They Call It Corn, We Call It Pollution

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CEI has a new paper out on why the ethanol solution to global warming and high fuel costs may be too good to be true:

Even without ethanol, the world is facing a clash between food and forests. Food and feed demands on farmlands will more than double by 2050. Unfortunately, the American public does not yet understand the massive land requirements of U.S. corn ethanol nor the unique conditions that have allowed sugar cane ethanol to make a modest energy contribution in Brazil.

The United States might well have to clear an additional 50 million acres of forest–or more–to produce economically significant amounts of liquid transport fuels.

From the group that brought us the amazing (and totally accurate) slogan "Carbon dioxide: They call it pollution. We call it life."

Read a few more thoughts about booze-fueled cars and the promise of ethanol here and here.

NEXT: Where have you gone, Chesley Bonestell?

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  1. Thank you saving me the trouble of bringing up that CEI ad.

    Tim, why do you run this crap?

  2. Corn? That’s not very imaginative. There are millions of acres of Candian land that can be plowed under and planted with Sugar Beets…

  3. How exactly is this different from those who said in the 1970s that overpopulation would outstrip our food supplies in 20 years? Or those who said we would run out of oil in 30? Those past claims are rightly mocked on this site. This seems like a pretty similar “based on current trends and technologies”-type prognostication.

  4. Oh, Corn.

    This being H&R, I misread.

  5. no love for ethanol here, it’s obviously more fuel for the corn lobby, but since when did being a libertarian require denying the conclusions of science? i thought that was the business of republicans… er, CEI, i guess they are basically republicans.

  6. Look, a topic I happen to know about.

    First. Corn is dumb. It’s fueled (pun possibly intended) by the corn lobby.

    Second. The energy folks from the CEI don’t know what the hell they’re talking. I know this because one of their cretins posts on the NRO every so often. I could say a whole lot more about them or just leave it at that . . .

    Third. Coal is the answer in the short term. Coal to ethanol is much more practical than biomass, especially corn. Also, the $1B Futuregen project would actually be completely feasible now at a much lower cost if there was incentive for anyone other than the loathsome DOE to do it. I guess this should also be mentioned: the US has many times more coal than the world has oil.

    Fourth. Fusion power is the future. By then, battery technology will be such that liquid fuel will no longer be an issue.

    Fifth. Our country is way behind on this. The Bush Asain Energy Thingy is a good thing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t include Europe who, along with China and Japan, are way ahead of us on these issues. If you don’t believe me, search for papers on emerging energy technology, especially gasification. It’s depressing.

  7. I need to take back something.

    I don’t how on a heating value basis if the US has “many times” more coal than the world has oil, but we get to keep all of our coal. So for all practical purposes, that is true. The last estimate I heard was that at the current expansion rate, we have enough coal for 300 years. I believe those estimates assume that coal is used in the same percentage in the future (for utility power, it’s about 60%).

  8. One more thing. Whether it’s coal or biomass, the process is essentially the same. A Fischer-Tropsch reactor makes syngas (H2 and CO). From there, various catalysts are used to make pretty much any kind of hydrocarbon one would want.

    The Nazis were doing this on a relatively large scale during WWII. Taking out their coal gasifiers gave us a big leg up on the Luftwaffe. I think people were doing it successfully as early as the 20’s.

    And nearly a century later . . .

  9. Who killed the corn car?

  10. Congratulations, Katherine Mangu-Ward!

    You just confirmed that you are not worth reading!

  11. Carbon dioxide is life?

  12. Thoreau, I like to think the reference to the “totally accurate” CEI CO2 ad was an admittedly failed attempt at snark.

    Though perhaps your argument is that a blogger who can’t *successfully* snark on the CEI CO2 ad is a blogger who just hasn’t got what it takes to make it on Hit & Run.

  13. My decision to ignore is hereby suspended pending evidence of snarkiness.

    If the appellate process does not produce evidence of snarkiness, I will ignore, and the ignorance will be permanent.

  14. Exhibit A: Author works for Reason – excuse me, reason – magazine.

    Exhibit B: Blog entry was posted to Hit & Run.

    The defense calls no witnesses, so confident is it in its case.

