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Ethanol More Trouble Than It's Worth?

Hemos posted about 9 years ago | from the and-don't-even-get-me-start-on-methanol-young-man dept.

Science 986

call -151 writes "Yahoo reports this story by researchers from Cornell and Berkeley who show what a number of people had suspected- it takes significantly more energy (at least 29%) more energy to produce ethanol than it yields. Since ethanol production plants don't use ethanol themselves for their own energy needs (with presumably negible delivery costs) this has been widely suspected but not so bluntly stated: "Ethanol production in the United States does not benefit the nation's energy security, its agriculture, the economy, or the environment." Ethanol producers dispute the study, predictably, which deducts the multi-billion US dollar subsidy. It's not clear how this compares with this earlier Union of Concerned Scientists article that claims that the yield from corn kernels is net 50% positive- and the UCS is usually quite unbiased on these things."

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dodge! parry! (0, Troll)

Evro (18923) | about 9 years ago | (#13093188)

Re:dodge! parry! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093329)

This article brought to you by your friendly Oilcompany-sponsored government.

Duh (0)

gcnaddict (841664) | about 9 years ago | (#13093204)

Weve got sound based fusion reactors nearing break-even, AND we have what could be an easy way to generate hydrogen from water using sodium. Now, with this in mind, tell me why ethanol is needed?

Re:Duh (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093255)

Umm... beer?

To be blunt, when I drink beer on a Friday evening, the amount of energy that comes out is waay more than goes in. As for fusion reactors and hydrogen/sodium tomfoolery? They have no place in my nights out thanks very much!

Re:Duh (5, Insightful)

ScentCone (795499) | about 9 years ago | (#13093261)

Now, with this in mind, tell me why ethanol is needed?

Because it's a huge, politically correct opportunity to subsidize voters in agro states, and to buy off the eco-crazies with something that sounds emotionally warm and fuzzy. It's not about fuel, it's about throwing a bone, no matter how pointless, to the sustainablites while real research into actual solutions is conducted on other fronts (say, in France, believe it or not).

Re:Duh (5, Informative)

fean (212516) | about 9 years ago | (#13093357)

I'm from an Aggro state, and he's entirely correct...

The whole point of Ethanol is that by using Ethanol, we can use more of the corn produced in the US, therby having to export less. Also, by using Ethanol, we can import less oil. Even if it takes 29% more energy to produce Ethanol than it returns, What it doesn't say is that a LOT of Ethanol produced in the Aggro states run on power grids that get most of their power from dams/windmills.

We support the Agriculture by buying up all of the left-over crop of corn/soy from last year, we make it into a fuel to dilute the gas we import from the Middle East... Ethanol is much more valuable than left over corn/soy... and without it, small farmers in the midwest would go bankrupt...

Re:Duh (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093434)

Also, by using Ethanol, we can import less oil. Even if it takes 29% more energy to produce Ethanol than it returns

Actually, since the vast majority of our energy comes from oil (especially the industrial machinery used in farming), the point is that more oil gets used for Ethanol production than the oil which Ethanol is supposed to be displacing.

It's a net additional oil cost to use.

Re:Duh (0)

saintp (595331) | about 9 years ago | (#13093428)

Word of the month.

Re:Duh (0, Flamebait)

Eccles (932) | about 9 years ago | (#13093320)

Now, with this in mind, tell me why ethanol is needed?

Because the subsidy goes to red (Republican) states, of course.

Re:Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093431)

Not really. Daschle was a big booster of it and he was the democratic majority leader. Red or blue, it really doesn't matter. It's a regional thing.

Re:Duh (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | about 9 years ago | (#13093323)

Weve got sound based fusion reactors nearing break-even

Link? Last I heard, sonofusion was nowhere near being energy positive. For that matter, there is still some question about whether it's actually fusion or not.

we have what could be an easy way to generate hydrogen from water using sodium.

Which in no way detracts from the idea of using Ethanol.

Hydrogen is really great stuff. It's simple to make, relatively inexpensive, and reasonably safe. The problem is that it's also difficult to store, it's far more volatile than gasoline, it requires entirely new cars, and there needs to be an infrastructure to support it.

With ethanol we can leverage our existing ethanol infrastructure (part of which is already used for gasoline blends), convert our existing vehicles, and use our existing fill stations. All that's required is for farmers to farm *more*. Not necessarily a bad thing for our economy.

The only reason why a switch to ethanol hasn't happened yet is that there is a constant argument over the issue of ethanol taking more energy to farm than it ever produces. Some studies say that it's a losing game (in which case it's useless) others say that we passed the energy positive stage a long time ago. Until we can get a general consensus on this, the technology isn't going anywhere.

Re:Duh (4, Interesting)

dsginter (104154) | about 9 years ago | (#13093328)

AND we have what could be an easy way to generate hydrogen from water using sodium. Now, with this in mind, tell me why ethanol is needed?

Because hydrogen isn't a practical energy carrier. Even at tremendous pressures (like 500 atmospheres) it doesn't even come close to the gravimetric or volumetric energy density of gasoline.

Ethanol has about 2/3rds the volumetric energy density of gasoline. This is worth while over hydrogen, even if the stuff takes more energy to make than it yields. Just think of the energy required to compress hydrogen to 10kpsi. One might joke about running an automobile on this pressure alone.

