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Are Biofuels Still Economically Feasible?

samzenpus posted more than 5 years ago | from the Mr.-Fusion dept.

Earth 186

thefickler writes "With falling gas prices, and the end of capitalism as we know it (otherwise known as the credit crisis), the biofuels industry is not looking as viable as it once was. Indeed biofuel production has fallen well short of expectations, with biofuel companies closing down or reducing production capacity. It appears that the industry's only hope is government support."

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Are the alternatives economically viable? (-1, Troll)

twitter (104583) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156125)

Gasoline might look cheap, but it's not. Global warming now threatens the majority of Earth's species with drastic implications for food production. Fisheries are being destroyed and most North American crop production will be reduced. Losses of ice cover are already so large that a total stop to fossil fuel burning may not be enough to stop this unfolding disaster. The US and world can not rely on market forces to avert this large scale tragedy of the commons because everyone's short term economic interest is in doing the same stupid things.

Cellulose based fermentation might provide fuels for the few applications that really need it. The rest of our energy needs should come solar, nuclear, wind, geothermal and so on.

Re:Are the alternatives economically viable? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26156281)

Oh for pete's sake.

There's no such bugaboo as "global warming". Freaking Greenland is still covered in ice. Think about you silly ass.

With the exception of cane sugar alcohol there are no biofuels that are commercially feasible. The whole industry needs to be scrapped and would die an immediate brutal death except for subsidies which keep it alive.

Re:Are the alternatives economically viable? (2, Insightful)

aussie_a (778472) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156303)

The whole industry needs to be scrapped and would die an immediate brutal death except for subsidies which keep it alive.

One could say the same about many American industries which are getting bailouts.

Re:Are the alternatives economically viable? (4, Insightful)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156901)

The difference is that most of those industries have actually been profitable at some point in the past and have some potential for making a profit in the future. I don't foresee a future in which biofuels could possibly be economically viable unless you are talking about at a very small, local level where you can use waste material from restaurants to run a half dozen cars or where farmers grow corn for human or animal consumption and use some of the leftover biomass to make fuel for their tractors. As soon as you cross the line from recycled biomass to newly grown biomass specifically for fuel, you find an entire industry based on a fundamentally flawed economic model. Basically, it's the dot-com boom all over again---a company loses money on every sale but tries to make it up in volume.

The amount of energy put into biofuel in the form of fuel to run tractors, transport it to market, etc. exceeds the amount of energy you get out of it. Therefore, by definition, short of a significant change in the fundamental technology of farming or in the types of crops grown, biofuel will never---can never---be commercially viable. (Source: Cornell/UC Berkeley study circa 2005 [physorg.com] . And then, there's the fact that the U.S. seems myopically focused on using corn as a source, which is quite possibly the worst thing you could possibly plant for fuel purposes by almost any useful metric---output relative to soil damage, output per acre, etc. It's a joke.

About the only thing slightly promising in that area is the whole algae thing. but I'm not holding my breath. Even if it eventually proves financially viable, you're still dumping CO2 into the atmosphere. And I suspect that when you factor in all the hidden maintenance costs, etc, it will end up being unprofitable just like the rest of them.

The GP poster may have said it in a flamebait-like way, but that doesn't mean the post was wrong. On the contrary. it was dead on accurate, at least if you limit biofuel to current farming technology and current sources of biomass. Realistically speaking, dumping more and more money into biofuel research is not the answer. We already have much better sources of energy---solar, wind, geothermal, tidal---that don't pollute our atmosphere significantly, don't contribute to global warming significantly, and at least in the case of solar and wind, don't require nearly the overhead in terms of maintenance, repairs, infrastructure, etc. because they can be set up at the local level (or, in the case of solar, even the household level). Power storage. That's where we should be spending research dollars. That's a problem that will still be needed even if biofuels did become commercially viable, but with better power storage, biofuels would have no real purpose for existing.

Re:Are the alternatives economically viable? (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156911)

Okay, I just reread the GGP post. The bit about global warming does strike me as a troll.... I missed that before. My bad. :-)

Re:Are the alternatives economically viable? (0, Troll)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 5 years ago | (#26157527)

The amount of energy put into biofuel in the form of fuel to run tractors, transport it to market, etc. exceeds the amount of energy you get out of it.

[citation needed]

Re:Are the alternatives economically viable? (5, Informative)

MidnightBrewer (97195) | more than 5 years ago | (#26158377)

You might want to watch the story of Brazil's petroleum independence and almost total conversion to ethanol:

http://current.com/items/89112645/the_world_s_sugar_daddy.htm [current.com]

Re:Are the alternatives economically viable? (3, Insightful)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 5 years ago | (#26159021)

Sugar-cane is a fast-growing weed where most of the mass of the plant can be used for creation of fuel. America's problem is that ethanol production out of corn is tied up in the farm bill, which not only pays farmers not to grow sufficient amounts of anything to keep the price high, but causes a diversion of product away from food, forcing the price high.

The increase in production of corn-based ethanol in the US caused the price of tortillas to jump in Mexico a couple of years ago, leading to increased numbers of illegals being captured at the border (and of course, the number that get through are far, far greater than the number that get caught).

I **WISH** we could use sugar instead of corn here... the corn industry has us on lockdown and is fucking everything up. They're in collusion with our domestic sugar growers to keep sugar tariffs as well. We're practically the only developed country that has a sugar tariff, and that's why we have "high fructose corn syrup" in everything, and why American Coca-Cola tastes like filthy, disgusting shit, compared even to the Coke in Canada.

