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  1. #1
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    NPR segment: Will the Corn Supply Hold Out in an Ethanol Age?

    Last month I posted an article from the Washington Post questioning the belief that biofuels will be able to make much of a contribution towards transporation energy:

    The false hope of biofuels.

    Here is an NPR segment from 'Talk of the Nation' on the same subject:

    Talk of the Nation, August 4, 2006 Let's say a trend toward making ethanol fuel for cars and industry really takes off. Will there be enough corn left over to feed people? Economist Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Insitute, isn't so sure.

    Will the Corn Supply Hold Out in an Ethanol Age?

  2. #2
    Mad scientist w/a wrench
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    I think a point is being missed. corn ethanol is a gateway biofuel. I don't think any scientist who knows how to multiply would believe that you could supply all the transportation fuels needs via ethanol. the point is that by starting to transition to biofuels, funding will be created to determine which plants produce the highest yields and which combinations of high-yield crops can be rotated, etc.

    My vote was on biodiesel/SVO anway. there's less chemical processing involved, hence a higher EROEI.
    Proudly wearing kit that doesn't match my frame color (or itself) since 2006.

  3. #3
    Senior Member maddyfish's Avatar
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    Also, as krazygluon can attest, here in Kentucky, there is tons of farmland open and unused. If we went more to corn gas, we could grow alot more corn than we do now.

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    Senior Member Caspar_s's Avatar
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    If they start buying corn for fuel, farmers will start growing more.
    Or they'll switch to a crop which has a better oil/acre ratio.

  5. #5
    Mad scientist w/a wrench
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    The article is fairly correct: if you multiply everything out, using all the available farmland (used or unused, regardless of what its growing) corn wouldn't do the job. if we switched to direct-methanol fuel cells, the production of biomass for producing methanol might be adequate, but the solution isn't going to be just chaning fuels. we've got to reduce the number of cars on the road/number of annual miles they drive.

    I think biofuels would do a great job of supplyin all our public transit needs. (bio-diesel especially could easily power all the diesel busses and trains out there.) but this article and the ones like it raise the point that its got to be technology and behavior that change.
    Proudly wearing kit that doesn't match my frame color (or itself) since 2006.

  6. #6
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Screw ethanol.


    "Think Outside the Cage"

  7. #7
    Prefers Cicero cooker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roody
    Screw ethanol.
    Hey!! I like ethanol.



  8. #8
    Senior Member ken cummings's Avatar
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    I understand the 'entry fuel' concept. Now the biomass concept seems to be next in line. Am I right in thinking that that is the one where we go from cellulose to sugars to methanol/ethanol by various biological and/or chemical steps? I have read of a college where people are trying to genegineer organisms that can crack the cellulose AND produce the ethanol in one "critter". Given a process that "works" (engineer speek for "at a profit") what then is the most efficient producer of cellulose? (cellulose, for the chemically challenged, is basically a sugar polymer) That way we would not need to tear up more land. I vote for something that does not need extra water or fertilizer. Some weed or "Weed" itself . Anyone out there have a chart of how much light is neededs to produce a unit of cellulose for various plants?
    This space open

  9. #9
    contrarian lala's Avatar
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    I thought algae was the new corn.
    Higher ground for the apocalypse!

  10. #10
    Humvee of bikes =Worksman Nightshade's Avatar
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    Of course edible corn will not supply our fuel & food needs as long as
    we keep doing what we're doing.

    First stop suburban sprawl, then reduce the population, then change the transportation
    system to mass transit with HEAVY taxes on private cars/trucks not used for business,
    then make ALL roads and highways both pedestrian and bicycle friendly, build QUALITY
    human sized housing, Etc.

    There is MORE ethonol in the corn stalks and grasses than there is in the edible corn!!

    Basicly, the resources and methods to extend a modified lifestyle is available we just need
    to get the public and our politicians off their collective asses and DO IT!!!!!
    My preferred bicycle brand is.......WORKSMAN CYCLES
    I dislike clipless pedals on any city bike since I feel they are unsafe.

    Originally Posted by krazygluon
    Steel: nearly a thousand years of metallurgical development
    Aluminum: barely a hundred, which one would you rather have under your butt at 30mph?

