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Politicians, scientists, and lobby groups who tout biofuels are trying to maintain the status quo of our current energy industry, rather than find the best options for powering our cars and homes. A new study by Marc Z. Jacobsen, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Stanford, finds that biofuels require too much infrastructure and produce too much pollution to compete with wind, water, and sun, and they end up at the bottom of the list when the major alternatives to fossil fuels are ranked for their effectiveness.

Jacobson has conducted the first quantitative, scientific evaluation of the proposed, major, energy-related solutions by assessing not only their potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, but also their impacts on global warming, human health, energy security, water supply, space requirements, wildlife, water pollution, reliability and sustainability. His findings indicate that the options that are getting the most attention are between 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options.

"Ethanol-based biofuels will actually cause more harm to human health, wildlife, water supply and land use than current fossil fuels." He added that ethanol may also emit more global-warming pollutants than fossil fuels, according to the latest scientific studies.

The study can be read at Energy and Environmental Science, the Stanford News Service report on his findings, an easier read, highly recommended, can be read here.

For this study, Jacobsen was just studying the effectiveness of using prairie grass to make cellulosic biofuel, which makes it a no-brainer that it would end up at the bottom of the list; prairie grass seems like a lousy material to fuel our cars. But corn-based ethanol is the next-to-worst, andeven if we manage to make biofuel out of something like corn husks or rice hulls, as some scientists are currently researching, biofuels themselves have fundamental problems. They will always produce pollution and they will always require infrastructure to distribute them. That infrastructure is a huge part of the reason why corporations and politicians like biofuels, and it's a huge part of the reason why biofuels will always lag behind wind, water, and sun. The gas companies might not like it, but if we are really serious about fixing our energy issues and reducing pollution, that's how we can make real improvements--not just by switching to a more energy-efficient, less-polluting fuel, but rather by eliminating an entire, wasteful chunk of the energy supply chain as we make that switch.

Wind can make a lot of energy on a really small amount of land, and it can be efficiently transported to our houses through the electrical grid, and he says it's a myth that wind and solar cannot be relied on for a continuous source of energy. (It's also a myth that windmills kill birds. Windmills killed 15,000 birds in the U.S. last year. Housecats are estimated to have killed over million.)

Here is Jacobsen's rankings of the fuels.

Best to worst electric power sources:

  1. Wind power 2. concentrated solar power (CSP) 3. geothermal power 4. tidal power 5. solar photovoltaics (PV) 6. wave power 7. hydroelectric power 8. a tie between nuclear power and coal with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

Best to worst vehicle options:

  1. Wind-BEVs (battery electric vehicles) 2. wind-HFCVs (hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) 3.CSP-BEVs 4. geothermal-BEVs 5. tidal-BEVs 6. solar PV-BEVs 7. Wave-BEVs 8.hydroelectric-BEVs 9. a tie between nuclear-BEVs and coal-CCS-BEVs 11. corn-E85 12.cellulosic-E85.

Originally posted to toedrifter on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 06:32 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  What about airplanes ? (4+ / 0-)

    "I don;t need to , because I don't give a shit who YOU are" MAORCA ***mean people suck***

    by indycam on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 06:41:19 PM PST

    •  Use the SUPERTRAIN instead (6+ / 0-)

      The best way to make flying more efficient is to do less of it.  That won't work for long range travel, but there's a lot of short and mid-range air travel that could disappear if we switched to rail powered by electricity.

      "If another country builds a better car, we buy it. If they make a better wine, we drink it. If they have better healthcare . . . what's our problem? "

      by mbayrob on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 07:05:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Euro tunnel + TGV (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The Eurotunnel stole a huge market share from the London Paris and London Brussels air markets.

      Similarly, the TGV network in France _ powered 85% by nuclear generated electricity - has virtually replaced all air travel between most French regional cities, Brussels, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam and Paris. Why take a plane from say Lyon which is around 300 miles from Paris when the TGV can do city centre to city centre in around 2 hours, with only a five minute check in time.

  •  interesting (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    deepeco, ppl can fly

    thanks a lot.

    "Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war" - John Adams

    by esquimaux on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 06:48:03 PM PST

  •  thanks for doing this, toedrifter. Another (4+ / 0-)

    problem with corn ethanol is that it requires petroleum based fertilizers given current farming practices.

    And if we were going to use a food based fuel source, Brazillian sugar can, or ordinary sugar beets apparently have higher ratios of usuable plant matter to husks and stalks, which pending a hoped for better bacterial digester, apparently, is not efficient enough now to be commercially feasible.

    So this big corn based ethanol turns out to be another political boondoggle give away to the lobbyists.

    And has caused, starvation and social disruption around the world by driving up corn prices beyond the reach of many of the worlds poorest.

    Yes, another thing we can be ashamed about polticially.

    The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

    by HoundDog on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 06:49:30 PM PST

  •  yeah it is wind. (0+ / 0-)

    We have lots of wind mills in Pincher Creek. Not pretty but powerful.

    by TexMex on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 06:50:34 PM PST

  •  Overall... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BruceMcF, wondering if, ppl can fly

    yes!  Biofuels are problematic, to say the least.

    However, one could nitpick in the "best to worst" rankings.  This is not the best forum for the technical nuances.  The best forum for that is "The Oil Drum".

    Hey, just my humble opinion, and you have my rec!

  •  please (8+ / 0-)

    Ethanol has an EROI of about 1.25 when it's well executed ... using the old fashion methods.

     There are several ways to double that via energy efficiency in the processing - if you can dry the distiller's grain without fossil fuel input you get an EROI of 2.0.

     If you use sweet sorghum rather than corn you get another doubling.

     If you fractionate the corn - boiling it in ethanol to remove the oil which is then turned to biodiesel, then the situation improves.

     If you make the nitrogen fertilizer from wind, solar, or hydro power rather than fossil fuels the crop is functionally free of fossil fuel inputs but for the long distance transport costs.

     We will need some sort of liquid fuels going forward. Biodiesel and ethanol can be made renewably, and the far horizon will be direct ammonia fuel usage, bypassing CO2 all together.

    •  What do mean RE an ammonia fuel cycle? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Stranded Wind

      That one I haven't heard of before.

      What's the concept here, and what's been tried?

      "If another country builds a better car, we buy it. If they make a better wine, we drink it. If they have better healthcare . . . what's our problem? "

      by mbayrob on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 07:03:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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

        Stranded Wind is a big backer of ammonia in vehicles, but I have to staunchly disagree with him.  It's toxic, only half as energy dense as diesel (barely better than a li-ion EV in terms of total system weight), very flammable, highly corrosive, and so on down the line.  It's production using electric power is highly inefficient (and that comes after the losses in generating that electricity), and on top of that, if you burn it, you then have the major losses already inherent in internal combustion engines on top of that (your average ICE vehicle is only about 20% efficient).  You can get better efficiency using a fuel cell, but fuel cells cost an utter fortune and use far more resources to make than batteries.  And the fuel efficiency still wouldn't approach a BEV.

        •  minor quibbles (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Stranded Wind

          Ammonia's flammability range is fairly narrow - 16% to 25% by volume, and requires a pretty strong ignition source - I think of 850 C or so.  Gasoline is 1.4%-7.6%, methane (natural gas) 5%-15%, methanol 6.7%-36%, ethanol 3.3%-19%, and propane 2.1%-10.1%.

          The energy in ammonia is around 58 to 70 percent of the power needed to produce that ammonia via SSS.  While ICEs are not very efficient, ammonia fueled ones can use higher compression ratios; efficiencies run around 30% for automotive size engines on up to 40% or so for those in large equipment.  Fuel cell systems would give 50% for lower temperature cells, intermediate temperature cells need no PGM and run 5% or so higher in efficiency.

          Note that Stranded Wind is talking about using renewable power sources for production of electricity, and the efficiency of generation is the same be the power targeted at charging batteries or making fuel.

          BEVs make more sense for most urban driving, but past 100 miles or so some sort of fuel burner - be that a PEHV - starts to look better with existing technologies.  Those current battery technologies have some resource issues, too. Lithium isn't real common, there is argument about the implications of converting to lithium-chemistry BEVs and PEHV.  Dewvelopment of sodium-ion batteries, or further refining of the Zebra battery (although it has some toxicity issues) would alleviate issues of resource scarcity.

