Renewable, Low Carbon Ethanol Reduces Oil Consumption, Lowers Gasoline Prices

What alternative energy system does Big Oil currently hate the most?

I’ll give you a hint. It’s not EVs. Nor is it wind or solar. Though these systems currently represent serious threats to Big Oil’s market dominance they don’t compare to the one source of energy Big Oil is required to incorporate into gasoline. That, in the US, represents nearly 1 million barrels per day of renewable liquid fuel.

That’s right, I’m talking about ethanol.

Currently ethanol reduces US oil demand by nearly 1 million barrels per day. As such, it reduces overall carbon emissions, reduces fuel costs for American motorists, and makes the United States more energy independent. The fuel contribution coming from ethanol is greater than that produced by the Bakken Shale.

Ethanol does require a degree of fossil fuel use to produce it. Primarily natural gas is used to run the distilleries and oil to run the farm equipment (however, wind or solar could be used as replacements, further lowering carbon impact). But the field to wheels carbon emission is less than 50% that of gasoline (and even less if your gasoline is coming from a highly polluting source like tar sands). So, when traded for gasoline, ethanol produces far less of a carbon burden on the planet.

Most US ethanol currently comes from corn. As such, about 30% of the US corn crop, at present, goes to ethanol. And this puts an upward pressure on food prices. In combination with a current drought (ironically, largely the result of massive fossil fuel carbon emissions) first generation ethanol production has contributed to upward pressure on food prices.

Second generation ethanol production via cellulosic ethanol appears to be around the corner (2015). Cellulosic ethanol can come from a variety of feedstocks including switch grass and wood chips. Since most cellulosic ethanol can be produced from waste material or via grass grown on marginal lands, the impact to food production is far less than that of corn-based ethanol. So it appears a primary detractor for ethanol is rapidly evaporating.

On a scale of what is most harmful to what is least harmful to the environment and sustainability, you would rank fossil fuels as most harmful, corn ethanol as second most harmful, and cellulosic ethanol as least harmful.

Unfortunately, many mainstream media outlets are producing fresh attack pieces targeting ethanol. These run a gambit of false claims ranging from blaming ethanol for the current drought to ludicrously asserting that ethanol carbon emissions are comparable to gasoline. Others appear to be sounding the death knell for ethanol as a US fuel, citing both the drought and falling US gasoline consumption.

So why are mainstream media outlets producing fresh attack pieces on ethanol? The answer is anyone’s guess. Big Oil, for one, is certain to be delighted. But one does wonder that if falling US gasoline consumption means the end for the US ethanol industry, does it also mean the end for the US oil based gasoline industry?

Links:

http://chooseethanol.com/what-is-ethanol/entry/carbon-footprint/

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Drought to Continue Through February; Winter Crops Hit Hard

An eight and a half month long drought, which scientists have linked to human caused climate change, continues to ravage the US heartland. This week, total area affected by drought remains steady at 59% of the contiguous US, with some minor improvements in the Eastern Midwest even as areas in the Southeast and West grew drier.

Losses to US farmers also continue to worsen. This year’s corn crop was cut by 13 percent and conditions for the US wheat crop are now the worst in 27 years. Conditions for the current winter wheat crop continued to deteriorate this week, with only 36% of the crop now rated in excellent to good condition. Meanwhile, US livestock levels have dropped to their lowest number in 39 years.

Keith Kisling, 65, noted in a Bloomberg report:

“It’s drier than I can ever remember and I’ve been farming for 40 years. A lot of wheat hasn’t emerged yet, and some are up but they’re spotty because they didn’t get any rain. It’s gotten progressively worse.”

Another farmer from the same report said:

“The dust storm we had in Oklahoma a couple weeks ago, some of that seed got blown out and we had to replant. And we’ve had such high temperatures. We have no moisture or limited moisture. What little soil moisture we had in the subsoil, those high temperatures will pull that out.”

Unfortunately, the forecast is for persisting US drought through February with some areas worsening and other areas showing slight abatement. The areas under the gun remain the US West and a smaller section of the US Southeast, centering on Georgia.

