the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Nobel Prize Physicist Needs a Calculator

Posted by Jeff Id on December 28, 2008

chuMaybe the title should be Stephen Chu scientist or politician? I don’t know for sure but here is a man who knows full well that biofuels from corn are impossibly inefficient yet he supports expanding their implementation. He also knows that Nuclear power can solve his perceived CO2 crisis, yet is “concerned” about nuclear waste so there will be none of that.

Here is the article in the news which got me all wound up today. It’s from market watch.

Incoming energy chief bullish on solar, wind, biofuel

“He believes that a portfolio approach to alternative energy is necessary to address what he sees as a looming energy crisis,” Lazard Capital Markets analyst Sanjay Shrestha said. He “firmly believes that we are in an energy crisis and that the single most important issue is controlling carbon dioxide emissions.”

When did we get into an energy crisis? I remember the financial crisis and the global warming crisis but last time I looked the lights were still on. The truth is that there is no energy crisis, the only crisis we have is people telling us we can’t make energy.

One of Chu’s achievements as director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory since 2004 was the Helios Project, aimed at using synthetic biology and nanomaterials to make more efficient and low-cost solar panels.

This sounds great to me, really. Why not wait till it’s ready? Maybe in 30 years we’ll have a good method for storing the energy which is really the primary problem with solar and wind.

“Since Obama has publicly stated his support for increasing the Renewable Fuels Standard to 60 billion gallons by 2030, we believe there will be increased support in the form of Department of Energy loan guarantees for next-generation ethanol technologies,” Shrestha said.

Fantastic news, piles of money thrown down the hole on the least efficient process imaginable. Chu knows biofuels don’t work well because the efficiency of storage of solar energy is way too low. Anyone with his math background can work the calculations in an afternoon. Why then does he want to support the flushing of money down the hole?

It ain’t science folks it’s politics.

Chu has also voiced concern about nuclear power because of the issue of waste disposal, but, according to the Lazard analysts, he believes more research should be done on recycling radioactive fuels and on waste reduction, since nuclear energy is carbon neutral.

There are solutions to waste disposal, if he doesn’t like them where’s the huge investment in development of storage? Why doesn’t he like nuclear really? Because it Fn works, that’s why. That’s the real reason the leftists don’t support nuclear. If I’m wrong, which I’m not, they would dump piles of money into a storage solution. Why not permit industry to build new reactors with safety factors an order of magnitude greater than the ancient behemoths we run today?

Instead Chu want’s to do research on waste reduction, a worthy goal yet it doesn’t address his stated concern. He doesn’t address storage of the inevitable waste which is his ‘alleged’ concern! THERE IS NO POSSIBLE SOLUTION EVEN IF THE RESEARCH SUCCEEDS, BECAUSE THERE IS STILL WASTE. The guy won a nobel prize, HE KNOWS THIS! I for one am not gullible enough to think he doesn’t!

Obama is also expected to name Carol Browner, head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Bill Clinton, as White House coordinator of energy and climate policy — or, in the popular shorthand, energy czar.

This is fantastic, Carol Browner, an insider from washington, married to Tomas Downey who is a close personal friend of Al Gore and is working as an (anti)energy lobbyist. Heres a chunk from Wikipedia.

Downey is currently a lobbyist and chair of Downey McGrath Group, Inc., a lobbying firm he founded in 1993. The president is Ray McGrath, also a former US Representative from New York. Downey represented Dubai Ports World and lobbied Congress to approve the controversial ports deal. Downey argues that “they would have made this country more secure” because “DP World is one of the few companies that could have worked with us to truly improve security, both at home and abroad.”[3]

Downey married Carol Browner, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, on June 21, 2007. This is Mr. Downey’s second marriage and Browner’s third. In their spare time together they enjoy visiting wetlands and landfills in order to monitor environmental destruction.

This is the dumbass who was pushing to sell our US ports to dubai of all places. What stupidity is that! And get a load of the last sentence there, they enjoy visiting “landfills” in order to monitor environmental destruction. LIARS, there I said it!

Well Carol deserves her own post, she’s cutting into Chu’s time. Here is the last paragraph from the article which drove my blood pressure through the roof.

Houston-based energy research firm Tudor Pickering Holt noted Friday that the expected appointment of Browner and Chu would bring to bear on the nation’s energy challenges a top scientist and a Washington veteran. “It’s a strong duo … a big-brained research guy with a Washington insider,” Tudor Pickering Holt said in a note to clients that included this advice: “Buckle up, energy guys … [for] carbon legislation.”

