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Ethanol More Trouble Than It's Worth? 986

Posted by Hemos
from the and-don't-even-get-me-start-on-methanol-young-man dept.
call -151 writes "Yahoo reports this story by researchers from Cornell and Berkeley who show what a number of people had suspected- it takes significantly more energy (at least 29%) more energy to produce ethanol than it yields. Since ethanol production plants don't use ethanol themselves for their own energy needs (with presumably negible delivery costs) this has been widely suspected but not so bluntly stated: "Ethanol production in the United States does not benefit the nation's energy security, its agriculture, the economy, or the environment." Ethanol producers dispute the study, predictably, which deducts the multi-billion US dollar subsidy. It's not clear how this compares with this earlier Union of Concerned Scientists article that claims that the yield from corn kernels is net 50% positive- and the UCS is usually quite unbiased on these things."
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Ethanol More Trouble Than It's Worth?

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  • by ScentCone (795499) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:19AM (#13093213)
    The real question is, how much energy production do you get back out of pork?
    • by ryanvm (247662) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:13AM (#13093812)
      The real question is, how much energy production do you get back out of pork?

      Ha fool! You've obviously never seen the swine-powered running wheel that keeps my house off the grid.
  • Bah (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Golias (176380) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:20AM (#13093226)
    No matter what independant researchers say, Ethonal is not going away any time soon. Why? I can explain in three letters:

    A.

    D.

    M.

    When the corporation who puts out the vast majority of ethanol-producing corn has members of both parties in their pocket, legislators are going to continue to preach the advantages of "clean, renewable" corn-based fuel.

    (Also, they would prefer that you pay no attention to the fact that Ethanol produces less CO2, but more of other gasses, such as O3. We've got an environment to save, dammit! How dare you question the advantages of A.D.M.'s Ethanol!!!)
    • Re:Bah (Score:3, Insightful)

      Don't forget to add that it's a convient excuse for giving farmers wellf....subsidies.
    • Because of protectionist trade policies that benefit ADM, sugar in the US costs 10x what it does in the rest of the world. That is why in the early 1980s the soft drink manufacturers started to put corn syrup in your Coke instead of cane sugar. This caused riots on the Philippines, since we bought a lot of sugar from them.

      Corn syrup is an inferior product but it can be had cheaply in the USA because of the massive subsidies paid to ADM.

      Have a Coke anywhere else in the world and it will taste good. Coke in the USA is undrinkable unless you can buy Passover Coke (once a year in certain markets) or Mexican Coke (in a glass bottle, yum) both of which have real sugar.

      Also note that you can get REAL Dr Pepper from www.dublindrpepper.com

      • "That is why in the early 1980s the soft drink manufacturers started to put corn syrup in your Coke instead of cane sugar."

        That is also why Pepsi won the Pepsi challenge. They still use cane sugar. While not all people can taste the difference between corn sugar and cane sugar, those who can overwhelmingly prefer cane sugar. Thus Pepsi beats Coke hands down.

        • No, Pepsi switched too. Pepsi's formula is sweeter, so it may have fooled you. Also note that unlike Coke, Pepsi does not enforce its formula internationally, so Pepsi varies a lot from country to country.

          However it was during the era of the switch that Pepsi used the challenge since Coke was suddenly lacking the fruity sweetness that cane sugar gave it.

          Coke actually has each plant send syrup samples to Atlanta for testing on a regular basis to ensure consistency. Of course there is still the question of HFCS.

        • Actually, Pepsi and Coke both use whatever sweetner is cheapest for them at the time.

          The difference between them is the type of citrus used. For Pepsi, they mainly use lime, for Coke they mainly use lemon.

