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back to article Pork and politics energise the biofuel delusion

So, hands up everyone who thinks that determined political action is necessary to save us from the perils of climate change. Yes, hold them up for a moment... Whooo, boy, didn't realise there were quite so many deluded people out there. The truth is that politics just doesn't work that way, it's not an efficient system for …

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This is breaking the golden rule

...of environmental policy making. Which is that "We must take action immediately and not worry about the details as they might confuse people".

(Fwiw, I actually do compost food and garden waste - but that's to help the garden and cope with bi-weekly collections).

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Flame

Second generation biofuels much better

Yes, there are quite some downsides to biofuels from corn and other sources that compete with our foodstocks. However, the second generation of biofuels is doing much better in that respect. They are a likely candidate to replace regular fuels when they become less economically viable. See http://www.alfin2100.blogspot.com/ for many developments on this front.

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But it's 'organic'!

Mind you, so is cholera.

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Eliminating subsidies

"No, pure free markets (and remember, I'm the man from the Adam Smith Institute) don't deal well with externalities"

Which is why the government should be involved in taxing externalities to make economic activity reflect genuine costs. There is no such thing as a "free market" because markets only exist within the rule of law (particularly contract and tax laws) enacted and enforced by government, based on infrastructure e.g. education and roads, provided directly by the government. This article suggests the government is trying to correct one subsidy (that provided by everyone to greenhouse gas polluters) with another (to biofuel production). Not the way to go - better to eliminate all subsidies and then greener energy will find its own competitive place.

If governments are primarily about appeasing interest groups then the better educated the green lobby (which includes all of us in one sense or another) the harder this lobby will be to appease with greenwashing policies such as the one this article exposes.

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Happy

So nice to know...

I'm NOT the only sane person out here, with the ability to see through the Smoke and Mirrors.

Thank You.

Thank You.

Thank You.

Thank You.

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Dead Vulture

Nice article Tom

yes, "determined political action is necessary to save us from the perils of climate change", and yes, "politics just doesn't work" (in any way other than the self serving examples of perversion that we seem to see every other day).

The problem with appeasing "pressure groups" is two fold...

Firstly it is the "extremes" of society who are naturally drawn to joining pressure groups and the extremes within the pressure groups who naturally rise to the top eschelons of that social network - yes, it's exactly the same in all the other forms of politics that we see and ridicule. Ultimately then, we are discussing the realm of extremists and the action of bowing to their demands in favour of common sense. Silly me - trying to link the words "comon sense" with "government"

Secondly, the reason... formal govornmental politicies re currently orchestrated solely in order to sty in power; to attract votes and, ultimately, income... and control. It is a far cry from the original task set out by Cromwell that the remit of Government be the task of representing and protecting the people from the might and power of businesses and other unscupulous groups. Ah - the good old days of press gangs, ricketts and blatant social injustice. The Queen retains the right to disband the leeches, but I'm still waiting.

So little has changed. Mine's the one with H5N1.

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Pirate

Nitrogen's a greenhouse gas?

There was me thinking it was an important part of life...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogen_cycle

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Boffin

Excellent Article

Thanks Tim. As one of the minority that believes it's nearly all a load of balls, but suits tax-grabbing governments, I wish there were gain-say articles like this being published in the mainstream media, instead of the apocalyptic clap-trap that their journalists relish putting into print. And the prize for GW claptrap reporting goes, once again to, the BBC.

A classic bad science snippet from the BBC Breakfast News this morning: An ice sheet is breaking up in Antarctica, due to global warming. However, viewers are re-assured that sea levels will not rise, as "the ice floats on top of the water". But the ice is thawing you moronic sub-editor! That's why the ice sheet is breaking up.

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Tim
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Hidden agendas

Science is about facts. Politics is about pragmatism.

The facts about composting are that if I compost my garden and food waste (which I do) it doesn't end up in the back of a nasty diesel truck and then get dragged around the country before going in a hole in the ground. The worms do produce methane (as they always have) but at the rate they always would have. Eventually I end up with nice compost to stick on the garden and feed the plants (themselves soaking up CO2). If I'm really virtuous (I'm not) I could even grow food with zero food miles.