          •  Quibble quibbles :) (0+ / 0-)

            58-70%?  That's not the sort of numbers I'm seeing.  Example:   around 30% average for Canadian plants.  And that's with hydrogen fixation from natural gas, which is very efficient in bulk scale with cogen, not electrolysis.

            Engine efficiency is not the number you're looking for.  Good gasoline engines can hit 40% efficiency and a good diesel 50%.  The number you're looking for is vehicle efficiency.  Engine efficiencies are for peak operating conditions only, and fall off precipitously from there; there are also parasitic losses in a car that you have to account for.

            Fuel cells are worth their weight in gold and require platinum, which is mined in low PPM quantities in very environmentally destructive methods.  That's a complete non-starter.

            BEVs make more sense for most urban driving, but past 100 miles or so some sort of fuel burner - be that a PEHV - starts to look better with existing technologies.

            Not in the least.  The overwhelming majority of the energy that goes into a vehicle is consumed by operation, not production.  So operational efficiency is key, and ammonia-fuelled vehicles have atrocious system efficiency.  

            And, FYI, even a mere 100 miles is an hour and a half of freeway driving.  Is it really that much of a burden, an hour and a half of driving and then ten minutes of rapid charging?  Really?

            Those current battery technologies have some resource issues, too. Lithium isn't real common

            Myth,     You could produce thousands of BEVs for every man, woman, and child on the planet with lithium recovered from the oceans at a couple dozen dollars per kilogram, and it's doubtful we'll ever have to tap that (see the Kings Valley as an example of on-land resource scaleup).  And lithium is only a tiny fraction of the cell cost anyways.  Traditional li-ion are actually cobalt-limited.
            while the newer variants are capital cost limited.

            or further refining of the Zebra battery (although it has some toxicity issues)

            What toxicity issues?  Zebras are essentially nontoxic.

        •  absolutely wrong (0+ / 0-)

          Ammonia is not very flammable - it requires a starter fluid to get it moving. The MSDS lists it as "mildly flammable".

           Carrying on about battery vehicles is pretty silly in the context of a corn field - we're never going to have battery powered tractors and combines. Batteries don't have the energy density of liquid fuel. Urban Kossacks come up with the silliest ideas in this area - battery power or in one case tethering combines to the many (NOT!) overhead electrical lines in the area, just like city buses.

      •  Here (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Stranded Wind, ImpactAv

        FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

        by Roger Fox on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 07:16:37 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  To clarify in terms of efficiency: (5+ / 0-)

        The average coal plant in the US is somewhere around 32% efficient.  Natural gas is something like 42% efficiency on average.  Nuclear, around 30%.  Solar thermal, somewhere in the 30% range.  Let's go with 35% for our power plant efficiency.  Commercial electrolysis is about 50-70% efficient on average.  You can get more efficiency, but it gets less economical as the rate of reaction decreases rapidly.  Let's be optimistic and say 70%.  The Haber process to create ammonia is 30% efficient.  Tack in 95% efficiency for compression and delivery.  The average internal combustion engine-powered vehicle is only about 20% efficient (the peak efficiency of the engines is higher, but that isn't experienced in practice).  Let's multiply: 0.35 * 0.7 * 0.3 * 0.95 * 0.2 = 1.4% efficiency.

        Now, let's look at a BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle).  Same power generation efficiency, 35%.  Average transmission losses in the US (which we didn't even count last time) is 92.8%.  A reasonable charger efficiency is 93% or so.  Li-ion batteries  usually range from 96 to over 99% efficient; let's say 98%.  Let's say that your EV drivetrain only gets 85% efficiency on average (in peak efficiency, EVs motors can get over 95%, although that's only for very limited circumstances).  Multiplying it out, that's: 0.35 * 0.928 * 0.93 * 0.98 * 0.85 = 21.6%.  Not counting regen.

        So, 1.4% system efficiency versus 21.6% system efficiency.  Take your pick!   ;)  And if you want a power generation method that's very efficient -- say, wind or hydro -- or just want to negate the amount of solar energy the power plant can harness (since wasting it isn't like wasting coal or oil) -- then we can remove the generation efficiency aspect from our two numbers, getting 4% and 62%,  respectively.

        I'm sure you can see why I oppose ammonia as a fuel.

        And to anyone asks about the energy to produce the batteries: the energy consumed by a vehicle in its manufacture is almost always way dwarfed by the energy it consumes in its lifetime.  EVs are no different.  I can get you studies if you'd like.  And no, automotive-grade li-ion batteries are not toxic, no, there's absolutely no lithium shortage, and no, they do not have short lifespans (conventional li-ion does, but that's not what we're talking about; titanates, phosphates, and stabilized spinels last decades).  Just ask for refs to anything if you need it!

        •  What's the definition of efficiency here? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Stranded Wind

          In an electric appliance, you'd assume that an appliance that was 100% efficient took all of the power applied to it and put it to use.  So a light bulb that was 100% efficient would convert all of the electrical energy put into it as light, for example.

          What does it mean to say that a coal plant is 32% efficient?  What's 100% mean in that context -- all of the chemical energy in the coal, or all of the heat energy extracted from the coal vs. the amount of electricity we pull out of that heat?

          "If another country builds a better car, we buy it. If they make a better wine, we drink it. If they have better healthcare . . . what's our problem? "

          by mbayrob on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 08:41:56 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Power plant efficiency: (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Chemical energy in over AC energy out.

            As stated earlier, Carnot gets his cut.   ;)  Now, as I pointed out above, when comparing two drivetrains whose source of power is both electricity, you can generally leave that step out.

            •  Nuclear power: over 90% capacity average (0+ / 0-)

              Wind: about 32% capacity (intermittent)
              Solar: about 24% capacity (intermittent)

              Also, a general observation:  Jacobson, referred to in the diary as a source, is wrong about nuclear power's life cycle emitting "25 times more carbon" than wind power.  This is just not so.

              See comparisons of carbon foot print of various energy sources; nine studies.

              Per Peterson of UC Berkeley calculates that wind requires 10X the amount of steel & concrete as nuclear per watt.  These materials are made by burning coal.

              The IPCC predicts average global temperatures to rise enough by 2050 to put 20-30% of all species at risk for extinction.

              by Plan9 on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 09:59:45 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Capacity factor is only part of the picture (0+ / 0-)

                If I could build a 1GW plant for $1 that had a 1% capacity factor, that'd obviously be a much better decision than a 1gW plant for $100 million that has a 100% capacity factor.  In all cases, you need a full lifecycle cost analysis.  Nuclear has so far performed very poorly in terms of pricing, even with subsidy.  I won't rule out next-gen nuclear performing better, however; I think it deserves a shot.  Just note that if next-gen nuclear fails to perform better financially, I'd expect another, bigger nuclear dark age.

                •  It comes down to a series of (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  Factors which at the end of the day is usually price per KW over the lifetime of the project;


                  The interesting thing about your comparison of "a 1GW plant for $1 that had a 1% capacity factor, that'd obviously be a much better decision than a 1gW plant for $100 million" is that given just these two plants, I know I'm getting power when I turn on the lights with the 1gW plant.

                  Nuclear pricing is actually rather good specially since these plants are being paid off and their are no more payments on the notes.


                  •  Baseload is an entirely different issue (0+ / 0-)

                    You were discussing capacity factor before, but we can discuss baseload vs. intermittent if you'd rather.  :)

                    Indeed, nuclear is baseload, and this is one of its biggest selling points -- not its capacity factor, which is offset by its extremely high capital costs.  But a couple points:

                    1. Not all non-nuclear renewables are non-baseload.  High-altitude wind is baseload.  EGS is baseload.  Space solar is baseload.  OTEC is baseload.  Ocean current is baseload.  Tidal is baseload.  Hydro is baseload plus storage.  And so on down the line.  
                    1. Intermittent is fine if you have an appropriate combination of long-distance transmission (eg., a HVDC network like the Obama administration wants to build) and/or storage.  Storage isn't only dedicated facilities -- pumped hydro, compressed air, etc.  It's also things like battery-electric vehicles on a smart grid (another thing Obama wants to build).  Or conventional hydro, which inherently has energy storage (ramp up when you want more, down when you want less).
    •  IMHO, EROI isn't a good metric (0+ / 0-)

      On one hand, it's too pessimistic.  You could pump ten times as much coal into making fuel as you got out of the fuel, but of the price of the fuel was right, people would buy it.  The key is that you're turning sources of fuel that can't work a car into ones that can.

