Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pontificating Biofuels

The eco-nuttery rampant in modern society involves almost everything we do. Some want us to eat our pets. Others want us to eat only human breast milk ice-cream (Can I have that milking job?) Others say we should use our food supply as a fuel. Corn-based ethanol, which will drain all the water out of our aquifers. Such are the unintended consequences of well-intentioned, but abysmally ignorant, solutions to problems that may not exist.

For decades these pontif wanna-be's have assured us that they know what they are talking about and now, years after the biofuel hype, they wake up and go "What? You mean a plant needs water to grow???" Yep, these are the genius's who are telling you what to do. But before we get to the water problem let's look at the mental problem.

At the heart of the environmental movement is the belief that a small cadre of individuals are smarter than all the rest of us. They always know what is best for us poor common people. They will take care of us. Rather than letting us live as equals, even as adults, they think that they are our superiors, having a superior knowledge that entitles them to tell the rest of us what to do. We are the children; they are the stern parents who must tell us the unfortunate news that we, but not they, have to eat our broccoli. One finds statements like Jacobson and Delucchi's in the literature, speaking of replacing oil, coal and natural gas with wind,water and solar energy:

"With extremely aggressive policies, all existing fossil-fuel capacity could theoretically be retired and replaced in the same period, but with more modest and likely policies full replacement may take 40 to 50 years. Either way, clear leadership is needed, or else nations will keep trying techologies promoted by industries rather than vetted by scientists." Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi, "A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030," Scientific American, November 2009, p. 65.

They, the scientists want to pontificate their solutions to us. They are the fount of all knowledge.

They also suggest that legistators should do what they, the scientists say, rather than what their constituents say.

"For their part, legislators crafting policy must find ways to resist lobbying by the entrenched energy industries." Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi, "A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030," Scientific American, November 2009, p. 64.

Those industries employ tens of thousands of constituents, and with the stroke of a pen, Jacobson and Delucchi, pontif wanna-be's, say their legislators should not listen to their constituents. This would deny those citizens their right to redress the government for grievances--something our constitution allows, at least up to this time.

Jacobson and Delucchi want to dictate solutions to our legislators rather than going to the hard work of convincing us that what they say is correct. They of course, ignore other scientists who know how impossible it is to generate the energy for our modern society by law. David Deming, a geophysicist at the University of Oklahoma said

"This is an absurd spectacle. Our advanced civilization is being systematically mismanaged by technologically illiterate lawyers responding to political pressures from irrational fanatics. Would someone please tell these people it is impossible to overturn the laws of thermodynamics?"
"We cannot improve our economy by artificially forcing people to use expensive, unreliable and inefficient energy sources. David Deming, "Global Warming Freeze?"
The Washington Times, Dec 10, 2008. source

Dr. Deming, a person with whom I have communicated a couple of times, seems to mistakenly believe that logic is going to be a useful tool with fanatics. It isn't A recent article proclaimed the virtues of biofuels. Reading this one thinks that back aches and cancer might also be cured by using biofuels.

"Biofuels are liquid energy Version 2.0. Unlike their fossil fuel counterparts--the cadaverous remains of plants that died hundreds of millions of years ago--biofuels come from vegetation grown in the here and now. So they should offer a carbon-neutral energy source: Plants that become biofuels ideally consume more carbon dioxide during photosynthesis than they emit when processed and burned for power. Biofules make fossil fuels seem so last century, so quaintly carboniferous."
"And these new liquid fuels promise more than just carbon correctness. They offer a renewable, home-grown energy source, reducing the need for foreign oil. They present ways to heal an agricultural landscape hobbled by intensive fertilizer use. Biofuels could even help clean waterways, reduce air pollution, enhance wildlife habitats and increase biodiversity."
Rachael Ehrenberg, The Biofuel Future," Science News, August 1, 2009, p. 25

Wow. Did you know that merely by turning corn into alcohol you can heal the land? But if you eat the corn you despoil the land? I never knew that until Rachael Ehrenberg informed me of it. Merely putting the corn in a distillery heals the land. I for one and doing my part by drinking as much ethanol as I can, mostly ethanol from Scotland.

I love Ehrenberg's use of 'cadaverous' describe petroleum as if ich, its dead. Don't touch. Biofuels also are cadaverous, since the plants are dead when the biofuel is made. But such emotional words are the main substance of the argument--petroleum is stinking rot but biofuels is perfume. I also love the word "ideally", which means she has not freaking clue whether biofuels do or don't sequester carbon.

Ehrenberg's enthusiasm is shared by our Energy Secretary, Steven Chu.

"For our economy, our security and our environment, we must free ourselves from foreign oil. We must depend not on the oilfields of the Middle East but on the farm fields of the Midwest and on our vast wind and solar resources here at home." Steven Chu, "Pulling the Plug on Oil", Newsweek, April 4, 2009
http://www.newsweek.com/id/192481

Chu continues:

Finally, we must move beyond oil because the science on global warming is clear and compelling: greenhouse-gas emissions, primarily from fossil fuels, have started to change our climate. We have a responsibility to future generations to reduce those emissions to spare our planet the worst of the possible effects.Steven Chu, "Pulling the Plug on Oil", Newsweek, April 4, 2009
http://www.newsweek.com/id/192481

Steven Chu is a great physicist who knows lots about his tiny tiny area, but very very very little about oil and gas and powering the world. His ignorant statements about energy (the kind that powers our society) scare the bejebbers out of me).