Its a bloody agricultural mafia.

Re:Are the alternatives economically viable? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26158691)

Wow you obviously haven't read any of the material released in the last year and a half. When corn is used as the feedstock the energy yield is marginal however several companies have increased the yield considerably. Coskata for instance can use any carbon based material as a feedstock and produces a much more efficient result, and Petroalgae has a process that can produce 14000 gallons of diesel/acre per year. So if we stop using food as fuel and use more energy intense renewables it is completely viable.

Re:Are the alternatives economically viable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26157575)

The whole industry needs to be scrapped and would die an immediate brutal death except for subsidies which keep it alive.

One could say the same about many American industries which are getting bailouts.

Aussie companies are being bailed out also. KRudd not only bailed out the auto manufacturers to the tune of several $AU Billion, but also the salesmen with a separate bail out.

Geez, don't be so damned quick to jump on the Septic Tanks when you haven't checked out your own shit first !!!

Re:Are the alternatives economically viable? (1)

zoefff (61970) | more than 5 years ago | (#26159241)

ostrich behaviour. There is ice, but [usnews.com] ...

Re:Are the alternatives economically viable? (3, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156561)

Gasoline might look cheap, but it's not. ...

You forgot to include the enormous government subsidy in the form of (military) security.

Re:Are the alternatives economically viable? (1)

stdarg (456557) | more than 5 years ago | (#26158923)

What's your methodology for dividing up the benefit of military security among the beneficiaries? How did you factor in non-monetary benefits?

Warning: known troll (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26156613)

User maintains more than a dozen sockpuppet accounts [slashdot.org] on Slashdot.

Re:Are the alternatives economically viable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26157115)

Nuclear comes first. You get the biggest bang for the buck that way.

Re:Are the alternatives economically viable? (1)

the_xaqster (877576) | more than 5 years ago | (#26157257)

I kinda hope that I don't get any nuclear bang for my buck. The nice hum of electric generation yes, but please no bang....

Re:Are the alternatives economically viable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26158595)

Actually your biggest bang for buck is coal, but nuclear is consistently $0.04/KwH whereas the long term cost for coal increases. On shore wind power is also very competitive with nuclear and there is lest chance of a catastrophe.

Re:Are the alternatives economically viable? (2, Interesting)

Yoozer (1055188) | more than 5 years ago | (#26158129)

You don't even have to invoke the spectre of global warming for this (of which /. has many doubters anyway); to avoid being raped by ludicrous oil prices ever again, it's in our best interest to get personal transport with great MPG numbers (so even if it rises, you'll still be laughing - and what's now spent on hauling 1 pair of buttocks from A to B is simply gross inefficiency) and independence of oil since there's so many ways to generate electricity - but none to generate oil.

They didn't try hard enough (1)

Jamonek (1398691) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156129)

They didn't push the fuel hard enough to get it standard

They never were (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26156135)

The biofuels of which you speak have always produced more pollution through their manufacture than they have saved through reduced car emissions, so their future is largely political, not economical.

Oh and holy crap what an inflammatory summary. Yes the banks are temporarily not lending at the lower interest rates, no this does not have any effect on capitalism.

Re:They never were (1)

nofrak (889021) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156235)

I'll thank you not to get your "facts" in our environmentalism!

Re:They never were (2, Funny)

aaron alderman (1136207) | more than 5 years ago | (#26157395)

You can't spell environmentalism without mental.

Re:They never were (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26157459)

Apparently you can't spell asshole without "aaron alderman".

Re:They never were (5, Informative)

compro01 (777531) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156269)

Corn is not the only way to make ethanol. There are far better ways. Just look at how many different sources you can make drinking alcohol from. Ethanol is the same thing, just distilled to 200 proof.

you got whiskey (corn), rum (sugar, and you can grow sugar beets just fine in most of the US), wine (grapes or practically any fruit or berry. France actually is doing this with a lot of their surplus wine.), sake (rice), vodka (grains, potatoes), etc. All of those are potential fuel ethanol sources.

Re:They never were (4, Funny)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156419)

You missed something in your list. That stuff in the back of my fridge. I'm not sure what it started out as, but I'm pretty sure it's got a decent ethanol content now.

Re:They never were (2, Insightful)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156525)

Corn is not the only way to make ethanol.

And ethanol isn't the only biofuel. Biodiesel generally has better numbers, and methanol (which you rarely hear about anymore) has a lot going for it too.

Re:They never were (3, Informative)

compro01 (777531) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156787)

Good point. I also like diesels in general as they have better characteristics (inherently better efficiency, more torque, and the engines last practically forever due to the heavier construction) for most people. Sure, they can be problematic to start in the cold, but that's why Andrew Freeman invented the block heater.

I'm not a fan of methanol though, as it's fantastically toxic (blindness, death, etc.), and can be absorbed via the skin, whereas ethanol is much less so. Also, methanol burns almost invisible.

This is why ethanol in the US won't work. (4, Insightful)

Inominate (412637) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156773)

Ethanol in the US has nothing to do with alternative fuels, or replacing gasoline. It is primarily a subsidy to American corn farmers. Corn can never be a worthwhile source of ethanol.

