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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?
  • 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!!!)
  • 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
  • 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").

  • It Doens't Matter (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Zane Hopkins (894230) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:22AM (#13093247) Homepage
    The issue over how efficiently we can produce ethanol is not important, it's that we start using it thats important. Even petrolium wasn't efficient to produce when we started with cars, and now look at the plants that make it.

    The sooner we start using a fuel we can grow, even if it's not efficient, the sooner our dependance on fossil fuels will end.
  • 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.
  • Re:Duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScentCone (795499) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:24AM (#13093261)
    Now, with this in mind, tell me why ethanol is needed?

    Because it's a huge, politically correct opportunity to subsidize voters in agro states, and to buy off the eco-crazies with something that sounds emotionally warm and fuzzy. It's not about fuel, it's about throwing a bone, no matter how pointless, to the sustainablites while real research into actual solutions is conducted on other fronts (say, in France, believe it or not).
  • Re:Bah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Karma_fucker_sucker (898393) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:26AM (#13093273)
    Don't forget to add that it's a convient excuse for giving farmers wellf....subsidies.
  • Re:Meaningless (Score:3, Insightful)

    by timster (32400) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:26AM (#13093287)
    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.
  • 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.
  • Re:dodge! parry! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:30AM (#13093329)
    This article brought to you by your friendly Oilcompany-sponsored government.
  • Re:Duh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by squiggleslash (241428) * on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:32AM (#13093352) Homepage Journal
    I'm not sure I'd want one of them new-fangled nearing break-even fusion reactors in my car, and I have no idea if the sodium/water/hydrogen thing is useful in practice.

    Ethanol strikes me as a reasonable way to store energy generated by other means for use in internal combustion engines. If it costs 50% more to make than the power it gives, then it appears to be around 60-70% efficient as a storage medium. It may be hydrogen is better, I don't know, there are storage issues with hydrogen, in theory.

    There are probably better solutions. But there's also no reason to keep all one's eggs in one basket, especially when the people who are most vocal in hyping a particular solution to all mankind's energy needs, the pro-nukers, seem to be a bunch of kooks for the most part, usually promoting technologies that have never been implemented, and assuming that very real issues that affect us today will be solved in twenty years if we just ramp up our use of Nuclear "solutions".

  • 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?
  • Re:Bah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wiredlogic (135348) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:36AM (#13093405)
    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 Cylix (55374) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:37AM (#13093412) Homepage Journal
    Why would on earth would we care about clean coal.

    We just upped the sulphur limit not too long ago. It doesn't work out that we will now see "extra" crap coal, but rather coal production mixes those that don't meet the requirements with those that do to produce something just marginally good enough to use. (At least good enough for most, but there are many industries that ask for premium grade coal)

  • by DFJA (680282) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:43AM (#13093473)
    In France, most cars aren't powered by petrol (gasoline) in any case, but by Diesel. In Europe as a whole, I believe it is 60% petrol 40% diesel, and is swinging slowly and surely in favour of diesel because it's just so much more efficient and cheaper overall.

    This is where biodiesel comes in. It can be produced from waste oil and here the energy balance is much more favourable than for ethanol. What's more, it can be poured straight into the tanks of most diesel-powered cars without requiring any modifications. I think this is where the motor industry is moving medium term (next 5 - 20 years).

    Of course commercial growing of oilseed rape and other oil crops is not without other problems, such as lack of biodiversity. But at least there are many different sources of oil available and production is not confined to a small handful of politically unstable countries.

