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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 Djinh (92332) on Monday July 18, 2005 @09:21AM (#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]

  • Meaningless (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kukester (31030) on Monday July 18, 2005 @09:21AM (#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.
  • by sykjoke (899173) on Monday July 18, 2005 @09:22AM (#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)
  • by IainMH (176964) on Monday July 18, 2005 @09:23AM (#13093259)
    TFA doesn't tell us who paid for the research.
  • ...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...
  • Re:Duh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dsginter (104154) on Monday July 18, 2005 @09:30AM (#13093328)
    AND we have what could be an easy way to generate hydrogen from water using sodium. Now, with this in mind, tell me why ethanol is needed?

    Because hydrogen isn't a practical energy carrier. Even at tremendous pressures (like 500 atmospheres) it doesn't even come close to the gravimetric or volumetric energy density of gasoline.

    Ethanol has about 2/3rds the volumetric energy density of gasoline. This is worth while over hydrogen, even if the stuff takes more energy to make than it yields. Just think of the energy required to compress hydrogen to 10kpsi. One might joke about running an automobile on this pressure alone.

    The bottom line is that energy input versus output will be moot once everyone realizes that we'll need nuclear to be sustainable. We just need a good, dense energy carrier.

    FWIW, hydrides have become the hydrogen carrier of choice in nickel metal hydride batteries because you don't need tremendously high pressures to get good volumetric density. But to put it in perspective, they're still only carrying about 2 percent hydrogen by weight. Some day, a nanotech breakthrough may make it possible to increase that by an order of magnatude. When this happens, we'll have electric cars that you'll take in after a few thousand miles to get the battery changed.
  • Sodium (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SparksMcGee (812424) on Monday July 18, 2005 @09:32AM (#13093346)
    Using sodium? Well I'm glad that you were able to watch at least one demonstration in chemistry. Sodium is an extraordinarily reactive metal that is *never* found in its natural state and, furthermore, is difficult to process by virtue of its high electropositivity (as with all akali/alkaline earth metals). The way to extract hydrogen from water is through electrolysis [wikipedia.org]
    and furthermore the extraction takes energy to perform. Hydrogen is a potential energy carrying medium, not a net source of energy. And high hydrogen density requires storing it in some sort of organic compound (like methanol) because metals tend to become brittle when large amounts of hydrogen pass through them (hence limiting its compressibility). Please don't allege the possibility of easy through sodium or some other equally absurd magic bullet lest we be unable to persuade people of the actual merits of its use.
  • Ethanol vs. methanol (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ceeam (39911) on Monday July 18, 2005 @09:34AM (#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?
  • This is not news... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 18, 2005 @09:36AM (#13093408)
    It's been known for a long time that ethanol is nothing but a pipe dream. Without the obscene subsidies, it would've died out a long time ago.

    Here's an idea - if the company that manufactures it really believes it's a viable product, let them pay for the research. Why should my tax dollars be wasted on this useless product?

    But, hey, don't take my word for it. Look here : http://www.taxpayer.net/energy/ethanol.htm [taxpayer.net]

  • by mmell (832646) <mike.mell@gmail.com> on Monday July 18, 2005 @09:46AM (#13093502)
    You see, "fossil" fuels (as we all know by now) represent energy in the "slow" carbon cycle -- that carbon was gonna take millions of years to run back through the cycle. Since we take that energy out faster than it's replenished, it has to be exhausted some day.

    "Biomass" fuels represent energy from the "fast" carbon cycle -- that carbon was going to be back in circulation in a century or less. Granted, the efficiency of distributing and releasing that energy seems moderately lower, but the rate at which that energy is produced can be made to meet or exceed our energy demands.

    Bottom line: any energy source which is consumed faster than it can be produced is doomed to ultimate failure due to exhaustion of available resources. Energy sources which can be replenished at a greater rate than they are used will ultimately prove to be the only viable long-term solution regardless of the perceived lower efficiency (fossil fuels are in fact horribly inefficient; only the fact that they represent literally millenia of energy production available for relatively easy use preserves the illusion that they are more efficient somehow than the renewable energy resources available in the fast carbon cycle).

