Camelina - a Relatively New US Biodiesel Source

So what the heck is Camelina? Until I read that it was used as the greater source of the biofuel component for the test flight of the Japanese Airlines plane in February, I must confess I had never heard of it. So since it has obviously got some legs (there was a greater percentage of it than of the algae derived fuel) herewith some thoughts picked up as I wandered through some Web pages, seeking more information.

Camelina in a Montana test plot

Apparently camelina came to the United States out of Europe, though it started out in Central Asia and the Mediterranean. In Europe much of the early cultivation of the crop has been replaced with canola fields, and it appears to compete with it as a crop. It arrived in Montana in about 2004 where it appealed both to farmers – as a source of omega-3 fatty acids, and to researchers who were looking for a source of biodiesel. The early work suggested that it could be sold more cheaply ($2 a gallon in 2005) than soy-generated biodiesel ($3 a gallon), but a cheaper price is hardly guaranteed to induce farmers to grow it. The oil has historically been used for cooking, with the meal fed to animals.

Recent interest in the plant was spurred by the omega-3 content:

there is renewed interest in Camelina for its oil which is rich in the omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Ironically, this quality had contributed to its decline, due to difficulties with hydrogenating the highly unsaturated oil for margarine. Linseed (60% ALA) and Camelina (45% ALA) oils are by far the richest plant sources of omega-3. Rapeseed has lower levels of ALA (10%) and sunflower almost none. Camelina oil is more stable than linseed, due to its natural antioxidants, which also have health benefits in their own right.

It is a branch of the mustard family, and has the benefit over canola in that it is resistant to flea beetles, which are a problem for canola in Montana. Like canola it prefers cooler climates; for greatest yields being planted before the 15th – 20th March in Montana with harvesting in Late June to late July. (Similar dates hold for planting and harvesting in Wales.) Thus in 2006 there were somewhere between 7,000 and 20,000 acres planted in Montana, in 2007 this grew to 24,000 acres. It also has the benefit, over canola, of being able to survive drought and spring freezing. Further there is a winter variety that can be grown in areas with mild winters. The report from Montana State describes the oil content as:

Camelina oil has unique properties. The oil contains about 64 percent polyunsaturated, 30 percent monounsaturated, and 6 percent saturated fatty acids. Importantly, camelina oil is very high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid which is essential in human and animal diets and has important implications for human health. The oil also contains high levels of gamma-tocopherol (vitamin E) which confers a reasonable shelf life without the need for special storage conditions.

In comparison to canola (rapeseed) which produces some 127 gal/acre, camelina is reported to produce in the 62 to 100 gal/acre range.

Field trials of production showed a wide range of results from 330 to 1700 lbs of seed per acre, with oil content varying between 29 and 40%. There are however a significant number of varieties of the plant and thus tests have been carried out to determine which might yield the better crop given the Montana growing conditions. Optimal seeding rates seem to be in the 6-8 lb/ acre range, because the small size of the seed (400,000 seeds per lb.) apparently make it more difficult to ensure germination and achieve an optimal plant density of around 9 plants/sq. ft. It does apparently grow better when the ground nutrients are supplemented with nitrogen up to levels of 80 lb/acre.

The Montana report ends with the following

At this point there are many more questions than answers when it comes to camelina production and use. Early experience in Montana has shown that with good management, and timely planting, good crop yields can be attained. As a broadleaf cool season crop, camelina could become a good complementary crop to wheat, providing a needed break from cereals in wheat production. Crop rotation is a great way to reduce disease and insect pressure for any crop, and there are few good economic crop rotation options for wheat in Montana. Weed control is a major limitation to camelina production. Currently there are no herbicides registered for use with this crop, which means rescuing a field that becomes infested with weeds is difficult.

However varieties of the plant produces its own herbicide.

Data on crop production is still somewhat limited since the USDA did not start data collection until 2007, and the 2008 report was issued this April. Production in Montana in 2008 was significantly down (at 12,200 acres) over that of 2007. The average yield was 569 lb/acre, down 4.8% over 2007, though the range from 400 to 1000 lb/acre makes it unlikely that any conclusion can be drawn from those numbers.

The Welsh report comments on the current extraction process:

Camelina typically contains approximately 35% oil. Cold pressing is not 100% efficient, the proportion of oil extracted being dependant on the type of seed and how well the press is set up.

As an example, a tonne (1000 kg) of Camelina will contain 350 kg of oil, of which the press will extract 250 kg. Cold pressing (40C) is required, because high temperatures will damage the antioxidants. Drought, lack of sunshine during seed formation, herbicide desiccation applied too early, and downy mildew infection may all lower the oil content of the seed.

In Wales they can get up to 1 t/acre.

Oregon is considering growing the crop after looking at trials in nearby states:

Under dryland conditons in Montana, camelina is expected to yield 1,800 to 2,000 pounds of seed per acre in areas with 16 to 18 in hes of rainfall and 900 to 1,700 lb/acre with 13 to 15 inches of rainfall. Under irrigation, seed yields of 2,400 lb/acre have been reported. Three years of yield trials at Moscow, Idaho show a 2,100 to 2,400 lb/acre seed yield potential with 25 inches of rainfall.

At present there are restrictions on the growing of canola in Oregon:

Oregon officials in 2005 restricted canola-for-oil production in the valley to protect the valley's high-value vegetable seed crops. Officials recently announced they are going to renew the prohibitions.

"I would like to grow canola, but the state interferes with that, too," Van Leeuwen said.

Fears are canola will attract insect pests common to canola and brassica crops and that canola will cross pollinate with cauliflower and broccoli, lowering seed purity and eventually driving vegetable seed contractors out of the valley.

Camelina may overcome some of those concerns.

So my quick look suggests that it about on a par with canola (rapeseed) with some survival benefits over that plant as a crop, that it is only just being introduced into the United States as a crop and that, while it has potential, and there are some productive strains identified, it is still a little early in the game to know if it will pan out quite as well as the Biofuels Digest suggests.

Interesting that camelina is under consideration as a biofuel crop.

I have some seed. The package says that it was grown as an oil crop in Ireland and Europe, and mostly dropped from cultivation in favor of rapeseed and soybean. The package also says that it can be used as a thickener in cooking. I'm thinking of planting a row in the garden next year to see how it does. I didn't plant it this year, for a similar reason as the Oregon growers. I couldn't find any information on whether it would mess up the genetics of my staple brassica seed crops: kale, radishes, and Chinese greens.


The omega-3 aspects of the crop certainly make it sound good as a food crop, if we could grow it for that.

HO links to some nice write-ups that give quite a bit more information than the post itself does.

I don't know if you garden, but if you do you've probably got purslane, a great source of omega 3

Grape leaves have nearly three times that amount. If you get stuck in the wilderness remember grape leaves, more energy dense than potatoes and 19% of the calories are from fat, 15% from protein. The down side is that they are not widely considered to be tasty.


Camelina is in an entirely different genus from the brassicas, so there should be no possibility of genetic crossing.

Thanks sf and WNC, good to know that camelina won't cross with my prized heirloom kale varieties.


The cultivation of crops as a source of bio fuels is undoubtedly here to stay.

Speaking as a farmer,I have very little doubt that within a few years the field techniques will be tweaked to the point that it becomes profitable to move the cultivation of these so called "marginal land crops" to prime farmland,displacing food and fiber production and adding enormously to the burden on the environment as new or idle lands are put into crops to make up the shortfalls.This prediction is of course predicated on rising petroleum prices.

The consequences may range all the way up to widespread starvation and war if markets alone are allowed to determine what is grown where.

This is not the sort of problem that farmers can solve,it will require serious leglisation.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I'd like to see biofuels replace fossil fuels for critical needs, such as agriculture. On the other hand, we have seen how even marginal "supply constraints" lead to massive price hikes, which causes all sorts of problems where people spend over 50% of their income on food and rely on imports.

Stepping back a bit, however, I see US agriculture massively over producing grains. About half go to feed livestock in sickening conditions. Relatively little actually is exported to feed poor people around the world because that simply doesn't pay well.

What I'd like to see is much more US farmland return to pasture, stop subsidizing corn and soy, and consider economic development in foreign countries around food sovereignty rather than export.

