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Power United States Politics Technology

'Energy Beet' Power Is Coming To America 238

Posted by timothy
from the yes-but-do-you-have-a-lobby dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Gosia Wonzniacka reports that farmers in Fresno County, California, supported by university experts and a $5 million state grant, are set to start construction of the nation's first commercial-scale bio-refinery to turn beets into biofuel with farmers saying the so-called 'energy beets' can deliver ethanol yields more than twice those of corn per acre because beets have a higher sugar content per ton than corn. 'We're trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to shift our transportation fuels to a lower carbon content,' says Robert Weisenmiller. 'The beets have the potential to provide that.' Europe already has more than a dozen such plants, so the bio-refinery would resurrect a crop that has nearly vanished. The birthplace of the sugar beet industry, California once grew over 330,000 acres of the gnarly root vegetable (PDF), with 11 sugar mills processing the beets but as sugar prices collapsed, the mills shut down. So what's the difference between sugar beets and energy beets? To produce table sugar, producers are looking for sucrose, sucrose and more sucrose. Energy beets, on the other hand, contain multiple sugars, meaning sucrose as well as glucose, fructose and other minor sugars, called invert sugars. To create energy beet hybrids, plant breeders select for traits such as high sugar yield, not just sucrose production. America's first commercial energy beet bio-refinery will be capable of producing 40 million gallons of ethanol annually but the bio-refinery will also bring jobs and investment, putting about 80 beet growers and 35,000 acres back into production."
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'Energy Beet' Power Is Coming To America

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  • There's nothing good about energy beets. We already know we can use algae [nrel.gov], and that it is superior in a variety of ways.

    Do not cheer this. There is nothing good about this. It is merely less evil than using corn as a fuel feedstock.

    • by Bearhouse (1034238) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @07:40AM (#43262347)

      You will probably get modded into a smoking hole in the ground, but you are right.
      Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is of course a good thing, and if we don't start developing alternative technologies now, then we'll be in trouble when it does run out. Although that date does seem to keep slipping, as discovery and extraction keeps improving.

      However, mindlessly subsidising things which are patently never going to be competitive makes no sense, except to the politicians and 'green' shills who do not seem to count, or reason, the same as most logical and well-educated folk.

      • by aurispector (530273) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @07:55AM (#43262409)

        Note that it's a government grant, not private industry. This is basically political patronage; whatever people running it will be contributing heavily to whatever political party was responsible for the grant. If sugar beets were a viable fuel source someone would be doing it already.

        This just shifts the problem from one of directly increasing world corn (and therefore food) prices by diverting corn production to fuel to one of indirectly increasing world food priced by diverting farmland from food production to fuel production.

        The worst part is that large scale farming has a significant environmental impact in terms of pesticide and fertilizer use as well as runoff into waterways. We don't gain much benefit from carbon reductions and a lot of costs from the farming itself.

        It's a dead end and everyone knows it. Political hypocrisy at it's finest.

        • by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @08:12AM (#43262451)

          The problem with corn ethanol isn't the diversion of farmland, it's that it's a completely artificial diversion. Corn is so subsidized no one knows how much it costs anywhere, and world food prices are creating local scarcity because no one can outcompete US government subsidized corn - so local farming never has any incentive to grow it or other staples, as opposed to cash crops (many of which are incredibly harmful to local soil ecology to do so).

          World food prices need to be allowed to rise gradually so the local economies which are importing can transition to growing locally or, people with an actual competitive advantage can move in to drive them down in a non-artificial way. But playing games with how much corn there is predictably creates price shocks because technically there's enough product in the market place, it's just mysteriously not getting to the locals, yet simultaneously can't be expected to reliably stay high either.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by budgenator (254554)

            Please provide a link for that US government subsidized corn production, I know a lot of farmers around here who would like to get them some of that money.

        • If sugar beets were a viable fuel source someone would be doing it already.

          From the summary: "Europe already has more than a dozen such plants". So maybe it is viable.

          In any case your argument suggests that anything that isn't currently being done isn't viable. So any sort of progress is never possible.

          • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Sunday March 24, 2013 @09:45AM (#43262891)

            From the summary: "Europe already has more than a dozen such plants". So maybe it is viable.

