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Old 10-01-2008, 03:16 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Ethanol-corn vs sawgrass

Taken from: http//:wholesalebiofuel.com

"When considering the total energy consumed by farm equipment, cultivation, planting, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides made from petroleum, irrigation systems, harvesting, transport of feedstock to processing plants, fermentation, distillation, drying, transport to fuel terminals and retail pumps, and lower ethanol fuel energy content, the net energy content value added and delivered to consumers is very small. And, the net benefit (all things considered) does little to reduce un-sustainable imported oil and fossil fuels required to produce the ethanol."

Now somewhere in my past, I did a little hard searching and was finding some information that disturbed me. Corn ethanol production is what the government is wanting America to subscribe in, yet facts from various articles I could find suggested that corn ethanol was 9 times more costly in terms of development and production than petroleum gasoline. Saw grass ethanol was only 3 times more costly, before factoring in that saw grass has the potential to be harvested more than once a year. Even with the subsidy that the government offers on corn production, it just does not make sense to me why corn ethanol production should lead when the information I had seen clearly, to me, suggests that saw grass ethanol production will be a much better value and process.

Any ideas folks?

PS- and a last tidbit... why does the government want to make such a big deal out of a fuel that you have to use more of in order to get where you are going? Using more of it simply means more waste of energy in the first place.

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Old 10-01-2008, 04:08 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Ethanol tech is always advancing - I'm fairly confident current and future research will bring efficiency up. I'm also fairly confident that corn ethanol is not going to be a midterm or long term solution, but perhaps a short term.

As far as the costs, here's a more reliable source
petroleum.berkeley.edu/papers/patzek/CRPS416-Patzek-Web.pdf

Which shows a 7:1 ratio (energy in:energy out) with a max ideal ratio of 2.4:1.
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As for why? I don't know... It's a good idea in theory - like the gold standard and magical perpetual motion machines, but it'll be awhile before the thought of returns are on the table. The US has a proud history of engineering it's way out of its troubles, I see no reason why energy solutions will be any different.

No offense to farmers.... but farmers have been fairly stupid over the past decades... "Oh noes, the price of corn dropped. It's okay, we'll just plant more corn next season to make up for it." (also applies to soy beans etc. etc.)

And seriously, I'm waiting for the great corn famine of 2015 (or whatever date) reminiscent of the days when a society put all their potatoes in one basket o.0

And the last bit of my rant... Has anyone else noticed TV commercials for HFCS? Yikes! Has anyone compared a coke from Mexico to a coke from the US? Coke uses cane sugar in it's Mexican recipe and HFCS in it's US recipe... The mexi-coke doesn't leave that nasty HFCS sticky coating on the back of your throat (yes, the taste is the same - but the texture is very different)
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Old 10-01-2008, 04:29 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Ugh, sadly I fear you may be right on the corn famine issue. It will not be a pretty picture when it happens.
As far as energy efficiency developing, well darn it, work faster! Heh, all things compared, I find it a wonder that we were not focusing more on diesel engines long before this. Consider that early diesel engines were actually designed with plant oils in mind. Yay peanut oil and other used vegetable oils. Now if I only had one of those kits for filtration and use...
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Old 10-01-2008, 05:25 AM   #4 (permalink)
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The big problem with corn ethanol is the amount of energy it takes to distill it to fuel grade. Another more pressing problem is dealing with the Acrolein gas given off during distillation. (Note Acrolein gas was used as a chemical weapon in WW1)

Since biodiesel is based off of oils it doesn't need to be distilled which give it a decisive advantage on energy return.
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Old 10-01-2008, 12:27 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Hi,

I think the OP meant to say switchgrass. It also might be possible to use the cornstalks, or fast growing willow trees.

Energy crop - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jatropha - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Old 10-01-2008, 02:28 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Nope, actually meant saw grass. And yes, the roughage or stalks from corn, and a couple of other crops can be used.

Nuclear Energy Can Save US: Insanity-The Only Word That Fits

Cladium - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Is ethanol ready for its big break? - Autoblog

Ethanol a boondoggle, says Milken | Cleantech Group

Now, having said that, I did a little digging into switchgrass, and it does seem to hold promise like the aforementioned sawgrass.

Switchgrass gets high marks in new study | Cleantech Group
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Old 10-01-2008, 03:13 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Unforgiven View Post
Corn ethanol production is what the government is wanting America to subscribe in, yet facts from various articles I could find suggested that corn ethanol was 9 times more costly in terms of development and production than petroleum gasoline.
As mentioned, you can juggle the figures to come up with whatever answer you want. Assume the worst case: that farmers will use the most energy-intensive techniques for growing & processing the corn, and you get more energy going in than coming out. Make different assumptions, and you get different answers. For example, if you're distilling the alcohol with oil-fired heaters, that obviously uses lots of oil. If you use waste heat from your local power plant, you get an entirely different answer.

As for why corn ethanol, maybe because we already have lots of farmers growing corn (so much that there was a surplus), plus practical experience of converting that corn into ethanol. So you start with what you have and know to create a market at least risk. Once that market exists - you know people will buy large amounts of ethanol at $2/gal or whatever - it becomes much less of a risk to invest in developing a cheaper feedstock or more efficient production methods.

Quote:
PS- and a last tidbit... why does the government want to make such a big deal out of a fuel that you have to use more of in order to get where you are going? Using more of it simply means more waste of energy in the first place.
Not sure quite what you mean there. Are you complaining that you get fewer miles from a gallon of ethanol than from a gallon of gasoline? But those are miles that didn't put fossil CO2 into the atmosphere or money in the jihadists' coffers. And they're miles that you can keep on driving even after all the oil wells are pumped dry :-)
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Old 10-01-2008, 03:42 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Unforgiven View Post
PS- and a last tidbit... why does the government want to make such a big deal out of a fuel that you have to use more of in order to get where you are going? Using more of it simply means more waste of energy in the first place.
The increase in fuel consumed (ethanol) is irrelevant because these studies are conducted on a energy balance method. It is generally accepted that corn ethanol has a balance of roughly 1.3:1. I dont know the value off the top of my head but if ethanol has 20% less energy than gasoline then you would have 25% (1/.8=1.25) more volume of fuel to have the same energy. So we get 25% more liters of ethanol than we would get if corn could be turned to gasoline instead, under the exact same processing conditions returning 1.3:1.
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Old 10-01-2008, 03:45 PM   #9 (permalink)
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I agree that the corn market was preexisting, although numbers that I hear about suggest that the surplus was not as great as they wish to let on. Practical experience heh, well corn and other grain alcohols have been around for decades for sure. It just seems to me that with all the development and research already in place that the cellulose ethanol extraction should be getting more attention instead of crop ethanol. Mind please that this is my perspective, and wont fit with many folks ideas.
As far as the carbon footprint issue perhaps you might want to relook at what equipment is used to farm the corn/grass/sileage that goes into ethanol. To me, a corn crop that needs to have a round of pesticide, and a round of herbacide (both needing a pass with the tractor or in some cases a plane) is not as good as sawgrass, which does not need the passes of herbacide or pestacide. I do hope that something is developed which can replace the fossil fuel. Until then, I look forward to hybrids, and the development of diesel-hybrid technology.
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Old 10-01-2008, 03:50 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Ok Duffman does not 25% more of something normally also mean 25% more processing costs? Granted that is not exactly true, but for this purpose, I am simply refering to the fact that it takes more ethanol fuel to travel the same distance in a vehicle. If it takes more energy to make the fuel to begin with, how much more energy are we losing with the fact that we have to burn more of the ethanol in order to go the distance we are used to with gasoline?

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