Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Popular Mechanics on Energy Policy [UPDATED 6 JUL 2006]

The Jacksonian Party supports an energy independent America.

The policy for getting to energy independence is laid out here. The following is an in-depth analysis of energy alternatives.

Now a huge and massive hat tip to Instapundit for pointing out this article at Popular Mechanics on the efficiencies and necessities for alternative fuels!

It is a wonderful example of the sort of things that need to be considered when drafting an energy policy JUST to replace fossil fuels. That cannot be done overnight nor quickly nor without expense to the economy. Mind you it does not take in the entire energy needs of the nation, just fossil fuels for motor vehicles.

So let me post their summation picture chart as such things are supposedly worth some largish number of words (Source: Popular Mechanics):
And let me go through on fuel by fuel to give the quick overview of what they found:

1) E85 - Ethanol/Gas mix at 85%/15% - First it has a lower fuel density, thus requiring about 1.5 gallons to replace 1 gallon of gas, but is higher in octane, so theoretically runs better and gets better mileage. The energy produced is between 34%-66% higher than the energy put into refining it, so a net surplus of energy output, but there does need to be an energy INPUT beyond sunlight. Using corn is the most efficient method of producing ethyl alcohol, so a plus there... maybe... on the downside is that to realize better fuel economies the entire powerplant of a motor vehicle needs be made alcohol resistant. Alcohol is a corrosive agent and a solvent, so everything in the fuel train needs be of resistant plastic or stainless steel. Which, of necessity, makes for a higher cost of production over normal grade steel used in motor vehicles and ordinary rubber/composite gaskets. Further, plastic needs a base and that base is usually... oil. The summary by PM is that the yield of 300 gallons of ethanol per acre would require 675 million acres of arable land devoted ONLY to corn production in the US. That is 71% or so of the nation's arable land lent to this... and corn is harsh on the soil, requiring all sorts of wonderful chemicals to replenish the soil, and those are produced with lots of energy and, a few of them, from... oil.

Now a bit FURTHER than just that. Corn takes 125 days to mature after emergence, so that is the total time of growing to full maturity and being ready for harvesting, although storage may require a lower level of dryness and some additional field time. Now the average monthly insolation, or solar energy per square meter per month, in the central growing region is about 4 kWh/sq.m. So, 1 acre is about 4,047 square meters. The acre of land picks up 16,188 kWh per month, and putting a month at 30 days gets 539 kWh/day and for the growing of corn that is 125 days, you get 67,450 kWh potential energy to be converted. Now crunching some numbers from PM on Gasoline, it has a per gallon BTU content of 124,800 and 15% of that is 18,720. E85 has 80,000 BTU/gal thus the 85% ethanol component is 61,280 BTU. Doing the math of 61,280: 0.85 to X : 1.00 yields 72,094 BTU/gallon of ethanol and one acre yields 300 gallons and thusly 21,628,200 BTU/year/acre ethanol. Now pressing the average insolation per acre/year yields 196,735 kWh, or converted to BTU 671,287,654, but that is unfair to the poor little corn plant! So lets make it the 125 day growing season of 67,450 kWh/acre/growing season to yield 6,336 kWh/acre/growing season of corn. This gets you a conversion rate of 9.39%

That is to get you 300 usable gallons of ethanol. Isn't science wonderful? And that does not *include* the energy *spent* making fertilizers, running combines and doing all sorts of other fun things. What this does leave out is the fact that the rest of the plant is used for biomass and feed and other things, but this is just a look at the energy for replacing fossil fuels. Maybe the folks would prefer to put up solar cells, instead?

2) Methanol M85 - Methyl alcohol 85%, Gasoline 15% - Methanol comes from methane (natural gas) and has many sources, but a low volatility that requires a mixing with something more flammable to get it going, like gasoline. On the downside it is more corrosive than ethanol and has less energy per volume than ethanol. Most methods to obtain it use natural gas from fossil fuel reserves, thus shifting dependency from one fossil fuel to another and not the object of the game. Methanol based fuel cells, however, for small electronics use is going to be a large component of future portable devices as methanol is quite compact for such uses. But for vehicles, again a new fuel train, power train and specialized internal components are necessary.

For anyone pointing to a bio solution for production, you will have to beat the energy conversion of corn by a substantial amount for ethanol, and garner a conversion percentage DOUBLE that of corn. Good luck!

3) Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) - Methane - CNG is great stuff, but is under high pressure and 44,000 BTU per unit volume as compared to nearly 3 times that of gasoline. Approximately 2 kWh of energy must be used to compress methane to CNG per unit volume equivalent to gasoline. At this point in time that would still be far cheaper than gasoline as methane is relatively inexpensive. And the fuel train and power train only need some tweaking to use the stuff as it decompresses to methane.

