US Ethanol Industry Has a 4.9 Billion Gallon Year; Consumption Beats RFS Standard by 1 Billion Gallons
29 December 2006
|Iowa’s ethanol output, 1978-2006. Click to enlarge.|
US ethanol production in October tied the all-time high set in September 2006 of 333,000 barrels per day (bpd), according to data released by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The US ethanol industry was averaging 310,000 bpd of production through October, an annualized volume of 4.75 billion gallons. Industry estimates show ethanol production reaching 4.9 billion gallons for the year, an increase of more than 25% from 2005, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.
Demand for ethanol also soared in 2006. October demand was 391,000 bpd, up from 278,000 bpd in 2005. For the year, demand has averaged 339,000 bpd or more than 4.3 billion gallons. Total demand for 2006 will greatly exceed 5 billion gallons, more than one billion gallons over the requirement of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).
The state of Iowa alone accounted for almost 31% of that output, with a record 1.5 billion gallon produced in 2006, according to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. That level of output represents a 36% increase from the prior record of 1.1 billion gallons, set in 2005.
Since 2002, Iowa’s ethanol output has grown an average 36% per year, increasing 3.4 times from 440 million gallons.
Iowa ethanol plants consumed more than 550 million bushels of corn in 2006—about 25% of the state’s total corn harvest.
Iowa has more ethanol plants than any other state, including 16 new ethanol plants and five major expansions under construction.
From: ww4report.com, Dec. 15, 2006
[ before going any further, you should at least read the two papers mentioned in the article,
one from the PNAS-Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences,
and the other from NRR-Natural Resources Research journal ]
THE REAL SCOOP ON BIOFUELS
"Green Energy" Panacea or Just the Latest Hype?
By Brian Tokar*
You can hardly open up a major newspaper or national magazine these
days without encountering the latest hype about biofuels, and how
they're going to save oil, reduce pollution and prevent climate
change. Bill Gates, Sun Microsystems' Vinod Khosla, and other major
venture capitalists are investing millions in new biofuel production,
whether in the form of ethanol, mainly derived from corn in the U.S.
today; or biodiesel, mainly from soybeans and canola seed. It's
virtually a "modern day gold rush," as described by the New York
Times, paraphrasing the chief executive of Cargill, one of the main
benefactors of increased subsidies to agribusiness and tax credits to
refiners for the purpose of encouraging biofuel production.
The Times reported June 25, 2006 that some 40 new ethanol plants are
currently under construction in the US, aiming toward a 30% increase
in domestic production. Archer Daniels Midland, the company that first
sold the idea of corn-derived ethanol as an auto fuel to Congress in
the late 1970s, has doubled its stock price and profits over the last
two years. ADM currently controls a quarter of U.S. ethanol fuel
production, and recently hired a former Chevron executive as its CEO.
Several well-respected analysts have raised serious concerns about
this rapid diversion of food crops toward the production of fuel for
automobiles. WorldWatch Institute founder Lester Brown, long concerned
about the sustainability of world food supplies, says that fuel
producers are already competing with food processors in the world's
grain markets. "Cars, not people, will claim most of the increase in
grain production this year," reports Brown -- a serious concern in a
world where the grain required to make enough ethanol to fill an SUV
tank is enough to feed a person for a whole year. Others have
dismissed the ethanol gold rush as nothing more than the subsidized
burning of food to run automobiles.
The biofuel rush is having a significant impact worldwide as well.
Brazil, often touted as the most impressive biofuel success story, is
using half its annual sugarcane crop to provide 40% of its auto fuel,
while accelerating deforestation to grow more sugarcane and soybeans.
Malaysian and Indonesian rainforests are being bulldozed for oil palm
plantations -- threatening endangered orangutans, rhinos, tigers and
countless other species -- in order to serve at the booming European
market for biodiesel.
Are these reasonable tradeoffs for a troubled planet, or merely
another corporate push for profits? Two recent studies aim to document
the full consequences of the new biofuel economy and realistically
assess its impact on fuel use, greenhouse gases and agricultural
lands. One study, originating from the University of Minnesota, is
moderately hopeful in the first two areas, but offers a strong caution
about land use. The other, from Cornell University and UC Berkeley,
concludes that every domestic biofuel source -- those currently in use
as well as those under development -- produce less energy than is
consumed in growing and processing the crops.