The bottom line is that energy input versus output will be moot once everyone realizes that we'll need nuclear to be sustainable. We just need a good, dense energy carrier.

FWIW, hydrides have become the hydrogen carrier of choice in nickel metal hydride batteries because you don't need tremendously high pressures to get good volumetric density. But to put it in perspective, they're still only carrying about 2 percent hydrogen by weight. Some day, a nanotech breakthrough may make it possible to increase that by an order of magnatude. When this happens, we'll have electric cars that you'll take in after a few thousand miles to get the battery changed.

Re:Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093330)

Because we don't have reliale nuclear fusion. Because hydrogen fuel cells for cars are still being developed and tested for safety, and because hydrogen would require a fundamental shift in energy infrastructure, which is both difficult and expensive. Shifting entirely to hydrogen is not worth it until the technology is mature.

I do not think Ethanol is quite the answer. ADM and corn farmers have been pushing it as a revenue stream, when it's not that great from an environmental perspective. Biodiesel, which recycles organic waste products, is much more effective and can be easily implemented on a smaller, more diffuse scale; a single farm or landfill can produce biodiesel for its own use.

Re:Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093332)

Except, where is all the sodium going to come from? As far as I know it's a very energy intensive process to create pure sodium, involving liquefying salt so that electrolysis can take place. Pure sodium is not something you can dig up in your backyard.

Sodium (2, Interesting)

SparksMcGee (812424) | about 9 years ago | (#13093346)

Using sodium? Well I'm glad that you were able to watch at least one demonstration in chemistry. Sodium is an extraordinarily reactive metal that is *never* found in its natural state and, furthermore, is difficult to process by virtue of its high electropositivity (as with all akali/alkaline earth metals). The way to extract hydrogen from water is through electrolysis []
and furthermore the extraction takes energy to perform. Hydrogen is a potential energy carrying medium, not a net source of energy. And high hydrogen density requires storing it in some sort of organic compound (like methanol) because metals tend to become brittle when large amounts of hydrogen pass through them (hence limiting its compressibility). Please don't allege the possibility of easy through sodium or some other equally absurd magic bullet lest we be unable to persuade people of the actual merits of its use.

Re:Its obvious (0)

Freaky Spook (811861) | about 9 years ago | (#13093347)

Now, with this in mind, tell me why ethanol is needed?

Druglabs, how else are the drug baron's going to cook up all their products?

Re:Duh (2, Insightful)

squiggleslash (241428) | about 9 years ago | (#13093352)

I'm not sure I'd want one of them new-fangled nearing break-even fusion reactors in my car, and I have no idea if the sodium/water/hydrogen thing is useful in practice.

Ethanol strikes me as a reasonable way to store energy generated by other means for use in internal combustion engines. If it costs 50% more to make than the power it gives, then it appears to be around 60-70% efficient as a storage medium. It may be hydrogen is better, I don't know, there are storage issues with hydrogen, in theory.

There are probably better solutions. But there's also no reason to keep all one's eggs in one basket, especially when the people who are most vocal in hyping a particular solution to all mankind's energy needs, the pro-nukers, seem to be a bunch of kooks for the most part, usually promoting technologies that have never been implemented, and assuming that very real issues that affect us today will be solved in twenty years if we just ramp up our use of Nuclear "solutions".

Too Easy (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093206)

OK, the joke is already in the headline. No need to post it.

You guys really spoil all the fun...

Looking at the wrong numbers. (2, Insightful)

ScentCone (795499) | about 9 years ago | (#13093213)

The real question is, how much energy production do you get back out of pork?

The solution is so easy (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093218)

Just use ethanol to fuel the production of the ethanol! I guess those researchers didn't go to community college.

Re:The solution is so easy (0, Redundant)

WhiplashII (542766) | about 9 years ago | (#13093257)

Hmmm.... So it takes 10 MW to create 5 MW of energy in Ethanol - and your solution is to run off the Ethanol?

I hope you were joking...

Re:The solution is so easy (1)

SailorFrag (231277) | about 9 years ago | (#13093263)

Well, that's what they're claiming won't work -- they're saying that if you use ethanol as the only energy source in the production of ethanol (well, not counting the solar energy that the plants use), you'd need 29% more at the start than you'd end up with after the conversion is done.

Re:The solution is so easy (0)

jellomizer (103300) | about 9 years ago | (#13093364)

You must have made a lot of money back in the 90's. It is like saying I will sell all my products below costs and Ill make it up by selling in bulk.

Bah (5, Insightful)

Golias (176380) | about 9 years ago | (#13093226)

No matter what independant researchers say, Ethonal is not going away any time soon. Why? I can explain in three letters:




When the corporation who puts out the vast majority of ethanol-producing corn has members of both parties in their pocket, legislators are going to continue to preach the advantages of "clean, renewable" corn-based fuel.

(Also, they would prefer that you pay no attention to the fact that Ethanol produces less CO2, but more of other gasses, such as O3. We've got an environment to save, dammit! How dare you question the advantages of A.D.M.'s Ethanol!!!)

Re:Bah (3, Insightful)

Karma_fucker_sucker (898393) | about 9 years ago | (#13093273)

Don't forget to add that it's a convient excuse for giving farmers wellf....subsidies.