That said methane USE is increasing drastically on a global scale and even the US is looking at importing the stuff in CNG form just for industrial use. While the US is relatively rich in methane, it is from fossil fuel sources and, thus, a non-renewable. And the aim of the game is to get to a renewable energy source that is cheaper than gasoline. While you would be able to do CNG compression at home for the cost of methane and electricity, the use of fuel stations and depots is something else again. We would be exchanging liquid gasoline storage with high pressure liquefied gas storage and need to drive around with same. And once released via damage the stuff tends to rupture its tanks and produce a fuel-air explosion in a confined area, which is your vehicle, thus drawing all of the oxygen rapidly from everything, which is you. Not my favorite way to drive around, better to have a liquid burning that can be put out over an explosive loss of air. Having a daisy-cutter go off in/under/behind/around your car is not a fun thing to have happen. So possible, but its long-term prospects are not good.

4) Biodiesel - Petrodiesel is similar to gasoline in BTU content and biodiesel is renewable, although it will need additives to prevent low temperature solidification. But PM does a great disservice by glossing over the acre yields for this... so a bit of research is needed... (all diesel calculations to use 125,000 BTU/gallon or 36.63 kWh/gallon)

But the base power conversion will be to get a better output than corn per acre, so looking into the Wikipedia article, we can take a look at the best alternatives (using biodiesel yields from Journey to Forever):

Palm oil - 635 gallons per acre - So palm trees are tropical and I will bump up average insolation to 5.0/meter/month, although 7 or 8 would really be realistic. But that also means it is annual and you can get multiple seed cycles per year to get that 635 gal/acre/year. That gives us 23,263 kWh/year with insolation at 246,193 kWh/year with a yield of 9.45% But it can't easily find that lovely annual cycle in the US save for the most southerly and Hawaii regions, and add in the amount of moisture and it is a limited crop.

Jatropha - 202 gallons per acre - And pretty plants, to boot! But, that said their yield is lower and look to need higher insolation values like palm. So the numbers look like this: Jatropha 7,400 kWh/acre/year and insolation the same as Palm Oil for a conversion rate of 3.0%. Not good at all! That said, it is a plant used to drought conditions and may serve in areas of low rainfall for soil preservation. But it would be yet another xenospecies. This is assuming that once started this plant can give its seed on a perennial basis. Remember that corn, on an annual basis does not have a good conversion ratio, so it may be a bit unfair to Jatropha.

Mustard - 61 gallons per acre - Using the more standard 4 kWh/square meter land. Now, using this site, we see that it takes about 90 days to get to the seed point, so we will fairly convert that over for corn comparison. So it produces 2235 kWh/year/acre of diesel while having 48,564 kWh/year/acre insolation or 4.6% conversion ratio for its growing season. Other varieties will get you different yields.

Rapeseed - Lets take the 127 gallons per acre - Now this looks to be an interesting plant with many uses and we know it by the Canola oil concept. Now since there are two varieties and they would have overlapping germination and seeding cycles, it looks like its an either/or spring or fall crop. No twofers! And since optimal growing conditions cannot be assured, we will use the average of the faster growing variety, which, like mustard, is 90 days. In point of fact, you are basically comparing variants in the mustard family, and this variety yields 4,653 kWh/year/acre with the same insolation as Mustard seed for a conversion rate of 9.58%.

Soybean - 48 gallons per acre - Now one of the important things to understand is that like all plants, soybeans have a variable growing season based on weather and climate. No one wants to easily give up an average growth to harvest time... so an average of 100 days will be used. Luckily it grows in 4.0 insolation areas, so the math is easy! Soybean output is 1,758 kWh/year/per acre and insolation is 53,960 kWh/year/acre during the 100 day season thus 3.26% conversion ratio.

The best biodiesel is Palm based, but those plants are troublesome for their lifecycle. Other plants do worse and gain lower yields. So although the fuel delivery system would not need to be revamped, the conversion to diesel would require the phasing out of gasoline and the phasing-in of diesel. And the best solution for temperate climates would be mustard seed which has a decent yield. Now if we do a 1:1 conversion of how much gas would be swapped for diesel, the US would consume (using this google cache of James R. Katzer addressing the Cosmos Club) about 125 billion gallons of gasoline per year. Of which 892,857,143 acres would need to be devoted to this endeavor, out of the 938 million acres available. Not good. Plus we would have to add in the already *existing* diesel use to this equation...

