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Cellulosic Biofuel Finally Ready For the Road

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the closing-in-on-mister-fusion dept.

Earth 355

wdebruij writes "After years of research, promises, and plenty of discussion here, biofuel from inedible greens such as switchgrass — and even from corn cobs — may finally be getting economically viable. Two enzyme producers, Novozyme and Genencor, have both announced that they can now produce fuel at prices competitive with current corn and petrol-based methods. This is particularly good news in the wake of another report that food-based biofuels could cause hunger."

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First (cheap gas?) (1)

sajuuk (1371145) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161718)

First post! And since this stuff is finally going to be hitting the road, when will my gas prices become reasonable (for the US) again? I'm tired of $2.96 a gallon and only getting 300 miles out of it.

Re:First (cheap gas?) (2, Informative)

AshtangiMan (684031) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161726)

Nice. 300 mpg is pretty sweet indeed. Wait, why are you upset?

Re:First (cheap gas?) (1)

Henry Weinhard (1031400) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161806)

Perhaps 300 miles is how far he can go on a single tank. Still not sure how that's relevant to the price of gas though.

Re:First (cheap gas?) (2, Funny)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162006)

So I guess the term gas, grass or ass nobody rides for free will have a redundant term in it then?

Re:First (cheap gas?) (1)

VanGarrett (1269030) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162224)

That would be the cost per mile. If he has a 12-gallon tank, and can travel 300 miles on it, then at $2.969 per gallon, it costs him $35.63 to fill up the tank, and by extension, costs him 11.876 to drive a mile in his car. He is therefore complaining that $36 will only get him 300 miles away from where he is.

Re:First (cheap gas?) (3, Insightful)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161840)

Hey - are you paying for gas? Then its reasonable. When its unreasonable, you DON'T pay for gas. Thats the way it works.

If you haven't stopped driving your car because you couldn't afford fuel prices - then you really don't have much to complain about. Cars are a luxury item, if you live in the kind of town where driving a car is necessary to get to work, you also live in a town that has a transit system that can get you within walking distance.

Re:First (cheap gas?) (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31162210)

What the heck are you smoking? Transit system? Transit system? Where the hell is that? I (and MANY others) that live in California but NOT in San Francisco - commute a long way where no transit system exists. I drive 38 miles each way. This is so that I can actually own a house and not bring up my kids in some silly apartment (which is all we could afford if we lived right by work). There is something close to a transit system. I can drive my car about 7 miles to the "park and rob" (no doubt: cars are always vandalized and burglarized there), catch a bus from there (it is the first stop, so it stops all over the damn city), then it goes to a train, which stops all over, then to a bus which gets within 2 miles of work (which I admit is indeed walking distance). Total time on this "transit system" is just over 2 hours (yes, I have done it) whereas driving is about 45 minutes. Transit System... The price of gas would have to triple to get me to consider wasting that much more time per day getting to and from work.

Re:First (cheap gas?) (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162216)

that's pure bullshit, you need to get out more. Just as example, in my area buses only go on routes that include train station, to go more than five miles straight east or west using public transport is impossible, unless you count riding 30 miles in to large midwestern city, getting on another train, and riding 30 miles out again, and arriving at work in the afternoon in time to leave again. gawd, "every city in the world is just like mine"....

Re:First (cheap gas?) (1)

jonwil (467024) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162222)

Try living in most parts of Southern California without a car and see how far you go.
Not everywhere has the transport systems that cities like New York, Chicago and DC have.

Re:First (cheap gas?) (2, Informative)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162282)

Managed to go through LA, San Fran, Salt Lake City, and a handful of other cities using nothing but municipal transit.

Re:First (cheap gas?) (2, Insightful)

Monkey_Genius (669908) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162410)

Going 'through' any large city in SoCal is possible using public transit. Getting around 'inside' one is nearly impossible.

Re:First (cheap gas?) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31162254)

if you live in the kind of town where driving a car is necessary to get to work, you also live in a town that has a transit system that can get you within walking distance.

That's quite the assumption. I've lived in a few towns that, while large/spaced out/etc enough that I needed a car to get to work, didn't offer adequate/any public transportation.

Re:First (cheap gas?) (1)

Adriax (746043) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162270)

Or you live in an area where 1/3rd of the people live 5+ miles from city limits.
Or an area where it gets -10 before windchill during the winter on a warm day, and becomes quite deadly for anyone not young and healthy to walk more than a couple blocks.
Ooo, or how about the general populace is so ignorant and deserving of the title redneck that a handful of people end up in the ER every month from beer bottle concussions thrown from muddy trucks doing anything from 30-75mph in town, just because they were walking or riding a bike.

Or gee, maybe you're like me and live in an area that's all of the above.
Try living somewhere that doesn't have a bus stop every 2 blocks...

Re:First (cheap gas?) (2, Informative)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162312)

I live in one of the best transit systems in the us - right outside of chicago - and I still don't have a train that takes me remotely close to my work. Trust me, I'd take one in a heartbeat over using my car, but it's simply not realistic.

Re:First (cheap gas?) (1)

Aphex Junkie (633436) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161976)

The price of gas is never going to be reasonable again. Maybe a few dips here and there, but nothing long-term and certainly nothing permanent. Don't bank on some miracle technology to bail you out -- this is a fundamental thermodynamics issue.

Go look up "peak oil"

Late to the party? (4, Insightful)

sjs132 (631745) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161758)

This is particularly good news in the wake of another report that food-based biofuels could cause hunger."

