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Rizzo

MSU prof says Ethanol Energy Net Loss is myth.

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My question after reading this is: Who do you believe? The two experts that claim that ethanol production uses more energy than it produces, or this guy who says the opposite? Is he right about the invalidity of using BTU's?

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I don't think that there is any one "magic bullet" fuel that will end oil dependancy. Sometimes it seems as if everyone thinks that someday a scientist will shout "eureka!" and the next year we'll all be driving hydrogen/ethanol/whaever cars around town, and its not going to happen that way. I would guess that the marketplace will eventually produce all kinds of hybrid cars and hybrid fuels, where we are still consuming oil, but only a small portion of what we consume now.

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Cars wont run on highly explosive hydrogen, or continue to run on fossil fuels.

I think the Electric car makes a return... as we move towards renewable fuels (bio-fuels), solar, wind, and nuclear fission for electricity generation.

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In related news, and in concert with thinking that there should be multiple choices for alternative energy, GM has announced they will begin making a plug-in hybrid Saturn. Let's hope they actually take this and expand the offerings.

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I can add this.

My grandfather was a moonshiner in SC during the depression and prohibition. (1930s for those of you who don't know history) He kept the stills hidden in the woods on his farm and I am told the stuff he produced was very high quality. His raw ingredients were the corn and sugar cane that he produced on the farm and he fueled the still with the discarded cane stalks, corn stalks and wood on the farm. All of it renewable.

So what does moonshine have to do with this story?

When WWII came there was gasoline rationing and it was really in short supply. He needed more gasoline than what his ration amounted to, so he revived his still, which he had closed down by the late 30s at the urging of my grandmother who didn't agree with it. The moonshine (ethanol) that he produced was 198 proof and when mixed with the gasoline he could get, made a perfect fuel for their car, truck (both GM vehicles BTW), and the farm tractor. There was no net energy loss in the process.

If he could do it with the technology available to him in the 1940s we can certainly produce ethanol today in a renewable fashion.

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Corn-based ethanol isn't particularly efficient. Sugar cane yields something like 8 times as much ethanol per acre than corn. So if corn-based ethanol is around the break even point in terms of energy consumed vs. energy produced (as evidenced by the conflicting views), then sugar cane or switch grass could probably be a very effective oil replacement (well, supplement).

Further, ethanol has the advantage that it can rely almost entirely on existing infrastructure. Engines can already run on ethanol. New gas pumps will be needed, but gas stations already exist. Tanker trucks already exist. It's got a promising future. Further, hybrid vehicles could run on ethanol just as well as gasoline, so we can still benefit from hybrid technology.

As others have mentioned ethanol will probably just be one piece of the energy pie. It fits well with our existing highway system because it's such a portable source of energy. It probably doesn't make sense to use ethanol to heat your home or to fuel airplanes or to generate electricity.

There is a bit of fear over peak oil and what will happen to the world economy once the production of cheap oil starts declining. Oil prices would soar, but alternative energy sources should temper our appetite for oil at that point and keep some equilibrium in the market. I don't think we're headed for some doomsday scenario.

-nb

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There is a bit of fear over peak oil and what will happen to the world economy once the production of cheap oil starts declining. Oil prices would soar, but alternative energy sources should temper our appetite for oil at that point and keep some equilibrium in the market. I don't think we're headed for some doomsday scenario.

-nb

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...... Does anyone know if there are any initiatives in Washington that are stating a mandatory % of import reduction?

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The biggest issue I see with ethanol is that it still takes a lot of energy to bring the energy to your gas tank. You have to grow the corn, which takes energy using tractors. Then you have to harvest it and process it in an energy using facility. Then you have to ship it to the gas stations. All of this uses an incredible amount of energy, most of which is still fossil fuel. The point is that, without reduced consumption, there is no "magic bullet" to solve our energy needs. Simply switching from one source to another solves nothing. We have to change our lifestyles (walk, don't drive) in order to effect real change.

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Do you think it takes more energy than sucking it out of the ground in the middle east, loading it on a huge oil tanker and shipping it 1/2 way across the globe, sending it to a refinery where it goes through very complex chemical process, then finally injected into a pipe line to be shipped around the country. Lets also not forget that we have a significant portion of our Navy protecting these tankers which represents a huge expenditure of energy as well.

I do agree with you that consumption really isn't being addressed.

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Do you think it takes more energy than sucking it out of the ground in the middle east, loading it on a huge oil tanker and shipping it 1/2 way across the globe, sending it to a refinery where it goes through very complex chemical process, then finally injected into a pipe line to be shipped around the country. Lets also not forget that we have a significant portion of our Navy protecting these tankers which represents a huge expenditure of energy as well.

I do agree with you that consumption really isn't being addressed.

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Good discussion. I agree with the embodied energy points. Huge amounts of energy are tied up in the transport and refining.

