Has the Algae Cavalry Arrived?

Editor’s note by HO: There has been the occasional discussion of algae as a possible source of biofuels. The interest in this topic is continuing to increase, and thus, when fireangel sent in this piece, it seemed to me to be appropriate to consider allowing the piece to be posted as a guest post. At the end I will have some concluding remarks (I had mentioned that I would, and this is acceptable), but for now, let me step back and yield the floor.

The last 2 years have seen a major global push towards the use of biofuels. This has included corn, soybeans, sugarcane, sunflower and rapeseed among others. The U.S. Government has mandated an increased usage of ethanol in gasoline, which has resulted in a boom in the construction of corn-to-ethanol plants. The short-sightedness of this policy can be seen by anyone not standing for reelection to the US Senate. Soaring demand has led to a more than 60% increase in corn prices. These price increases have, however, not deterred the ethanol industry, which continues to add more and more corn-to-ethanol plants to the drawing board. While industry estimates vary it is quite likely that we could be using more than 50% of the total domestic corn production to supply less than 10% of the national demand for gasoline by 2010.

Given the relatively low overall yield of corn ethanol per acre, several alternatives have been proposed. These include the growing of soybeans, rapeseed and safflower to produce biodiesel. With some of these crops yields can range anywhere from 3-7 times that from corn ethanol per acre and have several other advantages including a much better EROEI. The one that caught my eye though was the proposal to convert algae into biodiesel. Several posts on TOD have referred to algae as holding more promise for biodiesel production, but I had yet to see any substantive proof of its feasibility. I spent several hours over the last few days researching this and I found some interesting facts that I thought I would share on TOD. The bulk of these findings are based on Dr. Krassen Dimitrov’s work. I invited him to present a summary of his work at TOD but he suggested I do it. He even suggested I “link it’ to me. Talk about not taking credit! My role was to verify his calculations, make a synopsis and add additional information that I learned on this subject. I also communicated with Dr.Briggs at UNH about this and his views are included.

During the oil crisis of the 1970s, Congress funded the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) within the Department of Energy to investigate alternative fuels and energy sources. The Aquatic Species Program (ASP) focused on the production of biodiesel from high lipid-content algae growing in outdoor ponds. These programs also used carbon-dioxide from coal fired plants to increase the growth rate and lipid content of algae. They estimated that under optimum growing conditions micro-algae will produce up to 4 lbs./sq. ft./year or 15,000 gallons of oil/acre/year. Micro-algae are the fastest growing photosynthesizing organisms. They can complete an entire growing cycle every few days. Based on this one can extrapolate that it would take about 10 million acres to produce 145 billion gallons of biodiesel which could supply the entire US gasoline requirements (assuming gasoline powered vehicles could be replaced over time). That is just 2.3% of total area used to grow crops in the US! So why isn’t someone doing something constructive in this field?

There are at least 4 different ventures in the works, including Aquaflow Bionomic, Solio Biofuels, GS Cleantech, and GreenFuel Technologies. GreenFuel seems to be the most advanced in mass commercialization of this technology. GreenFuel Technologies along with De Beers in South Africa (no relationship to the diamond miner) have been making some rather audacious claims on this front. As mentioned here they plan to single handedly make peakists shake in their boots. Greenfield/De Beers plan to produce about 391,000 barrels per day in 5 years. That is no chump change. There are just a couple of major oil fields coming online within the next 5 years which produce anywhere close to that. So Should Chris Skrewbowski start including De Beers in his mega projects list? Not so fast.

According to GreenFuel’s patent application a 1.3 sq. km. plant can generate 342,000 barrels of biodiesel per year. Now, I am not very familiar with km-acre relationship so I had to look it up. I got my wife to double check my numbers as I kept believing I screwed up somewhere. GreenFuel claims to be able to produce 45,000 gallons/ acre/ year. I have converted these to an easy to compare number to that of APS above. So GreenFuel is thus claiming to do 3 fold as well as, the highest estimate under super-optimistic conditions that has never been produced on a large scale. Also, ASP had dismissed closed photo bioreactors has prohibitively expensive but it was not clear what price of oil they were taking into their equation.

This last alliance of GreenFuel and De Beers which is making it’s stand against the dark forces of peak oil is even convincing the common public that it can do this. De Beer’s has sold shares to the common public (without a prospectus) and 29 franchises to build 91 plants (for 6 Million Rand each). Additionally they guarantee that each plant will produce more than 850 barrels of biodiesel per day.

Let’s examine their claims in light of (pun intended) how much lipid photosynthetic organisms can synthesize.

Photosynthetic organisms (PO), such as algae, transform visible light in the 400-700 nm part of the spectrum - called photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) - into the chemical energy of carbon-containing compounds. PAR varies with latitude, seasonality and geographical factors. PAR in the southwest US is about 105w/s
The energy - in the form of biomass - that can be obtained via photosynthesis thus depends on the level of PAR and the efficiency of the conversion process Q.

Ebiomass = PAR x Q

Photosynthetic organisms use eight photons to capture one molecule of CO2 into carbohydrate (CH2O)n Given that one mole of CH2O has a heating value of 468kJ and that the mean energy of a mole of PAR photons is 217.4kJ, then the maximum theoretical conversion efficiency of PAR energy into carbohydrates is:

468kJ/(8 x 217.4kJ) = 27%

This is the ideal yield on PAR energy that is: (i) actually absorbed by the photosynthetic organism, (ii) in conditions where this organism operates with 100% photosynthetic efficiency (every photon that is absorbed is effectively used in photosynthetic reactions), and (iii) the organism does not waste any energy on any life-support functions, other than building biomass. We will call this efficiency Qtheo.

If 27% is theoretical maximum, then what is most likely? Dr. Dimitrov presents reasonable evidence to suggest that Q is likely to be around 10% at best. While that to some may sound like he is being overly pessimistic, it is my belief that he is in fact being a bit optimistic.
Here are his assumptions,
90% photosynthetic efficiency i.e how well an organism avoids photosaturation ...Q= 24.3
80% conversion of this amount for us..i.e the plant uses 28% energy for its own needs...Q=19.44
70% optical efficiency of the process, which measures optical coefficient, cleanliness and reflection of light from reactor wall..Q=13.60
98% efficiency in coverting biomass to biodiesel.. Q=13.33
98% plant efficiency (2% down time) Q=13.06

I have studied these in depth and I believe that getting anything over 15% is going to be an impossible task in the near future. A more likely situation is that Q will be around 10.
Applying this to PAR of 105w/s/ sq.m or 3.3GJ/yr/sq.m. we get a maximum biofuel energy content of 0.89GJ/yr. Now, biodiesel has an energy content of 0.133GJ/gallon. Greenfuel says that they plan on getting 342,000bbl per year from a 1.3 sq km plant. That is an energy content of 1.47 GJ/sq.m/yr .

The more likely scenario is,

Now, Heading Out pointed out that the PBR design consists of inclined tubes and hence I am underestimating the yields in a given area because of that. Based on their pilot plant I have to agree that he is right. But, when you are talking about miles and miles of these then the vertical height of these individual columns acts as a limiting factor. If you picture another set of these columns behind the first one, you will see that it's proximity to the first one would affect it's access to sunlight. To access sunlight perfectly it would have to be a significant distance away. Hence GreenField cannot improve yields/sq.m by going vertical, except perhaps in its pilot plant.

So if we assume the above numbers are correct the that's 1.2 gallons/sq.m./yr or about 5000 gallons/acre/yr The other 50% is proteins and carbohydrates which would have some food value. Dr. Dimitrov assumes lower price for this portion derived from algae and based on present prices he is right. However I believe that the food and fuel markets are merging. Let me explain my position on this. Higher oil prices will result in higher corn prices (as more is used for ethanol) and this will impact food prices across the spectrum. On the other hand if we have a bad corn harvest and ethanol becomes unprofitable and companies cut back on production , it will decrease supply enough to push oil/gasoline prices higher to the point we start using corn to make ethanol again.

Hence assigning a $2.5 a gallon price on biodiesel and $1.50 on protein and food derivatives we get revenues of $4.8/sq.m/ year. Let's look at the costs of this revenue.

GreenFuel’s PBR design.

The largest cost is of course going to be the construction of the plant. GreenFuel promises to use polycarbonate tubes for its construction, which have installed costs as high as $190/sq.m. However since GreenFuel plans to build at least 91 of these massive plants I am going to give them a lower cost of $150 assuming that they can negotiate huge discounts. Polycarbonate is the best choice as it has excellent PAR transmission but blocks UV much better than acrylic or glass making it ideal for grwoing algae.

Next are the land costs. Dr. Dimitrov generously assumes they can get the land for free. If the US starts taxing carbon emissions then maybe there is a remote possibility for getting land for free next to carbon dioxide spewing power plants. I too will give them the benefit of the doubt here but we must remember that this is likely to work against them. Large amounts of land at specific locations with great sunlight and fresh water availability are not cheap.

Next we consider the operational and maintenance costs. These include personnel costs for repair and cleaning and costs for parts and repairs. Assuming 0.03 full time employee's per 1000sq.m, that translates into $1.20/sq.m/yr (assuming total costs of $40,000 per employee, including healthcare and other benefits). These costs were obtained by using the costs for maintaining sun-tracking heliostats such as those used in concentrated solar power.

The costs for operating GreenFuel's plant are likely to be about the same assuming they use neutral buoyancy spheres to clean inner surface. All other costs including administrative, parts and labour, quality testing, transesterification, water, pH control total up to about 0.60/sq.m. These are again the costs for concentrated solar power generation ($0.50) with zero costs assigned to water and pH control. Transesterification costs are assumed to be just $0.10, which is 30% lower than any number I could find from many different studies. Some put this as high as ($0.50). Suffice to say that these costs are extremely low compared to real numbers. Adding it up we get a total cost of about $1.8/sq.m/yr. That leaves gross profit of $3.00. That means at current prices it would take 50 years to just cut even on their investment. That is clearly not feasible. For one thing these polycarbonate sheets take a lot of UV damage and their useful life is almost always less than 15 years (usually 10 years). Also whoever is investing for 15 years would be crazy to want a zero return on their investment. Even if someone had some philanthropic goals it would be inflation adjusted returns of zero. Even making assumptions of 6% inflation (whoever believes the official CPI needs to get their head examined) and zero returns requires oil prices greater than $240 a barrel!! So great we have a technology which will save us once oil prices get high enough, right? That assumption too would be a mistake as at $240 a barrel, polycarbonate costs are probably going to be a lot higher. Ditto for repairs and parts. Labour may be cheaper if $240 a barrel results in massive unemployment.

Also, I would like to point out that going vertical will not affect GreenFuel's costs.

From these calculations it is apparent that the limiting factor is the cost of polycarbonate. Also, if the world tries this on a massive scale it is likely to put immense pressure on the polycarbonate market and hence its price. For a closed system polycarbonate is the best choice. Everything else reduces yields. However if there is something that gives good cost to yield trade off it might be a better idea than GreenFuel's choice.

After going through a few studies done by different institutions I have found that there quite a few technological hurdles which need to be cleared even if costs can be brought down.
1) Low yields (in spite of optimum conditions)
2) Contamination
3) Lack of water in areas with best sunlight
4) Low Lipid content of algae
5) Open small pond method is problematic due to repeated contamination and much lower yields
6) Energy required to constantly move large amounts of algae within the photo bioreactor is likely to be extensive
7) Low yields would also hurt GreenFuel’s potential carbon sequestration credits, should they ever get those

I communicated with Dr Briggs at UNH about Dr. Dimitrov’s work.

His position was
1) GreenFuel is drastically overstating its potential yield. He was not aware of the exact claims as the patent application is incredibly confusing in that area. I was happy to point out the exact points made.
2) However 15,000 gallons/acre is achievable
3) Q=10% is unnecessarily too low
4) More by-product credit needs to be applied for non-lipid content
5) PBR costs may be different than that used by him, but costs need to come down substantially
6) He also made an important point about meat prices which I thought was interesting. He felt that the corn to ethanol boom would result in higher meat prices and that was a good thing as meat is ridiculously cheap compared to fruits and vegetables. Since it takes 10 times as much land and energy to produce a certain amount of calories from meat as from grains, he feels meat should be priced much higher

My remarks,
1) needs no comment.
2) at what cost and how? Can this be done on a mass scale?
3) I adjusted theoretical Q to 13 based on some of his comments. But I am reluctant to adjust my base case of Q=10 to higher levels as it seems unrealistic.15,000 gallons (3x our base case yields, with Q at maximum possible) may be possible in areas where PAR is much higher. Also if we are to do this on a large scale we will be utilizing land everywhere and not just in the southwest. Hence average PAR is likely to be a lot lower. If 15,000 gallons can be achieved then too with current prices and using a modest 6% inflation return the plant is likely to be unprofitable. However with those yields at twice current prices things start looking a lot better. Even under our most optimistic scenarios at current prices things do not look too promising. As Robert Rapier's Thermal Depolymerization post showed, costs are more likely to be underestimated than overestimated.
4) I have tripled the by-product credits given by Dr. Dimitrov
5) I have reduced costs of construction by 20%.
6) I am in total agreement with him on this. As the third world countries continue increasing their meat consumption this might happen sooner than we think.

In conclusion it seems that while their intentions may be heroic, GreenFuel and De Beers have promised way more than they can possibly deliver. I am so confident of this that I would love to extend a familiar $1000 bet on this. Unfortunately as seen here, no one can verify how much any of GreenFuel's plants produce at any time.

The future may hold a lot of promise for this technology though. A cheaper replacement for polycarbonate along with setting up reactors in third world countries with more PAR and cheaper labor may make this very realistic.

Maybe we will read something like this in 2025.

“Biodiesel prices rose on the MUMEX (Mumbai mercantile exchange) as India pledged to cut production to balance out the glut in inventories. India’s biodiesel minister was quoted as saying “$600 a barrel is a fair and equitable price.” Saudi Arabia which just turned importer last month is complaining that the high prices are wrecking its fragile economy and threatened to finally start using its Trillion barrel of “proved“ resources to destroy the Biodiesel cartel.”

A small end note from Heading Out. If one reads the patent claims for this process that are referenced above it can be seen that the program considers the use of artificial light as part of the source of the energy input. Given that the plant is being established at a power station, this energy cost may be small, and the land may be available at the plant. There is some information on the plant that is installed in South Africa here and here and the coming US operation here . My apologies that current time constraints have limited my input to this.

Petroleum IS a bio-fuel; it just took millions of years to cook in the great subterranean crock-pot.
Then civilization tapped it to launch humanity to greatest heights.

Problem is we didn’t bother to calculate the required thrust that would take us into
Sustainable orbit.

Now dropping to earth.

Let’s hope the chutes deploy.

P.S. We only get one shot at it every few million years.

Hey not a bad metaphor for a big hairy TOD Troll

your close. just off by a few decimal points.
it's the product of a few hundred million years.

it other words it's as close to certain as one can get that homo-sapian is the only hominid that will ever enjoy this quirk of nature.

Probably the only hominid. In another few hundred million years we will be the oil. I wonder what will be pumping us out of the ground?

a future land version of the cuttle fish or squid if they aren't killed off by the global climate change we have set into motion.

given current emblaming and burial practices and low density distrbution of corpses actual production of human based bio fuel... Oh never mind. :-)

I remember reading somewhere that the current rate of oil generation in source rocks, worldwide, was estimated at between a few million and a few tens of million barrels per year (that's per year, not per day). Most of it migrates to surface and is oxidized in the atmosphere - only a small fraction is ever trapped.

The same article estimated that once oil finds its way into a reservoir it has a survival half-life of approximately 100 million years. It will be destroyed when the reservoir is breached (by faulting or uplift/erosion) or buried to a depth where the oil is thermally cracked to methane and graphite. So TK's estimate of "a few hundred million years" sounds reasonable.

Of course the actual source and reservoir rocks can be a lot older. They could have been in place for half of eternity before the onset of oil generation, which depends on stuff like rifting, subsidence/burial and relative movement of mantle thermal plumes (hotspots) and tectonic plates.

I'd like to post a link so I've been scouring the web for the source article, but it's gone beyond recall. Something to do with AAPG, IIRC. I found lots of other interesting stuff, though :)

However... that estimate has been totally screwed up in the past fingernail-paring of geological time. The culprit is a species of semi-intelligent primate that has evolved the ability to short-circuit this important part of the planetary carbon cycle, throwing the chemistry of the atmosphere seriously out of balance.

The immediate consequences, for the primates and the planet, are far from clear. In the long term, well, species come and go and the planet will probably fix itself in less than one Galactic Great Year. So no real harm done, thank goodness.

The novel "Galapagos" (Kurt Vonnegut RIP) suggests that the primates' large brains are an unsustainable mutation that will die out when the primates destroy their own habitat, as usually happens with virulently invasive species.

The same article estimated that once oil finds its way into a reservoir it has a survival half-life of approximately 100 million years.

