Climate Change and Electricity From Biomass

[editor's note, by Prof. Goose] Forget not the reddit and digg buttons!

The time has come to put the ongoing biomass debate in a larger context. My thanks to many TOD participants for their informative comments. I usually work the "problem" side of climate change, peak oil and natural gas supply in North America. Here I intend to address the "solutions" side of the debate. It is important to remember that no solution is without its attendant problems.

This post is lengthy and complex because the larger picture requires that I talk about a number of different subjects: electricity generation and usage trends, the weather & climate, coal trends, natural gas trends, CO2 emissions as they relate to electricity demand and biomass for power generation. However, if you'll bear with me, a coherent picture emerges at the end. I will confine myself to the United States and not talk too much about oil.

Two recent deplorable developments and months of thought have inspired this post.

  • The current liquid biofuels boom and bubble focusing mainly on corn ethanol as discussed by Robert Rapier here, here and now here. Is this the best way to use biomass? It is not and I agree with Jim Kunstler that we've got to make other arrangements for our future. The American cultural tendency is to maintain our happy motoring utopia at all costs. This tendency in turn underlies the misplaced enthusiasm for liquid biofuels.
  • Two strong negative indicators appeared recently concerning the continuing fight to mitigate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and achieve some modicum of stability regarding anthropogenic climate change. The first is this report of a memo from the Intermountain Rural Electric Association (IREA) resurrecting an absurd plan to discredit climate change science and prepare the way for a coal-fired future without carbon sequestration. The second indicator is the new enthusiasm for geoengineering (, Gavin Schmid of NASA GISS). In this case, Nobel Prize winning chemist Paul Crutzen, who invented the excellent term Anthropocene, has suggested that we put sulfur into the lower atmosphere to spur the creation of sulfate aerosols. This would have a "global dimming" effect (like after the Pinatubo volcanic eruption) and hence cool the Earth. This is also absurd (see Gavin's story) and is tantamount to giving up the battle to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As promised, I will confine myself to the US except for the following chart from the Christian Science Monitor New coal plants bury 'Kyoto'.

By 2012, expected cuts in greenhouse-gas
emissions under the Kyoto treaty will be
swamped by emissions from a surge of new
coal-fired plants built in China, India,
and the United States
"Environmental optimists were assuming the world was going to switch to [natural] gas, but when you're short of gas you use your own coal," says Philip Andrews-Speed, a China energy expert at the University of Dundee, in Scotland. "What you're seeing with China and the others is the cheapness and security of coal just overwhelming the desire to be clean."
As you can see, the problem is much bigger than American coal usage for generating electricity. Now that the context is established, I will talk about trends in the US while noting that we Americans have an obligation in this world to lead by example given that we use 25% of the liquid fuels and generate about the same percentage of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. Also, I do not live in China and nor can I vote there.

Electricity Consumption and CO2 Emissions

I will be referencing a recent EIA report with the innocuous title US Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Energy Sources (requires Flash). See also the introduction to the report (June 28, 2006). Click on any of the figures below to enlarge them in a new window.

Figures 1 and 2

Figure 3

Figures 4 and 5

Guide to the Slides and Pertinent Data

  • Figure 1 -- US Consumption of Residential Natural Gas, Electricity and Motor Gasoline. Electricity demand is outstripping gasoline and natural gas demand but prices remain stable. "Even though weather and population trends affect the demand ...". Even though?
  • Figure 2 -- Carbon Dioxide Emissions by Fuel Type. While pretroleum fuel usage still generates the most emissions (2585 MMTons CO2) and is rising, natural gas is flat or slightly declining and coal (2136 MMTons CO2) also shows a steady rise.
  • Figure 3 -- Electric Power Emissions by Source. Electric power emissions have risen an astonishing 30.9% since 1990 with coal responsible for 83 to 86% of total emissions. Natural gas, which powers about 19% of electricity generation (not in slide), creates only 12 to 13% of emissions over the last 5 years.
  • Figure 4 -- Carbon Dioxide Emissions by End-Use Sector. In 1999, transportation emissions surpassed those generated by industry, which is flat since 1990. Emissions from the electric power sector show the most growth. Residential is rising 1.8%/year and commercial is rising 2.0%/year, greater than transportation at 1.4%/year.
  • Figure 5 -- Residential Sector. Heating degree-days (winter) is flat but cooling degree-days (summer A/C) rose by over 13% from 2004 to 2005. While total emissions increased by 3.2%, electricity-related emissions rose by 4.9%. Population growth and greater electricity demand are the key factors affecting emissions growth.

Let's discuss this data. Most of it is self-explanatory, you can see the trends. Heating and cooling degree-days data is maintained by the National Climatic Data Center. "Degree day is a quantitative index demonstrated to reflect demand for energy to heat or cool houses and businesses". There don't seem to be easily obtainable national statistics for the period of interest here (1990 to 2005) but the problem is being worked on.

"Call it what you will -- trends, global warming -- the bottom line is we're much warmer lately"...

"We look at something called the number of National Cooling Degree Days," said [Jon] Davis [chief climatologist for Chesapeake Energy Corp]. "We're seeing a tremendous increase in cooling days. The weather variable in energy is going to get more and more (important) from this point on."

We know that electricity usage has risen substantially between 1990 and 2005. What is the cause? As to the relationship to climate warming, we can not establish what that is yet. Naturally, the one data point (2004 to 2005) allows us to conclude nothing. The question is whether this is a statistically significant trend. Do warmer winters offset hotter summers? Are there more degree-days year-on-year for the period? Fewer heating degree-days in the winter could offset more cooling degree-days in the summer. If no significant trend can be identified, then increased electricity demand is probably due to increased population, larger residential and commerical buildings using central A/C & heating -- or both of these factors. However, I conjecture that climate warming is playing a role here but its true significance is unknown over the time period we care about (from 1990 to the present). All this requires further data analysis.

Coal and Natural Gas Power Generation Trends

As electricity demand increases over time, so should coal and natural gas consumption. However, Figure 1 indicates the natural gas consumption is only slightly higher over the 1990 to 2005 period, currently declining and does not reflect increased electricity demand over the period. In addition, the EIA's slide #3 (not shown) indicates that electricity prices are flat over the period indexed to constant dollars. What's going on? The answer must be coal.

From the natural gas section of EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2006 with Projections to 2030.

Figure 6
Currently, high natural gas prices discourage the construction of new natural-gas-fired electricity generation plants. As a result, only 130 gigawatts of new natural-gas-fired capacity is added from year-end 2004 through 2030, as compared with 154 gigawatts of new coal-fired capacity. Natural gas consumption in the electric power sector peaks at 7.5 trillion cubic feet in 2019, then starts falling as new coal-fired electricity generation increasingly displaces natural-gas fired generation. Natural gas use for electricity generation declines to 6.4 trillion cubic feet in 2030.
Space restrictions prevent a thorough treatment of natural gas prices in this post. Suffice it to say that prices are high and have just spiked (NYMEX Henry Hub) to $8.21/Mcf (= MMbtu/Mcf, see below) as of this writing. A recent EIA gas update tells us why.
As a result of the record-setting heat and correspondingly higher power usage in many areas, natural gas spot prices increased at all market locations since last Wednesday, July 19. The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) reported yesterday that U.S. electricity demand reached an all-time record last week. According to EEI, domestic utilities delivered 96,314 gigawatt hours (GWh) during the week ending July 22, surpassing the previous record, which was set last year during the week ending July 23, 2005, by more than 1 percent. Price increases on the week varied widely, ranging between 49 cents and $1.11 per MMBtu.
Consider the following table from EIA's annual natural gas prices report.

Price Type 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Wellhead Price 3.68 4.00 2.95 4.88 5.46 7.51
Electric Power Price 4.38 4.61 3.68 5.57 6.11 8.45

Note: Prices are in MMBTU: One million Btu’s is equal to approximately 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas (Mcf).
Electric Power Price: price of gas used by electricity generators (regulated utilities and non-regulated power producers) whose line of business is the generation of power.

Understanding Figure 6 is the key to what's going on. HO and I have done numerous posts on natural gas but I will do a quick summary here. I suggest you read back through some of them. Remember, using natural gas has very low CO2 emissions relative to coal. What happened is as follows. Starting in about 1996 and culminating in 2004, most new power plants were built using natural gas. Wellhead gas prices have more than doubled since 2000 due to tight supply and had increased previous to that since the mid-90's. Matters have not been helped any by extreme weather events (like this summer's heat wave) and especially the shut-ins in 2005 due to the hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. We are still in the hurricane season although the weather has been quiet so far. As if that wasn't bad enough, natural gas wells deplete rapidly and the shallow-water Gulf of Mexico is being used up. As a result, due to simple extraction economics rigs are leaving the Gulf. Given the lead times for adding additional electrical power generation, plans for building coal-fired plants started to hold sway; plans for natural gas generation have flattened out. However, around 2009 LNG imports from Qatar will boost imports and presumably make natural gas electricity generation affordable again. Meanwhile, coal is the power generation fuel of the present -- see Tracking New Coal-Fired Power Plants -- Coal’s Resurgence in Electric Power Generation (June 26, 2006, pdf). According to the EIA, the electricity fuel of the future will be natural gas again after LNG gets going. Meanwhile, our NETL source tells us that there are 153 proposed coal plants with an estimated 93 gigawatts of electricity generation. Here's the big picture from the link above:


Note how anticipated coal generating capacity starts growing in 2004 and reaches its peak in 2010. Note the large undecided category. This is probably due to uncertainty regarding future natural gas supply. And what about coal prices? Coal is still cheap. Relative to natural gas, they are low. In fact, the NYMEX Central Appalachian Coal Futures price is dropping! All this is a climate change disaster.

Biomass for Electrical Power Generation

Three detrimental things have happened as US electricity demand has risen year-on-year as it has since 1990 at a rate of 1.8%/year and 31% overall.
  1. Natural gas prices have increased due to increasing scarcity of supply and growing demand.
  2. Plans to build coal-fired power plants increased.
  3. CO2 emissions have risen due primarily to the dependence on coal. This trend will get worse on our current path.

As Robert Rapier has told me (personal communication):

I don't know what the EROI [for BTL] will be, but they are partially burning the biomass. That will generate a lot of energy in which to make the liquid products. In my opinion, Fischer-Tropsch diesel is the best route. But this is a much more expensive option [regarding capital costs] than using biomass to generate electricity.
Forget the corn ethanol. Forget the cellulosic ethanol too. In these cases, using BTL processes for liquid transportation fuels increases capital costs to levels that don't pay off much and substituting food stocks for transportation fuels does not replace a significant part of our gasoline usage in any case -- it makes no sense. What are the CO2 emissions for various biofuels strategies? Brazil has had some success with biofuels from sugar cane but they started subsidizing their production 20 years ago. What makes the biomass worth using is the energy yield from simply burning it. So, let's use the biomass for electricity generation directly in a sustainable manner. Then use the generated power to build nationwide electric rail or trolley in cities or electric cars. Here are some details.

As detailed in the EIA's study Biomass for Electricity Generation, there are four ways to use biomass.

Biomass for electricity generation is treated in four ways in NEMS: (1) new dedicated biomass or biomass gasification, (2) existing and new plants that co-fire biomass with coal, (3) existing plants that combust biomass directly in an open-loop process,18 and (4) biomass use in industrial cogeneration applications. Existing biomass plants are accounted for using information such as on-line years, efficiencies, heat rates, and retirement dates, obtained through EIA surveys of the electricity generation sector.
Here I will restrict myself to option #1 though the co-generation strategies (#2, #4) are viable as well. Specifically, the EIA is talking about a closed-loop process using biomass integrated gasification combined cycle (BIGCC) technology where
A closed-loop process is defined as a process in which power is generated using feedstocks that are grown specifically for the purpose of energy production. Many varieties of energy crops are being considered, including hybrid willow, switchgrass, and hybrid poplar. If biomass is utilized in a closed-loop process, the entire process (planting, harvesting, transportation, and conversion to electricity) can be considered to be a small but positive net emitter of CO2. It is not precisely a net zero emission process in a life-cycle sense, because there are CO2 emissions associated with the harvesting, transportation, and feed preparation operations (such as moisture reduction, size reduction, and removal of impurities). However, those emissions are not the result of combustion of biomass but result instead from fuel consumption (mostly petroleum and natural gas) for harvesting, transportation, and feed preparation operations.
The most important benefit of such a process is environmental; specifically the drastically reduced CO2 emissions. An obvious point bears repeating here: when referring to clean coal in IGCC electric power generation, the pollutants being considered are primarily sulfates (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NO, NO2), not carbon dioxide. While it may be possible to sequester CO2 at IGCC power plants, this is currently a research matter. Why not reduce CO2 emissions at the source using biomass? I'm sure that the irony is not lost on readers here that just as the US has mounted a clean coal inititative, Crutzen suggests that we seed the lower atmosphere with sulfur to promote global dimming! As I tried to make clear above, natural gas (with sequestration) is not a supply-side option in the short term and perhaps further out given uncertainties about building recieving terminals in the US to support the LNG lifeline.

A long study A Biomass Blueprint to Meet 15% of OECD Electricity Demand By 2020 (large pdf) by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the European Biomass Association (AEBIOM) goes into considerable detail about the proposal given by its title. Here's the introduction to the report. You can read all the report details. The logistical problems as viewed today in switching to electicity-based transportation are daunting. Here's what Wojciech Olejniczak, the Polish Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, had to say about it:

Increasing energy prices result in deteriorating conditions for the whole economy, including agriculture. A very important element of [the] “professional” power industry, based on renewable energy resources, is overcoming the organisational, technical and technological barriers, which today make biomass less competitive than fossil fuels. Such possibilities already exist on the local markets, where biomass is easily accessible and is not connected with high transportation costs. Increases in renewable energy production will not only result in an improvement in the areas of environment protection and energy safety, but will also provide a great chance for agriculture.
And from the report's authors:
Governments should also redirect their agricultural subsidies to support the development of a stable biomass fuel supply by allowing perennial woody and grass energy crops to benefit from incentive schemes and at realistic scales. This needs to be accompanied by the development and enforcement of best practice guidelines for for biomass production to maximise positive social and environmental impacts and minimise any negative effects. Bioenergy is a key technology to fight climate change and deliver economic and social benefits. Governments must act now to promote its world-wide development.
Here I present a modest proposal for implementing the supply chain infrastructure for large BIGCC and localized electric power generation solutions. Where BIGCC plants are not an option, other Combined Cycle plants using biomass can be built. The US can pay for the transition by implementing both carbon and gasoline fuel taxes, as has been called for here at TOD. Carbon sequestration for existing coal-fired plants must be implemented as soon as possible and let us pray that it is feasible. Co-generation using biomass must be added into those plants to reduce the carbon burden. The carbon market can supply production of domestic stranded oil using CO2 EOR in suitable regions like the Permian Basin of west Texas and New Mexico. This has been demonstrated at Weyburn. This is only a stopgap measure to ease the transition. Current tax subsidies for fossil fuels must be phased out. The necessary transition will be long and painful. Sorry, there is no gain without pain. We must begin the work now.

In Conclusion...

If Hirsch, Skrebowsky, Simmons, Stuart and the rest of us are right about the oil depletion picture, oil consumption will actually start showing declines in the near future. Assuming a 2010 date for the peak and a slow squeeze scenario as shown by Hubbert Linerarizations, we might further assume a 2% year-on-year usage decline after that date. Concomitantly, CO2 from petroleum as shown in Figure 2 will decline at some comparable rate. However the picture for electricity consumption is that it may continue to grow at its current 1.8% rate (from 1990 to 2005), or even at a higher rate. The population problem can not be ignored in this context, nor can larger centrally heated or cooled residential & commercial spaces. We also can not dismiss the degree-days problem that is likely stressing our power grid beyond capacity -- this is happening now and may be due to climate warming in the present and may be exacerbated by increased warming in the future. Declining petroleum usage combined with generating a significant fraction of our electricity using biomass could mean reduced CO2 emissions in the United States in the future. As I alluded to above, increased electricity supply can support various transportation options like electric rail, cars and streetcars.

Welcome to the Future -- Click to Enlarge

However, US government policies (taxes and subsidies) must change if this scenario is to happen. Particularly, the two political parties and venture capitalists like Vinod Khosla must be made to understand that BTL processes are not the best way to use biomass in the future. This is a failed strategy to maintain "business as usual". That will not work. Climate change considerations as constructed by Jim Hansen must be taken into account. As we make the transition to biomass for electric power generation, the US can create jobs and wealth, export technology to Asia (China & India), mitigate climate change and take a large step toward avoiding a longer term calamitous future.

Biomass is bulky until peopel focus on use cases were the biomass is converted to and alternative form very close to where its created I don't see the sense in discussing it.

I use the scenario of the Georgia moonshiner the reason he makes moonshine from corn is its not cost effective to transport the corn from the mountian valleys to market so he converts basically onsite to a higher grade smaller format.

Biomass solutions must look at economies possible from distributed resources towards concentrated resources with minimal transport. Any other approach is relying on the existing oil/coal based factory to support production.

