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"Ethanol is a horrible fuel," my dad said. We were sitting in my former bedroom, at my parents' house. A few hours before, we had finished our Thanksgiving dinner.

"Why? I've heard arguments for making it from switchgrass instead of corn but..." I asked.

"Switchgrass won't work," he said.

What? What does my dad know about this stuff anyway? I mean, he's a liberal. He votes Democrat. He drives a Prius, and stays up on the news. He laughed his ass off when the Ted Haggert scandal came out. But he's never shown more than a mild interest in environmentalism before.

Then he said: "I've been studying biofuels since the 70's." Ohhhhh, that makes much more sense. Dad's a chemical engineer. Over the course of his 30-year career, he's often worked with plastics (insert The Graduate joke here), but he's also worked with biofuels.

I only remember Dad's biofuels work vaguely. Years ago he had to take a few work-related field trips to a landfill, and Mom teased him by calling him a "garbage-ologist." He worked at Amoco for 20-some years, then left after the merger with B.P. in early 1999. During his time there, he worked off and on with developing a viable biofuel.

How does this relate to food? Let's back up for a minute.

Now that the Dems are taking over, Nancy Pelosi has committed to raising the minimum wage in the first hundred hours that Congress is in session. However, this won't help farmers. To a farmer, a price is like a wage. For commodities like corn, there used to be a price floor, which was essentially a 'minimum wage.' Some farmers I've talked to would like to see this reinstated.

Sugar is still price-supported in the U.S. The world price of sugar is below the price here. When Brazil began using sugarcane for ethanol production, the world price of sugar rose substantially. A number I've heard mentioned anecdotally is that it went from $.07 to $.18 per pound (Rep. Collin Peterson said that on The Al Franken Show).

Instead of giving farmers a de facto minimum wage with a price floor, the U.S. government sets a "fair" price and makes a promise to farmers: However low the actual price of corn goes, we will make up the difference so that you get a "fair" price. As to how fair this price is - consider how fair the current minimum wage is. Just like a minimum wage worker might need to hold three jobs to support him or herself, farmers try to maximize their production in order to squeak by. The net result? An assload of corn at a rock bottom price.

Right now, the cheap corn goes into animal feed, high fructose corn syrup, and some ethanol. If the U.S. were to suddenly increase its demand for ethanol, they would increase the demand for corn and hopefully increase the price of corn too. Essentially, use of ethanol in fuel would serve as a subsidy for farmers. Most likely, farmers wouldn't be the biggest beneficiaries of such a situation - companies like Archer Daniels Midland that make ethanol from corn would make a killing.

What I'd personally like to see is a disincentive to food processors to make so much cheap junk food. Right now, fast food chains, movie theatres, etc, make a killing on soft drinks. The syrup is cheap, the paper cup is cheap, and the rest of the price they charge is profit. No wonder they encourage you to buy a bigger size for only a few cents more.

Even better than using corn for fuel would be finding a crop that uses less petroleum-based inputs. Enter switchgrass. It's a perennial, so you only have to plant it once, and it requires much less fertilizer than corn. Sounds like a great idea, right?

I've heard many people tout this idea, starting with Chimpy McFlightsuit in his last State of the Union address. I've also heard more credible people bring it up, like a farmer from Kansas who currently uses biofuels from local sources and saves a bunch of money every year from it, and Rep. Collin Peterson, the new chair of the House ag committee.

Not being a chemical engineer myself, I'm totally sold on the idea. If you want more info, check out this site. Looks to me like a way to help farmers and help the environment all at once. Sign me up!

Now, back to my Dad. Here's what he said:

Ethanol is a poor choice for fuel because its molecules only have 2 carbons. The more carbons a molecule has, the better gas mileage you're going to get. For example, diesel has more carbons per molecule than gasoline. Both diesel and gasoline actually have a mix of different molecules in them, but he said gas has something like 6 to 10 carbons per molecule.

He also said that ethanol is cleaner than gas. The more carbons in the molecules, the more CO2 you release into the atmosphere. In that case, ethanol trumps gas. It doesn't sound like a clear winner to me though - if your car requires so many carbons to go so many miles, then won't you produce the same amount of CO2 no matter what? Looks like the only difference is how many gallons you have to buy at the pump.

Way back when, in the 70's, my dad started trying to create a viable sort of biomass energy. He said he's watched the progression over time. At first, people said that when oil reaches $20/barrel, biomass will be economically viable. When oil got to $20/barrel, the production costs of ethanol had increased too, and now people said it would be viable when oil got to $30/barrel. And so on, and so on... now we're at $70/barrel and ethanol is still prohibitively expensive.

As for corn vs. switchgrass, Dad's tried a number of raw materials to see what would work. Please forgive me for sparing you the chemistry lesson I got the other night, as my brain did not absorb most of it and I'm sure it would come out somewhat garbled.

When looking for the best raw material to use (economically speaking), one must consider the distance from the plant you can get it. If it takes so much oil to truck in the raw materials that you end up using more oil from producing the biofuel than you are saving by running a car on biofuels instead of oil, then it won't work. Dad said biofuels are only economical if you can get the raw materials from within a 50 mile radius.

The next consideration is plant size. Very often, making a small plant twice as big is cheaper than building two small plants. For that reason, it's preferable to build enormous plants instead of a bunch of little ones. If you can only bring in raw materials from a 50-mile radius, then you are also limited in the size of plants you can build. Anything larger than what can handle the raw materials within 50 miles is a waste. This increases the cost of starting up an ethanol operation as you must build many small plants instead of a few large ones.

Also, consider how much raw material you can bring in from the 50 miles surrounding your plant. If your plant is in rural Illinois, it might sit in the center of a 50 mile circle of cornfields. If your plant is in Manhattan, it won't have very much corn around it at all.

Last, think about how many months a year you can run your plant. The best case scenario is that you have a constant, year-round supply of raw materials. In the case of most crops, you'll have a few months a year during the harvest season where you can get raw materials. You can also store raw materials, but Dad said most things deteriorate with time as you store them, making them more difficult to convert into fuel. It's too expensive to make a plant that you can only use for a few months a year.

Given all that, Dad tried everything from corn to switchgrass to waste paper. Waste paper can be obtained year-round, and its price is limited by the price of new paper. Unfortunately, it didn't work. This is where Dad got into chemistry-talk that I didn't really get. The long and short of it was that waste paper didn't convert very well into ethanol. One problem he mentioned was long fermentation time. He worked on speeding up the fermentation time, but he wasn't always successful.

The only answer he could find was that corn husks would work - IF you attach your ethanol plant to another plant that makes high fructose corn syrup. The husks are already available to you as a waste product from the HFCS production, and then you can turn them into ethanol for a cost that you can recoup when you sell the ethanol for fuel. (Perhaps this is what ADM does for the ethanol portion of their business.)

He said we can overcome these hurdles via government funding. Oil companies require a lot of capital but much of it's already paid for. In order for biofuels producers to create a product they can sell below the cost of oil while they still profit, they need funding. Otherwise, the cost of building their plants will always be a roadblock and no matter how high the price of oil gets, they won't overcome it.

As Dad left my room, he said, "Do you know the last president who had a good policy on energy? Jimmy Carter."

Originally posted to OrangeClouds115 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 07:26 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Your dad is so right about Jimmy Carter. I wish (36+ / 0-)

      we had listened to him and increased the CAFE standards. With all the SUVs and Hummers on the raod, we are using more gas then ever.

      •  SUV Drivers.... (28+ / 0-)

        I love it when I am at work and I listen to people carp and whine about the price of gas as if we have a constitutional right to have lower gas prices. When I tell them they can opt to drive a smaller vehicle that is more gas efficient they look at me as if I have declared myself the local communist party candidate. Many Americans confuse consumer options with actual rights. I drive a diesel vehicle which while not entirely sin free at least uses less of our narcotic of choice.

        •  And you can always use (14+ / 0-)

          bildiesel if you have the resources to set up a micro operation.  Many people have done that.

          Live Free or Die-words to live by

          by ForFreedom on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 07:47:57 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I wouldn't rule out ethanol so quickly.. (7+ / 0-)

            While the assertions may be true from a chemical perspective the newer technologies are based on biological enzymes converting the raws into complex sugars. The fewer carbon molecules in ethanol are offset by higher octane which translates to slower burning (more complete)thus more efficient and cleaner. The other main point to consider is that thinking in terms of "A" alternative energy source is a non-starter. It's the impact of many energy strategies when taken together that will make the difference, ethanol should only be one part. Even oil has a place, liquified carbon monoxide captured from coal burning can be injected into older oil fields recovering otherwise abandoned oil. The newly sequestered carbon renders the new oil almost carbon neutral when combined with the clean electricity from the initial coal burning. Don't confuse this with current coal burning which is horrible. New plants are necessary. Also consider that a 20% increase in auto milage translates to allowing 20% more drivers without increasing emmissions. Diverse plant and native prairie ecosystems are also tremendous carbon sinks (the oceans also). These need to be encouraged and protected.

            "I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self." --Aristotle

            by java4every1 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 12:02:25 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  thank you (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              OrangeClouds115, java4every1

              and one other thing - the diarist mentioned that ethanol doesn't help reduce carbon emissions because

              if your car requires so many carbons to go so many miles, then won't you produce the same amount of CO2 no matter what?

              this is true but misleading.  CO2 produced by burning ethanol (manufactured from switchgrass, for example) causes much less climate change because it's 'renewable' - the carbon emitted into the air will mostly be canceled out by the next year's crop of switchgrass performing photosynthesis, which will be used to make fuel, etc.  the huge, disproportionate imbalance between the carbon we emit every year and the carbon naturally sequestered every year by photosynthesis is caused by our insistence on burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil, whiose carbon atoms take millions of years to settle out of the atmosphere back into coal and oil.

              •  Ethanol has lots of fossil inputs, is no answer (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                wader, OrangeClouds115, Sharon in MD

                Our current ethanol production produces only a smidge less carbon than the gasoline it replaces, because of all the fossil inputs in fertilizers, chemicals, cultivation and distillation.  Even if you could fix all that, you couldn't harvest enough biomass to replace our petroleum supplies with ethanol.

                This problem comes right down to the pathetic efficiency of the end-use systems; we're lucky to get 20% average out of a gasoline-type drivetrain, which means that a flex-fuel vehicle running on cellulosic ethanol is running well below 10% field-to-wheels efficiency.  We can't go on harvesting 10 BTU of biomass to get less than 1 BTU as work; we have to do a LOT better.

                One way to do better is to eliminate the energy conversions and use a different engine.  I just finished an analysis of the use of carbonization (instead of hydrolysis) and a combination of SOFC's and DCFC's to convert biomass into work; the exhaust gas from the SOFC's would feed a process like Greenfuel's to re-fix some of the carbon and produce biofuels as a secondary product stream.  The answer I got:

                1. We can replace petroleum-fuelled ICV's with biomass-powered PHEV's.
                2. The charcoal product can produce enough electricity via DCFC's to eliminate all coal and natural gas used for electric generation.
                3. The system could be used to sequester carbon in at least two different ways.

                Here it is.

                Work the cold equations; some answers will make you feel warm.

                by Engineer Poet on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 02:21:27 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  Ethanol is not (6+ / 0-)

              the only biofuel.  If you check out Buanol you'll find out it's a 4-carbon alcohol which  has nearly the energy content of gasoline, versus about 60% for ethanol.  In fact, high compression engines can run on pure butanol and get better mileage than with gasoline.  The problems, so far, are with production.  There can be a strong odor asscoiated with fermentaion and the traditional bacteria used in fermentation die at low concentrations.

               However, recently, progress has been made in a two-step process, the patent owners of which, claim greater production of butanol that ethanol from a bushel of corn.  Obviously, there is room for much research.  The other main byproduct of fermentation is hydrogen.

              As a fuel, butanol can be used with existing pumps and fuel distribution systems, unlike ethanol, which absorbs too much water.  I believe cellulosic fermentation of corn husks, switch grass, waste paper, sugar cane, etc. could yield a superior fuel while generating he hydrogen needed to fuel the process.  In one manner, I disagree with OrangeCloud's father.  Certainly, local raw materials should be used and the fifty mile radius sounds about right.  However, another way to look at the process of creating a new and hopefully temporary infrastructure, until a true hydrogen/fuel cell transportation can be built, is that it can provide quality employment across the counry.  

              Government support is indeed critical.  Let's take it from mature industries like oil, coal, petroleum and especially, nuclear.  Building and maintaining thousands of smaller plants is a hell of a good way to return manufacturing jobs to areas where they're criticaly needed.  I'm tired of arguments of economies of scale.  There are far more considerations involvolved in social planning that the botom line for a company.  Let's stop thinking inside the coporate, big box and take a wholistic view.  Society as a whole, will benefit

              •  Agree 100% (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                OrangeClouds115, Sharon in MD

                The same arguments about harming the economy every time environmental regulations are mentioned are becoming really boring as well as total BS. The facts are that all the prior regs made the industries affected more efficient and profitable not to mention the boom in engineering and tech jobs created, giving additional boosts to the economy. Generally, cleaner means more energy recovery which at todays energy prices translates into dollars saved.

                "I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self." --Aristotle

                by java4every1 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 01:08:04 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  I'm not ruling it out (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I'm a big Ethanol fan, have been since the early 80's, got really excited about it in the 90's.

              Now I also like biodiesel as part of the energy solution spectrum.

              But the commenter has a diesel car, so I was suggesting that that individual was already set to use biodiesel.  I myself would use Ethanol in my gasoline engine car.

              Live Free or Die-words to live by

              by ForFreedom on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 06:07:24 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  The problem is..... (12+ / 0-)

          back in the day you could throw a bunch of kids in the back seat or in the back of a station wagon no problem.  But now you have to have saftey seats for each child under a certain weight.  That means you need to have a vehicle that can accomodate all the safety seats you require to transport your kids and perhaps a friend's or relative's kids. More kids means you need a bigger vehicle that can carry all those safety seats.

