” of energy of production into the DDGS and exaggerate the energy return for ethanol. But you can’t have it both ways. If the energy of production gets dumped into DDGS, it suddenly becomes a by-product with an incredibly high energy cost to produce.

Bottom line: Playing with the numbers doesn’t change the fact that ethanol production is marginally above energy neutral. Despite Mr. Dinneen’s claim that this is a “misconception offered by ethanol novices“, it is in fact true, based on the USDA’s own numbers. Mr. Dinneen and those who repeat the 1.67 number are either misinformed, or purposely misleading the public.

Mr. Dinneen concludes with:

It is entirely appropriate to have a debate about our energy policy in this country.

I agree. Here’s my proposal. Three rounds, 2,000 word limit per round, with the debate hosted here, at your site, and at The Oil Drum. I suggest the debate resolution: “Corn Ethanol is Responsible Energy Policy.” I will take the negative. If you have an alternate proposal, I would be glad to entertain it.

References

1. Shapouri, H., J.A. Duffield, and M. Wang. 2002. The Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol: An Update. AER-814. Washington, D.C.: USDA Office of the Chief Economist.

2. Shapouri, H., J.A. Duffield, and M. Wang. 2004. The 2001 Net Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol. Washington, D.C.: USDA Office of the Chief Economist.

August 9, 2007 Posted by | Bob Dinneen, energy balance, ethanol, ethanol subsidies, Jeff Goodell, Renewable Fuels Association, Rolling Stone | 85 Comments

Bob Dinneen Responds to Rolling Stone

I know it’s been a bit heavy on ethanol lately, but I continue to get quite a bit of activity over the recent Rolling Stone article. That’s the whole reason for writing a FAQ. I have in the queue a half-finished essay on solar thermal, and would really like to delve into that topic a bit more. I don’t want to become “The Ethanol Blog”, but it seems like that recently.

Bob Dinneen, President of the Renewable Fuels Association (the same association that claims displacement of 170 million barrels of oil with the energy equivalent of 64 million barrels of ethanol) wrote to Rolling Stone and addressed Jeff Goodell’s recent story:

Letter To The Editor: Response to “The Ethanol Scam”

In the letter, Dinneen took a shot at me, writing “As is to be expected, Mr. Goodell relied on the figures of an energy blogger for his facts.” Goodell defended me:

For a thorough clarification, check out oil industry engineer Robert Rapier’s analysis. I know that Dinneen finds bloggers unsavory, but Rapier is among the most fair-minded and insightful critics of the energy industry I’ve come across.

And he pointed Dinneen here. So, Bob Dinneen, this one’s for you. Let’s deconstruct his letter. Jumping past the all too predictable ad hominems:

Wow, I am having to jump pretty far. Farther than I thought, as the letter is laced with ad hominems. Four paragraphs into the letter, Dinneen is waving the flag and talking about “Mr. Goodell’s Hugo Chavez.” Was this the best the RFA could come up with? Actually, I want to jump down and address the most egregious error, and the claim that I was most certain would be made by ethanol proponents:

Yet another common misconception offered by ethanol novices is that ethanol is at best energy neutral, meaning it takes as much energy to produce as it yields. As is to be expected, Mr. Goodell relied on the figures of an energy blogger for his facts. Inconveniently for his arguments, the federal government has different figures. According to the Argonne National Laboratories, ethanol yields nearly 70% more energy that it took to produce. Conversely, refined gasoline contains 20% LESS energy that it took to produce.

Can you count the errors and misleading statements? First, “ethanol yields nearly 70% more energy that it took to produce”. Then “gasoline contains 20% LESS energy that it took to produce.” Are you comparing like to like, Mr. Dinneen? Of course you aren’t. By your gasoline metric, ethanol also contains less energy than it took to produce. Why? Because you are counting the crude oil feed as an “input” to the gasoline process, but you are not counting the crude ethanol feed as an input to the ethanol process. You are not comparing like to like; you are comparing an efficiency to an energy return. So, here’s a question. If I give you some quantity of energy to invest in energy production, will you end up with more energy if you invest that into gasoline production, or into ethanol production? The answer is gasoline production, by a wide margin. And I have demonstrated that numerous times, using the pro-ethanol USDA’s own numbers. I repeat: I am using pro-ethanol sources for my analyses. So accuse me of bias if you wish, but that doesn’t change the numbers.