Consider corn.

One you need to distill so like the Georgia moon shiner you need access to some form of heat for distillation this can be solar power part of the biomass or popular or other brushy biomass used to fuel the distillation. The moonshiner used the abundant wood but in our case we could do a coupled biomass system with some optimized for burning.

Resulting ethanol can easily be moved via pipelines back to the main distribution center.

There's more but until I see someone work through conversion at the farm or better at the edge of the field to high grade
fuel using only local inputs I don't see the point.

Maybe a even better for biomass if you take a longer term view is artificial maybe salty peat bogs that are periodically drained.

I mention this because I've also researched running the oceans carbon cycle on a small scale you can readily get up conversion to krill which then form the equivalent of proto oil muck which can then be dried and refined. Salt water ponds allow the growth of wood eating bacteria and worms.

Also you can for example even look at electrical generation directly from a large muck pond via

In any case managed muck ponds are very cost effective.
We routinely age wine and cheeses for years why not consider the same for biomass ?

I don't know what pisses me off  not doing bio fuels or the fact that engineers are not even considering one the most basic aspects of a bio fuel system which is the initial biomass has to be converted as close to its production point as possible. This constraint drives most of the rest of the design. I find the absolute stupidity alarming. Either I'm way off base or there are a bunch of really dumb people in biofuels.

memmel -

True, most biomass is quite bulky in its rough just-harvested form.  But it can be made much less bulky by simple mechanical operations that can be set up at the point of harvest.  The use of large tub grinders could convert the woody biomass into small chips with a far greater bulk density.  Various compaction or bailing techniques could also be employed at the point of harvest.

I would venture that with proper chipping and compacting techniques, biomass could be given a bulk density perhaps a third to a half that of coal, and coal is transported tremendous distances.

I fully agree, though, that it is preferrable to have the operations as close to the biomass source as possible, but my main point is that there is still an economically favorable radius of operations for a biomass-to-energy system.

It all gets down to a big material handling problem.

Compaction takes energy we of course don't know off hand how much but I suspect its not cheap both in equipment costs and operation expenses to run this type of equipment.

After coming up with the concept of compacting biomass via a artificial muck pond or swamp I went looking for references surprisingly there seems to be no research on using pond muck as a carbon source. Now natural swamps are well know for there carbon rich deposits which burn when dried and peat is a well known source of fuel. Next with proper treatment algae blooms can be encouraged in a muck pond to add further biomass.  They could be covered to collect methane also. So while the pond is filled it can act as a electric source and a methane source.

And again they can act is direct low level electric sources via bio batteries. Fresh vs Salt water muck ponds would also need investigation and those are just basic parameters that can be changed to influence the bacterial population of a muck pond you can play with oxygenation nutrients temp etc.
In colder climates composting on top of ponds covered with strong lids could be used to keep the temperature up plus using salt water ponds.

The concept would be to have a muck pond probably shaped as a long trench to allow easy access lined with clay concrete or plastic and  potentially covered with plastic when not being filled.  If these are done as long raised holding ponds down the lengths of a field the biomass harvester can simply deposit the biomass directly into the muck pond.

Lets estimate that it takes three years to fill the muck pond at the end of three years its drained with the rich effluent used to fertilize the field along with some of the muck. Next its allowed to dry and the concentrated carbon which is basically a cheap coal is sent to a CTL plant. And I say CTL because this process can be augmented with coal if needed. Residual ash is basically phosphate fertilizer since the biomass source is not important legumes can be rotated in to ensure nitrogen fixation and again the muck itself is incredibly rich.

Now if you want to do ethanol production also the crop can be harvested as normal and the peat can be used to close the cycle for distillation.

For energy sources we know they go oil->coal->peat so there is little or no reason to argue peat is not a valid and good energy source.

Can anyone argue against this scenario ?
Its really just a cheap bioreactor.

memmel -

The energy consumption of various grinders, chippers, and balers in terms of energy per unit weight of material processed is well known. One can get that number merely by calling up any number of equipment suppliers.

 If one is going to gasify the biomass or process it into ethanol, the biomass is going to have to go through at least one size-reduction step. So my point is simply:  why not do that size reduction right at the point of harvest so as to also increase the bulk density of the biomass and save on transportation cost.

Harvesting pond muck is an interesting idea. As long as the concentration of organic matter is high enough and you can dewater and dry it without consuming a great deal of energy, it might have a positive energy return. It would work much better in warm rather than cool climates, particularly if you want to go with natural solar drying. Again, the economics of material handling is what can make or break such a scheme.  

Building large open ponds or lagoons is relatively cheap and easy. Buidling large ponds with a transparent cover is neither cheap nor easy. Going with long narrow trenches would help ease some of theses construction difficulties.

What about harvesting water hyacinthes?  These floating plants grow wild in Florida , grow incredibly fast, and tend to blanket whole ponds.  They soak up nutrients like crazy, which is why there have been some demonstration projects using a water hyacinthe pond to treat domestic sewage.  I happen to have a tiny koi pond by the side of my porch that is only about 5ft wide and 6 ft long. Each spring I buy two water hyacinthes for it, and by mid summer the pond is completely blanketed. In fact, I have to remove at least 2 - 3 plants each morning from mid-July through mid-September (this is in Delaware).  The plants have a pretty high water content though, so dewatering and drying would be a major energy input. Just an idea.

Lets call them muck ditches I call them ditches now simply because it makes more sense to go with a long narrow pond I think then a large one.

Also there not quite ditches since they would need to be above the land level at least at some point to allow natural drainage similar to rice farming.

For northern climates you need to simply overfill the ditches with organic matter to get a composting zone which will maintain the temperature you don't need strong covers. The temperature should stay well above freezing.

Can anyone argue against this scenario ?
Its really just a cheap bioreactor.

At a guess, it sounds like a good idea for small scale and slow production ... but if you run the numbers for a commercial scale production plant it will start to look bad.

Can you really fill a pond over 3 years and then immediately start draining it?  Or do you need to fill them, and let them stew (producing methane of course) for some number of years?  How many ponds does a 100 million gallon per year plant need?  If it can't do 100 million gallons, is it even a silver bb?

(in contrast, I'd expect the total cycle time for corn ethanol from grain delivery to shipment to be no more than a few weeks ... assuming they let the yeast work down to the last sugars)

At a guess, it sounds like a good idea for small scale and slow production ... but if you run the numbers for a commercial scale production plant it will start to look bad.
I don't buy any numbers for commercial production since there based of leveraging the oil economy and will skyrocket over time. Maybe the first round of plants are feasible but what about the next round and after that ? The expense of digging a ditch can be as cheap as you want. And it can be spread of the lifetime of the ditch wich is at least decades. The only additional cost is plastic sheeting which can be itself produced from biomass so it will become fixed. In any case even when oil/natural gas becomes expensive for fuel its still a valid source for plastics for a long time esp once fuel pressure is removed.
Can you really fill a pond over 3 years and then immediately start draining it? Or do you need to fill them, and let them stew (producing methane of course) for some number of years? How many ponds does a 100 million gallon per year plant need? If it can't do 100 million gallons, is it even a silver bb?
Sure you can fill them at any rate you want it depends on the depth of the pond vs the biomass etc. That's a mechanical problem. The rate of breakdown or compaction is the issue. Take the natural setting your typical poorly maintained farm pond my experience has been that the layer of undigested organic matter is generally very low but the question is not what the fill rate is but what is the compaction rate ? I know semi dry composting takes about a year or less. A cows stomach or rumen digestion is a matter of days. A muck pond would be between these two extremes. Currently its rare to create the conditions for producing muck on purpose but in natural settings it seems to work quite well even in northern climates.
(in contrast, I'd expect the total cycle time for corn ethanol from grain delivery to shipment to be no more than a few weeks ... assuming they let the yeast work down to the last sugars)
Your thinking like and American whats the quick fix damned the costs. First everyone just about agrees the real answer is cellulose based solutions so forget about starch. My approach is a semi-managed local bio-reactor vs a monoculture solution. Considering the bacterial flora of a cow gut or termite and swamps I'd say mother nature thinks a bacterial witches brew is the best answer. Also on the chemical side you have syn-gas from the peat plus methane from the working ponds as feed stocks you can then produce whatever chemical is in demand plastics ethanol/butanol methanol FT what ever pathway. Also since you can combine the peat with methane your CO2 blow off is greatly reduced since you can boost syn gas production via C02 + CH4 -> 2C0 2H2 The methane is acting as a hydrogen source. You can do the same with coal and a natural gas source to control the C02. And that's the last point this approach works reasonable well with a tandem coal based economy till coal can be eliminated because again its really just a way to make low quality coal. And finally to address the economies of scale the peat or dried muck is already a microfine particulate so it goes right into a fluidized bed reactor or it can be moved and added as a slurry your paying the price for final drying but its like a wet coal. Potentially you could dry it and slurry with a low boiling organic solvent that's flashed off at the reactor or combine it with a natural oil like soybean oil. So it would be a carbon loaded natural oil. In the low boiling organic carrier case the carrier can be reused. In the case of a high boiling organic carries settling ponds would remove the bulk of the carrier for reuse. And to finish if you can pipeline the muck you can send it to a central plant but you can also process it locally. In any case using local muck ponds to massively increase the carbon content and break down the cellulose makes a lot more sense then exotic single species fermentation approaches for fuel.
No, I'm thinking like an engineer ... and trying to frame this as a set of numbers.

If you don't start with a plant production number, what do you start with?

Its not a plant production problem its a matter of determining the best way to convert bulky biomass to a usable form. I'm suggesting simple bioreactors to produce concentrated peat and methane. These would be used to produce what ever output you want if its liquid fuels then the cost is similar to CTL. Since its syn gas. I'm arguing that energy concentration at the source is a must for biofuels and natural digesters are the right thing to do. By overloading the digesters with organic material from surrounding croplands over a multi year period your replicating natural concentration steps that produced peat and thence in time coal. The approach concentrates organic material via two steps overloading from surrounding land and bacterial decomposition to reduce bulk. And its cheap and effective. The one modern magic material needed is a plastic sheet for covering that was not available to our ancestors. You can use ceramic or glass or steal coverings also so its possible without plastic but in this case a decent plastic cover makes the most sense. The ditch can be lined with clay/bricks concerete or agian plastic. My point is my argument is the number one problem with biomass is concetrating it not conversion this is a simple cheap and effective method to concentrate biomass.
I have actually blue-sky'd about adding waste biomass to manure ponds to increase/prolong methane production.  In a small (direct use, as I said above) case it might make sense.

Now, currently the output of those ponds is fertilizer, and not waste in the sense of something that must be shipped at some cost to disposal.  As I understand it, it can be sold.

If you are going to propose drying and conversion to liquid fuel, that is the step ton concentrate on.  For that the numbers of interest are how many tons of psuedo-peat you need, what it costs to process it, and how much liquid fuel it produces.

Going from natural peat production See
Peat The biggest problems in gasification of peat is encountered with its high moisture content and often also with its fairly high ash content. Updraught gasifiers fuelled with sod peat of approximately 30 - 40% moisture content have been installed in Finland fox district heating purposes and small downdraught gasifiers fuelled with fairly dry peat-pellets have been successfully tested in gas-engine applications (25). During the Second World War a lot of transport vehicles were converted to wood or peat gas operation, both in Finland and Sweden.
Now one approach is if the ditch is actually lined say with concrete or clay with embedded pipes and a tight cover can be fitted the entire ditch once drained and allowed to air dry can be blown with methane and in-situ gasified. Also you can introduce more dry organic material on top after draining to add fuel to finish the drying process. So in theory you need not move anything. So the final issue is how much the moisture content can be reduced during the final drying certainly methane and dry organic material can be added to finish the drying. In the case of more organic matter denser woody material such as popular thats say grown for 3-5 years beside the ditch while the ditch was being filled can be cut and used. As far as water content its known that natural peat bogs burn when drained or during droughts so obviously it drops enough for ignition and as I said before added dry organic material and methane can be used to initial and control drying and syngas production. The addition I've made is adding pipes to the bottoms and sides to inject methane if needed. Adding a final dry matter depending on moisture and creating a simple syngas reactor out of the fermenter with a fireproof covering that can be reused. If the covering is slightly wider then the ditch then it can be u shaped and simply buried to get a seal. Old time charcoal production used a similar method. I would not be surprised if you don't need to actually add water as the reaction progresses. Finally if needed or wanted the sludge could be scrapped into a smaller area before in-situ gasification. This could be done if needed by scraping several inches of the top material to a part of the ditch designed to be the gasifier as it dries. This should not be required but probably greatly hastens the drying process and its not a lot of energy.
This is interesting: what you're proposing to do is run a peat farm. IIRC the energy density of peat is not terribly high, but it might still be useful, especially as it will likely be higher than raw biomass. I think it's time to run some numbers and show us how it would really work. If you must go CTL, you have the advantage of a better C:H ratio than coal, although I don't how the engineering details work out.

Re: salt water. Usually has a lot of sulfate, at least if salt water = sea water. If you're waiting long enough to get significant methane generation you might also get significant sulfide generation, which on combustion turns back to sulfate, forming PM and acid rain. The sulfide may also have NIMBY odor issues (to be fair, H2S is also toxic). Then again, that might be trivial. Run the numbers and show us.

Its a research problem to run the numbers I've tried to google for research on the topic but it surprisingly seems to be and area that few have considered. Sulfur is of course and issue but it can be remediated locally. I think the reason its not done is because of the smell thus in all my posts I mention the use of covered ponds or better ditches. But if you have ever been near a turkey or swine farm some things smell. I actually worked as a sulfur/boron chemist for a while since there is little work in the area once I invented synthetic cat urine and realized why sulfur chemistry is not widely pursued. The sulfur itself is a required nutrient ammonium sulfate is a fertilizer. Also note if you use a grain producing plant for at least part of the production you can combine pig/chicken farming and recycling the ammonia with the cellulose production. Also if you produce concentrated sulfuric acid it can be used for numerous industrial processes dehydration to ethers or oxidation to carbocyclic acids for example. Also I'm a chemist this is a mass transfer problem :)
I was a chemist before I was an engineer ... and learned to run numbers in a rough quant course ... I think my old prof would want to see more than text here.

Man numbers are hard to come by. Generally people try not to initiate anarobic digestion :)

In any case my bust guess since references are slim is to start with areobic digestion with traditional composting methods this leads to a base of organic rich material as it accumulates water is added to induce anaerobic digestion and the composting region moves up the ditch.  Anaerobic digestion is hell to find but agian we can point at rumen digestion and methane digesters to show its in the few week month rang. Same with composting. So I think all organic material introduced should be reduced well within a year. Again I can't find any references outside of methane digesters for animal waster where your actually overloading the system with organic material but we can assume its about the same.

Final answer is I don't really know the rates and I don't think anyone has really tried it but they seem to be reasonable. Since its a artificial peat swap compaction is on the order of 100:1 from bulk organic material.

This google search revealed there is scientific work in the area but its all behind paywalls.,GGGL:2006-18,GGGL:en&sa=X&oi=spell&resnu m=0&ct=result&cd=1&q=rate+of+organic+material+breakdown+in+anaerobic+water&spell=1

There is of course the time lag between intial filling and
final draining thats on the order of years simply to accumulate organic material for some time. I think thats
the limiting factor not the biological digestion rates.

From this

We learn that composting reduces organic matter bulk by 80%
so my estimate of 100:1 for a mixed  aerobic/anarobic digestion is reasonable.

The energy content of peat is well known plus we get the methane also.

Finally this suggestion is not a lot different from fancy bioreactors just were fine with producing methane and carbon
to make syngas instead of trying to control the products to get ethanol.

I have a good general feeling about biogas production for direct use.  That's done a lot of places in the world.

The thing I'm most concerned with here is the "to liquids" step of the BTL process.  I did some surfing and it looks like pyrolysis of wood and peat is the path to a liquid biofuel (biodiesel):

Bio0il (pyrolysis oil) is a liquid fuel with medium heating value that can be used to generate electricity and heat at industrial locations such as saw mills, pulp and paper mills, wood processors, agricultural facilities and recycling facilities. Because it is derived from biomass, Bio0il is deemed to be greenhouse gas neutral. It has virtually no sulfur, low nitrous oxide emissions and very low particulates (significantly lower than diesel) when combusted. Bio0il can be used directly at the point of production. Bio0il is transportable, opening potential for small power generation plants to service installations such as hospitals, schools, universities, hotels, and other commercial and industrial facilities. On April 14, 2004, ground was broken in Vancouver, BC, Canada, on the construction site of what will be, when completed in the summer of 2004, the world's largest pyrolysis plant and the first pyrolysis oil fuelled power cogeneration facility. It will demonstrate the commercial potential in improving the efficiency of energy recovery from conversion of biomass waste to generate electric power from less fuel than traditional methods that use solid biomass combustion.