My Mom-In-Law is a retired sedimentologist who has consulted with various govts such as Oman. I recall her saying that some of Oman's oil was as much as a billion years old, and very heavy as a result. A hundred million here, a hundred million there and pretty soon you've got some real eons on your hands :)

PS someday maybe I'll tell the story of how the Libyan govt smuggled her in for a consult before the travel ban was lifted. She got to meet the Colonel himself. Crazy woman!

I recall her saying that some of Oman's oil was as much as a billion years old

Interesting - one thing I forgot to mention in my note is that oil can be sourced, trapped, and then remobilized by faulting at depth, allowing migration along the hydrdynamic gradient into other reservoir rocks. But this article seems to support your MiL's recollections...


Gives a good explanation why we haven't detected any signals from other intelligent species in the galaxy.

Any guesses what would be the halflife of a civilisation after development of the radio?

I am not so sure their intentions are heroic. From this link posted above (also discussed last month in a DrumBeat):

De Beers Fuel founder Frik de Beer is on record saying that “our current production on the pilot plant is 144 000 litres in 24 hours – we’re running the plant 25 days a month, it is all consumed locally, and we have 50-million litres of diesel on our order book per month”.

Based on these and other claims, the company has sold a number of biodiesel franchises to South African investors.

Many of the franchises were sold under the Infiniti Biodiesel brand name.

The company’s website – which could still be accessed this morning, but has since been removed from the Internet – claimed that “92 plants involving 18 franchises” had been sold.

The company’s website also claimed that five production plants were under construction.

However, when questioned by Carte Blanche, De Beer said that the company had only ever sold 41 000 litres of biodiesel and had 39 000 litres in its tanks, ready to be sold.

I smell a rat.

They said they would address the accusations, but I haven't seen anything about it. The last article I saw was this one, which wasn't very reassuring:

De Beers Fuels of Naboomspruit now says that they're actually a bio-fuel research organisation or laboratory. They admit that plant oils produced in SA, such as sunflower and soya, are far too expensive and scarce to use as input for the manufacture of bio-diesel. SA can't even import plant oil cheaply enough to produce bio-diesel.

Investors in De Beers Fuels' shares, as well as the franchises they sold so merrily, will now have to wait patiently for the new miracle brewing up in their laboratory.

Apparently the new wonder plant - algae, which is being developed by them - will be so successful that all the buyers of plants to produce bio-diesel themselves will be able to buy enough cheap algae oil from De Beer Fuels in two years' time to produce and sell diesel easily and profitably.

Trader Vic takes his hat off to De Beers Fuels founder Frik de Beer. If they manage to do that they'll deserve not only the Nobel Prize for Science, Economics and Peace, but even a town named after Frik de Beer.

“our current production on the pilot plant is 144 000 litres in 24 hours – we’re running the plant 25 days a month, it is all consumed locally, and we have 50-million litres of diesel on our order book per month”.

Ima thinker Billy Sol DeBeers is gonna catch a few million stupid dollars with this deal.

No full scale production plant even built yet and they're selling franchises? You're right, this is quite odiferous.

As someone who covered Wall Street for 20 years, let me say that every boom brings out hustlers, and sometimes the hustlers are very very good at what they do. They often look more credible than honest folk.
That being said, there is much hope for a bio solution to our energy needs. Work is being done at the University of Illinois, suggesting we can get 3 gallons a day of oil from pig poop, per pig. You heat the pig poop under pressure.
We have 100 million pigs in America. If every pig does his patriotic duty, we get 8 million barrels a day. That is more than one-third of our (now declining) consumption.
Solutions there are many to this energy "crisis." Technical solutions will be found. If commercial, they will be implemented. The hard part of life is getting people to cooperate, ending wars, crime etc. Now, those are problems.

Work is being done at the University of Illinois, suggesting we can get 3 gallons a day of oil from pig poop, per pig.

Dude, just think about that for more than 30 seconds, and you'd realize how ridiculous it is. The laws of thermodynamics hold, even for pigs. You don't get anything out of them that you're not putting into them.

For disposing of pig wastes, fine, it may be worth doing. But as a scalable energy source? Read up on that turkey parts plant, and get back to us.

You are right about scalability, but it is an interesting way to deal with manure.

Iron Creek Hutterite Pig Manure Methane->electricity, in production since 2001.
Biogas in Aberta

My dad had 500 feeder pigs until I was 5 years old, all I remember is they poop a lot.

They may poop a lot, but I seriously doubt it's 3 gallons of oil a day per pig.


If you take out energy from pig poop, you are taking energy from somewhere else.

The feed, the water, the farm implements, the diesel trucks to haul said pigs and poop. Building the collectors, and all the other infrastructure.

Cheap energy is cheap because we are burning fossil sunlight. There will be no energy bonanza from algae, pig poop, turkey guts, switchgrass, or any other solar budget energy scheme because the amount of sunlight we can capture and turn into the liquids which drive our drive-in shopaholic lifestyle will be insufficient.

STOP BEING SCIENTIFICALLY OBLIVIOUS!!! You must include ALL the knock on effects. You must include ALL the energy inputs, including the food the farmer eats while sitting in his airconditioned John Deere, the cost of the clothes he wears, and the gasoline he burns to drive over to the south-forty.

The next paradigm shift in science will revolve around holistic thinking. Too bad this shift may come too late to save the narrow, fix-the-problem-in-front-of-me-ignore-the-problems-the-solution-causes mindset people and their cheerleaders from the dieoff.

Bravo!! Your's is the first comment I've seen (by anyone, anywhere) that doesn't arbitrarily ignore inconvenient facts in order to promote a pet idea. Thank you!!

It is not "reserves". It is not "production". It is cycles that matter.

It all has to go all around.

But I disagree that there is no energy bonanza. There is 1kW/m2, everywhere, all the time. That is way much more than whatever we need. And not only in the Earth, but in a 1.5e11 m sphere.

We just need to figure the cycle.

"STOP BEING SCIENTIFICALLY OBLIVIOUS!!! You must include ALL the knock on effects. You must include ALL the energy inputs, including the food the farmer eats while sitting in his airconditioned John Deere, the cost of the clothes he wears, and the gasoline he burns to drive over to the south-forty"

That's fair enough Cherenkov, but I want the same thing done with the fossil fuels....

Count the steel in the rigs, the pumps, the pipe, all of it.....count the computers that are used to hunt for the oil, the man hours in computational time world wide, the food it takes to feed them....count the aircraft carriers and the patrols by the fighter planes and rader carrying AWACS....count the supertankers, the steel, the men, the portage facilities to onload and offload the oil....the refineries, the tractor trailers and railcars, the cost of excavatign the storage tanks down at the 24 hour bright white lit retail store, the pumps, the concrete pads and giant steel canopies that would not be needed if folks were not out there pumping gas in the rain....

And even with that, I know I have left out at least HALF the items needed to keep the oil flowing from the desert to the customer.....

Count fair and square and see if the worshipped holy oil is still so superior....
That old saw may have fooled people once, but no matter how much the oil industry apologists repeat in an attept to kill any alternative in it's crib, people are starting to take a closer look at that whole argument....

Oh, one more thing.....and this is strictly a personal observation....if your final argument is always going to be to try to scare somebody with that dieoff hysteria, that one don't work anymore either.....we're all gonna' die, it's how you want to live that matters. I have as much faith in pig manure as I do in the oil industries string of shiit......

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

The cost has been factored in, Roger. That's what the market does - factor in costs. And that's the point of fossil fuels - we are taking fuels that have been stored over hundreds of millions of years by slow natural processes and using them now. We didn't have to account for the creation, burial, and conversion of vegetable matter to fossil fuel because it all occurred before we even existed. THERE WAS NO COST TO HOMO SAPIENS! DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT YET, ROGER?

Biodiesel is an attempt to recreate the same process in a few weeks or months that nature took millions of years to do. This requires INPUTS, Roger. Inputs of energy, material, etc. There IS a cost to homo sapiens to CREATE biofuels.

The fact that you totally fail to understand this is demonstrative of how disconnected from reality you actually are. Go back to cheerleading for KSA, Roger. At least there you didn't sound like you were completely scientifically illiterate.

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett


You have indeed been moody for the last couple of days....cheer up! :-)

"The cost has been factored in, Roger. That's what the market does - factor in costs."

My, how the worm has turned! On a board that lives and breathes to prove that the market is a complete failure (otherwise, how could we still be at these low oil prices right as we come onto the catastrophe?) you suddenly become a "market guru", ala CERA?!

The market had trouble remembering three days ago, and it suddenly factors in a century of sunk cost and externalities?

Allow me to ask you simply to ask yourself if you really believe that the current price of oil reflects a century of military protection, port and road building, refinery construction, pipeline construction (including the eminent domain that allowed property to be purchased on agreeable terms), construction of retail outlets, pumps, tanks, not to mention the funding poured to the universities to assist the industry in research in drilling......

Greyzone, do you really believe that? That there are no externalities, all the costs are reflected in the price? Do you really?

If you do, after considering your position carefully, then we simply will have to agree to disagree. Because I most certainly in no way believe it. If I did, I would not be here. Why would I be concerned? The price would reflect all, and look at the price...still the cheapest gas in most of the world (excepting some oil producers themselves!), and flat over the last year, I would assume the price run up has been currency weakening on the U.S. dollar and a bit of war premium (we are still at war, by the way, as a war time price, the current price is STEALING THE OIL)


But was there a cost in setting up the infrastructure to extract, move, refine, redistribute the oil? Is there now a cost in attempting to police the system that gets the oil to us? Is there a cost in dealing with the carbon and other byproducts of said production and use?

Your position does not seperate oil from any other potential energy supply. Allow me to take the same sentence:


Thus, solar energy is free! All you have to do is develop a way to capture and convert the energy! How is that different from oil, except that it is distributed over the surface of the Earth and it's cleaner? Oil did NOT gather and refine itself. And due to it's distribution, it has brought massive costs in foreign policy and human suffering.

By the way, on a more personal note: There are a short list of posters here at TOD whom I hold in enough regard to give them the allowence of calling me ill informed or ignorant, and based on the quality of their work, I will accept it and attempt to review my position and find my error.

It is a short list, and no offense GreyZone, but no post of yours has come near earning you a place on it. Do not assume that because I defer to some I defer in the same way to all.

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from from freedom

Of course there are externalities, Roger. But the cost of creating the raw fuel was never a cost to homo sapiens. There is a cost to creating the raw biofuels. This cost entails doing everything that nature did in those hundreds of millions of years. Now you get to add that cost onto refining, and all the other externalities that already exist for fossil fuels.

You either do not or refuse to understand that. Why? God alone only knows. Your analogy about the sun totally misses that prehistoric plants converted that sunlight into kerogen, which was then, through natural processes, converted to petroleum. This is a major cost that biofuels incur. Then biofuels incur every other cost that fossil fuels have as well, including transportation, refining, sales, etc. Remember the topic, Roger? It is biofuels from pig manure, with which you were heartily in agreement until BenjaminCole found better data that refuted it. Benjamin at least had the honesty to apologize for being wrong. You, on the other hand, sit here trying to look right about biofuels when even the original poster has walked away from those absurd claims.

Finally Roger, I do not care whether I am on any list of yours. The fact that you didn't even check the data before agreeing with it, cheerleading it because it supported your position, is why I don't care. The fact that you are unwilling to recognize that you were flat out wrong and admit it is another reason why I don't care. I simply want to make sure that other readers see you for what you are and that your uninformed posts do not always go unchallenged.

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

"It is biofuels from pig manure, with which you were heartily in agreement until BenjaminCole found better data that refuted it."

The nature of my "hearty" agreement was this statement:
"I have as much faith in pig manure as I do in the oil industries string of shiit......"

I will stand by that, given that I have 0% faith in the oil companies string of shiit, less with each passing day if that were possible.

As far as biofuels from pig manure, cow manure, chicken parts, hog by product, human manure in the form of sewer gas, waste methane from landfills, or any other source of free methane and waste, I have tried and tried to figure out why I would be against any of the above. I cannot. Can you find anywhere at anytime that I have said I felt they were the answer to the world or the U.S. energy problem? I don't think so, but your welcome to try (I always appreciate a dedicated reader!)

I still think that animal waste and byproduct should be captured when possible and used for methane, rather than releasing raw methane into the air. As I said, the greenhouse gas capture alone would be worth it, the energy is just a byproduct. And yes, before you begin again to set up straw man arguments to knock down, I am well aware that the net energy will be negative, the pigs, cows, chickens, etc have to be fed, watered, and the sun has to shine on their back, but again, I am talking about capturing byproduct since I am still (perhaps wrongly), convinced that people are going to keep eating beef, chicken, pork, etc. for as long as they possibly can.

Now, you go on to a lot of insinuation and useless insult about "my position" and your new found duty to "make sure that other readers see you for what you are and that your uninformed posts do not always go unchallenged."

If you are going to attempt to insult as to "what i am", by all means, please define. If you are going to say that what I posted was uninformed, demonstrate in what way. Again, I stand ABSOLUTELY by my belief that methane recapture does work, has always worked and will always work, and that of course we should be all for it. If you differ then that's your right.

What we seem to be confronting more here is a willingness to attempt to scream down anyone who does not share the hystrerical rantings of those who for some reason want to believe that there can be no solution to anything, and by browbeating attempt to force others into the same pathetic defeatism, or off the board, which ever they can achieve. This is generally the messiah complex writ large, the guy who stands in public with the "world is coming to an end" sign. Again, that's a persons right. But in the known history of the world, I have never heard of one of those defeatist prophets of doom coming up with any real solutions to anything.

The sad part is, newcomers may mistakenly judge those concerned about real, serious energy issues and real potential solutions by these types of mad ramblings if that is all they see here. The whole issue has been turned into a clown show of late by what has been nothing short of outright hysteria, to the point that any educated person can see it as comedy. This combined with the neo-primitivism of the radical greens occupies space that could better be used to discuss real possibilities for change. Will some of the ideas put forth by those who propose real ideas be wrong? Of course. That's the danger of proposing something other than hysterical defeatism. I have been wrong on MANY occasions, and will be again. So, if the goal is to make someone cry uncle, I have been wrong and caught myself out more times than anyone else has caught me out. (On methane recapture, I am not sure I have been proven wrong just yet, I still think it's a good idea :-)

But, it must be admitted, GreyZone, that if a peculiar kind of victory in which you insult, scream down and drive off all differing opinions, then the victory seems to be coming your way. When I first came here a year ago, the spectrum of discussion was wide, and the catastrophist hysteria had not yet taken hold. I was even able to recommend some friends I know personally to come here. Those days are gone, and that is an error I can no longer afford to repeat.

In my own case, I take responsibility for what I say. That is why I sign my posts. I would not feel it is responsible to say things and be unwilling to take credit or blame for my own words.

But there is a down side to that. Since I do acknowledge coming here, the concern is growing that simply by participating in a forum that has moved off to the radical edge of the sprectrum, one is contributing to the madness by simply being here "egging it on", than perhaps some of us should allow your camp to have it's little victory and move on. A person could stay, just to prove they are willing to, but I do not feel that my ego really needs the boost of arguing with those who are arguing with only the point of shutting up all opposition.

But, it has been fun and educational, and from the best here I have learned much, and made some fascinating new connections! :-)

And, as the old proverb goes, "one shoould listen also to even the dull and ignorant for they too have their story".

As far as biofuels, I am in an interesting problem there. Those who support biofuels see me as an enemy because I have grave doubts about that being the way to go, and those who are rabidly anti-biofuel see me as an enemy because I have not yet proven to my own satisfaction that they are completely without value. The old moderate's problem, as they say "out in the middle of the road, where all the dead animals lay." :-)

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Actually Roger, I enjoy factual debate. I challenge Robert and he answers with facts. I ask Alan a question and he answers with facts. You might take a lesson from them, Roger. Or you might not.

If you find disagreement to be "insulting" then you have a thin skin. I have not called you some of the names that have been thrown around here. I simply identified that you are ignorant of facts OR willfully ignoring those same facts. I have not even suggested which it is, leaving that open to you to rectify yet you refuse to correct any of your own errors instead going off on wild tangents yet again. Same old Roger.

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

Better idea....since you are the one who is finding so many "facts" that I may have supposedly stated in error, you correct them, and I'll learn....have at it! :-)

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom
(that one is from a post by Khebab, not me, by the way....:-)

When I first came here a year ago, the spectrum of discussion was wide, and the catastrophist hysteria had not yet taken hold. I was even able to recommend some friends I know personally to come here. Those days are gone, and that is an error I can no longer afford to repeat.

Um....yeah, sure.

I remember your first post. I remember it because it was a "Goodbye, Cruel TOD" post. Indeed, I assumed that that was why you chose the username you did. "That's it, I'm out of here, 'cause you guys are a bunch of doomer losers."