Fact is, gasoline is cheap. Arguing about nebulous unknown "costs" in the future doesn't change it's price today. In fact, gasoline isn't just cheap, it's rock bottom dirt fucking cheap. The economics are simple, as long as gasoline is cheaper than any sort of biofuel, people will continue to use it.

This isn't the fault of the oil companies, who have been for years reshaping themselves into "energy" companies. The minute biofuel becomes competitive with gasoline, the oil companies will begin sinking their billions into controlling it. They already have the infrastructure, so it's logical for them to take it over.

Until some new process is created which can demonstrate large volume production of biofuel at prices better than gasoline, we're stuck with gasoline. The moment such a process is created, auto makers, consumers, and the oil companies will all switch on their own.

Re:This is why ethanol in the US won't work. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26158235)

"Fact is, gasoline is cheap. Arguing about nebulous unknown "costs" in the future doesn't change it's price today. In fact, gasoline isn't just cheap, it's rock bottom dirt fucking cheap. The economics are simple, as long as gasoline is cheaper than any sort of biofuel, people will continue to use it."

That's why responsible nations tax fuel to reflect the true cost of its consumption.

Re:This is why ethanol in the US won't work. (1)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | more than 5 years ago | (#26158903)

Until some new process is created which can demonstrate large volume production of biofuel at prices better than gasoline, we're stuck with gasoline.

That's pretty circular logic. You can't demonstrate large volume production until you've done research, done proof of concept, that sort of thing. If we want to be not stuck, we need to invest in other things.

Fact is, gasoline is cheap. Arguing about nebulous unknown "costs" in the future doesn't change it's price today. In fact, gasoline isn't just cheap, it's rock bottom dirt fucking cheap. The economics are simple, as long as gasoline is cheaper than any sort of biofuel, people will continue to use it.

Problem: Gasoline will not stay this cheap, and that's not a nebulous unknown. I'm old enough to have seen the back end of the gas crunch, then the investment in domestic resources in the 80s, which dried up in the 90s. This is cyclic, and it happens every decade at least, and it will continue to get worse. We need domestic production of a liquid fuel that can be used in place of gasoline, and we need the infrastructure in place to turn on whenever OPEC feels like jacking the price up. We'd be investing in a hedge.

Whether that's EtOH, I don't know. Coal liquefaction is a good alternative as well.

Re:This is why ethanol in the US won't work. (1)

hesaigo999ca (786966) | more than 5 years ago | (#26159289)

I tend to agree, it would not take much for the gas companies at the pump to replace one of their pumps to sell biodiesel instead of regular gas. Keep a whole container dedicated to that. So in essence, the speed of the conversion is not the problem, it is the proven demand, as well as the competitive pricing. Trust me, as soon as the big oil co.s get their hands on it, it will be as pricy as the regular gas. They just figured they could still make alot of money staying the way they were.

Re:They never were (1)

z-j-y (1056250) | more than 5 years ago | (#26157861)

How do you distill it?

And what happened to perpetual machines?

Re:They never were (0, Troll)

Markspark (969445) | more than 5 years ago | (#26158535)

actually, i would recommend neither. Competing with fuel is just a bad idea, and can lead to food shortage in poor parts of the world. A More feasible solution is celluloic ethanol, i.e. from wood, corn stover, hemp and biogas (methane) from farms. but still this is nowhere near enough, and we need to change the way we think about transportation. And i can't believe that people still argue that there's no global warming. It's sort of like arguing that the earth is 6000 years old..

Re:They never were (1)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 5 years ago | (#26159467)

you got whiskey (corn), rum (sugar, and you can grow sugar beets just fine in most of the US), wine (grapes or practically any fruit or berry. France actually is doing this with a lot of their surplus wine.), sake (rice), vodka (grains, potatoes), etc. All of those are potential fuel ethanol sources.

Not to be picky, but your list comprises various types of spirits for drinking, but the names refer more to flavors, spices, aging methods, and distilling methods rather than just the starting grain (though it naturally is a component). Whiskey is often made from any grain for example, not just corn. Wine isn't distilled (if it is then it becomes brandy instead). Vodka can be made from practically ANYTHING. It's mostly just a name for unaged, diluted ethanol. I have a bottle of Ciroc Vodka at home that was made from grapes for example.

So basically, though you can make ethanol from any of the fruits/grains listed above, you wouldn't really call it rum/whisky, wine etc as making those involve a lot of steps that you wouldn't be performing just to get pure ethanol.

Re:They never were (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26156311)

Yep, the summary is written by a commie.

Re:They never were (4, Informative)

tuxgeek (872962) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156441)

The biofuels of which you speak have always produced more pollution through their manufacture than they have saved through reduced car emissions, so their future is largely political, not economical.

Typical AC, you are absolutely wrong.

There are many companies existing right now that can turn landfill waste into bio-deisel. The process is completely self generating meaning they use energy from the process to run the system. Many designs are completely sealed systems meaning they do not vent anything into the environment.
Google: "biodiesel from landfill" and see for yourself. Another: http://www.cleanenergyprojects.com/ [cleanenergyprojects.com]

Re:They never were (1)

hyperquantization (804651) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156853)

But the question remains to be asked: will it _really_ make a difference for emissions? Biofuels have no marked benefit over oil in terms of energy density [wikipedia.org] . Because most liquid biofuels are of significantly lower energy density, you'd need quite a bit more to burn, thus almost completely nullifying whatever ecological benefit they might have had with regards to carbon emissions.

