Welcome to the Energy Blog

  • The Energy Blog is where all topics relating to The Energy Revolution are presented. Increasingly, expensive oil, coal and global warming are causing an energy revolution by requiring fossil fuels to be supplemented by alternative energy sources and by requiring changes in lifestyle. Please contact me with your comments and questions. Further Information about me can be found HERE.



After Gutenberg

Clean Break

The Oil Drum


Blog powered by Typepad

« NRG to Build First Nuclear Plants in Thirty Years | Main | EnerDel Lithium-ion Battery for Plug-ins will cost $1,500 »

September 26, 2007



Interesting article. A billion gallons per year is nothing to sneeze at. I wonder how expensive it would be to convert the ethanol into butanol? From what I've read, butanol could be used in place of gasoline, even in non-flex fuel cars. It certainly would speed up the displacement of gasoline usage.


I have been telling anti-ethanol people that the processes will get more efficient with time. Even with that, large scale food to ethanol conversion is a bad idea.

Processes that have not yet been developed, but may be in the research stage, such as algae to ethanol, or cellulosic ethanol may be a good way to go in the future.

averagejoe, may be right, some other biofuel chemical other than ethanol might work better, especially as the
Joule/KG of ethanol isn't that great.

Ethanol can never replace anything like our current oil based fuel needs. Brasil is widely touted by boosters, but Brasil is a tropical country nearly the size of the US, with 7% the liquid fuel demand of the US. So oil free transportation will likely require plugin hybrids, with biofuel backup if we are the replace 100% of the oil usage.


PHEV's and EV's will help reduce liquid fuel consumption, but will probably take 20-30 years to capture a majority market share. Thankfully, biofuel production is ramping up very quickly, even over the next five years: Poet, Range Fuels, etc. In a perfect world, cellulosic butanol would lead the way and displace gasoline usage in existing autos at an accelerated rate. Unfortunately, we're stuck with ethanol for the time being. What I'm wondering is: would it be cheaper to convert existing ethanol into butanol or convert existing ethanol production facilities to make butanol?

Dan Berler

How is POET converting the 5-carbon hemicellulosic sugars into ethanol? Are they using a GM yeast or some other type of biotechnology?

Albert Bezzina

550 gallons per acre. Mmmm.. Enough fuel for 4 family sedans for a year! 150 bushels of corn could feed how many people or livestock? What is the number of gallons of ethanol which is equivalent to the amount of fossel fuels used in growing the corn including fertilizer ect? Now I am a car enthusiast and I think population growth is contributing to the planet's ills, but to use food to produce fuel is madness. This is the seed for future revolts and wars. By all means develop cellulosic ethanol from agricultural waste not primary food sources.


Hey Albert

If it is turned into fuel, then it is not food! I don't see too many people going hungry. Yes there are problems in some countries but that is due to the idiotic governemnts. Why don't you take a drive across the country and see how much land is not being used.

Nathan Schock

Great conversation here. We're confident that America's farmers will grow enough corn for both food and fuel. Although ethanol is using more total volume of corn this year, it's less as a percentage of the corn crop due to increased production.

Ethanol is currently made from the starch in the corn, while the protein can be used for co-products. In addition to one billion gallons of ethanol, POET also produces more than 3 million tons of High Protein DDGS that are used as livestock feed.

To Dan's question, POET is looking at yeast and bacteria to ferment the hemicellulose. The final choice depends on which is cheaper and more efficient.


Everyone beating the "fuel from food" drum is being a bit myopic. When you produce ethanol you use the sugars from the corn, not the bran, the corn oil, the fibers etc. When the ethanol production is done you still have LOTS of co-products that can be food. Every ton of Distillers Grains (the left overs from ethanol production) made from corn feedstock has ~90 gallons of corn oil in it. It also is a great livestock feed. Chickens, Cows, and Pigs don't need raw sugars to turn plant matter into meat... so DG is a good substitute for a large portion of the corn in their diets.

You need to look at what else comes out of the ethanol process. It's not just ETOH.


It goes without saying that the more acreage allocated for ethanol production the less there is for human consumption. This includes the production of meat! Luckily I'm not a big meat eater, which takes aprox. 1000 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat (ie water for feedstock).

