Today’s Stories of Interest

There were quite a few interesting stories today, so here are a few Drumbeat-inspired headlines and excerpts.

Gasoline: Painful, and getting worse

NEW YORK ( — So gasoline prices are at an all-time high. But after adjusting for inflation, rising incomes and better fuel efficiency, how bad are they really? The experts’ answer: Bad. Nearly as bad as they’ve ever been, and not likely to get better anytime soon.

Gas prices rise to new national record

NEW YORK – The cost of filling up the family car jumped to a record high Tuesday, adding to the challenges consumers already face with falling home values and rising food prices.

Gas prices at the pump rose overnight to a record national average of $3.2272 a gallon, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. That’s a tad higher than the previous record of $3.2265, set last May.

A year ago, rising demand and a string of refinery outages had raised concerns about supplies. Now, the soaring price of crude oil is the culprit, propelling gas higher even though supplies are at 15-year highs.

Michael J. Economides: Presidential Candidates Clueless on Energy

It is certain that the United States is in for an energy price and supply shock the likes of which we have never experienced or imagined. While high prices, to a reasonable extent can be tolerated, hell will break loose if massive supply disruptions emerge. We are much closer to them than people think. Those who think that we can conserve ourselves to energy independence need not read any further. They are vastly wrong and it is pointless to argue with them.

Corn-Based Ethanol Could Worsen “Dead Zone” – Study

WASHINGTON – Growing more corn to meet the projected US demand for ethanol could worsen an expanding “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico that is bad for crawfish, shrimp and local fisheries, researchers reported on Monday.

Beef industry reeling from rising feed costs

Corn prices, which have more than doubled largely because of ethanol production, have the beef industry staggering. The price per pound for beef isn’t rising nearly as quickly as feed costs, and nationally some ranchers are reducing the size of their herds. That reduction of cows to slaughter was the main reason cited by the world’s largest meat producer, Tyson Foods, for shuttering a Kansas packing plant in January, leaving 1,500 middle-class workers jobless.

Weschenfelder and others in the cattle industry contend they’d be better off if biofuel subsidies weren’t driving up corn costs.”Corn is up and it’s staying up and, of course, everybody knows that it happened when they started this ethanol stuff,” Weschenfelder said. “Yes, it’s my preferred feed. I feed up to 400 tons a day, depending on what we’re doing. Right now we’re feeding 75 tons a day, and corn’s $225 a ton. Three years ago, I fed corn for $80 a ton.”

And how is this for irony? The Select Committee on Global Warming is holding a hearing to chastise oil companies for high oil prices:

Chairman Markey Announces Oil Cos. CEOs Hearing to Explore Oil Price Issues

Record Oil Prices Deserve Answers from Oil Companies

WASHINGTON (March 11, 2008) – It’s a broken record for a near-broken economy-oil hit another price record today, crossing the $109 threshold for a barrel of oil, and the price of a gallon of gasoline reached record prices overnight. One Congressional committee, not satisfied with America’s crude oil status quo, will seek answers from the biggest oil companies in the world.

The Select Committee plans on holding the hearing on Tuesday, April 1, 2008, the first day available to hold hearings after Congress returns from its Spring district period recess.

“This is not an April fool’s joke on Big Oil, because the prices at the pump are no laughing matter,” said Markey. “It’s time for these top oil company CEOs to look Americans in the face and tell them why they can’t support new solutions.”

Markey has got to be one of the biggest demagogues on oil prices. He should embrace higher prices as the fastest practical solution for slowing GHG emissions. Yet it’s a constant dog and pony show with him: Parade out the CEOs and demand that they answer for these oil prices. If I were a CEO of one of the major oil companies, I would tell Markey to make an appointment if he wants to talk, and then come see me. I would tell him that I am not at his disposal; I am too busy trying to make sure his constituents have gasoline. (Thanks to a reader for this one).

12 thoughts on “Today’s Stories of Interest”

  1. Hope it is ok to ask you this question. As you know, I sometimes leave comments here.

    What are some cutting edge companies, start-up or otherwise, in biofuels (genetically modified biofuels, biodiesel etc. but not corn ethanol.)?

    Am helping organize a clean tech panel, and don’t have a huge universe of companies to chose from.

    Any great companies in the carbon sequestration space?