The plant is expected to process 100 tons per day of biomass and to produce 70 tons of BioOil, 20 tons of char and 10 tons of non-­condensable gases. Fifty tons of BioOil per day will be utilized to fuel a gas turbine developed by Orenda to produce up to 2.5 MWE of electricity -- enough to serve 2,500 households -- to meet the power requirements of the Erie Flooring plant and also enough to export electricity to Ontario's energy grid. Surplus heat generated by the turbine will produce up to 12,000 pounds of steam per hour to provide heat for Erie Flooring's industrial operations. The remaining BioOil and char from the plant will be sold to commercial users and used for research purposes. Non-condensable gases will be used to provide heat to the process.

Seven tons of oil from ten tons of biomass sounds pretty good ... but the question might be how pre-digesting, and then drying, to a pseudo-peat, changes that equation.

See my above post final drying and gassification can be carried out in-situ with the right construction. Additional biomass and methane can be added to control the composition. The only real problem is how dry does a artificial peat ditch get from simple solar drying and gravity draining. I point to the fact that natural peat bogs burn under drought conditions to show it gets dry enough.
70% sounds really good, maybe too good. Wonder if you can do this with something faster growing than wood: bamboo, say, or kudzu, or water hyacinth. One concern with peat is that if it works well, we might decide to dig it up instead of make it. That would be disastrous from a CO2 perspective.

We do dig up natural peat bogs now for fuel.

The advantage here is since were creating the peat bog we control the surroundings by two means one the bog is actually above the natural water table allowing it to be drained like a holding pond. Next we have pre-lined our bog with a impermeable material probably clay or bricks or concrete. Next we can almost certainly do in-situ gasification. We are also loading the bog way beyond natural rates by introducing biomass from the surrounding fields.

It really the artificial nature of the bog that makes it worthwhile over natural peat bogs. Of course people drain natural bogs all the time also. Generally though there far from the population and can't compete with coal at least so far.

As a finally note the ash left over from gasification is a great fertilizer and can be spread back on the adjacent fields.

We do dig up natural peat bogs now for fuel.

Well, of course. The real advantage of a peat farm (if it can be made to work) is that you only burn what you've accumulated in a year or however long it takes to make your peat, not burning tens of thousands of years of accumulated reduced carbon. The concern was that if you had a way of making peat valuable as fuel (directly, through BTL, whatever) we'll have the coal problem all over again, only we may end up destroying wetlands while we're at it.

As long as there is coal it more cost effective to mine coal then peat.

My artifical peat ditches differ dramatically from natural peat bogs.

First there charged with organic material from the surrounding
farmland that gives you say a 100-200:1 greater accumulation ratio than a natural peat bog. So in reality your getting if you fill for 3-5 years at least 300-1000 years of natural peat production plus your capturing the methane wich is a significant part of the overall energy probably 30-50%.
If for example you have 200 units of land you would fill a
artifical bog of say 1 unit. Its a volume problem since its related to the amount of organic material and the depth of the bog I'm guessing at leat 10-20 foot depth for the bog.
Needless to say the bog itself can be located on the least valuable land. I'm guessing to some extent but you can easily take the hay from a hundred acre farm and store it on a one acre plot piling it 20 feet high I find numbers like 9-15 dry tons per acre is common for biomass.

you have numbers like this for a round bale of hay

Hay Weight. 5 ft. 5 ft. 1200 lbs/bale So its about 1 ton
per 10 sq foot.

1 acre is  1 acre = 43560 sqft
divide by ten and that's
4,356 tons per acre storage.

And assume 10 tons per acre production gives
435 acres per 1 storage acre.

Man I'm good at back of the envelope calculations :)

You don't need to tightly bail the hay but it should compact
quickly under its own wet weight in the bog.

Except that the process is the same for peat production a artifical bog as I've described has a quite different energy profile from a natural bog.

Its the above multipliers that make it a viable energy source competitive with coal. In nature as far as I know there is generally no natural situation where a bog is flooded with organic material periodically except maybe if a river overflows into the bog area and it has a lot of organic material suspended. It would be intresting if this happens naturally somewhere on the planet maybe in the Amazon ?

Bottomlands of many large rivers (Nile, Mississippi, etc) at least before the rivers were dammed and the wetlands drained. It wouldn't technically count as a bog (water inputs only by precip, no outlet) but who's counting ;)
Can anyone argue against this scenario ?
I can provide data against some parts. Creating a bioreactor is yet another system needing management VS the "old" (ok present) system of taking out a dollar and buying energy. It will be hard to sell VS systems that capture sunlight or wind which have less management issues.

Next its allowed to dry and the concentrated carbon which is basically a cheap coal is sent to a CTL plant. ... Residual ash is basically phosphate fertilizer
If such is true, why do the rock dust as plant growth medium people see the better growth with rock dust, if plant growth was 'just' NPK? (Examples - remineralize the earth,, and the azioth(sp) people)

The person(s) who come up with a system that can use 40 acres of biomass and is as easy as dumping material in one part and taking out the liquid carbon-hydrogen chemical/leftovers will become very wealthy making said devices. Most of the systems being offered up have market-protection in the form of massive costs to create and to provide an economic return need to draw in material from a wide area.

Can anyone argue against this scenario ? I can provide data against some parts. Creating a bioreactor is yet another system needing management VS the "old" (ok present) system of taking out a dollar and buying energy. It will be hard to sell VS systems that capture sunlight or wind which have less management issues.
Even in a heavily electrified society there is still a lot of places where liquid/gas organics are needed. You still need to make plastics for example paint etc etc. And fuel in some cases. I'm not saying by any means this is a route to maintian our current fuel usage I am saying that there is no reason the farm cannot be the chemical factory of the future. Boifuel/mass solves a quite different problem from wind and solar electric generation you need all three.
Next its allowed to dry and the concentrated carbon which is basically a cheap coal is sent to a CTL plant. ... Residual ash is basically phosphate fertilizer If such is true, why do the rock dust as plant growth medium people see the better growth with rock dust, if plant growth was 'just' NPK? (Examples - remineralize the earth,, and the azioth(sp) people)
I don't quite understand this comment slash and burn agriculture has been around for thousands of years. The fertilizaiton aspects of ash are well known.
The person(s) who come up with a system that can use 40 acres of biomass and is as easy as dumping material in one part and taking out the liquid carbon-hydrogen chemical/leftovers will become very wealthy making said devices. Most of the systems being offered up have market-protection in the form of massive costs to create and to provide an economic return need to draw in material from a wide area.

I estimated 100 acres gives a good yield that's not a industrial proposition but a reasonable sized farm. And my point is some good old fashioned basic science means you don't need massive costs or industrialization to get high grade liquid fuels from biomass just knowledge. Also they can be pulling in biomass from basically fallow fields planted with legumes and grass you don't need to grow high energy row crops. So this would come from resting fields.

Burt Rutan would laugh his head off at your comment I suspect. This is not rocket science :)

And yes said farmer would become reasonably wealthy and why not ?

I don't quite understand this comment slash and burn agriculture has been around for thousands of years. The fertilizaiton aspects of ash are well known.

Yea, that would be the part where the arceage becomes non-productive after a few years.

Feel free to show how what I've stated is not correct.
Burt Rutan would laugh his head off at your comment I suspect.

And somehow I don't think you have a clue about what Mr. Rutan would think or not think.

Thinking of the above numbers a little bit, it's basically a ton of high quality biomass burned for every 100 gallons of ethanol distilled.

Assuming E100 cars would drive the typical 15K miles per year, at 15 mpg, that 1K gallons ... requiring 10 tons of biomass to be burned (just for the distillation step) for each and every car?

(actually, I HOPE I did that wrong)

I think it is dangerous to just say "solar or biomass" for ethanol distillation.  The process requires so much energy that it becomes (a) a prohibitively expensive solar system, or (b) a rapacious consumer of biomass ... think of burning entire forests to create "clean" ethanol.

... a snippet from a recent press release:

By not drying the grains, Siouxland has reduced its natural-gas consumption to 24,000 B.T.U. per gallon of ethanol < meaning that the natural gas it uses has an energy value less than one-third that of the ethanol it makes, creating 85,000 B.T.U. a gallon when burned. (This calculation does not count the electricity the plant uses, or the diesel fuel used to haul the ethanol to a filling station.)

... one recently announced ethanol plant (near Council Bluffs, Iowa) is to produce 110 million gallons a year

my math says that requires 9.35 trillion BTU's/yr

... since a dry ton of wood fuel produces about 10.4 million Btu

my math says that you need to burn a million tons of dry wood a year?

They are exaggerating the BTUs of ethanol, though. The number they give is a high heating value, which presumes that the water is condensed after combustion so you utilize the heat of condensation. In reality, this never takes place, so the realy BTU value of burning ethanol is about 76,000 BTUs/gal. Of course the reason people exaggerate the BTU value of ethanol is to make it look like more energy was created than actually was.
I was really just grabbing the 24K BTU for distillation ... any idea what is typical?
Check out the bottom graph on p. 37 of this link (PDF). This shows curves of the theoretical and practical minima for energy use in distillation (to 95% purity, so excludes final dehydration) depending on the starting alcohol concentration of the ethanol beer.

Assuming an initial 10% alcohol concentration, then 17,670 BTUs of steam are needed per gallon. Assuming 85.7% efficiency of natural gas combustion to steam, then total energy needs would be 20,618 BTU/gallon. The 24k noted in the article, then, is pretty close to the practical minimum.

But note that this stage alone requires at minimum 27% of the energy content of the output. In other words, if the only energy consumption in ethanol production were distillation energy, the EROI still wouldn't be higher than 3.7, which is piss-poor for any energy supply to a complex industrial society.

When I look at this, I wonder how the EROI of sugar cane ethanol can be cited at 8 or more, since sugar cane ethanol still requires this same distillation stage.

I have some numbers from an operating ethanol plant. It typically takes them 30,000-40,000 BTUs for the distillation step. The entire conversion step takes about 50,000 BTUs.
What about using a heat exchanger to capture the heat in the distilled alcohol and transfer it to the input stock in the next cycle?
They have to be doing that already thats pretty much a standard practice in any chemical factory. The condensor may even be directly cooled by the input to the distillation rig.
"When I look at this, I wonder how the EROI of sugar cane ethanol can be cited at 8 or more, since sugar cane ethanol still requires this same distillation stage."

An integrated sugar and ethanol plant does not use any external energy sources such as natural gas. Steam and electricity are produced by burning sugar cane fiber waste (bagasse), which is adequate for all production of ethanol and provides excess electricity, which can be sold to the grid.

Sugar cane to ethanol processes do not avoid this distillation stage, but do not need external energy sources for it.


Thanks. I was supposing that the bagasse fuel was one element in this calculation, and I now understand better why I've seen claims that the liquid-only process is 2.7 EROI compared to claims for the overall process, which most likely includes credit for energy generation as well and doesn't count the bagasse energy.

However, I think I would tend to agree more with Pimentel and not credit the process with bagasse input energy, since not returning the bagasse to the soil is in essence a non-renewable practice. Energy is energy, whatever its source.

There's a limit to the alcohol content of the ethanol beer since the alcohol is the waste product of the bacteria during fermentation, and they go inert at a certain level of waste buildup in the liquid. There shouldn't be any difference between sugarcane and corn in this regard, just between different bacteria strains.

I do think the alcohol proportion is similar. I understand in the case of sugar, it is around 10%, the same level noted for corn above.

The process of calculating EROEI from sugar cane is quite difficult. As you note, the bagasse could be returned to the ground, or used to generate electricity and sold to the grid without producing ethanol. However, the post fermentation waste is treated to produce fertilizer, so something does go back into the earth.

Also, most ethanol produced from cane is part of an intgreated sugar/ethanol plant that can produce between 60% sugar/40% ethanol and 60/40 the other way around. It is harder than it sounds to completely ascribe energy use to each portion of the process.

I am convinced that sugar cane derived ethanol has the highest EROEI of any ethanol production process and, considering inputs, a return high enough to make it viable.

There are virtually no external inputs to the refining process and the final product is a subsitute for gasoline, one of the highest value products.

Here are some links to studies with page references for EROEI calculations:

1) FO Licht presentation to METI,

EROEI Calcs: Page 20

2) IEA Automotive Fuels for the Future

3) IEA: Biofuels for Transport

EROEI calcs: page 60

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

EROEI Calcs (for 12 fuel types): Page 17

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

Thank you Jack for pulling out these references. I agree that if you are going to make ethanol, sugar cane is the best starting point. Any process starting from starch is going to be inherently more inefficient. I am highly suspicious of any assertion of a solar-based silver bullet as a peak oil mitigation option (simply because the scale of our fossil fuel use already exceeds the planet's primary productivity), but biofuels will undoubtedly have some small role to play.
Agreed. I think the future will wind up somewhere between "same as it ever was" and "the end of the world as we know it".

There are many factors involved, can we conserve? adapt? transition?

I do think biofuels can play a minor support role and could ease a transition. I am becoming convinced by Dave's post, however, that simpler localized conversion, largely to electricity may be a better long-term strategy.

They are burning the sugar cane stems(?) to fuel the destillation process. In addition I suppose the ethanol content in the fermented sugar cane syrop is much higher than for corn.
"my math says that you need to burn a million tons of dry wood a year?"

With a clearcut operation, that might be like 5 to 10 square miles of conifer (say, Douglas-fir) forest each year...

So you multiply that buy how long it takes to grow those acres and you have the footprint needed for sustainability (of this one plant). ;-)
Rough timing to grow commercial forests: possibly under 20 years in Chile, 27 years in New Zealand, 35-50 years USA, 75 years northern Canada, perhaps up to 100 years in Finland or Russia.

Also note the follow-on effects: the forests need planting, pruning, and harvesting, which requires workers, trucks, harvesting machinery, biomass transport, and land remediation and replanting. All of these require energy from outside the forest--so sustaining the plant's footprint requires a further footprint.

Doing a quick calculation of the collection area for a solar powered ethanaol plant I came up with 360000 square meters to replace the 300 tons of coal a day to be used at the plant in Goldfield, Iowa. Checking GoogleEarth that happens to be roughly the size of the parking lot at one of the local malls, also the size of an 18 hole golf course.

Instead of treating this as a way of reducing the fossil fuel input of ethanol how about thinking of it as a way to store solar energy.

is that based on PV or solar concentrators to collect heat?
Solar concentrators to collect heat. I didn't include any efficieny factors or power needed for pumps as I was only interested in a rough estimate of the scale. So can we call the contribution of solar energy in my scheme Solar To Liquids?
Maybe I should be more specific about the numbers I used. 20,000,000 BTU/ton of coal. An average of 5kWhr/day/meter^2 solar energy in Iowa where the ethanol plant is located.

Obviously there needs to be a backup system for when the sun doesn't shine. They could save the coproduct and burn it when its cloudy. Burning it would probably contribute less to global warming than the methane produced if it was fed to cattle.

I think it is dangerous to just say "solar or biomass" for ethanol distillation. The process requires so much energy that it becomes (a) a prohibitively expensive solar system,

Here's the numbers I have from what I've got.....a 15 gal boiler likes 3-4k watts of power to get to boiling and 1kw to keep the vapor going. The system lacks good insulation (has none!) Present system operates w/o a vaccum. Any new system would use a vaccum.
Solar hot water heating - 1kw per panel, about $1000 a panel.

By the way, I grabbed the above numbers from across the internets, but here is one page that I found especailly interesting:

Hey, that's some great information! More fun numbers to play with...
Odograph, There is something basically wrong with that link. No one sells dry fuel for less per ton than wet fuel. Leaves all the numbers suspect.
That does sound strange doesn't it?  My only guess would be if one had a line on dry wood waste, it might beat the harvest of new green material ...

When you talk about the Amazon turning to desert within a very few years:

and the ocean on course to become so acidic that it won't support crustaceans:

(but instead breeds strange varieties of primitive life that thrive on toxic runoff:,0,952130.story  

I know the only decent response is that the urgency is greater than ever -- but it certainly appears that we're already very much on a runaway train.

That LA Times article is great.  I've seen the same thing.  I sailed through California's Monterey Bay a few years ago on my cousin's boat and saw miles, and miles, and miles, of jellyfish.  At the time it looked wrong but until I heard of jellyfish taking over for herring harvested in other oceans it didn't click.  It's an example (as the article shows) of what's going on around the world.  Humans harvested (and over-harvested to make mere fertilizer) the anchovies of Monterey Bay, reducing them and allowing another unharvested set of species to take over.  In this case it's jellyfish.
To continue the idea of 'gee we didn't think of that' - some people have suggested dumping iron in the ocean to reduce global CO2.,0,6670018,full.story

"Industrial society is overdosing the oceans with basic nutrients -- the nitrogen, carbon, iron and phosphorous compounds that curl out of smokestacks and tailpipes, wash into the sea from fertilized lawns and cropland, seep out of septic tanks and gush from sewer pipes."

So Iron grows things like this:

"Samples placed in a drying oven gave off fumes so strong that professors and students ran out of the building and into the street, choking and coughing."

And here's the next: Poison algae and jellyfish terrorising the beaches of Italy (before-and-after pictures included).
HOLIDAY beaches from Rome to Genoa are deserted, despite an unrelenting heat wave, because of a plague of poisonous algae that can turn even the sea breeze toxic.
Scientists blame a rise in sea temperatures for the phenomenon, which is causing damage to tourism that could run into millions of euros.
What a world....