ADM is also why your Coke sucks in the USA (4, Informative)

John Harrison (223649) | about 9 years ago | (#13093379)

Because of protectionist trade policies that benefit ADM, sugar in the US costs 10x what it does in the rest of the world. That is why in the early 1980s the soft drink manufacturers started to put corn syrup in your Coke instead of cane sugar. This caused riots on the Philippines, since we bought a lot of sugar from them.

Corn syrup is an inferior product but it can be had cheaply in the USA because of the massive subsidies paid to ADM.

Have a Coke anywhere else in the world and it will taste good. Coke in the USA is undrinkable unless you can buy Passover Coke (once a year in certain markets) or Mexican Coke (in a glass bottle, yum) both of which have real sugar.

Also note that you can get REAL Dr Pepper from

Re:Bah (1)

cshark (673578) | about 9 years ago | (#13093386)

I know you were being sarcastic, but what's wrong with ADM? Think about it for a second:

1. When has ADM or it's subsidiaries ever supported terrorists or terrorism directly or indirectly? I don't know about you, but I've never heard of ADM involvement in Palestinian suicide bombings.

2. When has ADM ever arbitrarily raised the cost of their product in the event of, or the wake of a national tragedy? I don't think I've ever heard anything about ADM price fixing. Anyone else remember the gas hike after September 11th?

3. When has ADM done anything morally reprehensible, other than making Decatur IL, smell like an arm pit?

This premise of this study sounds a lot like the ones Microsoft funds to stir fear and doubt about Linux. In fact, I bet if you track the funding of this study, it would probably lead to the big petroleum interests.

Re:Bah (2, Insightful)

wiredlogic (135348) | about 9 years ago | (#13093405)

ADM is also responsible for the relatively high price of cane sugar and why so much of the food sold in America is sweetened with crappy corn syrup.

Efficiency is not the point ! (5, Insightful)

Arthur B. (806360) | about 9 years ago | (#13093231)

Convenience is. You can use clean energy to produce the ethanol, such has hydro-electrics or nuclear power but it's much harder to use it directly in a car. You can use ethanol in your car though. So throwing money in developping ethanol is not pointless because a) research will make the efficiency ratio increase b) ethanol is a convinient way to store energy for vehicles

Re:Efficiency is not the point ! (5, Insightful)

ergo98 (9391) | about 9 years ago | (#13093309)

You can use clean energy to produce the ethanol...

You've got a great point - one of the fundamental problems we face is in battery technology, of storing and transporting energy with a decoupling between generation and consumption. Ethanol could be a fantastic battery of sorts, in the same way that hydrogen is, but compatible with current vehicles.

Of course practically most farmers are using copious amounts of oil-products to generate ethanol, but perhaps with a modernization and greening of farms, this storage technology could become more sustainable.

Brazil does just fine on ethanol (5, Interesting)

Djinh (92332) | about 9 years ago | (#13093233)

It depends how and from what you make your ethanol. And how you farm your feedstock of course...

Brazil does just fine with it's sugarcane: l_p.html []

Ethanol not worth it! (5, Funny)

DanielMarkham (765899) | about 9 years ago | (#13093235)

Surely you jest, man. Ethanol is most certainly a worthwhile endeavor. How else would ulgy people...

Oh. You mean Ethanol energy production. Yes. Of course.

Plastic Rabbit, New Gizmo? []

Re:Ethanol not worth it! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093262)

Hey, ulgy people need love, too!

Re:Ethanol not worth it! (1)

Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (221748) | about 9 years ago | (#13093314)

They've just got to pay.

Re:Ethanol not worth it! (3, Funny)

suitepotato (863945) | about 9 years ago | (#13093321)

Why are so many obviously comedic posts getting modded insightful instead of funny lately?

Re:Ethanol not worth it! (0, Offtopic)

Ewan (5533) | about 9 years ago | (#13093393)

I believe it's because a "funny" moderation no longer affects karma, but an "insightful" does, so some moderators don't bother with funny anymore.

Re:Ethanol not worth it! (0, Offtopic)

DarthTaco (687646) | about 9 years ago | (#13093401)

"Why are so many obviously comedic posts getting modded insightful instead of funny lately?"

It's because you don't get karma credit for "funny" mods to your post. It's much nicer to give someone an insightful or underrated, etc., than a funny.

Re:Ethanol not worth it! (5, Funny)

AKAImBatman (238306) | about 9 years ago | (#13093421)

Why are so many obviously comedic posts getting modded insightful instead of funny lately?

Because the mods wish to reward the poster with a real mod-point that counts toward their score instead of the pseudo mod-point "funny". The problem with this scheme is that it tends to confuse the /. readers who are just skimming the posts, and it tends to send mod points to people who don't really need them anyway. If I make a joke (which, granted, I'm not the best at doing) I'm always happiest if the mods use the Funny mod instead of the Insightful mod.

I really do applaud the intentions of the mods, but this is one of those cases where you shouldn't try to game the system. :-)

Ethanol - a pork barrel handout to midwest farmers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093237)

Everyone knows that programs like ethanol are just transfer payments from one set of citizens to another set of citizens.

Why can't the fed/state governemtn do something useful like reducing the number of gasoline formulations down to 5 or 6 instead of the 10s or 20s of different formulations we have now?

Meaningless (5, Interesting)

Kukester (31030) | about 9 years ago | (#13093238)

Gasoline takes more energy to produce than you can get from it. That energy just came from the sun a million (?) years ago. Gasoline is a means by which we can transfer solar energy to our cars without sail-ssized solar panels.

