Homepage Forums Economic Forums The Harmful Economics of Biofuels

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  • #491
    Avatarprosario_2000
    Participant

    Recently in Puerto Rico we’ve received the impact of a higher cost of living. Part of it has to do with local policies and the colonial status of our Island: the inability to access markets (even the U.S. market), the new sales tax on several products, the rise of oil prices, among others. However, some of the issues have to do with international market prices. Recently milk corporations in Puerto Rico have asked the government to raise the price of milk (milk price is regulated in Puerto Rico). Last Friday also people learned about the rise of the price of bread, or anything derived from wheat.

    What strikes me so very much about the news media is how little information there is about the rise of these prices. Unfortunately, the rise of prices on these commodities have something to do with a new fashion within the “Green Industry” (as I call it). It has to do with the use of biofuels. Not only Puerto Rico is facing this problem, but it has upset the global economy. People in China are having trouble buying food that two years ago was much cheaper. The same is happening in India, poor countries, and poor regions in many first-world countries.

    Recently, there have been a friendly, but confrontational, criticism of Fidel Castro against the present efforts made by Lula Da Silva, Brazil’s President, to derive biofuels, in this case ethanol, from sugar-cane. There was a similar criticism against the United States for those same efforts. Castro said that to build such an industry would mean much more poverty and misery, especially in poor countries. Most Americans disregard his statements because, of course, he’s a communist, a dictator, yadda yadda yadda … And personally, I’m not a fan of Fidel Castro, but I have to recognize that he is absolutely right regarding this issue. After all, Castro may be a dictator and a communist, but that does not mean he is a moron. Ten billion tons of fossil fuels are consumed every year. Can you imagine the production of ten billion tons of biofuels?

    And it is not just me appreciating this valuable viewpoint, C. Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer wrote an article for the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs titled “How Biofuels Could Starve the Poor“. They, along with Tom Daschel, also wrote a second article on the subject for the same journal titled “Food for Fuel?“. These articles essentially criticize the use of corn as a source of ethanol, a “green” alternative to fossil fuels, especially gasoline.

    By 2005, the world was producing the equivalent of one billion gallons of biofuels, and they predicted that in 2007: “Ethanol demand will bring 2007 inventories of corn to their lowest levels since 1995 (a drought year), even though 2006 yielded the third-largest corn crop on record. Iowa may soon become a net corn importer.” Naturally, less supply and more demand means high price of corn … and everything that depends on it. Milk is one example of this. How do you feed the cows that produce milk? With corn. Ergo … higher price for milk.

    Of course, the idea of capitalism in all areas of free market is to increase the market-share, which means that any corporation that produces biofuels will try to be more and more aggressive producing biofuels. All those car companies that develop hybrids will be on the road in the next few years, increasing demand exponentially. This will mean, much more land ownership, especially in poor countries, which at the same time would mean an increasing pressure to produce corn, or sugar cane, or wheat to both try to feed the rest of the world that consumes it as food, and try to satisfy the demand of biofuels as energy sources. As a result, there would be high price on food and a high price on biofuels. The poor has everything to lose.

    From an economic point of view, these forms of biofuels as source of energy are simply not viable, and more harmful than good for society. From the point of view of economic solidarity, we must look for alternatives to oil that are more functional for our society.

    I have promoted Focus Fusion as the most promising provision of energy for the future, along with electric cars. Both of these combined would make it possible for a functional society, with cheap energy, and with no hazardous waste. Other alternatives can be viable, some limited such as wind power, others not so limited. We should keep looking. However, we should not turn food into fuel, or else, the basic products we need to live will not be available for everyone, and as a result, it will not create a more just distribution of global wealth.

