Another Biofuel Scam?

Scam - A fraudulent business scheme; esp. for making a quick profit; swindle. To scam means to victimize; deprive of by deceit.

I am generally very cautious about calling any business proposition a scam, but when I read a recent article on the E-Fuel MicroFueler, described as "Earth's First Home Ethanol System" - that term immediately popped into my head.

The invention came to my attention about a year ago when a reader referred me to it and asked for my opinion. At that time the invention had been covered by the New York Times:

Home Brew for the Car, Not the Beer Cup

The MicroFueler will use sugar as its main fuel source, or feedstock, along with a specially packaged time-release yeast the company has developed. Depending on the cost of sugar, plus water and electricity, the company says it could cost as little as a dollar a gallon to make ethanol.

There were some pretty far-fetched claims made in the article, such as "burning a gallon of ethanol made by his system will produce one-eighth the carbon of the same amount of gasoline" and the inevitable "it could cost as little as a dollar a gallon to make ethanol." But in general it was based on the principles of a home-brewing system. The economics weren't good, though, so they were basing their hopes on the idea that they could "buy inedible sugar from Mexico for as little as 2.5 cents a pound."

So while the assumptions around their business model weren't grounded in reality, that doesn't constitute a scam. But when the performance of an invention is vastly overstated, the promoters are entering that sort of territory. Apparently, even the cheap Mexican sugar wasn't enough to propel the business model, so they came up with the idea of feeding the machine alcohol so it can produce alcohol:

Strauss to convert beer waste into fuel

GreenHouse Energy (GHE), a three-year-old San Diego company, wants to make the ability to convert the byproduct of brewing beer into a clean- burning fuel as commonplace as brewing a strong pot of coffee.

GHE has created E-fuel MicroFuelers, which convert spent beer yeast and sugar waste into clean-burning ethanol through the processes of fermentation and distillation. To make their business model run, GHE requires large amounts of organic waste. Breweries and wineries alike were logical providers, and GHE President Russ Earnshaw knew early on he wanted to work with one brewery in particular.

“Karl Strauss is a great local brewery,” Earnshaw said. “They have a well-known name and want to be on the cutting-edge of green energy solutions, so we thought it would be great to step in and open up a relationship with them.”

This would qualify it as more of a gimmick in my opinion, but still not yet to the level that I would label it a scam. After all, how much economic sense can it make for a brewery to send their waste to local homes for processing? It is already at the brewery, so if this makes sense for consumers it would make even more sense (on many levels) for the brewery to simply process all of their own waste and sell the ethanol. So the business model is now that a brewery will send you beer or wine waste, and the person who failed Economics 101 and bought one of these can then use electricity to extract the alcohol.

The unit lists for 10 grand, but they claim the government will gladly pitch in half the cost. I can't tell you how pleased I am at the thought that the government is making such good use of my tax dollars. If this is true, then I would expect the government would pay for half of my hypothetical moonshine still - as long as I am pouring the product in my car.

I will mention also that they are setting themselves up for a lawsuit when someone puts too much ethanol in their vehicle and incurs damage. Their website highlights a study suggesting that the optimal blend for an auto may be E20 or E30 - a strong "Go" signal for customers wondering if that is a good idea.

But the real slide toward scam comes as a result of a story in which a journalist wrote a very misleading story on the unit. And the reason the story is so misleading is that the journalist was completely out of her element and didn't ask the right questions (or spot the "wrong" answers). Yet the story ended up in the Business Section of the L.A. Times:

Making fuel at home: Waste wine primes the pump

The subtitle reads: "The MicroFueler makes ethanol out of organic waste in minutes. It can be installed at individual homes, and companies are eager to supply owners with garbage."

There is so much wrong in this story, but I am going to focus on some choice excerpts:

It sounds too good to be true:

She could have stopped right there and applied the first rule of Due Diligence 101. It is easy to fool people when they are outside of their area of expertise. If she is not qualified to ask the right questions, then if it sounds too good to be true she probably should have dropped the story or pulled in an expert for an opinion. But alas, she continued:

The problem with ethanol, [inventor and CEO Tom] Quinn said, was energy inefficiency -- not only in the carbon cost of growing, harvesting and transporting the corn that was used to make it, but also in the distillation process that turned it into usable fuel.

Yet ironically this system works best with waste ethanol that was produced using corn (in a brewery), and will be cleaned up with a distillation process that will be less energy efficient than the much larger systems ones in full-scale ethanol plants. (The percentage of heat lost will be far lower in the large facility).

"In the U.S. alone, more than 100 billion gallons of organic fuel is thrown out," said Quinn, who reached out to ethanol scientist Floyd Butterfield to see if they could collaborate on a system that could make ethanol in a manner that was cost effective and better for the environment.

I would like to see a source for that. I do not believe it. Our gasoline demand is around 140 billion gallons per year right now, and I am to believe that we throw away an amount equivalent to over 70% of what we actually use? And I guess that would be this Floyd Butterfield? At the link Floyd tells the tale of having converted a truck to run off of pure ethanol. Once when he was running out of ethanol and wasn't going to be able to make it home, he stopped and put 3 gallons of water in and drove the rest of the way home. This is great news, because the MicroFueler can only produce ethanol at 95% purity, with 5% water remaining.

As they say on their technology page, "E-Fuel scientists have experimented with multiple blends of ethanol and water and have determined, contrary to conventional wisdom, small amounts of water improve the efficiency of burning ethanol." It occurs to me that they should sell this research to the government and the ethanol industry, which is currently spending lots of money to get that last 5% of water out.

Here is where the ignorance of the journalist starts to show badly:

The idea was to use organic waste rather than corn to make a product known as cellulosic ethanol. Although Quinn's MicroFueler is most effective with wastes that are high in alcohol, ethanol "can be made out of any waste -- lawn clippings, dairy products, old chemicals, cardboard, paper, bruised and discarded apples from the grocery store. It can be fermented and turned into fuel in minutes," Quinn said.

First of all, this unit does not make cellulosic ethanol. To suggest or imply that it does is simply false. Here is what the company claims on their website:

To further simplify the E-Fuel100 ethanol production for consumers, the MicroFueler supports a variety of organic waste as fuel (among them are discarded liquids rich in sugar, waste sugar, liquids with residual alcohol, cellulosic materials** and even algae**).

At the bottom of the page, we see this: **Additional processing outside of the MicroFueler may be required. May be? So you are telling me that I might be able to throw cellulosic materials or algae into this thing and get ethanol from those feedstocks? Well, all I can say is prepare to be sued for fraud, because in my opinion this implication crosses the line into Scam City (which was already being flirted with as far as I am concerned).

