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August 13, 2008

Biofuels before draft animals

Some people worry that if oil supplies were to radically drop that there would not be enough fuel to build non-fossil fuel replacement. They then promote the use of draft animals and small windmills. This article will show that there is enough oil and fuels to supply a transition build and that even if supplies were constrained it is always more efficient to make five more acres of biofuel than to feed a draft animal with those same acres. This site does not believe that oil dependence and transition is as difficult as these others believe and if a faster oil transition was necessary than there are better solutions than they propose.

The draft animal proposal is also incredibly hypocritical because places like the Oil Drum are always complaining about the lower EROI (energy returned on energy invested) of biofuel crops. Then Gail of the Oil Drum proposes growing similar crops and feeding them to draft animals for an even lower EROI.

Any peak oil believer should be pushing for more nuclear power, electric vehicles and better and more biofuels, and more wind etc... There are better energy plans [this link critiques the Al Gore proposal and proposes other solutions]


Here is comparison of some biofuel sources


unmodified Miscanthus has been found to be 2.5 times more efficient than corn and switchgrass.
9.3% of cropland equivalent to grow Miscanthus to offset 20% of fuel. 23.25% to offset 50% of fuel. Genetic modifications can boost Miscanthus efficiency by 300%. Modified Miscanthus 8% of land to offset 50% of fuel.

So algae and Modified miscanthus should be pushed for biofuels. Plus the other stuff as stopgap.


The cropland argument against biofuels is not correct


Zubrin defends biofuels


The real-world data don’t back up these claims. For starters, the Searchinger study’s central assumption—that the rising demand for ethanol will lead to a decline in U.S. agricultural exports—is just not true. There has been no reduction in U.S. corn exports, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that corn supplies for food exports, for feed, and for other non-biofuel uses will continue to grow even as ethanol production expands.

Second, Searchinger’s study relies on a flawed assumption about the scope of the U.S. corn ethanol program, one in which the U.S. will be producing 30 billion gallons of corn ethanol per year by 2015. But in the very 2007 law that mandated the increased use of biofuels, Congress put a cap on the production of corn ethanol—a limit of 15 billion gallons by 2015. This error in the study was pointed out in a devastating online response penned by Michael Wang, a researcher at the Argonne National Laboratory, and Zia Haq, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Energy. Searchinger, they wrote, “examined a corn ethanol production case that is not directly relevant to U.S. corn ethanol production for the next seven years.” Wang and Haq’s rebuttal is especially powerful since the agricultural model that Searchinger employed was actually first developed by Wang a decade ago.

Third, contra Searchinger, there is no evidence that the U.S. corn ethanol program is causing arable land to be cleared elsewhere.


The flaw in biofuels is that the program is not big enough:
We need to do more—and can. Congress should take the critical step required to break OPEC’s vertical monopoly on our economic lifeblood by passing a bill mandating that all new cars sold in the United States be flexible-fueled—that is, able to run on any combination of gasoline, ethanol, or methanol. Such cars already exist and only cost about $100 more than comparable non-flex-fuel models. By making flex-fuel a requirement for the American auto market, we will make it the international standard as well, and will for the first time force gasoline to compete at the pump against alcohol fuels all over the world.


140 billion gallons of oil for the USA now.
20 billion gallon biofuel/ethanol target for 2015 [3 mbd]
Domestic production in the range of 6.3 mbd in 2015 [more gulf of mexico oil]
(one third 45 billion gallons)
1-2 mbd imports from Canada.

There are uses where coal and shale can displace oil usage if needed. But it would be better to have more nuclear power or renewables. More drilling and more enhanced recovery that brought in an extra 1 million bpd or more would also help in any transition. So again TOD should get behind that instead of draft animals. Especially as cows need 4-5 acres of grass each (horses and other similar animals also need a lot of grass acrage). The USA used to set aside 160 million acres for draft animals. There could be ten times more acrage for biofuels which even with inefficient corn would be equal to 5 million barrels per day and with Miscanthus would be 12.5 million barrels of oil per day and with modified Miscanthus would be 37 million barrel of oil per day. The draft animal plan is very inefficient instead of growing modified Miscanthus and/or algae for fuel and building more non-fossil fuel electrical (nuclear and other renewables that can keep pace).

10-11 million barrels per day is enough to finish the conversion even if 60 billion gallons/year of demand would need to be destroyed over a few years during a transition. There is a lot of other technology that will be helping to mitigate the situation. thermoelectrics making cars and trucks 10% or more efficient

The danger of the draft animal/small windmill plan is that it is an amazingly inefficient and poor plan relative to alternative plans. Fortunately it is a plan that will not be adopted on any wide scale.

3 comments:

theanphibian said...

I saw your post on TOD, and I was disagreeing with some (unrelated) things about that article as well.

You make some good points. There seems to be a broader debate surrounding this about whether running out of oil means we go to higher technology or lower technology.

Of course, I would prefer to move to higher, rather than lower technology. But I think it's true one way or the other that lower technology is more damaging to the Earth (unless there's mass death, which some people also advocate). I think that's clear.

The only point where I can see 'lower' technology being more 'environmental' is eliminating transportation, but not always. I don't even understand how environmentalists can advocate CHP with a straight face. Electricity is one case where more centralization reduces the environmental footprint. Yeah... draft animals are worse than what we have now by a long shot.

Snake Oil Baron said...

The reason why environmentalists can recommend draft animals even though they are less efficient than biofuels is that in the end their view of the future has nothing to do with efficiency of productivity or development but with creating a past life of lovable peasants and noble savages. Everyone will spin their own clothes, churn their own butter. It will always be spring time and no one will ever age, or get parasites because we will rediscover all the magic herbal potions that our ancestors new of. How beautiful.

Syn Diesel said...

How is biomass defined in the Miscanthus-Switchgrass-Corn study? Do they account for the corn's cellulose and oil? Or are they just counting the starch? Corn is unfairly compared to sugarcane due to the way it's harvested (feild fractionated grain vs whole stalk that is easily burned at the ethanol plant eg corn saves energy during harvest while sugarcane gains energy at the biorefinery), so I wouldn't be surprised some funky statistics and damned lies are in play here. And how much protein per acre do they think replacing corn with miscanthus will produce?

The "take 25 percent of current U.S. cropland out of food production" is an obvious red flag that they don't know what they're talking about.

I don't see much point in growing what amounts to STRAW when nearly a billion acres of harvested crops NOW produce and endless supply of cellulosic biomass (stover, straw, bran). And then there's forestry, livestock manure, urban waste....