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Emerging petroleum alternatives

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
Points
23
If you've been keeping up on it oil companies have been revising their oil forecasts (downward). Shell is in trouble for fudging the numbers to "protect their shareholders". We're close to the peak. Perhaps closer than originally predicted.

Gas might be cheap in real dollars but just because we're not paying for it at the pump right now doesn't mean it we're not paying for it. It doesn't mean that as an energy source it's not a drain on the economy. It's obvious that the pressure is on to find a replacement.

So when, what and where are these alternative fuel forms going to come from.

I'm sure we've all studied up on the problems with hydrogen, feel free to discuss them.

Ethanol sounds great in theory but that sort of farming takes enormous petroleum inputs. Fertilizers, pesticides, farm equipment, shipping, processing, etc. Not to mention the fact that a lot of grain is grown on marginal farmland to begin with and requires serious irrigation. Where is the water going to come from? It's not like the Midwest doesn't have water problems already. How is it going to affect the price of grain? the price of grain fed livestock? The international grain market? While few places have issues with food availability many places in the developing world have problems with food affordability. Also, fertilizer inputs keep getting larger because crop yield keeps getting lower. The soil is being depleted. In a way it's just an energy transfer from the sun and the soil to your car. How will we address that?

What are the other emerging alternatives?
 

giff57

Corn Burning Fool
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
5,443
Points
34
jresta said:
Ethanol sounds great in theory but that sort of farming takes enormous petroleum inputs. Fertilizers, pesticides, farm equipment, shipping, processing, etc. Not to mention the fact that a lot of grain is grown on marginal farmland to begin with and requires serious irrigation. Where is the water going to come from? It's not like the Midwest doesn't have water problems already. How is it going to affect the price of grain? the price of grain fed livestock? The international grain market? While few places have issues with food availability many places in the developing world have problems with food affordability. Also, fertilizer inputs keep getting larger because crop yield keeps getting lower. The soil is being depleted. In a way it's just an energy transfer from the sun and the soil to your car. How will we address that?
That is simply not true. We pay huge subsidies to keep land out of production in order to keep prices up. New demand would reduce those.

There is not that much ground under irrigation, I am not sure where you got that information. Crop yields are increasing and new technology is limiting the amount of fertilizer that is needed.

What is happening in the midwest is pretty much the opposite of what you are claiming.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
The downward adjustment of oil reserve estimates is somethin I may actually believ in. It makes sense, given the Bush/Oil Administration's reckless warmongering to grab up all of the supplies available, demestically or internationally.
 

Wulf9

Member
Messages
923
Points
22
Today's paper noted that Bush may have more political troubles because of rising gas prices. If we had required higher fuel economy in cars, the prices would be falling. That's also a way to assure that the existing supplies of oil will last longer, so we don't have to look for alternatives as soon.

It was probably an unwise decision to think that physical control over oil producers would be an easy way to keep cheap oil flowing. It would have been a wise decision to reduce dependence, rather than attempting to increase supply.
 

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
Points
23
giff57 said:
That is simply not true. We pay huge subsidies to keep land out of production in order to keep prices up. New demand would reduce those.

There is not that much ground under irrigation, I am not sure where you got that information. Crop yields are increasing and new technology is limiting the amount of fertilizer that is needed.

What is happening in the midwest is pretty much the opposite of what you are claiming.
New demand for corn would reduce the demand for domestic subsidies. That's a good thing. But even if ethanol only substituted 25% of the US oil market we're still talking, what, 5 million barrels a day? An acre of corn yields 11.5 barrels of ethanol per year. To simplify things here you'd need 247,961 square miles of corn (producing the average 137 bushels per acre) to cover 1/4 of US demand for oil. The whole of Iowa makes up only 1/5 of that area. This means essentially that all productive land in 10 or so large midwestern/plains states would have to be completely dedicated to providing us with 1/4 of our oil needs.

You aren't familiar with the Oglala Aquifer that runs under part of your state? It was one of the largest freshwater reserves in the world but has basically been run dry by agricultural practices over the last century? We're talking mainly Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and North Texas here.