Re:They never were (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26158879)

you are absolutely wrong.

Wrong you say?

turn landfill waste into bio-deisel. The process is completely self generating

Self generating? Hrmmm so landfills now grow all by themselves in your world? Funny thing, in my world, landfills need inputs. Thus no landfill process can be 'self generating'
 

Re:They never were (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26158857)

Biofuels include oil/gas and coal - they were once biological matter.

And if one actually makes gas or coal in human timescales - they too are 'not economically feasible'.

Our cost accounting for energy is messed up - based on underpriced old biological matter.

Algae is the future (5, Interesting)

russbutton (675993) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156139)

The future of biofuel and food production is algae. It's the most primitive plant form there is and is therefore the most efficient at converting solar energy into an energy store (oil) or edible substances. A lot of work is going to have to be done to develop methods of growing and harvesting algae, but that's just engineering. Better get used to the idea of algae steaks as an alternative to soy burgers... Yum!

Re:Algae is the future (2, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156197)

"Soylent green. The miracle food of high-energy plankton gathered from the oceans of the world."

Re:Algae is the future (2, Interesting)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156879)

Actually, why aren't we considering this ... making gasoline from dead human bodies? If I could squeeze a gallon of high-octane out of granny and grandpa, why not?

Although, it might be a bit creepy, tanking up with your grandparents.

Of course, this would kill the zombie film industry: "There ain't no dead bodies in the graveyard, I done burned them up in my nitro-burning funny car!"

Re:Algae is the future (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26158989)

The future of biofuel and food production is algae.

Fuel is already largely produced by scum [wikipedia.org] .

Short Answer No, But They Never Were (3, Insightful)

phantomcircuit (938963) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156141)

Are Biofuels Still Economically Feasible?
No

Were they realistically feasible in the first place?
Absolutely not. The quantity of land that would need to be re-purposed if a significant percentage of US oil usage was to be bio-fuels would be enormous.

Re:Short Answer No, But They Never Were (5, Interesting)

russbutton (675993) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156213)

You are correct if you assume that you're talking about food crops like corn, or even switchgrass as the biofuel source. They require traditional farming resources such as fertile land, good weather, water and fertilizer. But with algae, grown in carefully controlled environments like the Vertigro system, which is happier in the desert and consumes CO2 and inorganic materials, and is at least one or two orders of magnitude more efficient at producing oil and/or edible food stuffs, and the prospects change a great deal.

Last time I checked (1)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 5 years ago | (#26157997)

the Algae farmers did not comprise a big enough voting bloc for the US Congress to consider their viability in saving the current environment, of course by environment I mean keeping one's seat.

Corn Ethanol/Switchgrass etc was more about who was who than what was what

Re:Short Answer No, But They Never Were (4, Interesting)

OpenGLFan (56206) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156237)

Biofuels from macrocrops are generally infeasible, especially corn.

Biofuels from algae are energy-positive, consume much smaller areas, and are currently our best hope of weaning ourselves from foreign oil. If we had invested in bioprocessing techniques for algae the way we invested in securing our oil supply halfway around the world, we would be an oil-producing country by now.

Re:Short Answer No, But They Never Were (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26156615)

Agreed.

Algae biofuel is viable, if you can do it using salt water.

Waste recycling is also viable, but the quantity is too small.

Re:Short Answer No, But They Never Were (4, Insightful)

sentientbrendan (316150) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156779)

>Biofuels from macrocrops are generally infeasible, especially corn.

Right. That's what people generally refer to when they say biofuel because we actually produce biofuel in practice. If the government allocates money for biofuel... it is going to corn based biofuel.

>Biofuels from algae are energy-positive...
> nd are currently our best hope of weaning ourselves from foreign oil.

Phht, the grass always looks greener on the other side of the hill.

You can say it would save the day only because it has not been tried at scale, so we don't yet know what underlying challenges and costs it would present.

This is a persistent problem with how people evaluate energy solutions. Originally, nuclear fission was supposed to solve all of our energy needs. It was supposed to be safe, and cheap enough that we wouldn't have to meter it. Then we tried it out, and there were problems. Now, everyone knows about those problems so there is little political will to pursue the nuclear power further. However at this point in time, nuclear power has actually become more practical and safer than when we originally were enthusiastic about it.

I'm not arguing for nuclear power here. I'm pointing out the flaw in the underlying reasoning, which is that *any* new technology that hasn't been put into widespread production is going to always look sexier than a practical solution that exists today.

. Any technology to replace fossil fuels is going to be incredibly costly to develop and make safe because of the scale we are talking about. We don't need to switch gears again for the Nth time and start from scratch on "magic energy technology X" that will solve all of our problems while costing us nothing.

We need the fortitude to take one of the technologies, such as nuclear, which has been maturing for decades, and *scale it up* and *solve* the hard problems it presents. It won't be easy, but what people refuse to understand is there *is no easy way out* of the problem we are suffering.

Remember, the whole reason we are in this mess is because we acted like short shighted morons. Doing the same thing over again and calling it "green" won't solve the problem.

Re:Short Answer No, But They Never Were (1)

ndberry (1369409) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156239)

I think they maybe still economically feasible in many regards because if there is one technology that the public and therefore the government is going to be willing to get behind its alternative fuel. The main question is are biofuels still environmentally viable? Currently the answer is no. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/08/science/earth/08wbiofuels.html [nytimes.com]

Re:Short Answer No, But They Never Were (1)

realkiwi (23584) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156541)

Which ones? Where are you? Who are you?