Politicians like this as they have to tax us to pay for the trucks that move the rubbish around and find sites for landfill (always popular). Is this really such bad science?

The 'green lobby' have been saying for ages that growing bio-fuels is a bad thing (with the exception of algae based growth which essentially feed on CO2 and sunlight and won't need swathes of farmland to operate on). Don't blame them for the fact that industry lobby groups will hijack the agenda when they can see a profit.

The more action we take as early as possible reduces the potential risk and cost of dealing with climate change in the future. Composting is not a big thing, but it's not a bad thing either.

Politicians will make some bad decisions but Tim Worstall's position seems to be (based on other comments) leave it to the market who will decide to do nothing. Or come up with pseudo-green schemes like bio-fuels. Which is where he started.

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3x2

Pork

Michael Crichton has been calling for a change in the way we research such things for a long time. I think his view is increasing relevant now that the pork barrel has become a free for all that is likely to cost taxpayers Trillions worldwide. Policy based on interest groups and who shouts loudest is a very expensive game that taxpayers may well start to question very soon.

http://www.michaelcrichton.com/speech-senatetestimony.html

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"biofuel delusion"

Post fossil-carbon, I expect to see perhaps four main types of energy collection/ generation (in no particular order):

(a) photo-electric

(b) mechanical or thermal (e.g. wind, wave, solar )

(c) photosynthesis (e.g. biofuels)

(d) nuclear (e.g. fission, fusion)

Photo-electric efficiency is orders of magnitude more efficient than photosynthesis. However, photosynthesis is conveniently done by autonomous self-replicating bio-machines honed by millions of years of evolution (i.e. plants); in contrast photo-electric, mechanical/thermal, and nuclear need to be managed and maintained to a far greater extent. In addition, photosynthesis provides a nice way of getting liquid fuels, which are actually pretty handy in terms of storage, energy content, and portability.

Just because much current biofuel agriculture is done stupidly, counter-productively, and inefficiently isn't a problem intrinsic to biofuels. It's a problem with humans. After all, all that fossil carbon is biofuel anyway; I don't hear economists (etc) complaining about that process.

The "delusion" is solely one of economics and economic activity: businesses and/or individuals take a short-term, mistaken, or selfish attitude to their operations.

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Go

Controversy in the numbers

Show me the numbers and the research. The net energy value of ethanol production is a hotly contested issue, and this article presents an overly simplistic view as an absolute fact.

Sure, producing ethanol CAN use more energy than the ethanol is worth. You could build an ethanol plant on top of Mt. McKinley and use Concorde jets to transport triple refined sugar to feed the ethanol production. That doesn't mean that ALL ethanol production is going to cost that much energy input to fuel it. There are a variety of companies out there making biofuels from a wide variety of sources and using several different technological approaches. Over time, some of their methods are going to prove more economical than others.

The nay-sayers need to stop fudging about natural gas or coal consumed during the production process - yes, those are non-renewable resources with energy values, but it's time to stop hiding behind the veil of "net energy". If 10 gallons of every barrel of oil is consumed when producing oil the conventional way and only 5 gallons is consumed producing ethanol (plus natural gas and/or coal) then THAT number really matters.

By hiding behind "net energy use", doubters are clouding the issue to score cheap sound bites. Substituting other energy sources for oil is a good thing. It reduces financing of despotic regimes, reduces the risk of oil tanker spills, and causes an overall reduction in fuel consumed during transportation to the consumer - even without pipelines, The fact that it helps a countries balance of trade and enriches the farm lobby hasn't been overlooked - but why should it be?

Fighting climate change isn't going to happen on the fuel production side. It's going to require clever engineering and power management on the consumption side. And the author is right about one fundamental thing - there will be some unintended consequences (ie; accelerated deforestation in unprotected areas) from the switch to bio-fuels. The solution is to protect those areas, not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Oh, and don't forget the fact that ethanol has been very successful at replacing MTBE. Ethanol works wonderfully as a fuel additive that reduces particulates in the air without the toxic effects of some other alternatives.

