MSU's Dr. Bruce Dale continues to promote the absurd claim that
ethanol has higher net energy than petroleum, which has been
exhaustively debunked by Robert Rapier in a long-running and very
informative debate about ethanol with its national proponents, which is
available here: http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/|
Ethanomaniacs flip back and forth between talking about efficiency (energy yield per unit energy input) and process energy balances, both of which show that ethanol is an enormous boondoggle that does nothing but persuade the public that nothing need be done about radically reducing _demand_ for transportation fuels.
Rapier has done a real public service with his tenacious refusal to allow the ethanomania to go unchallenged.
This op-ed appeared in today's Lansing State Journal. [Responses in brackets.]
Bruce E. Dale: Biofuel investment is huge opportunity
[Look out pilgrim--someone is touting a great _opportunity_ : your chance to give them money.]
Lansing State Journal, 9/3/06
The age of cheap oil has ended. It will not return.
painful they may be, higher oil prices pave the way for unprecedented
opportunities to develop alternative liquid fuels, including shale oil,
coal to liquid fuels and biofuels.
[Apparently Dr. Dale cares nought about global warming.]
Biofuels, including ethanol
made from corn and cellulosic materials (grasses, crop residues and
wood), and biodiesel offer many advantages to the U.S. and to Michigan.
National and regional energy security, climate security and especially
economic development are all positively affected by biofuel production
[Biofuels from corn are an ecological disaster that serve only
to enrich Archer Daniels Midland and the people enjoying the ethanol
subsidy to sell petroleum recycled into ethanol at an even higher
profit. The verdict is not in on cellulosic ethanol from sources such
as switchgrass; like nuclear fusion, switchgrass seems to be an
attractive option if only it can be made to work. Meantime, the crisis
is upon us now and, so far, cellulosic is the Star Wars Missile Defense
System of agriculture--a project that is always going to work if we
just keep pumping in more money.]
Last year, we produced more than 4 billion gallons of
ethanol, mostly from corn. Ethanol is currently our premier alternative
[And how much energy did it require to produce that 4 billion
gallons? How much water? How many tons of petrochemical pesticides
and fertilizer poured into streams and rivers as a result? How much
fertility was left in the soil?]
This industry is growing rapidly, with five corn ethanol
plants either operating or being built in Michigan and more than 100
such plants across the country.
[Yes, and they burn 300 tons of coal a day each. So, just as
modern agriculture is the use of land to convert petroleum into food,
modern ethanomania adds a walloping amount of extra atmospheric mercury
and CO2 production to the mix.]
However, the amount of corn that
can be devoted to ethanol production is limited. We probably cannot
produce more than about 15 billion gallons per year (roughly 10 percent
of the gasoline we use) before hitting these limits.
[And if we made the ethanol plants use ethanol for their heating
requirements, we'd produce a lot less.]
Cellulosic ethanol can provide much larger volumes of liquid fuel ... if we overcome some myths, solve key technical problems and maintain our political will.
First let's consider three of the myths.
Myth No. 1: Ethanol has a negative "net energy" and is a poor fuel.
Reality: Ethanol has a better net energy than gasoline and, if
burned efficiently, will provide mileage equivalent to gasoline.
[Actual reality: ethanol produces, at best, on the order of 1.3
Btu of energy for each 1 Btu consumed; 1 Btu of petroleum typically
yeilds on the order of 10 Btu oil, which converts to 8 Btu of
gasoline. Nor can ethanol provide mileage equivalent to gasoline,
because 1 gallon of ethanol has only 2/3 the heat value of a gallon of
Myth No. 2: Producing lots of ethanol will destroy the soil and drive up food prices.
Reality: Ethanol production, especially from cellulosics, can
improve soil quality and increase food supplies.
[This is unclear. Difficult to see how taking organic matter
_out_ of the soil for use in distilling ethanol leads to improved soil
quality. Shifting to cellulosic could certainly increase food supplies
because it would mean no longer using grains for transport fuel.]
Myth No. 3: Ethanol will always cost more than gasoline.
Reality: A mature cellulosic ethanol industry will produce ethanol
for well under $1 a gallon.
[And nuclear power will be too cheap to meter.]
produce ethanol this cheaply, we need focused, sustained laboratory
research combined with large scale testing of promising technologies.
The price tag for this research and development work is equivalent to
about two days' worth of oil imports.
[Funny--if there is a real change that we could displace $3/gal
gas with a renewable product at less than $1/gal, you wouldn't think
that finding investment funds would be hard. And two days worth of US
oil imports -- on the order of 14 million barrels at $70 each -- is
only about 2 billion. Should be pretty easy to form Standard Ethanol
and raise $2B on Wall St. if things are as certain as this.]
In the past, funding of
such R&D has risen and fallen with oil prices. If we want to break
free of our "oil addiction," we must have the political will to develop
alternative fuels, especially ethanol, and overcome the barriers to
large scale ethanol adoption. Barriers include political manipulation
of oil prices, enough vehicles to burn ethanol and enough pumps and
other infrastructure to distribute it.
[Oh, OK--we need to spend money installing pumps to dispense a
fuel that we _might_ later produce. Uh-huh. Sure.]
To their credit, many of Michigan's leaders understand how critical it is that we develop alternative fuels. Gov. Jennifer Granholm has made alternative fuels an important part of the Jobs Fund program. Congressman Mike Rogers and Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow strongly support ethanol and other biofuels.
In addition, President Lou Anna Simon has made
developing the bioeconomy, including biofuels, a signature emphasis for
Michigan State University.
[Any science that can only be justified by citing politicians
means "Watch your wallet!" and don't count on any results.]
Michigan is uniquely positioned to build an expanded bioeconomy and develop biofuels. As we build the bioeconomy, we will give our state a competitive advantage in meeting the growing demand for biofuels and for many other products made from renewable plant resources.
[Michigan is uniquely positioned near the Great Lakes. We have
very little fossil energy of our own, so all the energy needed to make
the ethanol will have to be imported, just as now. There's no
particular reason that Michigan is better suited to grow crops for
ethanol than others--obviously we are not as well suited to the
industrial corn farming as Iowa and Illinois, thank goodness, but
neither do we have any unique advantages for cellulosic (i.e., those
not available to other states). This whole line of argument appears to
be nothing but rah-rah intended to use Michigan's economically
depressed condition as an argument for squandering even more of our
resources on trying to keep the easy motoring lifestyle alive. Good