      On the other hand, it's too optimistic.  EROI leaves out issues that aren't related to energy but are strongly related to climate change.  A big example: "land use changes" have only began to be studied recently, but the results have been pretty devastating.  Producing more agricultural crop for any purpose causes either directly or indirectly more land to be cleared for use, causing most of the carbon that section of land has stored up to end up being released.  Even sugarcane and cellulosic ethanol not produced from biowaste is questioned for whether it reduces CO2 overall due to this.

      Liquid biofuels are merely a stopgap.  Ammonia is horrible.  It's an extremely, extremely wasteful use of power (in addition to being toxic, corrosive, polluting, highly flammable, non-dense, and all of that).  As the study accurately notes, BEVs are by far the most efficient way to use electricity.  Which means you need significantly less power generated, which means you have significantly lower impacts on the planet.  Even renewables have impacts, after all.

      •  Maybe I misunderstand you (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Terra Mystica, Stranded Wind

        but if not, I think you are completely incorrect.

        EROI is the ONLY way to evaluate energy sources.  Maybe there should be some very minor adjustments to incorporate external costs, but these are not significant.

        Maybe we have different understandings as to what EROI means.  To me, "energy return on investment", means a ratio of (for example) BTU's out divided by BTU's in.  If that ratio is less than one, in fact if it isn't WAY bigger than one, you have a problem.  You have an "energy source" that will not scale up.

        If EROI is less than one, then you use/burn more energy than what you get out of what you are producing.

        To me, EROI is an extremely important metric.

        •  Not at all. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          badger, joesig, Terra Mystica

          Back during World War II, the Nazis made oil from coal.  They put in far more energy worth of coal than they got out as oil.  That's a very negative EROI, so by your logic, "they have a problem".  Their "problem" produced the majority of their aviation fuel during the war.  The key is that they were turning something that they couldn't put in their planes into something that they could.  That it was energy-negative isn't a problem.  It only would have been a problem if all of that energy came from things that they could put in their planes.

          That's one of the problems with the EROI metrics.  The other problem is that EROI doesn't tell the complete environmental picture -- for example, it completely ignores, say, if you have to burn down rainforest for the land to produce sugarcane.  The contribution of that massive, massive release of carbon to the EROI calculations is precisely zero.  

          EROI sounds neat, but in practice, it's actually pretty close to useless.

          •  I see your point (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Terra Mystica, Stranded Wind

            Yes, in a war-time environment the value of liquid fuel may override any other consideration.  But I can't see that holding much relevance in a long term peaceful situation.  Am I missing something?

            Likewise, EROI may not, as you put it, "tell the complete environmental picture", and that is why I left a little "wiggle room" for externalities.  Still, if the external costs are incorporated, I see nothing better than EROI to evaluate competing potential energy sources.

            Do you have an alternative metric?

      •  TMACU and other acronyms (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Too Many Acronyms, Cannot Understand.

        "If another country builds a better car, we buy it. If they make a better wine, we drink it. If they have better healthcare . . . what's our problem? "

        by mbayrob on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 08:08:46 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Thank you! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Stranded Wind

      Great comment.

      Just to amplify on a point you make, one of the reasons sweet sorghum is so interesting is precisely because it does not require nitrogen to the same extent corn does, correct?

      "It's like we weren't made for this world, But I wouldn't really want to meet someone who was." --Of Montreal

      by andydoubtless on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 09:47:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  You won't get a defense of CB ethanol from me (7+ / 0-)

    But I'm not a great fan of categorical statements about biofuels.

    Some of the principles that seem to be true:

    1. If you can use energy close to where you create it, it's a savings.
    1. You need a diversity of sources according to when they're available during the day or during the year (esp. for sources like wind), geography (anything you can't burn).  In particular: some of your energy you need to store.

    Saying wind is better than biofuel doesn't mean much when it's hot and you don't have a lot of wind.  You'll want solar of various types because often you need power when there's lots of sun.  And you'll need sources you can store.  Biofuels do nicely for that.

    I agree that a lot of the deals on biofuels are rackets intended to enrich someone or the other.  But most government programs on energy will have this risk.  That isn't a problem with biofuels; it's a problem with using government money.

    "If another country builds a better car, we buy it. If they make a better wine, we drink it. If they have better healthcare . . . what's our problem? "

    by mbayrob on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 07:01:41 PM PST

    •  You'd be surprised (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      deepeco, Terra Mystica

      The average electric power tranmission efficiency in the US is 92.8% efficiency.  So it doesn't come close to compensating for the inefficiencies in biofuels (plants only store a tiny fraction of the sunlight that hits them as chemical energy, only part of that can be turned into biofuels, and then cars only get ~20% efficiency when burning the fuel; li-ion EVs, on the other hand, have ~93% charger efficiency, ~98% battery efficiency, and a ~90% drivetrain efficiency.

      •  EVs are nice, but (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Terra Mystica

        It'll be yrs by the time the US grid can handle EVs, and until then its liquid fuels. The capacity to recharge 20 to 40 million EVs overnight is a long way away.

        FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

        by Roger Fox on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 07:26:53 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  False (0+ / 0-)

          Here's a reference from PNL/DOE.  The US has ample surplus capacity.  EVs actually help stabilize the grid, not tax it.  And lastly, even if they did, electric infrastructure is cheaper to build than oil infrastructure (that's part of why it's so much cheaper per unit energy).

          •  It will be years (0+ / 0-)

            Your "citation" uses 2001 vehicle registrations.

            I use generic assumtions about the future, things like more people might be around. The calendar year might be 2050.....

            and you are using a study that assumes 2001 vehicle registration levels.....

            200 million cars, 10 KWH per charge,

            FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

            by Roger Fox on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 07:59:55 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Hmm? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              It uses 2001 vehicle registrations and the 2001 grid.

              If you want to speculate about future registrations and the future grid, that's perfectly fine, but that'd be a different study.  But it seems silly to expect the overall situation to be somehow worse.

              Power companies love electric vehicles.  They were some of the biggest backers of the early CARB ZEV mandate.  When Kris Trexler drove his EV-1 cross country, utility companies bent over backwards to set up charging spots for him.  They're not a big increase in overall capacity; transportation uses significantly less energy than total electricity consumption.  They mostly charge at night, when there's surplus, letting them better utilize their equipment.  They give them more overall business.  And to top it all off, if we get smart charging going, they can actually ramp up and down their charging rates based on the needs of the grid at any point in time.

              If you want something that causes problem for grids, you need not look at EVs; your wrath should be directed at air conditioners.

              •  Page 15 of that report says you got happy joy joy (0+ / 0-)

                It is questionable... on a sustained basis.

                Based on 2001 reg and 2001 grid.

                Face it what we are talking about is a bit more envolved.

                1)Li polys are fast chargers. Hi charge rates means thermal issues in getting electricity to the house, where you plug in your hybrid.
                2)100amp home service may not be enough.
                3)Remember that NE blackout a few years ago? Dont be telling anyone the grid can handle it. Period. Rebuild the grid or accept the derision coming your way.

                Its gonna be 2050 by the time this goes down. Trying to predict emissions, generating capacity or what ever, in the future is just silly, so dont cite some study based on 2001 numbers.

                FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

                by Roger Fox on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 08:43:17 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Sigh (0+ / 0-)

                  It's unfortunate that you're trying to talk about an issue that you don't understand at all.  As I've mentioned previously, how fast a battery can charge is irrelevant compared to how fast you choose to charge it.  You could charge it over the course of two weeks if you wanted to.  It's not like it's some sort of suction pump ripping current out of the walls.

