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Power Science

Dept. of Energy Rejects Corn Fuel Future 596

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the gas-on-the-cob dept.
eldavojohn writes "The United States' Department of Energy is stating that corn based fuel is not the future. From the article, "I'm not going to predict what the price of corn is going to do, but I will tell you the future of biofuels is not based on corn," U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell said in an interview. Output of U.S. ethanol, which is mostly made from corn, is expected to jump in 2007 from 5.6 billion gallons per year to 8 billion gpy, as nearly 80 bio-refineries sprout up. In related news, Fidel Castro is blasting the production of corn fuel as a blatant waste of food that would otherwise feed 3 billion people who will die of hunger."
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Dept. of Energy Rejects Corn Fuel Future

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  • In related news, Fidel Castro is blasting the production of corn fuel as a blatant waste of food that would otherwise feed 3 billion people who will die of hunger.

    He only wants to keep them alive so he can have a fresh supply of warm brains.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It's made out of people.... PEOPLEeeEeEe

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kenf (75431)
      Actually, Castro wants us to use sugar cane to make the ethanol, as they do in Brazil. Guess what is a major crop in Cuba?
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 29, 2007 @09:22PM (#18538521)
        Refugees?
      • by vivaoporto (1064484) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @09:41PM (#18538687)
        Bullshit! Read the fucking editorial [www.cuba.cu], it is in spanish, if you can't read get someone to translate it to you. I quote here:

        "(...) independientemente de la excelente tecnología brasileña para producir alcohol, en Cuba el empleo de tal tecnología para la producción directa de alcohol a partir del jugo de caña no constituye más que un sueño o un desvarío de los que se ilusionan con esa idea. En nuestro país, las tierras dedicadas a la producción directa de alcohol pueden ser mucho más útiles en la producción de alimentos para el pueblo y en la protección del medio ambiente."

        Translates (roughly) as:

        Independently of the excellent Brazilian ethanol production technology, in Cuba the use of such technology to direct production of ethanol from the sugar cane is nothing but a dream or a fantasy from the ones who have illusions with this idea. In our country, the soil dedicated to the direct production of ethanol can be much more useful in the food production for the people and for the protection of the environment.

        So, stop spreading lies and RTF Editorial.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by sumdumass (711423)
          Unless I'm missing something in translated translation, I looks to me that he is saying their soil is better for food and they won't be doing it. Nothing about the GP's stating he wanted sugar cane used so his crops would be worth more.

          In case your wondering, taking the majority of the competitions product off the market makes your prices go up. It is the free market thing.
          • by vivaoporto (1064484) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @10:07PM (#18538885)
            "Unless I'm missing something in translated translation, I looks to me that he is saying their soil is better for food and they won't be doing it."
            No, he is saying, although their soil is appropriated for sugar cane (and I add, dutch, spanish and portuguese fought for it in the past exactly because of it), he believes the soil better use is for food, because people is more important that everything else. That's the point of the whole article.

            Nothing about the GP's stating he wanted sugar cane used so his crops would be worth more.

            GP implied that Fidel's interest on shifting the ethanol production from corn to sugar cane is benefitial to Cuba. Fidel's point is that everything ethanol is bad if land that could be used to produce food is used to produce fuel.

            In case your wondering, taking the majority of the competitions product off the market makes your prices go up. It is the free market thing."

            Yes. Except that there is no Free Market in Cuba. And that, even if there was, there is this little thing called U.S. mandated worldwide embargo on any Cuban export, so they couldn't benefit from it. Don't they teach those things there on history/geography classes?
            • by Marcos Eliziario (969923) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @10:21PM (#18538985) Homepage Journal
              There's no such thing as U.S. mandated worldwide embargo. I am from Brazil and had a girlfriend workin for a company which has some factories in Cuba (Souza Cruz Tobacco). You can find Cuban products (not so many of them) in almost every city on Europe (including U.K.), South America and Asia. Also, major european Hotel companies have business in the island. Fidel Castro also receives a lot of oil for free from his ally Hugo Chavez. The embargo applies only to American companies, and it's perfectly just, as american citizens and companies that were expropriated by Fidel's revolution never received compensation for the theft. Don't they teach those things there on history/geography classes?
              • by Valdrax (32670) on Friday March 30, 2007 @12:44AM (#18539959)
                No. That's comes after World War II. I wish I was being sarcastic. We spend way too much time talking about the Civil War to leave room for discussing any of those icky parts of history where America might've done something controversial like the Bay of Pigs invasion or the Vietnam War. (At least, that was my experience growing up in a former Confederate state.)

                We're just lucky to get a very small warning about McCarthyism and some coverage of the Civil Rights movement. All US history south of our borders post-Spanish-American War is pretty much not taught in high school -- especially anything critical of our actions during the Cold War. Too much of what is going on today can't be understood if your knowledge of world events pretty much ends at WW2. Why the US's enemies are enemies and why many of our allies who don't share our values at all are allies is pretty much a mystery to the vast majority of the electorate.

                It gets me depressed about the future every time I think about it.
                • Never complain about history classes. Not only is said that "history is written by the victors", but it is heavily culturally based. I'm not talking about propaganda, just about the focus that you get in school. Now, I have read much more about American history on slashdot than I had at school. I, however, got fed the whole creation of the European Union with all its boring treaties and whatnot. Americans probably get that as a summary "The EU was created in as the ECSC in 1951 and evolved (or Intelligently Designed) from there on". My contemporary history consisted mainly of EU blah-blah, and at least I understand my part of the world thanks to it.

                  Overlaps are probably in history are the things that happened a real long time ago: pre-historic times, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans. The sole exception would be World War II, which still differs from content. Europeans get the mantra "look how, horrible, horrible, horrible, it was... let's never do that again", Americans get the mantra "Evil Hilter! We, heroes, had to get over there to save the World".

