Open Letter on Biofuels

Now is the time when everyone is writing letters to the new Obama administration. It seems like it might be worthwhile discussing a letter written by a group of organizations warning of the dangers of biofuels. The letter can be found at the site of the Global Justice Ecology Project. The statement on the website about this letter says:

Corn and sugar based agrofuels have already come under extreme scrutiny due to their documented contribution to the food crisis, with venture capital investment in these so-called 'first generation biofuels' dropping to zero. The open letter exposes the further problems that will result from the so-called 'second generation' of agrofuels. These problems range from wholesale destruction of the world's rainforests and other sensitive forests, to the forced displacement of entire communities to make way for agrofuel expansion, and the biosafety risks of gambling on novel technologies like Synthetic Biology and genetically engineered trees. The letter also makes clear that agrofuels made from inedible plant feedstocks (cellulosic fuels) will continue to exacerbate the food crisis by monopolizing additional agricultural lands for the growing of agrofuel crops such as grasses and trees, instead of food crops.

(Editors note: Please note that this letter is for discussion purposes. The Oil Drum does not make an endorsement of particular policies; each member of the staff has his/her own view, and these are not necessarily the same. I personally agree with many of the agrifuel issues mentioned in this letter, but I do not agree with the solutions. The authors seem to want to eliminate fossil fuels and nuclear, substituting wind and solar. This is not possible, in my view. I see wind and solar as fossil fuel extenders that do not exist for long in the absence of fossil fuels. Also, I see no way that wind and solar can be scaled to the level where they can substitute for fossil fuels and nuclear.

[1] OPEN LETTER: Unsustainable Biofuels: Fueling Climate Change, Poverty and Environmental Devastation

As a diverse alliance of organizations concerned with climate change, agriculture and food policy, human rights and indigenous peoples rights and biodiversity protection, we (Global Justice Ecology Project, Institute for Social Ecology, Heartwood, Energy Justice Network, Grassroots International, Food First, Native Forest Council, Family Farm Defenders, ETC Group, Dogwood Alliance, Rainforest Action Network) issue this open letter in opposition to agrofuels (large scale industrial biofuels).

If you would like to join us, please add your organizational signature to this letter by emailing

We strongly oppose the rapid and destructive expansion of agrofuels; the large-scale industrial production of transport fuels and other energy from plants (corn, sugar cane, oilseeds, trees, grasses, waste etc.). Agrofuels are a false solution and a dangerous distraction and they must be halted.

Agrofuels are a "false solution":
Many prominent voices in the United States, including President-elect Obama, have voiced support for the large-scale production of agrofuels as a central strategy for solving the problems of energy supply and global warming. A growing body of scientific evidence, however, indicates that this is a tragic misconception and that continued pursuit of agrofuels will aggravate severely rather than resolve the multiple and dire consequences of the climate, energy, food, economic and ecological crises we face. Like other dirty and dangerous technologies and devices being promoted by industry to supposedly address climate change-including "clean coal," carbon capture and storage [CCS], coal gasification, nuclear power, carbon offset markets, and ocean fertilization-agrofuels are a distracting "false solution" promoted for their potential to reap profits rather than their capacity to address problems effectively. [1]

Agrofuels worsen climate change and poverty:
A growing body of literature from all levels of society is revealing that, when all impacts are considered, agrofuels create more, not less, greenhouse gas emissions; deplete soil and water resources; drive destruction of forests and other biodiverse ecosystems; result in expanded use of genetically engineered crops, toxic pesticides, and herbicides; and consolidate corporate control over access to land. While claims are made that agrofuels will benefit the rural poor, in reality, indigenous and smallholder farmers are increasingly displaced. Industrial agriculture and the destruction of biodiversity, two leading causes of global warming, will be further facilitated by agrofuels. [2]

Next generation "cellulosic" fuels will not resolve the problems:
With recognition of the role of agrofuels in driving up food prices, there has been increasing attention to the social and ecological costs of corn and sugar cane derived ethanol. In response, there is now a massive push to develop non-food, so-called cellulosic fuels based on claims that these new feedstocks (grasses, trees, and "waste" products) will not compete with food production and can be grown on "idle and marginal" lands. The incoming Obama Administration is clearly positioning to advocate strongly on this platform. [3] Unfortunately, these claims do not hold up to scrutiny.

An enormous additional demand for trees, grasses and other plants, edible or inedible, will not avert the problem of land-use competition. Land that could be used for food crops or biodiversity conservation will be increasingly diverted into energy production. Demand for land for both agriculture and timber is already intense and escalating globally as water, soil and biodiversity dwindle and the climate becomes increasingly unstable. [4]

The scale of demand cannot be met sustainably:
Virtually all of the proposed cellulosic feedstocks (including dedicated energy crops such as perennial grasses and fast growing or genetically engineered trees, agricultural and forestry "wastes and residues", municipal wastes etc.) present serious ecological concerns on the scale required to maintain biorefinery operations and significantly contribute to U.S. energy demands. Furthermore, renewable fuels targets in the U.S. mandate the use of 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol per year, an amount that requires one third of the nations corn crop, and an additional 21 billion gallons a year of "advanced" agrofuels, the definition of which opens the possibility that demand will be met with foreign sources. The massive new demand for agrofuels is escalating deforestation and resulting in conversion of biodiverse and carbon-rich native forests and grasslands into biologically barren and carbon-poor industrial tree plantations and other crop monocultures. [5]

Land use changes resulting from industrial agriculture, including widespread deforestation, are major causes of climate change. Recent research finds that old growth forests sequester far more carbon than was previously estimated, (i.e. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underestimated carbon stocks for temperate old growth forests by two-thirds). This means that deforestation has been a much larger causal factor in global warming than initially thought, and that intact natural forests are critical for sequestering carbon. It is imperative therefore that we protect remaining forests, grasslands and other carbon-rich ecosystems. [6]

The widespread application of biotechnology for agrofuel production, including genetically engineered (GE) feedstock crops such as GE grasses and GE trees, and plans to use synthetic biology and other genetic engineering techniques to alter and construct microbes, is an unacceptable and dangerous risk. [7]

Sustainability criteria cannot address the problems with agrofuels because they are incapable of addressing many complex and often indirect ecological and social impacts. Neither can they be implemented under globally diverse ecological, social and political situations. Similar efforts to develop criteria for soy, palm oil and timber, for example, have proven vastly inadequate. Finally, these efforts are based on the fundamental and flawed assumption that such massive demands can and should be met.

Agrofuels are not a renewable energy source:
While plants do re-grow, the soils, nutrients, minerals and water they require are in limited supply. The diverse and complex ecosystems that native plants belong to are also limited and not easily regenerated. Subsidies and incentives for renewable fuels should be focused on truly renewable options, like wind and solar energy. Instead, currently in the U.S. close to three-quarters of tax credits and two-thirds of federal subsidies for renewable energy are being wrongly invested in agrofuels. [8]

Agrofuels are a disaster for people:
As governments, investors and corporations recognize the increasing demand for and profitability of land for food, fiber and now energy, we are witnessing a veritable tidal wave of land grabbing on a global scale. This is disastrous for rural and indigenous peoples who are increasingly being evicted or displaced. If tariffs currently limiting international agrofuel trade are diminished or eliminated, social and ecological damages will escalate.

Social movements around the world, including the international peasant movement, Via Campesina, call for "food and energy sovereignty." Via Campesina, along with the independent International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), a long-term independent assessment of agriculture involving over 400 scientists and diverse stakeholders, point to the key importance of a return to locally controlled, diverse, ecologically sensitive, and organic agriculture practices as vital to both addressing climate change and poverty. In demanding a halt to the insanity of agrofuel expansion, we stand in solidarity with peoples around the world who are resisting the loss and destruction of their lands, and with the wildlife and biodiversity being driven to extinction for corporate profit. [9]

Real solutions must be given a chance.
There are numerous better options for addressing climate change. These are generally proven, do not involve risky technologies, return control of resources to local inhabitants rather than profiting irresponsible corporations, and are more equitable. [10]

These include but are not limited to:
* A massive focus on improvements in energy efficiency, public transport and reduced levels of consumption within the United States (and other affluent countries);
* A rejection of industrial agribusiness and biotechnology and a return to locally adapted and community controlled diverse agricultural practices with the goal of feeding people, not automobiles, while conserving soil and water, maximizing carbon sequestration and protecting biodiversity;
* Repeal of the 36 billion gallon per year Renewable Fuel Standard biofuel target in the Energy Independence and Security Act.
* Support for indigenous land rights and community stewardship initiatives as the major focus of efforts to preserve biodiverse ecosystems and the implementation of free and prior informed consent from indigenous peoples with respect to projects proposed on their ancestral lands and territories.
* Reducing demand for forest products and aggressively protecting remaining native forests and grasslands;
* Rejection of coal and nuclear technologies, which are inherently toxic and dangerous;
* Scaling up of decentralized and unequivocally renewable and cleaner wind and solar energies;
* Leaving fossil fuels in the ground, where they cannot contribute to climate change;
* Rejection of ineffective market-based approaches that commodify the atmosphere, biodiversity, and humanity itself.

Global Justice Ecology Project
Institute for Social Ecology
Energy Justice Network
Grassroots International
Food First
Native Forest Council
Dogwood Aliance
Family Farm Defenders
ETC Group
Rainforest Action Network


[1] A recent comprehensive review of a variety of technologies proposed for addressing climate change, including wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal, tidal etc. found: "…cellulosic- and corn-E85 were ranked lowest overall and with respect to climate, air pollution, land use, wildlife damage, and chemical waste…. biofuel options provide no certain benefit and the greatest negative impacts."1

Resources and information on the false solutions involving coal, nuclear, incineration, biofuels, natural gas and more are available at:
For information on ocean fertilization:
For a review of climate geo-engineering technologies: A. Ernsting and D. Rhugani. 2008. Climate geoengineering with "carbon negative" bioenergy.

Opposition to these "false solutions" is growing.2

[2] Climate: According to recent studies, when all direct and indirect land use change emissions are accounted for, agrofuels produce from 17 to 420 times MORE greenhouse gas emissions than would be saved by avoided use of fossil fuel. Another study revealed that emissions of nitrous oxide from increasing fertilizer use for biofuel crops reduces or even cancels out gains from offsetting fossil fuel use with agrofuels. 3,4,5

People: rural and indigenous peoples are increasingly displaced, often violently from their lands to make way for expanding industrial agriculture. Agrofuels are contributing to this.6,7 The global peasant farmers movement "Via Campesina" states: "small farmers feed the world, industrial agrofuels fuel hunger and poverty" (Jakarta, June 24th 2008: International Conference on Peasant Rights)8

The UN FAO reported that food prices have pushed the number of starving to more than one billion, 14% of the human population.9 A leaked memo from the World Bank stated that 75% of the food price increase could be attributed to diversion of food crops into fuel production.10 The FAO stated that mandated targets may need to be reconsidered. Reports on the impacts of cane ethanol in Latin America paint a grim picture of oppression and destruction.11

[3] Obama, a long standing advocate of corn ethanol has stated that he will increase the renewable fuel standard from the current level at 36 bG/yr to 60 bG/yr. His cabinet appointments include 1) Tom Vilsack (Secretary of Agriculture), known for his advocacy on behalf of biotechnology and his close relationship with Monsanto and support for corn ethanol 2) Steven Chu (Secretary of Energy) who was instrumental in establishing agrofuels as the major focus of Lawrence Berkeley Labs (which he directs) and overseeing the establishment of the Energy Biosciences Institute, a $500 mil partnership involving UC Berkeley (a supposedly public educational institution) and BP, along with the Lawrence Berkeley labs, the goal of which is research and development of cellulosic fuel technologies. 3) Ken Salazar (Secretary of the Interior) has been a major proponent of flex-fuel car production and cellulosic fuel development.12

[4] As demands for food and bioenergy expand, enormous land grabbing is underway with countries, corporations and investors buying up large amounts of arable land in a scramble to gain access to dwindling and profitable resources.13 For example, Daewoo, a South Korean company is seeking to acquire a 99-year lease on a million hectares of Madagascar's agricultural land, Kuwait is looking to acquire millions of hectares in Cambodia, and other investors are moving in on approximately 15 per cent of Laos's agricultural land.