A strong duo for sure. One which intends to follow the standard left procedures in the face of all scientific evidence to the contrary.

-Expand corn biofuels, known to produce a maximum of about 50 net gallons per acre and drive up food costs starving the poor nations of the world which rely on cheap US food for survival.

-Expand solar, known to be right at the top of power options for cost. With no hope of energy production at night and big difficulties in the winter.

-Expand wind, without energy storage the starts and stops require us to have enough coal plants to produce all of our needs. Each coal plant needs modified technologies to handle the start/stop loads on the energy grid.

- No coal power plants

- No natural gas plants

- No reasonable oil drilling

The policies all have a few items in common.

- ABSOLUTELY NO SCIENCE BEHIND THEM

- NO HOPE OF SUCCESSFUL IMPLEMENTATION

- HIGH COSTS

For those of you who like the “reasonable” middle ground in politics, ask yourselves this hypothetical. What other motivation besides CO2 would these smart people have to do this?


35 Responses to “Nobel Prize Physicist Needs a Calculator”

  1. Eric Adler said

    There are a lot of things wrong with your opinion piece.

    The first is to confuse the process of making ethanol from corn stalks and corn cobs, or other cellusoci organic materials with making ethanol from corn grains and soybeans. Cellulosic ethanol production does not drive up the price of food, since it uses agricultural by products. The article does not state that Chu is in favor of ethanol produced from grains or soybeans as a fuel. The Lawrence Berkeley lab is doing research on cellulosic ethanol production.

    The second mistake is to riducule energy efficiency. It has enormous potential. There is a passive house program in germany that dispenses with the need to heat homes there with furnaces, using novel construction techniques which add only a few percent to the cost of homes. it has the potential for saving an enormous amount of energy.

    The third mistake is to knock the idea of nuclear waste reduction. There is research in that area that looks very promising. It does not seem smart to pooh pooh it.

    Chu is one of the most imaginative and brilliant minds in the world. He has done astounding interdisciplinary research for which he won a nobel prize. You are just another opinionated blogger, and your post shows that you don’t understand the issues well enough to criticize his work intelligently.

  2. Jeff Id said

    Eric,

    I’m sorry I was grumpy about it this morning. I just reread my post and am a little disappointed that this stuff gets me so mad. People just don’t get what’s happening. It’s astounding to me that smart people don’t get the simplicity of the political plot but what do I know.

    Regarding your post, you have misunderstood me possibly due to my tone and the fact that you don’t visit here every day. Thanks for taking it on though. When you say–

    “The first is to confuse the process of making ethanol from corn stalks and corn cobs, or other cellusoci organic materials with making ethanol from corn grains and soybeans.”

    I wasn’t confused, if you look at the best case 6% conversion rate for photosynthesis of energy you end up covering more land area than the US has just to power the cars from the stalks. The costs are monsterously out of proportion from other energy sources and it just doesn’t make sense.

    In addition, when Chu suppports ethanol ‘against scientific evidence’ you assume he only supports ethanol from scrap, the truth is he won’t recommend de-funding current subsidies which are already starving ‘literally’ people who used to get cheap corn. If the administration cuts all the funds for the current ethanol corn technology write back and I will admit my error with a big fat apology and post directly to you and Chu. (I’ve done it before because I’m not always right) Be sure to let me know when this happens though ‘;).

    “The second mistake is to ridicule energy efficiency.”

    I didn’t ridicule energy efficiency and never will. I am president and owner of a “green” company. First time I have admitted that on my own blog. I have probably saved the world more CO2 than all the people you know combined including Chu. There’s nothing wrong with voluntary efficiency. How’s that for a comeback!

    “The third mistake is to knock the idea of nuclear waste reduction.”

    It’s just a blog but please read more carefully
    I wrote —– “Instead Chu want’s to do research on waste reduction, a worthy goal yet it doesn’t address his stated concern. ”

    —–“a worthy goal”

    The thing you miss is that Chu is dismissing Nuclear with ‘concerns about waste’

    Please note, Concerns about waste are NOT alleviated by less waste!!!!!! The point of the post really.

    This is politics not science, Chu may be the most brilliant mind on the planet but he is acting as a politician with liberal goals. Biofuel and nuclear positions which run in direct opposition to basic science prove it. There are no accidents here.