  11. #11
    Mad scientist w/a wrench
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    <Ken Cummings> I've heard "Weed" itself is one of the better producers of cellulose (that's pretty much what the bulk fibrous stalk of the plant is) and it grows like a..well...weed (little chemicals/etc needed to get it growing for hemp purposes) legalize it!

    Quote Originally Posted by lala
    I thought algae was the new corn.
    sorta. somebody's working on a sort of symbiote (2 different organisms, I think a yeast and an algae. the algae produces some kind of sugar that the yeast can convert to ethanol. theoretically you could grow this stuff in sheets between layers of glass and have a low concentration ethanol runoff that could then be distilled to fuel.

    There is a form of algae that can be directly harvested and pressed for veg oil that would be suitable in biodiesel manufacturing. the unanswered question is the energy return on energy invested in the algae growth process.
    Proudly wearing kit that doesn't match my frame color (or itself) since 2006.

  12. #12
    Prefers Cicero cooker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ken cummings
    or "Weed" itself"
    Hemp is a rapidly growing and hardy source of cellulose that can be converted to ethanol. It also yields a high quality dietary or fuel oil, that can be produced free of THC. It'll be an extremely important crop in the post-petroleum era. That's if it's still around - a few years ago the US congress was paying people to develop a fungus to try to kill it off.

    http://www.marijuananews.com/marijua...ts_congres.htm
    http://www.motherjones.com/news/feat...0/05/coca.html
    Last edited by cooker; 08-05-06 at 06:00 PM.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Thor29's Avatar
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    You guys are nuts. The amount of oil input into our agricultural system is huge. Once oil becomes scarce, we will need to greatly expand the amount of farmland in production just to feed everybody. There won't be any room to grow plants for cars. Doesn't matter if its corn, hemp, daisies, or whatever. Fresh water and good soil are in short supply as well. Biofuels are a deadend for the most part. Maybe if you drastically reduced the population, used horses instead of tractors, and only used biodiesel or ethanol for public transportation, MAYBE you would have a sustainable fuel supply. But probably not. (And don't start talking about using kelp or something - the oceans are also being hit pretty hard by our misuse and abuse).

  14. #14
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thor29
    You guys are nuts. The amount of oil input into our agricultural system is huge. Once oil becomes scarce, we will need to greatly expand the amount of farmland in production just to feed everybody. There won't be any room to grow plants for cars. Doesn't matter if its corn, hemp, daisies, or whatever. Fresh water and good soil are in short supply as well. Biofuels are a deadend for the most part. Maybe if you drastically reduced the population, used horses instead of tractors, and only used biodiesel or ethanol for public transportation, MAYBE you would have a sustainable fuel supply. But probably not. (And don't start talking about using kelp or something - the oceans are also being hit pretty hard by our misuse and abuse).
    Actually it's quite likely that totally switching to sustainable or organic agriculture will increase crop production worldwide, although there might be a slight decrease in North America and Europe.

    I don't really know, but I imagine horses would be an incredibly inefficient use of crops.


    "Think Outside the Cage"

  15. #15
    Senior Member oilfreeandhappy's Avatar
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    If you follow Lester Brown's past writing, his expertise is in the "World Hunger" arena. I've read a number of his Worldwatch Institute papers, along with his book, "Who Will Feed China?". Like most of the Worldwatch staff, he is very thorough, and does his homework. I read this article about a week ago, and the gist of it is that, since the US is the breadbasket of the world, we should not be using our valuable farmland to create "marginal output" ethanol. Even the sileage from the corn is fed to livestock. Or much of the corn stalk is tilled under to keep the soil healthy (remember the dust bowl). He doesn't really offer definitive alternative solutions, but he does mention wind power.
    Jim
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    I plan on buying a diesel, when I eventually get around to buying a car, so I can run on biodiesel-- to be used for long trips only.** My part against global warming. That said, if *everybody* were to transition to biofuels, it would be an unmitigated disaster for other species, as every square inch of land would be appropriated to feed and fuel an expanding human population.

    And then there's the problematic morality of allowing human starvation in a world where people are powering their SUVs on corn....







    ** I've heard, however, that the new battery technology allows for 6 minute "dump recharges" and 250 mile ranges, which, if true, makes electric vehicles feasible alternatives to carbon-fueled vehicles.

