Biofuels

By Andy May


According to Exxon-Mobil, 9% of the world’s energy came from biofuels in 2017. They do not expect this percentage to increase by 2040, and it may go down. For the most part it is a developing world fuel. Primary biofuels include dung, wood, wood chips and pellets. Secondary, or manufactured biofuels include ethanol and biodiesel, which derive from several agricultural products, mainly corn, sugar cane, palm oil, soybeans and canola. The main advantage of using locally sourced wood and dung are their low cost and wide availability. Using imported wood or wood chips for generating electricity, as is done in Europe, is more problematic. Due to the economic and environmental costs of farming the trees, making the wood pellets or chips and shipping them to the powerplants; wood is not a competitive fuel for most powerplants. The energy density is too low. However, if the source of the wood is within fifty miles of the plant, it can be competitive with coal and it may produce fewer greenhouse gases than coal, estimates vary. Ethanol and biodiesel are also more expensive than fossil fuels and must be subsidized to be competitive.

Worldwide, biofuels (meaning biomass + transportation biofuels + waste) are the largest renewable energy source. In 2017, bioenergy accounted for 60 to 70% of renewable energy consumption. In the same year, biofuels supplied about three percent of the energy used in transportation, this was mainly biodiesel and ethanol. Worldwide, about 95% of the renewable energy used for heating and cooking in the home, on farms, in restaurants and by street vendors, was from burning dung or wood. This causes considerable indoor air pollution and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates some four million people die every year as a result. In 2017, 86% of the biomass, burned for energy, was used for cooking or heating homes, most of the remainder was ethanol or biodiesel.


Ethanol, biodiesel and wood as fuel: The economics

Biofuels have a low to very low energy density, relative to fossil fuels or nuclear fuel, and you need lot of biomass to produce much energy. Biofuels, with the exception of some biodiesel products, also cause a lot of pollution, this includes the pollution created when growing the product, such as wood, palm trees, soybeans, canola or corn; the pollution created when ethanol or biodiesel are manufactured; and when the product is burned. An external cost of biofuels is that using them can raise the cost of food, this is particularly true of corn ethanol. Another external cost is that producing, and manufacturing biofuels uses a lot of water and water availability is a problem in many parts of the world.

Ethanol is corrosive, it contains oxygen, it attracts water, and can cause steel to crack. This means that it cannot be put in normal pipelines and often must be trucked. This increases costs and lowers the biofuel’s EROI (energy returned on investment).

EROI is a ratio, the numerator is the energy produced by the final product and the denominator is the total energy used to produce it. The denominator is usually computed using cost data as a proxy for the energy input. Because costs are used, computed EROI’s for any fuel can vary a lot between countries. This is due, mainly, to differences in labor and land costs. Thus, for a given fuel product, a developed country will have a lower computed EROI, due to a larger denominator, than an undeveloped country, where living standards, wages, and land have lower costs. As we will see, this affects the economic breakeven EROI. In countries with a high standard of living, a higher EROI is required to maintain their high standard of living. In order to maintain a high standard of living, each person must use more energy.

In concentrations above 20% by volume, ethanol, in either gasoline or diesel, can destroy engines that are not specially modified for the fuel. This is also true of some forms of biodiesel. This is such a hazard that car and truck manufacturers will not honor warranties for most vehicles if the owner purchases gasoline or diesel with more than 10% ethanol.

Some claim that burning wood to produce electricity produces “good” CO2 because the trees cut down for fuel will be replaced by trees that will absorb the CO2. This may or may not be true, but either way the cost of cutting down trees, planting new ones, preparing and transporting the wood to a power plant can be so high, as to prohibit its use in the absence of subsidies and mandates. The EU is the world’s largest wood pellet market, largely due to mandates. In the EU, Italy and Germany are the largest consumers.

The EROI of a fuel, especially a transportation fuel, must exceed three for it to be useful and some researchers set the economic limit even higher. The EROI of burning wood for electricity is very low, around 10 (Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften – Leopoldina 2012, p. 10). It is much lower than the EROI of burning coal (45 to 80), even with a full set of pollution scrubbers on the coal-burning power plant. For lower quality coal or lignite, such as that used in Germany, the EROI can be as low as 30. The EROI of corn-based ethanol, for comparison purposes, is between 1.25 and 3.5.

Some argue that the energy put into corn farming and ethanol production exceeds the energy yield from the fuel (Patzek 2014). Or, put another way, “The fossil energy inputs required for farming and processing often cancel out most of the energy delivered” (Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften – Leopoldina 2012, p. 9). The U.S. taxpayer subsidies to the industrial corn-ethanol industry were $3.3 billion in 2004. The increase in biofuel production really took off in 2005 and this was one of the causes of an increase in food prices that began that year, see (Tyner 2008). When ethanol production flattened out in 2012 due to the ethanol 10% “blend wall” (see below for details) then food prices stopped rising.

The reason many want to use biofuels is that they hope using them will reduce greenhouse emissions. However, numerous studies have shown that is not the case. In August 2012 the German National Academy of Sciences found that removing biomass from the area where it was grown and using it for fuel is:


“… neither renewable nor carbon neutral, instead it is energy- and CO2 negative.” (Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften – Leopoldina 2012, p. 6)


This is apparent because removing the biomass also removes nutrients needed to grow the plants, they must be replaced using manufactured fertilizer. The carbon cycle cannot be separated from the nutrient cycle without cost (Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften – Leopoldina 2012, p. 6). Pesticides are also needed to increase yield, farming requires a lot of equipment and fuel, and the land used for the biomass farm is land that could be forest or grassland that would sequester carbon or a farm producing food, reducing food costs. The loss of arable land has a cost, it increases the cost of food or it emits greenhouse gases.


Algae biodiesel

ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics, Inc. have developed a strain of algae that is able to convert carbon into an energy-rich fat that can be processed into biodiesel (Ajjawi, et al. 2017). Making biofuels from algae is not new, but this particular genetically-modified species of algae is more than twice as energy rich (twice the fat content) as other types of algae. A significant advantage of this algae is that growing it does not require farmland and it has little to no effect on our food supply. This is a promising technology, but still in the research stage and the economic viability of this renewable option is not known.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) spent millions of dollars making biofuels from algae between 1978 and 1996 before shutting the project down without any positive results (Kiefer 2013, p. 3). The problems identified by the DOE were mainly economic. The main difference with the Exxon-Mobil project is in the algae used.


Ethanol from corn and cellulose and the ethanol mandate

The U.S. government Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) mandates that the crude oil refining industry buy a specific amount of ethanol each year and pay heavy fines if they don’t. They are ordered to buy a product they do not want and punished if they don’t buy it, yet some news sources claim this is a subsidy to the fossil fuel industry. The EPA administers the program and has the authority to waive the statutory ethanol targets. This has had the effect of making the rule unpredictable and arbitrary. Further, the mandate to use more cellulosic ethanol, ethanol from grass and other non-standard crops, has never worked. The manufacturing process has technical and economic hurdles that are overwhelming. So, the mandate to use cellulosic ethanol, a supposedly “advanced” biofuel has been waived every year since 2013. Exxon-Mobil and some other companies are still looking for an economic method to convert cellulose to biodiesel, but no viable solutions have been found. It is worth considering that the first cellulosic ethanol plant opened in the United States in 1910 and it failed. So, despite 110 years of trying, cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel are still not economically viable (Kiefer 2013, p. 3). Mandating the use of a technology that has not been invented yet is foolish, but we are talking about the government, they know very little about economic viability.

