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THE ethanol thread

3313 Views 32 Replies 15 Participants Last post by  thekingofazle
Hows about some opinions, facts, discussion on ethanol.

Is it or will it be a viable source of energy? What effect will it have on our carb'd hot rods? What effect will it have on the agriculture sector of our economy? Could it ever be sustainable? Considering its an ag product, what about weather fluxuations creating an even more volatile fuel market?
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I dunno but the stock price of an ethanol producing company I'm watching just jumped. I'm interested to see what the general concensus is here. I'll probably buy on the next pullback. It is based on the commodity price of corn.
and sugar cane/sugar beets.
I dunno, but I am working on getting a bike that runs on alcohol. It will be my daily driver for a while....the Lightning is going to spend some time in the garage except for maybe the weekends.
The thing is, they act like this is all new technology but its been around for a VERY long time. I hate everytime I see the young hippies on the GM commercial acting all concerned about the environment acting like GM came up with the idea and is going to ride in on a white horse and save the environment.

There have been many many alternative fuels and power plants designed that are far better than the old piston motors we all love. It politics that keeps them from fruition
If you ask just about anyone what the greatest crisis of the 21st century is, they'll tell you that it's energy. Whether they directly express concern about energy or not, every response will have something to do with it, in fuel costs, electricity prices, and so on. As the world produces energy, billions of tons of pollutants are released into the atmosphere and environment. This pollution is a result of the methods we use, and have always used, to produce energy. From the beginning of time, energy has been harnessed in the form of fire - a method that is the most prevalent today. In all the hundreds of thousands of years fire has been used, we still have not changed the basic principle of the method in which we get our energy - a resource is consumed, and energy is extracted, in exchange for altering the chemical properties of the fuel. Fossil fuels are the backbone of the global economy - they power fleets of trucks, airplanes, ships; in fact, every method of global transportation is completely dependent on fossil fuels.

There are many reasons for this - first, fossil fuels are cheap, and the infrastructure has grown around it for a very long time. The ability to extract energy from them is easy. The fuel is easily distributed and can serve to power equipment that is miles away from a ground-based power plant. Basically, fossil fuels allow you to carry your energy in a package, and extract it when it is needed, regardless of the location.

But what about pollution? And what if this miracle resource, fossil fuel, dries up? Scientists have been estimating running out of fossil fuels since we have begun using them. While we have no idea when they will run out, the problem is that we are endangering our own lives in the process of giving ourselves economic growth - what good is economic progress if we're all dead from either rising oceans, toxic atmoshpere, or undrinkable water? So you don't think fossil fuels are something we're going to have to worry about any time soon - global warming won't really concern us for another few centuries. But what then? We drown? We choke on our own air? We kill off plants that are necessary to live?

Alternate energy solutions are everywhere. But the thing is, most of them aren't even long term solutions. Bio-diesel, bio-fuels such as ethanol, and all other derivatives that require combustion result in pollution. Yes it lowers energy costs in the short run, but does it change a thing in the long run? Not a bit. CO2 is emitted by every organic derivative fuel that we possess. Because of the very nature of consuming organic molecules, we emit greenhouse gasses. Want a good example of what greenhouse gasses can do under the right (or wrong) circumstances? Check Venus.

On top of that, in order to sustain the US's current energy demands, we would have to burn more ethanol than you could get if you converted ALL of America's farmland into strictly ethanol producing corn fields. So figure a more than double increase in agricultural productivity to sustain the US on ethanol and plant derived fuels.

So what does that leave us with, if we exclude all organic energy? Well, there are a few other sources out there. Nuclear power, for example. We have yet to master the art of nuclear fusion, unless it is in concordance with causing large-scale destruction. The feasibility of fusion on a small (read: non-stellar) scale is not even known. We can rule that one out for the forseeable future. And aside from that, where are we going to find large amounts of deuterium or tritium? Ionizing water? If we turn all of our water into helium we won't do ourselves much good. I suppose we could mount giant Bussard collectors on some space stations, but the amount of fusable hydrogen we would have to capture would be enormous, and most of the solar system's loose hydrogen is collected by the gas giants and the sun - not to mention solar wind blows most of it away anyways. If we could blanket the entire solar system in a magnetic field, perhaps we could collect enough to maintain our current energy demands - but despite those less-than-slight difficulties, we still haven't even sustained a fusion reaction!

