E3 Biofuels: Responsible Ethanol

I hope it is clear that my opposition to ethanol has nothing to do with the fuel itself. If we could make sufficient ethanol with little or no fossil fuel inputs, ethanol could be a very important piece of a post-petroleum future. If ethanol could be produced with an EROEI of 3 or 4, as opposed to the current 1-1.3 or so, then ethanol begins to look attractive from a sustainability standpoint.

My opposition to ethanol is due to the way we typically make it in the U.S., and is specifically focused on grain ethanol. We take fossil fuels and basically recycle them into ethanol in a very inefficient manner. Ethanol production may be a good solution for countries like Brazil, that don't rely on large fossil fuel inputs into the process (as long as they aren't depleting their topsoil and cutting down their rainforests). Cellulosic ethanol may ultimately provide ethanol at a substantially better energy return than grain ethanol, but as a recent Car & Driver article put it: "If cellulosic ethanol were easy, it would already be on the road, because the government has been seriously funding research for about 30 years."

There are even some places in the U.S. where ethanol could provide a (mildly) sustainable solution even as it is produced today. Take Iowa, for instance. Iowa has good corn yields and doesn't require irrigation. If the ethanol is produced from local corn, and is used locally (not shipped halfway across the country), the renewable portion of ethanol is increased. This may provide marginal mitigation for peak oil in certain local areas (though it is still not a highly efficient way to produce fuel). But get into areas outside the Midwest, where you have to ship corn a long way, ship ethanol a long way, and/or irrigate the corn, and ethanol rapidly becomes just a recycled fossil fuel.

However, a couple of months ago a poster referred me to a company that is attempting to produce ethanol in a more sustainable manner. The company is E3 Biofuels. Their concept is this: Grow corn, produce ethanol, feed the byproducts to cattle, harvest the manure, produce methane from the manure in a biodigester, use the methane to fuel the boilers, and use the remaining solids to fertilize the soil. This is ethanol production in more of a Brazilian mold (i.e., byproducts are used to fuel the process).

E3 Biofuels' Closed-Loop Ethanol Process

I had some skepticism about whether they could produce enough methane to completely provide the energy needs of the plant, so I contacted the company. I was sent a spreadsheet from one of the project managers that estimates the energy inputs and outputs of the plant. I was correct that supplemental natural gas will be needed, but due to the manure-produced biogas, the amount is estimated to be substantially less than for a typical grain ethanol plant. Based on the spreadsheet I was sent, as well as correspondence I had with the project manager, the fossil fuel usage is estimated to be 75% less than that of a standard grain ethanol plant. If these estimates turn out to be accurate, that would quadruple the EROEI of the process.

The project manager with whom I corresponded indicated that while there are a number of animal waste digesters, their facility will be the first to use the biogas in a closed-loop process. It is important to note that the process has not yet been proven. They are in the final stages of constructing their facility near Mead, Nebraska. They expect to finish the facility soon, and should be producing ethanol by September 1st. Their location has one disadvantage, however, and that is the need to irrigate corn in Nebraska. That means that the overall EROEI would not be as high as for a facility built in Iowa or Minnesota, for instance. If the process works as advertised, the EROEI could reach 4 or 5 to 1, or even higher for the same process in Iowa where corn irrigation is not required.

Clearly, as I have argued in the past, ethanol is not going to lead us to energy independence. We simply don't produce enough corn for grain ethanol to be a large part of the solution (it will certainly be no more than 20% by volume of our current fuel usage), and therefore conservation is going to have to make the biggest contribution toward sustainability. But if ethanol is going to be part of the solution to diminishing oil supplies, E3 Biofuels is the first in the U.S. to show the way toward making ethanol in a more sustainable manner. As natural gas supplies diminish, many ethanol producers are turning to coal as a fuel source. E3 Biofuels, on the other hand, may become the poster child for clean, "green" ethanol. As a long-time ethanol skeptic, the approach by E3 Biofuels is the first U.S. grain-ethanol process that I endorse.

Very interesting.

It would seem as if this process would work with canola as well.  If the numbers are really 4 or 5 to 1 for ethanol, canola might be in the 8 or 9 to 1 range.  You just need a cool and wet place, AKA the PNW.

I almost hate to ask, but what about using grapes?

 Rat@where's MyRipple.org

I guess lack of suitable fields and mechanization can't match other crops. Although France, Italy and Spain are working on using surpluses for ethanol ( link).

PARIS - French motorists could soon be tanking up on biofuel from grapes as the country's wine industry seeks new outlets to combat declining sales, overproduction and intense competition from abroad.
The county where Todd and I live is famous for its wine and for its marijuana.
We've already got the grapes, and we have the best hemp experts in the world. They just need to channel their energy into a different form of the weed :>)
 Lots of the wineries are already organic, some are solar...

Bottling facility going solar
By JAMES ARENS The Daily Journal

 The solar panels that line the roof of the Fetzer administration building, added in 1999, supply most of the energy to the building. This solar array will be dwarfed by the new solar arrays that will soon adorn the case good and shipping warehouse. (Isaac Eckel/The Daily Journal)  

HOPLAND -- Fetzer Vineyards will become the nation's largest solar powered winery, likely in October. Fetzer will begin construction in July on a solar power system that will provide it with 1.1 million kilowatt hours of clean electricity annually.


  How about hemp seeds for biodiesel? I'm sure we could get Willie Nelson to endorse it as the solution especially if we gave him a few cases of the ethanol/brandy from grapes.
Triff and I were talking about that on another site awhile back.  The second link doesn't seem to be working right now.
Triff to me...
Re: Biofuel from hemp .. Do you have the gal/acre
equivalents ??

Soybeans ~40 gal/acre
Corn ~60 gal/acre
Mustard ~140 gal/acre
Jatropha~160 gal/acre
PalmOil ~650 gal/acre


algae 10-20000 gal/acre

Do a google on GreenFuel Technologies Corp ..
They've got a continuous bioreactor going commercial ..

The 'algae' folks claim that all motor fuels and
heating oil can be replaced with the equivalent of
500,000 acres of closed-loop algae production ..
who knows .. Ford also looked at Mustard plants as
a source of biofuel back in the day ..
and my answer, re hemp...

Hemp is a viable source of woody biomass, no deforestation necessary. In fact, while an acre of trees is about 60% cellulose, and acre of hemp is nearly 75%. How much hemp is necessary to meet current US energy needs? Somewhere between 10 million and 90 million acres, depending on how efficient the production is. Every year, the US government pays farmers (in cash or "kind") to not farm what they call the "soil bank", which happens to be about 90 million acres of farmland. The math is pretty simple.

Hemp seed oil is very similar to petroleum diesel fuel, and produces full engine power with reduced carbon monoxide and 75% less soot and particulates. Hemp stalk (different than the part that can make paper and textiles) can be converted into 500 gallons of methanol/acre. US energy consumption is responsible for 80% of the world's air pollution. The use of hemp biomass fuel would be a globally responsible evolution.


Hemp as Biomass for Energy

Tim Castleman

© Fuel and Fiber Company, 2001

Industrial hemp can be grown in most climates and on marginal soils. It requires little or no herbicide and no pesticide, and uses less water than cotton. Measurements at Ridgetown College indicate the crop needs 300-400 mm (10-13 in.) of rainfall equivalent. Yields will vary according to local conditions and will range from 1.5 to 6 bone dry tons of biomass per acre. California's rich croplands and growing environment are expected to increase yields by 20% over Canadian results, which will average at least 3.9 bone dry tons per acre.

Hemp seed oil for BioDiesel

Production of oil

Grown for oilseed, Canadian grower's yields average 1 tonne/hectare, or about 400 lbs. per acre. Cannabis seed contains about 28% oil (112 lbs.), or about 15 gallons per acre. Production costs using these figures would be about $35 per gallon. Some varieties are reported to yield as much as 38% oil, and a record 2,000 lbs. per acre was recorded in 1999. At that rate, 760 lbs.of oil per acre would result in about 100 gallons of oil, with production costs totaling about $5.20 gallon. Sales of the remaining stalk material at $72 per ton will provide another source of income. It is estimated that a crop grown for both seed and fiber will produce about 3 tons of stalk, which is selling for about $72 per ton, resulting in a $216 per acre credit. This will reduce the cost of the oil to about $3 per gallon. Further reductions will accrue as the agronomic knowledge base is enlarged, and economies of scale are realized, lowering production costs while improving yields.

This oil could be used as-is in modified diesel engines, or be converted to biodiesel using a relatively simple, automated process. Several systems are under development worldwide designed to produce biodiesel on a small scale, such as on farms using "homegrown" oil crops.

Production of Bio-Diesel

Basically methyl esters, or biodiesel, as it is commonly called, can be made from any oil or fat, including hemp seed oil. The reaction requires only oil, an alcohol (usually methanol) and a catalyst (usually sodium hydroxide [NaOH, or drain cleaner]). The reaction produces only biodiesel and a smaller amount of glycerol or glycerin.

The costs of materials needed for the reaction are the costs associated with production of hemp seed oil, the cost of methanol and the NaOH. In the instances where waste vegetable oil, or WVO, is used, the cost for oil is of course, free. Typically methanol costs about $2 per gallon and NaOH costs about $5 per 500g or about $0.01 per gram. For a typical 17-gallon batch of biodiesel, you would start with 14 gallons of hemp seed oil; add to that 15% by volume of alcohol (or 2.1 gallons) and about 500g of NaOH. The process takes about 2 hours to complete and requires about 2000 watts of energy. That works out to about 2kw/hr or about $0.10 of energy (assuming $0.05 per kw/hr). So the total cost per gallon of biodiesel is $? (oil) + 2.1 x $2 (methanol) + $5 (NaOH) + $0.10 (energy) / 14 gallons = $0.66 per gallon, plus the cost of the oil.

