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Due Diligence: A reader’s response to Khosla (on biofuels)

Engineer Poet, The Oil Drum
(A response to the recent post by Vinod Khosla on The Oil Drum: “Imagining the Future of Gasoline: Reality or Blue-sky Dreaming?”)

…As a long term solution, electricity has far more promise than ethanol. The best thing about electricity is that there are so many different ways to generate it, including renewables. Solar and wind are growing quickly. There was an amazing and little noticed posting here a few weeks ago that showed that official U.S. government projections have wind power producing more added megawatts than any other source in 2007! New solar technologies from Nanosolar and others are revolutionizing that field as well.

In addition, from the Peak Oil perspective, there is also the possibility of coal generated electricity to get us past an oil and natural gas production peak. (BTW, Khosla’s ignorance of a possible near-term natural gas production peak is another big mistake in his analysis – he can’t ramp up ethanol the way he wants without using coal, because there’s not enough NG.) And then of course nuclear is a possibility as well – anti-nuclear policies are a luxury of an energy-rich age where people can easily afford alternatives. Once that changes, nuclear power will suddenly look a lot more attractive.

Another good thing about electricity to power the transportation infrastructure is that most vehicle charging can be at night, when current power lines are underused. It will still be necessary to beef up our transmission and generation capabilities, but not be as much as simple energy equivalence would suggest.

In short, electricity has both a short term path that is attracting investment and consumer interest, and a promising long term story for how an effective and efficient vehicle transportation system can be operated. It has the trajectory that ethanol is lacking. It is where Khosla should be putting his energy and his money.
(13 Aug 2006)

Deconstructing the Virdian case for ethanol

(Original: “The conceit of positive thinking”)
monkeygrinder, Peak Energy (Seattle)
I at first ignored Bruce Sterling’s recent ethanol Viridian note. Though he exhibited an incomplete understanding of energy, and his conclusions were weak in this case, I have immense respect for his Viridian writings, not to mention his literary output in general. In terms of the Viridian list over the last few years he presciently discussed global warming issues and consistently frames the solutions as a solvable design problem, while heaping scorn on the correct targets. Exxon Mobil, for example.

…What really concerns me is the lack of balance in these optimistic scenarios. A good engineer doesn’t live in the grandiosity of their future bridge or engine or widget – they make a pessimistic assessment of every single thing that can go wrong, account for them, or risk design failure. There are also physical limits that must be accounted for. Accounting for limits is not pessimism.

Unfortunately, he followed up the ethanol note with — a few more corny ethanol postings, reproducing in one a limp marketing screed authored by a Senator from Corn and Vinod Khosla, containing such unsubstantiated claims…

Let us re-visit Bruce Sterling’s original Viridian note in this light and answer some of his answers.
(11 Aug 2006)

China Targeting Growing Biofuels 12x by 2020; 15% of Transportation Fuels

Green Car Congress
China, already the world’s third largest ethanol producer, is planning on a dramatic expansion of its production and use of biofuels for transportation from about 1 million tonnes of ethanol and biodiesel in 2005 to 12 million tonnes in 2020. Twelve million tonnes of biofuels would represent about 15% of the transportation fuel pool in 2020.

In China, diesel consumption is twice that of gasoline. Therefore, of that 12 million tonnes of biofuels, China wants biodiesel to represent 8 million (about 2.4 billion gallons US), according to a recent report by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. With biodiesel production in 2005 at only 100,000 to 200,000 tonnes (30 million to 60 million gallons) that represents at least 3,900% growth in 15 years…

Although the potential demand for biodiesel in China is enormous—as is reflected in the goal for 2020—China’s primary difficult it the lack of eligible feedstocks.

China is a net importer in all the major edible vegetable oils, the largest importer in the world. Coupled with the lack of fatty organic matter, the lack of land upon which new crops could grow exacerbates the difficulty of biodiesel production.

(13 Aug 2006)

Biodiesel Boom brings Demand for Vegetable Oil to Record heights

Fresh Automotive
Because of the increasing demand for biodiesel, the global demand for vegetable oils has grown to record heights, leading to higher prices for vegetable oil. This is the conclusion of a study done by Rabobank’s Food and Agribusiness Research that was presented earlier this week at a biodiesel conference in Alberta, Canada.
(12 Aug 2006)