          Coke has a more "bitter" bite to it, which adults tend to prefer. (Just as adults are more likely to enjoy black coffee and beer than children are.) Pepsi tastes much sweeter, which results in them winning blind "taste-tests" in which you only drink a small sip of each, but that does not always make i
      • Have a Coke anywhere else in the world and it will taste good.
        No. I tried some once. I didn't like the taste, and I'm sticking to ethanol next time.
    • Re:Bah (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wiredlogic (135348)
      ADM is also responsible for the relatively high price of cane sugar and why so much of the food sold in America is sweetened with crappy corn syrup.
  • by Arthur B. (806360) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:21AM (#13093231)
    Convenience is. You can use clean energy to produce the ethanol, such has hydro-electrics or nuclear power but it's much harder to use it directly in a car. You can use ethanol in your car though. So throwing money in developping ethanol is not pointless because a) research will make the efficiency ratio increase b) ethanol is a convinient way to store energy for vehicles
    • by ergo98 (9391) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:28AM (#13093309) Homepage Journal
      You can use clean energy to produce the ethanol...

      You've got a great point - one of the fundamental problems we face is in battery technology, of storing and transporting energy with a decoupling between generation and consumption. Ethanol could be a fantastic battery of sorts, in the same way that hydrogen is, but compatible with current vehicles.

      Of course practically most farmers are using copious amounts of oil-products to generate ethanol, but perhaps with a modernization and greening of farms, this storage technology could become more sustainable.
    • by Guppy06 (410832) * on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:10AM (#13093758)
      "You can use clean energy to produce the ethanol, such has hydro-electrics or nuclear power"

      Cool! Whose backyard will it go in?
      • Mine would be fine. Lots of jobs. Good for the local economy, and much cleaner for the environment than a coal-burning plant. Lower radiation emissions, too.

        Of course, I would prefer that the plant were based on Canadian or European nuclear technology. The U.S. has allowed its nuclear industry to become technologically outdated due to not building any plants for decades.

    • Most of the power cost in growing the corn comes from the oil used in the fertilizer. What this study (and it is actually quite old) says is that there is more OIL used in the creation of the ethanol than the volume of oil it is replacing as a fuel. That may be fine if ethanol was just being used as an oxygenation additive (which in itself is of questionable worth as the emissions systems of cars are much, much better these days), but it is being touted as a way to reduce our usage of foreign oil as a rep
  • by Djinh (92332) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:21AM (#13093233)
    It depends how and from what you make your ethanol. And how you farm your feedstock of course...

    Brazil does just fine with it's sugarcane:

    http://www.eroei.com/articles/16_jun_05_brazil_fue l_p.html [eroei.com]

    • by Firethorn (177587) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:45AM (#13093495) Homepage Journal
      Now, I've lived in the Cornhusker state, but I have to agree with you. Corn has always seemed to be a bit of a low-yeilder for ethanol compared to other crops.

      Now, corn can be grown further north than sugarcane, so that might be a factor. Of course, if we could break ourselves of our sugar habit, we'd be able to fuel many vehicles off the saved sugar.

      On a different point, a couple of seed/hybridization/GM companies are looking into making corn varieties designed for maximum ethanol production. They're predicting something like a 25% increase in about five years.

      Oh, and my prediction:

      Ethanol fuel cells. How would you like to get more milage out of ethanol than we do with today's vehicles with gasoline? We don't have to burn ethanol the traditional way, and it'd reduce what pollution ethanol has.

      I think that the main problem with the increased pollution is that they haven't spent the research and tuning efforts into reducing it, and most ethanol cars today are adaptions of gasoline cars. Don't forget that ethanol also reduces or eliminates many other pollutants from gasoline, it's only in a couple that it increases.
      • by jabber01 (225154)
        First they said eggs were bad for you, now they say they're good for you.

        Then they said alcohol was bad for you, now they say a little is actually healthy.

        Then they said that you shouldn't put sugar in your gas tank. And now...
    • I would love to see a study of the complete environmental impact of cane derived ethanol. Nobody ever mentions the burning of the cane fields before harvesting. I lived in a city surrounded by cane fields and you could tell a difference in the air quality when they started buring. That was before the ash started falling out of the sky...

      In any case, cane is a better crop to use to produce alcohol but the conditions to grow it effectively don't exist in the US. The fact that it works for Brazil says al

  • by DanielMarkham (765899) * on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:21AM (#13093235) Homepage
    Surely you jest, man. Ethanol is most certainly a worthwhile endeavor. How else would ulgy people...

