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May 14, 2008
More on biofuels
I have to respond to the article from Mr Meyer regarding his support of biofuels. Mr Meyer neglects to mention a few things about biofuels. I will make myself perfectly clear and say that I am no fan of biofuels, especially ethanol, as I consider alcohols, except for maybe nitromethanol (which is only really useful in drag racing) to be perfectly horrid motor fuels. The reasons follow:
1. There is less energy in a gallon of ethanol than in a gallon of gasoline. Ethanol has 76,000 btu's per gallon and gasoline has 144,000 btu's per gallon. This means you get much less fuel mileage using alcohol.
2. Transportation. While gasoline can be transported using pipelines, ethanol cannot and must be trucked using special tankers. This is much more inefficient than using our network of pipelines.
3. Alcohol based fuels are a net energy negative. It takes more energy to distill alcohol than the energy it provides. So in producing it, you save nothing and in fact cost the world market energy.
4. Lastly, despite Mr Meyer's protestations aside, diverting what would normally grown as feed corn and human food WILL have an effect on overall prices. If world wide demand is rising and there is less of a product, the price rises. he is correct in saying it is not the ONLY factor, but it is still a factor.
5. Alcohol based fuels are hygroscopic. They will absorb water and therefore have a very short shelf life vs gasoline, While this not so much a problem with a daily driver, you won't be too happy storing your lawnmower or classic car with a tank full of alcohol. In fact, race engine that are designed to burn alcohols are stored "pickled" (run for a short time with gasoline to coat the parts) in order to avoid corrosion and water.
6. Volatility. Ethanol is more volatile than gasoline, which means it will evaporate at a much lower temperature than gasoline. This means more of it will get sent into the atmosphere than will gasoline under the same conditions. This means that ethanol can pollute MORE than will gasoline.
7. Here is another point about alcohol based fuels noone has considered. Being grown, Our fuel "independence" would then be subject to the whims of mother nature. Floods, drought, disease would all play a factor in the price and supply of our newest fuel source.
Despite the protestations of the environmental whackos, and those with a financial stake in the industry, using alcohol based fuels is a bad deal for all of us.
With all due respect to Herbert E. Meyer, a fine thinker and writer, anything that needs a subsidy, a mandate and protective tariffs is a bad idea. He notably ignores the environmental damage to rivers and the Gulf of Mexico from the phosphate runoff. Nice try, but no sale.
It is true that food prices are beng pressurred by an improving worldwide economic lot(not heard of because it certainly reinforces free markets, leaving the chattering class socialists with no control) but in fact as more land is used for corn production less is used for other grains and for meat. We do need the second wave of the green revolution here which means we have to get rid of certain romantic precepts which limit our ability to produce foods. One thing we have to accept is GMO seed which is no more than hybrydiuzation within a lab in stead of a field. Just as romantic are the notions of using biofuels to reduce or eliminate our need for foreign produced oil. If we truly want independence we will go get the oil we have, we will utilize our coal resources to the fullest, we will build more nuclear generating plants, we will encourage micro solar uses, we will capture methane from garbage dumps and heat from sewage plants. We can do all of this without impacting or using food grains. We may even be able to create hydrocarbon fuels using agricultural waste. I have heard that the defense budget is a subsidy for about everythig on earth, that argument is specious at best. The ethanol subsidy, however, is real and the cost to the driver is great. The free market ought to work here but what so many of the ethanol folks want is to short circuit any other innovation.
From 1979 to 1982 when it went belly up I tried to work with an ethanol plant. In a way I have seen this movie before, I know the ending. Oil prices fell and the whole argument for alternative fuel imploded. I predict oil prices will again fall and the argument for alternative fuels will again implode. So far I have not even mentiopned the potential environmental impact. Here are the steps I see to energy independence, if in fact that is really a public good,
1. Since I do not believe oil is a zero sum game, I think we need to continue to explore drill and recover within the US. Anwar is great but there are other places of potential in the US. We need to continue to improve our recovery techniques, they have improved but we still leave a lot in the ground. To do this we need to understand that we cannot let the relatively selfish blue hairs of one state control the US. Until that state comes to its senses we as country need to cease providing any huuricaine aid to it.
