I wrote a post earlier this week about my experience with ethanol vs. non-ethanol blended-gasoline and it spawned a lengthy debate about the issue. Tonight (Thursday) MPR's Kerri Miller is hosting a discussion in the UBS Forum at MPR with Anne Korin, co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security and chair of the Set America Free Coalition, and Ed Garvey, director of the Minnesota Office of Energy Security. Matthew Wald, who covers energy issues for the New York Times, was supposed to be here but he's been dispatched to Louisiana to cover the American Airlines maintenance woes (or so I'm told).
It's not about ethanol per se but it's close enough to warrant sticking around for a little live-blogging.
You can listen here and if you'd like to add your comments during the event, so much the better.
7:05 - We're underway. Here's the theme. How does our reliance on foreign oil change influence our foreign policy? How real are the claims that the U.S. can be truly 'independent' of foreign oil and what will the next president's energy policy look like, given the way oil prices are headed. Four years ago, a barrel of oil hit $50 and drivers were grumbling as a gallon passed $2. Oil closed today at almost $115. At a gas station in Blaine gasoline is going for $3.52 tonight.
7:11 - Korin: "We paying for both sides of the war. Every time we go to the gas station, some of the money goes to Saudi Arabia, which funds terrorist groups around the world."
(Continued below the fold)
7:14 - Total oil imports from the Middle East is about 15 percent. American Petroleum Institute rep says we need diversity of supplies. "We have in excess of 100 billion barrels that we've chosen not to look for." (Link: How much oil is in ANWR?)
7:17 - Korin: "We need to make oil just another commodity. One thing we've accomplished is shifting electricity off petroleum. When you hear candidates say 'we need to shift electricity production to solar or wind, they're either ignorant or they're lying." She notes that government is subsidizing digital TV, why can't the government subsidize flex-fuel vehicles?
7:20 - Kerri:" Do drivers really care where gas comes from?"
Audience member: "I do, and I care about the environmental impact?"
7:22 - Myron Johnston - Ag energy economist - "High prices are doing us a great favor. Europe developed a great mass transit system and the best auto industry and have the best road system because Europeans pay for a liter what we pay for a gallon.
7:24 - Reading of Osama bin Laden's fatwah on oil. Find it here.
7:30 - Just noticed this news release on the American Petroleum Institute Web site: 1st quarter oil consumption in the use is down 1.4 percent.
7:32 - John Radson, former CIA lawyer (now professor at Wm Mitchell): " If Iranians cause trouble, they are using our addiction to expand their agenda."
7:35 - Micheal Miles of Victoria, Minn: "As soon as you raise prices, alternatives become available. The real question for me is how will our children survive? We have to reduce fossil fuels by 80%. The alternatives have to do with solar..."
7:36 - Miller: "this is where the conversation always goes..."
7:37 - Miles: "They're bankrupting our country. The next president will withdraw from Iraq, he'll negotiate with Iran, and things will improve."
7:37 - Miller: "we'll get to ethanol but I know as soon as we do it'll take over the conversation so I don't want to get there too fast."
7:38 - Question: Where does peak oil fit into this?
7:38 - John Felmi, chief economist of the American Petroleum Institute: "We do not see peak oil in our near future. We've got over a trillion barrels we know about. We have advanced oil options such as shale oil, Canadian sand oil, and methane hydrates."
7:42 - Korin: "We have to stop pin-in-the-sky solutions and deploy what we have now." (applause)
7:45: Radson:" If we're going to have strategic interests we ought to have relationships with countries that are more aligned with us."
7:46 - Mary Morris - St. Paul - We spend $5,000 a minute to keep the war going in Iraq. We have the opportunity to create resilient local communities, how are we going to have the resources to create those communities. We have a central corridor train project that isn't going to happen. Why are we concerned with national security when we have the tools right here?"
7:47 - Radson: We need energy. We can't get out of the bind through local action or state action. We're weak, we're dependent, and it's something we have to resolve."
7:47 - Korin. Solutions: (1) Every new car sold in the U.s. should be a flex fuel vehicle. It costs less than $100 extra per car. (2) Repeal $54 tariff on ethanol imports. (3) We need to move toward electrification of transportation. We don't generate electricity from oil. Plug-in hybrids.
7:51 - Ed Garvey, Mn. Office of Energy Security: "We lead the nation in biofuels -- ethanol and biodiesel."
