April 26, 2006
— Ace Popular Mechanics examines each possibility. No solar or that silly shit-- stuff you can actually put in your tank.
While it seems, superficially, to be a sober analysis, it doesn't mention the costs associated with creating each type of fuel, or compare the energy-cost of creating the fuel to the cost of producing petroleum feul. I mean, if it takes 200 BTU's of electricity to produce 100 BTU's worth of ethanol, umm, we still have to produce that electricity in the first place, right?
It mentions the energy investment for some "fuels," like electricity, which is a fuel but not a source of energy; it's just a form of energy created by consuming some other source. But it doesn't detail the energy investment associated with all of them. At least not in a detailed or rigorous way.
Still, it is interesting. I'm not sure if I buy the great potential of ethanol -- politicians usually hailed as "truth-tellers" (like McCain) have called ethanol a boondoggle, at least before running for president and needing Iowa voters. But this article suggests it's actually a real possibility for easing our reliance on petroleum.
Posted by: Purple Avenger at April 26, 2006 06:50 AM (XbJeu)
Posted by: spongeworthy at April 26, 2006 06:57 AM (uSomN)
Posted by: Tushar D at April 26, 2006 07:01 AM (h76y6)
Posted by: Dave in Texas at April 26, 2006 07:26 AM (a6Ffc)
Aiiiyee. Speak his name and he will appear, in a puff of sulfurous smoke. Beware.
Posted by: Toby928 at April 26, 2006 07:48 AM (ATbKm)
Posted by: Radical Centrist at April 26, 2006 07:49 AM (iWRYt)
How efficient it is as a fuel depends on the analysis. One analysis (Pimentel) assumes fermentation as the only method, assumes only fossil fuels for harvest (as opposed to biodiesel) and includes the energy needed to make tractors.
There are other methods.
Posted by: drjohn at April 26, 2006 07:51 AM (wZLWV)
Posted by: Toby928 at April 26, 2006 08:00 AM (ATbKm)
I got my issue a couple of weeks ago, and read this article first. Fascinating stuff. If you look back at their recent "Facts & Myths about Katrina", I think you'll find that PM is one of the few institutions doing "real journalism" nowadays.
Posted by: Russ from Winterset at April 26, 2006 08:04 AM (Ffvoi)
Per the second law of thermodynamics, no conversion of energy from one form to another can be perfect. You cannot take 100 BTUs of electricity and create 100 BTUs worth of ethanol. You might be able to create 60 or 70 BTUs, but never the same amount (much less more energy than you put it).
Posted by: petronius at April 26, 2006 08:06 AM (KzgwT)
True, but your forgetting about the free solar energy inherent in the corn or whatnot, so you actually start with an energy surplus that could pay off the conversion cost.
Posted by: Toby928 at April 26, 2006 08:09 AM (ATbKm)
Ace said it right. I can't see how you could think your criticism would apply here.
Posted by: spongeworthy at April 26, 2006 08:11 AM (uSomN)
Posted by: Toby928 at April 26, 2006 08:13 AM (ATbKm)
Posted by: petronius at April 26, 2006 08:16 AM (KzgwT)
Its possible or maybe not, the point is to use less shekels from my pocket. Effiencies don't matter if the final cost is lower and the supply more even and dependable. I can't get a nuclear power plant to fit under my hood but I could run my car on ethanol produced with nuclear power. Storage and transport mechanism, thats all.
Posted by: Toby928 at April 26, 2006 08:22 AM (ATbKm)
Essentially, we now have genetically-tinkered-with yeasts that produce a series of enzymes that can break cellulose down into glucose. From Glucose, the familiar fermentation process can make ethanol.
We have butttloads of cellulose available to us, in the form of cornstalks, cotton, grasses, hay; you name it. Being able to turn _that_ into fuel (rather than the parts of the plant we might otherwise eat or feed to livestock) changes the ethanol playing field considerably.
