Biomass Ethanol + Plug-in Hybrids = 95% less emissions?

In this week's NY Times City section there is an interesting editorial written by David Morris, Vice President of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and author of "Driving Our Way to Energy Independence" that makes these extraordinary claims about the benefits of plug-in hybrids that charge over night and use ethanol as a back-up fuel for longer trips between charging.

Can this be true? I need your help debunking this one, TOD readers...

The emerging market in biomass is another opportunity for New York. Soon, we will make ethanol from cellulose contained in fast-growing trees and grasses, many of which can be cultivated in New York. Indeed, the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, in Syracuse, is already a leader in research on using willow trees as a biofuel stock. An increase in annual biofuels consumption from today's five billion gallons to the projected 80 billion gallons needed to provide backup engine fuel for all the cars on American roads today , could spur the construction of over 2,000 biorefineries in the United States, many of them in New York.

New York City and its suburbs are an ideal proving ground for plug-in hybrids. The city is already encouraging the introduction of hybrid vehicles into its fleet of 13,000 taxis in order to reduce emissions. But plug-in hybrids with alcohol-fueled engines can reduce tailpipe emissions even more -- by as much as 95 percent.

Can this be true? 80 Billion gallons of ethanol? 95% less emissions?

I need your help TOD readers. First, are these calculations correct? Second, if these numbers are correct, and plug-ins plus ethanol can be scaled do reduce emissions by this much, how would this be ramped up?

These seem wildly optimistic assumptions to me on the face of it, but I'm open minded. Is ethanol that scaleable to 80 Billion gallons? Can we increase electricity generation (even during off peak times) to satisfy the demand for plug-ins? What's the current range of plug-ins and how much gas / ethanol would they require for back-up for the average person? What about the emissions fuel used to create the electricity? That's not counted in the "tail-pipe emissions, but it matters for Global Warming.

Please submit your ideas, thoughts and comments here and I will invite Mr. Morris to respond. Together, I would like to be able to separate fact from fiction and see if there is general agreement on some policy options for NYC and the rest of the country concerning ethanol and plug-ins.

Mr. Rapier,

Waiting for you to debunk this.

Mr. Rapier,

Waiting for you to debunk this.

Robert Rapier has debunked just about all of this.  He just debunked it when other people (like Khosla) made similar claims.  Plug in hybrids are a joke.  The battery tech simply isn't there yet.  Very expensive batteries and a short life cycle = no thanks.

What is a reasonable energy requirement per km for a mid size car?
How do you explain the tesla?
wacki wrote "Very expensive batteries and a short life cycle."

What is it about the Tesla that you don't think falls into this category? By my calculations - confirmed by others pretty close to the process - you will have to replace around $50,000 worth of batteries in less than 100,000 miles of driving.

I love what the guys at Tesla have done, and I am 100% in agreement that we need to electrify our transport. But the Tesla is not close to being something the public can afford.

Actually, the battery pack cost 8,000 to replace, and lasts about 100,000 miles/5 years worth of nightly recharging before it begins to lose capacity.  Also, the battery pack is specially insulated so that the batteries themselves dont experience high tempuratures and lose capacity as a result.

Please do your homework before 'debunking' this.

Actually, the battery pack cost 8,000 to replace...

LOL! Who fed you that line? After all, you have to replace 6,831 cells. Do you know how much those cost? You not only have $50K in cells, but you have assembly + control circuitry + safety parts + packaging. That was pulled reluctantly out of a Tesla representative after I showed him my numbers and asked about replacement costs.

Please do your homework before 'debunking' this.

LOL again. You are a piece of work. But go ahead and show me your homework.

Don't consider this a dig at Tesla. Again, I support what they are doing.

Im soooooooooooo sorry, I was wrong.  It was not 8,000 USD, it was actually 10,000 USD.

Will you ever forgive me?

BTW, I LOVE the Tesla, and I think we will be seeing more cars move towards this style of construction.  Remember, 68% of US oil consumption is used in transportation, meaning that if an apollo scale buildup of these vehicles took place, we could possibly replace every car on the road inside of 10 years.

Since 9.8 million bpd alone goes to gas for cars, thats a 46% drop in our daily US wide oil consumption.  Thats a decline of 4.6% of oil every year, FAR less then the projected decline in world wide oil consumption.

Vehicles like these, coupled with renewable alternatives and peak oil is mostly a nonissue as far as I can tell, but please point out the negative :/

Im soooooooooooo sorry, I was wrong.  It was not 8,000 USD, it was actually 10,000 USD.
Will you ever forgive me?

Not yet. Where he pulled that number from, I have no idea. But it isn't realistic. Maybe someone at Tesla told him that. Maybe they are counting on batteries getting much cheaper by the time they need to be replaced. But the fact is (again, confirmed by someone who works for Tesla) is that it will cost you $50K.

But here is your homework assignment. Tell me how much 6,831 cells cost, and then show me a source. Note that these are 18650's, if that helps.

No I'm sure he was counting on economies of scale to drive the cost of the batteries down in price.  There are a number of new batteries that have been developed in the last year, like Toshiba's which can be recharged to 80% capacity in a few minutes.  Or what about MIT's which not only increases total capacity but reduces cost AND weight 'Lighter Batteries + High Capacity = More Efficiency'.

Or how about this gem which promises to increase capacity by a factor of 100x 'though im betting on 20 to 30x' and is made out of plastic?  How ironic: a product of oil used to dramatically reduce our reliance of oil!!

All it takes is a convergance of these technologies with government, or even a wealthy investors backing and we could see a 'total package' if you will in the way we drive.  Throw in wind, solar, nuclear, tidal, geothermal and ethanol and we have a sustainable, nearly pollution free alternative to our oil addiction!!

These AREN'T 'pie in the sky' dreams: its a reality that is taking place before our very eyes!  The Tesla is just the first embodiment of such progress.  These kinds of advances should turn any rational doomer into an optimist like myself.

Sweet dreams doomers :)

No I'm sure he was counting on economies of scale to drive the cost of the batteries down in price.

As contrasted with my "Maybe they are counting on batteries getting much cheaper by the time they need to be replaced." As far as "economies of scale", do you not think all the laptops using these batteries today are a pretty huge scale.

What we do know, is that given the technology we have in hand, it will take $50K to replace that battery pack at today's prices. If prices go down by 80% in the next few years, then you will have a point.

Sweet dreams doomers :)

In case that's aimed at me, I am not a doomer. I guess I am an optimistic realist.

If that is the case then I would like to direct you to this article  If it works as its stated too, the 'hydrogen' economy might actually work.  Some points of interest include:

Gervasio's solution was to use the alkaline compound borohydride. A 30% solution of borohydride in water actually contains one-third more hydrogen than the same volume of liquid hydrogen.

"The difference is that the borohydride is at room temperature, and it's stable, non-toxic and cost-effective," Gervasio says.

Notice how this means that we can now effectively store hydrogen at room temperatures AND it's not only SAFE, but it stores far more hydrogen then when hydrogen itself is compressed into a liquid, a process that I'm sure you know as VERY energy intensive.  Ironically enough, this idea was originally meant for gasoline.

Now my own thoughts on the matter:  I still say skip the middle man so to speak.  Making hydrogen via electrolysis and then using said hydrogen to power a vehicle still leaves a lot of room for waste.  A smarter way to go about this is simply improving on battery recharge and storage technology and making sure they are not only cost effective but last long enough for the average driver.

That being said, I could very easily see this being widely adopted by both oil companies and gas stations en mass, as it allows existing infrastructure to be used, and doesn't put 17,600 gas stations out of business.  That is, unless they chose to provide 'power up' stations for all electric super fast recharging cars :P

Your thoughts?

keep smoking Hothgor....

No combo of "alternative" energy will be able to displace hydrocarbon depletion--as hydrocarbon reserves were created over geological time.

Perhaps you believe that the earth was created 6000 years ago... maybe that is why the concept of a "hydrogen economy" has such great appeal to you?

See hundreds of millions of years of stocket up solar energy  in the form of hydrocarbons is not the same thing as paltry energy per sq meter absorption on the best solar panels (which, as stated before, cost thousands of orders of magnitude too great for average "consumers"). Not to mention the net gain in solar energy in the form of chemical energy when growing "biofuels" (please understand the basic statistics of energy consumption and efficiency patterns before going off on an ignorant pollyanish idea that biofuels can solve our energy perdictament) is wholly unrealistic.

Hydrogen is not a SOURCE of energy--anyone who believes such a thing is absolutely ignorant on the science. Hydrogen needs to be ripped away from H2O. That takes energy. It's called electrolysis, look up it in your new science there. See you need electricity to make hydrogen--and where does electricity come from? 50% coal, 20% natural gas, 20% nuclear, some hydro, then less than 1% is solar and wind added together. Now, you want to add more to the burden of this system, the grid?!

Lets now power hundreds of millions of automobiles with electricity in addition to burning the billions upon billions of tons of coal a year we already incinerate?

Hrm, forgive me if I remain skeptical of your dream fantasy "alternative replacements" for a depleted, finite, geologically old, hydrocarbon endowment. Energy doesn't come from nowhere.


You DO realize that I said that we shouldnt concentrate on the 'hydrogen' economy even with interesting new technology that I've linked.  And you are a fool if you believe that I said we should concentrate solely on solar for our alternatives.  I'm advocating a basket of renewable and some non-renewable energy systems.  Let me go down the list for you again:

Solar, Wind, Tidal, Hydro, Geothermal, Nuclear and Biofuels CAN offset our 'fossil fuel' consumption and allow us to enjoy a future world based on sustainable, low polluting energy.  Individually, none of the above listed alternatives can hope to replace Fossil Fuels, but together, they just 'might' be able to get the job done.

As for your hydrogen rant, you only repeated what I ALREADY SAID.  It takes energy to produce hydrogen from water, and it seems moronic to then 'burn' that hydrogen in any kind of combustion engine.  It makes slightly more sense, albeit still a bad idea, to take said hydrogen, store it in a stable compound and use it in a fuel cell which has 2.5x the efficiency of a regular ICE.  I know that hydrogen is a energy carrier, not an energy producer.  Thats why I think the future is in EVs and perhapse some unique hybrid-biofuel vehicles.

I'm with you. This site is becoming to self-reflecting in its pessimism.
I personally like to refract pessimism--but to each his own, to each his own...
Either way (reflection or refraction), as long as it is concentrated to a tasteful intensity.
Read "The Hype About Hydrogen," Hothgor. You are smoking something, from what I'm reading here.
I'm NOT advocating Hydrogen!  My god people, how many times do I have to state this?  I just found this technological application 'interesting' in that it solved 2 of the 3 major problems of the hydrogen economy: density and storage.  This compound has enough hydrogen in it to be comparable to gasoline in terms of volume, and its stable enough to allow it to be piped through existing infrastructure.  The last problem being that it takes way to much energy to create hydrogen, and ergo it shouldnt even been explored as a widescale alternative.