          So I sympathize with those families that require a bigger vehicle to transport their families.  Now of course there are plenty of people who drive SUV's that don't need them, but we can't forget there are those that do require the space an SUV offers.  In fairness, what needs to happen is that auto makers need to make more fuel efficient vehicles for those people with big families who do not want to waste gas/oil.

          And for those that don't need big SUVs, they need to realize that they don't need such a big vehicle and would better serve the environment by driving something smaller........

          •  I own a bottom-of-the-line Dodge Caravan It has (22+ / 0-)

            4 cylinders and a 2.5 liter engine. My three large kids (ages 22, 20, and 14) fit in it, and it is quite fuel efficient. No one needs a Hummer.

          •  Hate to say this.. (6+ / 0-)

            You are right there are entirely legitimate reasons why people drive SUVs.
            It was higher gas prices combined with Japanese competition that forced US automakers to even attempt producing more fuel efficient vehicles in the late 70's early 80's. I am tempted to wish for consistently high gas prices in order to force the debate. However, I hate to make working class and middle class Americans suffer even more in order for that to occur. What we need is a Dem Presidential candidate who will offer a comprehensive national alternative energy plan that sounds appealing. It should be treated the same way putting a man on the moon was.
            I fear most Americans are too busy and over worked, or in too much denial to consider that we will just "run out" one day. I suspect most people do realize it but hope it happens to another generation.

            •  I think they'll be more receptive now (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              wader, OrangeClouds115, A Siegel

              I think people are more receptive to a national energy policy now than they were during Carter's term, when Reagan ran on a platform of dismantling the Department of Energy.

              Between rising gas prices (and they'll go up again now that the election's over) and the Iraq War (which most people are starting to believe is over oil) and global warming, I think people are ready.

              Incidentally, I thought this was interesting. According to Zogby, Global Warming was a sleeper issue in the midterms.


              •  Reception is chilly (7+ / 0-)

                A lady at my gym had a hard time selling her hummer.  She liked driving it but got sick of people giving her the finger, sneering and shaking their heads as they drove by her.  I must admit I am guilty of shaking my head with disgust as I pass a hummer in my area. It is particularly offensive when they take up two car spaces in the parking deck.  My area is semi-urban and parking is always a problem.

                Arlington, Virginia

                by ScienceMom on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 10:07:56 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Why "guilty" ... (3+ / 0-)

                  That you feel guilty or that you do it?

                  One of the ways to know that we've truly passed the 'tipping point' when it comes to energy in the United States is when it is as socially unacceptable for some to use a 10 mpg SUV for a 100 mile round trip commute driving alone as it is for someone to light up a cigarette in a nursery school.  (How many mothers would scream at the person to stop smoking ... when 40 years ago that cigarette would have been basically ignored ...)

                  My better half is discomfitted by it, but I do stick my nose and try to get friends/acquaintances to realize how they could be more energy efficient (without hurting their lifestyles) but I have a hard time sticking my nose into neighbors' lives or strangers ... the people who live lights on 24/7, don't have CFLs, etc ... That I, who is somewhat of an energy nut, is discomfitted at doing this is an indication that we have not reached a real tipping point in terms of American culture and energy efficiency/Global Warming.  

                  Energy Consensus: Learn - Connect - Share - Participate: For a new dialogue on Energy issues.

                  by A Siegel on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 12:36:26 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

          •  yes, some do need more space in vehicles (10+ / 0-)

            but there is definitely a shortage of spacious vehicles for sale which are not SUVs, and that shortage needs to be remedied.  Even a large passenger car tends to get better mileage than an SUV with comparably-sized interior.  But there are few for sale.  When I was car-shopping several years ago, the options seemed to be only Subaru Legacy and Ford Taurus, unless you had a lot of $ and could afford to go to a VW or Volvo.  So this is why something like 30% of our local vehicle shopping takes place at our Subaru dealership (I was told by the Ford salesman!).

            Very few people would need to drive an SUV given more appropriate options.  The automakers need to give us those options.

            •  Agreed (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              We need a fuel-efficient safe (and reasonably priced) vehicle that can carry some cargo, and can also carry extra people when needed. Currently, we drive one of these:

              Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

              It barely has a one-body trunk, and isn't made for passengers, let me tell you! Getting into that back seat is tough, unless you're 10!

              -8.00, -7.08

              November 7, 2006 - A New Beginning

              by emeraldmaiden on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:41:15 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  ZX2 (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                wader, OrangeClouds115, emeraldmaiden

                I am a former Ford salesperson. I am very sorry about your ZX2 purchase. When I was selling Fords I would try to steer customers who came in to buy a 'bargain' ZX2 into buying the much nicer Focus (or a used Toyota Corolla.) [I got a fee per vehicle--not a percentage commission so, other than getting a repeat customer or a referral, it made no financial difference to me which car I sold.] The ZX2 has significant reliability issues, is fairly unsafe in a collision, and depreciates like Confederate currency. The Focus, after some initial teething problems in early production, is a much nicer vehicle--it is roomier, safer, handles better, and gets similar gas mileage. For the above reasons, I would recommend divesting yourself of your ZX2 if you are able--mainly because of the safety issues.

                •  Focus is one of the vehicles we're looking at (4+ / 0-)

                  as a replacement. However, we'll be looking for a wagon, for the cargo capability.

                  The ZX2 isn't driven much; my husband carpools to work, and I only take it to my mom's, my sister's, and grocery shopping, and we pick up some of our vacuums for resale in it. Ours is a 2001 and has just a bit over 36,000 miles on it.

                  We likely won't be replacing this car for about a year. So far, it has been reliable, but that may be due to the low mileage. The only service it has had has been the battery & a corroded cable, oil changes, and tires.

                  -8.00, -7.08

                  November 7, 2006 - A New Beginning

                  by emeraldmaiden on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 02:29:35 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

            •  We love Subarus (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              wader, OrangeClouds115

              Especially since we encounter lots of dirt or gravel roads, occasionally covered with gloppy snow. The oatmeal-like snow here in the Sierras is very very different than Eastern dry snow and you can't drive a 2WD car in it without some kind of chains or cables or something. But a Subaru gets through almost anything with no chains. Can't put 'em on the low-profile tires anyway.

              There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click)

              by willers on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 04:39:40 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  We have two Subarus (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              to support our four-person family, and they do everything we need, fortunately.  Commuting, shopping, trips, etc.

              Unexpectedly, I noticed that it's actually easier for me to place and secure 4x8' sheetrock on the Outback's roof than on our (earlier) Ford Explorer.

              So, please stay where you are. Don't move and don't panic. Don't take off your shoes! Jobs is on the way.

              by wader on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 05:50:30 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  Car seats are a PITA (11+ / 0-)
            and are a major reason that families buy larger vehicles.

            However, the auto industry has also been focusing on building cars with more power rather than more fuel efficiency. It is possible to make vehicles with nice big doors that still get better mileage.

            Even among the vehicles available today, mid-size station wagons and sedans have plenty of room for car seats and can get nearly 30 MPG.

            Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

            by elfling on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:14:00 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  That sounds like a minivan (4+ / 0-)

            I'm pretty sure those are more fuel-efficient than SUV's. SUV's have the same number of seats as cars, so nobody "needs" one of those (except to haul a boat, but  you don't need one of those, either).

            "All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out." --I.F. Stone

            by Alice in Florida on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:58:39 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Canoe!! (4+ / 0-)

              We found one at a yard sale this fall. I'm so happy!

              All my peeves are my pets.

              by yinn on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 11:35:16 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  Large numbers of people (3+ / 0-)

              Another ethical reason to buy an SUV (or full-sized van) is if you routinely transport a large number of adults, or adult-weight children. Minivans, while having up to eight seats, will not carry eight adults (or even five 200 pounders) without breaking. There are two numbers to look at on the little metal panel located around the drivers-side front door of every passenger vehicle sold in the US: The Empty weight and the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating.) The difference between the EW (Curb Weight) and the GVWR is the vehicles cargo capacity (minus the weight of the fuel.) Most minivans, which are based on car chassis, are rated between 450-1000 pounds. Most full-sized SUVs and all full sized vans are based on light-truck platforms, so that most have a significantly greater cargo capacity. Mileage per passenger for a full sized van with six passengers is going to be (more than) competitive with the mileage per passenger of a Prius with one.

          •  Overall ...minivans get better millage (5+ / 0-)

            younger parents just have to suck up the uncool factor...or watch Get Shorty and see how cool a minivan really is !
            I agree with you that car seats take up a shitload of room and for parents with young kids the options are not that great.  Anyway...once the car seat stage has passed the options increase greatly. My civic fits three kids on a regular basis.  

            Arlington, Virginia

            by ScienceMom on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:59:41 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  My daughter and husband (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              OrangeClouds115, ScienceMom

              Own a small to mid size car and a large SUV. They use the smaller car for trips to the store, ect. There is room in the back for the kids and car seats. They use the SUV when they want to take the dogs, they need that extra room and since they live about half a mile from the Wasatch Mt. range, they need a four wheel drive for the winters. That's the trouble with most minis, they are terrible on snow. We had one for camping and there was no way we would take it out on snowy roads. They are getting better at making them better for snow, tho.

              Shut it down is so yesterday. Now it's time to FIRE IT UP!

              by high uintas on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 03:19:01 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  If only large families drove SUVs (6+ / 0-)

            ...we wouldn't have enough on the road to worry about.  The largest SUV family I know personally is a family of four.  I know a good number of SUV drivers that don't have any kids at all.

            On the other hand, there are no doubt millions of households with three or more kids who don't drive SUVs and somehow manage to get by.  The poorer a family is, the more likely it is to have more than two kids, and the less likely it is to have an SUV.  I would bet that, if you eliminate people with 0 kids from the equation, you would find there is an inverse correlation between family size and SUV ownership.

            The people who drive SUVs don't drive them because they have to for any reason whatsoever; they drive them because they want to...and, most of all, because they can afford to.

          •  I get livid (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            when I hear from SUV drivers that they need them for all their kids. It's percisely because of their kids that they should not be driving the damn carbon spewing, planet destroying cars.  The time is long past for these parents not to get it, I don't buy that excuse.  It's morally corrupt for these jackasses to continue as if they are not committing generational genocide upon their own offspring.

            •  Not breeding is a good solution (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              OrangeClouds115, willers, Picot verde

              My parents had one child and I am childless. I fit (pre-adolescence) just fine in the backseat of my parents' Beetle. I think that the one couple-one child policy is a good one for the environment. The safety wussies would have apoplexy seeing me as a child in the tiny "belt-free" backseat of the VW.

              •  I agree (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                exsimo2, OrangeClouds115

                my husband and I have decided not to have a child at all, I can't justify bringing a child into this world. People have no idea how bad it's going to get.  If we want a family we'll adopt.  By the way, I spent many a road trips in the back seat of my Dad's Beetle, along with my brother and our family dog, hmmm, the time I was usually  wishing I had the whole tiny back all to myself.

              •  Agreed (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                exsimo2, wader

                We have one child and will not have any more. Might adopt some day, but we won't be breeding any more.

                And I got thrown from the rear seat of our 1965 Mustang 3 times that I can remember... the seats have no latches on them and just hinge forward freely, throwing anyone in them into the pointy dashboard, or throwing a kid in the back seat with no seatbelt into the same pointy dash. Bit i grw up jis fyne n hav no lastg damg....

                There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click)

                by willers on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 04:44:29 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  i'm with ya (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Picot verde

                I won't breed. The planet has enough people and I don't like kids. If I was crazy about kids I might have 1, or two at most. But I feel that a good start is for only people who want kids to have them.

                Recipe For America - A people-powered movement to take back our food system

                by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:38:43 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

          •  Not necessarily SUV ... but ... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            OrangeClouds115, Sharon in MD

            Currently, I have a Honda Accord ... I looked at getting a Prius ... but that roughly 5 inches of narrowing made it impossible to have infant seat, booster seat, and young child (without seat) in the back ... which is a 'just fit' with the Accord.

            Now, my kids should be out of the car seats in time for the plug-in hybrids that I expect to be on the market in the 2009 model year.

            PS:  And, rather than borrowing money for a new car, the investments have been made in the home to make it (FAR) more energy efficient -- from DIY leak filling/insulation, to a high-efficiency fossil fuel heat/cooling system, to a high-efficiency fireplace insert, to solar hot water, LED lighting, and new refrigerator ... solar electric envisioned as a future investment ...

            Energy Consensus: Learn - Connect - Share - Participate: For a new dialogue on Energy issues.

            by A Siegel on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 12:20:57 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  mass transit (18+ / 0-)

        was also part of the Carter era solution.
        When Reagan was elected all those projects that where in planning got axed in the tax & sending cuts that the Reagan revolution brought with it.

        Now to replace those transit ideas the country will pay out the a$$.

        the same thing is happening in ignoring climate change. Every year it's put off the price rises to fix the problem.

        Have A Bloggy Day :)

        by eeff on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 07:52:37 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Jesus, mass transit makes too much sense (10+ / 0-)

          I think part of the problem in developing reliable and efficient mass transit is dealing with economies of scale. It works in Europe because there are so many densely populated areas and it works in densely populated areas here in the US.
          In Memphis, buses are woefully underused.
          I think it would be challenging to have a mass transit system that could really suerve the sprawling ex-burbs and suburbs since they are built on the assumption of car use.
          There might be a pyschological aspect as well. Ordinary Americans might view using "mass transit" as a sign of downward mobility. We love our cars. We falsely identify ourselves through our cars and measure our success through them.
          There is this stupid Hummer commercial that appeals to just that feeling of insecurity. It shows a young mother being shoved aside at the playground with her child after patient waiting in line for the slide. She looks defeated. Then she is shown driving around her Hummer with a sense of commanding purpose. The message: nobody will push me aside at the playground anymore.

