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Is Ethanol the Answer to the Energy Dilemma?

samzenpus posted more than 8 years ago | from the I-love-the-smell-of-alternative-fuel-in-the-morning dept.

Biotech 342

n0xin writes "According to Fortune, "The next five years could see ethanol go from a mere sliver of the fuel pie to a major energy solution in a world where the cost of relying on a finite supply of oil is way too high." In an effort to meet fuel-economy standards, automakers already have 5 million ethanol-ready vehicles on the road. Supporters are optomistic that "we can introduce enough ethanol in the U.S. to replace the majority of our petroleum use in cars and light trucks." Are SUVs included in this category?"

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Better uses (1)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564046)

Well, you see, I can find some a lot better uses for ethanol than using it as a fuel...

Obligatory Simpsons quote: (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14564190)

"To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to all of life's problems!"

Re:Obligatory Simpsons quote: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14564898)

"One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me."
I feel this Simpsons quote has slightly greater value.

Re:Better uses (1)

FhnuZoag (875558) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564543)

Hey, what isn't alcohol an answer for?

Only if I have ... (0, Redundant)

IAAP (937607) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564048)

sigphon to the tank!

Still doesn't (0, Troll)

dal20402 (895630) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564049)

...help with global warming.

Next solution please.

Re:Still doesn't (1)

Fatchap (752787) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564092)

Well it does burn considerably cleaner than petrol based hydrocarbons. It will not make it any better, but it may slow the rate it is getting worse.

Wrong. It could. (5, Informative)

burne (686114) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564101)

Ethanol made from plants will form a closed carbon-cycle. Ethanol sythesized from non-fossil sources will form a closed carbo-cycle.

Re:Wrong. It could. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14564438)

But aren't plants are produced from fertilizer which is made from oil?

Not all fertilizer is petroleum based (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564904)

But aren't plants are produced from fertilizer which is made from oil?

Not everywhere. Agriculture in many countries still uses natural materials (Mel suggests equal parts compost, peat moss, and vermiculite [squarefootgardening.com] ).

Re:Wrong. It could. (2, Insightful)

bradkittenbrink (608877) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564477)

Actually, I think it would probably be slightly better than a closed cycle. Chances are that ethanol production from plant biomass will never be 100% efficient, and always leave at least a little waste carbon. As a result, the carbon dioxide released by burning any amount ethanol should add up to less than the plants used to produce it consumed from the atmosphere.

Re:Still doesn't (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14564103)

Nothing is going to help reduce global warming unless we use non CO2 energy generation to precipitate CO2 out of the atmosphere. Even if the US and Europe ceased emissions, China and India who are going through a massive industrialization would quickly 'compensate.' If you want results, make a lot of new nuclear plants and a lot CO2 removal devices (perhaps a calcite pool?).

One other option: nuclear winter cancels global warming. It is up to YOU (yes, you!) to decide whether this is a good idea or not.

Re:Still doesn't (4, Informative)

Fatchap (752787) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564105)

It also reduces the amount of Sulfur release, reducing acid rain. As acid rain has contributed to the deforestation of Scandinavia quite considerably, a reduction in atmospheric Sulfur may allow these to grow back and over time photosynthesis some of the CO2 back to Oxygen.

Re:Still doesn't (1)

BerntB (584621) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564761)

acid rain has contributed to the deforestation of Scandinavia
Those problems are much smaller these days, since England, eastern Germany and Poland has started to scrub their power plants...

The worst problem was pH levels in lakes. (-: Forests are the only things growing well in most parts of e.g. Sweden. :-)

Re:Still doesn't (1)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564109)

Depends on who you ask:

Against: CU scientist terms corn-based ethanol "subsidized food burning" [cornell.edu]

For: Industry Argues That Ethanol Delivers [journeytoforever.org]

Re:Still doesn't (5, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564409)

Yes, we all know that Pimentel (and whatever recently graduated grad student or two he can grab up) is an anti-ethanol crusader. We also know that he's almost alone in his claims that ethanol is a net energy loser. Lastly, we also know that whenever he says it, news sources gobble it up, because it's "controversy".

It's also wrong.

First off, lets start with the fact that even if a fuel were a net energy loser, it's irrelevant. Ethanol converts a source of energy that you can't put into your gas tank into one that you can. Usually that's natural gas, but sometimes it's agricultural waste or even waste heat from other processes or power plants. The nazis converted coal to oil with horrible efficiency (using far more energy's worth of coal than they got out in gasoline), but it powered their war machine.

Ignoring that, it's not even close to a net energy loser. Everyone's studies except Pimentel comes up with this fact. Why does Pimentel get such different numbers from everyone else? He rigs the game. Instead of assuming, logically, that if ethanol demand increases, people will build more modern plants, he uses the efficiency numbers of plants from the '70s. He uses the world's worst efficiency numbers on fertilizer production. He assumes that all corn that would go toward the ethanol production comes from irrigated land (very little corn is irrigated). Some people defend this last point, saying that the corn would require new land, and any land that it would have to grow on that wouldn't need to be irrigated is already in use. This is incorrect; the corn would take the place of plants that can tolerate drier conditions, which would move into the more arid land. Overall, total irrigation use would increase, but is is incorrect to pretend that it would increase by the amount as if you had to irrigate all of the newly needed corn.