Hemp Cellulose for Ethanol

Another approach will involve conversion of cellulose to ethanol, which can be done in several ways including gasification, acid hydrolysis and a technology utilizing engineered enzymes to convert cellulose to glucose, which is then fermented to make alcohol. Still another approach using enzymes will convert cellulose directly to alcohol, which leads to substantial process cost savings.

Current costs associated with these conversion processes are about $1.37 per gallon of fuel produced, plus the cost of the feedstock. Of this $1.37, enzyme costs are about $0.50 per gallon; current research efforts are directed toward reduction of this amount to $0.05 per gallon. There is a Federal tax credit of $0.54 per gallon and a number of other various incentives available. Conversion rates range from a low of 25-30 gallons per ton of biomass to 100 gallons per ton using the latest technology.

In 1998 the total California gasoline demand was 14 billion gallons. When ethanol is used to replace MTBE as an oxygenate, this will create California demand in excess of 700 million gallons per year. MTBE is to be phased out of use by 2003 according to State law.

In this case we can consider biomass production from a much broader perspective. Sources of feedstock under consideration for these processes are:

We will address these in turn and show why a dedicated energy crop holds important potential for ethanol production in California, why hemp is a good candidate as a dedicated energy crop, and how it may represent the fastest track to meeting 34% of California's upcoming ethanol market demand of at least 580-750 million gallons per year.


I'm still looking for BTU figures, and petrochemical and water inputs for the various biocrops. I'm also thinking about a weed called teasel, since I'm hacking down plants taller than me in the garden. Problem is, that it is a biennial.But, in Cal,you can walk on it for a year, and then it shoots up during late winter/ early spring, right when fields get planted. Maybe in the rows?
There is currently a hemp industry bill in the Calif. lege.
Problem I have pushing hemp is everybody says "But it will seed my crop." :-)

And, from a paper on algae,
 In the early days of the automobile, most vehicles ran on biofuels, with Henry Ford himself being a big advocate of alcohol produced from industrial hemp (not to be confused with marijuana).

Good article. I am glad to see that you are open to ethanol in cases where the numbers work. I share your skepticism about corn-based ethanol, but it has been starting to look as if there are a range of technologies on the horizon that could mitigate oil supply shortages. The E3 Biofuels project looks like a good one to watch.

If the 4 or 5 to 1 EROEI is accurate the process is still less efficient than Brazil seems to be getting out of sugar cane. Worldwatch Institute and the German development agency GTZ claim 8 to 1. This seems intuitively correct as Brazilian ethanol is itself a biproduct and sugar is better resource feedstock than corn.

Could you make a guess as to whether shipping ethanol from Brazil would level the EROEI? How about the cost?

As I have noted before, I do think that the current US ethanol program is a fiasco, not only because of the poor returns, but because of the high tariffs on imported ethanol. Do you think that this new process could compete with imported Brazilian ethanol on an EROIE or cost basis?

Could you make a guess as to whether shipping ethanol from Brazil would level the EROEI? How about the cost?

Don't know the exact numbers, but shipping LNG uses 6-15% of it's cargo to ship to the U.S., depending on the length of the trip.

I'm guessing it would be in that range.

Wouldn't ethanol be a lot easier to ship than natural gas?
LNG has a uniquely high transportation loss due to boil off from the cryogenic LNG storage tanks.  Because they know that they will be getting lots of "free fuel" on the cargo run, ship designers build LNG carriers for speed (less evaporative loss) and not low specific fuel consumption.

This puts the US at a disadvantage in importing LNG.  For all the LNG exporters, the United States is the closest market only for Trinidad & Tobago.  Nigeria is closer to the EU, Qatar, Iran & Australia are closer to Japan & China (that will be a LONG haul to the US !), Western Russia is closer to the EU and Eastern Russia to China & Japan.  Mexico is the closest market for Ecuador.

The larger oil tankers are, the more efficient they are due to the cube/square law.  I would suspect that <1% of the fuel is used for transport of Persian Gulf fuel to the US.

Thanks for this information, Alan. This was news to me.
Do the LNG ships use the boiling off gaseous fuel for power? That is, do they take the gas as it boils off to power the ship or at least power the generators? If not, what a waste.

You can reduce boil-off of course by better insulation or take boil-off to power refrigeration equipment. (or both) In any case, it's some mighty cold stuff to have to ship. It would be better to turn the gas into gasoline then put it in a tanker at the source, saving the energy to refrigerate it. Of course, that doesn't help our NG woes.

They use the no longer L NG as fuel.  AFAIK, they pull with a full cargo on oil and then add NG as it boils off.  By the end of a long voyage, they have too much free fuel to use.

Thicker insulation means less LNG (inside diameter shrinks as walls get thicker).  The whole purpose is to deliver NG and the optimum point is found in design.

Note that the "optimum point" for Nigeria to Spain is quite different than for Qatar to East or West Coast US (thicker for US I guess).  So misusing a thinner insulation LNG designed for shorter hauls for Qatar to US will deliver a bit less than designed.

On the June 11, 2006 airing of the Sunday news show "Meet The Press", host Tim Russert was so smitten by the ethanol solution, he simply would not let it go.  It became rapidly apparent that he judged the success of American "energy independence" and "energy security" by the big oil companies willingness to go after the ethanol dream with all they had.  He repeated the "Brazil example" again and again, despite the 5 Oil compnies CEO's whom he was in the process of questioning expressing serious doubts and concerns about whether the "ehtanol solution" really was all it was cracked up to be.  

The portion relavent to our discussion involves the amont of ethanol that is produced in Brazil.  I bring it up here to refute what seems to be a popular assertion and belief:  That if all else fails, we can throw off the tariffs, and import billions of gallons of ethanol from Brazil, since their conditions seem to favor it.  The volumes of ethanol production in Brazil, however, are so small as to make this scenario highly unlikely if not completely impossible:

ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva
MR. MULVA: "Brazil is a unique situation. Reason Brazil is self-sufficient in energy is not so much because of ethanol. It's because they have a very strong, growing, thriving oil production, both onshore and offshore Brazil. It's been for several decades that Brazil uses sugar cane to make ethanol. It does have an impact in terms of the price of ethanol and also on the price of sugar. Just recently, Brazil reduced the amount of ethanol that they applied towards--for fuels for automobiles from 25 to 20 percent. The reason Brazil is self-sufficient--they make great strides in terms of ethanol--but it's primarily be--due to the success of their oil production business onshore and offshore. It's been like a ninefold increase in their oil production in Brazil. It far outstrips the increase of ethanol production."

ChevronTexaco CEO David O'Reilly
MR. O'REILLY:"The problem with some of these alternatives is the scale is so small yet. You know, Brazil's gasoline market is 3 percent of the size of the U.S. market. One ethanol plant makes in a year what a typical refinery will produce in gasoline in two days."

The tariffs, which are now becoming blamed for all sorts of horrors, really have only one effect, and that is to protect the U.S. "homegrown" ethanol industry.  There is virtually no danger that any real quantity of ethanol will come to us from South America because (a) they need it to bad for their own market (after all, they are not really making that much of it, despite the perception created by the popular media's glowing reports) and (b) even the amount they are using is already putting upward price pressure on sugar cane and thus food prices.

So for those who dream of tanker after tanker of ethanol pouring in from South America to top up the SUV with E85, first, don't hold your breath, second, it's more expensive than the gasoline you already buy, and third, you give up a quarter of your fuel mileage right off the top  (and on a truck that gets 12 or 14 MPH, that can't be good!)

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Your points are useful and accurate. It is not realistic to think that ethanol could contribute a large portion of global vehicle fuel - probably even in the very long term.

However, I think the focus on what Tim Russert said or the flaws in the U.S. approach obscures a topic that is far more relevant to this website: Could ethanol play a useful role in helping to transition to a future with less oil supply?

So let's leave the hype behind and instead consider a more modest proposal. Could ethanol provide 10% of global vehicle fuel within the next ten years? If so, I would say it could be one of a handful of solutions that could fill in the gap between oil produced and the amount of oil required to fuel modern lifestyles for the world.

In previous discussions here, we have established that Brazil supplied a little more than 11% of the energy input for its transportation sector from ethanol last year. Since 14% of ethanol produced is exported, this means that the country produces enough ethanol to provide 13% of its energy inputs to transportation. Previous years show even higher figures. Worldwatch Institute and the German government cite figures of 21.6% of transportation fuel from biofuels and 48.24% of non-diesel transportation use (they use 2002 consumption and 2004 production for about 40 countries). Even after adjusting these figures down by 25% for lower BTU content, they are not meaningless.

Yes, Brazil has been extremely successful in exploring for oil. But how does this hurt the ethanol case? Are you suggesting that it would be a solution elsewhere? I suspect that if Brazil had not discovered so much oil, ethanol production would be even higher.

Ethanol in Brazil is unsubsidized and is not more expensive than gasoline on a volume or BTU basis. The price has also gone up since global sugar prices have gone up. However, adjustments can and will be made. The same WW/German study says that sugar occupied 2.4% of agricultural area, half of which can be counted towards ethanol (and half towards sugar). This represents 0.5% of land with the potential for agriculture. So the potential to ramp up production is great.

By the way, the reason the Brazil's gasoline market is only 3% of the size of the US market is that half of gasoline use (by volume) is offset by ethanol and Brazil uses about 50% diesel for transportation. So Brazil's ethanol market is already 3% of the US gasoline market (by volume or about 2.2% by energy content).

