Weekend Energy Listening: Ethanol's Energy Balance with Tad Patzek

For a bit of weekend energy listening, here's a conversation that I had with Tad Patzek (who should need no introduction around here), talking about ethanol's energy balance. This was recorded 2 years ago now, but it still remains quite timely today. You can listen to the mp3 either by downloading the link or clicking play in the built in audio player.

or download mp3: Conversation with Tad Patzek (52min, 21MB)

A long transcript of this conversation is available below the fold.

This discussion is especially relevant in Canada now because of Bill C-33 which amends the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and is supposed to be debated in the House of Commons around May 28th, 2008:

Amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 proposed in this bill allow the federal government to implement regulations requiring 5% average renewable content in gasoline by 2010. Subsequent regulations will also require 2% average renewable content in diesel and heating oil by 2012 on successful demonstration of renewable diesel fuel use under the range of Canadian environmental conditions.
Here are some links that I mention in the mp3:

Thermodynamics of the corn-ethanol biofuel cycle, Tad W. Patzek, Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences 23(6), 519-567, 2004 and The Real Biofuel Cycles

Disclaimer: This conversation was transcribed by a third party and may not be 100% accurate.

Ben: Tad Patzek joins me over Skype to talk about the very important issue of the ethanol energy balance. Tad is a professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of California, Berkeley and he is well known in the bio-fuels industry because he offers the viewpoints that ethanol and in particular ethanol from corn requires more fossil fuel energy to make than the energy that ethanol offers us in return by burning it and using it to fuel our cars. So, one pretty big consequence of this is that ethanol made from corn produces more CO2 than gasoline does. So Tad, thanks so much for taking the time to come on the show and talk to me today.

Tad Patzek: Thank you for having me.

Ben: The first thing that I want to do is direct everybody or all the listeners to your website so that they can read your reports, titled Thermodynamics of the Corn Ethanol Biofuel Cycle, because that goes into some pretty good detail about what is included in energy balances and what your reasoning was to include or exclude some things from the energy balance. So everybody listening, please I put up a link from thewattpodcast.com website so that you can read through Tad’s documents and I especially like the idea of having a document like that, which is continuously refined. Are those refinements based on reader comments, Tad?

Tad Patzek: Yes. I got a feedback from several people and I accounted for them but also some of them reflect my changing in thinking, for example, switching from the low heating value to the high heating value of fuels reflects the point of view that if you want to look at sustainability of an energy scheme, you want to account for the most you can get out of this regardless of how much you get in a given implementation, so that is just one example. The second example that was a big discussion about how much energy goes into steel making process, so I have added [02:19 unintelligible] on that and so it goes on, but I stopped updating this document. I think the version that is on the web was stopped in February. I wrote now a simpler and shorter document which is called The Real Biofuel Cycles, which is also on the web on my website and it does not go into the second law of thermodynamics which probably is sort of discouraging for some of the readers, although it makes most sense to use it. So, in the second document I just used the first law of thermodynamics, the energy balance and the mass balance to show the overall energy efficiency of the corn ethanol cycle.

Ben: Okay. Can you explain why the overall energy balance of ethanol is so important and what would be the impact to our society if we somehow manage to replace the 380 million gallons of gasoline that the US uses everyday with the biofuel like corn ethanol?

Tad Patzek: Okay. I think that we need to step back a little bit here.

Ben: Okay.

Tad Patzek: We need to talk about a somewhat different issue. You and I, as human beings continuously develop the power, that is, work over unit time of 100 watts. So you and I continuously are about equivalent to 1, 100 watt bulb switched on continuously. That is what we need. During the night we need less during the day we need more but on average it is about 100 watts. Okay? So, that is us as human beings. That is how are body is designed. If you are Lance Armstrong a super, a strong human being, you in fact can develop the power of 300 or a little bit more watts for some time and it bursts of 600 watts and that makes him the best cyclist ever, but we are not as strong so 100 watts is a good number and in fact in order for us to develop this power, we need to eat about 2025 kilocalories per day and so that is our diet. Of course we eat more in the United States, so that is why we become flabby and fat.

Ben: Yeah.

Tad Patzek: So, if you look at this a consumption for 300 million people living in the United States over one year, all of us consume about 1 exajoule of energy, that is what we eat. That is 1 followed by 18 zeros, okay? Now, as a country, as a society, we form a super organism of all of us together and then we become different beings and we use 105 exajoules per year of energy. In other words, we use 105 times more energy as a society than we need to live. So, if you compare a human heart as an individual you have to imagine let us say a V-Tec Honda engine, a 6 cylinder engine, as a member of our society so we are two different beings, one a biological human being and another one an industrialized member of a very large society that consumes a lot of energy at a very high rate. Okay? That is the most fundamental point that I would really like people to think of that you use 100 watts as a human being, but you use 11,000 watts continuously as an American.

Ben: Even Americans per capita use them most energy in the world. Well…

Tad Patzek: That is right.

Ben: Yeah. Well, actually Canadians use more energy than Americans.

Tad Patzek: Right, right, but it is very comparable. We are at the top there. The Canadians use a little bit more, but there is very few of them and they have huge landmass so they are not as dangerous to the earth as we are.

Ben: Yeah. One of the reasons why we do that is because we drive so much.

Tad Patzek: Right.

Ben: That is why we have to consume 380 million gallons of gasoline, so I guess that is why everybody is concerned right now about switching from gasoline or trying to find an alternative of gasoline.

Tad Patzek: Yes, right. I know I need to focus on that, but let me just add one more comment. So, in order for us to live the lifestyles we do, we need immense amounts of energy. This includes also the energy as you said correctly required for us to drive. So, now let us go back to nature. The energy we use comes from reservoirs from stock of ancient solar energy, crude oil, natural gas, coal which have been accumulated over the last 300 million years or so. They are accumulated at an incredibly low rate over an incredibly unimaginably long time. We are using them now at the rate we need to be users of 11,000 watts per person per year continuously, but now we are running out of some of them, well not so soon, but we are, okay. There is no doubt about it. So, become scared because we have gotten used to our lifestyles and now we are saying, “Okay, well if this resource is gone we’re going to replace them with biofuels.” That is the big issue of our times right now in the United States and also worldwide. The problem with this is that Mother Nature is absolutely unable to produce the fuels at the rate we want to use them. There is a fundamental incompatibility between us as biological beings using 100 watts and us as mechanized beings using 11 kilowatts. So, the whole question of replacing fossil fuels with biofuels is in fact ill-posed. You cannot do that. You cannot absolutely do that. That is the first lesson here.

Ben: Without some amount of conservation.

Tad Patzek: No. That is right.

Ben: Yeah.

Tad Patzek: Some is actually understatement, so let me just immediately jump to Brazil.

Ben: Okay.

Tad Patzek: Brazil is given as an example to us of a country that is successfully using bio fuels, right?

Ben: Uh-huh.

Tad Patzek: In fact, we are told that if we just behave like the Brazilians we will be okay, we will be supplying more than half of our fuel from biofuels. Well, there is a problem with this argument. There are 182 million Brazilians or so, there are 300 million Americans. The Brazilians use 6½ billion gallons of gasoline per year and the Americans use 140 billion gallons of gasoline per year. You do the ratios of the populations and the fuel used and it turns out that if you and I drive only once in two weeks, once in 14 days, so one day we drive, 13 days we walk or bike, then we become equivalent to the Brazilians. So, I just want listeners to understand that in order for us to talk about biofuels playing an important role we would have to very, very dramatically change our lifestyles and that is actually not something that any of the listeners I presume is ready to do.

Ben: We might be forced to do it one day.

Tad Patzek: Oh, yes. In fact, that forcing is coming and much of it actually can be achieved with relatively little pain if we just pay a little bit of attention. Let me give you another example. We now use 21 million barrels of oil per day, 21 million barrels of oil per day.

Ben: In the US, yes.

Tad Patzek: In the US. The transportation uses about 2/3 of it. Our cars, trucks, trains and planes use about 2/3 of it. So, if we were to double the efficiency of our transportation system, that is, double the mileage of the cars, put more trains and fewer trucks, drive fewer things around, and increase the efficiency of our planes, we would be saving 7 million barrels of oil per day. That is 7 million barrels of oil per day. Now, without introducing anything radically novel or ravaging the environment with these huge monocultures that we now use to fool ourselves into believing that biofuels will solve our problems, but that requires discipline and that also requires political leadership from our government, which simply does not exist.

Ben: Also just to bring you back to I guess ethanol in some fashion, ethanol is only 2/3 the energy density of gasoline.

Tad Patzek: Correct.

Ben: And so you are actually going to be reducing your fuel efficiency if you move to ethanol.

Tad Patzek: Well, right. I mean you will have to essentially burn more of it to achieve the same distance. That is correct, but again the main point I would like to sort of pass on to the listeners is this. The volume of fuel regardless of its calorific content, for ethanol it is less, that is being supplied from biofuels stands in no proportion to the volume we need to sustain our lifestyles. Okay?

Ben: Yeah.

Tad Patzek: That is sort of the crucial argument here, which we simply lost over because it is very difficult for us to understand the scale of the problem.

Ben: Well, that is why some people are looking at ethanol because I know that there has been some disagreement as to whether or not ethanol does in fact use more fossil fuel energy than what it does in return.

Tad Patzek: Right. Yes. Well, we are stuck on this little argument and it basically boils down to throwing numbers across fences that is how I call it. The listeners have to realize that in fact there is a little simplistic model of reality, which is called this net energy balance, which is not a balance at all, by the way. It is a manipulation of certain inputs and outputs to the corn ethanol cycle from which there comes a number called the net energy ratio. If you do sort of a more thorough job of balancing things and you could read this in this real biofuel cycles paper that is on the web on my website, you will find out that in fact it is not only the fossil fuels, but it is also the environment that we consume while we are producing these biofuels. Let us start from the agriculture because that is the first link here. The agriculture in Midwest is basically a desert paved with monocultures of greedy plants, which we bred to be standing in great crowds, very close to each other, and which need to survive. They need lots of fertilizer and lots of human intervention. Then these plants produce a lot of an industrial commodity, which is the #2 yellow corns while using the soil and polluting one-half of the area of the United States and the coastal waters and the rivers and what have you, okay? So, the whole notion of that agriculture is in fact completely unsustainable. That is a completely unsustainable transient state of agriculture supported by fossil fuels.

Ben: It is completely unsustainable because of the fact that you are actually removing the nutrients from the soil without replacing them right? Is that how…

Tad Patzek: Right. Well, in fact you have to replace them with fundamentally fossil fuels.

Ben: Yeah. Yeah.

Tad Patzek: The soil nitrogen, for example, cannot sustain these plants so you have to put a lot of fertilizers, let us say 200 kg of nitrogen per hectare of a cornfield. This nitrogen is actually methane pure and simple with added energy. You do that and you obtain your corn grain. Then that corn grain has inside starch. Starch is nowhere close to the desired product, which is ethanol, which chemically means you need to put a lot of energy to get from one to the other. If you look again what you can do to that starch, you can liquefy it with enzymes, then you can ferment it with yeast, and then you distill the beer that you obtain to obtain 96% spirit containing 96% of ethanol and then you exclude the last 4% with molecular sieves and then you add gasoline to it as a denaturant and that is your final product.

Ben: Yeah.

Tad Patzek: The problem with this is that if you as you go through this process you in fact use on average seven times more energy per unit input energy, which is your corn grain, than you would in a normal petroleum refinery and the reason actually is very simple, corn is not ethanol. Crude oil is very close to gasoline and diesel fuel. It takes in fact much less energy to transform crude oil into gasoline and diesel than corn into ethanol.

Ben: In converting corn into ethanol what is the most energy intensive step? I know that from reading your reports that the actually industrial process is more energy intensive than actually growing the corn, the agricultural step. Is that true?

Tad Patzek: Correct. Yes, correct. The single largest fossil fuel expenditure is in the distilleries, in the bio refineries.

Ben: And would that be natural gas required to…

Tad Patzek: Now, you are asking an interesting question, right? So, almost all of these bio refineries have been designed to work on natural gas and they use huge quantities of natural gas. In fact, they should be designed next to a major trunk not just a little pipeline, but a major pipeline, a gas pipeline. Natural gas, as we all know, kind of increase in price a couple of times. Three or four folds depending on where you started counting. It becomes increasingly difficult to run these factories on natural gas; therefore, they will be switching to coal and in fact they are.

Ben: Yeah. That has already started.

Tad Patzek: Yes. Now, think about this. All of these plants have designed to burn clean natural gas. They have no facilities to scrub and to flue gases from coal to dispose of coal ash and in fact they are also ill-designed to transport into them 300-400 tons of coal per day to each one of them. Remember because the corn raw material is low density, these factories in fact are relatively small and dispersed, right?

Ben: Yeah.

Tad Patzek: There is some 30 of them in Iowa and they are dispersed on a grid sort of circles of 30 mile radius so they collect corn from a circle around them, which is around 30 miles in radius, which means that if you want to deliver coal to them you are going to have some logistical problems.

Ben: I know that they are struggling right now just to produce 2% ethanol and gasoline so that they can be replaced with MTBE. I know that they are going to have be building a lot more ethanol refineries. Are those new ethanol refineries going to be easier on the environment? I mean…

Tad Patzek: No.

Ben: They are not going to be any better.

Tad Patzek: No. In fact, you remember that there is yet another bit of the story, which is not being told widely, the water used by these plants. A 40 million gallon per year plant uses about 750,000 gallons of water per day. That is so astronomical that I would like to encourage the users to compare this to their daily, I mean the listeners, to compare it to their daily water use. Some of this water is recycled, but a significant portion of it is evaporated and also they need very fresh and soft water for the boilers, so you have to redo chemical treatment of the water and you need to take fresh water. We are running out of water and especially in the western part of Midwest, there is a tremendous water shortage. In fact these plants will have to move out from Midwest. There is not enough environment for them to exist there anymore. So they will have to go to the coasts, to the east and the west coast, and that is the plan, right? People are trying to build these plants in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Colorado, Oregon, Washington State, etc. So now, we are going to be faced with the problem of transporting gigantic quantities of corn from Midwest to the coast.

Ben: Yes.

Tad Patzek: Also the west of course does not have too much water as well, as we all know, and in particular in California, building ethanol plants in the Central Valley, let us say in Fresno, it is sort of an idea of adding another major source of pollution and water use to the already most polluted environment in the United States. That is kind of cute, but not for the people who live there.

Ben: Are there any technological improvements that can make a significant improvement to the production of ethanol?