If we do all of this in a planned, cautious way in which the moves are crafted and communicated, then fewer people should go hungry and a modest biofuel market could develop without causing havoc. Meanwhile, tremendous economic, environmental and health benefits would accrue in the US.

Your reasoning and sentiments are first rate,I agree whole heartedly with what you are saying.

But I have very little hope that such reasonable proposals will be put into effect,except on a small scale in a few small areas.

If we recover from the crash that seems inevitable perhaps at that time the world will see the light.Nothing less imo can get the attention of the public.

This is off topic.
I know you are looking around for something to read and I ran across a title.
I am aware that you read often and probably already digested this but at the risk of being master of the obvious and being pelted with heckles and rotten fruit from the denizens of goes.

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.

In his most popular of 2 tomes Pirsig sets out to reconcile Western and Eastern Philosophy.
It is written in a kind of treatise meets story telling style which keeps it easy enough reading.
The story is a physical motorcycle journy as well as an intellectual and spiritual one and in the end he seems to conclude that the two mindsets intersect at Quality.

Anyway, I haven't picked it up in a long time and started reading it last night.
It occurs to me that there is nothing that our species could use more right now than a new ethos based on quality.


In my humble opinion,a book that belongs in every respectable library.I need a new copy as my paper back edition fell apart some years ago.

This is one of the books that helped me decide that this particular rat would refuse to run the race.

To a large extent we still treat farming as some sort of special business however even with subsidies distorting the market its still at its base a simple for profit business.

As oil gets more expensive remaining demand will be increasingly inelastic and people will obviously be willing to pay for whatever uses are being made of the oil. In general the purchasing power of remaining demand is higher. I think the problem really starts occurring when remaining oil demand is worth more than food for the poorest people. I.e we would rather grow fuel crops for the wealthy than food for the poor. We probably have already crossed over this point where biofuel demand from the wealthy is competitive with food demand from the poor.

As the global economy also slows and stagnates in general the poor lose purchasing power the fastest esp as oil prices increase. Thus the gulf widens as the purchasing power of the poor falls faster than the purchasing power of the wealthy making biofuels even more lucrative.

The real problem i.e to many people not necessarily not enough oil becomes increasingly more obvious over time. Thats why I think solutions that assume the problem is oil are doomed to failure, obviously substitutes for oil are available for those that can afford them.

Its the last half of that sentence thats the real problem.

The solution to this is going to be a die off. We are already well on the way down that road already. We will in the next 20 years suffer from the massive movements of people from farmlands into the cities that we are seeing in China. That will start a cascade affect, less people farming, More people misusing ground water, and river water. All this will prove to fracture the fragile systems that we have been supported by all these years. We are finally getting to the breaking point of most of our support systems. Oceans are being over fished, rivers drained to fuel the needs of bigger and bigger cities, farm land being turned to deserts, or track homes, or non-food produce.

We can make as many GM Volt's as we like, as many super fast computers, as many low wattage bulbs. None of which we can eat.

The raft is filling up, the waters are rising, and someone just told us all the rations were lost in the last wave.

Yes this all bodes of gloomer doomer. I have been looking at the numbers and figures since the 1970's.

In the end, a few folks will make a decent living out of the ashes of the last great world empire. Hope that you have taught your children and grandchildren how to live better than we did.

Charles E. Owens Jr.

Can these kinds of concerns be accomplished? Farmers tend to be sort of individualistic. These suggestions suppose a larger agreement among farmers as how and what to plant. Self organizing coops?


Farmers are just individual business men and really don't have very much choice as to what they grow,any more than a supermarket or hardware store owner has about what he sells.As a farmer I must grow whatever I can grow at the lowest cost in relation to the seling price.It is impossible to do otherwise because the competition is so intense.

Any farmer who trys to fight the market generally goes broke fast.The new owner of his land and machinery will not repeat his mistake.

It will require regulation by government on the grand scale to keep our farms from being converted into biofuel factories as oil depletes.

Personally my guess is that the average to well to do American or German or Australian will be able to pay enough for liquid biofuel to price the average third worlder right out of the market for beans and rice w/o such regulation.

I am opposed to large scale biofuel adaptation because I believe the result of such an adaptation will be simply to postpone the energy orgy for a few more years so that the eventual collapse will be even worse.

Actually I think that this time around we will see a return of true poverty in wealthy nations and hunger if not outright starvation.

What your missing is concentration of wealth never ceases the worlds wealthy class has taken a huge hit with the recent economic slowdown on average many have lost 50% of their wealth. This group will do whatever it takes to not only get this wealth back but continue the concentration game. From what I can tell the goal of the wealthy class seems to be to become at least ten times as rich as the preceding generation of rich. Thus every 40 years or so the worlds wealthiest increase their holdings ten fold.

I'm going to try and not write another long post but my best guess is given the requirement of concentration of wealth and a rapid move back to 10 fold growth for this generation of wealth and peak oil the net result is the middle class populations must be reduced by 50% or more in the first world countries giving something close to current third/second world demographics.

Another route is to look at the wealthiest people in the world a substantial number are totalitarian rulers of non first world countries. So its sensible to assume that our current first world like society won't last much longer.

Generally the only solution for concentration of wealth is to periodically chop the head off the beast and restart the process with a fresh set of masters but most importantly without transfer of the existing concentrated hoard. It must be dissipated even if this means destroying it since wealth begats wealth.

In the case of the US and other western like nations I think we are actually going to see a peverted version of this where the middle class is the target and the ultra rich are in a very real sense the revolutionaries destroying the no longer needed large middle class. Thus the middle class of the western world which by all rights are actually wealthy are the ones who will be whacked.

Other than this slight change I think your right on. What I find really funny is most middle class people continue to assume that they will be the ones driving the EV's and biofueled cars where I suspect like I said less than 50% of the current middle class will actually survive to continue forward.

And once a strong lower class has developed the ultra rich will have broken the back of the middle class since its wealth is based on jobs. In many ways this is the Mexican solution where the large poverty stricken class effectively castrates the middle class.

And finally if you assume middle class consumption falls by 50% you can see that there is more than enough resources for the wealthy to substantially increase their holdings in fact they should readily blow away the natural ten fold barrier. I'd suspect that the current crop of ultra rich will soon hit a home run hitting 100 fold increase in concentration of wealth even as overall the world is seriously short on resources.

Multi million dollar retention bonus's for companies losing money are small potatoes. The real looting has not even really started.

"What your missing is concentration of wealth never ceases the worlds wealthy class has taken a huge hit with the recent economic slowdown on average many have lost 50% of their wealth."

Memmel, I think you're confusing a couple of things here. The dollar value of wealth may have declined, but the physical assets (buildings, land, oil rigs, power companies) are the same as ever.

Seen in this light the wealthy class has not taken a huge hit. Quite the contrary; they have picked up many assets very cheaply -- all the while complaining that the money value of their pile of assets has decreased.

Stay focused on the physical assets - money is just a medium of exchange.

Secondly, there is no "requirement" for concentration of wealth. It's just the way the system works. It's a winner-take-all game.

The game "Monopoly" is actually quite a good model of the process. Initially, there are plenty of resources for all players. Over time, however, small random differences are magnified, and when the resources are fully allocated (no more growth), wealth concentrates rapidly.

"The game "Monopoly" is actually quite a good model of the process...."

Monopoly was originally designed to illustrate that very phenomenon. The first version of the game was not created by Charles Darrow, but (from Wikipedia - sorry):

"In 1903, the Georgist Lizzie Magie applied for a patent on a game called The Landlord's Game with the object of showing that rents enriched property owners and impoverished tenants. She knew that some people would find it hard to understand the logic behind the idea, and she thought that if the rent problem and the Georgist solution to it were put into the concrete form of a game, it might be easier to demonstrate."

The game morphed over the next 30+ years into what was mass produced as "Monopoly".

gregvp I don't disagree however the ability to borrow money to by cheap assets is important. Leverage along of course with being able to pass liabilities off to front companies with SIV's being the most blatant example.

Your right but the cash flows cannot be dismissed entirely as the notational debts are also import in this monopoly game.

Its esp important for controlling third world countries via the world bank.

And yes your 100% correct that in the big picture its asset accumulation companies land buildings etc.