They JUST figured this out!!!????

This is the problem with the green lords... they don't think ahead of the unintended consequences!

I've HATED Corn based ethanol for YEARS... Everyone would point to some country in South America (Brazil?) about how good Ethanol was and the amount of fuel created etc... But that was end of process SUGAR CANE! NOT a major food source!

Glad someone is finally waking up.

Re:Late to the party? (5, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161822)

I've HATED Corn based ethanol for YEARS... Everyone would point to some country in South America (Brazil?) about how good Ethanol was and the amount of fuel created etc... But that was end of process SUGAR CANE! NOT a major food source!

Sugar cane is even MORE vital. It's a major potable alcohol source (rum). Definitely not something we need to waste in cars.

Re:Late to the party? (1, Insightful)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162268)

The food, and more generally, resource shortage is a MYTH.

You heard me. It's a lie. A con. A steaming pile of bullshit cooked up by politicians of first world countries as an excuse for their total failure to address the profligate wastefulness of their social order. There is only a resource shortage if every country needed to consume resources at the rate as the United States. If countries could be more frugal with their resources then we'd all be fine and dandy. All 6 billion of us, and our kids.

Oh, and fuck off if you're going to chime in with "we don't all want to live in jungle grass huts". That's a stupid response from a stupid person. There are plenty of modernized countries that don't consumer anywhere near the amount of electricity, food, raw materials or produce as much waste as the US. If the US actually used the enormous amount of resources it had efficiently, it should be the country in the world with the highest standard of living. Instead, life expectancy is pretty far down the list, health care is a joke compared even to Cuba, depression, suicide and mental health issues are epidemic, and the rest of the world hates you.

So when politicians pull out statements like "biofuel will cause food shortages" despite the fact that this is only because of the absurd subsidies paid to US corn farmers that distort the market, making it artificially profitable to use this low yield/acre crop as a biofuel, the rest of the world gets pissed off because you're damaging what should be a logical part of any energy reform strategy.

The real cause of food and resource shortages are the legions of fatasses eating far more food than they need, hugely overpackaged in tin cans, glass jars and styrofoam burger boxes.

Waste is the real problem here, NOT shortage. Lets call the politicians on this BS they're feeding us.

Re:Late to the party? (2, Interesting)

ThiagoHP (910442) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161846)

Brazil has been using sugar cane ethanol since the 70s and we never had any food price surges because of it. Most of our car production comes with engines that can use any mixture of ethanol and gas, so you can choose the best one by cost or by ecofriendliness or any other reason. Even if the sugar price raised, we could see it as a good consequence: people would eat less sugar, less calories, maybe even eating more fruit! :-) Corn-based ethanol and the US tax in Brazilian ethanol is a something completely anti-free-market in the land that people love to quote the "invisible hand of the market" as the solution to almost anything. Go figure.

Re:Late to the party? (2, Interesting)

erroneus (253617) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161938)

In case you haven't figured it out, the market in the U.S. is rather stupid and [over-]reactionary. The moment something bad happens in the middle east, fuel prices surge. The moment demand on corn based ethanol is even discussed, the price on corn related commodities shoots up creating all sorts of problems with supply.

We haven't had an active invisible hand in the U.S. for decades while we have farmers getting paid for not producing and all manner of nonsense like that.

Re:Late to the party? (1)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162050)

Maybe I should apply for not producing corn. I haven't been doing that for many many years.

Re:Late to the party? (1)

wisdom_brewing (557753) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162346)

If you would consider and have similar experience in not growing wheat or rapeseed, I believe France is where you need to go. They'll truly value your years and/or decades of expertise!

Re:Late to the party? (0)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161958)

Did you happen to miss how in the early 80's or so several popular products switched to using corn syrup as a sweetener?

Re:Late to the party? (5, Insightful)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162120)

Did you happen to miss how in the early 80's or so several popular products switched to using corn syrup as a sweetener?

That's because of our sugar tariffs keeping cheap foreign sugar out, not because Brazil burning sugar made it that much more expensive.
http://www.accidentalhedonist.com/index.php/2006/01/24/tariffs_and_subsidies_the_literal_cost_o [accidentalhedonist.com]

Re:Late to the party? (1)

wisdom_brewing (557753) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162356)

Wish i had mod points, both to mod you up and parent down for ignorance...

Re:Late to the party? (3, Interesting)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161980)

It helps that 90% of Brazil is in sugarcane's growing area, and that when Brazil needs more farmland, they just burn down more forest. The Problem is that the majority of Brazil's soil is actually quite poor and loses it's sustainability as arable soil after 2-3 seasons (which is why they keep burning more and more forest). Unchecked, yes, Brazil will have no problem feeding their population... for now. In 20, 30, 40 years Brazil is going to start running out of forest to burn for more farmland and you will see prices begin to skyrocket when the soil becomes as fertile as north africa's.

Re:Late to the party? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31162542)

Brazil has been using sugar cane ethanol since the 70s and we never had any food price surges because of it.

Well, no. US domestic sugar growers are heavily subsidized and quite adequate to the task of producing all the sugar that the USA needs. So even if the Brazilian crop came up scarce, US sugar prices would be almost totally immune.

Re:Late to the party? (2, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161868)

The people who were most strongly pushing corn-based ethanol were corn farmers and farm-state politicians, for whom an increase in the price of corn was most definitely not an unintended consequence.