Each year the EPA dictates the required overall volumes of various transportation biofuels for the following year. Then it projects the amount of fuel consumption expected for the period and dictates the amount of ethanol that the refining industry must purchase, regardless of how much they can use. Each gallon of ethanol produced or imported is assigned a unique renewable identification number, a “RIN.” These RIN’s are tradable and can be bought by refineries to offset ethanol they are ordered to purchase but cannot use. A refinery that uses more than they are ordered to use can sell RINs. Another way to obtain RINs is to purchase expensive “advanced” biofuels or biodiesel from overseas so they over-comply with the “advanced biofuel” part of the RFS to gain RINs. See a recent post by Paul Driessen here.

A problem is created because the ethanol producers want the government to force the refiners to take more ethanol, but the refiners face a “blend wall.” With today’s engines, the maximum ethanol content in gasoline is 10%, more than that and engine damage can result. To make matters worse, sales of heavily subsidized electric vehicles and hybrids and cars with better gasoline mileage are reducing the total demand for gasoline. The mandate is for volumes of ethanol, irrespective of the volume of gasoline sold. Many refiners put as much ethanol as they can into their gasoline, but will still fall short of the government mandates, so they are forced to buy RINs from others, especially biodiesel manufacturers, often these manufacturers are overseas companies. This drives up the price of RINs, meaning that biodiesel and the specialty 85% ethanol fuel are heavily subsidized simply because they generate valuable RINs.

The compliance burden falls most heavily on large refiners, because small refineries are routinely granted exemptions from the RFS requirements. In August of 2019, 31 small refiners were granted exemptions from the RFS. The angry corn-ethanol producers then furiously complain and demand that the EPA allow the sale of higher-percentage ethanol blends, raise the RFS and stop granting exemptions. This causes the automobile manufacturers to refuse to honor their car warranties to anyone that puts more than 10% ethanol gasoline in their cars. If refiners are forced to pay any more for their RINs, they claim they will go bankrupt. It is a perfect whirlwind of lobbyists, lawyers and government bureaucrats, who are the only ones who make any money out of this mess. This is a perfect candidate for deregulation, but instead President Trump ordered the EPA to move towards E15 (gasoline with 15% ethanol) and has suggested fixes for the RIN market, he essentially caved to the ethanol and farm lobbies.

Recently, Reuters reported that the Trump administration has decided to drastically scale back the EPA’s program to exempt small oil refineries from the country’s biofuel regulations. The Trump administration has more than quadrupled the number of exemptions since 2015, protecting a large number of small refineries. However, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the EPA exceeded its authority since many of the new exemptions are for refineries that had not received the exemption before, it ruled that the refineries getting the exemption must have previously received one. As of March 4, 2020, the EPA has not said what it will do, but acknowledged that they needed to “quell” the market for RINs. The market for gasoline and diesel has shrunk, but the ethanol mandates have not.


Costs and benefits of biofuels, EROI

The National Academies of Sciences says that biofuels can only be competitive, without subsidies and mandates, if gasoline costs over five dollars a gallon or when crude oil reaches $191 per barrel. These are prices we are very unlikely to reach in the foreseeable future.

As explained above, energy used to make a fuel, like a biofuel, must be much less than the energy output for the fuel to be useful. An EROI of one means just as much energy was used to make the fuel as we can get out of it, but this isn’t good enough. We are inefficient in the way we use fuel, for example cars with conventional gasoline engines are only about 30% efficient and natural gas combined-cycle electric power plants are only 50% efficient, so an EROI of one is not good enough. The best solar panels convert 15% to 22% of the sun’s energy into electricity and must contend with cloudy days and nighttime. Windmills are only 38% efficient on average and only extract 50% of the energy that flows through the rotor area. Solar and windmill overall efficiency varies with location, but in Germany, on average, solar efficiency is 8% of rated capacity and wind is 17% of rated capacity.

Estimates vary, but, most calculations show that corn-based ethanol has an EROI of only 1.25 (Kiefer, 2013). Other estimates are as high as 3.5 (Weissbach, et al. 2018). When we consider the loss of energy when using ethanol in a vehicle, this is a negative return. Cars and trucks are not perfectly efficient, so breakeven has been estimated to be around three by Hall, et al. (2009). According to Kiefer, even ancient Rome did better with grain for slaves, oxen and horses, their maximum EROI was about 4.2. In building the colosseum the EROI was 1.8. Weissbach, et al. (Weissbach, et al. 2018, p. 7-8) place the EROI economic threshold much higher, at about 10:1 to maintain our modern standard of living, which may be more realistic. Weissbach also explains the difference between fossil fuels and wind and solar, which require “buffering” (Weissbach, et al. 2018, p. 8) to smooth out their fluctuations in output.

Weissbach explains that the methods used to compute EROI and the country used to do the computation affect the calculation, as we mentioned above. For example, a natural gas turbine in a less developed country will have a higher EROI than one in an industrialized country, this is due to the lower cost of labor in the less developed country. Money is a good proxy for the input energy in a power plant but using costs as input changes the computed EROI for any given power source according to the location.

Coal-fired steam engines came along in the 1800s with an EROI of 10:1 or more. In the early coal mining days extracting coal was very easy since it was accessible at the surface or very near the surface. This was a good thing because early steam engines were very inefficient. However, as coal-fired steam engines proliferated they replaced slave labor, so the social and economic benefits were large.

Our civilization depends very much on EROI as the surplus energy (energy not used in obtaining and using fuels) helps define our affluence. Because we currently enjoy a large energy surplus, we can spend our time doing other things than simply growing food and gathering wood for shelter or to cook the food.

It is well documented that wealth and standard of living are closely related to energy consumption (see Figure 1). Obviously, energy consumption is related to price, the cheaper the energy the more we consume and the better off we are. Timothy Garrett (2011) has shown that every additional 9.7 milliwatts consumed increases our global wealth by one 1990 U.S. dollar. Other documentation of the intimate relationship between energy consumption and wealth can be seen here and here. The quickest way to raise people out of poverty is to supply them with cheaper energy and the quickest way to throw more into poverty is to raise the price of energy.

Figure 1. The x axis is energy consumption per person and the y axis is the United Nations human development index, or human prosperity. The correlation between the logarithm of energy consumption per person and prosperity is striking. Source: Exxon-Mobil, page 6, click on image to see in higher resolution.