Miller: "You know the rap on ethanol?"
Garvey: "These are ways of reducing our reliance on petroleum. That's valuable, particularly when you put it in the context of all these geopolitical concerns."
7:55 - Audience member says he toured this waste wood burning plant in Austria. He says it's a solution.
7:57 - Let's talk ethanol! Miller refers to criticism that making ethanol makes more greenhouse gasses, etc.
7:58 - Guest: Pretty clear that using corn to produce ethanol reduces greenhouse emissions compared to using oil.
8:00 - Audience member who started ethanol plant. The intent was to replace MTBE. "The value of ethanol is it's a transitional fuel in the way whale oil was. It gets people used to pulling up to a gas station and seeing different options."
8:02 - Another audience member: "Corn is a bad transition. The amount of time to make up for the carbon emissions from deforestation in Brazil (to make ethanol) is something like 300 years." Miller refers to food shortages because of the redirection of crops to biofuels. (Part of the series can be found here.)
8:06 - Korin: "It's a complete fallacy to say using crops to make fuel has driven up food prices. Oil prices are driving up food, and China and India moving up out of poverty eating more food.
8:07 - Garvey: (Asked what government policy should be changed) "Eliminate the ban on nuclear power." He also said, "We spent a century putting together the petroleum industry, ethanol is an incremental step and we're fighting about it because it's not the perfect alternative."
8:10 Jim from St. Paul - On nuclear power. "This is the solution. For the past 20 or so years, 20 percent of our electricity (Prairie Island plant) has been produced without oil and without carbon emissions."
We're winding down and Miller has a final question for people. "Is the presidential campaign of 2028 going to sound very similar to what we're talking about today when it comes to energy? How much is really going to change?"
-- End --
During the taping of the show I spoke about corn being a bad transition fuel source for ethanol for two reasons; 1) Corn is a bad transitional source of energy is that the net effect of choosing corn is deforestation and INCREASED carbon emissions and 2) Using corn, a food source, as fuel is contributing to the global increase in food prices. These two factors make corn a less than ideal choice for creating ethanol in particular when there are better choices readily available such cellulosic from switch grass and wood chips.
Increased production of corn in the U.S. for use as fuel is leading to increased deforestation. U.S. farmers are taking soy fields and planting them with corn, decreased soy production is increasing soy costs which is leading Brazilian farmers to clear more land for soy production. The amount of time it will take to make up for the carbon released from the deforestation through reduced tail pipe carbon emissions is on the order of 300 years. Using cellulosic (switch grass and wood chips) does not place the same pressures on the food supply, does not lead to the same type of deforestation and are much better choices.
Further, the U.S. 3.4 billion gallons of ethanol in 2004 which was about 12% of the U.S. corn crop. In 2008 the U.S. is estimated to use 50% of its corn crop in ethanol production. The U.S. in 2008 will produce what is predicted to be near a record amount of corn, a level of corn production not seen since 1944. The problem lies in the fact that while corn exports have risen they have not risen at the same rate that demand abroad has risen. Increasing standards of living in developing countries, in particular India and China, coupled with population booms have more than accounted for the increases in U.S. corn exports. This is in large part because India and China have increasing appetites for meat for which corn is the primary food input. World corn supplies have shrunk and corn prices shot up. Not only has increased demand pushed corn prices up but so has increased production costs of corn because of the dramatic rise in oil prices which effect fertilizer, production (farm machines) and transportation cost. Couple this with the fact that U.S. exports are not meeting increased demand because we are converting corn into ethanol at rapidly increasing rates and you have a formula for food price increases in the developing world that are very troubling. Food riots are becoming more and more common and U.S. corn usage as a fuel is a very important part of that formula. Corn is food, not fuel.
One of the expert guest on the show made the point that it is a fallacy that U.S. corn use for ethanol has led to increased world food prices. This is WRONG. While the guest is correct in that ethanol and its attendant corn use is not solely responsible for increased food prices it IS part of the "perfect storm" which is causing disruptive price increases. What is most troubling is the rate of increase, food costs in developing countries that rely on corn have more than doubled in some cases in just two years. A representative for DuPont was asked if they had foreseen the rise in food prices and the answer was "Yes" just over the course of ten years not five.
Of course this whole subject, to really do it any justice and include the most important research and citations, would take a good sized paper so I encourage any of you who care to, to do some research of your own and not believe me or the panel guest and come to your own conclusions.