    Oh. You mean Ethanol energy production. Yes. Of course.

    Plastic Rabbit, New Gizmo? [whattofix.com]
    • Why are so many obviously comedic posts getting modded insightful instead of funny lately?
      • Why are so many obviously comedic posts getting modded insightful instead of funny lately?

        Because the mods wish to reward the poster with a real mod-point that counts toward their score instead of the pseudo mod-point "funny". The problem with this scheme is that it tends to confuse the /. readers who are just skimming the posts, and it tends to send mod points to people who don't really need them anyway. If I make a joke (which, granted, I'm not the best at doing) I'm always happiest if the mods use the Funny mod instead of the Insightful mod.

        I really do applaud the intentions of the mods, but this is one of those cases where you shouldn't try to game the system. :-)
        • The fact that the parent is modded up "funny" just cracks me up! The post makes the point that people don't want to use the funny mod-point, and he gets the funny points himself! Talk about gaming the system!
  • Meaningless (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kukester (31030) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:21AM (#13093238) Homepage
    Gasoline takes more energy to produce than you can get from it. That energy just came from the sun a million (?) years ago. Gasoline is a means by which we can transfer solar energy to our cars without sail-ssized solar panels.

    Consider ethanol as a means to store energy from nuclear, solar, wind, tidal, hydro or other clean energy sources and transport it to your auto's engine.

    I'd like to see ethanol compared to chemical batteries, fuel cells or others on an basis of efficency & cost.
    • Re:Meaningless (Score:3, Insightful)

      by timster (32400)
      We're not talking about energy in the physics sense, but energy in the economics sense.

      It takes gasoline to run those tractors, and electricity from fossil fuels to run the factories.

      This study is saying, basically, that we'd be doing better if we just dumped that gasoline into our cars without messing around with ethanol.
      • Re:Meaningless (Score:5, Insightful)

        by shokk (187512) <ernieoporto.yahoo@com> on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:36AM (#13093403) Homepage Journal
        Perhaps the UCS is also considering a clean energy source powering the ethanol plant. The current plants may not be using clear tech now, but in time that would change given enough ethanol flowing in the marketplace.

        The question is, how well will that market deal with things like the inevitable droughts. Will we be flexible enough to use another crop, or even another tech to make up for the shortfall, or will we be skating on razor thin margins from now on, dealing with rolling blackouts, etc?
  • ethanol from corn (Score:5, Informative)

    by BoldAC (735721) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:22AM (#13093241)
    Yeah, producing ethanol from corn does produce more energy...

    However, growing other plant materials (from waste or whatever) is much more efficent.

    Ethanol will work... just not from corn.

    Did anybody think the transition would be easy?
  • Hydrogen energy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by archeopterix (594938) * on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:22AM (#13093242) Journal
    From the article:
    They conclude the country would be better off investing in solar, wind and hydrogen energy.
    What is this recurring BS about hydrogen energy? Hydrogen is only a medium for storing/transporting energy - it does not generate any more energy than used to produce it. So, until we start to mine for hydrogen, the "hydrogen energy" buzzword is no more than annoying crap.

    Ok, perhaps "hydrogen energy" has some meaning like "solar/wind energy used to produce hydrogen", but certainly not in the context above ("solar, wind and hydrogen energy").

    • What is this recurring BS about hydrogen energy? Hydrogen is only a medium for storing/transporting energy - it does not generate any more energy than used to produce it.

      That's true of ethanol as well though; there's no significant natural source of ethanol. We make it from sugars which ultimately come from sunlight.

    • by Some Random Username (873177) on Monday July 18, 2005 @12:15PM (#13094624) Journal
      You need to invest in hydrogen energy technologies in order to make any use of hydrogen as a medium to store energy.

      You are the one reading into the statement your own bias, they never said anything about producing energy from hydrogen, its entirely your assumption. "Hydrogen energy" makes perfect sense, you use hydrogen as an energy source. You just have to use some other energy source to make the hydrogen in the first place, kinda like with everything else we use.