          •  Mass transit works very well in the northeast (8+ / 0-)

            which is densely populated. No one with any sense drives into Manhattan. The real problem that most of us face here in NJ is finding a parking plce at the train station.

            •  Mass transit works very well in the northeast (5+ / 0-)

              We are supposed to be a reality based community and the reality is that mass transit works well in far fewer areas than where it does not work well.  It works well in some densely populated urban areas -- it does not work well in others.  Where it does work, it is not a total solution.  There is no "pie in the sky" answer to energy woes; the answer is mass transit (and other conservation methods), solar, wind, geothermal, hydro-electric, bio-fuels, nuclear power plants, and sources not yet developed.  We absolutely must free ourselves from our use of petroleum, LNG, etc from politically unstable areas wherever they are and we need to do this in way that not only does not damage to the environment but begins the recovery process.  

              •  I am not suggesting that there is a "pie in the (4+ / 0-)

                sky" solution to energy independence. However, many Americans live in the more densely populated areas of the Northeast, Midwest, and the West Coast. Mass transit requires infrastructure, including both construction and maintenance. I am just suggesting that some of the money that is being wasted on bridges to nowhere and on the stupid war in Iraq might be better invested in mass transit.

                •  And I agree with you (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  OrangeClouds115, rolet, Sharon in MD

                  I was not suggesting that you were the source of the "pie in the sky approach" only commenting that it is going to require a multi-faceted approach. The money wasted on bridges to nowhere (and there are others besides the one Alaska) should be invested for the good of all and not just the few.  I still contend that mass transit is only a small portion of the solution.

              •  What cuts mass transit off at the knees is the .. (4+ / 0-)

                ... subsidies to cars. For every $1 that a car owner spends on their transport, they get roughly $0.50 handed to them on top.

                When we bribe people to drive cars, is it any wonder that mass transit is not "cost effective"?

                Secondly, because we subsidize cars at such a high level that all other forms of transport are marginalized, developers then develop for the majority, making it even more difficult to provide effective, reliable mass transit.

                And then finally, given the dominance of cars, and the presumption that public transport is welfare spending for the people who cannot afford cars or for some other reason cannot use cars ... the poor, youth, a share of University students, a share of the elderly ... there is a strong bias to relying on on-road buses to provide public transport.

                But buses sharing streets with cars are always slower than cars, since they get to share the congestion as well.

                This is why we need to provide dedicated corridor public transport, and the capital costs heavily subsidised by the Federal Government on the grounds of preparing for Energy Independence, so that communities can put on systems with high capital costs and lower operating costs, which gain a better and better travel time advantage the more congested auto traffic becomes.

            •  I'm in the Midwest... (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              OrangeClouds115, rolet, PhantomFly

              ...and I haven't owned a car for at least 10 years.

              Admittedly, I live in a big city but, still, I actually dread the day I'll have to buy a car again (if I move out to the suburbs or whatever)--just an expensive pain in the ass.

      •  My Dad worked in the transportation industry (8+ / 0-)

        ... for decades. I can't tell you how pissed off he was when Reagan took office and Liddy Dole became the head of DOT. She seemed to view her role as one of putting up as many roadblocks as possible to anything that would save oil or improve the overall transportation network in this country.

        She didn't give a damn about the science or the environment ... nd it's been mostly downhill since.

        Beware the everyday brutality of the averted gaze.

        by mataliandy on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:20:43 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Algae and biodiesel (12+ / 0-)

      Does your dad have any opinions or experience with soy or algae based biodiesel? From the little research I've read about algae, it seems like a pretty viable option for almost closed carbon cycle biofuel production.

    •  Just watch (4+ / 0-)

      Senator Tester go to work on this one.

      Biofuels is one of his pet issues.

      A foolish consistency (staying the course in Iraq) is the hobgoblin of George W. Bush.

      by wildcat6 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:01:38 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yet this raises another fuel option ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Changing World Technologies is operating a plant making diesel fuel from turkey offal.  They claim that their costs make it profitable, with current diesel prices, for the production in this first (test) facility.  Yet, the costs are increased doing this in the United States as CWT has to pay for the turkey remains.  In basically every other industrialized country, it is illegal to put animal remains into animal feed (Canada has just gone this route) and thus, in other countries, the waste from meat processing is free (or even paid to take away as waste).  In the US, however, the feed waste is a commodity with value, which CWT claims significantly raises their costs.

      CWT claims are pretty ambitious, basically claiming that their process can take virtually any type of waste stream and have a positive EROI (Energy Return On Investment) in the production of this "bio" diesel.  CWT's vision would place their systems around the world, basically taking a huge amount of the human sewage for making fuel and removing much of the waste stream from landfills to make fuel.

      [RE CWT, see also link in my sig line ... the CWT President recently gave a talk in a lecture series found there -- it is posted there.]

      Now, the CWT plants -- and the many others who are seeking to do similar things -- are scalable.  There are drives to create bio-fuel production systems that could be (easily) deployed with military forces.  These small scale units are also envisioned as easily installed in local communities and, not that distant future, potentially in invididual homes.

      Consider the 50-mile radius if this were something that could be installed at every high school in the nation, taking waste from within a few miles and producing fuel ...

      Energy Consensus: Learn - Connect - Share - Participate: For a new dialogue on Energy issues.

      by A Siegel on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 12:14:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Another Benefit (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        OrangeClouds115, A Siegel

        Another great benefit of this process is that it is supposed to break down highly toxic substances such as dioxins, pcbs and even prions, the proteins that are suspected of causing Mad Cow's Disease.  If we can break down polluting substances into something useful to society before they get into the environment, that in itself would probably be worth an investment into this technology.

      •  that sounds brilliant (3+ / 0-)

        as for the animal waste going into animal feed... it's pretty insane what we do here, giving what we know about mad cow in the UK. I'm not saying you can get it from turkeys... the book I just finished was more fussy about the loopholes in current US laws, especially regarding pigs. We're playing with fire.

        Recipe For America - A people-powered movement to take back our food system

        by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 02:14:40 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  My Chemical Engineer dad concurs (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and thinks low-horsepower hybrids are the best choice.

  •  Flaw in the equation (14+ / 0-)

    When possible, most heavy freight is moved by rail, not truck.  Rail is extremely efficient.  Thus, the biomass need only be grown within 50 (or call it 40) miles of a railroad depot.

    •  Is the flammability of the Ethanol (5+ / 0-)

      an issue in its transport in bulk over rail?  

      •  Moving EtOH by rail (10+ / 0-)

        Moving ethanol by rail is actually done quite a bit, but there are the occasional problems that occur. One of the latest stories on that is at

        Article in the Virginian-Pilot

        As a chemist, my personal opinion is that the flammability is a fairly small issue. There are items more flammable than ethanol (ethyl acetate, methanol and others) being ferried around in railcars.

        I'd also like to point out that the more of these substances get moved, the more chance there is of something adverse happening, what with the Laws of Probability being what they are. I am fairly amazed, quite frankly, with the overall safety of the transporation industry.

        Just my $0.02...

      •  Probably not (10+ / 0-)

        Spilled ethanol will burn, but the fire spreads much slower than on spilled gasoline.

        As for other hazards from a spill, with a little dilution spilled ethanol is more hazardous to sobriety than biology.

        We're all pretty crazy some way or other; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is just a setting on the dryer.

        by david78209 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:36:30 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Ethanol has lower flash point than MeOH (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          OrangeClouds115, david78209

          However, both ethanol and methanol are water-soluble.  Pour enough water on a spill, and any flammability problem disappears.  This is not true of petroleum fuels, and I'm not sure about butanol (its water solubility is relatively low).

          Work the cold equations; some answers will make you feel warm.

          by Engineer Poet on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 04:39:48 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Methanol may be the best biofuel (0+ / 0-)

            and/or the best form of synthetic fuel.  I was impressed to learn that a liter of methanol contains more hydrogen than a liter of liquid hydrogen.  (It's a lot heavier, but you can put it in a much cheaper, simpler, and probably lighter tank.)

            Ethanol has all the lobbying muscle, but I hope Congress lets Methanol come along for the ride on any subsidies and tax breaks Ethanol gets.

            We're all pretty crazy some way or other; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is just a setting on the dryer.

            by david78209 on Mon Nov 27, 2006 at 11:01:30 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  What about ethanol pipelines? (4+ / 0-)

      In metro areas they use pipelines to move gasoline thus saving lots of money. I have heard that ethanol is not transportable via pipeline. I do not know why although I heard it may have something to do with electrostatic buildup. does anyone know this?

      Newest GOP slogan: Keeping Voter Turnout Low So That the Corporate Criminal's Grandchildren Never Have to Work.

      by bobinson on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:09:35 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Interesting... (8+ / 0-)

        I don't know why there'd be a problem with electrostatic build-up... ethanol is not polar, as water is, and doesn't shed electrons very easily in pure form... I would think it would be better in that regard than water is.


        Ah.  The problems with pipelines appear to be:

        • Ethanol icks up water very easily (and the last thing you want is water in your gasoline mix).  This would mostly be a problem with pipelines that sometimes carried gasoline and other times carried ethanol, or carried only ethanol, but at intervals.
        • Logistical problems with existing pipelines (which don't go where the ethanol is.)
        • Expense of building new pipelines when, at the moment, there is a fairly low volume of ethanol to transport.

        Here's a paper on it.


      •  IIRC (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bobinson, OrangeClouds115, rolet

        If I remember correctly, pipelining ethanol could be done, but not through the existing pipes -- something about a different lining material being necessary.  So it's back to a scaling issue -- if there's enough being shipped, it may become worthwhile to build new pipes.  (And/or retrofit the old ones.)

        "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner." - Nelson Mandela

        by Bearpaw on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:45:30 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  The problem is that "when possible" (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Go Vegetarian, OrangeClouds115

      qualifier.  Rail lines in this country are significantly less available than roads.  When we're dealing with crop transport from distributed farms to a central point, I guarantee you that in most cases we are talking about a significant truck haul before even getting to a train depot.

      I design databases for a freight company, and my sister and brother-in-law are corn and soybean farmers, and the simple fact is that in most cases grain is hauled by train only after having been conglomerated from hundreds, if not thousands of farms.  In essence, the train depot becomes the point in the center of a 25-to-100 mile-diameter circle Orange Clouds father was discussing.  So that, by the time the train picks the grain up, a significant amount of money  has already been spent on diesel fuel, trucker's wages, etc.

      This is half of why there is a co-op movement among farmers in this country at all.  By moving grain only to a local co-op for milling, the farmers save on transport costs; and the other half, of course, is that by using their own they mill or plant, they save on the middle-man costs associated with the giants like ADM.

      On large farms that just happen to be right next to an existing track line, you will occasionally find that the farmer has situated his grain bins right next to the tracks, with apparatus clearly designed to dump grain directly into grain cars, but this is a fairly rare setup for a family farm due to the simple scarcity of tracks.  The vast majority of grain bins are situated next to dirt or gravel roads that penetrate to the center of the farm, near the barn or farm house.

  •  interesting (7+ / 0-)

    what about the use of ethanol in home heating?

    Cornbread is square, but pi are round.

    by cookiebear on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 07:38:56 AM PST

    •  Home-heating with corn kernels (10+ / 0-)

      is very viable and relatively clean AND cuts out the "value adding" middle of the process. Solar energy goes right into the corn kernel, the corn kernel gives up its energy into your furnace.

      •  do you mean pellet stoves? (7+ / 0-)

        or corn stoves?

        one issue i have with the current variation of pellet stoves is that too many of them require electricity  to run

        really disappointing. i was going to plunk down money for one til i heard that

        however, corn stoves are a great idea for people with cleared land at their disposal and a desire to grow corn for their own benefit.

        but what about ethanol itself?

        Cornbread is square, but pi are round.

        by cookiebear on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 07:46:45 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Switchgrass Pellets (5+ / 0-)

          Read somewhere about how it is possible to burn pellets made from grasses and hay in a pellet stove for heat, but with a few different ash-handling conditions.

        •  It depends HOW MUCH electricity (4+ / 0-)

          is comparatively used.

          If a solar cell produces ten times more electricity over its life than the electricity used to make it, we have gotten a 900% return.

          If an electrically assisted pellet stove uses one percent of the fossil fuel of the old heating unit, replacement is a very good idea.

          •  but there's other issues (4+ / 0-)

            manufacture and transport of the pellets themselves uses X amount of energy

            woodstoves, by comparison: the gas and oil to run the chainsaw to cut the wood, if you live on a wooded lot, like i do and like many people who have woodstoves do

            and cornstoves --- don't know. i love the idea, esp. for people who have the space to grow their own corn. for them, the amount of electricity required to run a blower would be more than offset, if cornstoves require them

            Cornbread is square, but pi are round.

            by cookiebear on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:29:22 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Transport is probably the big energy (4+ / 0-)

              issue with pellets.

              If someone lives in Iowa, transport may equate to five percent of the energy contained in the pellets.

              If someone lives in Upstate New York, transport may equate to twenty-five percent of the energy contained in the pellets.

              So people in Upstate New York may only cut fossil fuel use by 74% by using pellets.

            •  Carbon sequestration issues (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              OrangeClouds115, rolet, Picot verde

              woodstoves, by comparison: the gas and oil to run the chainsaw to cut the wood, if you live on a wooded lot, like i do and like many people who have woodstoves do

              Just remember, every tree is 25% carbon, wet weight (50% carbon dry weight).  Trees are basically devices for carbon sequestration.  Every time you burn one, you're shoving a significant percentage of that carbon back into the atmosphere.  If you leave them to rot, the vast majority goes into the soil.

              If we changed any significant number of oil/gas heated homes over to wood-burning, we'd better be sure we're planting four or five trees for every one we burn.  (A great majority of planted trees, especially in wooded areas, die off long before they get big enough to matter.)