Crop yields may be increasing (i'll look into this more) but the only reason they're even able to maintain or not fall faster is because technology like fertilizers and genetic engineering are able to make up for the problems of soil depletion.

it's einstein - matter can neither be created nor destroyed - it simply changes forms. You're taking nutrients from the soil, combining it with sunlight, turning it into carbon through photosynthesis, burning it in your motor, creating CO2, and putting it into the atmosphere. It's something you just can't get around.
 

giff57

Corn Burning Fool
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
5,443
Points
34
jresta said:
Crop yields may be increasing (i'll look into this more) but the only reason they're even able to maintain or not fall faster is because technology like fertilizers and genetic engineering are able to make up for the problems of soil depletion.

it's einstein - matter can neither be created nor destroyed - it simply changes forms. You're taking nutrients from the soil, combining it with sunlight, turning it into carbon through photosynthesis, burning it in your motor, creating CO2, and putting it into the atmosphere. It's something you just can't get around.

The soil isn't being depleted because most of the vegetative parts of the plant is returned to the soil. Your point would be vailid if the entire biomass was being removed and processed, but just the seeds are processed.

They are also working on producing ethanol with genetically engineered yeast. They have a ways to go but it shows some promise.
 
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jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
Points
23
giff57 said:
The soil isn't being depleted because most of the vegetative parts of the plant is returned to the soil. Your point would be vailid if the entire biomass was being removed and processed, but just the seeds are processed.

They are also working on producing ethanol with genetically engineered yeast. They have a ways to go but it shows some promise.
sorry, i just have a hard time believing that - given the nature of agribusiness - that stalks and husks are going to be returned to the soil and not get used as biomass.

famer orgs. seem to be aware of the problem
http://deltafarmpress.com/ar/farming_soil_fertility_farmers/

http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/worldsoils/papers/land-degradation-overview.html

http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/worldsoils/papers/land-degradation-overview.html
 

giff57

Corn Burning Fool
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
5,443
Points
34
jresta said:
sorry, i just have a hard time believing that - given the nature of agribusiness - that stalks and husks are going to be returned to the soil and not get used as biomass.

famer orgs. seem to be aware of the problem
http://deltafarmpress.com/ar/farming_soil_fertility_farmers/

http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/worldsoils/papers/land-degradation-overview.html
In some cases corn stalks and leaves are feed to cattle, but the resulting waste is put back on the field. What do you mean by "used as biomass"?

The first link is a study by a fertilizer org. supporting the need for more fertilizer use, the second deals with mostly desertification of some pretty marginal areas of the world. Seems to be a debate how much is climate change and how much is human activity. I was focused more on what goes on in the US, and farmers pretty much dealt with those problems in the 30's. Now they test the soil using GPS and apply fertilizer where it is needed in the proper amounts on the fly.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
The greater threat to soil fertility is the adverse impact of tilling. Anyone in the country can attest to the fine layer of dirt that ends up on windows, or if they are open, the contents of your house on a windy day. The original prairie cover has been stripped away, allowing wind and rain to erode the topsoil. Beyond that, undisturbed soils have a complex conglomeration of minerals, insects, fungi, bacteria, plant material, and etc., that work in harmony to develop the soil and its fertility. Plowing destroys this system, ultimately leading to poorer growing conditions and the need for artificial stimulants (fertilizers) that never can match what originally existed.
 

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
Points
23
*1987 National Resources Inventory, USDA SCS
In 1987, it was estimated that about 3.9 billion metric tons of soil are lost each year through the processes of wind and water erosion. About 70% of the total is eroded from agricultural land.

But more to the point, i don't think we have a California and Nevada sized area that we can dedicate to growing corn - and if we did i don't think you can plant the same crop in the same place, year after year, without seriously affecting the quality of the soil.

As well, i don't think you can convert that large of an area to grain (for fuel) without throwing the world grain market into a tizzy.

Don't get me wrong, i think it's a great idea and i think that it will be great for a lot of midwestern farmers (the family farmers that are left) who could use the extra cash. It might help to hold the line on gas prices for a while but I don't see it making up more than 10% of domestic demand - assuming that all of it stays domestic.

what then? natural gas? electric or hydrogen from coal or nuclear?

obviously none of these can make up 100% of the market and all of them have their own distribution limitations. I take it seriously because the problems will confront us before I retire and i think the transition to new sources is going to be painful for regions that aren't preparing new infrastructure/delivery systems.

