R-Squared Energy Blog

Pure Energy

Town Runs Out of Water

Do you think right about now they are wishing they had a couple of water-guzzling corn ethanol plants contibuting to the local economy?

Tennessee town has run out of water

The severe drought tightening like a vise across the Southeast has threatened the water supply of cities large and small, sending politicians scrambling for solutions. But Orme, about 40 miles west of Chattanooga and 150 miles northwest of Atlanta, is a town where the worst-case scenario has already come to pass: The water has run out.

Three days a week, the volunteer fire chief hops in a 1961 fire truck at 5:30 a.m. – before the school bus blocks the narrow road – and drives a few miles to an Alabama fire hydrant. He meets with another truck from nearby New Hope, Ala. The two drivers make about a dozen runs back and forth, hauling about 20,000 gallons of water from the hydrant to Orme’s tank.

Now, picture that taking place in Nebraska, or some other place that is irrigating corn to turn into ethanol. Of course the ethanol plants would come screeching to a halt, but not before the damage is done to the aquifers. This is one of the more serious consequences of corn ethanol, in my opinion. Once we deplete the topsoil and pull down the aquifers to displace a percent or two of gasoline, we will be one good drought away from a food crisis.

November 2, 2007 Posted by | ethanol, topsoil depletion, water usage | 1 Comment

Recent Damning Biofuel Studies

There were a couple of recently-released studies on biofuels that readers have e-mailed to me or commented on. I will highlight them here.

The first involves a study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. One of the authors is a Nobel Prize-winning scientist recognized for his work on atmospheric chemistry. The (UK) Times reports:

Rapeseed biofuel ‘produces more greenhouse gas than oil or petrol’

Measurements of emissions from the burning of biofuels derived from rapeseed and maize have been found to produce more greenhouse gas emissions than they save.

Other biofuels, especially those likely to see greater use over the next decade, performed better than fossil fuels but the study raises serious questions about some of the most commonly produced varieties.

Rapeseed and maize biodiesels were calculated to produce up to 70 per cent and 50 per cent more greenhouse gases respectively than fossil fuels. The concerns were raised over the levels of emissions of nitrous oxide, which is 296 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Scientists found that the use of biofuels released twice as much as nitrous oxide as previously realised.

I am sure this study will be downplayed by the ethanol lobby, just as the previous Mark Jacobson study was.

“One wants rational decisions rather than simply jumping on the bandwagon because superficially something appears to reduce emissions,” said Keith Smith, a professor at the University of Edinburgh and one of the researchers.

Rational decisions? Wishful thinking. The decisions being made are political, not rational. Those categories don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but in this case they are.

The second study relates to one of my big concerns over corn ethanol production, specifically in dry locations:

Ethanol craze endangers U.S. Plains water

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) – The U.S. craze for ethanol could severely strain an already ailing aquifer in key farm states, increasing demand for scarce water supplies by more than 2 billion gallons a year, according to a report issued Thursday by the nonprofit group Environmental Defense.

The environmental group’s report focused on the Ogallala aquifer, an 800-mile-long underground pool that stretches from Texas to South Dakota. The Ogallala feeds one-fifth of all the irrigated land in the United States, and is critical to farmers growing corn, cotton, wheat, soybeans and other crops.

“The Ogallala Aquifer is a microcosm of the challenges we’ll face in America as we develop renewable fuels,” said Martha Roberts, co-author of the report and a fellow at Environmental Defense. “Nine new ethanol plants are already planned for some of the most water-depleted areas of the Ogallala Aquifer, even though those areas are vulnerable to erosion and the entire region’s water resources are stretched thin.”

How short-sighted we are. We are gambling with the food supply, but our political leaders are too blind to see it. As one reader put it, “Can you say Dust Bowl?”

September 23, 2007 Posted by | energy policy, ethanol, global warming, water usage | 6 Comments

Recent Damning Biofuel Studies

There were a couple of recently-released studies on biofuels that readers have e-mailed to me or commented on. I will highlight them here.