Then consider that ethanol can be produced in a wide range of tropical countries using sugar, that there may be technologies that can produce ethanol viably in the US and other non-tropical regions (as Robert's article suggests, that these solutions are EROIE positive at rates of up to 8:1 and that ethanol has immense climate benefits. Why dismiss it out of hand?

I do think that we need to look for a wide range of ways to handle reduced energy supply in the future. Efficiency will be crucial, but I think prices will gradually bring this around. I also think that we will increase the amount of transportation fueled by electricity in the next decade. There are a lot of other things we need to do as well, but don't let your frustration with big mouths and bad policy make you overlook an important part of the solution.

Do you think that this new process could compete with imported Brazilian ethanol on an EROIE or cost basis?

I am not sure it is going to be any cheaper, because the capital costs will surely be higher. The EROEI won't reach the level of sugarcane ethanol, but some of that energy is lost by having to ship the ethanol from Brazil.

Incidentally, legislation has been introduced to make the U.S. ethanol subsidy permanent. I presumed they were going to let the subsidy expire, since ethanol is now mandated. Why mandate it AND subsidize it? I was looking forward to people finally paying market price. See:


Because if they mandate it and don't subsidize it, the cat will come out of the bag.  People would then realize what it was doing to their overall fuel price. But then you knew that.  But wait. It's subsidized now and you have been quoting ethanol at $5 and above. According to a recent poll, it's clear people aren't paying attention.
 After hearing mention above of Grapes and Hempseed.. (and what that might concievably do to the perrennial 'legalize it' campaign) and rapeseed, switchgrass etc..,  I wondered if you or others here have heard of any studies looking at other 'waste biologicals', like the everpresent Kudzu and similar vines that clog roadsides and forests in the southeast- as far as their possible contribution to an ethanol (and methane) economy?

 I'm gratified and not really surprised at the combinations described by the E3 group.  The growing thirst for fuels is going to produce a whole range of experiments and combinations to improve our outputs.

 Here is a story of a Frenchman, M. Jean Pain, who took composting and home methane digestion to a new level, generating heat, gas for cooking and driving and electricity with sustainably harvested underbrush and woodchippings from his land.
 - http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic_Gardening/1980_March_April/The_Genius_of_Jean_Pain


(I'm more familiar with the second article, which covers more of the full spread of his experiments around his rural French farm..

Bob Fiske

(Sitting in a Las Vegas hotel on a Poker-Tournament job, in about the most unsustainable environment and industry I've been in my life!)

Kudzu cannot be harvested (or even removed!) effectively or economically.  If it could, even in an era of cheap energy, it would not have become "the weed that ate the South".  
I really don't think there IS responsible ethanol.

Using fossil or ethanol-derived fuel and fertilizers to grow.... more fuel. It's like a perpetual motion machine, you won't get as much out as you put in, if you want to obey The Law (s of physics hehe) so I think what you see in places that are using it is, it's feeding off of the fossil fuel industry, or it's being used in a South American warlord state where the proles work the fields by hand with perhaps some draft animals to grow ethanol so the ruling class can drive.

This comment doesn't seem to make much sense. The article and comments have indicated that ethanol can be energy positive in the range of 4-8 times the input. You just ignored this.

Your comments about Brazil seem bigoted and insulting, the country is not a warlord state and a lot more people have cars than the ruling class.

Do you mean you don't WANT there to be responsible ethanol?

No, I do WANT there to be responsible ethanol, I hope and pray for it. I'm just having a hard time understanding how we're going to grow all this ethanol after cheap oil ends which is what keeps our massive food/crops production going now. I just can't imagine enough ethanol AND food coming out of the fields for everyone to keep up the "easy motoring lifestyle".

Not to insult the Brazilians etc., but car ownership isn't what it is in the US and I'm going to be very surprised if ethanol keeps us in the lifestyle in the US "to which we're accustomed".

We're really scared of going back to walking and putting around on bicycles aren't we?

I don't think the goal is "enough ethanol to keep up an easy motoring lifestyle", although I don't have anything against it.

The problem with anti-ethanol arguments, in my view, is that they boost ethanol up to a level that it could never achieve, then take easy potshots at it.

In another post on this thread, I suggested a target of 10% of vehicle fuel from ethanol, supplemented by reduction in overall fuel use, electricity in transportation and other silver BBs. The goal is to ease a transition to a post-cheap oil era and stave of the doom that many think is upon us.

If everyone ate as much sugar as I do, we could probably replace 90% of the world's sugar crops with ethanol and not suffer a bit. Ethanol in Brazil uses up 0.5% of agriculturally suitable land.

Modern agriculture is not very resource efficient. If we produced more nutritious food and less tobacco, meat, sugar and other crap from land, there would be plenty of room to produce a lot more ethanol, especially if some of the promising technologies take off.

Now, if peak oil and climate change aren't crises, maybe this is all a waste of time - but I don't think that is the case.

Yes you have a point, if ethanol can be used to make the ramp from easy-motoring to Amish less steep, then it will be very useful.
The tariff on imported ethanol exists to prop up the farm states. Eventually China will be the main importer of foreign ethanol while the USA continues the political BS.
I don't think the goal is "enough ethanol to keep up an easy motoring lifestyle",

That is exactly correct. Ethanol can't replace our current levels of gasoline consumption. I don't believe any combination of alternatives can. But, in certain cases, it could make a contribution. We will need many different options, but mostly we will need conservation.  


Modern agriculture is based on a resource and fuel intensive production of corn and soybeans which are, in turn, primarily used to produce meat.  If agriculuture converted to a more grass intensive rather than grain intensive meat production model on farms that used the whole cycle from grass to meat to manure to grass again, a more closed loop, we would use far less fuel for pesticides, herbicides, antiobiotics, transportation, etc.  The animals would be healthier; we would be healthier and we would save gobs of energy in the process as the system would be much more dependent on solar energy not fossil energy. But we would have to begin by stopping the subsidy of corn.

With the fuel saved, we would already be making the transition to a less fossil fuel dependent society and would not need to grow corn to produce ethanol to make the transition.  The transition is the transition.

In addition to grass based, what of their multi-epoch long rivals, trees ?

Trees (depending on species/root systems) bring up minerals from deep underground into the bio-sphere.  They sequester carbon till they die (and if we use them for structure or furniture, long after that).

We are all familar with fruits & nuts, but chestnuts have a different dietary profile.  More protein, less fat, they can substitute for grains in many ways and they can have productivity that rivals wheat fields.

I think orchard based agriculture is a much neglected part of permaculture.

Ethanol from sugarcane in Brazil uses up a lot more than 0.5% of Brazil's agriculturally suitable land, Jack. A whole order of magnitude more, in fact.

5 million hectares were planted in sugarcane last year,
with over half of that being used for ethanol production.

According to the CIA factbook, only 6.93% of the entire country (or 586,000 sq km) constitutes useable arable land. That's 58 million hectares, of which sugarcane covers 10%.

As a side note, "the global demand for ethanol would be 7.5 times greater than Brazil's current output if the whole world added 10 percent of this fuel alcohol to its gasoline, said Plinio Nastari, the president of Datagro, a sugar industry consultancy firm."

Hi Fallout,

My source was the Wordwatch Institute / German government study, which I should have cited.


Roughly half of sugar cane grown is used to produce ethanol (and half for sugar), so you need to divide your figure by two.

I am not saying that ethanol is perfect or without problems. I do claim that it is a viable substitute for a portion of our current liquid fuel consumption and that it is not unrealistic to think something like 10% of fuel could come from ethanol in a ten year time frame.

This quote - from your link also seems to support my overall point.

"Moreover, the land that will be used for sugar cane is already deforested, and has been abandoned by the cattle farming industry".


A bit more:

  1. I don't see increasing global production of ethanol to 7.5 times Brazil's current level in ten years as insurmountable. The same WW study says Brazil alone can double production from 12.88 billion liters to 26 bn lt by 2015 (Brazil Case Study pg. 32). Thailand could be producing a billion liters next year. There aer a lot of places where this could happen and the timeframe is fairly quick - seeds to fuel in two years.

  2. WW uses the same 5.5 million ha figure you cite but says:

Sugar Cane crops presently occupy 2.4% of Brazilian agricultural area, which means almost 5.5 million ha. Since half is sugare, this equates to 2.8 million ha for ethanol which is 1.2% of the surface currently used for agriculture and 0.5% of the surface with potential for agriculture. (Brazil Case Study pg. 18).

A long summary of the biofuels report and country case studies are available for free by following the link above.

Hi Jack.
Yes, I agree, that does not sound like an insurmountable problem to me, certainly not in the timeframe being discussed. Thanks for the link to the case study.
Brazil doesn't have the living standard of the US, fair enough. But I think that private car use in the US (and here in Norway too) can be cut in half, or more, without really affecting standard of living. Don't assume that they are worse off just because they drive less.

I don't own a car, and I have a long way to work so I use more than two hours for travelling every day, mostly by bus. But this is quite pleasant,  and probably a lot less stressful than driving myself (I can't say for sure, as I haven't bothered to try). Get yourself an mp3-player, or something more low-tech if you can't afford it, and some audiobooks, podcasts or music to play on it.

I look forward to my daily commute. It's an opportunity to relax, listen to a book, or get up to date on some interesting topic. If only more people would realize, we'd get cheaper fares and better frequency.

If the suburban buses didn't become so unpleasant I would still be using them instead of driving now. I mean, would you like to put up with seats so bouncy that it's like riding in a storm chasing plane with a bully so you can't use an iPod, and be subjected to TVs with nothing but advertising? And don't forget looong times between said buses and poor climate control.

