IMF: Fuel from food a “very bad idea”

posted at 8:45 am on October 23, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

The International Monetary Fund has learned a lesson from its flirtation with biofuels, one that Barack Obama still has ignored.  Turning food into fuel for cars not only takes sustenance from the people who can least afford it, it also wastes a tremendous amount of water.  In short, biofuels are a “very bad idea”:

With many developing nations experiencing deep shocks and citizen unrest due to rising food and fuel prices, plenaries and breakout sessions during the Program of Seminars addressed causes, effects and solutions.

Commitments by members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to reduce carbon emissions through alternative fuels development, while well meaning, have exacerbated the global food crisis and contributed to world-wide water shortages, said Nestle chief executive Peter Brabeck-Letmathe.

The resulting drop in agricultural productivity has led to price increases, he said. “Water scarcity will be the most constraining element,” to additional production, he predicted. Replacing fuel with biofuel is “a very, very bad idea.”

Replacing even 6 percent of total fuel usage with biofuel would require doubling agricultural production to maintain current output. “Where are you going to get the land and the water for this? This is irresponsible policy,” Brabeck-Letmathe said. If the US alone would reverse its policy to replace fuel with biofuels, food prices would stabilize, he stated.

That’s not likely to happen in an Obama administration.  Obama has pledged support for ethanol production, exactly the kind of biofuel that the IMF opposes.  Corn ethanol is one of the least efficient forms in terms of energy consumption, but Obama has lost none of his enthusiasm for it.  Small wonder; he has close advisers like Tom Daschle and Jason Grumet, both of whom work for corn-ethanol producers.

John McCain opposes corn ethanol, but not biofuels entirely.  He is in the same global-warming mindset that has led so many nations towards biofuels as an alternative to gasoline.  Unfortunately, that leads to two critical issues for human habitation: food production and water consumption.  The growth of food for non-food purposes uses a lot of fresh water, which isn’t an unlimited resource.  Normally, people recover some of that hydration in the food they eat, but instead cars burn it and it goes to waste.

Eventually, we will run short of arable land and fresh water to grow the crops that feed our cars instead of our mouths, and food prices will rise astronimically.  We already saw this dynamic in 2008, and the reaction of governments was to pull back exports and keep food within their countries.  This will lead to massive starvation and violent unrest.  If you thought Islamic terrorism was bad, wait until two billion people realize they’ll starve to death because we didn’t want to drill for oil off the coasts or build nuclear plants for electric cars.


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Enshala, Barack.

Oops, forgot, you don’t speak that…

pherrman on October 23, 2008 at 8:49 AM

Put the corn on my plate, not in my tank, please.

Frozen Tex on October 23, 2008 at 8:50 AM

But we have to be nice to Gaia…

Lets just hope tht with the Cuda onboard JM grows a set and stands up to the alarmists running around worry about the heating of the earth when all indications are pointing towards a cooling.

PierreLegrand on October 23, 2008 at 8:51 AM

There is a very close link between the attitudes of those who demand carbon footprint reduction through the use of food-based fuels, and the “population reduction” eugenics attitudes from the 1910s-1930s.

Further eliminating the middle class as a by-product by making carbon credits a new currency, it gets the job done of reducing the number of “useless eaters” that annoy the truly narcissistic among the power holders. Al Gore would be a prime example, considering his massive hypocrisy over his own personal energy use. He doesn’t want less usage by everyone; just everyone other than him, to make room for his massive consumption. If people starve, so be it.

MadisonConservative on October 23, 2008 at 8:52 AM

The subsidies are ridiculous. We can save tons of money right there.

lodge on October 23, 2008 at 8:52 AM

Drill BABY DRILL

originalpechanga on October 23, 2008 at 8:55 AM

But if Tom Daschle is for it… hey, it must ge good? Non?

Sugar Land on October 23, 2008 at 8:57 AM

Put the corn on my plate, not in my tank, please.

Frozen Tex on October 23, 2008 at 8:50 AM

And ethanol from corn (in the form of beer or whiskey) where it belongs – in my drinking glass.

Bigfoot on October 23, 2008 at 8:57 AM

Replacing food crops for bio-fuels crops isn’t a bad Idea, it is a sinister idea. Angry or foolish populations don’t always recognize the root causes of their situation, and are likely to believe the soothe-sayers who promise relief, no matter how ridiculous the proposal.