                  Geography is the same: we got to learn the name of every country of the world and their capital, plus the internal structure of our own country", you do the same (I hope)... The internal structure is just different ;-) I expect a Frenchman to know about his Departements, a German to know about his Bunderlander and an American to know about his states. I don't know them, because I'm neither. So don't ask me what the capital of Utah is. I don't know... If you're an American, you should though.

              • by vivaoporto (1064484) on Friday March 30, 2007 @02:12AM (#18540293)
                Hey man, seems like we went to the same schools tho, because I'm also a Brazilian :) Anyway, you may want to read the Helms-Burton Act [wikipedia.org], passed in 1996 by the U.S. congress, and that mandates, among other things:

                * International Sanctions against the Castro Government. Economic embargo, any non-US company that deals economically with Cuba can be subjected to legal action and that company's leadership can be barred from entry into the United States. Sanctions may be applied to non-U.S. companies trading with Cuba. This means that internationally operating companies have to choose between Cuba and the US, which is a much larger market.

                IF that is not enough an worldwide embargo, what is?

                And I know they teach this on Brazilian schools, so, let's cut the "don't they teach this" thing and move on.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Ubergrendle (531719)
                "The embargo applies only to American companies, and it's perfectly just, as american citizens and companies that were expropriated by Fidel's revolution never received compensation for the theft. Don't they teach those things there on history/geography classes?"

                Still waiting for US reparations for the Revolutionary War. My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather's business interests were negatively impacted.

                Although in spirit I agree the embargo only applies to American companies
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by tbone1 (309237)
              Fidel's point is that everything ethanol is bad if land that could be used to produce food is used to produce fuel.

              Hm, so would land dedicated to timber also be put to better use if it was put to food?

              Pardon my cynicism, but this smacks of him setting up a call for central planning and control, which has worked so well in Cuba and Eastern Europe.

              Maybe in Cuba there is a need for more food production. However, in the US, we are doing okay. The only Americans starving are Hollywood actresses and people

        • by Viper Daimao (911947) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @10:20PM (#18538977) Journal
          Im not sure I undstand your kneejerk outrage.

          Half of all cuba's exports earnings are from sugar. Cuba used to supply 35% of the world's sugar, but now only 10% [usda.gov] (though that's still a lot for a little island). The decline is primarily due to the price of sugar dropping 58%. Therefore if sugar was used for ethanol, it's price would increase like corn's price is doing now, and Cuba's sugar exports would approach previous highs.

          Which is all to say, there's not really anything wrong with that. Sugar is better at making ethanol than corn by a longshot, and there's nothing wrong with a little national self interest, even from zombie communists :P
        • Castro is right (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Simon Brooke (45012) * <stillyet@googlemail.com> on Friday March 30, 2007 @06:08AM (#18541321) Homepage Journal

          How to make yourself unpopular on a US based system...

          However, seriously, between 1845 and 1849 Ireland had successive years of record harvests, and in each year exported huge amounts of grain. What's famous about those years? Yes, that's the Great Famine [wikipedia.org]. People worked all day producing wheat which they couldn't afford to buy, so it was exported and they starved. There was no shortage of food in Ireland during the famine; there was a shortage of food ordinary Irish people could afford to buy. Similarly, in the Ethiopian famine of the mid 1980s which led to the formation of Live Aid [wikipedia.org], Ethiopia - so plagued with drought that it could not feed its people - was exporting so many water melons to Europe that it could afford to buy helicopter gunships with the proceeds. Again, people starved not because there was no food, but because they could not afford the food that was plentiful.

          The world's agricultural system is at full stretch at present producing enough food for (most of) the world's population. But our machines consume far more calories than we do ourselves. So if we switch our machines from consuming fossil fuels to consuming bio-fuels, then all the worlds agricultural land put together is not enough.

          One of the inevitable consequences of capitalism is that it distributes scarce goods inequitably. In a drought, the poor go thirsty while the rich water their golf courses. In a famine, the poor starve while the rich put biodiesel into their SUVs. This flies in the face of every system of ethics we know, and yet it is the inevitable consequence of capitalism. Ghandi said 'the earth produces enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed'. Personally, I think he was an optimist; but nevertheless, one person's biodiesel is - inevitably - another person's hunger.

      • by neomagi (576884)
        Actually making ethanol from sugar cane is more than 6x more efficient than corn. it actually has a huge net gain in fuel. the factories in Brazil do an amazing job of creating power both to power the plants that make the ethanol as well as for the general public.

        several of the sugar plantations in the states are considering this as well, since it is so much more effective.
      • by brianerst (549609) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @11:00PM (#18539273) Homepage
        Actually, Cuba's economy has been propped up lately by an infusion of petrodollars from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has also been instrumental in raising Castro's profile lately. One of the reasons Chavez has become a powerful force in Latin American politics is that he has an enormous amount of money coming in from oil sales (Venezuela is the main oil power in the region) and is spreading that money around in good old fashioned money diplomacy.

        Chavez, therefore, has a vested interest in making sure that the price of oil is not affected by either the promise or reality of alternate fuel sources. He is also pushing against a US/Brazilian alliance to increase Latin American use and production of cane-based ethanol - he does not want to see either country increase their influence in the region. Brazil's Lula da Silva is hardly a US puppet (he's a leftist), but he doesn't hide his dislike of Chavez and has had a fairly good working relationship with Bush. Plus, cane-based ethanol has been an incredible boon to Brazil, vastly reducing Brazil's need for oil. It's also 6-8 times more productive than corn-based ethanol - done correctly, it makes real economic and environmental sense (if used as just one of many ways to move to a post-oil energy economy). Castro's editorial is just a followup on a conversation he and Chavez had on Chavez's talk show, "Alo Presidente". While it was billed as a "spontaneous" discussion, at several points Castro made references to talking points given to him by Chavez.

        Castro may be many things, but he's not stupid - Chavez is the best thing that has happened to him in years. If he has to sell-out a declining industry (Cuban sugar cane) in order to do so, he will.

