The Energy Collective: Biofuels Are a Loser, Despite the Hope and Hype

February 22, 2013

Rod Adams, Feb. 21- I’ve been spending the past hour or so reading an excellent paper written by a US Naval aviator titled Twenty-First Century Snake Oil: Why the United States Should Reject Biofuels as Part of a Rational National Energy Security Strategy. Though there is sufficient coverage of the basic chemistry and thermodynamics of agriculture and combustion processes to satisfy the geek in all of us, the paper is easy to read and understand for anyone with a reasonably broad based education.

There is a healthy portion of history included that makes for fascinating reading. I learned quite a bit of new material, even thought I have been intensely interested in energy for many decades. For example, have you ever heard of the waterworks project for the city of Chan Chan, which failed due to a fatal planning flaw; no one surveyed the required route to realize that it inevitably required water to defy the law of gravity?

I learned that the chemical energy added to soil by intensive ammonia-based fertilization has been directly responsible for increasing Iowa corn yields by a factor of 6 since the 1930s. It was a little depressing to find out that that adding hydrogen from natural gas to upgrade carbohydrates to useful liquid fuel releases 11 tons of CO2 for every ton of hydrogen added to the fuel and that the process is absolutely required to make biofuel compatible with the military fuel supply system.

There is also an important passage about the Dynamic Energy Budget theory and why it highlights the importance of Energy Return on Investment (EROI) for both organisms and for society as a complex organism that requires energy to function.