                  100 amp home service is enough in essentially every situation, as calculations I and others have shown you earlier in this thread, and as people who actually own EVs can attest to you.

                  The NE blackout in New England would have been AIDED by electric vehicles, especially with a smart grid.  The blackout occurred at 4:15, when few EVs would have been charging, but when air conditioners (remember them?) would have been still strongly operating.  If there had been EVs and a smart grid, they would have immediately stopped charging, reducing demand on the grid and reducing the risk of cascading failures.  Once again, I must remind you that utility companies love electric vehicles for these sorts of reasons -- most charge at off-peak hours, and combine them with a smart grid, and they act like backup infrastructure that the companies would otherwise have to pay millions for.

                  Look, you can call the DOE and everyone else in the world who's studied this issue idiots all you want, but these are the facts.  1) Utility companies love them, 2) they stabilize the grid, 3) unless someone invents air conditioners that run on magic, the US has and will continue to have surplus power when EVs need it the most, 4) essentially every peer-reviewed study ever published has said the same, and 5) you really, really, really need to learn some basic electrical engineering before you start talking about current draws.

            •  Wind... (0+ / 0-)

              We're building lots and lots of wind generation.  The wind tends to blow a lot more at night when demand is down.  (Some Texas wind farms are producing so much extra power that they are paying utility companies to use their electricity.)

              We'll continue to build wind for to get peak hour electricity (unless thermal and PV solar come on fast).  That means that we're probably creating wind power faster than we can possibly bring BEVs to market.

              Besides, wind at $0.05 kWh would let one do a daily "fill up" for about half a buck.  That will create a lot of demand for additional wind generation.

              15 to 6. Pulled ahead as soon as the gate opened and never looked back....

              by BobTrips on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 08:35:44 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  The reason they pay in Texas (0+ / 0-)

                is because the wind does squat "ZERO" for peak times. The wind blows when no want's the power. Total waste. Thermal plants are already running at minimum load when wind is high. At 12 noon when senior citizens are at home and need air conditioning precisely because the lack of wind makes everything hotter, is when you need the power. Wind can't come close to solving the South's electric problems.


        •  It's going to take a while to get that many (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Terra Mystica, Roger Fox

          It's worth remembering that we don't have a fleet of 20-40 million EV yet either.  And other than biodiesel and ethanol, we'd need to turn over the automotive fleet anyway.

          The better question is how quickly we could enhance the grid to do this; that puts a range on how quickly we can switch internal combustion vehicles with electrics.  Anyone have access to studies on this?

          "If another country builds a better car, we buy it. If they make a better wine, we drink it. If they have better healthcare . . . what's our problem? "

          by mbayrob on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 07:39:13 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Wrong .... (0+ / 0-)

          Unlike other automotive alternatives (hydrogen) the electrical grid already exists and is ready to take on extra EV's. In fact, the US electrical grid demand is lowest at night when most EV's would be charging. Since the grid is designed to handle peak use (summer aftrenoons) it has 505 gigawatts of unused capacity at night. That's enough to charge about 15 million EV's without building a single extra power plant. The great thing about our electrical grid is that reaches nearly every home and business location today. No new investment, no new filling stations, and no ramp-up costs. It's here now.

          Moreover, transmission lines should be upgraded as part of infrastructure building stimulus package of Obama.

          The current problem with EV is the cost of batteries.

          •  1000 volts x 100 amps=10kwh (0+ / 0-)

            Volts x Amps = Watts.

            DO I have that right ?

            A 100 amp service to a house will handle 1000 volts in an hour?

            1 trillion kwh to charge 200 million cars.

            FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

            by Roger Fox on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 08:16:34 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

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

              100 amp service in a house is for 250V, and thus handles 25 kilowatts (25,000 watt-hours per hour) (actually less due to losses, but you get the idea)

              The average car is driven 12,000 miles per year.  Let's say that we end up with an average EV draw of 300Wh/mi (most EVs are more like 200Wh/mi, but let's assume that as they mainstream, more will be larger and less streamlined).  300Wh/mi/vehicle/year * 12,000 miles * 200,000,000 vehicles = 720TWh/year.  The US currently consumes about 4000 TWh/year, the lion's share of this during the daytime.

              •  How fast do you want to charge that car? (0+ / 0-)

                Li polys are fast chargers. But the house cant handle it. SO the charging might need to be slowed down. And you cant have 20 million in metro NYC plug in their cars at the same time, we already have regional black outs.

                FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

                by Roger Fox on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 09:01:44 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Multiple things to cover :) (0+ / 0-)
                  1. Conventional li-poly is not being used in any upcoming mass-market EV that I'm aware of.  Tesla uses conventional li-ion, while most use phosphates or spinels, with a few titanates.  I think the Denki Cube concept is an unconventional type of li-poly; that's the closest I can recall.
                  1. Many li-ion variants can indeed fast charge.  Just because a battery can fast charge doesn't mean it has to -- far from it.  It's called "charge throttling".  In fact, it's better for a car to charge slower than faster.
                  1. You don't need to fast charge at home.  Why would you?  The only time you'd need to fast charge is when you're on the road.  And let me tell you, commercial installations generally have far bigger breakers than 100 amps.
                  1. Not that you need that.  The fastest rapid chargers have their own battery banks which they trickle charge from the grid.
                  1. Not everyone plugs their cars in at the same time.  It's not like every commuter forms a giant mass that all moves into their collective garages at once.  Plus, charging generally draws less power than running an AC, and ACs tend to be off at night.
                  1. Utilities in CA already have special EV rate plans that discount your power if you use a timer to have your vehicle charge at night when demand is low.  And who wouldn't want a discount?
                  1. Smart Grids, which Obama is a big fan of, convey information along with the power about the state of the grid.  With a Smart Grid, it doesn't matter when you plug your car in.  Everyone could plug in at the precise same time and all that would happen is some people's charging rates would ramp down.

                  This issue has been studied, and studied, and studied again.  EVs are a boon to the grid, not a bane, and utility companies love them for that reason.  They utilize off-peak power, tend to be staggered, and are easy to incentivize to charge in the middle of the night.  The nightmare for utility companies is air conditioning.  It's just the opposite -- comes on in the middle of the day, people generally aren't willing to delay it, and sucks more power than charging EVs.

                  I find it kind of funny that you're basically claiming that utility companies don't know what they're talking about in regards to their own grid   ;)

              •  Dont have an average draw (0+ / 0-)

                you have a battery charge rate. Batteries that charge so fast, the system cant keep up. No?

                Wanna charge 3 cars, at 30kwh per car? from the Home? YOu'll need a new 200 amp service just for the cars, No ?

                FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

                by Roger Fox on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 09:12:46 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Depends on how fast you want to charge (0+ / 0-)

                  30kWh over 3 hours = 10kW per hour

                  10kW per hour requires 40 to 50 amps. Even the oldest homes in the country (60A is usually the smallest service you'll see; 100A or 200A is more common) could handle that during night time hours.

                  And that would take 3 hours per car or 9 hours for all three on the smallest installed service. Most people who could afford 3 EVs probably don't have a 60A service.

                  OTOH, 30kWh is a little over a gallon of gasoline.

                  If the charge rate is too high, limit it. I doubt that's ever going to be a problem though, because even a 40-50A connection to a vehicle is going to be cumbersome - 6AWG wire.

                  Je suis Marxiste, tendance Groucho

                  by badger on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 09:32:20 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Yes the Chargers (0+ / 0-)

                    The Li Poly chargers Ive seen are fast charge. I'm sure they have one with the Telsa. I thought an advantage with Li Poly was the huge discharge and charge rates weren't as thermally problematic as NiMH or Ni-Cad.

                    Of course a commuter can drive 28 miles to work, recharge, then drive home 28 miles. A so called "daily range" of 50-60 miles is not too shabby.

                    FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

                    by Roger Fox on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 03:48:59 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                •  Do the math (0+ / 0-)

                  30kWh * 3 = 90kWh.  Charging overnight -- let's say in 10 hours.  That's an average rate of 9kW, or 36 amps.  About the amount that their AC probably pulls during the middle of the day.  