    • by gerf (532474) <edtgerf@gmail.com> on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:29PM (#18538111) Journal
      That three billion people die a year from hunger. HOLY CRAP!
      • Re:I'm more amazed (Score:4, Informative)

        by vivaoporto (1064484) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @09:56PM (#18538781)
        It's all funny and ha ha, but cut either the summary is lying or TFA is. Here is the piece that mentions the 3.5 billion number, FTF editorial [www.cuba.cu] (in spanish), and he was talking about hunger and thirsty, a much more serious problem in the near future. People like to distort the opposing part statements, but at least have the facts from the original source and judge from yourselves.

        Acudo en este caso a una agencia oficial de noticias, fundada en 1945 y generalmente bien informada sobre los problemas económicos y sociales del mundo: la TELAM. Textualmente, dijo:

        "Cerca de 2 mil millones de personas habitarán dentro de apenas 18 años en países y regiones donde el agua sea un recuerdo lejano. Dos tercios de la población mundial podrían vivir en lugares donde esa escasez produzca tensiones sociales y económicas de tal magnitud que podrían llevar a los pueblos a guerras por el preciado 'oro azul'.

        "Durante los últimos 100 años, el uso del agua ha aumentado a un ritmo más de dos veces superior a la tasa de crecimiento de la población.

        "Según las estadísticas del Consejo Mundial del Agua (WWC, por sus siglas en inglés), se estima que para el 2015 el número de habitantes afectados por esta grave situación se eleve a 3 500 millones de personas.


        And my (rough) translation:

        I'll resort to an official news agency, founded in 1945 and generally well informed about the economic and social problems in the world: the TELAM [telam.com.ar]. Textually, I say:

        "About 2 billion people will live, in only 18 years, in countries and regions where water will be a distant memory. Two thirds of the world population may live in places where this scarcity will create social and economic unrest in such magnitude that could lead those people to wars on this precious 'blue gold'".

        "From the last 100 years, the use of water has increased in a rate two times superior to the population growth rate.

        "According with the World Water Council (WWC), it is estimated that in the year 2015 the number of people affected by this serious situation will increase to 3 500 billion people
    • Troll (Score:2, Insightful)

      by 313373_bot (766001)
      The only thing more pathetic than being a living fossil from the cold war is making puerile jokes about one. Are you afraid from him?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by LoRdTAW (99712)
      Actually the mash left over from distillation is useful for live stock feed. You could also burn dried mash to produce power and heat. So its not like the leftovers are waste.
  • They are both correct. An odd moment of clarity from DoE and Castro.
  • by WindBourne (631190) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:24PM (#18538063) Journal
    They (like sugar cane) all grow in a 2d space. In addition, a log of energy goes into growing corn and sugar. In addition, these crops are basically batched. You may plant and then lose it all in the end.

    Instead, ethanol and bio-deasil will come from algae or other microbes. The simple fact is that it allows for a continual stream of fuel as well as feeds on our waste. Finally, the amount of fuel that it uses is a fraction of regular crops.

    Have to laugh at what castro is saying. There is plenty of food for the world. The issue is one of distribution. Correct that, and we could cut back on crops.
    • by Chief Wongoller (1081431) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:44PM (#18538209)
      The European Union continues to subsidize thousands of farmers, allowing them to produce huge amounts of surplus food every year that costs EU taxpayers a fortune. There is no political will to curb this waste as (especially in France) the farmers have too much political clout). So, there is no need to consider planting new crops specifically for fuel. The resources already exist, though greater efficiency may come from changing the crops EU farmers currently grow to ones more suitable for biofuels. Growing crops in the EU for biofuel, therefore, could solve two problems contemporaniously: EU waste converted into much needed fuel. Alternativly we could all scrap our cars and take the bus!
      • by mabhatter654 (561290) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @09:12PM (#18538451)
        exactly, in the US and the EU the govt pays farmers to not grow food to allow their land to recover and pays farmers to enter land management where they grow what makes their land produce best and not necessarily what's selling on the market. Many people don't know large parts of the US have been in drought conditions for 5 years... in my own county the corn only grows at half what it used to due to lack of rain. But we don't go hungry because there's extra grown in spite of what the market may bear.. it's that important that people don't STARVE.

        That said, now that farmers might actually have a CASH crop and end the govt subsidies, people don't want to pay fair prices for food... funny how "free market" raiders don't like when another industry can lock up some profits at their expense. It does seem "wasteful" to use the food crop for fuel, but poverty and hunger are not due to lack of food like Casto and others would like to think... we ship more than enough food to the starving nations to feed them, their leaders sell it or burn it instead of helping the people... the GOVTS simply don't care about other people. We grow lots of crops to not use expressly for food that corn can be used for both food and fuel is a good thing! Like how soy can be used for all sorts of things.

        Frankly, we need to get more "eco-friendly" all life comes from the Sun... even coal and oil were once vast herds of dinosaurs and lush forests before being buried by massive amounts of earth being flipped over... last I checked we're not making anymore dinosaurs for oil anymore. If we can get slightly less power from a plant without waiting the thousands of years to make oil we should go for it.

        • by Edward Kmett (123105) on Friday March 30, 2007 @04:20AM (#18540881) Homepage
          The problem is that this isn't a free market.

          US corn has a 44.64 cent / bushel average subsidy to start with. Each bushel makes about 2.5 gallons of ethonal which is then subsidized by 51 cents/gallon plus another 10 cents per gallon if you produce less than 60 million gallons.

          The latter subsidies distort market conditions and take away corn from feedstocks hurting ranching and other industries.