    Finally I have to add, and I did enjoy this;
    “your post shows that you don’t understand the issues well enough to criticize his work intelligently.”

    Was that intelligent enough for you?

  3. page48 said

    Eric Adler states: “Cellulosic ethanol production does not drive up the price of food, since it uses agricultural by products.”

    Mr. Adler, You don’t state how much corn has to be grown to produce the by-products necessary to produce enough ethanol to provide adequate energy. If countries have to plant more corn just to get the by-products, it will affect food production.

    Eric Adler states: “There is a passive house program in germany that dispenses with the need to heat homes there with furnaces, using novel construction techniques which add only a few percent to the cost of homes. it has the potential for saving an enormous amount of energy.”

    Mr. Adler, you really need to provide links to substantiate this. There are many known ways to build houses to trap heat, but are these German homes so efficient that they literaly need no other heat sources. Why isn’t this all over the American news? We all could save money if you would provide us with the answers.

    I can’t even follow your thoughts on nuclear energy.

    Have a nice Holiday,

    Page48

  4. DJ said

    Jeff,

    You have to remember one thing in Political views; it’s not their money and the Government can print more….

  5. DJ said

    Jeff,

    At this moment, France is using Nuclear Waste to power it’s Reactors! Check this Site out!

    http://blog.the-thinking-man.com/nuclear-waste-does-not-exist

  6. DJ said

    Jeff,

    This is the Article Eric was relating to. My serious concern with any hi-efficiency house is it doesn’t breath. Indoor pollutants buildup and cause many Health Issues. This happened in the late 70’s and into the 80’s. Houses being constructed too tight.

    http://greenlineblog.com/passive-house-passiv-haus-building-standard/

  7. Eric Adler said

    For the passive house article, check the original source:

    The passive house system in this article has a special ventilation system which heats the incoming air with the outgoing air in a heat exchanger. The article says they have dealt with the mold and stale air problem.

    It is well known that there is no way that the earth’s land area is sufficient to replace ALL the fossil fuels used today with biofuels. However, Brazil has shown that Ethanol from sugarcane is a viable technology, and is so competitive that it requires a tariff to protect the subsidized price of ethanol from corn grains in the US.

    In addition, bio engineering may produce organisms that are more efficient than the biofuel sources we have today.

    I don’t pay attention to politics and ideology when dealing with technical and scientific issues, and I am glad that we will soon have a president who is a pragmatist, and not ideological, for a change. After 8 years of the Bush administration which ignores science, and bases policy on political ideology and religious beliefs, Obama represents a welcome change, which should benefit the country greatly.

  8. Eric Adler said

    Oops, my html was faulty.
    Here is the link, entered correctly, I hope.

  9. Eric Adler said

  10. Eric Adler said

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/27/world/europe/27house.html?_r=1&ref=science

  11. TSH said

    I have an idea. Once we make cold fusion energy production work our problems will disappear. Now, I have in my possession a cardboard box that will one day sustain a cold fusion power generator. If you send me a few million dollars this cardboard box will one day produce vast amounts of electricity. Now, I can understand your reluctance. After all, the energy efficiency of this box is very small right now, some critics (oil company shills and science ignorers) would even say it produces no energy. But if you invest, there is a possibility of huge production in the future. Can you really afford NOT to subsidize my carboard cold fusion reactor?

  12. cmb said

    Jeff Id Says:
    December 29, 2008 at 4:18 am
    Eric,

    I’m sorry I was grumpy about it this morning. I just reread my post and am a little disappointed that this stuff gets me so mad. People just don’t get what’s happening. It’s astounding to me that smart people don’t get the simplicity of the political plot but what do I know.

    Regarding your post, you have misunderstood me possibly due to my tone and the fact that you don’t visit here every day. Thanks for taking it on though. When you say–

    “The first is to confuse the process of making ethanol from corn stalks and corn cobs, or other cellusoci organic materials with making ethanol from corn grains and soybeans.”

    I wasn’t confused, if you look at the best case 6% conversion rate for photosynthesis of energy you end up covering more land area than the US has just to power the cars from the stalks. The costs are monsterously out of proportion from other energy sources and it just doesn’t make sense.

    – See Algae.

