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Socratic biofuels

by Colman Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 05:54:06 AM EST

An IM conversation provoked by the new Party of European Socialists "Manifesto 2009" interactive site that we're hoping one of their people is going to announce properly:

Migeru: The PES manifesto page has an entry about biofuels which assumes that biofuels are a solution to global warming!!!
Colman: What? I missed that one!
Migeru: "A much favored cure for global warming might be worse than the disease. According to a new report the use hydrogen and other biofuels will make energy prices more changeable, increase food prices and even result in a higher emission of greenhouse gases."
Colman: Eh?


Colman: That doesn't assume that.
Migeru: "a much favoured cure for global warming might be worse thanthe disease"
Migeru: means biofuels are a much favoured cure for global warming
Colman: Uh, growing crops and burning them for fuels should have zero net CO2 output
Colman: If they're not being fed with petrochemicals.
Migeru: As opposd to being eaten and pooped and returned to the earth in which case they capture CO2
Colman: Well, not if they're then composted and grown from again.
Colman: CO2 is part of the output of the decay process.
Migeru: It seems marginal, in any case
Colman: Not compared to using fossil fuels.
Colman: If you could replace all fossil fuel use with biofuels you'd have zero CO2 output from the process. Very slightly negative in fact.
Colman: I think.
Colman: Because the cycle ends up locking carbon in unusable forms.
Migeru: Another one..."Surely it must be possible to produce biofuel without compromising food production and destroying the environment?"
Migeru: Surely!
Colman: That's a question looking for a positive answer. A bit plantive.
Migeru: Well, surely not
Colman: Second generation stuff (using waste from food production) could satisfy that requirement, in theory.
Migeru: I gave them our estimate that the entire EU oil production is not enough to replace 10% of the diesel
Colman: But the capacity of second generation produciton is another matter.
Migeru: Currently it is zero
Colman: And since we don't know what its output would be we don't know what it could do.
Migeru: It's experimental technology
Colman: Yes.
Migeru: Of course, the EU could just source its biofuels from Brazil and Indonesia
Migeru: The market will provide, and all that
Colman: Not exactly sustainable, maybe.
Colman: I don't know what effect that would have on soil depletion.
Migeru: But it's not the EU's problem, is it?
Colman: It is in my book.
Colman: Now, I'm going to cut and paste this discussion into a diary.
Migeru: Er...
There's a pile of not very well sourced assumptions in that!

Display:
Migeru: Of course, the EU could just source its biofuels from Brazil and Indonesia

What about transportation cost? How large is the bio-area to sustain transportation from Indonesia to Europe?

by das monde on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 06:20:22 AM EST
That's what Brazil is for ...
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 06:20:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am just being ironic.

Well, I wish I were just being ironic. The EU sees no problem in sourcing their biofuels on the international market. Which means that any benefits of biofules to "energy security" are lost. Unless "energy security" means "it's better to depend on the Brazilians and Indonesians than on the Arabs and Russians".

Then again, transportation by ship is very cheap and doesn't have a large impact (relatively speaking). Nobody flies fuel around, it's transported in tankers.

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 06:27:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's clear that the EU cannot reach its targets without massive imports of agrofuels from tropical regions. It's equally clear that we would thus be buying into a plantation monoculture that is bad in terms of soil loss but even more worrying in terms of rainforest destruction. Sustainable, not -- even if one imagines the transport of the fuels is "neutral".

As for indigenous production (European maize, wheat, rapeseed, etc) it's nothing more than a gimmick designed to permit continuing distribution of subsidies to industrial farming.

Second-generation: well, we've always said it might come through. And the sustainability issues might be considerably less (though some dispute that), because coppiced wood plantations and high-cellulose-yield grasses could be sustainably managed on marginal land.

But second-generation methods don't seem to be steaming ahead. What captures the attention and the $bucks/€bucks is food crops used as feedstock.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 12:30:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... yes, food crops as feedstock, because they already have a well-developed political machine for generating subsidies.

This is why I've longishly (well, at least since early last year) argued for subsidies to be focused on soil conservation payments for perennial crops that are potential feedstocks ... so if low-heat cellulosic ethanol or other 2-gen biofuel technologies don't pan out, we still have the soil.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 05:53:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
yes, food crops as feedstock, because they already have a well-developed political machine

and because the preponderance of "food" crops grown by agribiz are already feedstock for the industrial processes that create the industrial fodder loosely called "food" by those who have never tasted the real thing.  as Pollan documents, the cracking plants already in place for processing maize into all its fractions are as massive, as technomanagerially centralised and energy-intensive as any fuel ethanol or oil production process.  turning plants into industrial swill is what the "food" sector knows how to do best, they are already geared up for it...  and the energy crunch comes at a time when the ultraprocessed factory food is losing ground, an inch at a time, to more wholesome dietary options...  threatening to render the whole top-heavy profit-taking monopoly system obsolete.  what's not to like (from the ADM/GM pov) about diversifying or lifeboating into cracking industrial corn and soy into automobile fuel?  it's so similar to what they already do, there's little to no retooling -- least of all retooling of their conceptual armamentarium -- the real problem.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 06:49:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
CO2 output from shipping twice as much as airlines | Environment | The Guardian

Carbon dioxide emissions from shipping are double those of aviation and increasing at an alarming rate which will have a serious impact on global warming, according to research by the industry and European academics.