I know this, so stop trying to make an issue out of this :P

You reference an article about fuel cells and say:

If that is the case then I would like to direct you to this article  If it works as its stated too, the 'hydrogen' economy might actually work.

Then you say:

The last problem being that it takes way to much energy to create hydrogen, and ergo it shouldnt even been explored as a widescale alternative.

Can you please make up your mind?

As Wacki was saying, a la John Kerry, it appears you were for hydrogen before you were against it.
If that is the case then I would like to direct you to this article  If it works as its stated too, the 'hydrogen' economy might actually work.

The hydrogen economy will never work.  The problem isn't the fuel cells it's simple laws of physics that prevent us from making hydrogen cheaply.

Actually, replacing 6,831 standard 18650 cells currently costs $34000 at most.  That's retail, quantity 50.  If you got them assembled into packs with spot-welded connections at the factory it would no doubt be cheaper because of the reduced handling.

I don't see current prices as a reliable indicator to the future for two reasons:

  1. Current cells are still the cobalt-oxide cathode formula, which requires expensive cobalt and is being phased out.  The alternative chemistries are not yet the standard, so not widely available.

  2. The alternatives don't have a huge amount of market share yet, so they are feeding speciality niches at low production volumes.  Both of these prevent the price from coming down quickly.  But when it does...

I've read claims about both the FePO4 and titanium spinel cathodes which claim that the cycle and calendar lives are greatly improved.  Iron phosphate and titanium dioxide are both very cheap materials.  There's a lot of room for the cost of these things to drop, and we can expect it to do so.
Thanks!  Even better news for the night :)
Actually, replacing 6,831 standard 18650 cells currently costs $34000 at most.  That's retail, quantity 50.  If you got them assembled into packs with spot-welded connections at the factory it would no doubt be cheaper because of the reduced handling.

When I did my back of the envelope, I went with the cheapest 18650's I could find to come up with my estimate. Someone from Tesla told me it was in the ballpark, and your estimate is closer to mine than to Hothgor's. That is good news that you can get them for less, but still out of the reach for the public at large.

Don't get me wrong, though. I still think electric transport is the way we need to go, and Tesla has made a valuable contribution.

One thing that we will need to keep an eye on is whether the batteries actually last 100,000 miles. Some people who know more about batteries than me have expressed concern about this.

Robert, one Tesla's founders said in a recent interview that their current battery pack costs $20,000.  That wholesale price appears consistent with a retail price of $34k.

He also said that with current price trends they expect to purchase the same cells for $12k in 5 years.

He said they guarantee the 100k mileage (roughly 250 miles/cycle x 400 cycles) and 5 year life on the current packs, and hope for more.  This would be much better than is usually seen with laptops, but laptops have very primitive battery management, where the Tesla has very sophisticated power management and cooling - heat is the enemy of li-ion life - think how hot your laptop battery gets.

$20k for 100k miles works out to $.20 per mile, which is competitive with a 40mpg car and $8 gas (actually, more than competitive as electric cars have much lower maintenance costs).  $12k would equal $.12 per mile, and compete with $4.80 gas.

A123systems' battery is perhaps the most advanced (marketwise) of the next generation of li-ion batteries, which promise much greater cycle life and much faster charging.  They're available at retail on Amazon in Dewalt 36-volt packs for $169 and (IIRC) 80 watthours and 2,000 cycle life minimum.  With a wholesale 40% discount and 215 watt hours/mile (Tesla's figure) that works out to $1,267/kwhr (about 3x tesla's current cost for conventional li-ion's), about $.14 per mile and $5.60 gas.

So, battery tech isn't quite competitive at current gas prices. OTOH, these costs will fall (and probably very quickly - the 2,000 cycle guaranteed minimum life for next gen li-ion's appears to be very conservative - I've seen tests which yielded 10,000 cycles), and gas prices will rise.  I expect that the lines will cross in the next 5 years.

Robert, does that make sense?

Thanks, Nick. Yes, that makes sense. I simply did the back of the envelope calculations to get an idea of what they had invested in the battery pack. I was trying to figure out what a car for the public might sell for, and was disappointed at the high cost I came up with.

I presumed from Hothgor's comment that they must be counting on prices coming way down, because I certainly couldn't come up with a $8-10K replacement cost. Even that was mentioned as being high for the average consumer in the article Hothgor referenced.

Yes, I think there's no question batteries aren't quite there yet.

OTOH, battery prices are falling relentlessly, and the A123systems' batteries are competitive even now with the costs of the average vehicle when gas hits around $3.70/gallon.

So, it's quite clear that batteries will be up to the job of replacing gasoline, and fairly soon.

Another way of thinking about it: the average cost/mile of operating a vehicle is $.445, per the IRS.  An electric vehicle, even at current prices, is likely to cost less than $.05 more, taking all things into account.  I'd say that there's no question that Kunstler's vision of the suburbs being abandoned because of prohibitively expensive driving is obsolete.

The problem with A123 batteries is that they were developed for high power density not high energy density. You would need significantly more of then to get the same range as current laptop batteries. Their application is mainly for power tools where you have relatively few cells and high discharge rates. Now a pure EV has large numbers of cells in parallel so the discharge rate on individual cells is a lot lower. For EV's you need cells with high energy density. A123 have said themselves that their cells are not suitable for EV's. They are working on different cells for this market. Interestingly the profile for plug-in hybrids is somewhere between high power density and high energy density. You typically have a smaller pack with less cells so the load on individual cells is higher.

For anyone interested there is lots of good info here:

The A123 presentation seems to have been removed for some reason :-)

Yeah, both A123systems (at 45 watt hours/lb) and Altairnano (at about 90) are currently less energy dense than conventional li-ion.

On the one hand, it's another indication that next-gen batteries aren't quite competitive with gasoline yet. OTOH you can see that they would be usable as is, if you really had to.

So, not quite ready yet, but clearly good enough to use in a oil-depletion emergency, and almost certain to get better reasonably quickly and very likely to get to where it's just as good as gasoline is today within roughly the next 5 years.

Does that sound right to you?

From what I read, it sounds very feasible for A123 to produce cells for EV use. They need to tailor the chemistry to provide more energy density at the expense of power density. They are looking for automotive partners to work with them. So I would say it looks feasible if they can get the cost down to reasonable levels.
These cost per mile calculations are for the battery only, and don't include the electricity, right?  That would raise the cost, and the competitiveness with gasoline, a fair bit, no?  On the other hand, this discussion of the Tesla seems to me a little off track.  The original post was about hybrids, right?  Hybrids require substantially less battery capacity than a straight electric vehicle.
You're right, I should have included electricity costs.  Battery costs are more important, but electricity costs are enough to notice.

They add $.02 to the cost of driving (US average price of $.10/kwhr x .215 kwhr/mile), and raise the $/gas breakeven point by $.86/gallon (for a 40 mpg car - all breakeven numbers are proportionately less for a comparison with the average US light vehicle at 23MPG).

I use the Tesla numbers because they're well documented (e.g.,estimates for the Prius's kwhr/mile vary from 200 to 250), and because the calculations are the same as for a hybrid.

The only difference between an EV and an HEV is that the number of charge/discharge cycles per year is going to be much higher for an HEV (multiple times per trip, vs once per several days), and therefore the new generation Li-ion batteries, which tolerate greater depth of discharge, and have a much greater cycle life, will have an advantage.

Robert Rapier was wondering about battery life: an interesting note here is that the Prius, using very sophisticated battery/power management appears to be getting many thousands of cycles from NIMH batteries, which is much better than would be expected from routine NIMH battery experience.

Um, an "apollo scale buildup"? Is the government going to buy us all new electric cars, then?
Not at all, but getting the message out and making the public aware that it would be in all of our best interest to switch from fossil fuels to all electric along with generous incentives would qualify as an 'apollo scale' project.  Basically I'm just saying that left to its own devices, the market wont be saturated with EV for probably 40 years.  With some prodding, perhaps as quickly as 15.
I think that Alan Drake is working on some additional articles on Electrification of Transportation.  It's only how, not if, we will electrify transportation.  I would want to compare the plug-in hybrid biofuel option versus an electric trolley car system.  

BTW, if I had anything to do with it, I would have picked Alan Drake as a lead speaker at ASPO-USA in Boston.  The guy is a national treasure when it comes to light rail, trolley cars, etc.

A question that Alan would ask:  which system could have been built in the early 20th Century?

We need both.
Yes Indeed -KISS (keep it simple stupid)  I find it difficult to believe that hybrids are practical. I think the batteries are the key weakness, both in lifespan and disposal issues.  Wrecks with these things could get interesting.  ZAPP!
Volkswagen has a (working) 200 mpg prototype 2 person car. (google it).  We glorify these hybrids but look 200 MPG! Why are we so damn excited about 60 MPG?  Semi trucks have better Lb. miles/gallon.    
The VW 1-liter car is a hybrid; it's full of NiMH cells.
My mistake.  Thank you for correcting me.
Did it ever occur to you that you're driving around in a vehicle carrying 10-15 gallons of explosive liquid?  Any electrocution concerns from a hybrid or electric car battery pack is far lower than the existing explosive dangers.  

Semi trucks also have much worse efficiency than say rail transportation.  

So what's Hollywood going to do once everything switches over to electric?  There'll be no more exploding cars any time there's an crash... ;)
Seriously. Booooring...
Agreed rail is the best, absolutely no arguement here! I point out semi's because they haul up to 80,000 lbs and get @ 6 mpg.  The lbs./mile/gallon is quite high compared to auto's.  Proven technology that obviously could be implemented without trials and research.  Westexas's comment about what would have been built in the early 20th century speaks to greater simplicity.  I think this is overlooked by many who have lived in a period of increasing technology.  Many still hope for a technological fix. IMHO moving weight, be it people or products hasn't had the evolution that electronics has had.  My old 65 mercury got 16-18 mpg as does my wifes explorer today, yes it's bigger but in less years electronics has changed drasitically.  My old 486-33 computer ($2,000 US new)had a 210 meg hard drive, I can buy a 1 gig USB memory stick for a fraction of that today.    It comes down to return on investment.  Some of the old simple stuff like electric rail gets you maybe 85%(number picked from the air) and to get the other 15% will cost many many times more per % than the first 85.  I suspect that we would be immeasurably better off by installing alot of simple electric light rail than doing research on the other 15%.
Alan Drake will be a speaker and contributor to the ASPO-USA Saturday morning workshop, "Reducing Your Fossil-Fueled Footprint".  We simply did not have room in the main program to fit Alan in, but I wanted an opportunity for Alan to get his message out to (at least) a portion of our audience.

  Dick Lawrence
  ASPO-USA Boston Conference Coordinator

Electrified rail makes sense, because the efficiency you can gain by having a fixed rail track wired correctly...