The first involves a study published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. One of the authors is a Nobel Prize-winning scientist recognized for his work on atmospheric chemistry. The (UK) Times reports:

Rapeseed biofuel ‘produces more greenhouse gas than oil or petrol’

Measurements of emissions from the burning of biofuels derived from rapeseed and maize have been found to produce more greenhouse gas emissions than they save.

Other biofuels, especially those likely to see greater use over the next decade, performed better than fossil fuels but the study raises serious questions about some of the most commonly produced varieties.

Rapeseed and maize biodiesels were calculated to produce up to 70 per cent and 50 per cent more greenhouse gases respectively than fossil fuels. The concerns were raised over the levels of emissions of nitrous oxide, which is 296 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Scientists found that the use of biofuels released twice as much as nitrous oxide as previously realised.

I am sure this study will be downplayed by the ethanol lobby, just as the previous Mark Jacobson study was.

“One wants rational decisions rather than simply jumping on the bandwagon because superficially something appears to reduce emissions,” said Keith Smith, a professor at the University of Edinburgh and one of the researchers.

Rational decisions? Wishful thinking. The decisions being made are political, not rational. Those categories don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but in this case they are.

The second study relates to one of my big concerns over corn ethanol production, specifically in dry locations:

Ethanol craze endangers U.S. Plains water

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) – The U.S. craze for ethanol could severely strain an already ailing aquifer in key farm states, increasing demand for scarce water supplies by more than 2 billion gallons a year, according to a report issued Thursday by the nonprofit group Environmental Defense.

The environmental group’s report focused on the Ogallala aquifer, an 800-mile-long underground pool that stretches from Texas to South Dakota. The Ogallala feeds one-fifth of all the irrigated land in the United States, and is critical to farmers growing corn, cotton, wheat, soybeans and other crops.

“The Ogallala Aquifer is a microcosm of the challenges we’ll face in America as we develop renewable fuels,” said Martha Roberts, co-author of the report and a fellow at Environmental Defense. “Nine new ethanol plants are already planned for some of the most water-depleted areas of the Ogallala Aquifer, even though those areas are vulnerable to erosion and the entire region’s water resources are stretched thin.”

How short-sighted we are. We are gambling with the food supply, but our political leaders are too blind to see it. As one reader put it, “Can you say Dust Bowl?”

September 23, 2007 Posted by | energy policy, ethanol, global warming, water usage | Comments Off on Recent Damning Biofuel Studies

Water Usage in an Oil Refinery

There has been much controversy regarding the amount of water used to produce a gallon of ethanol. Considering just the usage in the ethanol plant (ignoring any irrigation requirements for the corn), this amounts to about 4 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol produced:

New Research Paper Finds Water Availability Critical to Growth of Ethanol Industry

Generally, an ethanol plant will use 10 gallons of water per minute for each 1 million gallons of ethanol produced. A typical 50 million gallon plant, would need 500 gallons per minute of water.

There are no publicly available records on water use by ethanol plants in the United States, the authors found, with the exception of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Minnesota plants use a range of 3.5 to 6 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol. Average water use has declined from 5.8:1 in 1998 to 4.2:1 in 2005.

Authors of the paper said 4 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol is a good estimate with the current technology.

I have frequently been asked how this compares to the water usage for an oil refinery, and each time I do some back of the envelope calculations and come up with about 0.5 gallons of water per gallon of crude oil processed. But the question comes up often enough that it is worth documenting.

According to an article in the February 18, 2007 Billings Gazette:

Here are the top users of the Billings Public Utilities Department

TOP WATER USERS (GALLONS PER YEAR)

1. Billings Heights Water District, 848 million.

2. ConocoPhillips Refinery, 456 million.

3. PPL Montana, 53.4 million.

4. Casa Village Mobile Home Court*, 49.6 million.

5. St. Vincent Healthcare**, 39.6 million.

The ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings processes 62,000 bbls of crude oil, or 2.6 million gallons per day. The reliability of most refineries is in the 90-95% range, so if we assumed 92.5% on-stream time, the refinery processes 2.6 million * 365 * 0.925, or 879 million gallons of crude oil per year. The water usage then amounts to 456 million/879 million, or 0.52 gallons of water per gallon of crude oil processed.