              •  actually (4+ / 0-)

                i'm not that big a fan of woodstoves --- for one, using one in your home is the equivalent of smoking a lot of cigarettes, AFAIC

                however, some time ago, i put a lot of effort into trying to decide whether to go with a pellet stove, a wood stove or a corn stove

                my point is that some of the alternatives to woodstoves aren't really that great, although they do have potential

                my own feelings are solar is the way to go, esp if you live in an area with a lot of sunlight (like i do)

                Cornbread is square, but pi are round.

                by cookiebear on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:45:22 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  We use solar electricity and woodstove heat (4+ / 0-)

                  There are ways to reduce the air quality issues w/woodstoves:

                  • Get one with a catalytic converter,
                  • Burn hot,
                  • Always make sure you open the damper all the way before opening it,
                  • Open the door slowly to establish an inward air draft to keep the smoke from coming into the room.
                  • Ensure a good fresh air supply (if possible with an air-to-air heat echanger). We've achieved this by having cats with sufficient "wrong side of the door syndrome" to ensure the doors are opened on a regular basis throughout the day.

                  In the spring, we'll upgrade our electrical capacity with additional solar panels (we sized the system for the historic cloudiness of VT, not for the current cloudiness), so we should need the backup generator much less.

                  Unfortunately, the cabin can't support solar hot water in its current configuration, so, hot water comes from either the wood stove or the kitchen stove right now (just percolated a pot o' coffee on the wood stove - might as well recapture that heat. It's also good for reheating pizza.), but an efficient on-demand propane hot water heater is waiting to be installed.

                  In the summer, we use a sun shower in a shower tent for showering, but once it starts getting below 50 degrees, it's too bleeping cold to shower outside.

                  We have a refrigerator that can run on either propane or electricity, so if we have overcapacity of sunlight in the summer, we can run it off the batteries, and when we have insufficient sun, we can run it on propane. Alas, now that Vermont is a temperate rain forest, there's usually insufficient sun.

                  Beware the everyday brutality of the averted gaze.

                  by mataliandy on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 10:23:40 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

              •  Wood Gasification (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                cookiebear, OrangeClouds115


                can be tuned so that you primarily harvest the energy from the hydrogen in the biomass, and end up with sequesterable charcoal.

                51,245 votes for US Senator.

                by ben masel on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 11:19:30 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  Two problems (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                cookiebear, OrangeClouds115

                The first is that if you want to manage forests for carbon sequestration, the most efficient way is to cut down all of the trees for lumber and then plant new ones - the lumber continues to sequester carbon and the new trees take in more CO2 than mature trees. Probably not what most of us had in mind.

                The second problem is that in the west, anything that's in a forest right now is likely to burn in a forest fire anyway - dense forests don't sequester carbon, they contain fuel. The choice is between using the fuel for energy or not. The Canadian government says that the energy released in forest fires every year is equal to 1/2 of their electricity production. I don't have stats for the US, but think of the equivalent amount of coal generation, and then consider that forest fire combustion is more polluting than coal generating plants.

                I talked to a BLM forester who's trying to find a market for wood waste (either dead material on the ground or material from fuel load reduction). I've forgotten whether his estimate was 3 billion or 3 trillion tons on the ground in WA State alone - either is a lot of energy (about 60%-75% of coal per ton).

                There is a company in W WA that is set up to do local pelletizing - they move in a pelletizing plant on 3 lowboys (semi-trailers) and ship out finished pellets, reducing a considerable amount of the transportation costs and energy use.

                Compared to coal, wood or wood pellets produce considerably less ash and almost no pollutants, like sulfur. All combustion releases CO2, but fossil fuels release CO2 that has been sequestered for millions of years. Wood products (or ethanol - same situation) release CO2 that was recently removed from the atmosphere and will be removed again by the next crop/regrowth.

                Wood pellets do require energy to produce. Less energy is required if the wood wastes are simply shredded, and that also allows a wider range of feed stocks (brush and woody plants) to be used as well. Both the Wildnerness Society and Nature Conservancy participated in a round-table on the CO Front Range forest restoration and one of their recommendations was to use the wood wastes generated in heating plants in schools. VT already gets 10% of its heat for schools that way. There is also a National Forest project underway to use shredded biomass/forest wastes to replace coal in electricity generation (White Mountain NF?).

                Lastly, wood fuels do not displace land in use for food production and drive up food costs. They don't require chemical fertilizers and already grow on some of the least arable land in the country. Wood combustion will remain considerably more efficient in energy terms than producing ethanol or methanol from wood cellulose - it's simply requires fewer energy inputs and can have very high efficiencies at combustion.

                There are certainly a vast array of potential downsides to the the harvesting of wood fuels that would require significant monitoring and regulation, but most of the harvesting is fuel load reduction that needs to be done anyway (or, as pointed out above, those fuels will just go up in smoke anyway).

                In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. - George Orwell

                by badger on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 02:43:30 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  i have enough deadwood on my property to ... (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  ... heat my place for several years --- that isn't counting the giant hickory branch that fell last year or that particular hickory which will probably need to come down in the next year or so

                  my biggest objection to wood stoves is that i'm an ex-smoker and i just don't want to be right back inhaling smoke all the time again. however, another poster explained how she gets around it

                  in heavily forested areas, like where i am, it does in fact make a lot of sense to pick and choose your way through the woods, clearing out dead wood and trash trees so the desirable trees can grow.

                  good post --- makes good sense and i might just reconsider that wood stove

                  Cornbread is square, but pi are round.

                  by cookiebear on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 03:44:58 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  A good woodstove doesn't smoke (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    cookiebear, OrangeClouds115

                    See what new ones are on the market -- most of them have smoke output requirements from various states and are much more clean burning than the older ones.

                    There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click)

                    by willers on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 04:56:02 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                  •  If your stove is airtight (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    cookiebear, OrangeClouds115

                    and your chimney is clean, there's no smoke inside the house ever. There's actually very little visible smoke once the fire is going either - mostly water vapor and CO2. Everybody heats with wood in our neighborhood, but about the only time I smell it outside is either right when someone starts a fire, or our neighbors who also cook with wood on a beautiful old wood range.

                    It's a problem in densely populated areas, especially if they experience frequent inversions, like the Missoula Valley.

                    I believe the EPA requirements for woodstoves are 4 to 7 grams (much less than a ounce) of particulates per hour. You want a smoke detector near the stove, and a carbon monoxide detector if you're extra cautious or don't clean the chimney every year. Cleaning the chimney is easy and can be done from inside the house - not the roof - if set up right. A little messy sometimes.

                    In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. - George Orwell

                    by badger on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 05:15:48 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                •  I happen to live in a national forest (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  The second problem is that in the west, anything that's in a forest right now is likely to burn in a forest fire anyway

                  I'm not clear on what you're saying here... you seem to be saying that all forests are going to burn up at some point?

                  I talked to a BLM forester who's trying to find a market for wood waste (either dead material on the ground or material from fuel load reduction). I've forgotten whether his estimate was 3 billion or 3 trillion tons on the ground in WA State alone - either is a lot of energy (about 60%-75% of coal per ton).

                  We were lucky enough to get a forester in our local ranger district -- the first one in about 15 years. He's from Alaska and very down to earth. I complained to him that we live in the middle of a national forest, and that all around us are overplanted and overgrown trees, but we're not allowed to touch any of them for any reason, not firewood or building or anything. Even "down and dead" firewood that can be collected must be bucked down to 6 feet or shorter so you can't build anything with it.

                  He listened carefully, then said "let me see what I can do." He's now joined our Hilltop Sustainable Living Network group, and at the last meeting told us that he has developed a new program on a test pilot basis -- individuals can "buy" as many acres as they want for the firewood price ($10/cord) and log the marked trees for any purpose they want, including fences, pole barns, firewood, whatever. People are very excited about it, and we can't wait until spring to start cutting!! How great is that? The Forest Service gets the trees thinned, gets money for it instead of spending money on a crew, and people can actually get to USE the trees in OUR forest for something other than firewood! It's a win/win situation for everyone. Something to mention to your BLM forester.

                  There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click)

                  by willers on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 05:06:53 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Fires (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    For low altitude "dry" forests (pondorosa) and lodgepole, fire is a feature of the ecosystem as much as rain or wind. Dry forests expect to burn every 5-35 years - they exist in terrain and climate where that's likely (usually lightning caused - around here 75% of acreage involved in fire is from lightning caused fires, usually starting in back-country).

                    Lodgepole is slightly more moist climate (often north slopes, which get less sun/heat), but when they're mature and beetle-killed, like much of CO, they're just a fire waiting to happen. The fire cycle for lodgepole is a few hundred years, while they're still alive.

                    For higher altitude, wetter forests, fire isn't as much a factor and they're less likely to burn. Probably the same with coastal forests, which are wetter.

                    Around here, the assumption is that eventually, every acre is going to burn. Here's a map of where I live - the gray, unburned areas are mostly  developed - residential or agricultural land. Everything else has been involved in fire in the last 35 years (doesn't mean all the trees are gone though - fires can burn in a 'mosaic' pattern leaving a lot of trees untouched). The fire two years ago was three miles from our place, upwind, but the area between us and the fire had already burned out in 1994 (including the back of our property), so we didn't have much to worry about.

                    I think that you can cut marked trees is fantastic - we're still limited to "dead and down" here, That's exactly the kind of thing that's needed to restore public forests so they can survive fires. We've taken probably 2 cords out of 2 acres of our woods we treated this summer, not counting all the piles of brush and limbs we've been burning all fall. Off 2 acres of brush and 2 acres of woods, we probably got 10 tons that'll go for wienie roasts and our Christmas bonfire. That's a lot of energy wasted, but a lot that won't fuel the next fire that goes through here.

                    In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. - George Orwell

                    by badger on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 06:34:05 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Right (0+ / 0-)

                      For low altitude "dry" forests (pondorosa) and lodgepole, fire is a feature of the ecosystem as much as rain or wind.

                      Being in a mixed ponderosa and black oak forest adjacent to Yosemite, I understand that. It seemed to me you were saying since it would "burn anyway" you may as well cut it down and grind it up for biofuels. I assume I must not understand you correctly here.

                      I disagree that we should expect everything to burn every 5-35 years as if it were skin eternally renewing itself. There are a lot of very large trees in my area that have been around for hundreds of years, both conifers and oaks. Some have the scars of fire on them, but many do not, and a 35-year old pine is barely mature enough to survive a large forest fire.

                      Also, the local Indians did controlled burns in some areas, altering the forest landscape and what fuels were available for burning. Additionally, the #1 cause of forest fires is humans -- without the careless cigarette butt tossed from a car window, the careless hunter or camper or homeowner, or the arsonist (we have a firebug in my area, started two fires about a mile from my house last month) we would scarcely ever see a fire at my elevation, which sees very little lightning. There are lightning started fires all the time in the high country, OTOH, which are usually allowed to burn themselves out.

                      The cutting of marked trees is new pilot program as of spring 2007, and only because I complained to a sympathetic forester who enjoys implimenting new ideas. It might work out for you as well if you mention the idea to your BLM forester -- have him contact Jim at the Groveland Ranger District, Stanislaus Nat'l Forest, California. It would be wonderful if this idea could spread to other areas and jurisdictions.

                      There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click)

                      by willers on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:40:24 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Yes (0+ / 0-)

                        I'm talking about removing fuels that aren't part of a sustainable forest, not the entire forest. The objective is to return the forest to a condition where fewer, larger trees will easily survive a fire or resist disease.

                        As far as the "5 to 35", that's a general number similar to what a lot FS and academic stuff cites. This FS plan cites 6 to 20 years as the fire return interval for my area (last paragraph on first page). There are lots of other resources here and here.

                        I also agree the distribution of fire isn't uniform, so even "large trees will easily survive a fire" is a statistical statement - maybe 90% will survive, and of those, maybe 25% won't even be exposed to fire (made up numbers). Some stands will get wiped out in the most perfect forest. My valley hasn't burned in over 100 years (except my backyard and an intentional burnout across the valley), probably because we get 25% more moisture than the surrounding area, which transitions to sagebrush at low altitudes.

                        How you initially establish a dry forest given that fire frequency, I don't know. I suspect that younger forests are less fire prone, and fires will leave large areas untouched within their perimeter. Could also be due to climate cycles where the fire interval stretches out temporarily. We've had a couple very wet years lately, and some young trees have grown 6 feet or more in that time, where the rule of thumb here is a foot per year.

                        In our general vicinity, we can get thousands of lightning strikes in 30 mile radius, often with little or no rain. They can smolder for a week or more, and then flare up into a few hundred acres before the FS can get a crew in - a lot of this area is roadless, and very steep terrain, not much flat.

                        However CA differs from the rest of the interior west in a lot of ways, particularly in the variety of species and ecosystems as well as climate, so what's true or makes sense here might be very different where you are. I really think forest policy needs to be localized to a large extent.

                        In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. - George Orwell

                        by badger on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 10:16:03 PM PST

                        [ Parent ]

            •  My issue with pellets (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Is that they are manufactured by someone else. I'm not gonna rely on some corporation to sell this processed pelletized fuel source to me when I can go out into the national forest and pay $10 a cord for all the wood I want.

              My woodstove does have an electric blower on it at the moment, but we plan to get one of those $150 non-electric fans you set on top and it runs off the heat itself. And they're almost silent... cool!

              There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click)

              by willers on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 04:53:31 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  Corn Stoves (0+ / 0-)

          Yeah. They do require an auger feeding system that is run by electricity I imagine, but it is a nominal amount of electric. Easily something that could be run off of a solar replenished battery.

          We are looking into it for our Pennsylvania home but it is a tough subject on which to find good research information. Why is this??

          Is it just too new a technology? I doubt it . . .

          Is it a bad idea that has withered on the vine for good reason? Maybe . . .

          Is it to tempting for agri-business to give away the keys to the store on such a simple producer-to-consumer model? I dunno . . .