It was on February 13, 2006, and it was a rant against Deffeyes and other peak oilers. You said you were forced to "disavow and disown the so-called 'peak oil' movement."

So, more than a year ago, you were just as disgruntled as you are now. You're looking back at a glorious past that never existed.

Dude, you're starting to remind me of those Creationists who claim they used to be evolutionists who have since "seen the light." But if you check, they never really believed in evolution. They just like to say they did, because they think the conversion adds weight to their position.

Well, that wasn't my first post, I have been here over a year, and that one was in August, so I had posted many previous to that (I don't know if they got lost in one of the upgrades....my first post was, by own dating, concerning the war in Iraq and Qatar, natural gas, and the U.S.'s declining strategic position.

The one you reference Leanan, was the "Dr. Deffeyes sets a date" string in which Deffeyes declared "Stone Age by 2025"

Now how was any intelligent person to react to that!? How insane was a sentence like that from one of the leading "voices" of the peak movemen?

Deffeyes words were used, by the way, over and over again by those who only wanted to make fools of anyone concerned about energy issues.

You win the point, But I fault myself for overreacting. I was completely outraged by Deffeyes words, and still think he did huge damage to the concept and words "peak oil".

But I fault myself for overreacting

(the only thing that allowed me to accept it was the realization that he is an old man, and was saying things he did not understand. We will all be there someday, if we live long enough.)

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Quite agree, when we are part of the loop it all works. How far we can push that loop is another question. Right now our loop is in a state hyperbolic.

Well, actually, the pigs don't poop as much as the article I read indicated. After e-mail conversing with the actual researcher, a Dr. Zhang, it turn out we can get only one-third of one liter per pig per day. Some pigshit reporter was off by a factor of 50 or so.
We have to feed the pigs anyway to raise them for slaughter. A good idea is to feed them potato mash, taken from a ethanol plant running on potatoes. You get really good vodka this way too, but also ethanol. The pig poop helps fire the plant.
Okay, I am hugely red-faced at overestimating the pig poop solution based on some sloppy reporting. Maybe we will freeze in the dark after riding our bicycles home in the cold sleet.

The ethanol plants here are either integrated directly with a feedlot or the biproduct is sold to feedlots.

Maybe we will freeze in the dark after riding our bicycles home in the cold sleet.

Ah! Now you're not cooking with gas. See how easy that was?

The news is all bad.


Don't be too red in the face, the press often reports these things and gives some very wobbly numbers.

As you said, despite the dreams of the vegetarian crowd, we are not going to stop eating pork, chicken, turkey, or beef anytime soon. All these animals make methane gas, which can be captured in digesters and compressed to the closest thing you have ever seen to an artificicial natural gas. The chemical structure is very close between first, hydrogen (no carbon) and then methane, nat gas and propane. The best part is that by capturing the methane you are capturing and burning one of the most powerful greenhouse gases on earth, in other words, this would be worth doing purely from an environmental viewpoint, and you are NOT using the nutrients from the waste that need to go back into the soil.

This is the "closed loop" cycle that is often spoken of. If sun is captured with any efficiency at all, and some wind is used, the loop becomes fantastic in that it produces food and energy, reduces greenhouse gas release, and fertilizes the soil in a closed system. Robert Rapier has discussed it, as has several others here, (the so called bio solar habitat idea)

For a completely integrated line of thinking, go to

This is engineer-poets fascinating opus on bio sustainability that takes in most objections right in the original plan, and amazingly survived the "buzz saw" here and in other forums relatively well! I am still digesting it, some half year after my first reading so it wil give you something to work on.

Engineer-poets work is one of the few bio plans I have seen that makes sense. The other is bio-butanol. This holds huge promise, in particular if cultivated in a "closed loop" type system, taking advantage of the confluence of animal and plant waste and solar and wind assist where possible.

The danger with bio fuels is that you have to be careful not to end up in a net negative situation, where you are giving up valuable fertilizer, i.e., natural gas, to create a fuel that is not as clean and handy as natural gas!

Here are some beginning links on bio-butanol:





The bug that makes it:

Bio-butanol, by all indications is still a challenge in getting the yield needed per amount of imput crop (preferred right now is sugar beet), and Robert Rapier says as much. Given his personal experience on this subject I am not about to disagree. It is interesting that the big players BP and DuPont seem to see possibility however, and one wonders what they have up their sleeve.

The beauty of butanol is that it is a 4 carbon alcohol, and thus, interchangable with gasoline on an almost perfect one to one basis, with no loss of heat content and no need to change pumps, tanks, engines, etc. If it can be done, production of bio butanol would produce a far better finished fuel than ethanol ever could.

Of course, my personal view is very controversial here, but with day of study, I am becoming more convinced of it. All the above are simply bridges to where we will have to go, that being hydrogen by renewable energy. Any other path keeps us on the "depletion chase" and creates environmental and carbon release issues. As thin film solar panels begin to drop in price and in amount of raw material needed to make them, and rise in efficiency, they will be able to generate hydrogen at lower and lower prices. This is already moving very, very fast. Nano technology in this area is no promotional device, it is a real breakthrough in solar panels and batteries, two of the critical areas needed for advanced grid based transportation. Investor excitement is in the air, technology is moving fast, and competing formats are emerging. Thin film solar and advanced batteries are getting that "silicon valley" buzz of the 1970's-early '80's :-)

Just a bit of what's going, but only the tip of the iceberg!





Solar hydrogen is the "straight line between two points". Clean, distributed power, it end runs almost every problem encountered with other alternatives.
The argument is often made that it is an inefficient way to use solar power.
There is some truth in this, given that solar direct to electricity or thermal solar show higher raw numbers. But the advantage that solar to hydrogen has is in making a containable transportable fuel. Until batteries get greatly better, it is the path, and even then, there will be many applications in which batteries simply cannot answer the call for fast burst of controllable energy.

yep, this is going to be fun! Notice the difference in the faces of people who know what is really going on....the doomers worry and frown.....the people in these businesses of the future smile. :-)

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom


thanks for your leads and comments.

I am interested in many of these topics, not academically, as I am buying land in Thailand, and actually want to implement better ways of farming – but only if they make money. I have lost money for years running a "green" furniture making operation. And I have had my heart broken over pig poop.
I am also happy to see someone looking for solutions, rather than disaster.
And I still say, fossil crude demand – if this price regime holds – is in for a long, slow decline. There are tons of wonderful business opps if OPEC can keep the price up, and they are avaricious SOBs to be sure.
Unfortunately, oil prices tend to collapse after big run-ups. This time different? Maybe. But what would Hubbert's Peak look like if the US had taken Canada in 1812 and Mexico in 1847? What does a graph of North American oil production look like? I guess a plateau.
It looks like a peak in the US as we went elsewhere to pick low-hanging fruit. When all the low-hanging fruit is picked, we go up into the middle of tree (where we are getting now, thanks to Libya, Iran, Nigeria, Iraq and Venezuela being run by nutcases). The price of oil goes up – flatlining demand, so you no longer have a peak, but plateau.
Happily, the world can adjust to stable (not growing) supplies of oil. Bios are coming on, and hybrids and other devices promise major reductions in fossil crude demand. Bring on the nukes bigtime. France does it, so it must be doable.
Just do not count on pig oil. It will solve about about one-half of one percent of our crude needs. More, if we cut consumption. Oink oink

Reading the back and forth here it struck me just how much effort gets spent focussing on keeping these motorized machines alive. Sure they are nice and would be nice in the future but how about less? Less TV, less plastic crap, less drive in coffee shacks, less magazines, less less less. I grew up with less, seemed OK to me at the time. I do remember binge-ing on fresh fruits in season. Strawberry shortcake 3 x a day. Cherries until your stomach hurt. Canned fruit and veggies during winter.
I think there are alot of people dis-satified and unfulfilled with techno-life, maybe less will be more...

"Engineer-Poet's" "Opus" on Sustainability, Energy Independence and Agricultural Policy:

  1. As soon as he called cereal straw/stover "waste" in his paper it is obvious he is clueless in agriculture and making things up from his armchair from research papers. There is no "waste" straw or stover. If there is any excess straw/stover than can be re-incorporated in the field where it grew, it should be going to improve organic content of marginal land or low-straw stubble like canola or soybeans.
  2. The EERE USA biomass report he based his paper on is garbage. The USDA is now suggesting the available corn stover numbers have to be cut by half. In reality all agricultural biomass should be going to improve soil organic content and marginal land and the straw/stover for fuel is probably sustainable at 10% of the 1.3 billion tonnes he is using is his paper. Thinking there are millions of acres of marginal land that is going to go into biomass crops is a sure sign he has never tried to grow anything on marginal land.
  3. Takes nothing into account for the huge amount of effort to bale and load millions of tonnes of straw. Baling and moving the straw takes as much effort as harvesting the grain. Loading the bales on flat deck semi trailers is a lot of work. He doesn't get that bales are distributed evenly across the field. Moving a billion tonnes of low-energy-density straw/stover to anywhere is a major energy investment.
  4. No concept of the amount of NG/urea required to continuous crop and produce 150 bu/acre of corn or 60bu/acre of wheat when you start removing all of the organic matter.
  5. Weed transport would be a major issue in bailing straw with the mature weed seeds and transporting the volumes he is talking about.

Jim Burke said "any discussion about the primary reason why this concept is deeply flawed" and was ignored.

vtpeaknik made the same type of comments on soil erosion, EROEI counting agricultural inputs, etc.

Again ignored and EP went off on some story about a farmer in Maine he read about on the Internet.

To EP's credit he did account for hauling the straw, he doesn't realize the effort and expense of baling and loading it. I would think because he has never even seen a baler, never mind baled and hauled straw. A modern round baler is a $45k piece of equipment. Baling wheat straw and loading the bales is as much effort as harvesting the grain. There is also the additional soil compaction of baling and transporting the straw/stover.
We used to own and lease out "hay hikers":

which improve the effort to transport round bails. Large square bails are another option or handling the straw loose like silage, but it is still a huge amount of effort to start transporting this volume of straw and stover.

If you take his paper and cut everything he said by 90% to account for proper soil stewardship and the effort to move this amount of biomass, it is solid work and everything he said as far as agricultural biomass for electricity is valid. The paper is very naive on effort to move the biomass and the output is extremely over-estimated based on references that don't take proper soil stewardship into account.

A lot of the "meatgrinder" here is Engineer-Poet himself. He thinks that name calling and berating people is a proper discussion form and people shy away from making comments on his armchair farmer bullshit because he starts quoting calculations from side issues while calling names and insulting anyone that disagrees with him. He is a schoolyard bully and behaves like at 12 year old behind an assumed identity. If he tried acting like he does in a farming community coffee shop and yapping the he had "reseach papers" to back up his nonsense, he would be eating lunch through a straw for the rest of his life.

opps, sorry, didn't realize I had stepped into someone elses fight....
and I didn't ignore Jim Burke and vtpeaknik, I just somehow missed their commentary...

So we are back to our old issues, topsoil, fertility and biomass returned to the land and fertilizer, the big three issues that make bio energy a tough challange.

Your just making me more and more a fan of the renewable hydrogen, all these conversions in bio mass still seem like a snake trying to eat it's own tail...we simply have to tap into all that heat and light falling on our head everyday more directly! :-)

Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

From your,

we simply have to tap into all that heat and light falling on our head everyday more directly! :-)

Which looks sensible, but I wonder if we replace the fossil fuels by solar aren't we in essence storing a lot of that energy that would otherwise be reflected into space. I am sure that a stable state would occur sometime but how much would this heat the planet in the meantime. (couldn't figure out how to add 'in between time ain't we got fun, so I'll cheat and just add it here anyway.)

If anything, converting sunlight into stored energy using solar panels reduces heating of the planet. Solar panels prevent the sunlight that falls on them from heating the ground. In the U.S., Only about 1/3 of electrical energy is used for heating and air-conditioning.




Nice try, looks like everyone else is asleep or too bored by my small point to put up a good fight. Sorry but I would say that energy reflected is energy reflected, and energy that is trapped, that would otherwise be reflected by whatever means is trapped (by trapped I mean temporarily stored until eventually re radiated).

panels prevent the sunlight that falls on them from heating the ground.

Part of that energy falling on the ground is immediately re radiated into space but Im afraid that once that energy is stored as electricity it still will eventually degrade on earth, and quickly, to lower forms of energy ie.heat This is a difference between using solar panels and wind power. Wind power is the use of energy that has already been converted from light into the mechanical energy of wind and would have only a slight effect of storing 'trapped' energy, it is part of the loop and therefore not like much of photoelectric which would imitate petroleum in that they both are bringing 'new' energy into what otherwise is a closed loop.

Today is ,'Be Mean to: Almost Green Photon day'.


Is it you that has promoted lake storage of wind power? If so, Have you had any thoughts about doing this sort of thing on a wind tower by tower basis using individual cisterns? The tower directing surplus energy to pumping water instead of generating electricity.Many towers could be dedicated to direct mechanical water pumping (no tower generators) for peak load times. I don't know what size the storage tanks would be but they would be close to tower, or small farms of towers, and so not be involved in pumping water any great distance (cisterns would be closed to prevent evaporation). I don't know much efficiencies would be effected by turning wind to water storage to electrical generation in this way.

The earth's average reflectance is 29.7%. That means that about 60% of sunlight is absorbed (actually higher on land than the ocean). Therefore, solar panels absorb the sunlight, > 60% of which would heat the land underneath if the panels were not present. About 1/3 of the electricity derived from solar panels is used for heating and air conditioning which does contribute to earth warming. The rest is used to run appliances, industrial processes, etc. which is mostly mechanical work, .i.e., it does not contribute significantly to heating. (For example, the electricity that runs a fan is mostly doing the mechanical work of moving air and does not contribute much heat.) Therefore, on balance, solar panels which generate electricity contribute to cooling the earth.

As for lake storage of wind power, no, you've mistaken me for someone else.

And average reflectivity is dropping anyway since a large fraction of reflected light is from the poles, and the north pole at least is melting to blue water (which is a real efficient absorber of energy).

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

Sorry, that was 70% of sunlight absorbed.

But all energy degrades to heat anyway, even the kinetic energy embodied in moving air (wind). Converting this energy to electricity and using it to run a fan or dishwasher or whatever has the same effect on the heatcontent of the earth as letting the wind blow freely in the first place.

The only way I can think of that would cool the earth using wind energy would be to try to send the energy into space as electromagnetic radiation using a wavelength that isn't blocked by our atmosphere, visible light would be a good choice I believe. Incidentally, with all the lightpollution on this planet, that is excactly what we're doing :)

Wrong. Mechanical work dissipates energy by moving things around. It does not necessarily produce heat (unless there is a lot of friction present). For example, if I use an electric wench to lift up a heavy object, I expend energy, but I don't create any significant heating (except a small amount due to friction). A fan creates a small amount of heat due to friction, but it is very small. Mostly the energy is expended as mechanical work -- moving the air around. (In addition, moving air can have a cooling effect by increasing evaporation.)

The point is, the electrical energy (from the solar panel) is largely used to do mechanical work, as opposed to >70% going to heat the earth if the sunlight struck the earth directly (instead of the solar panel). Only about 30% is reflected back to space. So, on balance solar panels would have a cooling effect unless the electricity produced is used mainly for heating and air conditioning.

I don't mean to pull rank, but I'm a physicist and electromagnetic energy measurement is my specialty (infrared, visible, x-ray, gamma-ray). I've been doing it for over 25 years.

For example, if I use an electric wench to lift up a heavy object,

Wow… wish I had one of those in my workshop… was it expensive? What model did you get? :-)

And I don’t wish to pull rank on you but as a fellow physicist… don’t you think your explanations are rather simplistic/flawed.

• Yes, you have lifted the object and (temporarily) increased its P.E. But when you lower it again… the energy goes?

• Moving air around with a fan… yes, you have (temporarily) increased its K.E… and when it slows down the energy goes?

Most “mechanical energy” is temporary before it degenerates back into low grade heat due to friction.

The only way energy is used and not degraded back to heat is: permanently increasing the PE of something, storing the energy inside a chemical or mechanical device (battery/spring)… etc.

So ultimately there is no cooling effect by a solar panel.

In addition, moving air can have a cooling effect by increasing evaporation.

That’s not really the whole story either is it… the surface where the evaporation takes place cools because the more energetic (liquid) molecules escape… which thus means that the air is gaining (heat) energy.(conservation of energy?)

And I don’t wish to pull rank on you but as a fellow physicist… don’t you think your explanations are rather simplistic/flawed.

I think they are correct. I think you are confused.

Yes, you have lifted the object and (temporarily) increased its P.E. But when you lower it again… the energy goes?

It depends on what I do with that potential energy. I could use it to pump water, or generate electricity to power high efficiency LED lighting, neither of which creates much heat.

Moving air around with a fan… yes, you have (temporarily) increased its K.E… and when it slows down the energy goes?