Tad Patzek: Well, okay, again I would like to warn you, yes there are, but no they are not going to resolve our major problem of incompatibility of the energy flux from the system and the energy flux that we need in order to sustain our lifestyles. That cannot be removed. That is a law of nature. We can actually tweak sort of at the edges of the system and we have, make no mistake about it. The dry grind plant today to produce ethanol is much more efficient than the one that was in operation let us say 10 years ago. People have done several things. First of all, they try to buy to upgrade corn in a sense that they try to buy corn with the highest starch content.

Ben: Okay.

Tad Patzek: Still they use about 15% of the corn that is produced in the United States. They can upgrade the corn that they buy for the refineries vis-à-vis the starch content. The second thing they do, they try to in fact digest a higher percentage of the starch that is available there, not all starch is fermentable, so they try to increase that percentage. The next thing they want to do and they do it successfully is they increase the percent of ethanol in the beer. It used to be 8% now it is 10-12% and people say you can go as high as 14%, although I have my doubts because at that stage, fermentation really slows down and bacteria catching up and producing other byproduct, by the way which are incorporated into ethanol. So when you buy ethanol in fact it will also contain the butyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol and probably some other substances that you do not know about, it is no longer pure ethanol. That is okay, you can burn butanol and isopropyl alcohol, your engine will not know. Your engine will know about other substances that may find their way. Improvements have been made, but again it does not change that the premise of the whole energy production system, an incredibly low-density, low-efficiency and low-yield energy supply scheme and this cannot be changed. This is how Mother Nature has designed it.

Ben: So, we have identified that the largest energy input is the actual industrial process. People are moving away from natural gas to coal power now because the price of natural gas is too volatile. What if we started burning biomass instead of coal because biomass, some types of biomass such as pelletized switchgrass for instance has a fairly good energy balance, does it not, when you burn it.

Tad Patzek: Right. So here we are running into another problem. The thing about agricultural production is that it requires a substrate. Plants need soil to grow on and that soil needs to be protected from the elements, wind and rain being the most important ones. So a prairie system with switchgrass let us say protects the soil very well because the soil is covered with plants all the time. Prairie in fact is a very good example of a system, which is enormously efficient and whose net productivity, that is, net mass production is zero. That is, everything that the prairie produces is recycled in it. The bison, the buffalo eat the grass. The coyotes and the lions, mountain lions, eat the buffalo, and the wolves and everybody dies on the prairie and their bodies are recycled and so it goes on, the nutrients, and in fact the prairie gets flooded every now and then from the rivers, which bring other nutrients and so it goes on, the nutrients are resupplited. Now we come, we the humans come into that system and we say, “Okay, grass, we are going to cut you every year, year after year. Remove everything that we cut and burn it elsewhere.” Unfortunately, when you do so not only do you remove carbon, but you remove nutrients with the grass and these nutrients are gradually depleted from the soil and of course the whole system stops producing. There is a fundamental problem with removing all biomass from an ecosystem because that ecosystem stops functioning and in order for you to make it function, you have to resupply it back with the nutrients and that of course takes an enormous amount of fossil fuels. So we are back to square one.

Ben: Okay. I am so interested in the overall energy balance though. Why is there so much confusion over the energy balance? Is there not some type of standards organization that says this is how you do an energy balance and this is how it should be done?

Tad Patzek: Yes. That is actually a very interesting question. Yes, there are standards and in fact these standards were arrived at a long time ago in 1975 and in 1976. There was then a great interest in energy prices caused by the first problems that we had and there was the International Federation of Institutes for Advanced Study, which in fact gathered twice in Sweden, in Stockholm, and that organization provided guidelines for how energy balance should be done. Of course these recommendations have all been forgotten by now. In fact, there are some simple things that can be done. Define your system clearly. Corn ethanol system is an open system in which mass can flow through the boundaries and it does flow, which takes inputs from the environment and excretes output into the environment and so it is kind of difficult to do the balance. First, we define the system and you can define the cornfields, the bio refineries and the machines that burn the ethanol, this can be done. You can then define the system boundaries to go as deeply into the society as you please and there are guidelines as to how to do it. This has not been followed by the studies, by most of the studies. Now, the second thing you do is once you have defined the system boundaries now you can define the fluxes, the flows that go across these boundaries. So, now you can balance mass which is #1 requirement in science and then once you have balanced the mass you can balance energy, that is #2 requirement. None of these requirements were fulfilled in this net energy balance, that is, this net energy balance do not close mass or energy balances. They violate both. Depending on how you violated the mass or energy balance of your system, you can come up with different numbers and that is fundamentally what has been happening here.

Ben: Is this also being done for gasoline as well because presumably it would be a good idea to compare the overall energy balance of corn ethanol for instance with gasoline?

Tad Patzek: Well, it has been done sort of, well sort of I would say more than sort of, there was a big study out of NREL, National Renewable Energy Lab, several years ago in 1997, which attempted to do such a study for the crude oil diesel system and gasoline and diesel are in fact within a couple of percent the same thing in terms of energy consumption. If you do this for the mixture of crude oil that comes here from the Middle East and as well on local supplies and you look at the mixture of refineries and the pipelines and what have you, you use on average 17% of the energy in the crude oil to get from the crude oil under the ground in the reservoir to gasoline in your pump, that is 17%. So 83% is left as the gasoline product on average.

Ben: Presumably that is dropping I mean in Canada.

Tad Patzek: Oh, yes.

Ben: In Canada we are big on the Alberta in tar sands and that requires a lot of natural gas right now.

Tad Patzek: Yes. In fact this is a very, very good point. As we go on depleting this very rich and energy dense oil reservoirs in the Middle East and elsewhere, we are now turning towards more and more difficult oil, which takes more and more energy to not only recover it but also to convert it into a usable product, gasoline or something else, and that oil is increasingly more difficult on the environment. Your Canadian example is a very good one. That tar sands will require in the end all the natural gas that Canada has and it will also require all the water that Alberta has. In the meantime, we are going to generate a lot of [32:42 unintelligible] to upgrading that oil. So the oil energy supply system becomes less and less environmentally friendly. Of course, it never was friendly. It was more and more unfriendly towards the environment. However, as we are on this sort of efficiency, so the overall efficiency going from crude oil in the ground to gasoline, let us say, is 83%, okay?

Ben: Okay.

Tad Patzek: If you want to go all the way from a corn seed to ethanol, the efficiency of that process, overall efficiency, is 20%.

Ben: Okay.

Tad Patzek: Well, plus-minus, that is 20 or 23 depending on how you do the calculation. Now the big increase in the efficiency of that process comes from accounting for the coproduct, okay?

Ben: Yes.

Tad Patzek: If you do the following reasoning, because from corn grain we not only produce ethanol, but we also produce what is called DDGS or Dried Distillers Grain and Soluble, that is basically a mash of everything that is left from the corn grain other than starch.

Ben: That is mostly used for feed, right, for the cattle feed?

Tad Patzek: Right. That is right. Then you can play games as to how you apportion fossil energy you have used in the refinery to that portion of the corn grain. This is kind of again a paper accounting because the fossil energy you expend on distillation is the energy you have expended, it is gone. You have burned the coal; you have burned the natural gas. In fact, if you look at the refinery, the stage at which you separate starch from the rest of the corn grain does not require much energy at all. You basically grind the corn grain and then you steep it in water and you put enzymes, Barley and alpha-amylase enzyme, to hydrolyze, to liquefy the starch. You could separate the rest of the corn grain at that stage and expend almost no energy on it.

Ben: Okay.

Tad Patzek: But you choose to in fact keep the two parts together and run them through the entire refinery, in the end you have to separate the solids from the distillation columns and you also have to dry them up and that takes an enormous amount of energy and then you say because I get a product out of this, I will apportion 30% to 50% of the fossil energy spent in the refinery to the coproduct and therefore my process looks better.

Ben: Yeah. I also have to wonder if this co-product is made at any larger scale? Can we actually use it?

Tad Patzek: No. That is another problem.

Ben: Yeah.

Tad Patzek: Now, we are going back to a larger societal problem; that is, because our farms produce so much of this industrial commodity, the #2 yellow corn, as I said, we cannot simply use it up. We have decided to do three things with it, right? The first thing is to feed, not this, but white corn to the people as cornflakes, cereals and what-not, but that takes care of only 2% of the corn. The second thing that we decided to do is to basically run the corn through wet milling process and split it into the simple chemicals. So, we get the snow white starch and we get dextrose, which is basically your cellulose and we can convert it into other sugars and we then produce the famous high fructose corn syrup and other chemicals, which show up on labels of almost any processed food product in the United States, that is the second use, but that takes care of about let us say 20% of the corn, okay? But then we are left with the remainder and so we feed the remainder to the animals that are not eaten by people and in fact every animal in the United States eats corn these days including salmon, but then we are left with yet another overflow of corn in the fields, right? So we burn it, we feed our cars. So now we have managed to feed people, animals and cars with corn. That is a huge victory for the corn. Nevertheless, some of the animals do not take kindly to that corn especially cows because cows have been designed to eat grass, cellulose, and in fact ferment the cellulose using bacteria in the rumen. When they eat starch, they become sick. Starch acidifies their stomachs. It makes them fat. It also destroys their livers. In order to avoid being killed too early in the process, they have to be fed antibiotics.

Ben: Okay, so that is even more energy intensive.

Tad Patzek: Right, but not only that, it is just that there are limits to how much corn you can sort of pass through all the societal systems without destroying some of it.

Ben: Okay, so that is corn ethanol. So, in summary, even if the overall energy balance looked okay, in summary, corn is an unsustainable crop because it depletes soil from all the nutrients. Is that right?

Tad Patzek: Right, but the overall energy balance does not look okay. It is 20%

Ben: Yeah. True.

Tad Patzek: Yes.

Ben: Okay. Now let us now move on to sugarcane for instance because sugarcane is sugar, sugar juices so it must be easier to produce ethanol from sugarcane than it is from corn grain.

Tad Patzek: Yes. In fact, both corn and sugarcane are grasses, are seafloor plants. Sugarcane is designed or by nature to live in moist and warm climate, which Brazil provides in large quantities. Sugarcane grows around the year so all year long and it is being harvested twice a year in different parts of Brazil, in fact, much of it is still harvested by hand employing about one million people. Now that is going away because these plantations are being mechanized right now.

Ben: So they are becoming less organic farming? Is that what you are saying?

Tad Patzek: Sugarcane has another feature that differentiates it from corn. It actually coexists with a bacterium, Rhizobium bacterium, to some extent, which sequestered nitrogen. So sugarcane needs less nitrogen fertilizer than corn. Also, it grows year around not 100 days per year as corn does in the United States. There are differences in the yield. Also, sugarcane in the past centuries was grown organically with no fertilizers and basically what was taken out of the plantation in the end was the sugar juice, the carbon, in terms of sugar, but the rest of it and some fiber from the bagasse, but the rest of it would be returned back to the plantation as malt and as fertilizer and that would actually allow these plantations to go on for three centuries in some places.

Ben: Okay.

Tad Patzek: In Asia and in South America, so very good so far. Now, we are now doing it slightly differently. Now, in order for us to drive the process with sugarcane only, we need to use the entire plant, that is, the bagasse, the leaves and everything else and essentially bury them in the ethanol plants. So now we are removing all biomass from the fields. Of course, that puts us in the quandary that no we will have to be replacing the nutrients just as we do with corn. In Brazil, this is not being done to the same extent yet. So they are essentially depleting the soil and unfortunately they will have to do more and more fertilization as they go on with the system.

Ben: Okay.

Tad Patzek: Sugarcane has two things going for it, higher yield than corn and of course what is inside the sugarcane, the stem, is essentially juice that contains the sugar so you avoid a couple of steps and then you burn the bagasse, the rest of the plant, as fossil fuel and you get your ethanol relatively cheaply. However, again, you are depleting the environment and the whole system, in the long run it has to be unsustainable.

Ben: But it is a much longer run for Brazil.

Tad Patzek: It is a longer run. Yes.

Ben: Okay. Now the last type of ethanol that I want to discuss just quickly is cellulose ethanol. Hilary Clinton and all the politicians seem to want to produce cellulose ethanol instead of corn ethanol. Why do they want to do that? Should they be focusing on cellulose ethanol at all?

Tad Patzek: Well, it is sort of like the next best thing in the horizon, right?

Ben: Yeah.

Tad Patzek: Remember you still forgot about the algae.

Ben: Algae, yes.

Tad Patzek: We will come back to it later on in some other program. So cellulose in ethanol is the next best thing. Now what I would like the listeners to understand is that all of these systems no matter what they are, sugarcane, corn, algae, and cellulose in ethanol, have about the same overall efficiency. In fact, one I might argue that cellulose in ethanol would have a lower efficiency if we have the technology to produce it. Let me sort of discuss this a little bit more. The problem with cellulose is that cellulose is about the most sturdy and chemically inert compound that nature has produced over the last 2 billion years or so to protect plants from the attacks by animals, by elements, by fungi, bacteria, and what-not. It is basically the substance that makes the plants last together with lignin, which provides it mechanical strength. So by the very nature of it, cellulose is very difficult to decompose chemically and we can do that, of course, and we have been doing it very efficiently for many years, it is called the paper craft process right?

Ben: Actually, there is a company in Canada just pretty close to me, Iogen, and they use a steam explosion method.

Tad Patzek: Right.

Ben: Sounds pretty energy intensive to me, steam explosion.

Tad Patzek: Yes. That is right. You put your finger right where it should be. In order for us to get to cellulose, we need two things, we need lots of energy and thermal energy and mechanical energy, and we need time. If we are very impatient then we need to put a lot of energy so what we do basically, we explode the plants by immersing them in steam or blowing steam through them.

Ben: But you can create that steam using the lignin, right?

Tad Patzek: Correct. That is what you do.

Ben: Yes.

Tad Patzek: But that is not the end of it. So, now basically you have achieved a sort of smaller particles by exploding the cells, right? Now you need to digest these particles and you can this, for example, by attacking them with strong acid like sulfuric acid or strong hydroxide like sodium hydroxide, but then again takes a lot of energy and in fact the overall process would take more energy than you get out of it as ethanol or you can be more patient and at that stage you can in fact try to use enzymes, but enzymes have a very difficult task at hand, they have to attack this inert particles, which are now more exposed by exploding them, but they are still very inert, so it takes time. When you spend enough time digesting cellulose, unfortunately the bacteria that exist on the biomass, you cannot disinfect the biomass altogether. Start recovering and start competing for the biomass. In the end you would produce methane and if you have access to air acids, but not sugar and ethanol. The problem with all of these schemes is the are very low efficiency, that is, the yield of ethanol per ton of biomass is in fact quite low and very high energy requirement so if you care to ask Iogen what is their yield efficiency, I have asked them by E-mail and I have also forwarded my E-mail to their Shell sponsors and I got no answer to that. That is one of the deeply held secrets as to how many tons of biomass do I need to put in to get the ethanol that I get out of such a plant?

