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Biofuels, Petro-fuels = Liquid Fuels (Part One)

by afew Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 06:09:46 AM EST

There seems to be quite a battle rolling at the moment, in the media and on Internet, about energy. So what's new, you ask (because you're perceptive, proof of which is you're reading European Tribune /end of base flattery + ad for this blog).

What's new, overall, is an apparent shift in emphasis, a new frankness, in the message put out by our "leaders" - see this entry in yesterday's European Breakfast on the G8 summit's sidelining of global warming in favour of "we need energy". What's new too is the high polemical level developed in generally more circumspect publications like the Financial Times - see Jérôme's The FT's Martin Wolf does not believe in peak oil for a forthright denial of any coming energy problems.

What's also new is an uptick in the polemic that surrounds biofuels. Well, big deal (say you, perceptive reader), biofuels contribute no more than a tiny percentage of energy supply. Yes, but they're liquid fuels, and that may be part of what the fighting is about.

Follow me beneath the fold for more.


Among renewable sources of energy, biofuels seem to spark the most controversy. Solar or tidal energy don't attract too much adverse criticism, windfarms are attacked for supposed noise, unsightliness, and bird-kill issues, but the overall image of these renewables remains positive. Comparatively, biofuels are a slugging-match topic. Advocates and enemies make hugely contrasting claims. Opponents offer particularly scathing and disqualifying scrutiny.

Biofuels are liquid fuels; they can be (and are) used to run motor vehicles in conjunction with or replacement of, petroleum-based liquid fuels. You don't have to think for long before wondering if, behind the polemics, there isn't a fight for market share between the agri-industry and the petroleum industry. And there are elements that support that view. Both the US and the EU (pioneers, with Brazil, in biofuel production) are moving into a phase of increasing the share of biofuels mixed into petro-fuels, and, more importantly, making a higher percentage mandatory. That has the effect of increasing demand for and the price of crops used as feedstock (maize (corn) in the US, particularly), or of allowing a switch of production from subsidized export (aka dumping on world markets, on which the US and EU will have to give some ground in the course of the Doha Round negotiations at the WTO) to subsidized energy (sugar beet springs to mind in the EU).

The automobile industry is highly unlikely to be neutral either. Without changing current engineering and marketing practices by much (and therefore without feeding in investment), it can allow biofuels to give it a green 'n' clean image, while claiming for itself a (very slight) reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. No need to go the fuel reduction route and have to change marketing strategy and production lines, biofuels will be the miracle fix.

The agri-lobby and the car industry lobby are powerful ones in both the US and the EU. But the oil industry shows every sign of gearing up to defend its profits. The Martin Wolf article referred to above, a total denial of Peak Oil in an extremely serious and respected newspaper, seems like a bugle call. The notion of Peak Oil may not be fully understood by everyone, but the idea that oil will not last for ever and will increase in price has now penetrated mass consciousness. The oil industry, like the tobacco industry with the dangers of smoking, seems ready to fight any dip in demand for its products by practising denial. (Everything's OK, just keep on filling up the tank). And, in the case of biofuels, by slandering the competition?

Well, the FT also recently published a big whack over the head for biofuels ( Biofuels could be a huge waste of taxpayer money). So did the Washington Post: The False Hope of Biofuels: For Energy and Environmental Reasons, Ethanol Will Never Replace Gasoline.

Is this just biofuel-bashing, or does it have any justification? Neutral information is not easy to find. Ballpark (but dependable) numbers from which to make a few calculations are not easy to find either. In Part Two of this diary, I'll try to set out what answers I think (I hope) I have found.

(This should also be considered part of our attempt to get together a common position for the European Commission Consultation on Biofuels. See:

Biofuels Consultation (Part I) Is the objective of promoting biofuels valid?

ETWiki Biofuel Consultation page.

We need input. Please provide any you think would help.)

Update [2006-7-8 6:1:55 by afew]: I have added a paragraph on the automobile industry. Why should we leave them out?

