Coming up I have a book review ready to go for Green Algae Strategy: End Oil Imports And Engineer Sustainable Food And Fuel. However, I will wait another day or so to put that out there. For now, I will just share a couple of interesting links that readers sent to me. On the topic of my current job, a reader just noted that TreeHugger has an article (and pictures) on the bridge in the Netherlands that I have mentioned a couple of times:
Wood Bridge In Netherlands As Strong as Steel and a Lot Prettier
Have I mentioned that I love wood as a building material? If sustainably harvested it provides a strong, beautiful material that can last for centuries and sequester CO2 the whole time. People have built bridges from it forever, but in such exposed circumstances they don’t last forever.
But now there are better wood preservation techniques, and Kris De Decker of No Tech Magazine points us to a lovely new bridge in the Netherlands, purported to be the first wooden bridge in the world that can support the heaviest load class of 60 tons.
It is made from Accoya Wood, where source-certified sustainable species, including FSC certified wood, is treated by acetylation. The supplier, Titan Wood, writes:
Acetylation effectively changes the free hydroxyls within the wood into acetyl groups. This is done by reacting the wood with acetic anhydride, which comes from acetic acid (known as vinegar when in its dilute form). When the free hydroxyl group is transformed to an acetyl group, the ability of the wood to adsorb water is greatly reduced, rendering the wood more dimensionally stable and, because it is no longer digestible, extremely durable.
Second link, also brought to my attention from a reader, has the Wall Street Journal with their latest missive on ethanol:
Both CBO and EPA find that in theory cellulosic ethanol — from wood chips, grasses and biowaste — would reduce carbon emissions. However, as CBO emphasizes, “current technologies for producing cellulosic ethanol are not commercially viable.” The ethanol lobby is attempting a giant bait-and-switch: Keep claiming that cellulosic ethanol is just around the corner, even as it knows the only current technology to meet federal mandates is corn ethanol (or sugar, if it didn’t face an import tariff).
As public policy, ethanol is like the joke about the baseball prospect who is a poor hitter but a bad fielder. It doesn’t reduce CO2 but it does cost more. Imagine how many subsidies the Beltway would throw at ethanol if the fuel actually had any benefits.
I close with a digression before returning tomorrow with regularly scheduled programming. Today, June 3rd, is my 20th wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, I am spending it in the Netherlands while my wife is in Texas. I don’t say this to generate sympathy, but rather to set the stage for some changes that I will be announcing soon. The nature of my job – having teams in both Texas and the Netherlands – means that I am away from home a lot. I knew I could do that for a while, but I have now been doing it for a year and a half. I always knew it wasn’t sustainable in the long run for me personally, and I am experiencing the limits of my sustainability. Interpret that as you will, but all will be made clear shortly.
Happy Anniversary Sandy. Wish I was home today.
42 thoughts on “Accoya, Ethanol, and an Anniversary”
Happy Anniversary Robert and Sandy
I wrote the post on TreeHugger and have added a link to your December post to mine. Your explanation of how wood sequesters carbon is wonderful and will be the subject of another post of mine tomorrow.
I read that post in Treehugger about the wooden bridge and wondered if that was Accoya Wood. I'm retired and spend a lot of time reading many great blogs on clean sustainable energy and I soon forget all the details read. My apologies to Mr. Alter if this comments infers he may not have researched the subject that well.
BTW. It would be nice if you two guys would swap a few more yarns in the future. J.C. Sr
By California standards, a 20-year marriage is worthy of canonization. Congrats!
Congrats also on your Accoya wood, which I dearly hope comes to replace hardwards in all sorts of applications, so that we can leave the teak and mahoagny forests of the world alone. Pleasure boats use teak decks, but from what I read, Accoya would work better.
As a recurrant woodworker, I look forward to the day I can deeply stain Accroya woods to resemble antique mahogany, while actually using up farm-grown riata pine (or, in the U.S., sugar pine).
On a selfish level, I hope your column persists into the distant future. It may be the only forum where divergent views are tolerated. Strike that "on a selfish level."
Your column is probably of great value to the larger society. Ideas are fleshed out here, and I suspect filter into the larger body politic. So, from a civic level, I hope you persist.