You slim down to tolerate the heat in spring (disabled A/C in a sealed bus) only to bounce around like you're flying through Katrina. You could use an iPod to ignore the TVs but now you become vunerable to the bus bully from behind. Americans are prone to violence! Give me the challenge of city driving any time!

Maybe in Norway the bus systems have their act together, but sure not here in America!

It's not a perpetual motion machine because there's a great big glowing hot energy source in the sky that adds it's input to the process.
The effort required for pooper scooping is in inverse proportion to animal welfare. For best yield you need cows standing some part of the day in concrete gutters. Happy cows crap in the fields which helps close the nitrogen loop. I think it is better to get the stomach bugs to work with mushed up grass in steel tanks. Or use something besides corn which has dry fuel byproduct analagous to bagasse and sugarcane.
The effort required for pooper scooping is in inverse proportion to animal welfare.

Yes, well as a long time vegan, I can guarantee you that it will not truly bother most people one bit.  Factory farms are the norm in the US - horrific, but even when people learn about how their food suffers ridiculous amounts of depravity and brutality, concrete and wires, most just shrug their shoulders, pray to their god, and order up more big macs and chicken wings.  ;)

Happy cows also crap on straw bedding in the barn in winter in cold climates while waiting for the snow to melt.

Poultry also does the same.

The bedding of each animal, composted, makes a very good fertilizer and soil amendment.  

Putting animal poop in the ground not only helps recycle nitrogen, but also phosphorus, potassium and other trace elements necessary for plant and animal growth.  

Phosphorus mining may only continue for another 50 years or so here in the U.S., and after that, we'll be importing this vital nutrient from the middle east, where it may be mined by hand, along with the last of the nearly solid, sulfurous crude.  The Canadians have our back with the potassium.  Better to recycle both.

Composed poop also returns carbon to the soil, improving soil tilth and perhaps more importantly, improving the soil's ability to hold whatever moisture global warming allows.  Increasing soil carbon may also be one way to sequester excess carbon while improving soil health and crops.

In Farrel et al's spreadsheets, the EI in the distilling phase is about 2/3 of the total EI, so any efficiencies made here will improve ERoEI hansomely.

Since the boiling point of ethanol is ~78°C, could it be boiled off at less than 100°C using waste heat from conventional electricity generation ? Or even a simple x2 solar oven ?

It might still need an energy-intensive hi-tech  final polishing, but if the energy at the distillery could be cut in half, the ERoEI would go from 1.2 to 1.8-ish

There is still the problem of there not being enough farmland to completely solve the problem, but at least it would get us out of this no-profit cycle.


I thought of the same idea. Refineries are going to have sources of waste heat, like the condensing sections of the fractional distiller towers. You introduce the watered-down ethanol at the top and run the pipes to the bottom making a counter-flow heat exchanger with the fractionating tower. At the bottom, it's good and hot under pressure. Let it evapourate under partial vacuum with cold water to condense the alcohol.

Alas, oil companies are in the best position to use waste heat to improve the ERoEI of the booze fuel. That with powerplant waste heat isn't a bad idea. Better yet, powerplants also have auxiliary steam systems that end up wasting some of the steam, which can be diverted to the finishing stage of heating the booze-water to distil the fuel out.

Fractionating columns are already recycling the heat; liquid flowing down is taking heat from vapor flowing up.
I figured refineries recycle waste heat a lot. After ass, recycled waste heat improves ERoEI of the plant. But waste heat is such that some is still wasted, like the example of aux steam systems inevitable in powerplants. So, it can be used to build the liquor still to get the ethanol.
Even flat-plate solar collectors can reach 100° C if the conditions are right.

IMHO, the difficulty here is that the advances exist but are being applied to the wrong problem.  People are trying to produce liquid motor fuel to use in existing engines.  This makes no sense; 14 years from now, the majority of these engines will have been replaced.  We should be aiming at a fuel cycle which is best for the conditions and technologies which will prevail then, not now.

Let me suggest the following:

  • Carbonize fuel crops (and waste, and whatever) to make charcoal.
  • Charcoal feeds direct-carbon fuel cells (DCFC's); excess charcoal is buried to sequester carbon.
  • Off-gas from carbonization is combustible and probably fermentable; it can be directed either to gas turbines for electric generation or to Clostridium cultures for fermentation to liquid bio-fuel.
  • Both the exhaust from a gas turbine and the effluent of Clostridium cultures contains carbon dioxide.  Feed this off-gas to photosynthetic algae to fix the carbon again.
  • Either carbonize the algae to make charcoal, or convert part of their biomass to liquid fuels.
Done right, this would take every gram of carbon in the biomass or waste entering the system and not let go of it until it is some useful product or buried in the ground.
I've been wondering about another issue related to the Brazil vs U.S. return on ethanol.

Has anyone taken into account the fact that Brazil is on the equator where it get the maximum possible solar input per square meter (sun essentially directly overhead at midday all year) and a 12-month growing season, vs the more oblique solar exposure and a 6-month season in the U.S. midwest.  

After all, it's kinda hard to tilt a corn field to face the sun like a solar panel.....

Has anyone taken into account the fact that Brazil is on the equator where it get the maximum possible solar input per square meter (sun essentially directly overhead at midday all year) and a 12-month growing season, vs the more oblique solar exposure and a 6-month season in the U.S. midwest.

I have seen this mentioned as one reason Brazilian sugarcane grows so well. They do get a lot more solar insolation than the average U.S. location.


Actually corn, like every other land plant, does tilt its leaves to face the sun all day. Cloud cover is more of a factor than latitude in the total amount of solar energy/sq meter/yr.
   I really think that much more emphasis needs to be placed on diesel as a concept - near where I live, there is a small operation selling 'Rapsöl' - that is, canola/rapeseed oil.

He does not have any fire protection in the sense of a petroleum station, if the 'oil' leaks it is meaningless, anyone can stockpile the stuff at home if they wish.

Basically, the operation consists of some larger sized plastic containers - the sort often used in wine making in this region, and a hand pump. Obviously, a very boutique operation - but one I can imagine existing without essentially any more infrastructure than what would have been available in 1930.

Raps are grown extensively in this region for fuel - sunflowers no longer are, since it didn't provide the same EROEI.

Diesel engines are currently quite efficient, modern ones burn the particulate emissions. This is French technology - German car makers were very sceptical, which meant not only did they lose out on riding the wave of a new technology, because of EU particulate pollution rules, German diesel vehicles are likely to be restricted from driving in various regions at times. The Germans did do OK on the urea systems, though.

Please note that this sort of thing will in no way support what people now consider a normal lifestyle. It would support local agriculture, however.

This to me is why America will have such problems - where is there such a thing as local agriculture? All of these ethanol plans are essentially giant interconnected industrial operations.

A guy selling pressed rapeseed oil grown in walking distance from his tank station using a hand pump is anything but.

Infrastructure has an incredible number of implications - it does not mean merely major construction, large structures, or tight interconnections.

Instead, it can just mean making do with what is at hand without any major cultural baggage.

And after you see how simple it can be to fuel a minimal amount of diesel motors, you start to wonder why it is so hard for people to simplify - except for the fact that his operation requires essentially nothing - no skilled engineers to place tanks in the ground, no skilled workers creating the tanks, no complicated electical pumping/billing systems, and on, and on. His operation is a threat, tiny as it may be, at the heart of a significant amount of the petroleum based economic structures we take for granted as part of a modern economy.

It sounds like what you are describing is canola as a Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO). For the difficulties associated with SVO, see here .

The major modifications needed to existing diesel engine vehicles, and the fact that most vehicles are gasoline powered, make SVO unlikely to succeed until after The Crash.


Dave Kimble,

I think your correct in your thinking that SVO will not catch on until a price/supply emergency is much more acute than today...and most people overlook the fact in your last sentence, "the fact that most vehicles are gasoline powered...".  this is overwhelmingly true in the U.S., where as I pointed out in another post, the Americans show an almost cultural hostility to Diesel.  I own two, and frankly, they are unwelcome in most places!  

On the issue of major modifications to run SVO, I don't know if I would call them major, but there is some fascinating technical stuff at the link you referenced, and at some of it's sub links:



The key thing seems to be, build with quality, buy from people who have been doing it a long time, and whatever else, USE A SIMPLE CAR.  Many of the folks who have had difficulty were using what were essentially high performance Diesels, with Turbochargers, and special valve and cam profiles or multi valve engines to have very high performance  (don't laugh, I have seen Diesels that can RUN!)  and were as a result both more complex, and ran hotter, thus the "coking" issue.  I have two Diesels, one is a "high performance" type  6 cylinder turbo of 200 horsepower out of a 3.0 litre engine  (strong for a Diesel that size), but if I aim to make the SVO switch, I will go over to the little "junk", 240D 4 cylinder 4 speed, simple as a hammer, and by comparison, about 80 horsepower out of 2.4 litre engine...low, slow, and runs as cold as shaded rock!  

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

... the Americans show an almost cultural hostility to Diesel.

I am reluctant to discount the ability of high prices to help erode this "cultural hostility". Surely Americans will change their tune when the price of fuel reaches what it already is in Germany today: 1.33 Euros a litre, or $5.68US a gallon.

I mean, when consumers' arms are twisted so hard they start to scream it's not as if they'll have to wait for the white lab coats to find a magic bullet - they just have to start buying the vehicles that are already in production. Look at Renault's basic 1.5 diesel engine (used in the Clio) - on the highway it already does 100km on 3.7 litres (that's 65 miles per US gallon).