Three questions to put this into perspective.

Biodiesel is economically feasible. Ethanol isn't quite so clear cut. LPG has always been when made from biomass.
Some countries are richer than others.
Some people are still in the "grab a quick buck" economy while others are planning more long term.

Re:Short Answer No, But They Never Were (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26158787)

It's completely amazing that people are responding to this without actual reading the newer materials on biofuels. If petroalgae can bring their process to market they could replace all the diesel needs of the country with 4500 square miles of non arable land or land that can not produce food. 4500 square miles sounds like a lot but that is less that 1% of California's total land area.

Re:Short Answer No, But They Never Were (1)

Shotgun (30919) | more than 5 years ago | (#26159353)

Were they realistically feasible in the first place?

I would have to say, "Yes." They've kept my motor running for quite a few years now.

At the very least.... (2, Interesting)

Veovis (612685) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156149)

Perhaps support of bio fuels will at least reduce our dependence on foreign oil... hasn't this been a concern for quite awhile?

Re:At the very least.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26157213)

"... hasn't this been a concern for quite awhile?"

Umm.....ya think?

Support of biofuels only makes sense if it is sustainable and does not devastate other things. Sure, lets use corn, we have millions of starving so let's cripple availability and price of a major food product. Palm oil? Sure let's trash a country's land and environment.

As someone else has mentioned algae is a good possibility. Yes, biofules are "Potentially" good but also "Potentially" extremely bad. Let's not get carried away and think biofuels is a tag that means everything is wonderful and we can save the Earth.

Wait until summer (4, Insightful)

Facetious (710885) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156157)

Though I am enjoying relief from $4.00/gallon gasoline as much as the next guy, I would hold off on prognostications until summer arrives. I doubt oil will remain cheap for long. The current low is likely due to more factors than just demand destruction. Matt Simmons (author of Twilight in the Desert [no, not playing at a theater near you]) suggests the current lows have more to do with settling derivatives trades between oil companies more than anything else.

Re:Wait until summer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26157797)

Though I am enjoying relief from $4.00/gallon gasoline as much as the next guy

I'm European, you insensitive clod!

Re:Wait until summer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26158693)

Indeed OPEC has just dropped production again, to ensure the price rises back to $75/barrel.

Once this downturn in the economy is over, demand will rise again, and the price will rise to where it was earlier this year.

And that price makes other fuel sources very viable.

We're ten years off electric or hydrogen cars being common (25% of sales say; 50% if gasoline prices at the pump rise again and stay there). Hydrogen pumps are very rare, even in California. Lots of investment is required, but hydrogen will win, because it keeps the current infrastructure - fuel stations and fuel companies, not home electricity. Given a car will live for over 10 years, we're 20+ years off removing our dependency on gasoline, but before that time some countries will be able to move entirely to home-produced gasoline and drop the middle east.

Biofuels are worst than the problem. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26156167)

So we destroy a food source just to fuel a very inefficient vehicle .... sure that is the best solution ... for idiots.

With biofuels you get:
- 30% of the millage you get with the regular gas. This means you have to fill up the gas tank 3 times more than before. And bip-idiots call that efficient.
- Increase in the cost of FOOD. Since biofuels are more profitable (specially if subsidized), more farmers will switch from food to fuel farms.
- Higher pollution. Since the plants are no longer for food consumption, farmers can use what ever chemicals they want to "make more fuel" ... polluting the local water supply.

That is just a few cons of biofuels .... I still can't figure out what is are the pros.

Re:Biofuels are worst than the problem. (2, Insightful)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 5 years ago | (#26157567)

That is just a few cons of biofuels .... I still can't figure out what is are the pros.

They don't run out, and they aren't located underneath countries that don't like us much.

Re:Biofuels are worst than the problem. (1)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 5 years ago | (#26158863)

Well, assuming you're not abusing your aquifers, they don't run out.

That's a mighty big assumption.

It depends (4, Insightful)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156173)

It depends on what nations you are talking about. In the USA, bio-fuels might be a non starter but in poorer [tropical] nations, bio fuels are a "Godsend."

These nations put in very little in bio fuel plants like the Jatropha, then get its seeds that can yield up to 40% oil by weight.

The plant is also resistant to drought and needs very little maintenance. The trouble with the USA is that folks look to corn whenever the bio-fuels subject comes up and in many cases, this is not economic at all.

Re:It depends (2, Insightful)

TheLink (130905) | more than 5 years ago | (#26157161)

Biofuels aren't necessarily a godsend.

It may be more profitable for the poor farmer to grow stuff to feed a rich american or western european's car than to feed the poor in his country.

Compare how much a car driver is can pay per litre, and how much a poor person in Africa/India etc can afford to pay for the equivalent calories in food.

Some areas don't support edible crops and so there won't be competition there. But in many cases land for food crops can be used for fuel crops.

In theory in the long term there could be a "economic correction", but people might die or riot before that.

One litre of petrol is 35 megajoules (8300 kcal). 50 litres (13 gallons) = 2000kcal for 200 people.

If I fill up my car with 50 litres once a week, it means my car eats about as much as a small village of 30 people.

So either we need new/better fuel crops or someone's got to figure out this nuclear power thing soon.