  15. Maybe if she had put it as “totally accurate” (:P), it might have helped.

  16. Maybe the snarkiness didn’t come through because there is absolutely nothing in the entire post to suggest anything but total acceptance of what the CEI has to say about energy and the environment. There are also two links to Reason articles agreeing with the basic premits of the latest CEI report.

    As sad as it is, it would appear that that sentence is a genuine expression of the author’s opinion.

  17. Without chemicals, life itself would be impossible.

    (Note to Monsanto: please e-mail me for the address to send the check.)

  18. I find reasonable doubt on the issue of snarkiness, so I will not at this time engage in ignorance.

    I hereby order the posters to snark away at the previous sentence.

  19. What’s the complaint again? I’ve read on several occasions that corn production for fuel will require large tracts of land. Its conversion efficiency has also been challenged when compared to other forms of biomass. That’s not an argument against ethanol, it’s just an observation about the comparative utility and costs of the ethanol-production process. I don’t think it’s settled that ethanol production results in a net energy gain, either, which is an issue.

    Personally, I like a system that allows us to switch between energy sources. There’s the Brazilian approach, which allows one to switch between ethanol and gas, or there’s the electric car option, which would allow any number of energy sources (e.g., gas, ethanol, solar, hydroelectric, nuclear, fusion, a billion hamsters). I like the latter, at least in the long term.

    See the Popular Mechanics article on alternative fuels for more fun.

  20. I am anxiously awaiting the day when farmers in the midwestern sprawlvilles like Indianapolis and Columbus (O) start buying up houses in order to knock them down and plant corn.

    As for KWM, well- she’s no Shika Dalmia…

  21. Oh, and another thing: You call it corn, we call it maize.

  22. PL-

    Skepticism about ethanol is fine. I harbor some of that skepticism myself, in fact. (At least until cellulosic ethanol becomes feasible.) Admiring the CEI ad, however, is just plain messed up.

    But since there is reasonable doubt about whether it was a poorly-executed snark, I will not judge her too harshly.

  23. thoreau, it seems snarky to me, if that means anything. If she remembers the corn-maize-Mazola commercial and is making a sideways reference to it, it’s even funny.

    To engage in a Hit & Run flashback, why aren’t you out there researching fusion power for the good of humanity? Why not? Bastard. I briefly dated a girl at Florida who was actually aiming her physics career at fusion research. That was back in the mid-80s. Wonder how that worked out for her? Couldn’t have done too well, given that it’s still “another twenty years away”. Someday, with luck, lots of effort, and tons of money, it’ll only be “another ten years away”.

  24. thoreau, it seems snarky to me, if that means anything. If she remembers the corn-maize-Mazola commercial and is making a sideways reference to it, it’s even funny.

    To engage in a Hit & Run flashback, why aren’t you out there researching fusion power for the good of humanity? Why not? Bastard. I briefly dated a girl at Florida who was actually aiming her physics career at fusion research. That was back in the mid-80s. Wonder how that worked out for her? Couldn’t have done too well, given that it’s still “another twenty years away”. Someday, with luck, lots of effort, and tons of money, it’ll only be “another ten years away”.

  25. Pro Lib,

    “What’s the complaint again? I’ve read on several occasions that corn production for fuel will require large tracts of land. Its conversion efficiency…”

    You know, mag lev trains are a really great technology. Nonetheless, I’m not going to be thumbing through any Lyndon LaRouche pamphlets any time soon.

    Same with with whatever CEI has to say about ethanol.

  26. Well, I don’t know how much credibility CEI has on this or other issues. Though I know one thing: the politics of energy interest me far less than the technology and the economics do.

  27. Kudos to Brian24’s comment about reverse scaremongering by the Right.

    BioEthanol really is only useful for making BioDiesel, on its own it has less energy than gasoline. bleh

    And then, 7 out of ever 8 acres of arable land is used to feed animals for the meat market. So really the price of meat would compete with the price of BioFuels. People won’t starve, we just pay more for meat.

    And Corn is as many mentioned, stupid. There is much talk right now about using Poplar trees to produce ethanol, among other dedicated plants (Hemp, Bamboo etc), as well as from waste vegetable matter.