5) Electricity - Need additional sources of same. Now, with 125 billion gallons going to gasoline and the efficiency of an internal combustion engine in the 20% range you have the amount of energy ACTUALLY DELIVERED to move the vehicle of 3,125,000,000,000,000 BTU/year or 9.16E+11 kWh/year. As electric motor efficiency is very high in the 90% range and energy storage in the same so lets use a nice 85% transfer rate, that would mean to go electric, the US power grid would need to deliver: 1.08E+12 kWh/year. For comparison the Itaipu dam in Brazil, the largest single generator of electricity in the world puts out 7.5E+10 kWh/year, which is 20 times LESS than will be needed to get an all electric automobile fleet. Yes you would need 20 of those to do the job. If the transfer/storage/conversion rate of electricity was near 100% with superconductors, then you would still need 13 of Itaipu's to do this.

6) Hydrogen - Relatively safe, hard to transport and store unless some nanotech way can be found to do so, requires special pipes and generally is so safe it burns to create water. Basic chemistry is against this one as there is no cheap and efficient method to crack hydrogen off of water or hydrocarbons. If electricity were cheap, this would be a leading solution. But as it is not so at this point, hydrogen remains the fuel of potential for fusion as the payback of fusing four atoms and getting that slight mass loss back is enormous. The Sun proves that as does every other star in the universe.

UPDATE 7 JUN 2006: Note is taken of this Popular Mechanics article on catalyzing hydrogen from water. This last sentence is critical: "If electricity needed to produce the hydrogen is wind- or solar-generated, the entire process is, essentially, emissions-free." So even by reducing the cost of generation by about 38%, hydrogen is *still* not there yet.

So, the United States can pay for new industrial infrastructure and it is up to We the People to help make that decision. To replace fossil fuels will require a wholesale changeover of the US economy to something *different* in the long run. The choices as laid out are: agricultural fuel replacement to use every bit of productive land to replace fossil fuels and install an entirely agrarian based fuel economy or find some other way.

The Jacksonian Party supports moving industry and electrical production into Earth orbit and exploiting Lunar material for basic elemental components with which to build everything necessary. The cost is to put out prize money for reaching identifiable goals and the US Government to offer good and hard cash payments for achievable results on energy production via Solar Power Satellites. This cannot be a 'first past the post' system as America needs competition to survive and a robust space infrastructure to flourish in the 21st Century and beyond. The time to build that is now, while we still can.

The Jacksonian Party supports this completely and will look towards temporary stop-gaps to keep the United States rolling on as it is for the next two decades, but by then there should be HUNDREDS of Itaipu level projects FINISHED and installed IN ORBIT. This will give low cost electrical energy with which the United States may build an entirely new conception of industry above and beyond that which chemistry alone can deliver.

The survival of the United States as an industrial nation that is forward looking is paramount. Today is not the time to yearn for a dream of yesteryear and the quaint notions of a chemistry driven economy. That will always be a sector of a large economy, but the economy itself must find new territory to grow and expand, and that will only be done with electricity and LOTS OF IT. The only place to get that unlimited source is space.

For the future of the United States to exist as an independent Nation, The Jacksonian Party pushes the forward looking concept of industrial space-based economic and energy production to the utmost. Its day has long been coming, but those wanting to keep industry, power generation and the attendant pollution of same on this planet have hindered such goals. For the freedom of the individual to have endless horizons to explore, the United States must offer those horizons, beyond mere navel gazing. And the only and last frontier to explore forever onwards is not on this planet, with all of its vagaries and problems and limited space and potential.

If the United States cannot offer that freedom, then it shall perish as a concept and a Nation.

And cede the unlimited potential of space to tyranny and subjugation as those forces look to strangle this the heart of liberty once and for good and all by getting to the high ground FIRST.

We can no longer go to the moon without a lot of damn hard work.

And if we do not look to ourselves to reach upwards, we will find ourselves drowning with NO gifts to offer to anyone.

Even ourselves.

[UPDATE: the following taken from a similar discussion at JOM on ethanol, all spelling intact]
Ahh... numbers, numbers, numbers... yes, I ran the numbers on most of this some time ago here. The major thing to look at is conversion efficiency of sunlight to useful fuel per acre and growing season. Now, for a growing season of 125 days the US can convert about 9.39% of solar energy, per acre, into 300 gallons of ethanol. Now, if you look at palm oil for biodiesel you get a 9.45% efficiency of conversion rate, but it is garnered via multiple crops per year in tropical conditions and that efficiency drops when you get into a growing season cyclic pattern. Ditto for Rapeseed at 9.58%.

So a quick look at sugarcane:

1) Industrial production is about 5 crops per year Chakra in Argentina. However, that is in tropical conditions with a 'semi-perennial' plant.

2) Yield of ethanol per acre of sugarcane is 662 gallons/acre(SARID source)... but do note that this is in a region that is tropical and so has the equivalent of 5 growing seasons per year for a semi-perennial plant.

3) Insolation received varies between 4.5 to 6.5 kW/square meter/day. Now for palm oil I used 5.0 kW/square meter/day and to keep things generalized in the tropics I will use that for sugarcane. So, the annual energy received from the sun per acre is: 246,193 kWh/year per acre.