  • Re:Duh (Score:2, Interesting)

    by greg_barton (5551) * <[moc.oohay] [ta] [notrab_gerg]> on Monday July 18, 2005 @09:46AM (#13093504) Homepage Journal
    One might joke about running an automobile on this pressure alone.

    One might, but it's not a joke [theaircar.com]...
  • Simple Answer (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wren337 (182018) on Monday July 18, 2005 @09:52AM (#13093569) Homepage

    Require them to use only Ethanol in the production of Ethanol. Either they'll prove a net positive, or come to a grinding halt.

  • by krgallagher (743575) on Monday July 18, 2005 @09:55AM (#13093590) Homepage
    "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.

  • I'm confused (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:12AM (#13093790)
    I should probably just RTFA to see what it's all about, but I produce and use Ethanol on a micro level (at home, for myself) and don't see what the fuss is about. I use leftover or intentionally grown crops (barley and corn), ferment them, and then distill them. The distillation process uses ethanol that it produces. (I use a rather simple moonshine still to distill the ethanol.) Even after these runs, I have enough ethanol left to use in my gas tank. Admittedly I mix it with gasoline because I haven't modified the injectors etc. to accept pure ethanol, but hey, that's not that bad.

    I also use bio-diesel in my tractor and truck, but the ingredients are leftover, used frying oil that I get from a few local restaurants.

    I'm not entirely grid-independant yet, but a large portion (I suspect 50 to 60%) of my electrical needs are from wind turbines, but none of this power is used for the ethanol distillation process. (It only uses ethanol.)

    So... I don't see how ethanol could require MORE energy than it produces, although I can understand that possibly, using electrical energy in a large plant, may still require more energy than produced simply because of the way the plant is setup. That is an issue with the specific plant, however, and not that ethanol in and of itself require more energy to produce than it consumes. To say otherwise is utter BS, as I can testify otherwise.

    And, BTW, my energy bills are VERY cheap, and I'm quite happy having an abundance of energy without an ill feeling about the environment. I don't give a crap about energy conservation, as in my eyes energy usage is what propels our civilization, but at the same time I can laugh in the faces of anyone that says alternative energy sources are not gonna happen. A visit to my farm will prove otherwise. (My servers run off clean energy, so I suppose that buys me extra geek points too. ;-)
  • by Golias (176380) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:12AM (#13093800)
    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 it the better-tasting soda to drink in full-serving quantities.

    (This is also why the "Coke with Lemon" experiment last year was such a dismal failure. Adding lemon flavor to a soda which already has lemon flavor in it results in something which tastes pretty much like furniture polish. The newer "Coke with Lime" tastes about half-way between the flavors of Coke and Pepsi, and some people seem to like it.)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:23AM (#13093954)
    Even if the whole thing would be highly inefficient, remember, we are using solar energy and converting it into chemical form (ethanol).

    We don't use corn in Brazil, we use sugar cane, which itself is used to move ethanol refineries (burning the waste of already pressed cane).

    Potential problems aside (like the soil getting worn out), have in mind solar energy is totally free and is there for us to reap, most of the time (at least in Brazil).

    Compare this with oil, which is also free, but is running out.

    We can learn to get solar energy more efficiently and more cheaply (sorry if this is gramatically wrong), but once the oil is gone, well, it really is gone. :-/

    Now, with all that said, we really should change our attitude towards energy. SUVs are out for good; we really should have individual or two-people cars. Streets should be better shared on a time-based scheduling. Electronic communication and home-based work should be encouraged. Cities should be limited in size and people in big ones should be given tax exemptions if moving to smaller ones.

    There's no secret: organisms grow up until size becomes a problem.
  • Not really (Score:3, Interesting)

    by twifosp (532320) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:26AM (#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 Fahrvergnuugen (700293) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:33AM (#13094057) Homepage

    I also am a member of the TDIClub so I too am biased.