But again the debts where created with certain asset valuations and have to be repaid with money so the notational values are also important.

Again your spot on but the collateral damage caused with fiat currencies is just as bad as the absolute concentration of real wealth esp since in general it socializes the losses.

In Monopoly the bank always wins in the end.
Now that is THE lesson to be learned.
Bankers are thieves in disguise.

One positive note from the banks in monopoly.
They actually handed out money to the player/citizen (200 passing go).
Picture a National bank that did this instead of taking money when passing go like our current income tax.
The National bank could function just like the central bank does now except the profits go back to the people annually.
And that amount could be used to expand the money supply to keep up with real economic growth which is and can be monitored reasonably well (GDP). Or come up with a finer way to monitor the economy like through energy use in relation to new production etc.
We can do so much better but we need to get the criminals out of power first.
Doesn't anyone else see that we have been hijacked by greedy psychopathic thieves?
There is going to be a revolt and it will start when people wake up and refuse to pay federal income taxes anymore.
These B#stards need to be stripped of their phony power and brought to justice.
Everything they have is because of the consent of the ruled. Remove that consent.....................

"So you say you want a revolution?" Well, you know, there is only one thing that people need to do: STARVE THE BEAST!

With out the constant flow of cashing being bilked from the victims underneath, the wealth of the rich and powerful would quickly evaporate.

To de-fund the beast, all that we need to do is:

-Stop chasing after the "almighty dollar", drop out of the rat race, and refuse to work slave for the big corporations. Try to work for yourself, or for some small-scale, local business or institution.

-Learn to live simply, and be content to get by with less. Spend as little as possible, especially in ways that result in cash flow going to the people on top.

-Patronize locally owned stores and small businesses, rather than the big national chains. Invest what funds you have with your local credit union.

-Buy stuff used, get into DIY big time, raise your own food. Disconnect from the commercial economy.

-Turn off the television (though PBS is an acceptable exception), stop funding Hollywood moguls with your patronage at the cinema. Patronize your local library, learn to make your own music, enjoy leisure time with your family and friends.

Let me assure you, these are all things that the people at the top absolutely DO NOT want the rest of us to do. You want to do something against them? Well, here you go!

You just described my life to a detail.
I took all those steps already and have posted here describing them.
We still need a new currency that is outside the control of the beast and that is the real dragon slayer.
I am also encouraging others and teaching my child all of the above but it is very hard swimming against the current as i am sure you know well.
The currency should be the property of the people not greedy parasites.
Without awareness of the fact that the currency is being used as a tool of control instead of a liquid measure of value change is not possible.
Credit unions, at least many, are false fronts for larger predator banks. They bought them and kept the name. That has to be illegal.
But I say all banking in it's current usurious form is illegal.
Whether I want revolution or not means is going to happen.........the psychopaths have choked the golden goose this time and it is not going to respond to CPR.
Barter or black market are good but a new parallel currency is the coup de gras.
What are they going to do? Arrest the entire country? They only have control through consent but unfortunately they still have consent.
I just keep yapping and losing friends but I will not back down from my matter what.


I always find your comments tought provoking to say the least.

The destruction of the middle class seems to be a self limiting thing in the modern world-the rich in times gone by could only spend thier money on things provided by primary producers such as farmers,metal workers,carpenters and so forth for the most part.

The modern day rich spend thier money on jets,cell phones, tummy tucks,air conditioning,winter strawberries,you get the idea.

Most of thse things will disappear without a middle class of doctors,engineers,and first class craftsmen of all sorts.

I can't see that real wealth (other than holding onto vast amounts of real estate) in the modern sense can even exist w/o a middle class.

I think this is where an appreciation of the two different definitions of "middle class" may come in handy.

In one sense, the middle class is basically the professional class (i.e. doctors, engineers, managers, lawyers, etc.), who are all well-paid and thus tend towards the upper income deciles. In many ways, they are what we largely consider to be upper-middle class in today's terminology.

Which brings me to the other sense of "middle class," which is basically the mass consumer class, including tradespeople and a whole host of others who - in the first ontology - might be more accurately considered "working class."

In other words, I suspect you're talking past each other at this point. It's probably possible to retain a small professional class to fulfill the desires of the uber-rich even as the majority of the working class is impoverished.

Where I see the real self-limiting factor in what the very wealthy are doing is that most of those products you cite are produced via mass production. I'm not sure how economical it would be to produce them using "craftsman-style" production methods (i.e. one-offs or very limited runs, since the working class is too busy trying to feed itself to continue to engage in mass consumerism).

I'd like to see biofuels replace fossil fuels for critical needs, such as agriculture.

It appears to me that fuels produced from crop byproducts, such as corncobs, can easily replace all fuel used for cultivation and even nitrogen fixation*.  It's the rest of the supply chain and society that's so hard to run on current income.

* Figuring 1 gallon/acre of diesel per pass and 2.5:1 equivalent of pyrolysis oil to diesel, it would take about 12.5 gallons of pyrolysis oil per acre per year to cultivate a field.  At 0.75 ton of corncobs per acre and an oil yield of 60% from fast pyrolysis at a density of 1.2, the cobs alone yield 0.45 t (375 liters, roughly 100 gallons) of pyrolysis oil if maize is grown, and there's an extra 1.5 tons/acre or so of stover if the cobs aren't sufficient.  There is plenty of room for inefficiencies and cultivating/fertilizing crops which don't yield enough excess biomass to cover themselves.


This does look promising, and it works well at the test level right?

My guess is that if it scales up ok it will take at least five or ten years to become a significant source of liquid engine fuel.

What do you think in terms of time to say maybe a few million barrels per year?

Of course it this thing flies it will create a whole new set of problems on the farm but such minor details will not stop the development of a good source of diesel fuel.

Dynamotive is making pyrolysis oil at a plant consuming 70,000 tons/year of input, IIRC.

Pyrolysis oil can be used as boiler fuel as-is, but piston engines are fussier.  Converting this liquid to diesel or gasoline requires processing with hydrogen to convert the acids and such to hydrocarbons.  Dynamotive is doing it, but it doesn't look cheap to me.  Converting a diesel to run on pyrolysis oil directly would require materials which resist attack by organic acids.  I'm sure suitable materials exist, but I doubt very much that anyone has done the engineering to make an entire fuel system out of them.

The path of least resistance is probably on-board gasification of the pyrolysis oil and fumigation as a co-fuel; the same would work with pyrolysis of wood chips, they're just more of a handling problem.  If you could satisfy 90% of the fuel requirements with stuff that comes from crop byproducts, I'd bet that the last 10% could come from biodiesel or the like and people could manage.

Dynamotive is making pyrolysis oil at a plant consuming 70,000 tons/year of input, IIRC.

They have about run out of money, too. I have been looking at pyrolysis oil for a while, but I don't think it's the best solution. Too many issues around product variability, and then the shelf life isn't very good.

But what are they running out of money to do?  Upgrade pyrolysis oil to hydrocarbons?  If you don't need to do that (say, because Liquid Tin Anode SOFCs can use it directly), what then?  If it's produced from waste, tipping fees may make it profitable.

It was my impression from reading some papers that aged pyrolysis oil doesn't separate into phases as such, it forms a continuum of grades over time.  ISTR that it can be re-mixed without too much difficulty.  Is that correct?  Blending different grades or selling by energy content rather than volume might "solve" the variability issue.

A lot of this depends on the intended end use.  If pyrolysis oil is going to be used for gas-turbine fuel or feed an IGCC system for polygeneration, I would bet that variability within limits could be managed.  It is going to be much cheaper to pipe in fuel than truck it, so the economics of feeding pyrolysis oil from an extended area are much better if the cost of production isn't too much.  That's the rub; I had trouble understanding what the Dynamotive web site was even talking about there.

A biomethane plant in Linkoping Sweden cost $2,133,333 USD for a production of 807,000 cu ft a day -- about $14K bpd (equivalent) capital expenditure. A large enough scale that its useful for farm coops, and a small enough scale that feedstocks don't have to be shipped far.