The U.S. devotes 38 million acres of land to corn raised to make ethanol, this is about half of the land used in the U.S. to grow grains and vegetables. The price of corn went from $87 per metric ton in 2006 to $217 per metric ton in 2008, an increase of 150%. This rapid jump in price was an unintended consequence of the ethanol subsidies and higher oil and gas prices (Tyner 2008).

The diversion of arable land for ethanol production raises the price of all foods and because the U.S. is a major exporter of food, it raises prices all over the world. It is estimated that the cost of rice and flour increased 50% after the RFS was created. The RFS is a hidden food tax that is highly regressive and affects poor people much more than the middle class or wealthier people.

The logic behind the RFS is that corn ethanol is supposed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20% over the gasoline replaced. However, this depends upon the way the corn was grown and converted into ethanol. Some studies suggest that the 20% reduction is more than offset by emissions on the farm and in the distillery. Further, the farm and distillery emit ozone, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide. The farms also use a lot of nitrogen-based fertilizers, which produce nitrogen oxides that pollute the air or can be washed into rivers causing water pollution.

The nitrogen-based fertilizers used today come from the Haber-Bosch process that uses natural gas (methane), water and nitrogen from the atmosphere to produce ammonia, which is then used to make fertilizer, see Figure 2. Roughly three to five percent of the natural gas used in the world each day is used to make fertilizer. Natural gas is not required to make the fertilizer, but all other sources of hydrogen are too expensive to be practical. Both Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch won Nobel Prizes for their work developing the manufacturing process. Today’s corn plants are bred and genetically engineered to optimize their use of this ammonia-based fertilizer. This has allowed farmers to raise the pre-Haber-Bosch corn yield from about 32 bushels per acre in 1906 to 170 bushels of corn per acre today (Kiefer 2013, p. 8). The extensive production of corn-ethanol would not be possible except for the large amount of natural gas used to make fertilizer. If we were to choose not to produce natural gas by way of a ban on hydraulic fracturing, corn yields would plummet to pre-World War II levels and corn-ethanol production would grind to a halt.

Figure 2. A schematic of the Haber-Bosch ammonia manufacturing process. Three percent of the world’s natural gas production is used to make fertilizer using this process. Source: Francis E. Williams, via Wikimedia commons. Click on the image to see it in higher resolution.

Other processes for making ammonia from air are being investigated and some show promise, such as the new SWAP process. But none are working at a commercial scale yet. One of the problems with SWAP is that it requires a lot of samarium, which is very expensive, about $360 per 100 grams.

The irony of pushing to replace fossil fuels with corn-ethanol, is obvious. Fossil fuels are required to fertilize, grow and transport the corn used to make ethanol. Manufacturing ethanol requires natural gas, then special plumbing and pipelines are required to transport it. If more than 10% ethanol is blended into gasoline or diesel, special engines are required to burn it. Except to lobbyists and lawyers, it makes no sense.


Soybean, palm, canola oils and biodiesel

Corn-based ethanol has its problems, but the soybean oil, canola oil and palm oil used as biofuels (biodiesel) in Europe and the U.S.A. are probably worse. The European Union and the U.S.A. heavily subsidize these biofuels, and this has raised the price of palm and soybean oil. While subsidizing biodiesel through renewable energy policies, the EU also criticizes and punishes other countries, including the U.S. for subsidizing the same goods. The high demand for palm-oil biodiesel has caused Indonesia, Malaysia and other producing countries to cut down their forests and grow huge crops to sell to European refineries. The schizophrenic combination of both subsidies and tariffs on biodiesel reveal how nonsensical the whole concept is. When U.S. biodiesel subsidies were withdrawn in 2016, ten manufacturers shut down. The whole industry would probably disappear without subsidies. Western economies require a high EROI and both Weissbach and Kiefer believe that biodiesel and other biofuels are subeconomic there. The U.S. biodiesel subsidies were reinstated and made retroactive in 2019.

Canola (rapeseed) is grown in Europe, Canada and other countries and used to make biodiesel in many locations. In the U.S. soybean oil is preferred as a feedstock for biodiesel, but canola oil and recycled cooking oils are also commonly used. In the U.S. biodiesel is commonly blended with petroleum diesel in percentages ranging from 5% to 20% biodiesel.

Palm-oil biodiesel (blended 20% to 50% with petroleum diesel) results in lower emissions of carbon monoxide, particulates (smoke) and hydrocarbons than regular diesel, but if that palm-oil came from a cleared tropical rainforest, according to the EU, then palm-oil biodiesel is not sustainable and should not qualify under the EU RFS. Of all the feedstock crops for biodiesel, palm oil has the best characteristics as a fuel, second only to petroleum diesel. It is also less likely to damage engines. All vegetable oil-based biodiesel products deteriorate with time (biodegrade) but palm-oil seems to be the most stable.

Even though Sir Rudolf Diesel ran his conventional diesel engines using vegetable oil without any modification, today this isn’t practical. Vegetable oils, including palm-oil, have a large molecular mass, low volatility and high viscosity, this reduces the performance of the engine and, in low temperatures, causes the fuel to become an unpumpable gel. In addition, they have a short shelf life. To solve these problems, the vegetable biodiesel is typically blended with petroleum diesel or alcohol and a surfactant at elevated temperatures. Other processes to prepare biodiesel for modern diesel engines are complex chemical processes, including pyrolysis and transesterification. These processes create a product that can damage engines (Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften – Leopoldina 2012, p. 47) and the processes create a lot of wastewater that requires expensive processing before it can be discharged (Zahan and Kano 2018, p. 2).

In the production of biodiesel, only the lipid fraction is used, and this is only 20-50% of the plant dry mass, thus the energy yield per square meter of farmland is lower than for ethanol and much lower than for biogas. Just as serious is the potential damage to very expensive diesel engines, the risks are high enough that the manufacturers of newer, highly efficient engines have refused to sanction the use of biodiesel in their vehicles. The risks to engines include dilution of motor oil, coking of piston rings, corrosion of hydraulic components (including hydraulic lines, a safety issue) and fouled injectors. These problems arise from poor production practices and fuel aging, since the fuel deteriorates with age (Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften – Leopoldina 2012, p. 47).

While biodiesel can lower the emissions of CO2 and particulate matter, it increases fuel consumption per mile, reduces engine power, and increases NOx (nitrogen oxides, a family of pollutants) emissions. The main cost of making biodiesel is the cost of the feedstock, because vegetable oil is expensive. In the U.S., biodiesel was 15-30% more expensive than petroleum diesel in 2017, even with subsidies (Zahan and Kano 2018).


Discussion and Conclusions

Biofuels are not economically viable at today’s oil and natural gas prices. Their EROI will not sustain the quality-of-life a developed nation is used to today. In other words, to adopt biofuels, the western world must either heavily subsidize them, imposing a hidden tax on their citizens in order to support farmers and biofuels manufacturers, or they must accept a much lower quality-of-life, aka “Human Development Index,” as shown in Figure 1.

