Nate Hagens at The Oil Drum just wrote a review of a paper by Professor Charles Hall, who like Nate and myself also contributed a chapter to the renewable energy book that will be published later in the year. Many have written to ask about the book, and I haven’t said anything, as I wasn’t sure how much was public information. Nate made most of it public in his post:
At $100 Oil – What Can the Scientist Say to the Investor?
This paper, along with 16 others (including 2 by theoildrum.com contributors), will be part of an upcoming book edited by Professor David Pimentel, “Renewable Energy Systems: Environmental and Energetic Issues“. (I’ll provide links when published). The paper by Professor Hall et al. is a thoughtful preliminary treatise on the impact that projected lower net energy for petroleum might have on the economy and investments.
So, there you have the title and publisher. Later on, Nate lists the Table of Contents:
RENEWABLE ENERGY SYSTEMS: ENVIRONMENTAL AND ENERGETIC ISSUES
Authors and Titles of Chapters
1) David Pimentel, College of Agriculture, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York: RENEWABLE ENERGY SYSTEMS; BENEFITS AND ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS
2) Tad Patzek, College of Engineering, University of California (Berkeley): CAN THE EARTH DELIVER THE BIOMASS-FOR-FUEL WE DEMAND?
3) David Swenson, Department of Economics, Iowa State University: A REVIEW OF THE ECONOMIC RISKS AND REWARDS OF ETHANOL PRODUCTION
4) Doug Koplow, Earth Track, Inc., Cambridge, MA and Ronald Steenblik, Research Director, Global Subsidies Initiative International Institute for Sustainable Development, Geneva: SUBSIDIES FOR ETHANOL PRODUCTION IN THE UNITED STATES
5) Charles Hall, Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, College of Forestry and Environmental Science, State University of New York, Syracuse, NY: PEAK OIL, EROI, INVESTMENTS AND THE ECONOMY IN AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
6) Andrew Ferguson, Optimum Population Trust, Manchester, England: WIND POWER: BENEFITS AND LIMITATIONS
7) Robert Rapier, [RR comment: affiliation deleted], Aberdeen, Scotland: RENEWABLE DIESEL
8) Mario Giampietro, International Nutrition Institute, Rome, Italy, K. Mayumi, Tokushima University, Japan: COMPLEX SYSTEM THINKING IN RENEWABLE ENERGY SYSTEMS
9) Marcelo E. Dias de Oliveira, The Brazilian Alcohol Programme, Brazil: SUGARCANE AND ETHANOL PRODUCTION AND CARBON DIOXIDE BALANCES
10) Tom Gangwer: BIOMASS FUEL CYCLE BOUNDARIES: CURRENT PRACTICE AND PROPOSED METHODOLOGY
11) Edwin Kessler, Department of Meteorology, University of Oklahoma, Norman: OUR FOOD AND FUEL FUTURE
12) Nathan Hagens, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, Kenneth Mulder, Green Mountain college: A FRAMEWORK FOR ANALYZING ALTERNATIVE ENERGY: NET ENERGY, LIEBIGS LAW AND MULTICRITERIA ANALYSIS
13) Robert M. Boddey, Embrapa-Agrobiologia, Rio de Janeiro, BR: ETHANOL PRODUCTION IN BRAZIL
14) Roger Samson, Resource Efficient Agricultural Production Canada (REAP-Canada): CELLULOSICS FOR THERMAL ENERGY
15) Maurizio Paoletti, Department of Biology, University of Padova, Italy, Tiziano Gomiero, (please provide affiliation and location): ORGANIC AGRICULTURE AND ENERGY CONSERVATION
16) Sergio Ulgiati, Department of Chemistry, Sienna University, Italy: BIODIESEL PRODUCTION IN ITALY: BENEFITS AND COSTS
17) Kenan Unlu, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA: CURRENT RESEARCH ON NUCLEAR ENERGY
I deleted my affiliation, because I have indicated I won’t publicly divulge that here. Nate did divulge it, which is fine as it is out in the public domain anyway. But I deleted it here, because as I have indicated before I don’t discuss the identity of my employer here.
I will provide another update when the book has actually been published, and will provide some extended excerpts from my paper. I think my paper was definitely balanced and objective (and easily readable even for someone who doesn’t know anything about these issues). In fact, Professor Pimentel thought I was too generous on several of my arguments, and was the person who pointed me to the toxicity issue that caused the Australian government to ban jatropha. Up to that point, I hadn’t really come up with anything negative on jatropha.