For trucks or large vehicles--it is very far off into the future, and shouldn't even be considered as a realistic option, despite there being many choruses which will praise this consideration. One being the recent movie "who killed the electric car" (answer: no one). Another being in the form of perpetual Pollyanna's, here amongst us now and densely populated in positions power. We should focus on land use patterns, consumption patterns, scaling down our every day logistics... Unfortunately none of these steps will be taken--as the robber barons and upper echelons may very well lose tons of money, but they'll have tons left. People will behave as sheep, with the media driving them into a stupor frenzy, or if need be Hollywood will perform the task of lulling them to sleep with happy dreams of Baby Jesus. What we're going to witness (and are presently doing so in slow motion) is the destruction of the middle class and the obliteration of a debt based money system as energy prices and economic development are dictated by energy consumption, despite those who contest otherwise--it is a fact that increased GDP over decades long periods are predicated on increased energy inputs... Fact is, we are going to have to decrease energy inputs, not because an environmentalist wants us to but because that's what's going to happen as a matter of fact.

I wonder at what high price point of oil, or low price point of the stock market--this will be realized?

One giveaway and it shows how dishonest or misinformed the writer is, is the statement that this reduction in emissions applies at the tailpipe.  It's not about the tailpipe; it's about the emissions from well to wheel.  Duh. The emissions from the tailpipe from electricity are, of course, zero.  Since they are talking about tailpipe emissions, the emissions attributable to the tailpipe will come from the ethanol.  While ethanol probably emits less emissions from gasoline, it still emits a lot of carbon dioxide, being carbon based.  Or have they found out a way around that, too.  And btw, since they are arguing tailpipe, they can't get a credit for the carbon taken up by the cellulose.  Because that would mean they have to look at the whole cycle from well (or other fuel sources) to wheel.  

The other giveaway is that "soon we will be making  ethanol from cellulose".  Oh really?  How soon?  

  Can you disagree with someone's conclusions without calling them dishonest?  I don't see how you can make that assertion, and far from making him look bad, it makes you (and to some degree, The Oil Drum) look like a crank at a crankfest.

  Try to hold back your irritation and stick to the points.


I think tstreet is right, that "well to wheels" efficiency (and emissions) is the vital measure.

If he lost you as a reader, I guess that says he should have been more patient, but I can certainly understand his frustration.

When someone only talks about the tailpipe, they are only telling part of the story.  When those stories propagate they do contribute to a poor understanding of the problem, and the proposed solutions.

  I agree, and I even agreed with Tstreet's initial points, but we are doing worse than backtreading to fall into insults, slander and into that 'Blog-tone' that just says 'You're ridiculous, dishonest, have-an-agenda' etc...  we need to keep a worthy discussion happening, and this attitude is a discussion killer.  It's the step that turns it all into a snipe-fest, at which point even the 'sniper', whose points may be really correct and worth hearing, is guaranteeing that he won't get heard because it started off with a shove to the chest.

 I know Tstreet is smart, but we need to call each other on this and keep the bar higher.


"Life is High School"
  - Vonnegut (?)

I didn't say they were dishonest. I said they were dishonest or misinformed. I don't pretend to know which applies, but their claims seem misleading at best.
It would be interesting to see the political impacts of what appears to be essentially a relocation of pollution.  Central cities that suffer from air pollution that a majority of which comes from automobiles would benefit quite a bit.  Rural areas that typically are the site of power plants would suffer.  Even with inputs from alternative lower polluting sources, it still seems like there would be a big change in the pollution allocation.

Many of my suburban coworkers say they'd never live in a city because the air is so dirty (which they ironically had a large hand in creating).  Though it is only one of many issues that factor in the decision to live in suburbia and a long commute, if it does remove one more reason for not living intown, it could lead to lower overall pollution because of a reduction in per capita commute distance.

2nd and 3rd gen EtOH production paths will make you eat these words tstreet.

Ethanol produced in cogen facilites via thermo-chemical gasification of DECs in conjunction with a Terra Preta regime equals a net carbon negative life cycle.

I repeat... net carbon negative.

I've already outlined at TOD a number of companies currently producing cellulosic ethanol - companies that are in the process going commerical.

The national ethanol discussion created by corn-ethanol usage has allowed policy makers the opportunity to address the pros and cons of EtOH usage against the backdrop of a burgeoning industry.

Legislation and financial backing to support the transition away from fossil fuels is piecemeal at best and slow to take hold but most of all, it is neffective in the face of oil available at 10cents a cup.

I'm sure he just pulled a number
out of a hat

Toyota quote around 4.5 to 5.0
litres of petrol per 100km for
a Prius, which is little better
than a Daihatsu Sirion 5 speed
maual. Okay, it's a lot better
than an SUV that uses 15-30 litres
per 100 km. but it still does not
solve the problem of emissions.

The problem with all current
hybrids is that they are over
-powered in order to compete with

What the world needs is a 300cc
hybrid with a maximum speed of
around 80kph. But even that
would not solve the problem of
oil depletion or abrupt climate
change in the long run.

Only a zero emissions vehicle will
do that. And there is no way that
we are going to get emissions down
by even 50% with the 'consume now
and ignore the consequences'
attitude of the average Amwerican
(or Chinese for that matter).
Kyoto is a joke in a world run by
coporations that tell us 'burning
[natural] gas is good for the
environment, as Shell are trying
to do, with their preposterous
ad campaign.

Bicycles and rickshaws are the best
solution. But they will only be
implemented when people accept
that slower is better. As long as
'faster and bigger is better' rules,
we are doomed.

Bunch of data on CO2 per mile (American units) for various MPG cars and fuels:

a 44 mpg gasoline powered car does better than 0.45 lbs/mi ... an E85 car only needs to hit 31 mpg to get the same 0.45 lbs/mi.

... of course the same car converted to E85 is likley to fall about that far in mpg, so it's a tie ;-)

Funny that you mention it...

PHEV's with a 60-mile electric range are claimed to be able to cut liquid-fuel demand by 80%.  While the USA hasn't a prayer of replacing 140 billion gallons/year of gasoline with the ~210 billion gallons/year required to do it with ethanol, 42 billion gallons/year appears quite achievable.

It might even be possible to make the system GHG-negative.  My favorite schemes involve biomass carbonization, combustion of the off-gas and use of the charcoal in direct-carbon fuel cells.  Looking at the "Billion Ton Vision" for a moment, if we got a billion tons/year of waste biomass we could make about 300 million tons/year of charcoal containing about 10 exajoules of energy plus off-gas containing roughly 100 million tons/year of carbon and another 10 EJ or so.

The off-gas should be turned into energy or some other product, but dumping the remainder is silly; it represents concentrated carbon.  The same is true of any non-sequestered DCFC output.  Putting the combustion gases through something like Greenfuel's process would capture a lot of the carbon as algae.  The algae could be fermented to ethanol (and the CO2 recycled to the algae).

42 billion gallons of ethanol contains about 65 million tons of carbon.  This is a small fraction of the amount of carbon cycled through each year as waste biomass, and potentially available for this scheme.  It may come up against some other show-stopper, but it doesn't look impossible based on mass or energy balances.

Actually bicycles are not slower for short trips in cities-- congestion is such a huge factor.

Motor scooters are likely, which is a personal hate because of the noise pollution, plus if you've ever been nudged out of the way on the sidwalk (pavement) by one.

The Dutch and the Danes have made a bicycle-driven society work. The Danes were very concerned about lack of physical fitness in the early 70s.  Groningen (I think) in Holland has managed to get to 60% of all journeys by bicycle or foot (vs. 15% in UK).

But both countries have relatively mild climates (cold in winter but not huge amounts of snow) and flat terrain.  Cycling in Atlanta's heat is something else again.  And of course street crime is much lower, so there is a whole safety factor thing (remember Chrysler found women felt safer in SUVs than cars, and safer in SUVs with smaller windows).

UK is a tragedy. We could be as cycle-enabled as Denmark or Holland, but given our current urban planning, we are committed to a car-friendly world.

US I don't think it is necessarily a goer.  Portland maybe.  But Phoenix or Washington DC?

UK is a tragedy. We could be as cycle-enabled as Denmark or Holland, but given our current urban planning, we are committed to a car-friendly world.

In 1978 I was on a cycling tour through England. I remember a graffito on a wall in Oxford saying "Cars out of Oxford!"

Although pollution and everything wasn't that bad as it is now I remember this very well. It was one of the first things that made me think about cars within urban space. ( I was 19 then)

Oxford (and Cambridge) are two of the only cities in the UK that have made a major effort to encourage cycling.

Both have almost crippling traffic problems (small medieval cities).

And both are replete with obstacles to cycling, eg threatening notices that bicylces will be removed if they are chained to the College fences - they spoil the pristine image.

We have pedestrian areas in most towns, but that is not the same thing as encouraging cyclists. In fact, British cyclists are their own worst enemy: the break traffic rules, cycle through red lights, and ride on the pavements, making it more frightening to walk.  They are frequently abusive and aggressive.

The traffic in both Oxford and Cambridge is nightmarish, as science parks and technology companies have mushroomed outside the centres of the town, and people commute.  Very affluent to, so lots of SUVs...

We have pedestrian areas in most towns, but that is not the same thing as encouraging cyclists. In fact, British cyclists are their own worst enemy

Yes, same here in Deutschland. Cycles don't fit well with pedestrians, unfortunately. In most cases however, cycling lanes have just been cut off sidewalks, forcing walkers and bikers together.
I wished there was just one Bicycle-'Autobahn' north-south and another west-east through our city. Give the other streets to either cars or pedestrians or both and ban the bikes.

I'm sure most all-day-cyclists would use that one, even if resulting distances were a little longer.

Bicycles and rickshaws are the best solution. But they will only be implemented when people accept
that slower is better. As long as 'faster and bigger is better' rules, we are doomed.

Well said, KevinM. You are absolutely right.

I see absolutely no conflict between simple and slow bicycles and larger and faster trains. They complemet each other, please build bigger and better bicycle parking lots next to the train stations.
As always, biomass solutions come into conflict with agriculture and with natural biodiversity....

How does it scale?  

Sounds to me like the biomass crowd... "we'll just farm our fuel"  .... never thinks about topsoil, never thinks about food production, never thinks about the economic (or moral or cultural value) of wildlife and wild areas...

One is tempted to say "Isn't that just like a resident of New York City ..." but one must resist the temptation....

The writer is actually from Minnesota or at least that's where he works.

In any case, NYC is a very diverse place - I'm not going to argue there are not people like that here, but rather they are probably everywhere.

Food for our cars, food for thought, from Peak Oil, Biofuel, Culture Change:

Biofuel fits well with our myth of progress, the belief that just around the corner there is some grand technological solution to our problems if only we can find it. The reality is that the amount of oil we use is grossly beyond what biofuel can supply without huge disruptions to global ecosystems and/ or the food supply. Biofuel is popular now because it is a powerful psychological palliative. It is not a real solution to our energy problems.

Food vs. Fuel is a myth.

The amount of oil we use is gross which is why conservation is key to future sustainability.

Biofuels such as ethanol, substantially offset petroleum usage and no, it's not necessary to replace all petroleum with biofuels.

Everything I've read suggests that the acerage required to capture enough solar energy in the form of biomass approaches or even greatly exceeds the acerage required to grow our current food supply.