    Hybrid drives will minimize the need for BioFuels. And nifty new batteries will potentially mmake fuel burning cars obsolete, among other technologies.
    http://tinyurl.com/oyq8s
    And to power these batteries, even if Fusion stands for ‘Forever out of our Vision’, there is still this:
    http://tinyurl.com/q7zo2

    So I am all, “What Me Worry?” [insert Alfred face]

  28. How about a bunch of new nuclear power plants to generate power for creating hydrogen (via extraction from seawater or some such) to use cars powered by fuel cells?

    Also I recently read about some small start up company that claims they have some new electicity storage device (they claim it’s not a battery per se) based on ceramics I think, that can charge up to in just a few minutes and will have enough power to drive a car for 500 miles on just $9.00 worth of electricity.

    I’ll believe that one when I see it.

  29. I recognized the conflict between farming for food and farming for fuel on a Peak Oil thread last year…

    Peak Oil is so last week…

    I predict that biodiesel will replace gasoline at $4 a gallon. In fact, as petroleum production costs rise past that price, there will be a large but painless shift in the developed and developing world to vegetable-derived transportation fuel.

    But in the undeveloped world disaster awaits…. As the hungry industries demand more and more plant oil, it actually outcompetes food crops on lands in the undeveloped world. The western world, China, and India push more and more people from their farms, increasing displacement and potential famine throughout the nonindustrial nations.

    In 2016 Peak Vegetable Oil arrives when a man named Morris leads a transnational rebellion against the vegetable oil interests. He organizes the vegetable oil producing nations into VOPEC and extracts huge price concessions from the industrialized world. Worldwide depression follows. Oh, and all the economic laws you ever knew anything about fail, yadda, yadda, yadda.

    “Peak Vegetable Oil” is not snappy enough. I will call my theory “Collapse of the Wesson World”.

    Can I be on Fresh Air now, or do I have to write a book first?

    Since we are one year closer to 2016, I can improve on this prediction: I am no longer certain the person who will lead VOPEC will be named Morris.

    If the CEI would front me some money, I could write the book for them. I will mention CEI on Fresh Air, but promise no other favoritism specific to their wishes.

  30. How about a bunch of new nuclear power plants to generate power for creating hydrogen (via extraction from seawater or some such) to use cars powered by fuel cells?

    Also I recently read about some small start up company that claims they have some new electicity storage device (they claim it’s not a battery per se) based on ceramics I think, that can charge up to in just a few minutes and will have enough power to drive a car for 500 miles on just $9.00 worth of electricity.

    I’ll believe that one when I see it.

  31. “Also I recently read about some small start up company that claims they have some new electicity storage device (they claim it’s not a battery per se) based on ceramics I think, that can charge up to in just a few minutes and will have enough power to drive a car for 500 miles on just $9.00 worth of electricity.”

    I’m not going to use a calculator for this one, but this is my best shot. $9.00 is about 90 kW-h or about 120 hp-h. Assuming the car is travelling 50mph, the trip would take 10 hours for an average of 12 hp.

    It isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility if the car is a go-kart.

  32. “How about a bunch of new nuclear power plants to generate power for creating hydrogen (via extraction from seawater or some such) to use cars powered by fuel cells?”

    Excess hydrogen is already a byproduct of several industrial processes. The fuel cell technology is what needs to catch up.

    This is going to be the future until fusion power is mastered.
    http://www.fossil.energy.gov/programs/powersystems/futuregen/

  33. Gilbert Martin,

    “How about a bunch of new nuclear power plants to generate power for creating hydrogen (via extraction from seawater or some such) to use cars powered by fuel cells?”

    IMHO, the reality of global warming has changed liberals’ environmental calculus to the point that a Grand Bargain, incuding this proposal, could be made.

    Is there any chance we could be seeing tankers full of Icelandic hydrogen docking in our ports? If they can liquify natural gas for transport, why not hydrogen?

  34. Here is the link to the story about the electical storage device powering a car for 500 miles on $9.00 worth of electricity.

    Draw your own conclusions as to the validity of the claim. As I said, I will believe it when I see it.

    http://money.cnn.com/2006/09/15/technology/disruptors_eestor.biz2/index.htm

  35. “IMHO, the reality of global warming has changed liberals’ environmental calculus to the point that a Grand Bargain, incuding this proposal, could be made.”

    Well we are going to have new nuclear power plants anyway – regardless of whether any of that power is used for hydrogen generation or not. A bunch of the electric utility companies are going through the permitting process for new ones and the federal government is going to be helping expedite the process of getting it done instead of putting roadblocks in the way as has been the case in the past.