In short, Pimentel cheats to get his bad result. And he is routinely criticized for doing so. Find me an anti-ethanol study that doesn't have his name on it, and I might care.

By the way, part of the reason why ethanol is so expensive has nothing to do with energy balances, or even its production costs: it's transportation. You can't ship ethanol in much of our current oil pipeline infrastructure.

My main complaint about ethanol is simply the land issue. More farmland=More deforestation. Especially in tropical countries, this is a major issue.

Re:Still doesn't (2, Insightful)

codemachine (245871) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564655)

Part of the problem is that ethanol was hyped up so much before it was able to deliver.

I know that in this region, it has been pumped up as a great way to diversify our agriculture, and a great way to prove that these feed lots are a good thing rather than a bad one.

An agriculture economics student that I am related to sought to prove how great ethanol was for her project class. She studied the many variables surrounding the plant that was to be built near here. Despite the fact that she was biased towards it, the economic numbers very plainly showed that what they wanted to do here was a stupid idea. There was no way for it to be economically feasible.

Of course the price of oil back then wasn't over $60/barrel, so that obviously changes any economic analysis. It doesn't change the fact that ethanol didn't come anywhere close to living up to the hype it had at the time. Things may have changed a bit over the last couple years, but it may take a while to convince people who've been tricked before.

Re:Still doesn't (0, Offtopic)

ClamIAm (926466) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564611)

None of the popular computer operating systems currently available can perform the job of a research mathematician.

Next solution please.

Re:Still doesn't (4, Insightful)

c_fel (927677) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564620)

That's not the real problem. The big problem is :
1. The superficy needed to grow the corn ;
2. The amount of energy corn takes from the ground, resulting in an usable ground in a very little time.

The solution for our energy abuse is :
Stop abusing energy.
Sometimes even logical solutions sound stupid.

Re:Still doesn't (2, Insightful)

SpaceballsTheUserNam (941138) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564625)

"Next solution please."

Ok but you might not like it, Nuclear, fission that is. Really the only (proven) viable option.

Or coal (or tarsands/gas/other burnable shit), we got tons of that, but no help with the global warming. Geothermal could theoreticaly fit the bill but isn't there yet. Solar and wind power have their niches. There's zero point energy, but the NSA will continue too suppres it. Some form of fussion, but not until its too late. Or something else, unforseen by ME, unlikely.

perhaps not (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14564058)

...but it's sure used as the answer to the geek-in-a-bar dilemma

Who are the supporters? (0, Flamebait)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564060)

Ask the Seahawks fans who's going to win the Superbowl and you'll likely get a consensus that the Seahawks will win.

Ask the corn industry what fuel technology will succeed, and you'll likely hear ethanol. Like Seahawks fans, ethanol fans are few and far between and pretty much isolated to a small backwater area of the country.

Re:Who are the supporters? (1)

kevin.fowler (915964) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564090)

Your nick is rather ironic after reading that post. Seahawks fan?

Re:Who are the supporters? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14564102)

Ironic? In that the analogy was a *good* one?

Re:Who are the supporters? (3, Insightful)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564104)


Ask the corn industry what fuel technology will succeed, and you'll likely hear ethanol.

You might try reading TFA next time. From TFA:
Instead of coming exclusively from corn or sugar cane as it has up to now, thanks to biotech breakthroughs, the fuel can be made out of everything from prairie switchgrass and wood chips to corn husks and other agricultural waste.
You're criticizing ethanol based upon old technology. Cellulosic ethanol doesn't depend upon corn, and is more cost-effective in the bargain.

Re:Who are the supporters? (0)

IAAP (937607) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564137)

Cellulosic ethanol doesn't depend upon corn, and is more cost-effective in the bargain.

Dude, define Cellulosic ethanol, please.
I don't know what the fuck that is. Because, it really sound like corn to me.

Re:Who are the supporters? (1)

black mariah (654971) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564266)

Instead of coming exclusively from corn or sugar cane as it has up to now, thanks to biotech breakthroughs, the fuel can be made out of everything from prairie switchgrass and wood chips to corn husks and other agricultural waste.
THAT is cellulosic ethanol, shithead. It's ethanol produced from things NOT CORN. Please, read the fucking article before you say stupid shit. Thank you.

Re:Who are the supporters? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14564376)

Google it. [google.ca]

Re:Who are the supporters? (2, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564141)

Supporters of biomass fuels are behind bio-diesel. Corn growers are behind ethanol. There's lots of money to be made making ethanol if the market would exist, and it's the corn growers who would reap the rewards.

Joe HighSchoolQuarterBack working the fry machine at McD's isn't going to be making a fortune in his side business selling used freedom fry oil.

Another Obligatory Simpsons Quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14564505)

Hey, what the? *gasps* My retirement grease! No! You thievin' grease bandits! I'll kill ya!

Re:Another Obligatory Simpsons Quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14564772)

We run the grease racket in this town.

Need to look for a positive balance (2, Insightful)

SysKoll (48967) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564180)

Right. It remains to be seen if the total end-to-end energy balance is positive. Ethanol combustion is not very energetic compared to hydrocarbones, and so you need much more of it to store the same energy as, say, the same volume of gasoline.