So, nuclear fission, perhaps? Nuclear fission is the process that powers every nuclear reactor on the planet today. The release of neutrons from radioactive isotopes of Uranium and Plutonium heats water which drives turbines, turning generators and delivering electricity to the consumer. But once the radioactive metals decay, and their useful supply of neutrons is dissipated, we are left with tons of radioactive waste that is less useful than a pile of rocks, and a good deal more dangerous. We can bury them beneath the surface of the earth, and all that is required is a few hundred thousand years before they are safe to approach. On top of that, uranium and plutonium aren't renewable resources either. The Golden Rule: whoever has the gold makes the rules - in this century its black gold, in a fission powered world, it would be Uranium. To top the whole problem off, nuclear reactors can create radioactive materials that are quite good at producing weapons of mass destruction - on the order of destroying the entire planet. Whereas fossil fuels have the potential to slowly kill us, nuclear fission can kill us off in a manner of minutes. Simply creating a network of distribution for radioactive elements to supply power stations creates a network of distribution that criminals don't have to work hard to infiltrate. Skimming handfuls of fuel off of shipments will allow for the building of an atomic bomb in short order.

So what's left? We have a few choices - hydrogen fuel, and natural resources such as sunlight, wind, and hydro power. Let's address hydrogen first. Hydrogen is seen as mankind's Holy Grail for energy problems. If the fuel cell is mastered, humanity will be free from the burdens of energy crises. But the problem is, there isn't a great deal of hydrogen floating free in Earth's atmosphere. The answer by scientists is simply to make it - with water. Everyone knows the formula for water is H2O, two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen. So we must have a huge supply of hydrogen on the earth, since 70% of its surface is water. Well, thats true. But it takes considerable energy to extract the hydrogen from water - the conventional method is through electrolysis (no, not hair removal.) An electrical current is produced through an electrolytic solution of water. This current creates free molecules of both Hydrogen and Oxygen - if we capture both, we can combine them in a stoichiometric ratio and create energy later on, storing the fuel much in the same way as gasoline does now. There are a couple problems with this - first, is small scale use of hydrogen - not many people want a canister of liquid hydrogen sitting in their trunk. Gasoline is bad enough, but the potential for explosion of 1000psi of pure hydrogen is enough to make anyone think twice.

So, the solution would obviously be to develop battery powered forms of transportation, that can take energy from a power grid provided by a hydrogen powered power plant. This could possibly work - but again there is that mysterious problem that scientists seem to ignore. Where do we get the energy to split the water into hydrogen and oxygen? Fossil fuels? Well, that is self-defeating. All the benefits of hydrogen would be for naught if we made our supply by burning dino-juice to create useable hydrogen - in fact, our fossil fuel requirements would increase, because we cannot extract 100% of the energy from the hydrogen that we put in to extract it in the first place. Many people say once we have a hydrogen fuel system in place, we can use the power from the hydrogen power plants to split more water. That would be possible, however there's a problem. The though of using hydrogen in a power plant to make hydrogen that is used in the same powerplant is called something by scientists. It's called a perpetual motion machine, and any true scientist you talk to will agree that perpetual motion is impossible - the energy it takes to extract hydrogen from water is greater than the energy gained when it is recombined to form water. On top of that, when you detach a hydrogen ion (H+) from water and give it an electron to make it hydrogen gas, you get a molecule of hydroxide (OH-.) You might recognize the main ingredient of Drain-o as Sodium Hydroxide - the hydroxide ions are what make it so effective. We also create hydronium ions - the same thing that gives Hydrochloric acid its potency. These two combine with each other to form water - but only in pure distilled water with no problematic ions that can create toxic and insoluble wastes. That adds the energy cost of distilling the water in the first place - hardly a cheap solution. Clearly, hydrogen in itself is not a feasible source of energy.

What about natural resources for energy? Windmills, solar panels, hydroelectric dams. Well, those are great resources - they don't pollute as they are used, they generate power that is renewable and doesn't require a fuel source. What is the problem with this source then? Well, in order to meet the US' current energy requirements, the entire Mid-West would have to be covered in solar panels. It's hard to grow food under an opaque shield. Windmills would have to be literally everywhere to generate any considerable fraction of the requisite power. On top of that, wind isn't constant and predictable, and sunlight is very easily removed by clouds. It would be easy for clouds to cover a quarter of the Mid-West, and then say goodbye to your Playstation game you hadn't saved since level 3. We could store the energy in batteries - a few hundred billion of them - each containing lead and acids and toxic compounds. What we can see is that, while they provide power at minimal cost, the feasibility of using these things solely to power the world is minimal.