The Minnesota researchers attempted a full lifecycle analysis of the
production of ethanol from corn and biodiesel from soy. They
documented the energy costs of fuel production, pesticide use,
transportation, and other key factors, and also accounted for the
energy equivalent of soy and corn byproducts that remain for other
uses after the fuel is extracted. Their paper, published in the July
25, 2006 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences, concluded that ethanol production offers a modest net energy
gain of 25% over oil, resulting in 12% less greenhouse gases than an
equivalent amount of gasoline. The numbers for biodiesel are more
promising, with a 93% net energy gain and a 41% reduction in
The researchers cautioned, however, that these figures do not account
for the significant environmental damage from increased acreages of
these crops, including the impacts of pesticides, nitrate runoff into
water supplies, nor the increased demand on water, as "energy crops"
like corn and soy begin to displace more drought-tolerant crops such
as wheat in several Midwestern states.
The most serious impact is on land use. The Minnesota paper reports
that in 2005, 14% of the U.S. corn harvest was used to produce some
3.9 billion gallons of ethanol, equivalent to 1.7% of current gasoline
usage. About 1 1/2 percent of the soy harvest produced 68 million
gallons of biodiesel, equivalent to less than one tenth of one percent
of gas usage. This means that if all of the country's corn harvest was
used to make ethanol, it would displace 12% of our gas; all of our
soybeans would displace about 6% of diesel use. But if the energy used
in producing these biofuels is taken into account, the picture becomes
worse still. It requires roughly eight units of gas to produce 10
units of ethanol, and five units of gas to produce 10 units of
biodiesel; hence the net is only two units of ethanol or five units of
biodiesel. Therefore the entire soy and corn crops combined would
really only less than 3% of current gasoline and diesel use. This is
where the serious strain on food supplies and prices originates.
The Cornell study is even more skeptical. Released in July 2005, it
was the product of an ongoing collaboration between Cornell
agriculturalist David Pimentel, environmental engineer Ted Patzek, and
their colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley, and was
published in the journal Natural Resources Research. This study found
that, on balance, making ethanol from corn requires 29% more fossil
fuel than the net energy produced and biodisel from soy results in a
net energy loss of 27%. Other crops, touted as solutions to the
apparent diseconomy of current methods, offer even worse results.
Switchgrass, for example, can grow on marginal land and presumably
won't compete with food production (you may recall George Bush's
mumbling about switchgrass in his 2006 State of the Union speech), but
it requires 45% more energy to harvest and process than the energy
value of the fuel that is produced. Wood biomass requires 57% more
energy than it produces, and sunflowers require more than twice as
much energy than is available in the fuel that is produced. "There is
just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel," said
David Pimentel in a Cornell press statement this past July. "These
strategies are not sustainable."
The Cornell/Berkeley study has drawn the attention of numerous
critics, some of whom suggest that Ted Patzek's background in
petroleum engineering disqualifies him from objectively assessing the
energy balance of biofuels. Needless to say, in a field where both oil
and agribusiness companies are vying for public subsidies, the
technical arguments can become rather furious. An earlier analysis by
the Chicago-area Argonne National Laboratory (once a Manhattan Project
offshoot) produced data much closer to the Minnesota results, but a
response by Patzek pointed out several potential flaws in that study's
shared assumptions with an earlier analysis by the USDA. In another
recent article, Harvard environmental scientist Michael McElroy
concurred with Pimentel and Patzek: "[U]nfortunately the promised
benefits [of ethanol] prove upon analysis to be largely ephemeral."
Even Brazilian sugarcane, touted as the world's model for conversion
from fossil fuels to sustainable "green energy," has its downside. The
energy yield appears beyond question: it is claimed that ethanol from
sugarcane may produce as much as eight times as much energy as it
takes to grow and process. But a recent World Wildlife Fund report for
the International Energy Agency raises serious questions about this
approach to future energy independence. It turns out that 80% of
Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions come not from cars, but from
deforestation -- the loss of embedded carbon dioxide when forests are
cut down and burned. A hectare of land may save 13 tons of carbon
dioxide if it is used to grow sugarcane, but the same hectare can
absorb 20 tons of CO2 if it remains forested. If sugarcane and soy
plantations continue to spur deforestation, both in the Amazon and in
Brazil's Atlantic coastal forests, any climate advantage is more than
outweighed by the loss of the forest.
