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naperlou
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depends on the cost and the benefit
naperlou   1/17/2013 1:48:22 PM
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Ann, don't get me wrong, but I still have to wonder about the economics of this.  After one of your previous articles I was down on a farm here in Illinois.  I asked the fatmer about it.  He had significant corn stubble left in his fields.  He was aware of the opportunity, but pointed out that he would have to bundle the stalks for them to be used.  The indication was that it was not worth the cost.  Costs include fuel, equipment wear and farmer time (and wear). 

Getting the most from a raw material is very attractive from a social and environmental point of view.  The problem comes in the economics.  There was a recent article I saw about ethanol producers trying to get more out of the corn by developing secondary products.  One was a protien that could be used to make plastics.  So, even using the "leftovers" from a process, it turns out that it is cheaper to petroleum based products for the same purpose.  These are the kind of engineering trade studies I have seen in a myriad of businesses. 

It may take tax and environmental policies to tip the scales. 

Elizabeth M
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
Elizabeth M   1/17/2013 2:22:16 PM
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I am sure your cost argument is valid but I wonder how much of that argument comes from a culture that is entrenched in how things have always been done and doesn't want to branch out and make the effort to do something new with the waste. I suppose it will take efforts like DuPont's (which I applaud, by the way) to see how this can be both environmentally and financially sound for all parties involved. Maybe you're right and it's policy that will change things and support this so it benefits the farmers as well.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
Ann R. Thryft   1/17/2013 2:46:47 PM
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I think Elizabeth's point is well taken. The examples Lou gives are of failures, not successes. And there have been successes. In addition, I learned growing up next to Silicon Valley that, if you've got enough time, money and innovation you can solve almost any technical problem and make it financially worthwhile to do so. But you have to be motivated, and innovative enough to figure out the best way to make it work. From what I can see, DuPont has all of those going for it.

Elizabeth M
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
Elizabeth M   1/17/2013 2:48:56 PM
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As usual, well put, Ann. Motivation is probably one of the biggest factors, here. If someone wants to do something enough, they will find a way to do it cost-effectively, excuses be damned. I do hope this effort has legs.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
Ann R. Thryft   1/18/2013 3:25:44 PM
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Elizabeth, to some extent it's a big real-life experiment, but one that DuPont has clearly thought out well ahead of time, and which it can afford.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
Ann R. Thryft   1/17/2013 2:45:33 PM
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Lou, the feedback--granted, given by DuPont and participating farmers--is that it costs them to have the stover hauled away. Presumably, they'd have to bundle it for that, too, so having DuPont pay them for it was worth the cost. There's also the cost of diseases and pests the un-removed stover harbors to be factored in. Perhaps whether it's financially worth it depends on the size of the farm, and of the crop. The farmers are being recruited from those in a radius of 30 miles, though, and 500 in that area sounds like a lot to me.

NiteOwl_OvO
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
NiteOwl_OvO   1/18/2013 10:54:44 AM
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Ann,

I grew up on a farm in IL. My father raised quite a bit of corn. We never disposed of corn stalks. Cattle will eat some of them and the rest can easily be mulched and used to fortify the soil as well as protect it from erosion. I don't understand where the issue of disposing of corn residue is coming from. If there is enough profit from harvesting corn stalks as a product to cover the production costs and additional cost for fertilizer to replace the removed stalks, then DePont's biofuel project may be viable. I seriously doubt it, though. The cost for fuel and fertilizer are significant.

