The Limits of Biofuels

[editor's note, by Stuart Staniford] With this post, we welcome Kyle as a contributor to the blog. You may recall his excellent guest post on the potential of cellulosic ethanol.

One question that always arises with biofuels is "How much can we really produce?" For most fuels, this depends upon the feedstock, i.e., corn versus cellulose for ethanol. However, there are definite limits, and as time progresses, my guess is that we will see more and more proposals like the one below the fold:

Dynoil to Build 1.5 bgy Biodiesel Refinery in Houston

To help lessen the U.S. dependency on foreign oil, Dynoil's commitment to producing an alternative diesel fuel is under way with its plan to build a 1.5 billion gallon per year (bgy) refinery that will process vegetable oil feedstock into environmentally friendly biodiesel. The intention was announced by A. Vernon Wright, Chief Executive Officer of Dynoil LLC, a Delaware Limited Liability Company.

The company concluded from its market studies that the current market for biodiesel in the U.S. Gulf Coast is at least 100,000 barrels per day, and it identified markets on the U.S. East, West Coasts and on the Great Lakes where it intends to expand its production of biodiesel. A site for the refinery has been selected near Houston, Texas, and the U.S. Gulf Coast. The plant will process conventional vegetable oil into biodiesel fuel that will contain zero sulphur and nearly zero nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. Dynoil's biodiesel can be blended into various grades of diesel fuel that can contain anywhere from five percent (B5) to 20 percent (B20) biodiesel to meet market demand requirements.

The refinery will process approximately 100,000 barrels per day of vegetable oil into fuel that can be used as a blending stock with petroleum diesel. The company plans to use state-of-the-art technology to convert vegetable oil into consumable fuel oil. Biodiesel can also be used for home heating or electric power generation.

The company concluded from its market studies that the current market for biodiesel in the U.S. Gulf Coast is at least 100,000 barrels per day, and it identified markets on the U.S. East and West Coasts and on the Great Lakes where Dynoil will expand biodiesel production.

In normal business speak, there clearly is a market for that much biodiesel, so full speed ahead! However, the detail that is missing is that the entire US production of soybean oil (the main kind produced here, as our climate is too cold for palm oil and too warm for rapeseed) is 2.5 billion gallons per year. In other words, this single "bio-refinery" will consume roughly 60% of the soybean oil produced annually in the US! It seems that at some point we may need a "third party" to keep ourselves from burning all of our food just to keep those vehicles on the road...

Just for reference, world production of all vegatable oils is about 600 million barrels annually (1.65 million barrels/day), about 1 weeks worth of oil usage.

There's no way we'll see our present (as Kunstler so well puts it) "easy motoring" lifestyle on biofuels. Farmer John brewing up a little biodiesel to run the truck into town or the tractor because the horse is lame, sure.

But supposing our present style of life will continue with biofuels means presupposing a lage carless laboring class hacking away at the sugarcane by hand so the elite few can drive their SUVs. Unfortunately I'm not convinced the WIRED/Mother Jones/Earth Island Foundation types have any real gut-level problem with this.

Okay I have to weigh in here with some realistic comments.

The Scientists involved with lipids, oil seeds and biodiesel know they can not replace even a large fraction of petroleum with biofuels.  I know, I just got back from a conference where this was discussed in context of food lipids.  Many speakers kept saying biological lipids are just a fraction of the oil we burn every year.  No one is expecting total replacement of petroleum with ethanol and biodiesel.

But this misses the point entirely.  People are thinking about making money and to some extent being a little bit self sufficient.  As oil prices keep going up biodiesel and ethanol become ever more attractive as money making operations even if they don't replace all the current supply.  In fact one could make the case that if petroleum oil gets very scarce (after peak) that biofuels will become gold mines in an energy starved world.

Also consider farmer coops that are invested into biodiesel.  They know there is a positive return, energy wise, in shunting some of their crop into fuel.  This can come back to them and allow them to plant a new crop at lower cost than if they were 100% dependant on oil.  This helps moderate their costs.  Even a small percentage helps.  

This is all nibbling around the edges at present.  A little more supply here.  A little bit cheaper there.  A little better price for a commodity for fuel use rather than CBTrade prices.  It all has real economic impact on the producers of the raw material, which is agricultural products.  These people are not thinking about saving the world from peak oil.  They are trying to make a living based on the best mix of crops and markets currently available to them.  And ultimately they may save our butts if energy becomes very scarce and they have a ready system in place to continue mechanized agriculture using liquid fuels grown on site.

My point here is that yes ethanol and biodiesel are positive EROEI.  NO this will not allow us to continue in our present energy use.  Yes these fuels will have some impact mitigating peak oil.  No we should not convert all available land to fuel production.  Yes we should divert some land to biofuel production to determine how efficient this system is.  We are always going to need some liquid fuels.  We are in the infancy of determining what will replace petroleum in delivering that liquid, even if it is at very reduced volume from today.  In the absence of a coherent national energy strategy I see no other way for things to progress at this time.

Excellent post! I am glad someone else gets it too.
NC - very thoughtful post.  I would like more info on where you've gotten your data on amount of land needed for biofuel production.  Thanks!
Spunkledevil, some numbers for you to digest.

From a talk at AOCS here are the numbers I copied down.  For details on this survey contact Professor Frank Gunstone at St. Andrews University, he gave permission to cite his numbers.  I'm sorry but I don't have the original sources he cited for this data.

As of 2005 total lipids on the world market was 135 million metric tons (MMT) from all sources - land and sea.  Of that total 108 MM tons went to human food usage, about 80% of the total.  This assumes the productive capacity of all the agricultural land currently being farmed, plus fish stocks both wild catch and pen raised.  This is only the lipid portion of that productivity stream.  Obviously there is a larger volume of starch and protein that is being produced simultaneously.

For 2005 the 108 MMT divided by the 6.44 Billion people on earth gave about 16.8 kilos of fat per person per year.  But this was distributed unevenly with the EU-25 countries consuming 50.8 kilos per person per year, the U.S. was 49 kg/p/yr, China was 19.6 kg/p/yr, India was 11.7 kg/p/yr and Bangledesh was at the bottom at 7.5 kg fat per person per year.

Estimates are that China and India will be raising their caloric intake, as well as their population, so that the lipids required just for food will double by 2030.  That would be 216 MMT of fat required with most of the increase going to Asia and Africa by 2030.  For 2020 it should be well under 200 MMT required, say a 50-60% increase over 2005.

At the same time that lipid for food will increase the EU-25 and U.S. have biodiesel targets.  The EU-25 want to produce 20 MMT of biodiesel by 2020, they produced 4 MMT in 2005.  The US goal is 2 MMT in 2010 and 12 MMT in 2020.  So the stated goal is to produce about 40-50 MMT of biodiesel in 2020, which is in addition to the less than 200 MMT for food.

Interestingly India has a law that says no food oil can be used for biodiesel so they are researching other oil producing tree crops that can't be used for food.  Clearly production would be constrained for all lipid production by land availability, yields, sustainability and climate change.  Yes all these limitations were brought up in the talk.  He was realistic about what could be produced not pie in the sky optomistic.

So the conclusion of the talk was that Food lipids would need to increase by 40-70 MMT and Oleochemistry uses (mostly biodiesel) would increase by 40-50 MMT, for a total lipid increase of 80-110 MMT by 2020 from all sources.  Almost all of this increase is expected to come from oil seeds.

So the final conclusion was that oil supply would be tight for the expected demand (no one talked about a rapid decline after peak petroleum) but that supply might not be distributed uniformly as it is not distributed today.  A main point is that much of the lipid production today is as a biproduct of some other production.  Very few acres or food streams are dedicated to oil production.  A small percentage of acreage dedicated to high oil production could meet much of the oleochemical needs.  But no one is talking about replacing 80+ million barrels of petroleum oil per day with biological oil.  The numbers just don't add.

Even a modest amount of biodiesel use should help raise prices for cooking oil, and pull increasing amounts of tropical oils from the tropics to the wealthy countries, to power our cars. Therefore, I would expect that the Bangladeshis and Africans would probably go (even more) hungry in the near future.

Does this bother anyone?

sure, it bothers me.  i certainly hope that images of african and asian privation will drive a bit of conservation here.  if there is a hummer backlash now, when cost and (hard to visualize) global warming are the drivers, i sure think it would be stronger when the image becomes starving people.
Yes and no. It'll depend on the complexion of the starving people, unfortunately. Do you think that closet Ku Klux Klan idiots down south are going to care about starving Africans? Worst case: David Duke. Do you think he'll care that Africans are starving so he can get a load of bio- jet fuel for his Lear Jet? Or the others who time-share that plane?

By far the most egregious wasters of energy are the corporate kingpins who exploit illegal aliens and fire them once injured on the job, especially in Texas. Are they going to care who starves - of ANY colour - so they can get a fill-up for their jet?

we're back again to human nature, or each of our expectations of human nauture.

i notice that "doctors without borders" ...

"In 2004, MSF's worldwide income was $568 million. In the United States, nearly 380,000 private donors contributed more than $91 million to MSF-USA."

that wouldn't happen if the glass was truly empty.

A 'hummer backlash' today, with small-car drivers sneering at hummer owners, may someday become a 'mechanized transport backlash' with those of us walking (or lucky enough to own a mule) sneering at those gluttons with the plug-in hybrids. It's a matter of perspective here...
shrug.  and the hybrid might be the car that stays in the garage while you walk for most trips.  It's a matter of perspective here...
I don't think it will bother most Americans enough to stop them. We already take food from countries that would be better off keeping it for themselves.

A journalist friend of mine was working a big story a few years back - an expose about child slavery on cacao plantations in Africa.  Her office had been boycotting chocolate for months while they worked on the story in secret.  She thought it was going to be huge.  

Instead, it was barely noticed.  Americans didn't care if their chocolate was grown by children sold into slavery by their impoverished parents, or kidnapped off the streets by slavers.  I doubt they'll care if the fuel in their tanks takes food from the mouths of the hungry, either.  

The best hope for Africa, IMO, is for peak oil to unwind globalization.  Perhaps in the post-carbon age, it will end up being too expensive to import ethanol from Africa.  

I remember that story. Please thank your friend for a job well done. Unfortunately it is all too easy to close your mind on the implications of stories like that. The cognitive dissonance between "I'm a good person" / "I am funding slavery" is too painful.

I don't know if there is a solution except to keep plugging away. Is the story online somewhere?

There are now many web pages devoted to the topic.  There's even a Wikipedia entry:

But the average American doesn't even know...or care.  There seems to be more concern in Europe, where apparently some people are making an effort to by "free trade" chocolate...enough for it to be a marketing point.  

I'm fairly well informed and have never heard of this issue. It's a total non-issue in the US and not likely to ever become an issue (unless the slave folks get nukes). I had a chocolate bar this morning and some nice tirimisu earlier this evening, and would probably have another chocolate bar now but I'm saving that one for tomorrow. They (the chocolate bars) say "made in Belgium" see no mention of starving children or of Africa. If I were a typical American and thought about it at all I'd have visions of nice well-fed Belgians with good medical plans tending to the cocoa trees growing in the Belgian cold and wind.

Everything in Starbucks doesn't have chocolate in it, but almost everything does. In fact, I'm not much of a chocolate eater (these 3 little chocolate bars I got at trader joe's are 3 of maybe 6 a year I eat), but overall Americans are chocoholics.

And this issue is utterly unknown in the US.

If the perpetrators of these crimes were Muslims, we would be hearing a lot more about them.
The fair trade movement is actually pretty big in Europe, although fair trade chocolate is not as widely available as fair trade coffee and various kinds of fruit. I, as well as many of my friends, only buy bananas if they are fair trade.

The growth of the movement is one of the very few really encouraging developments in the recent years.

Yes, all! Good posts! Thsi is my point. India is wise, and wise through experience, in banning human food oils to be used for biodiesel. They can well imagine the starving, boney, peasants toiling by hand so the local moghul can tour around in his biodiesel Mercedes, while the peasants' childrens' hair falls out due to lack of proteins and oils.

And no, this shit doesn't bother Americans at all. Biodiesel creeps me out more day by day. I mean, the idea of a biodiesel industry. We're already overstraining Mother Earth to make food, now we're supposed to start stripping, essentially, the surface of Mother Earth to come up with gas for our cars? All those calories of fuel we were getting from oil stored up over millions of years, millions of years ago, becomes uneconomic so we're supposed to strip the biomass from the surface to make up for it? I find it scary as hell that there are people working on this.

I saw somewhere, a calculation of how many thousands of years of sun and biomass we use a year in the form of oil. It's like a savings account - you can put in $5 a a day and you save and save and save, and then after 50 years or something you decide to start binging at $50 a day. This is what modern "civilization" is doing with the Earth's oil savings account.

And no, Americans don't care about children dying in slave labor camps so Starbucks will have chocolate bars for sale, or likewise children dying in labor camps so "coltan" (columbium-tantalum ore) can be dug up, by hand, to make the tantalum capacitors in our electronic products, or any of this stuff.  I'm typing away on a computer just full of tantalum caps and eating a chocolate bar while I'm doing it. I'm a good Amurrikan I don't care. So, this is why it all needs to come crashing down. The crashier the better as far as mother earth, living things, and little children (better to not be born or die quickly than die slowly in a labor camp) everywhere.

Odd, I have the same kind of reasoning in reverse. I partly see ethanol and biodiesel as a way of slowing down the outcompeting of Swedish farming and maintaining a higher local foodstuff production then the local food needs. We then get the emergency option of eating the local car fuel.
Don't forget there is one last point against biofuel. When an animal eats a plant, the animal emissions come out as all 3 phases of matter, solid (feces), liquid (urine), and gas (CO2). A goose fertilises as it makes CO2 during flight. A plane burning biofuel only creates CO2. (not including the insignificant "blue ice" droppings)

The animal makes fertiliser while making the CO2, and the plants recycle it all with solar power. By using too much biofuel, you screw up that balance, depleting topsoil. If you use algae > biofuel, you screw up the seas the same way.

All those calories of fuel we were getting from oil stored up over millions of years, millions of years ago, becomes uneconomic so we're supposed to strip the biomass from the surface to make up for it?

Good point.  A gallon of gasoline has what, 30,000 calories?  Are we really going to grow fifteen times everyone's nutritional needs in biofuels just for the morning commute?

The prospect of a low energy future isn't what scares me.  The fact is we could live quite comfortably on far less energy than we do.  What scares me is how a low energy future will be managed.  Will we live in low energy eco-villages, or will "they" starve so we can drive (or maybe the other way around)?

THanks for the feedback.

In answer to my own question, I'd like to share a story from the latest Earth Day.

A friend of mine that was watching the biofuels booth wandereed off, and a sudden gust of wind was blowing the booth down and scattering the literature. I staked it back up and collected the pamphlets, when a nice looking, middle class couple came up to ask me about biofuels.