You know what would work in one fell swoop?  To say that any new vehicle(*) legal for sale in France or Germany, is also legal for sale in the US.  Done.

Now, it would mean accepting some slightly different environmental and safety regulations, but talk about a fast solution!

* - limit it to "under 1.8L, normally aspirated" if you want to keep out the gas guzzlers.

You know what would work in one fell swoop?  To say that any new vehicle(*) legal for sale in France or Germany, is also legal for sale in the US.

One additional legal change that would IMHO favorably impact the "cultural hostility" mentioned above would be a federal law to make self-service fueling illegal, as it is in Oregon. My wife for instance ranks the idea of handling a diesel fuel nozzle right up there with water boarding and finger nail removal.

Buy pair of gloves then.

Asking for a law to get rid of self-service to favor a fuel is one of the most idiotic things I have read on TOD for quite a while. You must have been sarcastic, right?

   more or less - which is why I also put in the point about using it for agriculture. To my understanding, the largest 'technical' problem is cold weather (maybe not a problem in Australia, but minus 20C is not exactly unknown here in Germany).

   When fuel prices started spiking a couple of years ago, a number of people started buying 20% cheaper vegetable oil, and pouring it into their tanks (tax policies, mainly - and if you were caught, you were fined) - apart from the smell, an older diesel has no problem. Newer diesels are less happy, according to the manufacturers.

  To a certain extent, this ends up in the 'how often should you change your oil' level of debate. A liter of vegetable oil mixed in with diesel at some reasonable proportion is unlikely to cause any problems for older vehicles at all, apart from questions of winter use. Technically, a newer diesel should also have no problems with this, except they do have problems, at least according to the manufacturers. Please note that the most questions concerning things like seals and such are not relevant to SVO - fuel injection systems are another thing entirely, as is a turbo system. Most European truck fleets have a very significant component of biodiesel burning trucks (not quite SVO, of course) - you can smell them - so the 'technical' problems seem to be very, very manageable when enough money is involved.

   Obviously, straight vegetable oil is not a very elegant fuel solution for elegant vehicles. Personally, I think most tractors, even those from Lamborghini, Porsche, and Ferrari, should be tough and long running under all conditions, not elegant (a sort of European insider auto joke - Mercedes only got out of the tractor business a few years ago).

   obviously, next time I will read the link first. The points in the link are generally correct, but for someone who uses maybe 15 liters of diesel in a month (driving maybe 150 kilometers), pouring in two liters of vegetable oil into their 20 year old Mercedes to save a bit of money is unlikely to fit very well into the picture the link describes.

   Of course, if you are driving hundreds of kilometers a week, this is not a good idea.

   I also noticed the link references German companies in regards to SVO quite heavily - this does tend to give me another perspective, since I don't consider Germany to be really all that exceptional, though obviously it is.


Your exactly onto something there!  What a nice post!  

And yes, I think your read is EXACTLY ON.  I have long been fascinated (still am) by the history of Britain during the Blitz.  What was interesting to me, beside the normal dramatic stories of survival under the terror of nightly bombing, was the reorganization of the society for survival.

My first revealation was the little Coventry Climax fire fighting engine.  A work of art that was so light and powerful for it's size, so relieable, that it fathered a half century of race engines.  Carried on a pipe rack, it could be rope started, and pull water out of the Thames to save buildings and halt the spread of fires!

Next, was some early drawings I viewed of English Anglia's converted to run on, get this, wood smoke!  Do not think that just because the oil runs out, people will stop driving?  yeah, right!  

The beauty and ability to survive of the English system was a long history of small shops.  Scattered out away from the bombing, they could weather the onslought of German attack, could be hidden easily, moved to basements and underground, and were all but impossible to stop in their long tradition of local and varied manufacturing.  It is a lesson in the benefit of decentralized planning and talent.

Now, on the Diesel and bio Diesel idea:  First, it is far and away better than the complex and wasteful ethanol idea.  Second, the variety of imputs to make the fuel is much more diverse, and can be extracted from waste plant and animal product along with newly grown crops.  Third, the Diesel engines are much more efficient with the fuel than an ethanol fueled engine, with E85 engines suffering even worse fuel mileage than gasoline engines.

So, why doesn't it catch on?  Well, in the United States, Diesels are HATED.  I can say this, because I own and drive two.  I now park mine way off on the side lot at work.  People detest the noise, people detest the oder, the whiff of black smoke, the acceleration.  I have driven Diesels all of my life, as has my father and uncles.  But, I can attest to what most polling shows:  They will not catch on in the United States short of a complete gasoline crisis....people will go to hybrid or LPG or ANY OTHER option before they will take to Diesels.  This is another one of those strange cultural oddities that seperate us from our European cousins......The Euro mind just seems to accept the whole asthetic of Diesel engines, while the Americans cannot  (it's like soccer....or road course auto racing, the Americans simply are not going to get behind them, no matter what the promotors hope!)

The good news is this, however:  Over road truckage and railroad engines are thus left to the Diesel fuel to carry on their business.  We already know that modern tractor trailers can be some 50% more efficient per pound/mile hauled than they are today.  WalMart Corp. is already underway on a massive plan to cut Diesel fuel consumption in half compared to today for the amount hauled.  This will be BIG, and will put the pressure on their competitors to do the same.  If we can see this kind of consumption restrain by WalMart's target year of around 2012, it will be one of the biggest steps in the "Hirsch Report" type mitigation that anyone has so far undertaken  (they may not be calling it that at Walmart, but that, in effect, is what it is).  Now, add in a rising amount of bio Diesel, and one sees that the danger of starving due to lack of fuel to plant, harvest, and haul food is really not a great risk  (a risk, yes, as always, but frankly, I would be more concerned about massive climate and weather surprises damaging crops than the threat of running short of fuel to haul it)

Despite what some believe, change is already afoot.  And we are still "pizzing in the dark" with many alternatives.  But the abiltity to subsititute GOOD bio options  (not politically motivated ones) and truly breakthrough combinations of conservation/efficiency technology have much greater potential than most can realize.

Does this mean that "Peak" is not a problem, that's it solved, no sweat?
OF COURSE NOT.  But I have to make that clear, or the doom and gloom crowd come off the rails.  The fact is, even with every trick in the book, we are simply keeping our back a bit away from the wall and skirting the edge of catastrophe.  We should have not only began, but STAYED ON THE COURSE with these methods back in 1978, and from that year forward.  If the price of oil/gas slides, and we slide right back into our "hey, it's cheap, what do I care" way of burning fuel of any kind, we will not avoid catastrophic national tragedy.  This is something that will now have to be on the front burner for the foreseeable future, and our educational, cultural, political, banking and commerce, and technical system will have to be held to the priorities, and resupplied with new talent, new money and new ideas daily.  ALL of the cultural guns will have to turn to this effort, much like the Cold War, only FAR BIGGER.  And we can only issue one plea to the citizens:

Don't lose heart and walk away on us now.  We will need everyone.  We will lose some time and effort trying things that didn't pan out.  We will be busy in restructure, in education, in design.  We cannot stop you from going to the hills, from writing "us" your friend and countrymates off.  But don't.  If you stay in, and make this effort, this fight with us, it will be better than you may believe possible.  At the end of the day, you, like I will die.  But does the goal of making the good fight and saving a culture at least give it some fun and purpose along the way?......as the commercial says, "Try it, you'll like it", and you will be HERE with US like hearted people, far more fun than dying alone in the woods!"  :-)

Folks, THAT'S the way it will be done!  :-)

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout  (well, actually, I guess I'm in!)

I think cars running on wood smoke were not that uncommon in Scandinavia during and shortly after WWII. And, as a matter of fact, I saw one just six years ago in Petrozavodsk, Russia! I don't know how they work, but it appears there are still many people who could, at least in theory, convert a regular engine to run on wood... So people will probably not stop driving, as long as we don´t run out of wood... or suffocate from all that carbon monoxide ;)
   quite honestly, a modern German diesel is essentially impossible to distinguish from a gasoline vehicle. The start times are the same, at least in most weather - turn key, motor starts. It still surprises me when I see it, to be honest - that hesitation/wait time is just part of what I consider to be intrinsic to a diesel motor. The motor note is a bit different, but at this point, the difference in the noise level is also essentiallly nil. Performance is truly no longer a noticeable difference, in any reasonable definition of normal - German normal, I might add, accelerating from let's say 80 to 110mph, or from 0 to 80mph. The last thing which is also gone is the 'black flag' - that may be more due to the refiners, though, not the manufacturers.

The higher cost of a diesel motor is generally balanced in a reasonable time by the higher fuel economy and preferential taxing.

OK so dang it, why was I walking around in Munich one day, minding my own business, and notice spraypainted in bright green on a traffic control box, "Diesel is Laut und Stinken"?
Well, can't say anything much about the loud - there are a lot of old cars still running, if nothing else (a German way of expressing that distinctive sound is that a diesel 'nagelt' - sounds like nails) - but the stinking part is pretty easy. They do.
A modern Diesel engine exhaust doesn't stink any more. I own a modern car powered by Diesel with a catalyst burning the particles of the outcomming smoke. It doesn't make more noise than it's gasoline counterpart, and accelerates in the same way. On cold days I have to wait 2 seconds before starting.

BTW in a french open car race (24 heures du Mans) a german Audi diesel operated car has won with 2 lags in advance.

Modern diesels most certainly do stink when burning biodiesel - that is a personal opinion confirmed almost daily. And older diesels stink too. The new diesel motors, burning mineral oil based diesel, do not stink in any significant way, that I will agree with. The trend in Germany is for increasing biodiesel use, however.
Don't know if anybody will read this anymore, but here goes....

