Tuesday, October 03, 2006

And now for something completely different

Pardon my recent absence from posting (gosh, all of six days!), but I've been rather busy with school and work recently. However, I shall take a brief break to point out some good reading. I came across an article on Wired about biofuels. It's written by a venture capitalist from California. He's discussing, in particular, a plant which uses cattle manure and corn to produce ethanol, a system which is actually both productive and more environmentally friendly (although of course one can debate the wisdom of our current system of corn and cattle monocultures).

It may look like a typical, if huge, cattle feedlot – but for the glittering white four-story structure below that resembles the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Indeed, until recently this operation just off Mead’s County Road 10 was not unlike any other finishing ground for Nebraska’s beef cattle: a last stop before the abattoir. But starting in November, Oscar Mayer will no longer be the marquee product here. A company called E3 Biofuels is about to fire up the most energy-efficient corn ethanol facility in the country: a $75 million state-of the-art biorefinery and feedlot capable of producing 25 million gallons of ethanol a year. What’s more, it will run on methane gas produced from cow manure. The super-efficient operation capitalizes on a closed loop of resources available here on the prairie – cattle (fed on corn), manure (from the cows), and corn (fed into the ethanol distiller). The output: a potential gusher of renewable, energy-efficient transportation fuel.

Sounds good. But here's the clincher:

E3 Biofuels achieves what’s known as a positive energy balance. For every BTU of energy used to run the ethanol plant, five BTUs are produced. A typical corn ethanol plant produces 1.3 to 1.8 BTUs for every BTU of fossil fuel input, including the energy required to grow the corn. (Gasoline has half the efficiency of corn ethanol, producing 0.8 BTUs for every BTU input.)

So to those who think that biofuels are a fad: you better hedge your bets folks, because when we can produce enough biofuel to replace gasoline, that's exactly what's going to happen. I really do suggest you take the time to read the full article.


Fan Boy said...

I draw the line when they say a monkey flinging poo can create positive energy balance

Nat-Wu said...

Well, the monkey would theoretically have used up most of the energy in the poo, so I imagine that wouldn't work too well.