So far, only one MicroFueler is up and running. It was installed in late June at the Pacific Palisades home of Chris Ursitti, CEO of GreenHouse International Inc., the San Diego firm that is distributing the units and supplying feedstock to those who install MicroFuelers at their homes.

Once you get a few more units out there, you better line up some good lawyers. You are certainly going to be sued for false advertising.

GreenHouse has contracts with Karl Strauss Brewing Co., Gordon Biersch Brewing Co. and Sunny Delight Beverages Co. to convert 29,000 tons of their liquid waste using MicroFuelers.

Though Ursitti is the only one now using the system, the plan is for a tanker truck to pick up the companies' waste and deliver it to home-based MicroFuelers, which convert it to ethanol on site. MicroFueler owners are charged $2 a gallon once they pump out the fuel.

So, let's think about this again. A brewing company has a bunch of liquid waste that contains alcohol. Even though it presently costs them money to dispose of, instead of cleaning up this waste themselves to recover the ethanol, they are going to put it in a tanker truck and haul that waste (and all that water!) to people's houses and dump it in their MicroFuelers. The owner of the MicroFueler, having paid $10K to buy one of these things, is now going to pay for electricity, water, and sewage and then pay another $2 a gallon for the finished product. They are then going to put it into their vehicle, hopefully in proportions that don't ruin their cars. Wow.

Again, the journalist makes a patently false statement:

Converting expired beer and other liquid wastes into cellulosic ethanol takes minutes and uses three kilowatt-hours of electricity to produce one gallon of fuel.

How about some voodoo economics? The following, combined with the cellulosic misdirection, are enough to convince me that consumers are being seriously misled:

Factoring in the $5,000 federal tax credit, an annual household fuel consumption of 2,080 gallons and a $2 charge a gallon, GreenHouse estimates the average consumer payback time is about two years.

Some of the assumptions in their business plan are simply amazing. First, their estimate of 2,080 gallons is almost double the real annual household fuel consumption. There are an estimated 112 million households in the U.S., and our total gasoline consumption is about 140 billion gallons. That is 1,250 gallons of gasoline per household. But because of the lower energy density, one would have to replace that gasoline with around 1,800 gallons of ethanol (actually about 1,900 since this ethanol contains 5% water). Further, they apparently also made the assumption that people are going to run E100 in their cars to justify that two-year payback claim. But their two key assumptions are both wrong.

They admit that you are going to spend $10,000 on the unit, yet they assure that you will get a $5,000 tax credit (hey, they haven't steered us wrong yet, have they?) and then you are going to pay $2 per gallon plus electricity to produce each gallon. So over the course of 2 years the average household would pay $5,000 (plus another $5,000 from the taxpayer) plus $3,800 (1,900 gallons at $2/gal) plus another $1710 of electricity (again, taking their word that it is only 3 kWh of electricity per gallon, and using $0.15/kWh) for 3,800 gallons of ethanol to replace 2,500 gallons of gasoline.

Today's average retail price of gasoline is $2.64. So in two years an average household would pay $6,600 for gasoline. The total price over two years via this ethanol route (and I am assuming free feedstock and value for your labor) is $15,510. But if they are correct and we taxpayers get to kick in $5,000, then the cost is only $10,510. So much for a two-year payback. Again, this appears to be for those who failed Economics 101, and is being helped by a journalist who failed Due Diligence 101.

I must say that things have certainly changed a lot since Quinn and Butterfield were featured in the New York Times a year ago. At that time the unit was going to be fed sugar and was going to produce ethanol at a cost of only $1/gal. Quinn claimed at that time "It’s going to cause havoc in the market and cause great financial stress in the oil industry." Now a year later the unit prefers to be fed alcohol so it can produce alcohol, will cost $2/gal, and will produce almost as much carbon as one would produce from burning gasoline.


An E-Fuel MicroFueler Dealer Responds

After I wrote this essay, I went back and searched through my Gmail to see when I had first heard about the E-Fuel MicroFueler. It turns out that about a year ago a regular reader of my blog - and someone I had exchanged a number of e-mails with - sent me the first bit of information and asked for my opinion. He told me at that time that he had become a dealer of these systems.

At the time, the idea was to use sugar as the feedstock. I made a number of comments to him, including my concern that the capital costs alone were too high to make the unit economical. I said that I felt like they would need to get capital costs down by 2/3rds, and I questioned several assumptions in the economics. Further, I flagged up a concern that people who couldn't program their VCRs would be expected to produce ethanol in their garage. On the other hand, I did favor the idea of localized production of fuel (and still do).

Following the essay on my blog - Another Journalist Fails Due Diligence 101 - in which I pulled no punches, we exchanged several e-mails. I told him that I felt like what was being presented about the MicroFueler's capabilities bordered on fraud. In response, he said he wanted to clarify a number of points raised in the L.A. Times article that I addressed. Since he is not authorized to speak on behalf of E-Fuel, he will not be identified and this will be his opinion - and not the official company position. One of my core principles is to allow people to respond to my criticisms, so in the interest of fairness, I present excerpts of his response to me.

On the topic of the government picking up half the cost, he wrote:

Section 30C of the US Internal Revenue Code (as amended by the Stimulus Act) provides an income tax credit of 50% (up to $50,000) for a taxpayer to install “Alternative Fuel Vehicle Refueling Equipment” as long as the fuel is used in a “trade or business”. Individuals can qualify for a credit of up to $2,000. This credit applies to commercial E-85 pumps, natural gas refueling equipment, hydrogen, biodiesel, and yes, even MicroFuelers. The credit also applies to other “turn-key” ethanol fuel production/dispensing solutions. The same government that provides these incentives is the same one that gives incentives to the petroleum industry for exploration, infrastructure, research & development, etc. Fair is fair.

If individuals qualify for $2,000, then that puts the out of pocket cost at $8,000 - and not the $5,000 that I have seen mentioned again and again.

Regarding my comment about people being trusted to put the correct amounts of ethanol in their vehicles, he wrote:

There was a study by the University of North Dakota that looked at the ability of unmodified non-flex fuel vehicles to run on ethanol/gasoline blends. The study showed that these vehicles could run quite well on high-level blends such as E-50, E-60, etc. The study also looked at fuel economy when using these various blends and concluded that blends of E-20 or E-30 might well be the “optimal” blend in terms of overall fuel economy for non-flex fuel vehicles, but the results tended to be different for each make/model/year vehicle tested.

