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(Science Blog)   Scientists report on costs of using switchgrass for ethanol. Summary: Costs ~$60 per ton, yields 5x more energy than required to produce, creates ethanol for ~$.60 a gallon, and will never see the light of day on subsidized farms   (scienceblog.com) divider line 97
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4737 clicks; posted to Geek » on 06 Mar 2008 at 2:07 PM (6 years ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2008-03-06 04:14:48 PM
Giblet: NEXT:
Roundup (petroleum)
Wait
Roundup (petroleum)
Wait
Lime (petroleum)
Fertilize (petroleum) (petroleum or ethanol)
Till, sow, and wait. (petroleum or ethanol)
Harvest (petroleum)
Wait
Harvest (petroleum)
Wait
Harvest (petroleum)
Go to Halloween party.
Wait..................
GOTO NEXT


---

I'd rather burn petroleum to get ethanol from switchgrass than burn petroleum to get more petroleum, especially petroleum from shiatholes like the Middle East.

Your points are valid, but that doesn't mean we can't derive at least some of our energy from switchgrass and other relatively high-yield crops, like hemp and algae biodiesel. It doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing solution. Furthermore, it may start out small and then grow as industries and infrastructures are gradually transformed.
 
2008-03-06 04:20:11 PM
5000_gallons_of_toothpaste: Switchgrass is a weed. It grows just about anywhere. You don't need to set aside valuable farmland to grow it. It doesn't need much water or fertilizer.
===================

Ding ding!

Exactly. And if you purposefully plant it... it will grow like a motherfarker really really quick.

Discover (I think it was Discover) magazine had an article lauding it. Also, switchgrass just like all plants on this planet inhale CO2 to make their sugar. Adding what it takes to harvest and transport it will about break even.

/Oh yeah, and those people dying because they can't afford the corn can live too.
//Hell yeah, switchgrass!
 
2008-03-06 04:20:53 PM
gilgamesh23: pandabear: Nor does the study address the number of acres of otherwise useful cropland required to produce a given quantity of automotive fuel.

We have more cropland than we know what to do with. That's why we pay farmers to not grow crops. If everyone tried to get value out of their farmland the price of commodities would tank and most farmers would go bankrupt.

And even leaving that aside, switchgrass can be grown on land of dubious quality. It's a colonizing plant; it doesn't need much.


It actually adds nutrients back into the soil like legumes do. It is also not vulnerable to the any of the blights that damage other crops.

I live in NC and there are a few farmers that are pooling some money (plus govt grants) to build a plant to make ethanol from it. If it goes through, the tobacco fields all over will become switchgrass fields. Nobody is making anything on tobacco any more and it is so picky. Switchgrass can be used for other things as well. One of the downsides to making ethanol this way is waste. In Canada they have a way to turn that waste into pellets that can be burnt to heat a home or create energy s a replacement for coal. The stoves that they used in the story I read made very little pollution as well. It isn't a perfect solution, but until a better one arrives, it will have to do. The government wasted 30 years that should have been used to get higher and higher MPG standards. Instead, we got the SUV craze.
 
2008-03-06 04:26:53 PM
burndtdan

Is that the Land Of Biofuels and Other Wonders?
 
2008-03-06 04:34:05 PM
Dr. Weird: GENTLEMEN! I give you... MORE CORN!
Steve: Idunno, after last time...
Dr. Weird: This time... Will be DIFFERENT!
Steve: Well, I am kinda hungry...

The corn flies off the plate, impaling Steve's face, killing him.

Dr. Weird: It's not different at all, is it Steve?
 
2008-03-06 04:37:00 PM
Yankees Team Gynecologist: I'd rather burn petroleum to get ethanol from switchgrass than burn petroleum to get more petroleum, especially petroleum from shiatholes like the Middle East.

Your points are valid, but that doesn't mean we can't derive at least some of our energy from switchgrass and other relatively high-yield crops, like hemp and algae biodiesel. It doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing solution. Furthermore, it may start out small and then grow as industries and infrastructures are gradually transformed.


Agreed.