    In addition, when Chu suppports ethanol ‘against scientific evidence’ you assume he only supports ethanol from scrap, the truth is he won’t recommend de-funding current subsidies which are already starving ‘literally’ people who used to get cheap corn. If the administration cuts all the funds for the current ethanol corn technology write back and I will admit my error with a big fat apology and post directly to you and Chu. (I’ve done it before because I’m not always right) Be sure to let me know when this happens though ‘;)

    – so don’t subsidize food corn, problem solved. Plenty of human-inedible corn being grown already. The current subsidies are simply a way for republicans to cut other farm subsidies and keep the farm vote, or they would have stipulated this already.

    “The second mistake is to ridicule energy efficiency.”

    I didn’t ridicule energy efficiency and never will. I am president and owner of a “green” company. First time I have admitted that on my own blog. I have probably saved the world more CO2 than all the people you know combined including Chu. There’s nothing wrong with voluntary efficiency. How’s that for a comeback!

    – Unverified, I should think.

    “The third mistake is to knock the idea of nuclear waste reduction.”

    It’s just a blog but please read more carefully
    I wrote —– “Instead Chu want’s to do research on waste reduction, a worthy goal yet it doesn’t address his stated concern. ”

    —–”a worthy goal”

    The thing you miss is that Chu is dismissing Nuclear with ‘concerns about waste’

    Funny, the text you quoted says:

    “Chu has also voiced concern about nuclear power because of the issue of waste disposal, but, according to the Lazard analysts, he believes more research should be done on recycling radioactive fuels and on waste reduction, since nuclear energy is carbon neutral.”

    “Dismissing nuclear”, you claimed. Why aren’t you lying in this one? Just curious.

    Also, your list at the bottom. Where’s your evidence?

  13. Jeff Id said

    - See Algae

    The best algae have reached only slightly higher %. See my post here

    http://noconsensus.wordpress.com/2008/11/25/super-algae-bio-diesel-energy/

  14. WhyNot said

    I like post #11 and would like to suggest the following changes before speaking to the ORIGINAL inventor and primary financial supporter, Al Gore.

    1. Replace “cardboard box” with, “Biodegradable cellulose containment facility”
    2. Not only is the containment facility biodegradable, it can also be considered a CO2 sink. (Plants require CO2 to grow, thus removing this global warming pollutant.)
    3. Instead of calling it “cold” fusion I would say it is “Polar Bear friendly fusion”.
    4. Last but not least, your “Polar Bear friendly fusion biodegradable cellulose containment CO2 sink facility” is approaching 100% efficiency. For every 1W you put into the box, you get 1W of energy out of the box. So you could tell him with a very high degree of confidence (6 Sigma) it uses no energy to operate.

    I hope some of these points will get you your millions.

    One last note, don’t tell Gore about ITER, link here http://www.iter.org/index.htm he just might claim to have invented that also…..

  15. Jeff Id said

    “Dismissing nuclear”, you claimed. Why aren’t you lying in this one? Just curious.

    Your right, I should have referenced some of the other links I read. I didn’t actually make these comments from a single article. If you look around you can find more from him not supporting nuke energy. If he changes his stance and actively and honestly supports nukes (not just lip service), I will apologize.

    Let me know.

  16. Eric Adler said

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-10787_3-9888608-60.html?tag=nefd.lede

    PALO ALTO, Calif.–Add Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu’s name to the ranks of scientists who advocate turning to nuclear power as an alternative energy source.

    “Nuclear has to be a necessary part of the portfolio,” Chu, the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, said during the annual economic summit organized by Stanford University.

    Chu, who also is professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley, said nuclear is the preferred choice to coal, pointing out that coal releases 50 percent more radioactivity than nuclear power plants.

    “The fear of radiation shouldn’t even enter into this, he said. “Coal is very, very bad.”

  17. Jeff Id said

    Eric,

    That’s good news. I will look around more because I had found several negative comments about the use of nukes with regards to Chu. Let’s see how his opinion changes working with Obama.

  18. Eric Adler said

    Jeff,
    What is the basis for you assumption that Stephen Chu is in favor of keeping subsidies for ethanol from corn grains? Has he expressed a personal opinion on this program?

    What is the basis for your claim that the Chu bases any of his opinions on anything other than science and his belief in saving the planet from global warming due AGW?

    Do you have a link that shows this?