Even if petroleum oil and gas prices were to rise to a level where biofuels could compete on a level playing field, with today’s technology, the biofuel EROI shows us that our standard of living would have to go down substantially. There is no reason to prop up biofuels for some uncertain future, their EROI alone shows us we could not use them under any circumstances. If pressed by high fossil fuel prices, we would choose a fuel with a higher EROI, like nuclear fission or fusion, in order to maintain our quality-of-life and standard-of-living. People hate to go backwards, which is what biofuels would demand.

How did we get here? The original ethanol subsidy was part of the 1978 Energy Policy Act (Tyner 2008). It was originally 40 cents per gallon, it has varied from 40 to 60 cents per gallon ever since and is currently 45 cents. This is on top of state and local subsidies that can raise the total to $1.38 per gallon. The subsidy program was revised under President George W. Bush in 2004. Both, the original subsidy and Bush’s Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax were meant to help America achieve energy independence. However, the U.S. is already energy independent due to shale gas and oil, invalidating the original reason for the subsidies.

After the U.S. was well on its way to energy independence, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn led an effort to repeal the ethanol subsidy in 2011, but the repeal was fought vigorously by Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, it failed to pass by 59 to 40. The corn and ethanol lobbies are very powerful.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 mandated a one dollar a gallon subsidy for new agricultural biodiesel and 50 cents to used feedstocks like fryer grease. This tax credit expired in 2016 and ten biodiesel manufacturers shut down, then it was retroactively extended late in 2019. Some articles claim this subsidy and the ethanol subsidy benefit the oil and gas industry, which is nonsense, it hurts both them and the consumer. This is why small petroleum refineries are granted RFS waivers, so they do not shut down. The small refineries are even granted waivers if they are owned by Exxon-Mobil, and for good reason, we want them to stay open. The subsidies benefit farmers and ethanol and biodiesel refineries, which are not part of the oil and gas industry. Just more fake news about oil and gas subsidies, similar to the false claim that the Low Income Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) welfare program is an oil and gas subsidy.

So, we see how a government program, created during an oil and gas crisis in 1978, becomes a permanent corporate welfare program for farmers and biofuel refiners. It has created a constituency that is totally dependent upon government handouts. Like all such programs, the taxpayers and consumers are the victims.


Works Cited


Ajjawi, I., J. Verruto, M. Aqui, Leah B Soriaga, Jennifer Coppersmith, Kathleen Kwok, Luke Peach, et al. 2017. “Lipid production in Nannochloropsis gaditana is doubled by decreasing expression of a single transcriptional regulator.” Nature Biotechnology. doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt.3865.


Kiefer, Captain Todd A. “Ike”. 2013. Twenty-First Century Snake Oil: Why the United States Should Reject Biofuels as Part of a Rational National Security Energy Strategy. Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation. https://phe.rockefeller.edu/docs/Kiefer%20-%20Snake%20Oil2.pdf.


Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften – Leopoldina. 2012. “Bioenergy – Chances and Limits.” https://www.leopoldina.org/uploads/tx_leopublication/201207_Stellungnahme_Bioenergie_LAY_en_final_01.pdf.


Patzek, Tad. 2014. Thermodynamics of the Corn-Ethanol Biofuel Cycle. fusion4freedom. http://fusion4freedom.us/corn-bio-fuel/.


Tyner, Wallace E. 2008. “The US Ethanol and Biofuels Boom: Its Origins, Current Status, and Future Prospects.” Bioscience 58 (7). doi:https://doi.org/10.1641/B580718.


Weissbach, D., F. Hermann, G. Ruprecht, and A. Huke. 2018. “Energy intensities, EROI (energy returned on invested), for electric sources.” EPJ Web of Conterences. https://www.epj-conferences.org/articles/epjconf/pdf/2018/24/epjconf_eps-sif2018_00016.pdf.


Zahan, Khairul, and Manabu Kano. 2018. “Biodiesel Production from Palm Oil, Its By-Products, and Mill Effluent: A Review.” Energies 11. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327066949_Biodiesel_Production_from_Palm_Oil_Its_By-Products_and_Mill_Effluent_A_Review.

72 thoughts on “Biofuels

  1. “However, if the source of the wood is within fifty miles of the plant, it can be competitive “..

    How do you tell a wood chip plant from space….it’s the one in the middle of the 50 mile hole
    ..and how long does it take to burn a 50 mile circle of trees?

    • Latitude, Consider this:

      There are two main reasons why whole trees are a high carbon fuel source for electricity production. First, because freshly cut wood is nearly half water by weight, burning this wood emits about 40 percent more carbon pollution than burning coal to produce an equivalent amount of energy. So when wood is burned in power plants, a lot of energy goes into boiling off this water before useful energy can be generated. This makes biomass facilities far less efficient than fossil fuel plants, and lower efficiency means more wood must be burned to generate the same amount of electricity, increasing carbon pollution at the smokestack.

      From here: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/forests-not-fuel.pdf

      • China is burning so much coal….and emitting so much CO2…..the rest of it is just deflecting from the fact they are doing it

        China gets a free pass on all of it…chemical, poisons, plastic in the ocean
        ..it’s always we…not they

        • In Canada we pay Danegeld to foreign countries to “recycle” our plastic waste
          I’m pretty sure they pocket the cash and just tip it into the ocean which is one reason there is that vast raft in the North Pacific
          But out of site out of mind as they say

          • Joel is correct. If the nationwide raft was there, somebody would have found it on GoogleEarth.

          • A search for “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” would be the place to start.

            There is a company in Japan that (since 2011) can turn that plastic into fuel. Klean Industries.

            A search for plastic pyrolysis can also work.

    • Farmers and biofuel manufacturers. The largest manufacturers are Australian Renewable, Cosan, ADM, Louis Dreyfus, and RBF.

    • Biofuels exist primarily as a subsidy to farmers.

      Politicians have a heavy “vested interest” in farms and farmers.

      The USDA alone spend billion$ to purchase produce from farmers.

      • Just don’t advertise all this to the farmers in advance of the November election, or there may be enough votes lost to cause Trump to lose the election. Do you think farmers are going to agree with you on this assumption? Just remember, it was rural America and a lot farming communities that mainly elected Trump as POTUS wining the Electoral College.

        • Or we could all learn there is a better way to fix things.
          First one has to learn what is broken before it can be fixed. The sight in the link may not look “professional” & some of the information seems “out of date” but what got my attention was that the National Security Council said that what the people that run that organization are doing is correct. After months of learning on my own I found no evidence to contradict what is posted on their sight. I admit that the learning they ask people to do is not easy and I have taken a “break” from learning law because the the language and level of confusion is more than my brain can process for more than a few hours a day. What I have also found is that far too many people can’t believe or won’t admit that what is posted on the following sight is true.
          https://teamlaw.net/ I know it’s a lot but it’s worth the time and then in the links on the left of the page one will find Reseat America that explains the only lawful way to get the crooks out of government.
          https://teamlaw.net/Government/usmap.htm

    • Those Iowa corn growers just need to convert to soybean for shipping to China as they try to recover their pork industry with US soy feeds. The Chinese love their pork, and with 1.4 billion of them, that a lot of pigs to feed to meet that demand. Iowa-Nebraska and Dakotas hog operations also can benefit from reduced feed prices. I like my bacon.