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    #2540
    AvatarJesterX
    Member

    You are correct that the creation of biofuels from food sources is economically unsound. However industry leaders in biofuel production are not blind to this fact. Both ethanol and biodiesel producers are currently researching alternative feedstocks that will eliminate competition with food sources. In fact many of these such as algae and jathtopha stand to provide an economic boost to deprived countries where land availability and climate conditions are prime. In the case of corn based ethanol production limiting feed availability for cattle you are entirely incorrect, ethanol produces a byproduct known as distillers grains or DDG’s which are in turn sold as cattle feed at a lower price than corn which has actually created a surplus in feed supply. Also, algae grown for fuel production produces yet another byproduct sold as feed. While focus fusion presents great promise for production of power it will not reduce emissions from vehicles that burn fossil fuels and the internal combustion engine will not disappear overnight. Biofuels are a fairly new technology and like most they have flaws that are being addressed. I urge you to check out http://www.ethanol.org or http://www.biodiesel.org for the latest developments in alternative feedstock research, I think that your concerns with biofuels will be alleviated.

    #2541
    Avatarprosario_2000
    Participant

    Hi JesterX in some areas we agree. However, I disagree with you regarding cattle, since the prices of both milk and meat are increasing significantly, at least here. Recently there have been a series of struggles with government for milk companies to be able to increase their prices (milk prices are regulated in Puerto Rico). Maybe in the future this thing will be alleviated, but prices of food are increasing all over the world. Recently, 60 Minutes (if I remember correctly) showed how it is seriously affecting the poor’s purchase of food.

    There is another aspect of this debate which will have to be explored, and that is if all of that food supply will eventually be sold to the poor at cheap price (this would be the inevitable result of the surplus you are talking about). However, will corporations provide sell all this food world wide at very cheap price. An example of this is precisely milk. There is a surplus of milk world-wide, milk that could be sold in a very cheap price. For companies to keep their earnings, they have to artificially create a scarcity of milk and literally “throw it away”, which is environmentally harmful. Some countries even pay farmers not to produce milk. If we add to this artificial prices to the increasing cost of feeding cattle, we have a very high price just to guarantee corporate profits. Will this happen also to the surplus of food you are talking about? I’ll check out the information in those websites, and I thank you for them. I hope you understand why I’m skeptical.

    About the emissions of vehicles, if you read the end of my article you will see that I’m proposing Focus Fusion along electric cars as solution to this problem. The issue with electric cars is that we already have the technology, and electric cars have been produced once, to be artificially removed from the market by car companies, perhaps under the heavy influence of oil corporations. Electric cars do not emit anything at all, they only charge electricity and that’s it. It only costs the equivalent of 40 cents a gallon. So, even if the internal combustion engine will not disappear overnight, we are in a situation where the technology is here and now. You can learn more from this in Plug-In America and other websites, and also I highly recommend the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car. It is now in Google Video if you want to watch it.

    #2542
    AvatarJesterX
    Member

    prosario_2000 wrote:

    About the emissions of vehicles, if you read the end of my article you will see that I’m proposing Focus Fusion along electric cars as solution to this problem.

    There are a number of factors that negate this statement. Number one, even thought the technology exists (and has since the 1830’s), electric cars hold zero market share, this means that nearly all vehicles world wide would need to be replaced. The economics of this are simply unrealistic, someone would have to construct over 600 million electric cars and sell them, the manufacturing alone would take years. Not to mention, how many people can afford to scrap their current vehicle and purchase a new one? The best case scenario for a complete transition to electric or even hybrid cars presents at least a fifty year time-line. So should we just continue to burn fossil fuels during this transition? Biofuels offer augmentation to current technology for a scenario in which the world cannot sit back and wait for new technologies to save it. We are past the point where dreaming of the ultimate solution is feasible, we must take immediate action to reduce the impact of technologies already in place or by the time the transition to alternate technologies is made it may be too late to insure our planet’s survival.