          At the same time we impart a 54 cent/gallon excise tax on sugar ethanol from Brazil. The reason is we have the same excise taxes per gallon as for gasoline. The problem is that ethanol produces about a third less energy per gallon, so the tax burden for its use as a fuel is higher. Brazil has economic leverage in that sugar cane is more efficient than corn when used to produce ethanol and they have a more suitable climate for growing it. It costs them about 50 cents/gallon to produce; we subsidize corn by more than it costs Brazil to produce. That said this picture is a little distorted as Brazil subsidizes their sugar crops and ethanol production.

          Its not a matter of people paying fair prices for food, though they aren't if you want to argue from a free market perspective.

          The issue is that corn ethanol can only exist because of very large market distortions and just doesn't supply a viable economic alternative fuel source.

          If you want ethanol, fine, it is a reasonable goal, but leveraging corn isn't the best way to reach that goal. We can't compete with our corn ethanol on the world stage. All we are doing is playing protectionist sleight of hand games with the underlying economics. It lets politicians talk about how they are helping local farmers and talk big about having a vision for the future about energy self-sufficiency, but its all a shell game.

          Now isn't the time to subsidize, it is the time to seriously evaluate if we want to construct an enormous infrastructure for corn ethanol production that doesn't make sound economic sense and that we will be stuck propping up indefinitely.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by marcosdumay (620877)

            "That said this picture is a little distorted as Brazil subsidizes their sugar crops and ethanol production."

            We don't. We used to, but stopped doing that by 97. We just don't have enough money, and much better places to put it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Mr. Slippery (47854)

        huge amounts of surplus food every year that costs EU taxpayers a fortune. There is no political will to curb this waste as (especially in France) the farmers have too much political clout).

        It's not necessarily waste to have more land than you need today under cultivation. Tomorrow there may very well be a drought or blight that reduces production per acre; keeping that extra land cultivated can be a very useful form of insurance, even if the food rots.

    • Biodiesel. You're absolutely right.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lorkki (863577)

      The issue is one of distribution. Correct that, and we could cut back on crops.

      Yeah, all we have to do is restructure the global economy so that poorer countries are able to develop, and the problem will most likely solve itself. Why aren't we getting to work already instead of ripping them off?

      • Much of this restructuring has to happen in the poorer countries, and they are unwilling to restructure.

        Take a look at North Korea, where the government makes the (mis)allocation of resources to military expenditures rather than food supplies. Take a look at Sudan, where the government has no interest in the health of its citizens, or Somalia, where there is no functioning national government.

        By and large, the countries which have opened themselves to Western-style Keynesian socialist markets are developing themselves out of food security issues (China, India, and other developing 3rd world states). The other places, where nationwide starvation remains a chronic issue are either the result of natural catastrophe (Bangladesh), or broken governments (North Korea).
    • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:54PM (#18538301)
      Algae essentially grow in 2d too. They only grow in the plane that the sun shines. Once you have an algae soup, only the top few cm get any light. Sunlight only goes a few metres into clear water before its useful properties are reduced.

      Sugar is a good way to go. Sugar is very fast growing which is why ethanol in Brazil is pretty cheap: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/artic le/2005/06/17/AR2005061701440.html [washingtonpost.com]. There flexi-fuel cars can run on gas (which is at least 25% ethanol) or E100 (100% ethanol).

      A massive usage for corn is in fattening cattle. This is a hugely wasteful way to feed people compared to a more direct approach such as eating the corn or soy or whatever, Processing into beef is very wasteful. This would also drive up beef prices which would make McDonalds unhappy with DoE

      There is no reason why there should not be a multi-input strategy. Corn can grow where sugar cannot. Algae can grow where corn and sugar can't. It is silly to really argue for one over the other. Rather make a multi-input ethanol industry.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        One thing I've heard brought up by universities down here in Texas and Louisiana is a plant called Energy Cane- similar to normal sugar cane, but much more aggressive and much more energy dense. From what I understand the stalks grow over twice the size of for-food cane, and its relatively easy to grow. I say we take a look at utilizing things like that in some parts, at least down in the Houston area (home of Sysco Sugar) where the sugar industry has been hit hard due to artificial sweeteners. Take whateve
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by CandyMan (15493)
        > Algae essentially grow in 2d too. They only grow in the plane that the sun shines. Once you have an algae soup, only the top few cm get any light.

        There is an engineering solution around that problem. I recommend you check out Solaroof [solaroof.org], which is (much more than) a circulation system in which the algae-full water from a tank is pumped and circulated over the roof of a greenhouse. The idea is that the algae don't need permanent sunlight, but can rather be "activated" with short exposures to it, and then s
    • by krotkruton (967718) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:58PM (#18538339)
      Furthermore, we already use too much corn (not the best choice of words, but I'll explain what I mean). Besides the corn we eat in its regular form, corn syrup and other corn derivatives are used in a large portion of our diets in the US. Also, corn is used as the vast majority of feed (estimated at 92% in 2003 [cornell.edu]) for livestock. Corn is a major part of our entire food infrastructure. We are already in serious danger if a corn famine ever arose, but the effects would compound if we base our fuel on corn as well. Diversification is important for any country, especially with an economy as large as the US. Of course, this might never happen, but we all know it's possible (Ireland). By the way, I live in Illinois in a small town of 4000 people surrounded by corn fields. I'm not saying this because I hate corn, but dependence on a single crop is a thin line to walk.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dbIII (701233)
      There is a lot of work going on with ethanol from cellulose. I think that is the answer for consumption in a lot of places instead of some "pork" project to keep a powerful lobby group even happier. I find it bizzare that this group already has enough power that it has Americans getting fat on expensive corn syrup instead of cheaper sugar, but perhaps it's also because I personally don't like the taste. It makes sense for Brazil to make ethanol from sugar cane, but it's a bit more difficult for a colder
    • by MtViewGuy (197597) on Friday March 30, 2007 @01:16AM (#18540085)
      One company--GreenFuel Technologies--has already demonstrated how to use the exhaust gases from a coal-fired powerplant to "feed" tanks of oil-laden algae that could grow the algae at a tremendous rate.