  •  Carbon cycle carbon (12+ / 0-)

    > The more carbons in the molecules, the
    > more CO2 you release into the atmosphere.

    Keep in mind though that the problem with oil is that it is being mined from deep in the earth and its carbon pumped into the atmosphere.  If (and it is a big if) you have a closed fuel cycle where you use the CO2 in the atmosphere to grow crops to make liquid fuel that you burn releasing the CO2 (whew!) then there is no net change of carbon in the environment.


    •  by leaving the carbon in the earth (7+ / 0-)

      in the earth, sequestered, you are -- at least hypotheticallly -- no releasing it into the atmosphere.

      carbon sequestation is still a poorly understood phenomena. But it's a no-brainer that letting forests grow at rates faster then you cut them is an important part of the equation. So I'd guess that you're correct on the choice of carbons for engines.

      •  True up to a point (9+ / 0-)

        But after a certain period of time, the forest will have an over abundance of trees and shrubbery and will start to die off. At that point, the carbon will be released back into the atmosphere in a relatively short period of time, faster than it can be reabsorbed by new new-growth forests. Ultimately, we really need to leave the carbon economy behind and move to non carbon based energy sources. Even nuclear is much safer than it was 30 years ago.

        Do Pavlov's dogs chase Schroedinger's cat?

        by corwin on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:18:04 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  You're correct. Where I live (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          (Maine,) trees are typically harvested before reaching that point; though the slash (branches) are left behind to fertilize the soil and prevent erosion -- a net carbon release.

          The best use, after, appears to be housing material and plastic composites, both good holding forms. But much of the fiber goes into paper, which is a poor  carbon sink, some goes to energy in the  paper industry, in mills that burn bio fuel, and in wood for home heating.

          But different forests in different regions function differently. Here in the northeast, with our deep glaciated soils, it takes only a small part of the forest growth to maintain fertile soil. In less glaciated places, this is not true.

          Old growth forests where trees live for hundreds of years are great carbon sinks.

          These are imortant issues for us to talk about; unfortunately, the spector of managed -- that is farmed -- forests are frequently uncomfortable topics for progressives raised on the image of little kids planting trees to save the world. It should be a picture in National Geographic, the paper for which is made about 50 miles from where I live.

    •  Only half the car's carbon is used properly (7+ / 0-)

      Another problem with using gasoline is that it doesn't completely burn inside the engine's combustion chamber. Only about half does. The rest turns to CO2 in the cadalydic convertor. If they could invent and internal combustion engine that ran at 500 degrees F, we wouldn't need the catalyst and would get much better mileage. Unfortunately, internal combustion engines require lubrication. The lube we now use (motor oil) burns up at about 350 degreesF and thus, engines are cooled to about 220 degreesF.

      If we don't use a catalyst to burn up all the fuel, it gets released as carbon monoxide (bad stuff). Unfortunately, of all the CO2 we are releasing into the atmosphere, only about half of it is involved in making the vehicle go anywhere.

      Newest GOP slogan: Keeping Voter Turnout Low So That the Corporate Criminal's Grandchildren Never Have to Work.

      by bobinson on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:01:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't believe that's true (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Catalytic convertors are meant to remove from exhaust combustion byproducts that contain sulfur or nitrogen, not CO. There is another system on most engines - exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) - that's meant to remove and generate energy from any incomplete combustion of fuel. It feeds exhaust gas back into the engine's cylinders.

        In terms of combustion efficiency, nearly all car engines are already pretty good - maybe an improvement of a few percent is the best that could be expected from what I've read.

        In terms of total energy efficiency, most of the losses are mechanical: mostly friction or having to push around too many tons of vehicle at too high a speed or operate too many gadgets.

        And the problem with engine heat in gasoline engines is that they turn into diesel engines - that's what causes "knock", when the fuel detonates at the wrong point in the engine cycle and not when the spark plug fires, because of the fuel's characteristics combined with engine heat and compression.

        In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. - George Orwell

        by badger on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 03:05:23 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  good point nt (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rolet, Karyn

      Recipe For America - A people-powered movement to take back our food system

      by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:42:27 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great topic! (12+ / 0-)

    Funny that this topic is so buried in the "press." I wish that there were hundreds of threads about this in many different forums, but, alas, that wouldn't be good for GM or Exxon or any number of "concerned" multi-nationals.

  •  alternatives (13+ / 0-)

    My friend Todd has already designed a biofuel plant that re-uses waste products from Ethanol production, even re-uses the steam that's released to produce other bio-based products.  He's passed the plans on to the biofuels folks and they're working on it.

    In other alternatives, liberal actress and political activist Natalie Portman (using her real name) wrote a great paper on alternative fuels when she was in high school, for the Intel Science Talent Search. It still looks workable -- turning paper mulch and paper waste into hydrogen fuel....

    Check it the abstract. Let's further this idea from a high school girl.

    A Simple Method To Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar

    There is current interest in and concern for the development of environmentally friendly bioprocesses whereby biomass and the biodegradable content of municipal wastes can be converted to useful forms of energy. For example, cellulose, a glucose polymer that is the principal component of biomass and paper waste, can be enzymatically degraded to glucose, which can subsequently be converted by fermentation or further enzymatic reaction to fuels such as ethanol or hydrogen. These products represent alternative energy sources to fossil fuels such as oil. Demonstration of the relevant reactions in high-school and undergraduate college laboratories would have value not only in illustrating environmentally friendly biotechnology for the utilization of renewable energy sources, such as cellulosic wastes, but could also be used to teach the principles of enzyme-catalyzed reactions. In the experimental protocol described here, it has been demonstrated that the common sugar glucose can be used to produce hydrogen using two enzymes, glucose dehydrogenase and hydrogenase. No sophisticated or expensive hydrogen detection equipment is required-only a redox dye, benzyl viologen, which turns purple when it is reduced. The color can be detected by a simple colorimeter. Furthermore, it is shown that the renewable resource cellulose, in its soluble derivative from carboxymethylcellulose, as well as aspen-wood waste, is also a source of hydrogen if the enzyme cellulase is included in the reaction mixture.

    •  Hydrogen but not the Bush plan, sorry. (4+ / 0-)

      Yes hydrogen seems to be the way but having a hindenberg on every street corner(in the form of 500+ gallon liquid hydrogen tank) is scary. We need a system to generate hydrogen "on the fly" in the car.

      Be carefull what you shoot at, most things in here don't react well to bullets-Sean Connery .... Captain Marko Ramius -Hunt For Red October

      by JML9999 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:30:38 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  easy to make (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OrangeClouds115, drewfromct, JML9999

      I agree that Bush's ideas on hydrogen and ethanol are from the past. We need alternative systems that produce usable fuel on demand, not just for storage. OR We have to change our lifestyle to accomodate alternative energies. :)

      I like it that the point in the paper above is that production of hydrogen and ethanol is simple.
      We can easily use various kinds of garbage and biodegradble waste, rather than spending energy to raise corn to be used for fuel. This method reduces biomass and municipal garbage by turning it into alternative energy.

    •  The problem with hydrogen (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      is that it's a storage unit, not a producer of energy. Hydrogen uses more energy to create than it releases, and is also difficult to store and ship.

      There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click)

      by willers on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 05:15:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Other than being right about Jimmy Carter (22+ / 0-)

    Your dad missed a few points, although he does have a grasp on the issues.

    Small scale production is economically feasible, but it needs to take advantage of co-located production with other products.  For example, ADM uses the CO2 discharged from their fermenters in a hydroponic greenhouse.  Other plants use the spent mash (once the ethanol has been extracted) as a high protien animal feed.  There are many other ways to make ethaol a node on a production stream.

    The point is that the idea of a stand-alone plant is old thinking.  If you are only going to build a plant to produce Ethanol and every byproduct is simply considered waste then yes, it is expensive.  If you look at Ethanol as one part of an agricultural product spectrum then it becomes quite feasilble.

    Live Free or Die-words to live by

    by ForFreedom on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 07:46:31 AM PST

    •  I'm working with a friend... (8+ / 0-)

      ...who bought some acreage in an enterprise zone and wants to go into energy production. My fave is SVO (soy, oilseed, palm oil, etc. - not corn) for biodiesel. Not to mix there because he'd have to pipe petroleum diesel in, so better to rail his product to an already existing refiinery or to pumps as SVO.

      GM and the EPA have a joint patent on a new diesel engine for passenger vehicles that can run SVO. All that needs to happen is to require them to deploy it in the following model year. Trains, semis, generators, home heating, etc. can use 60-40 with only minor pre-heating modification, then switch once running to SVO tanks. And personally I'd rather put all that genetically engineered soy into my car than my body.

      There are infrastructure issues to be addressed, but within a very few years we could cut petroleum usage for transportation, heating and electricity production by 40-50%. Then we can tweak it down from there. All it takes is will and some incentives for investment.

      Satan himself had a 33% approval rating even as he was booted out of heaven.

      by Joy Busey on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:20:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  since my dad's not here to converse (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I'll just say that if it looks like he missed a few things, it was probably ME that got it wrong as I wrote up the diary. I think the most recently he even worked on this was 8 years ago and he was doing it as a project for Amoco. When he did start to find a solution with corn husks, he presented it and the response he got was "We didn't expect you to find an answer. That's not a business we know how to run." - so it was a dead end. Sounds like the people who ARE in the business have found some ways to work it out.

      Recipe For America - A people-powered movement to take back our food system

      by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:47:05 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Consider the savings... (13+ / 0-)

    in avoiding the costs of invading other oil-producing nations. :::rolls eyes:::

    Fear will keep the local systems in line. -Grand Moff Tarkin Survivor Left Blogistan

    by boran2 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 07:47:12 AM PST

  •  One Reason for Retreating Profit Threshold (11+ / 0-)

    is probably the relationship between the price of oil and the price of everything else. I hope some of our economists will weigh in on this.

    Of course, government is subsidizing petroleum at a couple billion dollars a day

    Image Hosted by
    And a couple of hundred lives a day.

    If that level of subsidy were available to alternative energy, the comparative economics would be very different.

    Purely a hypothetical observation of course.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy....--ML King, "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 07:47:13 AM PST

  •  biofuels are not economically feasable (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    draftchrisheinz, BmoreMD, gmb, ourprez08, ERyd

    Ed Schultz had been beating the biofuel drum on his radio show for quite a while. Makes sense. He lives in the farm belt and he sees that biofuels would help farmers. He had a few energy experts on his show to further explain the promise of biofuels. In seeking the full story, he even interviewed a proffessor who's argument was that biofuels did not make economic sense.

    The prof (I don't remember his name) said that studies that paint a rosy economic picture about biofuel's potential typically leave out many of the costs that go into biofuel production.  For instance, they leave out costs of harvesting the plants, the cost and maintenance of the machinery and the labor ofthe guy driving the tractor.

    After this interview, I noticed that Ed has been less about E85 and switchgrass gas and more about electric cars.

    Newest GOP slogan: Keeping Voter Turnout Low So That the Corporate Criminal's Grandchildren Never Have to Work.

    by bobinson on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 07:49:52 AM PST

    •  I agree that costs are an isuue (8+ / 0-)

      but are those just the start up costs or the long term costs?

      If the costs are mostly start up costs, then we need to suck those up and deal with it.  If it can never become econmically feasible, then we need to re-examine other options......

    •  ONce again, as one commenter (8+ / 0-)

      said upthread, if you look at stand alone ethanol production and consider everything else waste, then yes it doesn't work, but when recaturing energy, and using the spent mash as feed (which has been done for a long time with the spent mash from breweries and distilleries) then it's better.

      •  Even though I'm a meat eater........ (7+ / 0-)

        the incredible amounts of waste produced by cattle alone must also be considered in any equation. The left over mash from production continues to be a pollution source by using it as feed.

        -5.13,-5.63 Start saving money for '08 NOW! IMPEACH...IMPEACH...IMPEACH.. Now more than EVER!

        by rickeagle on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:16:28 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  feedlots produce a lot of gases also (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          OrangeClouds115, Karyn, Picot verde

          Here's some interesting data. Also, I think feedlots spit a lot of co2 into the air, as well as methane, which has like 21 percent of the global warming potential as CO2:

          2.2.1. Air - Gaseous Emissions of Livestock Waste
          Livestock and livestock waste produce gases. Some are localised, such as ammonia whereas others, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), ozone (O3), nitrous oxide (N2O) and other trace gases (together forming greenhouse gases) affect the world's atmosphere, by contributing to "global warming" or global climate change. Livestock's contribution to that effect can be estimated at between 5 and 10 percent. Methane is much more aggressive (24 times) than carbon dioxide in causing global climate change. It is the product of animal production and manure management, rice cultivation, production and distribution of oil and gas (pipelines), coal mining and landfills. Twenty percent of methane emanating from animal production comes from manure stored under anaerobic conditions (USEPA, 1995). Nitrous oxide is the most aggressive greenhouse gas (320 times that of CO2) contributing to global warming. It is produced in animal manure which contributes about 0.4 million tons N per year, or 7 percent of the total global anthropogenic emissions (Bouwman et al., 1995).

          And, of course, there are other pollutants from runoff and co2 deficits from clearing land for factory farming:

          The modern factory farming system is a prolific consumer of fossil fuel and a prolific producer of poisonous wastes. Up to 100,000 animals are herded together on huge feedlots. These animals do not graze on grass, as picture books tell us; they can’t graze at all. Feedlots are crowded, filthy, stinking places with open sewers, unpaved roads and choking air. The animals would not survive at all but for the fact that they are fed huge amounts of antibiotics. It is now conceded that the antibiotics fed to cattle are the main cause of antibiotic resistance in people, as the bacteria constantly in these environments evolve to survive them. The cattle are fed prodigious quantities of corn. At a feedlot of a mere 37,000 cows, 25 tons of corn are dumped every hour. In her lifetime [a cow] will have consumed, in effect, 284 gallons of oil. Today’s factory-raised cow is not a solar-powered ruminant but another fossil fuel machine.