Re:It depends (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 5 years ago | (#26158151)

Actually, folks did not look to corn. The republicans did to buy some votes. The farmers that I know switched to corn because of the money from W, but told me that this was a harebrain idea. They pointed out that 3 RR tankers of ethanol were sitting on the train track in Limon for 3 months. Apparently, the company had no buyer of the fuel. They also pointed out that the distillers were not finding buyers. IOW, folks knew, just not politicians.

STILL? (1)

jonpublic (676412) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156177)

Still? Were they ever economically feasible?

Seems like once you start jacking up the price of everything on the dollar menu to $3 because all the corn is going to make fuel, what you thought was a great idea (ethanol) looks foolish.

Palm oil = destruction of rain forest
ethanol = drives up food prices

I'm sure we can figure something out in the future, but right now this stuff has some pretty nasty side effects.

Re:STILL? (2, Insightful)

konohitowa (220547) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156367)

While I don't agree with some of your reasons, I do appreciate that someone asked the question "were they ever"?

I'm not aware that biofuels had ever graduated from the direct subsidy phase. In fact, pretty much every issue that I receive of Biodiesel magazine and the ethanol & fuel reports talk about where the government money is now, where it's headed, and how to get it.

I suppose this will start a whole rant by someone(s) regarding the invisible subsidies for oil (including the intangible subsidies of environmental damage, etc.), but to imply that biofuels have been economically feasible in the US seems rather disingenuous.

(as an aside, the points I'm disagreeing on pertain mostly to food costs, as the general commodities market speculation was largely to blame for that. Quite possibly driven by biofuels speculation, but - like oil - mostly a market with no fundamentals supporting the prices)

Re:STILL? (1)

johanatan (1159309) | more than 5 years ago | (#26157245)

I don't think he is saying that current or past food costs saw a spike due to ethanol but rather that future costs would if we switched over to ethanol en masse.

Re:STILL? (1)

aussie_a (778472) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156387)

Algae = ???

Filter error: Your comment looks too much like ascii art.

Re:STILL? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26156487)

http://news.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1066337&cid=26156213

Re:STILL? (2, Informative)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156693)

Why does everyone assume that corn (and why is it always corn...) used for ethanol comes directly out of the human food stream allotment?

Human consumption and ethanol production combined pale in comparison to the amount of corn used for animal feed. Also, more corn is grown each year. So the percentages may shift around giving a slightly larger slice to ethanol production but the human use slice, while slightly less percentage wise is out of a bigger pie. And frankly, the less corn shoved into animals the better. Most animals can't handle a high corn diet without needing a lot of antibiotics. Send corn off to the ethanol plant and find something better to send to the feed lots. One thing which is better than corn is the mash left over from making ethanol. It's basically predigested corn. Still not win-win but it'd be better than what we're doing now.

Look at the usage of corn and just try to keep a straight face next time when you blame ethanol for rising food prices.

Re:STILL? (1)

EvilAlphonso (809413) | more than 5 years ago | (#26157695)

Why is it always corn

Actually there is this thing called the Corn Lobby. They are quite good at getting subsidies for their products and huge levies on products of their competitors. They are the reason why HFCS products are cheaper than normal sugar products.

Yes, Duh! (1, Insightful)

frovingslosh (582462) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156181)

Many biofules are said to take more energy to produce them than they provide, so with dropping oil prices they are actually more feasible than they were when oil prices were high. Now if they can only pass laws mandating the use of these fuels then they will become extremely feasible.

Re:Yes, Duh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26157017)

I dare you to make less sense.

Re:Yes, Duh! (1)

Guido del Confuso (80037) | more than 5 years ago | (#26157601)

It's perfectly reasonable. Since these fuels require more energy to produce than they actually provide, with the cost of fuel going down it is now going to become cheap enough to practically waste energy on this sort of "alternative-fuel" nonsense. If they would only pass a law requiring the use of these fuel sources, there would be no limit to the money and energy we could waste!

Re:Yes, Duh! (1)

sahar176 (1046492) | more than 5 years ago | (#26157965)

Um, you misspelled "I'm stupid".

Oops (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26156241)

Swear to God, I didn't have my glasses on and at first I thought it said "Are Brothels Still Economically Feasible?" I was kinda like, strange time for the world's oldest profession to die out...

Nothing is dead when the Govt. has a printing pres (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26156247)

The naysayers are wrong... biofuels aren't dead. The governments printing presses won't let them die.

Hey, this happened once before... (4, Interesting)

ducomputergeek (595742) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156261)

Back during the 1970's there was a fuel shortage and the bio-fuels industry picked up. Then we saw $30 a barrel and lower oil that drove all the producers out of business. Some say it was a calculated move on the part of OPEC to make sure that no competition arises. I'm not sure I'd go that far as OPEC nearly destroyed itself due to cheating in that period...

It's not much of a surprise that it's happened again. (Gee what happened to that $200 a barrel mark the media was predicting by the end of the year). Bio-fuels were another way for the agriculture lobby to get more money for corn. So with cheap oil, everyone will go back to worrying about other things and in 10 -15 years when there is another disrupution and the prices sky rocket, people will once again start up bio fuel projects.

You'd think we'd learn, but to quote Mark Twain: History doesn't repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.