Rode Werk on October 23, 2008 at 8:57 AM

It’s those damn markets exploiting everyone again. Thank goodness we have the IMF and the U.S. Congress to reign in all that capitalist greed. (Corn-based ethanol was always a purely private enterprise, right?)

Bugler on October 23, 2008 at 8:58 AM

Another waste, Boycott corn Ethanol!

mindhacker on October 23, 2008 at 8:59 AM

America is an “oil rich country” but we’re not permitted to utilize our own resources and “spread the wealth” unless it’s done by taxing the evil overlords and doling out $500.00 pittances.

Barry’s plan in a nutshell is: Turn food into fuel, turn down your thermostat, inflate your tires, pat yourself on the back for being enlightened, and shut up.

The radical left take it one step further and state that the answer to food and energy shortages (which are man made)is population control, that families who reproduce and use more than their fair share must be ostracized by society.

Buy Danish on October 23, 2008 at 8:59 AM

IMF has been listening to Rush Limbaugh?

petefrt on October 23, 2008 at 9:00 AM

Living in a major corn producing state my stance on ethanol issue was a very unpopular one. Millions and millions of federal dollars came pouring in to subsidize the building of alternative fuel plants. No real studies were done on the environmental impact, the sustainability of the product, if it was even a viable product, or whether or not it would even be profitable.

We were just told that this is what is best for all concerned. With all the money that pour in, no one at first questioned a thing. Just a few short years later, most people can see this for the hoax it really is.

Tommy_G on October 23, 2008 at 9:01 AM

When W. announced the ethanol push he pushed fuel from Switchgrass! There are hundreds of thousands of set aside acres that the taxpayer pays farmers, many coporate farms, to do nothing with, just sit idle for erosion control. These could be planted to grasses harvested three or so times per year and not effect food crops.
My family farms , my family owns ethanol shares and they have been a terrific investment.
I have been against corn ethanol from day one. It is highly taxpayer susidized or would not be viable. It is another case of politicians, messing with the market place, thus messing up the market place, boondoogle along the lines of Fannie and Freddie.
Government should stay the hell out of business. Business will gravitate to what people need and be profitable if government butts out!
Which candidate will do that?

dhunter on October 23, 2008 at 9:01 AM

Hey, I’m sure the Obama team will listen to this guy, who was saying 18 months ago making fuel out of food crops was wrong (this of course, falling under the “blind pig/stopped clock” category of statements).

jon1979 on October 23, 2008 at 9:04 AM

Anyone know just how much the corn-to-ethanol industry is giving to Dear Leader Obamassiah?

rbj on October 23, 2008 at 9:04 AM

Barry’s plan in a nutshell is: Turn food into fuel, turn down your thermostat, inflate your tires, pat yourself on the back for being enlightened, and shut up.

I know you meant that as sarcasm, but that’s exactly what Obama earth-people think. They have a very ugly attitude towards their fellow “unenlightened” Americans. Trust- once, (if) Barry gets into office he will appoint a “Health Czar” to help us all become healthier, more attractive to the European crowd, people. Start hiding your processed foods!

anniekc on October 23, 2008 at 9:05 AM

I’m all for Bio fuels as long as they come from stuff that isn’t food. Like dhunter mentioned Switchgrass, but there are other sources that scientists are working with, like corn stalks, bamboo, saw dust, tree branches, all of which would use the byproduct waste from stuff that is already grown to be used in other places. It’s a great idea. If only the corn lobby wasn’t so strong…

DWSC on October 23, 2008 at 9:05 AM

Replacing fuel with biofuel is “a very, very bad idea.”

So, to recap…..

We need to switch to alternative fuels because, all together now, we can’t drill our way to energy independence. We can’t use biofuels because poor Mexicans can’t afford their daily tortillas.

So, can’t drill and can’t use alternative fuels- what is the solution?

highhopes on October 23, 2008 at 9:06 AM

Ed,

Check your spelling of “astronomically” in the last paragraph.

backwoods conservative on October 23, 2008 at 9:06 AM

This should come as no surprise, except to those who chose to leave their economic, scientific and social decision making entirely up to politicians.