Since I was the only one around, I gave them my own schtick, that you can buy a "cracker," or biofuels refinery, for $4 - 7K through REal Goods, and get all the used cooking oil you wanted from Burger King. But once other people started to get into the act, Burger King would start to charge for their waste oil.

Then I said that in the longer run, biofuel markets would buy up the cooking oils from the third world, and they'd really start to starve.

After a pause, ne of them looked at the other and said "I'm glad we hung onto that diesel Volkswagen."

The other smiled and nodded, and they walked off, looking quite contented -- even happy.

It was like being in a Dilbert cartoon. Perhaps this is a parable for our age.


Yes, like what someone wrote here about a week ago, making a joke based on Soylent Green, "You mean this fuel's made of people? Like brown people? Whay-hey! Fill 'er up, Jack!"

This kind of behavior started with the Agricultural Revolution, people are ugly but they got REALLY ugly when farming was invented. That's when you got feast/famine cycles, desertification, and killing off every man woman and child of the other tribe because their noses are a slightly different shape (hutu-tutsi) but really because there's not enough food to go around.

And yes, the solution for Africa and for everywhere, is to localize. The sooner we hit real depletion and hopefully things really do collapse, the better. Cheap oil is what feeds the IMF, the UN, oil-for-food programs, all the various tentacles of beast. The modern international trade system makes it possible for people to exploit others who are thousands of miles away, and they're out of sight, out of mind.

Around here in europe "natural" famines went away with railways and steam powered ships. Long range trade is a blessing.
It is not as simple as us vs them.

Remember that a lot more food lipid is already produced outside Africa and Asia.  Increasing supply there for food, but increasing supply even more in EU and US for food and fuel can improve food intake everywhere.  It's just that most of the biodiesel will be in the wealthy countries.  The way most of the oil and gasoline is in wealthy countries today.

We haven't been able to distribute food equally around the globe when we have had cheap oil for 100 years.  Why expect this to change when oil is scarce?  This is not a technical problem.  It is a political one, without technical solution.

It bothers me, but alot of things bother me. In fact, I'll tell you what bothers me more.

Awhile back I was in a store, and I saw a young man and his wife. She was beautiful, and he was about 25, with huge sholders, arms as thick as my legs, and generally someone who looked like they could take on the world. They were buying a T-shirt with a picture of Bush and a gas pump on it that had the quote "Taking it up the gass". They seemed like nice people, and but when they made a joke about the shirt there were undertones of real suffering. As they walked away from the counter I noticed the man had one leg.

Now as I see my friends go off to war, as I see the suffering in Darfur I think, "all for oil". Yet every week I'm at the pump, filling up.

This is one reason why The Powers The Be would love to fight this thing with mercenary forces, and already are to as great a degree as they can get away with. Protests agains the war will go way down in the US as long as Amurrikans aren't being hurt. If we can pay others to go out and do the real fighting and dying, and your brother or son or best friend's duty over there consists of sitting in an air-conditioned building looking in a radar screen or something safe, and no more Americans are coming home with one leg. the war won't be seen as such a bad thing.

The huge casualties among mostly innocent, women and children and the old, etc., and things like the leveling of Falluja don't bother Americans.

This is probably why the big permenant bases are being built and the HUGE embassy. Nice safe places for Americans to work, and from which to issue orders to the mercenaries.

NC - thanks very much for your prompt and thorough reply!

I've been following biofuels on various websites for some time now - with a focus on cellulosic ethanol rather than corn with its poor EROEI.  But there is one twist I haven't seen yet: paper manufacturing  technology as the foundation for cellulosic biofuel manufacturing.  Paper companies are already into processing cellulose in a big way; they already digest pulp and refine various by-products - some of which they use for process power.

Plus paper manufacturers already deal with commercial scale issues - moving huge amounts of materials, environmental protection, optimizing plant size versus distances from raw materials, etc.

There are some damn knowledgeable people discussing cellulosic ethanol in theoildrum and elsewhere, so it really puzzles me why paper manufacturing technology is not mentioned...

As oil prices keep going up biodiesel and ethanol become ever more attractive as money making operations even if they don't replace all the current supply.

That's not what has happened historically. Due to the marginal EROI, as fossil fuels become more expensive, ethanol becomes more expensive due to the large input of fossil fuels. I have posted a link to a Nebraska government site that shows for the past 20 years, ethanol has consistently been more expensive than gasoline on the spot market, and has risen and fallen in lock-step with gasoline. That's the thing so many people don't seem to understand. Unless you can substantially improve the EROI, or use a fuel source that does not rise with the price of oil (coal, for example, but it has its own baggage) then higher oil prices don't make ethanol more economical.

My point here is that yes ethanol and biodiesel are positive EROEI.

That's situation dependent. Nebraska, for example, has a marginal EROI due to the need to irrigate the land. If you make ethanol in Nebraska and ship to the coast, your EROI is probably not >1.0. You can look at the USDA studies and calculate this for yourself. When people quote EROI numbers, they are quoting an average for the highest yielding corn states. Even among those states, some have a far worse EROI than the average.


It does seem that farmers would be wise to see to their own energy security if they are able.  IMO, as shortages occur and the rationing becomes onerous, the Govt will prefer military uses for oil over all others including food security.

I totally agree with you and used to think that ethanol and biodiesel could never compete.  And I am certain that biofuel can never replace current petroleum liquid fuels volume, only supply some liquid fuel when petroleum gets very scarce.  I live in Iowa and almost nothing is irrigated.  I still have doubts about ethanol from corn but as long as it is subsidized it makes people money.  

For biodiesel, soybeans don't require such high rates of nitrogen making them less input intensive than many crops.  In addition a farmer can run biodiesel through his equipment to plant the next generation crop.  So closing the loop on biodiesel means that the cost of biodiesel going forward could be determined primarily by the cost of making biodiesel.  Since each soybean multiplies itself 100's of times using the sun there is a theoretical geometric progression for cost reduction.  But ALL petroleum has to be taken out of the equation before you can do the calculations.  It is difficult to seperate energy from cost when the two sources are intertwinned in the market.  Even then it makes my head hurt trying to account for all the costs and co-products from farm though liquids back to farm!

one of the fragments i thought i caught here, in a previous TOD comment stream, was that farmers are planting more soybeans and less corn this year.  that in response to higher corn "inputs" costs.

... why isn't there a soybean biodiesel lobby to fight the corn ethanol lobby?

Corn vs ethanol acres change on a multitude of variable.

One variable this year is that there may be a late season drought (August time frame) that will put water stress on a crop in the midwest.  Corn has done most of the grain filling (growth) by  mid August but almost all the soybean pods are filled right until early September.  For that reason an August hot dry spell would really hurt soybeans but have almost no effect on corn yields.  This is all on non irrigated land, which is western Iowa east to the mountains.

So this year lots of farmers in my state are getting lots of corn acres in early as a hedge against drought.  So corn acres might be up a little bit even though a nice premium expected on beans.  Farmers are living calculators when it comes to risk management.

Last thought on crops in the midwest.  Corn and beans are often grown together and in rotation to each other for lots of reasons.  The biggest is that you can use the same equipment to plant and harvest, just swap out combine heads and planters.  Typically about 2/3 of row crops in Iowa is corn and 1/3 soybeans.  Other states have different ratios plus other small grains thrown in.  Each farmer makes his own calculations so the market really has to send a strong signal before everyone plants a lot more beans nation wide.  Too much of any one crop causes over supply, a drop in prices, and no one makes any money.  

thanks, good info.
Down here in the Deep South, farmers largely plant corn for the crop insurance payment, knowing full well that a drought year (we seem to have a lot of those the last couple of decades) will pretty much ruin the crop. If you do not irrigate and put little effort into the corn, then it is a cheap investment, and beats leaving a field fallow (an alternative crop for rotation with soybeans, cotton, and/or peanuts) from a $ perspective.
Oh, I am 100% with you on the biodiesel angle. I wrote a blog essay in March comparing biodiesel to ethanol:

Biodiesel: King of Alternative Fuels

I firmly believe that between biodiesel, GTL, CTL, and ultimately BTL, we are eventually destined to have a diesel economy.


Someone over at GCC gave a figure of 26 gallons per ton yield for F-T BTL diesel.  Even if that can be doubled, we're not going to run an economy on it.

There are a lot of concepts being hyped which have no real potential for ever replacing petroleum, and some of them compete with others for feedstocks (e.g. cellulosic ethanol vs. gasification BTL).  Unless we can get several billions of tons of biomass per year, there's no way these things can make much of a dent (and we need far higher yields than 26 gallons per ton - like 3 times that).  I am beginning to wonder if they aren't being pushed by coal and oil interests to guarantee that they get every last cent out of us that they can.

I will have to dig up that GCC reference. I am going to write some essays soon on GTL, CTL, and BTL. I know quite a bit about GTL, having recently run a GTL research lab. I know a bit about CTL, and not so much about BTL. GTL is obviously the easiest, because it is much easier to handle gas in a reactor than it is to handle a solid. BTL will be the hardest, and last option to pursue. If you are correct about the BTL yields, then that is certainly a problem.


Found it here, but no reference cited.
I take that back, the reference is
Thanks for that. I will study it.


Incidentally, I found another biomass to diesel paper, and this one is very detailed:

Biofuels from Lignocellulosic Material

It's 101 pages, so it will take me a while to get through it.


Thank you very much. I love the WTW (well to wheel) analysis. This is by far the most interesting technical paper I've read on this issue.

BTW, I was surprised to note that it stems from the third most important oil exporter. Of course the northern people are way ahead of us in public discussion and policy of energy management.

That is by far one of the most information-packed papers I've seen in a while.  Reading it is seriously interfering with getting things done around here!
I just opened up the link. That process was developed by James Gaddy, and his research was similar to what my research advisor was doing. We talked about Gaddy's research quite a bit in graduate school. I am pretty sure my research advisor, Mark Holtzapple, collaborated with him some.

We always produced some methane, hydrogen, CO, etc. as byproducts, but we were really after the liquid products. Looks like Gaddy focused on the gaseous products.


Liquid products of biomass pyrolysis, or of subsequent synthesis?
What we were doing was running anaerobic bioreactors with inoculum from cow's stomachs. We would take ground up cellulose waste, throw in some sewage sludge for nutrients, and let the bugs grow and consume the cellulose. They would make a lot of different organic acids and alcohols, as well as gaseous byproducts which we did not care anything about.

The research is described in the following brief article:

Biomass technology answers biofuels need

We won the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award for the research in 1996. We received it at the National Academy of Sciences, and the awards are signed by Al Gore. Mine is on my desk at work.


Wow, RR, I didn't realize you are an old Ag.  Dr. Holtzapple gave a speech my freshman year on that very subject, inspiring me to switch from computer science to chemical engineering.  He's quite the enthusiastic speaker, and he's got a bevy of intersting research programs.  
If you see Mark, tell him I said "Hi". I haven't talked to him in a few years, and I really need to touch base with him. You are right, his research programs are pretty interesting. He always had a list of grad students wanting to work for him.


From what I read here the Western hemisphere is going to peak on gas before oil.  Or are you thinking GTL in Russia or Iran?
GTL only makes economic sense where there is a large quantity of stranded natural gas. Right now most of the plants are being built in Qatar. The next round will probably be in Russia.


To R-squared,
Thanks for keeping after my state of Nebraska about ethanol.  You are right on about our irrigation and this state is in a mess, owing Kansas millions of dollars for water used up by irrigators in south central Nebraska which we as taxpayors will end up paying.  We have a proposal in our legislature to pump and pipe water from our Platte to the Republican river to fulfill our obligation to Kansas!  Our most beautiful tourist attractions include Lake McConaughy, a 100 mile long shore-line reservoir with wide sandbeaches in the sandhills, owned completely by the "irrigators" and has been sucked almost dry in recent summers (visited by Denverites in droves), as well as our Platte river which is the flyway and sandhill crane migratory refuge in the spring.  In the recent summers when one crosses the Platte bridge in Columbus there is no water whatsoever.  Cottonwood trees are growing up in the "wide shallow water" river so that it is becoming a river of small channels, no longer suitable to the cranes as a safe roosting haven.  Our unicameral legislature has not come up with a decent long range irrigation plan so farmers have been sinking irrigation wells as never before in case a moratorium is called for in the future.  Areas in this state are still ploughing up virgin grasslands in the name of corn-growing in regions never intended to grow corn, because we've been blessed with our abundant underground ocean, the Ogallala Aquifer.  State leaders complain that we have a brain-drain going on as well as retirees leaving the state, and it is partly because our natural recreational areas are being "farmed", with no priorities given to them as an aesthetic resource whatsoever.  At the same time, we see successful business friends sinking life-savings "investment" $ into new ethanol plants, believing what they have been told about the bright future of ethanol.  If you openly oppose ethanol in this state, people look at you as if you are a Martian.  If one takes the long range view, our most precious resources are the abundant clean water we have been blessed with as well as our fertile topsoil.  Both are being squandered in the name of "ethanol"!!!  Politicians can't touch the subject because it "appears" to be our economic salvation of the moment.  Today, being voting day, however, I did vote for the gubernatorial candidate who I feel recognizes this the most.  Wish us luck!
Farmers don't even need to make liquid fuels.  During the  70's, some folks dusted off old plans for "gasogenes" and came up with modern adaptations which could run a (gasoline-fuelled) tractor on wood chips.  The concept was that farmers could build these things out of materials on hand and be able to continue work if they couldn't get fuel deliveries.

Fast-forward three decades.  Tractors are more sophisticated and almost entirely diesel, but you can still burn wood gas in a diesel by carbureting the fuel gas and using a bit of liquid fuel for pilot ignition.  Fuel could be pelletized or carbonized crop wastes, charcoal from any convenient source, wood chips or bark.  If I recall correctly, the fuel required to plant and harvest corn is some gallons or tens of gallons per acre; the yield of excess corn stover is TONS per acre.

This looks doable, if we're willing to do it.

Just to save other interested folks the googling effort:

And here's a charcoal gasogene, with two pictures of other styles (one) (two).
The only problem with the bioguel fantasy is the unsustainability of it. Yes, Virginia, it is unsustainable. It is, as many have called it, strip-mining our topsoil. The only way the process can have a positive EROEI is by ignoring the fact that soil is a depletable resource. Unless you return a certain portion of the crop to the soil and then rest the soil and perhaps rotate the crop, monocropping will result in desert.

Sure the Brazilians are making do with ethanol, but that is at the expense of their topsoil and the rainforest. The ethanol people are all asking us to ignore the man behind the curtain and to believe in this wonderful boon for our farmers and entrepreneurs while ignoring our weakening soil.

Woohoo!! Let's keep destroying the soil!! Fools are those who do not take the holistic view, who dismiss terms like "holistic" as being too hippy or some such nonsense. You MUST examine ALL aspects of the process before you proclaim success.