Soil: In the U.S., some of the best agricultural soils occur in Iowa, but over the past century these have declined from an average of 18 to just 10 inches of depth over the past century due to erosion. Erosion rates exceeded soil regeneration rates on close to 30% of agricultural lands in the U.S. in 2001. This loss of topsoil and organic residues results in declining productivity. In an effort to stem the tide of erosion, the U.S. Conservation Reserve Program was introduced in 1985 and paid farmers to plant lands sensitive to erosion with grass or tree cover protection and to use no-till farming, terracing and contour strip farming. These CRP lands are shrinking due to incentives to produce agrofuel feedstocks. Removal of "wastes and residues" from agricultural and forested lands for agrofuel production depletes soil organic matter and nutrients and increases erosion.14

Water: Water resources in the U.S., including major irrigation sources such as the Oglalla aquifer and the Colorado river, are in decline. Agriculture is the largest use of freshwater, and biorefinery processes also require massive amounts of water.15 According to the International Water Management Institute (IWMI): freshwater usage worldwide has increased six-fold over the past 100 years, largely due to irrigation; water resources are dwindling; the price of water is predicted to double or triple over the coming two decades. Meanwhile, severe droughts are resulting in water shortages in Australia, India and South Central China. Droughts and ice melting at high altitudes are likely to result in declining water supplies in many regions of the world.16

[5] According to biotechnology industry estimates, a moderately sized commercial-scale biorefinery using agricultural residues would require harvesting a minimum of 500,000 acres of cropland. Electricity production through the burning of wood is increasing rapidly and creating huge demands for trees. For example, Prenergy Power Limited, of London, England is planning a 350 megawatt power plant, which will be fueled by approximately 3 million tons per year of woodchips imported, in part from the U.S. Some bioenergy processes claim to utilize wastes and residues, but a recent industry market report stated: "….these operators, hungry for large volumes of wood, and frequently armed with government subsidies, are finding that the perceived overabundance of 'waste wood' in the nation's forests is simply not there. As a result, the increased demand for more traditional forms of woodfiber has already triggered wood price spikes and cross-grade competition in the tightest markets."17 Wood is under demand by expanding pulp and paper industry, timber products industry, rapidly growing chip and pellet production for heat and electricity, and now for liquid transportation fuels as well. This level of demand simply cannot be met sustainably. It is also driving the demand for faster-growing "designer" trees genetically engineered to enhance their ability to be transformed into energy. This in turn is threatening native forest ecosystems with genetic contamination.

[6] Deforestation in the Amazon is directly correlated with the market price of soy, a biofuel feedstock. When farmers in the U.S. switched from soy to corn production to meet the demands for corn ethanol, the price of soy rose, and deforestation increased.18 The push for more land to grow energy crops has resulted in the elimination of set-aside lands in the EU and a reduction of CRP lands in the U.S. The loss of these critical habitats is reducing pollinator and bird populations dramatically.19,20

A recent long-term study of forest carbon in old growth temperate forest (AUS) found that carbon storage was far greater than previously assumed. The IPCC default values for example were one-third the value observed, highlighting the enormous impact of deforestation and the critical relevance to climate change of preserving forests.21

[7] Agrofuels have become the major focus of biotechnology R&D. In addition to a suite of new GE feedstock developments, companies like Arborgen in the U.S. are developing GE tree varieties with 1) reduced lignin content 2) disease, insect and stress resistance, 3) fast growth, 4) cold tolerance, 5) modified oil content (jatropha and oil palm) and 6) sterility - all characteristics deemed profitable for agrofuel and pulp applications. Given that trees spread their pollen and seeds across huge distances and/or have many wild relatives in native forest ecosystems, cross contamination between GE trees and native trees is inevitable and entails unpredictable, potentially disastrous implications for forest ecosystems, wildlife and forest dependent human communities.22

The newly emerging technique of "Synthetic Biology" is focused on developing microbes that can efficiently produce enzymes for fuel production. If genetic modification has raised biosafety concerns, those pale in comparison to the safety and ecological risks of synthetic organisms. Unlike earlier genetic engineering where genes are sourced from existing organisms, synthetic DNA sequences may have no known analogue in nature, and numerous pathways are combined. The consequences of contamination by such organisms are entirely unpredictable. Currently, the push for microbes for agrofuel production is driving the Synthetic Biology industry forward, making the ability to build dangerous and deadly microbes including bioweapons, cheaper, easier and harder to control.23

[8] True renewables such as wind and solar are losing out in competition with agrofuels. Ethanol accounted for three-quarters of tax benefits and two-thirds of all federal subsidies provided for renewable energy sources in 2007. This amounted to $3 billion in tax credits in 2007, more than four times the $690 million made available to companies trying to expand all other forms of renewable energy, including solar, wind and geothermal power. It is estimated that by 2010, ethanol will cost taxpayers more than $5 billion a year -- more than is spent on all U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs to protect soil, water and wildlife habitat.

[9] Almost weekly new reports are made of abuses and violence in the context of land conflicts over the expansion of industrial monocultures and access to land and resources, and social movements working in resistance. Below are just a few of the more recent examples.24,25,26,27,28

These include:

* The civil society organizations in Latin America who protested the International Biofuels Conference, demanding food and energy sovereignty;
* The recently freed "sugar slaves" working in Brazil's ethanol industry;
* The indigenous peoples in the village of Suluk Bogkal, in Riau province in Sumatra who were fire bombed on December 18th 2008 when they resisted eviction from their lands to make way for a pulpwood plantation under Sinar Mas;
* The friends and families of Paraguayan smallholder farmers violently murdered when they resisted eviction to make way for the expansion of soy monoculture;
* The Tupinikim and Guarani in Brazil, who spent twenty years fighting to regain control of their ancestral lands which were taken over by the pulp industry for industrial eucalyptus plantations;
* The over one billion people now suffering from chronic undernourishment while food crops are diverted into fuel for automobiles;
* The diverse plants and animals moving precariously closer to extinction as their habitats are destroyed for conversion to agrofuel monocultures and industrial tree plantations;

People's access to land and the right to feed themselves is fundamental. Via Campesina along with many other social movements around the world call for food and energy sovereignty, not agrofuels.29 Numerous calls for moratoria have been made worldwide, including one from organizations in the U.S.
Declarations of opposition to agrofuels:

[10] A growing global alliance of individuals and organizations is demanding real solutions to climate change based on principles of justice and equity. This position is based on the understanding that the root causes of climate change are the same as the root causes of poverty and injustice. One cannot be addressed without the other and doing so is the only effective path towards a sustainable future.30,31


1 M.Z. Jacobson. Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution and energy security. Energy and Environmental Science Dec 2008
2 Climate Justice groups warn of false solutions to climate change at Convention on Biological Diversity
3 Fargione, J., Hill, J., Tilman, D., Polasky, S., and Hawthorne, P., 2008, "Land clearing and the biofuel carbon debt", Science, 319, pp. 1235-1238.
4 Searchinger, T., Heimlich, R., Houghton, R. A., Fengxia Dong, Elobeid, A., Fabiosa, J., Tokgoz, S., Hayes, D., and Tun-Hsiang Yu, 2008, "Use of U.S. croplands for biofuels increases greenhouse gases through emissions from land-use change", Science, 319, pp. 1238-1240
5 P.J. Crutzen, A.R. Mosier, K.A. Smith, and W. Winiwarter (2008) 'N2O
release from agro-biofuel production negates global warming reduction by
replacing fossil fuels', Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 8(2): 389-95
6 Cotula, L., Dyer, N., and Vermeulen, S., 2008. Fuelling exclusion: the biofuels boom and poor people's access to land. IIED, London
7 Biofuelling poverty. Oxfam briefing, November 2007
8 Via Campesina:
9 Nearly a Biillion People Worldwide are Starving, UN Agency Warns: Julian Borger and Juliette Jowitt. The Guardian, Dec 10 2008
10 Secret Report: Biofuels Caused Food Crisis: Internal World Bank study delivers blow to plant energy drive. Guardian, July 3 2008. A. Chakrabortty
11 Fuelling Destruction in Latin America: the real price of the drive for agrofuels. Friends of the Earth International: September 2008.
R. Bryce, Dec 29 2008. Obama, Vilsack and Salazar: The Ethanol Scammers Dream Team. Energy Tribune
13 Seized: The 2008 Land Grab for Food and Financial Security: GRAIN
14 Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry: A 50 year Farm Bill. NYT, Jan 4 2009
15 "Water Implications of Biofuels Production in the United States," the October 2007 Report in Brief, at this site of The National Academies:
16 Peter McCornick. (International Water Management Institute) Demand For Biofuel Irrigation Worsens Global Water Crisis. Keynote address at "Linkages Between Energy and Water Management for Agriculture in Developing Countries." Hyderabad, India, January 2007.
17 RISI's Wood Biomass Market Report dispels myth of 'overabundant waste wood' myth.
18 W.F.Laurance. 2007. Switch to corn promotes Amazon deforestation. Science. Vol. 318, no. 5857
19 Increasing Corn for Biofuel Production Reduces Biocontrol Services in Agricultural Landscapes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Vol. 105 no. 51 Landis, D.A., Gardiner, M. M., van der Werf, W. and Swinton, S.M.
20 S. Kirchoff and J. Martin. Americas Grasslands vanishing amid agricultural boom. USA today April 25, 2008
21 Green Carbon: The role of natural forests in carbon storage_Part 1. A green carbon account of Australia's south-eastern Eucalypt forests, and policy implications. Brendan G. Mackey, Heather Keith, Sandra L. Berry and David B. Lindenmayer 2008
22 Petermann, A. and Tokar, B. 2007. Cellulosic fuels, GE trees and the contamination of native forests. In: R. Smolker, et al. The True Cost of Agrofuels: Impacts on Food, Forests, People and Climate.
23 Extreme Genetic Engineering: an introduction to synthetic biology. ETCgroup
24 Civil Society Declaration at International Biofuels Conference in Sao Paolo, Brazil, November 2008
25 T. Phillips. Brazilian taskforce frees more than 4500 slaves after record number of raids on remote farms. The Guardian, January 3 2009
26 T. Phillips. Brazilian taskforce frees more than 4500 slaves after record number of raids on remote farms. The Guardian, January 3 2009
27 Paraguay Sojero, on the impacts of soy monoculture on peasant farmers
28 Tupinikim and Guarani peoples reconquer their lands, World Rainforest Movement bulletin: issue 122, September 2007
29 Position papers: "Agrofuels: small farmers feed the world, industrial agrofuels fuel hunger and poverty" and "Small scale farmers are cooling down the earth"
30 Radical New Agenda Needed to Achieve Climate Justice: Climate Justice Now! Poznan, December 2008
31 Patrick Bond: From False to Real Solutions for Climate Change. Monthly Review. June 1, 2008

Thanks Gail - this is going to be the true litmus test of the administration - whether Vilsack and Obama can wade through the political/corporate backing of their agro-fuel states and repeal/change the corn ethanol mandate. There are many important and valuable uses of that productive land other than growing fuel. If they throw down that mandate, or change it to be procured from waste biomass, etc. instead of a national scaling - only then will I have 'hope' for a better energy policy.

I think embracing biofuels was probably a natural step in awareness/denial/acceptance of peaking in crude oil. It was too tough politically to tackle the 'reduced consumption' aspect of the equation (and still is), so 'hey we can make vehicle fuel from corn' seemed popular and optimistic at the time. Many years later, the wide boundary science references have caught up to this policy mistake.

We have to optimize the return on our most limiting resources - water, natural gas, liquid fuels are foremost among them domestically, with food (globally) being a close 4th. (p.s. banks and stock market don't make this particular list)

No thanks Gail,

Glancing down the EndNotes I see you've assembled a selection of the worst of the worst of the worst examples of the biofuel experience. I am amazed that you haven't found some desparate example of backyard biofuel production and held it up as the reason for Zimbabwe's failed food production. If I put my mind and Google to the test a truly horrendous oil equivalent would be a believable argument for the immediate abandonment of that energy source. The sad thing here is that this entire parade is in the interests of making a case for expanding the search for more cheap sources of oil so that Americans can drive comfortable but excessively squanderous vehicles a few years longer. Squeezing the very last drop of oil out of the earth is not the answer.

It is time to face up to the very reality that this blog is largely about........PEAK OIL is real. We are in the transition time. Oilmen need to become bio-oilmen. Researchers need to become bio-oil researchers. Financiers need to become bio-oil financiers. But car manufacturers need to become...electric car manufacturers. Bio oil is a transition fuel. The only viable motive energy source for the future is electricity. All energy comes from the sun. It is time to take the 300 million time lag out of the process and use the energy directly.

Remember, this is not my assemblage of anything. The only part I had anything to do with writing was the introductory paragraphs. I am afraid I didn't look too closely at the particular references the biofuels group give. I am sure they did not give evidence where biofuels were working well, but I am also certain that there are problems in some places.

The authors do indeed come up with the recommendation that we give up nearly everything (biofuels, wood, fossil fuels, and nuclear). I have said I do not agree with their recommendations.

Obama said again in his inaugural speech that wind, solar and soil would be the renewable energy sources. Those who think that soil i.e. bio fuels will not be part of the the energy program of the Obama administration are delusional.

He ran on a bio fuel platform, was elected on it and has given every indication that he intends to follow through. He has nominated Vilsack as Agriculture Secretary.