  2. Farmers and biofuel manufacturers. The largest manufacturers are Australian Renewable, Cosan, ADM, Louis Dreyfus, and RBF.

  3. Thank you for this thorough and comprehensive textbook on the subject. I printed it out and will use as a reference.

    I have a question. Is it a contradiction to use reforestation and aforestation as a carbon credit and burn woodchips with no carbon debit?

    AGW started out as a fossil fuel theory about the impact of the industrial economy on climate and then gradually generalized to all carbon.

    • chaamjamal, Thank you for your complement. Yes. I think it is a contradiction. From my post:

      The logic behind the RFS is that corn ethanol is supposed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20% over the gasoline replaced. However, this depends upon the way the corn was grown and converted into ethanol. Some studies suggest that the 20% reduction is more than offset by emissions on the farm and in the distillery. Further, the farm and distillery emit ozone, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide. The farms also use a lot of nitrogen-based fertilizers, which produce nitrogen oxides that pollute the air or can be washed into rivers causing water pollution.

      I think the negative environmental effects (above and beyond any problems due to CO2) greatly outweigh the fact that trees can be replanted after cutting them down and burning them. This is also true of corn, soybeans, palm trees, and canola. As I said in the post, you cannot separate the nutrient cycle from the carbon cycle.

    • Sorry, off topic:

      Chaamjamal, I’ve just posted the link for the Optimum Population Trust (AKA Population Matters – David Attenborough) spreadsheet on your post “The impacts of the Industrial Economy”. This is the spreadsheet where Population Matters tell us where they want to cull the human population.

      Here is the link in case anybody else wants it:

      https://web.archive.org/web/20100709235838/http://www.optimumpopulation.org/images/briefingfigs/opt.af.lpr02.tab2e.xls

  4. Polar bears? Very safe compared to Orangutans, thanks to Grassly and the Green lobby. –AGF

  5. We do not need to reduce CO2 (carbon) emmissions. Our atmosphere is at a historic low for ppm CO2. I think the vast majority of WUWT submissions has established that CO2 is not a player in climate change. So-called human-caused climate change is a political tool created by, and used by, Globalists following the Globalist Agenda, to prevent the developing world from developing ,to create energy poverty in the developed world, and to destroy Capitalism; Capitalism being a pillar of Individual Freedom and Individual Rights and Kryptonite to the U.N.’s Globalist attempt to rule humanity and thereby control the future. Globalism is simply a default to Tyranny. As President Jefferson said “the Price of Liberty is Vigilence”.

    • HEB: +1M but it seems the constant media/propaganda has affected everyone …. skeptics alike. Skeptics talking about “low carbon” or “no carbon” energy sources have fallen into the trap.

  6. If a thing or activity is subsidized, it is by definition not economic.

    If government is supplying the subsidy, then the citizenry is being ripped off, taxpayers are being taxed too much, politically favored groups and individuals are swindling, and politicians are corrupt and buying votes.

  7. It is too bad that ‘biomass’ doesn’t have 50 different names, like Eskimos have 50 different names for snow. There is a lot of different kinds of biomass, some much better than others, and some fairly bad. There is nothing wrong with Palm Oil, unless prime jungle habitat is being ravaged to convert it from such to a monoculture palm plantation. Palm oil is in practically everything at the grocery store for example that is refined and not raw food. It isn’t the palm oil that is bad, but the mandates to use it as energy at the expense of some prime jungle habitat that support a lot of habitats and creatures including primates like Orangutans. That of course is a real crime against nature which we really need to halt. But a farmer in the Philippines growing Palm trees or Coconut trees, instead of some other agriculture crop on their agriculture land, what is wrong with that?

  8. The biofuels push was kickstarted 25 years ago when Peak Oil was PREDICTED to deliver oil at well north of $150/bbl. And selling wholesale corn-based ethanol in the US is ~$50/bbl ($1.20/gallon) today. So ethanol made economic sense even with its lower energy content than a gallon of gasoline (petrol) or diesel.

    But the reality today: Brent crude at $36.91/bbl, OPEC basket at $35.71/bbl, and WTI at $33.21/bbl, there is no economic incentive to expand biofuels. And with Russia’s apparent on-going commitment to keep OPEC oil at around $45/bbl to kill US shale frackers, there will never be an economic case for ethanol or any biofuel.

    And given Andy’s EROI analysis here on ethanol there is no environmental reason that overrides the price disadvantage of ethanol.

    It is simply time to put corn ethanol in gasoline out to pasture.

  9. “This causes considerable indoor air pollution and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates some four million people die every year as a result.”

    OMG here we go again. The WHO doesn’t make such estimations. Check the sources. According to the Global Burden of Disease (an exercise conducted annually) which assigns more than 250 contributing factors to the cause of all deaths that occur before the age of 86, “explaining” the difference between that and the age they died by attribution. One expert calls it “killing by numbers”.

    According to the exercise, smoke from cooking fires is attributed to have contributed to the premature death of 4.3 million people exposed to it. The quantity of smoke is estimated, the concentration in the kitchens is estimated, the exposure of the cook to the smoke is estimated, and the cumulative health consequence is estimated on the basis of the National cohort of those dead.

    No one claims 4.3 million cooks “died from breathing smoke”. Similarly no one thinks breathing smoke is a great idea. But it would be helpful for our readers to keep in mind that when someone claims that some power station “kills 31 people in the USA per year”, they are messing with you. They pulled your statistical leg. No one died from it.

    What happens is a crowd in WA at the IHME converts a bunch of “premature death attribution years” into an “equivalent but smaller number of deaths” being 86 years each.

    Now, imagine everything you hear about health and risk and death being produced in such a manner so as to inspire big donations and budget allocations. Welcome to the world of health porn.

  10. I heard that when Bosch was young he was a real spark plug, however, Diesel was a little jerky.

  11. I understand there is a process to commercially convert corn grown ethanol to commercial aviation fuel (Jet B or Kerosene) While it wouldn’t be commercially viable at todays oil prices especially this week, knowing how to do this technology efficiently is a plus for the long term future of civilization. A country may have no fossil fuels but wants independent fuel security for their air force or a commercial jet industry. Some day, who knows when, fossil oil will be more expensive, probably because of badly thought out carbon taxes, which is the plan. Different subject. But knowing how to do this technology efficiently is a good thing to know, and with scale, some day may even make sense. A company called PNNL Technology has been developing the technology and acquiring the patents.

