[asa] energy from cellulose [was: UN Downgrades Man's Impact On The Climate]

From: Don Winterstein <dfwinterstein@msn.com>
Date: Fri Dec 15 2006 - 05:46:24 EST

"I do think Patzek and Pimentel have been too pessimistic...."

I'd say so. Several of Patzek's comments are unreasonable. Let's ignore the DOE/USDA report (that's transitory) and focus on what might be possible. If we use prairie grasses for biomass instead of waste from intensively cultivated corn and soybeans, we sidestep some of Patzek's main criticisms. For example, there'd be no need for herbicides or pesticides, and there'd be no erosion from wind and water. The 34 million acres in reserve would not be nearly enough to solve the country's entire energy problem, but they'd be enough to make a goodly contribution. Furthermore, use of corn for ethanol is barely economical now, so if cellulose usage became efficient, acreage devoted to corn would no doubt go into prairie grass or some such thing. Conclusion: the cellulose possibility is one that should be pursued vigorously, even if there's no hope it can meet all our needs.

Patzek jibes, "Today it is commonly believed that burning freshly cut plants is morally superior to burning old fossil plants." And why shouldn't it be? Using freshly cut plants circulates carbon, while burning fossil "plants" emits new carbon.

As for transportation, the factories now making ethanol from corn are sprouting close to where the corn is grown, so transportation needn't be an insuperable problem. These factories could be converted to process cellulose in the future. Rail systems efficiently haul massive cargoes overland.

Don

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Al Koop<mailto:koopa@gvsu.edu>
  To: asa@calvin.edu<mailto:asa@calvin.edu>
  Sent: Wednesday, December 13, 2006 12:20 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] UN Downgrades Man's Impact On The Climate

  The question about ethanol production coming to save us was recently
  raised. I guess it time for another one of my intermittent energy
  posts.

  There is indeed a debate going on about the efficiency of alternative
  energy sources, especially ethanol. Tad Patzek and David Pimental
  are on the doomer side, while the business community puts out its
  rosy scenarios. But from my reading, the optimistic forecasts are
  not really all that positive for ethanol use even if all the "ifs"
  materialize. I do think Patcek and Pimentel have been too
  pessimistic, but I don't see the world using significant amounts of
  biomass to replace gasoline or diesel. Here is a recent article
  written by Tad Patzek:

  http://www.venturebeat.com/contributors/2006/11/05/why-cellulosic<http://www.venturebeat.com/contributors/2006/11/05/why-cellulosic>-
  ethanol-will-not-save-us/

  I also think that the question of getting the biomass to processing
  plants is not an insignificant factor in the process. Oil is a
  liquid that is taken from highly localized points and transported
  through pipelines, while the cellulose has to be collected from
  scattered areas all over the place and delivered by ??? to the
  plants. Do you have smaller more inefficient plants all over the
  place to minimize transportation costs or more efficient large plants
  where the transportation costs of raw material are higher? I would
  bet against biomass except for obvious botique uses like rrecycling
  restaurant cooking oil and various types of waste on farms; I think
  its use right now is mostly a political gambit.

  For anyone who wishes to follow energy related issues I think the
  best internet site today (by far) is The Oil Drum:

  http://www.theoildrum.com/<http://www.theoildrum.com/>

  There is more material there every day than almost any normal person
  can read. The site is dominated by those who think that oil
  production will peak sometime between 2005 and 2012, with a few
  optimists suggesing we might last until 2020. Right now there is a
  pretty intense argument about whether we have peaked already or
  whether it will be a few years down the road. For sure there is more
  data there than you will find anywhere else, and many of the authors
  of the articles have experience in the oil industry.

  Al Koop

>>> "Don Winterstein" <dfwinterstein@msn.com<mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com>> 12/11/06 9:03 AM
>>> >>>writes:
  Don't forget too, that there are other looming issues such as energy.

  The current issue of Business Week (Dec. 18) states in an article
  entitled
  Put a Termite In Your Tank, "If efforts [involving 'bio
  breakthroughs' for
  digesting cellulose] can be scaled up efficiently, America's forests,
  agricultural waste, and 40 to 60 million acres of prairie grass could
  supply
  100 billion gallons or more of fuel per year--while slashing
  greenhouse gas
  emissions. That would replace more than half the 150 billion gallons of
  gasoline now used [by the US] annually...."

  Lots of "ifs" there, but still a rather remarkable statement. Pilot
  facilities are already being built.

  Ted responds:
  A couple of months ago, I heard a lecture by David Pimentel that all but
  rejected this approach as unrealistic, both economically and in terms of
  energy production. Advance publicity is here:
  http://www.dickinson.edu/news/nrshow.cfm?981<http://www.dickinson.edu/news/nrshow.cfm?981>

  Ted

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Received on Fri Dec 15 05:46:11 2006

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