It was Vilsack who led Iowa to try to be a leader in alternative energy production. Wind, ethanol and bio diesel have renewed Iowa's long faltering rural economy. Now comes ideologues like the author with straw-man arguments that ignore the benefits of bio fuels and concentrate only on problems. Every change has winners and losers. There are more winners than losers with bio fuels IMO.

The article is heavy on global think. The most any country has is control of its own resources. There is no way to enforce the ideological agendas of those who see bio fuels as the devil. The United States has the right to maximize the utility of it's own resources, be it soil or what ever. And so does every other country.

Tough, but that is the way it is.

Nice lecture X. It's your biofuel scam that's delusional, given its failure in spite of record petroleum prices and government subsidies. If the stuff can't run under those perfect conditions then when?

My country and my president certainly do understand the stupidity of wasting good crops and soil on this senseless mess. Tough. That's just the way it is.

U say : There is no way to enforce the ideological agendas of those who see bio fuels as the devil

I say : There is no way to enforce the ideological agendas of those who see bio fuels as the saviour

Can you spot the plank in your own eye X ?

Its called PHOTOSYNTHESIS from Daily Sunlight. Its going to be interesting ...

Oilmen need to become bio-oilmen ........ Fossil fuel Miners need to become farmers

Now watch the extreme biofuel protagonists emit falsehoods in rebuttal.

Seems to me that bio-fuels of some kind are useful and perhaps not so harmful -- in some places.

Everything is a matter of scale. If the goal is to replace Gwhar Oilfield with biomass from the Amazon Jungle, then catastrophe is predictable.

If people adopt a low-power civilization, based mainly on locally available energy sources-- then maybe the future is brighter.

Seems to me that bio-fuels of some kind are useful and perhaps not so harmful...

No. Under no circumstances is it practical, moral or a good idea to grow food for fuel in a hungry world. Neither is it justifiable to take arable land out of food production, or to push marginal land into production, in order to grow feedstocks for biofuels. Any advocacy for biofuels demonstrates profound disregard for the 900 million malnourished people worldwide. "They starve so that we can drive" is the epitome of evil.

I presume that by 'biofuel' we/you really mean 'synthetic biofuel', since otherwise the term would include 'wood' as such.

And I don't suppose anybody wishes to outlaw the use of wood for heating purposes.

I am sure they are thinking agrifuels, not wood. With wood, the concern I have is that if other fuels become unavailable, it will be over-used and massive deforestation will take place. This will be even more of an issue if there is an attempt to make cellulosic ethanol (since wood is easier to transport and store than other biomass). Also, mandates that electric power plants use wood (or get a certain percentage of their fuel from "renewable sources") are likely to be problematic, because they will also push toward deforestation.

These guys did take a swing at wood. Basically they claimed that because deforestation is happening some places, wood should no be used for fuel anywhere.

Given the ongoing collapse of the New England forest industries, whose forests have been for the most part managed well for a century, (two to four centuries in some places) it seems a really bad idea to attempt to deny us the use of that particular silver BB.

Full disclosure. I own 300 acres of easement protected forest in New Hampshire.

It seems like it is necessary to take a more nuanced look at wood. People around the world will use wood, if they have no other source of fuel. There is really no way to stop them. Somehow, one needs to look at other approaches, even if it is only birth control, to help reduce the next generation's population. Also, finding other options (reflective solar ovens, for example) may help the situation.

I think wood will continue to be used, no matter what. The problem is taking steps to limit is use to a reasonable amounts.

Wood is difficult to transport without a truck to haul it in. Every scrap of wood & plastic will be burnt, so long as it can be carried home from wherever it's scrounged. I'm not too worried about widespread deforestation in a world lacking fuel for hauling logs or cordwood. I'm more worried about hungry people raiding my garden & stealing my chickens than I am about cold people cutting down my Siberian elms. I'd hear the axes.

We seem to have done a pretty good job of deforestation back in the 1800s, even without petroleum-based fuels. See this post by Nate. I think horse drawn carts work well enough.

Where I live, pinyon - juniper woodlands have greatly expanded their areal extent in historical times. This is a consequence of overgrazing & wildfire suppression. Now that bark beetles (Ips spp.) have killed so much pinyon, there's an enormous fuelwood resource available, that will become increasingly valuable. Trouble is, if I was going to drive out & cut it and haul it home, it would be more economical to burn NG. As NG becomes more expensive so will gasoline & diesel. I contend that it will remain uneconomical to haul wood long distances, as fossil fuels deplete. As others have pointed out, population tends to become more concentrated in urban centers during times of societal collapse, not more dispersed. Dismantled buildings, shade trees along streets & in parks, suburban orchards, etc., will be cut & burnt, but remote forests & woodlands will be less impacted in the future than they are today.

Years and years ago, Mother Earth News published an article on a wood-powered pickup truck.  It carried dual gasogenes (made from defunct water heaters) at the front of the bed.

I suggest to you that you could probably run your piñon-harvesting truck on the sawdust and chipped slash from your cutting efforts.  If other fuels are expensive, the extra effort will pay.

Considering the benefits from avoiding wildfires fed by such massive amounts of dead wood, it may pay even now.

Pine has shown by usage,mine, to be a very poor wood for heating or cooking. It does make excellent charcoal for blacksmithing though.

On my farm half of it was wooded. It was timbered over 30 yrs ago by one of my kinfolk and has still yet to return to profitable timber.

Most of the oaks are gone. There is a lot of hickory.A huge amount of trash trees like sweet gum and soft maple.

If you heat with hardwood you get usable heat. If you use something else you can freeze to death with a fire going.(emphasized) but rather valid.

I heat almost totally with wood this winter. Getting up good usable wood is tough. Due to Hurrican Ike much is on the ground but still green.

Everyone seems to think that the woodlands are coming back but if all they look at is from a distance then they are not seeing what variety of timber they are looking at and I can attest that there is a huge amount of worthless trees everywhere I drive.

The ozarks seem to be different in that you get a huge amount of scrub oak. I tried to burn it there when I lived in the ozarks and most was a waste of time and energy. Not all oaks are the same.

And hickory? I am splitting some that has been done so long all the sap wood has rotted away.Yet when I hit it just as hard as I can with my double bit very sharp axe,,it just bounces off.

I have to use a wedge and sledge hammer to finally split it. Three blocks of this and I am exhausted. Makes an excellent fire though.

So the hardwoods are IMO very very slow growing and they are the first the timber cutter take and leave no seed trees for acorns.
You then end up with zero oaks.

I sometimes then burn hackberry. Pretty good.

Our being able to survive for long on burning wood and cooking on it means huge numbers will die.

I wonder sometimes about the Native Americans who had no steel tools yet used fire completely. How did they harvest it? And remember that wood rots pretty fast once on the ground. So how did they do it?

Must have been a hell of a lot of pretty good deadfall then.


We don't think about all those details. Getting adequate firewood is not as easy as it looks, especially without the right tools.

Airdale, I've got to say that my experiences don't match yours, and my winters are a lot colder.

If you burn softwood, as long as you keep the fire going you will be just as warm as if you burn hardwood. The fire may go out at 3am, but that's a different issue. And I flat out don't understand how you can freeze to death between 3 and 6 am down there in the tropics. I bet it's above 20F 330 nights of the year.

Soft Maple is not a trash tree. It's not as pretty as sugar maple, but it is perfectly adequate furniture, floor and firewood. A lot better than pine for any of the above. Birch is similar as long as you don't let it rot. Don't know if you have it down there.

I don't have tropical trees like hickory and sweetgum, so I can't comment. Hackberry and cherry are at the edge of their range, so firewood is all they're good for. Oak and ash are the money woods around here. Sell the logs and burn the tops. As you say, splitting is hard work. The scrubbiest scraggliest oak I ever found was still fine firewood.

Get the chip off your shoulder. It's better in the woodstove, and the way to deal with flatlanders is take their money and laugh when they leave.


The soft maples are trash because they take over immediately and crowd out what might have came up. Same with sweet gum an almost utterly useless tree yet nature made it to do that however nature is very very slow and it would be a huge number of years before a natural variation of differing species would reassert itself.

Elm is another tree that is of little value.

Pine just does not put out the btus that oak and hickory do. Way down the scale.

I like pine trees and planted some as wind breaks but firewood it is not except as kindling maybe.


Frank, sounds like you may live in my neighborhood. I started heating with great hardwood in the upper great lakes, moved to softer woods and milder, shorter winters in the Inland Empire, then quit heating with wood after two years of seven plus month winters with extremely cold cores and with only birch and spruce as my primary fuel sources. You do get spoiled by the hardwood.

Oil was only about sixty cents a gallon when I quit using wood and my work schedule never allowed me to find sufficient nearby sources for pickup load style hauling. Four dollar a gallon fuel had me reconsidering. Which goes back to the meat of the original post. The pressure agri-fuels put on prices and vice versa.

I'm in New Hampshire. We only have 6 months of winter. With 7 and no hardwood, it sounds like you're in Alaska or the Canadian territories. The fact that people up there get through those winters on spruce has always impressed the daylights out of me. I sleep too well and wouldn't get up three times a night to stoke the stove.

I'd never cut softwoods for firewood, but with a pile of pine slash and the alternative of hauling it somewhere else to rot, the stove size stuff does hit the woodpile. Pine has the same BTUs/lb as oak, just a lot less pounds/cubic foot.

Sounds like you do a little pine log cutting. Back a ways I used work with house logs, the beetle kill lodgepole stock has probably really expanded since I used the stuff.

Now I am less than a mile from more or less the center of the Prudhoe/Valdez pipeline. Makes it a little easier to make excuses for burning oil. I guess by New Hampshire standards we might get eight months of winter some years. The sun will edge above a hill and strike my house again for the first time since early November in about a week. A week or so after that my triple glaze windows start getting me some solar gain. Out of pocket construction gave us more personal freedom but a less than ideal design.

Because of how I have morphed our house, a wood stove will be a commitment. A three story chimney that can't wait for the fire to go out to chill the house is not something I have rushed to install. I'm dug into the hillside and the woodstove will go in the daylight basement or nowhere at all.

Soft woods actually were quite sufficient in the NW Montana. A lot of people do get hardwood up here in the interior. Shipping pallets. I don't know that that is the best use of the energy they have sucked up but if the landfill would be their destination house heating is certainly a more noble end.

"Pine has the same BTUs/lb as oak, just a lot less pounds/cubic foot."

Pine has about 14 per cord.Oak has about 25.

I didn't think you had looked this up but just out of your head.
Your wrong. I did look it up to be sure after your post.

Surely someone who has used oak and then pine can tell the huge difference?

Airdale-thats Millions of btus by the way

Cultivating Swedish forests like this:
Is productive:

It were and is a cultivation that spans generations and it can provide raw materials for a very long time and some of there forests will probably become wehicle fuel.

Large scale wood burning for residential heating would be an environmental disaster for this country. We have 300 million + people....this isn't the early 1800s you know.

Do we want our remaining forests denuded as if we were some sub-Saharan country where women walk 10 miles each way to carry bundles of firewood (sticks) on their heads?

Do we want the smoke-choked air filling the valleys?

I'll take the LFTRs any day with zoned (room-by-room) electric baseboard heating over mass wood burning any day.

Frequency responsive heat pumps and well insulated buildings would turn space heating demand into a huge battery system.

Nuclear baseload with renewables, distributed fossil CHP and lots of frequency responsive electric heating / battery charging for transport, would (hopefully) give a low carbon and high reliability grid.

I'll all for helping people but that is a ridiculous sentiment. No matter how much food we produce there will always be hungry people. Producing more food will lead to a higher world population and even more hungry people. Our behavior on a worldwide level is exactly like every other living organism in that we will overpopulate given the chance.


Well said. Malthus 101. You might like this site:

(The Home Page of The International Society of Malthus)

Kind of like Jevons Paradox applied to hunger and the poor...Becoming more ‘efficient’ at solving the hunger and poverty problems means more people competing for resources, having children, and having less resources for more people begetting more hunger a la Jevon’s Paradox. (Unless the TFR drops in tandem)

I'll all for helping people but that is a ridiculous sentiment.

Those with vested interests in doing the wrong thing can be pretty creative with their rationalizations. Be honest. Come right out and admit that you care more about being able to commute to work by ICE vehicle than you care about the hungry poor.

I will be commuting by bike to work when it gets warmer. I'd do it now but it's really cold here. But yes, I would rather drive to work than trudge through the snow and sub-zero weather even if that means I am preventing the population of Africa from going further beyond its maximum carrying capacity. I guess I'm a terrible person.

Thanks for your honesty. An honest misanthrope is preferable to a disingenuous one.

I'm not a misanthrope, just a realist. You hand out food to people and they'll come looking for more. The very idea of "feeding the poor" is misguided. We can help them feed themselves but anything beyond that is building to a collapse.

I'll vote myself as an honest misanthrope, at least long enough to recognize truth of our collective insanity. It's rather funny since I'm sure we're all 90% in agreement here.

