• Dec 18th 2008 at 8:07PM
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Photo by veganstraightedge. Licensed under Creative Commons license 2.0.

Maybe it's good that the US will not meet its self-imposed ethanol mandate for 2022. According to a new study by Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, ethanol - whether derived from corn or cellulose - is the worst form of renewable energy. Ethanol's numbers were put to the test against "solar-photovoltaics (PV), concentrated solar power (CSP), wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, wave, tidal, nuclear, and coal with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology." The energy types were rated on their ability to power "new-technology vehicles" (plug-ins, flex-fuel ICEs and fuel cell vehicles). Ethanol lost. Big.

The study, called "Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security," (read it here) found that wind-powered battery electric vehicles and wind-powered hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are the cleanest ways to drive. The big problem, naturally, is that it's awfully expensive to drive a wind-powered BEV today. Still, the study is already having an effect. The Kansas City Star has already said that, "It's time to ban all federal subsidies for this wasteful taxpayer investment in Midwest farmers and this inefficient use of corn to power vehicles across America."

[Source: Renewable Energy World, Kansas City Star]


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  • 70 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      let's all pray that this doesn't go unnoticed in Washington, regardless of who's in charge or voting for or against it.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Wind Powered?
      • 6 Years Ago
      Carney

      If I understand you correctly you are saying that combustion of ethanol does not emit CO_2. Here is what happens when ethanol is burned.

      C_2 H_5 OH + 3O_2 > 2CO_2 + 3H_2 O

      Care to explain yourself?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Good catch, Kasper.

        I misread my main source of information on these issues, former NASA nuclear and rocket scientist Dr. Robert Zubrin, in his book "Energy Victory" and in various magazine and web articles.

        What Zubrin actually said was that there is no NET increase in atmospheric CO2 from burning ethanol, or from certain methanols, and that growing plants contribute substantially to global cooling.
      • 6 Years Ago
      It's not him that said the first that corn ethanol is a non-sence to make money out of starvation by subsidies from taxmoney, it's me that said that year ago. And it's not him that said the first to power battery cars and hydrogen fuelcell cars by windmill, it's me that said well before this guy. And windmill should power hydrogen gas cars not necessarilly hydrogen fuelcell cars. There a difference between hydrogen ice cars and hydrogen fuelcell cars. As of battery in cars it should be there just for regenerative breaking, not more because of the inneficiencies of batteries.

      The windmills is there mainly to show by visuals a quantity and a power of electricity at a given moments. It's not necessary to make hydrogen gas because it take few electricity. When you make hydrogen gas you make it with 2 things, water and electricity. The matter obtain is hydrogen gas and all this mass come from the mass of water. Some say that it come from the electricity, nothing is more absurb and this is an argument said by petrol related people. It's not surprising because millions of peoples make money out of petrol business and not few money, tousands of billions . Is that a realistics number. And nobody is making money out of selling hydrogen gas except maybe in chimical business for 1/10 000 000 the quantity of petrol.
        • 6 Years Ago
        gorr, hydrogen cannot work, either in an internal combustion engine or as a fuel cell.

        http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-hydrogen-hoax

        Electrolyzing water sounds obvious and cheap but is actually so energy intensive and expensive only 4% of hydrogen is obtained this way. Most of it is gotten from hydrocarbons like coal, but you can also make methanol from coal, which is much more economical and practical as a fuel than hydrogen.

        Even "cheap" hydrocarbon obtained hydrogen is $100 a kilogram, which contains about the same energy as a gallon of gasoline.

        Hydrogen is simple and un-dense that it leaks through the tiniest gaskets, joints, and seals. It even leaks through solid steel (!) and makes metal brittle and easy to break.

        Unlike gasoline or alcohol vapor, which only ignite under certain concentrations and with a certain high degree of energy input (spark) - which is why you can douse a match in liquid gasoline - hydrogen is extremely, explosively flammable in a wide range of mixes with air, with very low energy input levels - the smallest amount of static electricity. So parking garages become giant ticking time bombs, pipelines and fuel stations too. Catastrophic accidents, frequently happening.

        Also hydrogen, to be used in an ICE, has to be cryogenically liquified (extremely expensive and energy intensive, plus massive shielding necessary to slow down the rate of its furious boilng) or compressed (high pressure, increasing the likelihood of leaks and explosions, also HEAVY fuel containers weighing thousands of pounds and shaped like spheres or cylinders taking up huge space in the car (unlike gasoline or alcohol which need no such compression and can simply be poured into irregularly shaped fuel tanks the follow the shape of the car exterior between the skeleton and the outer surface.)