Separate studies suggest that maritime carbon dioxide emissions are not only higher than previously thought, but could rise by as much as 75% in the next 15 to 20 years if world trade continues to grow and no action is taken. The figures from the oil giant BP, which owns 50 tankers, and researchers at the Institute for Physics and Atmosphere in Wessling, Germany reveal that annual emissions from shipping range between 600 and 800m tonnes of carbon dioxide, or up to 5% of the global total. This is nearly double Britain's total emissions and more than all African countries combined.



Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 01:06:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
does anyone know what the CO2 output is of 1 kg/km for transport by container ship vs transport by airplane?

Or a (different) metric that compares CO2 two fairly between the two?

by Nomad on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 01:47:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
because ships are allowed to burn the dirtiest kind of fuels - the cheap, bottom of the barrel stuff.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 02:43:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The CO2 emissions of international shipping, like those of international aviation, are not regulated under Kyoto or any other agreement.

I think the increase can mainly be ascribed to globalisation. Globalisation is much hyped, it's true, but one area where it does take place (as a process, not an end-state) is trade in goods. Goods, overwhelmingly, are shipped.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 03:01:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But how much of the top-of-the-barrel "cleaner" stuff is there going to be in the future?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 03:07:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's a pile of not very well sourced assumptions in that!

Gee, thanks.

Do I have to add footnotes to our google chat conversations now?

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 06:34:31 AM EST
That would be good! I meant my assumptions as well.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 06:41:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
it is much more simple than that... or let's going to make it simple :)

Biofuels of first generation : Bad
Biofuels of second generation : Good

or awful the first
and Impossible the second.

Did I help? :) Je je

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 Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 04:22:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Second-generation good but impossible?

Can you tell us more?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 02:42:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
OOhh.. I was just summing up the conversation....

From what I know is not impossible.. but solar and wind breaktrhoughs are more possible.. so if cars are going to survive is probably via electric propulsion (or an equivalent hydrogen cell as carrier).

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 Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 03:01:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Notimpossible but wholly unproven. You cannot buildan energy policy on unproven technology. Does anyone know an estimate of how much energy the EU could produce sustainably from second-generation biofuels?

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 03:33:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No freakign idea... but it would be really a lot ... after all it is unproven.

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 Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 03:40:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What is the maximum possible yield of second-generation biofuels? The most efficient photosynthesizers known are among the blue-green algae. For instance...

Chlorella - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Chlorella is a genus of single-celled green algae, belonging to the phylum Chlorophyta. It is spherical in shape, about 2 to 10 μm in diameter, and is without flagella. Chlorella contains the green photosynthetic pigments chlorophyll-a and -b in its chloroplast. Through photosynthesis it multiplies rapidly requiring only carbon dioxide, water, sunlight, and a small amount of minerals to reproduce.

...

Many people believed Chlorella could serve as a potential source of food and energy because its photosynthetic efficiency can theoretically reach 8%,[1] comparable with other highly efficient crops such as sugar cane. It is also an attractive food source because it is high in protein and other essential nutrients; when dried, it is about 45% protein, 20% fat, 20% carbohydrate, 5% fiber, and 10% minerals and vitamins. However, because it is a single-celled algae, harvest posed practical difficulties for its large-scale use as a food source. Mass production methods are now being used to cultivate it in large artificial circular ponds.

What does "8% efficiency" mean?

Photosynthetic efficiency - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The photosynthetic efficiency is the fraction of light energy converted into other forms of energy for use. Trees convert light in to chemical energy through the process of photosynthesis with a photosynthetic efficiency of approximately 0.2-0.5%. Other numbers reported range up to 6%, a more detailed analysis is required. By comparison solar panels convert light into electric energy at a photosynthetic efficiency of approximately 10-20%. The photosynthetic efficiency varies with the frequency of the light being converted.
So, assume you cover a hectare of land with a pond full of chlorella and manage to capture 100% of the light and convert it at 8% efficiency into second-generation biofuel feedstock. How much area does Europe need to cover with chlorella in order to satisfy 10% of its liquid fuel demand? Note that this land use is compatible with, for instance, puttin it on the roofs of buildings though in urban environments it's probably more sensible to use solar panels to power the buildings themselves.

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 04:19:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes..c ertianly that number can be computed... I woudl try this weekend if I have time...

But you can certianly genetically modified it to make it five times bigger (why not... it is unproven)...