It's too late though. It may have been too late back in the 70's, but at least if we had done something back then we'd be in better shape today.

Our entire economy depends 100% on increasing quantities of cheap energy. Strike One.

Our entire food chain is 100% dependent on cheap oil. Strike Two.

We (our species) have overpopulated the planet on the retarded assumption that oil supplies would increase, forever, to meet demand. Strike Three.

It's a self-correcting problem though.

At the current rate of economic decline, America won't be able to purchase oil at ANY price by July.

The US will then seize oil-rich territory (see Iraq and Iran) and take their oil. Russia and China will not send a strongly worded letter...they'll smash stuff and throw a tantrum. None of the seized oil will make it here until a very large number of people have been flash-fried.

Or, maybe the economy will just pick back up and oil prices will go back to $24 a barrel, just as McDonald's brings back the McRib.
 
2008-03-06 04:48:25 PM
burndtdan: SacriliciousBeerSwiller: QU!RK1019:
canyoneer: Yeah, whatever.

Yes, but consider this...

Rookies.

good point, but have you considered this?


those are all excellent points but i don't believe any of you have considered this...

www.andover.edu
 
2008-03-06 04:51:10 PM
Giblet:

Do you desire to be petroleum-free? Stop using it. Stop buying anything that wasn't made within ten miles of your house. You don't need oil; you just like it a lot.


I don't think anything is made within 10 miles of my house... frankly, I'm not sure anything is made closer than China these days.
 
2008-03-06 04:52:38 PM
Giblet: NEXT:
Roundup (petroleum)
Roundup is a herbicide that would kill switchgrass. Corn, on the other hand, requires it. What the hell are you doing?
Wait
Roundup (petroleum)
See above
Wait
Lime (petroleum)
Lime is calcium carbonate. You'd need petrolum to refine, deliver, and spread it...oh wait, no, not if you're also working on developing biodiesel to run these machines on.
Fertilize (petroleum) petroleum or ethanol) Bullshiat. Or pigshiat, or chickenshiat. You don't HAVE to use Monsanto's Greatest Hits on switchgrass.
Till, sow, and wait. (petroleum or ethanol) Never saw an ag-tractor that ran on gasoline. Most of em run on diesel...can we haz biodiesel too?
Harvest (petroleum) Again assuming you need petrol to run farm machinery, although by and large it is true. Most amazing thing: how much we've managed to get our balls in a vice regarding petrofuels.
 
2008-03-06 04:56:52 PM
Ishidan: Most amazing thing: how much we've managed to get our balls in a vice regarding petrofuels.

Yes. But what a great ride it was, eh?

www.acuityinc.com
(Professor Leroy Balls in a vice)
 
2008-03-06 05:01:55 PM
immrlizard 2008-03-06 04:20:53 PM
One of the downsides to making ethanol this way is waste. In Canada they have a way to turn that waste into pellets that can be burnt to heat a home or create energy s a replacement for coal. The stoves that they used in the story I read made very little pollution as well. It isn't a perfect solution, but until a better one arrives, it will have to do. The government wasted 30 years that should have been used to get higher and higher MPG standards. Instead, we got the SUV craze.

I come from Hawaii. About a century ago, the big thing for Hawaii was tropical agriculture: I'm talking sugarcane and pineapple here.

Now, it's true standards were lower (brown sugar, turbinado sugar, big blocks of rock candy--that's what the ordinary folks had. Took less work and chemicals to make than the bone white, uniform grain stuff modern Americans take as default "sugar" nowadays. Ditto for whole grain chunky bread vs Wonder Bread, but I digress), but we had in-state sugar refining facilities.

Now, to refine sugar, you press the stalks to extract the juice. Hmm, now what do you do with all those leftover stalks?

Answer--you BURN THEM in the local power plant to generate the electricity that runs your mill and mill town, that's what! We called it "bagasse".

What's old is new again...
 
2008-03-06 05:04:41 PM
Given this list:

Top stories
* Scientists Determine Farm Costs of Producing Switchgrass for Ethanol
* Go with your gut - intuition more than just a hunch, says research
* Possibly Once-Habitable Ancient Mars Lake Found
* Your brain on Krispy Kremes


Subby went with switchgrass production costs. Hmmmm....