Yoop on October 23, 2008 at 9:06 AM

If only the corn lobby wasn’t so strong…

DWSC on October 23, 2008 at 9:05 AM

If only Iowa wasn’t a key state in the primary process for electing Presidents.

highhopes on October 23, 2008 at 9:07 AM

Personally, I prefer turning fuel into food by using oil to ship food all over the world. In this way we are able to grow food more efficiently in climates that are better suited to whatever food crop you’re growing, and ship it to places where the food doesn’t grow that well. In that way we can turn fuel into food.

DWSC on October 23, 2008 at 9:08 AM

Enshala, Barack.
Oops, forgot, you don’t speak that…
pherrman on October 23, 2008 at 8:49 AM

Sure he does, he just won’t admit it.

Bishop on October 23, 2008 at 9:09 AM

So, can’t drill and can’t use alternative fuels- what is the solution?
highhopes on October 23, 2008 at 9:06 AM

Put on a sweater and wait for the wind.

Bishop on October 23, 2008 at 9:10 AM

Corn stocks are used for animal feed, Chopped baled and fed, very little is left from crops but sawdust and grasses are options, technology needs to be perfected.
Ask some prisoners to figure it out they can make alcohol from some bread, sugar, water and a popcan.

dhunter on October 23, 2008 at 9:13 AM

Anyone know just how much the corn-to-ethanol industry is giving to Dear Leader Obamassiah?

rbj on October 23, 2008 at 9:04 AM

I don’t, but I think Illinois is the #2 corn producing state in the US – maybe 3 or 4. The whole scheme smells kinda bacony to me.

forest on October 23, 2008 at 9:13 AM

Well obviously we aren’t going to be able to replace our oil needs with ethanol from corn or switchgrass – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use some ethanol to reduce our total need.

What we didn’t do was say ‘Okay, if I use X percent of my corn product for ethanol – then I seriously screw myself if I’m planning a corn on the cob picnic in August’.

Once again our brilliant minds of science, economics, and energy overlook the most basic question in search of a higher purpose. Can we still eat if we use all that corn for ethanol?

I really don’t care what the IMF or the rest of the world thinks. If it works for us – we do it. Like it is us depriving the world if we grow some freaking switchgrass or corn for ethanol.

Or worse, we eat it oursleves. OMG the horror! How can we be so heartless and cruel? Growing corn or switchgrass for our own usage?

What will we do next – make our own cars again?

Mr Purple on October 23, 2008 at 9:14 AM

While I agree that making food into fuel is ridiculous, the water argument doesn’t really, well hold water. The earth has not lost a drop of water since it’s existence.

I mean think about it? How can we lose water? Even if it evaporates (through burn off) it comes right back down in the form of rain. Unless you think water just randomly floats around in space.

MobileVideoEngineer on October 23, 2008 at 9:15 AM

Watched a special on Global Warming/ Energy on Public Television the other night. (yeah, I know)

These guys had the Obama talking points down pat.

Big Oil = Bad
Big Coal = Bad
Big Corn = Bad
Big Nuke = Bad

America living in grass huts burning their own feces to heat their hut = Good

cntrlfrk on October 23, 2008 at 9:16 AM

MobileVideoEngineer on October 23, 2008 at 9:15 AM

Irrelevant much? Ever heard of the word “drought”?

Buy Danish on October 23, 2008 at 9:17 AM

Put on a sweater and wait for the wind.

Bishop on October 23, 2008 at 9:10 AM

Ah! Back to Jimmy Carter’s energy policy.

highhopes on October 23, 2008 at 9:18 AM

While I agree that making food into fuel is ridiculous, the water argument doesn’t really, well hold water. The earth has not lost a drop of water since it’s existence.

I mean think about it? How can we lose water? Even if it evaporates (through burn off) it comes right back down in the form of rain. Unless you think water just randomly floats around in space.

MobileVideoEngineer on October 23, 2008 at 9:15 AM

The key word there is fresh water, which is in limited supply.

backwoods conservative on October 23, 2008 at 9:21 AM

And another thing, they (whosoever they may be) can shove their useless electric cars! They will never reach a suitable power to weight ratio, suitable for normal family needs.

OldEnglish on October 23, 2008 at 9:22 AM

And ethanol from corn (in the form of beer or whiskey) where it belongs – in my drinking glass.