Display:
I have sung the praises of VTT - the Finnish State Research centre - frequently.

They publish the results of research on an Open Source initiative: you can find 380 downloadable biofuel docs here if you enter 'biofuel' into the search.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 09:36:39 AM EST
Thanks a million, duck! More biofuel docs to read, whoopee!

Seriously, thanks, I hadn't noted VTT.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 10:31:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have worked with VTT on some communications projects, so I know the organization quite well.

It is a fairly unique in that is very involved in Finnish engineering (in the broadest sense) helping to account for the largest per capita R&D spending in Europe, if not the world.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 11:02:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It looks like a handy resource. Bookmarked.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 11:06:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great!!

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 11:41:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you really going to get through all the lies and missinformation??

wow.. my deep admiration...I was happy to write the comission this diary with a few changes to make it all about the needs for a serious independent compilation.

if you do it... you should be named researcher in chieg of ET!!!

Thanks for all this... indeed

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 11:44:04 AM EST
Frankly, my head is swimming. But I think I have been able to form some sort of picture, and I have also been able to put together some independent numbers that seem right to me (though everyone will be free to shoot at them once I get Part Two up tomorrow).

If I'd been able to tie down the whole thing in ten days, I'd be a whole research department...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 12:34:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Can I suggest you leave the second part until Monday? It'll probably get better attention then ...
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 01:26:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would, but the EU Consultation contributions have to be in by the 10th, that is, Monday. What I could do is draft something in the Wiki tomorrow (those who wish can have a bash at it), and put the diary up on Monday.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 01:39:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, I missed that. Right: put it up tomorrow then. I'll try and make some time to follow it up.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 01:42:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
..with my useless comments.

As I said.. I was thinking about writing something along the lines of this first diary. So please, keep the relevnt parts of this diary in the answer as well together with whatever you write on part 2.

I mean, just copy and paste...plus the second part..but do not leave this diary out.. it says much mroe clearly all what I said in the comment with Migeru..so please.. my humble opinion: keep it also.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 02:11:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Please do post your diary on Saturday. I'll promise to hack at it mercilessly all weekend, as well as posting a diary in which I review the "whereases" in the 2003 EU Directive with a view to seeing which justifications for biofuels remain valid and which don't.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 07:52:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It will be later today, I must go out this morning...
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 01:47:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Press release today:
July 7, 2006
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)Publishes Roadmap for Developing Cleaner Fuels
Research Aimed at Making Cellulosic Ethanol a Practical Alternative to Gasoline.

Cellulosic ethanol has the potential to be a major source for transportation fuel for America's energy future," Under Secretary for Science Raymond L. Orbach said. "Low production cost and high efficiency require transformational changes in processing cellulose to ethanol. DOE's Genomics: GTL program is poised to help do just that."

The roadmap responds directly to the goal recently announced by Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman of displacing 30 percent of 2004 transportation fuel consumption with biofuels by 2030. This goal was set in response to the President's Advanced Energy Initiative.

DOE Mission Focus: Biofuels

From their intro:

To address critical scientific barriers that must be overcome to advance the biofuels industry, the U.S. Department of Energy's Genomics:GTL systems biology program is creating a new generation of biological research enabled by the genome revolution. GTL will provide a systems-level approach to understanding and manipulating plants and microorganisms central to producing biofuels.

I ddn't read the roadmap yet, but reading this makes me feel uneasy already.

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)

by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 01:25:04 PM EST
Nice article on Aljazeera:

A Vietnamese catfish processing company is planning to turn catfish fat into fuel which could run diesel engines.

And :

Meanwhile in Malaysia, authorities have suspended giving new licenses for biodiesel production projects, after concerns that an excess of projects could deprive the food market of palm oil, widely used in cooking, a report said on Monday.


