More fuel for the ethanol-debate fire...

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

  1. tleonhar

    tleonhar Senior Member

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    <div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(captnslur\";p=\"103897)</div>
    Captnslur has a good point, I too would like to see some comparative charting of relative yields of percentages of a barrel of crude oil to end product(s) (don't forget shipping from the mideast) net yield in the production of ethanol from corn, sugarcane, and one not mentioned very often, sugarbeet.

    One minor thing Captnslur, the production of ethanol is actually quite old, but I think you're referring to its use as a motor fuel :mrgreen:

    By the way, Captn... I see by your local, you live a bit south of me. Where did you get your Prius, we got ours from Heintz in Mankato, they seem to be moving quite a lot of them.
     
  2. priusenvy

    priusenvy Senior Member

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    <div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(captnslur\";p=\"103897)</div>
    You COMPLETELY misunderstand what it means to be a "net-loss fuel".

    Consider the energy cost of pumping oil out of the ground in the Middle East, shipping it over to the US, running the refinery to produce gasoline, and transporting that gasoline to your local gas station. That amount of energy is LESS than what the gasoline produces. The net gain or loss is the difference in the amount of energy in the gallon of gasoline to all the energy used to produce the gallon of gasoline. In this case you get a net gain of usable energy by choosing to consume that energy to pump crude oil out of the ground, transport it, and refine it, rather than just burning it in your car.

    Ethanol is a net-loss fuel. You consume more energy in producing one unit of ethanol than you get from consuming that one unit of ethanol. Therefore you're better off just using those energy inputs that would have been used for ethanol production, and applying them to whatever the ethanol was going to be used for in the first place.

    This has nothing to do with the laws of thermodynamics. It actually has more to do with economics (opportunity costs, marginal costs).
     
  3. JayClements

    JayClements New Member

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    Send your money to Saudi Arabia or send your money to American farmers. Does anyone else feel that dumping billions of dollars into America instead of into another country would have all kinds of beneficial side effects?
     
  4. cybele

    cybele New Member

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    <div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(skruse\";p=\"103937)</div>
    I found another reference to that study too:

    http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/node/8353

    * 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.

    I've seen a few articles about biodiesel too, that basically it is a great niche fuel when you use the recycled stuff, but it doesn't make financial/ecological sense on a large scale.

    Personally I think that alternative electrical generation and plug-in hybrids are the way to go in the mid-term. I'm still trying to figure out when I can do solar on my roof.

    Oh, skruse ... I'm also a Humboldt alum, class of '89.
     
  5. DaveinOlyWA

    DaveinOlyWA 3rd Time was Solariffic!!

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    net loss net gain, who cares? if we dont have it, what difference does it make?
     
  6. john1701a

    john1701a Prius Guru

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    <div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(priusenvy\";p=\"104079)</div>
    What if plug-in hybrids or electric vehicles are used for the farming & production process? They are more efficient. They provide a higher yield. That COMPLETELY screws up those calculations, since the loss would be reduced... or eventually eliminated.

    And what if yields of corn are increased, where the farmer is able to produce more through technology improved farming innovations? The same could be true for the refining process too. That would reduce the loss as well.

    Oil refining will never get any better than it already is. Every last trick in the book has been used to squeeze out the most efficient process already. Decades of research and trillions of dollars have exhausted those efforts.

    Ethanol is still growing. There is potential for an even better product. Regardless, it is undeniably cleaner to use and safer (political dependencies & ocean wildlife). So what if we are forced to improve the creation process. Hydrogen still faces an even greater challenge. Even just buying ourselves some time and reducing the pressure on the oil supply is a good thing.
     
  7. gschoen

    gschoen Member

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    <div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(john1701a\";p=\"103697)</div>
    There is "supposed" to be more energy in ethanol than invested in production from the energy the plant made (converted) from sunlight. If it takes more Oil/Nat. Gas/Electric (Coal, Hydro, Nuclear) to make the ethanol, we'd do better just using these as fuels in the first place, with current or future technologies.