    But here's some food for thought:

    My TDI motor gets an average of 45 MPG while making around 130 hp and 250 ft/lbs of torque. A comparable gasoline engine will get 25 to 30 mpg. This means the TDI gets 50% better economy.

    It's important to mention that this isn't because gasoline engines are inefficient - it's because diesel (and bio diesel) fuel contains more energy per volume than gasoline does.

    So in a real world context, this article doesn't make any sense. Even IF ethanol requires 29% more energy than it yields, we're not burning STRAIGHT ethanol. It's just an ingredient in a recipe for a very good fossil fuel alternative.

  • by srleffler (721400) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:33AM (#13094066)
    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.

  • Re:Duh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Illserve (56215) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:36AM (#13094095)
    It's not just throwing a bone.

    It's better to have our tax dollars spent to pay farmers to grow corn in Idaho, than paid to rich sultans in the Middle East!

    The US receives X amount of sunlight per year. With Ethanol, we are spending our money to convert that sunlight into fuel, using corn as solar collectors.
  • by jvl001 (229079) on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:40AM (#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.
  • Dublin Dr.Pepper (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 18, 2005 @10:43AM (#13094183)
    If you're fortunate enough to live in north central Texas, you can buy Dublin Dr. Pepper which is a superior soda pop to any cola, period. In fact this stuff is so good tasting, that the AbTex Beverage Corp's (huge soda pop bottling company in Texas) plant in Plano, TX has also started making limited production runs of specialty Dr. Pepper using Imperial Cane Sugar too. Their formula doesn't taste exactly as good as the Dublin, TX plant's stuff, but it's much better than the plain corn-syrup-sweetened mass-produced Dr. Pepper sold everywhere else.
  • Re:Duh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sillybilly (668960) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:06AM (#13094509)
    Nobody, even the article, isn't saying where the bulk of this energy is consumed? Is it the tractor, combine, or insecticide spraying airplane that eats so much gas? Transporting the corn/potato/whatever you wanna digest to the nearby plant? I bet you a lot that isn't it.

    I'm guessing the massive portion of the energy (over 90%) is used by the distillation process. It takes tremendous amount of heat to vaporize water and alcohols, for what, to simply precipitate them back down. As a sidenote, in the chemical industry 50% of all energy use is for separation processes, most important being the super energy-hungry distillation. Most fermentation ways to produce alcohol stop at something like 10% concentration, because the bacteria die in too much alcohol - in a sense they pollute themselves to death. Membrane separations, like your body's cells use, could be more energy efficient, if they had membrane technology selective for concentrating up alcohol. The pure water that you buy in stores as artesian mountain-spring water, it's about 1% mountain water blended with locally produced "distilled water." (The 1% is there so they can still claim it's mountain spring water.) The locally produced "distilled water" isn't produced by distillation, that would be humongously expensive, but instead it's produced by reverse osmosis membrane separation, giving you about the same purity at the fraction of the cost. Trouble with alcohol is, that, while it's very easy to find efficient membranes that separate out pure water, it's quite hard to come up with something that keeps the water + rotten/fermented corn gunk on one side, and exudes only pure alcohol on the other, by osmotic pressure.
  • by stuffisgood (666330) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:06AM (#13094511)
    Coming from small town in Australia where sugar is the primary industry, I can say that burning off before harvesting is much less commonplace these days.