      Its not like oil produces more energy than it took to make either, we just didn't expend that energy ourselves.
  • by sykjoke (899173) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:22AM (#13093246)
    To turn my finger nails into ethanol.... warm weather perennial grass found in the Great Plains and eastern North America United States, it takes 45 percent more energy and for wood, 57 percent. It takes 27 percent more energy to turn soybeans into biodiesel fuel and more than double the energy produced is needed to do the same to sunflower plants, the study found. But what about sugar beat, sugar came, sweet corn and grapes (given corn and grapes will start to ferment naturally)
  • Oil Subsidy... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:22AM (#13093249)
    Most people usually don't figure the cost of keeping an extra aircraft carrier-centered battle group around to guard Mideast shipping lanes and a couple of ill-planned invasions here and there into "oil subsidies", but if they did, I'd bet you find that the cash devoted to ethanol isn't that much at all.

    As long as a third of our budget is military and a chief focus of the military is to keep the oil flowing, it makes sense to pursue other energy options.
  • by IainMH (176964) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:23AM (#13093259)
    TFA doesn't tell us who paid for the research.
  • CORN Ethanol (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fnkmaster (89084) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:25AM (#13093270)
    The whole point of ethanol is that there are far better ways of producing fuel-use ethanol than corn fermentation, which has been debated for years in terms of its energy efficiency.

    The enthusiasm for ethanol by real scientists is from the very promising means for producing ethanol from cellulose-based feedstocks, in other words from cheap plentiful surplus materials. While this wasn't cost-effective as an energy alternative when gas cost 80 cents a gallon, at 2.25-2.50 a gallon, cellulosic ethanol is quite competitive on a dollar-per-mile basis, and it can extract energy from cheap, easy to grow feedstocks or waste-cellulose material that would otherwise end up in municipal garbage dumps.
  • by jimcooncat (605197) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:26AM (#13093284)
    These guys say they have a production facilities with uses no outside energy. http://www.iogen.ca/ [iogen.ca]
  • ...but we are pretty obviously headed straight towards a new nuclear age. That doesn't mean I like nuclear, or that this is a good thing...

    Ethanol and other biofuels don't seem to really hold up to cost-benefit analysis, as this article (and many others) suggests- Even if this article is exaggerated, the truth is still on the wall that it can't compare to nuclear.

    Oil will run low pretty soon, coal, air and wind power can't take up the slack... BAMM! New nuclear age.

    Does anyone really have reasonable prediction that doesn't include at least 80% of all power being nuclear in 50 years? I can't find one...
    • I agree to a point - more nuclear power is one of the things that might keep the US from grinding to a poor, hungry and riotous halt in a few years. But for it to do so we need to start building those plants now. It takes a tremendous amount of petroleum products to build, operate anad maintain those plants.

      Just being the right thing to do won't make a thing happpen. If we wait too long we'll find ourselves on the downhill side of the oil production curve with oil & gas prices skyrocketing.

      If that

  • by Myrv (305480) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:33AM (#13093362)

    Slashdot has covered this before and I will repost my comment from back then:

    While production of ethanol can be inefficient rarely does it result in a net energy loss. Several different studies show anywhere from a 38% net gain in energy to over 100% depending on methods use. The generally cited claim of a net energy loss from producing ethanol all seem to come from only one paper written by David Pimental [the author of the paper quoted in this article]. To support his claims he seems to have taken a worst pratices view for every step in the production process, a realworld combination found in less than 5% of current ethanol production. The more comphrensive studies I've been able to find show a slight, albeit not stellar, net gain in energy. The most recent (2002) by Michigan State shows a net gain of 0.56 MJ/MJ of input for corn based ethanol production. If one looks at Cellulose based ethonal production, studies show almost a 2.5 net energy gain and it is easier on the environment since it requires less maintenance and fewer fertilizers.

