The gild is off the lily as ethanol falters

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The mandates of government will not be met next year as ethanol loses its glow as the panacea of fuels.

Ethanol, Just Recently a Savior, Is Struggling
Mark Hirsch for The New York Times


A VeraSun Energy plant in Dyersville, Iowa, opened in early September 2008 and closed two months later. Now it is for sale.

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Published: February 11, 2009

Barely a year after Congress enacted an energy law meant to foster a huge national enterprise capable of converting plants and agricultural wastes into automotive fuel, the goals lawmakers set for the ethanol industry are in serious jeopardy.

As recently as last summer, plants that make ethanol from corn were sprouting across the Midwest. But now, with motorists driving less in the economic downturn, the industry is burdened with excess capacity, and plants are shutting down virtually every week.

In the meantime, plans are lagging for a new generation of factories that were supposed to produce ethanol from substances like wood chips and crop waste, overcoming the drawbacks of corn ethanol. That nascent branch of the industry concedes it has virtually no chance of meeting Congressional production mandates that kick in next year.

The decline in fortunes has been extreme for both kinds of ethanol since last summer, when $145-a-barrel oil appeared to shift fuel economics in their favor.

Only months ago, refiners in some regions were buying up as much corn ethanol as they could to blend with expensive gasoline, effectively keeping pump prices down slightly. Meanwhile, investors seemed willing to finance plants to produce next-generation biofuels.

But since the summer, oil and gasoline prices have plunged, while the price of corn, from which virtually all commercial ethanol in this country is made, has remained relatively high. Refiners are limiting their ethanol purchases to a level required to meet federal blending mandates — a level far below the industry’s capacity.

“The ethanol industry is on its back despite the billions of dollars they have gotten in taxpayer assistance, and a guaranteed market,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy analyst at Rice University.

The government’s Energy Information Administration recently projected that the industry would fall short of the targets for expanded use of ethanol and other biofuels that Congress set in a 2007 energy law. “It’s possible we may have to look at the targets again,” said Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

VeraSun Energy, one of the nation’s largest ethanol producers, has suspended production at 12 of its 16 plants and is planning to sell production facilities. In recent days Renew Energy, Cascade Grain Products and Northeast Biofuels have filed for bankruptcy protection. Pacific Ethanol said it would suspend operations at its Madera, Calif. plant.

Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, a trade group, estimated that of the country’s 150 ethanol companies and 180 plants, 10 or more companies have shut down 24 plants over the last three months. That has idled about 2 billion gallons out of 12.5 billion gallons of annual production capacity. Mr. Dinneen estimated that a dozen more companies were in distress.

Ronald H. Miller, the president and chief executive of Aventine Renewable Energy, said, “The economics right now are very poor.” Aventine has suspended construction of one Nebraska plant and delayed completion of a second in Indiana.

This is not how it was supposed to be when Congress mandated in 2007 that refiners blend increasing amounts of ethanol into the country’s transportation fuel supply. The law came at a time when the country’s thirst for gasoline seemed unquenchable, and oil prices seemed only to go up.

In an effort to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil and to lower the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming, Congress mandated a doubling of corn ethanol use, to 15 billion gallons a year by 2015. Congress also mandated, by 2022, the use of an additional 21 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels produced from materials collectively known as biomass. The potential materials include corn stubble, wood chips and straw.

Congress hoped that advanced biofuels would overcome the longstanding controversies associated with corn ethanol, including the contention that its production raises food prices. Congress started small, decreeing that industry produce 100 million gallons of advanced biofuels next year and 250 million gallons in 2011. But it is becoming clear that even these modest targets will not be met.

Producing the advanced fuels entails breaking down a tough material, cellulose, that is abundant in corn cobs, wood chips and other biological waste, then converting it to liquid fuel. While scientists have proven it can be done, the cost is still high, and little if any cellulosic ethanol is being produced at commercial scale.

Carlos A. Riva, president and chief executive of Verenium, a company working to produce ethanol from sugar cane waste, said that solving the technological hurdles for this type of fuel was “not a slam dunk.” But he and other executives say they are optimistic the challenges can be overcome, and the 2011 and 2012 targets may be met a few years late.