There is some heating due to the non-zero viscosity of air, but it is minimal. The question is similar to what happens to conserve momentum when I accelerate in my car? The car has forward momentum. Where is the corresponding backward momentum, so that the total momentum remains zero? ("conservation of momentum") The answer is that the momentum of the earth changes by an amount equal to the momentum of the car. (No motion of the earth is observed because the earth is so much more massive than the car.) Similarly, when a stationary fan pushes air, the earth gains equal momentum in the opposite direction. When the air slows, the earth regains its former momentum. The kinetic energy lost by the air is transferred to the earth.

Most “mechanical energy” is temporary before it degenerates back into low grade heat due to friction.

The only way energy is used and not degraded back to heat is: permanently increasing the PE of something, storing the energy inside a chemical or mechanical device (battery/spring)… etc.

A lot of mechanical energy is simply transferred to the earth. If a landslide occurs, does it cause heating? A little, but mostly it imparts kinetic energy to the earth, resulting in an infinitesimal change in the earth's motion, too small to observe.

So ultimately there is no cooling effect by a solar panel.

Wrong. My argument stands.

• In addition, moving air can have a cooling effect by increasing evaporation.

That’s not really the whole story either is it… the surface where the evaporation takes place cools because the more energetic (liquid) molecules escape… which thus means that the air is gaining (heat) energy.(conservation of energy?)

Wrong. The air is not gaining heat energy. It takes energy to convert water from the liquid state to the gaseous state, so the heat energy of the water is reduced. (Heat energy is converted to potential energy.) That's why it is a cooling effect. It is true that the energy is recovered when the water vapor condenses, so there is no net energy gain or loss.

you clearly "outrank" me as a physicist, but this isn't very complicated in principle. The thing to keep in mind is that with every conversion there is some energy lost as heat, noise, light/radiation. Even with your fan the energy all ends up as heat in the end, or do you suppose the air keeps moving indefinately, and that the noise keeps travelling around the world in the atmosphere forever and ever? Molecules in moving air loses kinetic energy rubbing against other molecules, and that energy heats the air ever so slightly.

When you studied physics 25+ years ago perhaps you came across an experiment done by a certain James Prescott Joule in the early 1840s where a falling weight turns a paddle in an insulated barrel of water. Joule measured the mechanical work needed to raise the temperature of the water. Using the now rather archaic unit of ft·lbf/Btu he got a value of 819 according to wikipedia, in more modern units that's 4.41 J per gram per degree Celcius/Kelvin.

I suggest you put your fan in a calorimeter as Joule did with his paddle, and carefully measure the electric energy used to turn the fan and equally carefully measure the temperature increase in the air inside the calorimeter. You repeat the experiment, but this time you rig the calorimeter with a lightbulb and expend excactly the same amount of electrical energy as used by the fan in the first experiment. A third experiment can be performed, where you replace the lightbulb with a resistor. My hypothesis: The measurements will be in agreement with eachother in all 3 cases.

Its amazing how much confusion there is about this matter.

I assume you're referring to the Wikipedia article on James Prescott Joule.

I quote form the article:

By forcing water through a perforated cylinder, he was able to measure the slight viscous heating of the fluid.

The mechanical heating of water is "slight" because of the low viscosity of water. Most of the momentum of the water (and therefore the kinetic energy) is simply transfered to the container as kinetic energy and not converted to heat at all.

Think of it this way: If I kick a football, it doesn't heat up. It simply flies away. I've transferred kinetic energy to the ball. Similar with motion of air or water. It slows down because it transfers its kinetic energy to the environment (and ultimately, the earth). Some energy is converted to heat but that is just a very small amount.

Think of it this way: If I kick a football, it doesn't heat up. It simply flies away. I've transferred kinetic energy to the ball. ... Some energy is converted to heat but that is just a very small amount.

Only some? By the time the balls stops, ALL of the KE is lost due to friction, in the ball, with the air, with the ground. i.e. heat.

Ok, you say some of the energy goes into changing the momentum of the Earth. But the Earth is tidally locked with the Moon - momentum of the Earth is lost due to friction, i.e. heat.

I have seen your line of argument before, you keep adding convolutions to make it confusing to follow, but it doesn't change the underlying physics. Entropy can be a tricky thing to understand, even for physicists with 20 years experience.

It is not necessary to invoke momentum of the Earth to explain where the energy goes. I guess you like many others underestimate frictional heating. There is a lot more energy there than you imagine. Anyone who works machine tools will tell you where the energy goes - the workpiece and the tool gets hot!

So I think canbrit has it right. Energy captured by solar panels is released as heat somewhere sometime down the line.

So I think canbrit has it right. Energy captured by solar panels is released as heat somewhere sometime down the line.

well either that or non conservation of energy is a reality in which case the
universe is very different place than current thinking assumes

see "ahem"..

I thought we were beyond making this sort of mistake here.. ?


When you capture energy, you can just do four things with it. (i) You can store it in either a "capacitive" of "inductive" storage (the same concepts apply to all physical domains, not only electrical); (ii) you can convert it to another form; (iii) you can move it from point A to point B; and (iv) you can dissipate it to heat.

Hence indeed, all of the solar energy that is being captured by planet Earth eventually becomes heat, because moving and converting energy doesn't change the problem, but only delays its conversion to heat, and storage usually is not permanent (it may be kept in a "stored" state for a long time, like our fossil fuels, but sooner or later it will get dug up by intelligent apes, and that is when it also turns into heat.

Having said that, you may still get a local cooling effect. For example, if we place lots of solar power plants in the Sahara, and then ship the generated electricity to Europe, before it is being used up, then we indeed get a slight local cooling of the Sahara desert, whereas Europe gets slightly heated up.

well either that or non conservation of energy is a reality in which case the universe is very different place than current thinking assumes

It has nothing to do with non-conservation of energy. Light energy is converted to electrical energy in the solar panel which is then (mostly) used to due mechanical work. That transfers energy to, for example, an electric car which then transfers energy to the earth in the form of mechanical energy (mostly), not heat. It is basic physics. It is simply energy being transferred from one form to another and one system to another. There is some heat produced, due to friction, but in my example it is a small effect.

By the time the balls stops, ALL of the KE is lost due to friction, in the ball, with the air, with the ground. i.e. heat.

I'm sorry, but you are simply wrong about this. Some of the kinetic energy is transferred to the air as the ball moves through it, some it is transferred to the ground when the ball strikes it. Only a very small amount is converted to heat due to friction.

Ok, you say some of the energy goes into changing the momentum of the Earth. But the Earth is tidally locked with the Moon - momentum of the Earth is lost due to friction, i.e. heat.

Now who's getting convoluted? Some of the earth's changed momentum is transferred to the moon, over time, by gravitational coupling. They remain locked.

I have seen your line of argument before, you keep adding convolutions to make it confusing to follow, but it doesn't change the underlying physics. Entropy can be a tricky thing to understand, even for physicists with 20 years experience.

It is not convolutions. It is what actually happens. (There are some complications when discussing fluid flow, such as air, but the underlying physics is the same.) I understand the concept of entropy quite well.

Entropy is an interesting subject. For one thing, energy flows can decrease the entropy of an open system. The earth may be considered an open system in that energy from the sun flows into it. That is why the overall entropy of the biosphere tends to decrease over time. Otherwise, how could incredibly complicated biological systems arise from the mud? Energy flows => decreased entropy => system moving further from equilibrium => greater complexity.

Gravity seems to cause a contradiction of the 2nd law of thermodynamics in that order can increase spontaneously in a system under gravitational forces. For example, a uniform mixture of particles of different density will tend to differentiate under gravity so that denser particles will fall to the bottom, and less dense particles will rise to the top -- a configuration of lower entropy.

Also, there is some controversy over the role of intelligence. It appears that intelligent beings can lower the entropy of their environment by their actions. However, it is argued that the disorder created by biological organisms with respect to heat production and consumption of food, insures that the overall entropy is increased. At the very least, intelligent beings can reduce the rate at which entropy increases (such as by building a dam to reduce the rate at which water flows and using the trapped energy to do work).

It is not necessary to invoke momentum of the Earth to explain where the energy goes. I guess you like many others underestimate frictional heating. There is a lot more energy there than you imagine. Anyone who works machine tools will tell you where the energy goes - the workpiece and the tool gets hot!

No, the friction of air is relatively small -- it has low viscosity. When moving air (or a ball) pushes against (or strikes) the earth, it transfers its kinetic energy to the earth. Its very simple. As for the machine tool, that's a different matter. The coefficient of friction is much higher and the machine part (saw blade, drill bit, etc.) is moving at a high velocity. Also, the machine is breaking a lot of chemical bonds as it slices through the material. All of that creates heat.

So I think canbrit has it right. Energy captured by solar panels is released as heat somewhere sometime down the line.

No. The energy gets converted to electricity. Some if goes to creating heat, but the majority of it is used to do mechanical work which ultimately gets transferred to the environment. Some of that mechanical work causes deformation and creates heat, but much of it is simply transferred to the momentum of the earth.

Think of it this way. Suppose I charge up my electric car from the solar panel. I then drive the car for 100 miles (at very low speed so that air friction is very low). How did that mechanical energy get converted to heat? It didn't. most of it was absorbed by the earth as a change in the earth's momentum. It sounds odd, but it is true.

Think of it this way. Suppose I charge up my electric car from the solar panel. I then drive the car for 100 miles (at very low speed so that air friction is very low). How did that mechanical energy get converted to heat? It didn't. most of it was absorbed by the earth as a change in the earth's momentum. It sounds odd, but it is true

so you are saying the solar PV cells capture the energy which powers the wheels of a car sending energy into the earth and into what would be low grade heat energy is fact transfered by the friction in the oceans/tides and gravitational coupling into increasing the moons P.E... (tides do do this) ie ultimately solar PV radiates energy to the moon

are we sticking with that?

I suspect solar cells reduce the earths albedo myself but not being a expert I will STFU


so you are saying the solar PV cells capture the energy which powers the wheels of a car sending energy into the earth and into what would be low grade heat energy is fact transfered by the friction in the oceans/tides and gravitational coupling into increasing the moons P.E... (tides do do this) ie ultimately solar PV radiates energy to the moon

are we sticking with that?

The PE in the Earth-Moon system increases, but the total kinetic energy in the system decreases by a greater amount. The difference is heat generated by tidal movement of each body, which is lost to space.

I'm not sure where all these electric cars are, but you might consider the effect of one million electric cars driving west and one million electric cars driving east. Where does the energy go? (Hint: the momentum of the Earth doesn't change).

Actually, his theory reminds of the high school example of the sailboat that has an electric fan blowing air at the sails. For the same reason, kicking a ball at a wall has no net effect. This is all simple Newtonian physics.

It's a pity his bogus theory doesn't work, as it would be a good way to combat global warming. We could cool the planet, get useful energy and transfer the waste energy to the Earth. Eventually of course, the Earth would be spinning so fast we would all fly off into space. Btw, that was a joke.

The energy gets converted to electricity. Some if goes to creating heat, but the majority of it is used to do mechanical work which ultimately gets transferred to the environment. Some of that mechanical work causes deformation and creates heat, but much of it is simply transferred to the momentum of the earth.

There is no point in arguing with you, but that conclusion is obviously wrong. The vast majority of electrical appliances are not electric cars or fans, but things like TVs and vacuum cleaners. Therefore virtually none of the energy expended could cause a change in momentum of the Earth, even if your theory was correct.

This "change in the Earth's momentum" thing is just irrelevant nonsense.

Also, there is some controversy over the role of intelligence.

I'll agree on that. I wonder if this thread will make the shortlist for Most Stupid Thread Award? ;-)

Also, the machine is breaking a lot of chemical bonds as it slices through the material.

Yet more convolution! Dude, that's what friction is caused by - bonds breaking. That's why friction generates heat. Doesn't change what I said.

Stirring the air, whether with a car, a fan or simply waving your hands about all generate heat. Not much, but they do. You are familiar with Joule's experiment, surely?

What you seem to be arguing is that there is a qualitative difference between something that produces a lot of heat and something that appears to produce very little. That is purely a quantitative difference, the underlying principles are still the same. Just because you don't notice any heating effect, it doesn't mean that the energy gets magically transferred to the Earth instead.

The fact that air has lower viscosity allows it to mix more quickly so the heat is spread widely. If you enclose the air in a small box, and stir it, it heats up noticeably. Why do you think disk drives get hot? A similar disc spinning in free air would not cause a noticeable change in the temperature of a room, because it is thinly spread. It has exactly the same total heating effect though.

Suppose I charge up my electric car from the solar panel. I then drive the car for 100 miles (at very low speed so that air friction is very low). How did that mechanical energy get converted to heat?


It sounds odd, but it is true.

I fear though, that the car is being driven in circles. Sometimes the more people know, the less they understand.

CrystalRadio asked,
That's It,
Is it you that has promoted lake storage of wind power?

I have. And your thoughts are close to what I have endorsed and in fact am working on, in that the wind turbine would be designed from scratch to be a lower, cheaper, slower windmill to reduce costs and be built for pumping, ala a low VAWT (Vertical axis wind turbine)

I would not rule out the cistern idea, although, like the lake storage idea, it would be determined as much by the capital costs as anything else.

My original proposal was for a set of lakes along the Ohio or Mississippi River, that would pump the water up out of the river valley and into lakes that would be multi-purpose, for irrigation, recreation, and wind storage.
Efficiency of pumped hydro storage is normally given at about 75% to
85%. which is not bad:

A fascinating link to one of the older pumped hydro systems, and it's failure:

Since my original concept was concieved several years ago, the cost of construction has gone nowhere but up. Given the cheap cost of power in the South due to coal generated electricity, it would not be competitive at this time.

Another variation is compressed air storage, on a small distributed scale, but again, costs would be very important. The technology would work very well, but electricity is still very cheap in much of the country.

Interestingly, nana technology developments in batteries may soon may the whole point moot and the idea of pumped storage or compressed air storage seem primitive. As the cost of batteries drop, and they are produced in mass, the battery could win the day. We'll have to wait and see.

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Another variation is compressed air storage..

Just a diagram I drew of wind generated compressed air storage and a combined cycle power plant:

Power Engineering CAES article
Robert Rapier Compressed Air blog article

This concept could be adapted to a very small scale, even to a single residence with a wind driven compressor, large air tank and a gas turbine microCHP plant.

A VAWT wind turbine would be a good fit for the compressor and if the compressed air is externally supplied to the gas turbine, they could be homebrewed from salvage turbochargers with the addition of a flame cone.

Nye Thermodynamics has a lot of fun in their shop with gas turbines and turbocharger conversions. Check out the videos of the 1200 hp helicopter turbine they mounted in a jet boat. Their moms didn't the guys at Nye's shop that "It's fun until someone reaches escape velocity."

Around 50% of the power of a gas turbine goes into powering the compressor. By doing this externally with wind powered compressors and putting the gas turbine in a combined cycle or CHP system, even by running it on NG, the efficiency is very high. Bio or Coal gas and this type of system would be efficient, reliable and cost effective.

I would also think that in areas with high peak electrical prices, if you had access to a bio-gas that skipping the wind power and running electrical compressors in off-peak hours and then firing up the gas turbine to sell back to the grid during peak would be a money maker. The 1200hp helicopter turbine would be a 900KW power source. With the electrical generator it would still be relatively small for a plant that could put out almost a MW. Noise would be an issue.

My previous comment is way over the top and I agree with EP that biomass to electricity has some potential to offset agricultural energy inputs. I think that upgrading the biomass as close as possible to the crop is more feasible than baling and transporting straw. I also think that ethanol and biodiesel are going to be a fact of farm life whether they make sense or not, and harvesting seed and then hauling straw isn't efficient if both are going to go to energy products anyway.

Biomass for fuel has to be managed very carefully and the sustainable energy output is much lower than he is claiming, but his basic idea is sound thinking. The problem with his personality is that instead of listening to someone with 25 years of farming experience he starts name calling and being rude.

This is a recent "discussion" on biomass. He also spent a lot of time slandering me in another thread without understanding the system or listening when it was explained: TOD: Why is Innovation Difficult?.

It's too bad he chooses to act like that, because it is far from productive.

FWIW...my experience has been the same. I went a few rounds with him awhile back. After that, I decided it just wasn't worth it. He's in my virtual killfile now. Life's too short. I got better ways to use the last of the oil than trying to reason with someone who resorts to name-calling whenever he's losing an argument.

As I said to Robert Rapier in the comments on peak-oil-and-lunatic-fringe
it's a software issue and the effect of a higher traffic site without a SlashDot style moderation system.

This type of behavior, especially as interruptions in third party discussions gets moderated flamebait on SlashDot and disappears below the threshold. Not that there aren't idiots on SlashDot that don't RTFA and moderators that don't catch it, but moderation lowers the noise and allows for the group to drop the weight of this type of poster without getting into an argument and getting called names themselves.