There's a solution to that - manure, including human manure or "humanure" as it's frequently named. Unfortunately, we flush all this useful biomass down the river that would be perfect for restoring the soil. Permaculture sites that have used humanure have actually improved the quality of their soils over time while continuing to farm. Yes, this is part of what you referred to as a holistic view and yes, it's the only sustainable way to do this but it is doable.
One of my most unpleasant experiences in graduate school was collecting the raw materials for our bioreactors. (Another was obtaining the inoculum from the stomach of a live steer, but that's another story). One of those raw materials was treated sewage sludge. A fellow student and I spent a Saturday morning filling the back of my Toyota pickup with sewage sludge, which we took to my research advisor's house and spread out on his lawn to dry.

Anyway, when we were talking to the operators, they told us they did sell the treated sludge to local farmers who spread it on their land. I would imagine that this is a common practice.


The "Humanure Handbook" by Joseph Jenkins has been voted the book "Most likely to save the planet," and given numerous "best of year" awards.

It is based on the "sawdust toilet" method, and it works great!

Basically you build an outhouse, and instead of a hole in the ground, you have the humanure liquids and solids drop into a 5 gallon bucket, which you fill with carbonaceous material like sawdust or shredded yard debris. Essentially it's a human litter box.

Anyway, the humanure is rich in nitrogen, the "kitty litter" is mostly carbon, and when you compost it in the compost bin, it turns into the richest compost.

You don't turn the compost, you let it sit for a year, it doesn't smell at all, it doesn't look bad or smell bad, and it doesn't attract flies if you keep a thick layer of straw over the compost. It also is hygenic, in that the rich nitrogen charges the thermophilic bacteria, that raise the temperature to over 117 degrees (sometimes as high as 150 degrees!) and cooks out all potential pathogens (you can't "give yourself" organisms which you don't already have).

Then, as it cools and cures, bacteria and other soil organisms invade the compost, and turn it into rich topsoil. As I'm sure most of you are aware, in a spoonful of top soil you might find tens of billions of organisms, of tens of thousands of species.

The best thing is that the whole set up costs about $50 (as opposed to NSF certified "plastic box" composting toilets, which cost over $1,000 and don't work very well.

The bad thing is that you have to hide it from the government,because they tend not to be very enlightened.

Exactly. Brazil is being held up as some kind of a shining example, while in the real Brazil the elite have cars, while the masses have death squads and child labor and poverty. Doesn't anyone even remember the dystopic movie called "Brazil"?

And they're felling their rain forest as fast as they can to grow sugarcane for fuel. And all the 'greenies' over here think that's just great.

Fleam.....I am in Campinas, Brasil and have been in country for almost a month.  As far as elites having cars my fiance´s budget is about 400 US$ a month and she has a fiat.  I have traveled on foot and bus almost everywhere I hae needed to go and no death squads are evident in Minas Gerais, Rio, or Sao Paulo.  Have you been here its nicer than many parts of the US? I tried to buy Mahogany (I like to carve) at a lumber store and got a lecture from two customers and the owner about protecting the rainforest.

I saw a lady get mugged in Rio and a Soccer game in Sao Paulo had a riot but that was the extent of the violence.

Anyway from inside brazil their biomass program and public transportation system seems to work.  I think they nitrate their soil with hydroelectric but my portuguese is terrible and complex discussions are hard.

Clearly you have not been in the shanty towns in Brazil. Of course, why would a jet-setting oil guy want to go where 40% of the population in Brazilian cities live?

I love it when Americans fly to places like....Iraq and proclaim that all is swell. "Everywhere I look it's safe, there are McDonald's and Pizza Huts and everyone speaks English. I so love this little part of Baghdad the locals call the "Green" zone. How colorful!"

Jeez. If we got all of our social history from oil execs, we would be seriously screwed.

Dude...and I use the term loosely I've been working on a volunteer basis in the poorest areas of Sao Paulo vaccinating children.  Sao Paulo is the third largest city in the world and has plenty of social problems just like every other metropolis.  Yet there are NO roving DEATH squads and it is pretty much a nice city. Which shanty town in brazil did you go to? I am curious because I walked all over Rio for five days and spent two weeks in various parts of Paulo....I spoke spanish with my translator and English with the other medic. I was never in a "Green Zone"  The churros are really good.
Cherenkov is right, you apparently did not stray far from the "guided tour".  Read, view the pictures, and be enlightened:

"In pictures: Life on a landless camp in Brazil" html/1.stm

"One-third of Brazil's population, or some 58 million people, live on less than a dollar a day"

"At least 30 people, including children, were reportedly killed last night in two attacks in Rio de Janeiro, apparently carried out by a 'Death Squad'."

"Life in a Brazilian Shantytown"

Dude, I could go on and on about the real Brazil. Terry Gilliam had the jist of it with his dystopian dark comedy.

   Check the dates on these articles and then google Washington DC.  The social problems you illustrate are common in almost all urban settings.  Meanwhile I have not been on a guided tour I´ve been working in a clinic.  Email me a request and I´ll send you pictures of the REAL Brazil.  What makes it REAL?  Is Washington DC REAL what about NY?  I definitely don´t consider Hollywood real but I´ve been all these places.  So break down a dollar a day living expenses.  Not counting beer (which is also cheap) you can have a lavish steak dinner for R$6 approximately 3 dollars with the exchange.  People below the Poverty line get more than enough rice beans and other staples free so a family of five on a dollar a day has R$10 for living.  

I repeat my question have you been to this country other than through and the BBC?

Sorry I didn't see this earlier.
Yes, I have been to Brazil, I did ministry outreach work there in the mid 1990's with my church group.  What I saw then was shocking, to say the least, and these days I try to avoid unnecessary travel to devoluting, third-world countries, where news like this
"Brazilian criminal gang riots leave 35 police dead"
is commonplace.

Back on the issue of the state of living accomodations outside of the "guided tour". Don't tell me Brazil is not overrun with poor shantytowns, because it is. Brazilians even have their own name for them, "Favelas".
The real Brazil is a far cry from a tourist destination.

Oh, and it just keeps getting better in that wonderful utopia that is Brazil:

"Sao Paulo, Brazil -- Four days of violence in Brazil's financial capital have killed more than 80 people, including 39 law-enforcement officers, victims of an underworld run by prisoners able to use cell phones to order murders, drug deals and violent unrest in prison and on city streets."

Yes, I definitely see Brazil as a model every nation should be looking to follow....

Actually, Milton Maciel has had innumerable posts on the Energy Resources fourm about his success with organic sugar cane production in Brazil as well as processing the juice.  There are too many links to show but the forum is here:

Before you get too enthusiastic about biodiesel read this.  Unless there is massive protectionism or subsidies (which would cause all sorts of problems with the World Trade Organisation), biodiesel is not going to come in any quantities from America. Price competition will mean it will come from third world countries and cause massive damage to the local environment and to the production of locally grown food and lead to widespread dispossession of small farmers.

If you want an idea of the damage that can be caused by third world catering to first world appetites read here about shrimp farming.

Biodiesel using more than waste oil is a bad idea.

And judging by columnists in newspapers on gas prices, immigration, etc. they sound like they are living on a planet where everyone makes good 6-digit incomes. Any time these journalists talk about the economy I get the impression the data came from a rover on some Disney-like planet or the Twilight Zone.

I have a proposal to shape them up. Why not let in an infinite supply of people with journalism degrees come from India. Then, they get to compete with Ravi Patel - for a down-to-Earth wage. Same with newscasters and so on. I'm sure they could go to a dialect coach to turn off the accent, like the help desk people in India you get.

Until their wages drop like a plane out of fuel, they will continue to have no problem with people slaving away so they can drive their SUVs to and from their overpriced homes with ceilings high enough for an airplane hangar.

To grow enough biomass to enable ethanol to replace gasoline would require an enormous amount of land. To provide sufficient ethanol to replace all of the 130 billion gallons of gasoline used in the light-duty fleet, we estimate that it would be necessary to process the biomass growing on 300 million to 500 million acres, which is in the neighborhood of one-fourth of the 1.8-billion acre land area of the lower 48 states. Most U.S. land is now grassland pasture and range (590 million acres), forest (650 million acres), or cropland (460 millions acres). The remaining acreage is used for human infrastructure, parks and wildlife areas, and marsh and wetlands. The 300 million to 500 million acres could be supplied from high-productivity land (39 million acres of idled cropland), from land currently used to grow grain that is sold below production cost (approximately 45 million acres), and from pasture and forestland that are not associated with farms. No land from national parks, wilderness areas, or land for buildings, highways, or other direct human use would be required.

"The Ethanol Answer to Carbon Emissions", Lave, Griffin &  Maclean for the National Academy of Sciences.

Peak oil is a liquid transportation fuels crisis - the effects of which can only be managed through large-scale conservation coupled with the production of biofuels under a coordinated national strategy.

It will not be easy.  

It will be hard.  

We did not go to the moon because it was easy.

We don't go to the moon any more.

Hey, been there done that...we have bigger fish to fry now....
But we will, at least if our fearless leader has his way.  And his "back to the moon, then onto Mars" plan is gutting NASA's other work:

NASA lacks sufficient money for science

Excuse me, but NASA has lacked proper funding since the Nixon era. Republicans and Democrats alike have failed to fund NASA in any meaningful way. And as a percentage of total federal budget, NASA has more than paid for itself. Microprocessors, fuel cells, etc., were all developed for NASA to start with. NASA, properly funded (which would be an annual budget around $70 billion right now), has been a positive contribution to science and society. Even short changed it has continued to do this to a limited extent.

Our problem is not going to the moon or Mars. Those are pissant piddling cheap things to do in terms of the federal budget. Our problems in the US are the damned entitlement programs that accomplish nothing except buying votes. When I see people imply that we should not fund NASA nor do the science associated with NASA, I call bullshit. If we can afford to continue doing all the other stupid things we are doing right now then we can afford a proper space research program. And the space research program may well help us in ways that the other programs never can or will.

P.S. Where do you think all the near earth data that helps study global warming came from? Out of Hansen's back pocket? No, that's NASA at work again.

Yes, I am ranting a bit but NASA is one organization that is worth funding. I'd sooner tear down all of suburbia and the crap lifestyle it represents than stop funding NASA.

is it true that they destroyed the saturn v plans, just to make sure we had to build the shuttle?

i like science, but i am suspicious of large beaurocracies.  i'd rather have equal money spread to 100 state schools.

The plans are one thing, the tooling and the unwritten know-how of the contractors is another.
hmmm.  urban legend:

but i still don't trust 'em  ;-)

My beef is not over NASA's funding.  I suspect a lot more will be cut, as TSHTF.  

My beef is the goal Bush has set - manned missions to the Moon and to Mars.  They are sucking NASA dry.  I would much rather see NASA's limited funds spent on satellites to get more climate info than on a Mars mission.  

i wonder how sneaky bush was, and how much he knew he was de-funding climate science with the mars mission ...
I would say that it is certain that he was undercutting the climate science programs of NASA by blowing his horn over manned spaceflight:

1. the space-race was borne out of the need to develop advanced delivery capability through the science of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM).  no such need exists any longer.  the START I treaty was only signed because the ICBM technology was no longer relevant in the age of submarine launched Trident platforms and the Cruise missile.  Case in point: the US land-based nuclear platforms utilize the Minuteman III missile from the SEVENTIES!  the more developed, modern MX missile program was scrapped in favor of the cheaper, older technology, as the whole concept of domestically maintained nuclear strike capability is a figurehead.
THEREFORE, there is no military advantage to redesigning the kind of powerful rockets necessary for interplanetary travel.  all other kinds of propulsion are still in their nascent phases and have yet to produce any real-world success.

  1. developing capability to deflect or destroy potential "global/regional" killer asteroids is a joke when you look at the dearth of funding for the programs that seek to merely identify these objects.  astronomer's predictions of potential near-earth objects is about as reliable as a monthly weather forecast, speaking relatively.

  2. even the U.S. government's closest ally in the war against the truth about global warming (England) is beginning to change their tune.  we are standing alone in the dialogue, as we refuse to even fully acknowledge a problem that the rest of the world is already trying to react to.  this administration's eyes are wide shut.

based on all that, i'd say you hit the nail on the head.  we have been cleverly misdirected while the earth-science programs of NASA have been dismantled.
Forget the Moon and Mars.  And put some of the hard science on the back burner for a while.  We should be mining near earth asteroids.  Earth could support humanity with a minimum of extractive/production industry if we really were serious about industrializing space.  The hard science will still be there if we decided to spend a few decades developing an industrial base, so will the Moon and Mars (and the science would certainly be more advanced if we had people actually living and working in space in a practical matter - not just going around on a single space station).  The true potential of a space program is the vast material resources that the solar system offers.  Google 'asteroid mining'.  Check it out.  There is far more offered by space travel than moon bases and hard science.  If more people knew about the practical, industrial potential of space the world would be on a much better course for the future.
Any plan to develop the moon or planets commercially is by definition a con game, and there have been many such schemes over the years to separate gullible investors from their money.
If the moon were made of solid gold, it would still be unprofitable to retrieve it (per Carl Sagan) to send a rocket up to bring it back to earth.  The cost per payload ounce is incredible.
In truth, there are ways to do energetic jiu-jitsu and get things from the Moon down to Earth quite cheaply.  For instance, materials we already have could make a skyhook which would allow us to literally lift material off the Moon by the ton and drop it into an orbit heading toward Earth.

These things are unlikely to be the solution to our energy problems, but we need the same kind of out-of-the-box thinking down here.

Space based solar.  Zettawatts of electricity, and while your mining asteroids you'll get enough metals to make everyone a shinny new (electric) car.  And while you're at it pick up enough water, phosphates and every other resource you could need.

For anyone who has problems with industrial civilization's effect on the environment the industrialization of space should be one of your top priorities at least in the medium to long term.  It allows for a resource base that is practically limitless in terms of human life times and puts no strain on the Earth.

I said Near Earth Asteroids, not the moon and certainly not planets.  Asteroids are easier to get at and extract resources from.

There are better ways to travel up and down.  Build a space elevator.  The initial cost is as much as a rocket, but once you have stuff going back and forth it is cheap.  Like a nuke or an oil well:  once you get it going and it starts producing the cost is small.

The industrial application of space is possible with the right investment (private and public) and a far better use of funds than 17 trillion dollars for new oil infrastructure.  No plan in the past as had a goverment or a real business behind it.

i'm sorry, that's just not realistic.  with a full 1% of the economy as its budget, all NASA could do was land a tin can and a PowerWheels on the moon, pick up a bag of rocks, and come home less than a week later.

landing a man on an asteroid is mind-bogglingly impossible.  actually setting up a sustained mining operation, to say nothing of transporting the materials, is out of the question for the foreseable future.  we havent even been to the moon in 30 years!

i wonder how much money NASA will have to play with when the oil runs out?

That was more than 30 years ago!  You honestly think that we couldn't do a little better today?  After more than three decades?