That wacky misanthrope Jesus said things like "Leave the dead to bury their own dead".

If we try to do everything that is morally demanded of us (by compassion and conscience), there'll be nothing left over to do what really needs doing.

Oh, I know that sounds a bit too high-minded, and sadly we all fail to live up to our own expectations, whether we find time to "feed the poor" or just managed to keep our mangled personal ambitions running another week.

Before we start patting ourselves on the backs for being less misanthropic, the fact that we're all reading this on computers while people are starving indicates we'd all rather have computer access than help them.

I think a case could be made for limited use of oilseed crops to produce biodiesel to power farm equipment. Using a co-op model, a wheat farmer could plant enough acres of soybeans to produce enough biodiesel to power his farm equipment used in growing and harvesting his wheat crop. He would send his soybeans, along with other growers in the area, to a local facility for conversion into biodiesel.

I think this model has a lot of merit, as farm equipment will be one of the more difficult items to convert to an alternate form of energy. An electric combine would take a really long extension cord on some of the 2-4 section wheat farms that I grew up around in eastern Oregon.

This does not divert a food crop to fuel, rather it provides a way to be able to produce a food crop in the absence of fossil fuels.

As to automobile fuels from food, I'll think about that as I ride my bike to the train station after work today. As much as possible, let's all walk the talk.

As I have said, we need to model various alternative scenarios, and see which comes out best. When it comes to growing crops, there is hand labor, there is labor from animals, and there is machine labor. One can theoretically figure out how many acres of land one would need for oil crops to support some limited form of mechanical agriculture, and how that would compare to the number of acres of land required to breed more horses, and finally to the extra food required if we do all the work ourselves. One also has to model the at the required output of these systems, and see how the various systems compare. With the mechanical agriculture, there are probably other requirements as well --perhaps maintaining road, building new farm tractors, etc.

I don't see farm cultivation fuel as a problem.  The fuel required to operate a tractor appears to be in the region of 1 gallon/acre/pass, perhaps 7 gal/ac/yr.  A lot of crops yield many gallons-equivalent of stalks, straw or other non-food byproducts per acre every year.  This matter could be torrefied to make storable fuel which can supply a gasogene at a later time; fast pyrolysis to bio-oil is another possibility.  The ash goes straight back to the land, closing the nutrient loop.

The only biofuel I see as being a remote possibility is some sort of algae, grown in large tanks, where the production does not take up much surface of the earth. Even this would not work, it the algae have to be fed large amounts of food, grown elsewhere, rather than making their own through photosynthesis.

If the algae have to be fed carbon from elsewhere, the feedstock becomes the limiting factor.  We're not going to get that carbon from higher plants, because they simply don't fix enough carbon.  Algae are very good at carbon fixation, so any feasible replacement of fossil fuels with biofuels is going to start with algae pulling carbon out of the air (no matter how it's processed downstream).

The problem with algae is efficiency, imho.

The numbers I've been fed in a class on biofuels, stated that for Europe to provide itself with renewable energy drawn from the sun in 2020 (or 2015?), it needed to cover 1% of it's area with 20% efficient 'sun-to-usable-energy-converters', or 2% with 10% efficient, 4% with 5% efficient or 20% with 1% efficient converters.

Thing is, we can get algae to something like 8% efficient in expensive closed circuit bioreactors, that produces 100 bucks a litre biofuel, or 1% efficient in more economic open pond type 'pits in the ground' that actually produce cost-efficient biofuel. And I believe a number of fuelcrops are in the same efficiency range (with Jatropha palms at the upper limit with 3% or something? I need to look stuff up again).

The problem is the scale of our demand for energy.

You are right: scale is the issue.

Over on the Thorium thread, someone said we needed to "massively scale up renewables". I responded that that was almost a contradiction in terms. It is almost impossible to get the scale one needs from anything that is close to renewable.

re: Gail the Actuary

It is almost impossible to get the scale one needs from anything that is close to renewable.

Hold up now.
Just because photosynthesis is horrible at turning sunlight into useable energy, doesn't mean it's impossible to use solar energy.
(Especially in the Context of US, China, and India)

As for UK, I'm surprised they aren't looking into ocean energy.

0.13% net efficiency for SugarCane Ethanol?
Yeah, photosynthesis ain't that great.

I mind that Biofuels is not so risky. Actually total market is suffering due to Financial crisis. Most of people are not wishinng to invest. My suggestion is that its not like that you can not make profit from this market. If you have good knowledge about market/stock and statistics then you can also enjoy in this moment. If anyone want to invest and dont have good idea, I will suggest go to, you will get very good information and guide from there.
Have a nice time

Actually we have been using "biofuels" for transportation for years. The transport "devices" are called horses, and they work just fine on corn and hay. Cheap to make too. The problem comes if you want more than 1 or 2 horsepower under the "hood".

Of course we need to be aware that there has been a significant reforestation in our country that can be directly traced back to the switch from horses and hay to cars and fossil fuels. It seems inevitable that a switch back to horses (or their mechanical equivalent) will necessarily lead to greater deforestation.

Tree cover in the US has increased over the past century or so but it is inaccurate to term this trend "reforestation." Much of this regrowth is monoculture agroforestry and much is second growth on abandoned marginal farmland in New England. Mature forest ecosystems are not "renewable" on timeframes of any consequence to a human lifetime. It takes millenia for old growth forest to reestablish, if it ever does, once cut.

That seems a bit extreme. What evidence that "ancient untouched forests" (presumeably never walked in by hordes of human naturists lighting them on fire etc, either) are more "valuable" to your purpose than recent growths?

I'm definitely sympathetic to the core thesis, but some of the extremeism is just iritating (ly dumb).

There wasn't any ancient untouched forests here when we whitemen got here.

Lengould - Biodiversity is what old growth forests offer. Ecosystems of greater depth an breadth and therefore resilience. I believe there is intrinsic value (and more!) in that. The cynical comment about naturalists is arrogant and uncalled for.

robert2734, if you are implying that native americans altered all of the forest ecosystems in north and south america, in one sense you may be correct. That would be the relatively small impact of an additional species added to the forest community here and there. [yes, I know about the fires] To imply that native americans fundamentally changed north and south american forest ecosystems is simply false. The forests today, except in a few remote areas, bear little or no resemblance to those (rich and diverse forests) you would have encountered stepping off a boat in Boston, Norfolk, Miami, Havana, Rio, Acapulco, LA or Seattle in the year 1500.

New we are just haggling over how much alterring is too much alterring. There are never unchanging mature forests unstressed by new species or weather change or something.

Exactly! That is precisely what we MUST haggle about. The planet depends on the choices made by Homo sapiens.

Absent Homo sapiens, waste is food in nature and energy is transferred along organismic trophic levels providing checks and balances insuring that no population exceeds the capacity of the habitat to support it. Homo sapiens has figured out how to stack the deck.

At this point in time it seems quite clear to me that biofuel's promise is to help maintain the momentum of Homo sapiens' unsustainable path (with huge social and ecological costs as the letter points out) and should be relegated to a minor role.

Power down

You are totally absolutely correct.They had no steel to efficiently cut with. If they barked it at the base it still took a long time to fall. A long time. Always on washouts of creek beds you will find deadfalls.
This is timber I try to use. Indians I suppose did to. The water erosion weakens the rootwads.


It isn't about being '"valuable" to your purpose.' It's about it being a mature forest ecosystem that exists unto itself. The anthropocentric view that things must be "valued" according to some selfish human purpose is what's gotten the biosphere in the mess it's in. Mature forest ecosystems possess intrinsic value, to the extent that anything can be said to possess value.


"Old Growth" has many different definitions in various areas of the country.

Some forests are harvested by wild fires.

When a tree is cut sometimes sprouts come out at the root mass. This is unsightly growth and leads to weakened limbs and much trunk splitting.

I think the best definition in some cases is number of growth rings per inch. And some new growth timber is better for use than old growth.

See the WoodWeb website for a discussion on this.

When most of the undergrowth has disappeared as a result of shading by the upper stories? Then I think we have timber comparable to that of old growth.

Now as to some species like American Chestnut? Never coming back and it was an extremely valuable fast growing tree in the south at least.

Basically IMO we wasted our woodlands to the point that they won't do us much good. Timber management is very poor. At least here where a lot of that goes on. Why? Because when times get tough then landowners call in the loggers. Its their last asset many times.

And of course the loggers cheat them like hogs to slaughter.


If we're locked into 2C warming regardless some of these forest giants may have peaked in size. There was an anti old growth logging protest about 30km from my place on the weekend. Since some of the big trees have split or hollow trunks they will go to the paper pulp mill not the sawmill. Let them die in peace I say and retire the carbon.

Incidentally in 2008 a big flowering hardwood was located by helicopter mounted laser range finder that is 101.6m tall, rivalling the big dougfirs and sequoias. Imagine flowers 330' above the ground.

The thinnings of that second growth (more like fourth) make great firewood. If it's covered with trees it's a forest. I'm willing to listen to your argument when the stems are two inches. When they're ten, its a forest. My land burnt in 1941. A human lifetime later it is forest again. Sugar maple to tap. Oak and pine thinnings to build and heat my farm. Turkeys living through the winter on the acorns. Deeryards in the pines. Bears and I nodding respectfully and walking wide of each other on the trails.

As stated elsewhere in this thread, the archeological evidence makes it pretty dubious that there was actual wilderness in New England since the last ice age. There were people here watching the glaciers melt. Nobody has yet made a long term living in my town, so there's no moral high ground to be had. The ones that walked in from Asia showed up in the summer and got their tushes back to the Connecticut or Merrimack valley before snow flew. The ones that sailed from Europe took jobs in the mills and eventually stopped coming home for Christmas. Me, I'm spending three days a week in Boston. It's effin beautiful though. Illargi will happily explain that I shouldn't have borrowed money to put my stepkids through college. He and Stoneleigh are not a couple. I'm getting layed whenever I'm home. Care to discuss?

I also question that the human lifetime is the relevant period. Human cultures last 500-1000 years. So do oak trees. I have sugar maples growing out of stone walls and dying of old age. That's barely 250 years. I hesitate to quote John_Denver here, but "younger than the mountains, older than the trees". I suggest that the time it takes to grow a tree a yard/meter thick is the time it takes people to settle in.

Anyway, I call bullshit. I'm Frank Richards. I live up to the old Jones Place, between the Giffen Place and the Gregg (yep, the senator) family land in Marlow, New Hampshire. Ask down to the general store and they'll tell you where to find me.

There was actually a serious point in my post, and discussion of whether regrown forest is old growth is not it. (I agree old growth at least in the North East is gone, not to return in my life time.)

My point was that any biofuel process we develop will not be as efficient as horses which have had a million years to optimize their conversion efficiency. Furthermore modern cars are way more powerful than horses. Thus, we can figure that the ecological consequences of converting to biofuels can at best be no less than the consequences of converting back to horse transportation. In 1800 there were significantly fewer people, we were primarily a country using animals for power, and there was less of our country covered in trees (leaving the quality of the forest alone). It seems to me that with more people and more powerful vehicles it must be true that if we are to use biomass for energy one consequence will be to significantly decrease tree cover in our country.

I don't follow your reasoning.

Horse power energy conversion was maximized by processes of evolution and artificial selection. I think it's fair to say that the energy conversion upper limit has not been reached yet, so aren't these same processes still moving closer to that theoretical limit? But, these processes are now in competition with science and industrial research towards the theoretical limit, and the latter seem to be much faster.

Regardless, I agree with your conclusion.

Reference #15 in the above letter, the National Academy report on "Water Implications for Biofuel Production in United States", was summarized and reviewed on TOD (link).

As I mention above, the next step in all this is creating a multi-criteria framework to optimize the the return on limiting inputs - it would be great if this could be matched up with a similar demand side matrix. Something less fundamentalist than '**Footnote - it is assumed that ____resources will grow by 2030 to a level commensurate with demand'.


Just so I understand, is your position that our long term future, if any, is all nuclear? You didn't mention hydro. Perhaps that is included, also.

I won't answer for Gail, but will point out that we hold discussions here about energy and our future. The staff here each has their own opinions about what might work/help and what might not. Because we post something of value to the general discussion does not mean we endorse it and vice versa. For the past couple months, Gail has been primary choreographer of the 'queue' (and done an excellent job I might add). As such, she has posted many things she both agreed with and disagreed with, because the content was written to be posted and discussed. Same goes for other eds.

I was directing this specifically to something she said that was clearly her opinion and not merely representative or descriptive of someone else's. I find her views somewhat on the bleak side of the full spectrum of opinions. Regardless, I think that the country and the world will move forward on things like wind and solar and let future generations figure out how to service these technologies.

I would like to note that Gail has done an outstanding job.