  • by JediGrover (693796) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:45AM (#13093497) Homepage
    As a group that describes themselves as "Scientists for Environmental Solutions" I have to consider that they have an agenda. Because they are a group seeking to prove things to steer policy, they have an axe to grind and I therefore have a hard time believing they would be unbiased. Besides that, "scientist" and "usually unbiased" don't belong in the same discussion. A scientist should *always* be unbiased--else he is not being objective. If he is sometimes biased (that's what "usually unbiased really means") then how do you know when he/she is biased and when they are not? We biased people wind up as engineers. :) For example, I'm biased toward believing in conservation of matter & energy. This would make me cry foul on something that seemed to contradict my bias. If I were truly objective, I would look at everything on its own merits and draw my own conclusion. So, judging from the response of the scientific community every time a new idea is put forth, I have to say that there is very little objectivism and a lot of bias; therefore very few (if any) true scientists exist. Everyone has a pet theory. Besides all that & to bring this on topic. Who cares about ethanol for fuel? Everyone knows ethanol is best used to kill the slower brain cells...
  • I would guess that much of the energy used to produce ethanol does not come in the form of electricity but heat from natural gas or oil. Both of which could be used to power vehicles. Using hydro to produce heat is a wasteful proposition

    You should also note that this study takes into account the energy used to farm the corn, which other studies have not, and I doubt that hydro is a good way to power a tractor.

  • by Bananatree3 (872975) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:52AM (#13093573)
    We need a different energy source other then gasoline. Yes, I know that is the easiest answer to give, but it is definitally a true one.

    In terms of gasoline addatives, I think we should use Ethanol. I mean, Ethanol is an alcohol, which is somewhat toxic, but it isn't nearly as poisonous as MTBE. Also, the article isn't talking about toxicity, but rather about amount of fossil fuel needed to produce it. So, my bottom line for this is: Even if ethanol really doesn't save more on gasoline, it is still far better solution then polluting the ground water and soil with MTBE

  • by Stankatz (846709) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:53AM (#13093577)
    You don't seem to understand how ethanol is made. First, you plant some seeds. Then, you wait a while. Then you harvest the grain, add yeast, and wait a little while. Then you distill the ethanol from the resulting beer.

    Now, what I fail to see is how hydro-electric or nuclear power is going to help in this process. Are you suggesting that farmers use nuclear combines or that distilleries use nuclear fission as a heat source. You're probably much better off converting these other energy sources into electricity, and using that directly to power a car, or using electrolysis to produce H2.
  • by keraneuology (760918) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:59AM (#13093638) Journal
    I believe the most significant positive impact to our environment in the short term would be to increase subsidies to public transportation and to focus on that infrastructure while we get technology to catch up with energy demand.
    (Emphasis added, by me, for my own designs.)

    Absolutely not. Subsidizing is not the way to go. If you want to improve the environment then eliminate subsidies:

    • By eliminating the subsidies used to build freeway systems that allow urban sprawl people will be enouraged to live closer to their places of work and play. PLEASE NOTE While I am opposed to sprawl I am not anti-sprawl. Developers should be allowed to build on their land more or less as they see fit. I am opposed to the spending of public funds to make said private land more valuable. If the developers want to get together and build a 5 line highway out to Clear Hidden Creek Golf Ridge Mystic Forest Hills Estates then so be it. So don't even go there.
    • Start charging fair market value for oil/gas lease and exploration rights on public lands.
    • Guarantee tax exemption for any and all new forms of energy or energy generation for the five years immediately following patent approval.
    Personally I am an advocate of nuclear power. Pebble bed reactors are clean, safe and can take advantage of economies of scale. Somebody (GE, probably) has developed a "disposable" reactor that is comparitively maintenance free, designed as a free-standing generator that can be placed in a village. At the end of its 20-25 year lifespan it is trucked away, waste and all (which is not removed from the structure while on-site) and a new one dropped in its place.
  • Re:Duh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Retric (704075) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:00AM (#13093642)
    If you really want to support farmers why not just have the gov buy farms. I mean we already export a tun of food and we/the gov is pumping a lot of money into making cheep food that just gets exported so why not just buy excess farmland. Thus decreasing the supply of food and thus increasing it's value while setting aside this farm land so that it's topsoil will remain for future generations seems like a net win for everyone. If we start with say 100million a year on the most subsidized farms then we can stop subsidizing those farms thus saving money letting us buy more farms the next year... Until we reach a balance point where we don't need to subsidies the remaining farms.

