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Biofuels Starving World’s Poor

The drastic rise in prices for corn, rice, and other staples that is wreaking havoc in parts of the developing world is due in large part to Western investment in biofuels, according to a recent report of the World Bank.

Biofuels Starving World’s Poor Figure 1 The rising trend in international food prices continued, and even accelerated, in 2008. U.S. wheat export prices rose from $375/ton in January to $440/ton in March, and Thai rice export prices increased from $365/ton to $562/ton. This came on top of a 181 percent increase in global wheat prices over the 36 months leading up to February 2008, and a 83 percent increase in overall global food prices over the same period (see Figure 1).

Increased bio-fuel production has contributed to the rise in food prices. Concerns over oil prices, energy security and climate change have prompted governments to take a more
proactive stance towards encouraging production and use of bio-fuels. This has led to increased demand for bio-fuel raw materials, such as wheat, soy, maize and palm oil, and increased competition for cropland. Almost all of the increase in global maize production from 2004 to 2007 (the period
when grain prices rose sharply) went for bio-fuels production in the U.S., while existing stocks were depleted by an increase in global consumption for other uses. Other developments, such as droughts in Australia and poor crops in the E.U. and Ukraine in 2006 and 2007, were largely offset by good crops and increased exports in other countries and would not, on their own, have had a significant impact on prices. Only a relatively small share of the increase in food production prices (around 15%) is due directly to higher energy and fertilizer costs.

The observed increase in food prices is not a temporary phenomenon, but likely to persist in the medium term. Food crop prices are expected to remain high in 2008 and 2009 and then begin to decline as supply and demand respond to high prices; however, they are likely to remain well above the 2004 levels through 2015 for most food crops (Table 1).

Biofuels Starving World’s Poor Food Prices Table

Forecasts of other major organizations (FAO, OECD, and USDA) that regularly monitor and project commodity prices are broadly consistent with these projections. Predictions of high food price in the medium run are further strengthened when we factor in the impact of policies aimed at achieving energy security and reduced carbon dioxide emissions, which may present strong trade-offs with food security objectives.

More details are available in the backgrounder, “Rising food prices: policy options and World Bank response” [PDF].

World Bank President Bob Zoellick was on NPR this morning talking about this.

Demand for ethanol and other biofuels is a “significant contributor” to soaring food prices around the world, World Bank President Robert Zoellick says. Droughts, financial market speculators and increased demand for food have also helped create “a perfect storm” that has boosted those prices, he says.

The soaring costs of food and fuel led to riots in Haiti and Egypt and a general strike in Burkina Faso this week. Skyrocketing food prices are topping the agenda this weekend of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund annual spring meetings in Washington.

Zoellick held up a bag of rice during a news conference Thursday to illustrate the severity of the food crisis. “In Bangladesh a two-kilogram bag of rice … now consumes about half of the daily income of a poor family,” he said. “The price of a loaf of bread … has more than doubled. Poor people in Yemen are now spending more than a quarter of their incomes just on bread.”

And Zoellick says prices for basic staples will remain high for an extended period of time. “I think you have a perfect storm of things coming together,” he tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep in an interview. “You have high energy prices. You have the increase in demand from some of the developing countries. … As the Indian commerce minister said to me, going from one meal a day to two meals a day for 300 million people increases demand a lot. “You have some of those countries moving to a different diet. So more meats require more grains. You have the biofuels expansion, which is a big source of demand.”

It has long struck me as wrongheaded, if not immoral, to take cheap, efficient sources of nutrition to turn them into expensive, inefficient fuels. A gallon of ethanol produces roughly two-thirds the energy of a gallon of gasoline and is far more expensive. And, while farmers and, especially, processors make more money by the increased demand for biofuels, it means that food is now out of reach for millions.

Where to draw the line on these things is unclear. It’s inefficient to feed grain to livestock in order to produce meat — another trend highlighted by Zoellick and the report. But at least that’s turning food into a more desirable (if not necessarily more healthy) food.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I agree completely with this statement

    It has long struck me as wrongheaded, if not immoral, to take cheap, efficient sources of nutrition to turn them into expensive, inefficient fuels. A gallon of ethanol produces roughly two-thirds the energy of a gallon of gasoline and is far more expensive. And, while farmers and, especially, processors make more money by the increased demand for biofuels, it means that food is now out of reach for millions.

    It’s also perverse from an economic standpoint.

    While I agree with practically everything in the World Bank’s findings, I’m concerned about what isn’t in the report, namely that significant factors in the rising prices are the agricultural and trade policies of some of the countries most affected, e.g. China, India, Pakistan, Nigeria and agricultural subsidies in the West.

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  2. BrandonM says:

    Another negative effect of the popularity of biofuels is the incentive to clear carbon harboring forests for farmland to produce these biofuels. In our rush to replace oil some unintended consequences have been overlooked.

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  3. Paul says:

    Can we finally stop paying people not to grow things and also agricultural price supports? They seem especially absurd in this new context. Where is McCain on this, straight talk that those are wasteful spending, or does he pander to the ag interests like everyone else?

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  4. Bithead says:

    They’re called ‘alternative fuels’ for a reason, folks. they’re not ready for prime time, now, nor will they ever be, for the most part. They’re a nice to have, assuming there’s no colateral damage, but that’s all. And there has been, as James rightly points out, damage, already.

    While there are alternative fuels, there’s very little available, particularly to the poor, in the way of alternative FOOD.

    Wouldn’t we be better off talking the huge amounts of money we’ve been pouring into biofuels, and putting it elsewhere… meanwhile, removing the regulations on using what oil we have here in the States? We have enough oil, by many estimates, right here in the US, even assuming current use growth rates, to last 60 years… given the current drilling technology. It seems reasonable to assume that in the next 60 years, that technology will improve, and more oil will be found, which will extend that even further.