I for one very much appreciate her efforts and thank her for it.
To me she does a very well balanced job of presenting topics for discussion.


Thank your for your kind comments.

I found this on Drumbeat. Leanan does an amazing job!

I think we are already on a steep decent from fossil fuels, especially oil and gas, from the credit collapse. It is not clear to me that attempting to do anything more to reduce their use is helpful.

I have said we need to model the complete scenario, before plunging ahead. This is in many ways similar to Nate's "multi-criteria framework". It is easy to get the idea that wind (or something else) is going to be our great savior, but one needs to work out all of the details to see how long we are likely to be able to maintain wind, and what the cost of building all of the necessary supporting infrastructure is. We need to keep building roads, large trucks, and even helicopters, to keep servicing the wind. How long will this be sustainable, and what will be the real total cost (in required energy and annual investment dollars)?

Nuclear needs to be evaluated in the same way as other alternatives, considering the flow of investment that can be done in any year, how long we are likely to be able to keep up electrical production from the nuclear plant considering the need to maintain electrical transmission and roads, and what we will do with nuclear waste, as part of a full model.

See my letter to Obama.

The question of the long term viability of solar and wind can be divided into two parts. One is the EROEI of these projects. A number of discussions on the Oil Drum and elsewhere seem to indicate that modern wind installations have an EROEI of ten or so which seems to be acceptable. There is less data on concentrating solar power but EROEI of ten is certainly not beyond reach.

The other question is can everything that is required specifically to construct the wind and CSP projects, or more generally to maintain an industrial society, be made from electricity? I think that the answer to this question is closer to yes than is commonly supposed.

Primary metals production is a key requirement of industry. Aluminum has always been smelted with electric power. Secondary steel making is currently largely carried out in electric furnaces.

While primary iron production is currently almost exclusively fossil fuel fired, electric blast furnaces have been constructed and at least considered for production use in regions lacking coal or having large hydroelectric capacity.

Cement manufacture is the one area in heavy industry where I can find no evidence that anyone has ever seriously considered using electrical power. Conceptually there is no reason that one could not heat cement clinker in an electric arc furnace, though it might lead to quite expensive concrete. If someone out there has detailed knowledge of the requirement of cement manufacture it would be interesting to hear from them.

Once (If) the loop is closed and renewable energy projects could be constructed using renewable energy industry could be maintained for quite some time.

George Monbiot in his book "Heat" has a chapter on sustainable cement manufacture, with references. I don't have it at hand, so can't give you more specifics right now.

The activity that he found no way to do with electricity or other sustainable sources was flying commercial aircraft, as I recall.

"modern wind installations have an EROEI of ten or so which seems to be acceptable."
Nate Hagens had an article at TOD indicating that EROEI for smaller wind turbines( <750KW)ranged from 10-30.
Larger turbines 2-5MW appear to have EROEI >30, and according to Mark Jacobson the larger wind turbines have an energy payback 1.5 to 5 months, giving an EROEI >50:1( assuming a 30 year life-time).

The fiber-glass resins used in wind turbine blades now comes from NG, and would be more difficult to produce without FF. Carbon generated from biomass can be converted to acetylene(via Calcium carbide) in electric arc furnaces and used to produce many organic chemicals, replacing NG.

Replacing coal fired and NG power generation by wind/CSP/nuclear power will allow remaining coal and NG to be used for steel, cement production and replace petro-chemicals for a very long time.

I don't think that EROEI calculations for wind look at any reasonable share of the true costs. Wind only works inside a system that includes other power generation, transmission wires, and hopefully some storage. The EROEI calculations only look at the component related to the wind generation itself, not the costs to the rest of the system. I think the only way of looking at wind is by looking at (1) the cost of the whole system including wind, to the cost of the whole system excluding wind compared to (2) the additional electricity generated by the system that included wind, and what price that electricity could be sold for.

Wind works best at night, when we already have enough power. As I understand it, it can't be relied on for peaking power during the day. It is not clear to me how much other electrical capacity can be avoided by wind--it seem like we need nearly as much gas peaking capacity as without wind. With the variable power of wind, someone, somewhere has to be monitoring wind changes and ramping up or down gas produced electricity. I would expect this adds to personnel costs at gas-fired plants and grid regulation facilities.

We keep hearing that major grid upgrades will be needed, if more wind is to be added to the grid. Yet no one is assigning this major cost back to the wind industry. At this point, I don't think we have any true estimate cost of wind- just a well subsidize partial cost and partial EROEI.

The value of EROEI is that different energy resources can be calculated on the same basis. As FF become depleted their EROEI declines and once they become <5:1 their net useful energy rapidly declines.
Wind energy EROEI is increasing as turbines become larger and due to technical improvements. While wind accounts for less than 20% of electricity, every kWh of wind displaces NG used for peak, or the least efficient coal base-load power plant. If wind was to replace >20% of FF power, it may be possible to develop the pumped storage capacity of the great lakes and Canadian hydro schemes.
It may eventuate that major grid upgrades will be needed when wind energy accounts for a much larger part of electricity production. If the grid needed to expand 1% for every 1% additional wind electricity production, we would need to add 2,500 miles HV for every 10GW power production(1mile/2.5MW). Since 2.5MW production of wind requires $15,000,000 of turbines( 7.5MW capacity) and HV lines cost $500,000 per mile the additional cost will be less than 10%. I don't know the steel and aluminium required to build 1 mile of HV transmission line, but would be surprised if it was greater than the steel required to build 5x 1.5MW capacity turbines and towers. Since transmission line towers should last >100 years, at most the energy required would only be a small fraction of the energy required for the wind turbines.

Besides biofuels from crops, there are also biofuels from algae. According to Dr. Krassen Dimitrov that is a bad idea unless you want to break the laws of thermodynamics. You can see what he has to say here.

The Biopact team has also publisched an in-depth view on claims from companies regarding biofuels from algae.

This letter is irresponsible and downright stupid. If, for example, we can use municipal solid waste, which now is being landfilled, to produce biofuels (and fuels from unused plastics), why wouldn't we??? In landfills across the country, methane gas is produced by the rotting waste in those landfills and contributing greatly to climate change (methane gas is over twenty times more efficient than carbon dioxide as a heat trapping gas).

Forests are being harvested today for paper and pulp and the residual material is being left behind to rot, once again contributing to emissions of carbon dioxide and methane gas. Why not collect that material and make fuels from it? Furthermore, existing forest plantations for paper and pulp manufacturing are being abandoned because the demand for such products is in decline (more and more of our communications is being conducted electronically). Thus, these current forest plantations can be used as cellulosic feedstocks for biouels. Additionally, many forests are overgrown and the fallen branches and trees in those forests contribute to carbon dioxide and methane emissions and also leads to increased fire risk. Why not harvest that overgrown material and use it to produce biofuels?

A study has been conducted by Stanford University to estimate the amount of abandoned agricultural land which has not be reforested nor converted to urban land. This study conservatively estimates that about 150 million acres of land could potentially be used for growing grasses or short rotation woody crops. This unused land alone could support the production of 60 billion gallons per year of biofuels.

Where there could be a question of sustainability is agricultural residues such as corn stover. Removing much of that material could cause a decline in carbon content in the soil. However, some of that material could very well be removed and used for biofuels production.

Finally, the letter is wrong when it says that the renewable fuels requirement in the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA, or 2007 Energy Bill) mandates the use of 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol. It allows that quantity of corn ethanol to earn credits, it does not mandate that corn be used to produce fuels.

I am not argueing for the use of these feedstocks to produce biofuels to sustain an unstainable way of living. I ride by bike to work and me and my wife and I put in a ground-sourced heat pump. I just think that it can be done sustainably.


The opening line of the above letter said it was opposed to 'the large-scale industrial production of transport fuels and other energy from plant-matter'. I think 'large-scale' was the main thrust of their complaint. You'll find little disagreement that waste products and local synergies shouldn't be better utilized..

...and my post addresses just that. MSW is mostly plant matter (food scraps, yard waste, constuction and demolition waste (spent 2x4s) and paper material. The letter did not exclude this. Any effort to process this matter into biofuels would have to be conducted on a "large scale" because the capital investments to convert cellulose into biofuels is just too large to try to do it in very small plants.


MSW is mostly plant matter (food scraps, yard waste, constuction and demolition waste (spent 2x4s) and paper material. The letter did not exclude this.

I personally am strongly in favor of better utilizing our MSW. This was the thrust of my graduate school work, and my thesis in fact entitled "Conversion of Municipal Solid Waste and Sewage Sludge into Fuels and Chemicals." I could write another book just about the experience. I had to harvest the microbes from the stomachs of live steers, I had to contend with ostriches running around the university farm, I once spent the day at the city sewage facility filling my pickup full of treated sewage, and then once it dried I had to run it through a grinder. I was covered with a fine, brown powder and was convinced I would get hepatitis.

Incidentally, while I am generally opposed to the way we make ethanol in this country, as well as the ridiculous hype surrounding biofuels in general, I did just write an essay pointing out one specific area in which ethanol has an advantage:

All BTUs Are Not Created Equally

I believe in giving credit where credit is due, but on balance I think our ethanol programs in the U.S. have been a waste of time, money, fossil fuels, and talent.

I have have a question for you.

Do you put anything, out to the corner, to be picked up, and then is taken to the landfill?

Anything at all?

This post is finally a breath of fresh air in the stagnant halls of the techno merry-go-round most here on TOD subscribe to. "Advanced Thorium Reactor", oh yea, that will save us.....lets all sit around the reactor and make popcorn.

Power down is the only way. Learn to live in the NATURAL world, not force your way thru it with a techno sledgehammer.

funny/ironic/interesting that many comments following the Thorium essay said it was a breath of fresh air in the stagnant halls of doom.

The time for a techno fix to the serious problems we have, has come and gone.

How much insulation can be put into current housing for the price of 1 reactor?

Common sense seems to be lost, in this world of flashy tech. Just because we can, does NOT mean we should. Knowledge is not wisdom. Education is not knowledge. Ability does not mean right.

I don't disagree with you -merely pointing out that even an educated forum such as this is a microcosm of future disagreement in society/policymakers at large. Imagine how it would be in a room of people who are told by economists that Peak Oil is a myth and high prices will bring about substitutes, etc. Here the choir even disagrees on what the next song should be.

You think those "Campesinos" have it tough, now? Wait till oil goes to $300.00/barrel, and there's no substitute.

You're barking at the "rising tide," kiddos. Elecric cars might be fine for the OECD elites; but I've got a hunch they're not going to do much good for the subsistence farmer in Malawi.

And, might I suggest that a few people here ought to go buy themselves "40 acres, and a Mule." Get a little "taste" of it, if you will. What nonsense.

Our land could be put to "Better Use?" Well, yeah, We do pay farmers NOT to farm 34 MILLION ACRES in the U.S., alone. Stanford reports that there is One Billion Acres lying "Fallow." Is That "Better Use?"

Put on top of that the fact that Biofuels are the Only energy source that can be "Carbon Negative,," and I'll rest my case.

Oh, and "Food Crisis?" The cost of a box of corn flakes is up about $0.04 (at most) due to ethanol. (Whereas, the cost of a gallon of gasoline could, easily, be down $0.40, or $0.50.)

Pure Silliness.

"Stanford reports that there is One Billion Acres lying "Fallow." "

According to my [admittedly poor] arithmetic, the US, [not including alaska because most isn't arable] only has 1.84 billion acres. If 1 billion were fallow, that means that they're probably counting all the deserts, mountains, parks, uncultivated forests, back yards, paved areas, etc.

While it's fallow in Yellowstone and the Smokies, when push comes to shove, it wouldn't surprise me if someone tried to do a little monoculture there.

land: 9,161,923 sq km
minus alaska 1,717,854 km2
=7.444 million km2 lower 48
247.105 acres/km2

That would be One Billion Acres, Worldwide, Sterling.

Now, listen carefully my good man ......... ehhh ... uhh .. kdolliso ....

Never mind.

How much insulation can be put into current housing for the price of 1 reactor?

How many miles can you drive, rooms can you light, or meals can you cook with insulation?

You are making the logical error of trying to compare incommensurables.

I think it is still valid that we should largely invest in negawatts and negatherms before we invest in production. Insulation can't be used for these things you mention, but can free up resources like propane, natural gas, and electricity for other uses. We have the technology to build homes that require virtually no fossil fuels for heating and cooling and should prioritize that given limited dollars available for investment.

Not at all. I do not think, as it appears you do, always in terms of technology. I am far from a Luddite, but I am also, not trapped on your merry-go-round. Technology has led us down the path we are on today, and without RADICAL, KICK IN THE ASS change, it will take us quickly to the death of our species.

If there is to be a focus on resolving a simple problem, I choose the simple answer. We do not need even one, more reactor of any type. Simple conservation (insulation) would make even the current Nukes overkill to a simple problem. They can then be shut down. Techno fix, BAU for go, go growth, is not the answer.