Reading the thread you mentioned, I have much the same opinion on biofuels and scalability. My grandfather and father mixed farmed with straw and manure going back to the land and used cultivation for weed control. In my grandfather's day, they used no chemical fertilizer and grew a decent crop. My dad would fallow 1/3 and use no nitrogen fertilizer on summerfallow which produces a comparable crop to 100lbs/acre of urea on stubble. This is an area with 6"-2' of dark brown soil and no wind erosion problems. Besides weed control and composting, fallow kills fungus and disease that thrive under a constant crop canopy. Disease is a major problem with Lentils and Canola and even if there are cereals in the rotation that aren't affected by the diseases, they stay active under the moist crop canopy and then become a major problem in the next year Canola or lentil crop.

There was a lot of promotion of low and zero till farming based on wind erosion prevention and total farm output claims in the last 20 years. Our custom spraying business does really well because of low and zero till farming. If it isn't perennial weed control and fertilizer topdressing, it's disease and fungus or Bertha Army worms munching Canola. There is always something to spray a pesticide on because of low and zero till practices.

If the organic matter is high, wind erosion isn't a problem and cultivation of biomass into the soil is really the only scalable method of keeping up organic matter levels. Fallow was practical with $0.10/L diesel in the 1970's, and is unfeasible now. If we start pulling off massive quantities of straw/stover, we are screwed in a few years. Land that is managed like that will have to go out of cereal/oilseed production and into forage or trees to regain the organic content.

It has often been noted that the people who are the most enthused about biofuels are the ones who know the least about farming.

We still get people arguing that the prairie doesn't need fertilizer, so we can harvest prairie grasses and make them into biofuel without ever having to put anything back. They don't seem to realize that it's the harvesting part that makes all the difference.

A friend of mine used to be an organic farmer in California. She tried to buy manure from a local family farm to use as fertilizer, and they were really reluctant to sell. They needed it themselves. Finally she stopped asking, because she realized that they were only selling it to her out of a sense of neighborliness, and it was actually a hardship to them to give it up.

I saw a flock of sheep grazing on a wheat straw stubble field.

There was a tractor trailer used to transport the sheep to the field parked there.

The farmer may have leased the stubble to the rancher rather than plow it under.

As retail mutton costs more than methyl alchohol per pound, loin chops @ $7.50-9.99 per pound (1999 Midwest prices), the green energy people were not able to procure the stubble.

The real beauty of butanol, IMO, is that it's not miscible in water, so can in principle be separated from the mother liquor without distillation. But doesn't that depend on making a GMO bug that can live in an aqueous solution that's saturated with butanol?

Hi Roger…

Is it just my reading of your posts today… or are you getting more cornucopian by the day? I don’t recall you being like this a year ago!

Look… I have no problem with bio-butanol… as your RR link points out it has numerous advantages over ethanol… not least the separation-from-water issue which is what costs ethanol so dearly in energy terms. So it should have a much higher EREOI. However, as you also point out…whether the yields can increased sufficiently is another question. Robert was due to give a new report on bio-butanol on his blog… but last I read… he said “But I have figured out why bio-butanol has not taken off”… We eagerly await...

However, to my mind, there are a number of much more fundamental issues to consider…

(i) Any bio-fuel is likely to have a relatively low EREOI… if bio-butanol were even 3x more efficient to produce than ethanol that only gives you an EREOI of ~4. This has implications… firstly in terms of the viable collection area of your raw product, but more importantly in terms of the % of that energy you can afford to immediately “waste” in distribution. ie Localised distribution only….

(ii) But even more important than this… as Ulf Bossel points out… in a low EREOI future you cannot afford to “piss away” your energy. Efficiency of use becomes PARAMOUNT. For this reason alone bio-butanol (or any bio-fuel) should never be burned in an ICE.

Would you go to the bank and take out $100 of your hard-earned cash and immediately burn $85 in the street so you could go and spend the other $15???

If we can design a bio-fuelled FC EV that is 75% efficient. Fine. (Or go E-P’s route of Zinc-Air fuel cell and use the bio-crop as a charcoal reducing agent.)

(The only reason we got into this motoring madness/urban sprawl mess in the first place was that with an initial EREOI of 100 for crude oil… we didn’t care about the energy costs of distribution of oil or the fact that the car delivers only 15% of that energy @ the wheels…)

“All the above are simply bridges to where we will have to go, Hydrogen by renewable energy”…/ “the advantage that solar to hydrogen has is in making a containable transportable fuel".

To me “Hydrogen by renewable energy” makes the huge assumption that you have spare capacity after straight electrical generation. Is that realistically ever going to be the case?

Furthermore, what is to be the role for this renewable Hydrogen? As you state, then ignore… as a transportation fuel it has been shown that there is no point in going Electricity > Hydrogen > Fuel Cell > Electric when direct EV is 4x more efficient.

So, “Hydrogen by renewable energy”… sure… if the Hydrogen has some localised role that immediately recombines it into something in the liquid/solid state… and that ‘entirely’ uses its energy content… chemical manufacture, Ammonia fertilizers, bio-plastics or similar?

Finally, I’m staggered by your last statement… containable?/transportable?… it’s the least containable molecule there is!! There will never be a hydrogen distribution infrastructure… or let me put it another way… which would you rather distribute… Hydrogen or electricity? (PS Not to mention… one is already in place, the other would have to start from scratch)

So, to conclude... if we are to have some kind of “technological future”… we need to adopt the most efficient energy route in every aspect of our lives. As such I predict the long term goals could be:

• Solar & Wind /Hydro & Nuclear > variable & base grid-distributed electricity > used for industry, home appliances & efficient lighting and personal EVs. Any surplus (Ha!) or load balancing into Hydrogen products as described above.

• Personal transport > EV (probably running on gravel roads!)
• Housing/Workplaces > super-insulated passive-solar designs with heat exchange… very low heating/cooling loads
• Farming > locally produced fuels >> into FCs
• Bio-Fuels > chemical inputs to replace petro-chemicals; ie. Fertilizers, plastics, medicines
• Freight > trucks n’ boats n’ planes >> the toughest challenge >> the last of the oil?>> or bio-fuels in fuel cells/jet engines etc?

canbrit, to your question,
"is it just my reading of your posts today… or are you getting more cornucopian by the day? I don’t recall you being like this a year ago!"

First, you are the first person to ask this question in such a direct manner, concerning my writing and views of one year ago, and my views now. I am going to do some writing for other purposes than posts on TOD, so I have recently had reason to review my written work (all that I keep, which is most, excepting smaller conversational posts), and think about my changing views.

The most direct and simple answer is this: As regards energy, I am more at peace now than I have been not just in the last year, but in MANY years. This was caused by a variety of educational experiences over the last several years, but in the last year or two in particular. I will not go too long, but I will hit the most important of them in my own thinking in a few points below:

(a) My tag line, "We are only one cubic mile from freedom." I have posted on this several times, and it was a revealation to me. It is based on a post here at TOD by Khebab, and it was FASCINATING. Here is the post:

This was the post in which Khebab quoted reliable sources, and I then did the math myself to prove that the world (not just the U.S.) consumes about 1 cubic mile of oil per year.

That was astounding to me. If I had been asked to guess at any time during the last 20 years how much oil the world consumed if measured in cubic miles, I would have easily guessed, 40, 50 or even more per year, and been certain that I would have been incorrect to the low side. Confronting that my ideas of world oil consumption were built on such a wild exaggeration of how much we actually consumed was an astounding breakthrough for me. I am still dealing with what it means in the real world. But I am more certain everyday that this is not such a massive volume of oil that it cannot be, if it must be, replaced. The Earth, and the solar energy falling upon the Earth so dwarfs that 1 mile of oil as to be astounding.

I saw the problem of declining oil and gas supply a challenge that could be overcome without great suffering. I had always somewhat believed that, and had studied methods of providing renewable power, but at first was VERY shaken in my belief that mitagation was possible by the "true" doomers.

That was my second breakthrough: After reading and studying the "doomers" and following their thinking back, I realized that they were not "predicting" complete collapse on any scientific or technical basis, they were voicing a deep desire for a collapse back to a more romantic primitive age. Neo-Primitivism, green-anarchism, and "deep green" theory has a long history. It was just not one I was at all familiar with. I am now, so I now know to take the "doomers" in context. I understand the philosophical underpinnings that drive their theory and thinking in much better context.

Thirdly, I realized that the "Linearizations" and charts given showing exactly when peak would occur and how fast the slide down would be had to be taken with huge doses of salt! This occured the first couple of times that during research I found many charts by many groups and people that showed world peak already far behind me, and at production levels that had far been exceeded. I don't have a copy I can get to, but one chart in Der Spiegal a year or so ago showed world production at peak in the early 2000's at barely above 70 million barrels per day, and dropping fast from there, so that right now (2007) we would be dropping below 48 million barrels a day or so!

Now, having said all of that, here is what you may remember from my earliest posts here, because it is on this that I have NEVER CHANGED, and it is what keeps me from considering myself a cornucopian: I do not think we can know how much time we have left, IF ANY, to peak. It has been my contention that we are running in the blind on oil and gas production, and all the projections, from the cornucopian side, but as well from the "peak" side of the debate are NOTHING BUT GUESSES. So much of the information is either hidden from the public or is outright disinformation that the United States and the whole of the developed world are in extreme danger, simply from lack of knowledge, and that the sheer drop in production could come AT ANY TIME.

It is this that I break completely with the cornucopians: There will come a day, we don't know when, that nothing short of astronical expense of money and machinery will be required to maintain the level of oil we are now able to extract. Soon after that date, the level will begin to fall. To repeat, we cannot KNOW when this date will occur. Westexes often gives the example of Texas, where all the money, men, best methods and advanced extraction tools simply could not hold or raise the level of oil extraction. The downslope was physically impossible to stop. It will happen. When? It may have already happened. It may be soon, or it may still be decades away. Not knowing is much more dangerous than the peak itself. And having to go abroad is already leaving the U.s. in a horrifically weakened situation. We are being bled to death, on money, on influence, and now, in real blood in trying to find the fuel we need. For the United States, the crisis is already here, even if there are decades of oil out there in the world.

Where I differ with the "doomers" however is in my belief that there are workable, scalable and usable alternatives to oil and gas. That was my other great breakthrough in thought. Until recently, for example, I thought solar photovoltaic was still decades away. I had not even heard of the recent breakthroughs in thin film solar. Likewise, plug hybrid electric and solar to hydrogen. I had frankly lost touch during the late 1990's with how fast technology was moving. And, in a major mental breakthrough, I realized for the first time that the oil/gas molecule just was not that special. That hydrogen and hydro carbon molecules are reasonably common in nature, oil and gas was just a great convenient storehouse for them.

I have become convinced that at this moment we are indeed dependent on oil and gas, but that is not because they are by construction superior to other energy options. It is simply that a century of infrastructure has been built up around them. We can change. But, and this is where I come closest to agreeing with the doomers, it will require will and effort. Right now, the Americans and in fact the world seem very unwilling to accept that change is coming, and must come, and that real effort on a huge scale must be made NOW. We are in a race against time. Even worse, we are not allowed to see the clock. We may be out of time NOW, we simply cannot know. We may have decades, again, we simply cannot know. We are taking chances with 1000 years worth of work. All the technical and cultural advances began in the days of the Greeks, and continuing right down to this hour hang in the balance. We can succeed and prevent great suffering, but it is not a done deal, we are given no assured outcomes. The effort must begin now.

So, am I getting more "cornucopian"? You be the judge. The old adage, "hope for the best but prepare for the worst" seems to be perfectly apt for the situation we are in. I am not cornucopian in that I believe that the worst as it relates to oil and energy could happen at any time. But I am not doomer in that I do not believe for one moment that there are no workable, and in fact potentially liberating alternatives. The age of oil will end, as it must. We can end it ON OUR TERMS.

(now, to more mundane matters, I do not want to launch into issues of hydrogen storage on an already long post, so I will simply send a link
You said "I’m staggered by your last statement… containable?/transportable?"

Of course hydrogen must be those, they use them on space craft, the most transportable device there is, and the Germans are developing autos using cryogenic hydrogen at this moment...not cheap but doable. As to your contention that "There will never be a hydrogen distribution infrastructure", on that we agree, at least not an infrastructure in any normal sense of that word. That is why hydrogen should always be seen as a "use it where you produce it" or very close to where you produce it program. I think the centralized type of "hydrogen economy" as depicted by the current administration is NOT the model that will prevail.
However, I will take my slap on the wrist for making the storage challenge sound a bit easier than it is....there are still great developments to be made.

Thanks for the feedback and the food for thought :-)
Roger Conner Jr
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Roger, while acknowledging I'm not expert in this area, I would like to comment on hydrodgen as "containable transport fuel". I have read that:

1)Hydrogen, being the smallest atom, diffuses into steel and embrittles it. Because steel is a mature, inexpensive technology, I would expect most compressors, piping, and large tanks would be steel.

2)Hydrogen under pressure will leak out of the smallest flaws, flaws so small that the hydrogen will leak out but MUCH larger oderant molecules will be left behind. This makes leaks are very hard to detect.

3)Hydrogen flames are very hard to see in well-lighted circumstances, give off very little infrared, and produce only water. They are therefore hard to detect.

4)Hydrogen has a very low ignition temperature and the widest explosive limits of any substance.

To me, this adds up to: no way in the world will any public hydrogen systems be able to get liability insurance in the US. A litigious society and sensationalistic news media (remember the Hindenburg!) will make insurance unavailable.

Oil has been so doggone popular because it has high energy density, tolerable flamability, visible leaks (or in the case of natural gas, will carry oderants), and very visible flames. I'm sure gonna miss it!

Errol in Miami

If we wish to produce biofuels at all, then using a waste product to start with is clearly the way to go, as there is no competition between food and fuel in this way, and also, since the waste is being produced anyhow, we are not using up water and/or fertilizers to produce the biofuels initially. Finally, waste management is in itself a problem, and if we can turn true waste to something useful, we have accomplished something.

Of course, we need to define the term "waste." If pig poop is otherwise being used as a fertilizer, then it isn't waste to start with.

Finally, there are many ways to turn manure to something useful. First, we can burn it in a waste processing plant, and use the generated heat for heating houses; second, we can burn it to produce electricity, and then use the electricity for whatever purposes; and third, we can turn the manure to methane, and then use the methane, e.g. as a fuel.

Methane as a fuel can be quite interesting.

First, methane has a higher octane number than liquid gas (130 instead of 95 to 98). Therefore, it can be used more efficiently by a motor. The efficiency of a gas engine is about 35% at best, but usually, it is closer to 20% (because we are buying cars that are bigger than they need to be and then use them at low acceleration). The efficiency of a methane engine can be significantly higher (close to 40%).

Second, methane produces 20% less CO2 per distance driven.

Taking the two effects together, we can reduce the CO2 emissions by roughly 30% in comparison with a conventional car.

Finally, if we use the manure as a fertilizer, we actually release methane into the atmosphere. Methane itself is a potent greenhouse gas. By using the methane as a fuel, we reduce the release of methane into the atmosphere.

The laws of thermodynamics hold, even for pigs. You don't get anything out of them that you're not putting into them.

I forget who it was that said the best illustration of the irreversibility of the notorious 2nd law of t'dynamics is to try and stuff horseshit up the horse's arse and get oats out of its mouth. Pleasant metaphor that!

Please show how your 'pig shit' plan:

1) Can be done in such a way to handle the capitol costs of this magical fecal->oil conversion.

2) How the photons -> oil conversion works.

3) How the fecal matter is returned to the fields.

Solutions there are many to this energy "crisis." Technical solutions will be found. If commercial, they will be implemented. The hard part of life is getting people to cooperate, ending wars, crime etc. Now, those are problems.

Keep talking like that and you'll have a by-line in TOD just like Engineer-Poet.

Um. See reply above. My hopes for pigshit have been dashed by e-mailing the actual researcher. Okay, I am red-faced, and will be subject of ridicule all day. Maybe my new nickname will be "PigScat."

Well, you've gained some points with me, because you 1) checked up on the article and 2) admitted you were wrong. A lot of people wouldn't do either of those things.

Ditto. The pig poop is magically erased by 'fessing up.

TOD is a meat grinder for new ideas and concepts, but not an inhumane meat grinder !

It is difficult to sell new ideas here (because TOD is full of knowledgeable people capable of critical thinking and dealing with post-Peak Oil is a quite difficult problem). Bovine poop will simply not work here.

You have gained points by checking your facts and admitting error.

I will point you to two articles that I have written that have had some details criticized (reason gray areas) but have been largely accepted as a necessary PART of the solution.

And do *NOT* put down bicycling ! I am becoming more and more convinced that bicycling will need to become a non-trivial part of dealing with post-Peak Oil. It is a low tech, low energy, long lived solution that can be scaled up fairly quickly ! It has auxiliary health benefits that Americans are sorely lacking as well :-)



Best Hopes,


Pedicabs. An SF staple.