People interested in this should also check out the thread in the Tree Hugger's Lounge as well. There's some interesting info there. Linky 1 Related Linky

I saw an interesting report from some engineers at GM a few weeks ago. The basic message was that if we used 100% of the US corn crop to make Ethanol we would only be able to meet 16% of the demand for fuel. Their recommendation was investing in biomass technologies, mainly switchgrass, as another viable source for Ethanol. The bigger message was that we need to reduce consumption.

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Good discussion. I agree with the embodied energy points. Huge amounts of energy are tied up in the transport and refining.

People interested in this should also check out the thread in the Tree Hugger's Lounge as well. There's some interesting info there. Linky 1 Related Linky

I saw an interesting report from some engineers at GM a few weeks ago. The basic message was that if we used 100% of the US corn crop to make Ethanol we would only be able to meet 16% of the demand for fuel. Their recommendation was investing in biomass technologies, mainly switchgrass, as another viable source for Ethanol. The bigger message was that we need to reduce consumption.

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GM engineers helped to develop the very successful ethanol industry in Brazil so its a rather confusing position. One wonders if there are other motives at play here.

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You guys aren't getting what I'm saying. They're not condemning Ethanol they are advocating making it from another source or a variety of sources. Why would GM be biased whether you make ethanol from corn, switchgrass, biomass, or any other source you can make it from?

As with any science issue you'll have as many different disputes as there are people to write about them. If you haven't seen the movie Inconvenient Truth yet, I recommend it. It hammers that point home.

I had a discussion with Lester Brown the founder of the Earth Policy Institute about this when he was in town a couple of weeks ago. He thought the numbers were right on.

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You guys aren't getting what I'm saying. They're not condemning Ethanol they are advocating making it from another source or a variety of sources. Why would GM be biased whether you make ethanol from corn, switchgrass, biomass, or any other source you can make it from?

As with any science issue you'll have as many different disputes as there are people to write about them. If you haven't seen the movie Inconvenient Truth yet, I recommend it. It hammers that point home.

I had a discussion with Lester Brown the founder of the Earth Policy Institute about this when he was in town a couple of weeks ago. He thought the numbers were right on.

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Ted-

I know this is not the Freidman piece, but this is another article that you had sent to me regarding the ethanol economics and how it relates to the corn farmers.

Grist

When I was in South Dakota a few years ago, these ethanol production facilities were starting to come on-line. Many were financed by farmers in a co-op situation. They were putting their life savings into these and mortgaging their future on the premise that all of this might work.

I commend all who are trying to find alternate solutions to the oil dependency and I hope that we someday find the magic bullet. But hope alone will not solve the problem.

I have heard hydrogen, ethanol, electric, nuclear, etc. Maybe these will work in combination to ease the consumption of petroleum, but they will not allow us to continue to live in the arrangements that we are used to. When Dick Cheney said that our way of life was not negotiable, he was dead nuts wrong. We will be negotiating it and re-arranging it - by making tough decisions.

The ethanol, whether it is a net loser or not, is suspicious to me. We currenty use corn for a majority of our food supply. Something like 80% of the McDonalds menu is corn based. We will not be able to divert our corn production from food to fuel, without making other sacrifices. I would prefer to eat, rather than drive, but that is just me.

Additionally, electric, hydrogen and nuclear all are built off from a fossil fuel platform. Most of our electrical comes from natural gas, nuclear or burning coal, which is shipped via rail from mines where deisel is used to run the mining equipment. Not to mention the utter destruction of the environment by the Bush cronies in these mining operations or the amount of mercury now in the great lakes basin. The ultra heavy construction of nuclear plants requires large amounts of fossil fuel. Hydrogen likewise is built off from this fossil fuel platform.

The other problem is the increasing natural gas shortages. Natural gas can not be shipped without huge expenses and much of the continental natural gas is running out. In this climate, do we have an alternate to heat our homes? Nothing can replace the simplicity of natural gas - just flip the thermostat and walla, you have heat. No need to stoke the fire or get up early in the morning and feed the coal burner so that you have hot water.

The solutions to these problems are tough, but the best way to attack them, is to change our consumption (demand) side, rather than trying to change the supply side of the equation. The best way to do that is to begin to really scrutinize our living arrangements at large. 40+ mile commutes, the Walmart experience, McMansions, mono-culture development, agri-business, strawberries in the winter, etc, etc.

We will never find a complete replacement for petroleum and fossil fuels. They are/were a blip in our history.

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Additionally, electric, hydrogen and nuclear all are built off from a fossil fuel platform. Most of our electrical comes from natural gas, nuclear or burning coal, which is shipped via rail from mines where deisel is used to run the mining equipment. Not to mention the utter destruction of the environment by the Bush cronies in these mining operations or the amount of mercury now in the great lakes basin. The ultra heavy construction of nuclear plants requires large amounts of fossil fuel. Hydrogen likewise is built off from this fossil fuel platform.

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The other problem is the increasing natural gas shortages. Natural gas can not be shipped without huge expenses and much of the continental natural gas is running out.

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