But what about hydroelectric dams? They are a great resource and can provide useable power for many - but there simply isn't enough moving water in the US to provide us with enough energy. If we dammed every river, not only would we have water allocation problems all over the continent, but we cannot even predict the change in weather patterns by such an event. Hydroelectric dams seem to create the biggest bang for the buck, but they have problems because they rely on scarce resources - namely, land, and rivers.

So where does that leave us? Well, we'll have to make the transition to natural forms of energy as fuel costs continue to skyrocket. More windmills, solar panels, dams, etc, and, in my own estimation, we'll see a giant increase in the number of geothermal plants (extracting heat from the earth's core,) which are a pollutionless and fuelless method of generating power.

Once you get a natural source of energy going, then you can use it to generate hydrogen and phase out the fossil-fuel forms of transportation - gasoline is so wonderful because its transportable. If you can find a way to generate the hydrogen with the help of another renewable energy source, we might have something good on our hands. But until that day comes, we'll be stuck on fossil fuels.

In short, ethanol won't last long. There isn't enough production, and you don't lose the drawbacks of fossil fuel - pollution. It may produce less, but not none.
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I take it you've researched this subject a bit....just out of long did it take you to write all that...or did you have it saved and copy and paiste???

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: norcal500 on 4/19/06 3:20pm ]</font>
It was an interesting read nonetheless...the only problem that i see with say hydrogen fuel cell cars or electric cars is that the only reason i like cars is because of the angry sound of a V8 at full throttle...if there was no more petrol/gas available and that sound was a replaced with the silent whirrr of an battery powered car (for example) i think i'd lose all interest in cars and probably take up skydiving so that i can still get the andrenaline rush


1980 XD Falcon
351c 238/[email protected]
9inch 3.5 gears

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: 351ciofgrunt on 4/19/06 5:56pm ]</font>
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I heard that if the ethanol was to be corn-based, it would take about the same amount of petro to produce a gallon of it as it would a gallon of gas. When you consider the petroleum used to process the seed, prepare the ground, plant the seed, produce the fertilizers & pesticides, harvest the corn, dry it, transport it & distill's a wash. There is, however some type of naturally-occuring grass that doesn't require the up-front energy to produce, and it's not an 'annual' crop like corn. This stuff is more cost effective, but farmers don't grow it. I can't think of the name of the grass...maybe somebody here knows. Anyway, that's the type of crop that would be necessary to even consider ethanol as an 'oil saving' alternative.

ONe thing about your little *note*

Tritium can't really even be suggested ad a source because it is Not Native to our Planet... All of the Tritium found on the Earth has come from, Like the Rugrats like to say, "Outside-Space"

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It' switch grass ,they are researching it's use here at Auburn.
FE, thats why I suggested using Bussard Collectors... they collect free hydrogen from space with magnetic fields.

And yes, I had most of that written... I wrote it a couple days ago and it took me about an hour and a half. Its not actually all of what I wrote - I went into the feasibility of geothermal energy a lot more. I didn't really do any research, just put things together from what I knew off the top of my head.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: thekingofazle on 4/20/06 4:14am ]</font>
I'm still holding out for perpetual Motion engine...Start it once and let it run, use the clutch to engage/disengage. No pollution, no problems...
From what I see, its just as reasonable any other alternative source on the horizon.

Like one mention. to get the high yeild need to sustain plant based fuel, you'll need to manage weather and heavily fertilize. Wonder what that will do to the ecology? solar power? what is the manufacturing, mining waste for panels, gonna cost? The machines used for processing have to run on something. There is no "Zero sum" process, there is always some energy (or matter) that is "lost" (as in of the laws of physics states, energy/matter can be transformed, but not lost.).

When we interrupt the natural cycle, by going directly to the source and start harvesting the building blocks of ecology, all the intermediate systems start to suffer. They are currently looking into the effects os harvesting Krill, minuet shrimp-like water creatures. The sustain life for anartic life. If we harvest it. then those creatures die off which sets off a chain reaction.

Old movie...Soilent Green explored that theme many years ago. the picture was not pretty.

We still have a few years to get it right...maybe?

"They that can give up essential Liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither Liberty nor safety"-- Benjamin Franklin

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Beoweolf on 4/20/06 5:20am ]</font>
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Brazil already has converted to ethanol based transportation. They now hold patents on sugarcane based ethanol which is more cheaply and easliy produced than corn or soy based products. This patent has the oil companies scared. The autos run cleaner and have comparable gas mileage to gasoline powered vehicles.

Hydrogen can now be contained in solid state and liberated for hydrogen powered vehicles. All we lack is the infrastructure to implement the technolgy. Its stored in solid metal hydrides.