        In every possible way, a hydrogen internal combusion engine is an uneconomical disaster and impractical joke.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The bulky nature of hydrogen makes it difficult to store, limiting the amount that can be stored onboard. Combine that with the low efficiency of internal combustion engines, and H2 ICE powered cars end up with very limited driving range, less than the equivalent battery electric cars! For that reason, most H2 ICE cars are "dual fuel", relying mainly or completely on gasoline instead.

        H2 is currently selling for $8 to $10 per "gallon of gasoline equivalent", so H2 ICE can't be cost competitive, it can't be "range competitive", and there are other better solutions already available. .
      • 6 Years Ago
      This is a such a generalization and oversimplification that it can't possibly contain any useful information. How can there even be real numbers to plug in for cellulosic ethanol, since commercialization is in such a primitive state? There are other types of ethanol than corn and cellulosic.

      The chances of me being able to power my car with solar power any time soon are approximately the same as being able to power it with magic fairy dust. I think we should shift all ethanol subsidies to magic fairy dust subsidies. Thanks Mark "the ethanol troll" Jacobson.
        • 6 Years Ago
        paulwesterberg, liquid fuel is also concentrated solar energy that is portable, storable, and stable, and available at night and in bad weather. Better than the original.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Unless you run your car on nuclear power you already use solar energy to power your car, it just happens to be very very old solar energy.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Let's hope the Sec. of Energy nominee (the physicist) trumps the Sec. of Agriculture nominee (the corn state governor) when the cabinet is sitting around next year discussing ethanol.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Carney is just a paid employee.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Technically gorr, you are correct, as I do have a job.

        But of course, what you mean to imply is that I'm a plant or shill pushing some agenda not because I believe in it but because I'm paid to. And that's false. I do believe in alcohol fuels and furthermore my job involves nothing to do with this debate, nothing to do with energy policy, transportation, corn, alcohol fuels, or any of the rest of these topics, in any way.

        I don't appreciate having my good faith questioned.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I said, "while it does have lower miles per gallon, it can offer lower miles PER DOLLAR."

      I meant HIGHER and MORE miles per dollar, not lower.

      Methanol fuel, which a proper flex fuel mandate would make sure to include, is even cheaper than ethanol, and would offer even more miles per dollar than gasoline.

      There's plenty of empty and unused space in the structure of cars (most luxury models stuff it with soundproofing) so as to expand the area for fuel tanks. With bigger fuel tanks, you wouldn't have to worry about having to make more frequent fuel stops, so you can just enjoy your extra miles per dollar even more. Plus since alcohol fuel is less explosive in crashes than gasoline, the extra fuel is not a safety worry.
      • 6 Years Ago
      this study is a POS.
      The 'professor' compares liquid transportation fuels to energy sources that have unrelated applications.
      Ethanol, butanol, methanol, and biodiesel will all be in the mix in the future, and BTW as this industry takes off, there will be little or no carbon footprint, (see the first post) as it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the producers will use their own renewable carbon neutral fuel to produce.
        gpmp
        • 6 Years Ago
        Ethanol is carbon neutral only if the fertilizers and pesticides applied to the crop (corn) aren't fossil fuel derived, and if the fuel in the tractor's tanks are biofuels.
      • 6 Years Ago
      O.K. Some of the things that some of you seem to be missing.

      Alcohol combusts (in an IC enging) at very high pressures - which produces oxides of nitrogen - very bad pollutants.

      On a, strictly, alcohol based production of alcohol, it takes 2.5 - 3 gallons of ethanol to produce 1 gallon of ethanol. Usually, some other source of heat is used in the distillation process, diesel is usually used to grow the corn ( or what ever) - then figure in the transportation costs, etc.

      Ethanol has a substantially lower heat (energy) content gasoline and way less than diesel

      Petroleum products DO NOT add any carbon to the total earth cycle that was not there anyway - oil is dead dinos and dead plant material. Right? Just a longer return cycle than 1 year.

      CO2 is NOT a pollutant! CO2 is a very necessary part of our life cycle. Total atmospheric CO2 is about 385 ppm - that's 385 parts per million - that's less than 0.04% of the atmosphere. Of that amount, all man's endeavors produce less than 5% - that's about 19 of those 385 parts per million. That's in ALL human activity. What effect will be seen by eliminating5% of our 5%? Remember, that's only 1 ppm of the atmosphere. BFD.