The problems are not complex, it is the trash technology that so many throw at the problem, that make them unable to see a simple solutuion. Solar, Wind, Hydro, are the ONLY way to go. If it can't be done with those, don't do it. Not in any other way. Just have the balls to say NO to your useless government, and the so-called PTB.

If you are not part of the solution, then yes, you are part of the problem.

Advocating for hydroelectric power is being part of the problem. Dams kill lotic ecosystems dead. Any savings in FF from hydro power are offset by CH4 emissions from anaerobic decomposition in sediments. A reservoir or a fission nuke plant? Six of one, half a dozen of another. We don't need either.

I enjoy your posts. Don't let hydro power advocacy dilute your message.

Hydro comes in many forms. Not just the Hoover Dam type. ha!

I also am for knocking down the current dams over most, if not all streams and rivers. I personally, during a stint at hauling heavy machinery, hauled away a number of the upstate NY hydro systems when they where taken down in the early 90's. A few in MA as well. Different lifetime.

Even the largest, of a perceived problem, usually has a simple answer.

Simplicity is always, the art of life.

Actually, insulation can help a lot in cooking most meals. Rather than boiling rice...continuously for twenty plus minutes, I usually bring it to boil, then wrap the pot in many towels. It cooks up quite nicely with a small fraction of the natural gas I would have used. Of course pressure cookers can also radically reduce cooking time.

Lots and lots of lighting is unneeded, and others can be made much much more efficient--obviously the "insulation" was a stand in for conservation of all types. I guess that escaped you.

And most trips are not necessary. Live near your work and walk. What is so hard about that?

Small scale bio-fuels to help grow and distribute food is about the only use I can see for biofuels. Using food to fill SUVs is pretty disgusting on a number of levels.

Interesting about the rice. I have seen a small hostel in Nepal doing
that same method, with some old blankets. They have a good method for
well cooked rice.
Nice to see things happening at same time in two very different parts
of the world.

Most weeks our garbage can is not taken to the curb for pickup. Our food scraps are composted, our leaves are raked, picked up and dumped into our garden. All the twigs, branches and small trees, which are removed from our 1/2 acre lot with many trees, are piled in the corner of our lot. Every several years we chip the pile of branches and distribute the chips around our bushes.

We recycle almost all the spent paper, plastic, cans and glass that we create.

Recently, we have been disposing of removed drywall, old carpet and worn out insulation due to a home remodeling project.

In the renovation, we are replacing R6 wall insulation with R20.


The framing of the letter by the authors creates false choices because they basically state that land can not be used for any purpose other than growing food for humans.

This is a ridiculous and untenable position.

People need to bone up on their history regarding ethnobotany. A specific land space can and has been used for providing food, fuel, fiber and materials for eons in sustainable ways as long as population is kept in check. If we reach the intellectual conclusion that no renewable plants or animals can be used for raw materials what is left that is renewable?

As other posters have already stated the issue is not using plants and animals for fuel and fiber. The issue is how large the population is that may need to do that before it is no longer sustainable. Obviously we passed that a long time ago in most of the world. That means population is a problem not sustainable use of land.

I see a very large difference between using 600 acres to create fuel and fiber in a renewable way, at the expense of food; versus using the same 600 acres to be covered with houses, streets, or office buildings at the expense of all other uses, including food, forever.

Framed in this way it would be much better to stop all building forever and wisely use the remaining land for all purposes. In a letter that has 0 tolerance for land used for anything but food I saw no mention of 0 tolerance for population expansion and 0 expansion of man made things forever.

Yet that is the logical conclusion, reduce the population until the land can support the population in a sustainable way with advanced technology. Not doing this, logically leads to every square inch of land covered with people or people's dwellings that can't produce food either. Oh and what are the people to wear if cotton or hemp is not allowed as population increases?

It is is not a food vs fuel/fiber problem. It is a Human carrying capacity problem for the planet earth in the absence of fossil fuels.

I am tired of people that live in megalopolis' writing about how farming rapes the earth. Nothing is as damaging to the ecosystem as sealing the earth with man made structures and yet there is not the attempt to stop this at all costs, because growth must continue.

Lunacy, because most people don't actually know where their food and clothing comes from anymore and haven't a clue about the natural cycles and balance of nature.

You make some interesting points.

It seems to me that the authors did all right on the "we have a problem" issue, but then didn't really understand why this problem was coming about and what the range of reasonable solutions might be. Instead, they latched onto the some common misunderstandings of what might be feasible. They seem to think that if we get rid of fossil fuels and nuclear and biofuels, and substitute wind and solar and increased efficiency, we can live happily ever after.

NC: A lot of truth in there. Good post.

You raise some excellent points.

"People need to bone up on their history regarding ethnobotany...
That means population is a problem not sustainable use of land...
It is a Human carrying capacity problem for the planet earth...
I am tired of people that live in megalopolis' writing about how farming rapes the earth."

I, too, am quite tired of people who live in megalopolis', who don't understand where their food and fiber come from, who pontificate from cybercafes consuming Asian teas, African fruits, and "fair trade" coffees on agriculture. It's not that you need calloused hands and dirt encrusted fingers to write about work, but rather from doing that work, many of us see that balance. That balance which overwhelms our energy equations, and yet at the same time, demonstrates we are unlikely to rise above our innate drives. The range fills with invasives, the field with weeds, until they are checked. Unlimited energy, rather than a panacea, only will exacerbate the situation.

'Not knowing where their food and clothing come from?"

China and Mexico. That was easy.

Everyone knows that.

How facetious am I?(to paraphrase another poster).


TOD has frankly been completely biased against biofuels to a ridiculous extent.
The principle objections raised are that the EROEI of biofuels is too low, that we can never grow enough biomass and that we will run out of fertilizer.
The first argument made is not a scientific one because very few scientists outside TOD are convinced that the EROI is a correct method of analysis.
The second is also rather weak; that biomass is limited--as if fossil fuels, uranium and even renewables not are also limited.
The third is an extension of the second, not only is land and water limited but also certain elements like phosphorous and potassium which are used in growing crops.

It is perfectly true that the earth is limited in all resources and cannot maintain exponential growth in consumption based on rising population or rising expectations.
It is also true that with growing consumption comes growing waste and that becomes a growing waste disposal problem. Nature has proven to be the best recycler and biomass is the best way to absorb waste CO2 produced by our need for exponential growth. Agriculture has proven to be among the most efficient and productive human activities. Biofuels have been successfully used to replace fossil fuels to a limited degree with minimum effect on agricultural production. It's true that biofuels cannot support exponential growth but then nothing can.

The claim that biofuels (repeated in the statement) were behind the rise in food prices is now proven to be completely false as is the argument that falling EROI lead to rising energy prices.

Unfortunately, repetition of mantras and slogans by the TOD 'experts' will continue to
damage any serious debate on biofuels, which are not the whole solution but only a part of the solution to our energy problem.

We have a number of people on the staff of The Oil Drum. I think that there are probably three of us who have done most of the writing with respect to biofuels - Robert Rapier, Nate Hagens, and myself. You are correct that all of us are generally against the direction we have been seeing biofuels going to date.

I don't know that we would all have problems, if there were a plan to use them in a much more controlled manner. The problem is that people who look at them become entranced by the profits to be made (now going away), and forget the many negative externalities--particularly the water problem where irrigation is required, but also soil problems.

The only state that irrigates corn to any large extent is Nebraska; and no one seemed to mind when that corn was being fed to Japanese, and European cattle. It's only when that corn helps my son afford to go to work and Feed HIS family that the ballyhooing starts.

As for the refineries, themselves: they will be water-neutral before it's all over. Oil refineries won't.

And we should pay attention to the above comment made by same poster who said this

Instead of seeking to maximize EROI, we need to minimize it

You are one of the most biased posters on the oil drum. This open letter was not written by anyone here but by a group of scientists. If there were no 53 cents a gallon subsidy on corn ethanol there would be no corn ethanol period.

Someone a few days ago posted a 'filter' on how a reader on this site could remove certain comments and subsequent replies by using some software -anyone know how to do this or have that link?

You can minimize comments you disagree with by hitting the minus sign next to the offending commenter's name.
That should restore your sanity.


Ahhh..then now all I need is a script that would do that at my beck and call. Perhaps a better form of what we had using Grease Monkey.

Well it was embedded by GM. I have to brush up on my script writing skills but I have too much wood to split right now.


ericy put this up the other day. Look here:

1) Yes EROEI is a red herring for all but the immediate term. (Although it's still a great argument against corn ethanol specifically. Especially when you eliminate the "feed" credits.)

2) The issue that we simply don't have enough raw material is the real issue.
As Engineer_Poet mentioned about, Algae may be a way around that.
However short of that, FeedStock and ingredients for Feedstock, is THE limiting factor.
There just isn't enough of it to go around.

And CLEARLY biofuels raising prices on food, because they raise prices on Fertilizers.

US specifically though doesn't quite as hard as countries that import food.
(i.e. US gets "first dibs")

First of all, there's no logical reason to grow energy instead of food in the US while throwing away 60% of the non fermented biomass content which could actually be used to produce more biofuel, in the form of methanol. Methanol can easily be converted into gasoline through Mobil Oil's MTG (methanol to gas) process. And methanol can also be converted into dimethyl ether, a cleaner burning alternative to diesel fuel.

Biowaste can also be used to make jet fuel and diesel fuel. An equal amount of methanol, gasoline, and aviation fuel could be produced from the biowaste produced from our cities. Together, about 6% of our total transportation fuel needs could be met.

However, these processes waste about 80% of their carbon dioxide content. So if sufficient amounts of hydrogen from nuclear and hydroelectric power were added to the mix then 30% of our total petroleum fuel needs could be met in this country.

The total replacement of petroleum in the US is probably going to require either a tripling of food production in this country or the extraction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as proposed in the Los Alamos labs 'Green Freedom' nuclear concept.

So farmers should be growing more food and less ethanol while also producing methanol, gasoline, and dimethyl ether from the biowaste that they produce on their farms.

Ethanol is a highly inefficient way to produce biofuels which should really be discontinued, IMO. But that doesn't mean that farms can't produce synfuels through biowaste.

Marcel F. Williams

Bottom line with bio-fuels:

1) As much as presently produced ethanol substitutes for much more environmentally unfriendly additives like MTBE and/or lead in gasoline, they can make sense to produce and even subsidize (though there should be more efficient sources than corn).

2) Otherwise, photosynthesis is THE MOST inefficient means available to us to satisfy any needs, typically only recovering < 0.5% of the incident energy available to it, gross. Then reduce the 0.5% by the amount of other energy inputs required for planting, harvesting and processing. EVERY other possibility needs to be used FIRST.

3) We need to get serious about addressing human population size. The poster above was correct who said (paraphrasing) "the only reason many things are called unsustainable is because they can't sustain the speakers a priori presumption of level of population". The fast smart way to accomplish a solution there is to rapidly bring all world people to a decent and secure standard of life and education.

We need to get serious about addressing human population size.

Key to this is not allowing other nations to dismiss their locally-generated problem as something they can solve through migration elsewhere, like the USA and Europe.

Keep the heat on.  Zero net immigration to the USA, now!

I have been told that it is not clear that we need MTBE or lead or a substitute in gasoline any more, at least for pollution issues, because of improvements in auto technology (catalytic converters). It may be a cheap way of increasing octane, but there are other ways around that as well.


That 87 Octane stuff you put in your car is only about 90% "gasoline" with a healthy dollop of "Isooctane," ethanol, and/or various other octane enhancers. Ethanol is the only one that's NOT dependent on oil for its manufacture.

Iso-octane is one component of natural gasoline; it's just not very common.  Toluene (methylbenzene) is another octane-booster that is naturally occurring in small amounts but is synthesized to get desired properties.

If you want to address population size, stop trying to save everyone who gets a terminal illness. Stop prescribing drugs to try to cure things that may take a life. Let natural selection run its course.

It is difficult to do this in practice, the way our medical system and other institutions work.

I have a 90 year old father-in-law. He has no idea what year it is, or that his wife died last year. He keeps trying to escape from the assisted living center where he lives, to go find her.

The assisted living center insisted that we take him to the doctor, to see what the doctor could do, because the father-in-law is becoming a problem for them. Now my father in law is going through a whole round of expensive tests. Other than providing employment to the doctors and people working for the testing facilities, it is hard to see the point.

Before my mother in law died, we ran into similar problems. The home health worker would come to the assisted living center and declare that she needed to go to the emergency room to be looked at. We would take her to the emergency room, and they would admit her (for a different reason than the one she was brought to the emergency room for!). Eventually she would end up back at the assisted living center, with a new stronger set of pills that made life more miserable.

All of these interventions might possibly prolong life a bit, but weren't really requested by the patient or the family. When my husband's aunt (older sister of the father in law) lived with us, we were able to get her into hospice, and stop this nonsense. But when someone is living in an assisted living center, it is more difficult.