    I disagree with you regarding cattle, since the prices of both milk and meat are increasing significantly, at least here. Recently there have been a series of struggles with government for milk companies to be able to increase their prices (milk prices are regulated in Puerto Rico). Maybe in the future this thing will be alleviated, but prices of food are increasing all over the world. Recently, 60 Minutes (if I remember correctly) showed how it is seriously affecting the poor

    #2544
    AvatarLerner
    Participant

    Replacing cars is not so difficult–people repalce cars all the time. If there are about 600 million cars in the world, as you say, the replacement time is about nine years, since current auto productions is 66 million per year. Of course the auto industry will have to be retooled, and that is why the auto industry is totally opposed to electric cars. But the chasis and body would not change. As to the engine, electric motors are enormously simpler than gasoline engines. The elcetric motor industry is already large and mature. The only new industry is in the energy storage device, either batteries or super-capacitors or other.

    As to food prices, they are soaring world-wide not just in PR. Food production is well below consumption and reserves are falling rapidly, which drives up prices (helped along by speculation). There are a number of factors invovled, since per-capita grain production has actually been falling globally since 1984, long before biofuels were a factor. But they certainly are not helping.

    World food production could be increased greatly if government subsidies were aimed at food production for people and not mainly for animal feed or biofuels. The US government has long subsidized corn and soy rather than wheat, for example. Eliminating subsidies for biofuels, which would make them non-competitive, would certainly be a good, small step, to lifting food production.

    #2552
    AvatarTransmute
    Member

    Lerner wrote: Replacing cars is not so difficult–people repalce cars all the time. If there are about 600 million cars in the world, as you say, the replacement time is about nine years, since current auto productions is 66 million per year. Of course the auto industry will have to be retooled, and that is why the auto industry is totally opposed to electric cars. But the chasis and body would not change. As to the engine, electric motors are enormously simpler than gasoline engines. The elcetric motor industry is already large and mature. The only new industry is in the energy storage device, either batteries or super-capacitors or other.

    As to food prices, they are soaring world-wide not just in PR. Food production is well below consumption and reserves are falling rapidly, which drives up prices (helped along by speculation). There are a number of factors invovled, since per-capita grain production has actually been falling globally since 1984, long before biofuels were a factor. But they certainly are not helping.

    World food production could be increased greatly if government subsidies were aimed at food production for people and not mainly for animal feed or biofuels. The US government has long subsidized corn and soy rather than wheat, for example. Eliminating subsidies for biofuels, which would make them non-competitive, would certainly be a good, small step, to lifting food production.

    I agree EV are highly viable alternatives with the best energy efficiencies of any alternative, and less industrial reworking requirements then hydrogen, but EVs need lighter aluminum and composite chassis to try to add range and EVs won’t be able to power long range uses. Biofuels or fuels made from biomass require the least infrastructure changes and can be energy positive and carbon neutral. Making Biofuels from biomass is now of highest priority in the biofuels research community because we all admit the food crops can only replace a tiny fraction of oil usage while biomass could replace as much as 30% with moderate estimates and higher. Cheap fusion would likely increase biofuels production dramatically by powering hydrogenated pyrolysis of biomass and CO2 into hydrocarbons.

    #2554
    AvatarJesterX
    Member

    Making Biofuels from biomass is now of highest priority in the biofuels research community because we all admit the food crops can only replace a tiny fraction of oil usage while biomass could replace as much as 30% with moderate estimates and higher.

    While biomass is a promising alternative feedstock, a 30% displacement puts it lower on the list than other frontiers such as algae. A NREL study conducted from 1978-1985 concluded that 15 million sq miles of algae farming could displace the entire US fuel demand (on road vehicles). Currently, US agriculture uses over 400 million sq miles of land, 270% of the land requirement for algae. The numbers have changed since 1985, however algae based feedstocks still offer the highest oil displacement. Due to rapid growth rates and high lipid content algae presents the highest per-acre oil yield of any know agriculture based feedstock and algae can be used for both ethanol and biodiesel.