“Optimal” in the real world translates (and this is very important) into two things:
1. Lowest net cost per mile (including vehicle manufacture & upkeep)
2. Lowest net “well to wheel” emissions per mile (including vehicle manufacture & upkeep)

Optimal Ethanol Blend-Level Investigation

Unfortunately, it didn’t address the question of vehicle longevity, but we have many real-world data points that support our position that ethanol is unlikely to cause any problems.

We know that most vehicles built after 1989 have parts that are ethanol compatible (fuel pumps, fuel injectors, fuel lines, etc). In fact, if you compare part numbers between today’s “flex fuel” and “non-flex fuel” vehicles, you’ll find the exact same part number used in both applications. There is a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt about whether ethanol can be used in non-flex fuel vehicles – but the fact is that we’ve been using high-level ethanol blends (up to E100) in a number of unconverted non-flex fuel vehicles with no problems except the occasional “Check Engine” light... and the only reason the Check Engine light comes on is because the on-board ECU thinks that the fuel system is putting too much fuel into the engine so it assumes there is a problem when, in fact, there really isn’t. It’s just that the ECU was never programmed to take the possibility of using ethanol (lower energy density) into account. In these cases, the “Check Engine” light is a false indication of a non-existent problem.

I am familiar with the University of North Dakota study. It was paid for by the American Coalition for Ethanol. I think we would agree that if an anti-ethanol result was found as a result of research funded by the American Petroleum Institute, ethanol proponents wouldn't accept that at face value.

The study has been widely spun as showing that an optimal ethanol blend was E20 or E30. But I looked at the report, and previously commented on it at TOD. Here were some of my comments on this paper:

I took some time to review this paper again. This is what I see from the ethanol tests. Look at Figures 10-13. Here is the reality of the tests:

Figure 10. 2007 Toyota Camry, 2.4-L engine - 6 of 7 tests show worse fuel efficiency on an ethanol blend. There is one apparent outlier, which was the basis for the claims. (And it looks like a classic outlier, with almost all of the other points falling as predicted).

Figure 11. 2007 Chevrolet Impala (non-flex fuel), 3.5-L engine - 5 of 5 tests show worse fuel efficiency on an ethanol blend.

Figure 12. 2007 Chevrolet Impala (flex fuel), 3.5-L engine - 8 tests, 2 show better fuel efficiency, 2 show the same, and 3 show worse fuel efficiency on an ethanol blend.

Figure 13. 2007 Ford Fusion, 2.3-L engine - 4 of 5 tests show worse fuel efficiency on an ethanol blend. There is one apparent outlier.

So, what can we conclude? Of 25 data points, 18 confirm that the fuel economy is worse on an ethanol blend. That is 72% of the tests, and these tests were paid for by the ethanol lobby (which is why I suspect the results were spun as they were). The outliers are interesting enough for further investigation, but you have vastly overstated the test results. In reality, if you pulled the results out of a bag, you have only a 28% chance of improving your fuel efficiency on the basis of any particular test. Further, the outlier didn't always occur at the same percentage, which would be quite problematic even if the result is confirmed.

Note: A reader just pointed me to an NREL study that attempted to replicate the results of the North Dakota study and refuted it (vindicating my skepticism of the results):

Effects of Intermediate Ethanol Blends on Legacy Vehicles and Small Non-Road Engines

The key findings:

• All 16 vehicles exhibited a loss in fuel economy commensurate with the energy density of the fuel.*
• Limited evaluations of fuel with as much as 30% ethanol were conducted, and the reduction in miles per gallon continued as a linear trend with increasing ethanol content.
*This result was expected because ethanol has about 67% of the energy density of gasoline on a volumetric basis.

Given the number of times ethanol proponents have touted this test, this will be the subject of an upcoming post.

On the L.A. Times article itself, and my claim that the author had been duped:

“Duped” might be a bit strong, but there were certainly a few problems with the article. I’m not sure if Tom/Chris misspoke or if they were misquoted (I wasn’t there), but the inaccuracies should have been identified and cleared-up before the article went to press. Incorrect? Perhaps in some ways. Misleading? Maybe. Intentionally misleading (fraud)? No... I’m confident that there was no intent by E-Fuel or GreenHouse to be misleading. I think it’s unfair to expect any journalist to have the same level of technical knowledge and industry experience that we have, so I’m prepared to live and let live when an article doesn’t get everything exactly right. The fact is that nobody “lied” here, and there’s really no way to control what gets printed. No journalist in the world would allow us to review the article before it goes to print.

I agree that someone with more experience could have handled the interviews or at least reviewed the article before it went to press. And perhaps an “interview” isn’t the best way to present the concepts that were discussed. Maybe a “press sheet” or “whitepaper” would be more appropriate. We (the biofuels industry in general) need to be careful to properly manage customer expectations because, ultimately, failure to do so could seriously undermine our credibility.

Regarding my comment that a big ethanol refinery would be more efficient:

Energy efficiency of huge biorefineries isn’t going to be much different than in the MicroFueler. It takes a certain amount of energy to distill no matter what quantities we’re talking about. Take a look at Floyd’s 1982 design and then look at the MicroFueler design and you’ll see it’s pretty well thought out. Where “the big boys” have a definite advantage is there economies of scale with respect to capital costs. Where we have a huge advantage is the cost of feedstock, carbon balance, and the (near) elimination of the whole petroleum distribution system.

I disagree with that. A smaller purification system is going to suffer heat losses to a much greater degree. It is inevitable. You see it all the time when trying to run a laboratory column to simulate a production column. Efficiencies aren't nearly as good because of the higher relative heat losses.

Regarding the comment that 100 billion gallons of fuel are thrown away:

Misquoted or misspoken. He probably meant to say that the US is sitting on about 100 billion gallons worth of cellulosic biomass on a sustainable, annual basis. That’s the USDA/DOE “Billion Ton” study. There’s a fine line between “thrown out” and “not utilized”. Then there’s all the stuff that we’re paying to haul away to landfills (another 6-10 billion gallons worth). Tom knows the difference, but somehow the two thoughts got combined into a single statement.

We exchanged a number of e-mails regarding the claims around adding water to ethanol to improve the engine efficiency. I have seen some references to that, but I haven't been able to find actual results. (See this article, for instance). My comment was that the results may have been spun like the University of North Dakota study cited above. But one thing that I told him I don't believe is credible is that a person was running out of fuel and added 3 gallons of water to their tank to get home (see the previous story for that example). It is possible that a vehicle running on ethanol - and with a pretty full tank - could "tolerate" that much water.

