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  •  marginal barel and biofuels (4.00)

    if the marginal barel costs 60$, wouldn't biofuels become competitive? Why then to choose the enviromentally catastrophic path of oil sands and oil shale?

    •  Some biofuels (4.00)
      probably are competitive, I imagine (but it's hard to know how much this relies on subsidies and on cheap oil as an input).

      As to "environmentally catastrophic", that supposes that peole still care about that when gas reaches 5 or 7$/gal and they are told that this is the magic solution to bring prices down (along with drilling in currently protected areas and boosting coal production)

      European Tribune - bringing dKos to Europe
      in the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)

      by Jerome a Paris on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 04:09:39 PM PDT

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      •  i don't get that argument (none)
        Growing up in Wyoming we knew the daily price of oil starting in about 3rd grade.  If oil was above $35/barrel we got new text books, new kids moved to town, everyone had money.
        If oil went down to $20, the school budget was slashed, our friends moved away, and it was generally miserable.
        It was all based on the cost of the technology to extract the oil.  Only a high oil price made it possible.

        So how would oil sands reduce the price of oil?  It can't.  It takes a minimum barrel price to make it competitive.  Right now I guess that price is near $70 to $80.  If the price fell, than they can no longer operate.  Am I missing something?

        •  what argument? (none)
          Not sure i understand your question. My point was that at some levels for gasoline prices (in $/GAL), the political pressure to do something may well mean that environmental constraints will be reduced or eliminated to make the whole process cheaper.

          (But you right that the lowest price, even if you don't care about the pollution, is still likely to be pretty high)

          European Tribune - bringing dKos to Europe
          in the long run, we're all dead (Keynes)

          by Jerome a Paris on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 04:30:11 PM PDT

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          •  not your argument (none)
            You eluded to the argument that by increasing oil production in the oil sands that prices will go down (I've heard this repeated elsewhere before), but if oil prices have to reach a price to make production competitive, then they have to stay at that price.  Once the prices go down the production becomes a losing venture.
        •  Cost effective price (none)
          for the Tar sands was south of 25 bucks a barrel before Iraq started this current spike in prices. . where did you get $80?
    •  Many Bio-fuel crops require fertilizer. (4.00)
      Much of this is made from oil or natural gas. The alternatives seem to be animal waste or composting much of the crop itself. So I wonder how this will scale up.

      Of course I'm just a Sunday gardener, not an expert. Does anyone know about growing organic fuel crops on a large scale?

      "The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets" , Christopher Morley

      by Chris Kulczycki on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 04:18:28 PM PDT

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      •  Lot of arguments on that (4.00)
        People will say that the amount of resources that go into growing the crops - water, fertilizer, gasoline used in the production and transportation, end up being more wasteful.  Plus, ultimately they argue that land should be used for food not fuel, and that the amount of land that would be required would destroy our farms.
        I have not seen any numbers put to any of these claims however.
        •  Here's Some Info (4.00)
          Some friends and I were discussing this just recently, and here are some links:

          The National Biodiesel Board webpage appears to be a good general resource.

          According to this useful summary from North Dakota State University on all things biodiesel, various major crops grown in northern North America can generate between 49 and 84 gallons of fuel per acre.  And the reurn on fuel usage would seem to be pretty good: "For every BTU of energy used to produce the crop and process the oil, about 3.3 BTU's is produced as fuel."

          U.S. consumption for transportation is approximately 135 billion gallons of gasoline per year, and another 47 billion gallons of diesel.  Total of 182 billion gallons.  Even at the high-end of production efficiency, this would require over 22 billion acres devoted to biofuel crop cultivation.  The current amount of land used for crop cultivation in the U.S. is 440 million acres, give or take.  So if every acre under cultivation were shifted to production of biofuels, we could cover about 2% of our needs.  Looking at it another way, the land area of the United States is 2.26 billion acres, so even if it were possible to plant over every acre in the country, we could only cover 11% of our needs -- and that's just for gasoline and diesel!

          Here's some data regarding comparative pollutants as between biodiesel and other fuels:  a comprehensive analysis from the EPA (warning: large PDF), and a summary from the Biodiesel Board.

          Biofuels/biodiesel is definitely a step in the right direction, it would seem, but realistically it can only be a relatively small part of the solution to our energy problems.

          •  Check out this link (none)
            the UNH Biodiesel Group has a great little FAQ on using non-food crops for biodiesel.  