    Now some might say producing an over abundance of food each year is a good idea for safety reasons, but rather than turn the existing abundance into fuel we can store some of that food for a few years and build up a reserve. With 2 years of reserved food we should be able to adapt to any sudden changes in the food supply.
  • by nogginthenog (582552) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:04AM (#13093691)
    It's just a sweet fizzy drink. Nothing special.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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?
  • Re:Duh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman @ g m a i l . c om> on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:17AM (#13093872) Homepage Journal
    If I calculated corectly, the world would need about 3300 nuclear powerplants to replace oil energy with nuclear energy. I'm not claiming this is impossible, but it would be by far the largest building effort humanity has ever attempted. Nuke plants take from 5-15 to build and cost .5 -3 billion USD. Please recall that the world economy is only produces 45 trillion/year. Additionally, we don't have unlimited supplies of uranium either. I'm not saying that we cant switch to nuclear. Just that it is not an easy fix or a magic bullet. It's not very feasible.

    What you say rings true, but you're missing a few key details that make nuclear power plants workable:

    1. Different parts of the world already rely heavily on nuclear power. France, for example, runs 75% off of nuclear power. These stations do not need to be replaced, so you can knock about 17% [icjt.org] off your figures.

    2. Dams and wind powered plants do not need to be replaced, so you can knock a few more percent off your figures.

    3. Old power plants need to be rebuilt or replaced after their useful lifetimes, anyway. If the decision was made to make all new power plants nuclear fired, then new nuclear plants could be created with little to no negative effects on the world economy.

    4. Modern nuclear techniques can provide us with nuclear fuels for much longer than the original 100 year estimate. In a breeder reactor, the reactor actually produces MORE energy dense material (via plutonium creation) than it uses up.
  • by 2centplain (838236) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:33AM (#13094053)
    Crops that can be used to produce ethanol are highly likely to use fertilizer in their production.
    Fertilizer is likely to be used in the production of these crops.
    From: http://utfb.fb.org/Index/nitrogen.htm/ [fb.org]
    Natural gas is a primary feed stock in the production of anhydrous ammonia (82% nitrogen). Anhydrous ammonia (NH3) in turn can be applied directly to the soil or utilized as a feed stock for other nitrogen fertilizers such as urea (45% nitrogen) and ammonium nitrate (34% nitrogen). It takes an average of 33.5 MMBtus of natural gas to produce one ton of NH3. Consequently, the cost of producing NH3 has jumped from approximately $70 a ton a year ago to $295 a ton in December, 2000.

    So, isn't the price of ethanol highly related to the price of oil and gas? It's not clear to me that the cited study took this into account. (I didn't read it...)

  • 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 jfmiller (119037) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:40AM (#13094148) Homepage Journal
    Here in the Golden State we have to buy special California formula gas that claimed to run cleaner then the rest of the nations. (It may even work if you ignore the 3-5 MPG loss in fuel efficiency) The relevance here is that Ethanol is one of the big ingredients in this gas.

    A few years ago, One of the major gas producers found that it could make a much cleaner burning fuel using only petroleum based chemicals. It would cost less and save the air. Unfortunately the Feds stepped in an demanded that ethanol continued to be used instead.

    Just follow the pork folks.

    JFMILLER
  • by GeckoX (259575) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:42AM (#13094169)
    Yeah, and the trend towards bigger serving sizes and the general increased consumption of pop has nothing to do with it.

    When I was a kid, pop was a rare treat. I still to this day rarely drink the crap. And I'm quite healthy.

    The people I know around my age that either have been drinking pop very regularly since they were kids, or whom now drink a few pops a day are almost invariably obese.

    Even worse though are the number of kids you see today that are a) obese and b) have a can of pop permanently attached to them.

    It only takes common sense to see the obvious correlation. Large amounts of liquid sugar are not good for us. It does not matter one little bit where the sugar is derived from.