Considering that most agricultural ethanol production processes require energy (to harvest and transport raw biomass, to grind it, to heat and break cellulose, to mix, etc), it's easy to see why you should be very careful with your energy balance, otherwise you might pick a process that won't even break even. The industrial process used to produce wood alcohol (methanol), for example, often consumes way more energy than the final product represents. But in that case, the main concern is total cost, not a positive energy balance.

Hemp! (4, Insightful)

mrchaotica (681592) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564762)

It also doesn't help ethanol's case that the most efficient crop to produce it is so demonized in the US. Not only does hemp have a higher usable energy content than corn or soybeans, but it freakin' grows as a weed! It ought to win out over corn and soybeans just by the elimination of fertilizer costs alone!

But no-o, we can't have people growing hemp because it's too similar to marijuana, and we'd have to put even more stoners in jail (who shouldn't even have to be there anyway)!

It's completely absurd and pathetic.

Of course is it. (3, Funny)

NoMoreNicksLeft (516230) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564064)

We'll just turn all of south america and africa into big ethanol farms, the people living there be damned. Who cares if it takes an absurd amount of our infrastructure for the renewables, as long as it's "environmentally friendly"?

Re:Of course is it. (3, Insightful)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564113)

We'll just turn all of south america and africa into big ethanol farms

Or, we'll turn most of Russia into a big ethanol farm... oh, wait...

"environmentally friendly" wasn't the point (1)

246o1 (914193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564143)

The answer to the question is no, because this is just a half-way measure at best, even given a lack of morality with regard to the people in foreign. As you pointed out, we can turn the Third World into our ethanol-farming slaves (but it's not ACTUALLY going to be very environmentally friendly), and we'll have to start getting bananas, coffee, cocaine, and other important crops somewhere else.

The great thing about ethanol, if it replaced oil, is that we would no longer have to support evil dictatorships like Saudi Arabia (and have less incentive to interfere in the Mid-East in general), and we could let the revolutions that have been waiting to happen finally happen. The house of Saud would be SOL in 10 years if the US withdrew its support.

Misguided, a bit. (1)

xenocide2 (231786) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564411)

One thing to remember is that african and south american nations desperately want open agriculture markets, and crop-generated ethonal is one way undo the European, American and other developed nation's tarriff and exchange barriers. It's not like we're forcing them into farming (you might argue that American agricultural subsidies are forcing them OUT of farming). Farmers in 3rd world countries are no more slaves to farms than the American white collar class slaves to the office.

Reguarding dictatorships, I'd suggest researching and thinking more carefully about the likely outcomes. Firstly, ethonal in 3rd world countries likely means supporting 3rd world dictatorships, of which there are many. So we're not likely to see a shift from a repressive government to anything other than another repressive government. Secondly, the revolution waiting to happen in Saudi Arabia is not likely to end in a better form of government. The Sauds are frequently attacked as ignoring the Muslim laws and faith, and being corrupted by Western influences, cropping up as armed dissidents taking over places like the Grand Mosque (Mecca, 1979). Apparently the house of Saud is not repressive ENOUGH. If anything, the revolution coming in Saudia is going to be the production of a dictator or theocrat ruling by brute force and cutting off the economic ties with the west that has brought the nation a good amount of prosperity. I hope you weren't expecting a revolution to throw off the shackles and chains of Shari'a.

Re:Misguided, a bit. (1)

246o1 (914193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564708)

Well, I didn't mean to imply that the farmers now are all currently slaves (though a lot of them are in very tough situations on the large agri-businesses of American and other foreign companies), just that if we so desired, it would be within the power of the West's powerful companies.

WRT dictatorships: there are lot of bad governments in the world, and I'm not saying that giving more market power to agriculture would get rif of them. I'm just pointing out that it would get rid of a lot of the outside interference and internal oil-related-wealth-discrepancies in the Middle East.

I think that if agriculture, rather than oil, were such an important source of wealth, it might be better for the countries producing it than oil has been. Oil can be produced in a smaller area with fewer people per dollar of wealth generated than ethanol, allowing for greater concentration of power and money in the hands of the corrupt leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Indonesia, &c.

Obviously a revolution in Saudi Arabia would still leave it mostly Muslim, but perhaps more democratic (it could hardly become less) and at least not Wahabbist. No longer having US troops propping up the unpopular and corrupt government would also give the people in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world one less reason to dislike the US.

Re:"environmentally friendly" wasn't the point (1)

NoMoreNicksLeft (516230) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564422)

If the question isn't energy generation (ethanol is fermented grain, which derives energy from sunlight), then it is just about energy storage... what form can it be in that's close to being as convenient as oil/gas/petrol.

Hydrogen has its flaws here. I'm thinking we need to move away from such a dependence on portable stored energy. More light rail, less cars. Even so, can't eliminate it completely, so we probably need something revolutionary in solid state energy storage. Just no clue what it could be.

Re:"environmentally friendly" wasn't the point (1)

Keith McClary (14340) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564630)

The house of Saud would be SOL in 10 years if the US withdrew its support.

I'd give them 10 days if they also pulled out the expats who run the computer systems for the military and police.

SUVs (2, Informative)

Nerd-o-mancer (665180) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564065)

Yes, the government tallies SUVs under that "light trucks" category, because they are (or used to be) built on truck frames. The only difference was they had cabs that went all the way back.