    The question of how much usable energy comes from ethanol vs. production energy is hotly debated. The best estimates show about or slightly better (more energy) than 1:1 ratio. If it takes 100 barrels worth of oil to produce 101 barrels worth of ethanol, wouldn't anyone choose to use the oil in the first place?
     
  8. john1701a

    john1701a Prius Guru

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    Why can't an ethanol hybrid be used to plant, harvest, and transport the corn and final product?

    Why can't renewable electricity used to operate the refinery equipment?

    Why it is always assumed that oil will be used for production?
     
  9. Frank Hudon

    Frank Hudon Senior Member

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    <div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(john1701a\";p=\"104359)</div>
    because the sad fact is, it is always used in production.
     
  10. priusenvy

    priusenvy Senior Member

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    <div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(john1701a\";p=\"104359)</div>
    It doesn't matter where the energy comes from as long as production is a net-loss. Let's say the process has a net loss of 10% (and that's being very generous)

    I take 100 gallons of ethanol, use all of it in the production of more ethanol, and I get 90 gallons out. I take that 90 gallons, use it in the production of more ethanol, and I get 81 gallons out. After seven iterations you've got less than half the fuel you started with. It should be clear that this is unsustainable.

    Does you understand this? In order to be sustainable, you can't use more energy in the production of ethanol than is contained in the ethanol you're producing. Fossil fuel is a net-gain because it already exists, and doesn't take nearly as much energy to pump out of the ground, refine, and transport than it produces when consumed.

    Until the ethanol production process becomes more energy efficient, and yields increase to the point where the total energy produced at the end is more than what goes into the production and distribution process, it's not worth doing. You're better off just using your energy inputs and not investing in the production process.

    You might also want to do the calculations on how many acres of corn would have to be devoted to ethanol production to supply every vehicle in the US. Then compare that to the number of acres of land that are capable of growing corn in the US.
     
  11. Frank Hudon

    Frank Hudon Senior Member

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    so are you saying that the US is going to be a net importer of ethanol? If that's the case how the hell do we get out of the loop? Tell us so we can get in on the ground floor and make some real money. The only break I can see happening is oil at $100-$120 and most vehicles parked along with the economy. Any ideas on how Greenspan is going to work around that minor problem? I'm thinking a world wide depression and then the slow restart of the global economy is probably the only real solution. When the mid-east see no US dollars coming in they are all going to start pointing fingers and guns at each other and after a bit of purging will come to realise that they killed the goose that layed to golden egg. Just my 67% of 2 cents worth.
     
  12. DaveinOlyWA

    DaveinOlyWA 3rd Time was Solariffic!!

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    ok its a net loss...makes one wonder how they made the stuff back before oil was invented,

    personally, i think its a net loss because we as a country are fat and spoiled and have used oil to excess to solve all our problems all without even trying to reduce our consumption.

    i cant help but believe that ethanol production would have worked just fine if oil had never been plentiful and we were forced from the get go to find an efficient way of making it.
     
  13. Frank Hudon

    Frank Hudon Senior Member

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    Dave you can easily make a couple of gallons for drinking but to make it on a scale required to power a nation, your better off with the first part.
     
  14. DaveinOlyWA

    DaveinOlyWA 3rd Time was Solariffic!!

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  15. Jonnycat26

    Jonnycat26 New Member

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    <div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(Frank Hudon\";p=\"104409)</div>
    If ethanol replaces oil outright, then yes, we are going to need to import ethanol. End of story.

    However... ethanol isn't the way to go. Biodiesel isn't the way to go, but it's far more useful than ethanol in that you can use waste products (instead of devoting farm/crop land to producing the stuff) to power your tractors which will grow food. Food that people eat.

    The real key is nuclear power. Fusion or fission. Pebble bed reactors have enormous potential and they don't have the negatives of the old three mile island reactors. If people would get their heads out of their asses, we could start on this infrastructure soon and reap the rewards. As it is, we're missing out... China is already moving towards this.
     