The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 04:14:23 PM EST
The real problem with palm oil in Malaysia & Indonesia is catastrophic depletion of the rainforest. There are some pretty huge plantation projects -- palm oil is by far the best feedstock for biodiesel, and the plan is, of course, to export to the richer parts of the world.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 05:08:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I know a guy in the agriculture business (corn/maize) and he says that there are so many interlocking subsidies and other market distortions that it's impossible to know. For example, if you grow corn on the Great American Desert, how do you factor in the cost of depletion of the aquifer that you depend on? Or the cost of the electricity to run your irrigation pumps? If 1/3 of your energy input is in the pumps (a roughly accurate estimate), the cost impact of the decision to use nuclear or coal or windmills to power the pumps may overwhelm the details of comparing specific biofuel technologies.

My view is that regardless of the approach used, the cost of energy will climb. This will gradually increase the value of conservation and other demand-reducing factors. In this scenario, the most helpful thing for the government to do would be to step away from subsidies, and apply taxation to account for the hidden social costs (pollution, mostly) of the various technologies. The worst thing would be for a bunch of politically-driven government wienies to "choose" the "best" technology and then subsidize the heck out of it. Like highways and gasoline, as one glaring example, or airports and aviation fuel.

by asdf on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 05:42:41 PM EST
taxing the hell out of energy "producers" [let us admit please that this word is a complete lie, and that no one "produces" energy -- we merely harvest and/or concentrate what is already there, or what solar and biotic activity have pre-concentrated for us] for realworld costs (so-called "externalities") of their methods, materials, and processes, plus the degree of irreplaceability of the resource, is imho the way to go.  one vote for asdf's plan.  internalise the costs.  anything else is lala denial.

hmmm...

from the Wild-Eyed Concepts Desk:  suppose just for a moment that tax rates on depletion should be based on the ratio between accumulation rate and burn rate.  in the case of fossil fuels this is a factor of what, many tens of millions to one (i.e. the fuel we burn in just one year took tens of millions of years to accrete, and when it is burnt it is Gone, irretrievable).  so fossil fuels should be taxed at an enormous premium.  (so should the logging of trees that take a century to mature.)

time -- "replacement cost" -- has to start appearing in our calculus of energy and cost.

same should be true for any harvesting activity.  the price of predator fish like salmon and swordfish should reflect the differential between the catch of mature fish in one year and the years it takes for a fish to mature.  and so on for all harvesting and usurpation of time;  and all the revenues should be sunk back into 1:1 or locally-net-positive alternatives (the crop which is not all eaten, but some is kept reserved for next year's seeds, and so on).  this would tend to shift human consumption lower on the food chain and reduce the accum/burn ratio.

... random thoughts about applications of the "ethical time ratio metric"...

if you harvest enough honey from your bees for your own needs plus modest sales and the hive continues to thrive and grow, that's 1:1 or better.  tax free.  if you kill the hive to extract this year's honey, and the life of a hive is usually -- say -- five years, that's a 5:1 theft ratio :-)  if you "burn out" a dairy heifer in just 3 years with abusive factory farm practises, while the same cow under humane free range dairying would have been productive for 25 years, that's an 8:1 theft ratio.  if you burn in one hour in your gas tank a quantity of fuel that, prorated over 500 mio years, took a year to create, that's 8760:1 theft ratio...

well, it's a blue sky idea.  but what it comes down to is that in a closed system there is no such thing as "profit."  all profit is the result of the theft of time, the usurpation of the concentration of energy.  obviously this theft is just a more human-centred name for predation, and biotic systems have niches for predators (even herbivores are predators if you're a plant) -- larger more "organised" critters usurp the concentration activity of "lower" life forms to sustain their higher energy requirements, all the way up to polar bears, orcas, lions, and (alas) humans.  but if they usurp that process to the extent of disrupting it -- if the burn rate exceed any possible accumulation rate -- then the biotic scaffolding below them starts to collapse.

which is imho pretty clearly where we're at, on a number of fronts.  fisheries in collapse, most forest and river systems (the two are one biotic entity) on the verge, topsoil depletion severe, desertification advancing, fossil water supplies badly depleted, fossil fuel reserves near or just past the 50 percent mark, species going extinct like soap bubbles, tens per month...  all symptoms of a severe and pathological mismatch between burn rate and accumulation rate, the quivering of scaffolding about to fold up.

