Wednesday, September 28, 2005

whack a Patzek

His stance on ethanol sets Cal professor apart - (via theWatt)
Patzek and David Pimentel, a Cornell scientist who had been a lone public voice against corn ethanol for more than 30 years, argued that corn ethanol did the environment more harm than good. Growing corn, fertilizing the fields, transporting it to the factories and then out to where it was needed took more energy than the resulting ethanol would ultimately generate, they said.

Detractors, including corn growers, federal government researchers and other academics, took offense at Patzek's stance. They saw ethanol as an environment-friendly way of reducing the nation's dependence on foreign fossil fuels.

Opponents pointed to Patzek's oil industry days, saying he had ulterior motives. They said he and Pimentel knew nothing about agriculture and had relied on irrelevant data. They even criticized the premise of Patzek's arguments, which were based on the first and second laws of thermodynamics.

"Environment friendly", my tookus.

Clearly, when it comes to bio-fuels, supporters have coconuts on the brain. Most of the bio-fuel schemes have really great postive energy profiles, so long as the crop is harvested organically by human slaves.

What I really want to see, to actually take bio-fuels seriously, is a fully working cellulose ethanol plant which can turn Kudzu into liquid fuel, thus killing two birds with one stone.

But there is a silver lining to all this criticism - Professor Tad Patzek is now planning:

...A center at UC Berkeley to take a careful look at all energy sources, including fossil fuels, biofuels like ethanol, solar and nuclear. He wants scientists to devise a common framework for evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of each. Such a forum is necessary to inform U.S. policy, he said.

Sounds like a winner.


At 3:03 PM, September 28, 2005, Blogger Phila said...

The childishness of all this stuff is beyond belief. Sure, coconut biofuel makes lots of sense for - where was it? - Vanuatu, where some of the islands are a few miles square and importing diesel eats up ten percent of the national budget. But what does that have to do with the USA, or any other country that has more cars than toucans?

This is something I keep trying incoherently to's not one thing - a specific energy source - that's failing's everything. There's this childish belief that you can plug, say, coconuts into the system, and that'll solve the problem. But the system itself is the problem...a lot of the biofuel debate is like talking about using a different choice of spices to improve a stew made of dung.

Eh, I guess I'm just an hysteric. I can imagine shrewd, small-scale ways of leveraging biofuels. But none of 'em involve carte blanche for land-rape, or gigantic handouts to American agribusiness.

At 4:53 PM, September 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Patzek may be playing his hand closer to his chest. He'll have an easier time getting his center funded if he doesn't announce the obvious thing beforehand, which is that the center is bound to publish papers advocating against biofuel schemes that fail to show a thermodynamic profit.

At 12:03 AM, September 29, 2005, Blogger monkeygrinder said...

Phila -- Childish sums it up. I think you've put your finger on this -- it is fine to see something working, in a particular context, and feel happy about it -- but it is grossly out of scale to frame these as "worldchanging" ... I think people just look at it and mentally categorize it as "organic earth day hippie shit must be good".

I take a different tack. Oil, buried by the eons, fine. Lucky us. We better slow down, by and by.

But BURNING EDIBLE FOOD to go to the FUCKING MALL? To move WIDGETS from point A to B?

Are there limits to self delusion and corruption? Sure, it is "organic", right up until the point where one converts it to oil and BURNS IT...

I hope you are right. And I hope Patzek is a canny politician and gets it done.

And controversy? GREAT! There is no better advertising...

At 9:02 PM, September 29, 2005, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Burning corn for fuel makes sense when we've got far more than we can eat.  What doesn't make sense is turning 390,000 BTU of corn plus 86,000 BTU of natural gas or LPG into 220,000 BTU of ethanol.


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