Consider ethanol as a means to store energy from nuclear, solar, wind, tidal, hydro or other clean energy sources and transport it to your auto's engine.

I'd like to see ethanol compared to chemical batteries, fuel cells or others on an basis of efficency & cost.

Re:Meaningless (2, Insightful)

timster (32400) | about 9 years ago | (#13093287)

We're not talking about energy in the physics sense, but energy in the economics sense.

It takes gasoline to run those tractors, and electricity from fossil fuels to run the factories.

This study is saying, basically, that we'd be doing better if we just dumped that gasoline into our cars without messing around with ethanol.

Re:Meaningless (4, Insightful)

shokk (187512) | about 9 years ago | (#13093403)

Perhaps the UCS is also considering a clean energy source powering the ethanol plant. The current plants may not be using clear tech now, but in time that would change given enough ethanol flowing in the marketplace.

The question is, how well will that market deal with things like the inevitable droughts. Will we be flexible enough to use another crop, or even another tech to make up for the shortfall, or will we be skating on razor thin margins from now on, dealing with rolling blackouts, etc?

Re:Meaningless (1)

aengblom (123492) | about 9 years ago | (#13093363)

Consider ethanol as a means to store energy from nuclear, solar, wind, tidal, hydro or other clean energy sources and transport it to your auto's engine.

But, it's not considered that. It's considered a way "reduce pollution" as a fuel additive. It's being made with lots of electricity off the grid... using coal (eek) and natural gas (ok not soo bad).

Re:Meaningless (2, Informative)

crudeawakening (867472) | about 9 years ago | (#13093387)

Crude oil is stored energy from millions of years ago. Humans get more energy out than WE put in, therefore oil (and refined gasoline) is an energy source for us. The problem with ethanol is that other forms of stored energy (natural gas power plant usually) have to be transfered to ethanol and that causes a loss of energy (as there always is when energy changes forms).

ethanol from corn (4, Informative)

BoldAC (735721) | about 9 years ago | (#13093241)

Yeah, producing ethanol from corn does produce more energy...

However, growing other plant materials (from waste or whatever) is much more efficent.

Ethanol will work... just not from corn.

Did anybody think the transition would be easy?

Hydrogen energy? (4, Insightful)

archeopterix (594938) | about 9 years ago | (#13093242)

From the article:
They conclude the country would be better off investing in solar, wind and hydrogen energy.
What is this recurring BS about hydrogen energy? Hydrogen is only a medium for storing/transporting energy - it does not generate any more energy than used to produce it. So, until we start to mine for hydrogen, the "hydrogen energy" buzzword is no more than annoying crap.

Ok, perhaps "hydrogen energy" has some meaning like "solar/wind energy used to produce hydrogen", but certainly not in the context above ("solar, wind and hydrogen energy").

Re:Hydrogen energy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093305)

That reminds me of what I heard some random congressperson quoted as saying on NPR the other day: "hybrid cars and other alternative-fuel vehicles"

So are our representative trying to pull the wool (further) over our eyes ore are they just confused?

Re:Hydrogen energy? (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | about 9 years ago | (#13093327)

Hydrogen is only a medium for storing/transporting energy - it does not generate any more energy than used to produce it. ... unless you have a working fusion reactor with an efficiency > 0.

1. Make hydrogen
2. Separate deuterium, use rest for fuel
3. ??? (the fusion reactor figures in here)
4. Energy !

And it's only ten years into the future. As usual.

Re:Hydrogen energy? (1)

iammaxus (683241) | about 9 years ago | (#13093377)

Exactly. And this crap about hydrogen energy is even stupider in this article because ethanol would serve precisely the same use, only as a storage medium to get energy from powerplants to cars and other portable things.

it take 1000 time more energy (3, Interesting)

sykjoke (899173) | about 9 years ago | (#13093246)

To turn my finger nails into ethanol.... warm weather perennial grass found in the Great Plains and eastern North America United States, it takes 45 percent more energy and for wood, 57 percent. It takes 27 percent more energy to turn soybeans into biodiesel fuel and more than double the energy produced is needed to do the same to sunflower plants, the study found. But what about sugar beat, sugar came, sweet corn and grapes (given corn and grapes will start to ferment naturally)

It Doens't Matter (2, Insightful)

Zane Hopkins (894230) | about 9 years ago | (#13093247)

The issue over how efficiently we can produce ethanol is not important, it's that we start using it thats important. Even petrolium wasn't efficient to produce when we started with cars, and now look at the plants that make it.

The sooner we start using a fuel we can grow, even if it's not efficient, the sooner our dependance on fossil fuels will end.

Re:It Doens't Matter (1)

archeopterix (594938) | about 9 years ago | (#13093465)

The sooner we start using a fuel we can grow, even if it's not efficient, the sooner our dependance on fossil fuels will end.
My definition of "not efficient" is "needs external source energy". So you're still dependent on external source of energy, be it fossil fuel, uranium, hydro, wind or solar. Btw, with current technology, only uranium comes close to replacing the fossil fuel energy output. Too bad it is not renewable.