Ben: I was always led to believe that cellulose ethanol has a quite good energy balance.

Tad Patzek: Well, again, it depends on how you do the balance, right?

Ben: Yes.

Tad Patzek: Again, one has to be very careful to define the system boundaries. The way it is done right now is that basically you get your biomass for free, you call it trash, which is okay, but then remember that the trash also has nutrients, which will remove from the parent ecosystem and at some point you will start to have to put them back into the ecosystem. That is one. The second one that people do is sort of this naïve scaling, that is, if I have a small plot of switch grass and I cut it once or twice and I get 10 tons per year, I will from that conclude that therefore I will obtain 10 tons of biomass from each hectare of switchgrass anywhere for any number of years and that is of course not true. As you go on, your yield in fact can decline from 10 to 2 tons or the switchgrass can die as they do very often in a couple of years. The question of yield is #1, the question of putting the nutrients back is #2, and the question of having a technology that would actually yield the ethanol from the biomass at certain efficiency without using too much energy is #3, and I do not think we have answered any of these questions with cellulose in ethanol.

Ben: Okay. Yeah, this is running a bit long now so you must be getting tired, but how can we make the world more sustainable? Of course, conservation is important, but what is the solution, then?

Tad Patzek: Well, there are not any solutions. Let me be very blunt about this. There are two fundamental solutions, one is to limit the human population, there is just too many of us. Again, many people will raise their eyes, but again talking about energy solutions without talking about the population problems is just like mopping the floor with the faucets running on. So that is #1 problem. The second problem is that we will have to start using much less energy per capita, but that will bring us way towards the societies from which we have differentiated ourselves, that is, to rule out Indian-ruled China, let us say, and that is not a very pleasant perspective. However, having said that, the earth is finite and the same rule of populations in China and India look at us, watch our TV, and want to live like us. The problem is that there is not enough of the world for all of us. Somehow we will either have to adjust to it or something really bad will happen to all of us.

Ben: But I know that you are a proponent of photovoltaic, right?

Tad Patzek: Yes.

Ben: Because they can capture much more of the sunlight.

Tad Patzek: That is right.

Ben: Okay.

Tad Patzek: That is right. Photovoltaic, again, do not get me wrong, within the confines of using less energy and modifying our lifestyles, there are things that we can do better, one of them would be to use photovoltaic to a much larger extent that we do now and a photocell is 200 times more efficient in terms of producing work than biomass. So, you have [50:28 unintelligible] of magnitude of advantage. We are not producing these solar cells in large enough quantities that is because of manufacturing problems, but that is a separate story. We need to go a lot more toward solar cells, but again if we do we will have to sleep at night, work during the day, take time off when it is cloudy, and just live different lifestyles.

Ben: Okay. Well, thank you so much, Tad, for coming on the show.

Tad Patzek: Alrighty.

Ben: Thanks a lot.

Tad Patzek: Bye-bye.

Ben: Bye.

Ted Patzek: Founder, and Director of UC OIL CONSORTIUM

Did you even listen? You might want to actually listen and engage the interview, as opposed to attempting to impugn someone's character by their title or affiliation.

You just might learn something.

I read the entire transcript.

When Patzek comes out and adjusts his figures to match today's reality I might cut him a little more slack. But, he hasn't.

The man is NOT an "Objective" source. He emphasizes only the negatives, and does not even mention the positives. eg. He doesn't mention that corn is, almost always, grown in rotation with soybeans (a nitrogen fixer,) or that switch grass is a nitrogen fixer.

They talk about coal; but, the trend is, definitely, toward burning biomass. He gives an efficiecy of .20, but instead of explaining how he gets to such a ridiculous number, he wanders off on silly, and, obviously, unsubstantiated "environmental" meanderings. eg. the Midwest is in a water "crisis."

I'm sorry, Prof. Goose, I just can't make him out to be anythng but an oil company shill.

that switch grass is a nitrogen fixer

Wrong. Switchgrass does not fix nitrogen like members of the legume family http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/AG200.pdf. Moreover, corn is rotated with soybeans (and winter wheat in areas such as where I live) so that the corn does not deplete the fields so rapidly. Even with rotation nitrogen must be applied for corn.

You're correct, Switch Grass is a C4 Carbon Fixer, not a nitrogen fixer.

The 20% efficiency is a first-law efficiency, and easily calculated. He lays it out in a number of his papers and there is no mystery to it. Thermodynamics will trump human desire every time, no matter what you wish it to be.

The trend is NOT towards burning biomass because processed combustible biomass cannot be supplied in industrial volumes. Individual plants have supplemented fossil fuels with biomass, but that does not represent a trend, and there are big problems associated with it, not the least being the pollutant emissions and low combustion efficiency.

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that perhaps you and Mother Nature are not on the most intimate of terms. What you see as a "positive" such as DDGS, for example, is toxic to ruminants; what you see is "fallow land" ready for plowing is remaining areas of biodiversity that haven't been yet destroyed by a monoculture.

Great, Calc it up for me. But, rather than use out of date figures (that he's never corrected,) use these:

151 bu corn/acre.

2.8 gallons of ethanol/bu

8 gallons diesel/acre

6,000 btus nat/gal for fertilizer, and drying seed corn

17,070 btus of nat gas used to distill one gallon of ethanol (Corn Plus, Winnebago, Mn)

33% of cattle-feeding utility returned as DDGS.

Pollutant Emissions? Please Specify.

Toxic to Ruminants? Please, Specify one more time.

So, Switch Grass is okay if it feeds "Buffalo," but not if it puts fuel in my tank to help me feed my kids? Sheesh.

It's a first-law calculation, not EROI. You should read up on the first law and figure it out yourself. I already know how to do it.

Pollutant emissions: Hydrogen peroxide, organic hydroperoxide species, and formaldehyde for starters; there's plenty more.

Toxic to ruminants: ruminant rumens are alkaline. Feeding them corn or DDGS acidifies it and gives them acidosis. This in turn harms the liver and makes the ruminant sick. That's why the livestock industry is the largest user of antibiotics and why industrial meat is laced with it in turn. That's why the USDA has guidelines on the percent of DDGS or corn to be fed to cows, to avoid killing them with their food before we do as our food. Also feeding corn/DDGS to cows has led to the acid-tolerant version of E. coli (O157:H7), first identified in 1982 after corn became a staple of industrial feedlots. The normal E. coli in a rumen dies when exposed to the acidity of our stomachs (pH 2) which is why we never had beef recalls prior to the huge push to corn feeding. Now we have this acid-tolerant version that is pathogenic and can be fatal to humans (it was the identified pathogen responsible for the spinach scare a few years ago). You can read all about and the connection to corn-fed cows in Virulence Mechanisms of Bacterial Pathogens, p. 68.

There is no switchgrass-based ethanol industry. Grow all the switchgrass you want and do whatever you want with it.

If you know all that you know that, out of the hundreds of millions of cattle that have been fed DDGS, there has not been One case of a human getting sick as a result of DDGS-induced ecoli.

There has, also, not been one ethanol refinery that's had a problem with "emissions" as a result of burning biomass.

And, btw, shouldn't some of you intellectually-Energetic, uber-literate ex-oil/oil guys mention Octane, Compression, and Thermal Efficiency every now, and then? You know; that property of Ethanol that allows it, under proper compression, to generate 25% more HP than gasoline.

I notice you, RR, and Ted Patzek are always talking about btus, but, never the fact that I can run 105 Octane under high compression in a much smaller engine, and achieve the same HP, and Mileage as straight gasoline in a larger engine.

That one kind of slips the old literate, energetic minds, eh?

And you all accuse Me of being biased.

... out of the hundreds of millions of cattle that have been fed DDGS, there has not been One case of a human getting sick as a result of DDGS-induced ecoli.

Very careful weasel-wording.

  1. We know and can prove that O157:H7 can only survive in cattle because of diet-induced acidity.
  2. We know and can prove that DDGS promotes acidity in the rumen.

Whether or not anyone has yet died as a consequence of feeding DDGS, the fact that it increases risks is undeniable.  I suppose you deny that tobacco causes lung cancer too, because your reasoning is identical.

I can run 105 Octane under high compression in a much smaller engine, and achieve the same HP, and Mileage as straight gasoline in a larger engine.

You can do the same thing using direct injection of less than 5% average ethanol to reduce gasoline consumption by 30%, but it appears you are more interested in promoting ethanol for its own sake than increasing efficiency.

If we used 5% ethanol (from 190-proof hydrous to E85 or anything in between) as an octane booster to allow heavier turbocharging and engine downsizing, the USA could get by with just 7 billion gallons/year of ethanol to cut total gasoline/gasohol demand by 30% (42 billion gallons/year).  The USA is already making 7 billion gallons/year, we just have to stop paying to blend it with gasoline and get manufacturers to build two-tank turbocharged cars instead.

I DID NOT weasel-word. I was very specific. I said, Not one Human HAS GOTTEN SICK. Then, YOU changed it to "Died."

Too much corn is bad for cattle. Okay, take it up with Smithfield Foods, or Hormel. A very slightly more e coli has been found a few times in the Manure of cows fed DDGS. Okay. And, your point is?

Not one human has gotten sick.

How dare you try to disparage my beliefs on absolutely no evidence. I don't know what you think about cigarettes and cancer, gay sex and Marriage, or Family Guy vs the Simpsons; and, I don't care. How utterly ridiculous it would be for me to disparage you on what you "might possibly" believe.

As for Direct injection of ethanol during load? Sure. It will, absolutely, work. Sell some stock, start a company, and rock and roll. Lobby Ford, and GM. Don't you get it? I don't care. I'm trying to say, "there's a Problem (Peak Oil) that's upon us, and there's an answer available, NOW."

The Oil Companies, and their proxies, and the Grocery Manufacturers (think, Tyson, Hormel, and Smithfield) are trying to kill a possible mitigation for my Grand-Kids, and it pisses me off. I've said it before: I don't own an acre of farmland, I don't draw a nickel, or a dime from any company or organization connected to any biofuels business, or trade group. Please, attack my arguments; but, don't attempt to demonize me by divining, with no evidence, whatsoever, my attitudes about irrelevent subjects. That's beneath the level of discourse I've observed from you on this forum.



The Oil Companies, and their proxies, and the Grocery Manufacturers (think, Tyson, Hormel, and Smithfield) are trying to kill a possible mitigation for my Grand-Kids, and it pisses me off.

And you see, I see this grand experiment itself threatening to kill off your grandkids by diverting our resources toward false solutions, that are really just a way to recycle fossil fuels, while capturing just a bit of solar energy. You see, I myself have children that mean the world to me. I want them to grow up in a world that has energy options. I see corn ethanol as a complete dead-end, and you promoting it, often with misinformation and cherry-picked data. That is not acceptable, and it pisses me off.

I don't own an acre of farmland, I don't draw a nickel, or a dime from any company or organization connected to any biofuels business, or trade group.

I think we know that's simply not true. And it is also true that you have made accusations against others based on even less evidence than it took me to conclude that you work for the ethanol lobby.

Well, THAT "Objectivity" didn't last long, did it?

Give me an example of misinformation, and cherry picked data.

I think we know that's simply not true.

That's simply Breathtaking!

I notice you've quit talking numbers with me. Why is that?

Give me an example of misinformation, and cherry picked data.

Just one? OK, misinformation: You claimed that Big Oil was behind the lobbying effort to promote food for fuel. When challenged, you could not defend. Another, you accused Tad Patzek of earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for lobbying for Big Oil. Again, misinformation. Shall I go on?

Cherry-picked data? Any time you pick a study paid for by the ethanol lobby over a peer-reviewed study, you have cherry-picked data. And we all know you have done that many times.

I notice you've quit talking numbers with me. Why is that?

What are you, a comedian today? I quit talking numbers because you can't even do dimensional analysis. So, you come up with all sorts of bogus ethanol yields, like 634 gallons/acre. We went down that road, I showed you again and again that your units were all messed up, and you couldn't understand. Here, let me refresh your memory:


Is there anything else comedic you would like to add?

The peer-reviewed data was Searching, et al. Searchinger is not a scientist, mathematician, or even a quasi-expert in the field. He is a Lawyer. Peer-reviewed, or not, the article was a joke. It tried to establish (not with evidence, but with innuendo, and supposition) a connection between ethanol, and the cutting down of rain forests in Brazil. It's ludicrous. For many reasons. You will notice that No One mentions this piece of crap study any more. It was Agenda-Driven Horse Hockey.

There was Not a Single Instance of, even Anecdotal, evidence to sustain such a simple-minded supposition. The head of the Department from which the team was drawn said it, "Was NOT Science.

I, in turn, shortly thereafter, presented two real-world studies, performed to "Scientific Standards" that Observed Real World Vehicles achieving very good gas mileage on mid-level Ethanol Blends. You squawked, and tried to disparage the team of College students performing one of the Tests as biased even though their work was perfectly documented.

In your triumphal link (there's a reason why you linked it, and didn't synopsize it) you questioned why I used "10/6" in my calc. I explained it was easier for me to do in my head than divide by .60. You admitted the accuracy of my result when I showed a link supporting my work. That was your big ex. of my disinformation. You're full of bull. You accepted that I was right.

I'm not the one with a big red nose, and floppy shoes, today.

Searchinger is not a scientist, mathematician, or even a quasi-expert in the field.

What is Bob Dineen, again? I forget. He is an engineer? Or a scientist of some sort? Or aren't you applying those standard consistently? And I forget, was Searchinger the sole author?

tried to disparage the team of College students performing one of the Tests as biased even though their work was perfectly documented

No matter how many times you repeat this, you are still a liar. I pointed out that the study was paid for by the ethanol lobby. That is true. I also said I would wait for independent verification.

You admitted the accuracy of my result when I showed a link supporting my work.

Are you serious? With everything you post, you confirm my lobbyist suspicions. That was not the link in question. That was something entirely different - the amount of weight gain on DDGS. You are either intentionally trying to mislead, or just terribly mistaken.

It is no wonder that someone such as yourself would see ethanol as the solution for your grandkids' futures, when you so dishonestly portray the evidence. Of course when you do that, ethanol looks great. But I can also use your tactics to make ExxonMobil look like Mother Teresa.

If you want to play that game, Searching led a team from Iowa State University which received $22 Millin from Conoco, I believe it was. The project was commissioned by The Nature Conservancy which has Exxon, and Conoco as permanent board members, if memory serves. The Other team was from Princeton, I think, that received$15 million from Exxon.