    Thanks for your help.

  2. My answer to the cattle industry would be to go back to feeding cattle the grasses they had evolved to eat. It would be cheaper for them and healthier for us as the meat would have a healthier fat profile. Sure they wouldn’t be able to bring the cattle to weight as quickly with corn feed but all in all I think it would be a solution that would be better for everyone.

  3. Except that Congressional Committee chairs have subpeona powers and CEOs don’t. So pretty much Markey can call whoever he wants.

    I hope at least one of the CEOs brings up Markey’s middle of the night budget shennigans to block federal funds from demolition of an old bridge, effectively blocking a proposed liquified natural gas plant. Fall River LNG

    Or how about Markey’s demagoging of the 1002 Area in Alaska

    And his position on adding polar bears to the endangered species list to block exploration in the Chuckchi Sea. Polar Bears

    Or perhaps he can explain his introduction of noted plug in hybrid vehicle expert Rob Lowe .

  4. What are some cutting edge companies, start-up or otherwise, in biofuels (genetically modified biofuels, biodiesel etc. but not corn ethanol.)?

    This is probably the single most frequently asked question I get. A couple of my favorites are Choren and LS9. But a disclaimer: I haven’t kicked the tires extensively on either. I often find that when I do kick the tires, I start to find some problems. I have a plant visit to Choren in April, where I will have a good chance of really digging into the technology.

    Any great companies in the carbon sequestration space?

    I am coming around to the point of view that my new company – Accsys Technologies – has one of the best – if not the best – carbon sequestration technologies around.

    I am trying to look objectively at the situation, but I can’t think of anything more effective: We acetylate sustainable lumber. CO2 is pulled from the atmosphere and sequestered in the biomass while the tree is growing. It remains sequestered for the lifetime of the wood.

    The acetylation step means that the lifespan and durability of the wood are much greater. So when it is used as any sort of building material, you have CO2 sequestration for as long as the wood exists (which is a long time). What we need to do is find more applications, which would mean more sequestration.
    The durability of the acetylated wood is such that it can replace (in some applications) aluminum and steel, which generates a lot of CO2 in the process.

    So, you have sequestration, and avoidance of emissions. That’s a win-win. I can’t really think of a better technology for carbon sequestration. And we are already commercial.

  5. My answer to the cattle industry would be to go back to feeding cattle the grasses they had evolved to eat.

    But that’s like telling the corn industry to stop the heavy fertilization that makes those high yields possible. They couldn’t make any money without the fertilization.

  6. Any great companies in the carbon sequestration space?

    Traditional oil and gas companies will likely dominate this playing field. Using CO2 for enhanced oil recovery is a good first use. About 80% of the CO2 is produced with the EOR crude. But over time it is a permanent sink. Depleted oil and gas fields or deep saline aquifers are the most cost effective places to store CO2. Here is an independent oil and gas company which produces a natural CO2 field for EOR, but has longer range plans for carbon capture and storage: Denbury Resources .

    This is an emerging field. One of the problems is there are no regulatory rules in place for long term storage of CO2.

  7. Long term carbon sequestration in subterranean coal and oil is a pretty good idea, almost as good as calcium carbonates. I wonder if it’s been done? πŸ™‚

  8. But that’s like telling the corn industry to stop the heavy fertilization that makes those high yields possible. They couldn’t make any money without the fertilization.

    True, but I believe they could still be profitable using grazing vs. corn feed. I have purchased beef from several cattle producers that primarily feed with grass who are profitable. Would their profits go down, certainly, but they are going to go down anyway if the price of corn stays elevated. I know it’s probably too much to ask for them to be forward thinking and to go this route without prodding, but in the end I hope we see more beef raised this way.

  9. Anand: For carbon sequestration, take a look at Peerless Mfg Co. and Calgon Carbon Corp….but as you know, it’s a pretty small universe of mostly startups.

  10. A couple of my favorites are Choren and LS9.
    Just my opinion: I’d step away from LS9. Their technology would be great for making pharmaceuticals (low volume, high value). With fuel (high volume, low value) they are out of their depth.

    You don’t rate Range Fuels? Their technology is similar to Choren’s, it’s only the product that is different. And, of course, Range sings from the cellulosic ethanol hymnal, that is so popular in DC…

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