Very good article.  I agree with you and Alan that the future of transportation in the US--such as it is--is going to be based more and more on electricity.

Alanfrombigeasy's EB articles:

Question:  is there any fundamental reason that electric trolley lines and/or light rail could not be built along power line right of ways?  They have two key ingredients already:  a ready supply of electricity and a clear right of way.  
I think might might work well for those areas with relatively low topographic relief. I know many powerline corridors over here in the West march right over steep ridges, which might be a problem for rail. But, you have an interesting idea...
I don't think the right of way is clear at all. Houses and farms are common directly under the overhead high voltage lines. But it still may be less expensive to buy out these houses, since their property values have already been reduced by the presence of the power line. Several times in looking for a house near Dallas I got excited by what seemed to be a great deal, only to find a power line crossing directly over the backyard. I really hate that constant humming and crackling sound.
Although I find this techincally interesting, it is just one more attempt to maintain the status quo.  And, in any case, population growth will eventually overwhelm the ability to grow biomass. I will continue to argue that what is really needed first is a new societal paradigm without which time and resources will be wasted trying to prop up a failed concept, i.e. a consumption-based economy/society that demands perpetual growth.
Yes, but, Todd.

Agreed we have to lose a billion or five but while we have them I think it commendable that possibly useful - and hopefully practical - technologies are explored.

Agreed that exponentially increasing consumption / population / 'wealth' are unsustainable both practically and philosphically. Our species is showing minimal signs of appropriate adaptation so far but that doesn't mean we will not - though the time may be short or may even have run out in some ways.

The logical conclusion of what seems to be your perspective is active sabotage of the current systems. Self interest / longevity might advise otherwise, besides, they will sabotage themselves soon enough.

You are very right that a social paradigm shift is PRE-REQUISITE for survival of humans as an advancing and successful species. Our current model is unsustainable in the absence of a non-polluting, powerful and cheap energy source - yet to be discovered (apart from the sun)! We have run out of time for finding that practical energy source and must change our societal / energy / population / economic models accordingly. Ouch!

a social paradigm shift is PRE-REQUISITE for survival of humans as an advancing and successful species
I don't know why you added "as an advancing and successful species." However, given that our current paradigm is unsustainable, it seems wasteful, in the extreme, to spend any resources, human energy, inventiveness, etc., on trying to perpetuate the current paradigm any longer. We might well go for biomass electricity but it is a dead-end activity. And, with so many other crises converging on us, to suggest, as this article does, that it could provide jobs and wealth, is way off the mark.


Great idea. Just do nothing and wait for everybody around to freeze, die fom hunger or be shot by the wondering bands. You are right - eventually nature will take care of everything.
Nothing like zero foresight guys.  It might be far better to require that durable goods be, well, durable and repairable by the owners.  How about spending the money going into dead ends like biomass for goods that last a life time?  Yup, it would kill the growth paradigm but it's going to end anyway.

Here's a nice socialistic idea:  Let's standardize stuff and only change things when a new "idea" provides a 50% energy saving.  Think of the savings in tooling cost/energy.

How about we spend the money to maintain the status quo for a new system of sales and distibution via the Internet with no real stores at all?  It's already happening.

How about we take the dollars to maintain the status quo and simply pay people who shuffle papers to stay home and not work at all or telecommute?  Let's see, if we had universal health care we could cut tens of thousands of paper pushers and the energy they require.

My point was, and remains, that simply doing "something" is stupid.  In fact, I would call it the new "Kunstlerism" of investing in infrastructure without forethought.

Ecotopia has its flaws but it's thrust is more coherent then pushing for more of the same.


Fischer-Tropsch diesel may use lots more coal too. Like Rentech. Does FT have an equally bad CO2 profile?
Here is a point from one of Dave's links on carbon sequestration:
"But even if we suppose that big coal starts to build the expensive gasification plants soon and that they can solve most of the technical problems with geosequestration, they are not saying that they want to replace old, extremely dirty plants with the new ones; they want to build new ones and keep the old ones. They almost certainly won't bear the liability of CO2 leaks from underground storage, so that's an extra cost for taxpayers, not to mention that the electricity coming from coal gasification plants that do carbon sequestration will be more expensive because a lot of energy is lost in the process of running the plants, in the actual sequestration operating, and the huge costs of building the pipelines, the plants, drilling the holes, maintenance & monitoring, etc, will be passed on to the customers (or they'll ask for subsidies - same difference).

So it'll take decades which we don't have, be extremely expensive, probably won't work that well, and we'll run out of good burying sites before long. Meanwhile, the clean energy industry (solar, wind, wave, geothermal) will keep growing very fast at exponential rates, their costs will keep going down and the efficiency of their production units (wind turbines, solar panels, hydrokinetic buoys, Gorlov helical turbines, geothermal heat pumps) will keep going up." Important! Why Carbon Sequestration Won't Save Us

Cheer up, even the "Establishment"(Wall Street Journal) is talking electric cars: The Electric Car Gets Some Muscle

The USDA released a report called The Economic Feasilibility of Ethanol Production from Sugar in the United States (PDF).

Among the conclusions:

* It is economically feasible to make ethanol from molasses. The cost of that feedstock is low enough to make it competitive with corn. Challenges may involve having a large enough supply of molasses at a given location to minimize transportation costs to justify construction and operation of an economically efficient ethanol production facility.

* The estimated ethanol production costs using sugarcane, sugar beets, raw sugar, and refined sugar as a feedstocks are more than twice the production cost of converting corn into ethanol. While it is more profitable to produce ethanol from corn in the United States, the price of ethanol is determined by the price of gasoline and other factors, rather than the cost of producing ethanol from corn. With recent spot market prices for ethanol near $4 per gallon, it is profitable to produce ethanol from sugarcane and sugar beets, raw sugar, and refined sugar.


The estimated ethanol production costs using sugarcane, sugar beets, raw sugar, and refined sugar as a feedstocks are more than twice the production cost of converting corn into ethanol.

My take: The estimated ethanol production costs using sugarcane, sugar beets, raw sugar, and refined sugar as a feedstocks are more than twice the production cost of converting price-subsidized corn into ethanol.

Very probably correct, capslock
And the U.S. sugar price is inflated. The only reason sugar cane to ethanol doesn't work in the U.S. is because the two commodity prices - corn and sugar - are controlled.
One hundred years ago, a coal gasification facility was initiated on the shores of Lake Union, in Seattle:

Cheap oil finally put this facility out of business in the 1950s. More information at Gas Works Park.


Great picture. Looks like some kind of fantasy castle, a gatepost of Ghormenghast or something like that.
This is another terrific article and thread that I hope will be linked for future reference in a sidebar.  There have been others.  RR has a couple lately.  I know that this has been suggested before.  I mention it again inspired by Dave's article this morning, but instituting a prominent sidebar containg links to important articles would be a seriously useful reference for new and old readers alike.  


Leo Reynolds

Thanks Dave, excellent work as usual.

I think that the picture is a very positive image for our future. There are some significant details in that rail picture. Notice the four to six story buildings with ground floor retail in the background. That density is important to support the rail line, but also the density is there because of the rail line. As I mentioned in my post for Robert's conversation with Khosla, we will need developers to build that type of building, and they will make a great deal of money in the process.

Next, this rail line has a dedicated right of way, at least at this station. I suspect we will have a few intermediate steps in the process of getting there. First, something more like Seattle's electric buses:


Then, light rail on shared rights of way as in Toronto:


One other note. If you look closely at the original picture, you'll see a bicycle on the left and some cars and trucks in the distance behind the train. I suspect somewhere around this stop there are far more bikes that didn't make it into the picture. The cars and trucks will still exist too, but in greatly reduced numbers. Also missing are the busy sidewalks and the large numbers of people working at their computers at home. The future doesn't have to be bleak at all.

Dave's analysis of existing market conditions is correct, at least from the viewpoint of someone working professionally in new power plant development.  His projections of future coal consumption are also realistic.

However, I would not be so sanguine about natural gas prices coming down and CCGTs regaining market share with the arrival of LNG on our shores. It is difficult to imagine landed LNG at less than $6/mmBTU.  That keeps CCGTs in the game (low run hours) but not as clearly competitive.  The US couldn't attract spot sales even when Henry Hub spot prices hit $15 last winter.

Here's my cost analysis of LNG electricity vs. nuclear:

When you got to advocating biomass for electric generation you completely lost me.  I've worked for a utility that had lost local market share to biomass but that was to sawmills that burned sawdust.  When the trees ran out and the mills shutdown, they were out of the generation business.

How biomass can make a significant contribution on a nationwide scale is still a mystery to me.  On any commercial scale the material transport problems alone boogle the professional mind.

Re: "I would not be so sanguine about natural gas prices coming down".

I am not sanguine about natural gas prices when LNG imports come onstream. Hence this story and my remark Space restrictions prevent a thorough treatment of natural gas prices in this post. Natural gas depletion in North America will continue apace. Coal will remain cheap. These are big problems.

This gives me an opportunity to tell everyone about LNG - The Movie. Worth watching!


A careful re-reading of your original post shows that you were saying the EIA expects LNG-fueled electric generation to be competitive.  Sorry if I vaguely implicated you as the source of the projection.  It seems we both believe that to be just government happy talk.

Just talked with a friend with even more experience and insight into electric markets than I and he was skeptical of coal's big growth plans.  His points were that rail infrastructure was max'ed out today for hauling the stuff.  Mine-mouth coal could avoid that problem but shifts the burden to transmission.  Every utility CEO should expect prudency reviews for building new coal plants in a few years, whether or not we see a carbon tax.  He expects nuclear electric market share to grow from 20% today to 35% or more with the next fleet of new reactors.

You consider geoengineering deplorable, but in fact it is inevitable. Kyoto would not prevent global warming even if it held. Look at this, from Science, probably the most respected journal in the field, March 24, 2006:

A central feature of this long baseline is this: At no time in at least the past 10 million years has the atmospheric concentration of CO2 exceeded the present value of 380 ppmv. At this time in the Miocene, there were no major ice sheets in Greenland, sea level was several meters higher than today's (envision a very skinny Florida), and temperatures were several degrees higher. A more recent point of reference, and the subject of two papers in this issue, is the Eemian: the previous interglacial, about 130,000 to 120,000 years ago. This was a warm climate, comparable to our Holocene, during which sea levels were several meters higher than today's, even though CO2 concentrations remained much lower than today's postindustrial level.
The point is, even with today's CO2 levels, never mind the doubling that is yet to come even with the most stringent environmental restrictions, enough global warming is built in to melt Greenland and cover Florida. Coastal cities will be inundated, the costs will be astronomical. That's with today's CO2 levels! They are already higher than they have been in 10 million years. People are innumerate and don't know how long that is, but it is many, many ice age cycles back.

This CO2 is going to hang around in the atmosphere for centuries, and all these bad things are going to happen, unless we do something about it. That "something" means technology to remove CO2 from the atmosphere or otherwise decrease what climatologists call "forcings", the factors that heat up the earth. Blocking sunlight, increasing albedo, promoting clouds, sequestration, there are many technologies that might work.

Fortunately we have several decades before things get this bad. And technology only gets more capable with time. There is excellent reason to hope that our descendants will have the tools they need to keep the earth habitable. Whether they choose to refrain and die out of some misguided allegiance to a philosophical duty to live lightly on the land, remains to be seen.

They can be hippies and suffer or be engineers and live well. The choice will be theirs.

When somebody comes up with a good geoengineering solution to climate change without dire side effects, I'll support it. In fact, humans have already engaged in geoengineering though unwittingly for most of the Age of Fossil Fuels. This is how we got into the position we find ourselves today.

We do not have several decades before things get bad. A lot of work is being done regarding "tipping points". Many researchers believe that in another decade we will have reached the point of no return for melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Re: technology only gets more capable with time -- Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. But human stupidity marches on. The "Oh, we're such clever monkeys, we'll fix it later" argument being just one example. You're smarter than that Halfin. Did you have your morning coffee?

Dave, the Science article I quoted implies that we've already reached the tipping point with regard to melting the Greenland ice sheet. Today's CO2 level of 380 ppm is more than enough to do it, based on the geological record.

This claim that "we only have another decade" is only politics, as far as I can see. It's meant to motivate people. But what does it mean, scientifically? What specifically is going to happen in 10 years from now if we keep on our current path, that will make things "tip"? People who make these claims are always vague about them.

Is it a specific CO2 level that we are going to hit in 10 years, that if we do things differently we can avoid ever reaching that? That's ridiculous. If you extrapolate current CO2 growth levels then in 10 years we'll be at about 400 ppm. And maybe if we took action, we could slow the growth slightly. But we're still going to pass 400! There is not one single credible policy proposal that can stop that from happening. At most it can be delayed a year or two. These things have momentum and the world economy cannot be reconstructed from scratch in a ten year period.

So I view this ten-year tipping point claim as politics pure and simple. I credit the people making it for good intentions, but it has no place in a technical discussion like I would hope to have here. The truth is that even CO2 activists have more realistic goals like holding the eventual CO2 level to perhaps 550 PPM. And yes, to have a good chance of achieving that it helps to get started right away. But you can't motivate people if you tell them the truth, that what we're really worried about is what the CO2 levels are going to be in 2050 and later. You have to make up this stuff about tipping points and ten years, even though there is no scientific or technical merit to that claim.

Greenland ice cap 'doomed to meltdown'.
Some researchers question Gregory's predictions. Ice loss may depend as much on the complex dynamics of ice flows as on temperatures. And Greenland meltwater would make the North Atlantic less salty, perhaps triggering a collapse of the Gulf Stream. That could cool the climate over Greenland and, perhaps, halt the melting.

But Gregory warns that, if his calculations are correct, the "the Greenland ice sheet is likely to be eliminated unless much more substantial reductions in [carbon dioxide] emissions are made than those envisaged" so far by scientists or politicians.

I read the original article in Nature when it was published. Since then, ice sheet dynamics has undergone a revolution. Events are happening much faster there than was previously thought possible. It may indeed be too late. Before taking up energy issues -- partially because they are more tractable -- I studied climate change and read widely in the journals available to me (Science and Nature). There is something to your remarks about setting deadlines. But people require deadlines to overcome their natural inclinations ie. inertia.

My pessimism based on the science is deep and abiding. But I prefer to work responsibly toward solutions in the present. Your position is simply a recipe and rationlization for taking no action. Your faith in technology is no different than any other religious faith. I don't use faith-based solutions and I would think you wouldn't either.

Sounds like we may not disagree that much on the facts w/regard to Greenland and sea level rise. And as I said, I recognize that people claiming there is a ten year tipping point have good intentions. Even if we believe in technological remediation, it may still be advantageous to start conserving now, so there will be less to remediate later.

It becomes a question of economics and engineering. How much does conservation cost now, vs how much remediation will cost later. Crank out the equations and you come up with a theoretically optimal policy.

But when you start off with the perspective that remediation is "deplorable", you are prejudging the situation and preventing an accurate and complete analysis.

Your perception of that article seems correct, to me, and in tune with my perspective. The truth is we don't know, nor will, until it's too late.

My guess (based on historical CO2 levels and temperatures in the last 10 million years) is that we are well past the minor tipping points and have already nailed in sufficient climate change to reduce the agricultural production available to humans in 100 years time to between 20% and 50% of now. It will worsen thereafter. It's difficult to imagine sea levels less than 20 metres higher in 500 years time.

We probably won't be able to accurately estimate the ultimate extent and effect of our 'industrial experiment' until 500+ years after we have CEASED ALL POLLUTING USE OF FOSSIL HYDROCARBONS.

Though some have scoffed at the idea of seeding the atmosphere with sulphur compounds to reduce global warming I am confident that we humans will become desparate enough to actually try such methods within 20 years if our society can afford it.

The last IPCC Report illustrated that sea levels by 2100 would likely rise by 26-cm.  Most of the new science since was incorporated into GCM's and the new Scenarios have been running since Aug 2004 with results due in the IPCC AR4 Report in January 2007.  Leaks of AR4 indicate that 2100 sea levels will be announced at about 43-cm above today.  Add another 70-cm by 2200.  And another 80-cm by 2300AD.  

That's 6 feet in 300 years. It is silliness to talk of NYC being under water.  But it makes for good movies.  Comments about the CO2 being around for hundreds of years is also misguided.  It dissipates from the atmosphere and Jean Leherrere has illustrated that the IPCC worst case scenarios are plainly wrong in their fossil fuel contributions within the time line.  There just ain't enuf oil, gas and coal to produce those emission levels.  ASPO has collaborated.  

Links to your sources please, otherwise this is just bullshit hearsay.

the web site (google cache of eia site, xls rendered as html) erable+reserves+world&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1
gives a figure of roughly 5e14 Kg recoverable anthracite +
bituminous coal, and 1e15 Kg of all grades.