The push to produce ethanol from non-food crops may very well be a waste of time. If the US is serious about producing ethanol as a renewable fuel, then we will use farm land to grow fuel crops. Using corn as a fuel crop makes sense. Not only can it be used to make fuel, it can be used for food. Wherever the demand is highest. Plus, the fermented corn mash waste can be used as a food component for pigs. We should not be concerned about corn being used for producing fuel. We should be concerned about using food producing land to grow fuel-only crops. Using food-crop residue makes sense, but only if it's cost effective. The push to stop using food-crops to make ethanol is a reaction to higher corn prices, which are the result of higher demand for corn. Plain and simple. As corn prices increase, so will corn production to the point where the price drops. We have thousands of acres of farm land enrolled in the Federal Feed-Grain program, which pays farmers to NOT produce grain on that land. If food production ever becomes an issue, that farm land can be put back into production. The reason farmers opt-in for the Feed-Grain program is because it makes economic sense. The Feed-Grain program was created to reduce grain production and support higher grain prices. If grain prices are getting too high, then that program is no longer needed.

Cheers.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
Ann R. Thryft   1/18/2013 11:39:54 AM
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NiteOwl, many different people and countries completely disagree with growing food crops for making ethanol, or with growing non-food crops to make biofuel on land that could be used for growing food, whether that's here in the US or elsewhere. The economy is now global, and much of the rest of the world is simply not as well off as the US, so what may make economic "sense" here for a small minority does not make that sense for the rest, or even when considering that small minority in context. The literature is vast and the regulations are many. We have covered the subject briefly here: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=253371

NiteOwl_OvO
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
NiteOwl_OvO   1/18/2013 1:28:47 PM
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Ann,

The economy is global, yes, but I believe your post was concerning ethanol production in the US using crop waste. I doubt the US will ever be able to compete as an exporter of ethanol, so any ethanol we produce will likely be used domestically. Whether other countries agree or disagree with food-crop based bio fuels produced and consumed in the US is largely irrelevant. In regards to the post you referenced, the EC wants a "magic" fuel that costs little to produce, doesn't impact food production and doesn't emit significant greenhouse gases. The only thing that comes close is hydrogen. All bio fuels will emit greenhouse gases when used. Alcohols contain less stored energy than gasoline or diesel, so when compared on a gallon to gallon basis, we will consume significantly more ethanol than the fossil fuels it replaces and it is likely that switching from gasoline to ethanol will result in a higher production of greenhouse gases. Bio fuels are not the answer to the question of how to reduce greenhouse gases. They are just renewable alternatives to fossil fuels. The EC's efforts to encourage the development of bio fuels that significantly reduce greenhouse gases is a waste of time. Development of hydrogen as a fuel source is the best we can do for now.

Not as "well off" as the US?!! Considering our monumental and ever growing national debt? Nobody is worse off than we are. We're just kidding ourselves if we think otherwise.

Constitution_man
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
Constitution_man   2/11/2013 2:36:21 PM
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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.

j-allen
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
j-allen   1/18/2013 11:42:04 AM
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There is a fundamental problem with using corn (grain) to make alcohol fuel.  The total fossil fuel energy required to produce the corn and make it into ehtnaol is greater that the calorific value of the alcohol.  Thus it is both an environmental and a thermodynamic loser.  See "Thermodynamics of the Corn Ethanol Cycle" from U. of Calif.  Cellulose as a feedstock at least theoretically overcomes this problem. 

 

Also, since photosynthesis converts <1% of solar energy into plant-based enthalpy, it compares very poorly with photovoltaic efficiencies which run about 15%.  Thus if you have a field and want to use it as an energy source, PV is a much better choice.  Of course the product will be electricity, rather than a liquid fuel. 

 

Please note that I have no objection to corn alcohol as a fuel, so long as I burn it in the Krebs cycle rather than the Otto cycle.  (just kidding)

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
Ann R. Thryft   1/18/2013 3:28:29 PM
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j-allen, thanks for the technical inputs on growing corn to make ethanol.

Elizabeth M
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
Elizabeth M   1/21/2013 5:00:17 AM
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It's good to hear from someone on the scientific side of this, j-allen! Viability arguments for and against the crop-based production of fuel aside--I think all the debate over this is exactly why it's good a reputable company like DuPont--with a long history of manufacturing a wide range of products--is taking the lead on this.