  19. Eric Adler said

    Why not look at Chu’s views on energy in this power point, rather than accept what you read about his position on blogs, or where ever you may have read it second hand.

    http://www.lbl.gov/solar/ipfiles/plenary/chu_Solar_to_Chem_Energy_3-28-05.ppt

    He shows clearly how stupid ethanol for corn grains is, and how Brazil has been successful with its sugar cane ethanol program.

    He also is committed to a multifaceted research program to remake the way humanity gets its energy.
    The history of his work shows the man is a genuinely impressive original interdisciplinary thinker; and hopefully will help to inspire the country to mobilize its resources to do smart things. The politics of the past eight years have lead our country into backwardness.

  20. Jeff Id said

    Here’s one of several.

    http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/12/18/195232/70

    Back in March, Chu said that “corn is not the right crop for biofuels.” But he added: “We should look at corn as a transitional crop.”

    Does that sound like someone willing to demand an end to this ridiculous corn ethanol debacle.

    Chu also said this here

    http://www.truthabouttrade.org/content/view/11343/54/

    “Researchers can insert dozens of genes into grass plants to make them easier to break down for refining, Chu said. Within a decade, cellulosic ethanol production should become efficient and replace corn-based ethanol.”

    The reality is that the light energy just doesn’t exist for biofuels to become main stream. Replacing land used for food crops with genetically engineered grass is not science, although it sounds cool. It doesn’t work because of the basic inefficiency of photosynthesis! Humans use too much energy to run our planet on an inefficient form of solar and a simple calculation in an afternoon can prove it! Work the calculations for watts captured by plants and algae (as I have done several times on my blog) and it doesn’t add up.

  21. DJ said

    Eric,

    Here’s a very good article on your Bio Corn Ethanol fiasco!

    Ethanol Bailout? Time To Shuck Corn
    By INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY | Posted Friday, December 26, 2008 4:20 PM PT

    Energy Policy: The heavily subsidized ethanol industry is the latest to seek a federal bailout. If there is any industry that deserves to go bankrupt, it’s this one. Time has come to stop putting food in our gas tanks.

    The bailout-seeking domestic auto industry has been criticized as being unproductive and inefficient. It hasn’t been helped by mandated fuel economy standards that have done little to reduce our dependence on foreign energy or help the environment. Now the fuel we have been mandated to put in our cars, equally unproductive and inefficient, is also seeking a bailout.

    Ethanol never made much sense economically or environmentally. It never would have made it to market without congressional mandates and huge subsidies. Having the first presidential contest in the corm state of Iowa didn’t hurt either. With oil prices plummeting, it is even less competitive — if it ever was.

    The product has benefited from a tax credit paid to gasoline producers to blend gasoline with ethanol; a federal fuel economy standard that sets a minimum amount of ethanol to be blended; and a 54-cents-a-gallon tariff on cheaper imported ethanol made in places like Brazil. Brazilian ethanol is made from sugar, not corn. But corn is grown in Iowa, and Brazilians can’t vote.

    Recent legislation mandated increased ethanol use as well as a 51-cent-a-gallon tax credit and more corn subsidies. Over the last two decades the ethanol industry has been kept alive with more than $25 billion in federal handouts. Yet it still can’t compete.

    Five of Iowa’s 32 ethanol plants are in bankruptcy. They are operated by Sioux Falls, S.D.-based ethanol giant VeraSun Energy, which itself filed for Chapter 11 on Oct. 31. Eleven plants in other states have also fallen into bankruptcy. Nationally the ethanol plant failure rate is at 8.8% and could reach 22% in short order.

    The Renewable Fuels Association, the industry’s lobbying arm, has talked with Team Obama about further handouts such as $1 billion in short-term credit to keep failing plants in operation and $50 billion in loan guarantees to build more. The association wants to increase the 10% ethanol limit in gasoline for conventional cars and trucks and require that any carmaker getting federal funds produce only vehicles that can run on any blend up to 85% ethanol.

    Even the environmentalists are getting wise to this game. The Environmental Working Group and five other groups came out against such a bailout last week, saying subsidies “for corn-based ethanol have produced unintended, yet potentially catastrophic, environmental consequences, with little or no return to taxpayers in energy security (or) protection from global warming.”

    According to a report from the Hoover Institute’s Henry Miller and professor Colin Carter of the University of California, Davis, “ethanol yields about 30% less energy per gallon of gasoline, so miles per gallon in internal combustion engines drop significantly.” So the per-mile cost is actually higher at the pump. Meanwhile, it raises the food prices at the supermarket you drive to.

