More fuel for the ethanol-debate fire...

Discussion in 'Prius, Hybrid, EV and Alt-Fuel News' started by galaxee, Jul 1, 2005.

  1. galaxee

    galaxee mostly benevolent

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  2. AfonsoSilva

    AfonsoSilva New Member

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    Hi Galaxee,

    thanks for posting the link to the Nature Article. Like you, I am a scientist (working at NIH - call me if you want to come postdoc here). I am in great favor of the Ethanol program. I am from Brazil, and I saw how it worked there. The major advantages:

    1. fully renewable;
    2. The US (like Brazil) could supply enough to become 100 % independent of foreign oil;
    3. Would re-boost US farming to produce goods that would not compete with foreign farmers.

    The environmental impacts mentioned in the article are, in my opinion, easy to overcome. Burning the sugar-cane crops in Brazil is done only because the country lacks the advanced technological machinery that US farmers have. In the US I am sure this method would not be employed with the corn crops. Furthermore, I would much rather to see taxpayers money spent on environmentally friendly technology development rather than see it go to finding ever more scarce oil reserves in the world.

    Just my $0.02. We all need to debate this more and more. The only thing that is 100% clear is that we need to move away from oil. This is why the Prius is such a great car and this is why we need to fully support Toyota and Honda in pushing Hybrid/Alternative technologies forward.
     
  3. galaxee

    galaxee mostly benevolent

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    Afonso- great to meet another Prius-driving scientist :) I have a few years before I'll be looking for a postdoc, and honestly the money might send me directly to industry... but I will definitely keep in touch. What does your lab study? We work on postop delirium as a side effect of general anesthesia.

    Anyway, thanks for your opinion. I agree there are a number of issues that need to be addressed and this article only made me bristle even more at ethanol as a fuel additive. I strongly believe in preserving the environment, but I'm not an extremist either.

    I just don't see the government pushing to change the method for harvesting the sugar cane or donating any machinery for doing so in a more earth-conscious manner.

    I also think that some cars may need to be modified to handle high-ethanol fuesl such as E85, namely our Prius because of the fuel bladder. If this could be subsidized by the government (HA! If only) I think it would be a big help.

    I think ethanol additives are promising. But at the moment we need to learn more about it, like we need to learn more about everything else out there... time will tell how things pan out.
     
  4. AfonsoSilva

    AfonsoSilva New Member

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    Hi Again, Galaxee!

    My lab looks at Cerebral Blood Flow regulation. For further details look at CMU. Anesthesia is very important to our research, so possibilities are fully open for you, and the salary is not bad...

    I am not an extremist either, although I do not believe in half-effort policies. Just the fact that we are talking about this is a great thing indeed!

    Cheers!
     
  5. HYACK

    HYACK New Member

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    I'd like to see bagasse-based ethanol (like Brasil's) over corn-based ethanol (counter-environmental) anyday.

    The US admin's recent policy-shift push for up to 15% 'corn' based ethanol has some apparent merritt yet probable alterior motives too, imo (specific lobby oriented).

    But my most interested question for you Alfonso... are there PRii in Brazil?? Isn't the national ethanol mix there 25% or so? Isn't the max content per Prii bladder, rated at 10%? Just curious..
     
  6. john1701a

    john1701a Prius Guru

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    No, I've never heard of any rating test to find out how high of a percentage the bladder can handle. It is certified for 10% though.

    The confusion between rating & certification is a big issue. Most people simply assume they are the same... as we are now observing in Minnesota, where E20 is the new initiative (E10 has been standard for years).
     
  7. AfonsoSilva

    AfonsoSilva New Member

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    Hi Hyack!

    No Prii in Brazil yet! I live in Germantown, Maryland. The current ethanol mix in gas is 22% by law, but many cars run on pure ethanol and the latest tech development in Brazil is their version of a Hybrid: cars that can run EITHER on gas or on ethanol!

    You are right that because of the 10% ethanol limitation of the Prius, Toyota would have to modify the engine prior to selling Prius to Brazil. All other toyota cars are running fine in Brazil, though.

    Happy Holidays!
     
  8. john1701a

    john1701a Prius Guru

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    That's a bit of a misconception in the making... E85 vehicles have been around for years. They already have the ability to run on any ratio of ethanol, from 0% to 85%.

    The only technology that hasn't been made available is being able to use 100%. The concept of "either" never applies, since you are always faced with a mix situation when filling the tank. It is a blend of ever-changing ratios that the E85 systems are designed to automatically adjust for.

    The actual issue here is the fact that Ford has been a FFV leader... yet their hybrid doesn't support it. Why?

    Also keep in mind that most all the ethanol created in the Midwest comes from corn, since sugar-cane cannot even be grown in that region. Soy is an option, but corn works better. (Sugar-Cane actually works ever better.)
     
