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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Will Texaco be coming for the trees next?

Most of my professional reading has to do with taxes -- dense stuff, and dry as static most of the time. Last night I stumbled across an interesting piece, though. It was about the policy implications of tax incentives for alternative fuels -- ethanol in particular. And the author spent plenty of space educating us tax types about the basics of ethanol fuels as well as the tax rules that surround them.

The guy did not seem to have an ax to grind, and so I read the article with great interest. (Alas, no free link is available.) In it, I learned:

-- Ethanol is being mixed into gasoline as a replacement for MTBE, which was a replacement for lead. They all prevent engine knocking.

-- A study has shown that it takes more than three times as much fossil fuel energy to produce corn ethanol as it does to refine gasoline.

-- At an estimated U.S. production level of 9.8 billion gallons of ethanol in 2015, it will still be dwarfed by gasoline consumption of 160 billion gallons.

-- Even if all the available corn in the United States (5.95 bushels out of 15.05 billion bushels grown) is dedicated to ethanol production in 2015, it will produce only 17.9 billion gallons of ethanol.

-- Other than corn, the potential sources of ethanol are sugar and cellulose.

-- The United States isn't a great place to grow sugar, mostly because of the climate.

-- The government is working hard on finding a way to convert cellulose -- the ubiquitous basic building block of plants, and the most common organic compound on the planet -- into sugar. There's a demonstration plant on this in Ottawa.

-- Cellulosic ethanol takes far less fossil fuel to produce than corn ethanol does. And cellulosic reduces greenhouse gases much more efficiently than corn ethanol does.

-- If cellulose ethanol becomes a reality, about 1.3 billion tons of ethanol "feedstock" could be generated in this country every year.

And here's the part at which I really sat up and took notice:

-- "Of those 1.3 billion tons, one quarter would come from forests and forest products."


Comments (17)

The trouble is, even if there were an economically viable process for conversion, there's nowhere near enough cellulosic mass availble now, nor will there be in the forseeable future. Throw in the logistics of harvesting and transporting this stuff and you get a non-starter.

Hmmm...just a thought....I think there's oil in Alaska...also in the gulf....also off the Florida and California coasts....nuke plants are clean an efficient. Betcha exploiting and developing these resources wouldn't break the bank or decimate forests and corn fields.

As I say...just a thought.

I don't think transportation of feedstock would be that much of impediment. Just build ethanol plants where old lumber mills were.

I grew up in Hawaii, where sugar used to be king (that's why the US overthrew the legitimate Kingdom of Hawaii, after all), until we could get it cheaper from Latin America, and now tourism is king.... But I digress. I would love to be able to look forward to seeing the vast sugar fields, as opposed to the vast condo fields, when I go home for visits.

So, grow sugar, grow!

"Just build ethanol plants where old lumber mills were."

Right, then the gleaners can use all the convenient logging roads in the national forests and train spotted owls to be "spotting owls" for cellulosic waste.

Then we can build pipelines through the forests or run fleets of tanker trucks to the points of demand.

Might as well try to build Wal-Marts where the old lumber mills were.

The follies of political crrecness never cease to amse and amaze me.

Currently, Brazil's use of ethanol frm primarily sugar cane grown in the Amazon basin is the favored solution to fossil fuel use and global warming.

Is it just me, or was it no more than 5 years ago that Brazil's burning off Amazon basin jugle every three years or so to clear new cropland for planting sugar cane was being decried as a huge threat to planet wide oxygen production by jungle plant growth and a huge contributor to pollution from CO2 and particulates? Am I the ony one who remembers when it was PC to decry Brazilian jungle land clearing?

Seems the Brazilians were wearing out the soils in a each newly fire cleared area about every three years because they didn't use chemical fertilizers and the soils were poor to begin wth, so it was off anew every three years to burn another 100,000 square miles of jungle.

Yeah, thats real sustainable. Not.

No worries..

Soon, most types of traditional (burning) fuel will be a thing of the past.

In a year, over zealous scientists will be firing up the Large Hadron Collider, the worlds largest particle accelerator.

If successful, scientists should know enough about gravity and particle physics to create anti-gravity devices and zero-point energy devices.

That of course is if they don't destroy the earth & solar system by creating a stable black hole, strange matter, or a portal to hell; and/or destroy the universe by starting the big bang 2.0.

Either way we wont need to worry about fossil fuels for much longer.

I'm not advocating the ethanol plants in the forests.

But I'm warning that they're coming.

The only feedstock that makes even marginal sense for cellulosic ethanol production, from a distribution standpoint, is some sort of cultivated crop (like the famous switchgrass). That or anything like it will still have to be massively subsidized. If that's what it takes, then that's what it takes, better farmers than international oil companies. BUT, there are vastly more promising ideas in the pipeline (so to speak).

The road to energy self-sufficience is a multi-lane highway - wind, solar, hydro, tidal, nuclear and some biofuels. The present electrical grid is the best core distribution method. Although it's already stressed, it's a known technology and rights of way already exist to meet upgraded transmission needs. The technology where investment will bring the very best returns is BATTERY technology. Subsidies in this area, if successful, would produce a solution with the lowest cost, best adaptability and integration, fairly seamless market penetration and long term applicability.

That's where I'd invest my nickel.

If I had one.

Regarding corn ethanol...people have been reciting those facts for a while now, but they just get written off as oil whores.
If someone with an "axe to grind" reads the same facts, are they somehow different?

Wind, Hydro, nuclear....hmmm, not likely.

The NIMBYs & PC freaks here are against all of those. Wind hurts birds, hydro hurts fish, and nuclear hurts everyone.
I figure eventually, they will find a reason to bitch about ethanol as well.

They wont quit until cars are a thing of legend, and we all live in a condo downtown and ride bikes or mass transit.

Jon: They wont quit until cars are a thing of legend, and we all live in a condo downtown and ride bikes or mass transit.
jk: But mass transit does not save energy compared to new cars. Hybrids beat the pants off of both bus and toy trains.


The bottom line is that so-called alternatives just can't match our current consuption. That is, Peak Oil (Coal, gas etc.) will force us to downsize regardless and even more that what PC freaks are lecturing about.

FOOD is the thing we should have our eyes on, and if you don't know how to grow it yourself, watch out.

Tooling around in cars or counting angels on the head of a pin on blogs and sipping latte will be distant sweet memories.

Technology can't solve this one because it was technology is the meth that we're hooked on.

Well, no less prestigious an organization than the United Nations itself has recently come out with a report that clearly indicates that the worst source of "greenhouse gas" comes not from the CO2 we produce when driving or firing up the ol' computer. Nope, the worst source, nearly 25% more effective as a "greenhouse gas" is:

cow farts.

Oh, they look so cute with their heads to the ground.

Grazing and chewing, just farting around.

But humans grow cows to make milk, meat and cheese.

The cows take revenge by farting around as you sleep.

Yet they make methane,
and that's a burnable fuel.

They're making methane;
we just need to find a tool.

They're making methane,
and we can put it to use.

Just train them to back up when they're ready to poot.

JackBog, that is why I drive around with a used christmas tree in my trunk for six months.

The wonder's of cellulosic ethanol are counterbalanced by the fact that nobody yet knows how to produce it on a large scale or what the true EROEI (energy return on energy invested) will be. Using vast amounts of crop land (or any land) to grow fuel is sure to create problems.

In my experience the best starting point for keeping track of all things in alternative energy and oil supply is the Energy Bulletin - http://www.energybulletin.net/ . I read the links it provides regularly.

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