    “Using its expertise in chemistry and catalysis, PNNL developed a unique thermocatalytic process for converting ethanol into ATJ-SPK. The first step of the process is to convert the ethanol into ethylene (“dehydration”). During the second step (“oligomerization”), ethylene molecules are chemically combined to build the range of hydrocarbon molecules needed for aviation fuel. These hydrocarbons are then hydrogenated, followed by fractionation to produce alcohol-to-jet synthetic paraffinic kerosene with the desired properties. The process can use ethanol from any source, including ethanol produced via LanzaTech’s proprietary gas-to-ethanol process.”

    Making commercial jet fuel might make more sense some day than mixing it with gasoline, which I agree is sort of a dumb idea. But I thought Rud Istvan sort of mainly busted all these myths about ethanol being so bad already, given the distillers mash left over is cow/animal feed, along with some other benefits. I bought all his books and I think he is one of the more brilliant minds here on WUWT.

    http://biomassmagazine.com/articles/15369/pnnl-technology-clears-way-for-ethanol-derived-jet-fuel

    • Earthling2, I’d be happy to read Rud’s posts, but I doubt he made a case for ethanol being economic. I don’t think that is possible, full cycle. It is possible to use ethanol as a fuel, but it loses to gasoline and diesel at foreseeable prices.

      • Yes, you are of course right Andy, especially at these low prices. And as I say, mixing ethanol in gasoline was always a dumb idea in my opinion. There is no need for it with our supplies of fossil fuels looking very long term. But the technology is interesting and a lot of the corn being grown surely isn’t food grade anyway. So there is that, and they have a source to rid themselves of low grade corn crops. It also provides a market to shore up farm income so we do get affordable foods delivered to the grocery stores. I sure hope Rud shows up on this post and throws his two bits in. There is a place here for some good healthy discussion.

        Not all biomass is bad, considering even a junk wood thermal steam plant is base load spinning reserve electricity, as compared to asynchronous junk electricity from wind and solar. Given a choice between the two, which would you choose? Waste wood (either bark/sawdust or even pellets) The wood waste electricity supply in Germany is larger than solar and wind combined. Most pellets are made from waste wood, although some are made from purpose grown fast growing forests like tree farming, or a woodlot. If we say that is bad, then do we say that all the hundreds of millions Christmas Trees we clear-cut every Christmas is also bad? And that has no real value, other than a very Merry Christmas. Which I also support very much.

        • Earthling2, I fully support incinerating waste, including wood waste and Christmas trees. Healthy trees, not so much.

          • Not even a fast growing hybrid popular on an agricultural farm and purpose grown for the pulp aspect? Does it matter if it goes to make toilet paper, wood chips for OSB or make wood pellets? Drax is a poor example to use, which everyone does, but mixing in 10%-20% hardwood pellets when grinding the coal into powder for the burn, and the pellets have almost as much thermal btu as brown lignite coal. Just think if Australia had made an agreement to keep all their base load coal/steam plants and not blow them up, and they were going to co-fire it with 15%-20% pellet material. Floating pellets on a big ship is like the same cost for shipping coal for the lower grade coal. The only argument I have ever seen is from some of the city folk who believe no green trees should ever be cut down for any reason. I am a redneck from timber/farming and ranching country, and some of these arguments would be considered as ludicrous as the alarmists all thinking the world is going end in 12 years. Going to lose a lot of farm votes if we start preaching to farmers that they can’t send their cull corn to market for processing into whatever someone wants to make out of it. They could care less about climate change nonsense, but if we start trying to bankrupt them with ideologies that they compare with leftist radicals, then maybe we do get a Democrat Gov’t. If I were the Heartland Institute, I wouldn’t be promoting some of these ideas here.

          • Andy, here in Virginia there are 3 biofuel generating units at 50 MW each. They are required to burn only wood waste consisting of tree harvesting byproducts, called “slash” so as to not compete with the wood producers and paper mills. A 4th 90 MW plant was recently retired because it was not economic.

          • oeman50, Sounds good. I hope the wood burning power plants are economic without subsidies. BTW, this is what I meant by incineration, incinerating in power plants.

    • Earthling2, I did a brief search of Rud Istvan and ethanol and did not find anything I disagreed with. As for his comment that ethanol grade corn makes an excellent feedstock for animals is true. But, using it for ethanol, means it is not used for livestock, which is food. Corn used for ethanol raises food prices, not just corn prices. He also says mixing more than 10% ethanol in our fuel makes no sense, I agree with this. He also says corn ethanol may not be carbon neutral and I agree with this.

      Anything biofuels can be used for that is economic without subsidies, I support. The point of my post is the subsidies are foolish. Further, biofuels make no sense as a fuel by themselves, up to 10% is OK, but 100% will not work most places. There are exceptions, like Brazil with huge amounts of sugar cane waste, a tropical climate (biodiesel will not turn into a sludge) and a lot of specially modified engines, but most places no.

      • Andy, you may have misunderstood my previous comments here about the impact of ethanol in gasoline. Two sets of observations.

        1. Ethanol was originally a fuel additive replacing MBTE, a ground water pollutant from leaking underground gasoline tanks, itself replacing tetraethyl lead, an atmospheric pollutant and catalytic converter poisoner. The additive enhances octane enabling more gasoline per barrel of crude. That is all good economically and environmentally. Ethanol has a second benefit as an oxygenate that reduces smog. The 10% blend wall was deliberately designed to meet LA premium gasoline needs in summer. That is why most pumps say ‘up to 10% ethanol’. It is less in winter and depends on which grade of gas octane. Anything more than 10% ethanol is just farm politics.

        2. The impact on food prices is grossly overstated and misunderstood. It is true that ~42% of US maize ( corn by dry weight [really just <15% moisture to eliminate fusarium rot]) goes to ethanol. But what is overlooked is that the fermentation process produces ~27% by dry weight (<15% moisture) distillers grain. That is a roughage and protein (from the yeast) enhanced ideal ruminant feedstock for dairy and beef. On my Wisconsin dairy farm we stopped feeding supplemental crushed corn about a decade and a half ago, sold all the corn we grew for ethanol, bought back distillers grain as a better supplement that allowed us to cut down on alfalfa acreage (main dairy cattle feed) and so grow more corn. Net impact was positive, higher profit and lowercost of milk and beef (old dairy cows end up at McDonalds).

        • Rud, I don’t think I misunderstood you, why do you think that? I agree with what you wrote, but consider:
          1. No one seriously thinks that the corn-ethanol boom has had no effect on food prices, do you agree with that statement? Have some people exaggerated the impact? Probably, and to us the price increase does not matter. But, to a developed country population that spends half their income on food, it matters.

          2. Agree, ethanol is a better oxygenator than MTBE, no question. Up to 10% is fine for engines, I doubt that will change if subsidies are removed.

          3. We should end the ethanol and biodiesel subsidies and the mandates, refineries will still buy ethanol to cut pollution, but they will make the decision intelligently.

          4. Will ethanol ever replace fossil fuels? Not a chance, propping it up hoping it will is stupid.

        • Rud, Here is a decent discussion of the effect of ethanol on food prices, MIT, 2011:

          The exact impact of ethanol demand on food prices is hard to determine, because of the complex interplay of factors such as weather, market speculation, energy prices and so on. After a similar food price spike in 2007 and 2008, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that increased demand for ethanol accounted for between 10 and 15 percent of the food price increase, an estimate that has been echoed in several other studies.

