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Biofuels could be a huge waste of taxpayer money

by Jerome a Paris Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 06:17:54 AM EST

The FT has a big article on biofuels today. It's behind a subwall, but I wanted to show you a couple of graphs and quotes...

“There is a great deal of risk that we just get stuck with a low corn blend [of biofuel mixed with petrol] and the corn ethanol industry walks away with billions of dollars in their pockets,” says [Roland Hwang, vehicle policy director for the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, a powerful US environmental group]


Peter Tjan, secretary-general of the European Petroleum Industry Association, an oil lobby group, says tariffs on imported biofuels show the motivation is not the one governments claim. “While there is a lot of discussion about doing it for climate or for security of supply, more and more it is becoming clear that the reason they want to do it is because they have a problem with the CAP [European Common Agricultural Policy subsidies] and need to help the farmers,” he says. “The reality is that this is driven very much by the farmers If you really are gung-ho about biofuels, let’s import them from developing countries.”

according to a study by Alexander Farrell of the University of California, Berkeley, published in Science magazine, today’s ethanol production processes cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by only about 13 per cent compared with petrol. In Brussels the Commission has found that the standard production methods for sugar-beet ethanol in Europe reduced global warming emissions by a “modest” one-third compared with petrol.

The Commission’s study concludes that home-grown biofuels are an expensive way to cut emissions: “More greenhouse gas could be saved for the same money in other sectors,” it says.

Display:
I'm not sure importing bio-fuels makes a whole lot of sense from an energy point of view. But this is a support scheme for farmers without much doubt.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 06:21:14 AM EST
This is bulk transporation. Even with more expensive oil, this will still bereally, really cheap. The real cost issue in logistical chains will always be the "retail" bit, i.e. the fleets or trucks taking stuff all around the place in small volumes.

Transporting fuels, like transporting commodities (or even transporting hundreds of containers' worth og goods) over oceans is unlikely to become so expensive as to stop.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 06:30:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
True. We can always power huge container ships with nukes.

<runs away and hides>

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 06:37:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
At least in the case of fuels, you can always power the ship with its own cargo. The fuel costs would be a constant (small) fraction of the payload.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 06:54:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 07:19:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Would it be possible to convert trucks to electricity and run them on nuclear?
by jv (euro@junkie.cz) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 08:51:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Remember Back to the Future? In the first movie the original prototype runs on Iranian Plutonium, but the re-engineered prototype brought back from the future runs on organic domestic waste like apple peels. Of course, there's always lightning bolts...

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 09:05:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The day we have a fix of this order, who will need biofuels?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 09:24:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I actually believe this is easier and cheaper to accomplish (and just as effective) as switching to the "hydrogen-economy". Taking into account the weight, volume, yield, losses... of a fuel-cell and a cryo/pressurized H2 tank, you see it's hardly a match for a Li-Ion battery (a bit lighter, but bigger, more losses,  not much more vehicle autonomy). And battery technology is available now, at affordable costs. The only thing were H2 beats the battery, is refueling: 5 mn for the nozzle versus 30 minutes for the high-amp plug...

Billionnaire aircraft/weapon builder Serge Dassault, who is otherwise by many accounts a hard-right looney, has a pet project which was demonstrated at my company (marketing for corporate fleets) a couple of months ago. It is quite convincing: you would lease the battery for 1000€/year and a maximum of 8 years / 100000km (when it gets recycled because it wears out), own the rest of the car if you want, and reload from the grid. Cost depends on the km driven per year. For a corporate fleet (heavy use), with french regulated rates on electricity, it is already cheaper than gas. I did a bit of calculus for a low-intensity user (e.g. me if I was to relocate to the country side), and then gas still 30% cheaper. Considering french tax on gas, it means oil has to go 140$ to break even (which may happen over the lifetime of such a vehicle). So I'm waiting for the Scenic-based version, and possibly special rates from EDF...

Pierre
by Pierre on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 09:38:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but the big stumbling block is battery technology. Small vehicles like scooters and light notorcycles are possible today (I own one), but cars and trucks require better batteries.