I am big fan of urbanization and bicycling. Even walking! One interesting observation; I live in Los Angeles. For decades, it was sprawl, sprawl, sprawl. Now, it is infill, infill, infill. We are finally building rails. Even downtown is has tons of new housing being built.
As I look upon the city, it is easy to visualize that the city, in 15 years, will consume less energy than before. The really really bad traffic will force new residents into rails or closer to work (the two-income family is big problem in this regard by the way. Whose job do you live near?)
Before, people would tend to criss-cross the city for jobs and recreation. Now, neighborhoods are developing, and people are reluctant to drive anyway.
If plug-in hybrids can work, daily commutes from a few miles away will take zero gasoline.
I may get a job downtown soon, and I live 2 miles away as a crow flies. I may be able to bicycle to work (sadly, it is a suit job, and showing up needing a shower is verboten) or maybe a small scooter (even that would raise eyebrows. )
A generation ago I would have lived on the Westside and drove a car in. About 10 miles each way. This is actually changing, due to traffic. Ther are tons of other problems, such as schools and crime. But, remarkably, things are getting better, not worse. Although in many regards we have become a Third World city.
I hope there will be a major attitude shift in riding bikes, something along the lines of bathrooms with changing and shower facilities, but I do not see it soon. I will probably just buy the smallest used car I can.
Too little too late? The Peak Oil people say so. Maybe so. I say we can drive down demand in front of Peak Oil. Historically, demand has fallen after price hikes.


Just a small remark

the two-income family is big problem in this regard by the way. Whose job do you live near?

Actually, we had that problem, and we choose my job as being the one close by.

Funny part was that my wife commuted for 3 months and then decided that she had enough. Job wasn't that good. Picked up the phone and within a few days she switched to another company.

Lessons learned: It turns out this is not really a problem. I would guess that holds for more people.

Delighted to hear it Richard. But, some people are "trying to make their pension" and others fear losing their health insurance. In time, as mass transit improves, and people cluster closer in, hopefully these problems will get better. But there are tons of "Average Joes" out there who are trapped, long commutes, rising gasoline prices and in dire need of two incomes. I read that it is not just L.A. but Atlanta, Houston, Dallas and virtually every major city.

I agree with Leanan. Anyone can make mistakes. It's very good of someone to admit to them, Benjamin.

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

one of the smartest men i know was working on pig poop. he said it was the most difficult thing to work with. instruments corroded overnight to nothing.

he was trying to use kerosene bubbles to extract something from the liquid manure. most of the tanks simply corroded at seams and started leaking.

as others have mentioned, if the energy input to pigs is oil (through oil used for fertilizer and machines to produce the feed to transport the feed ect.) and therefore it cannot produce more energy than went into it, rather it will be orders of magnitudes less, maybe a thousand orders of magnitudes less.

Reading RR's TDP "turkey guts" article the other day, I learned an interesting factoid. They were adding fat or oil to the mess before cooking it to up the oil output.

The thing to remember about poop is that it's already been through a digestive system evolved to efficiently extract oil and other useful stuff from the passing biomass. So poop is a poor source of oil, and apparently the TDP process does not have sufficient magic to convert the mishmash of cellulose/chitin, porphyrins, various bacterial byproducts, dead/live bacteria, organic/inorganic acids, bile, ammonia, and salt water ... into oil.

A better use for the poop would be to dilute it up as fertilizer for the CO2-absorbing algae.

The problem will solve itself.
But not in a nice way.

Hi Leanan, I have linked a similiar report in the post above.
And its 92 now? Last I checked ( a week back) it was 91. Better sell them before more people realize the truth.

I have linked a similiar report in the post above.

I know. That's what I meant when I said the link was "posted above." ;-)

This particular company sounds kinda shady to me. The ROEI on scamming people is likely a lot better than on diesel from algae. ;-)

You are right. Sorry. Missed the very first line. One point I did not mention is that although De Beer's has got the public into believing the hype, Greenstar which trades over the counter (OTC) in the US and plans to build the plants is getting no love with its stock trading at a whopping 4 cents.

"This particular company sounds kinda shady to me."

I know. That's what scares me. Even if this has real potential years down the line, a major scam/blow-up could really hurt a promising field's reputation.

Two comments:

1. Even you are probably too optimistic. 98% onstream time for a bioreactor is ridiculous. Neutral buoyancy spheres cannot keep typical cooling water systems clean, where you are adjusting the water chemistry so that things don't grow.

2. Where are the costs for dewatering your product?

Zero. Like I have mentioned these are the most optimistic sceanrios and it still does not make sense.
I am going to try to address each and every qt today if I can , but I am in the middle of a complicated experiment in the lab and will be here back and forth. So Plz be patient guys and gals.

Thank you TJ! Separating algae from the water and dewatering the algae is difficult and energy intensive. I know first hand that separating algae from wastewater treatment pond effluent requires dissolved air flotation, polymer flocculants, centrifuges, etc. Until there is some kind of low energy breakthrough in separating algae from water, you can forget about biodiesel from algae having an EROI over 1.

I believe they were going to use some of the heat from the power plant to help with this energy cost.

Another algae to biodiesel article.


Plankton and algae were the source of oil millions of years ago. Some source rock was 10% organic material from which the oil formed. I wonder if they have investigated plankton that produce lipids, carbohydrates, etc.?

According to SOLIX Energy an acre can produce 10,000 gallons of fuel per year.

10,000 gallons per acre per year =
227 barrels per acre per year


145,280 barrels per square mile per year=
398 barrels per day per square mile

It must be expensive to maintain and harvest the algae plus the water bills due to evaporation and flushing salt from the breeder troughs was not free.

Ever calculated how much a square mile of sheet metal troughs cost, and the miles of hose, numerous pumps, processing equipment, and fertilizers? How many people were required to maintain the place? What were the annual taxes on the land? In a certain number of years the sheet metal troughs rust out and you have to start over again or shut down to repaint them, galvanized rusted, nickel for stainless steel was about $23 dollars a pound wholesale. If any of these places turns a profit some day they might see algae farms in the desert from outer space.

There has been talk about algae grown for food for decades. So far we got tofu and soyburgers in the supermarket, but no algae burgers.

You are correct. Above shown calculations are extemely optimistic and still show a grim view of profitability.

snips about costs and reality

*clap clap*

There has been talk about algae grown for food for decades.

Its a soil mold, but close enough eh?

Drop being very efficient within a small land area. How about ditches lined with plastic sheeting and covered with transparent plastic? Inflate with the CO2 rich "air" supply. Use solar for drying heat. Provide circulation by solar heat or solar electric pumps. A few years of working a "farm" like this and you'd learn quite a bit about how to optimize it.

Yes. A system like that would work for low yields. Scalability becomes a question. We now have the luxury of 85 million barrels of oil a day. In the future we may appreciate even small amounts of oil produced from any source as it may mean the difference between life and death for many.

Sure, Fireangel, when our military confiscates all the oil and biodiesel for more resource wars we're bound to see the death rate skyrocket.

I am going to take that as friendly sarcasm. That said, you are likely to be right.

The inventor in the story is one of my best friends. I have just e-mailed him this thread and have asked him to join this discussion. Jim has been working on this for many years, and both of us have been debating PO and energy balance during this time. IMHO, Algae is the only biofuel that really has potential without making more of a mess of our global food supply or depleting soil. Still a lot of issues to work out, but I like the scalability of the idea and feasibility on small scale was proven quite a while ago by NREL. With our new Governor in Colorado, a lot of eco-minded state residents, NREL, and a lot of sunshine, Colorado could be an ideal leader in this area. The future will tell...
Being a natural PO doomer, it is great to see some engineering visionaries developing ways to soften the PO landing.

HO, thank you for the great piece.

One question - it does not become quite clear from the calculations, whether the yields are assuming CO2 enriched air fed by coal power plants or not.
1) If they are assuming it - then the immediate question is how much is the resource potential for these ones? Here is a small WAG calculation:
- lets be generous and suggest that 10% of the coal is burnt in sunny areas with much available land, near major water sources
- let's say algae fixes 50% of the carbon emitted by the CPP in lipids (would require repeatitive re-feeding of the exhaust gases). For simplicity let's render coal and lipid oil energy content to be equal.
- coal represents 24% of the US primary energy mix, oil is 39%. So considering the CO2 limiting factor algae biodiesel under best case scenario could provide:
24%x0.1*0.5 = 1.2% of US energy mix displacing just 3% of our oil consumption.

Even the "bad" ethanol could provide more if ethanol production triples from the current ~1%.

2) If CO2 is not fed, then what will be the effect on yields and how will that affect the economics of the idea (which already looks bad enough)?

DOE/NREL document 328 pages covering 20+ years of algae biofuel research.

From a pollution/climate change perspective: If the CO2 is fed, I fail to see how this helps overall emissions appreciably. Capturing CO2 from coal fired power plants would be good, but not if it just gets made into something else that gets burned. The end result is still all the CO2 from the coal entering the air, is it not?

And if the industry depends on CO2 feeding (fossil fuels burning), I don't think many here at this site have a problem seeing the long-term problem the industry runs into.

You have two choices:
1. Burn coal for electricity, and emit into the atmosphere. Also burn some oil for transport
2. Burn coal for electricity, send the emissions into an algae farm, produce biodiesel from the algae, and burn that for transport.

#2, if it actually works, means that less oil gets burned for transport, and describes the biodiesel-from-algae vision. We're pretty clearly a not there yet, but if it can be made to work, we're talking about a piece of the puzzle.

Hi Levin K.
I will take that qt. We are assuming CO2 is "fed" into the algae. Although Co2 enhances the yields there is a saturation effect and I think my assumptions are at the optimistic end.
I think on a broader scale Greenfuel will have difficulty getting free land next to a large number of power plants.

I have seen at least two studies that show, under the right conditions, that the algae can take up almost all the carbon dioxide, and the patent claims here discuss using algae that can also take up some of the NOx. What I thought a little ingenious in the patent was to use the heat from the flue gases to sustain optimal growing conditions in the tubes.

I haven't yet got the data on how much benefit the carbon dioxide provides - it turns out that there is a whole lot more literature on this subject out there than I had realized, and it will take a bit of time for me to get more on top of it.

Yes HO, you are correct. I think we must mention though that High yields for algae are only obtained when they are deprived of nitrogen. So even if NoX is taken up by the algae it might not get optimum yields we assume here.
Of course there are solutions to getting rid of the NoX in the gases. But exposing the algae to it may not be the best thing.

heat from flue gasses to maintain optimum conditions is an obvious solution. (If you are close enough, and if your insolation is good enough on the transport pipe.) most engineers will come up with recycling heat(it is a low quality energy source) rather than producing it from a high quality energy source (electricty) or spending a bundle on FF combustion.

co2 will also acidify the water, allowing more dissolved minerals (not good ->toxic effect) hopefully there are some organisms which are good in acidic water.

HeadingOut, thanks for posting this article. With regard to your various comments:

1. Using artificial light is obviously a non-starter. The energy chain that you propose:

coal-->heat-->electricity-->light-->algal biomass-->biodiesel

is extremely inefficient. A much better chain would be:

coal-->synfuel using Fischer-Topps

2. My calculations are for a sq.m. of surface. There is nothing to be gained from having the surface tilted, in fact this only creates additional problems.

3. In calculating the overall efficiency of the process, I have assumed saturating levels of carbon dioxide. In the wild, carbon dioxide concentration does make difference for the efficiency of C3 plants, not so much for C4 plants.

I don't mean to be prickly, but I don't think you need to read a lot more literature to understand the main point here. All you need is your undergraduate physics textbook and a calculator. The bottomline is: solar energy is too dilute, photosynthesis can only capture a small fraction of total solar input, and thus it is utterly uneconomical to do it in an industrialized fashion.

I don't have a problem if people on Internet blogs take longer to accept these conclusions. My pet peeve is that money managers continue to recklessly invest other people's money (including pension funds of public servants) in ideas that are bound to fail and in clueless but loyal lapdog CEOs that they can leverage for getting more institutional money in their funds.

More stringent criteria for investing and managing the money of other people, making sure that it conforms to the scientific reality and not to the whimps and hidden agendas of corrupt and incompetent VCs, CEOs and other social parasites would only benefit our quest for post-oil energy solutions.

Best wishes,

Hey Good to see you here.

I suspect that we are coming from different points of view here. In an ideal world perhaps you may be correct. However if you recognize that there are several hundred million cars that need fuel and that we cannot change that need for the current variants of hydrocarbons in less that about 20-years then we have to look at alternate ways of supplying that, other than hoping that Stuart and Euan and the rest of us are totally wrong.

Fischer-Tropsch incidentally is, from Government figures I have been told, only around 15% efficient. If you integrate "pig poop" in with other activities at a farm, then the collective process can be effective, even when the individual benefits by themselves cannot stand alone. I suspect that this is where algae will end up. Note that in this process it is not standing alone, but working with a power plant so that the sum of the parts is greater than either alone - though as with most, I would prefer some better numbers and validation than I have seen so far.

And if I can answer, belatedly, one of the questions on carbon dioxide helping, I did find a paper this afternoon that suggested that going to a 1% carbon dioxide feed, with a particular algae, can increase the lipid (oil) content from 2% to around ten times that amount, although, as fireangel noted that will also require some reduction in the nitrogen, if I followed the abstract correctly.

if you read my study you will see that I, as well as fireangel, have fully credited the synergy of a GreenFuel plant with a power plant. The fertilizing effect of CO2 is undisputed and some energy needs in handling the biomass can be satisfied with used up steam from the power plant. It still makes no economic sense whatsoever.

Also in my study I have briefly addressed your very valid point that we don't have time to divert the world's transportation fleet away from liquid fluids. However, we do have various options for alternative fuels available to us. The free market will inevitably favor the ones that are least expensive, and it is not going to be biodiesel from industrial algal plants. It is a dumb idea and a waste of money and effort.

GTL and CTL using Fischer-Tropsch, as well as development of heavy oil/tar sands deposits will be orders of magnitude more ecomonimcal, even allowing for CCS of the CO2. Ethanol, too is much more economical, especially from sugarcane.

While none of these options will be as cheap and energy efficient as pumping conventional oil from the ground, their costs are at most 1.5-2 times higher than current oil prices. In the big picture of life such hit to the global economy is not that threatening.

Just looking at the USA, I would argue that the effects of the housing bubble, or the social, economical and political demoralization caused by the Iraq war would turn out to be more damaging than a gradual two-fold increase in liquid fuel prices...

HO, there is a number in your calculations that I don't understand. When you are calculating the power per unit area for sunlight, you quote a value "105w/s" at first (probably a typo) and then later as "105w/s/sq.m" which is then computed to a value in GJ per year per unit area.

This last (energy per year, per unit area) makes sense, but the other values don't. If "w" stands for watts and "s" means seconds (unit of time), then somewhere you got your units wrong. "Watts" is a measure of power, which means energy per unit time. So "watts per second" does not make sense (unless you are discussing a change in power per unit time, which you are not).

Traditionally, a measure of power from sunlight is simply give as watts per square meter, i.e. power per unit area = energy per second, per unit area. Under ideal conditions in a desert environment with sun directly overhead the best you can get is about a kilowatt per square meter, or 1000 watts per square meter.

This is total power per square meter, including all the power at ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths. If you restricted your power measurement, as you suggest, to the photosynthetically-active wavelengths between 400 and 700 nm, you will get a lower number. However I would be surprised if it's as low as 10.5% of total power, as your number (105w) implies. That would suggest that the power of sunlight at optically-visible wavelengths is only 10.5% of the total.

Can you clarify?

Dick Lawrence

Could it be like this?

Start with 1000w/m2. Divide by 2 because the sun doesn't shine at night. Divide by (pi/2) because the sun shines at oblique angles most of the time. That gets you 318w/m2 as the steady average for a square meter of land surface at the Equator. The steady average is easiest to use to compute production over days, weeks, or longer.

Then multiply by some small factor since only the PAR is used. Then multiply by some other factor less than 1 since even in Arizona there are occasional clouds and haze. Then multiply by the cosine of the latitude. After all that, 105w/m2 almost seems high.

Or find a map of solar insolation, and find that annually averaged the US Southwest gets 250-275 W/m^2. It peaks in the middle of the visible but there is a long IR tail (with lots of holes chopped out by GHG absorption).

But we already know that there are no silver bullets.

IIRC the total usage of solar flux by the biosphere is running at about 1/500 of the energy hitting the earth..after billions of years of optimization through natural selection. I also seem to recall that selection...no reality.. can not design proteins to harvest the part of the solar spectrum at its maxima. Something to do with "protein design space".

I find any biofuel solution that hives off energy cycling through the biosphere as incredulous. especially in any "business as usual" model.


That is an interesting observation. I think it leads to one of two possible conclusions

a) the protein based 'technology' has reached a limit, ie it can't be improved

b) increasing energy capture brings no benefit, ie don't need to improve

I would suspect b) is the case. If the biosphere uses energy efficiently, then there would be no need to inrease energy capture beyond a sufficient amount.