Landing a man on an asteroid is mind-bogglingly simple.  It has practically no gravity.  Depending on the size the surface gravity of a usable asteroid can be as low as 1/10,000 earth normal.  You just have to fly up to it.  Latch on and drop off a few mining machines.  How much of mining on earth is done by automation?

Transporting it is impossible?  Not really.  You can manufacture rocket fuel on site.  At 1/10,000 earth gravity if you step to hard you'll break orbit of an asteroid.  It requires nothing much more than a push to get materials in an orbit back to earth.  If you're sending it to the top of a space elevator, then getting it down is just as trivial.

We haven't been to the moon in 30 years because we beat the Russians and the public (as they so often will when science fails to produce real, practical results) lost interest.  The Apollo program represented one of the high points of the Cold War.  We proved we were the best and then spent the next 30 years declining in science education and shipping jobs overseas.  Why, because we went to the moon and didn't get anything practical out of it. It was a hugely important scientific milestone, but all most people saw was some TV pictures and a few bags of rocks.  Learning about the geology of the solar system is great from a hard science perspective, but it doesn't make for captivating TV.  Maybe people will stay interested in space when the first few tons of platinum sails into earth orbit.

Landing a man on an asteroid is mind-bogglingly simple. It has practically no gravity.

It isn't the asteroid's gravity you have to worry about. It's this well we are living at the bottom of, and while it's nice that it keeps the air and oceans on the planet, you have to get going 18,000 miles an hour to escape it. Then you have to get up to ??? velocity to catch the asteroid, which is not in earth orbit.

That either takes several years of planetary ping-pong or a lot of thrust. So now the work has to be done by robots; humans can't sit around for years in a deep freeze waiting for the craft to catch the asteroid. We're not quite there with old Asimo yet, but maybe in a couple more decades.

And so far the space elevator is a pipe dream; we have very little idea what engineering hurdles will be required to build one, but IMNSHO it will be as difficult as fusion power. A 23,000 mile ribbon woven from carbon nanotubes? Sure, I'll just cook one up for ya. We'll start with soot from this candle... no wait, they need the candle to make fuel for an SUV, D'OH!

Oh, and BTW, if you introduce tons of platinum into the commodity market it won't be so incredibly valuable any more. Double D'OH!

we are so screwed :(

I have no problem with tons of platinum in the market, it's useful stuff.

But, speaking as someone who signed up as a team in the space elevator contest, then backed out after seeing it for the boondoggle it is, if you can build something that you're fueling with a light beam, that climbs a ribbon into the sky, why not dispense with the heavy driving wheels, etc., and have something that just flies up?

My "holy grail" would be something that flies upward using incident sunlight. It would be small, slow, and get blown all over the place on the way up, but it would get up there. I'm almost convinced it's impossible, I imagine something like an effecient solar cell with a little ion engine at each corner. You have to get ion drive downward = a little more than the weight of the thing. I'm not sure that can be done.

Space elevators, linear accelerators, lasers.  All great ways to get up to orbit.  And again once you start mining they you have all the fuel you need to go back and forth.  If you have all the methane and liquid oxygen up in orbit already the fuel cost is low in dollars and weight.  Do slow trips at first.  Once you get the system up and running it is cheap and effective.  It is not an immediate solution to problems, but as I said above, if you care about the environment and want to still enjoy living a first world lifestyle (and let everyone else have one too) than it needs to be at least a medium term goal (next 15 - 30 years).

They are not called NEAR earth asteroids for nothing.  They are easier to get to than the moon or planets.  Some would be within 150 days.  If it came down too it all we would need is a simple methane plant/rocket that could push the thing into earth orbit.

Nanotechnology brings carbon nanotubes closer to reality every day.  The concept of a space elevator is more than 40 years old (if I'm not mistaken Arthur C. Clark came up with it) and the basic engineering is well understood.

The point of having tons of platinum is not its commercial value.  The point is that you have it.  Its not scarce anymore, it becomes cheap and suddenly there is no shortage for making fuel cells or what ever else you want.  If the problem of peak oil/peak everything is resource scarcity then the solution is to make resources less scarce.

Science fiction is going to save us all!
  The Space Elevator works on paper.  We have the material to fabricate the ribbon.  Assumming corporate or government backing it could happen in ten years.  Google it, it is an interesting prospect.  Hows work?
So does controleable fusion, frictionless surfaces, room temperature superconductors, and various other "popular science" schemes advanced over the years.  That is the problem with 'paper engineering'. The Fountains of Paradise, indeed.

David Gerrold's "Jumping off the Planet", Kim Stanley Robinson's "Red Mars", and Ben Bova's "Mercury" cover some of what might go wrong with such a plan, if we ever managed to get it built.

Correction. It takes 18,000mph to get into orbit around this ball. But it takes 25,000mph to ESCAPE the Earth's gravity well. Even worse, it takes additional energy to get into a solar orbit so as to rendezvous (meet up) with that asteroid. Once you get there, you have to match its solar orbit, using some more energy! This is a real pain in the tailpipe. Even the experts screw it up. (the lost Mars lander example)

And to get the stuff back, it takes more than the puny escape energy for that asteroid. You have to give it speed in the right direction and amount so it meets Earth - and has to be slowed to match Earth orbit at 22,300 miles up presumably to get lowered by the fictional elevator. You do NOT want chunks of asteroid hitting the Earth as they explode like atom bombs.  If the chunks are small enough, they can "re-enter" and drop to a drop site - but too big an operation will cause upper atmosphere pollution of heavy metals. Using a drop site with 5-ton chunks would require VERY accurate aiming from an asteroid to come to Earth at the right place at the right time and right speed and right angle. It would be about like Tiger Woods hitting a golf ball clean around the world (an orbit) and scoring the hole in one at that hole where he tees off the orbiting golf ball.

Why we get probes on target is becuse of mid-course corrections. They launch it, and part way check the calculations, then apply just a little thrust. Too far along the flight, it takes more thrust to nudge it on target. Too soon, and you get bigger potential error. In fact, sunlight hitting a probe can blow it off course!

If the chunks are small enough and enter at a shallow enough angle, you'll get them down in one piece.  If you don't like metal contamination of the atmosphere, cover the leading edge with a sacrificial layer of fused rock.  They may come down rather hard at the end (several hundred MPH), but who cares?
"That was more than 30 years ago!  You honestly think that we couldn't do a little better today?  After more than three decades?"

no, i honestly think we couldn't.  NASA will never have the kind of momentum it carried in the 50's and 60's.  financially, scientifically, or politically.  you honestly think that after 30 years of sabbatical, we are gonna skip the moon and jump 99 steps ahead to running a sustained operation on a minor planet?  anybody with a background in space science knows this is "mind-bogglingly impossible" given the current state of technology.  i'm not trying to tell you that your Star Trek fan club is being ridiculous......i'm just telling you that you may have to wait hundreds of years before your idea is feasible.  see captain's log: 3054 A.D. for further details.

also, an asteroid does not conveniently complete orbit around the earth every month, as does the moon.  by the time you set up your equipment (assuming you could land it) the conditions on the asteroid would be wildly different......and transport of materials is impractical because of the asteroid's orbit....even a NEAR earth asteroid is only 'near' earth for a moment.....then it is far, far away, too far away to transport materials to and from earth.

NASA could have used the same LEM technology to land large amounts of supplies (auto-landing LEM with no ascent stage, like the Surveyors which preceded Apollo) and supported missions of a couple of weeks (lunar sunrise to lunar sunset).  The decision to do quick in-and-out missions wasn't based on lack of capability.
Hey Greyzone, OT, I've put your major oil fields data into a sortable web table. If you'd like a preview before I post it on the next open thread, email me at jn2_at_johnnorris_dot_com. Cheers.
"But we will, at least if our fearless leader has his way.  And his "back to the moon, then onto Mars" plan is gutting NASA's other work"

Somehow this makes me think of Buz Lightyear's line in the trailer for Toy Story.
The posted analysis strikes me as economically very naive. If we want to redevote some large fraction of the US land area to biofuels, then the first thing to understand is that the way that gets allocated between crop land, pasture land, and forest is not going to be decided by idealized considerations, but instead by some mix of market economics and political lobbying. The proposal in the document is to take ballpark half of our forests and half of our pasture land and use them for biofuel. Obviously, the pasture land and the forests are currently in use for creating meat and wood respectively. The price of meat and the price of wood are quite significant already. If we wish to remove something on the order of half the land required for each of those, we can imagine that the price of meat and wood will go up a lot. The market will find some equilibrium where some amount of land is taken from pasture, forest, and cropland in order to make biofuels, and the prices of the various products of the land will go up sufficiently that enough users of those products today can be displaced. That is, significantly less wood is going to be available for houses and other construction, and significantly less food is going to be available for people to eat. Some people will have to go without as much of those products as they would otherwise have had in order that other people can continue to drive. In our current culture, the people who will have to do without will mainly be the poorest people, with significant but lesser sacrifices in the middle of the income scale, and hardly any at the top of the scale.

Left to it's own devices, that's what the market will do. And the big question is if the resulting society will be socially stable or not after a decent fraction of it's food supply is removed.

Left to it's own devices, that's what the market will do. And the big question is if the resulting society will be socially stable or not after a decent fraction of it's food supply is removed.

Depends on the social fabric, the network of contacts between people. If people know and care about each other in numerous personal and business relations they can for instance crowd togeather on 1/2 the total living area and save an enourmous ammount of resources. (Crowd, and crowd, it will anyway on average be luxorious compared with 99+% of the time humans have excisted, we are faboulously rich. ) There is in much the same way plenty of food available that both can be shared and redistributed via market mechanism, both are needed and they need caring individuals to work well.

But if most people are small icelands with few friends and relatives and no relations with their neighbours everything depends on turning of TV:s and computers and start connection with people you can touch before something important starts to break. (Who am I to say? I am not very good at being social but I try. )

There is another thing to consider: Growing ethanol requires more than just land. It requires nitrogen and water, and quite some more of those than meadows do. So if you want to convert meadows in ethanol producing cropland you will see a significant increase in water and fertilizer usage.  
Good point.  Water is already becoming an issue:

Ethanol expansion could hinge on water

Absolutely. Down here in the southeastern US, agricultural users of water and the burgeoning needs of growing cities like Atlanta, Savannah, and Raleigh Durham are already at loggerheads over the issue, especially regarding purchasing "water rights".  The influencial urban users are increasingly getting their way, at the expense of the poorer, rural communities.  Alabama, Georgia, and Florida have been in a watersharing "war" of words and non-agreement for years now.  In coastal areas, tremendous growth, in especially in metro areas like Savannah, is already pulling so much water out of the ground that seawater intrusion into the aquifer is occuring.
The upper part of the Floridan aquifer, which itself supplies pumped groundwater to virtually all of Florida and southern parts of Alabama, Georgia, and even South Carolina, is expected to be completely exhausted in under 20 years. Declining hydraulic heads, subsidence, dry springs, seawater intrusion, and sinkholes are symptoms evident today.
The massive Oglalla aquifer (plus various smaller aquifers, such as the Perched and Mahomet) spanning much of the US midwest, has seen water levels decline by more than a hundred feet in the last century, as it is similarly siphoned off for agriculture, drinking water, and industrial use.  Non sustainable, in any long term plan.
I am shocked that the Southeast is having these problems. I live in Arizona, and I assumed it was mostly an arid lands problem. Thanks for correcting that misconception
Oh, absolutely.  And the climate here is drying, exacerbating the problem.
Back when I worked for the USDA, ARS (Agricultural Research Service) commissioned a 25-year climate study, which concluded that over the next 25 year period (this was in 1998), the climate of Georgia would become more like that of Texas, while that of Texas became more like that of New Mexico.  More droughts, higher mean temperatures, and more severe weather.
This site should be renamed to:


The focus here seems to be the precious automobile culture. Usually, when dealing with somewhat intelligent people, the focus is on getting away from any system that is inherently destructive. Here the focus is all about saving this deadly system. You guys are like a bunch of smokers all crying that they want to keep smoking because they like it, because to stop would kill off tobacco farmers, because it is our RIGHT to smoke. It is like the anti-global warming dips who would rather continue destroying the planet than give up their short-term happiness.

We cannot continue the automobile culture without making someone else suffer somewhere, whether it is through our wars, our destruction of habitat, our continual push of population beyond viable footprint, our unequal use of planetary resources, or our destruction of our health.

There are those who say, "Well, we can't just switch to living on farms."

Well, duh. The most important thing is to turn the ship. When drowning in a pool full of alligators, the first step is to head towards the shore. Let's stop trying to preserve this stupid, destructive way of life and head towards sustainability.

Let's pretend we are all as smart as we seem to be and quit doing stupid things.

Like Cherenkov, I have noticed the "committment" in TOD discussions to preserving our energy extravagant lifestyle after peak oil is gone. It isn't going to be preserved, and the longer we wait to conserve and to build energy efficient infrastructure (e.g. AlanfromBigEasy's light rail), the less that will be saved of our civilization.

But people have to examine all options to convince themselvess that sacrifice is necessary. (Though I find it hard to empathize with the "sacrifice" of giving up a Hummer towing a large boat across the desert at 80 mph.) Even then, our society seems likely to turn to conspiracy theory explanations and reject the evidence of the need to change.

Like Cherenkov, I have noticed the "committment" in TOD discussions to preserving our energy extravagant lifestyle after peak oil is gone.

That's because, as someone else noted, this is a site for bargaining, not acceptance.  ;-)

come on, we are overrun with bicyclists, as well as echo, prius, diesel, and vespa/rukus drivers.
Why blame the early adopters?  What's wrong with the easy improvements that will buy us another decade, two, or three?

Nothing, unless you are rooting for Catabolic Collapse

Actually, I think the opposite is true.  Doing the "right" thing - conserving - is more likely to lead to catabolic collapse.
i don't think i want you in my lifeboat ;-)
She's right you know. Merely conserving means cramming more of us on this little island.

Until we can control our numbers, it'll be a reprise of Easter Island, but scaled up to 6x10^9

I agree. Except for the bicycle riders, we ALL suck.

And to me, the whole question in Peak Oil is how to Powerdown, individually and as a society, and kill your car.

How come Kill Your TV is a known phrase but not Kill Your Car?

For me personally, I have discovered, sadly, that I need a car to make enough money at my small biz to pay down debt. So, the plan was and is: Hang onto the Prius and use it to make enough to pay debt down. Once debt is down, buy land that can be lived on. By that time gas may be $5-$7 and the Prius will probably sell for the same amount I paid for it, that beats taking a loss. Once land is bought, learn to grow stuff on it and raise stuff - chickens, pigeons, something, plus of course veggies. Hopefully by biz has developed from going around buying stuff to resell, to making stuff, and we have at least the good old fashioned 1800s-1900s style mail order running. Hopefully I won't have to sell a lot of stuff frantically anyway, since if the land's paid for, I'm producing most of my own food, etc. it doesn't leave a lot of bills. The alternative to this is to stay in debt, and end up either on the front lines somewhere or in a slave labor factory making stuff for the military.