Oil Subsidy... (3, Insightful)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | about 9 years ago | (#13093249)

Most people usually don't figure the cost of keeping an extra aircraft carrier-centered battle group around to guard Mideast shipping lanes and a couple of ill-planned invasions here and there into "oil subsidies", but if they did, I'd bet you find that the cash devoted to ethanol isn't that much at all.

As long as a third of our budget is military and a chief focus of the military is to keep the oil flowing, it makes sense to pursue other energy options.

Sweet! (1)

ucahg (898110) | about 9 years ago | (#13093256)

Wow! I sure am glad my great province of Ontario decided to get rid of all the coal plants in favor of ethanol plants! Otherwise we might not be able to pay more taxes and have less energy! Good ol' Ontario politicians.

Who paid for this study. (5, Interesting)

IainMH (176964) | about 9 years ago | (#13093259)

TFA doesn't tell us who paid for the research.

Re:Who paid for this study. (1)

Enigma_Man (756516) | about 9 years ago | (#13093384)

Yeah, it's confusing. TFS says it's 30% less energy out than in, but then states that other groups have found it's 50% more energy out than in. WHICH IS IT?


CORN Ethanol (4, Informative)

Fnkmaster (89084) | about 9 years ago | (#13093270)

The whole point of ethanol is that there are far better ways of producing fuel-use ethanol than corn fermentation, which has been debated for years in terms of its energy efficiency.

The enthusiasm for ethanol by real scientists is from the very promising means for producing ethanol from cellulose-based feedstocks, in other words from cheap plentiful surplus materials. While this wasn't cost-effective as an energy alternative when gas cost 80 cents a gallon, at 2.25-2.50 a gallon, cellulosic ethanol is quite competitive on a dollar-per-mile basis, and it can extract energy from cheap, easy to grow feedstocks or waste-cellulose material that would otherwise end up in municipal garbage dumps.

MTBE: Bad, Ethanol: Bad...what's good? (1)

dmccarty (152630) | about 9 years ago | (#13093275)

So MTBE has been found to pollute water supplies. Now Ethanol (according to Cornell and Berkeley) is a net negative energy. What additive are we supposed to use?

Oh this one of those 1 in 3 studies that's later shown to be false?

ethanol (1)

SparafucileMan (544171) | about 9 years ago | (#13093277)

hell, i could have told you that this morning.

"no officer, i can't be hungover. i'm still drunk."

News Flash: Oil is the Only Viable Energy Source.. (-1, Troll)

cowtamer (311087) | about 9 years ago | (#13093280)

I have not read the study itself, but it really sounds like a scheme to discredit alternative energy in its entirety (by pointing out and then widely publicizing one element of it that may be impractical).

Are you surprised that such a study would come out in this environment (no pun intended)? Will you be surprised when it's spun over on over in FOX news, and used to divert research dollars and subsidies to things like "clean coal"?

Biomass (next to Hydro & Wind) is the only thing that has a chance of working. People have been using biomass for energy way before they even learned to smelt iron. I'm sure there's a way to make it work.

I repeat that I am not saying EtOH is the answer. However, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

OK, Troll away!

Re:News Flash: Oil is the Only Viable Energy Sourc (2, Insightful)

Cylix (55374) | about 9 years ago | (#13093412)

Why would on earth would we care about clean coal.

We just upped the sulphur limit not too long ago. It doesn't work out that we will now see "extra" crap coal, but rather coal production mixes those that don't meet the requirements with those that do to produce something just marginally good enough to use. (At least good enough for most, but there are many industries that ask for premium grade coal)

negible delivery costs? (1)

DFJA (680282) | about 9 years ago | (#13093283)

How do you pronounce negible?

Dub-ya (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093463)

would know

Ethanol from Cellulose (3, Informative)

jimcooncat (605197) | about 9 years ago | (#13093284)

These guys say they have a production facilities with uses no outside energy. []

public transportation for the short term... (1)

pointbeing (701902) | about 9 years ago | (#13093290)

Ethanol as motor fuel has issues other than negative energy production. Its cold-start properties leave a bit to be desires and for people like me who live in colder climates it's a real problem.

You've got problems with hydrogen as well. Right now 95% of the hydrogen extracted in the US is done from natural gas. Extracting hydrogen from water requires a heck of a lot of electricity, a lot of which is generated from fossil fuels.

I hear people touting hybrid cars and have tried many times to explain that the energy in a gallon of gasoline is more efficiently used to drive the wheels than charge batteries and that it's impossible for regenerative braking to reclaim all the energy required to get the vehicle up to the speed you deccelerated from. You'd think I was talking to a wall sometimes ;-)

I think more research needs to be done, but in the US I believe the most significant positive impact to our environment in the short term would be to increase subsidies to public transportation and to focus on that infrastructure while we get technology to catch up with energy demand.

The solutions are out there, but IM frequently less than HO we haven't found them yet.

Re:public transportation for the short term... (1)

Neil Watson (60859) | about 9 years ago | (#13093439)

hear people touting hybrid cars and have tried many times to explain that the energy in a gallon of gasoline is more efficiently used to drive the wheels than charge batteries and that it's impossible for regenerative braking to reclaim all the energy required to get the vehicle up to the speed you deccelerated from. You'd think I was talking to a wall sometimes ;-)

Are you saying that hybrid cars are no more efficient than conventional internal combustion powered cars? If so, then why is the fuel comsumption so much less for hybrid cars?