    Most farms in my area now harvest green. I believe they do this for two reasons.
    1. Slightly higher yield
    2. Free compost for the next years crop
    In any case the industry is much cleaner than it was even 10 years ago.
  • by MushMouth (5650) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:06AM (#13094514) Homepage
    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 replacement of a fairly high percentage (25% or more) of the oil in gasoline. Not only that, but auto manufactures get a credit for engines that can burn ethanol in the CAFE standards, eg a car that can burn ethanol is credited for something to the degree of 25% or higher MPG rating when it comes to CAFE quotas.
  • by Taxman415a (863020) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:08AM (#13094543) Homepage Journal
    Yes, Pimental's work has been nearly totally discredited. Here's [ncga.com] a point by point rebuttal of his paper. The rebuttal also explains that pimental assesses the full costs of the production of biofuels to the fuel and ignores the fact that there are valuable byproducts such as corn oil and *food*. He comes up with the same horrible analysis for biodiesel, which is even more off base. Even the ethanol industry doesn't claim more than a 1.29 energy balance which means the bioethanol contains 29% more energy than the energy that was used in the processing of it. Biodiesel, even with soybeans, which are not a very efficient crop to use just for the oil, has a 3.29 energy balance. Again Pimental assigns all of the costs to the soy oil and thus the biodiesel, which is ludicrous. The co author, Tad Patzek is also the Director of the University of California Oil Consortium which this year is funded by Chevron and Phillips Petroleum. Pretty fishy for sure. I really don't understand why people still quote Pimental, but the press doesn't seem to understand he is FOS.
  • by benjamindees (441808) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:11AM (#13094587) Homepage
    There will always be an energy cost (loss) involved in transforming energy from a lower state to a higher state.

    Probably. But these studies don't typically take the energy input of the sun into account. We're not trying to conserve matter, here, just human effort and capital.
  • by cens0r (655208) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:12AM (#13094599) Homepage
    hey're also wrong. There is really very little difference between cane sugar & high fructose corn syrup. From The Straight Dope:

    I believe they are right, but for the wrong reasons. It doesn't have anything to do with the way HFCS is absorbed.

    Such a small difference isn't going to cause an obesity epidemic, unless you're consuming gallons of soda each day.

    Bingo! You see HFCS is cheap. Far cheaper than sugar. Therefore, it was all of a sudden possible to have many more items that are filled with sugar. Now people eat tons of snacky cakes and drink gallons of soda. that's why they are obese.
  • by Herbmaster (1486) on Monday July 18, 2005 @11:48AM (#13095039)
    Truer than you realize. Supposedly the "Pepsi challenge" always offered tasters Coke first, then Pepsi. Statistically, people are more likely to say they prefer whatever they tried more recently in this type of comparison.
    If anybody has a link to back this up, it would be appreciated. I'm probably talking out of my ass again.
  • Correlation is not causation. This study doesn't conclude that "Diet soda causes people to gain weight," like you say, rather that people who drink diet soda gain weight. Big surprise! Who drinks diet pop? Fatties! If you're already overweight, the chances that you're in the middle of gaining more weight is higher than someone who is fit and not gaining weight. Saying that diet soda causes people to gain weight is like saying that going to enrolling in Weight Watchers causes you to gain weight, because there is a correlation between people who enroll in WW and at some point gain some more weight.

    People who want to cut the 150-200 calories for a can of pop out of their diets. Because of all the whacky psychological stuff going on too, a lot of overweight folks tend to think they since they drank a diet soda (instead of a regular) that they can make up for it in some other area- have an extra scoop of ice cream, or something along those lines. You see a lot of that with diet food- they think they're eating "healthy" buy buying the "diet" or "lo-carb" cookies, but then eat 8 cookies instead of 3 regular ones, netting a total of more calories.
  • by __int64 (811345) on Monday July 18, 2005 @12:13PM (#13095270)

    They're also wrong. There is really very little difference between cane sugar & high fructose corn syrup... Such a small difference isn't going to cause an obesity epidemic, unless you're consuming gallons of soda each day.

    You're right, the type of sweetening agent used isn't going to cause an obesity epidemic alone, there must be other factors - namely increased mass consumption. The key culprit is not just the mainstream inclusion of HFCS into our diet, but the general industry-wide switch to processed foods. All foods commonly consumed and purchased now contain mostly processed ingredients and/or artificial agents. Even so called health foods now contain HFCS and other artificial agents, unless one purchases true organic at a much greater cost. Which most don't know exist, and most don't understand the health benefits of eating, and Why?