squandrousness is an insane behaviour when resources are visibly limited.  we need to start taxing and penalising that behaviour -- seriously.  unf we have created a deeply wired culture of squandrousness, and cultural values are very hard to rewrite...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 06:44:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
well. blue skying away there it seems that I've conflated two related but distinct forms of time-usurpation.  one is the consumption of something in a short time that took a long time to create, and the other is the curtailment of the potential of something that would have grown and created life and increased biotic wealth over a longer period.  they are related of course at the liquidation nexus;  when we overfish long-lived species, we lower the bar until we are catching individuals at smaller and smaller sizes, younger and younger ages, until finally we catch them before they even have time to reproduce -- and that's the collapse of that species.  the first kind of liquidation leads to the second.

I suspect that some form of this sense of time-theft is what fills us with horror when we see a book burned or a work of art vandalised.  the act of destruction takes so little time and skill;  the skill and time necessary to create the object were considerable.  that differential is what marks the destruction as vandalism or an act of barbarism.  to pop someone's soap bubble may be rude, but to burn their life's work is wicked.

we are busily engaged in burning the life's work of the  planetary biotic era that gave birth to us.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 07:08:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If only we had a more vivid (narrative?) sense of the long work of that biotic era and its immense accomplishment. (By "we" I mean all of us).
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 01:44:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
agreed.  the achievement of life -- the whole process of life on the planet's surface, from the obscure beginnings (primordial soup and all that vague stuff) to the protoplants, the first real plants, and the astonishing capability of life to defy entropy on a local scale -- is mind boggling.  the "investment" represented by a couple of feet of good topsoil is almost impossible to imagine -- the number of interacting species and the complexity of their interdependencies that produce this medium in which more, and more various, life then flourishes.  speciation, diversity, the dense filling of fractal niches, self-organisation, the intricate cycle of nutrition...  it's a level of complexity and function that challenges our human brain, which is still tuned to grunt-basics like threatening/nonthreatening and edible/inedible.

In 1995, Sillett received a Ph.D. in botany from Oregon State University, in Corvallis. Soon afterward, he took his present job, at Humboldt, and began to explore the old-growth redwood canopy. No scientist had been there before. The tallest redwoods were regarded as inaccessible towers, shrouded in foliage and almost impossible to climb, since the lowest branches on a redwood can be twenty-five stories above the ground. From the moment he entered redwood space, Steve Sillett began to see things that no one had imagined. The general opinion among biologists at the time - this was just eight years ago - was that the redwood canopy was a so-called "redwood desert" that contained not much more than the branches of redwood trees. Instead, Sillett discovered a lost world above Northern California.

The old-growth redwood-forest canopy, Sillett found, is packed with epiphytes, plants that grow on other plants. They commonly occur on trees in tropical rain forests, but nobody really expected to find them in profusion in Northern California. There are hanging gardens of ferns, in masses that Sillett calls fern mats. The fern mats can weigh tons when they are saturated with rainwater; they are the heaviest masses of epiphytes which have been found in any forest canopy on earth. Layers of earth, called canopy soil, accumulate over the centuries on wide limbs and in the tree's crotches - in places where trunks spring from trunks - and support a variety of animal and plant life. In the crown of a giant redwood named Fangorn, Sillett found a layer of canopy soil that is three feet deep. Near the top of Laurelin, or the Tree of the Sun, which is three hundred and sixty-eight feet tall and still growing, Sillett found a huge, sheared-off trunk with a rotted, damp center. Masses of shrubs are growing out of the wet rot, sending their roots down into Laurelin.