But post a little more on natural gas. Huge future there. We have 120 years of NG in the USA, and counting. Shale gas is newish. Half of US NG will be shale by 2020. As Trump would say. "This is huge."
This is an interesting post. It says Uganda (Africa) could have oil reserves rivalling those of Saudi Aarabia. Seems somewhat serious.
See you in Uganda.
Imagine how many subsidies the Beltway would throw at ethanol if the fuel actually had any benefits.
Then again, if it did those it would not need subsidies AND mandates to compete…
Congrats, RR! Definitely worth accomodating such a strong relationship…
Who's the largest shareholder of the WSJ, again? Other than Rupert Murdoch?
Saudi Prince, Walahid, you say?
We're using 701,000 Barrels of Ethanol/Day, as we speak. That will be 800,000 BPD, or more, by the end of this year.
How much do you suppose that is costing the Saudi Royal Family?
"I wrote the post on TreeHugger and have added a link to your December post to mine."
Hi Lloyd. Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I look forward to your next post.
"But post a little more on natural gas. Huge future there. We have 120 years of NG in the USA, and counting."
Benny, I see that TOD did a natural gas story today. Have not had time to look at it, so not sure of the context. I will probably write more on NG soon.
"How much do you suppose that is costing the Saudi Royal Family?"
The U.S. produced a record amount of ethanol last year, yet the Saudis also had their biggest haul ever with oil prices over $100 for much of the year. We also saw record gas prices in the U.S. So it is hard to imagine that it cost them much.
rufus, the idea that the Saudis and/or big oil have motivation to be anti-ethanol is a fallacy. Biofuels preserve the status quo and infrastructure of liquid hydrocarbon fueled ICEs. Ethanol and biodiesel need to be blended with petroleum products to be used. The billions the goverment wastes on ethanol subsidies is money that is not being directed towards battery or solar breakthroughs, technologies that could displace the need for gas stations. Do you really think Cheney and Bush would have instituted such massive biofuel incentives if they weren't in the best interest of their oil buddies? I would bet money this was a topic at Cheney's secret energy meetings. It was a brilliant strategy to fool the greenies on the left while propping up their old buddies. I live in Oregon where educated environmentalists still think biofuels can help save the planet. The city of Portland buys canola biodiesel for $7 a gallon to put in buses; at that price, the net energy equation has got to be horrible. If biofuel companies actually made money, the oil companies would buy them with pocket change (RR has written about this already).
And, prices promptly dropped to $34.00/bbl, forcing the Sauds to cut production by about 3 Million bpd.
I don't suppose that made them exceedingly happy. Let's see, Global ethanol production is a little over 1.5 Million bpd, and the Sauds had to cut 3 Million. Why would they dislike ethanol?
Other Non-Constituents: Exxon, Shell, BP, Conoco, Halliburton, General Dynamics (hey, someone's got to make the tanks, and fighter jet/bombers/helicopters/ships to fight Mid-Eastern Wars to "Protect the Oil.")
Who won? Ol' Rufus – every time he filled his tank with E85. And, every American consumer according to Ia St University. Every time they filled their tank they saved $0.35/gal due to ethanol's existence in the marketplace.
That Saudi Prince has been known to brag at cocktail parties about his ability to get Fox News to "change their headlines" when he thought it was too "anti-Saudi." Do you have any doubt that he's had a few conversations with ol Rupert about the WSJ's editorial stances?
If you want to believe him and Rup that it's better to send hundreds of millions of dollars every day, and thousands of American kids' lives to the middle east than to support American fuels have at it.
Some of us aren't buying it.
"Biofuels preserve the status quo and infrastructure of liquid hydrocarbon fueled ICEs."
"The billions the government wastes on ethanol subsidies is money that is not being directed towards battery or solar breakthroughs, technologies that could displace the need for gas stations."
The huge geo-polital battle that is shaping up is not the big E (ethanol) against oil.
It is as you have correctly surmised, the Big E (Electricity and the electrical grid) versus oil.
It is the internal combustion engine against the electric motor.