Re:Late to the party? (1)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161916)

And if you would have paid attention, almost no "green-lords" (not sure who falls under that definition, but I'm going to assume the usual suspects of WWF, Sierra Club and other environmental organizations of the same ilk) ever endorsed the use of corn kernels as a source for biofuel. Almost everyone saw that coming. The only ones who uniformly didn't see it coming (or at least didn't care) were the corn producers and their lobbies.

If you even think for one second that the environmental lobbies somehow have more pull than the agricultural lobbies, you've just not been paying attention.

Re:Late to the party? (1)

geekmux (1040042) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161950)

This is particularly good news in the wake of another report that food-based biofuels could cause hunger."

They JUST figured this out!!!????

This is the problem with the green lords... they don't think ahead of the unintended consequences!

I've HATED Corn based ethanol for YEARS... Everyone would point to some country in South America (Brazil?) about how good Ethanol was and the amount of fuel created etc... But that was end of process SUGAR CANE! NOT a major food source!

Glad someone is finally waking up.

Speaking of waking up, when have reported "shortages" in other products and industries related to creating fuel have been due to actual supply and demand issues and NOT from greed and corruption?

We're not paying $2.50/gallon because that's an accurate reflection of how much oil is left on this planet and that's a fair price.

Re:Late to the party? (5, Insightful)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161992)

don't blame the environmental movement. corn ethanol gas was a republican corporate welfare program for the farm corporations.

Re:Late to the party? (0, Flamebait)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162106)

Yeah, but when I read the report, the guy writing it sounded like a nutter. Apparently, there are no good sides to biofuels at all. In my experience, every report on a controversial issue that finds 100% on one side is a lie. Doesn't matter if it's for or against it. If they have nothing good to say about it, then they were looking only for things to say bad, and thus they are wrong. The "report" seems to be one guy's opinion, backed up by fabricated numbers (experts call them estimates, but an estimate where you know what you want to find and make sure the numbers fit is no longer an estimate). And he even goes so far as to say it's as bad as oil for greenhouse gases. But he justifies that by indicating that biofuels will be made by clear-cutting rain forest and using the worst possible fertilizers. He makes the worst possible assumptions in all cases against biofuels. The report can't be held to indicate anything more than "done wrong, any good idea can fail." Other than mental masturbation to promote his personal beliefs using horrible assumptions and fabricated numbers, there's nothing of substance left.

But it makes a couple good quotes, and so I'm sure people will be referring to it. But it's hard to discuss his "findings" when they were so obviously concocted with a specific agenda in mind.

I've HATED Corn based ethanol for YEARS... Everyone would point to some country in South America (Brazil?) about how good Ethanol was and the amount of fuel created etc... But that was end of process SUGAR CANE! NOT a major food source!

Um, sugar is a major food source (counting caloric intake as "food"). And nobody likes corn-based ethanol except for the corn lobby and the politicians they pay off. It isn't like a revelation that using corn sucks. But switchgrass and such will never take off in the US when the Congress is paid for by big corporations. It isn't the environmentalists screwing everything up, as the conservative media asserts. It's Congress, on the orders of big business. And no, it doesn't matter which party controls what. It isn't a party issue. The only party issue is that when government fails, the conservatives blame the liberal voters. Who is actually in office makes precious little difference anymore.

This is the problem with the green lords... they don't think ahead of the unintended consequences!

You must be listening to some other Green Lords. The ones I hear want switchgrass, algae, corn husks, and organic waste converted to fuel. The ones that think a "report that food-based biofuels could cause hunger" is about people getting hungry when they smell the diesel car drive past burning old french fry oil, because using foodstuffs as a sole source of ethanol (and ethanol as the only biofuel) is incredibly stupid. But the actual Green Lords have a much smaller voice than what Rush asserts they are saying, and for some reason, when the two statements conflict, people believe the paid entertainer's purposeful mis-characterization over the actual words and/or clarifications from the Green Lords. When you fix that, you'll be well on the way to fixing the problem with the US.

Re:Late to the party? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31162160)

This is particularly good news in the wake of another report that food-based biofuels could cause hunger."

They JUST figured this out!!!????

This is the problem with the green lords... they don't think ahead of the unintended consequences!

I've HATED Corn based ethanol for YEARS... Everyone would point to some country in South America (Brazil?) about how good Ethanol was and the amount of fuel created etc... But that was end of process SUGAR CANE! NOT a major food source!

Glad someone is finally waking up.

The US could easily use sugar cane. Write your congress to eliminate the sugar tarrifs that the US sugar industry has levied on imports. If these tariffs were lifted then we can make ethanol from sugar, fun poor countries rather than our enemies, and actually have sugar in our foods rather than corn syrup.

Big Government Enables Big Corporations.

Re:Late to the party? (2, Interesting)

RingDev (879105) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162234)

I would argue just the opposite.

The best way for 3rd world/developing countries to make the transition to a developed nation is through agriculture.

The US, with an extremely keen interest on controlling food prices and availability has heavily subsidized farmers across the US. So much so, that it has distorted the global market and significantly limited the introduction of new agricultural markets. By reducing the amount of corn that the US exports, we would actually create a financial advantage for investment in agriculture in 3rd world countries. Thus resulting in no net change in world wide food availability.