Genetic engineering, which has utterly failed to produce healthier or
more sustainable food (and also failed to create a reliable source of
biopharmaceuticals without threatening the safety of our food supply)
is now being touted as the answer to sustainable biofuel production.
Biofuels were all the buzz at the biotech industry's most recent mega-
convention in April 2006, and biotech companies are all competing to
cash in on the biofuel bonanza. Syngenta (the world's largest
herbicide manufacturer and number three, after Monsanto and DuPont, in
seeds) is developing a GE corn variety that contains one of the
enzymes needed to convert corn starch into sugar before it can be
fermented into ethanol. Companies are vying to increase total starch
content, reduce lignin (necessary for the structural integrity of
plants but a nuisance for chemical processors), and increase crop
yields. Others are proposing huge plantations of fast-growing
genetically engineered low-lignin trees to temporarily sequester
carbon and ultimately be harvested for ethanol.
However, the utility of incorporating the amylase enzyme into crops is
questionable (it's also a potential allergen), gains in starch
production are marginal, and the use of genetic engineering to
increase crop yields has never proved reliable. Other more complex
traits, such as drought and salt tolerance (to grow energy crops on
land unsuited to food production), have been aggressively pursued by
geneticists for more than twenty years with scarcely a glimmer of
success. Genetically engineered trees, with their long life-cycle, as
well as seeds and pollen capable of spreading hundreds of miles in the
wild, are potentially a far greater environmental threat than
engineered varieties of annual crops. Even Monsanto, always the most
aggressive promoter of genetic engineering, has opted to rely on
conventional plant breeding for its biofuel research, according to the
New York Times (Sept. 8, 2006). Like "feeding the world" and
biopharmaceutical production before it, genetic engineering for
biofuels mainly benefits the biotech industry's public relations
Biofuels may still prove advantageous in some local applications, such
as farmers using crop wastes to fuel their farms, and running cars
from waste oil that is otherwise thrown away by restaurants. But as a
solution to long-term energy needs on a national or international
scale, the costs appear to far outweigh the benefits. The solution
lies in technologies and lifestyle changes that can significantly
reduce energy use and consumption, something energy analysts like
Amory Lovins have been advocating for some thirty years. From the
1970s through the '90s, the U.S. economy significantly decreased its
energy intensity, steadily lowering the amount of energy required to
produce a typical dollar of GDP. Other industrial countries have gone
far beyond the U.S. in this respect. But no one has figured out how to
make a fortune on conservation and efficiency. The latest biofuel hype
once again affirms that the needs of the planet, and of a genuinely
sustainable society, are in fundamental conflict with the demands of
wealth and profit.
* Brian Tokar directs the Biotechnology Project at Vermont's
Institute for Social Ecology (social-ecology.org), and has edited
two books on the science and politics of genetic engineering,
Redesigning Life? (Zed Books, 2001) and Gene Traders (To-ward
Posted by: jj | 29 December 2006 at 02:41 PM
While a noble attempt to put together opinions from various sources, I still see far too many references to older studies where there has been more recent evidence to suggest they were wrong.
The most striking example are the conclusions from Pimentel and Patzek. A follow-up study in 2006 by Dan Kammen, the Co-director of the UCAL Berkeley Institute of the Environment, found many flaws in the 2005 study. They were frequently using outdated production methods and not including the value of various byproducts of ethanol production.
For whatever reason, the Pimentel and Patzek study winds up being the one that is quoted most often. I have seen much more evidence to suggest there is huge potential in various cellulose-based solutions.
I would check out the materials posted here: http://rael.berkeley.edu/EBAMM/
While this is just their high-level summary, it outlines what they believe to be the benefits of cellulose ethanol as compared to other alternatives:
(what I find amusing is that people often forget that gasoline production has a negative energy ratio)
Posted by: Angelo | 29 December 2006 at 03:33 PM
You might refute the Pimentel Patzek study, however the Univ Minn conclusion indicates ethanol is at best a "rob peter(food) to pay paul(transport)" scenario
Posted by: FYI co2 | 29 December 2006 at 04:12 PM
I am not refuting anything - relying on qualified individuals to do that. These guys are also from UC Berkeley - don't you think they would have been careful in publishing something so contradictory from what a couple of their peers published before them?