    Heck, beer is down right healthy for you compared to pop.
  • 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.
  • Last I checked... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tmack (593755) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:49AM (#13094274) Homepage Journal
    Alcohol has a much LOWER boiling point than water, hence the cold feeling when you pour it on your hands.

    Specifically, ethanol boils at 78.3C [www.ucc.ie]

    What you might be refering to is the industrial production of ethanol rather than fermentation. As from the above website, industrial production uses Ethene and steam, which requires higher temperatures than simple distillation. Also note that distillation of ethanol only gets 95% pure, as that mixture of water+ethanol has a lower boiling point than either component seperately.

  • Re:Duh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mfrank (649656) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:52AM (#13094312)
    Wow, what horrible timing. The planet's 4 billion years old and all the uranium is going to decay in the next 150 years.

    Half life for U-235 is 700 million years.

    Half life for U-238 is 4.5 billion years.
  • by ArthurDent (11309) <meaninglessvanity@@@gmail...com> on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:56AM (#13094378) Homepage Journal
    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!
  • 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 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.

  • Re:dodge! parry! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by indifferent children (842621) on Monday July 18, 2005 @12:36PM (#13094884)
    Nature does all the work putting energy into oil

    Nature does all of the work putting energy into corn too; it's called the Sun. Corn oil is an energy-rich compound, and all of that energy was solar. The 'P' for Physics argument is absolutely retarded.

  • Re:dodge! parry! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by N3WBI3 (595976) on Monday July 18, 2005 @12:37PM (#13094898) Homepage
    Everything in the universe is energy negative

    I was kinda pointing at that

    we only change forms of energy to produce the work that we want.

    And in the process you will lose energy to another underired form (such as heat), my point was that with oil nature has done most of the work, with Ethanol thats not as true. Now if the study is flawed do you ahve anything other than the authors name to show it is so?

    What matters is if you're making something that allows you to get work done.

    But we are using oil and natural gas to produce something that does the work of oil and natural gas! and doing it at a net negative.

    But, this is all a tangent: only in Pimental's little world of outdated farming energy consumption data and ethanol production efficiencies is ethanol "net negative".

    that may be, I dont know the man and I do want ethanol to work (especially when generated from 'green' energy. But my point was stop atacking the messenger and go right after the message it gives more credability..

  • Mixed feelings... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by otis wildflower (4889) on Monday July 18, 2005 @12:38PM (#13094911) Homepage
    ... On the one hand, you have the most blatant forms of corporate welfare, on the other you have a process that has recently become (or been found to be) net energy positive [state.mn.us] even with grain-based sourcing.

    Biodiesel is still a far better choice, as its energy balance is undeniably and strongly net positive. Also, TDP [wikipedia.org] should be included in any energy subsidy planning, since it combines effective waste management with fuel and energy creation with displaced CO2 (the process generates CO2, but that CO2 would have been created anyway or, worse, methane would have been created).

    I'm still a fan of hydrogen, though, even if you have to build out local natural gas reformers piggybacked on the gas infrastructure as a stopgap to get you to a hydrogen pipeline system with nuclear-electrolyzed hydrogen (with anti-NIMBY legislation, the transition would take no more than 20 years). And yes, I'd have a reformer in my garage if I could, and frankly you wouldn't even need fuel cells to start: go with LNG-style conversions first.
  • 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 happens will the utility company be able to afford all the materials like concrete mix, rebar and the various nuclear-grade alloys? Will the construction workers be able to afford driving to work or will the contractors have to build on-site workers' barracks and mess halls just so the crews can even show up every day? It is easy to imagine scenarios where the upfront cost of a plant would be as much or more than the possioble revenue generated by it.