(Wonk, wonk) excuse me, I have asthma.

My question is, apart from strange women with swords and Grim Grendel, the Fiendish Foe, who wants to live in a lake?

And what the heck is Miscanthus? Something that Misanthropes smoke?

Miscanthus more productive than switchgrass for biofuel

Whoa, baby! That's worth a Google Image search. The corn may be as high as an elephant trainer on Saturday night but that's impressive.
 
2008-03-06 05:20:35 PM
Telos: Giblet:

Do you desire to be petroleum-free? Stop using it. Stop buying anything that wasn't made within ten miles of your house. You don't need oil; you just like it a lot.

I don't think anything is made within 10 miles of my house... frankly, I'm not sure anything is made closer than China these days.


I used to be that way too.

But I read the GAO reports. I read the peak-oil propaganda. I researched best/worst-case scenarios, and decided a McMansion in the 'burbs was a very bad idea no matter what happened. I sold at a 50% profit and rolled that into a modest farm.

It's not like a thousand articles weren't predicting this crap for the past ten years. Some peeps read those articles, did some fact-checking, and acted. Most peeps didn't, though I bet some of them wish they had.

Post-soviet Russia is probably a good example of how this will play out, though that was during peace time, except it won't get better. Only worse.

Too late now... You might want to start a neighborhood grow-club; that's where you grow some apple trees, your neighbor grows strawberries, onions, and beans, while yet another neighbor grows cheeseburger shrubs, etc...and you share the crops.

Water will be a problem once your power is out for a few days... Hope ya don't live in Arizona...
 
2008-03-06 05:51:43 PM
Giblet 2008-03-06 05:20:35 PM
Post-soviet Russia is probably a good example of how this will play out, though that was during peace time, except it won't get better. Only worse.

In Post-soviet Russia, petroleum burns YOU!

/I was sure you were going to hit a FarkFilter with that...
 
2008-03-06 05:51:45 PM
canyoneer: Yeah, whatever.

You forgot to add: DOOOOOOM! DOOOOOOM! DOOOOM!

We get it. You have a financial stake in oil exploration, therefore it's the only energy source you'll ever like. But don't worry... most of the benefits of modern science end up going to everyone, doomsaying Luddites or not.
 
2008-03-06 05:55:21 PM
Ishidan: Now, to refine sugar, you press the stalks to extract the juice. Hmm, now what do you do with all those leftover stalks?

Answer--you BURN THEM in the local power plant to generate the electricity that runs your mill and mill town, that's what! We called it "bagasse".


Yup. Although a little bioengineering and it's possible all that cellulose-rich stalk will be getting turned into more ethanol. Lots of groups like this one out there, getting a little better at it each day.
 
2008-03-06 06:03:57 PM
Giblet: At the current rate of economic decline, America won't be able to purchase oil at ANY price by July.

lawl

Feel free to send me an email in July and say "I told you so" if you're right, but I live in Oklahoma and as the price of oil goes up, it becomes more profitable to drill here and produce more oil. You guys may be having economic crisies, but our economy is taking off and believe me, we will be happy to supply the US with oil at the right price. I imagine Texas, Alaska and Canada feel pretty much the same way.

I may be willing to agree that in 20 years we'll be out of oil, but 4 months? Nope, not at all.
 
2008-03-06 06:03:58 PM
chimp_ninja

You're a fool.

Don't you get it? We need the soil more than we need petroleum or automobiles. Without it, we starve. Why waste it on growing fuel to perpetuate an unsustainable transportation arrangement? Using open land like that to grow fuel is a fool's errand, and is a step in the wrong direction.

That Nebraska prairie is better suited to the production of high quality food and CO2-drinking open space:

www.crstgfp.com

That prairie can sustain huge numbers of Bison indefinitely - enough to feed millions. And you want to plow it up so you can putter around in a car? You're a fool.
 