    It’s time to admit it; The left has screwed us over for generations on the question of energy, and the environment. What shortages have occurred, and the price we’re paying at the pump now, is due to our own shortsightedness, in our refusal to use what resources we already have, in the name of ‘the environment’. It’s “for the kids”.

    We’re all worried that our use of carbons will cause ‘global warming’. That myth has been disproven many times over. Moreover, the solution being presented by biofuels is no solution at all, but instead produces greenhouse gasses at a rate far higher than oil burning does. Meanwhile, the poor starve. Gee, guys, great solution you promoted.

    The answers are simple: Domestic oil and Drilling. Including ANWR, and anywhere else it exists. Period. No holds barred.

    And, of course added refining capacity with some diversity in the locations of thsoe reinding efforts. It’s never made much sense to have all our refining ability established in a region prone to hurricanes, where it can all be wiped out thus creating product shortages. Remove the governmental red tape to establishing new refineries.

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  5. Michael says:

    We have enough oil, by many estimates, right here in the US, even assuming current use growth rates, to last 60 years… given the current drilling technology. It seems reasonable to assume that in the next 60 years, that technology will improve, and more oil will be found, which will extend that even further.

    Oil is not a sustainable source of energy, there is a limited supply available and it can’t be replenished fast enough. More importantly, Oil is only available here on earth, it’s a useless source of energy on the moon, space stations or Mars. Sooner or later we are going to need one of those alternative sources of energy, so we had better figure out which ones work and which ones don’t.

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  6. Michael says:

    We’re all worried that our use of carbons will cause ‘global warming’. That myth has been disproven many times over.

    I’m pretty sure nobody has disproven the chemical properties of carbon dioxide that make it a greenhouse gas.

    Moreover, the solution being presented by biofuels is no solution at all, but instead produces greenhouse gasses at a rate far higher than oil burning does.

    Yes, but how much CO2 is produce by burning a fuel isn’t what is important, what is important is the net increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. Since biofuels get nearly all of their carbon from the atmosphere, burning them doesn’t create a net increase.

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  7. Michael says:

    And, of course added refining capacity with some diversity in the locations of thsoe reinding efforts. It’s never made much sense to have all our refining ability established in a region prone to hurricanes, where it can all be wiped out thus creating product shortages.

    The reason they’re located there is because is cheaper. Nobody wants to truck crude oil across the nation to refineries. You already have tankers bringing crude oil over, you may as well refine it where you unload it. The gulf coast is the ideal place for refineries when you take into consideration the cost of distribution. And it’s not like they don’t know about hurricanes, I don’t recall any of them being significantly damaged by hurricanes in the past.

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  8. Dave Schuler says:

    Finding new sources of oil and improving the efficiency or current extraction and refining methods are part of the solution but they aren’t the only factors or solutions.

    We also need to conserve. Recently the Vice Chairman of Chevron testified before the Senate and that was part of his message. Even the oil companies see the need for conservation.

    Conserving will be facilitated if we stop subsidizing increased oil consumption, which we do in dozens of way.

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  9. Magnus says:

    EVERYTHING the government touches turn into crap. Always has been the case–always will be the case. The liberal solution? MORE GOVERNMENT!!

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  10. Bithead says:

    Let’s take these in reverse order:

    The reason they’re located there is because is cheaper.

    Taxes, mostly, and egulations hat madate added costs in new constructino… which is why we’ve not built a new refinery in this country wince Jimmay Carter infested the WH.

    I’m pretty sure nobody has disproven the chemical properties of carbon dioxide that make it a greenhouse gas.

    Perhaps not… but “Global warming” proven to be a myth. Which negates CO2 being a problem at the off, doesn’t it?

    Oil is not a sustainable source of energy

    (Sigh) Well, the way it looks now, we can continue on the path we’re on for a couple hundred years, yet. And clearly, Biofuels are not sustainable, unless you don’t care how many people starve to power your Prius.

    Sooner or later we are going to need one of those alternative sources of energy, so we had better figure out which ones work and which ones don’t.

    Chew on this for a while: Demonstrably Biofuels do not work. James has done a reasonable job at pointing that out, and I’m sure more proofs along the same line can be added were someone to take the time. And yet, we’re still spending tax dollars o it, and our laws are now set up to lean us in the direction of what doesn’t work. Further, our left is still touting biofuels as some sort of panecea. How can we discover what does and doesn’t work, when as a whole we’re so unwilling to admit what doesn’t work, while we try to regulate out of existance what energy sources DO work?

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  11. Dave Schuler says:

    BTW I disagree with the title of this post and its implications. There’s nothing wrong with biofuels per se

    But the first, current generation of biofuels use corn, sugar, soy beans or other food sources and cultivation of the above for use in biofuels competes with its use for food.

    That doesn’t have to be the case. For example cellulosic ethanol produced from switchgrass doesn’t need prime farmland or lots of fertilizer. It’s not competitive with food production. But it is biofuel.

    Biodiesel produced from waste oils which would otherwise be discarded is biofuel, too. So is oil produced from algae (also a good way of utilizing the excess carbon dioxide produced by oil refineries).

    So the problem isn’t biofuels and I believe that biofuels are part of the solution to future energy problems. To the extent that biofuels increase the price of grain—that’s an issue for the current generation of biofuels and I don’t believe we should subsidize them.

    From a political standpoint one of the problems is that once a subsidy has been granted it’s darned hard to eliminate: the costs are diffuse and the benefits are concentrated. Consequently, those receiving the subsidy are highly motivated to lobby to retain it while those paying for it aren’t nearly so motivated to eliminate it.

    To me that’s a pretty good argument against subsidies as a matter of principle.

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  12. Bithead says:

    For example cellulosic ethanol produced from switchgrass doesn’t need prime farmland or lots of fertilizer. It’s not competitive with food production. But it is biofuel.