            European beet farmers are heavily subsidized. So Europe is an example of beet-energy not being viable.

            In any case your argument suggests that anything that isn't currently being done isn't viable. So any sort of progress is never possible.

            We need to try new things. But we also need to not squander resources on dead ends. Beet ethanol is not as stupid as corn ethanol, but it is still stupid. If we were serious about ethanol as a fuel (rather than as a source of subsidies for special interests) we would eliminate the prohibitive tariffs on Brazilian cane ethanol.

      • if we don't start developing alternative technologies now, then we'll be in trouble when it does run out

        Meh. We've obviously got enough left for quite a while. It might get expensive, though that will provide plenty of incentive to find new sources of energy. Pork barrel grants are not the solution; economically viable technologies are. Too bad the former does not produce the latter.

        • by camg188 (932324)
          I believe you are right. People often forget about one of the big driving factors in human civilization: Necessity is the mother of invention.
          Where we stand right now is that the necessity to replace fossil fuels does not outweigh costs of alternative energy sources. We will not "be in trouble when it does run out" because fossil fuels will not run out like a tank on empty. They will gradually become less economical and gradually be replaced by newer, more economical alternative sources.
          • True enough, but one confounding factor is this run up to Homo Industrialis has relied on cheap energy. There will ALWAYS be energy sources - at a cost. If costs rise too quickly, they can take the economy with it (since it's basically a giant Ponzi scheme). How to balance energy costs and supplies in the long run is one of the big questions.

            And, of course, there is Anthropogenic Global Warming caused, in part, by these same fuels.

            It's complicated.

      • by goombah99 (560566) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @09:42AM (#43262869)

        With apologies to the aptly named Go-Gos

        See the people driving down the street
        Fall in line just waiting for their beet
        They don't know where they wanna go
        But they're in the fill-up line

        They got the beet
        They got the beet
        Yeah
        They got the beet

        • I always sang, "They beat their meat" to that tune. Go-Gos.. ugh.
        • by Sulphur (1548251)

          With apologies to the aptly named Go-Gos

          See the people driving down the street
          Fall in line just waiting for their beet
          They don't know where they wanna go
          But they're in the fill-up line

          They got the beet
          They got the beet
          Yeah
          They got the beet

          The beet goes on.

      • by Alioth (221270)

        While the exhaustion date keeps slipping, the problem is what's important to our society as it stands today is not the availability of oil, but the availability of cheap oil. The cheap oil is nearly gone, and we're going to have a whole lot of trouble anyway since we're going to have to readjust to a world where energy isn't cheap, at least in the medium term.

        • we're going to have a whole lot of trouble anyway since we're going to have to readjust to a world where energy isn't cheap*, at least in the medium term.

          * For various definitions of cheap

          I said it 10 years ago, I said it 5 years ago, and I'll say it again. If the price of oil rises *gradually* (over a period of years), you will not see doom-and-gloom happen. There will be market shifts, there will be many things that become more expensive or no longer cost-effective.

          But if the rise in prices is sp
    • by c (8461) <beauregardcp@gmail.com> on Sunday March 24, 2013 @07:49AM (#43262383)

      We already know we can use algae, and that it is superior in a variety of ways.

      "Can use it" and "are ready to use it on a massive scale" are two entirely different things. There's a ton of traditional farmers out there who could transition from corn to beets in a single season. Algae farmers... not so many.

      Do not cheer this. There is nothing good about this. It is merely less evil than using corn as a fuel feedstock.

      Well, it's not great, but it is a crack in the monoculture-for-fuel mindset.

      That being said, I don't know enough about beets to say whether it's much improvement over corn. They tout a doubled energy output, but without knowing the comparable energy, pesticide and water inputs it's a bit tough to determine whether there's any economic advantage, particularly after factoring in corn production subsidies.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        "Can use it" and "are ready to use it on a massive scale" are two entirely different things.

        That's true. Unfortunately for your argument, we've had this technology for over twenty years. We've had more than enough time to spin up. And the process should have been profitable at least since 2010 [bulktransporter.com], and how long does it take to dig some round trenches and line them with plastic, anyway?

        • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Sunday March 24, 2013 @10:09AM (#43263001)

          we've had this technology for over twenty years.

          Algae based fuel has been "just around the corner" for a lot longer than twenty years. I first read about in the 1970s, and even then it wasn't a new idea. Algae energy is like fusion energy: it has huge potential, but also huge obstacles, and those obstacles have not been surmounted even after decades of effort.

           

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            Algae energy is like fusion energy: it has huge potential, but also huge obstacles, and those obstacles have not been surmounted even after decades of effort.

            Well, no. Algae energy is like reprocessing nuclear fuel and using it again in fission reactors. The parallels are clear: in one case we capture CO2 and reuse it again, having rebuilt the bonds we break with the power of sunlight, while in the other case we reprocess the fuel and use it again. Either way we are diminishing waste. And the other parallel, of course, is that the restrictions are political. We know how to do these things already, at least in broad strokes. The technical hurdles are insignifican

            • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:07AM (#43263323)

              The technical hurdles are insignificant compared to the political ones.

              Please enlighten me: What political hurdles are keeping you from growing algae, extracting the oil, and selling it as bio-diesel? I love a good conspiracy theory, so I can't wait to hear about the jack booted, goose stepping algae police kicking in your door and arresting you for unauthorized fuel production.

              • by drinkypoo (153816)

                Please enlighten me: What political hurdles are keeping you from growing algae, extracting the oil, and selling it as bio-diesel?

                Available land and permitting. You can get permits to strip-mine for coal, clear-cut for timber, or drill for oil on BLM land. Now, go thee forth and try to get a permit to grow algae, and let me know how it works out for you. I can tell you how the story will end, though.

                • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Sunday March 24, 2013 @12:02PM (#43263641)

                  Available land and permitting.

                  Are you serious? You actually believe that a permit is required to grow algae? You should see my neighbor's swimming pool. The algae gestapo has never arrested him.

                  ... on BLM land.

                  Ahh ... I see now. The government will stop you from growing algae on property that you do not own . Wow, that is a real show stopper. Hmmm ... if only there was a way around it somehow. Hey!!! What if you grow algae on your own property!!! Boy, I bet nobody ever thought of that! Now that this hurdle is overcome, we should see algae oil on the market in a few weeks, and all the big oil companies will be bankrupt shortly after that.

                  • by drinkypoo (153816)

                    Ahh ... I see now. The government will stop you from growing algae on property that you do not own . Wow, that is a real show stopper. Hmmm ... if only there was a way around it somehow. Hey!!! What if you grow algae on your own property!!!

                    As soon as you can explain why it's in the public interest to permit coal mining and clear cutting and why it's not in the public interest to permit algae farming, you'll have a point. Until then, why don't you go play with something sharp?

                    • by drinkypoo (153816)

                      The raw materials occur in particular places, i.e. it only makes sense to place a coal mine where there is coal.

                      And it only makes sense to place an algae farm where the required resources exist, e.g. unused flat land and sunshine. The BLM land belongs to The People, in theory, but in practice the rights to use it are granted to corporations (and some small ranchers, driving cattle) and people who actually live in it on isolated pieces of private property have regularly been turned away from the routes to their homes by US Forest Service employees citing ongoing "Exercises" and other specious bullshit. These uses are

                    • by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Sunday March 24, 2013 @07:09PM (#43266263)

                      why is no one using their own land to produce it in quantity?

                      There are several reasons:

                      1. It is difficult and expensive to extract fuel from algae. The algae first has to be dried, then the cell walls crushed, and then the fuel is extracted with heat and expensive solvents.

                      2. Invasive species, that spend their energy reproducing rather than making fuel, tend crowd out fuel producing algae. They can be controlled with chemicals (expensive) or by growing algae in sealed enclosures (even more expensive).

                      3. Viral and bacterial diseases, as well as microscopic predators, tend to wipe out algae monocultures.

                      Research on fuel from algae has been ongoing since the 1960s, with little progress in any of these areas. Algae has so much potential, that (in my opinion) further research is justified. But to claim that it is ready to be deployed at scale is absurd.

      • without knowing the comparable energy, pesticide and water inputs it's a bit tough to determine whether there's any economic advantage

        Here's a study [utexas.edu] from 2008 which gives that very information.