                  By the way -- if you had three, 300Wh/mi vehicles that each used up 30kWh of their capacity every day, that means that three people in your house each drove 100 miles per day (300 person-miles).  What is this, a family of polygamous delivery-persons?

          •  Wow, someone who gets it :) (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            The current problem with EV is the cost of batteries.

            Most people simply repeat the obsolete myths: batteries charge slowly (not true for modern batteries).  The range is poor (not true for modern batteries).  Batteries are toxic (not true for modern batteries).  The power output is low (just the opposite for modern batteries).  And on and on down the line.  The truth is, the biggest remaining impediment on batteries is really just one thing: price.  Titanates are around $2000/kWh, while phosphates and spinels are around $500/kWh.  I don't know about the titanates, but the phosphates and spinels both look ready to drop closer to the $200-$300/kWh range in the next five years or so, which would be a very encouraging price.  While a hyper-streamlined, lightweight car like the Aptera only needs a 10kWh pack, 20-50kWh should be seen as more typical for a BEV.

            Also, a lesser known issue is that we need to get the price down on good EV drivetrains.  That's fairly simple; it just means we need mass production, but currently it is an issue.  Currently, though, a good charger alone will cost you ~$3-5k.  I think AC Propulsion charges something like 20 grand for their top-notch motor/charger/inverter combo that's used in the Tesla Roadster.  With mass production, EV drivetrains should be cheaper than gas drivetrains, as they're simpler, but for now, they're somewhat expensive.

            •  EV drivetrains... (0+ / 0-)

              The Michelin tire company is getting closer to commercializing its electric wheel concept. The company has been showing off versions of the “Active Wheel” since 2004. The system contains virtually all of the components necessary for a vehicle to propel or stop: an electric motor, suspension coils and springs, and braking components. The only thing missing is the source of energy.

              Making it simple...

              I believe that Michelin also has the control system as part of their offerings.

              A couple of companies producing these puppies and we'd have economy of scale.  (Two or more companies so that we've got the advantages of competition.)

              We're getting close to the point at which a car company is basically a "box" company.  Buy the battery packs and wheel/motor/brake/suspension systems from other manufactures and bolt them to your box.

              Sounding like how computers got cheap?

              15 to 6. Pulled ahead as soon as the gate opened and never looked back....

              by BobTrips on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 08:46:16 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  "Average" is a weasel word (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Mind, I like weasels, ferrets and meerkats as much as the next guy, but when you talk about 93% efficiency, you're factoring in the fact that we tend to put big users of electricity close to our generation plants.  When you start controlling for distance between point of generation and point of use, your losses will be higher.  I'm more familiar with the economics of telecomm networks than I am with electricity generation, but the principles are very similar.  Just sayin'.

        So it's a lot less clear you're right on that point.

        "If another country builds a better car, we buy it. If they make a better wine, we drink it. If they have better healthcare . . . what's our problem? "

        by mbayrob on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 07:32:53 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Average is not a weasel word. It means average. (0+ / 0-)

          In some places the efficiency is less -- you're absolutely right.  At the same time, in some places, the efficiency is more.  EVs will be most adopted early on in poulation-dense areas -- places closer to power generation.

          •  Not to continue with the weasel bashing, but (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Terra Mystica, Roger Fox

            a little about the economics of network are worth pointing out here.  Loss in electricity distribution networks are a function of a number of things, but distance is probably the biggest factor.

            An "optimal network" usually involves some kind of trade-off between costs at the delivery end (a customer drop, say), some central point (an exchange in telecomm, or a power plant in generation), and "network costs" -- transmission and related plant.

            So you can't really talk about the efficient of electricity transmission without talking about the geography -- even more than that's true in telecomm (where data rates have gone up so fast that essentially none of your costs are transmission anymore).

            Until or unless that's true for electricity transmission, you're going to care (and care a lot) about where power is generated and where it is consumed.  An average hides that essential information by lumping in things like hydro-electric plants set near aluminum refining (short distances of less than a mile or two, huge amounts of electricity) with rural wind farms that might be 200 miles or more from a city where the power gets used.

            "If another country builds a better car, we buy it. If they make a better wine, we drink it. If they have better healthcare . . . what's our problem? "

            by mbayrob on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 07:49:01 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Transmission loses over 800 miles (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          for example, current wind farms might have to transmit their electricity 800 miles (upstate NY to downstate). Nukes are generally within 100 miles of the end user, same for other generators.

          Soon as one can move a gigawatt 500 miles with a tenth the thermal issues current tech has, we will be on it.

          FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

          by Roger Fox on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 07:41:31 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  HVDC (0+ / 0-)

            Which our new energy secretary is a big fan of, BTW, has great potential for this kind of thing.  I've seen losses quoted at 3% per 1000km.

            •  Long Island Utility already in use (0+ / 0-)


              FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

              by Roger Fox on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 08:19:02 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  And the Pacific Intertie... (0+ / 0-)

                Bringing hydro form the Pacific Northwest to Southern California.

                (And likely to ship solar thermal north later....)

                15 to 6. Pulled ahead as soon as the gate opened and never looked back....

                by BobTrips on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 08:49:13 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Yep. The Pacific Northwest (0+ / 0-)

                  ... is basically going to become a giant battery.  ;)  Their hydro output will function beautifully as energy storage, with the generators throttling up and down based on how much power other adjacent regions are producing.

                  •  You seem to be well informed... (0+ / 0-)

                    What are the odds of using some of the highlands close to the ocean for pump-up hydro?  

                    Given the oceans, water is not going to be an issue.  Here in the Pacific NW we've got mountains running right to the sea.  Plenty of potential head close by the shore.

                    Wind is getting very affordable.  A bit of storage would make it really work nicely to keep us supplied.  And we've got a lot of offshore wind starting at Cape Mendocino....

                    15 to 6. Pulled ahead as soon as the gate opened and never looked back....

                    by BobTrips on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 11:42:55 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Pumped water storage (0+ / 0-)

                      ... while not as good as normal hydro (more lossy), is still more efficient and cheaper of a mass-scale battery than the next leading contender (compressed air storage) -- at least from the papers I've read.  I'm reminded of the Okinawa Yanbaru plant.  One of the neat possibilities that I've read about is if you're in an area that is either windy or sunny right at the coast, you can have renewables pump the water directly instead of having it have to get converted to electricity first, thus reducing losses.  The Pacific Northwest doesn't get much sun, but the coast is fairly windy.

                      As someone in the midwest, I hope work on aquifer pumped hydroelectric energy storage works out well.  Gotta love the concept of having surface level be the "upper reservoir"!  ;)

            •  Fortunatly he is also a big (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              fan of nuclear and sees a continued and expanding role for it.


          •  What's a typical loss per 1000km? (0+ / 0-)

            My first job out of college was as a telecomm economist.  Most problems in that area boil down to making trade-offs between point and boundary costs and transmission costs.  The main change in telecomm has been how quickly the network costs have fallen; some time over the last 20 years or so, they became rounding error for most purposes.

            My sense is that this is not the case for electric power; it's getting better with time, but there's likely a lot of old plant out there which is not that efficient.  So I'm curious as to:

            1. What kind of losses you get with older plant
            1. What kind of losses you get with typical plant
            1. What kind of losses you get with state-of-the-art plant.
            1. What people think will be possible in the next 10-15 years or so.

            If we know this, it become easier to figure out how centralized our power generation needs to be.  Big wind turbines, the study says, are a lot more efficient than small turbines.  But if transmission losses eat up that extra efficiency, you may still favor small turbines.

            "If another country builds a better car, we buy it. If they make a better wine, we drink it. If they have better healthcare . . . what's our problem? "

            by mbayrob on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 07:57:29 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Transmission (0+ / 0-)

              ... isn't my specialty.  I only know the US average number and  I've seen one number quoted for HVDC transmission (3% loss per 1000km), which is clearly a major generalization.  As for generation efficiency, however, I have read more about that.  The US average for coal generation is about 32%.  In Europe, it's about 35%.  Older plants are generally 30% or less, while newer plants can be over 40%, and it's believed that they could break 50% with current tech.  Natural gas's average is 42% or so, and newer plants can get well over 50%, and I've seen some suggestions that we could be seeing 60% or so soon.  So, yes, efficiency in power plants has indeed been increasing.