But this much is true. It takes a lot of energy and capital to get that last 5% of water out of ethanol that is produced. Cars can run on ethanol that contains water (hydrous ethanol), albeit at a lower efficiency (which is why the water is removed). Brazil runs some of their cars on hydrous ethanol. But the claim that this improves the efficiency is pretty far-fetched, in my opinion. One of the articles I recently read stated that the water lowered the combustion temperature, thus increasing the efficiency. But if you look at the equation for efficiency of an engine, a lower combustion temperature will normally result in a lower efficiency. Regardless, I don't put much faith in highly counter-intuitive results until they have been well-replicated (see 'cold fusion'). And if they are - it would be a potentially revolutionary finding.

On the cellulosic issue, he wrote:

The MicroFueler is an automated fermentation, distillation, and dispensing platform. Our fermentation process regulates agitation, temperature, and other parameters to optimize output, but fermentation is fermentation. Distillation isn’t rocket science. If you can boil water then you can distill ethanol. We happen to be able to do this very efficiently and we produce a very high quality fuel. So the question is, can we really hydrolyze cellulosic materials to liberate the sugars and then convert them into ethanol? The answer is yes. The better question is “can we do this efficiently in order to get close to the maximum theoretical yields?”

You can’t just put grass clippings in a MicroFueler and walk away from it and expect ethanol fuel. There’s more to it than that. But, it’s not a big deal to put a grinder, pump, and a 300 gallon tank next to a MicroFueler or to add a bottle of enzymes now and again. It’s like having a pool, and then having the pumps, filters, to make it work, and the chlorine to keep it all clean. Or like a washing machine for that matter. Laundry detergent is mostly enzymes, and the clothes don’t wash themselves.

There’s another issue here which is that people toss around the term “cellulosic” far too often without really knowing what it means. Food waste (starch/carbohydrates) is very easy to work with, but it’s not cellulosic. People think that anything other than corn is cellulosic. Blame that on the media.

Around the economics, he essentially said that not everyone will save money, but some will save a lot of money. I haven't seen the assumptions that went into those financial calculations, but I am highly skeptical that the average person would save any money.

In his conclusion, he again hit upon the local production aspect, which was the one part I did find appealing:

And here’s the $64,000 controversy… Say for example I feed my MicroFueler a steady diet of corn (grain) and amylase enzymes. I grow the corn on my farm, make the fuel on my farm, and feed my chickens the WDGS that are left-over from making ethanol. No transportation. Then I collect the chicken manure and spread it back in my corn field (which I also irrigate with the wastewater). By the way I’m also paying a premium for wind power to run my MicroFueler in this scenario. Is this sustainable? Does this defeat the argument that all corn ethanol is patently unsustainable (by definition)? I guess it all depends on the price delta between a bushel of corn and a gallon of gasoline. High gas prices and low corn prices you better believe I’m making fuel.

I don't think anyone would argue that corn ethanol is unsustainable by definition. If a farmer is growing his own corn and taking care of the soil, and using that to produce his own ethanol, then he has a shot at sustainability. We lose the plot when we try to ramp that up to be a large scale solution.

To conclude, I recognize that my original article was pretty harsh. But that is because in my opinion there has been a distinct pattern of embellishment with this device, and if there is one thing I loathe it is people making far-fetched promises around renewable energy. I found the L.A. Times article to be irresponsible, either because the journalist did a poor job or the developers were overselling their device.

The end result of articles like this is that it creates the potential for money - private equity and taxpayer funds - to flow to an undeserving source. Ultimately this will have the effect that the funds will dry up, and promising technologies won't be funded as a result. Imagine funds for cancer research being diverted to some of the fraudulent cancer cures, and you have the sort of example that gets me worked up. That is the reason I am quick to pounce on embellishment in this sector.

Thanks Robert. Excellent investigation. What alarms me most is that the New York Times (the first link in your piece) appear to have no fact checking when it comes to energy news. They appear to be merely reprinting marketing pitches.

There is a now pattern of misleading reporting on energy from that newspaper.

Even if the New York Times reporters have no industry knowledge, they should at least call someone like yourself for a view.

This is so elementally wrong as to be laughable -- except that it is a feature story in the NYT, with a big color picture.

They didn't even ask how much energy went into making the sugar -- Am I wrong, or are there sugar mines in Mexico that produce the "inedible sugar" they claim sells for $.025/lb? Perhaps they have found the real Big Rock Candy Mountain?

Also they don't distill, they "filter" the alcohol out. Hmmm. On a zeolite filter bed, presumably

Who can even read the Times any more?

The Crossword Puzzles are still pretty good......

This is such an obvous scam. If it is too good to be true then it usually is.I liken this to the Brown's Gas rip-off or the HHO scam.
There are so many ludicrous claims that it beggars belief that the public will be sucked in by this nonsense. But they will. The laws of thermodynamics are well documented and have proven to be sound. Sadly there is always someone who thinks they know better and will believe this type of drivel The Gridbuster offering from these gentlemen will save the world; a real gem of bullshit.
If the human race really is to make it to the next century it has some stark choices to make. That means reducing energy consumption to a fraction of what it is is now and reducing the population to a level that is sustainable, which is much less that the current population.

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Given the level of technological illiteracy among the journalist community, I'm not surprised that articles like this make it past the editors, but to see this happen with the venerable New York Times is both surprising and disheartening. The Times has (or perhaps had) a very good weekly Science Section that put out some very interesting, in-depth, and well-researched articles.

Perhaps this one appeared in the Business Section rather than the Science Section, and the author didn't bother to run it past the Times' science reporters. That's about the most charitable explanation I can come up with. But if the article did indeed appear in the Science Section, then things have really turned to shite at the Times.

It was printed in the "Technology" section of the New York Times. If this is the sort of material they let through then there is no telling how downright inaccurate all of the science/technology section of the newspaper is.

All of journalism is probably this innacurate, it's just easier to spot with tech stories as they're falsifiable through science.

I used to buy the NYT at the bookstore occasionally,and I have read it online (thiugh not from home until recently) for a long time.

The paper has apparently sold out,lock,stock,and barrel,for some reason ,as far as energy is concerned,over the last few months.

Formerly they just avoided the supply side problems.

That was bad enough.

Now they are printing rubbish.

It's hard to see why they would print this kind of crap,as it will damage thier credibility substantially if they keep it up.