Most of the articles I've seen that claim corn based ethanol would lead to food shortages take an absurd view of fuels. Sure, if every single car that is currently running on gasoline today were replaced with a comparable car that ran on ethanol, yes, there would be a huge impact. But lets be realistic, no serious studies have ever pointed to a 100% replacement of gasoline with ethanol, and the idea that every car would be converted on a single day is ludicrous.

No single fuel will be the answer to our transportation problems. Petrol, bio-diesel, algae, ethanol, butane/propane/natural gas, electric, hybrids, etc... A blend of all will make up the future fuel markets. And as any one becomes more expensive, the others will become more popular.

Assuming ethanol takes off to the point that it impacts food availability, a number of things will likely happen:
1) The Feds will reduce subsidies for growing fuel-corn
2) The Feds will increase subsidies for growing consumable corn
3) The price of imported corn would be lower than local corn and investment in international agriculture would rise.

By all means, tear down the Ethanol arguments using valid arguments, like water contamination, transportation issues, and the horrible efficiencies of "flex-fuel" vehicles. Not to mention the agricultural impacts of requiring nitrogen based fertilizers and the relatively low yield per acre. But leave the food argument buried, it's just silly.

-Rick

Re:Late to the party? (1)

mrthehud (1732288) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162248)

The problems of food based biofuels creating hunger are still very much present in inedible source biofuels: The 'fuel crops' will be grown in place of food crops because fuel is vastly more profitable than. Whether or not the crop could be eaten as well is completely beside the point. I don't think they've 'figured this out' just yet. Find a crop to grow on the other two thirds of the planets surface, however, and we might be all set (even if we have to give up seafood to have it.)

Re:Late to the party? (2, Informative)

hardburn (141468) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162352)

There is a fallacy hidden in there: that world hunger is due to not producing enough food.

Here's the production of the top four biggest US corn producing states, as of 2006, in thousands of bushels [corn.org] :

  • IA: 2,244,400
  • IL: 2,088,000
  • NE: 1,319,700
  • MN: 1,120,950

Total: 6,773,050 thousand bushels

A blog comment [autoblog.com] cites 134,400 calories per bushel (couldn't find a better source for this). So the total calories produce from all the corn above is:

6,773,050 * 1000 * 134,400 = 910,298,592,000,000 calories

On a 2000 calorie / day diet, a person eats 2000 * 365 = 730,000 calories / year

Production of just those 4 states can therefore feed a population of about 1.2 billion people. Of course, you'll be nutrient deficient on a corn-only diet, but hopefully the rest of the planet can pick up the slack for that and the remaining 5.3 billion people. And it's not like those states are only corn producers, anyway.

If production isn't the underling problem, then we need to look elsewhere or else we'll accomplish nothing in solving the problem. One of the prime places to look is how the food often gets stopped in harbor because the right palms aren't being greased, or how local warlords hijack shipments and use food as a weapon.

For certain, corn ethanol was never going to cover even 10% of US energy needs. But the hunger argument isn't a very good one.

Re:Late to the party? (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162364)

By that theory you should hate beef too, because it takes a lot more than a pound of corn to create a pound of beef. Furthermore the varieties of corn sold for feed are not normally sold for human consumption.

So by buying beef you are diverting corn production from human food into animal feed, which reduces the net food available.

In any case, environmentalists aren't the ones behind corn based ethanol. It's agribusiness.

Chop Chop (1)

cormander (1273812) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161760)

More reason to chop down more of the rain-forest. Instead of using food for bio-fuel (in turn starving people), we'll use trees for bio-fuel (in turn starving the environment, suffocating us). So basically we'll go from wanting the mineral underneath the tree of the Na'vi village to wanting the tree itself. Not much of a change if you ask me.

Re:Chop Chop (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161804)

well, this COULD work but only if they grow the crops in an areas unsuitable for food crops (people still starve if you grow fuel crops instead of food crops), and if they choose area's that aren't ecologically sensitive or important.

this is the side effect of being CO2 obessed. you can't turn off the energy tap, so you have to source it some other way then fossil fuels. i've been saying the cure will be worse then the desease for a long time now...

Re:Chop Chop (1)

mikestew (1483105) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161988)

this is the side effect of being CO2 obessed. you can't turn off the energy tap, so you have to source it some other way then fossil fuels.

Turning corn into ethanol doesn't solve the fossil fuel dependency problem because corn is fertilized with (wait for it...) fossil fuels.

Now if non-food crops are grown on areas that aren't useful for growing food crops, all without using petroleum-based fertilizers, it might make some sense.

Re:Chop Chop (1)

PotatoFarmer (1250696) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162008)

Also if they don't use industrial fertilizers, which rely upon fossil fuels for nitrogen fixation. Our most efficient method of doing that is the Haber-Bosch process, and the most economically viable form of it happens to use a shitload of natural gas. Until we move away from that crutch we're still burning fossil fuels, albeit disguised by a few more layers of transformation.

Re:Chop Chop (1)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161946)

I think the problem is that people expect a single decisive solution to a complex planet-wide problem.

Let me save everyone time and effort: unless we develop fusion-based power production, there isn't going to be one.

However, in the context of a world where squeezing the last bit of energy from dwindling resources is important, biofuels do have a role... as yet another technology that allows us to recycle what would otherwise be waste. Solar, geothermal, wind, and tide power... NONE of the above is THE solution to the world's energy problem. Neither is nuclear power, and neither are biofuels. A combination of ALL of the above on the other hand, could keep us going, without completely destroying what's left of our natural resources, long enough that we could develop new methods of power generation.

