The View From 1776

Carbon Dream

The claim that ethanol reduces CO2 emissions is not factual.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10/28 at 11:02 PM
  1. Ethanol is not a perfect solution to the CO2 problem because of the problems noted in the post. It is better, however, than burning fossil fuels which add new CO2 (previously sequestered underground).

    Liquid fuels will be needed to power vehicles for the foreseeable future, so deriving the least damaging liquid fuels is an important goal, even if they are not perfect.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/30  at  10:45 AM
  2. Why is the more efficient, sugar based ethanol priced out of the market by tariffs and quotas? Can it be that the domestic agricultural industry like the market fixed in their favor and the politicians and bureaucrats are happy to help in return for campaign contributions and corn state votes? Is that good for the productive economy or good for the politicians?
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/30  at  12:45 PM
  3. Research is underway to find other materials from which to make ethanol. Corn-based ethanol is not a particularly attractive or ecological product, for the reasons noted by Tom C, and because it competes with the food markets for the resource.

    Cellulosic feedstocks that are currently in development or in production include, wood residues, straw, corn stalks, cane bagasse, and logen.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/31  at  01:11 PM
  4. J. Jay,

    As an engineer I am deeply interested in the energy question, but am highly skeptical of the
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/31  at  02:33 PM
  5. J. Jay,

    You said:
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/31  at  02:45 PM
  6. Bob, forget facts. JJ is only concerned with feelings. His feelings.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/31  at  06:35 PM
  7. As a part-time farmer, I am familiar with the number of passes a tractor must make in a cornfield to prepare it, plant it, fertilize it, cultivate it, harvest it, refine it, store it, and ship it to the ethanol plant for mixing with real gasoline. There is a lot of gas used to drive those tractors, trucks, material handling and refining equipment, plus a lot of gas produced energy is used to process and ship it.

    I have heard that the gasoline and related energy imputs needed to produce ethanol is greater than the energy created from the ethanol. This may be the NEV that Bob refers to. I suspect it is true--production of ethanol uses more petroleum fuel than it replaces. If so, it also produces more pollution than would omitting its use as an additive. Does anyone know ?

    If so, there is no debate. The only basis left for
    support of ethanol would be an emotional hatred of petroleum. And even if there is a slight gain in energy usage, there are all those unintended consequences that Bob lists as "d" through "k." Those damaging side-effects seem to dwarf any conceivable benefit from the use of ethanol.
    Posted by bill greene  on  11/01  at  12:33 PM
  8. "A new paper calls attention to what the authors (led by Princeton's Tim Searchinger) call "a critical accounting error" in the way carbon emissions from biofuels are measured in climate-change programs world-wide."

    Didn't we just rehash this constant and ubiquitous danger from inaccurate government statistical data" There seems to be no end of good examples how "liars Lie."
    Posted by bill greene  on  11/01  at  12:42 PM
  9. Bill,

    Liars do, indeed, lie. And the very best lying is done with numbers so thick most people can't be bothered to check they are true. The latest healthcare bill is an example in point, but using a combination of dense legal language and numbers so thick and vague only the 'experts' can decipher.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/01  at  03:55 PM
  10. Tom C,

    I have noted JJ does at least argue coherently, if not always well researched or presented. He takes from the liberal press a few solid points and sidesteps the more outlandish claims. In that, he is, at least, a cut above David who argues (if we can call it that) only from bias, and repeats whatever rubbish he thinks adequately trumps reason. JJ doesn't seem, however, to build much of an argument of his own beyond the talking points of media, party, and feel-good movements; and has yet to challenge those on anything. He is also more than a little averse to acknowledging the other side has anything to offer. Still, give him a chance, a few pointers, and a little encouragement and he may improve. After all, if we are to stimulate fresh ideas, we need this to be more than an echo chamber.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/01  at  04:00 PM
  11. (continued from #10)

    As for
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/01  at  04:03 PM
  12. I notice when you try to access some of my links, you don't end up where I intended. The reason is due to the way this site interprets our comments as submitted. For example, the final space and period at the end of the link to my own article were not intended as part of the link. To get around this, copy the text of the link, open a new browser window or tab and paste it in. Then make the necessary corrections there before hitting the enter button.