There is most definitely something with the smell of dead fish about this.

I am beginning to think that I will never again refer to the NYT as one of the worlds great papers.

ANY process that one can do at home to retrieve energy from waste is something that, if it can be done at all, can and would be done far more efficiently in some factory specially set up for doing so. So without any particular expertise, one already knows that something is, let's say, fishy.

The NREL study(2009) shows that E20 could be run in legacy cars at a fuel economy approximately consistant with its energy content. By formula E20 should have 93.33% of the energy of straight gas E0; .2/1.5 + .8 =.9333 but test average of 16 vehicles showed it was 92.3%. Most test results including gas economy, were within a 95% confidence interval, which means that the test average described the real world very well.

The test showed that the cars produced ~50 mg/mi of non-methane organic gases, ~50 mg/mi of non-methane hydrocarbons, 15 mg/mi of carbon monoxide and ~100 mg/mi of NOx. E20 was slightly higher on NOx and slightly lower in non-methane hydrocarbons than E0.

The amounts of ethanol type pollutants from E20 were ethanol, acetyldehyde and formaldehyde increased a total of 1.74 mg/mi while CO2 dropped 12%, about 2.16 mg/mi.

In terms of mg/mi, it looks like E20 produces slightly fewer
pollutants than E0. No drivability or operational differences were noted in this NREL study between E0 and E20( except engine warning light in 2 of 16 vehicles).

This differs from the conclusions of Mark Z. Jacobsen for E85 who think ethanol causes air pollution.

Today the US produces 5 Gg/yr of ethanol which can increase to 15 Gg/yr under RFS with no legal limit with cellulosic ethanol.

If we put E20 in all gasoline it would reduce gasoline consumption by 23 Gg/yr saving ~1 mbpd of crude oil production in the current system.

Talk about completely missing the point.  Unless your point was to put in a sales pitch.

Just fact-checking, E-P.

R^2 said that the NREL report 'refuted' a North Dakota study supporting the superior mpg of E20 or E30 for certain autos.
The ND report had some data points above the calculated value but to my eye they pretty much matched the calculated values.

The ND study needed to do a statistical analysis on the results but it looks to me like the sample size was too small.

So they concluded with the suggestive idea that
some cars are more efficient on E30 than on E0. I would guess they were just looking for more funding. It's not all that 'deceptive'.

NREL recorded slightly better or the same mpg with E20 than with E15 and got the same mpg with a VW Golf
a Taurus, Toyota Camry and a Honda, but in general I would imagine that the BTU/mpg relationship will hold in a much larger sample of legacy cars.

R^2 says he will have an upcoming post on this very point.
If you had read the post carefully perhaps you would have noticed that.

Personally, I think you should expect to get lower gas mileage by moving from E03 to E20.
That's not the big deal.
What's important is that E20 can reduce our use of gasoline in existing cars by 11%.

Why this is not deemed worthy of note at a Peak Oil web site is
quite weird, IMO.

The ND report had some data points above the calculated value but to my eye they pretty much matched the calculated values.

Some points that were above calculated value were even above the value for 100% gasoline. In other words, not only was there not a penalty, there was actually a reported gain. The problem was that these points had all the characteristics of classic outliers. Yet here is an example of how this data was reported by ethanol proponents:

Sioux Falls, SD (December 5, 2007) – Research findings released today show that mid-range ethanol blends— fuel mixtures with more ethanol than E10 but less than E85—can in some cases provide better fuel economy than regular unleaded gasoline, even in standard, non-flex-fuel vehicles.

Previous assumptions held that ethanol’s lower energy content should always directly correlate with lower fuel economy for drivers. Those assumptions were found to be wrong.

Instead, the new research strongly suggests that there is an “optimal blend level” of ethanol and gasoline—most likely E20 or E30—at which cars will get better mileage than predicted based strictly on the fuel’s per-gallon Btu content.

The ND report does show what happens when you take advantage of ethanols' higher octane rating. The two Chevy Impalas are the same except one is flex fuel and one is not. Flex fuel vehicles have a fuel compensation sensor or a flex fuel sensor. This adjusts ignition timing. At E10 and E20, the timing is increased toward optimum for the engine. At around 91-93 octane (E20-E30) anymore ignition advance is beyond optimum regardless of octane rating available although I have seen some 98-100 octane tunes that extract the last couple percent of horespower not gas mileage. The non flex fuel Impala followed the expected drop in gas mileage due to the reduction in Btu content. The flex fuel Impalas' gas mileage improved for E10 and E20 because the improvement in efficiency with the timing advance more than offset the reduction in Btu content of those fuels. Beyond E20 gas mileage began dropping because no more timing advance could be added.

All this is similar to my experience with my vehicle. It's a 2000 vintage with 111,000 miles. I sent my engine computer out to be reprogrammed for higher octane (under $100). With no other changes, running E10 before and after from the same gas pump, my mileage increased about 10%.

I live in Iowa, just about to retire from John Deere. E85 doesn't make sense unless the vehicle can take advantage of the 100+ octane. However, E10 to E20 does. Nearly every spark ignition engine of the cars already on the road could be reprogramed to take advantage of the higher octane like I did (some of the higher end vehicles come from the factory already tuned for higher octane. That's where some of their higher horsepower and great gas mileage comes from). Whether higher than E10 will harm older vehicles or if E(any percentage) could or should be made is quite a debate. Politically, there's no way the government could ever endorse such a plan even though I think it would save more oil for dollars spent than the cash for klunkers program.

The article says that Mr Quinn has a federal permit to make his own fuel. This is another aspect that is not adequately explored. Home brewing is legal in small quantities, but home distilling of ethanol is not.

Sooo... what does it take to make this little moonshine factory legal? And what monitoring hassles go with it?

one can get a permit from the federal government for home distillation of ethanol in limited quantities. Its not difficult, you really just have to apply and pay a small fee. The permit exists to allow individuals to distill ethanol at home for use as fuel. It does not exist to allow individuals to distill ethanol for consumption. The easiest way for individuals to comply would be to add methanol or another non-consumable alcohol to the ethanol to demonstrate your compliance.

Thanks RR, great analysis as usual, and I strongly agree.

I wonder about what to call a scam, though. I think "scam" implies intentional deception, when all that often needs to be invoked is socially-acceptable levels of self-rationalization, ignorance, and/or stupidity.