Which brings us to the claim of a yield of nearly 70% more energy than it took to produce. I wonder if Dinneen knows (or cares?) how the USDA paper arrived at this number. I am going to show you how they did, and cite the reports so you can check for yourself. I analyzed the reports in detail here, using their own numbers to show what they did. You can read the analysis for yourself, but here’s the executive summary.

In 2002, the USDA reported on the energy balance of corn ethanol, stating that the energy balance was 1.34 units of energy out for every unit in. As I showed, they did a little accounting trick to get that, as the real number – when full BTU credit was taken for the animal feed by-products – was 1.27. Minor quibble, but it made me alert for more accounting tricks. And we got them in a report released 2 years later.

In their 2004 report, the USDA acknowledged that they had grossly underestimated a number of energy inputs in the 2002 report. So, they corrected those numbers. But some energy inputs had gone down, and at the end of the day, the energy inputs/outputs in the 2004 report were about the same as in the 2002 report. Yet in the 2004 report, they reported that the energy ratio for ethanol was 1.67, which is where Mr. Dinneen got his number.

Now, what was it really? Look at Table 3 in the 2004 USDA report. I will just produce it for you so you can see for yourself:

Table 1. 2004 USDA Report Showing the Energy Return for Corn Ethanol at 1.06.

I know that’s kind of hard to read, but here’s what it says. (You can always check out the original if you think I am pulling any funny business). The energy produced in a wet mill process is only 2% greater than the energy it took to produce the ethanol. And I would point out that things like topsoil and aquifer depletion, energy to build the ethanol plant, etc. were not part of the analysis. (They said they didn’t have good information, so they just omitted any attempt to account for it). For a dry mill process, they reported that the energy return is 1.10, 10% energy produced, and the weighted average of the two is 1.06. Those are the raw, unmanipulated numbers. In other words, input 1 BTU of fossil fuels, output 1.06 BTUs of ethanol. And given the subsidy for ethanol, it should be clear that this is actually a subsidy for fossil fuels, which is responsible for nearly all of ethanol’s BTUs.

In Table 4, to the right, you can see the manipulated numbers, and the energy return of 1.67. So, how did they do that?

What they have done, is they have lowered the energy inputs into the ethanol process by a great deal. And the way they did that was to change their methodology. Instead of taking a credit for by-products, what they did was increase the energy alloted to the by-product. By doing this, they subtracted the energy inputs allocated to ethanol, and therefore manipulated the answer.

There is no reason that they couldn’t have boosted the energy return to any number they wanted, just by allocating more and more of the energy inputs to the by-products. I could boost the energy return to infinity by allocating all of the energy inputs to the by-product. It makes the by-product energy return look horrible, but it artificially boosts the ethanol energy return. And they aren’t reporting the by-product energy return, so you have to pay close attention to see exactly what they did.

Dried distillers grain (DDGS) has become a good dumping ground for the ethanol industry’s claims. When you point out that the energy balance is poor, they take a BTU credit for DDGS, just as if you could put in in your car and drive. But they have now figured out that they place more of the “blame” of energy of production into the DDGS and exaggerate the energy return for ethanol. But you can’t have it both ways. If the energy of production gets dumped into DDGS, it suddenly becomes a by-product with an incredibly high energy cost to produce.

Bottom line: Playing with the numbers doesn’t change the fact that ethanol production is marginally above energy neutral. Despite Mr. Dinneen’s claim that this is a “misconception offered by ethanol novices“, it is in fact true, based on the USDA’s own numbers. Mr. Dinneen and those who repeat the 1.67 number are either misinformed, or purposely misleading the public.

Mr. Dinneen concludes with:

It is entirely appropriate to have a debate about our energy policy in this country.

I agree. Here’s my proposal. Three rounds, 2,000 word limit per round, with the debate hosted here, at your site, and at The Oil Drum. I suggest the debate resolution: “Corn Ethanol is Responsible Energy Policy.” I will take the negative. If you have an alternate proposal, I would be glad to entertain it.

References

1. Shapouri, H., J.A. Duffield, and M. Wang. 2002. The Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol: An Update. AER-814. Washington, D.C.: USDA Office of the Chief Economist.

2. Shapouri, H., J.A. Duffield, and M. Wang. 2004. The 2001 Net Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol. Washington, D.C.: USDA Office of the Chief Economist.

August 9, 2007 Posted by | Bob Dinneen, energy balance, ethanol, ethanol subsidies, Jeff Goodell, Renewable Fuels Association, Rolling Stone | 85 Comments

Jeff Goodell Debates the Rolling Stone Article on CNBC

The guy is very well-spoken.