Small, mostly private companies that go by names like Range Fuels, Poet and BlueFire Ethanol have built pilot plants and hope to move into commercial production. But private investment in advanced biofuels has plummeted since the economy went sour late last year, and it is unclear if the industry can scale up. “Cellulosic ethanol is something that is always five years away and five years later you get to the point where it’s still five years away,” said Aaron Brady, an energy expert at Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a consulting firm.

With gasoline consumption declining even as federal mandates for ethanol are increasing, demand for cellulosic ethanol may be insufficient anyway.

Energy experts project that national gasoline consumption in 2009 and 2010 will be 6 percent or more below the 2007 level, and future ethanol production targets could represent more than 10 percent of gasoline production. Since regulations set a 10 percent blend limit for ethanol in most gasoline, there would be no place for ethanol production to go.

“Without moving the blend wall, there is no future for cellulosic ethanol,” said Jeff Broin, president and chief executive of Poet, a company with interests in corn and cellulosic ethanol.

Automobile manufacturers say most of their cars are not designed to run on higher ethanol concentrations. But the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy are conducting studies to see if the 10 percent limit could be raised.

Senator Bingaman said he expected those tests to be completed over the next year or so, and he would like to see higher blend levels for ethanol.

“There’s no doubt when we wrote that bill, we did not anticipate the recession we are currently sinking into,” (As always -- j) he said. “Exactly what that requires us to do as far as changing the law, I am not clear on yet.” (They will try to unscrew their last screwup with another screwup. They never consider simply repealing the last screwup -- j)

A version of this article appeared in print on February 12, 2009, on page A1 of the New York edition.


Well-Known Member
It strikes me that those new plants aiming at developing fuel from waste instead of good corn would be an excelent place for stimulous.


does anyone think ethanol is a good idea at this point? (really, i don't know, this isn't an issue that i've followed with much interest.)


Well-Known Member
I think ethanol is wonderful ..... but their chosen feed stock is wrong. You just have to understand that ethanol isn't the Green wonder the politicians made it out to be ... it's an oil alternative.


Well-Known Member
Then there's this:

Anything Into Oil
Technological savvy could turn 600 million tons of turkey guts and other waste
into 4 billion barrels of light Texas crude each year

In an industrial park in Philadelphia sits a new machine that can change almost anything into oil. Really.

"This is a solution to three of the biggest problems facing mankind," says Brian Appel, chairman and CEO of Changing World Technologies, the company that built this pilot plant and has just completed its first industrial-size installation in Missouri. "This process can deal with the world's waste. It can supplement our dwindling supplies of oil. And it can slow down global warming."

Pardon me, says a reporter, shivering in the frigid dawn, but that sounds too good to be true.

"Everybody says that," says Appel. He is a tall, affable entrepreneur who has assembled a team of scientists, former government leaders, and deep-pocketed investors to develop and sell what he calls the thermal depolymerization process, or TDP. The process is designed to handle almost any waste product imaginable, including turkey offal, tires, plastic bottles, harbor-dredged muck, old computers, municipal garbage, cornstalks, paper-pulp effluent, infectious medical waste, oil-refinery residues, even biological weapons such as anthrax spores. According to Appel, waste goes in one end and comes out the other as three products, all valuable and environmentally benign: high-quality oil, clean-burning gas, and purified minerals that can be used as fuels, fertilizers, or specialty chemicals for manufacturing.

Unlike other solid-to-liquid-fuel processes such as cornstarch into ethanol, this one will accept almost any carbon-based feedstock. If a 175-pound man fell into one end , he would come out the other end as 38 pounds of oil, 7 pounds of gas, and 7 pounds of minerals, as well as 123 pounds of sterilized water. While no one plans to put people into a thermal depolymerization machine, an intimate human creation could become a prime feedstock. "There is no reason why we can't turn sewage, including human excrement, into a glorious oil," says engineer Terry Adams, a project consultant. So the city of Philadelphia is in discussion with Changing World Technologies to begin doing exactly that.

"The potential is unbelievable," says Michael Roberts, a senior chemical engineer for the Gas Technology Institute, an energy research group. "You're not only clean ing up waste; you're talking about distributed generation of oil all over the world."

"This is not an incremental change. This is a big, new step," agrees Alf Andreassen, a venture capitalist with the Paladin Capital Group and a former Bell Laboratories director.