NiteOwl_OvO
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
NiteOwl_OvO   1/21/2013 3:52:46 PM
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j-allen,

Thanks for the response. I read the paper you mentioned. Unfortunately, Mr. Patzek's paper uses 20 to 30 year old estimated data. He also assumes that various chemicals are used, which may not be the case. Also, modern farming methods significantly reduce both soil erosion and the need for some herbicides as well has cutting fuel costs by reducing the number of passes needed to farm the fields. He quotes corn subsities paid to 10% of farmers, which he states were not made public. It would be difficult to check that information. In short, his paper seems a bit biased in my opinion.

Current PV technology is capable of reaching 40% efficiency, however that is under ideal conditions and optimal light exposure as well as using stacked PVs. Dual-axis tracking mechanisms help a lot, but rainy/cloudy days are still a problem. Two people I know have adopted wind/solar power for their homes. They use geothermal heating as well. Unfortunately, their wind generators require constant repairs. Even with solar power to supplement their wind power they have only achieved 34% and 21% of what their respective systems were designed to produce. Maintenance costs have negated any cost savings from producing their own electricity. Maybe someday small wind and solar will make sense, but we're not there yet, so we're at the mercy of the utility companies for now.

j-allen
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
j-allen   1/21/2013 5:18:29 PM
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Night Owl,

Thank you for your response to the paper in question.  I was not aware that some of the data were old.  Are you saying that these deficiencies are enough to flip the energy balance so corn ethanol is thermodynamically profitable?  That the sum of fossil fuel imputs ends up less than the enthalpy value od the alcohol product? 

 

Just for the record, my number for the efficiency of PV was just 15% in order to allow for the deficiencies you named.   Is that still too "good" to be realistic, especially when compared to the ~1% for photosynthesis (which also suffers from coludy days)?  

Having worked in the remewable energy industry I sympathize with your friends who have had lousy results with small wind turbines.  Unfortunately not all renewable energy products are built to the best reliability standards.

NiteOwl_OvO
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
NiteOwl_OvO   1/21/2013 5:54:56 PM
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j-allen,


I'm referring to "Thermodynamics of the Corn-Ethanol Biofuel Cycle" by Tad W. Patzek. I do not have the data to say one way ethanol is thermodynamically profitable or not. I only point out that Mr. Patzek states in his paper that various data were from the '80s and '90s. He also chose a point in time, 1973, to base his production costs for nitrogen fertilizer even though based on his numbers those processes have become much more efficient later. In 1973 the energy requirements were 47 MJ/Kg compared to 34 MJ/Kg in 1991 where the data ended. Based on the trend we might see significantly lower energy requirements by 2012.

According to Mr. Patzek, we should stop growing corn for food or fuel. How we grew corn 30+ years ago isn't sustainable.

Constitution_man
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
Constitution_man   2/11/2013 2:38:40 PM
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Well, Mr. Scientist... better sell  your car.  Only a fraction of the fuel energy it consumes actually turns into motive effort.

j-allen
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
j-allen   2/12/2013 8:10:00 PM
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Dear Constitution Man,

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. 

Constitution_man
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Re: depends on the cost and the benefit
Constitution_man   2/12/2013 10:07:10 PM
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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...

davidogden
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Methanol as a motor fuel
davidogden   1/19/2013 1:48:24 AM
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Kudos to DuPont for their new ethanol facility in Iowa.  However, Methanol (wood alcohol) is clearly easier to produce from cellulose than Ethanol. Methanol has been used as a fuel in auto racing since before most of us were wearing diapers.

Robert Zubrin has proposed that new automobiles be fitted with corrosion resistant flex-fuel systems which could utilize Methanol. In fact, Mr. Zubrin has converted his own car to run on Methanol. The production of Methanol could become a decentralized, cottage industry throughout the country as various entrepreneurs utilized local supplies of waste wood products, manure, etc to produce affordable, renewable motor fuels. 