        "From extensive analysis holding all things equal between the feedstocks, sugar beets is a much more efficient feedstock. Sugar beet ethanol loses only 51.1% of the energy it provides, whereas corn loses 90.35% of the energy in the production of the ethanol."

    • We should implement an open-fuel standard [wikipedia.org], requiring all new cars to be flex-fuel capable. That would break the monopoly of oil as a transportation fuel, bringing real competition for the first time in a century. More importantly, fully flex-fuel vehicles can run on methanol just as well as ethanol (or any mix of these and/or gasoline). Thus, fuel crops would not have to compete with food crops for agricultural resources, since methanol can be made from any type of biomass. This would also have the added be

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        We should implement an open-fuel standard, requiring all new cars to be flex-fuel capable

        Most new cars are flex-fuel capable already. Most diesels will run on B100 and all gassers will run on Butanol, which we are not permitted to buy because BP and DuPont's shell company Butamax has not yet figured out how to legislate all competition out of the market. There is nothing good about mass-market ethanol fuel. I'm told that if you can figure out the magical document number, our own government will sell you a booklet explaining how to produce ethanol from waste with a solar still, and that this use

        • AFAIK, currently some cars are flex-fuel, but not all, and on many it's optional (plus, not all can handle methanol). If I were buying a car today, I'd certainly go with a fully flex-capable one (since I can't afford a Tesla). Last time I checked, the bulk price of methanol was about $1.50/gal, and as you note, it can be made "at home" from a wide variety of feedstocks... yard waste, for example.

          The jump from ethanol to methanol is important because it takes fuel out of competition with food. Ethanol (at th

      • You are right. One can make methanol from anything, including coal and gas. So we will never run out of liquid fuel. For example, South Africa has been synthesizing fuel from coal on a massive scale since the 1950s.
      • by Belial6 (794905)
        I would much rather see electric cars that have a standard charger and can charge while driving. Yep. I said charge while driving. Let me have an electric car that I can plug into my home with PV on the roof for my day to day under 30 mile a day driving. then let me hook a small trailer with a generator to my car to do my occasional 200+ mile trips. Since it would just be a generator, I could get a trailer that used anything that could produce electricity. Gas, diesel, ethanol, propane, natural gas, h
    • by MangoCats (2757129) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @10:01AM (#43262967)

      Well, what I read that I like is over 1000 gallons of ethanol produced per acre-year. Since my family ethanol/gasoline needs are approximately 1000 gallons per year, that means that even evil energy beet fuel production only needs one acre of farm land to produce our energy needs, half that if we update our vehicles to higher efficiency ones. This is, of course, ignoring the cost of production issues.

      Now, with nearly 100 million families of four (equivalent, also consider that we might be below average in our fuel consumption) in the U.S. - 100 million acres is a lot of farmland - a bit over 10% [census.gov], but it wouldn't be a bad transition from oil.

      Maybe algae energy is better, certainly is if it can be done on marginal lands, but either way, I'm liking the biofuel implications here.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Since my family ethanol/gasoline needs are approximately 1000 gallons per year, that means that even evil energy beet fuel production only needs one acre of farm land to produce our energy needs,

        It doesn't work that way. Even it it's more energy-positive than corn into ethanol, it's still going to require a bunch of energy input in the form of oil that is completely unnecessary while using algae.

        Maybe algae energy is better, certainly is if it can be done on marginal lands,

        Not only can it be done anywhere you can scrape a flat spot (with decent insolation, anyway) but it can be done with water unsuitable for growing beets even as a feedstock, e.g. brackish or outright sea-salty water. Indeed, it will be one of the few things we can grow once, they're done using the topsoil up

    • by swb (14022) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @10:59AM (#43263285)

      The real problem with ethanol was never the fact that it was a bad fuel, but that the agriculture lobby got subsides enabled for it AND got mandates in at least ag states that retail fuel be blended with a certain percentage of it.

      This both made it artificially cheap for producers, who could pay closer to market costs for corn, thus encouraging farmers to grown more corn (and widen the political support for subsidies) AND create an artificial demand for it, thus creating an artificial floor for pricing.