    It’s also a natural habitat. the Snail-darter folks won’t like you much, I suspect.

    Biodiesel produced from waste oils which would otherwise be discarded is biofuel, too

    Reasonable. Cooking oil for example, you’re saying. Can you imagine, though? “Help with America’s energy: eat more deep fried food”. (Snicker)

    So is oil produced from algae (also a good way of utilizing the excess carbon dioxide produced by oil refineries).

    There again, a natural habitat, and unintended consequences.

    So the problem isn’t biofuels and I believe that biofuels are part of the solution to future energy problems. To the extent that biofuels increase the price of grain—that’s an issue for the current generation of biofuels and I don’t believe we should subsidize them.

    Well, yes, I’ll agree here. But as the current regulatory situation describes to us rther well, subsidy is only half the deal. Regulations on energy compnaies and unfunded mandates are the other half. Remove all such, and make the playing field a true level one, and we’d be back to about a buck a gallon for gasoline, and Biofuels would assume their rightful place as an outlandishly costly experimental fuel with no real possiblity of adoption in general use.

    And of course the impact of all of this on our economy, would be positive beyond all recognition… And that’s an issue we should address, here. How much is this nonsense costing our economy as a whole? How much gets wasted, for example, on fleets of E85 vehicles, that could better be used elswhere?

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  13. Michael says:

    Perhaps not… but “Global warming” proven to be a myth. Which negates CO2 being a problem at the off, doesn’t it?

    No more than the Flying Spaghetti Monster has been proven to exist. Is “Appeal to Google result counts” another of your new logical fallacies?

    CO2 traps heat in the atmosphere, this has been empirically proven. Burning oil and coal causes a net increase in CO2 in our atmosphere, this has been empirically proven. You can find studies saying whatever you want to hear, but you can’t change the fundamental nature of chemisty.

    (Sigh) Well, the way it looks now, we can continue on the path we’re on for a couple hundred years, yet.

    A couple hundred years may seem long to you, but I would imagine the people living in 2208 would rather we spent the money developing an alternative source of energy. We can trace human civilization back over 7 thousand years. Please try to think beyond your own lifespan.

    And clearly, Biofuels are not sustainable, unless you don’t care how many people starve to power your Prius.

    As Dave noted already, the most promising biofuels are not also sources of food. The first generation used food sources because they were readily available, they prototyped the technology. The new generations use faster growing, higher yielding, and non-food sources.

    Demonstrably Biofuels do not work. James has done a reasonable job at pointing that out, and I’m sure more proofs along the same line can be added were someone to take the time.

    No, there is nothing fundamentally or theoretically limiting biofuels. Biofuels are basically solar aggregators, the only fundamental limiting factors are light, time and land. Everything else is an implementation issue.

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  14. Food Prices…

    FOOD PRICES….This has been all over the news lately, but here’s a particularly striking chart showing the stunning increase in food prices over the past year. It looks an awful lot like NASDAQ charts from 1999 and housing charts from……

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  15. Michael says:

    Remove all such, and make the playing field a true level one, and we’d be back to about a buck a gallon for gasoline, and Biofuels would assume their rightful place as an outlandishly costly experimental fuel with no real possiblity of adoption in general use.

    Oil is $100/42 gallon barrel. That is $2.38/gallon of crude oil. Stopping subsidies on biofuels isn’t going to reduce the demand for oil. How then do you propose the cost of gasoline will drop to anywhere near $1/gallon?

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  16. James Joyner says:

    BTW I disagree with the title of this post and its implications. There’s nothing wrong with biofuels per se

    A little marketing license with the headline, to be sure. Then again, to use the Clintonian defense, I used (the implied) “are” not “necessarily”

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  17. davod says:

    “Oil is not a sustainable source of energy, there is a limited supply available and it can’t be replenished fast enough”

    Every time there is a no more oil pronouncement more oil is found.

    US problems are mainly a result of arrogance. An arrogance bred of complacency. We have the resources, but we deign to use the resources.

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  18. Bithead says:

    Oil is $100/42 gallon barrel. That is $2.38/gallon of crude oil. Stopping subsidies on biofuels isn’t going to reduce the demand for oil. How then do you propose the cost of gasoline will drop to anywhere near $1/gallon?

    Go back again, and read.

    Regulations on energy compnaies and unfunded mandates are the other half. Remove all such, and make the playing field a true level one, and we’d be back to about a buck a gallon for gasoline,

    Get it, now? What shortages we have, are government-created.

    No more than the Flying Spaghetti Monster has been proven to exist. Is “Appeal to Google result counts” another of your new logical fallacies?

    It’s my way of suggesting some sources where oen can do their own research, instead of listening to the pablum being offered by the Al Gores of the world.

    No, there is nothing fundamentally or theoretically limiting biofuels. Biofuels are basically solar aggregators, the only fundamental limiting factors are light, time and land. Everything else is an implementation issue.

    Light time and land, are in fact what negates any chance of an oil replacement…The reality is we can’t grow enough to replace oil.. not nearly enough, no matter how much government money you toss at it.

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  19. Bithead says:

    One more point:

    Please try to think beyond your own lifespan.

    Why? Don’t you trust the people of 2208 to be smart enough to create their own solutiions? It’s not enough that we have to be the solution maker, diciating solutions by means of an all-powerful, all knowing, all caring government now, we need to dictate such solutions to future generations? Is there no limit to the thrill of power and control?

    That’s not being ‘visionary’, that’s power lust, pure and simple.

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  20. Michael says:

    Light time and land, are in fact what negates any chance of an oil replacement…The reality is we can’t grow enough to replace oil.. not nearly enough, no matter how much government money you toss at it.

    Why?

    Don’t you trust the people of 2208 to be smart enough to create their own solutiions?