Lets look at his knowledge of oil.

"In fact, long before humans turned to oil for transportation, migrating birds were using a similar form of energy—stored oil in the form of body fat..." Steven Chu, "Pulling the Plug on Oil", Newsweek, April 4, 2009
http://www.newsweek.com/id/192481

So, body fat is the same as petroleum????? What utter chemical ignorance.

He also is ignorant of how we will not be capable of replacing petroleum with biofuels. He clearly hasn't run the numbers. There is no way we can supply 21 million barrels per day worth of energy from the US farm fields. This guy beleives his own BS. Here are the numbers that these pontif wanna-be's don't understand. In the U.S. we have approximately 950 million acres of farmland. We use that to feed ourselves. Bio-ethanol creates about 420 gallons per acre per year.source That would be 10 barrels of ethanol per year. But Ethanol has about 2/3 of the energy in a barrel of oil, so in fact that is about 6.6 barrels worth of oil energy. When one calculates how much acreage is needed to produce the biofuel equivalent of energy we use each day, it turns out that we need an additional 1.1 billion acres. The lower 48 has 1.9 billion acres, of which 950 million, roughly half, are farmland. So, if we want to continue eating, we need a total of 2.05 billion acres to maintain our current lifestyles using biofuels alone while at the same time eating. Since this is larger than the land in the US, I think we need to conquor Canada. Sorry my Canadian friends, you must sacrifice for the greater good.

The biofuel problem doesn't end at the US shores.

“Beginning with a world map showing land not yet built upon or cultivated, Nilsson progressively strips forests, deserts and other non-vegetated areas, mountains, protected areas, land with an unsuitable climate, and pastures needed for grazing. That leaves just 250 to 300 million hectares for growing biofuels, an area about the size of Argentina.”

“Even using a future generation of biofuel crops ╦ćwoody plants with large amounts of cellulose that enable more biomass to be converted to fuel-Nilsson calculates that it will take 290 million hectares to meet a tenth of the world's projected energy demands in 2030. But another 200 million hectares will be needed by then to feed an extra 2 to 3 billion people, with a further 25 million hectares absorbed by expanding timber and pulp industries.”

“So if biofuels expand as much as Nilsson anticipates, there will be no choice but to impinge upon land needed for growing food, or to destroy forests and other pristine areas like peat bogs. That would release carbon now stashed away in forests and peat soils (New Scientist, 1 December, p 50), turning biofuels into a major contributor to global warming.
Fred Pearce and Peter Aldhous, “Death of the Biofuel Dream?” New Scientist,, Dec 15, 2007, p. 7

But, of course, the new pontifs know better than everyone else on the planet. "With appropriate carrots and sticks, biofuels could play a big role in the energy portfolio of the future," Ehrenberg writes in her article (ibid. p. 29). But watch out for those sticks, they will beat you into submission with them. Pontifs always need some kind of big stick.

Chu has a Nobel Prize in low temperature physics which seems to qualify him to make silly statements about energy, petroleum and bird fat. Unfortunately, no one has repealed the laws of logic and thermodynamics. We can not fuel our life-styles as these pontif wanna-be's say we can.

But to Chu, who has spent his life doing everything BUT energy, his silly words sound reasonable because he has drunk the Koolaid. He ignores the problems biofuels will raise. And this brings me to what started this rant.

This morning I opened this week's Science and saw Robert F. Service's article "Another Biofuels Drawback: The Demand for Irrigation." Science Oct 23, 2009, p. 516. His table says it all. The irrigation water required for biodiesel will suck the water from the land like a spider sucks the juices from a fly. Here are the liters per megawatt hour of energy required for various sources of energy. Below is an abridged chart. All I removed was the open cooling entries

Energy source..................Liters/Megawatt-hour
Petroleum Extraction.............10-40
Oil Refining.....................80-150
Oil Shale Surface Retorting......170-661
Natural Gas Power Plant cc*......230-30,300
Coal gasification................900
Nuclear power plant cc*..........950
Geothermal power plant...........1900-4200
Enhanced oil recovery............7600
Natural Gas Power Pland oc*......28,400-75,700
Nuclear power Plant oc*..........94,600-227,100
Corn ethanol irrigation..........2,270,000-8,670,000
Soybean biodiesal irrigation.....13,900,000-27,900,000

* oc= open cooling cycle, cc=closed cooling cycle.

Source:Robert F. Service "Another Biofuels Drawback: The Demand for Irrigation." Science Oct 23, 2009, p. 516

Get ready to drain all the water out of Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois, all for the purpose of saving the planet from that evil petroleum which just happens to be the most water efficent energy source we have but never mind that.

But, for all those arrogant pontif-wanna-be's, yes plants actually need water. As Pedro Alvarez says about biofuels need for water,

"It really means a greater potential for agricultural pollution of the waterways, eutrophication of the Gulf Coast, and a significant increase in water use, which may produce localized shortages," says Pedro Alvarez, an environmental engineer at Rice University in Houston, Texas." Robert F. Service "Another Biofuels Drawback: The Demand for Irrigation." Science Oct 23, 2009, p. 516

These arrogant pontifical wanna-be's know what is best for us and they will destroy the environment in order to prove it.

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