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Power United States Politics Technology

'Energy Beet' Power Is Coming To America 238

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 DiamondGeezer ( 872237 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @08:36AM (#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 Bearhouse ( 1034238 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @08:40AM (#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 robbak ( 775424 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @08:45AM (#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 c ( 8461 ) <beauregardcp@gmail.com> on Sunday March 24, 2013 @08:49AM (#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 aurispector ( 530273 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @08:55AM (#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.

  • One word (Score:5, Insightful)

    by c0lo ( 1497653 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @09:05AM (#43262435)
    Sugar beet is less land demanding than corn, but has higher water needs.
  • by Jumperalex ( 185007 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @10:02AM (#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.

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:59AM (#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 ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) * on Sunday March 24, 2013 @12:07PM (#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 ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) * on Sunday March 24, 2013 @01:02PM (#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.

The one day you'd sell your soul for something, souls are a glut.