I believe it's comming and sooner than you may think. I just don't think the US will be the first to implement it. To much big oil money here, Which in the end will cost us position in the world markets.

As far nuclear reactors go breeder or fast reactors are the wave of the future. With this process we can extract more energy from existing radioactive fuel as well as existing spent fuel thereby reducing existing waste stockpliles making for better management and safer waste disposal. check this link out.
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You can not get away from the obvious issue of distribuition cost. Distribution costs, energy losses and overhead make coversion to plant (bio-mass) based fuel very inefficent. As it stands, today, there is a net loss for production vs. food value (as in energy returned). As a recycle program, it is OK. But as a National energy plan it just doesn't model very well.

No disagreement with Brazil, and Cane based Alcohol based fuel. Unfortunately, alcohol based fuels come with problems of their own. Alcohol fuels react badly to low temperature, which makes them less useful in temperate regions, like much of the northern USA. In a lot of cases, conversion costs, for existing vehicles would exceed the value of the vehicle.

Brazil is a country with only a percentage of the US population and has even less vehicle owning persons, it has taken 15+ years to finally have a working infrastructure. I see and agree with the strides they have made, still...even they have to admit that there are problems that alcohol fuels can not address. I wonder how does the process transfer to using sugar beets, Corn, bio-mass other than Cane - sugar cane has very specific climate needs for optimal growth.

I agree, and have mentioned in other posts on this forum, the biggest issue in conversion to Alcohol, Bio-diesel or any foreseeable alternative fuel source will be developing the infrastructure. This is a real Chicken or the Egg dilemma...any fuel used in wide spread, commercial distribution must be available or the consumer will not feel comfortable making any trips far a field from his home base. I figure there should be multiple re-fueling stations within 1/2 the average range available in driving distance of the vehicle. If you notice, diesel vehicles haven't made big inroads in the US (although they are big part of the rest of the world)...for this same reason. We are not going to change, over night, to any new fuel source. Even if we could, what about the effect on marginal society?

Less than affluent people are not being accounted for in these Pollyanna visions. The average "Joe" will not go out an buy a new or used vehicle that costs more than his yearly income. so far, I have not seen any alternative fuel vehicles that are comparable in price, performance or capacity to gasoline vehicles, even diesel engine vehicles are out of reach - especially when you add in maintenance cost for repair.

Yes, the government subsidies Gasoline as a fuel, mainly because of a conscious choice. This country has a variety of climates, has enormous distances to travel and sparse populations scattered throughout those expanses. We chose not to use mass transit because it just doesn't model well for our total solution.

Before we make a mistake by imposing a solution modeled on one that that in works small closely integrated countries or in places where mobility is not expected; we need to address more of the issues, in detail, for a wider range of user models. I would require a fuller vision; plan and develop solutions that work, before making a wholesale leap of faith into the new world. For some reason, these strident calls for alternative energy vehicles don't seem to take into account the very real issues of the secondary automobile market. The one were families of more than 1.2 children, two income parents, living in an urban or suburban area, well served by commuter, mass transit. Some how all the real cost of conversion is once again being shifted on the back of the public, instead of coming up with a phased, workable solution. The public I worry about lives carefully from month to month, works 2 or 3 jobs to make a living, has to make a decision of whether to put food on the table or fuel in the car. Hungry kids tonight or miss work so he can feed them next week. Are we ready to make that decision … based on incomplete data?

I agree … something needs to be done, quickly. But phased conversion is much more viable than upsetting the current working model. The current systems developed over time. New solutions will need to be develop, overtime, to address the new issues. Using other models for ideas is great, but they don’t translate well as solution for our unique culture. We need to address the problems on a regional basis, under a National plan.

This will require cooperation, not rule by edict.
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Let’s open the discussion a little wider. The issue is not just energy; the how to get it, what form it is in, how it is used even where it is harvested, what form it is stored in are not important, all energy on this planet – ultimately are solar – the rest are impotent exercises that will bear flowers and flowery language, but ultimately, no fruit, no lasting solution. It is like trying to use aspirin to treat cancer. What is the root problem? The real issue it Human population growth.

The world is top heavy with net consumers, draining resources without putting anything back.

The explosive growth of human populations, something allowed by exploiting natural resources at an exponential rate, is the root cause of resource depletion. Human population, human consumption and related loss or conversion of natural resources is the issue.