The notion of "inventing something" is powerful in our society, and in any given crowd there will be a lot of folks who figure that they have done so or could do so. Cross this with a society which is largely innumerate, innocent of the scientific method, and delusional and you get a potential "tragedy of the energy-investing commons" (which phrase may have originated with Nate). Or perhaps a modern reprise of the search for a philosopher's stone, as a thousand points of dim light seek to run their ATV's on urine.

Of course, nobody looking for government handouts need tip their hat to thermodynamics. There's some guy on Craigslist in my town selling a little kit that purportedly electrolyzes a tiny amount of water into hydrogen and oxygen using the car's battery, and injects it into the intake air. An upper limit on the amount of H and O produced (if any) is easy to derive from the amount of "refill water" necessary: a cupfull every month or two. Of course, there are a lot of spurious claims about increasing gas mileage, saving the world, etc, but there's another one: that under government regs, this makes the car a "hybrid" and subject to government handouts. That latter is harder for me to summarily debunk. I'd call that a scam, except it may well function perfectly to harvest tax dollars and thus have a high ROI for the buyer. Or not, Craigslist being Craigslist.

There are some very nice people who come to my door and seek to engage me in long conversations about where I will spend eternity once my body conks out. Their organization runs through a lot of money and is even tax-exempt. Is it a scam? The people proselytizing are unpaid, they just think it's all a grand notion. And indeed, a majority of people in the world, including those who write the laws, agree that some variation on that same grand notion must be true. There are large swaths of our nation where if you loudly proclaim otherwise in public, you risk being shot.

Thus I think we should expect to see entirely sincere people believing that X common liquid or simple process will substitute for gasoline. That is simply within the acceptable level of delusionality in our culture.

I'd write more, but I need to get back to work on my "biodiesel liposuction" home kit, coming soon to a Craigslist near you.

Cross this with a society which is largely innumerate, innocent of the scientific method, and delusional and you get a potential "tragedy of the energy-investing commons" (which phrase may have originated with Nate).

I think a more apt analogy is Mao's "Great Leap Forward".  People brought their kitchen utensils and farming tools to demonstrations which they were told would produce tractors in their villages, and went home having contributed to the production of scrap metal.  Many starved.

Parallels to claims that we can distill our way out of petroleum shortages are obvious utterly baseless, says the RFA.

Yes, the GLF is more poignant and is a good thing to bring up in this context.

The planetary potlatch proceeds.

Engineer-Poet -

Indeed, this was one of Mao's many colossal screw-ups. If I recall correctly, his 'vision' was that each village was to have it's own steel production facility and therefore be self-sufficient. When this was tried, it quickly became apparent that making steel requires a level of know-how and quality control that was far beyond the capability of rural peasants. As a result the 'steel' that was produced turned out to be a useless brittle mixture of pig iron and slag, at best only good for making door stops. An enormous waste of human effort.

Anyone in China with a single undergraduate course in metallurgy could have seen that the idea was absolutely stupid and guaranteed to fail from the very start. But of course, not one of the half billion Chinese at the time made a peep. Which is understandable. If you and I had lived in China circa 1967, would either of us have dared to say anything even remotely critical of Beloved Leader?

That same mentality, thought maybe not as blatant, exists today in all large organizations, from corporate board rooms, the President's cabinet, and I'm sure even the Vatican. I guess this behavior has its origins deep in pre-history, where it became well understood that it is wasn't a wise move to tell the chieftain that his grand new idea was stupid.

This is why I fear that as times get more desperate, our rulers will latch onto one hare-brained scheme after another and will accomplish nothing while wasting valuable time and money in the process.

We are talking about relocalization. I wonder if it doesn't have some of the same issues as the village by village steel production facilities.

Gail, Yes, relocalization is a bad idea. Lose massive amounts of specialization of labor. Expect small areas to contain many skill sets more than is practical. Why? Supposedly to save energy used in transportation that is all going to stop.

Worse yet, relocalization is not necessary. We can electrify rails and keep a national economy. We can use nuclear-powered ships and keep international trade.

Localization,or relocalization, of agriculture is going to result in some major losses of production efficiency.

Some of these losses can be and will be made up by savings in transportation and shipping losses.

Whether there will be or can be a net gain in productivity in terms of energy is open to question imo.Certainly in some cases there can be savings,in others there may be no clear answer.

If you have an empty belly and no job the time won't matter very much.

If you can buy wheat or flour cheaper than you can grow or mill your own....

Almost any job at all would pay enough that buying is a better deal in some cases.

We still grow potatos for our own use but I could buy them cheaper from another local farmer,certainly for less than my time is worth ,considering the small quantity involved.

I wonder about what to call a scam, though. I think "scam" implies intentional deception, when all that often needs to be invoked is socially-acceptable levels of self-rationalization, ignorance, and/or stupidity.

Yeah, the original article didn't have a "?" at the end of the title. Just to put things in perspective, the CEO of the company commented following the L.A. Times article. He took exception to my characterization that this had nothing to do with cellulosic ethanol. Here is his actual response:

It isn’t patently false to say this has anything to do with cellulosic ethanol. A quick search for the definition for Cellulosic Ethanol at says: ethanol produced from biomass of various kinds, including waste from urban, agricultural, and forestry sources; also called cellulose ethanol. Example: Cellulosic ethanol production substitutes biomass for fossil fuels.

Here is the link.

I am just speechless. Because ethanol can be made from cellulose, he implies that this device can make cellulosic ethanol.

"Or perhaps a modern reprise of the search for a philosopher's stone, as a thousand points of dim light seek to run their ATV's on urine."
"I'd write more, but I need to get back to work on my "biodiesel liposuction" home kit, coming soon to a Craigslist near you."

Don't joke. People are trying the urine thing. Someone sent me this link last week.

And human fat is actually a great feedstock.

I wasn't aware of either of these, thought I was engaging in a little humorous hyperbole. But apparently not.

Of course human fat would work, although it'd be so laden with lipid-soluble schmutz that it might throw some weird stuff out the exhaust pipe.

RR, I hope you read that linked piss-power article, it's a perfect example to quote. Is it "reductio ad absurdum" if most readers don't realize it's absurd?

TOD posters must all be singularly honest or we'd all be rich. Who among us couldn't come up with notions at least as good as these for attracting venture capital?

Be careful with your feedstocks:

Did a former Beverly Hills doctor use liposuction biodiesel?

From the article:

California law apparently forbids the use of human medical waste to power vehicles.

soon as they get the bugs worked out, NASCAR and the beer sponsors are going to start a new series. Just think of the pit stops.