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Anonymous Coward

Technical matters

It's not a technical matter though, the problem is political, unfortunately all the fossil fuel energy supplies are in the hands of peopel who don't like us.

That aside however.

Regarding nitrogen release from fertiliser, fertiliser is made from the nitrogen in the atmosphere if only 5% of the nitrogen previously fixed from the atmosphere makes it back then it's actually a net sink. (See Haber process)

Finally, I have some soil, I plant a corn plant, the plant grows, I chop down the plant and squeeze oil out of it, I have oil but I haven't burnt fossil fuels or my own oil.

While the energy deficit is there the extra energy doesn't have to come from the oil you're producing. Bio-fuels are about producing a convenient to transport and use fuel supply that nut-jobs aren't in charge of, not producing energy from nothing.

It really should be obvious that any method of producing a portable fuel stuff will not produce a fuel with as much energy as you used to make the fuel.

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Unhappy

The current generation of biofuels are insane

...but that won't stop them being grown. The real reason they are expanding production is simple and has nothing to do with the environment. We are running short of oil.

Without oil the industrial world would grind to a halt. Even with a modest shortfall, the global financial system would collapse, because it is utterly dependent on geometric growth of the economy. Impossible without ever expanding consumption of energy, and oil in particular.

That is why big money will ensure we convert as much as possible of agricultural land in biofuels, so that rich industrialised countries can continue to prop up the dollar and other currencies even as the third world starves around them.

Of course it is futile. But that never stopped them before...

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On politics

"determined political action is necessary to save us from the perils of climate change"

It is in fact the case. And would not be an issue except that we live in a democracy which is about popularity more than doing the right thing. It always baffles me that the US is on a global mission to bring democracy to the world when all it means is transferring the power from the muscle to the money. Neither of which is a welcome proposition.

Until we have a political ruling class that is freed from the corrupting infuences of money (i.e. in a western democracy the pressure from the business community and the markets on policy making) and power (i.e. the need to gain/retain power through populist policies which are in turn influenced by the money through the media) we will never have a government that implements the most sensible and astute policies. As Tim rightly points out, democratic politics is about appeasing noisy interest groups rather than making logical policy decisions. Which is why the liberals and their portfolio of eminently sensible policies never get elected.

Anyway - biofuels probably bad at the moment - would need severe regulation for them to be a viable green alternative. The focus really needs to focus on infrastructure, efficency, behaviour and alternate technologies rather than which is the best way of burning stuff.

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Dead Vulture

No, it's worse than that

"Finally, I have some soil, I plant a corn plant, the plant grows, I chop down the plant and squeeze oil out of it, I have oil but I haven't burnt fossil fuels or my own oil."

Except that under the current US agricultural system, each calorie of corn energy produced requires more than two calories of fuel energy to produce it (from fertiliser production, transportation, etc), *as well as* the energy the corn plant absorbs from the sun.

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IT Angle

Fusion Energy

There are campaigners who are aware or unaware of their incompetence or competence.

Those with technical knowledge are a small minority and without political action would have been crushed long ago by the technically incompetent, politicians have to support them despite the pressure.

Projects like ITER Fusion are going ahead step by step, consuming more money than God and providing no benefits to anyone, getting all these nations around the world to agree of anything is only due to politics it's power over people.

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Magnificent article!

This article hits so many nails bang on the head. The two main ones are that politics is about appeasing interest groups, not solving problems for the general good; and that moving to biofuels is a counterproductive strategy. Brilliant writing!

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Linux

Re. Excellent Article

It's not bad science - the point being made was that seeing as the shelf is already floating, it melting won't cause water levels to rise higher than their current levels. It's a matter of displacement...

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Flame

IPCC is also a political group

Need I say more?