          2011 is just before the blend wall leveled out the growing ethanol market. After 2012, food prices leveled out.
          https://www.technologyreview.com/s/423385/ethanol-blamed-for-record-food-prices/

          • Sugar Blues a book by William Dufty that was released in 1975. There is also a movie.

            Having read much and watched several documentaries about refined sugar and what it does to humans and what feeding corn has done for human health I would say that this MIT study is incomplete. It uses the Congressional Budget Office data….(an entity that has accumulated TRILLIONS in debt. Do you trust any company that has that much debt?)
            The also talk of “free market” the market for commodities hasn’t been free since the 1930’s……MIT information is far from accurate & incomplete.

            Oh and here is another place to learn more before spouting off with incomplete information. https://grist.org/article/farm_bill2/

            Then there is the people that are saying food is so cheep that we waste between 30 to 40 percent of it.
            Where is the overlay of crude oil prices in their data????

        • Rud, I’m working on a post about food prices and ethanol subsidies and mandates, it is far from done, but this graph tells much of the story. Bush’s volumetric ethanol excise tax credit and mandates took effect in 2005. The 10% gasoline “blend wall” was hit in 2011 that caused the government to extend waivers on volumes.

          • First I have to say I agree that ethanol as a fuel is not a good idea. But you are not any better than the people you are criticizing because you don’t provide the whole picture with this little chart. If you overlay a chart of crude oil prices I’ll bet they are very similar. Why?
            Because the price of crude oil is a major factor in the total economy. When you post incomplete information you are no better than the people you are criticizing.
            Then please read Michael Ruppert’s book Collapse or watch the movie collapse, (Joe Rogan did a great interview with him also) and see if you can gain a better more objective outlook on things.

            Also do more learning about corn and how much of it is NOT FOOD for humans, is fed to cows (that were designed by nature to eat grass) and the whole system of “big ag” is not good for human health. I recommend a movie called King Corn to start. Then almost any movie about sugar and what the large quantities humans consume do to their health…In other words subsidizing corn farmers does more to make drug companies more money than it does for the oil industry. If you are going to “bad mouth” something tell the whole story not just something close to a lie in that “ethanol fuel raises food prices”
            Yes Ethanol is not a good fuel but where is the mention of butanol? Look up David Ramey to learn more about butanol. Please go learn more before you post so you don’t mislead people.

      • I certainly agree with the subsidy angle of your article Andy, since subsidies distort the marketplace and reward inefficiencies in many cases. True market forces would have biomass standing on its own 2 feet, much like the current waste wood pellet market does. Or even purpose grown pulp that gets sold to the highest bidder for its highest and best use, which is usually a pure profit motive. There is no subsidy with the growing of millions of acres of tree farm pulp.

        The subsidy part and stupidity comes in at the Drax end, not the producer side. But we feel like you are attacking us for supplying the product which isn’t subsidized on the production side. So I think that is why it is potential dangerous to tell tens of thousands of rural private farms and woodlots for example, (or even large forestry companies) that they can’t sell their hybrid pulp product for wood pellets, because some don’t like the subsidies that get applied on the other end. But it would be ok to sell it for toilet paper. Millions of people also use high efficient wood pellet stoves to heat their homes for example, and there is no subsidy in that. Much better and cleaner than even firewood.

        I don’t know how much the corn becomes higher priced in the general food supply since a fair bit of corn is a such a poor grade, such as the last 2 years harvest from wet fields, that the highest and best use is to process it for an ethanol product. I just don’t think adding it to gasoline is the right answer since that was adopted when we short on our oil supplies 30-40 years ago. Perhaps just burning the ethanol in some other method such as for base load electricity. But then you could also burn the corn directly in a big furnace/steam plant and cut out the ethanol production. I know a lot of farmers who burn raw corn just like you would burn wood pellets. Even a big round bale burner works great for heating a barn or greenhouse.

        This year, some of the corn grade is so low as to be not even be animal food grade due to rot and mold from a late fall or early spring harvest. It is good to have somewhere to sell this product into. It isn’t like we have any shortages of corn anyway, although I agree that the subsidy is the part that sticks in people throats. But couldn’t have happened to a better bunch of people…farmers. They take a lot of financial risk to supply us with a cornucopia of food products. Without the rural farm vote support, there is little hope that Trump would be elected. Which is far more important that he is re-elected for the larger picture, instead of quibbling about the ethanol subsidy paid to farmers. At least right now before the election.

        • Earthling2, What you say makes sense. Growing wood for pulp or pellets is OK, as long as the purchaser can decide on their own and they are not forced to buy it or subsidized to buy it. My real problem is with the mandates and the subsidies. I wouldn’t even oppose them if they had a purpose, but there is no need for them. They just enrich farmers and biofuel producers and buy votes with taxpayer money.

          • Okay have a look at this please. http://www.carbonfuels.com/our-process.htm

            Since around 2008 there is a way to turn what is now just burned for creating electricity & producing cement into at least 12 useful products without the risk of spilling anything into the oceans (unless the products are exported of course) notice the process also captures the co2 and one of the products when burned in existing coal power plants burns cleaner.

  12. I think Ted Cruz was the only politician to oppose ethanol subsides in the Iowa Caucuses in 2016:

    “….Yet in the 2016 campaign, ethanol isn’t what it used to be. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, one two Republican frontrunners in the state, is an adamant opponent of ethanol subsides, part of his broader opposition to government subsidies for energy. Even though the state’s GOP establishment figures have sought to take Cruz down—at least in part because of his stance on ethanol—he remains a strong contender, if not the favorite, in the first primary of the nation….” FROM:

    https://time.com/4186455/iowa-caucus-ted-cruz-ethanol/

    JPP

  13. Noticxe that the original logic for ethanol was our need for foreign oil. Now that we are energy independent,there is no logical reason for ethanol. It uses enough corn to drive up the price of corn for food. A ridiculous situation that happens all tro often when the govt makes laws and then refuses to admit that they are crappy or no longer required

  14. Bio fuels are a fuel pump and engine wrecking garbage fuel. The prairie diesel fuel repair shops are full of destroyed fuel pumps off of farm equipment. I only use number 1 gas in my pickup and chainsaw, which has no bio diesel in it, and run a fuel conditioner and ATF transmission fluid in my diesel compact tractor to try and protect the pump and injectors.