Considering how BADLY we all want to be slim and trim and how WELL we like to ride and drive,you just might be ONTO something;)

Thank you, RR. It must be a drain on you to repeatedly devote your energies to these media shortcomings.

I was hoping you could address a point that I've had difficulty arguing, specifically that mileage shouldn't be expected to be linear with respect to energy content of the fuel. It is widely accepted that EtOH, having 70% the energy content of Gasoline, should give 70% of the mileage. (Wikipedia gives gasoline 34.2 MJ/L, and EtOH 24 MJ/L). Thus a car getting 30 mpg on gasoline might be expected to get 21 mpg on straight EtOH. My problem is that the inefficiency of the engine shouldn't be linearly dependent on energy density of the fuel.


If 65% of the fuel's energy (gasoline) is lost to engine heat, this works out to 34.2 MJ/L*.65 = 22.2 MJ/L lost, leaving 12 MJ/L for useful work. If the same amount of energy is lost using EtOH, which seems reasonable assuming similar temperatures and friction, there will only be 2 MJ/L to move the vehicle (24-22.2 MJ/L). Thus, straight gasoline gives 12 MJ/L for propulsion, whereas EtOH gives 2, a 16% relative energy efficiency. Why does ethanol do so much better than this in practice?


I have a lot of concerns about these studies (official and anecdotal) about burning ethanol in gasoline engines. They seem to be concentrating on effiency, emissions, and compatability while ignoring wear, stress and long term effects.

Modern fuel injection systems are fairly capable of adjusting fuel mixture and ignition timing to match the quality of fuel they are currently running on, typically through feedback adjustments based on O2 and knock sensor readings. These give the engine the ability to meet strict engine emissions requirements when being run on the variety of fuels encountered by region and season. These adjustments have limits, and most are confined by flow rates through the fuel injectors. Larger injectors are more expensive, and no engineer is going to spec huge injectors on a car that doesn't require them. The factors of safety are actually pretty tight on modern cars. My car, at full throttle under normal circumstances, run at roughly 95% duty cycle. There is less than 5% of trim left for adaptation in run-lean situations.

Ethanol has ~65% of the energy of gasoline per volume, and the addition of ethanol will cause the engine to run lean. Burning fuel with an excess of oxygen creates a hotter combustion temperature, which can overheat valves, valve seats, pistons, etc. This translates into more nitrates of oxides emissions, pinging, lower fuel economy and lower power. It may burn the valves, leading to leaks into the intake and exhaust, excess wear of valve seats, burning of piston crowns and other catastrophic events. From an external point of view, you will only notice all of this as diminished engine performance until a failure occurs.

The reports I have seen on ethanol/gasoline mixtures look only at the fuel consumption and emissions, but not the exhaust gas temperatures, adaptation parameters, injector duty cycles, ignition timing, etc. The engine may be running, but it may not be capable of doing so without ruining itself over a long period. Not a good thing for passenger cars.

Water in the ethanol MAY have some benefits. Water in the combustion chamber slows the burn rate of the fuel and cools the chamber. Water injection is/has been used on race cars and warplanes to allow the use of lower quality fuels in high compression or highly boosted, forced aspiration vehicle. Properly implemented, it can give you more power with leaner fuel/air rations (better fuel economy) and better emissions. It never gained widespread acceptance as it does have freezing point, maintainence, and complexity issues.

Back in the days before strict NOx emissions limits, Chrysler had a lean-burn engine to increase highway fuel economy.  If I understand correctly the main limit wasn't the valves, it was the ability to advance the spark to compensate for slower combustion of the lean mixture.  Failure of the knock sensor allegedly stymied a great many mechanics of the time.

In piston aircraft, a common operating mixture in cruise is 50°F to the rich point of the EGT peak.  There is no major reason not to run lean of peak except that mixture imbalances can have the richest cylinder running too hot and another running close to lean misfire.  An engine with EFI can adjust these problems away.

All cars nowadays are 'run lean' engines, once again because of the US's strict emissions laws. Leaner than stoiciometric burns lower overall emissions, and the excess NOx are cleaned up in the catalyists, whose performance is being monitored by O2 sensors before and after. Valve cooling has been improved through improvements in manufacture, doing things like sodium filling, new alloys and better stock valve seat grinds. These things let you run in normal circumstances, but also eat into our factor of safety or tolerance to abnormal operation.

Knock sensors retard the spark. It does not slow the burn rate, but rather moves the peak cylinder pressure point later into the cycle, to where the piston is further down. Further down is greater volume, therefore lower peak cylinder pressures. Lower pressures prevent auto-ignition (pinging) from hotspots in the cylinder as the flame front progresses. This kills your effiency, fuel economy, and increases CO. Its a poor way to solve the problem, but the engine has to work with what the driver gives it!

Current engines, in order to meet EPA regs, are walking a fine line with little room for deviation. Changing the fuels beyond what the manufacturers designed the car to accept has a good chance of either increasing emissions, poor running, or in extreme cases damaging the engine.

I believe that water injection into aero-engines was to reduce the temperature, after the 2-stage super chargers,in order to get more fuel/air mixture into the engine. War planes were interested in performance, not cost reductions.

Its is actually the old NACA reports on those engines that led to modern automotive water injection. The water was not there to cool the charge. An intercooler would work better, and you wouldn't have all that water displacing the volume of air. The water droplets really take effect in the combustion chamber, where the conversion to steam removes energy from the combustion, and reduces chamber temperatures preventing detonation. By adding water, they were able to increase the boost pressure over previously achieveable levels, getting something like 10% more power without any other engine modifications. A free lunch, really. If I recall correctly, the systems were only used to add bursts of power during certain maneuvers.

Adding water also modifies the chamber pressure profile, smoothing out the pressure spike that normally occurrs in gasoline engines. The pressure becomes more evenly distributed over the power stroke, yielding more power with less connecting rod stress. So in the end, you get more power with less wear.

while it is true that ethanol contains less energy by volume than gasoline and that this will result in less mpg in most cars, what one is missing is that the addition of ethanol allows one to increase the compression ratio of the engine. This allows one to recapture the lost mpg. I would expect that the owners of high performance muscle cars from the 60's that might have compression ratios of 11.5 to 1 or 12 to 1 would run rather nicely on higher ratios of ethanol (at least the ones that modified their valve seats so that they no longer need lead in the fuel).
The car companies could easily re-engineer todays engines to take advantage of higher compression ratios.