Bigfoot on October 23, 2008 at 8:57 AM

Whiskey yes, beer no. Real beer contains malted barley, hops, yeast and water…nothing more. Corn as a brewing adjunct is blasphemy!

flipflop on October 23, 2008 at 9:23 AM

And ethanol from corn (in the form of beer or whiskey) where it belongs – in my drinking glass.

Bigfoot

Tell the college kids it means shortages in BEER. “Obama wants to take your been away!”

Until they can make “Frankenstein Corn”, or “Gilligan Island Sugar Can” that can be grown in sewage – it will be a bad idea.

Agrippa2k on October 23, 2008 at 9:24 AM

Irrelevant much? Ever heard of the word “drought”?

Buy Danish on October 23, 2008 at 9:17 AM

Okay, that can explain how a certain area can lose water, but while the Southeast U.S. was in drought this year, the Northeast had record rainfall.

I said earth, not a certain area. I am not a liberal and like I said I don’t agree with ethanol because apparently it is more “pollutant” than regular oil anyway, but the EARTH cannot lose water. Again, unless you think we just lose random resources to space.

MobileVideoEngineer on October 23, 2008 at 9:24 AM

While I agree that making food into fuel is ridiculous, the water argument doesn’t really, well hold water. The earth has not lost a drop of water since it’s existence.

I mean think about it? How can we lose water? Even if it evaporates (through burn off) it comes right back down in the form of rain. Unless you think water just randomly floats around in space.

MobileVideoEngineer on October 23, 2008 at 9:15 AM

That must explain why the Sahara is awash in water.

WHile the amount of water is not decreasing. The amount of water available in any one place is limited. Think about it for a minute.

MarkTheGreat on October 23, 2008 at 9:29 AM

Is there any fuel that we can harvest from recycling environmentalists?

Environmentalists are abundant, they have no other practical use, they are pollutants in their natural form and grinding them up and using them to fuel our automobiles so we can make cheaper, more frequent beer runs would be of great benefit to humanity.

So how about it Environmentalists? How about taking one for the team and saving the planet.

Sounds like a win-win to me.

NoDonkey on October 23, 2008 at 9:29 AM

The Dems care about the poor as long as they vote. As for the rest that are starving and freezing, let them eat carbon credits. The less that are breathing, the more stable the climate (see above about the voting clause).

This is a party that fights to keep infanticide in place. Does anyone really think they would put the true needs of the weakest among us as a priority to their ambitions of change?

Hening on October 23, 2008 at 9:31 AM

Off topic but important: Drudge Headline:

With $605 million already, Obama seeks only $10 more from each of us…

Sounds like his tax plan…McCain should use this! Its NEVER GOING TO BE ENOUGH

He just wants a little bit more…maybe the folks making at least $125,000 or more can chip in…

joepub on October 23, 2008 at 9:31 AM

Barry Obama…

In the pocket of BIG AGRICULTURE…

Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less…
For Gasoline, Diesel, Heating Oil, Natural Gas, Bread, Corn, Bacon, Chicken, Tortillas…………

phreshone on October 23, 2008 at 9:31 AM

Use this analogy: Obama contributions are “tax revenues”. His campaign the “Federal Government”…the largest ever…

Make sense?

Yet obama wants more.

joepub on October 23, 2008 at 9:34 AM

Biofuels is population control in disguise.

pullingmyhairout on October 23, 2008 at 9:35 AM

While I agree that making food into fuel is ridiculous, the water argument doesn’t really, well hold water. The earth has not lost a drop of water since it’s existence.

I mean think about it? How can we lose water? Even if it evaporates (through burn off) it comes right back down in the form of rain. Unless you think water just randomly floats around in space.

MobileVideoEngineer on October 23, 2008 at 9:15 AM

The issue is not the total water balance of the planet, since it doesn’t change that much. The issue is the amount of fresh water available, the location of that resource, the total usage of that fresh water from viable sources, and the allocation to each *use* segment.

Many sources in the farming areas are not regenerating at a rate that matches drawdown. Much of the recent record rainfalls resulted in rapid runoff that did little to replenish acquifers. The total amount of fresh water on the planet is not nearly as important as the water being where it is needed.

Yoop on October 23, 2008 at 9:43 AM

You would think energy was some deep dark mysterious entity if you listen to Democrats.