2. We need to build a number of nuclear power stations. These have actually been relatively safe in France and other places. We need to continue to work on small solar panels so that in the southwest solar can be used on homes as an adjunct to power plant generated power. I own a home in Arizona, If I could put a solar collector on the roof for a few thousand dollars that would power mosat of the hose during thday I would. I think this is a much morereasonable approach than mega projects.
3. If we are successuful at increasing non carbon based electricity then we must convert some activites now fuled by hydro carbons to electricity.
Urban and regionl train and bus sytems come to mind. This another memory of my childhood. They work, but General Motors took the lead in destroying this infrastructure in the 1930's in order to better sell their GMC buses.
That by the way is another example of the unholy alliance of government and business.
4. We need to over the next five years increase auto fleet efficiency bu two mile per gallon. That in itself might alleviate the problem.
5. Lastly, bringing democracy and free markets to more of the world will help alleviate the worldwide problem. No nation has all of the resources it needs. Too many folks in this country think we are an island unto ourselves and the world economic situation is a zero summ game. They fweel this way out of ignorance fueled by and ignorant and lazy press and demogogic non productive polticians.
I wondered the other day about the relative margins of oil companies and newspapers. The NYT is all in favor a windfall profits tax on oil companies. I know papers margins are decreasing but I also know that before the internet the margins were wonderful. I wonder what a 20 comparison of say the NYT margin would be comapred to Exxon. That actually is the problem newspapers have, they were so profitable they did not raise any managers.
Biofuels are not the answer unless you are a romanitic.
In Mr. Meyer's biofuel article he makes the case that the Defense Budget is just like a subsidy for oil. If this is true then Mr. Meyer's should be able to tell us what the Defense budget would be without maintaining the free flow of oil. I guess that free and navigable seas would be of greatly diminished importance were it not for Middle Eastern oil. Terrorism? Just a police responsibility nothing to do with the military. From under what rock did this shill for the ethanol industry emerge? Why did you guys bother to publish someone who is nothing more than a lobbyist? What, are you angling to become a trade magazine for government waste?
"Correction for Jim Caron"
#1 Yes, there are fewer Btu's in Ethanol 76,100 per gallon compared to regular gasoline's 114,100. Regular gasoline does not have 144,000 Btu's. E10 blended Gasoline and Ethanol contains 110,300 Btu's or 96.67% of the energy of regular gasoline. So the point that Jim makes about reduced mileage is bogus as the day is long. The driver has more of an affect [sic] on the mileage than the fuel being used. Never mind tire pressure, vehicle maintenance, alignment, crap in the bed or trunk, etc..
I own a 2004 Ford Ranger XLT E85 Flexfuel truck and have over 84,000 miles worth of "experience" running E85, E10 and regular old 87 octane gasoline. Running my truck on reg 87 I get an average of 24.6 mpg back and forth to work in Atlanta traffic. On E10 the weighted average was identical over a 20,000 mile test. No loss in mileage. Running on E85 my mileage has drop consistently to around 22.1mpg and I am still in testing mode. Numbers have gone up slightly after adding new one range hotter Bosche Platinum plugs, new 8.8mm wires, and a new high energy coil pack at 75,000 miles but the average over the last 5000 miles has broke the 23mpg mark.