In Brazil sugar cane production for ethanol is in direct conflict with the rain forest.

I can't prove it, but I strongly suspect (and someone of a theoretical bent could make a convincing case here) that biofuels are simply terrible ideas.....

The fundamental problem is one of thought... why must we replace fossil fuel at all?  

Why not begin to maneuver toward global energy descent?    

Biofuels are just another business as usual approach, with severe enviornmental and food security implications.   Bad news.

Everything I've read suggests that the acerage required to capture enough solar energy in the form of biomass approaches or even greatly exceeds the acerage required to grow our current food supply.

In Brazil sugar cane production for ethanol is in direct conflict with the rain forest.

Read more, write less. This has all been discussed at great length and your assertions are basically wrong. Any claim regarding a need to offset 100% of current oil use is a strawman. The Rainforest claim seems made up.

If you can make a factual argument and document it, I'll be glad to explain where your ideology had driven you to err.

No doubt 80 billion gallons is a wildly optimistic projection. Less than Khosla's 200 billion gallons, but still pretty far out there. Is the projection false? Well, they are projections. Are they realistic projections? Probably not. It is a pretty good bet that corn ethanol will top out at around 15 billion gallons (equivalent to about 10 billion gallons of gasoline, but less than 3 billion gallons on a net basis given current technology). U.S. gasoline usage is 140 billion gallons a year. So the bulk of the projection involves cellulosic ethanol. How much commercial cellulosic ethanol is made in the country today? None. Why? The cellulose conversion step is still too expensive. The process is still stuck in pilot plants and labs. If the breakthroughs were simple, everyone would be rushing to build a plant.

So, he is counting on technology breakthroughs that won't necessarily happen. They might, but lots of people have been working on this for a long time (contrary to popular belief, which seems to be that this technology is in its infancy). Progress will likely be incremental. More funding is needed, and pleas for funding are one reason we keep seeing such rosy projections.

Here are the questions to ask him. What is the source of the 80 billion gallon projection? Where does the biomass come from? Is the process of harvesting the biomass sustainable (ask for details)? What is the net energy, after the inputs into the process have been accounted for? (One of the problems with cellulosic ethanol is that tremendous energy is used up in getting the biomass to the refinery). Has anyone actually demonstrated commercial (not technical) viability?

Regarding the emissions question, it all depends on where you draw your box. Yes, a plug-in hybrid can have no tailpipe emissions. But the process of producing that energy did produce emissions. You just shifted the source. But I would rather see emissions moved to central sources like power plants, because that is the only way sequestration will ever be feasible.

One final word. Mr. Khosla has been in the news lately touting a biomass to liquids facility that he is backing in Colorado. A number of people have mistakenly called this a newly invented cellulosic ethanol process, but it is actually biomass gasification. The technology has been around for a long time; it is just very capital intensive. But in the long run, it is a much better bet in my opinion than grain or cellulosic ethanol. I will be writing an upcoming essay on this, as well as one on the IEA's announcement that Brazilian ethanol is sustainable. I take that as great news for Brazil, but of limited benefit to us in the U.S.

One issue around any 'Crop-based' ethanol solutions I have not really seen discussed is the issue of timing.  Petroleum doesn't just come in in the Harvest time, so even if you can get a couple or a few crops into a year, will this staggered delivery be as disruptive as the oscillating or sporadic behaviors of wind and solar, and is it another thorn for ethanol's promise, or not really a big problem?

 The question is admittedly a bit academic, since I haven't seen any arguments supporting ethanol that have persuaded me that it has a chance to survive (yet..) against it's EROEI challenges.

The storability depends on what form it's in.  Cellulose as such can be baled and held for months.  I like a little more assurance; I favor systems using DCFC's and charcoal, which is storable for years or centuries.
... Brazilian ethanol is sustainable. I take that as great news for Brazil, but of limited benefit to us in the U.S.

I swear I've heard that somewhere before, but wasn't it debunked here at The Oil Drum? I will look forward to your rebunking.

More seriously, do you have a link for the announcement? I just looked at the IEA website, but didn't see it.

Also note that if ethanol is sustainable in Brazil, then  it is sustainable in India (#2 sugar producer) and Thailand (#2 exporter), a premumably a bunch of other tropical countries that could use the economic boost.

The climate gas benefits to ethanol are also massive - counted on a lifecycle basis.

I swear I've heard that somewhere before, but wasn't it debunked here at The Oil Drum? I will look forward to your rebunking.

That was never the debunking issue, Jack. The issue that was debunked was that Brazil farmed their way to energy independence, and the U.S. can do what they did. Brazil's model is NA in the U.S. But it certainly should be applicable to any country that can grow sugarcane in sufficient quantities.

Here is the link to a story discussing the IEA report:

IEA Report on Brazil

Sorry, Robert. I just couldn't resist.

Actually, I wasn't even referring to your posts on the subject and do admit that this was never your debunking issue.

There were a large number of other commenters who did (and still do) vigorously claim that ethanol was unsustainable in any context. I see the IEA study as proof that sugar-based ethanol is not a Rube Goldberg machine, as is often claimed.

For the record, I agree with your debunking of the "independence story" and acknowledge that you have been pretty much right down the line on all aspects of this debate.

"I see the IEA study as proof that sugar-based ethanol is not a Rube Goldberg machine"

Proof is a mathematical concept and a concept in law.  I think you mean to say convincing evidence, though I wonder why you would defer to the IEA in this way.

Milton Maciel has over the years repeated what is perhaps the best evidence of the viability of sugarcane based ethanol, and that it that it is not subsidized.  This is especially forceful in the context of a world energy market yet dominated by relatively high eroei hydrocarbons.

OK. I am happy to modify the sentence to read:

"I see the IEA study as another addition to the already convincing evidence that sugar-based ethanol is not a Rube Goldberg machine"

It is not that I defer to the IEA. I have seen large amounts of evidence that points to the positive energy balance and sustainability of sugar cane based ethanol including Maciel's excellent work and the studies below, which I have frequesntly linked to.

1) FO Licht presentation to METI,

2) IEA Automotive Fuels for the Future

3) IEA: Biofuels for Transport

4) Worldwatch Institute & Government of Germany: Biofuels for Transport  (Link to register - study is free)

5) Potential for Biofuels for Transport in Developing Countries 161036/Rendered/PDF/ESM3120PAPER0Biofuels.pdf

Currently a pound of 10% moisture corn will yield about 3/4ths of a cup of ethanol or about 6 Oz. How does this compare with yield from 1 pound of biomass; switch-grass, corn-stocks, or pine-logs, using the current yield from pilot plant or lab cellulosic ethanol process.
Too little data to confirm or debunk.

It mostly depends on how manny km of charge you can hold in the battery before needing to start the back up engine and how large a percentage of all travel that can be done within that distance after a sufficiently long parking time where you can charge the battery.

It is probably a bad idea for taxis since they are used continously for many hundreds of km per day. You benefit a short while when you start a days work and then the extra battery becomes dead weight to carry around. Taxis should be hybrids, not plug-in hybrids.

But if you run small errands and commute and can charge both at home and the workplace or park-and-ride you have a good concept for complementing all kinds of liquid or wehicle gas fuels.

If I were implementing a crash peak-oil investment program for Sweden I would make electric wehicle and plug in hybrid charging outlets mandatory for all parking spaces meant for regular use and more then about 2h of parking. And at the same time make an uprating of the minimum grid standard to handle 10% of all cars being dumb plug in hybrids with no smart electronics for postponing charging time to off peak hours. This can be done with reasonable additional cost since fairly large parts of the grid are being reinvested.

And I would encourage utilitis to build more electricity production off all kinds and realy hope that the stop for new nuclear powerplants will be lifted asap, probably after  the next election in four years.

There are 9 million people in Sweden and about 4 million cars. If 10% of the cars are plug in hybrids charged at the same time with 16A 400V three phase outlets at 10 kW we get a load of 4 GW.
The oil consumed in wehicle traffic is close to 100 TWh per year, if 20% of that is replaced by electricity we get 20 TWh with neglected conversion efficiences.

If we crash build small combined heat and power plants, wind power plants and so on it would on an back of the envelope calculation seem prudent to order two large nuclear powerplants. Any excess electricity can be exported to our coal burning neighbours cushioning any over investments before the new local demand arrives.

If I would guess the time needed for these infrastructure investments if we get a political go ahead now I would guess 5 years for wiering up parking lots and strenghtening the grid and 10 years for getting additiona nuclear powerplants on line if the site planning can be done before the political go ahead. This do also require a quick resolve of NIMBY issues, we need peopel to recognice that this is a crisis. 5 years should be enough for car manufacturers to start mass producing decent plug in hybrids.  If they dont we would look quite silly...

1,5 16A outlets per car, Six million at I guess $500, 3 billion $, about as much in grid strenghtening +3 billion $,  two large nuclear powerplants at 4 billion. 14 billion dollars, about 1600$ per capita, 160$ per year over 10 years. Reasonable with half a significat digit in the figures but would probably require government lending.

I dont know how this compares to parts of USA but I think large scale use of plug in hybrids is doable but it needs significant investments. If you run them on coal powerplants we loose due to global warming.

As I understand it, the Swedish environmentalists (Green Party and Social Democratic allies) will have nothing to do with more nuclear power.  A complete non-starter.  Maybe you buy nuclear power from Finland? ;-).

Conversely on the right I don't imagine there is any political support for restricting cars!  Car ownership and driving is what right wing political parties are about.  Zurich has a car drivers party, Germany had serious ructions after it was suggested they put a speed limit on the autobahn.  Britain had the petrol blockade, and a government (left wing) terrified by the roads and automobile lobby.

Smart plugs for recharging should be pretty easy: a tiny piece of microelectronics that only allows low priority usages when the utility allows it.  Easy to retrofit.

Not sure about all-electric cars in Swedish winter conditions-- those small wheels on your snowdrifts?

Agree hybrids will fill the bill.  Also agree that in the US, as you imply, plug-in hybrids are likely to be fueled by coal-fired stations.

Good thing Global Warming is 'a conspiracy against American prosperity' ;-).

Our new government is a four party coalition and the party with the greenest profile, Centerpartiet, have four ministers:

Minister for Industry and Trade, Deputy Prime Minister, Ministry of Industry, Employment and Communications

Minister for the Environment, Ministry of Sustainable Development

Minister for Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Consumer Affairs

Minister for Infrastructure, Ministry of Industry, Employment and Communications

Centerpartiet have for a long time been one of the most anti-nuclear parties and have once effectively resigned from power due to that issue. Now they accept life lenght extensions and upratings of our 10 running reactors and our nuclear industry is investing quite a lot. It is also again allowed to plan for new nuclear powerplants but we have in the four party alliance agreed that no new nuclear powerplants will be built during the time to the next elections. That and large investments in non nuclear and fossil fuel power sources is what the remaining anti-nuclear part of centerpartiet got out of the agrement.