      Nothing distorts an economy like subsidizing production and mandating consumption.

      I think biofuels probably have a place in the upcoming 100 years, but the only thing that should be subsidized is research and small-scale trials. The technologies and systems that get commercialized should happen because they're independently viable from a cost/use perspective, not because ADM, the Farm Bureau and ag state Senators benefit from it.

      Personally, I'd like to see some kind of synergy between wind power, hydrogen and biofuels. Wind is common in ag areas (where the bio-inputs are, including ag waste which is marginal for yield if a lot of shipping is involved), wind produces a surplus the grid can't always use, biofuel energy balance could be more positive if some of the energy inputs were "free" (surplus wind's electricity or hydrogen produced from its electricity).

      At a minimum we could be talking about cutting the energy inputs for food production and a more localized and sustainable energy cycle.

    • by budgenator (254554) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:02AM (#43263305) Journal

      Algea to biodiesel isn't a complete answer, while algea provides copius amounts of lipids for conversion to FFA, Free Fatty Acids, you still an alcohol like methanol (preferable) or ethanol to complete the process. So where do you get the methanol? Evil techniques like Pyrolysis of bio-material [wikipedia.org], and Petro-chemical convertion [wikipedia.org]. Next problem is your going to have trouble getting most cars to run well on more than 10% biodiesel because most cars run on gasoline! To get over that you have to convince all the "green-in-theory" soccer moms to become "green-in-reality" soccer moms and buy some "stinky" diesel SUV's; good luck with that.

      "Topsoil-based fuels are wrongheaded in every way", not so, beets require soils that are unsuitable for less robust crops, FTA "the beets are an ideal crop: they grow in poor and salty soils, and can use lesser-quality water," furthermore

      “Farmers who raise energy beets may see greater soil health because the tap root penetrates as deep as 6 to 8 feet, using nutrients, nitrogen and water that other crops don't reach.” Energy beets for ethanol [agprofessional.com]

      when beets are harvested, these long tap-roots often remain in the ground, opening deep channels through any hardpan [wikipedia.org] to alow better drainage into subsoil aquafers, bringing plants nutrients and minerals from the deep subsoils and leaving necessary organic material which will produce a deepening of the top-soil. Additionally the top growth is left on the fields providing compost. Sure you can't monoculture beets for long (like anything else), but as part of a crop rotation with science based fertilization it has positive effects on the soil, processing the beets is pretty stinky tho.

      Your going to get people to buy flex-fuel vehicles running sugar-beet based E85 a long time before your going to convert our fleet to diesel vehicles running on biodiesel.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Algea to biodiesel isn't a complete answer,

        Right, you also need Algae into butanol.

        The rest of your comment is based on a straw man (when did I say algae into biodiesel was a complete answer?) and thus can safely be ignored.

    • "There's nothing good about energy beets. We already know we can use algae, and that it is superior in a variety of ways.

      Do not cheer this. There is nothing good about this. It is merely less evil than using corn as a fuel feedstock."

      We already know how to make even more "biofuel" -- fuel-grade oil -- from things such as corn STALKS than from the corn itself. There are already plants in operation. They can convert almost anything organic. They can also use chicken parts in the same factories (although different sources have to be run in different batches to tune the process).

      I agree. This is just turning another food crop into fuel, at the expense of food prices. Bad idea. It is merely less evil than the other.

    • by MickLinux (579158)

      I also want to know what the energy out for energy in is. Corn based ethanol consumes more fuel than i t produces.AND it uses up valuable fertilizers like potassium and phophate. Those are in more seriously short supply than the fossil fuels.

  • by DiamondGeezer (872237) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @07:36AM (#43262335) Homepage

    ...to grow energy instead of food. Which means the price of food rises and the poor riot as they cannot afford to buy food,

    So immoral that even Al Gore rejected it, which is saying somethng.

    • by thammoud (193905)

      and the new cartel will be Monsanto and co. Evil idea all around.

    • I would have thought we would have learned this by now-that growing fuel in such a manner is a bad idea.