    That’s like saying “Why worry about paying off my loans, I trust by kids to do it”. It even has the compound interest. Leaving the problem for our great grand children to solve will only make it exponentially harder for them to do so.

    now, we need to dictate such solutions to future generations?

    When has that ever not been the case? And when did that suddenly become a bad thing to you? I want to leave my children a better world than I inherited, you seem to be content to do whatever you want with the world you got, and then let your kids suffer through what is left.

    That’s not being ‘visionary’, that’s power lust, pure and simple

    Right, everything I do to improve the world is power lust, respectable people just trash the place because they don’t want to impose a clean world on future generations. Are you really that horrible of a person?

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  21. Grewgills says:

    If we are truly concerned about food supply we should stop paying for farm land to be left fallow.
    As Dave stated the most promising biofuels are not food crops and can be grown where traditional food crops cannot. Switch grass in some areas and mixed native grasses in others have far greater yields for far less costs once implemented. Some algaes have great potential as well*. Any subsidies should be targeted to plans that do not use food crops or land useful for food crops.

    Perhaps not… but “Global warming” proven to be a myth…It’s my way of suggesting some sources where oen can do their own research, instead of listening to the pablum being offered by the Al Gores of the world.

    and the scientists of the world as well.
    The Google search you provided turns up not one peer reviewed article and a good many links that run counter to your assertion.

    There again, a natural habitat, and unintended consequences.

    No, altered habitat and unintended consequences.

    Don’t you trust the people of 2208 to be smart enough to create their own solutiions…That’s not being ‘visionary’, that’s power lust, pure and simple.

    I guess passing the problems we create on to future generations is just giving them the opportunity to excel.

    * Many more articles are available on both if you can have good research library access.

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  22. Dave Schuler says:

    There again, a natural habitat, and unintended consequences.

    Not necessarily.

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  23. Bithead says:

    “peer reviewed” = “Echo chamber produced”

    I guess passing the problems we create on to future generations is just giving them the opportunity to excel.

    No, its recognizing they ahve their own problems to deal with, and allowing them to make the chocies which seem best to them, as oppsoed to thinking we’re smart enough to look into the future and mandate solutions. Does anyone remember the look into the future at the 1939 world’s fair? What would have happened if we’d tried to mandate solutions for today based on that warped picture?

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  24. Dave Schuler says:

    If we are truly concerned about food supply we should stop paying for farm land to be left fallow.

    Ab-so-damn-lutely.

    But here it gets complicated. In the United States we’re losing prime farmland at an alarming rate because the land is more valuable for other purposes than it is for farming. One of the reasons it’s not as valuable for farming as it might be is that too many countries have a policy of food self-sufficiency. They both subsidize their farmers and ban, tariff, or quota imports. Quite a few of the countries who have these policies are the ones with the most poor people in them.

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  25. Bithead says:

    That’s like saying “Why worry about paying off my loans, I trust by kids to do it”.

    LOL! You do understand you’ve just made an argument against standing Democrat fiscal policy, right?

    (/snark)

    Dave, your response noted, but the firewall I’m behind won’t allow me access to it; I’ll have to view/respond tonight.

    For calrity, what I’m suggesting there is the removal of alge would seem to be a removal of a food source. Fish tend to eat that biota, as I recall.

    And you know, while I have the editor open, I’ll make one more point;

    It’s been amusing to watch the presidential Nomination fight on the Democrats due to the fighting back and forth.. we’re racist if we don’t elect Obama, but then we’re a misogynist if we don’t elect Hillary Clinton.

    Now comes this issue; We’re anti-environment if we don’t follow the leader on the current push toward Biofuel… (Never minid that biofuel never really addresses the carbon issues, or the CO2 issues) but if we do use Biofuel, we’re starving the poor.

    And all of these arguments take on the status of ‘crisis’, as is usually the way of it.

    Am I the only one making note of these rather consistant patterns?

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  26. Michael says:

    “peer reviewed” = “Echo chamber produced”

    You don’t get to disregard science that easily. Science is a highly competitive field, so don’t think for a minute that having a study peer reviewed is just a rubber-stamp process. If one scientist can find a flaw in another’s study, he’s going to point it out.

    No, its recognizing they ahve their own problems to deal with, and allowing them to make the chocies which seem best to them, as oppsoed to thinking we’re smart enough to look into the future and mandate solutions.

    But you’re also advocating that we not try and solve the problems we’re creating, because we can just leave it to them to solve.

    LOL! You do understand you’ve just made an argument against standing Democrat fiscal policy, right?

    I’m sorry, who brought back deficit spending? But then again, you must also realize that you are making an argument _for_ what you believe is standing Democrat fiscal policy. I mean, why not just let our kids fix social security and democratize the middle east? Surely they’ll be smart enough to fix their own problems.

    For calrity, what I’m suggesting there is the removal of alge would seem to be a removal of a food source. Fish tend to eat that biota, as I recall.

    The proposals are to _grow_ the algae ourselves, most of them actually use CO2 emissions from traditional power plants to feed the growth of the algae in tubes or tanks. Algae grows fast, you can harvest a batch every week or so, and start the process over.

    Never minid that biofuel never really addresses the carbon issues, or the CO2 issues

    Didn’t I already correct you on this? Burning biofuels have almost no net effect on atmospheric CO2 levels, because it was atmospheric CO2 that created the bio matter to begin with.

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  27. Bithead says:

    Didn’t I already correct you on this?

    You did presume to do that, yes. You failed. I mean, use a little sense, man… the problem with CO2 isn’t down here the plants are going to get much of anything out of it… and increased levels of CO2 in the UPPER atmosphere are what the Gores of the world are complaining about. Where’s the first place the stuff is going to go?

    I’m sorry, who brought back deficit spending?

    Democrats.

    You don’t get to disregard science that easily.

    I think you mistaken… It’s not science I’m dismissing. It’s ‘concensus’, which is anything but science.