Perhaps this is the greatest flaw in Mr. Zubrin's plan - it would create competition for the mega-corporations that currently maintain a stranglehold on motor fuel production, refining and distribution?

David Ogden, Olam Machinery

Tim
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Great Idea
Tim   1/22/2013 8:50:42 PM
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Any use of non-food product to make fuel can really only be a net benefit to the US.  Local farmers in my state of Virginia do have trouble is discarading the remnants from a corn harvest.  Often times these items end up discarded in the field and turned back in which is not always good for the soil.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Great Idea
Ann R. Thryft   1/25/2013 3:55:49 PM
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Thanks, Tim, for weighing in about local farmers, and the very real need to haul away corn stover. Harboring pests and leaching nitrogen form the soil are very real problems in agriculture--or gardening, which is one of things that attracted me to reporting this story.

NiteOwl_OvO
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Re: Great Idea
NiteOwl_OvO   2/1/2013 3:05:48 PM
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Ann,

According to an article from Monsanto titled "Excess Corn Stover as Cattle Feed Substitute", excess corn stover is only a problem in colder northern states. The current method of handling this is to chop or shred the stover to enhance decomposition. The stover is very important for reducing soil erosion and for reincorporating organic matter, nutrients and nitrogen back into the soil. It also helps hold moisture and nutrients in the soil, which improves crop yields. Another factor is soil erosion. If even 60% of the stover were harvested from these northern corn fields, those farms would be out of compliance with soil conservation regulations. Instead of chopping or shredding the stover, some farmers choose to feed the excess stover to cattle instead of feeding more exspensive grains, so there are already good uses for excess corn stover.

My father conducted an experiment several years ago where he harvested corn stover from half of a corn field and left the other half untouched. The next corn crop showed a clear difference. Where the stover had been harvested, the corn plants were shorter and not as green as the rest of the field. For the past 5 years my uncle has been harvesting 50% of the stover from his fields and selling it as cattle feed. His corn yields have been steadily decreasing each year as a result.

I'm concerned that large scale removal of corn stover for fuel production will result in poorer crops and higher costs for corn farmers in years to come. Corn production has already come under fire for long term sustainability concerns. DuPont's efforts might be better spent on something else.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Great Idea
Ann R. Thryft   2/1/2013 4:11:03 PM
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NiteOwl, not all mulches are created equal. Some, like corn stover, may act well as a mulch, to prevent erosion, but leach nutrients out of the soil. Others don't leach nutrients, but harbor pests and bacteria. All of these were mentioned in the article as reasons for removing the stover. In fact, mulching is no longer as highly recommended as it was when I learned all this in organic vegetable gardening and composting, which I practiced regularly for 10 years during the 70s in a 300-square foot plot in the hills of Northern California. (What you put into compost needs to follow somewhat similar rules.)
I understand that a commercial crop has somewhat different requirements, but they don't have to be as different as some think: I currently live in one of two areas in the country where organic gardening & farming was invented--or rediscovered--in the 60s and 70s. Adding nitrogen and/or fixing it in the soil is quite well understood in organic G&F. For example, one of the best ways to do this is to plant a cover crop, such as a legume, that adds it back into the soil. And BTW, I don't trust anything Monsanto says about plants, any more than I would trust drug companies to tell me the truth about their products. In addition, if corn stover was such great cattle feed, I guess that means all of those farmers that signed up with DuPont don't run cattle.
Also, you didn't say whether your dad put on something else to replace the corn stover, or what exactly caused the difference: nutrition? bacteria and pests? soil erosion? Details make the difference.