I like this agrement since it in practice means large investments in all kinds of power sources that are good for lowering the greenhouse gas emissions and making us less exposed to peak oil. But I would of course prefer if we had more nuclear power building and replaced the oldest reactors with new ones with better efficiency and security.

My 5 and 10 year scenarios are possible but very optimistic, probably too optimistic. I am quite sure that nuclear power has a good future in Sweden as long as we continue to recognice global warming and peak oil as problems that needs to be solved. The public impact is probably not yet as large as the one from the 70:s oil crisis and when oil got cheap again we continued most of the energy efficiency measures put in place and followed thru on most of the started investments, most of them were nuclear power. Since it is fairly easy to recognice that any crash in crude price will be temporary I dont think that started investmnets and efficieny work will be abandoned if we peak in 2015 and not 2005.

There is no political support for restricting cars and my party Moderaterna, the largest party in the coalition would never allow that. And it is anyway a bad idea especially in a sparsely populated country where a lot of our culture with traditional use of the countryside is depending on car use. But we do want the car use to pay for all its costs. The next reform is to move the cost for hospital treatments etc after car accidents to the mandatory car insurance that is run by private insurance companies. That frees up a significant part of the state budget and private companies are much better at demanding safer cars and propaganding for better driving habits then the government. My guess for the long term trend is that road maintainance will be moved from being part of the taxation on gasolene and diesel to a be a km fee based on actual road wear. This will be logical when the car fleet changes fuel to a wide mixture of alternatives.

One nice thing with these trends is that they are making the road traffic less dependant on daily political decisions and more like a theoretical real free market where things carry their true costs.

One important thing for car trends in Sweden is that manufacturing of cars and trucks, mostly for export, is a very large part of our industry. This have driven some of our governmnet policies but now when things are changing due to peak oil we realy need to be smart enough to figure out how to make cars and trucks that can be exported post peak oil. I think the plug-in hybrid is the right medicine for keeping the medium size car segment alive and the road freight market has to learn to combine with rail in an efficient way. Rail and alternative fuels are not competitors, they are the means for saving what can be saved  of the current car and truck market and use.

The problem with electronics that makes charging low priority is that the recharging has to be high priority to be popular. If you drive to work and make the (small) effort to plugging in to save a liter of gasolene when you drive home and when you pull out the plug you notice that it was for nothing you loose confidence in the plug-in system and feel foolish for buying a more expensive car. The majority of the investments will be private investments in wehicles and the grid infrastructure must honour that investment or it wont be done early in the post peak era.

But it is ok when we have -20 C for a week with most news broadcasts mention the need to save electricity and show pictures of running emergency peaking gas turbines. And in the future it will be less expensive to use night time electricity and then will people themselves invest in the required electronics in their own garages. But the outlet at the public or workplace parking lot must almost allways work.

The largest problem with all-electric cars during Swedish winters are range as it is for all all electric cars and the need for several kW of heating to not freeze in the car. Low friction wheels are narrow and work fairly well in snow drifts although they are not as much low friction when studded(?). My guess is that all-electric cars only are usable for a minority of car use such as mail distribution and short distance commuting. This makes me think that massive installation of high capacity charging outlets would be a mistake and that cheap 10 kW outlets are enough.

Swedes are practical and pragmatic and work towards consensus, and maybe they will be practical about nuclear power and about hybrid electric cars.

Brits are traditional, resist change, and blame the other guy for their problems.  We have lots of rhetoric about global warming, but there were attempts to change our housebuilding standards to raise them up to a level of insulation which does not match Sweden 1985.

Needless to say these were defeated by lobbying efforts.  The builders don't want to learn new technologies, and the housebuilders simply said it would make houses less affordable.  10% of British homes have no thermal insulation value at all-- they just keep the rain off.

A personal example is Ground Source heat pumps which are hugely thermally efficient.  You have 350,000 installed in a nation of ?4 million?households?  We have less than 1,000.

Of course as it gets warmer we will burn less fuel for heating, but in turn I am seeing people talk about installing home air conditioning, the summers are getting so hot (and humid) here.  It was 39 degrees in London last summer.

Unless we have a Margaret Thatcher of Global Warming, we will have a lot of rhetoric, but do as little as possible.

I can't resist.

Let me tell you about Britain and Peak Oil and Global Warming.

We have authorised the largest wind mill farm in the UK so far -330MW in Scotland. (some people are saying the largest in Europe, but I think there is a bigger one in Spain)

however although they have permission to build the windmills, they do not have permission for the electricity interconnection

against which 23 separate Planning Appeals have been launched, each one of which will have to go to court.

"It is probably a bad idea for taxis since they are used continously for many hundreds of km per day."

In my experience most taxis are actually serving customers only a fraction of the day, and spend much of their time waiting.  OTOH, they are often used for two shifts per day.  This means they can drive 150 miles per day, with frequent breaks - an ideal situation for a plug-in hybrid.  Put high-rate chargers at taxi company lots, taxi stands, and at the restaurants taxi's use, and I imagine you could easily use the battery for 60-70% of the day's driving.

As far as carbon dioxide emissions - ethanol is a closed loop. Carbon is extracted from the atmosphere to grow the fuel feed stock.

The plug in hybrid has great promise as electricity can be generated by a plethora of methods. You could even avoid all the cellulosic biotech and simply burn those willow trees in a conventional steam plant.

The down side with the plug in hybrid is the high cost of battery capacity, the current optimum technology for this purpose is the Lithium battery and it is expensive and has a finite life. In a car with a 300 mile range its cost exceeds the cost of even $4 gasoline.

Ethanol is only a closed carbon loop if you get the FFuel/coal inputs out of the production process; otherwise, the energy costs of the process leave you nearly as much new carbon effluence as with directly using the FF's/coal to do the driving/heating/electrification in the first place.
By the way, I do support the Plug-Ins, since they are one of the very few vehicles that we've got that can charge from wind/solar/other, and run completely ZEV, if necessary.  For many, many people, this could be a viable car for much of their car usage.

We do have to see where the battery tech takes us, but the flexibility of this design leaves many options open.

(Is there a Diesel/PUHybrid out there?)

Bob Fiske

Peugeot Citroen has a prototype 70mpg diesel hybrid


they say there is no way to manufacture it at a competitive price.

When oil is $150/bl, this technology will emerge, but not before then, I shouldn't think.

As far as carbon dioxide emissions - ethanol is a closed loop. Carbon is extracted from the atmosphere to grow the fuel feed stock.
Closed except for the NG/Coal/whatever you burned to run the still. And the NG you burned to make NH3 for the crop you raised so "sustainably".  And the diesel for the tractor.

Biomass is a messy enough concept that it's really hard to track down all the inputs. And don't forget that CO2 is a significant byproduct of the fermentation process.

Closed loop vs open loop is also state dependent. If you burn a 100 year old log when the biosphere can't absorb any more CO2 it is not closed loop. In a cold rainy world some peat swamps might have been covered by silt and ended up as deep coal. In a hot dry world those swamps might dry out, rot to methane and other products or even catch fire.
Ethanol is a closed loop with respect to carbon emissions only if you ignore the fossil fuels required to grow the corn, transport the corn, and run the ethanol plant.  If you can do all these without using fossil fuels for corn or other feedstock, then you might be getting close to a truly closed loop.  It's get worse.  Many of the ethanol processing plants planned to come on line propose using coal as the energy source. Coal is the most carbon intensive fossil fuel there is.

I think it is generally agreed that the carbon output from corn, or any other plant is compensated by the carbon uptake from the atmosphere during the growing process.  Does anyone know if this is strictly true?   While it is true that plants take up carbon dioxide, they also emit carbon dioxide. Strictly, speaking, uptake and ultimate output of carbon dixoide make not be strictly balanced.

Ethanol is a closed loop with respect to carbon emissions only if you ignore the fossil fuels required to grow the corn, transport the corn, and run the ethanol plant.  If you can do all these without using fossil fuels for corn or other feedstock, then you might be getting close to a truly closed loop.  It's get worse.  Many of the ethanol processing plants planned to come on line propose using coal as the energy source. Coal is the most carbon intensive fossil fuel there is.

Or you can use low quality biomass as fuel for getting distillation heat and run the tractors on bio diesel. Its not 100% carbon dioxide free since the steel for the machines is made with coal and so on. And it dont need to be carbon dioxide free to be worthwhile, it only needs to be signifcantly better then current fuels. If it is depends on how the feedstock is grown, if there is good distillation fuel available and so on.

I think it is generally agreed that the carbon output from corn, or any other plant is compensated by the carbon uptake from the atmosphere during the growing process.  Does anyone know if this is strictly true?   While it is true that plants take up carbon dioxide, they also emit carbon dioxide. Strictly, speaking, uptake and ultimate output of carbon dixoide make not be strictly balanced.

Do farmers fertilize by pouring diesel or other fossil hydrocarbons onto their fields? No.

Is there an excess of fixed hydrocarbons on the field after the growing season? Yes, you can pile up the crops and stumble over them.

Can it all burn? Yes, ashes are very light if burned in a proper boiler.

You cannot generalize all EtOH production.

There are EtOH plants that use coal as a fuel source but most use NatGas.

Perhaps a better framing of the question would be, "Should declining supplies of NatGas be used for tar sands or ethanol production?".

There are many cogen EtOH plants in the works as well and we've discussed these at TOD.  How come no mention here tstreet?

They're optimistic assumptions, not assertions backed up by defeatable supporting points.  If he said "80 billion gallons of corn ethanol," we could write a several page long post on how corn ethanol can't scale that high, using information acknowledged even by its proponents from studies on the requirements to grow it.  But we can't multiply that point by every crop in existence, and who knows if some combination of cellulosic and carbohydrate ethanol technologies could scale that high?

In the quote he's making a rather dumb point, TBH - the 150 year old analogue would be
"If we dug this black tar out of the ground, and melted it into something that could be poured into a steam locomotive,  I bet if we could make [what the trains currently burn] a million gallons a day - then we could build as many as 2000 of these 'melting pots,' many of them along the shores of the hudson!  This could even reduce coal smoke by 95%.  Imagine New Yorkers building those locomotives.  It will be the shit."

The numbers come from his ass.  Can't really debunk those "calculations".

He completely ignores ROIE, assuming that the crops are 'free' if we only had the land.  Then he mostly ignores electric capacity, assuming that the kilowatt hours are 'free' if we only had the batteries (because solar cells cost nothing, as we all know).  He assumes that this new green future wouldn't just require us to increase the rate we burn coal by 10x, as we're apparently on track to do if EVs become a major part of the picture.  He assumes that car batteries can provide a huge grid load levelling effect, without any numbers to back it up.

Biofuel PHEVs aren't exactly much of a stretch.  There are no technical problems implementing them (just the fact that car manufacturers don't need to cheat on CAFE standards with flexfuel if they've engineered a decent hybrid).  They're pretty much an eventuality unless we have a revolutionary battery tech.  Google putting money into them, and New York beginning work on an E85 deployment, is hardly a shocking proof to his thesis.  Which is what he treats it as.