    But you’re also advocating that we not try and solve the problems we’re creating, because we can just leave it to them to solve.

    How is our using what’s available to us, creating problems? You may find this hard to fathom, but we’re not the center of the universe.

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  28. Michael says:

    I mean, use a little sense, man… the problem with CO2 isn’t down here the plants are going to get much of anything out of it… and increased levels of CO2 in the UPPER atmosphere are what the Gores of the world are complaining about.

    You’re right, I forgot about the stationary nature of the atmosphere.

    I think you mistaken… It’s not science I’m dismissing. It’s ‘concensus’, which is anything but science

    Peer review has nothing at all to do with consensus, and it was peer review that you dismisses.

    How is our using what’s available to us, creating problems?

    Jesus H Christ bit, you can’t actually be that stupid.

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  29. Bithead says:

    So the added CO2 in the stmosphere from burning corn won’t cause problems but the somehwat lesser amounts from burning oil will.

    Right. Got it.

    Jesus H Christ bit, you can’t actually be that stupid.

    You seem unwilling or unable to understand that the conditions facing future generations and the technologies avilable then are going to be quite different from what we have now.

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  30. Michael says:

    So the added CO2 in the stmosphere from burning corn won’t cause problems but the somehwat lesser amounts from burning oil will.

    What added CO2? That’s what I’ve been trying to get through to you, there is no added CO2 from burning corn!

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  31. Michael says:

    You seem unwilling or unable to understand that the conditions facing future generations and the technologies avilable then are going to be quite different from what we have now.

    The what we do here and now is going to determine what problems and technologies exist for those future generations. If we invest in biofuel technology now, they will have it in 200 years. If we don’t bother with biofuel technology for the next 200 years, it won’t spontaneously come into existance by itself.

    Action have consequences. What we do, here and now, determines the future. Maybe you actually are stupid enough to not understand this concept.

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  32. Bithead says:

    The what we do here and now is going to determine what problems and technologies exist for those future generations. If we invest in biofuel technology now, they will have it in 200 years. If we don’t bother with biofuel technology for the next 200 years, it won’t spontaneously come into existance by itself

    .

    Really?
    Hmmm. Who, 200 years ago, predicted the computer?

    How many times have we been told ‘we’re out of oil” only to find we ahve another 60 years worth?

    Face it, we don’t know the future.

    But we do know the present. As an example: David Patterson, the new Govenor up here in the Vampire state, just turned down what would have been the worlds first flating LP gas plant. Environmental reasons, suppsoedly. Any ability to increase production, and these folks turn it down. Every time. I mean, forget about increasing production. What does the Democrat do?

    “Mr. Paterson said the region could find other, more responsible ways to ensure sufficient energy supplies and he outlined a series of initial steps to meet growing energy demand. They include a new state energy plan and a $1 billion, 10-year program by the Long Island Power Authority to increase efficiency and to reduce energy consumption on Long Island.”

    So, instead of increased production, he puts together a new government spending program, suppsoedly to reduce consumption. Yeah, that’ll do it; it’s always worked so well before. More taxes, more government spending more regulation, more shortages, all so Patterson gets to act like he’s ‘doing something’, when in fact he’s part of the problem.

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  33. Michael says:

    Who, 200 years ago, predicted the computer?

    Pascal for one, Wilhelm Schickard for another. Computer didn’t just suddenly appear in the 1970’s, they were a steady progression of science and technology dating back hundreds if not thousands of years.

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  34. [...] on energy issues of late where Democrats, energy, and the environment is concerned. Both here, and elsewhere. Shying away from the one thing that will actually solve the problem; IE increased [...]

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  35. roger olson says:

    Well my wife and i just got back from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. Which is on the island of Borneo. And let me say that over there talking with my brother in law David some he told me how much rice is going up there. As guess what some of the farmers are doing? They are trying to grow more palm trees so there is more palm oil for bio-fuel. As less growing now on the rice paddys. So there is a lot of people over there complaining about the government not doing anything> Ha where have i heard that before. And on the news there was about Vietnam was stopping exporting some of its rice. AS the rush for bio-fuels has hit them too.

    My mother in law there was saying how she is spending more and more money every month now on Rice,{nasi}.

    And of course some politican was calling for price controls, ha at least one economist in one of the papers was saying how price controls would not work.

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  36. Grewgills says:

    So the added CO2 in the stmosphere from burning corn won’t cause problems but the somehwat lesser amounts from burning oil will.

    Do you really not understand?
    Fossil fuels are composed of sequestered carbon that is released as CO2 when combusted.
    Biofuels take up CO2 while growing which is then re-released when they are combusted.

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  37. Grewgills says:

    Where to draw the line on these things is unclear. It’s inefficient to feed grain to livestock in order to produce meat — another trend highlighted by Zoellick and the report. But at least that’s turning food into a more desirable (if not necessarily more healthy) food

    Diverting grains to livestock results in an approximately 90% loss of calories and a much more expensive package of calories.
    I was not able to easily find the mass of grains used in livestock feed vs fuel production. My guess is that livestock currently consume considerably more grain than is used for fuel production. If it is only 12-15% more* then livestock feed is responsible for more of the higher grain prices than biofuels.
    It would be interesting to see the actual mass of grains diverted to biofuels, livestock feed, and the change those masses over time. A quick search did not turn up reliable numbers. If anybody has access to them I would appreciate a link.

    * A safely conservative assumption. I would guess the disparity is considerably greater at this time.

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  38. Bithead says:

    Do you really not understand?

    IN fact, I do understand.
    I just don’t buy what you’re selling… specifically because I DO understand it.

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  39. Grewgills says:

    IN fact, I do understand.
    I just don’t buy what you’re selling… specifically because I DO understand it.