Using 5e18 Kg as the mass of the atmosphere, it appears
that we can add 733 ppm just by burning the coal.
(noting that 1 kg of co2 becomes 3.7 Kg of co2...)
that takes us handily over 1000 ppm since we are at 290 ppm
of course, we can do worse. the ocean is getting warmer and
more acidic, and warm water does not soak up carbon dioxide
and may soon stop obliging us by sucking up about 1/2 of
what we excrete...

A little knowledge is dangerous.  Present concentration is 370.  Your 290 (sic - 286) is the accepted pre-industrial concentration.

What amorization period did u use for adding the coal emissions to the atomosphere? Did u apply a decay rate?  Please take a few minutes and review the IPCC vs ASPO documents at the aspo site.  It's a 67pg analysis.  There are also IPCC rebuttals available that elaborate on the topic plus the ramifications of campbell & aleklett not including coal in their caluculations ... a fair hit.  And easily adapted.  but with more care hopefully than your back of the napkin approach.  At present rates, a tartet of 600 in 2100 is reasonable.

That's fair enough, Freddie and is a reasonable interpretation of what current official models say. However, those models are based on smooth projections of currently observable trends; geological data seems to indicate that rapid, almost discontinuous, change has occurred in the past. The release of methane from tundra / permafrost - of which perhaps 90% might melt this century - could have a dramatic effect over just a few decades.

Perhaps it is worth factoring in the trends in model predictions? What were they predicting for sea level rises 10, 20, 30 years ago? I am sure the past official models were predicting less than the IPCC AR4 will predict. As we observe, analyse and learn more our models are suggesting ever faster rates of warming and sea level increases, and that is without any relatively abrupt changes which would be difficult to mathematically predict.

I have some links on this somewhere that may be worth reading, will try to dig them out later when I have a spare 30 minutes. If I recall correctly the estimated average lifetime of a molecule of CO2 in the atmosphere is about 100 years, will try to find a source for that.

The danger to the atmoshere due to methane forcing occurs at the peak of ice ages.  At that time sea bed deposits are exposed when sea levels are down about 400' from today.  The predicted arctic release is significant but not relevant in context.  AR4 will compile the findings of over ahere are a dozen Global Circulaton Models.  It is juvenile to suspect that most of the models do not incorporate recent science.

The decay rate of co2 is complicated but in general is about a century.  Excellent speadsheet work is being done to project annual levels into the future by estimating emissions and applying net decay rates ... similar to what i do with the Oil Depletion Scenarios.

see: and -311

It is still uncertain where the tipping point exists in co2 concentration due differnces in gas concentrations today compared to millions of years ago.  It's a different dynamic.

Sorry to have taken so long. Somewhere in the links below (probably the first) you will find evidence for CO2 concentrations increasing AFTER (and perhaps as a consequence of) global temperature increase in previous geological warmings. If that is so we are perhaps in a new experiment for planet Earth - and an ominous one for us.

Please do read this first one thoroughly, it is a well substantiated and quite scary review of research that points to very rapid climate change:

The rest of this post has grown a bit like Topsy, some good links though, hope someone finds them of use. I'm sure I have more good links, especially about methane release from tundra and ocean bed hydrates, but can't find them atm.

IPCC TAR reports 2001 available as html here:
IPCC main site:

On rapid / abrupt climate change:

Sea level:

Antarctica melting would be the final and most dramatic cause of sea level rises, it ain't going to happen to a significant extent for probably hundreds of years. But some parts like the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are more at risk than others:

And if you want to see maps of what floods:

Green house gases  (lots of good stuff if you dig)

Atmospheric CO2 lifetime (IPCC gives as 5 to 200 years)
This is as good an overview as I've found:
...and its parent page has other cycles:

CO2 trends

Biogeochemical cycles

Methane: permafrost and tundra

Methane: ocean floor hydrates / clathrates

Other good links  (good portal)  (good source)

I would add a personal opinion: if significant ocean bed methane is now being released there will be major climate change and global warming within 50 years and human population will drop by at least 50% from current levels by 2100 and be confined to the coldest global regions even if there are no massively destructive human wars - Lovelock's latest prognostications would come true. I don't believe a video of possible methane bubbles from ocean sediments constitutes sufficient evidence for significantly increased gasification of ocean floor methane hydrates (methane has probably been bubbling from the ocean floor for millions of years), I will wait for some decent scientific papers. However, we have no way of knowing with any certainty what would trigger large scale ocean floor methane hydrate release. Nor have we sufficiently validated models for the effects of permafrost melting on methane and carbon dioxide release to enable us to predict its effect on atmospheric greenhouse gases. Both these effects are (probably totally) positive feedback loops in the greenhouse gas increase sense: once started they will run their course.

We could already be past the point of no return or we could have decades of business as usual greenhouse gas emission to go before Earth's climate is committed to a catastrophic (for human and most 'higher' lifeforms on this planet) path. But there is a probably logical conclusion one could draw based on our geological analysis of climate: if we released nearly all earthly fossil hydrocarbons into the atmosphere we should expect global climate to become as warm as it has ever been in the last 500 million years.

Re-read your (very good and appropriate) links and this time I read the comments more fully, especially for the second link. Interesting discussion, of which I would pick out a couple of points from early in the responses...

#17 "The real danger from positive feedback is a repeat of the end of the Younger Dryas when Greenland temperatures jumped by 10C in three years and by 20C in thirty years" which was criticised for being local change rather than global, to which I would say: it would be kinda relevant in melting the Greenland ice sheet and Arctic Ocean ice cap.

#20 onwards about denial and the jump from "isn't happening" to "too late to do anything" - which may be quite prevalent once peak oil becomes apparent in 2 to 4 years ;). I have never and probably will never subscribe to either of those perspectives. I think we (humans) must do much, much more to reduce our GHG emissions, we will not know if we pass tipping points until probably well after the event so should apply the precautionary principle in advance.

I'd guess that the Greenland ice is almost certain to melt, whatever we do, within 100 to 300 years, so that's 7m of sea level rise pencilled in. Significant questions remain as to how that, the summer melting of the Arctic Ice Cap (also virtually inevitable within decades), northern hemisphere permafrost melting (90% melt expected by 2100) and our continuing GHG emissions affect the dynamics of climate change.

We are the frog in the water in the process of heating up to boiling. "Ain't too bad yet," said the frog.  Things seem to be accelerating.  I agree that we won't do what is necessary with respect to cutting greenhouse gases. Just look at the charts for planned new coal plants. Hopeless.
And technology only gets more capable with time. There is excellent reason to hope that our descendants will have the tools they need to keep the earth habitable.

It's not the technology, it's the will. We have the tools now. We don't have the will. Technical solutions won't help here; we need cultural and social solutions.

Word. Technology is always changing; we need to have a culture that stays withing its limits, as determined by technology, whatever kind or level.
Or we can be hippie engineers.....

Just pointing this out....

Those "forcings" will only provoke their own problems, for which other "forcings" will be executed, etc. The only solution is carbon sequestration, starting with leaving as much in the ground as possible.
Using more advanced technology almost always means using more energy. Sustaining high technology levels requires an energetically intensive society. Technology will not save us if we use it as if we are a crossbreed of rats, lemmings and yeast.
Consider the composition of the earths atmosphere.  78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% "other".

I just don't see how CO2 can "retain heat".  Have you ever dealt with compressed(liquid) CO2?  When it evaporates and starts to freeze the container?

I don't feel CO2 in the atmosphere has anything to do with "global warming".

Maybe I'm just not getting it(you think?).

Care to explain how CO2 has any effect on heat retention/reflection?

Do you really think you are the first one to ask these questions?  LOL, like the scientists who have spent 20-40 years working on this stuff are going to slap their foreheads and say "doh!"

FWIW, wikipedia probably has all the answers you need.  If that isn't enough ... go back to school.

Actually, the page on the Greenhouse Effect is probably more germane to CO2 and heating. Also check out the Radiative Forcing page.
  Your experience with compressed CO2 getting cold is an effect of depressurization. [or a liquid evaporating, not the same thing as depressurization, a substance's changing phase from liquid to gas]

  If you were to pressurize a container, filling it with a gas (not just CO2), it would get hotter in the process.  The heat then will dissipate, and the container will return to ambient temperatures, but that pressure represents potential energy, and when that energy is expelled, that cold you feel is the remaining gas in the container reclaiming nearby ambient heat from your hand, from the can, from the air, until it returns to 'room temp'

  C02 in the atmosphere is more about limiting the earth's ability to re-radiate heat out into space by shifting the transparency keeping more IR radiation in, and tripping up the balance that has kept the planet maintaining temperatures that support our range of life-forms, animals and plants.  It gets described as throwing an extra blanket on the planet, CO2 and other Greenhouse Gases.

I just don't see how CO2 can "retain heat". Have you ever dealt with compressed(liquid) CO2? When it evaporates and starts to freeze the container?

If you want to see that effect with 'non CO2', find yourself a large air compressor. Start running it and note the tank temp. After filled with compressed air, let the tank cool to room temp. Empty the tank quickly and check tank temp.

0.0000001% of the atmosphere is actually Superman. He is labouring under the illusion that he should keep Earth warm so catches energetic molecules escaping Earth and throws them back. Unfortunately Superman has developed Asperger's syndrome and won't listen when we ask him to stop / sit down and have a cool beer, etc.

More frivolously...

The energy arriving at the Earth from the Sun is relatively high frequency compared with the energy that tries to escape from Earth due to reflection and adsorption/re-emission effects at the Earth end. Greenhouse gases are more transparent to higher frequency energy (that is: their chemical bonds interact less with higher frequency energy) than they are for lower frequency energy. This imbalance of transmission means that lower frequency energy is more trapped than higher frequency energy and the net effect is to reduce the energy loss from Earth to space. When an entity can't lose sufficient energy to its environment (read: Earth to Space) it warms up.

Lots more here:  

Anyone who believes that phyics does not apply to their pet theory regarding ethanol and methanol is bonkers and dangerous to the future of humanity.

Cornell ecologist's study finds that producing ethanol and biodiesel from corn and other crops is not worth the energy
By Susan S. Lang

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Turning plants such as corn, soybeans and sunflowers into fuel uses much more energy than the resulting ethanol or biodiesel generates, according to a new Cornell University and University of California-Berkeley study.

"There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel," says David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell. "These strategies are not sustainable."

Pimentel and Tad W. Patzek, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Berkeley, conducted a detailed analysis of the energy input-yield ratios of producing ethanol from corn, switch grass and wood biomass as well as for producing biodiesel from soybean and sunflower plants. Their report is published in Natural Resources Research (Vol. 14:1, 65-76).

In terms of energy output compared with energy input for ethanol production, the study found that:

corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced;
switch grass requires 45 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced; and
wood biomass requires 57 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.
In terms of energy output compared with the energy input for biodiesel production, the study found that:

soybean plants requires 27 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced, and
sunflower plants requires 118 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.

In assessing inputs, the researchers considered such factors as the energy used in producing the crop (including production of pesticides and fertilizer, running farm machinery and irrigating, grinding and transporting the crop) and in fermenting/distilling the ethanol from the water mix. Although additional costs are incurred, such as federal and state subsidies that are passed on to consumers and the costs associated with environmental pollution or degradation, these figures were not included in the analysis.

"The United State desperately needs a liquid fuel replacement for oil in the near future," says Pimentel, "but producing ethanol or biodiesel from plant biomass is going down the wrong road, because you use more energy to produce these fuels than you get out from the combustion of these products."

Although Pimentel advocates the use of burning biomass to produce thermal energy (to heat homes, for example), he deplores the use of biomass for liquid fuel. "The government spends more than $3 billion a year to subsidize ethanol production when it does not provide a net energy balance or gain, is not a renewable energy source or an economical fuel. Further, its production and use contribute to air, water and soil pollution and global warming," Pimentel says. He points out that the vast majority of the subsidies do not go to farmers but to large ethanol-producing corporations.

"Ethanol production in the United States does not benefit the nation's energy security, its agriculture, economy or the environment," says Pimentel. "Ethanol production requires large fossil energy input, and therefore, it is contributing to oil and natural gas imports and U.S. deficits." He says the country should instead focus its efforts on producing electrical energy from photovoltaic cells, wind power and burning biomass and producing fuel from hydrogen conversion.

Further, regarding biomass, without maintaining a nearly closed loop within the agriculture end of the biomass energy fantasy, we will be only mining the soil and hastening the desertification of the planet. Yeah, we can get energy from plants, but at what cost? You must analyze the full energy cycle, not just that portion which supports the biomass fantasy du jour.

Also, please do not forget that we do have to eat.

The full heat though will be felt in winter. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the International Grains Council and a motley array of other agro organizations are downsizing the total grain forecast for this year and nobody knows how bad it will get.

In Ukraine alone, the harvest forecast has been cut down to five million tons from the 21 million registered last year. In Poland and Hungary, some crops are expected to be 40 percent below normal yields, while milk production dropped by 20 percent in Italy.

Lester Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute, predicts that 20 million tons of global harvest may have winnowed up as summer chaff.

In June, he warned that the global cupboard - or "reserve" - of grains were at its lowest levels since the early 70s. According to this calculation, there's enough basic grain to keep people alive for 57 days, if a combination of disasters strike.

And there is no better place for that to begin than in the Middle East.

In 1973, abysmally low inventories of wheat and an Arab-Israeli war sparked off an oil embargo, runaway global inflation, and upheavals that have scarred societies till today.

The price of wheat shot up six times. According to Brown, if that were to happen today, wheat could fetch $21 a bushel, about six times the current price.

Food prices are likely to rise worldwide, and for a third of the world's population - which subsists on less than $2 a day - a subtle hike in the price of staples would hasten the process of slow starvation.

Yeah, when we are driving from Burger King to Burger King on energies mined from the soil, the poor of the world will be dying in droves. If we put our fingers in our ears, close our eyes and make motorboat noises with our overfed mouths, maybe we will be able to ignore our heinous, world-destroying behaviour -- but not for long.

Why is it always Pimentel? If this is truly a well accepted academic consensus why is his name always in the articles? Seems like it's always Pimentel vs some other guy. It makes me wonder if there isn't more uncertainty here than people are willing to admit.

And when was that article written that you're quoting there? It refers to Natural Resources Research V14 N1. That was published in March 2005, almost a year and a half ago. Doesn't sound too timely to me. Has there been any more work since then, any rebuttals?

There are two sides to this, and maybe one is right and one is wrong, but you can't prove it by presenting only one side's view.

Sometime's it's Patzek ;-)

Two guys with P* names can be confusing.

Why Patzek?

Professor Patzek conducts research in a wide range of areas, including energy flow in human activities, sustainability, renewability and biofuels; Micro-scale (~1cm3) transport and mechanical properties of natural rocks; Calculations of relative permeabilities and capillary pressures in drainage and imbibition, and in two- and three-phase flow of immiscible fluids; Strictly hyperbolic continuum relative permeability models in three-phase flows of immiscible fluids; Development of stabilized finite-element algorithms to model two- and three-phase flow of multi-component fluids, with application to problems involving shocks and boundary layers; Cradle-to-grave supervisory control of oilfield projects, satellite radar interferometry (InSAR) imaging, smart process-based controllers; Imaging of hydrofracture growth through extended hydraulic impedance methods.

Ph.D.    Chemical Engineering, Silesian Technical University, Poland 1980
M.S.    Chemical Engineering, Silesian Technical University, Poland

Journal Papers
 Al-Futaisi, A. and T.W. Patzek, "Secondary imbibition in NAPL-invaded mixed-wet sediments," Journal of Contaminant Hydrology, 2004, Vol. 74, Issues 1-4, pp.61-81.

 Juanes, R. and T.W. Patzek, "Relative permeabilities for strictly hyperbolic models of three-phase flow in porous media," Transport in Porous Media, 2004, 57, pp. 125-152.

 Juanes, R. and T.W. Patzek, "Multiscale-stabilized finite element methods for miscible and immiscible flow in porous media," Journal Hydraulic Research, 2004, 42 Extra Issue, pp. 131-140.

 Silin, D.B. and T.W. Patzek, "On Barenblatt's Model of Spontaneous Countercurrent Imbition," Transport in Porous Media, 2004, 54, pp. 297-322.

 Juanes, R. and Patzek, T.W., "Analytical solution to the Riemann problem of three-phase flow in porous media," Transport in Porous Media, 2004, 55 1, pp. 47-70.

 Silin, D.B., G. Jin and T.W. Patzek, "Robust determination of the pore-space morphology in sedimentary rocks," Journal of Petroleum Technology, 2004, pp. 69-70.

 Barenblatt, G.I., D.B. Silin and T.W. Patzek, "The Mathematical Model of Non Equilibrium Effects in Water-Oil Displacement," SPEJ, 2003, 8 4, pp. 409-416.

 Al-Futaisi, A. and T.W. Patzek, "Three-Phase Hydraulic Conductance in Angular Capillaries," SPEJ, 2003, 8 3, pp. 252-261.

 Patzek, T.W., D.B. Silin, S.M. Benson and G.I. Barenblatt, "On Vertical Diffusion of Gases in a Horizontal Reservoir," Transport in Porous Media, 2003, 51, pp. 141-156.