Posted by: leoncaruthers at April 26, 2006 08:24 AM (7iTO9)
Posted by: Russ from Winterset at April 26, 2006 08:27 AM (Ffvoi)
That and a real filthy gutter-trollop to brew my alternative fuel.
Posted by: Toby928 at April 26, 2006 08:28 AM (ATbKm)
That said, there are certainly reasons other than pure production economics to advocate use of ethanol.
Posted by: petronius at April 26, 2006 08:39 AM (KzgwT)
Posted by: spurwing plover at April 26, 2006 09:07 AM (K3hNB)
I would imagine that not only are the gas companies holding advances away from oil back, but energy companies as a whole. If they would create rolling blackouts on purpose, they would do this.
Posted by: MegaTroopX at April 26, 2006 09:11 AM (nRC/5)
Oh, wait -- ethanol's already my overlord. Carry on.
Posted by: Ted Kennedy at April 26, 2006 09:17 AM (z4es9)
Posted by: Dennis at April 26, 2006 09:40 AM (MkC0g)
The major drawback from folks who do this regularly is that it is more temperature sensitive than diesel (which is very tem sensitive compared to gasoline), and needs heated lines and tanks in some climates. Vegtable oil is cheap to grow and cheap to extract. We currently throw away millions of gallons of it per year into land fills, and even more oil-producing plants go un-converted in the first place.
The process is about 80% efficient, and the byproduct (the 20% that doesn't convert) is glycerine laced with methane, which many of us know as Serno. It makes a great fuel for heating or for cooking your bio-diesel in the first place.
One other caveat, diesel engines started on either diesel or biodiesel can be switched over to run on straight vegtable oil without any conversion (but still need the heated hose and tank). This would remove the most expensive step out of the process. And don't think of the comodity cost based on the 32 oz packaging you see at the store either. Indistrial quantities of veggie oil can be had a LOT cheaper. There are farms in Germany and England where biodiesel was pioneered where they dedicate a percentage of land to oil production to run their equipment. Rape seed is reportedly the most prolific producer per acre, but corn and other crops make oil too.
Posted by: Scot at April 26, 2006 09:54 AM (qlZ26)
Make sure your next car is a FFV.
Posted by: Sinner at April 26, 2006 10:06 AM (h2VSX)
Posted by: Dave in Texas at April 26, 2006 10:06 AM (pzen5)
Posted by: Toby928 at April 26, 2006 10:19 AM (ATbKm)
Posted by: petronius at April 26, 2006 11:05 AM (ZBVpb)
Plus its just cool to think of running your car on corn.
Posted by: Christopher Taylor at April 26, 2006 01:16 PM (1Vbso)
Oh yeah, THAT'S just what we need. There's plenty of slackjawed drooling 'tards out there who think air conditioning is run by magical gnomes under their hood. By God, let's give them nuclear reactors.
I can hear the discussion at the local Jiffy Lube right now. "Well, the manual DOES say you should change the fuel rods every 15,000 miles, but I figure, hey, it's not a glowing heap of melted slag yet, so why not try to stretch them out to 50,000?"
Posted by: Russ from Winterset at April 26, 2006 02:40 PM (Ffvoi)
Some people think that this material's just laying around waiting to be harvested. If you're talking about things like switchgrass grown specifically for power generation, then it may be true, but no-cost byproducts of farming are not as available as you might think.
Besides, from what I've heard, the technology for producing cellulostic ethanol is more promised than proven at this point. It's not quite cold fusion in a jar, but it's not anything that will be available soon, even if everything goes perfectly in the research.
Posted by: Russ from Winterset at April 26, 2006 02:51 PM (Ffvoi)
Posted by: Evil Mechanical Overlord at April 27, 2006 12:37 PM (VgW/O)
Posted by: Christopher Taylor at April 27, 2006 01:29 PM (1Vbso)
What if the challenge was- "build a V8 that puts out 250 hp, runs on multiple fuels, and gets 40mpg?
"Build it, and we'll buy the patent for $10 Billion."
Posted by: Barry at April 27, 2006 02:00 PM (kKjaJ)
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