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RE:porting RE:hashed

'And the prize for GW claptrap reporting goes, once again to, the BBC.'

To this statement, at the very least... Amen.

Whatever else one might think about the various issues surrounding 'Probably man-worsened climate change', I am still trying to get around our national broadcaster's total lack of irony.

Around the ice shelf story they had no problem advocating moon burials and a crew flying to Midway Island to go beachcombing for plastic to show how a bag ban will solve the various e-crises.

http://junkk.blogspot.com/2008/03/lunar-dead-centre.html

ps: Back on-topic, kudos for a most worthwhile story for those simply keen to avoid waste and reduce unnecessary greenhouse nasties going up - no matter what - 'in the name of green'.

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We need to sort this all out

We need straight facts. The best way is to develop an optimum constraint computer model to establish the best mix of energy consumption, greenhouse gas management, and resource preservation. Several of the key variables are obviously: fuel availability\type, waste by products\effect and a better use of worms. Why don't the universities and governments pool their global IT resources to do this? Yesterday, the Reg updated its coverage on Yahoo's Hadoop grid application. This sounds like a good use of resources such as this. At least our comments on the matter would be less contentious and parochial.

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Coat

So what works

Tim,

The market sucks, politics sucks .... so no answers then to this pretty intractable problem.

I can start you off on a proposal that actually has a benefit. You change the planning regs, though unfortunatley there is a political element and those politicians can't read a white paper never mind a scientific one, crowd appeasers, useless twats.

There is also a market element as, lets face, it you will make homes more expensive to make, and those chaps are a waste of space. They can't even internalise their externalities, useless twats.

Oh dear, it would seem that every valid infrastructure change requires political will and some sort of market force brought to bear. Those two groups are inept and its not worth waiting for the proletariat to take the reins, they are too busy eating cake, useless twats.

So thats it then, lets just carry on as before. No change required, no adjustment to lifestyle. I'm going to whip out and get a couple of outdoor patio heaters which I will then tow behind me on a small motorised buggy(probably using a wireless device for control - theres your IT angle!). Providing me with a pleasant 22oC no matter what the wild elements throw at me. In summer I will replace with two aircon units.

Mines the Nomex winter jacket

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Anonymous Coward

>each calorie of corn energy takes two....

It doesn't matter. The point in producing oil is that you can carry it around and put it in your car. The extra energy can come from other things like nucelar, wind, fossil fuels, burning hippies.

It's the same as the hydrogen idea, but actually possible.

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Anonymous Coward

Missing the real value of biofuels

The real benefit of biofuels is not in preventing or reversing climate change. The real benefit of biofuels is as an alternative to fossil fuels as the supply dwindles over the next 50 years. I am not a biofuel investor or farmer, but I support the idea as an alternative to having to pay $20 or more per gallon at the pump as oil prices rise decade after decade.

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Flame

Yes it does...

"It doesn't matter. The point in producing oil is that you can carry it around and put it in your car."

No, the point is that the current US agricultural system requires two calories <i>of petrochemical energy</i> for every calorie of corn energy produced <i>even before you refine the corn into bioethanol</i>. It would be better to just put the two grammes of oil that are used in producing the corn directly into your car.

Yes, in principle it would be possible to grow cane sugar in greenhouses heated by geothermal energy, in order to have a mobile fuel source with no climate change impact. Quite how many drugs you'd need to have smoked to consider that a better idea than hydrogen electrolysis is an interesting point for discussion - but either way, that is not how the current biofuels system works.

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Pirate

Wrong target

If politics is wrong, then the solution is no politics whatever, i.e. decision making reduces to whoever has the bigger gun?

The real difference between us and Adam Smith is that we have become stuck with great barrels brimming with pork, which pork is dispensed undemocratically and without accountability. As rational solutions depends on facts, and the manufacture of facts depends today on pork, this and the distribution of facts has to change.

The business of taxation is the real pressing issue.

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Unhappy

Has anybody at El Reg heard of Hemp?

