and Cons of Using Bio-energy
(Revised March 13, 2009)
Often, on bio-energy matters, I find myself playing the devil's advocate depending on the view of the person I am speaking with.
The benefits and costs to society of bio-energy seem to be very subjective. Of course these costs need to be compared to the costs of using fossil fuels, including those we don't pay at the pump. You are all invited to suggest items that may not be included below. In time, we will need to enumerate the effect of these on our economy. This exercise should help us learn what bio-energy industries we should promote.
It reduces the amount of grain that the US can dump on underdeveloped countries. This allows farmers in those countries to get better prices for their crops.
Since it reduces the crude oil we need for current energy demand then farmers in Africa and Asia can better afford the fertilizers to put on their crops. *(see below - it could increase demand in the near future)
Ethanol and biodiesel don't need to be desulphured since crops haven't been buried in the earth for millions of years as crude oil has.
Ethanol and biodiesel will decompose better than fossil fuels would should there ever be a spill or accident.
The mandated use of bio-energy may make fuel prices higher which should encourage people to buy more energy efficient products, thus leaving crude supplies for the future.
Ethanol uses a crop that otherwise would be feed to cattle which promotes the formation of fat in the beef from cattle. This fat ladened beef is not healthy for our nation as a whole. Or one can look at it this way, if a farmer can't afford to feed his cattle corn then perhaps a rancher will have a new market for free range buffalo.
The increased demand for corn, beans, sunflowers, and other bio-energy crops in this nation increases prices of all crops in this nation reducing the need to subsidize farmers income.
Using crops closer to where they were harvested, reduces the need for the fuel to haul the grain. If the byproducts are also used locally then this also reduces the consumption of fuel. Since all processing was done locally then the final waste, be it ash or compost, will be available as fertilizer for the land that just produced the crop.
The biofuel plants encourages new industries that can either use the fuel or the byproducts to make other chemicals or products. And these can in turn spawn even more economic growth.
**Ethanol contains oxygen which improves combustion efficiency.
Oils (SVO or WVO) don't need to be processed much at all - they can be burnt in altered diesel engines with precautions. The people that make this work won't need the fuel you do want.
If we stop demanding that new fuels work in our current engines, then we can design new vehicles to run on the waste from crops. These vehicles may be electric hybrids that get charged by Distributed Energy plants which are powered by crop waste. Or short range delivery trucks could run on producer gas which could also be made from crop wastes.
Bio-energy industry encourages the production of food crops more than what there is normally a demand for. So this bio-energy crop acts as an "on the field stockpile". After a drought when crops are reduced by a large percentage then the smaller 'pie' of harvest will still be large enough to put food on the table. Assuming people will decide to eat before they drive without car pooling.
Distiller's grain, which is the main byproduct of the ethanol production, is a better feed for cattle than ground corn itself.
If foreign sources are stopped for some reason we might have another source to help us get by for a short while. Wouldn't this make us take conservation seriously!
If plant biomass such as, straw and corn stalks, are taken off the field to burn in power plants or to make cellulosic ethanol, then it could negate the benefit biomass is supposed to have in regards to global warming. Because by removing these relatively reflective materials, it would reduce the albedo of the farm land thus increasing the amount of radiation absorbed by the earth.
*It lets people think we can grow ourselves out of energy shortages which in turn allows them to think they will be able to afford the fuel needed to run a Hummer they are buying.
**Ethanol also "sucks" the oxygen out of the energy efficiency debate, the energy dependency debate and perhaps is a distraction in the global warming debate.
It could encourage a few farmers to put land into corn or crops that should be left in cover crops such as hey and pasture.
During summer months, it doesn't help reduce smog as it is supposed to. If that is the case couldn't the percent of ethanol in the fuel be reduced during the summer so that it does more good than harm. They do alter the blend of diesel fuel over the year according to the season.
Regarding biodiesel, one needs to limit its use during the winter months so that it doesn't gel. But as I already said the diesel fuels are already adjusted to the season.
Current demand for ethanol out weighs that for biodiesels. This encourages planting corn on land that was corn the year before. This will reduce the acreage of legumes (soybeans in most cases) which naturally improve the fertility of the soil by fixing nitrogen. This will increase the demand for fertilizer and the energy needed to make it. At this time we are importing the fertilizer because our natural gas prices are too high. I am sure it is more efficient to make the fertilizer somewhere else and import it than it would be to import the natural gas and make it here. That aside, the possible added need for nitrogen fertilizer can increase a long standing problem of nitrogen oxides getting in the ground water. New technologies on tractors have the possibility of reducing this problem. But, I have long thought fertilizer over applications could be reduced by taxing the fertilizer. This approach would help reduce the the costs of cleaning drinking water, lakes and streams. Or it would reduce the costs to the economy had these things gone untreated. Anyway when one proposes a new tax that acts as a regulation and as a new revenue stream, then they can promise to lower other taxes for two reasons. First, because there is new revenue. Second, because there are fewer problems for the government to deal with. In this case it would make sense to lower property taxes.
My Opinions of Bio-energy in a Nutshell:
Ethanol is either over sold, or sufficiently developed to need my vocal support. Besides if I want to burn ethanol in my car and knock it too, isn't that my right.
Biodiesel and vegetable oil would if nothing else encourage us to use the more efficient diesel engine.
My favorites are Biogas and Producer Gas; because they reduce wastes while providing energy. OK I hope to be biased some day. The page on my website: Biogas or Producer Gas Engine trys to describe a special engine cycle that would benefit an engine using one of these gases. If someone has a question or comment on this proposed engine cycle, I would like to here from you.
Conservation Allows Bio-energy to have a Bigger Impact:
But most importantly, challenge your mind to find ways to promote and advance energy conservation (thats how this topic becomes a bio-energy one). And we don't need to wait for new technological advances before conservation can make a big difference. But we could use new tax law that discourages inefficient products and the wasteful use of energy. Energy could be taxed in many different ways, some of which have been proposed. Again, the benefit of a tax that creates a new revenue stream and acts as regulation, is that it allows other taxes to be lowered more than the new tax generates. In this case the energy tax encourages energy conservation which in turn should reduce the following things: smog, water pollution, traffic accidents, urban sprawl, foreign wars, traffic jams. All of these bear a cost on governments and reduce our quality of life. If one looks at it this way, we can't afford cheap energy. If it wasn't, many new startup businesses would flourish figuring out ways to save you money.
Visit the links below!
Biofuels: Facts and Fallacies
See him on YouTube!