    • I believe the article covered this issue, the land being used is poor for most crops (salty and arid). It sounds like the only crop that can be economically grown is cotton, and the fields are suffering decreased yields from lack of crop rotation. So it sounds like this is not displacing any food crops at all, and over the long term it may even increase the yields of the crop it is displacing. While this is not a situation that is going to be repeatable in many areas, IMHO this isn't such a bad thing. O

      • by Gordonjcp (186804)

        Another thing that people seem to have missed is that since it's going for ethanol production instead of food, it can be grown on really badly contaminated land. The waste from making ethanol can either be composted or just ploughed straight back in - and if you're really clever, you'll extract whatever was contaminating the land while you make the ethanol.

        Bung some clover on it to start with and then plough that straight in the year you plant your sugar beet, and you're good to go.

    • One word (Score:5, Insightful)

      by c0lo (1497653) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @08:05AM (#43262435)
      Water.
      Sugar beet is less land demanding than corn, but has higher water needs.
    • Growing energy instead of food, when food is subsidized to the farmer by the government because much more is grown than the market can bear... is not immoral. There is not a shortage of food, and rarely has been. There is a shortage of ability to get food to people who are starving, but growing more food doesn't fix that.
    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      ...to grow energy instead of food. Which means the price of food rises and the poor riot as they cannot afford to buy food,

      So immoral that even Al Gore rejected it, which is saying somethng.

      Instead of tortilla riots, there could be beet riots.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      The poor won't riot in the US if the US uses sugar beets. There will still be ample food.

      We aren't even to the "victory garden" and "small truck farm" stage because food is so inexpensive here. Go elsewhere in the world and you'll see many productive small holdings. Vast amounts of arable land lie fallow throughout the US. Gardening is practical (and was once the norm) even in suburban areas. Those long, deep backyards found in many older Northern communities once held gardens.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V [wikipedia.org]

  • thought when making ethanol from corn, starches were enzymatically converted to sugar? But i suppose if that were true big starchy tubers which are also sweet like sweet potatoes would be ideal.

    I still think celluloistic ethanol production is most promising as you can grow for the most biomass/m2. You could also select for plants which put certain nutrients into the soil and rotate them in schedule with other plants while getting paid by mass for the ethanol feedstock.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      I still think celluloistic ethanol production is most promising as you can grow for the most biomass/m2.

      Ethanol is a dream, and a dumb one. We should be making biodiesel and butanol, but we are not due to corporate malfeasance and greed [altenergystocks.com].

      • I still think celluloistic ethanol production is most promising as you can grow for the most biomass/m2.

        Ethanol is a dream, and a dumb one. We should be making biodiesel and butanol, but we are not due to corporate malfeasance and greed [altenergystocks.com].

        I guess i shouldn't have said ethanol, just culloistic fuels in general. What is butanol? I'm looking at VW or Audi's tdi (turbo diesel) right now for the next car.

  • by robbak (775424) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @07:45AM (#43262367) Homepage

    The summary (and probably the article as well) does not make this clear. Invert sugars are mixtures of glucose and fructose, generated by applying acids, heat or enzymes to sucrose.

    So the sentence should be read "...meaning sucrose as well as (glucose, fructose and other minor sugars,) called invert sugars.

  • by nweaver (113078) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @07:52AM (#43262399) Homepage

    It's all a simple matter of area: With an electric vehicle my entire transportation energy usage can pretty much be covered with a small rooftop solar system. To do it with biofuels would require acres of space.

    The problem is simple: Photosynthesis is just vastly less efficient than photo voltaic solar

    • This. Any solar panel which does better then about 4% efficiency is ahead of plants, and we can do 15% no problems these days on silicon.

    • by Cwix (1671282)

      Bonus: You don't need to drain an aquifer to generate that either.

    • by Gothmolly (148874)

      Less efficient per square foot, but when you already have millions of free square feet, vs. sending your millions of dollars to China to buy rare-earth solar panels, the equation tilts a different way.

    • But, unfortunately, energy density of batteries are much less efficient than ethanol, and so is charging ability. I can't do as much as fast with electric cars as ethanol cars, and until that is solved, there are far bigger problems than acreage.
      • by swillden (191260)

        But, unfortunately, energy density of batteries are much less efficient than ethanol, and so is charging ability. I can't do as much as fast with electric cars as ethanol cars, and until that is solved, there are far bigger problems than acreage.