It doesn't matter; the fact remains that it is absolutely impossible to draw a connection between switchgrass in Florida, or Corn in Iowa, and someone cutting down trees in the rain forest for lumber. And, yes, That IS why they cut down trees. To get Lumber. There are tens of millions of acres of Cerrano land lying fallow, ready to be farmed. No One, Absolutely, No One, would clear trees in the rain forest to plant soybeans. It's ludicrous.

Dineen is the Head of a Trade Group. A Lobbyist. He doesn't pretend to be anything more, or less. He doesn't write hit pieces, and pretend they're "scholarly" research. And, enough with the "peer-review." No one's falling for it, anymore.

We were discussing my "weight-gain" assertion, and when I posted the link you gave it up. The comments were just slightly above the comment you linked. Go look it up.

G'Day :)

If you want to play that game, Searching led a team from Iowa State University which received $22 Millin from Conoco, I believe it was.

You know why I grow tired of conversing with you? You can't even bother to get the most basic facts correct. I tire and tire of correcting you, and then when I do you just repeat some other fallacy. ConocoPhillips gave $22.5 million to ISU for biofuels research.


But don't ever let little things like facts get in the way of your hysteria. Do you ever fact check any of your accusations?

Dineen is the Head of a Trade Group. A Lobbyist. He doesn't pretend to be anything more, or less.

Yet you have cited him, and yet rejected Searchinger on the basis of qualifications. More of your double-standards.

We were discussing my "weight-gain" assertion, and when I posted the link you gave it up.

You are pathetic. Really. You made an assertion on DDGS and weight gain, and I asked for a link. I never disputed that assertion, and indicated as much. I just asked for a link (although I did note the irony of the age of the link, which was older than one I had just given you - and yet you complained about the age). There was nothing for me to "give up." But if you want to pretend you scored a point somehow - and I would encourage anyone to read through that exchange to see how it actually played out - by all means knock yourself out.

But you have really exhausted my patience. It's just lies upon lies, misrepresentation after misrepresentation. It gets old after a while, and is a huge waste of my time to constantly correct your made up "facts." But of course ethanol looks good to you. You have spun all kinds of myths around it to make it look good. But what you can't handle is the truth.


I stated that Conoco gave Iowa State $22 Million, and you called me a Liar, said I was "Pathetic," and then you posted a link showing

Conoco Gave Iowa State $22.5 Million!!

Just Freak'in Incredible!

You couldn't make this stuff up. :)

I stated that Conoco gave Iowa State $22 Million, and you called me a Liar, said I was "Pathetic," and then you posted a link showing

Do you ever tell the truth? Just when I didn't think you could get any more pathetic, you prove me wrong.

You are pathetic because the money was not for Searchinger, nor for his research. That was your claim - that he was being funded by COP through ISU. That is a lie.

The money from COP was for ISU to do biofuels research, primarily on cellulosic ethanol. Did you not understand that? Really? Or is this some kind of joke where you just see how much of everyone's time you can waste?

Just out of curiosity I searched for Kolliso on the web and found Kum Dollison . This guy is ethanol's version of Dave Matthews (now there is a name from the past). If he does not get paid by the ethanol industry he should send them a bill for all of the posts he makes on their behalf. Looks like he gets just as much of a beating as he gets here; at the Café Hayek http://cafehayek.typepad.com/hayek/2007/09/the-case-for-in.html (uses the name rufus) he is really called to task for no evidence for his ethanol claims. Persistent!

Cool, did you notice that the link you gave was a thread where I was defending the Peak Oil position?

I'm not only prolific, I'm multi-faceted. Prestidigitacious, too. ;)

It's possible to get peak oil right and get the solution totally wrong.


And note that when he is caught in a lie - and there have been many (e.g., his claim that ConocoPhillips funded the Searchinger study) - he doesn't miss a beat. No admission of being wrong, he just trots out another claim. (I only ever recall getting him to admit to being wrong once - when he falsely claimed that ethanol made in any fashion qualified for the blender's credit).

No, No, No! I Never said that.

I said that Conoco gave Iowa State $22 Million. YOU confirmed it.

Persistently Accurate.

Uh, have you already forgotten what you wrote? It's just above, where people can still read it. Most of the time you will at least wait until we are in a new thread before making your false claims. But, just above you wrote:

If you want to play that game, Searching led a team from Iowa State University which received $22 Millin from Conoco, I believe it was.

Did you forget about the bit you wrote where "Searching [sic] led the team" that received the money? I mean, if that wasn't what you intended to convey, why did you write it like that?

I think we all understand quite clearly your game. Anti-ethanol studies are to be linked to Big Oil if possible, and if not possible, just make something up, like the Searchinger/COP link (or, "Big Oil is funding the food versus fuel smear"). It's pathetic and dishonest, but then at least it is consistent with your methods.

Yeah, I was trying to give the impression that Conoco gave those team members checks for $3 something Million, apiece.

You betcha.


OH, but you can dump on some College Kids doing a serious fuel cycle test because . . . . . . They study at a University situated in a "State" where some people Raise Corn?

OH, but you can dump on some College Kids doing a serious fuel cycle test because...

Does the lying not even bother you? You have been corrected on this multiple times - once even in this thread - and yet you continue to lie. Why?

But when you have to lie so persistently to make your arguments, there is no denying that you have a vested interest. After all, you may deny it, but you have proven that you lie.

I notice you, RR, and Ted Patzek are always talking about btus, but, never the fact that I can run 105 Octane under high compression in a much smaller engine, and achieve the same HP, and Mileage as straight gasoline in a larger engine.

In fact, I have mentioned this a number of times. I explained this at length to someone via e-mail just last week, who didn't understand how it could be. And I have discussed in public here, and on my blog.

And you all accuse Me of being biased.

Yes, because you are biased. I have written a number of positive essays about ethanol. Where can I find anything negative you have ever said about ethanol? Oh, right. There are no negatives. You see, we call someone like that biased. Your penchant for cherry-picking data favorable to you, or quickly rejecting any data unfavorable to you, shows your bias clearly.

And I have discussed in public here, and on my blog.

Must have been before my time.

I'm an Ethanol supporter. I think it's a good short/medium term solution to a huge impending problem. I don't have a clue what the transportation picture will look like fifty years from now; but, I have confidence my grandchildren will be able to figure it out if I can keep them alive long enough to give them a chance.

There lies the rub, it seems. It appears that my desires don't necessarily coincide with those from Exxon, Tyson, and the house of saud. If I'm constantly "Defending" ethanol it's because it has been increasingly under attack from those that would deprive my family of this very much needed resource. The Disinformation Campaign has been Biblical in magnitude, and Brilliant in execution. It has not, in my estimation, been an even contest.

So, here I stand; Kdolliso for the Defense. Biased? Damned Betcha. My client needs me (metaphorically speaking, of course.) Oh! There is ONE thing I don't like about it. They mess it up by adding that foul-tasting gasoline to it. It don't "Sip" worth a damn.

it has been increasingly under attack from those that would deprive my family of this very much needed resource

Why does your family need ethanol?

My family needs affordable transportation fuel (for us, for our customers, for the grocery trucks that bring our groceries, etc.)

If you really want that, you will stop supporting the current ethanol regime immediately.  It is roughly energy-neutral, is massively dependent on fossil inputs (thus vulnerable to disruption of supply), and costs a fortune.

The way to affordable transport has two major parts:  electrification and rail (esp. electrified rail).  Crossing the Smith Newton with the Bladerunner dual-mode truck would get your produce from Florida, Texas and California to your supermarket without a drop of liquid fuel.  Biofuels such as ethanol are far too expensive to have a major role in an affordable system; the current (relatively) low prices are due to subsidy from untaxed fossil inputs.

My grocery truck is increasingly a wheelbarrow that runs from my garden to my kitchen. I suggest you teach your children and grand children how to feed themselves rather than relying on the welfare system that ethanol would be.

I would also suggest you use a condom (on either end, you would be the best judge there:). When you come right down to the nub of it, our problem is not one of energy replacements but of population reduction, so, 'sucks' to your first-world pollution producing grandchildren, besides as an argument that is a rather weasely one, much akin to hiding behind a woman's skirts.

What I don’t understand about your “conspiracy’ theory is what is keeping Exxon, Tyson, and the House of Saud from investing in ethanol? They all have enough money to back ethanol - if they thought it was a good sound long term investment. Maybe it’s because the numbers don’t work , and why they hire people like Ted Patzek and Robert Rapier to discover if the investment is worth it.

Bruce, Exxon, and the Sauds are members of an Oligopoly. Why would they want to promote a Competing technology? Do you think the Royal Princes are going to turn into Farmers? Is Rex Tillotson going to manage fields of Switch Grass? They've got the world by the Balls. Why would they possibly want to change that?

As for Tyson, Hormel, and Smithfield? They Loved that "subsidized" $2.00 field corn. You know, the stuff your taxes were paying the farmers $11 Billion/Yr to grow.

Dude, your world view is one usually found in comic books and conspiracy sites. Modern corporations care about profit, and if diversifying their investments improves their bottom line, ex. Phillip Morris, then that is where the money will flow. And unlike you, there is little emotion involved. Moreover, corporations, ala Bill Gates, usually take over or buy their competitors, especially if it improves their bottom line, not engage in a costly and futile campaign to crush an emerging technology, especially if the numbers show it is a winner.


I've turned a few profits in my day; and, not one time did I do it by cutting my own throat. If you want to think that Exxon, Shell, and the Saudis will embrace ethanol once they're convinced it's a viable competitor to gasoline, Have a Ball.

I warn you, though; before you go telling people they're "Comic Book Charactures," you might want to sit down in a quiet place and think a little more. You wouldn't want to suffer the embarressment of finding out later that the "Conspiralist" was, indeed, right; and, you were, thus, . . . . . .

Oh, and why do you imagine all of the big oil companies forbade their franchisees from installing e85 pumps, collecting for e85 on their credit cards, or displaying e85 prices?

Why do you suppose they were putting 10% ethanol in their "Premium" Brands (where DID you think that 92 Octane came from?) and, at the same time, disparaging ethanol at every turn?

Do you really think the Royal Princes see themselves as future switchgrass farmers?

Regarding Kdolliso,
here is a small sampling of Kdolliso's comments that go back for 11 days.


As you notice, All of them are ethanol advocating propaganda with cherry picked data and outright false information.


Here is an argument, where the links provided by him are used against him, an example of cherry picking and misleading calculations.

I am not going to argue with him anymore, It is pointless to argue with a man who is paid to argue against you.

Here is his other profile X, that he sometime uses to back himself up on the ethanol argument. Also an Ethanol pundit, but likely the same man nevertheless.


their used in conjunction all the time to make it appear like their is more of a consensus for corn-ethanol and more of a voice against it, he will faux tag team people with this style.

Why would the ethanol industry pay a person to comment positively about their product all over the internet using various accounts/profiles? Simple explanation, The Ethanol Industry is not a profitable industry under regular circumstances, It survives off of government subsidies and mandates. It is able to do this through various lobbyist which are financed by companies such as Archer Daniel's Midland. Now, recently as most of us know we have uncovered that first generation and likely second generation biofuels may contribute and do contribute to starvation, rising food prices, a greater dependence on foreign oil and climate change at almost no benefit whatsoever. By sowing doubt and confusion among the people the ethanol industry thinks it can keep back political pressure to repeal the 36 billion gallon ethanol mandate and remove the subsidies keeping the industry alive. Therefore, you can see it is in the industry's best interest to use such lowly methods to further their interest. This, precisely is whats wrong with humanity and why it very well may not survive the next few centuries in any respectable form. We put selfish interest before everybody else, yet we live in a society where the outcome of the many becomes the fate of the few. We put our short term interest before the long term, The ethanol industry wants to remain intact and resorts to these desperate measures. However, the more the ethanol industry hurts the country and the people as a whole the more it destroys it's future by contributing to a downturn in the economy as a whole. Really, the survival of the ethanol industry is not the priority, but the well-being of those in control of the ethanol-industry is. The ethanol industry will not survive in the long run, but it only has to live long enough to pad the pockets of those in charge, so they can finance a paradise away from the hell-hole of a world they've left behind or live in comfort until their dead. These snakes think like the great economist Keynes did, "In the long run well all be dead." Thing is Keynes never had children, and therefore didn't care what happened to the world. Kdolliso, have you any idea what you are doing? You spoke of your grandchildren, next time you see them, look at them. Don't just look at them though, go up to them stare them in the eye's and hold their hands and tell them you love them. Then think if what you are doing is truly good for them, then again you probably don't have any grandchildren. What your doing now is lowly vile and I would hope you realize what you are doing is only in the benefit of those at the top of the industry, not people like you. Reconsider everything

Kdolliso is a ethanol industry pundit. He receives a check every month from various sources related to the ethanol industry. He is a perfect example of why we are in the mess we are in, but people can change, or I hope they can. I think we all all can. It's that or die..

I guess kdolliso, and X should have ISP addresses in at least the same geographical area of the country, huh? I don't know much about the intertubes, but I think I know that much.

Maybe the Host could clear that up.

Wanna make a little bet, Sword?

LOL, even if that's true it doesn't matter, your the Joseph Goebbels of ethanol or one of his henchmen, and that's that...


Joseph Goebbels was the minister of enlightenment and propoganda for the Nazi's

Mister Goebbels to you, Bub

Now, where did I put those "henchmen?"

They're prolly hiding out back drinkin up the profits. Ya just can't get good (evil) help, nowadays.

Kdolliso is a ethanol industry pundit. He receives a check every month from various sources related to the ethanol industry.

I think this bit is correct. Nobody is that one-sided and over the top without someone paying them to defend an interest. But he isn't X. That identity belongs to our corn farmer, Practical. So you are correct that X had more than one user name, but Kdolliso is a different animal. He oozes the sort of dishonesty I have come to expect from certain lobbyists, defending an interest while pleading for the moral high ground.

He may be Majorian, though, or at least connected to him. They registered here within hours of each other, both spouting off the same ethanol propaganda.

definitely, I just did a little research, your most likely right. I don't have to be completely right though just close, I'm playing his game now and it's a dirty one, where the facts don't matter and everyones a jackass.

And, the magic ISPs ARE?


I suppose it is remotely possible (in your dreams) that kdolliso is working for the ethanol industry. If so, I would like him to send some checks to me for all my 'good work' on behalf of RFA.

As for me, all I can remember is that kdolliso said he is in the insurance business. I know nothing else about him and I am not him.

OTH, how pure are you? You've admitted your family is in the livestock business which is suffering from high corn prices. You've admitted you worked for an oil company, though now you're somewhere else.

Contrast that to the fact you actually have no proof of any kind of lobbying against kdolliso (or me).

Is it so hard to imagine that he might believe in ethanol all on his own? Millions of perfectly normal people do.

Or is it that you can't believe that he doesn't find your
many anti-ethanol posts convincing?