    For reference this site has some good links, including a rebuttal of the Pimental paper (as well as showing the Pimental article).

    www.econet.sk.ca/pages/issues/ethanolinfone tenergybalance.htm [econet.sk.ca]
    • Actually emailed Pimental several weeks ago when the story first came out. Wow Slashdot is really slow these days. He emailed back a copy of the report. I found it to be detailed to the point of anal. He even included the energy for the people working and the manufacture of the machines used.

      I don't know if I would say he always took the worse possible approach to things but it certainly was unoptimized. Two areas really stood out.

      Fertilizer and Distilling.

      It seems that if there ever was an application f
    • The American Coalition for Ethanol states that gasoline has an energy balance of only 85%. In other words, it takes more energy to produce gasoline than it contains. Proponents of ethanol production say that if we can use a harmful fossil fuel at a net energy loss, we can certainly use a renewable source of liquid fuel that is less harmful to the environment and better for the domestic economy.
  • Ethanol vs. methanol (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ceeam (39911) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:34AM (#13093371)
    Why ethanol? (basically the same alcohol from the drinks). I thought that it is methanol that should be cheaper and more vehicle-efficiency-friendly. After all ChampCars (and soon IRL) sportcars, for example, are run on methanol. I don't know a lot about this but maybe someone can post something insightful?
  • by HerculesMO (693085) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:48AM (#13093534)
    If the US was a nuclear based country. It's amazing to me to see how many 'environmentalists' are up in arms about this when in fact, the nuclear reactors are more safe than ever. Slashdot previously reported on this [slashdot.org].

    Sadly, the words of "Chernobyl" are so well rehearsed by this community that they fail to realize the fact that Chernobyl was running at 130% capacity at the time -- a situtation which does not happen in current reactors due partially to the government regulations, partially to the IAEA, and partially to political pressures. That, and it's fucking common sense for crying out loud! Nuclear scientists and engineers know what they are working with now more than ever.

    Modern day physicists if asked honestly, know that the answer lies in atomic energies for our future. It is cheap, clean, produces no greenhouse gases, and leave a microbe of waste as compared to a petroleum based economy. If the US and its politics weren't so oil hungry and to boot -- money hungry, they would be investing in the fusion experiement that is now going to be located in France. Granted it probably won't produce much power to boot... but it would be 100% clean and without any radioactive waste. The implications for potential power are huge, unfortunately most US lobbyists have convinced our government to turn their back on the future and concern themselves with just strengthening a limited fuel.

    Sorry for the tirade, but I hate to see talks about biodiesel and ethanol (which is actually really cool, it produces higher octane numbers than gasoline!), and the arguement the author makes without bringing up our energy situtation that makes this point oh, so relevant.

  • by ddraigcymraeg (670617) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:05AM (#13093708)
    Taking into account the free energy from the sun in order to grow the crops IS misleading the public. check out the explanation of the study here: http://petroleum.berkeley.edu/papers/Biofuels/uc_s cientist_says_ethanol_uses_m.htm [berkeley.edu] Then their methods of harnessing the ethanol are'nt the most efficient either. Unfortunately the public will be mislead time and again over the use of non-fossil fuel alternatives. Wish politics would stay out of science.
  • by Sergeant Beavis (558225) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:06AM (#13093722) Homepage
    $0.51 per gallon of Ethanol. That's not how much Ethanol makers charge us for their fuel. It is how much the Federal government subsidizes every gallon of Ethanol made.

    If Ethanol is such a viable replacement for gasoline made from oil, then why does it need a 51 cent subsidy? The fact is that no ethanol maker can make a profit without that subsidy.

  • An Important Point (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thelizman (304517) <hammerattack@ y a h o o.com> on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:07AM (#13093724) Homepage
    Ethanol is a renewable energy resource, but that does not make it environmentally friendly. Moreso than petroleum, perhaps, but combustion of ethanol still produces carbon dioxide, and carbon dioxide is still one of the major alleged culprits of global warming.

    A truly eco-friendly economy is going to require massive investments in solar, tidal, geothermal, and nuclear sources of power production, and hydrogen - not carbon - should become the storage medium for our energy needs. We also need to focus tightly on energy efficiency, with new semiconductor technologies, more efficient appliances, and properly insulated homes and buildings.