The USA is loaded with coal, some 27% of the world’s total, coal to liquids refineries can refine transport fuels from coal at between $30-40 barrel of oil equivalent price. Why aren’t we doing this on a massive scale? I know, it’s an easy answer, because Democrats don’t want to allow it.

Next trick question, why won’t Democrats allow it?

Socialism doesn’t fail, it just runs out of other people’s money to give away.

tarpon on October 23, 2008 at 9:49 AM

to reduce carbon emissions through alternative fuels development, while well meaning,

Even that’s a stretch.

Grafted on October 23, 2008 at 9:59 AM

Most of Obama’s ideas suck. Contrary to the prevailing uninformed opinion, he’s not that smart.

Blake on October 23, 2008 at 10:04 AM

The reason that I’m a RINO is over environmental issues, yet I’d be the first to admit that most environmental actions are so crazily off base that I no longer can stand to belong to any environmental group. You would think that any human being of normal intelligence would see the problems with biofuels on overpopulated planet, but that ol’ leftist thinking has done its magic on the environmentalists.

thuja on October 23, 2008 at 10:15 AM

Hell with the corn lobby, it is the environmentalists.

Wade on October 23, 2008 at 10:19 AM

This couldn’t be a ploy to get farm state votes & Con-Agra campaign cash, could it?

jgapinoy on October 23, 2008 at 10:30 AM

I’d hate to see a perfectly good alternative like post-consumer biodiesel (recycled french fry grease) lumped in with fuel ethanol.

DrSteve on October 23, 2008 at 10:32 AM

Fuel from food a “very bad idea”

I couldn’t agree more. I talked to a family friend who’s the past President of one of the largest supermarket chains in the country and has a PhD in food production. He said ethanol isn’t feasible until gas gets up to like $10 a gallon.

And it seems to me, food for people, fine, food as energy, there’s so many resources that go into growing food, we can’t waste it on energy. I have to wonder the subtraction between energy to grow corn and the energy we get out of it. It’s probably not that high anyway. Ultimately it makes life more difficult for the very poor, that is the 1 billion who live at a subsistence level.

Paul-Cincy on October 23, 2008 at 10:36 AM

The fossil-fuel energy used to plant and harvest corn, plus ferment it into ethanol and separate the ethanol from the corn waste is, by most estimates, at least 80% of the energy released by burning ethanol. In terms of extracting energy from corn, the human body is probably more efficient than fermenters and cars! Save energy–feed the people!

If we want fuel for cars, there are two solutions: Short term: offshore drilling–estimated reserves of 85 billion barrels = 17 years’ worth of American imports. Long term: SHALE OIL–estimated reserves in the Rockies of 500 to 1,100 billion barrels = 100 to 220 years’ worth of American imports.

It’s also possible to run buses on natural gas–it has already been done in Tennessee, and we have lots more natural gas (some from Alaska, thanks to Sarah Palin) than oil reserves. There are plans for a huge liquefied natural-gas terminal in the Long Island Sound, approved by the Feds, but the Democrat Attorneys General of CT and NY have filed lawsuits.

But if we develop our own fuel resource, who needs ethanol anyway?

Steve Z on October 23, 2008 at 10:37 AM

I’ll spare you my previous rants against the lunacy called ethanol and simply repeat what I have said, “When you start putting food in your gas tank, you don’t have an energy problem you have a mental problem”.

Ethanol, like recycling (other than aluminum) are government mandated boondoggles. The best thing that has happened recently are the commodity and oil bubbles bursting. With any luck we will have 100′s of ethanol plants falling into disrepair.

If you are stupid enough to want ethanol at least be smart enough to buy it from Brazil.

patrick neid on October 23, 2008 at 10:40 AM

Does this is any way threaten the all important beer supply?

NoDonkey on October 23, 2008 at 10:51 AM

That must explain why the Sahara is awash in water.

WHile the amount of water is not decreasing. The amount of water available in any one place is limited. Think about it for a minute.

MarkTheGreat on October 23, 2008 at 9:29 AM

Asking this particular commenter to think may be a bit unfair and harmful to his self-esteem.