  • by PengoNet (40368) on Monday July 18, 2005 @12:59PM (#13095151) Homepage
    The mining, milling, and enrichment of uranium all produce significant greenhouse gases. In fact every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle [wikipedia.org] produces green house gases. Let's not even consider CO2 produced in the building and decomissioning of the plant and facilities. Well we can't. No significant nuclear power plant has ever been attempted to be decomissioned.

    Further problems with nuclear include the unsolved problem of waste disposal, the high cost of producing nuclear power (it's actually much more expensive than many renewables), nuclear weapons proliferation, and of course apart from the Three Mile Island meltdown (26 years ago) and the criticality accident at the uranium reprocessing facility in Tokai-mura (just 6 years ago), there have been plenty of other nuclear accidents [wikipedia.org].

    Did I see say nuclear wasn't renewable? that's right. High grade uranium will run out in 20 to 50 years (pick your estimate). Leaving us with low grade stuff, which is even more CO2 intensive to mine, mill and enrich, and will also eventually run out (150 years perhaps).

  • by GeckoX (259575) on Monday July 18, 2005 @01:04PM (#13095185)
    Hmm, interesting.

    Modded overrated for stating facts.

    I think I can guess the physiology and preferred drink of at least one mod around here.

    I know this is /., and this will be modded into oblivion for daring to speak up, but sheesh.

    Moderation is not provided to push your personal agenda or attempting to censor information you do not agree with.

    Please note that I did not say that anyone in particular is fat, or drinks too much pop. In other words I am accusing no one of anything. So if I hurt your feelings, there is probably a reason for that which has absolutely nothing to do with me.

    It's sad really that not only do some people not like the truth, that they would also like to try to stop others from hearing the truth.

    And I'm sorry, but these are indesputable facts. (Notice how there are no contradictory replies? Only lame moderation? That says a lot)

    So again, I'm sorry if it offends you but these things are true: Pop is bad for you. Pop can make you fat. If you weigh 300lbs and go through a case of pop a week, you may wish to take this information and do something with it. Or not. Whatever.

    I really feel for the obese kids though. It is not their fault. So even if you won't address the problem yourself, PLEASE don't condone it in your children. Kids will grow up plenty happy if all they ever drink is milk juice and water.

  • 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.
  • Re:Duh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cheesybagel (670288) on Monday July 18, 2005 @01:25PM (#13095410)
    Heck, I have heard reports that it takes *more* energy to locate, extract, transport, refine one barrel of petroleum than you get out of it from some oil fields. Guess why they still do it? Because gasoline and diesel are more valuable than the coal used in the refineries or the waste used in the oil tankers.

    It is the same reason we use electric washing machine engines instead of using an internal combustion engine powered washing machine (which could reuse the excess heat to heat the water).

    Convenience. People want convenience and 24h availability. That costs extra.

  • Re:dodge! parry! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by N3WBI3 (595976) on Monday July 18, 2005 @01:28PM (#13095444) Homepage
    Yes. Every study not conducted by him that I have ever located. Need links? I can also link you to critiques of his previous work if you would like, and to how he ignored the critiques and used the exact same numbers again.

    Yes I would really appreciate the links, thanks.. Thank you also for making points (which had I RTFA I might have already knows) which I can agree really blow holes in his work without turing to flame.

    Over half of our country's electricity comes from coal

    Not exactly a clean source of energy.

    When the guy repeatedly uses 1979 ethanol plant efficiencies (we're twice as efficient nowadays), pretends that all of our corn is irrigated (only 16% is), uses worldwide energy costs for fertilizer production instead of US costs (a 2.5fold difference), and other gross distortions, then repeats them after being corrected, there's good reason to call him "dishonest".

    That may be but you got me with the first paragraph attacking his methodology not the previous comment with flippent attacks on someone I have never heard of..

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 18, 2005 @01:34PM (#13095541)
    Trucked away to *where*, excatly? You are aware that there is no permanent storage facility in the US for nuclear waste, and that no one really wants to be anywhere near the stuff, aren't you?