 Al-Futaisi, A. and T.W. Patzek, "Impact of Wettability Alteration on Two-Phase Flow Characteristics of Sandstones: A Quasi-Static Description," Water Resources Research J., 2003, Vol. 39 2, pp. 1042-1055.

 Al-Futaisi, A. and T.W. Patzek, "Extension of the Hoshen-Kopelman Algorithm to Non-lattice Environments," Physica A, 2003, 321 3-4, pp. 665-678.

 Patzek, T.W. and Silin, D.B., "Shape Factor and Hydraulic Conductance in Noncircular Capillaries: I. One-Phase Creeping Flow," J. Colloid and Interface Sci., 236, pp. 295-304, April 2001.

 Patzek, T.W. and Kristensen, J.G., "Shape Factor and Hydraulic Conductance in Noncircular Capillaries: II. Two-Phase Creeping Flow," J. Colloid and Interface Sci., 236, pp. 305-317, April 2001.

 Patzek, T.W. and Silin, D.B., "Water Injection into a Low-Permeability Rock. 1. Hydrofracture Growth," Transport in Porous Media, 43, pp. 537-555, May 2001.

 Silin, D.B. and Patzek, T.W., "Water Injection into a Low-Permeability Rock. 2. Optimal Control," Transport in Porous Media,43, pp. 557-580, May 2001.

 Patzek, T.W., "Verification of a Complete Pore Network Simulator of Drainage and Imbibition," SPE 59312, SPEJ, June 2001.

 Silin, D.B. and Patzek, T.W., "Control of Water Injection into a Layered Formation," SPE 59300, SPEJ.

Conference Papers
 Silin, D.B., J. Guodong and T.W. Patzek, "Robust Determination of the Pore Space Morphology in Sedimentary Rocks," SPE 84296, Presentation at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, October 2003, Denver, CO.

 Juanes, R. and T.W. Patzek, "Multiscale Numerical Modeling of Three-phase Flow," SPE 84369, SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, October 2003, Denver, CO.

 Juanes, R. and T.W. Patzek, "Relative Permeabilities in Co-current Three-Phase Displacements with Gravity," SPE 83445, SPE Western Regional/AAPG Pacific Section Joint Meeting, May 2003, Long Beach, California.

 Guodong, J., T.W. Patzek and D.B. Silin, "Physics-based Reconstruction of Sedimentary Rocks," SPE 83587, SPE Western Regional/AAPG Pacific Section Joint Meeting, May 2003, Long Beach, California.

 Al-Futaisi, A. and T.W. Patzek, "The Impact of Two-Phase Saturation History on Three-Phase Flow Characteristics of Sediments: A Pore-Scale Model," 2002 Fall Meeting of the AGU, December 2002, San Francisco, CA, Abstract H71B-0792.

 Juanes, R. and Patzek, T.W., "Three-phase displacement theory: An improved description of relative permeabilities," SPE 77539, Proceedings of the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, Sept 29-Oct 2, 2002, San Antonio, TX.

 Juanes, R. and T.W. Patzek, "Multiple-Scale Stabilized Finite Elements for the Simulation of Tracer Injections and Waterflood," SPE 75231, Proceedings of the SPE/DOE 13th Symposium on Improved Oil Recovery, April 2002, Tulsa, OK.

 Barenblatt, G.I., T.W. Patzek, V.M Prostokishyn and D.B. Silin, "Oil Deposits in Diatomites: A New Challenge for Subterranean Mechanics," SPE 75230, Proceedings of the SPE/DOE 13th Symposium on Improved Oil Recovery, April 2002, Tulsa, OK.

 Barenblatt, G.I., D.B. Silin and T.W. Patzek, "The Mathematical Model of Non-Equilibrium Effects in Water-Oil Displacement," SPE 75169, Proceedings of the SPE/DOE 13th Symposium on Improved Oil Recovery, April 2002, Tulsa, OK.

 Juanes, R. and T.W. Patzek, "Multiscale finite element methods for miscible and immiscible flow in porous media," Proceedings of the Intl. Groundwater Symposium, 2002, pp. 606-610.

 Al-Futaisi, A. and T.W. Patzek, "Three-Phase Hydraulic Conductance in Angular Capillaries," SPE 75193, Proceedings of the SPE/DOE 13th Symposium on Improved Oil Recovery, April 2002, Tulsa, OK.

 Brink, J.L., T.W. Patzek, D.B. Silin and E.J. Fielding, "Lost Hills Field Trial - Incorporating New Technology for Reservoir Management," SPE 77646, Proceedings of the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, Sept 29-Oct 2, 2002, San Antonio, TX.

 Patzek, T.W., Silin, D.B. and Fielding, E., Paper SPE 71610 "Use of Satellite Radar Images in Surveillance and Control of Two Giant Oilfields in California," SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, New Orleans, September 2001.

Technical Reports
 Patzek, T.W. and D.B. Silin, The Lost Hills Diatomite Water Injection Policy. Part I -- The Total Vertical Stress, UC Oil Report, 2004, Berkeley, CA .

 Patzek, T.W. and D.B. Silin, The Lost Hills Diatomite Water Injection Policy. Part II -- The Role of Large Natural Fractures, UC Oil Report, 2004, Berkeley, CA.

 Patzek, T.W. and D.B. Silin, The Lost Hills Diatomite Water Injection Policy. Part III - The Principal Stress Profiles from Field Measurements, UC Oil Report, 2004, Berkeley, CA.

 Silin, D.B. and T.W. Patzek, New Injection Wells: Opening and Closing Flow Paths, UC Oil Report, 2004, Berkeley, CA.

 Patzek, T.W., Sustainability of the Corn-Ethanol Biofuel Cycle, UC Berkeley Report, June 2004.

 Juanes, R. and T.W. Patzek, Multi-scale stabilized finite elements for the simulation of tracer injections and waterflood, 2003, Berkeley Lab Report LBNL-50383.

 Silin, D.B. and T.W. Patzek, An object-oriented cluster search algorithm, 2003, Berkeley Lab Report LBNL-51599.

 Juanes, R. and T.W. Patzek, Stabilized numerical solutions of three-phase porous media flow using a multiscale finite element formulation, 2003, Berkeley Lab Report LBNL-51603.

 Juanes, R. and T.W. Patzek, Three-phase displacement theory, 2003, Berkeley Lab Report LBNL-50845.

 Jin, G., D.B. Silin and T.W. Patzek, Physics-based reconstruction of sedimentary rocks, 2003, Berkeley Lab Report Number LBNL-52966.

 Silin, D.B., G. Jin and T.W. Patzek, Robust determination of the pore space morphology in sedimentary rocks, 2003, Berkeley Lab Report Number LBNL-52942.

 Juanes, R. and T.W. Patzek, Strictly hyperbolic models of co-current three-phase flow with gravity, 2002, Berkeley Lab Report LBNL-51845.

 Juanes, R. and T.W. Patzek, Relative permeabilities for strictly hyperbolic models of three-phase flow in porous media, 2002, Berkeley Lab Report LBNL-51442.

Other Publications
 Patzek, T.W., "The Midwest's favorite subsidy," The Chicago Tribune (Editorial), Feb 3, 2004.
Press article based on interview.
... That conclusion was reached independently last year by Cornell University agricultural scientist David Pimentel and University of California geoengineering professor Tad W. Patzek ... Pimentel called ethanol "subsidized food burning." Patzek has slammed the ethanol subsidy as one of the most misguided public policy decisions in recent history. "We are burning the same amount of fuel twice to drive a car once," Patzek wrote...

 Patzek, T.W., "IL corn growers disappointed in federal energy bill stall," The Illinois Leader, Dec 1, 2003.
Press article based on interview.
... Ethanol production from corn is a fossil-energy-losing proposition," Berkeley Professor Ted Patzek said at a Canadian National Farmers' Union meeting last week ...

 Patzek, T.W., "Expert pans ethanol," Stirling Community Press, Canada - Nov 26, 2003.
Press article based on interview.
... Patzek also outlined the high water use of ethanol production plants and their harmful environmental emissions. He summed up by ...

 Patzek, T.W., "Farmers union douses ethanol flame," Saskatoon Western Producer, Canada - Nov 27, 2003.
Press article based on interview.
... Tadeusz Patzek, an engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told NFU delegates that ethanol production would be one big boondoggle of ...

 Patzek, T.W., "Fueling the Green Debate," California Monthly,, September 2003, p. 13.

 Patzek, T.W., A 15-minute CBS Radio Program Science Today (, which features the latest UC research for CBS radio affiliates. This was aired 3 times 7/11/2003, 7/18/2003 and 8/1/2003. (See the three records below.)
Outcome of the CE 24 Ethanol Class.

 Patzek,. T.W.,"Science Today Transcript 797,"
Outcome of the CE 24 Ethanol Class
... set to double to 5 billion gallons a year by 2012. Geoengineer Tad Patzek, who led the study, argues the costs of transporting ethanol are too high ... Patzek: The United States has a spider web of pipelines. In fact, most people ... sci797.html - 25.9KB

 Patzek, T.W., "Science Today Transcript 795,"
Outcome of the CE 24 Ethanol Class
... a report warning against the use of oxygenates as gasoline additives. Dr. Tad Patzek, lead author of the study, explains. ... Patzek: Underground gasoline tanks in gas stations inevitably leak. In fact, since 1990 there ... sci795.html - 25.9KB

 Patzek, T.W., "Science Today Transcript 794,"
Outcome of the CE 24 Ethanol Class
will do more harm than good to the environment. Geoengineering professor Tad Patzek, who led the study, says that using ethanol as a gasoline additive ... Patzek: You burn as much fossil fuel to obtain ethanol as you then ...

 Patzek, T.W., "Berkeley Ethanol Report," released by the Media Relations, Office of Public Affairs, University of California, Berkeley, on June 4, 2003, became Manuscript ENVI165-03N, submitted to Environment, Development and Sustainability.
Outcome of the CE 24 Ethanol Class.

 Patzek, T.W., Channel 2 TV News Report, Thursday June 19, 2003.
Outcome of the CE 24 Ethanol Class.

 Patzek, T.W., KPFA 94.1, a 25-minute segment on the "Morning Show, June 20, 2003, 7:35-8:00 a.m."
Outcome of the CE 24 Ethanol Class.

 Patzek, T.W., "Measure to Boost Production Of Ethanol Advances on Hill," The Washington Post, DC, Jun 3, 2003.
Press article based on interview.
...Pimentel recently got an endorsement from University of California engineering professor Tad W. Patzek, who also concludes that ethanol production does not add to the nation's overall energy supply. "Bottom line -- if we want to use ethanol as a [gasoline] additive, we will increase our dependence on imported oil," Patzek said....

 Patzek, T.W., "Producing ethanol from corn drains resources, says new report by ... ," UC Berkeley (press release), CA - Jun 5, 2003.
Press article based on interview.
BERKELEY - Using ethanol as a gasoline additive will do more harm than good tothe environment, concludes a new report released today (Thursday, June 5) by ...

 Patzek, T.W., "Researchers criticize Senate ethanol bill," Contra Costa Times, CA - Jun 6, 2003
Press article based on interview.
As the Senate approved a federal energy bill requiring more ethanol in gasoline, UC Berkeley researchers concluded Thursday that the fuel additive does more ...

 Patzek, T.W., "Ethanol bill gains Senate approval," Oakland Tribune, CA - Jun 6, 2003.
Press article based on interview.
... Still, a report issued Thursday by University of California, Berkeley, engineering professor Tad Patzek and his students concluded that using ethanol will do ...

 Patzek, T.W., "UC Berkeley ethanol study sparks discord," Oakland Tribune, CA - Jun 7, 2003.
Press article based on interview.
BERKELEY -- The ethanol industry sharply rebuked a study by University of California, Berkeley freshmen concluding it takes more energy to produce ethanol than ...

 Patzek, T.W., "UC Berkeley ethanol study sparks discord," Alameda Times-Star, CA - Jun 7, 2003.
Press article based on interview.
BERKELEY -- The ethanol industry sharply rebuked a study by University of California, Berkeley freshmen concluding it takes more energy to produce ethanol than ...

 Patzek, T.W., "Study: Ethanol No Friend of the Environment," The Berkeley Daily Californian, CA - Jun 10, 2003.
Press article based on interview.
... its critique of the UC Berkeley study, Patzek plans to release his criticism of the 1997 Argonne study--widely regarded as the premiere source on ethanol fuel ...

 Patzek, T.W., "Ethanol power play," Rocky Mountain News, CO - Jun 14, 2003.
Press article based on interview.
... The latest study of the inefficiencies of ethanol was just released by Tad W. Patzek, professor of geoengineering at the University of California at Berkeley....

 Patzek, T.W., "University Study Questions Ethanol," News, NH - Jun 18, 2003.
Press article based on interview.
... to ruffle some biofuel industry feathers, a new report released on June 5 by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, concludes using ethanol as ...

 Patzek, T.W., "'Green' cars fail environment test," Guardian, UK - Jun 21, 2003.
Press article based on interview.
... Fidell cited a report published this month in the US by the University of California, Berkeley, which claimed using ethanol as a petrol additive - an easier ....

 Patzek, T.W., "Ethanol - Bonanza or boondoggle for farmers?," Dekalb Daily Chronicle, IL - Nov 24, 2003.
Press article based on interview.
... Patzek said part of the problem with ethanol is explaining the science and the economics behind it. Doing so is not likely to keep policymakers attention. ...

 Patzek, T.W., "Getting the Oil Out of the Rock: The Diatomite Dilemma," LBL Currents, April 4, 2003.

 Patzek, T.W., "Breakthroughs - Cutting Edge Research: Ethanol does more harm than good," Forefront, Fall 2003, p. 3.

 Al-Futaisi, A. and T.W. Patzek, "Three-Phase Hydraulic Conductance in Angular Capillaries," Paper SPE 75193, Proceedings of the SPE/DOE 13th Symposium on Improved Oil Recovery, 13-17 April, 2002, Tulsa, OK.

 Juanes, R. and T.W. Patzek, "Multiple-Scale Stabilized Finite Elements for the Simulation of Tracer Injections and Waterflood," Paper SPE 75231 Proceedings of the SPE/DOE 13th Symposium on Improved Oil Recovery, 2002, Tulsa, OK.

 Barenblatt, G.I., D.B. Silin and T.W. Patzek, "The Mathematical Model of Non-Equilibrium Effects in Water-Oil Displacement," Paper SPE 75169, Proceedings of the SPE/DOE 13th Symposium on Improved Oil Recovery, 13-17 April, 2002, Tulsa, OK.

 Juanes, R. and T.W. Patzek, "Multiscale finite element methods for miscible and immiscible flow in porous media," Proceedings of the Intl. Groundwater Symposium, 2002, pp. 606-610.

 Barenblatt, G.I., T.W. Patzek, V.M. Prostakishyn and D.B. Silin, "Oil Deposits in Diatomites: A New Challenge for Subterranean Mechanics," Paper SPE 75230, Proceedings of the SPE/DOE 13th Symposium on Improved Oil Recovery, 13-17 April, 2002, Tulsa, OK.

 Fielding, E.J., T.W. Patzek and D.B. Silin, "Integrated GPS and SAR Interferometry to Measure Time-varying Surface Deformation Over a Giant Oilfield in California," Proceedings of the 2001 AGU Fall Meeting, EOS Transactions, November 20, 2001, AGU, 82 47 F269.

 Juanes, R. and T.W. Patzek, "A Multiple Scale Framework for Numerical Simulation of Multiphase Fluid Flow," Proceedings of the 2001 AGU Fall Meeting, EOS Transactions, November 20, 2001, AGU, 82 47 F434.

 Patzek, T.W., D.B. Silin and G.I. Barenblatt, "Impact of Rock Micro- and Macrostructure on the Behavior of Two-phase Flow," Invited Paper, Presented at the 22nd Annual International Energy Agency Workshop and Symposium, September 10-12, 2001, Vienna, Austria.

 Patzek, T.W., D.B. Silin and E. Fielding, "Use of Satellite Radar Images in Surveillance and Control of Two Giant Oilfields in California," SPE 71610, presented at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, September 30-October 2, 2001, New Orleans, LA.

 Patzek, T.W., A. De and D.B. Silin, "A process for waterflood surveillance and control," U.S. Patent application, Ref. IB-1588P, April 3, 2001.

 Patzek, T. W., "Buried treasure," 2001 Forefront Issue for College of Engineering.

That was uncalled for.  I like Patzek and enjoy listening to his interviews.

I put the little winky icon there. Surely, since you yourself used it, knew that by doing so I was indicating humor, wry wit, a bit of a tip of my hat to your good-natured humor.


Scrolling makes me grouchy :-(
Well, yeah. Twas quite an A-bomb of a post, but, quite frankly, (as f I would speak any other way), I am tired of people who merely pass on the propaganda of the industrial farming conglomerate. I am also tired of technologists who do not have the time or will to explore the entire energy picture, the pure physics of the problem.