    #2555
    AvatarTransmute
    Member

    aah algea counts as biomass. Building algea farms is not easy they need fully enclosed systems with controlled temperatures, Waste biomass on the other is waste that a profit can be made from just by picking it up, biofuels made for energy crops other then algae require far less maintenance and initial investment. I don’t see biofuels replacing all of petroleum, fusion or not electrics should replace most auto-transport, that takes out ~50 of oil use in the USA, biofuels will be best at replacing jet fuel and industrial feedstokes for plastics and asphalt.

    #2559
    AvatarJesterX
    Member

    It’s true, biofuels will never completely replace petroleum, most experts agree that the transition to alternative transportation will not occur with a single medium. It seems likely that a variety of technologies will be part of the petroleum replacement process. Biofuels, hybrids, hydrogen fuel cells, electrics and more will all compete for majority of the road. The place for biofuels in the future will likely be commercial and industrial vehicles. Aircraft are an excellent example, Virgin Fuels and Boeing are already working in partnership to develop jet engines that will burn biofuel derived from algae. As for the difficulties involved in growing algae, many companies (including my own) have developed methods for growing in an open environment with temperature control that uses naturally produced carbon-free energy. In my company’s system we grow a hardy strain that can withstand temperature changes of 30F from the optimal growing temp. and can be harvested every twelve hours. The algae is constantly fed carbon and has a 92% consumption rate, we are currently working on ways to absorb the other 8%. Oil extracted from the algae contains only 60-80% of the carbon consumed during it’s lifetime and the fuel produced from it can only emit that amount, making algae fuel carbon negative. We are currently exploring the mechanics of a large scale operation and whether we are able to maintain a negative carbon footprint by using renewable energy to meet the demands of the operation. I think that an alternative energy source such as focus fusion will be required to make electrical vehicles the road majority. As much as 52% of the US is still powered by coal accounting for 40% of our total carbon output, with numbers like this it doesn’t make since to switch to an electrically powered vehicle fleet. With any luck we will see focus fusion or some other variety of fusion become the mainstream of power generation in our lifetimes and the opportunities will abound.

    #2582
    AvatarZara
    Member

    They could easily alleviate this problem by using a different new renewable resource to add into the growing spectrum which has a much higher yield ratio and more uses.

    #2800
    AvatarBrian H
    Member

    Transmute wrote:

    Replacing cars is not so difficult–people repalce cars all the time. If there are about 600 million cars in the world, as you say, the replacement time is about nine years, since current auto productions is 66 million per year. Of course the auto industry will have to be retooled, and that is why the auto industry is totally opposed to electric cars. But the chasis and body would not change. As to the engine, electric motors are enormously simpler than gasoline engines. The elcetric motor industry is already large and mature. The only new industry is in the energy storage device, either batteries or super-capacitors or other.

    As to food prices, they are soaring world-wide not just in PR. Food production is well below consumption and reserves are falling rapidly, which drives up prices (helped along by speculation). There are a number of factors invovled, since per-capita grain production has actually been falling globally since 1984, long before biofuels were a factor. But they certainly are not helping.

    World food production could be increased greatly if government subsidies were aimed at food production for people and not mainly for animal feed or biofuels. The US government has long subsidized corn and soy rather than wheat, for example. Eliminating subsidies for biofuels, which would make them non-competitive, would certainly be a good, small step, to lifting food production.

    I agree EV are highly viable alternatives with the best energy efficiencies of any alternative, and less industrial reworking requirements then hydrogen, but EVs need lighter aluminum and composite chassis to try to add range and EVs won’t be able to power long range uses. Biofuels or fuels made from biomass require the least infrastructure changes and can be energy positive and carbon neutral. Making Biofuels from biomass is now of highest priority in the biofuels research community because we all admit the food crops can only replace a tiny fraction of oil usage while biomass could replace as much as 30% with moderate estimates and higher. Cheap fusion would likely increase biofuels production dramatically by powering hydrogenated pyrolysis of biomass and CO2 into hydrocarbons.