One of the biggest problems is that there are too many variables in this whole mess. On the one hand we have the need to feed people with our land. Then we have land in some areas of the world that was once growing food, that is now desert. We have places where water was once plentiful that now are dry because we are pumping it to cities. We have Global climate change causing things to change where we can grow things, or even live. We have peoples making decisions that they don't know the outcomes of but are still doing them anyway. Everywhere farmland is being paved over without anyone paying any attention to it.

The more we try to fuel cars with things that burn, the more trouble we are going to get into. I know you all see this happening, but it needs to be repeated. We have a store house of carbon-based fuels that can not be replaced by using Sunshine from one year's worth of sunlight. Millions of years of sunshine made the Fossil Fuels we use today. Replacing them with today's yearly sunshine just won't work.

Collapse is heading our way faster and faster it seems. We just don't see that we have almost cut all the trees down on our little island and over fished the seas around us. Just one more straw to add to the camel's back and which one of us is holding it now?

If we could grow all these oil crops on currently non-food producing land that would be one thing. But we all know it won't be that way.

China seems to be heading towards the wall faster than we are, so look for something to snap soon.

Charles E. Owens Jr.

CEO, Yes, yes, yes. Lots of problems here. Any monocrop (which is the only way you are going to get efficient enough to make biofuel) runs into the usual monocrop problem - disease and insects. They may be resistant now, but give the little buggies some time with lots of the same species everywhere and they will find a way.

I like to say "every solution has a problem", but when I point out real and potential problems I get labeled a doomer. In fact there are so many dooms out there that it becomes hard to pick which one will hit first. We have solved ourselves into a humongous pickle and yet many still think we are just a few solutions away from salvation. Humans lived for hundreds of thousands of years as hunter gatherers. That was NOT doom. It was life. It looks like we are forcing ourselves all the way back there because we think that even a small step back for first worlders is doom of the worst kind. Had we listened to Limits to Growth we could have bought a lot of time by just stopping growth then. But no, we had to forge onward, grow more, invent more, get more stuff.

I just read this by Andrew McKillop "Equally simple facts stand in the way of continuing to believe that population growth almost guarantees economic growth and the "logical extension" of this, greater human wellbeing. One simple fact will do. In 2007-2008 using FAO and IFPRI data, the number of people facing acute food shortage or starvation increased by about 9% to attain more than 950 million. The same year, the last year of what is called 'vigorous' global economic growth before the present crisis, the world economy grew by about 4% using IMF data. Summarizing: 4% global economy growth produced 9% more starving people"

THAT is what all our problem solving has done, created more and more lives to suffer and starve.

In 100 years after things cool down from the meltdown, there will be a small town somewhere that will build a stone structure marking the time of the Giants.

They will call their building the Limits of Growth.

I am not sure what it will look like, but I can picture them building it. Slaving away at it till it is finished, and having annual rememberences about that long ago time, our time.

500 years later a small child will be brought to the Ruins of this old place and study what it was all about. Thinking that the words on the stone structure were telling him that the Sky's the limit, Grow till you see the stars at your fingertips.

And it will all start over again. Just on a smaller scale than it is today.

Cycle within cycle within cycle. I wonder which way is up or down. As I said in another post in here, Please pass the beer, lets tell another story about how we built an empire.

Charles E. Owens Jr.

I don't see any reason why biofuel on a large scale is here to stay. There are so many drawbacks.
- It competes with production of food for people and animals.
- As biofuels are a oneway product, i.e. the land on which it is grown is drained from it's fertility because less plant material is returned to the fields where it was produced. So a lot of fertilizers are needed to keep the land fertile. As a result, in the long run it is still oil that is burned as biofuel, only at a terrible conversion rate.
- Increases the areas where monocultures are grown.
- Even when very large areas are producing biofuel then it can only make a dent in our oil consumption.
- Prolongs the business as usual way of life of the oil and car industry as well as the general public.

So, biofuels are just not sustainable if the crops are specifically grown to become biofuel instead of using waste products. The only sustainable solution is to reduce our need for oil products all together.

I take a dim view of biofuels as a large-scale "solution", with just a couple of exceptions:

-I think it does make sense and will be necessary to move our essential motorized vehicles (agricultural machinery, heavy transport (rail locomotives, buses, etc. - to the extent they are not electrified), firefighting equipment, ambulances, police cars, public utility equipment, heavy construction equipment, etc.) over to biodiesel. We can't spare enough land to fuel everything, but we probably can spare enough to just fuel these.

-All agricultural and municipal wastes need to be run through anaerobic digesters to extract biogas (methane). This is highly feasible and is already being done in many places, is a proven and scalable technology, and makes perfectly good sense.

Another advantage is that I am unaware (as yet) of GMO Camelina. A farmer growing GMO canola can poison their neighbors and not be liable for damages in most places. This is another reason why places like Oregon, with a seed industry, don't like canola.

Biofuels can also replace oil as the feedstock for plastics.

India used to have a domestic oil seed industry, and thousands of small mills producing cooking and industrial oils with very basic technology. Then we flooded the place with Midwestern soybeans.

There is an argument for getting some practice growing camelina in a particular place, just to figure out how and localize the seed.

Another good oil crop for the temperate zone is Meadowfoam. The domesticated species is actually native to the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Different plant family than other common seed crops, so good for soil rotation.

Per acre yield of grass-hay in natural pastures is 400 kg/year and in farms 1600 kg/year if everything is done traditionally (rain water is the only source of water, no fertilizers, no pesticides, no tractors, no green-revolution-seeds). In treelands (forests, orchards) yield is 600 kg leaves-hay plus 200 kg grass-hay per acre per year.

The substance called "hay" above contains atleast 80% dry matter (sometimes 85% or even 90%) and atleast 2 kilo-calories of animal-digestible energy per gram. 1600 kg hay means 1600 x 1000 x 2 x 4200 = 13.44 GJ. Gasoline is 33.4 MJ/kg. 13.44 GJ equals 402.4 liters petrol. Comparing horses with cars shows that a horse in its full life cycle is 50% as much efficient as a car in its full lifecycle (life cycle of horse accounts for mass gain of horse in childhood, loss of days when female has to stay in stable to take care of young ones etc; life cycle of car includes energy consumption in manufacturing). We can conclude that one traditional acre of grown hay provides equivalent of 200 liters of petrol in the work that can be taken from horses. Note that work here is defined as km-tons moved by horses/cars.

Ofcourse at farms where canal water is available there can be two crops in a year. If ground water can be pumped there can be equivalent of four crops a year by twice yield of each of the two crops. So, at maximum, we can sustainably produce equivalent of 800 liters petrol per acre per year.

Lets ignore the produced meat, milk, fats, skin and company that horses provide in this discussion.

To provide 30 billion barrels of oil per year there is a need of 24 billion acres of grown hay if agriculture is done traditionally or 6 billion acres of grown hay if agriculture is done in modern way (use canal water, ground water etc). On a planet where total land area is 37.5 billion acres, arable land is 7.5 billion acres and there is actually almost no surplus land available after growing food for humans it can be find that there is no way the world can continue its current life style.

About this new bio-fuel crop I wonder how much equivalent liters of petrol it can produce even when used directly in engines instead of being fed to horses and then those horses are used as engines to pull weights. A rough calculation is 2 times because they are fed directly to engines (cars being twice as efficient as horses). Then even taking the factor of 5 in extra production in modern farming (instead of factor 4 taken above, factor 5 is taken because green revolution seeds boosted world grain production 5 times), the yield could reach as high as 2000 liters of gasoline equivalent.

Even when the filteration/conversion costs of crops into fuels and costs of engines being converted into hybrid are ignored, it takes 2.4 billion acres to provide 30 billion barrels of oil that world consume today. That is equal to about one-third of world's arable area. So, either we cut down all the remaining forests in world and stop producing all luxury farm products (coffee, tea, silk etc) or kill one third of human population to free the acres.

So, either we cut down all the remaining forests in world and stop producing all luxury farm products (coffee, tea, silk etc) or kill one third of human population to free the acres.

Exactly no matter how you solve this problem in my opinion any realistic solution results in killing X amount of the worlds population where X is simply put a horror.

All the limits we discuss on this board from oil to water to global warming to finance are the result of the population problem and heavy use of non-renewable resources. A move to renewables esp biofuel as you point out can make X even larger.

