Red Shoulder Hawk

Red Shoulder Hawk

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Put that in your tank and drive!

From LiveScience:
After correcting the errors—which ranged from incorrect unit conversions to reliance on data from outdated methods more than a century old—the researchers arrived at a very different conclusion: not only does corn-based ethanol gas reduce petroleum use by 95 percent, it also reduces greenhouse gas emissions about 13 percent.
It looks like Daniel Kammen of the University of California, Berkeley finally was able to pierce David Pimental's bogus mathematics and show that ethanol production really does yield a net positive energy gain.

Sheesh, it's about time. I am bone-weary of Pimental's crappy science.


  1. Robert said, "...ethanol production really does yield a net positive energy gain."

    Of course you realize what this means don't you Robert? It means that ethanol plants can stop using natural gas and start using some of their own ethanol as the source of thermal energy with which to make more ethanol.

    Now that UC-Berkeley has proven ethanol production has a positive efficiency ratio, both corn farmers and ethanol plants can stop using fossil fuels and instead switch to using the fuel they make.

    This is really great news -- we can at last break the dependence corn farmers and ethanol plants have had on fossil fuels. Just think, to finally know that farmers and ethanol plants have been wrongly using fossil fuels for all those years.

    How soon do you predict that corn farmers and ethanol plants will stop burning fossil fuels?

    Don't you agree they should be able to do that now that it has been clearly shown they produce more energy than they consume?

  2. Gary,

    "...wrongly using fossil fuel all those years" indeed. You jokester!

    You surely know it's a matter of economics and societal forces that mold the shape of our world. When fossil fuels were cheap, and we didn't care about the cost to the environment, growing food with them made sense. Sort of.

    Here's what's promising about domestically produced fuel: it can be a regional, or even local, resource. Localization of manufacturing and production is a sure way to build stronger communities, as well as regional diversity. I'm pretty tired of going to Kansas or Illinois and discovering it looks just like California, as Sprawl and homogenization take over the land.

    While there is a real risk that ethanol production will become a centralized giant corporate behemoth, it's also just possible that we can use technology like this to decentralize power back into the hands of where it really lies anyway: with you and me.

    As for farmers switching to biofuels, it's happening right now. There are farms where the tractors are running on 100% biodiesel. There are organic farms where farmers are talking with their neighbors about who will grow fuel crops, or should they each grow their own.

    The fossil-fuel free future is right around the corner. We need to ask ourselves if we want to let the Conglomerate dictate a less optimal solution like the hydrogen economy, or if we want a more sustainable solution such as biofuels.

  3. Robert said, "The fossil-fuel free future is right around the corner."

    Not as long as our farmers are addicted to nitrogen fertilizers to grow their corn.

    Modern corn farming is completely dependent on nitrogen fertilizers. What's strikingly bad about that is over 90% of the nitrogen they use is made from natural gas. What's even worse is that 60% of that nitrogen is now imported into the U.S. after being overseas with foreign natural gas. What's even worst is that within five years, we will probably have to import almost 100% of the nitrogen we use -- and all of that will be made overseas with foreign natural gas.

    I have high hope for bio-fuels, but until corn farmers can figure out how to grow corn w/o nitrogen, the bio-fuel of the future isn't going to be corn-based ethanol.

    If corn ethanol were our primary fuel, it would only mean a dependence on foreign natural gas instead of foreign oil.

    My grandfather had a dairy and corn farm. He also had horses and used manure from the horses and dairy cows as fertilizer and rotated his crops. Unlike today's farms, his was sustainable -- but he also got crop yields of only 40-50 bushels per acre.

    Crop yields today for corn may be in the 140-160 bushel range, but that is only possible because of nitrogen fertilizers. I REPEAT: THAT IS ONLY POSSIBLE BECAUSE OF NITROGEN FERTILIZERS.

    The result is that today's corn farming operations are utterly dependent on nitrogen made from natural gas.

    Because of that dependence on natural gas, I submit it is even incorrect to call corn-based ethanol renewable or a bio-fuel.