Additionally, I AM NOT disagreeing with anything that UMINN published - that was entirely about corn ethanol/soy diesel. Obviously, neither is the long term solution. I was referring to cellulose-sourced ethanol.
Posted by: Angelo | 29 December 2006 at 04:25 PM
I read in a book called "Diet for a Small Planet" that 90% of grain production is used to feed cattle. Maybe ethanol producers are robing Peter(steaks) to pay Paul.
For vegetarians that might not be so bad.
Posted by: Mark | 29 December 2006 at 05:31 PM
Excellent that US is hitting 5 billion gallons in consumption.
Only 1 study said that Ethanol has negative yield, 5 other studies said that it has positive yield. If cornstalks can also be converted to Ethanol, Input:Output ratio will be 1:2.
When a small state like Iowa can produce 1.5 billion gallons, US can produce some 40-50 billion gallons.
Currently 46 % of gas stations are selling E10, pretty soon it will hit 100 %.
Posted by: Max Reid | 29 December 2006 at 05:52 PM
That is exactly right. I couldn't agree more.
Your comments typify everything that is consistently right with american education and why simplistic assumptions and views should always be regarded with extreme suspicion and should always be analysed with a strong critical thinking mind in order to yield to more mature conclusions. That is why we have the best education system in the world.
Farrell, Kammen et al published a (2) two-page non-peer reviewed 'report' in Science in Jan/06 reviewing six studies, five of them non-peer reviewed propaganda panflets published by ethanol pundits/proponents by/for propaganda use by the USDA, all five published much before Jan/05, and one single recent twelve (12) page peer-reviewed fully reviewed scientific article by Patzek/Pimentel published later in Mar/05.
Farrell's/Kammen two-page published Jan/06 review 'report' does not make for 'new' science, it only reviews what it reviews.
PNAS-The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published their six (6) page peer-reviewed full article in July/06. That is of course a much older date than Kammen's articles. So, in short, Farrel/Kammen is 'new', Pimentel/Patzek/PNAS is 'old'. And that is so amusing as to be profoundly hilarious.
When reading a paper, the first name is the first author - the main author, also known as the corresponding author. That's what the asterisk at the of the name means. Kammen appears as the last name, and that indicates that he is the PI - Principal Investigator - or advisor for the research group. He carries the full responsibility for the research group, scientific and otherwise. Farrell is the author of the 'report'. Kammen signed it off, a fact that it is already more than evident Kammen et al regret, not an uncommon fact in the rush to favor new coming young and unexperienced professors and researchers' rush to publication - as in the case of Farrell's - and to try to beat the always present stigma of 'publish or die'.
Read Kammen's last apologetic paragraph of the later Jun/06 'Letters' published in Science pointing out the many inconsistencies, omissions, etc of their 'report' by countless sources nationaly. What a 'report' lacks and an article doesn't is the full disclosure of who funded the 'research'. And that makes one wonder.
No doubt Kammen & Farrell already deeply regret publishing something that they did not care to fully understand - much less study in any appropriate form - before publishing it, for whatever reason. Much more Kammen's. He's the PI, therefore he carries the fruits of his care, or the full brunt of his lack thereof.
While in fairness I believe the good intentions of Kammen's et al group, trying to hastily dismiss Profs. Patzek/Pimentel's - or anyone - work of more than twenty years of solid science research carries a very heavy penalty. In science, good intentions alone are not enough. They are fatal.
Posted by: Mario | 29 December 2006 at 06:37 PM
The big difference between new and old study is that the new study also includes the energy content of Corn leaves and stem and that yields positive balance 1:1.3
While Ethanol lobby does support the new study, the Oil lobby supports the old study.
But one thing should be considered. After consuming 5 billion gallons of Ethanol, if the gas prices are hitting $ 3+, then without this Ethanol it could hit $ 3.5 +.