Guess where he got that “recycled natural gas quote.” πŸ™‚

August 7, 2007 Posted by | cellulosic ethanol, ethanol, ethanol subsidies, Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone | Comments Off on Jeff Goodell Debates the Rolling Stone Article on CNBC

Jeff Goodell Debates the Rolling Stone Article on CNBC

The guy is very well-spoken.

Guess where he got that “recycled natural gas quote.” πŸ™‚

August 7, 2007 Posted by | cellulosic ethanol, ethanol, ethanol subsidies, Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone | 17 Comments

Jeff Goodell Debates the Rolling Stone Article on CNBC

The guy is very well-spoken.

Guess where he got that “recycled natural gas quote.” πŸ™‚

August 7, 2007 Posted by | cellulosic ethanol, ethanol, ethanol subsidies, Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone | 17 Comments

Rolling Stone Article

A few months back, Jeff Goodell, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, contacted me with some questions about ethanol. Jeff’s name may be familiar to those in the energy business, as he is the author of Big Coal. (Jeff has authored several books, including Trapped, which resulted in an appearance on Oprah, Sunnyvale, and The Cyberthief and the Samurai, which is about hacker Kevin Mitnick.) What started out as a piece in Rolling Stone on Vinod Khosla ended up being a critical look at ethanol. And some of my comments even survived the editor’s hatchets:

Ethanol Scam: Ethanol Hurts the Environment And Is One of America’s Biggest Political Boondoggles

Don’t let the soft title fool you. Jeff pulls no punches. πŸ™‚ My comments are on Pages 2 and 3. Once again, Khosla’s scenario in which the world runs on carbohydrates is followed by mine in which I argue that you can’t mandate technology. The fact that this is in Rolling Stone should help build credibility with my wife and kids. It’s not the cover of Rolling Stone, but the story is on the cover (upper left). In fact, the cover goes to my all-time favorite band:

I can’t take credit for the best quote, though. I have to give that honor to Dave Juday. When asked about the 36 billion gallons of alternative fuels mandated by the energy bill, Juday said:

“It’s like trying to solve a traffic problem by mandating hovercraft. Except we don’t have hovercraft.”

Now that’s funny. I wish I had said that.

Incidentally, at one point during our exchanges, Jeff told me that Martin Eberhard, the CEO of Tesla Motors was reading this blog, and my exchanges with Vinod Khosla. Jeff wrote:

On a personal note, you’ll be amused to know that your name came up in a conversation I had a week or so ago with Martin Eberhard, the CEO of Tesla Motors (maker of $100,000 electric roadster). He was talking about the problems with ethanol, and he said something like, “There’s been a great debate about Vinod’s ideas on the web, on a blog called R-Squared. Have you seen that? It’s great! I want to hire that guy!” So if things don’t work out in Scotland, you can always head to Silicon Valley!

Yes, I was amused. Jeff wrote that on March 10th, and I have been waiting almost half a year for a chance to work it into a post. πŸ™‚ It makes me wonder just who might drop in now and again.

Tesla Motors. Well, I wouldn’t want to live in Silicon Valley, but I certainly think electric cars are the way we ultimately have to go. Maybe Tesla could just hire me to endorse the car and trash the opposition. Or maybe that’s been my angle all along, and is the reason I am arguing for an electric transportation infrastructure. It’s my exit strategy from Big Oil.

Martin, I presume my check is in the mail. πŸ˜‰

July 30, 2007 Posted by | cellulosic ethanol, ethanol, Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone, Tesla Motors, Vinod Khosla | Comments Off on Rolling Stone Article

Rolling Stone Article

A few months back, Jeff Goodell, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, contacted me with some questions about ethanol. Jeff’s name may be familiar to those in the energy business, as he is the author of Big Coal. (Jeff has authored several books, including Trapped, which resulted in an appearance on Oprah, Sunnyvale, and The Cyberthief and the Samurai, which is about hacker Kevin Mitnick.) What started out as a piece in Rolling Stone on Vinod Khosla ended up being a critical look at ethanol. And some of my comments even survived the editor’s hatchets:

Ethanol Scam: Ethanol Hurts the Environment And Is One of America’s Biggest Political Boondoggles

Don’t let the soft title fool you. Jeff pulls no punches. πŸ™‚ My comments are on Pages 2 and 3. Once again, Khosla’s scenario in which the world runs on carbohydrates is followed by mine in which I argue that you can’t mandate technology. The fact that this is in Rolling Stone should help build credibility with my wife and kids. It’s not the cover of Rolling Stone, but the story is on the cover (upper left). In fact, the cover goes to my all-time favorite band:

I can’t take credit for the best quote, though. I have to give that honor to Dave Juday. When asked about the 36 billion gallons of alternative fuels mandated by the energy bill, Juday said:

“It’s like trying to solve a traffic problem by mandating hovercraft. Except we don’t have hovercraft.”