    Dennis Avery 'food and land cost article, copy all the way through 'pdf' 3742-article, leave out final semicolon

    Forbes article, copy all the way through 'pdf'

    Sorry for the inconvenience.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/01  at  04:18 PM
  13. Not to drag this argument beyond our attention span, but I do not think the anti-ethanol crowd acknowledges the limits of petroleum.

    It is absolutely true that gasoline is a marvelous fuel, with enormous energy per unit of volume. But if one is rational (conservative or liberal), one has to admit that there is not an infinite amount of petroleum in the ground, which implies that sooner or later we will have to come up with a non-petroleum fuel (i.e. "renewable") portable fuel.

    Once that is admitted, it is only the time horizon you are arguing about. Ethanol represents the first baby steps toward developing a renewable fuel to replace petroleum.

    Yes, growing corn to make ethanol is not thermodynamically efficient, when you consider the fuel used by the farm tractors and other fuel inputs to the process. That is why scientists are studying other feedstocks.

    Remember that the recipient of the first heart transplant did not live very long. But unless you start somewhere, you are in effect waiting until the crisis hits before solving the inevitable problem.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/01  at  07:45 PM
  14. There is something missing in the logic that because we need a change, that therefore any change, no matter how stupid, is wise.

    Perhaps it's OK to make a small limited test to see if a proposed change makes sense, but to redirect national policy by country-wide mandates is not a "baby-step" in the right direction!

    Only a utopian leftist pinko-commie abstract theorist would take such a break from common sense and Aristotelian logic. (No offense intended--I am reading Lyle H. Rossiter's "The Liberal Mind. The Psychological Causes of Political Madness."
    Posted by bill greene  on  11/01  at  07:59 PM
  15. The comparison of the first heart transplant to the nation-wide ethanol mandate fails. If Obama decreed that EVERYONE in America with any heart condition had to have an immediate heart transplant--within two months--that would be comparable to the ethanol mandate!

    Wait! Did I just hear a rumble? Yes, it was Aristotle rolling over in his grave. Almost two and a half millennia later and people still weren't reading his book on simple logic!

    Or is it just, as Glen Beck would say, a lack of common sense?????
    Posted by bill greene  on  11/01  at  08:08 PM
  16. JJ,

    In my defense of you, I characterized you as:
    - Argues coherently, if not always researched
    - Picks the better (if still weak) arguments of the left to defend, sidestepping the more outlandish claims (another way of saying: you qualify arguments which if left unqualified would be utterly indefensible)
    - Does not develop his own arguments independent of liberal talking points
    - Never challenges the broad generalizations of the left (never, ever, no how)
    - unwilling to admitting the other side (us) have anything to say
    - occasional critics are useful to keeping a debate going (within reason, and only as remarks go to substance)

    So, let
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/02  at  09:42 PM
  17. "one has to admit that there is not an infinite amount of petroleum in the ground, which implies that sooner or later we will have to come up with a non-petroleum fuel. . "

    Talk about straw horses and exercises in illogic! Of course petroleum is not available in "infinite" supply. Virtually nothing is. The dictionary defines "Infinite" as beyond any calculable amount--endless--in excess of the largest number one can imagine. And it's not a matter of "admitting" that oil and gas will run out someday. It's a fact, but it's not going to be soon.

    Alarmists told us in 1974 that we had ten years supply. In the 1980's it was a 15 year supply. Now they are saying 15-25 years! In truth, we have a lot more time.

    I understand that just the tar sands and shale oil deposits located within North America will provide over 100 years of supply for the United States. Technology for extracting it is already in operation. The main deterrent has been 1-2 dollar/gallon gas. At 3 dollars and up the supply will be there. And this is not to mention natural gas which is equally plentiful.