        While this is true, it's irrelevant for the majority of vehicle-miles driven. How many commuters live more than 40 miles from work? Given charging infrastructure in both places, current-generation EVs (like my Nissan LEAF) are perfect. Right now, an EV is a great second car for most people, and could even be an only car for many if you are willing to rent a gas burner for the occasional longer trips.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          While this is true, it's irrelevant for the majority of vehicle-miles driven. How many commuters live more than 40 miles from work?

          That's a good question, but I know it's actually a lot. Especially in California, where we have the most people, the most cars, and the most vehicle-miles traveled. Commutes longer than 40 miles are, sadly, just not that unusual in the USA.

          • by swillden (191260)

            While this is true, it's irrelevant for the majority of vehicle-miles driven. How many commuters live more than 40 miles from work?

            That's a good question, but I know it's actually a lot. Especially in California, where we have the most people, the most cars, and the most vehicle-miles traveled. Commutes longer than 40 miles are, sadly, just not that unusual in the USA.

            How about 80 miles? I picked the 40 number to assume charging only at home, then went on to mention charging both home and work. With charging in both places, an 80-mile commute is feasible with current EVs.

            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              How about 80 miles? I picked the 40 number to assume charging only at home, then went on to mention charging both home and work. With charging in both places, an 80-mile commute is feasible with current EVs.

              That's a lot less common, but I do personally know people with commutes that long. Note that you're giving ideal figures. Regenerative braking ain't 100%, so typical commute traffic is going to be hard on ideal mileage... I argue for EVs all the time for people for whom they make sense, but that just isn't everybody.

        • by Belial6 (794905)
          Give me an all electric that can charge while driving. Most days I don't drive more than 30 miles in a day. Once or twice a month, I drive more than 200. I would be very happy to drive an all electric most days and when I want to go farther, hook the little generator trailer to the back and plug it in. The extra bonus is that I wouldn't have to use fuel hauling the generator or 200+ mile batteries around every day. For those that drive 200+ miles even less than me, no doubt places like U-Haul and Hertz
          • by swillden (191260)
            Yeah, a generator trailer would be awesome, and would dramatically increase the utility of an EV. It doesn't really matter for me because I need multiple vehicles anyway, but it would make EVs useful to more people.
      • by camg188 (932324)
        Electricity could be used to produce a more transportable energy. Hydrogen or compressed air are a couple off the top of my head. Of course you'd take a big hit in total efficiency. But right now, none of these would match the energy portability of ethanol, which also does not match that of gasoline. Are we just spinning our wheels?
    • by Jumperalex (185007) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @09:02AM (#43262689)

      The problem here is a question of energy STORAGE not generation. Until we have better batteries, or some other form of storage, that are comparable to hydrocarbon storage roof top solar will still not be as practical for a lot of transportation needs.

      Mind you I'm not saying this is a great idea, especially if beats require "quality" arable land. But if by chance they are viable on land that is not great for other, edible, crops, then it might not be such a horrible idea. IIRC that is why everyone is/was so enthralled with switch-grass.

      We need something a bit more sustainable and more carbon neutral to bridge the gap till we get a suitably dense storage medium for automotive use.

    • It's all a simple matter of area: With an electric vehicle my entire transportation energy usage can pretty much be covered with a small rooftop solar system. To do it with biofuels would require acres of space.

      I hope you're talking about the rooftop of your house... because the rooftop of your car isn't anywhere even close to powering much more than your radio.

      That being said - if your house solar array is powering your car, that means you're drawing power from the grid for your house. Or driving

    • by Alioth (221270)

      On the other hand, liquid fuels are vastly easier to store than electricity, and require nothing more complex than a container which offsets many of the advantages of a PV panel.

    • Hmm... Explain to me how you are going to charge a 60KwH battery (Tesla, 200 mile range) with a 200 W/m2 solar panel on a 100m2 roof (20KwH) overnight?
  • Low net energy density by volume or weight; it grabs moisture from the air, but not in any controlled fashion; as a pretty good solvent, it's hard on a lot of plastics; ...