Re:Chop Chop (1)

bjelkeman (107902) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162170)

+1 Indeed. No mod points though. :)

Re:Chop Chop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31162258)

Let me save everyone time and effort: unless we develop fusion-based power production, there isn't going to be one.

Nonsense! What do you call fission-based power production? :)

Water (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31161762)

Has anyone done anything about the huge water requirements of ethanol production? In Chester, South Carolina there have been voices screaming about the proposed ethanol plant. One side is desperate for the jobs, the other side is desperate to protect the Catawba River.

Re:Water (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161842)

Farming of any sourt uses a substantial amount of water, plants grown for Ethanol conversion are no exception.

Finally! (2, Funny)

Bangmaker (1420175) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161778)

Maybe now I'll have a way to make money off all the weeds in my front yard. I'll finally be able to prove to the neighbors that an unkempt yard is actually worth something.

Human remains? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31161780)

When can we power our SUVs with dead fetuses and euthanized old people to piss Christians off?

Re:Human remains? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31161872)

You can easily make diesel out of dead fetuses and euthanized old people.

Re:Human remains? (1)

copponex (13876) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161888)

Well, it's certain that filling their tanks with Arabs hasn't upset them at all in the last hundred years.

Re:Human remains? (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162020)

Why euthanize them when you can put them to work pushing your SUV until they drop dead?

Biofuels (4, Interesting)

Chris Lawrence (1733598) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161782)

The main issue with biofuels isn't really food or cost. It's about land use, energy efficiency and sustainability. Brazil is usually given as a great example, but they have only 8 million cars, which use a maximum of 25 percent biofuel, the rest is still gasoline or diesel. And Brazil is one of the countries that is deforesting the fastest in the world. The US has 250 million cars. There's not enough land left in the world to clear to make enough biofuels for that.

http://www.selfdestructivebastards.com/2010/01/biofuels.html [selfdestru...stards.com]

Re:Biofuels (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161820)

And Brazil is one of the countries that is deforesting the fastest in the world.

It is my understanding that much of that deforestation is illegal. The land gets cleared for ranching/farming, is exhausted rinse repeat. The Brazilian government has only recently started enforcing the law more strictly. That isn't to say that Ethanol production doesn't play a role, just that other factors weigh in heavily in so far as deforestation is concerned.

Re:Biofuels (1)

Chris Lawrence (1733598) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161866)

It's the government that reclassified 200 million hectares, though, as I mention in the article. That's for sucarcane. They are also clearing the rainforest to grow soy. The carbon emissions released from cutting down all these trees can exceed the gains versus fossil fuels by as much as several hundred times, as I quote.

Re:Biofuels (4, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161918)

which use a maximum of 25 percent biofuel

The standard gasoline blend (i.e. what you get if you buy "normal" gasoline) is 20-25% ethanol in Brazil, but there is also pure ethanol available, and >80% of new cars are able to use either the E25 or E100 fuel. Some details here [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Biofuels (1)

Chris Lawrence (1733598) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161966)

Okay, fair enough, but these new models were only introduced a few years ago and are a tiny percentage of total national fleet. And my whole point is that if they do switch everything to using pure ethanol, that's just going to make the problem that much worse. Now, imagine trying that in the US with 250 million cars. We'd need to be farming on Mars!

Re:Biofuels (4, Interesting)

Amorymeltzer (1213818) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161996)

When a study [pnas.org] shows that switchgrass produces 540% more renewable than nonrenewable energy consumed, yeah, I'd say it's a little about efficiency.

Re:Biofuels (2, Insightful)

Chris Lawrence (1733598) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162024)

That's when you convert farmland. Do the same calculations when you convert natural habitat, such as forest or wetlands, to grow this stuff. Again, you're going to be behind with respect to carbon emissions, probably by an order of magnitude, and you also destroyed more of the natural environment and threatened more species.

Re:Biofuels (1)

Amorymeltzer (1213818) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162306)

I don't disagree that the system is shit and that clearly ethanol is really only slightly better than fossil fuels (and even that's arguable). The solution is to get energy elsewhere, but we can't always jump from point A to point H right away. Point B may not be great but if it's an improvement over A then why not? Switchgrass may still suck, but it's a lot better than using corn and half a loaf is better than none.

Re:Biofuels (1)

Chris Lawrence (1733598) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162506)

Why not conserve and use less? We can drive less, build more rail, add more transit, build walkable communities, etc. There's lots we can do besides finding new stuff to put in our cars.

Re:Biofuels (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31162026)

The main issue with biofuels isn't really food or cost. It's about land use, energy efficiency and sustainability. Brazil is usually given as a great example, but they have only 8 million cars, which use a maximum of 25 percent biofuel, the rest is still gasoline or diesel.

You've got very wrong information here. Just 8 million cars in Brazil? The article said 8 million cars running on ethanol, not 8 million cars overall. There are almost 28 million cars running now. 25% is the amount of ethanol in the gas sold here. 85% of the current Brazilian car production is comprised of flex-fuel cars, that run on ethanol, gas or any mixture of them.

And Brazil is one of the countries that is deforesting the fastest in the world.

That's right, but most of the deforestation is done for wood and to open land to cattle, not agriculture. The Amazon land is not good for agriculture.

Re:Biofuels (1)

Krannert IT (1675504) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162368)

Last I check raising cattle IS agriculture.