    So there's plenty of it and at even 4-5 dollars, adjusted for inflation, petroleum products are cheaper today than 20-40 years ago. It is also noteworthy that the cost of petroleum products represent a persistently declining percentge of our GDP. Three cheers for Big Oil! (And note that at the current price of about $ 2.50 at the pump, government taxes account for about 1/3 of the price!)

    In any case, it is economic madness to mandate the use of an inefficient and harmful substitute just because someday a good substitute must be found. It is doubly foolish to do so when the "someday" is not imminent.
    Posted by bill greene  on  11/02  at  11:25 PM
  18. Bob,

    While you raise many good points, you also impute to me (and environmentalists more generally) sinister motives and attitudes that are not supported by the record. I think the disconnect is the gap between the time span viewpoint of conservatives and what I call eco-liberals.

    As a petroleum engineer you acknowledge that we do not know with any certainty the extent of remaining recoverable oil nor how long it will last at present consumption rates. Bill Greene's comment (above) implying that petroleum may last much longer than "25 years" is mind boggling but sadly symptomatic of the outlook of conservatives and perhaps most of our society.

    Twenty five years is really just a nanosecond in geological time! Consider the irony that while it took hundreds of thousands of years for the oil to be created, we humans will have consumed most of this precious resource in the space of a hundred years or so!

    Oil, as you well know, is a marvelous feedstock that can be converted into all manner of wondrous plastics, insulation, medicines, and a host of other long-lived items of high value and great utility. Yet we humans persist in consuming it for heat production - one of its "lowest" uses.

    For instance, we burn this energy-rich material to generate domestic hot water at 120F! As an engineer, you know that oil can generate heat at a thousand degrees F, so thermodynamically, burning oil to generate low grade heat is prodigal and extremely wasteful! It is like cutting butter with a chainsaw. Or a 97 pound woman driving a 6000 pound Hummer one block to pick up a quart of milk.

    We could slap a couple of simple flat plate solar collectors on the roof and generate all the hot water we need at 120F, and save the oil for more important uses. But do we? No, because it is much "easier" to burn the oil. After all, as Bill Green would tell us, we have at least "25 year's" more oil to use, so why conserve! 25 years must seem like a long time to most people.

    Our human perspective is naturally tempered by our puny human life span, so it is almost impossible to get our politicians, our public or even our entire species to take the long view of anything. It is as though we lack the capability to see more than two or three generations down the road.

    The true "conservative" theoretically should believe, first and foremost, in CONSERVING! Yet, the great irony is that many conservatives (and I am not including you in this, Bob) pay only lip service to conserving anything.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/03  at  12:06 PM
  19. This comment comes from Bill Greene:

    Mr. Jay--you debate, as Bob has evidenced, poorly-- I did not say 25 years--but 100 years--see post #17 above. And I never asked "Why conserve?" Your comments and argument are totally based on mis-quotations, false assumptions, and more than anything, evasions of the actual question.!

    I have indicated that I am 100% in favor of conserving but not with irrational measures like the ethanol mandate.

    You have yet to argue the point of this post--that the ethanol mandate does not result in a net reduction of carbon emissions. Instead, you have supported the harmful chicken-little approach that we must do something, anything, because there may be a problem out there someday that needs to be addressed.

    I suggest that your support of such uneconomic programs will exacerbate the deficit and national debt, and that those pose a greater problem for the future of America, and will come sooner, than the energy or global warming issues.

    You ignore and amplify the immediate problem in a vain effort to solve a remote and merely possible problem. (Do I hear Aristotle rolling over again in his grave?)
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/04  at  02:58 PM
  20. Bill,

    To the Point!

    Ethanol is two carbon atoms, and a few hydrogen atoms, connected to an alcohol (OH) group. When you burn it, you get carbon dioxide and water as the combustion products. This chemistry is not disputable.