The city of Portland buys canola biodiesel for $7 a gallon .
Stephen, why anyone would do this I haven't the foggiest. I don't even care to speculate.
Ethanol is selling, sans subsidies, from the refineries for approx $1.75/gal. At this price everyone from the refinery back to the farmer makes money. Again, without subsidies at any point in the chain. (btw, we, the taxpayers, used to subsidize grain producers in this country to the tune of about $11 Billion/Yr. We no longer have to do that.)
Anyhoo, this means that ethanol can be sold, retail, profitably at somewhere between $2.25 and $2.50/gal, depending on shipping costs to that particular location.
With current engines that means that ethanol will compete very well, without subsidies, when gasoline is around $3.00/gal.
When the new engines, such as Ford's new ecoboost, go flexfuel this will drop to the $2.50 – $2.75 range.
The Saudis are aware (even if you're not) that, at this point, we could, in fairly short order, replace every single drop of Mid-Eastern oil almost as an afterthought.
If you think it doesn't scare them, you're welcome to your opinion. But, I don't think I'll be sharing it.
The TOD is having fits with the NG story. They tried for years to downplay it. Eventually, it just became the elephant in the room. Now, they ackowledge NG is robust, but avoid discussing how useful NG will prove in transportation or electricity generation.
We are all doomed, except in the USA we have huge and growing supplies of natural gas, just now barely getting tapped.
NG which can be used to run vehicles–indeed there are already five million NG vehicles globally, a small slice of the total global car population, but a huge sample that proves NG is doable. CNG cars are not blowing up, and they last even longer than gasoline or diesel cars.
My real interest in NG is not that it is perfect, or that your neighbors will all have CNG cars next week.
It is that CNG completely shreds any doomer scenarios.
The negativity and scare-mongering of doomers actually harms some people–they have even written worried posts onto this website. Some people start saving canned food in caves. Planning for a future is undermined, thanks to the "we won't have a future anyway" line of thought. Social cohesion is undercut. Social anomie is increased (anybody reading TOD comments becomes an expert in social anomie).
In fact, we have a bright future in technological terms, and we should let people know it. We should encourage young people to think long-term, and to seek careers in the NG industry.
Our powers are limited, but we should encourage our leadership to consider the pleasant options ahead if we adopt CNG and PHEVs as our dominant platforms for car transportation.
A positive outlook is not warranted, but advisable in any context. Defeatism can be self-fulfilling, for individuals and countries.
TOD shuld be renamed "The Oracle of Defeatism." That is not a public service.
"With current engines that means that ethanol will compete very well, without subsidies, when gasoline is around $3.00/gal."
That's funny, becuase with subsidies and gas over $4 a gallon last year, ethanol companies started to go bankrupt (well documented in this blog).
So you think big oil exerts influence on editorials but big corn doesn't bias Iowa St. researchers? Your cited study looks a lot like the one from the Missouri Corn Merchandinsing Council last year. But when you account for subsidies and energy content, ethanol costs tapayers more: http://showmeinstitute.org/docLib/20080618_20080618
If your argument is really about using American fuels, than how about conceding that we should use our own natural gas to directly fuel vehicles rather than downgrade it into ethanol? If not, you will look suspiciously tied to the ethanol lobby.
@Benny "reargas", 3:38 PM:
LOL! It's true. I stopped visiting TOD 'cos it was making me depressed. (Plus I wasn't in urgent need of information about how to dry my own fruit).
On the other hand I don't live in the US, but on the end of a very very long pipeline that starts in Kazakhstan … I guess the doomers don't have to be wrong about EVERYWHERE 🙁
Stephen, the companies that just bought their corn, and sold their ethanol did alright.
The ones that blew it were the ones like Verasun where the CEO blew $400 Billion playing the commodities market. He shorted corn all the way up to $8.00, and then "locked in" at the all-time highest corn price on record. A surprisingly large number of producers did exactly the same thing.
Jeff Broin, whose family has been around farming since Hector was a pup, simply bought corn, and sold ethanol. The market was, always, within a few pennies, one way or the other, of break-even. Companies like that did fine.