I know a lot of people don't want to accept it... (3, Interesting)

smug_lisp_weenie (824771) | about 9 years ago | (#13093293)

...but we are pretty obviously headed straight towards a new nuclear age. That doesn't mean I like nuclear, or that this is a good thing...

Ethanol and other biofuels don't seem to really hold up to cost-benefit analysis, as this article (and many others) suggests- Even if this article is exaggerated, the truth is still on the wall that it can't compare to nuclear.

Oil will run low pretty soon, coal, air and wind power can't take up the slack... BAMM! New nuclear age.

Does anyone really have reasonable prediction that doesn't include at least 80% of all power being nuclear in 50 years? I can't find one...

Greasy Diesel (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093295)

Oh just hook up a hose to your ass. I'll bet we could collect enough methane from people's fat asses to solve our energy problem. Hmm.... maybe we can solve the obesity problem in America and the energy problem at the same time. Why not give those obese fat asses free liposuction then use the fat and convert it to biodiesel? A pound of fat has 3800 calories. So how many liters of biodiesel would a pound of fat produce? How many pounds of fat are there in those collective fat asses? I'll bet it's a lot.

ethonal shrinks my gas tank (1, Informative)

peter303 (12292) | about 9 years ago | (#13093301)

Ethonal only has the 60% of the energy by volume as does gasoline. I definately notice the lower mileage in winter - about 10% on a 15% mix. And I still have to pay full price for this inferior product.

Re:ethonal shrinks my gas tank (1)

Rob the Bold (788862) | about 9 years ago | (#13093444)

In some (corn producing) states (like Iowa), you pay less than full price due to favorable tax laws when you buy ethanol blend. You should have also noted that your mileage is lower in very hot weather, since your fuel expands with temperature. Unless you live in Canada, where motor fuel is sold "net" (temperature compensated to 68F/20C).

Re:ethonal shrinks my gas tank (1)

stang7423 (601640) | about 9 years ago | (#13093462)

yeah, except the last time I checked E-85 costs significantly less than your good old octane 87. Here in Illinois 87 octane is $2.35 where as E-85 is $1.64. In the end you still end up saving money even with the lowered fuel economy.

Its need (1)

mfloy (899187) | about 9 years ago | (#13093304)

I only see ethanol being used and developed as long as gasoline powered cars are dominant. If we see a major switch to alternative energy sources like electric or hydrogen then I think ethanol will go the way of the dodo bird. It seems like more of a patch solution than an alternative solution.

So we're that close, let's do it. (1)

djh101010 (656795) | about 9 years ago | (#13093306)

So, we're 29% away from making Ethanol a paying proposition, from the sounds of it. Great, so let's push it, get some economies of scale, and then for say a 25% or even 20% premium, we can get away from dependance on foreign oil. Let's start giving our money to the USA's farmers, instead of to people in parts of the world where they want to kill us.

I'd rather see the US government subsidise ethanol production, than to have that money spent to temporarily have certain countries pretend they're our friends.

Besides being worse for the environment (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093307)

the gas additive ethanol is an absolute crock of shit.

It is far worse for the environment than straight gasoline, it destroys your engine, lowers your mileage and costs more.

It was simply the result of bribes by archer daniels midland.

Duh! Thermodynamics for Dummies (0, Flamebait)

victorvodka (597971) | about 9 years ago | (#13093315)

Someone needs to write this book urgently! Chapter one could talk about how clean burning Hydrogen takes enormous amounts of energy to make. Chapter 2 could be all about the wonderful idiocy that is perpetual motion. A chapter near the back could wax eloquent about how even if energy is FREE (as in beer) or clean (as in the toilet) it still causes bad things to happen when it is used. Chainsaws cut down trees - cars hit animals and people.

Portability (1)

rlp (11898) | about 9 years ago | (#13093319)

Ethanol is a portable source of stored energy. The advantage is that you can take a non-portable source - hydroelectric, coal, nuclear, solar, etc. and convert it to a form that you can run a vehicle from. Furthermore, you can use existing distribution channels (gas trucks, pipelines, gas stations) to deliver it. And best of all, it can reduce dependence on mid-east oil. Given that, the fact that production is somewhat inefficient is not relevant.

Re:Portability (0)

victorvodka (597971) | about 9 years ago | (#13093350)

Yeah, Ethanol is a portable source of energy that requires a portable source of energy (gasoline) to make. Corn cannot be grown without tractors.

Re:Portability (1)

rlp (11898) | about 9 years ago | (#13093418)

Yeah, Ethanol is a portable source of energy that requires a portable source of energy (gasoline) to make. Corn cannot be grown without tractors.

So what? Oil refineries use power, pipelines require power to pump oil. Oil tankers use diesel fuel to transport oil, etc. Even fusion power plants (if we ever figure out how to build one) - will use power for magentic containment. As Newton said - there ain't no free lunch (or something like that).

All Free Warez For Everyone! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093322)

Download Free Warez Here: []

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The terrible secret of solar... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093337)

...tidal, and wind energy is they all depend on the sun. None of them generate ANY energy on their own. They are 100% inefficient in the absence of the sun. All of these energy sources are parasites. They don't pull their own weight. They all sit around smoking pot waiting for the sun to do all the work. I know it may be hard to believe, but it's true. And if the sun ever stops working, its lights out for all these forms of energy. You have been warned.

growing fuel (1)

MamiyaOtaru (517187) | about 9 years ago | (#13093339)

You can only grow so much fuel before the ground has all its minerals sucked out, unless you fertilize it. Guess where most fertiliaer comes from? Natural gas. And of course all those plants are protected by petroleum based pesticides. Ethanol doesn't bring it.

