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sdholloway56
Senior Advisor

the future of ethanol

Big news of the week mostly obscured by all the noise. Shareholder revolts at Chevron and Exxon, Dutch court ruling against Shell means the fat lady is warming up in her dressing room for the End of the Age of Oil matinee.

There's an outside chance that the Koch nexis might manage a coup and establish a permanent petro-state but I wouldn't bet on it.

Even with what will no doubt be every effort to throw roadblocks in the way, this thing is going to happen. All the major auto manufacturers are well into electric vehicle development and renewable electricity is cheap, and going to get cheaper.

That means that after some recovery here, gasoline consumption is going to go into continuous decline. Ag mucky mucks seem pretty confident that they have enough muscle just to lift blend rates over time, and that may or may not be true.

The Koch nexis has/is courting "agriculture" as an ally, but remember- they will stab you in the back if they get a chance. I'd suggest that stabbing them first is a good idea.

Estimates of the carbon footprint of corn ethanol are all over the board, but I'm generally more convinced by the ones showing it as somewhat better than petroleum. I think the pitch should be that in return for a continually expanding blend mandate, the ethanol industry pledges to continually cut its own carbon footprint.

The first part would be pretty easy. For the thermal inputs of distilling, wholesale power is as cheap or cheaper than natural gas. Most plants have space for dedicated solar on site or nearby. Most plants are located in places where there's a lot of wind power and wholesale power at night is usually dirt cheap. The only thing standing in the way of that is all the stuff that interests who don't want it to happen will throw out. It isn't that hard.

That would probably cut the carbon footprint about 20%, right there. Beyond, you could have plants buy carbon credits on agricultural land- really anywhere- to offset- and that wouldn't interfere with origination. An ultimate goal of a 50% reduction in carbon footprint is probably very doable with minimal disruption.

If you end up with a blend rate of, say, 50% by 2050, there are non-carbon environmental problems with ethanol- VOCs primarily. But without getting into all the inside baseball stuff like on how Big Oil cherry picked regulations to be favorable to MTBE, if you're burning 3/4ths less fuel (energy basis), you're still way, way better off.

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59 Replies
rickgthf
Senior Advisor

Re: A couple of points, ...

  Right now, even as inefficient as things are, ethanol's carbon footprint is only 40% that of gasoline.  Every gallon of ethanol that replaces a gallon of gasoline eliminates 16 lbs of CO2 which when you're burning 7 million gallons per day, isn't trivial  (63,000 tons).

   Second, if you could switch to high compression engines (22:1), and take advantage of ethanol's inherent high octane you could go from the current 25% thermal dynamic efficiency to 42-45%  and use 45% less fuel,  or, instead of 7 million gallons, use 3.8 million.

  

   

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sdholloway56
Senior Advisor

Re: A couple of points, ...

I think you have to divide that 40% number by approximately .65 to get a closer approximation. But it is quite likely better and can get even better yet.

Some of the less flattering analyses go into global acreage expansion and such, but regardless of what anybody thinks ought to be included that has already occurred. 

If it were me I'd say that going hard for the green angle is the safer bet.

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Re: the future of ethanol

I disagree with your assertion that renewable energy is cheap and going to get cheaper.  If you count all the costs of wind and solar being unreliable it is very expensive.   It is impossible to power our modern society today from this without a major technology breakthrough, especially if you eliminate nuclear.  Oil will be with us far into the future.  If we destroy our oil industry in this country we will destroy our standard of living and make the rest of the world's oil producers wealthy.  I am afraid those in power today do not understand this and are willing to destroy America in their attempt to save the world.  We need a combination of better efficiency and new technology to reduce our energy use.  Ethanol could play a part in this if it is allowed.  Unfortunately it looks like those in power are going to try to ram their ideas down our throats and it will end badly.  Mike Borcherding, St. Ansgar, Iowa

sdholloway56
Senior Advisor

Re: the future of ethanol

All baloney.

That’s like the lyin’ TX liars blaming a massive failure of their deregulated grid on renewables.

S TX wind exceeded projections during the event and there’s a reason why N TX wind wasn’t winterized. It costs a little and typically that surplus power isn’t worth anything during the winter anyway. It was built to capitalize on high rates in the summer.

In good locations, solar power is now cheaper than existing coal and it blows new coal out of the water. 

NG can provide the needed base load for the time being,  assuming the knuckleheads insulate the control components.

 

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sdholloway56
Senior Advisor

Re: the future of ethanol

Ethanol really isn’t an energy source- it is an energy carrier, like electricity.

Might as well be carrying the greener energy forms as much as possible.

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sdholloway56
Senior Advisor

Re: the future of ethanol

30 years is “far into the future”

I wouldn’t rule out nukes at all- not sure what the current position is but not too long ago the Sierra Club has come around to the notion that it might be the least unpalatable option for base load.

But I think that will have to be a new generation. It’s a different matter with private utilities trying to milk everything they can on old plants and getting regulators to set rates high for them. In OH they even spent $50M bribing legislators.

In IL they’re even blocking IA wind power to protect their investment in those high cost assets.

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sdholloway56
Senior Advisor

Re: the future of ethanol

And to be clear, those were plain old fashioned illegal bribes.

Not the newfangled legal ones.

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sdholloway56
Senior Advisor

Re: the future of ethanol

EROEI for ethanol from corn off the very best black, rain fed ground is probably about 2, which is far from great.

But that ground would be growing corn regardless to feed people here or elsewhere.

The marginal acres are closer to 1.

It is an energy carrier.

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sdholloway56
Senior Advisor

Re: the future of ethanol

The biggest carbon input for ethanol is nitrogen fertilizer.

Other than whatever somebody might cook up in a future carbon credit scheme that’s probably the toughest place to cut.

 

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