    Instead of the sulfur-laden crap the petro-industry dumps on us as diesel fuel, how 'bout some high-quality bio-derived fuel, instead?

    • $$$. Even more so than the already expensive ethanol(relative to petroleum derivations). Unless it is imposed, few people will choose a fuel source that is significantly more expensive than the dirty alternative.
    • by nojayuk (567177) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @08:56AM (#43262661)

      Quite a few Europeans use vegetable oil in their diesel-engined cars. There's a thriving market for small back-of-the-garage "refineries" processing waste cooking oil from fast-food shops etc. to remove some of the more harmful byproducts like glycerine and water as well as filtering out particulates. You can usually tell if someone's doing this as their car exhaust tends to smell of french fries.

      Unused cooking oil (usually sunflower or rapeseed) can be poured into the tank without requiring treatment, especially in older diesel cars and vans with mechanical fuel pumps. In the UK the price of cooking oil is now kept artificially high to match the price of garage forecourt diesel (about UKP 1.40 a litre at the moment) since most of that is tax and too many folks were going to Costco and the like and buying vegetable oil in 5-litre containers for a lot less. Theory says that folks using alternative fuels like biodiesel should pay the same duty as petroleum-derived fuels garner but this doesn't happen much as you might expect.

  • Are they going to water them with Brawndo?

    It's got what plants crave!

  • ALL biofuels are inefficient solar energy collectors whose only advantage is that their output is directly chemical. Even if it took no petroleum based, petroleum transported fertilizer to grow sugar beets in quantity, it still takes land, water and sunlight away from other food crops and the natural ecology, on which we will be dependent for the foreseeable future.

    Want to keep running a large scale industrial civilization? Forget biofuels. The unpleasant reality is that in the long run, it's thorium nuclear, space based solar, or nothing much, and civilization as we know it now, contracts contracts significantly, along with the world's population.

  • Ethanol is to gasoline as sawdust is to hot dogs.

  • Buy! Buy! Buy!!!
  • by gatkinso (15975) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @09:30AM (#43262825)

    ...that store solar energy. There is inefficiency and energy loss at every step of harnessing their energy. TIme to cut out the middle men?

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      The problem with beets or other topsoil-based crops isn't energy loss, it's mineral depletion. And, with typical "green revolution" farming techniques, it also involves literal destruction of topsoil through loss of soil diversity, i.e. the death of nematodes and other microscopic beneficials necessary to soil health. Soil is not merely dirt, there is an entire unseen ecology which must exist to maintain it and cause it to be fruitful which is systematically destroyed by typical factory farming methodology

    • You mean like eating the beets and then walking?

  • by StormyWeather (543593) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @09:58AM (#43262955) Homepage

    All moving to biofuels does is destroy the large underground lake called the ogalala that the midwest sits on. Once gone it is hello dustbowl 2.

  • And oil is probably also.
  • It takes a huge amount of energy to boil sugar out of beets.
    Is this a big sucking sound from big sugar?

    • Let me preface by saying I'm Canadian.

      I've never understood why the US govt is so hell bent on protecting corn farmers so much so to put an import ban on sugar.

      When I was in the US anything sweet tasted like fucking garbage. Corn syrup is absolutely awful. I don't understand how soda companies are even in business down there.

      If this beet bio-fuel helps bring in more beet sugar production, I say its a good thing for Americans. Corn syrup is nasty.

  • by voss (52565) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:06AM (#43263313)

    End sugar import quotas we could buy all the sugar cane we needed for ethanol from carribean nations and have better coca-cola to boot.

  • This really reminds me of the 1991 movie where Billy Dee Williams, Dom DeLuise, and Milton Berle starred in “Driving Me Crazy,” about an East German inventor who defects to America and tries to market a turnip-powered Trabant. So all they have to do is figure out how to cut out the middle-man and run the car on raw Energy Beets instead of refined Ethanol!
  • It's still ethanol. It still damages car and truck engines, and it still isn't efficient as real gasoline.
  • More crony capitalism! Yay!

    The one bit of good news on the biofuels front has been the end of the US tariff on Brazilian sugar ethanol, which will displace some corn ethanol grown in the US.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324677204578185750536400698.html [wsj.com]

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