              •  HVDC should be 4-8 times (0+ / 0-)

                Less transmission loss, over the same distance. IIRC

                FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

                by Roger Fox on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 08:21:12 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Depends... (0+ / 0-)

                  Because of the ~2% loss in converting to higher voltage DC and back down to lower voltage AC it is more efficient to stick with AC for shorter runs.

                  At some point out HVDC becomes more efficient (having "paid off" the conversion costs) and from there on out there are additional savings accrued.

                  15 to 6. Pulled ahead as soon as the gate opened and never looked back....

                  by BobTrips on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 09:10:21 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  A minimum of 50KM for HVDC (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    is recommended. They are building a such a line from Pittsburg, CA to San Francisco. Conversion is expensive and HVDC is usually without 'taps', so it's a highway with no exits, usually, so to speak.

                    Ideally, HVDC is very good for nuclear, especially 'nuplexes' of 6 or more reactors, 8GWs and up. Very efficient. We can build them on the coasts and wheel the power inward.

                    Most of what is discussed here on the Daily Kos, Energy Pulse, etc for alternatives can actually be more cheaply applied to nuclear and big power station than the alternatives.

                    Don't forget...electric cars in Paris are now powered almost strictly by...nuclear!


              •  Shouldn't be a function of type of power (0+ / 0-)

                Transmission losses should be a function of the technology used for tranmission.  It's worth knowing, though, since it tells us where we want to generate power.  If transmission is very efficient and cheap, you don't care.  And obviously enough, the opposite can be true otherwise.

                As for generation efficiency:  what does that mean?  Efficiency is measured relative to some notion of 100% efficiency.  Which notion is that here?

                "If another country builds a better car, we buy it. If they make a better wine, we drink it. If they have better healthcare . . . what's our problem? "

                by mbayrob on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 08:28:27 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  3% per 1,000 km is the standard quote.... (0+ / 0-)

              With a HVDC line. And ~1% on each end for conversion from lower voltage AC and back again.

              Want to ship some sun from New Mexico to New York?  For every 100 kWh we'd have to generate about 110 kWh.  That would make $0.10 kWh electricity into $0.11 electricity.

              Less painful if you wanted to ship nickel wind to NYC.

              15 to 6. Pulled ahead as soon as the gate opened and never looked back....

              by BobTrips on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 09:02:30 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Probably the future of the grid (0+ / 0-)


                But for now I'd like to be able to buy a 50mpg made in the USA car in 2009.

                Then later on we can talk about Polywell fusion.

                FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

                by Roger Fox on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 09:07:05 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Doubt you'll be able... (0+ / 0-)

                  Best bet is for about a year later.

                  If GM can survive the Republican crackpots and bring out the Volt.

                  And Nissan is supposed to release an all-electric (BEV) in 2011.  I'll bet some of those are made here....

                  15 to 6. Pulled ahead as soon as the gate opened and never looked back....

                  by BobTrips on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 09:40:28 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                •  Don't know about you (0+ / 0-)

                  ... but I'm getting an Aptera 2e next year   ;)  50mpg?  That's nothing!  :)

                  Made in the USA, although that won't be much solace to people in Detroit.

                •  No its not. (0+ / 0-)

                  The Grid is not some "entity" that comes in one package. It is, first and foremost, and always will be a "AC" grid. Large sections of transmission can be (and actually is) being "overlayed" with HVDC and UHVDC. It will be many, many decades before this is completed.

                  HVDC will act as a supplement to current AC transmission. The problem, with wind farms, is that there is not a current wind farm anywhere in the world that is large enough to keep the voltage high enough with the minimum amps to make a HVDC line worth installing, yet. To get your 750kv DC or 1,000kv HVDC need to HAVE that amount available or a % of it.

                  While I'm not fan of wind for a lot of reasons, probably what you will see is are a series of wind farms that can provide about 500KVA "totally" tied together with AC lines around, say, 1,000 sq mile area feeding DC power into smaller AC tramission lines that convert it back at a central continental DC nexus of sorts.

                  You just don't string HVDC willy nilly. They are VERY expensive. Planners know this.


  •  Burning Food = Increase in World Hunger, Poverty (4+ / 0-)

    That should be quite obvious.

    BioFuels would be good only if ...

    1. They don't use water that otherwise would have been used for agriculture or drinking
    1. They don't use land that otherwise would have been used for agriculture or by forests
    1. They don't use oil for any part of their process

    The increase in world food prices that caused food riots in various countries can be directly linked to bio-fuels displacing agricultural crops.

    U.N. Says Biofuel Subsidies Raise Food Bill and Hunger

    Biofuels could lead to mass hunger deaths: U.N. envoy

    How Biofuels Could Starve the Poor

    •  All of these points..... (4+ / 0-)

      ...are addressed by algae based biofuels.  Ethanol isn't workable, but oil from algae is.  Small footprint, (you can set up a refinery anywhere there's decent sunlight) hydroponic... so it can reuse the same water over and over again, no petroleum based products required....  and we don't eat it.

    •  Extremely silly. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Corwin Weber

      The manufacturing processes for building the windmills will involve fossil fuels. Quite probably, the trucks taking the crews out to build the windmills will burn gasoline. So let's get straight that no means of alternative energy imaginable meets the third condition in your comment.

      That said, people love to cite the amount of water that goes into biofuel crops, but water scarcity is not everywhere an issue. It is ridiculous for me to see cited these numbers where there are places in the world where believe it or not enough water drops out of the sky to feed a crop. Moreover, if irrigation is required for a biofuel crop this can be easily priced in by policymakers attaching prices selectively to certain types of water use.

      Finally. Let's say the sum effect of a biofuel subsidy is that it keeps a farm in business that otherwise would not be able to stay in business. This is not farfetched, because were it not for biofuel subsidies at a time of rising cost inputs for farmers many of them would not stay in business. Some of their crops will go to support biofuels, but some of them will be consumed as food. Doesn't this mean in the long term a more stable food supply for the world?

      "It's like we weren't made for this world, But I wouldn't really want to meet someone who was." --Of Montreal

      by andydoubtless on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 09:42:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The amount of petroleum energy (0+ / 0-)

        that goes into a wind turbine is dwarfed thousands of times over by the amount of energy they produce.  Switch to EVs for carrying around parts and people, and all you're left with is the resin for the blades.

        •  The comment I responded to said no fossil fuels (0+ / 0-)

          at all. If my point was that this was an impossible standard for any energy source to meet, I'm sure you agree. Your point as to the ratio is probably right, but that makes your point distinct from the commenter I was responding to.

          "It's like we weren't made for this world, But I wouldn't really want to meet someone who was." --Of Montreal

          by andydoubtless on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 11:53:36 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Silly ? (0+ / 0-)

        Looks like you are seeing these for the first time - these are regularly quoted conditions.

        This is what is needed to be able to use any alternate technology in the long run - yes now you need gas guzzling cars to carry around people who install these - but not in the long run once you switch over to EV.

        I'm not talking about incidental technology that uses fossil fuels - but the inherent use of fossil fuels.

        •  "Regularly quoted" makes them no more correct. (0+ / 0-)

          I understand the point that you are trying to make, that one sets up a windmill or a solar farm and nature does the rest, and that this is a more efficient and cleaner process than either mineral extraction-based energy production like oil or coal, or agriculture-based energy production, where one is growing a crop year after year. We agree on this point.

          Your problem is that you translate that perfectly fine comparative statement that you and I and everyone on this website can agree with--that solar and wind are more efficient and more clean and better with respect to carbon emissions--into an absolute. Because you are not going to have a carbon free industrial process in the forseeable future--where do the metals and plastics in the windmills come from? how are they transported--there is no electric rail system in much of the United States? The point you want to make is that the actual intrinsic generating process is carbon-free. But that is not the point you made, and it is not the correct measure considering it does not measure all the carbon that the given activity adds to the atmosphere, and it does not reflect the way activists of this community apply measures of carbon emission to other economically productive activities. What you are left with, nataraj, is the hypothesis that once you get to decide what the rules are however they suit your purposes, you win the argument. The only problem with that is that it's not good science and it's not good public policy debate.