Or could it be the fact that you've tied yourself to
anti-ethanol position and there is NO WAY you can allow yourself to flip-flop on your position.

We all agree that Peak Oil/Gas is upon us, right?

Or are you still backing the nuclear/NG cornucopian Robert Bryce who ridicules energy independence and renewable electricity as well as ethanol. He thinks a kind of battery that doesn't exist now will save us.


OTH, ethanol is replacing .5 mbpd of oil. Try being realistic.

OTH, how pure are you? You've admitted your family is in the livestock business which is suffering from high corn prices. You've admitted you worked for an oil company, though now you're somewhere else.

Yes, that's just the thing. The open and honest among us are open to those criticisms. Those who make impassioned pleas for ethanol while hiding behind pseudonyms can continue to claim that they are merely concerned citizens. It has happened lots of times. The lobbyist is given his marching orders to go spread the good news. Not, of course as a lobbyist. Who would believe it?

Or is it that you can't believe that he doesn't find your many anti-ethanol posts convincing?

LOL! The issue is simple. He has taken to steadily lying and misrepresenting in order to argue his case. It isn't that he doesn't find my posts convincing; he argues against them by fabricating information and constant smears. That's not the behavior of a simple, concerned citizen. The only people I ever see who argue from such a position are those with vested ethanol interests. And where your associations are not transparent, your actions speak for themselves.

Or could it be the fact that you've tied yourself to anti-ethanol position and there is NO WAY you can allow yourself to flip-flop on your position.

I don't know how many times I have to point out that I am not anti-ethanol. I am against using grain supplies to produce something that mostly recycles fossil fuels while consuming our cropland. Is that so hard to understand? I continue to be involved in an ethanol project to this day; one that I think will work. I spoke to Al Gore's investment fund in London about it last week. So don't misrepresent my position. I have enough of that with your alter-ego.

Do you want to clarify for the record how it is that you and kdolliso, two of the three biggest ethanol boosters on this board (the other being a corn farmer), just happened to register in the same week? Was that just incredible coincidence? Or do you have more to tell us?

How do you know it's not Bi-Weekly, O' Prescient One?

And, how do you know it's not just from ONE source?

That's some "Intelligence" Network you got there, Bubba. :)

I don't think he's a paid lobbyist, just a retired guy from Tennessee who has nothing better to do than argue regardless of the facts and studies presented. I run into these people in my parts in South Central Illinois all of the time - never let the facts get in the way of a belief, even to the point of violence or calamity. Sad.

He is a paid lobbyist no doubt I have very strong reason to believe so.. he's not even arguing against it because he knows he has no chance of winning that argument..

I admit it; ya got me thinkin.

Now, I'm trying to figure out who to call.

How much should I ask for?

How much is evil henchmenin goin for nowadays?

You should call Kum Dollison,

Ask where he gets his money from,

ask for a lot,

Well if your a global warming skeptic about 10,000$ a paper,

But, wait, you don't have a PhD do you, well I guess your screwed..

Google "Kum Dollison" and tell me why he has nothing to do but comment positively about corn ethanol all damn day?

Why does he use multiple profiles like skh.pcola ... ohh wait you can google that too, and find a million comments on ethanol


Posted by: skh.pcola | Sep 30, 2007 6:05:01 PM

What part of 113 OCTANE vs 86 Octane don't you understand?

What part of 42% efficiency don't you understand? What part of 20% fuel efficiency over baseline gasoline engine don't you understand?

Look, a gallon of oil has more btu's (energy) than a gallon of gasoline, but that doesn't mean you can burn it in an automobile engine. According to that EPA study e85 (properly compressed) has an energy EFFICIENCY (the thing that actually powers your auto) 20% higher than that of gasoline. It's NOT just the btu's, but, also, the ease with which it gives it up that counts.

As for the rundown on costs, there has been a long discussion over at the New York Times blog, here:


I have, under the name Kum Dollison, made a number of comments going through the numbers. They are, absolutely, nothing like you think they are. I came in about halfway through the thread


your dumb

I'm Dumb?

You're the one that read MY comment, and attributed it to this Cola guy.

It goes like this "Comment," and then Name at the Bottom.

The Cola guy was arguing for abiotic oil.

I think the conspiracy theory is unproven. Not saying its not the case etc..

Also the investment in online ego can produce serious self sustaining arseholes of almost psychotic determination.

you know the internet and all that..


Last time I checked there are no production switch grass ethanol plants in the US. DOE has funded 6 different cellulosic research projects but none has figured out how to do it profitably. IOGen is years behind schedule.

The toxic effects of industrial agriculture are well documented. There is a5,800 square mile and growing "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico from excessive fertilizer runoff in the Mississippi River.
Quote from the above NASA link: "If phytoplankton productivity is enhanced by fertilizers or other nutrients, more organic matter is produced at the surface of the ocean"

Here is a paper on the water problem in the Ogallala aquifer.

And, here, is a quite long paper on "Hypoxia in the Gulf." It's Way more complicated than some of you are making it out to be.

Try living Without Commercial Agriculture.

I screwed up the Hypoxia link:


Try living Without Commercial Agriculture.

Straw man.  We can live without wasteful conversion of foodstuffs into motor fuel; after all, we did it for so long and we arguably ate better then.

I didn't bring it up. He brought up the "Toxic Effects of Commercial Agriculture." My point was, "you think it's bad with it, try living without it."

"We can live without wasteful conversion of foodstuffs into motor fuel; after all, we did it for so long and we arguably ate better then."

Yeah, We had Plentiful supplies of Diesel, and Gasoline. Of course, you realize that every time you ate a steak it was being subsidized, right?

Just so yall know Kdolliso is paid by industry interest... if ya need confirmation just look above... lolz

We had Plentiful supplies of Diesel, and Gasoline. Of course, you realize that every time you ate a steak it was being subsidized, right?

There was a time when grass-fed cattle were driven by cowherds to trains where they were carried to the major cities of the USA.  This process involved no diesel or gasoline.  With rail, it would use far less than today (1/3 for transport and zero for growing grain); with electrified rail, that remaining amount for transport would head for zero.

FYI, it's been years since I ate a steak.  I mostly eat more efficient foodstuffs.

Next to the corn farmers no one loves ethanol more than the oil companies.

If we burned all that corn in the winter in corn burners it would save a lot of Diesel and NG.

Burning food seems like a terribly wasteful way to stay warm (not that making denatured ethanol is much better).

So? His focus is simply to reduce oil consumption as effectively as possible:

Tad Patzek: In the US. The transportation uses about 2/3 of it [oil that is]. Our cars, trucks, trains and planes use about 2/3 of it. So, if we were to double the efficiency of our transportation system, that is, double the mileage of the cars, put more trains and fewer trucks, drive fewer things around, and increase the efficiency of our planes, we would be saving 7 million barrels of oil per day. That is 7 million barrels of oil per day. Now, without introducing anything radically novel or ravaging the environment with these huge monocultures that we now use to fool ourselves into believing that biofuels will solve our problems, but that requires discipline and that also requires political leadership from our government, which simply does not exist.

So predictable. I've had this same charge thrown at me--I speak publicly on the energetic and ecological science of biofuels in a highly critical manner, and have had people people dismiss everything I say because I used to work for an oil company. My response to such statements is that it intellectually lazy, as is kdolliso's here, allowing the asserter to avoid consideration of energy and ecological fundamentals (which most often they don't understand) to allow their preconceived and usually scientifically illiterate notions to persist in their minds. Having worked in the oil industry and understanding the magnitude of the problem with peak oil is what led me to conclude that we need to end reliance on liquid-fueled internal combustion engines altogether, be it petroleum or biofuels.

Funny, the illiterate KDolliso is putting up numbers, and you're putting up ad hominems.

we need to end reliance on liquid-fueled internal combustion engines altogether, be it petroleum or biofuels

Sounds hunkey-dorey to me. How long do you suppose this will take; and, what do you suppose we should do in the mean-time?

Just so yall know Kdolliso is paid by industry interest... if ya need confirmation just look above... lolz

Ted Patzek: Founder, and Director of UC OIL CONSORTIUM

Yes, Patzek's associations are transparent. Yours, not so much. I think it's clear that you are on the payroll of the ethanol lobby, because you have demonstrated that there is not an objective bone in your body. The arguments you make here are indistinguishable from those that head ethanol lobbyist Bob Dineen would make; they are really that one-sided.

Patzek's associations might be transparent to me, and thee, but I didn't see them mentioned Anywhere in the foreword.

I'm, somehow, sure that Robert Dineen's would have been.

The bottom line is that in a few years Corn ethanol will fall flat on its face.

Corn prices will continue to rise faster than the price of ethanol because people will always pay more for their last meal than their last tank of fuel. Food and water are the comodities of last resort.

Sounds to me like Bob Dineen might be on the "right side" of the debate.

We hope you will help us spread this wonderful interview around.

Here's the slashdot link: http://slashdot.org/firehose.pl?op=view&id=687392

Here's the reddit link:


You should post the RSS feed link for the podcast.

erm...ummm...how do we do that?

(We're just now starting up this podcast capacity of ours...so, thoughts about how to make this most efficacious: always welcome.)

Well, all I meant is put the link to the rss file of the podcast feed in the main article. I tend not to listen to podcasts on my pc. Instead I subscribe through iTunes and listen to them on my iPod. I don't like sitting in front of the computer and listening to audio.

I believe the feed of this particular podcast is:


There is a way to post it so iTunes will be launched upon clicking on the link but I don't know how to do that.

I'll let Ben take this one, but I imagine that was an RSS feed that fed the latest podcast in order.

Hopefully we will have more of a setup to allow us to use this great content of Ben's (as well as future work of his) over here at TOD soon. It's in the works...

What I meant is post the rss feed link in addition to posting a direct mp3 or a streaming link. I had to search iTunes to find the link to that podcast feed. It would have been a convenience thing for me and others who want to subscribe to the feed based on what they hear in the episode.

Yep, that is the right rss feed for the podcast. If you have iTunes installed, you should just be able to click here: itpc://www.thewatt.com/podcast.rss

One thing I don’t see mentioned re Brazil, I think it was RR that mentioned that they burn ethanol which is only something like 90% pure, and their auto fleet is modified to burn this.

From what I understand a large percentage of the energy requirements for our ethanol (100% pure) is used in that last 10%.

This makes a huge difference in being sustainable IMHO.

(sorry if I got the %’s wrong)

Souperman2, It's more like 95% and yes the fleet is modified to burn this fuel. However this quality of ethanol is unsuitable as an additive to be used for mixing with gasoline which is what we have in the US. Having owned and operated a Brazilian ethanol powered vehicle I can attest to the fact that these vehicles run just fine thank you. The 99.9% pure Ethanol as an additive to gasoline is very probably much lower in EROEI. Does anyone have the numbers on this?

Since we can cut motor-fuel demand about 30% using about 5% ethanol kept as a separate fuel supply and direct-injected, there really is no need to make anhydrous ethanol once we have our vehicle fleet switched; 95% will do.

Patzek's arguments are REALLY weak.

It takes in fact much less energy to transform crude oil into gasoline and diesel than corn into ethanol.


Crude oil only has to be is refined, not created.

Let's compare apples to apples.

It takes 129 scf of natural gas to make a gallon of MTBE,
which is equal to 82% of the energy of gasoline. MTBE is what used to be used to control emissions like smog from cars.

A gallon of ethanol which has 66% of the energy of gasoline requires 22scf of natural gas for the nitrogen fertilizer and and 45 scf of natural gas for distillation(zero if coal is used for distillation).

FYI, nitrogen fertilizer can also be made from wind generated electricity, so really we don't NEED any natural gas to make ethanol though at the present time we do make it that way.

Looking at natural gas alone that means corn-ethanol uses less gas than MTBE; .82/.66 x 67scf=83 scf<<129scf.

Of course if we use coal for distilling instead than .82/.66 x 22 scf= 27.3 << 129 scf. Converting
ethanol to gasoline that's 22/.66=33.3 scf per gallon of gasoline(replaced).


Look at tar sands; you need 1500 scf of natural gas to
make a barrel of syncrude and the oil refining process is 85% efficient and also a gallon of gasoline has 82% of the energy of a gallon of crude oil, therefore it takes at least 1437 scf of natural gas to make a barrel of gasoline or 34.2 scf of natural gas per gallon of gasoline.

Compare this to the case of corn-ethanol with coal used for distillation and you see that it uses less gas than tar sands syncrude--33.3 scf<34.2 scf.

I am sure Patzek and Pimental know all this, but they
continue to claim all forms of fossil fuels are equivalent and a lot of other foolishness.

"Even if ethanol energetics were not favorable, there is an argument to be made in favor of
ethanol. In agriculture and ethanol production, the crude oil inputs are minor; the
majority of the fossil energy used to grow corn and produce ethanol comes from natural
gas and coal. In this analysis, it is estimated that on an energy basis, 0.073 BTU of
petroleum are used to produce a BTU of ethanol. Ethanol should be viewed as an
extremely effective way to convert gaseous and solid fuel energy into liquid fuel energy.
It is a fact that US ethanol production increases the supply of liquid fuels with the
consequence of depressing fuel prices. Because ethanol has a positive energy balance, it
necessarily has a positive impact on climate change. Today, neither of these external
benefits is properly considered in the pricing of the fuel. To that end, it is the purpose of
policy to address such issues."

Because Patzek continues to argue the 'energetics' one has to wonder if they even believe in Peak Oil at all, as if we would continue to have a choice whether to use oil or use alternate liquid fuels.

I am certain we do not have a choice in the matter.

Oil and natural is being depleted.

So IMHO Patzek should be ignored.

Just move on.

Majorian, I would say that, since (to use Corn Plus as an example) 33% of the utility of the product is retained as DDGS the true measure of petroleum would be closer to .021.

Why not use the electrically produced NG as heating fuel and as CNG for transport instead of wasting it on ethanol?

CNG is cheaper than oil($1.25 per gallon equivalent) but natural gas is depleting fast.

The US uses 23 Tcf of gas per year and 1/3 of that is for home and commercial use--heating~8 Tcf.

The US has about 400 Tcf of natural gas reserves so that should run out in about 20 years.

If we converted all home/commercial heating to electric heat pumps(by magic) to conserve on natural gas that would extend NG reserves about 10 years more.

The energy of 8 Tcf of natural gas is equal to four million barrels of oil per day or about 20% of our current oil.

Some of the factory CNG cars like the Honda Civic GS get the same mpeg as hybrid cars.

Of course, we don't need to use ANY natural gas to make ethanol if we use coal for distillation and wind electricity to make ammonia for nitrogen fertilizer.

The practical problem is that there are very few of CNG cars and the range is about half that of a normal car.