Who the fuck said "merely conserving?"
"We" have not quite made it that far yet......
But bargaining is better than denial, a sign of progress.
  I don't buy this complaint, either.  (ie, 'No Commitment to conservation or cultural changes at TOD)  But I do notice a very familiar pattern in the arguments that seem driven by our 'Customer is always right' demand for a Wonderdrug.  

   Every time someone proposes one of these alternatives, the whole numbers/graphs game quickly evolves into 'how many panels it takes to replace all our Nuke plants', or why Ethanol or Biodiesel can't 'replace' the current motorfuels, when this is usually not a proposal by anyone here.  Agreed, the MSM seemed to suggest Ethanol would be flowing lustily from the spring of eternal youth the other night, but real alt-energy advocates usually have to Yell, Rinse and Repeat their intention that any of these sources is only a fractional part of our energy future, and that they will be fractions from a much smaller watts/year figure than we now enjoy.. that conservation measures will have to take the lion's share from current consumption.. and whatever combination of these wimpy little sources (like the sun..) will have to do for the rest of it.

That said, the detractors' arguments often seem to carry the implied message that 'if it won't do the Whole job, then that route is a failure, move on. Get real.'  Biodiesel is great as a second use of material, a reduction in landfill mass.. I wonder how much fryer grease just got dumped today?  Solar electric is primal.  It's photosynthesis!  It works and gives back all the energy that went into making it.  What else in your life can make that claim?  These things work, and they need to be ramped up. Soon.

Keep working on those pebble beds.. maybe there's something there, unless you ever chip one of those pebbles, then you've got poison again, Long term.

We know a bunch of things that work, and we keep quibbling about finding another 'big energy' solution..

LOL...For every 100 people who stike at the "leaves" of a problem 1 stikes at the "root"  Imagine chopping a tree down by hacking at the leaves and you get the idea.  Very very good insight...
Ethanol will be imported from the third world. The growing of crops for fuel will be a major industry in the third world (more profitable than growing crops for food).
Sad, but absolutely true.  It will be more profitable to produce ethanol from biomatter in third world nations than to produce foodstuffs for those same nations, or biomatter in first world nations without huge subsidies. Horrendous farming practices (slash and burn, grow and abandon, plantation monocropping, etc) will be used in the pursuit of these profits, just as they always have.  
Stryker -

Regarding your statement: "...To provide sufficient ethanol to replace all of the 130 billion gallons of gasoline used in the light-duty fleet, we estimate that it would be necessary to process the biomass growing on 300 million to 500 million acres,..."are you assuming that 100% of the ethanol so produced would be used as gasoline replacement and the the energy inputs for the biomass-to-ethanol process would continue to come from fossil fuel?

If so, then while you may be replacing 130 billion gallons of gasoline per year, you would NOT be replacing the fossil fuel equivalent of 130 billion gallons of gasoline.  

The USDA claims that corn-to-ethanol has an EROEI of something like 1.3. (Some feel this number is overly optimistic, but I will use it just for the sake of argument.)  When applying this figure to your 130 billion gallons per year, we would still have to burn the fossil fuel equivalent to roughly 100 billion gallons of gasoline.  So, in effect, by making ethanol equivalent to 130 billion gallons of gasoline, you are really only 'creating' 30 billion gallons of gasoline equivalent because you had to spend the equivalent of 100 billion gallons just to make it.

Now, if you want to have an ethanol scheme that is totally independent of external fossil fuel inputs, then about 3/4 of the ethanol produced has to be expended in running the overall process (fertilizer production, farming, distilling, etc). As such, the total amount of ethanol production would need to be about 4 times that of what you envision.

In this rush to produce liquid fuels that can be used in an internal combustion engine, I think we are losing sight of the importance of producing as much NET energy as possible and as efficiently as possible.  In these bio-mass to fuels schemes a lot of stuff goes in and a lot of stuff goes out.  If the stuff coming out is only a little bit more than the stuff going in, there is not too much to get enthused about.

Hi Joule, 1.3:1 EROEI? I can do better than that - the Globalist quotes 1.5 to 1! However, even using this optimistic figure in the ethanol:land calculator shows that 90% of US farm land would be required to replace 50% of US gasoline comsumption (using corn). Switchgrass is something else though. IF it can scale up to sustainable yields (Kyle's point is it can't be done) then 12% of agricultural land is required for 50% replacement. Note that both these figures are closed loop, ie the energy input is derived from ethanol. If fossil fuels are used as input, the the numbers are 30% (corn) and 9% (switchgrass). Also, reduction in mpg of -30% is assumed. If American manufacturers could achieve Saab's -12.5% reduction, then switchgrass would be 10% of land, even in a closed loop system.

BTW, I entirely agree with Kyle, Leanan etc that the whole thing has to be sustainable in terms of water, fertilizer etc. A non-trivial problem.

First, let me point out that there is more to a barrel of crude oil than gasoline distillates.  All byproducts are just as important (some would argue moreso) than gasoline.
The US requires 20 million barrels of crude oil per day, 365 days per year, or 7300 million barrels per year.

Using incredibly optimistic USDA provided data on cellusic ethanol produced from SWITCHGRASS, in a closed loop cycle and including EROEI inputs, readily available here,
(page 22) that each barrel of oil replaced requires, on average, a scant 1/6th of an acre of switchgrass production.
Unfortunately, at that rate, to replace even half of the US's yearly need, a whopping 606 million acres of land are required. Ouch!
I hope everyone doesn't mind giving up eating.

While biofuels won't provide enough liquid fuel for the entire country it can produce more than enough for the farm states. Of course there will need to be changes at both the farm and ethanol/biodiesel plants to improve the net energy.
Regarding Bio-fuels.

George Monbiot has an interesting position (on many things),
but this includes bio fuels:

Worth a look.

I love Monbiot's title for his biofuels diatribe:
"Worse Than Fossil Fuel"
Clearly biodiesel from seed oil will fill a niche (eg marine engines) but won't keep millions of trucks on the road. I'm not sure why but the takeup of Fischer-Tropsch diesel from non-food biomass (BTL) seems to be a lot slower, particularly with the added option of jet fuel.  Possible pathways for biofuels include plugin hybrid vehicles, co-production of vegetable protein meat extender for human consumption, co-production of  coke and hydrogenation using renewable or nuclear electricity. These pathways have small hurdles unlike other grand schemes.  My gut feeling is that 25% replacement of petrofuels is possible long term. The highways are going to get a whole lot quieter.  
Marine engines will probably not have problems, for two reasons:
  1. They burn bunker fuel which is not very desirable.
  2. They can substitute coal.  University of Alaska at Fairbanks tested a coal-fired diesel cogenerator.  Marine diesels could use the same technology.
This probably means throwing environmental considerations out the window, but things won't collapse.

The bio-Diesel discussion is directly tied to a larger issue, which I discussed on another board, and I repeat an extraction from here:

In mid 2006, the U.S. takes the big steps to ULSD, which will be as traumatic as gasoline's move away from MTBE. ULSD is Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel. It is the Sulfur content that greatly contributes to Diesel fuels reputed "smokiness", and a nice cleaner oil to burn will make Diesel cars and trucks much more acceptable, we all agree on that. Europe has long used lower sulfur Diesel in it's cars and the acceptance of Diesel there is phenomenal, with 50% plus of the market being Diesel sales in new Euro vehicles. But for America, the ULSD will be a hard challenge to make. I point you to a document, interesting in all ways:

There is a wealth of good information on refining and "clean fuel" supply in this 93 page report by the highly respected NPC (National Petroleum Council, the organization born as FDR's advisory committee on fuel supply for the W.W.II effort)...but for this discussion, the important stuff is on page 12:

"The NPC believes that the transition period for ULSD is likely to be more difficult and longer than historically associated with major product specifications changes. This is due to the difficulty anticipated in maintaining and assuring the specified sulfur level and needed volumes during distribution from refineries to the ultimate consumer. Enforcement of the 15ppm maximum sulfur retail cap without an adequate tolerance for test reproducibility could result in in large quantities of Diesel being disqualified as ULSD for supply to consumers. In addition, pipeline companies could set a very low sulfur requirement at the refinery gate because of contamination concerns in the distribution system, which would reduce refinery capability. It is uncertain whether domestic refinery production will be of sufficient volume and and low enough sulfur to overcome anticipated distribution issues.
Consequently, there is the potential for significant supply disruptions."

ummm, this can't be good....

The above was written in 2004, in a report presented to Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham. We are now within a month or so of finding out whether the concerns listed have been addressed, and where we will stand on supply/price. It is to be remembered that the issues of concern face the mammoth U.S. trucking industry, which is so important in delivery of the goods we buy. It could be an interesting summer indeed. Right now, us "oil burners" are crossing our fingers and holding our breath to see if we will be the ones to be laughed at snidely this summer.

(note:  I said "us" oil burners, because I own and drive one of two Diesel cars)

Bio-Diesel has an advantage that it is very low sulfer, clean fuel.  It will make for a very good "stretching agent" given the upcoming situation.  There is little chance that it will ever provide more than a very marginal amount of motor fuel, but in the role of clean additive, the market will still be pretty large for it.

There is one way that both bio-Diesel and E85 could make sense, but we are waiting for developments in another realm to make it happen:
PHEV or Plug Hybrid Electric Vehicles.  If the performance and durability of new generation batteries open this possibility up, we could essentially use "liquid fuel" as only a performance/range enhancer on what would most of the time be electric vehicles.  This would drop the consumption of liquid fuels by a large magnitude, and completely alter the economics of energy consumption in transportation.

We are closer than most folks know.  The new generation of Lithium Ion/Lithium Polymer batteries have the power, the energy density per volume and weight to do the job now.  What is holding everything up is the durability.  Deep discharging these batteries shorten their lives, that is a known fact, but if we can make the batteries withstand the deep discharge/recharge without lose of performance, the plug "grid based" hybrid using some version of fossil/bio liquid fuel becomes possible, because such a small amount of liquid fuel would be consumed.  The implications are staggering.

Most people do not understand that this is why Toyota was willing to place the bet on hybrids.  They know that current generation of hybrids do not provide a great economic advantage over current gas/Diesel cars given the cost complexity of the system.  What they want is the bridge to the future.
They currently provide the ONLY easily converted drivetrain that can be easily fashioned to be a plug hybrid.  Toyata's bold move could make them the pioneer and build them a future right into an age of depleting oil, the only auto company to build such a sustainable bridge.  When Carl Benz pioneered the gas engined automobile in 1885, he was building not a car, but an industry and an age. Daimler Benz is with us, 121 years after that bold move by one man in a small shop.

Toyota is thinking in those terms: survivability of individual transportation for the next 100 years.  

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Thanks for this, Roger. Another reason Toyota went for gasoline hybrids is air quality; diesels are getting cleaner but they're nowhere near California's SULEV standard - in fact, they can't even meet CA's least rigorous standard and are therefore illegal (in CA).

Plugin hybrids also allow the option of vehicle-to-grid load leveling, providing some of the elusive storage required for mass wind/solar deployment. We need to kick these carbon fuels and stop frying the planet.

The first thing I would wish for is not vehicle-to-grid load leveling but having a 1-2 kW outlet as standard in hybrid cars. Having constantly used autonomous generators everywhere do wonders for handling all kinds of major or minor emergencies. And you can charge your laptop etc in the outlet, no need for special 12V chargers.

Grid load levelling is probably not a good idea if the battery life lenght is cycle limited. Then it is better to have fever much larger battery installations for more rational changeout of batteries in material and man hour use. This also avoids sending current from a male connector with an added risk of exposed parts carrying high voltage if  something breaks and the car try to send current withouth a grid hookup.

You could use hooked up cars as emergency generators for the grid but then you need to secure the exhaust and be comfortable with having your car running on its own in the garage and have enough fuel for it. This works better for fixed emergency generators in dedicated houses and with larger fuel tanks. I toyed with that as a business idea but it was of course not original.

Don't worry about the direction of power transmission through connectors; anti-islanding is a solved problem.
Intuitively, plug-in hybrids would seem to be the cornerstone of future transport.  Frankly, there does not seem to be the political will to invest in a vastly expanded public transportation system and we have too much sunk costs in suburban sprawl, highway system etc.  Not to say public transportation can't expand to provide for a significant amount of our future needs, but it is hard to envision it providing the majority of transport, absent a fundamental, radical change in thinking.  (And when events do force such a radical change, I fear we won't have the resources to implement a vastly expanded system.  Or, perhaps we'll go directly from "easy motoring" to ox cart.)

I've only seen bits and pieces, though, on what expansion of our electrical generating and transmission capacity is needed to accomodate x% of our transporation needs (via plug-in hybrids).  How much slack capacity is there during non-peak hours?  Is this anywhere near feasible?  

I think complicating the problem is an ultimate large scale switch from natural gas to electric for heating given that we are facing peak natural gas in the near future as well.  What should be given priority--electric for home heating or for transport?  Is it even remotely feasible to do both?

I think part of the solution to that complication is cogeneration.  If you take some of your petroleum and burn it in a stationary engine to make electricity (which both charges the car and runs the house), then heat with the jacket and exhaust heat, you've leveraged that fuel tremendously.  You also get the option of running both the car and the house (including heat) on wind power when it's available.

yes, your on to something....CHP, Combined Heat and Power is one of the fastest growing industries in the country, and industrial applications are starting to be downsized to fit home applications...these include a variety of power sources, including propane, nat gas, and renewables....and also offer the opportunity to reduce the great waste of electric power in just moving the power around....check out

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

you might be interested in this kind of product them...

Stirling micro CHP

Notice that they don't specify the fuel input, and the output is 1.2 kWe and 8 kWth.  If you allow for 8% losses, the electrical efficiency is a mere 12%.  This is much worse than a good internal combustion engine.
Run all our vehicles on grid based electricity? Cool! All we have to do is ramp up the strip mining of coal! No problem. (unless you have solar or wind, and recharge it off the grid.)
As a biofuels consumer I've come to the realization that biofuels will be but a small part of the "energy pie" as we lumber into the future. I appreciated the glimpse of veg oil production both for domestic soy and worldwide total.

To take this ever so mildly off topic--though still in the realm of alternative fuels--I wanted to solicit opinion on the following--and I did search for aquygen--have you seen this gas technology? Is this for real? I recommend you check out the (ugh) Fox news story video on this page--under the "technology overview" link. I can't help but think I'm poised to be the butt of some joke; if not, this seems nothing short of revolutionary.  I recognize that as described their "process" seems to require substantial amounts of electrical power to create the gas...

Again, if I'm wrong I apologize, but I was sent this today and it's in my brain...  