According to Liebig's law, life is constrained by the least available requirement. There is no need to increase energy capture if some other nutrient is in short supply.

Therefore I would expect that protein based technology can be artificially improved.

requirement can include competition?

...growth rates to capture area such as exists in rain forest environmental niches must point towards optimization towards efficient solar recovery

unless growth was always constrained by this other factor nutrients and what have you.. that would be incredibly universal overtime ...

why is there not runaway growth on volcanic soils (or whatever)

there are limits to biological design..no wheels (bacteria flagg excluded)

I will try and drag up some sources


"..no wheels (bacteria flagg excluded)"

There are several ways to look at the 'no wheels in nature' showing limits in biological design:

1. Wheels are rubbish, they require miles of roads to be useful, or flat land without obstacles. In addition it would require a 'wireless' nervous system to detect damage. Perhaps they didn't evolve because they are not actually very good, i.e. a discarded design rather than a limit.

2. Wheels, as you pointed out, have actually evolved at least once in nature already, the bacterial flagellum, no matter what way you look at this, it is indeed a wheel, just a very small one.

3. Arguably wheels have also evolved a second time, humans evolved, and produced wheels as a direct result of that evolution.

The fact is, that evolution can be regarded as a large multi-factor optimisation routine for each of the species participating. It should not be surprising that this does not result in the maximisation of any one particular aspect of an organism such as energy capture. If this was the case why do most animals not photosynthesize? Other factors were clearly more important, so we just got our energy from elsewhere.

"The fact is, that evolution can be regarded as a large multi-factor optimisation routine for each of the species participating. It should not be surprising that this does not result in the maximisation of any one particular aspect of an organism such as energy capture. If this was the case why do most animals not photosynthesize? Other factors were clearly more important, so we just got our energy from elsewhere."

yes that makes sense,...I agree with that, though entire strands of life on earth hare shared potentials. all plants for instance.. As for wheels..you would expect propellors on dolphins t ..scale must be a issue... exoskeletons not existing in large animals etc. ie design space limitations

I am not really debating any of these points specifically only the generality that design space is not infinite and may well be rather more limited than joe average thinks


You are right. Typo. Sorry we both missed that one. 105J/S/Sq.m would be correct. Although typically PAR is expressed as 105J/S as it is assumed that it is per sp m. Thanks for catching that.

I couldn't help but notice that the figure for "Q" is not that far off from the best Solar Cells available. Wouldn't it make more sense just to use the proposed thin film flexible cells to generate electricity and just store it somewhere? That avoids worrying about the presence of a lot of fresh water for the Algae growing tanks, and also there is the energy and system costs of refining or cracking or whatever, the Algae to produce fuel. Compared to proposed future photovoltiacs, this looks like a loser to me...

Mark Lytle
Houston, Texas

But in this case the algae would equate a solar cell that costs 190$/m2 - an order of magnitude less than the current prices of solar cells (not even mentioning the costs of batteries/energy storage).

From the above calculations algae does not seem to be a great energy source but would still beat PV solar manyfold.

On Solar cells vs. Algae. I wouldn't quote a figure of $190 per square meter. That's why I said _future_ thin film photovoltaics, which should be way cheaper. Not based on Silicon at all. I know the overall infrastructure for Solar is high including storage. (It may not be batteries, there are other possible ways to do this.)
But the misleading thing about Algae, or pig manure or anything else, is the enourmous infrastructure to gather and process these materials. The enormous loss of energy in the processing to something usable you can put into a internal combustion engine. In my mind, if there is a future, it's based on the grid, and mass transit. This future is electric.
Yes Solar cells may not be cheap (although I think they will get way cheaper with new non-silicon technologies). But once installed you just collect energy. No processing. Wind is similar, a high up front cost, but it works and keeps working.

Mark Lytle
Houston, Texas

Grin - is this where I confess to having been on an ASTM Committee on sand and rain erosion and their long term effects on surfaces, and having advised on the proper cleaning of solar arrays?

One thing I haven't seen is any research in harvesting naturally grown algae. The local lakes and rivers that are fed by runoff from farm land have very high nitrogen levels and the summer algae growth is huge. Some lakes are so heavy that a boat wake is dark green.

I would think the naturally growing algae wouldn't be the ideal oil producer, but harvesting what is there without infrastructure investment of growing it in a controlled environment would make up for a lot.

This is a flooded river near my farm:

Lake of The Prairies (Google maps)

There is a dam at the south end that was part of the Winnipeg flood diversion project in the 1970's. Due to the high agricultural nutrient leaching and decomposition of the flooded pasture/forest it is extremely heavy with algae.

It's a moving body of water and straining the algae at the dam would be relatively easy.

Has anyone seen any research on this type of idea?

Some of the algae you buy as a nutritional supplement is from wild sources.

The kind of algae that makes large amounts oil is typically yellowish and not green. And somehow you still need to de-water the algae. Wild places that have the yellow algae is not 'considered healthy' VS how green algae can be in 'healthy water'.

I saw some of that yellow algae on a pond here in southern Iowa. I was surprised by how big the globs of it were. It could have been scooped up with a fine mesh net leaving 99% of the water behind. Once the cell membranes are breached and the oil is set free it will naturally float above the remaining water. I don't see any big engineering problems in the algae oil idea.

I was thinking of trying Botryococcus Braunii at Lake Lefroy near Norseman, Western Australia, but I only have a limited pool of time, opportunity and resources.
Does someone know of a supplier of the little critter so I can roll my sleeves up and get down and dirty?

Great analysis. Only thing I missed was the energy required to transport the biodiesel to the end user. Including that in the EROEI would surely be a deal killer.

This is a problem inherent in so many megaprojects. There are economies of scale in their construction and operation, true. But once one factors the additional energy overhead required to get inputs to the project and finished product distributed to the end user, the hit to the EROEI is substantial.

This is why I believe that we should be looking for small-scale, distributed renewable energy resources wherever we can. By co-locating the energy source with the end-user, you eliminate that transport step.

Thus the advantage of oilseed crops like sunflowers, safflowers, rapeseed, jatropha, etc. They can be grown and harvested on a very small scale, even by hand if necessary. For example, one only needs to grow 1 acre of sunflowers to produce over 100 gallons of oil. That's enough diesel fuel to power all the farm machinery required for a 20-40 acre farm. Furthermore, the oil can also be produced on a small scale right on the farm. People have been pressing oilseeds for millennia. The yields do not compare with modern industrial methods, true. However, one must also consider the amount of energy required to transport oilseeds to an industrial facility and then to transport the finished biodiesel back to the farm. The reason I believe that small-scale low-tech solutions are going to be so attractive is that they cut out that entire transport sector, thus boosting the EROEI substantially.

(Yes, I know that straight veg oil is not transesterfied and thus does not exactly equal B100. However, it should work just fine in most diesel engines with minimal modification except in cold weather, after the crops have already been harvested.)

Something I haven't seen talked about much in the discussion of algae is the possibility of combining algae ponds with designs for thermal solar energy production.

Solar Updraft Towers are not terribly efficient, but they do have one very strong design advantage over other forms of solar energy: by filling the area under the greenhouse with water you create a massive heat sink that can continue driving the wind turbines long after the sun has gone down.

No great leap of imagination required to add algae production to the 38 sq km of ponds under the greenhouse of a 200 MW tower.

The combination of solar thermal with algae production would go a long way towards mitigating the less than favorable embodied energy accounting for either system by itself.

Something else I haven't seen mentioned in the discussion of algae is a source of nutrients. Surely algae cannot live on CO2 alone? And yet one of the biggest problems facing industrial society is eutrophication caused by phosphorous and nitrogen rich runoff into waterways.

Even if seawater should prove to be the preferred medium for algae production this would still open the possiblity of using the solar updraft tower as a desalination plant by capturing the water vapor evaporating from the algae ponds.

There is the additional significant possibility of using the algae not just as a source of biofuel but also as feedstock for terra preta biochar.

Taken all together we now have a system that could theoretically accomplish several critical goals: 1. Replace some portion of our current energy production with solar electric thus reducing carbon emissions. 2. Replace some portion of our liquid fuel production with biofuel from algae lipids thus reducing fossil fuel dependence. 3. Sequester some portion of existing atmospheric carbon dioxide by burying millions of tons of algae 4. Greatly improve the productivity of the topsoil where the algae is buried using the method for creating terra preta biochar 5. Treatment of nutrient rich sewage to reduce eutrophication of waterways and/or desalination of seawater.

I don't have the technical or engineering chops to design such a system myself, but I would propose that should the great minds here on TOD work together we could easily come up with a proposal that could compete for the Virgin Earth Challenge. Any takers?


http://www.shpegs.org seasonal thermal storage would integrate well with bio-methane production, but there is an algae farming potential: http://www.shpegs.org/algae.html mostly around having a constant thermal source.

Before launching into the unknown with how much oil algae can grow for biodiesel, people might consider researching what existing commercial algae growers can do now. There are many places operational now throughout the world. I happen to be involved with some of these as part of the business I work in. Costs are very high in making a commercial product.

See this link to Cyanothech .

These people grow algae for a living to make pigments and PUFA oils, similar to fish oils. It isn't a cheap operation and only high value products are made. In my opinion converting algal oils to a biodiesel commodity is a non starter.

Dr.Dimitrov kind of makes the same argument. He explains why greenhouses made with polycarbonate are profitable whereas algae to biodiesel PBR's will never be.

Do you have a reference for that which we can go to please? I may have not given enough exposure to Dr Dimitrov in the intro and so it might help to know a little more about his work.


I, for one, welcome our new photosynthetic overlords!

(sorry, wrong forum)

Anyway, has someone factored in a) the possibility of genetically modified, hyper-efficient algae, and b) harvesting them on the ocean, rather than using valuable land real-estate?

a)Working in Microbiology I can tell you that we can algae are genetically modified quite frequently. As far as hyper efficiency is considered, you have to understand that in a sense we are making algae inefficient if we want to improve yields. As in make them fat and bloated. I can think of doing this by making fat storage enzymes hyperactive by using a transgenic system. However the caveats to this would be enough for my thesis proposal. Suffice to say until its done we wont know whether it will work.
b)Doing anything "Outside the Box" has many problems including low yields and contamination. Also growth rates on the ocean floor are much lower than those above ground due to sunlight limitations.

You don't use the ocean floor. You'd use floating algae that grow in saline. Probably the only way biodiesel from algae will be economical, if it's possible. As you've observed, building kilometer sized bioreactors from polycarbonate is never going to work out.

Yes that might work. You cannot get much vertical growtha that way but we have enough ocean space to use. With open systems u run the risk of contamination. With closed systems polycarb costs are again going to be a limiting factor.

Anyway, has someone factored in a) the possibility of genetically modified, hyper-efficient algae, and b) harvesting them on the ocean, rather than using valuable land real-estate?

Because nothing would improve our situation more than hyper-efficient genetically modified algae loose in the ocean....


y'know, at some point it starts to make sense just to buy a bicycle.


I loved this post. A piece of light Friday evening reading on TOD away from calculating Saudi reserves down to the last pint. Your diagram showing diminishing return along the energy chain just has to be correct in a general sense. The problem with all "renewable" energy, apart from hydro, is that it is diffuse and a lot of energy must be spent gathering the energy.

This week a friend sent me the transcript of a BP presntation by Tony Meggs to the SPE's Research and development conference:

We tend to think in terms of conventional oil and gas, extending into heavy oil – but technology will increasingly allow us to convert any carbon based energy source into most of the useful products currently obtained from oil and gas – and that technology has enormous scope for improvement.

Chemistry, again, will play an important part in creating this fungibility. This is about catalysis and chemical engineering to convert known resources into useful products.

Biology has an as yet unknown role to play here. Rapid progress in bioscience will play a part in creating advanced biofuels which could have a real impact in displacing oil consumption – but beyond that bioscience may have a much larger role to play.

And if BP said it, it must be true............

Thank you Euan Mearns. Means a lot coming from you.
As far as BP goes...well..Lord Browne has consistently said that oil will fall to $20 a barrel. I think he meant gas in our lifetimes will eventually cost $20 a gallon.

If you count the large area of land that drains into a hydro resevior then it doesn't look all that concentrated.

The main point with Hydro is that it is solar energy converted to gravitational potential energy that falls as rain which in its initial state is as diffuse as other forms of solar, wind ocean energy etc. But what happens next with hydro is important - the land surface, combined with gravity, focusses some of that energy into streams and rivers and where rivers drop over a cliff edge the opportunity exists to tap into that focussed gravitational potential energy using a hydro scheme.

All other forms of renewable energy lack this natural focussing mechanism which is why large scale profitable hydro schemes have been around for decades and we are still discussing the relative merits of other forms of renewable energy.

This is a good analysis and you make it clear that these claims are exaggerated at best, and very possibly a scam.

At the same time we should keep in mind that we receive more than enough energy from sunlight to run our industrial society. In theory we can even expand our energy usage substantially in a fully renewable way, bringing the entire world up to current Western levels of energy use, and more. In practice there is no presently available technology that can do this efficiently and economically. But if and when we reach a Peak Oil crisis, the creative energies of the whole world will be devoted intensively to solving this problem. In the long run I expect that we will see breakthroughs that will allow our descendents to use much more energy than we use today.

I pray that you are right although I believe otherwise.

couple things

1. PAR in the southwest US is about 105w/s

what unit is w/s, do you mean w/m^2? the watt is Joules/second

2. googling for photosythesis efficiency gives a result of 6.8% for wild plants.

your final of approx. double this (13%) feels high, with 10% net being a good estimation.

3. these flora? used are NOT primarily carbohydrate storage, they are lipid producers (micro algae). (which in my opinion will lower the efficiency of the photosythesis->intermediary->lipid). the seventh paragraph is ambiguous and may need a mention of how while the max for carbs is 27%, lipids are a different %.

4. the mention of contamination should be lumped into downtime. if at any time 2% of the bioreactors are contaminated that would be the 2% downtime. Note the units are distinct, one contaminated will not make for all contaminated.

5. Above some threshold of sunlight irradance co2 is the limiting factor. With closed bioreactors co2 can increase yeilds a great deal. Carbon sequesterization will likely occur(and subsequent shuttling back), however this cost should be lumped into the operation of the reactors.

damn I wish I had Pricipals of Biosystems here for the rates of biomass production of different organisms. Anyone even know the name of the organism?

I would question which systems involving photosynthesis have short payback periods. 50 years is quite short on the geologic time scale, but quite long on the human scale.

We may simply need to think longer and bigger, taking more care to get things done. I realize that growth is fundamental to us, but seemingly there is no solution to oil running out.

1) Acknowledged above. Dave noted the same thing.
2)Yes. Algae are much better though. Dr Briggs feels we should use higher numbers than even the ones I am using.
3)Not quite sure what you mean here
4)True. Contamination is not such a problem for closed systems as it is for open systems. Hence I have given them a lot of leeway here.
5)Their patent talks about carbon sequestration. If they could receive credits for it (not happening yet), it would help. However the yields are so low that it would not make much difference.
6) The problem is not of time scale. There is just no payback possible at current prices as Polycarb has a lifespan of 10-15 years.

thanks for the responses

3 was just a little brain fart i think, not sure what i meant either. I think i was just confused with some wording on a 2nd read through. It's better now.

replace polycarb with glass? I was reading up on glass, and it seems like glass doesnt really move over time. plus! we have had glassblowing for quite some time!

as soon as carbon credits happen, most power plants will collapse with zero profits, it allows for externalities (GHG pollution) to be dealt with. a couple years ago i was at some meetings at a steel plant i was working in as a student, the cost for the steel plant was estimated around 10-11 million a year for the carbon, nitrous, and sulphur emmissions if the gov started forcing payments on gasses. The general consensus was that the plant would be shut down if they had to worry about paying that much.

payroll for the plant was avg 70,000year/employee*1000employee = 70 million, double for benefits+pension= 140 million a year. I suppose benefits or wages could be cut in emergencies.

Just seems to me that Pensions (based upon year on year growth) will be the first to get cut, or medical care(if you and the wife are dead, no pension!)

I did not mentiion this in the post.Polycarb is actually cheaper than glass as seen here.This was surprisng to me too.

Polycarb is more durable than glass.
Also transmission of UV is decreased when using polycarb, that increases yields of algae

In the patent application they described tests using Dunaliella parva, though I don't know if they are using this in the field trials


The world burns 400 years of solar plant energy a year in the form of fossil fuels. (http://web.utah.edu/unews/releases/03/oct/gas.html) People think algae in tubes will somehow get around the physical limitations of solar energy derived from plants? So whenever I hear about an agricultural product that will replace fossil fuels I will automatically think, "I smell a rat!" Fireangel's article only further confirms that any agricultural scheme to replace fossil fuels is only black gold alchemy.