footnote

the tree is an entire ecosubsystem -- with a build time of centuries, with its "canopy meadow" supporting a whole community of variegated life.  a world that could take a team of biologists years to document or understand.  it can be cut down in a single day, destined to become N board-feet of lumber, or N cubic yards of pulp to make disposable paper products.  this is burning the intricate life's work of something far older than  most of today's "nations" and almost of our technology.  we have somehow created a culture that almost literally (except for a few specialists) sees a tree as a brown stick with a green ball on top, painted on a flat piece of paper.  if we saw the tree as a system -- even through some Cartesian/mechanical metaphor -- we would be blown away by the impossibility of building a working model of it w/in the same footprint, even with our most advanced technology.  if we killed all the trees and had to build mechanical trees to do the work that trees do, we could not do it.  we are not capable of reproducing what we are destroying.  is there a better functional definition of stupidity?

it appears that the only thing we are seriously clever at is destruction.  and destruction, of course, is not particularly clever.  I know I've said it before, but any fool can smash a pocketwatch with a hammer, without knowing how a pocketwatch works or how to fix the damage or how to build another.  granted our hammers are very ingenious -- grotesquely large and steam powered and incredibly "efficient" (god help us), but we still don't understand how the pocketwatch works, nor can we build another.  [I note in passing that it is a common error among little boys to imagine that being able to destroy something means that you "own" it or are its master -- if you can kick over the sand castle and trample on it, that proves that you "win", or that it's "yours".  as if smashing a Stradivarius could make me a master of the violin.]

a mon beau château, ma tante tira lira lira,
a mon beau château, ma tante tira lira lo.

le notre est plus beau, ma tante (etc)

nous le détruirions, ma tante (etc)

and so it goes.  it amused me in a savage Swiftian sort of way to watch the West gasp and cry "Egad, how barbaric" as the Taliban (barbarically indeed) destroyed the giant Buddha statues in Afghanistan -- the vandalism of a harmless artifact created with such boggling effort by so many hands... while our own cultures continued to destroy daily, with ever-accelerating efficiency, vastly more complex "artifacts" of vastly longer accumulated effort which are not only harmless, but necessary for the support of life on the outer skin of this large rock we live on.

and btw, I think the "controversy" over the viability biofuels is about as legit as the endlessly manufactured "controversy" over global climate destabilisation.  just more feelgood propaganda to assure the voters that they can go on driving SUVs and running air conditioners 24x7 and still "save the planet".  in the last 5 years or so I haven't read any version of the math that works -- in the sense of enabling the frenetic energy burn rate that has insanely come to be known as "normal".   biofuels as a necessary and integral component of an aggressive program of demand reduction and efficiency enhancement, sure -- but biofuels as a plugnplay replacement for fossil resources without a radical change of urban form, transportation modality, housing design, agricultural practise?  snake oil, sez I, just like the "hydrogen economy."

and as for burning fish for fuel, when half the world is protein-deficient -- can we spell "obscene"?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 02:25:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
has the seeds of a narrative that could help people to understand the frame of the whole energy/resource debate.

I don't believe that the majority of people in general are selfish - they are simply ignorant of the consequences of their actions. They are ignorant because it is a complicated issue, with many different voices and conflicting 'facts'.

Framing it as you do, Deander, makes it easier to 'grasp'.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 03:00:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I couldn't agree more, asdf. Both on the complex nature of the energy and externalities accountancy, and on the need for taxation rather than subsidies.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 01:40:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW there is some basic math in this previous ET discussion: acreage, yields, consumption rates.  the bottom line from those calcs was that current vehicle fleet demands, at current miles/annum and fuel efficiencies, exceed the agricultural productive capacity of the motorised nations -- and that's with petro-intensive ag which makes a mockery of the entire calculation.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Fri Jul 7th, 2006 at 07:29:27 PM EST
Yes, our Wiki page (scroll to bottom) does link back to your diary, and I'm glad to see you joining in here now.

However, if you recall, Pimentel's work, that you quote, was questioned in another diary (also Wiki-linked) by ericy. Unfortunately ericy didn't do the diary he was asked for to go into the question further. In fact, two academic researchers, (David Pimentel of Cornell and Tad Patzek of Berkeley), spearhead scientific criticism (adverse) of biofuels. They are of course denounced by biofuel advocates, and all kinds of numbers are put forward, which is one of the reasons why it's hard to get a clear idea of what's going on.