    The "net reduction" in CO2 put into the atmosphere happens only to the extent that you can avoid using any fossil fuels in the production of the ethanol. If you can accomplish this you have avoided ADDING fossil CO2 to the atmosphere. If then you can burn the ethanol, instead of gasoline, you have succeeded in reducing the new CO2 added to the atmosphere.

    You are correct that so far, the net savings are very small indeed. But that is no reason to give up.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/05  at  06:04 PM
  21. J-

    Again you misquote me-- I did not say the savings are small- I said there not only are no savings but there is a negative impact from the use of ethanol--as Bob Stapler detailed well in posts above.

    Further, you admit that there is no reduction in CO2 emmissions unless "you can avoid using any fossil fuels in the production of the ethanol. If you can accomplish this you have avoided ADDING fossil CO2 to the atmosphere." First, let me say that no logical conclusion can come from so many "ifs." Are you suggesting that by some form of magic we can grow corn without using fossil fuels?

    The biggest "if" is that assumption that we can produce ethanol without the use of any fossil fuels. I pointed out that the tractors that work the cornfields use a lot of gasoline ( a fossil fuel) so your whole argument fails; and it fails because it does not meet your own criteria.

    Semper fidelis

    Finally, no one is saying we should give up on alternative fuels. But we need not mandate nation-wide adoption of alternatives that have a major negative impact on emission levels, the aggregate gasoline consumed, and secondary effects on food prices and available arable land.
    Posted by bill greene  on  11/05  at  09:00 PM
  22. Bill,

    I think we are in basic theoretical agreement here. But, you must know that there are many vehicles that run on fuels other than gasoline - so it is not only by "magic" that a field could be plowed without gasoline. There is no intrinsic reason why a diesel farm tractor could not run on bio-diesel (vegetable oil, for instance).

    Where I grew up, there was a guy down the road who collected antique steam tractors that actually were powered by wood. These were huge and impressive machines to a young boy. Our friend would fire them up every now and then and give us kids a wonderful ride around the lake.

    Before the internal combustion engine took hold of America's imagination, the Stanley Steamer was capable of 100 mph. That vehicle did not require gasoline to operate. It was only the salesmanship of Henry Ford that pushed us in the direction of the gasoline engine, rather than the quite efficient steam engine.

    Of course none of these vehicles are currently in production, but that is a problem of inertia, not of engineering.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/06  at  12:54 AM
  23. Jay-- You must read Aristotle's on Logic!! You are basicaly saying that the tractors that nurture and harvest the corn will use no gasoline because they are powered by ethanol. But where did that ethanol come from? It came, obviously from tractors that used gasoline to grow and harvest the corn that was used to make ethanol . . . The fallacy is to assume that by some magic we obtained ethanol from thin air.

    Besides, bio-fuels only reduce emissions slightly, and their production and refining needs energy. You have admitted that ethanol does not on balance help the environment, reduce gasoline usage, or have a net reduction in air pollution. And we aren't even figuring in the displacement effect on arable land by which ethanol production raises food prices, starves babies and others, destroys forested tracts that would otherwise absorb CO2, increases soil depletion and erosion, and adds to the cost of supplying and distributing fuel oil to the public. Yet you defend it!

    You say "we are in theoretical agreement," which reflects your type of thinking that is so common among today's overeducated intelligentsias and their following of useful idiots: The word "theoretical" indicates hypothetical possibilities based on abstract reasoning. As you know, I am a fierce opponent of such thinking because it escapes any grounding in the concrete realities of our world. Theoretical considerations aside, we are at total disagreement over ethanol.

    You still cling to utopian hopes that bio-fuels will emerge energy free, that the steam engine will come back with a 100% clean energy source to boil the water, or that the government should mandate nation-wide policies that are destructive as long as the end is noble.

    I am hopeful that hydrogen fuel cell technology will actually lead to cleaner fuel but I would oppose mandates to require cars to have fuel cells before they have proven to be effective solutions. The ethanol mandate is a disaster and should be repealed. If you agree with that we will be in "actual agreement."
    Posted by bill greene  on  11/06  at  10:03 AM
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