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  • Alternative Energy



    There was a time when I felt that corn ethanol was a bad idea --- why power our cars with food -- and thought that solutions like switch grass were a better alternative. Now, I think that it would be better to let the cows eat that grass and use the corn for fuel.

    It's grandma, but you can call me sir.

  • #2
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    It's perfect! and it would give us something to do with all that useless corn...

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    • #3
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      You know... I might have to rethink my stance on this...


      However there may be the downside that farmers may switch from other crops TO corn, thus making the cost of other veggies go up.

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      • #4
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        hmmm... you're probably right about that. And we don't really need any MORE corn being grown.


        I bet the technology to use it as fuel will have the unintended side effect of getting corn into our air... then there would be no way to avoid it! (joking, I know better : )

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        • #5
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          Corn is not in any way economically viable as a fuel. We should just not grow corn period. Algae and hemp both beat it for biofuel feedstock production. The US political system is just owned by corn, due to the large companies that produce it, and the fact that the Iowa primary is first.

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          • #6
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            Darienx19 -- not so far fetched -- did you see king Corn . Supposedly they are able to tell the percentage of carbon in your hair that comes from corn. So the CO2 that comes from the process would end up in the veggies and in us. I guess? And maybe it even matters? I don't know?


            Nick, Corn isn't an economical way to grow food either --- farms would loose money if it weren't for government subsidies. They keep planting it because it is guaranteed money. More you plant the more money the gov't give you.


            At any rate I agree with you about the economics of ethanol -- I was more struck by my change in attitude about what is important to our food supply. I am skeptical about algae being viable -- where would you grow it? Hemp -- talk about political mine fields the US is afraid of hemp. And again, it might be better to feed the hemp to ourselves and livestock than to use it as a fuel. Corn is a garbage crop, us it as fuel.

            It's grandma, but you can call me sir.

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            • #7
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              The southwest US works well for any kind of solar -- algae are basically mini solar cells that you then process for their lipids. You can then process the lipids like you would vegetable oil and make biodiesel, or process them more extensively via thermal cracking and Fischer-Tropsch to make whatever alkanes you want on the other side. This process is already in use at pilot plants, and the Air Force has certified kerosene made this way for some of their planes, particularly the B-52. It's a priority for them to have a fuel supply that isn't dependent on foreign countries.


              It just needs to be scaled up and enhanced -- true of any industrial/chemical process at the pilot stage, but it certainly becomes viable with oil at $80-100/barrel.


              And I'm of a significantly libertarian leaning (even if the party itself is nuts), don't have to tell me about all the ridiculous farm subsidies.

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              • #8
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                Nick, This is so off topic we should take this discussion elsewhere --- but it's the scale up that I don't see. Are you going to flood Arizona to grow algae? Flood it with what? The Colorado river? The ecologic impact is enormous for that scenario. Besides some nice Omega 3 rich algae sounds really good to feed to livestock, I'd like some of those eggs

                It's grandma, but you can call me sir.

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                • #9
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                  If you're going to post something with the topic of Alternative energy don't tell someone their off topic when they bring up something else. There are dozens of alternative fuel and energy sources out there. Corn is well, terrible as a fuel source, it uses more resources to produce a gallon of ethanol then it does to drill and process a gallon of oil. From an alternative, environmental, and sustainable stand point. Corn as a fuel source is worse than oil. Besides why not just use hybrids, or use diesel. Or make a diesel hybrid. Then make a diesel hybrid that can use bio-fuels or turn it into a grease car. That would be a huge MPG ratio. Also, if you're going to talk about alternative energy how about geothermal plants? Solar panels on every building, wind turbines for the winter season, or wave generators. So, for a topic on alternative energy, does anyone else know of any new ideas?

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                  • #10
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                    Sorry Nick.


                    Relosa, the point was really about food not so much about energy. It occurred to me that my thought process was changing such that I more highly valued grass for it's importance to the food supply than corn, when not so long ago it was the other way around.


                    Bio diesel hybrids are great idea -- I believe BWM has one in prototype phase. Again, a great use of all that non-edible corn.

                    It's grandma, but you can call me sir.

                    Comment


                    • #11
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                      The government studies that were done on algae that determined it was not effective were done on open ponds. In that situation, the algae below about a centimeter from the surface don't get meaningful sunlight, which harms efficiency.


                      Algae systems that would actually work are closed systems -- actively circulating tubes or plastic bags hung like sheets out to dry on the clothesline, so that the sunlight impinging on a given area can be maximally absorbed by the algae, stagnation is prevented, and the pumping system can filter out mature algae for processing on a continuous basis. There are some test operations like this. One in west Texas uses the thin plastic bag method.


                      Open systems also tend to not remain exclusively algae for long -- they get contaminated with critters..bacteria, fungus, protists, plants, animals, you name it. A closed system is much easier to keep sterile and flush and reload if necessary.


                      My personal energy fantasy is to use solar thermal concentrators (which are IMO the most promising solar electrical generation tech, not photovoltaic), a la http://www.stirlingenergy.com/ . You don't just have to point your concentrators at Stirling generators though, you can point them at high temperature reactor vessels to support the production of SynGas (H2 + CO in a certain ratio depending on your goal). H2 can be produced thermally or by electrolysis, depending on what you can do most efficiently. Once you have SynGas, you feed it into a Fischer-Tropsch reactor, and you end up with an alkane mix of your preferred length (C4-C10 for gasoline, C12-C15 for kerosene, diesel in the middle of that, etc.). That's the process that I mentioned before is already producing fuel that flies some military aircraft.

                      During WWII, he axis powers were producing 124,000 barrels a day of liquid fuels with F-T using syngas that they produced by gasifying coal. You can replace coal with most any hydrocarbon, biomass, etc. Or you can produce syngas like I described.


                      It seems a bit hairy, and it's certainly not as cheap as just pulling it out of the ground, but it's carbon neutral, really will never run out, and requires absolutely nothing in terms of replacement of our vehicle fleet.

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                      • #12
                        1



                        Some people who are doing algae are using waste water from cattle as the feed stock for the algae. They are turning around and feeding the algae (without the oil) back to the cattle. This is a nice system from an ecology point of view. I don't know what it is from a nutrition point of view since they are extracting the oil and feeding the carbs back to the cattle so they don't get the Fatty Acids, but they would get the "green stuff".


                        I think what is clear is that we have single sourced our energy, we will have to change soon to multiple sources for our fuel. We need to make good choices which balance the ecology, economic, and social factors (feeding the world) it isn't going to be easy.

                        It's grandma, but you can call me sir.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          1



                          Corn may be a terrible energy source (as well as unhealthy for the cows and the humans that eat it), but the problem is... the farmers in Iowa grow corn. Until there's a viable alternative for their livelihoods that suits the climate and infrastructure of America's farmland, I'm afraid few mainstream politicians are going to tell the truth about ethanol or embrace a more sensible alternative.


                          (I saw King Corn and what struck me was how they said that slaughtering grain-fed cows was humane because otherwise the cows would DIE from eating that much grain. Corn just kills their stomachs. It turned me off grain-fed cow forever.)

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