  16. john1701a

    john1701a Prius Guru

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    It was pointed out to me offline that more efficient (higher yields) for ethanol are still in the works, using plants that aren't commally used for that... like sugar beets. So don't trust the old statistics.

    As for nuclear, that wouldn't be practical anyway, since there is no popular vehicle that can use that electricity yet. But ethanol on the other hand, there are already 60,000,000 vehicles on the road in the United States that can use E10 today without any modification whatsoever. And making new vehicles E85 capable is a very minor step, since around 1,000,000 FFVs have already demonstrated that.
     
  17. gschoen

    gschoen Member

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    <div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(john1701a\";p=\"104317)</div>
    Regardless of the FORM of energy you use to make ethanol (electricity, oil, gas, hybrids, ethanol itself.. whatever) it's still energy and gets factored into the equation. Even using renewable energy still messes up the equation, since you can assume if that renewable energy wasn't being used for ethanol production (say solar or wind) it would be used for other purposes and offset fossil fuels that way (say electric generation). So the total energy still has to be included in the calculation for an economic standpoint.

    As far as ethanol being produced before oil was used, that's true. But to realize the economics go to the liquor store and buy EVERCLEAR (75.5% grain alcohol, ethanol.. 24.5% water) and check the price! (SKYY Vodka was cheaper on a price per ounce of pure alcohol basis at Binny's in Chicago). Of course, to use it as fuel you'd have to get the water out, and you could probably use cheaper vodka (vodka is ethanol with water added - subtract the price of liquor tax) but gives an idea how expensive (and how many relative resources, whether energy, materials, or labor) ethanol is. When you think of how many gallons of the stuff you need (and lower mileage than gasoline) .. yikes!

    Saying there are better production methods of ethanol "in the works" but we can't use electricity for cars since the tech isn't there.. isn't that like using the same arugment for and against two different techs? It would take awhile to build more ethanol capacity.. and the tech would probalby get better. It'll take awhile to build more electrical capacity.. and the tech will get better in the meantime. As batteries get better and cheaper, does anyone think the plug-in hybrid will stay a prototype? Or the massive use of batteries in autos and other products help make an electric car more feasible someday?
     
  18. Jonnycat26

    Jonnycat26 New Member

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    <div class='quotetop'>QUOTE(gschoen\";p=\"104659)</div>
    This is an important paragraph, and needs to be repeated over and over.

    Without supplemental help, there is no way you're ever going to get more energy out than you put in. There's NO way 100 gallons of ethanol (or whatever unit of measure you want) will ever produce 100.1 gallons of ethanol unless you're getting the energy used to produce it from somewhere else. And it becomes very impractical to do this on a large scale (and note the use of "large scale") basis unless you're using something like nuclear power.

    Nuclear is kind of the ultimate source in that you need a little bit of power to start your reaction, then you can sit back and feed. Is it messy? Yeah... but it's gotten much better. Will it get better still? Yes. Is ethanol and oil a dead end? You betcha.
     
  19. DaveinOlyWA

    DaveinOlyWA 3rd Time was Solariffic!!

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    never, no way, impossible, cant be done.

    yep... that's how this world became so great
     
  20. Marlin

    Marlin New Member

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    I've got an idea... What if you genetically engineered a bacteria, say maybe E. Coli, to convert just about any type of plant matter into ethanol. Then you could produce ethanol from farm waste products, such as corn stems, cobs and leaves, as well as sugarcane residues, rice hulls, forestry and wood wastes, and other organic materials. These would be waste products from crops already grown for food, and therefore the energy used to grow them wouldn't count against the production costs of ethanol. And if you want or need to grow a crop just for ethanol, it wouldn't need to be corn or sugar cane, but could be something like Kudzu, the plague of the south that was imported about a century ago and grows a foot a day. Kudzu doesn't even need replanting. If you cut it all down, it will grow right back.

    What a wonderful idea, and I wish I had thought of it, but many universities and research institutes are already researching such genetically engineered bacteria. One such is "New ethanol technology could save gas"
     
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