The only real solution I can think of is to localize first i.e a bottom up solution as regions localize and provide all their internal resources then the excess is what I call a true export. With the convoluted world of today net imports/exports are impossible to balance since they pass through financial wizardry.

As and example although the US is a net importer of material goods from China we export a tremendous amount of debt that they purchase using the money we pay for goods. In effect its all bought on credit thus China has not realized all of its gains from exports to the US. If the US was to default on its debt then China is the one impoverished via the default not us. Its the classic case of owing the bank a million or I guess these days a trillion dollars.

In fact the modern financial system is actually designed to obfuscate the true balance of payment and true exchange of wealth via trade. It relies heavily on borrowing from the future or more correctly assumptions of future growth to accomplish this magic.

However to ensure that the world is fed and food etc is allocated to prevent a mass starvation you need to rigorously balance trade to get sustainability which is a stronger requirement then simply moving to renewable energy sources.

Certainly the sun shines almost everyday and sustainable growth is simply the recognition that we have and abundance of energy to convert to wealth in any given year. Sustainable does not mean lack of ability to increase wealth. A simple example is feeding people and they build energy neutral buildings or other stuff. Wealth at its heart is simply anything considered a value add over and beyond basic survival. A grass mat when you did not have one before is a increase in wealth. Music whatever.

Next I think its important to recognize that any real solution to the population problem will be hard.

The underlying issue is population needs to be less than the long term level required for sustainability and trade. I.e not only do we need to reduce population levels to the point that we can have wealth and generate trade and live sustainability we also need to reduce even more to add a buffer.
One basic reason for this further reduction is to allow effectively untouched ecosystems to coexist with hummanity to ensure that biodiversty can create new species to evolve with the changing climate. Even if we reduce our footprint to stop obvious problems like global warming we still have this as yet undefined further reduction to allow biodiversity to flourish.

This the real answer is hard it makes sense to assume without proof that any real solution is also going to be hard to implement. Simply use common sense.
Thus you can readily reject any proposed solution that does not result in hardship maybe even slightly less than letting X amount of people starve. A solution could only result in say X-1 over doing nothing.

The point is all we can assume is that any realistic solution to our problems may only be marginally better than simply letting the system collapse on its own accord. Most real ones probably will result in increasing the number of people that die over the short term in order to solve the longer term problem.

Probably there is no good answer and even worse I suspect almost all the so called solutions which don't really solve our problems probably work to make the situation even worse with no long term benefit.

In the case of biofuels for example the real right answer is probably to move back to draft animals so we can extract work from them. Sure we can still kill some to eat but in general animals would be considered for work/manure first and food second. So although painful long term a return to draft animals on the farm and in the city and simple rejection of biofuels outright for transportation is probably the right thing.

Whats intresting is if we force our transportation needs to be coupled to animal power you get a natural sustainability factor. For non animal based transport a potential answer may be to only use methane from biodigesters of animal waste. I.e transportation is only powered from indirect post animal consumption sources.
Next wind and solar probably make sense as long as they have a marginal footprint on bio-diversity same with say run of river hydro or other low impact hydro approaches.

It seems that only capturing solar resources directly with minimal footprint and ensuring that organic fuels are always post poop and limited if you will that you can get true sustainability. There seems to be some fairly low level of energy we can safely use and also achieve true sustainability.

Figuring out this number probably requires very long term measurements of biodiversity in regions with and without humans.

Again without proof its intutive that the number of humans in exsistance at any given time with strict sustainability is small say less than 1 billion probably closer to a few hundred million something like that.

In fact.

We actually know that even back at this point expansion of the human population resulted in lowering of biodiversity so its actually sensible to assume the real true sustainable human population is probably quite similar to what it was during the early stone age. This is estimated at a few million or less depending on source. It really does not matter because again it seems this number is much lower than todays population and less than 1 billion how much less is not important. Indeed if we solve this problem we actually face the reverse problem i.e we need to keep our population high enough to ensure our own biodiversity.

In fact the real minima is simply enough to allow us to evolve while also ensuring others can. Thus the sacred answer if you will is pretty simple human population should be reduced to the level required to allow use to experience natural genetic drive aka evolution not a lot more and not a lot less.
We like everything have a right to have sufficient population to evolve but no more and no less. As and intelligent species its our job to ensure we maintain our population withing the bounds of this basic right. Other less intelligent animals may well have the right but simply not the brains to do this.

In fact at the moment humans in general belong to this lesser species we are not yet smart enough to gain the true birthright of intelligence which is evolution without extinction. We can if we choose evolve till the universe itself becomes and issue. In fact you can see how leaving this planet opens up very interesting opportunities for our own biodiversity without the constraints of protecting a ecosphere.

The final conclusion suggests we need to probably simply need to leave earth and leave it alone we should not stay in large numbers. Eventually our own biodiversity rights would not require us to retain a large human population on earth and thus our impact could be dropped to effectively zero.

We need to do this to ourselves but recognizing how we escape the constraints of this biosphere.

What is the lowest population needed to leave earth? How do you travel in space only using horses to make things?

Our ability to travel the oceans is a simple use of wind and raft. Traveling in space is a whole different ball game.

We have a choice of either, but not both; Sustainable here on earth, or growth to other planets.

Dieoff here we come.

There are a few solutions I can think of about making all of us live in harmony with each other and with the world around us, but they are not practical. In that I don't think people would like the solutions I can think about, nor would they trust them to fix the problems. Make me King of the World....smirkles.. it sounds wonderful on paper where I have the fictional stories to back up my solution, just don't think that the actual implementation would be like my fictional hopes and dreams.

Pray that we have a softer landing than your fears would seem to point.

Charles E. Owens Jr.

Which do you consider the most sane, mature, and intelligent approach?

-One who accepts the fact of one's inevitable mortality, is at peace with that reality, and gets on with make the best of the time one has, enjoying the gift of life that one has been given.


-One who cannot accept the fact of one's inevitable mortality, and is engaged in a frantic, desperate struggle to find some way, any way to extend one's life for a long as one possibly can.

I suspect most of us would have more sympathy with the former approach, although we all know too many people who typify the latter.

May I suggest that what applies to individuals might also apply to entire species?

Some people speculate about intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe, and wonder why they aren't here yet. It does not seem to occur to them that a truly intelligent species might realize that their inevitable fate is eventual extinction, and rather than waste their time on futile efforts to escape their home planet and thus their fate, they have instead decided to live life to the fullest during the time they have on the planet that is their home, cherishing it and enjoying it to the utmost. We haven't heard from them, because they are intelligent and mature enough to have better things to do with their time. Only dysfunctional, semi-stupid basket cases like us dream of zipping around cold, vacant, dead space as something to be preferred over life on our home planet.

WNC, I prefer to sit back and let my paint dry, look at the canvas thinking about what to have for dinner. Pen a poem, post a thought to my blog, smell a rose, look at the ladies in their summer dresses, hum to myself a tune, and not worry when my body falls over dead.

I started smoking in 2007, I was smoke free up till then, see my handle for my birth year. I started on a whim, my 3rd wife was smoking and she had told me she had quit. At one time I was up to about 4 packs a day, but only once in a while would I smoke that much. Prices for those things have gone up to the point that buying art supplies or smoking caused me to think about it. Why was I doing it? Whims are great, but really, smoke tastes like burned things. So now I smoke whenever I get the urge, one about every 2 or 3 weeks. It is something that now I can understand where for so many years I thought I knew something but did not really know about it.

There is likely millions of things I would like to do that I will never be able to do, but I don't worry about those things.

You are correct that most people want to go on living at whatever the costs, I see them all the time. I try to Stroll through life, enjoying what drifts my way and trying not to get in a gloomy doomer mood. That is one reason I have not been posting here as often as I used to.

My novels and short stories do go to the stars, but most times in them we have fixed our earth bound problems along the way. Though in a story I wrote in 1997 I killed off the whole human race besides two people, and then I left him falling off a building and her just out of hand's reach THE END. Leaving it up to the reader to finish the tail for themselves. I knew where I wanted it to go, but the reader oft times wants to be the author almost as much as the reader, so I left it up to them.

Life is full of sad horrible things, and wonderfully beautiful things. Cry a little, laugh as much as you can, and pass me another ice cold beer please.

