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Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Looks like the whole alternative fuels thing is having trouble accelerating.

It's about that time of year when the oil companies jack us all around at the pump, however. Maybe when we're back at $4 a gallon, bio-gas will be profitable.

Meanwhile, out at the wind farm...

Comments (19)

Remember you heard it here first. The Obama Administration and the media will start using the phrase MCBD's when referring to windmills. Windmills are now known as Man Caused Bat Disasters.

Hey, I'm all for alternative fuels, but the price of gas/NG/oil/coal is going to have to go up either by demand or passing a law like cap-n-trade.

I'd love to see them take a look at nuclear, but it's probably (besides the waste) the least impact and cheapest way to go. A lot of the other schemes are dependent on generating a ton of extra electrical capacity, but that has a big cost since no new dams and the grid is getting stretched pretty thin.

Sadly, most of the alternative fuels movement was financed by bubble mentality, and it's only getting worse. I've been very interested in biofuels for thirty years, and one of the great follies of the whole ethanol bubble was that everyone was building new distilleries but nobody bothered to build an infrastructure to get that ethanol to customers. Besides, last year was when investors realized what any decent chemical engineer could have told them in 1979: using corn and other food grains for ethanol production is actually more expensive than drilling for oil, especially considering the significantly lower energy value of the ethanol. (Let us also not get into the basic problems with ethanol's corrosive capabilities on engine parts.

Now, that's not to say that I'm a complete atheist on biofuels. The concept of biodiesel makes a lot more sense, especially since it theoretically could be refined to the point where it could replace jet fuel. Not quite so many investors have been burned on biodiesel projects as with ethanol (although Willie Nelson lost his shirt), so it still has research money coming in. Best of all, for a lot of farmers in Idaho who are trying to get federal permission to plant hemp throughout the state, hemp seeds make a very high-quality biodiesel with much less environmental damage and almost no need for commercial fertilizers. If not for the Drug Enforcement Agency, which classifies industrial hemp as a drug because both plants are in the genus Cannabis, we'd probably see innumerable small farms throughout the Midwest switching to profitable biodiesel crops instead of collecting subsidies to grow more corn.

Subsidized ethanol production will need an infusion to headoff the shortage of mandated ethanol gasoline. I look forward to an emergency gasoline tax this summer (easy to hide in the $4.00+ a gallon summer price) as soon as next year's cold climate prediction hits the news.

Imagine how bad the ethonol problem would be without Randy Leonard's gross incomeptence in contracting the city to pay $7.00/gallon.

I wonder if Randy is considering throwing money at the plant to keep it afloat?

After all it's for a good cause?

That hurt to type.

Tex: The primary reason that agrodiesel (biodiesel made from crops, rather than from waste oil that can no longer be reused) is more FAIL is the land use footprint (which drives the HUGE greenhouse gas penalty caused by having to convert other land to grow food if the best ag land is going to be used to grow fuel).

For a nice graphic explanation of this, see

Steve: "Hey, I'm all for alternative fuels, but the price of gas/NG/oil/coal is going to have to go up either by demand or passing a law like cap-n-trade."

This is not correct. Agrofuels (ethanol and agrodiesel) will never be cheaper than fossil fuels because all they are is a way to use land to launder fossil fuels into so-called green fuels. No matter how much of a price you put on fossil carbon, agrofuels will stay higher because, in North America, agrofuels are nothing but fossil energy converted to a form that garners huge subsidies.

When oil was $20 a barrel, we were told that agrofuels would take off at $40/bbl; when oil was $40/bbl, agrofuels needed $60 oil, and so on, right up through $150/bbl oil.

The bottom line is that agrofuels are a giant scam that would not exist outside the R&D lab if not for lobbying power to drive mandates (an infinite subsidy -- you are forced to buy a product that has negative value) and subsidies (cash theft by agribiz).

It would also be nice if Ted and his merry band of Greenie-Weenies in Salem; actually looked at the huge amount of money they have poured into biofuels and used it for more pressing concerns.

Best thing is about the Cummins 6BT Diesel engine, is that it will run on regular Diesel, Biodiesel, F-T synthdiesel, and waste oils of any kind, provided they are filtered well beforehand. It will even run on used motor oil or or tranny fluid, but you really have to filter those first.

Will alternative methods of producing diesel oils work on an extremely wide scale one day, such as with algae biodiesel or F-T ? Maybe not, but maybe so. That industry is still in it's infancy.

Meanwhile, those old 12 valve Cummins mills...some of the toughest motors ever made...will burn nearly any kind of waste oil with just a few mods, and that suits me just fine.

The press hasn't noticed, but the US is now swimming in Natural gas - recent finds in the Haynesville Shale in n. Louisiana have up to 200 trillion cu ft (33 billion bbl oil equivalent) & with finds in Texas, Ark & Penna, we may have up to 2,200 trillion cu ft - enough for 100 years at current usage. See Wall St Journal 30 April 09. It's no panacea, but twice as clean as coal & suitable as a bridge fuel for electric generation & vehicle fuel until the really clean technologies mature (if they're not strangled in the crib by low Nat Gas prices). The entire state of Michigan is lying atop potentially gas-bearing shale (except Detroit, which can't catch a break). Go by Nat Gas fueled Car!