That said, why isn't there more focus on plastic production via bacteria? Funding? It's certainly not the lack of technology! Metabolix is doing it right now!



Corn, and other grain prices are going up. The other farm products are getting more costly as well because farmers are switching some fields to corn. The high prices are great for farmers, but bad for consumers. The poorer people in the US and Mexico are already suffering from the higher prices.

Yes, if other products such as animal feed are created, that somewhat mitigates the overall cost (to society) but it is still there. We are ramping up the biofuel production before the more advanced processes, from cellulose are ready. The current incentives are pure pork, for swing corn states, and so auto-exes can pretend there is a cure for oil addiction (ie biofuel), "so go ahead a buy yourself an expensive gas hog"!

Yes, long term, we will probably have biofuels supplimenting PHEVs. That sort of vehicle fleet is decades away. And most likely cellulosic ethanol (or some other liquid fuel with more carbons) is at least several years away as well.

Albert Bezzina

Hey Mike, Nathan and JW
There is no such thing as land not in use. Not in use by man maybe, but being made full use of by nature in a perfectly balanced and truly sustainable manner in aid of biodiversity.
Regarding co-products, yes it is good not to waste anything and find use for it. The high protein DDGS amounts to 5% of the total amount of corn used (Nathan Schock's) and 30% (according to JW's figures)of Corn oil. The easiest way to make use of the co-products is to use as feed for livestock and poultry. The question arises, carbohydrates form the largest portion of a healthy diet, feeding animals bran, high protein DDGS and corn oil does not sound very healthy to me unless there is a livestock equivalent to the Atkin's Diet!
I'll wave the American flag any time but my God, hear in Europe we have sexy well made cars and you do not have to drive a two ton car to have a trill from a challenging drive. Can't you as consumers all demand similar efficient vehicles from your manufacturers. That could save the equivalent of many times POET's ethanol production every year. POET can still help to substitute the rest of the Gas when cellulosic ethanol becomes more efficient.


Albert, as the price of gas goes up, people will flock to the higher mpg cars, just like they did back in the seventies. Models like the Prius and Yaris are already quite common. If I had one gripe, it would be the relative lack of small diesel cars on the American market. Let's see, there's VW... and VW. I wouldn't mind something like a diesel version of the Fiat Punto or Toyota Yaris.

Albert Bezzina

Averagejoe, I see the problem. There is no problem with finding diesel versions of most European cars coming on the market here. In fact almost half of passenger cars sold in Europe are diesel powered. My point was that US manufacturers have lost ground on diesel engine technology after the rather sooty and noisy first attempts in the past. Euro V rated diesel engines are as clean as the cleanest gas engines. Untaxed cheap gas in the US did not create a consumer demand for more efficient gas engines. Inefficient gas guzzling cars were compounded by the US car manufacturers' belief that you cannot have a safe car if it had a low weight. It is a pity not only from the US automobile heratage aspect but also from the social aspect (employee redundancies) the US auto manufacturers are loosing market share as they were unprepared for the consequences of high gas prices. Looking towards ethanol as a substitute for gas is a lost battle if the US persists with manufacturing vehicles with low mpg. If the US wants to have a ghost city called Detroit and an extict auto industry you can all buy European and Far Eastern cars. Otherwise they have to pull their socks up, remove the shakles from the oil campanies and produce vehicles with 50 or 60 mpg. The requirment is there, the capability is there. What or who is dragging down R&D in this sector?


There are a number of reasons for the lack of small diesel cars in America. Number one, as you said, the low cost of gas in the past. The second reason deals with perceptions: some Americans still mistakenly believe that diesels all spew clouds of dirty black smoke. Third: many modern pollution control systems were not compatible with the high sulfur content in American diesel fuel. It was only recently that new standards mandating ultra-low sulfur content for American diesel fuel were put into effect.

If I remember correctly, Honda is planning on selling a diesel version of the Civic. It should reach American markets in 2009. At this point, I really don't care which company makes the car I drive, as long as it does what I want it to. Besides, most of the new automotive jobs created in the U.S. have been created by foreign firms opening new factories here. Perhaps the recent loss of market share will motivate GM and Ford to do a better job.