NiteOwl_OvO
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Re: Great Idea
NiteOwl_OvO   2/1/2013 5:51:04 PM
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Ann,

My dad fertilized the entire field as he normally would. He did not use additional fertilizer to replace the removed corn stover. The point of the experiment wast to see how much impact, if any, the removal would have. Minor soil erosion was evident, but it was not substantial since there was a small amount of decayed stover from the previous year. No difference in pests was noted. The top soil in Southern Illinois is thin and any changes that affect soil nutrients becomes apparent quickly. Northern Illinois has a lot of top soil, so the same effect would take years to be noticed. Harvesting of corn stover must be carefully managed and may not be possible in certain areas. Another factor is crop rotation. Farms that use a corn-soybean rotation can tollerate less stover removal.

I realize Monsanto is a chemical company that produces pesticides and herbicides, but they do actually produce some accurate and helpful articles concerning topics not directly related to their products. In this case, they were not promoting any of their products.

 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Great Idea
Ann R. Thryft   2/4/2013 12:47:36 PM
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Thanks for the additional detail, but it's not clear what the conclusions of your dad's experiment are. If there was little soil erosion or difference in pests, what does he think made the crop shorter and less green? You didn't actually say that removal of stover affected soil nutrients, but It sounds like you're implying that. True?

Monsanto may not have been promoting any of their products, but companies that large in consumer-facing industries (food, drugs) don't publish anything that isn't produced and checked by PR/marketing departments, not to mention legal departments, especially if they've already been sued. I wouldn't trust anything Monsanto or a Big Pharma company said about their industries. In this case, what Monsanto apparently said about stover and nitrogen--according to your summary--was just plain wrong.

NiteOwl_OvO
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Re: Great Idea
NiteOwl_OvO   2/4/2013 1:32:48 PM
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Ann,

The conculsions of my dad's expermiment were that stover removal is detrimental to the soil as evidenced by the following year's plant growth. Dad said you could see a difference to the row where stover was removed. As I mentioned, the top soil is thin in Southern IL. We had 6 to 8 inches of top soil compared to 3+ feet in the Springfield, IL area. The soil in North/Central IL could support stover removal with little noticable effect for several years, but that is not true everywhere.

Nowhere have I found legitimate information that supports your claim that stover leaches or removes nitrogen from the soil. I have found lots of information that states that nitrogen leaches out of the stover itself as it decays while laying on the ground, but it retains a significant amount of nitrogen that would be lost if the stover is removed. It was my dad's guess based on 50+ years of experience that lower nitrogen levels, where the stover was removed, was the cause of the shorter, less-green corn plants. He should know, since he consistently raised the highest yielding corn in the area and had learned to read the soil and the crops.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Great Idea
Ann R. Thryft   2/4/2013 1:51:35 PM
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NiteOwl, here's the USDA on the subject, saying that removing residues (he seems to mean at least corn cobs) does not negatively impact soil via sediment loss: http://www.zimmcomm.biz/domesticfuel/weinhold1.MP3And I'm not sure how "Northern states" are defined by Monsanto or where your dad's farm is. DuPont's facility, and the farmers, are in Iowa. A lot of people there seem to think this is appropriate, at least for that state. They've already tested it in a pilot program of 50 farmers: http://biofuels.dupont.com/cellulosic-ethanol/feedstock/corn-stover/ Also, I'm not the one originally making this claim: it's originally DuPont's: see the links we gave in the article. Note that DuPont's program does leave small amounts on the field to prevent erosion. But in larger quantities, they say it will leach nitrogen. They know more about this than I do. But that was my experience with many of the similar, fibrous mulches gardeners used to use to prevent erosion and, in dry states like California, to preserve soil moisture. Perhaps the answer lies at least partly in how much is removed.

NiteOwl_OvO
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Re: Great Idea
NiteOwl_OvO   2/4/2013 3:10:20 PM
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Ann,


I don't believe anything from the federal government. Too many professional liers (politicians) there and DuPont is another one of those big chemical companies looking out for their bottom line. In this case, I'm sure DuPont intends to make a tidy profit from their biofuel project, so any claims they make supporing it should be taken for propaganda. I believe what I see with my own eyes or in this case my dad's.

