DuPont Recruits 500 Farmers for Non-Food Biofuel Project
Next year DuPont plans to complete one of the first and biggest commercial-scale cellulosic biorefineries in the world, which will make biofuel from corn stalks and leaves at this Nevada, Iowa construction site. (Source: DuPont)
Dear j-allen... after a decade of installing engines, designing cooling systems for them, using CFD and many other modelling tools, all validated by environmental chamber brutality, I have an understanding of thermo that goes well beyond the textbooks. I have heard numerous writers, mostly non-scientist journalists lamenting against ethanol. All forms of energy conversion lose some of their gross available BTU's to heat on the way to actual work or desired end product. Even if the ethanol critics [and I am sometimes one of them] were without error, one must get past empirical or anecdotal soapboxing long enough to be grateful for the huge investment made in the study, production, and outright LEARNING that has taken place in the last decade. I am as guilty as anyone for being on the soapbox, but NOT as it pertains to the allegation that all other forms of energy are far superior when the math is done objectively and accurately with current inputs. The most often misquoted data often reaches back to some assumptions based on the cost of corn production calculated by IA state 40 years ago. Today, we use less fuel per acre and produce FAR more bushels of corn while we're at it. I have followed the claims from multiple authors all the way back if/when possible, and more often than not, the same IA State data that was accurate in the 1970's is falsely applied to today's model. Ethanol is not the silver bullet, but it is one of many alternatives to study and exploit on the road to less dependence on hostile cultures for our energy. Now, if we could just get the current administration to shake hands with Canada, build the damn pipeline, and thus keep the fine folks under the maple leaf from selling their crude to China...
Permit me to instruct you in some basic thermodynamics. A heat engine (such as the Otto cycle engine used in automobiles) converts "low grade" energy (heat) to high grade energy (work). Under the Second Law, it is not possible to do so without rejecting a fraction of the heat input as waste heat at a lower temperature. That is why the engine operates at what you correctly describe as a low efficiency.
In the case of corn ethanol the fossil fuel energy value consumed in producing the alcohol is greater than the energy value of the alcohol itself. Thus one ends up with less energy than one would get by just using the fossil fuel directly. Note that both the input and output of the ethanol process are measured as heats of combustion (enthalpy) before any attempt to convert the alcohol enthalpy to work in an engine. The latter is, of course, subject to the same Second Law efficiency limits as described above. I hope I have helped you to overcome the confusion of your argument. I regret the abbreviated explanation, but if you would like me to recommend some introductory thermodynamics texts, I will be happy to do so.
It was medical research. Nothing life threatening. In fact they were trying to find a way to help improve the quality of life for people with a very common health problem. I'm not sure if they were successful.
My father chose not to publish anything, but did provide the information to other local farmers. My dad was a do-it-yourselfer and he was a very private person. He built what may have been the first pull-type corn planter with fold-up wings. I remember a few factory reps dropping by to take pictures of it. Later, he would smile when he saw the shiny new factory planters with fold-up wings.
Thank you for the clarification. Your story describing what amounts to fudging statistical data is distressing. May I ask in what field or area of science this was happening? I know that in my areas of physics and engineering, the editors and reviewers would be expected to nail such monkey-business.
I am sure your father's experiment took all possible precautions against biased results and used only the best practices in analyzing results. Again, has he published?
My post was not intended to offend anyone except those who are beyond caring. To clarify my statement, I don't believe any public statements and/or publications produced by the government. Those have all been put through the pollitical propaganda machine. Any valuable information that goes through there has lost it's credibility by the time it's published. That does not necessarily include studies that were funded in whole or in part by the government. I don't trust single sources of information, especially statistical studies. Single sources and statistical studies are indicators that additional research, real research, should be considered. By themselves, they are not proof or at best they are very limited proof.
In college, I briefly worked in a university research lab, which depended on donations and grants for funding. I participated in the colating and processing of data collected and preparation of documents for publication in journals and preparation of materials for presentation at conferences. Based on this experience, I know how statistical data is molded to support a goal. When the data is totally unsupportive, the research goal is adjusted to a new angle that can be supported or the experiment is redone with slightly different parameters and the unsupportive data is buried. That process continues until you have a goal and data to support it or you run out of funding. The lab I worked in started out doing good, valuable research, but later when the research failed to produce findings significant enough to warrant further research it became a case of publish or die.
You don't believe anything from the Fed. Gov't? Would that include government funded research? For example, would you reject a doctoral thesis or scientific paper which was, at least in part, paid for by a Federal agency such as DOD, EPA, NSF. etc? If so, then is any scientist who accepts government money ipso facto dishonest and corrupt?
I do share your skepticism over statements by DuPont unless they have passed through a peer reviewed journal.
About those people and countries that disagree with Nite Owl... they are more than happy to see the U.S. produce surplus grain for the simple reason that we GIVE IT AWAY or sell it under the market because it's politically popular. If those countries that can't learn how to feed themselves want U.S. farmers to produce corn for food, then they should do the right thing and get out the checkbook or learn to farm. Farming isn't a hobby and it isn't much fun when the fruits of the labor [and monumental ever-growing risk] are given away... causing the markets to be kept artificially low. Why do we do it then? Simple... because it is politically correct to keep food prices depressed. Not a happy concept for the farmer.
If you take the 1970 cost of an acre of land [a few hundred bucks], a 100 horsepower tractor [$10K] and a gallon of fuel [perhaps 14-16% of today's price] and then look at the same values recently... Land at $7000, the tractor at $135K, and the fuel at over 3 bucks... THEN look at the historical price of corn per bushel... it is only in the last few years that an American Farmer has "gotten a raise" while the rest of the country with little or no investment or risk gets a raise almost every year. Farmers have the right to market their crops as they see fit... PERIOD. If DuPont offers them an affordable plan, so be it.
The world does not have a food supply problem. Globally,we overproduce EVERY YEAR. What we have is a distribution problem. And no amount of handwringing over the idea of food-for-fuel will fix that issue. Farmers, in general, are sick and tired of being the pawn in the international food chess game.
While the goal of using waste corn products, leaves and stover, is admirable I wonder what the economics are like. It has been shown that ethanol costs more to make than it supplies in energy. Will this project produce the same result?
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