Having read a meta-review and the follow up of that on bio-ethanol energy balance, I tend to agree that Patzek & Pimentel's results are the lowest by far.

Also, their results are so far off from almost everybody else's that I've read that that alone makes me ponder.

Now, these are all scientific, peer-reviewed studies. None of them ethanol lobby stuff (that I know of).

All this leaves me a little puzzled as to:

1) Why is Patzek is so far removed in his results from almost everybody else?
2) Do other researchers not know how to draw the boundaries properly (i.e. can they all indeed be wrong)?
3) Can the range of possible balance results vary so much based on production methods and process (that both of the camps are 'right' to some degree)?

And please, I don't like this "OilCo shill" or "EthanolMoron" name calling either. It's just well, childish.

Furthermore, looking at scaling I'm very inclined to agree with RR that the logistics, arable land need and total volume needed are such great challenges that bio-fuels (known current) will not scale to more than max. 10-20% of all need (cf. current level for all liquid fuels).

This alone means to me that whether Patzek is right or wrong, it is in the end of very little importance, considering that bio-ethanol produced using methods studied will be such a small piece of the whole bio-fuel pie, which altogether is unlikely to offset fossil fuel decline in any meaningful manner.

I do not want to sound doomerish, because I'm not. Still it feels like we should be looking at the biggest, fastest and most accurate silver BBs, instead of quarreling over whether the bio-ethanol BB is a tiny miniscule BB or no BB at all.

It's really not of that big importance, is it.

This paper critiques Pimental/Patzek's numbers in detail.
P/P have really high fossil fuel numbers for farm use, use old data, assume a lot more fertilizer,
assume corn is irrigated,etc.


I would agree that corn-ethanol (and all biofuels) is limited to around 30% of current oil under the best circumstances--but that's not tiny either.

I'm surprised nobody tries to integrate low temperature solar heating into bio-ethanol instead of fossil fuels.

BTW, bio-ethanol is the main bio-energy solution, bio-diesel crops(except algae) has low per acre yield and co-firing biomass with coal is energy inefficient, and for CO2 reduction only.

1. We need to diversify sources of supply.
2. We need to radically increase efficiency(70 mpg cars).
3. We need to look at phasing-out fossil fuels over time.

For example, a barrel of oil is 21 gallons of gasoline,
11 gallons of diesel, 5 gallons of home heating oil and 6 gallons of everything else.
What happens if we substitute heat pumps for home heating and put that oil into diesel? We will need to add some wind and clean coal but we will free up lots of oil. Install solar panels for domestic water to reduce(not eliminate) gas or electric water heating,etc.

Ethanol will be a big deal because fossil fuels are a much bigger deal than many can imagine.

GM "Gets" It.

Bet against this deal if you Don't Like Money.

Patzek and Pimentels numbers are the lowest because they attempt the widest boundary analysis, attempting to include more energy inputs as well as environmental externalities. In the current Journal of the Human Environment (AMBIO), a colleague and I present a lit review and framework for analyzing this problem of incommensurate energy analysis. (AMBIO - Mar 2008 - Mulder, K. Hagens N. "EROI - Towards a Consistent Framework")

I don't get it. Why would you consider "Non-Energy" Resources in an analysis of Energy Return on Energy Invested?

What part of the word, Energy," am I missing?

I mean, if you want to try and quantify a subjective Opinion about the Desirability of certain energy sources, Okay; but, shouldn't that be in a different context than the rather Specific parameters of Energy Return on Energy Invested?

Mass and energy: both conserved.

So in the really big picture, everything gets a 1.0 return on energy.

But there is energy we like (e.g. kilowatt hours) and other, not so much (e.g. atmospheric heating from AGW).

"This discussion is especially relevant in Canada now because of Bill C-33 which amends the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and is supposed to be debated in the House of Commons around May 28th, 2008"

The government's assertion in promoting this bill is that the biofuel standards will save an estimated 4 Mt/year of CO2-equivalent. Likely that's an upper limit. Environment Canada's data indicate gasoline-powered vehicles in Canada emit about 100 Mt/year. NRCan estimates the emissions savings from using E10 are 3-4% but the forthcoming standard is for E5.

Tad Patzek, UC Berkeley Professor mentions the unmentionable!!

"There are two fundamental solutions, one is to limit the human population, there is just too many of us. Again, many people will raise their eyes, but again talking about energy solutions without talking about the population problems just like mopping the floor with the faucets running on. So that is #1 problem."

How dare he bring that nonsense into the debate!! Doesn't he know the UN predicts that in a little over 40 years the human population will peak several billion more than what it is now! Obviously population is not a problem. Right? I am right about that aren't I? Can I get an amen? Hello, is this thing on?

America appears to be resistant to learning how to produce fuels more efficiently. The US corn biofuel program produces a nominal 760 litres of ethanol per hectare for the primary process. It is rarely reported that the corn husks are used as stock feed, so this is never included in the fuel efficiency assessment. That is the US.

In Australia we are achieving up to 12,500 litres of ethanol per hectare from sugar cane. The energy cost is under 5% of the energy yield in the farming and transport stage. This information can be confirmed by talking with the farmers and fuel producers themselves. All of the figures are available. Now this does not include the surplus electricity, after fuelling the entire distillation process, that is produced by burning the Bagasse. That electricity is additional to the 12,500 litres.

The front runners in the ethanol from cellulose cycle, that is the front runners with a practial process, are Brazil's Dedini. They are readily contactable. If Google works in the US as well as it does in Australia then all of this information can be confirmed with a little bit keyboard work and a telephone call or two.

BilBb, you are way off on the U.S. corn ethanol numbers.

151 bu/acre

2.8 gal/bu

between 33%, and 40% of energy returned as DDGS.

151 X 2.8 = 422 X 3/2 = 634 gal/acre if 33% of cattle feeding ability is retained in the distillers grains. This would apply in a refinery that gassified it's syrup to replace approx. 50% of Nat Gas.

That would be about 1585 gal/hectare. I'll let you do the litre/gal conversion. But, I'm assuming it would be around 6,300 litres/hectare.

Oh, no one over here is doing corn husks at this time. Poet will be doing cobs in 2011, they say.


I am happy to be wrong. The 760 litres per hectare was the best information that I have been able to gleen from google information. If 6300 litres per hectare can be verified from zone ethanol yields divided by the farmed area then corn is coming up to Brazil's old ethanol from cane yields (7000 litres per hectare). The farmers in the Birdekin area of Queensland tell me that a further 9,500 litres of ethanol per hectare is possible when the cellulose cycle is available bringing the maximum possible yield up to 20,000 litres ethanol per hectare. This secondary stage is not as efficient as the first. The farmers in that area are at the moment evaluating their own Dedini ethanol conversion plant. When they have control of the process themselves they expect to be able to provide consistent yields.

What you need to do is find the total fuel (and all associated costs for cultivation and transport) consumed per corn hectare, then convert that to an ethanol fuel equivalent. You will find that it is no where near as high as the detractors try to represent. It is important to convert to the ethanol fuel equivalent because in due course all of the machinery will need to be powered from the fuel produced. Just as many farmers have been using methane for decades. The ethanol fuel equivalent provides a natural yard stick to compare fuel out against fuel in, without the possibility of obfuscation.

Can you point to an industry based verification source for your information?

Can you point to an industry based verification source for your information?

No, because those are his own, made up numbers. I went through all of this with him once before:


He is torturing the numbers in only the way an ethanol lobbyist would. Bottom line? Ask him if 6 billion gallons of ethanol can be produced on (6 billion/634 gal/acre) = 9.5 million acres of land. The answer is of course, no, which means that while he has shown that he can torture numbers, the answer is meaningless.

Wrong Question. The Correct question is: If I'm raising 80 million acres of corn how many additionaly acres will I have to raise to get the 6 billion gallons of ethanol, and, at the same time, preserve my cattle-feeding ability?

The answer would, indeed, be, depending on the refinery in question, in the neighborhood of 6 Billion/630 or 9.5 million acres. Remember, we're raising the corn to put weight on cattle. I will get the same weight gain from 89.5 million acres as I was getting before: Plus I will get 6 Billion Gallons of ethanol + the CO2 for dry ice, carbonation of soft drinks, etc, + the Ash for soil amendment, etc.

Let's simplify. Say I'm raising 3 acres (150 bu/acre, 450 bushels, total) of cattle feed (corn.) I want to produce 630 gallons of ethanol. I know I have to process one bushel to get 2.8 gallons of moonshine. How many additional acres do I have to Plant? The Answer is ONE. Here's how it works.

Four Acres = 600 bushels of corn. I process 225 bushels into 630 gallons of ethanol. I get 1/3 of the feeding ability of the 225 bushels back in the form of DDGS. That's the equivalent of 75 bu of corn. I still have 375 bushels of corn left over that I didn't process. 375 + 75 = 450.

I've added One acre, retained all of my feeding ability, and got back 630 gallons of ethanol + all of the other co-products. Next.

Against my better judgment...

Wrong Question.

Really? Wrong question to ask how many acres of land it took to make the ethanol - directly putting to rest your fallacious logic exaggerating ethanol yields?

Remember, we're raising the corn to put weight on cattle.

Or feed chickens. Which have shown lower weight gain on DDGS:


However, hen fed 20 and 25 per cent DDGS had lower weight gain (100g) compare with 0, 5, 10, or 15 per cent DDGS (140g).Egg production was not affected by dietary DDGS levels (p > 0.1) averaging 91 per cent EP. Egg weight was significantly (p< 0.1) affected by DDGS treatment.

Or hogs:


Average daily gain was lower at the 20% and 30% levels than at the 0% and 10% levels, and the 30% ADG was lower than the 20% ADG. The DDGS30 also required more feed per pound of gain than did the other three diets that were alike.

So, despite the torturing of the numbers, your basis isn't even correct since not all DDGS goes toward feeding cattle.

But even if your logic had been impeccable, where do you think that incremental energy in the DDGS comes from? Have you given any thought to that? No, you are too busy torturing numbers to see that you have constructed a house of cards in which your "extra yields" are only made possible by adding energy to the mix. You are growing yeast - adding energy to do so - which is no different than tossing supplements into your mix. And of course once you take the DDGS into account in the energy balance, you will see that your energy balance is very paltry.

Go back and look at the USDA study in which they got a 1.67 energy return. Now add in the energy they allocated to DDGS. What do you get? Less than 1.1 BTU out (ethanol plus DDGS) per BTU in. Of course you will reject that on the basis that someone said on a website that they are getting 4 to 1 or some other such nonsense, but those USDA studies were comprehensive. They attempted to look at all the inputs and outputs, where Joe Schmoe at his website just might have forgotten about this or that.

Again, this is a waste of my time. I don't know why I bother, but at this point I think you have written enough to demonstrate 1). You have an agenda; 2). You will not let facts get in the way of that agenda. As such, I find myself wasting time daily to refute nonsense from someone who thinks it is a good idea to recycle natural gas into ethanol while flushing our topsoil into the Mississipi River.

At present, DDGS are a much better cattle feed than pork, or poultry feed. That's why most of the DDGS are going to cattle feed. They ARE working on the poultry, and Pork feeds, though.

Oh, so after 30 years in the ethanol business, and being widely regarded as one of the most successful, and innovative people in the business Keith Kor is a "Joe Schmoe?" You're losing your grip, Bubba.

So, now Yeast? is your fallback position?

And, Keith Kor is a Joe Schmoe?

I guess I'll take my nap on That one.

Oh, so after 30 years in the ethanol business, and being widely regarded as one of the most successful, and innovative people in the business Keith Kor is a "Joe Schmoe?" You're losing your grip, Bubba.

Keith Kor is a vested interest, not an independent observer. The USDA, while not independent, is less so. I will trust their comprehensive surveys over that of a person in the ethanol business. Heck, you don't even trust anything that has remotely been involved with oil money, much less any actual studies or commentary coming out of the industry. Why should you expect me to apply a different standard than the one you apply?

So, now Yeast? is your fallback position?

I will ask you again: How is it possible to take 1 calorie, remove 70%, and still have 0.4 calories left (for example)? Easy. You can do that when you add energy inputs. I have pointed this out before, to no avail. Once you start trying to go down the path you are heading down, you have blown your energy balance because that is where they hid a large fraction of the inputs in order to exaggerate ethanol's energy balance.

And, I'll say it again. All that is Unimportant.

See my below link. I can add one acre of corn to my field, process 225 bushels to get 630 gallons of ethanol, plus ash, plus CO2; and, still have as much cattle feeding ability as I had when I started.

And, I'll say it again. All that is Unimportant.

Unimportant because you don't like the answer. In reality, important because it impacts upon the energy inputs. In fact, I might very well be able to get 1,000 gallons of ethanol per acre - by pushing in more energy inputs. But the point you miss - either intentionally or due to stupidity - is that you are affecting your net energy. That is critically important. If one doesn't pay attention, they might suddenly start conjuring up ethanol yields out of thin air...

So, we cut to the chase. We raise an extra acre of corn.

150 bu X ,say, 27,000 btus for fertilizer, drying seed corn, and cultivation. = 4,050,000 btus

Process 225 bushels at Corn Plus: 225 X 47,800 = 10,755,000

Grand Total for 630 Gal of ethanol which I can put in my Chevy FF HHR, and have a "gas" motoring around for a year.

14,805,000 divided by 630 = 23,500 btus of nat gas/gal. of ethanol.

Now, I know I could be off a skosche on the fertilizer/drying component; but, as you can see: it doesn't really matter.

Now, you can blather around till the cows come home about inputs, and eroei, and whatnot; but the fact is I can drive a mile on about a thousand btus of nat gas - and, that'll get the job done. Period.

This ISN'T that complicated.

Now, I know I could be off a skosche on the fertilizer/drying component; but, as you can see: it doesn't really matter.

You are, and it does. What you are doing is double-dipping. Those elevated energy balances you see are elevated because they buried energy inputs into the DDGS. Now, you want to claim elevated energy balances, and get credit for the DDGS. It doesn't work that way, unless someone is deliberately trying to mislead...

I do agree, though, that your yield number for ethanol looks way low. Maybe the number you have was for a net yield (subtracting out fuel inputs)? Gross yield is in the neighborhood of 4,000 l/ha.


Thanks a ton for the information on NZ ethanol. I'm sure it would be greatly appreciated if you could post some links from Kiwi-land describing the successes down there.

Here's how I arrive at my numbers. Every bushel of corn processed for ethanol yields a coproduct of 17.5 lbs of distillers grains (note: this can vary a bit, depending on whether one is gassifying the syrup for process energy.) I used the figures from a gassification process in the calculations above.

The Nebraska Cattlemen tested DDGS, and found that they were 34% better at adding weight to cattle (the primary job of field corn) than corn.