It was probably more like "Diesel ist laut und stinkt."

Anyway, people have discovered the particulates issue in a big way here (in Germany) lately. Diesels are supposed to be the biggest offenders in terms of particulate emissions, so they've been getting a bonus of bad publicity.

As far as noise is concerned, I agree with what others have said. Diesel CARS are no noisier than their gasoline counterparts. Diesel TRUCKS on the other hand are plenty loud and, in crowded places that trucks can't avoid, well, there they are. Maybe that's what the sign was about.

I really think that much more emphasis needs to be placed on diesel as a concept - near where I live, there is a small operation selling 'Rapsöl' - that is, canola/rapeseed oil.

When I lived in Europe, that's one thing I learned: The Europeans really did a good job of encouraging diesel transportation. We would be wise to follow their example. It would cut our fuel usage by 30-40% due to the higher efficiency of the diesel engine.


Hello RR, Expat, and others that have been to Europe,

Unfortunately, I have never traversed to the other side of the pond.  Do they have any diesel scooters/motorcycles for sale?  I have never encountered any on scooter/motorcycle mfg. websites, although I have seen pictures of a few homebuilts.

It seems the high torque output of a small diesel to power a small scooter would be ideal for the slow postPeak future, especially if combined with local boutique fuel dealers.  A 50cc diesel scooter would be much more effective than a 50cc gasoline scooter, for example.

If one is not postPeak interested in the absolutely brutal acceleration rates that high reving, high hp small gas engines currently provide: [a Honda 450cc single cyl. four-stroke gets 55 bhp if you make it 6500 rpm sing, but only 36.9 lb./ft. of torque at this red-lined 6500 rpm].  This 120 hp output per liter is purely an eng/mkting decision to provide consumer thrills, not maximizing fuel mileage.

This seems like a huge postPeak marketing opportunity that is being overlooked by the current manufacturers.  Thus, I repeat my request: Do they have any diesel scooters or motorcycles for sale across the pond?  I want one, preferably 100cc!

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

Not that I am aware of - I seem to remember something about an India built Enfield diesel motorcycle that was imported here a few years ago.

Many of the scooters here, especially the small ones, are still 2 strokes - which are illegal in the U.S. due to air pollution regulation (correctly, in my opinion).

Europe is not paradise, and they are part of the industrial West, but they tend to have a longer term view in many ways. This includes the idea of 'this too shall pass.'

Even if it means a lot of pain - after all, a significant portion of Europe's economy is also auto based. They are trying, not exactly desperately, to balance this with increasing production of such things as wind turbines or heat pumps - not that this is really going to work in a big picture scale, but it is much better than nothing. In the end, wind turbines and heat pumps are solid long term investments, regardless.  

Maybe in California, but the scooters I looked at in MD were all two-stroke.  And I'll bet there are still a lot of two-stroke dirt bikes (Husqvarna, etc.) being sold.
I'm surprised - I come from Northern Virginia, while two stroke motors were certainly legal in the sense of chainsaws, etc. (they don't seem to be especially legal in at least parts of California), I never saw any used in any new two wheel vehicle from the mid-80s on.

As for at least a motorcycle two stroke, info from Wikipedia - the Yamaha 'RZ350 is now a sought after collectors bike, due to it being the last road going two-stroke motorcycle in America.' I don't remember any of these being sold new at all - I think they were an early 80s bike. Scooters/mopeds of any sort were very rare, but I never noticed anyone selling anything but 4 stroke motors - generally 125/250cc.

Obviously, we are talking about decades in the past, but I would be very, very surprised if anyone is legally selling new two stroke motors powered vehicles in an area which at least in the past used to be under EPA regulations in regards to air pollution - obviously, things could be different now.

The largest ethanol plant in Sweden uses steam from a nearby  wood biomass fueled district heating plant. A biogas (methane) plant is being added to it to produce gas for running wehicles.

Methane is an exelent wehicle fuel and it is wastefull to use it for fairly low grade heating if other fuel sources can be found. It might even make sense to burn coal since direct wehicle use of the methane probably would be more efficient then coal to liquids conversation.

Corn is subject to periodic blight. When this occurs, we are back to square one: dependent on foreign oil. Cellulosic technology is about  12 to 16 months away. It should be the majority  of ethanol production in the not too distant future.
Corn is subject to periodic blight. When this occurs, we are back to square one: dependent on foreign oil.

Corn can't possibly be a major part of the solution, but it can be part. If you have a diversified energy supply, a bad corn crop may make ethanol prices skyrocket, but it won't bring the country to a screeching halt.

Cellulosic technology is about  12 to 16 months away. It should be the majority  of ethanol production in the not too distant future.

My prediction? It's farther out than you think. I was working on this 15 years ago, and we thought it was pretty close then.


Sorry to interrupt this train of thought but James Hansen's latest report is out:

It is showing vast areas of Florida being flooded if we continue business as usual

It sounds like we might need some open threads later in the day. This post isn't relevant to ethanol as is, but I do see why you didn't want to be the 172nd post on the latest Drumbeat.

If you had been clever, you could have noted that ethanol has very few of the climate impacts of fossils fuels.

I'll also use this to segway into another point I have been thinking about: So many people here say that we need a Manhattan project for energy.

It turns out that we do have a Manhattan project for energy - ethanol. It is big, expensive and probably a waste of time, but what did you expect?

Maybe each day's thread could be directed to a separate but broad area. E.g., Monday could be biofuels, Tuesday for oil, Wed. gas, etc.  With the caveat that open threads do not necessarily die on their birthday.
Ethanol isn't a Manhattan project for anything except agribusiness subsidies.  Any program aimed at producing more energy would reward net energy production instead of greater consumption of fertilizer and whatnot.

Declaring Archer Daniels Midland a criminal syndicate (de jure or de facto) would probably do a lot to improve our net energy situation, because it would stop the flow of dollars to their grossly inefficient (and maybe even energy-losing) programs.

I don't disagree with you. My point is that a Manahattan project is going to be a massive flow of cash to politically connected entities, unless some very specific criteria is put forward.

When people talk about a Manhattan project, their image is that it will magically pick the exact technologies that they want. In reality, every major recent US government sponsored energy program has been guided by politics more than analysis.

So while others hear Manhattan project and think "solutions", I hear the term and think "boondoggle". Unless you can convince me that the same people who planned and funded ethanol will act completelky differently when planning and funding the Manhattan project, I will remain skeptical.

Simply offering 90% federal matching (the same % used to build the Interstate Highway system) will create an explosion of new Urban rail (Bush cut federal matching from 80% to 50%).
Off topic:

Looks like Matt Simmons thinks we have past peak ..


Looked at Matt Simmons' presentation - he's really waving the red flag.  On one slide is "By 2020, the current 80+ mb/d base could be reduced to 25 mb/d."  Below it says this is based on a 8% p.a. decline rate, presumably starting in a year or two's time.  Am I missing something or does he expect total liquids production to fall to that level by 2020?  What is the justification for this - terrifying - prognosis?
I assume he is talking about existing wells and recovery techniques.  8% annual decline is a "normal" depletion rate.

Any new fields (few), in-fill drilling (many), enhanced recovery added to existing fields (some) will be in addition to the -8%.

If Australia distilled all its sugarcane into ethanol this would yield just 5 litres per week per car.

Read about this calculation on pages 11-12 on my submission to the Australian Senate Inquiry on oil supplies (4 Mb PDF file, so right click and Save Link Target As...)


Biofuels will only contribute a couple of percent compared to our current oil consumption. The Prime Minister's Department had a biofuels taskforce and you can read all submissions here:


The current target of 350 Ml biofuels by 2010 is tiny to a consumption of 26,000 Ml

Global warming brings more drought to our sun drenched continent and more cyclones, as hurricanes are called here. Cyclone Larry wiped out not only Queensland's entire banana crop but also damaged 25% of the sugarcane fields.

Biofuels should only be used in the agricultural sector but not by us city slickers.

Forget all your car dreams and focus instead on public transport and electric rail. The time is running out for these solutions.

Your paper looks interesting, but I have some serious doubts about your calculations regarding ethanol. For a start, you claim a ration of 1:1.38 return on energy, which seems to come from a single dated study based on corn ethanol in the US. Secondly, you claim that there is gas input for distillation, which is not required in Brazilian or Thai production.

I don't know enough about the Australian case, but from the looks of it 5 liters per week, 52 weeks per year for 10 million vehicles is an awful lot of fuel in a peak oil content. If you used energy return figures from Brazil, it would also be a huge boost to the climate. Given technological improvements that already seem on the way, this should be somewhat better in the foreseeable future.

Ethanol is not a threat to public transportation. We will have and need both. I would rather see you focus on solving the problem than pushing only one option at the expense of others. I do support public transportation and hope you aren't forcing people to choose between it and better way of running cars.

If there is so much readily accessible energy forthcoming from cow chips why is the energy resource not currently being exploited? If there were energy sitting there waiting to be tapped why count it as a zero input when calculating EROEI?
My suspicion is they can't and won't recover much from cow chips except possibly a few investors.
The other part of this discussion that makes less and less sense is the huge pair of assumptions 1)using food for fuel is reasonable and ethical and 2)the Midwest corn harvest is so automatic and dependable you can assume it as freely as you assume the sunrise. As we plan our fleet of ethanol powered bliss machines do we imagine that drought and crop failure never happen? Do we assume that in the event of crop failure fuel will have priority over food? Global warming promisses more frequent droughts, crop failure follows.Agricultural spreadsheets that do not factor in weather can't be right.
This raises the important issue of multicriteria analysis involving several products. In your example, if our end goal is energy, then using cow chips (or manure lagoons on dairy farms) to produce natural gas is much more inefficient than just throwing the cows themselves and the grass they eat into the biodigester. But then we dont have milk - the market is supposed to solve these conundrums but as we are seeing, energy infrastructre needs ALOT of lead time
why is the energy resource not currently being exploited?