Let's hope they're not (5, Insightful)

stevejsmith (614145) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156263)

Let's hope not. Biofuels based on corn and other food crops are bad for obvious reasons, but even non-food biofuels have their risks [blogspot.com] - among them degradation of the American/Canadian Great Plains, ecological degradation in the Third World, and the risk of invasive species (most of these non-food biofuels are fast-spreading grasses).

The most ecological energy policy is to stop the government from subsidizing oil (by building suburbia with land use restricitons [blogspot.com] ), subsidizing coal, and subsidizing water. There is no magic fuel out there that will allow us to consume infinite amounts of cheap energy - nature made extracting energy expensive for a reason, and the government needs to get out of the business of trying to make it easier.

Biofuels will be part of our future (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26156275)

Steven Chu has been involved in overseeing the most cutting edge research into biofuels, and I expect he is going to be promoting the next generation biofuels very strongly in the new administration.
These fuels are very different than the kind of biofuels currently being produced, and will not have their shortcomings. They will not be made from corn.

Maybe now, definately later. (0, Offtopic)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156313)

Chiggity-check this:

We fight wars and support insurrections world wide to secure for ourselves and our posterity: crude oil.

This crude oil is then piped for millions of miles through inhospitable climates and unfriendly countries (more war and strife-support) and/or shipped through often-dangerous shipping routes (piracy, weather).

This crude oil is then refined into fuels and petrochemicals which are then re-shipped.

Petrochemicals end up in China where they are made into plastic garbage for whiny brats at walmart...after even more shipping.

Every step of this process requires siphoning some capacity to fuel the process (fuel for ships, trucks, pumps, refineries, factories).

Alt.fuels will shine like a diamond in a goats ass soon enough. The companies that make lay the groundwork now (or better yet, in the 90's) will be the winners.

Never were (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26156381)

As conceptually appealing as biofuels are, sadly they were never really viable. For the most part they compete for resources already needed by the food chain. And how many MILLIONS of gallons of fuel are consumed each day? No bio source can even dream of producing such quantities, day after day after day.

Hopefully, alternate fuel research will go on. (1)

MadMorf (118601) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156429)

I think makers of internal combustion engines and their fuel suppliers, need to look at this as a temporary reprieve from the Governor while their case is reviewed.

Research into alternate energy sources for transportation must continue.

To give up this research just because petroleum prices are low, would be a grave mistake.

Heck, bump prices up a little and use the surplus to fund research instead of paying CEO salaries and shareholder dividends.

Re:Hopefully, alternate fuel research will go on. (1)

zmollusc (763634) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156685)

"bump prices up a little and use the surplus to fund research instead of paying CEO salaries and shareholder dividends"

Hahahahahahahahaha! Good luck persuading the decisionmakers, ie CEOs and shareholders.

Better to fund my start-up which reduces consumer demand while producing fuel from local sources. Send your cheques to The Soylent Diesel Company.

Who writes these shit articles? (1)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156453)

Gasoline is cheap because demand has slackened. Isn't anybody scared as fuck that a mere 5% drop in demand can result in such a catastrophic drop in price? It's an inelastic price. That means that small changes in demand cause huge changes in price.

This is the future:

1) economy slows
2) price of gas drops
3) economy gets better and demand recovers
4) WHAM gas goes through the roof.
5) Goto 1

Re:Who writes these shit articles? (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156537)

Which really means that companies like FedEx and Walmart should be buying into gasoline alternatives just to insure stable fuel prices for themselves.

Re:Who writes these shit articles? (2, Informative)

compro01 (777531) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156865)

UPS is already investing in electrics. Lots of their transports are short-range (from the local depot to your door, though city traffic) with relatively small loads, which fits perfectly with small electrics.

http://www.popularmechanics.com/automotive/new_cars/4234572.html?page=2 [popularmechanics.com]

Think about it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26156497)

Think about it:

1) A big cartel controls a lot of the world's oil.
2) This big cartel can tell when investing in alternative fuels is rising.
3) The big cartel can change prices when they want.

Jack us until alternative sources are feasible, and then make them unfeasible by lowering prices.

subject (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26156783)

I'm currently studying bio engineering and majoring in agricultural economy. I once compared the amount of ethanol globally produced for use as biofuel to the amount of ethanol produced in the production of beer (leaving out other alcoholic beverages like wine or hard liquor). I came to a ratio 6/1000. I ask you slashdot: What is more of a waste?

Wasting our energy- food and watersupplies for the pleasure of people. Or saving on our carbondioxide-output and building the infrastructure for second generation biofuels.

Let I remind you that the recent problems with foodshortage were not at all a product of a bigger focus on biofuels. There were some major failed harvests in wheatproduction. The consumption of meat and milk rose steeply in countries like china which requires a lot of wheat. And the rising price of oil also had an effect on the costs of the farmers.

Up untill now, the foodprices have been lowering continuously for the past 50 years and I am not at all surprised that farmers are looking for alternatives like biofuels.

Research still ongoing (4, Interesting)

Sooner Boomer (96864) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156841)

Research into biofuels is still going full speed. I'm involved in a project using switchgrass to produce diesel (and other products) directly through pyrolysis and the Fisher Tropsch [wikipedia.org] process. Other projects [okbioenergycenter.org] are looking at using switchgrass as a feedstock for conversion to ethanol, or as a "lignocellulosic material" that can be co-fired with coal, reducing costs and pollutants.

No WAY (1)

nog_lorp (896553) | more than 5 years ago | (#26156975)

It's a recession, and businesses are closing down or scaling back? Unheard of!