Those better batteries have just been commercialised by A123 Systems.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Jun 22nd, 2006 at 08:24:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The other point about this is the destruction of the rainforest (Brazil, Indonesia/Malaysia) to plant for biofuels. It's already under way, and will hugely increase if we adopt this import biofuels model for developed economies.

We should just not be accepting these apparently easy fixes. The first thing to do is reduce energy consumption; and how, for example, can we push the automobile industry into marketing low-consumption cars if we go along with the (now widely-accepted) idea that we'll just put ethanol in the tank when oil gets too expensive?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 08:19:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Was going to point out the same. I didn't see much in the  EC proposal on more efficient cars - now there's a subject the EC should lever some of its powers. How does that combine with biofuels?
by Nomad on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 08:43:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In my recent diary on the EU Public Consultations there is an ongoing consultation on biofuels that kcurie and Nomad have already said they would be interested in...

European Commission, New and Renewable Energies: Biofuels Directive Review and Progress Report - Public Consultation (until 10 July)

The European Union biofuels directive was adopted in May 2003. It aims to promote the use in transport of fuels made from biomass, as well as other renewable fuels.

The directive asks the European Commission to make a progress report before the end of 2006.

The progress report could be used as the basis for a proposal to amend the directive.

The Commission set out the broad lines for this review of the directive in its biomass action plan and biofuels strategy. Now, in preparing the progress report, the Commission's services would like to know the views of public authorities, businesses, non-governmental organisations and other interested parties on the following questions:

  1. Is the objective of promoting biofuels still valid?

  2. The directive sets a reference value of 5.75% for the market share of biofuels in 2010. Will this share be achieved with existing policies and measures? If not, why not?

  3. Looking towards 2010, does the EU system of targets for biofuels need to be adapted? If so, how?

  4. Should a certification system be introduced to avoid using "poor performing" biofuels or give more support to "better performing" ones?

  5. Looking towards 2015 and 2020, should further measures be adopted to promote biofuels?

  6. A number of more technical issues


A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 06:34:44 AM EST
When I saw the title of Jerome's diary, I was hoping you'd already be there pointing this out. I'd be interested in the studies of CO2 footprint of this, for example - but also some other aspects. Kcurie may perchance pitch in on the agriculture aspect of it? Some extra calculating power on the economic side would also be welcome. Jerome, any chance you've some time to look at it as well? Others?

It really looks to me like a perfect test ground of in how far ET can bundle separate expertise knowledge.

Is there an easy way that their pdf can be copied into a word processor or HTML format? The text can be copy-pasted from the pdf - I've already tried that, but it only does that per page and does not include text breaks. We post in a wiki (at FairEurope?) and start cracking.

by Nomad on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 08:40:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe a little google magic? They have a "view as HTML" option when they link to PDF documents... et voilà

Quick, copy it into the Wiki's Collaborations in Progress page!

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 08:47:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Man, I thought that'd be easy. I'm out of time for today. Perhaps tonight some more.

I noticed someone had already set up a wiki page, this is a direct link to it. So far, just copied the introduction... Just copy-pasting from the HTML webpage screws up the format in the wiki again.

by Nomad on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 10:02:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Someone... <wink>

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 10:16:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just copy-pasting from the HTML webpage screws up the format in the wiki again.
I forget whether the wiki supports HTML markup, but it it does you can "view source" on the google page and copy and paste the source HTML to preserve the formatting.

But it might just be best to copy and paste small fragments from the HTML and reformat them by hand.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 10:18:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On looking at the source: don't. It is horrible.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 10:19:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok, just a word of notice that I'm heading back into the fray - I'm putting up the relevant chapters, or will try to, at least. A suggestion: would it be wise to set up different pages for each of the six chapters wherein people can formulate their thoughts/undertakings and dump links to reports etcetera per issue? Although useful for overview and breeding ground, there's a risk people lose track.
by Nomad on Thu Jun 22nd, 2006 at 07:20:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I haven't any scientific or technical expertise to offer, but I'm willing to join in work on this one.