          This is not mere sophistry: using your arbitrary word "intrinsic" let's say that a given means of energy production has disproportionately great "extrinsic" carbon-emitting effects? Do you not count that? If you don't, then is what you are making still a pro-environmental argument?

          But even then, with your artificial requirement, not even the public policy you advocate passes the test.

          Why not establish neutral and verifiable scales for energy production per energy input per carbon emission, and prioritize the state-supported subsidies using this means? So that the state gives the most support to the cleanest, some support to the cleaner, and no support to fossil fuels?

          How is this irrational?

          "It's like we weren't made for this world, But I wouldn't really want to meet someone who was." --Of Montreal

          by andydoubtless on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 10:34:51 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Water scarcity ... (0+ / 0-)

        That said, people love to cite the amount of water that goes into biofuel crops, but water scarcity is not everywhere an issue.

        Water scarcity is a huge issue. It will get very bad as global warming progresses.

        And the original paper of this story says you need to use some 90% of US land to produce anough bio-fuel to power the entire car fleet of US. Obviously not a feasible solution.

        •  Did you bother to read it? (0+ / 0-)

          "Water scarcity is a huge issue" in certain parts of the world in certain circumstances, and where it is an issue public policy should handle that using the means I describe in my comment that you choose not to address because you prefer a straw man for your argument. In most of North America crops grow just fine without irrigation, and are supported by naturally occurring rainfall. But--and this is the point I am making--you and other activists cite the necessity of crops for this naturally occurring rainfall as a social cost, as if that rainfall that might otherwise fall on a parking lot or on a suburban lawn is, only when it falls on a corn field, subtracting something from our society and the environment. Have you examined your assumptions? Do you read these things and actually think or repeat them robotically verbatim? Is there a cord that gets pulled to make you talk?

          Finally, your second paragraph is also misleading. Only if we expect biofuels to power the entire car fleet of the US is it a nonfeasible solution--that is the language of your statement. The argument I am making economically is on behalf of farmers, who are between two and three percent of the US population and are rapidly dwindling. If these three percent are kept prosperous and productive using some small percentage of the total landmass producing sugarcane, sugarbeets, sweet sorghum, sweet potatoes, and soybeans to make biofuels that reduce global warming fractionally by electricity generation or consumption in some cars, in fields grown right alongside your solar farms or your windmills, how is that a failure? Why is it that you define as a failure the inability of any given solution to solve the entire problem by itself? Is there any aspect of your closeminded approach that can accept the necessity of multiple solutions proceeding to a common goal in turning back the greatest ecological threat faced by the species?


          "It's like we weren't made for this world, But I wouldn't really want to meet someone who was." --Of Montreal

          by andydoubtless on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 10:47:16 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Biofuels (4+ / 0-)

    Biofuels are not, by themselves, the silver bullet. But biofuels are not bunk. Ethanol is not the only biofuel. Methane production from waste and biodiesel can and should be part of the solution.

    In the case of biodiesel, I wrote about this at some length before (as part of a book review). Biodiesel does not have to compete with food supply if done right.

    That said, I am all for wind, and I have invested in solar and wind companies (and have made some money doing so).

    •  See my note on this issue below. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mole333, A Siegel, Corwin Weber

      The study presents an artificially narrow model of biofuel feedstocks and a purposefully archaic idea of what biofuel production is. It rejects new trends away from corn towards more efficient feedstocks, and it presuppose a very clunky way of getting energy from field to the end-user.

      BREAKING! Biofuels don't have to be transported on tanker trucks to refineries, and from there to gas stations! I know it sounds crazy, but there we are.

      "It's like we weren't made for this world, But I wouldn't really want to meet someone who was." --Of Montreal

      by andydoubtless on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 09:34:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Different solutions for different problems, eh? (5+ / 0-)

    It's not an either/or proposition.  It's an energy application mix issue.

    Time-frame, infrastructure, maturity, travel distance, cost, storage, intermittency, location, and how the problem is defined are all part of the calculus.  It seems that it would be pretty tough to broad brush this.

    Seems like energy independence and all the financial issues that go along with that is the near-term problem.  Bio fuels address that more completely and much more quickly.  The mix fans out from there.  

    There's a lot of knowledgeable people commenting already.  Just responding to the title which is a much too arbitrary construct.

    "You may already be a wiener!" Anonymous

    by Terra Mystica on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 07:46:30 PM PST

  •  A quibble about the study (5+ / 0-)

    Since I was curious why he did his rankings the way he did, I read his paper.

    YMMV.  But it turns out that he makes some wild assumptions.  For example, his calculation on nuclear shows high carbon releases.  Didn't make that much sense to me, so I went to his notes.  The notes assume that nuclear will lead to proliferation, and large scale use of nuclear weapons will release large amounts of carbon.

    Now, you can argue that.  But I think that's sort of stacking the deck.

    It's also not clear at all what he has against things like cellulose based ethanol.  He may be right.  But my reading of the paper is that he's not "showing his work".

    "If another country builds a better car, we buy it. If they make a better wine, we drink it. If they have better healthcare . . . what's our problem? "

    by mbayrob on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 08:12:45 PM PST

  •  New invention beats wind power cost (0+ / 0-)

    Researchers at the University of Michigan, funded by the U.S. Dept of Energy have invented a new device which is more efficient and less costly at producing electricity than either wind or solar power. This new invention is being described as a "revolutionary breakthrough in the production of electricity".

    Surprisingly, I've only read about this in the British press and am also surprised to see no one above has commented on this new development.

    The article in the The Telegraph published Nov. 29, 2008 is here:

    An interesting read if you are interested in renewable energy.

  •  The study's pretty crappy. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel, bluegrass50

    The study the diary cites says:

    Here, we consider only corn and cellulosic ethanol and its use for producing E85 (a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline).

    There is much to question here, including the logic of the formulation "corn and cellulosic" in the first place, since cellulosic refers to a means of breaking down feedstock, and is not itself a feedstock, and corn is of course not the only feedstock for biofuels. So there are logical combinations of methods and feedstocks the article does not examine (sugar cane, sweet sorghum, sweet potatoes) that when consumed in a cellulosic process produces far, far more efficiently than corn does.

    The fact that soy is not even mentioned in the study is particularly egregious, since it is actually both of one of the major biofuel crops currently grown in the United States today and one of the better options for biofuel production in terms of carbon emissions.

    At the same time, the study takes verbatim the assumptions of the food versus fuel argument, which I find defective. Biofuel farmers usually get multiple product strains from biofuel crops, some of which can be used as fuel. I would love for you or the author of the study to use the "food versus fuel" justification for stripping farmers of their biofuel subsidies with the orchard-owners who are using fruit waste (peels, cores, rotten oranges, etc) to make ethanol.

    Last, you like the author of the study are basing your analysis on a very static idea of what biofuel farmers do and how their product is processed. Biofuel efficiency and emissions look completely different if instead of feedstock being harvested and transported to a refinery it is processed at the site where it is grown. Likewise, biofuel efficiency and emissions look completely different if instead of being refined and transported to filling stations where it is used in internal combustion engines it is burned on the site to produce electricity.

    The bottom line is this: I would agree with the author, of both the study and the diary, that solar and wind should come first for subsidies, first for support, first for attention, because they are the cleanest--period, paragraph. But the best should not and cannot mean the only. Beyond the limited parameters of the study there is real potential in different biofuel feedstocks and processes to improve on our current situation with respect to carbon emissions and with respect to the economics of our energy supply and the geopolitical effects of that. What I would like to see is for the supporters of solar and wind power to stop seeing biofuels as the enemy or as the competitor but as the partner that I believe, done rightly that it can be.

    But in the meantime I do not subscribe to the oversimplification of the biofuel industry presented by the article, certainly not to the reduction of all feedstocks to corn and certainly not of all producers to cynical consumers of government subsidies for private greed.