2008-03-06 06:33:10 PM
canyoneer: That prairie can sustain huge numbers of Bison indefinitely - enough to feed millions. And you want to plow it up so you can putter around in a car? You're a fool.

Beats the crap out of continuing to use your pet fuel.

1) If you're concerned about feeding people, bison are not remotely an efficient solution. Fortunately, most of us know that food production isn't the limiting reagent here.

2) I know this is tough to grasp for a Luddite, but the energy situation isn't going to be resolved by a silver bullet. The medium-future energy economy will be solar-driven in one form or another, with assists from geothermal, wind, hydro, etc. Fission, biofuels, and the like are largely stopgap measures because they can come online on a large scale in a short time period, and they beat the crap out of your present investment, oil. Switchgrass is just one of many ways to get over that hill.
 
2008-03-06 06:40:27 PM
canyoneer: That Nebraska prairie is better suited to the production of high quality food and CO2-drinking open space:

Indeed. I might add:
i246.photobucket.com
 
2008-03-06 06:53:58 PM
chimp_ninja

Grow your switchgrass in your own backyard, pal.
 
2008-03-06 06:59:59 PM
Thats all fine and good, but what about:

www.brown.edu
 
2008-03-06 07:02:58 PM
As soon as this comes to fruition, Monsanto will invent a genetically modified switchgrass and sue the shiat out of any farmers that don't use it. All with the blessing of the USDA.

Big agriculture companies like Monsanto and ConAgra will never allow congress to pursue switchgrass or industrial hemp unless they can control it.
 
2008-03-06 07:04:48 PM
Hey Giblet, was the electronic device you are posting with made within 10 miles of your home? Does it run only on a nonpolluting electric source? Many of your "solutions" sound great as a theory, but suck in reality. The most inefficient thing we can do is try to have small factories locally. Its called scale. They have huge factories because they are more efficient at producing the product. You are confusing locally made FOOD with products. Transporting food is wasteful if local produce of equal quality and type is available. Better green technologies are coming online now because it is finally economically and technologically viable. 100 dollar a barrel oil is a catalyst for change...because it hits us in the wallet. Now we care. In 20 years we will still have personal cars, we will still have oil, it will not be a wasteland, etc. Even peak oil alarmists know that oil wont all of a sudden stop. I try hard to do my part, but I am a realist, and am not going to give up my entire life to live like the dark ages. You can pry my fark posting abilites from my cold, dead....argghhhh!
 
2008-03-06 07:16:41 PM
DenisVengeance: As soon as this comes to fruition, Monsanto will invent a genetically modified switchgrass and sue the shiat out of any farmers that don't use it. All with the blessing of the USDA.

Big agriculture companies like Monsanto and ConAgra will never allow congress to pursue switchgrass or industrial hemp unless they can control it.


cool. give me a job with MS then. (in a few months after i finish this ph.d. thing.)
 
2008-03-06 09:15:30 PM
Giblet: Post-soviet Russia is probably a good example of how this will play out, though that was during peace time, except it won't get better. Only worse.

If it gets that bad I fully plan on growing a mohawk and joining a post-apocolyptic marauding band.

From there I will live the good life until a Postman reunites the US or an Aussie takes down our band by winning in the thunderdome.
 
2008-03-06 09:53:18 PM
Scientists report on costs of using switchgrass for ethanol. Summary: Costs ~$60 per ton, yields 5x more energy than required to produce, creates ethanol for ~$.60 a gallon, and will never see the light of day on subsidized farms

Conservation of what?
 
2008-03-06 09:58:54 PM
haterade its gotta be true..first paragraph mentions PNAS and ARS.

And UNL. UNL sex is when you put your PNAS in someone else's ARS.
 
2008-03-06 10:00:59 PM
Actually, in Bush's speech (see other thread) this Wednesday, he said:

"I look forward to the day when Texas ranchers can grow switchgrass on their country, and then have that switchgrass be converted to fuel."

So this is good news for Texas ranchers, I guess...
 
2008-03-06 10:13:23 PM
DenisVengeance: As soon as this comes to fruition, Monsanto will invent a genetically modified switchgrass and sue the shiat out of any farmers that don't use it. All with the blessing of the USDA.