No (3, Informative)

PorkCharSui (583216) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564081)

Ethanol would take up too much of our ag land that we need to sustain our food supply. Check the movie The End of Suburbia (http://endofsuburbia.com/ [endofsuburbia.com] for a preview of our sad future.

Re:No (2, Interesting)

Fatchap (752787) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564164)

In that case why does the EU pay farmers to set aside their fields rather than grow things that contribute to the surplus? Why is surplus food routed to Africa (lowering the price for whatever domestic produced grain there is)?

Perhaps there just needs to be a change in focus, especially if you can ferment the non edible parts of food crops for fuel (such as the stalks on grain crops) and waste vegetable matter it could be a win win.

Re:No (2, Interesting)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564348)

Shipping food to Africa and the third world is a form of economic warfare. It deflates the price of grain and food products in the places where it is shipped, and thus discourages the people in those countries from growing more of their own food. It creates an economic dependence in said countries for regular shipments from the 'benevolent' countries who contribute the food.

Would *you* want to plant a crop of corn if it were likely that people from another country were going to dump their surplus crop into your market? You'd likely find yourself harvesting a crop worth less than your expense in producing it.

These issues are complex, and the rich countries 'just shipping in food' make the issue worse in many regards.

Re:No (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14564769)

Or on torrent [thepiratebay.org]

Re:No (1)

Guppy06 (410832) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564771)

"Ethanol would take up too much of our ag land that we need to sustain our food supply."

Considering the glut of corn-based junk foods out there, that actually might be a good thing.

Very interesting (3, Informative)

mendaliv (898932) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564083)

It looks like there's finally a use for all the grass clippings coming out of suburban neighborhoods and non-office paper that gets thrown away instead of being recycled.

From the article:
Instead of coming exclusively from corn or sugar cane as it has up to now, thanks to biotech breakthroughs, the fuel can be made out of everything from prairie switchgrass and wood chips to corn husks and other agricultural waste.

This biomass-derived fuel is known as cellulosic ethanol.

Cellulose is ethanol's only chance... (1, Interesting)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564353)

Here is a very detailed report [westbioenergy.org] on cellulosic ethanol. In terms of efficiency, it has nothing on biodiesel and is less efficient than methanol. But there is already a market, and little in the way of regulatory hurdles.

No it's not (1)

hsoft (742011) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564086)

Growing corn takes a lot of pesticide/machinery/etc.. Ethanol is NOT environment-friendly. Globally reducing our energy consumption is.

Re:No it's not (4, Informative)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564234)


Ethanol need not be produced from corn...From TFA:
Instead of coming exclusively from corn or sugar cane as it has up to now, thanks to biotech breakthroughs, the fuel can be made out of everything from prairie switchgrass and wood chips to corn husks and other agricultural waste. This biomass-derived fuel is known as cellulosic ethanol.


Cellulosic ethanol requires little far machinery and no pesticides. From Renewable Energy Access [renewablee...access.com] :
We can't remember how many times we've been asked the question: "But doesn't ethanol require more energy to produce than it contains?" The simple answer is no-most scientific studies, especially those in recent years reflecting modern techniques, do not support this concern. These studies have shown that ethanol has a higher energy content than the fossil energy used in its production. Some studies that contend that ethanol is a net energy loser include (incorrectly) the energy of the sun used to grow a feedstock in ethanol's energy balance, which misses the fundamental point that the sun's energy is free. Furthermore, because crops like switchgrass are perennials, they are not replanted and cultivated every year, avoiding farm-equipment energy. Indeed, if polycultured to imitate the prairies where they grow naturally, they should require no fertilizer, irrigation, or pesticides either. So, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, for every one unit of energy available at the fuel pump, 1.23 units of fossil energy are used to produce gasoline, 0.74 of fossil energy are used to produce corn-based ethanol, and only 0.2 units of fossil energy are used to produce cellulosic ethanol.
Between its lesser environmemtal impact (up to 80% reduced emmisions) and its cost-efficiency, cellulosic ethanol is far more environment-friendly than fosil fuels.

Re:No it's not (2, Interesting)

hsoft (742011) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564337)

Well, I didn't know. I guess I should have RTFA. However, I have hard time believing that culture like switchgrass would not require fertilizer. Prairies don't require fertilizers because grass dies and decay right there and animals eating it defecate and die and decay right there, thus keeping the eco-system intact. However, take that prairie, cut all the grass, produce ethanol and burn it. Do it for a couple of years, and without fertilizers, you shouldn't have any more grass growing there.

Of course, I'm not an expert and could be wrong, but this is what my common sense tells me.

Re:No it's not (1)

brunes69 (86786) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564385)

Most of the nutrients in the soil come from the rain, not from bio-degrading material.

Think about it for a second, if all of the nutrients in the soil came from other plants and animals that bio-degraded, then the ecosystem in that area would be unsustainable over the long haul.

Re:No it's not (1)

hsoft (742011) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564472)

Oh great, thus we can all tell the farmers to stop putting fertilizers on their fields, and tell all organic farmers to stop putting the excrements of their animals on their fields, because it's useless: most nutrients come from the rain.