  17. #17
    Up on the Down Side CyLowe97's Avatar
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    Doesn't most corn grown in the US go to feed cattle, anyway?

    It's not only about feeding humans, but feeding the meat....

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by CyLowe97
    Doesn't most corn grown in the US go to feed cattle, anyway?

    It's not only about feeding humans, but feeding the meat....
    Without looking it up, I believe that's correct. It takes a lot of food and water to grow meat. The consumers of wealthy nations can afford to feed corn to livestock, or fuel their SUVs with it. The starving poor have no money, so they starve. And animals and plants disappear to make room for our fat asses, as the bumper sticker says.**






    **Now there's irony, putting that on an automobile.

  19. #19
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    Did anyone look at the price of a bottle of Wesson oil? The cost of this inexpensive cooking oil is $6.50 for 48 oz so you can imagine what the price will be once all the oil is gone in about 100 years! There are no cheap alternatives to petrol oil today or tomorrow. The motorist should consider themselves lucky to spending $3.29 a gallon because it's not going to get cheaper. Can you imagine having to use Wesson oil to heat up your home and we're not talking about extra Virgin either! We will look back on these days with fond memories as being the last years of cheap motoring

    Bottom line. Wesson oil or corn oil is a dead end. As someone said, we still have to have enough corn oil to power all our office buildings, buses, trucks, trains, homes etc. There's just not enough open productive farm land to do all this from an alternative oil that burns very quickly compared to petroleum. If all the corn is used for motoring, I will find other sources of food to eat. Let the motorist pay $6.50 for 48 oz bottle of Wesson oil to fill their tank. The solution to this problem is to be car free.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dahon.Steve
    The solution to this problem is to be car free.
    That presumes there are no other sources of fuel to power an automobile-- electric, solar, nuclear, magnetic, whatever. Of course, regardless of what's used to power automobiles, we still have all of the other attendant problems that come with the automobile-- land use being one major problem.

  21. #21
    Senior Member Thor29's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Order
    That presumes there are no other sources of fuel to power an automobile-- electric, solar, nuclear, magnetic, whatever. Of course, regardless of what's used to power automobiles, we still have all of the other attendant problems that come with the automobile-- land use being one major problem.
    Actually you just gave another reason for "the only solution is to be car free". It ISN'T just about the type of fuel used. There is also the infrastructure, the energy used to make the cars, and the millions of animals and people killed every year by them both directly and indirectly.

  22. #22
    Mad scientist w/a wrench
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    Quote Originally Posted by cooker
    a few years ago the US congress was paying people to develop a fungus to try to kill it off.
    I doubt that'll succeed. cannabis is one highly diverse plant. we've had some fungal-scares with other crops (like chocolate) in the past that were usually always the result of monocropping and low diversity of a species.

    Quote Originally Posted by Thor29
    You guys are nuts...
    see, I know people who've done some economic studies comparing the amish and other low-tech present day agrarian societies to modern agribuisness. The funny result is that the amish make more money per acre than an agribuisness does, they just have a high enough concentration of workers per acre that the money goes back into those people's lives.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dahon.Steve
    Did anyone look at the price of a bottle of Wesson oil?
    actually a large amount of that price is the result of government price manipulation. (they keep the production of oilseeds down so that the farmers growing the stuff actually make more than 3 cents per gallon of the finished product. cost-analysis studies done on the actual costs to make and sell oilseeds show that you could easily offer $3 a gallon, maybe cheaper biodiesel.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dahon.Steve
    The solution to this problem is to be car free.
    yes, certainly and undoubtedly yes. unfortunately we still need electricity, public transit and long distance transit; which means we still need an arseload of energy. My biofuels advocacy comes from this: all the energy we've ever gotten is trickle-down (via physical or chemical processes) solar energy. knowing that, I think plants are probably the best solar collectors we've got. (yes, supposedly the efficiency of newer solar cells would beat any acre of plants, but solar cells require VERY energy intensive
    and pollutive manufacturing processes, whereas plants can be grown in a very environmentally safe, very low energy input situation)

    of course, corn comparatively sucks per acre for oil production. canola and soy are the highest sources per acre in the north american and european climates. further south there's all sorts of oil-rich plants, some of which are trees that can be grown year in year out without heavy tillage.