      This system offers a number of obvious advantages:

      1. It reduces the pollutant output far below Kyoto Protocol mandates since the algae absorption of the exhaust gases cuts CO2 and NOx emissions way more than 50%.

      2. With a couple of hundred acres of tanks fed by the coal powerplant exhaust, we could produce millions of gallons of diesel/heating oil fuel per year from ONE site.

      3. The "waste" from the processing of the oil-laden algae could be processed into animal feed, plant fertilizer or even ethanol.
  • I would like to know (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rolfwind (528248) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:30PM (#18538123)
    How come aren't there any diesel hybrids available? They should provide even more mpg than a prius.

    While I'm thinking about it, why aren't the car engines run like the train engines, with the diesel motor running at a more or less constant rate refueling the batteries that run the electric motors that actually turn the wheels - the diesel engine could be much smaller than normal because it won't have to peak to provide power - just a nice steady constant - wouldn't even have to be a normal 4 stroke engine - it could be a stirling engine that is highly efficient but has problems speeding up - though Ford managed to get it's 0-60 speed down to 17 seconds while experimenting with alternate engines during the 70s oil crisis - making it's marriage to this application ideal.

    Any thoughts on this? I admit I don't have much knowledge in this area and probably missed something very basic that is wrong with the idea.
    • by njfuzzy (734116)
      You just described the kind of hybrid that the auto makers are selling. The engine runs at an optimal rate most of the time, even when stopped, to charge batteries that drive the engine. I believe the engine can also engage more directly when more power is needed.
      • by josecanuc (91) * on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:41PM (#18538201) Homepage Journal

        You just described the kind of hybrid that the auto makers are selling.

        I believe the grandparent poster meant direct, electric-only wheel power, not the "dual-forces on one driveshaft" approach current hybrids use.

        Diesel-electric locomotives have no direct mechanical linkage from the hydrocarbon-fueled engine to the wheels on the track. This is exactly the kind of car I am waiting for. I'm a EE, so I like the idea of electricity as the main transport of energy in a car. And the hydrocarbon engine plus generator could be replaced in the future by better technology. So IF someone made an inexpensive, reliable fuel cell, it could take the place of the engine.

        • by WhiteWolf666 (145211) <sherwin@nOsPaM.amiran.us> on Thursday March 29, 2007 @09:22PM (#18538519) Homepage Journal
          I've read about a Mini Cooper design that used a hybrid motor. It was an excellent design, with a gasoline generator powering 4 electrical motors which were located in each wheel hub.

          Here's the link: http://www.leftlanenews.com/hybrid-mini-offers-640 -hp-0-60-in-45-seconds.html [leftlanenews.com]

          640 hp, 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, 160 hp per wheel-motor, and a 3 prong plug-in-the-wall adapter for charging the batteries up.

          Cool, huh?
        • by John Courtland (585609) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @09:30PM (#18538585)
          I've posted this before, but for a very long time I've wanted to take an inline 6-cyl diesel, turbo it, and jam in into a regular RWD vehicle like a Supra. Then I'd replace the transmission with a large alternator, and have motors all the wheels, or if I can't make the fronts work, just the rears. I'd have to write some custom software to keep the engine running at an efficient speed for the alternator and electrical load, instead of trying to meet perceived fuel flow for mass air, throttle position and exhaust richness. Alternators can achieve 94% efficiency, with some hitting 98% (but that's in a lab, I'm sure it's not that good in reality), and turbo diesels are the most efficient HC engines that I'm aware of at that scale. I wonder if anyone has ever tried this.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by sjwaste (780063)
            As the owner of a Supra, I'm aware of some pretty redneck projects like sticking a 350 under the hood, but nothing to the effect of what you're describing. I'd really like to see it done, though, I think it might be a good idea and the car's a good candidate for it.

            I would suggest staying with the stock engine to start, though. In the 3rd gen, you're getting 250 ft-lbs of torque stock out of a 3L I6, and quite a bit more with basic modifications. It'd be a lot easier to keep that than trying to shoeho
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              Assuming the stock engine, would replacing the driveline with motors at the hubs be a net gain over normal driveline losses? I'm nearly certain you'd come out ahead with a diesel engine.

              Well, you lose quite a bit of power from transmission to driveshaft to differential to axles. I know, as an extreme example, the Ford AOD takes something near or over 20% of the engine's output to drive. Differentials eat a few %, and the rotational masses involved are not very light, and take a nontrivial amount of power t

        • Diesel electric locos exist simply because of the difficulty of building a mechanical transmission for them. The contortions the driveshafts and gearing would have to make from engine to wheels would be horrendous, not to mention the sort of gearbox required would have to be so robust that the expense wouldn't be worth it. This is why electric and hydraulic transmission is used on locos , not for fuel efficiency reasons. In fact you lose quite a bit of efficiency converting from rotary to electric then back
    • by PayPaI (733999)
      Right here [wikipedia.org]

      The Chevrolet Volt is a plug-in hybrid concept car created by General Motors. However, the company has avoided the use of the term "hybrid," preferring to call it an electric vehicle with a "range extender" due to its design.[2] The vehicle is designed to run purely on electricity from on-board batteries for short trips up to 40 miles (64 km) in the city--a large enough distance to cover the daily commutes of most Americans. With use of a small internal combustion engine hooked to a generator to

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by russotto (537200)
      Diesel-electric serial hybrids scale UP very well, but so far they don't scale DOWN to automobile size all that well. To make a serial hybrid, you need an engine big enough to produce enough power to run the car, and an electric motor big enough to produce enough power to run the car.
    • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @09:05PM (#18538393)
      Because the diesel/electric motors in trains aren't done for efficiency reasons, they're done because of space constraints.

      First, trains don't have batteries. It's just:
      engine->genset->electric motor.