Anyway, I give up. I don't want to say that the article is wrong because I don't have the knowledge to say so. Maybe that the kind of culture they are speaking of would only need nutrients that come from the rain to be a sustainable culture, but I'm skeptic.

Re:No it's not (1)

ClamIAm (926466) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564634)

Prairie plants are basically weeds. They'll grow back.

GM Plants? (1)

matt_tucents (922510) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564976)

How about the possibilities of using Genetically Engineered plants in this situation? It's not that we're looking for plants that might make more ethenol, but plants that need even less care and effort from farmers, thus further reducing the energy required when considering the whole energy balance.

Re:No it's not (3, Insightful)

dbIII (701233) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564777)

Growing corn takes a lot of pesticide/machinery/etc.. Ethanol is NOT environment-friendly
Ethanol makes sense if it's a byproduct of something else or produced by a less intensive farming method - Brazil is using it successfully but they can't make enough for everyone without using a lot of oil to make fertilizer and defeating the purpose. Methanol makes more sense from some plant material. Methane makes a lot more sense from waste products.

Where ethanol has the advantage is that conventional car engines can run well on it without much work and it's easier to ship around. Methane can run in diesel engines without much work - but due to the high sulphur content of US oil there aren't a lot of diesel vehicles currently in the USA and as a gas it makes more sense in fixed installations than vehicles. Biodiesel makes sense so long as it's made out of waste products - specificly growing Canola for it is burning oil to make fertilizer to make biodiesel and is a losing prospect.

There's no one true energy - even for vehicles. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something or has swallowed a sales pitch.

Re:No it's not (2, Interesting)

TykeClone (668449) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564890)

Biodiesel makes sense so long as it's made out of waste products - specificly growing Canola for it is burning oil to make fertilizer to make biodiesel and is a losing prospect.

Corn -> Ethanol + distillers grain

distillers grain fed to animals -> "fertilizer" + meat

"Fertilizer" + corn ground -> more corn

Re:No it's not (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14564799)

If by Machinery, than you mean, tractors, than those would, in all practicality run on ethanol as well, right?

Ethanol seems best (5, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564094)

Ethanol would be a lot cheaper than trying to deploy hydrogen. With the hydrogen route, we have to redeploy our entire fuel infrastructure. Which isn't going to happen as long as most people drive gasoline cars. Ethanol, OTOH, can work in a standard gasoline engine with a few modifications, and can be supplied from the existing fueling stations.

With gas prices being so high, all that's standing in the way of Ethanol is this constant argument over whether or not it's energy positive or not. Of course, this completely ignores the issue that hydrogen isn't energy positive either. You need powerplants upstream to crack hydrogen, just as you'll need upstream energy to supply farming equipment. Even in Ethanol isn't energy positive (which I don't believe for a minute), it's still a better option than hydrogen.

What we really need for Ethanol to take off is a proper hybrid vehicle [blogspot.com] capable of burning both gasoline, ethanol, and various blends.

Re:Ethanol seems best (5, Informative)

acidblood (247709) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564227)

What we really need for Ethanol to take off is a proper hybrid vehicle capable of burning both gasoline, ethanol, and various blends.

These are all over the place here in Brazil. Last I heard, something like 80% or 90% of small cars were sold with hybrid ethanol-gasoline engines (nicknamed Flex around here). Many shops (even small ones) already have the technology to convert an ordinary gasoline engine to a hybrid, and it isn't that expensive either.

I should remark that Brazil was a pioneer in the usage of ethanol for car fuels, but in the last decade or so it was getting out of fashion. With the advent of hybrid engines we're seeing a revival of sorts, particularly given the lower price (which unfortunately has been rising though).

For my part, I believe the future is biodiesel, not ethanol, though.

You forget one factor... (2, Informative)

brunes69 (86786) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564421)

Regardless of what crop is used to produce it, ethanol requires areable land, and lots of it.

To produce enough ethanol to sustain the US alone, would require hudreds of thousands of acres of crops. Regardless of the sustainability of the crops, it is a huge management issue in and of itself to control all that production.

Hydrogen, on the other hand, can be produced readily in a power-plant type fashion.

Re:You forget one factor... (1)

ClamIAm (926466) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564654)

Regardless of the sustainability of the crops, it is a huge management issue in and of itself to control all that production.

That sounds fair.

Hydrogen, on the other hand, can be produced readily in a power-plant type fashion.

So hydrogen plants are completely sustainable as well as require no management? Sounds like perpetual motion or something.

Re:You forget one factor... (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564670)

require hudreds of thousands of acres of crops.

With the ability to create it from any plant matter, tens of millions of lawns in hundreds of thousands of subdivisions across the country stand ready for the signal. After all, if we didn't cut the lawn, we'd be evicted by the housing association, so the stuff might as well do something other than fill landfills.

I'll even do my part by using my father's old reel mower to maximize fuel efficiency.

Ethanol is here now, hydrogen is a pipe dream! (5, Insightful)

mangu (126918) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564684)

To produce enough ethanol to sustain the US alone, would require hudreds of thousands of acres of crops.


Dude, do you have any idea at all of the number of acres of crops in the USA?


Hydrogen, on the other hand, can be produced readily in a power-plant type fashion.