Such a long-running drought produces a growing risk that dry conditions will extend into summer to threaten US corn, soy, and sorghum crops again this year. Worldwide, drought conditions are also impacting crops in Europe and Russia.

Links:

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-11-16/drought-expected-to-persist-through-february-in-great-plains

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-11-14/cattle-grazing-wheat-fields-to-decline-as-drought-cuts-prospects.html

 

 

 

Persistent Global Warming Induced Drought Threatens Winter Crops

 

A persistent drought, that scientists are saying has been made worse by global warming, is now threatening the nation’s winter crops.

According to the US Drought Monitor, 64% of the US is now suffering from some level of drought. Though the overall area of drought fell slightly last week, regions of the US West and heartland experienced intensifying drought. This persistence of broad areas and intensification in critical regions is contributing to anxiety over US winter crops. And many key states, including Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa are already experiencing impacts.

According to CBS’s Money Watch:

Dry conditions continue to intensify in Kansas, where extreme drought now covers the entire south-central portion of the state, according to Thursday’s update released by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

Those parched environs are stalling growth of winter wheat. The 65 percent of that crop planted in Kansas as of last Sunday was slightly above the average pace, though a below-average 25 percent of that emerged. Less than one-third of Nebraska’s winter wheat fields have germinated, 12 days behind the norm.

The new threat to US crops comes on the back of severe summer losses to the nation’s corn crop. These losses have caused yields to drop to 122 bushels per ache, the lowest average per acre since 1995. Overall, industry use of corn will need to be negotiated due to tightening supplies — a form of industry rationing that takes place during times of constraint. Total US corn production is expected to be 10.71 billion bushels, down from last month’s estimate and the lowest since 2006. Current US corn supply is the lowest in 17 years — three weeks of forward supply. Drought persisting through winter will hit wheat crops as well, resulting in even more tightness in the grain markets.

Unfortunately, the long-term forecast is for global warming to result in worsening overall drought conditions for the US. Serious efforts are needed to prevent further damage to US farmers and US agriculture. This year’s drought, the worst in 55 years, comes on the back of the fifth driest period for the US west in 500 years. Climate experts only show worsening conditions if greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed.

Links:

http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20121011/us-drought-harvest-estimate/

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505245_162-57530523/drought-holds-steady-clouding-winter-crop-outlook/

http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1633.html

 

Record US Drought Deepens, 61 Percent of Country Suffering From Some Level of Drought

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The most recent report from NOAA shows a current record US drought deepening with more than 61% of the country now suffering from extreme conditions.

The worst drought in 25 years has severely impacted US agriculture. According to the monitor, in the US’s 18 primary corn-producing states, 30 percent of the corn crop is now in poor or very poor condition. Earlier this year, a combination of increased demand and poor conditions last year resulted in more than 48% of US corn stockpiles being wiped out. In response, the US began planting its largest corn crop ever in May. Now, unprecedented widespread drought conditions are threatening that crop.

The result is that food prices are steadily rising. This Thursday, corn prices had risen by as much as 4% by end of trading. Since mid June prices for corn had risen more than 33%, with prices of wheat jumping 23% and prices of soy rising 13%.

These rising prices reflect anxiety on the part of grain consumers from China to the Middle East and many other places around the world. The crisis has caused many to wonder if this year may be a repeat of 2010, when severe drought damaged Russia’s wheat crop and sent prices soaring. The food scarcity that followed sparked food riots throughout the Middle East and served as a flash-point for the Arab Spring.

This year, threatening conditions include the consistent dryness in the US, another dry year in the Russian wheat belt and the worst start to India’s Monsoon season in three years. These factors have caused increased concerns that regions will impose export restrictions in order to preserve local food security, to the detriment of food importers.

Food security in recent years has also been harmed by the emergence of ‘just in time’ supply, where stockpiles are winnowed down in favor of a rapid response market and delivery system. Such a system works fine so long as abundant supplies are available. But the system is not resilient to crisis events, where the lack of available food in the event of yearly or multi-year droughts can have dramatic impacts on world food security.

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