And with corn stalks and cellulose, Ethanol is going to progress faster.
Posted by: Max Reid | 29 December 2006 at 07:15 PM
Beware of the pitfalls of extrapolation. While Iowa is smaller than 1/50 of US, it contains much of the rich farmland. 6-8% of total US cropland, depending on how you calculate farmland, is in an area less than 1.6% of total landmass.
_That said, I do agree with the notion of biomass crops/waste replacing fossil energy, in vehicle fuels, and other high margin products first.
_My take is that Corn based biofuels is not the way to go. Unless US consumers start to shun beef, and other high energy intensive animal products, there is not enough to go around w/out driving prices to (FY2006) $15+/bushel. It may work while ethanol (or other grain derived chemicals) is 5%, perhaps 10% of the fuel blend, as an oxygenate. However, if the goal is to replace fossil energy, w/imported oil at the top of the list, it will require waste/residue material, and more productive/efficient feedstock to make it work economically.
_Parallel efforts with solar-electric, wind, and various hydro energy, for V2G and other electrical power needs, is ongoing, and should expand to meet demand, and as citizens catch on.
Posted by: allen_Z | 29 December 2006 at 07:39 PM
...other high margin hydrocarbon derived/dependent products...
Posted by: allen_Z | 29 December 2006 at 07:41 PM
And of course none of these reports cares to look into the potential of large scale algal-oil farms built on non-productive land. We know that bio-fuels are transitional to more efficient renewable energy.
Bottom line is the global mind-shift to sustainable thinking is well worth any temporary inefficiencies of first gen bio-fuel production. Stats can always be tailored to meet the needs of the spinners. Who gets hurt most by renewables anyway?
Posted by: gr | 29 December 2006 at 08:20 PM
Mark, you slightly overstated grain usage for livestock, not that it isn't the primary consumer-
nearly 60% of U.S. grain and 40% of world grain is being fed to livestock rather than being consumed directly by humans (1997 Cornell Univ.)
"But one thing should be considered. After consuming 5 billion gallons of Ethanol, if the gas prices are hitting $ 3+, then without this Ethanol it could hit $ 3.5 +."
Max, how do you figure increasing less than 2% supply is going to lower pricing 15%? not to mention the billions we pay in ethanol subsidies ($.52/gal)
Posted by: FYI co2 | 29 December 2006 at 08:40 PM
Most cattle feed is made fork the waste from various processes that extract oils and suhars from food crops and leave.. rather horid suff behind.
Also alot of cattle feed is unsold food that went bad and is then processed into cattle feed.
Now qshort while before slaughter yes a cow is fed rather highenergy corn tobulk it up. BUT this provides a good return o investment as it REALY bulks that sucker up ad usualy even that corn isnt anything a human would eat.
Also corn destned for fuel orcattle feed or bothas the case may be doesnt have to worry about bugs or miscilorations or mold or rot or whatever. Hell bugs in the corn add to the protein value;/
Posted by: wintermane | 29 December 2006 at 09:55 PM
Your sarcasm is completely inappropriate and unwarranted. I was merely pointing out that there are studies that suggest we should not take the Pimentel/Patzek findings as gospel. I highlighted one such publication, even though there are many more. I fail to understand the need for your exaggerated (thanks for the lesson on publications) and ignorant (you know where I am from, really?) response.
As you seem quite adept at extrapolating what others really meant to say (both myself and the "Kammen study"), can you please explain why you feel that it is inappropriate to question any of this, when various studies have such drastically different findings?
If I were to extrapolate from your response, I would have to conclude that you have found universal consensus amongst the scientific community that the findings of Pimental and Patzek are infallible, and that there is absolutely no reason for people such as myself to question this. As I seek to be as informed as possible on this, can you please direct me to where you found this?
If you have already authored such a paper or served as the PI for a research group on this topic, and I have somehow missed this, I sincerely regret not exercising the required critical thinking that would yield such mature conclusions such as the ones you have inferred.
Posted by: Angelo | 29 December 2006 at 11:20 PM
Biofuel is not a silver bullet? It is certainly not. It would be naïve to think other vice.