            Here's some of the good bits

            NREL's research showed that one quad (7.5 billion gallons) of biodiesel could be produced from 200,000 hectares of desert land (200,000 hectares is equivalent to 780 square miles, roughly 500,000 acres), if the remaining challenges are solved (as they will be, with several research groups and companies working towards it, including ours at UNH). In the previous section, we found that to replace all transportation fuels in the US, we would need 140.8 billion gallons of biodiesel, or roughly 19 quads (one quad is roughly 7.5 billion gallons of biodiesel). To produce that amount would require a land mass of almost 15,000 square miles. To put that in perspective, consider that the Sonora desert in the southwestern US comprises 120,000 square miles. Enough biodiesel to replace all petroleum transportation fuels could be grown in 15,000 square miles, or roughly 12.5 percent of the area of the Sonora desert (note for clarification - I am not advocating putting 15,000 square miles of algae ponds in the Sonora desert. This hypothetical example is used strictly for the purpose of showing the scale of land required).  That 15,000 square miles works out to roughly 9.5 million acres - far less than the 450 million acres currently used for crop farming in the US, and the over 500 million acres used as grazing land for farm animals.

            "Strength and wisdom are not opposing values" - Bill Clinton.

            by RAST on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 07:12:02 PM PDT

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            •  Municipal waste (none)
              Rather than a huge chunk of desert, combine water treatment plants and/or CO2 exhaust from factories/power plants to feed distributed algae production. That would supply a huge amount of biodiesel without affecting farmland and/or natural settings.

              It could be worse. msaroff could still be living in Texas.

              by George on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 07:32:27 PM PDT

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          •  The reading I've done... (none)
            Agrees with what you show here.  Both biodiesel and ethanol return, depending on whose figures you trust, from 3:1 to 5:! and they suggest that with scale they can achieve 8:! or more.

            That means in the long run we will be using them.

            But oil at present returns on the order of 20:!.  Although as Jerome and Stirling and lesser mortals like me and so many others on this blog point out, that bubble is about to burst.

            We are just on the edge of a big day for biofuels when oil finally climbs and stays at the prices needed to support industrialization on a grand scale.

            I remain optimistic that we can transition to a more sustainable energy base, but I'm convinced (and now I'm really repeating myself) that success depends on two things: The rate at which the oil production curve falls off from peak (M. King Hubbert assumed a symmetrical fall off curve, but rising worldwide energy demand would seem to me to preclude that) and the quality of leadership.  Which today in the US is rock bottom.  I can't imagine a worse bunch to be in charge for our energy future than the present administration...

        •  Uh (none)
          But we're presently paying a lot of folks not to plant crops. Seems to me this would be ideal. We can kill farm subsidies and get off oil, as the farms will now be economic to operate.
          •  Washington State farmers: tax breaks for biodiesel (none)
            Excerpts from today's Seattle Times article:

            For my entire life, the wisdom has been there's no way to break our addiction to cheap oil. Except what if it isn't cheap anymore?

            "Now, let me see ... " writes Martin Tobias, CEO of Seattle Biodiesel, a local refinery company, on his Web site. "I pull up to the pumps ... [and] one pump is more expensive, harms the environment, causes wars, and sends money to another country. The other pump is cheaper, very easy on the environment, domestically produced and supports American industry and farmers. Which one would you choose?"

            Even normally warring Democrats and Republicans are jumping at this one. State lawmakers from both parties, citing the "political climate" created by a storm 2,500 miles away, have rolled out plans to use crops from Eastern Washington to make green fuel for cars and home furnaces.

            Growing our own fuel is no panacea. It's a small thing, really, that by itself won't solve our energy woes.

          •  part of paying people not to plant (none)
            is to prevent the overtilling of the soil that helped contribute to dust bowl conditions.  Letting the fields lay fallow allows the soil to reabsorb nutrients that are taken from growing.
      •  I'm an expert at large-scale organic farming (4.00)
        At the Rodale Experimental Farm in Kutztown, PA, the City of Allentown gives them all the leaves they sweep up off the street.  Rodale composts them in long huge rows of composting leaves with an big Compost Turner machine that moves along the pile and flips it over.

        Each region has a plethora of organic material that can be turned from landfill waste into compost.

        Plus don't forget  Changing World Technologies is now building oil refineries that convert anything organic or plastic into a very sweet oil.  Butterball Turkey will soon be producing 200 tons of oil a day from their main plant from turkey ofal.

        Changing World Tech estimates it's plants could produce 4 1/2 million barrels of oil a day if the US waste stream were converted. We do not need to wait millions of years for nature to make oil.  CWT refineries do it in a matter of hours:

        About TCP CWT's Thermal Conversion Process reforms organic waste into a high-value energy resource, without combustion or incineration. TCP breaks down waste into its smallest chemical units and reforms them into new combinations to produce alternative fuels and specialty chemicals. The process emulates the earth's natural geothermal activity, whereby organic material is converted into fossil fuel under conditions of extreme heat and pressure over millions of years. TCP uses pipes and controls temperature and pressure to reduce the bio-remediation process from millions of years to mere hours. TCP is also more than 80% energy efficient.