The human condition, in the last century, has usurped the natural world. We have made it a mission to harness the natural world, instead if learning to live in it. If an area is prone to flooding, build dams, levees use pumps to maintain a human-friendly island. We convert prime agricultural land to suburbs...then fertilize the remaining, less fertile area to compensate, this means less wildlife, less forest, more dams for irrigation.

Just how long would our oil reserves last if population growth plateaued at its current level? What if it returned to the worldwide pre-industrial levels; would this discussion and alarm sounding be necessary?

As it stands, there seems to be a competition to see who can breed faster, claim more territory before addressing the real issue. We have freed our species from the arbitrary limiting effects of predation, limits of food acquisition, advanced age, illness , etc.

I see this not in the religious context, just in the practical blinding reality of how many people can the earth support, without irreversibly damaging that which we need to survive. All the other issues, including fuel...are secondary.

So, argue about alternative fuels to serve the energy needs of unrestricted population growth as much as you want. The Issue is really about human populations, what we are willing to accept as a sustainable lifestyle, where and how we establish or an equilibrium point in the world of finite resources available.

Everything else is finite, the only variable in the "final" equation is human population. Our population is the variable...reality is constant, we need to live with in our environmental limits. The earth is (currently) a closed system. Zero sum living is the reality....everything else is a palliative. Oil will run out, there is only so much ariable land, it takes energy to harvest energy, those are the facts.

Now what about my perpetual motion engine?
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I'm working on it. Should have it finished tomorrow afternoon.

There have been some good points brought up here. It seems as if ethanol is best used as a fuel suppliment in limited regions, mainly the midwest, where population is somewhat scarce and corn crops are plentiful. Nook-ya-ler cars are way over the horizon, and electric/battery powered definately have their problems, even though electricity itself can be generated using sustainable/naturally occuring means.

So the question remains, what is the next realistic/practical source of energy?

What about phasing out alot of petroleum based products? Ex. Use of cement instead of asphalt for road construction, minimizing the use of plastic packaging products, phasing out convential motor oils and switching over to synthetic, etc. Steps like that should reduce our use of arab gold, thus reducing prices, and conserving resources(at least to some extent). It might not be much, maybe only a few percent of total usage, but I think it would help.
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We should just colonize mars, and terraform it.

Theres a great short story by Isaac Asimov that talks about humans usurping the universe... It's only a page or two and worth the read... and it goes in a different direction, but it addresses the human condition pretty well...

Some people forget that poverty is not somehthing that is horrible and preventable, but is a cycle of life, and a safeguard to keep things in check. Survival of the fittest, in a way, is meant to keep the ecosystem in balance. Once we're no longer fit to survive... we won't.

What I think would be one of the coolest things ever would be to see the earth as it was, say, 20,000 years ago, before man had any sort of large scale impact on it. To be able to see the natural state of the world. Now if we could master faster-than-light transportation, we could just fly out a few thousand light years, and use a huge telescope to look back at the earth.

But, Beoweolf, you've forgotten one source of energy that isn't sun-derivative. Energy generated by the compression of gravity by the earth's mass. That energy source, while not permanent, will last much longer than any other source that is present now, excluding solar energy. Once you can exploit the principles of physics to generate energy, you gain a much more long-term energy source.
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Sdjiricek, it doesn't matter how radioactive the wastes are - if there are wastes, and they are radioactive, it is only a matter of time before we run out of radioactive elements - and distribute them across the world in the process, giving criminals an even greater opportunity to get them.

No matter how safe the waste, it is still a resource dependent form of energy. It may be implemented in the future, but it is not any more a long term solution than fossil fuels. On top of that, it's pollution is possibly more dangerous in its current state.

Ethanol is just the same as fossil fuels in the respect that it generates greenhouse gasses. There is no way around that. If you burn organic matter, you get CO2. Theres no way around it. On top of that, to completely change the infrastructure for an energy source that will eventually draw just as much criticism as the current system is just silly and a waste of resources.

As for storing hydrogen in metal sulfides, how safe does it sound for the environment to have millions upon millions of vehicles whose "fuel tanks" are incredibly toxic to life? Do we just throw them away when were done like everything else, and then die of the consequences? At least plants change the CO2 from combustion back into oxygen given time. Can we say the same for metal sulfides?

My point is, and I think its along the same vane as Beoweolfs, is that there is no infinite energy source. There is only so much carbon on the earth, all we do is redistribute it back and forth. The earth cannot support infinte exponential growth of humans because it is physically impossible - we'd end up seeing, like Beoweolf said, Soylent Green. Unless we can find that mystical method of converting energy to matter, we aren't going to have that long of a future. Even if we can, the universe is going to end one way or the other.
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