          And she will produce waste. Livestock now produces 130 times the amount of waste that people do. This waste is untreated and unsanitary. It bubbles with chemicals and diseasebearing organisms. It overpowers nature’s ability to clean it up. It’s poisoning rivers, killing fish and getting into human drinking water. 65% of California’s population is threatened by pollution in drinking water just from dairy cow manure. It isn’t just cows that produce this waste. Factory-raised hogs produce four times the waste in North Carolina as the 6.5 million people of that state do. Even the oceans are polluted: 7,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico are a dead zone.

          There are more environmental impacts. Cattle don’t spend their entire lives in feedlots. When they are young, they graze. Where do they graze? Well, more than two-thirds of the land area of the mountain states are used for grazing. 70% of the lands in western national forests are grazed; 90% of Bureau of Land Management land is grazed. These are public lands, lands that President Clinton didn’t even try to save. These lands are trampled by the cattle, compacting the soil. When it rains, the land doesn’t absorb the water. Instead, it runs off, taking away topsoil, forming deep gullies and damaging streambeds. The government protects the cattle by killing off any creature that might threaten the livestock.  

          I’m not done yet. We in the United States do not get all of our beef from the West. We import more than 200 million pounds of beef from Central America alone. Every second of every day, one football field of tropical rainforest is destroyed in order to produce 257 hamburgers.

    •  Great Article (7+ / 0-)

      The Oil Drum published a great article called Life in a Grass House, which goes into detail about the feasability of switchgrass ethanol production.

      •  Good read....thanks for the link...n/t (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        OrangeClouds115, Karyn

        -5.13,-5.63 Start saving money for '08 NOW! IMPEACH...IMPEACH...IMPEACH.. Now more than EVER!

        by rickeagle on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:07:44 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Of course, it does presume that there is ... (4+ / 0-)

        ... no localisable bulk reducing step that can be used as a cellulosic ethnol feedstock, since then when the concentrated feedstock is shipped by rail, the benefit of dried corn over that final leg goes away, and the trade off stays tipped to switchgrass or some other cellulosic feedstock.

        As I keep repeating, cellulosic ethanol is not a ready for prime time technology, and in any event we would be hoping to get the input energy share down to 33% ... getting it down to 15% (IOW, +7 EROEI) is not realistic.

        There are no silver bullets. What we need is a strategy of packing as many silver pellets into the shell as we can, and start blasting. If we get enough pellets into the shell and shoot in the right general direction, some will hit.

        •  I feel the most important thought in this thread (4+ / 0-)

          ...was this one:

          There are no silver bullets. What we need is a strategy of packing as many silver pellets into the shell as we can, and start blasting. If we get enough pellets into the shell and shoot in the right general direction, some will hit.

          We need to be exploring and experimenting with as many of these alternative energy solutions as possible to see which ones show the most promise of being valuable to our society.

          On the one hand, this conversation gets buried by much of the mass media. And then, it feels like those who have an active interest in the subject sometimes get lost in the details. As usual, it's a complex subject with competing interests vying for an advantage. Hopefully, the more these options are explored, the greater the change of something good coming out of it.

        •  So very true (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bobinson, OrangeClouds115, BruceMcF

          "There is no one silver bullet..."

          Biofuels alone will not save us. Nor will windpower, water power, hydrogen, or any single alternative fuel. The only immediately viable solution is to combine all of them in a project to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear power by as much as we can, as fast as we can. The answer to those who pose the question of economics into the alternative fuel debate is that we are at war with extremists over who will control the supply of oil and have access to nuclear weapons making material. Making oil and nuclear power obsolete and irrelevant is the key to ending--even winning--the war.

          Al Qeada is a faith-based initiative.

          by drewfromct on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 10:38:32 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  good point (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bobinson, CarterDulka

      my dad said there are a lot of variables in how someone calculates the $$ and energy cost or savings of biofuels. For example, do you measure the costs of building the tractor that harvests the corn?

      Recipe For America - A people-powered movement to take back our food system

      by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:49:34 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  some of the criticisms that I've seen (3+ / 0-)

      The criticisms that I've seen of biofuel economic feasibility count costs that aren't counted in the costs of producing gasoline, and/or don't take into account scaling factors, and/or don't take into account projected efficiencies from any of the myriad approaches being worked on.  

      Given the fact that biofuel technology is in its relative infancy, it's a little silly to try to make any definitive judgment on economic feasibility.  It may or may not be the answer, but it should obviously be one of the approaches that we research.

      "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner." - Nelson Mandela

      by Bearpaw on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:56:40 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  This is never true (3+ / 0-)

      ...except within a specified timeframe.  "The economy" is not a static thing.  What makes economic sense at one point in time, doesn't make economic sense at another point in time, and vice versa.

  •  This important topic (11+ / 0-)

    has been overshadowed in recent times by election fever.

    Now that election is over I hope there will be much more discussion of greener alternative fuels.

    I've mentioned biodiesel from algae a few times. It effectively recycles atmospheric carbons. That isn't as desirable as carbon-free energy, but it is better than the added carbon from fossil fuels.

    I think it may be time for all of us to learn a bit about chemical engineering and to push the new Congress in the right direction.

  •  interesting topic (4+ / 0-)

    My husband is way into energy issues; I'll have to have him read later on. I do know that an ethanol plant was proposed in the next county (Franklin Co., PA) and strongly opposed by environmentalists.

    I just walked outside and noted immediately that a local field had recently been applied - that was my reminder to log in this morning!

  •  Ah, you make me think longinly and lovingly (7+ / 0-)

    of my own chem engineer father.  He worked for a company that produced activated carbon.  I would love to hear his opinion and analysis of all this but he passed in 1992.  He was really up on the energy situation and truly he was the smartest man I knew. His input is always missed.  We are getting a bio-fuel plant here soon.  They are using an old paper mill site and right now they are putting in the infrastructure that they need.  I am going to look further into this and find out if the corn will come from around here.  They do have a rail line that comes right into the plant.  

    "Do you want to tumble? Let's tumble." Stephen Colbert

    by tobendaro on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:03:12 AM PST

  •  A price of an agricultural commodity (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pop tart, Natalie

    is not like a wage.

    To a farmer, a price is like a wage.

    Wages are normally timed compensation. If someone works an hour, the employer will pay say $7.

    There are only twenty-four hours in a day. No scientific advance will change this.

    A farmer on the other hand has many options such as renting or buying more land to spread out his equipment costs.

    A farmer also has many scientific advances available to him such as bovine growth hormone, genetically modified seeds, insecticides, etc.

    •  ...and... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      A farmer also has many scientific advances available to him such as bovine growth hormone, genetically modified seeds, insecticides...

      ...illegal immigrants...



    •  i'm no farmer so I don't know (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Floja Roja

      how much I can debate you on that, but I can tell you what I've read or heard from farmers (and you are free to take it with a large grain of salt).

      As for scientific advances - yes, there are those. I would bet that many are priced in such a way that they don't represent too much profit to the farmers. In other words, the cost of GM seeds and the extra money they get by using them might well cancel one another out. As for rBGH, it sounds awful. It can boost milk production up to 25% but it also takes a toll on the health of the animals and it boosts the cows' feed requirements and lessens their value at the slaughterhouse.

      From what I hear, there are so many capital investments a farmer must make that it's not uncommon from someone to bring in $1 mil gross but only net $18k in profit in a year. With a thin margin like that, any fluctuations in commodity prices can be the difference between making any money at all or losing money.

      The idea that a price is like a wage is something I have heard repeated over and over by farmers.

      Recipe For America - A people-powered movement to take back our food system

      by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:55:50 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  What Biofuels Really Mean (6+ / 0-)

    Worldwide food production will eventually cease to increase (if it hasn't peaked already) and as fossil fuel availability declines, the choice will come down to somebody trying to survive on $2 a day starves because you drive.

    •  You've been fed a load of bullshit. (5+ / 0-)

      This is based on the lies fed to us by US agribusiness to con us into thinking that the US is helping feed the third world. Pure marketing, which is to say, pure BS.

      The US is helping to spread hunger around the third world. Countries that are perfectly able to feed themselves in normal conditions run into a patch of bad luck, and then are faced with the devil's bargain of accepting US "Food Aid" (and spy posts, and military bases) in return for allowing the US to destroy the local subsistance agriculture system.

      If biofuels is an alternative to the US Farm Lobby going through the third world like an endless plague of locusts, I am all for it.

      •  You've been eating a load of bullshit (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        willers think that humanity is due an undless increase in food production. When the availability of fossil fuels declines, the green revolution will be over. Using more food to replace fossil fuels simply and utterly means there will be less food for people to eat.

        There is a limited amount of cropland, water and fossil-fuel based fertilizer. Yet, there is an unlimited potential for human population to increase. Famine is the equalizer. Famine is the harvest of petroleum depletion. The rich can afford their biofuels, while the poor will starve.

        Big ag loves biofuels because they increase demand on their products, not the other way around.

        •  I don't think you get biotech (0+ / 0-)

          The whole point of biotech is that you won't have to grow the biomass in a field; you can just cook it up in a vat. So the limitations on cropland, water, and fertilizer will be largely moot.

        •  Fossil fuel based fertilizer is part of the ... (0+ / 0-)

          ... system of hidden subsidies and externalized costs to big agribusiness that allows them sweep through developing nations like a plague of locusts.

          There is a limited amount of cropland, there is a limited amount of water, and still the major cause of hunger in the third world are the EU and US farm lobbies.

          And as far as population increase, we know that the most important tools for reducing explosive population growth in most third world countries is improved basic health care and improved education for women. And meanwhile, health care and universal education are the first things that have to be cut when the IMF and World Bank come to town and demand a "restructuring" ... meanwhile there is no constraint on armaments spending, because the Pentagon and their corporate minions will not permit it.

  •  Thanks for a thought provoking diary, Clouds (8+ / 0-)

    One idea. perhaps you may want to ask you Dad to write a detailed article on this (with your help in googling and html, in case he isn't into those things) and either publish it here by himself or have you post it.

    Unite the nation, heal the planet: Al Gore for President, 2008!

    by NeuvoLiberal on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:19:39 AM PST

    •  Great Idea!.....n/t (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OrangeClouds115, NeuvoLiberal

      -5.13,-5.63 Start saving money for '08 NOW! IMPEACH...IMPEACH...IMPEACH.. Now more than EVER!

      by rickeagle on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:09:13 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  thanks (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pHunbalanced, NeuvoLiberal

      I thought about asking him to write it up. Sometimes he's a little confusing to listen to though. At family gatherings, I've watched relatives ask Dad what he's up to these days. He'll spout off some overly technical description of what he's up to that I can barely follow even though I've visited his work and I basically have an idea of what he does. Then later, my relatives will comem over to me and they say "I have no idea what your dad told me, but I can tell you, he is an incredibly smart man."

      Recipe For America - A people-powered movement to take back our food system

      by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:58:11 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Like daughter, like dad on that last point :) (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        you have a wonderful talent for writing.

        ps: If I may ask, are you a pure-vegetarian?

        Unite the nation, heal the planet: Al Gore for President, 2008!

        by NeuvoLiberal on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 10:21:53 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  thanks (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          NeuvoLiberal, willers

          I don't eat meat, and I don't usually eat eggs or dairy. I make occasional exceptions for eggs and dairy though. Living in Wisconsin, every so often I'll find myself in a situation where there's some good milk or cheese to be had and the dairy farmer responsible for it is around and available to answer questions I may have. It's also easy to find truly free range eggs, living in a rural community like I do. Otherwise, yes, strict vegetarian.

          Recipe For America - A people-powered movement to take back our food system

          by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 12:15:38 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Time to go back to ancient Greece (7+ / 0-)

    Air, earth, fire and water. Windmills, geothermal, solar and hydroelectric. Combine with pebble bed reactors and we have an abundant source of relatively safe, clean non carbon energy. All we need now is to develop these power sources.

    Do Pavlov's dogs chase Schroedinger's cat?

    by corwin on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:22:56 AM PST

  •  Far too much focus on fuels (17+ / 0-)

    That is just too narrow a focus. This problem is far larger than the number of carbon molecules and so are the solutions.

    The biggest savings will come from conservation. And to do that, we need to look at the problem more broadly.

    That means shortening lines of supply - the WalMarts of the world and factory farms create a highly destructive economy that wastes fuel and pollutes the environment. So buying local is a must. Notice where there are subsidies that support this waste.

    Get serious about promoting alternatives to cars. That means bringing homes and jobs closer to one another so people can walk. That means having shopping closer to homes and work for the same reasons.

    Notice how heavily we subsidize motor vehicles as a method of transportation. Huge amounts of tax money go into building highways, for example. What would happen if we gave the same subsidies to mass transportation that was conveniently located and easy to use - and cheaper because of the subdisies?

    Develop a culture that looks down on ostentation and consumption and promotes community and human scales of existence.

    •  couldn't agree more! (9+ / 0-)

      furthermore, transportation is only one part of the puzzle

      if i weren't finally circling the wagons to grade ::loud sobbing::, i'd really get after this

      in the meantime, i think everyone should check their ecological footprint. will post a link later if people are unable to find one of these tests via Google

      Cornbread is square, but pi are round.

      by cookiebear on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:39:09 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Hell yes! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shirah, OrangeClouds115, Picot verde

      Although I am all for looking into biofuels and electrically powered vehicles, the only long term answer is to radically alter our land use practices and reduce our overall consumption. We need denser housing, more telecommuting, more public transit, decentralized food production and most of all:

      a culture that looks down on ostentation and consumption and promotes community and human scales of existence.

      Alas, that starts with a level of humility and willingness to sacrifice that has been nearly bred out of our bloodlines.

      Great comment, shirah. I wish that I could give it a "5".