Buy Danish on October 23, 2008 at 10:52 AM

The Anchoress addressed exactly this issue in April, 2008. Here is part of my comment to her post:

“Feed grains” are grown on land which might be used for “food grains”; there is a fixed amount of arable land available to any farmer, and the farmer decides what to grow on that land in order to maximize his/her profit. If “feed grains” are being used for ethanol, they are being grown as “fuel grains”, not “feed grains” — and competition for that quality of biomass drives up the profitability of growing it.

The moral aspect comes into play when the ethanol created is not used for necessities of society (such as transporting other foodstuffs to market) but for recreation (as in allowing the Rich Democratic Presidential Hopeful to buy and fuel his Hemi-powered Chrysler 300 rather than a Smart). When people starve so RDPH can drive his 300 about town, that certainly falls into the morality category.

This covers the problem in a nutshell. Note page 12 — 1/2 acre of soybeans to fly a single passenger from LA to Washington DC. Page 13 says even more — if the jet fleet currently servicing the United States were to switch to 15% biofuels, about 10% of total US cropland would be allocated to building the necessary additive. Simple arithmetic says that if we needed 100% biofuel for that jet fleet, two-thirds of all our cropland would be allocated to growing that fuel. My point: there’s only so much cropland available, and food, feed, and fuel will compete for that land; with that competition, the price of food will rise.

Of course, we will need to get used to that, given the interesting chart on page 4 of the Boeing slideshow I reference above, which shows the levels of oil reserves available for use historically and into the near future. Is there a way out? Doesn’t look like it to me. But everyone who uses energy frivolously at some point in the near future will obviously be contributing to the starvation of a less fortunate human being elsewhere on the planet as more of our croplands are diverted to fuel production.

The Boeing powerpoint slides show the issue in such stark terms that there’s no question that we would have to starve just to power our domestic airliners on biofuels. What was interesting about the comments to the Anchoress’ post is one which points out that Obama’s protectionist friends have placed a $.54 per gallon tariff on ethanol imported from Brazil. I guess that domestic ethanol production needs to be protected at all costs, even if it isn’t the highest and wisest use of land in our temporate climes.

unclesmrgol on October 23, 2008 at 11:14 AM

MobileVideoEngineer on October 23, 2008 at 9:15 AM

Ahhh… a technical purist.

How about this… Water is pumped out of the ground and used to irrigate and process corn into ethanol. The process of converting corn into ethanol requires a LOT of water. That water eventually evaporates and rains… in the same place, in other places, over the ocean.

The problem is not whether water is destroyed, but that it is redistributed to areas that may make it more difficult to extract. Over time, farm lands will become more arid as water is redistributed to other areas… think the dust bowl of the 1930s. This is where we got the soil and water conservation programs… so that we wouldn’t make the same mistakes again… or would we?

dominigan on October 23, 2008 at 11:21 AM

thuja on October 23, 2008 at 10:15 AM

It isn’t that the planet is overpopulated (go drive around Montana, Wyoming or the Dakotas), but that there is a strong socialist drive among politicians to place control of resources in the hands of the Federal Government… which is the least efficient organization in the country.

We could do so much more, if Government were involved so much less!

dominigan on October 23, 2008 at 11:25 AM

Good post, Ed.

Now we just need to get President Bush on board…..oh wait he won’t be president anymore, so it doesn’t matter.

Mcguyver on October 23, 2008 at 11:35 AM

Turning food into fuel for cars not only takes sustenance from the people who can least afford it, it also wastes a tremendous amount of water. In short, biofuels are a “very bad idea”:

Ed Morrissey

Agree. I must admit I was on the biofuels bandwagon for a brief period, I thought, yea, that might work. But now I agree, biofuels is a very bad idea. You may make a dent in the manufactured fuel shortage, but you have created a much bigger problem than you have solved. Now what do people eat?

We have more oil than the Middle East, lets get it, and start building nuclear power plants !!!

Maxx on October 23, 2008 at 11:46 AM

If the US alone would reverse its policy to replace fuel with biofuels, food prices would stabilize, he stated.

Nestle chief executive Peter Brabeck-Letmathe

Hey U.S. Congress, you are literally killing people with your misguided biofuels policies…… STOP IT NOW !!

Maxx on October 23, 2008 at 11:52 AM

Food vs. Fuel.

Strains the water supply.