  36. Gilbert, apparently, they don’t have a website because they’re “super-secretive.” In my mind, this lends them a lot of credibility. Perpetual motion machines always have a website and no product.

    Apparently, it’s just a really badass parallel-plate capacitor. It appears to have a small footprint and seems practical. I’ve got hope. The claims they made must be based on a large commercial electricity contract, as these can be significantly less than residential prices.

    On the nuke plant thing, I’m not sure what the rush is. France, through an international consortium, is in the process of building the first fusion plant. I guess I don’t really understand the rush for more fission plants now considering they’re more expensive than modern coal plants and will soon be obsolete technology.

  37. Gilbert,

    Gettting the permits from the federal bureacracy is one thing; actually building them with a few hundred people lying in front of the bolldozers is another. Nuclear plants are not going to be rammed down the throat of an unwilling public. People are scared shitless of those things getting built in their area.

    Boo hoo hoo, that’s not fair, people are being irrational – deal with it. Them’s the breaks. The only way a new generation of nukes are going to get off the ground is if there is a broad, bipartisan effort to acquire the consent of the public, and that can only happen as part of a very public process of creating a Grand Bargain.

  38. I don’t buy the notion that the general public is against nuclear power plants.

    It’s mostly the noisy leftist activists that are against them.

  39. Most people aren’t against them as long as they’re not in the fallout area.

    One of the coal plants in my neck of the woods was replacing an old steam chiller with two of the giant hyperbolic variety (like in the Simpsons). There were huge protests from the locals, thinking they were building a nuke. This is one of those areas beyond the suburbs but not completely rural, the kind of place that votes 80% Republican.

  40. I’ll be in favor of new nukes when we get the government the hell out of the whole power generation industry. Then, at last we can find out whether nukes really are cheaper than fossil fired plants on the free market. The answer proves to be interesting.

    Comparing nuclear to coal, on one hand you have a whole lot of pretty toxic waste, while on the other you have a little bit of really incredibly toxic waste. It’s never been obvious to me which is actually cheaper, and I used to work in the industry.

    Nonetheless, given the choice of living next door to a nuke or a coal burner, I’d live next to the nuke any day. If the radioactive fall out level around a nuke ever got to even a fraction of what’s typical for a coal burner, they’d shut the nuke down.

  41. OTOH, I’ve always wondered why we don’t harness the power of rodents. Rats, for example, breed like flies, a truely renewable resource. All you have to do is put them on little tread mills and give them a hit of speed every so often, while showing them movies of big ugly cats coming at them.

    Oh, I forgot, the war on drugs. Silly me.

    But you’re all going to think I’m crazy when the headlines read “Rutan’s Mars Voyager To Be Powered By Hallucinating Iguanas”.

  42. Ghenghis, I’m against government regulation almost everywhere also, but the number of toothless hicks makes me think that a nuke plant might be a pretty good place to start.

    Concerning radioactive release in coal plants, I’ve heard that Uranium and Thorium exist in the ppm range, but I’ve always assumed they’re captured in the ESP. Also, I’m pretty sure they both oxidize. If that’s so, a SCR-scrubber combo would take care of it. Am I wrong?

  43. Power of rodents?

    That’s strictly small time.

    If you want a truly non-ending source of power, just start tapping into all that hot air coming out of the politicians mouth’s whenever Congress is in session.

  44. Power of rodents? You mean, like “a billion hamsters”? Can I patent this concept?

    Actually, I reject your rodents and substitute a power source of my own. Consider the movie version of Conan. Get some kids, lash them to the arms of a wheel connected to some gears and a crankshaft, and make them turn it for many years. At the end, the kids who survive will be in great shape, and we’ll have “free” power. Simple! I figure ten years is fair, say from age 13 to age 23.

    Not only will this solve our energy woes, it will also help slow population growth, end the obesity epidemic, end completely the use of drugs by teens, keep kids off the road, and give parents a much needed rest. In addition, with Conan-like physiques and killer technology, the American army will be invincible. Oh, and we’ll educate the kids while they work by nonstop audio lectures on a variety of topics. So they’ll be well educated, too. Those that survive, that is.

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