4) Per gallon ethanol has 80,000 BTU or 23.4 kWh. Thus, those 662 gallons contain: 15,520 kWh. Or a conversion rate of input energy to output energy of 6.3%.

So the Brazilians are converting 6.3% of their available energy to ethanol per acre and only achieving a net energy gain when they burn the rest of the plant for electricity... say, are they scrubbing that to reduce emissions? Now, if you were *fair* you would also look at all the other things that corn was used for in the way of energy output and such, but I will stick to the pure ethanol equation since that is what everyone seems to harp upon.

So, Brazil, to gain its 'energy independence' needs to cut down vast swaths of rainforst for a crop that will give a minimal turnover for energy yield and deplete the thin rainforest soil in a few years so that it is no longer fit for agriculture. Thus requiring more rainforst to be cut down.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

How green *is* Brazil?

And exactly how sustainable *is* sugarcane for energy production given the agricultural realities of Brazil?

And, as a bonus question, why on Earth would the US want to substitute third world agrarian Nations with a penchant to totalitarianism in place of oil producing natiions with the exact same profile, save many having a virulent strain of a religion vice a tendancy for Communism in the agrarian nations?

Needless to say, I am not impressed with the *green* fuel source. And this does not include the necessary investment in infrastructure to use it.

If we need to have a new infrastructure, let us make sure that it garners us a new entire industrial outlook in the doing, which is what I look at here for the long-term and a stop-gap, near term energy policy to get us from here to there.

But that is because I truly *want* a sustainable energy supply for the long-term and a brighter future for the Nation.

[And then more]

ed - Very true, not every third world nation that is agrarian does have these tendancies. But finding stable, multi-decadal nations with vast amounts of cropland to spare for creating a low efficiency fuel for the US economy is difficult. Even E85 would use up the equivalent of 70% the cropland in the US, going to E100 would use it all up and need another good sized nation to boot... and then there is the actual question of growing *food*.

Dwilkers - You are correct on the hydrogen movement. Electrical fractionation still eats up more energy than is stored by the resultant fuel. And even the latest catalytic systems do not overcome that obstacle. If electricity were cheap, hydrogen is obvious. It isn't so hydrogen isn't.

So, onwards from that...
Overall it is the paradigm of not liking the oil producing regimes for being despotic, etc. and they have fractious problems beyond that. Currently the US uses an approximate 125 billion gallons of gasoline/year note that Brazil's vaunted production of Ethanol is 4 billion gallons per year. The Brazilian solution is fine if you want to exchange rainforest for current fuel supply, not so good otherwise. But, given that, its entire Ethanol output at E85 is 3.2% of US gasoline consumption. Got about 40 Brazils to pony up to the bar on this? Mind you, that is just to *cover* gasoline consumption... not to speak of diesel and the fossil fuels used for plastics, lubricants, and suchlike.

While the argument *could* be made that it would be possible to find a large number of nations each to supply us with a bit of that, we are then looking at the addition of transport costs, etc. done with petroleum. Those vessels haven't been designed yet and because of the nature of Ethanol, is not likely to be an easy retrofit into the existing infrastructure.

Then you can start looking at the actual potential suppliers, which you would like to have year 'round production, so that makes the tropics the obvious looking point. So, South America, Africa, Some parts of the Middle East (although the climate is against that), India (which may do its own thing), South East Asia, and lots of island nations. Start nominating your obvious choices for being the future energy suppliers to the US! You would like stable regimes that have a record of stability, offer freedom to its people, have not had any Communist leanings since the end of the Cold War, have no despotic neighbors seeking to gain control of resources, does *not* have a virulent religion wanting to kill anyone not of it... oh, and is tropical has moderate and consistent rainfall, will practice good agricultural methods to sustain production and is a reliable trading partner. You may have your own criteria, but those are mine and seem semi-sensible at least, so as to avoid the current problems we have with our regular oil suppliers.

Oh, anyone who thinks Global Warming is true, you may want to look at rates of tropical desertification and realize that if all the worrying is *right* then those suppliers of Ethanol will... ummm... dry up. I don't believe that, but climactic cycles are moving back to their pre-1300 norms, and large portions of what we know as rainforst in Mesoamerica and South America were relatively dry grasslands, especially the coastal regions. The Amazon has its own weather, of course... just what deforestation will do to that... who knows?

Or we could invest heavily in Canada and use their oil production and pay them market prices for it to build up their western provinces. And they already have oil pipelines to the US and they reversed the flow of them two years ago, so they now EXPORT oil to the US. And actually open up our continental shelf for exploration... the Cubans have brought in the Chinese to do just that off the coast of Florida.

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

Remember, we use 9.16E11 kWh every year to move our vehicles. Time's a ticking away.

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