Some general comments on the generally bogus drift of this article.

1. Converting crops into fuel involves extraction of sugars (or starches that are easily converted into sugars) and converting them into fuels and CO2. In this country, we have way too much sugar and starch into our diet, as well as fats made by animals who converted starches into fats.

Once the sugars and starches are extracted, what is left are the complex carbs, fiber, protein, vitamins, oils and minerals (for corn, its DDG or DDGS, but the same applies to sugar beets, sorghum, other grains). Food for people or animals; when fed to animals, these critters can then be chowed down upon should you be of the carnivore sub-species of human.

2. If you want to do something about hungry people, become more of a vegetarian. Cows, pigs and chickens eating grains and concentrating some of the protein in the crops/grasses is very inefficient. Something like 12 lbs of crop = 1 net lb of cow, 10 lbs of crop for 1 lb of pig and 8 lbs of beans and grains for 1 lb of chicken chicken. It's a pretty wasteful way of making "protein products". But then, we're talking about food, and logic can go take a hike for this topic. After all, there is a lot of emotion tied up in food, unless we are talking subsitance levels

3. We grow way more grain than can be consumed in this country, and if our diet were less illogical/unethical/un-environmental (---> less meat consumption), we would have an even greater excess of grains. I believe that over 55% of corn is fed to cows, pigs and chickens. The starch and sugar in this corn generally get converted into methane and CO2 - most of it is not needed (corn is 62 wt% starch/8 wt% protein/3 wt% oils) for energy in these generally stationary animals.

4. Every time we make more grain than can be consumed, we end up dumping most of this into places like Mexico. This throws huge numbers of farmers in those countries into the economic dumpster, so to revenge (well, sort of), some migrate to the US to take jobs away from others, or to force wages (especially "low-skilled") down the drain. Mass export of grain to 3rd and 4th world places also imports unemployment and destitute people. Whooppee....

5. Corn in bulk is now around $3.60/bushel, or 3.64 cents per pound. Add in delivery and handling, and maybe you get 15 to 20 c/lb. In many cases, that price is above what the income levels of 4th worlders can afford. Who is going to make up the difference? Where's the money coming from? Are farmers supposed to do it for free? We should NOT be competing to supply an over-supplied world with bulk food crops. especially if point #2 is considered.

6. Corn prices need to be north of $4/bushel to be profitable; at current rates, a lot of farmers are treading water, so to speak. The same story gets repeated for other crops. Without biofuels production, we should be able to cut our agricultural production significantly and still make ends meet. That probably means tossing 1/3 of farmers out of the business, along with the crops grown on those fields. And at least 1/3 of the remaining small towns in rural America turn into ghost towns. Because customers who can't afford 5 c/day, let alone 20 c/day for food cannot afford to pay the price needed to provide American farmers with a decent standard of living. And besides, those 3rd and 4th world farmers want to be able to grow their own food/some extra to supply their country. Undercutting their prices is a bad thing to do. We can't afford to support the poor of the world in this dole-like arrangement supplying them with bulk, essentially no-value-added materials.

7. Ammonia can be readily manufactured using renewable energy, but not at dirt cheap prices, as has been the case for the last two months ($150/ton NH3). All you need is a small bit of water and some renewable electricity. The price of electricity is the main cost to make renewable ammonia. If you want lots of protein in crops, and lots of crops that can only come form some fixed source of nitrogen, and you want it renewably, you will have to pay for it. Although, no ammonia is a great way to drop yields of non-N2 fixing crops (just about everything but beans, peas, clover, crown vetch and alfalfa), and that will end the giant US surpluses of grain, and end most meaningful biomass based fuels production, too. For example, this will drop protein levels in wheat, as well as wheat yields, and drop corn yields from the average of 155 bushels/acre down to 25 to 30. Adding 170 lbs of ammonia per acre or 7 tons of ripe and righteous chicken manure per acre gets you the same amount of protein per acre - its a mass balance thing (that's about 700 lbs of protein in the case of corn, or 107 lbs of fixed N - As to the amount of energy needed to get that load to the farm and into the ground....considerable.

8. The current routes of producing premium fuels like EtOH are designed to be as cheap as possible, and if that means using coal or Ngas in large amounts (really cheap right now), that is what happens. Raising the prices of fossil fuels will provide incentives to minimize fossil fuel usage in these efforts. There is no way that we are going to make 9 million barrels/day of EtOH, nor should we have to....doubling car mileage and having the numer of car-miles traveled will drop car fuel consumption by 75%, to something like 2.4 mbd. At that level, renewable fuels can make a meaningful difference.

9. Right now, about 0.5 million barrels/day of EtOH and a much smaller quantity of biodisel are made in the US. Just imagine wiping that EtOH off the market - it would no doubt raise the price of gasoline significantly. Unfortunately, it would mean nothing but good times for the likes of Exxon (hey have always hated EtOH since the Evil John D's days - "competition = bad") and KSA. A better approach would be to tax crude oil products significantly and at a steadily increasing rate.

10. If we don't like what biofuels production is doing in other countries, place big tariffs on this stuff. Just don't import it into Europe, Japans and the US. And if China and India import it, put tariffs on their crap that gets imported and dumped into our crib. After all, those imported goods are just imported biofuels from other countries. (That would be a two-fer, since Walmart might also go away...). And send them all the birth control possible....Oh well, this is the fantasy answer, as it calls for ethics in imports, and less international trade, not more. But I thought that peak oil would mean less redundant shipping, and the ability of nearby producers to raise their prices a bit. Never mind.

11. And there is always hydrogenation of bioderived CO2. Consider this reaction (Fisher Tropsh, MoS or Rh12Se):

2 CO2 + 6 H2 --> C2H6O + 3 H2O

Granted, his is a bit idealized, but to make 1 gallon of EtOH, you would need a bit more than 37 kw-hr (21.9 kw-hr/lb of H2 using efficient water electrolysis units) of electricity. That is almost 127,000 Btu/gallon of electrical energy. To grow that crop and convert it into 1 gallon of EtOH and 6.5 lbs of DDGS (and about 6.5 lbs of CO2)you would need about 59,000 Btus. All that solar energy is quite costly when viewed that way. In other words, the CO2 output of a 110 million gal/yr EtOH facility would require at least 234 MW average delivered power in order to make another 55 mgy of EtOH.

And if you can grow crop with renewable NH3, and do some capital intensive alterations of the EtOH facility to minimize fossil fuel use, you could drop that energy requirement down to about 20,000 Btu/gal, with most of that as renewable energy, and high protein concentrate as the food product. However, EtOH is a premium form of stored chemical energy, and it makes no sense to just routinely convert electricity into EtOH and back into electricity. But when you need stored liquid energy like when it is too cold to use your battery powered car -- well, the alternative is to take a hike, or stay where you are, or maybe just let your carefully harvested crop go useless because you can't get it to the electric train depot. Or perhaps you go hungry until it gets warm enough to drive the electric car to the store


re: Niobium41

But when you need stored liquid energy like when it is too cold to use your battery powered car -- well, the alternative is to take a hike, or stay where you are, or maybe just let your carefully harvested crop go useless because you can't get it to the electric train depot. Or perhaps you go hungry until it gets warm enough to drive the electric car to the store

Last I checked, Ethanol doesn't operate below 11 degrees F.

AltairNano, points out their batteries operate fine at -58 degrees F.

So remind me, who is going to cold start who?

no way that wind and solar can be scaled to the level where they can substitute for fossil fuels and nuclear

As we run out of fossil fuels this can be summarized as "Nuclear or nothing". Of course many think that "nothing" would be better, but given that the world population would need to fall by billions, "nothing" is a tough option. Not that "nuclear" is an easy option, we need to get on with it.

1. Nuclear really doesn't have that much of a headstart.

2. Unlike Wind/SolarPanels, SolarThermal/Geothermal can do baseload power and dispatchable power.

3. It's not like Solarthermal or Geothermal resources are tiny.

4. SolarThermal, if you gave it 1/3rd as much desert land as the size of farmland we currently attribute to exclusively to corn ethanol production, then that'd be enough to power the entire country, day and night.

5. And if energy storage mechanisms like Adiabatic Compressed Air Energy Storage pan out, then even Wind and Solar Panels would be plenty.


By comparison, Nuclear power cost estimates keep sky rocketing, as are the costs of non-proliferation efforts. (And Nuclear power STILL can't find any private capital financing)

The question could be generalised from why biofuels to why hydrocarbons? Answer; because they have energy density 50-200 times greater than batteries. Diesel-like liquid fuel may yield 40 MJ/kg compared to say 0.2 MJ/kg for lead-acid batteries. That's why we will always need hydrocarbon fuels for aircraft and ambulances and as a range extender in PHEVs. My guess is that we will need perhaps 25% of current petro-fuel use to keep the modern integrated economy functioning. That's the equivalent of 20 million barrels a day of oil.

In my opinion ethanol is not that fuel. Some suggest dimethyl ether or methanol made from biomass but I think gaseous methane in the form of bioSNG would have reasonable net energy and be interchangeable with natgas and fermentation methane. Several approaches have been tested and appear promising, alas not compared to $40 oil. Some suggest boosting yields up to 250% with renewable or nuclear hydrogen but the practicality is uncertain. The water and carbon would be recycled within the biosphere.

Whatever biofuel wins out it must have positive net energy after running all needed machinery (tractors, pumps etc), use non-food biomass and return nutrients to the soil. Ideally a mini-production plant could be set up on skid mounts and moved around to farms and forests. If something like that doesn't happen and there is no oil I'd say we're screwed.

Being an ecologist I would like to remind all of us that humanity is living in oil enabled population/resource overshoot. This means that many people will, and must die, if we (and all species we share the planet with) are to have some chance of continuing. The naive notion of providing resources equitably to all people in all lands is preposterous.

To survive, our species must, and will do what any species in overshoot does-die off (if you don't believe me, do the yeast in a Petr i dish experiment). We are hurtling down the road too fast, with too many passengers, who have too much baggage of expectation, and in a resource sense, on a shrinking planet. We must fall off and crash sometime.

The point is WE NEED TO CRASH! This is something that most people don't want to think about. There are already energy shortages in countries of the world reported daily. I can't see anyone donating wind turbines to Pakistan. In fact, as long as our economic system is propped up, and continues to sputter and falter, I can't see many former affluent countries being able to afford wind turbines.

So, as affluent Westerners who have ridden on the back of the oil rig, who do we let go? We aren't talking about this because, collectively, humanity has never been where it is today. IT IS TOO MUCH A BURDEN ON THE CONSCIENCE TO CONTEMPLATE! This is the greatest and most difficult moral question that we have to face more sooner than later.

Perhaps, as Africa implodes, the militant religious fundamentalists indiscriminately wreak their vengeance, and climate change permeates the lives of all, we won't have to make that choice.

Having said that, I would like to invite everyone to enjoy the magic moment called life.

Being an ecologist I would like to remind all of us that humanity is living in oil enabled population/resource overshoot. This means that many people will, and must die, if we (and all species we share the planet with) are to have some chance of continuing. The naive notion of providing resources equitably to all people in all lands is preposterous.

To survive, our species must, and will do what any species in overshoot does-die off (if you don't believe me, do the yeast in a Petr i dish experiment). We are hurtling down the road too fast, with too many passengers, who have too much baggage of expectation, and in a resource sense, on a shrinking planet. We must fall off and crash sometime.

The point is WE NEED TO CRASH! This is something that most people don't want to think about. There are already energy shortages in countries of the world reported daily. I can't see anyone donating wind turbines to Pakistan. In fact, as long as our economic system is propped up, and continues to sputter and falter, I can't see many former affluent countries being able to afford wind turbines.

So, as affluent Westerners who have ridden on the back of the oil rig, who do we let go? We aren't talking about this because, collectively, humanity has never been where it is today. IT IS TOO MUCH A BURDEN ON THE CONSCIENCE TO CONTEMPLATE! This is the greatest and most difficult moral question that we have to face more sooner than later.

Perhaps, as Africa implodes, the militant religious fundamentalists indiscriminately wreak their vengeance, and climate change permeates the lives of all, we won't have to make that choice.

Having said that, I would like to invite everyone to enjoy the magic moment called life.

You make a good point.

I have a hard time supporting those who want to build out our infrastructure just a little farther, so we can somehow keep up BAU a bit longer, before we crash from a slightly higher plateau.

First, thank you Gail, you and the rest of the TOD staff do a great job.

I used to be more certain about not expanding a little more and having a crash from a higher level. That is an easy view to hold sitting here in the middle of the boreal forest swilling on what we have siphoned from the future.

Certainly our policy of sending in the missionaries with medicine to wipe out subsistence type population limiters (mostly on the front side of life) without first expanding the production capabilities of the substance population has exacerbated things. But we have already done that damage.