    It's overall consumer stupification which has caused the obesity epidemic. Just like rats, we eat what is presented to us, by our corporate overloads; by TV. We eat what we like -Apple Jacks. We eat unquestioningly what is dumped into our dishes, regardless to any trickery or foul play on the other end. So you are correct, it is not just HFCS which is killing us, it's those who control us. Our government and the corporations which run it are systematically converting our food sources against us, not for genocide purposes, but for mass-profit. Like all industries there is a great deal of money to be earned by cutting corners and shaving costs; switching to processed food (HFCS) saves arguably billions per year industry-wide. Likewise, and quite obviously there is also a great deal of money to be earned through increasing consumption; through advertising.

    And this is the key, the answer to our obesity epidemic. It is not directly the fault of the consumer, it's not directly the fat persons fault they are fat, it's our negligent masters. Although in the end it was the obese person's own hand who has feed his face, it's not his fault. After all he has only been doing what decades of training have taught him, blindly consume; don't think: "Eat more, buy more, it's free, so do it, only 35 cents more! Now." And who wouldn't after being programmed for decades to do so by TV?

    Genetics do play a small part in the epidemic, some are wired to crave food more, just as some are wired to be sex-fiends or easily prone to rage, but how can one be to blame for the way he was born? And when put into a system whose only message is "more!" How can one be blamed for not abstaining from his own bodily urges? Although it is true, and ultimately he alone will be held accountable, to alone only blame the man and not the misguided machine which controls him, especially with an epidemic as this scale is impossible. The machine is equality guilty, if not more.

    To simply blame a single agent such as HFCS or a person's own gluttony for a massive nationwide epidemic is largely unwise. We must open our eyes to the larger picture, what's going on outside the big-media box we live in. We must unplug, from the system, from TV and from processed foods; because it's killing us.

    A non corporate engineered definition of HFCS is here: http://www.westonaprice.org/motherlinda/cornsyrup. html [westonaprice.org]
    Cheers!

  • by Listen Up (107011) on Monday July 18, 2005 @12:16PM (#13095304)
    One of the most important problems for using alcohol is storage. It is not a convenient way to store energy for vehicles. This is one of the main reasons why alcohol diluted gasoline is so terrible for automobile engines. While alcohol will increase the octane rating (which is a predetonation rating) of the gasoline/alcohol mixture, the alcohol is MUCH less dense and has MUCH less energy output per unit volume than the gasoline. What happens is that the engine will automatically advance the engine timing to compensate for the poor burning of the gasoline/alcohol mixture due to its high octane rating. But, due to the fuel not actually being 100% gasoline, this will cause the fuel to burn with extreme inefficiency and combined with the extremely low energy output of alcohol will cause the power output of the engine to actual DECREASE. At the same time, the emissions are not significantly less than gasoline without alcohol. In modern engines, the gasoline should contain NO alcohol at all. To bring this back to storage problems, the low energy per unit volume of alcohol means that you will need to store a lot more alcohol in order to make up the difference between the alcohol and gasoline energy outputs. This is the exact same problem with moving vehicles to hydrogen. Therefore storage IS a problem.

    Current pollution concerns and pollution scrubbing technology aside, as both of these will improve in the future, the highest energy per unit volume for automotive fuel is diesel. Diesel hydrocarbons are extremely dense with hydrogen. I always shake my head when I see alcohol being pushed into our vehicles by politicians with mis-information campaigns when this country should be moving to a bio-deisel economy (with the bio-diesel being produced microbially).
  • Quick you chem nerds (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zogger (617870) on Monday July 18, 2005 @12:56PM (#13095799) Homepage Journal
    What's the boiling point of ethanol? Roughly 160 F? Pretty low in other words? Seems like combining solar thermal into the equation you can get a decent net gain. It's using fossil fuel to evaporate out the alky from the mash that takes the most energy and gives those skewed numbers, that and made from natgas fertilizers. Use a total plant based driven fertilizer scheme with it and you can get methane, alcohol, biodiesel, and whatever is left over as fertilizer, all from the same stuff.