Someone ought to ask Obama which one is more important.

drjohn on October 23, 2008 at 12:08 PM

I’d hate to see a perfectly good alternative like post-consumer biodiesel (recycled french fry grease) lumped in with fuel ethanol.

DrSteve on October 23, 2008 at 10:32 AM

I agree. See also below.

You don’t have to be an eco-nazi to appreciate that it is in our best interests to apply superior American science, engineering, and technology to develop alternative fuels for various energy needs (not just cars). What I like about the post-consumer approach is that, if successful, it may help address two challenges at once: waste disposal and renewable energy sources. In addition, such efforts encourage innovation which may lead to other, as yet unanticipated break-through technologies.

I’m for drilling, but not to the exclusion of pushing the development of alternative and renewable energy sources.

GM to make biofuel out of garbage

Published: Monday January 14, 2008

General Motors Corp. is planning on making biofuel with garbage at a cost of less than a dollar a gallon, the company’s chief has said.

The US automaker has entered into a partnership with Illinois-based Coskata Inc. which has developed a way to make ethanol from practically any renewable source, including old tires and plant waste.

The process is a significant improvement over corn-base ethanol because it uses far less water and energy and does not divert food into fuel.

Y-not on October 23, 2008 at 12:17 PM

WTF is wrong with policy makers in DC?

It’s one thing to disagree on reasonable alternatives to a problem (here, energy), but it’s complete waste of time to be discuss and to fund an alternative such as ethanol that makes no sense whatsoever. Why is the U.S. cutting its losses and turning elsewhere?

And if McCain needs an issue if he loses the election, why doesn’t he spend his remaining days exposing Obama and the handful of corn states for the frauds that they are. How can such a narrow lobby have so much clout. This alternative is useless; let’s move on to something else.

BuckeyeSam on October 23, 2008 at 12:39 PM

This has been partially addressed above, but you don’t need to use food to produce biofuels. Ethanol can be made out of various bio-trash, and methanol can be made out of almost anything. The benefit, as Zubrin points out, is that we could then pull into a service station and fill up with whatever is cheapest in miles per gallon. This would break OPEC and our dependence on foreign oil. Of course, we could break our dependence on foreign oil by drilling here as well, but I don’t see why we can’t do both.

JS on October 23, 2008 at 12:59 PM

There are a couple of good responses to this.

One is methanol. Methanol doesn’t have quite the energy content as ethanol, but it can still be used as a fuel substitute for gasoline. Furthermore, methanol can be made from all kinds of feedstock, including any biomass as well as from natural gas and coal. By some estimates, clean coal technology can be used to make methanol at 50 cents per gallon. Since methanol has about 54% of the energy as a gallon of gasoline, at 50 cents per gallons it is roughly equivalent to gasoline down near $1 per gallon.

And methanol is a proven auto fuel. Among other things, it was the fuel of choice for the Indianapolis 500 for over 3 decades, and it has been proven in ‘normal’ automobiles as well. While it has the disadvantage of having less energy per gallon than gasoline (and therefore gets fewer miles per gallon), the fact that it can be produced cheaply means that it can be competetive with gasoline on a miles per dollar basis.

With regard to ethanol, there are some promising developments as well – see the website for this company. Ethanol from algae makes moot the whole food vs. fuel argument moot, and if the linked company is successful, it also makes moot the idea of needing fresh water for its production, as they can do it with seawater. Ethanol is ultimately a better option for auto fuel than methanol (since it has more energy per gallon, although less than gasoline), but as of now cannot be produced from such a wide variety of feedstocks as can methanol.

However, one big disadvantage of most ethanol production in the U.S. is actually the subsidies and tarriffs. The ethanol subsidies you read about are for corn-based ethanoal – companies that produce it from other sources, such as the one I linked, do not get the subsidy. That puts them in a 51 cent hole right from the beginning. Second, the U.S. has very high tarriffs to imported sugar cane ethanol (e.g., from Brazil), which can be produce much more efficiently than corn-based ethanol.