Still at least 5% of biofuel’s share in our fuel mix looks essential. The reason is INCREASED food security. It is possible to switch corn and vegetable oil, used to produce fuel, for human consumption or cattle feed – and very quickly, in case of unexpected food and feed shortages. Switch grass and algae – not. Biofuel growth and production is a good buffer to price fluctuations in case of corn and vegetable oil overproduction, or shortage.
Yet, while for US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina it is true, there are great negative effects in over-grows of biofuels in developing countries, like disproportional increase of vegetable oil prices (as being hard dollars earner) for local people, or mentioned destruction of wildlife habitat.
Interesting, I found that EU refines about 5 million tones of biodiesel per year, but in same time imports about 7 million tones of vegetable oil from abroad, mostly from SE Asia. The only EU country using bioethanol in quantities – Sweden, imports 80% of ethanol used as fuel additive from Brazil.
Does not look very sustainable and energy supply secure for me.
Posted by: Andrey | 29 December 2006 at 11:39 PM
Stipulating, for the sake of argument that ethanol has a positive energy balance, the disturbing reality is that it is being used as a way for Detroit to perpetuate the sale of large trucks and SUVs which do not get good gas mileage. In this scam, they apply so called savings in gas from using E85 to compute their overall fleet mileage. This is primarily a scam because the vast majority of E85 capable vehicles will never use ethanol.
Let us also not forget the mileage penalty from using ethanol.
None of these studies which purport to show the positive energy balance of ethanol will change the fact that is will never have more than a limited role in satisfying our massive thirst for automotive fuel. In addition, they will lull the consumer into thinking that they are actually doing very much to reduce greenhouse gases.
Regardless of the fuel used, the only way to have a signicant impact on our fossil fuel use to increase fuel economy and make a massive switch to mass transit, walking, and bicylcing. In the mean time, those ice shelfs to the north continue to drop into the ocean. All ethanol does is rearrange the deck chairs of the titanic. Not necessarily a perfect metaphor, I guess, since it refers to a large ship running into an iceberg. In the future, we won't have to worry about icebergs.
Posted by: t | 30 December 2006 at 08:10 AM
While I disagree with Pimentel and Patzek's conclusion they do raise issues that the biofuel industry needs to address. We now produce enough biofuels to power American agriculture and then some. What needs to be done is the elimination of fossil fuels from the biofuel production picture.
On the farm the most benefit would be more efficient irrigation and minimizing the use of anhydrous ammonia. Fossil fuels could also be eliminated from ammonia production by using wind and solar for electrolysis. Ammonia could also be produced using silage as the feedstock. Plugin hybrid technology could be applied to farm equipment.
At the distillery end we have the E3 approach starting up in Nebraska which uses methane from manure to produce process heat. DDGS from the distillery is then fed to the cattle to close the cycle. Needs a closer look at the numbers involved to see how much fossil fuel use it eliminates. A Minnesota ethanol plant plans to use wind power for 45% of its energy needs. There is enough wind energy available between the Mississippi and the Rockies to power the entire North American continent.
As far as switchgrass and other energy crops are concerned it looks like its most efficent use would be as a substitute for coal to generate electricity then using the electricity to power vehicles. The additional steps needed to convert cellulose to ethanol means energy is lost at each step. I don't know what they intend to do with the lignin portion of these energy crops.
Posted by: tom deplume | 30 December 2006 at 09:21 AM
Ethanol and biodiesel from food crops are good for a starting point, but something else will have to be used to make them.
Let's not forget PEV/PHEVs. When we combine the potential of electric vehicles with biofuels, then that's a winning combo.
Posted by: Mark R. W. Jr. | 30 December 2006 at 12:26 PM
There is a Gridley, California project that has been going on for years that gasifies rice straw and uses F/T to make ethanol. It have been very successful and has been running for the last two years. There are several other similar plants in the country that have proven successful as well. With a consistent feed stock, even with 15% moisture content, they make fuel.
Posted by: SJC | 30 December 2006 at 01:17 PM
Ethanol has subsidies, but also there is an import duty on Brazilian Ethanol but no duty on Opec Oil.
Also out of $450 billion military budget, if we assume that $100 billion goes to defend the Oil sources in Persian Gulf. then 100 billion divided by 200 billion gallons of gasolene & diesel give 50 cent / gallon subsidy on those 2 petro-fuels.