    Now if they could stop with the corn and look at doing it with industrial hemp....
  • Re:Think Algae! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by JonBuck (112195) on Monday July 18, 2005 @01:01PM (#13095848)
    Check out this article on the subject:

    http://www.unh.edu/p2/biodiesel/article_alge.html [unh.edu]

    This stuff has the potential to produce 20,000 gallons of biodiesel per acre per year. And you an grow it in saltwater, or the effluent streams of wastewater treatment plants.
  • where's my check? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zogger (617870) on Monday July 18, 2005 @01:20PM (#13096025) Homepage Journal
    We farm, and get no subsidies. What we do get is almost monthly new regulations that *cost* us money, or outright theft when some 'stakeholders" decide the flying three eyed newt is more important so the land just gets seized or put out of production, with no compensation. The vast majority of those subsidies you mention go to humongous good ole boy corporate farms, or international agro biz run through daisy chained paper corporations. They should be classed in with defense department cost overruns on no bid contracts and the like. Leave real merkun farmers out of it, we work harder for less money than about any common occupation and your food is still cheap, despite the packers and "move it around and retail it" industry taking a bigger bite than we do. Believe me, if you saw how much we get compared to what you pay for it you'd understand.

    And the Africans don't want ag aid because it's GM, they don't want their farmers to get tied in with GM patented seeds,which would put them into serfdom, and I don't blame them one bit, I think it sucks too. Besides that, Africans got their own problems with tribalism and other forms of ridiculous backwards thinking and their version of the tin pot dictator du juor, THOSE are their biggest economic problems, which they are going to have to solve themselves. The best thing we could do there (IMO) is "tough love", just ignore it, neither exploit them like we have been doing for generations nor try to "help". Example, zimbabwe. Let those folks over there get desparate enough they'll hang mugabwe and his drinkin buds eventually, but if we keep shipping that doofus aid, including food aid when they used to have fantastic farms, it will just prolong things.
  • by terrymr (316118) <terrymr @ g m a i l.com> on Monday July 18, 2005 @01:32PM (#13096203)
    Orange and vanilla are the main flavorings in coke ... maybe some lemon ... makes you wonder what's different about vanilla coke ? (probably more vanilla) Coke is the worlds largest buyer of vanilla.
  • by GeckoX (259575) on Monday July 18, 2005 @01:57PM (#13096512)
    If you are diabetic, you need to understand the sugar issue much more in depth than any of this.

    Also, I was not suggesting replacing your pop intake with Tang or some shit. Fruit juice is good for you, certainly better than pop. Especially if it's just juice, no preservatives or added sugar or concentrated.

    Even still, Everything In Moderation!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 18, 2005 @02:32PM (#13096931)
    No, MTBE has been banned.

    The gas manufacturers and the state claimed that due to technological advances they could meet gasoline cleanliness requirements without using MTBE or ethanol. The Federal government has refused to grant a waiver to California, forcing the manufacturers to continue to use additives (midwest ethanol) anyway.

    http://www.google.com/search?q=california+ethanol+ waiver [google.com]
    http://westernfarmpress.com/news/farming_epa_told_ reconsider/ [westernfarmpress.com]
  • Re:Duh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Suidae (162977) on Monday July 18, 2005 @03:10PM (#13097375)
    The obvious answer of course is to combine iron manufacturing and ethanol distillation.

    Seriously though, its a shame that some industries have vast amounts of waste heat, while others spend lots of money to buy heat, and there isn't a good way to get 'em together.
  • by swelke (252267) on Monday July 18, 2005 @03:15PM (#13097429) Homepage Journal
    That depends entirely on what you mean by "fruit juice". The kinds that are cheapest in the store, and are labeled something like "apple drink" (ie, they don't actually say juice on the label) aren't any better for you than pop. Those kind of things mostly contain a few percent juice, a lot of High Fructose Corn Syrup [wikipedia.org], and some acids (I've seen maltic or citric or ascorbic, or more than one of the above) so that they taste kind of like juice. These things are, indeed, not very healthy for you.