    Could you be specific?
    Do you not believe that fossil fuels are composed of sequestered C?
    Do you not believe that plants grown for biofuels take up CO2 and release O2 while growing?
    Do you not believe that some significant portion of that CO2 is re-released upon combustion?
    Where do you come by your opinions on this?

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  40. TJIT says:

    Grewgills said

    Fossil fuels are composed of sequestered carbon that is released as CO2 when combusted.
    Biofuels take up CO2 while growing which is then re-released when they are combusted.

    You are ignoring

    1. The massive amounts of carbon released when natural habitat is converted to farm ground to produce biofuel feedstock.

    2. The massive amount of petroleum required to plant, fertilize, harvest, manufacture and transport biofuels.

    It increasingly appears that biofuels cause the release of more carbon then just burning petroleum would.

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  41. TJIT says:

    Grewgills said

    Diverting grains to livestock results in an approximately 90% loss of calories and a much more expensive package of calories.

    I doubt the calorie usage is that straight forward.

    For example the amount consumed and calories converted will depend on the animal.

    Chicken and pigs are efficient at converting feed to meat. However, they don’t have the grazing capability cattle do.

    Cattle graze on grass for most of their life and then spend only three months in a feedlot being fed roughage and grain.

    Which means they create usable calories off land that would otherwise not be able to produce any human food and increase the overall human food supply.

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  42. TJIT says:

    The simple solution is to

    1. End ethanol mandates and subsidies

    2. End subsidies for grain production

    3. Stop paying farmers not to farm.

    Simple may not be politically feasible.

    However, it would finally provide some price signaling which would allow grain, livestock, and ethanol prices to reach some kind of economic ground truth.

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  43. TJIT says:

    Here is a good roundup that describes how much of a disaster biofuels are.

    Unintended Consequences
    The Politics of Biofuels

    “Simply said, ethanol production today using U.S. corn contributes to the conversion of grasslands and rainforest to agriculture, causing very large GHG emissions. Even if only a small fraction of the emissions calculated in this crude way [through land use change] are added to estimates of direct emissions for corn ethanol, total emissions for corn ethanol are higher than for fossil fuels.”

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  44. Grewgills says:

    You are ignoring
    1…

    Read my earlier comments and you will see that I have not ignored these.

    I doubt the calorie usage is that straight forward.

    It is not that straight forward, but 10% is a rule of thumb for conversion of plant calories to animal biomass.

    Cattle graze on grass for most of their life

    Cows are generally raised to yearlings then shipped to feed lots. Even cattle in HI are shipped to feed lots in the mid-west when they reach one year. Feel free to add shipping costs to cattle production as well.

    Which means they create usable calories off land that would otherwise not be able to produce any human food

    The bulk of the meat production occurs on the feed lots and much of the land they are grazed on is arable.

    1. End ethanol mandates and subsidies

    or simply target them as I suggested earlier.

    2. End subsidies for grain production

    This would mean less, not more grain.

    3. Stop paying farmers not to farm.

    Agreed.

    The article you reference is a criticism of first generation fuel crops, which I think we all agree are far from ideal.

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  45. TJIT says:

    Grewgills in your earlier comment you said,

    As Dave stated the most promising biofuels are not food crops and can be grown where traditional food crops cannot.

    The growing is the problem. As soon as you strip out the native range or forest massive amounts of sunk CO2 are released in the atmosphere. It does not matter which crop is grown it matters that the existing grassland or forest has to be destroyed to plant it.

    Switch grass in some areas and mixed native grasses in others have far greater yields for far less costs once implemented. Some algaes have great potential as well*.

    This is all vaporware. I don’t believe there is any commercial production of ethanol using switchgrass as a feedstock. Algae as a feedstock is the same story. Both face considerable technical hurdles before they can be commercialized.

    Any subsidies should be targeted to plans that do not use food crops or land useful for food crops.

    Might as well end the subsidies because the biofuel that meets that criteria does not exist.

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  46. TJIT says:

    Grewgills you said,

    Cows are generally raised to yearlings then shipped to feed lots.

    Yearling go to feedlot at (ballpark) 800-900 pounds, and are fed to a finished weight of (ballpark) 1200 pounds.

    Even cattle in HI are shipped to feed lots in the mid-west when they reach one year. Feel free to add shipping costs to cattle production as well.

    Shipping costs are already included:-) FOB

    The bulk of the meat production occurs on the feed lots

    Probably closer to 30 percent

    and much of the land they are grazed on is arable.

    Lots of cattle grazing land is not arable. Even if it is arable people need to understand that farming is not nearly as environmentally friendly as cattle grazing is.

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  47. Michael says:

    N fact, I do understand.
    I just don’t buy what you’re selling… specifically because I DO understand it.

    You don’t get a choice in buying it or not. Either you understand in, or you don’t. If you understand it, you know that biofuels don’t add new carbon into the atmosphere, like oil and coal do. If you don’t understand it, you say stupid things like “biofuels add CO2 to the atmosphere”.

    Your actions prove that you don’t understand it.

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  48. TJIT says:

    Grewgills, regarding my proposal to end grain subsidies you said.

    This would mean less, not more grain.

    Probably true.

    However, what you would get would be grain production that would be done in a more environmentally and economically sustainable fashion.

    It would also (most importantly) provide pricing information that is utterly missing in the current situation.

    Realistic pricing information, undistorted by government subsidies, would allow reality based decision making on animal feeding and land use decisions.

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  49. TJIT says:

    Michael,

    Actually you don’t understand it. Biofuels add lots of GHG to the environment.

    Unintended Consequences,The Politics of Biofuels

    “Simply said, ethanol production today using U.S. corn contributes to the conversion of grasslands and rainforest to agriculture, causing very large GHG emissions. Even if only a small fraction of the emissions calculated in this crude way [through land use change] are added to estimates of direct emissions for corn ethanol, total emissions for corn ethanol are higher than for fossil fuels.”