    Corn ethanol is less energy efficient and costs more. It generates less than two units of energy for every unit of energy used to produce it. It takes 1,700 gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol. Each acre of corn requires 130 pounds of nitrogen and 55 pounds of phosphorous.

    Increased acreage means increased agricultural runoff, which is creating aquatic “dead zones” in our rivers, bays and coastal areas.

    Industries such as poultry and livestock, as well as their customers and workers, suffered when government policies and subsidies drove corn prices to record highs last summer. Demand for corn and the diversion from other crops have sent food prices soaring worldwide.

    If we are seriously talking about an economic recovery, we need to remove this albatross from around the neck of businesses, consumers and taxpayers.

  22. Jeff Id said

    Nice DJ, that’s the science. If Obama, Chu and the rest take a strong stance on this, and gets government to support serious nuclear plant development they will win even me over.

    The talk has changed to other biofuels but they all have the same problems. There is nothing close to usable in biofuel and from my perspective it doesn’t look like there ever will be. Even the Algae doesn’t look good.

    Put the money into research on energy storage, fusion, fission and other solar technology development. Not implementation. With storage systems that work we can use wind, wave and other sporadic sources reasonably. Without them, it’s a pipe dream designed to make us feel good.

  23. eric adler said

    Jeff ID said

    “Here’s one of several.

    http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/12/18/195232/70

    Back in March, Chu said that “corn is not the right crop for biofuels.” But he added: “We should look at corn as a transitional crop.”

    Does that sound like someone willing to demand an end to this ridiculous corn ethanol debacle.”

    That is a non commital statement to me. It is pretty clear that he has condemned the current program as an inefficient program on scientific grounds many times. Back in March, Chu had no inkling that he would be Energy Secretary, and wasn’t in the position of being responsible for such decisions or recommendations. He was looking to partner with agri-business in a research program to develop cellulosic ethanol, a program which he believes is viable.

    I have read a statement in the right wing blogosphere, that Chu is a zealot for the current corn based ethanol program, giving that quote as proof. I think this is clearly a load of crap.

    Brazil has shown that ethanol from sugar cane is a viable competitor against gasoline, despite your calculations and opinion to the contrary.

    Research on this question could lead to improvements in efficiency. Scientific discovery is not a predictable simple linear process.

  24. Eric Adler said

    Jeff,

    Here is an interesting interview with Chu, which gives you a sample of his forward looking thinking.
    http://news.cnet.com/Superweeds%2C-air-caves-and-the-future-of-energy 2008-11395_3-6075116.html?tag=mncol

    His lab is going after some big ideas that can make your calculations passe, if some of them work.

  25. Eric Adler said

    Having trouble with the long link:

  26. Eric Adler said

    To see the link you will have to enter it in the window in chunks:

    http://news.cnet.com/Superweeds%2C-air-caves-and-the-future-of-energy/2008-11395_3-6075116.html?tag=mnco

  27. Jeff Id said

    Eric,

    These are nice links. I think you’re missing the point of my post. Chu is making these decisions from a political rather than scientific perspective. Chu is going to continue Ethanol from corn as a ‘bridge’ or transitional crop. Ethanol is no bridge, it is a disaster.

    You say,
    Brazil has shown that ethanol from sugar cane is a viable competitor against gasoline, despite your calculations and opinion to the contrary.

    I would like to see some of your information supporting this statement. Particularly gallons per acre and cost per gallon. I believe that the cost per gallon may be there for sugarcane, simply because you told me. But there is no way the gallons per acre can make sense. It isn’t physically possible at an under 6% photosynthesis efficiency.

    It’s nothing but a feel good story.

    The bio-fuel genetic engineering I’ve read about considered the hopeful target 10% efficiency of conversion. Solar cells blow this efficiency away already but storage is the problem. If Chu was interested in research into energy storage technologies combined with solar and wind, instead of support for implementation of subsidized biofuel technologies it would make much better sense from a scientific standpoint. I would then believe he wasn’t just being a politician.

    The technology for storage is getting close too. Under 10 years and we will make hydrogen using electricity at a high efficiency rate.

    BTW:All of the above is the worst answer of all.