The U.S. policy on the other side of life is obscene, and I say that as both a beneficiary of the money it redistributes and as a helpless observer of a family member's 'life' on a feeding tube--a situation in which some of the most affected family members were allowed no input.

Now we are here and it is getting more crowded by the second. There seems to be a population limiting mechanism that goes into play as people move up the technology ladder. If we can manage enough energy (nuclear seems to be the only near term option for energy on this scale) to get the proportion of population above the population limiting tech level as we now have below it in say a generation and a half can we, who have so raided the future, justify not doing that?

Kind of sounds like Socrates reasoning before he drank from the cup--don't know I like hearing that coming from me.

Biofuels can never supply more than a fraction of our current energy demands, so lets double the efficiency of vehicles with lightweighting and areodynamics, double it again with hybrid drive systems, run it as a taxibus with three passengers acheiving in the region of 200 passenger miles per gallon or power a train with 400 ton miles per gallon.

Using biofuels to extend BAU is lunacy, especially with poor EROEI.

Well said OMG, you wrote my thoughts.

The article below, recently published on the EnvironmentalResearchWeb (01/15/2009), maybe could open up a little this discussion. I agree with those that argument that biofuels is not a definitive solution; however, depending on where and how it is produced, with special attention to the feedstock used on the production process, it could certainly play an important role in a broad energy mix that we will need until we have technological breakthroughs that will allow us to either produce more energy or increase the efficiency on its usage.

Biofuel benefit varies by country

Green alternatives to fossil fuels are crucial to mitigate climate change and improve energy security. Biofuels are an obvious substitute, but where should they be grown and how should they be traded?
Jobien Laurijssen and André Faaij, from the Copernicus Institute of Utrecht University in The Netherlands, have investigated how to make optimal use of this renewable energy resource, taking into account land use, economics and overall reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Taking two case studies they show that there is no clear-cut procedure for how biofuels should be grown and traded. However, their work overturns the idea that an increased demand for biofuels will automatically lead to destruction of pristine rainforest, or loss of prime agricultural land. In fact they show that carefully managed biofuel projects can be hugely beneficial for both the environment and local people.

Not every country has the same capability to grow biomass for making biofuels. "Countries with low agricultural efficiency and a limited population density are likely to have the greatest biomass resources," Faaij told environmentalresearchweb. Regions such as Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe fall into this category.
Potentially nations in these biomass-rich regions could help other countries to meet their Kyoto Protocol targets. There are two obvious ways in which this could happen. The first is biofuel export – physically shipping the fuel from one country to another. The second is a credits system – where countries that can't meet their own biofuel demands can invest in bio-energy projects in other countries, to help offset their own greenhouse gas emissions.

Taking Brazil and Mozambique as their case studies, Laurijssen and Faaij investigated which of these trading options was optimal when trading for transportation fuel with The Netherlands.

Key variables included land-use, climate, energy use and bio-energy technology in each country, the energy carriers they replace, as well as oil price and logistical concerns such as transportation links.

Interestingly the pair found that there was little to choose between the two methods of trading, though physical movement of biofuels was slightly more favourable. "International transportation costs were of limited importance, but local processing facilities had a large impact on our calculations," said Faaij.

They found that big savings could be made – both economically and in terms of greenhouse gas emissions – if the biomass was processed close to its source, making it into dense pellets that are easy to transport.

In order to protect natural forest and maintain food production for local people, Laurijssen and Faaij stress that it is essential for biomass-producing countries to become more efficient at producing food. "Very small changes can make a big difference," said Faaij. "Better management of livestock, the availability of fertilizer and the introduction of crop rotation schemes for example." For Mozambique the researchers found that biofuel trading could really help to lift the country out of poverty, as well as being beneficial for the environment. There are many improvements in farming techniques that could be introduced, which would help to free up land for growing eucalyptus as a bio-crop, and meet a growing food demand at the same time.

What's more, Mozambique currently has very low energy useage. Biofuels would save the country from importing costly fossil fuels, as well as earning revenue from trading the surplus. "It is in a very exciting position from a development perspective," said Faaij.
Meanwhile, Laurijssen and Faaij demonstrated that Brazil is a slightly different case, since it is already the biggest exporter of biofuels and also has its own fossil fuel reserves. Nonetheless, with improvements in agricultural techniques the pair believe that the country has greater biomass capability (primarily in sugarcane) and could still benefit from exporting the excess.

All in all the study, which is published in the journal Climatic Change, shows that there are no easy answers. Every country needs to be considered individually, in a similar manner to the way Laurijssen and Faaij have assessed Mozambique and Brazil. There are still many discussions to be had, but the researchers hope that their findings will provide a starting point and will help to open up the debate.

In short, we have enough biofuel resources to power our Military, Medical Units, Aircraft, and Cargo Ships. But hardly any more than that.

Biofuels simply have tremendous potential.
Plants that grow through photosynthesis, absorb CO2. There is probably no better way to capture CO2.
In addition, they convert it into carbohydrates. There is probably not better way to make carbohydrates.
Plants can grow over and over again, doing the same thing, for ages. It will probably never get any better than that.

If it is carbohydrates you want and if you want to reduce the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere, biofuels is the way to go. It's that simple.
If only the carbohydrates leave the land to be used elsewhere, there is virtually no "depletion" at all.

How you're going to make use of those obtained carbohydrates is another matter. The earth has more growing area than is needed for human consumption. Also, the earth can produce more carbohydrates then are needed for human consumption, therefore the rest could be used for combustion in one form or another as in transportation fuel. It is possible. It all depends on what you want.

This "open letter" has too many falsitudes to even start discussing. Where did Obama say that "Agrifuels will be the central strategy for solving the problems of energy supply"????
How is it that "agrofuels create more, not less, greenhouse emissions"? More compared to what?????

And on and on and on these guys go: "growing bodies", we sure must be impressed..... Why not simply grow plants?

These guys are obfuscating the biofuel fundamentals with other agendas, hence clubs with the title "global justice" etc.. It is a sign of narrowmindedness to achieve their agendas, from "global justice" to "rain forest preservation" by simply addressing agrofuels as if they were the root of all evil.

The earth has more growing area than is needed for human consumption. Also, the earth can produce more carbohydrates then are needed for human consumption, therefore the rest could be used for combustion in one form or another as in transportation fuel. It is possible. It all depends on what you want.


Man that's a scary point of view. I'm guessing you live in a concrete and steel and glass enclosure far from the earth. I certainly don't think I'd like it here very much once the rest are used for combustion.

Plants that grow through photosynthesis, absorb CO2. There is probably no better way to capture CO2.
In addition, they convert it into carbohydrates. There is probably not better way to make carbohydrates.
Plants can grow over and over again, doing the same thing, for ages. It will probably never get any better than that.

It looks good to the feel-good, hand-waving people out there, like you.

When you get down to the nitty-gritty of how much you could actually make and what it would do, it's very different:

  1. US oil consumption is roughly 41 exajoules (4.1*1019 J) per year.
  2. US coal consumption is roughly 24 exajoules.
  3. US natural gas consumption is roughly 25 exajoules.
  4. Efficiency of conversion of biomass to liquid fuel is 40-50%.  Assuming 50%, replacing US oil consumption with biomass would require 82 EJ of biomass energy per year.
  5. Dry biomass has roughly 17.4 GJ/metric ton of energy.  Meeting the US demand for petroleum energy using liquids from biomass would require 4.7 billion tons per year.
  6. Current US production of biomass as crop byproducts, forestry wastes, etc. is under 1 billion tons per year.
  7. There are questions about the sustainability of removing so much fixed carbon instead of feeding it to soil organisms.
  8. The highest-yielding candidates for biomass crops produce approximately 15 tons/acre/year.  Producing 4.7 billion tons of biomass this way would require in excess of 300 million acres of our most productive cropland; this is more than the acreage planted to corn and soybeans put together.

You can hand-wave your way to winning an election, or getting a government grant.  You can't hand-wave your way past the laws of physics, and they have the final say on every energy scheme no matter how good it sounds.

Have to say, I'm a fan of charts.

I guess the gist of points 1 - 8, (except 7 of which I am clueless as to what you mean)is the "it can't be done" message. But you would have to define "it". If your "it" means all things biofuel, I think you're simply wrong: some can certainly be done. But who said that agrofuels were the panacea to all energy supply problems? Also, since it seems you want a panacea to all energy problems, I am curious as to what then the "it" is that you can come up with.

And no, I am not hand-waving to anyone (yet). Why did you think I was?

#7 "There are questions about the sustainability of removing so much fixed carbon instead of feeding it to soil organisms."

looks to be refering to how badly the soil becomes degraded as all the plant carbon is being removed (intense harvesting of the full biomass so to quote you "the rest can be used for combustion') allowing none to build the organisms that build the soil.

The poverty of the ecosystem that turning the land into a fuel factory would result in may also be getting a back handed reference though that was my main point.

Plant carbon in the soil would be essentially roots. In several crops used for agrifuel only the above ground part is used and roots are not harvested. Nor did I suggest it should be as you seem to be insinuating when you speak "intensive harvesting of full biomass". But anyway, even the carbon in the roots of all plants comes from the CO2 in the air, not the soil. Farmland can produce for ages without any sign of depletion whatsoever. Therefore it is a myth to suggest otherwise. And "poverty of the ecosystem" seems to be highly subjective and an emotional criterion.

I will grant the subjective and emotional nature of the term 'poverty of the ecosystem,' but it is astronomically unlikely even the most enlightened systems we could design to intensively harvest all the earth available would approach the complexity of the systems natural selection currently has on line . Simplification is often admirable but is it always so?

An immense amount of naturally selected survival knowledge gleaned over eons is contained in diverse habitats. We put all the world 'to the plow' simplifying it so it will all easily bend to our will and the greatest part of that knowledge will disappear. Lose enough wealth, and you probably will grant that knowledge can be considered wealth, and you create the condition of poverty.

If you want to subscribe to the notion of natural selection, then you should only welcome rather than critiqueing all and whatever that will happen, including the production of agrifuel. And you should then also welcome whatever changes happen to "the ecosystem", whether that means extinction of species or depletion.

Because as the story goes, natural selection caused dinosaurs, dodos and neandertals to dissappear. Considered that way "naturally selected" then is necessarily an impoverishment of what was before.....

For starters this appears to be the first time this planet has had a species with enough consciousness to try to unravel the survival strategies of all the species around it. When species are gone we can not learn near as much from them as we can while they live on. So from my narrow rather selfish knowledge seeking point of view losing vast numbers of the species we share this place with is impoverishment. Depending on the knowledge that gets lost with them the forcing that loss might even prove suicidal.

If natural selection has us harvest every scrap of the planet using 'the rest for combustion' so be it. I believe considerations on how we use this place beyond the amount of food humans need to eat and the combustion material humans can grow on it need to be in the decision mix. If someone's computer models finds that too complex well...

And there has been impoverishment (at least as I defined it a couple of posts up) during the natural selection process. Massive extinctions reduced the library of survival knowledge to a more fundamental core several times and likely will do it several times more. It takes a long time for a rich matrix to re evolve. The system works fine with or without us here. But we are here now and much that is disappearing has been here the whole time we have. If we change things so most of the other species go, good chance it doesn't bode well for us. Does hurrying along this extinction seem our best course of action?

Now if survival knowledge is not considered wealth but rather some degradation of the one true seems better to leave that stuff for some place other than an energy blog, I won't be going there.

I never suggested we don't use the biofuel option, nor that it would be unwise to fit it into our energy mix. It does appear within limits we can do what we please with the planet. Natural selection will decide if our strategy will give us long term success or just leave us as a smudge in a silt layer.

Louisiana Enacts the Most Comprehensive Advanced Biofuel Legislation in the Nation

Governor Bobby Jindal has signed into law the Advanced Biofuel Industry Development Initiative, the most comprehensive and far-reaching state legislation in the nation enacted to develop a statewide advanced biofuel industry. Louisiana is the first state to enact alternative transportation fuel legislation that includes a variable blending pump pilot program and a hydrous ethanol pilot program.

The legislature found that the proper development of an advanced biofuel industry in Louisiana requires implementation of the comprehensive “field-to-pump” strategy developed by Renergie, Inc.:

(1) Feedstock other than corn;
(2) Decentralized network of small advanced biofuel manufacturing facilities;
(3) Variable blending pumps in lieu of splash blending; and
(4) Hydrous ethanol.

Renergie looks forward to working closely with the Obama-Biden administration to:
(a) reduce U.S. dependency on imported oil;
(b) repeal the ethanol import tariff;
(c) maximize the environmental benefits of ethanol-blended transportation fuels; and
(d) create jobs in rural areas of the United States by growing ethanol demand, specifically hydrous ethanol demand, beyond the 10% blend market.

Please feel free to visit Renergie’s weblog ( for more information.