But in the paper I was pretty upbeat on 2nd generation renewable diesels, and first generation renewable diesels that can be produced at low cost by hobbyists. But I did clearly lay out pros and cons.
18 thoughts on “Update on Book Publication”
I hope your trust in your company isn’t misplaced. I hope the language used in the agreement is lawyer-proof !
The jatropha-ban in Australia is a bit funny — they are planting millions of hectares of it in India and Indonesia.
I suspect it has more to do with wanting to keep invasive species out — Aussie has had terrible problems with American cacti and jackrabbits in the past — than with fears of jatropha being poisonous. Most plants are poisonous if you eat them. That’s how they survive in a world full of hungry mammals.
Jatropha offers a real biofuel option for low-wage countries. It is interesting to not that jatropha has never been selectively bred until recently. Corn used to be the size of your finger, then your hand, now your foot. Selective breeding works wonders.
A one-million hectare plantation can produce enough for two days U.S. oil demand.
Given and water and wages, jatropha probably will not work in the US. In SE Asia, India, China, it may well work, and better than any other biofuel option, unless algae ever works.
I predict jatopha will be one more reason that fossil oil demand peaked in 2007, and will fall in coming years, perhaps for decades, depending on oil prices. Conservation and substitution are working their usual magic.
We have reached Peak Demand already.
By the way, if the US slips into recession, I can’t possibly see how oil prices will stay propped up. This may be historic point to short oil
Congratulations, Robert. On this occasion I would like to raise an issue that I feel is being sorely overlooked. Specifically, when I read articles on alternative power sources (everything from biofuels to air), people seem to be talking only about the energy needed to propel vehicles. Are they also considering the energy needed to scrape together the resources for vehicles and build them? And even more than that, what about the energy needed to maintain transportation infrastructure? I don’t think people realize how much (cheap) petroleum energy is embodied in our factories, buildings, airports, motor vehicle and aircraft fleets, and especially in our vast road networks. As we found out last year, America’s transportation infrastructure is already beginning to crumble. It is useless to have energy for vehicles if there are few serviceable roads, or if it costs too much to make vehicles themselves. What attention does the alternative fuel debate give to this question, if any?
Mr. Cole raises an important question when he mentions what effect a US recession would have. As it looks increasingly likely that the US economy will slow considerably or even crash, his point is well worth debate.
Certainly the immediate effect would be cheaper oil. But there are other things to take into consideration. For example, how much slack would be taken up by those who suddenly find themselves able to afford more oil? Unless a US recession sparks a worldwide recession, other countries will immediately take advantage of lower prices and consume more. One other reason for high oil and gas prices is that many governments, in particular the US, Russia, and China, are working overtime to lock down as much of the world’s remaining hydrocarbon reseves as possible, and that is not going to change, recession or not.
Also, we can’t praise economic recession without reserve, as many more people will suffer because of it.
Kudos to you for being included in that list of authors. It will do nothing buy enhance your credibility.
At above $60-70 a barrel, I think we see a trend to less, not more, oil consumption.
The US could have a recession, and, at $100 a barrel, the world will be turning away from oil anyway. Conservation and alternative fuels do the trick everytime.
True, this go ’round, the Thug States control the world’s oil supply. That makes development very difficult.
Nevertheless, conservation and other fuels will step in.
Although jatropha will grow in arid regions, there is some discussion that yields increase as irrigation is increased.
Depending on the nature of this relationship, would you agree we could see “water vs. fuel” debates mirroring the “food vs. fuel” issues we are now experiencing?
There are very few regions on the planet that are not looking at water shortages. If jatropha is yielding high returns, growers will fight for additional water rights.
It would be interesting to play this issue forward and ask what policies could allow jatropha to be used without jeopardized water resources.
It would be interesting to play this issue forward and ask what policies could allow jatropha to be used without jeopardized water resources.
There is absolutely no shortage of water on this planet, and thanks to the conservation of mass that is not going to change. There are certainly local shortages of potable water.
The answer is proven technology: nuclear power plants using their heat to (a) desalinate water and (b) provide power which can be used, among other things, to pump that fresh water where it is needed.
The old Soviet Union had plants doing this decades ago.
Not all biofuels are equal
The Swiss study identifies striking differences in the environmental costs of different biofuels. Fuels made from U.S. corn, Brazilian soy and Malaysian palm oil may be worse overall than fossil fuels. The best alternatives include biofuels from residual products, such as recycled cooking oil and ethanol from grass or wood.
The Zah et al. study falls short in that it fails to consider secondary consequences of biofuels, such as rising food costs, but it is a big step forward in providing a way to compare the environmental benefits and costs of dozens of different biofuels.