  15. Energy prices

    This the most obvious example of why inflation is low. With changes to its production technology, the U.S. has gone from oil-dependent to oil-surplus in a very short period of time. With the “green” crowd shifting to alternatives, the combination has resulted in very weak oil prices. ~ Financial Post

    Andy, i think the value for energy independence or renewables, if it has any, is it’s potential for insulating the U.S. economy from oil price shocks. (formost here, because the health of the u.s. economy drives the health of the global economy) Every boom economy for over half a century has been accompanied by a relatively high nominal cost of gasoline:

    https://i1.wp.com/inflationdata.com/articles/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Inflation-Adjusted-Gasoline-Jan-2016.jpg

    Keep in mind, too, that during every economic boom, the federal reserve has been feverishly raising interest rates to keep the unemployment rate high. (this, because of their stated belief in the inflationary ramifications of philips’ curve):

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3f/Federal_funds_rate_history_and_recessions.png

    Were it not for the fed’s actions, oil price shocks would have been much worse than they actually were. i think any analysis of renewables should include this, as this really is the crux of the economic biscuit. This time round we never saw skyrocketing gas prices. If biofuels are a part of the equation as to why (even if hypothetically so in the future), then that alone might justify their existence…

  16. Nicely done report. It’s been reported over the years of making quality diesel from
    wood chips. Since the advent of electronic communications such as this forum
    many pulp mills have closed. That in turn has left a void in forest management
    markets for non commercial biomass eg slash and thinning produce ect .
    Biomass would be a perfect solution. After the big recession and the surge in oil
    there was considerable interest in that but the disruptive innovation of fracking
    killed that. There was a bark beetle infestation that killed millions of trees in the
    western US leaving a substantial fire hazard. The break even cost of
    wood diesel was said to be
    around $1/gal and a yield of 70ga/ton with 20+ tons /acre.

    There is a law that requires the approval of the wood products industry to use
    timber from federal lands for other than traditional uses. Which they decline
    to do. So now the federal forests are largely managed by wildfire @
    a cost of hundreds millions/yr and while releasing massive amounts of
    smoke and the dreaded CO2. The moisture content of said beetle kill is
    less than 10%…then there is the subject of lawsuits by the enviros that
    inhibit any proper forest management. I heat my house with a woodgas
    boiler..

  17. A find of mine with two engineering degrees is working on this project to take the wood waste bark and lower quality sawdust, and gasify it. Then instead of burning it in a 100 year old thermal steam plant at 25-30% efficiency , they are going to burn it in a CCGT gas turbine and get 55%-60% efficiency. If there is a 15% gain on efficiencies, after the cost to gasify then this will make make a lot more sense than burning it ‘wet’ and those inefficiencies when burning wetter bark and sawdust sitting out in the yard in an astrodome size pile of bark and sawdust. And get rid of the fine fly ash. Fortis Inc. is also exploring options, including land fill plants, which is a no brainer. Old landfills are a good source of renewable gas, and will probably be mined some day for the residual whatever is left when resources have higher value.

    Sort of makes sense when you think about, and if the green crowd says if we mix in 10%-15% to NG supplies for city heating and appliances, then this might be a good buy in to keep the peace in 10 years and do a little to meet the younger crowd half way. We should get them pointed in the right direction while we all still alive. I know we have a lot of NG for a long time, but how long do we want to fight this battle and not meet them part way? Maybe if we are too inflexible, we just get cast aside. As the kids already tell me, I am just an old crusty sceptic and will soon be dead anyway, and then it is their world. Let’s educate them on proper science and not ideological science or dogma’s that they are currently being being taught by both sides it appears.

    But it has to be done without subsidy in the final analysis and not require taxpayer support. We have a lot of woody waste in the Pacific North West. And other products can also be gasified and just added to NG, and this will probably be part of the long term future solutions, as it is really hard to beat the efficiency of a gas appliance in the home as compared to making the electricity somewhere at a lower efficiency and sending that electricity to a city that mandates electric heating and appliances only. If Berkley and Portland said Ok, put 20% renewable gas in the pipe for the city gas supply and we will support it, wouldn’t that make sense?

    https://www.wltribune.com/news/renewable-natural-gas-project-proposed-for-williams-lake/

  18. Three percent of gas used to make fertiliser? I think that must exclude China as they use their own excrement in many cases. Check to see where your veggies, especially frozen ones, come from. If it’s China, throw it away.

    • Problem is, is that if it is packaged in North America or maybe other places too, it can legally be labeled Product of USA/Canada etc, or at least be packaged here and not say where the fruit or frozen veggie’s are from. That’s what I only buy California oranges cause I don’t want any raw human waste fertilizing my fruits or vegetables. I see Wal-Mart may be part responsible for some of this, so am very suspect of even buying canned goods from there because I don’t think the labeling laws are honest or accurate.

  19. Our local dealer warned me. Some parts of the TDI injection system that used to be in ceramics are now just hard steel. As a result, disregard other information and never put biodisesl as it lacks lubrication and can void warranty when things turn bad. It’s all in the small print that no one cares to read.

  20. “In concentrations above 20% by volume, ethanol, in either gasoline or diesel, can destroy engines that are not specially modified for the fuel. This is also true of some forms of biodiesel. This is such a hazard that car and truck manufacturers will not honor warranties for most vehicles if the owner purchases gasoline or diesel with more than 10% ethanol.”

    psst, don’t tell this to all the Brazilians. Gasoline there contains at least 25 % Ethanol. Most cars can use any mixture up to 100% Ethanol.

    • Joel Heinrich, The cars in Brazil are modified to handle high ethanol concentrations. You can also buy these modified cars in the U.S., but they are expensive. Further, ethanol or E85, gets much lower gas milage than gasoline, a test drive with an E85 Tahoe showed that fuel cost “22.9 cents per mile on E85 versus 18.7 cents per mile with gasoline.” The test was by Dan Edmunds at edmunds.com.

      Most cars in the U.S. are not modified (special injectors, special hydraulics, special fuel lines, etc.) for ethanol and ethanol in the U.S is expensive.

      Brazil is a special case, ethanol is cheap due to their huge amount of sugar cane waste as a feedstock. Further most cars sold in Brazil have the modifications for E85 or pure ethanol. High biodiesel concentrations also work there because of the climate, the fuel doesn’t gel. But, in Europe and the U.S. both high concentrations of ethanol and biodiesel are not practical or economic. Any use of ethanol or biodiesel that is economic, without subsidies, is OK with me. I just want the subsidies gone, there is no rational for them.

  21. Biofuels will never be economically viable either. Photosynthesis is so inefficient that they simply won’t ever make the cut.

  22. I’m working on a post about food prices and ethanol subsidies and mandates, it is far from done, but this graph tells much of the story. Bush’s volumetric ethanol excise tax credit and mandates took effect in 2005. The 10% gasoline “blend wall” was hit in 2011 that caused the government to extend waivers on volumes.

  23. I use wood for winter heating. It is quite cost-effective as we grow and cut the trees ourselves, are unserviced by any natural gas main and pay through the nose for electricity due to Australia’s ridiculous renewable energy subsidies, not to mention the lunacy of a lack of coal-fired power stations in a country abounding in coal.

    I could put in solar panels on a subsidy but am philosophically opposed to furthering such rorts. I also refuse to use 10% ethanol petrol for it is another pointless and expensive virtue-signalling exercise that does more harm to the environment than good.

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