Andreassen and others anticipate that a large chunk of the world's agricultural, industrial, and municipal waste may someday go into thermal depolymerization machines scattered all over the globe. If the process works as well as its creators claim, not only would most toxic waste problems become history, so would imported oil. Just converting all the U.S. agricultural waste into oil and gas would yield the energy equivalent of 4 billion barrels of oil annually. In 2001 the United States imported 4.2 billion barrels of oil. Referring to U.S. dependence on oil from the volatile Middle East, R. James Woolsey, former CIA director and an adviser to Changing World Technologies, says, "This technology offers a beginning of a way away from this."

The offal-derived oil, Is chemically almost Identical to a number two fuel oil used to heat homes.

But first things first. Today, here at the plant at Philadelphia's Naval Business Center, the experimental feedstock is turkey processing-plant waste: feathers, bones, skin, blood, fat, guts. A forklift dumps 1,400 pounds of the nasty stuff into the machine's first stage, a 350-horsepower grinder that masticates it into gray brown slurry. From there it flows into a series of tanks and pipes, which hum and hiss as they heat, digest, and break down the mixture. Two hours later, a white jacketed technician turns a spigot. Out pours a honey-colored fluid, steaming a bit in the cold warehouse as it fills a glass beaker.



Well-Known Member
So now they want to rescue their boondoggle.

February 12, 2009, 7:30 am
Senator: Ailing Ethanol Industry Needs Help
By Clifford Krauss

When Congress passed the 2007 energy bill a little more than a year ago, it was supposed to herald a new golden age for ethanol production.

But like all alternative energy, the ethanol industry finds itself in a rough patch, as I report in Thursday’s New York Times.

Senator Jeff Bingaman, the powerful chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a New Mexico Democrat, says Congress may need to help more.

Corn ethanol plants are closing almost every week, and many technological hurdles remain before advanced biofuels made from cellulosic materials like wood and sugar wastes can be become commercial. Private investment money is drying up.

It was not supposed to be that way when Congress mandated a doubling of corn ethanol use to 15 billion gallons a year by 2015 and the use of an additional 21 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels produced from materials collectively known as biomass. Now the 2010 target for cellulosic ethanol of 100 million gallons produced appears virtually impossible to meet.

“Obviously the ethanol industry is in some difficulty now,” Senator Bingaman said in an interview. Mr. Bingaman said he sympathized with the industry’s desire for more loan guarantees and said he thought government regulations that limit ethanol content to 10 percent of most gasoline blends should be reconsidered.

“I believe we could go to E-12, or E-14 or E-16 without causing any great problems with vehicle operation,” he said. (Is that your professional opinion as a degreed chemistry scientist or your gut feeling as a greedy politician Mr. Bingaman? - j)

The E.P.A. and the Energy Department are currently conducting tests to see if higher blends would be good for the environment without hurting car performance — as many drivers suspect. Senator Bingaman said he thought results would be out within a year or so.

More ethanol in blended gasoline is a high priority for the ethanol industry because gasoline consumption is declining due to the weak economy. With the current blend limitations, ethanol executives are concerned that too much ethanol will be produced for the market and there will be no room for the advanced biofuels.

“There is no doubt when we wrote that bill in 2002 we did not anticipate the recession we are currently sinking into,” Senator Bingaman said. (You guys never do. - j) “Exactly what that requires us to do as far as changing the law I am not clear on yet. (You never are. -j) It’s possible we will have to look at the targets again.’’ (Possible? You guys don't know how to stop meddling. - j)

The new Obama administration has not pronounced a specific ethanol policy yet. But an administration official released the following statement at the end of last month:

“We recognize that the biofuels industry – like so many other industries – is struggling under a faltering economy. We are working with Congress and assessing ways to help the industry as a whole in the stimulus package, as investing in advanced biofuels is important to the President’s broader goals of reducing dependence on foreign oil and growing rural economies.”


Well-Known Member

Study: Cellulosic ethanol needs a lot of help to be competitive

BY PHILIP BRASHER & DAN PILLER • [email protected] • February 15, 2009

Producing ethanol from grasses and other cellulosic feedstocks in significant quantities will require government measures to keep oil prices relatively high and reassure investors. There also will have to be some big leaps in technology.

Those are the clear messages from a study funded by General Motors Corp. and conducted by Sandia National Laboratories. The study hasn't been peer-reviewed yet.