Other than in science fiction, where do you have a hydrogen power plant? A hydrogen-powered car? Ethanol has been a *practical* reality for decades. My first car powered by 96% ethanol was a Brazilian 1983 Chevette. At that time, about 90% of all new cars being made in Brazil were powered by ethanol.


For the last 28 years, every single fuel station in Brazil has had ethanol pumps. Have you ever seen a hydrogen pump in any fuel station anywhere in the world? Apart from straight ethanol, all the gasoline in Brazil contains at least 20% ethanol.


There has never been a single hydrogen powered car sold commercially anywhere in the world. In Brazil, tens of millions of 92% ethanol powered cars have been sold in the last 30 years, and many more cars powered by 20% ethanol.


Do you still have any doubt on which fuel can be "produced readily"?

Re:Ethanol is here now, hydrogen is a pipe dream! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14564728)

The difference between what scientists know is possible and what 3rd world farmers and tinkerers are able to accomplish is vast.

Hundreds of thousands of acres vs Rhode Island (3, Informative)

tepples (727027) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564926)

To produce enough ethanol to sustain the US alone, would require hudreds of thousands of acres of crops.

Want a ballpark figure? 640 000 acres = 1 000 square miles [google.com] . That's smaller than the State of Rhode Island (1 545 sq.mi) [google.com]

What kind of question is this? (2, Interesting)

halcyon1234 (834388) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564099)

Of all the asanine things I've seen on Ask Slashdot...

Isn't this something better solved with a quick Wikipedia search [wikipedia.org] and a quick Google query [google.ca] ?

All the biologists and physicists I've spoken to say no. It's a fuel source, yes, but not a viable replacement for oil. It has a much lower fuel efficency, and it is still non-renewable. It might solve SOME of the pollution problems, but that's still a "might". It won't solve the growing energy need, and it won't solve the issue of non-renewability.

If you're looking forward towards a sustainable, rewnewable, efficient fuel source, they should be looking at wind, solar, nuclear, or hydrogen, to name a few.

Re:What kind of question is this? (3, Insightful)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564140)


All the biologists and physicists I've spoken to say no.

Really? All of them? Care to provide a list of these sources?

It has a much lower fuel efficency, and it is still non-renewable.

Wrong and wrong. From Renewable Energy Access [renewablee...access.com] :
We can't remember how many times we've been asked the question: "But doesn't ethanol require more energy to produce than it contains?" The simple answer is no-most scientific studies, especially those in recent years reflecting modern techniques, do not support this concern. These studies have shown that ethanol has a higher energy content than the fossil energy used in its production. Some studies that contend that ethanol is a net energy loser include (incorrectly) the energy of the sun used to grow a feedstock in ethanol's energy balance, which misses the fundamental point that the sun's energy is free. Furthermore, because crops like switchgrass are perennials, they are not replanted and cultivated every year, avoiding farm-equipment energy. Indeed, if polycultured to imitate the prairies where they grow naturally, they should require no fertilizer, irrigation, or pesticides either. So, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, for every one unit of energy available at the fuel pump, 1.23 units of fossil energy are used to produce gasoline, 0.74 of fossil energy are used to produce corn-based ethanol, and only 0.2 units of fossil energy are used to produce cellulosic ethanol.

Re:What kind of question is this? (1)

halcyon1234 (834388) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564642)

All the biologists and physicists I've spoken to say no.

Really? All of them? Care to provide a list of these sources?

Hang on, let me just go ahead and try to remember every conversation I've ever had. {rolls eyes}

Off the top of my head, I'd have to say David Stephenson and Julie Czerneda (physicist and biologist, respectivly)

Re:What kind of question is this? (1)

Fatchap (752787) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564218)

Do you mean asinine?

Anyone else see the irony?

Re:What kind of question is this? (1)

greginnj (891863) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564533)

If you're looking forward towards a sustainable, rewnewable, efficient fuel source, they should be looking at wind, solar, nuclear, or hydrogen, to name a few.
Nuclear is renewable?? Who knew?




... my guess is that it's probably not even rewnewable, and I say that as a fan...

Shit article.. (1)

IAAP (937607) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564106)

There was nothing on the energy required to make this "Fuel". It was just a press a release.

Next article please!

The editors are modding us down -2 at a time. Just watch!

Re:Shit post.. (1)

Fatchap (752787) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564186)

The energy mainly comes from the sun. When plants take in the solar energy they convert it into sugars by a process called photosynthesis. These sugars then react with yeasts to form alcohol, which is then distilled to give pure ethanol.

As a North Dakotan (4, Interesting)

alexwcovington (855979) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564129)

I'm proud to say I drive my 1993 Mercury Topaz on 40% ethanol. Hand mixed by yours truly with a fly-by-night flip of the regular and E85 pumps. And it runs GREAT.

Why does there have to be just one solution? (2, Insightful)

Yonder Way (603108) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564131)

Part of the reason we're in such a pickle is because we depend so completely on just one fuel source. Haven't we learned that diversity will make us more robust?

Costs more than it delivers (1, Informative)

bennyp (809286) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564139)

Ethanol fuel is made of corn. Corn is grown using industrial processes which rely heavily on oil-based fertilizers and oil-fueled machinery. A much better solution is hemp-oil.