    Now, regardless of your politics, the only serious proposal above board is the proposals made by the Bush administration towards those very same ends. Its congress - Republicans and Democrats - that are holding up the show. Bitch at your congressman today.
    • by BenjyD (316700)
      Any truly renewable energy source, ethanol included, is at worst CO2 neutral. Growing crops absorb CO2, which is then emitted when you burn them as ethanol.

      The problem here is that the production process for the ethanol is apparently inefficient, so the shortfall in energy is made up using non-renewable resources: it is overall non-renewable. If you could decrease the energy requirement for producing the ethanol so it was less than the energy content of the ethanol produced, the entire thing would be self-
  • by Fujisawa Sensei (207127) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:18AM (#13093896) Journal

    I can think of much a better use of Ethanol than powering cars.

    It even saves me gas, cuz I'm not driving, and sometimes I'm not driving the next morning either.

  • Not really (Score:3, Interesting)

    by twifosp (532320) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:26AM (#13093980)
    1. Crude oil may have to be processed into gasoline for us to use it in automobiles, but oil has already had thousands if not millions of years of processing under the pressures of the Earth. With Ethanol, you're starting from raw materials, so of course it's going to take more energy to process into the equivlant of gasoline.

    2. The costs of oil are far greater than the money spent processing it. What about the economic costs of having to over build car engine technology to mitigate exhaust pollution? Catylitic converters use some fairly expensive materials. What about the economic costs of dealing with polluted air? What about the economic costs of keeping our military topped off with oil so we can go "fight terra" and "keep the homeland safe" aka, keep the homeland filled with plastics and oil? The military takes up over 30% of tax payer money, and it's sole purpose these days appears to be securing oil for western countries.

    3. What about the tactical cost of keeping all your eggs in one basket? There would be distinct tactical advantage for America's military and cival sector to have another source of energy in case the rug were pulled out from underneath oil. Major wars have been decided by cutting off oil supplies, and if there was ever another world wide conflict, you better believe that oil control will be the tactical ace up the sleeve. Without oil, our fancy war machines do nothing. Having a secondary source of energy is very important in this regard.

    So yea, the article says that ethanol costs more and requires more energy to produce. Well, that may be true in the short term. That is, unless we feel like digging a huge hole, putting a bunch of carbon based corpses and plants, and covering it up for a few millennia. If you want to speed up that process, it's going to take more energy.

    Ethanol is a good thing.

  • by vijayiyer (728590) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:35AM (#13094090)
    The Union of Concerned Scientists is a special interest group with a convincing name. I've read their study on a "cleaner" Ford Explorer. Supposedly they "designed" one which could get dramatically improved fuel economy for a negliglbe price increase. However, close inspection revealed assumptions like: Aluminum parts are the same price as steel parts 6 speed transmissions cost the same as 5 speed transmissions And then they assumed modifications like these resulted in a several MPG benefit! I've built my own vehicle simulations in MATLAB and shown that their studies are total BS. Not even in the right ballpark. Their "studies" are more marketing ploys to push their interests.
  • by jvl001 (229079) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:40AM (#13094134) Homepage
    While you can produce ethanol from many sources, current US corn-based ethanol production could not survive without heavy subsidies. With the current subsidies in place there is no incentive to improve efficiencies.

    Modern field corn production requires large amounts of fertilizer, in particular anhydrous ammonia, to produce the 150+ bushels per acre that we currently enjoy.

    Ammonia prices have steadily climbed over the past decade as the price of natural gas climbs. Ammonia is made using the Haber process to combine nitrogen from the air with hydrogen obtained from natural gas.

    I come from a long line of farmers:

    In my great-grandfather's day, corn production rates were pitiful.

    In my grandfather's day, the Haber process and corn hybridization produced bumper crops.

    In my father's day, he stopped growing corn. Combined with the US embargo of Canadian beef it just wasn't worth the effort.
  • by RexRhino (769423) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:42AM (#13094177)
    Come on man, these guys are a politically oriented action group. Most member of the group are non-scientists.