Um, what would they sue for, in your made-up case? As in, what would the charges be?
 
2008-03-06 10:15:05 PM
Freecell: Scientists report on costs of using switchgrass for ethanol. Summary: Costs ~$60 per ton, yields 5x more energy than required to produce, creates ethanol for ~$.60 a gallon, and will never see the light of day on subsidized farms

Conservation of what?


Think of them as slow-growing solar cells. Ultimately, that's all oil is. Just a longer time scale to replenish.

Aside from geothermal/fission, it's all solar energy.
 
2008-03-06 11:09:38 PM
Giblet: Do you desire to be petroleum-free? Stop using it. Stop buying anything that wasn't made within ten miles of your house. You don't need oil; you just like it a lot.

Kudos; I got a chuckle out of this. I live on some of the best black soil farmland in the world - covered in suburbs. No one grows food within 10 miles of my house. Why would an old farmer make $0.60/gallon switchgrass when he could sell his land to a McMansion developer for millions? Hell, I'd have a problem limiting myself just to buying things that are _sold_ within 10 miles of my house.
 
2008-03-06 11:36:03 PM
Yeah, but all of you are forgetting this

farm3.static.flickr.com
 
2008-03-06 11:41:25 PM
Has anyone mentioned all the farmland we have that we don't use currently?
 
2008-03-07 12:06:34 AM
GanjSmokr: burndtdan: SacriliciousBeerSwiller: QU!RK1019:
canyoneer: Yeah, whatever.

Yes, but consider this...

Rookies.

good point, but have you considered this?

those are all excellent points but i don't believe any of you have considered this...



Has this entered the equation?
photos.imageevent.com
 
2008-03-07 12:19:29 AM
chimp_ninja
DenisVengeance: As soon as this comes to fruition, Monsanto will invent a genetically modified switchgrass and sue the shiat out of any farmers that don't use it. All with the blessing of the USDA.

Um, what would they sue for, in your made-up case? As in, what would the charges be?


Perhaps they could sue a farmer who is unwittingly growing their modified switchgrass because some seeds blew into his field? Just a guess.
Link (new window)
 
2008-03-07 12:33:50 AM
75% of the price you pay at the pump is taxes... not nasty evil price gouging by oil companies...

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WANTS EXPENSIVE GAS.
 
2008-03-07 01:09:58 AM
"Problems is, oil produces 30x more energy than it takes to extract/transport and refine." - YippeeYah


Sorry, I've got to call shenanigans on that claim.

According to the Department of energy, it takes 1.23 units of energy to drill, recover, transport, refine, transport again, etc. every 1 unit of energy produced in gasoline form.

"...the fossil energy input per unit of ethanol is lower-0.74 million Btu fossil energy consumed for each 1 million Btu of ethanol delivered, compared to 1.23 million Btu of fossil energy consumed for each million Btu of gasoline delivered." - Argonne National Laboratory Ethanol Study (Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy)

This makes sense when you consider that a good chunk of the energy consumed in the "plant to ethanol" process is provided free of charge by the sun.

Biodiesel does even better: "A 1998 joint study by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) concluded that biodiesel yields 3.2 units of fuel product energy for every unit of fossil energy consumed in its life cycle." While petroleum derived diesel fuel yields only 0.83 units of fuel product per unit of fossil energy consumed. Source: Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

Regular ethanol (fermentation) processes are estimated to produce 1.34 units of energy for every 1 unit of fossil energy used in production, fermentation, distillation, transportation, etc.

I don't know where you got that 30 to 1 claim, but according to the Department of Energy you are way off the mark. Crude to gasoline is a net energy loser.
 
2008-03-07 01:52:03 AM
prjindigo: 75% of the price you pay at the pump is taxes... not nasty evil price gouging by oil companies...

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WANTS EXPENSIVE GAS.


Yea, and I want roads to drive on.
 
2008-03-07 09:32:39 AM
prjindigo: 75% of the price you pay at the pump is taxes... not nasty evil price gouging by oil companies...