Sulfuric and nitric acid.

Anytime you have a 'biogas' you get Sulfur and Nitrogen in the methane gas.   When that burns you get acidic compounds that will destroy the boilers over time.   Will trash an internal compustion engine in short order.

Oh, and you get air pollution via the Nitrogen/Sulfur

There are hundreds of biogas powered wehicles in my home town Linköping in Sweden that has run for years. Most of them are busses and taxis and other high milage wehicles. This is a solved problem.
I think it's because ROI isn't just calculated on size of production, it's also rate of production.

I once figured that the average ethanol plant produces 127,100 gal/day.  I doubt the average cow-flop reactor can match that pace of energy production.

As I understand it, cow flop methane is more a steady low production, suitable for local use.  It may be economic (esp. with higher natural gas prices) in that role, but not productive enough to support an "energy production" business.

I once figured that the average ethanol plant produces 127,100 gal/day.  I doubt the average cow-flop reactor can match that pace of energy production.

Exactly correct, and the reason for my skepticism that they could run the process on the methane produced from manure. If you look closely at the graphic, it says "Digesters produce 100% of energy required to run the plant." I thought "No way", so I contacted the company. Turns out I was correct, but they expect the biogas to make a significant contribution.

Time will tell. This concept has not been proven. I am just happy to see someone in the U.S. try to make ethanol is a more sustainable manner.


hello, expat
               i think your onto something with svo. but i dissagree that new german diesels have cant run on it. im a deutz and lambo agent in australia, and we have played around with svo. the euro 2 deutz tractors seem to run better on svo than diesel. as for the lambos, its really not a problem. we start them on diesel, and run diesel through them when we turn them off, and there dosnt seem to be any side effects. i dont think its a solution, but for small communitys i think it might be an option.
Their location has one disadvantage, however, and that is the need to irrigate corn in Nebraska. That means that the overall EROEI would not be as high as for a facility built in Iowa or Minnesota, for instance

This gets to Liebigs law. I am beginning to wonder if the Oglala aquifer in Nebraska is similar to Ghawar in Saudi Arabia - it will keep on pumping until one day it just fizzles. The Oglala is a depletable aquifer as opposed to a renewable water table. In this case, we would have high EROIenergy but low EROIwater as both energy and water would be inputs into the energy process. According to Liebigs law we ideally would want high returns on the most precious inputs and low returns on the abundant resource inputs.   Water may soon be as much a limiting factor as energy - and in some senses, more limiting, as we need it to live, whereas we can still live without energy.

This complicates the already complex EROI discussion. A colleague and I will have a working paper attempting at simplifying this on Cutler Clevelands new energy portal website later this week.

There is no such thing as responsible biofuels. Everyone should read George Monbiot's take on the situation.

The most destructive crop on earth is no solution to the energy crisis

By promoting biodiesel as a substitute, we have missed the fact that it is worse than the fossil-fuel burning it replaces.

Of course Monbiot is talking about biodiesel and not ethanol, but it is the exact same principle. Read what is in my opinion the very best article Monbiot ever wrote:


Thank you for referencing that article. I read it when it was fresh and it ended the argument for me.
Just posting this to draw attention to your post and hoping someone links and reads.
There is no such thing as responsible biofuels. Everyone should read George Monbiot's take on the situation.

This isn't true, and is a misreading of Monbiot's position. His position is no different than mine: Biofuels can't possibly fill the gap that fossil fuels will leave. No possibility, and it is irresponsible for anyone to claim they can. Conservation has to be the biggest contributor.

I am also on the same page with Monbiot that biofuels are generally made irresponsibly. That is the case with grain ethanol production on the U.S. today. But can biofuels be made responsibly? Of course they can. Could I devise a process in which I grow trees, replant what I harvest, and turn the trees into cellulosic ethanol or diesel (via BTL) in a sustainable and responsible manner? Of course I could. The yields would not be comparable to factory farming, but I could do it sustainably.

The E3 process may not be perfect, but with the political climate today we are going to continue to make ethanol. It can be a part of our energy mix if it is made responsibly. The fact that we don't make biofuels in a responsible manner is quite different than the question of whether we can.


Could I devise a process in which I [produce] ethanol or diesel (via BTL) in a sustainable and responsible manner? Of course I could. The yields would not be comparable to factory farming, but I could do it sustainably.

Sorry RR, but you can't do that, in the commercial sense, because those that do it in irresponsible ways will undercut your price.  That is the jist of Monbiot's article.

That's one reason I favor a carbon tax. We need to be moving quickly in the direction of sustainability, and a carbon tax would reward producers who put a premium on efficiency (and thus, sustainability), and punish those who don't.

What I got out of Monbiot's article is that we can't replace our fossil fuel usage with biofuels. I agree with that 100%. But that is quite different than saying biofuels can't be made in a responsible manner.


"Conservation has to be the biggest contributor" is exactly correct. We can quibble forever and a day over details of producing (or abstaining from) biofuels and it won't change the primary need for conservation.
Conservation just doesn't have the gee-whiz factor that ethanol  or bio-gas or bio-diesel has. Should we call it Bio-Conservation and hire marketers?
As always RR is the most reasonable and reasoned voice around, but still, the dynamic of the discussion, the unavoidable front-end loading towards flow-charts and promotional copy skews the discourse.
But get into areas outside the Midwest, where you have to ship corn a long way, ship ethanol a long way, and/or irrigate the corn, and ethanol rapidly becomes just a recycled fossil fuel.

What about fertilizer?  I was under the impression that even in Iowa, they needed a great deal of fertilizer to grow corn.

true but that is included in the energy balances referred to. without needing fertilizer the EROI would be even higher
Yes, that's exactly my point, since they do need fertilizer, isn't this overestimating the sustainability of ethanol?  It seems that only irrigation and transport have been considered.
Yes, that's exactly my point, since they do need fertilizer, isn't this overestimating the sustainability of ethanol?  It seems that only irrigation and transport have been considered.

No. By considering only irrigation and transport, what I am saying is that EROEI is improved. I am not saying it is improved to the point that it is a highly desirable solution, nor can it possibly compete with petroleum. But I have studied the USDA papers on the subject, and the EROEI for corn ethanol in Nebraska is barely above 1.0, but in Iowa it was more like 1.6. The solution is more sustainable in Iowa than in Nebraska, but still only mildly sustainable even in Iowa. If the EROEI can be boosted up into the 5-10 range, sustainability improves greatly.


and use the remaining solids to fertilize the soil.

Robert, did the spreadsheet mention how much fertilizer the process produced? If it produced a significant fraction of the fertilizer needed for the corn that could have sizable impact on the EROEI.

There is a co-product section that defines nitrogen, P2O5, and K2O outputs. My assumption is that this the manure output. If I am reading it correctly, the only shortfall will be on nitrogen, but the manure will provide around 25% of the nitrogen fertilizer needs of the corn. P2O5 and K2O are produced in excess of what is needed.

And yes, you are correct that this will contribute toward improving the EROEI.


Does the paper assume that corn will be grown continuously in the same field?

My understanding is that corn is usually rotated with soybeans, a legume, and that the nitrogen needs of the corn following soybeans is partially offset by the legumous nitrogen from the corn.

As to the animal wastes used as fertilizer, it is a wonderful way to recycle phosphorus and potassium as well as nitrogen.  However, the wastes should only be added up to the corn's need for phosphorus.  Excess phosphorus is a major culprit in promoting dead zones and algae blooms.

Right now considerable work is being conducted to find a way to remove phosphorus from animal wastes so that more wastes, and hence nitrogen, may be applied to corn fields.  The excess phosphorus may be applied to the soybean fields which do not require nitrogen.

...ethanol could provide a (mildly) sustainable solution  

RR, is this like being partially pregnant?

RR, is this like being partially pregnant?

More like the difference between 1 month pregnant and 9 months pregnant. In the latter case, you have almost made it to the end. In the case of sustainability, something with an EROEI of 20:1 may be highly sustainable, but something with an EROEI of 1.2:1 may be only mildly sustainable.

By the way, where are you today? You going to make it to Billings today?


I'm in the Badlands South Dakota burying silver bars - will make it to Billings tonight, the good lord willing and the gas stations still selling me gas and coffee.

(kidding about the silver bars - their still in my car)

Could it be that this process makes sense only because it is trying to make the best of a flawed process.  We produce tons of subsidized corn because it is subsidized and then we feed it to animals because we have too much available to do anything else with it.  Then we try to extract more value from this process by producing methane and a fertilizer product.

If the meat producing system was a grass based, closed loop system in the first place   (See the Omnivore's Dilemma by Pollan), is it possible that the energy savings would be greater than trying to take an insane corn based system and then trying to get back some of the energy that you wasted in the first place.

And oh, by the way, it is estimated that converting from a meat based to a veg based diet is like going from a SUV to a hybrid in terms of CO2 and energy saved.  But that has even less chance of happening that ending this insane subsidized industrialized farm system based on subsidized corn.

And also, by the way, as a heavy green vegetable eater, the bulk of my food is not subsidized, so I pay dearly in order to be a vegetarian even though my diet is more efficient than a meat based diet.  Meat is so cheap because corn is so cheap.  