It's for real. Adding a little hydrogen allows the fuel:air ratio to be much leaner in gas engines and speeds up combustion in diesels.
I just read the "scientific paper" linked to at the Aquygen site ("A New Gaseous and Combustible Form of Water"). It displays a complete lack of knowledge of basic chemistry. Not surprisingly, there's no mention of it ever being published. You cannot have a safe, stable mixture of hydrogen and oxygen. It's junk science and this contraption is a ticking bomb on wheels.
Agreed. Psuedoscience at best.
"Buy yours today!"
That "aquygen" device looks like an electrolysiser. I can, however think of a good use for a bunch of them. Get a cooperative to run a bunch of them long enough, and the water will not so easally electrolysise. Why? the water in the device is now heavy water. So, you distill it to separate your heavy water from the lye electrolyte. Reuse the electrolyte lye and fill the device with new normal water.

If everyone in the cooperative condenses the heavy water, you can collect up a bunch of the stuff. A unique property of heavy water is it allows natural (not enriched) uranium to fission as it is a moderator instead of neutron absorbant like normal water. Now, your cooperative has a nuke plant! The Germans tried to use heavy water for that purpose during the war. Happily, the Norwegians thwarted the effort.

I think there is an overemphasis of the transportation fuels. If we look carefully, we see that what really matters is overall, total, energy supply. It is possible to transform other fuels to liquids for transportation use, but the real question is exactly those other fuels.

Looking what has happened in present energy crunches, for example during the British natural gas crisis last winter, we see that it was industry that gave in, not households. If we look the US energy consumption statistics, we see that practically all energy conservation seems to has happened in industry. Energy-intensive industrial production has moved to China and the US is importing Chinese coal energy in form of made-in-China products.

We know also that driving is reduced clearly during recessions. No jobs to drive to. Not so much cargo to transport. Less shopping. Energy crisis will not affect driving directly, but indirectly. Industry will not use biofuels as energy source. It is quite probable that biofuels will not be needed and they will not have much future. Demand of transportation fuels will diminish enough for economic reasons. That is why we probably won't see sky-high oil prices, either.

We could guess that the US economy is currently 20 - 30% oversized. This means that global economic rebalancing will cause a depression that deep. This will suffice to reduce driving and oil use enough for some time.

Yes, the Americans will get rid of their addiction to oil, but it will not be nice.

Dear TI,

I totally agree with you.

The whole peak oil thesis of astronomical prices is essentially based on projecting ever higher consumption of everything into the future. Replace that with 10-20 years of falling consumption (say 2%/yr after an initial sharp 5-10%) due to a global prolonged recession and prices of most all commodities will collapse.

What can bring about such an era? The correction of global financial imbalances, accelerated by the currently near-frictionless movement of capital. Picture a see-saw:

On one side is "USA/West": extremely total high debt (315% of GDP), an asset bubble (real estate and portfolio) and negative savings (-1%); an economy that depends 70% on personal debt-driven consumption, with imports playing the role of inflation absorber.

On the other side is "China/East": huge dollar reserves, massive over-investment in manufacturing capacity and commercial/office real estate, enormous savings rates (23%); an economy completely dependent on exports for maintaining growth.

In the middle of the see-saw is the fulcrum: huge liquidity created by several years of historically extremely low dollar, euro and yen interest rates (in 2002 the average for the three was just 1.05%). Even after the Fed and ECB started raising rates, the liquidity generating machine just  shifted over to Yen arbitrage: borrow yen at 0.1%, convert into dollars or euros and keep the asset bubble expanding.

This has created huge upward pressure in all markets: stocks, oil, gold, copper, sugar, real estate, bonds(until very recently), are all showered with lakes of liquid cash looking for capital gains: the condition is called "All Up" and is clearly unsustainable, both for monetary as well as fundamental economic reasons. I won't analyze individual markets here; suffice it to say that most of them have lost touch with supply/demand fundamentals long ago and are now in the Cloud Cuckoo Land of ballistic price bubbles, driven by momentum-type speculators (aka hedge funds).

Now, liquidity is a creation of debt. Take out a bank loan and you create liquidity. Pay it back (or go bankrupt) and liquidity disappears. This is how the recession will be maintained: continuous debt liquidation. It will start from closing out highly leveraged speculative positions in commodities and spill over to other portfolio investments. In our frictionless capital movement era, an unmet margin call on 1000 contracts of copper in London has a direct impact on a bank in Shanghai or Finland...and so on.

The root cause? No more money to spend in the US and, crucially, no more borrowing capacity - the savings rate is negative or extremely low. One way or another, consumption of everything will have to come down - prices are now too high to sustain more spending at these levels. For example: at current levels ANY increase in gas prices or mortgage rates requires americans to either cut back consumption or sell investments because their income is rising slower than expenses and they have no cushion from extra income (negative savings rate).

Back to the see-saw analogy: both sides will come down; it will be the fulcrum (debt/liquidity) that will keep grinding lower and lower as debt gets liquidated. That's a "classic" deflationary recession, the type of which we have not seen since the Great Depression.

By the way: this is exactly what Greenspan (and the rest of the world's economic leaders) prevented by slashing interest rates in 2001-02. His success came at a price of creating enormous asset bubbles - which will certainly deflate.

Last thought: Is, therefore, Peak Oil mostly a monetary phenomenon?


Actually, China's domestic consumption is growing rapidly (it is already the second largest market behind the USA). It is a US media myth that the future growth of China is dependent upon the future health of the USA. Those days are gone. Also, Japan has diversified away from the US market toward the Chinese and this is one of the main reasons for Japan's current strength.Basically,Asia is going to be a free agent.Expect to see a US recession coexist with strong Asian growth.  
Dear Brian T,

China without exports to the US and EU is still essentially a rice bowl economy with billions sq.ft. of ultimately useless factory and office buildings - plus hundreds of millions of starving ex-peasant ex-workers. Internal consumer demand is very low and will continue to so until a real social "safety net" network is put into place there. Their enormous savings rate exists because of the effective absence of any sort of public pension and health systems, making private nest-eggs absolutely essential. No, I think that China is going to be even worse off during the recession era than the rest of the world: they manufacture the useless things the west can no longer afford to buy.

Japan is a classic 50/50 case. It is a western nation in absolute levels of overall consumption, but is also very dependent on exports because its rapidly aging population cannot generate domestic demand growth beyond what is happening right now: a temporary bounce back from a deep, lengthy recession. I really wonder where they will find the money to repay their astonishing public debt plus pensions..Selling anything to the Chinese cannot generate enough revenue to retain their living standards.

Regarding Japan, my suspicion about the debt has always been that some of it just won't be paid off, at least in the expected manner.   While that may sound kind of weird, please realize that a great deal of the debt is held by the Japanese themselves, and this is still a rather consensual society (the individual will sacrifice themselves if the group needs it), at least compared to many western countries.   I can conceive of a day where the government will ask everyone who holds the debt to forgive some of it - but it would have to be universal for it to work and likely some tax rates will need to be raised.   I think that is still awhile into the future though.

The other option of course is high inflation, which is just another way of accomplishing the same goal.

Another thing to remember is that with China pegging its currency to the dollar, everytime the Yen gets strong against the dollar Chinese goods become cheaper to import here.    A significant amount of what I buy here already is made in China.   Everytime the dollar slips against the Yen, Chinese goods get cheaper here compared to domestically manufactured goods.   This does make some Japanese uncomfortable as it makes it really difficult for Japanese companies to compete.

An interesting case is disposable chopsticks, of which Japan consumes quite a few.   The Chinese suppliers though have essentually cornered the market, somwhere around 90% of it, by very low prices.    Having now become practically the sole supplier country, the Chinese companies are raising their prices - still cheaper than the remaining Japanese companies but enough to be felt.  The Chinese argue that they have to conserve their forest products, but  I have no clue how elastic the demand for disposable chopsticks is.  

Perhaps Peak Chopsticks has been reached?

Well, we've gone a little bit outside the topic of petroleum replacements...

So, about Japan and biofuel - unless someone can come up with a way to use bamboo or algae it is simply a "no go" here, one of the world's major consumers of petroleum.   There is some investigation of algae but for now I think that is highly experimental.

Never underestimate the power of the MSM. How a country with the second largest consumer market in the world (soon to be the largest) can be felt to have a rice bowl economy with little consumer demand is amazing.
Last thought: Is, therefore, Peak Oil mostly a monetary phenomenon?

At least initially, yes.  Eventually, however, even in a severely depressed economy energy useage will catch back up to  dwindling energy supply availability, and the situation will switch from being primarily an economic/monetary problem to a much more fundamental thermodynamic one.
There is, however, a built in danger, in that the effects of such a deep, widespread, and lasting depression would create, in effect, chaos and disorder.  Humans are emotionally driven, often illogical creatures, and there is certainly sufficient room within such an "economic collapse" model for all sorts of unintended and unforseen consequences, be it usurpation, war, famine, etc.  Mad Max scenarios seem to abound.

One thing Jared Diamond points out in the book 'Collapse' is that these problems are now globalised- a collapse in an economy anywhere will have a global effect.

Due to the vast population pressure in the third world, an economic collapse of a trading partner might push some nations over the edge, considering that many are suffering from huge environmental and social problems as it is. This has happened many times in history.  

An economic depression could spark a mass migration of epic proportions- in the 1930s the world only had 2 billion or so people, compared to the 6.5 bn today. As it is, poor Africans travel thousands of miles trying to get into Europe.

Resource depletion such as oil is only one of the strands in all this.

I completely agree with this analysis. I don't think a global deflationary depression can be avoided, and I expect it to be considerably worse than the 1930s. Prices would fall, but purchasing power would fall even more quickly for most people, making almost everything less affordable. I would expect international trade to wither, capital controls to be reinstated and governments of all stripes to specialize in making a bad situation worse as expensively as possible.
Since Don Sailorman is conspicuously absent, I feel obliged to  step in and root for the opposite hyperinflationary scenario. As Don pointed out here and here, there is a chance that political pressure could force the fed to monetize the debt.

Buh-bye, buying power?

I agree. The U.S. government, faced with a choice between a deflationary depression, and hyper-inflation, will choose hyper-inflation. A deflationary spiral would devastate our economy for an indeterminate period of time and would cause the government to have to default on its obligations. Inflation, on the other hand, would allow the government reduce its debt by surreptitiously transferring the debt to its citizens via monetary devaluation. Also, unlike deflation, inflation is controllable, in that the government can always stop printing more money and raise interest rates to put the brakes on. As Japan found out over the past 15 years, when deflation sets in and interest rates are essentially 0%, there's not much you can do to get people spending in order to jump start the economy.
You could print up bucketloads of cash and drop it out of helicopters over populated areas. That ought to do the trick.
In a deflationary depression, cash is king, because the prices of goods tend to fall. So, there is no guarantee that boatloads of cash dropped from a helicopter will cause people to spend. They would be inclined to save the money. People who lived through the Great Depression were often exceedingly thrifty their whole lives. They saw the devastating consequences of debt and were determined to avoid it. On the other hand, people who lived through hyperinflation, such as the citizens of Germany after WWI, had a different psychology. They didn't trust paper currency and would immediately invest any cash they had in hard assets.
Galbraith points out something important to point out to in his Book Money: Whence it came, where it went. His point is that in 1929 the memories of the price doubling during the first world war and then the hyperinflation of Wemar Germany was fresh and hence teh fed did not take the inflationary path.

Today we have no such recent memory, Zimbabwe is not on the radar screen. Leeb in his book The Coming Econommic Collapse too recommends the inflationary solution. So, I think thats what it will be.


You have heard of population growth, right?

As long as the population grows and the cheap energy that enables it doesn't, the aggregate well-being of the population will descend.

The market must grow, according to the dismal science, and that growth is predicated on one of two things: either the population grows or cheap energy grows. I think we can count on only one of these to continue growing.

Go to the source, Luke. Go to the source.


We grovel at your feet. We kiss your kiester.


We suck your tailpipe.

Poor, stupid monkeys.

I can agree with the commentors that biofuels are a bridge.  They can get us from here to there only when coupled with sharp increases in efficiency and sharp decreases in the amount of miles needed to travel.  However they are not a longterm solution if for no other reason than their ultra low efficiency in converting sunlight into useful transportation fuels.  We could stretch out things but eventually Jeavons would catch up to us.  So the question is what are these bio-fuel s bridging us to:

I see three different routes:

1.  <bold>Fuel Cells.</bold> This I think is the default future envisioned by conventional dreamers.  Could still pan out, if manufacture costs and resource requirements shrink to affordable levels AND (big And here) we can manufacture and store hydrogen effortlessly. Right now, H2 is quite hard to mass produce, especially from renewable sources.  Could happen with a mass investment in solar and wind generation coupled with a bunch of nukes.  Hopefully that would buy us enough time to get fusion to work once and for all.  
>PERSONAL OPINION< Could happen, but an awful lot has to break our way to make it work.

2.  <bold>Duel Mode Electric Cars.</bold>  Instead of re-inventing the drivetrain, we reinvent the entire transport system. Basically we construct a network of fixed guideways where battery powered cars drive onto and get entrained into vehicle platoons of cars/busses and freight cars navigating on autopilot, running off of direct current from the guideway.  Upon reaching the intended destination the car comes off, driver takes over and the car motors to the final destination point under battery power again.  The advantages of this system is it uses mostly off the shelf technology and requires zero H2 production to run.  It allows flexibility for users to make unique point to point trips any time of the day, yet eliminating congestion by platooning cars on grade seperated guideways.  Remember, if we implement only a drivetrain improvement we will still have traffic concerns.  This fixes both the fuel and traffic issues.  The problem is we have exactly zero miles of guideway constructed and that requires steel, something also in tight supply.  This setup will NOT happen unless some government has the balls to implement it come hell or highwater.  No company would make this investment pencil out.  Check out for more info and examples.

3. <bold>Nowhere.</bold>  If they can build real bridges to nowhere, they can build technological solutions that have no long term applicability either.  If one presumes we will fail to modify our infrastructure and wean ourselves off of growth based prosperity then our transportation FUTURE will look alot like our transportation past, namely foot, hoof and (sail)boat power, with a few more modern additions like the bike and biodiesel/electric train travel sprinkled in there.  In this case biofuels and plugin hybrids will be the way the remaining elite can continue to motor around with until fuels become so unavailable as to precude travel or so risky (from threat of robbery or violence) that the owner won't travel.  In that case Toyota positions itself to be the last car maker standing and nothing more.

Well that's my take on it anyway.  I am sure I am being a bit pessimistic or optimistic on my assumptions, depending on your view point.

Excellent points, and great post!
Re: "A site for the refinery has been selected near Houston, Texas, and the U.S. Gulf Coast"

Great location choice. These guys sure must have put a lot of thought into this one.

Hurricane Alley Heats Up. I guess they didn't read Stuart's post Checking in on SSTs.