DeAnander and ericy have previously posted on biofuels (and disagreed...) They would surely have views and info to bring.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 09:02:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How about agricultural expertise?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 09:19:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have some knowledge, but I'm not a farmer (alas).
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 09:23:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
interest an uncle of mine - he's into a lot of agricultural projects.
by Nomad on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 09:46:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Joelado could also pitch in on flexible fuel technology, E85 fuels and the like.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 10:32:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
First we would need to know who is right.

Thsi article has completelyd ifferent data about land use and CO2 reduction than the previosu assesment by the EU that COlman posted here.

Who is right?

IF the data in FT is right  the conclusion is not that it could be expensive, but it just plainly can not work out.

On the other hand, if the green assesment is right, this FT article is pure bul---- and biofuels are the way to go for the transport sector.

How can we investigate this?

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 Jun 21st, 2006 at 01:44:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're right there's some conflict about how practicable biofuels would be.

One source I have just dug out is a diary by DeAnander from a year ago:

Limits to Substitutability: BioFuels

Also, especially for the comments thread:

Organic farming vs industrial farming

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 04:18:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I recall that Colman posted something on frontage about biofuelsa nd how one could reach the target of 10% with hardly any effect on the environment. I think I read something about the land used int  inform that he linked... it was certainly not the amount inidcated in FT.

These are outright contradictions.

I do not know how could we deal with them and know which one is true

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 Jun 21st, 2006 at 05:36:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Colman's story from 9th June:

Biofuels and the European Environment

refers to a report by the European Environment Agency

How much bioenergy can Europe produce without harming the environment?

This report is recent and is no doubt a useful starting-point. I have no idea if the EEA has a pro-biofuels agenda.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jun 22nd, 2006 at 02:24:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You ask how do we investigate this and how do we know if the data is right. Well, a lot of us have an academic research background. I would hope we can dig up some figures. As for knowing whether the FT data is right... I suppose we're bette off just going to primary sources and trying to calculate things for ourselves.

The problem breaks up neatly into two parts:

  • growing the crops [sugar cane, sugar beet, corn, other grains, cellulose, rapeseed] or using other biomass [organic waste, maybe?]
  • producing the biofuels [ethanol or biodiesel, or 'biogas'] from them

I note that the FT does not include biogas, or European ethanol from sugar beet, in their graph.

For each of these processes we want to know the inputs and outputs. For growing crops, we want to know how the yield per hectare depends on various inputs (labour, energy, fertilizers... both for industrial and organic production) and we want to know about topsoil depletion.

For producing the biofuels we also want to know the inputs and outputs, and the pollutants generated in the process.

We also need to know the gasoline or diesel equivalent (or the barrel-of-oil equivalent) of each of the biofuels.

I think it's a lot more work than we can do before July 10, but on the other hand we should be able to get some pieces of the puzzle. People have already dug up old ET diaries from the archives with links to sources, and we had a commenter who actually knows about agricultural engineering point out other sources on this thread.

People who are on a university campus might be able to have a chat with a local expert.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 07:30:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We would indeed some basic figures about weigth of crop per ha, and also energy yield per kg.
Figures about energy input required per kg would be needed.

the question is that I am not sure these clear cut figures are int he literature. It looks like the research is probably biased from scratch.

We can indeed try to dig it up.

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 Jun 22nd, 2006 at 05:36:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you're still at Weizmann, can you talk to someone in the agriculture department? They can at least give you pointers to the literature.

If the figures from yield measurement experiments are biased from the start this is all hopeless. I would hope not, otherwise all the textbook examples in statistics textbooks go out of the window ;-)

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 22nd, 2006 at 05:43:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not from Weizmann, no agriculture. But there is an agriculture faculty in front of Weizmann. I could ask someone about the main journals about soil and output. Let's see if he knows the best journal to find this data.

I will post what I know.
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 Jun 22nd, 2006 at 06:15:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey, did you ever say hi to Procaccia for me?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 22nd, 2006 at 06:27:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
 around...

I am not in his building actually.

I should go on purpose to his office and building :)

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 Jun 22nd, 2006 at 06:39:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why is Poland distinguished from the rest of the EU in the first chart?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 07:04:22 AM EST
Presumably because it is the one place in Europe where biofuels seem to make a little bit more sense, from the graph, in terms of surface use?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 07:48:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And fuel use within Poland I presume?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 07:51:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I expect so.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 09:01:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The graoh is meaningless unless that's so.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 09:19:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If that first graph is right, it's colossal. Over 70% of EU (presumably outside Poland?) land would be needed for a 10% biofuels share in total consumption? It's simply prohibitive.