      •  seriously (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I know I'll never single-handedly change our country, but the summer I lived with a British family in London, our house was TINY by American standards. It was a duplex and we had 2 toilets and 1 bathroom. At one point we had 9 people living there: 3 Brits, 2 Americans, 2 Slovenians, 1 Swiss, 1 French, 3 golden retrievers, and 2 cats. Somehow, it all worked. No bathroom fights. Americans would never attempt living that tightly packed into a small space.

        Recipe For America - A people-powered movement to take back our food system

        by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:12:03 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  millions do (0+ / 0-)

          The reality is that millions of Americans do live in such crowded condition, they just don't do it by choice. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million Americans also commute to work by bike or foot.

          The thing is, they are nearly invisible to those of us in the middle class. Back in the last century, I briefly dated a woman who lived with her mother, her sister & brother-in-law and their four kids in a three bedroom, one bath flat while she attended Marquette Dental School as the first person in her family to have ever gone to college. Right now a family of seven lives across the street from me in a three bedroom, one bath flat.

          Most people who live this way in the USA are either immigrants or African-American. Most live in households where every adult works two jobs, usually both paying less than $8/hr.

          It is, I believe, in part because living densely or using human power to commute (or even the bus) is associated with poverty or low levels of education that so many people will not consider such things. I have been asked point blank if I have been convicted of DUI because I bike or bus to work unless I have an exceptional errand to run afterward. In our status obsessed culture, a wasteful, selfish lifestyle is a badge of status.

  •  Why ethanol prices follow gas prices (9+ / 0-)

    It takes a LOT of fossil fuels to make ethanol from corn, to operate the tractors and trucks and fertilize the fields (most fertilizer is made from natural gas). Sure, technically you could run all that stuff on ethanol, but then you have to consider the fuel efficiency of growing/processing ethanol from corn.  Is it worth it?

    The efficiency ratio needs to be significantly higher, which means more ethanol per acre and lower harvesting costs.  That's where switchgrass (a perennial) comes in, with cellulose ethanol.  But that's in no way mature technology yet.  There's private investment, but serious public funding is needed to get anything done at speed.

    Ethanol has other problems, too.  It's a pretty serious solvent, and can't be run through hoses currently used for gasoline without destroying them.  Butanol is much better - it's much more like gasoline, but made in much the same way.  

    When it gets down to it, corn ethanol is about maintaining our existing inefficient farm subsidy system, not producing clean, sustainable energy.  Biomass is the ONLY way to go in the medium-long run (by a century from now onward) for transportation fuel, but it has to be WAY better than it is today.  This is possible, but not until we let go of the stupid corn ethanol inefficiencies and start optimizing for efficiency, not agribusiness politics.

    They hate us for our freedoms. So if we stop being free, they stop hating us? Is THAT the plan?

    by Leggy Starlitz on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:35:11 AM PST

    •  Dad said that I think (0+ / 0-)

      BP and DuPont are working together on some sort of butanol solution. I could have the two companies that are doing it wrong, but I think those are the ones he said.

      Recipe For America - A people-powered movement to take back our food system

      by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 10:00:00 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I heard on NPR (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      (sorry to come without a link) that corn produces 1.3 units of fuel for each one used in the process while importable sugar produces 3.  

      Import duties prevent the sugar from being used in support of our farmers. But if we're thinking globally, this would be a leg up on efficiency leading to building infrastructure and replacing fossil fuels.

      What am I missing?

      (Great diary, OC.)

      (-7.75, -7.69) No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up - Lily Tomlin

      by john07801 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 10:39:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  scaling (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        OrangeClouds115, willers

        Remember, ethanol is just a teeny fraction of our liquid fuel right now.  If we scale up liquid biofuels to become our primary transportation fuel (whether ethanol or other), we're talking about a worldwide change in agriculture.

        They hate us for our freedoms. So if we stop being free, they stop hating us? Is THAT the plan?

        by Leggy Starlitz on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 10:53:03 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I was gonna say that (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          We keep hearing about all these "alternative" fuels coming from corn, or sugar, or algae, or cow poop or whatever... but they are not scalable.

          To get enough plant materials to make enough biofuel equivalent to the amount of oil the US uses in one year, you'd have to grind up all plant life on earth, including all the forests.

          One year's worth of world oil use is equivallent to 300+ years of all life on earth in prehistoric times -- this is where the oil came from, and why it's such a potent fuel.

          The only "alternative" I see is dramatically cutting back on both oil use and the world's population, especially in countries that use the most oil.

          I've said it before, and I'll say it again: There's just too damn many people.

          There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click)

          by willers on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 05:32:01 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  actually, that's hardly the case (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            It's not like every gram of carbon that was part of ancient life turned into oil or coal.  Most of it carbon-cycled.  I don't know where you got your numbers from, but they're really complete nonsense.  A link, if you have one, so I can debunk more properly.

            Given the right efficiencies, we COULD continue the population we have, and the lifestyle we have, indefinitely - using solar power for electricity and biomass for transportation.  It would mean greatly scaling up the efficiency of vehicles (we could get the miles we do today on 1/4 the fuel), and careful planning of resource allocation, but it COULD be done.

            The problem is, getting to that point takes real long-term thinking and investment.  I'm afraid we'll be well past the point of turning it around by the time we see the need, on a global scale.

            They hate us for our freedoms. So if we stop being free, they stop hating us? Is THAT the plan?

            by Leggy Starlitz on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 05:48:30 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  I thought you were going to talk (9+ / 0-)


    The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has released its long anticipated report on the human health effects of perchlorates, a byproduct of rocket fuel. Perchlorates, which are a common pollutant near military sites, have recently BEEN FOUND IN DRINKING WATER IN 35 STATES AS WELL AS IN 93 PERCENT OF LETTUCE AND MILK.

    Along with the report, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set drinking water standards indicating that perchlorates are roughly TEN TIMES MORE TOXIC to humans than the Department of Defense has been claiming. Perchlorates can inhibit thyroid function, cause birth defects and lower IQs, and are considered particularly dangerous to children. Monitoring wells across the U.S. are now finding perchlorate levels as high as 30,000 times what the EPA indicates would be safe exposure.

    To avoid liability, the Pentagon is currently pressuring Congress to pass a new bill that states the military does not have to adhere to any environmental regulations (as a matter of national security). Please take 30 seconds to send a quick online letter urging your Congressperson to protect the nation's food and water by reducing perchlorate pollution.

    Take action and learn more about this issue here: http://www.organicc onsumers. org/perchlorate. htm

    Please also forward this message to interested friends and colleagues. (source: Organic Consumers Association http://www.organicc onsumers. org)

    Who will be brave enough to stop the ethic cleansing in Palestine's West Bank? Educated yourself on what is happening in our name. Stop military aid.

    by mattes on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 08:58:13 AM PST

  •  even if you need the same amount of carbons... (6+ / 0-)

    First of all, thanks for the diary. It's very interesting and I really enjoyed the read. However there's one thing I'd like to clarify:

    When you say that ethanol doesn't make a lot of sense because it still requires the same amount of carbon molecules to make a car go a certain distance, this is true, but probably a bit mislead in its conclusion. I don't mean to contradict your dad - because what he's saying is right. However, as I understand it...

    One of the problems with burning fossil fuels is that the carbons from fossil fuel aren't involved in any sort of cycle. That is to say, these carbons have been trapped under ground for millions of years and have been removed from the carbon cycle - so when we burn and release them, we're overloading the planet's ability to absorb them and creating all of these environmental problems because they're essentially 'new' carbon molecules that weren't a part of the carbon cycle before.

    However, when you make ethanol, you're taking carbon that is a part of this cycle, meaning you're not actually creating new carbons, you're just using old ones. In the corn example, the corn is grabbing these carbons from the soil, and ultimately, it would get dumped back into the soil once it's consumed by humans, used to build cells, and then those cells die and are returned as human waste product. But the upshot of this is that burning a fuel made from carbon already in the cycle wouldn't overload the earth's ability to absorb it, because, well, that carbon was already there in the first place, unlike the carbons in fossil fuels.

    And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.

    by Gabe Stein on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:00:58 AM PST

    •  Whoops... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      CalNM, OrangeClouds115

      I guess sphealey kinda talked about this already.

      And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.

      by Gabe Stein on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:02:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  And it aint just carbon ... (4+ / 0-)

      ... carbon is the key to energy density, but the 6 hydrogens also burn.

      If the father is referring to the absurd vision of a plug and play replacement for gasoline, simple answer is, there isn't any, and ethanol is just one more pie in the sky as a plug and play replacement.

      We need to retool our society from the bottom up. And ethanol and other biofuels have a chance to be part of that.

    •  thanks (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      markymarx, cookiebear

      I dumbed down all of the chemistry stuff Dad said because I didn't understand most of it. My apologies for being a bad messenger - and thanks for your clarification.

      Recipe For America - A people-powered movement to take back our food system

      by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 10:01:35 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  good comment, except... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      How much petroleum is used to deliver the pesticides; manufacture, process, transport, till soil, etc. in producing corn-based ethanol?  

      Also, a clarification:  the carbon released from burning fossil fuels is a part of the carbon cycle, as I'm sure you know.  Just on a longer time scale.

      The fact is, corn-based ethanol is not a serious part of the solution to global warming, although other biofuels show more promise.  It's really pork pretending to be a solution to a very complicated and very real problem. Democrats pushing corn-based ethanol should be pushed to come up with real solutions.  

      What liberals fail to recognize is that regime change in Iraq is not some distraction from the war on Al Qaeda. That is a bogus argument. -- Thomas Friedman

      by markymarx on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 10:31:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  And how much petroleum (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        IS the pesticides and fertilizers? And how much natural gas, which has also peaked?

        That's why the world's population has skyrocketed since petrochemical and natural gas agricultural fertilizers and pesticides started being used. Without them... well... you can connect the dots.

        There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click)

        by willers on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 05:35:50 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  you're so right (0+ / 0-)

        I wish I had more than 1 rec to give you. It's pork disguised as environmentalism.

        Recipe For America - A people-powered movement to take back our food system

        by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:14:47 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I can see a possibility....... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gmb, OrangeClouds115, Natalie

    of biofuels in the future only as a supplement to our energy needs.
    The bottom line is we need a cheap endless supply of fuel to generate electricity that is sent directly to the grid to charge vehicles or converted to another storage medium such as hydrogen. Using that cheaper energy to convert biomass to fuel may have a better energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) basis.
    Our transportation system also must be made to be heavily dependent on overhead (or third rail) electric powered vehicles to move commodities as well as people. Already we have electric trains (converting diesel to electric or using the third rail).

    The question is- where do we get the source of clean endless energy?
    Possibly a combination of tidal, solar, and  wind. I believe that would take a huge investment in infrastructure and would cause an equal growth in jobs.....but I am willing to be wrong about this.


    -5.13,-5.63 Start saving money for '08 NOW! IMPEACH...IMPEACH...IMPEACH.. Now more than EVER!

    by rickeagle on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:03:17 AM PST

  •  An Alternative (5+ / 0-)

    Following is a technology that, if it is true and not a scam, could help solve two major problems for our country - disposal of our garbage and our dependence on foreign oil.  Changing World Technologies, Inc. claims to have perfected the process of turning virtually any organic feedstock into diesel fuel and various chemicals and/or metals depending upon the type of feedstock being fed into the process.  It does this by precisely controlling pressure, temperature and moisture.

    Discover Magazine's April 2006 issue has an article on this process explaining what it is about and some of the issues they are running into.  

    Here is the article -

    and here is Changing World Technologies' website -

    According to the Discover article, it seems this home-grown company is  contemplating headquartering in Europe because of a lack of enthusiasm here at home.  That would be a shame if something like this, which has the potential to have a profound effect on our lives, were to continue to be ignored by our government.  To be sure, they have their detractors, but I feel that we as a nation have an obligation to look into this for the implications it has for our future.    If this were to work out as it seems, it could provide a solution or a partial solution to the following problems:

    1.  Energy Independence - According to one estimate, just agricultural waste alone could replace 4 billion barrels of oil a year - approximately the amount we import.  No more war for oil.
    1.  Balance Of Trade - It would stop a large portion of our wealth as a nation from being exported.
    1.  Global Warming - This could be an important step in halting global warming due to excess carbon dioxide as it is not pulling carbon out of the bowels of the earth and shoving it in the atmosphere.  If the output of this could be used to create plastics and other products now created from oil pumped from wells, it could truly be carbon neutral, with the carbon it uses coming from the atmosphere through plantlife.
    1.  Employment - Lots of processing plants to be built and maintained.

    Is this the ideal solution for our energy needs?  Probably not, but it is what is available now and solves two of our societies' major problems.  It takes a liablility (garbage) and turns it into an asset (energy).  At least this could provide an energy solution until a better  one comes along.

  •  If we did have an endless supply........ (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OrangeClouds115, rolet, Natalie

    of fuel in whatever form, wouldn't that encourage population growth in the end?
    No downward pressure on population caused by "free energy" would IMHO, result in an increase in population.
    Overpopulation causing mass starvation at some point?

    -5.13,-5.63 Start saving money for '08 NOW! IMPEACH...IMPEACH...IMPEACH.. Now more than EVER!

    by rickeagle on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:19:27 AM PST

  •  Conservation, not really biofuels production (5+ / 0-)

    That's where the 'low fruit' is.  Look around, guys... what's in your house that ISN'T made of plastic, or transported by car (gasoline).  Do you have polyester rugs, plastic toys or tools... and look at your fridge... do you even KNOW how far away your pickles or your mayo came, just to be with you? :-)
    Check out for LOTS of discussion and info about these topics (ethanol included).
    Also check out ... that's Matt Simmons' website.... the president of the largest energy-related investment bank in the world, and he preaches conservation, primarily.
    And for the latest on biodiesel from algae try ... they have lots of info on the latest developments.
    But, conservation is still the BEST way. AND the cheapest!!