In a refinery that's gassifying it's syrup you will lose about 20% of your DDGS, if memory serves. That would bring your amount of DDGS down to about 24.5% of the weight of the corn. Multiply that by 34% (the amount by which the Cattlemen found that DDGS were superior to corn at adding weight.


Okay, so here we go. 151 X 2.8 = 423 Now, here's the part that drives RR crazy. You are getting back 33% (look back at 24.5% + 24.5 (.34) = 33%) of your cattle feeding ability in the form of distillers grains. This means you have used 67% of your corn for ethanol, CO2, etc. Divide 423 by .67 = 631

Oops, That was AUSTRALIAN! Ethanol. Sorry Bill

But, again, Thanks for the info. Anything further would be greatly appeciated by many, I'm sure.

The Birdekin area farmers coop calls themselves "friends of ethanol" and they have a webb site by that name. The key guy there who is most contactable is Rod Shulz. The last time that I spoke to him he was up to his arm pits in crushed cane which the mill had crushed incorrectly and he was working on rescuing it. ie he is right in the thick of it. The other crucial industry leader is Dedini in Brazil. Dedini are one of the largest industry players in the world for both ethanol production and processing machinery. They have been working on a weak acid cellulose process for ethanol from bagasse which they say is approaching competitiveness with petrol at $20 per barrel. The other very important piece of infromation is that Brazil has 4 million hectares of land under cultivation for cane ethanol and this represents just 1 percent (or 2 percent I cannot remember exactly with digging out the articles) of Brazils land area currently under cultivation. This was the figure presented by Lula da Silva at the G8 conference and which was verified by US government sources. Google BBC articles to find the news item.

Ethanol does not have to provide all of the future fuel stocks. There are many biofuels. The detractors pick on each one biofuel at a time to mount an argument that each individually cannot replace oil. It will be sum total of all of the biofuels that solve the problem. There are some very promising working groups developing practical algal oil. One in Hawaii that Shell has bought into, and one in New Zealand. Not to mention a swag of European companies. The key advantage of biofuels is that they can be produced every where. And they will be. Lula da Silva has interested a nuber of African countries to produce ethanol production with his free exchange of information offer. And it is just so totally logical that hese impoverished countries should do so. The beauty of ethanol as a cash crop is that it competes equally world wide at the market price. Unlike most food crops which African countries have very little chance of exprting to the world market. This increases the profitability of farming generally in those countries and enables tose people to use better farming techniques for both fuel and food. The scare monguring about biofuels driving up food prices is total rubbish. Food prices are going up because China And India are buying more food from the global production food supply. This was verified by the head of CNN in a recent interview.

Concentrating Solar Thermal power is the other key solution to world energy sources. Europe's authority Franz Trieb points out that the best biofuels (algal oil aside) cannot compete with the energy conversion efficiency of solar thermal power. So in time there will be a shift towards significantly more electric vehicles. The final balance is anyones guess.

RR calls it "Torturing Numbers." I call it simple math, and logic.

See my explanation, and link, below. :)

I call it simple math, and logic.

I call you deliberately misleading.

Stop doing that!!!

You repeadibly claim that feeding ddgs to cattle magically increases ethanol per acre by 30%

How many times does it have to be pointed out to you that its a completely BS number?!?

I'll give you the same answer I gave EP:

What if I only used 70% of my cattle feed, er, . . . . corn?

remember: Corn = Cattle Feed

Nobody is as stupid as you pretend to be.

Why are ethanol futures at $2.501 while gas and diesel futures are at $3.396 & $3.865?

With corn at $6/bu, ethanol at $2.5, and DDG's at 175/ton (55 cents/Gal), while external costs are at 70 to 90 cents/gal (Fuel, transport, admin, labor) don’t seem to leave much of a margin. The market doesn't seem to want to cooperate.

With more DDG available each month the market is being flooded while animal numbers are decreasing due to high grain costs. What’s the future for DDG's and ethanol profits?

With higher grain costs will cattle be spending more time in pastures and will that increase pasture acreage and cut in to grain acreage to raise grain prices even more?

You can say whatever about Tad Patzek, but the market will determine the future of corn ethanol and right now it is stumbling.


admittedly, without the tax credit, the ethanol business with $6.00 corn is probably a pretty close call. The Good News is that there will probably be several million more acres coming into production Next Year (4 million acres come out of the CRP, and, after a couple of years of high corn prices a certain amount of unused/underused land will be put to work.)

We're Exporting more, and more, distillers grains. If you'll think about it, you get more "bang for the buck" shipping distillers grains than you do shipping corn, which still has all the water, CO2, and Starch intact.

The "Near-term" future of ethanol is probably pretty much in the hands of the "Lawmakers," right now. The next few months will tell the tale. I doubt that more cattle going to pasture, longer, will have much of an effect on grain acreage/prices this year. I expect the market, next year, to look pretty similar to this year.

If corn prices Were to Surge to $7.00/bu, or more, I imagine it would be pretty tough times for the refineries. It's a situation that's fraught with danger if you're a moonshiner.

The way that the cane farmers and mills work in Australia is the farmer gets 2/3 of the sale price of the end product. So cane farmers who sell their cane for sugar production are getting A$25 per tonne for their cane (just above cost), whereas the farmers selling thier cane for ethanol production are getting A$45 per tonne, where ethanol is at A$.7 per litre. Bad news for Krispy Kremes and Coca Cola, and good news for vehicle owners and the National Health. Ethanol is good business if you get your crop right. With oil stomping on US$135 per barrel I think that your ethanol programme is secure. There will, however, be major pressure to find the optimum mix of crops. Maybe it is possible to re-use those huge SUV's as mini greenhouses to grow local biofuel for more affordable, practical and smaller hybrides.

Yeah, BilBb, I own an SUV; and, growing tomatoes in it is seeming like a better, and better option all the time. :)

That's interesting info on Australia. Maybe you guys will get something going down there.

Well it is well underway. For 11 years we had a Bush siccophant for a prime minister who actively worked to retard ethanol production. Now we have mandatory ethanol content at 2% in 3 states. It is the mandatory content that gives the farmers and the industry the confidence to invest and expand. There are no hand outs or subsidies in this, but the mandatory content ensures that if oil falls $10 per barrel tomorrow their investment is secure. Most filling stations are offering 10% ethanol content. Now the ethanol producers have to rapidly expand their operation. When the 10% can be reliably supplied we can start to call for 30% ethanol content.

Well you better get to work on Washington then instead of wasting your time on the folks at TOD. After all if ethanol was great the oil Co’s would have gotten in on the ground floor and invested some of that $40 billion quarterly profit on building distilleries in every corn field in the country. If they really were scared of ethanol they could have built distillery capacity beyond any ones ability to compete, with a fraction of their profits.

By your own admission you say that ethanol is not increasing food prices. That means that grain prices are on the rise because of short supply. The ever increasing costs of corn production means corn prices will continue to rise. Ethanol profits will continue to fall and your lobbying money will dry up.

Yep, that Crazy Lobbying Money is going away. :)

One thing though. I never said that the acceleration of ethanol isn't having some effect on corn prices. That would be silly. And, it has also had some effect on soybean, and wheat prices (to a lesser extent, but definitely measurable.)

Now, Rice? That's getting pretty far out into the weeds. Asian, Long-stemmed Rice? Over the hill, and out of sight. You just don't raise corn, or soybeans, or wheat in Vietnamese rice paddies. Trust me; I bin there. :)

I wouldn't want to bet too much money on anything in this deal right now; but, as long as the mandates are in place the petroleum marketers will be forced to pretty much pay enough to keep the refineries in business. Now, if there's a slight Oversupply, an individual refinery, or two, could take a "dirt nap." Anyway, we'll see. Like I said, I kind of expect "next year" to look a lot like "this year."

"Like I said, I kind of expect "next year" to look a lot like "this year.""

In other words you expect ethanol margins to continue to decline and corn prices to continue to increase.

BTW what does rice have to do with the time of day? Or are all those words a cloud of swamp gas?

Aw, Dip, a couple of weeks ago, everytime a pound of rice went up in Asia someone was on the tube talking about ethanol raising the price of grains. As I said, you'd have to be a fool to believe there was NO correlation between the blending of ethanol and the price of corn, or even soybeans; but, it was getting plumb silly there for awhile.

Just so yall know Kdolliso is paid by industry interest... if ya need confirmation just look above... lolz

If you'll think about it, you get more "bang for the buck" shipping distillers grains than you do shipping corn, which still has all the water, CO2, and Starch intact.

If you think about it, any process which requires drying the spent grains takes a large and completely unnecessary energy cost.  It also creates nuisance air emissions.  Feeding wet product directly to livestock eliminates the losses; integrating distillation, feeder operations and manure digestion closes the loop on several different material and energy flows.

Unfortunately for the level of discussion here, your ability to think about things is questionable.

I can think well enough to figure out that Every Ethanol Plant can't be next to a feedlot, or Dairy Farm.

And why not?  The corn is being shipped there already.

First law we're 100% efficient. We can transfer energy at 100%. 2nd law entropy production. That's what's inportant.

Cellulosic ethanol was put down as a very inefficient system. It is supposed to provide the bulk of 36 billion gallons of ethanol production. To harvest it would require diversion of crop or pasture land to some form of grass. Milling wood into small particles is energy intensive and required expensive factories. Then the complexity of the chemical process that required more energy inputs made it a way to get expensive energy instead of a resource to replace gasoline.

One of the problems with corn ethanol legislation was the need for mandatory requirements and ever increasing subsidies to try to make it compete with gasoline. It was as if ethanol could not compete with existing fuels on its own merits once the scale of its production was rapidly increased. It only got 80% of the fuel efficiency of gasoline anyway. Converting the entire grain harvest to ethanol would only replace 12.2% of our oil needs inasmuch as we use about 804 million gallons of oil a day and the ethanol production from all the grain grown (wheat + corn) in one of the largest grain producers would only replace about 12.2% of the daily oil production and require inputs of fertilizer and natural gas and transportation fuel to do it. Using 40% of our grain harvest to satisfy federal laws might replace 5% of the liquid volume of oil we use in a day.

It would be cheaper to require 10% greater fuel efficiency from transportation as this would do more good for our trade deficit than to open up ANWR for drilling. Reducing speed limits to 55 as was done in the 70's might reduce the amount fuel wasted at higher speeds due to wind resistance.

Ethanol should not be subsidized or required by law. If there is money to be made without the Federal govt. manipulating the ethanol markets for farmers and special interest groups; then the ethanol industry would not have to bum the taxpayers for support nor need legal protection after making people get less miles per gallon and seeing food price spikes more frequently.

Given energy inputs necessary to make ethanol; suspect that you do not get as much as you thought you were going to get:


I'm curious why an analytical review of energy ratios is only conceived of the "seed only" portion of the corn plant. There is corn stover that cows munch on for feed during the winter and the remaining corn cobs and stover is disced into the ground as a soil nutrient. I'm also curious since cow pies were used for heating homes (not too long ago), why this energy output is not mentioned. Since we feed cows distillers grains and corn stover, isn't it interesting that our genius academians fail to mention this additional energy source created by the entire corn plant? Maybe they should source their research from asking questions from those who till the land.

I'm also curious since cow pies were used for heating homes (not too long ago), why this energy output is not mentioned.

That "energy output" becomes an energy input when it nourishes the corn plant. Without it, you would have to apply more fertilizer, and therefore more energy. So it doesn't actually net out as an energy output.

The EROEI for ethanol is a lot worse than Patzek and Pimentel calculate. A review of studies (including Patzek and Pimentel) by the National Resources Defense Council and Argonne National Laboratory regarding the net energy gain from the production of corn ethanol, reveal that some studies indicate some gain and one study (by Patzek and Pimentel) indicates a net loss of energy. None of these studies, however, considers ALL of the energy inputs in all of the processes required to produce ethanol (mining and transport of ores, parts, equipment, heating of factories, all employees’ transportation and salaries (oil consumed in spending salaries), and maintenance, etc.), nor do the studies consider the opportunity costs of not using corn for food (sales). More important, ethanol cannot be transported by the existing pipeline network that covers the U.S., and transport by trains and trucks is very expensive and consumes much energy as well.

Notes on alternative energies and EROEI calculations: Alternative energies consume fossil fuels in their planning, development, production, and maintenance. Typically proponents of alternative energies provide an assessment of net energy produced over the life cycle of the project or device, called a life cycle assessment (LCA). Invariably, such assessments are incomplete and account for only a portion of the energy inputs. For example, for the typical LCA of a solar panel, the energy input is usually confined to the energy required produce and construct the panels and pylons. What analysts do not included is all of the energy used in all of the processes required to plan, develop, construct, transport, store, install, and maintain the panels, including: the energy to mine the ores; process the ores; mine the silica for glass; transport the ores; manufacture various parts in diverse locations; transport those parts via trucks on the U.S. highway system; build, heat, and provide electric power for factories and offices where all of the components and parts are designed, constructed, marketed, stored, and delivered; install and maintain major solar panel installations with gasoline operated vehicles; petrochemical cleaners used in maintenance; and the salaries and stock dividends of all employees and stock holders for all of these processes that are then spent and the consume fossil fuels in products and services purchased. There are so many energy input variables that it is not possible to quantify the real energy costs of solar panels. The high dollar cost of solar panels, however, is a rough economic summary of these energy inputs. The cost of energy used in the metals and construction of the panels is very low compared to the final cost which includes all of the energy inputs. And this price tag does not include maintenance costs. Cliff Wirth, Peak Oil Associates International

And, the alternative is? $600 Billion/Yr Defense Budget. $150 Billion/Yr in Iraq. The Seventh Fleet in the ME. etc., etc.

Or, the Tar Sands.

Or, Worldwide Starvation, and hundreds of millions (billions?) Dead.

Sometimes, CJ, we can complicate things beyond any necessary amount. Yes, there was mining, transportation, and milling costs in the manufacture of the refinery; But, figuring a lifetime output of, say, 3 Billion Gallons for a decent sized refinery, the cost per gallon isn't that large.

And, again, the alternative is "What?"


That is a nonsense post. Cyting studies by supposed respected institutions at this point in time is a completely devalued approach, as there is an immense amount of outdated reference material underpinning all of these reports. This is the information equivalent of the sub prime mortgage phenomenon. The only valid information comes directly from involved industry players in real time. You should find some direct sources to talk to personally.

