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Ethanol

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  • Thu, Dec 25, 2008 - 06:43pm

    #1
    Glaucus

    Glaucus

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    Ethanol

Dr. Martenson:

I fully understand your criticism of corn-based ethanol, but as someone who is working on an eco-industrial project that involves the production of waste-based cellulosic ethanol, I would be interested in your assessment of it and/or that of anyone with expertise in this area.

  • Fri, Dec 26, 2008 - 12:49am

    #2

    EndGamePlayer

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    Re: Ethanol . . .derivative. . . of gas

I can’t speak for anyone else, but it is my understanding that ethanol, wind & solar ("alternative energy") are presently considered devivates of gas.

 It’s not a "critism" but a known observation that gas is used to produce the plant, fertilize the plant and take the product to the ethanol production plant, then it might leave by truck (gas) or train (coal). This present process isn’t showing a net energy gain.

However, if you’ve seen Rubin’s lecture (search youtube) – he suggestes that switching to it’s use at a mix rate of 15% would reduce gas consption by 15% immediately and give "us" time for further development of alternatives. That is a statement that needs more looking into.

EGP

  • Fri, Dec 26, 2008 - 03:16am

    #3
    RSLCOUNSEL

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    Re: Ethanol . . .derivative. . . of gas

There is a problem with moving ethanol through a pipeline which, of course, is one of the most efficient ways to move liquid materials over land.   Without getting into too much detail, generally ethanol pipelines (those moving E95 for example) need to be dedicated to ethanol to offset moisture, impurities and certain corrosive characteristics of ethanol.   If the ethanol is already blended then the problem is less severe.  

 A number of companies were working on solutions (dual use pipelines) earlier in 2008 but I suspect their investment economics have changed for the worse with the drop in oil prices. 

 Brazil moves a lot of ethanol through pipelines which are either dedicated to ethanol or are already moving blended material.  With a national policy concerning "flex fuel", this has made it easier for Brazilian energy companies to be sure their investments will payoff.  

 Americans seem to have an aversion to new pipelines in new localities. 

  • Fri, Dec 26, 2008 - 03:19am

    #4

    gtazman

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    Re: Ethanol

EndGamePlayer

You are not correct in saying that Ethanol is a derivative of gas.  Ethanol is can be produced by burning wood, corncobs, corn stover, etc.  Since alcohol is made from plants, its production takes carbon dioxide
out of the air, sequestering it, with the result that it reverses the
greenhouse effect.  Gasoline is an oil refinery waste product.

  • Fri, Dec 26, 2008 - 04:41am

    #5

    Damnthematrix

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    Re: Ethanol

[quote=gtazman]

EndGamePlayer

You are not correct in saying that Ethanol is a derivative of gas. Ethanol is can be produced by burning wood, corncobs, corn stover, etc. Since alcohol is made from plants, its production takes carbon dioxide
out of the air, sequestering it, with the result that it reverses the
greenhouse effect. Gasoline is an oil refinery waste product.

[/quote]

I think you somehow totally missed the point….

CORN is grown using fossil fuels to till the soil, fertlise the plants, irrigate the crop, and then harvest it and transport it to the ethanol plant.  No fossil fuels, NO CORN,  and therefore, NO ETHANOL……

I take it you want to burn the wood for energy to distill the ethanol…?   If so, can you tell us where all that wood is coming from?  Won’t the cutting down of forests increase CO2 emissions?

  • Fri, Dec 26, 2008 - 06:04am

    #6

    jrf29

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    Re: Ethanol

 

Currently it is not known exactly what the energy return is on ethanol produced from corn grown using standard agricultural techniques and diesel-powered machinery.  The energy return is undoubtedly very close to zero.  Whether it is slightly positive or negative remains to be determined, however it is certainly not a fountain of energy.

The trick, therefore, is to find ways of producing ethanol by means other than the fermentation of corn.   I am acquainted with a professor at the Univ. of Massachusetts who is working on means of efficiently incubating a strain of ethanol-producing bacteria which degrade cellulose as food.  Other researchers are working on producing ethanol from other abundant natural products. 

There is some enthusiasm for such projects, as the theoretical energy return could be significantly higher.  However, no researcher that I have spoken to believes that ethanol produced by any method will be the answer in itself to our nation’s energy needs — the input energy requirements are simply too high for ethanol to ever assume the place that $30/barrel petroleum holds as an energy supply. 