As a participant I'd like to make an observation. The guest attempted to set the mood in the discussion by using a fairly adamant appeal to fear mongering of the Islamic hoard. Inasmuch I'm very weary of this approach, and instead tried to make an observation about how technology is rapidly producing viable alternatives right now, I was cut off.
The point I was trying to make was that there have been major breakthroughs in the past two months in solar technology that are total game changers. Please refer to Jim Louderback's column in the May issue of PC Magazine.
According to this article the newest generation of solar technology in which Hewlett Packard is involved will go into production this year that will demonstrate solar energy that is price competitive with coal power plants and take 1/10th the time to build. This is something China will use. The real issue is: Will we build the infrastructure to transmit this power from the southwestern US to the rest of the country? Please refer to the January issue of Scientific American "The Solar Grand Plan" for a discussion on the economics of this endeavor.
The guest referred to my attempts to speak as "pie in the sky", but in questioning her after the program she was a strong supporter of solar technology. She claimed she was referring to "hydrogen" technology.
What was very curious about her is that every time I attempted to discuss an idea she would interrupt me and very emphatically spew my idea right back at me. She reminded me of my old boss, who once said and demonstrated in every conversation: "if you can't blind them with your brilliance, baffle them with your bulls--t." At any rate, I'm certain she has a bright future in politics.
Increased production of corn in the U.S. for use as fuel is leading to increased deforestation. U.S. farmers are taking soy fields and planting them with corn, decreased soy production is increasing soy costs which is leading Brazilian farmers to clear more land for soy production."Farmers are taking soy fields"?
Ever seen a "soy field"?
Could you find me one and tell me where it is?
And here I thought corn farmers routinely rotated their fields between soy and corn based on their farming plan.
If you want to sound knowledgable about farming, learn about farming from farmers not from some student activist website.
Brazil is selling soy into a world commodity market that is growing because of exports to places like India and China.
For your information our soy exports INCREASED over the last few years even as our production dropped.
U.S. soybean exports:
2005: 940 million bushels (crop year*)
2006: 1,118 million bushels (crop year)
2007: 1,025 million bushels (crop year forecast)
A logical mind would anticipate export increases from the US would produce a reduction in demand for Brazilian soy
2) Using corn, a food source, as fuel is contributing to the global increase in food pricesCorn is a food source alright - a food source for pigs and cattle. Only in the Americas do humans eat corn.
Try serving corn on the cob to your European friends. Better yet, don't try.
World corn prices are rising because our exported corn is being feed to hogs and cattle in places like India and China where the demand for meat is on the rise because of their new found affluence.
The question to ask is not whether we should be using corn for Ethanol, it is whether we ought to be clogging our arteries with corn feed pork and beef.
By the way, when you feed corn to cattle it gives them a tummy ache. That is why one-third of Bicarbonate of Soda (Alka-Seltzer) is fed to cattle.
But how exactly does all of this affect the price of rice which has shot through the roof?
According to this article the newest generation of solar technology in which Hewlett Packard is involved will go into production this year that will demonstrate solar energy that is price competitive with coal power plants and take 1/10th the time to buildCareful there.
There is some wonderful technology coming on line for solar. Most of it involving low cost ink-jet print processes.
The only problem..... check the yields. Typically these array yield less than 2% of potential energy.
Thanks for the comments. Check out www.nanosolar.com. They claim to have 5-10 times the efficiency of other thin film technologies.
Again, it's getting there.
Ethanol is NOT made from sweetcorn GregS. Lots of human food products are made with corn and they're eaten worldwide. Ever heard of cornflakes? Polenta? Harina?
I know that Jim, but I also know that human consumption of corn is an American thing (South and Central Americans included).
Sure yellow corn is used in food products, but compared to total consumption of corn, it is negligible.
Few people who howl about "fued from food" know that corn is mostly feed to livestock and fewer still understand that the largest coproduct of Ethanol production is live-stock feed in the form of distillers grains.
"Fuel from food" is a nice sound-bite. So is "saving the rainforest" but it only works with people who are utterly clueless.
Check out www.nanosolar.com. They claim to have 5-10 times the efficiency of other thin film technologies.Mike, this all exciting stuff but let's not get carried away by the hype.
We need solar, but we need real solar not hype-solar.
From Wikipedia......and much the same from many other sources.