The researchers looked at the feasibility of producing as much as 90 billion gallons of ethanol, 75 billion from cellulose rather than corn, by 2030. That's the energy equivalent of 60 billion gallons of gasoline. (90 billion = 60 billion. What a bargain. -j)

The study found that cellulosic ethanol could be competitive if the price of oil is at $90 a barrel. (Crude oil traded at about $35 last week.) That assumes, among other things, that biorefineries could produce 95 gallons of ethanol from every ton of biomass, which is something like a 50 percent increase from what's possible with current technology.

The study says energy crops would have to be produced on 48 million acres of land that is now idled or in pasture. (The main source of idled land is the 34 million-acre Conservation Reserve Program.) The researchers didn't calculate the impact on food prices of converting all that pasture to fuel crops.

The report's not-so-startling conclusion is that the "cost competitiveness of ethanol is directly dependent on the price of oil and the realization of technological improvements."

- Philip Brasher

(In the meantime, nobody is happy. Imagine that if you will. -j)

Environmental groups go after ethanol

Some environmental groups are trying to turn up the pressure on the Obama administration and Congress to roll back incentives for corn ethanol.

Five organizations, including the Environmental Working Group and Friends of the Earth, would like to use energy and climate bills coming up in Congress this year to restructure the financial incentives for biofuels. At the very least, the groups are keeping pressure on the Environmental Protection Agency to tighten greenhouse-gas standards for ethanol.

Among other things, the groups want to phase out the existing tax credit for ethanol and replace it with one that would be tied to environmental, health and consumer protections. However, representatives of the group couldn't name any lawmakers in Congress who are willing to take up their cause.

In a statement, the groups say:

"We are spending billions of dollars in tax credits and infrastructure development for biofuels that: increase greenhouse gas emissions and exacerbate other serious environmental and public health challenges; contribute to the global food crisis; insignificantly impact oil consumption and do little or nothing to lower transportation costs; and favor some parts of the farm sector at the direct expense of others."

The Renewable Fuels Association called the environmentalists' attack "simply another effort to repackage the same stale and unfounded rhetoric that the Environmental Working Group and its cohorts in the big food and meat processing industries have been espousing for months."

- Philip Brasher


Well-Known Member

Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Corn Ethanol: A Health Warning

Pollutants emitted as a result of corn biofuel production could have serious impacts.

By Anna Davison

Switching from gasoline or corn-based biofuels to cellulosic ethanol--made from the stalks and stems of plants--could have more health and environmental benefits than previously recognized, according to a study of different types of transportation fuels.

The environmental and health costs associated with cellulosic ethanol are less than half those of gasoline and of corn ethanol, the study found.

The analysis looked at the impacts of cellulosic and corn-based biofuels and of gasoline. It accounted for many possible impacts, including those from the energy used in refineries, the pollutants pumped out of car tailpipes, and the consequences of cultivating corn or other plants used to make biofuel.

This is the first study to focus not just on the environmental impacts of fuels, which have already been the subject of considerable scrutiny and debate, but also on the consequences for human health. Air pollutants emitted as a result of fuel production and consumption can cause breathing problems and aggravate asthma, and have been linked to premature death.

"We wanted to see which fuels are in the best interests of society to develop," says Jason Hill, a resident fellow in the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment and the lead author of the study, which was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on February 2.

Cellulosic ethanol was the clear winner in the analysis. Switching to cellulosic ethanol from gasoline could significantly reduce the amount of pollutants emitted during fuel production and consumption, Hill and his colleagues found. Ethanol burns more cleanly than gasoline, and crops cultivated to produce biofuel also absorb carbon dioxide. Cellulosic ethanol is a better alternative to corn ethanol because it requires less fertilizer than corn ethanol to produce, and there's no energy required for heat at biorefineries. Biorefineries that produce cellulosic ethanol actually generate excess electricity by burning lignin.

Biofuel produced from corn grains has environmental and health costs that are equal or greater than those of gasoline, depending on whether natural gas, coal, or corn stover is used to generate heat during the production process, the study found.

The findings aren't unexpected, according to Roger Sedjo, a senior fellow with Resources for the Future, a nonprofit group that conducts independent research on environmental, energy, and natural-resource issues. But he adds that they are "interesting and important."

Lester Lave, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who has written extensively on energy economics, lauds Hill and his colleagues for their efforts to quantify fuel impacts. "It's a brave paper," he says. "It does as good a job as you can do at this stage."