Yet the agri-industry boys are gearing up for it. Some see the advantage of using current fallow land for rapeseed oil for use in tractors and farm machinery, which seems reasonable. The corn industry (as mentioned in the article) wants subsidies to develop corn ethanol. Euro-sugar-beet producers are interested in replacing excess sugar production (which, according to a WTO ruling, must be reduced) with ethanol production.  The result would be expensive (subsidy included) poor-quality fuels, and an agriculture yet more deeply integrated into industrial processes (meaning continually increasing farm size, field size with concomitant destruction of hedges, banks, and ditches, mechanisation, and use of chemicals).

Meanwhile, ordinary people are already finding room in their heads for the idea:

  1. that oil prices won't go down long-term;
  2. that they don't have to worry, we'll just switch to biofuels and go on as before...

It would seem important to get the idea across that biofuels are not going to be a miracle fix.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 08:57:49 AM EST
I forgot, of course, GM crops. If the agri-industry lobby wins a switch to subsidies for biofuels (in place of current much-contested export subsidies for food crops), and if there's a land-surface problem, they will of course say they can only work profitably with GM maize, GM rapeseed, etc. No worries about consumer resistance (who's scared of putting GM fuel in their car?)

And so the GM cat will finally be out among the pigeons. (The pigeons being non-GM foodstuff production, quality and organic farming, etc).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 09:18:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The world average looks like it takes 8% of agricultural land to provide 10% of the fuel used for transportation... Scale that to 100% of fuel use and it's a pretty good sign that our economic model can't go on like this.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 09:25:57 AM EST
If the data is correct, this option is not possible.

How do we know if the data is right?

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 Jun 21st, 2006 at 01:50:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Or at least that biofuels won't save it.

But then we have electric vehicles. I have already driven  almost 900 km on my electric scooter. That's about 50 kWh, or the amount of power generated at Forsmark nuclear power plant (3200 MW) in 50 miliseconds.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 01:51:55 PM EST
Well I really hate to comment and run, but I do have a background in agriculture (I went to an agricultural tech college long, long ago because they let you have a cow to take care of even if you were a girl) and I still read the Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin for fun. Biofuels are as confusing as other hot-button topics like immigration because there is more propaganda then data out there; everyone is pushing their agenda.

Ecologists in general think the main benefit of biofuels to the planetary carbon cycle is that you are replacing the release of 300 million yr old CO2  (longterm sequestration) from fossil fuels with very short term CO2 recycling (crops and soils). This prevents a rise in CO2 levels from dumping in CO2 that's been locked up geologically and out of the carbon cycle for a very long time.

Biofuels  produced by agribusiness giants like ADM or Conagra  is a very bad idea for the same reasons factory farming has always been a bad idea- it concentrates the profits in the fewest possible hands while socializing all the costs, risks and negatives on to the public.    

But farmers like biofuels because it can reduce and stabilize their input costs- they hate being jerked around by bankers and corporations and in my part of the world, farmer co-ops are investing in biofuel plants for their own use, to increase their independence, not to support the SUV exurban lifestyle.

I doubt that anyone that writes for the FT has ever even grown so much as a tomato, so who knows what to believe from them.

My favorite agriculture +energy site is an independant farmer's think-tank here in Kansas

http://www.landinstitute.org. They did a 10 yr study on different types of production farming based on different types of energy inputs:

Energy in Agriculture: Lessons from the Sunshine Farm Project
Martin H. Bender
Presented September 2002
Abstract: To explore the reduction of fossil fuel use in its Sunshine Farm Project during 1991-2001, The Land Institute conducted energy accounting of its 85-ha organic farm powered by commercial biodiesel, draft horses, and a photovoltaic array. Legume crops provided nitrogen, and no nutrients were imported except some purchased feed amounting to only a few kg/ha of elemental nutrients annually. Three-fourths of the consumed animal feed was produced on the Sunshine Farm for a team of draft horses, beef cattle, and poultry. The proportion of cropland area planted in legumes was 40%, of which one-fourth was green manure, and the other three-fourths were also devoted to feed, marketed products, and oil for biodiesel. About 34 and 26% of the cropland was devoted to feed and marketed products, respectively. Based on published process energy values for farm inputs, the Sunshine Farm could meet 90% of the embodied energy in its yearly inputs through leguminous nitrogen fixation, animal feed, oilseeds for biodiesel, and electricity from its array. If the embodied energy in amortized capital such as farm equipment, vehicles, physical facilities, and the photovoltaic array is included with the yearly inputs, then half of the overall embodied energy was provided by the farm. On a net energy basis including oilseed production, processing, and meal cake credit, 30% of the cropland area was devoted to soybeans and sunflowers for biodiesel fuel that could be commercially produced to power the field operations and off-farm transportation. The ratio of gross energy content in marketed products to embodied energy in purchased inputs and capital was 2.4. Inclusion of lifestyle support energy for average American rural labor dropped this ratio to 1.5, and for austere Amish labor, 2.0.

For a quick review of the current state of agriculture in the US, I'd recommend "Raising Less Corn, More Hell" by George Pyle. He's a Kansas newspaper editor and it's a short, punchy book with extensive an reference list of primary sources of information in the back of the book.

Hope this is useful, I won't be back on a computer until Friday, sorry.

by dorothy in oz on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 03:51:19 PM EST
There are companies selling "carbon offsets". Either they are a scam or the FT figures are bogus, because according to (for instance) climate care, offsetting 1 tonne of CO2 costs £7.50, which seems to be several times cheaper than the cost of offsetting carbon emissions with biofuels except possibly with Brazilian sugarcane. I mean, we're talking at least €100 per tonne for EU-produced biofuels.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 21st, 2006 at 06:53:00 PM EST
The whole point I flagged was that biofuels is an expensive way to save carbon emissions, and there are smarter and cheaper ways to do it, whether in industrial processes, power production or otherwise. The price quoted for the offsets seems realistic.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jun 22nd, 2006 at 04:10:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Then the first point we should concentrate on getting across if we're going to try and make a submission to the EU consultation is biofuels are not a cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions. The directive [google HTML conversion] says:
Whereas

(6) Greater use of biofuels for transport forms a part of the package of measures needed to comply with the Kyoto Protocol, and of any policy package to meet further commitments in this respect.

(22) Promotion of the production and use of biofuels could contribute to a reduction in energy import dependency and in emissions of greenhouse gases. In addition, biofuels, in pure form or as a blend, may in principle be used in existing motor vehicles and use the current motor vehicle fuel distribution system. The blending of biofuel with fossil fuels could facilitate a potential cost reduction in the distribution system in the Community.

From the consultation document [again google HTML]
1. Is the objective of promoting biofuels still valid?

The directive "aims at promoting the use of biofuels ... with a view to contributing to objectives such as meeting climate change commitments, environmentally friendly security of supply and promoting renewable energy sources".

...

Some commentators argue that developments since the directive was adopted in 2003 have reinforced the case for biofuels. ... The challenge of climate change has not become less urgent. ...

By contrast, others argue that:
* biofuels' advantages in terms of greenhouse gas emissions ... can be obtained at lower cost through other policies ...

...

Question 1.1:
Is the objective of promoting biofuels still valid?



A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 22nd, 2006 at 05:41:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One factor to consider is the need for liquid fuels for the foreseeable future.

Whether this is gasoline or ethanol is relatively unimportant. Technology to power vehicles via electricity or natural gas is not going to be a viable option for many years.

As the cost of oil goes up ethanol will take on a more favorable aspect. The transportability of the fuel may cause it be created in large quantities even if it doesn't produce a net energy output. The only other choice is fuel made from coal which has even worse environmental problems.

It is also not clear to me why biofuel has to be grown in land scarce Europe. Why couldn't new agricultural operations be set up where there is lots of sunshine, like Africa? Growing food may be uncompetitive but distilled biomass may make sense.