Why is it that despite regular articles on Green issues, The Register will fail to mention hemp? (unless it is in a jocular way that often only goes to reinforce certain stereotypes - even if the jokes are normally amusing ;-) )

Hemp produces more energy per acre per year than corn, sugar, flax, or any other crop currently grown for ethanol or biodiesel. (yes that a Wiki quote but that has been known since long before Wikipedia was even a concept)

In addition Hemp will replace nitrates in the soil normally used by crops and can be grown in the field that might otherwise have been left fallow.

Stands to reason, as this is the case then why bother mentioning corn, sugar or anything else not up to scratch?

But it's not just you, why don't these 'researchers' spend their time researching ways to improve the process of producing biofeuls rather than wasting time and effort telling us how inefficient it is currently? Maybe because they can be influenced/paid/pressured by anti green interest groups just like governments can.

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DR

controversy in numbers, i think you've missed the point

"Sure, producing ethanol CAN use more energy than the ethanol is worth.

....

If 10 gallons of every barrel of oil is consumed when producing oil the conventional way and only 5 gallons is consumed producing ethanol (plus natural gas and/or coal) then THAT number really matters."

you say that producing a barrel of oil uses 10 gallons, but there are 100 gallons in that barrel, hence 10% of the energy is lost, but if what you said in the first sentance is true, producing ethanol uses more energy than the ethonol is worth, then your 100 gallon barrel of ethanol uses the energy contained in 110 gallons to produce. i.e you've lost energy. you go from 90% efficiency to -10% efficiency.

the real question is where the energy used comes from.

e.g if electricity is used in the conversion process does that come from a coal fired station, or does it come from a solar pannel?

if it comes from a solar pannel then there is no [environmental] damage in loosing that energy. in fact it's probably a good trade to mobilise the energy stored in crops to a form that can be carried and burned in cars.

wasteful? yes, harmful? no.

unless it was me who missed the point.

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Alert

@ Peter

Thanks!

I had missed that irony, probably because I am weary of the BBC-sponsored eco warriors, but I defy any one to feel ashamed of the rubbish that washes ashore on any beach. That is pure vandalism.

Yrs

Morse

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Anonymous Coward

>how many drugs needed for hydrogen electrolysis

So, we have

a) New electric or even wood burning farm equipment, and refining systems for ethanol/bio-diesel.

or

b) New cars, new electrolysis plants, new storage systems, new transport systems, new nuclear plants to generate the electricity for the electrolysis in the first place.

Now who's on the drugs?

..and.. every cal of fossil fuel you use means there's one less cal in the future.

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Stop

Please, please visit this site ....

..... and only then comment.

http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/ice_ages.html

We are all being hoodwinked, and charged additional taxes in the name of Green / Eco Science.

There are several links that will open your eyes, hopefully.

I am assuming that most El Reg readers have an inclination towards science (IT is sort of science) = prove it, Greenhouse Gas doomsters.

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Well, in my case....

"But it's not just you, why don't these 'researchers' spend their time researching ways to improve the process of producing biofeuls rather than wasting time and effort telling us how inefficient it is currently? Maybe because they can be influenced/paid/pressured by anti green interest groups just like governments can."

It's because I am indeed a fully paid up capitalist bastard. I've even spent some of my own money on subsidising research into fuel cells. Purely so that I can make money out of supplying the metals they will need in the future, you understand.

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@John Band

Two calories to produce one calorie of biofuel. OK.

Did you know it takes one calorie of fuel energy to produce one calorie of food energy in the US now?

Puts that in perspective.

The problem is inefficiency, not the idea.

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Where's the Oil

"...unfortunately all the fossil fuel energy supplies are in the hands of peopel who don't like us."

You mean Texans, right? :-)

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Stop

Some nonsense

"The truth is that politics just doesn't work that way, it's not an efficient system for deciding upon technical matters and as such isn't the appropriate method of dealing with technical problems."

This is patently untrue. How can we hope to not be mangled by some new technology if laws aren't brought in to tackle potential abuses?