      Diesel engines (especially large ones) work within a very narrow power band. For on highway trucks it's around 1000 - 2000 RPM. This is great when pulling a heavy load, but it means that you're gearing has to be set up accordingly. This is why 18-wheelers have 13 speed gear boxes.

      With the amount of torque that trains need to get up to speed the gear box would need to be as long, if not longer, than the train itself. You'd need a 10000:1 (made up number) gear ratio to get the train moving, but that ratio would only be good for 1000-2000 RPM, so you'd have to shift to 9999:1, etc.

      The genset -> electric motor works great because the electric motor has a near infinite 'gear ratio' and provides peak torque from 0 RPM.

      However there are losses, you'll never get better than a drive where the engine is connected directly to the wheels, this is why some automatic transmissions allow you to lock up the torque converter.

      Diesel hybrids are coming, but the gains over a traditional diesel engine aren't as great as over a gasoline engine.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Firethorn (177587)
        With the amount of torque that trains need to get up to speed the gear box would need to be as long, if not longer, than the train itself. You'd need a 10000:1 (made up number) gear ratio to get the train moving, but that ratio would only be good for 1000-2000 RPM, so you'd have to shift to 9999:1, etc.

        More to the point; the transmission required would be complex, and the torques involved would kill even an incredibly heavy one very quickly.

        As you note; even a gear transmission such as what's in a manual tr
  • three billion? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Surt (22457) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:31PM (#18538127) Homepage Journal
    http://www.starvation.net/ [starvation.net]

    Even if you buy their generous estimate of 35K deaths/day, that's over 200 years to reach 3 billion deaths.
    • Re:three billion? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Maxmin (921568) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:50PM (#18538261)
      Even more surprising than the absurd 3-billion-deaths number, is how people are more than happy to harp on it, than to focus on the fact that many people do indeed die of starvation.
      • And because the problem with starvation isn't one of not being able to grow enough food, it is one of politics. The nations with massive amounts of starvation are basically all ones with really screwed up governments. Take Zimbabwe. It used to be called "The bread basket of Africa," and was a large net exporter of food. However now due to Mugwabe's extreme mismanagement and tyrannical policies, they are a net importer of food and have starving people.

        We have the technology and the resources to grow plenty o
  • I'm actually surprised the DOE come to a logical conclusion. I could be wrong but with the current technology, the amount of energy that we can produce from corn (or grass, ...) doesn't even equal the amount that we use to produce it (converting it to ethanol or whatever...). There is some promise with genetically engineered bacteria producing ethanol, but what happens when that stuff gets into the wild (which is inevitable given what happened with genetically engineered food). Personally I'm still looking
  • by vivaoporto (1064484) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:35PM (#18538157)
    Sugar cane ethanol is the viable alternative, if you are going to use biomass based fuel. Brazil is doing it since the seventies, it already works on most cars that use gas with little to no modification (Fiat, GM and other auto companies already produces them in quantities there) and it is almost a closed cycle, using barely to no fossil fuel on its production. This [senate.gov] (warning, PDF) is a good summary on the benefits of sugar cane ethanol, of course we can wait for hydrogen or whatever is the technology of the future, just like we are waiting since the seventies, but if you want something that already works, sugar cane ethanol is the way to go.

    Do you know that the only reason that makes U.S. not to get more ethanol from Brazil is protectionism via subsides and import quotas? Fidel got it right on this one, in order to protect the few (and rich) local corn farmers (not to mention the oil barons), U.S. impedes cheap sugar and ethanol to reach the U.S., artificially increasing the demand of corn for ethanol production, driving corn prices up and, this way, making things harder for poor people on U.S. itself and, indirectly, on Mexico too (thanks Nafta). Check this article [cnn.com] and see, it is past the point of speculation and conspiracy theories.

    Law of unintended consequences in action here. It could be different. Unfortunately, I'm not a citizen of U.S., so, I'm not part of the democratic process there. But a lot of you are, and only you could make the difference. You can wait for the Tesla electric car [wikipedia.org] all your lives (maybe it will fly too, if you wait time enough) while complaining about dependence on fossil fuels and financing wars on it, or you can make the difference now and take a stand on it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TubeSteak (669689)

      Do you know that the only reason that makes U.S. not to get more ethanol from Brazil is protectionism via subsides and import quotas? Fidel got it right on this one, in order to protect the few (and rich) local corn farmers (not to mention the oil barons), U.S. impedes cheap sugar and ethanol to reach the U.S., artificially increasing the demand of corn for ethanol production, driving corn prices up and, this way, making things harder for poor people on U.S. itself and, indirectly, on Mexico too (thanks Naf

  • wonderful (Score:5, Insightful)

    by qw0ntum (831414) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:36PM (#18538161) Journal
    Great. At least someone realizes that corn isn't the answer. The answer is hemp [wikipedia.org], which among other industrial uses [wikipedia.org] is great for biofuel [wikipedia.org]production [hempcar.org].


    Before you say it, no, we don't need to think of the children. Industrial hemp contains less than 0.3% THC, as opposed to the 20%-30% that is found in unfertilized female plants that are grown for drug use. But God forbid anyone grow hemp: we all know what evils marijuana can cause [imdb.com].

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Aokubidaikon (942336)
      How about we genetically modify corn to product THC? That would solve all of our problems.
  • Why not? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Runefox (905204) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:40PM (#18538185) Homepage
    I mean, when you eat corn, it's pretty much in one end and out the other, anyway, right? Just make everyone in America eat a cob of corn every day, and let the sewage treatment plants separate the fuel from the... Well, you know.
  • by fm6 (162816) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:45PM (#18538221) Homepage Journal
    The news here is not that corn is a bad way to make ethanol. Everybody who isn't in the pocket of agribusiness knows that. The news here is that a true blue bushie [energy.gov] (or should I say true red bushie? how did Republicans become red [cpcml.ca]?) has reached this conclusion. Which is going to upset a lot of people. Which means they're up to something. What? Is Bush going to invade Iowa?
    • by khallow (566160)

      (or should I say true red bushie? how did Republicans become red?)