  9. AfonsoSilva

    AfonsoSilva New Member

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    Correct. By law the minimum content of ethanol in Brazil's gas is 25% today. Thus those cars can run E25-E100.
     
  10. priusenvy

    priusenvy Senior Member

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    Producing ethanol from corn should be a non-starter in the USA. It's well known that ethanol is a net-loss fuel when produced using current techniques in the US. That is, you consume more energy to produce and transport 1 gallon of ethanol, than you get by consuming that 1 gallon of ethanol. You'd be better off just harnessing the energy it took to produce the ethanol, as you're starting out with more energy. There may be ways of utilizing waste products from the ethanol production to provide some of the energy needed for production, but I'm guessing these cause too much pollution to be utilized on a large scale, as would be needed in the US (burning agricultural waste for example).
     
  11. john1701a

    john1701a Prius Guru

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    We need to stop using the very same arguments that the anti-hybrid people do: THERE'S NO FREE LUNCH! They love pointing that out, the same way you just did for ethanol.

    Of course there is a net-loss. Expecting no loss at all or a gain is just plain not realistic. The best we can actually try for is making that loss as minor as possible.

    It is also the identical debate point when discussing the price of a hybrid. Expecting to break-even is unrealistic. Getting close, on the other hand, is not. There's nothing wrong with paying a small amount.

    Think of it as buying a new car. That will always require more components overall than just continuing to replace the old ones as they were out. Yet, people do it anyway... since there are other benefits to consider, just like using more ethanol rather than using more oil.
     
  12. priusenvy

    priusenvy Senior Member

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    <div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(john1701a\";p=\"103697)</div>
    That "whooshing" sound you heard was my point flying way over your head.
     
  13. john1701a

    john1701a Prius Guru

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    Making a reply vague is another.

    Provide detailed suggestions instead.

    The current theme is: "It's not good enough, so let's not do anything." We obviously don't what to settle for that.
     
  14. DaveinOlyWA

    DaveinOlyWA 3rd Time was Solariffic!!

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    there doesnt have to be a net loss. a huge amount of loss comes from the fact that the corn is not grown near any major population areas. like biodiesel, ethanol only makes sense on a small localized scale.

    are we going to stop growing food because it costs too much to produce? i dont think so. it doesnt matter how much it costs, we will still eat.

    i know this may come as a shock to many, but corn can be grown with very little fertilizer. it wont provide the yield but what do we use from the corn? the food portion or the stalk?

    reduce the transportation cost and it becomes feasible.
     
  15. captnslur

    captnslur Junior Member

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    I agree with John1701a. It seems unrealistic to expect no cost in the production of a transportation fuel. The production of ethanol has a very short history, I would think, compared to the refining of crude oil. Ethanol production will only get more efficient and more raw materials will be found to produce it.

    How can any one expect the energy in a gallon of crude oil some increase increase as it is refined into its many refined components and outside energy is used in the process? The total energy derived from that gallon of crude after it is refined, surely can't be some how more than there was in that original crude gallon and certainly is less than 100% when the energy used to refine and ship it is substracted.

    It would be interesting to see the relative resulting energy % for our major fuel sources, gasoline, diesel and ethanol. I'm sure gasoline and perhaps diesel return a high % since we have been refining them for generations. Give ethanol a chance and it will likely surpass the energy return form crude oil and besides, its renewable.
     
  16. DaveinOlyWA

    DaveinOlyWA 3rd Time was Solariffic!!

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    What John is refering to for net energy loss is that it takes more than a gallon of fossil fuels to make a gallon of ethanol. since ethanol has a bit less power, it would be better just to burn the fossil fuel.

    that is true on the surface, but that fact has been overblown by oil interests more than anything else. we can EASILY make it a net gain in energy. there are people in Wa state making their own biodiesel and ethanol and putting in nearly no energy at all. it isnt as efficient, crop yield isnt as great, and there is a bit more work involved, but a few have designed a system to where its no more work than tending a large yard with typical yard maintenance functions.

    one farm is getting better than a 3-1 yield and his is basically a prototype. his cost for setup could be reduced by a huge amount if the methods and homemade system were optimised, mass manufactured and organised on a local basis.

    and it does burn cleaner and all this land would be growing something anyway. to emphasize his point, this guy used what was a field for grazing for his cattle. he used the corn which goes a lot farther than grass does to feed the cattle (besides the other stuff) to make up for the loss in grazing acres and because of the fact that the cows were more centralized, it reduced contaminants getting into the soils (from the story, i guess it cow poo aint so great to spread around after all. he is required by local ordinance to gather up the manure and put it in a collection pond that is concrete lined to keep it from getting into the groundwater supplies. this costs his over $100,000 a year)

    i will provide a link if i can find one. i saw this on [i[Evening Magazine[/i] on KING-TV in seattle last year some time. the guy lived just off I-90 near issaquah or there abouts i think. he has been able to reduce his gas bill by about 33% during the summer time. seems to me he said he used about 2,000 gals of diesel a month during summer
     
  17. Tempus

    Tempus Senior Member

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    Clearly the answer to Bio-Fuels lies in Genetic Engineering.