As for the emissions - again, we're expanding our use of coal right now just to handle household electricity.  Of course an electric vehicle that only turns on its ethanol(or hey, gasoline) engine 5% of the time, and gets the rest of its energy from the grid, will reduce emissions by 95%.  But that ignores the grid energy source and the ethanol energy source.

Oh, and just incase anybody missed it in the other thread:

Breaking gas news: Gazprom rejects foreign bids on Shtokman field - says it will develop field on its own

Biomass Ethanol + Plug-in Hybrids =

courtesy of

who will personally burn the first

Willow Tree

I saw someone cut one down. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. The tree. It was older than I was. We alled called it by name. Yes a tree. We called it by name. We called it "THE Willow Tree." I don't know why the fuckers cut it down. But in its place is a bush that cuts off your view when you turn * onto * street from * street. This bush will waste many lives. Or maybe just the dumb, drunk ones. Or maybe just young mothers distracted by the kids in the back without side-impact airbags, but sportin' rear-view DVD players and rocking on all the new sleep-medication. Ask Darwinian. Or better yet - ask Mel Gibson.
Hello Oil Ceo,

Let's not get too mystical over a tree, otherwise someone will want to chop it down for having 'supernatural power'.  Please read this link.  I already worry that too many of our trees will be chopped down postPeak for the mere power of firewood.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

You wrote:
"I need your help debunking this one, TOD readers..."

Don't you know the typical format for these discussions? Let me clue you in:

Typical Oildrum Discussion

1. A writer posts a well-researched description of a depleting resource.

2. A commenter points out an alternative way of doing what the resource does.

3. The writer or someone else looks at the current state of the alternative method, freezes it at its current technological level and then shows how it won't scale. This can be accompanied by a moving of the goal posts using an environmental argument.

4. The commenter then moves his goal posts too and explains that the alternative method will scale once the technology is optimized. He may also state that 100% of the resource doesn't have to be replaced immediately.

5. The discussion degrades further as the two sides just talk past each other.

Now please try posting again.

I'm more interested in the policy implications. I'm interested to see what's possible, but extraordinary claims require evidence.
I'll tell what the problem is, Keithster. It is the peculiarly American delusion that infinite growth is possible and that there is such a thing as a free lunch.

Having just read some stuff by David Morris, it is evident that this is his game. And why? So we don't have to give up our inalienable right to motor transportation? Look it up -- it's in the Constitution. Screw it. With PHEVs + cellulosic ethanol, let's pullulate like rabbits. Only 6 & 1/2 billion people on the planet now? Why not have 10 billion, 11 billion - each with his very own automobile! We'll need another Planet Earth to pull it off, but there's nothing we can't do once we put our minds to it...

Oh, whoops! -- maybe this has something to do with goal posts...

Re: The discussion degrades further as the two sides just talk past each other.

Here I totally agree.

Tool use in wild chimpanzees

At least the Chimps don't have to worry about infinite growth. They are going extinct due to human destruction of their ancient refugial forest habitats and human predation.

Have a good one!

Right as always, Dave!

And just how fast do these "fast growing trees" grow, hmm?  How does that work, drop a seed and stand back or the trunk will shoot up yer ass??

Personal transportation vehicles will no longer be possible in the post-peak world.  Give it up!!  What we should concentrate on is using this sort of thing for local food delivery, transportation to the hospital, and other necessary emergency needs.  Not to mention the backhoes that will be useful to rip up the remains of our highway system when the roads crumbles beyond repair...

Dave, allow me to add to the infinite growth beliefs of many Americans.

I think they're a subset of a more general American exceptionalism, which normally includes an often, but not always, religiously based Manifest Destiny.

None of the above is true. The U.S., like empires of the past, certainly can slip, stumble, decay or even collapse totally. How many Chinese emperors and hangers-on at courts insisted the Mandate of Heaven was irrevocable, even while it was clearly slipping away?

Tim Farrell (author of a good book on Global Warming called 'The Weather Makers') has a good description in The Eternal Frontier: a natural history of North America

Basically what he says is that Americans are conditioned by their history to see nature as the Frontier, always virgin territory waiting to be exploited, inexhaustible.

Contrast that to Britain, say.  England is basically one giant garden.  There is no part of England that has not been settled and radically altered by human habitation.  Yet we persist in the notions of the Romantic Poets about untrammeled nature-- so no windmills, thank you very much.

The US strikes me like Kodak in the colour film business, or the US Army in Vietnam.  It either radically adapts its model of operation and its strategy, or it fails.

Organisations/societies/civilisations are 'complex adaptive systems'.  A key ingredient of future success is their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

If you look at the 'top 100' companies of 1900, almost all of them are gone now, and you won't find the Pfizer, Microsoft, Boeing, IBM antecedents.  US Steel is a shell of its former self.  What you do find enduring is the oil companies (in changed form, but still John Rockefeller's oil Standard Oil, and the national champions like BP and Shell).

Societies have the potential to fail in the same way.  And success at the old way of doing things (you mention Qing Dynasty China-- an excellent example!) might mean failure in a world where, say, the barbarians have superior weapons and are smuggling opium across your coasts, and carving out geographic cantonments like Hong Kong.

If the US is configured for a world of inexhaustible, cheap energy and raw material inputs, and environmental bounty, and that world changes, then the whole political, social and ideological structure of the US could be the wrong fit for that world.

The good news is that an open society like the US could be more ready and more adaptable to change -- such has been the case before.  The bad news is by the time the US gets its ducks in a row, it may be too late.

My sense is the last 6 years of government, if not the entire post Cold War period, will be seen as a wasted opportunity to anticipate and prepare for a world of (potentially) scarcer petroleum and (certainly) global warming.

That's Tim Flannery you're talking about.

I read elsewhere that these meanies who are trying to deny people their snowmobiles, ORVs, autos, etc. are just trying to take away people's right to have fun. It's all about the fun. It's right there in the constitution. The right to have fun.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of fun.

Fun, fun, fun until my daddy took my T Bird away.

People like Khosla, on the other hand, are trying to keep the fun in American life. And he's a Republican.

Republican =  Fun
Democrat = No Fun or at least less Fun

Forget terrorism.  Forget Iraq.  Henceforth, that party which can maintain the fun in American life will have all the power.  

How about some low power fun such as TV games, blogging and vacation travel via railways?
Move to Europe if you cr*p like that!


More or less absolutely true.

The Democrats are seen as no-hopers and negative nabobs-- Iraq was a dumb idea, health care is broken, the pharma benefit is cr*p, the deficit is out of control, you can't use your ATV in a national park, denigrating the fine men of the military, welfare queens, affirmative action for losers, global warming means people will have to change their way of life.  Peak Oil fits nicely into that.

The Republicans are the sunny party: Ronald Reagan, morning in America, Freedom, etc.

It doesn't matter if it's true or not. They'll keep doing everything in the worst possible way until the bitter end.

Here are a few things that usually don't get mentioned when ethanol is discussed.

  1. When any biomass, corn, sugar, whatever, is fermented, large amounts of  CO2 are given off. Try brewing a gallon of grape juice sometime and collect the CO2 that bubbles off.  It's surprising.

  2. After fermentation the ethanol must be separated from the water. Ethanol conc. doesn't get much higher than 10% in fermentation. Considerable energy is needed to separate it, and that energy has to come from somewhere, hence, more CO2  generated.

  3. When ethanol is burned in an ICE, more CO2 goes out the tailpipe.

  4. When the hybrid is plugged in, the CO2 goes up the smokestack of the powerplant. In addition, due to   powerplant losses (much of the heat goes up the smokestack) and electric line losses, only 50 to 60% of the fuel burned in the powerplant ever reaches the home outlet. More CO2 up the chimney.

  5. That 95% less emissions is promotional hype from the biofuels industry to get everyone hooked on the idea. It draws attention away from the real issue which is to manufacture and sell expensive automobiles,  build all those biofuels plants (and provide a market for all that corn).

In all fairness, I think the scheme would reduce emissions, simply because hybrids are more efficient than conventional engines(especially in the bumper-to-bumper creepalong traffic along the East Coast) but not nearly 95%.  What would really help is to build smaller hybrid engines, not those big ones made to compete with the SUVs.
On point 4, 60% efficiency is the best Combined Cycle Gas Turbine, which are typically only used for peak power demand.  They get quite close to Cornot's Limit, you can only get closer to 100% efficiency using a Combined Heat and Power arrangement (where there is a demand for the surplus heat).

If you are using coal (more likely, as coal supplies the bulk of 'mid merit' demand) your thermal efficiency is less than 40%. And your CO2 release is more than twice as much per MWhr generated.

If you charge at night, in some jurisdictions, then you are potentially using nuclear (thermal efficiency irrelevant) or hydro electric (ditto).

There are many ways to produce EtOH from a variety of feedstocks.

Fermentation is but one method - 2nd and 3rd gen EtOH production paths warrant a deeper understanding of what is feasible.

Saab for instance, has a 9-5 Biopower auto that has better horsepower, torque and fuel efficiency than it's gasoline cousin because it takes advantage of EtOH properties through applied combustion technology.

They are now making a Bio-Hybrid version.

Saab for instance, has a 9-5 Biopower auto that has better horsepower, torque and fuel efficiency than it's gasoline cousin because it takes advantage of EtOH properties through applied combustion technology.

This is oft-repeated, but not accurate. The Biopower has worse efficiency when running on ethanol, but not as bad as would be expected from the difference in BTU values. For example, something like a 25% drop in fuel efficiency is expected, but they only see an 18% drop due to a higher compression ratio.

Click & Clak Talk Cars

DEAR TOM AND RAY: I've always wondered about ethanol. Seems too good to be true - you just plant some corn, harvest it and in no time you have fuel for your car. So I Googled ethanol on the Web. There are tons of Web sites extolling the great benefits of corn-based ethanol as a fuel. Then I found one,, that made the opposite case. You guys went to MIT. Am I missing something? The report on this site says that 131,000 BTUs are needed to make one gallon of ethanol, but each gallon of ethanol only produces 77,000 BTUs. That means we're losing 54,000 BTUs for every gallon we produce. Just wondered if you guys have an opinion. Best regards - Charlie

TOM: Yes. But, as usual, it's not an informed one.

RAY: This issue is not only very controversial, it's also ripe for all kinds of obfuscation from various interested parties.

TOM: Right. I mean, if guys with degrees in chemical engineering can't agree on the answer, how the heck are we supposed to know who's telling the truth?

RAY: Wait a minute. You do have a degree in chemical engineering.

TOM: Yeah. But to understand this issue, I'd have to actually read all those papers! That would cut into my nap time.

RAY: All right. Well, from what we can tell, the basic issue is this: When you calculate how much energy it takes to produce a gallon of ethanol, you have to make certain decisions. Everybody agrees that you need to include the energy needed to plant the corn, water it, harvest it and convert the starch to alcohol. But, for instance, do you include the energy needed to manufacture the tractors that plow the fields? Scientists disagree about that.