March 20, 2007 Posted by | oil refineries, water usage | 46 Comments

Water Usage in an Oil Refinery

There has been much controversy regarding the amount of water used to produce a gallon of ethanol. Considering just the usage in the ethanol plant (ignoring any irrigation requirements for the corn), this amounts to about 4 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol produced:

New Research Paper Finds Water Availability Critical to Growth of Ethanol Industry

Generally, an ethanol plant will use 10 gallons of water per minute for each 1 million gallons of ethanol produced. A typical 50 million gallon plant, would need 500 gallons per minute of water.

There are no publicly available records on water use by ethanol plants in the United States, the authors found, with the exception of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Minnesota plants use a range of 3.5 to 6 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol. Average water use has declined from 5.8:1 in 1998 to 4.2:1 in 2005.

Authors of the paper said 4 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol is a good estimate with the current technology.

I have frequently been asked how this compares to the water usage for an oil refinery, and each time I do some back of the envelope calculations and come up with about 0.5 gallons of water per gallon of crude oil processed. But the question comes up often enough that it is worth documenting.

According to an article in the February 18, 2007 Billings Gazette:

Here are the top users of the Billings Public Utilities Department

TOP WATER USERS (GALLONS PER YEAR)

1. Billings Heights Water District, 848 million.

2. ConocoPhillips Refinery, 456 million.

3. PPL Montana, 53.4 million.

4. Casa Village Mobile Home Court*, 49.6 million.

5. St. Vincent Healthcare**, 39.6 million.

The ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings processes 62,000 bbls of crude oil, or 2.6 million gallons per day. The reliability of most refineries is in the 90-95% range, so if we assumed 92.5% on-stream time, the refinery processes 2.6 million * 365 * 0.925, or 879 million gallons of crude oil per year. The water usage then amounts to 456 million/879 million, or 0.52 gallons of water per gallon of crude oil processed.

March 20, 2007 Posted by | oil refineries, water usage | 16 Comments

Water Usage in an Oil Refinery

There has been much controversy regarding the amount of water used to produce a gallon of ethanol. Considering just the usage in the ethanol plant (ignoring any irrigation requirements for the corn), this amounts to about 4 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol produced:

New Research Paper Finds Water Availability Critical to Growth of Ethanol Industry

Generally, an ethanol plant will use 10 gallons of water per minute for each 1 million gallons of ethanol produced. A typical 50 million gallon plant, would need 500 gallons per minute of water.

There are no publicly available records on water use by ethanol plants in the United States, the authors found, with the exception of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Minnesota plants use a range of 3.5 to 6 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol. Average water use has declined from 5.8:1 in 1998 to 4.2:1 in 2005.

Authors of the paper said 4 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol is a good estimate with the current technology.

I have frequently been asked how this compares to the water usage for an oil refinery, and each time I do some back of the envelope calculations and come up with about 0.5 gallons of water per gallon of crude oil processed. But the question comes up often enough that it is worth documenting.

According to an article in the February 18, 2007 Billings Gazette:

Here are the top users of the Billings Public Utilities Department

TOP WATER USERS (GALLONS PER YEAR)

1. Billings Heights Water District, 848 million.

2. ConocoPhillips Refinery, 456 million.

3. PPL Montana, 53.4 million.

4. Casa Village Mobile Home Court, 49.6 million.

5. St. Vincent Healthcare, 39.6 million.

The ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings processes 62,000 bbls of crude oil, or 2.6 million gallons per day. The reliability of most refineries is in the 90-95% range, so if we assumed 92.5% on-stream time, the refinery processes 2.6 million * 365 * 0.925, or 879 million gallons of crude oil per year. The water usage then amounts to 456 million/879 million, or 0.52 gallons of water per gallon of crude oil processed.

Note that this is actual make-up water that is brought into the refinery. In other words, this is the actual usage of the refinery.

March 20, 2007 Posted by | oil refineries, water usage | Comments Off on Water Usage in an Oil Refinery