  28. Eric Adler said

    Jeff,
    I think you missed the point I made.
    When Chu made that off hand comment, he was not involved in the political decision making about ethanol. He was the director of a research lab working with money from industrial sources on more advanced project. There is no evidence that he expected to become energy secretary last March. You have given no evidence that a political perspective rather than a scientific perspective dominate his thinking.

    It seems quite jump to assume that his offhand statement amounted to an endorsement of the current ethanol corn program.

    The important figure from the viewpoint of economics is not the efficiency of capture, but rather the number of BTU’s/acre captured as usable fuel over the growing season. If this is sufficient to make it economically competitive with gasoline to first order it is a win.

    Chu’s power point presentation has a bar graph which showed that Brazilian ethanol was a cheaper fuel than gasoline at the time. It requires no subsidies and is an economically viable technology.
    It is not the total answer to the world’s problems, but it has done fine for Brazil, to the point where they were trying to export some of their production.

  29. DeWitt Payne said

    Sugar cane is fine for Brazil, where it grows well and they don’t have on the order of 100,000,000 cars on the road. But it doesn’t help us much with energy independence. Sugar is only produced in the US because there are import duties on foreign sugar to keep the price high enough to make growing sugar beets profitable. US corn based ethanol cannot compete on a cost basis with Brazilian sugar cane ethanol either so there’s a tariff on that as well.

    Jeff,

    I think your efficiency of 6% for conversion of solar energy by plants is too high by an order of magnitude or two. The numbers I’ve seen are closer to 0.1% of the total incident solar energy (on the order of 1 ZJ/year out of ~4,000 ZJ/year). Biofuels could possibly contribute something, but probably never more than about 10% of current energy use.

  30. Jeff Id said

    DeWitt Payne

    You are right that it is high (I give the benefit to the biofuel) but I think the standard for normal plants is around 3 or 4 from my previous research on this. I will look deeper though to find out if you are right.

    From my calculations, I think even 10% is out of reach for biofuel though. Which is my response again to Eric as to why biofuel isn’t really good science.

    Some investment in research is ok but it should be very minor because of a lack of practicality.

  31. Adam Gallon said

    The main issue with biofuels, is that they are being grown on land that could be used to produce more foodstuffs, foodstuffs that either are, or will be, desperately needed to feed an increasingly hungry world.
    Biodiesel is a “big thing” in Europe, as we’ve realised that cars can be run on diesel very well.
    A lot of this bodiesel is derived from Palm Nut Oil, leading to huge areas of forest in Indonesia being cleared to grow these plants, much to the detriment of the forest dwellers, both human & animal and the cause of these smogs that have blanketed vast areas of Indonesia over the past few years.
    We in the UK have a large Sugarbeet industry, that is also highly subsidised so it can compete with cane sugar.

  32. cmb said

    Why shouldn’t Chu see corn as a transition feedstock? It already is. He may simply be referring to current use.

    With tech just gearing up, there’s no need to power very much hardware with corn ethanol yet, and non-edible GM corn won’t affect the food futures market – which causes the price-related economic unrest – one iota (haven’t seen that mentioned here yet). Once we move to GM algae, land use pressure will also be drastically reduced.

    One thing to remember in this situation is that biofuels will only replace part of our portable energy needs, those that aren’t readily solved by electrical generation and storage during its development cycle. In addition, petro power will remain the primary E source for warfighting no matter what, it is indispensable there and will remain so for the foreseeable future – one more reason to avoid burning it in peacetime.

    Not only is there no need to put everyhing on biofuels, it would be silly to do so.

  33. Eric Adler said

    Every technology has drawbacks. There is no easy way out of this by exploiting something that is simple to do anymore. That is way an energy portfolio is needed, which is Chu’s approach.
    It is way too early to rule out biofuels, especially algae, especially if bio engineering can be applied.
    Here is a calculation that shows it could be viable, but there are difficulties.

    http://www.unh.edu/p2/biodiesel/article_alge.html

  34. Jeff Id said

    Eric,

    The energy portfolio is a way of making the issue more complex than the individual can understand. Ten bad solutions can’t stand up to one good one but people can say what about solar, what about wind, what about wave, what about ……

    I made a new long post based on your comments.

    This is about politics not science.

  35. Carol Browner is Obama’s substitute for Al Gore. Not only is she on the Socialist International Commission for a Sustainable World Society, she is on the Board of Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection and on the Board of APX – involved in emissions trading. See: http://www.appinsys.com/GlobalWarming/Browner.htm

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