TOM: They also disagree about the other side of the equation. The guy whose study you refer to, David Pimentel of Cornell University, is very well regarded, and has been studying this issue for years. He adds up his calculation of the amount of energy needed to grow the corn and then subtracts the amount of energy you get from a gallon of ethanol, and gets a negative number.

RAY: But there are other credible researchers, like David Lorenz and David Morris of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, who take Pimentel's research and say yes, BUT, a gallon of ethanol isn't the only thing you get from that corn you grow. You also get stuff like corn oil and gluten feed. So, some of the energy that goes into growing the corn has to be assigned to those other corn by-products, too. When they do the numbers, the energy ratio of ethanol comes out positive.

TOM: So, the answer is not clear. What everybody does agree on is that ethanol made from plants with more cellulose, like switchgrass or sugar cane, will produce more ethanol per acre than corn will. And that will improve the case for ethanol - no matter what your starting point.

RAY: People also agree that using ethanol that we grow at home reduces the amount of foreign oil we need, which may eventually mean we don't have to spend billions to send our kids to guard oil fields overseas. So, there's a national security issue here in addition to a scientific one.

TOM: And then there are other questions. Like, how much of this ethanol blitz is a big, wet, government-subsidized kiss to big agribusiness and corn growers? Is it ethical to use food to fuel our cars when people are going hungry? And if I'm using the stuff in my Grand Cherokee, will the price of a corn dog go through the roof?

RAY: We don't have the answers, Charlie. But we're eager to see some more light shed on the subject. And we're eager to move beyond corn to more efficient plant-based ethanol and see what kind of scale that could achieve. Meanwhile, pass the butter, will ya?

Got a question about cars? Write to click and clack Talk cars, Albuquerque Journal, P.O. Drawer .J, Albuquerque, NM 87103. Or e-mail them by visiting the car Talk Web site at

Albuquerque Journal Saturday July 1, 2006

Thank God for Tom and Ray.  

The guy studies bugs for a living:

Pimental's work is referenced as MSM balance for the sole reason that he is practically the only person in the world who believes that corn ethanol is net energy negative.

GHG emissions from ethanol is 12% less than gasoline. Ethanol gets about 75% the MPG of gasoline. Cellulosic ethanol should get slightly better. Keep in mind that cars have been tuned for gasoline - given time we should be able to squeeze out better MPG in flex-fuel vehicles.

PHEVs that get 100+ are being built (outside warranty) from Priuses already, albeit car by car - see Hybrids Plus claims 100+ MPG. They are pre-bleeding edge alpha mode (they charge about $30K over sticker).

Cellulosic ethanol made from non-food biomass (agricultural, forestry, and urban waste) has already been proven in pilot plants using syngas fermentation techniques involving gasification and fermentation to ethanol (or hydrogen) using bacteria or catalysts.

Those barges that are carrying trash around NYC - 85% of that waste could be converted to ethanol using this process. Yield from tires, for instance, is about 125 gallons/ton. This too is bleeding edge but many projects are arranging financing and dealing with state regulations and permits.

L.A. has passed a 20-year plan called RENEW L.A. to divert its unrecycled trash to conversion technologies (CTs). However, given the lack of regulatory controls in Mexico, the first commercial scale plants may be built outside the U.S.

One benefit of syngas fermentation over sugar fermentation - no batching of the feedstock into holding tanks (which takes 36-48 HOURS minimum). For enzymatic hydrolysis of celulosic feedstock, add 36 hours). By comparison, waste to ethanol can take around 2-7 MINUTES and the feedstock can be blended from a variety of sources.

These conversion technologies create almost zero emissions. The gasification takes place in a closed system because the syngas (mostly CO and H2) is the desired raw material for the process. The process can also be used to isolate hydrogen for fuel cells. BRI Energy has the best online description of the process.

David Morris is wrong in some of his particulars. That doesn't mean that a new paradigm isn't being shifted. And it won't be dependent on agriculture.

MPG is a dishonest, meaningless number to apply to plug-in hybrids, because grid electricity is not free, either on an individual or a mass-adoption level.  I can design a plug-in hybrid with infinite miles per gallon by ripping the gas tank of a Prius and substituting more batteries.  I agree on most of your other points.
The point is that an all electric energy system is way better short and long term then a massive dependance on oil.  We have already PROOVEN that we can scale up wind, solar and with a little political will, nuclear power to meet this 'new' demand.
MPG is a dishonest, meaningless number to apply to plug-in hybrids, because grid electricity is not free...
It's fairly honest if you are mostly concerned with (imported and depleting) oil, ME politics, etc.
It has an infinite output in the case of full-electric vehicles.  Or compressed natural gas vehicles.  Or air pressure powered vehicles.  Or solar powered vehicles.  Or wood powered vehicles.  Or coal powered vehicles.  My nuclear-bomb powered vehicle gets great MPG as well.
Yup, been talking about thermo-chemical conversion from syngas at TOD for some time now.

And as I've pointed out numerous times, EtOh can be made from any carbonaceous material including MSW or landfill gases.

Nice post millercs.

"(One of the problems with cellulosic ethanol is that tremendous energy is used up in getting the biomass to the refinery)."

Slightly off topic, but in my neighborhood, there is a wood chip electrical generating plant using old-fashioned steam boiler technology.  I did a back of the napkin calculation of energy values of the btu's in the wood, versus the diesel to get the chips to the plant, and it came out about 10 to one.  The actual figure would depend I guess on the efficiency of the generator.  Since the wood chips are a waste product from timber harvest that would otherwise need to be burned on site, the other energy costs in the harvest can be discounted.  

I did a back of the napkin calculation of energy values of the btu's in the wood, versus the diesel to get the chips to the plant, and it came out about 10 to one.

The EROEI is certainly good when it is being burned. That's why I favor gasification over so many other biomass processes. However, when something like switchgrass is being gathered and hauled to a central location, and then turned into cellulosic ethanol, those energy inputs add up.

But what about municipal solid waste (MSW) as a feedstock?

The BTUs are probably similar to wood, the energy to get them to the municipal recycling facilities (MRFs) is already being expended. By gasifying the sorted waste there (roughly 80% of the otherwise unrecycled waste) you save the additional haul to the landfill.

In essence, MSW has a negative feedstock cost (including the saved tipping fees). That's why RENEW L.A. is so attractive.

I think syngas fermentation has a real future. No only for clean ethanol and green electricity generation, but also as an engine to clean up the planet.

But what about municipal solid waste (MSW) as a feedstock?

That is what we were using when I did this in grad school. MSW does have a negative feed value. It does make sense to first utilize such waste feedstocks before resorting to dedicated crops, and I have made the case for this a number of times. Any time someone e-mails and asks about the prospects for turning cellulose into ethanol, the first question I ask is about local waste feedstocks.

MSW or landfill gas can be used to produce EtOH via thermo-chemical conversion.

In most cases it comes down to how much gas is available and at what price but often a project can be nixed by city/state control, enviro concerns or plain NIMBYism.

Of course one still needs the catalyst - a problem our team hopes to solve soon.

Do you guys work on the gasification piece at all, or are you working entirely on the syngas to ethanol piece? Also,  do you have some patent numbers I can look at to get a better understanding of what you are doing? Thanks.
According to the California Cars Intiative their most optimistic estimates are for a 36% reduction in emissions of CO2 from a plug-in HEV.

They also indicated that 30 miles of driving on battery with a PHEV would require 9 kwh of power. If that is the case then 10,000 cars would add 90 mwh of load to grid. Did I arrive at that correctly? Can our off peak load capacity take adding 10's  of thousands of cars to it, assuming I did my calculations right. Thoughts?

The electric grid in its CURRENT state probably cant support the increased energy usage.  But keep in mind that switching the entire US auto fleet to electric is an apollo sized undertaking.

We sell on averagey 17 million cars every year in the US alone, and have over 200 million cars total on the road.  This means that if we started mass producing electric cars TODAY, it would take on average 20 years to saturate the market with them.  Asuming an apollo sized project, we could optimistically cut this down to 10 years or less.  That gives us a rough timetable to upgrade our electric grid and build new clean power sources, such as solar, wind, hydro, tidal, geothermal and even nuclear.

Now I acknowledge that the electric grid itself is problematic, and in its current form is woefully inadequate to support this kind of power.  Thats why breakthroughs such as this give me hope.  Simply put, they are using a new semiconductor material that is cost competative with regular copper wire AND is far smaller then current lines.  Increasing the number of wires in these lines allows us to economically scale up the total power the grid can conduct at a given time.  Note that the article already mentions that 300,000 homes on Long Island are using these new wires.


California got into this this summer in the heat wave.  The local grid was literally melting. Same thing happened in Queens in NYC.

The local grid wasn't up to the load now placed on it: it was never designed for a world of 100% central air conditioning, home computers, phone chargers, plasma tvs etc.  Nor a world where the historic peak temperatures are repeated summer after summer.

The grid can be fixed, it just takes money.

On the daily demand cycle, peak is 2.5 times or so bottom (roughly 3.30 am v. 5pm on a hot summer's day).  Commercial demand is c. 35% of all demand, and so if commercial buildings are managed efficiently, it can drop to almost zero by early morning (saves the lives of a lot of migratory birds too-- they don't smack into lit windows).  Industrial demand is typically another 30%, only a few processes need to be powered all night (aluminum smelters can never shut down).

Ontario is moving to 100% time of day metering but the elasticity of demand is not high-- if the pool price shoots up due to air conditioning demand, people don't turn off their air con on a really hot day.  So you need some kind of enforcement mechanism.

The latest Ontario tariff allows the utility to shut off your electric water heating (and/ or AC) at times of peak demand (I think the standard is 30 minutes over a 2 hour period).

that is easily retrofitable (a plug that takes a signal through the power line from the utility).  It does take political will to impose it, and a conservation incentive to the utility (normally utilities get paid to sell more power, not less).

The gains to long distance DC transmission of power are big-- Southern California will have a different and bigger peak than Washington State.  But the US has no one, single, grid authority (Texas actually keeps itself off the rest of the US grid).

Add to this.

It would be easy to make appliances so that they shut down if there is a 1V drop in the voltage (Europe is 220V not 110V).

a 1V drop in voltage is the grid standard for an unacceptable deterioration in voltage, due usually to a transient loading problem.

So you could build a self-intelligent network that regulates itself to a certain extent.

You then need to stagger the equipment coming back on, the power surge is what makes it so hard to recover from a blackout.

There are good algorithms for that, though, they were invented for the Ethernet (after a packet collision, the sender waits for a certain time before resending its packet).

the electric grid itself is problematic, and in its current form is woefully inadequate to support this kind of power.
Only if you add it on the peaks; if you move that energy off-peak, we've got plenty of spare capacity.

IMO the problem is more related to LD transmission from sources like wind farms (of which we will need many, many more).  Advances like composite-core wires (reducing heat-related sag and consequent problems) and HVDC will move more energy over existing rights-of-way in the near term.  Superconductors are long-term.