The only thing that sounds remotely plausible to me is Hydrogen as a way to transport and store energy, and fusion to create it. Of course, that doesn't solve the need for pesticides and fertilizer to grow food.

It takes awhile to get things working properly (1)

bahwi (43111) | about 9 years ago | (#13093360)

It's like saying that if your computer doesn't boot up all the way, you throw it out instead of fixing it. It takes time to get things working properly.

It's like Solar, efficiency keeps getting better and better, prices keep getting lower and lower. Is it worth it? Not yet. In the future? Possibly. Solar won't produce a whole lot of energy, but with the lowered energy needs from those energy saving lights and other sustainable housing features(tubular skylights for example), it may very well be a possibility.

So it doesn't do good right away is no reason to dismiss it outright.

When will people stop quoting Pimental .... (5, Informative)

Myrv (305480) | about 9 years ago | (#13093362)

Slashdot has covered this before and I will repost my comment from back then:

While production of ethanol can be inefficient rarely does it result in a net energy loss. Several different studies show anywhere from a 38% net gain in energy to over 100% depending on methods use. The generally cited claim of a net energy loss from producing ethanol all seem to come from only one paper written by David Pimental [the author of the paper quoted in this article]. To support his claims he seems to have taken a worst pratices view for every step in the production process, a realworld combination found in less than 5% of current ethanol production. The more comphrensive studies I've been able to find show a slight, albeit not stellar, net gain in energy. The most recent (2002) by Michigan State shows a net gain of 0.56 MJ/MJ of input for corn based ethanol production. If one looks at Cellulose based ethonal production, studies show almost a 2.5 net energy gain and it is easier on the environment since it requires less maintenance and fewer fertilizers.

For reference this site has some good links, including a rebuttal of the Pimental paper (as well as showing the Pimental article). tenergybalance.htm []

I beg to differ! (0)

Zweideutig (900045) | about 9 years ago | (#13093365)

I find my ethanol to be very powerful. As long as it isn't American beer. They must be testing American beer breweries. I'd like to see a study on the energy yield of some Canadian beer!

More info (1)

matt21811 (830841) | about 9 years ago | (#13093370)

I don't think the article could say less with more works if it tried. It is supposed to be about Ethanol but it slips in this one line about biodiesel "It takes 27 percent more energy to turn soybeans into biodiesel fuel". huh? Lets try to be a little consistent here.

For actual useful information on bio-diesel take a look at the wikipedia entry: []

For information on why oil replacement fuels are going to become very important to mainstream America and not just tree huggin' greenies you should parous the forums over at []

Ethanol vs. methanol (2, Interesting)

ceeam (39911) | about 9 years ago | (#13093371)

Why ethanol? (basically the same alcohol from the drinks). I thought that it is methanol that should be cheaper and more vehicle-efficiency-friendly. After all ChampCars (and soon IRL) sportcars, for example, are run on methanol. I don't know a lot about this but maybe someone can post something insightful?

Disclaimer... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093380)

This Study funded by the coalition of American & Saudi Arabian Oil Industries, further refining the energy industry for the good of all mankind

And the point is...?? (1)

Spez (566714) | about 9 years ago | (#13093391)

First, did anybody ever said that building chemical batteries consumed less energy than it produced? I don't think so! But they are still the second most used portable energy source (if you consider petroleum fuel the first)

Whats interesting about ethanol, is that you can bring it with you, use it in your car, lawn mower, or wathever. Can you use corn in your car directly? Nope.

Its sure that wind and sun are more efficent. I mean, we don't have to spend energy to use them. But is it reallly cost-effective? I don't think we could use cars with Biiig Wind Turbine on top of them to work. Or 20 feets wide solar-sails either.

Why couldn't you use a nuclear power plant (or solar/sun!!) to transform corn into ethanol? Isn't it the whole point?

Biodiesel is probably a better choice (1)

brewer13210 (821462) | about 9 years ago | (#13093398)

I think in the long term, fuels like biodiesel have a better chance of making it than ethanol.

When the Federal regulations for Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel go in to effect in the US in 2006, it will make diesel powered vehicles much more attractive to the general public, especially as most diesel powered passenger cars get very good milage. Without sulfur in the fuel, the black smoke problem pretty much goes away.

Biodiesel has some advantages over other fuels as it can be distributed through the current distribution infrastructure, and it can be made out of just about any biomass product; used vegetable oils being the current choice for the home brewers. []

Is anyone surprised? (1)

Criffer (842645) | about 9 years ago | (#13093404)

Seriously? That production of a fuel requires more energy than it requires? Surely eveyone must by now have at least heard of the second law of thermodynamics [] ?

If it were possible to produce a substance using less energy than it produces in an exothermic reaction (e.g. combustion), then well done, you've just built a perpetual motion machine [] .

So what the hell does the claim "Ethanol production in the United States does not benefit the nation's energy security, its agriculture, the economy, or the environment" mean? That we must stop all research into alternative fuels and continue to all our money to Dubya's Texan oilfields?