Here are a few sources of good information:

Corn Stover to Sustain Soil Organic Carbon Further Constrains Biomass Supply

https://www.agronomy.org/publications/aj/abstracts/99/6/1665?access=0&view=pdf

Corn stover removal decreases soil carbon, impacts crop

http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/aganswers/story.asp?storyID=4635

GLBRC081: GLBRC Intensive Experiment: Corn Stover Removal Microplots

http://lter.kbs.msu.edu/protocols/131

j-allen
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Re: Great Idea
j-allen   2/11/2013 4:33:15 PM
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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. 

 

NiteOwl_OvO
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Re: Great Idea
NiteOwl_OvO   2/12/2013 11:51:11 AM
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j-allen,

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.

j-allen
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Re: Great Idea
j-allen   2/12/2013 12:42:11 PM
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Nite Owl,

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? 

NiteOwl_OvO
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Re: Great Idea
NiteOwl_OvO   2/12/2013 3:53:44 PM
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j-allen,

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.

j-allen
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Gold
Re: Great Idea
j-allen   2/11/2013 3:45:55 PM
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Very interesting experiment.  Have you submitted a paper to an agronomy journal or conference? 

Dave Palmer
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Platinum
Biofuel mandate
Dave Palmer   1/22/2013 9:33:29 PM
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Something that's being ignored here is that the 2007 Clean Energy Act mandates the useage of minimum annual volumes of biofuels.  That is, the U.S. must consume, by law, a certain amount (currently somewhere around 15 billion gallons) of biofuels per year.  The mandated amount is set to increase every year until 2022.

On the other hand, regular gasoline containing more than 10% ethanol by volume can't be sold in most of the U.S. (and most automotive OEMs would like to keep it that way, because higher quantities of ethanol can wreck havoc on fuel system components).

What this means is that we'd better be using at least ten times as much gasoline per year as the mandated amount of ethanol -- otherwise we can't meet the requirement while still keeping the total below 10%.  This is called the "blend wall."

Unfortunately, the amount of gasoline consumed is determined by the state of the economy, which (as you might have noticed) took something of a dive soon after the 2007 law was passed.  The biofuel mandates were never revised to take this into account.

I don't know the exact numbers, but I think we are extremely close to hitting the "blend wall," if we haven't hit it already.  So producing more biofuels right now seems like an extremely bad idea, even if they are being produced from non-food feedstocks.

Ann R. Thryft
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Blogger
Re: Biofuel mandate
Ann R. Thryft   1/23/2013 11:45:19 AM
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I couldn't agree less on the idea of producing less biofuel. That would be extremely shortsighted and shooting ourselves in the foot. Instead, we should revise the regulations. The EU and other countries/regions have similar regulations, they also went through an economic dive, and they might serve as models for what to do, if the legislators in this country can't figure it out themselves.

Dave Palmer
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Platinum
Re: Biofuel mandate
Dave Palmer   1/23/2013 2:26:03 PM
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@Ann: Unfortunately, it's not just a matter of revising regulations.  Most cars (and trucks, and motorcycles, and snowbobiles, and lawnmowers, and outboard engines...) don't run well on gasoline that contains more than 10% ethanol.  There are also problems with material compatability: steel and aluminum components corrode, rubber o-rings shrink, etc.

Redesigning fuel systems to accomodate gasoline with an ever-increasing ethanol content is a challenge, although it can be done. (Obviously there are vehicles already out there that can run on E85).  But then there's the question about what to do about all of the vehicles that are already on the road.

Biobutanol is one possible alternative; it can be blended up to 16% with gasoline, compared to 10% for ethanol.  It also has some other advantages over ethanol.  I'm hoping to finish an article about this in the near future.