      Something else to consider.
      6.5 Billion people (approx) on the planet
      Each person breathes out about 1 kg CO2 per day (2.2 pounds per person per day)
      365 days per year (approx)

      Do the math!
      2.6 billions tons of CO2 per year just by people being alive - so, if you exercise, ride a bike to save gas, walk to be 'earth friendly', remember, YOU are increasing the amount of CO2 that you produce each and every day.
        • 6 Years Ago
        To "I SUMMON YOU"
        That was "total earth cycle" stupid!
        The only reason that "Ten year old children" get it is because idiots like you tell them that it's true.
        Tens of thousands of real scientist don't seem to 'get it' either, because we know that man's activities are not causing 'global warming. It is a prefectly natural part of the natural cycle of warm and cool periods on the earth.
        FYI - I hold a Master's in Geology, a degree in Civil Engineering, and have been an Industrial Mechanic for most of my life. Be care calling someone else 'dumb'.
        Also, your figures for the amound of 'carbon' produce by the average American are in serious dispute. Besides that, Americans account for a VERY small percentage of the total human population on this planet. Still, the total contribution for all of mankinds efforts on this planet accounts for less than TWO ONE-THOUSANDTHS OF ONE PERCENT.
        Before you spout any more of the Goracle's religion, educate yourself about how the planet actually works, how the planet has worked for the last 4.5 billions years, how most of the warming occurred in the first 10,000 years since the last ice age, not recently, and just how much The Goracle has and will profit from the buying and selling of 'carbon credits' to and from himself.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Late, I know, but this is the dumbest post I have ever seen on this site.

        You're right, burning oil doesn't add more CO2 to the Earth- it adds it to the atmosphere, which is what causes global warming. Ten year old children understand this concept. Why don't you?

        Also, let's assume your 1Kg CO2/day number is accurate. That's 2.2 lbs/day x 365 days/year = 803 lbs or 0.4 tons annually. Meanwhile, CO2 emissions for the average American are 20 tons per year. So breathing accounts for 2% of your emissions.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Hey Warren, now that I just dissed you I do agree, you are right about one thing in your last post, The earth has cooled in recent years, and man and CO2 are not as influential on global temperature as Al Gore thinks.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Folks, Carney has said some very factual things here and you all seem to be attacking the writer instead of the facts. I dare you--show that wind power right now can both power cars, plus homes and businesses. Show that those cars are priced the same as their gasoline counterparts (as E85 FFVs are). Show that those cars don't have terrible environmental effects in their production (as hybrids do when the precious metals are mined, shipped from Canada to Japan, then shipped to the U.S.). Heck, some studies have shown a gasoline-powered Hummer to be more environmentally friendly than the hybrid Prius!! Show that corn doesn't recycle the CO2 released when ethanol/E85 is combusted. Show that, if we didn't produce ethanol, the Midwest farmers would all of a sudden stop growing corn and instead plant their fields to grass so that fertilizer wouldn't be washed down river to the Gulf of Mexico. Show that if ethanol weren't produced, the rainforests in S America wouldn't have been burned all of these decades (hmm...before ethanol took off there...). And that somehow they would stop burning them down without ethanol? Show that waiting for these other technologies to be developed, continuing to use petroleum gasoline and diesel, funding global terrorism, is better than finding cheap abundant alternatives in the meantime. You're not going to convince anyone until you look at these factual problems to your side of the argument.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Why are you dredging up that rediculous and totally discredited "Hummers are greener than Prius" report? Apparently, you were unaware that that report made many unwarranted assumptions, and was using old out of date information on the Sudbury nickle mine, where the environmental damage occurred before the Prius was even dreamed of.

        There is a role for biofuels, but there just isn't enough available land to grow enough crops to fuel all of our transportation. Other solutions are needed, and the high efficiency of electric motors makes it the nmber one contender.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Until wind, solar, and water power make up more of the electricity mix, using an electric motor means burning mostly coal and petroleum. Hopefully those will come along as well, but that's how it is for now.

        The studies I mentioned may have their faults (as do studies against biofuels), but there are important aspects brought up in them. Just because you buy a hybrid Prius doesn't mean it is any more environmentally friendly than other cars and SUV's on the road. That's because of the environmental footprint it has (much higher than other vehicles) before it is even bought. On a local level it is a +, on a worldwide level it is a - or neutral at best.

        Biofuels involve fossil fuels and environmental impacts as well, but come out with more energy in the end. Much of the fossil fuels and environmental impacts are pre-existing anyway because the farmers were already growing the crops before the upswing in biofuels. If you took away ethanol, would farmers stop growing corn? No. Taking away biodiesel, would they stop growing soybeans? No. Just facts. We're just taking their crops and extending their usefulness, extending our fuel supply, reducing environmental impacts.

        There is plenty of land, and as yields increase and alternative feedstocks continue to come online (like they are presently with new generation biofuels) we will do just fine. The forestry industry is hurting now with the downturn in the housing market, and I would be quite certain they are looking for an alternative use for their lumber. Biofuels would be an important market sector for them-and there's plenty of lumber to go around.
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