      Apparently, the color scheme for elections (traditionally using red, white, and blue) was standardized for the 2000 US presidential elections with states G. W. Bush carried being colored red and Al Gore being blue. The "red state" and "blue state" labeling comes from this.
  • Its about time (Score:2, Informative)

    by AP2k (991160)
    ...we wake up from this corn ethanol farce. Corn ethanol hasnt gotten close to breaking even and isnt expected to do so. Meanwhile viable alternatives like sweet and brown potatoes which can yeild just as much ethanol as sugar cane per volume are given the blind eye. Potatoes grow easilly, have few enemies, and require next to no fertilizers.

    I would really like to see automakers push more diesel engines in America. Bioiesel production per energy breaks even with nearly every method. It also has greater ener
    • Re:Its about time (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jfengel (409917) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @09:28PM (#18538573) Homepage Journal
      I'm all for figuring out that corn isn't a miracle for anything except winning votes in Iowa, but where did you get the idea that potatoes require "next to no fertilizers"? I grow potatoes and you have to fertilize the bejeezus out of the things or you end up with cute little micro-potatoes.

      More data:

      http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1619.html [osu.edu]

      Potatoes are still better than corn; for all I know you're right that they're the most efficient. But I just wanted to point out that fertilizers are still going to be necessary.
    • Re:Its about time (Score:4, Informative)

      by evilviper (135110) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @11:12PM (#18539363) Journal

      Corn ethanol hasnt gotten close to breaking even and isnt expected to do so.

      The latter is not true. It should more than break even.

      Bioiesel production per energy breaks even with nearly every method.

      That's not remotely true. There are numerous crops for which it is not a net gain to make into biodiesel.

      It also has greater energy than gasoline per volume, unlike ethanol which has about 2/3's as much as gasoline.

      Theoretical energy content hardly matters at all, since there is no 100% conversion method. In gasoline engines, ethanol does NOT result in a 1/3rd drop in fuel efficiency. As an additive, the drop is much lower, and in high concentrations, the higher octane means compression ratios can be increased without adverse effects, giving better fuel-mileage than pure gasoline, not worse.

      Today, automakers are focused on riding out low compression engines to the very end instead of focusing on more efficient and powerful diesel technology.

      The US has practically outlawed diesel cars over the past decade with strict emission controls, and high sulfur fuel. You can't really blame the auto companies.

      So we will not see soon a Manhattan project for more efficient engines, nor will we see the same fervor put into biodiesel prduction that we currently have for the ethanol pipe dream.

      Ethanol is only a stop-gap measure to begin with. Biodiesel would require everyone buying new diesel cars, then building up biodiesel infrastructure, only for slightly better biodiesel fuel to become the stop-gap measure, before emission-free vehicles come about.
  • by hedgemage (934558)
    It takes more energy to grow and process the corn into biofuel than you would get from using the biofuel produced. The only reason why corn has been considered is because lobbying concerns have been pushing for it to increase the bottom line of big agri-businesses like ADM. The US already has massive corporate welfare programs for the 'poor farmers' of corporate agri-business and I'm surprised that the DoE has taken this stance.
  • Correct (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jeevesbond (1066726) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @08:59PM (#18538347) Homepage

    Ethanol is not the way forward, the BBC has an interesting article [bbc.co.uk] on this, some excerpts:

    The grain required to fill the petrol tank of a Range Rover with ethanol is sufficient to feed one person per year. Assuming the petrol tank is refilled every two weeks, the amount of grain required would feed a hungry African village for a year

    Much of the fuel that Europeans use will be imported from Brazil, where the Amazon is being burned to plant more sugar and soybeans, and Southeast Asia, where oil palm plantations are destroying the rainforest habitat of orangutans and many other species.

    Using ethanol rather than petrol reduces total emissions of carbon dioxide by only about 13% because of the pollution caused by the production process, and because ethanol gets only about 70% of the mileage of petrol

    Food prices are already increasing. With just 10% of the world's sugar harvest being converted to ethanol, the price of sugar has doubled; the price of palm oil has increased 15% over the past year, with a further 25% gain expected next year.

    So it seems the right decisions are being made here. I'm quite suprised as I thought lobby groups were already springing up around so-called 'green fuels', I've seen some suspicious adverts for ethanol fuels on Canadian TV recently.

  • by G4from128k (686170) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @09:01PM (#18538359)
    Think about the total amount of food grown and the land used to grow food. The average person eats about 2000-2500 kCal per day in food. The average person consumes about 36,000 kCal per day worth of oil (just oil, not including coal, nat gas, etc.).

    Is the Earth big enough to provide 15-20 times the current food production level of biofuel-grade plant material? And if we plant more energy crops won't we be planting less food crops?

    The US will be fine, but any one who eats food grown on land that could be used to grow an energy crop will see higher food prices.
  • Why don't we just switch to using cane sugar for our food and have the farmers sell all that excess corn for biofuel? It might make us a little less fat, too.
  • Subsidies stink (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dan Stephans II (693520) <adept@stephans.org> on Thursday March 29, 2007 @10:19PM (#18538975) Homepage
    The corn based ethanol craze is founded in subsidies, not practicality. I grew up on a farm in southeastern Minnesota and came to loathe subsidies, PIC setaside acres, furloughs, etc. All kinds of ways to make money to do nothing that didn't benefit the family farm (which ours was) but ultimately lined the pockets of corporate farmers with lobby interests.

    When I went to college (in Morris, Minnesota) there was an ethanol plant in town and I researched ethanol production just to provide some context to the awful smell (think rotting sileage) that hit my apartment complex when the wind was right. Even back in 1990 there was little justification to use ethanol because of the high energy use for production, the increased end-unit costs because of the need to blend at the POS (because ethanol absorbs water it needs to be mixed into the blend near the end delivery point) and the other implications for vehicles (reduced power/volume, injection issues, etc). The investment that the government has made has been misplaced. It purely subsidizes this waste instead of promoting the development of more efficient production/end product. The plant in Morris is still producing the exact same product in the exact same way, the only difference is now (16 years later) they are making money hand over fist.