Ok, I have made some comments in the past that were berated due to the subject matter, but this thread brings it to light very well. First, the experts are correct, there is NOTHING that can be grown naturally in this country in enough volume to replace all the Oil we use on a daily basis. But this is only true where growing a biofuel crop in the ground with sunlight. Second, the solution is to grow these crops indoors in massive growing facilities that can run 24 x 7 x 365, but the crop then becomes the issue. Now, lets talk about the crop that can be grown under controlled conditions. There is a crop that will work and it can possibly be grown in 1/2 the time indoors as compared to outdoors. Also, this crop has a greater output than any other available crop. What is it? HEMP Now, if we use HEMP to fuel our power plants using the same type of growing system, the energy for converting the HEMP is clean and renewable as well. So then the only other resource needed is water. If we have clean and cheap energy, we can build desalination plants on the coasts to produce potable water. Everything centers around replace all fossil fuels in all sectors to truely solve all the problems with energy production. This is a workable scenerio that needs to be researched instead of poo pooed. Unless we get our heads out of our asses and look for solutions everywhere, we will go nowhere. That is all.
Let me get this straight.  You think growing a crop indoors, under artificial lighting, will have a better EROEI than using sunlight?


Don't know who this guy is, but he's picked my real name :>)

Anyway, the only hemp grown indoors under lights is for its recreational and/or medicinal use. They call it marijuana, and it is illegal.  Better RROEI, I guess ; resin return...
 I've had trouble promoting hemp where I live. Everybody is afraid it will "seed my crop".


Well.. that's weird.  I mean, pulling a deus ex machina here (can we start abbreviating that?  DEM?), but if a cheap, infinitely renewable resource were to somehow appear, like fusion, that would make sense.  If energy is so cheap, why not run the liquid fuels factory 24/7.  But, as it is, that makes no sense.

I don't know if anybody caught the slashdot post on this topic today, but somebody there had mentioned hemp as well, and it's making me think that that might be a very good idea.  The seeds could be used to produce biodiesel, the flowering areas for regular ethanol and the stalks and fibers for celluostic ethanol.  And the OP is right; hemp will grow freaking anywhere.  

Anyone seen any studies about the EROEI of naturally grown hemp?  It'd be interesting.

Hemp is not the answer.  It's got a certain cachet, because there are so many restrictions on growing it, but in the end, it's just a crop like any other crop.  If you grow it in a patch on your farm or in your back yard, it doesn't need a lot of chemicals.  For the same reason corn grown in your backyard in, say, New York doesn't need a lot of chemicals.

Grown in monoculture is an entirely different story.

What Leanan said.  Please learn some physics, starting with the law of conservation of energy.
or perhaps even some calculus after that:

(oh yeah baby, going TOD 1.0!)

We have plenty of Hemp, and as we all know, Hemp will get you through times of no Oil, better than Oil will get you through times of no Hemp!
(click "Times of No Money")

Each person has their own point of view regarding everything. My post will attempt to convert some minds while others will no doubt be opposed. There comes a point in time that major changes arise and can not be controlled. Like waves these changes come and once passed result in acceptance.

I am against nuclear weapons and power. The main reason is that given enough change and time wars and disasters will foster extinction. If you are not concerned about extinction or believe that the risk is worth it then nothing will change your mind. Thermodynamics makes the following clear (at least to me) that (x) is > than (z) in fact (x) + (y) is > (z). This is to say that no matter how much energy you throw at a problem the output is always less then the input.

So this is not a nuclear post even though thermodynamics explains why fuel rods need to be replaced. This is not a oil depletion post since most people understand that once a ratio of 1:1 is reached the system its applied to crashes. Hence we have another expression EROEI or energy returned on energy invested.

You may disagree but to me it would seem that EROEI is simply a more positive way to state that all energy systems eventually spin down given enough time. Even nuclear systems become depleted given enough time. Keeping the ramifications of thermodynamics in mind I would like to focus on ethanol for a while (please bear with me).

I have a nasty computer addiction as well as an oil addiction so when all the "PEAKS" become too much for me I escape to talk about computers. So it goes w/out saying that I belong to other message boards. Ironicly most computer forums are in the Intel VS AMD war and the concept of "energy efficent computers" creeps into the discussion.

This snaps my thoughts back to "PEAK EVERYTHING" since everything is tied to energy and will be till there is a solution or extinction. Rather than typing the post over I will just quote my post there (so if you see mention of Intel or AMD just skip that stuff):

Thermodynamics is the study of the inter-relation between heat, work and internal energy of a system.

The British scientist and author C.P. Snow had an excellent way of remembering the three laws:

  1. You cannot win (that is, you cannot get something for nothing, because matter and energy are conserved).

  2. You cannot break even (you cannot return to the same energy state, because there is always an increase in disorder; entropy always increases).

  3. You cannot get out of the game (because absolute zero is unattainable).

Here I will just put a link and you can bring yourself up to speed on the EROEI of ethanol.

About 0.5 hectares (1.2 acres) of cropland per person is required to provide a diverse diet similar to that desired by the average American and European. At this very moment the available amount of hectares is 8,566,763,295 and falling. The global human population at this moment is 6,506,675,605 and climbing. If I multiply .5 by the current population the total is 3,253,337,802.5 of hectares needed by the human population. Now I subtract needed hectares from the available hectares and the result is 5,313,425,492.5. We however are not done with the math. It happens that we share the planet with farm, wild and domesticated animals. The dietary needs of a dairy cow or bull are averaged at 2.7 hectares per cow. At this present moment on the earth are 2,000,323,910 head of cow requiring 2.7 hectares worth of feed per year that require 5,400,874,557. Now I have a math problem since the hectares needed by just the cows have exceeded the 5,313,425,492.5 balance of available hectares. Yes the numbers are averages but the remaining animals eat too. Horses, goats, pigs, sheep, deer and all the rest consume the same natural recourses like grasses, oats, water and space and there impact has not been factored in.

We have found another negative EROEI yet the supermarket still has my hotdogs and my stomach is so full I can't eat another thing. The main reason we don't all starve is oil and natural gas. The main ingredient in farming is nitrogen. Farms would fail to meet demand if not for fertilizer. If we stop using man-made fertilizer and reduce pesticides crop yields will dwindle then fail. As it stands fields that would be rotated are not since the demand is so high for food.

If you read the link you would see that (X) hectares of corn would be needed per car and given the number of cars in the US alone it becomes clear that it would be impossible to grow fuel and grow food. Since the process of farming anything then moving it all around is negative EROEI beyond a reasonable carrying capacity it is hard to imagine that ethanol would do any more than become a net energy looser. Top soil erosion would go off the charts and we would need more fuel to make up the difference in the lost BTUs from transitioning. You have to burn more alcohol to get the same amount of work derived from burning one gallon of gas.

My post there went over 4500 words and the follow-ups were telling. One member thought fuel cells were something other than batteries. One member there decided that talking about abiotic oil was better than an honest look at well by well depletion rates. Not one person even mentioned anything about ethanol. Several thought my post was too far off-topic and wanted to get back to playing oblivion. One person more or less agreed (even if the numbers are wrong) that we are in trouble and asked what we could do (we Earthers that is).

I never mentioned water depletion as that would have pushed the post out passed 6000 words. One guy said, "Alpha you should write a book!" Here I was attempting to show the connection of depletion to power hungry computers. I brought in examples of how PSUs have grown and grown on machines that are supposed to be getting "Greener".

I made sure to include that the numbers I used are approximations and that finding more accurate numbers only shorten or extend the overall EROEI of the Earth as a whole. It would appear that we humans are for the most part ignorant, selfish and brutal. Those that are not have to stand by and watch the whole thing grind down in utter horror.

The US Civil War was a resource war. Slaves are a resource by the way and have an EROEI. The slaves were replaced by machines. Once the machines spread out resources became the new slave master. It is logical to assume (yes I know about ass/u/me) that human slaves based on actual chains as opposed to the mental chains we are wearing now will return. Rather then the taskmaster feeding us slop we get green slivers of paper to acquire sustenance.

Ethanol means that we are choosing between (for instance) locomotion or food, computers or food and anything else you can think of. Yes my views are pretty depressing. I was considering Prozac but I had to choose between food/lights and the Prozac lost. We are all hoping beyond all hope that our leaders can pull a rabbit out of a hat and save us from ourselves. We are hoping that science can skirt around thermodynamics and save the day.

No, I am not above humanity. Everything I touch turns to shit and then I die! Sure, let's fix the climate, great idea. Hey are we not the bozos who can't figure out or even agree on what to do with nuclear waste? Are we not the same bozos who came up with ICBMS? Are we not the same bozos that sit around the Indy 500 and wait for the big crash? Are we not the same bozos who watched David Blaine for a week live in his personal "Blaine Bowl" under the promise that he would last 9 mins. or drown trying (he lasted for over 7 mins. and was rescued).

Some smart fellow in another thread here suggested that we leave the coal and oil alone since that is how the Earth sequesters carbon. I agree with him completely but more people want to keep the status quo going then are willing to go back to a basic living. To me it looks like the US gov. has already put a plan to fight depletion in place. War, starvation, disease, fear, poverty, wealth redistribution and more war make it look like they realize that the best way to fight depletion is to kill or sterilize as many people as they can and drive as many as they can to commit suicide.

If your goal is to save plastic, commerce, cars, corporations and yourself then the only solution is to destroy as much demand is possible in hopes that the whole cycle can start over after the dust settles. Look at all of the people drawing lines in the sand as I type. Hence we have lost control of the government to the future feudal lords the corporations.

Should we not be attempting to, advert WW3 and at the same time be insisting that the government be responsive to the masses? In the event that the conclusion that I have alluded to in this post is untrue then at a minimum we commoners advert possible nuclear war and fix our more and more corrupt government. If what I have alluded to is post is true than at a minimum we can hope that survival of the fittest rather than survival of the richest will lead to a future civilization that is not made up of the offspring of wealthy republican/democratic politicians.

well, we wouldn't be here without the sun.  the ultimate "spin down" result is not 0 Kelvin, and a hard frozen earth.  the ultimate result will depend on what we can achieve on the yearly earthly energy budget.

that's not determined, but danish windmills do better now than they did ten years ago.

What about this?

The first industrial-scale Thermal Depolymerization plant was built in Carthage, Missouri, adjacent to a Butterball Turkey processing plant. Each day, two hundred tons of turkey remains are hauled to the newly-finished plant and transformed into assorted functional products -- including 600 barrels of light crude oil. This remains-derived oil is chemically almost identical to a number two fuel oil used to heat homes.
has anyone ever published the electrical energy cost for each gallon produced?
as a less serious answer ... PEAK TURKEY!!!
I see that turkey-parts plant as evidence that bio-diesel is not the answer.  Even with feedstock they were paid to cart away, they can't turn a profit.  If they had to grow their own, it would be much worse.

There's some discussion here:

Basically, I expect this process to be a good way of dealing with waste that is unsuitable for composting, but not as a primary energy source.

And here are three articles about it, from Discover magazine:

It's kind of interesting to see how the initial expections compared to the reality.

No, they expected to get paid to take the stuff, but the USDA rules didn't come out that way and they have to buy it.  That's one reason the cost is so high.

The economics in Europe, where beef byproducts cannot be used as animal feed, would be better.

The economics in Europe, where beef byproducts cannot be used as animal feed, would be better.

Biodiesel from rapeseed is profitable in the EU. Even in Finland there is a biodiesel plant, even though biofuels are not subsidized here and the product is tax-wise equal to petroleum diesel. They were profitable when diesel price (inclusive tax) was 0.75€ per litre, nowadays it is around 1€ per litre.

Of course the production is relatively small scale and can never replace petroleum diesel at current consumption levels.

A quick clarification: biofuels as such are not subsidized in Finland, rapeseed production of course is, as is almost all agriculture in the EU.
(They changed the name by the way I just can't remember to what though) That is a system to convert one thing to another. Thermodynamics applies to it just the same and there is a necessary input. You need something to depolymerize and a starter energy source. So provided you have this something then you can do the conversion. So turkeys, chickens and plastics are great. So over time if you were to use tires as your feeder and were to ignore the energy used to collect and transport those tires to a plant, in the end you will run out of tires. Hence crash the system since it only converts.

Now I switch to bio inputs like birds. Birds compete for food with us. Birds may spread disease here soon. Birds use more feeder stock then (calories, BTUs) you get from eating one or even the depolymerization of one. Any way in the end you would find that long term sustainability of conversions like this and others are dependent upon inputs that would diminish in quantity of time.

Depolymerization in the end has a purpose though. It will be a simple way to discard of all of our bodies and keep the Soylent Green makers happy too.

They are now calling it "thermal conversion."  "Depolymerization" was deemed too cumbersome.
aren't you holding an impossible standard here?  taken to the extremes "over time", every liquid-form energy source (converted or not) we know of is bound to fail.  

the fact of the matter is, livestock waste products will always be available, and at the EROEI listed on wikipedia, thermal depolymerization is more efficient than other biofuels under discussion, such as ethanol......

does anyone have any more hard info on thermal depolymerization?

aren't you holding an impossible standard here?  taken to the extremes "over time", every liquid-form energy source (converted or not) we know of is bound to fail.

The sun is the only real energy constant. Fortunately for the sun we and the earth are not close enough to F**K the sun up, too. 6.6 billion and counting other asses and me use more energy then the sun is able to safely give us. The earth is not always consistent and little coughs happen. We can't control ourselves so then how can we control anything?
With all the talk about ethanol lately I kept thinking about a post I had read on the subject from a while back on TOD - I finally searched for it and didn't have much to go on because I couldn't remember who wrote the comment.  Luckily I came across it again and thought it might be an interesting re-read for everyone.

It's by Pomona96 and from his writing it appears that he was involved with in-depth research on the subject - and his findings don't seem to be all that encouraging.


I'm not sure what board I read this on (it does not matter), I'm not sure what space movie the guy was watching and I'm sure that the wording is different but none the less here it goes.

"One day soon we can send ships that NASA builds to Mars and between terra forming and climate generators we will be able to make an atmosphere there!"

After I was able to get back on my seat and the cramps subsided I could only ask one question.

"If it is truly that simple then wouldn't it be even easier to simply repair the atmosphere here first?"

I never got an answer.

"Quade, Start the reactor!"

Mike Ruppert's site has an article here is the link:
In the article there are DOD repot quotes like this one:
Biofuels,despite their dubious energy effectiveness, will grow considerably due to tax credits and government programs.
In other words, taxpayer money will subsidize inefficiency.

To me this says that planning for the worst possible outcome can't be anything but a good idea.
Every single source of energy that is left is going to be used. All of them have some downside. The ultimate key is sustainability. Only those that can work for hundreds or thousands of years are the ones we'll eventually end up with.

How much damage will we do to the planet and the future of the species by using and using up the non-sustainable ones before we work our way into sustainability? That's one question.

Another is: what is long-term sustainable? Population, energy sources, way of life, etc.