Re:Biofuels (1)

AP31R0N (723649) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162176)

Solution:

Forget the idea that there is a silver bullet for this werewolf (saw wolfman this weekend). We should aim for cars that can run on multiple sources of fuel and have multiple ways of creating that fuel. If it is electricity, use nuclear AND coal AND wind AND geo AND AND AND. If it is Bio, let's use as many sources as we can.

__
i find it odd that people think that biofuels could cause a food shortage. There's plenty of food and plenty of land to make more food. We might have to rethink how we use land though. For instance, cows ar are huge waste of land that are choking the rivers and adding to the green house effect.

Re:Biofuels (1)

Chris Lawrence (1733598) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162232)

That's true, there's no silver bullet. We need alternative energy, but it can never replace fossil fuels. So we need a combination of conservation, efficiency, alternative energy, and a reduction in consumption. Btw, you're wrong about the cows, read this:

http://www.selfdestructivebastards.com/2010/01/review-vegetarian-myth.html [selfdestru...stards.com]

Re:Biofuels (1)

AP31R0N (723649) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162276)

So, someone writes a book to make themselves feel better about turning their back on being vegetarian (because she did it wrong) and suddenly the Gulf of Mexico is clear of nitrates. Got it.

Re:Biofuels (1)

Chris Lawrence (1733598) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162480)

By nitrates, you're referring to fertilizer, I assume? There is no fertilizer required for cows raised on pasture.

Re:Biofuels (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162468)

Biofuels cause food shortages because a farmer in the Third World will make more of a profit growing and selling fuel crops than food crops. This leads to the price of food climbing for the locals and for aid agencies whose food supply costs spike.

Its not about thinking it could cause a shortage, its causing price spikes and shortages. For something really scary, look into whats happening with tequila prices and the long term viability of tequila as farmers stop planting agave.

http://vivirlatino.com/2007/05/30/ethanol-to-lead-to-tequila-shortage.php [vivirlatino.com]
http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/2008/08/17/20080817tequila0817.html [azcentral.com]

Duckweed Perhaps (2, Interesting)

Yergle143 (848772) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162278)

I've been following the biofuels industry pretty closely. How about Duckweed? Like algae it does not compete with cropland, it grows fast and unlike algae, it is easy to harvest (just skim off the top rather than concentrating water). Also easier to deal with "weeds" (algae ponds get contaminated by other species and this is hard to control). Duckweed is mostly cellulose and so fits into a feedstream amenable to the fermentation described by the article.

Biofuels dont cause hunger (3, Insightful)

Benaiah (851593) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161786)

Poor market management, lack of planning or agricultural investment and war cause famine, not biofuels. Zimbabwe is host to some of Africa's best ariable land and yet there are thousands who are starving. If the people hadn't let all the farms fall into disrepair after the revolution they would have so much food they could be exporting to other regions.

There is enough farmland available to grow enough food for all the world. Better prices for biofuel stock might drive up prices short term, but will lead to greater investment and supply long term.

Re:Biofuels dont cause hunger (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31161920)

yes the market must be centrally planned. look at the great managed markets of the Soviet Union and North Korea, they never went hungry...

Re:Biofuels dont cause hunger (5, Insightful)

Angst Badger (8636) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162226)

Better prices for biofuel stock might drive up prices short term, but will lead to greater investment and supply long term.

Ah yes, the inevitable claim that magic market pixies will fix everything.

The fact is that world food production -- never mind potential production -- is already more than adequate to feed everyone. Market economics alone, however, is inadequate to distribute the food. People aren't starving because there isn't enough food, they're starving because they can't afford to buy food. There's no profit to be had in giving food to people who can't pay for it, so they go without.

I wish free market ideologues would figure out that the market is very good at doing things that are profitable, but not everything worth doing is profitable. The market is amoral and devoid of compassion. That's not necessarily a bad thing by itself, but it becomes so when we surrender every ethical obligation to the test of profitability.

Re:Biofuels dont cause hunger (1)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162342)

There is enough farmland available to grow enough food for all the world.

Don't forget to add in that you can probably multiply that by a factor of 10 or more if people were to go on a vegetarian diet. It would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, diseases related to saturated fat and cholesterol, and not least animal suffering.

Yet for some reason the typical American diet consists of red meat and high fructose corn syrup.

Ethanol is BAD for engines! (0, Flamebait)

erroneus (253617) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161870)

Even in the 10% mixture we are currently seeing, ethanol in engines meant for gasoline is bad! It causes all manner of problems in the long term.

Running pure ethanol will simply require a complete change in the engine to work well. Has there been much discussion of that? I fear there hasn't been any.

Re:Ethanol is BAD for engines! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31162046)

citation required

Re:Ethanol is BAD for engines! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31162154)

No, no. Didn't you read his argument? Its "bad".

Re:Ethanol is BAD for engines! (3, Insightful)

mpoulton (689851) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162056)

Even in the 10% mixture we are currently seeing, ethanol in engines meant for gasoline is bad! It causes all manner of problems in the long term.

Running pure ethanol will simply require a complete change in the engine to work well. Has there been much discussion of that? I fear there hasn't been any.

Citation? Every report in the last 15-20 years has said the exact opposite. In fact, all current production vehicles are designed specifically for 10% mixtures, and many new vehicles are designed for E85 right out of the factory. What sort of engine re-design do you contemplate that hasn't already been done? The problems reported years ago were due to material incompatibility (no longer an issue at all) and lack of lubricity (also no longer a problem).