We get one of these "100-year floods" every 15 years, or so; by the time we have our next one there will be enough experience in the ethanol business that most won't make the "Verasun" mistake.
As for nat gas. Here's the thing. There's Two things, really. 1) You can get more miles by leveraging the nat gas with some solar, and bio, than you can get burning it directly.
2) The move in the ethanol industry is toward using biomass (to a large extent, corncobs) for process energy in lieu of nat gas, or coal.
And, please, drop the "you must be an ethanol Lobbyist," silliness. I didn't try to ascertain your occupation. For a reason. It's not relevent. We're not going to bow to an "argument from authority." Or, to "Ad Hominum." Your argument is going to have to stand on its own.
Oops, make that "$400 Million."
I read your thing on Uganda. The Great Rift Valley is also a great place for geo-thermal, a technology which fits in rather well with crude and/or natural gas exploration,
Isn't a huge point about corn ethanol that there is essentially no energy return on investment? You pretty much use as much oil to produce it as it displaces? So the Saudis should feel absolutely nothing, right?
ps happy anniversary Robert, I look forward to reading everyone of your posts.
Thanks for sponsoring the R2 Blog.
David, very little Oil is used in the input chain to ethanol. The plants use, virtually, none, and the farmer only uses about 5, or 6 gallons of diesel/acre (an acre of corn produces between 430 and 450 gallons of ethanol.)
Once you allow for the fact that you get back 40% of your livestock-feeding ability through DDGS you get considerably more gal of ethanol/acre than that; but, every time I do that math I end up starting a fight, and it's really not important to the overall scheme of things.
Usually, when they refer to fossil fuel inputs in ethanol it's nat gas (same as petroleum-to-gasoline.)
Anyway, as I've stated, some refineries are, already, going to biomass for energy; and most will probably be heading that direction in just a few years.
Good job of providing information Rufus. RR has provided a WSJ opinion piece full of hyperbole and short on fact. It made good reading for the commuters going to Wall Street.
Some observations Main Street or in my case Forest Road. I bought gasoline to today, a monthly chore. I did not have to do anything to get 10% ethanol. The cost for the freedom afforded by the ICE is very reasonable. Cheaper than coffee at the gas station. I detected no 'exorbitant cost' of ethanol at the pump. Good thing too, who want to put extra money into CNGV or EV.
Now lets talk about food costs. Over the last 60 years, our very productive and have driven commodity prices for food into the dirt, literally. If the WSJ wants to blame American farmers for crop failures other places in the world, let me suggest that that journalist are better at selling papers providing information. Oh wait, newspapers are going under very fast because we can learn more from Rufus than metro riding wennies. I have detected no 'exorbitant cost' for food either.
I was just wondering what 'exorbitant cost' my be for a worker at the WSJ. Say hotel, same bed cost $100 more a night. But wait, it cost more to park my car than to drive to work for a month where I live. I really bored with the folks in DC, DFW, LA, SF, and NYC talk about pollution and the cost of energy.
I may have said this here before, but it is worth repeating. As Del Griffith (John Candy) once said, "Like your work, Love your wife"
Words to live by, happy anniversary.
Thanks for the kinds words, Kit. However, I think you should know that the CBO ascertained that ethanol raised the level of your $100.00 weekly food bill by an earthshattering $0.70(give or take a nickel.)
I know this probably makes you want to go out and set fire to an ethanol still, or something, but, at least, try to spare the one where we gets our "Sippin' Likker." 🙂
hello… hapi blogging… have a nice day! just visiting here….
“give or take a nickel”
I am thinking Rufus remembers when a kid could do a significant job of changing sugar intake with a nickel. There are a few things that grew out back that I will never eat again. I can also recall a time when I could account for every nickel spent at the commissary. Car pooling was a necessary.
I would not be the least bit surprised if Rufus and I are the only ones that know how to true up a bicycle wheel. I need an anger management class every time I hear someone brag about riding their $2k bicycle to work to save energy. Slapping them silly with a slide rule is not allowed. I have ridden a bicycle to save money.