I'll discuss this (with no scientific pretensions) in Part Two later today.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 01:35:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The numbers I was citing were not from Pimentel, but from independent googling by members of a carfree group.

I don't think it's all that difficult to find numbers on yields (gal plant oil) per acre, energy density (BTU/gal) of extracted plant oils, and BTUs/year consumed by vehicle fleets;  and I suspect the math has not changed a whole lot since 2003 when this was discussed at some length on that carfree forum.  iirc even if we ignore processing costs and the negative-sum game of petro-intensive agriculture (neither of these should really be ignored, but they're more contentious than the basic physics/botany of plant oil production per hectare), there's still no way to fuel current vehicle fleets at current annual miles with current lousy efficiency, without displacing all other food and fibre crops.  the burn rate is staggering.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 01:46:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, I was mixing up two discussions.

You're sure right you can find stuff on yields etc. As you say, in US gallons/acre, but also Imperial gallons/acre, one or the other gallons by bushel or long or short ton or tonne, and BTUs or Megajoules or other units. In other words, to get this into some kind of common metrics (the metric system for me), there's conversion work to be done. I have done a little just to cross-check numbers that have been put out recently. The little I've done seems to show (if I'm right) that the sceptics on current biofuels (first-generation, i.e. from industrially-produced food crops) are in the right.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 02:02:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ah, that gets me back to the original reason why I came to ET, which was to write about energy literacy.  and one of the prime obstacles to energy literacy is the dizzying variety of units of measurement.  even physicists carry around conversion tables, and for the layperson it's a jungle of jargon.  one of my long term projects is to translate these units into terms easily imaginable by the average person, and to create tables of equivalence that make it, at last, fairly easy to understand energy density, lossiness, etc.

I found a good resource a while back on energy density of various fuels from wood (dry or wet) to refined petroleum.  might have used it as a link here.  it certainly belongs in everyone's mental back pocket.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 02:31:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Siberian forests, both Taiga  and Boreal, are a huge carbon sink. So huge that they contain the equivalent of billions of oil supertankers!!! (There are 210 kilos of atmospheric carbon fixed in one cubic meter of wood)

Vast areas of these forests have been burning every summer as the forest get drier and drier. Burning, of course, releases the carbon back into the atmosphere.

A rise in average temperatures in these areas of 2 deg C would turn the entire forest area into a tinderbox.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 03:12:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just have to hope J doesn't spot this last comment and ban me for scaremongering.

Then I shall point him to the internationally recognized director of the Finnish Forest Institute who first drew my attention to this somewhat worrying fact.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 12:07:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I did a diary on the tundra some time ago. Scaremongering of my own...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 06:48:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you find the energy density link, do please put it up!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 06:05:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
while this may end up to be a pipe dream, i was intrigued by the idea of using algae to produce the oil, something that this page from university of new hampshire discusses. i'll throw it out there as grist for the mill.
by wu ming on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 03:29:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Heh, I get spam asking me to invest in "new exciting companies" and last week one of the spams was about a company that is developing biofuels from algae.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 03:42:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Algae may offer something in the long term. There are a number of "second-generation" feedstocks/transformation techniques that may or may not be developed. Like hydrogen may or may not be developed. Like we may or may not fly around with jetpacks on our backs. Like a lot of media communication simply reassures people that "the scientists" will find a free lunch for us somewhere.

(Saying that does not necessarily imply that, in my view, algae for biodiesel, or cellulose for ethanol, are nothing but hype and will never come to anything. It's simply a comment on how communication about them works).

Anyway, right now, and for the purposes of the EU Consultation, it's "first-generation" fuels, i.e. from maize, sugar beet, wheat, or from rapeseed and sunflowerseed, that are under consideration for promotion and subsidy; or sugar-cane ethanol and palm-oil biodiesel for importation.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jul 8th, 2006 at 05:12:44 AM EST
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