For now it is. One can hope that we have some breakthrough in this field. I doubt we will ever replace most or all of our oil production with biofuel but on the downside of Hubbert's curve every little bit will help.

I question what is left to be broken through?

We can purify water with any of 10+ different techniques (boil, flashboil, chemical, ROsmosis, Osmosis, gravity filtration, hydroclones, diffusion, ion exchange, extractions L/L S/L, sieves for very large particles etc...) to any desired purity level(at the cost of greater and greater energy). We can optimize the process, but we still cannot remove the energy requirement in the first place.

Same for gasses (pretty much same as above)

We have categorized the best organisms, and made the correct selection.

We have found the max efficiency of photosynthesis, we know the solar spectrum. We know where the sun shines brightest.

We have cheap raw materials available, not getting any cheaper in terms of energy to extract.

We have powerful computers for modeling and design, lowering R&D costs.

We have smart people working on the project.

I have nearly come to the conclusion that all sun based power sources are doomed to failure. The only source of power which is non-sun derived (well...in the short term) is nuclear power, and probably fusion at that.

If one looks simply at the 6.x% efficiency of photosynthesis i cited upthread, that 6 combined with mass exictions along with millions of years is the only thing which has allowed us to get this far. Nothing else was sooo easy or sooo concentrated in small spots. (sure the big G is big, but on an energy/km^2 basis i bet it is huge)

Did I hear someone say FUSION ? LOL.

This is a very active forum on IEC fusion, Tom Ligon, one DR Bussards associates hangs out here:


IEC Fusion for Dummies


Alternate source for for IEC Fusion for Dummies, downloadable in wmv format too:


IEC Fusion vs Tokamak Fusion


Recent KOs diary on IEC fusion


DR Bussards recent article on IEC Fusion (PDF)


"I have nearly come to the conclusion that all sun based power sources are doomed to failure."

I don't want to have to break this to ya', but you are a sun based power system!

Every plant and animal on Earth is a sun based power system!
LIFE, for all these hundreds of millions of years, has been a sun based power system!

This makes me think of the folks who told the Wright Brothers that a heavier than air object could NOT be expected to fly while a bird poops on his head!

By the way, somebody tell the genius researcher doing the plant mass counting that we don't give a damm about the carbon except in trying to find a way to get rid of it, it's the hydrogen that's burned!

Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

No, the purpose of life is not to produce power, it's to produce more copies of itself. Hard to drive a car around by exploiting that principle.

And carbohydrates contain just as many O-H bonds as O-C bonds, so their combustion does indeed involve burning the carbon, not just the hydrogen.

And BTW, the rift-zone life isn't solar-based, it derives its energy from radioactive decay in the mantle.

"And BTW, the rift-zone life isn't solar-based, it derives its energy from radioactive decay in the mantle."

Damm, I missed the rift zone life! :-( How could I have missed that, now I am mad at myself! :-)

Actually, that bears some good "energy conversion" investigation, that could be interesting! How do they do it, cold fusion? :-)

Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

"By the way, somebody tell the genius researcher doing the plant mass counting that we don't give a damm about the carbon except in trying to find a way to get rid of it, it's the hydrogen that's burned."

I am not sure what you meant by that. Were you refrring to something in my post?

fireangel, you asked
"I am not sure what you meant by that. Were you refrring to something in my post?"
No, my remark regarding "carbon counting" was referring to this link in another post upthread, this one:

I never understand why people count tons of carbon as though it is the carbon that produces energy. The carbon produces problems, it's the hydrogen that produces energy, in coal, in crude oil, in natural gas, in propane, in wood, in peat, in tar sand....it's the hydrogen in the hydrocarbon we ar after.

The lower the amount of carbon, the better. This is why we have moved steadily up the hydrogen chain, from high carbon (C) to lower carbon, and higher hydrogen.....the steps from wood, coal and peat, upward to oil, then natural gas....all moves from high carbon content to low, and higer hydrogen content as a percent of the molecule. Someday, somewhere, I don't know how long it will take, but someone is going to say, "crap, let's just skip all these conversions and get to the hydrogen directly.....knowing the way the human mind works, it could happen, may take another 3 centuries, but it could! :-)

Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

From the article you cite:

one-eleventh of the carbon in the plants deposited in peat bogs ends up as coal, and that only one-10,750th of the carbon in plants deposited on ancient seafloors, deltas and lakebeds ends up as oil and natural gas.

It sounds like the production of fossil fuels is incredibly inefficient. If we use a reasonably efficient process for the production of plant-based fuels, we stand a chance at replacing a small but meaningful percentage of energy consumption with agricultural products.


time is a "community" that can not change in density. the issue is rate of compressing solar flux to liquid fuel density without the advantage of long time periods


the 400 year figure is not really that meaningful

the percentage equivalent figure of the biosphere is better, Basically we are burning at a rate equivalent to 20% of the biosphere.. Global per capita consumption raised to US levels equals 140% equivalent of the biosphere's power rating.

We need to switch stuff off,

I'm concerned about the mass production of biofuels will be attempted without being thought through. Using waste or small scale local production in combination with a powerdown is ok..but OTOH


I tend to agree. What I get out of all this discussion of alternatives is that there is a huge sense of desperation on this forum to find the ever elusive "free lunch" - or least a reasonably cheap lunch. Imho, not being an expert but just an avg. joe, it seems to me we are most of the way thru the only cheap lunch in town. But, y'all keep on keepin on, and let me know if there's a new diner around the corner.

I do get a little tickled by the comments here and there that bicycles, etc. are the solution. Obviously not posted by a 60 year old living in San Franciso, or Seattle, or Denver, etc. Bikes are ok for youngsters on flat land, but cause heart attacks in my generation. And I'm sure there would be some who would say that's fine, there's to many old folks anyway. Hmmm. The youngsters should be careful what they wish for.

Great point of view. If you are in SF and older, you could get a place on the top of Nob Hill and a lot of bicycles.

Nor would I care to ride a bike to work in Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas, DC, Los Angeles, Miami, Memphis, Jackson, Kansas City, or any other southern city flat or not, from June thru November. There's that "heat stroke", skin cancer thing to be concerned about.

And let's not forget the obvious thrills of being a defenseless target of hoodlums whilst peddling your well dressed butt thru some less than desirable neighborhoods on your commute. At least a car provides some protection, and means of escape.

I might consider a horse or other 4 legged transport, but it's tough to find horse parking places these days. :)

Gene:There is absolutely no reason to conclude you will be unable to drive a car for the rest of your life. What is possible/probable is that as gasoline prices rise you will either not be willing or able because of expense to drive as many miles (ave 41) daily. Contrary to many opinions, I do not regard this eventuality as the apocalypse.

BrianT: I haven't concluded anything. Just makin conversation. And I do plan on driving for the rest of my life - about 20 years if family history is any guide.

PS: My gas consumption is < 25gal/month now and that includes the riding mower. Even at $10/gal, I can easily afford it.

Gene: That's why I am confident the gasoline prices will go far higher before demand destruction sets in-for every American troubled by the prospect of $4 gas, there are at least as many that can handle $10 (contrary to MSM reporting).

don't knock the cycle thing until you try it. True if your looking to stat cycling late in life its an ask but being using a cycle is not prohibitive even for 60+ yr olds.. i know a fair few.. flat vs hilly is another misconception. hills are not insurmountable obstacles that will give you a heart attack.

basically get some exercise its not that hard.. and cycling will keep you fit

if cycling really is that difficult for you then your unhealthy. People who take up cycle commuting never look back in my experience.

of course long commutes and deep winter make cycles less of a solution but notice a long commute is not 12-20 miles on a bike... once you get past this mental hurdle and actually get reasonably fit all these objections seem rather silly


Boris, I know you mean well, but I'll tell you the same as I told BrianT. Just makin' conversation. I guess I'll have to be a bit more careful in wording my replies so that folks don't get the wrong impression.

As for exercise, I have 20 acres of tree farm, a one man woodworking shop/business, and a decent sized garden to tend, and my mailbox is a 1/2mile round trip from the house so I get plenty of exercise. I'm 63, 6'tall and 195lbs of mostly muscle. I can still run 3 miles in under 30minutes, so I reckon I'm reasonably fit. I don't commute to a "city job" because I retired 7 years ago from that mess, and haven't looked back. I could bike to the grocery or whatever, but I don't see the need.

But I figure I'm the exception at least in the USA. Most of the baby boomers ( and even the boomer babies )here are grossly overweight and out of shape and those that aren't rarely bike commute for lots of reasons, weather is only one of them. Biking is usually recreational and restricted to weekends, when they load their $1500 mountain bikes on their 15mpg SUV's for a 200 mile round trip to "The country" to ride around for an hour or 2. Lots of hypocrisy here.

Heading out posted a Caveat at the end of my post. He mentioned that GreenFuel had mentioned in its patent that it could use generated light to compensate for lack of sunlight when needed. I wanted to post my thoughts on that.
1) Our calculations suggest that the costs are too high when we consider free sunlight. Electricity is cheaper than biodiesel but we are considering 100% efficiency. When it is converted to light and the losses that occur there, as well as conversion by the algae it would thin margins considerably.
2)Installing a light source that would cover such a
huge area and vary with ambient light would take up
the complexity to a whole new level. Also the losses
(of light)i.e that not used by algae, would be quite high.
3) We also would be making the assumption that
electricity will be cheaper than oil. As an unhedged,
natural gas only using power plant, post hurricanes
would tell you,that is simply not true.

The future may hold a lot of promise for this technology though.

GreenFuel and De Beers are big corporations that want to do this on a large, industrial scale.

Isn't there somebody who is doing this on a small scale? Maybe he/she can tell us how it works.


I had mentioned aquaflow in the post. They are doing this on a very small scale. They dont have numbers that I could analyze for costs and profitability. I am not sure so dont quote me on this but I think I remember that they were prodcuing a 1000 barrels a year from their pilot project.

The sense I got from their website is that they are trying to make existing waste treatment systems multipurpose. If they can find a bug or seaweed that will grow in those conditions, this will look pretty good because most of the equipment will already exist. Scale up might still be a problem, thougth.

Well, maybe you should invite them to write about how they do it?

I got the impression that they were quite about their achievements in general. It seems simple enough though. The question is that if Scalability as TJ pointed out.

Maybe Richard. I think every small amount helps.

Richard I competely agree with you. We should host a very well thought out discussion on the other side of the coin, which is out door production of algae. I think most of us can agree indoor production is never going to be economical because of the capital costs involved. However the fact that indoor algae won't work is stated in the summary of the Aquatic Species Program. So I think this has been well established for a long time (1996).

However I have looked at the out door growth of algae for serveral years now and after much research and number crunching I believe that due to $60 per barrel oil prices and the $1 per gallon tax credit for Biodiesel production in the United State a commercial out door facility growthing algae for Biodiesel would be profitable.

Don't take my word for it.
Read the NREL Aquatic Speceis report for your self, they successfully grew on an acre size scale 15 to 30 grams of algae per meter, per day, 25% of which was oil content. Running the numbers I find that leads to a production level of roughly 2,000 gallons of algal oil per acre, per year. When compared to Soybean Oil production of only 100 gallons per acre per year, this is still the most productive feedstock per acre. Not bad when you consider this out door system NREL used had an estimated profit brake even point of $59 per barrel for the oil produced. The production of 2,000 gallons per acre, established by the Aquatic Species Program is very compelling evedence after they spent 20 years researching the concept and millions of dollars.

I really believe out door algae deserves a completely seperate discussion. It would seem using sources of waste water sludge, flue gas as nutrients and with a great deal of cheap land available in the Gulf Coast Region of the United States out door algae may have true potencial.

"There is no silver bullet...to solve our energy crisis we will need, Solar, Wind, Nuclear, and Algae to Biodiesel."


I'm not an expert on algae, I guess very little people are. However, it seems to me that this is a thing you can do on a small scale and still make a decent buck, if the net balance is positive in the first place.

My gut feeling says that you don't need a massive investment to make this work. I would guess that with 100.000 US$ you could set up your own plant, provided you have access to enough water and preferrable a CO2 producer. Probably even make a deal with somebody who has excess CO2.(*) That's no more than the price of a decent tractor.

The thing is: Can we get somebody here who is doing this?

(*) This is by the way not uncommon: In the Netherlands, the green-houses in the west of the Netherlands where they grow the tulips etc do this on a (very) large scale. They collect the CO2 from the gas-fired powerplants and blow it into the green-houses. Works amazingly well.

The problem is that Oil is way too cheap! If you know about Matt Simmons work, you will know that he says that we cant buy anything of value cheaper than oil. Think of an equal volume of tulips and algae. Now reduce the algae volume by half as only half will be made into biodiesel. Which do you think will be more expensive? Dr Dimitrov talks abouit by greenhouses having a similiar ( although lower) cost structure are so profitable whereas this never will be. Hope this helps.
Of course there is still hope as Gandalf would say
"When we reach this stage the price of oil will not add dolllars ..it will add digits" SAMSAM BAKHTIARI

Patrick Ward and Bobby Emory Yates from oil_from_algae yahoo!groups...Patrick Ward is actually cultivating some oil-rich diatoms at the moment.

They seem very knowledgeable in this area:


I personally think that the use of natural vectors (non-GMO bacteriophages) to control culture contamination could be used to manage open pond contamination. Its a concept taken from phage therapy, except your host is the algae pond now, instead of the human body. You continuously dose the open pond with phages that attack the most invasive microbes into the culture solution to prevent the invasive species from taking over the pond:


With contamination problem addressed, you'll need to look at how to prevent open pond culture condition fluctuations (Culture crashes due to swings in culture pH, conductivity, temperature, light intensity etc). Controlling these conditions in open ponds is VERY challenging. Heck, even controlling a closed-system bioreactor is hard. Just ask the guys doing ethanol fermentation.

Ray Huang

I think 'warm and wet' processes will lose out to 'hot dry' processes. The former risk contamination by invasive bugs and then require a lot of energy to separate out a final product. Examples of 'warm and wet' processes are pig poo methane, ethanol/butanol from distillation, thermal depolymerisation and of course algae. Examples of 'hot and dry' are PV, looped fluid solar thermal, nukes and anything that initially burns the feedstock such as coal, oil, gas and Fischer Tropsch.

If this theory is right it means that high capital cost puts a limit on localisation. A community can afford a methane digester but not an FT plant.

It's all just ridiculous. I mean the proposals of these non scalable technologies. The elephant in the room is population, and our prodigious greed for convenient energy. Stop burning all that carbon, ferchrissakes!

But for investment purposes, I'd think the appropriate measure would be $$$/Joule/solar-day or something like that, for whatever collecting area it takes to make a Joule/solar-day. It would be interesting to see a list comparing corn ethanol, algae, pv-solar, etc., normalized to their net energy production (and with another column for collecting area). My guess is that algae would not be particularly competitive with silicon if all the costs are properly accounted, including maintenance and consumables.

It might be closer to worthwhile if your collecting area were the South Pacific. Just sprinkle a little dilute pig poop over a few thousand square miles and let the natural algae take over.

The problem will solve itself.
But not in a nice way.

Solar reduces greenhouse gas which offsets any 'trapped' energy. Be kind to Greenkind

Right now we live in a completely irrational society that is drunk on 85 million barrels of fossil sunlight per day. Anyone who takes "now" as normal is insane.

Having said that though, we could create a technological yet sustainable society that lived within its energy budget. Within that society there would very likely be a place for some small amount of biofuels, even at a net loss of energy (negative EROEI) if the value of the fuel was sufficiently high. But that society would bear zero resemblance to what and how we live today. It would be a society in which "profit" was not the first consideration but perhaps the last, a society in which each action would be viewed within the context of sustainability and in which cultural norms would reinforce sustainability.

We don't live in that culture today and this civilization shows no likelihood of turning into that culture. So as such, every program that calls for biofuel development must be viewed with great suspicion. This one is no exception and appears, as fireangel writes and Leanan notes, to be a scam dedicated to separating wishful thinkers who are thermodynamically ignorant from the cash in their wallets.

Ghawar Is Dying
The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function. - Dr. Albert Bartlett

Mr. Greyzone, maybe you can enlighten me a bit. I've only been reading this forum for about a month, but it seems to me that y'all haven't figured out who the target audience is for all this wisdom that's passed around. Seems like y'all are just talking to each other, and it get's really technical. So much so that nobody outside of your community is going to listen to anything y'all are saying.

I'd thought at first that there was some effort to educate the public and the policy makers, but unless there's some other venue where that happens, I don't see much benefit to solving or mitigating the root problem by bickering over the engineering details of all this amongst yourselves.

If y'all want to make a difference you need to get this discussion going someplace where people will pay attention. Otherwise you're just more noise in the spectrum of things everybody ought to worry about. You're competing with Britney Spears, Al Qaeda, and about zillion other things, whether you realize it or not. I'm not trying to be a wise ass, but I just think you folks have something to contribute, but don't know how to.

Care to comment?