Re:Ethanol is BAD for engines! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31162110)

"Ethanol is BAD for engines!"
-- better let the Indy Car guys know...

Nothing about the fuel itself... (5, Informative)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161882)

I see speculation on the cost of the fuel, but nothing whatsoever on the performance of it. This makes my suspicion meter go into alarm mode...

Though, to be fair, ethanol suffers from the same issue.

Looking at the 2010 Town and Country [fueleconomy.gov] (a similar vehicle to my own Flex-Fuel van), I see these ratings:

E85 - 17mpg

Gas - 24mpg

Adjusted into dollars-per-hundred-miles, using these prices [fuelgaugereport.com] , that's something like:

E85 - $14.13 ($2.403/g)

Gas - $10.87 ($2.610/g)

So even though the price at the pump is less, I'd be a fool to run E85 in even a new vehicle of this class.

Unless this new fuel is better than E85, I can't see how getting it down to a comparable price at the pump is doing us any favors. Now if it is somehow better than E85, then that would be some good news. Alas, the story is mute on this topic.

Re:Nothing about the fuel itself... (0, Flamebait)

DaMattster (977781) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162076)

Also, E85 is known to wreck havoc on engines. This is most likely why it is blended.

Re:Nothing about the fuel itself... (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162246)

Unless this new fuel is better than E85, I can't see how getting it down to a comparable price at the pump is doing us any favors. Now if it is somehow better than E85, then that would be some good news. Alas, the story is mute on this topic.

It's ethanol, and will have all the same properties as everyone else's ethanol. Perhaps they'll be able to get the price low enough to make up for the difference in energy density once they start using plants with a better yield than corn?

Re:Nothing about the fuel itself... (2, Interesting)

Krannert IT (1675504) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162260)

I read an interesting article about how ethanol really can be similar to gas, parituclar in an engine designed for gas. http://www.radford.edu/wkovarik/papers/fuel.htm [radford.edu]

It seems as if ethanol is actually a good fuel when an engine is tuned properly. It is used for racing already, most motorsports use pure ethanol as it has a higher octane rating which allows the production of more horsepower. If you tune and gear an engine properly you should easily be able to get similar mileage. The problem with flex fuel cars is that they are still tuned for their main source of fuel, traditional gas.

Ethonol also eliminates the need for a catalytic converter to eliminate engine knocking. If it can be produced using land which is inefficent for other agriculural uses such as west texas ranch land where hundres of acres are need per cow or argicultural byproducts such as corn cobs it is a great alternative to traditional petrolium based fuel. I never drank the corn based ethanol Koolaid, but an economical cellulosic based ethanol sounds very promising.

Re:Nothing about the fuel itself... (4, Informative)

FishTankX (1539069) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162386)

usually to efficently leverage ethanol you have to have an engine designed for it. You can utilize VASTLY higher compression ratios with ethanol, because of it's massive antiknock rating. So you use a turbo, superhigh compression ratios, and boom, ethanol comes within 10-20% as efficent as gasoline. This allows you to use a smaller engine, and hence less pumping losses, opening the door for ethanol engines to surpass gasoline engines in MPG efficency. How about using ethanol in combination with gasoline to drastically boost normal fuel efficency by achieving higher compression ratios than normally possible? http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2006/engine.html [mit.edu] This MIT engine uses ethanol injection to keep an engine from knocking, delivering significantly higher compression ratios. About 1 gallon of ethanol to 20 galons of gasoline used. And the result? Engine output per liter jumped nearly 2x. Thus, overall fuel efficency gains were in the neighborhood of 20-30%, and I doubt it'd be that much more expensive than a hybrid system. Combined with a hybrid system, this could allow stratospheric mileages easily toppling diesel in 1st place. I think so far this is only on simulations, but if it were to break into the market, Ethanol could find it's home not only as an alternative fuel, but more importantly boosting the efficency of all of the other straight gasoline engines out there. All it takes is customized design for the fuel application.

Doesn't anyone realize that (2, Insightful)

Aphex Junkie (633436) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161936)

Maybe the solution is to reduce the number of cars instead of trying to figure out a way to power them (in an unsustainable manner)

Re:Doesn't anyone realize that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31162114)

OK. You be the first and get rid of your car. And also get off your computer immediately since you are wasting too much electricity typing.

Re:Doesn't anyone realize that (1)

DeadCatX2 (950953) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162436)

Baka! I'm pretty sure he meant that we should focus on mass transit instead of individual transit.

Re:Doesn't anyone realize that (1)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162166)

Getting people out of their cars more is a multidecadal process. The short-term price elasticity of demand for gasoline is very low.

Re:Doesn't anyone realize that (1)

Locklin (1074657) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162362)

Increase the cost of fuel to represent diving's true cost (instead of subsidising private vehicle ownership with property and other taxes), and you will see a sudden and sharp decline in miles driven. Sure people will wine, but sometimes you just need to rip off the band-aid.

Re:Doesn't anyone realize that (1)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162286)

On thy way brother Eli, and take ye horse and cart with ye!

Market Fail (1)

copponex (13876) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162548)

The market cannot answer your question.

Did you ask, "How can I increase short term profit for my shareholder?"

If you asked a different question, please try again.

Regarding massive land use changes (3, Interesting)

jbezorg (1263978) | more than 4 years ago | (#31161986)

What about algae farms on the ocean? Seaweed farms? Who says the biomass has to come from corn or any other land based crop? The farms could be right next to the data centers [slashdot.org] .