In short, the problems are not biofuels (or more precisely, alcohol fuels, since methanol can be produced from non-biological feedstocks) in and of themselves, it’s the means of producing them and government interference in the marketplace. Both the subsidies and tarriffs must go. Their presence actually inhibits the marketplace from coming up with good alternatives for biofuel production. OPEC must be delighted by the fact that we subsidized corn-based ethanol while putting tarrifs on sugar-can based ethanol.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against drilling for more oil, far from it. I say let’s drill every last bit we can domestically and put as much in the market as we can. But ultimatly, we need to break the monopoly on gasoline as our only source of auto fuel, and alcohol based fuels is probably the easiest path to take, since converting a car to a flex-fuel vehicle can be done relatively easily and inexpensively. If you can throw alcohol based fuels into the mix and give consumers the option, you can flood the market with autofuels even more and bring down the price of all of them. That should be the goal.

thirteen28 on October 23, 2008 at 1:14 PM

Most authorities who have done a thorough analysis show that Ethanol is a net energy loser: that is, the entire process of production and delivery consumes more energy than it provides.

Couple that with the new scientific understanding that oil is NOT a “fossil fuel” built out of decaying dinosaur carcasses but a substance which is constantly being produced by natural processes deep within the earth. Also, you can’t make clothes, chemicals, or medicines out of wind or solar power…and ethanol is of very, very limited usefulness in these areas compared to oil.

The only logical conclusion is that the present push for Ethanol, Wind, and Solar as the most promising new technologies is completely misguided. We ought to be pursuing the new technologies which bring us oil more efficiently and less intrusively. We ought to be pursuing things like hydraulic energy storage instead of foolishness like highly inefficient and dangerous battery storage.

landlines on October 23, 2008 at 1:28 PM

I mean think about it? How can we lose water? Even if it evaporates (through burn off) it comes right back down in the form of rain. Unless you think water just randomly floats around in space.

MobileVideoEngineer on October 23, 2008 at 9:15 AM

I think you missed a word there — fresh. Fresh water is not an unlimited resource. Rain – A lot of rain lands in the ocean.

Ever heard of ‘water treatment plants’. Even though our nuclear subs go around the world with water all around them, they still treat the water before using it.

TechieNotTrekkie on October 23, 2008 at 1:45 PM

I`m pulling for atomic-powered cars. :)

ThePrez on October 23, 2008 at 3:00 PM

IMF: Fuel from food a “very bad idea”

What they could be doing is making fuel from plant waste matter — energy from bio waste. It doesn’t have to be fresh and look appetizing okay… lol… the fact is, ANY kind of biomass can be converted to energy (that is, oil, gasoline, ethanol, electricity). They don’t have to use food to make fuel. They are dumping “free” sources of energy such as garden waste and used cooking oil into landfills, not to mention forestry waste, and municipal solid waste (more commonly known as trash or garbage). Folks, waste product turns into fuel. They can make energy out of all of that.

apacalyps on October 23, 2008 at 4:04 PM

Like Armageddon is a “very bad idea”.

I’d say yes, and no, to that, Ed (polite smile). I think Armageddon is a bad idea for those who have rejected Christ, but a good idea for those who have accepted Him. Armageddon is when Christ returns to set up His earthly kingdom. That is, when Armageddon begins (Armageddon is when all nations march against Israel to destroy her) Jesus will return to earth. In a nutshell, the Battle of Armageddon will happen in Israel, specifically the Holy City of Jerusalem. It’s laid out in Scripture. Nations will march against Israel in hopes to finally destroy the Jews. This is when Jesus will return to defeat the antichrist, and the armies of the world:

“Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations (at Armageddon), as he fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.” Zechariah 14:3-4

So I don’t think that’s such a bad idea, in fact, I can’t wait!

apacalyps on October 23, 2008 at 4:37 PM

That’s not likely to happen in an Obama administration. Obama has pledged support for ethanol production, exactly the kind of biofuel that the IMF opposes. Corn ethanol is one of the least efficient forms in terms of energy consumption, but Obama has lost none of his enthusiasm for it.

McCain is way ahead of Obama on this issue. You have to hope that Obama is just using it politically. Or it could be that the only way to sell a huge alternative energy platform is to include ethanol since it has serious support in the Midwest.

bayam on October 23, 2008 at 6:32 PM

thirteen28 on October 23, 2008 at 1:14 PM

1328, that was very concisely stated, and you saved me a
lot of typing.

Those opposed to biofuel are absolutely determined to
ignore the precedent set by Brazil.

agape,
robb

wuzrobbd on October 23, 2008 at 6:40 PM