POET cannot be the first to produce cellulosic ethanol as it is already being done in Brazil in a pilot plant which makes 5000 liters per day (4.6 million gallons per year) at a price of less than 40 cents per gallon. It ferments only the C6 sugars.
It's in a new book, check it out.


Audubon did a great article on the cons of food-based ethanol and the pros of cellulosic (grass-based, specifically) ethanol.


Great blog!


Let's clear up some confusion on the "food-based" ethanol comments.

If you research how the US Corn *grain* crop harvest is utilized (not the entire plant as with corn silage for dairy cattle feed), the majority is used to feed livestock for meat production. A very smaller portion goes to starch, oil, and sweet syrup that are consumed by humans. Truth be known, if the price of the 128oz big gulp soda at the local convenience store goes up a quarter, that's probably a very good thing from a health standpoint. Same if the cost to produce animal protein goes up a fraction.

Now, Dan Berler comments "550 gallons per acre. Mmmm.. Enough fuel for 4 family sedans for a year! 150 bushels of corn could feed how many people or livestock?". Well, I know of no person who eats this yellow field corn as a grain. Mexico is probably the largest per capita consumer of corn in all forms , but nearly all is white corn (excluding soft drink sweetener), which is completely different from what's used for grain (starch) ethanol or livestock feed in these discussions.


I certainly wouldn't mind if the cola companies switched back to cane sugar. The old time cola drinks made with cane sugar were much better than the syrupy stuff made today. I'm not sure how much corn it would save, but it sure would save my taste buds from corn syrup overload.

Jim G.


Yes, it is truly amazing the sheer quantity of uninformed ethanol bashing that goes on in the press and on blogs around this issue of food versus fuel. Otherwise intelligent people are getting swept up in this hysteria as though there is some immediate danger to the food supply and unfortunately the big oil firms have better access to major media outlets. I'm even seeing strident op-ed pieces in the Wall Street Journal or from George Will bringing up the Mexican tortilla story. It really gets me that when there's an important story in Mexico (like the fraud in recent elections there) these folks don't even notice, but then when an oil company lobbyist hands them a talking points sheet, suddenly they're experts on Mexico and they are supposedly chock full of compassion.

oilfield equipment

i always wonder where ethanol is going to go to. i feel like they are not pushing it very well.

Process Improvement,Australia

What I'm wondering is would it be cheaper to convert existing ethanol into butanol ....

buy wholesale

Audubon did a great article on the cons of food-based ethanol and the pros of cellulosic (grass-based, specifically) ethanol.

Howard Holme

I urge you to support, independently or as part of an energy and climate bill this summer, S835, the Open Fuel Standards Act, that would require future cars and light trucks with Internal Combustion Engines to be Flex Fuel vehicles compatible with methanol, ethanol, or gasoline. http://thomas.loc.gov/home/gpoxmlc111/s835_is.xml The extra expense for manufacturing a flex fuel car is only about $100.

Driving on methanol from natural gas is cheaper per mile than driving on gasoline or ethanol (even assuming no subsidy and equivalent taxation). "US Gulf [methanol]spot prices were around 98 cents/gal in mid-May [2010], up from a low point at 73 cents in mid-April and up from 93 cents/gal three months earlier." http://www.icis.com/v2/chemicals/9076034/methanol/pricing.html

See http://www.energyvictory.net/images/Summary_of_the_Open_Fuel_Standard_Act.PDF"

Adam Mack

Hi Howard,

I have read the Open Fuel Standards Act and just because it costs cheaper than gasoline doesnt mean it cant harm the environment. Im for solar energy power. I have read a lot of solar energy information and concluded that solar is way better than methanol.

Do you agree?

about marmaris

solar energy system is ouw future I think.. cause; electric systems not cheap in every country. we should use more to solar systems

towel warmer

People keeps saying that solar energy is our future but I don't see stride being made toward this goal and I think that it will be a long time before it becomes a big thing.

The comments to this entry are closed.

. .

Batteries/Hybrid Vehicles