Re:Regarding massive land use changes (0, Troll)

Aphex Junkie (633436) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162060)

The amount of algae growth required for powering America's fleet of vehicles would cover every ocean and kill every single fish on the planet.

Land-based farms require pumping water, maintenance, energy, etc. If you build them in the desert, you suffer horrendous water losses. If you build them near the ocean, you encroach on livable and arable land.

Step in the Right Direction (1)

DaMattster (977781) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162062)

This a positive step in the right direction. I always felt that by George W. Bush touting bio fuels through corn was exceedingly stupid and shortsighted - even for him. This drove the price of cereal up as we should all recall in and around 2007 when cereal suddenly sky rocketed. A cellulose process makes far more sense, from an economic and an environmental standpoint because waste products can be used. After all, who eats the corn cob? This is a step towards energy independence but still does not fully address the environmental concerns. We need to move away from internal combustion, carbon emissions and look towards fuel cells.

Re:Step in the Right Direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31162290)

Yeah, because Bush should have been leading biofuel research...

Or do you think this effort only came about because of Obama?

Either way you're either an idiot or a troll or both.

Re:Step in the Right Direction (1)

Dynedain (141758) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162510)

After all, who eats the corn cob?

Livestock. In fact, the raise in corn prices caused a spike in beef, poultry and pork prices, and also forced many dairies out of business.

Biodiesel is better (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31162374)

It's much easier to convert plant oil into diesel than it is to convert plant sugar into ethanol.

You can drop 100% pure biodiesel into an engine with zero modifications(unless it's a very old engine with rubber seals, which can corrode), and it will run fine. Better than fine even; biodiesel lubricates better than oil-diesel, so engine wear actually decreases. (One caveat to that is temperature; if you live somewhere with very cold winters, you need to either install a fuel line heater, or run on only 5%-15% biodiesel, blended with oil-diesel, but this is a fixable issue.)

Additionally, oil crops like camelina or jatropha can be grown on marginal land not suitable for agriculture, or can be rotated with food crops like wheat, without sucking all the nitrogen, etc. out of the soil.

biogasoline would be better (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31162382)

Rather than fermenting into ethanol, the sugar stream could also be converted into biogasoline down the road. There are lots of initiatives working towards getting bacteria/algae/fungus to get to this end.

Biogasoline
- Would work with existing distribution infrastructure
- Would work with vast majority of existing fleet
- Is more energy dense than ethanol, making it more efficient for a vehicle solution

Almost there! (2, Funny)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162384)

Let me know when they can make fuel from cellulite, that should solve America's dependence on foreign fuel supplies for quite some time.... I'll do my part, converting potatoes into fuel one delicious french fry at a time

Try New Texaco Green, It's People!

Bio-fuels don't cause hunger (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31162488)

"This is particularly good news in the wake of another report that food-based biofuels could cause hunger."

The ugly truth is the birthrate causes hunger. What will be the cause of hunger if the population doubles? It always drives me crazy to hear all the finger pointing about what is causing hunger when it's politically incorrect to discuss the real cause. It's wonderful news about being able to hopefully use non food sources but we also need to face facts. The planet is running out of resources fast. The planet is likely to max out with around 9 billion people, better than 6 billion now. The number it can support is more like 3 to 4 billion, multiple studies place it in that range. We don't have enough food, water, and even base raw materials for the current population. Another one brought to light lately is a coming shortage of rare earth materials. There literally isn't enough available for everyone to have a cell phone and a computer. This is an important step in bio-fuels but blaming bio-fuels as the real source of hunger is unrealistic. Population control is a taboo subject worldwide, China is the only country to attempt it, but until we address it the rest is just delaying problems not solving them. Anyone that doubts what I'm saying research the subject. All studies point to a maximum sustainable population being passed in the early 80s. Essentially everyone added to that number will have to leave in the next 100 years, less actually. If the population hits 9 billion then 5 billion must leave. Picture 5 billion dying in the next 50 to a 100 years and see what we face. It's not off topic I'm simply contradicting a statement made concerning bio-fuels. Bio-fuels have been demonized as causing a problem when the obvious source of the problem can't be discussed. A good subject to discuss would be rare earths since most of the miracle technologies depend on them. Battery and hydrogen cars may not be possible as a replacement simply because there may not be enough rare earth materials to make them. A lot of rare earth materials used in things like cell phones are in small amounts, grams worth, but it still reflects a 1,000 tons or more a year. The small amounts are hard to recycle so how long until we run out? Many people on this forum may live to see cell phones once again become rare luxuries. Then what since we are slowly abandoning landlines? The biofuels have one massive advantage, alcohol can run even a basic engine that doesn't depend on rare elements. We may be back to lead acid batteries and internal combustion engines before the century is out. The future may in fact look more like the past than even the present.

Corn ethanol is wrong (1)

jonwil (467024) | more than 4 years ago | (#31162508)

I bet if you took any field currently used to grow corn for ethanol, you could find another crop to grow on that field for ethanol use such that it produced more energy at the other end (i.e. after you subtract the amount of energy required in the production process).

Switchgrass and other types of biofuel are being suppressed because the big bio-tech firms like Monsanto dont profit from those (seed sales, chemical sales etc)

Although to be fair I have no idea how hard it is to take factories that turn corn into biofuel and make them able to turn other things into biofuel as well.

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