Higher compression ratios yield more efficient engines, but it is in diminishing returns. Above 12:1, you really aren't gaining anything anymore. ( slide 21) The old leaded gas cars were up to 12:1, but were lowered to the 8:1 to handle leadless fuel (the lead was both an antiknock additive and a valve lubricant). Todays cars are usually 10-12:1. They are achieving this through new combustion chamber and valve port designs rather than improved fuels.

In the end, only turbocharged or supercharged engines could benefit from a higher octane fuel at this point in time. In a modern naturally aspirated engine, you won't benefit much from increasing the CR above what it is.

If you had an old 12:1 engine, the ethanol would rust any of the metal in the fuel system! If it pinged with 93 pump gas, you could mix your own fuel with toluene. Toluene is already a component of gasoline, and has an octane of 112.

You're all too generous. Sure, the potential customers are delusional and the reporter is simply useless, but the maker / seller has not only the responsibility but in fact a mandate under law to verify their claims and to not claim for a product that which it cannot deliver.

The NYT, and the MSM generally, do indeed have a pattern of misreporting, and also a policy against fact-checking in this area. That's because corporate capitalism provides their revenues, and corporate capitalism is wholly incapable of admitting the truth about its intractable addiction to wildly unsustainable energy use rates, regardless of the source. It also can't admit that petroleum was the only magic substance on the planet, and it's peaking just about now.

As someone pointed out, you need a Federal license to operate a still (which this is), and they don't issue these to individuals as a general rule. In fact, they tend not to issue them to anyone without a ridiculous amount of red tape.

As far as running cars on ethanol goes, this is certainly not a new idea: Henry Ford's Model T was designed a hundred years ago to run on ethanol with gasoline as a lower quality alternative. The assumption was that a farmer would distill his own alcohol (probably diverting a little for personal use too). That concept ended with Prohibition. Brazil, however, has used ethanol for cars for years without major problems.

That concept ended with Prohibition. Brazil, however, has used ethanol for cars for years without major problems.

I owned an early ethanol powered "Brasilia", 1981 I think, while living in Brazil it had a standard air cooled VW engine modified to run on the 95% ethanol produced in Brazil at the time. The car had numerous issues with fuel line and carburator parts corrosion. Later in 1983 I acquired an ethanol powered VW Fox (Voyage, as it was known in Brazil) that had pretty much resolved all the corrosion issues. I drove that car for about five years without any major problems.

That having been said Brazilian cars are specifically designed to run on this fuel whereas I don't believe that the so called Flex fuel vehicles in the US would be able to handle the Brazilian ethanol fuel on a long term daily basis, they haven't been designed for it. Maybe things have changed and I'm wrong about this?

Flex-fuel cars should be able to handle 100% ethanol. It's just that 100% is not legal in the US at this time. The US standard is 85% (E85).

He's talking about hydrous ethanol with 5% water. The US uses only anhydrous ethanol where the last 5% water is removed at great expense.


What product ISN'T overhyped these days? Is "" really "free"? Are GEICO commercials all true? What about all those "water powered car" products that are being sold, do they really work?

If I were jonesing for the end of civilization, I would hate ethanol too. lol

Is "" really "free"?

Some very key differences there, though. First, I am not being asked to directly subsidize this. Second, it doesn't really pose the danger that people/politicians will lose focus of our energy situation because so many companies are wrongly promising an answer to our energy problems.

If I were jonesing for the end of civilization, I would hate ethanol too. lol

What do you mean, "too?" Who hates ethanol? Who is jonesing for the end of civilization? If you are talking to me, you are barking up the wrong tree. What I hate is shoddy reporting that keeps feeding the public the notion that our energy problems are less severe than they are.

I always figured the "free credit reports" were efforts to locate people dumb enough to type in thier personal data-perhaps in order to sic a collector on a hot trail,or if not that to mail some more "preapproved" charge cards.

LOL – I was waiting for your commentary on the MicroFueler Robert and I whole-heartedly agree with you.

From the delivered brewery feedstocks; to the non-blended, no-standards, illegal E100 product; to the internet based payment system that owners must promise not to hack.

Heck, the word ‘scam’ may even be too nice of word usage after watching Shaq’s promo video for it here: or upon reading some of the direct replies you received: ‘It’s like having a pool!’ or ‘100Gb tons here 100Gb gallons there’.


Needless to say, its entrepreneurs like these who tarnish the industry and make a mockery of what the real engineers and scientists in the biofuel space are actually trying to accomplish.

Indeed, much of the blame (as you point out) must be laid at the feet of those who cover these stories for public consumption. However, as noted by others in this thread, there are many instances where such shoddy reporting has done similar disservice – the infamous Mexican tortilla crisis of a few years back for example or more recently, the 236mpg Volt auto.

the potential for money - private equity and taxpayer funds - to flow to an undeserving source. Ultimately this will have the effect that the funds will dry up, and promising technologies won't be funded as a result.

A perfect example of this is the ridiculous Cash for Clunkers, where we spent an extra $2 billion (that should have gone for alternative energy research) to encourage consumption. One of the few examples when the opportunity cost is explicit.

Not only that, but these auto purchases lower future auto purchases, so almost nothing is accomplished for 2 billion as the fuel economy differences touted were minor.

Precisely -- under the most optimistic set of assumptions (every car bought would NOT have been bought otherwise, which is unlikely as you say; or that nobody will drive any more with a Honda Civic than they would have with their Ford Explorer, again unlikely), this program will decrease our gasoline use by about 1/6th of 1%. And that's the best!
Meanwhile, it's $2 billion less for alternative energy and transmission infrastructure investment.


The two local papers picked up Susan Carpenter's LA Times piece, one in its entirety and the other a shortened version.

The quote "can be fermented and turned into fuel in minutes" reminded me of the practice of "salting" placer claims back home. Potential investors are invited to pan what looks to be an undisturbed area of the claim. Discovering the previously placed gold, they are invited to invest in the apparently lucrative claim. Later working the claim they continue to obtain gold but in minuscule amounts. So, yes, there is gold there so the investor can't claim there isn't but not enough to justify the work getting it. Not that this is happening here but unscrupulous promoters could salt such a system with ethanol, dump in some household "feedstock" in front of the potential investor, run it for some time, and, presto, copious amounts of hydrous ethanol are burned in front of them. After money changes hands the system continues to produce ethanol but at a considerably lower rate.


In the September-October edition of the magazine American Scientist,
there is an article by Thomas R. Sinclair.
When pinning hopes on biofuels, an energy-hungry world must adapt to plant production capacities and resource limits.