    Yes, I'm aware that Plutonium waste can be used in so-called fast-reactors, but if that's such a great way to make electricity, why do we have so much of the junk lying around?
  • by SupraTT GOP (825665) on Monday July 18, 2005 @01:44PM (#13095668)
    Meanwhile in other news, Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Health and Human Services (and yes even the President of the United States himself!) along with Mrs. Coke CEO and Mr. Dr. Pepper CEO alllllll went home last night and consumed a tasty HFCS SOFT DRINK!!! Because that's what is in front of them too.

    Crazy Fools are soo evil, they even do it to themselves.

    AND don't let us overlook The evil softdrink CEOs. They are just doing what they were taught to do, cut costs, drive efficiencies, increase productivity, etc.... bottom line improve profitability. And then when they go home, they eat what was put in front of them too! I guess everyone is just doing what they were taught to do, huh? Why is anyone more responsible for being the way they were taught than someone else?

    All silliness aside, this is just the byproduct of human nature in a free capitalist society. It's not someone's FAULT. To suggest that it is someone's fault would require that that someone is 1) authoratative and 2) should know better (unlike the rest of us who were taught what we know.) Perhaps you should be blaming God here?? (God being the only one who could meet requisites 1 and 2 above)

    These may be the costs of freedom, economic and otherwise. Of course, we can address these costs in ways, seeking remedy, but we shouldn't forget or lose sight of the fact that the benefits of these systems far outweigh the downsides and the costs.
  • by ScentCone (795499) on Monday July 18, 2005 @02:04PM (#13095876)
    Who CARES what the produciton energy required is really, it's the result of the end product's USE that matters!

    The point of the study is that they're using a gallon of regular petrolium fuel to produce, effectively, less than a gallon of ethanol.

    I wonder, what would be cheaper/easier to produce: Growing corn or potatoes for alcohol production for Ethanol, or drilling thru MILES of rock to get to oil in crude form?

    Hard to say - depends on where you're drilling, and on where you're farming. To grow plants, you need fresh water, abundant fertalizer, heavy equipment, rich soil, easy road and freight access, and perfect timing (or the crop is ruined, or the produce spoils on the way to processing, etc).

    Drilling a well can involve an acre or two of land. Producing the same hydrocarbon type fuel through growing plants can involve thousands of acres.

    These comparisons aren't as obvious as they might seem.
  • Re:dodge! parry! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Smidge204 (605297) on Monday July 18, 2005 @02:55PM (#13096484) Journal
    Don't forget energy required to plant, fertilize, irrigate, harvest and process the corn. (This includes preparing the fields and cleaning up between crops.) Then tack on energy required to handle, store, distribute and dispense the resultant fuel.

    See, everyone seems to forget those parts.

    With petroleum oil, you are working from an existing reserve. Part of the energy goes back into extracting the energy, but because there are much fewer steps and the density of the source energy is so high ("high quality" source) you come out ahead.

    Sunlight will get you no more than about 150 watts per square foot, which is almost nothing. (And that's before you did anything to capture it!) So unless you can harvest that energy in a method that takes less than that to produce a usable fuel, you will have to put energy into the system from somewhere else... like petroleum.

    I still say making biodiesel from algae is the best prospect...
    =Smidge=
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 18, 2005 @03:33PM (#13096937)
    If the idea is to displace oil/natural gas, then the efficiency of the process is very important.

    This is because modern agriculture is a process where land is used to turn petrochemicals into food.

    For every 1 calorie of food 10 calories of fossil fuels were expended.

    If it takes 100 barrels of oil to produce 90 barrels of oil equivalent ethanol fuel, then expanding ethanol production will make us more, not less dependent on fossil fuels!

    Fossil fuels are required in every step of the process, from operating the machinery, to running pumps, to shipping the final product, to create the chemical fertilizers, as well as a vast array of pesticides, herbicides and insecticides.
  • by stanmann (602645) on Monday July 18, 2005 @03:39PM (#13097009) Journal
    Wow, you drank the Anti-GM coolaid.