Most of the rest of the article just goes on about how politics is essentially corrupt (which is true) or how green schemes aren't as green as they might be (which is much more debatable than the writer gives credit to, rather than just dismissing it)

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Flame

What if???

What if climate change (formerly known as man-made global warming) is a total crock?

What if the level of solar activity, rather than that of human activity, drives our climate?

What if the REAL climate change that we're facing is a little ice age?

What if peak oil is a total crock?

What if petroleum is not a fossil fuel?

What if petroleum is abiotic, produced geochemically by the Earth itself?

What if, instead of debating the pros and cons of ethanol, people did the background research first?

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Joke

@ James

<sarcasm>

Dear Dickhead.

Clearly you need to return to school and pick up some basic reading skills.

The gaseous chemical referred to in the article is NOx (Nitrogen Oxide) NOT NITROGEN.

Got That. Good.

</sarcasm>

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Paris Hilton

Re: What if

Well, what?

If it's a load of crock, we'll have mistakenly increased our enegy efficiency.

If it IS the solar activity, we'll have discovered that our instruments measuring solar activity are COMPLETELY wrong and we'll also find out that CO2 acts completely different when it's of anthropogenic origin.

We know that we ought to be facing in the next few thousand years an ice age.

Depends on whether you think we can extract oil faster and faster, even when the easy sources are running out. If it IS false, we'll have found a new energy source. But using more efficiently is still a good idea, yes?

We'll have found out that what produces oil.

We'll have to hope that the earth creates more oil quicker and quicker to meet our ever increasing demands (unless we increase efficiency rather than our demands)

We do. But US corn require lots and lots of government money or the midwest WILL be lost to the current government.

Ans what if you're wrong?

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ethonol enifecnecy

the efecency of bio fules is only a problem is the energy would not have been wated in the first palce imagen a ethnol farm where all the mecheens are solar powered from the tractos to the refinery then it would not matter that 1000 cals of sola made 1 cal of ethnol cos the 1000 of sola would have gone to waste if b4 the farm was there

what we are making is a PORTABLE energy store turning the suns energy into a portable usuable energy store the best way of doing it is open to debate (we could have a sola powered hydragon farm insted)

love the rest of the article

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Anonymous Coward

>You mean Texans, right? - (Yes, amongst others)

Diversity in supply is of enormous economic importance to any nation that lives on a free market model such as the UK.

Obviously the US and most of europe doesn't, and so we must pretend that they're all going to die in a huge inferno.

There are a set of objections to bio-fuels:-

1) It's of no environmental gain.

So what? Nor is the pub.

2) There won't be any land left for food.

Too many people, there will be too many people when the oil runs out as well.

3) Hydrogen is better.

Currently hydrogen is produced from oil, because it's the cheapest way to do it, electrolysis as a non oil alternative has the same problems and more:-

Energy is required to split the bits in water.

Hydrogen is diddy and thus leaks out of everything (at various rates).

Cars (the ones we have now) don't run on hydrogen without modification.

We have to build giant electrolysis plants (None at the moment)

We have to create a way to move hydrogen around the planet.

4) It's a political solution to a technical problem.

It's a political problem, the worlds oil is owned by nut-jobs and it rains. We want to be able to drive to work without getting wet.

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Anonymous Coward

Secondary Effects

The cost of many biofuels and their environmental benefits/burdens is only part of the the picture. With everyone in the US jumping on the corn for synth-fuel campaign in the US, the price of plain old wheat flour has gone up from $11 / 50lbs to almost $40 / 50lbs, and that is in just one month. At that rate, people won't car much about how much the environment is saved by bio-fuel because they won't be able to afford to buy after they get done with their weekly grocery shopping.

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Anonymous Coward

Business as usual

As usual, the comments will be full of people saying "Excellent article" because the conclusion agrees with their opinion, even though the reasoning is awful and the sources aren't as strong as they should be. But that is human nature, to dismiss something we disagree with unless it is VERY compelling (and even then there are diehards who'll swear that black is white), and congratulate something we agree with despite it being very weak. It's just a shame that the base opinions are being formed by dodgy websites and what people think of the person advocating it.