Charles E. Owens Jr.

It's good to see experimentation with different types of biofuel crops. Algae may have the most potential in the long run:

Since it is a separate genus, Camelina Sativa, seed crossing should not be a problem. It isn't that closely related to other commercial plants in the mustard family. I haven't grown any, but according to "Seed to Seed," by Suzanne Ashworth, different species seldom cross, and different genera, hardly ever.

1) It SEEMS to me rational that some form of a legume plant, which self-supplies nitrogen, should be found which can make a better oil-seed crop than this due to seriously reduced fertilizer requirement, especially at those low yields. Soybean, peanut, red clover? The engines don't care about the omega3.

2) Again I repeat. Photosynthesis is THE most inefficient use of land area for conversion of solar energy into useful form. 1 acre of solar thermal installations will provide sufficient electricity to do the same work as the carbohydrates stored in the total plant mass harvestable from 100 acres of farm. It's a ridiculous proposition overall, and especially ridiculous to consider subsidizing.

"I've made up my mind, don't confuse me with facts" SG.

Unfortunately, Ari, lengould is correct. Photosynthesis is terribly inefficient.

I smell Apples and Oranges.

Your wiki link defines photosynthetic efficiency in terms of biomass... so I guess my question is:

How much biomass does a solar cell create?

We have to make this a fair comparison now. What is the system efficiency?

Also plants use the heat energy and wind to pump water and nutrients from the soil... a use of solar power not included in this definition.

I guess the day I can plant a diode and come back in few years and start harvesting solar panels from the silicon junction tree...

Plants do a lot with that 3-5%.

Plants do a lot with that 3-5%.

1) that Wiki reference is only counting the sunlight which falls during the growing season when the plants are mature. If you count the total sunlight which falls on the entire field in a year, the plant efficiency in temperate zones with a winter season, plant efficiency is LUCKY to get to 1%, and even sugar cane bi-annual in tropical zones only achieves 3% not 8%.

Energy efficiency of photosynthesis - Encyclopedia Britanica

The actual percentage of solar energy stored by plants is much less than the maximum energy efficiency of photosynthesis. An agricultural crop in which the biomass (total dry weight) stores as much as 1 percent of total solar energy received on an annual area-wide basis is exceptional, although a few cases of higher yields (perhaps as much as 3.5 percent in sugarcane) are reported. There are several reasons for this difference between the predicted maximum efficiency of photosynthesis and the actual energy stored in biomass. First, more than half of the incident sunlight is composed of wavelengths too long to be absorbed, while some of the remainder is reflected or lost to the leaves. Consequently, plants can at best absorb only about 34 percent of the incident sunlight. Second, plants must carry out a variety of physiological processes in such nonphotosynthetic tissues as roots and stems; these processes, as well as cellular respiration in all parts of the plant, use up stored energy. Third, rates of photosynthesis in bright sunlight sometimes exceed the needs of the plants, resulting in the formation of excess sugars and starch. When this happens, the regulatory mechanisms of the plant slow down the process of photosynthesis, allowing more absorbed sunlight to go unused. Fourth, in many plants, energy is wasted by the process of photorespiration. Finally, the growing season may last only a few months of the year; sunlight received during other seasons is not used. Furthermore, it should be noted that if only agricultural products (e.g., seeds, fruits, and tubers, rather than total biomass) are considered as the end product of the energy conversion process of photosynthesis, the efficiency falls even further.

2) Why would you value biomass diesel oil over electricity? Electricity is about 3x as valuable as a transportation fuel than diesel.

2) Why would you value biomass diesel oil over electricity? Electricity is about 3x as valuable as a transportation fuel than diesel.

"Value" is such a value laden word. Where did I say that I "valued" biomass diesel oil over electricity?? This is you twisting my words.

My point, missed, was simply that the comparison is not on an equal footing. If you want to compare electrons to electrons then use the "theoretical limit".. what do you think happens to the light after it is harvested in the photoreaction centre? Do the words electron transport chain ring any bells?

It is we that arbitrarily define this "efficiency" as per biomass - which discounts the energy that the plant used to maintain it's structure, harvest nutrients, fight disease and possibly in the case of legumes (etc) host symbionts. NB this point is clearly made in your "Britannica" quote.

So a valid comparison to solar should therefore include all the structures and process required to build, maintain and distribute your electrons.

This is not an anti solar post. I am trying to clarify what I think is a small flaw in this particular "efficiency" comparison.

Plants are "inefficient" as defined above and when compared to solar cells in isolation of there method of production... how about an entire solar electric system? That is my question.

Electricity from CSP and wind generators could be used to manufacture anhydrous ammonia.

Matt Simmons is working on this.

Photosynthesis only uses a small percent of incoming sunlight. So what is that other larger percent doing. Just magically disappearing because no plant is using it. NO - it is all part of how things are now - heating air and soil, evaporating water, I don't know everything it does I just know that it is NOT DOING NOTHING. To expropriate a small amount for home solar is one thing. To expropriate a large amount for our prolific lifestyle and overabundant species may well be a problem. We thought oil was just sitting in the ground doing nothing. We were so wrong. It was sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere and thus giving us the climate that we are now adapted to. If we start appropriating large amounts of wind energy, solar energy etc we may find out that we have tinkered with the way things are in unexpected ways - maybe the results would be good, maybe disastrous. Haven't we done enough experimenting?

Experimenting is the nature of humans. Stop that and we over time tend to die off from bordom. This is not a post about a science, but about what I have learned. I am sure someone has tried to study this, or else wants to study it but can't get a grant. No grant money no use doing it, because that is how science folk make a living wage these days. Ages ago Bob got a nut off the ground and Fran dropped it, and months later remembered dropping it, but there was a tree there instead, bingo. Planting started.

We humans are made to see patterns, don't see the pattern and you are lunch for the lion, hence all those who are left in the gene pool notice patterns.

We experiment. Sorry take that away from us and we will fail to see more than a few generations as we slip to ashes.

Through the days this thread has been up, I have gone from Gloomy Doomer to noticing the roses again. But I am not going to sugar coat things, we are heading for a massive dieoff in our population. What happens to those that are left is up to those of us that know what is going on. Passing on our knowledge, and our hope for a better day, even though we know billions will die from now till then won't be easy, but if there is to be a future for others it is still our job.

Charles E. Owens Jr.

I am reading the book "Human" by Michael Gazzaniga - at the end as he is summing up and talking about all the genetic engineering that is being contemplated (by people stuck in their specialties and unaware that the game is over) he says "Problems for the individual may be solutions in the big picture". I think that is a refrigerator quote for me.

We have become focused on the individual as our social bonds have broken and we thus are solving our species to the brink. I read that the Bushmen of the Kalahari leave the old folks behind in a thorn hut when they can no longer keep up. They don't have to force them, they all know that if they survive to be old at some point that is their fate. They are sad but they move on. But in the first world we think we are kinder by keeping our elderly alive ad infinitum. However if you have have spent years volunteering in nursing homes as I have, you know that the Bushmen are kinder. The cruelty of the pain and disability of our living dead is far far worse than a quick death from wild animals that the bushmen elders face.

Why an article about this black gold alchemy? This paper put the nail in the coffin for any form of bio-fuel: . Can anyone can show the author, Jeffrey S. Dukes, made some mistakes in pointing out that the world burns 400 years of ancient solar energy a year? If that is true bio-fuels will never scale up to be anything other than boutique fuels. So what is this crop good for? To eat? I am satisfied with olive oil myself.

Brian, they can't see it no matter how you explain because they don't want to see it. Accepting the truth that there is no bail out for the energy problem is verboten.(as someone - perhaps Jay Hanson - said the Fed can print money, it can't print energy) Accepting that we have to move back in energy usage and population is unacceptable - anyone who tries to talk about it is a doomer. Similar to the games many people play when they or a loved one hears that they have only 6 mos to live. However I did 10 years as a Hospice Volunteer and I know that those who accept the truth live their final months with more ease. In this case there is much that could be done to soften the coming crunch, but nothing to be done to stave it off. Biofuels is a delusional and dangerous "solution" and any heavy investment in biofuels will make matters worse.

If that is true bio-fuels will never scale up to be anything other than boutique fuels.