We probably wouldn't be having this discussion if it weren't for farm, especially corn subsidies.  

Right on, tstreet.  I also wonder if the EROI quoted by RR includes all the agricultural inputs, including fertilizers, pesticides, fuel for machinery, embedded energy in machinery, soil erosion mitigation (if that's even possible), etc etc, and of course the nonrenewable groundwater where applicable as Sasquatch wrote about.

True sustainability in a garden is really difficult to achieve, see Jeavons' book for some thoughts and techniques.  It'll be damn hard to just feed ourselves post-oil.  Forget those driving toys.

I also wonder if the EROI quoted by RR includes all the agricultural inputs, including fertilizers, pesticides, fuel for machinery, embedded energy in machinery, soil erosion mitigation (if that's even possible), etc etc, and of course the nonrenewable groundwater where applicable as Sasquatch wrote about.

Ask, and ye shall be answered. I can tell you what is and is not included. The spreadsheets used inputs from the recent USDA studies, so it does include all of the primary inputs. It doesn't include secondary inputs, like the energy to build the ethanol plant. I have never seen any good numbers for that. The USDA said that's why they didn't include secondary inputs, but to truly evaluate the energy return they have to be included.

Soil erosion and groundwater depletion are not considered, and have never been rigorously evaluated in any study I have seen. For true sustainability, you obviously can't have an erosive process, and you can't use up groundwater faster than it is replaced. However, returning the manure back to the soil will help with the erosion issue. Will it arrest it? We won't know this until the process has gone through a few growing seasons.


Does the spreadsheet say what happens when there's a drought? When both the local gas station and human mouths have an expectation to be fed?
Infrastructure is being built on the umrealistic assumption the harvest never fails, never ends.
The benefit of the manure against erosion is largely due to the straw and other whole plant remains that strengthen the soil structure, allowing it to breathe and resist washing off. So it depends on the amount of straw used, liquid manure is rather bad, as it washes away quickly, not benefitting the crops and into the groundwater - and it requires another drive of machinery over the field, compressing the soil even more.
The E3 ethanol process described in this thread clearly  has many theoretical advantages in that it integrates the growing of corn, byproduct use to supplement cattle feed, and the production of biogas from the cattle maure.

However, I wouldn't get all that excited about the biogas part, as you really don't get all that much.

To provide some idea, a typical rule-of-thumb is in the range of 30 to 45 cu ft of biogas per 1,000 lbs liveweight of cattle. With a typical cow about 1,000 lbs (give or take), that would mean that a 2,500-head feedlot would produce roughly 100,000 cu ft per day of biogas. Biogas has a heat content of only about 600 BTU per cu ft, so the gross energy production would be 60 million BTU per day, equivalent to a bit less than 450 gallons per day of fuel oil. Not a lot, in terms of running a large distillation unit and other process equipment.

Let us also keep in mind that anaerobic digesters don't produce biogas at a very high rate until the temperature of the digester liquor gets of to about 90  to 105 degrees F, a temperature range where  mesophilic bacteria  become active. Higher rates can be attained if the temperature is raised to 120 to 140 degress F, where a whole different set of 'thermophilic' bacteria predominate.

What this means is that to be an effective producer of biogas, the anaerobic digester must be heated, and all of that heat must come from the biogas produced.  Trying to keep even a large digester at say 100 degrees F during a Nebraska winter where sub-zero temperatures are not uncommon will consume a large fraction of the biogas, leaving little left over for process uses.

I'm not saying that incorporating a biogas-producing digester into the E3 scheme is a bad idea, per se, just that it's contribution to the overall energy input will probably not be all that great on a yearly average basis.  This tells me that the E3 scheme would work better in a warm rather than a cold climate, all other things being equal.  But of course, you don't grow corn in Arizona (at least that I'm aware of).

In general, I like these kinds of symbiotic energy schemes. I've always felt that there is a lot of low-grade waste heat in this world that could be put to beneficial uses a lot more than it currently is.  The idea of putting an ethanol plant next to a coal-fired power plant might have some merit, in that waste heat from the power plant could be piped across the fence to the ethanol plant.

But a stand-alone ethanol plant operating on natural gas and importing corn long distance and exporting ethanol a long distance looks like a natural-born loser.

Hello Joule,

Then the best solution is to ship all manure and sewage to roast in the Arizona sun!  That aromatically alone should get most Arizonians to migrate elsewhere as we are already in deepsh*t Overshoot.

Just a little humor from mountains of manure! =D

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

totneila -

I see that the temperature in Pheonix has been well over 100 degrees F for most of the last several weeks. The climate seems to be best described as Baghdad West.

That should be pretty effective in converting manure into sun-dried cow chips, suitable for barbequeing. Gives those steaks a little tang.

Is there any agriculture in Arizona except for heavily irrigated and fertilized lawns and putting greens?

Foxy Lettuce and, while not edible, pima cotton are good sized industries here.
Re: As natural gas supplies diminish, many ethanol producers are turning to coal as a fuel source....

I can't speak for HO, but I post on natural gas supplies in North America because the situation is alarming. I think about the fact that the energy hog of the world is turning more and more to coal and not sequestering the carbon. His threads and mine on this (and related) subjects get scant attention. And now, RR comments that ethanol -- which is supposed to be an "alternative" fuel, will be produced with coal! Here's a Green Congress link from last year:

Two Coal-Fueled Ethanol Plants Under Construction

In powering down our society and reducing our carbon debt, switching to natural gas when possible is a logical step that we can not take because future supplies are not assured. In some sense, I'm rooting for the Anadarkos of the world. Maybe they will have some success in ultra deepwater drilling or coal bed methane will work out somehow. Yet I am pessimistic because I am conversant with the problems involved. This is the power grid I'm talking about, folks. These natural gas posts that HO and I write are meant to raise a big red flag. We are waving that flag but few people seem to see it. Burning coal to make ethanol... Is that ironic or what?

This is the power grid I'm talking about, folks. These natural gas posts that HO and I write are meant to raise a big red flag. We are waving that flag but few people seem to see it.

Dave (and HO), more people are reading (and appreciating) your natural gas posts than you might think. Please keep them coming. Just because people don't always comment doesn't mean that they aren't taking in what you have to say. I agree with you that the topic is extremely important.

We are waving that flag but few people seem to see it. Burning coal to make ethanol... Is that ironic or what?

Ironic, yes. But very predictable. I have been saying for a long time that a move to coal was inevitable. Spiking natural gas prices, due to the poor EROEI of typical grain ethanol, is a killer on cost of production. Coal is cheaper and more stable. But this is not a desirable solution.



Indeed, you have been saying it, and it simply puts us back around to where we started, doesn't it?  I am not opposed to bio fuels or ethanol on principle, but the relience on natural gas to me is a travesty, given that there will never be a higer quality fuel....meaning you end up burning a high quality fuel to make a lower quality fuel....to burn. (????)

With coal, it is even more bizarre from an environmental viewpoint....you burn a dirty fuel to make a supposedly cleaner fuel, and that somehow cleans the air?  (????)  The problem is that many are still seeing ethanol as a fuel creating industry, when in fact it is a fuel switching industry.  By the way, tar sand oil suffers from much the same problem.  

But, if we are going to embark on these types of mousetrap interlocking type switch swatch operations (the carbons under which shell? take a guess young man, win some fuel for the lady! :-), then we should at least go back to the front end and pour the big effort into carbon sequestration.  We should just admit it, WE ARE GOING TO END UP BURNING THE COAL BIGTIME.  It's cheap, it's relatively easy, and a heck of a lot easier to deal with than ethanol, tar sand, or oil shale....CTL is a messy dirty business, but at least it's more technically candid than what we are seeing now.

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Putting the bovines in the loop might have more to do with finance than energy. Milk and/or meat sales could be used to subsidize the ethanol production and make the investors happy. This isn't saying that the distillery isn't profitable but that an economic symbiosis but be a big part of the business plan.
 If it's manure they want then a pork operation would be a good addition. I read somewhere that swine produces much more manure pound for pound than cattle. The Amish often have cows that produce much more milk than they could use or sell so they convert the surplus milk into profitable pork. A growing pig can drink as much as 10 gallons of milk a day.
I got an e-mail from the project manager from E3 Biofuels. He has read the comments here, and wanted to make some clarifications. He wrote:

First, not all of our biogas comes from the animal manure.  In fact, about 65% of our biogas is produced from the thin stillage (which is a byproduct of the ethanol process).  This stillage produces more biogas per lb/VS than does manure and we have more thin stillage going into the digesters than we do manure.

Second, we do not use biogas to heat our digesters. They are mesophilic and run at 96 Degrees Fahrenheit.  The hot thin stillage coming out of the ethanol plant is what keeps the digesters at this temp.

Also, though at this point we only can safely say that we use 75% less Fossil Energy than a typical ethanol plant, I guarantee you that we will get to 95% less before it is all said and done.  We will build new facilities in the future and we will have monumental efficiency gains.  My 75% number is my safe conservative figure.

Finally, we separate the digestate (after the solids have been completely volitalized) into N,P,and K.  These are then returned to the soil.

That should answer some of the questions/concerns in this thread.


Has anyone here looked into Biobutanol?
Thank you Robert!
I think butanol makes more sense as fuel, but the ethanol lobby is pretty powerful. Ethanol is not going away any time soon.


What's the octane rating of butanol? It has the BTUs of gasoline, so cars will have the combat radius of now if they can run on it. If it has poor octane rating but also no good for diesels, it has a niche still - as jet fuel for warbirds.