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Joke

it's all about government control

Great story... if only because you gave a bibliography of sources as you went along... wish more people would name facts and sources in their stories.

One fix in the article, however... biodiesel is not the same as ethanol, and is not in the same league... true, you can make biodiesel from soybeans, etc.... however, it is not subsidized like ethanol (yet), and does not have the same drawbacks.. biodiesel can also come from other cheap recyclable sources. Diesel is a great fuel on all counts. Low Nox, low CO2 emissions, great power, great fuel economy, you can make it from coal, natural gas, crude, soybeans, and left over cooking oil.

Of course, the rising price of diesel, makes you wonder why they are trying to quash such a good fuel... it's the cheapest to make, but costs us the most... must be government taxes.

Carbon offsets, what a joke... that means China with it's one child rule is doing more to curb CO2 emissions then any other country! What a joke!

It used to be taught that humans and animals breathe O2 and exhale CO2 and plants and trees use CO2 and produce O2. 20 years ago, "they" were concerned about the next ice age... now "they" are concerned about global warming! I thought the sun had the largest impact on warming and cooling! But what do I know.

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"about the next ice age"

Pope on a fucking stick.

This shit keeps appearing.

Bullet point form (figures from memory):

interglacial average is about 18,000 years.

end of last glacial about 20,000 years.

2,000 years late for glacial.

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Anonymous Coward

it is bad when one thing becomes two

alternative energy is a cycle, and the process goes like this:

1. use less energy

2. produce more renewable energy

3. improve efficiency in production of renewable energy

4. goto step 1

so, yes the current generation of biofuels is as bad or worse than fossil fuels, but that's step 2 and you're ignoring steps 1 and 3.

FIRST you mandate improvements in vehicle efficiency... maybe raise taxes on fuels and offer a tax break on efficient cars as an incentive. energy efficient cars use less energy, meaning less fuel is needed.

SECOND you come up with sources of renewable energy. it takes more energy to produce bio fuel than it does to acquire fossil fuel, in science 101 they teach you that you can't create energy, just change its form. obviously, fossil fuel is already made, it just needs to be harvested and refined, adding the creation step means a manufactured fuel is not as efficient, so energy costs will continue to rise, even though we are moving towards more and more renewable energy.

THIRD you come up with more efficient methods for producing those renewable energies. this is where the cellulose based bio fuels, hydrogen, solar, wind, or whatever else come in. they produce more energy than the previous generation, and since the new generation is more efficient we now are using less energy. maybe this time they can completely replace fossil fuel, maybe cars need to become even more efficient before that happens.

FOURTH you go back and make things more efficient again, and the cycle repeats: use less energy, make more renewable energy, make that energy more efficient, rinse, repeat.

the process will continue, probably indefinitely. as the world's population expands and modernizes, new sources of energy will continually need to be discovered. to offset this continual expansion, the production and consumption of these new energies need to be continually improved in terms of efficiency and reduction of emissions.

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Go

re: John Band

>>>No, the point is that the current US agricultural system requires two calories of petrochemical energy for every calorie of corn energy produced even before you refine the corn into bioethanol. It would be better to just put the two grammes of oil that are used in producing the corn directly into your car.

>>>

That's the fundamental misunderstanding that I was talking about - the "petrochemical" energy that's being used to produce ethanol isn't directly convertible to gasoline. For the most part, we're talking about natural gas or coal used to heat the sugar during fermentation. The gasoline consumption of ethanol production is primarily limited to fertilizer costs (which aren't mandatory - read the Wisconsin U study that came out last week showing that organic agriculture is 90-110% as productive as farming with chemical fertilizer) and transportation costs of the finished product.

What's the net energy cost of drilling for oil? Or how about transporting it via tanker ships from halfway around the world?