I don't know of a single member of TOD Staff who believes that biofuels can scale up to displace a large amount of petroleum. You will certainly never get to even 50% replacement with biomass. But energy crops have been produced for centuries, and I would rather see us with some fuel options - even at a fraction of current petroleum supplies - than nothing at all. I want the ambulances and police cars to be able to run.

In a world facing peak phosphorus perhaps having enough food to survive will be more important than ambulances and police cars.
Prospect of a Phosphorus Peak

In his frightening book Eating Fossil Fuels [3], Dale Allen Pfeiffer shows that conventional agriculture is as oil-addicted as the rest of society. A decline in oil production raises questions about how we will feed ourselves.

In the same way, agriculture is addicted to mined phosphates and would be threatened by a peak in phosphate production. As the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) wrote in summary on phosphates (PDF):

I've suggested before on TOD that the world has a practical Lipids Limit, with only algae having any chance of expanding that limit. Legume oilseeds seem to be fossil fuel dependent for plowing, harvesting, fertilising and knockdown prior to rotation crops. That could be why the tractors and harvesters aren't run on biodiesel and also why tree based crops such as palm oil are growing in acreage. I doubt that camelina represents a big enough advance on legume or faba oilseeds like canola and soybean to make a major difference.

The natural herbicide argument also applies to mustard though I understand high linoleic acid is harder to transesterify. Barring a breakthrough in algae I think biodiesel will always be a niche market, particularly in the face of climate change, Peak Oil, population growth and so on. However since we will probably always have movie stars who like to fly by jet some acreage will remain for oilseed-for-fuel, but not much.


I have never tried to run the numbers personally, and since there are so many variables involving the use and value of secondary products,I can't say that I trust any body's numbers as regards biofuels.

The problem boils diown to this.There are always secondary products that can be used as livestock feed or food,and the value of these products can vary wildly depending on circumstances.

But it seems safe to say that a typical soybean farmer can easily supply all his own fuel inputs from soybean oil produced on his own place with some surplus to sell plus the soybean meal,which is a very high protein feed worth a lot of money,and that he can also produce some other crops for market as well,still using only his own homegrown fuel.

Probably any farmer in an area where some crop that yields good quality oil in good quantity can do the same.His net yields would be lower of course but we could most likely skinny by,at least here in the states.

But once the existing machinery,roads,processing plants,etc,(which were all built by industries burning ff) are worn out the game changes in a dramatic way.Fortunately such infrastructure is more durable than most people imagine-if you are willing to make the effort necessary to maintain it.

Consequently I think we do have a reasonable window of opportunity and can change our ways w/o a major population crash in the wealthier parts of the world.This change will necessarily be an all fronts war,the major fronts being conservation and renewables.I try not to think too much about the third world.

Personally I just can't see biofuels ever ramping up far enough or fast enough to even remotely take care of the needs of our industrial/consumer society as it exists today..Perhaps such an incredible increase in biofuel production could be achieved over a period of many decades with luck and determination,at some unimaginable environmental cost,but we don't have a generation or two to solve the fuel problem.

Of course there is always the possibility of some miraculous breakthrough.In fifty years gmo s may be turning out oil and plastic the way corn turns out starch these days.

I heard of a farmer in the wheatbelt of Victoria, Australia who used a third (if I recall) of his canola crop to run machinery. His spread was about 10,000 ac/4,000 hectares if I recall. So I think there is a size threshold which precludes hobby farms like mine. That particular person went publicity shy after the tax authorities wanted 38c a litre backdated fuel excise, even though he didn't sell it to anyone.

I found in home growing canola I was also spraying for caterpillars of the diamondback moth up to eight times. I also had to pay people with the correct kind of machinery. On the other hand with the right contacts you can get more free WVO than you can use, albeit some of it disgusting quality.

I have an uneasy feeling about GMO plants that ooze ready made fuels and plastics. Something could go wrong unexpectedly. I believe the fuel of the future is methane gas, but that's for another post.

Most individual farmers will probably take thier soybeans or sunflowers or whatever to a local processing plant for oil extraction,as the amount of oil needed is probably not going to justify the expense of owning thier own extraction and processing equipment,not to mention the bother of learning how to run it.

Of course a man with ten thousand acres could probably make good use of his own equipment.

Your calculation of the energetics of soybeans aligns nicely with mine related to maize.  I think the problematic crops are the ones with little excess biomass like dryland wheat crops; you may have trouble harvesting enough biomass from straw, hulls, etc. to run the system.  Cross-subsidies may still be possible, but will be very expensive if only biofuels are available.

DDGS is one of the ethanol byproducts and is used for animal feed. However it is not without problems

"E. coli O157 is present in healthy cattle but poses a health risk to humans, who can acquire it through undercooked meat, raw dairy products and produce contaminated with cattle manure. The growth in ethanol plants means more cattle are likely to be fed distiller's grain, therefore harboring 0157 and potentially a source of health risks to humans, according to T.G. Nagaraja, professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology at K-State's College of Veterinary Medicine. "

Meanwhile to keep bugs out of the ethanol production antibiotics are being used and these are creating antibiotic resistant bugs that show up in the ddgs

"Although ethanol is a decidedly sterile material, the making of it is steeped in the funky biology of fermentation, which relies on enzymes and yeast. With such a process comes bacteria, and sometimes those bacterial bugs can become so dominant that they produce lactic acid instead of alcohol.

How do you keep bacteria in check? With antibiotics. As Ethanol Producer Magazine reports, drugs such as penicillin and virginiamycin have become key tools in ethanol production. Anytime you use antibiotics, whether it be in the doctor’s office, in livestock feed or in a fermentation tank, there is the danger that some bacterial bugs will survive the treatment, spawning a generation of drug-resistant offspring. The more drugs you use, the more opportunities for superbugs to evolve and thrive."

Yet the DDGS is an important part of declaring a positive ERoEI on ethanol. As always we humans are solving ourselves into more and more problems. The "solution" is behind us not ahead of us. We just need to turn to the peasant farmers and hunter-gatherers of the world to teach us. Well that and while we still have it use birth control out the gazoo.

you can get up to 1,000 gal. of ethanol per. acre with some varieties of fodder beet. it's cold tolerant, it breaks up hard pan and makes great animal feed.
did you know you can run ethanol in a diesel engine with a 1% loss in efficiency. I've heard claims that you get efficiency gains buy some
sorry no links gotta go I'll find them later.

There are diesels that will run on ethanol at very nearly the same thermal efficiency as diesels burning ordinary "diesel fuel" but you need a lot more ethanol,in terms of volume of fuel,than petro diesel due to the low energy content of ethanol.

I spoke to a Scania dealer recently and he says these engines are just as good as thier regular engines but that they cost about twenty percent more and cannot be legally imported into the US because they will not pass the clean air tests.The Europeans have exempted them from thier own clean air regulations in order to avoid the use of so much imported fuel.Such engines still need about five percent of thier fuel as regular diesel for reasons not entirely clear to him having to do with ignition of the fuel charge.

I'm still on the run (off to play music at the pub) but I'd like to kick this around a bit more, as I'm a bit confused.
I wouldn't be at all interested in buying a new engine to run on ethanol, I've got tools and a boat load of diesel mechanic buddies.
My very basic understanding of this is that ethanol works well at the same compression ratio as diesel engines, very high. And yes I've seen it e95, so maybe it needs so help at ignition.

I could be entirely wrong but I don't think converting an ordinary diesel to run on ethanol is the sort of thing that can be done at a reasonable cost.It might work if you mix it with the incoming combustion air by means of ordinary alcohol injectors or an alcohol carburetor designed for spark ignition use,but as I understand it,thehigh pressure alcohol injectors,pumps,etc used on diesels are a dedicated design and not something that can be duplicated in an ordinary machine shop.

Diesels can be made to run on wood gas by this method ,as can ordinary gasoline engines(older models equipped with ordinary carburetors).

I have been on the lookout for a long time for such a conversion job near where I live but no luck yet.I intend to build one myself and a good look at an actual conversion would be worth a lot.
If anybody here owns one within say four hundred miles of Charlotte NC I sure would like to come look it over.

Diesels are probably the closest thing we have to a mixed fuel internal combustion engine.