    Lets emphasize that last point again, biofuels are worse then fossil fuels from a GHG perspective.

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  50. Michael says:

    Lets emphasize that last point again, biofuels are worse then fossil fuels from a GHG perspective.

    Correction: The infrastructure for creating biofuels is worse that the infrastructure for attaining fossil fuels.

    If we shipped oil in baby seal hides, it would be quite bad for baby seals, but that is not something inherent in the use of oil. Burning ethanol extracted from plants does not release additional CO2. Using oil-fueled tractors, or clearing CO2 scrubbing forests is bad for the environment, yes, you’re right about that. But that is an implementation problem, which can be resolved, and is being resolved.

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  51. TJIT says:

    As a bonus biofuel promotion is leading to the destruction of the remaining orangutan habitat in Asia.

    Why are biofuels fueling deforestation?

    the scientific community is deeply concerned by a proposal by the Indonesian government to turn vast areas of Borneo’s remote and biodiverse rainforests into oil-palm plantations. The proposed expanse of monoculture threatens to obliterate the region’s legendary biodiversity

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  52. TJIT says:

    Michael, you said

    Using oil-fueled tractors, or clearing CO2 scrubbing forests is bad for the environment, yes, you’re right about that.

    But that is an implementation problem, which can be resolved, and is being resolved.

    (bold emphasis is mine)

    Could we agree that the politicians should have had the implementation issues worked out before they mandated the use of biofuels?

    I am certain that permanent environmental destruction is going to be done long before the implementation issues are resolved.

    The only question is how much damage and how bad it will be.

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  53. Grewgills says:

    TJIT,

    The growing is the problem. As soon as you strip out the native range or forest massive amounts of sunk CO2 are released in the atmosphere.

    Follow the links I provided and read. The most promising biofuels are native prairie grasses. That is what has traditionally grown there. This natural system would be taken advantage of and “enhanced.” It is not the typical strip and replant operation.

    Algae as a feedstock is the same story. Both face considerable technical hurdles before they can be commercialized.

    Again follow the link and read. Algae biofuel plants have already been built and are coming online.

    Might as well end the subsidies because the biofuel that meets that criteria does not exist.

    Again this is incorrect, as the links provided showed. There is a lot more out there as well. The argument you are now making was more or less true several years ago. It is no longer true.

    Yearling go to feedlot at (ballpark) 800-900 pounds, and are fed to a finished weight of (ballpark) 1200 pounds…Probably closer to 30 percent

    In the neighborhood of 40% of that 1200lbs ends up as meat for the consumer. The final several months on the fead lot are about adding muscle and fat rather than bone mass etc. The cows are gaining 300-400 lbs, primarily of meat and fat. The final butchered 1200lb cow yields 450-460lbs of meat.

    Shipping costs are already included:-) FOB

    In your environmental calculations?

    Lets emphasize that last point again, biofuels are worse then fossil fuels from a GHG perspective.

    Again, some biofuels are worse then fossil fuels from a GHG perspective. Others are far better.
    That some biofuel practices do more environmental harm than good is not an argument to stop biofuel production. It is an argument to target practices that have a net positive yield such as the types I have mentioned.

    In Indonesia, the forests will be cut down and habitat destroyed unless it is made more economically viable for the people to preserve that environment than to destroy it. If the trees are removed for chopsticks or palm oil the end result is the same for the habitat. Even when the habitat is officially preserved that preservation is often only on paper.

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  54. TJIT says:

    Grewgills said,

    Follow the links I provided and read. The most promising biofuels are native prairie grasses. That is what has traditionally grown there. This natural system would be taken advantage of and “enhanced.” It is not the typical strip and replant operation.

    I did and what your link described was complete, unmitigated vaporware.

    To my knowledge (correct me if I’m wrong) there is not one single commercial scale plant that is producing ethanol using the feedstock your link talked about. The yields are estimated and if history is any indication there are numerous technical issues that will make scaling up and commercialization of the process unfeasible.

    Yet the ethanol subsidies and mandates remain in place and they are causing enormous, environmental, economic, and social destruction.

    Until there is a proven, working alternative we should use the environmentally friendly alternative to biofuels … oil and natural gas.

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  55. Grewgills says:

    To my knowledge (correct me if I’m wrong) there is not one single commercial scale plant that is producing ethanol using the feedstock your link talked about.

    A few commercial scale ethanol plants are in operation and more large commercial scale ethanol plants are in construction now. The plants currently in operation use several grasses including switch grass. Any cellulosic ethanol plant could use the prairie grasses mentioned in the linked article.
    The linked algae article describes a commercial plant coming online. Dave linked video of an operating algae biofuel plant.

    Until there is a proven, working alternative…

    You have thusfar argued against the only realistic avenue of creating a proven working alternative.

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  56. TJIT says:

    Grewgills,

    You said,

    A few commercial scale ethanol plants are in operation and more large commercial scale ethanol plants are in construction now. The plants currently in operation use several grasses including switch grass.

    Could you provide some details that is awfully vague.

    You also said about my posts

    You have thusfar argued against the only realistic avenue of creating a proven working alternative.

    We could junk the current program and still fund research into workable alternatives to petroleum.

    And lets be honest $ 100 / barrel crude provides massive incentives and money for the development of a workable alternative to petroleum products.

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  57. TJIT says:

    Grewgills,

    As I said before cellulosic ethanol has considerable technical hurdles to overcome. There are abundant places for the process to fail utterly on the path between theoretical feasibility and actual useful production.

    The link below gives a good summary of these issues.

    The Logistics Problem of Cellulosic Ethanol

    The logistics of collecting and storing a million tons of corn stubble each year for an ethanol refinery are mind-numbing.