    I can see why people would be cautious about eating genetically modified crops, but if they're going into a fermentation vat, who cares.

    So, since the major energy sinks of farming are cultivating, planting, fertilizing, weeding, pesticides, and harvesting, we have our goals.

    We need to genetically engineer a plant that will, once planted the first time, continue the lifecycle without further intervention.

    So, we need a plant that is high in sugar, and will:

    1) Grow in poor soil, or preferably enrich the soil as it grows, possibly through nitrogen fixing.

    2) Keep competitive weeds and pests down. This could be done through bio-agents that the plants synthesize, but I think it would be more interesting with small laser guns or sub-atomic disrupters grown as appendages. This would also cut down on plant theft, but might be problematic if small children wander into the fields. Good Fences would be a requirement then.

    3) Self-reproduce. The plants, upon maturation, should cultivate the ground beneath them, and plant the seeds of the next generation.

    4) Self-Harvesting, after they have planted the next generation, the plants should pull up their roots and walk to a designated colleciton point for processing.

    I think these characteristics would solve most of the objections to bio-fuels.
     
  18. galaxee

    galaxee mostly benevolent

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    Well at least on my family farm in Wisconsin growing corn is rather difficult some years if the weather isn't cooperative, and I'm just wondering the effect this would have on price.

    You all have turned me around a bit, more in favor of ethanol than before. But I still see a lot of weaknesses that should be addressed before implementing this as a national policy.

    I can't say using corn goes farther than hay to feed cattle though... most farmers will tell you the most reliable way to get your herd through a winter and ensure you have enough food for them is a huge hay harvest at the end of the year. Corn is also more expensive to feed, which is why my family back home doesn't feed as much of it.
     
  19. skruse

    skruse Senior Member

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    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?...&sn=001&sc=1000

    A recent issue of the journal Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, UC Berkeley geoengineering professor Tad Patzek argued that up to six times more energy is used to make ethanol than the finished fuel actually contains.

    The fossil energy expended during production alone, he concluded, easily outweighs the consumable energy in the end product. As a result, Patzek believes that those who think using the "green" fuel will reduce fossil fuel consumption are deluding themselves -- and the federal government's practice of subsidizing ethanol by offering tax exemptions to oil refiners who buy it is a waste of money.

    "People tend to think of ethanol and see an endless cycle: corn is used to produce ethanol, ethanol is burned and gives off carbon dioxide, and corn uses the carbon dioxide as it grows," he said. "But that isn't the case. Fossil fuel actually drives the whole cycle."

    Patzek's investigation into the energy dynamics of ethanol production began two years ago, when he had the students in his Berkeley freshman seminar calculate the fuel's energy balance as a class exercise.

    Once the class took into account little-considered inputs like fossil fuels and other energy sources used to extrude alcohol from corn, produce fertilizers and insecticides, transport crops and dispose of wastewater, they determined that ethanol contains 65 percent less usable energy than is consumed in the process of making it.

    Surprised at the results, Patzek began an exhaustive analysis of his own -- one that painted an even bleaker picture of the ethanol industry's long- term sustainability.

    "Taking grain apart, fermenting it, distilling it and extruding it uses a lot of fossil energy," he said. "We are grasping at the solution that is by far the least efficient."

    Patzek's report also highlights the potential environmental hazards of ethanol production. "When you dump nitrogen fertilizer on corn fields, it runs away as surface water, into the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico," he said.

    Cornell University ecology Professor David Pimentel, however, sides with Patzek, calling production of ethanol "subsidized food burning."

    "The USDA isn't looking at factors like the energy it takes to maintain farm machinery and irrigate fields in their analysis," he said, adding that the agency's ethanol report contains overly optimistic assumptions about the efficiency of farming practices. "The bottom line is that we're using far more energy in making ethanol than we're getting out."

    Patzek thinks lawmakers and environmental activists need to push ethanol aside and concentrate on more sustainable solutions like improving the efficiency of fuel cells and hybrid electric cars or harnessing solar energy for use in transport. If they don't, he predicts economics will eventually force the issue.

    "If government funds become short, subsidies for fuels will be looked at very carefully," he said. "When they are, there's no way ethanol production can survive."
     
  20. DaveinOlyWA

    DaveinOlyWA 3rd Time was Solariffic!!

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    so a farm for the sole purpose of creating ethanol would not be the answer. i agree. that solution has never really seriously been sought.

    producing a crop to make into alcohol then transporting that alcohol several thousand miles will never make sense.

    we dont have enough farmland available to use ethanol as a primary solution anyway.
     
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