    the people that write all this "biofuels will never make it" write from a very shortsighted perspective wherein they don't see much social technological or methodological change occuring. of course you can't support the american SUV fleet with biofuels. I don't think any biofuel advocate ever said that (if they did, they were definitely bordering on lunacy) I do think you can support some kind of relatively technological society on a diverse blend of biofuels,wind,hydroelectric,geothermal and the other greener sources of alternative energy. But I doubt cars will play much if any role in such a world.
    Proudly wearing kit that doesn't match my frame color (or itself) since 2006.

  23. #23
    Senior Member Thor29's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by krazygluon
    see, I know people who've done some economic studies comparing the amish and other low-tech present day agrarian societies to modern agribuisness. The funny result is that the amish make more money per acre than an agribuisness does, they just have a high enough concentration of workers per acre that the money goes back into those people's lives.


    actually a large amount of that price is the result of government price manipulation. (they keep the production of oilseeds down so that the farmers growing the stuff actually make more than 3 cents per gallon of the finished product. cost-analysis studies done on the actual costs to make and sell oilseeds show that you could easily offer $3 a gallon, maybe cheaper biodiesel.
    The problem with your analysis is the same thing that is driving the planet to ruin. Economics considers the planet to be an infinite source of resources and an infinite sink for pollution. You also aren't considering that the studies you quote are done in the context of an economy that is running on cheap oil. When oil gets to be too expensive, EVERYTHING will get more expensive.

    Your assumption that technology will change everything is nothing more than pure faith. There is no reason to believe that technology will come to the rescue when you look at what has happened so far. Regardless, it is irresponsible to continue down this path all the while hoping that the engineers and scientists will save us. The so-called green revolution that massively increased agricultural output was mostly due to massive increases in input, also known as OIL. Oil is an amazingly dense source of easily available energy. When it is gone, this economy and the world population will collapse. It is ineveitable. It will happen. Keep wishing it away, but all the facts are there. (I suggest you check out the archive on www.dieoff.org or try to find one of the series of books called "The Limits to Growth" by Meadows/Club of Rome).

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thor29
    Your assumption that technology will change everything is nothing more than pure faith. There is no reason to believe that technology will come to the rescue when you look at what has happened so far. Regardless, it is irresponsible to continue down this path all the while hoping that the engineers and scientists will save us. The so-called green revolution that massively increased agricultural output was mostly due to massive increases in input, also known as OIL. Oil is an amazingly dense source of easily available energy. When it is gone, this economy and the world population will collapse. It is ineveitable. It will happen. Keep wishing it away, but all the facts are there. (I suggest you check out the archive on www.dieoff.org or try to find one of the series of books called "The Limits to Growth" by Meadows/Club of Rome).
    If you watch the movie "Who Killed the Electric Car" we do have technology that can replace motor oil for some Americans who have the luxury of a home with a garage. However, GM killed the project once it was discovered it cut into their profit margin. It goes to show you that even if a marginal technology (electric car) comes along, I'm sure auto maufacturers will be against it, so we won't be moving to an alternative until the last drop is sucked from the earth. There's billions of dollars worth of fuel to continue ripping off the motorist so why change things? The motorist like sheep are being taken advantage each time they fill up the tank.

    Those on the forum who are car free have broken from the cycle of a new car every 5 years cannot be taken advange. Science can stop right now in it's search for alternative fuels and I'll sleep like a baby because the price of fuel at the pump has zero effect in my life. I have not purchased gasoline for a motor in over 4 years and it will probably never do so for the rest of my life. A gasoline station is only relevant in my life if it stocks Vitamin Water because that is the only product I purchase. I do not look at the price of gasoline and would not know how to operate those self service machines. Furthermore, I don't see any frustration or anger from the motorist after purchasing such expensive fuel which is another reason why I do not worry.

  25. #25
    Sophomoric Member Roody's Avatar
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    ^dahon steve, I know it's been pointed out before that you are indeed affected by oil prices. The food and consumer goods you buy, the power for the train you take, even many of the parts on your bikes--all are greatly affected by oil prices and availability.


    "Think Outside the Cage"

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