    Finally, corn requires a tremendous amount of water to grow. When we grew corn we didn't irrigate but big corporate farms cannot resist. The Oglalla aquifer is draining, which is a big deal. Irrigation for crops of all sorts are the primary culprit but the impact is larger -- most of the 'breadbasket' of the US is dependent in many ways on the viability of the Oglalla aquifer.

    I am stunned and pleased that the DOE has stepped up and stated what should be the obvious. I hope that people following the stories realize that subsidies without measurable and definable goals have no place in our "free trade" economy (tongue in cheek there).

  • by Stickerboy (61554) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @10:42PM (#18539149) Homepage
    Cellulosic ethanol [wikipedia.org] is a proven technology, the only issue now is ramping it up to industrial scale. Iogen [iogen.ca] and SunOpta [sunopta.com] (both Canadian biotech companies) have already built pilot plants, and are selecting sites to build industrial scale plants (In Iogen's case, they're contemplating offers from the US, Canada, and European countries to host the plant, which would produce 50 million+ gallons of ethanol a year.)

    The great thing about sugarcane and cellulosic ethanol production is they don't require outside power to run, unlike corn ethanol plants. They take a byproduct of the production process and use it for fuel.
  • by Mr. Stinky (753712) on Thursday March 29, 2007 @11:13PM (#18539365) Homepage
    BluefireEthanol [bluefireethanol.com] has the technology to viably convert cellulosic green waste into ethanol. Lots of green waste ends up at the dump already, these guys will convert it in a cost effective way. Ethanol is not just used as a fuel additive, it can also be used to make plastics and other materials. BlueFire's technology approach is unique because the inputs do not need to be sorted in advance like some biological processes which use specific enzymes for specific inputs. From their website:

    BlueFire Ethanol, Inc. is established to deploy the commercially ready, patented, and proven Arkenol Technology Process for the profitable conversion of cellulosic ("Green Waste") waste materials to ethanol, a viable alternative to gasoline. BlueFire's use of the Arkenol Process Technology positions it as the only cellulose-to-ethanol company worldwide with demonstrated production of ethanol from urban trash (post-sorted MSW), rice and wheat straws, wood waste and other agricultural residues.
    If there was already a plant in New Orleans (and it survived the hurricane) they could have made tons of ethanol from all of the waste debris that resulted from Katrina. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons!
  • by shomon2 (71232) on Friday March 30, 2007 @04:16AM (#18540863) Journal
    The real answer to the "future of bio fuels" is not to use as much as we use now. There is no magic thing that will make the problem of resource depletion go away. The stark truth is we've used more than we had in the first place and now we're basically fucked if we go on this way. You can shift the problem about at a huge cost to all, or radically change lifestyles.

    I don't mean go and buy a goat though: I mean we need to reorganise cities and suburbs so that people stay in their local area to get as much as possible of what they need(shops, work, socialising etc). This will mean much less car use. And in the states, they could get as efficient as Europe had to in the 70s and get used to higher fuel prices as has happened in Europe too, and that would already reduce the amount needed.

    I think for now the only biofuel that's actually "5-star green" is the recycling of biomass, plant waste etc to produce very limited transport - like EU nordic countries for example. Latest issue of "The Ecologist" has an in-depth section on the US's bio fuel plans and it's current and potential effects, and proposing bio-gas as the only acceptable solution that's viable now (yes microbes may be viable one day - let's see that research money). I think sweden has a bus service running on this.
  • Biofuels (Score:3, Insightful)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Friday March 30, 2007 @07:23AM (#18541707) Journal
    Biofuels only 'work' as a concept if you're one that is reflexively opposed to fossil fuels in the first place.

    We already have serious issues of deforestation in the Amazon due to agriculture - does anyone think that will DECREASE if the value of sugar cane is increased by world demand for biofuel?

    Further, in the US we already have problems with overtillage, exhaustion of the soil, loss of topsoil, and excessive pesticide use. Again, does anyone think that the widespread use of biofuel will help any of those situations? Particularly (regarding pesticides) when the corn isn't going to be consumed by anyone, so there is no food-quality issue to restrict the severity and frequency of pesticide use?

    No, I'm thinking at some point we're going to look back and see biofuel (from grown crops) as a stupid, dead-end choice that wasted a lot of time & money.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 30, 2007 @09:16AM (#18542845)
    There are farmers that would rather plow under their healthy crops than sell it unprofitably.
    There are farmers that would rather grow illegal crops for drug production than sell current unprofitable food researves to be given to countries (that make NO efforts on population control or social resposibility).
    Farmers in starving countries are going bankrupt from the free food given to the country so future food supply in that country is greatly harmed.
    More free food to starving countries that have no population control simply equals more starving babies and children... a never ending story of starvation and poverty for both farmers and poverty stricken countries.

    BioFuels helps the War against Drugs and fighting poverty world-wide.
  • by Epi-man (59145) on Friday March 30, 2007 @10:48AM (#18544149) Journal

    In related news, Fidel Castro is blasting the production of corn fuel as a blatant waste of food that would otherwise feed 3 billion people who will die of hunger.


    I am sorry for being so cold and callous as I enjoy my luxurious life in the US, but why do we fight so hard to have more people living in areas where they apparently shouldn't be living per Mother Nature? I get so frustrated when people talk about the food supply problems and the water supply problems and how are we going to solve all these problems when perhaps, maybe, just maybe it is time to consider that the planet has enough human beings on it and adding to the population isn't the best move? Reminds me of the Matrix and Agent Smith's analysis of the human species as the only one that doesn't live within its bounds.

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