    Real fruit juice, on the other hand, doesn't contain nearly as much fructose [wikipedia.org], so it's not as bad (by volume, at least) and it also has vitamins, since it comes from fruit. Having too much of anything, however, tends to be pretty unhealthy.

    Oddly enough, it appears from the above link that fructose's glycemic index being lower than that of ordinary table sugar, sucrose [wikipedia.org], would make it healthier for you. A lot of the diet books make a big thing about low glycemic indices being important. I guess the glycemic index is irrelevant if you're drinking 2-3000 calories worth of soda pop a day.
  • by dakirw (831754) on Monday July 18, 2005 @03:31PM (#13097588)

    Maybe, maybe not. Let's look at some facts:

    All figures approximate and based on 8oz portions

    Water = 0 calories
    Cola = 105 calories
    Milk = 150 calories
    Apple juice = 120 calories
    Grape juice = 145 calories

    True, the healthy drinks have more calories from your table above, but there are other essential minerals and vitamins (and nutrients) in milk/juice that aren't present in sodas.

    Also, the carbonic acid in the sodas is believed to be bad for the bones, from what I've read. Something about blocking the absorption of calcium.

  • by e.colli (630500) on Monday July 18, 2005 @07:52PM (#13099774) Journal
    They are better seen today, because people have a choice when prices of petrol are high, they can use alcool and vice versa.

    I don't have a dual powered car, but I'm live in south of Brazil where the temperatures are relatively low in winter (like today, zero degrees) and I don't hear my friends complaining against alcohol cars.
  • by villageidiot357 (808966) on Monday July 18, 2005 @09:31PM (#13100368)
    Don't write coal off just yet. I am sure you have been told since kindergarten that it is "dirty". However, scrubbers, carbon sequestration, and the water-gas shift reaction make it an attractive solution. Plus there is about a 500 yr supply as I recall.
  • by NickFortune (613926) on Wednesday July 20, 2005 @07:55AM (#13112515) Homepage Journal
    I submit for your consideration a couple points that - while I haven't found convincing arguments for them, I have been considering:

    A. Capitalism != Freedom. There is no dependency between Capitalism and (presonal) Freedom. They may co-exist (they are not mutually exlusive), but either can exist without the other.

    B. Socialism and Freedom are not mutually exclusive.

    I have been thinking along similar lines.

    A lot of the trouble comes from the cold war era. it was convenient to bundle the concepts of Democracy, Captialism and Freedom into a single package and portray it as diametrically opposed to the Communism/Totalitarianism/Oppresion bundle as explified by soviet Russia. Many people still hold these equivalences as articles of faith.

    However, as you suggest, the equivalence is false. Capitalism supposedly guarantees economic freedom: you are free to set up in business for yourself and compete with the big boys.

    This is like the "freedom" enjoyed by a feudal serf to rebel against his overlord. The serf undoubtledly could, at any time he chose, begin the process of raising an army. However, his overlord already had one, trained and equipped to boot. The rebels would be crushed as soon as they appeared to pose a threat. And while occasional rebellions did succeed, history records a far greater number that were bloodily surpressed.

    The "freedom" to start your own business increasingly falls into the same category as the serf's "freedom" to rebel, with a number of big players dominating the market and locking out newcomers. When a startup does occasionally succeed, it is touted as evidence that a serf who works hard can make it into the ranks of the aristocracy. However, hard work is no guarantee of success, or even reward.

    In both cases, the newcomer to the field is free in that he is capable of making the attempt. However this freedom must be viewed in the context of massvely powerful and aggresive vested interests who do not desire competition.

    Similarly, B is usually seen in the context of russian totalitarianism, but there is no implicit lack of freedom. Granted, hardline communism will curtail your rights to amass a personal fortune via trade and commerce - but democracy and capitalism will do that, unless you are very lucky or already have a personal fortune to begin with. Socialism doesn't require xensorship, for example. Nor does it require atheism.

    I think it's left over propaganda from the cold war, that has proved useful for certain corporate interests when they seek to expand their own privilege at the expense of individual freedoms. It's a very personal viewpoint, but I hope it's of interest.

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