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Biofuels (and carbon capture) are a 'catastrophe' for future humankind

The decisions being taken by governments around the world in the quest for sustainability are a catastrophe for humankind in the long-term. Two of these decisions at the forefront of news are biofuels, and carbon capture and storage.

Biofuels -- the fuel revolution that will supposedly help us:

(1) Growing crops in the United States for biofuels requires around the same energy input for fertilisers and processing the crops as that saved by replacing petrol on the forecourt (Biofuels - A solution worse than the problem, Daily Telegraph).

(2) By harvesting the peat bogs for biofuels, we release 30 times more carbon dioxide than will be recouped by burning the biofuel produced (Prof. Jack Riley, University of Nottingham).

(3) Growing biofuels takes a lot of land and huge amounts of water -- neither of which the world has to spare.

(4) China and India risk famine if they proceed with their biofuels plans, because they don't have enough water to grow both fuel and food (International Water Management Institute).

(5) Biofuels are killing forests and leading to more global warming, besides taking land away from food crops (Global Forest Coalition).

(6) The diversion of land meant for food crops to agrofuel production is a "crime against humanity" (Jean Ziegler, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food).

Carbon Capture -- putting off today what others will have to solve tomorrow:

(1) Carbon sequestration and storage (under our oceans and land) is an untried method of locking up carbon dioxide forever, but there is not a 100 per cent assurance that it will not escape. Possible escape routes include earthquakes, land shifts, terrorism (holding the world to ransom) or human disasters/accidents.

(2) Sequestration and storage of carbon dioxide is not a solution, but a problem that humankind will have to face in the future -- one that might eventually threaten the existence of human life itself on Earth, for nothing ever designed has lasted forever.

(3) Governments, as usual, are only looking at solving problems today without any understanding of what this will bring in the future. They are attempting to lock up gases that are toxic to humans -- leaving any problems for future generations to solve.

(4) If there was a rupture in the storage vessel, the ramifications for the world would be immense, to say the very least. Therefore, carbon capture is a method of putting off today what others will have to fix tomorrow (if they can).

Dr David Hill

World Innovation Foundation Charity

Bern, Switzerland

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Coat

An inconvenient truth

First inconvenient truth: the physics of conservation of energy applies, whether we like it or not. Currently, 90%+ of our primary energy comes from fossil fuels. All costs (in $) ultimately get traced back to a resource cost. Therefore, if a "renewable" costs more per kWh (and they do), the net energy cost is BY DEFINITION to use more fossil fuels & emit more CO2.

I don't need to do the detailed balance calculations to find this out, no more than I need to analyse a perpetual motion machine to figure out it won't work. But people more anal than I am, have done the detailed balance for renewables. Lots of times, in lots of respected journals. And every time the calculations are done, they show the same thing - energy is conserved. "renewables" burn more energy than they "produce".

To be clear, that is currently. The instant our manufacturing processes get efficient enough to make solar cheaper than oil, I'm going to buy a job lot of panels. This is a question of technology, not eco-evangelism.

Second inconvenient truth: Global warming is happening and it is caused by man-made CO2. And all this "renewables" stuff is making it worse, rapidly.

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Jim

Re: re: John Band

Maybe you should rethink your answer here.

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No, the point is that the current US agricultural system requires two calories of petrochemical energy for every calorie of corn energy produced even before you refine the corn into bioethanol.

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For the most part, we're talking about natural gas or coal used to heat the sugar during fermentation. The gasoline consumption of ethanol production is primarily limited to fertilizer costs (which aren't mandatory...

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Now, you say that oil based (not gasoline based) fertilizer is not mandatory but how many large scale agro-businesses are taking the 'organic' route? Surely oil based fertilizer is much more widely (and cheaply) available than an 'organic' option? So I would wager that the original poster is being more realistic in their assessment of energy balance for mass produced bio-ethanol.

Bio-ethanol is big businesses grab on the idea that started out as bio-diesel. One of the main points of bio-diesel was to utilise a resource for a second time, to re-purpose as it were. Bio-ethanol on the other hand is a product with but one use.

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