    "If the Nuremberg laws were applied, every post WWII US President would have been hanged." =Chomsky

    by abenjaminc on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:36:00 AM PST

    •  Conservation AND biofuels (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LARefugee, TenDem, OrangeClouds115

      AND wind & waterpower AND hydrogen AND solar AND tidal power AND geothermal power AND so on and so on...

      Whenever the subject of alternative fuels comes up, we seem to see folks squaring off into corners for their own particular fave, while the naysayers complain that "X alone won't replace oil". Well, no one alternative alone will replace oil, but all of them together hopefully can and will.

      But, as has been pointed out, none of that will matter if don't get a handle on the unchecked growth of population and attendent rising consumption of finite natural resources. We need to entirely revamp the current socioeconomic system which is based on perpetual growth and replace it with a sustainability-based model. Only that will make human life on this one planet viable in the long run.

      Al Qeada is a faith-based initiative.

      by drewfromct on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 10:50:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Unfortunately there's too much overlap (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        You can't use the same land for 4 different fuel crops AND solar AND geothermal AND wind AND nuclear AND coal AND whatever other unproven nutball idea like algae farms happens to come along. The earth has a finite amount of space, and each of these "alternative" fuels has a different set of issues and problems that must be overcome.

        You can't fly an airplane on solar electricity. You have to dispose of radioactive nuclear and coal slag waste. Tidal power has a huge impact on marine life. Windmills kill thousands of birds including raptors and use huge amounts of land to produce little electricity. Hyrogen is not a power source, it's a net loss battery. Solar panels are energy intensive to make and use large amounts of plastics, metals and silicon, which are in short supply or will be soon. And so on.

        As James Howard Kunstler says, "we have to make other arrangements."

        I am anticipating dieoff due to poor planning on the part of the industrialized world, and I'm moving ever closer to self sufficiency here on our homestead. It'll be ugly. It'll be messy. There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth. But there isn't any realistic substitute for oil, even if you combine several of these new (and mostly unproven) "alternative" ideas.

        Sorry folks, but we've overshot. The party's over. It's a reality most people want to wish their way out of, saying "we're smart, we'll invent our way out of the problem." Part of me wishes that were true. The other part of me realizes that it's probably impossible and acknowledges that it's time to put away the party hats and turn out the lights. I hope I'm wrong. But if I'm right, I'll already have the infrastructure in place to survive.

        There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click)

        by willers on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 05:50:28 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  i would say (0+ / 0-)

          let's use less land for corn as a food crop. If we're still using it for corn, make it be for energy - or plant a better energy crop instead. We have too much damn corn.

          Recipe For America - A people-powered movement to take back our food system

          by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:18:02 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  If used as a sweetener (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I would agree, but it IS a nutritious staple crop if used as cornmeal for food and animal feeds. However, it tends to take up quite a lot of space and there are better uses of that same space for food crops that produce more nutrition per acre. Corn has become such a widely grown crop because it's easy to grow and can be used for so many things, from plastics to chicken feed.

            There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click) There's no place like home... (click)

            by willers on Mon Nov 27, 2006 at 03:31:03 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Recommended (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    markymarx, OrangeClouds115, rolet, Natalie

    BEAUTIFUL diary. Well done as always OC!

    "If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide." Abe Lincoln

    by faithfull on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:50:47 AM PST

  •  The sugar lobby is a ring of thieves (n/t) (3+ / 0-)
  •  DME is being industrially scaled to outstrip EtOH (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OrangeClouds115, rolet

    and all other biofuels.

    I have most recently explained one approach to DME technology in Banning Oil:   Dimethyl ether, Hydrogen, Nuclear Power and Motor Fuel for Cars and Trucks

    Other diary entries linked in there explain DME's other sources including renewables (wind and biomass) and regrettably, coal and natural gas.

    In the linked diary entry is a remark on a meeting of the world's energy countries to plan DME production equivalent to several times the amount of energy being produced by all biofuels.

    DME is already being industrialized.

  •  Natural gas fuels the ethanol plants in MN and SD (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OrangeClouds115, rolet, Karyn

    but if the DM&E Railroad ends up expanding to Wyoming coal fields, Sen. Thune and the head of the railroad said they want to see all the ethanol plants switch to coal.

  •  Confused (4+ / 0-)

    You don't like ethanol, but you like biomass?  What do you think they use to make bioethanol?

  •  Light Emitting Diodes (4+ / 0-)

    They are here...NOW!  They are bright and they are white.

    They are expensive at present.  To try one out, go buy a MaxLight flashlight.  It uses the new 3 watt LED, but it is not at full brightness.

    Since a watt is a heat unit and not light unit in hot months the LED's dump far less heat into your house and the airconditioner works less.

    Christ is my governor -- God help us.

    by ThatSinkingFeeling on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 11:01:52 AM PST

    •  It May Take a While. LED Light is Creepy as hell. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      They need to get it more "sunny" before it will be accepted in the home. They had to do the same with the screw-in replacement fluorescent lights.

      "[T]hat I have no remedy for all the sorrows of the world is no reason for my accepting yours. It simply supports the strong probability that yours is a fake."

      by Heronymous Cowherd on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 12:27:40 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  ...and windmills look bad ... blah, blah, blah (0+ / 0-)

        Burn more oil so.
        They are white light.  Colors are great.

        Christ is my governor -- God help us.

        by ThatSinkingFeeling on Mon Nov 27, 2006 at 05:27:02 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Actually, No. LED Light is Creepy as Hell. Really (0+ / 0-)

          Amongst other things, I work as an image processing and color management engineer. I could show you a whole shitload of data and spectrographic analysis diagrams, comparing the various lights, but it comes down to an old-fashioned emotional response.

          LED light is "creepy." We have to adjust for it in scanners.

          The current "white" LED light is actually distinctly bluish. It makes skin tone into corpse-tone. Try one of those flashlights out, and you'll see what I mean.

          If no one will buy it because it makes them "feel bad," then the technology will take a long time to mature.

          People will do exactly what I did when I first brought a substitute fluorescent bulb. They'll try it out, hate it, and won't buy another for ten years. Now I have them all over my house, but that is only because they've improved the spectral coverage.

          "[T]hat I have no remedy for all the sorrows of the world is no reason for my accepting yours. It simply supports the strong probability that yours is a fake."

          by Heronymous Cowherd on Tue Nov 28, 2006 at 12:03:33 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I have 16 3-watt LED's (0+ / 0-)

            burning in my house right now!  They are great white light and I feel GOOD for burning them.   They make reading a pleasure and colors stand out great.

            The photo processing algorithms are set up  for florescent, daylight, and incandescent light, so adjust the algorithm (TBP TX-Theta '85)

            I find your arguements are rather pissy.  I feel I have to put up or shut up.  I just bought a 2007 Toyota Corroal, 41 mpg, and I don't like driving a stick, but for $200 month gas savings over the Jeep 4x4, I'll do it with a smile.

            Wind mills look bad, LED light is too blue, and stick shifts are inconvenient ... get over it.

            Christ is my governor -- God help us.

            by ThatSinkingFeeling on Tue Nov 28, 2006 at 07:28:05 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  bio fuel, is still fuel (4+ / 0-)

    fuel burning still releases CO2, whatever the source of the fuel.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to recall that CO2 is the problem.  Burning fuel is the problem, no matter the location or the fuel.

    Have we figured out the chemistry of burning fuel without releasing CO2?

    More efficient use of fuel is merely a band-aid, also. The fuel will be burned, and the CO2 released, all of it, ultimately, even if it is "efficiently" used.

    Not sustainable, long term.

    Serious paradigm shift needed.

    -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

    by claude on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 11:12:54 AM PST

    •  Biofuel does not contribute to global warming (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      claude, tryptamine, OrangeClouds115

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to recall that CO2 is the problem.  Burning fuel is the problem, no matter the location or the fuel.

      You are wrong.  Your error is a common misconception.

      The carbon atoms in biomass originate as the carbon atoms in the CO2 in air.  The plants breathed in the CO2 and converted it to biomass recently.  Burning a biofuel just releases that carbon back to the air (as CO2).  There is no net change in CO2 when biofuels are burned.  

      The global warming problem is caused by burning fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, coal), where the carbon was absorbed from the air by plants growing millions of years ago.  It is fossil CO2 that is causing the global warming problem.

  •  Wow. (3+ / 0-)

    Definitely one to hotlist for future reference.

    What about biodiesel- using biomass materials to make diesel, since it has more carbons? I heard about that in chemistry class, but I don't really understand how or if the process would work.

    •  i'm no scientist (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      but I know any diesel car can be converted easily to accept SVO - straight veggie oil. Then you can get used fryer grease from a local restaurant and stick it in your car.

      I'm a bit confused because I have met farmers who use biomass energy and make it work. I think the reason why it worked for them but not my dad might just have to do with the fact that he was working on something large scale and industrial that could be sold at a gas station, whereas the farmers were just creating energy for themselves small scale. I put a link to the farmers' website in the diary - - and they have some info there although I haven't read it well. I have notes somewhere but I cant find them right now.

      Recipe For America - A people-powered movement to take back our food system

      by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:23:39 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  turkey guts, feedlot runoff and old tires- oh my (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I've bumped into a number of articles on thermal depolymerization.   It takes organic material--richer than most plant stuff and breaks it down to produce anything from the equivalent of light sweet crude to whatever with extra dumps of minerals and extra carbons.

    I wonder if I have been more information on it or if has been hidden     .or if this s what the oil companies have been working on.  ??

    I haven't read all the comments so someone else might have mentioned this.  Just think about making fuel while cleaning up some mountains of tires or using feedlot manure instead of trying to dump into the sewers or ground water.

    Another great one, OC.   Hasn't anyone offered you a syndicated oolumn yet?  Their loss if not.

    Maybe you could run this by your Dad?   It sounded like a great idea when I saw it.   Possibly expensive to set up, but given the benefits......  I probably have fewer than a third of whatever chem engineering credits than you do.   none/3  grin

    "America! America! God mend thine ev'ry flaw; Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law! -- Katharine Lee Bates, "America The Beautiful" (1893)

    by maybeeso in michigan on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 12:10:37 PM PST

    •  "thermal depolymerization" isn't a solution (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      maybeeso in michigan, willers

      And neither is biofuels, frankly.  At least, if we think want to maintain an extremely energy intensive (wasteful) lifestyle, we are going to be very surprised.  

      The US DOE comissioned a report to look at several energy possibilities (peak oil, for want of a better term).  This is often called, the "Hirsch Report" to credit the major author. Conclusion was that a massive 'crash program' to replace oil and natural gas would need to be started ten years before fossil fuels started to run out (peak oil). Any less startup time would cause 'huge economic dislocation'.
      You see anyone with the will to do this? Peak oil is probably here. If not now, likely within five years.

      Oh, and the "TDP" links.... go to and look around the forums... thermal depolymerization has had an ongoing thread for a couple of years now.  The only pilot plant in operation (the turkey guts one) was closed almost a year ago, due to poor economics, poor quality oil, and a god-awful smell.... really bad, even by turkey guts standards.

      Nope, guys.... we're gonna have to conserve, period. Combining ALL the rest of the wind, solar, biofuels, coal to gas, etc. schemes will slow our future 'low energy' lifestyle.  But we WILL have to initiate a HUGE 'forced conservation' lifestyle within a few short years.  No getting around it, sorry.

      Tell a friend.

      "If the Nuremberg laws were applied, every post WWII US President would have been hanged." =Chomsky

      by abenjaminc on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 12:47:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Conservation is "easiest" and best. But it is (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        OrangeClouds115, willers

        not enough alone.  No one or two or several are enough.  We need to be looking at it from all angles.  Sixty mpg or so-cars and well built energy efficient homes are the basic conservation needed.  Also, fewer plastic toys and household bits     for starters.

        An old science fiction story that i'm still looking for had people making their livings mining old garbage dumps for plastics and other organics for use in medicies and other necessities.

        "America! America! God mend thine ev'ry flaw; Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law! -- Katharine Lee Bates, "America The Beautiful" (1893)

        by maybeeso in michigan on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 12:56:00 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  looks like someone else answered you (0+ / 0-)

      but it's still worth mentioning to my dad. I haven't taken a real science class since high school - it was my most hated subject - so I wouldn't be shocked if I had the worst grip on it of everyone here :) I got out of college science requirements by taking a few anthro's that counted as science and a course called Biology of Dinosaurs.

      How are you doing lately? Say hi to your granddaughters for me.

      Recipe For America - A people-powered movement to take back our food system

      by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:26:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Very Sensible Chap, Your Dad (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    That stuff he was mentioning was all the infrastructure considerations that go into producing fuel. There are many more that come into play once production is under way, such as pipelines, tanker fleets, pumping stations, franchise agreements, pollution standards, etc.

    And, of course, ethanol is some kickass 'shine. There will be a lot of it falling of the trucks before it becomes denatured.

    These are exactly the types of considerations we must keep in mind when looking at alternative energy strategies. To avoid it would be like...going into a war, with no postwar strategy.

    "[T]hat I have no remedy for all the sorrows of the world is no reason for my accepting yours. It simply supports the strong probability that yours is a fake."

    by Heronymous Cowherd on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 12:25:52 PM PST

  •  What about hemp? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It grows like a weed.

    Democrats give you the Bill of Rights; Republicans sell you a bill of goods!

    by barbwires on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 01:19:36 PM PST

  •  Ask your Dad what he thinks of bio-butanol (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    From bio-mass. Just curious.

    •  he told me a few major companies (0+ / 0-)

      are working on it right now. I think he said BP and DuPont. He didn't say anything else about it but it sounds like you're on the right track with that idea if major companies are working on it.

      Recipe For America - A people-powered movement to take back our food system

      by OrangeClouds115 on Sun Nov 26, 2006 at 09:28:12 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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