"Agrofuels (ethanol and agrodiesel) will never be cheaper than fossil fuels"

I realize agro-fuels cost is tied to the price of fossil fuels. However, if fossil fuels got super-expensive, there'd be a point when agro-fuels are cheaper since fossil fuel is a smaller component of the cost as opposed to gas.

Why is everyone so obsessed with ethanol as an alternative fuel? It's less energy dense compared to gas, so people are disappointed when their MPG goes down drastically and reduces vehicle range. It's highly corrosive, so you have to replace every single part of a gas station including pumps, nozzles, disconnects, etc. It also absorbs water easily corroding parts and further lowering MPG. This means a whole lot of non-so-airtight gasoline tanks in cars and gas stations now will take on water even if properly lined for ethanol, not to mention shady gas stations that will dump water in their tanks. The advantage is ... it's subsidies? Ethanol is just silly compared to producing hexane or plain vegetable oil which are much easier to distribute and burn in cars.

Steve: Sorry to keep disagreeing, but you've got it exactly backwards. When fossil fuels are cheapest is when agrofuels would have their best chance to show a gain (because the percentage of the agrofuels' cost that is driven by the fossil energy inputs would be the least).

As the price of fossil fuels climbs, the fraction of agrofuels' cost that is not fossil fuels keeps getting smaller and smaller.

I still think something like Algae based bio-fuels have a good chance at being cheaper than oil based fuels at some point.

gs: You're right -- although "good chance" is subject to debate.

Say, there's an idea: let's take the money that Oregon and the feds are shoveling into agrofuels that we know are (a) worse for the climate; (b) worse for hunger and food prices; (c) worse for soil conservation; and (d) worse for biodiversity and put it into R&D into energy conservation, efficiency, and labwork on things like algal biodiesel.

There's no free lunch anywhere in the energy biz, but algal fuels merit further investigation. Too bad the lobbyists for ADM and companies like that have sucked up all the money that we could be spending on R&D.

Here's a worthwhile rundown on the challenges facing algal fuels from a very smart ChemE:


More Reality Checks for Algal Biodiesel I have to admit, when I first heard about algal biodiesel, I thought it was really an incredible concept. As time went by and I learned a bit more, reality sank in. The reality was brought on by Krassen Dimitrov's analysis of Greenfuel Technologies and their algae claims, as well as conversations I have had with John Benemann, who has been involved in algal biodiesel research for many years (and was co-author of the close-out report of the U.S. Department of Energy's Aquatic Species Program.) Krassen's analysis raised some eyebrows when he suggested that algal biodiesel would have to sell for $20.31 a gallon to be economically viable. That number was so far out there, that many people just dismissed it out of hand.

During my ASPO presentation last year (Biofuels: Facts and Fallacies) I discussed algal biodiesel, and mentioned Solix Biofuels by name and in my slides. Interestingly, Bryan Wilson, a co-founder of the company, just went on record and suggested Krassen was an optimist:

Algae Biodiesel: It's $33 a Gallon

Algae biofuel startup Solix, for instance, can produce biofuel from algae right now, but it costs about $32.81 a gallon, said Bryan Wilson, a co-founder of the company and a professor at Colorado State University. The production cost is high because of the energy required to circulate gases and other materials inside the photo bioreactors where the algae grow. It also takes energy to dry out the biomass, and Solix uses far less water than other companies (see Cutting the Cost of Making Algae by 90%).

I can't tell you how refreshing (but very rare) it is to see an admission like this. The biggest warning signal there is that high costs are due to high energy requirements. This suggests a very poor energy return, which means that as oil prices rise, algae won't necessarily become more viable. It will be subject to the Law of Receding Horizons, which simply means that energy sources that require high energy inputs will always see their point of economic viability pushed farther out as energy prices rise. Remember when oil was $20 a barrel, and oil shale was going to be viable at $40 oil? By the time oil got to $100, I was hearing that it would be viable at $120 oil.

internal links omitted. It's really worth reading the whole thing.


Note in this Salem story, that half the money ($700k of $1.4M) is from the Oregon BETC (Business Energy Tax Credit) program --

In other words, we have a very low- likelihood speculative venture being funded by the state -- the state that is looking at a HUGE budget hole -- without even a plausible demonstration or proof of concept being required.

Wow, this is like watching Mayor Creepy's meltdown, only on agrofuels:

Even TIME magazine is onto the story:


Don't know if anyone is still reading here, but there's an important story here:

Burning Biomass to Charge Electric Vehicles Beats Fueling Cars with Ethanol according to this study by scientists from the University of California, Stanford University and Carnegie Institution for Science.

"Campbell says there is no level of efficiency for converting biomass to ethanol achievable in the near future where bioelectricity-powered EVs don’t win."


When will Oregon environmentalists hop off Big Ag's lap and start worrying about the environment again?

Speaking of environmental worries, GAS, there is also the question of comparative CO2 emissions. The EPA is at last able to begin addressing this matter:

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