#2 It is true that straight ethanol cannot be pumped thru traditional pipelines that are currently transporting refined gasoline or crude because of various reasons. One reason is the actual seals between pipeline sections and at the pump and re-pump stations along the pipelines will degrade quickly when exposed to pure ethanol. Like today's modern vehicle has Vitron rubber seals that are impervious to ethanol's destructive and drying out nature so could the pipelines be equipped. As Jim also covers ethanol, actually almost all alcohols, are hydroscopic and will absorb water and other less dense byproducts that occur in pipelines. Train transportation makes the greatest sense and 75% of the 4.3 billion gallons produced annually is moved by train transport. The rest is moved by tanker truck and I expect that the percentage and volume going on the rail will continue to increase. Article cited: http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/11/10/business/NA_FIN_US_Transporting_Ethanol.php
#3 "Alcohol based fuels are a net energy negative." If you take the measurements that pundits use to arrive at that conclusion with and apply them to the entire cycle of crude oil deep in the ground to gasoline pumped into your vehicles fuel tank you will find that gasoline has a net energy loss greater than Ethanol. Comparing apples to oranges logic be damned. Put both fuels on an equal playing field then we can talk about which one has the greatest energy negative. Corn based ethanol will never match the yields the Brazilians get with Sugar cane but the added benefits of the distillers mash dried out and fed to animals, as a high protein supplement, cannot be matched.
#4 "Lastly, despite Mr. Meyer's protestations aside, diverting what would normally grown as feed corn and human food WILL have an effect on overall prices. If world wide demand is rising and there is less of a product, the price rises. he is correct in saying it is not the ONLY factor, but it is still a factor." Apparently the valid and correct reasoning Mr. Meyer used to drive home his point that bio- fuel production in the United States has little or nothing to do with the rise in global food prices. The one thing that Mr. Meyer did not expand upon that is having a greater impact upon global food prices nd shortages is that the development of hybridized corn and soy beans yields more than just more oil or ethanol it trickles down to higher yields and greater production of fields who's crops are destined for the empty bellies of children around the world. In other words it has kept the prices from skyrocketing beyond their present levels. Without America's agricultural developments made over the last 50 years there would be only slightly higher yields and less disease and pest resistant crops. Without those American innovation and developments the world's population growth would have sputtered and coughed to a stop long ago.
#5 Yes, ethanol is hygroscopic but I seriously challenge your notion that ethanol blends have a shorter shelf life. I have two 25 gallon steel barrels that I used to pickup E85 from a station in South Carolina and a third I keep full as a backup. I treat with Stabil just like you would with normal gasoline and I rotate it out every six months without any problems. I even have a 15 gallon oil drum with E85 in it from 2005 that I use in my Briggs and Stratton powered Craftsman riding lawn mower. I blend it 50/50 with regular 87 or E10 gasoline and run one heat range hotter plug to prevent cylinder wash from incomplete combustion. And just for information the purchased at the drag strip, racing gas mentioned… It's Methanol. I should know, I've bought it for both a race car and bio-diesel production.
#6 Volatility: Ethanol and ethanol blends are more volatile than straight gasoline. Gasoline is more volatile than diesel, Diesel is more volatile than straight 30 weight motor oil. Proper emission controls and a properly working gas cap easily control the evaporation of ethanol, ethanol blends, and straight gasoline. I don't know of anyone who stores large volumes of gasoline straight or blended in open containers and if I did I would certainly have a talk with them.
#7 Here is something you should consider. Blended fuels such as E10 and E85 ethanol, B5 and B20 Bio-Willie diesel, and all other "homegrown" alternatives all do one very important thing. They reduce our need for crude oil from evil little hobgoblins like Chavez of Venezuela, Ahmadinejad of Iran, and OPEC's president Dr. Chakib Khelil. While at the same time, if the Democrats in Congress will pull their collective heads out of their butts, and hopefully allow American oil companies to kill Caribou and cute little Polar bears while drilling in ANWAR and slaughter all the fishes in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans while tapping the vast oil reserves off the coasts of America. Just guessing here but I'm pretty sure that the Polar bears and Caribou have little to worry about and the fishes in both the Pacific and Atlantic will scurry about doing what they need to all the while ignoring mans quest for the black gunk stored in vast pockets along the ocean floor.