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Bio-Fuel Fantasies

vector: erudito


5 Myths About Breaking Our Foreign Oil Habit

link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/10/AR2008011002452.html

The new energy bill requires that the country produce 36 billion gallons of biofuels per year by 2022. That sounds like a lot of fuel, but put it in perspective: The United States uses more than 320 billion gallons of oil per year, of which nearly 200 billion gallons are imported.

So biofuels alone cannot wean the United States off oil. Let's say the country converted all the soybeans grown by American farmers into biodiesel; that would provide only about 1.5 percent of total annual U.S. oil needs. And if the United States devoted its entire corn crop to producing ethanol, it would supply only about 6 percent of U.S. oil needs.

So what about cellulosic ethanol, the much-hyped biofuel that can be produced from grass, wood and other plant sources? Many in Congress believe that it will ride to the rescue. But the commercial viability of cellulosic ethanol is a bit like the tooth fairy: Many believe in it, but no one ever actually sees it. After all, even with heavy federal subsidies, it took 13 years before the corn-ethanol sector was able to produce 1 billion gallons of fuel per year. Two and a half decades elapsed before annual corn-ethanol production reached 5 billion gallons, as it did in 2006. But now Congress is demanding that the cellulosic-ethanol business magically produce many times that volume of fuel in just 15 years. It's not going to happen.

Imagine the reaction a presidential hopeful giving a speech in Iowa would get if she dared include those three paragraphs in her presentation.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 18th, 2008 07:35 pm (UTC)
It gets worse. (I'm in the middle of creating an interactive analyzer for this in JavaScript/HTML. It will be uploaded when ready.) A fast upper bound on maximum power available (diverting all arable and cropland to biofuels, but not other land) appears to be on the close order of 17TW of thermal energy, even assuming high-petroleum agriculture with massive genetic engineering. This is bound to go down with more auditable data sourcing, properly calculating with biomes and latitude, and using Carnot efficiency for anything other than heat usage.

Now, if I was able to plug in global usage of petroleum-derived fuels (natural gas, propane, gasoline, diesel/aviation fuel/heating oil) we might get a real handle on things.
Aside: did get your thank-you letter. I'm registered with Skype, but actually use YIM more heavily (have a client that uses it). Handles on my LJ userinfo page should be accurate.

Edited at 2008-01-18 07:37 pm (UTC)
Jan. 18th, 2008 10:05 pm (UTC)
So biofuels alone cannot wean the United States off oil.

Of course not. No single source of energy can. The objections are preposterous because they could be leveled against every single possible solution. Taking care of even 6% of our energy consumption with a (somewhat) clean energy is a huge deal, and it's that kind of chipping away at the problem that is our last best hope for solving it.

Whenever someone comes up with a good idea for reducing our dependence on carbon fuels, there's always a jackass on the sidelines who says "That can't provide for exactly 100% of our consumption!" I want to plug my ears. Enough with that horse shit.
Jan. 19th, 2008 12:43 am (UTC)
Cellulosic ethanol, as an intentional recovery on woodworking and agricultural waste -- great idea. Same thing with biodiesel. Definitely lower production costs than direct synthesis by any electric-grid driven process I can think of.

As intentional crops: not so clearly useful. I don't see that energy bill passed Dec. 2007 being revoked until it throws most of the income-based middle class onto food stamps.
Of course not. No single source of energy can. The objections are preposterous because they could be leveled against every single possible solution
Categorically wrong. It is true that no solution is going to support living 100 miles from one's job without public transportation, but that is such a loss on quality-of-life that it isn't funny.

Sticking with already-researched technologies, any of the following electrical power sources chained into Mobil-Exxon's ZSM-5 catalyzed process would be sufficient to direct-synthesize all of the gasoline, diesel/aviation fuel, etc. needed for both civilian and military use (as well as make olefin-based plastics relatively cheap, since ZSM-5 goes through olefins en-route to gasoline and diesel):
  • Nuclear reactors (either breeder-uranium or thorium has enough available for centuries, more than long enough to research around the next energy crisis. Not so good on nuclear waste.
  • Space-based photovoltaics, power beamed to receiving stations by maser. Not that useful without a working space program.
  • Geothermal steam engines are not limited to volcanic areas. Drilling down ~2 miles will work, as long as the drill hole misses both aquifers and geological faults. Not quite complete coverage, but fairly extensive.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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