I was about 40 when I bought a mountain bike for enjoyment. I used to ride to work for enjoyment too. Anyhow, there came a time the mountain bike needed new tires. Fred Meyers did not have that particular odd size so I searched on the internet. I could buy a new 21-spd mountain bike assembled at the store for the cost of tires and tubes. It was a matter of pride to fix it myself.
The world has gotten better. We have all the food and energy we need at an affordable price. Sure RR thinks I do not enough empathy speculators who get on the wrong side of greedy, but it does warm my heart when I hear that Midwest farmers are doing well growing corn for ethanol and getting royalties for wind turbines.
Rufus and Kit,
Thanks for the infotainment. This site won't be half as much fun without you guys.
We're using 701,000 Barrels of Ethanol/Day, as we speak. That will be 800,000 BPD, or more, by the end of this year. How much do you suppose that is costing the Saudi Royal Family?
Using the most optimistic estimates out there (= 1.3 net gain, sadly provided by the Federal Government [your tax dollars at work… or make that at lobby]) that 701,000 bpd still required the equivalent of 540,000 bpd in fossil fuels. The 160,000 bpd is hardly going to keep the Saudi royals up at night.
You may argue that much of the remaining 540,000 bpd was actually US natural gas. But careful now, if the bulk of the saving came from the natural gas, you are making Benny's argument that we should just drive CNG vehicles.
Good thing too, who want to put extra money into CNGV or EV.
What extra cost? As RR pointed out before: It turns out that today there are 1900 stations selling E85, but the number only went past 1600 [the number of CNG stations] in 2008. So CNG isn't operating from as big a deficit as some of my ethanol friends [that would be you two] would like to believe.
If the WSJ wants to blame American farmers for crop failures other places in the world, let me suggest that that journalist are better at selling papers providing information.
Let's see if we can explain this at a level that Kit may comprehend.. sorry, understand:
1. American corporation dumps subsidized US crop in poor country.
2. Unsubsidized local farmers can't compete, many are forced to give up farming.
3. Thanks to all that corn going into making firewater, American corporation stops exporting to poor country.
4. Since local agricultural production took a hit, food prices spike.
Sometimes the journo's actually get it right, Kit (too rare an occurence, I agree), but you're to busy enjoying their demise to entertain the possibility…
The city of Portland buys canola biodiesel for $7 a gallon to put in buses; at that price, the net energy equation has got to be horrible.
That IS incredibly stupid, and criminal (Food->Fuel). But I guess that's what you get when you are motivated by an irrational hate of Big Oil. Or a weak understanding of the Environment.
BTW, RR, about that Akkerwinde bridge: Does that thing really need to use that much wood? I've asked a structural engineer for his opinion, and he thought the thing looked to be completely overdesigned.
If so, I suspect your company might have shot themselves in the foot with that project: most people will look at that bridge and go: No thanks, let's save 90% of the materials of construction and go with concrete and/or steel.
If that design was dreamed up by an architect, I would make a point of telling people that.
"Does that thing really need to use that much wood? I've asked a structural engineer for his opinion, and he thought the thing looked to be completely overdesigned."
No, the vast majority is aesthetic.
As I stated, Optimist, the farmers probably produced that 701,000 bpd of ethanol with an investment of less than 10,000 bpd of diesel.
No, that 701,000 came Directly out of the Saudis' hide.
As for nat gas, I'm willing to wait and see. I'm not convinced, yet, that we're going to be able to recover quite as much as Benny thinks, at the price he's counting on. We'll see.
Even if we can get close to that we'll still just be replacing one fossil fuel of finite quantity with another.
In the meantime, as Kit has stated, we have the ethanol capability NOW. We can run 30% ethanol in our 240 Million Cars on the Road, NOW. No "Fixes," no "Modifications," no Sweat. Put the nozzle in the filling tube, and let'er rip.
Wholesale Unleaded UP $0.07, Today. Wholesale Ethanol holding steady at $1.75, last I looked.
"…..is money that is not being directed towards battery or solar breakthroughs, technologies that could displace the need for gas stations."
Here;s a link to the Department of Energy website where they show exactly how DOE Research and Development money has been spent, going back to 1948.