I think not. I'd rather have a solar or nuclear power station producing portable electricity. Oh well, only ten more years until Mr Fusion []

This is not news... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093408)

It's been known for a long time that ethanol is nothing but a pipe dream. Without the obscene subsidies, it would've died out a long time ago.

Here's an idea - if the company that manufactures it really believes it's a viable product, let them pay for the research. Why should my tax dollars be wasted on this useless product?

But, hey, don't take my word for it. Look here : []

Biodiesel fans call BS on researcher (2, Informative)

RobertB-DC (622190) | about 9 years ago | (#13093416)

According to the very active Biodiesel forum [] at, this study isn't worth the electrons you're viewing it with. One poster notes, "This Cornell fellow brings this up about once a year. Do a search on this site and see the FUD."

I run Biodiesel in my New Beetle TDI engine when I can, so I'm biased, but I agree with my fellow TDI'ers. When the study says "It takes 27 percent more energy to turn soybeans into biodiesel fuel," there's no comparison being made against the alternative. How much energy does it take to pump crude oil out of the ground? How much energy is burned loading it onto a tanker, and then refining it into useful products?

How much energy will be used to clean up the hazardous chemicals required to turn prehistoric ferns into internal combustion fuel? How many gallons of gasoline were burned in the funeral procession for the 15 workers killed near Houston [] when a tank of benzene exploded this year? By comparison, you can make Biodiesel in a converted water heater [] , with lye and methanol (hazardous chemicals, but available at any hardware store).

And I won't even touch the issue of how many soldiers must die to ensure the continued flow of addictive foreign petroleum...

Who Cares? Not i. (1)

Lord_Slepnir (585350) | about 9 years ago | (#13093423)

As someone who lives in Pensylvania, but goes to school in Iowa, all I can say is that if the tax payers of Iowa want to help me pay to fill up my minivan, I'm not going to stop them.

Sheesh. (-1, Offtopic)

bigtallmofo (695287) | about 9 years ago | (#13093427)

I'm not usually a grammar nazi, but the summary of this article is very difficult to read due to errors.

Bogus science (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 9 years ago | (#13093446)

This Cornell guy releases the same 'report' every other summer: imentel-ethanol.html [] imentel-ethanol.html [] .toocostly.ssl.html []

If I didn't know better, I'd say "-1, Troll"

2nd law, (0)

cmefford (810011) | about 9 years ago | (#13093449)

I think others have already pointed this out. Further, the "more trouble than it's worth" is a non sequitur. Ethenol is at least theoretically sustainable. Oil based fuel is not.

I call bullshit... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 years ago | (#13093450)

From TFA:

"It takes 29 percent more fossil energy to turn corn into ethanol than the amount of fuel the process produces. For switch grass, a warm weather perennial grass found in the Great Plains and eastern North America United States, it takes 45 percent more energy and for wood, 57 percent."

Way back in the bad old days when humans had yet to harness the power of fossil fuels, most of our energy came from wood. Caveman Ug made do perfectly well with fire, and no fossil fuel had to be burned to produce it. Just good old sunlight harnessed by a sophisticated bio-reactor called a "tree." Very high tech.

Clearly, we don't lose 57% fossil energy burning trees... no fossil energy went into growing them!

Lower energy and Carbon (1)

Halvard (102061) | about 9 years ago | (#13093455)

We needed a new study to tell us that gasoline has more energy to ethanol? It's been known for years that ethanol has less energy that gasoline, at least gasoline sold in the US.

Additives in gasoline are incredibly harmful to us and the environment plus burning gasoline dumps carbon taken out of the atmosphere millions of years ago back into the atmosphere rapidly. With plant based fuels, it puts carbon back into the atmosphere that was taken out of it last year.

this is just Dave Pimentel again (1)

Ethanol (176321) | about 9 years ago | (#13093458)

He's been saying the same thing for years now, and his data are, to say the very least, suspect. He ignores new technologies such as cellulosic ethanol, assumes the very least efficient methods of farming and of ethanol distillation, ignores the existence of crops that are more than an order of magnitude more productive per acre than corn, compares apples to oranges by neglecting to consider that fossil fuels also have an extraction cost, fails to take into account the energy saved from the free byproducts of ethanol production such as industrial-grade carbon dioxide... I could go on for a long time.

I don't know who funds Pimentel's research, but whoever it is it certainly seems to have a sizable PR budget, because his findings are always very well publicized, and the numerous studies that show the exact opposite, that ethanol has a significant postiive energy-return-on-investment, never seem to get nearly as much coverage.

The existence of massive government ethanol subsidies means that there's an incentive on the part of some interests--including some very well-funded ones--to distort the picture. I'm not a fan of the subsidies, but however stupid they may be politically and financially, and however much they may distort the marketplace and slow innovation... that says nothing at all about the energy balance of ethanol production. Science takes precedence over politics.

Disclosure: My nickname is Ethanol, and I'm a big fan of the stuff. But I chose the name, back when I was a chemistry student in college 20 years ago, because of its entertaining qualities when imbibed--not because I have any connection whatsoever to the ethanol industry. I don't.

However, I do also think ethanol is an excellent fuel, and after considerable review of the available data, I'm convinced Pimentel is wrong about it.

from the slasdot summary (0)

thrillseeker (518224) | about 9 years ago | (#13093467)

the UCS is usually quite unbiased on these things

what a bullshit statement.

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