Now that’s funny. I wish I had said that.

Incidentally, at one point during our exchanges, Jeff told me that Martin Eberhard, the CEO of Tesla Motors was reading this blog, and my exchanges with Vinod Khosla. Jeff wrote:

On a personal note, you’ll be amused to know that your name came up in a conversation I had a week or so ago with Martin Eberhard, the CEO of Tesla Motors (maker of $100,000 electric roadster). He was talking about the problems with ethanol, and he said something like, “There’s been a great debate about Vinod’s ideas on the web, on a blog called R-Squared. Have you seen that? It’s great! I want to hire that guy!” So if things don’t work out in Scotland, you can always head to Silicon Valley!

Yes, I was amused. Jeff wrote that on March 10th, and I have been waiting almost half a year for a chance to work it into a post. πŸ™‚ It makes me wonder just who might drop in now and again.

Tesla Motors. Well, I wouldn’t want to live in Silicon Valley, but I certainly think electric cars are the way we ultimately have to go. Maybe Tesla could just hire me to endorse the car and trash the opposition. Or maybe that’s been my angle all along, and is the reason I am arguing for an electric transportation infrastructure. It’s my exit strategy from Big Oil.

Martin, I presume my check is in the mail. πŸ˜‰

July 30, 2007 Posted by | cellulosic ethanol, ethanol, Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone, Tesla Motors, Vinod Khosla | 45 Comments

Rolling Stone Article

A few months back, Jeff Goodell, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, contacted me with some questions about ethanol. Jeff’s name may be familiar to those in the energy business, as he is the author of Big Coal. (Jeff has authored several books, including Trapped, which resulted in an appearance on Oprah, Sunnyvale, and The Cyberthief and the Samurai, which is about hacker Kevin Mitnick.) What started out as a piece in Rolling Stone on Vinod Khosla ended up being a critical look at ethanol. And some of my comments even survived the editor’s hatchets:

Ethanol Scam: Ethanol Hurts the Environment And Is One of America’s Biggest Political Boondoggles

Don’t let the soft title fool you. Jeff pulls no punches. πŸ™‚ My comments are on Pages 2 and 3. Once again, Khosla’s scenario in which the world runs on carbohydrates is followed by mine in which I argue that you can’t mandate technology. The fact that this is in Rolling Stone should help build credibility with my wife and kids. It’s not the cover of Rolling Stone, but the story is on the cover (upper left). In fact, the cover goes to my all-time favorite band:

I can’t take credit for the best quote, though. I have to give that honor to Dave Juday. When asked about the 36 billion gallons of alternative fuels mandated by the energy bill, Juday said:

“It’s like trying to solve a traffic problem by mandating hovercraft. Except we don’t have hovercraft.”

Now that’s funny. I wish I had said that.

Incidentally, at one point during our exchanges, Jeff told me that Martin Eberhard, the CEO of Tesla Motors was reading this blog, and my exchanges with Vinod Khosla. Jeff wrote:

On a personal note, you’ll be amused to know that your name came up in a conversation I had a week or so ago with Martin Eberhard, the CEO of Tesla Motors (maker of $100,000 electric roadster). He was talking about the problems with ethanol, and he said something like, “There’s been a great debate about Vinod’s ideas on the web, on a blog called R-Squared. Have you seen that? It’s great! I want to hire that guy!” So if things don’t work out in Scotland, you can always head to Silicon Valley!

Yes, I was amused. Jeff wrote that on March 10th, and I have been waiting almost half a year for a chance to work it into a post. πŸ™‚ It makes me wonder just who might drop in now and again.

Tesla Motors. Well, I wouldn’t want to live in Silicon Valley, but I certainly think electric cars are the way we ultimately have to go. Maybe Tesla could just hire me to endorse the car and trash the opposition. Or maybe that’s been my angle all along, and is the reason I am arguing for an electric transportation infrastructure. It’s my exit strategy from Big Oil.

Martin, I presume my check is in the mail. πŸ˜‰

July 30, 2007 Posted by | cellulosic ethanol, ethanol, Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone, Tesla Motors, Vinod Khosla | 46 Comments