Monday, May 19, 2008

Watching the hippies twitch.

So now that we have corn squeezins in our petrol, it seems that the very same squishy types who were all in favor of this are now all tore up because they can't pump their cake and feed it to poor people too.

This is a great year for watching liberals in a quandary. First came the primary voting in which they had to decide if they were a racist dog or a sexist pig, now they have to decide if they want to fiddle with biofuels while watching the poor go hungry. Ah, TANSTAAFL; always there like a garden rake waiting to smack the unwary in the face when they tread upon it.

21 comments:

OA said...

Frank James had a good post on this back on May 8. Worth the read, given his familiarity on the subject.

Anonymous said...

I had one of my genius classmates, in an engineering program, tell the class that biofuels can't have any effect on the food supply because people don't eat the kind of corn that is used to make ethanol. He didn't say but apparently the same is true with soy.

Oldsmoblogger said...

Yeah, it's not planted in the same kind of land either (eyeroll).

...now they have to decide if they want to fiddle with biofuels while watching the poor go hungry.

When you get to the bottom of the compost pile, it's a feature not a bug: a number of hard-left greens, in their shriveled souls, support the dieoff so long as it ain't them doing the dying.

Peripatetic Engineer said...

There are sooooo many examples of Murphy's Law of Unintended Consequenses:

Compact flourescent bulbs contain mercury and there are no systems in place to collect and recycle them safely.

California laws inhibit the private use of cooking oil as diesel because the user needs to pay the fuel tax to the state.

Land used for growing food is now used to grow corn for ethanol which is subsidized by Uncle Sam and gives the farmer a bigger payday. Therefore, the cost of feed grain increases and also drives up cost of beef and milk.

Energy required to grow and distill ethanol from corn is more than what you get from it leading to a economic and thermodynamic death spiral.

Anonymous said...

"Energy required to grow and distill ethanol from corn is more than what you get from it leading to a economic and thermodynamic death spiral."

IF you cherry pick your studies, There are only one or two studies that show ethanol as having a negative energy balance. Most the recent studies show there is a retuen of ~1.25 from corn ethanol.
As I have said elsewhere you also need to consider that this is a developing technology, not a final state. If you applied this thinking to a number of other technologies as they devloped developing we would be without alot of this. For example the horse and buggy where much superior to early cars in both terms of capacity and range. Early jet engines lasted only about 1/10th as long as internal combustion engines. And there feul consumption was, and still is much greater for the same power.

Alan said...

There's an interesting difference between economic efficiency and engineering efficiency. In fact when choosing a fuel, engineering efficiency is the least important factor.

Ethanol would fail the engineering efficiency test if it is less energy efficient than gasoline. It's a simple test. However, there are many fuels that are more energy efficient than gasoline, but we don't use them because they're more expensive than gasoline.


I can imagine a scenario where ethanol might be more economically efficient than oil despite being less energy efficient.

Suppose oil was worth more as a source of complex long chain molecules than as a motor fuel. So much so that it's value as a source for plastic made oil so expensive that gasoline was more expensive than ethanol.

In that case ethanol might be more economically efficient as a fuel than gasoline despite it being less energy efficient.

Electric cars are in a similar situation. Electricity produced from centralized plants is far more efficient than burning gasoline. (Try powering your house from a generator)

Unfortunately electric cars are less economically efficient at the moment because the life cycle price of electric cars is is higher than gasoline powered cars.

We will continue to burn gasoline until some other fuel becomes cheaper than gasoline. The thermodynamic efficiency of the fuel doesn't matter.

alath said...

quote:"Suppose oil was worth more as a source of complex long chain molecules than as a motor fuel. So much so that it's value as a source for plastic made oil so expensive that gasoline was more expensive than ethanol."

Or, suppose oil was predominantly found very far away, in lands populated by people of an umbrageous and hostile culture, so that we were always having to fight wars and/or transfer massive wealth and power to brutal feudalistic tyrants in order to maintain our oil supply line.

I'd trade off a bit of thermodynamic effeciency to avoid that kind of scenario.

Anonymous said...

Wait until some genius figures out a way to make ethanol from rice and wheat... Then we can watch the rest of the world starve...OR we can start drilling in the atric and off-shore and building refineries.. In 10 years we'll have the whole world by the short hairs... JimB

jimbob86 said...

"Energy required to grow and distill ethanol from corn is more than what you get from it leading to a economic and thermodynamic death spiral."

....... According to SOME studies (some of which include the energy from the sun to grow the corn in the calculations!. And the naysayers also do not count the byproducts (everything from distillers grains to plastics) that come out of those plants and are sold. It is not about energy efficiency (which given free market forces, WILL improve)- it is about economics. If money can be made at it, companies will make it work. The bottom line IS the bottom line, and starvin' Haitians are NOT going to pay any bills.

verword- rxgopmp.....Rx go pump?

Flintlock Tom said...

Breaking News:

"Cure for HIV found in the livers of dolphins."


Doh!

kishnevi said...

And yesterday I saw a quote which blamed burning rain forests on starving farmers trying to clear land, with the clear implication that the farmers should be happily starving so the rest of the world can hug some more trees.

What's scary is that the twit who said this was not some anonymous hippie. He was Charles Philip Arthur George Windsor. We have AlGore, the UK has the Prince of Wales.

Peripatetic Engineer said...