Ann R. Thryft
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Biofuel mandate
Ann R. Thryft   1/24/2013 12:07:56 PM
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Dave, I'm well aware of fuel mix needs. That wasn't my point: my point is that to be hamstrung by regulations alone, as your comment implied, is absurd. My other point is that we could learn from what goes on in other countries in the world, if we weren't quite so xenophobic. (Ironic, considering how most of us come from somewhere else.) And redesigning fuel systems to deal with ethanol can be done. It's also possible, as we've covered several times, to make biofuel that doesn't require any engine redesign.

Dave Palmer
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Platinum
Re: Biofuel mandate
Dave Palmer   1/25/2013 3:33:20 PM
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@Ann: My point isn't that biofuel production is hamstrung by regulation; in fact, it's just the opposite: federal law (enacted, incidentally, during the supposedly "free-market" Bush Administration) has mandated biofuel production in excess of what the market can accomodate.

I agree that we can and should learn from other countries; on the other hand, with the exception of Brazil, no other country has dived anywhere near as deeply into biofuels as the U.S.  In fact, the European Union recently decided to limit food-based biofuels to no more than 5% of transportation fuel.  The U.S. government requires a minimum rate of biofuel useage that is more than double the E.U.'s maximum rate.

(By the way, there are some very specific reasons why sugarcane ethanol makes sense in Brazil: Brazil has a tropical climate, an advanced agricultural industry, and lots of arable land.  It also has a large automotive industry; most vehicles used in Brazil are manufactured in Brazil, are built as flex-fuel vehicles, and have been for decades.  There are few other countries in the world that have all of these advantages).

Of course, the new E.U. limit applies to food-based biofuels only.  I agree that replacing corn-based ethanol with cellulosic ethanol makes sense.  I hope that DuPont's production of 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol at this pilot facility will be offset by somebody else producing 30 million gallons less of corn-based ethanol.

Unfortunately, since biofuel production in the U.S. is dictated by the government and not by the market, I doubt that this will happen.

Alternative biofuels and flex-fuel vehicles are definitely important technology needs.  On the other hand, we need to ask ourselves whether our goal is to simply to produce and consume biofuels for the sake of producing and consuming biofuels, or whether we are concerned with long-term environmental sustainability.  Sadly, government policy up to now has been focused on the former, not the latter.

NiteOwl_OvO
User Rank
Gold
Re: Biofuel mandate
NiteOwl_OvO   1/24/2013 3:17:59 PM
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Dave,

Biobutanol sounds like a good alternative to Ethanol and Gasoline. E85b, which replaces the gasoline component with biobutanol seems like a good first step. Also, producing biobutanol from glycerol could leverage existing biodiesel production and turn one byproduct into a useful fuel. More development is needed, but it sounds promising. I look forward to reading your article.

CLMcDade
User Rank
Gold
interesting
CLMcDade   2/5/2013 4:42:23 PM
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The collection of comments have made for interesting reading.  I love the fact that a lot of the ideas are coming from different directions and points-of-view, but the exchange has been kept civil. 

Very interesting is the real world experiment set up by NiteOwl's father.  Regardless of the actual cause for the difference in crop yields (nitrogen, nitrogen depletion, erosion or no), I love the fact that he set the experiment up and had the patience and commitment to sacrifice a growing season to test a deduction.  He was obviously onto something as he has successfully improved his yields.  Kudos to him for his powers of observation, deduction and curiosity.

It would be an interesting follow-up to test the soil from the two types of fields to see what the real chemical difference are.  This would eliminate the off-site hypothesizing and references to questionable reports, a point that both Ann and NiteOwl seem to agree on.  That common point is of course, that data and reports provided by large companies (or entities since NiteOwl included the government) are largely suspect and most likely skewed for an ulterior motive.  (I think most of us can most likely agree with this point.)

Gorski
User Rank
Platinum
DuPont and Non-Food Biofuel Project
Gorski   2/9/2013 4:10:57 PM
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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?

 

GORSKI PE



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