But I agree that ten times this number (efficiency of 50%) will be the most you can get..

SO you should do the fficiency number using 5% and 50%.... ther will give you a  boundary of the unproven technology.

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 Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 04:53:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey, hey, "why not, it is unproven" is not valid in support of calculating on the assumption of genetically engineering an organism that doesn't even exist in concept. Stick to 8% efficiency, please.

The technology to grow algae on a massive scale, harvest them, and turn the green goo into liquid fuel is already unproven, but clearly feasible given what we know. The question is one of losses along the way, so let's ignore the losses and compute the theoretical capacity. After all, this 10% biofuels and 20% renewables is an EU goal for 2020, not for 2100 (at which point maybe postulating genetically engineered superalgae that can photosynthesize at the theoretical quantum efficiency of photosynthesis just might be legitimate).

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 05:18:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But regardign energy of the sun per sqaure meter cosnidering days of 12 hours all year through adn considering the Earth average is roughly 1000 kilocaries  (real physicist kilocalories) per year.

http://curriculum.calstatela.edu/courses/builders/lessons/less/biomes/SunEnergy.html

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 Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 04:56:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So, throwing in a factor of 1/2 for latitude and a factor of 1/2 for weather you get 250 Kcal per year per square metre, or 2.5e6 Kcal per year per hectare. At 8% efficiency, that is 2e5 Kcal per year per hectare. That's about 8.4e5 KJ per year per hectare. For comparison, the energy density of diesel fuel is 11 KWh per litre, or approximately 4e4 KJ/l. So, a hectare of chlorella can at most produce the equivalent of 21 litres of diesel fuel per year.

I could easily be off by a factor of 1000 because of sloppy use of units, but otherwise this is a no-go.

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 05:31:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Biofuels & Petro-fuels = Liquid Fuels (Part Two) by afew on July 13th, 2006, has lots of data on first-generation biofuel yields. (3000 litres per hectare seems like a sensible estimate - I must be off by a few zeroes in my estimate for algae).

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 05:53:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Using incident solar power numbers from wikipedia, puts Europe at something like 150W/m^2 average for the year.

At 8% conversion efficiency:
150*0.8*365*24*60*60 = 378,432,000 J/(year*m^2)
For disel, 11kWh/L = 11000*60*60 = 39,600,000 J/L
So, per square metre disel equivalent yield per year:
378,432,000/39,600,000=9.6L/(year*m^2)
or 96,000L/(year*hectare)[sounds like a lot more than 3000. Do I have an extra zero??]

The EU used 494616 kTOE in 2005
In joules: 494616*1000*42e9 = 2.0774e19 J
Which, converted to diesel litres is: 5.2459e11 L
Per percent replacement: 5.4645e8 m^2
or 54645 hectares per percent replacement of 2005 fossil fuel usage.

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 06:43:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think either kcurie's solar energy figure or my interpretation of it were off by a factor of 1000, which is not entirely surprising given the ambiguity in the meaning of the word "calorie".

Calorie - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The calorie was never an SI unit. Modern definitions for calorie fall into 3 classes:

  • The small calorie or gram calorie approximates the energy needed to increase the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 °C. This is about 4.184 joules.
  • The large calorie or kilogram calorie approximates the energy needed to increase the temperature of 1 kg of water by 1 °C. This is about 4.184 kJ, and exactly 1000 small calories.
  • The megacalorie or ton calorie[citation needed] approximates the energy needed to increase the temperature of 1 tonne of water by 1 °C. This is about 4.184 MJ, and exactly 1000 large calories.
Did I tell you I like TribExt?

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Oct 25th, 2007 at 06:12:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Are we discussing a solar driven fuel source that has a theoretical maximal effiency which is lower then what we today can get from either photovoltaic or thermal solar power?

What am I missing here?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Oct 27th, 2007 at 11:55:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For fuels, we need chemical energy whereas solar panels provide electrical energy, the conversion of which into chemical energy won't be 100% (or even 30%) efficient (that is true of batteries, too).

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sat Oct 27th, 2007 at 09:12:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, I see.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Sun Oct 28th, 2007 at 12:50:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Liquid biofuels will be presumably used in explosion motors with a theoretical maximum efficiency of less that 50%.

Electrical energy (from solar panels) can be converted to work at a higher theoretical efficiency.

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 29th, 2007 at 05:56:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Isn't starvid's signature that "Peak oil is not an energy crisis but a liquid fuel crisis"? It's all about the considerable technological convenience of using liquid fuels.

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 29th, 2007 at 05:59:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Note to self: Never IM Colman.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 03:34:47 PM EST
Google chat is really bad because it saves the conversation as an e-mail. That's a "feature", but in Colman's hands it would be really dangerous.

We have met the enemy, and it is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 04:04:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm pretty sure any IM program is the work of the devil.  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Wed Oct 24th, 2007 at 04:09:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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