To estimate the environmental and health costs of fuel production and consumption, Hill and his colleagues focused on the two most harmful emissions: fine particulate matter, which can aggravate lung diseases and has been linked to heart attacks in people with heart problems, and greenhouse gases. They used an analysis from the U.S. EPA to monetize the health impacts of fine particulate matter, including lost work days, hospital visits, and early deaths. They also used independent estimates of carbon mitigation costs, carbon market prices, and the social cost of carbon to calculate the cost of greenhouse gases.

Hill and his colleagues calculated the emissions associated with a billion-gallon increase in ethanol production and consumption, or the equivalent amount of gasoline--about the same as the rise in U.S. gasoline production from 2006 to 2007.

For gasoline, the combined climate-change and health costs of that increase are $469 million, the researchers concluded; for corn ethanol, they range from $472 million to $952 million, depending on the production method; and for cellulosic ethanol, they are between $123 million and $208 million, depending on the plant material that's used to produce it.

Evidence against corn ethanol has been accumulating in recent years. It takes a lot of energy to grow corn and to ferment the kernels to produce ethanol, and considerable amounts of greenhouse gases are produced in the process. Hill's analysis suggests that corn ethanol could also create more health problems than gasoline.

However, Satish Joshi, an environmental economist at Michigan State University, who wasn't involved in Hill's study, says that he "wouldn't rule out corn ethanol" yet: "It's proven, well-established technology." Although Joshi says that he's pleased to see more evidence of the advantages of cellulosic ethanol, it's a newer development, and there isn't yet a way to produce it economically. Conversely, "corn has the longer history and the established manufacturing base . . . Cellulosic ethanol is still technologically unproven," Joshi says.

Hill's study compared three ways of making ethanol from corn--using natural gas, coal, or corn stover to generate heat at biorefineries--and four processes that produce cellulosic ethanol--from corn stover, switchgrass, prairie grasses, or Miscanthus, a tall perennial grass--and he says that the results show how much difference production methods can make in the overall impacts associated with fuels.

The impacts associated with fuels vary according to where the fuel is produced, Hill found. The health costs associated with airborne particles vary considerably, he says, depending on atmospheric conditions and population density.

"Maybe there's a way to spatially locate production of biofuel to get maximal health benefits" out of a switch from gasoline, Hill says--something that he plans to investigate.

His analysis assumes, for the sake of simplicity, that the additional corn or other plant material needed to produce biofuel is grown on grasslands that are currently part of the U.S. Conservation Reserve Program. Hill says that in reality, increased biofuel production will likely encroach on land that's now used to produce other crops, triggering a cascade of land-use changes. If rain forests in other countries are cleared to make way for crops, for example, the impacts in terms of climate change could negate the benefits of switching to biofuel to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

By taking into account the health consequences of fine particles, Hill looked at "one additional thing off a huge list" of possible effects that also include erosion, pesticide contamination, and petroleum spills", says Soren Anderson, an assistant professor at Michigan State University, who focuses on biofuels as part of his research on energy and environmental economics. "That additional thing made clear that corn ethanol is actually worse than gasoline, and cellulosic ethanol looks to be better."


molṑn labé
Staff member
Conservation is wonderful. Taking time to leave it a bit better than you found it is outstanding. Unfortunately, there is very little of that & a whole lot of political non-sense. Blaming mankind for ills not under our control and bein gthe first on the block to scream I'M GREENER THAN YOU!!! is boring & useless.

Our President, hopping aboard a massive jumbo jet, with many "protection" jets nearby, to fly to Colorado so he can stand next to a solar panel is a good example of what crap "the movement" is.

Want a greener planet? Do your part & leave everyone else to do theirs. It's not a race.


New Member
Blaming mankind for ills not under our control

But they're not doing that. They're talking about hings that are under our control.

Our President, hopping aboard a massive jumbo jet, with many "protection" jets nearby, to fly to Colorado so he can stand next to a solar panel is a good example of what crap "the movement" is.

No, if that's the best you can come up with then you don't really have any examples. If you thought about it rationally then you'd be able to see that presidential involvement can go along to further a cause and that protestion is necessary.


molṑn labé
Staff member
Burning 20,000 gallons of jet fuel instead of using a teleprompter. Great example.


Well-Known Member
I've been looking at a solar battery charger for my van, while it's sitting.
when it get's down to 20 bucks, I might buy....
50 is too much.
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