Re:Costs more than it delivers (1)

Fatchap (752787) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564206)

Here is an alternative for you. RTFA before posting. The point is clearly made that it can be produced from a variety of crops including grasses that require no fertilizers.

Even if it need oil based fertilizers using ethanol as the main fuel for vehicles would free up some of the finite oil resource to make it, and those nice man made fabrics you wear.

Re:Costs more than it delivers (1)

AK__64 (740022) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564887)

So when are we going to see grass farmers out there? The simple fact is that only corn farmers are going to get behind ethanol and promote it, and only so long as it's corn-based ethanol. The article does not point out that it is only in theory that large quantities of ethanol can be made from grasses.

Cost? (2, Interesting)

xanthines-R-yummy (635710) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564153)

The article says that attitude is the major barrier, but I still think it's cost right now. This page [cockeyed.com] is obviously out of date (although the girl is still cute!), but I think it still makes the point that gasoline is still a pretty cheap liquid by comparison. Oil is around $1.20 per gallon right now. I'd be lucky if I could find a cup of coffee for that price! Ethanol is still expensive and will be until the demand is high enough to start using it. Sure, mass-production plants have yet to be built... but those things aren't cheap, either. I feel like (no basis in fact!) the price of oil/gasoline is going to have to increase much, much further for ethanol to be a realistic alternative. Just my 2 cents.

Re:Cost? (1)

Thrymm (662097) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564301)

I feel like (no basis in fact!) the price of oil/gasoline is going to have to increase much, much further for ethanol to be a realistic alternative.
Unfortunately you may get your wish soon enough with the way things are going in the Middle East, Colombia, etc.

HERE is the cost (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564737)

In my neighborhood fuel station here in Rio de Janeiro, gasoline is R$2.50, ethanol is R$1.80


Oil is around $1.20 per gallon right now. I'd be lucky if I could find a cup of coffee for that price!


Brazil also produces coffee. A cup is R$0.50 regular, R$0.75 espresso.

In Soviet Russia... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14564154)

Ethanol is the answer to YOU!

vodka is the solution to every problem.

offcorse i got it (1)

goarilla (908067) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564213)

if everybody drinks a lot, have a huge hangover next day
He/she can't stand bright lights let alone the buzzing of a computer >> less power use :D

Ethanol & Bio-Diesel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14564244)

considering the alternatives, i have to place my bets on Ethanol and Bio-Diesel, which will work fine with very little modification with the existing infrastructure and automobiles & trucking & freight industries...

Stop griping Greenies (4, Insightful)

narftrek (549077) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564276)

This will get modded Flamebait and/or Troll, especially coming from me, but JEEESUS I have already read five comments griping about this technology not solving X problem, causing Y problem, etc. THIS IS BETTER! One guy complains that it won't fix the greenhouse gas problem--it won't make it any worse. Another complains it's gonna use up all our land. Another complains it's gonna poison the environment with pesticides. Look people, will nothing make you guys happy? The main things this tech will do for us is:

reduce our dependence on oil (if Iran decides to quit selling us oil our economy isn't gonna spiral into oblivion like it could now)

it uses trash besides just corn or cane (that's gotta count for something)

alchohol burns cleaner

it will use existing infrastructure that hydrogen won't

We won't have nasty chem plants cranking out far more poisonous fuel cell and/or battery materials

farmers already get paid subsidies to NOT grow stuff, let's change that

Tons of pesticides won't necessarily be needed since even if the crop isn't huge or is partially damaged, it can still be used

The farm tractors can burn thier own product (many farmers already make or use thier own biodiesel)

I can keep going on about this but I think my point is made. Just because this solution doesn't fix EVERYTHING doesn't mean it should be ignored or scrapped. Stop complaining Greenies. At least science and government are FINALLY listening to your incessant complaining for something to be done about pollution and alt fuels. There will NEVER be a solution made that can perfectly cover all bases but this one beats most of the other proposals out there. This is a solid and viable solution and not just placation like these current hybrid cars. There's something to complain about and a true instance of industry throwing you a bone to shut you up. /rant

same as burning whale oil (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14564289)

We cant rely on a biological system for our energy needs.Humans are too ignorant to conserve .they mearly eat everything in their path.This is how evolution works

One good thing that may come out of this... (1)

brunes69 (86786) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564338)

Since the government won't have to subsidize the corn industry by charging duties on sugar, maybe you americans can get all the Fructose crap out of your soda and use real sugar.

Trust me, it tastes WAY better.

Re:One good thing that may come out of this... (1)

fshalor (133678) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564918)

Agreed! I hate HFcorn syrup for anything other fluid flow experiments. (:) )

I really like what Brazil has done with EtOH. But as a chemical engineer, I'm much more fond of biodiesel. Both for the engine technologies, performance characteristics and overall robustness of infrastructure. It can be transported in any kerosine/diesel/gas truck no sweat. And it keeps engines a lot cleaner than fossil derived fuels.

Ethanol makes sense for brazil, but bio makes more sense in a lot of places. Just think: to make ethanol, you have to distill. WHich takes more energy than making the same gallon of bioD from methonal, lye and vegtable oils. (Even if you count the energy needed to make the methonal and lye.)

I want a diesel motorcycle, running on bio brewed in my back yard! and I want this crap out of my drinks! We weren't designed to metabolize HFC!