However I still favor solid oxide fuel cells esp for heavy machinery.;jsessionid=6A510B28EF399AC90FA...

And or external combustion aka the old steam engine despite its efficiency issues.

I actually think at the end of the day its tough to beat steam once you look at all of the issues.

Internal combustion is not flexible enough. Eventually I think SOFC will work however they may never be cheap and then you look at steam which really only has some efficiency issues however these eventually become one of recycling of heat.
And example.

And potentially other sorts of engines such as supercritical carbon dioxide cycle engines google for that for the links.

Ammonia cycles should also be considered

Maybe some of our new refrigerant might prove to make good external combustion working fluids for example. Minto pops up googling for this.

The point is that if you dig you will find that old ideas that where discarded in favor of the internal combustion engine can be re-evaluated esp given our current abilities to make materials. Esp external combustion where mixed fuels area and issue.

And of course compressed or liquefied air. Often any external combustion aka steam engine also works equally well using compressed air.

And yes I'm a fan of steam and compressed air every time I look at the problem I keep returning to the flexibility of external heat fluid engines.

You may be onto something if we can find ways to use the waste heat effectively since old fashioned steam engines are cheap to build,require no exotic materials or technology ,are entierly recycleable,and if built to early twentieth century standards extremely durable.

A wood fired engine of this sort could be run for a few hours when electrical demand is peaking and all the waste heat could be used to heat an apartment building in northern climes for over half of the year,and it could be run for short periods to heat hot water for the whole building and a laundromat the rest of the year.

It could also be run at a lower output ,just enough to supply the necessary heat for a couple more months,and the juice generated used in the building or fed back into the grid.

My guess is that combined heat and power systems of this sort will become economically feasible a lot sooner that most people would guess,based on my own opinion that ff prices are going to rise much faster than generally expected.

Right now all this sort of stuff requires the involvement of engineers,bankers,lawyers,grant wriers, architects,zonong people,etc on almost a case by case basis but standardization is on it's way.

The systems now available(sfaik) sell for megabucks and make sense only if highly subsidized but mass production works cost miracles.

I'd wager that internal combustion engines would eke more electricity out of the fuel than steam would.  Aren't small steam engines typically around 5% thermal efficiency?  An ICE running at full throttle is closer to 30%, medium-speed diesels can exceed 40%.  The only US-made small-scale cogeneration system (that I know of) uses a Honda engine burning natural gas.  This isn't to say that steam couldn't be used as a bottoming cycle; both the ICE exhaust and the combustion heat from e.g. a wood gasifier could make steam.  You need a minimum system size to make this worthwhile.

There's a huge amount of near-term potential in cogeneration.  Combined with electric vehicles, it would stretch the supplies of fuels like natural gas by making them do double duty and provide major flexibility to deal with variable supplies like wind.

I don't actually know what the efficency of a small steam engines is,but my impression is that it is more than five percent.Maybe the ones I have read about are newer designs.

My key point is that with an external combustion steam engine you can use locally available solid fuels and size the system to make use of the heat and then whatever electricity you get is a top shelf bonus-no transmission losses,available often at peak load times,perhaps some tax advantages,etc.

And if tshtf for real,you don't need that sophisticated an infrastructure to maintain or manufacture such steam engines.

Once the price of fuel goes high enough I expect to see chp systems of the type you mention become very popular in area with long heating seasons.

I have seen drawings of a system that actually encloses the ice engine in the existing duct work of a forced air home heating system and used a long drive shaft to deliver the power to a generator mounted outside the duct.

Considering the safety and noise issues I am not suprised that it did not make it to market but it looks as if an engineer should be able to modify an existing diesel engine design so that it could be entirely enclosed in a water jacket in such a way that the waste heat would be captured about as efficiently as with a bioler.

Such an engine used in a stationary application to drive a generator would appear to be cost effective already if the owner needs lots of hot water and electricity but I don't see much about these things in places other than popular science magazines and web sites.

My key point is that with an external combustion steam engine you can use locally available solid fuels

The same is true of a gasogene.

if tshtf for real,you don't need that sophisticated an infrastructure to maintain or manufacture such steam engines.

That's a very valid point.

On the other hand, now that there's a fuel cell design which operates on biodiesel and may operate directly on pyrolysis oil, being able to turn locally available solid fuel into a storable, transportable liquid and thence to heat and electricity at reasonable efficiency might just put TS far enough away from TF that we get to breathe for a while.  I expect the same fuel cell would operate on natural gas or bio-gas without skipping a beat.

I have seen drawings of a system that actually encloses the ice engine in the existing duct work of a forced air home heating system and used a long drive shaft to deliver the power to a generator mounted outside the duct.

Thus wasting the heat losses of the generator, and poisoning the occupants of the house if the head or exhaust manifold gaskets leak.  I'll take a liquid-cooled engine, thanks. ;-)

The "regular diesel" is required for ignition of the alcohol/air fuel charge.  Ethanol, propane and some other fuels have an extremely high octane rating and can be fumigated into the intake air of diesel engines without igniting under compression.  In the absence of spark plugs, injection of a small amount of a high-cetane fuel is required to ignite the mixture.

One would probably want to experiment very carefully at first if the engine is turbocharged, as most diesels are these days. A pre-ignition in a cylinder with the intake valve still open would be a very exciting event. Start out at low ethanol ratios, work up gradually, or consult the manufacturer. Better yet, do timed port injection at each intake valve with fuel pressurized somewhat above turbocharger pressure. Install a set of injectors, a fuel pump and an ECU from a scrapped port-injected car?

If you want to do such things as an experiment,fine,but if you want a running serviceable engine you can buy one a lot cheaper.

If the idea is just to run on ethanol,you can modify an older gasoline engine w/o too much difficulty but why?Other than just to prove you can do it,of course.There are probably a few hot rod shops around that will undertake the job for maybe a couple of thousand bucks.

If the idea is to be able to run a tractor or delivery truck in an emergency on ethanol of course the price may be irrelevant.

That's why I plan on building a wood gasifier and mounting it on an older pickup truck.There are lots of trees in my nieghborhood and an hour or two cutting wood for such a truck beats a day or two on the road to town and back with a horse drawn wagon-not to mention the difference in payload.

Ah, going with the old Mother Earth News design or adding some newfangled improvements?

There is a design in a federal publication the name of which escapes me for the moment,which is supposed to be buildable in a reasonably well equipped garage or farm shop.It's intended to be built out of salvaged materials in the event of a war or natural catastrophe making fuel unavailable.It doesn't look like a hard job but the drawings leave something to be desired in some spots,or maybe it's just that I am misinterpreting them.

I guess I will go with this unless I can turn up something better.I have spent hours cruising the net and found plenty of theoritical discussions of gas flow rates etc,which are mostly over my non engineering head,but almost nothing in terms of working drawings representative of real world gasifiers.

All that I have found are copies of the fed design.

So when I get to it mine will probably be similar to the Mother Earth News version,which is not that different from Uncle Sams.

I don't have the expertise,time, or money to do any real research and /or testing and it is very important,given my limited resources, that whatever I build works the first try with only minor tweaking.

I do have a good vehicle to use as the platform ,a mechanically sound but raggedy full size 85 ford pickup with the 300 cu in six,4wd and a "granny gear" 4 speed .Even though the apparatus will take up half the cargo box,it will still have room for a useful load plus two adult passengers.

I believe it will haul a very heavy load on a trailer even up a steep mountian road because of the low range 4x4 transmission.This is important because as I understand it the horsepower will be way off and a typical truck with an ordinary transmission might not be able to haul much at all unless kept on a good level road.

Hopefully this winter project will never be more than a conversation piece to be driven out to the fields occasionally but if tshtf and oil deliveries are disrupted it will be worth more to me than a new truck with an empty fuel tank.

It looks as if it will cost less than a thousand dollars using mostly salvaged materials to build the system myself and it won't take much more than a month of actual work,meaning it might get finished in two or three years as the urge to work on it comes and goes.

I can't say when but I fully expect oil deliveries to be disrupted before I get too old to drive if my luck holds.

If I can't buy any gasoline,or if it goes to ten bucks a gallon, I can probably find the energy to finish it up fairly fast.

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