A lot of people are in denial about it and as such they're planning for a petroleum only future that won't exist.

p.s. - http://www.biomass.org/
 

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
Points
23
bringing it back from 3 years ago . . .

How is it going to affect the price of grain? the price of grain fed livestock? The international grain market? While few places have issues with food availability many places in the developing world have problems with food affordability.

And so it begins. Castro was poking at this a few months ago . . . when our appetite for gas takes food off the table.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article2324406.ece
 

DetroitPlanner

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
6,241
Points
27
What I find interesting about the E-85 debate is that the mid-west is full of high quality farm fields that are laying unused. This is particularly true in the areas immediate to a cities growth edge and in far flung places such as northern michigan where I suspect current market conditions make it hard to grow a crop for export/long distance shipping.

I'd love to see if by making farmland more economically viable we can slow down the exponential growth of cities in terms of acres chewed up at their edge by low density development becomes less feasible, reinvestment would be more likely to occur within older areas.

I would also like to see the current unused farmland used for farming to help combat (through economics) the ultra low density increase of farms that grow nothing more than giant lawns.
 

JusticeZero

Cyburbian
Messages
367
Points
12
I saw that there was some research on a method of converting biomass and hydrogen into synthetic gasoline.
 

wahday

Cyburbian
Messages
3,960
Points
23
New demand for corn would reduce the demand for domestic subsidies. That's a good thing. But even if ethanol only substituted 25% of the US oil market we're still talking, what, 5 million barrels a day? An acre of corn yields 11.5 barrels of ethanol per year. To simplify things here you'd need 247,961 square miles of corn (producing the average 137 bushels per acre) to cover 1/4 of US demand for oil. The whole of Iowa makes up only 1/5 of that area. This means essentially that all productive land in 10 or so large midwestern/plains states would have to be completely dedicated to providing us with 1/4 of our oil needs.
I think that we should not be looking to ethanol to completely replace our current gasoline consumption and I don't think that is the value of a resource like this. We are never going to find any one thing to entirely replace what we use gasoline for. What we are more likely to see is a diverse range of alternative fuels emerging such that a filling station may one day offer, say, five fuel types (or more), instead of just gasoline and diesel. Ethanol is just one of several concurrent fuel options to be bringing online. It also underscores the value of flexible fuel vehicles that can use a variety of fuel types.
 

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
Points
23
I think that we should not be looking to ethanol to completely replace our current gasoline consumption and I don't think that is the value of a resource like this. We are never going to find any one thing to entirely replace what we use gasoline for. What we are more likely to see is a diverse range of alternative fuels emerging such that a filling station may one day offer, say, five fuel types (or more), instead of just gasoline and diesel. Ethanol is just one of several concurrent fuel options to be bringing online. It also underscores the value of flexible fuel vehicles that can use a variety of fuel types.
I can see the benefit to the consumer in all of that but how expensive is it going to be to have 5 separate systems for extracting, refining, distribution, storage, etc.?

But the types of biofuel available isn't really the point here, it's that farmland is being taken off the table to instead produce fuel so people can idle in traffic.

As D-Planner says, i'd love to see a return of farming to the suburban frontier to keep that sprawl in check but even if it does it's not likely to reverse the effect that biofuels are having on food prices.
 

Paul Tergat

Member
Messages
4
Points
0
Today's paper noted that Bush may have more political troubles because of rising gas prices. If we had required higher fuel economy in cars, the prices would be falling. That's also a way to assure that the existing supplies of oil will last longer, so we don't have to look for alternatives as soon.

It was probably an unwise decision to think that physical control over oil producers would be an easy way to keep cheap oil flowing. It would have been a wise decision to reduce dependence, rather than attempting to increase supply.
Higher fuel economy in cars is not the answer, it is horribly inefficient from an economic standpoint - and it would severely punish our domestic auto manufacturers. Any economist in the world will tell you the way to improve fuel efficiency is to raise the federal gas tax, not raise the CAFE standard.
 
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