With government support (1)

acciaccatura (790971) | more than 5 years ago | (#26157157)

Biofuels have always been economically viable. The question has always been economically viable to who?

Vertical farms (2, Interesting)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 5 years ago | (#26157425)

You may have noticed that there is growing interest in vertical farms - i.e. using the sides of tall buildings as farmland, based around hydroponics. Because vertical farms are enclosed, water management is easier. One obvious use is for growing transport-intensive crops like fruit, cutting the delivered cost by producing very close to point of consumption. But another would be to produce oil from algae. In either case, sun-receiving surfaces which currently have little function are being utilised effectively.

A lot of people posting so far seem to confuse corn subsidy biofuel with biofuels in general. But there are other biofuels already which are not energy-negative such as alcohol made from sugar cane waste in Brazil, where the nonconvertible cellulose is burned to provide the heat input to the process. Here in the UK we have limited production of alcohol and charcoal from coppiced shrubs and timber processing waste; there are several other initiatives. Given that the price of oil is controlled more by speculation than demand, and given financial instability, we can expect it to change wildly over the next few years. Industries needing long term investment should be protected to some degree from the fluctuations. A working biofuel industry would help to stabilise the oil price, because it would introduce an element of competition into the fuels market. Speculators do not like competitive industries because it is harder to manipulate them.

The future is bio-hydrocarbons... (4, Interesting)

Genda (560240) | more than 5 years ago | (#26157823)

There are fundamental fallacies to our existing economy. They assume a workable environment in which to do business, and that the environment is infinite and free. If you look at the economic cost of global warming over the next hundred years, the global price rises to hundreds of trillions of dollars. A few of the costs include;
A) Land lost by sea level rise
B) Damage caused by increase flood and drought
C) Loss of critical biostocks (crash in fish populations, ocean acidification, key land ocean and air species)
D) Storm damage
E) Increased spread of tropical diseases
F) Wars caused by loss of water, food, and habitable land
G) Loss of land for agriculture
H) Failure of environmental systems supporting a minimum quality of life

Algae based oil is an excellent fuel alternative. Another is bioengineering new fungii discovered to produce diesel fuel directly from cellulose. Both of these technologies are utterly plug and play in our current petroleum base infrastructure. Both sequester carbon from the atmosphere, so their burning adds no new carbon and using them for other purposes like petrochemical feed-stocks actually removes carbon from the atmosphere. Both create tremendous new economic opportunities, and if supported by the government and the current petroleum business point us to a workable gap stop solution until helium cooled pebble bed fission and fusion are perfected.

How the middle east works (2, Insightful)

scientus (1357317) | more than 5 years ago | (#26158767)

If we had kept even moderately higher oil price levels after the scare of 73' then we would have a way less dependence on all the middle eastern oil. When the price went down after that it just killed the efficiency and alternate fuels industry that had sprung up, all the ideas(patents) to be bought out by oil companies. Now it could happen again, and in 20 years well wonder why we didn't ever do anything about our dependence on foreign oil.

We blame this crisis fully on the mograge market but some blame is surely to put on the oil prices, and now as they go back down we'll forget. Just like you would be crazy to have a nation import all its food, its stupid to import most of your energy, an equally important resource. There is a reason Japan has such high tariffs on food, and there is a reason we need to subsidize ways to make our economy less reliant and more self-sufficient.

These waves of volatility in energy are very bad for ventur capitilism into energy fixes but that does not meen they are bad ideas. Toyota makde great strides by continuing to invest in efficiency well afer the 70's scare and it worked. Governments need to realize this and help new companies that are not Toyota.

the essence of the problem (1, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#26159043)

is that no one has come up with a scheme that is cheaper than simply digging the stuff out of the ground

as soon as someone comes up with a biofuels scheme that is cheaper than digging it out of the ground, game over, simple economic rules take over, and further savings are realized through economies of scale

2 things are affecting this breakthrough point:

1. its getting more and more expensive to dig hydrocarbons out of the ground
2. research is finding more and more shortcuts for turning biomass A into hydrocarbon B

obviously, there is issue #3: monetary fluctuations, supply and demand fluctations, etc., that affect that magical breakthrough point. temporarily in 2008, we reached that breakthrough point, but the oil price bubble popping has moved that point again into the future. but don't worry, we'll see that point again. india and china aren't getting poorer (more demand), and oil sources are just getting deeper and deeper (less supply)

personally, my money is on algae directly making octane, in ponds in the desert near an ocean, or in waterjugs in the ocean itself. that is, if i had some money right now, heh

Ethanol (1)

acid06 (917409) | more than 5 years ago | (#26159203)

Here in Brazil ethanol is used by cars more than gasoline.
We don't use it because there's a government subsidy or because we love the environment or any such nonsense.

Sugar cane ethanol is *cheaper* than gasoline.

Biofuels are seen as expensive in the US because you're using the wrong sources. Of course it won't be cost-effective to extract ethanol from corn.

bio fuels have never been feasible (1)

will381796 (1219674) | more than 5 years ago | (#26159473)

When you use more energy to produce a biofuel than the amount of energy that would be provided to the end user, then it is hard to argue that the fuel was ever economically feasible. When corn that could be used to feed hungry people is instead used to prevent a **possible** catastrophe that **might or might not** be caused by humans, then I say that is an irresponsible use of our resources.
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