    The real reason Africans don't want GM Aid is because European Greens lied to them about what it will do to their goats. Yes, it sucks paying seed rent to Monsanto, but its still cheaper than locusts eating your crop 1 out of 3 years or so.

    And the reason they don't take the Aid shipments of foodstuffs has to do with Dictators prefering to dominate starving people.
  • by RickRussellTX (755670) on Monday July 18, 2005 @04:08PM (#13097356)

    No matter HOW inefficient producing ethanol is...


    You're missing the point. Ethanol costs MORE fossil fuel to produce than it replaces. Ethanol production increases our dependence on oil products; it does not reduce it. Those harvesters and tractors are running on gasoline, not self-produced ethanol.
  • Ahem, Pepsi won the Pepsi Challenge because it was the Pepsi Challenge. If it had been the Gatorade Challenge Gatorade would have won. If it had been the Olde Bearwizz Lager Challenge then Olde Bearwizz Lager would have won. Otherwise we never hear about these marketing studies.
  • by exegene (896789) <`exegene' `at' `devo.com'> on Monday July 18, 2005 @06:53PM (#13098775) Homepage
    Yes, fission power is a better proposition than oil in many respects, but don't think it's perfect. While those constructing and operating nuclear power plants and disposing of the waste are for-profit organisations, while those with political power are not nuclear engineers, while lobbyists are able to buy legislation, there will be problems. Expect leaky containers of waste, expect three mile island, Chernobyl, and Sellafield.
  • by Woody77 (118089) on Monday July 18, 2005 @07:20PM (#13099069)
    When an engine is properly designed to advance timing and boost pressure when running high octane fuel (like the 110 octane of E85), then you can get some surprising gains:

    http://www.popsci.com/popsci/automotive/article/0, 20967,1069364,00.html [popsci.com]

    This saab 2.0L engine gains about 20-25% more power when running E85 than straight unleaded. With no loss of milage.

    Ethanol is also a rather potent fuel-systems cleaner. In a car with a lot of straight gasoline mileage, this can be a problem as the varnish deposits from the fuel will start to break loose when the ethanol starts to dissolve them, and they can clog up fuel filters and injectors. After a few thousand miles of running ethanol blend, or after running an even stronger fuel deposit solvent through the engine, that problem is solved.

    I found out the above in college when I moved, and had to start using 10% blend. Mileage tanked for 2-3 months, and then bounced back to where it was before.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 19, 2005 @03:15AM (#13101510)
    They may not be an established body of science, but what organization is? None. I sure hope you aren't expecting to tell me something like General Motors.

    Even if there wasn't one scientist in the whole organization, they are inherently more believable than the auto manufacturers. Why? Motive. What does the UCS stand to gain if the public accepts some of their ideas, and conversely, what do they have to lose if the public doesn't? On the other hand, auto makers are for-profit entities. They have an interest in doing whatever they can to reduce costs and maximize profits. That's what corporations do. So we are left with an organization of concerned individuals and scientists versus corporations, and you want me to doubt the former? Ha.
  • by dbIII (701233) on Tuesday July 19, 2005 @03:29AM (#13101553)
    If the US was a nuclear based country
    The US is a nuclear based country thanks to the taxes you pay to keep the reactors going despite the fact that they cannot compete commercially, and despite the fact that when they first couldn't compete commercially there were no convenient greenies to blame for that. It's probably a good thing, because the last thing you would want is nuclear power to move to crisis maintainance (fix it after it blows up) like other portions of the US energy industry that convenienly provide lots of examples to the rest of the world of what happens to power plant compenents when you push them too far.
    If the US and its politics weren't so oil hungry and to boot -- money hungry, they would be investing in the fusion experiement
    It's simpler than that - research into things other than confirming foregone conclusions is no longer fashionable in the USA - the same sort of thing that crippled science in the USSR is slowly coming into play in the USA.

A penny saved is a penny to squander. -- Ambrose Bierce

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