On Solar energy. CSP energy is well proven to be economic, environmentally sustainable and competitive. Read some of the information coming out of Europe from Dr Fanz Tried (if you know how to use google he is easy to find). He is an industry player, and his information is up to the minute. As an example of what can be done. For Australia 80 gigawatts of peak load power from CSP coupled with geothermal power will provide around 90% of our power needs. It requires 1200 square kilometres of collector area to achieve this. In NSW here we have one open cut coal mine which is a hole of around 100 metres deep and 600 square kilometres large. This coal mine services 2 coal power stations and some export markets. That 100 metre deep hole is half the area required to provide most of the national power from CSP. Think of the energy that has been expanded digging this hole to 100 metres (300 feet) deep. The amount of energy required to build the solar collectors to cover that same area, collectors that have a life of around 90 years, is only a small part of that amount of hole digging energy. And that does not take into account all of the other coal mines in Australia servicing coal fired power stations.

You have to keep your focus on the real issue. Global warming. With huge cracks forming in the Artic ice sheet and atmospheric methane levels increasing there is much to be concerned about. The pestilences of climate change are coming. That should be your real concern.

Hey BilBd, You need to read my post carefully. I did not cite any "respected institutions" to support what my points. Just because everybody is doing solar does not make it sound public policy. In fact everybody has done bad public policy to get us into this mess, and now more bad public policy to accelerate oil depletion via alternatives. What I called for is real EROEI for solar, not the phony stuff used to promote solar. Solar is very expensive because it uses much fossil fuels, and the pay back is long after the grid goes out. And solar just gives us electric power which is not what we need. So you promote wasting fossil energy to get what we don't need.


"National Resources Defense Council and Argonne National Laboratory"

I took these to be institutions, and regardless of whether the mentioned reports/studies are positive to your case or negative, the information in most of these type presentations is so highly leverage as to be worthless. When it comes to Ethanol production I compare the energy consumption as an ethanol equivalent. In principle all farmers should be using the fuel produced by their product. No fossil fuels necessary. Dairy farmers all around the world have used methanol to fuel their production vehicles for decades.

In general though your argument that producing biofuels consumes fossil fuels so therefore it should not be engaged in, falls over a) because there is no need to use fossil fuels when there is an alternative produced by the activity, and b) because if the people engaged in biofuel production were not engaged in biofuel production then they would be engaged in some other enterprise that would be using fossil fuels. These farmers are not going to vanish from the system simply because they are not producing biofuels. So it is better that they are producing alternative fuel with their allocation of energy consumption than not.

On solar power I think that you are confusing photovoltaic with concentrating solar thermal. Two very different systems with very different cost/yield structures.

Okay, I'm fessing up. I'm a Lobbyist. I comment on blogs in favor of ethanol. I hope you'll still respect me in the "Morning."


It doesn't matter what you do for a living, we all have to eat, is your information correct? Can you link it to published accounts (as distinct to studies and assessments) which are clear and testable?

Yeah, if there's anything in particular you have a question about I'll be happy to chase down a link in the morning, Bob.

Right now, this old man's going to bed. This "Lobbying" is Hard Work. :)


kdolliso, thank you for "lobbying" for ethanol. I've been pretty lonely on this site for years and its fun to see someone take on RR.

Ethanol is regularly slandered on this site with false claims and fallacious logic. I ignore most of it, until it gets totally absurd which it often does.

This is a great site and I hope this is not the last of your lobbying. The anti ethanol arguments here need more than just me to counter them.

Remember, RR likes to predefine the terms of the argument which gives him the advantage. Don't let him do it. Define the argument on your own terms. They are a valid as his. Arguing with someone on their terms is like wrestling with one arm tied behind your back.

That is why I never reply to others comments anymore. I simply make my case as I see it. Others can take it or leave it. I learned it from Kunstler. It's more fun and one doesn't get so discouraged being a minority of one.

Those who reject ethanol have no solution for the dilemma of Peak Oil and the problem of liquid fuel for transport. They have pie in the sky dreams of rail transport, electric cars and conservation that are not practical in the near term. The political will to implement these dreams does not exist at the moment. What does exist is ethanol.

They see it as a road block so they attack it.

I'll just put up the Numbers, X. They can rail at Reality till the cows come home.

In the end, the numbers drive the process.

I'll just put up bogus Numbers, X. They can rail at my broken-record propaganda till the cows come home.

Fixed that for ya.

My numbers are Bogus?

Dang, I didn't know. Maybe you wouldn't mind sharing the Correct ones with us. Okay?

My numbers are Bogus?

Dang, I didn't know.

This is what I mean about broken-record propaganda.  Every time you divided by 2/3 in your gal/acre calculation, you were posting bogus numbers.  And you knew it from the first time you were called on it... which was months ago.

Maybe you wouldn't mind sharing the Correct ones with us.

Go back to any of the times you were corrected by others.

I'm going to repeat Robert's words, because I can't say it any better:

A false solution is even worse than no solution. While we waste time on this false solution, we could be working on a real one.

Remember, RR likes to predefine the terms of the argument which gives him the advantage.

Yeah, things like "Energy inputs will be consistently defined" and "Don't compare an EROEI to an efficiency." But define your terms willy-nilly, and you can win any argument. Heck, just define ethanol as having more BTUs than gasoline, and your argument looks even better.

Those who reject ethanol have no solution for the dilemma of Peak Oil and the problem of liquid fuel for transport.

A false solution is even worse than no solution. While we waste time on this false solution, we could be working on a real one.

Well RR,

It appears from EP's assessment of the information that American farmers are yielding around 3400 litres of ethanol per hectare net, plus a healthy electricity contribution to the national grid, plus the value of a rotation crop. That is not wonderful, but it is worth doing. In Australia we are achieving 9500 to 12500 litres of ethanol per hectare plus surplus electricity per hectare from sugar cane in the tropical belt. In Brazil the average unimproved farm is yielding around 7000 litres per hectare. If I were you I would stop caning the farmers, or maybe not. Perhaps the real solution is just that. Cane the farmers, or rather make the farmers cane farmers. As I understand it, in the US very little sugar cane is used for ethanol production. Maybe this is what it requires. Some good old fashioned competition. You do believe in that don't you. It is what America preaches to the rest of the world, when it suits America. If Australia's yields can be replicated with US cane to ethanol then the subsidies for corn ethanol would be unsupportable. Maybe that is what you have to lobby for. And I am sure that America could match 12500 litres of ethanol per hectare. You can't have Australia upstage America at every thing, can you?

Man, talk about utter BS:

It appears from EP's assessment of the information that American farmers are yielding around 3400 litres of ethanol per hectare net1, plus a healthy electricity contribution to the national grid2, plus the value of a rotation crop3.

You could not be more wrong.

  1. You somehow turned "The big inputs are fertilizers and processing of the grain" into "3400 litres of ethanol per hectare net".
  2. Processing of maize for ethanol in the US is a net electricity user, not generator.
  3. Farmers have been taking soybeans OUT of rotation because of corn prices.

I wondered, how could you possibly turn what I wrote into a bunch of propaganda talking points?

Then I clicked your name, and I saw this:


Member for
2 days 21 hours

That says it all.  I don't know whose sockpuppet you are, and I don't care.

Lot of stress is being given to the negative energy balance of using ethanol. However the key issue is that US is cosuming disproportionately large quntity of gasoline for which Crude is imported. If US can drastically reduce gasoline consumption by switching over partially to ethanol, the whole wprld will benefit. Being the consumer of 25% of world's oil production, US has an obligation to conserve oil in global interest.

Lot of stress is being given to the negative energy balance of using ethanol. However the key issue is that US is consuming disproportionately large quantity of gasoline for which Crude is imported. If US can drastically reduce gasoline consumption by switching over partially to ethanol, the whole world will benefit. Being the consumer of 25% of world's oil production, US has an obligation to conserve oil in global interest.

You do understand that there is NO infrastructure in place in USA to make this Ethanol without using fossil fuels? Tractors, whole logistic system, pesticides, fertilizers... all using oil or other fossil fuels.

And IF the energy balance of bio-ethanol in US using aforementioned production methods is negative, then each MJ of bio-ethanol made will have wasted more than one MJ of fossil oil.

That hardly saves oil for anybody and would be really stupid to do. One can't save oil by wasting it.

And replacing that infrastructure?

c. 25 years minimum.

That is the challenge. I don't think people are debating bio-ethanol's energy balance just for the fun of it.

However, even if the energy balance issue was solved, the logistic biomass, arable land and water issues would still remain for most fuel stock.

As such, bio-ethanol is unlikely to ever contribute more than 10% of US liquid fuel consumption total, unless that total shrinks considerably.


What you say is not necessarily correct. Ethanol and diesel work well together. Ethanol, apparently, boosts the performance of diesel and makes diesel engines run cleaner and keeps the combustion chambers and valves and valve stems from becoming carboned. The only problem is with the mixing. There is huge demand here in Australia from the mining industry. We are talking about some altered parts here not whole new machines. There is also huge demand for biodiesel, and that will escalate. You are right to say that it takes time to change, but your time scale need not be correct. You will be amazed at how quickly people will change as the need increases.

The problem is that ethanol uses up a lot of imported oil for the tractors/cobines/pesticides/herbicides/employees driving to work who then spend salaries and use more oil, and mfg. of equipment, and coal or natural gas to distill this trash. And what a mess it makes environmentally. Cliff Wirth, Peak Oil Associates.

At 8 gallons/acre, the diesel required to actually work the field isn't all that significant.  If you substituted ethanol for diesel at 1.8:1, you'd need about 14.5 gallons/acre or about 3.4% of the 420 gallons of product.  The big inputs are fertilizers and processing of the grain.


Now you are getting down to the hub of it. If you accept that the field engineering costs are marginal we can move on to the mill operation. The use of the corn stover has various possibilities. It can be used as stock feed, furnace fuel, cellulose for secondary ethanol production, composting for fertilizer, or a mixture of all four. In Brazil the cane bagasse is mostly used as furnace fuel to provide the heat and electricity to run the processing plant with the balance of the electricity feeding into their power grid. Now all of you clever Americans are not going to say that this is beyond your capabilities, are you? Would you let some South American backwater become more technologically advanced than the stars and stipes heartland? I think not. This leaves the fertilizer and pesticides. I think here monied interests have created an unnecessary cost. It is my belief that there are many strategies to reduce the necessity for heavy application of chemicals. Someone else will have to comment on this. So it looks like you are getting a net yield of around 3400 litres per hectare before you go into the energy content of building tractors, etc (an argument that I feel is mute as all of the same equipment is required regardless of what is grown on the land). This is far better than my original information of 760 litres per hectare. Though I still need to see this verified from farm audits.

Sugar cane is so difficult to grow even in the subtropical parts of the US that it requires large inputs of fertilizers and pesticides plus import tariffs to remain competitive.  The rest of your trolling is similarly fact-free.

My experiences of sugar cane are that it is a weed with trifid tenacity. What are you guys doing wrong? Do you need help? Yes the tariffs. It seems everything in America needs protection. That's what you call free trade!


I think you will find This interesting.

Chippewa Valley Ethanol has their "gassifier" up and running. They will replace 90% of their nat gas with Waste Wood.

That makes 3 Mn Plants that will be using Gassification Technologies for Process Energy.

We're Getting There.

Congratulations; that's a good start.

Now, pretend that you only used 2/3 of the corn.

Remember, corn is = cattle feeding efficiency.

I am in agreement with Tad Patzek on most of his main points, and think that he is correct in his advocacy of solar (although a discussion of thermal Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) vs. PV would be an interesting discussion. I have been opposed to ethanol if for no other reason than due to it's massive consumption of natural gas. And if coal is used to drive the process, that essentially makes ethanol a coal to liquids program using corn instead of what it is now, a gas to liquids program using corn. If you are going to use natural gas in transportation, it makes much more sense to use it directly than to use a foodstuff as the intermediate step. What we are trying to do is take a clean, high quality and extremely valuable fuel (natural gas) to produce a less flexible and dirtier fuel (ethanol) The logic is astounding.

Having said that, i think that Tad Patzek made such a complicated, convoluted and obtuse argument in this now 2 year old interview that even his supporters would have trouble following it.

Sample this bit of business, extracted directly from the front of the interview:

"So, if you look at this a consumption for 300 million people living in the United States over one year, all of us consume about 1 exajoule of energy, that is what we eat. That is 1 followed by 18 zeros, okay? Now, as a country, as a society, we form a super organism of all of us together and then we become different beings and we use 105 exajoules per year of energy. In other words, we use 105 times more energy as a society than we need to live. So, if you compare a human heart as an individual you have to imagine let us say a V-Tec Honda engine, a 6 cylinder engine, as a member of our society so we are two different beings, one a biological human being and another one an industrialized member of a very large society that consumes a lot of energy at a very high rate. Okay? That is the most fundamental point that I would really like people to think of that you use 100 watts as a human being, but you use 11,000 watts continuously as an American."

Huh? What he was saying of course is that we use more energy than it takes to keep us alive, but this was done in such a theoritical fashion as to make it essentially useless information. Is this because we drive? Because we wear clothing? Because we keep pets and Fido can't buy what he eats in his own name? Because we have electric lights? Because we just used a bucketload of energy to send an unmanned probe to Mars?

Obviously all of the above. But the hard work of prioritizing our consumption is where the rubber meets the road. It is a safe bet that humans will always use more energy than is required to keep our hearts pumping.

Much more convoluted and outright embarrassing than Patzek's convoluted and over complicated argument was the string of posts that followed the article. In the history of TOD, few times if any have I seen such slander, accusation and personal attack slung with such abandon on all sides. I myself have once or twice let my temper get the better of me and been rude or edgy, and apologized for it, but never to the extent I saw today in post after post, in which people were accused of being liars and frauds, paid lackeys for the oil industry, paid lackeys for the ethanol industry, etc, etc. It read like the energy discussion version of Jerry Springer.

Interestingly, just as the public is beginning to buy into the ethanol industry's argument, the policy makers are beginning to flee from it as a sinking ship. The astounding price increase of both food and natural gas may have something to with this, and the mounting cost of the subsidies to the industry may be adding up much faster than expected due to the above factors, but either way, both Congress and Presidential hopefuls alike are starting to talk about suspending or doing away with the biofuels mandate. E85 has been an abortion, available almost nowhere and no one wants to shoulder the massive infrastructure costs of providing it.

So as I watched 33 racecars hurtle around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 200 miles per hour yesterday, all powered by ethanol, and listened to the ethanol ads proclaiming America's "clean green renewable fuel" I got the sneaking suspicion that ethanol may be suffering the same fate as the fuel it replaced for the Indy 500, methanol. Long talked about, long promised, but at the end of the day an expensive novelty fuel used in racing and a few other limited applications. Ethanol is needed as a fuel additive in all the quantity it can easily be produced in without displacing the food and natural gas prices to extremes anyway, so there will be at least a sizable ethanol industry for years. But as America's "clean green renewable fuel"? It seems less likely every day.