Additionally,  it would take enormous amounts of ethanol to supply even a significant fraction of the world’s energy needs.  If an attempt were made to produce such a supply, it is not clear that the cellulosic waste products—currently very inexpensive–upon which such ethanol-production plans rely would ever be available in sufficient quantities, or at anywhere near current low prices.

  • Fri, Dec 26, 2008 - 01:57pm

    #7
    RSLCOUNSEL

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    Re: Ethanol

Good information here on biofuels with some additional embedded links.

 http://www2.dupont.com/Sustainability/en_US/Marketplace/Transportation/biofuels.html

  • Fri, Dec 26, 2008 - 03:15pm

    #8
    switters

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    Re: Ethanol

[quote=jrf29]

 

Currently it is not known exactly what the energy return is on ethanol produced from corn grown using standard agricultural techniques and diesel-powered machinery.  The energy return is undoubtedly very close to zero.  Whether it is slightly positive or negative remains to be determined, however it is certainly not a fountain of energy.

The trick, therefore, is to find ways of producing ethanol by means other than the fermentation of corn.   I am acquainted with a professor at the Univ. of Massachusetts who is working on means of efficiently incubating a strain of ethanol-producing bacteria which degrade cellulose as food.  Other researchers are working on producing ethanol from other abundant natural products. 

There is some enthusiasm for such projects, as the theoretical energy return could be significantly higher.  However, no researcher that I have spoken to believes that ethanol produced by any method will be the answer in itself to our nation’s energy needs — the input energy requirements are simply too high for ethanol to ever assume the place that $30/barrel petroleum holds as an energy supply. 

Additionally,  it would take enormous amounts of ethanol to supply even a significant fraction of the world’s energy needs.  If an attempt were made to produce such a supply, it is not clear that the cellulosic waste products—currently very inexpensive–upon which such ethanol-production plans rely would ever be available in sufficient quantities, or at anywhere near current low prices.

[/quote]

Excellent summary, jrf29.  I would just reiterate what you already alluded to, which is that it is far from proven that cellulosic ethanol will be scalable to meaningful levels of production.

  • Fri, Dec 26, 2008 - 03:55pm

    #9

    gtazman

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    Re: Ethanol

Damnthematrix wrote


I think you somehow totally missed the point….

CORN is grown using fossil fuels to till the soil, fertlise the
plants, irrigate the crop, and then harvest it and transport it to the
ethanol plant.  No fossil fuels, NO CORN,  and therefore, NO
ETHANOL……

I take it you want to burn the wood for energy to distill the
ethanol…?   If so, can you tell us where all that wood is coming
from?  Won’t the cutting down of forests increase CO2 emissions?

 

Who said anything about corn?  I am making a point that the production of ethanol from plants and organic waste can be made without oil and used locally without transporting it.  Farming Co-ops are set-up all across the US that rely very little on fossil fuel input.  That is the future of renewables:  local production and local consumption. Check out David Blume’s ALCOHOL CAN BE A GAS.  link: http://www.alcoholcanbeagas.com/ 

The future according to visionaries like James Howard Kunstler author of THE LONG EMERGENCY, see the end of automobile transportation as we know it now, which fits in with Chris’ premise of the next 20 years will not look like the past 20 years.  It will not be easy but the ADM and Cargills of the world will not be dominant corporationin the future of renewables.

Here in Wisconsin farmers have set up methane digesters for the ecological use of cow manure.  The methane gas runs a power plant that produces electricity and process heat to be used in the ethanol plant next door, which takes in plant matter from the farm.  The byproduct of corn ethanol production (if that is the input) is distillers dry grain (DDG) which is feed to the cows.  DDG is much healther for animals than straight corn feed.  So you can see a complete LOCAL operation is running without a significant transportation costs associated with fossil fuels.  Sure fossil fuel (natural gas) is used to produce fertilizer, but biodiesel can run the tractors, tanker trucks for milk delivery, etc.

 

  • Fri, Dec 26, 2008 - 04:06pm

    #10
    Glaucus

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    Re: Ethanol

Granted, municipal solid waste (MSW) is generated at a rate of only .2 billion tons annually, 60% on average being biomass.  However, MSW represents a paltry 1% of the total trash generated annually, the other 99% (over 12 billiion tons) being industrial and "RCRA Special Waste" that includes vast amounts of pulp & paper, slaughterhouse, and similar wastes that can be converted into ethanol of other fuels.  And because a producer can receive them in lieu of landfill tipping fees — i.e., paid to take them — production costs can be reduced accordingly.  Therefore, when Peak Oil rears its ugly head once and for all, it seems to me that cellulosic ethanol stands to make a significant contribution to the liquid fuels supply.

  

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