    It would take 67,000 semitrailer loads to haul the baled stubble out of the field. That’s 187 truckloads a day, or one every eight minutes. To complicate matters, the need for trucks, machinery and manpower would come during harvest, already the busiest time of the year on the farm. And that’s where a massive federal initiative into cellulosic ethanol may find its biggest bottleneck – on the farm.

    Even this ignores the fact that in many areas that organic material is needed to rebuild soil nutrients and would not be available as a feedstock.

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  58. Bithead says:

    You don’t get a choice in buying it or not. Either you understand in, or you don’t. If you understand it, you know that biofuels don’t add new carbon into the atmosphere, like oil and coal do. If you don’t understand it, you say stupid things like “biofuels add CO2 to the atmosphere”.

    Wrong.

    What comes out the exhaust pipe is vastly different than what comes out of the plant as it decompsoses. The nature of the former will more directly deliver CO2 to the upper atmosphere, increasing the concentration of Co2 at that altitdude.

    Add to that the idea that to grow such matter as it needed, we’ll be looking at wholesale clearcutting to create more farmland. Do you suppose that’s going to change the total CO2 picture?

    Is that really that hard to understand?

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  59. Bithead says:

    You have thusfar argued against the only realistic avenue of creating a proven working alternative.

    Mostly because it is neither.
    Have you anything else to offer?

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  60. Michael says:

    We could junk the current program and still fund research into workable alternatives to petroleum.

    So far you have been arguing that any technology that isn’t currently commercially successful should be junked. By that criteria, we should stop funding fusion research too, even through that holds the most promising long-term energy solution.

    As I said before cellulosic ethanol has considerable technical hurdles to overcome. There are abundant places for the process to fail utterly on the path between theoretical feasibility and actual useful production.

    Again your criteria seem impossible for all but the current existing technologies. Every new technology has multiple places where it can fail. Every _current_ technology had multiple places where it could have, and often did, fail. Failure alone isn’t enough reason to stop research into a technology, certainly the mere possibility of failure is a terrible reason not to try.

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  61. Michael says:

    What comes out the exhaust pipe is vastly different than what comes out of the plant as it decompsoses. The nature of the former will more directly deliver CO2 to the upper atmosphere, increasing the concentration of Co2 at that altitdude.

    Oh? We have different varieties of CO2 now?

    Add to that the idea that to grow such matter as it needed, we’ll be looking at wholesale clearcutting to create more farmland. Do you suppose that’s going to change the total CO2 picture?

    Perhaps you have missed the dozen or so comments where we have already disproved the need for clearcutting? Or maybe, like the CO2 argument, you just don’t care that you’re wrong.

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  62. TJIT says:

    Michael in block quotes

    Perhaps you have missed the dozen or so comments where we have already disproved the need for clearcutting?

    Actually, what we have had from ethanol boosters on this threads is endless hand waving combined with links to non commercial, not ready for prime time, utterly unproven vaporware.

    US and European biofuel policy is causing deforestation right now, full stop end of story. No amount of hand waving can change that fact.

    Neither can the biofuel boosters studied ignorance of the stacks of data that show this to be true.

    US biofuel policy is causing great economic and ecologic harm right now. Somehow, when faced with all of this information biofuel boosters still push for the continuation of the US biofuel policies that have caused this damage.

    The mind boggles at this callous stubbornness.

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  63. TJIT says:

    Michael in block quotes

    Every _current_ technology had multiple places where it could have, and often did, fail. Failure alone isn’t enough reason to stop research into a technology, certainly the mere possibility of failure is a terrible reason not to try.

    Fair points. But still no reason to support the current US biofuel policy including subsidies and mandates.

    Biofuel boosters should be pushing hardest to end the current policies. The damage these policies are causing will wreck the brand of all biofuels.

    Even future ones that are effective at replacing petroleum.

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  64. Michael says:

    Actually, what we have had from ethanol boosters on this threads is endless hand waving combined with links to non commercial, not ready for prime time, utterly unproven vaporware.

    Vaporware doesn’t mean what you seem to think it means. As has been pointed out, while none of the plants are currently commercially operational, some are in the process of becoming so, while others are just test sites. That puts it well above the level of vaporware.

    US and European biofuel policy is causing deforestation right now, full stop end of story. No amount of hand waving can change that fact.

    Sure, lets end deforestation. Lets use prairie grass or water tanks. But that’s a change in focus, not a change in policy.

    US biofuel policy is causing great economic and ecologic harm right now. Somehow, when faced with all of this information biofuel boosters still push for the continuation of the US biofuel policies that have caused this damage.

    I believe that, in this thread at least, they have been pushing new technologies that don’t cause that damage. Surely you will agree that biofuel technology that doesn’t cause economic or ecologic harm should be allowed to develop.

    Biofuel boosters should be pushing hardest to end the current policies. The damage these policies are causing will wreck the brand of all biofuels.

    And then what policies will take their place? Do nothing to advance biofuel technologies? Do you have an alternative to the current policies that will allow for continued research and development of biofuels?

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  65. Grewgills says:

    Could you provide some details that is awfully vague.

    Bioethanol Japan in Osaka is a commercially operating cellulosic ethanol plant. Pacific Ethanol in Oregon is modifying their plant in Oregon to use cellulose. At least 6 commercial scale plants are under construction in the US (Chesterfield, Missouri; LaBelle, Florida; Irvine, California; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Arlington, Virginia; Broomfield, Colorado) and scheduled to come on line this year. There is another in Georgia and a few others as well. There are several others in Canada and Europe that are under construction and should come on line in the next year or two.

    Biofuel boosters should be pushing hardest to end the current policies. The damage these policies are causing will wreck the brand of all biofuels.

    Even future ones that are effective at replacing petroleum.

    Who here has argued against targeting any biofuel subsidies away from food crops or away from crops that would require deforestation?
    You seem at last to acknowledge that biofuels could be an effective replacement for petroleum. What biofuels do you see as having this potential?

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