David Pimental, a leading Cornell University agricultural expert, has calculated that powering the average U.S. automobile for one year on ethanol (blended with gasoline) derived from corn would require 11 acres of farmland, the same space needed to grow a year's supply of food for seven people. Adding up the energy costs of corn production and its conversion into ethanol, 131,000 BTUs are needed to make one gallon of ethanol. One gallon of ethanol has an energy value of only 77,000 BTUS. Thus, 70 percent more energy is required to produce ethanol than the energy that actually is in it. Every time you make one gallon of ethanol, there is a net energy loss of 54,000 BTUs.

from http://healthandenergy.com/ethanol.htm

alath said...

quote "Every time you make one gallon of ethanol, there is a net energy loss of 54,000 BTUs."

As others have pointed out, this is not necessarily a purely thermodynamic question but primarily an economic one.

If all forms of energy were totally fungible, and for instance the output of a hydroelectric dam and a nuclear power plant and a corn field could all equally well serve as a portable source of power for vehicles, then perhaps the thermodynamic question would predominate and ethanol would be a provably bad choice based purely on energy calculations.

However, energy is not a fungible commodity that can be effortlessly transmuted from one form to another, and forms that can be put in the tank of a car and driven around are inherently more valuable than forms that cannot.

If it is the case (I emphasize IF), that forms of energy that are relatively inexpensive and poorly usable in vehicles can be used to make ethanol less expensively than an equivalent amount of gasoline can be produced, then ethanol production may still be a useful exchange economically despite seeming like a poor choice thermodynamically.

I have not done the math to determine whether that IF holds or not, but if market forces are allowed to operate, they will do so and we will have an answer rather quickly. That is why I agree with those who oppose ethanol subsidies. But opposing ethanol per se, on thermodynamic or other grounds, doesn't make any sense.

Anonymous said...

This study is exactly what I was refering to, It is one study, that is flawed by methodology. It is not done by an agricultural expert, but by an entomologist. He includes such energy input as the daily calorie intake of the farmer.

OA said...

Lots of bickering about the production aspect, but did anyone mention that ethanol doesn't return the same mpg as petrol?

alath said...

quote:"Lots of bickering about the production aspect, but did anyone mention that ethanol doesn't return the same mpg as petrol?"

Not mentioned here yet, but this is still essentially an economic question. If, for instance, ethanol produced .8 the mpg at .4 the overall cost relative to gasoline, that would still be a good deal. If it produced .5 the mpg at .9 the overall cost relative to gasoline, that would not be a good deal.

Again, this is the kind of question that the market solves very quickly unless it is interfered with.

OA said...

Of course it's still a matter of economics...what isn't? Point being, not only is legitimately useful ethanol a ways off, not only does it have more issues than petrol (the need for special fuel components, less efficient, etc...), but it also has many of the same problems as oil when it comes to supply and production. At this point oil shale would be the better bet to get us through the transition to whatever the "next big thing" will be when it comes to getting us and our stuff from here to there.

Peripatetic Engineer said...

There is data anywhere you look to tell you 85% ethanol reduces mileage about 30% compared to gasoline. And that makes sense because there is less energy in a gallon of ethanol(76,000 BTU vs. 116,090 BTU). Here's one from an Edmunds road test:

Gas Result: From San Diego to Las Vegas and back, we used 36.5 gallons of regular gasoline and achieved an average fuel economy of 18.3 mpg.

Gas Cost: We spent $124.66 for gasoline for the trip. The average pump price was $3.42 per gallon.

E85 Result: From San Diego to Las Vegas and back we used 50 gallons of E85 and achieved an average fuel economy of 13.5 mpg.

E85 Cost: We spent $154.29 on E85 for the trip. The average pump price was $3.09 per gallon

Gas/E85 difference:The fuel economy of our Tahoe on E85, under these conditions, was 26.5 percent worse than it was when running on gas.

Full report here http://www.edmunds.com/advice/alternativefuels/articles/120863/article.html

Txredraider said...

One key point to remember about ethanol derived from corn: people may not consume that corn, but we consume the animals that do. Be it good or bad, because our animal agriculture in the US is based on grain-fed animals, we need to look elsewhere for our ethanol feedstock. The 25% increase over the last year in milk and eggs can be primarily contributed to the increase in grain prices due to the ethanol subsidy. There is nothing wrong with ethanol, but perhaps we should be making it out of grass, wood waste, or anything besides the basis for our animal agriculture in the US.

alath said...

quote: "whatever the "next big thing" will be"

I don't think there's going to be one "next big thing" in the sense of a single predominant vehicle fuel that has the same market share gas/diesel has had.

I think there will be multiple "mini" solutions; none of them ideal. All of them will be some combination of more expensive and less convenient than petrol has historically been. Petrol itself will continue to be used, albeit at increasingly higher prices.

Other solutions such as hydrogen fuel cells, biofuels, hybrids, propane, electric batteries, etc., will all be marginally improved and most of them will probably wind up being useful under certain "niche" conditions. None of them, and I seriously doubt any new innovation we haven't heard of yet, will wind up being the "next petrol" in the sense of a single way of powering 99.9% of all vehicles that's cheap enough for large numbers of us to live 40 miles away from our workplaces and use an 8,000 pound vehicle to transport a single person 80 miles per day, and do so affordably. To varying extents we have designed our communities and lifestyles around super-cheap vehicle fuel. There's going to be a painful transition as we adapt to new realities.

And, I still maintain, that the relative mpg ineffeciency of ethanol is an extremely tangential issue. The only thing that fact means, in isolation, is that existing cars' fuel tanks may somewhat smaller than optimal for an ethanol powered vehicle. Any other implication of that fact depends on other variables, primarily economic ones.

Assrot said...

I swear woman. Sometimes you just kill me. I don't know why but this post has me ROFLMAO.

TANSTAAFL indeed!

I love you so much sometimes.

:-)

Joe