    Look at the sensational fearmongering and hatemongering titles, like:

    "Is our food safe to eat?"
    - This is an article about geneticly modified food. While Big Macs and Twinkies might not be safe because they are full of fat and sugar, there hasn't been a single documented case of anyone being harmed by eating GM food, ever. This kind of headline is pure un-scientific fearmongering. They could have headlined it "Genetically Modified Crops: What are the issues?". Or "Will GM crops disrupt the ecosystem". Instead they are using the "Frankenfood" hysteria to promote a view (that all GM crops are evil!), that clearly all scientists don't have a single point of view on.

    "U.S. Sets Back Progress on Global Warming at G8 Summit"
    - Yeah, write an article with lots of inflammitory statements like "President Bush resembled an isolated soul", but don't mention anywhere in the article WHAT ACTUAL ACTIONS OR POLICY DECISIONS HE TOOK TO "SET BACK PROGRESS ON GLOBAL WARMING". There was not one mention of any G8 policy, plan, study, or anything else in the article. The entire article basicly says "Bush is a baddie". I am not a fan a Bush, but this is not the behavior of responsible scientists. This is the behavior of a left-wing political organization... which is fine, people have the right to express thier views, but don't pretend the organization is a non-political "Scientific" one.
  • by CapsaicinBoy (208973) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:58AM (#13094410)
    Just be aware that Pimentel releases this "finding" every other summer, Looking at the dates below, he's a month ahead of schedule this year.

    http://www.news.cornell.edu/Chronicle/01/8.23.01/P imentel-ethanol.html [cornell.edu]

    http://www.news.cornell.edu/Chronicle/03/8.14.03/P imentel-ethanol.html [cornell.edu]

    http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/July05/ethanol .toocostly.ssl.html [cornell.edu]

    I can't speak to this newest report, but Pimental's work has been repeatedly critiqued, and one of the main compliants it that he uses out of date numbers for yield and conversion efficiency:

    http://www.mda.state.mn.us/ethanol/balance.html [state.mn.us]

    http://www.usda.gov/oce/oepnu/aer-814.pdf [usda.gov]

    http://journeytoforever.org/ethanol_rooster.html [journeytoforever.org]

    http://www.ncga.com/public_policy/PDF/03_28_05Argo nneNatlLabEthanolStudy.pdf [ncga.com]

    http://www.ethanol-gec.org/corn_eth.htm [ethanol-gec.org]

    All that having been said, Pimental is right that soy and corn alone cannot replace our petroleum addiction. You can read more about this in the archives at TDIclub.com.

    http://forums.tdiclub.com/showflat.php?Cat=0&Board =UBB14&Number=946804&Searchpage=1&Main=941398&Word s=%2Bethanol+%2Bmoney+DrStink&topic=&Search=true#P ost946804 [tdiclub.com]
  • by TheSync (5291) on Monday July 18, 2005 @12:01PM (#13094455) Journal
    There are significant differences between simple sugar based ethanol production and cellulosic ethanol production (based on genetically engineered cellulase enzymes). Iogen [iogen.ca] has opened up a pilot plant for such cellulosic ethanol a year ago.

    In terms of total carbon burden, converting cellulosic biomass to fuel is a benefit, because otherwise this agricultural waste material would be burned off by farmers in the fields, with the energy released going to no work and most of the carbon going into the atmosphere. By capturing the energy for doing work, it reduces total carbon emmissions. Moreover, the waste material is also a fuel used in the production of cellulosic ethanol, reducing the amount of fossil fuels required for its production.

    It is silly to grow an energy-intensive food crop to make ethanol, but it makes sense to use existing agricultural waste streams to do so.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Monday July 18, 2005 @12:12PM (#13094593)
    Brazil went whole-hog promoting ethonal and finds the latest oil price shock not impacting [nwsource.com] its economy that much. 25% mixture is regulated, though its about 40% in practice. Brazil has huge agricultural resources suitable for producing large amounts of ethonal. So even if its takes a fair amount of energy overhead to produce ethonal, they are doing it with aboundant, cheap ethonal energy.
  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Monday July 18, 2005 @12:15PM (#13094639)
    I'll tell you. Politics and ideology fuck everything in the ass until it bleeds to death. Mod me troll if you like, but that is the core of the problem. You can't trust any "scientific" result from anyone anymore. People will just buy into the "data" from the side to which they are most sympathetic.