Since 1948 the D,O.E, has spent 53% of it's R&D money on Nuclear Power and 25% on Fossil Fuels, for a total of Seventy-eight percent, nearly 80%
They spent 11% on renewables, which includes wind, solar PV and solar trough, geo-thermal, wave, OTEC, tidal, hydro, bio-mass, bio-fuels and solar thermal etc.
The figures are not much better for the most recent period from fiscal year 1998 to fiscal year 2007………….
Fossil Fuels .. 24%
All Renewables … 17%
Color pie charts. Simple to understand. Official DOE published statistics.
Since solar thermal basically "displaces" the need for additional electrical generating facilities, it is often referred to by the term Kilowatts/Thermal or MW/th.
Solar thermal installations worldwide exceed the production of base-line electricity from "windmills" and/or solar (PV and solar trough) by a factor of three or four to one.
While "dedicated" solar has often been maligned, it has indeed replaced a great deal of our need for additional, traditional generating equipment.
I Goofed. I ahouldn't have said "base -line' electricity in regard to windmills. Windmills try to provide electricity which can often be provided be in KW/thermal or MW/thermal by solar collection,
I know everybody is going to jump me on this one, so I admit the mistake.
No John, that is not a DOE web site. Fred Sissine is over at the State Department. His research may be easy for you to understand but I would like to know how that is useful. What is your point?
“Since solar thermal basically "displaces" the need for additional electrical generating facilities, …”
Really, on what planet?
There is nothing particularly wrong solar hot water, just John understand of energy. Hot water is not electricity. I designed and built a solar hot water system about 1987. It was at 2000 ft elevation in California. Since I had a great south facing hill, I was able to put the panels on the hill below the house. The system worked fine.
The first flaw in John's theory is conservation. You know how the loons are always saying, conservation will reduce demand, that applies to solar too. About the same time, low flow shower nazzles and other things became code thus reducing the demand for hot water. The second flaw in my plan is teenager grow up along with it more demand.
So John, how is your system working? See John, I see lots of made up number to support an agenda but I do not see any evidence 10 years old systems that justify the investment. I do find lots of junk, I find lots of tinkers like me who can make things work.
I am a big supporter in R&D. Maybe young kids will figure how to make it work. So what have we learned in the last 30 years. Making electrical with fossil fuel and nukes works really well. Wind and solar produces more scrap metal than electricity. Measuring energy production is easy. What has wind and solar industries spent 30 years bragging about is capacity not production.
John have to make it work, then you have to keep it working.
"Since solar thermal basically "displaces" the need for additional electrical generating facilities, it is often referred to by the term Kilowatts/Thermal or MW/th.
Solar thermal installations worldwide exceed the production of … electricity from "windmills" and/or solar (PV and solar trough) by a factor of three or four to one."
I'm not seeing that. Page 23 of the Renewables Global Status Report 2009 Update
shows 27 GW of wind power installed in 2008 for a cumulative total of 121 GW. Compare to 19 GWth of solar thermal for hot water/space heating installed in 2008 for a total of 145 GWth.
In most places hot water and space heating is done using fuels like oil or natural gas, not electricity. If they were referring to electricity, they'd more likely use GWe, not GWth.
No, the vast majority is aesthetic.
As I thought.
I'd suggest you take the architect and execute him at dawn…
I mean, if you are trying to make a "green" statement, you need to respect "green" principles. Like using the building materials efficiently.
"Does that thing really need to use that much wood? I've asked a structural engineer for his opinion, and he thought the thing looked to be completely overdesigned."
Maybe it's designed to accommodate a future second deck, like the George Washington Bridge was. http://www.nycroads.com/crossings/george-washington/ They can even add a third deck to the GWB. Well, no, maybe that's just wishful thinking about the Accoya wood bridge.
"No, the vast majority is aesthetic."
Somehow, I'm not surprised.
I'm hearing the bait and switch idea more and more. Glad somebody put a label on that particular debate technique. Talk algae, burn soybeans.
I am a structural engineer and have been day dreaming lately about electric cars with wooden chassis and replaceable fabric bodies.
Congratulations on your anniversary. Twenty three years for me and getting better every year.
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