There is also the consideration that global climate change may make parts of Europe colder with a shorter growing season. This seems especially likely in areas affected by the Gulf stream.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Thu Jun 22nd, 2006 at 07:59:40 AM EST
What would be the impact on the need for liquid fuels if road transport were limited to "the last mile" where rail  (or trolleybuses) can't reach, or to the low-density countryside?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 22nd, 2006 at 08:13:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well to take my favorite example - Walmart:
They rely on cheap transport to move their goods from Asia to the US (via ship). How are these going to be fueled?
Then they use some combination of rail/truck to move the containers to their distribution centers. Then more trucks to move sorted merchandise to the stores.

The stores are almost all in the fringes of small towns where there is lots of space for parking. So their customers must all drive.

Follow the same pattern with foodstuffs (like vegetables from latin America, or oranges from Israel). Where along the supply chain are you going to eliminate liquid fuel?


Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Thu Jun 22nd, 2006 at 09:04:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you know where to find figures for the cost ($, fuel, electricity) per tonne-mile for each of these kinds of transportation, and the number of tonne-miles per year in each?
  • transcontinental shipping [sea or air]
  • continental shipping [rail or truck - could all be rail except for the "last mile" to the distribution centre]
  • distribution centre to store
  • customer private car [a lot could be saved by using mass transit to get to the store: light rail plus bus for teh "last mile", and then paying for home delivery where one large truck or van delivers to several customers]


A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 22nd, 2006 at 09:24:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You seem to be saying: let's admit the models the corporate world is running with now and hopes to in the future, and then we see that of course we're going to have liquid fuels (ethanol or liquefied coal) whether these are a good idea or not.

If we're hogtied like that from the start (by what Walmart wants to do, for example) then there's little point in the kind of discussion we're having here. We can just wait and see what Walmart says.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jun 22nd, 2006 at 09:51:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I note that this is also about Biofuels in the EU. Population density and distribution, existing transport infrastructure, and the prevalence of the Walmart model are rather different from the US.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 22nd, 2006 at 09:55:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Describing reality and projecting that those in control want to change the status quo as little as possible does not mean that I agree with the trend.

If you want to see my personal proposals on what our goals should be (and how to implement them) read the discussions on my web site:

Goals for the 21st Century

The situation in the US is different from that in Europe because of the size of the country and the degree to which the population is spread out. Mass transit is also inadequate outside of the old industrialized cities of the north east (and Chicago).

Many thoughtful people are worried about the trend to ex-urban sprawl, for example, but there are no government programs to address the issues. For example, Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in the US. It is in the middle of the desert and has already exceeded the sustainable level of water usage.

If liquid fuels become uneconomical what are the alternatives? Depopulation of the suburbs? A return to local agriculture and manufacturing? Creation of thousands of miles of electrified rail? Sail powered cargo ships?

Can the human race put itself into a situation where the only possible outcome is disaster? Apparently that is the current intention. If you think this is unlikely then visit New Orleans.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Thu Jun 22nd, 2006 at 10:05:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Far from me the thought that you actually agreed with Walmart!

It's just sometimes depressing that there's a kind of momentum acquired by the "inevitability" discourse of the  trucks and planes and private cars and concrete and shopping mall people, who cheerfully extrapolate from past growth and assure things will go on the same and no problem -- when, as you say, what's waiting round the corner is disaster.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jun 22nd, 2006 at 04:37:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Enough for today again, although I'm getting the hang of wiki-ing.

The BioFuel Wiki now holds the first 2 questions plus two separate discussion sheets, one for each separate topic. I'd suggest for now that everyone dumps their links, websites, information or thoughts in them where useful.

Next round, next lunchbreak.

by Nomad on Thu Jun 22nd, 2006 at 08:51:24 AM EST
I've taken the liberty to reorganize the wiki somewhat by making each subsection a subpage of the parent page. Let me know if you don't like it and I'll revert the changes.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 22nd, 2006 at 09:15:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Added more. I think you've added further structure it to it - looks fine. I've tried to copy the methodology.

Only Topic Three and Six need some more work, but drafting and further discussion could start.

by Nomad on Fri Jun 23rd, 2006 at 05:42:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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