  4. Hi, there, Anony! I wondered when you'd stop lurking and post something. Thank you!

    The use of nitrogen fertilizers is certainly one of the most damaging, unsustainable practices in "modern" farming. Your assertion that yields is directly tied to this is incorrect, however. Googling for "organic corn production" turns up numerous sources, including this one from Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education which shows that even a conventional farm can transition back to organic farming and see 90% to 95% yields.

    Clearly, there have been more improvements over the last 40 years in farm techniques than the mere application of fossil-fuel based crop inputs.

  5. Robert said, "The use of nitrogen fertilizers is certainly one of the most damaging, unsustainable practices in "modern" farming. Your assertion that yields is directly tied to this is incorrect, however."


    Show me a large, industrial, corn-farming operation that doesn't use massive amounts of nitrogen fertilizer made from natural gas.

    The only really sustainable corn farms I know belong to the Amish (and those who farm as the Amish do.) But it would be a mistake to count on the corn from Amish-style farms to provide the feedstock to make enough ethanol to break our dependence on gasoline.

    The fact is that right now, corn-based ethanol is dependent on nitrogen fertilizers made from natural gas. And more and more of that nitrogen fertilizer is made overseas form foreign natural gas and imported into the U.S.

    It is disingenuous for the ethanol lobby to call it a "renewable fuel," or to tell us that it can break our dependence on foreign hydrocarbons.

    Sorry about that previous "anon" post -- I clicked the wrong button.

  6. Nice reactionary debating skills, there, Gary. I'm beginning to wonder about your motivation for posting here.

    "Show me a large, industrial, corn-farming operation that doesn't use massive amounts of nitrogen fertilizer."

    Okay, can we please stick to the topic? The topic is that it's been shown that ethanol production from corn yields a net positive energy balance, and that other, cover crops, are even better. Isn't that exciting?

    The fact is, Gary, that farms can be 100% organic without seriously impacting yields. We're in the early steps on the road towards those big demonstrations you want me to produce from up my sleeve.

    Yes, while it's currently true that we do all sorts of abusive things to the environment and our fellow human beings, including all the unsustainable practices involved with our food and fuel production, I find it pretty darn comforting that there is a way out of this hole we've let the oil companies and agri-business dig for us.

    In other words, if your diet consumes enough calories to feed an entire family, if you're still driving on fossil fuels in 5 years' time, then you're supporting (you're demanding!) an abusive way of life. Always keep in mind the context here: petro-fuels are on their way out, and we have a window of opportunity to make a less-difficult transition. If we wait, we're going to see tremendous upheaval that is possibly permanently damaging to civilization as we know it.

    Biofuels (and read this carefully: it's not just about producing fuel from corn) are part of a portfolio of solutions to reinvent our society so that the planet can continue to support us.

  7. Oh, BTW, please don't misconstrue my comment about your debating technique as a personal attack. I'm really enjoying this exchange, and I'm glad to be in dialogue with you.

  8. "The fact is, Gary, that farms can be 100% organic without seriously impacting yields."

    Perhaps they can, but they aren't. And there is no motivation for them to be.

    I live in the Corn Belt, and as I said before (hate to be so redundant) the only organic, self-sustaining corn farms around here belong to the Amish.

    I just don't see the average, industrial corn operation that dumps tons and tons of nitrogen fertilizer, herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides on their fields switching back to sustainable farming.

    Their grandparents may have used manure for fertilizer and rotated their crops, but the promise of easily making a 200-bushel yield by applying nitrogen fertilizer is too attractive not to do -- even if they consume fossil fuels doing it.

  9. The motivation for growing a monoculture crop across wide swaths of land is entirely economic, as you surely know. Our subsidy structure in this country is something I don't fathom; it feels protectionist and archaic. It feels like it stifles experiementation. It feels like it puts good farmers onto the government nipple, and crops that are a world-wide commodity (such as corn) end up being artificially cheap, so that even compared with countries where labor is a few percent of ours, our corn is cheaper.

    In any case, the fact remains that petroleum based fertilizers are not required to produce cover crops which can be economically converted to ethanol, thereby replacing our dependence on petroleum as a fuel.

    So you might not "see it," but it's right around the corner. Petroleum is on its way out as a feedstock for much of our way of life. It is finally getting too expensive.