    Many, many, many have been the people who have spent careers battling insane variations in commodity prices, pioneering unproven technologies, working their asses off to break even not because they are after a government subsidy but because they want to save their communities and end the blight of fossil fuels.

    For what I do not see in any calculations in your beloved study is the carbon emissions effect represented by the United States Army in Iraq between 2003-2008, for that is most certainly, as much as the land use consequences of growing corn, or the carbon emissions effect of using nitrogen fertilizer, an input into our current fossil-fuel driven energy economy.

    And say what you will, this nation has never killed seven hundred thousand people or wrecked a five thousand year old country on behalf of Minnesota sugar beet farmers.

    Get your priorities straight. And identify the enemy properly.

    "It's like we weren't made for this world, But I wouldn't really want to meet someone who was." --Of Montreal

    by andydoubtless on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 09:28:44 PM PST

    •  Well... (0+ / 0-)

      Biofuel farmers usually get multiple product strains from biofuel crops, some of which can be used as fuel.

      Kind of.  Let's use corn as an example.  Yes, if you produce ethanol from corn, you still have the corn oil, distiller's grain, and stover left over.  You only use up the corn starch.

      Nonetheless, that's corn starch that's not going to food.  That starch could have been sold as corn starch, corn syrup, or part of whole corn.  It would have been food.  Instead, it's ethanol.  So you're still consuming food to make ethanol -- just not the whole plant.

      •  Let's put this in perspective: (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        A Siegel

        if the good that anti-bio-fuel activists argue for in dissuading us from pursuing bio-fuels is food supply security, the presence of sufficient food in the world that it can be had cheaply by everyone even in the poorest countries and that no one starves, then I would like to know where is this crowd every other time this issue arises.

        As a tiny example, Argentina's tariffs on crop exports is an agricultural policy that while reducing prices for Argentinians, discourages Argentine farmers from producing food and thus reduces the supply of food in the world and increases aggregate prices. Thus it has a similar aggregate effect on world food supplies to a biofuel subsidy. But of course it does not receive the same attention.

        If ensuring stable food resources were such a priority for the activists pursuing this course, then we would assume they would be supporting scholarships and education programs to encourage young people to begin farming, no-interest loans to young farmers to defray the huge capital costs of buying the equipment, and perhaps even federal programs to promote sparer use of environmentally costly and carbon-intensive agricultural methods, and all these programs could essentially be geared so as to help smaller farmers, and all these programs could in the longterm offset the 15% of the US corn supply that goes to ethanol.

        You care about stable food supplies? Fact: the average age of the US farmer is 58. Where is that in your order of priorities on this issue? And yet, the policies that you are arguing for year would have the perverse effect of driving product prices down and increasing the vulnerability of U.S. farms to commodity price fluctuations, making a life of farming an even less rational economic choice than it is now.

        I despise the institutional, intellectual, and cultural prejudices this diary and your comments have soaked in like a pickle in brine: the tacit assumption is that farming is pure ecological cost, pure waste of land, and the only time the necessity of farming and its products come into your arguments is when you have decided to strip away the last threadbare policies that allow farms in the United States to remain profitable. US farmers this year planted their fields fencepost to fencepost paying exorbitantly for seed and fertilizer and diesel, then watched the markets fall in time for their harvest and the sale of their crops. Rejoice in that, think of it is a little more carbon that won't be used next year.

        But, and I know this is an idea that is unthinkable to you, unimaginable to you, that challenges every notion you have about yourself and the cosmos, understand that farming is a skill and an endeavor that requires intelligence and hard work. A few months ago on people were commenting about floods in Indiana to the effect that all the farmers in Indiana had to do to get around the problem was plant rice, as if it's just that simple, as if matters of individual competence and appropriate inputs and appropriate equipment do not matter. But of course this is absurd.

        So, when the 58 year old American farmer has gone out of business because the end of biofuel subsidies has undercut the last economic rationale for him to remain in business, and no one younger than the 58 year old farmer will come after him, who else but a few conglomerates able to still make a profit because of gargantuan economies of scale will be left? And in this world not just of scarce farm products but scarce farmers, what will happen to the beloved security of food supplies then?

        The myopia I see on this issue astounds me.

        "It's like we weren't made for this world, But I wouldn't really want to meet someone who was." --Of Montreal

        by andydoubtless on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 12:15:27 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Flies, honey, vinegar (0+ / 0-)

          'nuff said.

          Well.  I suppose I could also add this.

          •  And as I said, I don't oppose wind. I support it. (0+ / 0-)

            "It's like we weren't made for this world, But I wouldn't really want to meet someone who was." --Of Montreal

            by andydoubtless on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 12:50:59 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  I have a number of friends who grew up on a farm (0+ / 0-)

              Living in Iowa, that's no surprise.  I know how hard American farmers today have it.  In Iowa, for example, it's virtually impossible these days to turn a profit on a private hog farm.     The margin is often negative.  My friend Kathy's parents, who had raised hogs all their life, had to give it up a decade ago; they just couldn't make a living on it anymore.

              My concern is how to help farmers without hurting the environment.  That's one of the reasons why I find wind great -- with annual rents of thousands of dollars per turbine, that's significant guaranteed income -- and you can still farm around them.  I hope that we can find more efficient ways to turn agricultural products -- or better, agricultural waste -- into biofuels to help function as a stopgap as we transition to non-fuel-based transportation.  Despite what the biggest optimists may suggest, there are 250 million cars in this country alone, and even with the best incentives, they'll be going nowhere fast.  Corn stover is one I'm particularly hopeful for; the studies I've seen suggest that using half of the stover won't cause much of an increase in erosion, but has great potential as a cellulose source.  And even if all ground transport ends up electrified, air travel will be much harder to electrify(-), and the testing results from biofuel-powered aircraft seem to be pretty encouraging so far.

              (-) With cars, the mass of the fuel is an insignificant portion of the weight of the vehicle, and so the weight savings from switching from an ICE to an electric drivetrain has the potential to compensate for the weight of the batteries.  In an airplane, however, a significant portion of the total weight is fuel.

              •  Well, if we went truly electric on our (0+ / 0-)

                vehicles...we really don't have much to worry about air transport then. Plus, we can synthesize diesel (aviation fuel) by making dimethyl ether, if worse comes to worse. Might even be cheaper.


    •  Soy is one of the least efficient oils to use as (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel

      feedstock, in addition to the objection of using food as feedstock for fuel and taking it out of the supply chain. Jatropha is a non-edible oil that produces many times more oil/acre and uses marginal land with much less intensive faming techniques to produce. Corn based ethanol costs more in resources to produce than it saves, the Brazilian sugarcane based  ethanol is at least marginally better. If they can get the enzymes for cellulosic ethanol producing consistently it would also have the advantage of using non edible feedstock, which is vastly preferable. Being able to agricultural waste to ferment for fuel rather than taking material out of the world food supply would be a major step forward.

      Poorly researched diary.

      Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

      by FarWestGirl on Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 01:52:36 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Four points to bear in mind ... (0+ / 0-)

    ... are:

    (1) the deployment of primary sustainable renewable power sources changes the playing field ... while biofuels are poor candidates for primary energy sources, they do have advantages relative to other sources, and so they are likely to have useful niches. The study is asking a more narrow question than may be clear at first glance.

    (2) The rating of cellulosic ethanol is based on a given technology, but on that technology, we wouldn't adopt it as a biofuel ... the high-heat methods to break down cellulose can't give a decent Energy Return on Investment any more than corn-starch ethanol can. The description makes it sound like generically getting ethanol from cellulose is a stinker, when its more a case of the technologies to get ethanol from cellulose that are not stinkers are not yet proven, and in some cases not yet ready to leave the lab bench.

    (3) The rating of any biofuel depends in part on the sustainability of the cultivation. That is on the one hand a big reason why they are not suitable for a plug-and-play replacement of gasoline ... the production volumes would tend to demand unsustainable industrial farming. However, as niche energy sources, if the feedstock is produced sustainably, there is the prospect for much better performance.

    (4) They do not consider biomass to charcoal to electricity to electric vehicle at all, and in terms of conversion efficiencies that would have much more energy yield than either corn-starch ethanol or cellulose ethanol.

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