One simple way of looking at it is to say that what is sustainable, at least for the next few hundred years, will be determined by the amount of damage that is done: the more damage done, the lower the level of sustainable human life going forward.

This brings me to ethanol, coal, nuclear, tar sands, shale, all this stuff, plus what's left of the regular gas and oil. Soil, atmosphere, water, radiation, and more, are damaged by the continuation of these things.

The Indians lived on the North and South American continents for thousands of years and had a significant impact on the environment and supported fairly dense populations in some places. But they did not fundamentally destroy the environment and in some cases were operating in a long term sustainable way. It can be done.

But it can't be done by relying on stuff we dig or pump out out of the ground. The stuff in the ground doesn't renew on a meaningful timescale.

That excludes a lot of stuff we depend on. It doesn't exclude stuff you grow. But of course it does exclude overdoing or doing that in the wrong way. So we are going to have to go backwards to some extent while trying to remember the good stuff we've learned in the oil age and before, while trying to keep as much of it as we can.

Ethanol may have a role down the road as a sustainable energy source, once we have rid ourselves of our addiction to huge amounts of energy. It then might supply selected energy needs, things with a big payoff.

But right now its use would be to feed our addiction and to do so on a meaningful scale would not sustainable -- just taking into account soil depeletion alone.

All this talk of ethanol reminds me...time to go get a beer.
Hm, me too! That's a good fuel!

The more I read peak oil stuff and read about the "save the car at all costs" strain of thought that runs through it, the more I think the "bicycles can save the world" types are right.

Wow there's an enormous mosquito hawk in here, biggest I've seen. I'm going to commune with Nature by catching it and putting it outside. time to play with a neat bug!

Using corn and soy, biofuels are a dead end, or at best  a niche.

They get interesting when you start looking at other feedstocks though.

Switchgrass used for cellulosic ethanol is very interesting. It can be grown on marginal land, yields good biomass per acre, acts as a carbon sequestor, is perenial and requires far less energy input then corn (giving it a better EROI) and to top it off may actually build top soil. Concerns that it will displace food crops can be offset by the fact it can be grown on marginal lands. To put some numbers in perspective, the annual yield of switchgrass to ethanol has been estimated to reach as high as 1,150 gallons/acre. Thats a workable number for a signifigant level of oil replacement.

For biodiesel, algae is probably the most interesting possibility. Again, like Switchgrass, it does not require farmland to be grown. It has a prodigious g/m^2, and Ive see, it becomes extremely viable to  estimates in the range of 10,000-15,000 gallons/acre. Land usage becomes quite manageable at that rate to say the least.

But both of those arent fully formed technologies, and while they show signifigant promise, the devil is in the details. My point is though that biofuels arent nescessarily a dead end, and intelligent invenstment in their development could help fill out the post peak energy pie.

No, NO, NO! A thousand times, no!
Geeze, all these poor optimisticly misinformed folks.

The USDA has already conducted research on converting switchgrass into cellulosic ethanol, and concluded that 1 acre of switchgrass produces only 398 gallons of ethanol, nearly an order of magnitude difference less than what you've quoted above.
Again, for posterity:
<1 acre switchgrass = 398 gallons of ethanol>
See page 22, here:

That USDA is assuming a dry ton/acre of about 4.4, which is well below already realized growth rates for switchgrass.
That depends.  A lot of people are pushing switchgrass with the idea that "it can be grown anywhere" and "it doesn't need fertlizer or irrigation."

Grown without fertilizer or irrigation, in marginal areas, the yield will be much lower.  See Kyle's previous article on the subject:

I did, and wasnt particularly impressed by his post. He quotes a single study in Oklahoma, then uses that to make assumptions about switchgrass being grown in Arizona and New Mexico, 2 areas that have not been considered for switchgrass growth. Not exactly what Id call a great example of critical thinking.
Can you please cite a study with better yields, and under what conditions?
There will always be some better and some worse growth rates, depending on a myriad of factors. The USDA study is a good average.

Buried in that rather long DOE and USDA report is a reference to a study by Mclaughlin and Kszos that puts the estimated achievable yields for switchgrass on a large scale at 8 dry tons/acre (the conclusion of a 10 year study). Furthermore the study citing 397 gallons/acre has a conversion rate of 90 gallons of ethanol/dry ton, whereas ive seen that projections of 117 gallons/dry ton being attainable. 117*8 give you 936 gallons of ethanol per acre, not 1150 but certainly much better than the 397 gallons/acre quoted.

That report concludes that 1 billion dry tons of cellulose material is feasable btw.

Thank you, uncommonly senseless.  Interesting report.
Either agricultural yields have improved 81% since 2002 (vs USDA study I quoted from), or something else has happened to account for the tremendous disparity.  The word "vision" (e.g. billion ton vision) in the title of this more recent study, combined with growing pressure on the USDA as whole to "tow the line" regarding leaves me slighly skeptical of the overt optimism presented herein (see article below).
I'm also hearing this from some of my former USDA colleagues.

I could believe a possible increase in ethanol yields of 117 gallons/dry ton (vs. 90), mainly due to improving extraction technology (see Robert Rapier's excellent posts/work/blog) but not nearly double the yield per acre. Internal pressure to publish better results?
Interesting, indeed.  Thanks again.

In the paper (PDF DOC) you are mentioning there is a smoking gun of sorts. On page 12 is a pie chart called (Figure 1) here is the breakdown:

Total farmable acreage:  431,400,000 total acres,
Land w/ major crops (land used for food): 73% or 314,922,000 acres in use,
CRP Land: 7% or 30,198,000 acres,
Pasture Land: 14% or 60,396,000 acres,
Non-POLY: 2% or 8,628,000 acres,
Idle Cropland: 4% or 17,256,000 acres,

These numbers are from 1997 to 1999 and here we are in 2006 and in those 7 or more years the population has increased so the 431,400,000 total is lower now.
As you have stated: <1 acre switch grass = 398 gallons of ethanol>,
Ethanol is a blend of 85% gasoline and 15% alcohol. So after doing the math that statement can be expressed as: <1 acre switch grass = 59.7 gallons of alcohol to be blended with 338.3 gallons of gasoline>

If we were to farm 100% of farmable land the total amount of alcohol we could yield would be 25,754,580,000 per year per old land numbers.

In 2005 the US daily gasoline consumption was 320,500,000(daily consumption) * 365(year) = 116,982,500,000(gallons per year),

Now I find out what 15% of 116,982,500,000 and the result would be the number of gallons of alcohol needed and wind up with 17,547,375,000 gallons,

The difference between total farmable land gallons (25,754,580,000) from above and required gallons (17,547,375,000) to achieve 15% is 8,207,205,000 spare gallons a year. If this were applied to raise the percentage of alcohol per gallon of ethanol the best we could expect is 22%....

So after all that with 100% land utilization based on government numbers the best we could hope for is a 22% replacement of liquids. You will notice that at no point interjected fertilizer, water, crop rotation, crop failure, transport of raw goods, harvesting or the most important of all... What food do I eat?

Since it is 2006 there is less land available and let us remember that the point of ethanol is to create energy independence from the 60% imports. Any way here I will stop the entire math process since it is the most depressing math I could ever do. The worst possible thought is that in a sense ethanol is the greatest social weapon and population reduction tool of all time.

Think about this we are going ethanol. The debate is closed. We can talk about it here and it is important to realize that no matter how pathetic these numbers are the GOV is going to ramp up regardless. Think about how a ruthless person can use this as a weapon. To screw around with the food in such a large scale would give this person or group the ability to starve anyone they wanted. This person or group could use this as a layer of control more powerful then chains. You know as well as I that when the dollar tanks the 60% that we import now will pretty much vanish. You know that when the dollar tanks we will be a nation of walking dead.

Food = Life & Liberty
Ethanol = Slavery & DEATH

Exactly, good sir. You have it exactly.
This mindless pursuit of ethanol "anywhere and everywhere", without rational, logical, or factual examination, and an apparent determination to keep the present paradigm maintained at all costs is, without a doubt, the single most personally and professionally depressing part of 'peak oil' I have yet seen.
Exactly, good sir. You have it exactly.
This mindless pursuit of ethanol "anywhere and everywhere", without rational, logical, or factual examination, and an apparent determination to keep the present paradigm maintained at all costs is, without a doubt, the single most personally and professionally depressing part of 'peak oil' I have yet seen.

I'm not sure how I feel about that post. I'm glad that you were able to read it and I appreciate your or any comments. The problem I have with my post is that it seems to point to a much larger problem. I many times do the irrational or foolish thing in life. All of these old clichés are spinning through my mind at this very moment. My head, heart and gut know that the point of origin for all of the pain I am feeling stem from one point and place.

I keep thinking of 9-11 and how utterly surreal my life has become since. I watched from Washington's Lookout as the smoke rose from the rubble. I wept not for the lives lost as I am certain that they are in a much better place. I wept like Herbert Morrison though I could never articulate the pain of an age like he, as I realized that like the skyline our lives would never be the same again. That feeling has not left me but has grown more and more.

I read a lot, sometimes way too much. Seeing that document brought that 9-11 feeling up through my core. I'm educated enough to trust my first impression of anything. I see a government of the few spreading propaganda to fleece the sheep. I see true patriots not being able to connect with the rest since the sheep are all deaf. My heart tells me that 350,000,000 people can change the path of their nation when only a few are filling their hearts and heads with deceit, lies and fear.  How as a nation can we hold our heads up while spreading democracy at gun point? If I were held up by the people as an elected leader I would do my duty, uphold the Constitution and above all be honest.

Your math is frighteningly inept.

Im just going to take the land that is currently listed as idle(4%).

398 gallons/acre*17,256,000 acres=6,867,888,000 gallons. Using your own numbers there.

About 1/4 of the total estimate of what you figured was attainable and more than 1/3 of the total need for a modest 15% blend.... and I just used 4% of the land at what I believe to be extremely low yields, and ignored the use of waste streams of cellulosic material.

Just looking your own sources your own numbers dont even add up. Actually, that is so full of totured assumptions. The population grew, so there is less land available??? Did the population eat the land itself? Just assuming that wed need more land ignores the fact that crop yeilds have been increasing.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that in just the five years between 1992 and 1997, the nation lost 12.8 million acres of agricultural land: cropland (5.3 million acres), pastureland (6.1 million acres), rangeland (1.4 million acres).
Between 1982 and 1997, approximately 39,000 square miles (or 25 million acres) of rural land was converted into subdivisions, malls, workplaces, roads, parking lots, resorts, and the like.
Available farmland is being continually lost to urban and suburban growth. The rate of loss is actually increasing. Metro Atlanta alone now grows by nearly 100 acres a day.

Here's the kicker. Presently, in the US, there is only 1.3 acres of cropland per capita.  That is not nearly enough to provide for each person's energy AND food needs.

Ethanol is a blend of 85% gasoline and 15% alcohol.

AlphaOmega, with a name like yours, you should check the facts. E85 is 85% Ethanol, not 85% gasoline as you state. Kind of changes your calculations.

My bad! I don't see what the screen name has to do with anything though? So I reviewed the math and the numbers all check out w/ the exception of my blunder with the ratio of gas to alcohol. The fault is me and how I spread out my columns on paper.
To me for whatever reason finding out that 50ish gallons of switch grass booze per whatever land size shocked me so much that I never did look over my list. I apologize for being human and my screw up with the ratio. By the time I got to the bottom the error was so engrained that all I did was get depressed.
So yields (if true) of approx. 400ish gallons per land unit mean that we are fine and peak oil does not even matter and I can go out tonight and purchase a brand spankin' new General Motors E85 SUV. In fact I will also retract all of my prior statements as flawed. I hope they and me will be deleted as it appears that E85, nuclear and all of the rest will save the world. In fact the world as a whole has no problem with supporting 6.6 or more billion people.
Tonight I will start using my credit cards since the $3.55 per gallon of economy regular gas at my local gas station is only an anomaly. Thank you for pointing the truth out as I was nearly suicidal over it. You saved a life! :)
Pardon me, but I'm new here and I read all of this thread before posting, so I hope I have something worth contributing.  All this biofuel buzz started a few months ago(from my perspective)when I saw some pie in the sky report on earth day about Brazil.  My first thought was so that is where the rainforest went - out the tailpipe.  My understanding of biomass budgets is limited, but I thought this is going to lead to choosing between eating and driving.  This discussion shows that I'm not the only one seeing this as a bad choice for Everyone and an excellent choice for a smaller percentage.  

My point is that not every alternative will fit everyone everywhere.  Transportation is one problem with a bunch of different solutions, some of which might work better in some places than others.  Alternatives are the answer, just not the same alternative for everyone or every energy problem.


Not being as well educated on the subject as the rest of you are, I would like to ask a few questions rather than posting an opinion.

  1. The articles about "humanure" reminded me of what the natural gas imported from Russia via Gazprom consists of: Methane. If methane comes from rotting manure, what about using sewage systems as methane production plants? Is this possible?

  2. I like the idea of localized production of fuel sources such as biodiesel using both oil crops and waste oils. Is it possible to test the viability of such a scheme on a town willing to take part, or is there already a town or city doing this?

  3. With water becoming such an issue, why are there no desalination plants, or am I wrong about this? Surely if salt was extracted from sea water, it would be usable both for drinking and for farming?

  4. Is it true that landfill sites produce methane? If this is true, can we "harvest" it?

  5. I have heard that plastic bags take something like 10  years to break down. What do they break down into? Is there a way of recycling old plastic products that can make petroleum oil? If there is, would it be worth it or would the return of energy to energy input ratio be too high?

  6. Am I blowing more hot air with these questions than a redneck hummer convention?
One more question:

what about bringing back airships as an alternative to aeroplanes? helium doesn't burn, as far as I know, so should be safe.....

Wasn't it the Hindenburg disaster that made airshps unpopular for mass transport? Wasn't it due to the fact that the gas envelope was filled with hydrogen, not helium? there have been no more big disasters with airships since then, as far as I know. Is this an option worth exploring?

heck yeah that's an option worth exploring.

the thing just needs to float and go fast.  it's also acceptable to get some lift from the wings.

the resulting design is perhaps obvious - a cigar shape with multiple wings, filled with a fluid less dense than the air at the flight altitude.


Pardon me, but I'm new here and I read all of this thread before posting, so I hope I have something worth contributing.  All this biofuel buzz started a few months ago(from my perspective)when I saw some pie in the sky report on earth day about Brazil.  My first thought was so that is where the rainforest went - out the tailpipe.  My understanding of biomass budgets is limited, but I thought this is going to lead to choosing between eating and driving.  This discussion shows that I'm not the only one seeing this as a bad choice for Everyone and an excellent choice for a smaller percentage.  

My point is that not every alternative will fit everyone everywhere.  Transportation is one problem with a bunch of different solutions, some of which might work better in some places than others.  Alternatives are the answer, just not the same alternative for everyone or every energy problem.