      •  Biogas Production (none)
        isn't very sexy these days, but I think is an excellent fit in an organic system. It produces methane and leaves behind compost.
      •  More than one crop can make fuel (none)
        In Brazil sugarcane turned into ethanol has reduced the import of oil from about 70% to 33%.  If the production of ethanol was a net loss they would have had to increase the importation of oil. (

        Also, there are many sources for the oil that becomes bio-diesel.  Wast vegetable oil is a great source, as is fish oil. Also, so is algae.  So it's not necessarily a guns-or-butter kind of argument with food crops. (UNH Biodiesel group)

        Finally, if you could re-tune the majority of cars in the US to run on bio-diesel the MPG rating for the fleet would increase by about 2x.  So you would need about 1/2 the gallons of fuel, assuming the average of about 22mpg for gas  vs 44 mpg for a diesel car.(Volkswagen Golf TDI)

        "Strength and wisdom are not opposing values" - Bill Clinton.

        by RAST on Thu Sep 22, 2005 at 07:06:45 PM PDT

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        •  Are you sure about your last point? (none)
          According the UNH Biodiesel Group, petroleum diesel has an energy density of 1058 kBTU/cu. ft. whereas biodiesel has an energy density of 950kBTU/cu. ft., in which case a diesel vehicle running biodiesel ought to get about 10% lower MPG than with petro-diesel.

          It is similar for blended ethanol fuels, although I don't have the numbers handy.

          Where do you get the idea that mileage would double with biodiesel?

          •  Sorry, my bad (none)
            I see you were comparing diesel to gasoline engines, although my experience is that the diesel version of a car available in both gas and diesel versions gets about 60% better mileage, not 100% better.  (Back when I drove a Rabbit diesel in the early 80's I got an actual 50-55MPG, while the gas version was rated IIRC something like 32 city, 38 hwy.)

            Still, I blew it on your post.  Sorry again.

          •  biodiesel MPG (none)

            I was reading earlier today that while biodiesel has about 10% lower energy density that petrodiesel, the supperior combustion and lubrication of biodiesel almost make up the difference, leaving only a 2% difference.

            As for the doubling, I don't know what the previous author was thinking but if you are replacing cars with diesels to run biodiesel, you would be stupid not to use diesel hybrids. Except that auto makers don't make diesel hybrids, yet. But every "diesel" locomotive you see on the rails is, and always has been (with perhaps very rare exceptions) throughout the history of diesel locomotives, is actually a diesel hybrid. Either that or a "slug" - an electric only locomotive that is coupled to a diesel-electric; more wheels, more traction (at least when you use concrete to add weight). And unlike the crappy parallel hybrids the auto industry sells, the locomotives are series hybrids.

            I would love to design a decent hybrid car (1 motor per wheel, no tranny, no differential). I have the experience in designing motor controls (larger than cars). And if you wanted to switch from petrol/ethanol to diesel/biodiesel, it would only require replacing a small engine (around $1K); of course, I would prefer a multifuel engine. Unfortunately, I don't have the money for it.

      •  Biodiesel "grown" in Bavaria (none)
        Here, and across Germany, biodiesel is produced from rapeseed oil - "The World's Prettiest Oilfields" with loads of little yellow flowers in the spring.  At first, I foolishly thought the farmers up the road from my village were growing some odd form of Baby's Breath for the floral industry.  Then, I got around and decided that it must be something a bit more useful.

        In central Bavaria, the main source of fertilizer for any of the big crops (wheat, barley, corn and rapeseed) seems to be cow dung, from the smell of it.  The German word for "to fertilize" is "dungen," and that's how Bavarian farmers still do it, best I can tell.  (Even at 60+ mph with the windows rolled up on the little rural highways - whew!)

        In theory, the whole growing process, fertilizer and tractor fuel, can come from completely local sources.

        If one is committed to using biodiesel, it's easy to get - there's usually one gas station selling it in any decent-sized town, and it's about 20 cents/liter cheaper than petrodiesel.

        Germans are fighting over lots of economic and environmental issues, but biodiesel seems to be something farmers, industrialists, workers and environmentalists can wholeheartedly agree on.

        That which you do unto the least of these, you do unto me - Matthew 25:40

        by A Texan in Maryland on Fri Sep 23, 2005 at 06:09:03 AM PDT

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