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WANTS EXPENSIVE GAS.


As they should. Gas is currently underpriced once one accounts for the externalities.
 
2008-03-07 10:38:00 AM
This "growing fuel" concept seems way too batshiat-ishly crazy of an idea.

Can't we just suck the fuel out of the ground somehow?
 
2008-03-07 12:13:46 PM
Ok, so my math is a little sketchy, but this is what I've come up with.

Switchgrass yeilds 80-90 gallons per ton theoretically. A barrel is 42 gallons; We as a nation consume 21,000,000 barrels of oil per day. If we were to switch that consumption entirely to ethanol using Switchgrass we would need 882,000,000 gallons of ethanol. Dividing that by the yield from a ton of switchgrass thats roughly 11,025,000 tons of switchgrass we would need to turn into ethanol PER DAY.

Methinks thats not a viable alternative.

Then again, switching entirely from Oil to Ethanol isn't going to work either. As everyone else keeps saying, its just not a viable alternative to our current addiction. Its like trying to go back to strictly smoking pot when you've been mainlining LSD for the last 7 years.
 
2008-03-07 12:45:40 PM
Robo Beat:
I've been saying for years that if science can perfect a process that can turn kudzu into ethanol, we'd be riding high.



This is the freaking truth. It grows so fast in the summer, you could work on miniaturizing the refinment process so you can just have a potted Kudzu on the dashboard directly feeding the engine.
 
2008-03-07 01:29:07 PM
img.photobucket.com
 
2008-03-07 02:23:04 PM
Third Day Mark: Switchgrass yeilds 80-90 gallons per ton theoretically. A barrel is 42 gallons; We as a nation consume 21,000,000 barrels of oil per day. If we were to switch that consumption entirely to ethanol using Switchgrass we would need 882,000,000 gallons of ethanol. Dividing that by the yield from a ton of switchgrass thats roughly 11,025,000 tons of switchgrass we would need to turn into ethanol PER DAY.

On a per acre basis, switchgrass works out to ~1,150 gallon/acre/year, or roughly 3 gallons/acre each day. So we'd need to dedicate about 294 million acres to switchgrass to get to 882M gallons per day. 294 million acres is about 450,000 square miles, or ~1.5 Texases.

That's too much land. To be fair, you'd need to account for the following:

1) Fleet MPG could easily be doubled over the next decade if we made a concerted effort. Investments in mass transit would have a similar impact.
2) Dedicated switchgrass agriculture (and/or breeding/genetic engineering) is in its infancy, and that 1,150 gallons/acre/year number should rise. For example, methods to readily break down the lignocellulosic parts would increase yield and reduce waste.
3) Plug-in hybrids and similar technologies should replace liquid fuel needs with grid-based options.

Switchgrass doesn't need prime territory to grow, either. A lot of that acreage would be in areas that aren't well-suited for food production. Still, the above efficiency gains probably need a factor or 4 or so between them-- 100,000 square miles is likely sustainable.

It's an enormous project, so but is the world's oil infrastructure. No one's pretending we can get off oil without a Manhattan-Project-sized effort, and switchgrass needn't be a full or permanent solution to get us over the hump to a sustainable energy economy. Marginal land could be converted over in the short term, and the end products used to begin offsetting imports ASAP-- it makes good economic, military, and environmental sense.
 
2008-03-07 07:14:58 PM
chimp ninja,

One factor to consider in the calculations, in many warmer areas of the country switchgrass can be "harvested" up to 3 times a year. It grows that fast and cutting it just merely starts the process all over again. I realize that not every place will be able to attain such growth, but it may not be as bad as you think.

In addition, if you get off the fermentation route to making ethanol/butanol and switch over to gasification, its not only switchgrass, but all kinds of things that can be converted, including all that paper and cardboard going into landfills today. Imagine all the lawnclippings, tree branches, even used tires which could be used in such a process.

Just investigate gasificationa and syngas reformation into fuels and see how much potential is there.
 
2008-03-08 08:46:02 AM
Um, doesn't the energy independence and security act require average fleet efficiency of 35mpg by sometime anyway?
 
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