I think if you go to DC transmission you can solve a lot of the LD transmission problems?  This was a Soviet speciality, pre end of the Cold War, as I recall.

It was for this reason Edison favoured DC over AC, but he lost out to Westinghouse.

DC in general eliminates all phase-matching and reactance issues associated with AC systems.  If I understand correctly, HVDC can run close to the peak voltage usable by AC systems and achieve greater throughput over similar wires.  Because reactance (inductance) is not an issue, the DC system can also use fatter conductors and higher currents; it will only have current*resistance drops, no I*jωL drops.
DC were a dead end technology back then since stepping the voltage up and down for transmission and to keep the voltage within limits when you have long transmission lines requierd very expensive and fairly inefficient rotating machinery wich also are harder to insulate then transformers.

My guess is that Edison favored DC since it were the first available technology and it were possible to use accumulators to get the small power stations to deliver stable power.

It is much cheaper to build a grid interconnecting manny power stations for stability then for each power station to have a battery bank acting as a modern UPS.

AC and especially three phase AC were technically a devastation competitor for DC. The only way for DC distribution with lots of small powerplants to survive would have been thru instant conservatism.

In my country there were perhaps a dozen or a few dozen local DC mini grids mostly started to provide street lightening and electric lighteneing in industry. Some of them survided suprisingly long by rectifieing power from the booming AC grid.

If we would build the infrastructure all over again with todays technology it could perhaps make sense with about 10-20 kV DC to individual houses and high frequency converters down to about 50V for misc use in electrical outlets and a few hundred volts for higher power appliances.
Railway electrification would probably be about 50-70 kV DC.
But Edison and so on did not have semiconductors and of the shelf high frequenzy technology.

Its even now almost a draw if it is best to build a power line as 400 kV AC or +/- 300 kV DC, the AC option still wins  on cost alone and is easier to tie into the excisting AC grid. The DC option is less intrusive in the landscape.

Btw, do anybody here know about high amperage high voltage DC breakers? If it is very hard and expensive to break a short circuited 300kV DC line or higher we got a problem for wide spread DC grids.

Searching for "HVDC circuit breaker" gets quite a few relevant-looking hits, but many are links to papers behind pay-walls.
If this is the superconductor project you're referring to, it's not quite as far along as that brief article suggests. The LIPA press release says they've started construction but doesn't give an estimated in-service date. Let's hope it's within the next year and that the pilot project is successful.

Not to go even further off topic, but does anyone know what it takes to keep these cables charged with liquid nitrogen? How much energy does it take to produce and transport the LN?

Look at it this way:  average grid load is about 460 GW, nameplate generating capacity is ~1000 GW.  There's a big gap between average and peak consumption.  If vehicles are only charging off-peak, there's plenty of room for more of them; if you use that figure of 9 kWh/vehicle/day and convert all 200 million light-duty vehicles in the USA, that's 1.8 billion kWh/day or a mere 75 GW.  You could handle that during the lulls, no problem.
Why do you assume we need to add to peak load capacity for your example?  Recharge at night and adding 10,000 cars would have no impact on peak load capacity.    
When E85 were made favorable to use due to low tax on ethanol its use expaned much faster then the sales of E85 ready cars. Thousands of people modified their cars and experimented with E05 and E85 blends.

If plug in hybrids are made economically favorable installation of charging outlets and their use will me made outside of any government policies on charging times and control electronics.  You cant control this since the outlets are the same for plug in hybrids and for instance a heavy duty firewood splitter. And this is good since it makes for a faster changeover but the grid has to be capable of absorbing the new load.

And good service with daytime charging at workplace parking areas and city center garages also makes for happy plug-in hybrid users. Today you pay about $1 for parking and tomorrow you pay $1.5 for parking and the equivalent of one liter of gasolene and thus save $0.5 and more for each year the production shrinks. These parking spaces are also suitable for government intervention by installation of charging outlets before a wide spread introduction of plug-in hybrids.

And we anyway would need to add more production to power the plug in-hybrids, its better to do it early then late. The powerplants last for 60 years, peak oil will catch up with the investment much sooner then that. I also think it is cost favorable for us if we get started with these investments before you US guys wake up and start bidding for bottleneck supplies.

Diesel moves this planet. Why even bother with ethanol unless its used in bioDs transesterfication which will require co and trigen and who knows what else. On this island we dont have access to light-duty diesel vehicles hence we have these kind of discussions. But certainly hybrid teck will get better/cheaper.
Diesel moves this planet. Why even bother with ethanol unless its used in bioDs transesterfication which will require co and trigen and who knows what else.

Agree 100%. In the long-term, I can see biomass gasification followed by an FT diesel step as being a pretty decent option. But converting that biomass into ethanol will always be less efficient, and the product will have fewer BTUs.

biodiesel is an environmental nightmare.  Europe has a 6% biodiesel target for all diesel fuels.

The Indonesians are merrily ripping up Borneo jungle to grow palm trees for palm oil to meet this demand (now that we have finally admitted that palm oil is the worst oil there is for the human heart).

Maybe there are sources of waste oil for biodiesel, but I wouldn't count on it as a technology.

biodiesel is an environmental nightmare.  Europe has a 6% biodiesel target for all diesel fuels.

What I am referring to isn't biodiesel. Completely different process.

Sorry.  My mistake.  Must do more reading.
If FT diesel from biomass had the same financial breaks as grain ethanol it could be a lot further ahead.  I note Jacques Chirac has recently endorsed '2nd generation' biofuels ie FT and cellulosic. I'm thinking capital rich cold climate countries will go mostly the thermochemical route with biofuels, keeping microbes for niche applications. Tropical or capital poor countries will make alcohol by fermentation and methane from animal wastes. In a smarter world 2nd generation would be the current standard by now.
One additional issue that hasn't been raised is fuel infrastructure.  I simply cannot see a gas station spending $100k+ to put in alcohol pumps given a miniscule number of vehicles.

The alternative then is to have flexfuel engines on the cars.  However, alcohol engines require a high compression ratio for efficiency so any engine design would be a serious compromise resulting in lower fuel ecomony.  My guess is that given flexfuel, few sations are going to intsall alcohol systems.

Further, given ethanol's hygroscopicity (is there such a word?), I would be concerned about water contamination all along the fuel chain.

Finally, would the numbers be meaningful?  By this I mean how large is the market for this type of vehicle?  Let's face it, this would not be a cheap car and it is likely owners would have to have some kind of charging station installed.

I have got to get to bed, and well, with all the chatter (this is one of the longer threads I've seen on NY TOD, at least they got the pot a' boilin' :-), I really think about everything has been covered...well, except maybe...

1.The rapid advances in wind to assist on the grid problem, distributed power

  1. The rapid advances on solar, in particular thin film solar, which is moving at an incredible rate of development, likewise, improved grid situation
  2.  the rapid rate of advance on battery development, and it's effect on hybrid design and performance
  3.  The full effect of distributed power generation, and it's possible enhancement of efficiency throughout the grid system
  4.  Advances in electric storage, including not only batteries but CAES (Compressed Air Energy Storage in large volume
  5.  Advances in using agricultural waste, not new cropping, in methane production which can create synthetic natural gas
  6.  Speaking of natural gas, the possible use of propane and natural gas as the fossil fuel in said hybrids.  Given that you are going to use the natural gas (or coal, which destroys all talk of emissions reduction) in the manufacture of ethanol, why not go directly to burning the natural gas in a small gas turbine engine on board the car, combined with plug hybrid.  The amount of nat gas/propane would burned would be very small, and cut out the massively consumptive middel steps.

What else...oh yeah, the hydrogen thing...I will leave it to others to figure out how the only fuel we have burned in history has always been "hydro-carbon", and now our biggest problem is how to reduce the emission of carbon, meaning that it is only hydrogen that has ever been valuable, and the carbon has been nothing but a pain in the azz....but now we suddenly discover that hydrogen is unusable!  Gee, what a genuis generation we have become!  :-)

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

why not go directly to burning the natural gas in a small gas turbine engine on board the car

Actualy Natural Gas can be burned in any ICE humming on the road now. It only requires a minor adjustment of engine and, of course a special high-pressure gas tank. When I visited my home tome this year I was driven by a taxi running on NG... The driver told me it was costing him twice less than gasoline but only because there is no competition yet in the NG refueling business yet. Otherwise I calculated that if NG was sold at the market price it would cost him 5 to 10 times less than gasoline.

If it seems to good to be true, it is likely that it isn't true. The suggestion of this article is that a magic conversion to pluggable ethanol hybrids will provide a painless solution to the energy crisis and peak oil.

Right now the US uses 140 billion gallons of oil per year. The article suggests that with the use of pluggable ethanol driven hybrids "only" 80 billion gallons of ethanol would be necessary to do the same job. 80 billion gallons of ethanol has the energy equivalence of 53 billion gallons of gasoline. So the premise of this article is that these vehicles would allow savings of 62% in fuel usage. There is nothing around that suggests that savings on this order are available. Clearly the author is implying driving smaller, more aerodynamic, and more expensive vehicles, generating more electricity and using it more efficiently. He also seems to be implying a very large and costly build out of ethanol infrastructure. Finally, he is implying early retirement to much of the current vehicle fleet (and probably some of the companies that produce the heavier and less aerodynamic parts of the fleet). It sounds more like this transition might be doable under duress than painless.

On the other hand, it appears that it should be possible (admittably with some advances in distilling and battery technology) to, at least partially, make this transition. This approach might be worth trying even if it only solves part of the problem.

The key elements of this approach are:

  1. Increase vehicle efficiency. It will hurt but we can drive smaller vehicles less than we do now. The technology for making smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles than we use now exists now. It can be improved, but possible future improvements shouldn't prevent legislating more fuel efficient fleets now.

  2. Batteries need to be improved for hybrid vehicles. There were several posts that discuss the costs of Lithium batteries. The numbers were all over the place. The following source points to a company in Southern California that plans to convert the Toyota Prius to a pluggable hybrid for $10 - 12,000 next year.

 " In the meantime, California start-up EDrive Systems plans to produce a
conversion kit for the Prius that will go on the market next year for a
staggering $10,000 to $12,000, to be followed by a kit for the Ford Escape
hybrid." Source:

As they are planning to begin these conversions almost immediately, it seems that prices for batteries are coming down. If the vehicles were mass produced, the price would come down even more.

3) The supply of Cellulosic ethanol would need to be proven. Estimates of how much biomass is actually available for making ethanol are surprisingly fuzzy. The Oakridge Laboratory suggests that around 1 billion tonnes of biomass could be diverted to the creation of liquid fuels (
At 80 gallons per tonne this would generate 80 billion gallons of ethanol. They peg this quantity of ethanol at 1/3 of the US energy needs.

Was there a bunch of hyperbole in the article. Yes. Did it suggest a silver bullet that will solve the problems of peak oil painlessly. Yes. On the other hand, it appears that there might be some benefit to this approach. Forcing ourselves to decrease our energy consumption by two thirds (1/3 from efficiency, 1/3 from dimply doing less) is probably doable.