-=thbbpt!

It's a part of the solution... (3, Interesting)

Herger (48454) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564390)

IIRC ethanol can be blended into regular fuel up to 15% and be used in cars already on the road in the USA, while an 85% ethanol/15% gasoline (E85) can be used in "flex-fuel" vehicles that can be purchased from most manufacturers on request. It's only a stopgap, because ethanol is currently expensive to produce. This may change with biotech to improve fermentation, as well as a shift in US trade policy to facilitate the import of sugar cane, a much better starting material for fermentation (or just import the ethanol!)

Still, I believe the biggest limitation is, even assuming moderate improvements in conservation and efficiency, there isn't enough land available to produce the corn/beets/sugarcane needed. Plus, the biggest consumers are commercial (i.e., diesel) vehicles -- we might be better off investing in carbon-neutral catalytic solutions like Changing World Technologies [changingworldtech.com] or AlphaKat [alphakat.de] , which can use a wide variety of biomass as input and produce diesel fuel.

Energy Return on Energy Invested (5, Informative)

dido (9125) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564500)

A look at a small table [eroei.com] of energy return on energy invested figures gives ethanol from corn a 1.3, ethanol from sugarcane something like 0.8 to 1.7 (meaning it could possibly be a net energy loser!), and ethanol from corn residues 0.7 to 1.8. Compare that with petroleum's EROEI, which is today something of the order of 23, and had once been higher than 100. Even at the maximum efficiency level, it would probably take dedicating all of the arable land in the United States to grow corn for conversion to ethanol to allow business as usual. Also, mechanized farming techniques are so heavily dependent on petroleum-based (and natural gas based) fertilizers and pesticides. Here's a good article [fromthewilderness.com] on how to properly evaluate these schemes for alternative energy, and ethanol doesn't fare very well.

No, the only real solution to the energy crisis is to abandon the grossly wasteful American way of life, and take steps towards serious conservation efforts.

Re:Energy Return on Energy Invested (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564974)

Even at the maximum efficiency level, it would probably take dedicating all of the arable land in the United States to grow corn for conversion to ethanol to allow business as usual.

How much land are you talking about, specifically? Not many people know how big an acre is. For instance, Indiana is over 23 million acres in size.

Also, mechanized farming techniques are so heavily dependent on petroleum-based (and natural gas based) fertilizers and pesticides.

Are != must be. Could techniques be adapted to use Mel's mix [squarefootgardening.com] (equal parts compost, peat moss, and vermiculite)?

Here's a good article on how to properly evaluate these schemes for alternative energy, and ethanol doesn't fare very well.

That article fails to mention biodiesel, which has a comparatively impressive EROEI of 3.2.

A wise man once said (more or less) (1)

killkillkill (884238) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564581)

Ethanol, the cause of and solution to all of lifes problems

Yes! (3, Funny)

Ethanol (176321) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564678)

Yes, by golly, I AM!

Re:Yes! (2, Funny)

idonthack (883680) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564853)

So what can you do?

Yet another fallacy. (1)

Pig Hogger (10379) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564786)

The fallacy that petroleum can be replaced as an energy source.

This time, it's with alcohol.

Well, farming the corn necessary to fuel the US will need far more land than there is in the US... And processing the corn needs energy, too.

Forget SUVs, it's not sure that hybrids could be powered!!!

Petroleum rules for a very good reason: it has the highest energetic density, which was attained through millions of years of insolation used to grow the plants that became oil.

When oil runs out, cars will have to go.

Re:Yet another fallacy. (1)

belg4mit (152620) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564958)

The premise of the post is a fallacy, but everything you wrote is as well.

The post is wrong for the same reason people who hype hydrogen as the solution
are wrong. Ethanol and hydrogen are storage mediums, not energy sources. It's
true that ethanol is traditionally dervied from fermentation, but in this case
the energy source is *biomass* not ethanol. It's technically no different than
tossing logs into the boiler of a train.

>Well, farming the corn necessary to fuel the US will need far more land than
>there is in the US...
Ah, so you must be the inspiration for the "95% of statistics" quip.
And there's no reason it has to be corn.

>And processing the corn needs energy, too.
Nah shit Sherlock, and that's taken into account. That's why, if my memory
serves me, the conversion efficiency to delivered energy for bimoass ethanol
is some 70-odd percent.

>Petroleum rules for a very good reason: it has the highest energetic density, which was >attained through millions of years of insolation used to grow the plants that became oil.
Spend less time reading Slashdot and more time reading, oh I dunno, a science book not
published in Kansas; because that statement was complete and utter bullshit.

As a proud alcoholic... (1)

Tyir (622669) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564791)

I think ethanol is the answer to everything!

Butanol is better (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14564874)

Butanol is better than ethanol because it's less corrosive and has almost the same amount of energy as gasoline does. It can basically be run in an unmodified car, just pump and go. No having to replace shit so that it doesn't get corroded like with ethanol, no having to install bigger injectors and reprogramming the ECU because ethanol only has 70% of the energy of gasoline.

What about intensive farming? (4, Interesting)

johansalk (818687) | more than 8 years ago | (#14564931)

Desertification is a mounting threat to many regions around the world due to soil exhaustion. I can only imagine that large-scale ethanol farming would add to this problem.
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