    Maybe you can believe some of the studies that come from some of the more esoteric parts of science, like cosmology and string theory, where political ideology has a hard time getting it Hellraiser hooks in, but even those could be muddied by grant money requirements and blinkered philosophies.

  • by Grendel Drago (41496) on Monday July 18, 2005 @12:16PM (#13094650) Homepage
    See here [energysavingnow.com]. Brazil has had their "Proalcool" program for the last thirty years, and it's just coming to fruition now. They use a less energy-intensive process, with sugarcane instead of corn, and doing so, they've managed massive cuts in their oil imports. That's not really something you can fake.

    Corn may be a bad source of ethanol, and Archer Daniels Midland may be liquid evil poured into a suit, but that doesn't mean other folks can't do it right.

    See a rather good writeup of the issue [ucr.edu].

    --grendel drago
  • by Snaffler (311068) on Monday July 18, 2005 @12:50PM (#13095053)
    You know, it isn't that hard to find the real numbers behind these studies. Here are the production and cost figures for a real live plant:

    For a small 40 million gallon ethanol/year plant, the BTU inputs are 2 trillion BTUs per year for natural gas, electricity, and corn. The output in BTUs is 3 trillion BTUs. In order to push the numbers into negative territory, the ethanol critics have to generate more than 1 trillion BTUs of additional energy costs. I have not read the Berkeley study, but I bet it includes the food that the employees eat, the cost of generating the paper in the books they read, and all sorts of other absurd numbers.
    Here is the actual data for a brand-new (2005) 40 million gallon ethanol plant that uses 15 million bushels of corn per year:

    Inputs:

    Natural Gas:
    4,000 Mcf per day of gas at a cost of $3.95 per Mcf

    Natural gas: 1,028,000 BTU/MCF = 1,496,768,000,000 BTU inputs for natural gas

    Electricity:
    30,000,000 kilowatt hours per year for an estimated price of $.040 per kilowatt- hour

    High estimate: 8,962 Btu per KWH

    Low estimate: 3,416 BTU per KWH

    Taking the low estimate, 102,480,000,000 BTU

    Corn:
    339,196,122,625 BTU for fertilizer (122 bushels per acre, 15 million bushels, 124 pounds of nitrogen per acre, 22,159 BTU/lb for fertilizer)

    Total inputs:
    Input BTU: 1,998,444,122,625 Input total
    Outputs:
    40 million gallons of ethanol, 128,000 tons of distillers grains and 115,500 tons of raw carbon dioxide gas.
    LHV: Low heat value--76,000 Btu per gallon of ethanol.
    HHV: High heat value--83,961 Btu per gallon of ethanol.
    Low: 76,000 x 40,000,000 = 3,040,000,000,000 BTU
    Surplus:
    1,041,555,877,375 BTU
  • Think Algae! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Zobeid (314469) on Monday July 18, 2005 @01:05PM (#13095193)
    It hasn't been that long since we had articles about farming algae for vegetable oil, which can be made into biodiesel fuel. That sounded really promising to me.

    The whole reason for going with algae was that it has the potential to be more efficient, as compared with bio-fuels from more conventional sources. (It was stated that some species of algae are up to 50% oil, by mass. How does that compare with peanut plants? Or corn? Yeah.)

    And yet. . . algae isn't part of the wider discussion. People are still arguing about corn. Now, I realize the algae thing is all hypothetical -- looks good on paper, not yet proven practical. And yes, it takes time for new ideas to gain mindshare. But IMO we need to be pushing research into more ingenious, cutting-edge ideas like this. Many of them won't pan out, but some could, and it could make a huge difference.

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