There seems to be this insane idea that technology equals energy, and if we are just patient, we will come up with the right tech to allow perpetual growth forever. Remember your physics people. Perpetual motion is IMPOSSIBLE.

In fact, that is the perfect way to describe the difference between technologists and physicists. Technologists are the ones who barrage the U.S. Patent Office with their perpetual motion machine applications. Physicists know that such machines are impossible, and are the ones who see the inherent, immutable rules of physics that the technologists can't seem to grasp they have mangled in their minds, broken on paper, and otherwise ignored in reality.

So, people who cherry-pick the science, make me grumpy.


The Patent Office is not "barraged" with perpetual motion machines.  It is barraged with improved mp3 players & etc.

People are busy with their hopes and dreams.  In my opinion most of them don't know how much energy conservation is coming their way ... but sometimes they surprise me:

4 Out Of 5 New Home Buyers Want Solar Power

No Patzek references later than 2004! A whole 1.5 to 2.5 years ago. Has he died ;) ?
It seems to be these two against the world. But why only these two researchers? Why only the two who use worse case scenarios keep getting cited?  OTOH where are the pro-biofuel researchers for the ethanol industry? Who are they and where are their research papers?
To the hoi polloi, I can see how two names starting with the letter P might be confusing.

I truly lament our primary school system. ;->

Haflin, do you work for News?

You sound like the fair and balanced team that brings us industry hacks from the coal industry to deny global warming.

I bet you can find someone in the pay of Archer Daniels Midlands who will try to counter or confuse the findings of a couple of Cornell scientists.

Or, are you saying that Cornell sucks?

Either way, it sounds like science shopping. I suggest you refute the science rather than the scientists.

Actually Halfin has a point. Calculating EROEIs is complex and there is no well-accepted way to do it, hence the range you find. Also, as farming practices change, EROEIs do as well, and what may be a defensible EROEI in one part of the world may not be somewhere else. Pimentel and Patzek (who's from Berkeley, BTW) run to the low end, but that doesn't mean they're wrong. Or right, for that matter. Most other workers (who have equally good bona fides, BTW) find that corn ethanol has a weakly positive EROEI, soy biodiesel significantly but not spectacularly positive. Personally, I'm not inclined to follow P&P too blindly: a while back I looked at their methodology and found that their returns depended on some strange FF inputs regarding lime use, ag worker consumption, etc. But that was two years ago and their methodology may have changed by now. And I agree with them that whatever the "true" EROEI (whatever that means) for corn ethanol is, it is too low to be useful to anyone besides the ADMs, Cargills,  and GMs of the world.
Why Pimental?

Perhaps because he is a respected scientist.

"Abusing our precious croplands to grow corn for an energy-inefficient process that yields low-grade automobile fuel amounts to unsustainable, subsidized food burning", says the Cornell professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Pimentel, who chaired a U.S. Department of Energy panel that investigated the energetics, economics and environmental aspects of ethanol production several years ago, subsequently conducted a detailed analysis of the corn-to-car fuel process. His findings are published in the September, 2001 issue of the Encyclopedia of Physical Sciences and Technology.
Please do pay close attention to this grain thing, 6 of the last 7 years have consumed more than produced globally:

The grain and vegetable production from some important european producers like Ukraine, Poland is threatened to be very seriously down due to hot and dry weather this year. The winter wheat crop in USA has been low, spring wheat looking low unless more rain soon. The effect is only likely to be an increase in price in developed countries - for now, at least. More serious effects will be felt in poor and developing countries where global market prices become unaffordable.

Currently approx 15,000 die daily due to starvation (about 100x and more those who die due to violence in Iraq or in the Lebanon conflict). It will be too many more too soon.

Hello Cherenkov,

Increasingly, I am seeing more reports of crop failures worldwide--we might see very serious magnitude jump in the level of starvation by winter 2008 unless we can rebound our food inventory.  Here is a Yahoo newsreport on Italy.
Italian farmers facing drought 'disaster'

ROME (AFP) - Farmers in northern Italy have said they are facing disaster as Europe's lingering heatwave burns up crops and leaves arable land parched in the "bread-basket" Po valley, after a winter in which unusually light Alpine snowfall failed to replenish reservoirs.

A prolonged drought has reduced parts of the northern river, which feeds irrigation channels along the fertile valley, to their lowest levels in living memory.

"Entire fields are destroyed stretching for hundreds of hectares, it's a real disaster," said Ronaldo Manfredini of farmers' confederation Coldiretti.

Being purposely deprived of life-saving water is bad enough, but having to fight through a minefield while braving machinegun and mortar fire to get a drink shows just how precious H2O really is to merely existing.

Tamil Tigers cut off water

SRI Lankan troops slogged through minefield and mortar fire as they advanced towards a Tamil Tiger-held water supply yesterday, while jets hit rebel positions and a military transport ship was attacked in incidents that look increasingly like open warfare.

The government accused the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of attempted ethnic cleansing through cutting off the water supply to some 65,000 mostly Sinhalese people...where troops are battling to secure a rebel-held sluice gate in a dispute that has prompted the worst and longest violence since the truce.

"I would definitely call it ethnic cleansing," he said. "Water is critical to human existence. Our objective is to secure the water and we will get it."

Unfortunately, I expect this combat for vital resources to become the norm -- recall my earlier post suggesting that Israel is actually battling to control the entire Litani River drainage basin for the creation of a postPeak biosolar habitat.  The proposed pipeline to bring water from the Tigris and Euphrates watershed can never be adequately defended, but if Israel can gain the Litani's mountainous high ground and defend it with an Earthmarine Buffer zone--the drainage basin will naturally provide the H20.  Of course, the Lebanese will fight to prevent this, but this is the nature of naked resource conflicts.

I mentioned this before, but if there ever is a justification for war-- battling for life-sustaining water can be Malthusian rationalized.  SAD

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


Dave, really useful information.  Three main thoughts:

DEMOGRAPHICS - In the UK there is a massive migration of young people from country to city related to government education policy (though government at all level seems to be unaware of this) combined with a move away from marriage and family homes.  The result, a massive expansion of single occupancy 2 bedroom appartments that cost energy to build and run.  This will impact UK power consumption.

CLIMATE - Lovelock, in his new book, is clear that monoculture agri business is as bad fort the climate as burning fossil fuel.  Better to have a forest , than land stripped bare for corn that needs fossil fuel to grow. The land will soon become desert as warming continues.

FOOD - If the US is to convert surpluss food to fuel - what are the folks in the developing world that currently eat that food going to eat?

FOOD - If the US is to convert surplus food to fuel - what are the folks in the developing world that currently eat that food going to eat?

Maybe they'll be able to grow their own in the absence of competition from heavily subsidized American (and European) agriculture.

As usual, the EIA is completely out of touch with reality.

They assume very little contribution from wind and solar.  Meanwhile, in the US wind is 26% and 40% of new generation in 2006 and 2007 (see as adjusted by capacity factors here

Wind generation will generate 1% of US kwhrs by the end of 2006, and is doubling every two years. It could easily provide all of our new generation capacity in 5-10 years - especially combined with charging demand from EV's and PHEV's, which could eliminate problems from intermittency.

The IEA projections are pretty useless.

Some people ask should we use windpower to replace coal, or power vehicles?

While that's an interesting question, the important thing here that we don't have to choose: because charging can be scheduled to fit wind output, additional wind power for charging doesn't add to system instability, so the more EV/PHEV's we have more wind the system can accomodate.

In fact, EV's may permit MORE wind than it uses. Coal, nuclear and gas are pretty dispatchable, but they have variance in output: planned and unplanned out-of-service periods. OTOH, wind is pretty variable, but it's not completely unpredictable. So, that means you only have to store PART of wind output in order to make it as reliable as other sources. That means for every unit of power demand for EV/PHEV charging, you can probably have 2 units of additional wind generation.

So, the more EV/PHEV's you have, the less oil AND less coal you use.

I would like to see some EV's and Hybrids, PlugIns, etc.. designed with an easily exchangable battery bank, maybe akin to the Block Batteries you see in Warehouse Forklifts, or to that effect.  If you have two batteries, one can live at home and be charging whenever wind, sun or your pre-scheduled grid hours allow (assuming peak/offpeak metering).  The battery at home could also, of course be integrated into the home's power systems as your needs required, so neither battery was lanquishing unexercised.

Of course, this would be a (likely minor) engineering challenge, since this is no pack of 'D'-cells.  I would think that a 'tray' along the underside of the car would carry the battery such that it could be unlocked, unplugged and rolled out to the side of the vehicle, where a roller-tray in the garage would receive it and the neighboring battery #2 be rolled in afterwards.  I also think this would be useful as a way to standardise the packaging of EV batts, so as battery tech developed, or replacements were necessary, the 'interchangable parts' paradigm would facilitate upgrades, maintenance.

  I do not subscribe to 'Happy Motoring Weekly', or Vote on the board of 'Business-As-Usual-or-Bust', but I do think we'll keep using cars, carts, wagons, etc.. whether we'll have one to a family, or one to a neighborhood, so I look for ways to make that accessible.  Now if we can only start Nano-Manufacturing the Atmospheric Carbon into Bucky-Tubes to patch our ailing highways with..  while we're at it, maybe we can grab some of that Nitrogen in the air for our new fertilizer-source..

The battery bank idea is a great one!

It would certainly promote upgradeability of batteries, and it would suggest all sorts of uses in the home for the stay-at-home battery pack: home UPS, day to night arbitrage, etc. Maybe make the battery tray expandable, maybe into the trunk, so that if you had an especially long trip you could add the home battery pack and double your range. Great idea.

Why they need to be at home?

Instead of gas stations in the future we can have electric stations where they will swap your batteries with recharged ones for a couple of minutes and you will just pay for the energy difference plus something for the service. Such stations will keep hundreds of rotationary batteries in a pack which will make it uncomparatively easier for them to follow the variability of wind or whatever. Hell they may have their own wind farms attached. In addition they may take care of recycling of batteries etc.

This can be easily done with todays technology and we can start building it tomorrow if needed.

Absolutely.  I've played with this as a way of swapping out instead of trying to overpush a battery with super-fast charging at service stations.   Currently, however, I'd like to see the basic design initiated, and I think it would be used more as I described, since batteries can get very badly abused and also become potentially dangerous, so you want to know a bit about the bucket of acid that's under your seat.

  We have batteries now that can keep track of some of their needs, and 'talk' to chargers (ie,some Broadcast Li-Ion camera batts), shut down when being over-discharged, so there isn't so much of a hurdle to make Batteries quite self-sufficient and idiot-proof.. so ultimately, a system where you get your batts through businesses that track their condition and simply cycle out the deadbeats like worn Bowling Shoes might actually be the goal to hit.  Meantime, however, I am also interested in knowing how to set up a household so it is more independent in more ways.  That means some Water Storage/Collection/Recycling, some HOT water collection/storage, some independent electrical capacity, some food production.  Otherwise, we're all just dangling off a number of life-supporting umbilicals, and doing so thoughtlessly, until a morning when something doesn't come on like it's supposed to..

But as I said, in the spirit of 'Interchangable parts', this replacable-battery could work well in a wide variety of ways.  As far as the 'Car Culture' itself is concerned, I picture a setup where more people are figuring out ways to live carless, and there are Vehicles that you rent in town or at the service station- (biking distance, say)  when you have a big shopping list or have to take your old Rusty Suburban scraps to the metal dealer or something.  You'd rent a wagon for the Holiday visit to the folks in Bethel, or a Van when you're off to get some building materials.  Otherwise, you bus, walk, carpool, electric scooter or bike around town..

Just saw another scene from this story.

If you have people running out of charge out on the road somewhere, you'll probably also see the Wrecker of the Future who can toss a 1/4 sized block into the back, just to get you back to town.. for a reasonable fee of course.  Either that, or jumper cables will be a lot longer, and you co-drive back home behind Ma or some Good Samaritan..

"There's no limit to what you can accomplish if you give up any hope of getting credit".  

I really like the battery replacement idea too, for all the good reasons you have given and others as well.  

As I recall, the first time I posted it here maybe 6 months ago (the history is there but I am too lazy to look it up) I got mildly ridiculed, the next time no comment, the next time one or two trivial  technical quibbles (too many wires to connect, etc) and the most recent (28 July) some signs of approval.

Then. here, Success! The thought has been absorbed by the next generation.

Of course, except in very rare cases indeed,  there is no such thing as actual originality, esp. in such obvious ideas as this one, but the little sequence recorded here is a beautifully clean example of the group dynamics of an idea. I have seen it many times.

reminds me of the Gandhi quote at the top,  They Ridicule you, Ignore you, fight you, and then you win..

Was it Einstein who said life is 10%inspiration and 90% perspiration?

- Nearly related, I've been creating a way for window charging small batts like makita cells, so I have another similar modular form of collecting and carrying power that could run lights, radios, kitchen appliances, tools, phones ..etc..

Too bad I've missed your posts. Could have supported you back then... I think we could make use of a lot more positive thinking on this site.
As far as the 'Car Culture' itself is concerned, I picture a setup where more people are figuring out ways to live carless

I think these are two separate problems. People often embrace PO as a way to get rid of car "culture" but IMO this is far form guaranteed at least in the medium turn.

It's a close vote at CNN
Can the United States end its dependence on fossil fuels? Yes ? No?

So maybe you want to cast your vote.

I think biomass is a HORRIBLE idea. Cut down all the forests to run our cars? Suck up al the pond muck sorry ducks and cattails and kids depending on panfish to eat, we gotta run our cars!

If there is one idea that makes me pray for a huge dieoff, it's this one.

Don't forget the arguments for using natural gas for heating - better air quality in cities. Eau Claire WI has laws on the books preventing wood burning heat just because of these air quality issues.
As we make the transition to biomass for electric power generation, the US can create jobs and wealth, export technology to Asia (China & India), mitigate climate change and take a large step toward avoiding a longer term calamitous future.
This was the summary on EnergyBulletin. Are you seriously suggesting that our consumptive global society can continue, just using another source of energy?
As a member of the reality-based community, I cited a report which you didn't read. Here's some of it.
Industrialised countries between them have over 1,500 million hectares of crop, forest and woodland, of which some 460 million hectares are crop land. Achieving the 15 % target could require an average of 1.25 million hectares of crop land per year to be converted to energy plantations. This represents just over 2 % of the total land area in industrialised countries. This report shows that there needs be no land-use conflict between biomass use for energy and the production of crops for food and fibre in industrialised countries.
Biomass Resources:
  • Dedicated plantations -- Short rotation forestry and crops such as eucalyptus and willow. Perennial annual crops such as miscanthus. Arable crops such as canola (rapeseed) and sugarcane.
  • Residues from primary biomass production -- Wood from forestry thinning and felling residues. Straw from a variety of cereal crops. Other residues from food and industrial crops such as sugarcane, tea, coffee, rubber trees and oil and coconut palms.
  • By-products and wastes from a variety of processes -- Sawmill waste, manure, sewage sludge and organic fractions of municipal solid waste, used vegetable cooking oil
And addressing some earlier remarks, nobody is saying anything about cutting down the world's forests. As far as our "consumptive" global society goes, it's going to go right on consuming regardless of anything you or me do. That's the reality, so I made some helpful suggestions about how to do in an environmentally conscious way. Serves me right for being hopeful.

As far as our "consumptive" global society goes, it's going to go right on consuming regardless of anything you or me do. That's the reality, so I made some helpful suggestions about how to do in an environmentally conscious way.
Except that they aren't helpful to future generations. Our consumptive society is unsustainable. Period. Is that really debatable? Maybe you mean that we could, in principle, find the energy for our current level of consumption, without compromising food crops (assuming the crop land could be made as productive as you suggest). However, it is not just energy that is coming to crisis, as I'm sure you must be aware.

By the way, residues and by-products aren't waste. Burning them (or whatever) for a one-off fuel boost is a waste.


  Why suggest that in proposing other fuels he is also advocating for all the consumption in our society? So many suggestions for altering fuel-sources or improving efficiency gets tarred with this derisive accusation, which makes little sense on a site like this one.  

  It seems clear enough that without all the cheap calories we have enjoyed with Petroleum, that we will be watching how effectively we are procuring our fuels and expending them.  While Dave says people will go on consuming regardless, I don't think this presupposes that they will be consuming what isn't there.  You can't necessarily change all their habits, but you can try to establish some means to keep the food growing, the wheels turning.. at least the most necessary wheels, anyway.

  There will be a struggle about using our water and our topsoil to create fuels, while certainly hunger will not have been stamped out in the meantime.  But at least the carbon involved will be from the active biosphere, like firewood, and not 'new' carbon being dredged up from the depths.

  Anybody know if Kudzu is still running rampant in the South?  I know you can eat it.. now we might be able to mall-hop with it, too!

Why suggest that in proposing other fuels he is also advocating for all the consumption in our society?
Because, that is the implication from the last sentence in his article. It's fair enough describing how biomass could contribute to our energy future, though I didn't see any mention of other uses of biomass (to help rebuild top-soil, for example). However, to suggest that it is a winner in the economy stakes (jobs and wealth) is flying in the face of what we all know to be unsustainable.