    Never say never. Right around the end of ’07, Stanford announced the development of silicon nanowire LiIon battery tech which increases energy density (storage capacity) by 10X, and eliminates charge/discharge and heating issues (the nano-structures don’t stress and burst like larger silicon ion-absorbers at high charge levels).

    And Tesla Motors already gets 220 miles for its 125 mph Roadster out of cleverly banked LiIon batteries (900 lbs worth, 6831 individual cells in 12 modules). The chassis is a re-rigged Lotus Elise type (heavier undercarriage, better suspension, longer wheelbase, carbon-fiber body, etc.) Regular (assembly-line) production has begun at a slow ramp-up rate, and the first few are now in pre-paid customers hands. They have advanced EU release of the car (250 special fully-loaded cars) by one year, to 2009, to great enthusiasm.

    At current electricity prices, the Roadster gets 130mpg equivalent. At FF electricity prices, this would be at least 3000 mpg-equivalent. With a corresponding range — over 2000 miles with silicon nanowire LiIon batteries.

    #2809
    BreakableBreakable
    Keymaster

    Brian H wrote: Never say never. Right around the end of ’07, Stanford announced the development of silicon nanowire LiIon battery tech which increases energy density (storage capacity) by 10X, and eliminates charge/discharge and heating issues (the nano-structures don’t stress and burst like larger silicon ion-absorbers at high charge levels).

    At current electricity prices, the Roadster gets 130mpg equivalent. At FF electricity prices, this would be at least 3000 mpg-equivalent. With a corresponding range — over 2000 miles with silicon nanowire LiIon batteries.

    Well not fully correct as the silicon nanowires can be used in one electrode only. That translates to no more 5x improvement.
    Well even a 2x improvement should be good enough, but the most important number is not the range, but the price of batteries and electricity of course.

    Regarding biofuels, in my opinion anything that trows CO2 into atmosphere is bad. Even if it takes it later back – because the circulating dioxide is sill causing global warming. I think its likely we will start scrubbing air of dioxide in near future, that is if we reach a point where energy is cheap and plenty – such as implementing fusion power.

    #2813
    AvatarBrian H
    Member

    JesterX wrote:

    Making Biofuels from biomass is now of highest priority in the biofuels research community because we all admit the food crops can only replace a tiny fraction of oil usage while biomass could replace as much as 30% with moderate estimates and higher.


    15 million sq miles of algae farming could displace the entire US fuel demand (on road vehicles). Currently, US agriculture uses over 400 million sq miles of land, 270% of the land requirement for algae.

    Your arithmetic is way off, which makes the rest of your comment suspect. 400 is (400 x 100) / 15 = 2,667% of 15, not 270%. Grade 4, I believe.

    #2814
    AvatarBrian H
    Member

    Breakable wrote:

    Never say never. Right around the end of ’07, Stanford announced the development of silicon nanowire LiIon battery tech which increases energy density (storage capacity) by 10X, and eliminates charge/discharge and heating issues (the nano-structures don’t stress and burst like larger silicon ion-absorbers at high charge levels).

    At current electricity prices, the Roadster gets 130mpg equivalent. At FF electricity prices, this would be at least 3000 mpg-equivalent. With a corresponding range — over 2000 miles with silicon nanowire LiIon batteries.

    Well not fully correct as the silicon nanowires can be used in one electrode only. That translates to no more 5x improvement.
    Well even a 2x improvement should be good enough, but the most important number is not the range, but the price of batteries and electricity of course.

    Regarding biofuels, in my opinion anything that trows CO2 into atmosphere is bad. Even if it takes it later back – because the circulating dioxide is sill causing global warming. I think its likely we will start scrubbing air of dioxide in near future, that is if we reach a point where energy is cheap and plenty – such as implementing fusion power.
    There are others, including Enable IPC, who are working on or claim to have nanowire cathodes: http://www.enableipc.com/microbattery.html . I have queried them about compatibility of the technologies.

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