Nanosolar's solar cells have been incorrectly cited to have an efficiency of 13.95%, but this efficiency was only obtained in a tiny test sample of area 0.47 cm2, significantly smaller than an adult fingernail, with more realistic best efficiencies being closer to about 6.7%, and perhaps lower.
What's the efficiency of the corn-to-energy solar collector? (and that's exactly what it is) I would venture to guess it's much worse than current photovoltaic technology.
Corn - can only collect solar energy for a short season.
Corn - only a small part of the plant product is harvested to be converted to energy.
Corn - very energy intensive to produce/harvest.
Photovoltaics would not be a good use of fertile farm land. But there are plenty of places where land is ill-used that could be populated with collectors.
GregS that's interesting about bicarb for cows - apparently it helps them digest the corn. To clarify - they're feed 1% or less bicarb in the feed. But a lot of bicarb production is used in feed (your 33%)
What's the efficiency of the corn-to-energy solar collector? (and that's exactly what it is) I would venture to guess it's much worse than current photovoltaic technology.I am not sure how to respond, Jim.
First of all the primary purpose for Ethanol is as an octane booster and oxygenator for gasoline to meet EPA mandates.
Why are we talking about "energy efficiency" of corn? It is like comparing apples to screwdrivers.
GregS that's interesting about bicarb for cows - apparently it helps them digest the corn. To clarify - they're feed 1% or less bicarb in the feed. But a lot of bicarb production is used in feed (your 33%)
The big question is not why we are making Ethanol from corn, it is why we are putting third-world farmers out of business with our corn exports, and clogging the arteries of Americans by feeding them fattened cattle and hogs.
People are promoting corn ethanol as a alternative energy source (I don't know that you are GregS). Corn ethanol energy comes of course from the sun. There is a direct comparison to be made between the amount of energy an acre of corn can yield versus an acre of photovoltaic cells. It's on the order of 1 to 1000. It's not apples and screwdrivers, perhaps it's apples and oranges though.
People are promoting corn ethanol as a alternative energy sourceCorn Ethanol is promoted for a lot of things by a lot of people, but we should keep our eye on what it is actually used for and what its actual potential is.
1) It is an octane booster and oxygenator for gasoline that allow fuels used in urban areas to meet EPA mandates without using MTBE which contaminates ground water.
2) Corn-based Ethanol is building infra-structure for a cellulous ethanol economy. Case in point, Poet's Emmetsburg Iowa Ethanol plant that conversts corn-cobs into Ethanol.
3) Petroleum subsitution... The primary inputs into corn Ethanol are from relatively clean natural gas allowing Ethanol to replace gasoline.
4) Production of high-grade livestock feed from the co-products of DG and DDG.
Beyond these things....is a world of hype that is the domain of corn-producers or environmental activists.
Bicarbonate of soda is not Alka-Seltzer (unless that's a colloquialism), there is bicarbonate of soda in Alka-Seltzer. I suppose if the cattle are eating that ethanol production byproduct they might need an Alka-Seltzer for the hangover.
That was good, Jim :)
But the point remains, cattle are not designed to eat corn, and the human heart is not designed to handle the fat that results from feeding cattle the quantities of corn that we feed them.
We need to rethink our use of corn way beyond Ethanol.
And our exports of corn too.
What good does it do the world to have Iowa and Minnesota farmers putting Mexican and Colombian farmers out of business because our subsidized corn is cheaper to buy there than the domestic product?
Had to bite my tongue while Erik (and some others) were giving the tired old "biofuels are killing the planet" routine.
Erik, if you have a beef with land use in Brazil, I suggest you take it up with the government there. Because of steep tariffs, we don't import much biofuel from that country. a) we are not cutting down forests b) we are not buying from Brazil c) so what does this have to do with E85 and biodiesel in Minnesota?
BTW, the currect planing estimates say there will be more soybeans planted in USA and less corn acres. Wheat will also likey increase acres in 2008.
"While the guest is correct in that ethanol and its attendant corn use is not solely responsible for increased food prices it IS part of the "perfect storm" which is causing disruptive price increases."
Welcome to the world of no simple solutions, Erik. End biofuels and you have ony oil. Except in cases of drought or natural disaster, hunger is rarely cause by a shortage of food -- instead, it is most often caused by cruel or corrupt governments or local warlords, using food as a weapon. That's the way it has always been, I'm sorry to say.