Sofistek said
"Are you seriously suggesting that our consumptive global society can continue, just using another source of energy?"

He said 'Take a large step toward', not 'solve all energy needs with' ..  Biomass IS a renewable resource, as is water, as is topsoil, and the sun that feeds it.  The use of it will have to be balanced with the needs of the environment that supports it, just like all of our currently imbalanced agriculture.  But there is biomass available that currently does not get fully used, so this is a fair suggestion, but like anything we consider, it will have to be in balance.

But I guess your central question is 'can we Continue our Consumptive Society'..  Consumption is a fact of life, it's not even just a dark, realpolitik perspective.  The question to me is, can we be more wise in our consumption?  Can we rebalance our economic models to take environmental realities into account?  Advocating Wood-Stoves doesn't mean you advocate clearcutting.  It does little good to take his statement,

    "As we make the transition to biomass for electric power generation, the US can create jobs and wealth, export technology to Asia (China & India), mitigate climate change and take a large step toward avoiding a longer term calamitous future."

  and say that it implies that the status-quo is fine..

Biomass IS a renewable resource, as is water, as is topsoil, and the sun that feeds it.
True, but what really matters is the renewal rate. Oil is also renewable but the renewal rate is way past the human species time span so far.

Biomass is far better being returned to the soil to try and help it recover to a state where it could start supporting reasonable yields once fossil fuel based inputs are removed.

The question to me is, can we be more wise in our consumption?
Indeed, but being wise, to me, means holding our consumption at sustainable levels, otherwise we're still headed for collapse.
and say that it implies that the status-quo is fine.
Well, I didn't say that exactly but it implies an acceptance that something akin to our current economy is fine. Reducing the growth is not an answer. Eliminating the growth is an answer, but only if consumption is at or below renewal rates.
There are many cases of overstocked forests.  In the SW USA ponderosa is known to stagnate in what are termed dog-hair thickets.  If these are not thinned the risk of catastrophic fire is eventually a reality  (i.e.  the rodeo chedeski fire in AZ in 2004.  All that biomass went straight to CO2.  Thinning the stands and converting to energy would be valuable from energy and risk reduction point of view, but it takes political will to reform the congressional micromanagement of FS budget and some incentives to get the thinnings into an energy program.

The Swiss have a process that uses solar energy and biomass to refine ZnO -> Zn metal which is a great way to store energy.  Maybe incentives could launch somme process like this in the US.

cacciato69 -

This is not the first time I've seen mention of a zinc oxide/zinc energy storage scheme for solar energy.

Would I be correct in presuming that the idea here is to use the energy to reduce ZnO to Zn metal and then eventually recover that energy by oxidizing the Zn back to ZnO?

Do you know whether this is done thermally or electrolytically in aqueous solution? I would think that trying to burn zinc metal in a useful, controllable manner is not the easiest thing to do. (Finely divided metals, such as aluminum, can actually be quite explosive.)  I am interested in finding out how it is done.

Are there any links describing this technology that you could point me to?

Engineer-Poet wrote up a nice analysis of this technology last year:

Zinc: Miracle metal?

RR -

Thanks for the link.

Looks interesting, though I haven't had a chance to review it in detail yet.

Dave, this topic is way off my area of competence - so I'm fishing for information.  If I read correct  you seem to be in favour of bio-mass.  I, however, am left pretty confused about several points which I invite you to address either here or later on.

RECYCLING AGRI-FOREST WASTE - OK I can just about buy into that so long as it can be collected in a fuel efficient way.  Can it? And what about stripping of nutrients and biota - mentioned in another post?

SOILS - no mention of soil sustainability in the WWF (panda) summary.  How long can you go on stripping organic and mineral nutrients from soils before the soil perishes and runs off in the first storm?

HECTARES - the panda report says converting 1.25 million hectares of cropland to energy plantations per year!  For how many years?  The 2% of total land area seems to imply 30 million hectares now used for food production to be converted to fuel production over a 24 year period at 1.25 million HaY-1?  That seems to be 6.5% of the current cropland area.  The WWF numbers are difficult to add up - or is it just my arithmetic?

FOOD TO FUEL - Is there any data on how converting this area of land out of food production impacts the world's food supply?  Especially in an environment where fertilizer use may be squeezed and warming and drought may further reduce crop yields.  And what about all the corn lands being used for diesel and alcohol?

CLIMATE - it seems to me to be a matter of fact that if you allowed 30 million Ha of land currently used for agriculture to grow into mature woodland that this would remove CO2 from the atmosphere.  Rotating bio-crops through this land merely recycles the dangerous high level of CO2 already there - whilst not adding to the problem it does nothing to reduce it.

so dave. when are we going to get a post from you showing a fool proof system in which you can do this AND not continue Mining the top soil more then today?
I don't think anything is foolproof in this world of ours.

But, I think that there are some biomass crops that would actually help preserve the soil. Grasses, like switchgrass, with a permanent root system, will help prevent erosion. They have a minimal requirement of nitrogen (at least compared to corn). My understanding is that their carbon requirement will come entirely from atmospheric CO2. If I am wrong about this, please let me know.

sorry thats just not going to work, to harvest them in the mass neded to keep the generators running as base load well. if you think modern farming is 'big' you aint seen nothing yet.
This is a great proposal. Instead of producing ethanol we should be burning biomass and releasing NG supply. NG can be used easily as a fuel for transportation, or can easily liquified to diesel or ethanol if needed. I can just guess that the overal efficiency of the latter processes will be many times higher than ethanol from corn.
Do warmer winters offset hotter summers? Are there more degree-days year-on-year for the period? Fewer heating degree-days in the winter could offset more cooling degree-days in the summer.

The answer is going to depend on where you live. From an electric power perspective, warmer winters probably won't offset warmer summers. There are several mainstream energy sources for heating buildings but electricity is the only mainstream source of cooling I can think of. Alternative technologies for cooling are at the margin.

Hydro power accounts for about 60% of Canadian gneration capacity and 7% of the US capacity. That statistic alone suggests that warmer winters in Canada will not offset warmer summers in the USA, that climate change will not be emisions-neutral for North American power generation.  

I've been reading TOD for a bit over a year. In that brief period, the scope of the discussion has expanded from oil, through natural gas and coal and climate change, and now to electric power. It's certainly a challenge to follow the growth, but I hope the regular contributors can keep it up.  

Oh boy hot damn, look at all those fields and forests we can burn up, so we can keep on driving our cars!! Look at all those estuaries we can dig up and process for plastic for Ipods! Look at all these living things we just let live, how foolish!! Anything, anything at all, to keep up our "non negotiable" way of life.

We deserve everything we get, Mother Nature, please bring on your worst and don't hold back! I suggest some particularly nasty virus myself. It would only be fitting. We deserve it.

It would only be fitting. We deserve it.

Too much coffee? not enough coffee? ran short of medications?

At present all this unused biowaste is turning to CO2, methane and soil carbon at a very slow rate. It may seem like a bonanza to suddenly scoop up accumulations of garbage, forestry trash and manure then turn it into fuel. However natural ecology will dictate how fast living organisms will regenerate that biomass. Also some of that 'waste' might harbour recycled nutrients or friendly bugs. Example; if all cow pats go into a methane digester you lose earthworm friendly compost. In closed loop farming the photosynthetic efficiency of the grass in the field will put an upper limit on how much energy you can extract. Pushing this too hard will lower the EROEI of biowaste conversion. I'm saying the long term yield of biowaste may be less than the apparent short term bonanza.  
Danger! Danger Will Robinson!! Off-Topic junk!! Look out beloooooooowwwwwww.....
The Learning Annex is putting on a Get Rich Quick (no kidding, described as that!) in the SF Bay Area, and guess who's going to be featured speaker?????

------- AL GORE!!!!!!!!!! ---------

Gaaaaahhh :-P~~~~~~~~~~

WTF?? Is Al Gore going to tell ppl how to get rich?? How to get rich off of the coming energy crunch?? Is he going to tell ppl how foolish they are to try to "get rich" on our beautiful and limited planet? WTF??

Anyway, if you want to be in the same room with the Gorester, and I"m not saying that wouldn't be kinda cool, check out The Learning Annex and check out their get rich quick blah blah extravaganza here in the bay area. Sheesh!! I was not able to suss out much of a main theme, I think it's something to do with the coming real estate woops the ongoing real estate collapse, I really hope Gore doesn't turn out to be a sellout.

I have a naive, 50,000-foot question on this topic.  It could be punnily titled, "Are we missing the forest for the trees?"

Whenever I hear about using biomass for energy of any sort, I am immediately reminded of the deforestation that occurred in Europe and Britain that forced us into using coal.  To a first approximation, it appears to me we're talking about doing something similar now.  On the one hand we have more understanding of the energy and nutrient flows in the biosphere, as well as more efficient techniques for extracting the stored solar energy.  On the other hand we are faced with populations up to an order of magnitude greater.

It sure seems to me that before we start wrangling of the minutiae of peat bogs, forest waste reclamation, gasification, ethanol conversion and plant siting we ought to be stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.  Is the energy we will get from such practices sufficient to offset the inevitable biosphere degradation that will result?  Will the energy we get slow the global energy slide sufficiently to make the savings in human lives worth passing on a debilitated world to our kids?  Or are we looking at yet another facet of energy desperation, similar to the rush to coal?

Should we be doing this to our planet?  Are the increase in CO2 flows through the atmosphere, the increase in monoculture energy cropping, the soil depletion, the erosion and desertification worth it?  Are we really smart enough to avoid all the problems, or is this just another example of trying to cover up the fundamental inadequacies of "solution" by obsessing about its technological details?  Are we perhaps missing the forest for the trees here?

Here's my response to several new comments in this mostly on-topic thread -- congratulations!

  • Whatever we get from wind will be a bonus. When Bobby Kennedy Jr came out against Cape Wind, I realized that the NIMBY problem is worse than I thought. I'm all for wind and solar for home heating & A/C.
  • To those who accuse me of promoting continued high levels of consumption I can only say that reduced energy use (conservation & efficiency) precedes any further argument. I assume that as a premise even if I don't state it.
  • Arguments concerning our topsoils are well-founded but I will remind some TOD readers that what Big Agriculture does is far worse. Most food is converted fossil fuels at this point.
  • The environmental impact of the biomass argument pales in comparison to what warming of the climate is apparently doing now and will do later. Already the Amazon is in trouble according to some research reports, interior continental drying in the Northern Hemisphere is proceeding apace, the Arctic is in trouble, etc. And you haven't seen anything yet. I don't know how to convey the seriousness of this situation -- it's so much bigger than most of us can grasp.

The fact that BigAg is doing terrible things to the biosphere isn't a very strong justification for our proposals to do similar same things on a smaller scale...

I agree about the seriousness of the environmental situation, and agree that the enormity of the problem is poorly grasped by most.  But again, the fact that a big problem already exists doesn't excuse the creation of a smaller one of the same nature.

In sorting out my relative levels of concern about PO and climate change, I've come to the conclusion that CC is indeed the larger scale problem (due to its ubiquity, inertia and potential for hysteresis effects), and will play out over a much longer time frame.  As a result, direct mitigation of climate change is what physicists dryly call a "hard problem".  PO may be a smaller problem than CC from the full-species point of view, but it is much more imminent, and is more than large enough to bust our civilization.

So IMO we ought to be focussing on PO mitigation, while using techniques that are at worst climate-neutral and have the greatest chance of passing on a useable world to our heirs.  While energy from biomass passes the first of those tests I'm concerned that it fails the second, no matter how much monkey-brain power we dedicate to solving its constituent problems.

I appreciate your thoughtful post. I agree that two wrongs do not make a right. I think the biomass for electricity solution has a much smaller footprint than some have argued here.

While it is easy to criticize a stated proposal like mine, it is concomitantly much harder to suggest an alternative that meets all our concerns. In fact, I believe it is impossible given the peak oil, climate change, natural gas (in North America) "triple threat". As I said near the outset of my post, no proposal is without its attendant problems.

Thanks for writing.

While it is easy to criticize a stated proposal like mine, it is concomitantly much harder to suggest an alternative that meets all our concerns.
It's certainly much harder, if one is trying to retain as much of the present society and economy as possible. Whilst it may be true that most of the masses would want such a solution, it is not true that such a solution could be sustainable.

Given the vagaries of nature, any proposal for our energy requirements that relies on crop or plant yields is not a great idea, even if it was intended for a non-growing society. Of course, wind and solar are also subject to natural variation, but on a much smaller time scale. Unless nuclear fusion starts to produce usable amounts of electricity soon, then any future energy strategy must be based on solar and wind, it seems to me. Hydro would be next up. But we have to abandon thoughts of growth, at some stage, to make any solution sustainable.


Is the solution then to allow farmland to re-grow into mature forest and rely on nuclear for electricty - assuming that Pu and Th fuels work. Do everything possible to reduce CO2 and wait / hope for the savior - fusion.

But I guess all this chit chat is pointless the Chinese, Bangaldeshis, Brits and Americans are all running as fast as they can to the coal bunker.

Its about 10 C and raining in Aberdeen today - looking forward to a little bit more warming.

Just to add to the burning biomass debate, close to where I live a state of the art biomass burning electricity power station was to be built.  It was slated to burn locally grown willow coppice.

It was, however, prevented by local opposition.

What was their objection?   Was it smokestack emissions?  Ecological considerations?

Nope, the reason they didn't want it was....

It didn't look nice.

The locals didn't like the look of the computer generated models of the plant and complained that it would look "out of place" in picturesque countyside.  
NIMBY's.   The mind boggles, it really does.  The countryside is not there for their convenience its there to make a living.  I swear some people living in this county believe that the countryside should resemble a Constable artwork for the rest of time.

Ah, well, we've always got Hinkley Point B (nuke) to keep us warm.


Lunatic fringe idea.  Algae oil. It has been advocated that a portion of the California, Arizona, and New Mexico desert be used as algae oil plantations. Some algae species grow to a 50% oil content which can be processed into biodiesel. The other 50% of the biomass could be pyrolyzed into charcoal and buried. The charcoal would sequester carbon for thousands of years if kept dry. Two birds with one stone. Plenty of fuel for everyone with a negative CO2 factor. It is possible that CO2 levels could be falling 20 years from now.
Why "lunatic" fringe?

Sounds as if the idea could fly.

I'd like to see a few viable small-scale prototypes first, but there is nothing inherently wrong or crazy with the idea.

For me, deserts are a good place for stargazing and rattlesnake hunting. I'd hate to see them go, but shucks, it is easy to make a desert.

There would be considerable economic pressure to use the solid leftovers for boiler fuel, F-T conversion, or even fertilizer. Long term storage of the carbon means not using a source of revenue and would be considered lunacy by Wall Street.
Global Population Concerns

The first billion took from the dawn of humanity until 1830.

The second billion took only 100 years -- from 1830 to 1930.

Three billion more arrived in the next 60 years.

The next billion will take only 13 years (yes, just 13 years!)

There is a direct population connection between human activities, global warming and the greenhouse effect.

Currently the U.S. earns $40 billion per year as the largest food exporter in the world.  About 60% of the oil used in the U.S. is imported at a cost of $75 billion per year.  About 400 gallons of oil equivalents are expended to feed each American, about 17% of all energy used, each year.
If present trends in population growth, domestic food consumption, and topsoil loss continue, the U.S. food exports (and the income from them) will cease by 2030.

We are in for a serious correction in population, if things continue as is!

on a seperate note:

I recently read somewhere that if the USA were to convert all automobiles to 100% ethanol, then 97% of all US farmland would be needed to grow the crops to make ethanol.
So where does that lead to fruit and veggies being grown? muchless dairy farms, cattle ranches.

V-e-r-y interesting, thanks much Dave (and all). The advantages of biomass gasification (over algal oil or alcohols) that i think i read are: less handling, less inputs, no spp contamination problems, much less active management, and less sensitivity to feedstock variation. The mass-handling & ash return issues are real, but they just support distributed generation, something some of us want anyway.
IMHO the simpler process will be crucial by the time we get around to actually doing anything much. It wont support business (or population) as usual yada yada, but i give it five stars for appropriate technology and am wondering how big a ditch would need to be for a useful trial that wont stink out the 'hood.

Biomass is widely available, but low energy density. So it cannot be effectively trucked to a central generator, because of transport costs.

But: if Pritchard steam generators are trucked to farms, the transport cost is once only, for the generator. The biomass thereafter is only moved a short distance from field to generator. In addition the electricity is not transmitted far.  All over the world farmers burn the stalks in the field. Burning in local Pritchard steam generators seems like a great idea. The world needs a hundred million of these, starting now.

I believe the Pritchard generator is a Stirling cycle, not sure. Pritchard talks about a generator that can burn crop waste, and can be lifted by two men. ( a big plus in my village with paths too narrow for trucks)
Pritchard is of course somewhat ideosyncratic. He is focused too much, in my opinion, on trying to crack the USA automobile market. I wish he would emphasise his stationary generators.

I'm amazed that TOD has no previous mention of Pritchard