There is absolutely no shortage of water on this planet, and thanks to the conservation of mass that is not going to change.
You are right, there is no shortage of water. But you are wrong about where fresh water will come from in future. Desalination is a thermodynamic nightmare, due to the high entropy of a saline solution. A far superior technology is toilet to tap.
And, in most cases, you won’t have to go that far: Jatropha (like most other crops) can be grown on partially treated (or even untreated) sewage.
Our renewable future is all about eliminating waste, by using it as feedstock to replace unrenewable resources.
Does this book have an anti-biofuel agenda? Pimentel is famous for arguing against the efficiency of ethanol.
‘”There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel,” says David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell. “These strategies are not sustainable.”‘
And you say “in fact” he says you were “too generous” to biodiesel – as though you had been hired to be a hit man and had not killed the idea as thoroughly as Pimentel would have liked.
Does this book have an anti-biofuel agenda?
I think the purpose of the book is to demonstrate that biofuels are potentially a disaster unless done correctly. There are some authors that likely think there is no way to do them correctly. Professor Pimentel and I went back and forth on several points, but unless one of my facts was blatantly wrong, I stuck to my guns.
For instance, I wrote about the prospects for a company like Choren to eventually make a contribution. I wrote about the positives of green diesel. So, mine certainly wasn’t an “all biofuels are bad all the time” essay.
For instance, I wrote about the prospects for a company like Choren to eventually make a contribution.
BTW, are you familair with the work USDA is doing w.r.t. catalytic hydrothermal (or “wet”) gasification? Any opinions on that?
No, I was unaware of the USDA work (or forgot). What do you know about it?
Well, the process reportedly works at close to critical conditions (200 bar and 325°C). They use a Ruthenium catalysts, and one of the problems (not sure if they have solved it) has been the poisoning of the catalyst by sulfur. Other challenges include pumping “solids” (aka sludge) to that pressure.
They claim that as long as the feed solids concentration is more than 2%, they come out ahead in terms of energy – heat recovery being a major factor in the actual performance.
They are supposed to be piloting this at a Kodak Eastman facility in TX, although I cannot find any online reports of the progress there, which makes me wonder how well things are going in the real world.
“Specifically, when I read articles on alternative power sources (everything from biofuels to air), people seem to be talking only about the energy needed to propel vehicles. Are they also considering the energy needed to scrape together the resources for vehicles and build them?”
It pretty much breaks down to transportation fuels and electricity. We have lots of alternatives for electrical generation, both developed and experimental. Hydro, geothermal, coal, gas, oil, wind, wave, tidal, solar, nuclear.
Transportation fuels are the sticking point, hence they’re the focus of interest.
Now, as for jatropha, it’s no magic bullet either
“But its nuts and leaves are toxic, requiring careful handling by farmers and at crushing plants, said experts at an oils and fats conference.
“In addition, it is a labour-intensive crop as each fruit ripens at a different time and needs to be harvested separately. Its productivity is also low and has yet to be stabilised[sic].
“M. R. Chandran, adviser to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, told Reuters it would take five years of intensive research before jatropha could achieve productivity that would make its cultivation economically viable. The oil yield of the plant, originating in Africa and still largely a wild species, is less than 2 tonnes per hectare with large swings from year to year.
An engineer specialising[sic] in oil and fat processing plants, including for biodiesel production, said special facilities were needed for crushing jatropha nuts as they could produce a toxic vapour.
This is a plant that hasn’t been domesticated yet, selective breeding needs to be done to reduce the toxicity, increase the productivity, and narrow the time frame of ripening. That’s going to take a while, then jatropha will be a viable crop.
Larry — “Transportation fuels are the sticking point, hence they’re the focus of interest.”
I think it is actually the other way around. Transportation fuels (meaning energy to propel vehicles) are the easy part. The hard part is building and maintaining infrastructure for vehicle manufacturing, and — this is the really big one — roads. Our road networks were built with lots of incredibly cheap oil. I don’t see how that infrastructure can be maintained unless oil gets cheap again. Assuming it doesn’t, are you proposing that the heavy machinery for road/bridge construction will run on biofuels and electricity?
Our road networks were built with lots of incredibly cheap oil. I don’t see how that infrastructure can be maintained unless oil gets cheap again. Assuming it doesn’t, are you proposing that the heavy machinery for road/bridge construction will run on biofuels and electricity?
OTOH, spending lots of time in traffic jams would encourage people to look at alternative modes of travel. Some would argue that road construction is always behind the curve. I don’t see the crisis here.
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