Lets make it even.
Remove subsidies on Ethanol
Remove Import duty on Brazilian Ethanol
Either levy 50 cent tax on gasolene & diesel or remove all US military units from Persian Gulf.
Just see what happens.
Posted by: Max Reid | 31 December 2006 at 06:00 AM
Corn is not very good for Ethanol, but its only in the short term. Pretty soon other sources like Cellulose, Switchgrass will come into picture and if those sources are cheaper they are automatically going to capture the market from Corn. Any crop that has sugar can be used to extract Ethanol.
Similarly for Oil, there are plans to input natural gas as fuel to extract Oil from tar sands in Canada.
This will reduce the input-output margin for Oil as well.
We could directly use the nat-gas for heating or even auto fuels.
Posted by: Max Reid | 31 December 2006 at 06:04 AM
I would like the remote stranded gas to be used for methanol and fertilizer. That would allow the more local gas to be used for turbines and to run cars. Tar sands are a poor use for NG, use it to run cars.
Posted by: SJC | 31 December 2006 at 10:07 AM
One point of algal oil is to leave the food crops alone. There is far more SECURITY in original bio-fuels than in conversion from food to fuel. While the food/fuel discussion is a concern - it would appear to be more beneficial to lower our consumption of beef thereby limiting the grain consumption ratios.
With focused effort and large scale financing, the American deserts can host significant algal farms that will transition us out of first gen bio-fuels. The UNH study shows this to be worthy of firm consideration, and new photo-bioreactor designs should help expedite the enterprise.
In any case, the doom and gloomers will have their way if we do not pursue all alternatives simultaneously.
Posted by: gr | 01 January 2007 at 12:54 PM
I agree algal oil is better than using food for fuel, but I have the following issues with the UNH study:
1. Yields are suspiciously high. If you go back to the NREL study, you will find them admitting that they took the maximum yield and assumed it could be made typical. Possible, but not logical.
2. It does not make sense, IMHO, to produce biodiesel (FAME) from algae. The bulk of the biomass is not lipid and effectively goes to waste. Note from the NREL study that efforts to increase the lipid % of the biomass resulted in lower overall lipid yields (lb/d.ac). A Gasification/Fischer-Tropsch plant would use 100% of the available biomass.
3. There is a reason the desert does not support life: evaporation. It can easily add up to 5 mm/d (0.2 inches/d) in the desert. Calculate how much water will be needed just to off-set evaporation - it is huge. And covering a pond system as large as the UNH study mentions would be impractical and expensive.
As I see it, the solution is to start with wastes (already collected at central locations known as landfills) and convert as much of that (40% is paper) into liquid fuels using G/F-T. The USDA/DOE study concluded we can supply as much as a third of our transportation fuel needs this way. To be fair, I also doubt whether that number is realistic, but it does show the tremendous potential of this approach. And this is win-win-win: no new crops, clean ways to recycle wastes, reduce landfill waste and produce carbon neutral fuels while producing the same fuels we already know, use and love (thus eliminating all the blending issues associated with ethanol and biodiesel).
Posted by: An Engineer | 03 January 2007 at 01:30 PM
Granted yields in these papers always seems to err on the upside. But, the DOE's ASP report is twenty five years old and much has happened with GMO technology since then. So I would think there is some productive work to come from engineering increased lipid content in algae species.
"In the late 1940s, lipid fractions as high as 70 to 85% on a dry weight basis were reported in microalgae. " UN FAO
I also recall a recent oil content density of 44% wet mass.
No reason to waste good biomass - if the farm has a power generation module, wastes will be burned for e generation. Waste can also be sold for cellulosic ethanol or other bio-fuels.
Evaporation is an issue best addressed by closed bio-reactors helping reject predatory species and better controlling algal growth. Even with evaporation rates you've indicated, with fast growth algae, free energy from sunlight, and two major products to sell (oil and biomass waste) the added cost of water would not significantly lower income potential.
Of course burning our landfill waste is an excellent way to address waste-to-energy conversions. Not sure how much CO2 these processes generate - but it seems better than leaving the crap in the ground.
Posted by: gr | 03 January 2007 at 05:34 PM